Ecumenical Outreach Before Vatican 2

This page is meant to collect examples of ecumenism and friendly attitudes toward non-Catholics from before the Second Vatican Council. I made this page because I have often heard suspicions from some Catholics that ecumenical outreach was discouraged before Vatican 2, and I think that’s not true. Indifferentism has been discouraged, but not the ecumenical movement on the whole.

BTW I think the substantial parts of Catholic ecumenism are: (a) encouraging Catholics and non-Catholics to pray for union, (b) positive remarks from Catholics about things they hold in common with non-Catholic groups, (c) a friendly spirit toward non-Catholics that tries to assume they have good intentions, or gives them the benefit of the doubt that they are not necessarily evil people.

Ecumenical Outreach Before Vatican 2

~255 A.D.

Pope St. Stephen writes that (most) heretical groups have valid baptism and are therefore brothers in faith, though he implies that they are brothers in an incomplete way.

According to St. Cyprian (Letter 73), “[Pope Stephen said] that although the second birth is spiritual, by which we are born in Christ through the layer of regeneration, one may be born spiritually among the heretics.” source

From this, it follows that the Catholic Church recognized that (most) heretics were brothers, because both Catholics and (most) heretics are all sons of God through baptism. But he did note that their brotherhood was incomplete: “[He] hesitates...to be a partaker with [the heretics] in other matters [than baptism], [for example,] to meet together with them, and equally with them to mingle their prayers, and appoint a common altar and sacrifice.” source

385 A.D.

St. Optatus writes about the impaired but real brotherhood of Catholics and Donatists, and about their impaired but common prayer for one another.

According to Cardinal Wiseman, "[The Church Fathers] generally treat with the Donatists as with schismatics, and not heretics. ... [St. Augustine] acquits them of any error respecting the Trinity... St. Optatus clearly acquits them of errors in faith... Hence, this saint always calls Parmenianus [a Donatist leader] by the title of brother; and when this was indignantly rejected, vindicates it at length in the opening of his fourth book." source

Actually, if you look up the source from which Cardinal Wiseman was quoting, there is some interesting ecumenical language:

"I would beg of you to recognise that, however distasteful the word brother may be to you, still it has of necessity to be employed by us." (St. Optatus, Against the Donatists Book 4 Chapter 2)

And: "[Both] you and we have been made sons of God in the same manner, as it has been written in the Gospel: 'The Son of God has come. As many as received Him, to them has He given the power to become sons of God, to those who believe in His Name.' " (ibid.)

And: "[Y]ou cannot escape being our brothers----you whom together with us one Mother Church has borne from the same bowels of her Mysteries." (ibid.)

And: "Christ, foreseeing this time----how it would come to pass that you should to-day be at variance with us, gave such commands with regard to prayer, that, at least in prayer, unity might remain, and that supplications might join those who should be torn asunder by faction. We pray for you, for we wish to do so, and you pray for us, even though you do not wish it." (ibid.)

~740 A.D.

St. John Damascene discussed Islam and Christianity in his book "The Fount of Knowledge." The book is notable for five points: it discusses the history of Islam, it builds on things Muslims and Christians hold in common, it uses philosophy to defend Christian ideas, it defends Scripture, and it cites problems with the Quran.

As an example of building on things Muslims and Christians hold in common, St. John writes about Mohammed: "He says that there is one God, creator of all things... He says that the Christ is the Word of God...and that He was begotten, without seed, of Mary..." (The Fount of Knowledge, On Heresies, Paragraph 101)

1076 A.D.

Pope St. Gregory VII - “We and you must show in a special way to the other nations an example of this charity, for we believe and confess one God, although in different ways, and praise and worship Him daily as the creator of all ages and the ruler of this world.” (Letter to Anzir [Nacir], King of Mauretania)

~1120 A.D.

“William of Malmesbury observed that Islam was not idolatrous and pagan but monotheistic, and also that Muhammad was regarded not as God in Islam but as the prophet of God.” (A History of Christian-Muslim Relations by Hugh Goddard, Chapter 5 Page 93)

~1145 A.D.

“[T]he chronicler Otto of Freising observed that the Muslims worship one God, and that they respect Christ and his apostles, and that they are therefore wrong in only one thing, namely in their denial that Jesus Christ is God or the Son of God and in their veneration of Muhammad as the prophet of the supreme God.” (A History of Christian-Muslim Relations by Hugh Goddard, Chapter 5 Page 93)

Before 1156 A.D.

Peter the Venerable - “I do not attack you, as some of us often do, by arms, but by words, not by force, but by reason; not in hatred, but in love.” “[We should debate] with peace...not with fury; with reason, not with madness; with tranquillity, not with iniquity.” “Loving, I write to you; writing, I invite you to salvation.” “Hear, therefore, for the time is nigh, to what you have consecrated your souls, your bodies, and your death. Hear whether you have placed your hope in a safe place, whether you have believed in a salutary doctrine, [and] in a true prophet and messenger of God.” (The Refutation of the Sect or Heresy of the Saracens)

~1267 A.D.

“[Roger Bacon composed a treatise] for Pope Clement IV [and] argued that in recent history Christendom had been misguided in its aims, which were more concerned with domination than with conversion, and had relied on inadequate methods; preaching, he suggested, was the only way to realise the expansion of Christendom in the future, and to that end languages had to be learnt, other beliefs had to be studied, and arguments had to be formulated in order to refute them.” (A History of Christian-Muslim Relations by Hugh Goddard, Chapter 5 Pages 95-96)

Before 1274 A.D.

St. Thomas Aquinas writes that Mohammed taught some truths, even though he mingled them with errors. (Summa Contra Gentiles Book 1 Chapter 6 Paragraph 4)

1330 A.D.

Don Juan Manuel - “[T]here is [a just] war between Christians and Moors [to recover] the lands which the Moors have occupied; [but] neither on account of their faith nor on account of their deviant religion is there any reason why there should be war between [us]. Christ never ordered that anyone should be killed or put under pressure in order to convert, for He does not wish for any obligatory service, only for that which is given voluntarily and with a good heart.” (Libro de los Estados Book 1 Chapter 30)

1450-1460 A.D.

“[This] decade...[may have] witnessed a flowering of optimism concerning the possibility of some kind of positive interaction with Islam, as seen especially in the writings of John of Segovia and Nicholas of Cusa who sought some kind of conference with Islam in order to address the outstanding issues between Christians and Muslims.” (A History of Christian-Muslim Relations by Hugh Goddard, Chapter 5 Page 96)

Before 1464 A.D.

Pope Pius II - “We do not seek you out in hatred nor do we threaten your person... We are hostile to your actions, not to you. As God commands, we love our enemies and pray for our persecutors." (Epistle Ad Mohomatem II)

~1541 A.D.

St. Peter Faber - “[It] is essential that whoever desires to be useful to heretics in our day should both nourish in himself a great affection for them and show it in action, removing from his own mind those unfavourable imaginations which make us think less well of them.” (Instructions How to Deal with Heretics, as it appears in The Life of Blessed Peter Favre by Giuseppe Boero, Chapter 13)

“The next thing is, to win their goodwill and inclinations to such an extent that they may reciprocate our kind feelings and think well of us. This may easily be done by speaking to them affectionately, and dwelling in familiar conversations on those points only on which they agree with us, avoiding everything like a dispute, in which one side always assumes an air of superiority, and shows contempt of the other. Those subjects should be first chosen in which there is a sympathy and union of wills, rather than those which tend to disunite them by opposition of opinion.” (ibid.)

1563 A.D.

The Council of Trent called Protestant groups "the faithful of Christ...by whatsoever name designated" (Session 15 and Session 18) and noted that "[we] all acknowledge the same God and Redeemer." (Session 13)

It gave Protestants who attended the Council the right "to confer in charity...with those who have been selected by the Council" (Session 15 and Session 18) and promised "to receive them kindly, and to listen to them favourably." (Session 15)

It called for "all opprobrious, railing, and contumelious language [to be] utterly discarded" on the part of Protestants (Session 15 and Session 18) and said the Protestant delegates could dispute "without any abuse or contumely" with the Catholics. (Session 13)

It further declared "that they shall not be punished under pretence of religion" (Session 15 and Session 18) and called them "sons of [the Church's] womb," "our common mother." (Session 18)

Furthermore, it made this solemn invitation: "[The Synod] invites and exhorts, by the bowels of the mercy of our same God and Lord, all who hold not communion with us, unto concord and reconciliation, and to come unto this holy Synod; to embrace charity, which is the bond of perfection, and to show forth the peace of Christ rejoicing in their hearts, whereunto they are called, in one body." (Session 18)

~1613 A.D.

Dr. Benjamin Carier converted to Catholicism in this year. He had been an Anglican preacher personally selected for the service of King James I. After he became a Catholic, he wrote a letter to the king which included friendly remarks about how close Anglicanism is to Catholicism compared to other Protestant groups: “[T]he Church of England…[and] the Church of Rome…[have been] set back to back, [so that some people] think they are as far asunder, as the horizons that they look upon. But…[if they would] look both one way...they should, presently, see themselves to be a great deal more near together, in matters of doctrine, than the puritanical preachers, on both sides, do make [some of their members] believe they are.” (Letter to King James as it appears in The Life of Archbishop Laud by Charles Webb, Chapter 9, Footnote 1, Page 373)

1840 A.D.

Ven. Ignatius Spencer went to Oxford in this year to urge Anglicans and Catholics to pray for union. His biographer remarks that he referred to Protestants as "our separated brethren," which was apparently unusual at that time. (Life of Father Ignatius Chapter 6)

Previously known as Rev. George Spencer, Ven. Ignatius Spencer converted from Anglicanism to Catholicism in 1830 and wrote a book of apologetics answering Anglican arguments. He changed his name to Ignatius after he joined the Passionist order. Bl. John Henry Newman praised his ecumenical efforts: “that zealous and most charitable man, Mr. Spencer...came to Oxford in January, 1840, to get Anglicans to set about praying for Unity. I myself, at that time, or soon after, drew up such prayers; their desirableness was one of [my] first thoughts...but I was very rude to him...because I considered him [an apostate] from the Anglican Church, and I hereby beg his pardon for it.” (Apologia Pro Vita Sua Part 5, aka. Chapter 3)

Fr. Spencer’s cause for canonization is open. He is praised by Pope Leo 13 in Amantissima Voluntatis. There is a biography about him by Fr. Pius a Spirito Sancto. It is called: Life of Father Ignatius of St. Paul, Passionist (The Hon. and Rev. George Spencer) : compiled chiefly from his autobiography, journal, & letters. Its composition date was 1866.

1850 A.D.

Bl. John Henry Newman refers to Anglicans as "my brethren" and "my dear brethren" throughout his book, "Difficulties of Anglicans."

1854 A.D.

Blessed Pope Pius IX - “[Before now] the Armenian Catholics were given a certain freedom in religious matters through the clemency of the Turkish emperor… [And We sent] Our extraordinary representative to the supreme ruler of the Turks to express Our friendship and Our respects to that ruler.” “We have hardly forgotten to repeatedly commend to that powerful Ottoman emperor the Armenians and the other eastern Catholic nations living under his authority.” (Neminem Vestrum 2)

1895 A.D.

In this year Pope Leo 13 published Amantissima Voluntatis, a letter to the English people. He wrote, “[We wish] to assist and further the great work of obtaining the reunion of Christendom. … We have with full consideration determined to invite all Englishmen who glory in the Christian name to this same work.” “With loving heart, then, We turn to you all in England, to whatever community or institution you may belong, desiring to recall you to this holy unity. We beseech you, as you value your eternal salvation, to offer up humble and continuous prayer to God, our Heavenly Father, the giver of all light, who with gentle power impels us to the good and the right; and without ceasing to implore light to know the truth in all its fullness, and to embrace the designs of His mercy with single and entire faithfulness.” (Amantissima Voluntatis)

And: “We, indeed, long before being raised to the Supreme Pontificate, were deeply sensible also of the importance of holy prayer offered for this cause, and heartily approved of it. For, as We gladly recall, at the time when We were Nuncio in Belgium, becoming acquainted with an Englishman, Ignatius Spencer, himself a devout son of the same St. Paul of the Cross, he laid before Us the project he had already initiated for extending a society of pious people, to pray for the return of the English nation to the Church.” (ibid.)