New climate Among Christian Churches
Vatican Council and Far Goal of Christian Unity
Announcement by Pope John XXIII on Christmas morning of the convocation in 1962 of the first Roman Catholic ecumenical council in nearly a century stirred hopes of Protestant as well as Catholic leaders that a way eventually may be found to unite all Christians in a single church. The coming council will not effect a reunion of Protestants and Orthodox Catholics with Rome. In fact, it will concern itself solely with internal affairs of the Roman Catholic Church, But the papal bull proclaiming the convocation repeated a hope frequently voiced by Pope John that an ecumenical council “would make more vivid in the separated brothers the desire for the hoped-for return to unity and would open the way for it.”
Representatives of Protestant and Eastern Orthodox churches are expected to attend the meeting, for the first time in the history of such Roman Catholic gatherings, but only as official observers. However significant their presence, and the expressed hopes of the Pope, the Vatican Council hardly can move the great branches of Christendom more than a very slight step toward reconciliation and union. That goal is still so far distant that the form which reunion might take can now be scarcely conceived. The obstacles are formidable even as between the Roman and Orthodox Catholic churches and no less so among many of the numerous Protestant denominations; and the barriers between Catholic and Protestant churches appear insuperable. However, church leaders and laymen dedicated to the ideal of a single church for all believers in the divinity of Christ are heartened by the new spirit of cordiality that is permeating the principal divisions of the Christian faith.
In a typical Protestant statement, a veteran of the ecumenical movement said recently that certain actions of Pope John, together with unity moves by Protestant and Orthodox churches, “constitute the most potentially dynamic situation within Christendom since the Reformation,” A noted Jesuit scholar used almost the same words several years ago in describing the Protestant-Orthodox ecumenical movement as “undoubtedly the most striking ecclesiologieal event since the 16th Century Reformation.”