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Christian unity is not uniformity, Pope says

November 10, 2016

“Christian unity is an essential requirement of our faith,” Pope Francis said in a November 10 address to the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity.

The Pope said that Christian bodies should always seek to work together, parting company only when serious doctrinal differences “compel them to act separately.” He stressed that real unity means union in Christ:

It is our personal and communal conversion, our gradual conformation to Him, our living increasingly in Him, that enables us to grow in communion.

With this understanding of Christian unity in mind, the Pontiff said, it is easier to recognize the errors that arise from three “false models” of ecumenism:

The first false model, the Pope said, is the notion that Christian unity will be “the fruit of our human efforts or the product contructed by ecclesiastical diplomacy.” In fact, he said, unity is a gift from God, for which all Christians should pray and work. He said that “unity, rather than a destination, is a journey—with its roadmaps, its slowdowns, its accelerations, and also its pauses.”

Second, the Pope continued, unity does not mean uniformity. In ecumenical work, he said, Christians are obliged “to respect legitimate diversity and to reach the point of overcomign irreconciliable differences.” He insisted that not all differences must be overcome:

The different theological, liturgical, spiritual and canonical traditions which have developed in the Christian world, when they are genuinely rooted in the apostolic tradition, are a wealth for and not a threat to the unity of the Church. Seeking to suppress this diversity is to counter the Holy Spirit.

Finally, the Pope rejected the idea that unity requires “going back in time” to absorb all Christian communities into a single body. He said:

Christian unity does not lead to a ‘reverse ecumenism’, for which one would have to deny their own history of faith; neither does it tolerate proselytism, which is instead poisonous to the path of ecumenism.

 
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  • Posted by: feedback - Nov. 11, 2016 12:22 PM ET USA

    These are certainly different and challenging views on ecumenism. But after learning that Evangelical Christians voted 81% against Clinton and Catholics only 52%, I have renewed respect for my Protestant Brothers and Sisters in Christ. They have proven to be serious about their faith in Christ.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Nov. 11, 2016 5:45 AM ET USA

    This raises a question in my mind about the meaning of the words "heresy," "apostasy," and "schism." Do these words have meaning in the newer, messier, more ecumenical Church? Is it logical now to retain those canons that level the latae sententiae against these acts of sedition? Will we see new canons enacted against proselytism, general apologetics, or the following of the deacon Philip's example with the Ethiopian eunuch, or of St. Paul at the Areopagus? Still a field hospital for conscience?

  • Posted by: Mirabilis - Nov. 10, 2016 10:48 PM ET USA

    Point one: agreed, except that "it's a journey not a destination" is completely bogus. It is certain that our destination is unity in Christ! In the early Church, even in the new testament, heresies were declared and the heretical excommunicated. Being nice to each other despite our significant theological and canonical divides is not the same as unity.

  • Posted by: bernie4871 - Nov. 10, 2016 7:14 PM ET USA

    Totally unintelligible to me. Please, someone explain what he is saying. It sounds like he is trying to say something really, really important. My guess is that he is, for one thing, trying to smooth talk the Greek Orthodox on divorce, or the Lutherans about the Real Presence, or the Anglicans and Lutherans about the validity of Holy Orders, or . . . .

  • Posted by: trini - Nov. 10, 2016 6:43 PM ET USA

    It is, painfully, very difficult to interpret this statement of the Pope with any certainty. The Pope needs to give specific examples of which 'different theological, spiritual and canonical traditions ... have developed in the Christian world ... [and are] genuinely rooted in the apostolic tradition', that is, in the Bible and the truths of the Catholic faith defined in the Councils, especially Trent. The Lutheran churches offend against Christian unity by denying many of these truths.

  • Posted by: DanS - Nov. 10, 2016 6:11 PM ET USA

    I will wait for the Vatican press office to clarify the Pope's ambiguous remarks.