By John M. Todd
THE PrOblem Of the division of Christians continues to occupy Continental writers, and it continues to occupy the minds of nonCatholic Christians in this country.
The Popes have emphasised that we have a duty to study and understand the traditions of these nonCatholics, and this was re-empha;ised by the Abbot of Downside at Unity Octave meeting in Bristol ast year.
The following excerpts from moks recently written on the subiect indicates some of the lines on ehich Catholics should be keeping a specially open and active mind.
A Dutch priest, Fr. W. H. Van de Pol, who was a Protestant for many years and has always worked in the ecumenical movement, ends his recent book The Christian Dilemma thus: "The movement of he universal return to the Mother Church has—humanly speaking— not yet arrived, but Holy Church can make every effort to prepare for such a return. In some sense such a preparation for thereception of those that return is as indispensable, though in a different way, as their preparation for their homecoming."
Fr. Van de Pol also emphasises the central importance of the Anglican Church to the ecumenical movement and its activities on the Continent:
"The Anglican Communion is itself the embodiment of die ecumenical dilemma which it appreciates and ponders over as does no other part of Christendom. This is why it is this particular communion that constantly reintroduces the ecumenical discussion and keeps it going, and why the contact between the Eastern Orthodox and the Old Catholic Churches on the one side and World Protestantism on the other, which exists in the ecumenical movement, would be unthinkable without the meditating influence of Anglicanism."
questions . .
WHAT can the Catholic T do? How can he "prepare" for the return of other Christians?
Something of what can be done, of the sympathetic study of the other traditions that is needed, is indicated in a French book, Problemes de Mate Chretienne, by Roger Aubert (Editions de Chevetogne).
He considers that the Church would experience "a real enrichment in the return of the different separated Christian communities to unity.
"This conception must be properly understood. Obviously there is no suggestion here that Catholics may believe that something essential is lacking in the Church at the moment if she is to be the Church as willed by Christ.
"Nor can it be said that any e,ssentiul elements will be brought to her by one of these other confessions, as though these other confessions were incomplete fragments of a 'Church' which no longer exists. Christ has kept his promise, and the Church which he founded has not disappeared from the face of the earth: we are able in all truth to salute the Catholic Church with the glorious titles of the Credo: unam, sanctam, catholicam, apostolicam.
"But having said this, it can also be said that the return of the dissidents would bring us not only an increase in numbers but also a spiritual enrichment, in our understanding of doctrine and our practice of virtue.
"Would not the Lutheran bring to the Catholic a deeper sense of grace as a gift? Would not the Calvinist bring a desire for a more personal reading of the Bible? Would not the Anglican bring the taste for a piety, more dignified, and fed, furthermore from liturgical sources? Would not the Orthodox bring a more really experienced feeling for the mystical aspects of the Church?"
TO these questions, Fr. I Charles Boyer, Si., Editor of Unitas, replied in guarded words but with an admission which is all the more important for corning from a theologian of repute.
"The problem is a delicate one," says Fr. Boyer, "for there is a danger of diminishing the Church in attributing to her a lack which is true only of one or another of her members. I should not be prepared to concede, on any doctrinal point, that the Lutherans or the Anglicans have a more perfect doctrine than that of the Catholic Church, whose Bridegroom will remain with her till the end of the world.
"But it is certainly true that there are Catholics who are less fated than than they should be with the idea of grace as a gift, with the holiness of the Bible, or with the mystical beauties of the Church.
"Such people could undoubtedly find, within the Church, admirable models of every aspect in which they are lacking. Nevertheless they can also find outside the Church useful lessons not provided by their immediate surroundings. Let us say then that the return of our separated brethren would undoubtedly draw our attention to those spiritual treasures of the Church of which we make insufficient use." (Unitas. French edition, 1948.)
'Know each other'
wE may end these quota" tions with one from Pope Pius XI: "For reunion it is necessary above all to be acquainted with each other and to love each other. To know each other, because if there have so often been failures in the work of reunion, these failures have been due on one side or the other to a lack of knowledge; if there have been prejudices on both sides, these prejudices must be dropped" (quoted by Roger Aubert in Problem(' de l'Unite Chretienne, as said by Pope Pius XI to a delegation of Italian graduates 20 years ago).