“How to imagine the ecumenical future?”

Source: FSSPX News


This is the question posed by Pope John Paul II in his sermon at Vespers in Saint Peter’s Basilica, Rome, on November 13. This ceremony brought to a close the three days of reflection organized at Rocca di Papa to mark the fortieth anniversary of the conciliar decree on ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegatio (see DICI n° 104).

 “Today we are witnessing the growth of an erroneous humanism, without God, and we are deeply grieved to see conflicts which bring bloodshed to the whole world. In this situation, the Church is called, with all the more reason, to be a sign and instrument of unity with God and between men”, said John Paul II, adding: “Faced with a world which is growing towards its unification, the ecumenical way is all the more necessary today,” and emphasizing that the decree on ecumenism was “one of the concrete means by which the Church has responded to this situation.” “To seek unity is to adhere fundamentally to the prayer of Christ. The Second Vatican Council, which has made this desire its own (…) did not create anything new,” he was keen to emphasize.

 The pope was delighted at the way “many Christian faithful the world over” had been touched during the past few decades, by “the ardent desire for unity.” The many ecumenical meetings, at all levels of Church life, the theological dialogues as well as the rediscovery of common witness of faith, has confirmed, deepened, and enriched communion with other Christians,” he declared.

 “However, we have not yet attained the end of our ecumenical journey: full and visible communion in the same faith, in the same sacraments and in the same apostolic ministry,” John Paul II continued. Because even if “many differences and misunderstandings have been overcome (…), many stumbling blocks are still scattered along the road.” He then quoted as an example, the misunderstandings, prejudices, neglects and narrow-mindedness on this subject, and “above all, the differences of faith which focus on the subject of the Church, her nature and her ministry.” He also expressed regret over the “new problems”, which have arisen “particularly in the ethical domain, where new divisions flourish, which prevent a common witness.”

 If the pope has recognized that “all of these reasons which have prevented us up to now from participating in the sacrament of unity – the Eucharist – are a “source of much suffering and disappointment,” he also explained that this “must not lead to resignation.” Even if “the way to go is still long and tiring,” this must be an “encouragement to continue and to persevere in prayer and commitment to unity.” “Rather than lamenting what is not yet possible, we must be glad about what already exists and what is possible,” he said, citing “the road to unity already covered” by Churches Christian ecclesial communities which are not Catholic.

“How to imagine ecumenical future?” John Paul II then asked. “The unity of the one Church which already exists in the Catholic Church (…) guarantees us that one day the unity of all Christians will become a reality,” he replied. “We must above all, strengthen the fundamentals of ecumenical activity, that is to say, the common faith in all that is expressed in the baptismal profession of faith, in the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed.” And “from this faith, we must develop the concept of spiriuality of communion,” that is to say, “to share together the road towards unity, in the full profession of faith, in the sacraments, and in the ecclesial ministry.”

 “Let us not delude ourselves: without a spiritual pathway, the exterior instruments of communion will be of little use,” he warned. Because “true ecumenism cannot exist without inner conversion and purification of memory, without holiness of life in conformity with the Gospel, and above all, without an intense and diligent prayer, which echoes the prayer of Christ.” “With this aim in mind, I note with joy the growth of common prayer initiatives and also the birth of study groups and the sharing of mutual traditions of spirituality,” he concluded, also thanking all those who pray and work for this path of rapprochement and reconciliation, as well as the many members of the different Christian hierarchies who took part in the colloquium organized by Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for the Unity of Christians.

 On November 11, the Cardinal opened these days of reflection with the following declaration: “The Council was not so naïve to the point of ignoring the danger which the integration of the ecumenical movement in the eschatological dynamic of the Church, could constitute. This dynamic could have been interpreted erroneously as a progressive movement, according to which the heritage of ancient traditions is seen as obsolete and refused in the name of a progressive conception of the faith, as it were.

 “There is a real danger of relativism and indifference leading to a cheap ecumenism, which eventually renders it superfluous,” he went on. “In this way, the ecumenical movement has often fallen prey to critical movements towards the Church and been used against her.”

 The cardinal went on to stress that, in ecumenism, it was not a question of “dogmatic permissiveness”: “The ecumenical way is not a voyage into the unknown. The Church will be in history what she is, what she has always been and what she will always be.” And he added that the Catholic principles of ecumenism are “clearly and inevitably opposed to an irenicism and a relativism which would seem to make everything commonplace.”

Therefore, “ecumenism is not a new direction,” continued the German cardinal. “The full unity of the disciples of Christ” remains written “in the foundations of Tradition.” It is not known if the president of the Pontifical Council for the Unity of Christians intended to reply, through this affirmation, to the criticisms formulated by the Society of Saint Pius X, in the document, From ecumenism to silent apostasy, sent at the end of January to all the cardinals (see DICI n° 89). The authors of this study are likely to consider this response insufficient.


Note: On November 27, the pope welcomed the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, in the Vatican Basilica. During the ecumenical celebration, John Paul II gave back to him the relics of Saint Gregory Nazianzen (330-390) and Saint John Chrysostom (349-407), bishops of Constantinople and fathers of the Byzantine liturgy. The pope wished to restore these relics, brought to Italy by the Crusaders after the sacking of Constantinople in 1204, to the Orthodox Christians of Istanbul. As a part of the ecumenical exchanges between Catholics and Orthodox, a delegation from the Holy See is expected in Istanbul for the feast of Saint Andrew, patron of the Orthodox Church, on November 30.