"I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say,
and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose."
First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians 1:10
"I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, a striving to preserve the unity
of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call;
one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."
Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians 4:1-5
Finally, all of you, be of one mind,
sympathetic, loving towards one another, compassionate, humble.
First Letter of St. Peter 3:8
The third Millennium is a time to restore Christian unity, as in the times of Jesus Christ and the Apostolic Age. Christian unity was the prayer of Jesus (John 17:11 and 17:21), and the appeals and prayers of Saints Peter and Paul during the emergence of Christianity, as noted in their Letters in the New Testament of the Bible.
History has recorded divisions within the Church of Jesus Christ. The teaching of the Council of Ephesus in 431 (on Mary as Mother of God) was not accepted by the independent Church of the East in Persia.2 Those Eastern Churches that believed that Jesus was one incarnate nature of the Word of God formed the Oriental Orthodox Churches, for they did not accept the teaching of the Council of Chalcedon in 451, that Jesus was one Person with two natures, Divine and human in perfect harmony. A major split occurred during the Schism of 1054 between the Byzantine Orthodox Church of Constantinople and the Catholic Church of Rome.3 The Protestant Reformation that began with Martin Luther in 1517 constituted the major division in the West.4
This lack of Christian unity proved to be a grave impediment to bringing non-Christians into the Church. The loss of Christian unity led to the secularization of Western culture. Recognition of this problem served as an impetus toward Christian unity among the Protestants in the early twentieth century, beginning with the World Missionary Conference of Edinburgh in 1910, and the formal organization of the World Council of Churches in 1948.5 The call for Christian unity accelerated with the surprise announcement of Pope John XXIII for the Second Vatican Council on January 25, 1959. The Council was pastoral in nature and was held from 1962-1965.6
The announcement of a Second Vatican Council by Pope John XXIII was welcomed with open arms by all of Christianity, for the Pope called not only for
"an intense spiritual cultivation" of the modern world, but also sought Christian unity. 7
His opening speech convening the Council on October 11, 1962 referred to Jesus in the Gospel of John 17:11 (above): "The Catholic Church, therefore, considers it her duty to work actively so that there may be fulfilled the great mystery of that unity, which Jesus Christ invoked with fervent prayer from His heavenly Father on the eve of His sacrifice." 8
The Second Vatican Council literally "reset the course" for the Catholic Church, a Church which had been described by some as a fortress Church embattled during the Enlightenment and the Modernist era. To coin the expression of Hans Urs von Balthazar in 1952, the time had come to raze the bastions of the Church. 9 It was time for the aggiornamento of Pope John XXIII, the "opening of the window" of the Church to the outside world, "a translation of the Christian message into an intellectual language understandable by the modern world." 10 The documents are named by the opening words of each paper in Latin. The four Constitutions, nine Decrees, and three Declarations of Vatican II produced seven major contributions:
Sacrosanctum Concilium or "The Sacred Council," the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, concerned itself with the liturgy (public worship service). It is the liturgy "through which the work of our redemption is accomplished." The Council authorized the Mass to be said in the native language, allowing the liturgy to be intelligible to the layman and helping secure their participation to the fullest.
Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, opens with "Lumen Gentium cum sit Christus," or "Christ is the Light of Nations." The Constitution shifted the emphasis of the Church away from its pyramidal structure to the vision of the whole People of God. The spirit of ecumenism and the change of heart towards all Christian brethren was truly a gift of the Holy Spirit. Lumen Gentium declared the one Church of Jesus Christ "subsists in the Catholic Church...although many elements of sanctification and truth exist outside its visible structure. These elements... are forces impelling toward catholic unity." The vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience are ever more important for the religious orders to serve as examples for the modern world. The role of the laity to order temporal affairs to the plan of God was emphasized. 11
This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic,
which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd,
and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority,
which He erected for all ages as "the pillar and mainstay of the truth".
This Church constituted and organized 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.
These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity.
Lumen Gentium 8
Dei Verbum or "The Word of God," the Constitution on Divine Revelation, reaffirmed the historicity of the Gospels. Scripture and Tradition form one deposit of faith. "Since Holy Scripture must be read and interpreted in the sacred spirit in which it was written, no less serious attention must be given to the content and unity of the whole of Scripture if the meaning of the sacred texts is to be correctly worked out. The living tradition of the whole Church must be taken into account along with the harmony which exists between elements of the faith."
Gaudium et Spes or "The Joys and Hopes," the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, called for dialogue with the modern secular world. Gaudium et Spes is realistic but offers hope in the light of Christ and the dignity of man. The mission of the Church is to transform the world in the light of Christ and the Gospel. Dr. Alan Schreck of Franciscan University offered 3 keys to Gaudium et Spes: (a) the root of the world's problems is found in the human heart. (b) God has created each person in his image and likeness and therefore each person has his own value and dignity. (c) the need for the Church to be a prophetic witness of the truth and to proclaim Jesus Christ. Pope John Paul II called Gaudium et Spes the "magna carta of human activity, to be safeguarded and promoted." 12 Four famous quotations from Gaudium et Spes follow:
"The truth is that only in the mystery of Jesus Christ does the mystery of man take on light." (22)
"Man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself,
cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself." (24)
"Every day human interdependence grows more tightly drawn and spreads by degrees over the whole world. As a result the common good, that is, the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment, today takes on an increasingly universal complexion and consequently involves rights and duties with respect to the whole human race. Every social group must take account of the needs and legitimate aspirations of other groups, and even of the general welfare of the entire human family" (26).
"Christ, to be sure, gave His Church no proper mission in the political, economic or social order.
The purpose which He set before her is a religious one.
But out of this religious mission itself come a function, a light and an energy
which can serve to structure and consolidate the human community according to the divine law" (42).
Unitatis Redintegratio or "The Restoration of Unity" is the Decree on Ecumenism, which opens with a call for Christian unity: "The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council. Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only. However, many Christian communions present themselves to men as the true inheritors of Jesus Christ; all indeed profess to be followers of the Lord but differ in mind and go their different ways, as if Christ Himself were divided. Such division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature." Ecumenism is defined as a movement, fostered by the grace of the Holy Spirit, for the restoration of unity among all Christians.
Orientalium Ecclesiarum or "The Eastern Churches" is the Decree on Eastern Churches, which had a dramatic impact on the growth and viability of Eastern Catholic Churches.
Dignitatis Humanae or "The Dignity of the Human Person," is the Declaration on Religious Liberty, which recognized that the human person has a right to religious freedom.
The greatest fruit of the Second Vatican Council was the exceptional Papacy of John Paul II (1978-2005) who integrated the vision of Vatican II into the life of his Papacy. This led to the creation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, first published in 1992 and updated in 2000. In fact, the Pope, in his 1994 book Crossing The Threshold of Hope, called the Second Vatican Council "the Seminary of the Holy Spirit." 13
Pope John Paul II, in his Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente of 11 November 1994, called for a spirit of repentance over the abuses of the Catholic Church through the years: "the Church should become more fully conscious of the sinfulness of her children, recalling all those times in history when they departed from the spirit of Christ and his Gospel and, instead of offering to the world the witness of a life inspired by the values of faith, indulged in ways of thinking and acting which were truly forms of counter-witness and scandal" (33). "Another painful chapter of history to which the sons and daughters of the Church must return with a spirit of repentance is that of the acquiescence given, especially in certain centuries, to intolerance and even the use of violence in the service of truth" (35). 14
Pope John Paul II made great efforts to continue the ecumenical movement throughout his Papacy, including his call for Christian Unity in his 1995 encyclical That All May Be One.15 And on a visit to Egypt and Jerusalem in March of 2000, the Pope apologized for the sins of the Catholic Church.16
The call for Christian unity in the twentieth century was a watershed event for Christian Churches, and could not have been more timely. While Christians have fought among themselves for centuries over theological differences, secular humanism and materialism have swept the globe, and threaten to eradicate religion itself, especially among the young. This is a time we Christians must be united in our spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the face of secularism and atheism.
Christian unity will be achieved when all believers open their hearts to Christ Jesus and to each other.
"May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus,
that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans 15:5-6
"Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ?
Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?
Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body;
for we all partake of the one bread.
First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians 10:16-17
"Mend your ways, encourage one another, live in harmony,
and the God of love and peace will be with you all.
Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians 13:11
"Only conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that,
whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear news of you, that you are standing firm in one spirit,
with one mind struggling together for the faith of the gospel."
Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians 1:27
1 The Navarre Revised Standard Version of the Holy Bible. Four Courts Press, Dublin, Ireland, 1999-2005.
2 Christopher Dawson.The Formation of Christendom. (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1967), 116-153.
3 Bishop Timothy Ware. "The Reunion of Christians," in The Orthodox Church, Third Edition. (London: Penguin, 2015), 300-319.
4 William C. Placher & Derek R. Nelson. A History of Christian Theology, Second Edition. (Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 2013), 153-169.
5 Jackson J. Spielvogel. Western Civilization. Sixth Combined Edition, Thomson Wadsworth, Belmont, California, 346-376, 2006.
6 Douglas Bushman (ed): The Sixteen Documents of Vatican II. Pauline Books and Media, Boston, 1999.
7 Pope John XXIII. Announcement of the Second Vatican Council, January 25, 1959. Vatican II Council Daybook, Volume 1, Session 1, October 11-December 8, 1962, National Catholic Welfare Conference, Washington, D. C., 1-2, 1965.
8 Pope John XXIII. Opening Speech of Second Vatican Council, October 11, 1962. Vatican II Council Daybook, Volume 1, Session 1, National Catholic Welfare Conference, Washington, D. C., 25-29, 1965.
9 Hans Urs von Balthasar. Razing the Bastions. Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1993.
10 Ratzinger JC and Messori V. The Ratzinger Report. Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 46-48, 155-166, 1986.
11 Avery Cardinal Dulles. Models of the Church, Expanded Edition. Image Classics, New York, 117, 2002.
12 Alan Schreck. The Teachings of Vatican II. Lectures and Texts, Franciscan University, Steubenville, Ohio, 2004.
13 Pope John Paul II. Crossing the Threshold of Hope. AA Knopf, New York, 1994.
14 Pope John Paul II. The Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente, the Coming of the Third Millennium. Pauline Books and Media, November 10, 1994
15 Pope John Paul II. That All May Be One, the encyclical Ut Unum Sint. Pauline Books & Media, Boston, March 25, 1995.
16 Fr. Douglas K. Clark, "Pope John Paul II visits the East," The Southern Cross, Savannah, Georgia, March 30, 2000.