Following up on what I wrote a few weeks ago concerning a reconciliation of Vatican II with tradition, we will be attempting here to look at the particulars, the practical manner by which one would do this, and the document which will be our subject today is Unitatis Redintegratio.
In recent years we have heard a number of alarming statements vis-à-vis Ecumenism. In his book A Marginal Jew, John P. Meier, a scripture scholar at "Catholic" University of America, tried to argue that the brothers and sisters of Jesus were in fact his true blood brothers, and made this same case in a 1992 lecture to the Catholic Biblical Association. (Both bodies are quite un-Catholic). How could Meier claim that we could set aside the doctrine of the Blessed Virgin’s perpetual virginity? Quite simple really, by the “hierarchy of truths” talked about in Unitatis Redintegratio. In his address to the CBA he said the following:
“If the criterion of the hierarchy of truths cannot be invoked in a dispute that is so marginal to the witness of scripture....is there any dispute in which the criterion could be effectively applied?”(J.P. Meier, "The Brothers and Sisters of Jesus in Ecumenical Perspective", Catholic Biblical Quarterly 54.1, January 1992, p. 28).Obviously he believes that the concept of the hierarchy of truths means certain doctrines are important, and that others can be fudged. How can this be applied to ecumenism one might wonder? An alleged conservative, Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J. explains how:
“The Council worked powerfully to undermine the authoritarian theory and to legitimate dissent, through this teaching of the hierarchy of truths. Thus the Church need not insist that converts accept the definitions of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption.” (Presidential Address to the Catholic Theological Society of America in 1976)Yet the most notable ones have been made by Cardinal Walter Kasper. In January of 2000, he stated in L’Osservatore Romano that:
“The old concept of the ecumenism of return has today been replaced by that of a common journey which directs Christians toward the goal of ecclesial communion understood as unity in reconciled diversity. The Ecumenism of return is no longer applicable to the Church after Vatican II.” (Quoted in The Great Facade, pg. 201)Without question this statement is heretical by itself. The question thus becomes what gave him this obviously heretical idea? Given that he cites the “Church after Vatican II”, it would seem logical that it was Vatican II, and where else would one get this idea if not from Vatican II’s document on ecumenism?
However when we do examine the document, we do not find any broad sweeping heretical statement such as Kasper’s. Rather we find a document which, though is not without its problems, does not advocate the sweeping changes we have seen in Ecclesial life, and most certainly it does not justify the Assisi prayer meetings. In fact I would contend that none of this can either be justified or approved by Vatican II, following our rubric for this series that it is the ambiguous language of Vatican II which lends itself to error, and that it requires the Magisterium to officially interpret the documents in light of Tradition. In fact, as you shall see at the completion of this piece, it already has done that in this case.
The document is divided into three chapters. The first deals with the unity of the Church, the second on the practice of Ecumenism, and the third with relations between the Orthodox who have a full sacramental life via valid orders, and the protestants who do not. All of these are divided into sub-sections which deal with different subjects within a given area.
Chapter 1 presents the least problems as a whole. The second sentence of the whole document is: “Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only.” It goes on to decry the appearance of a separation in Christianity as “a scandal to the whole world.” Without doubt they are right. In chapter one, the document goes on concerning the Church’s unity: “The Church then, is God’s only flock.” It goes on to draw out a concept from Pope Pius XII’s Mystici Corporis, that those who are baptized possess an imperfect unity in the Church, viz. that baptism is still baptism. Fr. Feeney used to teach that protestants who were baptized as infants were in fact Catholic until they reached the age of reason. It would appear such a teaching has strong grounding in Pius XII’s encyclical, and Vatican II again brings out this point to preface its teaching on unity. It then goes on to endorsement of the “ecumenical movement”, and explains just what it means by it.
“The term ‘ecumenical movement’ indicates the initiatives and activities planned and undertaken, according to the various needs of the Church and as opportunities offer, to promote Christian unity." (UR 4)We stop here to examine the idea of Christian unity. The Latin of the document says “Christianorum unitatem” which is a little more certain. What is meant by that is a unity of Christians, which differs from the English "Christian Unity" in this respect: Unity denotes being in agreement about core values, ideas, etc. A unity of communists, socialists, Catholics and Hindus would be described by scholastics as a “Chaotic unity”, because necessary principles are lacking. What is suggested by the Latin words is a unity that is truly Christian. Reading in light of tradition there is no wiggle room left for a liberal, there is no Christian unity if it is not a Catholic unity. Thus the possibility of a reconciled diversity is impossible. #4 continues:
These are first, every effort to avoid expressions, judgments, and actions which do not represent the condition of our separated brethren with truth and fairness and so make mutual relations with them more difficult; then ‘dialog’ between competent experts from different Churches and Communities. At these meetings, which are organized in a religious spirit, each explains the teaching of his Communion in greater depth and brings out clearly its distinctive features. In such dialog, everyone gains a truer knowledge and more just appreciation of the teaching and religious life of both Communions. In addition, the way is prepared for cooperation between them in the conscience; and wherever this is allowed, there is prayer in common. Finally, all are led to examine their own faithfulness to Christ’s will for the Church and accordingly to undertake the vigor the task of renewal and reform.Ultimately this passage is not much different from Pius XII’s Monitum on ecumenism, which stated that priests specially trained were the ones to carry out dialog, not the average layman. Again Vatican II is not declaring that all laypeople must now engage ecumenical activity. Furthermore while prayer in common is advocated, it does not advocate celebration of Mass with protestants or Orthodox, and furthermore, it does not allow for praying with anyone other than a Christian. It may be that a future Pope could judge the whole prudential plan of this document to be a failure and repudiate it. However in the meantime, there is nothing that is contrary to faith and morals, no heresy, no schism.
The first problem we encounter is in UR #10 which is in chapter 2.
Sacred theology and other branches of knowledge, especially of an historical nature, must be taught with due regard for the ecumenical point of view, so that they may correspond more exactly with the facts.This statement makes little practical sense. Perhaps we should say Luther was a "zealous scrupulous" man. Perhaps Calvin "flogged those who prayed for the dead with compassion." Perhaps the Russian Orthodox "persecuted Jews with compassion." The council fails to tell us what the ecumenical point of view is! This would assume that there were history books at the time which were somehow distorted to make protestants look bad. However I have never read or heard of Church histories which do this. If anything the distortions are on the protestant side, which starting with the English in the 19th century accused the Church of all kinds of fantastical things, and distorted Church teaching with games like “Simon says” to give the idea that Catholics are slaves physically and mentally to the Pope’s mere whims. As with other off -statements of the council, there is nothing heretical here, just stupidity and imprudence.
In #11 we come upon one of the most difficult statements of the council as a whole:
“Moreover, in ecumenical dialog, Catholic theologians standing fast by the teachings of the Church and investigating the divine mysteries with the separated brethren must proceed with love for the truth, with charity, and with humility. When comparing doctrines with one another, they should remember that in Catholic doctrine there exists a “hierarchy” of truths since they vary in their relation to the fundamental Christian faith.”(Emphasis mine)This was eluded to in my introduction. The view taken by liberals toward this passage is that some truths are important, such as the Trinity, or Christ’s divinity, but things like Mary, the Eucharist or Papal infallibility can be fudged, forgotten, consigned to the dustbin of Church teaching. Professor Meier (whose books belong on a modern index of forbidden books) typifies this approach. In truth it must also be admitted that this term is entirely new at Vatican II. A quick search of Denzinger, Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, the Catechism of the Council of Trent, or any text of the previous councils fails to yield this term anywhere. However, it is also possible to understand this in another way, that this term suggests the relationship between doctrines, how they are related, that certain doctrines are plain in the deposit of faith while others are deduced from those plain and obvious doctrines. It would also appear that the Church’s magisterium has endorsed this position. In the CDF document Mysteria Ecclesiae of 1973, the following is stated:
It is true that there exists an order as it were a hierarchy of the Church's dogmas, as a result of their varying relationship to the foundation of the faith. This hierarchy means that some dogmas are founded on other dogmas which are the principal ones, and are illuminated by these latter. But all dogmas, since they are revealed, must be believed with the same divine faith. (Mysteria Ecclesiae, #4).UR 11 is footnoted directly in this passage. Thus the Church is ruling out the possibility of leaving out doctrine for the sake of Ecumenism. Thus when modern prelates decide they don’t want to mention doctrines or else tell others that acceptance of doctrine is not necessary, they are acting against Vatican II itself.
Finally, the remainder of the document, Chapter III, deals explicitly with the Churches separated from the Catholic Church. Firstly the Orthodox, who are a valid Church separated from Rome by schism and heresy (though the council doesn’t use words like that, it settles for division), and secondarily protestants. This is because it is not appropriate to lump the Orthodox and protestants together, since the Orthodox have a strong devotion to the Blessed Virgin, posses all seven sacraments while protestants have rejected all of that. The council takes time to evaluate the Eastern (Orthodox) Church, its origins and shared features with the Roman Church. Then it takes time to note the status of the protestant Churches, and features about them. For example in #21:
“While invoking the Holy Spirit, they seek in these very Scriptures God as it were speaking to them in Christ, Whom the prophets foretold, Who is the Word of God made flesh for us.”As we will observe in Nostra Aetate’s remarks on Hinduism and Buddhism, protestants seek but they do not find it. They seek the scriptures and indeed find grace, but they do not find the fullness of truth because that exists only in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
The Council concludes:
It is the urgent wish of this Holy Council that the measures undertaken by the sons of the Catholic Church should develop in conjunction with those of our separated brethren so that no obstacle be put in the ways of divine Providence and no preconceived judgments impair the future inspirations of the Holy Spirit. The Council moreover professes its awareness that human powers and capacities cannot achieve this only objective-the reconciling of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ. It is because of this that the Council rests all its hope on the prayer of Christ for the Church, on our Father’s love for us, and on the power of the Holy Spirit. “And hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans V: 5)” (UR 24)The council’s hope in “dialog”, and “ecumenism” was at least reasonable from a merely utilitarian point of view in the 60’s. However we have had 41 years of ecumenism, of dialog, of endless conversations and meetings with the Orthodox, and with protestants, and now, 41 years later, we are exactly where we were then with respect to their conversion. When Dominus Iesus was promulgated in 2000, there was an uproar amongst the World Council of Churches, and they suddenly threatened to pull out of dialog. So John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger had to backpedal away from the document. When Benedict dropped the title “Patriarch of the West”, the Orthodox said “That’s not enough, you need to go further! Renounce supreme authority!” When the Catholic-Lutheran committee on justification wrote a joint declaration concerning that doctrine, the heart of Luther's doctrine, it contained heresies and needed to be corrected by Cardinal Ratzinger. Yet when it was, the Lutherans refused to sign the corrected version!
As UR begins, we must read the signs of the times. The signs of the times are that the temporary and experimental ideas of the 60’s have failed. Like certain other councils in the past (Constantinople II, Lateran V, Florence) Vatican II’s document on ecumenism shall be added as a failed document, a failed idea, and a waste of time. There is no observer save the delusional who can possibly argue that ecumenism has been good for the Church, and that the renewal and conversion hoped for by the Council Fathers who signed this document has materialized in any way shape or form. We should not continue to cry out to Baal as his prophets did on Mt. Carmel, who seeing nothing happened then proceeded to cut themselves, and tear their clothing, rather than acknowledge the obvious. We should not insist the emperor’s new clothes are great, when the stark naked reality is before us: Ecumenism doesn’t work. The wisdom of Pope Pius XI in Mortalium Animos is confirmed....by forty years of ecumania. Enough is enough already, it is time for Pope Benedict to stop dropping titles and start dropping pointless and fruitless reforms which thus far have only confused the faithful, and failed to produce results.