Choose a topic from Vol 5:

Awareness of God

Awareness of God

The Faith of Israel

The Faith of Israel

The Importance of Man

The Importance of Man

Origin of the Gospels

Origin of the Gospels

The Divine Redeemer

The Divine Redeemer

The Catholic Church

The Catholic Church

The Papacy

The Papacy

The Biblical Tradition

The Biblical Tradition

The Blessed Virgin Mary

The Blessed Virgin Mary

Liturgy and Sacraments

Liturgy and Sacraments

Moral Problems

Moral Problems

Final Realities

Final Realities

The Ecumenical Movement

The Problem of Disunity
Reactions Among Non-Catholics
Bewildered Catholics
Combined Unity Services
Mutual Bible Study
Prospects of Reunion

The Problem of Disunity

725. The visits of the Archbishops of Canterbury to the Pope should be at least a lesson to us all.

They should; but we must not draw exaggerated conclusions from them. Archbishop Fisher visited Pope John XXIII in December, 1960. Five years later, in March, 1966, Archbishop Ramsey visited Pope Paul VI. Archbishop Ramsey's comments would apply to both visits; namely;, that they were courtesy visits with no immediate theological significance; that they showed how Christians could meet in brotherhood and charity; and that they created a new atmosphere in which discussions of practical problems could usefully begin, to prepare the way if possible to a genuine unity of mind and heart and will in one Church, without anyone's conscience reproaching him with a betrayal of the truth.

726. Why cannot all of us Protestants, regardless of our different beliefs and practices, accept the leadership of the Pope?

Because accepting the Pope's leadership means accepting his authoritative guidance in matters of faith and morals. To regard basic differences and even contradictions in belief and practice as unimportant would be to accept the indifferentism which holds that one religion is as good as any other, and that it does not matter to which Church one belongs. A federation of conflicting Churches would not constitute genuine unity.

727. I feel that the only things preventing this are prejudices and bigotry which should not be regarded seriously.

Inherited antipathies are nevertheless effective hindrances to any thought of a united Church which would include the Pope. However, there are many good people baptised as Christians, with a firm belief in Christ as their Saviour, who honestly feel they cannot accept papal claims, nor form with Catholics one visible united Church, professing the same faith, sharing in the same eucharistic worship, receiving the same sacraments, and acknowledging the same ecclesiastical authority. These good people have what might better be called certain presuppositions than prejudices. With no trace of bigotry, they really feel they have important reasons for not accepting papal supremacy; and their outlook will not easily change.

728. It seems to me that the difficulties hindering the reunion of the Churches are widely overestimated.

Enthusiasts for reunion tend, if anything, to underestimate them. Firstly, one of the great obstacles is lack of concern of the part of the majority of professing Christians. Recently, in the Melbourne "Herald," the Methodist Dr. Irving Benson, said frankly that "the drive towards unity is the passion of the few. Most Christians know nothing of what is being done and are scarcely, if at all, interested." But even granted a general awakening of interest in all members of all Churches, the question of reunion, as Pope Paul VI stressed during the Unity Octave on January 25, 1965, "is not a simple problem." He pointed out that there are "very great difficulties, historical, psychological and theological." In practice, historical and psychological difficulties are probably much greater than theological ones. In 1952, the Congregationalist Professor C. H. Dodd, spoke at the World Council of Churches' Lund Conference on Faith and Order about the "non-theological factors perpetuating divisions." These he described as denominational loyalties at any price; loyalties based on modes of thinking and feeling that went back to the Reformation; loyalties that obscure the truth; loyalties that provoke tendentious interpretations for which one looks around only afterwards for theological justification. Often it is not a question of dealing with intellectual difficulties but one of dealing with another person's dispositions, dispositions which he alone can alter and which he may be quite unwilling to forsake. You do not wish things were easier than I do; but we must face realities.

729. Some people say that religion is a kind of racket and that the denominations have too much money to lose were they to unite.

Talk like that is either thoughtless or consciously insincere. At immense self-sacrifice Christians of different allegiances have built and worked for the upkeep of churches, schools, hospitals, orphanages, homes for the poor and derelict, and other charitable institutions. But all these they regard as their gift to Christ, belonging to Him and no longer to themselves. They do not regard themselves as owning them, like personal property they can will away as benefits to others when they die. Granted reunion, all would still belong to Christ, although there would have to be some reorganisation in the interests of efficiency. There could, of course, be a very human over-attachment to separate institutions past and present members of different Churches have built up at such cost to themselves; but an over-riding personal love of and devotion to the will of Christ would be the answer to that.

730. What did Christ mean when He said: "Other sheep I have that are not of this fold. Them also I must bring and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold under one shepherd" (Jn., 10:16)?

Our Lord was there speaking of the Church He intended to establish with a world-wide mission extending to Gentiles as well as to Jews. The expression "other sheep" refers to the Gentiles, so that there would be no longer an Israel or chosen people of God consisting of Jews only. His Church, or the "New Israel," consisting of Jews and Gentiles alike, He intended both to be, and appear to be, one visible society in this world, likened to one fold or one flock under one supreme and visible head on earth as under one shepherd.

731. What has become of our Lord's prayer for unity? Referring to the apostles He said: "I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one as thou, Father, in me and I in thee . . . that the world may believe that thou hast sent me" (Jn., 17:20-21).

Strictly speaking, our Lord prayed for the unity of His apostles and for the unity of all who would believe "through their word." That includes "through the teaching of the Church" founded upon and continuing the work of the apostles. That Church, which He promised to be with all days till the end of the world, will, in virtue of His prayer, necessarily retain its unity a unity visibly manifested by the allegiance of its members to the successors of the apostles, of whom St. Peter was the chief, and under whom it will ever constitute the "one fold under one shepherd" which our Lord intended it to be. Our own prayer, patiently and perseveringly, and with charity always towards others, should be that more and more, who do not fully grasp it yet, may come to realise this truth. If all professing Christians took seriously what they already have in common, their belief in Holy Scripture, their baptism, the grace of Christ and the influence of the Holy Spirit, they would grow in a desire for the full unity within the one visible Church, Catholics welcoming others within it; others who have not yet attained to that unique visible unity the more easily finding their way to it. Our Lord's prayer for the unity of His Church has been fulfilled by the cohesion of those who have been faithful to the preaching of the apostles and who constitute the one fold confided to the supreme pastoral care of St. Peter. It is a mistake to extend the application of His prayer to a unity of "Christendom," no longer disrupted by a diversity of separated denominations. Such an interpretation does not allow for His own prediction about the arising of false Christs to deceive if possible even the elect (Mk., 13:22), nor for the waywardness of human freewill which, in the future as in the past, is ever likely to prefer its own path in defiance of the unifying authority of the Church. There will never be a united Christendom in this world; but more and more professing Christians can, with the help of God's grace, find their way into the unity of the Church as Christ Himself willed it to be; and we can set no limits to our efforts to bring that about as far as we possibly can.

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