In a November 18 address to members of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, Pope Benedict XVI underlined the importance of ecumenical work, yet cautioned that ecumenism cannot be seen as a political effort.
The Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, founded by Pope John XXIII in 1960, is marking its 50th anniversary. Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, and Orthodox Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamon, a top ecumenical representative for the Ecumenical Patriarchate, were in Rome this week to join in the anniversary celebrations.
The establishment of this Pontifical Council—originally known as the Secretariat for Christian Unity—was “a milestone on the ecumenical journey of the Catholic Church,” Pope Benedict said, and the group’s work has been vital to “overcoming the sediments of historical prejudice.”
Reflecting on the state of ecumenism today, the Holy Father said that there is a widespread belief that progress has stalled, and thus an “urgent need to revive ecumenical interest and give a fresh incisiveness to dialogue.”
For the Catholic Church, the Pontiff continued, the top priority in ecumenical work is dialogue with the “Orthodox churches and the ancient Eastern churches, with which bonds of the closest intimacy exist.” He reminded his audience that in talks with the Orthodox world, “we have reached a crucial point of confrontation and reflection: the role of the Bishop of Rome in the communion of the Church.”
Speaking more generally about the ecumenical process, the Holy Father warned that it is not “a commitment that falls into what could be called political categories, in which negotiating ability or greater capacity to reach compromise come into play.” Ecumenical talks should seek for the truth, he said, and cannot be satisfied with mediated solutions to controversial problems.
At the same time, the Pope continued, unity in prayer is always appropriate, and prayer will be an indispensable part of every successful ecumenical endeavour. He reminded the members of the Pontifical Council that “we do not know the time that the unity of all Christ’s disciples will be achieved, and we cannot know it, because we do not ‘make’ unity, God ‘makes’ it.” Therefore all Christians should join in asking God for that precious gift, the Pope concluded.
As Father Zuhlsdorf remarked on his blog in October 2009, “it becomes clearer each year that Benedict goes beyond his immediate predecessors, but always in continuity with them, in promoting Christian unity.”
He further elaborates:
“His efforts in this direction can be seen on several fronts:
- with the Orthodox in general, and the Russian Orthodox in particular;
- with the SSPX;
- with the Anglicans.”
Father Z’s excellent analysis concludes:
“… true ecumenism is not about compromise on essentials, giving away fundamental elements of our Catholic identity.
True ecumenism requires that we be stretched, to be sure, but that we submit. We stretch, but we give nothing essential away.
The liberal model of ecumenism gives nearly anything for the sake of bringing in their sort of compromised Christian.
Pope Benedict is the true ecumenist.
He is the Pope of Christian Unity.”
In short: Unity subsists in the Truth. May God grant us this precious gift, and may He bless Pope Benedict XVI, the Pope of Christian Unity.