Ecumenism Discussions Focus on Separated Christians

76th General Congregation
November 27, 1963

Ecumenical council Fathers at their Nov. 27 general meeting began discussion of the last schema chapter on their agenda for the council’s second session.

A standing vote closed discussion after a day’s debate of the second chapter of the ecumenism schema dealing with the implementation of ecumenism. Since Chapters IV and V of the schema, dealing with Christian relations with Jews and religious freedom, had not yet been submitted to a vote for acceptance as part of the schema, Chapter III on separated Christians became the last topic to be discussed until the fate of the two final chapters was settled.

Although only four more working days remained until the session’s end on Dec. 4, the general feeling expressed by the Fathers in and out of the council hall was that the two disputed chapters had to be and would be voted on before the bishops returned to their dioceses.

A minor skirmish occurred at the Nov. 27 meeting which–less for its importance than to keep the record complete–should be noted.

The previous week Antonio Cardinal Bacci of the Roman curia had protested that his suggestion for a grammatical correction in the text of the five proposals dealing with the collegiality of bishops and the permanent diaconate had been ignored by the council moderators. The five proposals were those voted on favorably by large majorities on Oct. 30. Following Cardinal Bacci’s protest, the day’s moderator, Gregorio Cardinal Agagianian, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, explained the moderators’ position that the grammatical change was unnecessary, to the evident satisfaction of the council Fathers.

At the Nov. 27 meeting, Cardinal Bacci returned to the disputed point, saying that “we should take every measure to avoid ambiguity in any council text.”

The presiding moderator, Leo Cardinal Suenens of Malines-Brussels, Belgium, dismissed the objection brusquely, stating that in his judgment and that of his fellow moderators “there was no equivocation or obscurity in the minds of the council Fathers as to the meaning of the disputed word.”

The lists of names submitted by national bishops’ conferences as candidates for membership in the enlarged council commissions were distributed at the beginning of the meeting. The Fathers also received ballot sheets for the elections, which were to be collected on Nov. 28.

The day’s first seven speakers spoke on Chapter II. The presiding moderator, Julius Cardinal Doepfner of Munich and Freising, Germany, then asked for a vote on cloture.

When it passed, Cardinal Suenens took the moderator’s chair for the discussion of Chapter III.

The chapter is divided into two parts, one dealing with the “special situation of the Oriental church”–the Orthodox–and the other with “communities that have arisen since the 16th century onward”–the Protestants.

Part I recognizes that “in the East many local churches had their origin directly from the Apostles” and admits the debt of the Church in the West to the Eastern churches for many of its liturgical elements. In phrases of highest respect, the schema says that “pastors and faithful of the Catholic Church should give special attention to the fraternal communion existing among these churches on the ecclesiastical level and also to their antiquity and apostolic origin.”

With an eye to reunion the text declares: “The council solemnly affirms the principle of ‘unity in diversity’ which allows a certain diversity of custom and practices, especially when these are sanctioned by the Church Fathers…. The full observance of this traditional principle, too often disregarded, is a necessary condition to the restoration of unity.”

This principle of diversity also applies to the theological expression of doctrine, the schema continues. “While the truth of Sacred Revelation remains one and inviolate, East and West follow different methods in understanding and professing revealed truth. Consequently, certain aspects of a revealed mystery are at times more adequately perceived and illuminated by one than by another, so that these various theological formulations are complementary rather than opposed to each other.”

Under the heading of “Conditions Necessary for the Restoration of Union,” the schema states that “one must impose no greater burden than is necessary.” It joins theologians of the Eastern Churches in saying that there must be an understanding of the nature of the relations which existed between the Eastern Churches and the Roman See before their separation and notes that “these relations reveal the responsibility of the Roman See to preside in charity.”

Acknowledging that a wall divides the Eastern and Western churches the schema declares: “It is our whole­hearted purpose to demolish that wall, so that there may be but a single dwelling whose cornerstone, Jesus Christ, will make both one.”

As for the “communities that have arisen from the 16th century onward,” the schema recognizes the common acceptance of the Bible as “an invaluable means for the bringing about of dialogue.”

While the faithful “are admonished to abstain from all superficiality and from any imprudent zeal,” nevertheless the text commends “the first steps of Christians to enter into a dialogue which has already brought them closer to one another.”

The first of the day’s speakers, continuing discussion of Chapter II, was Coptic Rite Auxiliary Bishop Jean Nuer of Thebes, Egypt, who urged participation of Catholic priests and laity in non-Catholic religious services.

He was followed by Bishop Vicente Enrique y Tarancon of Solsona, Spain, who held that the question of religious liberty is important to the present chapter.

Former Auxiliary Bishop Frantisek Tomasek of Olomouc, Czechoslovakia, recalled the concrete directives given by Pope Pius XI for an increase of the knowledge of the Eastern churches and suggested that these directives be adopted for the ecumenical movement.

Repeating what had already been said several times, Archbishop Corrado Mingo of Monreale, Italy, cautioned that without the Blessed Virgin no unity in the Church is possible.

Directives for removing obstacles that hinder unity should be added to Chapter II, Bishop Eduard Necsey, apostolic administrator of Nitra, Czechoslovakia, said.

The principle of religious liberty was again underlined by Bishop Paul Schmitt of Metz, France, as being “an indispensable condition of any effectual ecumenical activity.”

Archbishop Salvatore Baldassari of Ravenna, Italy, asked that the schema lay down clear principles on cooperation with those not of the Church.

At this point the moderator, Cardinal Doepfner, called for cloture on behalf of the entire board of moderators, saying that this decision was based on “the repetitions, admonitions and meditations which have characterized recent discourses from the floor.”

Opening the discussion of Chapter III, Cardinal Bacci noted that the schema states that it is the duty of the Roman See “to preside in charity.” To this, he said, should be added “and in authority.”

Melkite Rite Patriarch Maximos IV Saigh of Antioch expressed his regret that some council Fathers had suggested a unification of the two codes of canon law of the Latin and Eastern churches. He said: “Rome has gone to considerable trouble to give the Oriental churches a code of canon law different from that of the Latin church. The results of this project are certainly not perfect but they are leading in the right direction.” On another matter, Patriarch Saigh said that the Latin church has set up its hierarchy everywhere through its worldwide mission activities. He urged, therefore, that “the Oriental churches should have their share in the missionary apostolate, especially in the countries where they have been in existence for a long time.”

Bishop Bernardin Collin, O.F.M., of Digne, France, was the first of two bishops who suggested that the Anglican church be given special treatment in the schema, just as is given the Orthodox. The other was Coadjutor Archbishop Paul Gouyon of Rennes, France.

Asked after the meeting at the U.S. bishops’ press panel why two French bishops should ask for a special treatment of the Anglicans, panel members explained that through history the French Church and the French bishops have shown a special affection for the Anglicans and that the day’s intervention was merely an expression of that long tradition.

An important word of caution was voiced by Bishop George Dwyer of Leeds, England, who said: “We should not be deluded into thinking that a few kind words and a spirit of cordiality will bring on union in the immediate future. Polemics have waned. But union is still far off. There are differences in faith and in morals….

“The basic principle of all ecumenism is to take each man exactly as he is. The dialogue must be perfect on both sides. There can be no preliminary accepting of conditions. We must begin with mutual respect and recognize problems, such as the basic one of how to reconcile human liberty with the authority of the Church.”

Auxiliary Bishop Henri Jenny of Cambrai, France, underlined the mutual possession of the Eucharist as the best approach to restoring unity between the Latin and Eastern churches.

A motive for unity suggested by Bishop Edoardo Mason, Apostolic Vicar of El Obeid, the Sudan, is the common danger of atheistic communism.

Seconding the cautions of Bishop Dwyer, the Auxiliary Bishop of Poznan, Poland, said:

“The text speaks of unity as a simple return of those outside the Church. This is not acceptable. We must study honestly all the difficulties of our separated brethren and with equal honesty propose solutions.”

Coptic Rite Bishop Isaac Ghattas of Thebes, Egypt, suggested that as a good beginning of ecumenism between the Latin and Eastern churches it would be well to return to the former legislation which recognized the marriage of a Latin Catholic and an Orthodox Catholic before an Orthodox priest.

Speaking at the press panel with reference to Bishop Ghatta’s suggestion, Father John Long, S.J., of New York, an official of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, said that before 1949 there was no uniform legislation regarding mixed marriage and that each of the Eastern churches had its own laws. Very few, he said, followed the Latin Rite practice of forbidding mixed marriages before non-Catholic ministers. The legislation promulgated in 1949, he said, created a grave social problem in many Oriental communities. It was and is the commonly accepted practice that, if there is a mixed marriage, the marriage is held and eventual children are raised in the rite of the father, he stated.

In general reference to the current matter of relations between Catholics and non-Catholics, Father Gustave Weigel, S.J., American council expert, predicted that at some time in the future a special form of membership in the World Council of Churches may be extended to the Roman Catholic Church. While the Church would not be a strict member, because of the many obvious difficulties, Father Weigel said that there might be something like “honorary membership.” He said that this matter had been brought up already by members of the World Council of Churches at their last year’s meeting.

In the text of the schema it is stated that the separated Christians are united with the Church “through imperfect union.”

Auxiliary Bishop Narciso Jubany Amau of Barcelona, Spain, asked that the text state what the elements of this union are.

Msgr. James I. Tucek
NCWC News Rome bureau chief

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