PODCAzT 116: Toward a true ecumenism

NB: iTunes users… I found that there was a second enclosure buried in the post which screwed up the feed.  Let me know if you are getting this on iTunes.

Ecumenical dialogue has been much on my mind these days.  I often think about ecumenism, since I myself am a convert.  There is a lot of “false ecumenism” out there.

We cannot turn our backs on the ecumenical challenge.  But ecumenism must be authentic.  We must make distinctions about truths and about the way we express them.  There is a hierarchy of truths, and yet not one iota can be denied.  How do we maintain that fidelity in the face of an irreversible ecumenical course?

To that end, I reviewed my trusty copy of Pius XI’s 1928 encyclical called Mortalium animos about ecumenism.  That is, what ecumenism can’t be and what ecumenism ought to be.

Watching the fruits of Anglicanorum coetibus develop in England, I am confirmed in my conviction that we need an ecumenism of return

You younger readers.  Pay attention.  You may never have heard of these old encyclicals.  You are in for a treat.

“But Father! But Father!”, I can hear some of you saying.  “Are you suggesting people read that? Mortalium animos? That’s … that’s …ecclesiological positivism!  It’s culturally conditioned and therefore not relevant!  It’s… it’s… not Vatican II!  You’re an unreconstructed ossified manualist!  You’re a retrograde patriarchal exclusivist!”


As the late Msgr. Schuler used to say, “When you’re right, you can’t be wrong.”

If you have never read this encyclical, please take some time and listen to this.  It is short enough that I can read the whole thing and then rant for a while.

Mortalium animos is written in a style we no longer see in documents from Rome.  Keep in mind that just because it was written before 1963 that doesn’t mean it isn’t still part of the Ordinary Magisterium of Church.

As we deal with new ecumenical developments, we are prudent to review what the Vicar of Christ said about ecumenism when it was revving up.

It also has a great explanation, without all the nuances, of the hierarchy of truths we believe as Catholics.

Mortalium animos sounds in many respects as if it were written for our own time.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. John V says:

    For those who like to read along: Mortalium animos

  2. Fr Deacon Daniel says:

    Pope Pius XI was also largely responsible for the ecumenical disaster that created the American Carpatho-Rusyn Orthodox Church after issuing “Cum Data Fuerit” forbidding the service of married Greek Catholic priests in the United States and requiring them to return to Europe. Whatever worthy principles he may have expounded in this Encyclical, let’s hope his methodology in handling the Christian East is certainly never imitated. [Okay… that’s a ‘no’ vote.]

  3. PghCath says:

    Father, I normally usually skip PODCAzTs for lack of time. After listening today, I will make time. Thank you for bringing our attention to this document. It’s a document I probably would never have come across on my own (or heard about at my local church).

    I love Pope Pius’ forthright manner; I’m glad that more and more American bishops are embracing a similar style of clear and direct teaching.

    I agree that we will win converts by our fidelity to Catholic tradition rather than accommodation to Protestants. Fifty years ago, we changed our liturgy (at least in part) to make it more acceptable to Protestants. While few Protestants entered the Church, many Catholics were driven to the exits. Yet when we have a Pope who affirms tradition and the need for reverence in worship, Anglicans are clamoring to join us. I realize this is a simplistic summation of ecumenical history, but I think the Ordinariates are working because of the Pope’s clear direction for the Church.

  4. Bornacatholic says:

    Dear Fr. Z. Fantastic!! I do not know how many times I have referenced this Encyclical in arguments I have been involved in. And whenever I reference it I am told “that no longer applies” or “We are never going back to those days.” etc etc

    Sadly, Vatican Two not only walked away from this Encyclical in its progression down the new path of accommodation to modernity, it pretended that it never existed.

    One of the absolute worse features of the post Vatican Two Epoch is both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI and their visits to Synagogues and choosing to be silent about Jesus and the duty of Jews to accept Him as Their Lord and Saviour. And then there are the Assisi Confabs…

    In any event, that was a fantastic Podcast. Kudos !!!

    BTW, I liked the musical accompaniment :) [Thanks. That was sort of fun, wasn’t it?]

  5. Fr Deacon Daniel says:

    It is not entirely a “no” vote, Father. I think that he offers some definite strong points which Catholics need to consider when engaging in ecumenical relations with non-Catholics.

    For instance I think he rightly warns others against the temptation to indifferentism that some “pan-Christians” encourage in matters of sometimes significant doctrinal differences. To my mind, the aspirations towards a post-denominational Christianity that we see now and then is largely a positive movement, since baptismal grace certainly extends itself naturally in a catholic (and Catholic) direction. The problem is that Protestantism by its very nature cannot escape its intrinsic inertia towards denominationalism, so much so that its own magisterial and ecclesial structures cannot support a drive towards the universalism achieved by Catholicism (East and West) without some form of indifferentism towards dogmatic issues. Pope Pius XI was right, I believe, to warn the faithful of getting caught up in such a movement, since in the end it may lead them to regard Catholic doctrinal distinctives as somehow contributing to the division of Christians, instead of being reflective of the fullness of Apostolic Christianity.

    As Pope Pius XI demonstrates, one of the platforms of these “pan-Christians” is to deny the development of doctrine:

    “They soon, however, go on to say that that Church also has erred, and corrupted the original religion by adding and proposing for belief certain doctrines which are not only alien to the Gospel, but even repugnant to it.”

    This view, which is often repeated by anti-Catholic Orthodox and Protestant polemicists, is an invitation to undermine the very existence of our Church and its unbroken claim of apostolic leadership, faith and worship.

    So, despite what I regard as the ecumenical failure of “Cum Data Fuerit” and its implementation, I agree that many of his warnings here should be heeded by Catholics.

  6. Jason Keener says:

    Great post, Father.

    I think one of the greatest errors of the post-Vatican II period is the overly-optimistic view that Catholics now take of other religions. For example, even when Catholics participate in prayer services like Vespers with other Protestants, Catholics give the impression that Christ’s founding of One True Church is not essential. If Christ founded one True Church to which all elements of Catholic life are to be used, Catholics then have no right to cooperate with Protestants in their errors of using elements of Catholic life and worship outside of the context of the fully True Catholic Church, as in the praying of Vespers together in an Anglican church building. If we are to encourage Protestants and Orthodox Christians in coming to the True Faith, as we ought, we must do so in a way that does not cooperate in Protestant error or legitimize it. It seems that in carrying out ecumenism, some Catholics have forgotten that one can never cooperate in another person’s evil actions (the use of Catholics elements outside of their proper context within the True Church as intended by Christ Himself) to bring about a good end (Christian unity).

    By the way, I have no problem with Catholic and Protestant dialogue as long as Protestant errors are not legitimized in the process. Moreover, even if Protestants have no subjective guilt in committing their errros and God might save Protestants because of God’s great mercy, Catholics have no right to endorse, encourage, or downplay Protestant error. Even if Protestants today cannot be said to be personally culpable for the “Reformation,” Protestants today are guilty of prolonging the separation of Christians through their continued adherence to objective errors. Protestants must return to the True Church.

  7. Another great “oldie” that’s not really very old is Casti Conubii, which is such a wonderfully forthright exposition of Catholic truth about marriage, it makes one pine for such language from contemporary Rome .

    Gotta go with Pius XI re: advisablility of routine presence of married Eastern uniate clergy in America. [I don’t believe we use the term “uniate” these days.]
    There’s little doubt that the Roman rite bishops advised His Holiness that routine ordination of married clergy would be pastorally confusing in the US, and create potential misunderstandings given our majority Protestant population. Also consider that the Eastern rites especially at the time were microscopic next to the West in the US, so the restriction was not one that affected large numbers of the clergy.

    Nowadays, instead of being a witness of legitimate diversity, the married Eastern clergy are used by some (not of course by the Eastern clergy themselves) as a cudgel against clerical celibacy in the West.

    As a prudential matter of course, reasonable people can disagree.

  8. abiologistforlife says:

    I’m not sure I grasp why praying in an Anglican church is per se an immoral act. If one did it with a view to devalue Catholicism’s claim to apostolicity and truth, certainly it would be; but otherwise, I don’t see it. Now, participating in a Protestant Communion service is an entirely different matter — but simply saying prayers, not un-Catholic in their essence (again, it would be different if one prayed things opposing Catholic doctrine), together with Protestants… why is this wrong? Has it in fact been taught to be wrong by an authoritative Magisterium? (Doctrinally rather than prudentially — I had heard that common prayer with Protestants was once disallowed – as a disciplinary rather than a doctrinal matter – but that that no longer applied. Is that in fact false?)

  9. Centristian says:

    “Let, therefore, the separated children draw nigh to the Apostolic See, set up in the City which Peter and Paul, the Princes of the Apostles, consecrated by their blood; to that See, We repeat, which is ‘the root and womb whence the Church of God springs,’ not with the intention and the hope that ‘the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth’ will cast aside the integrity of the faith and tolerate their errors, but, on the contrary, that they themselves submit to its teaching and government.”

    Pope Pius XI, “Mortalium Animos”


    Marvelous. It’s like a bazooka being fired.

  10. Fr Deacon Daniel says:

    “Gotta go with Pius XI re: advisablility of routine presence of married Eastern uniate clergy in America. ”

    Not surprisingly, I disagree with you on that Tom. It is just another example of gratuitous Latin self-interest interfering in Eastern concerns, much like Pope Stephen V’s ruling against the Moravian apostolate of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, despite the promises and prior support of his predecessors.

    Let’s hope that Rome has learned its lesson in this regard (a lesson for which we Eastern Catholics – severely depleted in number thanks to it – paid the price), especially as we commemorate the feast of the Death of St. Cyril today.

  11. Jason Keener says:


    In my opinion, when the Pope goes to pray part of the official prayer of the Church ( i.e. Vespers) in an Anglican church building, I think it is an objectively immoral act because the act is carried out as if it is legitimate for Anglicans to use elements that belong to the Catholic Church (Vespers) apart from their proper context within the True Church. What else does it say when the Pope prays official prayers together with Protestants in an Anglican church? Traditional moral theologians believe that there are nine ways to be an accessory to another person’s sin: By Counsel, By Command, By Consent, By Concealment, By Defense of Evil Done, By Partaking, By Provocation, By Praise, By Silence. I believe that the way some Catholics work for Christian unity makes them an accessory to sin. The good end of Christian unity must never be accomplished through evil means. Admittedly, it becomes somewhat tricky when one tries to determine how much cooperation with Protestants in common prayer and dialogue moves into the area of sin where our actions actually legitimize their Protestant errors. Some say that even a Catholic and Protestant praying the “Our Father” together in private is immoral. I’m not sure I would go that far. Some say that Catholics should not go to Protestant churches for weddings, funerals, etc., because such actions might help to legitimize Protestant worship. These are all things that should be looked into again as we continue to evaluate the practice of ecumenism.

  12. APX says:

    Fr. Z, this podcazt doesn’t seem to be showing up on iTunes, but the last two are. [It showed up on mine!]

  13. Fr Deacon Daniel: Since this post is about Mortalium animos, … I hope you agree with what Pius XI taught in Mortalium animos. Lots of mistakes can be made in the pursuit of unity, no one doubts that. But we don’t deny Holy Church’s Ordinary Magisterium.

  14. Fr Deacon Daniel says:

    Father Z,

    Did you see my points above? (the 5th post) I thought I was clear in my support of the principles Pope Pius XI outlined. [Glad to hear it! o{]:¬) ]

  15. pop says:

    Amen, Fr. Deacon Daniel. Where two are gathered in My Name. It’s time we read that and believe that.
    Perhaps we should read again the qualifications for a bishop, for a priest, for a deacon as enumerated for us in Acts…… unless they too is irrelevant!
    And please someone show me something that supports the idea that one of the reasons for Vatican II. or anything that grew out of Vatican II was to appease Protestants!
    And Orthodox are every bit catholic as we are up to the time of the split. And that split was every bit political as it was theological. In fact we catholics may receive the sacraments of the Orthodox church except that it is out of respect for their position towards us (we left the faith) that we do not receive them.
    Every church has some of the KEYS. [?] We believe we have ALL the keys. God hears all prayers.
    The Church is guided by the Holy Spirit. She does not err.
    So in terms of ecumenism, isn’t it better to focus on our likes rather than our differences! Self proclaimed righteousness gets you no where. The church is a “living” church. She exists in light of the times. She does not change dogma, but she applies dogma in light of the times.

  16. pop says:

    “unless that too is irrelevant”

  17. I may need some help sorting this iTunes thing.

    I have always had problems with it!

    In the meantime, if you didn’t see it in iTunes before, try updating the podcazt to see if it now appears.

  18. JKnott says:

    Thanks a million Fr. Z !!!!
    I am going to refer others to your Podcazt as well as print my own “trusty copy” and pass it on.

  19. APX says:

    I still get nothing on iTunes, but it could just be on my end. Guess I’ll just have to wait until I get home from school and download it on my computer.

  20. John V says:

    Fr. Deacon Daniel:
    I think it’s safe to say that, at the very least, Anglicanorum coetibus handles of the matter of married men being ordained to the presbyterate better than Cum Data Fuerit.

    Article VI, Section 2 of Anglicanorum coetibus: “The Ordinary, in full observance of the discipline of celibate clergy in the Latin Church, as a rule (pro regula) will admit only celibate men to the order of presbyter. He may also petition the Roman Pontiff, as a derogation from can. 277, §1, for the admission of married men to the order of presbyter on a case by case basis, according to objective criteria approved by the Holy See.”

    Article 6, Section 1 of the Complementary Norms: “In consideration of Anglican ecclesial tradition and practice, the Ordinary may present to the Holy Father a request for the admission of married men to the presbyterate in the Ordinariate, after a process of discernment based on objective criteria and the needs of the Ordinariate. These objective criteria are determined by the Ordinary in consultation with the local Episcopal Conference and must be approved by the Holy See.”

  21. Fr Deacon Daniel says:


    I think you are correct, and it is fitting that the Holy Father should, by virtue of his ministry as patriarchal head of the sui juris Latin Church, approve these ordinations on a case by case basis. Such an approach to the sui juris Eastern Churches, however, would exceed the traditional and proper limits of his Petrine ministry.

    By the way, I believe that “Anglicanorum coetibus” is a master stroke of authentic and creative ecumenical genius.

    It is interesting to view this recent effort of Pope Benedict in light of Pius XI’s Encyclical Letter, Mortalium animos and Cum Data Fuerit. Here you have what really is a re-Catholicized form of Anglican Protestantism that is now with and under the Pope of Rome, allows for a married priesthood (in North America no less!) and is in part the fruit of ecumenical dialog and prayer with the Anglican Communion for several decades.

    One cannot help but ask: Would Pius XI approve…or is he rolling in his proverbial tomb? ;-)

  22. kgurries says:

    Fr. Deacon Danial said: “One cannot help but ask: Would Pius XI approve…or is he rolling in his proverbial tomb? ;-)”

    That is an interesting hypothetical. I doubt Pius XI would have contemplated the possibility during his Pontificate. At the same time, I doubt he would protest the decision of Pope Benedict XVI today. I think the Pope’s share the same immutable principles at the root of true ecumenism — even if there is room for much legitimate disagreement on practical/prudential/pastoral decisions.

  23. Bornacatholic says:

    I think you are correct, and it is fitting that the Holy Father should, by virtue of his ministry as patriarchal head of the sui juris Latin Church,

    The Pope is the head of the entire Catholic Church. East and West. Period. [Christ is the Head of the Church: Colossians 1:18.]

  24. Fr Deacon Daniel says:

    Well said, kgurries! I think the key is to distinguish between immutable Catholic principles and historical contingencies and matters of prudential judgment – principles versus preferences one might even say. I find this especially key when particularisms are immediately presumed to be raised to the level of universalisms simply because they may emanate from Rome, without making proper distinctions. The failure to make such proper distinctions has certainly created its share of ecumenical difficulties, from an excessive triumphalism to a false ecumenism.

    The brilliant ecumenism Pope Benedict has demonstrated with “Anglicanorum coetibus” makes these appropriate distinctions. It holds fast to what is immutably true and allows for preferences and historical traditions that may differ from Roman practice, even in striking ways. Unlike “Cum Data Fuerit,” great deference is shown to the minority by the majority, with a promise sealed canonically to protect the smaller, weaker brethren from the rapaciousness and bigotry of certain members of the stronger, more numerous brethren. Ultimately “Cum Data Fuerit” was a moral failure on the part of the papacy and of the Latin hierarchy since it violated this vital principle of ecclesiology and the Gospel. “Anglicanorum coetibus,” on the other hand, is in its own mustard-seed way a great and redemptive triumph which holds great promise for the future. It demonstrates the divine charism of Peter who strengthens – not weakens – the brethren.

  25. kgurries says:

    “Watching the fruits of Anglicanorum coetibus develop in England, I am confirmed in my conviction that we need an ecumenism of return…”

    Yes, I think this is how Catholics need to consider the ultimate goal of ecumenism. Pope Benedict put it a little differently: “It [Anglicanorum Coetibus] helps us to set our sights on the ultimate goal of all ecumenical activity: the restoration of full ecclesial communion…” Cardinal Levada recently said the same thing this way: “Union with the Catholic Church is the goal of ecumenism…”

    I suppose that phrasing this as an ecumenism of “return” might sound strange to someone who was raised as a Protestant. In this context it may be more “practical” (again, a prudential matter) to refer to goal of ecumenism simply as “union with the Catholic Church” or the “restoration of full ecclesial communion.” In any case, the meaning remains absolutely the same and the immutable principles remain solid.

  26. muckemdanno says:

    1) What would Pius XI think of the “Taize” community, praised so highly by JP2 and B16, given his view on a Christianity of lowest common denominator?

    2) kgurries…when B16 speaks of the goal of “full ecclesial communion” or when Card Levada speaks of the goal as “union with the Catholic Church” you are right, these terms mean the same thing…But, they do NOT mean the same thing as “conversion to the Catholic faith.” “…on the contrary, they understand a visible Church as nothing else than a Federation, composed of various communities of Christians…” – Pius XI, Mortalium Animos.

  27. kgurries says:

    muckemdanno, why do you assume that Pope Benedict excludes “conversion to the Catholic faith” when he speaks of the restoration of full ecclesial communion? The Anglicans taking advantage of Anglicanorum Coetibus are truly converting and make a profession of faith. As the Pope said, this reveals the ultimate goal of ecumenism.

  28. abiologistforlife says:

    @Jason Keener: “Traditional moral theologians believe that there are nine ways to be an accessory to another person’s sin: By Counsel, By Command, By Consent, By Concealment, By Defense of Evil Done, By Partaking, By Provocation, By Praise, By Silence.”

    Well, yes. And this gets to the heart of the matter: are Protestant prayer services sins?

    Protestant *communion* services would I think be (objectively — probably not subjectively, as most Protestants participating honestly believe that a purely symbolic communion was Jesus’ intent). One might well argue that Protestants are (objectively — again not subjectively in the vast majority of cases) sinning by being baptized Christians not attending Mass. But are the *prayer services themselves* sins? If Catholics said the same prayers, it probably wouldn’t be (though it would of course not be a Mass); isn’t the problem the replacement of Mass with a prayer service? That is, I don’t see why a Protestant prayer service is per se immoral (though if held with an intent to derogate from Catholic truth, of course, it can be).

    If there is some Magisterial teaching clarifying this matter, I’d like to know about it; I’m not at all certain of what I just wrote, though it seems the more likely to me.

  29. Jason Keener says:


    It is my theological opinion that prayer services that are carried out in Protestant churches with Protestant clergy presiding in clerical vestments, etc., are evil acts. These acts are evil because in the process of doing these prayer services, the Protestants are carrying on as if they have the authority to make official prayers in their own church buildings with their own ministers. Of course, Christ established only one true Catholic Church, and no one has the authority to scandalize other people by setting up what appears to be an alternate church. Carrying on in such a manner is a sin against the First Commandment. God Himself has established that men are to worship Him in the Catholic Church and according to Catholic rites and ceremonies in the Christian dispensation, not in alternate Protestant churches that have ripped this or that element out of its proper context from the True Catholic Church.

    On the other hand, I can’t see anything morally wrong with a Protestant family praying some private prayers at home as long as the Protestant family members were not carrying on like they have the authority to establish an alternate church while saying those prayers.

  30. Ezra says:

    Watching the fruits of Anglicanorum coetibus develop in England, I am confirmed in my conviction that we need an ecumenism of return.

    I’m not sure I disagree with Fr Z on this, but given what Pope Benedict said in his address at the Ecumenical Meeting during the Cologne World Youth Day, it’s clear the Holy Father does:

    We all know there are numerous models of unity and you know that the Catholic Church also has as her goal the full visible unity of the disciples of Christ, as defined by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council in its various Documents. This unity, we are convinced, indeed subsists in the Catholic Church, without the possibility of ever being lost; the Church in fact has not totally disappeared from the world.

    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.

    To this end, dialogue has its own contribution to make. More than an exchange of thoughts, an academic exercise, it is an exchange of gifts, in which the Churches and the Ecclesial Communities can make available their own riches.

  31. Bornacatholic says:

    The Pope is the head of the entire Catholic Church. East and West. Period. [Christ is the Head of the Church: Colossians 1:18.]

    Thanks for that correction, Father. I ought to have written that The Pope is the head of the Church on Earth.

  32. anilwang says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Ironically, I think that the Presbyterian Francis Schaeffer (in the tradition of Socrates) has the solution to bringing Protestants and non-Christians into the Church. He believed that non-Christians were inconsistent. They lived their lives cherry picking from the Christian world view and non-Christian world view and this leads to contradictions (e.g. saying all people have value but kill the unborn, accepting materialism but believing that the “nothing but a bag of molecules” we call humanity have value and meaning, praise scientists who want to re-engineer humanity to be “perfect” yet at the same time condemn Hitler for trying “perfect” the human race). His approach was simple. For every five minutes of talking, he spent 55 minutes listening to the other side. This can also apply to true ecumenism.

    Non-Catholics are similarly inconsistent. Every single one of their arguments against Catholicism is also an argument against Christianity. For instance, if a non-Catholic says that ecumenical councils are man made, then the First Ecumenical council overstepped its bounds and we must all convert to Judaism. If all gatherings of Christians have the same spirit lead power as the First Ecumenical council, then Mormon and Jehovah’s Witnesses must also be valid. You cannot pull at the tapestry of Catholicism without unraveling yourself.

    As Francis Schaeffer pointed out, even non-Christians agree is an act of charity to bring people to the integrity of a consistent life. Ecumenism on those terms will result in people returning to the Church without compromising doctrine.

  33. kgurries says:

    Ezra, the Pope rejects the “ecumenism of return” understood in a norrow or one-sided manner. Understood in a narrow sense the “convert” is expected to renounce everything prior to his conversion. This narrow view also promotes a rigid uniformity in theology, spirituality and discipline. In other words, the Pope rejects an erroneous (rigid, narrow, one-sided) view of the ecumenism of return. At the same time, the Pope advances true ecumenism that is directed towards perfect Catholic unity while allowing for legitimate diversity in theology, spirituality and discipline. That is why the Pope points to Anglicanorum Coetibus as an example of the ultimate goal of ecumenism. The former Anglicans are perfectly Catholic (converts) — even if there is room for a legitimate diversity in theology, spirituality and discipline.

  34. Bornacatholic says:

    even if there is room for a legitimate diversity in theology

    That is as shiny and numinous as the Crab Nebula, but, what does it mean?

  35. Bornacatholic says:

    Ironically, I think that the Presbyterian Francis Schaeffer (in the tradition of Socrates) has the solution to bringing Protestants and non-Christians into the Church

    If you are referring to the deceased Mr. Schaeffer, he was a protestant who never converted so he seems an odd individual to choose as one who has the solution. Far better is the Saint, Cardinal Newman.

    If you are referring to his son who converted and became Orthodox, the situation is far worse, surpassing tragic. Listen here beginning at 24:00 minutes into the audio;


  36. kgurries says:

    Bornacatholic, legitimate diversity in theology DOES NOT mean a difference in FAITH. The implication here is that there can be legitimate diversity in various “schools” of theology (eastern, western, etc.) that all share a common Faith. Faith is a supernatural virtue whereas theology is a SCIENCE of the sacred. So, the Church demands unity of Faith — but not a strict uniformity in the science and methods of theology.

  37. Bornacatholic says:

    Dear kgurries. Thanks, I wasn’t sure what you were getting at.

    I was wondering if you were writing about something along the lines of Thomism vs Molinism in the matter of Grace or whether you were writing about Original Sin as taught by the Catholic Church vs the Orthodox errors about Original Sin and it seems it was the former.

  38. Ezra says:


    An interesting interpretation of the Holy Father’s words, but is it really what he meant? Here’s what he wrote in Principles of Catholic Theology about how a Catholic-Orthodox union might be achieved. Note that agreement on a matter of dogma (papal infallibility) is not considered a precondition for unity:

    Certainly, no one who claims allegiance to Catholic theology can simply declare the doctrine of primacy null and void, especially not if he seeks to understand the objections and evaluates with an open mind the relative weight of what can be determined historically. Nor is it possible, on the other hand, for him to regard as the only possible form and, consequently, as binding on all Christians the form this primacy has taken in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The symbolic gestures of Pope Paul VI and, in particular, his kneeling before the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch were an attempt to express precisely this and, by such signs, to point the way out of the historical impasse. Although it is not given us to halt the flight of history, to change the course of centuries, we may say, nevertheless, that what was possible for a thousand years is not impossible for Christians today. After all, Cardinal Humbert of Silva Candida, in the same bull in which he excommunicated the Patriarch Michael Cerularius and thus inaugurated the schism between East and West, designated the Emperor and people of Constantinople as “very Christian and orthodox”, although their concept of the Roman primacy was certainly far less different from that of Cerularius than from that, let us say, of the First Vatican Council. In other words, Rome must not require more from the East with respect to the doctrine of primacy than had been formulated and was lived in the first millennium. When the Patriarch Athenagoras, on July 25, 1967, on the occasion of the Pope’s visit to Phanar, designated him as the successor of St. Peter, as the most esteemed among us, as one also presides in charity, this great Church leader was expressing the essential content of the doctrine of primacy as it was known in the first millennium. Rome need not ask for more. Reunion could take place in this context if, on the one hand, the East would cease to oppose as heretical the developments that took place in the West in the second millennium and would accept the Catholic Church as legitimate and orthodox in the form she had acquired in the course of that development, while, on the other hand, the West would recognize the Church of the East as orthodox and legitimate in the form she has always had.

  39. kgurries says:

    Ezra, I think you are confusing Papal INFALLIBILITY with Papal PRIMACY. The passage that you cite deals with the latter. In any case, the relates back to the distinction between PRINCIPLE and APPLICATION that was mentioned in previous posts (above). In other words, the principle of Papal primacy is immutable — even it can be exercised according to a variety of legitimate forms depending on circumstances of time and place. This basically means that the Pope can exercise his Primacy differently according to the place (e.g., in the West vs. in the East). Alternatively, he can exercise his Primacy differently according to the needs of the time (e.g., first centuries, medieval era, modern times). All of this should be reflected in canon law — and canon law is not absolutely fixed — but can be modified or adapted for time and place.

  40. abiologistforlife says:

    @Ezra: I’m not at all sure that’s what he means.

    The Vatican I definition did not create papal primacy and papal infallibility*, but merely officially defined a doctrine that had been believed since the very early days. There are no new doctrines; an infallible dogma has to be something from the deposit of faith — “public revelation” is closed.

    Therefore, I think he is on good ground in saying that the way the papal primacy was understood in the first half of Catholic history is legitimate — I don’t think he necessarily means the Vatican I definition by “the form this primacy has taken in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries”, but rather the way that power is exercised.

    *An extremely unfortunate name for the doctrine, as it applies to only a very small proportion of things said by a Pope. It might be better to call it ‘ex cathedra infallibility’.

  41. kgurries says:

    Ezra, also I should mention that it is not really about my own personal spin or interpretation. As Cardinal Ratzinger, he explained all of this in more detail in his book “Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith.” So, I am basing my comments within the context of the Pope’s other writings as well.

  42. Fr Deacon Daniel says:


    You wrote: “The Pope is the head of the Church on Earth.”

    I’m curious what you think this means exactly according to Catholic theology…

  43. Fr Deacon Daniel says:

    @ Ezra: You might consider what then Cardinal Ratzinger offers as a way of clarifying his thinking on the so-called “Ratzinger Formula” in his text, “Church, Ecumenism and Politics.” My in-laws are sleeping in my library right now, so I cannot provide a proper citation. But I see this formula quoted frequently, often without the clarification and disclosure of his full thinking which is essential to understanding what he meant…and what he did NOT mean.

    @ Bornacatholic: You might also consider this superb critique of the false dichotomy of “ancestral vs. original sin” offered up by Orthodox polemicists. It is written by a man who is a devout Orthodox Christian, and who has grown tired of the exaggerations and misrepresentations of both Eastern and Western teachings, which, while they may have their certain unique emphases (Orthodoxy never had to battle against pelagianism, so its anthropology such as that of Basil the Great appears next to Augustine’s to be far more positive in some respects), certainly are not diametrically opposed as some make it out to be.


    I recall reading an interview with then Cardinal Ratzinger about his plans after his retirement from the CDF, and I remember him saying that he would dedicate himself to writing on the difficult subject of Original Sin. While I think we have all gained a great deal in and through his pontificate, I mourn the loss of what would no doubt be his very salient reflections on this subject matter.

  44. Ezra says:


    I’ve confused the issue by linking to the wrong chapter – I meant to point to Vatican I on papal primacy, not infallibility. Vatican I’s teaching on primacy is dogmatic, and as such – as the definition explicitly states – “must be believed by all faithful Christians”. How does Vatican I define primacy?

    we teach and declare that, by divine ordinance, the Roman church possesses a pre-eminence of ordinary power over every other church, and that this jurisdictional power of the Roman pontiff is both episcopal and immediate. Both clergy and faithful, of whatever rite and dignity, both singly and collectively, are bound to submit to this power by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, and this not only in matters concerning faith and morals, but also in those which regard the discipline and government of the church throughout the world. In this way, by unity with the Roman pontiff in communion and in profession of the same faith, the church of Christ becomes one flock under one supreme shepherd. This is the teaching of the catholic truth, and no one can depart from it without endangering his faith and salvation.

    While the Pope can exercise his primacy according to the demands of historical contingencies, this dogmatic basis for its assertion is definitive and irreformable. If you and abiologistforlife agree that the Eastern Orthodox would have to affirm that the “jurisdictional power of the Roman pontiff is both episcopal and immediate” for us to enjoy unity, then we have no disagreement. Pope Benedict’s words in Principles seem more ambiguous; if he thinks that unity would require Eastern Orthodox adherence to dogmatic definitions of Roman primacy postdating the schism, he has a strange way of expressing that view in writing “Rome must not require more from the East with respect to the doctrine of primacy than had been formulated and was lived in the first millennium”.

  45. Ezra says:

    Fr Deacon Daniel,

    I think I have found the passage you must have had in mind. This is from pp. 83-4 of Church, Ecumenism and Politics:

    A kind of ecumenical dogma seems to be developing here that needs some attention. Quite likely it began with this train of thought: for intercommunion with the Orthodox, the Catholic Church does not necessarily have to insist on acceptance of the dogmas of the second millennium. It was presumed that the Eastern Churches have remained in the traditional form of the first millennium, which in itself is legitimate and, if rightly understood, contains no contradiction to further developments. After all, the latter only unfolded what was already there in principle at the time of the undivided Church. I myself have already taken part in attempts to think things out like this [ref: to Principles passage], but meanwhile they have grown out of hand to the point where councils and dogmatic definitions of the second millennium are supposed to be regarded, not as ecumenical, but as particular developments in the Latin Church, constituting her private property in the sense of “our two traditions”. But this distorts the initial attempt to think things out into a completely new thesis with far-reaching consequences. For this way of looking at it actually implies denial of the existence of the universal Church in the second millennium, while tradition as a living, truth-giving entity is frozen at the end of the first. This strikes at the very heart of the idea of Church and tradition, because ultimately such an age test replaces the full authority of the Church, which is then left without a voice at the present day. Moreover, one might well ask, in reply to such an assertion, with what right people’s consciences, in such a particular Church as the Latin Church would then be, could be bound by such pronouncements. What once appeared as truth would have to be characterized as mere custom. The claim to truth that had hitherto been upheld would thus be disqualified as an abuse.

    All this means that a far-reaching thesis, the principles and consequences of which have not been thought out, has been raised to the status of a self-evident axiom. To disregard it is to incur ungracious censure. But this very self-evidence that convinced Irenikon that it was its duty to pass censure on the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith must be rejected decisively. To my mind the central truth of what they are trying to get at is this: Unity is a fundamental hermeneutic principle of all theology, and hence we must learn to read the documents that have been handed down to us according to the hermeneutics of unity, which gives us a fresh view of many things and opens doors where only bolts were visible before. Such a hermeneutics of unity will entail reading the statements of both parties in the context of the whole tradition and with a deeper understanding of the Bible. This will include investigating how far decisions since the separation have been stamped with a certain particularization of both language and thought – something that might well be transcended without doing violence to the content of the statements. For hermeneutics is not a skillful device for escaping from burdensome authorities by a change of verbal function (though this abuse has often occurred), but rather apprehending the word with an understanding that at the same time discovers in it new possibilities.

    The first paragraph suggests a development in Pope Benedict’s thought since the time he wrote Principles, and certainly helps to clear up potential misunderstandings of his meaning. The second is interesting, though I’m not sure I’d be as optimistic as him about the possibility of a hermeneutics of unity overcoming the “hard” dogmas of the Church that are rejected by the Eastern Orthodox. We may realise that some dogmas do not entail all that was once commonly claimed for them, but we are nonetheless committed to the view – also defined at Vatican I, in the Third Session’s chapter on Faith and Reason – that “that meaning of the sacred dogmas is ever to be maintained which has once been declared by holy mother church, and there must never be any abandonment of this sense under the pretext or in the name of a more profound understanding” (hence the Anti-Modernist Oath’s rejection of the “the heretical’ misrepresentation that dogmas evolve and change from one meaning to another different from the one which the Church held previously”).

  46. Fr Deacon Daniel says:


    Yes, thank you. This quote among others.

    You wrote: “We may realise that some dogmas do not entail all that was once commonly claimed for them…”

    Hence we should exclude all ultramontane readings of Vatican I vis-a-vis infallibility and the Petrine primacy. We should also safely assume that the “hermeneutic of continuity” includes the First Millennium of Christianity and that infallibility does not guarantee that the best thing is said at the best time in the best way for all times.

  47. kgurries says:

    Ezra, I think these passages confirm that Pope Benedict affirms the fundamental unity in the docrine of Petrine primacy from the 1st millenium to the present day. This is unity/continuity in principles. What was later defined explicitly was already present (implicitly) during the 1st millenium. When he speaks about the limits of what Rome must demand from the East has to do with the exercise or APPLICATION of the principle of Petrine primacy. The Pope can’t simply do what he wishes without reference to other principles that he must also respect. For example, he must be prudent and also taking into account the principle of subsidiarity. He is not going to interfere directly into matters that are rightly left to local ecclesiastical authorities. His approach clearly affirms the immutable principles while giving room to a variable application as determined by circumstances.

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