Ecumenism Is Obligatory

So sayeth the Pope.
At a January 25 Vespers service closing the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Pope Benedict XVI said that ecumenical work is a “moral imperative” for all Christians.

The Holy Father reminded the congregation at the basilica of St. Paul-outside-the-Walls that Jesus prayed for unity among the faithful. That unity, he said, “cannot be reduced to recognizing our reciprocal differences and achieving peaceful coexistence.” The followers of Christ cannot be satisfied until they have achieved full communion, he said.

True Christian unity, the Pope continued, “cannot be realized only at the level of organizational structures,” but must be forged among the faithful, “confessing the one faith, celebrating divine worship in common, and keeping the fraternal harmony of the family of God.”
Yes, but as the Pope said we are not required to believe in the kind of ecumenism in which differences are swept under the rug. Or and ecumenism in which we protestantize our faith. No, I believe in an ecumenism in which well meaning Christians of various stripes eventually realize the utter failure of their brand of Christianity to hold the true faith, to protect it, and to pass it on. And when they do, we are happy to welcome them home.

Ecumenism is being like the father in the parable of the prodigal son. We keep our arms and hearts open for when you realize the error of your ways.


  1. Amen. But it's also important to distinguish between those who are believers of another fold and those who are of another faith. Many times "ecumenism" becomes a cloak for those who seek to discard the doctrines that distinguish Christianity from other religions or from cults and sects that have fallen into overt heresy.

  2. "Ecumenism is being like the father in the parable of the prodigal son. We keep our arms and hearts open for when you realize the error of your ways."


    The father goes running to the son, with open arms and an open heart, while the son is still along way off. He didn't wait to find out whether the son realized the error of his ways and repented. Hard as it is for we fallen creatures to understand the nature and depth of God's love, it seems that Jesus is telling us in the parable that its unconditional.(Of course, He's also telling us that contrition and repentance on our part is necessary to RECEIVE that love.)

    Like Jesus, we're all called to love one another. (“I give you a new commandment: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (john 13:34))And that love is to be offered not only to our "friends". So, while ecumenism without Truth is merely capitulation with the Spirit of the Age, ecumenism without love is just a "resounding gong or a clashing cymbal"(1 Cor 13:1); it's just noise.

    I think the first thing we have to do is unfold our arms from across our chests and try to be a bit more loving.

  3. John,
    Mt 10:11-15. There is a time for ecumenism and a time for shaking the dust from ones sandals.

    The father didn't track down the prodigal son in foreign lands and force him to listen to reason, he waited for his son to begin to return (even if still a long way off). Perhaps that needs to be taken into account as well.

    Think of Anglicans vs. Westboro Baptists. Some Anglicans are in the distance, walking back, and the Pope rushed out with open arms (Ordinariate). What possible ecumenism is possible with the Westboro Baptists? Best to shake the dust from our sandals, while waiting patiently for them to change.

    A part of ecumenism must be waiting with regards to some groups, and focusing efforts where they can be effective.

  4. While I also hate mushy ecumenism, you sound as if you're advocating a mere "ecumenism of return," an idea Benedict has publically rejected. Instead, the Anglican ordinariate is an interesting model, in which non-Catholic Christians are encouraged to bring their particularities and traditions (as long as they don't conflict w/ Catholic doctrine).

  5. Mike, I think the problem is that, due to how it has been practiced for the past several decades, the word "ecumenism" has become synonymous with "compromise" in some people's minds, and just "talking" for others. It's neither.

    Ecumenism must not wait for the others to return, but it must wait for others to be willing to listen. Of course, we need to know if they're willing to listen and really examine things, which means we need to pay attention.

    To use an extreme example, think of a conspiracy theorist. He's absolutely 100% certain that the lunar landing was faked. No amount of evidence has a chance of swaying him, as his mind is completely closed on the subject. Trying to convince him otherwise is a waste of effort. It's not worth trying, until he shows some sign of being willing to truly examine his beliefs.

    With some groups, all the Church can do is patiently wait until they see the prodigal son walking back towards home. This means, of course, that we have to keep watch for such an event. The Pope did that with the Anglicans. He saw some of them looking toward (not necessarily walking toward, but looking) Rome, and ran out to meet them with the Ordinariate.

    Think about this, if you will. What would have happened if the Pope had set up the Anglican Ordinariate in 2006? Or if JPII had done it in 1980. Were Anglicans open to such an idea then? Even now, some have complained that B16 is stealing sheep, and they've hardened themselves further against unity.

    Now ponder this: What if the Pope was currently establishing a Lutheran Ordinariate instead of an Anglican one? What if all of that energy was directed towards a group that wasn't interested in full unity with Rome? It would be wasted effort, and the Anglicans who are interested in unity would have been left standing. This would have been a wasted effort, a bad focus.

    The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation has been discussing Filioque for a dozen years, hoping to reach agreement. This is a good focus.

    We can't wait for people (individuals as well as entire groups) to return on their own. We have to reach out, ask again and again and again. But we must check to see if ecumenism is even possible.

    Hope that makes sense, I need to get back to work.

  6. I must confess that I do not understand ecumenism. I have tried to figure it out but have been unable to do so. My lack of subtlety is perhaps to blame. If I may do so, I will articulate my difficulties in as a straightforward a manner as I can.

    1) Ecumenism is the movement for the unity of all Christians.

    2) Whoever is baptized and justified by faith has a right to the name Christian and is a member of the body of Christ (see Unitatis Redintegratio, paragraph 3)

    3) The mystical body of Christ is the Church.

    4) The Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.

    5) Said oneness is unity.

    6) Said unity requires cohesion in faith, worship, and government.

    7) There are members, then, of the body of Christ, who do not all profess belief in the same doctrines.

    8) Not all members of the body of Christ worship in the same general manner.

    9) Not all members of the body of Christ obey the same ecclesiastical authorities.

    10) There is not unity in the body of Christ.

    11) There is not unity then in the Church.

    12) The Church, then, is not one.

    Clearly, this view is untenable for a Catholic. Where am I going wrong?

  7. As much as I desire unity, this is a pipe dream without doctrinal discussions on the level of an ecumenical council. There are too many differences between East and West to put on our blinders and say "I am ok, You ok?". Ignoring differences is the disease of multi-culturalism that infects every facet of society. Where cultural differences are downplayed or outright denied for the sake of cultural syncretism that denies everything from gender differences to racial differences. From a theological/doctrinal perspective... how is this any different without authoritative documents that only a council could provide?

  8. Hello, Creative Minority Report and readers. I've only "discovered" this blog in the last year, really, but it's one of my favorite places to stop on the Catholic blogosphere. I would like to offer one or two responses to the original post and its subsequent comments.
    I think there may be a danger among us Catholics (especially Roman Catholics) to regard ourselves as perfectly righteous in discipline and practice to the degree that Christian Unity is viewed merely as everyone else who is a non-Catholic christian to simply recognize the "error of their ways" and return to Rome, who has never done anything to stem the mutual charity of all God's baptized children. The Eastern Churches, for example, especially the Orthodox churches, share the same faith that we do -- the issue there is one of fraternal charity and unity, which is still, very unfortunately, in an imperfect state. The Protestant ecclesiam communities, have a number of doctrinal issues which must be addressed before the bonds of charity may be addressed. What's of real importance here is that the Unity of Christians will be realized when all those who are baptized in Christ will join around one altar in spirit and in truth. To imply that non-Catholic christians must submit to the Church of Rome is founded upon a deficient understanding of the dual deposit of revelation, and will only serve to reinforce existing stereotypes. I am not in any way advocating a watering-down of what we believe and hold very dear, no, not in any way. What I'm getting at is that the ruptures that overtook "Verum Corpus" took a long time to come to pass, and they have their origins in more than just theological or disciplinary matters, and that it may well take just as long to heal those wounds marring the Body of Christ. Implying that the Orthodox Churches, for example, are theologically or practically deficient is uncharitable. What matters in ecumenical dialogue is that it is Christ, alone, who is right, and it is for His apostolic churches to recognize that, be they based out of Rome or Constantinpole. Anyways, i'm not trying to stir up the pot, and i'm not trying to be a mere naysayer; everyone who's posted here has valid reactions to our Holy Father's homily on 25 January 2011, and it shows that we care about our brothers and sisters on the widest scale possible. At the very least, let's pray for our Holy Father and the Patriarchs of Constantinople and Moscow, and for all leaders of ecclesial communities, that we may be obedient to the Lord Jesus and be the Bride that He wants us to be.

  9. 'lots of good comments already.

    The only thing I would add is the "distance" some Christian communities would have to travel to be in unity with us. Some, like the Anglican Catholics are quite close and the gap they must cross to be in full communion is not great.

    Some other Christian communities are hugely divergent, even opposite of many of our beliefs. The gap is not closing but widening. Frankly, I do not see how they could ever be organizationally reconciled with the Church. Instead I envision that their numbers could (will / are) decrease with some - but probably few - *individually* coming to the Church.

  10. "To imply that non-Catholic christians must submit to the Church of Rome is founded upon a deficient understanding of the dual deposit of revelation, and will only serve to reinforce existing stereotypes."

    To JPM:

    I must object to this statement. How can it be reconciled with the doctrinal definition in the papal bull Unam Sanctam, or with the Council of Florence and the Fifth Lateran Council?

  11. Immediate Past Anonymous wrote:

    "I must object to this statement. How can it be reconciled with the doctrinal definition in the papal bull Unam Sanctam, or with the Council of Florence and the Fifth Lateran Council?"

    to IPA:

    Thank you for pointing out a deficiency in my original statement. In no way did I intend to imply that the faithful (Catholic or otherwise) are not obligated to accept those who are chosen to be in spiritual authority over us. What I meant to say was that many of us Roman Catholics have a strong inclination to triumphalism which can do more harm than good for the Unity of Christians. No one who would be looking to "cross the Tiber" wants to feel the gaze of millions of eyes upon them, with grudging approval that they "finally saw the light," because "we're right" and "they're wrong." So yes, thank you for pointing out the splinter in my comment.

    One thing which may be helpful is the 2007 Ravenna Document.

    The bull and Councils referenced above all came to pass in-between the Gregorian Reform and the Council of Trent, which solidified an understanding of the papacy which was very different from how Christian East and Christian West understood the papacy in the first millennium. The Ravenna Document (and hopefully future statements) is significant because it shows that the future of the Church will be increasingly shaped by the Eucharist.

  12. To JPM:

    Either the papacy and the bishops in communion with him can define dogma or they can't. If they can, then Unam Sanctam, the Council of Florence, and the Fifth Lateran Council's teachings cannot be changed. Also, note that the Ravenna Document is not Church teaching, a fact that is stated in the paragraph just above the text of that document.

    But this is futile. Evidently, your position is not one that the Holy See has censured, so you are at liberty to profess it. So there is little point in my putting forward an opposite position as binding. Farewell.

  13. Thanks, Matthew. Good commentary.

  14. Why all the pussy footing around? Of course we all want Unity, we want everyone to become Catholics.
    The pope should just come out and say, it...outside the Church there is no Salvation, which is a dotrine. Just say it, we want unity on our terms, which is that all should become Catholic.
    The Evangelicals want Unity too. They want everyone to become Evangelical, and so on.


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