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Unity of the Church


The fragmentation of Christianity is so evident a hindrance to its propagation that the unity of the Church might be sought solely on pragmatic grounds. Church unity would no doubt increase the effectiveness of the Church's mission, but even if it did not, it would still be necessary to strive for it. The Church's central purpose is to witness to God's unifying and reconciling love in Christ. Therefore the unity of all human beings and their communion with God is the goal towards which the Church is directed (Vatican II, Lumen gentium 1). The Church's own unity, consequently, is an intrinsic necessity and, indeed, a given object of faith. Like other gifts of grace, it is also a never-ending task to utilize and manifest the gift of unity in the Church's life.

Two problems have commanded the most attention in recent years. The first arises over the choice of a starting point. Given the centrality of the Eucharistic celebration to the meaning of the word, "Church," should the unity be conceived primarily in terms of the local Church rather than of the Church universal? Then, what kind of diversity can and should be welcomed, and what sort of unity must be envisaged to make room for all the legitimate diversities of a truly catholic Church? (see catholicity.)

Cardinal Jan Willebrands, for example, noted that various existing "types" (traditions) of Church Bodies would not necessarily have to be abandoned in the event of union. The Presbyterian-Reformed/Roman Catholic Consultation in the U.S. has described the ecumenical goal as a "communion of communions"; each Communion would preserve its own traditions intact, as long as the latter remain vital and are compatible with the broader unity of the whole Church.

The International Lutheran/Roman Catholic Working Group is considering various "models of unity," elaborated on the basis of interconfessional experiences to date and of extrapolations therefrom. "Organic unity," for example, is the express ultimate goal of the Anglican/Roman Catholic conversations, although the model of "sister Churches in communion" also finds application. The World Council of Churches has put forth the strategy of working toward a "genuinely ecumenical council" to crown the ecumenical movement of the 20th century; the term "conciliar fellowship" describes this model. "Reconciled diversity" and "concord" are two further models. The latter, exemplified in the Continental Lutheran and Reformed Churches' Leuenberg Concord (Sept. 30, 1974; named for the Swiss Reformed academy where it was drafted in March, 1973; it is an agreement to full pulpit and altar fellowship), finds Churches healing their rifts by formally recognizing that their mutual condemnations of each other's doctrine in the past no longer have any relevance.

Bibliography: t. bachmann et al., on the Leuenberg Agreement. Lutheran World 21 (1974) 328348. y. congar, "Die Einekirche," in J feiner and m. lohrer, eds., Mysterium Salutis, v. pt. I, (Einsiedeln 1972) 368457. Consultation on Church Unity (COCU), "In Quest of a Church of Christ Uniting: A Statement of Emerging Theological Consensus," Mid-Stream 16 (1977) 4992. n. ehrenstrom, ed., Confessions in Dialogue (Geneva 1975) 196211; What Unity Requires (Geneva 1976). e. lanne, "The Unity of the Church in the Work of Faith and Order," One-in-Christ 12 (1976) 3457. Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, Information Service, n. 31 (1976) (on Lutheran/Catholic Commission) 1112. e. l. unterkoefler and a. harsonyi eds., The Unity We Seek: A Statement by the Roman Catholic/Presbyterian-Reformed Consultation (New York 1977). j. willebrands, "Moving Toward a Typology of Churches," Catholic Mind 68 (1970) 3542; "Models for Reunion," One-in-Christ 7 (1971) 115123.

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