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

Prospects of Reunion

836. The Lutheran Dr. Oscar Cullmann says that, despite all discussions, we are bound to arrive at the insurmountable obstacle of Papal Supremacy which Catholics cannot renounce and Protestants cannot accept. He says, therefore, that instead of aiming at an impossible church-unity, we should aim at solidarity as fellow Christians in reciprocal charity and cooperation in good works according to common ideals.

The Vatican Council's reply to that would, of course, be wholehearted agreement with Dr. Cullmann's last proposition. Since all sincere and active Christians, Catholic and Protestant alike, are opposed to secularism with its rejection of Christian values, and since all want to influence the world in a Christian direction, all should try to see how best they can make an agreed impact on the world. An effect of cooperation from this point of view will at least be growth in ecumenical understanding. But the Council's reply to his first statement would be that what seems humanly impossible and it does seem humanly impossible is not impossible to God; and our faith excludes our saying with any confidence that He will not intervene in His own way and in His own good time to bring about things which we ourselves are not able to do. As for Dr. Cullmann's second suggestion that we should cease aiming at an impossible church-unity, the Council holds that the growing desire for unity is from the Holy Spirit, whom we should heed, not abandoning, but continuing inter-Church discussions in an ecumenical spirit, discussions which will provide many useful insights for everybody and help to break down barriers. What we have to avoid is an exaggerated optimism which overlooks the depth of inherited tendencies; a pessimism which thinks all ecumenical efforts a waste of time; and an impatience which wants immediate results. The work of the World Council of Churches and of the Catholic Secretariat for the Promotion of Christian Unity must continue, and it will prove increasingly fruitful during our own and future generations.

837. According to the New Testament there will never be a united Christendom, and the ecumenical movement is but chasing a will-o'-the-wisp.

It is true that, men being what they are, ever liable to independence of judgment and self-will, there will always be some bent on going thenown way, divided from the visible Church and divided among themselves. Christ made full allowance for this fact, "knowing what is in man" (Jn., 2:25). He warned about inevitable scandals to come (Matt., 18:7); about the arising of false prophets to deceive if possible even the elect (Matt., 13:22); about opposition from those who "even think they do a service to God" (Jn., 16:2); about the persistence of evil side by side with the good "till the time of the harvest" (Matt., 13:30). Echoing this teaching, St. Paul wrote to Timothy that some will err and lead others into error (2 Tim., 3:13), and that there will be those "who will not endure sound doctrine but, according to their own desires, will heap up to themselves teachers and will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth" (2 Tim., 4:3). In every age till the end of time St. Jude's admonition will retain its force: "Contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints." Jude, 3; that is, for the revealed truth precisely as taught to the first Christians by Christ and His Apostles. In every age, then, individuals or groups of individuals will arise to deny and repudiate now this revealed truth, now that, against whose teachings it will be necessary to contend, despite our obligation to behave charitably towards themselves personally. But even if the on-going effort to bring all into unity will never finish in this world, that does not mean that we can dispense ourselves from working for it at all, aiming at such success as is possible.

838. I cannot see Church-unity ever being brought about by human beings at all.

If God's providence is left out of consideration and if we entertain extravagant expectations of an absolute unity of all professing Christians within the one great visible Church of Christ with no dissenters at all, everyone would share your viewpoint. But that does not mean that we need do nothing about it. The first task is to do all possible to change the attitude of most Christians who just take divisions for granted and cheerfully acquiesce in them. They must be made conscious of the necessity of unity in accordance with the will of Christ for His Church. The Baptist Dr. Hugh Martin, in his book "Christian Reunion," says frankly of himself: "It was a cardinal point in my creed that religion was an affair between man and his Maker; but that is only a half-truth, putting the individual first and the Church a long way second." He then quotes John Wesley's statement: "The Bible knows nothing of a solitary Christian." We, the members of Christ, are meant to be one in Christ and in His body, which is the Church. Such is the New Testament doctrine which confronts all professing Christians with a problem which we must take seriously.

839. Unity may come some day, but I feel that it won't be in my time.

It is quite certain that divided Churches are going to co-exist for a long time yet, even if in mutual forbearance and charity rather than in antagonism. There are formidable obstacles to unity, institutional, doctrinal and psychological, deeply affecting men's consciences, and realised most by those actually engaged in ecumenical work. But Christ certainly wants His Church to be inwardly and outwardly one. Taking account of all difficulties, we must yet do our best towards bringing this about. As the Presbyterian observer at the Vatican Council, Dr. McAfee Brown, says in his book "The Spirit of Protestantism"; "No one knows where such efforts will lead; but no humility or charity is wasted, and no prayer is ever offered up in vain." It is for all of us, then, to do our part in a spirit of faith, obedience and love of Christ, trusting in Him for a blessing on our work and for such good as will result from it.

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