Link back to index.html

   

       Decree on Ecumenism---Vatican II

 

     All the passages below are taken from The Sixteen Documents of Vatican II. It was published in 1967 by the Daughters of St Paul, Philippines.

 

INTRODUCTION

1. The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council. Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only. However, many Christian communions present themselves to men as the true inheritors of Jesus Christ; all indeed profess to be followers of the Lord but differ in mind and go their different ways, as if Christ Himself were divided.1 Such division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature.

     But the Lord of Ages wisely and patiently follows out the plan of grace on our behalf, sinners that we are. In recent times more than ever before, He has been rousing divided Christians to remorse over their divisions and to a longing for unity. Everywhere large numbers have felt the impulse of this grace, and among our separated brethren also there increases from day to day the movement, fostered by the grace of the Holy Spirit, for the restoration of unity among all Christians. This movement toward unity is called "ecumenical." Those belong to it who invoke the Triune God and confess Jesus as Lord and Saviour, doing this not merely as individuals but also as corporate bodies. For almost everyone regards the body in which he has heard the Gospel as his Church and indeed, God's Church. All however, though in different ways, long for the one visible Church of God, a Church truly universal and set forth into the world that the world may be converted to the Gospel and so be saved, to the glory of God.

     The Sacred Council gladly notes all this. It has already declared its teaching on the Church, and now, moved by a desire for the restoration of unity among all the followers of Christ, it wishes to set before all Catholics the ways and means by which they too can respond to this grace and to this divine call.  

 

CHAPTER I

 

CATHOLIC PRINCIPLES ON ECUMENISM

2. What has revealed the love of God among us is that the Father has sent into the world His only-begotten Son, so that, being made man, He might by His redemption give new life to the entire human race and unify it.2 Before offering Himself up as a spotless victim upon the altar, Christ prayed to His Father for all who believe in Him: "that they all may be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us, so that the world may believe that thou has sent me"3 In His Church He instituted the wonderful sacrament of the Eucharist by which the unity of His Church is both signified and made a reality. He gave His followers a new commandment to love one another,4 and promised the Spirit, their Advocates,5 who, as Lord and life-giver, should remain with them forever.

     After being lifted up on the cross and glorified, the Lord Jesus poured forth His Spirit as He had promised, and through the Spirit He has called and gathered together the people of the New Covenant, who are the Church, into a unity of faith, hope and charity, as the Apostle teaches us: "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one Baptism."6 For "all you who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ ... for you are all one in Christ Jesus."7 It is the Holy Spirit, dwelling in those who believe and pervading and ruling over the Church as a whole, who brings about that wonderful communion of the faithful. He brings them into intimate union with Christ, so that He is the principle of the Church's unity. The distribution of graces and offices is His work too,8 enriching the Church of Jesus Christ with different functions "in order to equip the saints for the work of service, so as to build up the body of Christ."9

     In order to establish this His holy Church everywhere in the world till the end of time, Christ entrusted to the College of the Twelve the task of teaching, ruling and sanctifying.10 Among their number He selected Peter, and after his confession of faith determined that on him He would build His Church. Also to Peter He promised the keys of the kingdom of heaven,11 and after His profession of love, entrusted all His sheep to him to be confirmed in faith12 and shepherded in perfect unity.13 Christ Jesus Himself was forever to remain the chief cornerstone14 and shepherd of our souls.15

     Jesus Christ, then, willed that the apostles and their successors---the bishops with Peter's successor at their head---should preach the Gospel faithfully, administer the sacraments, and rule the Church in love. It is thus, under the action of the Holy Spirit, that Christ wills His people to increase, and He perfects His people's fellowship in unity: in their confessing the one faith, celebrating divine worship in common, and keeping the fraternal harmony of the family of God.

     The Church, then, is God's only flock; it is like a standard lifted high for the nations to see it:16 for it serves all mankind through the Gospel of peace17 as it makes its pilgrim way in hope toward the goal of the fatherland above.18

     This is the sacred mystery of the unity of the Church, in Christ and through Christ, the Holy Spirit energizing its various functions. It is a mystery that finds its highest exemplar and source in the unity of the Persons of the Trinity: the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit, one God.

 

3. Even in the beginnings of this one and only Church of God there arose certain rifts,19 which the Apostle strongly condemned.20 But in subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions made their appearance and quite large communities came to be separated from full communion with the Catholic Church---for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame. The children who are born into these Communities and who grow up believing in Christ cannot be accused of the sin involved in the separation, and the Catholic Church embraces upon them as brothers, with respect and affection. For men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect. The differences that exist in varying degrees between them and the Catholic Church---whether in doctrine and sometimes in discipline, or concerning the structure of the Church---do indeed create many obstacles, sometimes serious ones, to full ecclesiastical communion. The ecumenical movement is striving to overcome these obstacles. But even in spite of them it remains true that all who have been justified by faith in Baptism are members of Christ's body,21 and have a right to be called Christian, and so are correctly accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church.22

            Moreover, some and even very many of the significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church: the written word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, and visible elements too. All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to Christ, belong by right to the one Church of Christ.

     The brethren divided from us also use many liturgical actions of the Christian religion. These most certainly can truly engender a life of grace in ways that vary according to the condition of each Church or Community. These liturgical actions must be regarded as capable of giving access to the community of salvation.

     It follows that, separated Churches23 and Communities as such, though we believe them to be deficient in some respects, have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Church.

     Nevertheless, our separated brethren, whether considered as individuals or as Communities and Churches, are not blessed with that unity which Jesus Christ wished to bestow on all those who through Him were born again into one body, and with Him quickened to newness of life---that unity which the Holy Scriptures and the ancient Tradition of the Church proclaim. For it is only through Christ's Catholic Church, which is "the all-embracing means of salvation," that they can benefit fully from the means of salvation. We believe that Our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, in order to establish the one Body of Christ on earth to which all should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the people of God. This People of God, though still in its members liable to sin, is ever growing in Christ during its pilgrimage on earth, and is guided by God's gentle wisdom, according to His hidden designs, until it shall happily arrive at the fullness of eternal glory in the heavenly Jerusalem.

 

4. Today, in many parts of the world, under the inspiring grace of the Holy Spirit, many efforts are being made in prayer, word and action to attain that fullness of unity which Jesus Christ desires. The Sacred Council exhorts all the Catholic faithful to recognize the signs of the times and to take an active and intelligent part in the work of ecumenism.

     The term "ecumenical movement" indicates the initiatives and activities planned and undertaken, according to the various needs of the Church and as opportunities offer, to promote Christian unity. These are: 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; then, "dialogue" between competent experts from different Churches and Communities. At these meetings, which are organized in a religious spirit, each explains the teaching of his Communion in greater depth and brings out clearly its distinctive features. In such dialogue, everyone gains a truer knowledge and more just appreciation of the teaching and religious life of both Communions. 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. 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.

     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.

     Catholics, in their ecumenical work, must assuredly be concerned for their separated brethren, praying for them, keeping them informed about the Church, making the first approaches toward them. But their primary duty is to make a careful and honest appraisal of whatever needs to be done or renewed in the Catholic household itself, in order that its life may bear witness more clearly and faithfully to the teachings and institutions which have come to it from Christ through the Apostles.

     For although the Catholic Church has been endowed with all divinely revealed truth and with all means of grace, yet its members fail to live by them with all the fervor that they should, so that the radiance of the Church's image is less clear in the eyes of our separated brethren and of the world at large, and the growth of God's kingdom is delayed. All Catholics must therefore aim at Christian perfection24 and, each according to his station, play his part that the Church may daily be more purified and renewed. For the Church must bear in her own body the humility and dying of Jesus,25 against the day when Christ will present her to Himself in all her glory without spot or wrinkle.26

      All in the Church must preserve unity in essentials. But let all, according to the gifts they have received enjoy a proper freedom, in their various forms of spiritual life and discipline, in their different liturgical rites, and even in their theological elaborations of revealed truth. In all things let charity prevail. If they are true to this course of action, they will be giving ever better expression to the authentic catholicity and apostolicity of the Church.

     On the other hand, Catholics must gladly acknowledge and esteem the truly Christian endowments from our common heritage which are to be found among our separated brethren. It is right and salutary to recognize the riches of Christ and virtuous works in the lives of others who are bearing witness to Christ, sometimes even to the shedding of their blood. For God is always wonderful in His works and worthy of all praise.

     Nor should we forget that anything wrought by the grace of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of our separated brethren can be a help to our own edification. Whatever is truly Christian is never contrary to what genuinely belongs to the faith; indeed, it can always bring a deeper realization of the mystery of Christ and the Church.

     Nevertheless, the divisions among Christians prevent the Church from attaining the fullness of catholicity proper to her, in those of her sons who, though attached to her by Baptism, are yet separated from full communion with her. Furthermore, the Church herself finds it more difficult to express in actual life her full catholicity in all her bearings.

     This Sacred Council is gratified to note that the participation by the Catholic faithful in ecumenical work is growing daily. It commends this work to the bishops everywhere in the world to be vigorously stimulated by them and guided with prudence.

 

CHAPTER II

 

THE PRACTICE OF ECUMENISM

5. The attainment of union is the concern of the whole Church, faithful and shepherds alike. This concern extends to everyone, according to his talent, whether it be exercised in his daily Christian life or in his theological and historical research. This concern itself reveals already to some extent the bond of brotherhood between all Christians and it helps toward that full and perfect unity which God in His kindness wills.

 

6. Every renewal of the Church27 is essentially grounded in an increase of fidelity to her own calling. Undoubtedly this is the basis of the movement toward unity.

     Christ summons the Church to continual reformation as she sojourns here on earth. The Church is always in need of this, in so far as she is an institution of men here on earth. Thus if, in various times and circumstances, there have been deficiencies in moral conduct or in church discipline, or even in the way that church teaching has been formulated---to be carefully distinguished from the deposit of faith itself---these can and should be set right at the opportune moment.

     Church renewal has therefore notable ecumenical importance. Already in various spheres of the Church's life, this renewal is taking place. The Biblical and liturgical movements, the preaching of the word of God and catechetics, the apostolate of the laity, new forms of religious life and the spirituality of married life, and the Church's social teaching and activity---all these should be considered as pledges and signs of the future progress of ecumenism.

 

7. There can be no ecumenism worthy of the name without a change of heart. For it is from renewal of the inner life of our minds,28 from self-denial and an unstinted love that desires of unity take their rise and develop in a mature way. We should therefore pray to the Holy Spirit for the grace to be genuinely self-denying, humble, gentle in the service of others, and to have an attitude of brotherly generosity towards them. St. Paul says: "I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace".29 This exhortation is directed especially to those raised to sacred Orders precisely that the work of Christ may be continued. He came among us "not to be served but to serve." 30

     The words of St. John hold good about sins against unity: "If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us."31 So we humbly beg pardon of God and of our separated brethren, just as we forgive them that trespass against us.

     All the faithful should remember that the more effort they make to live holier lives according to the Gospel, the better will they further Christian unity and put it into practice. For the closer their union with the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, the more deeply and easily will they be able to grow in mutual brotherly love.

 

8. This change of heart and holiness of life, along with public and private prayer for the unity of Christians, should be regarded as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement, and merits the name, "spiritual ecumenism."

     It is a recognized custom for Catholics to have frequent recourse to that prayer for the unity of the Church which the Saviour Himself on the eve of His death so fervently appealed to His Father: "That they may all be one."32

     In certain special circumstances, such as the prescribed prayers "for unity," and during ecumenical gatherings, it is allowable, indeed desirable that Catholics should join in prayer with their separated brethren. Such prayers in common are certainly an effective means of obtaining the grace of unity, and they are a true expression of the ties which still bind Catholics to their separated brethren. "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."33

     Yet worship in common (communicatio in sacris) is not to be considered as a means to be used indiscriminately for the restoration of Christian unity. There are two main principles governing the practice of such common worship: first, the bearing witness to the unity of the Church, and second, the sharing in the means of grace. Witness to the unity of the Church very generally forbids common worship to Christians, but the grace to be had from it sometimes commends this practice. The course to be adopted, with due regard to all the circumstances of time, place, and persons, is to be decided by local episcopal authority, unless otherwise provided for by the Bishops' Conference according to its statutes, or by the Holy See.

 

9. We must get to know the outlook of our separated brethren. To achieve this purpose, study is of necessity required, and this must be pursued with a sense of realism and good will. Catholics, who already have a proper grounding, need to acquire a more adequate understanding of the respective doctrines of our separated brethren, their history, their spiritual and liturgical life, their religious psychology and general background. Most valuable for this purpose are meetings of the two sides---especially for discussion of theological problems---where each can treat with the other on an equal footing---provided that those who take part in them are truly competent and have the approval of the bishops. From such dialogue will emerge still more clearly what the situation of the Catholic Church really is. In this way too the outlook of our separated brethren will be better understood, and our own belief more aptly explained.

 

10. Sacred theology and other branches of knowledge, especially of an historical nature, must be taught with due regard for the ecumenical point of view, so that they may correspond more exactly with the facts.

     It is most important that future shepherds and priests should have mastered a theology that has been carefully worked out in this way and not polemically, especially with regard to those aspects which concern the relations of separated brethren with the Catholic Church.

     This importance is the greater because the instruction and spiritual formation of the faithful and of religious depends so largely on the formation which their priests have received.

     Moreover, Catholics engaged in missionary work in the same territories as other Christians ought to know, particularly in these times, the problems and the benefits in their apostolate which derive from the ecumenical movement.

 

11. The way and method in which the Catholic faith is expressed should never become an obstacle to dialogue with our brethren. It is, of course, essential that the doctrine should be clearly presented in its entirety. Nothing is so foreign to the spirit of ecumenism as a false irenicism, in which the purity of Catholic doctrine suffers loss and its genuine and certain meaning is clouded.

     At the same time, the Catholic faith must be explained more profoundly and precisely, in such a way and in such terms as our separated brethren can also really understand.

     Moreover, in ecumenical dialogue, Catholic theologians standing fast by the teaching of the Church and investigating the divine mysteries with the separated brethren must proceed with love for the truth, with charity, and with humility. When comparing doctrines with one another, they should remember that in Catholic doctrine there exists a "hierarchy" of truths, since they vary in their relation to the fundamental Christian faith. Thus the way will be opened by which through fraternal rivalry all will be stirred to a deeper understanding and a clearer presentation of the unfathomable riches of Christ.34

 

12. Before the whole world let all Christians confess their faith in the triune God, one and three in the incarnate Son of God, our Redeemer and Lord. United in their efforts, and with mutual respect, let them bear witness to our common hope which does not play us false. In these days when cooperation in social matters is so widespread, all men without exception are called to work together, with much greater reason all those who believe in God, but most of all, all Christians in that they bear the name of Christ. Cooperation among Christians vividly expresses the relationship which in fact already unites them, and it sets in clearer relief the features of Christ the Servant. This cooperation, which has already begun in many countries, should be developed more and more, particularly in regions where a social and technical evolution is taking place be it in a just evaluation of the dignity of the human person, the establishment of the blessings of peace, the application of Gospel principles to social life, the advancement of the arts and sciences in a truly Christian spirit, or also in the use of various remedies to relieve the afflictions of our times such as famine and natural disasters, illiteracy and poverty, housing shortage and the unequal distribution of wealth. All believers in Christ can, through this cooperation, be led to acquire a better knowledge and appreciation of one another, and so pave the way to Christian unity.

 

CHAPTER III

 

CHURCHES AND ECCLESIAL COMMUNITIES SEPARATED FROM THE ROMAN APOSTOLIC SEE

13. We now turn our attention to the two chief types of division as they affect the seamless robe of Christ.

     The first divisions occurred in the East, when the dogmatic formulae of the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon were challenged, and later when ecclesiastical communion between the Eastern Patriarchates and the Roman See was dissolved.

     Other divisions arose more than four centuries later in the West, stemming from the events which are usually referred to as "The Reformation." As a result, many Communions, national or confessional, were separated from the Roman See. Among those in which Catholic traditions and institutions in part continue to exist, the Anglican Communion occupies a special place.

     These various divisions differ greatly from one another not only by reason of their origin, place and time, but especially in the nature and seriousness of questions bearing on faith and the structure of the Church. Therefore, without minimizing the differences between the various Christian bodies, and without overlooking the bonds between them which exist in spite of divisions, this holy Council decides to propose the following considerations for prudent ecumenical action.

 

I. The Special Consideration of the Eastern Churches

14. For many centuries the Church of the East and that of the West each followed their separate ways though linked in a brotherly union of faith and sacramental life; the Roman See by common consent acted as guide when disagreements arose between them over matters of faith or discipline. Among other matters of great importance, it is a pleasure for this Council to remind everyone that there flourish in the East many particular or local Churches, among which the Patriarchal Churches hold first place, and of these not a few pride themselves in tracing their origins back to the apostles themselves. Hence a matter of primary concern and care among the Easterns, in their local churches, has been, and still is, to preserve the family ties of common faith and charity which ought to exist between sister Churches.

            Similarly it must not be forgotten that from the beginning the Churches of the East have had a treasury from which the Western Church has drawn extensively---in liturgical practice, spiritual tradition, and law. Nor must we undervalue the fact that it was the ecumenical councils held in the East that defined the basic dogmas of the Christian faith, on the Trinity, on the Word of God Who took flesh of the Virgin Mary. To preserve this faith these Churches have suffered and still suffer much.

     However, the heritage handed down by the apostles was received with differences of form and manner, so that from the earliest times of the Church it was explained variously in different places, owing to diversities of genius and conditions of life. All this, quite apart from external causes, prepared the way for divisions arising also from a lack of charity and mutual understanding.

     For this reason the Holy Council urges all, but especially those who intend to devote themselves to the restoration of full communion hoped for between the Churches of the East and the Catholic Church, to give due consideration to this special feature of the origin and growth of the Eastern Churches, and to the character of the relations which obtained between them and the Roman See before separation. They must take full account of all these factors and, where this is done, it will greatly contribute to the dialogue that is looked for.

 

15. Everyone also knows with what great love the Christians of the East celebrate the sacred liturgy, especially the eucharistic celebration, source of the Church's life and pledge of future glory, in which the faithful, united with their bishop, have access to God the Father through the Son, the Word made flesh, Who suffered and has been glorified, and so, in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, they enter into communion with the most holy Trinity, being made "sharers of the divine nature."35 Hence, through the celebration of the Holy Eucharist in each of these churches, the Church of God is built up and grows in stature36 and through concelebration, their communion with one another is made manifest.

     In this liturgical worship, the Christians of the East pay high tribute, in beautiful hymns of praise, to Mary ever Virgin, whom the ecumenical Council of Ephesus solemnly proclaimed to be the holy Mother of God, so that Christ might be acknowledged as being truly Son of God and Son of Man, according to the Scriptures. Many also are the saints whose praise they sing, among them the Fathers of the universal Church.

     These Churches, although separated from us, yet possess true sacraments and above all, by apostolic succession, the priesthood and the Eucharist, whereby they are linked with us in closest intimacy. Therefore some worship in common (communicatio in sacris), given suitable circumstances and the approval of Church authority, is not only possible but to be encouraged.

     Moreover, in the East are found the riches of those spiritual traditions which are given expression especially in monastic life. There from the glorious times of the holy Fathers, monastic spirituality flourished which, then later flowed over into the Western world, and there provided the source from which Latin monastic life took its rise and has drawn fresh vigor ever since. Catholics therefore are earnestly recommended to avail themselves of the spiritual riches of the Eastern Fathers which lift up the whole man to the contemplation of the divine.

     The very rich liturgical and spiritual heritage of the Eastern Churches should be known, venerated, preserved and cherished by all. They must recognize that this is of supreme importance for the faithful preservation of the fullness of Christian tradition, and for bringing about reconciliation between Eastern and Western Christians.

 

16. Already from the earliest times the Eastern Churches followed their own forms of ecclesiastical law and custom which were sanctioned by the approval of the Fathers of the Church, of synods, and even of ecumenical councils. Far from being an obstacle to the Church's unity, a certain diversity of customs and observances only adds to her splendor, and is of great help in carrying out her mission, as has already been stated. To remove, then, all shadow of doubt, this holy Council solemnly declares that the Churches of the East, while remembering the necessary unity of the whole Church, have the power to govern themselves according to the disciplines proper to them, since these are better suited to the character of their faithful, and more for the good of their souls. The perfect observance of this traditional principle not always indeed carried out in practice, is one of the essential prerequisites for any restoration of unity.

 

17. What has just been said about the lawful variety that can exist in the Church must also be taken to apply to the differences in theological expression of doctrine. In the study of revelation East and West have followed different methods, and have developed differently their understanding and confession of God's truth. It is hardly surprising, then, if from time to time one tradition has come nearer to a full appreciation of some aspects of a mystery of revelation than the other, or has expressed it to better advantage. In such cases, these various theological expressions are to be considered often as mutually complementary rather than conflicting. Where the authentic theological traditions of the Eastern Church are concerned, we must recognize the admirable way in which they have their roots in Holy Scripture, and how they are nurtured and given expression in the life of the liturgy. They derive their strength too from the living tradition of the apostles and from the works of the Fathers and spiritual writers of the Eastern Churches. Thus they promote the right ordering of Christian life and, indeed, pave the way to a full vision of Christian truth.

     All this heritage of spirituality and liturgy, of discipline and theology, in its various traditions, this holy synod declares to belong to the full Catholic and apostolic character of the Church. We thank God that many Eastern children of the Catholic Church, who preserve this heritage, and wish to express it more faithfully and completely in their lives, are already living in full communion with their brethren who follow the tradition of the West.

 

18. After taking all these factors into consideration, this Sacred Council solemnly repeats the declaration of previous Councils and Roman Pontiffs, that for the restoration or the maintenance of unity and communion it is necessary "to impose no burden beyond what is essential."37 It is the Council's urgent desire that, in the various organizations and living activities of the Church, every effort should be made toward the gradual realization of this unity, especially by prayer, and by fraternal dialogue on points of doctrine and the more pressing pastoral problems of our time. Similarly, the Council commends to the shepherds and faithful of the Catholic Church to develop closer relations with those who are no longer living in the East but are far from home, so that friendly collaboration with them may increase, in the spirit of love, to the exclusion of all feeling of rivalry or strife. If this cause is wholeheartedly promoted, the Council hopes that the barrier dividing the Eastern Church and Western Church will be removed, and that at last there may be but the one dwelling, firmly established on Christ Jesus, the cornerstone, who will make both one.38

 

II. Separated Churches and Ecclesial Communities in the West

19. In the great upheaval which began in the West toward the end of the Middle Ages, and in later times too, Churches and ecclesial Communities came to be separated from the Apostolic See of Rome. Yet they have retained a particularly close affinity with the Catholic Church as a result of the long centuries in which all Christendom lived together in ecclesiastical communion.

     However, since these Churches and ecclesial Communities, on account of their different origins, and different teachings in matters of doctrine on the spiritual life, vary considerably not only with us, but also among themselves, the task of describing them at all adequately is extremely difficult; and we have no intention of making such an attempt here.

     Although the ecumenical movement and the desire for peace with the Catholic Church have not yet taken hold everywhere, it is our hope that ecumenical feeling and mutual esteem may gradually increase among all men.

     It must however be admitted that in these Churches and ecclesial Communities there exist important differences from the Catholic Church, not only of an historical, sociological, psychological and cultural character, but especially in the interpretation of revealed truth. To make easier the ecumenical dialogue in spite of these differences, we wish to set down some considerations which can, and indeed should, serve as a basis and encouragement for such dialogue.

 

20. Our thoughts turn first to those Christians who make open confession of Jesus Christ as God and Lord and as the sole Mediator between God and men, to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are aware indeed that there exist considerable divergences from the doctrine of the Catholic Church concerning Christ Himself, the Word of God made flesh, the work of redemption, and consequently, concerning the mystery and ministry of the Church, and the role of Mary in the plan of salvation. But we rejoice to see that our separated brethren look to Christ as the source and center of Church unity. Their longing for union with Christ inspires them to seek an ever closer unity, and also to bear witness to their faith among the peoples of the earth.

 

21. A love and reverence of Sacred Scripture which might be described as devotion, leads our brethren to a constant meditative study of the sacred text. For the Gospel "is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and then to the Greek."39

     While invoking the Holy Spirit, they seek in these very Scriptures God as it were speaking to them in Christ, Whom the prophets foretold, Who is the Word of God made flesh for us. They contemplate in the Scriptures the life of Christ and what the Divine Master taught and did for our salvation, especially the mysteries of His death and resurrection.

     But while the Christians who are separated from us hold the divine authority of the Sacred Books, they differ from ours---some in one way, some in another---regarding the relationship between Scripture and the Church. For, according to Catholic belief, the authentic teaching authority of the Church has a special place in the interpretation and preaching of the written word of God.

     But Sacred Scriptures provide for the work of dialogue an instrument of the highest value in the mighty hand of God for the attainment of that unity which the Saviour holds out to all.

 

22. Whenever the Sacrament of Baptism is duly administered as Our Lord instituted it, and is received with the right dispositions, a person is truly incorporated into the crucified and glorified Christ, and reborn to a sharing of the divine life, as the Apostle says: "You were buried together with Him in Baptism, and in Him also rose again---through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead."40

     Baptism therefore establishes a sacramental bond of unity which links all who have been reborn by it. But of itself Baptism is only a beginning, an inauguration wholly directed toward the fullness of life in Christ. Baptism, therefore, envisages a complete profession of faith, complete incorporation in the system of salvation such as Christ willed it to be, and finally complete ingrafting in eucharistic communion.

     Though the ecclesial Communities which are separated from us lack the fullness of unity with us flowing from Baptism, and though we believe they have not retained the proper reality of the eucharistic mystery in its fullness, especially because of the absence of the sacrament of Orders, nevertheless when they commemorate His death and resurrection in the Lord's Supper, they profess that it signifies life in communion with Christ and look forward to His coming in glory. Therefore the teaching concerning the Lord's Supper, the other sacraments, worship, the ministry of the Church, must be the subject of the dialogue.

 

23. The daily Christian life of these brethren is nourished by their faith in Christ and strengthened by the grace of Baptism and by hearing the word of God. This shows itself in their private prayer, their meditation on the Bible, in their Christian family life, and in the worship of a community gathered together to praise God. Moreover, their form of worship sometimes displays notable features of the liturgy which they shared with us of old.

     Their faith in Christ bears fruit in praise and thanksgiving for the blessings received from the hands of God. Among them, too, is a strong sense of justice and a true charity toward their neighbor. This active faith has been responsible for many organizations for the relief of spiritual and material distress, the furtherance of the education of youth, the improvement of the social conditions of life, and the promotion of peace throughout the world.

     While it is true that many Christians understand the moral teaching of the Gospel differently from Catholics, and do not accept the same solutions to the more difficult problems of modern society, nevertheless they share our desire to stand by the words of Christ as the source of Christian virtue, and to obey the command of the Apostle: "And whatever you do, in word or in work, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the Father through Him."41 For that reason an ecumenical dialogue might start with discussion of the application of the Gospel to moral conduct.

 

24. Now that we have briefly set out the conditions for ecumenical action and the principles by which it is to be directed, we look with confidence to the future. This Sacred Council exhorts the faithful to refrain from superficiality and imprudent zeal, which can hinder real progress toward unity. Their ecumenical action must be fully and sincerely Catholic, that is to say, faithful to the truth which we have received from the apostles and Fathers of the Church, in harmony with the faith which the Catholic Church has always professed, and at the same time directed toward that fullness to which Our Lord wills His Body to grow in the course of time.

     It is the urgent wish of this Holy Council that the measures undertaken by the sons of the Catholic Church should develop in conjunction with those of our separated brethren so that no obstacle be put in the ways of divine Providence and no preconceived judgments impair the future inspirations of the Holy Spirit. The Council moreover professes its awareness that human powers and capacities cannot achieve this holy objective---the reconciling of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ. It is because of this that the Council rests all its hope on the prayer of Christ for the Church, on our Father's love for us, and on the power of the Holy Spirit. "And hope does not disappoint, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us." 42

     Each and all these matters which are set forth in this Decreee have been favorably voted on by the Fathers of the Council. And We, by the apostolic authority given Us by Christ and in union with the Fathers, approve, decree and establish them in the Holy Spirit and command that they be promulgated for the glory of God. [169-186]

 

Given in Rome at St. Peter's, November 21, 1964.

          POPE PAUL VI 

 

 

COMMENTARY ON THE DECREE ON ECUMENISM

 

The Dialogue of Ecumenical Brotherhood

     "You are aware that on the final day of the Council's third session, a Decree on Ecumenism was approved and promulgated, dealing with this very complex and delicate subject, with the intention of calling to mind the mystery of unity which the Church cannot fail to consider, and with a view to facilitating to the greatest possible extent a full and lively and sincere participation of all followers of the Gospel in the riches of this mystery. We are hopeful that such an important, outspoken and confident document will one day bear fruit, and We repeat once more the exhortation contained in it, urging all faithful Catholics to be eager to implement the work of ecumenism, especially by prayer, by the excellence of their Christian life and the example which shines forth from it.

     "To those who have only a superficial knowledge of the question of the return of all Christians to unity, the solution appears quite easy and capable of being rapidly realized. But for those familiar with the historical, psychological and doctrinal terms of the same question, great and numerous difficulties of all kinds arise on all sides, so much so that some have no hope of ever overcoming them, while others, though still hoping, consider that a great deal of time and certainly a special and almost prodigious intervention of the grace of God will be required to attain this end.

     "It is not of these difficulties that We wish to speak to you at present. Rather do We wish to draw your attention to a temptation which readily assails good souls, which could suggest an attitude neither good nor valid for the removal of the most serious of these difficulties, namely the doctrinal one. This is the temptation to shelve the controversial points, to conceal, to weaken, to modify, to render void and to deny, if necessary, those teachings of the Catholic Church which are no longer accepted today by our separated brethren. We have called it a ready temptation because it can appear a small matter to minimize and remove from their path certain truths, certain dogmas which are the object of controversy, in order conveniently to reach the much-desired union, whereas Christianity is divine truth which we have no right to change, but must verify and accept for our salvation.

     "This consideration deceives not only those who are ignorant of theological questions, but it insinuates itself also into the minds of experts who are seeking, often in good faith, some reasonable expedient to smooth the way toward agreement with our separated brethren. The aim is good but the method is not.

     "The desire on the part of Catholics to recognize the amount of good still to be found in the patrimony of those Christian Churches and creeds which are cut off from our Church is a good thing. The desire to present the authentic and essential aspects of Catholic doctrine, while leaving the debatable and non-essential aspects alone, is good. The endeavor to formulate the controversial points in terms which render them more exact and more intelligible even to those who do not agree upon them, is still good. This is fraternal patience, this is a good apologia, this is charity in the service of truth.

     "But to expect to remove the doctrinal difficulty by seeking to deprive of their authority, or to neglect or conceal, statements which the teaching authority of the Church declares to be binding and final, is not a good service. It does not further the cause of union because it creates diffidence on the part of our separated brethren and causes them to suspect that they are being deceived, or else it gives rise to misleading ideas as to what can be achieved, while it arouses within the Church the fear that union is being sought at the expense of indisputable truths and the suspicion that the dialogue will be detrimental to sincerity, fidelity and truth.

     "On the contrary, We wish to render Catholics more and more fit to sustain fraternal dialogue with most frank and humble sincerity, with eagerness and joy in the pursuit of the light of truth in integral and practical faith, by presenting our teaching gradually, according to sound didactics, and with that respect, esteem and charity for our interlocutors which makes our conversation pleasing to them, causes them to envy the certainty which the Lord grants us, and renders it easy to possess it.

     "Let them see that ours is no aprioristic dogmatism, no spiritual imperialism nor formal legalism, but a total respect for the total truth which comes from Christ. Let them see that the fullness of faith is not a jealously-guarded treasure but a ready and fraternal benefit which renders us all the more happy in the measure in which we can bestow it upon others, not calling it our own, but Christ's and belonging to all men."   

              PAUL VI (1-20-1965)

 

Limits of the Schema

     Archbishop (now Cardinal) Joseph Marie Martin, of Rouen (France): "We consider it absolutely necessary to proceed with this dialogue. It is not sufficient in the course of the dialogue to propose truth, but it must be proposed in such manner as to render evident its genuine meaning. This effort to render our doctrine intelligible to others does not suppose nor require that certain truths be concealed or minimized. The dialogue is not born of indifferentism nor does it lead to this. While we are not to conceal any truth, we must nevertheless abstain from expressing them in hurtful language. In this document we do not pretend to solve all ecumenical problems." (11-18-1963, during the presentation of the text.)

 

Guided by the Holy Spirit

     Cardinal Franziskus Koenig, Archbishop of Vienna (Austria): "Since, as Pope John often repeated, no union is possible unless all the interested parties first get together, we may say that this Schema provides a good starting point. Such words as `ecumenism' and 'ecumenical' have acquired new meaning with the passage of time. The text indicates clearly the precise sense in which these terms are used. It also makes clear that it does not approve of all ecumenism, but only of Catholic ecumenism. All ecumenical activity necessarily reflects the ideas of individual groups on Church structure and purpose. On some of these points Catholic ecumenism will be in agreement with other groups, while on others it may be in complete disagreement. We should not set up Catholic ecumenism as a closed system, barring access to others. Thirty years ago no one would have considered possible the progress we are witnessing today. Christ has brought this about through His Holy Spirit, thanks to the dialogue of recent years. Speaking of separated Oriental groups, the text calls them `churches,' but it uses the term `communities' to designate Protestant groups. We should distinguish between religious groups having validly consecrated bishops and all the Sacraments, and other groups which do not have apostolic succession, valid Orders or the other Sacraments. The simple term `community' does not present the full picture. We should speak, consequently, not of communities but of 'ecclesial communities'" (11-19-1963).

 

Ecumenism and the Missions

     Cardinal Laurean RitiQambwa. Bishop of Bukoba (Tanzania): "We should remember that God wants all men to be saved. Our attitude toward our separated brethren should be characterized, first of all, by humility, as we remind ourselves that faith is a gift and that we have nothing that we have not received. Secondly, we must reflect love, since love is the first of the Commandments and we must `practice the truth in charity'. We must keep an open mind. In mission countries, where the fact of separation is a real drama of daily life, we must be ready to cooperate with non-Catholics in all possible ways. An example would be collaboration with other religious groups in eliminating elements of superstition from religious practices. The principle of such cooperation should be incorporated into the text." (11-19-1963).

 

Virtuous Living more Effective than Argument

    Archbishop (now Cardinal) John Carmel Heenan, of Westminster (England): "This present text is greeted with joy because it shows us the mind of the Church and gives us guidance for the future. Without this guidance our ecumenical work can make no progress. Some non-Catholics have turned to Catholics outside their own country in search of ecumenical dialogue. They are free to do so, of course, but the principle should also stand that ecumenical dialogue should take place in the country where the interested parties live, one reason being that the dialogue should take place against the background of daily life. We should have regard for the greatness of our common heritage and cast out the spirit of dissension. Union will never be achieved through argument but only through virtuous living. Some suspicious Catholics look on the ecumenical movement with misgivings and would cooperate with other Christians only on the level of charity and sociology. This is not enough. The renewal of the Church requires a true religious dialogue. Genuine interest in the mission of the Church demands that we undertake a fuller and more frequent dialogue with all Christians of whatever denomination." (11-20-1963).

 

Inter-faith Discussion under the Supervision of Local Bishops

     Cardinal Augustine Bea, President of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity. "There has been much talk in recent days about the `dangers' of the ecumenical movement. These dangers exist where the question of unity is treated by men who may be inspired by good will but who are not sufficiently cautious. All inter-faith discussions should take place under the supervision of local bishops. It is their duty to preach the Gospel and feed the flock of Christ. Directives will come from Rome but must be applied on a local basis. Consequently, local Ordinaries and national Episcopal Conferences will be able to take appropriate steps to forestall any possible dangers. It would be useful for regional secretariats to be set up for the promotion of unity in collaboration with the permanent Secretariat in Rome. It is claimed that the ecumenical movement will foster a spirit of false irenicism. To obviate this danger, theological dialogue will be placed in the hands only of men qualified by theological knowledge and a deep spirit of devotion to the Church, as is prescribed by the instruction of the Holy Office in 1949. Who these men are can be better determined by local bishops than by any office in Rome. It is a fact of experience that our separated brethren do not want to be presented with any watered-down version, but want only a clear statement of exactly what we teach. As far as the ordinary faithful are concerned it will be the duty of bishops to see that they are well instructed in their faith. It is objected that undue emphasis is placed in the text on what is true in the teaching of our separated brethren but that there is no full presentation of Catholic truth. It should not be forgotten that our text is not directed to our separated brethren but to our own people. Hence we presume that they know their Catholic teaching. It is not our task here to present the whole outline of Catholic doctrine. Our Catholics are only too often ignorant of the riches found among our separated brethren. We are to find the 'traces of Christ' and the effects of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in virtue of their baptism and the graces flowing from this Sacrament. If this approach is wrong, then we must criticize every Pope from Leo XIII on. No one should find fault with our exhortation to common prayer with our separated brethren. The Holy Office has already approved the common recitation of the Lord's Prayer. All of us pray for that unity for which Christ prayed and bishops should teach their faithful how to do this. All this shows how important it is for all Catholics to understand and appreciate the ecumenical movement" (11-25-1963).

 

All Are Exposed Today to Ecumenical Dialogue

     Archbishop (now Cardinal) William Conway, of Armagh (Ireland): "The text enumerates certain obligations of Catholics, such as sanctity of life, mutual knowledge of our separated brethren, the ecumenical spirit, etc. To these should be added an obligation in this ecumenical day and age of acquiring a thorough knowledge of the teachings of our faith. This is necessary, in the first place, in order to forestall the danger of confusion or uncertainty in the minds of the faithful. Clear knowledge of one's faith is an effective instrument in the ecumenical movement itself. Saint Peter reminded the early Christians that they were to be ready at all times to render an account of their faith. Nothing is more frustrating for a non-Catholic who really wants to discuss religion than to find himself speaking to an ill-informed Catholic who is unable to give a proper account of what he believes" (11-26-1963).

 

The Foundations of Ecumenism

     Archbishop Gabriel Garrone, of Toulouse (France): "To forestall error it should be stated at the outset that our ecumenism is based on integral and unshaken faith and on courageous hope. These will make it possible sincerely to seek out mutual understanding, despite some disagreements. There are as many elements in ecumenism as there are mysteries of Faith. It would be a mistake to see such elements only in some words or some aspects of revealed doctrine, because God's will for unity stands out everywhere in Revelation. We have an obligation to practice ecumenical charity, not a vague or soft kind of benevolence, but a genuine charity poured out in our hearts by the Spirit who is given to us. This kind of charity is the natural and vital atmosphere of Faith. It can solve many of the difficulties which survive from past controversies. Charity breaks down many walls." (11-20-1963)

 

Urgency of the Ecumenical Dialogue

     Bishop Jaime Flores Martin, of Barbastro (Spain): "This Schema leads us into the path of ecumenism so dear to Pope John XXIII, and along which His Holiness Pope Paul VI is now urging us. With our separated brethren we have in common the indelible sacramental character and spiritual participation in Christ's priesthood. Thus armed, we must fight side by side against the snares of the devil. We ought to proclaim in this document the general principles regarding co-existence with our separated brethren, brotherly love and mutual aid. We should proclaim the primacy of prayer, fasting and holiness of life along with dedication to the truth and the practice of social justice and charity. All of us must collaborate toward the Christianization and renewal of the world, following the norms and directives given us by Pope John XXIII in his 'Pacem in Terris'" (11-21-1963).

 

Each of us has need of the others

     Archbishop Ignace Ziade, Maronite Archbishop of Beirut (Lebanon): "The Schema is acceptable because of its fidelity to three basic ecumenical principles : 1) it pays more attention to what unites than to what divides us; 2) it makes it clear that we must all accept the riches of the traditions of the separated Churches (i.e. the place of the laity in the Church, the use of the vernacular, the study of Sacred Scripture); 3) it preserves unity in diversity. It would be well to indicate in the text that all of us need the riches of other traditions." (11-21-1963)  [188-194]

 

 

FOOTNOTES

1. Cf. 1 Corinthians 1:13.

2. Cf. 1 John 4:9; Colossians 1:18-20; John 11:52.

3. John 17:21.

4. Cf. John 13:34.

5. Cf. John 16:7.

6. Ephesians 4:4-5.

7. Galatians 3:27-28.

8. Cf. 1 Corinthians 12:4-11.

9. Ephesians 4:12.

10. Cf. Matthew 28:18-20, collato John 20: 21-23.

11. Cf. Matthew 16:18, collato Matthew 18:18.

12. Cf. Luke 22:32.

13. Cf. John 21:15-18.

14. Cf. Ephesians 2:20.

15. Cf. 1 Peter 2:25; Conc. Vaticanum I, Sess. IV (1870), Constitutio Pastor Aeternus: Collac 7, 482 a.

16. Cf. Isaiah 11:10-12.

17. Cf. Ephesians 2:17-18, collato Mark. 16:15.

18. Cf. 1 Peter 1:3-9.

19. Cf. 1 Corinthians 11:18-19; Galatians 1:6-9; 1 John 2:18-19.

20. Cf. 1 Corinthians 1:11 sqq. ; 11:22.

21. Cf. Conc. Florentinum, Sess. VIII (1439), Decretum Exultate Deo: Mansi 31, 1055 A.

22. Cf. S. Augustinus, In Psalm 32, Enarr. II, 29: PL 36, 299.

23. Cf. Conc. Lateranense IV (1215) Constitutio IV: Mansi 22, 990; Conc. Lugdunense II (1274), Professio fidei Michaelis Palaeologi: Mansi 24, 71 E; Conc. Florentinum, Sess. VI (1439), Definitio Laetentur caeli: Mansi 31, 1026- E.

24. Cf. lac. 1:4; Romans 12:1-2.

25. Cf. 2 Corinthians 4:10; Philippians 2:5-8.

26. Cf. Ephesians 5:27.

27. Cf. Conc. Lateranense V, Sess. XII (1517), Constitutio Constituti: Mansi 32, 988 B-C.

28. Cf. Ephesians 4:24.

29. Ephesians 4:1-3.

30. Matthew 20:28.

31. 1 John 1:10.

32. John  17:21.

33. Matthew 18:20.

34. Cf. Ephesians 3:8.

35. 2 Peter 1:4.

36. Cf. S. Joannes Chrysostomos, In Ioannem Homelia XLVI, PG 59, 260-262.

37. Acts 15:28.

38. Cf. Conc. Florentinum, Sess. VI (1439), Definitio Laetentur caeli: Mansi 31, 1026 E.

39. Romans 1:16.

40. Colossians 2:12; ct. Romans 6:4.

41. Colossians 3:17.

42. Romans 5:5.

 

Link back to index.html