Home Forum His Holiness Pope Francis Religious Unity – Instruction of the Holy Office

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    In 1949 the Supreme Congregation of the Holy Office published an important ’Instruction’ on the question of Christian unity. The following commentary is based on the Latin text as published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis. [Suprema S. Congregatio S. Officii, ‘Instructio. Ad Locorum Ordinarios: “De motione oecumenica,” 20th December, 1949, A.A.S., xlii (1950), P. 142. The date on this issue of the Acta Apostolicae Sedis is 31st January, 1950, and on that date, in 1953, the faculty given for three years in paragraph IV of the Instruction lapsed. Actually this issue of the Acta was not issued till the beginning of March.]

    1. Purpose of the Document.—The problem with which this document is concerned arises from the fact that there are, at the present time, many millions of people who profess belief in Christ but who are actually cut off from the Church of Christ. The divine mission of the Church ‘to preach the gospel to every creature’ applies to these ‘non-Catholics’ no less than to the millions of ‘non-Christians’ who are also outside the Church; the Church has a divinely-given duty to do everything in her power to bring back into the fold all those who are outside it. This is a duty which, resting on the Church as a whole, pertains in a particular way to Bishops, ‘whom the Holy Ghost has placed to rule the Church of God.’ (Acts, xx. 28.)

    But it is obvious that the fulfilment of this duty towards non-Catholics has certain attendant dangers. Firstly, there is the danger that action by the Church in this matter may be misconstrued — it may be regarded as an acceptance of that principle of religious unity which looks on all religions as ‘more or less good and praiseworthy.’[‘Inasmuch as all give expression, under various forms, to that innate sense which leads men to God and to the obedient acknowledgment of His Rule’: Pius XI, Encyclical Mortalium Animos. ‘To favour this opinion,’ continued Pius XI, ‘and to encourage such undertakings, is tantamount to abandoning the religion revealed by God.’] Secondly, there is the danger that those who are most anxious for the return of ‘separated brethren’ may, in their anxiety to make that return easy, express Catholic truth in a way that tends to obscure its purity and clarity. The Church’s supreme mission, to preserve the truth of Christ from error and corruption in the minds of her children, demands that the one aim must always be pursued without danger to the other.

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