By Hugh Kay
IN an hour long interview on
Sunday. Cardinal Agostino Bea, S.J., head of the Vatican Secretariat for Christian Unity. told me that the ecumenical movements have not only brought Catholics and nonCatholics closer in fellowship; they have also. to some extent. narrowed the doctrinal gap between us.
The Cardinal is far from believing that corporate reunion is just round the corner. He foresees a long haul ahead, particularly in Britain. But the search for reunion on the corporate level must go from strength to strength in parallel with continued efforts for in dividual conversions. Cardinal Bea points out that there is no Inconsistency in this.
THE topics we discussed ranged from religious toleration and Anglican Orders to the nature of the Church and the Biblical movement:—
KAY: Obviously, there has been great growth in fellowship. But have the theological discussions of this century brought us nearer to the point where we "all helieve the same things"?
CARDINAL BEA: Fellowship, of itself. has doctrinal implications. Its basis is theological—the corn mon realisation that we are all Christians. But this is not all.
The World Council of Churches, at its New Delhi meeting in January, formulated a definition of unity which represents a clear advance, though it is not quite Catholic. Whereas non-Catholic thought has hitherto very often tended to regard unity as something invisible, the new definition contains distinct elements of visibility. (Text in adjacent column.) With regard to Mariology, a Swiss Protestant writer, W. Tappolet, has recently published a book on "The Praises of Mary" with 300 pages of textual quotation showing that Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and Bullinger had much to say about Our Lady.
He argues that the trend away from her was the fault of later developments. The book represents an important reappraisal of her status and significance.
in conversations between epithelia and Lutherans in Germany, it has become clear that some Protestants have made important advances in their view of grace.
They are recognising that grace is not, as they used to think, a matter of merely external imputation (whereby we remain sinners but are treated as though we were justified). but is also an internal element (through grace, we are no longer sinners).
Theological discussions between Protestants themselves are very important from our standpoint. By discussing their various positions among themselves, they are able to reduce the degree of overall error. These talks also help Catholic theologians to understand the nonCatholic mind better.
KAY: Is Papal Infallibility the greatest obstacle to reunion?
CARDINAL BEA: It is not the fundamental difficulty. The most frequent question in ecumenical discussion asks what is the nature and location of the Church. Clearer understanding of the authority of the Church would lead to easier understanding of Papal infallibility.
The trouble is that, for many nonCatholics, authority itself is a difficult concept. This derives partly from a theological view of the Christian standing alone with his Bible under God, thinking in terms of personal inspiration. Moreover, the modern mind, in the age of liberalism, is also too personal and self-contained, and misunderstands the true meaning of liberty.
But this should improve with the growth of social co-operation. For instance, everyone now recognises that, in some circumstances, the nationalisation of an industry may be essential for the common good. Acceptance of this kind of social
obligation involves increasing acceptance of the principle of government and authority.
KAY: How does one accurately describe the relation of the baptised non-Catholic to the Church?
CARDINAL BEA: Baptised nonCatholics are members of the Mystical Body and of the Church, but not in the full sense. It is our task to try and bring them into full membership, and thus into the heart of the dispensation of grace and the life of the sacraments.
KAY: It is sometimes said that, when talk of reunion is at its height, the number of conversions to Catholicism tends to diminish. Non-Catholic Christians tend to feel, either that corporate reunion is just round the corner, or else that the diferences between them and us are so little that there is no point hi making a change. What is Your Eminence's view of this?
CARDINAL BEA: There are two distinct ways to Christian Unity, corporate and personal. Neither is to be excluded in our work. What God has in mind with regard to car porate reunion, we do not know. The corporate effort must go on, with theological discussion between Catholics and others, but not in such a way as to engender indifferentism or eirenicism. We must constantly insist on our clearly defined,
unchangeable doctrine, and stand by it.
Corporate efforts, however, are not directed towards individual conversion. Our efforts to win individual converts must therefore continue in parallel with our share in theological discussion. And once an individual is convinced of his obligation to enter the Catholic Church. he must make his decision and not wait for corporate union. The two approaches are in no way incompatible.
KAY: May we expect some new and clearer definitions about religious toleration?
CARDINAL BEA: The recent statement issued by the Central Preparatory Commission indicates that this is one of the subjects submitted for discussion by the Second Vatican Council.
Remember that it is not just a question of toleration, but of liberty. The state, whether the majority of its people are Catholic or otherwise, must recognise the right of every man to follow his conscience.
When it comes to a question of non-Catholic proselytising, social questions are involved with the theological issues. Very often, it is the manner, rather than the fact, of proselytising which creates difficulty, as in South America.
KAY: What Is thibest contribution that the laity can make towards reunion?
CARDINAL BEA: Laymen are
usually not expert theologians, and so they cannot very well take part in formal, technical theological discussions. But they have an immense part to play in ordinary explanation of their faith to our separated brethren, not only in personal conversation, but also through journalism, television and radio. The discussion programme is an obvious oppor tunny.
There are limitless possibilities for what the layman can do in removing ordinary misunderstanding from the minds of non-Catholics. pointing out that our doctrine is fixed, with very definite explanations. There are, for instance, innumerable people who still confuse infallibility with impeccability, or think that it means we are strictly bound by every word uttered by the Pope at any time.
Day to day effort by individual Catholic laymen in this matter can have an enormous cumulative effect. Moreover, the layman can co-operate with non-Catholics actively in a vast field of social action. This is bound to secure better relations and to expand the power of Christian influence throughout the social order. The importance of example in humility and charity needs no emphasis.
KAY: Are we laying enough stress on Scripture in our teaching?
CARDINAL BEA: This matter is of the essence, not only because of its intrinsic importance, but also because of the Protestant emphasis on the Scriptures which offers us much common ground to work on.
Detailed analysis of Holy Scripture. particularly in connection with the Mass which contains so much of it in living and dramatic form, is very necessary in all our sermons and e ca the faithful will In this manner, er, be given as much knowledge and understanding of the scriptural texts as possible, and this applies to all levels.
KAY: What of Britain in particular?
CARDINAL BEA: Catholics in non-Catholic countries carry a special and heavy responsibility, and you will remember that it was St. Peter Canisius, in Lutheran territory, who coined the phrase "our separated brethren".
The situation is much harder in Britain than in Germany because of past history. The break was violent, and persecution continued for a very long time. One cannot expect the clock to be put back in an instant, and a lot of hard work lies ahead.
But devotion to your Martyrs is in no way inconsistent with the love of our separated brethren and the longing to see them all in their true home. The Martyrs love them too, and died that all may be one.
KAY: Is there any special appeal you would like to make to us?
CARDINAL BEA: I would make a strong appeal to all Christians of whatever belief to aim at achieving an ever greater realisation of that mutual esteem, respect, understanding and charity which arc taught in the New Testament; to prepare in this way for the great hour which all desire. which at present is hidden in the mysterious designs of God, when both parties will be ready for a council of union.
• Cardinal Bea will be answering more questions in next week's issue of the CATHOLIC HERALD.