Catholics and Protestants are collaborating in truly unprecedented ways. While the important doctrinal differences should not be ignored, we are finding more common ground than ever before.
Take for example the latest news story: Catholic theologian, Aidan Nichols (see picture to the right), has been appointed to give a series of lectures on Catholic theology at Oxford. This is the first time that a Catholic has been invited for a lectureship there since the Reformation!
Nichols is a Domican theologian who has written extensively on many topics, with a particular focus on the liturgy.
This story comes on the heels of the discussion concerning the firing of a Wheaton professor -- Joshua Hochschild -- who converted to Catholicism. For those who don't know, Wheaton is a Protestant school. Of course, I am not upset about this at all -- Protestant schools have every right to preserve their tradition. In fact, I wish more Catholic Universities would be concerned with preserving their Catholic identity. Does anyone even know that Georgetown or University of San Diego are Catholic schools? Nonetheless, this episode has once again opened up the discussion concerning the relationship between Catholics and Protestants.
For an especially interesting perspective check out the article written by Alan Jacobs, another professor at Wheaton, which ran in First Things and is now up over at Scot McKnight's website. Also be sure to check out some of the comments!
As a person who has spent the bulk of his educational career as a Catholic studying at Protestant schools I can testify to the invigorating effect such collaboration has had on my own understanding of Catholicism. I have had the pleasure of working under men who are both brilliant scholars and wonderful examples of faith: Colin Brown, John Goldingay, Alan Padgett, Steve Wilkins, David Scholer, to name just a few. It has been my great privilege to work with scholars who see their academic work as an extension of their spiritual life - who see prayer and study as inextricably united. I am forever grateful for the influence these men have had on my life and on my thought. The long hours I spent talking with Padgett about MacIntyre's response to the postmodern situation had a lasting impact on my work. Colin Brown is a scholar's scholar who has a bibliographic knowledge that is truly staggering. I'll never forget the day he quoted from the Second Vatican Council's decree on Scripture - in Latin. "Am I really at a Protestant school?," I wondered.
I could go on and on.
The two most fruitful areas of Ecumenical dialogue seem to me to be Scripture and Liturgy. Would that Catholics burned with the same zeal for Scripture study non-Catholics have. After all, the Church has an extremely high view of Scripture -- as Ratzinger once said, "dogma is nothing other than an interpretation of Scripture."
At the same time, I think the Catholic focus on the importance of liturgy has a lot to offer to non-Catholics. Particularly ignored is the liturgical dimension of Scripture itself. For a great Catholic treatment on that I HIGHLY recommend Scott Hahn's latest: Letter and Spirit: From Written Text to Living Word (2005).
Let us pray with ever increasing hope that Christ's prayer will be realized: "that they may be one" (John 17:11).
(For an amazing collection of scholarly articles written on Scripture study written by Catholics, Protestants and non-Christian scholars, check out the Saint Paul Center's on-line Resource Library.)