Ancient voices the church fathers in ecumenical conversations

Date of Award


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Theology


Department of Religious Studies


Advisor: Dennis M. Doyle

Second Advisor

Advisor: Maureen A. Tilley


A common feature of the Ecumenical Movement of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries is bi-lateral or multi-lateral dialogues. In these dialogues, two or more Christian churches arrange for meetings between representatives of each side in order to discuss how they can work toward the commonly accepted goal of full visible unity" between the sides. This dissertation will examine the U.S. Lutheran-Catholic dialogue (hereafter, L/RC) which began in 1964 and is on-going. When churches hold these dialogues they use many sources in their conversations as they strive for ecumenical convergence, consensus, or agreement. One of the sources used in dialogues, and especially in the L/RC, that has not received any significant attention to date is the church fathers. This dissertation will examine how the L/RC used the fathers and in what capacity the fathers were an aid to the L/RC's ecumenical work and in what capacity they were not. As the goal of the Ecumenical Movement is the church's "full and visible unity," it should not be surprising that the vision of the church which has the most theological purchase at the moment is known by a cognate of unity, namely communion ecclesiology. In large part, communion ecclesiology has been based on the church fathers, and this has been the case in many different Christian traditions, including Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestant churches represented in the World Council of Churches, as well as Lutheranism and Catholicism, all of which are examined as part of this dissertation. This relationship between communion ecclesiology and the fathers is critical for my present work because it is here that the exploration of the church fathers' place in ecumenical conversations becomes a viable and needed subject of research. Indeed, my main contention is that communion ecclesiology is both based in large part on the fathers and provides a framework for ecumenical conversation in which the fathers can be used to help forge ecumenical rapprochement. In the case of this dissertation, the relationship between communion ecclesiology and the fathers illumines how the L/RC used the fathers. It is the combination of the manner in which the fathers are used along with what the fathers actually said that is a real hope for the ecumenical movement. The L/RC used the fathers in two general ways: as sources for constructing historical background to a dialogue topic and as sources directly in the constructive ecumenical argument of a dialogue round which provided convergence, consensus, or agreement. As the L/RC increased its focus on communion ecclesiology as a vision of the church, the more explicit did it uses the fathers, and to greater effect. Most importantly, the fathers proved most helpful when the L/RC addressed issues of apostolicity, i.e., how the churches retain the mission and identity of the church from the time of the Apostles."


Catholic Church Relations Lutheran Church, Fathers of the church, Ecumenical movement Catholic Church, Ecumenical movement Lutheran Church, Christian union conversations, Lutheran Church Relations Catholic Church

Rights Statement

Copyright 2012, author