Monday, August 23, 2021

Ephraim Radner and the Frailty of Contemporary Ecclesiology

 As always, this should be read in its entirety.

I was by then disillusioned by the promise of jumping ship, as I am still: was there really a better one, the “true ark,” plying the currents in the night, unmarked by what seemed more and more a drifting fleet of imposters? Burundi, then Rwanda, the urban centers of America, then simply reading and looking about the world and its past and present, made it quite clear to me that Catholics, Anglicans, and all the welter of Protestants busying about had come to the same horrendous moral shipwreck that my own little window onto the Great Lakes Region of Africa had looked upon. It struck me as more likely that all of them were but remnants, the battered timbers and rafts that had been set loose from one once grand vessel, eight souls now holding on to this or that within the tides, often too far from one another even to be apprehended.

“Bring them together again!” I began to yearn, tying myself not so much to a pristine boat, as to the task of repair, calling to this or that passing group — and they to me — so that somehow, before the currents swept us too far away from one another, we should lash our boards together, bit by bit. Ecumenism became the new road for my search. Though it couldn’t quite see the ark itself, the ecumenical venture to which I now gave myself seemed to guess at the blueprint, its earlier towering form; to recognize this or that piece of what was once a lofty ship; to intuit the nails and fittings, like some great marine jigsaw that skill, acuity, and patience might resolve.

That was some years ago. I now think the ecumenical road is a journey of “defaults” — it is whatever it is we simply end up being, as churches come and go, pressed up together, pulled apart, refashioned by the waves. Our skills at putting things back together seem to have withered, if ever we had them, and acuity and patience both are out of fashion in church and civil society. We have been drifting farther from each other, not closer, as the days pass on. Eight souls were saved within the ark, and truly so, I believe. But many souls have been lost within the ark as well. Who is who, and where they are, and how far the distances, no one knows. We are left to trust the tides, the long swirl of the currents, the default of the globe’s encircling streams.

This long circling, I now believe, will wash up the (Roman) Catholic Church that, by default, will gather up, in some fashion, the pieces of everything else, including its own broken witness. Not as a “takeover.” More like someone coming back to their home after a fire has burned it down, and kicking through the embers and piles, the scattered bits of uncharred belongings, and then taking them up and caring for them together in some new setting where new homes are built.

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