Monday, August 22, 2011

New Encyclical Released on Church Unity

By Rev. George Smith

22 August 2011 (ACNS) - On the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Cardinal Johnson, Patriarch of the Anglican Rite Roman Catholic Church, released an encyclical regarding matters of unity within the worldwide Church, and especially within the Anglican Church. This encyclical, entitled Christus Desiderat, follows a lengthy set of initiatives and talks designed to heal the wounds of the past and move forward to the future. It also precedes the Patriarchal Address on the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, which is expected to involve talks of unity.

When asked what is needed now for unity, Card. Johnson said "We need cooperation, not compromise. Least common denominator approaches do not work. Neither does it work when those who are upset, troubled, or concerned by current situations in the church create divisions through schism or seek the destruction of another church."

Other clergy have expressed concern at the various implicit or explicit attempts by some Continuing Anglican churches to seek the destruction of other Continuing Anglican churches and the Episcopal Church. One Continuing Anglican leader once remarked that his would be the only "Episcopal Church" left after a certain number of years. "This type of inharmonious behavior is highly counterproductive, and it is most definitely not Christian behavior. If your raison d'etre as a church is to syphon members off from another church, especially when the justification is that said church is having problems as you perceive it, then you have no firm foundation and commit grave sin against charity," Card. Johnson said. In the encyclical, the Cardinal also urged Church leaders to come together and find common ground on which they can cooperate. There appears to be growing concensus among major church leaders that the time has long since come for us all to come together, not comprising on our sincerely-held beliefs, but working together as Christ intended.

The complete text of the encyclical is below:

Encyclical regarding Unity in the Church

To the Bishops, Regular Clergy, and Faithful of the Anglican Rite Roman Catholic Church, greetings and Apostolic Blessings.

1. Christ desires unity in his Holy Church. Natural segments of the Church have developed over the many centuries, though they all remain one as the Trinity is One, through the closest possible bonds of Apostolic Succession and valid Sacraments.

2. Yet, for various reasons, various schismatic factions have arisen. Even when formed through the best of intentions, such as maintenance of true doctrine, they nevertheless create fractions within the Church. Walls are erected, and animosity, mistrust, and confusion develop on both sides of that wall.

3. Some of these factions further seek the destruction of other branches of Christ's Holy Church. This is the worst possible result, even if the initial intentions of those factions were good. No entity of the Church can consider itself truly Christian if it seeks the destruction of other entities of the Church.

4. Schism is by far worse than heresy. Schism contains with it heresy, viz. the heresy that promotes fraction of the Church and is opposed to unity and charity. Saint Augustine said that a schismatic is one who holds the same faith as the rest, but takes pleasure in the mere disunion of the Church. No one can be fully Christian if they seek, promote, or take pleasure in mere disunion.

5. When the formation of a faction or even a new and otherwise legitimate Apostolic branch of the Church is carried out for the preservation of doctrine and the Faith handed down from the Apostles, there exists a strong possibility to become exclusionary against other parts of the Church. Continuing Anglican churches, for example, often are hostile against the Church that they left, i.e., the Episcopal Church or another branch of the Anglican Communion, even to the point of seeking its ultimate destruction. Continuing Anglican Churches and Independent Catholic Churches are often hostile against Rome. Even validly-formed entities of the Church lose their doctrinal validity when they act in hostility, whether active or passive, against the other branches of the Church. This is not to say that they cannot and should not maintain their doctrinal position, or that they cannot express their belief that the opposing side is wrong. This is, however, different from hostility, as it implies an inherent respect for other members of the Corporate Body of Christ.

6. All Particular Churches must strive for unity. It must be remembered that doctrinal issues are beyond the capability of one person to decide. These matters will not be decided or resolved necessarily according to our time table. What is left to us is to be faithful stewards of what we have been given to preserve, doing this the best possible way that we can. While we have very strong reasons for our beliefs, doctrine, practices, and procedures, it must be acknowledged that other parts of the Church have equally strong reasons for their beliefs, doctrine, practices, and procedures, even when they differ from ours. It is, therefore, cooperation that is needed, not compromise or hostility.

7. We are all, therefore, called to work for cooperative unity.

8. The Anglican Rite Roman Catholic Church has inherited a unique lineage and legacy to maintain that puts us in a prime position to heal wounds and work towards unity. With this comes a great responsibility. All the clergy and faithful of this Particular Church are expected to work for unity, shun schism, maintain the Faith, seek cooperation where possible, build bridges, and serve the needs of those whom God puts in our path to help. This is our mandate and our cause.

9. Furthermore, it is our firm belief that those churches in the Anglican Continuum should work to cooperate amongst themselves and with the various entities of the Anglican Communion, e.g., the Episcopal Church and the Church of England. Similarly, the various branches of the Anglican Communion should extend a hand in Christian fellowship and seek ways to cooperate for the greater good. Independent Catholic Churches and the Roman Communion ought to do similarly, as well as the western Church and the great Orthodox Churches of the East. No person, group, faction, sect or church ought to seek the destruction of any other branch of Christ's Holy Church. Those who are suffering due to internal doctrinal and structural crises within their Church need not give hope. Always trusting in Christ, it is our firm belief that they must not participate in schism, but wait and hope in the Lord. In all these situations, differences need not be laid aside, and compromise is not suggested. Cooperation and Christian brotherhood, however, are essential, for how can anyone call themselves Christian without those fundamental Christian traits?

Rutherford Card. Johnson
Patriarch of the Anglican Rite Roman Catholic Church

Given at the Court of Saint Mary of Walsingham
on the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary
22 August A.D. 2011.

(1) Eph. 4.4-6; 37.19.
(2) Acts 4.32; I Peter 2.17; Rom. 15.6.
(3) Thomas Aquinas S.T. Question 39
(4) Contra Faust. xx, 3; Contra Crescon. ii, 4