Beloved sons and daughters: Your visit comes during a week dedicated to prayer and study for the great cause of the recomposition within the single Church of Christ of those who believe in Him aqd who are now separated among themselves and from us.
Well may you think how our spirit, always so greatly sensitive and alert regarding this matter, can be in these days even more greatly concerned by the problems, hopes, discussions and duties which are connected with it. Being with you in the simple and cordial form of this weekly audience, we cannot but speak to you of the unity in which we desire, according to the supreme desire of Christ, to see all Christians gathered together.
You know that in the final public sitting of the Third Session of the Vatican Council there was approved and promulgated a decree on ecumenism, which deals precisely with this very cornplex and delicate theme with the intention of recalling the mystery of unity, from which the Church cannot stand aside, and of facilitating, however it may be possible, the enjoyment of the full, living and sincere participation of all followers of the Gospel in the riches of this mystery. We hope that a document so important, so open and so trusting will one day bear its fruits, and we repeat again today the exhortation that all the Catholic faithful be concerned and support its fulfilment. especially wit prayer and' with the goodness of their Christian lives and examples which radiate from it.
To those who know only superficially the question of the reunion of all Christians, the solution seems very easy and can be rapidly carried out. But to those who know the historical, psychological and doctrinal aspects of the question itself, the great and obvious difficulties of every type and from every side are apparent. The difficulties are so clear that some despair that they can be resolved. Others, still hope but see that there will perhaps be needed a long time and certainly a special, almost prodigious, intervention of the grace of God.
We do not wish now to speak to you of these difficulties. Rather we wish to recall your attention to a temptation which can develop in good persons and give rise to a wrong and invalid attitude for resolving what are among the most serious difficulties, the doctrinal ones.
It is a temptation to put aside.controversial points, to hide, to weaken, to modify, to render vain, to deny, if needs be, those teachings of the Catholic Church which are not today accepted by the separated brethren. We say this is an easy temptation because it can seem unimportant to minimise and get rid of certain truths and certain dogmas which are the object of controversy, so as to attain comfortably the so greatly desired union. But Christianity is a divine truth which is not given to us to change but only to ascertain and to accept for our salvation.
And this view deludes not only those who are ignorant of the theological questions. It also insinuates itself among those who are experts and who seek, often in good faith, some expedient rationale for smoothing out the way of coming together with the separated brethren. The intention is good. The method is not.
From a Catholic aspect, to want to recognise how much good is still found in the patrimony of the churches and Christian confessions detached from our Church is fine. To want to present Catholic doctrine in its authentic and essential aspects, leaving aside its debatable and non-essential aspects, is fine. It is fine, too, to seek to present controversial points in terms which can render them more exact and understandable even in regard to those who do not share them. This is brotherly patience. This is good justification. This is charity at the-service of truth.
But to pretend to resolve doctrinal difficulties, by seeking to discredit or disregard or conceal affirmations which the teaching authority of the Church declares binding and definitive is not a good service. It is not a good service for the cause of union because it creates diffidence in the separated brethren. It creates the suspicion of being tricked, or else it generates the notion of fallacious possibilities and, because it causes fear in the Church that one seeks union at the price of truth, whieh is not debatable, it gives rise to suspicions that the dialogue is resolved to the harm of sincerity, fidelity and truth.
We wish to make Catholics always more able to sustain the dialogue of brotherhood by means of a more open and humble sincerity; by means of the passion and joy they must feel for the light of the truth of a whole and lived faith; by means of a didactic, gradual explanation of our teaching; and by means of respect, esteem and charity toward those to whom we are speaking.
We wish this so that they may find our conversation amiable, so that they may find the certitude which the Lord gives us desirable, and so that they may find its possession easy, so that they may see that ours is not an a priori dogmatism, nor a spiritual imperialism, nor yet a formal juridieistrt, but a total homage to the total truth which comes from Christ, and that fullness of the faith is not a jealous treasure but rather a treasure very ready and brotherly in spirit which makes us all the happier the more we can give it to others and say that it is not ours but Christ's and everyone's.
This is but one thought among many with which our heart is filled a thought which, while we entrust it to your loyalty, we also express with immense love for everyone, near and far, so that they can say with St. Paul, overcoming every schism and every division: Ego autein Christi [I am of Christ] (I Corinthians, 1, 13).