I often speak of the scandal of Christian schism. I choose these words carefully. Indeed, they are by now “historic” and imminently important to the pursuit of unity among all Christians at this point in the third millennium. What do I mean by calling our divisions a “scandal?”
I recently came across these words, spoken by Pope Francis, that help me express my sense of this immensely:
Divisions among us, but also divisions among the communities: evangelical Christians, orthodox Christians, Catholic Christians, but why divided? We must try to bring about unity. Let me tell you something, today, before leaving home, I spent 40 minutes more or less, half an hour, with an evangelical pastor. And we prayed together, seeking unity. But we Catholics must pray with each other and other Christians. Pray that the Lord gift us unity!
A Catholic writer by the name of Keith Fournier has helped me for some years in my own journey to ecumenism. Fournier, a Catholic deacon (photo at left), has expressed deep concern about Catholic triumphalism regarding Christian unity. I have seen my share of the same in some Catholics, as well as many Protestants. What do I mean here by triumphalism?
Triumphalism is an attitude or feeling of victory or superiority. In religion it is the attitude that one religious creed is superior to all others and quite often results in a smug or boastful pride in the dominance of one’s ideology over others. Catholic claims for being the “true church” can easily lead to this spirit, though I have scores of Catholic friends who avoid it by living their faith and church life more humbly. It is not that Protestants avoid this either. Some do not even think Catholics can be Christians, a view that almost no modern Catholic now believes since Vatican II.
Here was an address from Pope Francis on unity given last year, an address that spells out something of his own unique experience and vision.
Keith Fournier wrote a post about this subject that bears reading and serious pondering. This fine post is available at Fournier’s excellent website. Check it out and you will better understand my concern about triumphalism. I have encountered this spirit in some converts to Catholicism, especially if they left a very angular, sharp-edged form of evangelicalism behind. I also encounter in some “older” priests who still do not understand the spirit and teaching of Vatican II. Some Latin American priests, serving in North America, retain this same spirit. It is not common to my Catholic friends who understand and embrace serious Catholic theology on ecumenism. Fournier represents the latter very well.