Pope Francis Commits to Ecumenism

News: Commentary
by Raymond de Souza, KHS, KM  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  April 22, 2021   

But Catholic Tradition rebukes error

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This is Part I of a three-part series examining the Church's view of ecumenism.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope John Paul II

In a letter marking the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's 1995 encyclical Ut Unum Sint, Pope Francis called for a renewed commitment to ecumenism, according to the Church's "irrevocable" commitment to the task of ecumenism.

Pope Francis invited everyone to "ask the Spirit to guide our steps and to enable everyone to hear the call to work for the cause of ecumenism with renewed vigor." Vatican News reported that the pope has reminded the faithful that "ecumenism is not something optional."

As Catholics faithful to the Church Magisterium, we may find it profitable to read what the Catholic tradition — the Sacred Tradition — has to say about true ecumenism.

What Is True Ecumenism?

First of all, all councils of the Church have been ecumenical, that is, have fostered true ecumenism — especially when they condemned heresies — because there is a true ecumenism and a false one. True ecumenism means the bringing together of all peoples under one single faith, that they may be one, so that there may be one Lord, one Faith, and one baptism (Ephesians 4:5) in the one Church of God (1 Timothy 3:15).

False ecumenism, on the other hand, means to bring together all faiths under the same people, regardless of creed, origin or preference. This is utter nonsense.

The Vatican II decree on ecumenism, quoted in the Catholic Catechism, states:

It is through Christ's Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help towards salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained. It was to the Apostolic College alone, of which Peter is the head, that we believe that Our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant, in order to establish on earth the one Body of Christ into which all those should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the People of God (Unitatis Reintegratio, 3:5).

But dissenters emerged into the Body of Christ and caused division.

As noted in section 817 of the Catechism: "In fact, 'in this one and only Church of God from its very beginning there arose certain rifts, which the Apostle strongly censures as damnable. But in subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions appeared and large communities became separated from full communion with the Catholic Church'" (Unitatis Reintegratio, 34:1).

Unity in Truth, Not Error

But the ruptures that wound the unity of Christ's Body do not occur without sin — here we must distinguish heresy, apostasy and schism.

The Catechism, in section 817, quotes Origen: "Where there are sins, there are also divisions, schisms, heresies and disputes. Where there is virtue, however, there also are harmony and unity, from which arise the one heart and one soul of all believers."

Therefore, true ecumenism spurs Catholics to bring together the dissenters into full union with the Catholic Church, and not only indulge in praying together with them in ecumenical gatherings.

This is the goal from the Church's very inception — unity in the truth, not in error. For instance:

  • Pope St. Clement, in A.D. 95, said in his epistle to the Corinthians: "Why do we wrench and tear apart the members of Christ?"
  • Pope St. Leo the Great, in A.D. 460, said in a letter: "In your zeal for the service of God, aim at winning back to Him, by the prayers of the Church, all those who have in any way strayed from it."
  • Pope St. Gregory VII, in A.D. 1082, said in his Letter to All the Faithful: "We desire one thing: that the Holy Church, now trampled upon and in confusion and divided into parties, may return to its former unity and splendor."
  • Pope Leo XIII said in Rerum Novarum, 1891: "Whoever departs from the Church wanders far from Christ." Three years later, in 1894, he said in Praeclara Gratulationis Publicae: "The true union between Christians is that which Jesus Christ, the Author of the Church, instituted and desired, and which consists in a unity of faith and a unity of government."

The great problem with dissenters is that they misrepresent some truths of the Catholic faith, and thus promote discord and division. The Catholic Catechism, in paragraph 2464, is clear about the fidelity to the truth as a necessary consequence of the Eighth Commandment: "The eighth commandment forbids misrepresenting the truth in our relations with others. ... Offenses against the truth express by word or deed a refusal to commit oneself to moral uprightness: They are fundamental infidelities to God."

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Not just misrepresentations, but ambiguities — when one says things that can be understood in two or three different ways, one orthodox, the other heretical and the other confusing — are also a great disservice to true ecumenism. Case in point:

  • Pope St. John Paul II, in his 1993 Veritatis Splendor, said: "Truth enlightens man's intelligence and shapes his freedom, leading him to know and love the Lord."
  • Scripture notes that truth in the Faith, not individual opinions, must be promoted by authentic ecumenism, because "without faith, it is impossible to please God" (Hebrews 11:6).
  • Pope Pius IX, in his 1846 Qui Pluribus, said: "There is nothing more certain than our faith, nothing safer, nothing more holy, nothing that rests on firmer principles."
  • Pope Leo XIII, in his 1879 Aeterni Patris, declared: "The Christian Faith, reposing on the authority of God, is the unfailing mistress of truth. Whosoever follows it will be neither enmeshed in the snares of error nor tossed hither and thither on the waves of fluctuating opinions." In his 1893 Providentissimus Deus, he emphasized: "The sense of Holy Scripture can nowhere to be found incorrupt outside of the Church, and cannot be expected to be found in writers who, being without the true Faith, only know the bark of Sacred Scripture, and never attain the pith."
  • Pope Pius XII, in his 1950 Humani Generis, said: "Truth ... cannot change from day to day."

The conclusion of these papal teachings is evident: Only the truth, the true Faith preached by the authentic preachers of the Church, will make us free from sin and safe from perdition. No number of opinions of dissenters will save our souls. The ecumenical efforts of the Church must be oriented to preaching the truth — and only the truth — and refuting error.

Condemning Error

It is important to emphasize that the doctrinal mission of the Church consists not only in teaching the truth but also in condemning error. No teaching of the truth is sufficient unless it includes the enunciation and refutation of the objections which may be brought against that truth.

As Pope Pius XII, in a 1947 Christmas radio message, said, "The Church, ever overflowing with charity and kindness toward those who go astray, but faithful to the word of her Divine Founder, who said: 'He that is not with me is against me' (Matthew 12:30) could not fail in Her duty of denouncing error and unmasking the sowers of lies ... ." (Discorsi e Radiomessagi, Vol. IX, p. 393).

Only the truth, the true Faith preached by the authentic preachers of the Church, will make us free from sin and safe from perdition.

Pope Pius XI expressed the same thought in his March 14, 1937 encyclical against Nazism, Mit Brennender Sorge, saying, "The first gift of love of the priest to his milieu, and which is incumbent upon him in the most evident manner, is the gift of serving truth, the whole truth, and to unmask and refute error under all the forms, masks and disguises in which it is presented" (AAS, Vol. XXIX, p. 1 , 63).

The false maxim that teaching the truth does not require attacking or refuting error is of the essence of the heresy of religious liberalism. There is no adequate Christian formation without apologetics. That is what authentic Catholics promote by way of Christian unity in the truth. Therefore, ecumenism can be mandatory only if it is true ecumenism, centered on the truth, not in opinions, however sincere they may appear to be.

Raymond de Souza, KHS, KM, is a knight of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, a knight of the Sovereign and Military Order of Malta and a fourth-degree Knight of Columbus. A speaker on pro-life and apologetics issues, he is the delegate for international missions of Human Life International. He has visited 38 countries of the six continents as part of conferences held in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese and has speaking ability in Italian and Afrikaans. He is available to address Catholic audiences anywhere in the free world to defend the Gospel of life and the purity of Catholic doctrine, counting on the recommendation of bishops and priests in New Zealand, Australia and the United States. He has been a radio broadcaster in New Zealand and Australia and, today, writes a syndicated column for the weekly national Catholic paper, The Wanderer.
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