A relevant address: The Pope on Tradition, Ecumenism, and Vatican II

Pope Benedict XVI’s address to the participants of the Plenary Session of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on 27 January 2012:

As we know, in vast areas of the earth, faith is in danger of being put out, as a flame that finds no more fuel. We find ourselves before a profound crisis of faith, before a loss of the religious sense that is the greatest challenge for today’s Church. The renewal of the faith must thus be the priority in the effort of the entire Church in our day. I hope that the Year of Faith may contribute, with the cordial collaboration of all components of the People of God, to make God present in this world and may open to man acess to the faith, that he may entrust himself to that God who has loved us to the end (cf. John 13,1), in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.

The coherence of the ecumenical effort with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and with the entire Tradition has been one of the areas to which the Congregation, in collaboration with the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, has always paid attention. We can see today not a few good fruits born of the ecumenical dialogues, but we must also recognize that the risk of a false irenism and of an indifferentism, completely separated from the mind of the Second Vatican Council, demands our vigilance. This indifferentism is caused by the ever more common opinion that truth would not be accessible to man; it would thus be necessary to limit oneself to search for rules for a praxis which would improve the world. And, therefore, faith would be replaced by a moralism with no profound meaning. The center of true ecumenism is, instead, the faith in which man finds truth, that reveals itself in the Word of God. Without faith, the entire ecumenical movement would be reduced to a kind of “social contract” to be joined for a common interest, a “praxeology” for creating a better world. The logic of the Second Vatican Council is completely different: the sincere search for full unity of all Christians is a movement animated by the Word of God, by divine Truth that is spoken to us in this Word.

The crucial problem, that marks in a transversal way the ecumenical dialogues, is, for this reason, the question of the structure of revelation – the relationship between Sacred Scripture, the living Tradition in Holy Church, and the Ministry of the successors of the Apostles as a testimony to the true faith. And here the problematic of ecclesiology, which is part of this problem, is implied: in what way the truth of God reaches us. It is fundamental here, among other things, to distinguish between Tradition, with a capital letter, and traditions. I do not wish to enter in details, but just to make an observation. An important step in this distinction was accomplished in the preparation and application of the provisions for the groups of faithful coming from Anglicanism, who wish to join the full communion of the Church, in the unity of the common and essential divine Tradition, preserving their own spriritual traditions, liturgical and pastoral, that are consistent withh the Catholic Faith (cf. Cost.  Anglicanorum coetibus, art. III). There is, in fact, a spiritual wealth in the various Christian confessions that is the expression of the one faith and gift to be shared and to be found together in the Tradition of the Church.

Today, therefore, one of the fundamental questions consists of the problematic of the methods to be adopted in the various ecumenical dialogues. These also must reflect the priority of faith. To know the truth is the right of the interlocutor in every true dialogue. It is the very demand of charity for brother. In this sense, it is necessary to face with courage also the controversial questions, always in the spirit of fraternity and reciprocal respect. It is important to offer a correct interpretation of that “order or ‘hierarchy’ of truth in Catholic doctrine,” mentioned in the Decree Unitatis redintegratio (n. 11), which does not mean in any way to reduce the deposit of faith, but to make emerge the internal structure, the organicity of this one structure. Also the study documents produced by the various ecumenical dialogues have great relevance. Such texts cannot be ignored, because they are an important, though temporary, fruit of the common reflection matured throughout the years. Nevertheless, they are to be recognized in their adequate significance as contributions offered to the competent Authority of the Church, who alone is called to judge them in a definitive way. To ascribe to such texts a binding or almost conclusive weight for the ecclesial Authority would not, in a final analysis, help on the path to a full unity in the faith.

One last question that I would finally wish to mention is the problem of morals, which is a new challenge for the ecumenical path. In the dialogues, we must not forget the great moral questions related to human life, family, sexuality, bioethics, liberty, justice, and peace. It will be important to speak on these matters with only one voice, drawing the foundation on Scripture and on the living tradition of the Church. This tradition helps us understand the language of the Creator in his creation. By defending the fundamental values of the great tradition of the Church, we defend man, we defend creation.

[Rorate translation]

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