Pope Francis Explains What Christian Unity is Not
2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation led by German Martin Luther. The Lutheran and Roman Catholic Churches are sharing in a number of important commemorative events in various parts of Europe. This has given rise to rejoicing amongst ecumenically minded Christians, but also to concern from some in both churches who fear the loss of the integrity that their own denominations have struggled to maintain over the centuries.
Pope Francis, addressing the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, gave the following explanation of what Ecumenism and Christian Unity is and is not. He said:
— Unity is not the fruit of our human efforts or the product constructed by ecclesiastical diplomacy, but is instead "a gift that comes from on high." From this point of view, Francis said, unity is a journey rather than a destination.
— Unity is not uniformity. "The different theological, liturgical, spiritual and canonical traditions which have developed in the Christian world, when they are genuinely rooted in the apostolic tradition, are a wealth for and not a threat to the unity of the Church. Seeking to suppress this diversity is to counter the Holy Spirit, Who acts by enriching the community of believers with a variety of gifts."
— Unity is not absorption. "Christian unity does not lead to a 'reverse ecumenism / for which one would have to deny their own history of faith; neither does it tolerate proselytism, which is instead poisonous to the path of ecumenism. Before seeing what separates us, it is necessary to perceive also in an existential way the wealth of what we have in common, such as the Sacred Scripture and the great professions of faith of the first ecumenical Councils. In this way, we Christians are able to acknowledge we are brothers and sisters who believe in the one Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, committed together to finding the way of obeying today the Word of God, Who wants us to be united".
Pope Francis concluded by reiterating that Ecumenism is true when it is able to move attention away from itself, from its own arguments and formulations, to the Word of God that demands to be heard, welcomed and witnessed in the world. Therefore, the various Christian communities are called not to compete with one another, but to collaborate.
"My recent visit to Lund," he said, "reminded me of the relevance of the ecumenical principle formulated there by the Ecumenical Council of Churches in 1952, which recommends that Christians 'should act together in all matters except those in which deep differences of conviction compel them to act separately.'"
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