These two books continue the Unitas Books series from Liturgical Press, which aims at providing books written by ecumenical experts from a variety of traditions, but written for “a wider audience of interested clergy and laypersons.” The series has already included important volumes from the late Jean-Marie Tillard, Ola Tjørhom, and the German Catholic-Lutheran Dialogue. These books add to that collection substantive reflections on giving (Saarinen) and a general introduction to the concept of dialogue in ecumenical relations (Maffeis).
Saarinen is professor of ecumenical theology at the University of Helsinki, Finland, and a visiting professor at the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg. This work begins with the popularity of the concept of giving and the gift in ecumenical theology in recent years, in various ecclesial documents and in the work of theologians. Saarinen opens a critique of the use of that concept in order to prevent the use of the term “gift” in a simplistic or naïve way. He argues that a theology of the gift is rooted in tradition, particularly in his own Lutheran tradition, and has much to contribute to contemporary ecumenism, but that too often theologians and ecumenists use the language of gifts and giving without having investigated the complexity and even mystery of the phenomenon of giving. Drawing on the reflections of contemporary philosophers (Mauss, Bourdieu, Godbout, and Marion, among others), Saarinen shows the reader just how strange a thing a gift is, and, in recovering that strangeness, opens new insights into the relations of giver, gift, receiver, and beneficiary, that characterize an act of giving. As the Unitas series intends, these reflections go beyond specific ecumenical issues to address questions of soteriology, atonement, and sacrifice, and forgiving as a case of “negative giving.” Saarinen constructs a theology of giving that is Lutheran in its theocentric perspective and its rootedness in the thought of Martin Luther. At the same time, it is ecumenical in its sources (e.g., Roman Catholic eucharistic theology) and, above all, in its intent.
In his application of this theology of giving to the ecumenical movement, Saarinen proposes a distinction between “ecumenical sharing” and “the exchange of gifts.” The former, he writes, arises from the Pauline imperative (1 Cor 12) to share the charisms given to each for the good of the whole, and the giving of gifts which may freely be accepted or rejected. One may describe oneself as “giving” the gift of the papacy or of speaking in tongues to another Christian community, but if one is expecting, even requiring, that the other receive that “gift”, then something other than giving has occurred. Saarinen problematizes this language not because he thinks it is useless, but because there is a danger of confusing one church’s praxis or doctrine, shared with other churches as essential, with a gift freely given and open to being freely received. While the subtlety of his distinctions sometimes undermines the series’ goals of accessibility, Saarinenn has, predictably, made of this book a gift to theology and to the ecumenical movement.
Angelo Maffeis is a Roman Catholic participant in the international Catholic-Lutheran dialogue. His book treats another key concept for contemporary ecumenical theory, “dialogue.” By outlining a history of the ecumenical movement and discussing the various institutions involved in contemporary ecumenical dialogue (in chapters one and two, respectively), Maffeis lays the ground for a description of the various elements involved in authentic ecumenical dialogue. In discussing the structure of authentic dialogue, Maffeis re-presents Yves Congar’s four phases of inter-ecclesial relationships, polemic controversy, irenic controversy, symbolic comparative writing, and ecumenical dialogue. By moving beyond controversy to communication, the churches begin the process of a real encounter. This short book would be a solid introduction to the history of the ecumenical movement, and to some of the strengths and potential pitfalls in understanding dialogue.