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The Decrees of Vatican II
Compared with Past Church Teachings

Ecumenism  |  Non-Christian Religions  |  Sacred Scripture
Education  |  Religious Liberty  |  Liturgy


Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism

P.1 Promoting the restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the chief concerns of the Second Sacred Ecumenical Synod of the Vatican.

P.3 But in subsequent centuries more widespread disagreements appeared and quite large communities became separated from full communion with the Catholic Church — developments for which, at times, men of both sides were to blame. However, one cannot impute the sin of separation to those at present who are born into these communities and are instilled therein with Christ’s faith. The Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers. For men who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are brought into a certain, though imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church. Undoubtedly the differences that exist in varying degrees between them and the Catholic Church — whether in doctrine and sometimes in discipline, or concerning the structure of the Church — do indeed create many and sometimes serious obstacles to full ecclesiastical communion. These the ecumenical movement is striving to overcome. Nevertheless, all those justified by faith through baptism are incorporated into Christ. They, therefore, have a right to be honored by the title of Christian, and are properly regarded as brothers in the Lord by the sons of the Catholic Church. Moreover, some, even very many, of the most significant elements or endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church herself can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church: the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, along with other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit and visible elements. The brethren divided from us also carry out many of the sacred actions of the Christian religion. Undoubtedly, in ways that vary according to the condition of each Church or community, these actions can truly engender a life of grace and can be rightly described as capable of providing access to the community of salvation.

P.6 Christ summons the Church, as she goes her pilgrim way, to that continual reformation of which she always has need, insofar as she is an institution of men here on earth. Therefore, if the influence of events or of the times has led to deficiencies in conduct, in Church discipline, or even in the formulation of doctrine (which must be carefully distinguished from the deposit itself of faith), these should be appropriately rectified at the proper moment. [Ed. footnote: It is remarkable, indeed, for an Ecumenical Council to admit the possible deficiency of previous doctrinal formulations.]

P.8 In certain special circumstances, such as in prayer services “for unity” and during ecumenical gatherings, it is allowable, indeed desirable, that Catholics should join in prayer with their separated brethren.

As for common worship, however, it may not be regarded as a means to be used indiscriminately for the restoration of unity among Christians. Such worship depends chiefly on two principles: it should signify the unity of the Church; it should provide a sharing in the means of grace. The fact that it should signify unity generally rules out common worship. Yet the gaining of a needed grace sometimes commends it.

P.9 Catholics need to acquire a more adequate understanding of the distinctive doctrines of our separated brethren... Of great value for this purpose are meetings between the two sides, especially for discussion of theological problems, where each can deal with the other on an equal footing.

P.15 Although these (Eastern schismatic) churches are separated from us, they possess true sacraments, above all — by apostolic succession — the priesthood and the Eucharist, whereby they are still joined to us in a very close relationship. Therefore, given suitable circumstances and the approval of Church authority, some worship in common is not merely possible but it is recommended.

P.16 To remove any shadow of doubt, then, this sacred Synod solemnly declares that the (schismatic) churches of the East, while keeping in mind the necessary unity of the whole Church, have the power to govern themselves according to their own disciplines, since these are better suited to the temperament of their faithful and better adapted to foster the good of souls. Although it has not always been honored, the strict observance of this traditional principle is among the prerequisites for any restoration of unity.

P.21 A love, veneration, and near cult of the Sacred Scriptures lead our (Protestant) brethren to a constant and expert study of the sacred text. For the gospel “is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, to Jew first and then to Greek” (Rom. 1:16). Calling upon the Holy Spirit, they seek in these Sacred Scriptures God as He speaks to them in Christ....

P.22 The ecclesiastical communities separated from us lack that fullness of unity with us which should flow from baptism, and we believe that especially because of the lack of the sacrament of Orders, they have not preserved the genuine and total reality of the Eucharistic mystery. Nevertheless, when they commemorate the Lord’s Death and Resurrection in the Last Supper, they profess that it signifies life in communion with Christ and they await His coming in glory. For these reasons, dialogue should be undertaken concerning the true meaning of the Lord’s Supper, the other sacraments, and the Church’s worship and ministry.


Past Infallible Church Decrees on Ecumenism

Mortalium Animos — Pope Pius XI: ...It will be opportune to expound and to reject a certain false opinion which lies at the root of this question and of that complex movement by which non-Catholics seek to bring about the union of Christian churches. Those who favor this view constantly quote the words of Christ, “That they may be one...And there shall be one fold and one shepherd...” in the sense that Christ thereby merely expressed a desire or a prayer which as yet has not been granted. The Church, they say, is of its nature divided into sections composed of several churches...which still remain separated, and although holding in common some articles of doctrine, nevertheless differ concerning the remainder; that all these enjoy the same right... controversies must be set aside... These... who strive for the union of the churches would appear to pursue the noblest of ideals in promoting charity among all Christians. But... John himself, the Apostle of love, strictly forbade any intercourse with those who professed a mutilated and corrupt form of Christ’s teaching: “If any man come to you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into the house, nor say to him, God speed you” (John 2:10). ...it is clear why this Apostolic See has never allowed its subjects to take part in the assemblies of non-Catholics. There is but one way in which the unity of Christians may be fostered, and that is by furthering the return to the one true Church of Christ of those who are separated from it... it is chiefly by the bond of one Faith that the disciples of Christ are to be united.

Cantate Domino — Pope Eugene IV: The most Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes, and preaches, that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews arid heretics and schismatics, can have a share in life eternal; but that they will go into the eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless before death they are joined with her; and that so important is the unity of this ecclesiastical body that only those remaining within this unity can profit by the sacraments of the Church unto salvation, and they alone can receive an eternal recompense for their fasts, their almsgiving, their other works of Christian piety and the duties of a Christian soldier. No one, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, no one, even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ, can be saved, unless he remain within the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.

Fourth Lateran Council: There is but one universal Church of the faithful, outside of which no one at all can be saved.

Satis Cognitum — Pope Leo XIII: God indeed even made the Church a society far more perfect than any other. For the end for which the Church exists is as much higher than the end of other societies as divine grace is above natural, as immortal blessings are above the passing things of the earth. Therefore, the Church is a society divine in its origin, supernatural in its end and in the means proximately adapted to the attainment of that end; but it is a human community inasmuch as it is composed of men. For this reason we find it called in Holy Scriptures by names indicating a perfect society.

Lamentabili — Pope St. Pius X: Moreover, by divine and Catholic faith, everything must be beleved that is contained in the written Word of God or in Tradition, and that is proposed by the Church as a divinely revealed object of belief, either in a solemn decree or in her ordinary, universal teaching (Vatican I).

...the following propositions...are condemned and proscribed: Error 53. The organic constitution of the Church is not immutable. Like human society, Christian society is subject to perpetual evolution.

1917 Code of Canon Law: Canon 1101. It is unlawful for the faithful to assist in any active manner, or to take part, in the services of non-Catholics.

Satis Cognitum — Pope Leo XIII: The Arians, the Montanists, the Novatians, the Quartodecimans, the Eutychians, certainly did not reject all Catholic doctrine: they abandoned only a certain part of it. Still who does not know that they were declared heretics and banished from the bosom of the Church? In like manner were condemned all authors of heretical doctrines who followed them in subsequent ages. “There can be nothing more dangerous than those heretics who admit nearly the whole series of doctrine, and yet by one word, as with a drop of poison, taint the real and simple Faith taught by Our Lord and handed down by apostolic tradition... From this it is easy to see that men can fall away from the unity of the Church by schism, as well as by heresy.” “We think that this difference exists between heresy and schism,” writes St. Jerome: “Heresy has no perfect dogmatic teaching, whereas schism, through some episcopal dissent, also separates from the Church.” In which judgment St. John Chrysostom agrees: “I say and protest,” he writes, “that it is as wrong to divide the Church as it is to fall into heresy.” Hence as no heresy can ever be justifiable, so in like manner there can be no justification for schism. “There is nothing more grievous than the sacrilege of schism...there can be no just necessity for destroying the unity of the Church....” From a variety of interpretations a variety of beliefs is necessarily generated; hence come controversies, dissensions, and wranglings such as have arisen in the past, even in the first ages of the Church. Irenaeus writes of heretics as follows: “Admitting the Holy Scriptures they distort the interpretations.” And Augustine: “Heresies have arisen, and certain perverse views ensnaring souls and precipitating them into the abyss, only when the Scriptures, good in themselves, are not properly understood”.

Mediator Dei — Pope Pius XII: More properly, since the liturgy is also a profession of eternal truths, and subject, as such, to the Supreme Teaching Authority of the Church, it can supply proofs and testimony, quite clearly of no little value, towards the determination of a particular point of Christian doctrine. But if one desires to differentiate and describe the relationship between faith and the sacred liturgy in absolute and general terms, it is perfectly correct to say: “Lex credendi, legem statuit supplicandi: let the rule of belief determine the rule of prayer.”

Satis Cognitum — Pope Leo XIII: There must also be the fitting and devout worship of God, which is to be found chiefly in the divine Sacrifice and in the dispensation of the sacraments, as well as salutary laws and discipline. All these must be found in the Church, since it continues the mission of the Savior forever. The Church alone offers to the human race that religion — that state of absolute perfection — which He wished, as it were to be incorporated in it. And it alone supplies those means of salvation which accord with the ordinary counsels of Providence.

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