Depending on the names associated with it, the phrase “Communion Ecclesiology” can promote a sense of hope for tomorrow’s church or raise genuine angst over a possible pre-Vatican II retrieval. Dennis Doyle in Communion Ecclesiology: Vision and Versions details the polarity of thought on the topic. The differing positions, of course, both arise from and shape one’s understanding of the local church.
Clearly a central figure in the development of communion ecclesiology, J.M. Tillard navigates a course between the many positions and proposes an ecclesiology of the communion model with a keen awareness of Orthodox theology, the Roman tradition, and Protestant perspectives. Tillard appreciates the fundamental dynamic tension between local and universal communion. This latter appreciation constitutes the concern of Ruddy’s text.
The author proposes by way of conclusion that Tillard offers a theology that is “passioned, reasoned and persuasive” (123). One can say the same of Ruddy’s work. Ruddy offers an extensively documented presentation of Tillard’s understanding of the local church as well as a critical analysis of his position. The seventy pages of endnotes along with the eighteen pages of bibliography offered for demonstrate Ruddy’s attention to detail as well as his knowledge of the subject. Clarity of style and profound respect for Tillard also mark the author’s approach.
At the start Ruddy identifies the tension between the positions of Pope Benedict and Cardinal Kasper. Tillard himself identified the tension. The theology of the Orthodox churches comes to shape Tillard’s thought so that he readily navigates the waters “in between.” A position repeatedly articulated by Tillard in Church of the Churches, The Local Church and his masterful retrieval of Patristic theology in Flesh of the Church, Flesh of Christ, unity (communion) consists of something more than uniformity. “The antidote to Babel is not uniformity but unity” (56).
Ruddy helps the reader to appreciate another seeming paradox of Tillard’s position that the Church is “Catholic” precisely because it is local. Similarly he leads the reader to consider Tillard’s preference to the term “Gospel of God” over “Word of God” – the dynamic over the more abstract.
For Tillard, and quite apparently for Ruddy, the communion of the Church, both local and universal, exists as something far greater than a “gathering of friends” (79). The author calls to mind the inclusion of the Gentiles in the Church as a fundamental revision and not “cheap unity” (98). The movement toward a greater Communion, and the hope of future ecclesiology, lies in the ongoing reception of Vatican II. Ruddy’s work helps one appreciate that the term “communion ecclesiology” from Tillard’s perspective should raise more hope than angst.