Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Roger Haight's Contribution to Method in Ecclesiology and Its Implications for Ecumenical Dialogue

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Roger Haight's Contribution to Method in Ecclesiology and Its Implications for Ecumenical Dialogue

Article excerpt

Introduction

Recently, the Jesuit theologian Roger Haight produced a three-volume work in ecclesiology under the title Christian Community in History. (1) This essay will explore some implications of Haight's contribution to method in ecclesiology for ecumenical dialogue. I will first discuss Haight's contribution to method in ecclesiology by summarizing his exposition of ecclesiological method found at the start of the first volume of his Christian Community in History. What he presents there, Haight had carefully elaborated in a few articles published between 1987 and 1993. (2) Then, I will turn to the issue of ecumenical dialogue. I will discuss how the ecumenical dialogue might benefit from Haight's contribution to method in ecclesiology, arguing that the areas of dialogue that Haight's contribution impacts most are those of the nature of Christian unity and ecclesial structures and ministries.

Haight's Christian Community in History is part of a larger project. It is a sequel to his fundamental theology elaborated in Dynamics of Theology and to his Christology in Jesus Symbol of God. (3) In the first two volumes of Christian Community in History, subtitled Historical Ecclesiology and Comparative Ecclesiology, respectively, Haight's intention was to elaborate principles for a constructive ecclesiology from the history of the Christian community. This constructive ecclesiology Haight then presents in his third volume, Ecclesial Existence.

In the first volume, which covers the time from the emergence of Christianity to the Council of Constance, Haight follows a fourfold format. First, he portrays in broad strokes the historical situation of the church in which the works of his chosen theologians emerge. Second, he offers an analysis of the texts of certain theologians in terms of their context, their theological content, and their ecclesial and social significance. Third, he develops a comprehensive statement about the theology of the church as represented by these classic works. Fourth, he identifies particular ecclesiological principles, axioms, distinctions, and constants that derive from these classic texts.

In the second volume, Haight makes some revisions to his format in order to account for the emergence of a plurality of ecclesiologies during the Protestant Reformation. He begins with a portrayal of the situation in the Western church in Europe at the beginning of the sixteenth century. In the chapters that follow, he describes the historical development of an individual theologian's ecclesiology, followed by analysis, reflections on key factors at work, and articulation of derived principles. Later chapters in this volume offer a further refinement combining analysis of two or three positions and the principles drawn from these positions.

In the third volume, Haight no longer follows the fourfold pattern of the first two volumes, but he divides this last volume into two parts. In the first he discusses his notion of constructive transdenominational ecclesiology, and, in the second, he explores the various formative and aspirational aspects, implications, and contemporary challenges of "ecclesial existence" itself.

Though Haight set out to work on his Christian Community in History only in 2000, his interest in the subject goes back to the 1980's when he began to teach ecclesiology. Haight's ecclesiological project is located within the context of a general search for systematic ecclesiology after the Second Vatican Council. In Haight's understanding, prior to Vatican II there was a systematic ecclesiology. This ecclesiology was dogmatic, that is, it consisted of assertions that ultimately rested on external authority. Its starting point was the premise that Christ founded the church during his life in the twelve apostles. One would find this systematic ecclesiology in theological manuals. (4) Haight explains that, with the introduction of historical consciousness at Vatican II, hitherto viewed with suspicion, Roman Catholics arrived at the appreciation of the church's origin and development within a historically conscious framework. …

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