Catholic apology and unquestioned respect for Protestants
After centuries of accusation and contempt between Catholics, Orthodox and Protestant brothers and sisters, God is today bringing down the barriers between His people and uniting His Mystical Body the Church.
Never before has a Pope publically asked forgiveness for the hostile acts committed by Catholics throughout its history, often in the name of the Church, and forgiven such hostile acts committed against Catholics, but on March 13th 2000 Pope John Paul II did exactly that. He said:
"We forgive and we ask forgiveness. We are asking pardon for the divisions among Christians, for the use of violence that some have committed in the service of truth, and for attitudes of mistrust and hostility assumed towards followers of other religions."
In a clear reference to the Reformation and the horrors of the Inquisition, Crusades and other religious wars, the Pope said:
''We cannot not recognize the betrayal of the Gospel committed by some of our brothers, especially in the second millennium.' ''Recognizing the deviations of the past serves to reawaken our consciences to the compromises of the present.''
He said repeatedly that the New Evangelization he was calling for in the third millennium can take place only after what he has described as a church-wide ''Purification of Memory.''
Because the Protestant Churches don’t have a single leader or leaders to speak for them, it has been physically difficult for Protestants to actually ‘accept the Pope’s apology’ and forgive the Catholic Church in return.
However, there has been long and constructive dialogue in the World Council of Churches, which has clarified and agreed many matters previously causing misunderstanding and division:
- Lutherans: Regarding the Protestant declaration of; justification by ‘Faith Alone’: “On the basis of the agreements reached in the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, the Lutheran World federation and the Catholic Church declare together:
"The understanding of the doctrine of justification set forth in this declaration shows that a consensus in basic truths of the doctrine of justification exists between Lutherans and Catholics"’ Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification – 1999. Growth in Agreement II – World Council of Churches.(Emphasis added).
- Baptists:Since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), Baptists and Roman Catholics have undertaken a series of conversations at the international level. Jointly sponsored by the Commission on Baptist Doctrine and Interchurch Cooperation of the Baptist World Alliance and the Vatican Secretariat for promoting Christian Unity, these conversations have focused on a subject of concern to both sides, namely ‘Christian Witness in Today’s World’.
In this series of five conversations, Baptist and Roman Catholic participants, composed of church leaders and scholars, discovered a remarkable amount of consensus on both general and specific issues.
“Our common witness rests on shared faith in the centrality of Jesus Christ as the revelation of God and the sole mediator between God and humankind (1 Timothy.2-5). We come to know Jesus Christ through the scriptures, especially of the New Testament, which we share in common as the source and sustainer of our faith. That knowledge is experientially confirmed by the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, is handed down by the community of believers, and is certified by the authoritative witness of the church throughout the ages. We are also aware that God set forth in Christ “the mystery of his will” (Ephesians.1:9).
- And Baptists regarding the Blessed Virgin Mary:
“Because of the long history of misunderstanding and the theological difficulties and subtleties inherent in Marian doctrines, we do not expect consensus in the foreseeable future. In an area such as devotion to Mary, which evokes both strong emotions and strong convictions from both communions, the quest for mutual understanding and respect is put to the test. Roman Catholics must attempt to understand and sympathise with the serious problems Baptists have with Marian devotion and doctrine. Baptists must try to understand not only the biblical and theological grounds of Marian doctrine and devotion, but its significance in popular piety and religious practice.” Baptist – Roman Catholic Dialogue. Summons to Witness to Christ in Today’s World 1988. Growth in Agreement II, World Council of Churches (Emphasis added)
- Evangelicals: “As a result of these changes in our world and in our churches, many Catholics and Evangelicals have begun talking to and cooperating with each other, including praying together. In the process, they have not only become friends; but they have begun to discover each other as brothers and sisters in the Lord.
“… In this section we have come to recognize, with the help of God’s Spirit, the koinonia [Christian fellowship] with the life of the trinity that both of our communities enjoy. We see it, therefore, as incumbent upon both of us to move from this singular condition of unity with the life of the trinity into an experienced unity with one another. To that end we need to take the actions which will move us from this rediscovery to forge the ecclesial bonds that will express this already bestowed unity. If God has not been dealing with us as if we were apart from Him, why should we continue to live as if we were apart from one another? Church, Evangelisation and the Bonds of Koinonia – A Report of the International Consultation between the Catholic Church and the World Evangelical Alliance 1993 – 2002. Growth in Agreement III. World Council of Churches (Emphasis added)
Despite such conciliatory talks and agreement amongst leaders of Christian denominational groups, some Catholics and Protestants still persist in their verbal tradition of contempt and denunciation towards each other. Some, though fewer these days, even continue their dismissal of each other as being ‘the enemy’ and not even Christian. (We must all be careful of this position of attacking our brothers and sisters, just because God is doing a different thing in them. It is surely the height of pride to insist that God is only in ‘my pocket’ and He cannot be in yours!) The Holy Spirit is alive and active in all the Christian churches and following Saul’s misguided persecution of the early Christians, Jesus rebuked him strongly:
Act 9:4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?'
Act 9:5 He asked, 'Who are you, Lord?' The reply came, 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting
Anyway, although the Catholic Church believes that it has a fuller understanding of receiving Grace within its sacraments - which were lost to the Reformers when the 'baby went out with the bathwater' - in humility it has, through Pope John Paul II, asked our Protestant brothers to consider accepting this apology, made on behalf of the world-wide Catholic Church in the Millenium year – a Jubilee year, when debts were traditionally wiped clean in biblical times.
Leviticus 25:10 ' And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family.'