Friday, May 14, 2010

What exactly does the term "ecumenism" mean?

NOTE: This is one in a series of posts from my moral theology assignments. They are intended to be brief responses. In many cases, the topics could be extensively explored, but that was not the intent of the assignment.

Ecumenism is the effort on the part of the Catholic Church and other churches and ecclesial communities on addressing the various differences in doctrine and governance in an attempt to find a path to unity in one visible Body of Christ. While there are ecumenical outreaches to other faith traditions as well, in the context of the Catholic Church and Christianity, the term is used in respect to fostering Christian community, as we are called to do by Christ’s command.[i] Our Holy Father John Paul II stressed in Ut Unum Sint the need for all Christians to “profess together the same truth about the Cross.”[ii] He saw it as imperative that Christians speak together and witness together the Truth of Christ. However, in this striving together, he saw it as critical that we do not gloss over the very real theological differences that exist between communions, to “avoid a false irenicism” or a sense that somehow we can agree to disagree on matters that we consider de fide that our Protestant brethren do not think essential. We must continue to “uphold a vision of unity which takes account of all the demands of revealed truth[.]”[iii]

Both John Paul II and Benedict XVI have made ecumenical outreach to the Eastern churches and to Protestant communions of utmost importance. Yet both have had to work against an entrenched view of ecumenism that sought to set aside clear differences for an air of agreement. Louie Verrecchio, reporting for the Catholic News Agency, recently pointed out this tendency in Cardinal Kasper’s call for an “ecumenical catechism” developed in cooperation with Anglican, Lutheran, and Methodist parties. Verrecchio cites Unitatis Redintegratio, pointing out the inconsistency of Cardinal Kaspar’s position with the teachings of Vatican II: “It is, of course, essential that the doctrine should be clearly presented in its entirety. Nothing is so foreign to the spirit of ecumenism as a false irenicism, in which the purity of Catholic doctrine suffers loss and its genuine and certain meaning is clouded” (UR 11).[iv] We cannot sacrifice the Truth for a cheaply bought reconciliation.

i. John Paul II, “Ut Unum Sint,” 25 May 1995, Vatican the Holy See, 27 February 2010 http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_25051995_ut-unum-sint_en.html.
ii. Ibid.
iii. Ibid.
iv. Louie Verrecchio, “‘Ecumenical Catechism’: A Jungle Book of an Idea,” 11 February 2010, Catholic News Agency, 27 February 2010, http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/column.php?n=1120.
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