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Encyclical Letter UT Unum Sint of the Holy Father, John Paul II on Commitment to Ecumenism

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A Call for Christian Unity

  • Jan 28, 2012
  • by
Of many unfortunate, tragic, and downright appalling chapters in the history of Christianity, perhaps the most intrinsically scandalous one is the fact of the deep and widespread disunity that has befallen the Church of Christ. This division has oftentimes had very serious and bloody consequences, and the animosities between various Christian churches and denominations linger to this day. All of this could not be farther from the Christ's desire that all of his disciples be united, just as He and the Father are united (John 17:21). This last exhortation forms the opening lines of pope John Paul II's encyclical "Ut unum sint." (May they be one.)

Over the course of the last fifty years or so there have been numerous and significant efforts to bridge the gap between the Catholic Church on one hand, and other ecclesial communities and denomination on the other. This has particularly been the case when it comes to the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue. Coming from the Eastern Europe, the polish pope is particularly concerned with these relations and has worked tirelessly at improving them. In "Ut unum sint" he has used the metaphor of "two lungs" to describe the incredible closeness and unity between these two great churches. This phrase has since become the staple of all considerations of Catholic-Orthodox ecumenism.

The encyclical also deals with relationship with other Christian communities, and in particular the Protestant churches and denominations. Here too vast improvements have been made over the past few decades, but unfortunately some deep and seemingly insurmountable issues of faith and morals still linger. Nonetheless, it is a feature of any true ecumenism that it tries to overcome these obstacles without diminishing their significance and importance.

Pope John Paul II highlights five particular questions that need answering for the clearer and more systematic approach to ecumenism: the role of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, the Eucharist, the ordination, the Magisterium, and the role of Virgin Mary. Traditionally many of these topics have proven extremely contentious, but there are reasons to believe that a common unified Christian understanding can be established in the upcoming years and decades.

The 21st century will mark the unfortunate thousand-year anniversary of the schism of 1054 between the Christian west and east. It has been often argued that this schism has in many ways legitimized all of the subsequent divisions and splintering. Let us hope that the 21st century will also see the repairing of many of these divisions and healing of the centuries old wounds. "Ut unum sint" is a valuable contribution and guide for this endeavor.

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