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1 The Conciliar Fellowship of the Church in Karl Barth and Modern Orthodox Theology Paul Valliere Writing in The Christian Century in 1958, Karl Barth expressed a hope that turned out to be prophetic. “What if from the Vatican or from Geneva,” he wrote, “instead of meaningless generalities a prophetic-apostolic word of repentance and peace were to be heard one morning? One hardly dares to hope for such a thing. But perhaps such a thing, or a similar thing, could still occur before the end and the new beginning of all things. Why exclude such a possibility?”1 Shortly thereafter, in January 1959, John XXIII announced his intention to convene a general council of the Roman Catholic 1. Karl Barth, How I Changed My Mind (Richmond: John Knox, 1966), 66–67. 3 Church. The council that followed in 1962–65, whatever its shortcomings, was surely a prophetic-apostolic word of repentance and peace. The event inspired Barth to visit Rome in 1966 for conversations with Vatican leaders. His pilgrimage “to the abode of the Apostles” ranks as one of the most significant ecclesial encounters of his long career.2 The hope that Barth expressed in 1958 did not include the Christian East, at least not explicitly. A few Orthodox churches belonged to the World Council of Churches in Barth’s day, but it would be stretching the point to suppose that he was thinking chiefly of them when he mused about “Geneva.” References to Orthodox Christianity are rare in his works. Yet Barth was an ecumenically minded theologian, and ecumenically minded theologians in our day would not pass over the Orthodox world in silence when contemplating the future of Christianity. So it is not out of place to apply Barth’s expression of hope from a half-century ago to a recent development in the Orthodox world: the announcement by the heads of the Orthodox churches that they intend to convene a worldwide Orthodox council in the spring of 2016.3 Since a worldwide council of Orthodoxy has not assembled in more than a millennium, the Holy and Great Council scheduled for 2016 will be at the very least a newsworthy event. Whether it will be a charismatic event—Spiritfilled and evangelical—cannot be predicted. But one may hope for such an outcome. Theological reflection on conciliarism is a way of lending substance to that hope. In this essay I explore how the modern 2. Karl Barth, Ad Limina Apostolorum: An Appraisal of Vatican II, trans. Keith R. Crim (Richmond: John Knox, 1968). 3. For the announcement by the ecumenical patriarchate see synaxis-2014, with a link to the message of the primates of the Orthodox churches. For an analysis see Fr. Cyril Hovorun, “The Fragile Promise of the Pan-Orthodox Council,” March 14, 2014, panorthodox_council.aspx. CORRELATING SOBORNOST 4 Orthodox concept of sobornost and Barth’s ecclesiology, considered together, shed light on the conciliar practice of the church. My point of departure is the set of ecclesial values that Barth and Orthodox theology hold in common. The first of these is the ecclesial orientation of Barth’s thought generally, his commitment to a church dogmatics, a commitment that accords well with Orthodox theology even if the Orthodox would deem Barth’s experience of the church to have been impoverished by his Protestantism. Second, the communal sensibility that pervades Barth’s ethical vision agrees with the spirit of Orthodoxy. When Barth writes that the Christian community, as distinct from secular communities, “is not content with anything less than a total common and reciprocal responsibility,” and “that this fellowship in the true sense of the term aims to be a true lifefellowship or communion, and in the last resort cannot be achieved even in part without the total self-giving of each to all,” he states an ideal that is essentially the same as Fyodor Dostoevsky’s ethic of universal responsibility.4 The Trinitarian basis of Barth’s understanding of Christian fellowship—his grounding of the community in “the supreme fellowship” of the Three Persons5 —provides another link with Orthodox theology, even though Barth’s Trinitarianism was marred by his defense of the filioque. On the Orthodox side, Barth’s theology of grace finds a counterpart in Orthodoxy’s recognition of the radically gracious character of the fellowship of the church. Orthodox Christians are as emphatic as Protestants in affirming that the church is a community 4. CD IV...


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