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Cardinal Walter Kasper: The Future of Ecumenism

24 września 2005 | 21:22 | Ⓒ Ⓟ

A decision taken exactly 40 years ago concerning the ecumenical movement was one of the most significant decisions taken by the II Vatican Council. Pope John Paul II many a time called this decision an irreversible one. Both for him and for Benedict XVI, ecumenism has been one of the pastoral priorities of their entire pontificates.

Over the past 40 years the ecumenical movement has undergone diverse times. There was a time of enthusiastic affectation when many thought that it was within reach. This was followed by intermittent periods of disillusionment and widespread sense of crisis.
Neither perception reflected the reality. It is true that we still have not achieved our goal of a full communion of Churches, but progress in this area is incontestable. This progress can be observed not only at the level of Church authorities, but also – at least in Western Europe –at the level of local Churches. Christians of different Churches no longer feel like opponents and competitors but like brothers and sisters. At the threshold of the 21st century this is a situation utterly inconceivable in the early 20th century.
That is why a question arises now: how can and should this progress further? I would like to respond to this question in brief raising five issues, namely:
1. The ecumenism of the future must be serious, and where it is no longer present, it has to be revived. This means that it must be aware of its principles. These principles are not a nebulous sense of solidarity, wishy-washy humanism, or some “skeleton-key religion”, which dissolves everything in dissipating relativism and indifference. The principle in question is a common biblical witness, as it is interpreted by a common profession of faith and commonly recognised decisions of the first councils as well as one baptism; it is on their basis that we assign to ourselves the honorary title of “Christians”.
Being serious means likewise that we do not pass over the differences that, regrettably, exist between us; we neither ignore nor conceal them. Ecumenism is predicated on truth and sincerity, whereas deceit leads us nowhere. I can engage in a dialogue only with someone who himself has a stand, acknowledges it and treats it seriously; only such a partner can respect the position of others and treat it equally seriously. That is why one of the root causes of the crisis of ecumenism is the fact that many Christians no longer know what it means to be a Catholic, an Orthodox or an Evangelist. Dialogue cannot possibly be held at night, when “all cats are black”. In such a situation I can only stress the need for a profiled ecumenism.
2. The seriousness as to the principles should be accompanied by clarity in the determination of goals. What is it that we want? The current crisis consists in truth in our not being able to reach consensus as to the determination of these goals. Not always do we understand the unity that we crave for in the same way. We agree that unity does not mean uniformisation. We all talk about unity in diversity and diversity in unity. However, does this formula really mean the same for all of us?
The Catholic Church believes that the true unity in diversity means unity in one faith, in the same sacraments and in one office of the bishop based on apostolic succession; here we are in principle in agreement with the stand of the Orthodox Church. Diversity, in turn, is possible in the forms of expression of one faith, in sacramental rites and in canon law, let alone in the dress and titles of hierarchs; differences may be also noted in the regulations concerning celibacy.
In contrast to the above, the Evangelical side has in recent decades put forth another idea, which can be defined as diversity without actual unity. According to this position, unity rests on some fundamental consensus related to the Gospel and the practice of baptism in accordance with it as well as the community of the Lord’s table; as far as other issues are concerned, not only different forms of expression but also different positions, predominantly related to the understanding and performance of offices, are possible. And so, for instance, since the 1970s the Churches of the Lutheran and Reformed traditions, despite substantial differences in teaching, have been able to jointly receive the community of the Lord’s table and the pulpit, and thus the community of Churches, frequently urging on the Catholic Church to do the same.
If we define such a juxtaposition of divergent, if not contradictory forms of Churches as an ecumenism of profiles, this is far too little for us since it gives the impression of something which does not exist in reality. Therefore the most important subject we need to clarify in the foreseeable future is the goal of the ecumenical process. We need to consider also what we mean by speaking about one Church. This brings us also to the question of the office of the Successor of Peter. We want to raise this subject in the autumn when we resume dialogue with the Orthodox Church. Both sides have in recent years come up in this respect with solutions which stand a chance of being implemented.
3. Once the starting point and the goals to be reached are made clear, one should also map out the way that leads from the former to the latter. I will only say, then, that official and unofficial theological dialogues are an element of ecumenism. The Catholic Church is currently engaged in 18 such dialogues at the international level and is significantly more advanced in this respect than other Churches. Moreover, the ecumenical way consists also of contacts between ecclesiastical authorities and – if someone wants – a little bit of the psychology of diplomacy. The ecumenism of life has at least the same degree of importance; it takes place in the family, workplaces, in leisure – in all those areas where Christians of different denominations meet and treat one another with respect and openness in joy and love.
Spiritual ecumenism is the heart and soul of ecumenism. It seems to me that it is the predominant form of ecumenism geared towards the future, since the unity of Churches can neither be “made” nor arranged. This unity is a gift of the Spirit, which wee can only ask for. Not without a reasons a text from the New Testament that has a fundamental bearing on ecumenism is neither a command nor a commandment; it is Jesus’ prayer “that they all be one” (Jn 17:21). The ecumenical movement wishes to make this prayer of Jesus its own and wants to joint it.
Naturally, prayer needs to be fruitful. For the spirit of the prayer to be fruitful there is a need for a capacity for conversion. John Paul II constantly repeated: “There is no ecumenism without conversion”. This counterbalances confessional rigidity and lack of self-criticism, but consists in clearing historical memory. Throughout history we have done much injustice to one another, and not always it is the other party who are to blame, since more often than not the blame rests with both sides to an equal extent. This clearing up of the past also contains the manner we speak about one another, the elimination of all expressions of discrimination and accusation. It is simply a scandal when the Churches and the people of the Church argue with one another publicly; it would be a great step forward if we might be spared that in the future.
What is necessary, then, is not only the conversion of others, but a conversion of oneself. We do not mean here a conversion into others, namely a conversion of Catholics into Protestants or the Orthodox into Catholics, since none of the major Churches want proselytism. What we do mean is the conversion of all to Jesus Christ and to Christian love.
Finally, the best method of ecumenism is the way of life in accordance with the Gospel and the beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount. Here the most fruitful and hopeful form of ecumenism which is being developed today is the coming together of spiritual movements, monasteries and brotherhoods which, thank God, are present in all Churches now. And so in May 2004 Stuttgart was a meeting place for around 10,000 young people from diverse Churches, which thanks to satellite broadcasts were joined by one hundred thousand more young men and women. Another such meeting is going to take place in 2007. And apart from these meetings there are many others, of a local character. Here we need to mention the phenomenon of Taizé, Bari, or other places which have become significant for the ecumenical movement.
There appears something whose dynamics cannot be underestimated, even if we cannot see as yet the direction it takes. I am confident that the Spirit of God will prepare something for the future of the Church on the way of this and other forms of spiritual ecumenism.
4. Speaking about the principle, goal and way we cannot only speak about the great universal endeavours: the Church is concerned with each and every person and his or her situation. Within the Christian perspective, a single person is by no means any random “case” of the human species. That is why there are not only general laws that must be observed in a casuistic way, but there is also justice with respect to individual cases. The Orthodox speak about the oeikonomia, the Latin tradition about the epikia, which have recently been referred to as pastoral solutions. Tradition describes the epikia as iustitia dulcore misericordiae temperata, as justice that is “alleviated by the sweetness of mercy”. In reality, justice without mercy may be cruel. Summum ius may become summa iniuria.
Therefore as to the issue of letting non-Catholics receive the Holy Communion (as in the case of the sacrament of penance and the anointment of the sick), the Catholic Church adapts her solutions to particular individual cases. If someone takes the effort to study these regulation in more detail, they will see that progress and openness have taken place since the Catechism of the Catholic Church of 1984 and the Compendium of the Catechism of 2005. I would very much like bishops to make proper use of it in the future. For I am convinced that in this way we may be able to solve really pressing pastoral needs in a responsible and, first and foremost, a merciful way. As far as I am concerned, mercy occupies a leading position on a list of conditions that should shape the future of the Church.
5. Already today ecumenism is not an internal matter of the Church, and it will be even less so in the future. It has a political, and primarily a European dimension. We often rightly say that Europe is not a geographic and ethnic unity but first of all a cultural unity influenced by Christianity. Christianity is an element of European identity. It must be added at this point that not only the unity of Europe but also the division of Europe has got Christian roots as it is triggered by the division of Christianity.
The division between Western and Eastern Europe which we want to overcome today is conditioned in large measure by the division between Latin Christianity and the Orthodox, Byzantine and Slav Christianity. Similarly, the division between the Protestant Churches and the Orthodox Church has left its indelible imprint in the cultures and nations of Protestant and Catholic countries of Europe, including the dislikes and tensions that have appeared between them and which – regrettably – continue to exist today. Relations between Poles and Russians are an example in question. Yet another situation can be observed in Ireland, whereas friendly relations between Bavarian and Prussians are still out of the question.
The conclusion that can be drawn from this is the following: the integration of Europe, especially of Western and Eastern Europe, is much more than an economic problem; it is likewise an ecumenical problem. This integration will never succeed if we do not accept into our boat the Orthodox Church. The idea of Europe can succeed and be well received by people only when it will have a soul (J. Delors). And what else but Christianity can be this soul that constitutes the identity of Europe. A great responsibility, then, rests with the Churches, who need to cooperate in the interest of Europe and its integration with a view to once again show the Christian roots of this continent and first and foremost do everything in their power to make these roots grow and blossom again.
In Germany there has for a long time been a close cooperation of the Churches in political and social issues, in issues concerning bioethics and the hierarchy of values without which a society cannot exist in the long run. We need to acknowledge also the cooperation between CCEE, ComECE and KEK, as well as the commencement of cooperation with the Churches of the Eastern tradition present in Europe. Recently we have received also further proposals of cooperation from the Russian Orthodox Church, which we want to verify and take on. The future of ecumenism for sure will consist in the cooperation between the Churches in Europe and their public responsibility for Europe, as well as in the cooperation for peace and justice in the world. This does not means that we want to transform Europe into a Christian club. The Christian identity is an open one, based on dialogue and cooperation. It has already happened in the past. As early as the Middle Ages people of great spirit established contacts with Islam. I refer here to Friedrich II, Francis of Assisi, Nicolas von Kues, Raimundus Lullus and others. Today the freedom of religion and of confession is the fundamental human right recognised by the Church. Therefore, respect for the freedom of another person, his beliefs and culture is an element of Christian identity. Christians can claim their own freedom of confession only when they claim it for all others. That is why they welcome to Europe each who is ready to defend a freedom based on the Christian perception of a person, just like they themselves are ready to defend this freedom everywhere it is at stake.
The Christian perception of a person, then, creates a space for being another. In this spirit the ecumenical dialogue will no doubt be ever more open to dialogue with other religions and with all people of good will. The European home can be an open home that offers room for everyone provided it does not succumb to the multiple cultures that are overpowering it but will firmly stand on its Christian foundations. In this spirit, I can say that Europe must be a home ecumenically open in the fundamental meaning of the term, namely it must be open to the world.

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