Prayer and Christian Unity

Paul Couturier's Ecumenical Testament

Abbé Couturier printed this first in 1944, unsigned ad usum privatum. During the winter preceding his death (1952-3) he republished it in a slightly revised form, with his own signature and the imprimatur of his archbishop, Cardinal Gerlier. In this second form he regarded it as his 'ecumenical testament'.

 

CHAPTERS

1. The prayer of Christ in St John 17, prototype of every prayer for Unity
2. Letting Christ pray in us to his Father for Unity
3. An expression of this attitude, given as one example among many
4. To rise above is not to deny, still less to forget
5. The Catholic Church claims to be the One Church which Christ willed
6. The Roman Catholic's psychological conviction as to his Church's Unity
7. Evidence of all Christians' state of mind towards the problem of Unity
8. The Unity of the Church a revealed truth, but also something yet to be
9. The Catholic Church of the future
10. The problem of Christian Unity if not 'returning' but 're-embodiment'!
11. Unity cannot be attained by a great number individual conversions
12. Corporate reunion is the normal way of Unity
13. Preparing for this reconstitution
14. 'No one has the right to pray that another Christian Church be overthrown'
15. Spiritual realism
16. Spiritual realism in the Communion of Saints
17. All without vagueness, indifferentism, interdenominationalism
18. No new buildings for praying together, to desert separate places of worship
19. Prayer is the greatest of cosmic forces
20. The Evidence of Peter Wust
21. Visible Christian Unity will be attained
22. When will visible Christian Unity be attained?
23. An undeniable fact
24. The annual revival of the Universal Prayer of Christians for Unity
25. Perseverance in prayer . . . passing the torch from hand to hand
26. Prayer necessary for mutual understanding, essential for realizing Unity
27. Psychological unreality
28. Basis of the supreme importance of charity in the psychological order
29. Difficulties of understanding each other - a typical example
30. Of the mystery of language and of the mind
31. To understand, we must dwell in God
32. General Conclusion

 

 

1. The prayer of Christ in St John 17, prototype of every prayer for Unity

'True prayer is a struggle with God, in which we are victorious through the victory of God' (Kierkegaard). And God wills this struggle. He wishes to give us a share in his work. He who is in us permits us through him to triumph over him. That is why the prayer of Christ after the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday, in which he asks his Father for the Unity of his Church, must find its echo in sorrow and constant supplication in the heart of every Christian. For what follower of Christ could refuse to see in his prayer for Unity the prototype of all prayer for Unity? It would be as blasphemous (the word is no exaggeration) to try to find another approach to prayer for Unity as to look for a model for prayer in general other than that he left us, the 'Our Father'.

 

2. Letting Christ pray in us to his Father for Unity

St Paul teaches us that no one can say the name of 'Jesus' except by the Spirit of God. To say the name of 'Jesus' is to express a prayer, a soaring, a lifting-up of the soul towards the Father, for the true utterance of this Name is an act, a 'yes', human and poor, a poor 'yes' from our human misery (for we are sinners!), but a 'yes' which breaks forth from our human dignity, for we are free, sons of his Love. We are his living images! This 'yes' can echo far within the unexplored regions of our spiritual being. It may be partial, or almost complete, without ever being able to reach true completeness. The more we Implore God to strip us of ourselves the more we enter into the divine surrender 'He who loses his life shall save it'-- and the more able we become to hear Christ praying in us by his Spirit.

An ineffable change takes place by which our prayer is stripped to be reclothed in his prayer. In the attentive silence of our listening soul, our attachment to him is affirmed with our whole will, not only in our words, feeling and desires. The more we find ourselves in him, in whom we truly live, or he in us, in whom he truly lives, the more effectual does our prayer become, since it is he who prays in us, free from our burden of self. Such a state of mind is the work of God, gift of the divine generosity: it is a pearl of great price, bought at the royal price of renunciation ion. It sets us at the antipodes of inert passivity of the spirit; and vocal prayer, either private or public, will be permeated by this attitude, provided that it can be surrounded by deep silence, and have a certain deliberation of utterance.

 

3. An expression of this attitude, given as one example among many other possible ones

'Lord,

under the intolerable weight of distress caused by the separations between Christians, my heart fails. I have confidence in you, O Christ - you, who have overcome the world. It is the property of love to produce a blind confidence in the beloved. My confidence in you is boundless, and rightly so, since your are almighty.

'For my soul to draw near to you, O God, it would be better that she should walk unknowing rather than knowing, exchanging what is comprehensible and variable for the unvarying and incomprehensible which is you yourself. My confidence in you, O Christ, throws me into your heart where I find your prayer; "Father, that they may be one, that the world may believe that you have sent me, Father, that they may be made perfect in one". My sinner's prayer is your prayer to yourself, and it is in your prayer alone that I find peace. Then how will Unity come about? What obstacles are to be overcome? It is your work: my faith can only bid me to pray with you, and in you, that your Unity may come, the unity which you have not ceased to desire, which you continue to prepare, which you would have brought about long ago, if everyone - everyone, including myself - had been as crystal between that in the creation which wishes, through the Christian, to ascend to you, and that which, by the same channel, desires to come down from you to the world.'

This is a simple and loyal way of prayer. It is a meeting-place where, by virtue of charity, the prayers for unity of all true sons of love, all true Christians, even though separated, may flow together into the heart of Christ. This manner of prayer does not, of course, erase, weaken or obscure in any way the many differences of doctrine which characterize our separations. Each one is fully conscious of this and recognizes it: thus each remains true to himself and sincere towards others. But this kind of prayer, with a great sweep of wings, rises above all differences, and makes it possible for us all to rest together in the heart of Christ.

 

4. To rise above (survoler) is not to deny, still less to forget

This 'rising above' is by no means negative. It does not imply any dilution or forgetting of our respective beliefs, which are dearer to each other than his own being. This positive action of 'rising above' is as true and right for the Protestant, the Anglican and the Orthodox as for the Catholic, in whatever way each is permitted by his beliefs to envisage the problem of Christian Unity. How many situations there are in everyday life where an interior 'rising above' is encouraged, even demanded, for psychological well-being. When we are crushed by the death of someone dear to us, must we not force ourselves to 'rise above' the memory of the painful separation, to keep faith with the will of the one for whom we mourn, who, being with God, requires of us that we shall be always obedient to the ceaseless calls of the divine will. We must 'rise above' what separates us death - the grave, grief - to find each other again in the unutterable joy of that presence, albeit invisible, of him who has taken one from this world, leaving the other still here for a time. Must not the sinner 'rise above' the details of his sins, that he may go forward in peace, reconciled by his repentance? The memory of the evil he has done is blurred, though it has power to strengthen his adoration and thanksgiving in the heart of Christ, where he will find the truth of the Master's words: It is someone who has forgiven little, who shows little love. Must not our spiritual stripping make us 'rise above' the good we have been able to do, by allowing God to act in us and through us, that we may advance in divine Love, protected from the ultimate danger of spiritual pride? 'Rising above', then, is seen to be as it were a psychological law, for realizing, freely and intensely, the interior task we must accomplish. It is necessary to forget, to 'rise above' when memory blocks the way, ensnares the feet, breaks the spirit, and takes away the singleness of aim of the soul, or casts some heaviness upon it, and causes sadness to arise in it, preventing us from resting in God, and refreshing ourselves with his peace and joy. The truth of this will be clear to anyone who has really suffered the buffetings of the Christian life. Others, though they imagine they understand, will not do so.

 

5. The Catholic Church claims to be the One Church which Christ willed

The Roman Catholic faith claims that the Roman Catholic Church possesses Unity and is the centre of Unity, which cannot exist outside her. She claims to be the one Church from which, in the course of history, other Christian bodies have separated, to a greater or lesser degree. They are like strong branches, which have been more or less torn away from the age-old tree by violent storms; but which are nevertheless still part of it, to some extent, provided they still cleave to it with some part of their being. This theme is fully developed in a fine article by L. Richard, professor in the Faculty of Theology in Lyons: 'La foi chrétienne chez les non-catholiques' (Revue Apologétique, August-September 1938). If the Church affirms that she is one, she also affirms very strongly that her lacerations have mutilated her maternal heart and body, that her life on account of this is less rich, and that her message to the world impeded. Further, the Roman Catholic Church declares that if she makes these claims, they are necessitated by the Will of Christ -that she could not modify her faith without destroying herself and cutting herself off from Christ; which is quite impossible, for it was to Peter that was said: 'You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church and the powers of hell shall not prevail against it.'

 

6. The psychological conviction in the soul of the Roman Catholic as to the Unity of his Church

One would surely look in vain for any way in which the unyielding demands of this belief in the Unity of the Church could prevent the faithful member of the Roman Catholic Church from praying in accordance to the prayer of Jesus.

Indeed, how could he desire or ask of the Father anything other than what Christ himself asks? Christ would no more be the life of his soul. He knows well that when he 'lets Christ pray in him' Christ asks us to walk in the paths he will choose, however unknown, long, hard and full of suffering they may be. And if, by virtue of his belief regarding this question of the Unity of the Church, the Catholic finds himself in a different intellectual or metaphysical sphere from that in which some other groups of Christians are placed by reason of their beliefs, it is still true that the Catholic faith, as it is developed in the soul of the believer becomes a psychological reality) apart from which faith would be nonexistent, since it would be in a spiritual vacuum. Now this psychological reality produces a state of mind, with regard to one's beliefs, similar to that created in the mind of one's Protestant, Anglican or Orthodox brothers by the psychological reality of their respective beliefs. It would seem then that, psychologically, Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox are in a similar position with regard to the problem of Christian Unity.

 

7. Evidence of the psychological identity of the state of mind of all Christians towards the problem of Unity

The witness of Orthodoxy, by Father Sergius Bulgakov, Professor at the Academy of Paris:

'If we suppress or allow to be suppressed, even for a moment, the conviction that in belonging to such and such a Church we are in the truth and consequently our conviction of the error of those who do not share our beliefs, do we not become guilty of coldness and lack of faith, and give evidence of an eclecticism which seeks to find a way of escaping from the necessity of bearing witness to the truth and suffering for it? . . .

'Thus there is agreement and opposition, unity and division, the love inspired by the Church and equally the aversion inspired by it - the Church's problem has as it were its own dialectic: thesis and antithesis, characteristics which are closely linked, the one increasing in proportion to the growth of the other. The ecumenical mind of the Church, which is always seeking the way of Unity, is accompanied by an ever more acute and sensitive consciousness of differences of belief, together with a growing sense of deep Christian Unity.' (Quoted from Russie et Chrétienté, No. 1 (1934), pp. 40-41 - review edited by the Dominican fathers of the Centre Istina.)

The Calvinist witness of Karl Barth:

'At many points where the diversity of the Churches is evident, we must make a choice and a decision, if we listen to the voice of Christ. We are not above the differences separating the Churches, but right in the middle, and we cannot believe one thing and say that the opposite is also Christian. Those who pretend to be above these differences are in fact only lookers-on at God and themselves. They are deaf except to their own utterances.

'Let us say it again: Jesus Christ, mediator between God and Man, is the Unity of the Church, the Unity which embraces a multiplicity of parishes, gifts and persons, but excludes a multitude of Churches. It is the duty of the Church to be one Church. We cannot neglect the insistent demand of Christ. It is a duty and a command which our Lord imposes upon the Church, if we truly believe that Jesus is the Unity of the Church, and that the multiplicity of Churches is our wretchedness. If we listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd, the Unity of the Church must needs be a burning question. The union of the Churches does not come about of itself, but we discover and realize it in obedience to Christ in whom unity is already accomplished. . . The union of the Churches is too great a thing to be the result of a movement, even the best of movements.

'The first and last word in this situation, practically speaking (for in the eyes of the Church we are one by right, though in practice we are many), must be prayer for pardon and sanctification, addressed to the Lord of the Church. The duty of uniting the Churches coincides essentially with the actual practical task of listening to Christ, which is the presupposition behind every action of the Church. This means in fact that the issue of the Church must be raised in Churches at present numerous and separated, for how can we listen to Christ except in a specific way, namely in the Church to which we belong, to which we are bound by ties of obligation? Ecclesiastically speaking, if we exist at all, it is in separation. The existence of a multiplicity of Churches is evidence of our refusal to face the situation. We cannot listen to our Lord without taking a decision, making an acknowledged choice. Nor can we do it without keeping ourselves apart, and so we approach him in a state of contradiction. Who are we?' (Oecumenica, July 1936, pp. 142, 140, 141, 148, 145, 146, 151. The italics are ours.)

The Lutheran evidence of Monseigneur Meiser, Bishop of Munich:

'Belief in the Body of Christ, one and undivided, causes us to experience personal suffering and distress in the divisions within the Church. What? Is Christ divided? (I Cor. 1.13). Jesus prayed in the high priestly prayer for the Unity of the Church. The Unity of the Church will therefore always be for Christians a truth perceived by faith and at the same time a duty always imposed afresh. Where external unity is lacking, an essential part of the witness of Christianity to the world is also lacking.

'The place where our concern and Christian love are to be exercised is first of all the religious body which, having brought us to Christ and nourished us in the faith, will always occupy first place in our concern and activity.

'To strive for understanding does not and should not mean that we are to become cosmopolitans without a country or Christians situated between the Churches; but rather that we should, corporately and positively, become evangelical and Lutheran in the fullest sense, men who know in their lives the depth and fullness of biblical evangelicalism . . . who, as true Lutherans are receptive to everything authentically Christian.' (A long and remarkable letter dated 11 March 1941 from Bishop Meiser to his people. In the heart of this letter he points out, at some length, that true charity between Christian brothers demands integrity, the affirmation of respective beliefs. This letter states concisely the differences between Lutherans and Catholics and the true way of working for Christian Unity. The italics are ours.)

 

8. The Unity of the Church is a revealed truth, but it is also something which is to be

We cannot do more here than glance along a line of thought which it would need a whole book to develop. If the Roman Catholic Church affirms that the Unity of the Church already exists, that it is a revealed truth, it does not therefore deny that unity is still in the future.

In a living organization, whatever it may be, the two apparently opposite terms of being and becoming co-exist harmoniously each in its own right. The whole unifying force of that which will become an oak-tree, the unity of the oak-tree itself, is already present in the acorn when it fills to the ground. This unity in the acorn will open out into a manifold variety of form and structure: it will open - that is, it will grow taller and broader, and will grow beyond itself in the course of its own integral life. Has not the unifying force of the acorn become stronger, and its power to unify greater, when it holds together in due order the whole imposing mass of the oak and the energy which this mass contains, than when it only held in one simple little acorn the little mass which constituted the acorn and the energy contained in that little mass? The unity of a living organism is either dynamic or it is non-existent. Not only does that 'unity' or unifying' force become greater with the growth of the organism which it energizes, but never at any moment in the life of the organism does it cease to be active and dynamic; for through it the. organism, which each moment is destroying itself and dying through the action of physical and chemical forces, is each moment created anew. It is the story of the whirlpool of life.

This is only a distant analogy, but it can be applied to whatsoever is to become the unity of any organism - even one which is spiritual, supernatural and divine - for then the unity will transcend both its actuality and its future development. And so it is with the Church.

 

9. The Catholic Church of the future

The day will come when the peoples of India, China and even Africa, will face the reality and implications of the message of Christ: then within the Church there will be throngs of Asiatics and Africans, rivaling the peoples of the Old World and the New in numbers, influence and sanctity; many things in the Catholic Church will be changed, but nothing essential. The same creed will be stated in different ways, wide horizons of scriptural study, at present hidden, will be revealed; new forms of spirituality will make their appearance far different from our own in their psychological approach; organization and discipline will be modified.

If we were miraculously transported to the Church as it will be in several centuries time, we should be in a strange world, albeit a world of living faith, just as if we had been transported to the Christian community of the first century; but in either situation we should soon find ourselves at home in the faith.

 

10. The problem of Christian Unity if not to be thought of in terms of 'returning' but of 'integration', or 're-embodiment'!

Since all things move forward, progress, and change in the process, since God is present in his creation, in humanity, and in every group of Christians whom he leads forward (a fact which none acquainted with them will deny), it follows that the problem of Christian Unity is not purely and simply co-extensive with the idea of 'returning', an ominous and misleading word. History cannot be reversed. Those who left the Roman Catholic Church centuries ago are no longer alive, and their descendants would not recognize the places left empty by their ancestors in the living cathedral, because it has grown and changed. Without any doubt the question of Unity has an historical aspect which is of great importance. But its most significant aspect is one which can be adequately defined by saying that the Christian bodies are at present facing each other as if they had never known each other - they are discovering each other. For they have yet to discover each other, come to a clear understanding and agreement about what they have in common in their Christian life. And this common heritage is much greater and deeper than is generally supposed, because Inherited prejudices, lack of concern, and spiritual pride are already present, venomous and blinding. They must above all pray together in Christ, and in Christ's prayer. How are Christians to discover each other, recognize each other, and love each other unless prayer, the source of power, the only power which can move all, is the primary incentive acting upon their souls, which would otherwise be helpless before these crippling separations!

 

11. Unity cannot be attained by a great number of individual conversions

We must not delude ourselves into supposing that the vast problem of Christian Unity can be solved by a series of individual conversions, for such a stream very soon slows down to a trickle, and the gains scarcely compensate for the losses. Newman is a classic example of this: his lead, practically speaking, has not been followed, in spite of his great eminence and sanctity. Dom John Chapman, the late abbot of the Catholic Benedictine Abbey of Downside, wrote some eighteen years ago: 'Our gains are offset by our losses: the increase is not proportionate to the increase of population. In fact, it cannot be said that England is being converted to the Roman Catholic religion.' (Revue apologétique, page 68 of the issue of January 1937.)

If the impossible happened, and this kind of union were to succeed, it would be through gradual assimilation, progressively destroying rich differences of culture; whereas it is the vocation of all to form one single vast harmony, a symphony of different complementary but concordant strains. The Creator has called all the riches of his creation to form a harmonious whole in Christ. This summons finds its expression on the personal level - for people are conscious that they bring with them a certain cultural heritage, or a past shaped by Providence, or a certain personal experience. All of these Divine gifts - in the rightful joy each must take in playing his part, adding his note to the whole. This joy should surely be left to him. Each and all should accept and value their present state, it they wish, as they should, to take their part in the thought of their Creator; otherwise how much poorer the Church of Christ would be in its effort to represent the Gospel message to the world! But no one can deny the right of individual conversion to a soul which no longer believes it is in the way of truth. These conversions, provided they are sincere and whole-hearted are as it were short-cuts and foot paths - it is only conversions of this kind which have any true value, and they will be acts of great nobility of character, which everyone should reverence and respect. There remains the great work, the task of the growth towards maturity of Christian groups, in relation one to another.

 

12. Corporate reunion is the normal way of Unity

Like the great mountain roads which climb gently in wide curves, the high roads of corporate reunion develop in their long slow progress the patient preparation of the spirit - that of the laity as well as that of the hierarchy. Later, much later, will come a day, the day ordained by Providence, when corporate reunion will be achieved by the religious leaders, and when the faithful, their hearts now completely disposed towards unity, will all, by their own respective adhesion, set the seal upon this Reunion, the common goal of their deepest desire. The works of God are accomplished slowly, and transcend, even while fulfilling, the laws of our psychology.

Each Christian group has its own particular religious riches, and these will be preserved when Christian Unity is restored within the Unity of the Church. This is a fact I would emphasize. 'For may there not- be, among our separated brethren, traditional forms of-expression, customs, or even doctrinal developments, which are not so easily perceived in the Mother Church?' (Revue apologétique, March 1937, page 343, article by Jean Guitton. The context, needless to say, gives the precise Catholic connotation of the expression 'Mother Church'.)

 

13. Preparing for this reconstitution

As a result of this prayer, each Christian group, including Catholics, will deepen their life, perfect their talents, reform themselves in whatever respect reformation is needed, and, mounting towards our Lord, will reach the height where the walls of separation end. Then they will all mutually recognize in their other brethren the Christ whom they adore, knowing him to be truly one Christ in identity unique in his love, his life and his thought. Then dogmatic Unity will be realized, when the spirits of all are united in the unique Thought of Christ; and union will be proclaimed by the voice of Peter. This will perhaps take place in a great Ecumenical Council.

 

14. 'No one bas the right to pray that a Christian Church may be overthrown and that his own Church may reign supreme' (a true observation by Dr Rosendal of Sweden)1

We cannot but condemn the attitude of mind which can only see work for unity as a military operation, to be described in military terms of conquest, victory, triumph, struggle, lines of defence, as though they were waging a war. Schism, persecution, tolerance, and indifference - all these are stages in the history of Christian Unity which are now in the past, in spite of some sad, but happily spasmodic modern persecutions among Christians; we are now in an age of mutual respect, of understanding, and of brotherhood founded on our basic unity; we have come, to sum up in a single phrase, to the era of 'spiritual emulation'. The question of good companionship, of what the English call fellowship, between the members of different religious families, seems to be a most important issue in our present civilization, in the new world which is taking shape in the half-light in which we live (J. Maritain, Who is my neighbour?). That is why any form of prayer which bears a resemblance to the fulminations of the sons of Zebedee is to be condemned and, we should like to think, banished for ever from every Christian heart; 'Lord, may lightning strike those who do not hurry to rejoin us in our faith, since they will not listen to us and be converted. Lord, already your justice scatters them, ruin is upon their house. Show them all the might of your arm! Among the ruins of their own church they will at last discover the way of truth; then they will come and join us, and Unity will have arrived.' Such a prayer cannot be from above. It is Satan, or Satan's likeness in us, which inspires it. It is Satan alone who destroys; he is turned in upon himself, and can see no good outside himself. This prayer is blasphemy against the work of God among our non-Catholic Christian brethren; and the blasphemer in this case forgets a psychological law which cannot be broken: for every persecution, at any time and in any place, in making martyrs, creates new believers to take their places; and in trying to stifle the faith of the faithful, produces among them, whatever their allegiance may be, concentration and reactions which will preserve it.

 

15. Spiritual realism

Should not all Christians endeavour to have the same relationships with and consideration for each other, in the intimacy of their personal prayer, as those which exist between them in the Soul of Christ praying to the Father that all his own should be made perfect in unity? Now, in the Soul of Christ, his redeemed do not overpower each other; they are all one in the reconciling power of his Redemption, his Peace, his Joy and his Prayer. They are not opposed to each other; they are intimately united by his thought and his love in the one and only fruit of his Redemption. Let us enter then into the union of his Prayer, letting him freely pray in us. We shall then all dwell in the bountiful realism of the simple and pure Christ-bearing life (vie 'Christifique').

 

16. Spiritual realism in the Communion of Saints

Since all who are baptized, either by water or by desire - a great multitude, both of professing Christians and of pagans, seekers of the unknown God through what is positive in their dim beliefs and strange rituals, true Christians, though they did not know it - since all the baptized have in them the Life of Christ, they must be described both corporately and as individuals in the light of the wonderful relationship which St Paul describes in I Corinthians 12. Into my poor prayer, then, runs like lifeblood the prayer of others: their aspirations towards penitence, albeit unexpressed, their faults in need of reparation, the cries of frustration which guilty souls lift to Christ even through their very crimes, misplaced endeavours after happiness, seeing that within their souls the throne of the Living Christ stands empty, and no voice speaks more loudly than a void - absence crying for a presence; the excellent thanksgiving of those who have perceived and known that their lives are full of the mercy of God; the sweet joy of souls at peace - the whole inner life of all people:

Let every Christian be aware of this great flood of prayer, which drives into his own heart to find utterance of that 'Yes' which will let it unfurl like a breaking wave before the very throne of the Divine Majesty.

By this 'Yes' to whatever degree realized I imprint with the seal of my own personal life this flood which has come from the most distant depth of the heart of the human race. I do this at the very moment at which I cast it, or rather Christ casts it on my behalf, before the Father.

In exchange my prayer enters into the prayer of all other people. And if the beloved brother who launches my prayer towards the Holy Trinity lives more intensely the life of the Holy Trinity than I, then through him, even though he may be unknown to me, my poor prayer will make a more rapid flight to the Eternal and have greater efficacy in the presence of God.

At the altar of the Holy Sacrifice at which I celebrate the Holy Mysteries, there is present on its way Godward, finding completion there if needs be - so my Catholic faith affirms - every sacrificial element in what my Christian brethren have retained of the eucharistic agape of the first Maundy Thursday.

At the Choir Office, at the breviary prayed alone, in silent prayer, my Protestant, Anglican or Orthodox brothers pray with me and in me in my prayer. And likewise I am present and have my part in the loyal and sincere prayer which is lifted up to God through the splendours of the Divine Liturgy and offices of the convinced Orthodox. I am present and have my part in the public prayers of Anglicans - those lovely Canticles - Mattins and Evensong, which have never since the sixteenth century ceased to rise to God in every English Cathedral - those masterpieces of the faith of our medieval ancestors - and in the private prayers of fervent Anglicans, and still more in the service of Holy Communion; I am present and have my part in the worship, the prayers, measured and full of faith, and in the profound hymns of Protestantism, and particularly in the fervent commemoration of the Last Supper held by my Protestant brothers.

O God, how can I be unaware that pleasing you depends on the generosity of my reply - 'Yes' - to your known will, following the example of the Virgin of Nazareth, who remains the Gospel model of all human acquiescence to the divine will: 'Let it happen to in accordance with your Word'. You allow it to be so - every creature must seek you from its own place on earth, wherever that may be; 'You then enlighten every one that comes into the world', O Word of God become Christ ! We are all, every one, advancing towards the Truth which is yourself, for ever pursued, as we all are, by your love, by your Spirit.'

We set out upon this journey, always without ceasing. We never arrive. 'Brethren, I do not consider myself to have made it (the resurrection) my own, but . . . forgetting that which lies behind, and straining forward towards to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal' (Phil. 3.13). He is the way by which we go, the Truth to which we make our way, on and on, the range is infinite - the Life in which we dwell here below, through the darkness of faith, despite our sin, provided we repent of it; later - yet always soon - in 'the father's bosom' - the home where there is no more sin, and where the spirit walks or rather runs from glory to glory.

 

17. All this without vagueness, indifferentism, interdenominationalism

From the complete separation of their different places of worship, the full independence of their beliefs, rites, and types of spirituality, Christians separated from each other will utter from their hearts their prayer for unity, and will let Christ pray in them - he who is the Saviour of all, loved and adored and served by all. 'You, Father, are in me, and I in You . ., that they may be made perfect in one. . . .'

Parallelaboration - a newly-coined word which expresses very well the temper of the time now at hand when 'spiritual emulation' must be found among all Christians. Parallelaboration is the exact opposite of the uneasy and fruitless spiritual collaboration, or, as the theologians call it, 'communicatio in sacris' which can only tend to create a spirit of religious indifferentism, that is to say the profanation of holy things, since for practical purposes they are treated as identical, when they are in reality different. But it must be borne in mind that 'communicatio in sacris' does not necessarily take place on every occasion, and we should know how to discriminate, seeing it only where it does in fact exist.

 

18. There must be no dream of building a place of worship in a town centre where everyone would come to pray together, deserting their places of worship

In adding this caution, which is purely hypothetical in character, I am thinking particularly of certain timid Catholic souls, whose only conception of the problem of Christian Unity is based on a particular textbook attitude, showing no appreciation of the real nature of the problem; they have an abstract conception formulated by writers who have never really faced the problem of Christian Unity, nor suffered because of it, nor known any souls who have so suffered. It must he added that these timid Catholic souls are often very holy and devout, and admired by all who know them, but they are immature, and there is a lack of priests who can train them. As a matter of fact this dream of thus building has obsessed the minds of a number of liberal Protestants, sometimes most courageous in spirit and noble in mind. They were never very numerous, and indeed where there has been a positive revival of Protestant theology, the number has become smaller and smaller. It may be said that the ecumenical movement has outgrown this pitfall. The chief characteristic of the movement is the ever more ardent search for the 'unique Mind' of Christ who manifests himself to the world through the Church, the continuation of himself on earth. It has been said that the problem of the Church will be the great problem of the twentieth century, and this gives us a well-grounded hope that we shall soon see the rise of the dawn of Christian Unity.

 

19. Prayer is the greatest of cosmic forces

After these necessary explanations, let us return to the main subject of these pages: Prayer. Is it the fundamental force whose property is to remake Christian Unity? Or are other forces needed, equally strong, to forge the healing link? Prayer is the fundamental force. It is fundamental because it is the greatest of cosmic forces; it fertilizes and makes fruitful even the highest of other powers: those of the heart and intellect. These powers are separate gifts, given directly to man by God. But it is only as a result of prayer, whether his own or other people's, that man's powers become fruitful for God. It is man's prayer in Christ, or Christ's prayer in man (which is the same thing), which upholds creation in its due order, gives it harmony, makes it pleasing to God, and makes creation sing, through man, the perpetual praise of thanksgiving to the Creator. Prayer transmutes the world of rocks, plants, and animals, into an ordered song: 'O bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord.' What would the violin and the bow be without the artist who makes them sing? Prayer makes us fellow workers, by grace, with God himself, God, in us, waits for his children to hear 'creation groaning and travailing' and when they hear it, they direct it to his glory by the canticle of their prayer.

Since God has made us members of Christ, he has given us, his children a power which is dreadful and terrible, but of indescribable sweetness - the power to ask and to obtain from him anything which can he brought within the orbit of the 'Our Father', the prototype of prayer his Son left us. The Gospel overflows with clear affirmations of the power of prayer and the conditions in which it is valid - faith, humility and perseverance. Everything which can be asked of the Father in Christ's name is vouchsafed by prayer, that is why all prayer implies surrender, for it is often very difficult to declare that Christ would indentify himself with our petition or our thanksgiving, or even our so-called oblation, adoration and contribution.

Finally, by creating in the soul a condition of the will, prayer causes us to Introduce into the universe a metapsychical force with strength proportionate to the strength calmness and stability of that will. There is nothing in modern science to refute this principle; and much can be inferred from it.

 

20. The Evidence of Peter Wust

In April 1941 Peter Wust, one of the most attractive of German philosophers and a fine Christian, lay dying. At Christmas 1940, when he knew the end was near, and was rejoicing in God's goodness towards him, he wrote a letter to his students in which he bequeathed to them a 'magic key'. 'This key is not, as you might expect from a philosopher, exercise of the intellect, but prayer. Prayer, understood as the supreme gift of oneself, brings peace, a spirit of childlike simplicity, and a sense of proportion. In my view, a human being grows up within the framework of humanity (not of humanism) in proportion to the quality of his prayer. And by prayer I mean only true prayer, which is marked by extreme humility of the spirit. Only souls who know how to pray will live life to the full. Suffering teaches us prayer better than anything. This is the only key which will unlock every door on the way to Christian Unity.'

 

21. Visible Christian Unity will then be attained

This Unity is as it were within the divine plan, a claim made by the Word-made-Flesh, since the Church is his own Self, still dwelling among us. 'We usually seem to forget that disunion is an evil, the greatest of all evils, because as long as it lasts, One God in Three Persons is not and cannot be adored in visible unity by the whole Body of Christ. Yet, it is precisely for this work of adoration, by which alone true human dignity can be obtained, that this Body was created. How then ran this reunion be arrived at except by the exercise in this same Body, of penitence, contrition and supernatural hope in God?' (Essay on the Religious Nature of Unity by Arthur Smallwood, in the October 1939 issue of Nouvelle Revue Théologique.)

It is unthinkable, therefore. that the Church's present state of ecclesia peregrinans or of kenōsis should influence the mind of the Christian so as to accept the state of separated Christendom as normal, however one might try to make out a case or pseudo-defence for this, as being the normal state of affairs. The Church of Christ will one day achieve the splendour of visible Unity; it will become ever more beautiful and more and more holy; although still in the shadow of faith, it will glorify the splendour of Creation in ever wider, deeper and more heartfelt praise of God the Trinity, the Creator. And always, to the end of time, the Church will he confronted by anti-Christ, the symbolic personification of all the evil on earth and of all the perpetrators of that evil. When humanity - work of tile Creator who, dwelling within his creation, ceaselessly urges it towards the Truth - when humanity has reached a high degree of spiritual progress through the Church which vivifies and crowns it, the greater will be the danger of sin, and hence of disunion, for the temptation of the sin of pride, the sin of the spirit, will he greater. According to the Scriptures, Satan and anti-Christ will then have their day. This day will be short, soon to be followed by the dazzling final triumph of Christ, the whole Christ, who is the Church.

 

22. When will visible Christian Unity be attained?

Visible Christian Unity will be attained when the praying Christ has found enough Christian souls of all communions for him to pray freely in them to his Father for Unity. The silent voice of Christ must sound forth in the voices of all his baptized, in all their supplications made in humility and penitence - for we all bear a terrible burden of guilt in this drama of separation. If this guilt were only guilt of omission, indifference, unconcern or readiness to accept the present state of affairs, it would be terrible enough; but how much spiritual pride has shown itself, and still shows itself on all sides, strengthening the barriers and deepening the ditches? Let each of us examine himself before God.

Because the Catholic affirms the unique nature of the Catholic Church as an integral part of his Faith, he must be the first to set an example of deep humility not merely in a passing moment of condescension but as an habitual expression of his sorrow for broken Christianity - a sorrow which persists as a token of true regret and contrition for the faults of his ancestors, remembering the human history of the Church, at once glorious and full of wretchedness; and remembering also his own faults. It is essential to do this, if his attitude to his beliefs is to be logical; also it will throw the glory of the past into great relief. He is likewise under an obligation, which is inexorable, to take the initiative in a mutual search for imaginative sympathy - the cordial welcome, the outstretched hand, the open and sincere heart, love of one's neighbour in the true, and therefore full sense of the word 'the one who humbles himself shall be exalted.' He who loves, provided that his love is persistent and admits of no exception, is he who in the last resort begets understanding. 'Where there is no love, put love, and you will receive love back', says St John of the Cross, echoing the great apostle John: 'We have known and believed the love that God has for us' (I John 4.16).

 

23. An undeniable fact

Prayer, the fundamental cosmic force of creation, is found in its completeness in Christ as he prayed for Unity. In that prayer he expressed before his Father his own desire, since Christian Unity is part of his Father's divine plan; his prayer is the expression of his will for his baptized. What has once existed in the mind of Christ exists eternally, for through his mind it becomes part of his person, part of the eternal Word. Christ continues to pray for Unity until the end of time, in the love of the Spirit, the Lamb before the Father's throne. But he desires us to share this prayer with him, for all Christians share his Life. Indeed, he has so willed it that he cannot bring about Christian Unity without us, just as he cannot save us without our co-operation. Each of us can take to himself the words of St Paul, 'I make upů.in my prayer in him for Unity what is lacking in his prayer.'

God has Created us free, in his own image, making us 'free sons in his own Son', and receiving us again into himself by his love; and he could not encroach upon this marvellous gift of freedom without to some extent destroying our personality; far from doing this, he has raised us by the infinity of the Person of his Anointed One.

Honour and responsibility, thanksgiving and guilt, humility and contrition; such are the two aspects of the human spirit. To hold in our hands the responsibility for Christian Unity - though not for the unity of the Church - to hold such great responsibility that if we were to neglect it, God in his justice would find terrible ways to make us fulfil our role - such is our Christian destiny, as glorious as it is terrifying. But let us take courage; God is love, and he is still our Father.

The circumstances make us recognize all these truths amid the darkness and uncertainty of these days. 'The more we lack on earth, the more we shall discover that better thing which the world can give us - the Cross.' (Charles de Foucauld, Écrits spirituels, p. 267.)

 

24. The annual revival of the Universal Prayer of Christians for the Unity of Christians

As the days pass, this Universal Prayer of Christ in Christian souls, as he prays to his Father for their Unity, will enter and penetrate the whole Christian body; God alone will hear the ceaseless secret whisper in souls, fraternities, and cloisters. But threatened even in the monasteries by routine and by the buzz of manifold occupations, this half-inarticulate melody of prayer would stand a great risk of being interrupted and silenced by indifference and forgetfulness. To be effectual and to bring about the parousia, the promised glory of the 'Day of the Lord', this music must enlarge and swell till it becomes the immense, unanimous cry of the whole people of Christ. Only then will Christ's prayer be granted by his Father; for only then will full expression be given to the prayer of the whole Christ, the Risen Christ dwelling in all loyal and sincere souls, true sons of the Father.

But this can only come about if all Christians, even though separated, pray this prayer, so that it beats and pulsates in unison, over and over again - prayed independently here on earth, but convergent in God. For at least one period each year there must be great and visible intercession on the part of all the children of Israel, a true 'revival' of supplication, a living resurgence of the unceasing melody.2 There are other factors, too, which make it necessary that this prayer should be visible, recurring and simultaneous.

For all Christians share to some extent the responsibility for the fragmentation of Christendom, by which God is offended before all people, and people are justly scandalized. There must therefore be a common, visible and simultaneous act of reparation, as far as such a thing is possible, before God and the world, and before creation both visible and invisible; for creation has a mysterious but real relationship with all Christians, vitally bound as they are to Christ, and it is therefore weakened in its Christ-furthering task by the burdensome weight of Christian disunity. The fact that the prayer is prayed by all simultaneously has the advantage that the spiritual forces of reparation and intercession are not merely added together but multiplied. It is because the strands are entwined that 'a threefold chord is not quickly broken'.

It is because the disciples are together (and in our case they will be so as far as possible) that Christ is in the midst of them. In the face of the ugliness of their separations, this simultaneity will allow Christians at last to present to their non-Christian brethren, and to all waiting creation, the moving and visible beauty of the unity of their spiritual efforts; the prelude and measure of Christian unity, transcending any purely human strivings for concord.

 

25. Perseverance in prayer . . . passing the torch from hand to hand . . . in space and time

'We must have a sure belief that God is working out his purpose, and that he, to whom a thousand years are as a day, will reveal and consummate the unity of all Christians, in his own time and his own way. It is enough for us that, when our earthly sojourn is ended, we may be found still journeying courageously, ever deepening our unity with each other, ever keeping before our eyes the distant goal, our faces resolutely set towards Jerusalem. We must hope that even though it may not be possible for us, those who come after us will be able to say "our feet are standing in your gates". "Why are you crying out to me? Say to the children of Israel that they go forward" (Ex. 14.15: extract from the Address of His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury given on 29 July 1937 in St Paul's Cathedral at the inauguration of the Oxford Ecumenical Conference).

 

26. An attempt to show that the prayer of all is absolutely necessary for mutual understanding, which is an essential condition for the realization of Christian Unity

In the last analysis, to 'seek the Kingdom of God' means nothing unless it means to pray. Let us pray therefore and all the rest will be given in addition and 'all the rest' includes charity, which draws hearts together, by which means alone minds, too, will ultimately be drawn together, and will share the unity of faith - the Unique Thought of Christ, which is infinitely beyond the grasp of our own minds, in his eternal unity.

 

27. Psychological unreality

It is strange that the order of purely logical considerations should he reversed. God cannot first bring about unity of minds in the truth and afterwards union of hearts in charity. Psychologically, and in practice, the reverse is the case. When we say, 'it is from unity of faith that the bond of charity must emerge, Ut Unum Sint', if by that we mean that unity of faith must be established before anything else so that the bond of charity may emerge from it, afterwards, we are victims of abstraction.

 

28. Basis of the supreme importance of charity in the psychological order

Prayer leads to charity and charity to fullness of the faith, which, conforming to its own nature, brings unity in its turn, and from this unity springs an increase of charity, whence flow forth fresh unifying lights of the faith, and so forth. 'Ex igne lux, ut de luce ignit.' Therein lies the true way to understand the question and to work effectively towards Christian Unity.

Controversy, on the other hand, shuts the door of the soul to the breath of the Holy Spirit, for it immediately produces a defensive attitude, and that results in opposition in two camps, whereas if we look first for what unites us, and not what divides us, 'a union of hearts in prayer is established and a union of minds will follow in the sphere of faith' (Letter of a Carmelite).

In God the Holy Trinity, the Father precedes the Son and the Father and Son precede the Holy Spirit, following a logical but not an actual order, since in eternity they are co-existent simultaneously, related one to the other in their infinite personality according to the demands of the Divine Life. But Creation is the work of Love, that is to say of the Trinity eternally fulfilled in the Spirit, since God the Holy Trinity has created because he has willed to do so. As this Creation comes directly from God it follows that in this Creation, logically, actually, chronologically, and psychologically love precedes knowledge; will precedes thought; the union of hearts in charity of necessity precedes and most surely prepares for the unity of minds in the truth. When God wished to reveal to the world the secrets of his Life, he began by the act of Love which is the Incarnation. The Incarnate Word was revealed 'full of grace' so that we might know that he was 'full of truth'.

 

29. Difficulties of understanding each other - a typical example

Because we are so half-hearted in our observance of the precept which would enlighten us, 'This is my commandment that you love one another', we understand each other even less, and though we live in physical proximity, spiritually we are far apart.

During a retreat for fellowship, prayer and study, shared by several pastors and priests, it so happened that, while speaking about the theology of salvation, one pastor, extremely sympathetic towards Catholicism, had to state the Protestant point of view. He began by reading long extracts from three modern Catholic theologians, each of whom expounded the Protestant position in the usual Catholic way. These theologians have the reputation among us of being remarkably well informed, endowed with comprehension and sympathy as well as penetration of thought, and are in fact distinguished both as men and as thinkers. When the pastor had finished reading he added, 'It is with deep sorrow, beloved brethren, that I have to tell you that we cannot recognize ourselves in these lines.' This shed a beam of light upon my soul and I realized how great was the gulf which prevents us from understanding each other. I understand lack of understanding:

Mankind live here below
Strangely unknown one to another
Their hearts no kinship show,
Not one of us discerns his brother.

(L. Mercier, `Spleen' in Voix de la Terre et du Temps.)

 

30. Of the mystery of language and of the mind

Thought has no material substance; we express it in an artificial, conventional and most inadequate combination of words, setting in motion sound waves which we entrust to the passive goodwill of the air. What our hearer receives is a poor imitation of what is in our minds mutilated by the language in which we clothe it, however flawless that language may be. How is the listener to strip it of his own auditory sensations? The phrase, the words, which for us would more or less conjure up our own thought - what will they convey to the mind of someone else? It is astonishing enough that the thought it evokes in him is sufficiently akin to my own for him to answer me, and that we can hold a conversation, and in doing so can contrive to understand each other to some extent; at least we suppose so, and that suffices to order our relationships and to establish some sort of social life. Considerable development is needed here. But a simple appeal to reason makes us realize that if we understand each other by the material contact of words, it is precisely because we have a share in a supreme intelligence, God himself. The existence of language is the proof, moment by moment, both spiritual and tangible, of the existence of God, and of our share in his existence.

 

31. To understand, we must therefore dwell in God

The more we dwell in God the more his Life will live in us; that is to say, the more we love him and obey him, the more transparent in him and through him, we shall become to each other. Our words will spring forth from regions ever closer, as our souls draw near to each other in him.

Now there is nothing which will open for us the door to divine Life more than prayer. It is impossible for Christians to understand each other unless they pray. The more they pray, the more they will understand each other, because the same Thought will become more comprehensible to all, the same Word which 'enlightens every one who comes into the world'.

 

32. General Conclusion

If we were to examine every single difficulty which must be overcome so that progress towards Christian Unity may be made, we should always come to the same conclusion: the problem of Christian Unity is for everyone a problem of the orientation of the inner life, for unless it is orientated, even in secret, towards Christian Unity, how can Christians face this burning question? Unless it succeeds in gripping, even torturing the Christian conscience, what hope is there of its resolution?

PAUL COUTURIER

 

NOTES

  1. I am using the term 'Christian Church' because it is convenient, and in current use by our non-Catholic Christian brothers, in the sense of what the Catholic Church claims should be called a 'group'.
  2. This revival takes place each year during the Week of Universal Prayer of Christians for Christian Unity, 18-25 January, when Anglicans, Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants, both Lutheran and Calvinist, pray according to the spirit of these pages, and the number of those who pray, already immense, grows from year to year - see the leaflets on this subject which appear every year.