Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Commentary on Pontifax during the Octave of Christian Unity

Bishop Robert Lynch of the Diocese of St. Petersburg writes of this Octave of Christian Unity effort:

"Each January, Catholics, Lutherans and Episcopalians gather for a morning of joint/shared prayer and reflection on the subject of Christian Unity. The meeting is called Pontifax which is an English language derivative from the Latin word, “pontifex” which means “bridge builder.” Interestingly it is a normal title used in referring to the successors of St. Peter, the pope, who are called “Pontifex magnus” or “Supreme bridge-builders.” Historically it is understandable that the earliest popes would be referred to in this way as their task was uniquely to build a bridge between the Jewish faith and paganism to Christianity.

Any way, tomorrow we gather for this year’s Pontifax meeting at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Tampa. The theme this year is “That they may become one in your hand” which was suggested by the Christians in Korea who are one people divided into two countries. These annual meetings were established as a result of informal sharing between the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women and the Episcopal Church Women of the Diocese of Southwest Florida. In 1970, their respective bishops gave permissions to form an ecumenical committee for the purpose of creating better mutual understanding and common trust in many areas of church life and community service. In 1989 the Bahamas Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was invited and accepted to participate in this activity.

My Lutheran and Episcopal brothers in the episcopacy, Bishop Edward Beneway and Bishop Dabney Smith respectively, usually attend and each year one of us delivers the homily. This year it is my turn.

Pray for the continued successes of our mutual dialogues which internationally have not gone so well in recent years but locally have produced wonderful relations and a deeper appreciation and understanding of your variouos traditions."

While I fight urges to be cynical about some Ecumenical efforts, and lose that fight occassionally, this post by the Bishop deserves some expansion, elaboration and discussion.

Bishop Lynch's reference to "Pontifex Magnus" indicates the historical job description of the Pope in building spiritual bridges connecting the Old Covenant followers (Jewish) and New Covenant Followers (Christianity). He tells of "joint/shared prayer and reflection" among the Leadership of Catholics, Lutherans and Episcopalians which in itself can be a significant step, Lord willing his grace, Amen. Now, if I am not mistaken, these are the closest Denominations to Catholicism (in a practicing Doctrinal sense) of the Reformed variety. If correct then, one could take the valid perspective that such an effort by Leadership is non-critical and the immediacy of holding spiritual dialogue with them should be overshadowed by more extreme divisions of the Reformed denominations...Baptist, PCA, Singular Fundamentalist, Congregationalist, etc. Its a fantasy to think, Graham or Osteen would call for a reflective prayer session with any "other" Authority at this point in Christianity...or is it?

Back to the Bishops effort...on the other hand, most Reformed and Fundamentalist Leadership appear to give a healthy dose of Theological gravity to Luther followers, then by example may put their Swords against the misconception of Rome down for a minute and see the benefit of such inter-faith efforts. Ergo, ANY Ecumenical effort would produce a gain if it is made more visible among all its varied membership. Its my opinion that this particular event may bear more fruit, if made more visible to the Reformed. Ecumenism among any Denominations leadership wont be counterpointed with a rally against such efforts and that makes it stand alone unblemished.

This gathering post is only the prelude to the event, and I hope to follow up with what may be revealed of its content and potential to continue this thought further.