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Unitatis Redintegratio. COMMUNION WITH OTHER FAITHS ( Unitatis Redintegratio ).

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communion with other faiths unitatis redintegratio

For those who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in some, though imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church. Without doubt, the differences that exist within varying degrees between them and the Catholic Church—whether in doctrine and sometime in discipline, or concerning the structure of the church—do indeed create many obstacles, sometimes serious ones, to full ecclesiastical communion. The ecumenical movement is striving to overcome these obstacles. But even in spite of them it remains true that all who have been justified by faith in baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers and sisters in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church. #3


One of the councilor goals articulated by John XXIII was the restoration of unity among all Christians. To keep this priority at the forefront of the council’s agenda he established in 1960 the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity (Roman Curia) headed by Cardinal Augustine Bea.

One of Bea’s tasks was to secure the participation of ecumenical observers.

John XXIII noted in his opening address that the ecumenical movement was among the “signs of the times” the church needed to note.

  • ECUMENICAL: This term comes from the Greek word OIKUMENE, which appears in the New Testament and refers to the whole inhabited world. Its root is in the term OIKOS, which means “household.” The twentieth-century ecumenical movement for the visible unity of the churches was called “ecumenical” because it seeks the unity of Christians throughout the world, of the entire household of God. “Ecumenical” activity, which concerns relationships among the Christian churches, is to be distinguished from “interfaith” relationships among the different world religions.
  • NOTE: In 1927 an international group met to speak of church unity. Pius XI wrote of this group in MortaliumAnimos: “The union of Christians cannot be fostered otherwise than by promoting the return of the dissidents to the one true church of Christ, which in the past they so unfortunately abandoned; return we say, to the one true Church of Christ which is plainly visible to all.” The Catholic Church sees the ecumenical movement as suspicious.

The World Council of Churches is established in 1948. Catholics do not participate. However, Pius XII began to recognize the movement as perhaps of the Holy Spirit.

the council s teaching on ecumenism
The Council’s Teaching on Ecumenism
  • In order for the Catholic Church to enter fully into the wider ecumenical movement, the council had to wrestle with three important issues.
  • The first concerned the recognition of those Christians who were not in full communion with the Catholic Church.
  • The second had to do with the self-understanding of the Catholic Church and its relationship to the one church of Christ.
  • The third concerned the possibility that one might speak of different degrees of belonging to the one church of Christ.
  • ALL of these issues were shrouded in centuries of controversy and alienation.

SCHISM: From the Greek SCHISMA. The division or rupture of church unity that involves an official dissociation or severing of ties.

the positive recognition of other christians
The Positive Recognition of Other Christians

The ROOT of division in the church is traced to three important moments in history:

  • The Council of Chalcedon (4th ecumenical council in 451) resolved the dispute regarding the proper understanding of the divine and human natures of Christ. A number of churches—those known today as the Oriental Orthodox churches (Armenian, Ethiopian, Eritrean, Syrian, Coptic, Malankara)—did not receive the teaching of this council and separated from the churches of Constantinople and Rome.
  • In 1054, after a long period of estrangement, the heads of the churches of Rome and Constantinople mutually excommunicated one other, initiating another schism and further dividing Christianity along the lines of Eastern (Byzantine) and Western (Latin) empires, or Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches. Two unsuccessful efforts were made to reconcile at the Councils of Lyon in 1274 and Florence in 1439.
  • The Protestant Reformation of the 16th century divides Western Christianity. This fragmentation was without precedent.

From the very earliest drafts of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, the council affirmed the presence of “many elements of sanctification and truth” outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church. Lumen Gentium describes these elements as “gifts belonging to the church of Christ” that serve as “forces impelling towards catholic unity” LG #8).

The Decree on Ecumenism develops a fuller understanding of the elements of the church. It explains that “some, even very many, of the most significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life of the church itself” are found outside the Catholic Church. Further, it insists, these gifts “come from Christ and lead back to Christ”; they “belong by right to the one Church of Christ” (UR #3).

While it considers that the separated churches and communities “suffer from…defects,” the council recognizes that “the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation.”

the one church of christ and the catholic church
The One Church of Christ and the Catholic Church
  • MysticiCorporis (Pius XII 1942): He identifies the Catholic Church with the “one true Church of Christ.”
  • Early drafts of Lumen Gentium state: “The church of Christ is the Roman Catholic church.”
  • Notable revisions as the discussion continues:

The doctrinal commission elected to speak simply of the “Catholic Church,” dropping the “Roman” in all the council documents. This reflects a fuller understanding of the Catholic communion of churches, a reality not limited to the roman or Western church, whose liturgy, theology and laws are derived from the Latin tradition. It includes twenty-two self-governing Eastern Catholic churches in full ecclesial communion with the bishop of Roman whose roots are in the Byzantine, Syrian, Coptic and other Eastern traditions.

  • The doctrinal commission opted to say that the “unique church of Christ…SUBSISTS in the Catholic Church.” LG #8 notes “many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside its visible confines.”
  • Subsequent clarification: The church of Christ “continues to exist in” the Catholic Church. Despite it all, the visible institution continues to be an agent of God’s saving presence and activity in the church.
  • The one church of Christ extends beyond the visible bounds of the Catholic Church.
varying degrees of ecclesial communion
Varying Degrees of Ecclesial Communion
  • Baptism is the path to belonging in the universal people of God who are gathered together in the church.
  • The recognition that we are joined to other Christian churches by varying degrees of communion is based on the fact that they have more or less in common. This differentiated communion corresponds to varying degrees of incorporation into the new people of God or the one church of Christ.
  • The Catholic Church, although gifted with the “fullness of the means of salvation” (UR #3) remains nonetheless a pilgrim church “still in its members liable to sin,” still “growing in Christ” (UR #3) and thus always in need of purification, renewal and reform (UR #6). These are all themes in Lumen Gentium.
  • The disunity of the churches is among the most serious impediments of the church’s mission and witness, making it difficult to express the “full catholicity” of the church.
  • APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION: The doctrine that the ministry of a continuous succession of faithful bishops ensures continuity in the teaching of the apostolic faith. The bishops are successors of the apostles and continue their ministry f witnessing to the faith.
  • During the closing ceremonies of Vatican II, in December of 1965, Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople issued formal declarations lifting the excommunication between the churches of Rome and Constantinople, thus preparing the way for the opening of official dialogue.
final note
Final NOTE:
  • In the decades since the council the Catholic Church has taken part in more than fifteen commissions for bilateral theological dialogue with other churches at the international level. These conversations are often complimented by dialogue at regional and local levels. In addition, Catholic theologians fully participate in the multilateral Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches. Through dialogue considerable progress in mutual understanding has been achieved, to the point of overcoming issues that were once considered to be church dividing, including the mutual recognition of baptism, pastoral provisions for interchurch marriage, the doctrine of justification by faith, the doctrines of Eucharist and ministry, and the exercise of authority in the church.
  • Ecumenical guests and observers are invited as a matter of course to the most significant synodal gatherings, meetings of episcopal conferences and important liturgical celebrations.
  • Prayer for unity and a sincere conversion of heart opens minds and hearts to recognize those aspects of the life of the church that stand in need of renewal and remain an obstacle to reconciliation with other Christians.
  • There is still a long way to go!