We’re currently in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which takes place January 18–25. It’s unsurprising, therefore, to see Pope Francis, like his forbears, calling on Christians to pray for the restoration of unity in Christendom. “In the face of those who no longer see the full, visible unity of the Church as an achievable goal,” he said to a delegation of Finnish Lutherans visiting Rome this past Friday, “we are invited not to give up our ecumenical efforts, faithful to that which the Lord Jesus asked of the Father, ‘that they may be one.’”

Note the implication in the first clause there: There are “those who no longer see the full, visible unity of the Church as an achievable goal.” However encouraging the pope’s words are, they include an acknowledgement that not all is well when it comes to the ecumenical project. In the above linked article, Cardinal Kurt Koch (head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity) explains that part of the problem is a fundamental disagreement over what the purpose of ecumenism even is. The Catholic News Agency quotes him as follows: “‘The main problem that we have today in the ecumenical dialogue with all the Protestant’ communities . . . is the lack of ‘a common vision of the goal of the ecumenical movement. We have two different views. The Catholic view, (which) is also the Orthodox view, (is) that we will re-find the unity in faith in the sacraments and in ministries.’” Conversely, Cardinal Koch says, “the vision that I find today in the Protestant churches and ecclesial communities (is that) of the mutual recognition of all ecclesial communities as churches.”

It’s hard to argue with the cardinal’s assessment…

More on this in my post “The purpose of Ecumenism” over at First Things.