Jaeger David M. ,
Recensione: Natura e futuro delle Conferenze Episcopali. Atti del Colloquio internazionale di Sala-manca (3-8 gennaio 1988), a cura di H. Legrand, J. Manzanares e A. Garcia y Garcia; Natwaleza y futuro de las Conferencias Episcopates: Adas del Coloquio in,
Antonianum, 67/1 (1992) p. 156-158
The Salamanca international colloquium on the nature and future of Bishops' Conferences is no doubt one of the most significant meetings of its kind to have been held in recent years. Its Acta form a coherent whole and are assured the status of an indispensable resource for any further study of their complex theme. The contributions, all of them by eminently well qualified experts, are grouped in five «parts», to which are added opening and closing reflections. The five «parts» deal respectively with historical considerations, the place of the Conferences in the life of the Church, theological considerations, the «principle of subsidiarity». Most include both substantive contributions and «replies», to which are added the conclusions arrrived at by discussion groups organised on the basis of language. The main contributions in the historical part deal, in this order, with the history of the Conferences from Vatican II to the 1983 Code (G. Feliciani), the Conferences in the light of the particular councils of the first and second millennia (H.J. Sieben and A. Garcia y Garcia respectively) and the theology and legal standing of the Conferences at Vatican I I (R. Sobanski). The main contributions in the second part deal with the relationships between the Conference and the Diocesan Bishop, on the one hand, and between the Conference and the Apostolic See on the other (H. Mueller and P. Kraemer, respectively), as well as with the relationships between and among Bishops' Conferences themselves (I. Fuerer). Major «theological reflections*, in the third part, address the «theologi-cal status* of the Conferences (A. Anton) and the Conferences' teaching authority (J. Manzanares). The fourth part includes a sociological perspective on the «principle of subsidiarity* (F.-X. Kaufmann), as well as a consideration of the «state of the question* of the applicability of «subsidiarity» to the Church (J.A. Komonchak). The fifth part brings together the replies of three non-Catholic theologians, respectively a Lutheran, a Greek Orthodox and an Anglican, to the question whether, from their point of view, «res nostra agitur* when Bishops' Conferences are being discussed (A. Aarflot, J.D. Zizioulas, R. Greenacare, respectively).
It is impossible to summarise adequately the rich and varied contents of this ably edited record of the colloquium. Some marginal notes will have to suffice instead, by way, not so much of criticism (which would be utterly presumptuous), as of suggestions of what might be included in the order of the day of any future collaborative efforts of this kind, which may eventually be centred on the same - or a similar - theme.
The organisers showed commendable awareness of the considerable influence on ecclesial realities of other dimensions of historical existence, in inviting a sociological perspective on the «principle of subsidiarity». Might it not have been useful to acknowledge in a similarly explicit way the «political» dimension of the current debate on the theological and juridical «status» of Bishops' Conferences? After all the concerns that had led the 1985 Extraordinary Synod of Bishops to request an authoritative clarification of that «status», as well as the heated polemics that have followed upon distribution of a consultation paper on the subject commissioned by the Congregation for Bishops, have a well-known «political» context in various kinds of tensions that have arisen over specific initiatives and modi operandi of certain Conferences - either between Conferences and the Holy See, or between majorities and minorities within Conferences, or else between Conferences and certain groups of the faithful in the respective territories. Thus, in the concrete, some (but by no means all!) of those who have over the last few years most passionately argued for a «high theology» of Bishops' Conferences have done so against the background of their own even more passionate commitment to specific positions staked out by certain Conferences. Likewise some -though again, by no means all or even most - of those who have argued for a lesser theological and juridical «status» to be assigned to the Conferences, will find no difficulty in admitting that their thoughts on the matter have been occasioned by initiatives, statements and so on, with which they have felt bound to disagree, or which have caused them unease. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that. Historically theological reflection and development have more often than not been stimulated by quite concrete controversies. It would do much to clear the air therefore if these factors were more explicitly dealt with, as it were. In the same vein it would likewise be helpful to include an historical and «political» consideration of the current discussion in the light of past controversies and clashes between centrifugal and centripetal tendencies in Church government (including, e.g., conciliarism, episcopalism), frankly examining the possible analogies and their usefulness or otherwise to the present debate. Elements of this do appear in various contributions, but perhaps more focused treatment of the subject would have helped.
This same concern for realism in the discussion should lead to a specific consideration also of the place and role of Bishops' Conferences in the relationship of the Church to civil society, in the perspective of an up-to-date ius publicum ec-clesiasticum externum, as well as in terms of the nature and limits of national and international solidarity proper to the aggregate of the faithful and pastors in a given national territory. In terms of the latter, events since the colloquium was held do not really seem to justify the opinion of the English-language group in the debate on «subsidiarity» that the danger of nationalism is not at the present day a real one. In terms of the former, interesting questions may now be asked about the precise nature of the relations - especially treaty relations - which Bishops' Conferences may entertain with the political community. The recent practice of the Holy See of leaving treaties with States to be complemented by more detailed agreements between Bishops' Conferences and the respective civil authorities (as in the cases of. Italy and Spain) urgently requires a reliable and fully worked out theory of what actually is being done in those cases, and precisely on what basis, with what presuppositions and what consequences, and how this may relate - if at all - to the discussion on the theological and canonical «status» of the Conferences.
But perhaps the most evident desideratum is a comparative study of Episcopal Conferences and the Synodi Episcoporum (not the Synodi permanentes) of the Eastern (Catholic) Churches. There may well be sharply contrasting ways of doing that, but there can no longer be any doubt that no canonical discussion can henceforth meaningfully take place in the perspective of the Codex luris Canonici alone, without an in-depth consideration of the Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium as well. A more extensive Orthodox contribution should also be very welcome. Indeed the all too brief «Orthodox point of view» by Metropolitan J.D. Zizioulas is particularly interesting in the very pertinent questions that it asks, and is refreshing in its candour about the diversity of «points of view» within the Orthodox Churches themselves.
Naturally underlying the whole discussion are fundamental questions of ec-clesiology in general, and concerning the nature of the episcopate (and the ordained ministry as a whole) in particular, with each one of the contributors evidently - and inevitably - presupposing a great deal. Still human knowing is discursive, and therefore necessarily «sectional», and it would have been unreasonable - and quite impractical - to expect this particular colloquium - which incidentally confirms the long-held distinction of Salamanca as in the very first rank of Catholic centres of learning - to have broadened its scope much beyond the extensive territory it already covers. Finally once more, this permanently useful record of collaborative theological and canonical enquiry, in whatever edition (and there are other editions in other langauges as well) is a must for every serious student of ecclesiology and canon law.