False Ecumenism: An Old Error, On Hanukkah and Christmas

What we call today, ecumenism, is not a new thing. (Neither, for that matter, is its cousin, syncretism, or its twin sister, indifferentism. Error is very old.) The not-very-venerable antiquity of ecumenism struck me the other day as I was reading an article in the Catholic Encyclopedia. I’ll get to that in a minute — first, some current events.

The Holy Father and Bartholomew I, the schismatic Patriarch of Constantinople, signed a “Common Declaration” on the Feast of St. Andrew (November 30). In that declaration, the Pope and Patriarch call each other “Pastors in the Church of Christ.” This disappointing language is in stark contrast to the historical posture of the Roman Pontiffs vis-a-vis the total absence of jurisdiction in schismatic bodies.

The same day I read the declaration, I saw a piece on the Catholic World News web site that spoke of the Catholic Coptic Patriarch and his visit to the Holy Father in Rome. The piece reviewed the history of the Uniate Church in Egypt, and included this history:

Catholics form a distinct minority among the Coptic Christians of Egypt. According to tradition the Church in Alexandria was founded by St. Mark the Evangelist. But the Egyptian people rejected the teachings of the Council of Chalcedon, and the Coptic Orthodox Church broke away from Rome.

A Coptic delegation visited the Council of Florence in 1442, and announced a reunion with Rome, but their decision had little impact back in Egypt. Serious missionary activity finally produced some returns to the Catholic Church in the 18th century, and in 1741 Pope Benedict XIV appointed the first Coptic Catholic bishop.

A couple of paragraphs before this were some strange comments regarding interfaith relations between Christians and Moslems. What struck me was the contrast. Whereas today, we are speaking the language of ecumenism, which is an ill-defined search for “unity,” in those days it was “serious missionary activity” which produced results.

I have an idea: Let’s try it again! The major obstacle will be the motive for the missionaries: Why should today’s missionaries take that job seriously? Let us not forget that the Catholic missionaries in the 18th century believed the infallible decrees of that same Council of Florence to which the Copts adhered, including the one that said: “those not living within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life….”

Neither let us forget that Our Lady of Fatima spoke of the “conversion” of an Orthodox Christian Nation. Russia was not yet officially atheistic when Our Lady spoke these words.

So the first thing we have to do is convert the missionaries to orthodox Catholicism. Then we need to send them to convert people. That is the Gospel mandate: Go, teach, and baptize.

In calling Patriarch Bartholomew I “schismatic,” I do not intend to demean the man. I simply relate a fact. I hope that he will accept Catholic unity under the Supreme Pontiff. I hope the same for Patriarch Alexy II, of Moscow.

Now for the Catholic Encyclopedia article. I was reading about Pope Paul III the other day, and I came across the following comments about Emperor Charles V, a man who was generally a very noble Catholic Emperor. What is being discussed are the delays in starting the Council of Trent:

Charles himself was in no slight measure to blame, for, notwithstanding his desire for the assembling of a council, he was led into the belief that the religious differences of Germany might be settled by conferences between the two parties. These conferences, like all such attempts to settle differences outside of the normal court of the Church, led to a waste of time, and did far more harm than good. Charles had a false idea of the office of a general council. In his desire to unite all parties, he sought for vague formulæ to which all could subscribe, a relapse into the mistakes of the Byzantine emperors. A council of the Church, on the other hand, must formulate the Faith with such precision that no heretic can subscribe to it. It took some years to convince the emperor and his mediating advisors that Catholicism and Protestantism are as opposite as light and darkness.

A study in contrast and a reality check: “Serious missionary activity” works. “Vague formulæ” waste time and do more harm than good. I believe Father Feeney would approve.

It would not be so important if heaven and hell were not the ultimate realities under discussion.

On Hanukkah and Christmas

Just before Advent began, I promised “some un-e.c. (not ecumenically correct) comments on the true import of this Jewish Feast [of Hanukkah].” This Advent is as short as Advent can be, so my obligation to do this caught up with me quickly.

What does the feast of Hanukkah signify? It signifies the re-dedication of the Temple after its desecration by the Greek-Syrian Antiochus IV Epiphanes (see 1 Maccabees 4). Significantly, the Jews have no books they regard as inspired which relate this history (neither do the Protestants!). Our two Books of Maccabees relate the history of one of their feasts. This late Jewish festival, which fell upon what is now Christmas, is the “Festival of Lights,” a reference to the many candles which illuminated the Temple at its re-dedication. This was a foreshadowing of the Light of Christ.

The mystery which connects Hanukkah and Christmas is this: Christ is the New Temple. Recall the words of Our Lord in St. John’s gospel: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” St. John adds that “he spoke of the temple of his body” (John 2:19,21). There are many places in the Gospels where Our Lord is shown as opposing the Temple. Here is one of them:

“And as he sat on the mount of Olivet over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him apart…” (Mk. 13:3. In context, the “Temple vs. Temple” imagery is even more clear.)

This is why, in the Christian dispensation, there will be no temple on Mt. Moriah or Mt. Gerizim (cf. John 4:21). The true Temple, where the adorers of God will worship “in spirit and in truth,” is the Body of Christ.

The Temple imagery runs as a thread through the scriptures. Compare, for instance, the language of the prophet Ezechiel with that of St. John, the same Apostle who assured us that Our Lord spoke of his Body as a Temple:

“And he brought me again to the gate of the house, and behold waters issued out from under the threshold of the house toward the east: for the forefront, of the house looked toward the east: but the waters came down to the right side of the temple to the south part of the altar.” (Ezechiel 47:1)

“But one of the soldiers with a spear opened his side, and immediately there came out blood and water. And he that saw it, hath given testimony, and his testimony is true. And he knoweth that he saith true; that you also may believe.” (John 19:34-35)

The water that Ezechiel describes in his vision ends up purifying the waters of the world, so that they can be inhabitable by all fish. To the Jews, “the waters,” were symbolic of the nations of the world. In other words, water coming from the true Temple of God would flood the world, cleaning even the gentile nations. It is possible that St. John was familiar with this vision and made the association. This could explain his emphatic insistence on his “true” testimony. A foreshadowing of the call of the Gentiles and the Sacrament of Baptism.

(This text of Ezechiel is where we get the Vidi Aquam, which replaces the Asperges in High Masses on Sunday during Paschal Tide.)

Our Lord purified the temple, giving something of a warning to the Priests. They did not heed it. A generation after the Crucifixion of Jesus, whose back was to the Temple in Jerusalem as He looked to the West, the Temple and the Holy City were destroyed. But not before it had been replaced by a New Temple: the Body of Christ, which is also a New Holy City, the Catholic Church.

Some further observations on this can be found in our article, “In Defense of Christmas.”

This will be the last «Ad Rem» before Christmas. From all the brothers and sisters of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, have a blessed and holy Christmas!