By FR. PETER DE ROSA
SOME Catholics are worried about the ecumenical dialogue with fellow Christians. Some feel it is a matter of conscience to break the whole thing off.
There is particular concern about the fewer conversions reported since the dialogue began —fewer in fact since Pope John first brought up the subject of the Council.
If there is any direct connection between ecumenism and fewer conversions, as seems not unlikely. Catholic participation in the dialogue is surely difficult to justify. It is suggested that the modern "softening-up" policy, the relinquishing of the traditional party line—and the intransigence of the Church has been a byword among non-Catholics for a long time—all this is to the detriment of the Church's cause.
The Church is meant to proclaim without fear or favour the whole of the Gospel message. Heresy is heresy, and is not to be minimised for the sake of supposed fellow-feeling towards friendly
Catholics. The Church nonhas
always measured up to the Sovereignty of God in proclaiming the whole of saving truth, The Church stands out from the other Christian religions like a mountain range. Here is unity indeed, in faith and government and worship—a visible unity. Are we not stultifying our best evangelical efforts by this dialogue with separated brethren?
Are we not seeing the dampening of apostolic zeal. with prospective apostles, instead of crying out the message of the Church with the clarity of morning air, sitting at home, so guarded in statement. so damnably friendly to all and sundry, that the uncommitted cannot even see what the Church stands for?
Moreover, are we not going to end up preaching a second-class, common-denominator Christianity since we would risk the unhappy mumblings of non-Catholics were we to propose a specifically Catholic and perhaps disagreeable doctrine?
There is only one Church, the Catholic Church, of which the Pope is head on earth. We belong to this Church: others do not. If they wish to join us we will welcome them with open arms, but they must submit to the whole of revealed truth of which the preeminence of the papacy is a part. The proponents of this view might add that it was for the primacy of Peter that the martyrs of England laid down their lives on the gallows. Now the most obvious reply to the alleged clarity that comes from our aloofness is that it is a false one. It makes the breach between us wider than our Christian conscience can allow. FellowChristians are indeed brethren though separated, and if brethren they belong to the same family as ourselves. They have all come forth
the same womb from of holy Mother Church.
It is interesting to reflect that the change of attitude towards nonCatholics has not been due to softness of heart but attention to hard, theological facts. Above all. it is the enriching of the concept of the Church that has made us discover anew the existence between Christians of mystical bonds. These bonds constitute a oneness between them, despite their differences, that no other kind of community between man and man can hope to emulate. The traditional habit of fostering differences, of exaggerating our separation, apart from its manifest failure to advance God's cause, is untrue to the state of affairs. Our real task is not to accentuate the things in which we differ but those in which we are at ope in the Lord. If this is thought by some to be the advocacy of confusion then we must admit us advocating confusion. Some blurring of the outlines is surely necessary. The stress on separateness in the past has even made us tend to think of Anglicanism, Catholicism, Congregationalism, as different religions. A moment's reflection should show how absurd this is. There is only one religion of Christianity. All Christians pray to the one Father through his Son in the Spirit; all believe that the Son became man to save us from our sins, and that there is no other name under heaven whereby we can be saved. The ecumenical movement must be seen on the Church's side not as a concession to strangers but as a concern for those children of hers now living in visible separation.
The present charity of Christians towards each other is not simply one of the conditions preparatory to unity—it is already an expression of the basic unity of God's family.
A refusal to participate in ecumenism would therefore be a refusal to give visible, sacramental expression to our mystical state. By standing aloof holy Mother Church would be abandoning her own children. We are not trying to extenuate the undoubted differences between Christians. Schism and heresy are
Cardinal Bea, head of the Christian Unity Secretariat.
terrible things tearing, as they do, the visible unity of Christ's Church. But we must view even schism with the light of faith. We must believe that God can work the miracle to end schism itself and not merely give, in His goodness. the grace of Catholicism to individuals however numerous. Catholics like non-Catholics in the ecumenical movement are not directly looking for conversions. They want to end the visible disunity so that some day there shall be no need for any conversions— that is, they seek. on the strategical level, to get rid of the CHURCHES which are signs of contradiction to each other and to unite men in the true Church already blessed by visible unity.
While the Churches remain in separation men and women are still going to be born, and find harbourage in them and so, as Catholics have been accustomed to say, need to be converted. Those who find their way into the Church because of the uniqueness of her claims would be multiplied a thousandfold, should reunion come, since such claims would be superfluous in the presence of her factual uniqueness. However, in the desire for unity, we are not seeking the destruction of the Churches. What we have to realise about the Anglican Church and the Orthodox Church, is that there is them too much of God in em to fall, too much of splendour in them for the people who believe in them not to love and cherish them and see in them the working of the Almighty. This is what we have been reluctant to see in the past and what we must see now. These Churches are not like the heretical and schismatical bodies that belaboured the Church throughout her early history, those mostly brief and often totally unreasonable reactions to the Church's supremacy, Whether the great Churches arose by reason of men's sins or not their passage through time has been too grace-laden to doubt the presence of God in their midst. They have been the inspiration of many cultures: they have become part of the fibre of their people: their branches bear the ripe fruit of long and revered history. To suggest, for example, that Anglicanism could simply disappear, whether by inanition or in any way whatsoever, as did Arianism before it is to be the victim of manifest folly. To wish that it should disintegrate and so disappear is a positive sin. We should not wait for the other Churches to lose the allegiance of their people. We should not want the truth in the other Churches to die. On the contrary, our constant and unceasing prayer should be not for their extinction but for the deepening of their faith, so that truth may flourish in them more wonderfully than before, because truth. all truth, is of God. And when reunion comes nothing shall be lost of the good things that have flourished in all the Churches under the watchful eye of God. Until reunion comes and all divisive differences are ended there is no question of preaching a kind of common-denominator Christianity. Nobody ever thought that the dialogue meant that. All the Christian Churches are bound to present the Christian message in all the fulness that is known to them. This applies not only to preaching to the non-committed but to each other as well in ecumenical dialogue. Between Christians apologetics and controversy are out of place. and centuries-old wrangling has shown it is of no effect.
What we need is to explore together doctrines held in common, to pool all the insights and emphasis each church has had in separation, and to modify them when such modification is seen to be needed. As to dogma, certainly no Catholic can deny or pretend to deny the claims of the papacy. But there is such organic unity between all the doctrines of our faith that when the papacy is seen better in the richer setting of a Church which is the Mother of all Christians, when the growing realisation of the role of the bishops as the divinely appointed successors of the apostles leads to further decentralisation, the infallibility and universal jurisdiction of the Pope may be seen in a new light. even by those at present most bitterly antagonistic towards the very idea of papacy. Finally. our martyrs did indeed die for the perpetuation of the ancient faith in this land. They preached the truth in the most eloquent of ways given to men. To press the cause of their canonisation is a duty in us who possess in tranquillity what they preserved with blood. But it would be little short of perversity to think that if you have martyrs as have the Catholics in England you must try to prolong the differences that made their martyrdom possible. This is to forget an obvious truth: the martyrs died because n they had a job to do. namely, to They minister the sacraments to a per secuted people. succeeded magnificently. They kept the faith alive. But our people are no longer persecuted and we do the martyrs no service by acting as if things had not altered, or, worse still, as if we were glad things had not altered. We would honour our martyrs best by thanking them that this dialogue. as far as Catholics are concerned, is the fruit of their labours. that we are closer now to the healing of differences which were, indeed. the reason for their death but for the healing of which they died. The memory of our martyrs will not and cannot hold up the dialogue, and if (an impossible hypothesis) it should do so. it is a mere truism to say it were better to forget them altogether. They died to bring Christians together not to keep them apart. They died for God's honour not their own.