Tantur Ecumenical Institute

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Tantur Ecumenical Institute
Tantur Logo Blue.jpg
Former names
Jerusalem Ecumenical Institute for Advanced Theological Research at Tantur
Phôs Christou phinei Pâsin
Motto in English
The Light of Christ shines for all.
TypeAdvanced Research Institute
AffiliationChristian ecumenism
RectorRussell McDougall
31°43′45″N 35°12′11″E / 31.729167°N 35.203179°E / 31.729167; 35.203179Coordinates: 31°43′45″N 35°12′11″E / 31.729167°N 35.203179°E / 31.729167; 35.203179
Colorsgold, blue, Jerusalem Sandstone
AffiliationsUniversity of Notre Dame, Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity

The Tantur Ecumenical Institute was founded in 1972 as an international ecumenical institute for advanced theological research in Jerusalem. The impetus came from meetings between Protestant Observers at Vatican II with Pope Paul VI, and a subsequent meeting between the pope and Patriarch Athenagoras I in Jerusalem. The property is owned by the Holy See and leased to the University of Notre Dame for the administration of the institute. It is governed by an international ecumenical board, including Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant/Anglican members. On a thirty-six acre hill overlooking the way between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, Tantur is located as an oasis of learning, dialogue, prayer, and community amid the geo-political and religious complexity of the Holy Land.


"No one climbs up to Tantur except to follow a vocation, the same vocation that led on the pioneers of ecumenism. That is the climate in which the research here must develop." (Professor Albert Outler, Tantur, 1972)

The mission of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute is to:

While the ecumenical mission of Christian Unity is the central and core mission of Tantur, its situation in between Jerusalem and Bethlehem give easy context for the second-tier mission areas of interreligious dialogue and peacebuilding. Tantur is as a place and resource for global ecumenical research, as well as for local initiatives in these areas.

In anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the lease and groundbreaking for the institute (1967), the international advisory board recently developed a new Strategic Plan for Tantur, which identified the following strategic goals:

  • To once again become an internationally recognized galvanizing force for scholarship and dialogue on themes related to Christian unity.
  • Embed Tantur more deeply into the academic and scholarly enterprise of the University of Notre Dame.
  • Cultivate a commitment to spiritual ecumenism and a culture of encounter among pastoral leaders.


In October 1963, Ecumenical Observers at the Second Vatican Council approached Pope Paul VI and shared the dream of an international ecumenical institute for advanced theological research and pastoral studies. This produced a seed that would find fertile ground for planting when the bishop of Rome met with Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople on the Mount of Olives on 5 January 1964. This famous first encounter of pope and patriarch in centuries inspired the idea that the international ecumenical institute be located in Jerusalem.

In September 1964, Pope Paul received in audience Rev. Theodore Hesburgh (Fr. Ted), then president of the University of Notre Dame, at the head of the International Federation of Catholic Universities. From this meeting and others over the next year and a half, the bishop of Rome entrusted the idea of Tantur to Notre Dame and a committee of international ecumenical advisors – including the likes of Yves Congar, Oscar Cullman, Jean-Jacques von Allmen, Georges Florovsky, J.N.D. Kelly, Raymond Pannikar, Karekin Sarkissian, and several other great ecumenical theologians of the age. This board began its work in earnest in November 1965.

Bronze bust of Fr. Theodore Hesburgh at Tantur Ecumenical Institute, Jerusalem

The Vatican purchased the 36 acres – then in Jordan – from the Sovereign Military Order of Malta for $300,000, and leased the property to the University of Notre Dame for fifty years, renewable. Groundbreaking took place on 4 June 1967. The Six-Day War began the next day, with the invasion of Israel by Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. Within a week, the property was under Israeli sovereignty.

Fr. Ted had secured a donation for the construction costs from Mr. and Mrs. I. A. O’Shaughnessy of St. Paul, Minnesota. Due to difficulties of the Arab-Israeli conflict, construction was delayed for a short while, but Tantur was officially opened in September 1972, with an inaugural community of thirty scholars and their families, six Benedictine (Catholic) monks from Montserrat in Spain, and five international staff. In total, ten nationalities and thirteen religious identities were represented. Yves Congar, OP, was one of the first senior scholars to reside in community at Tantur.

In the mid-1980s there was increased interest among the churches in interreligious dialogue and in the ‘life and work’ aspect of ecumenism, especially in conflict resolution and peacebuilding. The First Intifada (1987-1991) resulted in a decreased interest in international scholars spending time in Jerusalem for research. As local tensions eased, the ecumenical movement entered what has been called its "ecumenical winter". The combination of these factors had a desultory effect on Tantur programs and participation.

Briefly during the 1990s, the University of Notre Dame took advantage of the lacuna by using Tantur as a site for one of its international study-abroad programs, with a focus in theology and peace studies. During this time, much of the programming shifted from semester- or year-long research fellowships to shorter sabbatical and continuing education programs for pastoral leaders and educators from around the world.

The Second Intifada (2000-2005) again caused nearly all international students and scholars to cease their travels to Jerusalem, and Tantur entered a period of maintenance and local activities. Library acquisitions were interrupted for several years and for several reasons, only to be restored recently.

The University of Notre Dame re-established its study abroad program in the early 2010s for its undergraduate students at Tantur, as well as internships for its Master’s in International Peace Studies students. Tantur is also the University’s Jerusalem "Global Gateway": a kind of embassy of Notre Dame in the Holy Land.[1]

Tantur has remained, first and foremost, a center for advanced theological research in ecumenism throughout its history, despite these interruptions, serving academics and pastoral leaders from around the world. The Institute has welcomed over 5,000 Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant scholars and program participants over the years.

Location: Jerusalem[edit]

"Why Jerusalem?" was a question frequently asked of the founders. The regional instability of Jerusalem was demonstrated by the fact that groundbreaking for the Institute was one day before the Six-Day War began, and that the Institute was open for only a year before the Yom Kippur War.

The question implied a certain expectation, as described by the founding rector, Charles Moeller: "that research requires mountains of books and such libraries could not be found anywhere in the Third World, but only in the university centers of Europe and North America." Such was the perspective of the time.[2]

Aside from the obvious inspiration from the meeting of Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras on the Mount of Olives in 1964, Jerusalem is the birthplace of Christianity, and home to its first Church. The holiest site of Christianity, the Church of the Resurrection is a witness to the divisions of Christianity and the need for ecumenical work.

Robert McAfee Brown answered the question at the inauguration of Tantur in 1972 by stating that Jerusalem becomes a symbol of many things that must concern the ecumenically minded:

  • It is the locus of many of the holiest sites of Christianity, but also of Judaism and Islam;
  • A strident and humbling reminder of the ongoing divisions within Christianity (as a visit to the Holy Sepulcher makes cacophonously clear);
  • Location of some of the deepest strife and division among world religions anywhere
  • It sits at a crossroads between technologically developed west and emerging nations;
  • All the major problems of the 20th century are present here: poverty, war, racism, hunger;
  • In the midst of this remains symbol of hope, the vision of the New Jerusalem.[3]

One of the early rectors of Tantur, Jean-Jacques von Allmen, noted additional benefits of an ecumenical research center in Jerusalem:

  • The traditions of Eastern churches (Catholic and Orthodox) are the living tradition of the local church here, which would help move Catholics beyond a kind of Romano-Centrism and tendency toward Latinization;
  • It challenges Protestants’ latent Docetism, attaching the geography of salvation to the history of salvation;
  • Theology is here forced to take into account mystery of Israel;
  • Likewise, it must take into account Islam, as well as Judaism, and its place in Gods design;
  • This is the city from which the Gospel came and to which must return: here is both evangelism and eschatology.[4]

Scholarly research and community[edit]

The core of Tantur’s mission and program is a community of doctoral and post-doctoral researchers working in areas related to its mission of promoting Christian unity (ecumenism). This particularly includes scripture studies, ecclesiology, patristics, and sacramental theology. Other scholars focus on the aspects of interreligious dialogue and peacebuilding.

Tantur was built to house up to a hundred individuals, including scholars and their families. Historically, though, at its largest the scholarly community has been no more than 30–40 individuals. In recent years, there are usually only 3–5 research fellows in residence at any given time.

Additional community members are drawn from participants in the sabbatical and continuing education programs, graduate and undergraduate students from the University of Notre Dame, ecumenical pilgrim groups, volunteers from church organizations, and participants in local programs and conferences.[5][6]

All community members are invited to participate in a community evening on Sundays, including ecumenical evening prayer and dinner. Except for some of the study-abroad programs, most are offered full board and participate in daily common ecumenical prayer.

Continuing education programs[edit]

Several different sabbatical, continuing education, and accredited courses are offered to serve those seeking to deepen their understanding of the Land, its history, culture, and the faiths of the people here. They are primarily designed for Christian pastoral leaders (ordained or lay) from all communions and denominations, or academics and educators in a field of theology related to the mission of Tantur.[7]

All of the programs take advantage of the experience of the Holy Land as the "fifth gospel", weaving classroom instruction with on-site excursions. Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, Biblical Geography and Archaeology, History of the Middle East, Christian Spirituality, Peace-building., and encounters with Judaism, Islam, and local Christian communities are integrated with visits to Christian holy sites and those important to the history of the Land. Programs often include visits around Jerusalem and Bethlehem, the Galilee, the Dead Sea, and the Negev. Longer programs include visits to the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock; experience at a synagogue and Shabbat meal with a Jewish family; experience at a local Arabic Christian liturgy and meals with families, and the like.

A three-month sabbatical program is offered in the fall, and usually draws clergy, lay pastoral workers, and educators.

A three-week Easter Encounter program is organized around the Western Holy Week in Jerusalem, and includes liturgies or meetings at Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran churches during that time. When the Gregorian and Julian dates for Easter coincide, Orthodox liturgies are included. One-month programs are offered during the summer months, usually in June and July.

An intensive four-week course in the summer is offered in Modern Hebrew specifically for academics who have already a knowledge of Biblical Hebrew.

Study-abroad programs[edit]

During the spring semester, undergraduate students of the University of Notre Dame are invited to come on a study abroad program at Tantur, with courses offered in Anthropology, Art History, Political History, International Peace Studies, Philosophy, Theology, and language studies in Hebrew or Arabic.[8]

A three-week theology seminar is offered for undergraduates from any U.S. college or university, entitled, "Three Faiths, Two Peoples: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the Holy Land."[9]

Ecumenical pilgrims[edit]

Tantur is also a destination for university groups, ecumenical pilgrimage groups, retreats and academic conferences.

Campus and facilities[edit]

Tantur has 100,000 square feet in building space, on a campus of 36 acres. The architect, Francesco "Frank" Montana, was dedicated to using only local Jerusalem sandstone and local labor. He describes the effect,

"The pattern of the stones is irregular, with uneven contours on which light can play. The idea behind this was that the masonry should lead the eye out to the surrounding landscape of the desert of Judea, because there you have before you a complete geography of salvation, from the Old Testament to Jesus Christ. I planned many terraces on which people can meet and from which they can look towards Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Beit Jala. On the terraces, you can watch the galloping clouds coming up from the sea, bringing a life-giving benediction to the far deserts, or you can feel the east wind scorching your face like the fire of the burning bush."


Research Library at Tantur Ecumenical Institute, Jerusalem

The Tantur Ecumenical Research Library is the jewel of the Institute. It is one of the largest Christian theological libraries in the Holy Land and the Middle East, and one of the largest ecumenical libraries worldwide.

The library houses 65,000 volumes, with room for another 40,000. Its periodicals collection includes 400 journals, though a smaller number of these are current. The primary collection is in ecumenism and patristics, but there are strong collections in religions and interreligious dialogue (especially with Judaism and Islam), biblical studies, church history, and international peace studies, with an emphasis on Arab-Israeli and Israel-Palestine questions. The library houses the collection of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), the periodicals of the Ecumenical Fraternity, and personal collections of former resident scholars such as Oscar Cullmann and Thomas Stransky.

The majority of texts are in English, French, and German, but with a number of titles in Spanish, Italian, Greek, Arabic, and Hebrew.

The catalogue has been converted to an online database[permanent dead link], but an old-style card catalogue is still present and usable.

Chapels and prayer spaces[edit]

There are four primary places of community prayer at Tantur, though prayer and the practice of spiritual ecumenism is encouraged in all places at all hours:

  • A large ecumenical chapel
  • A medium interfaith meditation room
  • A small oratory with the Blessed Sacrament reserved
  • An outdoor shrine with an Icon of Christ Pantocrator and the New Jerusalem, written by Ian Knowles of the Bethlehem Icon School.
  • Forty acres of olive groves and a bit of nature.
Ecumenical Chapel at Tantur Ecumenical Institute, Jerusalem

Classrooms and meeting spaces[edit]

When built, the Tantur Auditorium was the largest of its kind in Jerusalem, with a capacity of 120 people.

Seminar rooms include the Bethlehem Room and Chapel Seminar Room, each with broad vistas and terraces of the surrounding villages, and a capacity for about thirty people. Small seminar rooms include the Notre Dame Room and Library Seminar Room, each ideal for about a dozen people. The Jerusalem Global Gateway building houses the Notre Dame study abroad classes, just southwest of the main facility.

Flora and fauna[edit]

Tantur’s hill is covered with about 500 olive trees, and is a home or oasis for a variety of local fauna: snakes, scorpions, bats, parrots, quail, lizards, geckos, feral cats and dogs, foxes, and a jackal.


International advisory board[edit]

  • Dr. R. Scott Appleby, Dean, Keough School of Global Affairs, Notre Dame
  • Dr. J. Matthew Ashley, Chair, Department of Theology. Notre Dame
  • Dr. Peter C. Bouteneff, Assoc. Prof. Systematic Theology, St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary
  • Most Rev. Brian Farrell, Secretary, Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity & Vice President, Commission for Religious, Relations with the Jews
  • Rev. Patrick D. Gaffney, C.S.C. Department of Anthropology, Notre Dame
  • Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. President, Notre Dame
  • Rev. Nicholas Lossky, Professor Emeritus, St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Academy
  • Rev. James E. McDonald, C.S.C., Assoc. Vice President, Counselor to the President, Notre Dame
  • Mr. John A. Sejdinaj Vice President for Finance, Notre Dame
  • Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Thönissen, Leitender Direktor, Johann-Adam-Möhler-Institut
  • Rev. Richard V. Warner, C.S.C. Superior General of the Congregation of Holy Cross
  • Most Rev. John Went, Bishop of Tewkesbury


  • Rev. Russ McDougall, CSC, PhD, Rector
  • Mark Mina, Director of Operations
  • Frederic Masson, Program Director
  • Academic Director, UND Jerusalem Global Gateway

Past rectors[edit]

  • Paul S. Minear (1971-1972)*
  • Rev. Msgr. Charles Moeller (1972-1973)
  • Rev. Jean-Jacques von Allmen (1973-1974)
  • Walter Wegner (1974-1977)
  • Walter Harrelson (1977-1979)
  • Most Rev. Joseph Blenkinsopp (Fall 1978) *
  • Georges MacRae (1979-1980)
  • Rev. David Burrell, CSC (1980-1981)
  • Donald Nicholl (1981-1985)
  • Landrum Bolling (1985-1988)
  • Rev. Thomas Stransky (1988-1999)
  • Rev. Michael McGarry (1999-2010)
  • Rev. Timothy Lowe (2010-2013)
  • Anthony Pohlen (2013-2014)*
  • Rev. Russell McDougall, CSC (2014–present)

* Indicates interim administrators/acting rectors in the absence of a Rector

Past vice-rectors[edit]

  • Jean-Jacques von Allmen (1972-1973)
  • Chrysostome Zaphiris (1972-1974)
  • Rev. Pierre Benoit (1973-1974)
  • Robert O’Donnell (1987-1991)
  • Sr. Sheilagh Philips (1991-1994)
  • Bengt Holmberg (1996-1998)
  • Knud Jeppsen (1998-2004)
  • Sr. Bridget Tighe (2006-2011)

Notable alumni[edit]


  • Cullmann, Oscar. "Un’opera di riconciliazione a Gerusalemme: L’Istituto Ecumenico di Ricerche Teologiche". Aldo Moda, trans. In Studia Patavina: Rivista di Scienze Religiose, Vol. 20, No. 1, 1973: 54-69.
  • Cunningham, Lawrence, ed. Ecumenism: Present Realities and Future Prospects. Notre Dame, 1999.
  • Daley, Brian E. A Wider History of Salvation? Tantur’s Mission after Fifty Years. Unpublished. Presented in Jerusalem: Tantur, 8 January 2015.
  • Jaeger, D.-M. A., ed. Tantur Papers on Christianity in the Holy Land. Studia Oecumenica Hierosolymitana No.1. Jerusalem: Franciscan Printing Press, 1981.
  • Lowe, Timothy, ed. Hope of Unity:Living Ecumenism Today. Jerusalem, 2013.
  • Mayhead, Dom John. "A Journey of Reconciliation with the Tantur Ecumenical Institute: 11 March-11 April 2008" in One in Christ, Vol. 42, No. 1 (Summer 2008): 187-200. ISSN 0030-252X
  • Stransky, Thomas F., CSP. "Tantur Ecumenical Institute," in Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement.
  • Witton Davies, C. "Tantur: An Ecumenical Centre in the Holy Land" in The Tablet, 14 June 1975.


  1. ^ "Jerusalem Global Gateway". University of Notre Dame.
  2. ^ Tantur Yearbook 1972-1973. Jerusalem: Tantur Ecumenical Institute. 1973.
  3. ^ Tantur Yearbook 1972-1973. Jerusalem: Tantur Ecumenical Institute. 1973.
  4. ^ Tantur Yearbook 1972-1973. Jerusalem: Tantur Ecumenical Institute. 1973.
  5. ^ "Community // Tantur Ecumenical Institute // University of Notre Dame". Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  6. ^ "Bruderhof Community // Tantur Ecumenical Institute // University of Notre Dame". tantur.org. Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  7. ^ "Programs". Tantur Ecumenical Institute.
  8. ^ "Study Abroad Jerusalem". University of Notre Dame. Archived from the original on 2015-12-28.
  9. ^ "Jerusalem Summer Seminar" (PDF). University of Notre Dame.

External links[edit]