Home
Explore
Matrix
Citations
Indexes
Forum
Foundation
Def/Vocab
DocsRef
News
Creativity
Prayer
Schedules
SiteMap

The Myhic Fire

Association

Ecumen03

CHAPTER III              (BACK TO PART I)        (BACK TO PART II)

 

QUANTA EST NOBIS VIA?

 

Continuing and deepening dialogue

 

      77. We can now ask how much further we must travel until that blessed day when full unity in faith will be attained and we can celebrate together in peace the Holy Eucharist of the Lord. The greater mutual understanding and the doctrinal convergences already achieved between us, which have resulted in an affective and effective growth of communion, cannot suffice for the conscience of Christians who profess that the Church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. The ultimate goal of the ecumenical movement is to re-establish full visible unity among all the baptized.

      In view of this goal, all the results so far attained are but one stage of the journey, however promising and positive.

 

      78. In the ecumenical movement, it is not only the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches which hold to this demanding concept of the unity willed by God. The orientation toward such unity is also expressed by others.(129)

      Ecumenism implies that the Christian communities should help one another so that there may be truly present in them the full content and all the requirements of "the heritage handed down by the Apostles."(130) Without this, full communion will never be possible. This mutual help in the search for truth is a sublime form of evangelical charity.

      The documents of the many International Mixed Commissions of dialogue have expressed this commitment to seeking unity. On the basis of a certain fundamental doctrinal unity, these texts discuss Baptism, Eucharist, ministry and authority.

      From this basic but partial unity it is now necessary to advance toward the visible unity which is required and sufficient and which is manifested in a real and concrete way, so that the Churches may truly become a sign of that full communion in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church which will be expressed in the common celebration of the Eucharist.

      This journey toward the necessary and sufficient visible unity, in the communion of the one Church willed by Christ, continues to require patient and courageous efforts. In this process, one must not impose any burden beyond that which is strictly necessary (cf. Acts 15:28).

 

      79. It is already possible to identify the areas in need of fuller study before a true consensus of faith can be achieved: 1) the relationship between Sacred Scripture, as the highest authority in matters of faith, and Sacred Tradition, as indispensable to the interpretation of the Word of God; 2) the Eucharist, as the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, an offering of praise to the Father, the sacrificial memorial and Real Presence of Christ and the sanctifying outpouring of the Holy Spirit; 3) Ordination, as a Sacrament, to the threefold ministry of the episcopate, presbyterate and diaconate; 4) the Magisterium of the Church, entrusted to the Pope and the Bishops in communion with him, understood as a responsibility and an authority exercised in the name of Christ for teaching and safeguarding the faith; 5) the Virgin Mary, as Mother of God and Icon of the Church, the spiritual Mother who intercedes for Christ's disciples and for all humanity.

      In this courageous journey toward unity, the transparency and the prudence of faith require us to avoid both false irenicism and indifference to the Church's ordinances.(131) Conversely, that same transparency and prudence urge us to reject a halfhearted commitment to unity and, even more, a prejudicial opposition or a defeatism which tends to see everything in negative terms.

      To uphold a vision of unity which takes account of all the demands of revealed truth does not mean to put a brake on the ecumenical movement.(132) On the contrary, it means preventing it from settling for apparent solutions which would lead to no firm and solid results.(133) The obligation to respect the truth is absolute. Is this not the law of the Gospel?

 

Reception of the results already achieved

 

      80. While dialogue continues on new subjects or develops at deeper levels, a new task lies before us: that of receiving the results already achieved. These cannot remain the statements of bilateral commissions but must become a common heritage. For this to come about and for the bonds of communion to be thus strengthened, a serious examination needs to be made, which, by different ways and means and at various levels of responsibility, must involve the whole People of God. We are in fact dealing with issues which frequently are matters of faith, and these require universal consent, extending from the Bishops to the lay faithful, all of whom have received the anointing of the Holy Spirit.(134) It is the same Spirit who assists the Magisterium and awakens the sensus fidei.

      Consequently, for the outcome of dialogue to be received, there is needed a broad and precise critical process which analyzes the results and rigorously tests their consistency with the Tradition of faith received from the Apostles and lived out in the community of believers gathered around the Bishop, their legitimate Pastor.

 

      81. This process, which must be carried forward with prudence and in a spirit of faith, will be assisted by the Holy Spirit. If it is to be successful, its results must be made known in appropriate ways by competent persons. Significant in this regard is the contribution which theologians and facilities of theology are called to make by exercising their charism in the Church. It is also clear that ecumenical commissions have very specific responsibilities and tasks in this regard.

      The whole process is followed and encouraged by the Bishops and the Holy See. The Church's teaching authority is responsible for expressing a definitive judgment.

      In all this, it will be of great help methodologically to keep carefully in mind the distinction between the deposit of faith and the formulation in which it is expressed, as Pope John XXIII recommended in his opening address at the Second Vatican Council.(135)

 

Continuing spiritual ecumenism and bearing witness to holiness

 

      82. It is understandable how the seriousness of the commitment to ecumenism presents a deep challenge to the Catholic faithful. The Spirit calls them to make a serious examination of conscience. The Catholic Church must enter into what might he called a "dialogue of conversion," which constitutes the spiritual foundation of ecumenical dialogue. In this dialogue, which takes place before God, each individual must recognize his own faults, confess his sins and place himself in the hands of the One who is our Intercessor before the Father, Jesus Christ.

      Certainly, in this attitude of conversion to the will of the Father and, at the same time, of repentance and absolute trust in the reconciling power of the truth which is Christ, we will find the strength needed to bring to a successful conclusion the long and arduous pilgrimage of ecumenism. The "dialogue of conversion" with the Father on the part of each Community, with the full acceptance of all that it demands, is the basis of fraternal relations which will be something more than a mere cordial understanding or external sociability. The bonds of fraternal koinonia must be forged before God and in Christ Jesus.

      Only the act of placing ourselves before God can offer a solid basis for that conversion of individual Christians and for that constant reform of the Church, insofar as she is also a human and earthly institution,(136) which represent the preconditions for all ecumenical commitment. One of the first steps in ecumenical dialogue is the effort to draw the Christian Communities into this completely interior spiritual space in which Christ, by the power of the Spirit, leads them all, without exception, to examine themselves before the Father and to ask themselves whether they have been faithful to his plan for the Church.

 

      83. I have mentioned the will of the Father and the spiritual space in which each community hears the call to overcome the obstacles to unity. All Christian Communities know that, thanks to the power given by the Spirit, obeying that will and overcoming those obstacles are not beyond their reach. All of them in fact have martyrs for the Christian faith.(137) Despite the tragedy of our divisions, these brothers and sisters have preserved an attachment to Christ and to the Father so radical and absolute as to lead even to the shedding of blood. But is not this same attachment at the heart of what I have called a "dialogue of conversion"? Is it not precisely this dialogue which clearly shows the need for an ever more profound experience of the truth if full communion is to be attained?

 

      84. In a theocentric vision, we Christians already have a common Martyrology. This also includes the martyrs of our own century, more numerous than one might think, and it shows how, at a profound level, God preserves communion among the baptized in the supreme demand of faith, manifested in the sacrifice of life itself.(138) The fact that one can die for the faith shows that other demands of the faith can also be met. I have already remarked, and with deep joy, how an imperfect but real communion is preserved and is growing at many levels of ecclesial life. I now add that this communion is already perfect in what we all consider the highest point of the life of grace, martyria unto death, the truest communion possible with Christ who shed his Blood, and by that sacrifice brings near those who once were far off (cf. Eph 2:13).

      While for all Christian communities the martyrs are the proof of the power of grace, they are not the only ones to bear witness to that power. Albeit in an invisible way, the communion between our Communities, even if still incomplete, is truly and solidly grounded in the full communion of the saints—those who, at the end of a life faithful to grace, are in communion with Christ in glory. These saints come from all the Churches and Ecclesial Communities which gave them entrance into the communion of salvation.

      When we speak of a common heritage, we must acknowledge as part of it not only the institutions, rites, means of salvation and the traditions which all the communities have preserved and by which they have been shaped, but first and foremost this reality of holiness.(139)

      In the radiance of the "heritage of the saints" belonging to all Communities, the "dialogue of conversion" toward full and visible unity thus appears as a source of hope. This universal presence of the saints is in fact a proof of the transcendent power of the Spirit. It is the sign and proof of God's victory over the forces of evil which divide humanity. As the liturgies sing: "You are glorified in your Saints, for their glory is the crowning of your gifts."(140)

      Where there is a sincere desire to follow Christ, the Spirit is often able to pour out his grace in extraordinary ways. The experience of ecumenism has enabled us to understand this better. If, in the interior spiritual space described above, Communities are able truly to "be converted" to the quest for full and visible communion, God will do for them what he did for their saints. He will overcome the obstacles inherited from the past and will lead Communities along his paths to where he wills: to the visible koinonia which is both praise of his glory and service of his plan of salvation.

 

      85. Since God in his infinite mercy can always bring good even out of situations which are an offense to his plan, we can discover that the Spirit has allowed conflicts to serve in some circumstances to make explicit certain aspects of the Christian vocation, as happens in the lives of the saints. In spite of fragmentation, which is an evil from which we need to be healed, there has resulted a kind of rich bestowal of grace which is meant to embellish the koinonia. God's grace will be with all those who, following the example of the saints, commit themselves to meeting its demands. How can we hesitate to be converted to the Father's expectations? He is with us.

 

Contribution of the Catholic Church to the quest for Christian unity

 

      86. The Constitution Lumen Gentium, in a fundamental affirmation echoed by the Decree Unitatis Redintegratio,(141) states that the one Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church.(142) The Decree on Ecumenism emphasizes the presence in her of the fullness (plenitudo) of the means of salvation.(143) Full unity will come about when all share in the fullness of the means of salvation entrusted by Christ to his Church.

 

      87. Along the way that leads to full unity, ecumenical dialogue works to awaken a reciprocal fraternal assistance, whereby Communities strive to give in mutual exchange what each one needs in order to grow toward definitive fullness in accordance with God's plan (cf. Eph 4:11-13). I have said how we are aware, as the Catholic Church, that we have received much from the witness borne by other Churches and Ecclesial Communities to certain common Christian values, from their study of those values, and even from the way in which they have emphasized and experienced them. Among the achievements of the last thirty years, this reciprocal fraternal influence has had an important place. At the stage which we have now reached,(144) this process of mutual enrichment must be taken seriously into account. Based on the communion which already exists as a result of the ecclesial elements present in the Christian communities, this process will certainly be a force impelling toward full and visible communion, the desired goal of the journey we are making. Here we have the ecumenical expression of the Gospel law of sharing. This leads me to state once more: "We must take every care to meet the legitimate desires and expectations of our Christian brethren, coming to know their way of thinking and their sensibilities.... The talents of each must be developed for the utility and the advantage of all."(145)

 

The ministry of unity of the Bishop of Rome

 

      88. Among all the Churches and Ecclesial Communities, the Catholic Church is conscious that she has preserved the ministry of the Successor of the Apostle Peter, the Bishop of Rome, whom God established as her "perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity"(146) and whom the Spirit sustains in order that he may enable all the others to share in this essential good. In the beautiful expression of Pope Saint Gregory the Great, my ministry is that of servus servorum Dei. This designation is the best possible safeguard against the risk of separating power (and in particular the primacy) from ministry. Such a separation would contradict the very meaning of power according to the Gospel: "I am among you as one who serves" (Lk 22:27), says our Lord Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church. On the other hand, as I acknowledged on the important occasion of a visit to the World Council of Churches in Geneva on June 12, 1984, the Catholic Church's conviction that in the ministry of the Bishop of Rome she has preserved, in fidelity to the Apostolic Tradition and the faith of the Fathers, the visible sign and guarantor of unity, constitutes a difficulty for most other Christians, whose memory is marked by certain painful recollections. To the extent that we are responsible for these, I join my Predecessor Paul VI in asking forgiveness.(147)

 

      89. It is nonetheless significant and encouraging that the question of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome has now become a subject of study which is already under way or will be in the near future. It is likewise significant and encouraging that this question appears as an essential theme not only in the theological dialogues in which the Catholic Church is engaging with other Churches and Ecclesial Communities, but also more generally in the ecumenical movement as a whole. Recently the delegates to the Fifth World Assembly of the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches, held in Santiago de Compostela, recommended that the Commission "begin a new study of the question of a universal ministry of Christian unity."(148) After centuries of bitter controversies, the other Churches and Ecclesial Communities are more and more taking a fresh look at this ministry of unity.(149)

 

      90. The Bishop of Rome is the Bishop of the Church which preserves the mark of the martyrdom of Peter and of Paul: "By a mysterious design of Providence it is at Rome that [Peter] concludes his journey in following Jesus, and it is at Rome that he gives his greatest proof of love and fidelity. Likewise Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, gives his supreme witness at Rome. In this way the Church of Rome became the Church of Peter and of Paul."(150)

      In the New Testament, the person of Peter has an eminent place. In the first part of the Acts of the Apostles, he appears as the leader and spokesman of the Apostolic College described as "Peter...and the Eleven" (2:14; cf. 2:37, 5:29). The place assigned to Peter is based on the words of Christ himself, as they are recorded in the Gospel traditions.

 

      91. The Gospel of Matthew gives a clear outline of the pastoral mission of Peter in the Church: "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (16:17-19). Luke makes clear that Christ urged Peter to strengthen his brethren, while at the same time reminding him of his own human weakness and need of conversion (cf. 22:31-32). It is just as though, against the backdrop of Peter's human weakness, it were made fully evident that his particular ministry in the Church derives altogether from grace. It is as though the Master especially concerned himself with Peter's conversion as a way of preparing him for the task he was about to give him in his Church, and for this reason was very strict with him. This same role of Peter, similarly linked with a realistic affirmation of his weakness, appears again in the Fourth Gospel: "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?... Feed my sheep" (cf. Jn 21:15-19). It is also significant that according to the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians the Risen Christ appears to Cephas and then to the Twelve (cf. 15:5).

      It is important to note how the weakness of Peter and of Paul clearly shows that the Church is founded upon the infinite power of grace (cf. Mt 16:17; 2 Cor 12:7-10). Peter, immediately after receiving his mission, is rebuked with unusual severity by Christ, who tells him: "You are a hindrance to me" (Mt 16:23). How can we fail to see that the mercy which Peter needs is related to the ministry of that mercy which he is the first to experience? And yet, Peter will deny Jesus three times. The Gospel of John emphasizes that Peter receives the charge of shepherding the flock on the occasion of a threefold profession of love (cf. 21:15-17), which corresponds to his threefold denial (cf. 13:38). Luke, for his part, in the words of Christ already quoted, words which the early tradition will concentrate upon in order to clarify the mission of Peter, insists on the fact that he will have to "strengthen his brethren when turned again" (cf. 22:32).

 

      92. As for Paul, he is able to end the description of his ministry with the amazing words which he had heard from the Lord himself: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness"; consequently, he can exclaim: "When I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor 12:9-10). This is a basic characteristic of the Christian experience.

      As the heir to the mission of Peter in the Church, which has been made fruitful by the blood of the Princes of the Apostles, the Bishop of Rome exercises a ministry originating in the manifold mercy of God. This mercy converts hearts and pours forth the power of grace where the disciple experiences the bitter taste of his personal weakness and helplessness. The authority proper to this ministry is completely at the service of God's merciful plan and it must always be seen in this perspective. Its power is explained from this perspective.

 

      93. Associating himself with Peter's threefold profession of love, which corresponds to the earlier threefold denial, his Successor knows that he must be a sign of mercy. His is a ministry of mercy, born of an act of Christ's own mercy. This whole lesson of the Gospel must be constantly read anew, so that the exercise of the Petrine ministry may lose nothing of its authenticity and transparency.

      The Church of God is called by Christ to manifest to a world ensnared by its sins and evil designs that, despite everything, God in his mercy can convert hearts to unity and enable them to enter into communion with him.

 

      94. This service of unity, rooted in the action of divine mercy, is entrusted within the College of Bishops to one among those who have received from the Spirit the task, not of exercising power over the people—as the rulers of the Gentiles and their great men do (cf. Mt 20:25; Mk 10:42)—but of leading them toward peaceful pastures. This task can require the offering of one's own life (cf. Jn 10:11-18). Saint Augustine, after showing that Christ is "the one Shepherd, in whose unity all are one," goes on to exhort: "May all shepherds thus be one in the one Shepherd; may they let the one voice of the Shepherd be heard; may the sheep hear this voice and follow their Shepherd, not this shepherd or that, but the only one; in him may they all let one voice be heard and not a babble of voices...the voice free of all division, purified of all heresy, that the sheep hear."(151) The mission of the Bishop of Rome within the College of all the Pastors consists precisely in "keeping watch" (episkopein), like a sentinel, so that, through the efforts of the Pastors, the true voice of Christ the Shepherd may be heard in all the particular Churches. In this way, in each of the particular Churches entrusted to those Pastors, the una, sancta, catholica et apostolica Ecclesia is made present. All the Churches are in full and visible communion, because all the Pastors are in communion with Peter and therefore united in Christ.

      With the power and the authority without which such an office would be illusory, the Bishop of Rome must ensure the communion of all the Churches. For this reason, he is the first servant of unity. This primacy is exercised on various levels, including vigilance over the handing down of the Word, the celebration of the Liturgy and the Sacraments, the Church's mission, discipline and the Christian life. It is the responsibility of the Successor of Peter to recall the requirements of the common good of the Church, should anyone be tempted to overlook it in the pursuit of personal interests. He has the duty to admonish, to caution and to declare at times that this or that opinion being circulated is irreconcilable with the unity of faith. When circumstances require it, he speaks in the name of all the Pastors in communion with him. He can also—under very specific conditions clearly laid down by the First Vatican Council—declare ex cathedra that a certain doctrine belongs to the deposit of faith.(152) By thus bearing witness to the truth, he serves unity.

 

      95. All this however must always be done in communion. When the Catholic Church affirms that the office of the Bishop of Rome corresponds to the will of Christ, she does not separate this office from the mission entrusted to the whole body of Bishops, who are also "vicars and ambassadors of Christ."(153) The Bishop of Rome is a member of the "College," and the Bishops are his brothers in the ministry.

      Whatever relates to the unity of all Christian communities clearly forms part of the concerns of the primacy. As Bishop of Rome I am fully aware, as I have reaffirmed in the present Encyclical Letter, that Christ ardently desires the full and visible communion of all those Communities in which, by virtue of God's faithfulness, his Spirit dwells. I am convinced that I have a particular responsibility in this regard, above all in acknowledging the ecumenical aspirations of the majority of the Christian Communities and in heeding the request made of me to find a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation. For a whole millennium Christians were united in "a brotherly fraternal communion of faith and sacramental life...if disagreements in belief and discipline arose among them, the Roman See acted by common consent as moderator."(154)

      In this way the primacy exercised its office of unity. When addressing the Ecumenical Patriarch His Holiness Dimitrios I, I acknowledged my awareness that "for a great variety of reasons, and against the will of all concerned, what should have been a service sometimes manifested itself in a very different light. But...it is out of a desire to obey the will of Christ truly that I recognize that as Bishop of Rome I am called to exercise that ministry.... I insistently pray the Holy Spirit to shine his light upon us, enlightening all the Pastors and theologians of our Churches, that we may seek—together, of course—the forms in which this ministry may accomplish a service of love recognized by all concerned."(155)

 

      96. This is an immense task, which we cannot refuse and which I cannot carry out by myself. Could not the real but imperfect communion existing between us persuade Church leaders and their theologians to engage with me in a patient and fraternal dialogue on this subject, a dialogue in which, leaving useless controversies behind, we could listen to one another, keeping before us only the will of Christ for his Church and allowing ourselves to be deeply moved by his plea "that they may all be one...so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (Jn 17:21)?

 

      The communion of all particular Churches with the Church of Rome: a necessary condition for unity

 

      97. The Catholic Church, both in her praxis and in her solemn documents, holds that the communion of the particular Churches with the Church of Rome, and of their Bishops with the Bishop of Rome, is—in God's plan—an essential requisite of full and visible communion. Indeed full communion, of which the Eucharist is the highest sacramental manifestation, needs to be visibly expressed in a ministry in which all the Bishops recognize that they are united in Christ and all the faithful find confirmation for their faith. The first part of the Acts of the Apostles presents Peter as the one who speaks in the name of the apostolic group and who serves the unity of the community—all the while respecting the authority of James, the head of the Church in Jerusalem. This function of Peter must continue in the Church so that under her sole Head, who is Jesus Christ, she may be visibly present in the world as the communion of all his disciples.

      Do not many of those involved in ecumenism today feel a need for such a ministry? A ministry which presides in truth and love so that the ship—that beautiful symbol which the World Council of Churches has chosen as its emblem—will not be buffeted by the storms and will one day reach its haven.

 

Full unity and evangelization

 

      98. The ecumenical movement in our century, more than the ecumenical undertakings of past centuries, the importance of which must not however be underestimated, has been characterized by a missionary outlook. In the verse of John's Gospel which is ecumenism's inspiration and guiding motif—"that they may all be one...so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (Jn 17:21)—the phrase that the world may believe has been so strongly emphasized that at times we run the risk of forgetting that, in the mind of the Evangelist, unity is above all for the glory of the Father. At the same time it is obvious that the lack of unity among Christians contradicts the Truth which Christians have the mission to spread and, consequently, it gravely damages their witness. This was clearly understood and expressed by my Predecessor Pope Paul VI, in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi: "As evangelizers, we must offer Christ's faithful not the image of people divided and separated by unedifying quarrels, but the image of people who are mature in faith and capable of finding a meeting point beyond the real tensions, thanks to a shared, sincere and disinterested search for truth. Yes, the destiny of evangelization is certainly bound up with the witness of unity given by the Church.... At this point we wish to emphasize the sign of unity among all Christians as the way and instrument of evangelization. The division among Christians is a serious reality which impedes the very work of Christ."(156)

      How indeed can we proclaim the Gospel of reconciliation without at the same time being committed to working for reconciliation between Christians? However true it is that the Church, by the prompting of the Holy Spirit and with the promise of indefectibility, has preached and still preaches the Gospel to all nations, it is also true that she must face the difficulties which derive from the lack of unity. When non-believers meet missionaries who do not agree among themselves, even though they all appeal to Christ, will they be in a position to receive the true message? Will they not think that the Gospel is a cause of division, despite the fact that it is presented as the fundamental law of love?

 

      99. When I say that for me, as Bishop of Rome, the ecumenical task is "one of the pastoral priorities" of my Pontificate,(157) I think of the grave obstacle which the lack of unity represents for the proclamation of the Gospel. A Christian Community which believes in Christ and desires, with Gospel fervor, the salvation of mankind can hardly be closed to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, who leads all Christians toward full and visible unity. Here an imperative of charity is in question, an imperative which admits of no exception. Ecumenism is not only an internal question of the Christian Communities. It is a matter of the love which God has in Jesus Christ for all humanity; to stand in the way of this love is an offense against him and against his plan to gather all people in Christ. As Pope Paul VI wrote to the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I: "May the Holy Spirit guide us along the way of reconciliation, so that the unity of our Churches may become an ever more radiant sign of hope and consolation for all mankind."(158)

 

EXHORTATION

 

      100. In my recent Letter to the Bishops, clergy and faithful of the Catholic Church indicating the path to be followed toward the celebration of the Great Jubilee of the Holy Year 2000, I wrote that "the best preparation for the new millennium can only be expressed in a renewed commitment to apply, as faithfully as possible, the teachings of Vatican II to the life of every individual and of the whole Church."(159) The Second Vatican Council is the great beginning—the Advent as it were—of the journey leading us to the threshold of the Third Millennium. Given the importance which the Council attributed to the work of rebuilding Christian unity, and in this our age of grace for ecumenism, I thought it necessary to reaffirm the fundamental convictions which the Council impressed upon the consciousness of the Catholic Church, recalling them in the light of the progress subsequently made toward the full communion of all the baptized.

      There is no doubt that the Holy Spirit is active in this endeavor and that he is leading the Church to the full realization of the Father's plan, in conformity with the will of Christ. This will was expressed with heartfelt urgency in the prayer which, according to the Fourth Gospel, he uttered at the moment when he entered upon the saving mystery of his Passover. Just as he did then, today too Christ calls everyone to renew their commitment to work for full and visible communion.

 

      101. I therefore exhort my Brothers in the Episcopate to be especially mindful of this commitment. The two Codes of Canon Law include among the responsibilities of the Bishop that of promoting the unity of all Christians by supporting all activities or initiatives undertaken for this purpose, in the awareness that the Church has this obligation from the will of Christ himself.(160) This is part of the episcopal mission and it is a duty which derives directly from fidelity to Christ, the Shepherd of the Church. Indeed all the faithful are asked by the Spirit of God to do everything possible to strengthen the bonds of communion between all Christians and to increase cooperation between Christ's followers: "Concern for restoring unity pertains to the whole Church, faithful and clergy alike. It extends to everyone according to the potential of each."(161)

 

      102. The power of God's Spirit gives growth and builds up the Church down the centuries. As the Church turns her gaze to the new millennium, she asks the Spirit for the grace to strengthen her own unity and to make it grow toward full communion with other Christians.

      How is the Church to obtain this grace? In the first place, through prayer. Prayer should always concern itself with the longing for unity, and as such is one of the basic forms of our love for Christ and for the Father who is rich in mercy. In this journey which we are undertaking with other Christians toward the new millennium prayer must occupy the first place.

      How is she to obtain this grace? Through giving thanks, so that we do not present ourselves empty-handed at the appointed time: "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness...[and] intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words" (Rom 8:26), disposing us to ask God for what we need.

      How is she to obtain this grace? Through hope in the Spirit, who can banish from us the painful memories of our separation. The Spirit is able to grant us clear-sightedness, strength and courage to take whatever steps are necessary, that our commitment may be ever more authentic.

      And should we ask if all this is possible, the answer will always be yes. It is the same answer which Mary of Nazareth heard: with God nothing is impossible.

      I am reminded of the words of Saint Cyprian's commentary on the Lord's Prayer, the prayer of every Christian: "God does not accept the sacrifice of a sower of disunion, but commands that he depart from the altar so that he may first be reconciled with his brother. For God can be appeased only by prayers that make peace. To God, the better offering is peace, brotherly concord and a people made one in the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit."(162)

      At the dawn of the new millennium, how can we not implore from the Lord, with renewed enthusiasm and a deeper awareness, the grace to prepare ourselves, together, to offer this sacrifice of unity?

 

      103. I, John Paul, servus servorum Dei, venture to make my own the words of the Apostle Paul, whose martyrdom, together with that of the Apostle Peter, has bequeathed to this See of Rome the splendor of its witness, and I say to you, the faithful of the Catholic Church, and to you, my brothers and sisters of the other Churches and Ecclesial Communities: "Mend your ways, encourage one another, live in harmony, and the God of love and peace will be with you.... The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all" (2 Cor 13:11, 13).

 

      Given in Rome, at Saint Peter's, on May 25, the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, in the year 1995, the seventeenth of my Pontificate.

 

NOTES

 

      1. Cf. Address following the Way of the Cross on Good Friday (April 1, 1994), 3: AAS 87 (1995), 88.

      2. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Declaration on Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae, 1.

      3. Cf. Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente (November 10, 1994), 16: AAS 87 (1995), 15.

      4. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of the Church Understood as Communion Communionis Notio (May 28, 1992), 4: AAS 85 (1993), 840.

      5. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 1.

      6. Ibid.

      7. Ibid., 4

      8. Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 14.

      9. Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Declaration on Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae, 1 and 2.

      10. Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 14.

      11. Ibid, 8.

      12. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 3.

      13. Ibid.

      14. No. 15.

      15. Ibid.

      16. Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 15.

      17. Ibid., 3.

      18. Ibid.

      19. Cf. Saint Gregory the Great, Homilies on the Gospel, 19, 1: PL, 1154, quoted in Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 2.

      20. Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 4.

      21. Ibid., 7.

      22. Cf. ibid.

      23. Ibid., 6.

      24. Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum, 7.

      25. Cf. Apostolic Letter Euntes in Mundum (January 25, 1988): AAS 80 (1988), 935-956.

      26. Cf. Encyclical Epistle Slavorum Apostoli (June 2, 1985): AAS 77 (1985), 779-813.

      27. Cf. Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism (March 25, 1993): AAS 85 (1993), 1039-1119.

      28. Cf. in particular, the Lima Document: Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (January 1982); and the study of the Joint Working Group Between the Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches, Confessing the "One" Faith (1991), Document no. 153 of the Commission on Faith and Order, Geneva, 1991.

      29. Cf. Opening Address of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (October 11, 1962): AAS 54 (1962), 793.

      30. We are speaking of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, established by Pope John XXIII with the Motu Proprio Superno Dei Nutu (June 5, 1960), 9: AAS 52 (1960), 436, and confirmed by successive documents: John XXIII Motu Proprio Appropinquante Concilio (August 6, 1962), c. III, a. 7, _ 2, I: AAS 54 (1962), 614; cf. Paul VI Apostolic Constitution Regimini Ecclesiae Universae (August 15, 1967), 92-94: AAS 59 (1967), 918-919. This dicastery is now called the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity: cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus (June 28, 1988), V, Arts. 135-138: AAS 80 (1988), 895-896.

      31. Opening Address of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (October 11, 1962): AAS 54 (1962), 792.

      32. Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 6.

      33. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Declaration on Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae, 1.

      34. Encyclical Epistle Slavorum Apostoli (June 2, 1985), 11: AAS 77 (1985), 792.

      35. Ibid., 13: loc. cit., 794.

      36. Ibid., 11: loc. cit., 792.

      37. Address to the Aboriginal Peoples (November 29, 1986), 12: AAS 79 (1987), 977.

      38. Cf. Saint Vincent of Lerins, Commonitorium primum 23: PL 50, 667-668.

      39. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 6.

      40. Ibid., 5.

      41. Ibid., 7.

      42. Ibid., 8.

      43. Ibid.

      44. Cf. ibid., 4.

      45. Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente (November 10, 1994), 24: AAS 87 (1995), 19-20.

      46. Address at Canterbury Cathedral (May 29, 1982), 5: AAS 74 (1982), 922.

      47. World Council of Churches, Constitution and Rules, III, 1.

      48. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 24.

      49. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 7.

      50. Maria Sagheddu was born at Dorgali (Sardinia) in 1914. At twenty-one years of age she entered the Trappistine Monastery in Grottaferrata. Through the apostolic labors of Abb‚ Paul Couturier, she came to understand the need for prayers and spiritual sacrifices for the unity of Christians. In 1936, at the time of an Octave for Unity, she chose to offer her life for the unity of the Church. Following a grave illness, Sister Maria Gabriella died on April 23, 1939.

      51. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 24.

      52. Cf. AAS 56 (1964), 609-659.

      53. Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 13.

      54. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 4.

      55. Cf. Code of Canon Law, Canon 755; Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Canons 902-904.

      56. Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 4.

      57. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Declaration on Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae, 3.

      58. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 4.

      59. Cf. ibid.

      60. Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Suam (August 6, 1964), III: AAS 56 (1964), 642.

      61. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 11.

      62. Cf. Ibid.

      63. Ibid.; cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration in Defense of Catholic Doctrine on the Church Mysterium Ecclesiae, (June 24, 1973), 4: AAS 65 (1973), 402.

      64. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration in Defense of Catholic Doctrine on the Church Mysterium Ecclesiae, 5: AAS 65 (1973), 403.

      65. Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 4.

      66. Cf. Common Christological Declaration between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East: L'Osservatore Romano, November 12, 1994, 1.

      67. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 12.

      68. Ibid.

      69. Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism (March 25, 1993), 5: AAS 85 (1993), 1040.

      70. Ibid., 94: loc. cit., 1078.

      71. Cf. Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches, Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (January 1982).

      72. Cf. Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (December 30, 1987), 32: AAS 80 (1988), 556.

      73. Address to the Cardinals and the Roman Curia (June 28, 1985), 10: AAS 77 (1985), 1158: cf. Encyclical Letter Redemptor Hominis (March 4, 1979), 11: AAS 71 (1979), 277-278.

      74. Address to the Cardinals and the Roman Curia (June 28, 1985), 10: AAS 77 (1985), 1158.

      75. Cf. Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity and the Executive Committee of the United Bible Societies, Guiding Principles for Interconfessional Cooperation in Translating the Bible (1968). This was revised and then published by the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, "Guidelines for Interconfessional Cooperation in Translating the Bible": Information Service, 65 (1987), 140-145.

      76. Cf. Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches, Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (January 1982).

      77. For example, at the most recent assemblies of the World Council of Churches in Vancouver (1983) and in Canberra (1991), and of the Commission on Faith and Order in Santiago de Compostela (1993).

      78. Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 8 and 15; Code of Canon Law, Canon 844; Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Canon 671; Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism (March 25, 1993), 122-125, 129-131, 123 and 132: AAS 85 (1993), 1086-1087, 1088-1089, 1087 and 1089.

      79. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 4.

      80. Ibid.

      81. Cf. No. 15.

      82. No. 15.

      83. Ibid., 14.

      84. Cf. Joint Declaration of Pope Paul VI and the Patriarch of Constantinople Athenagoras I (December 7, 1965): Tomos Agapis, Vatican-Phanar (1958-1970), Rome-Istanbul, 1971, 280-281.

      85. Cf. AAS 77 (1985), 779-813.

      86. Cf. AAS 80 (1988), 933-956; cf. Message Magnum Baptismi Donum, (February 14, 1988): AAS 80 (1988), 988-997.

      87. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 14.

      88. Ibid.

      89. Apostolic Brief Anno Ineunte (July 25, 1967): Tomos Agapis, Vatican-Phanar (1958-1970), Rome-Istanbul, 1971, 388-391.

      90. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 14.

      91. Ibid., 15.

      92. No. 14: L'Osservatore Romano, May 2-3, 1995, 3.

      93. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 17.

      94. No. 26.

      95. Cf. Code of Canon Law, Canon 844, §§2 and 3; Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Canon 671, §§ 2 and 3.

      96. Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism (March 25, 1993), 122-128: AAS 85 (1993), 1086-1088.

      97. Declaration by His Holiness Pope John Paul II and the Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I (December 7, 1987): AAS 80 (1988), 253.

      98. Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, "The Sacrament of Order in the Sacramental Structure of the Church, with Particular Reference to the Importance of the Apostolic Succession for the Sanctification and the Unity of the People of God" (June 26, 1988), 1: Information Service, 68 (1988), 173.

      99. Cf. John Paul II, Letter to the Bishops of Europe on the Relations between Catholics and Orthodox in the New Situation of Central and Eastern Europe (May 31, 1991), 6: AAS 84 (1992), 168.

      100. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 17.

      101. Cf. Apostolic Letter Orientale Lumen (May 2, l995), 24: L'Osservatore Romano, May 2-3, 1995, 5.

      102. Ibid., 18: loc. cit., 4.

      103. Cf. Joint Declaration by His Holiness Pope Paul VI and His Holiness Shenouda III, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of Saint Mark of Alexandria (May 10, 1973): AAS 65 (1973), 299-301.

      104. Cf. Joint Declaration by His Holiness Pope Paul VI and His Beatitude Mar Ignatius Jacoub III, Patriarch of the Church of Antioch of the Syrians (October 27, 1971): AAS 63 (1971), 814-815.

      105. Cf. Address to the Delegates of the Coptic Orthodox Church (June 2, 1979): AAS 71 (1979), 1000-1001.

      106. Cf. Joint Declaration of Pope John Paul II and the Syrian-Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas (June 23, 1984): Insegnamenti VII/1 (1984), 1902-1906.

      107. Address to His Holiness Abuna Paulos, Patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Ethiopia (June 11, 1993): L'Osservatore Romano, June 11-12, 1993, 4.

      108. Cf. Common Christological Declaration between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East: L'Osservatore Romano, November 12, 1994, 1.

      109. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 19.

      110. Ibid.

      111. Ibid., 19.

      112. Cf. ibid.

      113. Ibid.

      114. Ibid., 20.

      115. Ibid., 21.

      116. Ibid.

      117. Ibid.

      118. Ibid., 22.

      119. Ibid.

      120. Ibid., 22; cf, 20.

      121. Ibid., 22.

      122. Ibid., 23.

      123. Ibid.

      124. Cf. Radio Message Urbi et Orbi (August 27, 1978): AAS 70 (1978), 695-696.

      125. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 23.

      126. Ibid.

      127. Cf. ibid., 12.

      128. Ibid.

      129. The steady work of the Commission on Faith and Order has led to a comparable vision adopted by the Seventh Assembly of the World Council of Churches in the Canberra Declaration (February 7-20, 1991); cf. Signs of the Spirit, Official Report, Seventh Assembly, WCC, Geneva, 1991, pp. 235-258. This vision was reaffirmed by the World Conference of Faith and Order at Santiago de Compostela (August 3-14, 1993); cf. Information Service, 85 (1994), 18-37.

      130. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 14.

      131. Cf. ibid., 4 and 11.

      132. Cf. Address to the Cardinals and the Roman Curia (June 28, 1985), 6: AAS 77 (1985), 1153.

      133. Cf. ibid.

      134. Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 12.

      135. Cf. AAS 54 (1962), 792.

      136. Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 6.

      137. Cf. ibid., 4; Paul VI, Homily for the Canonization of the Ugandan Martyrs (October 18, 1964): AAS 56 (1964), 906.

      138. Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente (November 10, 1994), 37: AAS 87 (1995), 29-30.

      139. Cf. Paul VI, Address at the Shrine in Namugongo, Uganda (August 2, 1969): AAS 61 (1969), 590-591.

      140. Cf. Missale Romanum, Praefatio de Sanctis I: Sanctorum "coronando merita tua dona coronans."

      141. Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 4.

      142. Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 8.

      143. Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 3.

      144. After the Lima Document of the Commission on Faith and Order, Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (January 1982), and in the spirit of the Declaration of the Seventh General Assembly of the World Council of Churches, The Unity of the Church as "koinonia": Gift and Task (Canberra, February 7-20, 1991): cf. Istina 36 (1991), 389-391.

      145. Address to the Cardinals and the Roman Curia (June 28, 1985), 4: AAS 77 (1985), 1151-1152.

      146. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 23.

      147. Cf. Discourse at the Headquarters of the World Council of Churches, Geneva (June 12, 1984), 2: Insegnamenti VII/1 (1984), 1686.

      148. World Conference of the Commission on Faith and Order, Report of the Second Section, Santiago de Compostela (1993): Confessing the One Faith to God's Glory, 31, 2, Faith and Order Paper no. 166, World Council of Churches, Geneva, 1994, 243.

      149. To cite only a few examples: Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, Final Report, ARCIC-I (September 1981); International Commission for Dialogue Between the Disciples of Christ and the Roman Catholic Church, Report (1981); Roman Catholic/Lutheran Joint Commission, The Ministry in the Church (March 13, 1981). The problem takes clear shape in the research conducted by the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.

      150. Address to the Cardinals and the Roman Curia (June 28, 1985), 3: AAS 77 (1985), 1150.

      151. Sermon XLVI, 30: CCL 41, 557.

      152. Cf. First Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ Pastor Aeternus: DS 3074.

      153. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 27.

      154. Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 14.

      155. Homily in the Vatican Basilica in the presence of Dimitrios I, Archbishop of Constantinople and Ecumenical Patriarch (December 6, 1987), 3: AAS 80 (198S), 714.

      156. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (December 8, 1975), 77: AAS 68 (1976), 69; cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 1; Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism (March 25, 1993), 205-209: AAS 85 (1993), 1112-1114.

      157. Address to the Cardinals and the Roman Curia (June 28, 1985), 4: AAS (1985), 1151.

      158. Letter of January 13, 1970: Tomos Agapis, Vatican-Phanar (1958-1970), Rome-Istanbul, 1971, pp. 610-611.

      159. Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente (November 10, 1994), 20: AAS 87 (1995), 17.

      160. Cf. Code of Canon Law, Canon 755; Code of Canons of the Eastern Cburches, Canon 902.

      161. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 5.

      162. On the Lord's Prayer, 23: CSEL 3, 284-285.

 

(BACK TO PART I)      (BACK TO PART II)

 

[Home] [Explore] [Matrix] [Citations] [Indexes] [Forum] [Foundation] [Def/Vocab] [DocsRef] [News] [Creativity] [Prayer] [Schedules] [SiteMap]