Bishop Urges an Ecumenical Spirit at Council to Spur Better Dialogue

December 6, 1962

The need for an ecumenical spirit in statements made at the Second Vatican Council was stressed by a Belgian bishop as a means of spurring “a better dialogue between Catholics and non-Catholics.”

Bishop Emile Josef Marie De Smedt of Bruges, Belgium, cited the importance of such a spirit in a speech he delivered on Nov. 19 to the council in behalf of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity. The speech was made public Dec. 6 by the Divine Word information service.

Two days after Bishop De Smedt addressed the council Pope John XXIII himself intervened to order members of the Theological Commission and the Unity Secretariat to meet and revise the hotly disputed project on Holy Writ which was then under discussion.

This project, presented by the Theological Commission, headed by Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani, had been under heavy criticism for alleged rigidity and lack of ecumenical temper.

In his speech Bishop De Smedt, as quoted by the Divine Word service, said: “… A text is not ecumenical from the mere fact that it lays down the truth. It is a most difficult and at the same time a most delicate task to insure that a particular tract or proposition be truly ecumenical.”

“The Supreme Pontiff,” the Bishop continued, “chose expert bishops and theologians with long experience in ecumenism to be members of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity. The Pope has given these experts the task of helping the other commissions so that their tracts may be drawn up in a truly ecumenical manner.”

In explaining what the ecumenical manner is, Bishop De Smedt said: “The characteristic of this method is that it concerns itself not only with truthfulness but also with the manner in which a doctrine is explained, so that others may understand it correctly. Christians of various denominations help each other arrive at a clearer and more exact understanding of doctrine to which they themselves do not subscribe.”

“The ecumenical dialogue, therefore,” the Bishop continued, “is not a study or tract on bringing about union, is not a council on union, is not an attempt at conversion. It simply means giving testimony of one’s own faith to another in a serene, objective and lucid manner, using the principles of psychology.

“This new method, according to the wish of the Supreme Pontiff, now can be used in our council.”

Pointing out that it is not easy to draw up a project in ecumenical style, Bishop De Smedt added: “We wish our proposals to be understood exactly by non-Catholics.”

He then listed the conditions that must be fulfilled for such a project. They included:

— A clear understanding of modern Orthodox and Protestant teaching.

— A knowledge of what opinions Orthodox and Protestant churches hold of the Catholic Church’s doctrine, what they understand of it and what they do not understand.

— A grasp of what non-Catholics feel is missing from the Catholic religion or poorly explained by it.

— Language must be clear and chosen “with due regard for the reaction that may be caused on the mind and sensibilities of non-Catholics,” and “all forms of sterile polemics should be avoided.”

Although some parts of Bishop De Smedt’s speech were omitted in the release, it was the first time such extensive quotations from a council speech were made public.

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