By Hugh Russ Williamson The Unity of Christians, by Cardinal Bea (Chapman, 21s.).
IN the dialogue on Christian Unity, it is important that the same word means
the same thing to all users of it. For example, the word "ecumenical" has been for so long used by Protestants to signify the coming together of all groups which call themselves Christian that they might be forgiven for not understanding, in the first instance, that the Pope, in announcing an Ecumenical Council, was summoning a meeting in which all the Catholic bishops of the oikownene, the world in communion with Rome, would take part.
"The misunderstanding", says Cardinal Bea, "was quickly cleared up". But of this one is not so sure, for the two meanings are diametrically opposed and it is the implication of the first (and more usual conversational) sense that truth is divisible and that each member of the "ecumenical" churches has a portion of it.
Some Protestants, indeed, find a similar ambiguity in the word "unity" itself. Where they see the
various **separated brethren" fitting their specialised "insights" into the unity of truth, Catholics they say really mean "submission" to Rome, which already holds the full truth.
The publication. in this book. of twenty essays and addresses on various occasions by Cardinal Bea, the head of the Secretariat for the Promotion of Christian Unity, will go far to dispel any lingering ambiguities: and the fact that all the essays were written before the meeting of the Council enhances its value. There are no afterthoughts or compromises here.
The Cardinal's basic conviction is that the work of reuniting Christians is the work of God and will be accomplished by the grace of God, no matter how difficult this may seem from a human standpoint. This means that prayer is the first and fundamental need and that, in the words of Pius Xll's encyclical AelyAtici Curparis, "if there are still many. as unhappily there are. who wander outside the path of Catholic truth and fail to give their free consent to the inspiration of Divine grace. this is due to the fact that not only they themselves, but the faithful also, fail to offer to God more fervent prayers for this intention."
In the actual human situation. a fact of great importance is that, by baptism, all Christians already share a brotherhood which does not exist between Christians and non-Christians. "And this effect of baptism", says the Cardinal. "is not removed by heresy or schism . . . How otherwise could they be called 'brothers' and be invited to 'return' to her. if they have never visibly belonged to the Church?" The Cardinal is at pains to make another important point. The severity shown in the New Testa
mcnt towards heresy and schism "is directed to those who, individually and COHAT:101181y, withdraw themselves from the true faith and obedience to the Church of Christ. This is certainly not the case of all those now separated from us. The great majority of them inherit their position from their forebears who, in many cases, were torn from the Church by force or deception.. .. As it is no merit of ours to have been born and brought up in a family belonging to the Catholic Church, so it is no fault of theirs that they are the sons of parents separated from our Church. Accepting in good faith the inheritance handed on by their parents, these non-Catholics can sincerely believe that they are on the right path." This, as regards the English situation. is really the core of the problem. It is for this reason, that, among all the Cardinal's charity and clarity in exposition, his brilliance in theological argument, his practical suggestions in the realm of co-operation. one tends to value the terminological warning: "Our separated brethren. cut off from the Church for several
centuries past, have experienced the influence of many philosophical systems (rationalism. empiricism, Hegelianism, Kantianism, phenomenalism, existentialism) and these have shaped their outlook and their terminology in such a way that they often have difficulty in understanding adequately the dogmatic teachings expressed in the traditional language of the Church." To remove these linguistic misunderstandings may do more good than volumes of conventional theology.
Possibly a start might be made with "our separated brethren". The Apostolic Delegate in Great Britain, in his Introduction says "We must begin by shifting the old emphasis in the phrase 'separated brethren'. The accents must be on the second word--not on the first."
May I suggest that the phrase be dropped altogether. Quite apart from the fact that by overuse it is acquiring a kind of cant significance, I know of no other description of nun-Catholic Christians which so quickly undermines that charity which is the first requisite of truth.