Benedict XVI: Ecumenism=Conversion to Catholicism

The pope has defended his widely ignored initiative to bring disaffected Anglicans into the Catholic Church in a way that provides insight into his definition of ecumenism.

The Associated Press:

The Vatican's invitation ''is not in any way contrary to the ecumenical movement but shows, instead, its ultimate aim which consists of reaching full and visible communion of the Lord's disciples,'' Benedict told the members of the congregation, which he headed for a quarter century before becoming pope.

Here, according to Google translator is what the pope said: "I would also like to congratulate the commitment to full integration of faith groups and individuals already belonging Anglicanism in the life of the Catholic Church, as established in the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus. Faithful adherence to the truth of these groups received from Christ and proposed by the Magisterium of the Church is not in any way contrary to the ecumenical movement, but it shows, however, his ultimate goal is to achieve full and visible communion of the disciples of the Lord."

Comments (6)

The pope and the Roman Church are often more about themselves than about Jesus. Fortunately for us, God is bigger than that.

This should come as no surprise, as it represents the teaching of the Roman Catholic church for ages. The Church subsists as the body of the faithful in union with the Chair of Peter. All ecumenical dialogue, however cordial, is geared towards universal recognition of that belief. Union, not Federation, is the goal.

Since the promulgation of Lumen Gentium, there has been a chink in the armor on this question (LG 1.8):

"Haec Ecclesia, in hoc mundo ut societas constituta et ordinata, subsistit in Ecclesia catholica, a successore Petri et Episcopis in eius communione gubernata"

Benedict has been among those sought to remove the clear implication that most decent Roman Catholic theologians have seen in this language: The Church "subsists in" the Catholic Church governed by the successor of Peter and the bishops in communion with him, without being wholly identified with it as in earlier (and some subsequent) teaching. The Catholic right has attempted again and again to subvert the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and they are definitely winning right now. One of the nice things about Roman Catholicism is that once the doctrine is on the record it does not officially change. One can only hope that some future pope, at a future Vatican Council, in communion with the bishops and the faithful throughout the world, will reverse this frightful and arrogant retrenchment so evident in the magisterium, especially under the last two popes.

Bill, I wish I could be as optimistic as you are, though I agree that a later pontiff could understand "subsists" in a broader sense. But such a broader sense still seems to elude us. We are still left with a statement of belief which, even if it expresses a mild agnosticism about whether those outside the circle of Petrine communion are members of the Body of Christ, still in the very next line to the one you quoted speaks of signs of sanctification existing outside the "subsisting" Church whose sole purpose is to impel towards visible unity with the Church in which the unity of the Body of Christ is undoubted. So in a very real sense Benedict is presenting a "fair reading" of Lumen Gentium, and one more consistent with earlier teaching on the state of things outside Petrine hegemony. Given the appointments of JP II and B XVI, I think this will be the reading for some time to come. One can still hope...

I understand your worry, Tobias, and share it. Lumen Gentium is an imperfect document. I just wanted to point out that the chink the armor was deliberately created, and that most good Roman Catholic theologians read "subsistit in" rather differently than the way in which the last two popes have chosen to take it.

Amen, Bill. This use of language ambiguity will allow a subsequent pontiff (if so moved) to say, "Thus we have always taught." There are similar loopholes in some of the documents on the ordination of women, interestingly enough! Another John XXIII could essentially reform the church while rightly claiming continuity -- or it could go completely the other way. (One reason I prefer Christ the Rock rather than Peter...)

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