Harvesting the Fruits: Basic Aspects of Christian Faith in Ecumenical Dialogue
Cardinal Walter Kasper, Continuum, London, England, 2009. 207pp $14.95 www.continuumbooks.com
Reviewed by Bishop Tom Wright
What and where is the True Church?
Cardinal Walter Kasper’s book Harvesting the Fruits represents an ecumenism come of age. It is a time to celebrate and take stock. One key element is the recognition that different positions may not be opposed, but rather ‘complementary’. But what counts as complementary’? How do we tell which formulations are ‘two ways of saying the same thing’, and which are evidence of real disagreement? This echoes the debate about adiaphora: which differences need not ‘make a difference’? Who says? Can we live with a ‘hierarchy of truth’, with disagreement allowed lower down the scale?
These questions emerge in relation to the doctrines of Mary (not discussed in Harvesting the Fruits) and the Papacy. Can we live with diversity on these, or must we press for full agreement? Then there is the matter of women priests and bishops. Anglicans have struggled to see this question as adiaphora, with only limited success. How realistic is it to ask partners to accept as adiaphora something not so regarded by many within our own church?
Underlying much discussion we still find the question of Scripture and Tradition. The fact that Scripture itself grew out of the life of God’s people does not mean we can elide, or identify, ‘scripture’ and ‘tradition’. Tradition itself insists that it is scripture, not tradition, that is read in the liturgy. And much of scripture itself was written, not simply to embody and express existing ‘tradition’, but to confront it.
Another obvious theme for further exploration is Nature and Grace. It would be good to map our regular discussions on to this larger set of issues, and to be more explicit about our doctrines of creation, eschatology and redemption. The goodness of creation is foundational for Christianity as for Judaism. But a biblical eschatology of new heavens and new earth challenges much traditional teaching about ‘heaven’; and how we state ‘redemption’ depends on the varied perceptions of the problem to be solved. This affects
everything from the Eucharist to justification, and demands a freshly explored Trinitarian basis.
This is particularly relevant to the discussion of the church, which is at the heart of Harvesting the Fruits. Ironically, the closer we come in agreements on church and ministry, the more this highlights the point that we seem to be living in parallel universes. What might it take for us to say that, since we agree on the inner substance of the faith, we should agree to differ within a single family – a family with full table-fellowship – on the issues that remain? Our deep gratitude to those who have worked so hard on these
dialogues for the last generation must be matched by our commitment to work in new ways on the questions that now emerge.
The Rt Revd Tom Wright is Bishop of Durham, England