Question on "Ecumenism"

Hello everyone,

I have been reading my Catechism and I came across this topic known as “Ecumenism”. After reading the text, I have become confused and wish to ask these questions to get some help.

My main question is with what is the point of Ecumenism. We know that the early Church which was much smaller than today could not remain as one. There were various heresies. As early as 500 AD, you have a split between Oriental Orthodox and the rest of the Church that was due to the natures of Christ. Then there was also the Arian heresy, Nestorianism and other likes.

So why do we think that today we will suddenly be able to bring everyone in to one fold? Is this even realistic? Is it not the case that there will always be those who split away from the True Church?

Even today, there are groups like Sedevecantist, Conclavist, SSPX and “Old Catholic Church” which has split from the Catholic Church. How can we therefore have such an expectation that we will all be one? Is it not more likely that there will be very few who remain in Catholic Orthodoxy to begin with?

Then there are also the risk elements. After looking around on the web, I have found that there have been many abuses in the name of ecumenism. Catholic doctrine is no longer said with force and often veiled in different language to make it easier for ecumenical work. It seems obvious that when the leaders of the Church try to use veiled language for ecumenical reasons, the average man or woman in the pew will be confused?

Protestant errors today are never mentioned as actual errors. Even Luther seems to be looked at with sympathy. As beneficial as it maybe for ecumenism, I don’t see how it lessens the gravity of the Protestant errors in anyway. I also do not see how the real threat of Protestantism with its watered down and modern nature being attractive to many lukewarm Catholics is helped by encouraging common prayer services and joint faith study events.

For these reasons it seems to me that the whole concept of ecumenism is bankrupt and if this had been a business decision, I would have thought the person who came up with the idea should be fired. But it seems that the Church is very keen on this concept. How do you resolve these problems?

We are taught to seek perfection, but only God is perfect and people will always fall short, so what’s the point of seeking perfection? Why can’t we just do the least we can?

Why should we make state laws against things like murder, rape, abortion, etc. when people are just going to do them anyway? Why can’t we just regulate it to make it the least invasive to the people who don’t want these things and let people do what they want?

IMO, these are a similar questions to what you are asking.

However unlikely it is to achieve, we should still seek unity, because that is what Christ wants of his Body. Christ wants unity, Christ wants us to seek perfection, because Christ is God and knows what is best. It is for our benefit.

That is my simplistic answer to your question.

But this is not regulative. If the Church wanted to stop people from leaving the Catholic faith, it is a good thing.

Ecumenism is different. It involves encouraging the the average Catholic in the pew (or everyone) to engage in risky behavior (dialogue with those who hold heresy) on topics of religion for a cause that seems to be unrealizable. How is that reasonable?

Still, I see some validity in what you say so you might be right. I feel that the answer maybe along what you said.

Thank you for taking the time to address my question!

The “point” is that we follow Christ’s commands. He commanded that we go to the ends of the earth to evangelize all people. He commanded unity under his chosen shepherd. So, of course, we must work towards the unity to which the Church is called: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Christ himself prayed “that they may all be one”.

I don’t think Ut Unum Sint uses veiled or diluted language.

Here it is not a question of altering the deposit of faith, changing the meaning of dogmas, eliminating essential words from them, accommodating truth to the preferences of a particular age, or suppressing certain articles of the Creed under the false pretext that they are no longer understood today. The unity willed by God can be attained only by the adherence of all to the content of revealed faith in its entirety. In matters of faith, compromise is in contradiction with God who is Truth. In the Body of Christ, “the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6), who could consider legitimate a reconciliation brought about at the expense of the truth? The Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae attributes to human dignity the quest for truth, “especially in what concerns God and his Church”, and adherence to truth’s demands. A “being together” which betrayed the truth would thus be opposed both to the nature of God who offers his communion and to the need for truth found in the depths of every human heart.

Your notion of ecumenism seems bankrupt. But, the Church’s actual documents on ecumenism, VII and others, are not. They are very insightful and rich documents.
[/quote]

It wouldn’t be so risky if the average Catholic held to what St. Peter said, “Be ready to defend the hope that is within you” (paraphrasing).

Why feed the poor, when ‘the poor you will have with you always’? Why treat the terminally ill? Why visit those in prison? Because they are made in God’s image and in Christ we love them. Because ‘whatever you do to the least of these, you do unto me.’

I think the words of Bl. Pius IX are pertinent here:

God forbid that the children of the Catholic Church should even in any way be unfriendly to those who are not at all united to us by the same bonds of faith and love. On the contrary, let them be eager always to attend to their needs with all the kind services of Christian charity, whether they are poor or sick or suffering any other kind of visitation. First of all, let them rescue them from the darkness of the errors into which they have unhappily fallen and strive to guide them back to Catholic truth and to their most loving Mother who is ever holding out her maternal arms to receive them lovingly back into her fold. Thus, firmly founded in faith, hope, and charity and fruitful in every good work, they will gain eternal salvation. (Quanto conficiamur moerore, no. 9)

Hello WhereIsTruth.

I seem to sense a certain sadness in your statement and since you and I are both new here, I’ll try to help but I’m perhaps not the best person for you to get your answer from.

As far as I know, genuine ecumenism is supposed to address the differences between those separated from the Church with a view to reaching out to them so they may know the truth and be reconciled to both it and the Church that holds and preserves it. God is the source of our unity. He is the Head of the Body, the Church. We are One. Those who don’t enjoy the unity we have are separated for many different reasons. This has always been so and will remain so till the end. Why? Because people reject the Truth. Do you?

Glenda B.

That sounds reasonable with respect to what you said about evangelizing. But Christ never made a command that “we may all be one”. He only hoped.

To try and make us all be one while potentially exposing to more schism and heresy is not fruitful?

But unity already exists within those who actually hold the true faith? As far as the unity between all Christians, if it wasn’t there at the beginning when it was a small Church run by the first Apostles, why think Christ is going to give it now?

I don’t know why you picked Ut Unum Sint. I am speaking of the deluging of language in practice throughout the Church.

For ecumenical reasons, Luther is rarely, if ever, called a heretic. People like Jan Huns who held to dangerous heresies are apologized for being executed but no reiteration of the fact that they actually held heresy. Protestants Brother Roger are told to remain where they are without any effort to bring them in to the Church.

If you don’t think that is deluging, then I don’t know what is. At the least, anyone can see that it is confusing and all of it in the name of ecumenism.

The only notion I have is the most obvious to me from the practice of the Church. Ecumenism is not a teaching. It is a practice and a policy. Only teaching behind ecumenism is probably that Jesus said “we all be one”. The rest is observations and doctrine on how non-Catholic Christians are connected to the Church somehow.

But that is not doctrine on ecumenism. I was referring to the policy of ecumenism here and the damage it does. I am also referring to how it does not make sense to make compromises of such degree considering that unity is never going to be realizable.

I can grasp if the goal is to speak with them to bring them in to the Church by missionaries and others while we do not become hostile toward them as Catholic faithful. But that doesn’t change the fact that they hold dangerous doctrine that can tempt many Catholics as it already has for so many.

But here we are speaking of non-Catholic Christians who claim that they are indeed the ones with the right defense. Most lay Catholics wouldn’t be able to withstand the assault of Protestant rhetoric for one example.

Has the Church ever mentioned amongst all of this or given the Catholics a reminder to brush up on how to defend against these heresies? No, instead there are ample amount of statements and actions that can be interpreted by any average Catholic to mean that Protestants were never in heresy and it was the Church that had to be open.

That is not really profitable to the faithful to my eyes.

I never said that Protestants should be fought against or dealt with uncharitably.

I was saying that to simply have every Catholic go in to discussions with Protestants or attend their prayer services and Scripture studies is a recipe for disaster. There isn’t a single warning in a single document on ecumenism that the participants in such things should be very knowledgeable and remember that there is no chance for them to switch positions to the non-Christian one. Instead, there is a blank call to dialogue.

This is not just with ecumenism but also with non-Christian relations. I have met Catholics who think that discussions with atheists are approached with the hope of seeing if they have any merit in their arguments and then making an informed decision themselves. Basically they are putting themselves intentionally in situations to see if they can find a reason to apostasize.

I therefore cannot see how in anyway did anyone think that this was a great idea.

Having dialogue with leaders in the opposite side and the educated and informed ones on our side is fine. But ecumenism as described and practices is much more than that.

You have men and women with no idea what Protestantism is to begin with go and take part in Scripture studies or ecumenical gatherings. How are they going to withstand the suggestions and objections of these Christians in error? Why will they not find their position very attractive given that many things on the moral end have been abandoned in these Christian groups? Worse, you even have marriages that frequently take place (granted that there is an official Church document that does discourage it but we never hear about it that much).

Think of how many theological abuses that have taken place because Catholic Scripture scholars (very educated Catholics) have adopted Protestant positions on many things? Think of how many abuses of the liturgy has taken place because the parish priest wants to adopt Protestant style worship in to it? Think of many Catholics souls were lost because they frequented with Protestant friends often and attended their services after seeing a bulletin for it in the Catholic notice board?

If anyone can say that ecumenism (as it has been practices so far and proposed) is a brilliant idea after that, then they are out of touch with reality in my humble opinion.

I know of no one who thinks that such will be “suddenly”. Yet Dialogue is far better than silence - and there are souls at stake.

Is this even realistic?

To quote our Lord…With man it is impossible but with God all things are possible…
But it is unlikely to be “suddenly”

Is it not the case that there will always be those who split away from the True Church?

Certainly - but does this problem negate the Lord’s command to make disciples?

Even today, there are groups like Sedevecantist, Conclavist, SSPX and “Old Catholic Church” which has split from the Catholic Church. How can we therefore have such an expectation that we will all be one? Is it not more likely that there will be very few who remain in Catholic Orthodoxy to begin with?

Do not confuse desire and hope with “expectation”. Yes there will be those who do not remain with the Church and those who refuse to hear her…Jesus spoke clearly of this in the parable of the sower and seed. Yet - He tells us to make disciples…to speak ant to live our faith…o dialogue with others.

Then there are also the risk elements. After looking around on the web, I have found that there have been many abuses in the name of ecumenism. Catholic doctrine is no longer said with force and often veiled in different language to make it easier for ecumenical work. It seems obvious that when the leaders of the Church try to use veiled language for ecumenical reasons, the average man or woman in the pew will be confused?

Yes indeed there are errors that occur in the name of ecumenism. Yet even these should not prevent us from sharing Truth and doing so in a most charitable way. A way that promotes dialogue.

Protestant errors today are never mentioned as actual errors. Even Luther seems to be looked at with sympathy. As beneficial as it maybe for ecumenism, I don’t see how it lessens the gravity of the Protestant errors in anyway. I also do not see how the real threat of Protestantism with its watered down and modern nature being attractive to many lukewarm Catholics is helped by encouraging common prayer services and joint faith study events.

I’d say this comment is a bit too broad based to really comment on…I’m sure there are those who call errors errors…there are also those who seek better understanding through dialogue to discern, charitably, precisely what actually IS error and what is not. Such dialogue can be most useful.

For these reasons it seems to me that the whole concept of ecumenism is bankrupt and if this had been a business decision, I would have thought the person who came up with the idea should be fired. But it seems that the Church is very keen on this concept. How do you resolve these problems?

I resolve these problems by sharing the faith to the best of my ability and doing so in a charitable manner.
I seek to understand the other fellow and invite him to understand me.
Then I let the Holy Spirit do His job…for I cannot convert anyone - only He can…

Peace
James

The Church still exercises her teaching authority to that end and our last half dozen pontiffs in particular are exemplary of that. It is the truth offered in charity and prayer that handles all that by the work of the Holy Spirit. Any other actions is beyond our authority and effective capacity.

Ecumenism is different. It involves encouraging the the average Catholic in the pew (or everyone) to engage in risky behavior (dialogue with those who hold heresy) on topics of religion for a cause that seems to be unrealizable. How is that reasonable?

Risky? Yeah right…because had it not been Catholics who did just exactly that them I and a host of my friends would likely not be Catholics today. Refusing to dialog with n-Cs is the most ineffective and cowardly of tactics and does exactly nothing to draw others to Christ and His Church. In fact, it ultimately gives the scandalous impression that we have no answers and costs the church sheep who will be stolen by thieves with Bibles in their hands and errors in their teachings.

If you look at saints like Francis de Sales, Thomas Aquinas, Augustine of Hippo, and Francis of Assisi, you will see that they were great at just this sort of ecumenism and evangelism. The fact is that the Church cannot be evangelistic, winning souls, without meeting unbelievers and errant n-Cs where they are and engaging them with charity and truth.

Tracts have historically been a useful means to communicate the Gospel and refute error. When was the last time that you used one to share your faith with someone that the Holy Spirit guides into your path?

Better thank God that we have access to great Catholic tracts like the following.

[LIST]
*]Top Ten Questions Catholics are Asked
*]Questions Catholics Are Asked: Are You Saved?
*]God’s Love for You
*]Grotto Press Catholic Tracts
[/LIST]

Well that’s your opinion.

Does it agree with any of the last 6 popes? No it doesn’t. maybe you need to get yourself trained to be able to make best efforts when the opening presents itself and a soul is in the balance.

If the Lord wanted to do it, then it would have already been done. He wanted a Church, and it was so from the beginning. He wanted Peter and his successor to be the head of the Church. and it was so from the beginning. He wanted the Church to be infallible in her doctrine and it was so from the beginning. No one claims that such things are still being realized in to the future.

But even from the time of the first apostles, there have been dissent (Jewish Christians who wanted to have circumcision mandatory for an example). How are we to then see the call of the Lord as anything different from that of the Lord asking the cup to pass from him? He merely hoped that it will be one but obviously just as the cup came to him, so has the devil attacked the church and broken Christians away from it.

I am also puzzled that you do not see any harm in sending the average Catholic today to dialogue. Just the Holy Spirit gives Grace for the other to convert, the Devil gives ample support and help for the Catholic to apostasize. Therefore it unreasonable to just look at one side of the equation of the Grace of the Holy Spirit.

People can dialogue and they should dialogue but not everyone should do it. My point is that the Church doesn’t seem to even believe there is a necessity to warn against everyone engaging in such dialogue because they see “we should all be one” as some prime directive. But such a prime directive is unrealistic and does not exist. The prime directive was to evangelize.

Every Catholic understand the meaning of evangelizing to mean that they are not compromising anything but bringing others in to the Church. Many Catholics on the other hand see Ecumenism to be therefore a different matter. Since its a different word, seems reasonable too.

Ecumenism for many seem to be a “openness” to seeing if the other side has any merit to what they have to say. Considering that the other side has already been ruled to be in heresy, it is pointless to even have that openness. Worse, ecumenism to many mean that all have an equal chance at salvation regardless of whether inside the Catholic Church or Protestant Church or something else.

What I am trying to say is that this creation of another term “ecumenism” and a prime directive that “we may all be one” just leads to engaging in dangerous and ambiguous activity by the faithful that put them in a very real risk of apostasizing.

When Catholic Scripture Scholars, Philosophers, and Theologians are spreading dissenting arguments contrary to the Catholic Church after doing joint work with Protestants, what makes us sure that the average lay person will do any better?

Good because the church never said that either.

I was saying that to simply have every Catholic go in to discussions with Protestants or attend their prayer services and Scripture studies

is a recipe for disaster. There isn’t a single warning in a single document on ecumenism that the participants in such things should be very knowledgeable and remember that there is no chance for them to switch positions to the non-Christian one. Instead, there is a blank call to dialogue.Well, gee do you see anyone saying we should? No you won’t and you won’t find a single apologist on here suggesting that. Look up in the Ask an Apologist forum. You’ll find the following clear statements…

[LIST]
*]Are non-denominational Bible studies ok for Catholics?
*]Is it okay to attend a Protestant Bible study?
*]Why can’t we evangelize at a Protestant Bible study?
*]Is it a sin to worship in other Christian churches?
[/LIST]

This is not just with ecumenism but also with non-Christian relations. I have met Catholics who think that discussions with atheists are approached with the hope of seeing if they have any merit in their arguments and then making an informed decision themselves. Basically they are putting themselves intentionally in situations to see if they can find a reason to apostasize.

How can you judge another person’s heart? The Church teaches that we can’t.

I think you need to learn your own faith better so that when you encounter someone who challenges you then you can confidently handle the situation, because right now you sound like someone without confidence in either your own knowledge and communication skills and the power of the Holy Spirit to do His job. That’s exactly why St. Paul tells us in his letter to Timothy,"Carefully study to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth." (2 Timothy 2:15)

I therefore cannot see how in anyway did anyone think that this was a great idea.

It’s a good think that the apostles didn’t feel like that.

Maybe that’s why we listen to Pope Francis and all the succesors of St. Peter and not everyone else. Just because someone puts forward something different doesn’t make it worthy of belief and the church never teaches anything like that. The best lesson is to hang with the Pope and not sweat the guys who aren’t him.

One question to you.

Are you aware of the numbers of those who convert from Catholicism to Protestantism around the world?

I can give you an easy example in Latin America. The Protestant Churches are growing rapidly and almost all their converts are Catholics. Yes, the Church managed to win someone like you because the right people who were knowledgeable engaged in dialogue with you. But if it was someone else, we would have you + another apostasized Catholic to deal with.

I am not saying that the Popes are wrong to want dialogue. Dialogue is a nice thing to have even with a murderer. I am saying that there has been no warning by the Church against every person engaging in dialogue. There is no stress on how a Catholic who becomes Protestant will be guilty of apostasy. There isn’t even a stress that Protestants are indeed in heresy even though they are not guilty of being heretics.

Apart from all of this, the Catholic Church seems oblivious to the fact that Protestants evolve as we speak. Right now there maybe a group of Protestants who dissent from what there current teaching is and form a more liberal group. In such an environment, is it even clear that they are completely gutless themselves?

It just looks like wishful thinking.

It seems to me that the problem you are really addressing is not so much ecumenism but catechesis.

The concern you relate - of “average Catholics” dialoguing and running the risk of apostatizing is a valid - but the problem does not lie with ecumenism per-se, which can have many benefits, but rather with the fact that too many Catholics either do not know their own faith well, or dissent from some Church teachings - even without the help of the protestants.

This is one of the reasons I enjoy CAF so much. It provides a wonderful platform to address both issues…helping many people - both Catholic and non-Catholic - to better understand our Catholic faith. This is true ecumenism…

Peace
James

I see ecumenism as holding back Catechism because it cannot be done if one wants to pretend to the other side that they are friends.

The Pope is hesitant to say Jan Hus for an example held heretical beliefs or that Luther did. The Church is hesitant to point out that Divorce in Orthodox Churches are a problem. The same Church is hesitant to point out that growing acceptance of contraception among Orthodox are a problem.

But what the Church today does emphasize are the similarities, and an implicit belief that the differences are not even that important to keep them from salvation. So why wouldn’t a Catholic be confused?

I am also not sure if the issue is purely about Catechesis. There are Scripture scholars, theologians, philosophers who have worked with Protestants and have started accepting their doctrinal frameworks and started to dissent against the Church. How do you attribute that to poor catechesis?

The truth of the matter seems to be that we are forgetting that there is a very real threat of a Catholic being tempted by the devil to the sin of apostasy just as they are tempted toward any other sin. But we do not want to speak about it in the name of ecumenism because to do so requires us to first say that the other side is in error. That is becoming less and less something we want to do.

In all of this, some priests are refusing to hold any Marian devotions in their parishes or Eucharistic processions so as not to impede ecumenical relations with the surrounding Protestant parishes. I have not seen a single Church document addressing these problems in how priests have started to act in regards to such specific but important issues for the life of Catholics.

In fact I do have some knowledge of that situation and n-Cs like to tout that up, but they never tell the whole story.

The fact is that the vast majority of their “converts” bail shortly after the missionaries leave (Because they never stay all that long) and soon are back in the local Catholic Church. One of the real problems is that knowledgeable Catholics don’t bother to go down there and assist the local churches with catechesis, apologetics, and evangelism. All it takes is a handful of trained Catholics who speak the language. (How’s your Spanish by the way? I’m working on mine…) and the n-Cs haven’t got a chance because those Hispanic Catholics really love their faith and love to learn about it.

Even with all the efforts of n-Cs to sheep steal, there are still more Catholics down there than they can stand and their converts rarely last. That’s how it works with errors and deception. I know that first hand…

Yes, the Church managed to win someone like you because the right people who were knowledgeable engaged in dialogue with you. But if it was someone else, we would have you + another apostasized Catholic to deal with.

You don’t know that, and I do know from years among the n-Cs that the vast majority of them are no better catechized than our own people and that’s why they freak when they encounter me because I know the Word of God and their own doctrines as well or better than they do and I consider any effort to evangelize me as an open invitation to counter evangelize them. they usually remember that they need to get somewhere else about then…:smiley:

I am not saying that the Popes are wrong to want dialogue. Dialogue is a nice thing to have even with a murderer. I am saying that there has been no warning by the Church against every person engaging in dialogue.

I don’t recall the church saying we all need to do that. Some folks don’t have the temperament for it or the time for that kind of study.

If you’re talking about the Catechism…what you fail to realize is that that is primarily meant for bishops and clergy and to be used to teach us. Do the bishops and priests and deacons know the faith? Sure1 Do Catholics beg for their knowledge…not so much.

Question for you: Do you know your faith well enough to share it or explain and defend it if challenged by someone?

There is no stress on how a Catholic who becomes Protestant will be guilty of apostasy. There isn’t even a stress that Protestants are indeed in heresy even though they are not guilty of being heretics.

That’s not true. You assume that you know better than the church does, which we both know is not so…for any of us. Slinging names and labels around like that doesn’t even get any dialog going at all. I don’t have to call names…I just have to prayerfully and charitably offer the truth and leave the rest to the Holy Spirit.

Apart from all of this, the Catholic Church seems oblivious to the fact that Protestants evolve as we speak. Right now there maybe a group of Protestants who dissent from what there current teaching is and form a more liberal group. In such an environment, is it even clear that they are completely gutless themselves?

And we care why?

I mean really…the antics of n-Cs in no way affects the truth that the church has taught for 2,000 years so why get bent out of shape now? They’ve had 500 years to bring us down without success and they are more fractious than ever. Current stats actually indicate that they are loosing even more ground. :shrug:

One good reason for that is this site and all the others like it (DCF , CCF and others) where anyone, Catholic or non, can get the truth and then decide for themselves as the Holy Spirit guides them.

But saying we shouldn’t talk to n-Cs or unbelievers is far from what the New Testament and the Church teaches.

If you feel inadequate to the task…then you too are in the right place.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.