Jesuit Thomas Rausch exhibits the careful scholarship required when giving attention to the demanding work of ecclesiology at this moment in the life of the church. He not only respects the modern ecumenical movement, demonstrating how it presents a dramatic shift in the way churches relate to one another, he celebrates its potential as a reconciling force in the world. The Christian churches need one another. Rausch underscores the important principle early on that “Unity belongs to the essential nature of the church; a divided church is a deficient sign…” ( p. 9) Only together can the churches ever hope to be for the world a full expression of their identity as the Body of Christ. “Unity that is not visible is not real.” (p. 199)
In his commitment to long-term ecumenical efforts Rausch gives evidence of the insight shared by Cardinal Walter Kasper in 2002, “the more we come closer to one another, the more painful is the experience of not yet being in full communion among ourselves.” Closeness requires that each respects and values the contributions that a tradition or culture brings to the larger community. This is what makes the role of dialogue and conversation so critical.
Separated intentionally for centuries, the unique ways each church created for living the gospel and organizing their worship were distinctive in part because they had set out to demonstrate how and why they were different. This is truly a new moment as theologians work toward an understanding of church and mission together, across the boundaries that previously separated them. Differences in beliefs and practices generate opinions and judgments that themselves need to be interpreted and sometimes defended. This can be an obstacle to the desire to reach across boundaries, because differences, so intimately related to the identity of those involved, are often difficult to reconcile. Two issues, namely the meaning of ministry and Eucharist, stand out as obvious examples. These create particularly complex tensions because they involve recognizing others as equals, rather than marginalizing or dismissing them, and they raise questions about what it means to value distinctive traditions. As Rausch sees it ‘catholicity’ ought to presume a willingness “to embrace and include within its communion all legitimate expressions of life in Christ, even if from its own perspective one or another is less than perfect or full.” (p.215)
If it is true that the Church exists for the sake of mission, then the Church is “at the service of the Kingdom of God.” (John Paul II , Redemptoris Missio, 1990), and a desire for mutual understanding must exist among all who share in that common mission, regardless of how they define themselves as church. For believers, their theologians, missionaries and religious leaders, God has entrusted them to speak and to act on behalf of a dream for unity. Given the long historical practice of separation it is all the more amazing that this task continues to be given to share with others. The churches will be even more effective when dialogue widens to include others who follow different spiritual paths.
The opportunities before the church in the 21st century are numerous and also daunting. The risks in avoiding them are even more so. In a rapidly globalized world, intellectual, spiritual and ecclesial demonstrations of respect and hospitality go a long way toward transcending differences and crossing boundaries. Naming the strengths and the limitations of one’s own tradition goes a long way toward becoming credible partners in this joint venture, and is an essential step in paving the way to recognizing others as possessing a dignity worthy of this shared responsibility.
The intelligence and clarity of this study, and the breadth of voices and issues it synthesizes, makes it a useful text for professors and students to use in surveying the landscape of ecclesiological tasks. Rausch demonstrates the importance of being firmly rooted in a tradition, and knowing it well enough to be confident about engaging in the dialogue necessary to stand such an ecclesiology next to one that fellow Jesuit Roger Haight has called “transdenominational.”