Introduction of Draft on Ecumenism Applauded, but Sticking Points Remain

69th General Congregation
November 18, 1963

The ecumenical council began discussion of the schema or draft proposal on ecumenism with the council Fathers split three ways.

An Italian cardinal and three Eastern Rite patriarchs opposed the inclusion in the schema on Christian unity of the chapter on Christian-Jewish relations. Two Spanish cardinals expressed caution concerning an ecumenical dialogue of Catholics with Protestants. But three other speakers — Joseph Cardinal Ritter of St. Louis and cardinals from Venezuela and Japan — stressed the necessity of discussing all the issues.

Cardinal Ritter expressed satisfaction that the schema contained a chapter on religious freedom and said that without such a statement by the council, there is no chance for a real dialogue between Catholics and those of other faiths. But he urged that the schema be cleared of what he called “expressions offensive to Protestants.”

A review of the schema was read by Archbishop Joseph Martin of Rouen, France, before debate began. If the sound of the applause was any measure of the general feeling of the Fathers, it seemed that the majority of those present favored it, for no preliminary report on any schema had been greeted with such a resounding and sustained ovation.

But judging from the split in the opinions of the first speakers, one could forecast that the schema on ecumenism was in for a lengthy debate. If this proved to be true, then the council’s second session would probably end on the topic of ecumenism, since only a dozen more working days remained before Dec. 4, the day set for adjournment.

Before discussion began a vote was taken to indicate the Fathers’ mind on the way the Liturgical Commission had rewritten its schema. The tally of votes showed a sweeping victory for the liturgy schema, with 2,066 in favor and only 20 opposed.

Debate on the ecumenism schema opened with the reading of a general presentation of it by Amleto Cardinal Cicognani, Papal Secretary of State, speaking in the name of the mixed committee made up of members of the Theological Commission and the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity. Then Archbishop Martin gave a more detailed presentation.

The schema is composed of five chapters:

I. The Principles of Catholic Ecumenism.

II. The Implementation of Ecumenism.

III. Christians Separated From the Catholic Church.

IV. The Attitude of Catholics Toward Non-Christians, and Particularly Toward the Jews.

V. Religious Freedom.

The present schema is the result of a combination of three schemas drawn up separately and independently from each other. One was composed by the Commission for the Oriental Churches in the preparatory phase of the council. Another was composed by the Theological Commission as a chapter in its schema on the Church. The third, a schema on “Catholic Ecumenism,” was composed by the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity. The addition of the fourth chapter was added by a vote of the council Fathers on Nov. 8.

The third chapter on “Christians Separated from the Catholic Church,” is written in two parts. The first treats of the Oriental churches and “The Conditions Necessary for the Restoration of Unity.” The second part treats of “Christian Communities Arising After the 16th Century.”

Ignace Cardinal Tappouni, Syrian Rite Patriarch of Antioch, speaking in the name of all the bishops of his patriarchate, opened discussion by saying that neither the Jews nor religious liberty should be treated in the schema. He said:

“It is the task of an ecumenical council principally and primarily to treat only of Catholics and indirectly of other Christians. … No one denies the supernatural motivation of those who prepared the text, but the present-day political situation is such that this text is likely to engender confusion.”

Ernesto Cardinal Ruffini of Palermo, Italy, objected first of all to the word “ecumenism,” which he said is used in a sense given to it by Protestant authors. He added:

“If there is to be discussion of the Jews, who are given what we might call honorable mention in the schema, then the text should also take up those other religions whose members are often less hostile to the Church than the Jews and more open to conversion than the Protestants [that is, the Orthodox]. … Lastly, the schema provides no concrete directives which would make our dialogue with our separated brethren prudent and effective.”

Coptic Rite Patriarch Stephanos I Sidarouss of Alexandria, Egypt, joined Cardinal Tappouni in saying that “a whole chapter devoted to the Jews is completely out of place in a discussion of Christian unity.” For the rest, he declared that a statement on anti-Semitism was unnecessary since the Church has already indicated its position on that score.

The third Eastern Rite prelate to speak was Melkite Rite Patriarch Maximos IV Saigh of Antioch. He said:

“We must make this very important remark very clearly, that Chapter IV of this recently distributed schema is absolutely outside the subject. Ecumenism is a striving for the reunion of the entire Christian family, that is to say, the rejoining of all who are baptized in Christ. It is, then, a family matter, strictly intimate. If so, non-Christians do not enter into the matter. And we do not see what the Jews are doing in Christian ecumenism, and why they have been introduced into it. Besides, it is seriously offensive to our separated brethren that they should seem to be treated on the same footing with the Jews.”

At the U.S. bishops’ press panel, Father Gregory Baum, OSA, council expert from Toronto, gave three reasons why it is proper to speak of the Jews in a schema on ecumenism.

“First, we believe that the roots of the Church are in Israel. To understand the mystery of the Church reference has to be made to Israel. The Church is grafted on to Israel.

“Secondly, the division produced in the people of Israel, between those who accepted Christ as the Messiah and those who did not, is a symbol of all subsequent divisions within the Christian people themselves.

“Finally, Christians believe that Israel is part of the eschatological dimension of the Church and harken to the words of St. Paul who tells us that the Church and Israel shall be one single people.”

Father John Long, SJ, of New York, an official of the unity secretariat, said that there had been a certain division of opinion about including the chapter on Jews in the schema on ecumenism. He said there would be no objection from the secretariat if the council Fathers should want to make it a separate schema.

Benjamin Cardinal de Arriba y Castro of Tarragona, Spain, opened his speech with “a word of warning,” remarking that the word “dialogue” is used frequently in the text of the schema. He said: “This so-called dialogue can easily be a threat to the Faith of members of the Church, especially to those who are not well educated and thus not in a position to answer the difficulties proposed to them.”

He suggested further: “The schema should include an exhortation to our separated brethren to refrain from proselytism in Catholic countries lest they sow confusion in the minds of the faithful.”

He concluded with the declaration that “the schema is unacceptable and does not seem to further the welfare of souls. It should be omitted from council deliberations and left in the hands of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity.”

The second Spaniard to speak was Jose Cardinal Bueno y Monreal of Seville. He stated that the schema is acceptable but with reservations. Its dogmatic parts, he said, should be included in the schema on the Church, and its other parts should be put into a different context. The context that he suggested was one of extreme caution.

Those in favor of the contents of the schema were Cardinal Ritter, Jose Cardinal Quintero of Caracas and Peter Cardinal Doi of Tokyo.

The practical consequences of the updating for which this council was called are explained by the schema on ecumenism, Cardinal Ritter said. Then he made several suggestions for the schema’s improvement. He said: “The presentation of this text marks the end of the Counter-Reformation, and it obliges us to make a thorough examination of conscience. Likewise it puts us under obligation to hasten the desirable day of unity by fervent prayer, example and study.

“We are happy to hear that Chapter V will deal with religious liberty. Without a declaration of this kind by the council there can be no mutual discussion and the door will be closed to any real dialogue with those outside the Church. Such a declaration should proceed from solid theological principles, namely:

“1. The absolute freedom of the act of faith;

“2. The inviolability of human conscience, and

“3. The incompetence of any civil government to interpret the Gospel of Christ, with consequent independence of the Church from civil authority in the accomplishment of its mission.

“Greater attention should be given in the text to the celebration of the Eucharist as a symbol of unity and to the importance of the liturgy. There should also be clearer information regarding the validity of the Sacraments and the orders of the Oriental church.

“The text should be cleared of expressions offensive to Protestants. There is no valid reason for denying the use of the term ‘church’ to the religious groups which originated after the 16th century.

“Like any other living movement, ecumenism is subject to dangers. Excessive intellectualism can make it sterile and it can easily degenerate into indifferentism. This is why we need a body of practical directives which will provide the necessary safe guidance.”

A divided Christianity is a source of wonderment to those not favored with the Faith, said Cardinal Quintero.

“Hence,” he added, “any efforts to bridge the gap of separation will be most useful for all parties concerned. After the example of John XXIII and Paul VI we should not be afraid to admit the faults of the past or to ask pardon if need be of our separated brethren.”

Cardinal Doi also noted how divisions among Christians are an obstacle to the spread of the Gospel and said that “serious and sincere efforts at ecumenism can diminish the extent of the scandal.”

At the bishops’ press panel, Father Bernard Haering, CSSR, council expert, said that while the Church’s ultimate goal is the union of all men in Christ, the proximate goal is the education of Catholics in thinking rightly about their relations with non-Catholic people. “If Catholics have the right attitudes,” he added, “God in His own time will work the miracle of realizing the fruits of ecumenism.”

One speaker, Syro-Malabar Rite Bishop Sebastian Valloppilly of Tellicherry, India, returned to the previously discussed schema on bishops and the government of dioceses. He objected to the word “personal” in speaking of a “personal diocese” since, he said, such a jurisdiction of its nature would have to be territorial.

Msgr. James I. Tucek
NCWC News Rome bureau chief

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