Developments and challenges in ecumenism today

Address by Kurt Cardinal Koch1 in Trondheim, Norway,  29. July 2011.

1. An Ecumenical Plane Journey

When we look back on the past half century of ecumenical activity, it can perhaps most adequately be visualised as a plane journey. After long and intensive preparation, such a flight begins with a racing take-off from the runway, and an equally steep climb into the sky. As soon as cruising height has been reached and the aircraft is flying through the air, one can easily gain the impression that it is no longer moving, or at least that one is moving forward only slowly. Nevertheless, each passenger should be borne up by the certain hope that the plane will safely reach its destination airport.

With regard to ecumenical engagement in the Catholic Church, the Second Vatican Council was the racing take-off from the runway, in which the church found a new attitude towards the Ecumenical Movement, which had achieved a decisive breakthrough in 1948 with the foundation of the World Council of Churches. This new departure by the Council aroused great hopes at the time, and – in the case of not a few people – nurtured the immediate expectation that the ecumenical unity of Christians was imminent. But after 50 years we are still up in the air as it were, or at least it may seem so. But the justified hope remains that the ecumenical aircraft too will land safely. This is particularly true when we think of the actual pilot, the Holy Spirit, who initiated this journey with our church and will surely guide it to its destination. Trusting confidently in this faith, Pope John Paul II declared unequivocally in his seminal encyclical on ecumenical engagement, “Ut unum sint”, that the ecumenical process represents a special obligation for our church and is therefore irreversible2. With the same basic attitude, Pope Benedict XVI has also from the very beginning of his pontificate defined the restoration of the visible unity of Christians as his foremost obligation.3

Just as any flight – assuming of course that the skies are cloudless –presents us with a wonderful panorama, the ecumenical activity of the past 50 years has broadened the horizon for all involved, and allowed them to perceive the great diversity of Christianity in the world today. Therefore the analogy of the Ecumenical Movement as a plane journey, with the enrichment gained over the intervening years, provides a vantage point not only looking back at the past 50 years, but also for plotting our present position by calling to mind its starting point and at the same time re-affirming its destination. For we can only look ahead to the future if we take the tradition seriously, while also being aware of the signs of the present time.

Recalling the take-off of the ecumenical plane journey leads us back first of all to the Decree on Ecumenism, “Unitatis redintegratio4, which was solemnly proclaimed by the Second Vatican Council on 21 November 1964. It represents a milestone in the ecumenical responsibility of the Catholic Church, and already in its first sentence formulates as one of the chief concerns of the whole Council “promoting the restoration of unity among all Christians”. In order to set its sights on this goal, the first chapter formulated in detail the Catholic principles of ecumenism, while the second chapter focussed on the practical implementation of ecumenism. Finally, in the third chapter the churches and ecclesial communities separated from the Roman See are described, and the paths to reconciliation and onward to unity are discussed.

2. Two different types of church schism

The Council had in mind from the outset two different kinds of church division.5 The first split is the great schism between the Western Church and the Eastern Church, including also the Oriental Orthodox Churches which separated from the mainstream church already in the 4th and 5th centuries. The great schism between East and West, or more precisely between Rome and the Eastern Patriarchates, is usually associated with the year 1054, which is of course to be understood more symbolically than historically.6 On the other hand there is the second great split within the Western Church, which has taken place since the 16th century and has been followed by further divisions. The churches and ecclesial communities deriving from the Reformation have in the meantime developed into a pluriversum which virtually eludes any comprehensive overview. This is reinforced by the fact that within this Reformation pluriversum on the world scale, one can discern only marginal endeavours towards greater unity between one another, and in fact within world Protestantism multiple and ever-increasing fragmentation is evident.

Even this superficial characterisation suffices to show that the divisions between East and West in the 11th century and within the Western Church in the 16th century involve two fundamentally different splits, so they need to be worked through in different ecumenical dialogues. Accordingly, the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity is divided into two sections, the Eastern and the Western.

a) The schism between West and East

As far as the Oriental Orthodox churches are concerned, which in part did not accept the Christological decisions of 451 in Chalcedon, it is easy to understand that ecumenical dialogue with these churches has in the first instance dealt with Christological questions. Ecumenical dialogue has however led to the finding that both church communions stand on the foundation of the Council of Nicea and thus confess both that God became man in Jesus and that the Son is of the same substance as the Father. There is therefore – despite different theological modes of expression – no fundamental difference in the belief in Jesus Christ.7 After Pope Paul VI and the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch Mor Ignatius Yaqoub III had established this in a joint declaration in 1971, Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Ignatius Zakk I. Iwas in 1984 signed a pastoral agreement in regard to the administration of the sacrament to the faithful of the other church in specific situations. This agreement must be considered historic, since for the first time in history it permits a limited communicatio in sacris despite continuing church division.8

These pleasing developments have become possible also because in both churches the ecclesial foundational structures which have developed since the second century have been maintained, that is the sacramental–eucharistic and the episcopal structural foundations of the church, and indeed in the sense that the unity of the eucharist and the episcopal office are considered constitutive of the being of the church. Since past ecumenical dialogues have affirmed and intensified this communion in the faith, the sacrament and the episcopal constitution, today ecclesiological questions, or more precisely the church as communion and the communion of the churches, stand in the forefront of ecumenical dialogues.

A similar situation is found in the case of the split between Rome and Constantinople, which ultimately led to the separation between East and West. In the Orthodox Churches too that fundamental ecclesiological structure exists which has since the second century been termed successio apostolica. Ecumenical dialogues with the Orthodox Churches were therefore able to concentrate initially on consolidating the common fundamentals of the faith.9 That applies above all to the first decade in the years 1980-1990, in which extensive convergence was ascertained between Orthodox and Roman Catholic theology regarding the subjects of the sacraments, the mystery of the church and the eucharist, the relationship between faith, sacrament and the unity of the church, and the sacrament of priestly orders. On the other hand, the theological dialogue of the second decade 1990-2000 focussed increasingly on the problem of Uniatism and the question of proselytism, which the Orthodox side perceived as the greatest danger for theological dialogue and which ultimately led to the end of the work of the Commission in the year 2000. In spite of a long period of theological progress, the theological dialogue was ship-wrecked by the problem of Uniatism, and the dialogue seemed to have arrived once more at ground zero, at least as far as overcoming this delicate issue is concerned.

It must rank among the major achievements of Pope Benedict XVI that soon after the beginning of his pontificate the International Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Church was able to resume work. It concentrated on that sore point in ecclesiology which has so far hindered the full church communion, that is, the question of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. With the foundational document of Ravenna in 2007 on the “ecclesial and canonical consequences of the sacramental nature of the church” a step forward was achieved in that both churches were able to declare that the church required a protos at the local, regional and universal level.10 This question is to be continued in future, with a theological discussion on the relationship of primacy and synodality in the church. The auspices for this dialogue are good if it aims for that goal which Pope Benedict XVI formulated already in the 1970s with the statement that “Rome should not demand more in the way of the doctrine of primacy than that which was formulated and lived in the first millennium”.11

b) The Western church schism

If one considers the ramifications of this theological dialogue with the Orthodox Churches, one arrives automatically at the conviction that it in no way hampers or hinders the theological dialogue with the churches and ecclesial communities which emerged from the Reformation, but on the contrary enables and facilitates it. This dialogue does of course encounter the additional difficulty that the 16th century church schism within the Western church gave rise to an utterly new type of church, which differs in essence from the fundamental ecclesial structure of the ancient church.12 As a consequence, ecumenical dialogue with these churches and ecclesial communities cannot simply revolve around individual doctrinal differences, but must grapple with a fundamentally different ecclesial structure and a different type of church. In these dialogues therefore the constantly controversial questions of the relationship between Holy Scripture and the living tradition of the church, of the understanding of the church and its ministries, and of the mission of Mary in Christ’s work of salvation continue to occupy the foreground.13

With the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” of 31 October 1999 in Augsburg it was indeed possible to achieve a broad degree of consensus on one of the central questions leading to Reformation in the 16th century. But the Declaration itself maintains that the ecclesiological consequences of this “differentiated consensus” have not yet in any sense been clarified. That means however that clarification of the understanding of the church must form part of the primary agenda of ecumenical dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the ecclesial communities of the Reformation, as the Protestant ecumenist Wolfhart Pannenberg has rightly stressed: “No-one who is to any degree well-informed can expect that thereby full church communion can immediately be attained and find expression in eucharistic fellowship. For that, further agreements are necessary, above all on the doctrine of the eucharist and the ecclesial ministry, but also on the other sacraments and other subjects such as the Marian dogmas of the Roman church and the position of the Bishop of Rome within Christendom as a whole.”14

3. Recent Developments in the Ecumenical Movement

This presentation of the two types of church division and the resulting backlog of ecumenical problems brings us to the heart of current ecumenical activity. This does not of course follow a linear path any more than life itself does: obviously disappointments and sometimes even retrograde tendencies are inevitable, as Cardinal Karl Lehmann states realistically: “In the life of the spirit and of faith there are not just broad kings’ highways but also winding paths, detours and dead-ends, side-tracks and wrong tracks”.15 That is of course no reason for resignation, but certainly a stimulus for asking the decisive question of how ecumenism can continue. This question can only be answered if we can muster the courage to also name the aching wounds in ecumenical rapprochement. In order to gain an overview at least it seems appropriate to take up once more the image of the ecumenical plane journey and to attempt an aerial view of the ecumenical landscape, which has changed radically in the past years and decades. Here it must suffice to point out the following six essential changes in the ecumenical situation.

a) Impenetrability and asimultaneity

In the first place one observes that over the past years the ecumenical landscape has become impossible to fully grasp, and is also characterised by an absence of simultaneity. Following the rather modest beginnings, the optimists in the ecumenical movement are thankful for what has been achieved. The pessimists on the other hand speak of the onset of an “ecumenical Ice Age”16 or diagnose the “end of ecumenism”17, or formulate “impatient ecumenical interjections”.18 The old masters of the ecumenical heyday at its beginnings complain of a lack of ecumenical interest among the younger generation of theologians. Those who have never participated in ecumenism consider it a hobby which only Protestantising Catholics and Catholicising Protestants and other denominational blends can allow themselves. In some churches and ecclesial communities the word “ecumenism” has negative overtones. On the other hand many of the faithful in the parishes associate ecumenism with feelings of disappointment because they are impatient for their so-called “thorny questions” in ecumenism to be tackled and solved.

In general it is possible to ascertain with pleasure, satisfaction and gratitude that for many Christians ecumenism is no longer a foreign word which causes anxiety. It is instead a lived reality. This ecumenism of life is of fundamental significance: it is of course not seldom misunderstood in the sense of being seen as in opposition to theological efforts towards a reappraisal of controversial denominational questions; or a discrepancy is even evoked between congregational ecumenism and that of the theology and the church leadership. The Bishop of Erfurt, Joachim Wanke, rightly perceives in this phenomenon a “self-blockade” of ecumenism through a division into an ecumenism “from below” and an ecumenism “from above”.19 Beyond that, it is not rare, among those who suspect ecumenical theological dialogue of being just a pedantic exercise in theological hair-splitting, for the pleasing results of theological dialogue in ecumenism are received only to an insufficient extent. The key-word “reception” therefore designates an important challenge requiring increased attention in the ecumenical formation of the faithful and in the training and professional development of pastors, as the Ecumenical Directory rightfully demands.20

b) A paradigm shift in ecumenical theology

At the theological level there are many and pleasing results of ecumenical dialogue to be recorded, not least because of the ecumenical methodology which has been applied until now, which is decidedly oriented towards consensus and has ultimately evolved into the search for “differentiated consensus”.21 On the one hand this method means that the convergence reached in dialogue on the basic substance of a doctrine previously contested between the churches is formulated, and what can be jointly stated is jointly articulated. At the same time, on the other hand, the remaining differences are named just as clearly, and in the process it is demonstrated that they do not call into question the basic consensus, and that they no longer need to be perceived as church-dividing differences but can be handed on for further theological study. Without this ecumenical methodology such fundamental documents as the following examples would not have been possible: the study „Lehrverurteilungen – kirchentrennend?“ produced by the Ökumenische Arbeitskreis evangelischer und katholischer Theologen 1986-1994, the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification“ in 1999 and the Report of the International Roman-Catholic-Old Catholic Dialogue Commission “Church and Church Communion” in 2009.

In the meantime the ecumenical method of differentiated consensus has been variously criticised, the end of so-called “Consensus Ecumenism” has been proclaimed and a paradigm shift postulated, according to which the previous “Consensus Ecumenism” should be replaced by a “Difference Ecumenism”.22 Closely associated with this method is the phrase “fundamental difference”, encountered already early in the work of the Protestant theologian Gerhard Ebeling, which is said to exist in Protestant-Catholic ecumenism and which cannot be overcome.23 But apart from the fact that the so-called “difference model” has so far been unable to produce any constructive results, it is impossible to see how the differentiated consensus model could be replaced, particularly if it is guided by a “hermeneutic of mutual trust”.24

c) New search for denominational identity

This paradigm shift in ecumenical methodology reveals an underlying change in the ecumenical landscape. Following the broad-ranging interdenominational rapprochement of the past decades, the renewed search for one’s own denominational identity has become virulent once more. This is no doubt most clearly expressed in the concept propagated by the Protestant Bishop Wolfgang Huber of an “ecumenism of profiles”, which according to its own logic tends to profile its own identity in contrast to other churches, and to brand itself for example as the “church of freedom”.25 Such denominational self-affirmation is initially quite understandable and acceptable, because encounter and dialogue each presuppose individual identity and signify “riches and challenge”26, particularly since the elixir of life of ecumenism consists in the reciprocal exchange of gifts.

But it becomes difficult and dangerous when the conviction that what already unites us is greater than that which still divides us – steadily nurtured over the past decades – is replaced by a process in which above all that which differentiates is emphasised. Then we run the risk that old prejudices and animosities, which were thought to be overcome, continue still today to burden the relationships of the Christian churches to one another. In this regard it would be a significant step forward if all churches and ecclesial communities were able to confess that they are all aware of their own ecumenical irritations and therefore refrained from one-way attribution of blame. Renewed consciousness of one’s own identity is not a phenomenon that applies just to specific churches: it can be observed today in almost all churches and ecclesial communities. Only when all confess this together will this consciousness no longer be an obstacle to ecumenism, but become a chance for reciprocal understanding and enrichment.

d) Disputed ecumenical goals

Closely connected to this is the fact that in the course of time the goal of the ecumenical movement has gradually become less clear. On the part of the churches and ecclesial communities of the Reformation above all, the originally envisaged goal of visible unity in the shared faith, in the sacraments and in ecclesial ministry has steadily been abandoned in favour of a postulate of mutual recognition of the various churches as churches, and thus as parts of the one church of Jesus Christ. That such a goal must be considered insufficient and in contradiction to the theological principles of Catholic and Orthodox ecumenism has been expressed in clear words by Pope Benedict XVI: “The search for the re-establishment of unity among divided Christians cannot therefore be reduced to recognition of the reciprocal differences and the achievement of a peaceful co-existence: what we yearn for is that unity for which Christ himself prayed and which by its nature is expressed in the communion of faith, of the sacraments, of the ministry. The journey towards this unity must be perceived as a moral imperative, the answer to a precise call of the Lord.”27

That no really workable agreement has been achieved as yet regarding the goal of the ecumenical movement, and that previous partial consensus in this regard has in part been called into question, has its essential basis in the fact that the quite diverse denominational conceptions of the church and its unity continue to stand unreconciled beside one another, as they did at the outset. It is therefore not possible to derive an ecumenically compatible model for unity from one’s own denominational understanding of the church and its unity without encountering problems. An additional difficulty consists in the fact that the awareness of this elementary problem has not been strongly developed until the present day. Since there can be no denominationally neutral ecclesiology, and also no denominationally neutral ecumenicity, this must mean that the ecumenical clarification of the understanding of the church and of unity must be the main program point in future ecumenical agendas.28

e) New ethical controversies

A further change in the ecumenical landscape cannot be left unmentioned. Over the past years and decades, massive tensions and divergences in ecumenism have emerged in the sphere of ethics. They have become particularly visible in the Anglican World Communion and have led it to the verge of a painful split, and have also led to whole groupings entering the Catholic Church together with their priests and bishops. Diverging responses for example to bio-ethical and socio-ethical challenges on the one hand, and on the other to the ethical problem of homosexuality – whether in the admission of practising homosexual to ecclesial office or in the practice of blessing homosexual partnerships – can of course also be found in other Christian churches and ecclesial communities, and are in part dealt with by them internally in a quite polarising manner. The fundamental problem underlying this phenomenon consists in the question whether and to what extent it is legitimate for Christian churches to adjust their own ethical standards to the spirit of the times, or whether they must reject it.

Here it seems paradoxical that while some success has been achieved in overcoming old denominational differences of faith, or at least in guiding them towards rapprochement, today it is above all great differences in ethical questions which come to the forefront. While in an earlier phase of the ecumenical movement the slogan was “Faith divides – action unites”, this has as it were been turned upside down today: ethics divides and faith unites. But if the Christian churches and ecclesial communities are unable to speak with one voice on the great ethical questions of the current time, that damages the credibility of Christian ecumenism as a whole in contemporary civil society. Since the questions underlying these problems involve the human image, one of the great tasks awaiting ecumenism is the development of a common ecumenical Christian anthropology.

f) New ecumenical partners

Finally, new ecumenical partners have contributed to an essential change in the ecumenical landscape. Ecumenical encounters today no longer take place only between the major historical churches primarily of the West. Since the great turning point in Europe in 1989, the Orthodox Churches above all have increasingly occupied the foreground of ecumenical consciousness. From the perspective of their understanding of the faith and their ecclesiological concept these churches are very close to us Catholics, but from the perspective of their historical and cultural background they appear more remote than the churches and ecclesial communities of the Reformation. Giving due consideration to the voice of Orthodoxy is however indispensable, also in order to achieve further progress in overcoming the problems of the division in the Western Church.29 In this spirit Pope John Paul II too repeatedly extended the invitation to an “expansion eastwards”, in the conviction that the unity of Europe will only be possible when the one church in East and West again breathes with both lungs. The political union of Europe can in any case only succeed when a rapprochement is reached between the Church in the East and the West.

The clearest shift in the ecumenical landscape is undoubtedly located in the steadily growing significance of the so-called free churches which have experienced in advance that future which ever more clearly awaits the historical churches, that is the end of Christendom as inherited from Constantine, and freedom and independence from the state.30 Of quite special significance in this regard is the rapid numerical increase of the Pentecostal communities, which represent the second largest ecclesial community worldwide after the Catholic Church. Even though they often represent expressly anti-ecumenical positions and adopt an anti-Catholic attitude, dialogue with them is urgent because it involves such an expanding phenomenon that one must speak of a current “Pentecostalisation of Christendom”.31 It represents a serious challenge for the Catholic Church above all, since Catholics are being wooed away into the Pentecostal communities on a massive scale predominantly in Latin American countries. The Catholic Church has to investigate self-critically the reason why so many Catholics transfer their allegiance to these movements, and must not yield to the temptation to adopt their sometimes problematic evangelisation methods.

4. Securing the ecumenical evidence

Those may be seen as the most important changes to have taken place in the ecumenical landscape in recent years, as revealed by an aerial view during this ecumenical plane journey. It has made clear above all that in the course of this long flight one has become so accustomed to the cruising altitude that the destination of the journey risks becoming a blur on the horizon. The more the take-off lapses into oblivion, and the more impenetrable the intervening developments become, the more indistinct the destination of the journey threatens to become. This occurs above all when that danger becomes imminent which the Protestant ecumenist Harding Meyer has called “the danger of ecumenical oblivion”, whereby “everything that has already been accomplished in dialogue becomes uncertain and slips from our grasp once more, and what has been achieved seeps away and evaporates as though it had never existed”32. By the same token, this situation can only mean that the ecumenical needs of the present moment are above all on the one hand to ascertain that which has already been achieved and what is still to be done, and on the other hand to reflect on the origins of the ecumenical movement, the moment of take-off on the journey as it were. That first task has been undertaken by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity with the project “Harvesting the Fruits”, in which the results of ecumenical dialogues with the Lutherans, Reformed, Anglicans and Methodists have been gathered together, in order to once more enter into conversation with these ecumenical partners from that perspective, and to establish through “in via” declarations what convergences have already been accomplished and cannot be retreated from.33 The second task however proves to be just as important, a renewed consolidation of the theological foundations of ecumenism, for which some guidelines are now to be formulated.

a) Baptismal ecumenism

The fundamental given for all ecumenical endeavours is without doubt baptism. It is the entrance door to the church and therefore also to ecumenism. Christian ecumenism is always “baptismal ecumenism”.34 This elementary insight forms the basic starting point of the Decree on Ecumenism by the Second Vatican Council. Already in the first chapter on the “Catholic principles of ecumenism”, baptism is seen as the foundation of the affiliation of all Christians with the church: “For all who believe in Christ and have been properly baptised are brought into a certain, though imperfect, communion with the catholic church”.35 From this statement important consequences are drawn in the third chapter on the “churches and ecclesial communities separated from the Holy Apostolic See”. In describing the separated churches and ecclesial communities in the West, even before naming their ecclesiological defects such as the lack of the sacrament of orders and the non-maintenance of the genuine and complete eucharistic mystery, baptism is singled out with special emphasis, as it – conferred as it was instituted and received in faith – incorporates the baptised into the crucified and glorified Lord and effects their rebirth into a sharing of the divine life. Then it is stressed that baptism forms the foundation of a “sacramental bond of unity linking all who have been re-born by means of it”. Only then, and without detracting from that, it is stated that baptism is only the beginning and the point of departure, since according its entire nature it strives toward ”the acquiring of the fullness of life in Christ” and is oriented towards a “complete profession of faith, a complete incorporation into the system of salvation such as Christ himself willed it to be, and finally a complete participation in Eucharistic communion.”36

From the fundamental significance of baptism for all ecumenical endeavours proceeds the reciprocal recognition of baptism as the fundament of ecumenism. However, since there are still today Orthodox churches which confer baptism anew in the case of conversion, and on the other hand there are Protestant churches in which baptism is no longer seen as the prerequisite for participation in the Lord’s Supper and in some instances not even for church membership, it is necessary to call to mind that ecumenism stands or falls on the basis of mutual recognition of baptism. But that does not permit the conclusion to be drawn that reciprocal recognition of baptism forms a sufficient foundation for Eucharistic communion.37 The Ecumenism Decree expressly emphasises that in the case of the separated ecclesial communities, the “full unity derived from baptism is lacking”.38 The common bond of baptism thus confers a fundamental but imperfect communion. Baptism is indeed the bond of unity and the foundation of communion, but it is directed towards the common confession of faith and the celebration of the eucharist. While baptism is the beginning and the point of departure of Christian life and ecclesial communion, the eucharist is its fullness and culmination.39 From that Cardinal Walter Kasper rightly drew the conclusion that following the basic ecumenical consensus achieved on the doctrine of baptism, “now the ecclesiological implications of the doctrine of baptism must be placed on the agenda of ecumenical dialogue”.40

Deriving from that, it is possible to pinpoint the location of ecumenism today as situated between the fundamental communion in baptism and its reciprocal recognition on the one hand, and the as yet impossible full communion in the eucharist on the other hand. This situation obligates all Christians and churches to take baptism very seriously and to mature in their ecumenical rapprochement on this foundation, so that the hour may approach when we can take our place together at the table of the Lord.

b) Overcoming the scandal of the divided body of Christ

If we call to mind this goal of ecumenism we become aware once more of the starting point of the ecumenical movement within the Catholic Church. That was located in the sensitive and sympathetic perception of the profoundly anomalous situation of divided Christendom. That Christians who believe in Jesus Christ as the Redeemer of the world and are baptised into his one body continue to live in churches separated from one another, is the great offence which Christendom still offers to the world today and which deserves to be called a scandal. This does not only consist in the fact that we cannot yet celebrate the eucharist together, but even more fundamentally in the fact that we as churches continue to be separated and as Christendom continue to be divided. To overcome this offence must remain the aim of ecumenical activity. Church divisions are in any case to be identified as the division of that which is essentially indivisible, namely the unity of the body of Christ.

This may be tangibly represented nowhere better than in the intact unity of the robe of Jesus. Holy Scripture expressly stresses that it was “seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom” (John 19, 23b). It has always made a deep impression on me that in the Passion narrative even the Roman soldiers did not dare to cut up this precious garment of the earthly Jesus: “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be” (John 19,24). Thus in Christian history the robe of Jesus was really able to serve as a symbol of the unity of the church as the body of Christ. The terrible tragedy of this story consists of course in the fact that Christians themselves have done what the Roman soldiers did not dare to do. Therefore, as the former President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity Edward Idris Cardinal Cassidy rightly stated, the robe of Christ today appears in “rags and tatters, in confessions and denominations which have often battled against one another throughout history instead of fulfilling their Lord’s mandate that they be one”.41

If the dividedness of the church of Jesus Christ is the real scandal contradicting the essence of the “una sancta”, then that fundamental ecumenical aporia also emerges, within which all theological attempts to explain and all practical partial realisations must ultimately remain unsatisfactory, since the profoundly abnormal situation of division cannot be overcome by any cogent theory or by any pastoral praxis which deviates from the ecclesial regulations. Satisfactory solutions both theoretical and practical are only possible when divisions can be overcome as contradictions to the essential nature of the church.

That raises the self-critical question for us Christians, whether we in fact do still feel the painful offence of the division of the one body of Christ, or whether we have not in fact long ago adapted to it or even come to terms with it. It is my deepest conviction that we will only arrive at new impulses in ecumenism when we have the courage and the humility to look this abiding offence in the face. What pains me most in the current ecumenical situation therefore is the fact that so many Christians today are no longer pained by this profoundly abnormal situation of Christendom to the degree that would be fitting. For there where the division of the one body of Christ is no longer perceived as an offence and no longer causes pain, there ecumenism ultimately becomes superfluous.

c) Spiritual heart of ecumenism

To apprehend this scandal with eyes wide open and to work to overcome it presupposes a profound ecumenical spirituality. We will only make progress in ecumenism when we seek to return to its spiritual roots.42 At the beginning of the ecumenical movement stood the idea of a prayer octave for Christian unity, proposed by Paul Wattson, an American Anglican who later joined the Catholic Church, and Spencer Jones, a member of the Episcopalian Church, accepted for the whole Catholic Church by Pope Benedict XV, and further developed by Abbe Paul Coutourier, a passionate pioneer of spiritual ecumenism. We cannot treat this as just a starting point which we have now left behind us, but as one which must always accompany us, because today too ecumenical activity requires a spiritual profundity which the second Vatican Council called the “soul of the whole ecumenical movement”.43

In recent years the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity put intensive effort into this aspect and published the fruits of these endeavours in the “Handbook of Spiritual Ecumenism”44. But one cannot claim that this good initiative has been able to take root sufficiently in the daily life of the churches. We will therefore have to consider how we can from our Council stimulate a new initiative to promote the spiritual rootstock of all ecumenical endeavours in the life of the churches. Today too, credible ecumenism stands or falls by the depth of its spiritual strength, and thus also by the mutual enrichment of the dialogue of love and the dialogue of truth.

Both dialogues demand that passionate engagement which proves itself in patience, which is in the beautiful phrase of Charles Peguy “the little sister of hope”. The hope of ecumenism is nurtured above all by the conviction of faith that the ecumenical movement is the great work of the Holy Spirit45, that he began this work and that it would be a sign of little faith if we did not trust him to also conduct this work to its end: when, where and how he wills. Working for ecumenism is therefore a spiritual duty, and spiritual ecumenism is the heart of ecumenism which protects it from being led into resignation but stands up to the challenge of continuing the ecumenical plane journey which we in our church began almost fifty years ago and which will certain reach its destination because we are convinced that the Holy Spirit will show us the way and give us more than we dare to hope or dream. But it is up to us to continue working together in the presence of the Spirit, which is our duty but in the first instance our gift.


Address in Trondheim 29 July 2011
Cf. W. Kardinal Kasper, Ökumene – menschlich, charismatisch, spirituell, in: W. Bartoszcwksi (Hrsg.), Die Kraft des Augenblicks. Begegnungen mit Papst Johannes Paul II. (Freiburg i. Br. 2004) 186-191.
Cf. W. G. Rusch (Ed.), The Pontificate of Benedict XVI. Its Premises and Promises (Cambridge 2009).
Cf. W. Thönissen (Hrsg.), „Unitatis redintegratio“. 40 Jahre Ökumenismusdekret – Erbe und Auftrag (Paderborn – Frankfurt a. M. 2005).
Cf. J. Kardinal Ratzinger, Die ökumenische Situation – Orthodoxie, Katholizismus und Reformation, in: Ders., Theologische Prinzipienlehre. Bausteine zur Fundamentaltheologie (München 1982) 203-214.
Cf. E. Ch. Suttner, Der geschichtliche Wandel des Bewusstseins von der Einheit der Kirche in Vielfalt und des Verständnisses von den Schismen zwischen Lateinern und Griechen, in: Ders., Kirche in einer zueinander rückenden Welt. Neue Aufsätze zu Theologie, Geschichte und Spiritualität des christlichen Ostens (Würzburg 2003) 37-57. Cf. in the same volume also 327-338: Kircheneinheit im 11. bis 13. Jahrhundert durch einen gemeinsamen Patriarchen und gemeinsame Bischöfe für Griechen und Lateiner.
Cf. E. Ch. Suttner, Vorchalcedonische und chalcedonische Christologie: die eine Wahrheit in unterschiedlicher Begrifflichkeit, in: Ders., Kirche in einer zueinander rückenden Welt (Würzburg 2003) 155-170.
J. Oeldemann (Hrsg.), Gemeinsamer Glaube und pastorale Zusammenarbeit. 25 Jahre Weggemeinschaft zwischen der Syrisch-Orthodoxen Kirche und der Römisch-katholischen Kirche (Freiburg / Schweiz 2011).
Cf. G. Martzelos, Der theologische Dialog zwischen der Orthodoxen und der Römisch-katholischen Kirche: Chronik – Bewertung – Aussichten, in: K. Nikolakopoulos (Hrsg.), Benedikt XVI. und die Orthodoxe Kirche. Bestandsaufnahmen, Erwartungen, Perspektiven (St. Ottilien 2008) 289-327.
This document is accessible in: K. Nikolakopoulos (Hrsg.), Benedikt XVI. und die Orthodoxe Kirche (St. Ottilien 2008) 370-389.
J. Cardinal Ratzinger, Die ökumenische Situation – Orthodoxie, Katholizismus und Reformation, in: Ders., Theologische Prinzipienlehre (München 1982) 203-214, cit. 209. In his interview with Peter Seewald Pope Benedict XVI even dared to claim that the Eastern Churches were „genuine particular Churches although they are not in communion with the Pope. In this sense unity with the Pope is not constitutive for the particular Church“. On the other hand however this lack of unity also signifies an “internal defect in the particular Church” and to that extent non-communion with the Pope is a “defect in the living cell of the particular Church“. And as a synthesis the Pope formulated it in this way: “ It remains a cell, it is legitimately called a Church, but the cell is lacking something, namely its connection with the organism as a whole“. Cf. Benedict XVI, The Light of the World. The Pope, the Church and the Sighns of the Times. A Conversation with Peter Seewald (San Francisco 2010) 89.
Cf. H. Schütte, Protestantismus heute. Ökumenische Orientierung (Paderborn 2004).
Cf. the document: Communio Sanctorum. Die Kirche als Gemeinschaft der Heiligen (Paderborn – Frankfurt a. M. 2000), published by the bilateral working group of the Deutschen Bischofskonferenz and the church leadership of the Vereinigten Evangelisch-Lutherischen Kirche Deutschlands.
W. Pannenberg. Die Gemeinsame Erklärung zur Rechtfertigungslehre aus evangelischer Sicht, in: B. J. Hilberath/ W. Pannenberg (Hrsg.), Zur Zukunft der Ökumene. Die „Gemeinsame Erklärung zur Rechtfertigungslehre“ (Regensburg 1999) 70-78, zit. 78.
Kardinal K. Lehmann, Wie viel Hoffnung bringt die Ökumene?, in: KNA-ÖKI 20-21 (2010) 3.
M. Kock, Wider die ökumenische Eiszeit. Die Vision von der Einheit der Kirche (Neukirchen 2006); H. Halter (Hrsg.), Neue ökumenische Eiszeit? (Zürich 1989).
H. Döring u.a., Ist die Ökumene am Ende? (Regensburg 1994); M. Weinrich, Ökumene am Ende? Plädoyer für einen neuen Realismus (Neukirchen 1995).
B. J. Hilberath, Jetzt ist die Zeit. Ungeduldige ökumenische Zwischenrufe (Mainz 2010).
J. Wanke, Erlahmt der ökumenische Impuls? Anmerkungen aus der ökumenischen Praxis, in: Catholica 53 (1999) 95-108, zit. 97.
Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism (Rome 1993), esp. Chapter III: Ecumenical Formation in the Catholic Church. Cf. also the Study Document of the same Council: The Ecumenical Dimension in the Formation of those engaged in Pastoral Activity (Rome 1998).
Cf. H. J. Urban, Art.: Methodologie, ökumenische, in: W. Thönissen (Hrsg.), Lexikon der Ökumene und Konfessionskunde (Freiburg i. Br. 2007) 871-873.
Cf. U. H. J. Körtner, Wohin steuert die Ökumene? Vom Konsens- zum Differenzmodell (Göttingen 2005).
Vgl. A. Birmelé und H. Meyer (Hrsg.), Grundkonsens – Grunddifferenz. Studie des Strassburger Instituts für Ökumenische Forschung. Ergebnisse und Dokumente (Frankfurt a. M. – Paderborn 1992).
Kirche und Kirchengemeinschaft. Bericht der Internationalen Römisch-Katholisch-Altkatholischen Dialogkommission (Paderborn – Frankfurt a. M. 2009).
W. Huber, Im Geist der Freiheit. Für eine Ökumene der Profile (Freiburg i. Br. 2007).
W. Kardinal Kasper, Konfessionelle Identität – Reichtum und Herausforderung. Unveröffentlichter Vortrag am Ökumenischen Kirchentag 2003 in Berlin.
Benedict XVI, Vesper homily at the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in the Basilica St. Paul Outside the Walls, 25 January 2011.
Cf. K. Koch, Dass alle eins seien. Ökumenische Perspektiven (Augsburg 2006), bes. zweites Kapitel 31-68: Systematische Verortung des ökumenischen Kernproblems.
W. Kardinal Kasper, L’orthodoxie et l’Eglise catholique. A 40 ans du Décret sur l’oecumenisme „Unitatis redintegratio“, in: documentation catholique 86 (2004) 315-323.
Cf. H. Mühlen, Kirche wächst von innen. Weg zu einer glaubensgeschichtlich neuen Gestalt der Kirche (Paderborn 1996).
B. Farrell, Der Päpstliche Rat zur Förderung der Einheit der Christen im Jahre 2003, in: Catholica 58 (2004) 81-104, zit. 97.
H. Meyer, Ökumenische Perspektiven aus evangelischer Sicht, in: J. Krüger und J.-M. Kruse (Hrsg.), Unus fons, unus spiritus, una fides. Ökumene in Rom. Erfahrungen, Begegnungen und Perspektiven der Evangelisch-Lutherischen Kirchgemeinde Rom (Karlsruhe 2010) 214-234, zit. 234.
Cardinal W. Kasper, Harvesting the Fruits. Basic Aspects of Christian Faith in Ecumenical Dialogue (London 2009).
E.-M. Faber, Baptismale Ökumene. Tauftheologische Orientierungen für den ökumenischen Weg, in: D. Sattler / G. Wenz (Hrsg.), Sakramente ökumenisch feiern. Vorüberlegungen für die Erfüllung einer Hoffnung (Mainz 2005) 101-123.
Unitatis redintegratio, Nr. 3.
Unitatis redintegratio, No. 22
This must be kept to mind in response to recent publications in this regard: Centre d’Études Oecuméniques (Strasbourg) / Institut für Ökumenische Forschung (Tübingen) / Konfessionskundliches Institut (Bensheim), Abendmahlsgemeinschaft ist möglich. Thesen zur Eucharistischen Gastfreundschaft (Frankfurt a. M. 2003), esp. 35-39: Thesis 4: “Baptism is the door to the community of the church, the body of Christ, that is newly constituted in the Lord’s Supper”. Cf. also J. Brosseder / H.-G. Link (Hrsg.), Eucharistische Gastfreundschaft. Ein Plädoyer evangelischer und katholischer Theologen (Neukirchen-Vluyn 2003) 15-21.
Unitatis redintegratio, Nr. 22.
Cf. K. Koch, Eucharistie und Kirche in ökumenischer Perspektive, in: Ders., Eucharistie. Herz des christlichen Glaubens (Freiburg / Schweiz 2005) 89-124.
W. Kardinal Kasper, Ekklesiologische und ökumenische Implikationen der Taufe, in: A. Raffelt (Hrsg.), Weg und Weite. Festschrift für Karl Lehmann (Freiburg i. Br. 2001) 581-599, zit. 599.
E. I. Cardinal Cassidy, Welche nächsten Schritte in der Ökumene sind überfällig, realisierbar und wünschenswert?, in: Una Sancta 51 (1996) 112-119, zit. 112.
Cf. K. Koch, Rediscovering the soul of the whole ecumenical movement (UR 8). Necessity and perspectives of an ecumenical spirituality, in: The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (Ed.), Information Service Nr. 115 (2004) 31-39.
Unitatis redintegratio, Nr. 8.
W. Cardinal Kasper, A Handbook of Spiritual Ecumenism (New City Press 2007).
Cf. W. Pannenberg, Die Ökumene als Wirken des Heiligen Geistes, in: St. Leimgruber (Hrsg.), Gottes Geist bei den Menschen. Grundfragen und spirituelle Anstösse (München 1999) 68-77.
av Mats Tande publisert 07.08.2011, sist endret 07.08.2011 - 16:12