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Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology
October 5, 2002

Rodney L. Petersen, Executive Director
The Boston Theological Institute


The reality of globalization is such that when forgiveness and reconciliation occur in civil society, this is not a private affair but a public statement of far-reaching political import. The significance of forgiveness and the possibilities of reconciliation raise questions for Christian theology that reach deep into the self-understanding of the community of churches and affect the quality of their public witness.

Whether churches, or their individual members, are able to discover the way to forgiveness or sustain a momentum toward reconciliation in the face of a real politick draws us to questions that are fundamental for Christian identity. For example, do we understand ourselves in the first order as forgiven or do we forgive? Or, how do we understand the way in which forgiveness comes to us? And, is there a need for a mediator, or for the particularity of forgiveness in the context of universal religious experience?

If forgiveness is real and the possibilities of reconciliation manifold, how do we model this reality in civil society? This question draws us to our understanding and practice of what it means to be the church. It is a question that underscores the importance of churches with different languages, liturgies, and governing structures to be in dialogue with one another so as to avoid scandal. It is a question that draws us to the quality of the public witness of the church in a world marked by the divisions and conflict that are inherent to the kinds of social change we can expect in the twenty-first century.

Finally, the churches gathered together in this conference have a unique role to play in fostering our understanding of forgiveness and reconciliation. They are churches that shape a landscape that reaches from the White Sea to the Black Sea to the Red Sea and across the Mediterranean Sea — and are also found throughout the rest of the world. They are churches with a unique challenge in a region too often characterized for its clash of civilizations.

The governing text from the Christian Scriptures for these remarks is taken from the letter of the Apostle Paul to the Church at Corinth (II Corinthians 5:17-18):

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.


I would like to begin with a story. The de-escalation of conflict can have nothing to do with forgiveness — and everything to do with it. When we were filming the material for the documentary, "Prelude to Kosovo," our group from the BTI and Boston College was in the city of Zenica, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where we had been invited to speak with some local Muslim leaders. After identifying initial presentations and ourselves we spent an uneasy hour or more on the front porch of the new Islamic Pedagogical Institute attempting to carry on a dialogue about the nature of the conflict in Bosnia from their perspective. After getting almost nowhere in the conversation for quite some time, a young professor of Sharia (Islamic law) turned to me and said, "All we really want is for someone to say ‘I’m sorry.’" This having been said, statements of apology having been heard, we proceeded into a more fruitful, if still incomplete conversation.

We had a similar encounter the following year in Ghana as Black Africans confessed to their North American brothers and sisters their sorrow over their ancestors part in the slave trade that so decimated West Africa. Needless to say, this encounter with apology drew many other North Americans into an atmosphere of forgiveness and reconciliation.

I. Forgiveness, Reconciliation, and Restorative Justice

We live in one world. This was known in the first century of the Christian era as apostles, missionaries, and teachers moved out throughout the Mediterranean world and were blessed by Africans (Acts 13:1) to carry the Gospel to the Dark Continent of Europe. It was then, as it is now, a world characterized by economic injustice, political division, racial intolerance, sexual exploitation, and religious competition and division. Yet, ever since the flight of the Voyager I spacecraft in 1977 we have seen this one world differently. Seen from the blackness of outer space our planet has a distinctive gem-blue color when viewed from afar.

This encounter with ourselves is a facet of globalization. 1 And we now view the diversity of life on this singular blue planet more immediately. Often it comes to us through stereotypes such as "MacWorld vs. Jihad" — code words for the homogenization and tribalization that seem to characterize our era. Issues of macro-economic policy and regional political instability have seemed to give visible reality to Samuel Huntington’s oft-quoted thesis about the "Clash of Civilizations" 2— whether positively or negatively construed such that we fear not only the disruption of our lives but that of the habitats and neighborhoods of our world. We watch, thinking that we are bystanders, as the peace-process in the Middle East unravels, or view from afar — or near — regional conflict throughout the world. 3 Through the events that have opened the twenty-first century new meaning is given to the reality behind the title of the book, Managing Global Chaos 4.

The reality of globalization is such that when forgiveness and reconciliation occur in civil society, this is not a private affair but a public statement of far-reaching political import. Consider three examples from the fields of public policy and health care that draw us to consider the public significance of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Entry Points

The Second World War brought not only history’s most evident and documented holocaust but also some of our most contemporary examples of what living a life of forgiveness might look like in such persons as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Corrie Ten Boom, and Simone Weil 5. Notable in the field of holocaust studies, Simon Wiesenthal asks what forgiveness would mean for the victim as well as the perpetrator of the crimes in the Nazi concentration camps? Taken from his work detail to the bedside of a dying member of the SS who wanted to confess and obtain absolution from a Jew, Wiesenthal says nothing, betraying neither compassion nor criticism but leaving alone "an uncanny silence in the room. 6" It is in this context that the young German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, began to lay the groundwork for a theology of forgiveness in forms of what he called "costly grace" (The Cost of Discipleship) and in a pattern of spirituality that committed us to healing relationships (Life Together) 7. The simple trust and evangelical obedience of Corrie ten Boom has left an inspiring legacy in popular piety 8. It is through suffering and forgiveness that Simone Weil found the means to a spiritual unity with God 9. This recognition also gave impetus to the emergence of international institutions designed to promote forgiveness and reconciliation such as the World Council of Churches, long called for by Orthodox Churches and other contributing movements. 10

A more recent entry point to our recognition of the public value of forgiveness and reconciliation began the day that Nelson Mandela left Robben Island, opening the way to the National Unity and Reconciliation Act of 26 July 1995 and the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. Other national tragedies exist — in Chili, Argentina, the Middle East, Rwanda, the Balkans, Chechnya — to name but a few. But the political and religious leadership in South Africa has pointedly raised the issue of public forgiveness as the only way to a constructive future. This is the point made by Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his assessment of the transition being made in South Africa in No Future Without Forgiveness 11. In a recent book that examines national tragedies, legal scholar Martha Minow balances difficult pairs of responses to horrific violence, remembering and forgetting, judging and forgiving, reconciling and avenging. In her chapter, "Vengeance and Forgiveness," she marks these as ends on a spectrum of human responses to atrocity that call for therapy, politics, cross-communal reconciliation, recognition of cruelty and lack of closure 12. Donald Shriver writes of the left over debris of national pasts that continues to clog the relationships of diverse groups of humans around the world that these will never get cleaned up and animosity will never drain away "until forgiveness enters those relationships in some political form. 13" Such debris contributes to the spiraling cycles of conflict analyzed by social scientists. 14

We have become more conscious of the effects of cycles of violence in society. 15 Such psychic distress draws us to a third entry point to a public discussion of forgiveness and reconciliation, that which has taken root in the medical and health care fields. Work among health professionals over the past quarter century has drawn increasing attention to forgiveness as a powerful psychotherapeutic tool. This recognition has often come with respect to trauma studies 16. Richard Fitzgibbons points to major mechanisms for dealing with anger that affect health and well-being. These draw upon forgiveness, particularly cognitive, emotional, and spiritual levels in the process of healing 17.

Particular studies in interpersonal relations, marriage and the family, and private and social behavior are pointing to the deep connection between personal psychological health, social bonding and healthy civic life and forgiveness 18. Learning to forgive one’s self, or self-acceptance, and addiction and personal depression, or violent and abusive behavior are seen to be increasingly connected and with social and even public policy consequence 19.

What is Forgiveness?

While we might begin with the utterances made by Christ on the cross (Luke 23:24) 20, in our own time different people have offered a variety of interpretations for the word "forgiveness" with respect to its public significance. And while no one has brought the term into public currency more than Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu from South Africa, others like Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, Rajmohan Gandhi, and Dr. Zaki Badawi, Chair of the Imams and Mosques Council of Great Britain have been equally vocal 21. Forgiveness might be seen as a commitment to a way of life and practice 22. It might be defined as a commitment of the will 23. It may also imply that which entails liberation from the past 24. Forgiveness might focus upon and be seen as applicable to the secular realm and public policy 25, or it might be seen as focused upon motivations that reduce interactions with one who has hurt us 26. One researcher, Joanna North, writes, "Forgiveness is a matter of a willed change of heart, the successful result of an active endeavor to replace bad thoughts with good, bitterness and anger with compassion and affection." Another (Michelle Nelson) writes of stages of forgiveness, detached, limited, and complete along a road toward healing 27. Journalist and political philosopher Hannah Arendt write of Jesus as the "discoverer" of forgiveness. Müller-Fahrenholz writes:

To understand what forgiveness does to our relationships we need to see the bondage that evil creates. In Song of Solomon the African-American novelist Toni Morrison writes, ‘If you take a life, you own it. You are responsible for it. You can’t get rid of nobody by killing them. They are still there, and they are yours now.’ This is a forceful way of saying that every act of transgression constitutes a bondage that keeps the perpetrator and victim locked together. The more violent the transgression, the deeper the bondage 28.

Müller-Fahrenholz writes that forgiveness generally refers to a specific act of pardoning. "Someone repents, someone forgives." "Repentance" and "forgiveness" are taken as the two sides of a process in which the perpetrator of an evil act confesses his or her remorse and the victim of that act grants pardon. Two elements explain why forgiveness has become so cheap a notion: its triteness and its inconsequentiality. 29" It is in this light that Judith Hermann raises the question of a "forgiveness bypass" or the failure to deal with the harm that we cause consciously or inadvertently.

What is Reconciliation?

Reconciliation is the resolution of violences. Stanley Harakas writes that there are two aspects that characterize the attitude of God toward humanity in the plan of reconciliation, the "philanthropic" and what might be termed God’s creation goodness 30. Public reconciliation begins to happen when we participate in positive relations with previous enemies. The term "Reconciliation" (katallagé), as used by the Apostle Paul (II Cor. 5:16-21; Eph. 2:11-22), was a word used for monetary exchange in the Hellenistic world. It meant "the making of what one has into something other" or, by extension, one becomes a new person by exchanging places with another. It is not without effort (Matt. 5:38-41). In the OT and NT the term implies agreement after estrangement, with the apparent theological premise that sin has separated humanity from God but that God purposes to aid God’s enemies. Such biblical paradigms of reconciliation as that of Joseph and his brothers in Egypt (Gen 50:15-21), the embrace of Esau and Jacob (Gen 33:4) or, finally, Jesus’ death on our behalf imply great cost. Here, one becomes a new creation because a power from without enables one to be other than what one was before.

The Kairos Document (SA) talked of "cheap reconciliation," in analogy to Bonhoeffer’s "cheap grace," implying reconciliation without justice 31. It raised the question of the temporal sequencing of justice and reconciliation and whether justice as perceived by all parties can ever be finally determined, hence need for truth, as we are bound in patterns of victim and perpetrator. In this light, we might speak of "national reconciliation" and wonder about "collective healing" and the pursuit of "political unity," but by whose definition. Or, in personal relations stumble on the term the "forgiveness bypass" (Judith Herman), a shortchanging of justice in inter-personal relations on the way toward reconciliation. Worthington writes that "Forgiveness happens inside an individual; reconciliation happens within a relationship 32". Miroslav Volf, substituting the term "embrace" for "peace," claims four points about the relation between justice and embrace: 1) the primacy of the will to embrace, 2) attending to justice as a precondition of actual embrace, 3) the will to embrace as the framework of the search for justice, and 4) embrace as the horizon of the struggle for justice 33. These views, taken from the domain of national life and inter-personal relationships, remind us of the Latin root for reconciliation, concilium, or a deliberative process in which conflicting parties meet "in council. 34"

John Paul Lederach envisions reconciliation as a meeting place where Truth, Mercy, Justice and Peace come together. He writes how from his work in Nicaragua Psalm 85:10, the locus for these terms, took on such revelatory and reconciling potential He adds, "Reconciliation can be thus understood as both a focus and a locus. As a perspective, it is built on and oriented toward the relational aspects of a conflict. As a social phenomenon, reconciliation represents a space, a place or location of encounter, where parties to a conflict meet. 35" Dawson outlines numerous areas in need of reconciliation 36.

But does forgiveness come before reconciliation? We are drawn to think in the church through the influence of the liturgy of an order that follows something like this: confession, repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Yet, as Charles Villa-Vicencio writes, to focus on the ideal rather than more modest processes can be confusing and counter-productive: "reconciliation as a process preceding and ideally incorporating forgiveness. 37"

What is "Restorative Justice"?

We would like to think that forgiveness moves toward reconciliation and that reconciliation moves toward patterns of life that are based in trust and are just and equitable. This would appear to be the conclusion of Psalm 85:10 — the meaningful meeting place of truth, mercy, justice, and peace 38. Such relationships might be called restorative, or we might use the term "restorative justice." To be reconciled to another, not merely to tolerate the other, means that change is required on the part of both parties as we seek the restoration of each other, something we or the other may or may not be prepared to do. Another way to refer to such new patterns of relationship is to use the term "repairative" justice or even "transformative" justice. This perspective about how we might live together draws upon the Hebrew Bible, or both OT and NT assumptions — and also upon the best wisdom traditions of indigenous peoples and other religions or faith traditions 39. It emphasizes the humanity of both victims and victimizers. It seeks to repair social connections, to foster peace rather than retribution against offenders 40.

Most agree that restorative justice promotes healing, but the kind of healing depends upon the nature of the breach. One focus is to see crime as more than simply law-breaking, an offense against governmental laws and regulations. Instead, restorative Justice advocates also see crime as causing multiple injuries to victims, the community and the offender 41. Another lens is to view the criminal justice process as one that should help repair the injuries brought about by crime 42. Still others protest the government’s monopoly over society’s response to crime. Victims, offenders, and their communities must also be involved as early as possible and as much as possible 43.

Carolyn Boys-Watson, director of the Center for Restorative Justice, Suffolk University, defines our term in the following way: "Restorative justice is a broad term which encompasses a growing social movement to institutionalize peaceful resolutions to criminal and human rights violations. These range from international peacemaking tribunals such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa to innovations within our courts, jails, and prisons, such as victim-offender dialogue, community justice committees and victim impact panels. Rather than privileging the law and the state, restorative justice engages the victim, offender and the affected community in search of solutions that promote repair and reconciliation. Restorative justice seeks to build partnerships to re-establish mutual responsibility for constructive responses to crime and wrongdoing within our communities 44."

The resurgence of religion in the late twentieth century is often seen to be the cause of social conflict, but it is clear that there is another side of the story as we begin to look at the new interest of forgiveness in public life, particularly as that is working its way toward paths of reconciliation and restorative justice.

Nevertheless, the conversation about religion’s role is often truncated — falling back into a real politick as appears to be happening with respect to national debate over the current Iraq crisis. The church fails in its task unless it draws us to the deeper core of Forgiveness, reconciliation, and restorative justice are not the private property of the Christian community or its churches. Nevertheless, the churches have a special role to play in fostering their practice and in groundingtheir understanding.

II. Forgiveness and Reconciliation in Christian Theology

In exploring the nature of this special role that churches have in the public character of forgiveness and reconciliation we must first note that in the history of the church the practice of forgiveness has been most clearly tied to penitence and often privatized as a part of individual religious practice since the early medieval period 45. Throughout what became recognized as "Christendom," the public significance of forgiveness often languished as more retributive conceptions of justice dominated social theory, power politics and practice. Forgiveness was often "spiritualized" and removed from he practice of everyday life 46. If forgiveness might happen between God and an individual penitent, among persons and groups in society only some lesser form of condoning, dismissal, or forgetting appeared possible 47. The recovery of particular patterns of religious behavior and theology in the Protestant reforms began a rethinking of the topic among Christians. While it has often been said, particularly of Lutheranism, that all of Luther’s thoughts "radiate like the rays of the sun from one glowing core, namely the gospel of the forgiveness of sins, 48" a juridical and sacrificial view of the atonement continued into the early modern period, as seen in the classic liturgies and theologies of the newly established national churches in the West 49. Nevertheless, the Protestant Reformation and Roman counter reforms stimulated simultaneously in the church a recovery of the term "forgiveness" and thoughts about its practice, although this often occurred in more pietistic oriented circles and apart from the institutional churches 50.

As we move into the modern period a division in theological thinking and practice has often been evident between those who join forgiveness to justification, with a personal and vertical view of salvation, and those who connect it with justice and the search for reconciliation but in language that often moves from transcendence to a prevailing political rhetoric 51, a spiritual division lamented by those seeking a more integrated spirituality. Generally the tradition of reflection in systematic theology and ethics is more remarkable for its omission than treatment of the topic of forgiveness 52. The theological concepts of forgiveness and reconciliation, ways of understanding the doctrine of the atonement, became caught up in the protracted theological conflict in the West as theology sought to clarify itself as a science of the church.

Writing at the end of the period of the breakup of New England theology, Paul Lehmann observes the decisive nature of forgiveness for Protestant and, indeed, for all Christian theology 53. The real crisis to which Protestantism had been brought by the early twentieth century, he felt, was one that focused upon the question of whether man, or humanity, forgives itself or is forgiven. Caught between an arid scholasticism and an evolutionary humanism, a whole line of Protestant thinking which had evolved in relation to the Enlightenment was called into question in Lehmann’s day by the dialectic theology of Karl Barth. As Lehmann summarizes, following his analysis of theological thought as it had evolved the nineteenth century,

The orthodox conception of imputation was predicated upon the insight into the incomparable uniqueness of Christ. The fate of this insight, when the protective doctrine of the two natures and the three offices was replaced by the more intelligible category of the ethical vocation, is almost predictable 54.

Lehmann continues, ironically, with an edge for any age of narcissistic indulgence by adding that, "The historical uniqueness of Jesus will always be persuasive in a world peopled with potential Christs so long as these remain fascinated by their own possibilities." Without getting into the theological repartee of the early twentieth century between Albrecht Ritschl and Karl Barth, the concern of dialectical theology was not to make theology intelligible so much as to permit it to remain faithful to the mystery of an objective truth that speaks to the human condition 55. And so, Lehmann writes, how is the grace of God thought to be coming to one to forgive one? Grace comes freely. It involves a personal encounter. The forensic character of grace requires the irreversible priority of God in the act of forgiveness. The existence of a community of the forgiven, the church, is not the continuation of a pre-existing reality but an expression of the absolute freedom of the divine will.

This emphasis upon the divine will reminds us of our grounding as "persons" in a free act of divinity, an ecumenical concern as much as it is an Orthodox doctrine and one of increasing scientific inquiry from many disciplines. The nature of the person has been equally of central concern to John Paul II. In his retrieval of Orthodox reflection, John D. Zizoulas grounds personhood in existential metaphysics, with a phenomenological description of "person" in terms of conscious acts through which one experiences substantial subjectivity. Early Christian theology was forced to derive a new metaphor for Being with anthropological implications for human self-understanding because of the cosmological revolution of which it was a part. As with Judaism, early Christian theology was drawn to conceive of God, not the world, as being absolute. The biblical doctrine of creatio ex nihilo obliged theology to trace ontology back to God, not the world, grounding the person not in necessity as a product of nature or even nurture, but in a form of freedom derivative of divinity. It is this person who has inalienable rights — "life liberty and the pursuit of happiness" — we are wont to say, but now in the context of global human rights.

So, too, for our forgiveness and reconciliation before God. In forgiveness the grace of God comes to man as a free act of God. There is a fundamental discontinuity between God and man in the order of creation and so also in the work of recreation. God forgives, we do not self-forgive. The intriguing thing from a theological perspective today is the ways in which Western, or Latin, theology is finding a new raprochment between Roman Catholic and Protestant on the doctrine of justification, an important step toward the healing of the division in the Western church, a part of the journey along the way toward greater ecumenical understanding between East and West.

The reality of this work of forgiveness and reconciliation is, for Stephen N. Williams, related to our understanding of revelation 56. Picking up where Lehmann left off, Williams argues that, "the contest between revelation and reason can be significantly read as the conflict between the self-defining subject and the historical enactment of reconciliation…57." But Williams moves the argument for the objective reality of our forgiveness and reconciliation in Christ further than Lehmann. Williams is concerned not only about epistemological questions as they have evolved since the Enlightenment in the West. Not doubting that they figure into the story of a contemporary rejection of traditional Christianity, Williams does find an alternative way of reading intellectual history since the Enlightenment through a moral rejection of Christianity that only then issued in an epistemological disqualification of Christian belief 58.

Williams offers due attention to the evolution of epistemology, following a French and English trajectory defined by Descartes, Locke and Tindal more than that of Continental Idealism as was the case with Lehmann. He finds an opening for renewed thinking about the nature of the atonement as it bears upon forgiveness and reconciliation by turning Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophical skepticism back upon itself as the twentieth century moved toward a form of modernity that found renewed space for Pascal’s wager for belief in the midst of moral rather than epistemological considerations. Turning, by way of Michael Polanyi and Leslie Newbigin, Williams offers a reading of the accounts of Jesus that asks us, following Bonhoeffer 59, to consider again a Christ of faith identical to the historical Jesus who forgives sins not directed against himself adding conundrum to the nature of his identity. Williams concludes: "If Jesus did conduct himself in this way, we are at the heart of a puzzle best resolved, as it has seemed to many, by a confession of deity. If he did not, we are at the heart of a deeper puzzle about the formation of the earliest Christian traditions 60."

Looking at the question of forgiveness and reconciliation as a matter of Christian theology enables us to see that in matters of public policy we are not simply dealing with religion as a social phenomenon. Theology also matters. Concerning the doctrine of forgiveness and reconciliation we are dealing with at least three issues that also bear upon religion as a social phenomenon but only by way of theological analysis. These are, first, our understanding of the human person; second, the question of the nature of justification, and, third, with the reality of the presence of Jesus as the Christ as this "discoverer" of forgiveness comes to us 61.

Persons grounded in the freedom of God in creation and recreation, justification by faith through grace, the reality of the work of God as we hear it and practice it in community — these are important areas of ecumenical reflection, and in some cases achievement, in the face of division over the ethical shape of the Christian life. A commitment to forgiveness and reconciliation on the part of the church is a commitment to dialogue, the importance of which was marked out so well by Mikhail Bakhtin amidst the heterogeneity and contradictions of modernity 62, a point made forcefully by Jacques Derrida 63.

III. The Church as the Communion of the Forgiven

The question of why and in what way we may require a mediator for an adequate foundation for forgiveness and reconciliation is a topic that cannot be taken up in this paper. The work of René Girard has become central here. For Girard, the sacrifice of the scapegoat becomes, in his understanding, the origin and description of religion. Biblical religion is unique, argues Girard, in that it does not side with the powerful who benefit from the violence of scapegoating, but aligns itself with victims 64. A point of special interest for Girard is that he finds in Jesus one who refuses to enter the spiral of violence, one who breaks this spiral by yielding to it despite his evident guiltlessness, and so through forgiveness opens the way to reconciliation.

We will leave the question of why we should forgive to Desmond Tutu 65. So, too, the sequence through which we travel encompassing confession, repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation and restorative justice 66. Instead we will turn immediately to some concluding points about the church. The nature of forgiveness is such that it is difficult to practice forgiveness apart from a community that encourages this. The community that practices forgiveness is the church. The church that lives in the world is committed to restorative, repairative, and transformative justice. This is the good news for all the world.

What, then, is the church? This is a topic of continuing reflection and debate, as the shape of global Christianity continues to change. Philip Jenkins writes that we stand at an historical turning point as epochal today as the Reformation was almost 500 years ago. De-centralized, privatized Northern Christianity is being replaced by forms of Southern Christianity that are more traditional and communal in nature, more shaped by a theology that is noteworthy for its supernatural, neo-orthodox perspective, and a world view that understands Jesus to be the embodiment of divine power. This is a Jesus who, as in the early church, was able to overcome calamity and sickness, precisely the experience of so many in a global South living under siege. Is it any wonder that Southern Christianity is shaped by an apocalyptic and messianic orientation 67?

Theologians in the West like Augustine and Aquinas have left us with a tradition of debate over the church’s identity. One author, Raymond Brown, speaks of churches that reflect the different heritages of the Apostles 68. For Orthodox, this is the Church of the seven councils 69. From the perspective of what the church does, one might speak of different models of the church. One compelling model is that of mystical communion, raising questions about the boundaries of the church 70. Rahner’s proposal is that if the church’s identity includes openness, then a certain amount of "vicariousness" means that the church thinks and feels on her own behalf and on behalf of others (Vatican II, Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio, nr. 11) 71. This is the third of three types of the church identified by Van Beeck, "pistic," "charismatic," and "mystic" as centered in a Spirit-enlivened Jesus 72. But the struggle today is with unity, often defined as that of a common magisterium located in Rome, raising the question of how the Church of Christ is maintained in the truth of the Gospel through the Holy Spirit 73. At this point many issues pertain. Luther, fearful of a theology of glory that ended in self-exaltation, suggested instead a theology of the cross, often yielding an unstable reality. This, for Barth, is the church as herald 74, or an assembly that responds to God’s word 75.

The Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches defines the church in the following way in the document, The Nature and Purpose of the Church. Section (I. A. i.) reads:

9. The Church belongs to God. It is the creation of God's Word and Holy Spirit. It cannot exist by and for itself. 10. The Church is centered and grounded in the Gospel, the Word of God. The Church is the communion of those who live in a personal relationship with God who speaks to them and calls forth their trustful response - the communion of the faithful. Thus the Church is the creature of God's Word which as a living voice creates and nourishes it throughout the ages. This divine Word is borne witness to and makes itself heard through the scriptures. Incarnate in Jesus Christ, it is testified to by the Church and proclaimed in preaching, in sacraments, and in service.

Taking as a point of departure the term "communio sanctorum, 76" we might fill this out with a sense of Jesus as the expected "prophet," "priest," and "king" long sought in messianic Judaism. Eusebius of Caesarea, Erasmus, and the company of the Reformed developed this christological theme. It has been drawn into ecclesiology as an aspect of ecumenical thinking (Y. Congar, G. H. Williams, etc.). Christians, the mystical body of Christ (Rom 8:17, 12:4; I Cor. 6:19; and II Cor. 2:5), might find their vocation under the rubric of the threefold office (triplex munus) of Christ. Heightened in times of crisis, they — and the church — play a prophetic role as truth-tellers and justice-seekers; find a priestly role in prayer and forgiveness and, in their [servant]-king role they regard one another as images of divine royalty, or God. But note how "forgiveness" defines the church: There is no worship apart from forgiveness (Matt. 5:23-24). Forgiveness defines the material identity of the church (John 20: 21-23). Forgiveness, as it tends toward reconciliation, defines (II Cor 5:19) vocation. Indeed, it might even be said that just as there are degrees to which we are willing to forgive so, to, there are degrees to which we might find community.

As we think of all of the ways in which religion is criticized today, the work at building community, the church in its most fundamental sense 77 as grounded in God’s plan for the universe is good work insofar as this effort finds its way forward through forgiveness and reconciliation. This is religion in the service of humane global governance. 78

  1. Many definitions have been given to the term globalization in this conference. I will not add to these here except to make reference to those found in Robert Schreiter, The New Catholicity. Theology Between the Global and the Local (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2000). Schreiter writes of the significance of globalization on local theologies and church life as we have moved from a bipolar to a mulipolar world.
  2. Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996).
  3. Elazar Barkan, The Guilt of Nations. Restitution and Negotiating Historical Injustices (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000). The United States has its own special as in Samantha Powers,
  4. Chester A. Crocker & Fen Osler Hampson with Pamela Aall, Managing Global Chaos. Sources of and Responses to International Conflict (Washington, D. C. : United States Institute of Peace, 1996).
  5. Notable also is the work of Coventry Cathedral in this respect. See Colin Holtum, Reconciliation. The History and Purpose of Coventry (City Vision, 1998).
  6. Simon Wiesenthal, The Sunflower. On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness (New York: Shocken Books, 1969 and later eds.). The 1997 edition carries a symposium with responses from fifty-three persons of note engaged with the topic.
  7. Books written while Bonhoeffer was in charge of the Confessing Church seminary at Finkenwalde after 1935. I am following L. Gregory Jones, "The Cost of Forgiveness: Grace, Christian Community and the Politics of Worldly Discipleship," Union Theological Seminary Quarterly Review 46 (1992): 149-169. The biographical details of Bonhoeffer’s life are best traced in Eberhard Bethge’s biography, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, tr. E. H. Robertson, et al (London: Collins, 1970).
  8. Corrie ten Boom with John and Elizabeth Sherrill, The Hiding Place (New York: Bantam Books, 1982).
  9. Simone Weil, Gravity Grace. Introduction by Gustave Thibon and translated by Arthur Wills (New York: Putnam, 1952).
  10. Todor Sabev, The Orthodox Churches in the World Council of Churches. Towards the Future (Geneva: WCC, 1996), pp. 9-13. The publications of Thomas Fitzerald, George Limouris, and George Tsetsis are among those of importance here. See also Ruth Rouse and Stephen C. Neill, eds., A History of the Ecumenical Movement, Vol. I, 1517-1948 (Geneva: WCC, 3rd ed., 1986, pp. 193-211, 217-18.
  11. Desmond Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness (New York: Doubleday, 1999); see also the case for restorative justice in South Africa made by Charles Villa-Vicencio, "Restoring Justice. Dealing with the Past Differently," and his fuller study on human rights in international perspective, A Theology of Reconstruction (Cambridge University Press, 1992).
  12. Martha Minow, Between Vengeance and Forgiveness. Facing History after Genocide and Mass Violence (Boston: Beacon press, 1998).
  13. Shriver relects on his own developing perspective, "Slowly, I have arrived at the belief that the concept of forgiveness, so customarily relegated to the realms of religion and personal ethics, belongs to the heart of reflection about how groups of humans can move to repair the damages that they have suffered from their past conflicts with each other. Precisely because it attends at once to moral truth, history and the human benefits that flow from the conquest of enmity, forgiveness is a word for a multi-dimensional process that is eminently political." (Shriver, An Ethic for Enemies, p. XXX.
  14. See the analysis and cyclical graphs prepared by Lewis Kriesberg, Constructive Conflict. From Escalation to Resolution (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998).
  15. Olga Botcharova analyzes the failure to attend to healing and ways of promoting reconciliation iin "Implementation of Track Two Diplomacy," in Raymond Helmick, S. J. and Rodney Petersen, Forgiveness and Reconciliation. Religion, Public Policy and Conflict Transformation (Philadelphia: Templeton Press, 2001), pp. 269-294.
  16. Bessel van der Kolk, M. D., Traumatic Stress: The Effects of Overwhelming Experience on Mind, Body, and Society (Guilford Press, 1996).
  17. Richard Fitzgibbons, "Anger and the Healing Power of Forgiveness: A Psychiatrist’s view," in Robert D. Enright and Joanna North, eds., Exploring Forgiveness (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998), pp. 63-74. He endorses a definition of forgiveness given by philosopher Joanna North and psychologist Robert Enright who define forgiveness as "a matter of willed change of heart, the successful result of an active endeavor to replace bad thoughts with good, bitterness and anger with compassion and affection." See North, "Wrongdoing and Forgiveness," Philosophy 62:499-508. Brian Frost reminds us that forgiveness in politics, as in personal life, is a process "rather than something to be applied temporarily, like a poultice." (Cited in Michael Henderson, Forgiveness: Breaking the Chain of Hate (Wilsonville, Oregon: BookPartners, 1999), p. 4.
  18. Thomas J. Sheff, Emotions, the Social Bond, and Human Reality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997). For further information on forgiveness and health, see the Campaign for Forgiveness Research:; and the International Forgiveness Institute:
  19. Andrew P. Morrison, M. D., The Culture of Shame (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, Inc., 1996). See similarly, Donald Capps, The Depleted Self. Sin in a Narcissistic Age (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993).
  20. The Living God. A Catechism for the Christian Faith, Vol. I. Transl. from the French by Olga Dunlop (Crestwood, NY: St. Valdimir’s Seminary Press, 1989), p. 191. See Stanley S. Harakas, "Forgiveness & Reconciliation. An Orthodox Perspective," in Raymond Helmick, S. J. and Rodney Petersen, Forgiveness and Reconciliation. Religion, Public Policy, and Conflict Transformation (Philadelphia: Templeton Press, 2001), pp. 51-78.
  21. Michael Henderson, Forgiveness: Breaking the Chain of Hate (London: BookPartners, 2002).
  22. L. Gregory Jones, Embodying Forgiveness. A Theological Analysis (Grand Rapids: MI, 1995).
  23. Marjorie Suchoki, The Fall to Violence. Original Sin in Relational Theology (Continuum, 1995).
  24. Geiko Müller-Fahrenholz, The Art of Forgiveness. Theological Reflections on Healing and Reconciliation (Geneva: WCC, 1996).
  25. Donald W. Shriver, Jr., An Ethic for Enemies. Forgiveness in Politics (New York: Oxford, 1995).
  26. Everett L. Worthington, Jr., Dimensions of Forgiveness. Psychological Research and Theological Perspectives (Philadelphia: Templeton, 1998).
  27. Robert D. Enright and Joanna North, eds., Exploring Forgiveness (University of Wisconsin, 1998), p. 20.
  28. Geiko Müller-Fahrenholz, The Art of Forgiveness. Theological Reflections on Healing and Reconciliation (Geneva: WCC, 1996), p. 24.
  29. Ibid., p. 3.
  30. Stanley S. Harakas, "Forgiveness & Reconciliation. An Orthodox Perspective," in Raymond Helmick, S. J. and Rodney Petersen, Forgiveness and Reconciliation. Religion, Public Policy, and Conflict Transformation (Philadelphia: Templeton Press, 2001), p. 59.
  31. See in C. W. du Toit, Confession and Reconciliation (UNISA, 1998); also related is Wilhelm Verwoerd, My Winds of Change (Randburg, SA, 1997); and Walter Wink, Violence and Nonviolence in South Africa. Jesus’ Third Way (Phil.: New Society, 1989).
  32. Everett Worthington, Jr., Dimensions of Forgiveness (Templeton, 1998), p. 129.
  33. Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace. A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (Abingdon, 1996).
  34. Geiko Müller-Fahrenholz, The Art of Forgiveness. Theological Reflections on Healing and Reconciliation (Geneva: WCC, 1996), p. 3.
  35. John Paul Lederach, Building Peace (USIP, 1997), p. 30.
  36. John Dawson, Healing America’s Wounds (Regal Books, 1994).
  37. See the review by Charles Villa-Vicencio of Forgiveness and Reconciliationi. Religion, Public Policy, and Conflict Transformation (Philadelphia: Templeton Press, 2001). He writes that Anthony da Silva addresses the sequence question quite explicitly, drawing on Robert Schreiter’s suggestion that a more appropriate sequence may be: "reconciliation, forgiveness, repentance," in Raymond Helmick, S. J. and Rodney Petersen, Forgiveness and Reconciliation. Religion, Public Policy, and Conflict Transformation (Philadelphia: Templeton Press, 2002), p. 304.
  38. John Paul Lederach, Building Peace (USIP, 1997), p. 30.
  39. Michael L. Hadley, ed., The Spiritual Roots of Restorative Justice (Albany: SUNY, 2001).
  40. Martha Minow, Between Vengeance and Forgiveness (Beacon Press, 1999), p. 92.
  41. Howard Zehr, Changing Lenses. A New Focus for Crime and Justice (Herald Press, 1995), pp. 181-86.
  42. Martin Wright, Justice for Victims and Offenders (Open University Press, 1991), pp. 114-17.
  43. Daniel Van Ness and Karen Strong, Restoring Justice (Anderson, 1997), p. 31.
  44. Paper delivered in 1999, on file at the Boston Theological Institute. See similar ideas in Barry Stuart, Building Community Justice Partnerships: Community Peacemaking Circles (Yukon: Community Peacemaking Circles, 1996). See also Shay Bilchik, Guide for Implementing the Balanced and Restorative Justice Model. Report (US Dept. of Justice Office of Justice Programs, 1998).
  45. One point of departure might be seen in the formulation of Irish penitential handbooks in the Sixth century. Another might be a retributive conception of justice pointed to by James C. Russell in The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity: A Sociohistorical Approach to Religious Transformation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994). I owe this reference to Fr. Raymond Helmick, S. J.
  46. Donald W. Shriver, Jr., An Ethic for Enemies. Forgiveness in Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995). A philosophical interest in forgiveness can be traced to Alasdair MacIntyre’s work, After Virtue (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame, 1981) with few precursors. The field is not so bleak when we turn to literature. Themes of forgiveness run through the works of such authors as Fyodor Doestoevsky, Flannery O’Conner, and Toni Morrison to name a few. Notable individuals like Simone Weil and Dietrich Bonhoeffer stand out as well.
  47. Geiko Müller-Fahrenholz, The Art of Forgiveness. Theological Reflections on Healing and Reconciliation (Geneva: WCC Publications, 1997), chapter 2, "Distortions in Church History," pp. 9-16. Shriver writes that from fairly early on, at least by the time of the fourth and fifth centuries after Christ, the place of forgiveness in the public square was becoming increasingly problematic. He notes the "appearances and disappearances" of forgiveness in the political order of the time and of a "sacramental captivity of forgiveness" into the early modern period (An Ethic for Enemies, pp. 45-58).
  48. Einar Billing, Our Call (1909), cited by Martin Marty, "The Ethos of Christian Forgiveness," in Everett L. Worthington, Jr., ed., Dimensions of Forgiveness. Psychological Research and Theological Perspectives (Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press, 1998), p. 12.
  49. Gustaf Aulén, Christus Victor. An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of the Atonement (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1969 ed.), pp. 1-15. Perspectives outlined by Aulén include, 1) a ransom paid to the Devil (Origen), 2) Christ our representative (Athanasius), 3) Christ, the sacrifice to satisfy God’s anger (Anselm), 4) Christ’s death as exemplary love (Abelard), 5) Christ, the voluntary substitute on our behalf (Luther), 6) Christ, the condemned or the penal theory (Calvin), 7) Christ, our example (Socinus), and further modifications of these positions. Compare in Shriver, Ethic for Enemies, pp. 49-58.
  50. See George H. Williams, The Radical Reformation. Sixteenth Century Essays and Studies, Vol. XV (Kirksville, MO: Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, 1992).
  51. Notable exceptions exist although our perception of them is often clouded by contemporary religious rhetoric that reflects this same division. Examples include the German Lutheran and Pietist Ludwig von Zinzendorf, Anglican and proto-Methodist John Wesley, North American Quaker John Woolman, British Non-conformist J. M. F. Ludlow, and Anglican Frederick Denison Maurice.
  52. Albrecht Ritschl’s three-volume work on justification and reconciliation (1870-1874), vols. 1 & 3 translated as The Christian Doctrine of Justification and Reconciliation (1900) remains the most extensive and instructive. A moving, personal treatment is by Wilhelm Herrmann, The Communion of the Christian with God (tr. by J. S. Stanyon, 1971), and by H. R. Mackintosh, The Christian Experience of Forgiveness (1927). Further critical treatment was given by Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I/2, II/2, IV/1, and IV/2 (see appropriate sections). A recent and helpful assessment is by L. Gregory Jones, Embodying Forgiveness. A Theological Analysis (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1995). Other, less systematic, treatments exist.
  53. Paul Lehmann, Forgiveness. Decisive Issue in Protestant Thought (New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1940).
  54. Ibid., p. 97.
  55. Walter Lowrie, Our Concern with the Theology of Crisis (Boston, 1932), pp. 43-44.
  56. Stephen N. Williams, Revelation and Reconciliation. A Window on Modernity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).
  57. Williams, ibid., p. 104.
  58. Williams draws attention to a recovery of the doctrine of the atonement in such authors as Thomas F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ (Edinburgh: T & T. Clark, 1992), p. 103: "Reconciliation constitutes the inner dynamic content of revelation and revelation becomes effective precisely as reconciliation for thereby it achieves its end." Also in Colin Gunton, The Actuality of the Atonement (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1988); and Leslie Newbigin, "Truth and Authority in Modernity," in Faith and Modernity, eds. P. Sampson, V. Samuel and C. Sugden (Oxford: Regnum, 1994); in Williams, Revelation and Reconciliation, p. 143.
  59. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics (New York: Macmillan, 1965); idem, Christology (London: Collins, 1960), pp. 71-7.
  60. Williams, Revelation and Reconciliation, p. 154, n. 16.
  61. Apart from raising the topic, we will not explore here the question of historical and Eucharistic presence except to note the way in which the thinking of Edward J. Kilmartin, S. J. opens the way for renewed Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox reflection on these matters through the doctrine of pneumatological presence. See his The Eucharist in the West. History and Theology, ed. By Robert J. Daly, S. J. (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1998).
  62. Katerina Clark and Michael Holquist, Mikhail Bakhtin (Cambridge: Harvad University Press, 1984), pp. 347-348. In many ways the move toward dialogism and away from monologism is that which characterizes the work of Emmanuel Clapsis, Orthodoxy in Conversation: Orthodox Ecumenical Engagements (Brookline: Holy Cross Press, 2001). Addressing the critical issues of the day from an Orthodox perspective, the author takes seriously the value of ecumenical engagement.
  63. Jacques Derrida, On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness (London: Routledge, 2001), pp. 27-60. Derrida’s point that to the extent forgiveness is extended through "globalization" the church is diminished in need is eschatological at best, but intriguing.
  64. René Girard, Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987), p. 154.
  65. Desmond Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness (New York: Doubleday, 1999).
  66. See the review by Charles Villa-Vicencio of Helmick and Petersen, Forgiveness and Reconciliation.
  67. Philip Jenkins, "The Next Christianity," The Atlantic Monthly (October 2002).
  68. Raymond Brown, The Churches the Apostles Left Behind (New York: Paulist Press, 1984).
  69. Timothy (Kallistos) Ware, The Orthodox Church (London: Penguin Books, 1963).
  70. Avery Dulles, Models of the Church (New York: Doubleday/Image Books, 1978).
  71. Karl Rahner, Foundations of Christian Faith – An Introduction… (NY: Crossroad, 1978).
  72. Frans Josef van Beeck, SJ, Catholic Identity After Vatican II… (Chicago: Loyola, 1985).
  73. Francis A. Sullivan, SJ, Magisterium. Teachng Authority in the Catholic Church (NY: Paulist, 1983).
  74. Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1959).
  75. Hans Küng, The Church (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1968).
  76. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Communion of the Saints (New York: Harper & Row, 1963).
  77. Alkiviadis Calivas, Essays in Theology and Liturgy, Vol. I, The Conscience of the Church (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Press, 2002), p. 11 et passim.
  78. The title of the book by Richard Falk, Religion and Humane Global Governance (New York: Palgrave, 2001).