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Christian unity is not uniformity, Pope says

November 10, 2016

“Christian unity is an essential requirement of our faith,” Pope Francis said in a November 10 address to the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity.

The Pope said that Christian bodies should always seek to work together, parting company only when serious doctrinal differences “compel them to act separately.” He stressed that real unity means union in Christ:

It is our personal and communal conversion, our gradual conformation to Him, our living increasingly in Him, that enables us to grow in communion.

With this understanding of Christian unity in mind, the Pontiff said, it is easier to recognize the errors that arise from three “false models” of ecumenism:

The first false model, the Pope said, is the notion that Christian unity will be “the fruit of our human efforts or the product contructed by ecclesiastical diplomacy.” In fact, he said, unity is a gift from God, for which all Christians should pray and work. He said that “unity, rather than a destination, is a journey—with its roadmaps, its slowdowns, its accelerations, and also its pauses.”

Second, the Pope continued, unity does not mean uniformity. In ecumenical work, he said, Christians are obliged “to respect legitimate diversity and to reach the point of overcomign irreconciliable differences.” He insisted that not all differences must be overcome:

The different theological, liturgical, spiritual and canonical traditions which have developed in the Christian world, when they are genuinely rooted in the apostolic tradition, are a wealth for and not a threat to the unity of the Church. Seeking to suppress this diversity is to counter the Holy Spirit.

Finally, the Pope rejected the idea that unity requires “going back in time” to absorb all Christian communities into a single body. He said:

Christian unity does not lead to a ‘reverse ecumenism’, for which one would have to deny their own history of faith; neither does it tolerate proselytism, which is instead poisonous to the path of ecumenism.

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