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Dialogue of Love: Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic Ecumenist.

Dialogue of Love: Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic Ecumenist

Eduardo J. Echeverria

Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock, 2010 (258 pages)

In this book, Eduardo Echeverria, a graduate of Trinity Christian College, The Free University of Amsterdam, and the Angelicum and currently professor of philosophy at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, places major representatives of the Dutch neo-Calvinist tradition (Herman Bavinck, G. C. Berkouwer, Herman Dooyeweerd) in conversation with major representatives of twentieth-century Roman Catholic thought (Romano Guardini, John Paul II, Benedict XVI) on a select set of topics.

Echeverria devotes his first three chapters to a comparison of neo-Calvinist and Roman Catholic doctrine of the Church. The first two are devoted to unpacking the meaning of the statement of Vatican II that the "one Church of Christ ... subsists in the Catholic Church" (Lumen Gentium, 8). Echeverria insists that this statement does not represent the adoption on the part of the Catholic Church of an ecclesial relativism, in which the Church of Christ may subsist in the Catholic Church as well as in other bodies, thus reducing the Catholic Church to another denomination. Nonetheless, for Echeverria, the ecclesiology of Vatican II does represent a step forward in ecumenism, inasmuch as it recognizes that elements of the one Church of Christ exist outside the visible bounds of the Catholic Church.

Echeverria's third chapter on ecclesiology sets up a trialogue between Dooyeweerd, Guardini, and Ernst Troeltsch concerning the adequacy of Troeltsch's well-known categorization of denominations into either the "Church-type" or the "Sect-type." On one hand, Echeverria is at pains to refute Dooyeweerd's assertion that Roman Catholic ecclesiology is the "purest embodiment" of Troeltsch's Church-type, in which the Church is regarded primarily as an institution that should control all other temporal societal structures. Catholic ecclesiology does not conceive of the Church primarily as an institution but as the mystical Body of Christ, as Echeverria demonstrates from Catholic magisterial documents as well as the writings of John Paul II, Romano Guardini, Avery Dulles, and others. On the other hand, Echeverria indirectly and gently implies that the Neo-Calvinist tradition cannot extricate itself from Troeltsch's Sect-type nominalist ecclesiology, which reduces the Church to a voluntary society of individuals apart from which it has no substance or authority. Although Bavinck and other Dutch neo-Calvinists recognize and wish to avoid the weakness of such ecclesiology, nevertheless their adherence to the Reformation principle of sola scriptura leads inexorably to the conclusion that every believer has complete freedom to interpret the Word of God apart from the mediation of the visible Church, ultimately undermining the visible Church's official and public teaching office.

Echeverria next devotes a chapter (chap. 4) to pneumatology (the doctrine of the Spirit), in particular to the Spirit's relationship to the sacraments (sacramentology) and to faith as a means of knowledge (epistemology). Echeverria points out that the neo-Calvinist tradition stands with Rome against a purely symbolic (Zwinglian or "bare tokenism") interpretation of the sacraments. Moreover, the Calvinist accusation that the Catholic doctrine of ex opera operato is magical and Deistic is founded on a misconstrual of Catholic teaching: the principle of ex opera operato expresses the instrumental causality of the sacramental rite, but the efficient cause remains the Holy Spirt. Echeverria demonstrates from Catholic theologians and magisterial texts the importance of the interior disposition of the baptizand or communicant: "ex opere operato must in no wise be interpreted in the sense of a mechanical or magical efficacy. Nevertheless, the subjective disposition of the recipient is not the cause of grace; it is merely an indispensable pre-condition of the communication of grace" (Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 330; quoted on 144). Thus, in Echeverria's view, the common Calvinist critiques of Catholic sacramentology miss the mark. Meanwhile, the Reformed doctrine of the sacraments, despite good intentions, ends up in a kind of bare tokenism or Zwinglianism because of the refusal of the Reformed tradition finally to accept the sacrament as the instrumental cause of the grace conferred. As Bavinck puts it, "the grace of God is conferred only with and not through the Word and sacrament," which amounts to a form of occasionalism--the sacraments are not intrinsically united to the conferral of grace but merely the occasions for it (148).

Echeverria segues at this point to the Spirit's role in producing faith in the believer, engaging the rich Reformed tradition of epistemology. He musters the testimony of Augustine, Aquinas, Warfield, Bavinck, and Vatican I (among others) in support of a Reformed-Catholic consensus that the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit is the cause or means of the Christian's belief that the Scripture is the authoritative Word of God; to be clearly distinguished from the reason or ground of that belief, which is the Word of God itself, that is, the authority of God. Along the way, Echeverria dispenses with some common caricatures of the Catholic understanding of faith, for example, that it is merely intellectual assent rather than a personal commitment of both will and intellect.

In the final chapter, Echeverria defends scholasticism in Christian theology against its critics, such as Dooyeweerd, who understood scholasticism to be an adulteration of biblical religion with Hellenistic thought. Echeverria shows much sympathy for neo-Calvinist scholastics such as Bavinck, whom he places in conversation with John Paul II on a cycle of interrelated philosophical and theological issues: the relationship of nature and grace, the legitimacy of specifically Christian philosophy, the natural knowledge of God, and the nature of language about God. Echeverria strives to show that the best representatives of the Catholic tradition (Etienne Gilson, Henri de Lubac, John Paul II, and so forth) do not posit a hard dualism of nature and grace with a merely extrinsic relationship between the two realms but rather hold that grace transforms nature from within--a position nearly identical to that of neo-Calvinism. This basic understanding of the relationship of nature and grace leads both traditions almost inevitably to the following series of positions on the other topics mentioned: that a specifically Christian philosophy is possible, legitimate, and necessary; that a certain natural knowledge of God is possible; and that speech about God can be determinate and true even if analogical and inadequate.

Echeverria provides no conclusion to his treatise in the hope that the dialogue he has begun will be continued.

A few observations are in order.

First, the title of the book gives very little indication of its content and agenda. Dialogue of Love: Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic Ecumenist could describe any number of books about the personal ecumenical efforts of individual Catholics. A more descriptive title might have been desirable.

Second, the intended readership of this book is quite narrow. Very few Catholic intellectuals will have sufficient familiarity with Dutch neo-Calvinism to appreciate the significance of Echeverria's work. At the same time, within modern North American Dutch Calvinism, there has been a decrease in knowledge of--and interest in--the neo-Calvinist tradition and its representative figures: Kuyper, Bavinck, Dooyeweerd, and the Berkouwers. North American Dutch Calvinism has increasingly become part of its landscape, and clergy, laity and intellectuals alike have become, to a greater or lesser degree, increasingly preoccupied with the same issues confronting the rest of North American Protestantism--for example, developments in biblical criticism and hermeneutics, the rise of feminism, the mega- and meta-church movements, and the secularization of the culture. Thus, there may be few even among Dutch Calvinists who can fully grasp the significance of the selective rapprochement that Echeverria attempts between the Reformed and the Roman Catholic intellectual traditions.

Third, Echeverria's admirable ecumenical sensibilities may have led him to downplay some intractable disagreements between the two traditions. For example, Reformed readers of the first two chapters on ecclesiology are liable to be disappointed if they were hoping for some clear indication that the Catholic Church since Vatican II has or will soon recognize the non-Catholic ecclesial bodies as churches. The fact remains that the Catholic Church does not now and never will recognize as a church a body of Christians that lacks a clergy in apostolic succession and a valid celebration of the Eucharist. It may have been more beneficial for Echeverria to be forthright on this issue.

Nonetheless, Dialogue may be an interesting and edifying read for Echeverria's primary target audience: ecumenically sensitive Reformed intellectuals. Echeverria is at his best when explaining certain unfortunate Reformed misconstruals of Catholic teaching, like those mentioned above on sacramentology and ecclesiology. Reformed intellectuals who are curious about what Catholic theology looks and feels like from the inside, as articulated by someone who has been on the inside of both traditions, will find much to appreciate in Echeverria's work. Such readers may also be pleased to find that Echeverria's ecumenical charity allows him to acknowledge that, on certain points of substantial agreement between the Catholic and neo-Calvinist traditions, the better articulation has been provided by neo-Calvinist theologians; thus, both traditions may profit from dialogue with one another.

--John Bergsma

Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio
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Author:Bergsma, John
Publication:Journal of Markets & Morality
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2010
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