Cardinal Kasper’s Reflection on Eve of Consistory (Part 2)

“We Must Bear Witness to the Richness and Beauty of Our Faith”

ROME, DEC. 13, 2007 ( Here is a translation of the second part of a Nov. 23 address of Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, on the eve of the consistory for the elevation of cardinals.

The cardinals-designate and other cardinals in Rome for the consistory met with Benedict XVI for a day of prayer and reflection prior to the consistory. The day was dedicated mainly to the topic of ecumenism.

Part 1 was published Wednesday.

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Section III.

Let us pass now to the ecclesial communities born from the Reformation. Even here there are encouraging signs. All the ecclesial communities have said that they are interested in dialogue and the Catholic Church is in dialogue with almost all the ecclesial communities. A certain consensus has been reached in the ambit of the truth of faith, above all in regard to the fundamental questions of the doctrine of justification. In many places there is a fruitful collaboration in the social and humanitarian sphere. There has progressively spread an attitude of reciprocal confidence and friendship, characterized by a deep desire for unity, which remains despite the harsh tones and bitter delusions that arise from time to time. In fact, the intense network of personal and institutional relations that has developed in the meantime is able to resist the occasional tensions.

We have not reached a dead end but a profound change in the ecumenical situation. It is the same change that the Church and the world in general have experienced. Here I will limit myself to noting only some aspects of this transformation.

1) After having arrived at a fundamental consensus on the doctrine of justification, we now find ourselves having to again discuss classical themes of controversy, above all ecclesiology and ecclesial ministries (cf. “Ut Unum Sint,” 66). In this regard the “Five Responses” published last June by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith caused perplexity and a certain ill humor. The agitation that arose around such a document was largely unjustified since the text does not say anything new but only restates Catholic doctrine in a summary way. Nevertheless, it would be desirable to reconsider the form, language and public presentation of these sorts of declarations.

2) Different ecclesiologies necessarily lead to different visions of the purpose of ecumenism. Thus it is a problem that we lack a common concept of the ecclesial unity which it is our objective to reach. Such a problem is more grave if we consider that ecclesial communion is for us Catholics the presupposition of Eucharistic communion and the absence of a Eucharistic communion carries major pastoral difficulties above all in the case of mixed couples and families.

3) While on the one hand we try to overcome old controversies, on the other emerge new differences in the ethical sphere, particularly in regard to questions attending the defense of life, marriage, the family and human sexuality. Because of these new barriers that have been thrown up, common public testimony has been notably weakened if it has not indeed become an impossibility. The crisis that is occurring within the respective communities is clearly exemplified by the situation arising in the Anglican Communion, which is not an isolated case.

4) Protestant theology, marked in the first years of dialogue by the “Lutheran Renaissance” and by Karl Barth’s theology of the word of God, has now returned to the motifs of the liberal theology of the past. Consequently, we observe that, on the Protestant side, those Christological and Trinitarian basics which were up until now a common presupposition are sometimes diluted. That which we held to be our common patrimony has begun to melt away here and there like the glaciers in the Alps.

But there are strong counter-currents that have arisen in reaction to the above-mentioned phenomena. One encounters all over the world a powerful growth of evangelical groups, whose positions largely coincide with ours in fundamental dogmatic questions, above all in the ethical sphere, but there are often many divergences in ecclesiology, sacramental theology, Biblical exegesis and the understanding of tradition. There are clusters of “high church” Anglicans and Lutherans who wish to restore in their communities elements of the Catholic tradition in regard to the liturgy and ecclesial ministry. More and more monastic communities, who often live according to the Benedictine rule and feel close to the Catholic Church, are joining themselves to these groups. Furthermore, there are pietist communities that, in the face of the crisis about ethical questions, feel a certain uneasiness in the Protestant ecclesial communities; they look with gratitude to the clear positions taken by the Pope, about whom they had not long ago exclaimed in less kind tones.

All these groups, together with Catholic communities of religious life and new spiritual movements, have of late formed “spiritual networks,” often centered on monasteries like Chevetogne, Bose and above all Taizé, and in movements such as the Focolare and Chemin-neuf. We can say that in this way ecumenism has returned to its roots in small groups of dialogue, prayer and Bible study. Recently, these groups have even gone public, for example, at the big meetings of movements at Stuttgart in 2004 and 2007. Thus new and promising forms of dialogue are emerging alongside the official ones that have themselves often become difficult.

This panoramic glance shows us therefore that there is not only ecumenical convergence but also fragmentation and forces centrifugal to the work. If we also take into consideration the numerous so-called independent churches that continue to appear above all in Africa and the proliferation of often very aggressive sects, we will realize that the ecumenical landscape has become very differentiated and confused. This pluralism is nothing other than the mirror of the pluralistic situation of so-called post-modern society, which often leads to religious relativism.

In the present context, what is of particular importance are the meetings such as the plenary assembly of the World Council of Churches that took place in February of last year in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and the “Global Christian Forum” and the “European Ecumenical Assembly” held in September 2007 in Sibiu/Hermannstadt, Romania. The aim of these gatherings is to re-unite the various divergent groups in dialogue and, as far as possible, hold the ecumenical movement together with its bright spots and shadows and its new challenges in a changed and still rapidly changing situation.

Section IV.

This mention of pluralism leads me to the third wave in the history of Christianity, namely, the spread of charismatics and Pentecostals, who, with about 400 million faithful worldwide, are in second place among Christian groups in terms of numbers and are experiencing exponential growth. Lacking a common structure and a central organ, they encompass much diversity. They consider themselves the fruit of a new Pentecost; consequently, the baptism of the Spirit plays a fundamental role for them. Referring to them, Pope John Paul II already made it known that this phenomenon need not be considered only in a negative way since, beyond the undeniable problems, it bears witness to the desire for a spiritual experience. Unfortunately, this does not take away the fact that many of these communities have in the meantime become a religion that promises an earthly happiness.

With the classical Pentecostals it was possible to broach an official dialogue. With others, there are serious problems on account of their somewhat aggressive missionary methods. The Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, in the face of this challenge, has organized on various continents seminars for bishops, theologians, and lay people active in ecumenism: in Latin America at São Paulo and Buenos Aires, in Africa at Nairobi and Dakar, in Asia at Seoul and Manila . The result of these seminars is also evident in the final document of the 2007 meeting of the Latin American and Caribbean bishops in Aparecida, Brazil. Above all, a pastoral examination of conscience is necessary in which we ask ourselves in a self-critical way why so many Christians are leaving our Church. We do not need to ask what it is that is wrong with the Pentacostals but what our pastoral deficiencies are. How can we respond to this new challenge with a liturgical, catechetical, pastoral and spiritual renewal?

Section V.

This question leads us to the concluding question: How should we travel the path of ecumenism? It is not possible to give a single answer. The situation is so different according to geographical regions, cultural environments, local Churches. It is the individual bishops’ conferences that must assume the responsibility.

In the way of principle, we must begin from the common patrimony of faith and remain faithful to that which, with the help of God, we have been able to accomplish ecumenically. Inasmuch as possible we must bear common witness to this faith in a world that is increasingly secularized. This means that in the present situation we must also rediscover and reinforce the fundamentals of this faith of ours. In fact, everything vacillates and is emptied of meaning if we do not have a firm and conscious faith in the living God, one and three, in the divinity of Christ, in the salvific power of the cross and the resurrection. If we no longer know what sin is and what implication in sin is, then the justification of the sinner no longer has any relevance.

Only on the basis of the common faith is it possible to dialogue about what our differences are. And that must happen in a clear but non-polemical way. We must not offend the sensibilities of others or discredit them; we must not point our finger at what our ecumenical interlocutors are not or at what they do not have. Rather, we must bear witness to the richness and beauty of our faith in a positive and welcoming way. We expect the same attitude from the others. If this happens between us and our interlocutors, there can be, as the encyclical “Ut Unum Sint” says, an exchange not only of ideas but also of gifts, which will enrich both sides (28, 57). Such an ecumenism of sharing is not an impoverishment but a reciprocal enrichment.

In dialogue founded on spiritual sharing, theological dialogue will also have an essential role in the future. But it will be fruitful only if it is sustained by an ecumenism of prayer, of conversion of heart and of personal sanctification. Spiritual ecumenism is in fact the very soul of the ecumenical movement (“Unitatis Redintegratio,” 8; “Ut Unum Sint,” 21-27) and it must have first place in our efforts. Without a true spirituality of communion, which gives room to the other without the renunciation of our own identity, all of our projects would become arid and empty activism.

If we make our own the prayer that Jesus pronounced on the eve of his death, we need not lose courage and vacillate in our faith. As the Gospel says, we must be confident that what we ask in Christ’s name will be heard (John 14:13). We will not be the ones to decide when, where and how. This is left to him who is the Lord of the Church and who gathers his Church from the four winds. We must content ourselves with doing our best, recognizing the gifts received with gratitude, or to be more precise, that which ecumenism has already accomplished, and look to the future with hope. Looking with realism at the “signs of the times” we are able to understand that there is no realistic alternative to ecumenism and above all no alternative to faith.

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]

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