It’s the “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity” in the northern hemisphere – we celebrate it in the week leading up to Pentecost down under – and Papa B. has dedicated an entire Wednesday audience to the topic:
I have said before, and will say again, that among the very many other worthy positions to which the Catholic Church alone stands universally committed (others being the defence of human life at all stages from conception till natural death, and the recognition of the canonical Scriptures as the Written Word of God) is her committment to the goal of full, visible unity of all Christians. (Before you hit out at me on that one, I know there are plenty of others – Protestant and Orthodox – which stand committed to these same confessional positions, but the Catholic Church is the only universal Christian body which does so.)
In that light, I submit a few paragraphs of Pope Benedict’s teaching on the matter:
However, by knowing Christ — this is the essential point — we know the face of God. Christ is above all the revelation of God. In all times, men have perceived the existence of God, an only God, but who is far away and does not show himself. In Christ this God shows himself; the distant God becomes close. “These things,” therefore, above all with the mystery of Christ, is that God has become close to us. This implies another dimension: Christ is never alone; he came in our midst, died alone, but resurrected to attract everyone to himself. As Scripture says, Christ created a body for himself, gathers the whole of humanity in his reality of immortal life. And thus, in Christ who gathers humanity, we know the future of humanity: eternal life. All this, therefore, is very simple, in the last instance: We know God by knowing Christ, his body, the mystery of the Church and the promise of eternal life.
We come to know God through knowing Christ and thus the promise of eternal life. Nothing unusual there, for this is good Lutheran theology as well. But what is noteworthy is the fact that this knowledge cannot be separated from “his body, the mystery of the Church”. Our Protestant brothers and sisters are invited to understand the Christological and revalatory role the Church plays in God’s mystery of salvation.
We now come to the second question: How can we be witnesses of “these things”? We can be witnesses only by knowing Christ and, knowing Christ, also knowing God. But to know Christ certainly implies an intellectual dimension — to learn what we know of Christ — but it is always much more than an intellectual process: It is an existential process, it is a process of an opening of my “I,” of my transformation because of the presence and strength of Christ, and thus it is also a process of openness to all others, who must be body of Christ. In this way, it is evident that knowing Christ, as an intellectual and above all an existential process, is a process that makes us witnesses. In other words, we can be witnesses only if we know Christ first hand, and not only through others — from our own life, from our personal encounter with Christ. Finding him really in our life of faith, we become witnesses and can contribute to the novelty of the world, to eternal life.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church also gives us an indication for the content of “these things.” The Church has gathered and summarized the essential of what the Lord has given us in Revelation, in the “creed called Niceno-Constantinopolitan, (which) draws its great authority from the fact that it stems from the first two Ecumenical Councils (in 325 and 381)” (CCC, No. 195). The Catechism specifies that this Symbol “remains common to all the great Churches of both East and West to this day” (ibid.) Hence, in this Symbol are found the truths of the faith which Christians can profess and witness together, so that the world will believe, manifesting, with the desire and commitment to overcome existing differences, the will to walk toward full communion, the unity of the Body of Christ.
And so here we meet the two poles of the what has come to be known as “spiritual ecumenism”: doctrinal convergence and personal conversion.
The celebration of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity leads us to consider other important aspects for ecumenism — above all, the great progress made in relations between Churches and ecclesial communities after the Edinburgh Conference of a century ago. The modern ecumenical movement has developed so significantly that, over the last century, it has become an important element in the life of the Church, recalling the problem of union among all Christians and also supporting the growth of communion among them. This not only favors fraternal relations between the Churches and ecclesial communities in response to the commandment of love, but it also stimulates theological research. Moreover, it involves the concrete life of the Churches and of the ecclesial communities with topics that touch upon pastoral care and the sacramental life as, for example, the mutual recognition of baptism, the issues relating to mixed marriages, the partial cases of comunicatio in sacris in well-defined particular situations. In the wake of this ecumenical spirit, contacts have spread also to Pentecostal, evangelical and charismatic movements, for greater reciprocal knowledge, though serious problems are not lacking in this sector. The Pope goes on to do a sort of “ecumenical roundup”, among which he mentions:
the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, celebrated by Catholics and Lutherans together on Oct. 31, 2009; to stimulate the continuation of dialogue, as well as the visit to Rome of the archbishop of Canterbury, Doctor Rowan Williams, who has also held conversations on the particular situation in which the Anglican Communion finds itself. The common commitment to continue relations and dialogue are a positive sign, which manifest how intense the desire for unity is, despite all the problems that oppose it. Thus we see that there is a dimension of our responsibility to do everything possible to really attain unity, but that there is another dimension, that of divine action, because only God can give unity to the Church. A “self-made” unity would be human, but we want the Church of God, made by God, who — when he wishes and when we are prepared — will create unity.
In find that final remark most interesting in the light of our discussion earlier about the search for “the True Church”. We do not want “a self-made unity”, but we are seeking “the Church of God, made by God”. May God grant us our prayers during this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.