Fr. K.J. Thomas
St. Peter’s Pontifical Institute Publications
I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all those who have inspired, moved and aided me in the preparation and realization of this book. First of all I thank Rev. Prof. Dr. B. Joseph Francis, my professor and rector, for all his encouragement to go ahead with this guidebook. He has carefully read and corrected the text.
I extend my appreciation and sincere thanks to Rev. Dr. Victor George D’Souza for his help in reviewing the text and for all his valuable suggestions. My thanks are due to Rev. Dr. A. M. Joseph Ethakuzhy, President of St. Peter’s Pontifical Institute for accepting to have this book under the Institute Publication and for all the encouragements given to me. My gratitude and appreciation goes to Rev. Dr. Sebastian Periannan, Rector of St. Peter’s Pontifical Seminary for his love and appreciation.
I sincerely extend my gratefulness to all other professors of St. Peter’s Pontifical Institute for their academic guidance and friendship. A special word of thanks goes to my brother K. J. Mathew for his prayerful support.
This book is gratefully dedicated to the memory of my uncle, late Rev. Fr. P. M. Kuriakose Pazhempally (1907-1987), of the Archdiocese of Pondicherry and Cuddalore.
Table of Contents
The Theology of Ecumenism
1.1. Trinitarian Origin of Christian Unity
A) Trinity: The Source of Unity
B) Jesus Christ and the Mystery of the Trinity
C) Model for the Unity of the Church
1.2. Christian Unity: A Gift of God
A) Gift of Unity
B) Jesus: The Gift of Unity
C) Human Response to the Gift of Unity
1.3. Sinful Reality of Division
A) Sin and Division
B) Impact of Sin on the Church
1.3. Ecumenism: A Christian Imperative
A) Ecumenism: A Divine Call
i) An Obligation for Every Christian
ii) The Necessity of Ecumenical Action
B) Ecumenical Aspect of Christian Mission
i) The Mission of Jesus
ii) Imperative of Christian Mission
C) Unity of the Church for the Unity of Humankind
i) Ecumenism for the Unity of Humankind
ii) The Church: A Sacrament of Salvation
iii) The Ultimate Goal of Ecumenism
D) Ecumenical Imperative of Common Witness
i) Jesus: The Faithful Witness
ii) All Christians are Witnesses
iii) Common Witness: The Need of Humanity
History of Modern Ecumenical Movement
2.1. Controversies in the Early Church
2.2. Reasons for Modern Ecumenical Movement
A) Theological Reasons
B) Non-Theological Reasons
2.3. Brief History
3.1. Renewal and Conversion
3.4. Common Witness
Catholic Documents on Ecumenism
4.1. An Instruction of the Holy Office on the
“Ecumenical Movement”, 1949
4.2. The Decree on Ecumenism, 1964
A) Chapter One: “Catholic Principles on Ecumenism”
B) Chapter Two, “The Practice of Ecumenism”
C) Chapter Three: “Churches and Ecclesial Communities Separated
From the Apostolic See”
D) The Importance of the Decree on Ecumenism
E) The Theological Principles of the Decree on Ecumenism
i) Theological imperative in favour of Christian Community
ii) The Nature of the Sacrament of Baptism
iii) The Nature of the Church
iv) The Hierarchy of Truths
v) Spiritual Ecumenism
vi) The Pre-Eminence of Charity
4.3. Directory Concerning Ecumenical Matters: Part One, 1967
4.4. Directory Concerning Ecumenical Matters: Part Two-Ecumenism
in Higher Education, 1970.
4.5. Reflections and Suggestions Concerning Ecumenical Matters, 1970.
4.6. Ecumenical Collaboration at the Regional, National
and Local Levels, 1975.
4.7. Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on
The Highlights of the Directory.
4.8. Apostolic Letter, Orientale Lumen, 1995.
4.9. Encyclical, Ut Unum Sint, 1995.
4.10.The Ecumenical Dimension in the Formation of those Engaged in
Pastoral Work, 1998.
Ecumenism in India
5.1. The Ecumenical Challenges
A) Communion of three Churches and the Challenge to
Ecumenism in India
B) The Church Union Movements in India and Their
5.2. Non-Catholic Churches and Ecclesial Communities
A) Orthodox Churches in India
i) The Syrian Orthodox Church
ii) Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church
iii) The Assyrian Church of the East
B) Other Churches and Ecclesial Communities
i) Mar Thoma Church
ii) Malabar Independent Syrian Church of Thoziyoor
iii) The Church of South India
iv) The Church of North India
v) The Anglican Church of India
vi) Evangelical Church
vii) Lutheran Church
viii) Methodist Church
ix) Baptist Church
x) The Indian Pentecostal Church of God (IPC)
xi) Seventh-Day Adventists
xii) Mennonite Church
xiii) The Brethren Assembly
xiv) St. Thomas Evangelical Church
5.3. Ecumenism and Interfaith Dialogue in India
A) A False Notion
B) Interfaith Dialogue
C) Interfaith Dialogue in an Ecumenical Context
Ecumenism is essentially a spiritual movement of divine origin, inspired by the Holy Spirit and willed by Jesus Christ. This movement is founded on the conviction that unity is a part of God’s plan and accords with the will of Christ for the Church. The purpose of ecumenical movement is to search for the fullness of the Mystery of Christ in an ever deepening communion with all Christian communities and to remove the obstacles that hinder perfect unity among all Christians. It is a challenge that the Catholic Church cannot evade. On the contrary, she is called upon to promote Christian unity, especially through her whole religious and pastoral life. Division among Christians is against the will of Christ. Many people belonging to different Churches and ecclesial communities, look forward towards the fulfillment of the words of Jesus “that they all be one” (Jn.17:21). We know that followers of Christ do not live in that unity for which he prayed. Does it mean that his prayer is powerless? No, it is a call to the Churches to rediscover their visible unity. This concern for Christian unity is well expressed by the Second Vatican Council in its Decree on Ecumenism. “The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council. Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only” (UR, 1)
In the post-conciliar age the ecumenical spirit must not be allowed to diminish. It must actualize itself concretely in a genuine and convincing practice of ecumenism. The Catholic Church has accepted the ecumenical movement in all serious¬ness, and committed herself to work towards the ecumenical goal of Christian unity. In 1967 Pope Paul VI affirmed this commitment: “The ecumenical question has been raised by Rome in all its gravity, its breadth, and its innumerable doctrinal and practical implications. It has not been considered with an occasional and passing glance, but has become the object of permanent interest, of systematic study and of unceasing charity”.
Today the Churches realize that the Holy Spirit, the principle of Church unity, is active everywhere. Therefore to act against this movement for the unity of all Christians is to act against the work of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, “every obstacle to it, for any reason whatsoever, is a crime”.
The Catholic Church believes and teaches that, “the other Churches are truly instruments of the salvific work of the Holy Spirit”. This was taught with clarity by the Second Vatican Council:
Nor should we forget that anything wrought by the grace of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of our separated brethren can contribute to our own edification. Whatever is truly Christian is never contrary to what genuinely belongs to the faith; indeed, it can always bring a more perfect realization of the very mystery of Christ and the Church (UR, 4).
Pope John Paul II rightly reminded us: “Unity is above all a gift of God, which we must implore with intense and humble prayer”. So every Christian has the duty to promote this movement through prayer, study, co-operation with others, common witness of one’s faith and so on. Against the clearly manifested will of Christ one cannot remain indifferent or inactive.
To receive the grace of unity and to remain stanch supporters of its cause, all Christians need to be renewed and reformed in conformity with the Gospel. There also is a need for attitudinal change with regard to other Christians. An authentic ecumenism, in fact, is not possible without a profound interior conversion of the Churches and of individual Christians. A change of heart to a new respect and understand¬ing of other Christians is effectively achieved by a well planned ecumenical formation both in terms of intellectual information and direct personal involve¬ment. Such a formation is needed at every level of the Church. This need has been expressed by the Delegates of National Ecumenical Commissions in the following words, “But there still remains an urgent need for ecumenical formation at every level. Not only seminarists, but also priests already in the ministry, reli¬gious, pastoral assistants and faithful at large, all need to receive such formation if they are to play a truly Catholic part in work of unity”.
The Fifth Report of the Joint Working Group between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches expressed the necessity of ecumenical formation: “The ecumenical dimension is an indispensable part of all process of Christian formation and nurture, be it the formation of laity, youth work, programmes of catechesis and religious education, or theological training”. Indeed, any plan of ecumeni¬cal formation must give due attention to the formation of clergy. The Second Vatican Council demands a particular effort in teaching theology and forming the attitude of future priests. This is because it is the priests who are in charge of “building up the communion of the faithful”. They should have an ecumenical concern which is an essential element of their ministry.
This volume is a humble attempt to present to the students of theology, the meaning and the theological understanding of Ecumenism. It gives a succinct explanation of the scriptural basis of Christian unity. For this purpose we analyze the document of the Second Vatican Council concerning Christian unity, the Decree on Ecumenism; the various post-conciliar documents particularly of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, now Pontifical Council for Christian Unity; the encyclical Ut Unum Sint (1995) and the addresses of Pope John Paul II on various occasions. This book gives an over view of the ecumenical movement for Christians in general and for those who prepare for pastoral ministry in particular. Since the Second Vatican Council, the quality of relations between the Catholics and other Christians, the magisterial teachings of the Catholic Church and the bilateral dialogues with various Christian communities have given us a lot of valuable materials for deepening our faith and the commitment to unity.
The book of five chapters provides an introduction into ecumenical life from a Catholic perspective. Taking into account the need for a better understanding of the theology of ecumenism in India today, we make an earnest attempt to study briefly the various aspects of the theology of ecumenism in chapter one. This chapter places its emphasis on the Trinitarian origin of Chris¬tian unity and consequently views ecumenism as a divine gift. God’s gift of unity and peace gives to the Church a very special obligation to promote unity and understanding among all, to work and pray for unity in our divided world. The necessity of getting actively involved in the ecumenical activities is underscored. Such an involvement is an imperative for Christian unity. The intrinsic relation between ecumenism and Christian mission is brought out. The Church is by its very nature missionary and the division among the Christians is obviously an obstacle for her mission. Further this chapter explains the ecumenical imperative of common witness stating that disunity diminishes the witness-value of the church. The many denominations claiming to repre¬sent Jesus and the Gospel, themselves showing antago¬nism and hostility to one another, cannot be a true witness of Christ. The unity of all believers in Christ is meant to be a witness to the divine mission of Jesus. This witness is sorely needed in the world today. The unbelieving world must be inspired by the life of Christians united in Christ. To attain this high goal we have to take up the challenge of ecumenism.
In the second chapter we look very briefly at the history of modern ecumenical movement. In fact the history of ecumenism to a great extent is as old as the Church itself. As the Church encountered different socio-political, cultural and ethnic situations, different ways of accepting the same Christian faith introduced tensions and divisions into the Church. Indeed, the unity and diversity is so essential to the Church, we cannot over emphasis one and neglect the other. This chapter describes the history of divisions in the Church; the reasons for the modern impetus to Church unity and its various stages of development. And it concludes with the Catholic contribution towards ecumenical movement. The next chapter focuses on spiritual ecumenism. It emphasizes that ecumenism is a reform and renewal movement within the Churches. The modern ecumenical movement is a divine call that entails conversion to Christ’s will for unity. It is a call for holiness, a summons to love all Christians and to work together for the mission of Christ. The fourth chapter introduces the important documents of the Catholic Church on ecumenism. They are in fact resources materials to deepen the Christian faith and the commitment to unity. The chapter is best read in connection with the documents themselves.
The final chapter considers the particular situation of India. It pinpoints the ecumenical challenges that exist in the Churches of India. The Christians belonging to more than three hundred various communities form just 2.34 percent. The vision and model of unity in India no longer call for uniformity and conformity. The existence of various Churches and ecclesial communities manifests unity and diversity. The Catholic Church in India itself is a communion of three Churches. Awareness of this fact should help the Catholic community in India open to other Christians and cooperate with them. To know the history, theology and ecclesiastical organization of these non-Catholic Churches and communities in India is a not an impossible task, but we should have the will to do. Mutual respect and collaboration among the Christians in India based on the existing bond of unity and faith in Jesus Christ will indeed, a great act of witnessing to the vast majority non-Christians.
The conclusion makes an attempt to highlight the need for various programmes of ecumenical formation. A new vision must be sought, a new attitude must be fostered and a new conversion of heart must be secured. This is possible only through ecumenical education. And the pastors in the Church are in fact the real agents of this education. Therefore we conclude this study addressing the necessity of ecumenical education and formation of the priests in particular. Local parish communities are the places where ecumeni¬cal longings and needs become more articulate; they are also the places where more than anywhere else, divisions are experienced and suffered. Therefore, the role of priests as the ministers of unity and promoters of ecumenism at the local level cannot be minimized.
In spite of the scandalous divisions and the manifold obstacles that exist on the road to unity, we must believe in the power and grace of God. We must not lose hope. “Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts, through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Rom 5:5). The Church is the treasurer of this hope and she should make others to hope in Jesus, the principle of unity.
THE THEOLOGY OF ECUMENISM
Ecumenism is a movement for the unity of all Christians. The contemporary Church is profoundly conscious of it. Pope John Paul II said: “Christian unity is our heart’s desire”. M.J. Le Guillou describes ecumenism “as the search for the plenitude of the Mystery of Christ in an ever deepening communion with all Christian communities”. This implies that we acknowledge the divine presence of Jesus Christ, who continually draws and unites the whole world in himself. In this quest for the plenitude of the mystery of Christ, we need to be one with our fellow Christians, as by their faith and baptism in Christ they too share in the mystery of Christ. This urge for unity is of divine origin. St. Paul calls on the Corinthians: “By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, I appeal to all of you, my brothers, to agree in what you say, so that there will be no divisions among you. Be completely united with only one thought and one purpose” (1 Cor 1:10).
1.1.Trinitarian Origin of Christian Unity
A) Trinity: The Source of Unity
Christian Unity takes its origin from the Trinity. The Unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit draws every one into a real communion. “Hence the Universal Church is seen to be ‘a people brought into unity from the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’” (LG, 4).
The Second Vatican Council in its Decree on Ecumenism speaks of the Trinitarian perspective of Christian Unity:
This is the sacred mystery of the unity of the Church, in Christ and through Christ, the Holy Spirit energizing its various functions. It is a mystery that finds its highest exemplar and source in the unity of the Persons of the Trinity: the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit, one God (UR, 2).
This affirmation contains and communicates a profound truth that the entire human family is from God. The World Council of Churches upholds the Trinitarian origin of Christian unity. The New Delhi Assembly in 1961 added a Trinitarian formula to its basis. “The WCC is a fellowship of churches which confesses the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the Scriptures and therefore seeks to fulfill together their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit”. In the report of the same assembly WCC stated that, “The love of the Father and the Son in unity of the Holy Spirit is the source and goal of the unity which the Triune God wills for all men and creation”.
Today we cannot fail to take note of an increasing interest in a deeper ecumenical understanding of the Holy Trinity as the basis and model of Church unity in many bilateral dialogues. The Roman Catholic-Orthodox international dialogue had as its first theme: The Mystery of the Church and the Eucharist in the light of the Mystery of the Holy Trinity. So also the Orthodox-Reformed and Anglican-Orthodox dialogues explicitly agree that a common faith in the holy Trinity is a necessary condition for Church unity. Indeed, the Trinitarian and Christological affirmations stand at the center of modern ecumenical movement.
B) Jesus Christ and the Mystery of the Trinity
God reveals to us this great mystery of the Trinity in the person of Jesus. Through his life and teachings, Jesus showed us the way to the Father. His life on earth was always directed to the Father and thus it was a total self-giving to the Father. Jesus established the Church so that his saving work should continue till the end of time. “The life of Trinity and the life of the Church are related in an intimate and telling way. The latter’s existence and definition rests in a Trinitarian context and cannot be understood otherwise”.
The fundamental task of the Church is to call everyone to enter into communion with God. Faith and Order Commission explains: “The faithful as the body of Christ participate in the Trinitarian life of communion and love. This makes the church a koinonia (communion) rooted in, and sustained by the communion of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is thus a mystery and a sign pointing to and serving the triune God’s work towards the salvation of all humankind”. Pope Paul VI had already echoed this in his address to the Delegates of the Commissions for Ecumenism:
Is it not the primary mission of the Church to call men to enter into communion with God, through Christ, in the Holy Spirit, and then to help them to live in this communion which saves them and establishes among them a unity as deep and mysterious as the unity of the Father and the Son (cf. Jn 17:21-23)?
Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit as the giver of life. He promised to send the Spirit of love which is at the same time the Spirit of Unity, the Paraclete who leads us now on the path to unity. “All graces come from the Holy Spirit who maintains the unity of the entire Church”. This same faith in the power of the Holy Spirit impelled the Seventh Assembly of the WCC to adopt as its theme, “Come Holy Spirit, renew the whole creation”. Restoration of the unity of humankind is being actualized in the redemptive act of the incarnation and the cross of Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to fulfill the Father’s will. The Holy Spirit who comes from the Father (Jn 15:26), is at the same time the Spirit of Jesus Christ: the Spirit of the Son. According to the Second Vatican Council, the Holy Spirit was sent on the day of Pentecost to continually sanctify the Church.
The entire life and activity of the Church today, needs to be viewed as a continuous Pentecost as it is the power of the Spirit that sustains the faithful in the life of God. “Therefore the first and most necessary gift is charity, by which we love God above all things and our neighbour because of him” (LG, 42). All Christians are led by the Spirit into a new relationship with God; this empowers them to participate in the life of God (Acts 2:1ff). Every Christian is called to grow in love and in union with all men and women reflecting the union of the blessed Trinity in the power of the Spirit. At the same time all of them are called to be sanctified and directed towards God. Lumen Gentium teaches that the Church of Christ is a people made one with the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Unity among the Christians is the reflection of the unity of the three divine persons. “If there is truly one God, although a Trinity, it is only proper that there is one temple in which He will live and be worshipped on earth by those who accept and firmly believe in Him”. Christian unity is based on the unity that exists in the Trinity. This is definitely expressed in the prayer of Jesus: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (Jn 17:21). Thus the unity of Christians must be patterned on the oneness of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
C) Model for the Unity of the Church
The unity of the triune God is the perfect model of the unity of both the Church and humankind. More than a model, the mystery of the Holy Trinity is the basis for a profound and renewal of Christian spirituality as well. Constant meditation on the mystery of the Unity of God and the relations that constitute the divine persons in Trinity transforms the individual and corporate life of every Christian.
The ecumenical movement is based on the unity of God and the unity in God. As Pope Paul VI said that “the Father sent the Son and the Son sent the Holy Spirit. This is how God came to us. The Holy Spirit leads us to the Son and the Son to the Father”. Unity is not an unrealizable dream; in fact it exists invisibly in the Holy Trinity and in the Church. For this reason, when we speak of Christian unity we are reminding ourselves of the unity of the triune God to whom we are oriented. The truth of Trinitarian origin of Christian unity and the awareness that God is a community of three persons make us fathom that all our efforts for the restoration of Christian unity both individual and corporate, are in the final analysis, is the gift of the Triune God.
1.2. Christian Unity: A Gift of God
A) Gift of Unity
A gift is something that a person gives to another out of love and freedom. Gratitude to the giver, and the good use of the gift received, are expected on the part of the one who receives the gift. The Christian unity is a gift of God. The Decree on Ecumenism presents it as a gift:
But the Lord of Ages wisely and patiently follows out the plan of grace on our behalf, sinners that we are. In recent times more than ever before, He has been rousing divided Christians to remorse over their divisions and to a longing for unity. Everywhere large numbers have felt the impulse of this grace and among our separated brethren also there increases from day to day the movement, fostered by the grace of the Holy Spirit, for the restoration of unity among all Christians (UR, 1).
Pope Paul VI made this idea all the more explicit when he said: “This unity appears as a gratuitous gift from God and we must continually grow in this unity, at the same time as we must continually grow in this divine life”.
The gift of unity is appreciated and treasured when we experience the harmful effects of division and mistrust in the Church and in the world. It was the sin of humanity that made man to break away from the unity of God. God offers the gift of unity to humanity that is disunited and discouraged. It is a gratuitous gift; we have no claim on it, for we have sinned.
B) Jesus: The Gift of Unity
The gift of unity from God can be concretely experienced in the person of Jesus Christ. He is the gift from the Father. Only in the person of Jesus can we experience the mystery of God’s love. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” (Jn 3:16). It is in Jesus that the unity is restored. In him we have the reunion between God and humanity. The New Testament testifies as:
a) Unity is in Jesus Christ
1. Jn 1:1-3, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being”.
2. Eph. 1:4-6, “Just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved”.
b) Unity is in Jesus’ cross
1. Jn 12:32, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
2. Jn 11:51-52, “….he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God”.
c) Unity is in Jesus – The Church
1. Eph 4:4-5, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all”
2. Gal 3:27-28, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”.
d) Unity is faith in the prayer of Jesus
1. Jn 17:20-21, “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 17:21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me”.
2. Jn 14:1, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me”.
The Second Vatican Council teaches: “He (Jesus) who is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15), is himself the perfect man who has restored in the children of Adam that likeness of God which had been disfigured ever since the first sin” (GS, 22).
C) Human Response to the Gift of Unity
This gift of unity from God calls forth a deeper faith and willingness to accept such a gift. One needs to have the courage to come out of the self-protective selfishness and accept the challenge of giving oneself in love. God’s gift of unity and peace gives to the Church a very special obligation to promote unity and understanding among all, to work and pray for unity in our divided world. Man still experiences brokenness and needs to be reconciled to God. The reconciliation of the Churches is also incomplete. Being recipients of this gift of unity as members of the Body of Christ, the Christians are expected to:
Seek always for unity in their day-to-day activities, unity with God through prayer and conversion, unity between spouses and among children through mutual reconciliation, unity with friends and neighbours, in work places, and in all human associations through faithful response to the prevenient grace of the Holy Spirit.
Christian Unity can never be achieved through human efforts alone. The Unity which we seek is not to be the product of human achievement, but a gift from God to his people. Hence one is called to believe in the power of God and in the promises of Jesus. It is the Spirit of God who in the fullness of time unites the entire humanity to the Son of God (Gal 4:4). Unity among the Christians will be God’s gift, in his own moment of grace. We cannot over emphasize the timing of unity. “Unity may happen even tomorrow or maybe later”. All the Christians have to continue the quest for oneness, believing in God’s power and mercy. A sure way to visible unity is to be ever faithful our call as Christ’s disciples, growing in love, trust and mutual forgiveness.
1.3. Sinful Reality of Division
A) Sin and Division
Today division reigns in the world. Separation exists among the people on the basis of nationality, language, colour, race, political affiliation and so on. Distrust and disrespect on the basis of religious belief and practice is a reality today. Hating one another is the result of our collective sin (Is 59:2). The power of evil has caused humankind to break away from the oneness with God, and the oneness of humankind itself. Sin shatters the community as well as the individual.
Dark shadows are thickening about mankind’s destiny: blind violence, the threat to human life even in mother’s womb, merciless terrorism that multiplies hatred and distinction in its utopian plan for rebirth that will arise from the ashes of global destruction, …all this shows how the esteem for the moral values has been so frighteningly lowered through the efforts of a hidden and organized action of vice and hatred.
In the contemporary world humankind suffers much from these divisions. The image in which man and the whole human community was created is disrupted, the unity us broken, the wholeness is fragmented. As a consequence, the world feels the absence of God. Loneliness, violence and various forms threats reign in our cities. The young people by and large are restless, confused and frustrated. The Second Vatican Council very aptly describes this situation as follows:
Therefore man is split within himself. As a result, all of human life, whether individual or collective, shows itself to be a dramatic struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness. Indeed, man finds that by himself he is incapable of battling the assaults of evil successfully, so that everyone feels as though he is bound by chains (GS, 13).
B) Impact of Sin on the Church
The sinful reality of division is not only confined to the secular realm of the life of the people. It had penetrated deep into the Church as well, so much so that the authors of O Jerusalem depict the animosity of priests belonging to different Christian denominations as:
Those spanned the most sacred shrine in christendom, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built over the hilltop on which Jesus presumed to have been crucified. There in a profusion of stairways, pillars, altars and sanctuaries, priests of all sects of christianity met, Greek, Russian, Coptic, Latin, Armenian, Chaldean, Syraic, kneeling in mutual aversion, chanting their similar litanies to the resurrected Saviour each claimed as his own.
The history of the Church shows how the sin of division can distort the image of the Church. Internal discord and schisms had divided the one Church. “This disintegration of Christian unity, tragic in itself, invariably became the source of rancor, discord, and sectarian hatred – all in the name of God and to the scandal and disgust of men who wanted no part of this wrangling fellowship”. But these divisions are undoubtedly against the expressed wish of Jesus. St. Paul exhorted the neo-Christians at Ephesus to preserve unity:
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all (Eph 4:1-6).
Today we are the new Ephesian community who need to listen to the appeal of Paul. The world sans peace and harmony makes us aspire to a new ecumenical era where love and understanding can bring the necessary unity of all mankind.
1.3. Ecumenism: A Christian Imperative
In his high priestly prayer, Jesus expressed his desire for unity (Jn 17:21). The desire of unity is thus bound up with our faith in Christ. It is our free and voluntary response to the divine call. True there is pressure on Catholics to take part in the ecumenical movement but it is a pressure from God speaking in us in conscience. The Canberra Assembly of the WCC had described thus: “The Holy Spirit as promoter of koinonia (II Cor 13:13) gives to those who are still divided, the thirst and hunger for full communion. We remain restless until we grow together according to the wish and prayer of Christ that those who believe in him may be one”.
A) Ecumenism: A Divine Call
Christian unity is a call from God indeed, a call that reaches us through the teaching authority of the Church as well as through the events and circumstances of our daily life. Pope John Paul II says:
Jesus himself, at the hour of his Passion, prayed “that they may all be one” (Jn 17:21). This unity, which the Lord has bestowed on his Church and in which he wishes to embrace all people, is not something added on, but stands at the very heart of Christ’s mission. Nor is it some secondary attribute of the community of his disciples. Rather, it belongs to the very essence of this community. God wills the Church, because he wills unity, and unity is an expression of the whole depth of his agape (UUS, 9).
i) An Obligation for Every Christian
Commitment to ecumenism and active participation in this movement is a duty of every Christian. God wills the unity of all the baptized. It is God who establishes the unity and gives us the grace to reconcile with God and with one another. But the entire baptized are called to be the instruments of this divine work of bringing out the communion of all are incorporated into Christ. “Those who are baptized in the name of Christ are, by that very fact, called to commit themselves to the search for unity. Baptismal communion tends towards full ecclesial communion. To live our Baptism is to be caught up in Christ’s mission of making all things one”. As Christians nothing can give us an authentic existence except to respond to God’s will. Jesus’ mission was to do the will of the Father. “My food, Jesus said to them, is to obey the will of the one who sent me and to finish the work he gave me to do” (Jn 4:34). To believe in Jesus, implies that we are called to be like him, ready to do the will of God. Our vocation to be a Christian is rooted in Jesus who is the teacher of unity and reconciliation. “If through listening to the ‘word of life’, we accept Jesus as our teacher, a Church of brothers and sisters will appear”.
Every Christian has the task to prepare the way for the unity of the whole human race. The reconciliation of Jesus must be proclaimed in the actual life situations of the people in which they suffer division the most. The initiative for such a desire and commitment for unity is again seen in the priestly prayer of Jesus. He prayed that the world might believe that it was the Father who sent the Jesus into the world (cf. Jn 17:21). So the unity of Christians always has been a condition for the acceptance of the teachings of Christ.
ii) The Necessity of Ecumenical Action
Ecumenical movement will never bear fruit unless it is practiced in the concrete life situation of every Christian. “Theology must be in action. Theology is the love of God and man in action, otherwise it remains only a discourse not modeled after the word-made man that man may, once again, become the fullness of God’s image and likeness”. Every Christian, therefore, is called to ecumenical action as all have a role to play in the promotion of restoring unity among the Christians. “The concern for restoring unity involves the whole Church, faithful and clergy alike” (UR, 5).
The Second Vatican Council makes it clear that ecumenical activity is not reserved to the experts or theologians; rather every one in the Church is called to take an active part in it. If ecumenical activity is the work of ecumenists or the theologians, then it cannot be called a movement. Today the Church realizes this and invites all to take active part in ecumenical movement. The laity like the clergy and the religious has an essential part to play in the mission of the Church. Pope Pius XII expounded that laymen and laywomen do not simply belong to the Church, but in fact they are the Church. It is baptism that brings a new life in Christ. The communion in Christ confers on us a share in the task of Christ to build oneness and reconciliation.
Involvement in the ecumenical movement is an imperative for the achievement of Christian unity, everyone in the Church is duty bound to get involved in the common efforts to establish unity among Christians. “The way to unity is a process of collective discernment where all involved have to grow under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the search of truth”. This needs an ecumenical formation of all in the Church; especially those who exercise various ministries in the Church. There is the need to seriously study, prepare, and then implement programmes of ecumenical education as a priority of Church’s agenda. Our ecumenical involvement is an encounter with the Spirit of God who inspires us, changes our human perspective.
All of us who believe in Jesus and eager to profess our faith in him need to be constantly united in him. United with Christ means always one with fellow Christians. In Redemptor hominis, Pope John Paul II writes: “All of us who are Christ’s followers must therefore meet and unite around Him. This unity in the various fields of the life, tradition, structures and discipline of the individual Christian Churches and ecclesial communities cannot be brought about without effective work aimed at getting to know each other and removing the obstacles blocking the way to perfect unity” (RH, 11). Christians cannot be indifferent to the prayer of Jesus for unity. A baptized person is called to pray and work for the perfect unity among all the Christians.
The existence of various Christian churches and communities are the products of history. No one of the present generation is directly responsible for this disunity and nobody blames them for this unfortunate divisions. The Second Vatican Council rightly explains: “The children who are born into these Communities and who grow up believing in Christ cannot be accused of the sin involved in the separation, and the Catholic Church embraces upon them as brothers, with respect and affection” (UR, 3). Thus we can affirm that the ecumenical imperative is an essential obligation for every Christian. In the daily life, every Christian has to remind himself or herself of this grave responsibility. For “love among Christians is the logical consequences of the unity they have in Christ. The New Testament writers testify with one voice that love of God and neighbour is not only a command: it is an irresistible implication of the new relationship into which they have been brought”.
B) Ecumenical Aspect of Christian Mission
Another significant aspect of ecumenism as a Christian imperative is that Christian unity is intrinsically related to Christian Mission. What is Christian Mission? Basically the mission is a movement anchored in the mystery of God creating and in the mystery of God redeeming. This is nothing but God reaching out to save.
i) The Mission of Jesus
Jesus came into human history precisely because of this movement of love. His life was a living proclamation of God’s love for us, a love that offers reconciliation, healing and unity. Jesus commissions every Christian saying” “Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples” (Mt 28:19). Through the ministry of his disciples, Jesus wants to continue his mission of leading people to the Father. Every Christian is called to carry the Gospel of Christ to the world. He or she is called not as an isolated individual but as a member of the community of Christians. The vocation of every baptized person is to participate in and continue the very same mission of Jesus. The Second Vatican Council teaches: “The pilgrim Church is missionary by her very nature, since it is from the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit that she draws her origin, in accordance with the decree of God the Father” (AG, 2). The Church believes that the mission of Christ the redeemer is not yet completed. In the Encyclical letter Redemptoris Missio we read:
The mission of Christ the Redeemer, which is entrusted to the Church, is still very far from completion. As the second millennium after Christ’s coming draws to an end, an overall view of the human race shows that this mission is still only beginning and that we must commit ourselves wholeheartedly to its service. It is the Spirit who impels us to proclaim the great works of God: “For if I preach the Gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16).
The inter-relationship of unity and mission is understood when we take into account the wishes of the Catholic Church to relate to other Churches and ecclesial communities with respect and affection. The other churches and ecclesial communities are also means of salvation. They too receive the power of grace from Christ. “Henceforth it would be possible to work with these churches and ecclesial communities as brothers and sisters in Christ to attain the unity of the Church. And as they were recognized as means of salvation, they could also become partners in mission…” Once we recognize them as means of salvation it is logical that they must become coworkers or partners in the common mission to preach and proclaim Christ. The Second Vatican Council highlighted the need of ecumenical co-operation in mission in the following words:
Catholics should cooperate in a brotherly spirit with their separated brethren, among to the norms of the Decree on Ecumenism, making before the nations a common profession of faith, insofar as their beliefs are common, in God and in Jesus Christ, and cooperating in social and in technical projects as well as in cultural and religious ones. Let them cooperate especially for the sake of Christ, their common Lord: let His Name be the bond that unites them! This cooperation should be undertaken not only among private persons, but also, subject to approval by the local Ordinary, among churches or ecclesial communities and their works (AG, 15).
The teaching of Vatican II on the ecclesiology of communion makes it possible for all Catholics to realize the necessity to cooperate with all Christians in fulfilling the mission of the Church. Cardinal Augustine Bea stated that the entire pursuit of unity, and everything related to it, actually found its raison d’etre in the mission of the Church. Pope John Paul II explained: “We know that the effectiveness of preaching the Gospel depends to a great extent on the harmony with which it is offered to the world. There is an intrinsic bond between ecumenism and mission”.
ii) Imperative of Christian Mission
This duty of making known the Good News of Jesus is a challenge to all Christians. It is in obedience to the Lord that one must accept this challenge. Christian mission has no independent existence away from the mission of Christ; in fact it draws its life from the mission of Christ. Jesus Christ’s mission was to bring unity and communion of human kind. He came to heal all brokenness, to bring peace and reconciliation. There is an immediate relationship between mission and unity. The Fifth Assembly of the WCC reiterated this intertwining of mission and unity: “The call to evangelism (mission), therefore implies a … a commitment for visible unity”. The inter-relationship between unity and mission, so strongly present in ecumenical discussions just before the Second Vatican Council, was re-emphasized in the Decree on Ecumenism: “For almost everyone regards the body in which he has heard the Gospel as his Church and indeed, God’s Church. All however, though in different ways, long for the one visible Church of God, a Church truly universal and set forth into the world that the world may be converted to the Gospel and so be saved, to the glory of God” (UR, 1). Our desire to spread the gospel summons us to unity. Our oneness strengthens our witness.
Christian mission is mandatory. The Church has to proclaim Christ to the world. “So the Church was ever to be a lumen gentium – a light to the nations, because it was God’s light that was entrusted to it”. Christ’s command impels us to be his witnesses. And ecumenical co-operation is of prime importance for the success of this mission. Emilio Castro explains the inseparable nature of mission and unity: “…the unity of the Church becomes fundamental because it is the only way to authenticate in the eyes of the world the reality and the power of the kingdom we announce”.
C) Unity of the Church for the Unity of Humankind
Strictly speaking ecumenism is a movement, and the activity of the Churches aiming at the restoration of Christian unity. A closer study of the various aspects of the ecumenical movement reveals a wider meaning and application of ecumenism. It refers to all the efforts of both the individual and of the Churches to promote understanding and co-operation among all the peoples. In this broad sense it encourages love and respect of every human being, a concern and an appreciation for their beliefs and faith; a desire to serve all humankind. The vision behind the ecumenical movement cannot be reduced to Church unity alone; rather it is to be seen as a world-view, or a spiritual orientation to all. “It has become increasingly evident that the unity Christ willed for his Church, he also willed for all humanity”.
In the world today divisions reign supreme. This is against the will of God who so loved the world and sent his only Son to re-establish unity. It is for the unity of the world that Jesus established his Church as a sacrament of unity and salvation.
i) Ecumenism for the Unity of Humankind
Unity of the Christians is essential for the unity of humankind. Unity is linked to true peace and eternal salvation of all. In the encyclical Redemptor Hominis we learn:
In Christ and through Christ God has revealed Himself fully to mankind and has definitively drawn close to it; at the same time, in Christ and through Christ man has acquired full awareness of his dignity, of the heights to which he is raised, of the surpassing worth of his own humanity, and of the meaning of his existence.
All of us who are Christ’s followers must therefore meet and unite around Him. This unity in the various fields of the life, tradition, structures and discipline of the individual Christian Churches and ecclesial communities cannot be brought about without effective work aimed at getting to know each other and removing the obstacles blocking the way to perfect unity. However, we can and must immediately reach and display to the world our unity in proclaiming the mystery of Christ … (RH, 11).
Christians affirm that humankind is one in its creation and in its vocation. They also profess that Christ came into the world as a gift from the Father whose purpose was to reconcile the entire humankind to Himself. The Cross of Christ symbolizes God’s power and will to re-establish the wonderful unity of the entire world and of the whole human family. On the cross of Jesus the entire humanity has re-found the “balance that they have lost through sin”. The Cross of Jesus has become a sign of human solidarity.
ii) The Church: A Sacrament of Salvation
Jesus Christ established the Church by sending the Holy Spirit from the Father, so that through the ministry and mission of the Church all human beings could be invited to share in the unifying life of the Trinity. And through such a participation in the Trinitarian life, all may form one family living together in a spirit of brotherhood. The vocation of the Church is well summed up in the following words by the WCC:
Called by God out of the world the Church is placed in the world’s service; it is destined to be God’s sign for the world by proclaiming the gospel and living a life of loving service to humanity… Thus the church is called constantly to look both to its Lord, to whom it owes all and to humanity to which it is fully committed.
Vatican II teaches that the Church is the sacrament of salvation for humankind. The Church has to be an effective sign of unity by “its costly involvement in the brokenness and sufferings of the world, all for the sake of, and by the power of, the self emptying Christ”. The value of Church being the sacrament of salvation will be diminished to a great extend, if the Church is divided in all possible ways. The unity of the Church is essential for the unity and well being of humankind. For “in the midst of, and in the service of humanity, Church is the place where the plan of salvation is seen”.
iii) The Ultimate Goal of Ecumenism
Jesus Christ is our hope against this background of a divided world. He had conquered the sin of disunity on the cross and continues to work to overcome hatred and division. The desire for the unity of the Christians, all the activities of the Churches for the same unity is itself a gift from God in Jesus. We do not create it. In fact we are created for it. Christian unity is not the work of human achievement. Commenting on this David Thompson wrote: “Seen in this light the unity of the Church cannot be something we create. Rather we realize the unity which is already given to us in Christ and make it visible to the world. In doing so we fulfill the Father’s will, since Christ is the bringer of unity”. The unity of humankind is the ultimate goal of God’s promise and purpose for the world. The Second Vatican Council enlightens us:
All men are called to be part of this catholic unity of the people of God which in promoting universal peace presages it. And there belong to or are related to it in various ways, the Catholic faithful, all who believe in Christ, and indeed the whole of mankind, for all men are called by the grace of God to salvation (LG, 13).
Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom of God has drawn near. Sin and its consequences will be overcome and in his kingdom human pride, rebellion and fear will have no place. Brokenness and division will be healed and all things will be gathered under the rule of God. Christ has been lifted up to draw all men and women to himself, and all things have been created through him and in his own image. So it is in him that all should be reconciled in him and through him (cf. Col 1:20). While struggling for unity of all Christians, the ecumenical movement at the same time struggles for the unity of humankind. Vatican II affirms the solidarity of the Church with the human family:
The joys and the hopes, the grieves and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the grieves and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of men. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for every man. That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with mankind and its history by the deepest of bonds (GS, 1).
Promotion of unity belongs to the innermost nature of the Church. Today the world leaders speak of, and envision, how to establish a “new world order”, where real peace and accord reign. The Church has to offer herself as a sign of infinite union with God, and of the unity of mankind. The task of the Church today is to prepare the way for the unity of the whole human race. “The purpose of the Church is to unite people with Christ in the power of the Spirit, to manifest communion in prayer and action, and thus to point to the fullness of communion with God, humanity and the whole creation in the glory of the kingdom”.
Our faith in Christ as the one who unifies everything inspires us to work together. All the efforts for the unity of humankind will be equally opposed by the forces of evil. Then there is the apparent failure of the ecumenical movement, discouragement and frustration that one experiences. Our faith in Jesus’ prayer makes us ready to struggle together for the welfare of humanity with all people of good will. Thus we are called to march forward to that unity of humankind so desired and willed by God. Pope John Paul II exhorted us in Redemptor Hominis: “We must therefore seek unity without being discouraged at the difficulties that can appear or accumulate along that road; otherwise we would be unfaithful to the word of Christ, we would fail to accomplish his testament. Have we the right to run the risk?” (RH, 6).
It is for the unity of humankind that the whole creation groans. Every Christian as a member of the human family longs for the unity of the whole human race. This desire for unity of all makes the Christians committed to ecumenical movement. They are aware that the steps every Christian takes, however small and insignificant they may be, are directed towards the unity of humanity in Christ. In the words of the Fifth Assembly of the WCC: “When we speak of the unity of mankind, we intend to refer to more than the unity of the Church. We speak in the light of the new creation of the unity in and for which God created mankind, and which he has promised to his children in his kingdom. It will come in God’s own time and power, in judgment and fulfillment, and will be the final definition and realization of mankind’s hope for unity”.
D) Ecumenical Imperative of Common Witness
The Study Papers published by the Joint Working Group of the WCC and the RCC, Common Witness and Proselytism (1970), Common Witness (1981), The Church: Local and Universal (1990), The Challenge of Proselytism and the Calling to Common Witness (1995) and The Ecumenical Dialogue on Moral Issues: Potential Sources of Common Witness or of Division (1995), illustrate the intrinsic relationship between the ecumenical movement and common witness. A witness is a person who bears testimony to somebody other than himself. He or she gives evidence of someone or something. In the sphere of religion a witness transmits various religious truths in a living way. “In common biblical use ‘witness’ refers to bearing witness to the world, proclaiming and making known that Jesus Christ is the Saviour and Lord of humankind and all creation”. Jesus Christ is the perfect revelation and truth for the Christians and as a witness every one of them is called to transmit Christ the Truth.
i) Jesus: The Faithful Witness
Jesus Christ is the faithful and true witness to the Father (Rev 3:14). He is the greatest of all witnesses. He is really the witness of the one Triune God’s healing love for men. The very purpose of his coming into the world was to bear witness to the truth (cf. Jn 18:37). By his mission and ministry Jesus called attention, not to himself, but to the Father who sent him.
After the death and resurrection of Jesus, the apostles became the primary witnesses of Christ. Jesus specifically asked his apostles to be his witnesses even to the end of the earth, “and you will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, in all Judaea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). They were called and sent to be witnesses to the historical and saving events accomplished in Christ Jesus. They bore testimony to the earthly life of Jesus, his passion, death, and particularly his resurrection. They emphasized the effects of Christ event on man, namely conversion, forgiveness of sin and judgment (cf. Acts 5:31). Through the apostles and their successors Jesus calls the Church to assume the vocation of witness. The Church’s witness is derived form Jesus’ own commission to be a witness to the Father. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn 20:21). “The disciples and the Church they helped to build up are witnesses to God’s powerful invasion of love into history in the person of Jesus Christ”.
Jesus Christ constantly calls upon his followers to continue his mission of witnessing. Authentic witness is in fact a channel of the divine love to all people. It is through life witness that the message of the gospel has to be proclaimed today.
ii) All Christians are Witnesses
All Christians, by their baptism are commissioned to be witnesses of Christ. We are baptized into a community to witness and realize the kingdom of God. In living one’s faith, a Christian is a witness. “You shall be my witnesses” is applied not only to the apostles but to every Christian. To be a witness of Jesus is the primary vocation of a Christian Pope John Paul II asserts that witness is as an essential aspect of Christian life:
People today put more trust in witnesses than in teachers, in experience than in teaching, and in life and action than in theories. The witness of a Christian life is the first and irreplaceable form of mission: Christ, whose mission we continue, is the “witness” par excellence (Rev 1:5; 3:14) and the model of all Christian witness. The Holy Spirit accompanies the Church along her way and associates her with the witness he gives to Christ (cf. Jn 15:26-27).
All baptized are called to be a sign and witness of Christ’s saving act in word and deed. The WCC calls every one “to endeavour in word and deed to give common witness to the Gospel as a whole”. Without love such a witness is only a noisy gong or a clanging bell (cf. 1 Cor 13:1). God extends fellowship to all baptized persons, even though all such persons may not enjoy perfect communion because of their doctrinal difference. For this reason one group of Christians does not have the right to refuse the Christian fellowship to another group. What about the traditions and practices of one’s own Church or community? Will they become an obstacle? Is it possible for a Christian without giving up or surrendering such traditions extending the fellowship to a baptized person of another denomination? One can always love and work together with one’s brother or sister who is incorporated into Christ by the sacrament of baptism. Indeed, such co-operation and fellowship strengthens one’s faith in Christ.
Today, looking at the broken reality of Christianity we must be convinced of common witness. A divided Church certainly has no message to the divided world. “To ask the world to unite in a common humanity centered in Jesus Christ is flabby advice when those making the request are not even able to unite themselves”. A divided Christianity is scandal, a contradiction to Jesus’ love and mission. It diminishes the witness value of the Church. Vatican II sees it as an obstacle to Christian mission: “The division of Christians is injurious to the holy work of preaching the Gospel to every creature, and deprives many people of access to the faith”. There is no way the Church can speak to the world of peace and brotherhood while she herself presents to the world the spectacle of disunity.
iii) Common Witness: The Need of Humanity
Common witness is a demand made by the need of humanity itself. Christ is the unique mediator and he alone can bring salvation for the humankind. All Christians are called to bear witness to Christ in a common manner, wherever they are, in his or her locality, according to the prayer of Jesus “that they all may be one …so that the world will believe that you sent me” (Jn 17:21). The demand of Christ is that all those who are baptized in him should bear witness to him in love and respect for the peace and happiness of humanity. This is well explained by the Fifth document of the Joint Working Group: “To love and act together before the world in the name of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour”. Pope John Paul II expressed the importance of Common witness in this way: “Let us work towards being common witness of Christ whenever this is possible. The more we try, the more we will discover further possible steps towards full unity. The more oneness we manifest, the better witnesses of the Lord we can be”.
What makes the common witness possible is the bond of unity that exists among all the Christians. All the baptized persons share the common faith. Belief in the mystery of holy Trinity, in the mystery of Incarnation and Jesus Christ as the unique redeemer is the core of our faith. Moreover “the impulse to a common witness comes not from any strategy but from the personal and community experience of Jesus Christ. Awareness of the communion with Christ and with each other generates the dynamism that impels Christians to give a visible witness together”.
Thus common witness is way of sharing our belief and tradition with others. It implies openness to the Holy Spirit alive in all of us. Common witness involves the grace to listen, to communicate, to learn and act with other Christians. It is only through common witness that the Christians can manifest that they are a community of God’s people, believing, worshipping, living and doing what they believe. Common witness is a challenge for us to be an instrument of world wide change. The purpose is to bear witness to Christ and the God given gift of unity to the world. Common witness presupposes one’s appreciation of the beliefs and traditions of other Christian communities. The Catholic Church teaches that: “The ecumenical spiritual life of Catholics should also be nourished from the treasures of the many traditions, past and present, which are alive in other Churches and ecclesial communities…”
Common witness of Christ will necessarily lead to mutual understanding and appreciation among Christians. Their common witness and confession of Christ will definitely have an impact on the people of other religions. Inter-religious dialogue will not be effective unless all Christians are united together in one Lord and one Saviour and bear witness in a common way. This is of prime importance in the areas where Christians are only a minority. Common witness is not an abstract theological concept; instead it is a responsible way of relating to the human problems today.
Christian unity must be strengthened as we grow in our faith. This is the will of Christ. Hence the ecumenical movement has taken its momentum and we are drawn into this movement by power of the Holy Spirit. The specific purpose of this movement is to encourage all the Christians to come together in unity. Common witness is the first step towards that goal. “Witness that dares to be common is a powerful sign of unity coming directly and visibly from Christ and a glimpse of his Kingdom”. In the words of Pope John Paul II:
Our common witness manifests to the world that those who believe in Christ and live according to his Spirit, thus becoming children of a common Father, can commit themselves so that human difference and, gradually, the divisions existing among Christians may be overcome.
Common witness of all Christians leads to the ultimate unity in which all will be under the one Head, the Christ (cf. Eph 1:1). Witness is what we are before God who is the source of unity. Today more than ever a need to be together and witness our faith is felt in our daily life. Common witness is essentially a fruit of ecumenical grace. At the same time it is also a way to achieve fuller ecumenical co-operation. Common witness is not a substitute of evangelization, rather a means to it. Nor can common witness replace the various ecumenical endeavours. But it can help Christians to realize through their unity in evangelism and mission, the visibility of their incomplete universality. Common witness provides the possibility of having a vision of Catholicity in the midst of the existing doctrinal and ecclesiological divisions.
HISTORY OF MODERN ECUMENICAL MOVEMENT
The Church firmly believes that unity is given in Christ and that in him we have one Lord and one flock. This does not mean that any form of diversity is not acceptable or possible in the Church. Indeed, the unity and diversity is so essential to the Church, we find the evidence in the Bible itself. Yet Church history tells us two diametric forces in the church’s life. One is the tendency toward division and the other is the conviction toward catholicity and unity. Ecumenism is the movements aiming at various attempts made towards unity. Some of the divisions were indeed, theological conflicts foreshadowed in the apostolic church. Some others were internal quarrels related to liturgical differences, power politics between different patriarchates, problems of discipline and piety, or social and cultural conflicts.
2.1. Controversies in the Early Church
Unity and diversity in the early Church is seen already in the Acts 15 and Galatians 2 and the resolution of tensions between Peter and Paul. A long and continuing trail of broken relations among Christians began in the 2nd century. Early in the second century the Gnostics presented a serious doctrinal error and broke fellowship. The dispute over the date of Easter, made the Christians from Asia Minor against those from Rome. Montanism advocated a radical enthusiasm, the imminent Second Coming of Christ, and a severe perfection, including abstinence from marriage. The Novatians did not want any fellowship with those Christians who abandoned the Christian faith and offered sacrifices to pagan gods during the persecutions of the Roman emperor Decius in AD 250. In the early 4th century we hear about the Donatists, in North Africa who refused to share communion with those who had lapsed from the true faith under persecution and threat of death. The Church in Rome considered their baptism as valid and accepted them back into fellowship after services of repentance. St. Augustine wrote against the Donatists. All these divisions in the Church in fact reflected the regional, national, cultural, and economic differences among the Christians of various local Churches.
Whenever such threat to the visible unity of the Church did take place, leaders of Churches tried their best to reconcile these divisions and to restore the visible unity of Christ’s Church. But in the 4th century a severe break in the unity of the church took place with Arianism, which taught that Son of God who made flesh cannot be one in being with the Father. The Council of Nicaea in 325 AD addressed this issue. “In the 5th century there emerged a trend of thought in the Church of Antioch whose teachings influenced the Church of Constantinople. This school spoke of a moral rather than hypostatic union of the human and divine natures in Christ”. The real issues were doctrinal consensus and heresy, yet in the midst of doctrinal controversy alienation was facilitated by political, cultural, philosophical, and linguistic differences. Tensions increased as the Church began to define the true doctrine in the Council of Ephesus (431). After the Council of Ephesus a group of people deviated doctrinally and stressed so much on the oneness of Jesus Christ and they were called Monophysites. This title indicated their belief that there was one single nature, primarily divine in Jesus Christ. And the Council of Chalcedon (451) rejected their teachings and affirmed the two natures in Jesus Christ. Many local Churches refused to accept the doctrinal and disciplinary decisions of Ephesus and Chalcedon and felt that it was legitimate on their part to break away from the communion of Catholic Church. Today these Churches are called pre-Chalcedonian or Oriental Orthodox.
The Communion of Churches was again dealt a great blow when the Church of Constantinople could not agree with the Church of Rome regarding the procession of the Holy Spirit. In 1054 the delegates of Pope Leo IX and Patriarch Michael Cerularius mutually excommunicated each other. The Eastern Church did not accept when the Western Church introduced into the Nicene Creed the doctrine that the Holy Spirit proceeds not from the Father alone as the Council of Nicaea taught, but from the Father and the Son. The political reason for this controversy was that when the Roman Empire was divided into two zones, Latin-speaking Rome began to claim superiority over Greek-speaking Constantinople; disputes arose over church boundaries and control. Both sides tried to heal the breach and reunite East and West. In 1274 the second Council of Lyon sought reunion. Agreements among the negotiators were achieved, including Orthodox acceptance of papal primacy and the acceptance of the Nicene Creed with the filioque clause. But the agreements were only a rushed action conditioned by political intrigue, the need to get Western military help against the Turks who threatened Constantinople (Byzantium). As a result, reunion on these terms was fiercely rejected by the clergy and laity in Constantinople and other Orthodox provinces.
The unity of the Church was again seriously affected in 16th century by the Reformation in Europe. Like other schisms this one also was the result of various reasons. There were theological, ecclesiological, political, and national reasons. There was also the need of a reform in the Church. Collection of money for the construction of Churches in Rome by apparent ‘selling’ of papal plenary indulgences served as an immediate cause. All these led to breaks in fellowship and divided the Church again. It can be called as a separation against the rigid juridical structures of medieval Roman Catholicism and its claim to universal truth and jurisdiction. Positively one can note that the Reformation was an evangelical and ecumenical renewal of the church as the Body of Christ, an attempt to return to the early Church order, according to Calvin, “to recover the face of the ancient Catholic Church”.
Further, reformation within the reformed Churches took place when some group of Christians wanted a “complete break with anything suggestive of a ‘Roman and papist’ connection, a commitment to the pursuit of personal holiness leading to the believer’s baptism (therefore rejecting the validity of infant baptism)”.
The emergence of the Church of England and the break with Rome was the next phase in the history of the Church’s division. This was due to more of personal and political reasons rather than theological. The King in England wanted to be completely free from the influence of Roman Pontiff. With the help of the parliament he declared himself to be the head of the Church of England.
During the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, renewal movements within the Anglican and other reformed Churches took place. Thus we have the ecclesial communities like the Baptists, the Methodists, the Salvation Army, the Evangelicals and the Pentecostals.
The one and the only Church of Christ thus suffered many divisions. But in the history of the Church one could find also many noble efforts made by concerned people to establish the unity of faith and harmony of hearts. Indeed, all the ecumenical councils of the first millennium were really oriented towards restoring unity in the Church by defining the true faith. But it is also true that none of the Councils could convince all and solve all the problems of schisms and divisions in the Church. Those who broke away from the unity of the Church continued their independent existence.
Pope Gregory X convoked the Second Council of Lyons in 1274 with the hope of restoring union with the Greeks. The Greeks accepted the position of the Western Church regarding the procession of the Holy Spirit and of the role of Roam Pontiff. This union did not last long and soon the division continued. The Council of Florence (1438-39) attempted a short lived union of all Monophysite Churches with the Roman Church. As the agreements were made out of political compulsions and the need of the time, the union could not last long. These attempts of reunion were not the result of dialogue of truth. From the ecumenical point of view these partial reunions were fruitless, as they have not been able to realize real communion among the Churches.
2.2. Reasons for Modern Ecumenical Movement
We can speak of theological and non-theological reasons for the emergence of modern ecumenical movement.
A) Theological Reasons
i) Grace of God
Desire for Christian unity is a grace of God and it is a gift from him. “Everywhere, large numbers have felt the impulse of this grace, and among our separated brethren also there increases from day to day a movement, fostered by the grace of the Holy Spirit, for the restoration of unity among all Christians. Taking part in this movement, which is called ecumenical, are those who invoke the Triune God and confess Jesus as Lord and Saviour” (UUS, 7).
ii) Missionary motive
Unity is very necessary for the mission of the Church. In fact Church by her very nature is missionary, and her mission is to continue the mission of Christ. To proclaim Christ to the world today unity is required. “That they may all be one…” These words from the prayer of Jesus for his own (Jn 17:21) have from the beginning served as the great motto of the modern ecumenical movement. “At the same time it is obvious that the lack of unity among Christians contradicts the Truth which Christians have the mission to spread and, consequently, it gravely damages their witness” (UUS, 98).
iii) Theologically a divided Church is a contradiction
Christ is one and indivisible and so must his Church be. The Church is essentially one and indivisible because she is Christ’s Body. Division among the Church, the body of Christ is certainly contrary to the will of God and her nature. It is a theological scandal.
B) Non-Theological Reasons
i) Ecclesiastical differences looked not so important and divisive in a mission field
The Christian Churches and denominations that were looking at each other as competitors or threat for one’s mission work in one’s own country could experience a brotherly love in the mission field. Far away from homeland and in the midst of non-Christians some times very hostile, the missionaries suddenly realised that they were united in baptism and they all belonged to Christ.
ii) War and hardship made the people to think for a united effort
Armed conflicts among nations, civil war and the First World War made the life of ordinary people so hard and painful. Christian countries were fighting among themselves. Often the division among the Christians added fuel to the existing conflicts. If all the Christians are the members of the one and the same body of Christ, why did they fight? With this background of man made human sufferings, the individuals belonging to various Christian communities whom we can call as ecumenical pioneers advocated a united efforts to alleviate human sufferings. There was an expectation that closer relation among Christians and Churches would make the Christians stronger in dealing with common dangers and they will be more effective in their efforts.
iii) Social mobility
Social mobility in terms of geography, class etc again facilitated the ecumenical movement. Means of transportation and communication aided the movement of the people. More opportunities to meet people of other continents and more realization of the diversity of culture and traditions helped the Christians to think and act together. When the world is becoming smaller and smaller and global alliances are developing, the Churches also must come together.
2.3. Brief History
The modern ecumenical movement had its roots in the 19th century. The expansion of the Western civilization, colonization and missionary endavours of Christian countries had contributed towards its growth. It was often remarked that the Gospel followed the flag. Or the missionaries followed the soldiers. In many mission territories the western missionaries found themselves rubbing shoulders with members of other Churches and denominations whom they would have definitely avoided in their home land. They felt that the effectiveness of their mission work was very little as they preached Christ without having any relation with other Christians. The claim that the Gospel made all one in Christ Jesus became a mockery. To avoid this awkwardness some missionaries proposed to do the evangelisation work on a non-denominational basis.
a) London Missionary Society: This Society was the result of the meeting of Independent Church leaders, Anglican and Presbyterian clergy and laymen, held in London in November 1794. They established the aims of the Missionary Society – ‘to spread the knowledge of Christ among heathen and other unenlightened nations’. The Missionary Society was formally established in September 1795. The goal of the society was to convert people to Christ in mission countries without insisting on any particular denomination. Those who accepted Christ were free to join and practice any one of the Christian Churches. They thought of a non-denominational society that could prevail against the difficulties that evangelists often faced when spreading the Word of God. The emphasis was accepting Christ not on the membership of the Church. But in practice this was not so easy to follow.
b) Bible Society: In 1804 the Bible Society was founded by the British to establish contact with many denominations in order to spread the Bible. Hearing of plans to provide Bibles at reduced prices for Welsh speakers, at a Religious Tract Society meeting, Joseph Hughes asked, “If for Wales, why not for the kingdom, and if for the kingdom, why not for the world?” The Society was launched on 7 March 1804, in the London Tavern, Bishopsgate, in the presence of around 300 people.
c) William Carey’s Proposal: In the year 1805 William Carey popularly known as the father of modern ecumenical movement, made a proposal for a meeting of all denominations at the Cape of Good Hope in 1810. He chose this place for two reasons, 1) the significance of the name, Good Hope. 2) Geographically for Europeans at that time this place was thought to be half way between the east and the west. At that time this proposal was seen as something impossible and was treated as one of Carey’s dreams. And no one took it seriously as they never thought there could be a meeting of all Christian missionaries. But this dream became a reality in 1910 at the World Missionary Conference at Edinburgh. This meeting was no doubt considered to be one of the most important events in the history of the ecumenical movement.
d) The Lambeth Conferences: These conferences are the periodical assemblies of bishops of the Anglican Communion, since 1867. In 1867 the first conference took place. This assembly of Anglican bishops manifested the strong desire and commitment on the part of the Anglican Church towards promoting Christian unity. Attended by Anglican bishops, they felt the need for unity. In 1888 they adopted 4 points necessary for Christian reunion, this is known as the Lambeth Quadrilateral. This is a four points statement of the basic elements which the Anglican Communion wants honoured in any plans for reunion with other Churches. They are: 1) Sacred Scripture as the ultimate standard of faith, and it contains all things necessary for salvation. 2) The Apostles Creed/Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of Christian faith. 3) Acceptance of two Sacraments namely baptism and Eucharist by all Christians. 4) Historic Episcopate locally adapted in the methods and its necessity to call God’s people into unity. In 1920 they appealed to all Christian people calling for unity.
e) The YMCA and YWCA: Formation of YMCA in 1844 by 22 year old George Williams in London provided the young people with a Christian atmosphere for spiritual growth. And in the year 1894 YWCA was founded for the benefit of young women. Both these Associations sought to unite the young men and women in Jesus Christ, make them committed Disciples of Christ. Above all, these organizations provided the all important ecumenical experience for many young Christians. So also the World Student Christian Federation (1895) and its missionary branch the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions facilitated ecumenical understanding. John Mott, an American Methodist was well known among the young people for his ecumenical vision and commitment. “If any one individual could be said to personify the modern ecumenical movement, it would be John R. Mott”.
f) The First Missionary Conference: In 1910 missionary societies of the main western non-Catholic Churches gathered in Edinburgh. This was the first Missionary Conference. It was an inter-denominational gathering. This Conference set the ecumenical movement firmly within the context of the mission of the Church. They realized that the mission and the unity of the Church are two aspects of the same reality; accordingly the Conference asserted that the ideal object of missionary work is to plant in each non-Christian nation one undivided Church of Christ. The Conference prepared the Churches for the turbulent years to come and gave new impetus in Christian fellowship and co-operation. This Conference also inspired many young people who later became outstanding leaders of ecumenical movement.
g) The International Missionary Council and the International Review of Missions: The continuation committee of the Edinburgh Conference commenced the International Review of Missions. First published in 1912, the International Review of Mission has ever since published articles about the Church, Mission and Ecumenism. The Conference was also instrumental in setting up of the International Missionary Council in 1921. This Council stood for the following:
1) To coordinate works, resources; 2) To gather a common fund; 3) To prepare personnel; 4) To safe guard the missionary properties. The significance of the International Missionary Council is described as: “One cannot understand either the missionary enterprise in the 20th century or the preparatory stages of the WCC without appreciating the IMC’s development through its global network of co-ordinated activities, common witness, consultations and conferences, and united action”.
h) Faith and Order: The primary goal of Faith and Order movement has been to bring together representative people from different Christian confessions to work towards the visible unity of the Church. One of the ideas brought up in Edinburgh was to bring the Churches together in Council. There was a growing awareness that the concern for unity should be necessarily of the Churches themselves not of any individual however committed he/she may be to Christian Unity. It was more than anyone else an Anglican, Bishop Charles Brent of the Episcopal Church of the USA, who recognized that the unity of the Church would only be brought about if there, was firm agreement in faith. He determined to bring together bishops, Church leaders and theologians to begin the task of studying the division of the churches. It took from 1910 to 1927 to set up the first World Conference on Faith and Order held in Lausanne, Switzerland. In those years 70 commissions in 40 countries worked to prepare the meeting. Protestants, Anglicans and Orthodox were in the thick of it together. All Churches including the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church were invited. The response was quite positive; Catholic Church did not take part but pope Pius XI encouraged the gathering. The search for agreement on matters of faith and church order begun in Lausanne has continued ever since within individual churches struggling with internal disunity, in discussions between churches in exploration of faith and order issues, at local, regional and international levels. The Faith and Order Movement embraces this all round and all level ecumenical dialogue. Faith and Order worked independently till 1948; afterwards it became a part of the World Council Churches.
i) Life and Work Movement: The title Life and Works shows for what it stands for. It was said that the doctrines divide but piety unites the Church. Archbishop Nathan Soderblom of Sweden was instrumental in calling the conference in 1925 at Stockholm. The main achievement of this conference was to rediscover the Christian fellowship cutting across the Church boundaries. The situation created by the First World War was very conducive to think about how to help the people by Churches forgetting their doctrinal differences. The conference realized that there were doctrinal differences but wanted to avoid divisive confessional issues. Hence it adopted the slogan, doctrine divides but service unites. It is practical ecumenism; or applications of Gospel on the daily life of man. The Life and Work Movement was yet another important step towards the ecumenical movement. All the delegates who attended the gathering did so as representatives of Churches, they tried to avoid all doctrinal issues but soon found out that practical questions cannot be discussed without reference to theology and doctrine. Life and Work had their second meeting in Lausanne in 1932. “We will do things as if we were together” was their attitude. It sought to formulate programmes and devise means for the Churches’ common service in the world. The Life and Work movement concerned itself with working together on various projects that required no doctrinal agreement.
j) World Council of Churches: The WCC was constituted at the first general assembly (Amsterdam) on 23 August 1948. It became the most visible international expression of varied streams of ecumenical life in the 20th century. After the struggles and collaboration during the Second World War and the reconstruction thereafter, the two leading movements namely Life and Works and Faith and Order merged to form the World Council of Churches. And Faith and Order continues to be a branch or a commission of WCC. Later on in 1961 International Missionary Council too merged into the WCC. The message of Amsterdam states: “Christ has made us his own, and he is not divided. In seeking him we find one another. Here at Amsterdam we have committed ourselves afresh to him, and have covenanted with one another in constituting the World Council of Churches. We intend to stay together.” The basis of the Council says that the “World Council Churches is a fellowship of Churches which accept our Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour”. In 1948 the member churches understood that the WCC was not a church above them, certainly not the church universal or incipient “world church”. They understood the council to be an instrument whereby the churches bear witness together in their common allegiance to Jesus Christ, search for that unity which Christ wills for his one and only Church, and co-operate in matters which require common statements and actions. The assembly acknowledged Visser’t Hooft’s description of the WCC: “an emergency solution, a stage on the road… a fellowship which seeks to express that unity in Christ already given to us and to prepare the way for a much fuller and much deeper expression of that unity”.
Initially 147 Churches became members of the Council. William Temple was elected first Chairman, John Mott vice chairman, Visser’t Hooft the Secretary. Definitely these men were ecumenical pioneers and their appointment was again an expression of further hope towards ecumenical progress. At present WCC have a membership of over 340 churches and denominations and those churches and denominations claim about 550 million Christian members throughout more than 120 countries.
The WCC is a forum where the Churches can meet in council. It helps the Churches be the Church. The Council has a general Assembly that meets once in seven years, a central Committee of 158 members, an executive Committee of 25 members. There are various advisory groups and commissions such as:
Advisory Group on Church and Ecumenical Relations
Advisory Group on Communication
Advisory Group on Women
Advisory Group on Youth
Commission of the Churches on Diakonia and Development
Commission on Education and Ecumenical Formation
Commission of the Churches on International Relations
Commission on Justice, Peace and Creation
Commission on World Mission and Evangelism
Faith and Order Plenary Commission
Faith and Order Standing Commission
Joint Consultative Group with Pentecostals
Joint Working Group WCC – RCC (Vatican)
Reference Group on Inter-Religious Relations
Reference Group on the Decade to Overcome Violence
k) Catholic Contribution
It is not fair to say that the Catholic Church did not show any interest in Ecumenical movement till the Vatican II. Though it is a fact that Catholic Church did not contribute directly to the Edinburgh Conference in 1910, one can trace the growth of ecumenical interest within the Catholic Church during this period. At the beginning, this interest was concentrated mainly on the Eastern Orthodox Churches and on the Church of England. The concern for unity was shown by many popes and private individuals in the Church.
Pope Pius IX (1846-1878), asked to give a special attention to the Eastern Orthodox and the Anglicans. He insisted on their return to the one true Church under the successor of St. Peter, the Apostle. At that time the Catholic understanding of Christian unity was that all who broke away from the one Church must return to it. (This is called the return model). He also invited the Eastern Orthodox bishops to reconcile and come for the First Vatican Council. During his pontificate he published 11 official documents, all calling for return of all Christians saying that God desires only one Church.
Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903), again showed keen interest towards the promotion of unity especially with regard to eastern Churches. He set up a Pontifical Commission for reconciliation and unity; one can trace this desire for unity in many of the documents published during his pontificate. The 1896 bull Apostolicae Curae declared the ordination of deacons, priests, and bishops in Anglican churches including the Church of England, invalid, while granting recognition to ordinations in the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches although they were considered illicit. In speaking of the Orthodox Churches pope Leo said: “Our eyes will never see the unions of Churches that we are working for, but let us not be so faint-hearted as to regard this unceasing effort as a fanciful dream. Such a sentiment would be unworthy of a Christian”.
Pope Pius X (1903-1914), approved and blessed the idea of Rev. Thomas Wattson, an Episcopal clergyman later known as the Very Rev. Paul James Francis of Atonement Fathers, who started the one week prayer for Christian unity popularly known as Unity Octave. He also encouraged having Inter-confessional conference for the theologians in order to foster communion. The pope encouraged the exchange of views with Robert Gardiner, then one of the key members of Faith and Order, and the Cardinal Secretary of State.
Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922), showed special care for eastern Churches, Congregation for the Eastern Rites was started during his pontificate; Oriental Institute was set up in Rome in the year 1917. The purpose of these moves was to strengthen the position of the Eastern Churches in communion with Rome, but at the same time it was also a move to reach out to those Eastern Churches who were not in communion with the Rome. Pope Benedict XV received Bishop Charles Brent when the latter was making all the preparations for First World Conference on Faith and Order. Privately the Pope showed keen interest and praised such a move. But he declined to attend or to send a Catholic delegation. “His Holiness, however, by no means wishes to disapprove of the congress in question for those who are not in union with the chair of Peter”. Pope Benedict thought that Catholic understanding of the nature of the Church would not allow such participation.
Pope Pius XI (1922-39): He was the first Pope to directly address the Christian ecumenical movement. Like Benedict XV he was interested in achieving reunion with the Eastern Orthodox. Since that was not realizing, he determined to give special attention to the Eastern Catholic Churches. He established Benedictine Monastery at Amay in 1925 to study the oriental theology and liturgy. He said in 1927 that for reunion it was necessary to know one another and love one another. About the Oriental Orthodox Churches he remarked, “…Do we know all the precious, good, and Christian things that these segments of ancient Catholic truth possess? The separated particles of gold-bearing rock themselves contain gold”.
He also called on Western Catholics to exhibit greater understanding of the Orthodox and other ancient Churches of the East, notably in the encyclical Rerum orientalium (1929). He ordered the introduction of Eastern theology in all major seminaries. This was to study “the languages, customs, character, and above all the theology and liturgical usages” of the Orthodox Christians. He also encouraged Cardinal Mercier to go ahead with the dialogue called Maline Conversation. Cardinal Gasparri wrote Cardinal Mercier that “The Holy Father authorises Your Eminence to tell the Anglicans that he approves and encourages your conversations, and prays with all his heart that the good God will bless them.” It was a theological conversation between Anglicans and Catholics, important participants were Anglican Archbishop Ronald Davison, Lord Halifax. It was not on an official level, never intended to reunion but deepen theological understanding between these two groups.
However in 1929 he warned in his encyclical Mortalium Animos the idea that Christian unity could be attained by establishing a broad federation of many bodies holding varying doctrines. His warning did not mean that the Catholic Church was uninterested in the ecumenical movement. According to the pope, the Catholic Church was the one true Church, all her teachings were objectively true, and Christian unity could only be by achieved by Protestants rejoining the Catholic Church and accepting all the Catholic doctrines they had rejected.
Pope Pius XII (1939-1958) in his Encyclical Summi pontificatus (On the Unity of Human Race) appreciated the good will of the Protestants. Certainly one could notice a shift from apologetic theology towards ecumenical understanding. He wrote:
Nor can We pass over in silence the profound impression of heartfelt gratitude made on Us by the good wishes of those who, though not belonging to the visible body of the Catholic Church, have given noble and sincere expression to their appreciation of all that unites them to Us in love for the Person of Christ or in belief in God. We wish to express our gratitude to them all. We entrust them one and all to the protection and to the guidance of the Lord and We assure them solemnly that one thought only fills Our mind: to imitate the example of the Good Shepherd in order to bring true happiness to all men: “that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly” (Jn 10: 10).
A first positive document dealing directly on Ecumenism was published by the Holy Office in 1949: “Instruction Concerning the Ecumenical Movement”. This instruction acknowledges the inspiration of the Holy Spirit within the ecumenical movement. It appreciated the interest shown by Catholics and asked the bishops to foster it and to guide it and thus gave the necessary permission to the theologians to participate in ecumenical meetings.
Since the above-mentioned “union” is a matter which pertains primarily to the authority and office of the Church, it should be attended to with special care by the Bishops, whom “the Holy Ghost hath placed to rule the Church of God.” They should, therefore, not only diligently and effectively watch over this entire activity, but also prudently promote and direct it, for the purpose of both helping those who seek the truth and the true Church, and protecting the faithful against the dangers which may easily flow from the activity of this “Movement.”
The period of preparation for the Second Vatican Council (1959-62) and during the Council the real breakthrough was found. Well this was not only the work of Pope John XXIII; we have already mentioned earlier popes. Apart from the Popes, we also have a few dedicated persons like:
1) Fernand-Etienne Portal (1855-1926) associated with Maline conversations. He was a French Vincentian priest, associated with Lord Halifax in England to find the possibility to accept the ordinations of Anglican Church as valid. They gathered round a number of supporters both French and English, men of learning as well as men of heart. Portal suggested a discussion concerning the validity of Anglican orders. He thought that some Roman prejudices could be swept aside and that, eventually, this could lead to a discussion about the pope’s universal primacy and infallibility. Still later, they could get into the doctrine of Eucharistic sacrifice and the nature of the church’s ordained ministry. Pope John Paul II praised his efforts together with Cardinal Mercier, Lord Halifax. They were “men impelled by indomitable faith” and “remarkable witnesses to the urgency of Christ’s plea for unity.” The Pope repeated the Malines formula, full communion within the Catholic Church of “the Anglican Church united not absorbed.”
2) Paul Watson (1863-1940), founded Society of the Atonement Fathers in 1898; originally an Anglican later became a catholic, organized Church unity octave. The Society of Atonement Fathers founded an ecumenical centre at Graymoor in New York. He also helped Sr. Laurana White to found Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement, a community whose main concern was to facilitate the unity efforts of both the Anglicans and the Catholics.
3. Dom Lambert Beauduin (1873-1960) was a Belgian monk who founded the monastery of Chevetogne in 1925. He had previously been a monk of the Benedictine abbey of Mont Cיsar (Louvain) and been deeply involved with the liturgical movement in Belgium. When he came to know the Christian East, he realized the extent to which the Churches are divided and started to work on the foundation of the monastery in Chevetogne devoted to Christian unity.
4. Paul Coutourier (1881-1953): A French priest propagated spiritual ecumenism. He was also known as the Father of Spiritual Ecumenism. He was the great advocate of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. His life was to pray and work for the unity of all Christians according to the mind of Christ. He achieved this to a great extent through strong bonds of friendship across cultural, national and ecclesiastical divides. His influence could be seen in the ecumenical community at Taizé in France, the joint eastern-western monastery at Chevetogne in Belgium, the Orthodox whom he first encountered as refugees from Russia, the Reformed Churches, and from the 1930s his interest in the Anglican Communion. Perhaps it is not unfair to say that the commitment to ecumenism at the Second Vatican Council, and the dedication of Church leaders and theologians to build Church unity in the late 20th century, owes much to Paul Couturier’s life of prayer and devotion to the mutual gifts of Christian friendships.
5. Yves Marie Joseph Cardinal Congar (1904-1995) was a French Dominican priest and theologian. He was made a cardinal in 1994. He was one of the most influential Catholic theologians of the 20th century on the topic of the Church and ecumenism and influenced also the thinking of Pope John Paul II from the year 1946 onwards. Very active in the ecumenical movement and the first Catholic to seriously contribute to that scholarly discussion, Congar was once removed from teaching or publishing for a time by the Holy See, during the time of Pope Pius XII. Yves Congar wrote to his mother to explain why, two years previously, he had been silenced by Church authorities: “What put me wrong (in their eyes) is not having said false things, but having said things they do not like to have said”. He published work on wide ranging topics, including Mary, the Eucharist, lay ministry and the Holy Spirit, as well as his diaries from his experiences during the Second Vatican Council. During the Council, he helped to draft very important and epoch making documents such as those on Church, Revelation, the Church in the Modern World, Missionary Activity of the Church, and Ecumenism.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, in his May 17, 2003 address at St Alban’s in England observed that “the present moment as one of ecumenical “crisis”, understood as a situation where things are hanging in the balance, where they are on a knife edge”. According to him one who is interested in ecumenism today ought to avoid two dangers. First, ecumenism is not an academic affair for theologians. Secondly, it is not only activism entered on common witness and service to humanity. Instead, he highlights what he believes is a healthier ecumenism–a “spiritual ecumenism” and an “ecumenical spirituality”. What is spiritual ecumenism? The Second Vatican Council in its Decree on Ecumenism explained:
This 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” (UR, 8).
And the Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, published in 1993 also gives an elaborate explanation of spiritual ecumenism. “Because ecumenism with all its human and moral requirements is rooted so profoundly in the mysterious working out of the providence of the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit, it reaches into the depths of Christian spirituality”. One must believe in the prayer of Jesus for unity and thus identify with him. So also to live in the Holy Spirit means we allow the Spirit to transform us by the love that, for the sake of unity, “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:7). The Directory speaks about repentance, prayer, forgiveness and conversion as constitutive elements of spiritual ecumenism.
3.1. Renewal and Conversion
The Church is “insofar as she is an institution of men here on earth”, goes her pilgrim way and therefore always stands in need of reform, renewal and healing. Spiritual renewal and conversion are essential for the growth of ecumenism. It is an honest willingness to examine our life, and our own Church, in order to discern the will of Christ for both. The Second Vatican Council calls it a stage and starting point of ecumenism. It is of immense ecumenical value. For the Church any attempt to renewal and conversion is a call to greater fidelity to Christ and his mission. The Council decreed that:
There can be no ecumenism worthy of the name without a change of heart. For it is from renewal of the inner life of our minds, from self-denial and an unstinted love that desires of unity take their rise and develop in a mature way. We should therefore pray to the Holy Spirit for the grace to be genuinely self-denying, humble, gentle in the service of others, and to have an attitude of brotherly generosity towards them (UR, 7).
Church renewal has notable ecumenical importance. Any renewal of Christian life is for the sake of Christian mission; hence renewal of the Church is given such a prominence in the Catholic Church. A genuine renewal of the awareness of and the commitment to the will of Jesus Christ will make separated Christians aware of the need and obligation to restore full unity among them. Their division blur the proclamation of the kingdom of God, and hinder its efficacy. In the words of the Second Vatican Council: “such division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world and damages that most holy cause, the preaching of Gospel to every creature” (UR, 1). Pope John Paul II shared this concern when he addressed to Georgian Orthodox Patriarch Iliya on 6 June, 1980: Concern for spiritual renewal is “one of the factors that has led us to see more clearly the need there is for unity among all who believe in Christ”. It is only the renewal of the mind and of the heart that can lead us to an increased faithfulness to the Church’s vocation. Without doubt we can say that the first and fundamental step along the path of ecumenism is personal conversion mind and heart.
The renewal of Catholic life which the Council called for is to be measured not primarily in terms of external structures, but in deeper understanding and more effective implementation of the core vision of her true nature and mission which the Council offered to the Church at the close of the second millennium of the Christian era. That renewal depends on the way the Council’s fundamental insights are authentically received in each particular Church and in the universal Church.
The Second Vatican Council called for a total renewal and conversion and this call must be accepted and continued with undiminished vigour. From the point of view of the renewal of Catholic life, the Church emphasizes the great value of the sacrament of reconciliation for the spiritual renewal of Catholics and also of the world. In the encyclical Reconciliatio et Penitentia we read, “Every confessional is a special and blessed place from which, with divisions wiped away, there is born new and uncontaminated a reconciled individual—a reconciled world!” We can only receive the reconciling and unifying grace of God through a change of heart that is by turning away from sin through faith in what is unseen. Christians have to let his grace renew them to the core in order to live in accordance with the new creation which Jesus Christ gained for them through his death on the cross, and through the baptism which they received in the name of the Holy Trinity. Indeed, we can do nothing without God. Only God can give us the power to renew our inner self each day. Authentic renewal and conversion of the Church is a gift which God gives through the action of the Holy Spirit.
Furthermore it is observed that every effort relating to ecumenical involvement with other Christians bodies is to be considered as the purification and renewal of Catholic life itself. In the words of the Second Vatican Council, “Catholics, in their ecumenical work, must assuredly be concerned for their separated brethren, praying for them, keeping them informed about the Church, making the first approaches toward them. But their primary duty is to make a careful and honest appraisal of whatever needs to be done or renewed in the Catholic household itself, in order that its life may bear witness more clearly and faithfully to the teachings and institutions which have come to it from Christ through the Apostles” (UR, 4). Indeed, internal renewal and purification of the ecclesial life of all of us are essential to any progress we may make towards unity. Jesus Christ’s call to unity implies a call to holiness and a call to greater love. We cannot have unity without holiness and love.
Generally speaking, every activity of the Church’s life requires spiritual renewal at every level. Earnestness in the service of God and charity towards others are needed for the Church in her missionary activity today. A new spiritual inspiration should sweep over the whole Church to make her a sign lifted up among the nations. The Second Vatican Council urges us:
For their fervour in the service of God and their charity toward others will cause a new spiritual wind to blow for the whole Church, which will then appear as a sign lifted up among the nations (cf. Is 11.12), “the light of the world” (Mt 5.14) and “the salt of the earth” (Mt 5.13). This testimony of a good life will more easily have its effect if it is given in unison with other Christian communities, according to the norms of the Decree on Ecumenism. From this renewed spirit, prayer and works of penance will be spontaneously offered to God that He may fructify the missionaries’ work with His grace; and then there will be missionary vocations, and the material subsidies which the missions need will be forthcoming (AG, 36).
In other words, the renewal of the Church must touch the whole world and its inhabitants in order that all can turn to God and to the Gospel. Spiritual renewal is an essential dimension of ecumenism to which all members of the Church have the duty to contribute. What is the Church? It is the community of people. Hence renewal in the Church means renewal of people. This is part of their vocation, integral to their baptismal commitment. “This vocation is a call to renewal, conversion, to that prayer which can alone bring us nearer to Christ and to each other, which the Council so rightly calls ‘spiritual ecumenism’ and ‘the soul of the ecumenical movement’.”
Conversion and renewal go hand in hand. Renewal is not possible unless there is a change of heart. “Repent and believe in the good news” (Mk 1:15) was the substance of Our Lord’s proclamation. All of us need conversion or change of heart, precisely in order to enter fully into Christ’s thoughts and intentions when he prays for unity. Sin and structures of sin are the root of the evils which drive us away from God and from one another. When sin and effects of sin drive us away from God and from one another, there arise division between man and God and man from his own brothers and sisters. Hence conversion from sin is essential for fostering Christian unity. This is the reason why sin is called the wound in man’s inmost self. Hence each Christian must continuously be converted to God and conformed to Christ by love.
Conversion is nothing but the acceptance of truth which we denied. It means to go into the room of one’s heart, to search one’s conscience to open all the more to God. To create for him a space that our ‘I’, after the original sin denies him so thoughtlessly. Conversion means to open an interior space to God. In the Gospel we hear a vibrant and persuasive call for conversion. If we heed and respond to this call, our lives will be changed radically so that we longer will live for ourselves but for him who called us and gave his life for us (cf. Gal 2:20).
By her relationship with the Lord and the mission she receives from him, the Church calls upon her members to be converted to God. “While Christ, holy, innocent and undefiled knew nothing of sin, but came to expiate only the sins of the people, the Church, embracing in its bosom sinners, at the same time holy and always in need of being purified, always follows the way of penance and renewal” (UR, 8). We constitute the Church, and we cannot be genuine bearers of the evangelical message of conversion if we are not first converted, desiring that our lives be configured more deeply to the person of Christ. Evangelisation always involves conversion that is an interior change. “The process of purification inherent in evangelisation means the acceptance of Christ’s call to ‘repent, and believe in the gospel’ (Mk 1:15), the gospel of unity which Christ came to give”. Thus, through the process of conversion not only the individual, but the entire ecclesial community is changed, becoming ever more an expression of living faith and unity in Christ. In the encyclical Ut Unum Sint we are told:
The Council calls for personal conversion as well as for communal conversion. The desire of every Christian Community for unity goes hand in hand with its fidelity to the Gospel. In the case of individuals who live their Christian vocation, the Council speaks of interior conversion, of a renewal of mind (UUS, 15).
The present time is more demanding and challenging, Christians should urgently make a commitment aimed at conversion and the proclamation of their faith in one Jesus Christ. Every Christian is called to contribute to the building up of the one Church in such a way that she may shine out in the midst of a broken world as a sign of unity between man and God and the unity of the whole world. Conversion is in fact the path to unity. Without hesitation we can assert that there is no Christian life without repentance and there is no genuine ecumenism without interior conversion. “There can be no ecumenism worthy of the name without a change of heart. For it is from renewal of the inner life of our minds, from self-denial and an unstinted love that desires of unity take their rise and develop in a mature way”. One is reminded of St. Paul who urged the Christians of Corinth to overcome divisions and to seek the grace of sincere conversion (1 Cor 11:17-22).
The account of conversion of St. Paul on the road to Damascus is a great inspiration for us to get converted to Christ anew. It was immediate and radical for Paul, but he had to live it in faith and exercise that faith during the long years of his apostolate. Indeed, conversion is a life long process; it had to be a continuous renewal and incessant turning back from sin towards Christ. St. Paul echoed this: “Our inner nature is being renewed every day” (2 Cor 4:16). Indeed, without the personal conversion of all Christian believers very specially the ministers of the Church, conflicts and disagreements will never be overcome, and Christian unity never be restored. All that separate us from God come within ourselves; and all the barriers which block us from our brothers and sisters are also built right within ourselves. “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person…” (Mt 15: 18-20). All our ecumenical efforts must be directed to conversion, a change of heart and mind which enable us to see one another in a new sight and a new light as brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. Thus through renewal and conversion the Church can make God’s will present on earth and let the Church really become the sacrament of union with God and of unity with the whole human race. The Church as a community stands in urgent need of conversion and renewal.
The call of reconciliation is rooted in the salvific plan of God, who wants the whole world to be reconciled to him. This plan has its centre in Jesus Christ, God-made Man, “in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself”. Reconciliation like conversion of heart is a gift from God to his people given through Jesus Christ, that is, the fruit of the grace of Christ. Pope John Paul II in his apostolic exhortation Reconciliatio et Penitentia, beautifully stated:
Reconciliation is a gift of God, an initiative on his part. But our faith teaches us that this initiative takes concrete form in the mystery of Christ the redeemer, the reconciler and the liberator of man from sin in all its forms. St. Paul likewise does not hesitate to sum up in this task and function the incomparable mission of Jesus of Nazareth, the word and the Son of God made man.
This is the heart of the mystery of reconciliation, that “God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor 5:19). Jesus Christ accomplished this mission of reconciliation through his death and resurrection and thus he became a source of reconciliation and unity of humankind. Through our baptism we become a reconciled people and from the Gospel we receive the message of reconciliation. We are not only the recipient of this message, but also the custodians of it as the message is entrusted to us. It is our task to bring about reconciliation in the world. We are made a point of reconciliation in the world as it cannot continue in constant discord.
In fact reconciliation is not only a necessary for our salvation in the life to come; it is also a condition for human survival in the life on earth. If peace and harmony do not exist among individuals and nations, then conflicts may take on truly tragic proportions. Reconciliation is the necessary path leading to unity and peace. Facing the tensions and conflicts in the world today, there is no peace and harmony and the humankind is immersed in a climate of permissiveness. Hence it is necessary to turn to Jesus Christ, the ultimate gift of reconciliation, to have the joyous experience of reconciliation, so that the lost communion with God and with one another can be re-established and unity can be restored. It is for the same purpose he continues to give the Church to the world.
There is an intimate link between the mission of Christ and the mission of the Church. Indeed, there is a certain identity between the two. So we can say that it is certainly the mission of the Church to signify the reconciliation of people with God and with themselves. As Christ is the gift of God for the reconciliation of the world, so also the Church is the gift of God for continuing the reconciliation mission of Jesus Christ . Jesus Christ is the only mediator and the Church cannot take his place, but through her ministry Christ her Lord continues his work of mediation. “Christ, high priest and unique mediator, has made the Church ‘a kingdom, priests for God and Father’.” The Church exists in the world to proclaim this good news, to call all men to enter into communion with God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Her vocation is to call all children of God and lead them all into the one family of God. The first letter of St. John echoes the mission of the Church: “We declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). Pope John Paul II wrote in his apostolic exhortation that the Church is the great sacrament of reconciliation:
The church has the mission of proclaiming this reconciliation and as it were of being its sacrament in the world. The church is the sacrament, that is to say, the sign and means of reconciliation in different ways which differ in value but which all come together to obtain what the divine initiative of mercy desires to grant to humanity.
She is a sacrament in the first place by her very existence as a reconciled community which witnesses to and represents in the world the work of Christ.
Hence reconciling within the various members of the Church who belong to various ethnic and different social groups is something very essential and at the same time the Church has to be at the service of reconciliation in society, the latter is not possible without the former. The Church’s presence in the world as instrument of reconciliation is to act in her sphere as the leaven of communion against all types of hatred, all forms of division and to promote a culture of love. The Church is the community of those who have been, and who accept to be reconciled in the Lord, and to accept this gift is at the same time to shoulder the task to become herself an agent of reconciliation. By no means it is an easy task, but the Church finds in the sacrament of Eucharist the source and power for her unity and for her service of communion in the world. “The seeds of disunity, which daily experience shows to be so deeply rooted in humanity as a result of sin, are countered by the unifying power of the body of Christ. The Eucharist, precisely by building up the Church, creates human community”.
The Church must give, in her own life, an example of reconciliation which she proclaims. All Christians must contribute to the Church’s ecumenical task by bringing about reconciliation amongst themselves first, overcoming the divisions and healing the wounds which the Church has suffered for a long time. Return to God means return to man, there is no other way that takes us to God bypassing our brothers and sisters. “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (Mt 5:23-25). This is the will of God and for this Jesus prayed and ultimately died on the cross. Therefore Pope John Paul II teaches:
To carry out in our time the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18) it is necessary to be fully reconciled to God and our neighbour, and first of all with those with whom we share faith in Triune God and are united by one baptism.
In this broken world, the Christian Church is called to break down barriers of hatred, hostility and division. She has to be the servant of reconciliation and unity. The Church should bring healing and unity to others as she has already experienced it herself. This was the main reason when the Pope John Paul II blessed the Inter-faith prayer meeting in Assisi in 1986, ever since this prayer meeting is continued. The theme of the two reunions of 1986 and 2002 was Peace. Not a horizontal, human, fruit of the cleverness of diplomats or of the U.N., but true peace, which John Paul II defines as a gift of God. He declares even in 1986 before the representatives of the world’s religions assembled for the event-“Peace is Christ.” Being a gift, peace must be asked for essentially through prayer and fasting. This had been the whole object—the only object of Assisi—to pray for peace. Assisi was neither a congress nor a colloquium; it was a prayer reunion.
Indeed the presence and participation of the representatives of other Christian Churches and ecclesial communities was an expression of a genuine ecumenical spirit. They came together to look in the same direction: to the cross from which Jesus Christ won forgiveness for all. Forgiveness is the key to unlock the door of unity and peace for the world. The Assisi prayer assembly showed and consolidated a union of minds and wills. The initiative grew out of love for peace and unity, but there can only be unity and peace when there is willingness to forgive and to be forgiven, completely and sincerely.
No community can survive without forgiveness. No family can live in harmony; no friendship can endure, without repeated forgiveness. Forgiveness is a free and undeserved gift that God offers to us so that we in turn can offer it to others. To forgive is to open the door to a new beginning. It makes possible a communion of love based on truth and compassion. Forgiveness lets go of hurtful memories from the past and hopes in a future built on what is right and good. It makes possible reconciliation and peace.
St. Paul wrote to the Colossians highlighting the need for forgiveness: “Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as quarrel begins. The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same” (Col 3:13). If God is willing to forgive and heal us at the roots, then we have to practise the same in our lives. That forgiveness is a characteristic of Christianity. Forgiving enemies is what Christianity is all about.
Thus, renewal, conversion, reconciliation and forgiveness are a process of purification which helps us to reach the holiness which is another notion, and reality essentially related to ecumenism. Christ’s call to unity is at the same time a call to holiness and a call to greater love. It is only by becoming more faithful disciples of Jesus Christ can we hope to travel the path of unity under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Holiness is the supreme duty of all Christians who are called to be holy as their Father who is in heaven is holy (cf. Mt 5:48). This holiness, however, must also integrate the social dimensions of transforming the world according to the whole plan of God. Solidarity includes attention to situations of injustice, oppression or repression. It also includes a realistic commitment to the development of peoples. “Development” says Pope Paul VI, “is the new name for peace”. If people are hungry, homeless, illiterate, without health facilities, and are deprived of their political rights, then we are yet far away from the road to peace.
Prayer is the most important means for us to realize the will of God and help us to open our hearts and minds to it. In other words, to pray is to change, not to change God’s will, but to change ourselves to his will. In this sense prayer is linked to conversion, to the change of heart. Prayer and change of heart are declared to be the soul of ecumenism. It takes the form of a commitment to work for the renewal of one’s life, one’s own Church or community, in order to let essential elements of the Church be highlighted and prepare the way for Christian unity. Pope John Paul II once said that prayer was the royal way, the inevitable path, the basis of all ecumenism. All our prayer for Christian unity is based on the prayer of Jesus who prayed for the unity of the Church: “May they be one, Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I in you” (Jn 17:21). The prayer of Jesus to the Father reveals his desire for the unity of all his followers. God being a communion of three persons, so also all the Christians are called to be a communion of truth and love.
During his ministry of service, Jesus spent much time in prayer (cf. Lk 6:12). Gospels tell us that in the midst of ministry of preaching and healing, Jesus sought quiet places to pray. Jesus prepared himself by prayer for taking all the important decisions in his life. Beginning his public ministry, he retires into the desert to fast and pray. So also before choosing his apostles etc. (Lk 3:21; 6:12; 22:42; 23:34). For the unity of his disciples he prayed, “that they be one” (Jn 17:22), that “no one is lost” (Jn 17:12). Through his prayer Jesus also revealed his bond and union with the Father. He taught the disciples to pray “our Father”.
Prayer helps us to open to the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth and Love who is always present to respond to our prayer and to guide and move us (cf. Rom 8:14). St. Paul reminds us that, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 8:27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom 8:26-27). When we are in prayer the Holy Spirit pours love into our heart, uniting us as brothers and sisters to Jesus as he cries: “Abba, Father” (cf. Rom 5:5, 8, 15). According to John Paul II:
Every authentic prayer is under the influence of the Spirit “who intercedes insistently for us…and the one who searches hearts knows that what are the desires of the Spirit” (cf. Rom 8:26-27). We can indeed, maintain that every authentic prayer is called forth by the Holy Spirit, who is mysteriously present in the heart of every person.
What happens in our prayer? When we pray the Holy Spirit enlightens our minds and moves our hearts, thus deepening our communion with the Holy Trinity and with one another. He is the principle of unity, the power which enables us to overcome every obstacle and to heal every wound of division. He is the power given to the Church, at Pentecost, equipping her for the fulfillment of her mission in the world. “Ecumenical prayer is at the service of the Christian mission and its credibility. It must thus be especially present in the life of the Church and in every activity aimed at fostering Christian unity” (UUS, 23).
The Church exists in order to pray and in prayer, she reaches out for God, attaining fellowship with the Father and the Son in the Spirit. In prayer the Church manifests her Trinitarian origin and life. The Church draws constantly from the unity of the three person of the Trinity the strength to build communion among the individuals and communities. The Church directs herself to the Father and allows her to be moved by the action of the Spirit and intimately united with Christ her Lord. Indeed, as the Body of Christ she is in a position to communicate Jesus Christ to the world. Without the power obtained by prayer the Church would be lacking the commitment and will to proclaim Christ to the world. Through prayers the Church expresses to the world the supremacy of God and starts to fulfill the first and the greatest commandments, namely the commandment to love him, and others. This aspect is well explained in the encyclical Ut Unum Sint:
Love is the great undercurrent which gives life and adds vigour to the movement towards unity. This love finds its most complete expression in common prayer. When brothers and sisters who are not in perfect communion with one another come together to pray, the Second Vatican Council defines their prayer as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement. This prayer is “a very effective means of petitioning for the grace of unity”, “a genuine expression of the ties which even now bind Catholics to their separated brethren” (UUS, 21).
The Church as a praying community faithfully reflects the image of the praying Christ. His prayer was directed towards the Father for the sake of his brethren. Imitating Jesus Christ her Lord, the Church should pray for the unity of all those who are incorporated to Christ. The prayer of the Christian community is an invitation to Christ himself to be present in the midst of the people of God. “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in midst of them” (Mt 18:20). In the prayerful life of the Church, prayer is indeed linked to the word of God. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith enlightens us in the following way:
There exists, then, a strict relationship between revelation and prayer. The Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum teaches that by means of his revelation the invisible God, “from the fullness of his love, addresses men as his friends (cf. Ex 33:11; Jn 15:14-15), and moves among them (cf. Bar 3:38), in order to invite and receive them into his own company.” This revelation takes place through words and actions which have a constant mutual reference, one to the other; from the beginning everything proceeds to converge on Christ, the fullness of revelation and of grace, and on the gift of the Holy Spirit. These make man capable of welcoming and contemplating the words and works of God and of thanking him and adoring him, both in the assembly of the faithful and in the intimacy of his own heart illuminated by grace.
This is why the Church recommends the reading of the Word of God as a source of Christian prayer, and at the same time exhorts all to discover the deep meaning of Sacred Scripture through prayer “so that a dialogue takes place between God and man. For, ‘we speak to him when we pray; we listen to him when we read the divine oracles.”
The Word of God generates prayer in the whole community. At the same time it is in prayer that the word of God is understood, applied and lived. Prayer enables us to be converted continually. It helps us to reach out for God and for others. “Through prayer we grow in sensitivity to the Spirit of God at work in the Church and in ourselves. And we are made more aware of others, becoming more attentive to their lives and destiny”. From this point of view prayer must be intensified and immersed in a profound charity in order to overcome disunity, divisions, hatred and fear. It is the most powerful instrument capable of resolving problems of divisions since it has its roots in the very possibility of communicating with God through the power of the reconciling cross. Thus prayer is also an essential condition for the unity of all Christians. “When Christians pray together, the goal of unity seems closer. The long history of Christians marked by many divisions seems to converge once more because it tends towards that Source of its unity which is Jesus Christ” (UUS, 22).
Jesus prayed: “Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you” (Jn 17:21). It is the communion for which he prayed, it is a communion with the Holy Trinity and a communion with all our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is a communion which requires the common prayer of all Christians, and of which the common prayer of all Christians is the sign and expression. These “prayers in common are certainly an effective means of obtaining the grace of unity, and they are a true expression of the ties which still bind Catholics to their separated brethren” (UR, 8). “In the fellowship of prayer Christ is truly present; he prays “in us”, “with us” and “for us”. It is he who leads our prayer in the Spirit-Consoler whom he promised and then bestowed on his Church in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, when he established her in her original unity” (UUS, 22).
Common prayer does indeed involve the baptized who have been divided in the ecumenical search for Christian unity. It becomes a humble and conscious entreaty for the grace of unity. “This entreaty leads us to place our hope on the solid foundation of Christ’s incessant prayer for his Church, in the love of the Father for us, in the power of his Spirit”. Prayer enables the Christians to come together to face all the painful human reality of their divisions. Christian unity, when all is said and done, remains a gift from God as a result of humble prayer. Because of this reason, the Churches organize the annual prayer for Christian unity to strengthen their faith, to make their charity more fervent, and to increase their hope of full unity between Christians all over the world. The week of Prayer for Christian unity has become as established custom in the Catholic Church.
The origin of the Unity Octave can be traced to October 3, 1899, the eve of the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. On that day Rev. Lewis Thomas Wattson, an Episcopal clergyman later known as Rev. Paul James Francis, S.A., arrived at Graymoor, New York to establish a community of Episcopal Franciscans called the Friars of the Atonement. Already in 1898, Miss Lurana White, a devout young woman, had founded in the same place a community of Episcopalian nuns known as the Sisters of the Atonement.
For ten years the two communities were jointly known as the Society of the Atonement and lived the monastic life as members of the Protestant Episcopal Church. Father Paul grieved most because Christians seemed divided into warring sects and factions. He began to preach corporate reunion of the Episcopal Church with the Roman Catholic Church. Because of this he was banned from the pulpits of the Episcopal Church.
Father Paul James Francis was determined to carry on a vigorous apostolate for the return of all separated Christians to communion with the Holy See. To further this aim, he inaugurated in 1908 the Chair of Unity Octave (January 18-25). One year later, the members of the Society themselves received the grace of conversion, and on October 30, 1909, they entered the Catholic Church. With the blessing of Pope Pius X, they were permitted to continue as a religious society in the Catholic Church and were commissioned to carry on the apostolate of Christian unity as their community aim. The Chair of Unity Octave was also approved as a Catholic devotion by Pope Benedict XV in an Apostolic Brief in 1916. In 1953, a new formula of the Week of Prayer was proposed by Abbé Paul Coutourier. It was acceptable to very one because of its content: “The grace we should pray for is the unity that God wills, by the means that he wills”. It is truly a week of grace that is given to all Catholics each year. Pope John Paul II recognized its importance: “The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, celebrated in January or, in some countries, around Pentecost, has become a widespread and well established tradition” (UUS, 24).
By coming together before God in prayer the Christians can no longer ignore or hate others. Fellowship in prayer enables us to look at other Christians in a new way. They discover that they are pilgrims and seekers of the same goal. Common prayer plays an important part in helping to restore full unity among the Christians. One should not confuse common prayer with common worship, both are not the same. Common worship is not possible in many cases. Common worship can be two kinds: Sacramental and non-sacramental. Sharing in non-sacramental liturgical worship may be permitted. Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, paragraphs 116 to 121 deal with the practice of the Church regarding this. Sharing in Sacramental life, especially with Eucharist, penance and anointing of the sick is also permitted between the Catholics and Eastern Oriental Churches.
Whenever necessity requires or a genuine spiritual advantage suggests, and provided that the danger of error or indifferentism is avoided, it is lawful for any Catholic for whom it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister, to receive the sacraments of Penance, Eucharist and Anointing of the Sick from a minister of an Eastern Church.
The practice of sharing the sacramental life with Christians of other Churches (other than Oriental Orthodox Churches) and ecclesial Communities is dealt with from paragraphs 129 to 136 of the directory.
Common prayer must advance further, that is, it must reach out to action. This is another aspect of ecumenical prayer. We have to act as we pray otherwise our prayer becomes fruitless. “The call to prayer must precede the call to action, but the call to action must truly accompany the call to prayer”. Our Lord reminded: “It is not those who say to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Mt 7:21). Jesus is the excellent model for us; he did what he prayed. In the Upper Room, day on which he instituted the Eucharist, Jesus prayed for our unity and after that he died for it (cf. Jn 11: 42). After the resurrection the risen Lord being seated at the right hand of Father, he continues to pray for the unity of all.
3.4. Common Witness
Witness is a Gospel imperative: “You are to be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). Christians are called upon to bear witness to Christ. This is an essential element of our Faith in Christ that we bear witness to him. He himself was a faithful witness of God the Father. Thus he is our model. Indeed, he who was God entered into unity with us by becoming human, and by receiving the baptism offered by John which was a sign of penance, bearing witness to conversion and to the desire to turn to God. He came as a true man to take upon himself as a supreme sacrifice to obtain the forgiveness of human sin and the restoration of what had fallen apart through the shedding of his blood on the cross. Thus he has become really the witness of the one Triune God’s healing love for men.
Jesus Christ calls upon his followers to continue this witnessing mission in the world, equipping us for this task by sharing with us his Holy Spirit. “You will receive the power when the Holy Spirit comes down upon you; then you are to be my witnesses…” (Acts 1:8). The Holy Spirit is the beginning, the source, and the foundation of Christian life and of Christian witness which must be a common witness. John Paul II explained well the role of witness: “If an important matter is to be decided in court a number of witnesses are needed. It is only when their statements agree that light enters the darkness. With regards to the most important facts in the trial that world represents unanimous joint testimony is of key importance”. The Pope links this view with the prayer of Jesus according to John 17:21: “May they be one… so that the world may believe it was you who sent me”. He states: “If we want to obey the Lord’s command and be his witness we will have to do everything we can to increase our oneness”.
The call to be witnesses of Jesus Christ has induced us to reflect ever more profoundly on our responsibility in the process of restoring the unity of all Christians. His disciples must be one so that their testimony to the Good News of God throughout the world might be believed. Firm evangelical witness before humankind must definitely be ecumenical. It requires a common and collective dimension.
CATHOLIC DOCUMENTS ON ECUMENISM
The preceding chapter makes it very explicit that the Catholic Church underwent a lot of soul searching as she journeyed into the Second Vatican Council. She had to rediscover her mission and nature going back to her roots. She had to take bold steps to correct her self-understanding of what the Church meant. The Church made a number of revisions in her approach and relationship to other Churches and ecclesial communities. The Catholic Church actively participated in the ecumenical movement stating that it pertains to the whole Church. Hence Pope John Paul II emphatically stated: “Thus it is absolutely clear that ecumenism, the movement promoting Christian unity, is not just some sort of appendix which is added to the Church’s traditional activity. Rather, ecumenism is an organic part of her life and work, and consequently must pervade all that she is and does; it must be like the fruit borne by a healthy and flourishing tree which grows to its full stature” (UUS, 20). Thus the Catholic Church has various documents stating the importance of ecumenism in the life of the Church. These documents of the Church reflect the catholic theology of ecumenism. They propose the principles for ecumenical involvement, explain every Catholic why he/she must become a part of this movement.
4.1. An Instruction of the Holy Office on the “Ecumenical Movement”, 1949.
This is perhaps the first comprehensive document on Ecumenism from the Catholic Church. It is not fair to evaluate this instruction today with our present day understanding and practice of the Church. It was addressed to the bishops of the Catholic Church. The purpose of this instruction was very clear, to affirm that the Catholic Church was committed with “the most intense interest and to promote by earnest prayers to God, all efforts toward the attainment of what is so dear to the Heart of Christ Our Lord, namely, that all who believe in Him ‘may be made perfect in one’.” This document gives seven steps for the bishops to follow with care in order to encourage this movement in their dioceses.
1) The Instruction asked the bishops to watch diligently and effectively over ecumenical movement. They were also urged prudently to promote and direct it. The bishops are expected for this purpose to designate well-qualified priests who, according to the doctrine and norms prescribed by the Holy See, for example by the Encyclicals Satis cognitum, Mortalium animos, and Mystici Corporis Christi shall pay close attention and report to the Bishops all about this movement. Opportunities for the Catholics to know about other Christians are mentioned and also how to provide facilities to non- Catholics to know about the Catholic faith is mentioned.
2) The Bishops themselves will make regulations as to what is to be done and what is to be avoided, and shall see that these are observed by all. They shall also be on guard lest; one must not give attention to the points on which we agree than to those on which we differ. Indifferentism may not be encouraged. Therefore the whole and entire Catholic doctrine is to be presented and explained, one cannot be permitted to choose what he likes and leave others.
3) With regard to mixed assemblies and conferences of Catholics with non-Catholics, there is need of vigilance and control on the part of Ordinaries. The Ordinary shall see that the thing is properly managed, designating for these meetings priests who are as well qualified. The faithful, however, should not attend these meetings unless they have obtained special permission from Ecclesiastical Authority.
4) For all conferences and meetings which are called for the purpose of affording an opportunity for the Catholic and the non-Catholic party for the sake of discussion to treat of matters of faith and morals, are subject to the prescriptions of the Holy See.
5) Speaks about common worship. According to the Instruction, common worship must be avoided, yet it recommended the recitation in common of the Lord’s Prayer or of some other prayer approved by the Catholic Church.
6) The cooperation of several Bishops of the region is called for promoting the work of Christian unity in a unified and coordinated manner.
7) Religious Superiors have the duty to watch that their subjects adhere strictly and faithfully to the prescriptions laid down by the Holy See or by the local Ordinaries in this matter.
4.2. The Decree on Ecumenism, 1964
The Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio means the Restoration of Unity) was solemnly proclaimed by the Second Vatican Council on 21 November 1964. The Decree on Ecumenism forms a part of the ecumenical movement which had arisen outside of the Catholic Church during the 20th century (UR, 1, 4). The Decree outlines the principles and practice of ecumenism. Certainly this Decree is not intended primarily as a doctrinal document.
The structure of the Decree on Ecumenism is remarkably compact. It is divided into three chapters and twenty four paragraphs. There is an “Introduction” in which it is forthrightly acknowledges the existence of the ecumenical movement and stated that, “The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council. Christ the Lord founded one church and one church only; division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel” (UR, 1). From its introduction the Decree on Ecumenism attaches the commitment to unity in the prayer of Christ. It speaks of the basis of Trinitarian unity reflected among the Christians. It underlines the fact that it is communities of believers and not just individuals that hear the Word of God and follow the calling of Christ.
A) Chapter One: “Catholic Principles on Ecumenism”.
The Decree outlines the main principles and practice of Ecumenism in this chapter. This is doctrinally very important as it sets out the Catholic understanding or principles of ecumenism. It affirms that there is only one ecumenical movement. Hence the Decree speaks of Catholic principles on Ecumenism rather than Catholic Ecumenism. The Church is understood as a communion of faith and sacrament that is to be experienced visibly and invisibly. The Decree says, “We believe that this unity subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose, and we hope that it will continue to increase until the end of time” (UR, 4). By this the Council did not exclude other Churches and ecclesial communities from the body of Christ. The quality of unity can also be found in other churches and ecclesial communities. It affirms our common faith and baptism. “For men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect” (UR, 3).
The Decree highlights the importance of dialogue, collaboration in ministry and common prayer. The goal of ecumenical dialogue is set our clearly: “This is the way that, when the obstacles to perfect ecclesiastical communion have been gradually overcome, all Christians will at last, in a common celebration of the Eucharist, be gathered into the one and only Church in that unity which Christ bestowed on His Church from the beginning” (UR, 4). Hence first and foremost one should “avoid expressions, judgments and actions which do not represent the condition of our separated brethren with truth and fairness and so make mutual relations with them more difficult” (UR, 4). Secondly one must know the exact teachings of his/her Church. Thirdly one must be prepared for “cooperation between them in the duties for the common good of humanity which are demanded by every Christian conscience; and, wherever this is allowed, there is prayer in common. Finally, all are led to examine their own faithfulness to Christ’s will for the Church and accordingly to undertake with vigor the task of renewal and reform” (UR, 4).
B) Chapter Two: “The Practice of Ecumenism”.
The second chapter gives the outline of the practice of Ecumenism. It calls for inner renewal and reform in the Church. Conversion and renewal are treated as so essential for any genuine ecumenical dialogue. Spiritual ecumenism is so central to any step that the Church takes for restoring Christian Unity. The Decree states: “Every renewal of the Church essentially consists in an increase of fidelity to her own calling” (UR, 6).
The practice of Ecumenism involves according to the Council right understanding of the faith and theology of other Christians, study, dialogue, common search for the Word of God, and common witness of Christ. The change of heart must reflect in the language the Christians use regarding one another. Every Christian is called to holiness and a growth in holiness brings us closer to Christ and to one another.
C) Chapter Three: “Churches and Ecclesial Communities Separated from the Apostolic See”.
This chapter is further divided into two sections: Section 1: “The Special Position of the Eastern Churches” and Section 2: “The Separated Churches and Ecclesial Communities of the West.” The Decree acknowledges that Christians who belong to various churches and ecclesial communities do in fact, share a great deal in common. The most important bonds of communion are faith in God, in Christ the incarnate Son of God, baptism, the Scriptures and the Creeds. It identifies the various ways the other Churches and communities are related to Catholic Church. The Decree acknowledges that there are various degrees of communion. A very special place is given to the Eastern Churches. “These Churches, although separated from us, yet possess true sacraments and above all, by apostolic succession, the priesthood and the Eucharist, whereby they are linked with us in closest intimacy” (UR, 15). This communion or intimacy is rooted on all sacraments especially baptism and the valid celebration of the Eucharist by an ordained minister whose power of order manifests apostolic succession with out any doubt. The Eastern Churches’ liturgical and monastic traditions, ecclesiastical disciplines and theological formulations are good and effective. They are complementary and not in any way opposed to the practice and formulations found in Latin Church. There is an implicit rejection of uniatism when the Decree says “that for the restoration or the maintenance of unity and communion it is necessary ‘to impose no burden beyond what is essential’ (Acts 15:28).”
In the second section of this chapter, the Decree makes a very careful presentation of the relationship with the Churches and ecclesial communities. The Catholic Church recognizes a distinction between the Eastern Churches and other Churches and ecclesial communities. “In the great upheaval which began in the West toward the end of the Middle Ages, and in later times too, Churches and ecclesial Communities came to be separated from the Apostolic See of Rome” (UR, 19). The selection of words Church and ecclesial communities in order to describe other communities of Christians is with a definite purpose. Some Christian communities are called Churches; as such communities have a greater identity with the Catholic Church in terms of structures and liturgical practice. The Decree acknowledges the complexity and variety of Protestant developments and seriousness of the division in faith and culture. The importance of our common Scripture and baptism is developed.
This section of the Decree on Ecumenism makes it very explicit about the separation on the ground of jurisdiction as in the case of Catholic Church and Orthodox Churches of the East. Whereas the separation in the West took place due to juridical and theological (doctrinal) reasons. In spite of this distinction Unitatis redintegratio “speaks of a number of elements of faith and sacramental life which constitute bonds of existing theological communion between the Catholic Church and the various ecclesial communities”.
The Decree concludes by exhorting “the faithful to refrain from superficiality and imprudent zeal, which can hinder real progress toward unity” (UR, 24). It invokes God’s blessing upon the ecumenical movement. “The Council moreover professes its awareness that human powers and capacities cannot achieve this holy objective-the reconciling of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ. It is because of this that the Council rests all its hope on the prayer of Christ for the Church, on our Father’s love for us, and on the power of the Holy Spirit” (UR, 24).
D) The Importance of the Decree on Ecumenism
Unitatis Redintegratio makes a new beginning in the Catholic Church’s relationship with other Christian communities. It is an ecumenical break-through, a new beginning with full of hope and promise. The other Churches and ecclesial communities are no longer called sects or heretical bodies. The Decree enables the Catholic Church to go beyond the mutual ex-communications and anathemas of the past and appreciates the salvific value of all Christian communities through dialogue. Hence the Catholic Church entered a series of bilateral and multilateral dialogue with Eastern Christians, Anglicans, Old Catholics, Lutheran Federation and others. The Decree also facilitates the co-operation and collaboration of the Catholic Church with WCC even though the Catholic Church is not a member of the former. Robert McAfee Brown sums up the importance of the Decree in these words, “To non-Catholics as well as Catholics this is a major resource for the future ecumenical activity and opens new possibilities of ecumenical action that would scarcely have been possible even half a decade ago”. It is remarkable that how such a relatively short and structurally modest document could set off one of the most significant theological realities of the twentieth century, the ‘Ecumenical Movement’.
E) The Theological Principles of the Decree on Ecumenism
At the very real risk of short-changing the rich doctrine of the decree itself, we can mention six salient theological principles of the conciliar Decree. They are;
i) Theological Imperative in Favour of Christian Community
The quest for unity within the Church of Christ is based solidly in the desire of the
Lord Jesus himself, “That they may be one” (Jn.17:21). The words of the first paragraphs
of the conciliar document are eloquent and challenging. “Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only. However, many Christian communions present themselves
to men as the true inheritors if Jesus Christ; all indeed profess to be followers of the Lord
but they differ in mind and go in different ways, as if Christ himself were divided. Certainly such division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world and damages that most holy cause, the preaching of the Gospel to every creature” (UR, 1). Later the document speaks about the love and reverence for the Sacred Scriptures that is so prevalent among the ecclesial communities resulting from the Reformation. Certainly the high priestly prayer that Jesus offered in the Upper Room on the night before died for the salvation of the world is an unequivocal, biblical basis for both theologically justifying and pastorally pursuing the imperative in favor of Christian unity.
ii) The Nature of the Sacrament of Baptism
Reflecting the traditional understanding and teaching of the Catholic Church on the nature of the sacrament of baptism, the Decree states, “…all who have been justified by faith in baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have the right to be called Christians and with good reason are accepted as brethren by the children of the Catholic Church” (UR, 3). This bold statement obliges us to call an Orthodox, an Episcopalian or a Baptist a Christian and therefore he/she is our brother/sister. And this again helped us to understand that there is salvation outside the Catholic Church.
The Decree on Ecumenism states clearly that it is the sacrament of Baptism that provides the basis for any authentic ecumenical dialogue. In and through Baptism, we die and rise with Christ to newness of life. The Christ to whom we are personally united in the saving waters of Baptism is one and undivided. Wherever and whenever the sacrament of Baptism is validly celebrated, there is the divine summons to Christian discipleship and the new life in Christ. Baptism thus serves as a solid basis for the communion of all the Christians. We have one Lord and one Baptism. And they are members of Christ’s body.
iii) The Nature of the Church
The nature of the Church and how people belong to that Church in order to be saved remains at the heart of the ecumenical dialogue. Cardinal Walter Kasper stated that, “The Council was able to embrace the ecumenical movement because it understood the church as a whole as movement, namely as the people of God on the move (LG, 2). Or to formulate it another way: the Council ascribed new relevance to the eschatological dimension of the church and described the church not as a static but as a dynamic entity, as the people of God undertaking a pilgrimage between “already” and “not yet”. The Council integrated the ecumenical movement into this eschatological dynamic”. Indeed, many think that the ecumenical movement will rise or fall on whether we come to a common understanding about the nature of the Church and its role in continuing the saving mission of Christ in the world today.
The Decree on Ecumenism recognizes the primary importance of this ecclesiological truth by restating it in various ways throughout the document; 1) “One cannot charge with the sin of separation those who are at present born into these communities and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ. The Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers.” 2) “For men who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in some, though imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church.” 3) “The brethren divided from us also carry out many liturgical actions of the Christian religion. In ways that vary according to the condition of each church and community, these liturgical actions most certainly can truly engender a life of grace, and, one must say, can aptly give access to the communion of salvation” (UR, 3).
iv) The Hierarchy of Truths
This particular theological principle has given a strong impetus for making headway in the various ecumenical discussions that have taken place since the promulgation of the Decree. The principle does not mean, as some have interpreted it, that there are gradations in the truths of the faith such that, for example, the truth of the existence of the Blessed Trinity is somehow truer than the truth of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven. Truth is, by its very nature, one and indivisible. Something cannot be true today and false or even less true tomorrow. The language of the text in which this theological insight is articulated is important for its proper understanding. The text reads, “When comparing doctrines with one another, they (meaning Catholic theologians) should remember that in Catholic doctrine, there exists an order or ‘hierarchy of truths’, since they vary in their relation to the foundation of the Christian faith.” What, or more appropriately, who is the foundation of the Christian faith? It is Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, true God and true man, who is and remains forever the Savior of the world. As Cardinal Kasper has so eloquently and succinctly stated it at an ecumenical prayer service in the Basilica of St. Paul-Outside the Walls in Rome, “Jesus Christ is not only the foundation but also the goal of our ecumenical commitment. In Him we will be one.”
v) Spiritual Ecumenism
Spiritual ecumenism is rooted in the reality of interior conversion. In the second Chapter of the Decree entitled “The Practice of Ecumenism,” the Council Fathers stress that ecumenism can only be effective as a movement toward Christian unity if only all the baptized assume a new attitude of mind that reflects that of Christ who prayed in earnest that his Church would endure in the grace of unity. History teaches us that this has not been the case. Therefore, a conversion of heart and mind and conscience must provide the energy and will for growth in Christian unity. The document terms such conversion of heart, accompanied by holiness of life, as “the soul of the ecumenical movement” (UR, 8).
One of the notable insights that the Second Vatican Council enunciated for continuing the Christian life authentically, was to underline the universal call to holiness. All Christians, by virtue of faith and baptism, are called to strive after holiness of life those results from a personal intimacy with Jesus Christ within one’s own vocation or state in life. To grow in holiness is to grow in knowledge and love of Christ. It is, as St. Paul so poignantly writes in his Letter to the Philippians, to “have the mind of Christ” (Phil 2:7). The mind and will of Christ is “that they may be one.” To embrace that will is to be open to engaging oneself in “spiritual ecumenism” of which the Decree spoke so well.
vi) The Pre-Eminence of Charity
In his First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes, “in the end there are three things that last: faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13 :). St. Thomas Aquinas states that charity is the virtue that informs all the others. In the tragic history of the Church that gives the account of the fracturing of the Church’s unity, the lack of charity is often quite prevalent. If such a lack of charity has contributed to prolonging the scandal of Church division, then it will be the superabundant exercise of charity on the part of all Christians that will certainly, with God’s grace, contribute to reestablishing the unity that Christ willed for his Church. Decree on Ecumenism speaks about love and charity absolutely necessary for Christian unity. “When such actions are undertaken prudently and patiently by the Catholic faithful, with the attentive guidance of their bishops, they promote justice and truth, concord and collaboration, as well as the spirit of brotherly love and unity” . The Decree is echoing what Pope John XXIII expressed in his encyclical Ad Petri Cathedram in 1959: “But the common saying, expressed in various ways and attributed to various authors, must be recalled with approval: in essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity”.
4.3. Directory Concerning Ecumenical Matters: Part One, 1967
The Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity (SPCU) was entrusted with the promotion, within the Catholic Church, of an authentic ecumenical spirit according to the Conciliar decree Unitatis redintegratio. It was for this purpose that an Ecumenical Directory: Part One was published in 1967 by SPCU.
Introduction: It speaks about the purpose of the directory. It was published to encourage and guide the concern for unity of all in Catholic Church. The decrees of the Second Vatican Council may be better understood and put into practice throughout the Catholic Church. It is really important that proper care must be taken so as to avoid any false irenicism and indifferentism among the people. This directory acknowledges that the ecumenical movement is set on foot by the Holy Spirit; hence the pastors and faithful in the Church must accept it as a gift from divine providence without closing our mind and heart to the inspirations of the Spirit.
The Setting up of Ecumenical Commissions: The Directory urges the bishops in the Catholic Church to set up Diocesan Ecumenical Commissions. If individual dioceses find it difficult in some places to set such commissions, they could have it for a group of dioceses. How such commissions work for the promotion of Christian unity is dealt with.
The Directory then speaks about the role of the territorial commissions in the national level or in accordance with the situation a group of nations. The territorial or national commission should have a permanent secretariat and it is the duty of this commission to give guidance in ecumenical affairs and determine concrete ways of acting to implement the decree on Ecumenism. The directory visualizes six specific functions for this territorial commission.
The Validity of Baptism: Conferred by other Churches and Ecclesial communities are affirmed based on two principles. 1) Baptism is necessary for salvation and 2) It cam be conferred only once. Different practices of the way the baptism is administered in different Christian communities like baptism by immersion, pouring or sprinkling of water together with the Trinitarian formula is accepted . Concerning the right intention and the application of the matter unless there is a serious doubt exists, they are presumed. Hence the directory warns against the indiscriminate conditional baptism.
The Fostering of Spiritual Ecumenism: Once again the Catholic Church has emphasized the importance of Spiritual Ecumenism. This is to be expressed both in prayer and in the celebration of the Eucharist by every Christian, even though he does not live among separated brethren. The need for offering prayers regularly for the unity of Christians is stressed and the directory proposes by way of an example five different occasions where prayer can be said meaningfully for the unity of Christians. “Pastors should see to it that as circumstances of places and persons suggest, gathering of Catholic faithful are arranged to pray for unity”.
Sharing of Spiritual Activity and Resources with our Separated Brethren: The Directory repeats and explains further what the Decree on Ecumenism had already taught with regard to the obligation to share the spiritual heritage of all Christians. This sharing of spiritual activities and resources are seen also as a manifestation of the grace of unity that is already present and it is a way to strengthen further the bonds of unity. The guiding principles are offered for the sake of clarity. The Directory repeats the distinction between the sharing of spiritual activity including common prayers and resources (communicatio in spiritualis) and the sharing of liturgical worship (communicatio in sacris). It elaborates the need of common prayer and gives the form, the place and the dress that can be used of such prayer service.
The Directory concludes urging the authorities of Catholic schools and hospitals to give all possible spiritual help for the non-Catholic Christians, informing their ministers about their presence and facilitating them to minister to them in Catholic Institutions.
4.4. Directory Concerning Ecumenical Matters: Part Two-Ecumenism in Higher Education, 1970
The Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity published the Directory Concerning Ecumenical Matters: Part Two in 1970 . The purpose of this Second Part of this directory was to focus on ecumenical principles and practices in higher education both clerical and lay studies. It is felt that all should be of ecumenical mind in the Church and therefore there is a need of introducing ecumenism in higher education especially in the major seminaries and the Catholic Universities. The importance of this Second Part of the Directory was summed up by Cardinal Willebrands: “The point of departure was a firm ecumenical purpose, that is, the will to put into practice in the field of higher education the teaching of Vatican II on ecumenism. The problem is to harmonize over the whole field strict principles of Catholic faith and of the Catholic conception of ecumenism as well as of good sense, at the same time taking account of a great variety of situations.”
The directory in its introduction speaks of the basic conviction of the Church. All the Christians should be of ecumenical mind but all the more those who are entrusted with particular responsibilities in the Church. Hence all the institutions of advanced learning should have ecumenism in their curriculum and an ecumenical spirit should permeate in all the activities of these institutions. The term institutions of advanced learning means “all university faculties, academic institutions, diocesan seminaries, institutes or centers of house for the training of religious, men and women.”
General Principles and aids to Ecumenical Education: First of all the directory states that a sound ecumenical education is possible if only the students and teachers should have already a solid understanding of their Catholic faith and the doctrinal teachings of the Church. They must also have the maturity of mind and real skill to understand the nuances of doctrinal issues involved. Secondly they must be willing and interested to learn more about other Churches and ecclesial communities. Thirdly they must be able to evaluate what unites the Christians and what divides them. Finally we can say that they must have the ability to apply wisely what they learn to give common witness. The directory acknowledges that various academic subjects have a connection with ecumenism. Therefore philosophy, history, arts, music and other subjects can be taught with an ecumenical mind. It also speaks of various activities both spiritual and social that can promote ecumenical understanding and provide opportunities for common witness among the students.
The Ecumenical Dimension of Religious and Theological Education: The directory develops this section under six categories. 1) Spiritual Formation 2) Doctrinal Formation 3) The Ecumenical Aspect in all Theological Teachings 4) The Ecumenical Aspect in the Separate Branches of Theology 5) Conditions of a Genuine Mind in Theology 6) Ecumenism as a Special Branch of Study.
Particular Guidelines for Ecumenical Education: The directory offers four particular guidelines. They are the following:
1) For Dialogue between Christians in Higher Education: As seminaries, theological faculties and other institutions of higher education have a special role in ecumenical dialogue. Participation in ecumenical dialogue itself is an ecumenical education for the students. But the directory gives seven safeguards for a meaningful ecumenical dialogue in higher education.
2) For those who have Special Ecumenical Tasks: The need for properly instructed experts in ecumenical matters is once again underlined. They must be drawn from the clergy, religious, laymen and women. Their main task is to help the bishops and clergy in the local Church to prepare the faithful in ecumenical matters. They are called to organize ecumenical activities in Catholic schools and institutions.
3) For those who already working in a Pastoral Ministry: Theology faculties, seminaries and other institutions of higher education are called upon to undertake studies how to improve the ecumenical commitment of those who are in pastoral ministry. These institutions can offer courses for the clergy and the laity involved in pastoral activities on the present state of ecumenism. Opportunities to meet the ministers of other Christian communities and listen to them about their traditions and activities are useful and encouraging.
4) Concerning superiors and teaching staff in institutions: They must have sufficient ecumenical training so that they initiate the young priests, lay people in the seminaries and other places of learning into ecumenical understanding and vision. The directory suggests that the teachers must be given all possibilities to keep in touch with the all advances in ecumenical thought and action. There must be sufficient books and periodicals and other publications both of Catholic Church and non-Catholic in these institutions of higher learning.
Institutional and personal cooperation between Catholics and other Christians: Cooperation among Christian institutions of higher education and good relationships among the teachers and students of these centers of learning are seen as a great help to promote ecumenical education. The directory proposes practical suggestions in details regarding such cooperation among institutions.
4.5. Reflections and Suggestions Concerning Ecumenical Matters, 1970
The Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity published this document in 1970 as a supplement to the Directory Concerning Ecumenical Matters Part One and Two. Originally the Secretariat wanted it to be the third part of the directory. But later they published as a separate document without giving the same normative value of part one and two of the directory. This Reflections and Suggestions are published “as a working document, a qualified and sure guide, which carries weight without, however being based upon any authority in the juridical sense of the word…Its authority resides uniquely in the fact that it is the result of prolonged reflection made on many levels by those engaged in ecumenical dialogue”. This document is published as an aid to facilitate the Episcopal conferences all over the world for concrete application of the decree on ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio.
This document concerns only ecumenical dialogue. It means dialogue among the Christians of different Churches or ecclesial communions. Dialogue has become the comprehensive term referring to all forms of interaction, exchange, conversation and collaboration between the Christians of various Churches and communities. And it deals with the following:
1. Nature and Aim of Ecumenical Dialogue: The aim of ecumenical dialogue is to make the Christians to learn together in their sharing in the mystery of Christ and of the Church. They also learn how to give common witness to Christ realizing that there are so many common elements that unites them. The Churches learn together the response which the Spirit urges of them in facing the needs of the world especially in those areas where the Gospel has not been preached . The questions, concerns, problems, doubts are all most the same for all Christian communities in a given locality, hence the dialogue helps them to face these situations together fully prompted by the Holy Spirit.
2. Basis of Dialogue: All Christians are Christ’s disciples by virtue of their baptism. They have the same Word of God, life of grace, faith, hope, charity and the interior gift of the Holy Spirit. Thus there already exists a certain communion which must be the starting point for dialogue. The common reference for all the baptized followers of Christ “is Revelation as expressed in the witness of the Holy Scriptures. These are something more than a mere book or set of regulations”. Finally one can say that ecumenical dialogue is a must for renewal and inner conversion. It is a measuring rod of one’s own faithfulness to Christ’s will.
3. Conditions for Dialogue: The directory draws our attention to three major general conditions for a fruitful ecumenical dialogue:
i) Loyalty to one’s own Church. Monologue does not pay due attention to the other person in his otherness. False broad-mindedness is a failure to show oneself as one really is. This loyalty to one’s own Church must be a dynamic, critical loyalty…
ii) This concern for renewal does not stop at one’s own Church. It must be a concern for the Christian cause all over the world, and a desire to serve God’s Purpose as He reveals Himself to us here and now.
iii) Respect for others and for their reasons, a willingness to listen to others and to understand them. An attitude of Sympathy and openness, spontaneous contacts and exchanges, human relationship, an attitude of equality are all essential.
4. Subjects for Dialogue: According to the directory “ecumenical dialogue may cover the content of faith, theological questions, subjects connected with liturgical and spiritual life, history, religious psychology, as well as anything that has to do with the presence, witness and mission of Christians in the world” . But this is not an exclusive list; in fact attention to real life is the key to choose subjects for dialogue.
5. Forms of Dialogue: One can speak about the simplest and the most frequent form of dialogue which happens when Christians meet one another. Then in many centers of education and study unstructured dialogue does take place. The lay people will get opportunities to meet other Christians depending on their profession and other social gatherings. Families of mixed marriage, gatherings of the Church ministers ordained or non-ordained, dialogue between theologians and faculty members of Universities or seminaries also can be opportunities of fruitful dialogue.
4.6. Ecumenical Collaboration at the Regional, National and Local levels, 1975
In the year 1975 the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity published this document on ecumenical collaboration. The purpose of this document was to give some guidelines to all those who work on the local ecumenical commissions. Cardinal Willebrands, the president of the Secretariat introduced the text in the following words:
It is not a set of directives or prescriptions endowed with authority in the juridical sense of the word. Rather it is a document that gives the kind of information which can help bishops in a certain place decide about the form to be given to the local ecumenical collaboration. But its purpose is to do more than give information. It sets out orientations which do not have the force of law but which have the weight of the experience and insights of the Secretariat.
This document speaks of the ecumenical task of the Catholic Church. But the Church is aware that ecumenical initiatives must be adapted to local needs and will therefore differ from region to region while remaining in harmony with the bonds of Catholic communion. It gives a detailed presentation of the Catholic understanding of local Church. Further various forms of local ecumenism are mentioned and give certain ideas of collaboration with other Christians such as:
a. Sharing in Prayer and Worship
b. Common Bible Work
c. Joint Pastoral Care
d. Shared Premises
e. Collaboration in Education
f. Joint Use of Communication Media
g. Cooperation in the Health Field
h. National and International Emergencies
i. Relief of Human Need
j. Social Problems
k. Sodepax Groups
l. Bilateral Dialogues
m. Meetings of Heads of Communions
n. Joint Working Groups
o. Councils of Churches and Christian Councils
4.7. Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, 1993
This directory was published by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity on 25 March 1993 is in fact the result of the growth of ecumenical commitment of the Catholic Church since the publication of the Decree on Ecumenism. This is an up-dating of the Ecumenical Directory which was originally published a few years after the end of the Second Vatican Council by the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity in two parts in 1967 and 1970. Already in 1985, Pope John Paul II in an address to the Roman Curia on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul expressed the need for a new ecumenical directory to advance the ecumenical movement in all spheres of Church activity. The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity was very particular that this new document would take into account the diversity of the local Churches in the Catholic communion as well as the Churches and ecclesial communities all over the world.
It must be very much noted that this directory exhibits the qualities of clarity, restraint and exactness. And the principles and norms of Catholic ecumenism are presented in a complete way. After the directories of 1967 and 1970, the new directory summarizes the Catholic Church’s position impressively. Just before the publication of the directory Pope John Paul II said: “With all my heart I hope that, when it is publsihed, the Directory will strengthen the spirit of fraternal love and mutual respect among Christians on the ardurous but exhilarating path which they are called to travel together towards full communion in truth and charity”. The Directory provides both a helpful and a necessary encouragement for the Catholic dioceses around the world in their effort to promote ecumenism.
Reasons for this Revision (2-3)
To whom is the Directory Addressed? (4-5)
Aim of the Directory (6)
Outline of the Directory (7)
1. The Search for Christian Unity (9-36)
The Church and its Unity in the Plan of God (11-12)
The Church as Communion (13-17)
Divisions among Christians and the Re-establishing of Unity (18-21)
Ecumenism in the Life of Christians (22-25)
The Different Levels of Ecumenical Activity (26-29)
Complexity and Diversity of the Ecumenical Situation (30-34)
Sects and New Religious Movements (35-36)
II. The Organization in the Catholic Church of the Service of Christian Unity (37-54)
The Diocesan Ecumenical Officer (41)
The Diocesan Ecumenical Commission or Secretariat (42-45)
The Ecumenical Commission of Synods of Eastern Catholic Churches and Episcopal Conferences (46-47)
Ecumenical Structures within other Ecclesial Contexts (48-49)
Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (50-51)
Organizations of Faithful (52)
The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (53-54)
III. Ecumenical Formation in the Catholic Church (55-91)
The Necessity and Purpose of Ecumenical Formation (55)
Adaptation of Formation to the Concrete Situation of Persons (56-57)
A. Formation of all the Faithful (58-69)
The Means of Formation (59-64)
. Suitable Settings for Formation (65-69)
B. Formation of Those Engaged in Pastoral Work (70-86)
1. Ordained Ministers (70-81)
a) Doctrinal Formation (72-81)
i) The Ecumenical Dimension in the Different Subjects (73-75)
ii) The Ecumenical Dimension of Theological Disciplines in general (76)
iii) The Ecumenical Dimension of Individual Theological Disciplines (77-78)
iv) A Specific Course in Ecumenism (79-81)
b) Ecumenical Experience (82)
2. Ministers and Collaborators Not Ordained (83-91)
a) Doctrinal Formation (83-84)
b) Ecumenical Experience (85-86)
C. Specialized Formation (87-91)
The Role of the Ecclesiastical Faculties (88)
The Role of Catholic Universities (89)
The Role of Specialized Ecclesiastical Institutes (90)
D. Permanent Formation (91)
IV. Communion in Life and Spiritual Activity among the Baptized (92-160)
A. The Sacrament of Baptism (92-101)
B. Sharing Spiritual Activities and Resources (102-143)
General Principles (102-107)
Prayer in Common (108-115)
Sharing in Non-Sacramental Liturgical Worship (116-121)
Sharing in Sacramental Life, especially the Eucharist (122-136)
a) Sharing in Sacramental Life with members of the various Eastern
b) Sharing Sacramental Life with Christians of Other Churches and
Ecclesial Communities (129-136)
Sharing Other Resources for Spiritual Life and Activity (137-142)
C. Mixed Marriages (143-160)
V. Ecumenical Cooperation Dialogue and Common Witness (161-218)
Forms and Structures of Ecumenical Cooperation (163-165)
Councils of Churches and Christian Councils (166-171)
Ecumenical Dialogue (172-182)
Common Bible Work (183-186)
Common Liturgical Acts (187)
Ecumenical Cooperation in Catechesis (188-190)
Cooperation in Institutes of Higher Studies (191)
In Seminaries and Undergraduate Studies. (192-195)
In Theological Research and Post-Graduate Studies. (196-203)
Pastoral Cooperation in Special Situations (204)
Cooperation in Missionary Activity (205-209)
Ecumenical Cooperation in the Dialogue with other Religions (210)
Ecumenical Cooperation in Social and Cultural Life (211-213)
a) Cooperation in common studies of social and ethical questions (214)
b) Cooperation in the field of development, human need and stewardship
of creation (215)
c) Cooperation in the field of medicine (216)
d) Cooperation in Social Communications Media (217-218)
The High lights of the Directory
1. “The concern for unity is fundamental to the understanding of the Church” (58) – a perspective already embodied in the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which says that “the Church is bound by the will of Christ to promote” unity among all Christians (canon 755, quoted in 39; cf. also 19).
2. “Ecumenical openness is a constitutive dimension of the formation of future priests and deacons” (76). One will be pleased to see that the Directory takes seriously the importance of ecumenical formation in seminary education, and perhaps invites other Christian communities to implement this idea in their formation of ministers. It is heartening to note that a course in ecumenism “should be compulsory” (79). In fact, the document offers an effective course outline for any professors who wish to take up the challenge (79, 88).
3. “Those who are baptized in the name of Christ are, by that very fact, called to commit themselves to the search for unity” (22).
4. “Those who seek holiness be able to recognize its fruits also outside the visible boundaries of their own Church” (25).
5. “It is even desirable that Christians should write together the history of their divisions and of their efforts in the search for unity” (57). Presumably, if we do this, it will keep us all honest, and, as the document notes, “the danger of subjective interpretations can be avoided”. In addition, it will help put things in a broader perspective, and allow us to foster the healing of memories.
6. “Ecumenical cooperation shows to the world that those who believe in Christ and live by his Spirit, being thus made children of God who is Father of all, can set about overcoming human divisions, even about such sensitive matters as religious faith and practice, with courage and hope… The efforts being made to overcome them do much to offset the scandal and to give credibility to Christians who proclaim that Christ is the one in whom all things and people are gathered together into unity” (205). This echoes a classic assumption in the conciliar ecumenical movement, namely, that the call to unity is for the sake of the world.
7. The ecclesiology of communion is central to the Catholic Church; therefore the directory contains a theological section on ecumenism and its implication for ecumenism. “The communion in which Christians believe and for which they hope is, in its deepest reality, their unity with the Father through Christ in the Spirit. Since Pentecost, it has been given and received in the Church, the communion of saints….” (13). This statement has as a backdrop the affirmation of the Second Vatican Council that “full visible communion of all Christians is the ultimate goal of the ecumenical movement” (20, referring to Unitatis Redintegratio, 4, 15-16).
8. The Directory stresses the importance of “spiritual ecumenism”, quoting the Decree on Ecumenism and calls it “the soul of the ecumenical movement” (25). It notes that “God’s call to interior conversion and renewal in the Church, so fundamental to the quest for unity, excludes no one”.
9. One of the more common forms of the ecumenical movement, at all levels of Church life, is councils of Churches. The Directory takes a cautiously positive stand on Roman Catholic membership in Conciliar bodies. It places the decision for membership squarely in the hands of the bishops in the area served (168), and then gives specific criteria which are to be used in weighing the decision (169).
10. It is note worthy to observe the Directory’s approach to ecumenism in parish life. It calls for “a pastoral programme which involves someone charged with promoting and planning ecumenical activity, working in close harmony with the parish priest” (67).
11. The Directory talks about the importance of shared Bible study, with its potentially transforming effects (59). Indeed, a whole section (183-186) deals with “common Bible work”, and begins by quoting the observation from Unitatis Redintegratio that the scriptures “are a precious instrument in the mighty hand of God for attaining to that unity which the Saviour holds out to all” (183).
12. The Directory provides helpful, concrete guidelines about the nature and scope of ecumenical worship – guidelines which might be useful to any local planning committee (111-113). It offers the possibility that “in liturgical celebrations taking place in other churches and ecclesial communities, Catholics are encouraged to take part in the psalms, responses, hymns and common actions of the church in which they are guests. If invited by their hosts, they may read a lesson or preach.”
4.8. The Apostolic Letter, Orientale Lumen, 1995
Orientale Lumen, The Light of the East is the apostolic letter of Pope John Paul II (May 2, 1995). He sees in the Eastern approach the unbroken line established by Christ to return to God, the Father. The tragic separation of the churches of East and West is the occasion of the document. The Pope is pained by the division and is passionate about healing the rift. He wants us, the members of the Catholic Church to feel the same way, “to feel, with the Pope, a passionate longing that the full manifestation of the Church’s catholicity be restored to the Church and to the world,” so that the unity which prevailed in the first millennium and was lost in the second, might be restored in the third. Orientale Lumen rouses in its readers a deep sadness that Churches which ‘have almost everything in common’ are unable to share the Eucharist; it succeeds in stirring up, as the Pope wishes, a ‘holy nostalgia for the centuries lived in full communion’. The Pope encourages the Christians not only to work for Christian unity, but also to deepen spiritual roots in our own tradition.
The document opens by presenting the principles upon which the process towards unity is to be based. To a large extent, these are the principles of Vatican II in the decrees on Ecumenism and on the Eastern Catholic Churches, but they are re-presented here with a freshness and vigour unique to Pope John Paul II. The centenary of Leo XIII’s apostolic letter Orientalium Dignitas is the ostensible occasion for the present teaching but, the approaching third millennium was also on his mind: a new millennium, an era of recovered unity . Vatican II urged the mutual understanding and respect, especially for the liturgical and spiritual heritage of the Eastern Churches, are “of supreme importance . . . in order faithfully to preserve the fullness of Christian tradition” (OE, 15). The differences between the two traditions are to be recognized and appreciated; they are not conflicting, but complementary; though different, they are part of the undivided heritage of the one, universal Church; there is to be harmony in a plurality of forms. Ecumenism with other Christian traditions is not expressed in such terms; East and West need each other; the fullness of Christian tradition needs both. In affirming the teaching of the Council Pope John Paul is also accepting that most significant of statements : “to remove any shadow of doubt, this sacred Synod solemnly declares that the Churches of the East, while keeping in mind the necessary unity of the whole Church, have the power to govern themselves according their own disciplines” (OE, 16). Orientale Lumen states: “Today we know that unity can be achieved through the love of God only if the Churches want it together, in full respect for the traditions of each and for necessary autonomy”. It seems in Orientale Lumen, the Pope wants to give his personal endorsement to the process of union: the Christian East has a unique and privileged role as the original setting of the Church; the West needs the East, he affirms. There is a further imperative for the traditions to recover their original unity: not just the needs of the Church, but also those of the world. Men and women today in every part of the world have questions which only a united Church has the strength to answer. While men and women appeal to the Church to show them Christ, division between East and West is serious sin; it causes scandal. “It must give way to rapprochement and harmony; the wounds on the path of Christian unity must be healed”, Pope John Paul II stresses.
The structure of Orientale Lumen is clear and effective, reflecting the process towards unity it recommends. Part I, Knowing the Christian East: an experience of faith, presents us with John Paul’s own synthesis of the theology and spirituality of Eastern Churches. Part II, From Knowledge to Encounter, takes us into practical ways to promote unity. Generally, the method is the same as that described by the Council, a method which is now the pattern of all ecumenical engagement, even with non-Christian faiths. We must seek to know each other better; we must reach out and engage in dialogue; and we must work together. “Meeting one another, getting to know one another, working together”, as the subheading succinctly says. A readiness to examine faithfulness to our own tradition; an honest and careful appraisal of what needs to be renewed and achieved within the Catholic household; a spirit of conversion and holiness of heart based on humility and self-denial, aptly described as ‘spiritual ecumenism’; readiness to accept blame are key attitudes. The Apostolic letter concludes saying that we are journeying together toward Christ, the ‘Orientale Lumen’. May he “grant us to discover that in fact, despite so many centuries of distance, we were very close, because together — perhaps without knowing it — we were walking towards the one Lord, and thus towards one another”.
4.9. The Encyclical Ut Unum Sint, 1995
Ut Unum Sint – ‘May they be one’- is the twelth encyclical of Pope John Paul II dated May 25, 1995. Inspired by the prayer of Jesus (Jn 17:21-22), this encyclical deals with the relations with other Christian churches and communities. It reiterated that unity of all Christians is essential. This document shows that the Catholic Church is committed officially to unity of all Christians . Here we briefly outline the encyclical and offer a few comments to underscore its importance.
I. The Catholic Church’s Commitment to Ecumenism God’s Plan and Communion 5-6
The way of ecumenism: the way of the Church 7-14
Renewal and conversion 15-17
The fundamental importance of doctrine 18-20
The primacy of prayer 21-26
Ecumenical dialogue 27-30
Local structures of dialogue 31-32
Dialogue as an examination of conscience 33-35
Dialogue as a means of resolving disagreements 36-39
Practical cooperation 40
II. The Fruits of Dialogue 41-76
Brotherhood rediscovered 41
Solidarity in the service of humanity 42-43
Approaching one another through the Word of God and through divine worship 44- 46
Appreciating the endowments present among other Christians 47-48
The growth of communion 49
Dialogue with the Churches of the East 50-51
Resuming contacts 52-54
Sister Churches 55-58
Progress in dialogue 59-61
Relations with the Ancient Churches of the East 62-63
Dialogue with other Churches and Ecclesial Communities in the West 64- 70
Ecclesial relations 71-73
Achievements of cooperation 74-76
III. Quanta Est Nobis Via? (What is the Future Direction? Literally: How much of the way is still left for us) 77-99
Continuing and deepening dialogue 77-79
Reception of the results already achieved 80-81
Continuing spiritual ecumenism and bearing witness to holiness 82-85
Contribution of the Catholic Church to the quest for Christian unity 86-87
The ministry of unity of the Bishop of Rome 88-96
The communion of all particular Churches with the Church of Rome: a necessary condition for unity 97
Full unity and evangelization 98-99
Ut Unum Sint is a historic encyclical with important implications for the Catholic Church’s involvement in the ecumenical movement. It reaffirms the irrevocable commitment of the Catholic Church to the cause of ecuemnism. This document takes up the questions of the nature of ecclesial unity and its relation to the full acceptance of revealed truth.
The first chapter of Ut Unum Sint basically reaffirms the main ecumenical principles of the Second Vatican Council. Pope John Paul reaffirms two important ideas of the Council: 1) that unity is God’s will; 2) that unity takes the form of a visible communion of faith, sacraments and communal life under the guidance of ordained ministers. Jesus died in order “to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad” (John 11:51-52); through his cross he brought hostility to an end (cf. Eph. 2:14-16). The pope then adds: “The unity of all divided humanity is the will of God. For this reason he sent his Son, so that by dying and rising for us he might bestow on us the Spirit of love. On the eve of his sacrifice on the cross, Jesus himself prayed to the Father for his disciples and for all those who believe in him, that they might be one, a living communion. This is the basis not only of the duty, but also of the responsibility before God and his plan…,” (UUS, 6).
Unity is so intimately linked to the salvific mission of Jesus Christ; hence division among the Christians is a serious matter — not a minor issue that can simply be tolerated. John Paul quotes the Decree on Ecumenism that division “openly contradicts the will of Christ, provides a stumbling block to the world and inflicts damage on the most holy cause of proclaiming the good news to every creature” (UR, 1).
In the Encyclical we note that eight paragraphs (paras 7-14) are devoted to the ecclesiology of communion which was a central theme of the Second Vatican Council’s understanding of ecumenism. The notion of communion corresponds to the nature of the Church as such. It expresses that unity of Christians which is rooted in their common sharing of the life of God, of grace, of the divine gifts of faith, hope and charity. The bonds which maintain communion are many, but they may be summarized under three headings: the profession of a common faith, the celebration of worship and sacraments, the ordered communal witness and service carried out under the guidance of ordained ministers. The Second Vatican Council mentioned this triad various times: Lumen Gentium speaks of “the bonds constituted by the profession of faith, the sacraments, ecclesiastical government and communion” (LG, 14). In Unitatis Redintegratio the Church teaches that that Jesus himself, through the ministry of the bishops, perfects the Church’s “fellowship in unity: in the confession of one faith, in the common celebration of divine worship, and in the fraternal harmony of the family of God” (UR, 2). Echoing this concern Pope John Paul writes: “this unity bestowed by the Holy Spirit … is a unity constituted by the bonds of the profession of faith, the sacraments and hierarchical communion” (UUS, 9).
Another striking traits of Ut Unum Sint is its acknowledgment of the wealth of God’s riches present in the various Christian communities: “If Christians, despite their divisions, can grow ever more united in common prayer around Christ, they will grow in the awareness of how little divides them in comparison to what unites them” (UUS, 22). The Second Vatican Council described the Church as a kind of a “sacrament”, that is a sign and instrument of union with God and among men and women. The Council applied a similar “sacramental” terminology to other Christian communities in the Decree on Ecumenism, which John Paul quotes in Ut Unum Sint. By this the pope wants to affirm the presence and action of Christ and the Holy Spirit in other Christian communities. At the same time, he wishes to state that there are differences between the Churches to the extent that each embodies within its faith, sacraments and communal life more or less of the elements with which Christ intended the Church to be endowed.
Ut Unum Sint in the first chapter lays aside ecclesiological principles and takes up the topic of the practice of ecumenism. The prominent themes are the need for conversion and renewal, the primacy of prayer, ecumenical dialogue and cooperation on pastoral, cultural and social levels as well as in witnessing together to gospel values. An emphasis on humility which acknowledges the failure and seeks reform is really Christian. It is clear in these texts that the Catholic Church also needs to change. Indeed, the most explicit calls for conversion and forgiveness in this encyclical concern the conversion of Peter and the request for forgiveness for any painful experience which would have resulted from the exercise of papal authority in the past.
Diversity and unity in faith is presented in details in the second chapter. During the past thirty years, there is an increased awareness that we all belong to Christ. “Christians of one confession no longer consider other Christians as enemies or strangers but see them as brothers and sisters. Again, the very expression separated brethren tends to be replaced today by expressions which more readily evoke the deep communion -linked to the baptismal character-which the Spirit fosters in spite of historical and canonical divisions. Today we speak of “other Christians”, “others who have received Baptism”, and ‘Christians of other Communities’.”
Getting to know each other allows Christians “to discover what God is bringing about in the members of other churches and ecclesial communities” and to become “aware of the witness which other Christians bear to God and to Christ”. Within this positive evaluation of the changed climate between Christians, the pope turns respectively to developments in Catholic relations with the communities of the East and of the West. He emphasizes two different themes. The discussion of relations with the East focuses on legitimate diversity, that of relations with the West on dialogue as a means of arriving at unity in faith.
Dialogue with other Christians is one of the most dominant themes of Ut Unum Sint, all through its three chapters. John Paul acknowledges the commedable contribution of the World Council of Churches and its Faith and Order Commission to ecumenism . He holds up in approval fraternal charity in relations of Chrstitans to one another where susicion and enmity marred these relationships earlier. This solidarity has helped the Chrisitans in some cases the sacramental sharing:
In this context, it is a source of joy to note that Catholic ministers are able, in certain particular cases, to administer the Sacraments of the Eucharist, Penance and Anointing of the Sick to Christians who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church but who greatly desire to receive these sacraments, freely request them and manifest the faith which the Catholic Church professes with regard to these sacraments. Conversely, in specific cases and in particular circumstances, Catholics too can request these same sacraments from ministers of Churches in which these sacraments are valid. The conditions for such reciprocal reception have been laid down in specific norms; for the sake of furthering ecumenism these norms must be respected (UUS, 46).
Yet the ecumenical dialogue among Christians appears at times to be more difficult because of “weighty differences … in the interpretation of revealed truth”. John Paul emphasizes that unity in faith is essential to full communion and that only love for the truth can enable Christians to undergo the difficult process leading to such unity. In fact, Ut Unum Sint speaks of “the courageous journey towards unity” which requires all to avoid “false irenicism”. Thus “dialogue is an indispensable step along the path towards human self-realization, the self-realization both of each individual and of every human community …”(UUS, 28). Thus dialogue is here seen in the context of the “gift-exchange” which is part of the catholicity of the church. When talking about the legitimate diversity of sister churches, the pope mentions theological formulations which are complementary though different.
In the encyclical Ut Unum Sint, John Paul II was very conscious of being at the beginning of the third millennium since the birth of Jesus. It was during the first and the second millennium that the divisions took place which still wound the body of Christ. For these, Christians need to ask pardon from one another, but most of all from God. His plea is, “to the faithful of the Catholic Church, and to you, my brothers and sisters of the other Churches and Ecclesial Communities: ‘Mend your ways, encourage one another, live in harmony, and the God of love and peace will be with you … The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all’ (2 Cor 13:11, 13)”.
4.10. The Ecumenical Dimension in the Formation of those Engaged in Pastoral Work, 1998
Pope John Paul II approved the revised Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism in 1993 and one of the Directory’s main concerns is ecumenical formation in seminaries and theological faculties. For this purpose Plenary Meeting of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in 1995 wanted to study and make more explicit the principles and recommendations lay down in the Directory, 1993. To prepare for the plenary discussion, a study document was drafted. This new document has to be read together with the Directory . Its main focus is the ecumenical formation of theological students and seminarians. But it can be also adapted for the use in other contexts as well namely the formation of laity and religious with due consideration to the local needs and circumstances. It is addressed to all who have responsibility for theological and pastoral formation to help them ensure that those who in the future will be engaged in pastoral work, and also those who will be theology professors, receive adequate ecumenical formation. In this way they will better be able to respond to what is required by the life of the Church in our day. This document calls for a specific seminary or university course in ecumenism as well as the integration of ecumenism into the entire formation programme. Its importance can be seen in the words of Pope John Paul II:
You have specifically studied the problem of ecumenical formation in seminaries and theological faculties, which is one of the Directory’s main concerns. You have wished to do so in a modern, practical way based on the requirements of the educational sciences, which cannot be limited to a mere course of information on the ecumenical movement. I hope that the practical directives you have mentioned will allow the ecumenical dimension to become an integral part of teaching the different disciplines, by using the interdisciplinary method and through inter-denominational co-operation, provided for by the Ecumenical Directory.
This Study Document therefore gathers together what is in the Ecumenical Directory and present to us in concrete terms what has to be done. Those engaged in the pastoral work in the Church may better be able to respond to what is required by the life of the Church in our day. The outline of the document is as follows:
A. Ecumenical Formation is Necessary for All the Faithful
B. The Ecumenical Formation of Theological Students, Seminarians and Future Pastoral Workers
I. Requirements for giving an Ecumenical Dimension to each area of Theological
A. Key Elements for the Ecumenical Dimension of Each Theological Discipline
B. An Ecumenical Methodology in Each Theological Discipline
C. Practical Recommendations
II. Specific Teaching in Ecumenism
A. General Introduction to Ecumenism
a) The Catholic Church’s Commitment to Ecumenism
b) The Fundamental Role of Ecumenical Dialogue – Ut Unum Sint
c) Some Current Ecumenical Issues
B. Areas for Further Specific Treatment
a) Biblical Foundations for Ecumenism
b) Catholicity in Time and Place
c) Doctrinal Basis of Ecumenism
d) History of Ecumenism
e) Purpose and Method of Ecumenism
f) Spiritual Ecumenism
g) Other Churches and Ecclesial Communities
h) Principal Areas for Further Dialogue
i) Specific Ecumenical Issues
j) Ecumenism and Mission
k) Contemporary Challenges for Ecumenism
C. A Note on Ecumenical Materials and Textbooks
D. Further Recommendations
As one surveys the Catholic Documents on Ecumenism, one can only marvel at the way Holy Spirit has inspired the Church. From identification of Mystical Body of Christ with Catholic Church and the insistence on ‘return model’, today the Catholic Church emphasizes the communion aspect of the Church. The Christians of other communities are no longer called separated brethren but are fellow Christians who belong to Christ. These documents are a reflection of our attitude to accept all Christian communities not as rivals but as instruments of human salvation in Christ. It also manifests how the teachings of the Second Vatican Council is received, accepted and is being implemented in the Church today.
ECUMENISM IN INDIA
India, with an area of 3,166,414 square kilometers and with 1103 million people, offers the greatest possibility and challenge for the Christians who account for only 2.34 percent of the total population, to be united in their efforts to proclaim Christ to the rest of their fellow Indians. India is unique in the sense that “nowhere else on earth one can find so many religions thrown together with so great a variety of competing ideologies”. The socio-economic realities of the Indian situation call for a united effort on the part of all Christians to fight against the social evils such as poverty, illiteracy and the oppression of the weaker section. It is the responsibility and the mission of every Christian Church and ecclesial community in India to give a united witness to Christ. The Indian society being an amalgam of diverse races, with constant religious tensions between different groups and castes, the Christian Churches should have a relevant ministry of unity and reconciliation.
From the religious point of view, division among the Christians confuses the vast majority of the non-Christians in India. They hear of the one and the same Jesus Christ proclaimed by different Churches and communities who refuse to accept each other and often accuse one another. Thus division among the Christians has become a scandal and a stumbling block in the path of evangelization of India. The result is that about 1077 million of our fellow Indians have yet to experience the love of God as manifested in Jesus Christ. No Christian who is committed to Jesus and his Gospel can afford to be indifferent to the ecumenical imperatives and its implications for the evangelization of India today.
5.1. The Ecumenical Challenges
A) Communion of Three Churches and the Challenge to Ecumenism in India
The Catholic Church in India is a communion of three individual Churches: the Latin Church, the Syro-Malabar Church and the Syro-Malankara Church. The existence of these three Churches of different traditions certainly adds richness and diversity to the Church in India. The Second Vatican Council teaches that the existence of the particular Churches or rites within the Catholic Church underscores her unity and universality.
The holy Catholic Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ, is made up of the faithful who are organically united in the Holy Spirit by the same faith, the same sacraments and the same government. They combine into different groups, which are held together by their hierarchy, and so form particular churches or rites. Between those churches there is such a wonderful bond of union that this variety in the Universal Church, so far from diminishing its unity, rather serves to emphasize it. For the Catholic Church wishes the traditions of each particular church or rite to remain whole and entire… (OE, 2).
Emphasizing the unity within the Catholic Church in India, Pope John Paul II reminded the bishops:
My dear Brothers in the Episcopate let us continue to reflect on the marvelous mystery of the Universal Church and all the Churches or Rites which make up her variety in unity. May the centre of all your pastoral solicitude be the Church’s unity and communion.
Indeed, the diversity in ecclesiastical traditions and the consequent different ritual jurisdictions is not a division in the Church. But this diversity can hamper the work of evangelization if there is no real communion and understanding among the Churches. It is really difficult to build up a true local Christian community if the three Churches carry out their work of evangelization independently of each other in the same territory. It can be a counter-witness to Christian unity, and will prevent the emergence of a true local Church. A Church that subordinates her attachment to Christ to the claims of rites and traditions cannot be the sacrament of unity. “Ecumenism thrives where there is mutual acceptance and respect, individually and collectively”.
The Catholic Church in India has to take a leading role in promoting ecumenism. With 158 dioceses spread throughout the entire land, the Catholic Church has the population of a little more than 19 million. Proportionately she has a greater responsibility towards Christian unity in India. Therefore it is imperative that the Catholic Church should foster unity and respect among various rites and traditions within the Church before she takes any active step to unite all Churches and ecclesial communities to give a common witness to Christian faith. Pope John Paul II reminded the Indian bishops:
As you know, the Second Vatican Council emphasized the Church’s vocation to be a sign of the unity of mankind, so often divided by ethnic, political, cultural and linguistic rivalries, and thus oppressed by all sorts of tensions. This vocation brings with it the need for reconciliation where unity has been impaired or damaged. Hence there is the need for the closest possible communion and collaboration between the different Rites in your beloved country.
A Catholic Church which cannot live in fraternal love and charity, is a counter sign and detrimental to all efforts towards Christian unity.
Common witness of Christians is a sure way to practice ecumenical commitment. In India there is a pressing need for collaboration in social and developmental projects. The Christians, together with other agencies, should strive hard to solve the various problems of our country. “In a country where the majorities are non-Christians, it is urgent and imperative for all Christians to bury their differences and bear a united witness to Jesus Christ”.
This appeal for a united witness has a very special significance in India today. The nation is in urgent need of communal harmony and national integration. This is a crucial period in the history of India where its unity and integrity is challenged from within. Fissiparous tendencies and religious fanaticism are on the rise. “If we strive to witness to the unity within the Church by our reconciling and healing initiatives, then can we credibly work for National Integration? The Church as small koinonia is called to be a leaven of fellowship in the dough of larger society and its servant for promoting justice and solidarity”.
Ecumenical activities have lost a lot of its enthusiasm in India because of the division and lack of communion in the Church. No common witnessing is really possible till the Church in India realizes that her mission is to continue the very same mission of Jesus Christ. Indeed, it is “necessary to encourage close communion and collaboration between the different rites of the Church, so that in their relationship the Churches may live unity according to the will of Christ”.
B) The Church Union Movements in India and Their Ecumenical Challenge
Ecumenical tradition in India goes back to the first decades of the eighteenth century. Indian Church leaders participated in all the important ecumenical conferences of this century. This fact was referred by Pope John Paul II: “In India you have a tradition of fine initiatives in the cause of unity. You have given leaders to the ecumenical movement not only in India but on the world scene”.
The Protestants and the Anglicans were the pioneers of the Indian ecumenical movement. Through their co-operation and collaboration they have created an ecumenical spirit in India. Their efforts for Christian unity were rewarded in the formation of two national Churches namely, the Church of South India in 1947 and the Church of North India in 1970. Though, all the non-Catholic Churches did not join these Church union movements, the formation of these two Churches were an epoch-making event in the history of ecumenical movement in India. “The significance of these unions is hard to overrate. In a Society which is fragmented, of diverse races, with constant religious tensions between different groups and castes, Christians were able to demonstrate unity”.
5.2. Non-Catholic Churches and Ecclesial Communities
The Christian community in India can be broadly divided into four groups. They are those who are adherents of the Catholic Church, Orthodox Churches, Protestant Churches/ communities, and Indigenous Churches. Each of these groups comprises of many individual Churches and communities big and small. It is not easy for us to deal with the historical, cultural and religious background of all the Churches and communities in this brief work. However, we present a short historical and theological description of some of them as the life of every Catholic is affected some way or other by these Christian communities. A comprehensive understanding of the theology of ecumenism and a committed involvement in ecumenical activities in India will be incomplete without a deeper knowledge of faith, the spirituality and the doctrine of these non-Catholic Churches and communities.
A) Orthodox Churches in India
Indeed, an area of great significance on ecumenism in India is the relationship of the Catholic Church with the Orthodox Churches (literally means those who have the right belief or right worship). These Orthodox Churches are a family of self-governing ones. Communion among themselves is held together not by a centralized authority but by the bond of faith and communion of sacraments (doctrinal agreement and mutual reorganization of ministries are there but not under one juridical government). The Orthodox Churches in India trace their history to the Apostle Thomas. Their liturgical, theological and spiritual heritage and Syrian tradition, as well as their bitter experience with the Portuguese authorities in India since the 16th century, are to be studied objectively in order to have a better ecumenical relation with them. In India we have mainly two communities of one Oriental Orthodox Church:
i) The Syrian Orthodox Church
This is an autocephalous Oriental Orthodox Church that traces back its origin to the early Chrisitan community at Antioch, based in the Middle East with members spread throughout the world. It is one of the five ecclesiastical bodies that comprised the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church before the schism that resulted during the Council of Chalcedon in 451AD. It preserves the patrimony of Syriac Christianity and has Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic, as its official language. The Church is led by the Syrian Patriarch of Antioch.
This Church is often referred to as Jacobite Church, after Jacob Baradaeus the bishop of Edessa. In the 6th century he ordained many bishops and priests to carry out the missionary activities in the face of imperial persecution as they rejected the teachigns of the Council of Chalcedon. They were also falsely called Monophysites. The Syriac Orthodox Church is one of the first particular Churches of Christianity, established in Antioch by the Apostle St. Peter in 34 AD. The current head of the Syriac Orthodox Church is the Patriarch, His Holiness Moran Mar Ignatius Zakka I, who resides in Damascus, the capital of Syria. The Church has about 26 archdioceses and 11 patriarchal vicarates. Some estimate that the Church has about 5.500.000 members globally.
In India, the Syriac Orthodox Church is popularly known as Malankara Jacobite Syriac Orthodox Church with the Patriarch of Antioch as its supreme head. The local head of the Church in Malankara (Kerala) is the Catholicos of India, currently His Beatitude Baselios Thomas I, ordained by and accountable to the Patriarch of Antioch. In the Syrian Orthodox Church hierarchy, the Catholicos is second in rank to the supreme spiritual head, the Patriarch of Antioch. The Church has 14 dioceses and 12,00000 members globally . The Church has dioceses and Churches in most parts of India as well as in the USA, Canada, United Kingdom, Western Europe, and the Persian Gulf nations for the migrants of Kerala.
The Syrian Orthodox Divine Liturgy is performed in Syriac, Malayalam and in English in the dioceses in India and other countries where the faithful had migrated from India. Syriac Christianity has had a long history in India. According to tradition, Christianity in India was established by St. Thomas who arrived in Malankara from Edessa in A.D. 52. The close ties between the Church in Malankara and the Near East go back to at least the fourth century when a certain Joseph of Edessa traveled to India and met Christians there. The faith of the Syriac Orthodox Church is in accordance with the Nicene Creed. It believes in the Trinity that is one God, subsisting in three distinct persons. The three being of one Essence, of one Godhead, have one Will, one Work and one Lordship. The Syriac Orthodox Church believes in the mystery of Incarnation. Claiming to follow St. Cyril of Alexandria’s lead they said that the Only Son of God came down and took to Himself a body through Virgin Mary, thus becoming a perfect Man with a perfect Soul. It further believes that His true Godhead and His true Manhood were in Him essentially united, He being one Lord and one Son, and that after the union took place in Him, He had but one Nature Incarnate, was one Person, had one Will and one Work. This union is marked by being a natural union of persons, free of all separateness, intermixture, confusion, mingling, change and transformation. The Syriac Orthodox Church calls Mary, the ‘Bearer of God’, because she gave birth to Christ, God truly incarnate. The Syriac Orthodox Church believes that the death of Christ was the separation of His soul from His body, but His deity did not at any time leave either His body or His soul. It further believes that by His death for us, He conferred upon us salvation from eternal death and reconciliation with His Heavenly Father.
The Syriac Orthodox Church believes that the Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, the Spirit of Truth, proceeds from the Father. The Holy Spirit is equal with the Father and the Son. Concerning the Church it believes the Church is the body of true believers in Christ, and that the Head of the Church is Our Lord God Jesus Christ. With regards to Sacraments, the Syriac Orthodox Church believes that the Holy Sacraments are tangible signs designated by the Lord Christ to proclaim divine grace, which He gave for our sanctification. The Sacraments of the Church are: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Repentance, the Priesthood, Anointing of the Sick, and Marriage. Holy Sacraments are offered by the Bishops and the Priests. Only believers can receive the Sacraments. All but four of the Sacraments are essential for salvation: Baptism, Confirmation, Repentance and Eucharist. Of the sacraments, Baptism, Confirmation and the Priesthood may be received only once. The Syriac Orthodox Church conforms to the teachings of the Three Ecumenical Councils of Nicaea (A.D. 325), Constantinople (A.D. 381) and Ephesus (A.D. 431). It rejects the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451).
The sacraments of this Church are valid for the Catholic Church. Hence we can have sharing in sacramental life with them keeping the conditions laid down by Ecumenical Directory and the Code of Canon Law.
ii) Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church
Both Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church and Malankara Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church had a common history up to 1912. The Antiochean Patriarch Peter III came to Kerala and presided over a Synod of representatives of Churches at Mulanthuruthy in 1876. This Synod resolved that the Church in India would continue in the communion of the Patriarch and the Syrian Church of Antioch. However it was alleged that the Patriarch tried to influence in all matters of the Indian Church including its material administration. Patriarch Peter I1I was keen to establish that he had full authority over the Malankara Church both in its spiritual and in its temporal matters and not merely an over all spiritual supervision. His second successor Patriarch Mar Abdullah II was determined to establish his authority over all matters of the Malankara Church and for that intention he came to Kerala in 1909 and pressed the issue. This led to a sad division in the Church from 1911, one party siding with the Patriarch and the other lining up with Metropolitan Mar Dionysius VI of Vattasseril who stood against the Patriarch and wanted to keep up the independence of Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church.
Catholicate established in Malankara in 1912: In this conflict the Metropolitan of India could obtain the support of Patriarch Mar Abdul Messiah the immediate successor to Patriarch Peter III who lost his position by state interference. While Metropolitan Mar Dionysius VI clashed with Mar Abdullah, the Canonical senior Patriarch Abdul Messiah offered to come to the assistance of the former. In 1912 he came to Kerala and associated with Mar Dionysius VI and the Bishops and the Church with him, to establish the Catholicate of the East in Malankara. The ceremony was held at St. Mary’s Church, Niranam on 15 September 1912; Niranam Church is one of the seven Churches founded by St. Thomas during his visit here in the first century. The Catholicate of the East was thus established in Malankara, with the co-operation of the canonical Patriarch Abdul Messiah, who was senior to Mar Abdulla. Thereby the Patriarch himself has withdrawn his right of spiritual oversight if any in the Indian Church. Catholicos is an ecclesiastical dignitary recognized in the Church. He is equal in rank with the Patriarch though the latter is considered as first among equals.
Malankara Orthodox Church is now administered as per the constitution adopted in 1934 which was passed by the Malankara Syrian Christian Association. The Supreme Court of India in 1996 upheld the constitution of the Church adopted in 1934 and made it binding on both fractions of the Church. The Court recognized the Syrian Patriarch of Antioch as the spiritual head of the universal Syrian Church and the Catholicos in India has the legal standing as the head of the Church in India and he is the custodian of its parishes and properties . The Malankara Syrian Christian Association is a fully representative body of the Church with elected members – priests and laymen – from all the Parish Churches. Now one priest from each parish and laymen 1 to 10 depending on the number of members in each parish are members of the Association. It is the Association which elects the Catholicos and the Malankara Metropolitan and also the Bishops. There are about 21 dioceses and more than 1560 parishes under the Malankara Orthodox Church. The total number of the faithful is 25,11, 833. Although majority of the members of the Church live in Kerala, they could be found now spread over not only in all the different states of India, but also in all the continents through out the world. Among the 21 Dioceses now, 15 of them are in Kerala and 6 of them outside Kerala i.e. Madras, Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi, America and the Diocese of Canada-UK-Europe. Parishes outside India, other than those in the two Dioceses of America and Canada-UK-Europe are included in the four Dioceses of Madras, Bombay, Calcutta and Delhi.
The Episcopal Synod has all the Prelates of the Malankara Church as members. Matters concerning Faith, Order and Discipline are under the authority of the Episcopal Synod. It is the Episcopal Synod which installs the Catholicos. This is an ancient, autonomous, independent, Indian Church. Its supreme Head is His Holiness the Catholicos of the East and Malankara Metropolitan, with headquarters at Catholicate Aramana, Devalokam, Kottayam. As supreme Head of the Malankara Orthodox Church, he now assumes two titles “Catholicos of the East” and “Malankara Metropolitan”. The Catholicos consecrates Bishops for the Orthodox Church of the East, presides over the Episcopal Synod, declares its decisions and implements them, conducts administration as the representative of the Synod and consecrates the Holy Mooron (Oil)). The sacraments of this Church are valid for the Catholic Church and sharing in sacramental life is possible subject to certain conditions laid down by Ecumenical Directory and the Code of Canon Law.
iii) The Assyrian Church of the East
The Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East is headed by His Beatitude Mar Dinkha IV, the Catholicose –Patriarch residing at Morton Grove, Illinois, USA. This Church traces its origins to the See of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, said to be founded by Saint Thomas the Apostle as well as Saint-Mari and Addai as evidenced in the Doctrine of Addai. In India, it is known as the Chaldean Syrian Church. And in the West it is often known as the Nestorian Church. The Assyrian Church of the East is known by historians and scholars as the martyrs’ Church, because no church has suffered as much martyrdom for Christianity as the Assyrian Church of the East has. On November 11, 1994, an historic meeting of Mar Dinkha IV and Roman Catholic Pope John Paul II took place in the Vatican and a Common Christological Declaration was signed. “Whatever our Christological divergences have been, we experience ourselves united in the confession of the same faith in the Son of God who became man so that we might become children of God by his grace”. The pope called the Assyrian Church, “Church of Martyrs” and declared: “We do not forget the long night of suffering endured by you Eastern Syriac communities, which were scattered, persecuted and massacred down the centuries for professing the name of Christ”. Another important step towards closer relations between these two Churches was the decision of pope John Paul II concerning the validity of the Anaphora of Addai and Mari.
The Assyrian Church is the original Christian Church in what was once known as Parthia; western Iraq and Iran. Geographically it stretched in the medieval period to China and India. In the 14th century there were about twenty metropolitan provinces about two hundred suffragen dioceses. Prior to the Portuguese arrival in India in 1498, it provided East Syrian bishops to the Saint Thomas Christians. In India the Church has a Metropolitan and Patriarchal delegate residing at Trichur. The former has jurisdiction all over India. The total population of the Church in India is said to be 30,000 with 35 priests and 27 deacons. The sacraments of this Church are valid for the Catholic Church.
B) Other Churches and Ecclesial Communities
i) Mar Thoma Church
The Mar Thoma Church of India came into existence when a considerable section of the Orthodox Christians as a group came into close contact with English Protestant missionaries during the period of Mar Thoma VI who was also known as Dionysius I (1765-1808). In 1806-07 chaplains of East India Company visited Tranvancore and Cochin. Col. Manroe, Resident of the British government, also showed much interest in the affairs of the Syrian Christians of Malabar. Towards the close of Mar Dionysius I’s life, Dr. Claudius Buchanan, Principal of Fort William College, Calcutta visited Malabar in 1806-1807. On his return to England, he warmly advocated the cause of the Syrian Christians and as a result, the Church Missionary Society (CMS) under the patronage of the Church of England, provided the services of Rev. Thomas Norton, Rev. Benjamin Bailey, Rev. Joseph Fenn and Rev. Henry Baker.
The first Anglican mission started to work in Kerala in 1816. A number of Jacobites came under their influence and reforms were introduced on Anglican lines. Leadership for this reform group was provided by Palakunnath Abraham Malpan and Kaithayil Geevarghese Malpan, the two professors of the Syrian Seminary at Kottayam. They longed for the removal of unscriptural customs and practices which had crept into the Church over the centuries. They envisioned a reformation in the Church in the light of the Gospel of our Lord. The first synod of the Indian Jacobites was celebrated in 1836 and it was decided that they would sever all ties with the Anglicans. The liturgy of the Holy Qurbana was translated into local language Malayalam from Syriac and also eliminated from it the prayers for the dead and invocation of saints etc. They celebrated Holy Qurbana in their Church using the revised St.James liturgy on a Sunday in 1836. Most prominent elements in the Reformation were: 1). Return to the gospel message of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ; 2). Cleansing of wrong ways of life, and 3). Taking up responsibility to be witnesses of Jesus Christ to other; 4). All importance must be given to the primacy of the Word of God.
But Abraham Malpan and his party were excommunicated in 1837. There followed a period of confusion. Mathew Mar Athanasius, who had been consecrated bishop by the Jacobite patriarch in 1842/43 emerged as the leader of the reform group but was deposed by Ignatius Mar Peter IV, patriarch of Antioch, who visited India that year. Consequent to this excommunication, Mar Athanasius and his followers were deprived of all the churches and properties. The Church plunged into a litigation known as the ‘Seminary Case’. Finally, in 1889, with the help of the CMS, they organized a new Church – the Mar Thoma Church.
The Mar Thoma Church is the fruit of a happy blending of two traditions, namely, the Orthodox Church features and reformation (Protestant) ideals, or in other words, blending of Eastern and Western forms. This nature of the Church points to its uniqueness when compared to other Churches. The supreme authority of the Church is the General Assembly which is consisted of the bishops, the clergy and elected representatives of the local parishes. The conventions are convened at regular intervals in order to enrich the spiritual life of the people. The annual Maramon convention which began in 1896 is well attended and a source of renewal of the Church. The Mar Thoma Church retains its essential Character of the Eastern Church in its liturgy and mode of worship, its ceremonies, rituals and traditions. It also maintains friendly contacts with some of the Protestant Churches.
The Mar Thoma Church which began in Kerala is now grown into a Church with Parishes all around the Globe. The Head Quarters of the Church is in Thiruvalla, Kerala, India. The Mar Thoma Church has 9,00,000 members, 708 clergy and 1062 parishes including congregations divided into 11 dioceses. The Church has a democratic pattern of administration with a representative assembly (Prathinidhi Mandalam), an executive council and an Episcopal Synod. The Church has been active in the field of education and other social welfare activities. The Mar Thoma Church is in full communion with the Anglican Church, Church of South India and Church of North India .
ii) Malabar Independent Syrian Church of Thoziyoor
During the time of Mar Dionysius I, the sixth successor to Mar Thoma I, a Syrian prelate from Jerusalem consecrated a local monk as bishop in 1772. Thus Kattumangat Abraham Ramban as known as Mar Kurilose. Since this consecration was not acceptable to ‘Mar Dionysius I’, there started a rift. Both the Rajas of Travancore and Cochin finally decided against Mar Kurilose and so he has to withdraw to Thozhiyoor (Anjoor, near Kunnamkulam) in British Malabar, where he laid the foundation of an independent Church in 1774. This Church continued as an independent Church from that time. It maintains cordial relations with the Mar Thoma Church, especially for inter-church consecration of Bishops even on date. About ten thousand faithful make up this Church today.
iii) The Church of South India
Formed in 1947, the Church of South India was the fruit of thirty years of constant ecumenical negotiations among the Anglicans, Methodists (of the South Indian districts of the Methodist Communion), Presbyterians and Congregationalists. “It was acclaimed to be the first union between Episcopal and non-Episcopal churches”. The timing of its formation was also very significant as it was in 1947 that India got its independence. Many viewed the birth of the Church of South India as an ecclesial response to the challenge of nationalism. The founding fathers of the Church of South India declared: “The Church of South India desires, conserving all that is of spiritual value in its Indian heritage, to express under Indian conditions and in Indian forms, the spirit, the thought and the life of the Church Universal”.
The Church of South India, being aware of her ecumenical responsibility, looked for world wide fellowship and mutual recognition by other Churches. The constitution of the Church of South India expressed the commitment to ecumenism:
The Church of South India acknowledges that in every effort to bring together divided members of Christ’s body into one organization the final aim must be the union in Universal Church of all who acknowledge the name of Christ.
The Church of South India urges every member of the Church to give witness to Jesus by their life and she reminds them of their responsibility to build up the Church of Christ in other parts of the world. The 1962 Synod of the Church of South India invited all Christian institutions, congregations and individuals to be genuinely Christian in their relation to:
the need to offer the love and compassion of God in Christ to all sorts and conditions of men;
the need to establish within the life of the Church a fellowship transcending distinctions of caste and class;
the need to witness to the Kingdom of God, to set forth and establish in society both the love and the righteousness of God in Christ.
Theologically it is very significant to note that the Church of South India accepted the historical episcopate in a constitutional form. From the very inception of the Church, all ordinations have been administered by bishops. They accepted episcopacy as an effective instrument for the deepening of unity within the Church. But at the same time they accepted the Churches without episcopacy as true Churches as well. They had mutual laying on of hands of the ministers at the union to satisfy the Episcopal elements. They have women pastors. The individual Congregations have minor changes in liturgy to express their own bias as Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists and Congregationalists.
The Church of South India stressed the need of pastoral ministry of the ordained ministers for the faithful. The ordained ministers were called not priest but presbyter and they situate the ordained ministry within the priesthood of the whole people of God.
The Church of South India embraced the organic model of Church unity. This has been a remarkable feature of the Church. With 2.9 million members distributed well over 21 dioceses with more than 1300 parishes and 10000 congregations, the Church of South India maintains “that the unity should be concretely expressed in organic and organizational relationships”. This concrete expression of unity in an organic model of Church union has a vital ecumenical importance, given the circumstances and the time of its formation.
iv) The Church of North India
The Church of North India is yet another fruit of the ecumenical quest of the Indian non-Catholic Christians. This Church was formed in 1970 out of a union of six Churches, namely the Anglicans, Baptists, Brethren, Disciples, Methodists (the British and Australian conferences), and United Churches. The desire for unity and the ecumenical conviction have been well expressed by the plan of union:
We are seeking union because we believe that the restoration of the visible unity of the Church on earth is the will of God…We believe that the unity to which God is leading us will make the Church in North India a more effective instrument for his work, more eager and powerful to proclaim by word and deed the Gospel of Christ, filled with greater charity and peace, and enriched in worship and fellowship.
The motive behind the union of these six Churches is their readiness to recognize that God wills the Churches to be visibly one so that it would be an effective instrument of God’s mission in the world. The pioneers of the Church of South India took the Sacred Scripture as the standard of faith and conduct. But they accepted also the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed as witnessing to the faith of the Church.
These six Churches with diverse traditions and practices accepted each other’s ministry, through prayer and mutual laying of hands, as they formed into one Church. Like the Church of South India, the Church of North India too believed in the “threefold ministry of Bishops, Presbyters and Deacons within the broader framework of the ‘priesthood of all believers.'” Their episcopate is both historical and constitutional.
The motto of the Church of North India is, “unity, witness and service”. True to this motto the Church of North India with over one million members, distributed throughout India north of Andhra Pradesh, stands for unity of faith with diversity in practice. “The members of the Church of North India are assured of full freedom of belief and practice in so far as these do not conflict with the faith and order of the whole Church, and do not endanger unity and fellowship of the Church”.
The Church of North India is also very keen to have an inter-communion relationship with other Churches like the Church of South India and the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church. Today the Church of North India is a member of many ecumenical bodies and she is at present having negotiations with the Methodist Church in India to further the unity effort of the Churches of India. It has 24 dioceses and 4050 congregations with a population of 13,00,000.
From its own experience of the organic union of six Churches, the Church of North India looks forward for a purified, renewed and united Church of India, “where the uniting Churches will unite under a common name as sign and demonstration of their mutual acceptance of each other in Christ and of belonging to his one Church; where the gift of unity and the union of the churches will be celebrated both through fellowship gatherings, worship (liturgy), and corporate action in Christ’s mission”.
The Catholic Church in India has to give due consideration to these Church union movements and learn a lot from their experience. Ecumenically it is very significant to note that these two Church unions were the result of the painful experience of division of Christians for a long time. The mutual acceptance and recognition of different Churches were remarkable. The understanding regarding the threefold ministry in the Church and especially the acceptance of the Episcopal ministry by all the uniting Churches gives room for further ecumenical progress and understanding.
The strength and weakness of the organic union of these Churches can be studied concretely in the pluralistic context of India. It is imperative that in the matter of relationship with these Churches, the Catholic Church in India should go definitely beyond the usual programmes of sharing in prayer and other consultations. A more dynamic approach and sincere study of their theology and ministry by the Catholic Church in India is called for.
v) The Anglican Church of India
The Anglican Church of India is the fruit of the missionary effort of the Church of England. The missionaries of Church Mission Society (CMS) came to India in 1814 and reached Kerala in 1816. They worked first with the Orthodox Christians there and insisted that the Orthodox Christians should follow the theology of the Church of England. This approach led to the non-cooperation of the local Christians with the CMS missionaries. Hearing the report, the Anglican Archbishop of Calcutta directed the missionaries to start evangelization among non-Christians of Kerala.
The Churches newly formed in Travancore and Cochin area were part of the Madras diocese. In 1879 a new diocese was formed for Travancore and Cochin with Kottayam as headquarters. This diocese was dominated more by the ex-Orthodox Christians than by the newly converted. And this was questioned by the non-Christian converts, who formed 80 percent of the community.
In 1947, most of the foreign missionaries of the CMS left India. And the Anglican Church joined together with other Churches to establish the Church of South India in 1947. The unified Church of South India accepted an order of uniformity in worship and practice. The non-Christian converts of the Anglican Communion did not accept it. There was a provision for separation within a period of 30 years from the CSI. In 1964 they decided to withdraw from the CSI in order to re-establish the Anglican Church on August 24. Dr.V.J.Stephen was made bishop on May 5, 1966. Now there are 13 Anglican dioceses in India with a population of 300000. All 13 bishops constitute the Synod of the Church which is the supreme body. It was established in 1990. Dr. Stephen Vattappara is the chairman of the Synod.
vi) Evangelical Church
The Evangelical Church of India was founded by the Oriental Missionary Society International. Mr. Charles E. Cowman and Mr. E. Kibourne were the founders of the Society and they began their ministry in Japan 1901. It is a non-denominational society. Their main objectives were to establish Bible Seminaries, to work for extensive evangelism and to erect local Churches. They began their work in India by 1941 and established Bible seminaries at Allahabad and Madras.
An Executive Committee consisting of national and missionary leaders took care of the Church administration till 1967-’68. Then the constitutional amendments of Evangelical Church of India made it fully an autonomous Church. Dr. M. Ezra Sargunam was the first bishop. The Church has 1350 congregations throughout India and has a population of 300000 . Its head- quarters is at Chennai. The All India Conference (AIC) is the supreme body of the Church. The Bishop is the executive head of the Church. The AIC is divided into Area Conferences which are further divided into districts under which local churches are administered by Elders Committees.
vii) Lutheran Church
Martin Luther was an Augustinian priest who protested against some of the practices of the Catholic Church in 1517. This is called the Protestant Reformation in Church History. The Lutheran Churches emerged from this movement. Luther broke with the Catholic Church over the issue of how mankind attains salvation. He taught that the undeserved death of Jesus Christ covered over the sin of mankind and its punishment. God gave the covering of Justification by the blood of Christ, to the one who accepts Jesus in Faith. Hence there is no place for God’s punishment now and one need not be afraid of it. Lutherans rejected the idea that the Roman Catholic Church was the only Church. And questioned the power of pope over all peoples and held that all Christians were equal before God as they share the priesthood of Christ. Sacred order is not a sacrament and hence in Lutheran Churches priests have no special status, except by virtue of being called to exercise specific ministries based on ability and training. They recognize and accept only two sacraments namely baptism and communion. Other sacraments like confirmation, marriage, ordination and burial are only rites instituted by traditions.
Lutheran Churches took root in India from 1706 when the Lutheran missionaries came to India from Germany, USA and Scandinavian Countries. In 1975 nine Lutheran Churches joined together and formed the United Evangelical Lutheran Churches in India (UELCI). Its headquarters is at Chennai. For a long time there was dialogue between Luther Churches and the Church of South India looking for ways and means to form one Church. They have a Christian population of 15,00,000 spread out in 10000 congregations.
The member Churches are:
Andhra Evangelical Lutheran Church,
Arcot Lutheran Church,
Good Samaritan Evangelical Lutheran Church,
Gossner Evangelical Lutheran Church,
India Evangelical Lutheran Church,
Jeypore Evangelical Lutheran Church,
Evangelical Lutheran Church of Madhya Pradesh,
Northern Evangelical Lutheran Church,
South Andhra Lutheran Church,
Tamil Evangelical Lutheran Church,
Evangelical Lutheran Church,
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Northeast India
viii) Methodist Church
A religious renewal and reformation in the Anglican Church in the 18th century gave birth to Methodist Church. John Wesley, an Anglican Priest (1703-1791) and his brother Charles Wesley were the pioneers of this Church. They followed a strict pattern of life for prayer and the study of scripture. Hence they were called Methodists. The members of this group pledged to frequent attendance at the Holy Communion, serious study of Bible and regular visit to the Oxford prisons. John Wesley collaborated with another Anglican clergyman George Whitefield, to form a group among those who felt themselves neglected by the Church of England. Wesley never wished to leave the Anglican Church . But in 1784, when there was a need of ordained ministers in America, the Bishop of London refused to ordain a Methodist for American mission. Hence Wesley himself consecrated Thomas Coke as superintendent and ordained two others as presbyters. In the same year he appointed a conference of 100 men to govern the ‘Society of Methodists’. The definite break with the Church of England came in 1795. After this, Methodism rapidly developed from a society to a Church. The developments led to different factions such as Methodist New Connection (1797), the Primitive Methodists (1811), the Bible Christians (1815) and the United Methodist Free Churches (1857).
The Methodist Episcopal Church came to India in 1856 with William Butler, a missionary from America. He began work at Bareilly. In 1870, famous evangelist William Taylor came to India and his visit changed the course of Methodism in India and the Church spread out of its provincial boundaries and made it a national Church .
Evangelical work in North India led to the expansion of the Church among the depressed classes. In 1930 the Central Conference of Southern Asia elected Jaswant Rao Chitamber, the first national Bishop, marking the beginning of a new era.
Since 1928 the Methodist Church was engaged in negotiations with other Churches in North India to enter into an organic union. The final agreed plan of Church Union in North India was prepared by 1966. This plan was commended to the Annual Conference of the Methodist Church of South Asia by the Central Conference in 1968. Even though the Annual Conference accepted the plan by more than two-third majority the Special Session of the Central Conference in 1970 opposed it as per the ruling by the Judicial Council of the Methodist Church. The 30th Regular Session of the Central Conference held in January 1981 at Madras recognized and inaugurated the Methodist Church in India.
The Supreme legislative body of the Church is the General Conference, which meets once in four years. This Conference takes all major decisions including the appointment of bishops. Bishops are elected by General Conference from the pastors. They have to retire at the age of 65. Ministerial laymen and deaconess delegates are members of the General Conference.
The Church is divided into six Episcopal areas in India. They are Bangalore, Bareilly, Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad and Lucknow. The strength of the Church is 11,00,000. All bishops are chairmen of the meeting. Among them one is elected to become the moderator.
The Methodist Church sees the doctrine at three levels: first, the doctrines that touch the core of our faith such as belief in Trinity, the person of Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection for our salvation. At the second level they have the doctrine of Justification by faith alone, and the authority of the Sacred Scripture, priesthood of all believers. At the third level all the doctrines that pertains to human salvation such as Grace of God as a free Gift to all, free response of man, the work of Holy Spirit and the doctrine of original sin.
ix) Baptist Church
Baptist forms a major section of the Christendom today. The Baptist Church was formally identified in the early 1600s in England. It has its origin from the Anglican Church as a protest against the liturgical traditions and the historic episcopacy of the Church. The name ‘Baptist’ was given by the opponents because the Baptists rejected infant baptism and received believers by baptism by total immersion in water.
A group of Christians called Montanists who were active in Europe from the second to the fourth centuries professed that only the regenerate people from the Church, By the 12th century these groups were formally identified by other groups of Christians as Baptists. In course of time they were called Anabaptists. This group gained momentum about the time of Reformation. John Smith (1554-1612) and Thomas Helways (1550-1616), two Englishmen who lived in exile in Amsterdam due to religious intolerance under King James I returned to England and started the first Baptist congregation.
William Carey, an English missionary to India landed at Calcutta on November 11, 1893 and pioneered Baptist movement in India. In Bengal and the surrounding regions several Baptist congregations were founded by Carey. He started Serampore College and translated the Bible into several Indian languages including Bengali. Carey also got involved in several social activities and worked along with Raja Ram Mohan Roy to eradicate social evils like ‘Sati’. A striking literary work by Carey was his translation of Ramayana into English. He is known as the father of modern missions.
Later, the Baptist movement was introduced into Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and many other regions including Delhi and Kerala. In the North- Eastern states of India the Baptists form the majority among the Christians. The American Baptist missionaries were ministering these areas for a long time. Today we have many major Baptist groups in India, namely Baptist Bible Believers Assembly, Baptist Christian Association, Baptist Church of Mizoram, Baptist International Missions, Bengal Baptist Fellowship, Bengal Orissa-Bihar Baptist Convention, Assam Baptist Convention, Tamil Baptist Churches, Telugu Baptist Churches, Karnataka Baptist Convention, Baptist Union of North India and so on . They believe in the autonomy of local Churches and complete freedom of a Christian. Hence there is no hierarchical form of Church movement. Baptist Churches work together as a fellowship.
x) The Indian Pentecostal Church of God (IPC)
The Indian Pentecostal Church of God (IPC) is perhaps the largest, indigenous, Pentecostal Movement in India, with its headquarters at Hebron, Kumbanad, Kerala. The movement was established in 1924 and had collaboration with Ceylon (Sri Lanka) Pentecostal Mission till 1934. In 1935 the movement was registered as a society at Eluru. Many worked hard for the extension of the IPC and because of their efforts; it has become the largest indigenous Pentecostal Movement in the World originated outside the United States. One could find members of this organization in most of the continents as the result of migration of the Church members from India. In 1936, at the invitation of the Swedish Pentecostal Churches, the then leaders of IPC, Pastor K. C. Cherian and Pastor K. E. Abraham visited Sweden and other Scandinavian and European countries for about two years, as ambassadors of the Indian Pentecostals, enriching the Movement in various aspects. During this trip a printing press was acquired for the Church.
Since there is no hierarchical organization to unite the local communities, we have so many groups of Pentecostal communities in India. Some of the prominent ones are the following: United Pentecostal Church in India with 223000 followers, Swedish free mission Churches with 100000 adherents; Pentecostal Mission with 125000 people; Pentecostal Holiness Church has the strength of 63700; Pentecostal Church of Andhra Pradesh has 50000 followers; Indian Pentecostal Church of God has about 900000; Indian Pentecostal Assemblies about 11000; Church of God in India with 148000 faithful; Bethel Pentecostal Church has a small community of 6000; Assemblies of God have a total of 410000; Apostolic Church of Pentecost in India with 19000; Sharon Pentecostal Fellowship Church has the total population of 60,000.
They administer adult baptism and it is given by immersion. Both baptism and the table of the Lord are practices instituted by Christ and are followed by the Church members. They have ministers such as missionary, pastor, evangelist and deacon for the service of the community. They have no belief for the prayers of the dead. They believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit, faith healing and the gift of tongues. Pastor K. C. John now serves as the General President and Rev. T. Valson Abraham as the General Secretary of IPC.
xi) Seventh-Day Adventists
Seventh-day Adventists are, doctrinally, heirs of the Millerite Movement of the 1840’s that insisted the revival of apocalyptic movement. They also believed in the immediate second coming of Christ. The members of the Church observe the Sabbath, the day of rest and worship on Saturday not on Sunday. Although the name “Seventh-day Adventist” was chosen in 1860, the denomination was not officially organized until May 21, 1863, when the movement included some 125 churches and 3,500 members.
In 1890 the first Seventh-day Adventists arrived in India. The publication and distribution of literature were major factors in the growth of the Advent Movement. The Adventist Review and Sabbath Herald general Church papers were launched in Paris. In 1893 two Literature Evangelists arrived in Madras. Their efforts were successful to the extent that there was a demand for translation, of the books they were selling, to a number of Indian Languages. The main center of the Church in India is Pune, Maharashtra. And there are about 829 Congregations and about 270,000 faithful. The Church now has established work in almost all the countries in the world and the total strength would be 7-8 million.
The distinctive Seventh-day Adventist message may be summarized as “the everlasting gospel”, the basic Christian message of salvation through faith in Christ, in the special setting of the threefold message of Revelation 14:6-12, the call to worship the Creator, “for the hour of His judgment is come”. This message is epitomized in the phrase, “the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus”.
xii) Mennonite Church
Mennonite Church has its origin from the Anabaptist movement of the 16th Century. Anabaptists were the Swiss Brethren who were radically influenced by the theological doctrines of Zwingli. Anabaptists insisted that only an adult could meaningfully receive baptism. They do not accept any centralized authority for all local groups and organized independent congregations. Mennonite Church is named after Menno Simons (1496-1561). He was a Dutch Catholic priest who left the Catholic Church and led reform movement. The title Mennonite brethren was first used by two ministers namely Martin Boehm and Philip William at one of their meetings at Baltimore. They grasped their hands and proclaimed, “We are brethren”. From that time onwards the Mennonite Church was also known as Mennonite Brethren Church. Persecution started against the Mennonites and that made them flee to Russia in 1860s. They have then migrated to many countries as well. At present they are around the world with large congregations in Angola, Austria, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Russia, United States, Uruguay and Zaire.
It was the Russian missionaries of Mennonite Church came first to India. In 1889 Rev. Freser J. Abraham and his wife came to India from Russia. He was followed in 1899 by Hubert, the first American Mennonite to reach India. Later, missionaries could not come from Russia, so American missionaries took up Indian mission.
There are many Mennonite groups in India today. They can be broadly divided into two: Mennonite Brethren Church of Andhra Pradesh and other Mennonite Churches. The other Churches are:
a) Mennonite Church of India, Dhamtari
b) Brethren in Christ Church, Britain
c) United Missionary Church, Calcutta
d) Bharatiya General Conference, Raipur,
e) Bihar Mennonite Mandali.
f) Mennonite Sarodara Sangam
g) Brethren in Christ Church
xiii) The Brethren Assembly
The Brethren Assembly was the fruit of the 19th century awareness of Christian unity and activity. This was supposed to be neither a new Church nor a new doctrine, but it was a renewal and a reawakening within the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. Their desire was to return to the form of worship and prayer of the early days of Christianity. They gave up their social disparities and differences to form a brotherhood of themselves and came to be known as Brethren. The first assembly of this kind was held in 1825 in Dublin, Ireland. It was organized by Dr.Edward Cronin, J.N.Darby, Bellect, Hutchinson, Edward Wilson, V.Parnel and Dr.Antony Groves. Their aim initially was to reform the Churches. Following the example of early Christians without the presence of ordained priests they used to break the bread. They literally followed teaching of St. Peter that all those who accepted Jesus Christ as their Saviour and Lord formed a “royal priesthood”. They held that an ordained priest was not a pre-requisite for the worship of God. Cronin, Darby, Bellect and Hutchinson constituted that congregation.
In 1830, similar congregations were held at Plymouth. Hence they were called later as Plymouth Brethren. From there the movement spread to other countries and continents. Study the Word of God; keep away from the traditional activities of the Church, Faith-baptism were the fundamental tenants of the Brethren community . They practiced baptism by immersion.
This Brethren movement came to India in 1833 in Bihar. Antony Groves who was professionally a dentist began his mission in Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Missionary work soon followed in Karnataka and Bengal. In 1872, this movement was brought to Kerala by Mathai Upadeshi. Following the Dublin example, four men gathered at the residence of Kuttiyil Mathai for the breaking of bread, without a priest. This event is considered as the beginning of Brethren movement in Kerala. Today they have over 600 churches in Kerala and are estimated to have over 2200 churches in India. The Brethren movement unlike other Churches has no centralized administration. Each and every regional Church or community is autonomous in its function and organization .
In every local Church they have the elders and ‘service persons’. They look after the day-to-day administration. These persons are not elected, but recognized and respected by the local community as persons of God-given talents. In the regional level they have conventions and meetings to organize various activities. Special coordinated activities for women, children, and youth are also conducted. They also conduct weekly prayer services, Sunday school, youth conventions, prayer meetings, house meetings and Bible classes. Above all there is the ‘oversight meetings’ to discuss church activities.
xiv) St. Thomas Evangelical Church
St. Thomas Evangelical Church was founded by the Reformists in the Mar Thoma Church to adhere to its founding principles. Accusing the then Metropolitan of the Church and its Synod of not following the fundamental principles of Mar Thoma Church, the reformers left the parent Church. The decision to separate was a very painful and costly one indeed. In every parish in the Mar Thoma Church there were members who were in sympathy with the reform movement. In some places the majority sided with the Reformists. Their leaders told the world that they were leaving everything, with no shelter and no churches to worship in, but only guided by the faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His teachings and for reviving the essence of His church through evangelism and missionary work.
The St. Thomas Evangelical Church of India was formally inaugurated on January 26, 1961. It was reported that over thirty thousand people drawn from all the different Christian denominations, from Roman Catholic to the Pentecostal gathered together at Thiruvalla, in Kerala. Priests belonging to various Churches were present. Twenty presbyters who had been ordained in the Mar Thoma Church joined the new Church and declared acceptance of the faith in the Church and pledged allegiance to the new Church and its constitution. After the inauguration service, two ministers of the new Church namely Rev. K.N. Oommen, Rev. P. John Varghese, were consecrated as Bishops in the ‘Church of God’. An order of service for the consecration of the Bishops had been prepared. The Bishops were consecrated by the laying on of hands by the entire body of the presbyters representing the whole Church. They were guided and supported in this step by the word of God (The Acts 9:11-12; 15-18; 13:1-3; Romans 10:15; I Timothy 4:14; etc.) and by clear precedence in the early Syrian Church of Malabar. They believe that men are called upon by God to the ministry and set apart in the Church. They teach that in ordination, the Lord in answer to the prayers of the Church, assures and bestows on those whom He has called upon to lead His Church for any particular form of ministry, His sufficient grace and strength to carry out the ministry.
The St. Thomas Evangelical Church of India is an Evangelical and Episcopal Church. They hold the Bible as our sole basis and authority for all matters of faith and doctrines. And they accept the Nicene Creed and the two sacraments as they are in full conformity with the Bible. Christian charity will be the governing principle of administration. The bishops in the Church will be ministers of Christ, the successors of the humble Apostles. They have powers and authority as provided in the constitution of the Church to which they owe allegiance. Apart from the bishops, they have Presbyters and Deacons. The Holy Communion is a thanksgiving service to remember the death of our Lord and the elements used in the Holy Communion are the sign and symbol of the Christ’s Body and Blood.
The Representative Body of the Church is the supreme body which can decide on all the spiritual and temporal matters of the Church. The Presiding Bishop is the administrative head of the Church who is elected from among the bishops of the Church for a term of five years. Their total population is a little more than 90000.
5.3. Ecumenism and Interfaith Dialogue in India
A) A False Notion
Some Catholic leaders in India tend to minimize the importance of ecumenism in the narrow sense of seeking unity among Christians. Their attention is focused on the plurality of religions. They give importance to the relationship with non-Christian religions and pay scant attention to other Christians who form less than one percent of the total population. They “feel that ecumenism is not worth troubling about in India- after all, the people to be ‘won over’ are so few compared with the mass of non-Christians”. Yet some others are of the opinion that “since divisions among Christians did not originate in India, but were rather imported from the West, it is the responsibility of the West to find a solution to the problem”. Therefore they want attention to be paid only to interfaith dialogue and co-operation with non-Christians.
Non-Catholic Churches and communities some times feel that the Catholic Church in India at times behaves as if no other Church exists besides her in India. In the Declaration of the Nagpur Theological Conference on Evangelization even the word ‘ecumenism’ is completely absent. This is definitely a false notion which is opposed to the growth of the Church in India and which is totally detrimental to the ecumenical spirit of the Second Vatican Council.
B) Interfaith Dialogue
The interfaith dialogue has become an essential activity of the Church after the Second Vatican Council. Today dialogue is accepted as a part of the Church’s evangelizing mission. Dialogue with people of other religions becomes an imperative in the particular context of India. In the words of Pope John Paul II, India is “the land of many religions and a rich cultural heritage”. The Christians in India have an important responsibility to come into contact with the people of other religions, enriching themselves from the contact with them. We have to accept other religions as ways through which God prepares for the announcing of the Gospel. Moreover it is necessary to have dialogue with men and women of other faiths as they are also trying to find solutions to the various problems of humanity. Also the quest of man in those ancient religions for attaining the ultimate reality is to be appreciated. The Second Vatican Council admits their positive value.
The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. She has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlighten all men….The Church, therefore, urges her sons to enter with prudence and charity into discussion and collaboration with members of other religions (NA, 2).
The awareness of these positive values of non-Christian religions makes the Church to go forth to establish a vibrant relationship with them. Hence “the Church should enter into dialogue with the world in which it exists and labors. The Church has something to say; the Church has a message to deliver; the Church has a communication to offer”.
It is in the light of the Second Vatican Council and the Post-Conciliar documents that the ‘All India Seminar on Church in India’ emphasized: “Indian Christianity will become mature only if it enters into dialogue with the religions of India and enriches herself and the whole Church”.
C) Interfaith Dialogue in an Ecumenical Context
Interfaith dialogue, when carried out in an ecumenical way, bears better results in India. It can also promote understanding and co-operation among the Christians. “Our common effort to present the Christian message to our non-Christian friends can bring us very close together”. It will help the Christians of different denominations to “recognize each other’s worth, bear each other’s burden, and share each other’s expertise and experience”. It is for this reason that Ad Gentes called for a ‘unanimous witness’, common profession of faith and ‘mutual respect and love’ of all Christians. One of the reasons why many people in India do not respond to Christ is the lack of unity and mission among the Christians. Various Christian communities present Christ in a narrow way as if he belongs to them exclusively.
To have a meaningful dialogue with people of other faiths, the Catholic Church in India must be prepared to “strive for an ecumenical approach, a combined effort by all Christians”. Any attempt to separate the efforts for Christian unity and interfaith dialogue into water tight compartments will not be helpful for the mission of the Church.
Moreover co-operation and collaboration of all Christians in the field of interfaith dialogue in India, make the Christians to realize how the different religious traditions and cultures, influence the practice of the same faith differently in India. This realization helps the Churches too in accepting the pluralistic traditions, different forms of worship and various modes of expression of the faith of all Christians.
Recently a deeper interest in Indian spirituality has brought together many Christians. They have realized the importance of Indian spirituality, religious climate and the culture for the growth of ecumenism in India. Interfaith dialogue is a sure way to deepen the roots of ecumenism in the Indian culture. This is the reason why many Christian ashrams are great ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue centers in India.
The complementary character of intra-faith ecumenism and inter-faith ecumenism, therefore, should be given its due importance in the life and activity of all the Catholic faithful in India. The Christian concern for the unity of the human community needs to be concretely expressed in our interfaith relations. Wider ecumenism is one of the ways by which the Church can promote the love of the land of India among the Christians. It can also bring about communal harmony and peace among all sections of the people of India. Hence the Catholic bishops of India urged:
Overcoming all barriers, we must go out to them in humble service and with a charity that knows no difference or boundaries. Only if deeply human ties with men and women of other faiths are cultivated on a personal level, will the christian community become a powerful element of communal harmony in the country at large.
In the foregoing pages we have briefly studied the various aspects of ecumenical movement. It is a common pilgrimage of Christians seeking spiritual renewal in their lives. They aspire to attain a more intimate relationship to Christ in the Trinitarian life. This journey definitely draws all the baptized closer to one another. What is the goal of Ecumenism? Pope John Paul II thought of it as “a challenge, a vocation, to work under the guidance of the Holy Spirit for the visible and perfect oneness in faith and love, in life and work of all who profess faith in our one Lord Jesus Christ”. All the Catholic faithful are called upon to take an active and intelligent role in the various activities towards achieving this ecumenical goal. Indeed, the unity of all believers in Christ is the most effective and powerful witness to Jesus’ divine mission. This witness is sorely needed in the world today. The unbelieving world must be impressed by the life of Christians united in Christ. To attain this desirable and noble goal we have to take up the challenge of ecumenism. A new vision must be sought, a new attitude must be fostered, and a new conversion of heart must be secured. All these are needed so that one may grow as a Christian with constant commitment to the ecumenical imperative. This is possible only through ecumenical education. “There is no doubt in our opinion that formation is at the very center of sound and positive ecumenical activity”. And the pastors in the Church are in fact the real agents of this education. Therefore we conclude this study addressing the necessity of ecumenical education and formation of the priests in particular.
What is the role of the presbyters in fostering Ecumenism? It is evident that “the clergy (ordained ministers) are generally recognized as leaders and facilitators of Christian communities and religious assemblies; they are especially responsible for ecumenical involvement”. The future of the Church, the depth and basis of her involvement in the promotion of unity, do indeed very much depend on the conviction and dedication of her future priests. “Therefore, their initial and ongoing formation is a major concern of the Church”. “The Church has the duty and the proper and exclusive right to form those who are commissioned for the sacred ministries”.
By their very call to share in the ministry of Jesus, they are urged to take up the cause of Christian unity and promote it. In spite of the existing divisions and the manifold obstacles that exist on the road to unity, an ordained minister must believe in the power and grace of God. They must not lose hope. “Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts, through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Rom 5:5). The Church is the treasurer of this hope and the priests as ministers should make others to hope in Jesus, the principle of unity. In fact the success of the ecumenical education of the faithful depends on the formation and conviction of the priests.
The necessity of introducing the ecumenical dimension in all departments of theological teaching was put forth by Cardinal Edward I. Cassidy: “It is not enough to have the students study the essential documents on ecumenism in an isolated manner; ‘the various disciplines are each to be studied from this perspective'”. Very often there is a danger of treating a theological subject in isolation, without establishing its relation with other theological subjects, and this obstructs the integral theological development of the candidate. Indeed what is required is the creation of an authentic ecumenical mentality, attitude and knowledge among the seminarians. In order to create such a spirit in them, a well-planned ecumenical formation programme for the candidates for the priesthood is very necessary.
Ecumenical endeavours are also part of a program of seminary formation and pastoral activity of the priest today. With an authentically ecumenical mentality and attitude, the candidates for the priesthood, like all priests, must acquire a doctrinal formation whose ecumenical dimension penetrates all theological teaching and whose doctrinal foundation in ecumenical activity is clearly presented. The words of the Lord have a particular meaning in our day: ‘That all may be one, so that the world might know that you have sent me.’
The effective application of the Second Vatican Council does indeed very much depend on the new generation of priests. Pope John Paul II is convinced of the need of such a new generation of priests, for the renewal of the Church. “Today, every possible effort must again be made to encourage vocations, to form new generations of priests. This must be done in a genuinely evangelical spirit and at the same time by “reading” properly the signs of the times, to which the Second Vatican Council gave such careful attention. The full reconstitution of the life of the seminaries throughout the Church will be the best proof of the achievement of the renewal to which the Council directed the Church”.
Today’s theological students may find themselves working in a situation where they have to be in close contact with the ministers and leaders of other Christian communities. They need to be well prepared to live a life in relation with all the sections of God’s people. The ecumenical dimension, therefore, should be given a pride of place in the formation of the candidates for priesthood. For, the priests are generally recognized as leaders and facilitators of Christian communities and religious assemblies; they are especially responsible for ecumenical involvement. The future of the Church, the depth and basis of her involvement in the promotion of unity, do indeed very much depend on the conviction and dedication of her future priests. Cardinal Edward Cassidy emphasized the importance of ecumenical formation in the seminaries: “There are, however, two such initiatives that I wish to stress as being of fundamental importance for the work of promoting Christian Unity. The first refers to the formation of priests. I should like to draw the attention in particular to the need of providing seminarians and priests with an adequate knowledge of the documents of the Second Vatican Council and of the Holy See that refer to our relation with the other Churches and ecclesial communities”.
Commenting on the necessity of ecumenical formation Pope John Paul II said to the delegates of National Ecumenical Commissions: “Responsible ecumenical atti¬tudes have still to be developed by a more determined effort of ecumenical formation and you have emphasized this in your meeting. The ecumenical dimension is an indispensable part of all process of Christian formation…” It is only through a systematic education that the principles of ecumenism and the necessity of Christian unity can penetrate deeper into the hearts of the candidates for priesthood.
The special situation in India invites the Church to foster and promote Christian unity. Undoubtedly an intense ecumenical formation of the future priests is one of the basic requirements for the Church to acquire this desired goal. Ecumenical agenda and plan of action therefore, should form part of the seminary training. If the future pastors of India are not given sufficient ecumenical formation, we can hardly expect them to be animators of Christian unity in the parishes.
Ecumenical formation cannot be achieved only through an academic programme. A course on ecumenism alone will not make the future priests committed to Christian unity. One should experience concretely the ways in which other Christians live. He/she should be willing to share the faith and learn from one another. So vast and varied is the reality of India today that any activity for ecumenical formation is different from region to region. However in every region of India the seminarians should get involved in many activities that can foster their ecumenical conviction and resolve to serve the cause of Christian unity.
Christian unity is a possibility. For it is rightly said that “ecumenical theology recognizes the unity of Christians in faith not as an unrealistic utopia, but as a task and it permits itself to be engaged by this task”. The best means to achieve this task are prayer, study, discussion, dialogue and Christian cooperation.
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