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Storm Warning: Chapter 7

“That the World May Believe”

Tidal changes and foundations stones

While the authors spill a great deal of ink on the subject of ecumenism, they do not explicitly define the term. It s said to be manifested in a willingness to “hear important things” from other religions,1 to affirm collegiality and difference in discipline and culture to allow for “a certain pluralism in teaching.”2 Beyond this, there are numerous references to reconciliation, conversion (but not to Christianity), freedom, equality, unity – and Vatican II.

De Roo states that the principle of ecumensim was part of “the tidal change that took place at Vatican II:”

What a number of observers considered one of the most important statements of the Council is in Article 8 of the Decree on Ecumenism. . . where it states that the true Church subsists in the Roman Catholic Church. That was a reversal of what Pius XII had declared, that the Roman Catholic Church alone is the true Church.3 (emphasis in original)

Bishop De Roo is mistaken in his attribution of this statement. It does not occur in the Decree on Ecumenism. He makes a second mistake in attributing a reference to the hierarchy of truths to Article 2 of the same docment,4 and a third when he asserts that Article 44 of the decree (which has only 24 articles) “says that adaptation is the law of evangelization.”5 The first and second of these mistaken references he inauspiciously describes as “foundation stones” for future ecumenical progress, placing particular emphasis on the hierarchy of truths.

But it it s the denial that the Roman Catholic Church is the one, true Church that is the principal “foundation stone” for the authors’ opinion of ecumenism, an opinion aptly expressed in the chapter title, “The Many Ways to God.”6 It is suggested, instead, that Christ’s Church includes all Christian denominations and that ecumenical commissions “are attempts to find some visible sign of unity” in this Church.7 When reference is made to “the promise that we would all be one in Christ and that there would be a visible manifestation of this,”8 what the auhtors seek is not the unity of Christians in Catholicism but “an ecumencial coming togther of Christian churches, of which the Catholic Church is one.”9

When ecumenism is understood in this way, however, a problem arises. If there are “many ways to God” both within and outside the Christian fold, there really isn’t any persuasive religious reason to have “an ecumenical coming together.” It is hardly surprising, then, when Bishop De Roo observes that, “we’re beginning to question the very wisdom of trying to achieve organizational or structural unity.”10

On the other hand, Leddy and De Roo see great hope for ‘grass roots ecumenism’ that simply bypasses the “structure,” noting that, on questions of “social justice and peace,” people frequently unite across denominational lines.11 The authors find the meaning and purpose of ecumenism in this type of socio-politcal activity.

Ecumenism and equations

Underlying the authors’ concern for ecumenical progress is “pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good”12 for Christ’s poor and for the cause of peace.13 Leddy comments that it is very important for the Church to “evoke and strengthen the ‘why’ of this commitment to justice and peace in the world,”14 and Roche is attracted by “the potential of the Church to alleviate suffering.”15 In such filed, they believe that Christians must work together because only massive ecumenical political lobbying will succeed,16 even though “the role of the Catholic Church in this set of equations, religious equations, is of first-rank importance.”17 Roche says that Vatican II

. . .raised a hope . . . that the Church would have the capacity to influence . . . the world . . . that out of this would come. . . the stimulation of stronger public policies that would triumph over the greed and exploitive patterns we’ve been mired in . . . not . . . a miracle, but . . . a catalyst and stimulant and would wident out. . . into ecumenical dimensions, into the whole world.18

Acknowledging his colleagues’ preference for ‘grass roots’ ecumenism, Roche nonetheless stresses the need for reform of the “institutional Church.”19 His difference with De Roo and Leddy on this point is merely tactical. All are strong advocates of Christian and even universal religious unity primarily as a means to relieve the poor and achieve world peace.20

Impediments to ecumenism

Leddy acknowledges that churches have distinctive “fundamental symbols and traditions” and makes the trenchant observation that churches are in some respects “almost tribal-like cultures” which one “can’t just whomp . . . together.” Accommodating such tribal differences is, she suggests, the true challenge to the ecumenical movement; “commissions” and “theologians” have found “no real theological impediment to Christian ecumenism.”21 However, the authors complain about “institutional impediments.”22 Foremost among these is “persistent authoritarianism within the Catholic Church.”23 For if Christians attempt to unite, “what will happen to the question of how bishops are chosen in the Catholic Church?. . . to the question of papal authority? . . . to the question of women in the Church . . . mandatory celibacy . . . birth control?”24

Thus, the false distinction between the ‘institutional Church’ and the ‘Church of the People of God’ is made once more, and once more the ‘institutional Church’ is portrayed as repressive and backward.25 Within the context of poverty and peace, the obvious implication is that such backwardness contributes to the misery of the world.

The Council: the reason for ecumenism

While the authors of In the Eye of the Catholic Storm focus exclusively on social and political reasons for ecumenism, the Council Fathers remembered that Christ did not bequeath a social or political mission to His Church, but a religious one.26 They formally proposed the “holy objective” of Christian reunification for the simple reason that current disunity “openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages that most holy cause, the preaching of the Gospel to every creature.”27

The Council: Catholic principles of ecumenism

The Council Fathers clearly identifed the one Church of Christ. To bring salvation to all, Jesus found “one Church and one Church only,”28 the Catholic Church.29 This one universal Church was “founded upon the apostles and built upon blessed Peter their leader, the chief corner-stone being Christ Jesus himself.”30

In this one and only Church of God from its very beginnings there arose certain rifts which the Apostle strongly censures as damnable. [Later]. . . large communities became separated from full communion with the Catholic Church – for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame.31

But the Council assured us that Christ’s “one true religion continues to exist in the Catholic and Apostolic Church,”32 for

Christ . . . ever sustains . . . his holy Church . . . the sole Church of Christ which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour . . . raised up for all ages . . This Church . . . subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him.33

Consistent with this, the Council defined the People of God in such a way as to fully include only the Catholic faithful in communion with the Holy See.34 Commenting that other baptized Christians are “joined in may ways” to this People,35 the Council Fathers acknowledged them as brothers in imperfect communion,36 while non-Christians were said to be “related to the People of God in various ways.”37

Despite these and similar expressions of respect and affection, the Second Vatican Council insisted that “it is through Christ’s Catholic Church alone. . . that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained.”

It was to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, that we believe that our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant.”38

And it reiterated apostolic teaching:

[T]hey could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it, or to remain in it.39

The Council: the meaning of ecumenism

In describing the “ecumenical movement,” Vatican II encouraged all people “to examine their own faithfulness to Christ’s will for the Church and, wherever necessary, undertake with vigour the task of renewal and reform.”40 Christ’s will for the Chruch was expressed in his prayer “that all may be one, as you, Father, are in me, and I in you; I pray that they may be one in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (Jn. 17:21).41 The Second Vatican Council taught that it is also the will fo Christ that the one People of God should increase under the government and pastoral care of “the Apostles and therie successors – the bishops with Peter’s successor at their head.”42

Thus, the goal of ecumenism stated by the Second Vatican Council is “the reconciliation of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ.”43 That unity does not exist among non-Catholic Christians44 but “subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose.”45

The logical conclusion is that the “ecumenical coming together” described by De Roo, Roche and Leddy is a counterfeit of what the Second Vatican Council actually envisaged: in essence, the reunification of Christians in the Catholic Church, ruled by Christ through the Pope and bishops in communion with him.46

Notes

1. Leddy, p. 159

2. De Roo, p. 18

3. De Roo, p. 142

4. Ibid

5. De Roo, p. 148. The passage is found in Vatican Council II (1966) Gaudium et Spes, 44

6. In the Eye of the Catholic Storm, Chapter 8, p. 138

7. Roche, p. 146

8. Roche, p. 149

9. Roche, p. 150

10. De Roo, p. 145

11. Leddy, p. 144-145, 152, 192; De Roo, p. 145

12. The temptation that Gandalf resisted when offered the ring by Frodo. Tolkien, J.R.R., The Fellowship of the Ring. Unwin Paperbacks, 1984, p. 91.

13. In the Eye of the Catholic Storm, Chapter VI, “The Cry of the Poor”; Chapter VII, “War and Peace Today: No Middle Ground”

14. Leddy, p. 100

15. Roche, p. 33

16. Roche, p. 100, 103, 105

17. Roche, p. 120

18. Roche, p. 27

19. Roche, p. 189

20. Roche, p. 27, 140

21. Leddy, p. 147

22. Ibid

23. Roche, p. 147

24. Roche, p. 150

25. Roche, p. 143-144, 150, 183

26. Vatican Council II (1966) Gaudium et Spes, 42

27. Vatican Council II (1964) Unitatis Redintegratio, 1

28. Ibid, 1

29. Vatican Council II (1963) Inter Mirifica, 3

30. Vatican Council II (1964) Lumen Gentium, 19

31. Vatican Council II (1964) Unititatis Redintegratio, 3

32. Vatican Council II (1965) Dignitatis Humanae, 1

33. Vatican Council II (1964) Lumen Gentium, 8

34. Ibid, 14

35. Ibid, 15

36. Vatican Council II (1964) Unititatis Redintegratio, 3

37. Vatican Council II (1964) Lumen Gentium, 16

38. Vatican Council II (1964) Unititatis Redintegratio, 3

39. Vatican Council II (1964) Lumen Gentium, 14

40. Vatican Council II (1964) Unititatis Redintegratio, 4

41. Ibid, 2

42. Ibid

43. Ibid, 24

44. Ibid, 3

45. Ibid, 4

46. Vatican Council II (1964) Lumen Gentium, 14

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