Were one so inclined, one could invent a new game called ‘what did the Pope do this week to accept traditionalists?’; one would never run out of material. Yesterday Neo wrote about ‘Reformation day’, and the reaction of Pope Francis to this anniversary has provoked an out break of anger in many Catholic quarters. If one wanted to sum it up it would amount to the question: ‘what is there to celebrate about that day from the Catholic point of view?’
As Neo reminded us, it was another milestone on the sad road of Christian disunion. Although there have been many splits, perhaps the first schism was that of 431, when the Churches outside the Roman Empire who had not been informed of the Council of Ephesus which declared Our Lady the ‘Theotokos’ or ‘God-bearer’, refused to accept that decision. Soon after came the bigger schism after Chalcedon, and then those of 1054 and 1536. As any Lutheran or Anglican would tell us, their churches did not repudiate the historic teaching of the Church, they sought to clean away what the reformers considered to be accretions. As any Catholic of the Roman persuasion would tell us, the Church alone can decide what is and is not accretion, and if any individual does this he takes upon himself a fearful responsibility. Even if many agree, by what authority save their own do they reject developments of which the Church has approved? It might indeed be the case that such and such a development is not authentic, but it is the business of the Magisterium to decide that. Go down the other road and there is no telling where you will end up.
It is understandable that some Catholics should react to the Pope saying how much he wants all Christians ‘to be one’ by saying that the Church is already ‘one’. Presumably such Catholics do not agree with the conclusions of Cardinal Ratzinger’s (as he then was) Dominus Iesus, and perhaps prefer to regard all other Christians as not really Christians at all? That is certainly one way of proceeding, and it is one with a long history; indeed it might be argued it is one of the things which has led us to where we are. The attempt to pretend that other people who confess Christ as Lord are not really there, or don’t matter, might have seemed a tenable strategy when dealing with a contumacious monk, but by the time of Vatican II it was plain that it was not working, and that talking to other Christians was a better way forward than burning each other. No doubt some will see that as dreadfully wet and heretical, but it is the line the Church has pursued since Vatican II; which may, of course, be one of the reasons for objecting to the former and the latter. But acting as though a billion or so people calling themselves Christians are not there seemed a little myopic. Apart from anything else, if we believe what we say, and that the Catholic Church is the Church, we have everything to gain and nothing to lose by encouraging dialogue with others. I may feel this in particular because it was my own route into the Church. Had I not been engaged in such dialogue I am not sure I should ever have had occasion to study what the Church claimed for itself. The attempt to prove that was wrong did precisely the opposite – it showed me the Church was right and I was wrong. But maybe that’s just me.
The Church seems to me, as so often, to have it right. There are other people who confess Christ is Lord, and simply to dismiss them because they are no Roman Catholics is foolish – and on Christ’s principle that those who are not against him are with him, unChristian. Talking and listening are just that. There may be some who advocate syncretism, but that is not the position of the Church or the Pope. Jaw Jaw, as a very great man once said, is better than war-war. It was the fact that back in 1536 both sides took the opposite view that led us to where we are now. We can show we have learned something, or we can repeat old mistakes.