A Protestant delegate observer asserted here that the ecumenical council’s document on the nature of the Church is defective, as it gives no recognition to churches not in communion with the Holy See.
Dr. Edmund Schlink, professor of dogmatic theology at the University of Heidelberg and delegate observer at the council for the Evangelical Church of Germany, spoke at a press conference under auspices of the Catholic bishops of Germany. In his statement he reflected views shared not only by most of his fellow Protestants but also by many members of Orthodox Churches.
The Catholic bishop who served as chairman of the meeting later agreed that the schema of the Church is defective for referring to separated Christians but not to separated churches.
“Under both Protestant and Orthodox perspectives,” said Dr. Schlink, “the proposal appears more Roman than catholic. Beyond doubt it would be a disappointment for other Christians were it adopted in its present form as a dogmatic constitution.”
Dr. Schlink considers the present proposal unacceptable mainly because it “obviously has an exclusive meaning, inasmuch as it carries no reference to churches outside the Roman Catholic Church. It only mentions individual non-Catholic Christians, which amounts to a misconception of non-Roman Christianity, which consists not only of individual Christians but of churches, whose members are certain to share in divine grace and salvation by virtue of Baptism and the Faith that comes to them through the Gospel.”
The theologian said that the proposal starts from the premises that non-Catholics can become true members of the one Holy Catholic Apostolic Church only as individuals. According to the schema, he said, other Christians though baptized now share but imperfectly in sacramental graces.
“What other meaning then,” Dr. Schlink went on to say, “has Roman Catholic ecumenism but to absorb other Christians? It would be an illusion to assume that church unity is achievable in such a manner.
“On the contrary, each conversion of individuals, severing ties with existing churches, deepens the gaps between the churches and causes distrust and resistance.”
Dr. Schlink then explained that the ecumenical movement sees its goal not in absorption of separated Christians in one of the existing churches but in a union of all churches claiming the same apostolic origin. Thus they might jointly share the gifts given each of them by God, he said.
To this end, everything tending further to stress division, such as proselytism, restriction of religious liberties, mission rivalries, mixed marriage impediments and the like, ought to be avoided. In Dr. Schlink’s view, there should eventually be a common worship of Christ, unity of sacramental Communion, and reciprocal recognition of offices such as envisaged by the World Council of Churches. In conclusion, Dr. Schlink expressed regret that the schema does not reflect more recent ecclesiological trends in Catholic theology.
Auxiliary Bishop Walter Kampe of Limburg, head of the German bishops’ press briefing panel, conceded after the lecture that it “certainly is a defect of the schema” to refer to separated Christians but not also to the separated churches. He added that these problems perhaps have not matured sufficiently to allow for relevant dogmatic pronouncements.
Bishop Kampe noted in this connection that Archbishop Maurice Baudoux of St. Boniface, Canada, had stated in the course of his council remarks the previous week that while the Catholic Church makes the claim of being the only true Church, at the same time it should be realized that there are other Christian communities dispensing sacraments and preaching God’s word. Therefore the Catholic Church should recognize that God can well make use of the separated churches to dispense the blessings of salvation, Bishop Kampe said.