Saturday Topic: Ecumenism

This Saturday’s topic for this week’s Young Professionals’ Fellowship was Ecumenism (ie. Christian inter-denominational dialogue). The two resources given out were Peter Kreeft’s Audio lecture, "Ecumenism Without Compromise", and the following notes our friend Universal and I had prepared beforehand:


"That they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." (John 17:21)

What is Ecumenism?

"…ecumenism is the spiritual dialogue and activity in which the Church engages with other Christians. ‘Other Christians’ in this context is understood to mean validly baptized non-Catholics. 

This means, for example, that Catholic-Orthodox dialogue or Catholic-Anglican dialogue constitutes ecumenism, because both Anglicans and the Orthodox are validly baptized non-Catholic Christians. But ecumenism doesn’t cover Catholic-Islamic dialogue or Catholic-Hindu dialogue, because Muslims and Hindus don’t baptize in the name of the Holy Trinity. The Church describes this kind of spiritual activity with non-Christian religions as ‘interfaith dialogue.’" *1*

What’s so important about ecumenism?

It is important because it is an effort to eliminate an evil: the evil of Christian disunity.

• Division is a counter-witness in two ways: it contradicts our claim to represent the truth and therefore tarnishes the credibility of the Gospel, and; internal conflict and divided effort impede effective evangelization of the world. Christ prayed for unity not only for our own sake but also for the world: "so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." How can we answer at the judgement for those souls that were lost because of our disunity?
• Christ calls us to unity, "to be radically one as the Trinity is one"*2* as the opening Scriptural quote suggests: "even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee". Disunity is therefore a sinful disobedience of His will, and we are obliged to amend it.
• Division is scandalous not only in what it does but also in what it is, "because Denominationalism is not the multiplying of subdivisions in an organization, it’s the amputation of limbs from an organism"*3*, that is, Jesus Christ!
• To be content with disunity of any degree is to be content with subjectivism, skepticism and indifferentism toward truth – in other words, lukewarmness: "I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth." (Revelation 3:15).

What is the goal and its requirements?

• The Goal is the perfect and complete unity of all Christians, without any "lukewarmness".
• The requirement, therefore, is the total and radical conformity with the will of Christ, from both parties.
• Therefore, the Catholic position is that there can be no compromise on the truths that Christ willed to be communicated through the authority of the Catholic Church.

"In matters of faith, compromise is in contradiction with God who is Truth."*4*

"This is a problem apparently without a possible solution because no faithful Catholic could dream of unity with protestants except on Catholic grounds, for to be a Catholic is to believe that those grounds are holy grounds, Divinely revealed. It is the Protestants who must remove their shoes. Catholics cannot negotiate away any of the deposit of faith because it is not theirs, it is Christ’s. The Divinely appointed mail carriers may not edit God’s mail. So the reunion must be on Catholic grounds, that is complete universal grounds. That is the… essential Catholic point, and that is nonnegotiable for any faithful Catholic. …but at the same time reunion must be on Protestant grounds… simple all sufficiency of Christ alone."*3*

How do we approach ecumenism?

Here are some suggestions:

• Laying the foundations: realization of a personal faith and relationship, and the ongoing personal and communal conversion and discipleship:

"There can be no ecumenism worthy of the name without a change of heart."*6*

"We Catholics have to change first, but that change involves not the slightest compromising with anything Catholic… only a rediscovery of our own essence from within… what we have to… rediscover is… the relationship that we’ve neglected."*3*

We can learn from those who have left the Church: "They may have gotten the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but they didn’t get the real presence of Chirst in their hearts and in their lives. They got the upper stories of the Catholic sky scraper but not the foundation. Not the faith and the hope and the love relationship with Christ as Lord and Saviour…"*3*

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." (Luke 10:27)

Thus, this includes ongoing conversion of the intellect and the will; "Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind" (Romans 12:2)

We must also be grounded in our Catholic faith through study of what the Church teaches and why, and where the Church’s authority to teach, instruct and discipline comes from, considering all in a Christocentric light.

• Healing and establishing Christian relationships through forgiveness, repentance, prayer and respect:

"…besides the doctrinal differences needing to be resolved, Christians cannot underestimate the burden of long-standing misgivings inherited from the past, and of mutual misunderstandings and prejudices. …the commitment to ecumenism must be based upon the conversion of hearts and upon prayer, which will also lead to the necessary purification of past memories."*4*

• Toward spiritual and sacramental communion in Christ"

Two types/degrees of communion:
     i communicatio in spiritualibus (sharing in common prayer).
     ii communicatio in sacris (sharing in the sacraments)

"Generally, the Church encourages communicatio in spiritualibus between Catholics and Protestants, but strictly limits communicatio in sacris to a handful of sacraments, and even then only between Catholics and members of an Eastern non-Catholic Church (see Canon 844)."*1*

Sharing the sacraments is the end, and not the means, to unity – this saves us from lukewarm compromises. By accepting the reality of our separation, we progress toward true unity.

• Seeking unity through Jesus Christ, our common ground and our goal:

Catholics must rediscover a personal faith and love of God both personally and communally so that they may be more intimately united with Christ than is possible as non-Catholics. Catholics must possess a profound spiritual communion with Christ, and therefore the Church, existing prior to but manifested and climaxed in the sacraments. This is the "magnet" which will attract our separated brethren, and therefore the key to ecumenism.

"The essence of Evangelical Protestantism is to be one with Christ, to meet Christ, and that’s the best reason to be a Catholic. That’s the reason for the Mass and the Eucharist… Mary, for instance, is holy only because of her relationship with Christ….Catholicism seems to Protestants to… [violate] the scriptural teaching of all-sufficiency of Christ, the teaching that ‘there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus’"*3*

Kreeft suggests that there is only one requirement for Protestants: "to see the Church in a different way… as the very body of Christ himself"*3*, and that Protestants should not stop their protest "…until they see the total Christocentric character of her and of all her teachings"*3* – and therefore the responsibility rests on each and every Catholic.

*1*Envoy Magazine: "Vatican II & Ecumenism: What did the Council Really Say?"
*2*Our friend Universal
*3*Peter Kreeft: Audio lecture, "Ecumenism Without Compromise"
*4*John Paul II: Encyclical On Commitment to Ecumenism, "Ut Unum Sint"
*6*Vatican II: Decree On Ecumenism, "Unitatis Redintegratio"

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