German bishops celebrate 50th anniversary of ‘revolutionary’ and ‘irreversible’ Decree on Ecumenism

Christa Pongratz-Lippitt | Dec. 2, 2014
The Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism was “revolutionary” as the Catholic church committed itself to work together with other Christian churches for Christian reconciliation. The commitment was “irreversible,” said Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German bishops’ conference Nov. 21 on occasion of the 50th anniversary of Unitatis Redintegratio.
In his sermon in Munich’s Liebfrauendom (Cathedral of Our Dear Lady), Marx recalled that in the decree the Catholic church had realized the division of Christianity “openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages the sacred cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature.”
Christ belongs “not only to one church, one group, not even to us Christians – but to all human beings,” Marx emphasized. Since the Decree on Ecumenism, it had been clear that it was not a case of everyone converting to Catholicism but of “us all being able to learn from one another,” he recalled. And even if the ecumenical movement experienced “highs and lows,” the Catholic church was grateful for “this gift that was bestowed on us … a gift that is final and binding,” he underlined.
Marx called on the churches in Germany to “proclaim the Gospel Message vigorously, spiritedly and invitingly. The explosive power of the Bible must be discovered anew and we must show that this God (of the Bible) is someone who is deeply wounded and not a ruler.”
At their recent plenary, the German bishops published a text especially for the 50th anniversary of Unitatis Redintegratio entitled “Called to Unity.” The bishops pointed out that “the Gospel Message is only credible if we bear witness to it in unity and love. We invite all the (Christian) faithful to pray for full Christian unity so that Christ’s mission ‘that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me’ could be fulfilled.”
The Second Vatican Council had resolved the dilemma of division, emphasized Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, archbishop of Cologne, saying only 36 years before the Decree on Ecumenism was published in 1964, Pope Pius XI had forbidden all ecumenical contact in his encyclical letter Mortalium Animos.
“Meanwhile we have an imposing abundance of ecumenical texts, projects and initiatives on the international, national, regional and local level,” Woelki said at the ecumenical celebration in Cologne Cathedral. “In our communities, alienation, foreignness and unfamiliarity have given to trust. What we need most is joint action, mutual respect and confidence.”
“Although each one of us calls itself a church, we are never a whole church without the other churches. We must bear witness to Jesus Christ’s Gospel Message in unity and love otherwise it isn’t credible,” Chairman of the Protestant Churches in Germany Heinrich Bedford-Strohm said at a celebration in Bonn, Germany. The cooperation of Caritas International and Diakonie, the Protestant churches’ social welfare organization in disaster relief and refugee aid in Germany were great examples of ecumenism at work, he said.
Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople are a perfect example of “living ecumenism,” chairman of the German Orthodox bishops’ conference Archbishop Augoustinos (Lambardakis) said, adding that getting to know one another better is the most important element of ecumenism. Francis and Bartholomew are moving faster than ecumenical dialogue as they have met four times just this year.
On the eve of his departure for Turkey, Francis warned against resignation as far as ecumenism was concerned. The quest for Christian unity remains one of the Catholic church’s primary concerns.
[When not writing for NCR, Christa Pongratz-Lippitt is Austrian correspondent for the London-based weekly Catholic magazine The Tablet.]

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  1. Eleanor Duff says:

    Delighted to read this strong commendation for catholics to see engagement with others as essential and not peripheral. Would really lie to see much greater emphasis on this in Ireland especially in N.I. Corrymeela is 50 years in existence next year – an opportunity to show support for ecumenical work.

  2. Cornelius Martin says:

    Ecumenism takes many complex routes. One such is an event in the offing in Chelston, Torquay, England. The Methodist church there is due to close and The Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham—Anglicans who have come into full communion with the Catholic Church plans to acquire it. In fact the local Ordinariate group, led by Father David Lashbrooke plans to do so.
    After joining the Catholic Church they worshipped together in the local Catholic parish, Holy Angels. Then they were given the opportunity to use the Methodist church, and their 11:00 am Mass quickly became an established part of the local scene.
    There is a spirit of deep goodwill and Christian hope in this venture, and all are praying that this building, built for Christian worship by local people who loved Christ, will echo to the prayers and hymns of new generations.
    Fr. Lashbrooke relates that “Earlier this year, we began conversations with the local Methodist community who are vacating their site at Chelston. In a very moving final service the Methodist minister passed on a light from a candle to express his hope that we might be able to keep the Christian flame burning on this site.”
    The Ordinariate has the special charism of bringing what Pope Benedict described as the “Anglican patrimony” to the wider Catholic Church: there is much discussion about what this involves, but any list would include a dignified and reverent English liturgy, good music, a sense of English history, and a strong sense of mission to the English people.

  3. Paddy Ferry says:

    I am genuinely surprised and disappointed that there has been such a lack of reaction to this piece on the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Unitatis Redintegratio by the German bishops.Is christian unity not a major issue for our Church at home in Ireland?

  4. Prodigal Son says:

    The German bishops would probably agree with Pope Francis’s warning against “glossing over the differences” in ecumenical dialogue “at the expense of the truth.”
    While noting that several Christian denominations have coexisted in Switzerland for centuries, the Pope spoke against joint celebrations of the Eucharist by Catholics and Protestants. “If we have to hide our Eucharistic faith under the pretext of obliging others, then we are not taking our own treasure or our dialogue partners seriously enough,” he said on Monday to the Swiss bishops making their ad limina visit at the Vatican. In ecumenical dialogue the Bishops must make sure that the faithful of every confession can live out their faith “unmistakably and free of confusion” and “without glossing over the differences at the expense of the truth”.

  5. Joe O'Leary says:

    Francis as ecumenist:
    This is more radical than Paul VI’s salute to Anglicanism as “our sister church” (which the Vatican tried to unsay in 2000). Needless to say, conservatives are FURIOUS with Francis for his relaxed encounters with Evangelicals. In his dialogue with Tony Palmer’s widow and others, Francis said, “we are all going forward together — whether we be Lutheran or Anglican or Calvinist or Catholic — it’s a theological catastrophe!” or words to that effect. This is a far cry from the ultra-caution of his predecessor.

  6. Con Devree says:

    There is Christianity and there is Christendom. As David Bentley Hart says “Christendom was only the outward, sometimes majestic, but always defective form of the interaction between the gospel and the intractable stuff of human habit.” Such is the context of ecumenism. The historical development of Christianity is today both honoured and bemoaned by various sectors of the Christian community.
    There is already Christian unity of a sort in that Catholics and the 40,000 plus other denominations all adore the one God, pray, and share some similar moral intuitions.
    Christian disunity derives from a defective form of the interaction between the gospel and individuals. Different people moving further away from the Lord in different directions. The remedy, simplistic as it may seem, is truly for individuals to seek to move closer to God and consequently to each other. People have to pray, practice and do good works with the intention of unity ever in mind. Such intention is at the core of all the Eucharistic Prayers.
    Many factors support this view. The implementation of ecumenism means different things to different people. Secondly it was corroborated by events recently in Istanbul. Nothing really new was said but the readiness “to seek together, in light of Scriptural teaching and the experience of the first millennium” was further encouraged in what is still a very difficult environment. Pope Francis gave no indication that he was giving up the claims of the Catholic Church regarding the authority and primacy of the Apostolic See of Rome, or that the Roman primacy need no longer be part of the common profession of faith. Neither did the Patriarch indicate any renunciation of an undertaking given in recent times not to sacrifice Orthodoxy in the process of dialogue.
    The unity has to be the unity desired by Jesus under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It has to be prayed as much as discussed. From this perspective anything contrary to it, such as using the question of ecumenism as a means of ridiculing others’ and their ideas is counterproductive.

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