Dialogue with Reform Communities

Author: Pope John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

General Audience, 23 August 1995

1. With regard to the current ecumenical effort, we would like to turn our attention today to the numerous Ecclesial Communities which arose in the West from the period of the Reformation onwards. The Second Vatican Council recalls that those Ecclesial Communities "openly confess Jesus Christ as God and Lord and as the only Mediator between God and man for the glory of the one God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit" (Unitatis redintegratio, n. 20). Recognition of Christ's divinity and profession of faith in the Trinity constitute a sound basis for dialogue, even while taking into account, as the Council itself observed, "that there exist considerable differences from the doctrine of the Catholic Church even concerning Christ, the Word of God made flesh, and the work of redemption, and thus concerning the mystery and ministry of the Church and the role of Mary in the work of salvation" (ibid.).

Moreover, notable differences are found between the Ecclesial Communities mentioned here, to the point that "due to their different origins and convictions in doctrine and spiritual life, the task of describing them adequately is extremely difficult" (ibid., n. 19). Indeed, within a single communion, it is not rare to notice differing doctrinal trends, with divergences concerning even the substance of the faith. However, these difficulties make even more necessary the persevering search of dialogue.

2. Another significant element that helps to foster ecumenical dialogue is "a love and reverence—almost a cult—of Holy Scripture" by which our brethren are led "to a constant and diligent study of the sacred text" (ibid., n. 21). Here in fact, the opportunity of knowing and adhering to Christ, "the source and centre of ecclesiastical communion", is offered to each.

"Their longing for union with Christ impels them ever more to seek unity, and also to bear witness to their faith among the peoples of the earth (ibid., n. 20).

We cannot but admire them for their spiritual attitude which, among other things, leads to valuable achievements in biblical research. At the same time however, we should recognize that serious divergences exist regarding their understanding of the relationship between Sacred Scripture, Tradition and the authentic Magisterium of the Church. They deny, in particular, the Magisterium's decisive authority in explaining the meaning of the Word of God, as well as in drawing from it ethical teachings for Christian life (cf. Encyclical Letter Ut unum sint, n. 69).

However, this different attitude to Revelation and the truths based on it must not prevent but rather spur the common commitment to ecumenical dialogue.

3. The Baptism we share with these brethren is "the sacramental bond of unity existing among all who through it are reborn" (Unitatis redintegratio, n. 22). Every baptized person is incorporated into Christ crucified and glorified, and is reborn so as to share in divine life. We know that "Baptism, of itself, is only a beginning, a point of departure", for a new life, ordered as it is "toward a complete profession of faith, a complete incorporation into the system of salvation such as Christ himself willed it to be, and finally, toward a complete integration into Eucharistic communion" (ibid., n. 22).

Indeed, Holy Orders and the Eucharist are found within the logic of Baptism. These are two sacraments missing among those who, precisely because of the absence of the priesthood, "have not preserved the proper reality of the Eucharistic mystery in its fullness" (ibid., n. 22), around which the new community of believers is built. It is nonetheless essential to add that when the post-Reformation communities "commemorate the Lord's death and resurrection in the Holy Supper, they profess that it signifies life in communion with Christ and await his coming in glory" (ibid.), and these elements have some similarity with the Catholic doctrine.

On all these points of fundamental importance it is particularly necessary to continue the theological dialogue, encouraged by the significant steps that have already been made in the right direction.

4. Indeed, many study meetings have taken place in recent years, with qualified representatives of the various ecclesial communities of the post-Reformation. The results were set out in documents of great interest, which have opened up new prospects and, at the same time, have shown the need to delve more deeply into certain topics (cf. Encyclical Letter Ut unum sint, n. 70). It is nevertheless necessary to recognize that the broad doctrinal diversity existing in these communities makes the full reception of the results achieved somewhat difficult within the communities.

It is therefore necessary to continue with constancy and respect on the way of fraternal encounter, relying on prayer above all. "Precisely because the search for full unity requires believers to question one another in relation to their faith in the one Lord, prayer is the source of enlightenment concerning the truth which has to be accepted in its entirety" (Encyclical Letter Ut unum sint, n. 70).

5. There is still a long way to go. We must proceed with faith and courage, abstaining from superficiality or rashness.

The result of our greater mutual knowledge and doctrinal convergences has been a reassuring affective and effective growth in communion. But we must not forget that the "ultimate goal of the ecumenical movement is to re-establish full visible unity among all the baptized" (Encyclical Letter Ut unum sint, n. 77). Encouraged by the results achieved thus far, Christians must redouble their efforts.

Despite the old and new problems on the ecumenical path, we place our steadfast hope "entirely in the prayer of Christ for the Church, in the love of the Father for us, and in the power of the Holy Spirit" (Unitatis redintegratio, n. 24), convinced with St. Paul that "hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Rom 5:5).

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
30 August 1995, p. 7.

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