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The Vatican, Ecumenism, and Tolerance | Dr. James Hitchcock | IgnatiusInsight.com

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The phrase "Vatican II" has long been a mantra that shuts off real thinking, used to imply that somehow that Council negated almost everything in the Catholic past and uncritically embraced everything modern.

As usual with such slogans, those who use it don't really care whether it reflects reality, so that when they encounter the real Vatican II they are often offended.

Their most recent offense has been caused by a Vatican document stating that the fullness of divine truth is found only in the Catholic Church and that other groups possess truth in proportion to how close they are to Catholicism, something that implies that other groups are partly in error. Pope Benedict is therefore accused of leading the Church back into the Dark Ages, by repudiating the Church's commitment to ecumenism.

Where does the commitment to ecumenism come from? From Vatican II of course, specifically from its decree on ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio (The Restoration of Unity). But then where does the idea that the Catholic Church alone possess the fullness of divine truth come from? From the same Vatican Council, from the same decree on ecumenism. Thus those who reject the latest Vatican statement must logically also reject the very document that committed the Church to ecumenism in the first place.

One of the main criticisms of the recent statement is that it offends some people. But although it may be heresy to say so, offending people is not the worst of all possible sins - it depends on why they are offended. It is necessary to speak the truth, no matter how much it offends.

The people who accuse the Vatican of being intolerant cannot themselves avoid being intolerant, since they demand that everyone share their own view of the matter. Increasingly the fetish of "tolerance" (a much over-rated virtue to begin with) is itself a cloak for intolerance.

Those who condemn the Church's claim to posses the fullness of truth are in effect charging that the Church teaches pernicious error, which, whatever else it is, is a peculiar manifestation of "tolerance."

Such people do not seem to recognize that they are simply pushing their own theological agenda, which is the assumption that all religions merely represent human opinion, that no one can claim real divine truth. Is there one God (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) or many (Hinduism)? It doesn't really matter.

Significantly, a leading Protestant, Albert Mohler, has said that he is not offended by the controversial Vatican statement, a fact that is especially significant because Dr. Mohler is a Southern Baptist, which is America's largest Protestant group and one that is hardly soft on Catholicism.

He observes that the Catholic Church is only being true to itself when it states that other faiths are partly in error and that the appropriate Protestant response is not indignation but for Protestants to assert their own claims to truth. "I appreciate the Roman Catholic Church's candor on this issue, and I believe that Evangelical Christians, with equal candor and clarity, should respond in kind," he concludes.

This is real ecumenism, of the kind Vatican II originally envisioned--the ecumenism of those who take their own faith very seriously and do not feel threatened when adherents of other faiths confess their own beliefs.

(This article originally appeared on August 4, 2007, on the Women for Faith and Family website. It is reprinted by the kind permission of the author.)

Related IgnatiusInsight.com Links/Articles:

Excerpts from Truth and Tolerance | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Is Tolerance Intolerant? | James Hitchcock
Are Christians Intolerant? | Michael O'Brien
Our Enslavement to "Freedom" | James Hitchcock
Conscience and Chaos | James Hitchcock
Secularity: On Benedict XVI and the Role of Religion in Society | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
What Is Catholic Social Teaching? | Mark Brumley
Personally Opposed--To What? | Dr. James Hitchcock

Dr. James Hitchcock, (e-mail) professor of history at St. Louis University, writes and lectures on contemporary Church matters. His column appears in the diocesan press, in the Adoremus Bulletin, and on the Women for Faith and Family website. He is the author of several books, including The Recovery of the Sacred, What is Secular Humanism?, and Years of Crisis: Collected Essays, 1970-1983.

Princeton University Press just published his two-volume history of the Supreme Court, The Supreme Court and Religion in American Life: The Odyssey of the Religion Clauses (Vol. 1) and From "Higher Law" to "Sectarian Scruples" (Vol. 2). He is also a regular contributor to many Catholic periodicals, including Catholic World Report.

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