Unity Results From Legitimate Diversity

Author: Pope John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

General Audience June 28, 1995

1. Ecumenism also belongs to the Church's missionary dimension. I am particularly glad to address this topic while the official delegation of the Patriarchate of Constantinople is present in Rome, led by His Holiness Bartholomew I. I am sure that my venerable Brother also feels intensely aware of this problem and that his visit will not fail to make an effective contribution to the progress of the ecumenical dialogue.

I recently published an Encyclical Letter Ut Unum Sint on this specific subject, inviting all those who call themselves disciples of Christ to redouble their commitment to achieving the full unity of all Christians. In fact, "this unity, which the Lord has bestowed on his Church and in which he wishes to embrace all people, is not something added on, but stands at the very heart of Christ's mission.

Nor is it some secondary attribute of the community of his disciples.

Rather, it belongs to the very essence of this community. God wills the Church, because he wills unity, and unity is an expression of the whole depth of his agape" (n. 9).

Down the centuries, unfortunately, there have been many ruptures between Christ's disciples. These divisions have nothing to do with the legitimate variety which distinguishes the local or particular Churches, where the one Church of Christ is present and expressed.

2. In order to explain the historical diversity and variety of the Christian Churches it is appropriate to observe that the unity Christ desired does not, in fact, involve any external, stifling uniformity.

In this regard, in the Encyclical cited I pointed out that "legitimate diversity is in no way opposed to the Church's unity, but rather enhances her splendour and contributes greatly to the fulfilment of her mission" (ibid., n. 50). Many local or particular Churches preserve their own way of living the Christian commitment, in accordance with institutions of apostolic origin, very ancient traditions or practices established in various periods on the basis of experiences that have proved apt for the inculturation of the Gospel. Thus, over the centuries a variety of local Churches has developed, which has contributed and still contributes to the spiritual wealth of the universal Church, and does no harm to unity.

Therefore variety is a good that should remain. The Church's unity will have nothing to suffer from it especially if Christians, aware of its divine origin, implore it constantly in their prayers.

The Second Vatican Council fittingly recalls that the unity of the universal Church is neither the result nor the product of the union of local Churches but one of her essential properties. From the beginning, the Church was founded by Christ as universal, and historically the local Churches took shape as the presence and expression of this one universal Church. The Christian faith is therefore faith in the one Catholic Church (cf. Lumen gentium, n. 13).

3. Christ's words, handed down by the Apostles and contained in the New Testament, leave no doubts as to his will, which is in conformity with the Father's plan: "I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us..." (Jn 17:20-21). The unity of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit is the supreme basis of the Church's unity. The perfection of that transcendent unity must be imitated, "that they may become perfectly one" (Jn 17:23). This divine unity is therefore the founding principle of the union of believers: "that they may all be one ... in us" (Jn 17:21).

In the Gospels and in the other New Testament writings, it is also clearly stated that the unity of the Church was achieved by the redeeming sacrifice. We read, for example, in John's Gospel: "Jesus should die ... and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad" (Jn 11:51-52). If their dispersion was the fruit of sin—this is the lesson that emerges from the Tower of Babel episode—the reunification of God's dispersed children was the work of Redemption. With his sacrifice Jesus created "one new man" and reconciled human beings with one another, breaking down the hostility that divided them (cf. Eph 2:14-16).

4. In accordance with Christ's word, St. Paul taught that the diversity of the body's members does not hinder their unity: "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ" (1 Cor 12:12). This unity in the Church derives first of all from Baptism and the Eucharist, through which the Holy Spirit is communicated and acts: "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body ... and all were made to drink of one Spirit (1 Cor 12:12, 13). "Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread" (1 Cor 10:17).

St. Paul, Apostle and doctor of unity, described its dimension in the life of the Church: "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all" (Eph 4:4-6).

One body: the image expresses an organic whole, indissolubly united through a spiritual unity: one Spirit. This is a real unity, which Christians are called to live ever more deeply, fulfilling its demands and "with perfect humility, meekness and patience, bearing with one another lovingly" (Eph 4:2).

The Church's unity thus expresses a twofold aspect: it is a property whose indestructible foundations are the divine unity of the Trinity itself, but it also demands of believers the responsibility of accepting it and concretely putting it into practice in their life (cf. Ut unum sint, n. 6).

5. It is first of all a question of preserving the una fides, the profession of the one faith of which the Apostle Paul speaks. This faith involves common adherence to Christ and to the whole truth revealed by him to humanity, attested in Scripture and preserved in the Church's living Tradition. Precisely in order to maintain and foster unity in the faith (Iunitas fidei catholicae*), Jesus wanted to establish a specific authority in the Apostolic College, linking its Magisterium to himself: "He who hears you hears me" (Lk 10:16; cf. Mt 28:18-20).

As a function of the koinonia of believers, the authority of the Apostles and their successors is a service that is expressed sacramentally, doctrinally and pastorally as a function of a unity not only of doctrine but also of direction and governance. St. Paul confirms this: "And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers ... for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God..." (Eph 4:11-13).

In this perspective the specific ministry assigned to Peter and his successors is easily understood. It was founded on Christ's very words, as they have been passed down in the Gospel tradition (cf. Ut unum sint, n. 96).

It is a mystery of grace which the eternal Pastor of our souls has desired for his Church, so that, by growing and working in charity and truth, she might remain in every age visibly united with the glory of God the Father.

We ask him for the gift of an ever deeper understanding between the faithful and their pastors, and, as regards the Petrine ministry, we implore the necessary light in order to identify the best ways it can achieve a service of communion recognized by all (Ut unum sint, n. 96).

To the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims the Holy Father said: I am pleased to welcome the delegation from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South American who have come to Rome for the visit of the Ecumenical Patriarch. Your presence is a sign of the progress towards full communion which Orthodox and Catholics have already made and it gives hope that we can continue to grow in unity according to the will of Christ. I also welcome the priests and theologians of the Kievan Study Group and the Catholic and Orthodox visitors from Tinos, Greece. My greeting likewise goes to the professors and students of the Western Theological Seminary of the Reformed Church in America. With special joy I welcome the many pilgrims who are accompanying their Archbishops for the imposition of the pallium. Upon all the English-speaking visitors, including those from England, Scotland, Ireland, the Philippines, Indonesia and the United States, I cordially invoke the grace and peace of Jesus Christ our Saviour.

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