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Walter Cardinal Kasper

Ecumenism in a State of Flux

Introduction at the Plenary Assembly of the
Pontifical Council For Promoting Christian Unity
on 13 November 2006

 

From: Stimmen der Zeit, 1/2007, P. 3-18
webmaster's own, not authorized translation

 

    As prelude to the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council For Promoting Christian Unity (13-18 November 2006) its President WALTER CARDINAL KASPER presented a paper on the current state of ecumenism. He mentions contentious questions as well as new challenges and tasks, and concludes his considerations with five items which in his opinion matter in the near future.

 

More than 40 years ago on 8 December 1965 the Second Vatican Council ended with a clear decision for the ecumenical rapprochement. In the Decree on Ecumenism "Unitatis redintegratio" the Council called the re-establishment of the unity of all Christians one of its major tasks. The Decree on Ecumenism begins with the words, "To help to restore the unity of all Christians is one of the major tasks of the holy Ecumenical Second Vatican Council" (UR 1). It is true the decree made clear that with this statement it had in mind not any ecumenism but an ecumenism in truth and love, aiming at the visible unity of the church (see UR 2f.).

 

Our Lasting Mission

Pope John Paul II called the ecumenical decision in the encyclical "Ut unum sint" (1995) irreversible (UUS 3) and added that the ecumenical matter was no mere appendage of the church's pastoral activity (UUS 20). On the contrary, he called it "one of the pastoral priorities" of his pontificate (UUS 99). On 24 April 2005, already one day after his election, Pope Benedict XVI in a programmatic speech before the gathered cardinals as well as during his installation on St Peter's Place called the unity of the church a fundamental matter.

Even though for understandable reasons lately the interreligious dialogue (theologically distinguished from the ecumenical dialogue) became the focus of attention, so the ecumenism is still not a dainty for some enthusiasts. It is the task taken over by the church from Jesus Christ himself and irreversibly adopted by the Second Vatican Council. The Catholic Church has fixed this task in both its two statute-books and has the bishops particularly entrusted with it (CIC C. 364 n.6; 387 §3; 755; CCEO CC. 902-908). Hence we can state that in spite of all the changes of the ecumenical situation,

 


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which will soon be presented, the ecumenical mission as such is not questioned. It has been given to us by our Lord himself (see Joh 17.21) and several times the church has explicitly confirmed it.

 

Change of the Ecumenical Situation

On the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the Decree on Ecumenism the Pontifical Council For Promoting Christian Unity organized from 11 to 12 November 2004 in Rocca di Papa a congress, to which it invited representatives of all Bishops' Conferences of the world and of all Churches we are engaged with in dialogue {1}. We analyzed the decree of the Council and on its basis designed the further way. Pope John Paul II's words, addressed to us during the vespers in St Peter's basilica on 13 November, were particularly valuable to us. It was his last sermon on the ecumenical task, delivered with last strength, as it were his ecumenical legacy. There was nothing to be heard of lamenting over the bad condition of things. His words were courageous and encouraging, hopefully looking to the future.

At this congress we presented light and shadow of the present situation. The most important positive fruit of the ecumenical movement of the last 40 years are not the documents, but the new spirit, which almost everywhere came into the church. John Paul II spoke of a recent discovery of Christian fraternity, and called it the most important fruit of the ecumenical movement (UUS 42). We regard other Christians no longer as opponents or competitors, but as brothers and sisters in Christ. Almost as a matter of course (apart from some exceptions) we pray and co-operate with them and give particularly in social questions a common testimony. In many ecumenical documents we made also theologically good progress.

Of course, we can just as little overlook the shady sides as there are misunderstandings and abuses of the ecumenical matter, ecumenical impatience just as idleness and status quo thinking. The deceased Pope spoke of inertia and narrowness of the heart (Novo millenio ineunte, 48). The real shady side, not to say the dark side, is the fact that we have made progress on the way to the ecumenical aim but have not reached it. In the meantime even new difficulties are conspicuous, and today the way to the aim seems longer and more laborious to us than many of us had thought at first. This too was clearly seen by John Paul II toward the end of his life (in the same place 12).

 


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Since Rocca di Papa the development has not come to a standstill. First I will talk of the movements within the usual ecumenical framework, then of the development of the ecumenical scene itself. In doing so I restrict myself - complying with an order of the Pontifical Council - to the universal dimension, though I naturally know that the ecumenical movement happens also and even particularly on the level of local churches.

I mention only some recent developments. After an unfortunate longer interruption first the work in the Mixed Theological Commission with the Eastern Orthodox Churches (Copts, Syrians, Armenians, Malankara and others) could be taken up anew. With them already in former times the differences in Christology, existing since the fifth century, could be overcome. After the standstill since the plenary assembly in Emmitsburg/Baltimore (2000) the international dialogue with the Orthodox Churches could be started again in September 2006 in Belgrade {2}. The general topic reads "communio" (koinonia). Within this framework we want to deal with the crucial controversial question, the Petrine ministry {3}, and with the sensitive question of the so-called Uniatism. The work of the commission began in a good spirit in a constructive way. From the meeting of the Pope with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in Fanar we hope for further important impulses. Thank God, we can say that the positive development and the improvement of our relations with the Orthodox Churches is the most promising change of the ecumenical relations. It is interesting to see that the World Council of Churches too could improve its relations with Orthodox Churches after the crisis at the plenary assembly of the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Harare (1998).

With the Anglican community and the churches of the Reformation {4} some important dialogue documents could be passed {5}. Alone the number of these dialogues and documents shows that the rumour the Catholic Church had "abandoned" the dialogue with the churches of the Reformation is completely unfounded. It is of special importance that the World Council of the Methodist Churches in Seoul in June 2006 declared its accession to the "Common Declaration on Justification" (1999). The co-operation with the World Council of Churches started anew after its plenary assembly in Porto Alegre (February 2006) in the Common Working Group {6}. Together with the World Council we have prepared the "Prayer Week for the Union of Christians" since 1968. In addition there are innumerable, almost daily meetings with representatives of other churches in our office as well as many journeys literally around the world. Also on these occasions the blowing of the Holy Spirit is to be felt.

There is hardly an important church event where official representatives of other churches are not present. That applies for instance to the Bishops' Synod 2005, to the symposium on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation "Dei verbum" (2005) and above all to the funeral of Pope John Paul II and to Pope Benedict XVI's induction.

 


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Almost all churches sent high-ranking representatives to both events. That has never before happened in the entire Church history. Thus at the beginning of the twenty-first century we are in a situation of which one would not even have dared to dream at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Those who're simply and in an undifferentiated way talking about backward steps, a standstill or an ecumenical ice age and the like therefore betray ignorance of the situation. There is no cause for lamentation or even for panic. On the contrary, we have good reason to express our gratitude to God as well as to many male and female co-operators.

Of course we would be blind if we did not also see the rapid and profound ideological and political changes that occurred in the last 40 years since the Council everywhere in the world and almost in all spheres of life. In this connection it is not possible to describe these complex processes in detail. Suffice it to mention globalization, international terrorism, and the increasing violence in the world, and to state that the advanced secularization in the western world - ethical relativism, religious indifferentism, and everything that can be called postmodernism – has also effects on the ecumenism. But the ecumenical change affects not only the framework conditions of the ecumenism, on the contrary, the ecumenical scene and the general ecumenical situation themselves are at present rapidly changing.

In order to understand the present ecumenical situation it is not enough to have a look only at the classical forms of the ecumenical movement and at the progress in individual ecumenical dialogues. One must see the changed ecumenical overall situation and from it draw practical consequences for the future of the ecumenical movement.

 

A Climatic Change - the New Question about One’s Own Identity

In the first place a clear climatic change in the dialogue with the historical churches in the eastern as well as in the western part of the world can be noticed. In all dialogues a relatively new element has come into the foreground: The question about one’s own identity, which sometimes is also called "ecumenism of profiles" (Bishop Wolfgang Huber).

Already for quite some time some people fear that the ecumenical movement would lead to the dissolution of the respective denominational identity. There are people who fear that the Catholic Church will be made more and more Protestant, while others reversely express the suspicion of catholicising tendencies and fear that the Protestant partners have themselves ripped and forced upon Catholic questions. Thus a hermeneutics of suspicion has often taken the place of a hermeneutics of confidence.

 


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But in principle the anxiety about one’s own identity is a legitimate concern. Each dialogue, also the ecumenical dialogue, presupposes partners who have their own identity, who estimate and articulate it, and give effect to it. Playing down, covering up, or - as is occasionally said, "cheating" (Eberhard Jüngel) -, are of no use for anybody, least for the ecumenical matter.

The question is of course what is meant by identity - an anxiously shut in itself defensive attitude intent on keeping one’s distance, or an open identity aware of the fact that one can have identity in principle only by communication, meeting, exchange, i.e. by dialogue with others. For dialogue does not mean to give up one’s own position, to meet each other on the lowest common denominator, and so to become poorer, but to enrich one’s own identity in exchange with others, to let it grow and mature. In this sense John Paul II called the dialogue an "essential passage on the way to self fulfilment of man, of the individual as well as of every human community", and accordingly defined dialogue as "exchange of gifts" (UUS 28; see 57). Hence dialogue does not want to impoverish, no, it is able and wants to enrich.

On this basis one must argue with the ecumenical total critique in some Orthodox and unfortunately also some Catholic circles as well as in many Evangelical and Pentecostal groupings. They think the ecumenical movement led to dogmatic relativism, syncretism and indifferentism. For some people ecumenism has almost become a word of irritation, the epitome of all heresies, and the expression of the apocalyptical attempt of an antichristian World-Uniform-Church, of which already St John's Apocalypse is said to have warned. One can look up this criticism of a misunderstood ecumenism already in Vladimir Solojow's (1853-1900) impressive essay "The Antichrist". In the historical churches such total and frontal criticism is officially not to be found. In their official statements criticism is presented in a considerably more differentiated and more serious way.

In the Catholic Church the concern about identity is the background to the "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of the Church as Communio" ("Communionis notio", 1992), to the declaration on the term Sister Church (2000), and above all to the declaration "Dominus Jesus" (2000). The document mentioned last differentiated on the basis of the Council's statement "subsistit in" between "church" and "church community", and so confirmed the identity of the Catholic Church and the continuing realization of Christ's church in it (see LG 8; UR 4).

On the Protestant side these documents triggered reactions which let the Lutheran Church appear more "Protestant" again. Already against the Common Declaration on Justification (1999) partly harsh criticism was voiced by Protestant theologians, against the declaration Dominus Jesus it swelled to a powerful choir, which has not fallen silent until today. On the other hand from the Catholic side with regret was taken note of some harsh tones in some recent

 


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statements from the Protestant Church in Germany (EKD) and the united Lutheran Church of Germany (VELKD) {7} as well as of the EKD's retreat from the common work in translating the Bible ('Einheitsübersetzung'). The preparation of a paper on "Office and Ordination" in the VELKD and the EKD fills not only Catholics but also not a few Lutherans with some worries, which have been confirmed by the final text "Appointments in Accordance with the Regulations" (2006). This text not only goes back behind previous ecumenical agreements, it is one-sidedly intent on demarcation. There is no longer any talk about the, in spite of all differences, existing weightier things in common.

Some Protestant theologians go so far as to say good-bye to the so-called 'Konsensökumene' and propagate a 'Differenzökumene' (Ulrich H.J. Körtner); others speak of a salutary disappointment and with that mean that the past consensus and convergence documents did not offer a solid basis and so deservedly had to disappoint (Winfried Härle). For these theologians all the previous so-called consensus or convergence documents stand on the test bench. The climate has become altogether rougher.

The new climate was also clearly to be felt during the recent discussions with the Orthodox Churches. They went in a good and constructive spiritual atmosphere. But during the discussion of a text that had already been prepared at the end of the eighties and at the beginning of the ninetieth it became apparent that some somewhat harmonizing formulations from that time met with doubts both on the Orthodox and Catholic side. Both sides set great store on greater specification.. Hence the work went on more slowly than originally expected, but instead much more solidly.

To sum up it can be said: To emphasize one's own identity, resp. the "Ökumene der Profile" is then ecumenically legitimate and will also lead further, if they on the one hand name the existing differences on the basis and within the framework of the greater common faith, and if on the other hand this is not done with the aim of keeping one’s distance or sharpening one’s own profile but in striving to overcome the differences in a truth-oriented dialogue.

 

Contentious Questions on Foundations and Aim of Ecumenism

The change of climate and atmosphere has of course deeper causes. It is not only about moods, but about deeper-seated problems which have their foundation in the "matter" itself. There are at present old and partly also new problems with regard to the foundations as well as the aim of the ecumenism.

The foundations of ecumenism are not: a sentimental irenic attitude, for which the question of truth has become insignificant, a vague sense of belonging together,

 


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an indistinct humanism or a hackneyed religion. According to the Catholic understanding the foundations of ecumenism consist in the common profession of Jesus Christ and of the triune God, as it is also expressed in the basis formula of the World Council of Churches, which is explicitly quoted by the Decree on Ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council (UR 1). There it says that the ecumenical movement is maintained by men who implore the triune God and confess Jesus as Lord and Saviour. In the study of the Ecumenical Council of Churches on the Nikaia Constantinopolitan Creed "Confessing the one Faith", 1991, this common foundation of faith was commentated in detail and interpreted in its importance for today.

Unfortunately this study has hardly been received. This actual non-reception shows a fundamental problem. The profession of Christ the Saviour and the triune God is found in the Confessions of all historical churches, but the question is whether it is also really recognized everywhere. The problem becomes obvious if one pursues the discussion in some reformed churches that permit to replace the Trinitarian baptismal formula by other, so-called inclusive formulas. In the relation to some churches also in other questions, above all those of life protection, family, sexual moral, bio ethics, ordination of women unfortunately new, so far not existing differences have become obvious, which point to deep-seated problems of anthropology and Biblical hermeneutics. These new differences make the common testimony of the churches in the world more difficult and weaken it considerably.

While in the beginning of the ecumenical movement on the Protestant side the Luther Renaissance and Karl Barth's (1886-1968) Wort-Gottes-Theologie were prominent, we at present experience the Renaissance of a liberal-individualistic Protestantism and of a Culture-Protestantism. Thus motifs such as individuality, inwardness, individual conscience - all central topics of Adolf Harnack's lectures on "The Nature of Christianity" 1899/1900 - again come to the fore. Consequently the visible unity of the church is no longer an urgent problem. In the focus of attention are problems of meeting the present culture or other cultures.

In the end it is all about the question whether and to what extent God meets us not only "in" but also "through" the church. One can formulate this question about the church's saving function also so: 'Is there a direct relation of the individual Christian to God, or is his/her personal relation mediated by the church? In the answer a more individualistic Protestant and a more community-related Catholic understanding of church face each other.

It therefore is all too simplified to reduce the ecumenical problem to the question about the office in the church. That is only the peak of the iceberg.

 


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The more fundamental problem is the relationship of God's word and church, and in this connection the relation of Scripture and tradition as well as of Scripture and ministry of the church. Thus, despite some approaches fundamental questions of the church's role and the veneration of St Mary and the Saints associated with it are still open (see UR 20; UUS 79). It is significant that the in this connection important document of the bilateral Lutheran-Catholic working group in Germany "Communio sanctorum" (2000) has so far officially and formally not been received by the Protestant side, but unofficially was submitted to harsh criticism.

The open ecclesiological elementary questions lead to a different fixing of the ecumenical aim. The basis formula of the World Council of Churches defines this aim as visible unity. The plenary assembly of Porto Alegre (2006) confirmed this statement once more {8}. The preceding plenary assembly in Harare (1998), to be sure, admitted that at present there is no full consent what in concrete terms is meant by 'visible unity'. It is conceded that we have no common understanding of unity, and no common vision {9}.

The lack of a common aim is - apart from the ambiguity in the foundations - probably the most serious problem of the present ecumenical situation. For if you have no common aim you get into danger that you - without wanting it - move into different directions, and in the end will be more asunder than before.

There is agreement about the fact that unity does not mean uniformity. What we are looking for is the full visible union (communio) as "unity in variety and variety in unity". But on closer examination this formula is everything else but clear {10}.

The Catholic Church understands under it - and there in principle it agrees with the Orthodox position - unity in the one faith, in the same sacraments, and in the one founded on the apostles episcopal office. In contrast diversity is possible in the expressions of the one faith, in the sacramental rites, as well as in the concrete canonical arrangement of the hierarchical structure (see LG 13; 15; UR 2f.), and also in the question raised by Pope John Paul II how in future the Petrine ministry under adherence to its nature is to be exercised concretely (UUS 95). In this sense the Catholic Church in the Common Declaration on Justification has recognized a legitimate unity in variety.

On the Protestant side in the last decades in wide parts a different understanding of unity in variety has developed. One refers for it to the famous article 7 of the Confessio Augustana, which says that it is sufficient (satis est) for the church's unity to agree in the teaching of the Gospel and in administering the sacraments according to the Gospel.

 


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That means according to a today often supported view that a fundamental agreement about the Gospel and the administration of baptism and Eucharist is sufficient for unity, but that substantial differences are possible for instance in the understanding and form of the church offices. On this basis the churches of Lutheran and Reformed tradition in 1973 in the Leuenberg Concordance took up pulpit and Communion community and with it church community; they did so although there are still doctrinal differences between them in the understanding of the Eucharist as well as of church and office. On this basis recently it came to further unions on the Protestant side, for instance the Union of Protestant Churches in Europe. Likewise on this basis from the Catholic Church the admission to Holy Communion or the so-called Eucharistic hospitality is expected. But for us (as with the Orthodox Churches) church- and Communion community are not possible without unity in the understanding of church and office. Similar misgivings are also raised by some Scandinavian Protestant Churches that are obliged to the Porvoo declaration (1992).

Hence there are different ecumenical concepts of the unity of the church that is to be aspired to. We are not in agreement where the ecumenical journey is to go to. In order to make progress in this question the document of the plenary assembly of the World Council of Churches in Porto Alegre "Called to be One Church" together with the document of the Commission "Faith and Church Constitution" of the World Council of Churches "Nature and Mission of the Church" (2005) is of great importance for us. These two documents are positive signs. We hope that the commission Faith and Church Constitution will continue to work energetically on the questions treated there. For only by clarifying the understanding of 'church' we are able to make progress in the questions of 'Eucharist community', and to develop a common ecumenical vision.

 

New Challenge by the Evangelical and Pentecostal Churches

While the historical churches discuss their historically inherited problems and partly also dig new trenches, already new formations of church communities emerge. They speak of a Third Wave in the history of Christianity: after the churches that go back to the first millennium (Old-Oriental and Orthodox Churches, Catholic Church), and the churches that directly or indirectly (Free Churches) go back to the Reformation, now the Evangelical, charismatic communities and above all the Pentecostal Churches. Their spread and influence increase rapidly. Add the many new Christian, non-Christian and syncretistic sectarian movements and groupings, to which also a multitude of so-called autonomous African churches belong.

 


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There were Evangelical currents and communities within Protestantism already in the past in the different revivalist movements, particularly in pietism. Today they are, to a large extent as reaction to liberal-modernistic tendencies, gaining ground in some historical churches. That is why often the term 'Evangelical' really became a church-political combat term. Often (though not always) fundamentalist tendencies are connected with it. The Evangelicals emphasize the literal inspiration and the absolute authority of the Holy Scriptures, they hold on to the unaltered Christology of the Apostolicum, attach importance to personal conversion and sanctification, give priority to mission before social action, and advocate the imminent Second Coming of Christ. Partly it also comes to a new- or rediscovery of tradition.

In detail there is a large range. Some of those communities are organized like churches (Missouri Synod, Southern Baptist). Recently they are again interested in the discussion with the Catholic Church. Besides there are para-church structures in charismatic groups, confession movements and congresses of confession, parochial days, working groups etc.. Lately there are increasingly contacts with them too {11}. The movement is organizationally united in the "World Evangelical Alliance".

In ecclesiological and sacrament-theological questions the Evangelicals usually differ from us. But in Christological and particularly in ethical questions they are often on considerably closer terms with us than some historical Protestant churches. Thus practical coalitions - one can also call them strategic alliances - are possible {12}.

From them the Pentecostal Churches are to be distinguished. They developed at the beginning of the twentieth century in the environment of the Methodist revivalist movement. They have no direct roots in the Reformation of the sixteenth century, but - according to their own conviction - came into existence by a direct new effusion of the Holy Spirit. Since their first appearance they expanded in a till now unknown breath-taking way, particularly in the southern hemisphere. Meanwhile the movement spreads also to Europe. One already speaks of the "Future Christianity" (Philip Jenkins).

One may ask whether one in this connection can speak of a new type of church. For there is a multiplicity of parishes: each is autonomous and only loosely connected with other parishes. They have in common the direct experience of the Holy Spirit (baptism in the spirit), an emotional and spontaneous spirituality which conveys the experience of belonging to a large group. In the meantime one differentiates between three waves: the classical Pentecostalism - where good dialogues were possible with individual groups {13}; the charismatic movement within the traditional churches - also in the Catholic Church;

 


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and the Neo-Pentecostalism, which often becomes a religion of mere worldly prosperity promises. It usually reacts to the traditional churches quite aggressively and in a proselytizing way; a dialogue of life is of course possible, but up to now hardly any dialogue in the real and usual sense.

But how are we to react? A challenge is Pentecostalism in any case. The problem is articulated by many bishops on the occasion of their Ad-limina-visits. And also Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI repeatedly expressed their concern. How are we to meet this challenge? We are of the opinion first of all in a self-critical way. We must ask ourselves: What makes this movement so attractive? Why do so many faithful leave our church? What do they hope to get from the Pentecostal Churches? What do they miss in the Catholic Church? What can we change, and what have we to change in our pastoral work to do justice to the religious thirst and hunger for concrete experience as well as to the concrete social plights? In this sense the Pontifical Council For Promoting Christian Unity in 2005 organized four larger seminars with bishops and theologians: one in anglophone Africa (Nairobi), one in francophone Africa (Dakar), one in Latin America (São Paulo), and one in Korea (Seoul). In February 2007 such a seminar is planned in the Philippines (Manila).

 

Fragmentation and New Interlinking of Ecumenism

The relatively loose Protestant understanding of the church's unity and the newer Evangelical and charismatic groupings on the one hand have led to a fragmentation of the ecumenical scene and on the other hand to new forms of ecumenical cross-linking and co-operation.

The Protestant churches are territorially or nationally structured. Only since the beginning of the twentieth century world-wide denominational church federations have come into existence, which however see themselves not as churches but as church federations or as community of churches. According to this understanding the universal ecumenical unity can exist only in a network of mutual relations, and mutual acknowledgment as churches.

Thus already till now there was a definite ecumenical asymmetry with regard to the decision structures. At present it is strengthened both by the obviously inherent in the Protestant model trend towards fragmentation and by the Evangelical groupings. The problem is found in all denominational world federations, most clearly in the Anglican community, which at present for various reasons, also because of the lack of a central authority arouses a rather vague impression. As consequence of this fragmentation there are on the one side decidedly liberal tendencies and groupings, on the other side monasteries, religious communities

 


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High-Church communities (St Michel's Brotherhood, St Jacob's Brotherhood, High-Church federations of the Augsburg Confession and others), Anglo Catholics, also a few Free-Church groups which in Protestantism want to give effect to the Catholic inheritance, particularly in liturgy as well as in shaping the church offices. Lately they often band together with appropriate Catholic partners (Orders and Congregations, individual monasteries, religious movements, works etc.). Thus in May 2004 in Stuttgart about 10.000 mostly younger people from different churches met. Over satellite about 100.000 were involved in the meeting throughout Europe. For April 2007 "Stuttgart II" is planned. Besides, there are many regional and national meetings of this kind. In this connection one can also think of the charisma of monasteries such as Taizé, Bose, Chevetogne and others, or of ecumenical communities for instance within the Focolare movement, Sant' Egidio or Chemin neuf.

At the moment one cannot see yet where God's Spirit will lead by this development. In principle I associate large hopes with it. On the other hand the ecumenical situation has thereby become unclear. It does no longer fit into the conventional ecumenical structures. This problem is also seen in the World Council of Churches and is discussed with the help of the idea of a global ecumenical forum, in which also churches, communities and groups can take part that are not members of the World Council of Churches. In the United States the new organization "Christian Churches together" goes into the same direction.

In view of this development for us the question arises: Who is our partner, and how do we react to the various, very different partners? Until now this question was clearly decided by the principle: We talk with churches and on the universal level with denominational church federations. Of course, we will do that also in future. But the question is: whether the thereby given self-restraint is still realistic? In which way are we to enter and can we enter into dialogue with individual groupings that knock at our door and look for discussions with us?

The answer is delicate. Of course we do not want to play a dishonest double game. Especially any form of proselytizing and of a new uniatism is the last thing we want. Each answer therefore requires a high measure of transparency toward our partners in other churches.

 

New Important Tasks: Secular- and Fundamental Ecumenism

As last phenomenon of a changing ecumenical movement I would like to mention the phenomenon of Secular- and Fundamental Ecumenism.

 


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The term Secular Ecumenism comes from the former Secretary-General of the Ecumenical Council of Churches Konrad Raiser. He thought that in future the churches will come together not by further theological dialogue, but by co-operation for justice, peace and freedom in the world. This for him was the new paradigm of ecumenism.

I think there is some truth in it, but only a partial truth. Indeed, the Christians have every reason to co-operate already today and together give testimony. That applies not only to the poor countries of the so-called Third World, to human rights and to peace and justice in the world, but also to Europe, where all is about together once more making more aware of the Christian Roots and values. Appropriate offers and suggestions for this at present particularly come from the Orthodox side. These offers deserve it to be taken up.

But the theological questions cannot be solved by this. They not last come into the open in the questions about the right practice (Orthopractice). For it is not true, as some people think, that the doctrine separates whereas the practice unites. There were and are rather also different, yes, contrary criteria and political options (for instance in the attitude to the former Eastern Bloc, to some liberation movements, to the crisis in the Near and Middle East etc.), which led to tensions and splits. Orthopractice cannot be separated from Orthodoxy.

That is why the fact that meanwhile many people are no longer interested in the old controversies and in overcoming them, cannot be coped with by skipping these questions, but by anew opening them up. There is ignorance of and often also indifference towards controversial questions, but also the common foundations the churches start out from. Thus many and above all young people - with the best will in the world can no longer understand the traditional controversial doctrines. They need elementary food. The central and fundamental Christian message must anew be made accessible to them in a language they understand. A new kind of ecumenism results on the basis of Christian faith, where this fundamental imparting happens. Hence one can speak of a kind of Fundamental ecumenism, which then is to grow and mature up to the full visible unity - the final aim of the ecumenical movement.

I could notice this phenomenon after the publication of the encyclic "Deus caritas est". Not only Catholics but also Protestant and Orthodox Christians, and not least many who are often somewhat rashly called detached onlookers, but who should rather be called pilgrims or searchers, felt addressed and again pricked up their ears. The same applies to the lecture which Pope Benedict XVI delivered at the ecumenical service in Regensburg on 12 September 2006. This lecture was occasionally criticized, because it had allegedly brought neither ecumenical progress nor any new ideas.

 


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But it pointed to the deeper problems of understanding that many people today have with the doctrine of justification. "In the last analysis", so the Pope said, "a weakening of our relation to God is the reason for this fading of the topic of 'justification' and 'forgiveness of sins'. Thus it will probably be our first task to discover the living God again in our life and in our time and society."

The task of a Fundamental Ecumenism imposes on us a common ecumenical duty. By dedicating ourselves to this task we will also again win some distance to an academic Ecumenism. That will certainly also in future be necessary and indispensable, but if it becomes one-sidedly predominant - it will rather alienate the "normal" faithful from the ecumenical cause than make it accessible to them.

These considerations lead us back to the last plenary assembly in the year 2003, the topic of which was Spiritual ecumenism {14}. For in the end Fundamental ecumenism is a spiritual task. It thereby again moves into the centrr that ecumenism is thoroughly and in its core spiritual ecumenism, i.e. an ecumenism which after all the sinful splits, the sins against love and truth, the prejudices and malice against each other, gives room to Christ's Spirit, which is a spirit of reconciliation and love (UR 8; UUS 21-27). Characteristically Jesus' word, "That all may be one" (Joh 17, 21) is not an instruction and least of all an order. It is a prayer, and ecumenism means nothing else but to join the Lord's Prayer and to adopt it. So the great master of spiritual ecumenism Jean Paul Couturier (1881-1953) has taught.

 

Things that Matter in the Near Future

That's why I am pleased that at this plenary assembly I can at last present the "Vademecum" for spiritual ecumenism suggested by the last plenary assembly {15}. I am convinced: Just in this time of a rapid change in all areas, also in the ecumenical scene, the ecumenism of the future will be a religious ecumenism, or it will cease to be. In this sense we should during this plenary assembly answer the following questions resulting for the discussion from this introduction.

1. In the present situation the dialogue of love must anew prepare the way for the dialogue of truth. For the dialogue of truth presupposes an atmosphere of confidence. Which new confidence-building measures and which concrete signs and gestures are necessary, which desirable?

 


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2. ecumenism is ecumenism in truth. In this connection we must go back to the sources, particularly to the Holy Scripture and to liturgy. We must anew impart what is our common basis, and from that common ground make the differences anew understandable. How can such ecumenical education happen in parishes, in the presbytery, at universities etc.?

3. Spiritual ecumenism is the heart of ecumenism. In what way can its case be promoted, and how can we realize the suggestions of the Vademecum concretely, in the life of the individual (laymen, religious, priests), in parishes and communities, in the ecumenical networks?

4. The ecumenical situation is characterized by new fragmentations and at the same time by new groupings and networks overlapping denominations. How are we to behave and how can we behave in the question of new partnerships? How can we above all meet the phenomenon of Pentecostalism and of the many new sects?

5. Practical co-operation is already today possible in many fields and as common testimony also necessary: in the social and charitable area, in ethical questions, within the range of culture, in the engagement for peace, and particularly in the ecumenism of everyday life. How can we encourage and promote this co-operation? In what respect are so-called strategic partnerships helpful?

These are questions that will preoccupy us during this plenary assembly. They will be of crucial importance for the ecumenical work of the next years and for the future of the ecumenism. At the same time we are aware of the fact that we cannot "make" or organize the unity of the church. It is a gift of God's Spirit. He is the real actor of the ecumenical movement. He gave the impulse for it (UR 1; 4). So we may confidently trust that he will also continue his work and will finish it. When, where and how this happens is his business and not ours. But here and today we must do our part. In this sense the Pontifical Council For Promoting Christian Unity hopes that this plenary assembly helps to make the present ecumenical change fruitful and beneficent for the Church's life and unity.

 

NOTES

{1} Jean Paul II, Cardinal Walter Kasper u.a., Rechercher l´Unité des Chrétiens. Actes de la Conférence Internationale organisée à l´occasion du 40e anniversaire de la promulgation du Décret Unitatis redintegratio du Concile Vatican II, 11-13 novembre 2004 (Montrouge 2006).

{2} In the meantime many meetings with individual orthodox churches took place, the Pope's visit in Egypt (Copts), Damascus, Greece, Bulgaria, Armenia, also the visits of the Ecumeninical Patriarch, the Patriarch of Antiochia and the Russian-orthodox Patriarch in Rome. Also the theological dialogue continued on the local level, particularly in the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation (since 1965), which in 2003 could publish the document "The Filioque: A Church Dividing Issue?" At present this group works on the topic "Primacies and Conciliarity".

 


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{3} The Pontifical Council For Promoting Christian Unity from 21 to 24 May 2003 organized a symposium on this topic: IL ministero Petrino. Cattolici e ortodossi in dialogo, edited by W. Kasper (Rome 2004).

{4} In this descriptive text also the term "church" is used in a descriptive sense, and the theological distinction between church in the actual sense and church community is passed over.

{5} With the Anglican community: "St Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ" (2005) as well as the not yet published summary of the results of the first and second phase of ARCIC by JARCCUM (Joint Anglican Roman Catholic Commission on Unity and Mission): "Growing Together in Unity and Mission" (2006). With the Lutheran World League: the likewise not yet published document on the "The Apostolic Nature of the Church", (2006). From the Catholic-Reformed dialogue: "The Church as Community of Common Witness to the Kingdom of God" (2006). To be mentioned is also the effort of a Presbyterian church to correct the anti-Catholic statements in its Confession of Faith of the sixteenth century. With the Methodist World Council: "The Grace Given You in Christ. Catholics and Methodists Reflect Further on the Church" (2006). The new dialogue commission with the Baptists is concerned with the topic "Christ in Scripture and Tradition"; the dialogue commission with the Mennonites with the topic "Common Call to be Peacemakers".

{6} See the report on the common working group of the Roman-catholic church and the Ecumenical Council of Churches, eighth report 1999-2005 (Geneva/Rome 2005).

{7} Church community according to Protestant understanding. A vote of the Council of the Protestant Church in Germany (EKD text 69) 2001; ecumenism according to Protestant-Lutheran understanding. A vote to a neat living and working together of churches of different denomination (VELKD text 123) 2004; General Priesthood, ordination and authorization according to the Protestant understanding (EKD VELKd text 130) 2004, in revised final version: "Appointed in Accordance With the Regulations" (VELKD informations No. 118 from 26 September 2006).

{8} See the document of the general assembly: "Called to be the One Church. An invitation to the churches to renew their commitment to the search for unity and to deepen their dialogue."

{9} "Together on the Way", Official report of the eighth Assembly of the World Council of Churches (Harare), World Council of Churches Publications, edited by D. Kessler (Geneva 1999).

{10} The plenary assembly was occupied itself in detail with this problem in 2001: see Service d´information, No. 109 (2002/I-III), 12-90.

{11} See the greeting words of several cardinals to the VIII. Europäischen Bekenntniskongreß in Bad Blankenburg, October 2006.

{12} See the declaration "That They May Have Life. A statement of Evangelicals and Catholics together", in: First Things, October 2006, No. 166, 18-27.

{13} At present a new document is in preparation under the working title: "On Becoming a Christian. Insights from the Scripture and the Patristic Era". It is interesting that this document rediscovers the patristic tradition.

{14} Service d´information, No. 115 (2004/I-II), 24-81.

{15} The publication in German (language) under the title "Wegweiser. Ökumene u. Spiritualität" is intended for spring 2007 with the Publishing House Herder.

 

Link to 'Public Con-Spiracy for-with-of the Poor'