of Cardiff contends that their pressures act as guy ropes to balance its progress
IN EVERY MOVEMENT there are always the extremes, the lunatic fringes. The ecumenical movement is no exception. Apart from the solid centre of ecumenism, the "ecuminiacs" and the "ecumaniacs," as they have been called, will always be with us. The ecuminiacs could be described as the ultra-immobiles, who shy at every unessential change in the Church as a betrayal of Christ's Church and the ecumaniacs as those wandering about imagining that everything they find in every other Church is better than they find in their own.
Don't imagine that we as Catholics have a monopoly of these fringes. They exist too with our separated brethren. And don't imagine that they serve no useful purpose. Their pressures act as guy ropes balancing the movement in quite unexpected ways. There is nothing, for example, which stirs the solid centre to move forward little faster than a rash of "ecumania". God writes straight with crooked lines.
But in all this, there is the solid centre of ecumenism. securely based on the decree of Vatican Council H. It is just two years since the decree on ecumenism was published, and this week's Unity Octave provides an appropriate moment to examine the struc
Lure, and to see what progress has taken place since the promulgation.
May we first recall what has been fixed by that decree. what cannot be changed. what cannot he attacked, what cannot he ignored. This is an absolute essential to any real progress in ecumenism and a secure guide to any dangerous stresses in the structure. Let's start with the "ecuminiacs". They would do well to remember that the decree starts off with a firm statement: "The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the essential concerns of Vatican II."
It goes on to say that the whole ecumenical movement (not just Catholic ecumenism) is the work of the Holy Ghost. "Everywhere large numbers have felt the impulse of this grace. and among our separated brethren, too. this grace of the Holy Ghost has encouraged the restoration of unity, which is growing daily." This fact is borne out by remembering that originally the decree was called "Principles of Catholic Ecumenism" to he changed later to "Catholic principles of Ecumenism", showing clearly that there were not two different kinds of ecumenism. one Catholic the other non-Catholic, but only one single ecumenical movement fostered by the Holy Ghost.
THIS IS AGAIN emphasised when the decree points out that our separated brethren have been incorporated in Christ by Baptism. and deserve to be called our brothers in Christ. Just as there is only one ecumenism, there is only one baptism. The tragedy is that later these brothers in Christ drift away into different communities, and the seamless garment of Christ is torn into shreds.
The decree states quite openly that the fault for these divisions can be found sometimes on both sides, and that these divisions prevent the Catholic Church from attaining the fullness of the Catholic life proper to her, and though they separate those already attached to her by baptism from attaining full communion, nevertheless they do not prevent spiritual gifts extending beyond the confines of the Catholic Church, such as the word of God, the life of grace, faith. hope. charity, and other invisible and visible gifts of the Holy Ghost All of which would make a very good meditation for the ecuminiacs. On the other hand, the ecumaniacs should remember that the decree makes no concessions whatsoever on the unity possessed by the Catholic Church, nor does it denigrate in any way the institutional structure of the Catholic Church. "Our separated brethren do not have the advantage of the unity which Jesus Christ wanted to bestow on those to who he has given rebirth . . . this is the unity proclaimed by the Scriptures and by the venerable tradition of the Church. Only through the Catholic Church of Christ, the universal aid to salvation, can the means of salvation be reached by all in all its fullness. It is the belief of the Church that Christ entrusted all the benefits of the covenant to the apostolic college over which Peter presides . . all those who already belong in some way to God's people ought to have full incorporation in it."
It is for this reason that in the same chapter, the decree makes it clear that the ecumenical movement in no way dispenses the other work of reconciling converts, as some people have suggested. "There is clearly," says the decree, "an essential difference between the work of preparing and reconciling indivi
duals who desire full communion with the Catholic Church and the ecumenical undertaking. There is no conflict between them, and they are both the development of the admirable plan of God."
RANTED these fixed premises, how far has the work of ecumenism travelled in the last couple of years? Dean Swift said in pre-ecumenical days that we all had enough religion to hate, but not enough religion to love. I think we will all admit that we have travelled much since those days. Hate, if it ever existed, has completely disappeared. Suspicion and fear are rapidly disappearing, and love and respect are taking their place. It is pleasant to recognise that love escalates even more. and even more quickly than war.
Once suspicion and fear are removed. everything one says takes on a new dimension. Terminology and discussion are relieved of a heap of emotional barnacles they have gathered over the ages, and which have succeeded in completely obscuring their real meaning. What is wrong, for example, with the nonCatholics' use of "auricular confession" and "Papist". But we have got to confess that in former days they carried a sinister ring. and even now when we hear them we have to fight against a compulsive reflex to swallow twice.
But in this new climate one hears them very infrequently. There is an effort on both sides to avoid terms with emotional undertones. All of which is in keeping with the practical principles of the decree. "all efforts to be made to do away with terms, decisions, and actions, when they do not fairly and truly correspond to the position of the separated brethren. and so make for greater difficulty in our mutual dealings."
However. ecumenism is not just being nice to one another. Dr. Visser Thooft in a recent interview recalled the fact we have reached the stage
where Catholic meets nonCatholic (and vice versa) and says: "How nice to have met you. I must give you a ring sometime and have you round at my place" and never does. It is not enough to tolerate one another, to cease to be suspicious of one another and to realize, if only with a certain amount of wonder, that something of good. even Christ himself, can come from a foreign Galilee.
A further step must be taken. "There can be no true ecumenism worthy of the name," says the decree, "without a change of heart, a renewal, a conversion." This is the soul of the ecumenical movement and is rightly called spiritual ecumenism.
All must personally examine their faithfulness to the ideal of the Church which Christ demanded. "Let everyone understand that he can forward the possibility of unity in so far as he is converted interiorly. It is this newness of mind granted by the Holy Ghost which releases that sincere abnegation of oneself, the humility, the meekness, the sincere affection for the separated brethren."
This is the real ecumenism. And it is all perfectly logical. The nearer we approach Christ, the nearer we approach the Truth, and the Truth is unity. This should be the main aim of the Unity Octave. And here I feel we cannot be too optimistic about our progress. I don't see our Church unity week expressing, by means of overflowing congregations and phenomenal attendance at Mass and Holy Communion. the appreciation that prayer and renewal and conversion is the soul of this movement.
POSSIBLY it takes time for the importance of this drive for unity to take on. But at the moment I have the feeling that there is often a keener desire to hold hands than to join them, a sort of impati ence to push ahead with a display of unity, and a fear of becoming bogged down in prayer. One must keep on telling oneself that belief and common worship must increase step by step, and the deeper the communal worship, the deeper must be the communal faith. There is no sense in a community of worship which does not share a community of belief. A common eucharistic service, to give an extreme example, is impossible to those who do not share the same belief in the Eucharist, apart from the fact that the Eucharist had always been accepted as a sign of unity. But we have already. thank God. many things in common, which do allow common services. and it is pleasant, this Unity Octave, to see greater emphasis being placed on Joint prayers rather than on joint meetings and talks.
Meanwhile, of course, the talks go on. A unity dialogue took place last week at Gazzada in Northern Italy, including our own experts from England and Wales, and non-Catholic theologians. These talks are another sign of our progress. Their aim is to clear away non-doctrinal factors which sometimes intermingle with pure doctrine and tend to hide it. But do not imagine that this is an easy process. It is hard at times to decide where the roots of laws and customs and discipline disappear into theology.
The old meditation in the. Stations of the Cross used to tell us in rather imaginative language that when Christ came to he stripped of his garments, "they dragged them off so roughly that the skin came with them." The same delicacy is required when stripping the mystical Christ. There are certain possibly unessential garments of the Church which adhere so much to the Person that stripping may not be easy or even possible. All of which makes the soul of ecumenism. personal renewal and prayer: even more essential than ever during this Unity Octave.