Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

Background To Ecumenism

by Philip Trower


In this booklet, Philip Trower explains the background to ecumenism. He discusses the need for Christian unity, the problems arising from attempts to achieve it, and the abuses of ecumenism. He writes that there is only one purpose, ". . . the start of a widespread movement of the separated Christians, corporately and in clusters, towards the Church. This and only this is what Catholic ecumenism exists for."

Publisher & Date

The Wanderer Press, 1980


Some Words In Advance

All Catholics, I think, with their hearts in the right place, see that work for Christian unity is something God wants. Pope John launched the Church into it, the Council laid down the lines to follow, the Vicars of Christ have repeatedly said the work must go forward. Therefore it is something we have to care about and take seriously, even if at times the only thing we can do is pray.

However, like everything else set in motion by the Council, including reform of all kinds, ecumenism has to be carried out against the background of the great doctrinal revolution and apostasy from the Faith which is the other major fact of life in the Catholic body today.

It is obviously very important therefore for us to understand the difference between true and false ecumenism, and the way the second is used to influence the first, and the present article is written in the hope of contributing to such an understanding.

As soon as the Council was over, or even while it was still at work, Catholic ecumenism was directed overwhelmingly towards better relations with Protestants.

The reasons for this were partly historical and demographical. More Catholics live in countries with large Protestant populations than in countries where Eastern Christians are numerous. The culture too of the most powerful and successful modern nations — the United States, England and its ex-dominations, Germany, Holland — has been moulded by the Protestant ethos, and much of the Church's leadership, intellectual and religious, has been correspondingly impressed. Finally, I think a certain instinctive Puritanism very common in reformers and members of the intelligentsia would seem to have put a high percentage of them in sympathy with the most spare and stripped down forms of Protestantism. I am talking at this moment about genuine reformers who, whatever their other shortcomings, still believed the Catholic Faith.

However the impulse towards Protestantism has received the greater part of its force from the Modernist and other doctrinal revolutionaries. They saw that mingling Catholics and Protestants together would provide unexampled opportunities for divesting Catholics of what they considered their undesirable beliefs.

Closer contacts with Eastern Christians on the other hand represented a threat. Should Eastern Christians in any large numbers be reunited with the Holy See, the Catholic Church would receive an influx of members holding the very beliefs and points of view the revolutionaries want to dispose of.

That this is an accurate interpretation of events is I think confirmed by the fact that serious theological discussions between Catholics and Lutherans, Anglicans or Methodists have been going on for years, but are only now beginning with the Orthodox, as announced towards the end of 1978 by L'Osservatore Romano.

We have to care just as much about our separated Protestant brothers as about Eastern Christians, but because there are so many more areas of disagreement between Catholics and Protestants, contacts are much more easily manipulated contrary to the Church's intentions.

Thus, all over the world, wherever ecumenical discussions take place, the Church is being represented by two groups of people working for opposite ends.

In any discussions, as my readers well know, Catholics find themselves associated with men and women who claim to represent the Catholic standpoint, but are either deliberately undermining it, or are so bewildered about the Church's teaching on unity that they no longer know what they can and cannot agree to.

While the Catholic is trying to clear up misunderstandings, explain just what the Church does teach, or find out how much he and his opposite number really do hold in common, the pseudo-Catholics are hinting or saying that the Church no longer believes what she used to, or that if she does still uphold a particular doctrine, which separated Christians dislike, she only does so from policy and will shortly be changing her mind about it.

It is no wonder the separated Christians are now mostly as confused about what the Church intends as the majority of Catholics seem to be, or that many refrain from giving serious consideration to teachings of the Church which they expect to be abandoned.

To throw light on this complex subject, I think it will be helpful first to look at Christian unity and Christian differences in their historical perspective, next at the origins of the movement for unity in modern times, after that at what the Church has to say on the subject, then at the misuse of ecumenism, and finally at what seems to me the supernatural significance of the movement and of Catholic participation in it.

I make two apologies. I have not been able to avoid saying many things, which Catholics will take for granted. Where I have done so it has been to show how, in my opinion, these points of belief can best be presented in talks with non-Catholics. I am also conscious that I may have repeated things I have said in other articles. I have not excluded them because I wanted to bring together in one place everything connected with ecumenism that seemed to me important.

The Historical Perspective

Looking at the subject in this way shows us that not only has Christian unity always existed (in the Catholic Church), but so too, except for a brief period immediately after Pentecost, have groups of Christians separated from that unity. The latter are neither a recent nor an occasional phenomenon.

At Pentecost and just after, the baptized, so we are told in The Acts were all "of one heart and mind." Our Lord had given the Apostles, with St. Peter at their head, authority to teach, sanctify and rule His people; and His people, responding whole-heartedly to grace, believed what they were taught and obeyed the Apostles' instructions. The three requirements for unity were fulfilled; belief, Baptism and obedience to the apostolic authority. So ideally things should have remained.

But God, of course, did not take away free will. So very early, almost indeed from the start, we find groups of the baptized leaving the unity of the Church and setting up rival communities each claiming that it, and only it, gave our Lord's true teaching, and had authority to preach His message.

In the epistles of St. Paul, we already meet a number of these rival teachers. Quite soon they will include ex-Catholic bishops and priests. By the end of the second century there had already been enough of them to provide St. Irenaeus with the subject matter for a treatise, and St. Epiphanius, by the fourth century, with material for a book.

These departures have nearly always followed one of two patterns. Either the seceding body wants to alter belief; it falls into heresy. Or, going to the opposite extreme, it repudiates the Church's authority to make legitimate practical changes; it refuses to obey, rather than refusing to believe, and goes into schism.

The Monarchians of the second century give us an example of a departure of the first kind. They decided that since God is One, there cannot be a real distinction between the Three Persons of the Trinity; therefore God the Father became incarnate and died for us. They were trying to rationalize a mystery; in other words to make it as instantly intelligible as a mathematical formula. Most heresies are the result of trying to do this.

At the other end of the scale, the Judeo-Christians wanted the Apostles and their immediate successors to make Christians observe the Jewish ritual laws. They refused to believe the Apostles had authority to abrogate them. Were not these laws part of "tradition"? A proportion of the Judeo-Christians eventually set themselves up as a separate sect, the Ebionites.

Leaving By Opposite Doors

One could say that those who depart in these two ways leave the Church by opposite doors; the first by the door of doctrinal innovation, the second by the door of excessive attachment to custom.

The process, which in just over 300 years had, by St. Epiphanius' day, produced such a crop of Christian sects and variant beliefs (now mostly extinct, though frequently reappearing under new names) continued down the ages as we know, and in every case they were one of the two kinds just described.

The value of looking at Christian differences in this way is, I think, that it highlights the realities and genuine possibilities, and helps to clear the mind of misconceptions.

Christian differences of some kind are plainly not something that can be swept away and ended once and for all — not unless God radically alters the way He has so far ordained things. They have been a perennial fact; nor is there any way — neither theological jugglery nor organizational engineering — of preventing further departures in the future. Right now, as we can all see, just as the Church has set herself to heal the breaches of the past, the "Catholic" revolutionaries are bringing into existence new bodies of separated Christians.

If one thinks about it, there are only two human ways the mind can conceive for keeping people together in one Church. The first is by force. This was the method tried in the later Middle Ages by churchmen who also put a high value on unity and considered disunity a terrible scandal; their method is not now well thought of. The second method is by telling Christians it does not matter what they believe provided they "act in a Christian way." This is the method being widely tried today. People are not as shocked by it as they are by the use of force. It does not hurt us physically. However it should shock them, at least it should shock Christians, because it is a profession, even if unconscious, of contempt for divine Revelation.

Ecumenism's Objective

What then is the goal of ecumenism? Is there nothing we can do about Christian differences? Am I suggesting that we should passively accept them?

Obviously not. But the historical perspective, by exploding the myth — fascinating even to some Catholics — that by means of ecumenism we are meant to, or can, establish some kind of Christian religious earthly paradise where all will agree and be obedient forever more, reveals to us what, in view of the realities just considered, must be ecumenism's actual goal — to open to as many men and women as can be the possibility of reaching unity by finding the source and center of unity. Any other view of ecumenism will surely lead to disappointment and end in apathy. Indeed that is what is already happening.

Tactfully presented, the historical perspective can be of exceptional use in conversations with non-Catholics. It brings out better than any other approach, the very great force of the Church's position. If there is not a center of unity where belief in the whole of Revelation has always been preserved and which has authority to settle disputes about it, unity must always be ephemeral. Any agreement reached today, can be undone tomorrow; the same disruptive forces are at work as in the past. Either unity has always existed or it never can be.

We also, I think, see our Lord's prayer, "that they may all be one" in its proper light. It is often quoted today as if a) it had been made solely with present day Christian differences in mind; and b) it has been ineffective. The purpose is usually to put psychological pressure on Christians so as to hurry them together in a purely artificial unity. But it is evident that the prayer applied to Christians in every age (and since it was made at the Last Supper when only the Apostles were present, it seems likely that it had special reference to bishops; that they would always remain united and give the same teaching). It seems equally evident that such a prayer at such a time must have been effective. Those who believe that Christian unity has been lost surely have to ask themselves how this prayer of our Lord could possibly have failed. I think this is another point that can be usefully introduced into ecumenical discussions.

Before leaving the historical perspective there are two other points about it which should be noticed, for they are part of the Church's recently changed approach to the separated communities.

Important Terminology

The first is the distinction the Church makes between those who start a schism or heresy and those who, as it were, inherit it. The Church does not see them in the same light, as we know. "The brethren born and baptized outside the visible communion of the Catholic Church should be carefully distinguished from those who, though baptized in the Catholic Church, have knowingly and publicly abjured her faith" (Ecumenical Directory, Part One). The former are blameworthy, the latter are not. Those whom the Church is compelled to regard as wolves, her own apostate children, produce spiritual descendants who are separated sheep. To use the same name for the early and later members of a separated church or community, though now unavoidable, does conceal a vital spiritual fact. The founders were not in the same sense as their successors are Monophysites, let us say, or Protestants. They were ex-Catholics — sinful ex-Catholics one has to say — a different kind of being. Members of the separated communities of course often have a devotion to the memories of their founders and will hardly be willing to see them in that light. But it is important for Catholics to see the difference. Today a Modernist "Catholic" theologian and his Lutheran counterpart may hold identical beliefs, but the Lutheran (through his Baptism) will be "attached" to Christ, the "Catholic" Modernist (through his sin) separated from Him.

The distinction was formally recognized by Pius IX at the request of the holy English convert and Passionist priest Fr. Ignatius Spencer. From then on the Holy See ceased in its official documents to refer to the separated communities as heretici and started to employ the word acatholici, non-Catholic.

Important Factors

The second point affecting the Church's change of policy is the existence in the separated communities of positive and negative factors, or what could be called their true and false goods. I am talking about them here as institutions, not about the personal virtues of their members. Once founded, they continue on their way through history bearing these two kinds of possessions. Their true goods are all those beliefs, practices, sacramental powers and other spiritual possessions, which the founders preserved when they broke away. According to the community the amount will vary. The negative aspects or false goods derive from what the founders, on their own authority, rejected or substituted contrary to Catholic belief and practice. An example of true goods would be the Sacrament of Baptism and reverence for Holy Scripture. (Within Protestantism we see these true goods flowering publicly through works of literature and art like the poetry of Herbert, Vaughan and Traherne or the church music of Bach, Who could question that these marvellous creations are works of truly Christian inspiration?) A false good would be the introduction of divorce or denial of the Real Presence. The Council tells us that we are to value the true goods (which are not something separately acquired) but owe their origin "to the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Church" and the original contact with it of the separated communities.

Down the centuries numerous attempts were made by Catholics, some successful, to draw back groups of separated Christians. The Arians of Spain and Italy were brought in. At a later date the Ukrainians under St. Josephat came back as a body; so did some of the Greek Orthodox, Armenians and Copts. These are only instances out of a considerable list. But the circumstances of the past made contacts and understanding difficult; slow travel, lack of means, cultural and political isolation. From within Protestantism, the philosopher Leibnitz in the late 17th century tried to rouse interest in Christian reunion. But there was little response. The reasons were not just discreditable ones. All the separated Christian bodies held two perfectly sound ideas: the truth revealed by God at such great cost, the Passion and Death of His Son, could not possibly have been lost; it was equally evident to them that only one of the many versions of our Lord's religion could be the true one. Each believed its own was.

In the above instances we are considering cases of corporate reunion. Another kind has gone on continually, the reconciliation of individuals with the Church.

However by the beginning of this century the climate had changed. The chill winds of the on-coming religious ice age were beginning to be felt. Everywhere atheism was triumphing, educationally, socially, politically. This inclined certain Protestant denominations to look at each other more sympathetically.

The attempts by Protestant churches to unite from 1900 on illustrate the problems of reunion in general and are therefore worth a closer look.

Experiences in the mission fields were what first had an effect.



The Movement For Christian Unity In Modern Times

The 19th century first saw Protestant missionaries active outside Europe on a large scale. There they found themselves competing not only with Catholic missionaries but with each other. No longer protected in their certainties by the surroundings of their native countries, the age-old question presented itself, to some at least, in a new way. Is my version of Christ's message really the only true one; is it at best only partially true? And then the thought: if we could agree as to what that message is, those we are preaching to (Chinese, Indians, Africans) would be more likely to believe it.

These questions and tendencies resulted in the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh in 1910, which it could be said, without directly meaning to, launched the movement for Christian unity in its present form.

From it sprang two separate movements dedicated to bringing about Christian reunion: the Faith and Order movement (started by the U.S. Episcopalian Bishop Brent); and Life and Work (founded by the Swedish Lutheran Archbishop Soderblom).

The two movements were represented by permanent committees with members from different Protestant churches which tried to stimulate interest in Christian reunion and through the 1920s and 1930s and again after the Second World War, organized a series of international interdenominational conferences. Only a percentage of Protestant churches were seriously engaged to begin with, and some have always remained aloof.

Eventually approaches were made to the Orthodox and other Eastern churches, from whom the response was more sporadic and tentative.

Founding Of The WCC

In 1948 at Amsterdam, the Faith and Order, and Life and Work movements were brought together to found the World Council of Churches, which it was hoped the Catholic and Eastern Churches would one day join. Permanent headquarters were fixed at Geneva, and General Assemblies are held in other cities from time to time. The World Council is not a Protestant superchurch (the member churches remain independent), but its tendency is towards assuming that status.

A third body born of the 1910 Edinburgh conference was the World Missionary Council. Its aim was to foster common action among Protestant missionaries and spread distinctly Protestant beliefs, rather than to bring about reunion of all Christians. There was therefore some difficulty in bringing it into the World Council of Churches with its universalistic objective. But in 1961 it too was at last absorbed.

Begun With The Right Principle

Going back to early days, we find discussion beginning with the right principle. Unity must mean first and foremost agreement about belief. That was what was being looked for; Christians who disagree about their beliefs are not really united.

As a background and aid to discussion, the well-known branch theory of the church was already at hand. It was not acceptable to everybody, but it steadily gained ground.

The branch theory implied that anyone adhering to it was surrendering his claim that his church and his alone was the one Church of Christ. All churches were broken off branches of the original Church of Christ; and the tree had no one trunk where belief had been preserved intact; unity was lost; all had to some degree gone astray in matters of belief.

Discussion, it was hoped, would first clear away misunderstanding and prejudice. Then, when these had been disposed of, and the sources of Revelation (in this case the Bible) re-examined in a spirit of friendliness, each church would see where it had made mistakes and the true content of Christ's message would be seen by all.

However, in spite of sincere effort, discussion did not have that result, principally because the central problem was not really tackled.

The Need To Pinpoint Revelation

Ecumenism has essentially to do with Revelation. At the heart of anything deserving the name of Christianity is the belief that God has made a Revelation, which can be certainly known. But in the search for agreement about it, the first question to be answered is not "What has God revealed; is such and such a belief really part of His message?," but "How has He revealed it and arranged for it to be handed on down the ages?" For until we know where Revelation in its fullness is to be found, and who if anybody has authority to settle disputes about it, we cannot know what its contents are. The ecumenical movement had stumbled on the need for a living source and center of true belief, a teacher whose faith never fails. But there was general reluctance to face this fact. The importance attached to private judgment prevented it from being clearly seen. For the most part, discussion kept veering away from the fundamental question, "Where is Revelation to be found and who is its guardian?" and concentrating on the secondary question, "What does it consist of?" which by itself is incapable of solution.

How then was agreement about what God has revealed to be brought about?

Very quickly two schools of thought appeared. These reflected the separation of Protestants already apparent, which I have mentioned elsewhere, into two camps: historical Protestants and Protestant Modernists.

For the former, the historic Protestants, beliefs are all important. There is an absolutely trustworthy source of belief; the Bible alone; or the Bible supplemented by the early Councils and the consensus of Church Fathers. However desirable Christian unity may be, it is not to be purchased by tampering with the Word of God. Reunion, therefore, is seen as something hard to achieve, to be approached with care, and — once misunderstandings have been removed — primarily dependent on God and prayer.

For Protestants of this kind, private judgment and interpretation of Holy Scripture are not quite the absolute things, which Catholics sometimes think they are. Within Protestantism, right from the start, the principle of private judgment has always lived in an uneasy relationship with a quite different idea.

This is the conviction that Christ's true believers, will, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, always understand Revelation in the same sense. There is an authority; the community moved by the Holy Spirit, or what the community has always believed under His inspiration; though mostly what is taken for the community's shared inspiration is in fact a reflection of the personal convictions of the community's founder. If someone differs from the community on a point of belief, that is a sign he is no longer moved by the Holy Spirit and if he persists in his opinion he ceases in fact to belong to the community. Protestants of this kind were the most resistant to the branch theory of the church.

In the second group — the camp of Protestant Modernism — beliefs were coming to seem less and less important. Here private judgment did indeed reign supreme; or perhaps we should say free speculation, since there was no longer anything solid — the Bible being mostly myth — to apply private judgment to. Reunion was treated very much as a human enterprise, an exercise in diplomacy and negotiation.

To some extent the split between historic Protestantism and Protestant Modernism was reflected in the ecumenical movement's two original parts. The members of the Faith and Order movement were primarily concerned about doctrine; the members of Life and Work about practical activities and social problems, with belief, if thought necessary, having to give way to those more important requirements.

(The approaches made to Rome by Lord Halifax via Cardinal Mercier, which resulted in the Malines conversations were a side issue. Halifax, as a "high church" Episcopalian was not in the mainstream of Church of England and other Protestant thinking. Quite how he managed to deceive himself into believing that a large number of his fellow Englishmen shared his inclination towards Catholic doctrine and practice is hard to understand — though in fairness one must recall that Newman before his conversion was under a similar illusion. Halifax also unfortunately, though unintentionally, misled many of the continental Catholics he was talking to, leaving a false impression that persisted right up to and through the Council.)

Modernists Take Control

Between 1900 and 1960 the two conflicting approaches I have described determined the course of ecumenical discussions.

But as the century wore on and agreement still seemed as far away as ever, the drive for unity tended to come more and more from men of Modernist or partially Modernist outlook with historic Protestants putting on the brakes.

Various expedients for reaching unity of belief were tried, which Catholics have since become familiar with.

Trading beliefs was one of these expedients. "You give up your fundamentalist ideas about biblical inspiration and we won't insist on episcopal ordination."

Another was to try and establish a common denominator of belief. "Let us find out what beliefs we hold in common. We can then conclude that these are the essence of Christianity — or the part that really matters." What happens at the end of this path appeared a short time ago when a group of top English Protestant theologians found they could only agree about two things: "the likelihood of God's existence and reverence for the person of Jesus Christ."

These methods were mostly resisted by serious Protestants who were not prepared to see revealed truth treated in this, as it appeared to them, frivolous manner.

It was because of the Modernist tendency to seek for compromise rather than genuine agreement that some Protestant bodies held aloof from the movement altogether. For the same reasons, the attitude of Eastern Christians, even when taking part in the movement, has always been marked by considerable reserve. The ecumenical movement strengthened them against Rome, sadly seen as a threat, but otherwise could be seen as full of risks to faith.

The solution eventually favored by Protestant Modernists was to abandon the attempt to reach agreement about beliefs. As far as beliefs were concerned Christians should believe what they liked. The unifying principle in the Church should be joint action, joint worship, and love of men. This was not explicitly stated, but it more and more became the accepted view.

Internal Disunity

To a great extent these Modernist or semi-Modernist church leaders were merely conforming their theories to the practice of their flocks. Believing as one liked was already well established in the more "liberalized" churches. Disunity was no longer just between church and church, but between sheep and sheep within the same fold. Where this internal disintegration of community belief exists, it is now the greatest single obstacle to prospects of corporate reunion. The shepherd can only carry with him the minority who happen to think more or less as he does on every point.

This is also perhaps the place to note that the continuing failure of the Protestant churches and communities to reach agreement had nothing to do with "Roman intransigence." The Catholic Church was not a party to the discussions I have been describing. Theoretically there was nothing to prevent Protestants uniting; yet, with all they had in common, they found it impossible.

We can see then that, looked at as a whole, the movement for Christian unity had two aspects. On the one hand we are plainly witnessing something inspired by God. But along the way tendencies start appearing, which very plainly do not come from God.

That the yearning and search for reunion began first among our separated Protestant brethren is, I think, readily understandable. We can see it, under God, as a reversal of the trend towards ever increasing fragmentation set in motion at the Reformation by private interpretation of Holy Scripture. One can also, I think, see that it was a necessary preliminary to eventual contacts with the Catholic Church.

A parallel impulse at work in Catholic hearts, when truly from God, expresses itself rather differently. Since for Catholics unity is already possessed, the inspiration takes the form not of a search for something lost, but of an opening of the heart.

The Catholic Church Moved Cautiously

Up to the accession of Pope John, the Church watched the movement grow, but publicly and officially took no part.

However, certain unofficial contacts and private initiatives were allowed. Probably the most valuable of these was the movement of prayer for Christian unity, centered on the week in January each year (the unity octave) between the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. This had been started by the American Episcopalian, (who eventually became a Catholic), Fr. Wattson. It was then approved by St. Pius X, and later was taken up and extended by the Abbe Couturier. Another example of a Catholic initiative was the foundation in 1947 by the Jesuit Fr. Charles Boyer, this time with the approval of Pius XII, of Unitas, a center for ecumenical work in Rome.

If the Church was cautious, her motives were neither pride, nor indifference, nor ill will. Individual Catholics, including churchmen, may have been guilty of these sins — possibly often were — but that is another matter. The Church, being what she claims to be, had a much more difficult course to steer. Until a strong desire for reunion showed itself among the separated Christians, public approaches by the Church were likely to be misunderstood as uncertainty about her own mission. She also had to consider the faith of her children.

However Pope John, as we know, decided that by 1958 a new policy had become possible. He must have judged that the Church could make a response without being misunderstood; or that the risk was justified by the good aimed at. He too, no doubt, had taken into account the on-coming religious ice age. In the conditions of the past with nations and cultures cut off from each other and most Christians living in mainly Christian societies, Christian differences and Christian bad behavior, though always to be deplored, were not so damaging. But those conditions have gone. Now it is as though the entire Christian family were living on the set of a television studio with the whole world looking in. Family quarrels are no longer a family affair. For the honor of God and the spread of His Kingdom, we must do better. He also perhaps believed that Christians needed to draw together for shelter and protection in the ice age to come, with its prospects of vast, threatening atheist mammoth herds, and freezing atheist spiritual blasts.

The Second World War had also had an important influence on Catholic ecumenical thinking. In Germany and Holland above all, it led to a great increase in the number of Catholics interested in and sympathetic towards Protestantism. This was the result of the political divisions brought about by the war and the events leading up to it; they have profoundly affected all continental Catholicism. Catholics who found themselves in alliance with Protestants against the Nazi government, an opposition, which was usually religious as well as political and often included work in the underground or imprisonment together, came to admire the religious outlook, as well as political convictions, of their allies and fellow sufferers, and to feel estranged from their fellow Catholics who had taken a different or less definite political stand.

A proportion of these latter, who had not taken such a stand, were also affected. Why hadn't they taken that stand?" In the post-war mood of guilt and repentance for the horrors of the Hitler era, those who had actively resisted him, appeared as the real Christians united by something higher and better than the mere profession of identical doctrines — truly Christian action. Surely that was what mattered? Surely here was the essence of the Church?

The situation and mood were not unlike those prevailing immediately after the great persecutions of the third century. Then too, those who had stood out, the confessores, were naturally the heroes of the hour, whom the weak and sinful who had given way, the lapsi, looked on with awe. Then too some of the confessores came to regard themselves as forming a Church above and apart from the Catholic Hierarchy (whose members had not always shown the same courage) and having the right, because of their heroism, to be its leaders. The difference of course is that in the 20th century conflict, the issues were mixed, and political first and foremost; as a consequence of which "being on the side of democracy" — even with the Soviet Union putting itself forward as one of democracy's principal champions — was made an essential part of being on the side of Christ.



What The Church And Council Have To Say About Christian Unity

Let us now see what the Church and Council have to say about Christian unity. Has the Church given up her claim to be the one and only Church founded by Christ?

"Unity," says the Second Vatican Council, "was bestowed by Christ on His Church at the beginning; we believe that it is still in existence in the Catholic Church and cannot be lost." And: "Only through the Catholic Church of Christ, the universal aid to salvation, can the means of salvation be reached in their fullness." Finally: "The Catholic Church possesses the wealth of the whole of God's revealed truth and all the means of grace."

So the Church of Christ is the Catholic Church.

We then come to the relationship of the separated Christians to that Church. Are they members in some way? The answer seems to be that they are associated or attached, but incompletely.

Here is the Council again. First about individuals:

"Men who believe in Christ, and who have duly received Baptism, are established in a fellowship with the Catholic Church." "They deserve to be recognized (by Catholics) as their brothers in the Lord." "When Baptism is duly conferred and accepted with the right disposition, it really incorporates a man in Christ." "They are incorporated in Christ . . . despite disagreements."

(This teaching will inevitably influence our attitude and approach, especially in discussion. In the past, from thoughtlessness rather than ill will, Catholics tended to lump together in their minds separated Christians, non-Christians and unbelievers as all being outside the Church without making much distinction between them.)

About the separated churches and communities in their corporate existence, the Council has this to say. "Although these churches and communities are defective, they are not without significance and importance in the mystery of salvation." But they do not have the benefit of "the unity, which Jesus Christ wanted to bestow on all those to whom He had given rebirth in a single body." Disagreements about doctrine and discipline provide "impediments" and "serious obstacles" in the way of full membership of the Church. "The separated Christians who already belong in some way to God's Church ought to have full incorporation in it."

More is perhaps not said because the Council fathers did not want to make distinctions between the different Christian communities, which might result in hurt feelings. In the Church's eyes, a separated church or community with bishops in apostolic succession, validly ordained priests and all the sacraments can be more truly considered a detached "part" of the Church, than Christian communities without these advantages. In this respect she does not regard them all in the same light.

Careful Distinctions Must Be Made

What then is to be made of this teaching? Since the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, and by their Baptism Christians are incorporated in Christ, it would seem that they must be just as much members of the Church as Catholics are.

But the Council does not allow this. It says they are in a state of "fellowship." It seems rather carefully to avoid the word membership; their incorporation seems to be partial. "They already belong in some way" — which the Council does not clearly define — "to God's people, but they ought to have full incorporation in it." As individuals and communities they lack "the full unity which derives from Baptism." The Council then explains why. "In itself Baptism is orientated to the complete profession of faith, the complete incorporation in the institute of salvation."

Baptism by itself, the Council is saying, is not enough. For full membership of the Church and complete unity, the two other requirements I mentioned earlier are necessary. All must share the same beliefs and freely accept the teaching and ruling authority established by Christ. An "institute of salvation" exists to exercise that authority.

A Shift In Emphasis

If we want to form an image to help ourselves understand what the Church is saying we should perhaps picture the Church as a sun surrounded at different distances by planets and clouds of star dust detached from it in the past by a succession of historical and spiritual calamities, but still held within the sun's orbit by the same gravitational pull. The planets and stardust belong to the sun but are not fully part of it. Somehow they have to be drawn back so as to form with the sun one heavenly body. The attractive power of the sun, or Church, is the holiness of Christ and His saints radiating from its center. But the effect of its gravitational pull is diminished by two things: the lack of holiness in many of the atoms forming the sun's outer layers (us); and the centrifugal impetus which the separated churches and communities received from those who originally pulled them away from the sun.

What we see here is not the Church changing it's teaching, but allowing a shift of emphasis. Up to the Council, for the reasons I mentioned, the rulers of the Church, in their relations with other Christians, had felt it necessary to insist on the importance of holding the same beliefs and accepting the one authority. They still insist on them — at least the Popes and those who are still faithful to the Popes have and still do. But now, in addition to non-Catholic good faith, the effects of Baptism have been taken into account.

The Effects Of Baptism

I said something about Baptism and its effects in an earlier article when talking about loss of faith among bishops.

Since it is being widely suggested that Baptism by itself makes all Christians fully members of the Church, there are some points I ought to add about it.

Baptism, when properly administered and rightly received has, with one vital exception, the same effects for everybody, Catholics and non-Catholic Christians alike. From a state of supernatural "death," the human soul is reborn into a state of supernatural life; the inherited defect derived from original sin is removed; it becomes the dwelling place of the Blessed Trinity; and along with sanctifying grace (its new life) it receives, in order to make it possible for it to fulfill its new destiny, the virtues of faith, hope and charity.

If all the baptized then possess the supernatural virtue of faith, can they not be said to share the same faith, to be united in faith? This is what many would like to maintain. However they slide over the fact that in Catholic teaching the word faith has three distinct meanings and is used to describe three quite distinct realities.

The supernatural virtue of faith received in Baptism is simply the power to believe the message of Christ when we hear it from an outside source; it is a faculty like sight or taste; it does not of itself tell us what the message is by interior illumination. It presupposes an external teacher possessing and preaching the message. As St. Paul says: "How will they believe if they have not heard, how will they hear if there is no one to preach to them, how can anyone preach if he is not sent." This is the first meaning of the word faith.

Faith in the second sense means the message itself, what we believe, the contents of Revelation. This is the vital sense in which Christians do not share the same Faith.

The word faith is also used to describe the fervor with which we respond to the message when we hear it; the depth of our belief, which we are praised for having much of and blamed for lacking. "Oh, ye of little faith."

Essential For Proper Understanding

Nothing is so important for Catholics, I think, as understanding the difference between these three meanings, if they are to see through the fog with which Modernism has managed to surround ecumenism.

I am here concerned with faith in the first two senses.

Without the supernatural virtue of faith no one can believe or persist in believing Christ's message. But without knowledge of the message, the supernatural virtue or power is like a hand clutching the air or lying unused in the lap. A validly baptized baby, for instance, while possessing in a dormant state the supernatural virtue of faith, if he grew up never hearing of Christ or His Church, would remain ignorant of them.

However the virtue of faith cannot only lie dormant; its effects can be impeded. This happens when a baptized person hears the message in an incomplete form and from the wrong source without realizing that this is happening, and believes what he hears in good faith. He may accept this incomplete version of the message as an adult (the case, say, with Protestant or Nestorian neophytes), or, if baptized as a baby, grows up believing it from infancy. For mysterious reasons, when this happens, the supernatural virtue does not fully enlighten him. It is evident that God allows training, habit, custom, and social, cultural and psychological forces to act in their normal way; for the time being at least. We can therefore assume that every positive supernatural truth, which the non-Catholic Christian believes, he holds by power of the supernatural virtue. Any errors or lacks are the result of natural accidents of the kind just mentioned. A non-Catholic Christian who had been brought up from childhood to believe in the reality of the Resurrection and afterwards denied it would presumably be resisting the assistance and enlightenment given by the virtue of faith. But if he had always been taught and had always sincerely believed that Christ did not institute a special sacrament for forgiving sins, he could disbelieve these truths blamelessly.

The supernatural virtue will apparently hold a man, if he cooperates, to the truths he already has. But without separate further graces from God, it will not show him that there are additional things he should believe. That these further graces may be offered and not accepted is in principle always a possibility; we ourselves fail to make use of graces to lead better lives. But whether this has happened in any individual case we cannot know and it is not our business to inquire.

For Catholics, the whole purpose of ecumenism is to help the separated Christians to see the truth of these further beliefs. This the separated Christians can only do with the help of grace. But God, we are taught, to some extent gives grace outside the Catholic fold in proportion to the efforts of those inside it.


The Abuse Of Ecumenism

In the wake of the Council, when launching her children into the ecumenical movement, the Church was primarily asking them, as had Pope John, to amend their lives and be gracious and friendly so that in this new climate the separated Christians would better be able to see the beauty of the Church and her teachings and thus, through being drawn to her, achieve that full incorporation the Council desired.

As for practical measures, she put prayer first, then dialogue, and as far as possible, joint activities.

She urged her children to be generous. They should "take the first steps." But she also laid down conditions and gave warnings. The faithful were to refrain from "carelessness or excess of zeal." What they said "must be in agreement with the faith the Catholic Church has always professed." And "nothing is so foreign to ecumenism as the false attitude of appeasement which is so damaging to the purity of Catholic doctrine and obscures its genuine and established meaning"; and much more in the same vein.

The danger foreseen was the obvious one; namely that the faithful, finding they could now pray and work with the separated Protestant brethren, would adopt their ideas and outlook. The errors of belief perpetuated in the separated Protestant communities, which the Church had driven out with so much difficulty centuries before, would be (innocently) reintroduced by the members of those communities into the Catholic body.

Why should this happen? Why should not the influence have been all the other way about?

Because — the conclusion seems inescapable — of the spiritually weakened condition of the Catholic body on the eve of the Council.

Catholicism, being the fullness of the Christian Revelation, requires the highest degree of faith; the Church asks us to believe the greatest number of mysteries, which challenge human ways of looking at things. Every other "version" of Christianity requires less faith; fewer mysteries are proposed for belief. This is true even of our Orthodox brothers and sisters. We hold all else in common with them, but in regard to belief, they draw rein before the final high jump; a Head of the Church endowed with supreme power, who may yet be weak or even gravely wicked. So where faith, in the first or third of the three senses I talked about — the infused supernatural virtue and the response of the will — is feeble, other less demanding forms of Christianity with a smaller message content (faith in the second sense) instantly become more attractive. They are more "credible."

Ecumenism Derailed

Had the general level of spiritual vitality on the eve of the Council been higher, had all those in charge of Catholic ecumenism been orthodox, or where orthodox, strong in faith, all might have gone well. But as we know, this was not so. Everywhere Modernists, and semi-Modernists, or genuine ecumenists protestantized or naturalistic in outlook, moved into the leading positions, and ecumenism was widely turned aside from its proper purpose.

For the former, as I said at the start, ecumenism is first of all a device for altering beliefs. But it is something more; through it, by joining forces with men of like mind on the Protestant side, the theological revolutionaries mean to establish on the rubble of ruined Catholic and enfeebled Protestant parishes their new Modernist church and religion, that fourth denomination, which I have also spoken of elsewhere. Being convinced of the nobility of their intentions, they see this as a most laudable enterprise. In this sense — having lost the faith — they are sincere, though sincerity does not unfortunately rule out dishonest methods.

The latter, the protestantized or naturalistic Catholic ecumenists, wavering in belief and less certain in purpose, approach ecumenism as primarily a matter of statesmanship and diplomacy. The fear of upsetting negotiations by giving offense seems to be the overriding consideration with them. A perfect example of the naturalistic approach is seen in Pere Congar's reaction to the definition of the doctrine of the Assumption: "A cruel blow to ecumenical activity." Of course. So it must have seemed to mere human negotiators. But how could any priest with a right understanding of the Faith and supernatural realities conceivably believe that this honoring of the Mother of God would in fact be a setback to Christian reunion, no matter how much Protestants — innocently and in good faith not being able to see the supernatural benefits that would flow from it — might immediately be offended.

Exactly what the naturalistic ecumenist looks forward to, is not easy to determine. There are many shades of opinion. But it would seem to be some kind of ecclesiastical federation, in which the various churches "acknowledge the Pope as head of the Church," but in practice continue more or less on their own way, with theologians explaining how discordant beliefs are really in harmony. Somehow the Protestant brethren will be inveigled into the Church without their knowing what has happened to them or where they actually are.

Christian Co-Existence

The aim of these naturalistic ecumenists, whether or not they see it, is Christian co-existence rather than Christian unity. They want it so urgently because they have an inverted order of priorities, "Christianity" must above all have a good appearance in the eyes of the world; it must not, in the words of Fr. Dulles, "present an example of squabbling sects." This is the chief, and often only, factor on which their attention is focused; not on truth or the mystery of the Church. Co-existence, therefore, having been determined on in advance as an absolute necessity, nothing must be allowed to stand in the way of it; if facts of history or Catholic teaching are found to block the path they must be bent or twisted until they no longer do. If we now find Fr. Dulles wanting to bend history and Catholic teaching about the priesthood and trying to persuade the U.S. Bishops that this is possible (as he did according to the minutes of their meeting in Washington in November of 1978), it is so as to remove the obstacle to co-existence of the Church's non-recognition of Lutheran, Anglican, and other Protestant orders. Needless to say, the kind of federalism envisaged would not in fact be a united Catholic Church.

On the other hand, the mass support for a quick merger with Protestantism (of a liberal kind) has relatively little to do with either diplomatic calculations or Modernism per se. The fact that most modern forms of Protestantism — in addition to making fewer demands on faith — allow birth control and divorce is what principally makes them attractive. The desire to have these things officially sanctioned accounts for a great part of the popular drive behind false ecumenism.

Dialogue Properly Understood

Before going further I should perhaps here say a brief something about "dialogue" because of its importance as one of the officially approved methods of bringing about reunion.

In the context of ecumenism, most Catholics, and the Church, itself, mean by dialogue a discussion entered into with the object of removing misunderstandings and arriving at truth, religious or philosophical. In this sense the Church has always used dialogue in her apostolate, from St. Paul to today's parish priest welcoming the non-Catholic inquirer into the presbytery study.

However, dialogue has come to have another and very different meaning. This other meaning and the word itself owe their recent popularity to the influence of the philosopher Martin Buber. In Buber's existentialism, which could also be called a noble theistic humanitarianism, the purpose of dialogue is not primarily to promote agreement about truth, but to promote mutual respect between men followed by enhanced fellow feeling. It is essential therefore to this concept of dialogue that each side, while stating its views, should refrain from in any way pressing them on the other. The attempt to do so would undermine trust and destroy the communion of fellow feeling, which is dialogue's objective; ideally dialogue should establish the universal tolerance of all views, which are not physically or in some other immediately observable way damaging to man.

From this my readers will recognize, I am sure, that in the ecumenical field it is Buber's concept of dialogue rather than the Church's which the majority of the most influential Catholic (?) ecumenists are using, and Buber's objective, not the Church's, which they are pursuing.

Buber's ideas also dominate the Church's dialogue with non-Christian religions. This is why many U.S. Bishops are now unwilling to have the Gospel preached to our Jewish brothers and sisters (see John Mulloy on the theory of the two covenants, new and old, running side by side), and why Cardinal Pignedoli, as reported in L'Osservatore Romano (May 11th, 1978) could tell a meeting of Catholic and Islamic scholars that there was no desire to convert the members of one belief to the other but to reach "an ideal" and to bring about peace,

Here in the inter-religious field we see ecumenism being used for yet another purpose; to promote world civilization through social harmony. No one will doubt that this is a good end in itself. But it is not the same as preaching the Gospel to all nations, and the methods used look strikingly like a betrayal of the Gospel.

The Catholic participants at the above meeting also seem to have accepted Mohammed as an authentic prophet of God — though possibly this impression was due to infelicitous phrasing by the writer of the article.

Such, more or less, is the background to false ecumenism. We now come to its operations.

Dangerous Willingness For Compromise

Once the Council was over and Catholic ecumenism got under way, meetings between Catholics and other Christians were conducted on two levels; above, discussion between theologians and experts; below, popular meetings and exchanges.

Under the Holy Father, the Vatican Secretariat for promoting Christian Unity was made responsible for the central supervision and direction of the movement on the Catholic side. After the death of Cardinal Bea, its first president, the Dutch Msgr. (later Cardinal) Willebrands, previously the department's secretary, and now also head of the Dutch Hierarchy, took charge. Much earlier (in 1951) Cardinal Willebrands had founded the International Conference for Ecumenical Questions whose purpose was to bring Catholics into closer relations with the World Council of Churches.

At the international level, through the Secretariat for Unity, special joint theological commissions were set up — Catholic-Lutheran, Catholic-Methodist, Catholic-Anglican, Catholic-World Council of Churches — to explore differences and see where points of agreement and disagreement lay. (As mentioned earlier, similar joint theological commissions with Eastern Christians were not set up until much later.)

From the Anglican-Roman Catholic commission eventually came the three well known Windsor (1971), Canterbury (1973), and Venice (1977) documents asserting that more or less substantial agreement had been reached about the meaning of the Eucharist, the priesthood, and authority in the Church.

Since in effect these statements represent a surrender to the point of view of the principal Church of England commission members, one can quite see how they could sign them. The same cannot be said of those, led by Bishop dark of East Anglia and Bishop Butler, Auxiliary of Westminster, representing the Catholic side. The statements remind one of those ambiguous documents by means of which the East Roman emperors tried to force their unwilling subjects into a religious compromise: the henotikon of the emperor Zeno, or the typos of the emperor Constans II.

Here is what Cardinal Newman had to say about compromises of this kind.

"Sometimes discordant ideas are concealed by a common profession or name. Such is the case of coalitions in politics and comprehensions in religion, of which commonly no good is to be expected;" their purpose being, he adds, "to make contraries look the same and to secure an outward agreement where there is no other unity."

I would say that this is what the majority of ordinary people of all persuasions who have read the Windsor, Canterbury, and Venice documents have felt about them. Even if for reasons of policy or goodwill the Holy See were to give the statements a temporary or qualified acceptance (which it has not so far done, but has been under pressure to do) they would remain, from the Catholic viewpoint, thoroughly ambiguous and misleading.

The atmosphere of unreality surrounding the work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic commission is added to by the fact, known to all but rather carefully kept out of sight, that, while there are many Anglicans with definite theological convictions, there is no one Anglican theology either about the doctrines discussed or indeed about any other teachings. Nor, alas, is there an authority in the Church of England — archbishop, bishops, convocation or general synod — which doctrinally can commit its members to anything. On the whole I think this is something most Anglicans would say they were proud of.

Short Cut For The Revolutionaries

For the more determined revolutionaries, however, the work of these international joint commissions — though useful — has been too slow. They saw that with the Holy See keeping watch, a public statement of full theological agreement might take years to work out or never be possible.

However, since the Council, bishops have been given much wider powers and liberties in carrying out the Holy See's directives and many were already lending a sympathetic ear to Modernism or theories of epsicopalian independence. The revolutionaries therefore concentrated their hopes on ecumenism at national, diocesan, and parish level. Here, where differences of belief could be slurred over by communal prayer, shared churches, religious addresses that avoided precise terminology and so on, quicker results could be expected. The two bodies, "Catholic" and "Protestant," could be brought together in a practical union and the authorities on either side faced with a fait accompli.

Through the Unity Secretariat the Holy See has issued an Ecumenical Directory in two parts laying down guidelines for bishops. Part one, appearing in 1967, gave general instructions. Part Two (1970) laid down rules for ecumenical contacts in higher education.

Under certain conditions and on certain subjects provision was made for non-Catholic Christians to give lectures in Catholic seminaries and for Catholic seminarians to attend lectures and courses at Protestant seminaries. The same applied to universities, theological faculties, and similar institutions.

The instructions were made the excuse for an almost indiscriminate mingling of Catholic and Protestant seminarians and seminary teachers.

De-Catholicizing The Clergy

Since many supposedly Catholic seminary teachers were already instructing their students in some kind of quasi-Protestant or Modernist Christianity, it is difficult to judge how much further damage this intermingling was responsible for. Had the regulations of the Holy See been observed and students well grounded in their faith, much good might have resulted and many Protestants been drawn to the Church. In the circumstances, it has only hurried on the de-Catholicizing of the clergy. Between 1965 and the present, a whole generation of young priests has been trained and let loose among the faithful neither fully knowing nor believing the Catholic Faith. (Comparable contacts with the Eastern Christians, however, have not had these effects and mostly seem to have acted as a corrective.)

In the parishes, things were made simpler for the revolutionaries by the great initial fund of goodwill existing on all sides. The idea of all Christians forgetting their differences and simply loving each other was irresistibly appealing. They were also able to exploit the humanly more difficult position of Catholics, subjecting them to various moral and psychological pressures. The Catholic position is more difficult simply because, as I recalled earlier, Catholics have most to uphold.

In the general atmosphere of everyone (quite rightly) not wanting to be unfriendly or impolite, those who stand by their beliefs are easily represented as proud, obstinate, uncharitable, or (more tellingly perhaps) as old-fashioned stick-in-the-muds; while the Modernist prepared to

compromise, or the well-intentioned Protestant with few beliefs and willing to adapt them, can be made to appear "more truly Christian."

Temptation To Cowardice

Under the circumstances, the ecumenical meeting, for which the majority of Catholics were wholly unprepared either doctrinally or psychologically, became, for the greater number, like having to go to a party knowing that before the end of the evening you will have to commit the socially unpardonable offense of telling your host that he has made bad mistakes in the way he has arranged his house or brought up his children. In the face of an unpleasantness of this kind, Catholics are easily persuaded to water down their beliefs. They are suddenly appalled and embarrassed by the implications of their divine calling as Catholics; the fact that, utterly undeserving, and totally unworthy though we are, God, for reasons beyond our comprehension, has made us the bearers of the fullness of His Revelation and expects us to be faithful to the assignment. At the ecumenical meeting, Jonah-like we want to run away from it with the excuse of good manners as the smoke screen to cover our flight.

Non-Catholic (and non-Christian) virtues are also pressed into service as a means of shaking the faithful's convictions that beliefs matter. In this case the revolutionaries do not have to put forward arguments. They merely have to lay stress on those virtues (ever present to shame us and keep us humble). The arguments then automatically present themselves to the mind. If two saws of different shape and length cut equally well, why can't either be used? Ralph Robinson, a Methodist, and Joseph Bonelli, a Catholic, are equally good men; why should the beliefs of one be considered superior to the beliefs of the other? And suppose Ralph Robinson is a better man than Joseph Bonelli? What are we to conclude from that?

(A whole book could be written around this subject, but the quick answer is provided by our Lord. The tributes He paid to Samaritan virtues are famous, but He never equated the Samaritan with the Jewish religion. And when God said to the Jews, "You have made my name a reproach among the Gentiles," he meant, "Alter your behavior"; He did not add, "Alter your beliefs.")

Much too is made of the "scandal of disunity." It is implied that anyone opposing pressure for an instant merger of all denominations regardless of their beliefs is disobeying our Lord or resisting the Holy Ghost.

This very effective weapon works so well by putting the stress on the fact of the scandal, which no one can deny, and gliding over the nature of the scandal and the degree of responsibility for it attaching to individuals past and present. In the technical sense of a (partial) stumbling block for non-Christians, disunity is a scandal. But it is not a scandal in the sense that personal bad behavior, which can be put right instantly and at will, is a scandal. Disunity is the result of a long complicated series of events; an historical situation of this kind cannot, without making things worse, be put straight instantly and at will, but only by patient and persevering efforts; and a generation which has inherited such an historical situation is not deserving of the sort of blame which attaches to individual wrong-doing. We are only guilty if we do not do our best by prayer and patient work to heal divisions within the limits of what is right or possible for us.

In the interests of various wrong kinds of ecumenism, irrational and baseless feelings of guilt and anxiety are being stimulated in Christian hearts so that, when provided with a false, but apparently quick and easy way of getting rid of those feelings of guilt — i.e., instant togetherness — Christians can more easily be stampeded in the desired direction.

The Real Scandal

At present a much greater scandal than Christian disunity (a scandal in the real and technical sense) is coming about; the growing absence of conviction and certainty about what they believe of the great majority of people calling themselves Christians. In this they contrast startlingly with the rest of contemporary society; they are the only group of people in it who appear ashamed of their beliefs.

Veneration Of Luther

Finally to break down the faithful's fear of doctrinal error and false teaching, they were taught to venerate a whole range of new secular or non-Catholic "saints," with, at the head of the calendar, Luther, who, as a symbol of revolt against the apostolic college and its head, was already a natural hero for Modernism. (Calvin has not been given a place in the calendar, his inhuman coldness making him an unsuitable candidate for popular devotion.)

Were not the abuses Luther denounced real? Had not his voice been loudest in denunciation of them? Was he not therefore a true prophet and genuine spiritual leader? And if so, in the face of abuses, is not rebellion justified, and therefore should not the theology of the monk in a hurry be accepted?

A proportion of people are easily persuaded that accurate criticism of real evils, and speaking about them in a loud voice, is in itself a sign of virtue, and they can therefore be led, without much difficulty, into thinking that the example and positive measures proposed by such critics are also worthy of approval. (Vide Karl Marx.) The same is true when sincere but confused men like Bonhoeffer are in question. What appear to be heroically self-sacrificing acts suggest that the ideas of the man performing them must necessarily be of the same order as his good intentions. Of course the faithful will not be misled in these matters where faith and love of the Church are strong; only where they are on the ebb.

Disinterested Love Is Necessary

All the above-mentioned stratagems provide difficulties for Catholics taking part in the ecumenical movement, which they have to deal with as best they can, chiefly by remaining unruffled, while painful experiences can always be offered up as a penance. Genuine ecumenism among Catholics today requires a really pure and disinterested love for the separated brethren; the same being required of them for us. Any other kind of love is not real love but a liking for comfortable social relationships; much within the Catholic body, which passes as love of Protestants is only love of Protestantism. Catholics can however take strength and comfort from the example of many Protestants, as well as of Eastern Christians, who are not afraid of stating clearly what they believe, even when this will not be well received. These men of more truly Christian conviction have a better idea of what charity and honesty require. One of the best ways of now furthering real Christian unity is, I believe, to explain to them what is really taking place in the Church and help them to see how many "Catholics" are not presenting the Catholic case, and are not, except in name, Catholics at all. What is the alternative? To allow them to go on believing that the Church has changed her teaching and does now permit a smorgasbord of doctrinal interpretations?

The Modernist Church

In the above passage I have been describing practical methods of pressurizing the faithful.

To give them some kind of theoretical backing, the revolutionaries have produced a new quick-mix theology of the Church, taken over from German and Swiss Modernism. It is by means of this that the new Modernist church of the fourth denomination is being brought fully to birth.

Gradually the faithful have been introduced to the idea that the Church is not the one true Church of Christ because there exists something higher, the "Christian Church," in which all denominations or "traditions," including the Catholic Church, are on a level. This is not so much directly preached; it is an underlying assumption in numerous talks, sermons and episcopal statements.

The notion of the "Christian Church" is really a version of the old branch theory only it has been taken a stage further. In the branch theory, the limbs were regarded as still separate. In the new theory the branches are found to be not separated after all. Baptism is the all-important factor, and because of it, unity already exists.

But what about differences of belief? It is true that the common-denominator theory — the beliefs that matter are the ones all denominations share — is now widely accepted by "Catholics." It is also true that where beliefs are held in common between Catholics and Protestants — usually being referred to as "the central truths of Christianity" (unacceptable from the Catholic point of view because many other "central truths" are left out of account) — these beliefs are mostly ones of fundamental importance; among Protestants they tend to survive least tarnished in evangelical churches and high church English Episcopalianism. But at the same time, as we have seen, there are very few beliefs left of any kind that all who call themselves Christians still do share. To overcome this difficulty, therefore, the word faith has been processed.

In the new "Christian Church" there is only one article of belief. All "proclaim Jesus as Lord and Savior." Provided they do this, Christians share the same faith. Everything else, all other beliefs once thought of as forming part of Revelation, is a matter of theological opinion and interpretation. Individuals and "traditions" can continue to hold divergent ideas about them; plurality in unity.

(According to the conjectures of various historians of the Creed, the earliest confession of faith is held to have been, "I believe in Jesus as Lord and Christ.")

But who is this Lord Jesus? Is He the Incarnate Son of God? Or is He just a human "teacher of righteousness" like Buddha or the figure in the Dead Sea scrolls? And in what way does He "save" us?

These questions too the members of the "Christian Church" can answer as they wish without ceasing to be united in faith.

Actually however it is not intended that the new "Christian faith" shall always remain so substanceless. The reduction of it to a single proclamation is a temporary measure designed to break down existing certainties and get Christians worshiping together as one congregation. When that has happened, the "Christian faith" will be expanded again like an accordion. The baptized will then have openly preached to them and be fully instructed in what they now get piecemeal and in disguise — the fourth denomination's new priestless pseudo-Christianity, which I have also described elsewhere, with all its rigid existentialist, Teilhardian, humanistic or quasi-Marxist dogmas and moral principles. Much of that new religion can already be found systematically expounded in the joint Catholic-Protestant Common Catechism — A Christian Book of Faith, widely used with episcopal approval as a basis for Christian unity.

Such are the purposes and ambitions of the hard-core revolutionaries. However I do not think they are going to be able to sweep into their Modernist fourth-denominational church all those now so tragically being lost to the Catholic Church, any more than they will capture all the Protestants who remain outside the Catholic fold, assuming that some do.

An Alternative Federalized Church?

For many, ex-Catholic and Protestant alike, this model of a Church is too radical, too secular, too abrasive, people are scared of its bent towards Marxism, repelled by its expert-dominated, community-animator-ridden ethos. It also throws overboard too much that many ex-Catholics and other Christians are accustomed to and still fond of. When Catholics lose their faith in the Church, they do not necessarily lose their liking for all her doctrines and practices.

It therefore looks as if the future holds the likelihood of an alternative large-scale religious body — looser and more gracious — which once Catholic parishes and dioceses will gravitate towards. For this the Church of England in its present state already provides a model, and that I believe explains why there is such urgency in certain "Catholic" quarters for a rapid fusion with it.

This alternative religious body will, I imagine, be an arrangement not too far removed from the kind of thing I mentioned earlier as being aimed at by naturalistic Catholic ecumenists; a federation of national neo-Episcopalian churches into which major non-Episcopalian churches have been absorbed (not under the Pope, certainly, but possibly under a powerless pretender) which allows the member churches to live on in their own way with many of them keeping a place for dignified worship and ceremonial, and even, where liked, a widish range of historical Christian doctrines. Such a federal church where all tastes and shades of belief are catered for will I think be a tremendous attraction, especially since it has room for bishops, and there are many Catholic dioceses which already exhibit all the characteristics of belonging to it.

What Of The WCC?

What is difficult to determine, is where the World Council of Churches would fit into this picture. Will it be the headquarters and government for this all-denominational federation, which it seems on the point of becoming? Or will it just be the ruling body for the fourth denominational church of strict Modernism, which in turn will be merely one member of the larger body? Whatever may be the case, we see that false ecumenism is moving towards two rather different goals.

I am of course considering what for Catholics must be the darker, sadder possibilities. But if they are faced and Christians in large numbers see where they are now heading, perhaps many will draw back and move into the right path again.

Drive For Intercommunion

Returning to the immediate present, the revolutionaries and their mass following have in the last three years been stepping up the agitation for intercommunion, or "Eucharistic hospitality," as it is called; Catholics and non-Catholics communicating in each other's churches; essentially this means intercommunion with Protestants, with the Catholics involved indifferent apparently as to whether they receive in communion the Body of Christ or a piece of bread. A number of Catholics, including priests and seminarians, have already been practicing this intercommunion for years. But now the revolutionaries want the thing done corporately and with official permission so as to hurry on the disintegration of Catholic belief and identity.

Towards the end of Pope Paul's life, the pressure on him to legalize intercommunion mounted rapidly, with England under the English Catholic Hierarchy, backed up by the Archbishop of Canterbury, taking the lead.

The pressure was also great to have him make the Holy See a member of the World Council of Churches. This having failed, energies were applied to getting national Catholic Hierarchies to join their local national interdenominational Councils of Churches. In each case the object has been to have the Church appear as one among equals. The Holy See has so far vetoed this too, and for the most part has been obeyed. So the attempt has been shifted to the diocesan level — (at least in England). Diocesan ecumenical commissions are being urged to make "local covenants" with separated communities in the same area in order to make the all-denominational "Christian Church" seem an already established fact.

After 15 years of the propaganda campaign I have been describing, waged under the banner of ecumenism, it is not surprising that hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Catholics, young, middle-aged, and elderly, are now saying: "I don't think being a Catholic is all that important; I think what matters is being a Christian."

Understandably, the leaders of the more "liberal" or Modernist-inclined churches cannot help but look on these developments with satisfaction. How could they be expected not to? They see large numbers of what they imagine to be Catholics accepting their points of view, with little sign that members of their own flocks are moving in the opposite direction. They have also been led to believe that the Church itself is moving towards them.

The majority of other Protestants and the Eastern Christians must be under the same misapprehensions.


The Meaning And Mystery Of Ecumenism

I have been talking about the abuses of ecumenism. But what about the work of the many honest men and women on all sides trying to bring about reunion without sacrificing what they believe to be truth?

The good achieved here is at present very difficult to assess. In the circumstances it is not of a kind that can be expected to have quick large-scale results.

Unquestionably Catholics, or a great many of them, have been shaken out of a number of petty narrow-minded attitudes. On the other side, numerous Protestants of goodwill have been led to consider ideas which before they would probably have rejected without a thought. (Many ordinary Anglicans for instance, not of the high church, are becoming sympathetic to the idea of venerating our Lady, to having priests rather than parsons, to a "real presence" in the Eucharist, to the Holy See — things unheard of before.) With the Eastern Christians certain fears have perhaps been quieted, and, one hopes, hurts as well as ancient misunderstandings removed. All this is a preparation for the future; and any picture we make of the Christian religious future must certainly contain what should be its principal feature; at last — as the possibilities I spoke of just now begin to unfold and are understood — the start of a widespread movement of the separated Christians, corporately and in clusters, towards the Church. This and only this is what Catholic ecumenism exists for.

Necessity Of Being Of One Mind

Corporate reunion with Eastern Christians in principle offers few difficulties; those that exist have always been mainly psychological and historical. Corporate reunion is hardest to imagine in the case of "liberal" Protestant churches because of their internal disunity about beliefs; to be corporately united with the Catholic Church a separated church or community has to be of one mind. Not to speak of this is, I am certain, a failure in charity. Only if we do speak of it and discuss it will separated Christians of this kind see the importance, beauty and preciousness of being in agreement about what God has revealed and themselves come to long for it. That God will inspire them to see the need for this kind of unity is something I believe we should specially pray for.

But are not any possible future advantages offset, and more than offset, by the new misunderstandings that have been created, and the immense loss of faith among Catholics that has resulted from their taking part in the ecumenical movement? Even if multitudes of separated Christians eventually flow into the Church, as a result of the movement, other multitudes are flowing out of it. So what are we to make of it all?

Mystery Of God's Designs

So long as we regard ecumenism as a practical enterprise of the ordinary kind — with clearly foreseeable results provided the right steps are taken — the answer is, I believe, we can make nothing of it. A glimmer of light appears only when we begin to see it as part of a great mystery of God's designs.

Perhaps I can best illustrate what I have in mind and what I believe to be actually happening by means of an image.

Before the Council, it is often said, that Catholics lived in a ghetto. But Pope John, in launching the Church into ecumenism, pictured us I think rather differently — as the inhabitants of a beautiful comfortable house selfishly dozing before the fire (or if you like the television set) without bothering about the people outside living in flats, hotels and lodgings not their true home. (The image does not say everything about the Church before the Council. But it says enough for the present purpose.)

Because, I suggest, Catholics would not go out, or not in sufficient numbers, and with sufficient enthusiasm, to tell the separated Christians and the world as a whole about their marvellous Heaven-provided home, God has allowed it to be broken open so that all the world can trample through and inspect its contents at leisure. Of course the house was never really shut. But God has "thrown it open to the public" and invited in all and sundry in an unprecedented way. The doors are down, the windowpanes broken, holes have been knocked in the walls. The crowds roam through the rooms at will, looking in cupboards, peering into drawers, examining the furniture, ornaments, books. Though most are well behaved, a percentage laugh, joke, make ribald comments; the house as they had always suspected is full of rubbish.

"Dissident Children"

In the house there are also very many of its own children who hate their parents, intensely dislike their home and the way it is run, and are filled with resentments of every kind about their upbringing.

These discontented children have persuaded a proportion of the visitors that the house, and life in it, would be much better if most of the contents were chucked out and more time given to enjoyment and less to serious occupations.

Together they start smashing the ornaments, burning the pictures, breaking up the furniture. The larder and cellars are ransacked. People loll about in chairs, eating and drinking with their boots on the covers. The carpets are awash with wine and beer. The record player is on full blast. Family portraits are used as dartboards; books as footballs and skittles; dirty hand marks and graffiti cover the walls and paintwork.

Other visitors wander about wide-eyed with astonishment; they don't know what to make of it all. Others again are impressed (in spite of the temporary chaos and din); they had had no idea the house was so mysterious and wonderful. Secretly some of them are thinking: This is where I should like to live one day.

The remainder of the family is aghast. A minority retreat in a sulk to the attics and lock themselves in; they refuse to believe the Master could have ordered this invasion; some are escaping from a window down a rope of torn up sheets.

The rest, equally bewildered, but anxious to obey the Master's instructions, do the honors of the house as best they can, describe its history, point out its attractions, explain that there is not always such an uproar, and invite their listeners to come and live in it. At the same time in the quieter corners they rapidly try to do some dusting and cleaning which they had neglected before the invasion began.

Eventually, when all the visitors have had the chance to look and listen as much as they wish, a bell will ring, the holes in the walls will be repaired, the broken window panes replaced, the rebellious and bad-mannered will be expelled, the well-behaved who do not want to abide by the rules of the house will be courteously accompanied to the door, while those who ask to remain will be embraced and made welcome. Of those who leave, many, after thinking things over, will perhaps have second thoughts and later, returning to the house, ask to join the family after all. So much for my image.

A Great Summons

The ecumenical movement — which has led to this great public showing of the Church — should, I believe, be seen not so much as a road to a clearly marked goal, but rather as a great summoning together of all the baptized to receive an opportunity and a test; for Catholics a test primarily of their charity and fidelity; for non-Catholics of their goodwill and humility. (Catholic humility has not gone untested either.) But what for? To bring into existence, I imagine, a Catholic people, embracing new and old members, better prepared to give God "His fruit in due season." To produce this people, the baptized are being shaken together and sifted as in a sieve.

It also looks as if all nations, as well as all Christians, are being exposed in some obscure way to the Church.

However the question, which really perplexes Catholics is why God should have chosen to give His house this public showing at what seems to them the worst possible time.

No one can tell why. We only know that this is the way God acts.

As the generations pass, sometimes He lets men see the Church in majesty, at other times in weakness, sometimes externally muddied by corruptions, at others washed clean. The Church is also shown in different states from place to place. A short 20 years ago, she looked in most parts of the world majestic and awe-inspiring; today she is shown ridiculed, reviled, buffeted, torn apart by those who were recently her own children, her own chief priests and men learned in the law. But in whatever way she is shown to the nations, always what is divine in her is partially veiled, though never so much that those who are given the grace and wish to see, are not able to. This is the great mystery of ecumenism.

So it was with Jesus.

As for ourselves, all we have to do is patiently carry out the Master's orders. Like the obedient members of the family in the story, we must patiently do the honors of the house; make the visitors welcome, explain clearly and truthfully what is taking place, as best we can repair the damage, so that as many as possible, recognizing at last the Catholic Church for what she truly is, will cry out from their hearts as we do "This is indeed the House of God, the Gate of Heaven," and enter rejoicing into their inheritance.

Philip Trower

Philip Trower, a convert to the Catholic Church, was educated at Eton and New College, Oxford, where he read history, receiving his degree in 1942. He served in the army in Italy and the Middle East where he acquired an interest in the Coptic Church.

Upon his discharge, Trower began writing book reviews for the London Spectator and reviews and articles for the Times Literary Supplement, mainly on literary subjects, and a study of Karl Marx. He has written short stories and published a novel, Tillotson, which received the Book Society's recommendation.

In 1953, Trower embraced the Catholic Faith. He was a close friend of American poet and writer Dunstan Thompson, from whom he feels he received his education as a Catholic.

Trower has written several articles, which have appeared in The Wanderer, including "Portrait of a New Religion," "Portrait of the Counterfaith," "Faith, Experience and Cathechesis," and "Bishops in the Dark."

© 1980 The Wanderer Press, 201 Ohio Street, St. Paul, MN 55107, 612-224-5733.

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