10. When did the ecumenical movement start among Catholics?
The Catholic Church – which has from the beginning of its history had and preserved the unity in faith, morality, worship, discipline and government communicated to it by Christ – has ever been anxious for the return to this unity of those who have separated themselves, or been separated, from it. The Church has always had an ecumenical interest of this nature, which has revealed itself in efforts to obtain the reunion of separated churches of the East (Orthodox) and to recall to reunion all the Christian churches which have been separated from Rome since the time of the Reformation.
Contemporary ecumenical activity among Catholics has increased considerably within the last 50 to 90 years, and is now greater than ever before.
11. Are there signs of interest among other Christians regarding ecumenical activity by Catholics?
Churchmen of many denominations applauded Pope John XXIII’s convocation of the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, and some 40 observer-delegates of various churches attended its first session. One of the purposes of the Council is to explore ways and means of promoting unity among all Christians.
12. What is the attitude of the Catholic Church regarding participation by non-Catholics in such bodies as the World Council of Churches?
Such participation can be considered good if non-Catholic individuals and churches participate without any violation of the principles of good conscience, and if the bodies are sincere in their efforts to work for Christian unity on the basis of the principles and conditions stated by Christ.
13. Why has the Catholic Church not joined the World Council of Churches or other similar organizations?
The Catholic Church believes it is the one and only Church established by Christ and commissioned by Him to teach, rule and sanctify men for their eternal salvation. (Mt. 28:18-20, Jn. 20:21-23, Mt. 16:19, 18:18, Jn. 21:15-18) (CCC 811) Membership in councils such as those described above would imply recognition by the Catholic Church of the fact that other churches have equal standing, even though in fact one of them claims to be the one and only church established by Christ. Because of its very nature, as well as the demands of logic, the Catholic Church cannot make the recognition implied by membership in councils of this kind.
Furthermore, other Christian bodies regard religious unity as non-existent; they hold that it is something which has been lost in the course of Christian history and must be rediscovered. The Catholic Church claims that unity in faith, morals, government and worship, in accordance with the teachings of Christ, does in fact exist in itself under the jurisdiction of the Pope, who is the successor of St. Peter and the Vicar of Christ on earth. (Mt. 16:18, Lk. 22:32) (CCC 813 – 817, 820) Since the Church is convinced of its real possession of this type of unity, which should be the objective of the ecumenical movement, it would be against this conviction as well as illogical for the Church to join in a search for it. The Church’s task is to help them find this unity, which already exists. (CCC 820)
"So, Venerable Brethren, it is clear why this Apostolic See has never allowed its subjects to take part in the assemblies of non-Catholics: for the union of Christians can only be promoted by promoting the return to the one true Church of Christ of those who are separated from it, for in the past they have unhappily left it." (Pius XI, Mortalium Animos)
14. Does the firm stand of the Catholic Church regarding matters of faith, morals, worship, discipline and government serve as a block to union with other Christians?
Yes. The Catholic Church, however, as stated above, can take no other position in view of the foundations of its belief.
15. Why is the Catholic Church interested in the search for unity by Protestants and the Orthodox?
Because of the obligation and commission entrusted to it by Christ to teach divine truth in its unity and entirety (Mk. 16:15), to preserve that truth form error, and to communicate it to all men. (CCC 855)
16. Can the Catholic Church compromise any of the teachings of Faith for the sake of promoting unity among Christianity?
NO. To do so would be to betray the very nature of divine truth and the Church itself, as well as the cause of Christian unity.
For the sake of promoting Christian unity, the Church could make some changes, but only of a non-essential kind not affecting faith or morals. (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio 11)
17. What is the attitude of the Church toward baptized Christians who hold beliefs at variance with those of Catholic and practices their religion in good faith?
At the very least, the Church regards them with love and charity, as it does all men. More significantly, the Church regards them as brothers and sisters who have been joined to Christ in virtue of their baptism but are impeded from full participation in the Mystical Body of Christ because of their separation from the Catholic Church. (CCC 818, 838)
Vatican II, Unitatis Redintegratio, 3 no. 1 states:
"However, one cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these communities [that resulted from such separation] and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers .... All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church."
The Orthodox, or separated Eastern Christians as they are called, have an apostolic succession of bishops, a valid priesthood, the Mass and valid sacraments, apostolic and patristic traditions, acceptance of the canons of the first seven ecumenical councils, and veneration of the Virgin Mary. (Vatican II, Unitatis Redintegratio 13-18)
Protestants, while having less in common with Catholics, are devoted to prayer and divine worship, the Sacred Scriptures, the observance of the Commandments, and the ministry of the Word. (Vatican II, Unitatis Redintegratio 19 - 23)
19. Is there a much hope for the accomplishment of large-scale corporate union among Christians?
Corporate unions of Protestants with Protestants are likely, in the manner described in no. 10 above. These unions, however, are accidental.
Other large-scale corporate unions are not likely in the near future.
20. What can individual Christians do for the cause of religious unity?
They cans seek improved mutual understanding, have charity among each other, and pray that all who claim to be Christian may be gathered in the unity of the sheepfold of the One Shepherd, which is the Catholic Church. (Jn. 10:14-16; 17:20) (CCC 822)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 821 states:
“Certain things are required in order to respond adequately to this call:
· a permanent renewal of the Church in greater fidelity to her vocation; such renewal is the driving-force of the movement toward unity;
· conversion of heart as the faithful "try to live holier lives according to the Gospel"; for it is the unfaithfulness of the members to Christ's gift which causes divisions;
· prayer in common, because "change of heart and holiness of life, along with public and private prayer for the unity of Christians, should be regarded as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement, and merits the name 'spiritual ecumenism;"'
· fraternal knowledge of each other;
· ecumenical formation of the faithful and especially of priests;
· dialogue among theologians and meetings among Christians of the different churches and communities;
· collaboration among Christians in various areas of service to mankind.
“It is only the Catholic Church that retains the true worship. It is the fountain of truth, it is the household of the faith, it is the temple of God: If anyone does not enter it, or if anyone departs from it, he is a stranger to the hope of life and salvation. Let no one deceive himself by continuous wranglings. Life and salvation are in the balance, which if not looked to carefully and diligently will be lost and destroyed.” (Lactantius, Divin. Instit. 4, 30, 11-12.)
N. B. CCC refers to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
SOURCE: 1963 National Catholic Almanac, St. Anthony’s Guild Press, Paterson, New Jersey (with revisions and additional materials).