Fr Michael Hurley on Ecumenical Theology and Ecumenics

image Last week I introduced Fr Michael Hurley’s definition of Ecumenism. This was drawn from a chapter in his 1998 book, Christian Unity: An Ecumenical Second Spring? Today I again draw from that chapter to outline his definitions of Ecumenical Theology and Ecumenics.

Hurley’s definitions are taken from a chapter in the book called, ‘Ecumenism, Ecumenical Theology and Ecumenics.’ Hurley’s main purpose in the chapter is simply to define these terms.

If you are like many people, you may not have thought about the value of drawing distinctions between these terms. I hope today’s post demonstrates the value in doing that, not least because I think defining the terms can help us to think about what it means to be an ‘ecumenical Christian’ in new ways.

And as I said last week, given his Irish Times epithet as the ‘Father of Irish Ecumenism,’ I think Hurley’s definitions continue to deserve a wide reading.

So today I will quote directly from the chapter, in the sections in which Hurley defines ecumenical theology and ecumenics:

What is Ecumenical Theology?

Hurley distinguishes between three types of ecumenical theology:

1. Ecumenical theology in a general sense: Hurley writes that there are three aspects to ecumenical theology in a general sense: a) ‘if we no longer make a priori assumptions about the falsehood of the positions held by members of other denominations, but seek to understand these positions even though we may eventually have to disagree with them’ (p. 107); b) a detailed study of a tradition other than one’s own (p. 107); c) theology with an inter-denominational aspect – ‘if it takes into serious consideration the corresponding contributions by members of other traditions … above all, if the work is carried out in collaboration with these [other traditions]’ (p. 108)

2. Ecumenical theology in the strict sense: Hurley writes that, ‘The ecumenical movement has by this stage developed a whole history and literature of its own. To concentrate on this corpus, to excavate in this quarry, to study this material in particular is to engage in ecumenical theology in the strict sense’ (p. 109).

3. Denominational or confessional theology: Hurley calls this, ‘from the point of view of positive theology … the study of denominational sources, of the Council of Trent, for instance, or Karl Rahner or the Westminster Confession’ (p. 111). It seems Hurley sees denominational or confessional theolgoy as integral to ecumenical theology because they provide the solid foundations on which general and strict ecumenical theologies are built.

What is Ecumenics?

Because I work for the Irish School of Ecumenics, not the Irish School of Ecumenism, Hurley’s definition of Ecumenics is of particular interest to me. Here is a full version of Hurley’s definition (p. 112):

The word ‘ecumenics’ is German in origin and has not equivalent in any other language except English, but even in Germany it is not too much used in ecumenical circles. Ecumenics is not just another word for ecumenical theology. Neither is it just another word for ecumenism.

Ecumenics is the scientific study of ecumenism, of the movement to promote inter-Church and inter-faith unity. This movement, we have seen, has many aspects. The disunity it seeks to overcome is not just theological, but also involves cultural and other factors. The unity it seeks to promote is not just a unity of beliefs, but a unity of believing peoples in all their diversity.

To do justice, therefore, to the ecumenical movement historians, sociologists, social-psychologists and others are needed as well as theologians. Ecumenics as the scientific study of ecumenism is necessarily multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary. It is a whole of which ecumenical theology in the strict sense is indeed a part, and an important part, but only a part.

In that definition you can see the logic behind why the Irish School of Ecumenics offers inter-disciplinary Master’s programmes in Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation and International Peace Studies, as well as its Master’s in Intercultural Theology and Interreligious Studies.

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