Is ecumenism evil?

Hey everyone. I was posting on Youtube the other day when a Catholic came along and told me that ecumenism is evil. I don’t believe it is or the Church would not engage in ecumenism. So how does one defend ecumenism?

The comment was probably made by someone of an extreme Traditional bent who has misunderstood ecumenism as much as the liberals who misinterpreted and warped its meaning after the Second Vatican Council.

Ecumenism takes as it starting point that Christ founded just one Church, not many churches; hence the Roman Catholic Church has as its ultimate hope and objective - that through prayer, study, and dialogue, the historically separated bodies may come again to be reunited with it.

Before the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Catholic Church defined ecumenism as a relations with other Christian groups in order to persuade these to return to a unity that they themselves had broken. Pursuit of unity, thus understood, was always a principal aim of the Church.

At the Council of Lyons (1274) and the Council of Florence (1438–1442), in which some bishops of the Eastern Orthodox Churches participated, reunion formulas were worked out that, however, failed to win acceptance by the Eastern Churches.

The Roman Catholic Church even before the Second Vatican Council always considered it a duty of the highest rank to seek full unity with estranged communions of fellow-Christians, and at the same time to reject what it saw as promiscuous and false union that would mean being unfaithful to or glossing over the teaching of Sacred Scripture and Tradition. But the main stress was laid on this second aspect, as exemplified in canon 1258 the 1917 Code of Canon Law:

  1. It is illicit for the faithful to assist at or participate in any way in non-Catholic religious functions.

  2. For a serious reason requiring, in case of doubt, the Bishop’s approval, passive or merely material presence at non-Catholic funerals, weddings and similar occasions because of holding a civil office or as a courtesy can be tolerated, provided there is no danger of perversion or scandal.

At Vatican II, some confusion arose as a result of Lumen Gentium 8 which maintained that the Roman Catholic Church sees itself as the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church founded by Christ himself, but stated that it recognises that elements of salvation are found in other christian movements (or ecclesiastical bodies) also and these elements “impel” or lead these other Christians to greater unity with Rome.

Unfortunately, in practice unorthodox interpretations were read into the conciliary documents by laity, priests and bishops. This practice was criticised in the recent document Dominus Iesus.

I’ve written a rather well received and comprehensive essay on just this subject, which you might find useful. You can read it here.


We can communicate, associate and debate with our non-Catholic brethren without compromising the Catholic faith. We walk and eat at the same time. :stuck_out_tongue:

That person could have been speaking out of fear or insecurity.

I know some Traditionalists in our parish are dead set against attending any ecumenical worship services. One guy went even as far as to call it syncretism. The person you describe is probably part of the same crowd.

Truthfully, I would not be comfortable attending a non-Catholic worship service. I wouldn’t call myself Traditionalist though nor accuse it of being evil or syncretic.

The ecumenical guest Speaker nights and Q&A sessions are very popular and more up my alley. Really enjoy these meetings.

I was not a fan of ecumenicism but the past year attending more shared events with Prots. has changed my mind. I think it is very educational and breaks down barriers without either party compromising their faith practices.

When you look at our shared history there was and still is to some extent suspicion, mistrust, ignorance, accusations, counter accusations and outright lies from lay people from both sides and some clergy/pastors as well.

We are called to show love, compassion and the face of Christ to all.

How can that be evil?


Ecumenism is not evil. I see it as an effort to bind and heal wounds between different faiths. Remember Jesus said (not a perfect quote here) --“He who is with us is not against us.”

We may not agree in all matters of faith, but if all people are in search of God I have to believe He has the power to bring them closer. I think Ecumenism helps accomplish this if well understood and appreciated.

I was under the impression its the Good News, and the Kingdom isn’t coming till the Good News is spread to the four corners of the world. Calling it evil is basically saying Gods unchanging and absolute Word is evil. And since this doesn’t look like paradise, its safe to assume we shall be “practicing” Catholicism for the moment till. Don’t you love the way it grows on you? Its a blessing. :wink:

working with other Christians and even other faiths on common goals is never evil

Matthew 25, Judgment of Nations pretty much sums up the social teaching of the Church. Through this I think you see ecumenism and evangelization in perspective of the missionary Church. Its historic and in reality today, it speaks volumes.

Our Catholic Parish has a ministry to the poor. But only the Catholic poor. If we see a starving person, we will ask him his catechism (100 questions). If he can’t score at least 93%, we leave the heathen to starve. We have lots of food, but we don’t seem to give much away.

On the other hand, if we see someone who is nominally Catholic, we will spread a buffet before him, even though he is not really hungry and he might just pick at a thing or two. We still have lots of food, but we don’t seem to give much away.

Some lunatics in our Parish think that we ought to figure out a way to give the starving more access to the food that the nominal Catholics barely touch. What an evil idea!

You could fame your argument better if you knew why they thought ecumenism was “evil”.
Perhaps they are unclear on the definition to begin with?

Great essay!

Also I made a collection of passages in pre- and post-conciliar documents regarding salvation outside the church.

Incidentally, I’ll be vacationing–uh . . . on holiday–in England for 10 days this summer. Can’t wait!

The problem is, ecumenism, before the Catholic Church really joined in, was about compromise of doctrine and creating a union based on the lowest common denominator. This is why the Church for a while refused to participate at all.

It became moderated later and the Church began to participate in in a cautious, limited way. The Second Vatican Council encouraged more vigorous participation, but also laid down Catholic principles on the subject–the Chuch was to enter the ecumenical movement enthusiastically, but on its own terms, which did not include compromise in doctrine, indifferentism, and irenicism.

The misunderstanding of some comes because principles for ecumenism are different in other ecclesial communites and Catholics can be tempted to participate under those terms rather than the principles the Church has laid out. Ecumenism based on indifferentism and compromise in truth is evil, but Catholic ecumenism according to the principles provided by the Church is not evil.

It should be noted that ecumenism, properly so called, refers specifically towards efforts aimed at corporate unity, while reconciling individuals is a distinct, but equally important matter.

This really is nothing new. As has been pointed out, it was the approach commonly taken with the separated Greeks for centuries. Here’s how the old Catholic Encyclopedia describes our relationship with them after the breakdown of the union effected at Florence:

[quote=CE article on Greek Church]From 1453 until the French Revolution the relations between the popes and the Greek patriarchs were very different from what we find today. Cordial letters passed frequently between them; priests of either rite were recommended to one another’s care and the popes often intervened in the internal affairs of the Greek Church. Many Greek Patriarchs of Constantinople — among others, Cyril II — and the Greek Archbishops of Ochrida, Porphyrius about 1600, Athanasius in 1606, Abraham in 1629, Melecius in 1640, Athanasius about 1660, professed the Catholic Faith; at different times many Greek bishops did in like manner. It would be impossible to say how far their conversion was sincere. Possibly the need of monetary help or the wish to make a stand against Protestantism was the motive power. It must at least be acknowledged that their conduct and attitude towards Catholics gave evidence of genuine good will. Thus, to take some well-known examples, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Jesuits and Capuchins were allowed to preach and hear confessions in the Greek Churches, by the express permission of the patriarch and the bishops. That they made use of this privilege we learn from their correspondence. It is hard to explain the exact reason for the changed attitude of Catholic missionaries since the end of the eighteenth century. Perhaps the change came with the suppression of the Jesuits and the outburst of the French Revolution, which led to the substitution of a new body of missionaries in the East. Today, as a matter of fact, missionaries of all religious orders and every nationality observe rigidly the rules of Propaganda concerning communicatio in sacris. They practically ignore the higher Greek clergy — not the best way, perhaps, to break down prejudice and win esteem. It is no doubt true that as a rule the higher Greek clergy are noted for their anti-Catholic fanaticism and are never weary of railing against Roman missionaries and of insulting Catholics. Then, too, the Greek people do not distinguish between religion and nationality, a confusion mainly due to the teaching of their clergy; consequently, a Greek will refuse to become a Catholic lest he should cease to be a Greek. Yet great progress has been made during the past twenty or thirty years, thanks to the schools of the French congregations which have been opened in nearly every town in Turkey. In spite of the anathemas of the Greek clergy, boys and girls flock to these Catholic schools, and the consequence is a growing spirit of toleration and sympathy towards Catholics everywhere.

Pius IX and Leo XIII tried to reopen official relations with the Greeks, but unsuccessfully. The reply of the Patriarch Anthimus VI to the Encyclical of Pius IX (1848) was far from friendly; the invitation to assist at the Vatican Council the Patriarch Gregory VI refused even to accept. During his long pontificate Leo XIII was unceasing in his efforts to bring back the Greeks to unity, but they remained unmoved, and when, on 20 June, 1894, in the Encyclical “Præclara”, he invited the Greek Church in all charity to recognize the successor of Peter, the answering encyclical from the Patriarch Anthimus VII was remarkable for its rudeness. The present patriarch, Joachim III, opened a purely theoretical consultation with his subjects on the matter a few years ago, but his attempt was not well received.

Also, just to add to my post above showing this is not new, St. Thomas More advocated an “ecumenical” approach to reunion with the Protestants–working towards a common cause (in that case, repelling the invasion of the Turks) and putting aside harsh polemics:

[quote=St. Thomas More, Dialogue of Comfort, XII]And it is a right heavy thing to see such variousness in our belief rise and grow among ourselves, to the great encouragement of the common enemies of us all, whereby they have our faith in derision and catch hope to overwhelm us all. Yet do three things not a little comfort my mind. The first is that, in some communications had of late together, there hath appeared good likelihood of some good agreement to grow together in one accord of our faith. The second is that in the meanwhile, till this may come to pass, contentions, disputations, and uncharitable behaviour are prohibited and forbidden in effect upon all parties–all such parties, I mean, as fell before to fight for it. The third is that in Germany, for all their diverse opinions, yet as they agree together in profession of Christ’s name, so agree they now together in preparation of a common power, in defence of Christendom against our common enemy the Turk. And I trust in God that this shall not only help us here to strengthen us in this war, but also that, as God hath caused them to agree together in the defence of his name, so shall he graciously bring them to agree together in the truth of his faith. Therefore will I let God work, and leave off contention. And I shall now say nothing but that with which they who are themselves of the contrary mind shall in reason have no cause to be discontented.


Hope you enjoy yourself over here. Funnily enough my niece and family are also coming over in Summer but they now live in another part of PA.

PS We drive on the left hand side of the road. The rest of the world got it wrong (that’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it).

I don’t recall there really being any definition of ecumenism whatsoever from him.

It is not up to us to refute a claim which has no basis. The onus is on the person making the claim to provide evidence for that claim which we can then debate.

It seems like so many things can be used for either good or evil. I tend to see the difficulties in ecumenism when we seem to devalue the Catholic Church and call it one of the many denominations.

Recently, I had several discussions with someone attending a non- denominational seminary. Whenever she became uncomfortable, or was convicted somehow from the things I said, she would become defensive and say she felt threatened. Our discussion made her uncomfortable.

Several times she wanted me to give her reassurance that we, and our ©churches were the same, and equal, and on the same teams. I felt she wanted me to validate her church.

People seem to want to know that there’s no difference. I obviously believe there is; I came back to the Catholic Church from many years in Protestant leadership. I didn’t know what to say.

Best, Patrick

It can be difficult to be kind and gentle to another soul without compromising important matters of faith. Sometimes people (myself included) get carried away with being right and lose sight of the fact that we are communicating with another soul which may be going through a trial or is delicate. The only thing I can suggest is (if you haven’t already) is to ask her to trace the roots of her church back to Jesus and to join in the project. Not knowing which church or other churches she is referring to, it is difficult to look at or understand the journey from the birth of Jesus through to where she is today. There is nearly 2000 years of history to explore from Jesus and Peter, the early Church fathers, the early threats of heresy, onto the schisms and subsequent splintering that brings us today. I am not suggesting a confrontational journey or one that could undermine her faith, but simply one that gives her a brief history of Christianity.

As you mentioned that she says she feels threatened when she is not able to defend her beliefs, my limited experience is that she is unlikely to want to seriously study or defend her faith. She maybe one of those people who simply repeat what they are told without question. Sad to say there are too many Christians (including Catholics) who do not understand the need to question (even challenge) teachers, preachers, pastors and priests, learn and be prepared to defend their faith. All you can do is explain the key differences and refute the untruths e.g. worshiping idols etc or invite them to Mass (then talk about it and the differences in their services).

It isn’t easy but then again Jesus said it would be difficult. I pray that you will keep patiently and lovingly standing firm for Jesus and His Church.

ecumenism can be good or bad. Having said that, it can have similarities between evangelization vs proselytize

For example the wrong way to do things

“proselytization” refers to using inappropriate tactics to get someone to convert, rather than allowing them to make a free choice for Christ. The inappropriate tactics can take a number of forms, including deception, coercion, emotional manipulation, threats, and even bribery. An explanation of this usage is found in the 2007 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith titled Instruction on Some Aspects of Evangelization.”

Greater context Pope Francis on “Proselytism”

the opposite is also true. If ecumenism is squishy and nonsensical depending on who is participating, that’s not good either.

Ecumenism is good. The only time I am opposed to it is when the Catholic Church is required to surrender a belief from the fulness of truth, then it would be evil. If I had to belittle Mary for instance and call her of no real consequence for the sake of ecumenism, then that would not be ecumenism.

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