Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Christian Unity

Christian Unity

I recently attended an education in-service about Socratic Seminars.  The instructor impressed on us that the goal was to promote dialog, not debate.  All positions were equally valid, there were to be no judgments made, and there were no right answers to the questions being asked.

Now, this was about analyzing literature, identifying figurative language, tone, etc.  Depending on the piece, the technique could be rather benign, but it certainly could promote poor habits of mind, and immerse students in a culture of relativism.

It reminded me, in fact, of a statement I once heard a young man make: “I don’t really like apologetics; I prefer ecumenism.”

I bring that up because this is the week of prayer for Christian unity.  That is certainly a time for ecumenism, but what the young man I spoke to didn’t understand is that apologetics and ecumenism go hand-in-hand.

Ecumenism refers to dialog between members of different Christian communities: Protestant denominations, the Catholic Church, and the Orthodox.  The key to understanding ecumenism is understanding the goal: unity.  This means reunion – one Church giving one witness.

Praying together, standing up together in the culture wars, and supporting each other are all important things.  They all help build a sense of brotherhood.  But in the end, our goal is, as Jesus Himself prayed, “That they all may be one.”

To achieve this goal, many things are necessary.  We need patience, a historical understanding, forgiving hearts, and we need apologetics.

The only way for the many Christian communities to really reunite is for all of us to recognize that there is an objective religious Truth.  Some believe baptism is regenerative, others believe it is merely symbolic.  Well, it is either one or the other.  Someone is objectively wrong.  Some believe authority can only be found in the Bible, others believe Jesus has given authority to the Church as well.  He either did or He didn’t.  Someone is wrong.

There are many issues like that.  We should get along, we should support each other, we should work together, but we should also admit that on many issues of objective truth, we disagree.

This is why dialog is so important.  We need to discuss these things.  And this is why debate (and apologetics) is so important.  If we can all come to understand what we all believe, and why, we can arrive at the truth.  Then there must be humility enough to act on that truth.

As Catholics, we are very confident that the Church has the fullness of the Truth.  And she does.  But our Protestant brethren are quite sure that she does not.  We must, as a Church, be willing and able to explain and defend the Faith, if we are going to inspire many of our separated brethren to come home.

And we need our own humility.  We may be on solid theological ground, but there are many things we need to be able to see through others’ eyes.  There are many historical events, for example, about which we must acknowledge our wrongdoings.  A perfect example is the sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade.  It is true that the Church did not order or approve the attack, and that in fact the pope strongly disciplined the guilty.  But that does not change the fact that Catholic knights sacked the Orthodox capital, and the impregnable Constantinople soon fell as a result.

We need apologetics if we are ever to have unity, and we need humility.  And most of all, we need prayer.  So let us remember, during this week of prayer for Christian unity, to join sincere hearts across Christianity and beg our Lord to grant us the graces to fulfill his prayer for unity.