With the establishment of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham for those Anglicans who wish to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI inaugurated a new era of hope for Christian unity, something which is a central theme of his book Jesus of Nazareth II.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus prays to the Father that his followers, “May be one, even as we are one.” (John 17:11). The Holy Father points out that this prayer is repeated four times throughout Christ’s discourse known as the “High-Priestly Prayer”.
God’s power at work
Historical divisions and schisms and the resulting religious conflicts have often been a scandal in the Greek sense of the word, a stumbling-block for non-believers, but it is not just for them that this vital task must be undertaken.
The Pope puts the question thus:
“We have to ask with all the more urgency: For what unity was Jesus praying? What is his prayer for the community of believers throughout history?
“For this the Lord prayed: for a unity that can come into existence only from God and through Christ and yet is so concrete in its appearance that in it we are able to see God’s power at work. That is why the struggle for the visible unity of the disciples of Jesus Christ remains an urgent task for Christians of all times and places.”
Tools for the task
If we accept this, the next question is, how are we to accomplish it? How do we make it visible, both for Christians and non-believers?
For the Pope the three things that formed the foundation of that unity in the early Church are still vital today.
“The unity of three constitutive elements of the Church—the sacrament of succession, Scripture and the rule of faith (creed)—is the true guarantee that [as Rudolf Bultmann says] ‘the word can resound authentically’”.
This part of St John’s Gospel is key to seeing that unity is a gift of God and cannot be constructed by worldly means alone.
It is something that we ought to work towards, not simply because a more unified Christian community would be a stronger sign for the rest of the world, but firstly because it is what Christ prayed for and what he wanted. He died on the cross to make unity between men, and between men and God possible.
As Pope Benedict writes:
“In this prayer, the cruel event of the Cross becomes ‘word’, it becomes the Feast of Atonement between God and the world. From here the Church emerges as the community of those who believe in Christ on the strength of the Apostles’ word.”
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