Can We Hang Together?
Ecumenical Agreement on Religious Liberty Awaits Catholic Clarity
For at least a generation now, ecumenism and religious liberty have been very much intertwined, not least in what has come to be called the "ecumenism of the trenches." In a culture increasingly hostile to the Christian faith, those of differing confessions have made common cause in defending the freedom to act on those confessions. While both necessary and beneficial, this ecumenism for the sake of religious liberty does have certain shortcomings. Particularly, it is by its nature ad hoc, pragmatic, and under-theorized.
By way of contrast, the Second Vatican Council famously attempted to articulate principled theological rationales for both ecumenism and religious liberty. The Council not only addressed both issues; they were at one point intended to be treated together, in a single document. There is clearly some warrant, then, for treating religious liberty itself as an ecumenical issue. But does it—or might it—constitute ecumenical common ground? Despite various disagreements between Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox, do we—or can we—agree on religious liberty? And if so, how might the manner by which agreement is reached inform other ecumenical endeavors?
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Korey D. Maas is an associate professor of history at Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan.
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