Second Vatican Council, 21 November 1964
Decree on Ecumenism
English translations in: The Documents of Vatican II, Walter Abbott (ed.), Guild Press, New York 1966; Vatican Council II, Austin Flannery (ed.), Dominican Publications, Ireland 1975; electronic version available from the Vatican website. Subtitles and subdivisions of paragraphs by John Wijngaards.
- Elements of the one Church of Christ can exist outside the boundaries of the Catholic Church
- The Catholic Church should learn from what the Spirit does in other Churches
- There exists a hierarchy of truths
§ 3 (b). Some, even very 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 Spirit, as well as visible elements. All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to him, belong by right to the one Church of Christ.
§4 (h). Catholics must gladly acknowledge and esteem the truly Christian endowments for our common heritage which are to be found among our separated brethren. It is right and salutary to recognise the riches of Christ and virtuous works in the lives of others who are bearing witness to Christ, sometimes even to the shedding of their blood. For God is always wonderful in his works and worthy of praise.
§4 (i). Nor should we forget that anything wrought by the grace of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of our separated brethren can contribute to our own edification. Whatever is truly Christian is never contrary to what genuinely belongs to the faith; indeed, it can always bring a more perfect realization of the very mystery of Christ and the Church.
§ 11. (a) The way and method in which the Catholic faith is expressed should never become an obstacle to dialogue with our [Christian] brethren.
(b)It is, of course, essential that the doctrine should be clearly presented in its entirety. Nothing is so foreign to the spirit of ecumenism as a false irenicism, in which the purity of Catholic doctrine suffers loss and its genuine and certain meaning is clouded.
(c) At the same time, the Catholic faith must be explained more profoundly and precisely, in such a way and in such terms as our separated brethren can also really understand.
(d) Moreover, in ecumenical dialogue, Catholic theologians standing fast by the teaching of the Church and investigating the divine mysteries with the separated brethren must proceed with love for the truth, with charity, and with humility.
(e) When comparing doctrines with one another, theologians should remember that in Catholic doctrine there exists a "hierarchy" of truths, since they vary in their relation to the fundamental Christian faith. Thus the way will be opened by which through fraternal rivalry all will be stirred to a deeper understanding and a clearer presentation of the unfathomable riches of Christ.
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