Unitatis Redintegratio: A New Interpretation After 40 Years

Author: Cardinal Walter Kasper

Unitatis Redintegratio: A New Interpretation After 40 Years

Cardinal Walter Kasper
President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity


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 Catholic Church.

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 Redintegratio?

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 the Anglicans.1

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 Encyclicals.

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 like twins.3

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. 4).

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 life.

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. Möhler 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 all.4

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. 4, 29).

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 ecclesiology

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 ecclesiological way.

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 complete.

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 sacramenta.

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 other Churches.
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 ecumenical question.

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 of schisms.

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 ecclesial type.18

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 structure.

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, n. 17).21

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 steadfast hope.

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. 24).


1 For the antecedents of the ecumenical movement in the Catholic Church, cf.: H. Petri, Die römisch-katholische Kirche and die Ökumene, in: Handbuch der Ökumenik, vol. 2, Paderborn, 1986, 95-135.

2 Cf. W. Becker, in: LThK, Vat. II, vol. 2 (1967), 11-39; L. Jaeger, Das Konzildekret über den Ökumenismus, Paderborn, 1968, 15-78; Storia del Concilio Vaticano II, by G. Alberigo, vol. 3, Bologna, 1998, 277-365; vol. 4, Bologna, 1999, 436-446.

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 chrétiennes, n. 211, Paris, 1974, 472).

5 G. Philips, L'Église et son mystère aux deuxiéme 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.

8AAS 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 Churches.

11Synopsis historiae, 439; G. Philips, op. cit., 119; A. Grillmeier, LThK, Vat. II, vol. 1, 1966, 175; L. Jaeger, op. cit., 214-217.

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, 2002/I-II, 11-20.

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 ökumenische Situation — Orthodoxie, Katholizismus und
Reformation, in: Theologische Prinzipienlehre, Munich, 1982, 203-208.

19Ibid., 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.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
1 December 2004, page 8

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