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Reflections on a Term at the Gregorian University

A Pentecostal in Rome: Fuller Seminary Professor Mel Robeck shares his story about teaching a course at the Gregorian University in early 2018.

Over the past thirty-one years, I have flown 127 round trips between Los Angeles and Europe. Eighteen of those trips have been to Rome, nearly all of which included work with the Catholic Church. During these years, I have met with and spoken for many different Catholic groups, such as the Focolare Movement, the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services Committee, the Chemin Neuf community, the Community of Sant’Egidio, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and several others. I have been privileged to have thirteen papal audiences with Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis. I traveled with Pope John Paul II and with Pope Benedict to Assisi, where we prayed for world peace. I sat on the platform in front of St. Peter’s Basilica during the inauguration of Popes Benedict XVI and Francis, and listened as they preached their first public sermon as Pope. I processed into worship services with John Paul II and Benedict XVI, where I was invited to offer public prayer or lead the congregation in the Creed. I have learned much from all of these events and meetings. I have never sought any of these privileges. I view them solely as manifestations of God’s grace in my life that are consistent with His calling for me to work in the field of ecumenism.

When I went to Rome, I anticipated only teaching my class on Monday and Wednesday, sightseeing quite a bit, giving a public lecture, and coming home. My stay was not like that. You will see it unfold … I enjoyed a number of serendipitous opportunities.”

In November 2009, I received an invitation from the Dean of the Gregorian University in Rome, Fr. Donath Hercsik, S.J, asking me if I would consider offering a course in 2010 or 2011 on some aspect of ecumenism. Depending upon my answer, it would be the 24th or 25th course in a series offered by a visiting professor. I was surprised by this invitation because I had no connection with the university. The Gregorian University is the foremost Jesuit institution in the world. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order, also founded the university in the 16th Century to train his “soldiers” to engage with Protestants, and to provide them with tools for Catholic evangelization throughout the world. The invitation was to fill a position in the Joseph Gregory McCarthy Visiting Professorship funded by Dr. Edward McCarthy, an American physician. Among those who had served previously were Professors George Lindbeck, James D.G. Dunn, Edward Lohse, Dietrich Ritschl, Ulrich Lutz, Geoffrey Wainwright, Harding Meyer, N.T. Wright, Archbishop George Carey, Robert Wilken, James Charlesworth, Turid Karlsen Seim, Kallistos Ware, and Michael Root. As you might imagine, I was honored to receive this invitation given this stellar list of those who had gone before me. We agreed that I would teach this course in the fall of 2010.

About three months later, the Dean withdrew the invitation with deep apologies. I was informed that Dr. McCarthy, who funded this visiting professorship was dying, and because his medical expenses had run so high and he was trying to get his fiscal house in order, he had announced that he could not afford to provide the funds for my course. I was disappointed, of course, but I felt for the McCartney family at this time of loss. There was no further follow-up on this invitation. Dr. McCarthy died, and within three or four months, the Dean, Fr. Donath Hercsik, S.J. died suddenly at age 45. I had not given any further thought to teaching at the Gregorian.

The Pontifical Gregorian University. It is raining in this photograph from 2006.
Image: Luigi Santoro, Wikimedia Commons

On November 27, 2016, I once again received a letter from the Gregorian. This one came from Professor Fr. Felix Körner, S.J, who invited me to offer a course under the auspices of a five-year Atelier Ecumenico or “Ecumenical Workshop” grant. He had no knowledge of my previous contact with the university’s Dean. He requested that I offer a course on Pentecostalism for students in theology during the 2017-2018 academic year. The invitation came at a moment when I had just chosen to change my status at Fuller to Senior Professor of Church History and Ecumenics and Special Assistant to the President for Ecumenical Relations. The seminary gave me a multi-year contract, with substantial guaranteed funding for all of my ecumenical meetings and relief from all faculty meetings and committees. After some discussion with Professor Körner, I agreed to offer a course titled “Global Pentecostalisms: Developments, Doctrine, and Dialogue”. At the same time, Professor Körner invited me to prepare a “Public Lecture” on some aspect of ecumenism that would be given at the Gregorian sometime during my time in Rome.

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Category: Ministry, Spring 2018

About the Author: Cecil M. Robeck, Jr., Ph.D. (Fuller Theological Seminary), is Senior Professor of Church History and Ecumenics and Special Assistant to the President for Ecumenical Relations at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. He is an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God who has served at the seminary since 1974. His work on the Azusa Street revival is well known. His ecumenical work, since 1984, is highly respected around the world by Christian leaders outside the Pentecostal Movement. He continues to serve as a bridge between Pentecostalism and the larger church world, leading international dialogues, participating in ecumenical consultations, and working on and writing about church-dividing issues. He appears regularly on the AmericanReligious.org Town Hall weekly telecast. He co-edited The Cambridge Companion to Pentecostalism (Cambridge, 2014) with Amos Yong, The Azusa Street Revival and Its Legacy (Wipf & Stock, 2009) with Harold D. Hunter, and The Suffering Body: Responding to the Persecution of Christians (Paternoster, 2006) with Harold D. Hunter. He is also the author of The Azusa Street Mission and Revival: The Birth of the Global Pentecostal Movement (Thomas Nelson, 2006 and 2017) and Prophecy in Carthage: Perpetua, Tertullian, and Cyprian (Pilgrim, 1992). Faculty page

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