THE HOLY SPIRIT'S PRESENCE AMONG OTHER CHRISTIANS
Eleuterio F. Fortino
The real, though partial, communion that exists between Catholics and Christians of other Churches and ecclesial communities is confirmed basically by baptism, which is "the sacramental bond of unity" (UR 22). Baptism is conferred in the name of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Through Baptism the human being is placed in a personal and real relationship with the three persons of the blessed Trinity. The Spirit, given in baptism, now dwells in man. St. Paul can say: "do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?" God's one Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, is present continually among all Christians and produces fruits of sanctification and Christian witness.
1. Two texts from the Second Vatican Council explicitly affirm this mysterious and saving presence of the Holy Spirit among the Christian community.
After describing the "many ways" (plures ragiones) in which the Catholic Church is joined to other Christians - through their belief in Christ, Sacred Scriptures, the foundation of their common baptism, the other sacraments, etc.-, the dogmatic Constitution on the Church concludes: "These Christians are indeed in some real way joined to us in the Holy Spirit for, by his gifts and graces, his sanctifying power is also active in them and he has strengthened some of them even to the shedding of their blood" (Lumen Gentium 15).
In a parallel passage the Conciliar decree on ecumenism points out that among other Christians we can find many significant elements which go to build up and give life to the Church and it mentions "the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit" (Unitatis Redintegratio 3).
These authoritative observations help us to understand more realistically and from within the full meaning of the theological basis and spiritual direction of the ecumenical movement, which is not a simply relational or strategic initiative for building up the Christian community, but an intrinsic quality and an inner commitment of the Christian's very being.
2. The Holy Spirit's presence is not limited to individual Christians, but he is at work in other Churches and ecclesial communities as such. In fact these communities carry out "many liturgical actions of the Christian religion (...) these can truly engender a life of grace, and, one must say, can aptly give access to the communion of salvation". This is the reason that justifies and gives content to the short conciliar declaration according to which "the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them - other Churches and ecclesial communities - as means of salvation". And this despite the fact that the Council points out that other Christian communities have "defects". In the mystery of salvation they are by no means deprived of significance and importance. They carry out the fundamental commandment of proclaiming, in the Holy Spirit, the mercy of God the Father, who so loved the world as to give his only Son. Belief in this mystery is a condition for salvation.
Other Churches and ecclesial communities have proclaimed - and continue to proclaim - the Gospel. They have founded missionary communities, they have supported welfare services for the poor and suffered for the justice and peace demanded by the Lord's teaching. In his apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente the Holy Father John Paul II indicated the martyrs of this century: "The witness to Christ borne even to the shedding of blood has become a common inheritance of Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants" (TMA, 37).
The Holy Father again went back to the same theme in the Encyclical Ut Unum Sint in which he affirms: "In a theocentric vision, we Christians already have a common Martyrology. This also includes the martyrs of our own century, more numerous now than one might think, and it shows how, at a profound level, God preserves communion among the baptized in the supreme demand of faith, manifested in the sacrifice of life itself" (UUS, 84). This is how the Holy Father summarizes the whole subject: "Where there is a sincere desire to follow Christ, the Spirit is often able to pour out his grace in extraordinary ways. This experience of ecumenism has enabled us to understand this better" (ibidem).
As we approach the celebration of the Jubilee all Churches and ecclesial communities are paying more and more attention to the Christian witness - beyond confessional frontiers - that has been borne in our century. It is therefore felt that a commemoration is needed so that their memory may remain for the edification of future generations. We know that memorial chapels have been planned in England on the Anglican initiative, in Sweden on the Lutheran initiative, and elsewhere. An ecumenical commemoration to the many witnesses that have arisen from the different Churches and ecclesial communities would be a worthy way of celebrating the Jubilee. A doxology to the Lord who, with his Spirit, has given the world such a host of witnesses.
3. The Spirit's presence among Christian becomes the driving force towards the unity Christ desired for his disciples. The dogmatic Constitution had indicated this: "The Spirit stirs up desires and actions in all of Christ's disciples in order that all may be peaceably united, as Christ ordained, in one flock under one shepherd" (Lumen Gentium, 15).
A historical analysis of the ecumenical movement reveals the same dimension: "Today, in many parts of the world, under the influence of the grace of the Holy Spirit, many efforts are being made in prayer, word and action to attain that fullness of unity which Jesus Christ desires" (Unitatis Redintegratio 4). Since the Second Vatican Council this reality has assumed much broader and more challenging dimensions.
This observation does not come from the reflection of Catholics alone, but it is a very widespread conviction in the ecumenical movement.
The Holy Spirit, the Church and her unity have always been present in ecumenical reflection in different forms. The theme has been underlined by both Protestants and Orthodox. It is found in the "Faith and Constitution" Conference of the period that preceded the formation (1948) of the Ecumenical Council of Churches (ECC) and later in the Lund Conference (1952), in the General Assembly of the ECC in New Delhi (1961), and in the subsequent Assemblies. The present Secretary General of the ECC, Dr. Konrad Raiser, affirms: " The Holy Spirit and the Church is the subject that the ecumenical movement has discussed most intensely" ("Spirito Santo e riflessione ecumenico", in Dizionario del Movimento ecumenico, Bologna, 1994). The Nairobi General Assembly (1975) in this regard had said: "Those who participate in the life of Christ and profess him as Lord and Saviour, liberator and unifier, are gathered in a community whose author and champion is the Holy Spirit. This communion of the Spirit finds its principal purpose and final goal in the celebration of the Eucharist and in the glorification of the Triune God. Doxology is the highest profession, the one that transcends all our divisions".
This is a discourse that remains open among Christians. Appropriately, the Conciliar degree on ecumenism asks that ecumenical initiatives go forward "without prejudging the future inspirations of the Holy Spirit".