Benny XVI on Christian Unity

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.

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34 Comments

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34 responses to “Benny XVI on Christian Unity

  1. Leave a Comment

    Well, if You insist:

    The Greeks should be accommodating and make concessions to the ignorant western barbarians, hoping that in time they will correct their errors to conform to the apostolic tradition stemming from Jerusalem
    . (Bl. Theophilact, 11th century).

    Hope this blends in nicely with this post’s title… 🙂

  2. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    Christian Unity, Christian Unity, Christian Unity, wait a minute, presto chango, not just any unity, bubble, bubble, made by God, toil and trouble, hey that’s us, abracadabra, The Catholic Church, The Catholic Church, The Catholic Church!

  3. You are the easiest fish to bait, PE. I just knew you wouldn’t be able to resist. But for once it seems that Papa B is agreeing with you if only you took the time to consider. He speaks of the Church which God makes, not the human made Church. Perhaps you could tell us what part the Church plays in your understanding of Christian unity. Or perhaps it is not important to you that Christians be united in one communion. Come on. Come clean with us. Don’t just go “nah nah nah” like a petulent school boy. Engage constructively in the discussion – if you are able to…

  4. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    I just have no time for supposed calls for Christian Unity that are just a reworking of everybody needing to be Catholic.

    Of course everybody agrees it’s the church that God makes, not man, that we want. They just don’t agree on what that is.

    And so we make our respective cases for our respective ideas of what that is.

    Which we can do without armies and established state churches, and also without hidden assumptions and gotchas at the end, such as everyone ending up Catholic and therefore “united” once they understand what Catholic really is.

    There is no desire for “one communion” there at all, unless that communion turns out to be The Catholic Church, The Catholic Church, The Catholic Church.

    Pure doublespeak.

  5. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    Well a good start toward Christian unity would be for the current Bishop of Rome to renounce the extra-Biblical extra-Christian claims regarding his office that even the other denoms with “apostolic succession” do not recognise, and renounce clearly the idea that the catholic church of the creed is the “Catholic Church” or that within it the fullness of the catholic church subsists.

    • Kyle

      Well, that says it all. You’re basically being hypocritical. If the Church requires assent to its doctrines from other Christians, that is bad; but when you require the Catholic Church to abandon her teachings, that supposedly is the spirit of Christian unity.

  6. Peregrinus

    Terry, is your view of Christian unity entirely negative? I ask because you have repeatedly rebuffed invitations to articulate what you think and believe, preferring instead to emphasise – in, it has to be said, as offensive a manner as you can – your rejection of what others think and believe.

    Is this really how you can best give witness to your Christian faith?

  7. What I really want to know, PE, is why Nietzsche is the only philosopher worth reading?

  8. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    The Catholic version of “Christian unity” will require non-Catholics to abandon some of what they believe and profess and accept Catholic teachings in their place, so I find the objection without merit, and the pursuit of Christian Unity entirely bogus under such terms.

    Actually, Perry, I did not originally come here to give witness to my Christian faith at all. It came about as a result of meeting our host on another blog, not a Catholic one, and it was not in the least to make the case for what I believe now, not at all, but rather that the miserable sham that is the RCC now fails utterly and entirely not on the basis of what I believe now but what I believed before, what was taught by the RCC before its implosion.

    In that I was entirely unsuccessful, so, on my more recent outings here, have dropped that effort entirely. My rejection of the RCC as it now exists on the basis of my faith now is in fact considerably milder than my rejection of it on the basis of Roman Catholicism, which, if that is the same as the faith now taught in its place by the RCC, then black is white, white is black, and the sun rises in the West and all because the great god and lord of all, The Catholic Church, says so.

    • Peregrinus

      Actually, Perry, I did not originally come here to give witness to my Christian faith at all.

      Perhaps not. But in this thread you are repeatedly invited to give us your views on Christian unity, and the role of the church. But you give the impression of being either unable or petulantly unwilling to do so. You’re like a record stuck in a groove, saying the same thing again and again without regard to the question put to you. It’s not edifying.

      We know what you reject, Terry. You are wasting valuable electrons by telling us again and again. We are much more interested in knowing what you accept.

      • Terry Maher (Past Elder)

        God bless me sideways, I should have thought this post and its comment thread was about Benny XVI On Christian Unity!

        Insofar then as it is about Past Elder On Christian Unity, quite to my surprise, you may find what I accept stated in an expository manner in the Book of Concord, and in the interest of good stewardship of electrons, rather than reproduce it here in this combox I refer you to my blog where you will find a link to read the whole bleeding thing.

        And my view of Christian Unity is, that will come about when that exposition is held by all Christians to be exactly what is said in its German title, Christian, not “Lutheran”, or from its Latin title, concordia, what is held in agreement with one heart to-gether.

        Howzat?

        • Peregrinus

          “God bless me sideways, I should have thought this post and its comment thread was about Benny XVI On Christian Unity!”
          It ceased to be confined to that once people started putting questions to you about your views on Christian unity. There’s no rule that says the conversation can’t move on, is there?

          “. . . Howzat?”
          There, now, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

          Anything at all to add to the Book of Concord? Are you generally satisified with the interpretation and application of it applied by others who claim the name of Lutheran?

          • Terry Maher (Past Elder)

            Nothing to add to the B of C from me, any more than I have anything to add to Scripture. The former we call the norma normata, the normed norm, and the latter the norma normans, the norming norm. Concordia is neither the Bible nor the Pope. We subscribe to it because (quia) it is a faithful exposition of the faith of Scripture.

            Am I generally satisfied etc, hell no. Historically the Reformation resulted in state churches as bad as the ones they replaced, and their Old and New World descendants for the most part have only evolved more modern ways of heterodox belief and practice, as far removed from the faith of Scripture stated in the B of C as postconciliar Catholicism is from Catholicism.

            One thinks of the World Lutheran Federation, an absolute joke of Lutheranism to which no confessional Lutheran body belongs.

    • Kyle

      ‘The Catholic version of “Christian unity” will require non-Catholics to abandon some of what they believe and profess and accept Catholic teachings in their place, so I find the objection without merit, and the pursuit of Christian Unity entirely bogus under such terms.”

      How is that any different, though, from you requiring Catholics to abandon what they believe?

      • Terry Maher (Past Elder)

        It doesn’t, which is why the whole “ecumenical” thing is total bullroar, not worth a moment of our time. Boil it down, and somebody’s gotta be right and somebody’s gotta say we were wrong. From a Catholic point of view, all the Councils are ecumenical, which means, the one faith world wide, not a world wide bunch of related but different faiths whining about “unity” and finding mealy mouthed ways to avoid the fact that somebody’s wrong and we don’t agree on who that is. And worse, it has led to absolute jokes like the JDDJ, in which two bodies that do not even hold to their respective faiths any longer, the WLF and the RCC, say they have reached an “agreement”. It is only an agreement of two apostates in apostasy.

  9. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    Well Louise, Nietzsche is the only philosopher worth reading, because the only philosopher worth reading, Nietzsche, said so.

    Kind of like the Catholic Church is the true church because the true church, the Catholic Church, says so.

  10. Wow! May I suggest that Church Unity will only be attained by Christian love and humility. We are working towards Unity of the Orthodox, Protestant and Catholic Churches by trying to unify the dates of Easter (www.onedate.org). One small step, and even that is proving very difficult to take.

  11. Christine

    wot ‘e said.

    LOL, I love it when David uses “Aussie’isms!”

    Here’s the problem in a nutshell. Historically the battle has always been between a Christology from above and a Christology from below.

    When it is too “low” we get a Jesus who was so fully human that his divinity is obscured. Sacraments? No way. Baptism and Holy Communion are just human ordinances and become vehicles of Christian “obedience.” Pelagianism rears its ugly head.

    On the opposite end, a Christology that soars above the clouds upends the human end of the spectrum and Jesus becomes lost in the mists of philosophy and mysticism and requires intercessors to plead with Him on our behalf. Also not Biblical.

    We only know the one true God because His only-begotten Son has revealed us to Him, and we know this Son not primarily through philosophy and other human endeavors but through what He has done. Otherwise we will be driven to despair when we agonize over the state of the world, our own souls and this vale of tears. God is not removed from our human condition because He became one of us. Nor is He aloof to the suffering of the groaning creation because in Christ Jesus He suffered to redeem it all. In the meantime, we walk by faith, not by sight in this world in the grace and mercy of the Lord by His Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament.

    The Book of Concord holds these truths in proper balance. Lutherans are not concerned with being “Lutherans” for the sake of the name, but for the faith once delivered to the saints. This will always be the primary locus in our ecumenical relationships.

    Christine

  12. Christine

    revealed us to Him,

    Should be “revealed Him to us,” of course.

  13. Christine

    Oh, and FWIW, on Trinity Sunday Confessional Lutherans still pray the Athanasian Creed.

    Never heard it mentioned once when I was Catholic. Doubt that most lay Catholics even know what it is.

    Christine

  14. As PE pointed out in his comment, most Lutherans in the world do not require full subscription to the Book of Concord but are willing to accept altar and pulpit fellowship with one another on the basis of the Augsburg Confession and the Small Catwechism of Martin Luther. It seems ironic then that he be lieves that the Christian unity for which Christ prayed should be based upon the acceptance of additional Lutheran writings which not even all Lutherans accept.

    There is in fact a confession of faith which all Christians agree upon – namely the Nicene Creed. (The so-called Athanasian Creed is notm as far as I know, such a Creed).

    Whatever Christian unity is based upon, it must be on texts to which all such united Christians own and agree. The value of the JDDJ is that it is an official text upon which three world wide communions have agreed. Its shortcomings can be dealt with by further joint agreements and the agreement so-far reached can be further built upon.

    Given that we all confess the Nicene Creed and the basic doctrines about God and Christ, and given that we all accept sacred scripture as God’s word, we can press ahead with our joint dialogue in the hope that God will unite all who belong to him in one true faith. This has always been the concern of the Church, and is the very reason why so much effort has been given to the maintenance of unity by the Church. To abandon this hope and to be satisfied with the current state of Christian disunity would be uteterly unChristian and ultimately unfaithful to Christ and to Scripture.

    • Terry Maher (Past Elder)

      Bullroar. It’s the Book of Concord, not the Book of More or Less Concord, or the Book of Concord and Some Other Stuff. Or at least the profession went when I made it.

      As to what “we all confess”, even Satan believes that, which does not change a thing nor is it a sign of some coming unity with him and his realm.

      Which is not to say I or anyone is “satisfied” with the current state of Christian disunity, but to say that building a “unity” on unfaithfulness to Christ and his Scripture as confessed in the historical confessions of this or that denomination is precisely the unity Christ does not seek.

      Re the “three world wide communions”, the RCC is utterly apostate from Roman Catholicism, the WLF is utterly apostate from the confessions of Lutheranism, and as to the World Methodist Council, Methodism is as far to one side of the Lutheran Confessions as the RCC is to the other. Apostates agreeing in apostasy.

      Those pockets within those “communions” which yet hold to their classic faiths are in fact much closer to each other than the more public false unity of the apostates.

  15. I could add that it would, in fact, be “antichrist”. It is precisely because the pope IS NOT antichrist that he continues to urge all Christians to seek the unity for which Christ prayed. It is his role in the Church, as it was Peter’s role and as Pope JPII so admirably taught in Ut Unum Sint, to “strengthen his brothers”.

  16. PE, I guess you could, like Athanasius, claim that you are right and it is the rest of the Christian world that has it wrong (PE contra mundi?) – but it does seem to go a little against instinct to claim that when three communions as different as and as universal as the RCC, LWF and WMC all agree on some point of Christian doctrine, it is because they are all apostate!

    • Kiran

      How about the Orthodox? I think that is perhaps the most fruitful of the dialogues that have emerged in the last 50 years, and not just because I have recently discovered Zizioulas…

  17. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    I suppose if one wishes to ignore for the sake of another agenda, “unity”, that the “agreement” agrees on nothing but to continue to use the same terms and mean different things by them, one could also impose a Newmanian institutional deus ex machina to declare all things OK and ignore the non-participation of those who continue to mean their respective same things by them.

  18. Christine

    Those pockets within those “communions” which yet hold to their classic faiths are in fact much closer to each other than the more public false unity of the apostates.

    Quite right.

    That the RC considers “unity” with a body such as the ELCA to be progress is very telling.

    I’ll never forget a conversation with a lady at my Catholic parish who told me that she receives Communion at her friend’s Lutheran parish as well because “there really isn’t any difference, you know.” Needless to say it was not a confessional Lutheran parish.

    So much for the fruits of the JDDJ. It is also telling that the state of the RC under JPII’ watch, especially in liturgical matters, was far from satisfactory.

    Christine