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Faith Is the Stimulus to Work for the Union of Christians

General Audience — June 26, 1985

—    From earliest times
—    Major divisions
—    Belief in Christ
—    Christian "credo"
—    Awaiting his grace

God's self-revelation reached its fullness in Jesus Christ. This revelation is the source of the Christian faith, of that "credo" which the Church expresses in the symbols of faith. However, in the matter of this Christian faith, various ruptures and divisions have occurred during the centuries. "All profess to be followers of the Lord, but (the Christian communions) differ in mind and go their different ways, as if Christ himself were divided (cf. 1 Cor 1:13). Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only. However, many Christian communions present themselves to men as the true inheritors of Jesus Christ" (UR 1), differing from the others and principally from the Roman Apostolic Catholic Church.

1.  From earliest times

Even from apostolic times, there were complaints among the followers of Christ. St. Paul severely rebuked those responsible as worthy of condemnation (cf. 1 Cor 11:18-19; Gal 1:6-9; cf. 1 Jn 2:18-19) (cf. UR 3). Even in post-apostolic times divisions were not lacking. Those which took place in the East deserve special attention. They occurred "when the dogmatic formulas of the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon were challenged" (UR 13), concerning the relationship between the divine and human natures of Jesus Christ.

2.  Major divisions

However, two major divisions should be mentioned here in particular, the first of which concerned Christianity especially in the East, the second in the West. The division in the East, the so-called Eastern Schism, linked to the year 1054, came about when "ecclesiastical communion between the Eastern patriarchates and the Roman See was dissolved" (UR 13). As a result of this rupture there are within the ambit of Christianity the Catholic Church (Roman Catholic) and the Orthodox Church or Churches whose historical center is at Constantinople.

"Other divisions arose more than four centuries later in the West, stemming from the events which are usually referred to as the Reformation. As a result, many communions, national or confessional were separated from the Roman See. Among those in which Catholic traditions and institutions in part continue to exist, the Anglican communion occupies a special place. These various divisions differ greatly from one another not only by reason of their origin, place and time, but especially in the nature and seriousness of questions bearing on faith and the structure of the Church" (UR 13).

3.  Belief in Christ

So it is not merely a question of divisions concerning discipline. It is the very content of the Christian "credo" which is affected. A modern Protestant theologian, Karl Barth, has expressed this situation of division in the following terms: "We all believe in one Christ, but not all in the same way."

The Second Vatican Council stated as follows: "Such division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature" (UR 1).

Christians of today should recall and meditate with a particular sensitivity on the words of the prayer which Christ the Lord addressed to his Father on the evening on which he was betrayed: "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 17:31).

4.  Christian "credo"

Especially in the present-day historical situation, the living echo of these words imbues us during the recitation of the Christian "credo" with an ardent desire for the union of Christians until full unity in the faith.

Let us read from the Council document: "But the Lord of Ages wisely and patiently follows out the plan of grace on our behalf, sinners that we are. In recent times more than ever before, he has been rousing divided Christians to remorse over their divisions and to a longing for unity. Everywhere large numbers have felt the impulse of this grace, and among our separated brethren also there increases from day to day the movement, fostered by the grace of the Holy Spirit, for the restoration of unity among all Christians. This movement toward unity is called 'ecumenical.' Those belong to it who invoke the Triune God and confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, doing this not merely as individuals but also as corporate bodies. For almost everyone regards the body in which he has heard the Gospel as his Church and indeed, God's Church. All however, though in different ways, long for the one visible Church of God, a Church truly universal and sent forth into the world that the world may be converted to the Gospel and so be saved, to the glory of God" (UR 1).

5.  Awaiting his grace

This long quotation is taken from the decree on ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio. In it, the Second Vatican Council has detailed the manner in which the desire for Christian unity should penetrate the faith of the Church, the manner in which it should be reflected in the concrete attitude of faith of every Catholic Christian and influence his actions, and the response which he should make to the words of Christ's priestly prayer.

Paul VI saw in the ecumenical commitment the first and nearest circle of that "dialogue of salvation," which the Church should carry on with all brothers in the faith, separated but always brothers! Many events of recent times, after the initiative of John XXIII, the work of the Council, and later the post-conciliar efforts, help us to understand and to experience that, notwithstanding everything, "there is more that unites us than divides us."

It is also with this disposition of spirit that in professing the "credo" we "abandon ourselves to God" (cf. DV 5), awaiting especially from him the grace of the gift of full union in this faith of all who witness to Christ. On our part we shall make our entire commitment of prayer and of work for unity, by seeking the ways of truth in charity.