"The Christianity of history is not Protestantism. If ever there were a safe truth it is this, and Protestantism has ever felt it so; to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant." (-John Henry Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine).

"Where the bishop is, there let the people gather; just as where ever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church". -St. Ignatius of Antioch (ca 110 AD)a martyr later thrown to the lions, wrote to a church in Asia Minor. Antioch was also where the term "Christian" was first used.

“But if I should be delayed, you should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth.” 1 Timothy 3:15

"This is the sole Church of Christ, which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic." -CCC 811

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Catholic Church leading Christians to Unity

Thanks to Jimmy Akin's Secret Info Club

The effort to restore full unity among the different groups of Christians in the world is known as "ecumenism." There has been a great deal of work done toward this goal in recent years. Some of it has been good; some of it has been bad.

In a recent address to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith--the Vatican department he headed before his election to the papacy--Pope Benedict outlined his thoughts on ecumenism.

Let us learn from his wisdom by reframing his remarks in a Q & A or "interview" format.

Your Holiness, why is ecumenism important?

The division among Christians, "openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages that most holy cause, the preaching of the Gospel to every creature" (Vatican II, Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 1).

Unity is therefore not only the fruit of faith but also a means and as it were a presupposition for proclaiming the faith ever more credibly to those who do not yet know the Savior. Jesus prayed: "that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (Jn 17:21).

Why is the search for Christian unity important today? How does this relate to the "Year of Faith" that you have called to begin in October 2012?

As we know, in vast areas of the earth faith risks being extinguished, like a flame that is no longer fed. We are facing a profound crisis of faith, a loss of the religious sense that constitutes the greatest challenge to the Church today.

The renewal of faith must therefore take priority in the commitment of the entire Church in our time.

I hope that the Year of Faith will contribute, with the cordial cooperation of all the members of the People of God, to making God present in this world once again and to giving men and women access to the faith to entrust themselves to the God who loved us to the very end (cf. Jn 13:1), in Jesus Christ, Crucified and Risen.

The theme of Christian unity is closely linked to this task. I would therefore like to reflect on several doctrinal aspects concerning the ecumenical path of the Church.

Some speak of the ecumenical effort as if it has produced nothing but good fruit. Are there also dangers that must be avoided on this path?

Today we can note the many good fruit yielded by ecumenical dialogue. However, we must also recognize that the risk of a false irenism [i.e., a false, peaceful reconciliation] and of indifferentism [i.e., thinking it doesn't matter what religion you are] -- totally foreign to the thinking of the Second Vatican Council -- demands our vigilance.

This indifferentism is caused by the increasingly widespread opinion that truth is not accessible to man; hence it is necessary to limit oneself to finding rules for a praxis [i.e., a set of practices] that can better the world. And like this, faith becomes substituted by a moralism without deep foundations.

The center of true ecumenism is, on the contrary, the faith in which the human being finds the truth that is revealed in the Word of God.

Without faith the entire ecumenical movement would be reduced to a form of "social contract" to which to adhere out of common interest, a "praxeology" [i.e., a theory of proper practices], in order to create a better world.

The logic of the Second Vatican Council is quite different: The sincere search for the full unity of all Christians is a dynamic inspired by the Word of God, by the divine Truth who speaks to us in this word.

Different groups of Christians have different understandings of God's Word and how it comes to us. As Catholic we recognize the role of Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium (or teaching authority of the Church). What priority does this have in ecumenical dialogue?

The crucial problem which marks ecumenical dialogue transversally [across its different dimensions] is therefore the question of the structure of revelation -- the relationship between Sacred Scripture, the living Tradition in Holy Church and the Ministry of the Successors of the Apostles as a witness of true faith [i.e., the Magisterium]. And in this case the problem of ecclesiology [the nature of the Church] that is part of this problem is implicit: how God's truth reaches us.

Fundamental here is the discernment between Tradition with a capital "T" and traditions. I do not want to go into detail but merely to make an observation.

An important step in this discernment was made in the preparation and application of the provisions for groups of the Anglican Communion who wish to enter into full communion with the Church, in the unity of our common and essential divine Tradition, maintaining their own spiritual, liturgical and pastoral traditions which are in conformity with the Catholic faith (cf. Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, art. III).

Indeed, a spiritual richness exists in the different Christian denominations that is an expression of the one faith and a gift to share and to seek together in the Tradition of the Church.

How should Christians engaged in ecumenical dialogue approach each other? Should they shy away from controversial issues that divide them?

One of the fundamental questions is the problem of the methods adopted in the various ecumenical dialogues. These too must reflect the priority of faith.

Knowing the truth is a right of the conversation partner in every true dialogue. It is a requirement of love for one's brother or sister.

In this sense, it is necessary to face controversial issues courageously, always in a spirit of brotherhood and in reciprocal respect.

It is also important to offer a correct interpretation of that order or "hierarchy" which exists in Catholic doctrine, observed in the [Vatican II] Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio (n. 11), which in no way means reducing the deposit of the faith but rather bringing out its internal structure, the organic nature of this unique structure.

In recent years many efforts at ecumenical dialogue have produced documents proposing how differences can be reconciled. Yet many of these have not been approved by Rome. What should our attitude be toward them?

The study documents produced by the various ecumenical dialogues are very important. These texts cannot be ignored because they are an important, if temporary, fruit of our common reflection developed over the years.

Nevertheless their proper significance should be recognized as a contribution offered to the competent Authority of the Church, which alone is called to judge them definitively. To ascribe to these texts a binding or as it were definitive solution to the thorny questions of the dialogues without the proper evaluation of the ecclesial Authority, would ultimately hinder the journey toward full unity in faith.

Today basic Christian morality is under assault across the globe. How does this impact the search for Christian unity?

In the dialogue we cannot ignore the great moral questions regarding human life, the family, sexuality, bioethics, freedom, justice and peace.

It will be important to speak about these topics with one voice, drawing from the foundations in Scripture and in the living Tradition of the Church.

This Tradition helps us to decipher the language of the Creator in his creation. In defending the fundamental values of the Church's great Tradition, we defend the human being, we defend creation.
Thank you, Your Holiness. Readers can learn more by consulting the complete text of your address to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, which can be read online by clicking here.

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