STUART Blackwood (CL 17/12/00) rightly bemoans the current confusion in the Church over ecumenism and I share his concern that truth must not be compromised in the search for unity.
However, while staunchly defending orthodoxy, he questions a clear teaching of the Church regarding “the operation of the Holy Spirit in other faiths”.
Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism does state that “the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained … through Christ’s Catholic Church alone”. But it also states that non-Catholic Christians are to be accepted “with respect and affection as brothers”. The document goes on to say that “many of the most significant elements and endowments which together go to build up
and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church: the written word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as the visible elements”.
In Lumen Gentium, reference is made to non-Christians and even those “who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, since He gives to all men life and breath and all things (Acts 17:25-28), and since the Saviour wills all men to the saved (1 Tim 2-4). Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and moved by grace, try in their actions to do His will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.”
And so, whilst we must reiterate the truth that the fullness of the means of salvation exists within the Catholic Church alone, we must also recognise the fact that “outside its structure many elements of sanctification and truth are to be found” and those outside its visible boundaries are “related to the People of God in various ways”.
Thus, “the Spirit stirs up desires and actions in all of Christ’s disciples in order that all may be peaceably united, as Christ ordained, in one flock under one shepherd”.
ROBERT LEACH Noosaville, Qld