The Accidental Protestant

From the February 2014 Print Edition

Few modern Protestants dealt as carefully, fully, or sympathetically with twentieth-century Catholicism as did Berkouwer,” writes Peter Leithart of the man Timothy George has called “the most important Reformed theologian of the twentieth century next to Karl Barth.” Gerrit Cornelius Berkouwer understood well that the occurrence of authentic ecumenical dialogue is a “gift at the service of truth,” in John Paul II’s words, and his careful and nuanced examination of the Catholic tradition can help advance ecumenism and mutual understanding today.Berkouwer, who held the Chair in Dogmatics at the Free University in Amsterdam from 1945 to 1974, wrote both an eighteen-volume Dogmatische Studiën and five major books on Catholicism. He wrote three before Vatican II: The Struggle over Roman Catholic Dogma, Conflict with Rome, and New Perspectives in the Rome–Reformation Controversy. Having been personally invited by Cardinal Augustin Bea of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity to participate at the council as an observer, in 1964 during the council he wrote The Second Vatican Council and the New Catholicism, on the influence of the nouveaux théologiens (Henri de Lubac, Yves Congar, Jean Daniélou, M.D. Chenu, and others) on that council, and after the council in 1968 he wrote Retrospective of the Council to give an intensive examination of its major documents.The ecumenical conversations between the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity distinguished three contemporary Reformed attitudes toward the Roman Catholic Church: of those who remain unconvinced that the Catholic Church has actually dealt with the fundamental issues that divided Rome and the Reformation, those who “have not been challenged or encouraged to reconsider their traditional stance” and remain “largely untouched by the ecumenical exchanges of recent times,” and those who have engaged “in a fresh constructive and critical evaluation both of the contemporary teaching and practice of the Roman Catholic Church and of the classical controverted issues.” Continue Reading »