Thursday, 31 March 2016

Dangers to true ecumenism

It would be very easy to make His Eminence, Cardinal Müller, seem like a spoil sport and party pooper. Cardinal Müller has said that Catholics have "no reason to celebrate" the beginning of the Reformation. Though initially it might seem that the Cardinal is anti-ecumenical, in fact he is very concerned about the dangers to ecumenism presented by these celebrations.

The prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, has said

We Catholics have no reason to celebrate October 31, 1517, the date that is considered the beginning of the Reformation that would lead to the rupture of Western Christianity.

Those of us in ecumenical chaplaincy teams need to be prepared for this. Those catholic parishes who are actively part of Churches Together also need to be prepared. For the English especially, it will surely seem just ill-mannered to disagree with a celebration in 2017. But in actual fact our ecumenical partners need to realise that it is the other way round! If they assume that Catholics will just join in, then they are being ill-mannered.

Catholics join in with ecumenical movements on the basis that their perspective will be respected. And the Catholic perspective is that we are seeking unity that this visible - that the unity that Christ wills is one visible Church (or you might say one institution). We believe that just as Christ is a unity in His humanity and divinity, so also the Church is a unity of the visible (institution) and invisible (spiritual). For us the Church is Christus Totus; the whole Christ, head and body. There cannot be more than one visible Church because that would be like saying there is more than one Christ. This is the Catholic understanding of what the Church is (one can read more about this in the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium and the document on ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio).

Now of course our separated Christian brothers and sisters do not see it that way (and I used to be one of them). The children of the Reformation have tended to regard the Church as predominantly a spiritual entity and that the outward visible institution is really secondary. So the outward visible institution can be altered without any real problems. Some children of the Reformation have bishops, some do not. Some have deacons and priests, some do not. Some have sacraments, some do not.

This means in our ecumenical groups and movements we need to be aware of these differences between one another. We need to respect them and not ignore them.

The celebration of the anniversary of the Reformation next year will be a real test of the ecumenical movement as it has developed. In my mind the question is, is it truly ecumenical or is it essentially a protestant ecumenism that drives it. If Churches Together get behind the Reformation celebrations next year then it would seem to suggest that essentially they have a protestant agenda.

If Catholics were to support the anniversary of the Reformation they will be essentially saying that there can be good reasons to separate oneself from mother Church, that is, to be in schism. For that is what the Reformers did. They did not create new churches, but, from the Catholic perspective, formed church-like communities but communities that were separate from the Church. Most of them retained the sacraments of baptism and holy matrimony, and so there is grace in those communities, but nevertheless we Catholics believe their communion with Christ in the Church is incomplete, and that they are missing out on many gifts of grace that could be theirs.

For Catholics to support the Reformation would be to also promote relativism - that at the end of the day "my truth" and "your truth" are equally valid. This is perhaps the most dangerous aspect of this all. If we embrace relativism we sooner or later reject divine revelation (which of its nature is absolute truth).

We Catholics have to realise that being a "party pooper" next year is not endangering the movement for true ecumenism, but rather a positive contribution to it. In fact it is relativism that is the real danger for the ecumenical movement.

Fr Ian Hellyer
Ordinariate Pastor
Parochial Administrator
University Chaplain

Thanks to The Catholic Herald for reporting the Cardinal's words about this. See here.

DAY NINE (Eve of Pentecost)