Page 4, 25th January 1963

25th January 1963
Page 4
Page 4, 25th January 1963 — PROTESTANTS AND UNITY

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Locations: Geneva, New Delhi, Rome


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The deep, ardent desire for unity animating all who have been baptised in Christ is a great gift and a great grace bestowed by God on our era. Continually spreading among Christians of all nations and on all continents, it is particularly active among Protestants, and has given birth to the movement for unity commonly called Ecumenical, which goes back approximately 100 years and which has grown particularly during the last 50 years. In 1948, this movement even produced its own organisation, the World Council of Churches with its headquarters in Geneva. This Council now includes, after the General Assembly held in November 1961 at New Delhi, 198 churches or communities, mostly Protestant, and about 15 groups of Orthodox churchmen, the most important of which is the Russian Orthodox Church. The unity movement gives great cause for satisfaction : it is certainly due to direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Thus it was described just over ten years ago in the well-known instruction of the Holy Office, Rome's supreme tribunal in matters of faith.

INDIVIDUALISM Judging the tree by its fruit, according to Jesus' teaching, it must be said that this Protestant unity movement, however far it may be from achieving the unity desired by the divine Founder of the Church, has nevertheless had tangible and important results. These concern principally the object of this month's general intention: knowledge of the true Church of Christ. This knowledge has been encouraged, above all, by the spiritual orientation of modern thought. In effect, while the 16th century, which produced the separation caused by what is called the Reformation, was dominated by exaggerated individualism which did not take into account either contemporary man, the preceding eras, or history itself, today the air is full of a new sense of history and of life's social realities.

This tendency has opened the eyes of many to the reality of the Church. While at the time of the Reformation, man, as an individual, made himself the yardstick of everything, neglecting all links with tradition and with the society which nourished him and of which he was an integral part, today these links arc being acknowledged. Modern man no longer has this individualist conception of religion in which he considers himself as alone before God, Bible in hand, receiving direct enlightenment from the Holy Spirit, in direct relationship to our Lord and always dealing with him in an isolated way without human intermediaries.

Today, on the contrary, man is taking stock of how much he depends on his ancestors, into whose traditions he has been born, traditions which have been formed by the passage of centuries; man is also becoming aware of the social relationships which affect him

from his birth without any choice or decision on his part.


Thus manand thus Protestant religious thought—has rediscovered the understanding and accurate appreciation of tradition, if not as a fact which is concerned with faith, at least as a human fact on which it depends, whose influence it largely accepts, and which, consequently, it must take into account. People have therefore begun to re-acknowledge the visible social structures of the Church, of Her authority, of Her organisation, and so on. And this is why, among Protestants, there is so much talk of a "rediscovery" of the Church; it is admitted that the problem of the Church is precisely the great problem of Protestant theology, and that it is awaiting its solution.

This is the source of the increasingly frequent requests fur further clarification of the qualifications and authority of "ministers" of the Church and of their "ministry". It is necessary that this authority should provide the manner of teaching and the courage to teach the doctrine of faith with sufficient authority to convince the consciences of the faithful. One even begins to insist that, where Sacred Scripture is concerned, it is essential to belong and be committed to the Church, to accept Her interpretation, and therefore not to accept interpretation by anyone according to the inspiration, true or supposed, of the Holy Spirit. Finally, following the same line of thought we see a constant increase in the numbers of interpreters of Sacred Scripture, or of wise theologians who recognise that Jesus effectively confided the primacy, that is to say, the authority of the true leader in the college of apostles, to Peter, even though they will insist that this primacy only constituted a personal privilege accorded to Peter and not a permanent institution which was to pass to the entire Church.


Evidently, all these facts and elements make it possible to recognise that the Church, and thus also her unity, are visible entities which are capable of demonstration. And, in effect, while many Protestant theologians in the past, and even now, hold that the Church is supernatural and invisible, and thus incapable of demonstrable proof, an entirely different conclusion was officially presented to last year's General

Assembly of the ecumenical Council of Churches.

The Commission of "Faith and Constitution"—that is to say, the doctrinal section of the ecumenical Council of Churches—proposed the following resolution on Church unity to the Council's General Assembly: "The unity of the Church is shown when all those who are baptised in Jesus Christ and who acknowledge him as Lord and Saviour are led by the Holy Spirit to form a perfect community, in order that they may profess the same apostolic faith, and preach the same Gospel, share the same bread, and unite in common prayer . . . so that they may find themselves in communion with the entire Christian community at all times and in all places."

Of course, this definition of unity is not yet completely identical to that offered to us by Catholic doctrine. At the same time, one must recognise that it represents a notable advance; we can he truly glad of it.

Thus, the intention which the Holy Father recommends to our prayers and sacrifices this month is clearly related to that which the Holy Spirit tries to achieve by creating the desire for unity. But at the same time it conforms to the development which we can watch both in the desire and the actual movement for unity flourishing among Protestants now. This movement, as has been seen, is unquestionably leading to an increasingly exact knowledge of what the one true Church of Christ is and should be; one in Her profession of the same faith, one in the use of the same sacraments, one in Her submission to a unique Body of consecrated shepherds, successors of the apostles, united among themselves and having at their head the successor of Peter, the Roman Pope.

Our prayers and our sacrifices will therefore help the action of the Holy Spirit and the growth of the good wheat which has already germinated. Moreover, in order to deepen our fervour and zeal, we should also realise the enormous: difficulty of the undertaking, the obstacles which stand in our way, and we should fix more firmly the objectives for which we should pray.


First of all, the difficulties. To appreciate them it is enough to ask this : how, reading about the intention which we are discussing, would or will our separated brethren react? When they understand that when we speak of the true Church of Christ, we mean the Catholic Church, their most moderate reaction will consist of a gentle shaking of the head. as if to say: yes, we know, that is your idea. But the truth is another thing.

Many others will go further and start to object, perhaps even with bitterness, about what appears to them to be a lack of Christian humility on our part; in their eyes, we exalt ourselves above others, denying the quality of all faiths and denying the teaching of the Master: You are all brothers". Perhaps they will criticise our claims for "totalitarianism" a "thirst for power", and other, similar deviations.

God does not want them to think that the Catholic Church seeks to take over their movement towards unity. to guide it, and to use it to extend its own power. It is also possible that we may occasionally be accused of duplicity by people who say that we are disguising our true objectives. occasionally giving the impression of carrying on a genuine dialogue with our separated brethren, but in reality simply obeying the spirit of conquest, spurred by the desire to achieve complete domination over all the baptised.


What can one do or say in the face of these obstacles? Let us try first of all to grasp the fundamental problems and the doctrinal positions underlying this opposition and these reproaches. It concerns the relationship of our separated brethren with Christ and with his Mystical Body, and thus with the unique and true Church of Christ. The objections that we have just mentioned evolve from this presumption: "The Catholic Church teaches that we (as our separated brethren might say) have no relationship with the Catholic Church. if, therefore, this is the one true Church of Christ, it is clear that we are completely strangers to it, and that we have no relationship with Christ; therefore our baptism doesn't count as far as Catholics are concerned. and there can be no salvation for us, because the Catholic Church declares that outside the one true church of Christ there is no salvation."

Does this attitude faithfully reflect the teaching of the Church?

Absolutely not. The Catholic Church affirms categorically, Continued on Page 11

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