A Vision of Christian Unity for the Next Generation

Source: FSSPX News


Cardinal Kasper particularly insists on the necessity of a "spiritual ecumenism", an ecumenism lived through sharing with the other religions. In fact, it is a veritable praxis which leaves doctrine aside.

Much progress was made. Separated Churches and Christians no longer meet as enemies or competitors; Christian brotherhood among us was rediscovered. This is an irreversible process, and in a world that becomes more and more one world there is no realistic alternative to ecumenism. On the contrary, our shame lies in the fact that we continue to be disobedient to the will of our Lord “that they all be one”. (…)

In such a situation we should look again to Jesus’ prayer “that they all be one”, which points to the very heart of a healthy ecumenism: spiritual ecumenism and ecumenical spirituality. This means first of all prayer, for we cannot ‘make’ or organize Church unity; unity is a gift of God’s Spirit, which alone can open hearts to conversion and reconciliation. And there is no ecumenism without conversion and renewal, no ecumenism without the purification of memories and without forgiveness. Spiritual ecumenism means further common reading of the Bible, exchange of spiritual experiences, collaboration in serving the poor, the sick, the outcast, the suffering of all kinds.

The unity of the Church can be accomplished only by a renewed Pentecost; but just like the first Pentecost, when Mary and the disciples assembled to pray for the coming of the Spirit (Acts 1, 12-14), we too have to come together to pray for the outpouring of the Spirit.

This kind of ecumenism is not restricted to the realm of selected experts; indeed, it is accessible and obligatory for all. When it comes to prayer, all are experts, or, rather, all should be experts. Only by stressing the spiritual dimension will it be possible to make understandable what we are debating in our dialogues. For many people no longer understand our scholastic terminology; even central concepts for them have become meaningless and devoid of sense. It is our duty to imbue them with experience; this means we must translate them not only into modern language but also into everyday life and experience.

The Roman cardinal responsible for ecumenism goes on to develop the idea of a "unity in pluriformity", taking up the expression of "differentiated consensus", used in the Joint Declaration on Justification between the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation (1999). He does so after the manner of the modernists, first recalling the necessity of a doctrinal consistency, in order to better destroy it afterwards.

Church unity is impossible with contradictions, and churches cannot or should not enter into conflicting agreements with different partners. Comprehensiveness is a good thing, but it should not be exaggerated, and pluralism should not become a new beatitude added to the Sermon on the Mount. The identity and inner coherence of the Church must be clear ad intra and ad extra. “Every kingdom that is divided against itself will fall apart” and “cannot last” (Mt 12, 25).

Such unity is needed in the synchronic and in the diachronic dimensions. The Church is the same in all centuries; today we cannot build a new Church in contradiction with her own tradition. We cannot be so proud as to believe that we have more Spirit than our forefathers, than all the Church Fathers and great theologians in the past. The Holy Spirit who was at work in the past does not now work in contradiction. The Spirit is faithful, recalling and preserving the truth.

However, unity needs also to be distinguished from uniformity. The Spirit dispenses his gifts in great variety and richness (cf. 1 Cor 12, 4 ff), and human beings, human cultures are so different that any imposed uniformity will not only not satisfy human hearts but will diminish the richness and the very catholicity of the Church. It is only when the Church will have entered in all cultures and when she will have made her own the richness of all peoples and nations that she will have reached her full catholicity. The Spirit will guide us in to the whole truth (John 16, 12) through encounter with new cultures, new situations, new challenges, new experiences and new needs, as well as through ecumenical encounter and dialogue. In this way the Spirit maintains the once and for all tradition perennially young and fresh. It is the Spirit of permanent renewal of the truth revealed once and for all time.

Then, cardinal Kasper points out concrete applications of the idea of "unity in pluriformity", first on the level of the profession of faith, and then on the level of sacramental life.

-Truths of the faith expressed in an ambiguous manner

This concept of pluriformity within unity has consequences for our ecumenical vision.

1) Firstly, it has consequences on our understanding of unity in faith. To confess the same faith does not necessarily mean to confess the same credal formula. One of the most significant progresses of the ecumenical dialogue in the last decades was made with the Old oriental churches, which separated as far back as the 5th century because they could not accept the dogma of the 4th Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451), namely Jesus Christ, two natures in one person (hypostasis). With Saint Cyril of Alexandria they confess the one nature (one physis) of the Logos made flesh. Hence, through the centuries they were known as monophysists. It has only been in recent times that we have discovered that the crucial aspect is not a question of confessing a different faith, but the use of a different philosophical terminology in order to express the faith which in substance is the same as ours. They have a different understanding of the terms nature and person (hypostasis). So we did not impose our formulas on them, and in formal agreements between the Pope and the respective Patriarchs, we acknowledged our unity in faith, a unity in a pluriformity of expressions.

A similar decision was made in the Joint Declaration on Justification between the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation, signed officially in 1999 in Augsburg. Here too only a so-called differentiated consensus was reached, that is a consensus in fundamental questions. In essence it was stated that while unresolved problems remain at issue, no Church dividing difference any longer exists with regard to the question of justification. Hence, prior existing divisive contradictions were transformed and reconciled in complementary assertions, expressions, concerns and approaches.

- Sacraments without the required form

Nor is uniformity required in the sacramental dimension of the Church either. It is well known that sacramental life can be expressed through different rites, and that in East and West these rites are indeed quite different. But the difference can go even deeper. The Assyrian Church, which separated in the 4th century after the third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus (381) and which for a long time was accused of being Nestorian, uses as anaphora (eucharistic prayer), the anaphora of Adai and Mari, without the words of institution in a narrative form. It is probably the oldest anaphora we know, going back to the second century and composed in the Aramaic language, the language of Jesus himself. This Church, which possesses an undoubtedly valid episcopate, confesses the same eucharistic faith we confess. It is unimaginable and unthinkable that she has celebrated throughout the centuries a Eucharist that is invalid. Thus two years ago the validity of this anaphora was officially acknowledged by the Catholic Church.

One of the most renowned liturgists has expressed the opinion that this decision is the most important ecumenical decision since the Second Vatican Council, because it touches the very heart of the Eucharist and is therefore of fundamental significance for the concept of pluriformity within unity.

Historical conditions change, needs change, consequently dogmas are to be re-interpreted .

Extensive research has been undertaken that has highlighted the different traditions between East and West already in the first Millennium, and has traced the development in understanding and in practice of the Petrine ministry throughout the centuries. As well, the historical conditionality of the dogma of the First Vatican Council (1869/70), which must be distinguished from its remaining obligatory content, has become clear. This historical development did not come to an end with the two Vatican Councils, but goes on, and so also in the future the Petrine ministry has to be exercised in line with the changing needs of the Church.

These insights have led to a re-interpretation of the dogma of the Roman primacy. This does not at all mean that there are still not enormous problems in terms of what such a ministry of unity should look like, how it should be administered, whether and to what degree it should have jurisdiction and whether under certain circumstances it could make infallible statements in order to guarantee the unity of the Church and at the same time the legitimate plurality of local churches.

The nature and ultimate goal of spiritual ecumenism

But it will not be the end, and it is not yet my final vision of the unity of Christians. Built on my preceding remarks, I would formulate it thus:

Through and even in different languages, cultural forms, formulations, expressions, accents, concerns and approaches, I envision communion as participation in the same faith, and participation in the same sacraments, especially sharing at the same table of the Lord; and I envision it also through the mutual recognition of the ministry of episcope in apostolic succession and in communion with the Petrine ministry, the dogmatic understanding and practice of which is re-interpreted and re-received in the light of the whole tradition of the Church and with regard to the current needs of the Church. In this way the churches remain churches in legitimate diversity and retain the best of their traditions while yet becoming one Church, which praises God with one voice and gives unanimous witness to the world for justice, reconciliation and peace.

How do we reach this vision? Not by the imposition of one vision on the other, not by suppression but by the fraternal exchange of gifts. Each church has her richness, which she does not have only for herself but which she should share with all others. This does not entail meeting on the lowest common denominator; ecumenism does not mean relativism and indifferentism with respect to one’s own tradition. Ecumenism is not countersigned by loss but by mutual enrichment, the authentic understanding of which is not that we convert to the other Church but that all convert to Christ; and in him, who is our unity and our peace, we shall truly be one. Thus we do not advocate an ecumenism of return. Ecumenism is not a way back; it is a way ahead in the future. Ecumenism is an expression of a pilgrim Church, of the people of God, which in its journey is guided, inspired and supported by the Spirit, which guides us in the whole truth (John 16, 13).


Such an ecumenism and such an ecumenical vision – here I come back to what I said in the beginning – is not only an institutional task but also a spiritual endeavor. We need a new spirituality of communion, which Pope Paul John II in his Apostolic Letter “Novo millennio ineunte” (2001) described in the following way:

“A spirituality of communion means an ability to think of our brothers and sisters in faith within the profound unity of the Mystical Body, and therefore as ‘those who are a part of me’. This makes us able to share their joys and sufferings, to sense their desires and attend to their needs, to offer them deep and genuine friendship. A spirituality of communion implies also the ability to see what is positive in others, to welcome it and prize it as a gift from God: not only a gift for the brother or sister, who has received it directly, but also as a ‘gift for me’. A spirituality of communion means, finally, to know how to ‘make room’ for our brothers and sisters, bearing ‘each other’s burdens (Gal 6:2) and resisting the selfish temptations which constantly beset us and provoke competition, careerism, distrust and jealousy.”

The Pope concludes: “Let us have no illusions: unless we follow this spiritual path, external structures of communion will serve very little purpose. They would became mechanism without a soul, ‘masks’ of communion rather than its means of expression and growth.”

I can summarize my vision with the words of the famous 19th century theologian Johann Adam Möhler of the school of Tübingen, from which I come from. Johann Adam Möhler captured the sense of communio-ecclesiology splendidly in the following words:

“Two extremes in Church life are possible, however, and they are both egoism; they are: when each person or one person wants to be everything; in the latter case, the bond of unity becomes so tight and love so hot that choking cannot be averted; in the former case, everything falls apart to such an extent and it becomes so cold that you freeze; the one type of egoism generates the other; but there is no need for one person or each person to want to be everything; only everyone together can be everything and the unity of all only a whole. This is the idea of the Catholic Church.”