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The Ecclesiological Renovation of Vatican II
An Orthodox Examination of Rome’s Ecumenical Theology Regarding Baptism and the Church

Protopresbyter Peter Heers

Overview:

More than 50 years have passed since the Second Vatican Council - arguably the most consequential religious gathering of the 20th century - produced a new vision of what the church is and ought to be. Remarkably, in spite of the subsequent “ecumenical spring” and flurry of ecumenical activity, there has not been a thorough examination of the Council’s new ecclesiology from an Orthodox standpoint - until now. The Ecclesiological Renovation of Vatican II, first published in Greek in 2014, has already been hailed by leading Greek Orthodox churchmen as a watershed in ecumenical studies, a paradigm shift for ecumenical relations and ecclesiology, required reading for expert and seeker alike.

In 14 chapters, with more than 700 citations, both the historical and theological road leading to the new ecclesiology (part one) and the ecclesiology of the Council itself (part two) are examined thoroughly in the light of the patristic tradition of Orthodoxy. The roots of the new ecclesiology in the recent (Congar, Bea, Newman) and distant (Calvin, Aquinas, Augustine) West are unearthed and examined, thus shedding new light on the continuity, or discontinuity, of Vatican II with the Western Christian tradition. Seen in its proper historical and theological context the conciliar vision of the church is then examined in depth, compared and contrasted with the Orthodox patristic vision of the Body of Christ, revealing new horizons for both researcher and believer, participant in, and observer of, the Orthodox-Roman Catholic Theological Dialogue.

Praise for The Ecclesiological Renovation of Vatican II:

From the Book Presentation of the Greek Edition, June 18, 2015, in Thessaloniki, Greece

Fr. Peter Heers’ book, The Ecclesiological Renovation of Vatican II, is remarkable in every way… . I want to congratulate the author, for he labored on his subject with objectivity and sobriety and has presented us with an important work which assists us all, especially when, due to our lack of time and many responsibilities, we are unable to have access to the sources. The book is written in an academic manner, that is, objectively, as the tradition of the Fathers of the Church designates.

Father Peter worked methodically, examining both the theological currents which preceded the Second Vatican Council and the context within which the council itself labored. Moreover, he studied in depth the texts of the council and the analyses of various theologians that followed the council.

Having read this as a dissertation many times and as closely as possible, I have come to understand how papal theology became estranged from Orthodox patristic theology and tradition; how the views of papal theologians with regard to baptism and ecclesiology developed from Blessed Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and subsequent theologians; and how this line of thinking evolved through a variety of decisions and finally arrived at the Second Vatican Council, which then produced a new ecclesiology.

The book which we present today is very important and must be read both by theologians and the wider public. However, most especially it must be read by Bishops, and in particular those who are involved with theological and inter-Christian issues and with the theological and inter-Christian dialogues.

— Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) of Nafpaktou and St. Vlassios

We are indebted to Fr. Peter for helping us navigate our way through these documents and for his clarion call to vigilance as we evaluate what the council considered to be a return to the sources (ressourcement).

— Bishop Basil of the Wichita and Mid-America, Antiochian Archdiocese of North America

We are very grateful to Fr. Peter Heers for this invaluable contribution! In his book he clearly defines the boundaries of the Church, which is so necessary today for our seminarians who will need to teach and defend this Dogma of the Church. We anxiously await the appearance of his book in our bookstore!

— Rev. Archimandrite Luke (Murianka), Abbot of Holy Trinity Monastery and Rector of Holy Trinity Seminary

This study, the only one of its kind, penetrates to the core of the Roman Catholic teaching on the Mysteries… clarifying, in the most unambiguous manner, the entirely different presuppositions of approach to Baptism by Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy. With Fr. Heers’ study, many issues are clarified, older positions are overturned and new research perspectives are opened up for an objective and dispassionate evaluation of the Dialogue and its real prospects … The author effectively calls attention to missing pieces of the historical and ecclesiological puzzle, which he then fills in with the unfailing guide of the ancient Christian Tradition which remains whole and intact within the historical continuation of patristic Orthodoxy. The successive maneuverings for the sake of the aims of Vatican II and facilitation of the Dialogue is critiqued soberly and objectively. The precision of his critical analysis is successful on account of his rich knowledge of the Orthodox Patristic Tradition and the medieval and contemporary West. His critique consistently remains within the limits of frankness and nostalgia for a honest Dialogue aimed at realization of true unity according to the words of Christ (Jn. 17, 21, 24)… This study is an essential contribution to today’s ecumenical relations and will be considered carefully.

— Protopresbyter George Metallinos, Professor and Dean Emeritus, Theological School of the University of Athens

A masterful examination of the changes within Roman Catholic self-understanding over the centuries and their consequences for our time. Herein one will find essential material for careful Orthodox reflection on one of the primary challenges for the Church today.

— Archpriest Stephen Freeman, Rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church, Oak Ridge, TN ​

The Ecclesiological Renovation of Vatican II is a book of great importance for our contemporary ecclesiastical life. In it we learn not only of the origins and development of “baptismal theology,” unknown to all but a small circle of experts, but also of the consequences this new theory has for the Church today. Highly recommended!

— Hieromonk Luke of the Holy Monastery of Grigoriou, Mt. Athos, Greece

Fr. Heers’ study is the first detailed examination of the historical process of the separation of the Mystery of Baptism from the other Mysteries, with the conclusion being reached that this led to the “extension” of the Church and the establishment of a new Roman Catholic ecclesiology. This study does not simply constitute an academic contribution to an all-important theological issue, but it is rather an ecclesiological study which offers a great deal to the Church today, for it opens up new perspectives for every good-willed reader, whether Orthodox or Roman Catholic.

— Demetrios Tselingides, Professor of Dogmatic Theology, Theological School of the University of Thessaloniki

The Ecclesiological Renovation of Vatican II is one of the most significant works of Orthodox sacramentology to appear since Fr. George Metallinos’ I Confess One Baptism. Fr. Peter’s work is a fulfillment of Fr. Georges Florovsky’s plea that Orthodox theologians “re-experience” the dialectical twists and turns of Western theology, the goal being the clearing away of any unnecessary occlusions that stand between the non-Orthodox and the Church of Christ. Only through such a neopatristic approach as Fr. Heers’ are we able to sympathize with the “existential” situation of the non-Orthodox while at the same time preserving and proclaiming the Orthodox faith.

— James L. Kelley, author of A Realism of Glory: Lectures On Christologyin the Works of Protopresbyter John Romanides

From the Author's Preface:

At the center of theological speculation within the ecumenical movement today stands the Mystery of Baptism. Baptism as the basis for Christian unity has been touted and painstakingly explored by both Roman Catholic scholars, especially since the Second Vatican Council in 1962, and Protestant scholars, within the World Council of Churches. Orthodox theologians have also taken part in this discussion, but largely from the outside looking in. This is because, while Roman Catholics and Protestants share a common history and many common ecclesiological assumptions, the Orthodox approach the question from an entirely different historical experience and set of theological presuppositions. They have an historical memory which retains the Patristic consensus of the first four centuries as the starting point and heart of the matter even today.

The potential of Baptism to be the key which will open the door to unity was not fully acknowledged until the Second Vatican Council. With this Council’s recognition of both the validity and efficacy of non-Roman Catholic Baptism and an already existing ecclesiastical unity, all eyes were set on Baptism.

In spite of the extensive ecumenical literature on the subject, scholars have neglected to examine important inconsistencies, historical and ecclesiological, contained in the conciliar document of the Council on the subject, Unitatis Redintegratio (Decree on Ecumenism), as well the historical and theological road which led to its drafting. As a result, premature theological conclusions have been reached and even celebrated without due consideration of the Patristic and Orthodox outlook.

This book hopes to fill this gap by presenting a critical examination of the place and understanding of Baptism in the unity of the Church as expounded in the Decree on Ecumenism. This critique will likewise contribute to a fuller understanding of the Orthodox view of the place of Baptism in the unity of the Church.

In this study, our principle aim is systematically to present the main points of the dogmatic teaching on Baptism and the Church in the Decree on Ecumenism, with important references to the Council’s chief ecclesiological text, Lumen Gentium. In order to better understand the historical and theological context of the Decree on Ecumenism, we will review key aspects of the historical and theological development of the new ecclesiology presented therein. As our examination is from the perspective of the Orthodox Church, we will concentrate on those points at odds with Orthodox dogma.

As a secondary goal of our study, we examine the claim put forward by the authors and defenders of the Council’s new ecclesiology that it represents ressourcement, a return to the sources, and that the Council, far from being a departure from the Tradition or an innovation, was a new actualization of Tradition. We will answer the question: Were the theologians of Vatican successful in returning Catholicism back to the ecclesiology of the Church of the first millennium, or did they, despite their stated intentions, fail in this regard?

Our study is divided into two parts. In Part One we will present key aspects of the historical development of Roman Catholic teaching on Baptism and the Church. In Part Two, we will examine the teaching of the Council on Baptism and the Church, as it is expressed in the two encyclicals referred to above, as well as examine the communio ecclesiology as the guiding concept of the Council’s teaching.

Notes:

  • Print Length: ~360 pages