Text of Reply to Cardinal Bea at Ecumenical Reception

This is the text of the reply delivered by the Rev. Douglas Horton, in the name of the observers and guests of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, at the reception given them by Augustin Cardinal Bea on Sept. 18.

Allow me, Your Eminence, to say a word which, though it comes from my lips, speaks the sentiment of all of us observers.

You have opened to us many doors.

To speak of the most immediate matter, you have opened to us the door which has admitted us to this charming reception. There is a modern invention called the cocktail hour which is surely as concentrated a piece of irrationality as civilized man is ever asked to face: people standing in a room too small for them, drinking they hardly know what, shouting at each other (though strangers for the most part) in voices loud enough to overcome the shouts of their neighbors, and talking of subjects in which they have no interest and which they will soon forget. But your receptions are not of this pattern. They bring together, in most attractive surroundings, people of a common interest, who enjoy each other and carry away from each other’s conversations memories which linger with them long and pleasantly. For this we thank you.

But you have also opened to us the door of St. Peter’s. I think that most of us, in reporting the council, try to drop the information with light nonchalance, almost as if we did not know we were saying it, that we observers are allowed to enter the basilica by the entrance used by the cardinals. And when on the first day we found our way to the place of our assignment, we discovered that our seats were not good ones at all: they were simply the best seats in the hall, thanks to your door-opening magic. It is hardly surprising that one bishop, whose seat is at the eastern end of the basilica, is said to have remarked, “I am going to leave the Church and come back as an observer in order to be able to see what is going on.”

But our place under the protective spear of St. Longinus is only a single illustration of your continuing and unstinted concern for us. To us comes the same literature that goes to the council Fathers themselves; to us it is given to hear every debate in the hall, to which we listen eloquently — but if we miss the meaning of the Latin, to us it is also given to turn to translators close by and hear the truth repeated to us in the language of Trafalgar Square, the Champs Elysees, Red Square, or any of several other contemporary outposts of the Tower of Babel.

And these translators, by the way, have become more to us than simple retailers of speech: they have proved to be interpreters of men and relationships, uncovering to us the inner richness, including the creative tensions, of the council, which we could only have conjectured without them. Some of us have the advantage of living at the Hotel de luxe Castel Sant’Angelo, which overshadows the Hilton for good comradeship and opportunity for illuminating discussion. We are indeed coming to know each other so well that you may be said to be responsible for a new burst of ecumenism among non-Roman Christians. And crowning all there is the chance for talking things over with the Secretariat at our weekly meeting. These are the spice that is added to the banquet of St. Peter’s. Through these conferences we feel drawn into the heart of the council itself. Often our ideas reappear a few days later on the floor of St. Peter’s, carried there through your arrangement by some good courier of like mind. Always we are met in the conferences with open-minded candor, and have been indeed most grateful to enter through this door.

Most of all we are indebted to you for opening the door of your friendship. Now there are a few differences of theology and polity which have developed between the Roman Church and the rest of us during the centuries in which we have been studying how to keep separate. We shall have to trust the generations, not to say centuries, to come, to give us opportunity to resolve them; but it is evident to all that thanks to the friendship you have shown us, the ground is now laid out of which reconciliations can grow. As a theologian you may call friendship a non-theological factor, but, theological or not, friendship must have a part to play in the future of the Church. The historian can easily show that unhappy non-theological factors went into the great divisions of the Church — economic and political rivalries and the like — and if that is the case, then the happy non-theological factor of friendship can play its part in the reintegration of Christendom. Because you have made us your friends, nothing important to you can be unimportant to us: we shall never again be indifferent, however we may disagree, with anything in your theology, your polity, your liturgy. Let this relationship of simple human friendship be carried from the center you have created here to the boundaries of Christendom and we have at least the beginnings of ecumenism.

I said at the beginning that though mine was the voice speaking, the words came from all of us observers. In closing let me add that though my words are directed to your ears, we should not be sorry to have them reach the hearts of all your loyal aides in the secretariat, for they are intended for them as well. But please keep some of our gratitude for yourself: so far as we observers are concerned Beatitudo begins with Bea.

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