ECUMENICAL REFLECTIONS AND SUGGESTIONS
STUDY DOCUMENT OF THE JOINT WORKING GROUP BETWEEN
THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH AND THE WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES
It is well accepted that there is an ecumenical imperative
in the Gospel. However, there is also the indisputable fact that
the goal of unity is far from realized. In that context of contradiction,
the Joint Working Group (JWG) of the Roman Catholic Church and
the World Council of Churches (WCC) decided in 1985 to focus on
ecumenical formation as a contribution towards conscientizing
people with regard to ecumenism. The minutes for that particular
meeting of the JWG report: "It might aim at a more popular
readership. The pamphlet should be parl of a wider process of
promoting the idea of ecumenical formation. It should include
an explanation of why ecumenical formation is a priority, along
with documentation. Anything produced on ecumenical formation
ought to be sub-titled ecumenical reflections and suggestions',
to make clear there is no intention of giving directives in a
field in which each church has its proper responsibility".
The document is designed to be educational, aimed at stimulating
on-going reflection as an integral part of a process of ecumenical
formation. It is rooted in a conviction that there must be a deep
spirituality at the heart of ecumenical formation.
With these words, we are happy to recommend this document for
Most Reverend Alan C. Clark
His Eminence Metropolitan Elias Audi
The Ecumenical imperative
1. In his high priestly prayer Jesus prayed
for all those who will believe in him, "that they may all
be one; as you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also
be in us, so that the world may believe that vou have sent me.
The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they
may be one, as we are one" (Jn 17:21-22).
The unity to which the followers of Jesus Christ are called is
not something created by them. Rather, it is Christ's will for
them that they manifest their unity, given in Christ, before the
world so that the world may believe. It is a unity which is grounded
in and reflects the communion which exists between the Father
and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Thus the ecumenical imperative
and the mission of, the Church are inextricably intertwined, and
this for the sake of the salvation of all. The eschatological
vision of the transformation and unity of humankind is the fundamental
inspiration of ecumenical action.
to the Imperative
2. However, from very early in her history,
the Church has suffered from tensions. The earliest Christian
community in Corinth experienced tensions and factions (1 Cor
1:10-17). After the Councils of Ephesus (in 431) and Chalcedon
(in 451), an important part of the Church in the East was no more
in communion with the rest of the Church.
In 1054 there was the great break between the Church of the East
and the Church of the West. As if those were not enough, the Western
Church was unhappily divided further at the time of the Reformation.
Today we continue to have not only the persistence of those divisions
but also new ones.
Whatever the reasons, such divisions contradict the Lord's high
priestly prayer and Paul considers such divisions sinful and appeals
"that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions
among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same
purpose" (1 Cor 1: 10).
3. Against that background, ecumenical formation
is a matter of urgency because it is part of the struggle to overcome
the divisions of Christians which are sinful and scandalous and
challenge the credibility of the Church and her mission.
Some Significant Responses to the Ecumenical Imperative
4. If there is a tragic history of disobedience
to the ecumenical imperative, there is also heartwarming evidence
that time and again the churches, conscious of their call to unity,
have been challenged to confront the implications of their divisions.
For instance, attempts at reconciliation between the East and
the West have taken place in the 13th and 15th centuries. Also
in the centuries that followed there were voices and efforts calling
the churches away from divisions and enmity. At the beginning
of this century the modern ecumenical history received significant
impulses from the 1910 World Missionary Conference at Edinburgh.
In 1920 the Ecumenical Patriarchate published an Encyclical proposing
the establishment of a "koinonia of churches", in spite
of the doctrinal differences between the churches. The Encyclical
was an urgent and timely reminder that "world Christendom
would be disobedient to the will of the Lord and Savior if it
did not seek to manifest in the world the unity of the people
of God and of the body of Christ". Around the same time Anglicans
and Catholics engaged in theological dialogue at the Malines Conversations,
and the first World Conferences on Life and Work (Stockholm 1925)
and Faith and Order (Lausanne 1927) were held.
5. Another recall to the ecumenical imperative in modern times
was the meeting held in 1948 at Amsterdam, at which the WCC was
formally constituted. The theme of this meeting was very significant:
"Man's Disorder and God's Design". The long process
which culminated in the birth of the WCC represents a multilateral
response to the ecumenical imperative, in which a renewed commitment
to the Una Sancta (the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church),
and to making our own the prayer of Jesus that "Your will
be done on earth as it is in heaven", were openly declared
to be on the agenda of the churches.
6. A further important landmark on the ecumenical road was the
announcement made by Pope John XXIII, on 25th January 1959, the
feast of the conversion of St Paul, to convene the Catholic bishops
for the Second Vatican Council, which Pope John XXIII opened in
October 1962. This Council which has been highly significant for
ecumenical advance definitely accelerated the possibilities for
the Catholic Church to take part in the multilateral dialogue
in Faith and Order, and to engage in a range of bilateral dialogues
which are now an important expression of the one ecumenical scene.
Various bilateral conversations between various churches attest
to growing fruitful relations between churches and traditions
which for centuries were at variance.
7. There have also been historic and symbolic actions which are
very significant efforts to overcome the old divisions. For example,
on the 7th of December 1965 Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras,
in solemn ceremonies in Rome and Constantinople, took steps to
take away from the memory and the midst of the churches the sentences
of excommunication which had been the immediate cause of the great
schism between the Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople
in 1054. Moreover, the icon of the Apostles Peter and Andrew in
embrace Peter being the patron of the Church of Rome and
Andrew the patron of the Church of Constantinople presented
by the Ecumenical Patriarch to the Pope, illustrates in graphic
and religious form the reconciliation between the churches of
the East and the West. The responses of many churches to the Faith
and Order document on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, which was
the result of multilateral ecumenical dialogue, is a further illustration
of ecumenical advance.
Imperative, a Permanent Call
8. The foregoing historical moments in the
life of the Church stand like promontories in the ecumenical landscape
and attest to the fact that in spite of persisting divisions of
which there is need for repentance, churches are experiencing
a reawakening to the necessity of unity that stands in holy writ
and in the Lord's will for the Church. Indeed many have observed
that relationships between churches have radically changed from
isolation and enmity to mutual respect, cooperation, dialogue,
and between several churches from the Reformation
also Eucharistic fellowship. The people of God are hearing anew
the call "to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you
have been called ... bearing with one another in love, making
every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of
peace" (Eph 4:1-3). These and other developments are steps
towards that visible unity which is a koinonia given and expressed
in the common confession of the one apostolic faith, mutual recognition
and sharing of baptism, Eucharist and ministries, common prayer,
witness and service in the world, and conciliar forms of deliberation
Ecumenical Formation: What Is Meant by It?
9. That for long periods we have been disobedient to the ecumenical
imperative is a reminder that the spirit of ecumenism needs nurturing.
Ecumenical formation is an on-going process of learning within
the various local churches and world communions, aimed at informing
and guiding people in the movement which inspired by the
Holy Spirit seeks the visible unity of Christians.
This pilgrimage towards unity enables mutual sharing and mutual
critique through which we grow. Such an approach to unity thus
involves at once rootedness in Christ and in one's tradition,
while endeavoring to discover and participate in the richness
of other Christian and human traditions.
Process of Exploration
10. Such a response to the ecumenical imperative
demands patient, humble and persistent exploration, together with
people of other traditions, of the pain of our situation of separation,
taking us to both the depths of our divisions and the heights
of our already existing unity in the Triune God, and of the unity
we hope to attain. Thus ecumenical formation is also a process
of education by which we seek to orient ourselves towards God,
all Christians and indeed all human beings in a spirit of renewed
faithfulness to our Christian mission.
Process of Learning
11. As a process of learning, ecumenical formation
is concerned with engaging the experience, knowledge, skills,
talents and the religious memory of the Christian community for
mutual enrichment and reconciliation. The process may be initiated
through formal courses on the history and main issues of ecumenism
as well as be integrated into the curriculum at every level of
the education in which the Church is involved. Ecumenical formation
is meant to help set the tone and perspective of every instruction
and, therefore, may demand a change in the orientation of our
educational institutions, systems and curricula.
12. The language of formation and learning
refers to some degree to a body of knowledge to be absorbed. That
is important; but formation and learning require a certain bold
openness to living ecumenically as well. In 1952 the 4th Faith
and Order Conference took place in Lund, Sweden. The statement
that came from it may be read as a representative text: "A
faith in the one Church of Christ which is not implemented by
acts of obedience is dead. There are truths about the nature of
God and His Church which will remain for ever closed to us unless
we act together in obedience to the unity which is already ours.
We would, therefore, earnestly request our Churches to consider
whether they are doing all they ought to do to manifest the oneness
of the people of God. Should not our Churches ask themselves whether
they are showing sufficient eagerness to enter into conversation
with other Churches and whether they should not act together in
all matters except those in which deep differences of conviction
compel them to act separately? ... Obedience to God demands also
that the Churches seek unity in their mission to the world".
Process for All
13. Thus in pursuit of the goal of Christian
unity, ecumenical formation takes place not only in formal educational
programs but also in the daily life of the Church and people.
While the formation of the whole people of God is desired, indeed
is a necessity, we also insist on the strategic importance of
giving priority to the ecumenical formation of those who have
special responsibility for ministry and leadership in the churches.
To that extent, theologians, pastors, and others who bear responsibility
in the Church, have both a particular need and responsibility
for ecumenical formation.
14. The ecumenical formation of those with
particular responsibility for forming and animating future church
leaders, could involve the study of ecumenical history and documents
resulting from the on-going bilateral and multilateral dialogues.
In addition, ecumenical gatherings and organizations, particularly
of scholars, can provide a useful climate for it. Exchange visits
among seminary students in the course of their training may also
help this process of deepening the appreciation of other traditions
as well as their own.
Expression of Ecumenical Spirituality
15. It follows from the ecumenical imperative
that the process of formation in ecumenism has to be undergirded
by, and should indeed be an expression of ecumenical spirituality.
It is spiritual in the sense that it should be open to the prayer
of Jesus for unity and to the promptings of the Holy Spirit who
reconciles and binds all Christians together.
It is spiritual in yet another sense of leading to repentance
for the past disobedience to the ecumenical imperative, which
disobedience was manifested as contentiousness and hostility among
Christians at every level. Having ecumenical spirituality in common
prayer and other forms as the underpinning of ecumenical formation
invites all to conversion and change of heart which is the very
soul of the work for restoring unity.
Furthermore, it is spiritual in the sense
of seeking a renewed life-style which is characterized by sacrificial
love, compassion, patience with one another and tolerance. The
search for such life-style may include exposing students to the
spiritual texts, prayers and songs of other churches with the
goal and hope that such familiarity will contribute towards effecting
change of heart and attitude towards others, which itself is a
gift of the Holy Spirit. Such efforts will help deepen mutual
trust, making it possible to learn together the positive aspects
of each other's tradition, and thus live constructively with the
awareness of the reality and pain of divisions.
16. Ecumenical formation is part of the process
of building community in the one household of God which must be
built on trust, centered on Jesus Christ the Lord and Savior.
This demands a spirituality of trust which, among other things,
helps to overcome the fear to be exposed to different traditions,
for the sake of Christ.
Ecumenical Formation: How to Realize It?
built on Communion
17. The renewed emphasis on understanding
the Church as communion, like the image of the Church as the body
of Christ, implies differentiation within the one body, which
has nevertheless been created for unity. Thus the very dynamic
of ecumenism is relational in character. We respond in faith and
hope to God who relates to us first. God relates to us in love,
commanding us to love one another (Mk 12:29-31). This response
ought to be wholehearted'. Therefore, in order to help Christians
to respond whole-heartedly to the ecumenical imperative, we must
seek ways to relate the prayer of Jesus (Jn 17:20-24) to all our
hearts and minds, to the affective as well as to the cognitive
dimensions in them. Christians must be helped to understand that
to love Jesus necessarily means to love everything Jesus prayed,
lived, died and was raised for, namely "to gather into one
the children of God who are scattered abroad" (Jn 11:52),
the unity of his disciples as an effective sign of the unity of
18. The koinonia or communion as the basic
understanding of the Church demands attempting to develop common
ecumenical perspectives on ecclesiology. Unity is not uniformity
but a communion of rich diversity. Therefore, it is necessary
to explore with others the limits of legitimate diversity. In
this regard special cognizance must also be taken of the religious
and socio-cultural context in which the process of ecumenical
formation takes place. Where there is a predominant majority church,
ecumenical sensitivity is all the more required.
Out to Each and Every One
19. The effectiveness of Christian unity in the midst
of a broken world ultimately depends on the work of God's Spirit
who wishes each one of us to participate. God speaks to us today
the words which were addressed to Adam and Eve, "where are
you?" (Gn 3:9) as also the words to Cain, "where is
your brother ... ?"(Gn 4:9). All Christians should become
aware, and make each other aware, of who and where their sisters
and brothers are and where they stand in regard to them, whether
near or far (Ep 2:17). They should be helped to go out to meet
them, to get involved with them. Involvement participation in
the whole ecumenical formation process is crucial.
20. In a Christian response to God and the
ecumenical imperative which comes from God, there is no such thing
as "the few for the many". The response to the prayer
of Jesus must be the response of each and every one. Therefore,
the growth into an ecumenical mind and heart is essential for
each and for all, and the introduction of, and care for, ecumenical
formation are absolutely necessary at every level of the church
community, church life, action and activities; at all educational
levels (schools, colleges, universities; theological schools,
seminaries, religious/monastic communities, pastoral and lay formation
centers; Sunday liturgies, homilies and catechesis).
to Learning in Community
21. While ecumenical formation must be an
essential feature in every curriculum in theological training,
care must be taken that it does not become something intended
for individuals only. There must be commitment of learning in
community. This has several components: (a) learning about, from
and with others of different traditions; (b) praying for Christian
unity, and wherever and whenever possible, together, as well as
praying for one another; (c) offering common Christian witness
by acting together; and (d) struggling together with the pain
of our divisions. In this regard the participation of different
institutions for theological education in common programs of formation
is to be encouraged. Working ecumenically in joint projects becomes
another important aspect of ecumenical must always be related
to the search for Christian unity.
22. Seeking a renewed commitment for ecumenical
formation does not imply to gloss over existing differences and
to deny the specific profiles of our respective ecclesial traditions.
But it may involve a common re-reading of our histories and especially
of those events that led to divisions among Christians. It is
not enough to regret that our histories have been tainted through
the polemics of the past; ecumenical formation must endeavor to
eliminate polemic and to further mutual understanding, reconciliation,
and the healing of memories. No longer shall we be strangers to
one another but members of the one household of God (Ep 2:19).
to Other Religions
23. In this world, people are also divided
along religious lines. Thus ecumenical formation must also address
the matter of religious plurality and secularism, and inform about
inter-religious dialogue which aims at deeper mutual understanding
in the search for world community. It must be clear however that
interreligious dialogue with other world religions such
as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. has goals that are specifically
different from the goals of ecumenical dialogue among Christians.
In giving serious attention to this important activity, Christians
must carefully distinguish it from ecumenical dialogue.
24. That spirit of tolerance and dialogue
must get to the pews and market places where people feel the strains
of the different heritages which encounter each other. The faith
that God is the Creator and Sustainer of all also requires Christians
to do everything in their power to promote the cause of freedom,
human rights, justice and peace everywhere, and thus actively
to contribute to a renewed movement towards human solidarity in
obedience to God's will.
the Instruments of Communication
25. In today's search for unity there is a
relatively new factor which must be taken seriously the
scientific technological advances, particularly the communications
revolution. The world has become a global village in which peoples,
cultures and religions, and Christian denominations which were
once far off are now next door one to another. The sense of the
other' is being pressed on us and we need to relate to one
another for mutual survival and peace. Thus the possibilities
of mass communication can be an asset for communicating the ecumenical
The media can be an extremely important resource for ecumenical
formation, and the many possibilities which they offer to promote
the ecumenical formation process should be made use of. However,
the world of the media has its own logic and values; it is not
an unambivalent resource. Critical caution must, therefore, be
exercised in availing ourselves of the media for the ecumenical
Ecumenical Formation and Common Witness
26. Ecumenism is not an option for the churches.
In obedience to Christ and for the sake of the world the churches
are called to be an effective sign of God's presence and compassion
before all the nations. For the churches to come divided to a
broken world is to undermine their credibility when they claim
to have a ministry of universal unity and reconciliation. The
ecumenical imperative must be heard and responded to everywhere.
This response necessarily requires ecumenical formation which
will help the people of God to render a common witness to all
humankind by pointing to the vision of the new heaven and anew
earth (Rev 21:1).
May 20th, 1993
[Information Service 84 (1993/III-IV) 176-180]