This is a translation of the French-language speech by Augustin Cardinal Bea at a reception Sept. 18 in honor of the observers and guests of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity at the fourth session of the ecumenical council.
More than a year ago the Pope, speaking of the council, said that “it is an act more solemn and resounding than any other to honor God, to bear witness to Christ of our love and to the Holy Ghost of our obedience.” Later, referring to the cooperation of men in the council, the Holy Father added that the council is “an incomparable moment in which the Church gathers together, knows itself, unites by means of those interior bonds which are the meetings, friendships, collaborations which otherwise would be impossible. It is a height never before reached of hierarchical and brotherly friendship” (Doc. Cath. May 3, 1964, pp. 548-549).
I apologize for this rather lengthy citation. I have made it because it presents, it would seem to me, an analysis which directly reflects the teaching of the New Testament on Christian life and on the life of the Church and in this consists its great value.
Today when we find ourselves at the beginning not only of a new session of the council but of the session which should be the last one, I think this reflection to be particularly apt, inspired as it is by faith in what this council is in God’s eyes, in the work of Christ and the Holy Ghost, and in what it signifies for all the baptized and in a special way for those who participate more directly in it.
There is no doubt that the aforesaid words also apply to the observer-delegates and non-Catholic guests. The council is a culminating point of charity — if not always hierarchical, certainly always fraternal — such as has never been reached before. We have the proof, if one were necessary, manifested in the experience we have all lived through during the first three sessions of the council.
Now that this grace is being offered to us for the last time, it thus behooves us to be aware of it as profoundly as possible. First of all, our great thanks will be uttered repeatedly to the Dispenser of all good. The desire will also spring forth from us to garner this grace with an open heart, in the disposition to follow with dispatch and humble generosity the impulses of the Spirit of Christ.
In this sense and in this spirit I greet you all in Christ, while expressing my happiness in meeting once more here in this great work common to us. Our joy is increased by the greater number of churches, federations and communities represented here as well as of observer-delegates and guests.
From 75 last year you have grown to 99 — practically twice the number of the first session at which you were only 49. And there are no longer 23 churches, federations or communities represented here but 28.
We want to thank very particularly the ecclesiastical institutions which have decided to send their representatives here for the first time, and to give a fraternal greeting to those who are with us for the first time. Rather than expressing to you in the name of the secretariat and in my name the joy which your numerous presence here gives us, may I be allowed to bring to mind those touching words with which several months ago the Holy Father expressed the confidence he had in you and in your action:
“We count equally (for the successful achievement of the council) not only on the presence — which we desire and which honors us — of the ‘observers,’ of those separated brothers who will take part in the conciliar meetings, but on their delicate goodness as well as on the common hope that one day, and in a way that is suitable, all the divisions which still prevent us from celebrating together the perfect unity to which Christ invites us will be abolished” (Oss. Rom. June 25, 1965, p. 2).
As to the spirit with which we wish to accomplish our common task, there is no reason to repeat what we have not only declared, but still more, experienced from the first session: a spirit of absolute fidelity to truth, of respect for the convictions of our brothers, a spirit of charity.
Rather I would like to add a reflection on the subject of the inevitable difficulties which we meet with in our task. This reflection has been brought to mind by what happened at the end of the third session. I wish to speak of the last minute difficulties about the text on Ecumenism, of the disappointment it caused to many and of the fears for the future of the ecumenical dialogue. I do not want to minimize these facts. I know that it took a great deal of effort on all parts to re-establish calm and serenity little by little and I will not say that it has been re-established everywhere.
I mainly want to point out the fact that in spite of all this, important steps have been made forward in the ecumenical field. To mention only the main ones, think of the exchange of official visits made between the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and the Roman Catholic Church, of the creation of a mixed-committee between the World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church, as well as between Catholicism and the World Lutheran Federation. In my opinion these facts demonstrate that the words of St. Paul apply also to our case: “Now we know that for those who love God all things work together unto good, for those who, according to his purpose, are saints through his call” (Rom. 8, 28).
The inevitable difficulties are in effect an instrument by which God wishes to show that the results come from Him and not from men (cf. II Cor. 4, 7), “lest any flesh should pride itself before him” (I Cor. 1, 29). The difficulties also put to trial the authenticity and the solidity of our confidence in God and of our charity. Faced and overcome in this spirit they become an occasion to bind more strongly our ties of charity to Christ, to increase the unity of all those who believe in Christ and to cement in them mutual love.
It is certain that we will meet difficulties in this session also. It is sufficient to think of the number and importance of the schemas that remain to be finished, of which several have great importance in the ecumenical movement. This is why, as I have repeatedly asked you since the first session, I again beg of you to tell us with all confidence everything that you do not like, all your observations and criticisms. But I also ask of you to be kind enough, together with us, to consider everything with calm serenity, supernatural charity and confidence, accompanying these sentiments with your daily prayer, to the end that “He who has begun this work will bring it to its completion” (cf. Phil. 1, 6).
In this sense again I tell you: You are welcome. Again I thank you for being here. I express the very cordial hope of a work useful for Christ, for His Church, for the institutions which you worthily represent and for humanity redeemed by Him.