CATECHESIS AND ECUMENISM




Pope John Paul II has often noted the parameters of that genuine ecumenism which was promoted by the Second Vatican Council. Indeed, "the restoration of the perfect unity willed by the Lord" for those who would be His followers has been a burning concern of the present Successor of Peter. For him, genuine ecumenism is 'a pastoral Priority' (cf. Address, June 28th, 1985). Many times he has echoed the teaching of Vatican II that:

"division among Christians openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages that most holy cause, the preaching of the Gospel to every creature"  
(cf. Unitatis Redintegratio no. 1)

Again and again, he has urged Catholics to recall and meditate upon the words which Christ our Lord addressed to His Father on the evening He was betrayed:

"That they may all be One; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee; that they also may be One in Us; so that the world may believe that Thou has sent Me"
(see Jn. 17:21)

The Catholic Church has always seen its indestructible and indivisible unity to be the fruit of Christ's prayer at the Last Supper. The visible Unity of Christ's one and only Church has its exemplar in the divine unity of the Most Holy Trinity. This seamless unity is something which the Bride of Christ on Her earthly pilgrimage can never lose because it is centered on the indefectible Rock of Peter.

In a homily delivered at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls on Jan. 25th, 1984, the Holy Father noted that the divisions among Christians "have damaged the seamless robe of Christ" (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, no. 13). If Christ's robe remains 'seamless' it has nevertheless been "damaged". Christ's prayer for the unity of His Church, therefore, urges every Catholic to pray and work for full unity in faith and sacramental life with our separated brethren.

But there can be no concessions regarding the official faith and morals of the Church. As Pope John Paul II particularly noted on the occasion of his visit to the World Council of Churches in Geneva:

"To be in communion with the Bishop of Rome is to give visible evidence that one is in communion with all who confess that same faith, with those who have confessed it since Pentecost, and with those who will confess it until the Day of the Lord shall come. That is our Catholic conviction and our fidelity to Christ forbids us to give it up."
(June 12th, 1984)

In "Catechesi Tradendae", Pope John Paul II forcefully declared that:

"Catechesis cannot remain aloof from this ecumenical dimension, since all the faithful are called to share, according to their capacity and place in the Church, in the movement toward unity."

"Catechesis will have an ecumenical dimension if, while not ceasing to teach that the fullness of the revealed truths and of the means of salvation instituted by Christ is found in the Catholic Church, it does so with sincere respect, in words and in deeds, for the ecclesial communities that are not in perfect communion with this Church".

"In this context, it is extremely important to give a correct and fair presentation of the other churches and ecclesial communities that the Spirit of Christ does not refrain from using as means of salvation; moreover, some, even very many, of the outstanding elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church herself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church. Among other things this presentation will help Catholics to have both a deeper understanding of their own faith and a better acquaintance with and esteem for their other Christian brethren, thus facilitating the shared search for the way toward full unity in the whole truth. It should also help non-Catholics to have a better knowledge and appreciation of the Catholic Church and her conviction of being the universal help toward salvation."

"Catechesis will have an ecumenical dimension if, in addition, it creates and fosters a true desire for unity. This will be true all the more if it inspires serious efforts – including the effort of self-purification in the humility and the fervor of the Spirit in order to clear the way – with a view not to facile irenics made up of omissions and concessions on the level of doctrine, but to perfect unity, when and by what means the Lord will wish".
(Catechesi Tradendae, no. 32)

There is, moreover, the Holy Father adds, a place for "ecumenical collaboration in the field of catechesis," but he warns:

"The communion of faith between Catholics and other Christians is not complete and perfect; in certain cases there are even profound divergences. Consequently, this ecumenical collaboration is by its very nature limited: it must never mean a 'reduction' to a common minimum. Furthermore, catechesis does not consist merely in the teaching of doctrine; it also means initiation into the whole of Christian life, bringing full participation in the sacraments of the Church. Therefore, when there is an experience of ecumenical collaboration in the field of catechesis, care must be taken that the education of Catholics in the Catholic Church should be well ensured in matters of doctrine and of Christian living".
(Catechesi Tradendae, no. 33)

Noting that catechesis can perform a valuable service in conveying accurate information concerning other confessions and religions, the Pope insists that a 'true catechesis" involves 'a specifically Catholic catechesis,' that is, instruction in "what is specific about Catholicism" (Catechesi Tradendae, nos. 33-34). The obligation to respect the faith of others must never result in the failure to affirm one's own "Christian and Catholic identity" (Catechesi Tradendae, nos. 32, 57).

That certain modern catechetical texts have failed to present Jesus' message "with patience and wisdom and without betrayal" (Catechesi Tradendae, no. 40) will come as no surprise to orthodox Catholics. The truth is that a false ecumenism has been furthered not only in works of academic theology but even in catechetical literature written for the very young.

The genuine ecumenism of Vatican II is certainly not being fostered by such a distortion of Catholic ecclesiology. The true Church of Christ remains ever one in its unity of faith, sacraments, and Magisterium. A genuine ecumenism toward Protestant ecclesial assemblies and Eastern Orthodox churches will never be furthered by a catechesis which dares to "endanger the precious Deposit of Faith, or by concessions in matters of faith or morals" (Catechesi Tradendae, no. 53).



About James Likoudis
James Likoudis is an expert in Catholic apologetics. He is the author of several books dealing with Catholic-Eastern Orthodox relations, including his most recent "The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy: Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church." He has written many articles published by various religious papers and magazines.
He can be reached at:  jlikoudis@cuf.org, or visit  Mr. James Likoudis' Homepage



Dissent from the Magisterium.... is not compatible with being a "good Catholic".
- Pope John Paul II -