A collection of personal reflections. Copyright © 2005-2011 K. Gurries

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Goal of Ecumenism

In his plenary address to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (January 15, 2010), Pope Benedict XVI affirmed that the successor of Peter is the primary guardian and defender of the sacred deposit.  His ministry towards unity involves unity of faith above all else so that there be one flock and one shepherd.  Ecumenism, in the proper sense of the term, is nothing more than an outward manifestation of this constant ministry towards unity.  In other words, the ultimate goal of ecumenism is the “full and visible communion of the disciples of the Lord”.  For Pope Benedict XVI, the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Ceotibus -- far from being contrary to true ecumenism -- represents an example of its ultimate aim towards the perfection of visible Catholic unity.  In this manner, Pope Benedict XVI once again defends "continuity" with respect to Tradition and Vatican II while dispelling false notions (rupture) with respect to ecumenism. 

Ecumenism: Progression of Stages

This “ministry towards unity” is always present, however, it need not be carried out in exactly the same (practical) manner in every particular circumstance.  Nor must it necessarily take place suddenly or all at once.  What this means is that the practical guidelines or norms for ecumenical activity can be revised as deemed prudent by the Holy See.  In this sense, the Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism -- while preserving the continuity of immutable principles -- can be seen as an update to the practical guidelines for ecumenical activity that were in place prior to Vatican II.  The Vatican II decree gives a broad outline for the various practical steps or stages of ecumenical activity oriented towards full visible unity in the Catholic Church (UR, 4).   

Stage 1:  Charity in Truth

“…first, every effort to avoid expressions, judgments and actions which do not represent the condition of our separated brethren with truth and fairness and so make mutual relations with them more difficult…”

Stage 2: Dialogue
One does not engage in "dialogue" merely for its own sake.  The purpose of such theological exchanges is mutual understanding in order to overcome those differences that represent obstacles to full Catholic unity -- one faith, one baptism, one Lord... 

“…then, ‘dialogue’ between competent experts from different Churches and Communities… In such dialogue, everyone gains a truer knowledge and more just appreciation of the teaching and religious life of both Communions…”

Stage 3: Cooperation
Christians should work together to build on the level or degree of unity that exists between them.  In this way, the various Christian communities ought to join together in causes that promote Christian and moral values for the good of individuals and society: life, marriage, freedom of religion in the public square, etc. 

“In addition, the way is prepared for cooperation between them in the duties for the common good of humanity which are demanded by every Christian conscience; and, wherever this is allowed, there is prayer in common.”

Stage 4: Conversion of Hearts
This is conversion in the sense of an inward change of heart that all Christians are called to make.  Pope Benedict XVI notes that the newer formula for the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday "reminds us that conversion is meant to be a deep and lasting abandonment of our sinful ways in order to enter into a living relationship with Christ, who alone offers true freedom, happiness and fulfilment."  Additionally, the traditional or "extraordinary" form of the Divine Office makes it clear that conversion is a daily calling for Catholics (Converte nos, Deus, salutaris noster; Make us turn to Thee, O God our Savior) so that our actions do not scandalize others presenting further obstacles to unity. 

“Finally, all are led to examine their own faithfulness to Christ's will for the Church and accordingly to undertake with vigor the task of renewal and reform.”

Stage 5: Final Preparation and Reconciliation
The various preliminary stages above are supposed to lead to conversion in the sense of formal enterance into the Catholic Church (i.e., "full and visible communion").  Therefore, this last step is not considered ecumenism, strictly speaking, but rather is considered as the ultimate goal of ecumenism.   
“When such actions are undertaken prudently and patiently by the Catholic faithful, with the attentive guidance of their bishops, they promote justice and truth, concord and collaboration, as well as the spirit of brotherly love and unity.  This is the way that, when the obstacles to perfect ecclesiastical communion have been gradually overcome, all Christians will at last, in a common celebration of the Eucharist, be gathered into the one and only Church in that unity which Christ bestowed on His Church from the beginning.  We believe that this unity subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose, and we hope that it will continue to increase until the end of time… However, it is evident that, when individuals wish for full Catholic communion, their preparation and reconciliation is an undertaking which of its nature is distinct from ecumenical action. But there is no opposition between the two, since both proceed from the marvelous ways of God.”
O GOD, Who settest straight what has gone astray, and gatherest together what is scattered, and keepest what Thou hast gathered together; we beseech Thee in Thy mercy to pour down on Christian people the grace of union with Thee, that, putting disunion aside and joining themselves to the true Shepherd of Thy Church, they may be able to render Thee worthy service.  Through our Lord. (Collect, Mass For The Unity of The Church, 1962 Missal)


Blogger K Gurries said...

Those interested in understanding and promoting [true] ecumenism should check out Fr. Finigan's post on the matter. He has a very good handle on the necessary "hermeneutic of continuity"...


January 25, 2010 3:59 PM  
Blogger K Gurries said...

The recent controversy between traditional groups in Mexico provides an opportunity to further reflect on the nature of TRUE ecumenism in contradistinction to FALSE ecumenism.

Fr. Romanowski (FSSP) delivered a sermon on this very topic and it ties in perfectly with the theme of this post concerning the true goal of ecumenism:


For backgound on the Mexico incident and controversy see the original report here:


For information regarding the SSPX response see the following posts:



February 09, 2010 11:35 AM  
Blogger K Gurries said...

The Rorate blog presents a speech by Cardinal Levada on this theme:


Here is an extract of the most important points from the speech...

"Union with the Catholic Church is the goal of ecumenism—one could put, “we phrase it that way”. Yet the very process of working towards union works a change in churches and ecclesial communities that engage one another in dialogue, in actual instances of entering into communion do indeed transform the Catholic Church by way of enrichment. Let me add right away that when I say enrichment I am referring not to any addition of essential elements of sanctification and truth to the Catholic Church. Christ has endowed her with all the essential elements. I am referring to the addition of modes of expression of these essential elements, modes which enhance everyone’s appreciation of the inexhaustible treasures bestowed on the Church by her divine founder.

The new reality of visible unity among Christians should not thought of as the coming together of disparate elements that previously had not existed in any one community. The Second Vatican Council clearly teaches that all the elements of sanctification and truth which Christ bestowed on the Church are found in the Catholic Church. What is new then is not the acquisition of something essential which had hitherto been absent. Instead, what is new is that perennial truths and elements of holiness already found in the Catholic Church are given new focus, or a different stress by the way they are lived by various groups of the faithful who are called by Christ to come together in perfect communion with one another, enjoying the bonds of creed, code, cult and charity, in diverse ways that blend harmoniously."

March 09, 2010 9:25 AM  
Blogger K Gurries said...

I left the following comment on Fr. Z's Blog regarding this story.

I think statements such as these can be seen as part of the [SSPX] “dialogue”. For example, the Pope recently made the following remark (quoting Pope John Paul II) on the topic of “spiritual ecumenism” between Catholics and Lutherans:

“Let us rejoice that such an encounter can take place. Let us dispose ourselves to be open to the Lord, so that He may use this encounter for His own ends, to make way for the unity He desires. Thank you for your efforts in favor of full unity in faith and charity”.

The SSPX DICI site reported on the event giving the following commentary:

Comment: This last phrase which Benedict borrowed from his predecessor, in the same vein of ecumenism promoted by Vatican II, does not fail to evoke the theory of “the exchange of gifts between Churches in their complementarity”, as developed in the encyclical Ut unum sint (no. 57). This is in fact a case of asking the Lutherans to bring their contribution to the work of unity in faith and charity, which transcends Catholics just as it does Lutherans. This presupposes that the Catholic Church is not integrally the guardian of the treasure of the faith. To which the Congregation of the Holy Office responded in its decree De motione oecumenica of 20 December 1949: “One should avoid talking on this point in such a way that, in returning to the Church, they (the Protestants) think they are briguing to it an essential element which was lacking until now”. (Sources: apic/vis DICI no. 210 of 2/20/10). http://www.dici.org/en/?p=4370

The objection raised has to do with the notion that non-Catholics supposedly have something “essential” to bring into the Church. Now we have a statement from the head of the CDF that directly addresses this point:

“Let me add right away that when I say enrichment I am referring not to any addition of essential elements of sanctification and truth to the Catholic Church…Christ has endowed her with all the essential elements.”

Obviously, this is no mere accident or coincidence. This is all part of the process to bring greater clarity on the disputed points of Vatican II.

March 12, 2010 7:49 AM  
Blogger K Gurries said...

The Holy Father used the occasion of the September 10, 2010 Ad Limina visit of the Bishops of Brazil to once again denounce the errors of a false ecumenism:

"The search for Christian unity has not a few obstacles before it. In the first place, to be rejected is an erroneous view of ecumenism, which induces to a certain doctrinal indifference that attempts to level, in an a-critical Ireneism, all "opinions" in a sort of ecclesiological relativism."


September 15, 2010 9:58 AM  
Blogger K Gurries said...

The Holy Father today once again affirmed the "ultimate goal" of ecumenism: the restoration of full ecclesial communion.

(SEPTEMBER 16-19, 2010)



Chapel of the Francis Martin House, Oscott College - Birmingham
Sunday, 19 September 2010

"...The other matter I touched upon in February with the Bishops of England and Wales, when I asked you to be generous in implementing the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus. This should be seen as a prophetic gesture that can contribute positively to the developing relations between Anglicans and Catholics. It helps us to set our sights on the ultimate goal of all ecumenical activity: the restoration of full ecclesial communion in the context of which the mutual exchange of gifts from our respective spiritual patrimonies serves as an enrichment to us all. Let us continue to pray and work unceasingly in order to hasten the joyful day when that goal can be accomplished."


September 19, 2010 1:35 PM  

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