Before turning to any specific considerations, it is essential
to recall the common ground shared by the Roman Catholic Church
and the World Council of Churches. In the course of the last ten
years, three perspectives have gained increasing importance. They
should guide the planning for the future.
The Existing Communion
Despite all divisions which have occurred in the course of
the centuries, there is a real though imperfect communion which
continues to exist between those who believe in Christ and are baptised
in his name. They confess that Christ, true God and true Man, is
Lord and that it is through him and in him alone that we are saved.
Through the Spirit, they offer praise and thanksgiving to the Father
who, in his Son, reconciles the world to himself. They proclaim
the love of God, revealed by the Son who was sent by the Father
bringing new life to the human race, and who through the promise
and gift of the Holy Spirit gathers together the people of the New
Covenant as a communion of unity in faith, hope and love.
Through the development of the ecumenical movement
that communion has been experienced anew. This is not to claim that
it has been created anew. Since it is beyond human power and initiative,
it precedes all ecumenical effort for the restoration of the unity
of all Christians. The gift of communion God has bestowed in Jesus
Christ remains a reality, even where Christians may obscure or damage
it by their lack of understanding, their disobedience and mutual
estrangement. The ecumenical movement is therefore the common re-discovery
of that existing reality and equally the common effort to overcome
the obstacles standing in the way to perfect ecclesial communion.
It is at the same time a return and a new departure. It is a return
to the original gift in many ways distorted by human failures in
the course of history and an attempt to understand and accept the
way in which God wants to lead us to His Kingdom. The ecumenical
movement is a constant invocation of the Spirit; that he may lead
us into new awareness of the original revelation, and guide us to
the future God is preparing for us.
The joy of the ecumenical movement lies in the fact
that the power of this communion has become more evident among the
churches. Christians have been gathered together. They have been
enriched in their experience and have been given new strength. They
have been seized by the vision of unity in Christ, a unity which
is not necessarily free from tensions and conflicts, but a fellowship
in which Christians are committed together to proclaim the Gospel,
not in uniformity, but so rooted in Christ that they are able to
bear the diversities which arise between them as they seek to fulfil
the will of Christ for his Church. Though this vision of perfect
unity is far from being fulfilled, and even its concrete shape cannot
yet be fully described, it has already become part of the life of
the churches. They can no longer move back from it nor hold to the
former separation. Thus work for the unity of the Church is a vital
and inescapable necessity. It is not a luxury which can be left
aside, nor a task which can be handed to specialists but rather
a constitutive dimension of the life of the Church at all levels
and of the life of Christians themselves.
The nature of the communion by which we are held together
cannot yet be described together in precise terms. The language
we use is marked by the divisions of history. Each church has its
own approach and its own ecclesiological terminology. But since
the churches meet in Christ's name and share in his gift, their
fellowship must have ecclesial reality. As they move forward together,
both the nature of the present communion they already have and the
future unity they seek may become clearer and their divisions may
The Need for Common Witness
The gift of communion calls for common witness in the world.
The ecumenical movement does not only aim at healing the divisions
among Christians. It seeks at the same time to enhance the credibility
of the churches' witness in the world.
Ecclesial unity is a sign destined for all people,
a sign testifying that God has reconciled them in Jesus Christ,
a living invitation to believe in him as their Savior. The churches'
search for the restoration of unity among all those who are baptised
and believe in Christ as Lord and Savior will be genuine only if
they live in the constant expectation that this sign will become
manifest through them to the world. They will, therefore, not only
engage in dialogue about unity, but will bear witness to Christ
wherever the partial communion in faith and life, as it exists among
them, makes it possible (vid. Ad Gentes, 15; Common Witness and
Proselytism, 9-13, 17, 19). As they seize these possibilities of
common witness, their search for union will in turn advance. In
the perspectives of common witness, their search for union will
in turn advance. In the perspectives of witness many of the problems
which divide them w ill appear in a new style.
For some churches, the scandal of division came to
be felt first as they faced the missionary task and they were led
into the search for unity by this experience. It is significant
that it was the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh (1910)
which gave the impulse for the movement on issues of Faith and Order!
For other churches the starting point was the consideration of the
essential oneness of the body of Christ. They asked how could the
one Church founded by Jesus Christ in history ever be divided. Thus
their first interest was in the restoration of unity between Christians,
and common witness in the world was not their primary motive for
ecumenical involvement. The two approaches had to learn that mission
without unity lacks - the perspective of the body of Christ and
that unity without mission is not a living reality. In recent years
the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches have
come to see more clearly the implications of the intimate relationship
between unity and common witness.
The Call to Renewal
Christians in their relation to Christ need to be constantly
renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit. So also do the churches.
This is particularly true in today's world where change seems to
have become a permanent factor. New problems and new tasks arise
and if the churches are to respond to them in obedience they need
to be prepared for renewal.
There is a growing awareness that the churches need
to engage themselves in the struggle for justice, freedom and community.
Sin is manifesting itself not only in personal failure but in injustice,
oppression and dehumanization. Salvation is spiritual liberation
and new life for each individual person, enabling him to offer himself
as a living sacrifice through prayer, praise and new obedience.
But salvation is also a liberating force pointing to a more human
society. Christian faith calls for the commitment to struggle for
that society and by this very commitment to proclaim Christ and
the good news of salvation.
The Spirit speaks to the churches in the actual event
of history, calling into question the outlook they have come to
be accustomed to. In all churches, historical, political and cultural
factors, sometimes of many centuries standing, obscure the true
meaning of the Gospel. The Spirit urges Christians to discern and
interpret together the signs of the times. He is the power of renewal.
The changes in today's world are so great that they
fill many Christians with a feeling of uncertainty. There is a wide-spread
crisis of faith. Can the inherited faith be maintained in the transformations
the present generation is experiencing? Many respond with timidity
to this challenge; many regard the maintenance of the status quo
as the only expression of tradition and identity. But should it
not be seen as a challenge of the Holy Spirit to fresh obedience
of mind and soul? Is it not our task to go forward together? Are
Christians not called to interpret together the signs of the times
and to discern the will of Christ for the present generation? Unity
is required to face the challenge; and as the churches respond they
will in turn be led into fuller unity.
Already very similar concerns occupy the churches.
To give only a few examples, the theme of the World Missionary Conference
in Bangkok, "Salvation Today," is very close to that of
the Roman Catholic Synod of Bishops in 1974, "Evangelization
in the Contemporary World." The biblical concepts and realities
of "liberation" and "communion" which are at
the heart of the Fifth Assembly of the World Council of Churches
with its theme, "Jesus Christ Frees and Unites," are analogous
to the theme of "Renewal and Reconciliation" which is
central for the Holy Year, 1975. Does this not indicate that the
Churches are offered the "kairos," the propitious time,
to commit themselves together to the task of renewal?