The False Certainty of Closure

Ecumenical Dialogue, New Evangelization, and Roman Catholic Identity in a Secular Age
  • Brianne Jacobs
Part of the Pathways for Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue book series (PEID)


The Roman Catholic Church continues today to work out its ever-new relationship with the world. The aim of the New Evangelization, a formal initiative spurred by Pope Benedict XVI, is to define that relationship more clearly for a twenty-first-century context. While the term New Evangelization was coined by Paul VI in the 1970s and used by John Paul II with reference to making the gospel meaningful once more to countries in the West,1 today the New Evangelization program, which is set as the topic of the 2012 XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, is as much about clarifying how Western Roman Catholics understand themselves and their church in today’s secular context as it is about reconverting or recruiting European and American Catholics. Ecumenism, the project of coming into the right relationship with people adhering to various Christian traditions, is highly determined by how we, the “self” in dialogue, see ourselves as subjects in the world. How we understand ourselves determines what it means to recognize and be in relationship with another, and the Roman church is working out how it understands this self in today’s secular, postmodern context.


Immanent Frame Immanent Order Transcendent Reality Secular Culture Catholic Identity 
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  1. 2.
    “Conciliar references to the church were largely epideictic orations devoted to the praise of this instrumental sign-sacrament-of the possibility of human unity.” Stephen Schloesser, “Against Forgetting: Memory, History, Vatican II,” Theological Studies 67, no. 2 (June 2006): 275–319.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Scholars including Saba Mahmood and Dipesh Chakrabarty have persuasively argued that the term modern has functioned to (1) create a false divide between the development of eastern and western “worlds,” and (2) falsely impose cultural norms regarding what it means to be modern beyond the bounds of Europe. For more, see Saba Mahmood, “Can Secularism Be Other-wise,” in Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age, ed. Michael Warner, Jonathan Van Antwerpen, and Craig Calhoun (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010), 282–99,Google Scholar
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    In an essay on his own work, Taylor writes about where he thinks his own Catholic faith enters into his conclusions in A Secular Age: “Let me come out of the closet and tell you what it means to be my kind of Catholic. I think that we have a calling to understand very different positions, particularly very different understandings of fullness. One very important reason is that if one doesn’t do that, one hobbles around on crutches. That is you give yourself a sense that your position is right because of some caricature of the alternative you entertain… And so one reason you don’t live by what’s powerful in your own faith unless you throw away the crutches that keep you from facing that.” Charles Taylor, “Afterword: Apologia pro Libro suo,” in Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age, ed. Michael Warner, Craig Calhoun, and Jonathan Van Antwerpen (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010), 319. Another way of putting what I’ve written is that ecumenism today must lead us to find what is powerful in our own faiths by engaging one another in a world that forces us together, not by retreating from one another under the guise of a new postmodernism or a new mission.Google Scholar
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© Brianne Jacobs 2016

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  • Brianne Jacobs

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