Ecumenism and then ecumenism

I have a love/hate relationship with ecumenism.  On one hand, I have personally benefited from a range of ecumenical efforts that have resulted in my now being a member of the Catholic Church through the generous provisions of Pope Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus that allow former Anglicans to retain the gifts of their patrimony as treasures to be shared with the wider Church.

The ecumenism I love is centered on the Truth, on Jesus Christ and involves meeting fellow believers who may come from differing traditions on the grounds of what ‘mere Christianity’ is held in common, and prayerfully trusting in the Holy Spirit to guide us all into the fullness of Truth.

Back in the 1990s, when I was an evangelical Christian in the process of being purged from some heretical beliefs I had picked up in my searching, I came across a group of professors and graduate students who used to hold a breakfast seminar once a week to discuss various readings.  They came from various backgrounds:  Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, Orthodox and they specialized in a range of different subjects from medicine, to statistics, to English and Medieval literature and more.  They also came from several different educational institutions in Ottawa.  What they held in common was a concern for the loss of the old idea of the university, where students were educated in foundational and universal truths and were taught the interconnection of all knowledge.  They lamented the silos around each discipline that gave those studying them lots of knowledge in their particular field, with no idea how their field connected with others or with western civilization in general.

Needless to say, this was like the Medieval rack stretching my ill-educated brain. They  read John Paul II’s encyclicals, Cardinal Newman’s The Grammar of Assent, and St. Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo.  The discussions were wonderful and enlightening.  Each person brought their perspective without watering down the distinctives of their respective faith traditions.

It was at one of these breakfast seminars that a group of professors sketched out on a napkin the vision for Augustine College’s one-year program designed to integrate an understanding of science, art, Scripture, Church history, mathematics and philosophy, grounding them in the foundational principles of western civilization.

David  Lyle Jeffrey was Augustine College’s first president.  Then a professor of Medieval literature, a brilliant man, Jeffrey went on to be provost of Baylor University during a time when the university attempted to do something similar to  Augustine College’s combination of education within a community of faith, albeit an ecumenical one.

Anyway, many years ago, David Jeffrey gave a lecture that was held in an Anglican Church, then called St. Alban’s, and I remember this distinctly from the lecture:   Why do we call God Father?  Because Jesus did, and thus we have no other option.

I had gone to the lecture with my late friend Mary who was always up for an adventure of a spiritual sort.  There were some young men—not quite young enough to be our sons but close–that we met after the lecture.  We had such an animated conversation with them that we continued it at a Vietnamese restaurant where we spent the rest of the afternoon.  It was glorious, like being back in college.  One of the young men, Glenn, and I kept in touch afterwards, and one day I got an email from him saying, “I think I have found my church home.”  He had stumbled upon Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  I went to check it out and I was hooked.  I invited Mary and she was hooked.

I think I would have found out about Annunciation eventually, however, because soon Fr. Doug Hayman was chaplain of Augustine College and teaching Scripture there.  He is our priest now at Annunciation.

The other day, I went to visit a friend of mine who discovered Augustine College because his eldest daughter, who is home educated, was studying Latin and found she could take the Latin course at the college.   My friend became involved as a volunteer, helping the college in a number of ways.  He mused with me how odd it was that he, who used to run a Catholic apologetics site, would be involved in an ecumenical project since, as I have found, many devout Catholics are leery of ecumenical projects because they fear they will water down the faith.   With Augustine College he discovered this is not necessarily the case with good ecumenism.

Now that I am Catholic, I have come to understand the concerns related to “indifferentism,” and to settling on some kind of lowest common denominator ecumenism that treats the distinctives of the Catholic faith as optional.

I hate that kind of ecumenism.  There is a difference from using the basics of ‘mere Christianity’ as a starting point for meeting people and treating those basics as if that was all that matters.

Your thoughts?






5 thoughts on “Ecumenism and then ecumenism

  1. Thank you for sharing your story, Deborah.
    I am also very cautious about ecumenism. The threat is “watering down the faith”, as you have stated, but the opportunity is that “coming home” has become much easier than ever before.
    Yet, I believe that ‘rapprochement’ between Christians, understood as focusing on common grounds rather than differences, is the real work and intent of the Holy Spirit – whether I personally like it or not.


  2. Everybody understands that people can belong to the same organization and yet have different ideas about methods and priorities.. What they don’t understand is how people who call themselves Christians can treat fellow Christians with whom they differ with hostility and contempt. A few years ago I saw pictures of a local ecumenical Good Friday outdoor Stations of the Cross being picketed by members of a certain denomination with signs reading “I will pray FOR you but I will not pray WITH you”. “Jesus wept” indeed.


  3. Any discussion of ecumenism must begin with the doctrinal principles that the Second Vatican Council articulated clearly and infallibly in the dogmatic constitution Lumen gentium on the church (citations removed).

    15. The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, though they do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter. For there are many who honor Sacred Scripture, taking it as a norm of belief and a pattern of life, and who show a sincere zeal. They lovingly believe in God the Father Almighty and in Christ, the Son of God and Saviour. They are consecrated by baptism, in which they are united with Christ. They also recognize and accept other sacraments within their own Churches or ecclesiastical communities. Many of them rejoice in the episcopate, celebrate the Holy Eucharist and cultivate devotion toward the Virgin Mother of God. They also share with us in prayer and other spiritual benefits. Likewise we can say that in some real way they are joined with us in the Holy Spirit, for to them too He gives His gifts and graces whereby He is operative among them with His sanctifying power. Some indeed He has strengthened to the extent of the shedding of their blood. In all of Christ’s disciples the Spirit arouses the desire to be peacefully united, in the manner determined by Christ, as one flock under one shepherd, and He prompts them to pursue this end. Mother Church never ceases to pray, hope and work that this may come about. She exhorts her children to purification and renewal so that the sign of Christ may shine more brightly over the face of the earth.

    The bottom line here is that those who are validly baptized in other Christian bodies are already part of the church, even though separated by schism from full communion with the apostolic see of Saints Peter and Paul, even though their Christian theological formation may be deficient in certain ways, and even though not always completed by valid confirmation and admission to valid communion. The same council, in the decree Unitatis redintegratio, unpacked this doctrinal statement and articulated principles which flow therefrom to explain what constitutes authentic ecumenism and how best to proceed. I strongly recommend a very careful reading of this decree to anybody who has any involvement whatsoever in ecumenism, as it explains the context and the objectives of that work.

    Here are a few salient points.

    >> In spite of divisions, all who have been justified by faith in Baptism are members of Christ’s body, and have a right to be called Christian, and so are correctly accepted as brothers and sisters by the children of the Catholic Church. This is a direct effect of baptism, and it carries also the implication that baptized persons received into the full communion of the Catholic Church from other Christian bodies are NOT properly called “converts” since this term correctly refers to those who come to Christian faith from another religion or from an absence of belief.

    >> The term “ecumenical movement” indicates the initiatives and activities planned and undertaken, according to the various needs of the Church and as opportunities offer, to promote Christian unity. These are: first, every effort to avoid expressions, judgments and actions which do not represent the condition of our separated brethren with truth and fairness and so make mutual relations with them more difficult; then, “dialogue” between competent experts from different Churches and Communities. At these meetings, which are organized in a religious spirit, each explains the teaching of his Communion in greater depth and brings out clearly its distinctive features. In such dialogue, everyone gains a truer knowledge and more just appreciation of the teaching and religious life of both Communions.

    >> Catholics, in their ecumenical work, must assuredly be concerned for their separated brethren, praying for them, keeping them informed about the Church, making the first approaches toward them. But their primary duty is to make a careful and honest appraisal of whatever needs to be done or renewed in the Catholic household itself, in order that its life may bear witness more clearly and faithfully to the teachings and institutions which have come to it from Christ through the Apostles.

    >> Catholics must gladly acknowledge and esteem the truly Christian endowments from our common heritage which are to be found among our separated brethren. It is right and salutary to recognize the riches of Christ and virtuous works in the lives of others who are bearing witness to Christ, sometimes even to the shedding of their blood.

    >> We must get to know the outlook of our separated brethren. To achieve this purpose, study is of necessity required, and this must be pursued with a sense of realism and good will. Catholics, who already have a proper grounding, need to acquire a more adequate understanding of the respective doctrines of our separated brethren, their history, their spiritual and liturgical life, their religious psychology and general background. Most valuable for this purpose are meetings of the two sides – especially for discussion of theological problems – where each can deal with the other on an equal footing – provided that those who take part in them are truly competent and have the approval of the bishops. From such dialogue will emerge still more clearly what the situation of the Catholic Church really is. In this way too the outlook of our separated brethren will be better understood, and our own belief more aptly explained.

    >> The situation of the separated churches of the east, which have valid apostolic succession, orders, and sacraments, is materially different from that of the preponderance of the separated ecclesial bodies of the west, most of which lack valid apostolic succession. Also, the Anglican Communion holds a special place among the separated ecclesial bodies of the west. These circumstances pose different challenges that require different solutions. (The decree elaborates on this quite extensively.)

    May we all undertake the work of God to bring reconciliation to the whole of the body of Christ, which is the church!



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