By Sandro Magister
Because they conform themselves to the world. And instead of teaching the objective truth of the faith, they urge everyone to choose the community that best meets his tastes. The Pope’s shocking discourse to representatives of ecumenism.
ROME — The moment that was indisputably the key of Benedict XVI’s fourth day in the United States was his address to the general assembly of the United Nations. But on the afternoon of that same Friday, April 18, the pope made two other appearances in New York.
The first was a visit to the synagogue of Park East, directed by rabbi Arthur Schneier, on the eve of the Jewish Passover (see photo).
The second was an ecumenical meeting, in the Church of St. Joseph, with 250 representatives from a dozen Christian confessions.
During this meeting, at the end of the Liturgy of the Word, Benedict XVI addressed to those present a discourse that was absolutely out of the ordinary for such a gathering. Even more, it was highly original with respect to the previous statements by pope Joseph Ratzinger on the topic of the ecumenism.
Why the Church is Divided: Benedict’s Explanation
The thesis of Benedict XVI is that Christianity is so divided both because of a mutual rivalry expressed in “prophetic actions” that tend to distinguish and divide the communities from “communion with the Church in every age,” and because of “a relativistic approach to Christian doctrine similar to that found in secular ideologies.”
So instead of preaching Jesus Christ “and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2) — meaning the “objective truth” of the apostolic faith — many Christians of the various denominations prefer to urge each one to follow his own conscience and choose the community that best meets his personal tastes.
In the judgment of Benedict XVI, this reluctance to assert the centrality of doctrine “for fear that it would only exacerbate rather than heal the wounds of division” is also present within the ecumenical movement.
On the contrary, this is the appeal of the pope:
“Only by ‘holding fast’ to sound teaching (2 Thess 2:15; cf. Rev 2:12-29) will we be able to respond to the challenges that confront us in an evolving world. Only in this way will we give unambiguous testimony to the truth of the Gospel and its moral teaching. This is the message which the world is waiting to hear from us.”
This appeal is all the more relevant “just at the time when the world is losing its bearings and needs a persuasive common witness to the saving power of the Gospel (cf. Rom 1:18-23).”
Here are the salient passages of the pope’s address:
On the fragmentation of the Christian communities
By Benedict XVI
New York, ecumenical meeting in the church of Saint Joseph, Friday, April 18, 2008
[…] Too often those who are not Christians, as they observe the splintering of Christian communities, are understandably confused about the Gospel message itself. Fundamental Christian beliefs and practices are sometimes changed within communities by so-called “prophetic actions” that are based on a hermeneutic not always consonant with the datum of Scripture and Tradition. Communities consequently give up the attempt to act as a unified body, choosing instead to function according to the idea of “local options”. Somewhere in this process the need for diachronic koinonia — communion with the Church in every age — is lost, just at the time when the world is losing its bearings and needs a persuasive common witness to the saving power of the Gospel (cf. Rom 1:18-23).
Faced with these difficulties, we must first recall that the unity of the Church flows from the perfect oneness of the Trinitarian God. In John’s Gospel, we are told that Jesus prayed to his Father that his disciples might be one, “just as you are in me and I am in you” (Jn 17:21). This passage reflects the unwavering conviction of the early Christian community that its unity was both caused by, and is reflective of, the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This, in turn, suggests that the internal cohesion of believers was based on the sound integrity of their doctrinal confession (cf. 1 Tim 1:3-11). Throughout the New Testament, we find that the Apostles were repeatedly called to give an account for their faith to both Gentiles (cf. Acts 17:16-34) and Jews (cf. Acts 4:5-22; 5:27-42). The core of their argument was always the historical fact of Jesus’s bodily resurrection from the tomb (Acts 2:24, 32; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30). The ultimate effectiveness of their preaching did not depend on “lofty words” or “human wisdom” (1 Cor 2:13), but rather on the work of the Spirit (Eph 3:5) who confirmed the authoritative witness of the Apostles (cf. 1 Cor 15:1-11). The nucleus of Paul’s preaching and that of the early Church was none other than Jesus Christ, and “him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). But this proclamation had to be guaranteed by the purity of normative doctrine expressed in creedal formulae — symbola — which articulated the essence of the Christian faith and constituted the foundation for the unity of the baptized (cf. 1 Cor 15:3-5; Gal 1:6-9; Unitatis Redintegratio, 2).
My dear friends, the power of the kerygma has lost none of its internal dynamism. Yet we must ask ourselves whether its full force has not been attenuated by a relativistic approach to Christian doctrine similar to that found in secular ideologies, which, in alleging that science alone is “objective”, relegate religion entirely to the subjective sphere of individual feeling. Scientific discoveries, and their application through human ingenuity, undoubtedly offer new possibilities for the betterment of humankind. This does not mean, however, that the “knowable” is limited to the empirically verifiable, nor religion restricted to the shifting realm of “personal experience”. For Christians to accept this faulty line of reasoning would lead to the notion that there is little need to emphasize objective truth in the presentation of the Christian faith, for one need but follow his or her own conscience and choose a community that best suits his or her individual tastes. The result is seen in the continual proliferation of communities which often eschew institutional structures and minimize the importance of doctrinal content for Christian living.
Even within the ecumenical movement, Christians may be reluctant to assert the role of doctrine for fear that it would only exacerbate rather than heal the wounds of division. Yet a clear, convincing testimony to the salvation wrought for us in Christ Jesus has to be based upon the notion of normative apostolic teaching: a teaching which indeed underlies the inspired word of God and sustains the sacramental life of Christians today.
Only by “holding fast” to sound teaching (2 Thess 2:15; cf. Rev 2:12-29) will we be able to respond to the challenges that confront us in an evolving world. Only in this way will we give unambiguous testimony to the truth of the Gospel and its moral teaching. This is the message which the world is waiting to hear from us. Like the early Christians, we have a responsibility to give transparent witness to the “reasons for our hope”, so that the eyes of all men and women of goodwill may be opened to see that God has shown us his face (cf. 2 Cor 3:12-18) and granted us access to his divine life through Jesus Christ. He alone is our hope! God has revealed his love for all peoples through the mystery of his Son’s passion and death, and has called us to proclaim that he is indeed risen, has taken his place at the right hand of the Father, and “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead” (Nicene Creed). […]
Posted with permission from Chiesa (repubblica.it).