Vision of God, Vision of Unity
The Legacy of Carl J Peter and the Future of Ecumenism.
Inaugural Lecture of Gösta Hallonsten, Ph.D.,
Carl J Peter Professor of Systematic Theology and Ecumenism
The Catholic University of America
ember 12, 2002
President, Dean, members of the Peter family, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great honor for me to have been given the opportunity to give this inaugural lecture in my capacity as the first holder of the Carl J. Peter Chair in Systematic Theology and Ecumenism. I am very grateful to the donors, who have made possible the foundation of a chair in memory of the late Carl J. Peter. I would like to express my gratitude, too, to the School of Religion and Religious Studies for having appointed me to this position.
I never had the privilege to meet Father Peter. His premature death in 1991 preceded my own appointment to the International Theological Commission, on which Father Peter had served for two 5-year periods when he died. The first time I encountered the name of Carl J. Peter was in the middle of the 1980s, when I read the volume Justification by Faith from the U.S. American dialogue between Lutherans and Catholics. This dialogue, as is well known, turned out to be one of the most fruitful, and as regards published documents and background materials, most prolific dialogues generally. The substantial document on Justification contributed much to the progress of Lutheran-Catholic dialogue on the international level and influenced the formulation of the Joint Declaration on Justification signed by the two churches in 1999. Father Peter was a member of the American dialogue committee from 1972 to his death. According to Richard J. Dillon, writing a memorial essay on the theologian Carl J. Peter, when entering the dialogue he ?undertook an earnest audition of both the Lutheran voices on the Dialogue and their founding fathers. Most amazing to his students and friends was the scrupulous and sympathetic study he devoted to Martin Luther himself, whose image adorned a T-shirt given him by appreciative Lutheran seminarians at Gettysburg.? That Father Peter conducted scrupulous and sympathetic studies, not only of the reformers but also on their catholic opponents is clear from articles with titles like ?From Sermo to Anathema. A Dispute about the Confession of Mortal Sins,? in which he surveyed the controversy that caused the very outbreak of the reformation. The style in which Carl J. Peter wrote was very dense, which means, however, that in a few pages you get a wealth of information based upon a thorough interpretation of sources. Most admirable to me in this connection is his congenial and ecumenically constructive interpretation of documents from the council of Trent. When I read his article ?The Decree on Justification in the Council of Trent? in the previously mentioned volume on Justification, I was deeply impressed by his combination of ecumenical openness and fidelity to the faith of the Catholic Church.
This double openness, towards the demands and questions of the day and towards the tradition of the Church, characterizes much of the writings of Carl J. Peter. Richard J. Dillon speaks of his ?centrist? instincts that ?kept him in an often painful struggle to keep ?left? and ?right? wings of the Church communicating with each other.? Dillon mentions further one of his graduate students, who boldly asked Father Peter: ?Are you holding the center, or straddling the fence?? ? ?Again?, Dillon comments, ?it was not the careerist?s guile but the faithful servant?s tender conscience which kept him listening to both sides.? This judgment can be confirmed from the many articles and speeches that Father Peter held addressing the controversial issues in that difficult time of the aftermath of Vatican II. I would however like to focus more upon the originality of Father Peter?s contribution. In some of his writings, he showed a rare ability not only to hold his position in accordance with the faith of the Church, but also to pursue theological options born out of a truly catholic spirit.
In this lecture I am going to comment upon some of those theological options that belong to the legacy of Carl J. Peter and try to show their importance and fruitfulness for the future of ecumenism.
Coming from a Lutheran background and having joined the Roman Catholic Church as an adult, I am personally marked by the Lutheran quest for the purity of the gospel. Characteristic to the Lutheran tradition is its focus on the doctrine of Justification by faith alone. This insistence on ?alone?, the well known sola fide, means primarily that works or merits have no role to play in establishing a saving relationship with God. You are justified through faith alone and continue to live as a Christian in total dependence on the grace of God. As has been shown in the recent Joint Declaration on Justification this doctrine of Justification by faith alone might be interpreted in a perfectly catholic sense and hence should not necessarily be a Church-dividing issue any longer. There of course still remain questions to be solved before creating a lasting consensus, but according to most ecumenists today those are matters of nuances. More problematic, however, is that the Lutherans insist upon a second meaning and function of the doctrine of Justification by faith alone. According to Lutheran tradition, ?alone? implies not only that works or merits of the individual Christian are excluded. It further implies that the Church itself, its institutions and organization, should be subject to a criterion or judgment flowing from the doctrine of Justification by faith alone. Everything in the Church should be evaluated and judged according to one criterion: does it promote the purity of the gospel or not. In reformation times this led to the rejection, by the Lutherans of a large array of teachings that the Roman Catholic Church still holds irreformable. Among them should be mentioned the ministry of bishops in apostolic succession, and hence the priesthood as a sacrament. Further the understanding of the Eucharist as sacrifice, as well as confirmation, marriage and anointing of the sick as sacraments. To this list we could of course add the ministry of the bishop of Rome as something necessary to the being of the Church. Even if today there is a growing consensus or convergence between Lutherans and Catholics on many of those points, the problem is still there. Lutherans regard Justification of faith as a doctrine of ?unique significance.? They still argue that if you make any of the things mentioned, as e.g. the ministry of bishops, a criterion for the existence of the Church, you add something to the sole criterion, which is justification by faith alone. Then it will not any longer be faith alone that rules, according to this view. Instead you will end up with additions to Justification by faith alone, which blur the purity of the gospel. This is the meaning of the famous Lutheran adage that Justification by faith is the article by which the Church stands or falls (articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae).
In dialogue with Lutherans, Catholic theologians of course oppose this view. The divergence on this point, according to the Joint Declaration on Justification, is the single most important remaining issue between our churches. According to Catholic understanding you cannot apply the doctrine of Justification as a criterion in this way. The institutions rejected by the Lutherans, according to catholic faith, are institutions given by Christ to his Church, and hence necessary for the being and well being of the Church. We do not insist upon the sacramentality of the priesthood, apostolic succession and the mass as sacrifice, to take only these examples, because we would like to add anything to what Christ has done on our behalf. Rather we believe that Christ himself has given those things as gifts to his Church. The institutions of the Church as gifts of Christ are included in the work of salvation accomplished by Christ himself. They are in no way to be seen as additions to the sole mediatorship of Christ.
In this connection I would like to maintain, however, that a great deal of the problem is the way the problem is formulated in the dialogue between our churches. On the one hand it is quite natural in a dialogue with Lutherans to concentrate upon the doctrine of Justification and its implications. This leads however, on the other hand to the impression that the Lutherans adhere to this central doctrine in a more radical and consistent way than the Catholics. The latter seem to be saying: ?Yes, but? Yes, but ?? The impression of a consensus on Justification, with the Catholics adding on some extras is unavoidable. The Joint Declaration itself seems to give this impression. In par. 18 it states the importance of Justification as ?an indispensable criterion which constantly serves to orient all the teaching and practice of our churches to Christ.? It then goes on to say that ?Lutherans emphasize the unique significance of this criterion? and that ?Catholics see themselves as bound by several criteria.?
To this statement of the Joint Declaration on Justification that Catholics are bound by several criteria we could well put the question: Is this really so? The answer again is: it looks like that, at least if you take the Lutheran insistence on the sole criterion as your point of departure. It could very well be maintained, however, that also according to Catholic understanding there is precisely only one criterion. This criterion is Christ. The Joint Declaration itself states that Justification by faith ?is an indispensable criterion which constantly serves to orient all the teaching and practice of our churches to Christ.? I interpret this as meaning that in reality Christ himself is the sole criterion to which the Justification doctrine should orient us. From Christ flows everything, which is necessary for the being and well being of the Church. Let us take the phrase: ?Catholics see themselves as bound by several criteria.? If this is interpreted in the sense that according to the will of Christ several things, like, e.g., the ministry of bishops, necessarily belong to the Church, then this is the same as to say that Church doctrine and Church order are ?oriented? to Christ. Even the Lutherans maintain that the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist as such are institutions given by Christ to the Church. They could never be subject to some sort of judgment by the criterion of Justification by faith, because they are themselves indispensable expressions of that Justification or channels for grace. The real difference between our churches might therefore be found in the answer to the question, which gifts, according to the will of Christ, necessarily belong to the Church.
What I have said so far is nothing new or original. I would like to direct your attention, however, to an article by Father Peter in the afore mentioned volume Justification by Faith. The title of the article is ?Justification by Faith and the Need of Another Critical Principle.? Here, as well as in an earlier version of that same article, Carl J. Peter gives a fair account of the Lutheran understanding of Justification by Faith as the single critical principle in the Church. He further refers to the great German-American theologian Paul Tillich who defended the principle in a slightly different form as the protestant principle. Tillich however underscores that this principle cannot function well without presupposing what he calls Catholic substance. The Church?s life of faith and prayer with its inherited corpus of tradition is the necessary context in which the protestant principle is applied. Without that Catholic substance and with the Protestant principle alone there would be danger of reducing or eliminating the sacramental mediation of God?s Spirit. Father Peter takes this thesis from Tillich and adds that perhaps Tillich did not go quite far enough.
?There is in fact?, Father Peter writes, ?a very good reason to assert the need of a critical principle distinct from both the Catholic substance and justification by faith as principle, rule, norm, or stipulation with regard to churchly discourse and practice. The Catholic substance is in need of protection because it is in danger of being mutilated, be it out of fear of demonization or of work righteousness.? And he continues: ?The criterion of justification by faith alone is an imperative to keep the churches from idolatry. But that is not the only temptation the churches face. They need another critical principle to warn them that they may run the risk of blasphemy. Out of a desire to avoid confusing the creaturely with the Creator and to realize that no work of a sinful creature can win God?s forgiveness, they may regard the sacred as something religiously indifferent or even sinful. To fail to recognize the divine where it is in fact being mediated or embodied because the mediating agency or embodying symbols are touched by sin may well involve both insolence and arrogance with regard to the divine. Christian churches need to avoid both idolatry and blasphemy in their attitudes and stances toward the Catholic substance. Justification by faith alone helps as a safeguard against the former; another critical principle is needed to assist in avoiding the latter.? This other principle Father Peter formulates as follows: ?Be not so prone to expect sin and abuse that you fail to recognize God?s grace where it is at work.? Another formulation is this: ?Is a desire to trust and hope ultimately in God alone leading people to refuse to trust or even disdain ecclesial institutions where God has promised through Jesus Christ to be present and operative with His Spirit and grace? One ought not to call holy profane; what God has made clean one ought not to regard as unclean.?
When listening to those words of Father Peter, the catholic theologian might find the whole thing obvious. In the context of dialogue with Lutherans it seems to have been bold words, however, and words, the Lutheran participants contradicted.
?And there it stood?, comments Dillon. ?Peter?s principle did not win a place in the consensual statement of the Dialogue, but he had insisted on focusing the discussion at its nerve-center.? That nerve-center can be defined as the question about ?the concrete ways in which the benefits of Christ?s saving death and resurrection reach human beings?. The merit of Father Peter was to put forward this question in a rather straightforward way. This was, according to the title of yet another article by Peter, ?A Moment of Truth for Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue.? And Dillon further comments: ?There are times when this kind of forthrightness with what cannot be yielded is a sounder policy than stepping gingerly to an ecumenical minuet. ?I suspect we are at one of those moments today?, declared CJP, who was certainly not given to the strategy of the preemptive strike.?
In a way we still are at this point after the Joint Declaration and the very substantial document on Church and Justification from the international Lutheran-Catholic commission in 1993. In the end, the doctrine of justification itself is no great matter of contention. As was the case in the 16th century, so it is now. At the Diet of Regensburg in 1541 a group of Lutherans and Catholics worked out a consensus on the doctrine of Justification. When it came to the ministry and sacraments, however, the divergences were too big to allow for a consensus. The central tenets of Christian faith are no problem in our ecumenical relations, but the Church and sacraments obviously are.
So, how should we then define the problem? Fundamental to the Lutheran understanding is a dichotomy between Christ as giver of salvation on the one hand and on the other hand the Church as the congregation of faithful, the receiver of salvation. The Word of God as well as Baptism and Eucharist belong on the side of Christ. This means, according to my understanding that the mediation of salvation or grace is at stake. The document Church and Justification makes this very clear. Lutherans might acknowledge that the Word of God, Baptism and Eucharist in practice have their place within the congregation of the faithful. You will certainly not have access to those means of grace outside the Church. In that sense, but only in that, the Church is instrumental to the saving activity of Christ. The Church is at one and the same time ?Recipient and Mediator of Salvation.? So in a way, the Church is necessary for salvation. On the other hand, according to Lutheran understanding, this does not make the Church itself, the congregation of faithful an instrument of salvation in a qualified theological sense. Salvation is mediated by the Church only in the sense that this mediation is taking place in the Church. As a matter of fact, however, it is Christ alone who accomplishes salvation through the means of Word and sacraments. Therefore the Church is an instrument of salvation only in a derivative sense, according to Lutheran understanding. The human part of the mediation is always to be seen as rather passive, as in a way, channeling grace. The human contribution in this process is always liable to sin and this is precisely the reason why it should continually be judged by the criterion of Justification by faith alone, according to Lutheran understanding. It should be added that Lutherans are especially suspicious of infallible and definitive ecclesiastical teaching and decisions, because they seem to give to human acts an objectivity that could only be connected to divine acts and institutions.
However, the Catholic Church, too, as is underlined in the above-mentioned document, acknowledges the priority of Christ in working out salvation through the sacraments in the Church. She does not however, separate the divine and human agents in the process of mediation of grace, in the way Lutherans do. ?On the contrary?, as Vatican II maintains ?they form one complex reality which comes together from a human and a divine element.? This complex reality means that the human is unavoidably involved in the mediation of divine grace. The fact that sin persists in the Church and that the concrete church always needs reformation does not do away with this mediation. And that?s why Father Peter formulated his principle in this way: ?Be not so prone to expect sin and abuse that you fail to recognize God?s grace where it is at work.?
This difference between the Lutheran standpoint that mistrusts ecclesial offices and decisions and the Catholic thinking, which as the document states, ?finds it hard to see why the effects of divine decisiveness should be intrinsically open to criticism,? is characteristic even for the wider ecumenical situation of today. This can clearly be seen from the focusing of many dialogues on questions of church and ministry in recent years. The Faith & Order document The Nature and Purpose of the Church is only one recent example. It should be added here that the tension between protestant and orthodox member churches in the World Council of Churches, if not exclusively, at least to some extent also revolves around this difference too.
Now the question is whether there could be a way out of this impasse. I do not really think that there is a ready-made recipe for healing this division. Yet, I would like to suggest a further reflection on the role of criticism within the Church. It seems to me that not only within the protestant churches to which this is a matter of principle, but also within the Roman Catholic Church itself there exists an unhappy opposition between the role of critique and the role of authority in preserving the integrity of the Church and her teaching. On the one hand, you might find too unqualified a belief in criticism as a means to restore the original purity of the Church and to bring her back to healthy conditions. On the other hand, in order to defend what seems to be threatened, the role of authority sometimes is overly stressed. For the sake of clarity, let me underscore that I do not put into question the authority of the Church and its magisterium. I shall defend the right and obligation of the Pope and Bishops to make precisely that type of definitive decisions that Lutherans fear of blurring the Gospel. It could well be, however, that we might need a renewed reflection of the nature of authority and the role of consensus in the Church.
In this connection I have found two small articles of Carl J. Peter very helpful. The one is called ?Polarization, ecumenism and memories? and the other: ?Theses on Christian memory, hope and assent: The current theological debate about dissent.? In those two articles from the late 80?s, Father Peter addresses a situation of division in ecumenism and within the Catholic Church. His complaint is this, that dissent and division decreases the amount of sharing in the Church, and it is precisely through sharing its ?special memories and hopes? that the Church is empowered to witness to the presence of the risen Christ and to foster hopes for the future. And Carl Peter adds: ?Viewed in this perspective, assent to Church teaching has an importance that is often overlooked or insufficiently stressed at present.? To my understanding, in those articles Father Peter clearly views the Church as a consensus community. It is a community whose identity is defined as one of sharing memories and hopes. Further, it is clearly the Church as a pilgrim church that Father Peter has in mind here, the Church as the community led by the Holy Spirit on a pilgrimage from the Resurrection of Christ to the Parousia. A typical formulation is this: ?The Church would suffer amnesia and lose its identity were it not for the Spirit helping it remember Christ and those who through his grace have embraced discipleship.? But this is precisely why it is so important, according to Peter, to assent to Church teaching. He maintains that one of the most important functions of that teaching is to give ?expression to those memories and hopes as well as to their presuppositions and consequences.? And he adds: ?For many, recourse to those memories and hopes may keep that teaching from being summarily dismissed as an irrelevant word-game or dream metaphysics.? Father Peter, in this connection, does not look away from the fact the creeds and dogma are formulated in language dependent on certain times and cultures. Here mention could be made of other articles written by him, e.g., on Karl Rahner and the Chalcedonian dogma. But the relative dependence of dogma upon language and culture does not do away with its function in the Church. Neither do a healthy exercise of criticism and the freedom of theologians do away with it. After having stated the case for freedom of theologians, Carl Peter adds: ?Nevertheless assent to the teaching and discipline embodied in the Church?s everyday life both follows from and builds up a community of faith and love based on Christian memories and hopes.? And further: ?In order to foster such memories and hopes as well as to commend them to others the Church needs, among other things, a large degree of solidarity and assent to its teaching.?
To my understanding, what Father Peter has said in those articles is extremely fruitful. Yet his thoughts are regrettably sketchy. Nevertheless they could function as an inspiration to renew the sense of solidarity and consensus in the Church. Because we have the treasure of the Gospel ?in earthen vessels?, criticism is to be weighed out over against the high priority of solidarity and consensus. The Church is the community of memories and hopes. Its central act is the act of anamnesis, the offering of bread and wine to God in remembrance of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, in proclaiming his death until he comes and in the invocation of the Holy Spirit to come and transform the community into that which it receives. The authority of the magisterium and especially creeds and dogmas, have the function to protect the memory of the community. Those instances are by no means absolute in the sense Lutherans fear. Even as definite and binding upon the faithful they are to be related to the event itself, from which the Church flows and the memory, which she fosters. And further, they are to be related to the future, a future that will one day make dogmas and church structures superfluous. The necessary assent and solidarity with the teaching of the Church should be made transparent to its real object. As human beings we need the concreteness of language, formulations, authority in order not to lose the sense of the very thing itself, in order to foster memories and hopes. Nevertheless, it is not these acts in themselves that are the object of our obedience and trust. The famous utterance of St. Thomas might be quoted here: ?The act of believing does not find its goal in the formulation but in the thing itself.? And so, the necessary assent to church teaching, the necessary solidarity within the Church, should be made transparent to its object: the memory of the death and resurrection of Christ and the hope for his second coming.
The well-known Lutheran ecumenist Harding Meyer in an analysis of the dialogue between the Orthodox and the Catholic churches treats of the problem of the sacramentality of the Church and hence mediation from a Lutheran point of view. He recognizes that the consensus between orthodox and Catholics on this point distances them from Lutherans and makes an approach of the latter to the orthodox difficult. Yet, Meyer underlines that the catholic-orthodox dialogue in its stress on the narrow connection between the mystery of the Church and Christ or the Holy Trinity at the same time preserves the distance. It is Christ who acts in and through the Church and its ministry. ?But most important in this dialogue,? Meyer maintains, ?is the continual and characteristic emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit? The Spirit accomplishes and defends the transparency of ecclesial acts to the saving activity of the Triune God?.
When reading the writings of Carl J. Peter, you seldom come across references to the Church Fathers, and so far as I know, never to the eastern tradition. And yet, the affinity between the eastern orthodox approach to the Church and the appeal of Father Peter to assent and solidarity in view of the memories of hopes of the Church is striking. I am sure that Father Peter would have readily subscribed to this statement from the Ecumenical Patriarchate in its answer to the so called Lima report: ?For the Orthodox Church, faith is a pathway traced by teaching (doctrine) and ecclesiastical traditions leading to salvation and deification.? This way is certainly the way that Father Peter imagined when he engaged in the quest for Christian unity.
The title of this lecture is ?Vision of God, Vision of Unity.? I am deeply convinced that Carl J. Peter had a vision of Christian unity, a vision that was instrumental in his ecumenical work. I have tried to give some hints of what this vision was and how it could contribute to the future of ecumenism. The vision of unity was, however, connected in the thinking of Carl J. Peter to the vision of God. This was partly what he had in mind when referring to ?memories and hopes?. In fact there is a continual stress on eschatology in the writings of Father Peter. This can be seen in many articles with titles like this one: ?Why Catholic Theology needs Future-talk today?, to mention only one example. In 1972 Peter writes: ?In my opinion perhaps the single most important role of the theologian today is to ask the right questions with regard to man?s hope; hence the crucial character of eschatology.? The same year, in his presidential address to the Catholic Theological Society of America, Peter develops the theme: ?? if eternal life and death are ignored or treated as side issues, the future is not given its rightful place in Christian thought, life and worship. To break that relative silence about the future of the individual after death, I submit there is a need for a theology less concerned that in so doing, its practitioners may be dismissed as unscientific and pre-modern.? That this stress on eschatology has repercussions on the topics I have discussed earlier in this lecture is obvious and has already been hinted at. In relation to assent to church teaching, the following commentary is clearly relevant: ?Eschatology can help theological hermeneutics? in this sense. It can call attention to the fact that any formula with the claim of abiding truth can only be understood in relation to world history and that means to its own future. Because of its power and incalculability notwithstanding its trustworthiness, because in short it is God?s and God, that future makes the present questionable and scientific views in the present likewise. Those defending the adequacy of dogmatic formulae forget this too readily. So often also do others who argue against the ability of those same formulae to serve as guides that cannot prove fundamentally false in the future or need to be contradicted for the sake of the Gospel.? Further, commenting upon the relation of the Church to the Kingdom of God, Father Peter, clearly votes for the necessary nexus between the two. And yet, it is not a question of identity: ?The need for a distinct Sabbath and a distinct Church will remain as long as the Kingdom of God calls for man?s recognition of the provisionality of the present order... Far from failing to take into account the sinfulness and infidelity of the Church in its leaders and other members, this position with its eschatological perspective implies or brings with it a sense of urgency to overcome complacency with present defects. But the defects assume an importance only because of the nexus between Church and Kingdom. And that nexus is a reality of faith rather than evident reflection of facts.?
The ?eschatological reservation?, that all theology and church life are conditioned by eschatology, as a matter of fact runs through the writings of Carl J Peter from his two dissertations on St. Thomas to his last contribution to the Lutheran-Catholic dialogue in the posthumously published ?The Communion of Saints in the Final Days of the Council of Trent?. His dissertation in theology - he wrote one in philosophy, too ? bears the title: ?Participated Eternity in the Vision of God. A Study of the Opinion of Thomas Aquinas and his Commentators on the Duration of the Acts of Glory,? published in 1964. Later on Carl Peter himself commented upon the choice of theme for his dissertation as being not in accordance with the ?mood of the hour?. The time was, he says, ?somewhat bleak in terms of prospects for Roman Catholic theologians, choosing topics related to the thought of Aquinas.? Today, we might remark, that the time is no longer bleak with regard to studies on Aquinas. Yet the very topic of Carl Peter?s dissertation seems not to stir up today?s spirits. Nevertheless it seems to me, that the fact that Carl J Peter dedicated many of his years in Rome to this topic has left a mark on his theology, which turns out to be one of the most fruitful strains of his legacy.
In one sense, however, the topic of participated eternity could be said to be relevant and of substantial importance in today?s ecumenical theology. There is, especially, a growing awareness and discussion among both catholic and Lutheran theologians on the importance of the Eastern doctrine of deification or theosis. This doctrine has the advantage of being somewhat beyond the Western opposition between protestant and catholic understanding of faith and works. In their dialogue with orthodox theologians, Lutherans most often have to realize that the synergism between God?s grace and human efforts, defended by the orthodox is not exactly the same as the synergism rejected by Protestantism. This has among others things led to the renewal of research into the theology of Martin Luther in Finland and to the thesis that Luther himself taught a doctrine of deification not totally foreign to the orthodox one. Further, a point where this new interest in the doctrine of deification has a connection to Carl Peter?s dissertation topic is precisely in the topic of participation. In one way it could be said that Peter?s discussion of the beatific vision in St Thomas treats of the goal of deification, namely participation in the life of God. That St Thomas from time to time uses the metaphor of deification is as clear as that Luther also does so. What is more, St Thomas has a concept of participation that makes the study of his theology fruitful in connection with a dialogue with the Orthodox Church.
That such a dialogue also has to overcome huge obstacles is well known. Based upon the doctrine of the 14th century saint and theologian Gregory Palamas, the Orthodox Church has developed a quite different concept of participation, based upon its distinction between the essence and energies of God. I shall not discuss that complicated matter now. It is however worth mentioning that Anna N. Williams in a recent book, The Ground of Union. Deification in Aquinas and Palamas, has made an effort to bring St Thomas and Gregory Palamas together. I am not quite sure that she has succeeded in showing the affinity or compatibility of those two important thinkers of East and West. I am mentioning it here only to point to the ecumenical importance of such an undertaking and to its connection with the dissertation topic of Father Peter.
Vision of God, Vision of Unity - The vision that was instrumental in the theology of Carl J. Peter was certainly one of unity. That is a unity within the Catholic Church, not least among dissenting parties, a unity among all Christians on their pilgrimage through history sharing the same memories and hopes, and a unity in the common destiny of the world and humankind. Above all else, however, the theological vision of Carl J. Peter has to do with the Vision of God, a theme with which he began his career as a theologian, a theme that in one sense or another runs through all of his theology and casts its light on the many different topics he discusses, and a reality to which we hope that he has finally attained. If this is the legacy of Carl J. Peter, the future of ecumenism in this perspective is a case of the ?already now, but not yet?. It has the urgency of ?an accounting for the hope that is in you? in view of the salvation of the world. But at the same time it shares in the eschatological reservation: we might not be able to attain full unity through our own strivings here and now. After all, the striving for Christian unity is based upon the prayer of Jesus. Only his Father can answer that prayer.
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Revised: December 6, 2002