Ecumenism: Does the Church expect all to return to Her?

The German Bishop of Magdeburg, Gerhard Feige, who is the Bishops’ Conference’s Commission’s for Ecumenism president (what a sentence, I don’t know if I put the apostrophes correctly!) has made some comments on the 2017 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. In his pastoral letter for Lent, the Bishop writes:

Klar ist, dass die katholische Kirche nicht mehr erwartet, dass alle anderen zu ihr zurückzukehren hätten. Sie strebt aber eine sichtbare Einheit an und ist der Auffassung, dass die noch trennenden Unterschiede – vor allem im Kirchen- und Amtsverständnis – zuvor behoben sein müssten.

It is clear that the Catholic Church no longer expects all others to return to Her. But She does desire visible unity, and She holds that the still dividing differences – especially in the areas of Ecclesiology and the meaning of office [Holy Orders] – need to be resolved.

Apart from the fact that I find this to be completely contradictory in itself, I wonder whether it is legitimate to say that “the Catholic Church no longer expects all others to return to Her”?

“Visible unity” and a return to the apostolic Church mean the same thing. There may be various ways that communion could be restored, as we see with the Anglicans.

Which is exactly why I think the Bishop’s words are contradictory.

Agreed. The bishop’s words make no sense.

Seems simple enough to me. He means that there may be a communion or counsel of Churches rather than the Catholic Church being the sole supreme.

Of course, this goes against Catholic teaching…But it seems far more realistic.

Sigh, why am I not surprised that a German bishop said this? I imagine another German, but a cardinal, may respond to this soon.

None the less, yes. The Catholic Church expects that would would return to full communion with her.

Müller? :wink: I doubt it, though I would like to see a response. It’s “only” a pastoral letter for Lent, which isn’t going to get through to Rome too quickly, I suppose.

I should have checked this before i sent it, lol.

"The Catholic Church expects at all would return to full communion with her.

Of course it does. From the Catholic Catechism:

818 "However, one cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these communities [that resulted from such separation] and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers . . . . All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church."272

819 "Furthermore, many elements of sanctification and of truth"273 are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: "the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements."274** Christ’s Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church. All these blessings come from Christ and lead to him,275 and are in themselves calls to "Catholic unity**."276

Toward unity

820 “Christ bestowed unity on his Church from the beginning. **This unity, we believe, subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose, and we hope that it will continue to increase until the end of time.”**277 Christ always gives his Church the gift of unity, but the Church must always pray and work to maintain, reinforce, and perfect the unity that Christ wills for her. This is why Jesus himself prayed at the hour of his Passion, and does not cease praying to his Father, for the unity of his disciples: "That they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us, . . . so that the world may know that you have sent me."278 The desire to recover the unity of all Christians is a gift of Christ and a call of the Holy Spirit.279

Or maybe I’m misunderstanding the Bishop’s intent.

Jon

Before we go out and start calling our bishops heretic, there is an obligation to interpret his statements through a charitable. After all, you may have misunderstood his words. I would assume that whatever he means, the first sentence does not mean to deny a moral obligation on the part of our Protestant friends to reconcile to the Catholic Church. My first guess, when he says, “we do not expect,” he does not mean contradict the Catechism, but rather is stating, “we do not consider it likely.” However, this seems to be ad odds with what follows so I will suspend my interpretation of that until later. The bishop says, “She holds that the still dividing differences – especially in the areas of Ecclesiology and the meaning of office [Holy Orders] – need to be resolved.” Well, if the dividing differences in ecclesiology were resolved, then that means, for one thing, that Lutherans would have to acknowledge the pope as, well, the pope rather than “the very Antichrist,” as it states in their current official confessions. Thus, I do not see how a resolution of dividing differences, once acknowledged and acted upon, could lead to anything but a true unity, since how could “visible unity” be anything less than a true unity? If the Catholics and Lutherans in Germany remain at all separated (either ecclesiologically or doctrinally), then of course there is no visible unity.

Another phrase that effects how these words must be interpreted is “return to [the Catholic Church].” It would be one thing, if he meant that he did not expect Protestants to reconcile themselves to the Church. However, given that the second sentence says that “dividing differences… need to be resolved,” I cannot see how that is a possible interpretation. So what does he mean that the Catholic Church does not “expect all others to return to Her.” Perhaps his intention is that the Catholic Church does not expect all Protestants to show up in sackcloth and ashes at their local Catholic parish and be reconciled in that way. Perhaps he is suggesting that Lutherans, for example, be allowed to retain as much as possible their existing structures and that reconciliation be by the way of union rather than assimilation (the Anglican ordinariate being an example). With this possible interpretation in mind, I would interpret the first sentence as saying, “the Catholic Church no longer expects all others to be simply assimilated into the existing structures of the Church as the only possibility of reconciliation. But she does desire visible communion, and she holds that the still dividing differences–especially in the areas of ecclesiology and the meaning of office [Holy Orders] – need to be resolved.”

Since I do not read German, I can only go off of those two sentences, and even if my reading is off-base, I am sure whatever he meant is far from what some of the other posters in this thread have suggested. CutlerB, you will have to be the one to read over that letter and decide for yourself what the bishop is saying. But there is a difference between something being, in your opinion, not well-expressed and something that is totally wrong.

Agreed.

The original German text does not mean that, unfortunately.

“… erwartet nicht, dass alle anderen… zurückzukehren hätten
is different from
“… erwartet nicht, dass alle anderen… zurückkehren werden

The bold part of the first sentence, which is what the Bishop wrote, expresses a demand, as if someone owed you something. If he had wanted to say “we don’t think all will return”, then he would have used the second sentence.

“She holds that the still dividing differences – especially in the areas of Ecclesiology and the meaning of office [Holy Orders] – need to be resolved.” Well, if the dividing differences in ecclesiology were resolved, then that means, for one thing, that Lutherans would have to acknowledge the pope as, well, the pope rather than “the very Antichrist,” as it states in their current official confessions. Thus, I do not see how a resolution of dividing differences, once acknowledged and acted upon, could lead to anything but a true unity, since how could “visible unity” be anything less than a true unity?

Which is exactly why I think the Bishop’s words are self-contradictory.

That is sort of what some are suggesting, and perhaps the Bishop means something like this, but one could not guess that from his words. He does touch on something similar later in the text, but if I were him, I would not have written the first sentence that way.

I will add some more of what the Bishop wrote, so we get more context.

The following words come straight after the wrote provided in the OP.

Die evangelische Seite hingegen propagiert inzwischen immer stärker, sich trotz noch bestehender Differenzen einfach wechselseitig anzuerkennen. Auf einmal scheint Einheit unter dem Verdacht von Uniformierung, Zentralismus und Entmündigung in Verruf gekommen und fast zu einem Schreckgespenst geworden zu sein. Stattdessen wird konfessionelle Verschiedenheit als Ideal gepriesen, sieht man in der Entfremdungs- und Spaltungsgeschichte der Christenheit kaum noch eine Tragik, betrachtet man sie eher sogar als erfreuliche Entwicklung zu einer größeren „Buntheit“.

The Evangelical [German mainline Protestants] side, on the other hand, has increasingly strongly propagated mutual recognition [anerkennen, which carries with it “acceptance”]. Suddenly, unity has come into disrepute, being suspect to mean uniformity, centralism and incapacitation, indeed, it is some sort of a bugaboo. Instead, confessional differences are praised as an ideal, and one sees the history of division within Christendom as much less of a tragedy than a happy development to greater “diversity” “Buntheit”, means a great spectrum of colours]

This paragraph makes clear the Bishop laments the current situation, but I still fail to see how the sentence I enquired about could be made to fit this. The German is very clear, and either the Bishop was confused when he wrote the letter, or his secretaries failed to point out the tension between the statements.

Right, and after looking at both sentences together, I also rejected the meaning of “expect” as “consider likely” and saw it probably did in fact mean the same thing as “zuruch…” “zurueckz…” uh… whatever you said. :smiley: That’s why I said it was my first guess but I later said that it seemed to be at odds with the rest of the excerpt. I was trying to show my thought process. I guess I should have made that clearer in my earlier post.

My position remains the same though. I don’t think it is fair to the bishop or a wise thing on your part to say that the bishop’s words are “contradictory.” You are building up a scandal where there shouldn’t be one. But he that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of scandals. For it must needs be that scandals come: but nevertheless woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh. If you had not posted, probably relatively few people and none of the people on this message board would have ever read the bishops letter. Instead, you have placed a two-sentence excerpt (out of its immediate context) into their hands along with the suggestion from the very beginning that it ought to be interpreted in the worst possible way. You have already seen that people have read your thread and gone away thinking bad thoughts about the bishop or even the entire German Church as you can see from one poster’s comment. Do you think it is productive to create a thread on this board that the bishop is speaking things that are “contradictory” and illegitimate? It is good to assume that someone is trying to express a coherent thought where possible rather than a contradictory one.

However you read your quote will depend on the phrases “return” and “visible unity.” It is highly improbable that “visible unity” means anything less than “visible communion.” As for the phrase “return,” you might think it is contradictory but it is quite possible that the bishop has a technical vocabulary that you are not totally familiar with. For instance, it is not unlikely that the bishop was referring to the idea of “ecumenism of return” (c.f. this example from Pope Benedict). If my suggestions are correct, then I think that sufficiently clears up his intentions, whether or not you would have wished he expressed it different, and the new excerpt you posted appears to further vindicate that. It appears that the bishop laments the current state of division and that these divisions are separated. The text you quoted at the top of the thread is likely (I still don’t know where it first into his letter) his solution to that problem, that reconciliation does not involved the total annihilation of legitimate diversity. We only must reject diversity where it creates falsehood and division. Obviously, he does not mean that Lutherans and Catholics can be reconciled as their doctrines currently stand, and he says as much, that dividing differences must be resolved. A little charity goes a long way.

Hehehe :smiley:

I am not creating a scandal. At least that is not my intention. You will note that the thread is entitled “Does the Church expect all to return to her?” and not “Bishop preaches heretical ecumenism”. I do not think the Bishop is doing any such thing, but if his words sound contradictory, I believe it is my right to say so.

Yes, but since this isn’t on the news forum and it is not about getting many people to read it, that doesn’t matter. I am asking about whether the Church “expects all to return to her”. The Bishop’s statement was only provided so people know what prompted the question, not to be critiqued.

No. I gave my understanding of what he wrote as part of the explanation why I wrote the post. I guess, I should have been more clear.

That’s not my problem. I have explained multiple times now what my intention was.

See above. The thread (question) was prompted by the Bishop’s statement. It is a question that can be answered without referencing the Bishop, but I wanted to add it so people knew what brought the question to mind. Again, if I understand people’s words to be contradictory in themselves, I reserve the right to say so. If they are contradictory, it should be known, and if they aren’t my reading can be refuted. Nothing to be afraid of here.

That may be the case, but seems unlikely, since it’s a letter addressed to his flock, who wouldn’t have that technical vocabulary either, especially in an eastern German diocese where Catholics are a tiny minority among Protestants and people of no faith.

He may, and indeed it makes sense. As I have stated many times now, I am not harbouring any bias against the Bishop, and therefore I have no problem with your suggestions. In fact, I am thankful. :slight_smile:

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