Vatican II - Voice of The Church
Vatican II - Voice of The Church

Ut Unum Sint - That they may be One

A Resumé with a Short Introduction by Fr Robert D Hamilton, CJ

A Brief Introduction to the Encyclical

Encyclical Letters can be difficult to understand. Sometimes they are written in a European language and then translated into Latin — the official language of Encyclicals. The official text is then translated into English. This often results in a prose which is heavy and not easy to understand.

The main body of the Encyclical is made up of three chapters, with an Introduction at the beginning which contains the main themes to be developed in the Letter. There is an Exhortation at the end. Each chapter has numerous sub headings which in themselves provide handy little resumés. Chapter 1 - The Catholic Church’s Commitment to Ecumenism

This deals with the theology of Ecumenism. It starts with the theology of Vatican II and follows developments down to our own day. This Chapter is well worth careful study. Indeed if this is the only chapter you read it will give you the central message of the Encyclical.

Chapter 2 - The Fruits of Dialogue

This Chapter provides an interesting survey of where we are today in ecumenical relations. There is a tendency for us, as English Catholics, to measure the success or failure of ecumenism in terms of our dialogue with the Church of England. This chapter gives us an insight into the widespread dialogues that are taking place.

Like Chapter 1 the journey starts with Vatican II.

Unity with the Orthodox Church is dealt with in detail. Important visits between the Pope and Orthodox Patriarchs are mentioned.

Links with the ancient Churches of the East who broke away after the Councils of Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451) have been established and dialogue begun. Visits have been exchanged.

Progress in ecumenical relationships with the Churches of the Reform is explained and the areas which need further study are listed.

Chapter 3 - Quanta est nobis via? (How far is our journey?)

This Chapter looks at the way ahead.

Although a lot of progress has been made we cannot stop now until full and visible unity has been achieved.

The Bishop of Rome has a ministry at the service of unity.

The primacy of the Bishop of Rome is explained and the nature of this primacy and ministry. It is at the service of Christian unity.

The Pope invites Church leaders and theologians to help him discover how to exercise his ministry more effectively in the light of recent ecumenical developments.

The Letter ends with an exhortation to all Christians to work for unity.

A Resumé of the Encyclical Letter


1. As the year 2000 approaches many Christians urgently long for the Christian Unity called for by the Second Vatican Council.

The witness given by so many Christian martyrs from all denominations gives a new vigour to this call for unity.

Christ calls all his disciples to unity. This call is being renewed today by this encyclical letter.

2. A lot of progress has been made at the level of theology.

Commitment to ecumenism is based on the purification of past memories which can only be achieved by a conversion of heart and prayer.

Christians are called to re-examine together their painful past and the hurt which remains.

We must acknowledge with sincere and total objectivity the mistakes which have been made in the past as well as other factors which have caused this deplorable disunity.

3. At the Second Vatican Council the Catholic Church committed herself irrevocably to following the path of the ecumenical venture.

Aware of her weaknesses the Catholic Church is committed to living the Beatitudes and seeks only to proclaim the Gospel.

4. It is the specific duty of the successor of St Peter to work for the cause of Christian unity, to recall the need for full communion among all Christ’s disciples. Like St Peter, the Pope is aware of his weaknesses and need for conversion.


God’s plan and communion

5. God’s plan is to gather all Christians into unity.

The prophet Ezekiel (37.16-28) Using the imagery of two broken sticks, first divided then joined together, the prophet proclaims God’s will to gather from all sides the members of his scattered people.

The gospel of St John (11.51-52) Jesus dies to gather into one the scattered children of God.

The Letter of St Paul to the Ephesians (2.14-16) Jesus reconciled all nations to one another and to God.

6. The unity of divided humanity is the will of God. Christian unity is the duty and responsibility of all who have been baptised.

Division openly

The way of ecumenism: the way of the Church

7. Already in the early 1960’s Vatican II noted a widespread longing for unity amongst Christians (Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism).

8. The Catholic Church embraces with hope the commitment to Ecumenism.

9. Jesus prayed “that they may all be one” (John 17.21).

This unity stands at heart of the Church’s mission.

The basis of this unity is Trinitarian. We are one with Jesus through baptism and this introduces us to the life and unity of the Trinity.

To believe in Christ means:

This is the meaning of Jesus’s prayer “that they may all be one.”

10. The Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church.

Elements of sanctification and truth exist in other Christian Churches.

11. While the Catholic Church has preserved the unity of Christ’s Church for nearly two thousand years she admits her own failings which have led to the break up of the Christian Church but the elements of holiness and sanctification existing in other Christian communities means that the One Church of Christ is effectively present in them. Vatican II speaks of a certain, though imperfect communion.

12. The Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution on the Church listed at length the elements of sanctification and truth present and at work outside the Catholic Church. Truth demands that these are recognised.

13. There is not an ecclesial vacuum outside the Catholic Church. Many elements of great value which are gifts of grace within the Catholic Church are to be found outside it.

14. The Church as God intends her to be already exists. It is found in its fullness in the Catholic Church and in other other Churches but without this fullness.

Ecumenism aims to make the partial communion already existing amongst Christians grow towards full communion in truth and charity.

Renewal and conversion

15. Vatican II teaches that the main way to achieve unity is through interior conversion or “change of heart” at a community level as well as an individual level.

There is an increased sense of the need for repentance. “Repent and believe in the Gospel”. Thus the entire life of Christians is marked by a concern for ecumenism.

16. Christ summons the Church to continual reformation. No Christian community can exempt itself from this call.

17. Numerous dialogues between Churches have led to an increase in fellowship and have led the Church to re-examine herself in the light of the Gospel and the great Tradition. This process was started at Vatican II. Renewal and ecumenical openness go together.

The fundamental importance of doctrine

18. An element of continuing reform is to look at the ways in which doctrine is formulated. This does not mean changing doctrine since the unity willed by God can only be achieved by adherence to all the contents of revealed faith in its entirety.

19. Doctrine needs to be presented in a way that makes it understandable to those for whom God himself intends it. The content of faith is intended for all humanity and must be translated into all cultures. The expression of truth can take different forms.

This renewal of the expressions of truth is needed if the Gospel is to be transmitted to the people of today. This renewal is an ecumenical task.

20. It is clear that ecumenism must pervade all that the Church does.

The primacy of prayer

21. Love, which builds communion between individuals and between communities, is the great undercurrent which gives life and adds vigour to the movement for Christian unity.

This love finds its most complete expression in common prayer.

22. Common prayer brings separated Christians together. Then Christ is truly present because he prays “in us”, “with us” and “for us”. If Christians can grow ever more united in common prayer around Christ they will grow in awareness of how little divides them in comparison to what unites them.

23. Fellowship in prayer leads people to look at the Church and Christianity in a new way. In common prayer we gather together in the name of Christ who is One. He is our unity. Ecumenical prayer is at the service of Christian mission and its credibility.

24. Since Vatican II Popes have travelled at the service of communion. They have met and prayed with the heads of many other Christian Communities and opened up a dialogue with them.

25. In turn many distinguished leaders of other Church communities have visited Rome.

Truly the Lord has taken us by the hand and is guiding us. These exchanges and these prayers have already written pages and pages in our “Book of Unity”.

26. “Ecumenical” prayer, as the prayer of brothers and sisters, expresses the truth of the Gospel. “You have one Father” (Matthew 23.9). It shows us the fundamental dimension of brotherhood in Christ.

The change of heart which is the essential condition for every search for unity flows from this ecumenical prayer.

27. Praying for unity should not be limited to when separated Christians meet to pray.

Each one of us individually in our prayer should express our concern for unity.

Ecumenical dialogue

28. Dialogue is not just about exchanging ideas, it involves a sharing of the whole person, it is an exchange of gifts.

29. Dialogue requires on the part of Catholics an effort to eliminate words, judgements and actions which do not respond to the condition of other Christians with truth and fairness.

Dialogue requires that other Christians approach the Catholic Church in the same way.

When undertaking dialogue each side must presuppose in the other a desire for reconciliation, for unity in truth.

30. Vatican II made possible and helped bring about the conditions for dialogue with one another.

31. The Catholic Church’s commitment to ecumenical dialogue is not just a commitment by the Pope, it also involves local Churches.

Dialogue is one of the Church’s priorities and the methods of dialogue have been improved.

In the dialogues between competent experts from different Churches and Communities, each explains the teaching of his Communion in greater depth and brings out clearly its distinctive features.

32. In these meetings enquiry should be free and carried on with the aid of teaching, communication and dialogue.

Through such dialogue

Dialogue as an examination of conscience

33. Ecumenical dialogue is a common quest for truth and truth forms consciences and directs efforts to promote unity.

The consciences of all Christians should be inspired by Christ’s prayer for unity and be submissive to it.

There is a close relationship between prayer and dialogue. Deeper and more conscious prayer makes dialogue more fruitful. Dialogue depends on prayer and prayer also becomes the ever more mature fruit of dialogue.

34. Dialogue leads to the examination of conscience and the realisation that we have all sinned.

All the sins of Christians, including those against Church unity are gathered up in the saving sacrifice of Christ.

Christian unity is possible providing we are humbly conscious of having sinned against unity and are convinced of our need for conversion.

Personal sins and social sins (sinful structures) must be forgiven and left behind.

35 Dialogue is not just between Christian communities it is also a vertical dialogue with God.

This vertical aspect of dialogue means acknowledging jointly to one another that we are men and women who have sinned.

This acknowledgement creates an interior space where Christ, the source of Unity, can act with all the power of the Spirit.

Dialogue as a means of resolving disagreements

36. Dialogue is the natural way of comparing different points of view, especially views which hinder full communion between Christians. Vatican II teaches:

1. Catholic theologians engaged in ecumenical dialogue must:

·        Stand fast by the teaching of the Church

·        Have a personal and interior love for the truth

·        Have a charity towards one’s partner in dialogue

·        Have a humility before the truth when it emerges even if it requires a review of assertions and attitudes.

2. When studying areas of disagreement:

·        The whole body of doctrine must be clearly presented

·        The manner and method of expounding the Catholic faith must not be a hindrance to dialogue. It is possible to explain Catholic teaching in a way that is correct, fair and understandable and take into account the way of thinking and the historical experiences of others

·        All forms of reductionism or facile agreement must be avoided.

37. In dialogue it must be remembered that there is in Catholic teaching a hierarchy of truths.

38. In dialogue it must be remembered that while the dogmatic formulas of the Church’s Magisterium were from the very beginning suitable for communicating revealed truth and remain forever suitable for communicating truth for those who interpret them correctly, nonetheless, controversies in the past have made incompatible assertions out of what was really the result of two different ways of looking at the same reality.

Nowadays we need to find the formula which will enable us to move beyond partial readings and eliminate false interpretations.

Authentic ecumenism is a gift at the service of truth.

39. Ecumenical dialogue means facing up to genuine disagreements in matters of faith.

These disagreements should be faced in a spirit of

These disagreements can only be resolved by reference to

Practical co-operation

40. Relations between Christians are not based only on mutual knowledge, common prayer, dialogue.

They are also based upon every possible form of co-operation at all levels:

This co-operation leads to a greater understanding and esteem amongst Christians and is a manifestation of the Church itself.

Ecumenical co-operation is a true school of ecumenism, a dynamic road to unity because unity of action leads to unity of faith.


Brotherhood rediscovered

41. An overall view of the last thirty years (1965-1995) helps us to appreciate the fruits of a common conversion to the Gospel brought about by the Holy Spirit through the ecumenical movement.

42. A change of language. We no longer talk of separated brethren but use terms which express our common baptism i.e. other Christians, others who have received baptism etc.

The universal brotherhood of all Christians has become a firm ecumenical conviction.

Christians have been converted to a fraternal charity which embraces all Christ’s disciples.

This brotherhood is not based on a vague family spirit but on a recognition of the oneness of baptism.

Solidarity in the service of humanity

43. Nowadays leaders of Christian communities often stand together on issues of freedom, justice, peace and the future of the world. And remind society of God’s will in a realistic manner.

Individual Christians work together on issues of social justice. This way of thinking and acting is that of the Gospel

Approaching one another through the Word of God and through divine worship

44. A lot of progress has been made in ecumenical activity in the area of the Bible, once a source of division. Today there are many common translations.

45. The Catholic Church’s liturgical renewal has been reciprocated by liturgical changes in other communities. There are also signs of convergence with regard to various aspects of the sacramental life. We increasingly speak to the Father with one heart in a way which could not have been imagined a hundred years ago.

46. It is a source of joy to know that there is now reciprocal reception of sacraments in special cases and special circumstances.

Appreciating the endowments present among other Christians

47. Dialogue does not extend exclusively to matters of doctrine, but engages the whole person. It is a dialogue of love.

48. By entering into dialogue with other Christians Catholics have become aware of the witness they bear to God and Christ. We all have had our martyrs during this century. The witness of other Christians can be a source of edification to Catholics.

The growth of communion

49. Contacts between Christians and theological dialogue have resulted in

This has led to a deeper commitment to unity.

The Lord has made it possible for Christians today to reduce the number of matters traditionally in dispute.

Dialogue with Churches in the East

50. Vatican II emphasised the unity between the Roman Catholic Church and the Churches of the East and wanted to base future dialogue on the unity which already existed.

51. A Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church was set up. The work has been slow and arduous but has led to a rediscovery of brotherhood.

Resuming contacts

52. Removal of mutual excommunications which were at the root of the schism between Catholics and Orthodox.

There have been meetings between Popes and Patriarchs of Constantinople aimed at re-establishing the unity shared in the first millennium.

Pope John Paul II visited the Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I (29 November 1979). Visit to Rome by the Ecumenical Patriarch (December 1987).

53. Another important event for the growth in unity with the Orthodox is the 1984 celebration of the work of SS Cyril and Methodius in evangelising Eastern Europe in the 11th century. The Pope has proclaimed them co-patrons of Europe with St Benedict. Cyril and Methodius were Orthodox Christians at a time when there was unity between Orthodox and Catholic.

54. Another important event. The celebration of the millennium of the baptism of Rus (988-1988). The great Slav nations owe their faith to this event. This event goes back to a time when Orthodox Christians and Catholic Christians were united. This helps us understand that the vision for full unity must be sought in legitimate diversity.

Sister Churches

55. There was unity between the Churches of East and West during the first millennium.

The different churches founded by the apostles evolved in different ways but remained united through their communion with the bishop of Rome. The Churches, although different had an eager desire to perpetuate in a communion of faith and charity those family ties which ought to thrive between local churches, as between sisters.

This unity is a model for the unity we seek today.

56. The structures of unity which existed before the separation are a heritage of experience that guides our common path towards the re-establishment of full communion.

During the second millennium, the mutual estrangement between East and West deprived them of the benefits of mutual exchanges and cooperation.

A great effort must be made to re-establish full communion. The traditional designation of “Sister Churches” should ever accompany us along this path.

57. The aim is to re-establish together full communion in legitimate diversity.

58. Pastoral consequences which flow from the already existing communion of faith between Catholic and Orthodox Churches:

• intercommunion in certain circumstances.

Progress in dialogue

59. The work of the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church has led to substantial progress:

60. Any future unity between Catholic and Orthodox will respect structures and the apostolate of the Churches. Orthodox Churches already in communion with Rome will have an important role to play in the quest for unity.

61. The Catholic Church strongly desires unity with the Orthodox Church. How can unity be restored after almost 1000 years? This is the great task for both Churches.

Relations with the Ancient Churches of the East

62. Vatican II established friendly relations with the ancient Churches of the East who did not accept the dogmatic formulations of Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451). There have been joint declarations of a common faith in Christ between:

There have been visits:

63. Ecumenical visits have made possible theological clarifications and joint statements of faith. This the fruit of theological investigation and fraternal dialogue.

Dialogue with other Churches and Ecclesial Communities in the West

64. The Churches of the West have a special affinity because of a long history of unity but there are weighty differences not only of a historical, sociological, psychological and cultural nature but especially in the interpretation of revealed truth.

65. Differences between Churches of the West do not preclude mutual interaction and complementarity.

The Ecumenical movement started amongst the Churches of the Reform. The prayer of Christ makes it imperative to leave behind our divisions in order to seek and re-establish unity.

66. Vatican II’s considerations which ought to serve as a motivation for dialogue:

Churches of the Reform promote the love and veneration for the Sacred Scriptures. Scripture is a precious instrument in the hand of God for achieving unity.

Baptism is a sacramental bond of unity.

67. Vatican II called for a dialogue on the true meaning of:

68. Vatican II noted spiritual, moral and cultural values in the life of the Churches of the Reform. Neither did it overlook their efforts for social justice and peace. However there is much room for dialogue concerning the moral principles of the Gospel.

69. Since Vatican II the Catholic Church has been engaged in multilateral dialogue. This dialogue continues to be fruitful and full of promise. Unexpected possibilities for resolving difficulties have emerged. Other questions need to be studied more deeply.

70. Theological dialogue has been accompanied by prayer, in this way the quest for unity is not limited to theologians but shared by all believers.

Ecclesial relations

71. Theological discussions and prayer have been backed up by pastoral visits. Such contacts greatly improve mutual knowledge and increase fraternal charity.

72. The Pope highlights certain visits which he has made to European countries as well as the U.S.A. and Canada which have fostered the cause of unity.

73. Today many programmes to foster unity are in place at all levels.

Achievements of co-operation

74. Statements of principles can be verified by their application to real life.

Social and cultural life offer ample opportunity for ecumenical cooperation.

Christians are working together to:

75. This cooperation is not merely humanitarian.

76. Christians are becoming more and more united in praying for peace and in rejecting violence, every kind of violence from wars to social injustice. In 1986 at Assisi during the World Day of Prayer for Peace, Christians prayed with one voice to the Lord of history for peace in the world.

CHAPTER 3 - QUANTA EST NOBIS VIA? (How far is our journey?)

Continuing and deepening dialogue

77. The goals attained so far on the journey to Christian unity are:

This is not enough for Christians who profess that the Church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. The ultimate goal is to re-establish full visible unity among all the baptised.

78. Ecumenism implies that Christian communities should help one another so that there may be truly present in them the full content and all the requirements of the heritage handed down by the apostles. Without this full communion will never be possible.

Already some basic agreement has been reached on Baptism, Eucharist, Ministry, Authority. It is now necessary to advance towards full unity so that one day this unity may be expressed in the common celebration of the Eucharist. This requires patient and courageous effort.

79. Areas which need fuller study:

Two dangers to be avoided:

  1. False irenicism and indifference to the Church’s ordinances
  2. Half hearted commitment to unity and a prejudicial opposition to unity or a defeatism which sees everything in negative terms.

The obligation to respect the truth is absolute.

Reception of the results already achieved

80. Statements of theological commissions must become our common heritage.

This requires a broad and precise critical process which analyses the results and tests their consistency with the Tradition of Faith.

81. When examining the statements of theological commissions it will be helpful to keep in mind the distinction between the deposit of faith and the formulation in which it is expressed.

Continuing spiritual ecumenism and bearing witness to holiness

82. This commitment to ecumenism presents a deep challenge to the Catholic faithful. It involves “a dialogue of conversion” in which each individual must recognise his own faults and confess his sins. This “dialogue of conversion” is the basis of fraternal relations. The bonds of fraternal koinonia (communion) must be forged before God and in Christ Jesus.

One of the first steps in ecumenical dialogue is the effort to draw Christian communities into this completely interior spiritual space in which we all have to ask ourselves if we have been faithful to Christ’s plan for his Church.

83. All Christian Communities know that thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit we can obey the will of the Father and overcome the obstacles to unity.

84. We Christians already have a common martyrology. Many Christians in this century have given their lives for Christ. This shows us how at a profound level God preserves communion among the baptised. This communion among Christians becomes a perfect union in the highest point of the life of grace - martyrdom.

Also in an invisible way our incomplete union here on earth is grounded on the communion of saints. These saints come from all the Churches and Ecclesial Communities which gave them entrance into the communion of salvation.

If communities are able to be converted to the quest for full and visible unity, God will do for them what he did for their saints.

85. God can bring good out of situations which are an offence to his plan. Fragmentation has led to a rich bestowal of God’s grace. How can we hesitate to be converted to the father’s expectations? He is with us.

Contribution of the Catholic Church to the quest for Christian unity

86. Vatican II teaches that the one Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic

Church. Full unity comes when we all share in the fullness of the means of salvation entrusted by Christ to his Church.

87. Ecumenical dialogue works to awaken a reciprocal fraternal assistance. Churches help each other to grow in fullness in accordance with God’s plan (Ephesians 4.11-13). The Catholic Church is aware of all that it has received from the witness of other Churches.

Now, based on the communion which already exists, this process will impel us towards full and visible communion. Catholics must strive to understand both the way of thinking and the sensibilities of other Christian Communities.

The ministry of unity of the Bishop of Rome

88. The Bishop of Rome preserves the ministry of the Apostle Peter to be a perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity.

The Pope is the “Servant of the servants of God”. Yet the Pope recognises that this ministry of the Bishop of Rome constitutes a difficulty for most Christians because of certain painful memories. Pope John Paul asks for forgiveness to the extent that he is responsible for painful memories (Pope Paul VI did the same).

89. It is encouraging that the Primacy of the Bishop of Rome has become a subject of discussion in the ecumenical movement as a whole. After centuries of disunity other Churches are taking a fresh look at this ministry of unity.

90. In the New Testament, the person of Peter has an eminent place. He appears as the leader and spokesman of the Apostolic College (cf Acts 2:14, 2.37, 5.29). The place assigned to Peter is based on the words of Christ himself.

91. The New Testament texts dealing with Peter:

92. The Pope is heir to the mission of Peter. The authority proper to this mission is at the service of God’s merciful plan.

93. The Pope as successor of St Peter is to be a sign of mercy. His is a ministry of mercy born of an act of Christ’s own mercy. This lesson of the gospel must be read anew so that the exercise of the Petrine Ministry may lose nothing of its authenticity.

The vocation of the Church is to show that God in his mercy can convert hearts to unity and enable them to enter into communion with him.

94. This service of unity is entrusted to the Pope within the College of Bishops. The mission of the Pope is to keep watch so that the true voice of Christ may be heard in all the Churches. The Bishop of Rome uses his power and authority to ensure the communion of all the Churches. He is the first servant of unity.

When circumstances require it he speaks in the name of all the Bishops who are in communion with him. He can also declare ex cathedra that certain doctrines belong to the deposit of the faith. Thus by bearing witness to the truth he serves the cause of unity.

95. The Pope acts as a member of the College of Bishops. All he does is done in communion with other bishops. Whatever relates to the unity of all Christian communities clearly forms part of the concerns of the Pope.

The Pope acknowledging the aspirations to unity of the majority of Christian Churches wants to find a way of exercising his Papal office, without renouncing what is essential to it, in a way which is open to the new situation.

The Pope invites all Churches to seek together with him new forms in which his ministry of unity may be exercised so as to be a ministry of love recognised by all.

96. A call to Church leaders and their theologians to engage with the Pope in a patient and fraternal dialogue on this subject.

The communion of all Particular Churches with the Church of Rome:
a necessary condition for unity

97. The Catholic Church holds that the communion of the particular Churches with the Church of Rome is an essential requisite for full and visible unity.

Full unity and evangelisation

98. The Christian mission to proclaim the gospel to the whole world is severely damaged by the lack of unity (cf John 17.21).

How can we proclaim the gospel of reconciliation and not be committed to working for reconciliation between Christians?

99. As Bishop of Rome, the ecumenical task has been one of the pastoral priorities of the pontificate of Pope John Paul II.


100. Vatican II is the great beginning of the journey leading us to the Third Millennium.

The Council placed great emphasis on the work of rebuilding Christian unity.

The Holy Spirit is leading the Church to the full realisation of the Father’s plan.

Today Christ calls everyone to renew their commitment to work for full and visible communion.

101. Unity is part of the mission of all bishops.

102. As the Catholic Church turns towards the new Millennium she asks the Holy Spirit for the grace to strengthen her own unity and to make it grow towards full communion with other Christians.

103. The letter ends with the Pope making his own the words of St Paul (2 Corinthians 13:11-13)

“Mend your ways, encourage one another, live in harmony and the God of love and peace will be with you ....... The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”


Read the entire Encyclical Letter on the Vatican website

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