From the blog Gregorian Rite Catholic:
Benedict XVI is “on board” with ecumenism, but he calibrates it carefully. It is a refreshing change from the near-indifferentism that characterized the previous pontificate.
The first substantial ecumenical address he gave was in Cologne. And everyone was all aflutter when he said this: “On the other hand, this unity does not mean what could be called ecumenism of the return: that is, to deny and to reject one’s own faith history. Absolutely not!
“It does not mean uniformity in all expressions of theology and spirituality, in liturgical forms and in discipline. Unity in multiplicity, and multiplicity in unity: in my Homily for the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul on 29 June last, I insisted that full unity and true catholicity in the original sense of the word go together. As a necessary condition for the achievement of this coexistence, the commitment to unity must be constantly purified and renewed; it must constantly grow and mature.”
One Fr. Brian Harrison ventured the point that the Holy Father had not included doctrine in his list of those things that could not be uniform:
“The first impression here is that Pope Benedict is right in line with Cardinal Kasper and other ecumaniac luminaries. … But what, precisely, is Benedict ruling out when he rules out so categorically this dreaded, abhorrent, unthinkable ‘return’ of the separated brethren? He answers this question by proceeding to rule out any future requirement of ‘uniformity’ in four distinct and specific areas of the Church’s life: theology, spirituality, liturgical forms, and discipline. Note well that the Pope conspicuously fails to include doctrine among these areas in which uniformity will not be required.
“Now I would suggest that this omission,” continues Harrison, “to the extent that it comes to be taken seriously and implemented at high levels, really amounts to a pulling the rug out from under the feet of heretical ecumenists. It’s the old Catholic orthodoxy creeping in again by the postconciliar back door. For what preconciliar pope ever insisted on uniformity in any of the four areas specified now by Benedict XVI?”
I would go further than Fr. Harrison. Theology, spirituality, liturgical forms, and discipline are not “doctrine free.” They do admit of variety in the sense that the Church grants us a wide field in which to explore legitimate differences of expression of the essence of the faith. But fundamentally liturgy is doctrine, however differently the various rites manifest themselves. The various theological schools, whether in Carthage, Alexandria, Aosta, or Aquino, expressed differently the essence of the faith, but this did not amount to new faiths. The problem of theologies, such as those of Duns Scotus and Gabriel Biel was precisely that they did pose new doctrinal formulations and so were repudiated at the Council of Trent.
So what Pope Benedict is saying here is that while strict uniformity has never been characteristic of Catholicism (and that is true even of the so-called “Tridentine” era; cf. Simon Ditchfield, Liturgy, Sanctity and History in Tridentine Italy: Pietro Maria Campi and the Preservation of the Particular. Cambridge, 2002), doctrinal uniformity is and it affects all aspects of Catholicism. Notice that the Holy Father says: “expressions of theology and spirituality, in liturgical forms and in discipline.” Expressions are ways of explaining the regula fidei and doctrinal essence of Catholicism. They themselves are not the regula fidei and doctrinal essence. The same obtains for liturgical forms and discipline.
On 6 December 2007, the Holy Father addressed the joint international commission sponsored by the Baptist World Alliance and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Among the remarks the Holy Father offered were these:
“The theme which you have chosen for this phase of contacts – The Word of God in the Life of the Church: Scripture, Tradition and Koinonia – offers a promising context for the examination of such historically controverted issues as the relationship between Scripture and Tradition, the understanding of Baptism and the sacraments, the place of Mary in the communion of the Church, and the nature of oversight and primacy in the Church’s ministerial structure. If our hope for reconciliation and greater fellowship between Baptists and Catholics is to be realized, issues such as these need to be faced together, in a spirit of openness, mutual respect and fidelity to the liberating truth and saving power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
How do you think the Holy Father is going to come down on these issues?
Or, when he addressed an ecumenical on his visit to the United States in April, 2008: “Too often those who are not Christians, as they observe the splintering of Christian communities, are understandably confused about the Gospel message itself. Fundamental Christian beliefs and practices are sometimes changed within communities by so-called “prophetic actions” that are based on a hermeneutic not always consonant with the datum of Scripture and Tradition. Communities consequently give up the attempt to act as a unified body, choosing instead to function according to the idea of “local options”. Somewhere in this process the need for diachronic koinonia – communion with the Church in every age – is lost, just at the time when the world is losing its bearings and needs a persuasive common witness to the saving power of the Gospel (cf. Rom 1:18-23). . . . My dear friends, the power of the kerygma has lost none of its internal dynamism. Yet we must ask ourselves whether its full force has not been attenuated by a relativistic approach to Christian doctrine similar to that found in secular ideologies, which, in alleging that science alone is “objective”, relegate religion entirely to the subjective sphere of individual feeling. Scientific discoveries, and their application through human ingenuity, undoubtedly offer new possibilities for the betterment of humankind. This does not mean, however, that the “knowable” is limited to the empirically verifiable, nor religion restricted to the shifting realm of “personal experience. For Christians to accept this faulty line of reasoning would lead to the notion that there is little need to emphasize objective truth in the presentation of the Christian faith, for one need but follow his or her own conscience and choose a community that best suits his or her individual tastes. The result is seen in the continual proliferation of communities which often eschew institutional structures and minimize the importance of doctrinal content for Christian living. Even within the ecumenical movement, Christians may be reluctant to assert the role of doctrine for fear that it would only exacerbate rather than heal the wounds of division. Yet a clear, convincing testimony to the salvation wrought for us in Christ Jesus has to be based upon the notion of normative apostolic teaching: a teaching which indeed underlies the inspired word of God and sustains the sacramental life of Christians today.”
I wonder who he’s talking about here? So far, the Holy Father has adduced religious relativism, the sacraments, doctrine, individual communities organized according to individual tastes, subjectivity, Scripture AND Tradition, and “so-called ‘prophetic’ actions.” In particular, the Pope makes a point of highlighting: “. . . the need for diachronic koinonia – communion with the Church in every age . . . ,” which is precisely where the evangelical Protestant groups (as well as the pentecostals and “independent Christians”) are in arrears.
Traditional Catholics who are always in distress whenever ecumenism comes up would do well to reread the Holy Father’s ecumenical addresses. He is not about to give away the store.