Saturday, March 30, 2013

Holy Saturday is one of the "Three Days," too

John Chrysostom (center) in
an icon of "The Three Holy
Hierarchs" given to me by
former student Drew Phillips
Holy Saturday is arguably the most neglected day of the Triduum, the "Three Days" of Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday in the Christian calendar. On this Holy Saturday I found myself musing about what we ought to think about in giving attention to this day in public worship (may there be more Holy Saturday services!) and in private devotion. Here are some of these musings.

Today is the day of God's solidarity in Christ with the boundary between earthly life and the life everlasting. Today is the day on which Christ, the prototypical human, offers the paradigm of the experience of being "absent from the body" but "present with the Lord" in the boundary between death and resurrected life. Today is the day on which it seems that evil continues to have its usual upper hand in its violent exercise of power in the present state of things, but in fact in the cosmic drama disclosed in Christ its ultimate undoing has already begun.

The "Catechetical Sermon" of St. John Chrysostom (344-407) is read as part of the liturgy of the Paschal Vigil in Eastern Orthodox churches. In it Chrysostom says this about the cosmic drama of Holy Saturday:

Let no one fear death, for the Savior's death has set us free. He who was held prisoner by death has annihilated it. By descending into death, he made death captive. He angered it when it tasted of his flesh. Isaiah saw this, and he cried: 'Death was angered when it encountered you in the lower regions.' It was angered, for it was defeated. It was angered, for it was mocked. It was angered, for it was abolished. It was angered, for it was overthrown. It was angered, for it was bound in chains. It received a body and it met God face to face. It took earth and encountered heaven. It took that which is seen and fell upon the unseen.
-- in For All the Saints: A Prayer Book For and By the Church, compiled and edited by Frederick J. Schumacher with Dorothy A. Zelenko, vol. 1, Year 1: Advent to the Day of Pentecost (Delhi, New York: American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, 1994), p. 981

While Good Friday is about the cross seen by all and Easter Sunday is about the empty tomb seen by a few, Holy Saturday is about the unseen in the seen reality of death. There's more than meets the eye! May it be so in today's observance of Holy Saturday.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Latin American Baptist on Pope Francis, Catholic-Evangelical relations

Harold Segura
Many readers of Ecclesial Theology will be interested in the initial reactions to the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope Francis posted by Harold Segura, a Baptist minister and theological educator from Columbia who currently serves as Regional Director for Church Relations and Christianity Identity for World Vision--Latin America and the Caribbean. Segura participated in a "pre-conversation" conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina in December 2001 that paved the way for the second series of international theological conversations between the Baptist World Alliance and the Roman Catholic Church held 2006-2010 (the official report from which will be published this summer). During the 2001 Buenos Aires meeting Segura presented a paper offering Baptist responses to a paper presented by Walter Cardinal Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, on "The Concept of Communio as a Framework Within Which to Discuss Issues of Concern."

Also of interest in these connections is a blog journal posted by Segura while he served as a Baptist observer at the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean in Aparecida, Brazil in May 2007. Segura's journal postings were published  in book form as Crónicas de Aparecida: Un pastor evangélico en la Quinta Conferencia general del Episcopado Latinoamericano y del Caribe by (Ediciones Kairós, 2008). John L. Allen, Jr. published an interview with Segura in the National Catholic Reporter regarding his experiences observing the bishops' conference in Aparecida and his reflections on implications for ecumenical relations in Latin America.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Pope Francis and the Baptists

This post was originally published on the Associated Baptist Press ABPnews Blog.

I don’t think a day has passed since March 13 without a student, colleague, fellow church member, family member, or friend asking what my perspective is on the election of Pope Francis, especially since they know that I was a member of the Baptist World Alliance delegation to our recent five-year dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church and have otherwise written on ecumenical themes. These conversations have helped me have a better idea of what it is that I think!

Much of what I think would merely echo perspectives that have already been widely aired in the media. Here I’ll restrict myself to my initial thoughts regarding what the pontificate of Pope Francis may mean for Baptists.

While I don’t think the pontificate of Benedict XVI should be regarded negatively where Baptist-Catholic relations are concerned, I think Baptists have good reason to be encouraged by the election of Pope Francis.
One encouraging sign is the admiration Pope Francis seems to have for Walter Cardinal Kasper, who played a key role in making possible and encouraging the second series of conversations between the Baptist World Alliance and the Roman Catholic Church from 2006 through 2010, the report of which will be officially published this summer. In his first public “Angelus” address in St. Peter’s Square on March 17Pope Francis said this:

In the past few days I have been reading a book by a Cardinal — Cardinal Kasper, a clever theologian, a good theologian — on mercy. And that book did me a lot of good, but do not think I am promoting my cardinals’ books! Not at all! Yet it has done me so much good, so much good... Cardinal Kasper said that feeling mercy, that this word changes everything. This is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient....

Cardinal Kasper was President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in the years before and during our conversations. When the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued the controversial document Dominus Iesus  in 2000 that seemed to say (though there are other more nuanced ways of reading it) that many non-Catholic churches including Baptist churches should not be really regarded as churches, Cardinal Kasper worked behind the scenes to repair the damage. One thing he did toward that end was to encourage the global leadership of the BWA to respond positively to the invitation for dialogue and to promote its desirability within the Vatican. While having an audience with Pope Benedict XVI was certainly a highlight of our five-year series of conversations, in many ways my most cherished memories of the dialogue will remain the lunch in 2007 that we had with Cardinal Kasper and the afternoon dialogue session in 2009 in which he spoke to us at length about his perspectives on ecclesiology and ecumenical relations and then responded at length to our questions. I am greatly encouraged to know of Pope Francis’ theological admiration for this influential theological friend of Baptists within the leadership of the Catholic Church.

Another reason for Baptists to be optimistic about this papacy is the warm and open relationship Pope Francis seems to have had with evangelicals in Argentina. Baptist-Catholic tensions in Latin America belong to a larger pattern of Evangelical-Catholic tensions there and were evident in some opposition among Latin American Baptists to approval of the report of the first series of conversations between the BWA and the Catholic Church (1984-1988) and in some initial resistance to the prospect of a second series of conversations. Francis may succeed in alleviating some of those tensions, and that can be a good thing for Baptists.

Many Baptists may be hoping that Pope Francis may be able to reform the Catholic Church in certain directions. The fact that Pope Francis belongs to the Jesuit order may be encouraging to those who hope for certain new developments, for historically the Jesuits have sometimes been on the outs with the Vatican and have themselves tended to be critical of the Curia.

Yet Baptists should expect the pope to be Catholic, which means that all the changes they might want to see happen within the Catholic Church may not come about during this papacy. But the history of the Catholic Church is one in which change has happened incrementally and symbolically, and there are good reasons to hope for incremental and symbolic changes during the pontificate of Pope Francis.

This post was originally published on the Associated Baptist Press ABPnews Blog.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

On Pope Francis et alia

Catching up on providing links to things of interest to followers of Ecclesial Theology after time away lecturing in Pennsylvania and presenting at an academic conference in South Carolina (and time away from blogging preparing for and catching up from said events):

On the drive home to Boiling Springs, NC from the airport in Charlotte on March 13, I heard on NPR the news of the billowing of white smoke in St. Peter's Square. By the time I made it to my office to watch coverage online of the announcement of the conclave's election of Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio and his presentation as Pope Francis, I had been contacted by a reporter from a local newspaper, the Shelby Star, and provided a telephone interview on the way to church for midweek services. A quote from that interview appears in this story (though I'm pretty sure I said "that’s reflected in the choice of St. Francis [as the source of his papal name], as in St. Francis of Assisi" rather than the construction that appears in the article).

On Tuesday of this week I granted an interview to Associated Baptist Press for a story on Baptist responses to the installation of Pope Francis, quotes from which appear in the hyperlinked article.

Wednesday Associated Baptist Press published on the ABPnews Blog my post "Pope Francis and the Baptists" summarizing my initial reflections on the implications for Baptists of the beginning of Pope Francis' pontificate.

Beyond the thoughts articulated in the stories and post linked above, as a Baptist ecumenical theologian I'm delighted by the discourse Pope Francis delivered to the representatives of various Christian communions and other religions who attended his installation mass. This discourse echoes the very best features (from my non-Catholic standpoint) of the Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio from Vatican II, the encyclical on commitment to ecumenism Ut Unum Sint from John Paul II, and the statements on "The Church and non-Christians" in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (sections 839-45). The latter is in my opinion one of the best concise statements on the relation of Christianity to non-Christian religions around, and I have my Christian Theology students read it when we discuss the relation of Christianity to non-Christian religions under the category of "general revelation."

Now for the "and other things" part of this post: On March 9 I posted this Facebook status update in honor of the feast day of St. Gregory of Nyssa, whose thought was a major subject of my doctoral dissertation (revised as my first book Every Knee Should Bow: Biblical Rationals for Universal Salvation in Early Christian Thought):

No one who has given thought to the way we talk about God can adequately grasp the terms pertaining to God. ‘Mother,’ for example, is mentioned (Song of Solomon 3:11) instead of ‘father.’ Both terms mean the same thing, because there is neither male nor female in God.” -- St. Gregory of Nyssa (d. ca. 395), whose feast day is celebrated today in some Christian calendars. (Didn't expect that one from one of the church fathers, did you?)

British Baptist theologian Stephen Holmes of the faculty of The University of St. Andrews (UK) saw my status update, which inspired him to look up the original source of the quote and then post on his blog Shored Fragments his own reflections "On Mothering Sunday: Gregory of Nyssa on calling God 'mother'," which led to a follow-up post "On the Divine Names." (Mothering Sunday, for those who live on the North American side of the Atlantic, is the equivalent of Mother's Day in the U.S. but celebrated on the fourth Sunday in Lent.)

Friday, March 8, 2013

Following the conclave

It has been reported today that the papal conclave to elect the successor of Benedict XVI will begin on Tuesday, March 12. Dr. Chau Phan, a Catholic lay ecumenist in the community of Santa Maria del Mar Catholic Church in Flagler Beach, Florida whose ecumenical advocacy has been mentioned previously on Ecclesial Theology, has set up a helpful resource page for those interested in following the conclave. Included are links to news reports and analyses, information about the "papabili" (possible viable candidates for the papacy), and a listing of cardinal electors eligible to vote in the conclave. I hope readers of Ecclesial Theology will not only make use of this informative resource for keeping up with developments but will also pray that God's Spirit might guide the cardinals as they make this decision of great importance for the church catholic as well as the Catholic Church.

Coincidentally, on the day the conclave begins I will deliver the Robert K. Campbell Memorial Lectures on Christian Unity at DeSales University in Pennsylvania sponsored by the Lehigh County Conference of Churches. Four cardinals have delivered the lectures previously: Avery Cardinal Dulles (1993), William Cardinal Keeler (1997), Edward Idris Cardinal Cassidy (2000), and Walter Cardinal Kasper (2005).