Remarks by Christian Unity Head on Ecumenism Issues at Council

Following is a translation of the address given by Augustin Cardinal Bea, president of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, on Dec. 2 before the 79th general congregation of the ecumenical council’s second session.

We have now arrived at the end of this session and, more particularly, at the end of the discussion of the first three chapters of the draft “De Oecumenismo,” which were proposed by our Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity. What shall I say now, except above all to express my sincere and heartfelt thanks in the first place to the Great and Good God and then to all the venerable Fathers.

If by chance anyone should have held a divergent opinion up to now concerning the zeal and love of the bishops of the Catholic Church from all over the world for Christian unity, through this discussion he should have been able to see with the utmost clarity and be completely persuaded that this zeal and this ardent love do exist with full vigor in the Catholic Church. Already the very vote by which the first three chapters of our schema were accepted as a basis for discussion by an almost moral unanimity — even though from the beginning it had been clear to the members of the secretariat that there were many things in the draft which could and ought to be perfected — has very clearly revealed this zeal.

It was out of the same loving concern that many considerations were offered for improvement of the text. In fact, the very doubts and criticisms came out in the discussions concerning various points of the draft, indicating the same love and zeal for searching out those better methods which would realize that great desire of Our Lord “that all might be one.” Therefore, from my heart I express my deep thanks to all of you, venerable fathers.

What was brought out in the discussion will be subject to careful and diligent examination by the secretariat.

Toward this end almost two months ago subcommissions were already established within the secretariat. With regard to the proposals made in the discussion some will be incorporated into the draft, while others will be used in formulating that “Ecumenical Directory” which the relator of these three chapters, His Excellency Archbishop Martin, announced would be prepared.

The discussion itself demonstrated as if before our very eyes that circumstances are extremely different in various dioceses and regions and that therefore the general principles of this draft — as well as many things which will also be contained in the Directory I mentioned — demand adaptation and prudent application to the circumstances of places and persons.

A merely material and, I might say, mechanical execution would, if not create dangers, at least possibly frustrate the fruits of the ecumenical movement.

Allow me then to repeat what I said in this hall one week ago: the ecumenical movement is primarily the duty of the reverend pastors as it is also their duty to preach the Gospel and feed the flock of the Lord. While they should preserve the principles and essential norms, their duty is also to watch over with care the ecumenical movement and its activities, to prudently direct it, to apply it to concrete situations and to give it effective stimulation. In carrying out this task, they can receive great assistance from our Secretariat for Promoting Unity and from the secretariats which are to be established in single dioceses or regions or even nations as opportunity demands.

There have remained, however, the two final chapters of the draft. We all regret that it was not permitted to us to have at least a foretaste of a discussion concerning these chapters also. For in this way our secretariat would have received greater illumination toward making a definitive edition of each chapter.

However, as things have turned out, I am sincerely persuaded that even this fact offers not a few useful things to us. At first sight, indeed, one could ask: could not a vote have been taken at least to admit these chapters as a basis for discussions? To this question one might perhaps answer in the affirmative.

Nevertheless, I think we should be grateful to the venerable Fathers, the moderators, because they wished to give ample opportunity for speaking on the three fundamental chapters to prevent creating the danger that someone might say that a hasty vote was taken on these three chapters and on the two others which treat of matters that are sufficiently difficult, present something new and are of the greatest importance for the life and activity of the Church in our time.

It is fitting, therefore, to meditate and ponder everything carefully over and over again, without haste and with a serene and tranquil spirit so that in the next session of the council they may be treated and judged with mature consideration. The ancient saying applies here: “What is put off is not put away.”

Therefore, the questions treated in these two last chapters remain entrusted to your study and examination, venerable Fathers, during the months to come. The discussion, which it was not permitted to accomplish here, will be held in the next session of the council and will be properly prepared during the next months.

For this reason, the president of the secretariat earnestly asks all, even though there are very many tasks which will almost smother each one as he returns to his diocese, to give attentive consideration to these chapters and to please indicate their proposals and corrections to the Secretariat General of the council before the middle of February.

For our part, the secretariat will diligently examine both what has already been said in this hall and what it will receive in writing and will propose them in its presentation of these two chapters for discussion, so that at length we may obtain what will contribute to the greater service of God and the more efficacious good of souls.

In conclusion: One year ago, the Sovereign Pontiff John XXIII of venerated memory, as he was bringing to a close the work of the first session of the council, anticipated, as it were, the doubt which certain people might possibly have been able to utter, that the fruits of the work of that session were extremely meager and hardly corresponded to the great expectation of the faithful and the world.

Against this doubt, the Sovereign Pontiff offered as the greatest and most precious fruit that fraternal discussion which took place among the bishops concerning the most important problems of the Church and of our times (cf. Oss. Rom. 11-12 Dec. 1962, p. 1).

Without hesitation, I also affirm the same thing with regard to this session and with regard to what is of particular interest to me, the discussion of ecumenism. For that sincere and open exchange, I might call it a dialogue, on the multiple ecumenical problems is, without a doubt, extremely useful for the Church.

The conclusions indeed of this dialogue will be committed to paper and ink only at the proper time but we may rightly feel confident that even now they exist in the minds and hearts of the successors of the Apostles gathered here in the Holy Spirit. In a certain way we can say that through the ineffable mercy of God, the episcopate of the Catholic Church has been granted somewhat the same experience as the disciple “whom Jesus loved” to recline on the breast of the Divine Redeemer (cf. John 13, 23-25) and hear the beating of His Divine Heart from which there poured forth the earnest priestly prayer, “I ask … that all be One as You, Father, in me and I in You; that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that You have sent Me” (John 17, 21).

The effects of this outstanding gift have already been indelibly written by the Spirit of the living God in the life of the Church and thus will undoubtedly bear fruit “in their own time.”

Thus, venerable Fathers, I think all of us ought to give heartfelt thanks to the Father of Lights, from whom “every best and perfect gift descends” (James 1, 17) for this discussion concerning the reasons for and the means of promoting Christian unity.

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