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One Faith: Biblical and Patristic Contributions toward Understanding Unity in Faith.

William Henn, New York and Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1995. Pp. 334. $22.95, paper.

In an effort to further clarity within ecumenical dialogue, Henn (Vatican Council for Christian Unity) surveys traditional sources to shed light on the complex term "unity in faith." He observes (pp. 1-2): "From its very inception, the contemporary ecumenical movement has harbored the conviction that unity in faith is one of the most essential prerequisites for the establishment of full unity among currently divided Christian communities." Yet, the content of that term seems to elude even the most dedicated ecumenists. Henn believes he can shed light by exploring what scripture and patristic literature say in relation to the topic.

The term "unity of faith" occurs only once in scripture, in Eph. 4:13. Henn correctly does not allow this to seduce his focus to the Second Testament but begins by searching the Hebrew Bible for three related sources of information: the etymology of cognates for the English word "faith"; evidence for a "creed," an articulation of faith essentials; and ways in which the Hebrew Scriptures attest to a unity transcending the pluralism inevitable within a diverse community. He neatly sidesteps the academic debate over whether there is such a thing as First Testament theology. This controversy is too important to be ignored in defining "unity in faith."

Henn then begins a similar search through the Second Testament. His scholarship on parables is selective; e.g., he needs the parable of the Wicked Tenants (Mk. 12:1-2) to support his claim that Jesus called himself the Son of God, but he ignores the vast scholarship that argues that the parable is not dominical. However, he argues Pauline theology effectively and lays the groundwork for his ultimate conclusion that unity in faith, even in the Second Testament, is not to be measured by a list of universally held doctrines but by the integrity of the process through which Christian communities dialogue over differences. Henn even offers a convincing definition of heresy (p. 72; cf. pp. 121 and 143): a biblically rooted position, often based on a presumed literalism, that has become isolated from dialogue with other possible interpretations of the same passage.

Henn then surveys the patristic literature to expose a variety of thought among the Fathers about the importance and meaning of "unity of faith." He fails to take the roles of rhetoric and oratory into account in analyzing "unity" and, perhaps for this reason, claims more coherence on doctrinal matters in the early church than is supportable. However, this section is valuable, since several patristic writers lived in a pluralistic world and have much to offer in defining Christian unity among diverse, competing opinions.

Henn's work is primarily descriptive and harmonizing rather than critical. Perhaps he wisely leaves the critical task to those who must wrestle with the contemporary hermeneutics of biblical and patristic claims. While arguing for appropriate diversity within unity of faith, Henn occasionally lets his guard drop, giving the impression that he is not completely comfortable with diversity himself (see p. 277).

One comes away from this book with the impression that, if the ecumenical movement seeks to define "unity" as "uniformity," only frustration will result. Instead, Henn offers a vision of unity of faith as a process of trust and flexibility between partners, built upon a foundation of biblical and patristic thought.

Philip Culbertson, St. Johns Theological College, Auckland, New Zealand
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Culbertson, Philip
Publication:Journal of Ecumenical Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1997
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