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|Ut unum sint|
Ioannes Paulus PP. II
1995 05 25
IntraText SC - Text
Dialogue with other Churches and Ecclesial Communities in the West
64. In its great plan for the re-establishment of unity among all Christians, the Decree on Ecumenism also speaks of relations with the Churches and Ecclesial Communities of the West. Wishing to create a climate of Christian fraternity and dialogue, the Council situates its guidelines in the context of two general considerations: one of an historical and psychological nature, and the other theological and doctrinal. On the one hand, this Decree affirms: "The Churches and Ecclesial Communities which were separated from the Apostolic See of Rome during the very serious crisis that began in the West at the end of the Middle Ages, or during later times, are bound to the Catholic Church by a special affinity and close relationship in view of the long span of earlier centuries when the Christian people lived in ecclesiastical communion".109 On the other hand, with equal realism the same Document states: "At the same time one should recognize that between these Churches and Communities on the one hand, and the Catholic Church on the other, there are very weighty differences not only of a historical, sociological, psychological and cultural nature, but especially in the interpretation of revealed truth".110
65. Common roots and similar, if distinct, considerations have guided the development in the West of the Catholic Church and of the Churches and Communities which have their origins in the Reformation. Consequently these share the fact that they are "Western" in character. Their "diversities", although significant as has been pointed out, do not therefore preclude mutual interaction and complementarity.
The ecumenical movement really began within the Churches and Ecclesial Communities of the Reform. At about the same time, in January, 1920, the Ecumenical Patriarchate expressed the hope that some kind of cooperation among the Christian Communions could be organized. This fact shows that the weight of cultural background is not the decisive factor. What is essential is the question of faith. The prayer of Christ, our one Lord, Redeemer and Master, speaks to everyone in the same way, both in the East and in the West. That prayer becomes an imperative to leave behind our divisions in order to seek and re-establish unity, as a result also of the bitter experiences of division itself.
66. The Second Vatican Council did not attempt to give a "description" of post-Reformation Christianity, since "in origin, teaching and spiritual practice, these Churches and Ecclesial Communities differ not only from us but also among themselves to a considerable degree".111 Furthermore, the Decree observes that the ecumenical movement and the desire for peace with the Catholic Church have not yet taken root everywhere.112 These circumstances notwithstanding, the Council calls for dialogue.
The Council Decree then seeks to "propose ... some considerations which can and ought to serve as a basis and motivation for such dialogue".113
"Our thoughts are concerned ... with those Christians who openly confess Jesus Christ as God and Lord and as the sole Mediator between God and man unto the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit".114
These brothers and sisters promote love and veneration for the Sacred Scriptures: "Calling upon the Holy Spirit, they seek in these Sacred Scriptures God as he speaks to them in Christ, the One whom the prophets foretold, God's Word made flesh for us. In the Scriptures they contemplate the life of Christ, as well as the teachings and the actions of the Divine Master on behalf of the salvation of all, in particular the mysteries of his Death and Resurrection ... They affirm the divine authority of the Sacred Books".115
At the same time, however, they "think differently from us ... about the relationship between the Scriptures and the Church. In the Church, according to Catholic belief, an authentic teaching office plays a special role in the explanation and proclamation of the written word of God".116 Even so, "in 1 dialogue itself, the sacred utterances are precious instruments in the mighty hand of God for attaining that unity which the Saviour holds out to all".117
Furthermore, the Sacrament of Baptism, which we have in common, represents "a sacramental bond of unity linking all who have been reborn by means of it".118 The theological, pastoral and ecumenical implications of our common Baptism are many and important. Although this sacrament of itself is "only a beginning, a point of departure", it is "oriented towards a complete profession of faith, a complete incorporation into the system of salvation such as Christ himself willed it to be, and finally, towards a complete participation in Eucharistic communion".119
67. Doctrinal and historical disagreements at the time of the Reformation emerged with regard to the Church, the sacraments and the ordained ministry. The Council therefore calls for "dialogue to be undertaken concerning the true meaning of the Lord's Supper, the other sacraments and the Church's worship and ministry".120
The Decree Unitatis Redintegratio, pointing out that the post-Reformation Communities lack that "fullness of unity with us which should flow from Baptism", observes that "especially because of the lack of the Sacrament of Orders they have not preserved the genuine and total reality of the Eucharistic mystery", even though "when they commemorate the Lord's Death and Resurrection in the Holy Supper, they profess that it signifies life in communion with Christ and they await his coming in glory".121
68. The Decree does not overlook the spiritual life and its moral consequences: "The Christian way of life of these brethren is nourished by faith in Christ. It is strengthened by the grace of Baptism and the hearing of God's Word. This way of life expresses itself in private prayer, in meditation on the Bible, in Christian family life, and in services of worship offered by Communities assembled to praise God. Furthermore, their worship sometimes displays notable features of the ancient, common liturgy".122
The Council document moreover does not limit itself to these spiritual, moral and cultural aspects but extends its appreciation to the lively sense of justice and to the sincere charity towards others which are present among these brothers and sisters. Nor does it overlook their efforts to make social conditions more humane and to promote peace. All this is the result of a sincere desire to be faithful to the Word of Christ as the source of Christian life.
The text thus raises a series of questions which, in the area of ethics and morality, is becoming ever more urgent in our time: "There are many Christians who do not always understand the Gospel in the same way as Catholics".123 In this vast area there is much room for dialogue concerning the moral principles of the Gospel and their implications.
69. The hopes and invitation expressed by the Second Vatican Council have been acted upon, and bilateral theological dialogue with the various worldwide Churches and Christian Communities in the West has been progressively set in motion.
Moreover, with regard to multilateral dialogue, as early as 1964 the process of setting up a "Joint Working Group" with the World Council of Churches was begun, and since 1968 Catholic theologians have been admitted as full members of the theological Department of the Council, the Commission on Faith and Order.
This dialogue has been and continues to be fruitful and full of promise. The topics suggested by the Council Decree have already been addressed, or will be in the near future. The reflections of the various bilateral dialogues, conducted with a dedication which deserves the praise of all those committed to ecumenism, have concentrated on many disputed questions such as Baptism, the Eucharist, the ordained ministry, the sacramentality and authority of the Church and apostolic succession. As a result, unexpected possibilities for resolving these questions have come to light, while at the same time there has been a realization that certain questions need to be studied more deeply.
70. This difficult and delicate research, which involves questions of faith and respect for one's own conscience as well as for the consciences of others, has been accompanied and sustained by the prayer of the Catholic Church and of the other Churches and Ecclesial Communities. Prayer for unity, already so deeply rooted in and spread throughout the body of the Church, shows that Christians do indeed see the importance of ecumenism. Precisely because the search for full unity requires believers to question one another in relation to their faith in the one Lord, prayer is the source of enlightenment concerning the truth which has to be accepted in its entirety.
Moreover, through prayer the quest for unity, far from being limited to a group of specialists, comes to be shared by all the baptized. Everyone, regardless of their role in the Church or level of education, can make a valuable contribution, in a hidden and profound way.