To start off I would like to read from UR # 3 “For it is only through Christ’s Catholic Church, which is “the all-embracing means of salvation,” that they (non-Catholic Christians) can benefit fully from the means of salvation” (Vatican Translation) Let’s keep this in mind as we read.
Claim: The Decree on Ecumenicism teaches error in paragraph 1 when it says “Yet almost all, though in different ways, long for the one visible Church of God, that truly universal Church whose mission is to convert the whole world to the gospel, so that the world may be saved, to the glory of God.” Yet, we as Catholics already have the one true Church therefore we don’t long.
Response: This argument against UR # 1 fails to read the very next sentence which states “This sacred Council gladly notes all this. It has already declared its teaching on the church, and now …..” UR was meant to be read in conjunction with Lumen Gentium (LG). (the already declared its teaching on the church part) See LG # 8 where the sacred council declares that the one true church is the Catholic church which Christ established. Thus, the UR # 1 quote above is meant to be read in light of LG. In this way there is nothing wrong with Catholics longing for the one true Church because they already know what that is and that they are part of it. The sentence in UR # 1 was meant to be directed to all Christians of various branches and also Catholics, who unlike the others not only long but also are part of the true church fully.
Claim: “Nevertheless, the divisions among Christians prevent the Church from attaining the fullness of catholicity proper to her, in those of her sons who, though attached to her by Baptism, are yet separated from full communion with her. Furthermore, the Church herself finds it more difficult to express in actual life her full catholicity in all her bearings.” (Vatican Translation) Yet, in the Apostles Creed we profess one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Thus, UR # 4 teaches error that the Catholic Church is not fully Catholic yet.
Response: Be careful about the translation. In UR # 4 catholicity is not capitalized. It is not inferring that the Catholic Church is not the universal church of salvation, but that it is not yet universally (catholicity = all embracing, universal) accepted or spread into everyone’s heart. Hence Lucy, who is Catholic, has an very catholic diet. This can mean Lucy eats like a Catholic or that her diet is very universal or all embracing. Hence, you can profess the One Holy Catholic Church is still not universally present in everyone’s hearts all around the world. The fullness of universality in human hearts is lacking due to division – not its character as the universal church of salvation.
Claim: UR 3 says “Moreover some, 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: Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements.” Yet Unam Scantum says “”With Faith urging us we are forced to believe and to hold the one, holy, Catholic Church and that, apostolic, and we firmly believe and simply confess this Church outside of which there is no salvation nor remission of sin, the Spouse in the Canticle proclaiming: ‘One is my dove, my perfect one.” Thus, UR says that there exits salvation and grace outside of the Catholic Church.
Response: This one needs to be read carefully. UR#3 says visible boundaries of the church has grace and elements existing outside of it, not the invisible boundaries. It clearly claims latter on in the same paragraph that salvation is only from the Catholic Church, “For it is through Christ’s Catholic church alone, which is the universal help towards salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained. It was to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, that we believe our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant…” Thus, others may be granted graces outside the visible boundaries of the church but not the invisible boundaries. As UR#3 also says, “For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them (outside visible boundary stuff) as a means of salvation which derive their efficacy from (hence inside the invisible boundary) the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church.” Valid Baptism in another denomination would be an example. This, baptism is derived from the grace given to the Catholic Church yet executed outside its visible walls but nots its invisible ones. As a result, UR#3 does not contradict Unam Scantum. (Austin Flannery, O.P translation)
Claim: UR#4 says “On the other hand, 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.” Yet, many Popes have said something to the effect that if you don’t remain in communion with the Catholic Church even shedding your blood won’t help you.
Response: We need to differentiate those who clearly and with full intent leave the Church in an act of Heresy or Schism and those who without mortal sin remain outside of its visible boundaries. Thus, those who are not in full-communion but have not committed mortal sin to leave the Church or committed mortal sin by refraining from entering into the Church can shed their blood for Christ if they are acting on good conscience because they would be Catholic implicitly by desire. (see the response and explanations of the previous points above) There are those who do not become Catholic on a wrong but sincere non-mortal state of conscience who we can then say are Catholic by desire of good conscience. These can shed their blood for Christ.
Claim: UR#13-15 teaches that Eastern Christians not in communion with the Catholics Church by celebrating the liturgy of the Holy Eucharist actually build up the church. Yet, heretics are the gates of Hell so they cannot build up the church. (Yes, I have seen this argument)
Response: First, Eastern Christians are not heretics they are in schism primarily. Second, baptism, confirmation and holy orders leave permanent marks on the soul which cannot be undone. Thus, even as far back as the council of Nicaea (see canon 8) the church allowed Novatianists clergy to maintain their rank when they came into the Catholic Church. Why – because you cannot undue baptism, confirmation and holy orders. Thus, because the Eastern Churches have valid holy orders and apostolic succession their sacraments are valid. Catholics are even allowed to attend Eastern Churches for the Eucharist if there are no readily available Catholic ones around, given certain moral disclaimers!!! (look this up for yourselves) Since, the Catholic Church recognizes the validity of some sacraments in the Eastern Churches it would be impossible to say that they don’t grow or build the church up because every baptism and Eucharist that is valid does this. (again remember that the Catholic Church has membership with all baptized validly even if they are not formally part of it)
Claim: UR#3 says, “But in subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions made their appearance and quite large communities came to be separated from full communion with the Catholic Church – for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame. The children who are born into these Communities and who grow up believing in Christ cannot be accused of the sin involved in the separation, and the Catholic Church embraces upon them as brothers, with respect and affection.” Yet, Catholics do not respect Heresy. Error has no rights. Many Popes said to anathematize every heresy.
Response: The text is talking about people not ideas. We can have respect for persons while not agreeing with their ideas! We have to be careful about not judging persons but only actions. First, someone (not all) who today is born into a protestant church is not a heretic because they never obstinately denied a tenant of faith with moral capability. They don’t recognize that the church is authoritative from the start and can be invincibly ignorant of the issue so they are not guilty of heresy morally speaking. (https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/dictionary/index.cfm?id=33902) Thus, although we disagree with their ideas, we can still respect and embrace them as persons. I can go and respect a prostitute and embrace them even. That does not mean I agree with their life style. Plus, we are also taking about baptized non-Catholics. Thus, they are part of the Church and so when not morally guilty of heresy should not be shunned in any way.
Claim: UR#14 says that if disagreements arose between east and west the Roman See by common consent acted as a moderator. Yet, the primacy of Pope is by virtue of his office not the consent of any faithful.
Response: Check out Pope John Paul II General Audience August 9, 1995 “1. On the topic of ecumenism, what the Second Vatican Council says about relations between the Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Church is particularly important: the current separation cannot make us forget the long way we have come together. “For many centuries the Churches of the East and of the West went their own ways, though a brotherly communion of faith and sacramental life bound them together. If disagreements in faith and discipline arose among them, the Roman See acted by common consent as moderator” (Unitatis redintegratio, n. 14). During that historical period, the Eastern Churches had their own way of celebrating and expressing the mystery of the common faith and their own discipline. These legitimate differences did not prevent them from accepting the ministry entrusted to Peter and his successors.“
As the Pope quotes UR#14 when it says common consent it did not mean that Catholics believe the Pope’s primacy is derived from common consent by but that as Catholic we already recognized this primacy and the East chose to as well (see the last sentence in quote). The text is UR#14 is not meant to give teaching on Peter’s office but explain a historical situation. Saying that the East gave consent to allow the Pope to be moderator does not mean that consent is what grounds the papacy. It was a text meant to show how both sides came to work together despite differences in theology – not a doctrinal statement. If you have to get the other side to agree to everything you say before you begin the conversation you will not get far. Catholics believe in Peter’s Primacy. East does not. If we try to dialogue without giving up on the Catholic stance personally we can at least grant the East some common ground and then work from that. (this finding of common ground does not at all imply we let go of our Catholics beliefs.)
Claim: UR#9 (Vatican Translation) “We must get to know the outlook of our separated brethren. … 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. …” Yet, the Churches teachings are true and the other churches false. Therefore, they are not on equal footing.
Response: UR#9 is not talking about the validity of claims or as if other churches are equal to the Catholic one. Nor is it saying we should afford to other churches the same footing in terms of doctrinal correctness. All it says is that if we want to dialogue, we need meetings were both sides have an equal chance to speak and share ideas. (equal footing in the meeting does not imply that the Catholic church nor the other church thinks their views are equal—why would they both be different churches then?) These meetings facilitate understanding as UR#8 says “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.” In fact, if the Catholic Church is the true church and has the best teaching then it should not be afraid to hear the claims of others if in turn it gets the same amount of time to explain its own dogma. Thus, these meetings like Jesus on the way to Emmaus, first listen to the disciples before he goes and corrects their understanding of events. Would we get anywhere and bring light to others if we shut them down before they can even speak?
On Mortalium Animos
Mortalium Animos and UR are not in contradiction. This Link can answer some questions. We also must remember that UR is often talking about those who have been born and raised in non-Catholic religions and are only heretics materially because they have not personally denied obstinately the faith. There are those who know better.