Archive for the ‘Ecumenism’ Category

ECUMENICAL SPIRIT

January 20, 2009

*Ivo da Conceição Souza

Introduction: Meaning of Ecumenism: Ecumenical Movement is an organized effort to work for the unity of the Christian Churches. Etymologically, from oikumene, “the inhabited world”, in its ancient classical Greek usage, it meant more specifically the world of Greek or Roman culture, the Byzantine empire and later the Christian world, linked as it was with the not yet divided Roman Empire; so it was also referred to the official, orthodox doctrine, common to the Eastern and Western church. It is only in the period 1920 to 1930 that “ecumenism/ecumenical” began to be currently used as an expression to indicate the movement toward Christian unity. Sometimes it is used in a still larger meaning, indicating any effort toward unity among religions or within the world. We use it here in its more restricted, contemporary meaning to indicate the endeavours toward unity among the separated Christian churches. Now it means efforts towards reunion/Christian unity.

Historical Background: The first movement began among the Protestants only. On an international scale the ecumenical movement really began with the World Missionary Conference at Edinburgh in 1910. This led in 1921 to the establishment of the International Missionary Council, which fostered cooperation in mission activity and among the younger churches.

Other landmarks in the development of the movement were the Universal Christian Conference on Life and Work (Stockholm, 1925), inspired by Nathan Söderblom of Sweden; the World Conference on Faith and Order (Lausanne, 1927); and the first assembly of the World Council of Churches (Amsterdam, 1948). The World Council, bringing together Protestant, Orthodox Eastern (including the Russian Orthodox Church), and Old Catholic bodies, is now the chief instrument of ecumenicity; in 1961 it united with the International Missionary Council.

All Orthodox Churches have participated in the ecumenical movement since it began at the beginning of this century. The Patriarchate of Constantinople took the lead in the early decades to encourage Christians to meet to discuss their differences and to stop fighting with each other. Participation in the movement was always difficult and painful, but such great and holy people like St. Tikhon the Confessor of Moscow, St. Philaret of Moscow, St. Nikolai (Velimirovic) of Zica and hosts of other dedicated Orthodox bishops, priests, monks and lay people have participated.

The purpose of the ecumenical movement is basically two-fold: The first goal is to identify doctrinal and liturgical differences among those who claim Christ as Lord, to clarify disagreements, and to work to overcome, if possible, errors and divisions.

The second purpose is to cooperate in doing good works where such cooperation for the good of human beings such as feeding the hungry, aiding the poor, settling refugees is possible and desirable. In fact, the suffering Orthodox of this century have been greatly aided in many ways by ecumenical philanthropy.

Participation in the ecumenical movement is done officially by churches, not by schools or individuals. There can be ecumenical activities among people on various levels. The professors and students of St. Vladimir’s Seminary participate in formal ecumenical activities because they are assigned to do so by bishops who are responsible for this work. They participate in other ways, mostly through theological discussions and debates, as part of their theological and spiritual mission.

The Vatican and Ecumenical Movement: The Vatican did not give formal recognition to the existence of the ecumenical movement until 1960, when it established the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity. Protestant and Orthodox Eastern observers were invited to the Second Vatican Council (1962–65), and the Decree on Ecumenism (1964) promulgated by that Council encouraged new dialogues with Protestant and Orthodox churches. In 1969, Pope Paul VI visited the headquarters of the World Council of Churches in Geneva; the Catholic Church now sends observers to the World Council and is a full member of some of its committees.

John Paul II and Ecumenism: John Paul II was the first Pope to write an Encyclical on Ecumenism, Ut Unum Sint, in 1995. In his Encyclical Ut Unum Sint, Pope John Paul II reaffirmed the Roman Catholic commitment to Christian ecumenism; in 1999, he became the first Pope to visit Orthodox nations. Catholics and Lutherans signed a Joint Declaration in 1999 on the doctrine of justification that resolved some of the issues that led to the Reformation in 1517.

Concrete Suggestions: Ecumenical Week, prayer, sacraments, day-to-day life, mission, formation and in various services—education, health services, ecology, parishes and home, the secular world. Suggestions can be multiplied, ecumenical mentality should be enkindled, the community will find creative ways of living this communion of faith.

Also bilateral meetings between heads of churches, clarification of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity on the Greek and Latin Traditions regarding the Procession of the Holy Spirit, 1995 (see VJTR 60, 1996, p.338); Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification signed in Augsburg on October 31, 1999, by Bishop Christian Krause representing the Lutheran World Federation and Cardinal Edward I.Cassidy, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, on behalf of the Catholic Church, fruit of more than 30 years of Catholic-Lutheran dialogue, “a significant step towards overcoming the divisions of the second millennium” (Cardinal Cassidy, L’Osservatore Romano 47, 1999, November 24,1999, p.VI).

Definition: Ecumenical movement is a collective name given for all efforts to reunite Christians of various persuasions so as to give effect to Christ’s will that all who believe in him shall form one church (cf.Jn 17:5, “that all may be one”). In the Decree on Ecumenism of Vatican II, Unitatis Redintegratio (UR), the ecumenical movement is described as there is impulse of this grace (of remorse over division and longing for unity), and among our separated brethren also there increases from day to day a movement, fostered by the grace of the Holy Spirit, for the restoration of unity along all Christians—in it are involved those who invoke the Triune God and confess Jesus as the Lord and Saviour. They join in not only as individuals but as members of corporate groups in which they have heard the Gospel. “All long that there may be one visible Church of God, a church truly universal and sent forth to the whole world that the world may be converted to the Gospel and so be saved, to the glory of God” (UR 1).

Features of the Ecumenical Movement: Its reference to the work of the Holy Spirit, its communal and ecclesial character, and its missionary orientation. The Holy Spirit works beyond the boundaries of any church and brings them to unity for the salvation of the world. It has penumatologic and ecclesiologic roots and is part of any theological reflection.

Approaches and principles: How to achieve this goal? Not by diluting, laying aside doctrinal differences, with the minimal dogmatic basis, this would be illicit human interference with divine Revelation, but by attaining unity in the full truth of the one Church.

What is required?

Patience, mutual understanding, magnanimity and courage, constant new approaches through conversations/dialogue, meetings, prayer; on the part of the Catholic Church the vital distinction between necessary doctrinal unity and a far-reaching pluralism in the forms of ecclesiastical law and life. What is possible and requisite now is unity in love, in reverence for the conscience of others, in common labour in the duties of public life, in common responsibility for the world according to the norms of the Natural Law we have in common (even when we differ as to its theoretical basis). Catholic Ecumenism has now been provided with an authoritative basis and programme in the Decree de Oecumenismo (Unitatis redintegratio) of the Second Vatican Council.

Historical Background/Survey: This unfortunate state of affairs has never been accepted with good conscience—always there have been efforts to reconcile and to restore unity. Recall the vain efforts of the Councils of Lyons (1274) and Florence (1439) with regard to the Oriental Churches and the influence of Desiderius Erasmus upon the religious colloquies in Germany and France at the time of the Protestant Reformation.

It is only in the twentieth century that the scandal of the division among Christians has been fully recognized. Reasons: International philanthropic movements of the nineteenth century, the inter-confessional youth and student movements, and the expansion of the missionary idea within the Protestant world.

The World Missionary Conference at Edinburgh (1910) that is generally considered the starting point of the modern ecumenical movement.

Doctrinal Points:

Contact and Divergence: Justification by Faith, Pauline Teaching: Trent, Decree on Justification:

The  Pontifical  Council for Promoting Christian  Unity  an­nounced  on June 25 1999 that the Vatican had approved  the  Lutheran-Catholic “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine  of  Justification”, although it called for further discussion on three  points. The Joint  Declaration, containing 44 statements, said  that  Roman Catholics  and Lutherans both agree that salvation is  a  totally free  gift of God and cannot be earned by performing good  works, but  rather  is reflected in good works. It is the  result  of  a theological  study of this doctrine, begun in 1994 and  completed in  1997, by theologians appointed by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation. The study brings together the essential findings of studies carried out in the course of the international Catholic-Lutheran theological dialogue which began in 1967, soon after the end of Vatican II. It is a milestone on the road to full Christian unity, since the Reformation, a common understanding on key elements of the doctrine of justification, which was a central issue in the dispute between Martin Luther and the Catholic Church (cf.The  Ta­blet, June 27, 1999).

Cardinal Edward I. Cassidy, the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) and Vatican’s chief ecumenist, stated that the response is “the fruit of intense collaboration” between his office and the Con­gregation for the Faith. Some episcopal conferences too had provided considerable help. He said that “a high level of consensus has bee reached” on how Catholics and Lutherans understand the way Christians are justified and saved by God. Catholics  and Lutherans affirm that “where such consensus has been reached, the condemnations  leveled  at one another in the  16th  century  no longer  apply  to the respective partners today”. He  called  the adoption  of the declaration “an outstanding achievement  of  the ecumenical movement and a milestone on the way to restoration  of full,  visible  unity among the disciples of the one  Lord  and Saviour  Jesus  Christ”. A dispute over the place of  a  person’s response to God’s offer of salvation and the merit of good  works in  relation  to salvation was a key factor in  the  division  of Western  Christianity at the time of the Protestant  Reformation. The  Catholic response has been that the declaration  represents “significant  progress in mutual understanding” and shows  “there are many points of convergence” between the Catholic and Lutheran positions. It affirms that “a high degree of agreement has  been reached,  as  regards both the approach to the question  and  the judgment it merits”. But, it adds, “we cannot speak of a consen­sus  such as would eliminate every difference  between Catholics and  Lutherans  in the understanding of justification”.

The Lutheran reformers preached that human beings are essen­tially  sinful  and that nothing they do can merit  God’s  grace. Catholic  teaching  held that in baptism human beings  are  freed from  slavery  to sin and assurance of salvation  grows  as  they cooperate with God’s grace with their response of faith and  good works.

Releasing the official Roman Catholic response to the  joint declaration  at a Vatican press conference, Cardinal Cassidy  said that  the  Vatican agreed with 41 of the declaration’s  44  paragraphs which it said adequately addressed the related  theological errors condemned by the Council of Trent.

However, the Vatican response said, “We cannot yet speak  of a  consensus  such as would eliminate  every  difference  between Catholics  and Lutherans in the understanding of  justification”. The Vatican said the main point on which it could not give agree­ment  concerned  the declaration’s explanation  of  the  Lutheran concept  of  Christians  being “at the same  time  righteous  and sinner”. On that point, the Vatican said, the Catholic Church  is not  prepared  to say that the “anathemas” of  the  16th  century Council of Trent no longer apply.

While  the  declaration said Lutherans “do  not  deny  that, despite  this  sin, they are not separated  from  God”,  Catholics believe that the grace imparted in baptism removes sin. Concupiscence, which is the temptation or inclination to sin, is not  the same thing as sin itself, the Vatican said.

The two other questions on which the Vatican and the Luther­an World Federation called for further study regarded the  impor­tance  on the doctrine of justification in Church life and  practice, and the place of good works and human cooperation in  God’s plan for salvation.

The  Vatican  response  said it was  pleased  the Lutherans
agreed  with the Council of Trent’s statement that  human beings can refuse God’s grace, “but it must also be affirmed that,  with this freedom to refuse, there is also a new capacity to adhere to the  divine  will, a capacity rightly  called  ‘cooperatio'”,  or cooperation.  The declaration said Lutherans  believe  Christians are “fully involved personally in their faith” but also emphasize that a person can only receive justification”. The  Vatican  re­sponse  said  further study is needed to  determine  whether  the Lutheran  position on a passive reception of God’s grace is  com­patible  with  the  Catholic position that people  can  and  must cooperate with God’s plan for salvation.

Cardinal  Cassidy  said,  “The question of  good  works  was important  in the Reformation because there was the idea that  we could reach salvation, the Kingdom of God, through our own works. With  the  selling of indulgences, it seemed  that  the  Catholic Church  believed  that salvation came through  our  efforts,  our merits”. The true position of the Catholic Church is and has been that  “without the death of Christ we can do nothing.  We  cannot save  ourselves; it is the Lord who saves us. However, we  say  we can  and must collaborate because we cannot be saved against  our will”,  the  Cardinal said. “The fact that we have  a  couple  of doubts  which  have to be studied does not mean that  we  do  not accept and agree” with the declaration as a whole, he said.

The  response highlights four matters requiring  clarifica­tion:  i)the understanding of the term simul iustus  et peccator (“at  the same time righteous and a sinner”): Catholics  believe that baptism removes all sin from the baptized person, with  only “concupiscence” or an inclination to sin remaining.

The  Lutheran  understanding seems to imply  that  real sin
still remains in the baptized person, who is both justified and  a sinner at the same time.

ii)there is an apparent difference of understanding regard­ing the doctrine of justification “as criterion for the life  and practice of the Church”.

Lutherans give it a unique place, but Catholics consider the doctrine of justification as one among a number of criteria,  the main  one being confession of one God in three persons,  Christo­logically centred and rooted in the living Church and its  sacramental life.

iii)difference  concerns  human freedom  and  whether  human beings can cooperate with God’s Grace. The Catholics believe they can, but Lutherans seem to question this when they speak of  the “mere passive” reception of justification. Catholics and  Lutherans  share the conviction that the “new life” comes  from  divine mercy, and not from any human merit. Catholics hold that the good
works  of  the justified are always fruit of grace, but,  at  the same time, and without in any way diminishing the divine  initia­tive,  they are also the fruits of the justified  and  interiorly transformed human being. Moreover, for Catholics eternal life is, at  one and the same time, grace and the reward given by God  for good works and merits.

iv)difference requiring clarification relates to the  sacra­ment  of penance. Catholics hold that through this sacrament  the sinner  can be justified anew; this implies the  possibility,  by means of this sacrament, as distinct from that of baptism,  recovering  lost  justice.  A common understanding  has  still  to  be reached  on these four points…while the level of  agreement  is high,  it  does not yet allow us to affirm that  all  differences separating  Catholics  and  Lutherans are simply  a  question  of emphasis  or language. Some of these differences concern  matters of  substance  and  are not therefore  mutually  compatible.  The document confirms that the condemnations of the Council of  Trent “no  longer apply” to those truths on which a consensus has  been reached,  but  this does not extend to the areas  of  divergence. Cardinal  Cassidy  said the same was true  of  the  condemnations found  in  the Lutheran Confessions. The response  expresses  the hope  that further studies will lead to “satisfactory  clarification”  of the remaining differences. It suggests that  “a  deeper reflection”  on the biblical foundation of the doctrine  of  jus­tification  can  provide a way ahead. At  the  press  conference, Cardinal  Cassidy  said the joint declaration was  “one  important step  forward, but it does not pretend to resolve all the  issues that Lutherans and Catholics need to face” on the road to  unity, such as the relationship of the word of God and church  doctrine; the  doctrine of the Church; authority in the  Church; ministry; the  sacraments  and the relationship between  justification  and social ethics. Nevertheless, he concluded, “the consensus reached on the doctrine of justification, despite its limitations, virtually resolves a long-disputed question at the close of the  twen­tieth century”. It will be an “enormous encouragement” to Catholics  and Lutherans as they continue to work together for  visible unity,  and “it will be an encouragement to the whole  ecumenical movement” (The Tablet, July 4, 1999, p.886).

Advertisements

ECUMENICAL THEOLOGY

January 19, 2009

The  Pontifical  Council for Promoting Christian  Unity  an­nounced  on June 25 that the Vatican had approved  the  Lutheran-Catholic  “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine  of  Justification”, although  it called for further discussion on three  points.  The Joint  Declaration, containing 44 statements, said  that  Roman Catholics  and Lutherans both agree that salvation is  a  totally free  gift of God and cannot be earned by performing good  works, but  rather  is reflected in good works. It is the  result  of  a theological  study of this doctrine, begun in 1994 and  completed in  1997, by theologians appointed by the Pontifical Council  for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation.  The study  brings together the essential findings of studies  carried out in the course of the international Catholic-Lutheran theological dialogue which began in 1967, soon after the end of  Vatican II. It is a milestone on the road to full Christian unity,  since the  Reformation, a common understanding on key elements  of  the doctrine  of  justification,  which was a central  issue  in  the dispute  between Martin Luther and the Catholic Church  (The  Ta­blet, June 27, 1999).

Cardinal  Edward I. Cassidy, the President of the PCPCU  and Vatican’s  chief  ecumenist, stated that the  response  is  “the fruit  of intense collaboration” between his office and the  Con­gregation  for  the  Faith. Some episcopal  conferences  too  had provided  considerable help. He said that “a high level of  consensus has bee reached” on how Catholics and Lutherans understand the way Christians are justified and saved by God. Catholics  and Lutherans affirm that “where such consensus has been reached, the condemnations  leveled  at one another in the  16th  century  no longer  apply  to the respective partners today”. He  called  the adoption  of the declaration “an outstanding achievement  of  the ecumenical movement and a milestone on the way to restoration  of full,  visible  unity among the disciples of the one  Lord  and Saviour  Jesus  Christ”. A dispute over the place of  a  person’s response to God’s offer of salvation and the merit of good  works in  relation  to salvation was a key factor in  the  division  of Western  Christianity at the time of the Protestant  Reformation. The  Catholic response has been that the declaration  represents “significant  progress in mutual understanding” and shows  “there are many points of convergence” between the Catholic and Lutheran positions. It affirms that “a high degree of agreement has  been reached,  as  regards both the approach to the question  and  the judgment it merits”. But, it adds, “we cannot speak of a consen­sus  such as would eliminate every difference  between Catholics and  Lutherans  in the understanding of justification”.

The Lutheran reformers preached that human beings are essen­tially  sinful  and that nothing they do can merit  God’s  grace. Catholic  teaching  held that in baptism human beings  are  freed from  slavery  to sin and assurance of salvation  grows  as  they cooperate with God’s grace with their response of faith and  good works.

Releasing the official Roman Catholic response to the  joint declaration  at a Vatican press conference, Cardinal Cassidy  said that  the  Vatican agreed with 41 of the declaration’s  44  paragraphs which it said adequately addressed the related  theological errors condemned by the Council of Trent.

However, the Vatican response said, “We cannot yet speak  of a  consensus  such as would eliminate  every  difference  between Catholics  and Lutherans in the understanding of  justification”. The Vatican said the main point on which it could not give agree­ment  concerned  the declaration’s explanation  of  the  Lutheran concept  of  Christians  being “at the same  time  righteous  and sinner”. On that point, the Vatican said, the Catholic Church  is not  prepared  to say that the “anathemas” of  the  16th  century Council of Trent no longer apply.

While  the  declaration said Lutherans “do  not  deny  that, despite  this  sin, they are not separated  from  God”,  Catholics believe that the grace imparted in baptism removes sin. Concupiscence, which is the temptation or inclination to sin, is not  the same thing as sin itself, the Vatican said.

The two other questions on which the Vatican and the Luther­an World Federation called for further study regarded the  impor­tance  on the doctrine of justification in Church life and  practice, and the place of good works and human cooperation in  God’s plan for salvation.

The  Vatican  response  said it was  pleased  the Lutherans
agreed  with the Council of Trent’s statement that  human beings can refuse God’s grace, “but it must also be affirmed that,  with this freedom to refuse, there is also a new capacity to adhere to the  divine  will, a capacity rightly  called  ‘cooperatio'”,  or cooperation.  The declaration said Lutherans  believe  Christians are “fully involved personally in their faith” but also emphasize that a person can only receive justification”. The  Vatican  re­sponse  said  further study is needed to  determine  whether  the Lutheran  position on a passive reception of God’s grace is  com­patible  with  the  Catholic position that people  can  and  must cooperate with God’s plan for salvation.

Cardinal  Cassidy  said,  “The question of  good  works  was important  in the Reformation because there was the idea that  we could reach salvation, the Kingdom of God, through our own works. With  the  selling of indulgences, it seemed  that  the  Catholic Church  believed  that salvation came through  our  efforts,  our merits”. The true position of the Catholic Church is and has been that  “without the death of Christ we can do nothing.  We  cannot save  ourselves; it is the Lord who saves us. However, we  say  we can  and must collaborate because we cannot be saved against  our will”,  the  Cardinal said. “The fact that we have  a  couple  of doubts  which  have to be studied does not mean that  we  do  not accept and agree” with the declaration as a whole, he said.

The  response highlights four matters requiring  clarifica­tion:  i)the understanding of the term simul iustus  et peccator (“at  the same time righteous and a sinner”): Catholics  believe that baptism removes all sin from the baptized person, with  only “concupiscence” or an inclination to sin remaining.

The  Lutheran  understanding seems to imply  that  real sin
still remains in the baptized person, who is both justified and  a sinner at the same time.

ii)there is an apparent difference of understanding regard­ing the doctrine of justification “as criterion for the life  and practice of the Church”.

Lutherans give it a unique place, but Catholics consider the doctrine of justification as one among a number of criteria,  the main  one being confession of one God in three persons,  Christo­logically centred and rooted in the living Church and its  sacramental life.

iii)difference  concerns  human freedom  and  whether  human beings can cooperate with God’s Grace. The Catholics believe they can, but Lutherans seem to question this when they speak of  the “mere passive” reception of justification. Catholics and  Lutherans  share the conviction that the “new life” comes  from  divine mercy, and not from any human merit. Catholics hold that the good
works  of  the justified are always fruit of grace, but,  at  the same time, and without in any way diminishing the divine  initia­tive,  they are also the fruits of the justified  and  interiorly transformed human being. Moreover, for Catholics eternal life is, at  one and the same time, grace and the reward given by God  for good works and merits.

iv)difference requiring clarification relates to the  sacra­ment  of penance. Catholics hold that through this sacrament  the sinner  can be justified anew; this implies the  possibility,  by means of this sacrament, as distinct from that of baptism,  recovering  lost  justice.  A common understanding  has  still  to  be reached  on these four points…while the level of  agreement  is high,  it  does not yet allow us to affirm that  all  differences separating  Catholics  and  Lutherans are simply  a  question  of emphasis  or language. Some of these differences concern  matters of  substance  and  are not therefore  mutually  compatible.  The document confirms that the condemnations of the Council of  Trent “no  longer apply” to those truths on which a consensus has  been reached,  but  this does not extend to the areas  of  divergence. Cardinal  Cassidy  said the same was true  of  the  condemnations found  in  the Lutheran Confessions. The response  expresses  the hope  that further studies will lead to “satisfactory  clarification”  of the remaining differences. It suggests that  “a  deeper reflection”  on the biblical foundation of the doctrine  of  jus­tification  can  provide a way ahead. At  the  press  conference, Cardinal  Cassidy  said the joint declaration was  “one  important step  forward, but it does not pretend to resolve all the  issues that Lutherans and Catholics need to face” on the road to  unity, such as the relationship of the word of God and church  doctrine; the  doctrine of the Church; authority in the  Church; ministry; the  sacraments  and the relationship between  justification  and social ethics. Nevertheless, he concluded, “the consensus reached on the doctrine of justification, despite its limitations, virtually resolves a long-disputed question at the close of the  twen­tieth century”. It will be an “enormous encouragement” to Catholics  and Lutherans as they continue to work together  for  visible unity,  and “it will be an encouragement to the whole  ecumenical movement” (The Tablet, July 4, 1999, p.886).