Page 8, 3rd January 1964

3rd January 1964
Page 8
Page 8, 3rd January 1964 — ECUMENISM taught, however faithfully transmitted, must still bear its human

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Organisations: Catholic Church


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ECUMENISM taught, however faithfully transmitted, must still bear its human

stamp. Doctrine can be presented in contexts and with special emphases which can prevent the human spirit from savouring the things of God, Many of its forms, as opposed to the absolute truth-content of the message. need to be re-examined and revised in each age and according to the changes of culture. It was John XXIII who insisted that the forms of the magisterium should be predominantly pastoral in character.

Historically it is the Reformation which has led to a certain unbalance in the presentation of the unchangeable truth entrusted to the Church as custodian. Since much of the one-sidedness was the direct result of antagonism towards the protestants, the end of antagonism should be the prelude to a more harmonious presentation of Catholic teaching.

We have already seen the Council's rejection of scholastic and juridical terminology in favour of a pastoral and biblical one.

As to unity. the progressives who stress the human element of the Church are bound to say that the Reformation has, in some way, impaired the unity of the Church, The people who think of the Church in purely Platonic terms are riot prepared to go so far. They will accept the divided character of Christendom but no loss of unity in the Church.

Visible unity

To suggest any impairment of unity at all would imply that the Spirit had left the Church. that Christ had not been faithful to his promises to be with it always.

Previously the conservatives had emoted the words of our Lord at the last Supper, "That they all may be one. as thou. Father, in me, and I in thee: that they also may be one in us". (John 17: 21.) Are we to think. they asked. that the unity for which our Lord prayed on the night before he died can, in any way. be imperfect? However, it is not politic to use the text in this fashion at the moment because both John XXIII and the present Pope have used it in a contrary sense in recent months.

Neither of them assumed that the unity which Christ prayed for is already perfect in every way. but something both present and in prce cess of achievement.

Pope John in his opening address to the Council said "Unfortunately, the entire Christian family has not yet fully attained to this visible unity in truth. The Catholic Church, therefore. considers it her duty to work actively so that there Pim he fulfilled the great mystery of Christian unity, which Jesus Christ invoked with fervent prayer from his heavenly Father on the eve of his sacrifice".

Pope Paul has himself used the same terms, while it is well known that Cardinal Bea continually talks about preparing for this perfect union "which was the object of the Lord's prayer at the Last Supper and which is certainly also the object of our Prayer in union with him" (Oct. 18th to Vatican II Observers).

The unity of the Church is affected by lack of charity among her children (cf. Arterna Dei Sapientia of John XXIII par. 31) and by their sinfulness. Fr. Hurley Si.. in the December edition of The Clergy Review, reminds us that a sinner. when unreconciled. is excommanicate. prevented from particinatine in the sacrament of unity. We must affirm that schism also affects the unity of the Church. Does this mean that we must cease to present the Church as one? Are we to discard or to under-play this traditionally accepted mark of the Church? By no means!

We cannot, with Archbishop Temple, profess belief in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church and regret that it doesn't yet exist. The Catholic Church always was, is and will be one. None the less we must examine this idea or unity a little more subtly than has been the custom of the apologists.

The unity of the Church (and we must keep in mind that there is only one Church not two) is like that of an organism. It is dynamic and not static. A living thing in its embryonic state is, in a sense, as one as the fully-developed organism. There remains throughout a substantial identity and, therefore, a substantial unity. But in the developed organism the substantial unity is more perfect for it is the unity of a more perfect thing.

Perfect stature

Pere Couturier applied this image to the Church. The Church is an organism, the body of Christ which has still to reach its perfect stature and so to become fully one. To suggest. then, that the unity of the Church is not in any way impaired when half the baptised Christians in the world are outside the visible fold and when there are Orthodox bishops in apostolic succession owing no Wlegiance to Riche e iscaa Ilhitoilleicmity of oreffiathneidceahltiisrteihc and a little less than scriptural.

also is at the moment (perhaps always) incompletely realised. As Conger said. "What our separated brethren possess imperfectly outside the Church is so much missing from the present catholicity of the Church", The harmful effect of dis-unitv is seen particularly in the mission fields where Christianity sometimes appears as a divisive force.

bTehte i eve"

visible unity was meant to be a sign of her divine origin. "so that the world may Reunion, it seems, is necessary for the Church, a positive enrichment of her. a way for her to become what she essentially is. the Mother of all Christians. and to fulfil her missionary task. Once this is seen and appreciated reunion will annear not as a marginal activity undertaken by the continental avant-garde. but an apostolic duty imposed on all Christians.

New schisms

As children we were told that every baptised person was an apostle, a missionary. It should be clear that by the same token every Christian is an ecumenist.

Those who strive to understand the mind of John XXIII should struggle to express themselves with unending patience as he would have wished. To speak in needlessly revolutionary terms, to write of the divisions within the Council as if it were all a game of "cops and robbers" is to create new schisms and not to end the older and larger ones. If we admit that the unity of the Church is itself affected by schisms of all sortathen we must admit that present disunity is the greatest part of Christ's own agony. Christ's prayer on the eve of his sacrifice is sacred, Is it already fulfilled or not? If it is, we can continue merrily with our apologetics, If it is not, we must accept ecumenism as the great task of our time. The problem is simple. The answer to it will be decisive, This article. as is evident, was no attempt to give an impartial account of the present root-divisions among Catholics. It has. however, tried to emphasise that such divisions are not to any one's comfort and proposed a line of enquiry which, if pursued, may end them.

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