'UNITATIS REDINTEGRATIO', VATICAN II'S DECREE ON ECUMENISM
On 21 November 1964, the Second Vatican Council solemnly promulgated the
Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio. The Document states
in its Introduction that "Christ the Lord founded one Church and one
Church only", and that division contradicts the will of the Lord,
"scandalizes the world and damages that most holy cause, the preaching
of the Gospel.... The restoration of unity among all Christians is one
of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council" (n. 1).
Since then 40 years have passed during which the Document has had
unprecedented repercussions whose impact has been felt far beyond the
Forty years are a measure of biblical time. This gives us a good
reason to enquire: what was the purpose of the Decree? What was its
effect? Today, what point have we reached regarding ecumenism? How far
does ecumenism still have to go? Ecumenism, quo vadis?
The Council is the Magna Charta for the Church's journey in
the 21st century (cf. Tertio Millennio Adveniente, n. 18). On
several occasions the Pope has said that the ecumenical venture is
irrevocable (cf. Ut Unum Sint, n. 3, et al.), and that ecumenism
is "one of the pastoral priorities" of his Pontificate (ibid., n. 99).
We must consequently ask ourselves: what are the Catholic principles
of ecumenism as they have been formulated in the Decree Unitatis
Preparation of the Decree on Ecumenism
The Decree on Ecumenism did not appear out of thin air. It fits into
the context of the ecumenical movement that came into being in the 20th
century outside the Catholic Church (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio,
n. 4), and marked a decisive turning point with the creation of the
"World Council of Churches" in 1948.
This movement was long regarded with suspicion by the Catholic
Church. But its acceptance by the Second Vatican Council is rooted in
the Catholic theology of the 19th century. In particular, Johann Adam Möhler
and John Henry Newman should be cited as precursors and pioneers.
A series of official events, however, also prepared the ground for
it. Even before the Second Vatican Council, the Pontiffs had encouraged
prayers for unity in addition to the "Week of Prayer for Christian
Unity". Leo XIII and Benedict XV paved the way for ecumenical openness.
Pius XI explicitly approved the "Malines Conversations" (1921-26) with
Pius XII went a step further. In an Instruction of 1950, he expressly
supported the ecumenical movement, emphasizing that it originated in the
action of the Holy Spirit, and went on to publish a series of innovative
It would therefore be erroneous to disregard this fundamental
continuity by considering the Council as a radical break with Tradition
and identifying it with the advent of a new Church.
Ecumenism: expression of the Church's eschatological dynamic
Yet something new did begin with the Council: not a new Church but a
renewed Church. Pope John XXIII was responsible for taking the first
steps. He can rightly be considered the spiritual father of the Decree
on Ecumenism; it is he who willed the Council and he who defined its
purpose: renewal within the Catholic Church and the unity of Christians.
I do not intend to describe here the chequered movement leading up to
Unitatis Redintegratio2 and eventually to abandoning
the limited vision of the Post-Tridentine and Counter-Reformation
Church, and to furthering not "modernism" but a return to the biblical,
patristic and late mediaeval tradition which made possible a new and
clearer understanding of the nature of the Church.
The Council was able to adopt the ecumenical movement because it saw
the Church in movement, that is, as the People of God pressing forward
(cf. Lumen Gentium, nn. 2, end; 8, 9, 48-51, et al.). In
other words, the Council gave fresh importance to the eschatological
dimension, showing that the Church is not a static but a dynamic
reality, that she is the People of God on pilgrimage between the
"already" and the "not yet". The Council integrated the ecumenical
movement into this eschatological dynamic.
Understood in this way, ecumenism is the "way of the Church" (Ut
Unum Sint, n. 7). It is neither an addition nor some sort of
appendix, but an integral, organic part of the life and pastoral
activity of the Church (cf. Ut Unum Sint, n. 20).
In this eschatological perspective, the ecumenical movement is
closely connected to the missionary movement. Ecumenism and mission are
Mission is an eschatological phenomenon through which the Church
absorbs the cultural patrimony of the peoples and purifies and enriches
it, thereby also enriching herself and reaching the full measure of her
catholicity (cf. Ad Gentes, nn. 1 ff., 9, et al.).
Likewise, in the ecumenical movement, the Church takes part in an
exchange of gifts with the separated Churches (cf. Ut Unum Sint,
nn. 28, 57), enriches them and at the same time makes their gifts her
own; she brings them to the fullness of their catholicity and thereby
fully attains her own catholicity (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, n.
Mission and ecumenism are two forms of the eschatological journey and
the eschatological dynamic of the Church.
The Council was not so ingenuous as to ignore the danger that
integrating the ecumenical movement into the Church's dynamic
eschatology could entail. This dynamic, as has happened all too often in
the Church's history, could have been erroneously interpreted as a
progressivist movement that saw the heritage of ancient traditions as
obsolete, rejecting it in the name of what might be termed a
progressivist conception of faith. Wherever this occurs there is a real
risk of relativism and indifferentism, of "cheap ecumenism" that ends by
becoming superfluous. This has at times meant that the ecumenical
movement has fallen prey to movements critical of the Church, and this
has been exploited against her.
Dogmatic laxism leads to the refusal to recognize the essence of the
Church's eschatological dimension. The eschaton does not in fact
refer to a future reality that is located outside history. With Jesus
Christ and with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, it has definitively
entered history and is present in the Church.
The Church herself is an eschatological phenomenon; unity, her
essential feature, is therefore not a distant, future goal but is
precisely an eschatological goal; the Church is already "Una Sancta
Ecclesia" (Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 4; Ut Unum Sint,
nn. 11-14). The path of ecumenism is not a journey towards the unknown.
The Church will be in history what she is, what she has always been and
what she always will be. She journeys on to fully achieve her nature in
The Catholic principles of ecumenism spelled out by the Council and
later by Pope John Paul II are clearly and unequivocally opposed to
irenicism and relativism, which tend to trivialize everything (cf.
Unitatis Redintegratio, nn. 5, 11, 24; Ut Unum Sint, nn. 18,
36, 79). The ecumenical movement discards nothing that has so far been
precious and important for the Church or in her history; it stays
faithful to the truth recognized and defined as such in history and adds
nothing that is new.
The ecumenical movement and the goal it has set, the full unity of
disciples of Christ, remains within the furrows marked by Tradition.
However, in the spirit of the two great heralds of the Council, J.A.
and J.H. Newman, Tradition has not become fossilized but is living. It
is an event of the Holy Spirit who guides the Church into all the truth
in accordance with the Lord's promise (cf. Jn 16:13), revealing to us
ceaselessly the Gospel that has been handed on to us once and for all,
helping us to grow in our understanding of the truth revealed once and
for all (cf. Dei Verbum, 8; DS 3020). According to the
Bishop and Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyons, it is God's Spirit who keeps young
and fresh the apostolic patrimony that was bequeathed to us once and for
In this regard, the ecumenical movement is a charismatic phenomenon
and an "operation of the Holy Spirit". Indeed, the Church does not only
have an institutional dimension but also a
charismatic one, as the Council emphasized (cf. Lumen Gentium, nn.
4, 7, 12, 49; Apostolicam Actuositatem, n. 3; Ad Gentes nn.
Ecumenism, therefore, is a new beginning, inspired and guided by the
Spirit of God (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, nn. 1, 4). The Holy
Spirit, as the "soul" of the Church (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 7),
gives the unity and diversity of gifts and ministries (cf. Lumen
Gentium, n. 7; Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 2).
The Council was thus able say that spiritual ecumenism is the heart
of ecumenism. Spiritual ecumenism means interior conversion, spiritual
renewal, the personal sanctification of life, charity, self-denial,
humility, patience, but also renewal and reform of the Church. Above
all, prayer is the heart of the ecumenical movement (cf. Unitatis
Redintegratio, nn. 5-8); Ut Unum Sint, nn. 15 ff., 2127).
As a spiritual movement, the ecumenical movement does not uproot
Tradition. On the contrary, it suggests a new and deeper understanding
of the Tradition transmitted to us once and for all.
Moreover, it is thanks to this that the new Pentecost announced by
John XXIII in his Opening Address to the Council makes head way. It
serves to prepare the new historical features of the Church, not a new
Church but a Church that is spiritually renewed and enriched. Together
with the mission, ecumenism is the way of the Church through the 21st
century and the third millennium.
'Subsistit in' expresses a historically concrete
The eschatological and pneumatological dynamic needed conceptual
elucidation. This clarification was provided by the Council in the
Constitution on the Church with the much-discussed formula "subsistit
in": the Church of Jesus Christ subsists in the Catholic Church (cf.
Lumen Gentium, n. 8).
The editor in charge of the dogmatic Constitution on the Church, G.
Philips, was sufficiently farsighted to foresee that much ink would be
employed on expounding the meaning of "subsistit in".5
Indeed, ink continues to flow and more will probably be needed before
the issues raised have been clarified.
During the Council, "subsistit in" replaced the pre-existing "est".6
This contains in nuce the whole of the ecumenical problem.7
The "est" affirmed that the Church of Jesus Christ "is" the
Catholic Church. This close identification of the Church of Jesus Christ
with the Catholic Church is present, for example, in the Encyclicals
Mystici Corporis (1943) and Humani Generis (1950).8
However, Mystici Corporis also recognizes that there are
persons who, while they may not be baptized, belong to the Catholic
Church because they so desire (cf. DS 3921). It was for this
reason that Pope Pius XII in 1949 had condemned an exclusive
interpretation of the axiom "Extra ecclesiam nulla salus".9
Thanks to "subsistit in", the Council was able to make a
remarkable qualitative leap. It was desired to give its proper due to
the fact that outside the Catholic Church there are not only individual
Christians but also "elements of Church",10 and even Churches
and Ecclesial Communities which, while not in full communion, belong
rightfully to the one Church and are a means of salvation for their
members (cf. Lumen Gentium, nn. 8, 15; Unitatis Redintegratio,
n. 3; Ut Unum Sint, nn. 10-14).
The Council, therefore, knew that forms of holiness exist outside the
Catholic Church which can even reach the point of martyrdom (cf.
Lumen Gentium, n. 15; Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 4; Ut
Unum Sint, nn. 12, 83). Consequently, the problem of the salvation
of non-Catholics is no longer resolved at the individual level, based on
the subjective wishes of an individual as intimated in Mystici
Corporis, but at an institutional level and in an objective
The notion of "subsistit in" means, according to the intention
of the Theological Commission of the Council, that Christ's Church has
its "concrete place" in the Catholic Church; Christ's Church is
encountered in the Catholic Church, and it is there that she is to be
concretely found.11 It is not a question of a purely platonic
body or of a merely future reality; it exists concretely in history and
is concretely found in the Catholic Church .12
Understood in this way, "subsistit in" assumes the essential
requirement of the "est". However, it no longer describes the way
in which the Catholic Church understands herself in terms of "splendid
isolation", but takes note of the active presence of the one Church
of Christ also in other Churches and Ecclesial Communities (cf. Ut
Unum Sint, n. 11), even if they are not yet in full communion with
her. In formulating her identity, the Catholic Church establishes a
dialogical relationship with these Churches and Ecclesial Communities.
Consequently, "subsistit in" is erroneously interpreted when
it is made the basis of pluralism or ecclesiological relativism,
asserting that the one and only Church of Christ subsists in numerous
Churches and that the Catholic Church is merely one Church alongside
others. Such theories of ecclesiological pluralism are in contradiction
to the understanding of the proper identity which the Catholic Church
as for also the Orthodox Churches
has always had in the course of her Tradition, an understanding that the
Second Vatican Council also chose to adopt.
The Catholic Church claims for herself, in the present as she did in
the past, the right to be the true Church of Christ, in which the whole
fullness of the means of salvation is given (cf. Unitatis
Redintegratio, n. 3; Ut Unum Sint, n. 14), but she now has a
dialogical awareness of this and takes the other Churches and Ecclesial
Communities into account.
The Council asserted no new doctrine but introduced a new attitude,
the renouncement of triumphalism, and formulated the traditional
understanding of her identity in a way that is realistic, historically
concrete and, one might add, even humble. The Council knew that the
Church journeys on through history to bring to fruition in history what
her deepest nature actually is ("est ").
We rediscover this humble and realistic vision primarily in Lumen
Gentium (n. 8), where the Council, by means of "subsistit in",
not only makes room for elements of the Church outside her own visible
structure, but also for members and structures of sin within the Church
herself.13 The People of God also has sinners in its ranks,
with the results that the Church's spiritual nature does not appear
clearly to the separated brethren or the world, the Church shares
responsibility for the existing divisions, and the growth of the Kingdom
of God is delayed (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, nn. 3 ff.).
On the other hand, the separate Communities have sometimes developed
certain aspects of the revealed truth better, so that in the situation
of division, the Catholic Church cannot fully and concretely develop her
own catholicity (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 4; Ut Unum
Sint, n. 14). The Church therefore needs purification and renewal
and must ceaselessly take the way of penance (cf. Lumen Gentium,
n. 8; Unitatis Redintegratio, nn. 3 ff., 6 ff.; Ut Unum Sint,
nn. 34 ff., 83 ff.).
This self-critical and penitential vision is the basis of the
progress of the ecumenical movement (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio,
nn. 5-12). It includes conversion and renewal, without which there can
be no ecumenism or dialogue, because ecumenism, rather than an exchange
of ideas, is an exchange of gifts.
In this eschatological and spiritual perspective, the goal of
ecumenism cannot be conceived of as a mere return of the others to the
heart of the Catholic Church. The goal of full unity [can] be reached
only through the action of the Spirit of God and the conversion of all
to the one Head of the Church, Jesus Christ. To the extent that we are
united to Christ, we will all be united to one another as well, and will
actuate in all its fullness the catholicity proper to the Church. This
goal has been defined theologically by the Council as unity-communio.
Ecumenism under the banner of the ecclesiology of communion
The basic idea of the Second Vatican Council and in particular the
Decree on Ecumenism can be summed up in one word: communio.14
The term is important for a proper understanding of the issue of the "elementa
ecclesiae". This phrase suggests a quantitative, almost
materialistic, dimension, as though it were possible to quantify or
count all the elements, checking to see whether their numbers were
This "ecclesiology of elements" was already criticized at the
Conciliar debates and especially after the Council." Unitatis
Redintegratio, however, did not stop there. The Decree on Ecumenism
does not consider the separated Churches and Ecclesial Communities as
entities that have preserved a residue of elements of varying degrees
and according to each case, but as integral entities that shed light on
these elements within their overall ecclesiological concept.
This happens thanks to the concept of "communio". With this
notion, present in the Bible and used in the early Church, the Council
defines the deepest mystery of the Church, which is in the image of the
Trinitarian communio as an icon of the Trinity (cf. Lumen
Gentium, n. 4; Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 2). Originally,
communio and communio sanctorum did not designate the
communities of Christians, but their participation (participatio)
in the goods of salvation, in the sancta, that is, in the
Baptism is fundamental in all of this. It is the sacrament of faith
through which the baptized are incorporated into Christ's one Body,
which is the Church. Non-Catholic Christians are therefore not outside
the one Church, but on the contrary, belong to it already in a
rudimentary way (cf. Lumen Gentium, nn. 11; 14; Unitatis
Redintegratio, n. 22).
On the basis of the one common Baptism, ecumenism goes far beyond
mere benevolence and simple friendship; it is not a form of ecclesial
diplomacy but has an ontological foundation and an ontological depth; it
is an event of the Spirit.
Baptism is evidently only the point of departure and the basis (cf.
Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 22). Incorporation into the Church
reaches its fullness with the Eucharist, which is the source, fulcrum
and summit of Christian and ecclesial life (cf. Lumen Gentium, nn.
11, 26; Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 5; Ad Gentes, n. 39).
Thus, the foundations of Eucharistic ecclesiology already exist in
the Constitution on the Liturgy and in the Constitution on the Church
(cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 47; Lumen Gentium, nn. 3,
7, 11, 23, 26).
Unitatis Redintegratio affirms that it is in the Eucharist
where "the unity of the Church is both signified and brought about" (Unitatis
Redintegratio, n. 2). It subsequently states with regard to the
Orthodox Churches: "Through the celebration of the Eucharist of the Lord
in each of these Churches, the Church of God is built up and grows in
stature, and through concelebration, their communion with one another is
made manifest" (Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 15).
The Church is wherever the Eucharist is celebrated. As will shortly
be pointed out, this axiom is of capital importance for understanding
the Oriental Churches and the distinction that exists between them and
the Protestant Ecclesial Communities.
What has just been said means that every particular Church which
celebrates the Eucharist is a Church in the full sense of the word, but
not the whole of the Church (cf. Lumen Gentium, nn. 26, 28).
Since there is only one Christ and only one Eucharist, each Church which
celebrates the Eucharist is in a relationship of communion with all the
It is in the particular Churches and formed out of them that the one and
unique Catholic Church exists, and conversely, it is in the one Church
and formed out of her that the particular Churches exist (cf.
Communionis Notio, n. 9).
Transferring this concept of unity to the ecumenical problem, the
ecumenical unity to which we are aspiring means something more than a
network of confessional Churches which, by entering into the communion
of the Eucharist and of the pulpit, mutually recognize one another. The
Catholic understanding of ecumenism presupposes what already exists: the
unity of the Catholic Church and partial communion with the other
Churches and Ecclesial Communities in order, starting from this partial
communion, to reach full communion (cf. Ut Unum Sint, n. 14),
which includes unity in the faith, in the sacraments and in the
ecclesiastical ministry (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 14; Unitatis
Redintegratio, nn. 2 ff.).
Unity in the sense of full communio does not mean uniformity,
but unity in diversity and diversity in unity. Within the one Church
there is leeway for a legitimate diversity of mindsets, practices,
rites, canonical norms, theology and spirituality (cf. Lumen Gentium,
n. 13; Unitatis Redintegratio, nn. 4, 16 ff.).
We can also say that the essence of unity conceived as communio
is catholicity in its original meaning which is not confessional but
qualitative; it means the fulfilment of all the gifts that the
particular and confessional Churches can bring.
Therefore, the contribution of Unitatis Redintegratio to the
solution of the ecumenical problem is not "the ecclesiology of the
elements" but the distinction between full communion and partial
communion (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 3).16 From this
distinction derives the fact that ecumenism does not aim to create
associations but to achieve communio, which means neither
reciprocal absorption nor fusion." This formulation of the ecumenical
problem is the Council's most important theological contribution to the
East and West: two forms of the same ecumenical movement
The integration of ecumenical theology in the ecclesiology of
communio makes it possible to distinguish two types of division in
the Church: the schism between East and West, and the internal divisions
in the Church of the West from the 16th century. The difference between
the two is not only geographical or temporal; they are different kinds
Whereas with the split between East and West the ecclesial structure
that had developed basically since the second century remained the same,
with the Communities born from the Reformation we face a different
The Eastern schism encompasses both the ancient Churches of the East
separated by the Imperial Church in the fourth and fifth centuries, and
the schism between Rome and the Eastern Patriarchates, whose symbolic
date has been established as the year 1054.
The Council did not, of course, reduce the differences to mere
political and cultural factors. From the outset, East and West accepted
the same Gospel in different ways and developed their liturgy,
spirituality, theology and canon law along different lines.
However, they were in agreement over the fundamental structure, both
Eucharistic-sacramental and episcopal. The national and international
dialogues that have been initiated since the Council have confirmed this
profound communion of faith in the sacraments and in episcopal
The Council, therefore, spoke of relations between local Churches as
between Sister Churches (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 14). This
expression, still fairly vague in the Decree on Ecumenism, was taken up
and developed in the Tomos Agapis,19 the exchange of
Messages between Pope Paul VI and the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras.
The re-establishment of full communion implies that due attention be
paid to the different factors that led to the separation (cf.
Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 14) and that legitimate differences be
recognized (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, nn. 15-17).
The Council observed that with regard to the differences, it is often
a matter of complementary rather than conflicting elements (cf.
Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 17).20 It therefore declared
that "this entire heritage of spirituality and liturgy, of discipline
and theology, in the various traditions, belongs to the full catholic
and apostolic character of the Church" (Unitatis Redintegratio,
To re-establish unity, therefore, it is essential to "impose no
burden beyond what is indispensable (Acts 15:28)" (Unitatis
Redintegratio, n. 18).
The crux of the problem in the relations between East and West is the
issue of Petrine ministry (cf. Ut Unum Sint, n. 88). Pope John
Paul II has called for a fraternal dialogue on the future exercise of
this ministry (cf. Ut Unum Sint, n. 95).
It is impossible to explain here the complex historical issues
connected with the problem or the current possibilities of the
reinterpretation and re-acceptance of the dogmas promulgated by the
First Vatican Council. Let us merely recall that a symposium organized
in May 2003 by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity with
the Orthodox Churches led to openness on both sides .22
Let us hope that it will soon be possible to resume the international
theological dialogue and above all, that it will be devoted to the study
of this topic.
The Western schism that was brought about by the Reformation in the
16th century is of another nature. As the Decree on Ecumenism clearly
recognizes, it is a matter of a complex and differentiated phenomenon,
as much historical as it is doctrinal.
We are also linked to the Communities born of the Reformation by many
important elements of the true Church, including above all the
proclamation of the Word of God and Baptism. In many post-Conciliar
documents of dialogue this communion has been broadened and deepened."
However, "very weighty differences" exist, "not only of a historical,
sociological, psychological and cultural character, but especially in
the interpretation of revealed truth" (Unitatis Redintegratio, n.
19). According to the Council, these divergences partly concern the
doctrines of Jesus Christ and of redemption, and especially Sacred
Scripture in its relationship with the Church, the authentic Magisterium,
the Church and her ministries, the role of Mary in the work of the
salvation (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, nn. 20 ff.; Ut Unum
Sint, n. 66), and in part also of moral issues (cf. Unitatis
Redintegratio, n. 23). The latter have recently come to the fore and
have created problems within both the Ecclesial Communities of the
Reformation and relations between them and the Catholic Church.
As distinct from what occurred in the situation of the schism of the
East, with the Communities that resulted from the Reformation we are not
only in the presence of doctrinal divergences but also of fundamental
structure and of another type of Church. Despite their different, often
considerably differing stances, the reformers conceive of the Church as
a creatura verbi whose point of departure is the Word of God24
and not the Eucharist.
The difference is accentuated when it is a question of the Eucharist.
As the Council says, the Ecclesial Communities born from the Reformation
"have not preserved the proper reality of the Eucharistic mystery in its
fullness especially because of the absence of the Sacrament of
Orders..." (Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 22).
With regard to Eucharistic ecclesiology, the distinction between the
Churches and the Ecclesial Communities derives from this absence of any
Eucharistic substance. The Declaration Dominus Iesus (cf. n. 16)
further underlined this distinction at the level of concepts, provoking
harsh criticism on the part of Protestant Christians.
It would have been possible to formulate more clearly what it was the
intention to express; but as regards the effective content, it is
impossible to close one's eyes to the divergences that exist in the way
in which the Church is conceived. Protestants do not want to be Church
in the way the Catholic Church desires herself to be; they represent
another kind of Church and for this reason, according to the criterion
of Catholic identity, they are not a Church in the proper sense.
Because of the existing differences, the Council urged the faithful
to abstain from any frivolous or rash zeal. "Their ecumenical activity
cannot be other than fully and sincerely Catholic, that is, loyal to the
truth we have received from the Apostles and the Fathers, and in harmony
with the faith which the Catholic Church has always professed" (Unitatis
Redintegratio, n. 24).
But the Council warns against polemics. It is significant that the
term "dialogue" is repeated like a refrain at the end of the various
parts of this section of the Decree (cf. ibid., nn. 19, 21, 22,
23). This expresses once again the new spirit with which the Council
intends to overcome differences.
'Quanta est nobis via'?
The Decree was a beginning. This notwithstanding, it had far-reaching
and important repercussions both within the Catholic Church and at an
ecumenical level, and in the course of the past 40 years it has
profoundly changed the situation of ecumenism .25
Of course, Unitatis Redintegratio has also left some
unanswered questions; it faced criticism and experienced further
development. But the problems we encounter must not let us forget the
rich fruit that it has yielded.
The Decree started an irrevocable and irreversible process for which
there is no realistic alternative. The Decree on Ecumenism shows us the
way in the 21st century. It is the Lord's will that we follow this path,
with prudence but also with courage, patience and above all, with
In the ultimate analysis, ecumenism is an adventure of the Spirit.
Therefore, I conclude by borrowing the words with which Unitatis
Redintegratio also ended: "'And hope does not disappoint, because
God's love has been poured forth in our hearts through the Holy Spirit
who has been given to us' (Rom 5:5)" (Unitatis Redintegratio, n.
1 For the antecedents of the ecumenical movement in the
Catholic Church, cf.: H. Petri, Die römisch-katholische
Kirche and die
in: Handbuch der
vol. 2, Paderborn, 1986, 95-135.
2 Cf. W. Becker, in: LThK, Vat. II, vol. 2 (1967), 11-39;
L. Jaeger, Das Konzildekret
Paderborn, 1968, 15-78; Storia del Concilio Vaticano II, by G.
Alberigo, vol. 3, Bologna, 1998, 277-365; vol. 4, Bologna, 1999,
3 J. Le Guillou, Mission et unité.
Les exigeances de la communion, Paris, 1959; Y. Congar, Diversité
et communion, Paris, 1982, 239 ff. Pope John Paul II also emphasized
this connection in his Encyclical on missions, Redemptoris Missio
(1990, nn. 36 and 50).
4 Irenaeus of Lyons, Adversus Haereses III, 24, 1 (Sources
n. 211, Paris, 1974, 472).
5 G. Philips, L'Église
et son mystère
Concile du Vatican, vol. I, Paris, 1967, 119.
6 Overview in
Synopsis historica, edited by G. Alberigo-F. Magistretti,
Bologna, 1975, 38; 439 ff.; 506 ff.
7 G. Philips, ibid.
8 AAS 35, 1943, 199; 42, 1950, 571.
9 Letter from the Holy See to the Archbishop of Boston
(1949), in: DS 3866-73.
10 This concept dates back to J. Calvin; but whereas for
Calvin the term referred to the sad remnants of the true Church, in the
ecumenical debate it is understood in a positive and dynamic sense,
directed towards the future. It first appeared with Yves Congar as an
extension of St Augustine's anti-Donatist attitude (cf. A. Nichols,
Yves Congar, London, 1986, 101-106). With the Toronto Declaration
(1950) it also entered into the language of the World Council of
11 Synopsis historiae, 439; G. Philips, op. cit.,
119; A. Grillmeier, LThK, Vat. II, vol. 1, 1966, 175; L. Jaeger, op.
12 Cf. Declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of
the Faith, Mysterium Ecclesiae (1973), n. 1; also the Declaration
Dominus Iesus (2000), n. 17.
13 On the notion of "the structures of sin", cf. the
Apostolic Letter of Pope John Paul II, Reconciliatio et Paenitentia
(1984), n. 16, and Ut Unum Sint, n. 34.
14 In this regard, cf. Extraordinary Synod of Bishops of
1985 (II C 1). The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity
addressed this theme in detail at its Plenary Assembly in 2001. Cf.
Introduction by Cardinal Kasper, Communio. The Guiding Concept of
Catholic Ecumenical Theology. The Present and Future Situation of the
Ecumenical Movement, in: Information Service n. 109,
15 Cf. especially, H. Mülhlen,
Una mistica persona, Munich-Paderborn, 1968, 496-502, 504-513.
16 The distinction is not yet clearly made in the
terminology of the Conciliar texts. Unitatis Redintegratio reads:
"plena communio" and "quaedam communio, et si non perfecta".
17 John Paul II, Encyclical Slavorum Apostoli
(1985), n. 27.
18 J. Ratzinger, Die
— Orthodoxie, Katholizismus und
Reformation, in: Theologische Prinzipienlehre, Munich, 1982,
19 Ibid., 386-392 (n. 176). This expression was
taken up in the Common Declaration of Pope John Paul II and the
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in 1995.
20 The Catechism of the Catholic Church (n. 248)
also includes the filioque question among those problems that
indicate a complementary rather than a contradictory difference.
21 This idea is also found in the Decree Orientalium
Ecclesiarum, n. 1, and in the Apostolic Letter Orientale Lumen
(1995), n. 1.
22 Cf. W. Kasper (ed.), Il ministero petrino. Cattolici
e ortodossi in dialogo, Rome, 2004.
23 We cite especially the Lima Document: "Baptism,
Eucharist and Ministry" (1982), the documents of ARCIC with the Anglican
Communion, the documents of convergence with the Lutherans ("The
Eucharist", "Spiritual Ministry in the Church", etc.), and in particular
the "Common Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification" (1999).
24 M. Luther, De captivitate Babylonica ecclesiae
praeludium (1520): WA 560 ff.
25 Cf. Il Concilio Vaticano II. Ricezione e attualità
alla luce del Giubileo, ed. R. Fisichella, Rome, 2000, 335-415, with
contributions by E. Fortino, J. Wicks, F. Ocáriz,
Y. Spatters, V. Pfnür.