Friday, 14 September 2012

I’m with Müller: Ecumenism


After addressing criticisms directed at Archbishop Müller1 in terms of his statements about the Eucharist and about this virginity of Mary, let me now turn to the last of the three topics that most irked ‘traditional Catholics’ when he was named head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (the Vatican’s orthodoxy watchdog, enforcer and promoter). Before looking at the evidence, let me start off with putting my cards on the table: I am deeply committed to ecumenism, inter–religious dialogue and dialogue with those of no religious convictions. I believe God made us all and wants to have a personal relationship with us all - then who am I to pick and choose who to try and relate to! What I do value as well though, and here I can intuit some of the feelings of ‘traditionalists,’ is the truth and a jealous preservation of Jesus’ message - a message though that is not dead, fixed, static, but alive and active in the here and now, in our continuing relationship with Him.

Before we proceed, let me just share a word of caution - what follows is fairly technical and, if you are not that way inclined, you may do better to skip this post, or just take a look at the last paragraph. With that caveat out of the way, let’s look at what Archbishop Müller said that angered his critics:2
“[C]hristians, who are not in full communion with regards to the teaching, means of salvation and apostolic–episcopal constitution of the Catholic Church, are also justified by faith and baptism and fully members of the Church of God, as the body of Christ. In this way we are brothers and sisters among ourselves and really belong to the ‘whole Christ, head and body, one Christ’ (see Unitatis Redintegratio, 3))” and
“Baptism is the fundamental sign that sacramentally unites us in Christ and that makes us visible as one Church in front of the world. We, as Catholic and Evangelical Christians, are also already united in this, that we call the visible Church. There are therefore – to be precise – not multiple Churches alongside one another, but we are dealing with divisions and splits within the one people of the House of God: Credo unam ecclesiam … confiteor unum baptisma [I believe in one Church … I confess one Baptism].”
Both were quoted here and come from a speech he gave when Dr. Johannes Friedrich, regional bishop of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Bavaria, was presented the ecumenical award of the Catholic Academy of Bavaria. Note though that the above includes an additional sentence in both cases versus the English article and even though it does not change what the critics attack, it will allow me to more clearly present my defense of Archbishop Müller’s views (if his critics are allowed to pick two sentences from a lengthy speech, then surely I am allowed four :).

Before going into what the above means, let me just start by showing how this is very much what the Church teaches, rather than some deviation introduced by Müller. In fact, if we follow up the hint he himself makes at Unitatis Redintegratio – the ‘Decree on Ecumenism’ of the Second Vatican Council, we’ll find the following:
“[A]ll 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 by the children of the Catholic Church.” and
“Moreover, some and even very many of the significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church: the written word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, and visible elements too. All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to Christ, belong by right to the one Church of Christ.”
If anything, Archbishop Müller could be more effectively accused of plagiarizing Vatican II documents, but in his line of work that is not a bad thing. On the face of it, it might seem difficult to see why ‘traditionalists’ got so het up about these words of the Archbishop, but - extending the Principle of Charity to their words too, quickly leads to the Dominus Iesus declaration of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), written by Cardinal Ratzinger in 2000 when he was its head. This declaration, which at the time caused a lot of hurt to Evangelical and Anglican Christians (and should have been much better handled by the CDF), spoke about what a Church is and who are to be considered Churches versus other entities. The following are a couple of excerpts that would give you a sense of the declaration’s gist (all from section 17):
“[T]here exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him.”
“[E]cclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery, are not Churches in the proper sense; however, those who are baptized in these communities are, by Baptism, incorporated in Christ and thus are in a certain communion, albeit imperfect, with the Church.”
“The Christian faithful are therefore not permitted to imagine that the Church of Christ is nothing more than a collection — divided, yet in some way one — of Churches and ecclesial communities; nor are they free to hold that today the Church of Christ nowhere really exists, and must be considered only as a goal which all Churches and ecclesial communities must strive to reach”
While it does seem from the above that the traditionalists do have a leg to stand on, the declaration is definitely among the more technical and complex Vatican documents I have read and it is in fact Müller himself who offers the following explanation in the same speech – his point being that the term ‘Church’ is used in a very specific, legal sense in Dominus Iesus:3
“The assertion that the Ecclesial Communities that have not upheld valid episcopacy … are not Churches (plural) in a proper sense is not translated theologically correctly by the bold statement that ‘the Evangelical Church is not actually a Church’. That is because the plural designates the Churches as local Churches with a bishop. The question here is not whether the confessional Churches of reformed character are actual Churches -- it is rather whether sacramental episcopacy is a constitutive element of a local Church or of a diocese. The difference between an Evangelical local Church and a Catholic diocese is being described – not evaluated. The Catholic Magisterium is far from denying an ecclesial character or an ecclesial existence to ‘the separated Churches and ecclesial Communities of the West’ (Unitatis Redintegratio, 19).”
So, what does all of this boil down to? I believe that it depends on how you view the scandalous divisions among Christians today. I understand that ‘traditionalists’ are protective of Catholic teaching and that there may be different takes on and interpretations of the key Catholic texts regarding ecumenism. I also read Pope Benedict’s declaration as a call to being precise - to not calling the current situation something that it is not (yet). But, I do feel a misplaced us-versus-them attitude in ‘traditionalist’ statements and very much stand by Müller’s ‘us’-only take on things (which nonetheless does not lack precision). An ‘us’ that is painfully and unacceptably divided, but an ‘us’ nonetheless.

1 Note that in the meantime there are others, who have come to his defense too.

2 The English translations, as reproduced in the source I refer to above were actually the following:
“Also the Christians that are not in full community with the Catholic Church regarding teaching, means of salvation and the apostolic episcopacy, are justified by faith and baptism and they are fully incorporated/ integrated into Church of God, being the Body of Christ.” and “Baptism is the fundamental sign that sacramentally unites us in Christ, and which presents us as the one Church in front of the world. Thus, we as Catholic and Evangelical Christians are already united even in what we call the visible Church.” Since the original German (contained in the full text of the speech here) was the following, the English above is my own translation: “Denn auch die Christen, die nicht in voller Gemeinschaft der Lehre, der Heilsmittel und der apostolisch-bischöflichen Verfassung mit der katholischen Kirche stehen, sind durch Glaube und die Taufe gerechtfertigt und in die Kirche Gottes als Leib Christi voll eingegliedert. So sind wir untereinander Brüder und Schwestern und gehören wirklich zum „ganzen Christus, Haupt und Leib, ein Christus“ (vgl. UR 3).” [this includes the additional sentence I refer to above] and “Die Taufe ist das grundlegende Zeichen, das uns sakramental in Christus eint und vor der Welt als die eine Kirche sichtbar macht. Wir sind als katholische und evangelische Christen also auch in dem schon vereint, was wir die sichtbare Kirche nennen. Es gibt daher – genau genommen – nicht mehrere Kirchen nebeneinander, sondern es handelt sich um Trennungen und Spaltungen innerhalb des einen Volkes und Hauses Gottes: Credo unam ecclesiam … confiteor unum baptisma.” [again with an additional sentence included versus the original English source].

3 Note the irony of this also being Müller’s choice of episcopal motto :).