VIII. Catholic Ecumenism


FORTY years ago, when the Council opened its sessions, the majority of the Fathers favoured a sound Catholic ecumenism, designed as a generous and charitable invitation addressed to Christians separated from Rome to come back to the fold, to reintegrate Catholic unity.

An echo of this zeal can be found at number 2 of the conciliar Decree Unitatis redintegratio:

« What the love of God has revealed among us is that the Father has sent into the world His only-begotten Son, so that, being made man, He might by His redemption give new life to the entire human race and unify it. Before offering Himself up as a spotless victim upon the altar of the cross, Christ prayed to His Father for all who believe in Him: “ That they may all be one; just as, Father, You are in Me and I am in You, so that they also may be in Us… So that the world may believe it was You who sent Me.” (Jn 17.21) [...] After being lifted up on the cross and glorified, the Lord Jesus poured forth His Spirit as He had promised, and through the Spirit He has called and gathered together the people of the New Covenant, who are the Church, into a unity of faith, hope and charity, as the Apostle teaches us: “ There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one Baptism”. (Ep 4.4-5) [...] The Church, then, is God’s only flock; it is like a standard lifted high for the nations to see it: as it makes its pilgrim way in hope toward the goal of the fatherland above. This is the sacred mystery of the unity of the Church... »

Cardinal Bea
Cardinal Bea

After this beautiful, very Catholic introduction, the conciliar text follows other paths. The study of the conciliar debates in the collection Unam Sanctam reveals that the Fathers were tricked by a minority of progressive theologians who imposed a different conception of ecumenism, Protestant in origin, according to which the Church had to renounce her pretensions and enter humbly into the general ecumenical movement of Christian churches. The equivocation between the two concepts was adroitly fostered during the Council, and the final text itself shows signs of this ambiguity. It was a veritable plot, orchestrated by Cardinal Bea’s Secretariat for Christian Unity, which played on a single letter.

For the first chapter of the Decree, entitled “ Principles of Catholic Ecumenism” became during its successive draftings: “ Catholic Principles of Ecumenism”. Father Congar did not conceal it: « The addition of a letter [in Latin: catholicis instead of catholici] allowed a change that had a rather important impact... In the first view, the others are defined and considered with reference to oneself. The ecumenism that was fashioned in the Ecumenical Council was something different. It is designed as a network of relationships contrived without ecclesiological preconditions, without a Church positioning itself at the centre, between the sister-communions speaking as equals. »

« Thus we are warned that, right from the choosing of the title, commented Fr. de Nantes, the Church becomes one of the Churches or Sects, without claiming to be above or apart from the others, even less unique and sovereign. Is she not therefore bound upon entering the “Ecumenical Movement” of Churches to go back on everything that she stands for? It would seem not, but notice the subterfuge: she continues to proclaim herself to be the unique, the true, the only Holy one... but she professes this from her own point of view, her opinion among others, to be taken into consideration like the others! » This is how the mortal equivocation was introduced into the Council, under the pretence of liberalism and openness to “others”.

As well, the true causes of past dissensions had to be passed over in silence.


Classical Catholic theology taught that only the Roman Church was One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic, that all those who had decided to leave it, individually or as a group, through the sin of schism or heresy, separated from its Unity, but that this Unity subsisted without them.

Vatican II deliberately stated the opposite of this teaching. It wanted to consider the “separated Christian Churches and communions “as so many disjointed members of the one Mystical Body, whose unity is to be re-formed through an effort of conversion and reconciliation, upon equal terms, of everyone with everyone else. The Church would only recover its divine perfections after having reunited with the “separated Brothers”. Whence a destructive sort of ecumenism at all costs.

« The Conciliar and postconciliar Church recognises the possibility of finding one’s salvation in and through heresy. She accepts to share with the sects founded by heretics and schismatics her beautiful title, until then exclusive, of Church of Christ and to recognise everywhere else the presence and the activity of the Holy Spirit. She submits her dogma, her rites, and her discipline to the aberrant urgency of a reconciliation which is to know neither victor or vanquished. It is enough to say that, sacrificing her own dignity and disowning her Pontiffs and infallible Councils, she hastens to get along with the unrepentant offspring of those whom they had anathematised. Here is, in its very principle, the full-blown autodemolition of the Church; seeing the fruits that this ecumenism has brought, everyone notes that it is indeed, in the line of “religious freedom”, a denial of the faith. » (CCR no 29, p. 4)

It was therefore necessary, in order to please the “others”, to reinterpret the history of our divisions, rifts and dissensions (no 3). Obviously, the text shifts a part of the blame onto the Catholic Church, but the essential crime does not lie therein.

« The crime is to lie by omission, to deny, to pass over in silence, the original sin of all schisms and all heresies, which is a sin of rebellion against the Church, and consequently against Christ and against God. Listening to the pretensions of the dissidents, the Council accepts that they have remained in communion with God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, while no longer being in “full communion with the Catholic Church”! There were “wrongs committed by men of both sides” wrongs that apparently are not transmissible, and that only lead to a certain number of misunderstandings, secondary oppositions, that “the ecumenical movement strives to overcome” » (CCR no 29)


« All are led to examine their own faithfulness to Christ’s will for the Church [which Church?] and accordingly to undertake with vigour the task of renewal and reform. » (no 4) Congar triumphs! His principle of permanent reform of the Church was introduced into the text of the Council. Let the Protestants rejoice: Christ wants a reformed Church!

A frosty mention is made of individual conversions: « However, it is evident that, when individuals wish for full Catholic communion, their preparation and reconciliation is an undertaking which of its nature is distinct from ecumenical action [sic!]. But there is no opposition between the two, since both proceed from the marvellous ways of God. » And nothing more is said on this.

The program « can be summarised in two big works: critical study and withdrawal of Catholics with regards to their faith and their Church institutions, on the one hand; and on the other, a growing admiration and rapprochement towards every dissidence in which “the effective power of Christ”, “God always admirable in his works” and “the grace of the Holy Spirit” manifest themselves. To such a point that if the others suffer from being separated from the Church, she suffers as well from lack of fulfilment as long as she does not benefit from their profound wealth. » (nos 5-12)

The third chapter of the Decree announces, between the lines, the continual fool’s game that will be the inevitable consequence of such an ecumenism. For it is difficult, at the same time, to get along with Protestants and the Orthodox, and to want to please the latter without betraying the fidelity and the confidence of the uniates. « This is, in effect, the drama of conciliar ecumenism and it is its crime. In order to make peace with the adversary, Vatican II did not hesitate to sacrifice its own faithful. »


« There is one form of unity that is an abomination in the eyes of God; there is another form for which He shed His Blood. They must be clearly specified », wrote the future Cardinal Journet in his book “The Union of Churches” (1927), to which our Father refers, in order to oppose it to that of Congar’s “Disunited Christians” (1937), the source of Vatican II’s ecumenism. Tomorrow, Vatican III will have to « go back to the great tradition of reconquest of lost ground that made the grandeur of the Catholic Counter-Reformation of the XVIth century. However, it is good to perfect the dogmatic expression of truths that heresy has deformed and to draw from it a new pastoral action. »

The theologian of the Catholic Counter-Reformation in the XXth century applied himself to doing this in two short pages of a theological richness and a marvellous clarity.

Vatican III will proclaim the perfect and unique unity of its own Church, as well as its apostolic nature, « that is to say, that it will come to terms with the entire heritage of the centuries, without renouncing anything that the Church did or decided », other than the renouncing of the past that took place at Vatican II!

« Catholics may have all possible sins, their being Catholic, their membership in the Church is holy. Dissidents may have every virtue, their religious form, their membership in dissidence is sinful, and if they persist in it, this bad form impairs their worship and keeps them separated from God. »

Of course, many of these separated members only belong to the dissidence in a material way, because they happen to be born into it, and are ignorant of what makes it separated from and enemy of Christ. Unlike their leaders and their theologians, hardened in the justification of their rebellion, « they may receive and maintain supernatural life by all the Christian material elements conserved in the schism into which they are born; the Church, from far off, looks upon them as her own, in ignorance. But at any time, they risk being corrupted by the bad elements and being driven to consent formally to the heresy or the schism of their Fathers, thus cutting themselves off from the Mystical Body. They must be converted! »

Fr. de Nantes then develops an entire “ecumenical pastoral project”, that Vatican III will certainly implement, contrary to the follies of Vatican II: « As much as the Roman Church must be wary of the pride of the great, of the obstinacy of those of the dissidents who have known her well and for a long time, but who do not want to convert... so much can she be full of sympathy towards the poor, the humble who only know her through the opaque wall of age-old prejudice, but who never formally sinned against her. To those who desire unity, the Church will delight in showing that already, mysteriously, union existed in faith, in the grace of the preserved sacraments, in the piety and the virtues drawn from the Gospel sources of the common tradition. »

John Paul I with Nikodim« The gentle and radiant attraction of Rome, the heart of the world, is the way of the future », our Father wrote in 1972. The face of John Paul I, the smiling Pope, in whose arms Nikodim died, converted from his Orthodoxy, came to justify and confirm this hope. « Even if no spectacular result may be hoped for, from a human point of view, this is where – for Vatican III will do its entire duty of Catholic fidelity – the conclusion of the Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism which has confidence in the Holy Spirit may be taken up in order to achieve what is impossible in human eyes (no 24). »

Tomorrow the miracle of the conversion of Russia will be wrought when the Pope will have consecrated it to the Immaculate Heart of Mary! « So many resurrections that were thought impossible have been seen throughout history! Through miracles or chastisements, God can come to the assistance of ecumenical missionaries and preachers of his Son. Tomorrow Vatican III, the day after tomorrow perhaps – this is our hope –the massive return of the Eastern Orthodox freed at the same time from their Communism and their schism, the return of the English, having lost their fondness for their insular Anglicanism, and the conversion, at a rhythm universally accelerated, of Protestants. That is when, yes, in accordance with the apostolic thought of contemporary ecumenists, Christians, at last reunited will be able to go to conquer the world, in Christ’s words: “ May they all be one so that the world may believe” May they be one as You and I are one: this is the fundamental urgency of Catholic Ecumenism whose source is divine and whose means are supernatural. So that the world may believe, this is the harvest promised to those who sow in tears. Carry out Vatican III and the times of the world triumph of Christ the King will come through His Holy Mother. » (CCR no 29)

Taken from He is Risen! n° 10, June 2003, p. 16-18