Some thoughts on Christian Unity
by the Rt Revd Dom Alistair Bate OSBA, M.A.Div.
However, over the last twenty years or so the ecumenical movement appears to be running out of steam. We may well ask why? Is it perhaps because non-fundamentalist Christians now take the ecumenical spirit for granted? Exceptional progress was made in the sixties into the eighties, so much so that taking communion in other churches is now assumed by most Christians to be the norm. Even in Ireland a general permission is assumed for everyone to receive communion in RC churches at “mixed" marriage ceremonies and of course in the Holy Celtic Church, as with the vast majority of independent Catholic churches the only qualification we would ever ask a would-be-communicant is that they be baptised and intend to approach the sacrament with reverence. Of course, the Orthodox churches still maintain antiquated and exclusionary rules as do some of the more extreme Protestant sects, but happily this attitude is a rarity in Western Europe.
So, much of the work for which the pioneers of the ecumenical movement worked and prayed has now been achieved. If we survey global Christianity most of us could now quite literally applythe words of St Paul, who wrote to the Corinthians, “There are a variety of gifts, but it is always the same Spirit. There are all sorts of service to be done, but always to the same Lord, working in all sorts of different ways in different people. It is the same God working in all of them” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6). Whilst to his community at Ephesus, he wrote “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God who is Father of all, over all, through all, and within all; and each of us has been given our own share of grace” (Ephesians 4:5-7). Happily this too is now something on which the majority of Christians agree.
Certainly in the Independent Sacramental Movement and perhaps also to a great extent amongst the mainstream churches differences between denominations is now seen as positive pluralism rather than divisive separatism. Whilst our forefathers prayed for institutional unity, in these days of the near disintegration of many institutional churches we are perhaps rediscovering the idea of the Church as the mystical body of Christ as a wholly spiritual reality and a spiritual unity beneath our apparent divisions.
We, in the Holy Celtic Church, are by no means a “true church” movement (ie. we do not think that “we're right and everyone else is wrong”), nevertheless we do maintain some clear boundaries when it comes to both doctrine and practice. We believe that the fullness of the Catholic faith is enshrined in our “Statement of Faith and Sacramental Principles” and in the many other similar Statements, Canons and Catechisms of sister jurisdictions. In the Guild of the Holy Apostles we enjoy particularly close bonds with similar jurisdictions, nevertheless our network of friends extends well into the camp of those whose religious views are widely divergent to our own. Therefore, during this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity we celebrate diversity and give thanks for the spiritual friendship and mutual respect we enjoy with many individuals and groups across the spectrum
We are also working on a few initiatives to create a more tangible unity. For example, our ecumenical Benedictine order, the Holy Cross Benedictines of Adoration, is itself a model of unity in diversity, including as it does, members of three quite different Independent jurisdictions and next month one of our Swiss clergy has planned a cross-jurisdictional gathering in Milan, gathering together some Independent Catholics and Orthodox from Lombardy and Switzerland for shared prayer and fellowship. May these initiatives bear the fruit of unity to the greater glory of God. Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.