Unitatis Redintegratio

By John Ellis

Yes, it was a new phrase to me too. It is the title of a Roman Catholic Decree arising from the Second Vatican Council issued in November 1964. As it formally declared that the authentic Church could be found in denominations other than the Roman Catholic, some see it as the crucial moment when the Roman Catholic Church took ecumenism into its system.

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Leeds Roman Catholic Cathedral

The 50th anniversary of the Decree was marked by an ecumenical seminar at the Catholic Cathedral in Leeds to which I was invited as a formal representative of the United Reformed Church. It was good to see a number of other URC members present too. Four speakers from different Church traditions, including the Revd Dr David Cornick as General Secretary of Churches Together in England, explored the impact and continuing relevance of the Decree and its context.

Compared with most URC discussions on ecumenism, the time scales within which the speakers considered progress were strikingly long. It was suggested that God only takes one stride every decade. This would certainly provide some reason for a lack of urgency odd to the average URC mind.

It was also striking that nearly all the questions from the floor were from Free Church Christians pressing for more on actions now: the seminar sub-title was The last 50 years; the next 50 years and it felt as if the first half had been given much more attention than the second half. Nonetheless it was good to be reminded that God sometimes requires us to wait and that such a gathering would have been hardly possible fifty years ago.

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Church Leaders at Ecumenical Vespers

After the Seminar the ecumenical guests were invited to participate in a service called “Ecumenical Vespers” in the Cathedral, at which the Metropolitan Archbishop of Liverpool presided. The climax of the service was a hymn sung to the Virgin Mary in Latin, which showed that not everything changed with Vatican Two.

1 thought on “Unitatis Redintegratio

  1. Mike Ryan

    (Unitatis Redintegratio) formally declared that the authentic Church could be found in denominations other than the Roman Catholic.

    That’s one way of putting it, I suppose but what the decree actually said was that, “Moreover, some and 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: the written word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, and visible elements too. All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to Christ, belong by right to the one Church of Christ.” “It follows that the separated Churches and Communities as such, though we believe them to be deficient in some respects, have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Church.” Not quite a declaration that “the authentic Church could be found in denominations other than the Roman Catholic.”

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