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Archbishop Longley reminds us of our commitment to ecumenism. But ecumenism today has to be very different from that of the post-Conciliar years

And John Henry Newman, contrary to the supposition of many, was hardly an ecumenist as we understand the word

By on Monday, 22 October 2012

Archbishop Bernard Longley with Bishop Campbell and Bishop Conry in Rome (Photo: Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk)

Archbishop Bernard Longley with Bishop Campbell and Bishop Conry in Rome (Photo: Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk)

In an interesting talk on the new evangelisation, delivered a week ago, Archbishop Bernard Longley draws attention to article 125 of the recent document Instrumentum laboris which speaks, he says, of a “renewed commitment to ecumenism” as a fruit of the Church’s own transformation, and goes on to remind us that “one of the insights of the Second Vatican Council was the fresh ability of the Church to recognise the work of the Holy Spirit, not only in individual Christians but also acting in and through the churches and ecclesial communities to which they belong”.

The kind of ecumenism to which Instrumentum laboris refers, though, is surely a very different thing from much of the reductionist ecumenism of the immediate post-conciliar years, which in its committed indifferentism hugely weakened the commitment to their faith of millions of Catholics, by strongly implying that Christians all believed much the same thing, and that the Catholic Church had no business insisting that only it possessed the fullness of faith. Article 125 repeats the conciliar teaching that “the divisions among Christians are a counter-witness” and that “overcoming these divisions is undeniably a part of a fully credible following of Christ”.

But of course, the Council itself said more than that. Lumen Gentium asserts that “the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic… constituted and organised in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure”. The necessary gloss on Archbishop Longley’s reflections on article 125 of instrumentum laboris must surely be article 126: “Many responses expect that the new evangelisation will also be directed towards people’s attitude towards the truth. Various areas of contemporary culture display a certain intolerance towards anything claimed to be the truth. Today, the modern idea is that freedom means absolute autonomy from truth, which finds relativism to be the only way of thinking suitable for living in cultural and religious diversity”.

From this it follows that much of the ecumenism of the post-conciliar years, utterly relativist if anything ever was, was precisely what Catholics should never have become so deeply involved in, and — it should be added — would never have been involved in if they had been guided by Lumen Gentium.

This kind of indifferentist ecumenism, it has to be said, was precisely what characterised much of the work of the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission, a body which still supposedly exists, but only in the same sense as the stuffed dodo in the Oxford Natural History Museum exists.

This leads me to my second suggestion for a necessary gloss on Archbishop Longley’s interesting talk, if we are to get the most from it. Speaking as Archbishop of Birmingham so soon after the feast of Blessed John Henry Newman, it must have seemed natural to press his local Beato into service in support of his remarks on ecumenism. The difficulty is that, counter to what many think, especially in England — where most Catholic ecumenical activity has been centred on ARCIC — Catholic ecumenism as practised in recent years is simply blasted out of the water by any appeal to Newman, who more and more, after he had become a Catholic, insisted that though the Church of England was a great national institution, it was simply not a Church at all in the same sense the Catholic Church was.

Archbishop Longley refers to Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua, which many today think of as a bland and reflective spiritual work: he has, I fear, forgotten that it also contains passages of swingeing controversy (Newman himself insisted that he was a controversialist, not a theologian) which after the first edition were transferred into an appendix. They are still, there, all the same, and notably for our purpose this one:

“… I have been bringing out my mind in this Volume on every subject which has come before me; and therefore I am bound to state plainly what I feel and have felt, since I was a Catholic, about the Anglican Church. I said, in a former page, that, on my conversion, I was not conscious of any change in me of thought or feeling, as regards matters of doctrine; this, however, was not the case as regards some matters of fact, and, unwilling as I am to give offence to religious Anglicans, I am bound to confess that I felt a great change in my view of the Church of England. I cannot tell how soon there came on me — but very soon — an extreme astonishment that I had ever imagined it to be a portion of the Catholic Church. For the first time, I looked at it from without, and (as I should myself say) saw it as it was.

“Forthwith I could not get myself to see in it any thing else, than what I had so long fearfully suspected, from as far back as 1836 — a mere national institution. As if my eyes were suddenly opened, so I saw it — spontaneously, apart from any definite act of reason or any argument; and so I have seen it ever since. I suppose, the main cause of this lay in the contrast which was presented to me by the Catholic Church. Then I recognised at once a reality which was quite a new thing with me. Then I was sensible that I was not making for myself a Church by an effort of thought; I needed not to make an act of faith in her; I had not painfully to force myself into a position, but my mind fell back upon itself in relaxation and in peace, and I gazed at her almost passively as a great objective fact. I looked at her;—at her rites, her ceremonial, and her precepts; and I said, ‘This is a religion’; and then, when I looked back upon the poor Anglican Church, for which I had laboured so hard, and upon all that appertained to it, and thought of our various attempts to dress it up doctrinally and esthetically, it seemed to me to be the veriest of non-entities.

“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity! How can I make a record of what passed within me, without seeming to be satirical? But I speak plain, serious words. As people call me credulous for acknowledging Catholic claims, so they call me satirical for disowning Anglican pretensions; to them it is credulity, to them it is satire; but it is not so in me. What they think exaggeration, I think truth. I am not speaking of the Anglican Church with any disdain, though to them I seem contemptuous. To them of course it is ‘Aut Cæsar aut nullus,’ but not to me. It may be a great creation, though it be not divine, and this is how I judge of it. Men, who abjure the divine right of kings, would be very indignant, if on that account they were considered disloyal. And so I recognise in the Anglican Church a time-honoured institution, of noble historical memories, a monument of ancient wisdom, a momentous arm of political strength, a great national organ, a source of vast popular advantage, and, to a certain point, a witness and teacher of religious truth. I do not think that if what I have written about it since I have been a Catholic, be equitably considered as a whole, I shall be found to have taken any other view than this; but that it is something sacred, that it is an oracle of revealed doctrine, that it can claim a share in St Ignatius or St Cyprian, that it can take the rank, contest the teaching, and stop the path of the Church of St Peter, that it can call itself ‘the Bride of the Lamb’, this is the view of it which simply disappeared from my mind on my conversion, and which it would be almost a miracle to reproduce. ‘I went by, and lo! it was gone; I sought it, but its place could no where be found;’ and nothing can bring it back to me.”

This is powerful and deeply spiritual writing: but it is only ecumenical in the sense that it implicitly calls for a Christian unity founded on communion with the One Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church. It may be the case that we do today have a vocation to an ecumenism based on the search for and proclamation of revealed truth; but I doubt whether an appeal to the ecclesiology of the Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman will help us very much to get into the mood for it.

  • JabbaPapa

    Brilliant article !!!

    Thanks !!!

  • Ghengis

    If Christianity is correct then the most correct form of it is Catholicism because it was Catholicism  that existed in the first 1000 years before the Catholic-Orthodox split. Protestantism came another 500 years later, including the C of E. Therefore, the Protestant position that true Christianity was only invented or resurrected hundreds upon hundreds of years after Christ is an untenable position. The Church of England should be disestablished just as the Church of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark were; then property stolen form the Catholic church should be returned, and by tourism income properly, they can be maintained by the original owner.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    ” … would never have been involved in if they had been guided by Lumen Gentium”.

    That’s not right at all. The appalling scandals we have seen since Vatican II in the field of ecumania come directly from that deeply-flawed document, which the Pope himself, not two weeks ago, criticised as being far too positive about other religions and unbalanced in that it did not point to their inherent falsity. 

    Whether it is that true betrayal of the ARCIC document on the Eucharist, well described as the greatest betrayal of the Catholic Faith by English Bishops since the Act of Supremacy; or the horror of Assisi I or the scandal of the most recent Assisi III, where a Nigerian witch doctor was allowed to make his chants to a Nigeria pagan god from the Sanctuary of a Catholic Church, Lumen Gentium (among other documents) can be blamed directly. 

    As to the reminder that Newman was no ecumenist: thank you for putting the record straight. His entire career was a war against liberals in the Anglican sect and then in the Catholic Church.

    It is also noteworthy that he had very strong words to say against any change in the liturgy of the Catholic Church, and warned against this prophetically. 

    Finally, I should like to note the only ecumenical endeavour in which I have ever been involved. A priest once asked me to join him for an ecumenical service at my then local Catholic Church with the Salvation Army. Noting my immediate look of panic, he said, “I have to do it, the Bishop’s ordered me to. Don’t worry, I have something special in mind. The Salvation Army are totally against kneeling. Remember that”. 

    So I agreed and turned up on the appointed day. Two Catholics were in attendance, me and the priest. Twelve Salvation Army reservists or whatever they are had come. We ecumenised right the way through all 14 Stations of the Cross, kneeling of course at each Station. Our military friends became more and more restless with every minute. At the end, they virtually fled the Church, at which point the priest and I looked at each other and at the same moment burst out laughing. 

    A fine bit of ecumenism, that.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    My father converted from Anglicanism in 1946 at the age of 16. 

    He tells the story of how the local vicar turned up at his house to find out why he hadn’t been to choir practice. Luckily, he wasn’t in. My grandmother told the vicar he had recently become a Catholic. 

    Turning on his heel, without replying the vicar walked to the front door, where he faced her to announce dramatically in a loud voice, “Just remember Mrs Carter, the Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England!” and walked out. 

    Marvellous stuff.

  • awkwardcustomer

    Here’s a quote from the Introduction to the ‘Catechism of the Council of Trent’, produced in the post-Reformation period.  Do you think the authors had England and the Anglican Church in mind, among others, when they wrote:

    ‘…. false prophets have gone forth into the world, to corrupt the minds of the faithful with various and strange doctrines ….In this work, to such extremes has their impiety, practiced in all the arts of Satan, been carried, that it would seem almost impossible to confine it within any bounds ….

    For ­ to say nothing of those illustrious States which heretofore professed, in piety and holiness, the true Catholic faith transmitted to them by their ancestors, but are now gone astray wandering from the paths of truth and openly declaring that their best claims to piety are founded on a total abandonment of the faith of their fathers ­ there is no region, however remote, no place, however securely guarded, no corner of Christendom, into which this pestilence has not sought secretly to insinuate itself.

    For those who intended to corrupt the minds of the faithful, knowing that they could not hold immediate personal intercourse with all, and thus pour into their ears their poisoned doctrines, adopted another plan which enabled them to disseminate error and impiety more easily and extensively. Besides those voluminous works by which they sought the subversion of the Catholic faith ….­ they also composed innumerable smaller books, which, veiling their errors under the semblance of piety, deceived with incredible facility the unsuspecting minds of simple folk.’



    I wonder what the Fathers of the Council of Trent would have to say about Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    I don’t wonder. They’d quite rightly break out the fire lighters. 

  • theroadmaster

    Ecumenism in Truth and not half-way house doctrinal, moral or liturgical compromises to expedite a false unity, must be at the heart of the quest of the Catholic Church to achieve the ultimate objective of Church unity with fellow Christians from the other Apostolic Churches and ecclesial communities, which Jesus Himself so willed..””that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me.” (John 17:21)
    The Catholic Church possesses the fullness of truth as contained the Deposit of Faith which Our Lord has bestowed on Peter and his fellow apostles.  Other Christian communions and communities possess elements of that same truth which are rather like the shards of a stain-glass window after it has been broken. But when the broken pieces are reassembled and made whole again in their natural glory, we would have in essence the Catholic Church as envisioned by Christ, with the successor of St Peter at the helm and a restoration of the unity that our Saviour desired.

  • JabbaPapa

  • JabbaPapa

  • andHarry

     ‘At the end, they virtually fled the Church,’

    I am afraid that it was probably not the Salvationists resistance to kneeling which routed them, but their encounter with a ritual composed of unBiblical elements. Faced with having to meditate on events which did not occur in Jesus’ Passion they would have been completely nonplussed. Six of the 14 Stations are completely unBiblical; Jesus did not fall three times,or meet the women or his mother, or have his face wiped. Incidentally, once you become aware of this discrepancy how do you meditate on events you now know are fictional?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    The Church of Christ sits on a stool with three legs. Scripture is only one of them. 

    The other two, Tradition and the Magisterium, existed 300 years before the Scriptural canon was assembled finally. 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    We already have the Catholic Church as envisioned by Christ. She is One, as well as Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. 

    Naturally we want those who are baptised but do not share the Catholic Faith to rejoin us. 

  • andHarry

     ‘ even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us;’

    Obviously this is a spiritual union; completed by the Holy Spirit. When believers receive the Holy Spirit they share this and are ‘in US’ regardless of the denomination in which they find themselves. Visible unity is not a necessary reflection of spiritual unity since the church is in part ‘hidden’ and will only be fully revealed at Christ’s coming.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    Total nonsense. You may decide what “unity” means but 1,600 years before “sola scriptura” was heard of, unity was always defined as:

    *   Unity in Faith – we don’t have that

    *   Unity in Sacraments – Protestants reject nearly all of them

    *   Unity in government – we clearly do not have that. 

    It is YOU who actually has to learn what the Church is, and forget your own construction which is not of Christ. 

  • Parasum

    What that article shows is something any one not lobotomised by being a bishop or an ecumenist has known for a *very* long time. And has been saying for as long. What is in the skulls of these people: air ? The sooner they all drop off the perch, the better. It’s just as well this is a family website, or people would say what they really think about these worthless pointless faith-destroying ninnies.

    What next ? A snod of bishops to reach the conclusion that the sun shines by day ? Don’t bet against it.

    Thank God for those Catholics – and others – who have spent a lot of time shwing up the utter worthless of the disagreeing “Agreements” puked up by the ecumenists and their supporters among the bishops.

  • Parasum

    What is – perhaps – worst is that the bishops, including the Popes, have been the ringleaders in this deceit. Their blindness & shamelessness is a miracle in itself.

    “It is also noteworthy that he had very strong words to say against any change in the liturgy of the Catholic Church, and warned against this prophetically.”

    ## So did C. S. Lewis. The folly & arrogance of messing with the Liturgy is blindingly obvious – unless one is a Pope or other bishop, or an ecumenist. The losers in mitres who’ve raped the Bride of Christ ought to be exhumed and their remains burned; they might be useful as mulch, since they have been a waste of space as bishops.

  • Parasum

    Point taken, but the six in question are in keeping with the Way to the Cross. They do not contradict the gospels, the NT, the Gospel, or anything like that. They do however bring out what is in the gospels. And do it very well.  

  • scary goat

     LOL……ouch….you’re in a bit of a violent mood this evening :-D

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    You’re right of course.

    What I remember from that day, apart from the funny angle, was the fact that the parish priest had to almost beg me to attend. It was clear that no-one in the parish was remotely interested. 

    Like the rest of the New Theology, and all of Vatican II, ecumenism is an invention of the Hierarchy for the Hierarchy. 

    The laity couldn’t care less. In this lies hope. 

  • Enid Ecumaniac

    We at the St. Martin Luther Institute of Advanced Ecumenical Heresy applaud Archbishop Longley, though he’s a man, for his defence of ecumenism against all those horrible Traditionalists. 

    Only when we have a one-world religion which accepts all homosexual, bisexual and LEGO people under the Great Architect will our work at the Institute be done. 

    Until then, please do come along to our pagan goat-slaughtering open evening on Wednesday. 

  • Parasum

    “…. false prophets have gone forth into the world, to corrupt the minds of the faithful with various and strange doctrines ….In this work, to such extremes has their impiety, practiced in all the arts of Satan, been carried, that it would seem almost impossible to confine it within any bounds ….”

    ## Ecumenists, you have been rumbled.

    “For those who intended to corrupt the minds of the faithful, knowing that they could not hold immediate personal intercourse with all, and thus pour into their ears their poisoned doctrines, adopted another plan which enabled them to disseminate error and impiety more easily and extensively… they also composed innumerable smaller books, which, veiling their errors under the semblance of piety, deceived with incredible facility the unsuspecting minds of simple folk.”

    ## That’s ARCIC, and their fellow-reprobates elsewhere. Balamand, Assisi, & other lies fit that description. That’s what comes of having a bad pope like Wojtyla, may he rot.

  • Freemasonic Daleks

    Ecumenate! Ecumenate! Ecumenate!

  • WG Grace

    Speaking as the Captain of the All England cricket team, I should point out to the Archbishop that ecumenism may well mean that we have to be “nice” to the Australians, and this would never do. 

  • Rizzo the Bear

    I don’t understand a word you are saying… it appears to be bol -!

  • Enid Ecumaniac

    You’ve got to have a laugh, haven’t you dearie?

  • andHarry


    But, it was the terror instilled by their surroundings; images of our Lord being burdened by a cross, with no-one in sight to help Him, etc. which would have repelled them. As a child of the Sixties, I was imbued with the spirit of ‘Tell it like it is!’

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    Why would depictions of Our Lord’s Passion frighten them? As a little boy, it made me love Jesus more to see him in pain for me.

  • kentgeordie

    The ecumenical advances of the past two generations have been a double edged sword. It is very good that we are friendly towards each other. It is very bad if the impulse towards unity, which cannot be other than with Rome, has been weakened. I don’t want to be friends with Anglicans, Methodists and Baptists. I want them to become my brothers.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    Listen, all this nonsense about the “unfriendliness” of earlier times. 

    My mother was born in 1929. She remembers vividly as a young child going to Mass on a  Sunday morning, and passing other families on their way to their worship. Baptists to their chapel, Anglicans to their church. And seeing her father tip his hat to these neighbours and wish them a good morning, and their identical response. 

    I say again: apart from the swivel-eyed proddies such as the Ulster and Scottish presbyterians, relations were fine between people on the ground.

    Ecumenism was and is a pastime invented by the Catholic Hierarchy for itself, full-stop. 

  • Alan

    I was on our Diocesan ecumenical Commission for a number of years, and never came across “relativism” or “indifferentism”.  It was always accepted that ecumenism should NOT mean compromising one’s beliefs.  But what it SHOULD mean is a willingness to listen and discuss, and an openess to having one’s beliefs challenged.    

  • JabbaPapa

     an openess to having one’s beliefs challenged is NOT the purpose of ecumenism.

  • Alan

    Agreed, I should have said “involve” instead of “mean”.  We should still all, and always, be open to having our beliefs challenged. 

  • Deacon Tony Hewitt

    I am appalled by the insensitivity of the article and some of the comments following.

    Our Blessed Lord  did not die on the Cross to save a selected minority of whatever following denomination or following.   He died for all humankind.

    Archbishop Longley is only too aware that in reaching out to fellow Christians of whatever background  he is doing precisely what Christ would have us all to do.   it is not God that has split the Church over the centuries it is human failings – the belief that one or a  a small group of followers knew better than than the gathered wisdom of the Church.   it has ever been such  - See Paul to Galations.

    Surely it is for each and every one of us to follow Our Lord’s teaching –  to love one another – and if we are to do that we are obliged to to do everything in our power to work together to promote Christ’s Kingdom on earth and only is so doing  can we claim to be Christian.

    “‘So if anyone declares himself for me in the presence of men, I will declare myself for him in the presence of my Father in heaven” (Matthew. 10:32)

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    “Our Blessed Lord  did not die on the Cross to save a selected minority of whatever following denomination or following.   He died for all humankind”.

    Correct, but not all WILL be saved. To be sure of having all the means for Salvation, everybody needs to be a visible member of the Catholic Church. 

    Your post is a prime example of the utterly confused theology of the last fifty years.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    Alan, you carry on making sure that you’re “open” to other people’s beliefs, and the rest of us will try our best to make other people Catholics. 

  • AnthonyPatrick

    Amen to that.

  • Parasum

    If the Great Architect is Frank Gehry, we’re done for.

    Outside St. Mary’s (Catholic) Cathedral In Edinburgh, we have this:


    Who needs goat-sacrifice when bad art will do the job ?


  • Lazylyn

    I’m not sure this will be read by many so may re-post on a newer thread when able. On the question of ecumenism – do Catholics here object to being called ‘Roman Catholic’ ? I don’t like it – historically it tended to be perjorative . That’s not to say it holds the same meaning to-day but …… Just wondered what people think.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/VIABFETGEKZXUUND5RRE6QCBXI adamson

     I find your story about having a laugh at the Salvation Army very disappointig. I expected better from you