Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Holy War, Holy Peace

Many Christians, within the Catholic Church and without it, have taken the position that all war -- or even all violence of any kind -- is wrong. Dorothy Day, whose cause for canonization has been opened, noted in The Long Loneliness that the Catholic Worker movement (which she founded together with Peter Maurin) was not only pacifist but anarchist. The pacifist viewpoint is gaining ground, whether in pure or more diluted forms, among Christians of the rising generation, partly perhaps because of the leftward swing that the churches in America are experiencing.

I was, and remain, highly sympathetic to the pacifist position. At present my eligibility for the military is a non-issue, due to being gay, but if and when the current policies are repealed I intend to apply for the status of a conscientious objector.

This is not because I am a pacifist. I am not. The Scriptures make it clear, in passages such as Romans 13, that the secular authorities have been established by God -- not, admittedly, with the same directness, the same purpose, or the same protection from the Holy Spirit afforded to the Church. The Church was founded by God Himself and continues to be indwelt, in the whole and in all her members, by that same God. This is not true of any state. Some regimes, Christian ones included, have made valiant attempts at theocracy: the Byzantine Empire, Tudor England, Calvinist Geneva, the Massachusetts Bay Colony. But that is as alien to the reality of Christian belief as every other sin that guises itself as an angel of light.

Yet I digress. The Bible states plainly that secular rulers, in their own capacity, are representatives of God -- not a revelatory sense, but in a practical sense. In order for life to function at all, there must be some practical restraint of human evil, some order, some justice in the practical and not merely the ideal realm.

Set apparently against this are such passages as "Do not resist an evil person ... turn the other cheek." And in the context of daily squabbles between villagers, which would probably have been to the fore in the minds of Jesus' original audience, that is exactly right (surprise). Every trace of resentment, of bitterness, of revengefulness, must be given no quarter by the Christian in his own heart. But Jesus gives no indication that He is here setting forth any political theory, and it would be pretty surprising if He did, given that politics was a subject He rarely addressed directly, except to say that thing so blasphemous to American conservatives even within the Church: "Pay your taxes."

The problem with rigorous pacifism -- that is, the rejection of all forms of violence as intrinsically wrong, or even simply as worse than any of the evils it would prevent -- is that it is, in this respect, actually inconsistent with Catholic teaching. For of course, to insist that the use of force is always wrong does not merely eliminate all possibility of a just war; it eliminates the possibility of a just government (how could there be policemen, or prison guards, or a justice system in general, or even laws?) -- thus bringing us from pacifism to anarchism. Nor could there be any sort of discipline in schools; so we proceed from political to educational anarchy. Nor, realistically, could any punishments be conducted by parents, if such punishments are morally worse than simply letting the child go its merry way. Strict pacifism thus lands us at a rather austere picture of humanity, in which neither government nor school nor family exist in any practical sense of the words -- and so, quite apart from making the Old Testament pretty startling unjust in every possible respect, putting one in mind of Hobbes' description of man's life without society: "Nasty, poor, brutish and short."

Some people would allow for internal violence, but say that it ought always to stop short of war. For convenience, this may be labeled the semi-pacifist position. This is rather attractive, but unfortunately it suffers the fatal flaw of inconsistency. If it is moral for a government, when necessary, to impede or even harm its own citizens to prevent them injuring others, why is it suddenly immoral for them to do the same to foreigners? Are the lives of its own citizens worth less? Is it butting into other countries' business by defending its own citizens?

Many semi-pacifists would doubtless point out that very few wars have ever been fought for strictly defensive reasons. That is true. That is why, in a rather vague sense, Christians should indeed be "anti-war"; most wars are wrong. There is, according to the consensus of Catholic theologians, such a thing as a just war, but its criteria are rarely met, for they are stringent:

1. They must be fought in self-defense. All aggressive wars are intrinsically unjust. Note that this contains a tacit acknowledgment of how horrible war is even int he act of saying it can be defended, for no just defense. can take place unless an unjust attack has already taken place. (Some would argue that this criterion should be read strictly, so that wars which claim to be pre-emptively defensive are disqualified.)

2. Every peaceful means of resolving the conflict must have been exhausted first. This may be because they have been tried and found wanting, or because they have been shown to be impractical or ineffective. (For example, the aggressor may offer to settle a conflict in return for a monetary payment, but if the country cannot afford such a payment, that particular peaceful means would be demonstrably impractical.)

3. The damage the aggressor will inflict must be lasting, grave, and certain. "Hitler is going to kill all the Jews" would meet these criteria; "Hitler is going to make us wear totally stupid clothes" would fall somewhat short.

4. The damage the aggressor would inflict must be worse than the damage the war will do. So, for instance, if the only practical means of keeping your country from being destroyed by an invasion is to destroy it yourself, the war would not be worth it, and would therefore be unjust even in self-defense (defending yourself by ceasing to have a self is not logically plausible, QED).

5. Hand in hand with that, there must be a serious prospect of success. If, let us say, Sealand (a pretend-nation in the North Atlantic, consisting -- quite literally -- in about six or seven people) were invaded by Great Britain, it would be unjust for Sealand to take up arms, because a serious prospect of beating Great Britain does not exist. France, sure.

6. Non-combatants must not be touched. This includes not only children and the elderly (and, in most cultures until recently, women), but even non-combatant military assistants, according to most formulations of Just War Theory. So, you can bomb an AA battery while it is manned, but not a munitions factory during working hours -- because munitions workers are not actually in combat.

There are a lot of elaborations of these principles -- the principle of proportionate force, for instance, which dictates that enough force and no more must be used to stop an attack (which raises serious doubts about whether atomic weapons can ever be justly used); or the principle of fighting for peace, which means that the conflict must be ended as soon as is reasonably possible -- neither side may, for instance, insist on an unconditional surrender (which the United States did with Japan in the Second World War; I understand that attempts to surrender conditionally on the part of the Japanese were turned down, simply on the grounds that it was not an unconditional surrender).

Obviously this knocks nearly, if not absolutely, every war off the 'eligible' list for just wars. And so the rigorous application of Just War Theory would mean an awful lot of conscientious objectors among Christians an awful lot of the time, which, to be frank, I contemplate with some pleasure. After all, can any government -- can our government -- be relied upon to lead us only into just wars?

That being said, any war which really met these criteria would, I think, be not only just, but even morally obligatory. Chesterton said it with greater clarity and succinctness than I could manage: "There is no inconsistency in loving men and fighting them, if we fight them fairly and for a good cause."

The wars that have been most attacked for injustice and wickedness in recent times are the Crusades. It is said that fighting a war for a religion is evil. But surely this is quite backwards. Fighting for power, for money, for pleasure: these are wicked wars. But fighting to defend what we believe is holy -- how could we respect ourselves if we refused to do that? Admittedly the wars called the Crusades were in some respects on shaky moral ground, though for rather different reasons (and far less so) than most people think, mostly in that there was really some imposition of Catholicism involved, not simply the defense of it. Admittedly the actual conduct of every war, the Crusades included, exhibits much injustice; a criticism that can be leveled at all human behavior. But a religion can almost be defined as that which we are willing to die to defend. That is why the martyr and the crusader are, in the eyes of historic Christianity, regarded so similarly; as in Dante's heaven, where the two species mingle in the glories of Mars, their own shed blood dyeing the planet red. Ultimately, the only war really worth fighting is the war to defend what we regard as holy.

Dim drums throbbing, in the hills half-heard,
Where only on a nameless throne a crownless prince has stirred;
Where, risen from a doubtful seat and half-attainted stall,
The last knight of Europe takes weapons from the wall;
The last and lingering troubadour to whom the bird has sung
That once went singing southward when all the world was young.
In that enormous silence, tiny and unafraid,
Comes up along a winding road the noise of the Crusade.
-- GKC, Lepanto 15-22

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Matter of Conscience

A Man For All Seasons, originally a play and eventually made into an excellent film, is about the martyrdom of Sir Thomas More, the courageous chancellor of England who refused to cooperate with King Henry VIII's rape of the holy Church. This is a selection from the play; the Duke of Norfolk, Master Secretary Cromwell, and Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, are interrogating the imprisoned saint.

NORFOLK Oh, confound all this ... (With real dignity) I'm not a scholar, as Master Cromwell never tires of pointing out, and frankly I don't know whether the marriage was lawful or not. But damn it, Thomas, look at those names ... You know those men! Can't you do what I did, and come with us, for fellowship?

MORE (Moved) And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?

CRANMER So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas?

MORE I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one.

The ability to respect others' consciences, and to reverence one's own, seems sadly eroded nowadays. Of course, it may only be nostalgia that makes older periods seem any better; or it may equally be considerable exposure to authors like Chesterton or Lewis, who quite definitely had the power of respecting conscience in themselves and others, and may have been as exceptional in their own time as they would be today. But, whether it bloomed more fruitfully in the past or no, it is a skill which we have a responsibility to learn.

There are a thousand examples -- as, for instance, a dearly loved friend who wishes to become a missionary to Moslems, and also harbors a definite animosity for Muhammad. This is worrying to me, for it is questionable whether any meaningful dialogue, missionary or otherwise, can take place between any two people if one of them believes the other, or the other's beliefs, to be evil. There would be no need for dialogue unless one party thought the other wrong; but wrong is not the same thing as evil. Evil cannot be argued with like heresy, it can only be exorcised like a devil. And freelance exorcism is not always appreciated, nor notable for its success.

However, the point that I will take as exemplary for this post is the fact, much protested, that the Catholic Eucharist is a closed Eucharist. Walk into most Protestant services, and anyone may partake, provided that they are Bible-believers. Some churches regard even that restriction as excessive. But walk into a Catholic Mass, and you will likely find a note in the bulletin or missal asking that only Catholics in good standing partake of Communion. And this is exactly what the teaching and discipline of the Catholic Church declare and expect.

There are exceptions, which are usually made for those communities of Christians (for instance, the Eastern Orthodox) who are already known to believe in the Real Presence. But of course one cannot build a theology by relying on the exceptions; the norm must come first, and then the exceptions. But the same why underlies both, in this case as in theology generally, and that why is a matter of conscience.

But stop a moment. Conscience, like tolerance, is one of many god-terms in our culture. By god-term, I mean a term that resembles God: in that if you attach the term to something, that thing becomes inviolable; and in that the term itself is a counter for something that nobody understands. We are in need of a refresher on its real meaning. Conscience does not mean what we happen to feel like doing, although few would be so bone-headed as to actually say that. It does not even necessarily mean doing what we find morally comfortable. Some moral choices, though perhaps fewer than we would like to believe, are fraught with complexity, and there are some which genuinely ought to cause us discomfort even when we make the right choice. Corrie ten Boom, in her heart-wrenching autobiography The Hiding Place, recounts one such circumstance when she lied to Nazis in Holland: "Only as I walked out of the building did I begin to tremble. Not because, for the first time in my life, I had told a conscious lie. But because it had been so dreadfully easy."

To paraphrase several authors (including the 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church, sections 1776-1802), conscience is the capacity for discerning and acting upon what is right and wrong. This can often bring us out of our comfort zone, thereby risking our lives. In all seriousness, obedience to conscience can be highly painful, and the whole point of someone's being a martyr is that it can indeed cost you your life to obey your conscience.

This means that conscience is, or involves, three things. First, we have right and wrong as they really are, objectively, in the outside world; or, if you prefer your terminology Platonic-Augustinian-Berkeleyan (you nerd), in the mind of God. Second, we have the human faculty for discerning what that truth is. Third, we have the pressure exerted by the conscience upon the human will to do what is right and avoid what is wrong.

Note how this brings together the will and the intellect. Catholics speak often about formation of conscience. This sounds difficult to understand, but it simply means how well-trained our ability to perceive the truth about good and evil is. Someone who has been taught from childhood that sex outside marriage is perfectly all right, and believed it -- because, after all, the authorities have said so -- that person would be said to have a poorly formed conscience, at least with regard to chastity. They would believe things that are, in fact, erroneous. However, because their conscience was badly formed, they would be significantly less guilty for, say, fornication than someone who was properly trained about chastity. (This is not to say that they would escape all moral guilt by any means, particularly if they had the opportunity of correcting their conscience on their own initiative and failed to do so. Nor is it to say that they will escape the practical negative consequences of sexual immorality -- any more than a child who was never warned not to climb too high will escape the pain of falling down, despite the fact that they do not have the moral guilt of a child who was warned and did it anyway.)

In short, how responsible a man is for his actions depends, not only on whether he obeyed the pressure on his will to do what appears to be right, but upon his understanding of what is right, and where he got that understanding. St Thomas Aquinas justly carried this principle very far: if I recall accurately, he even taught that someone who, mistakenly but honestly, believed Christianity to be untrue, would be morally culpable for converting to it. The fact that what they did, considered externally as it were, was right, cuts no ice. They believed themselves to be doing wrong, and they are for that reason guilty; for the intention of offending God is always wrong, and is in fact the essential constituent part of the wrongness of every sin.

Now, let us plug that back into the example selected earlier, that of the closed Catholic Eucharist. Many Protestants are offended by this; I was at first, but when I considered it from their perspective that ceased.

The Catholic Church believes herself to be the one true Church, i.e., the sacramental manifestation of the Body of Christ. She is a sign of the Church, and, like the Eucharist, she also is what she signifies. This is why the Eucharist is normally reserved to Catholics.

But she resembles the Eucharist in another way. We do believe that, when the bread and wine are consecrated, they cease to be bread and wine and become Jesus Christ's body and blood, soul and divinity. No part of Him is missing. Yet His being is not exhausted by the rite. It is not the sort of thing that could be. It is not a material, of which we have only so many ounces; it is an identity, without number, weight, or measure. We do not have "less Jesus" if we receive a fractured Host or abstain from the Chalice. His whole self is totally present in every part of the matter; just as, though it may have a sort of interface with the brain in particular, your soul is not locally present in that one part of your body and absent from the others.

Likewise, though the Catholic Church is (we believe) the Church, it does not follow from this that those outside of the Catholic Church in a visible sense are outside of the Body of Christ. We cannot judge another person's reasons for being outside the visible Body of Christ, and therefore we do not presume to comment on their eternal destiny; man looketh on the outward appearance, but God upon the heart. Yet we are sternly warned by St Paul, in I Corinthians 11, that one who eats without discerning the Body and the Blood eats and drinks judgment upon himself. For this reason, he says, many among you are weak and sick, and some have died. As it is none of our business to comment on their immortality, so it is none of our business to risk their mortality. The state of a given non-Catholic Christian's conscience, with respect to the Catholic Church, may be positively spotless -- but how can we be asked to take responsibility for it?

This was why I was so hurt when a godly woman of my acquaintance, a year or two ago, came out with an uncharacteristic and startling harshness against the fact that the Catholic Eucharist is closed. She spoke of it as arrogant, as judgmental, as an assertion that it is "our" table rather than Christ's. Quite apart from being offended on the basis of what we believe (which is my own problem), I was extremely wounded by her failure to consider the position of our consciences. I had, and have, no objection to anybody thinking that the Catholic perspective is in fact wrong. But when considering whether our behavior is proud, or hypocritical, or judgmental, or anything else, what counts is not primarily what the person making the evaluation thinks true, but what the person or institution being evaluated thinks true. The Catholic Church believes certain things about the Eucharist, and her disciplines reflect those beliefs. Whether those beliefs are true is, while terribly important, beside the point when we are asking specifically whether those disciplines are arrogant. Even if wrong, we are obliged to do what we perceive to be right. And that, though it may easily be done in an arrogant way -- we are all sinners -- is not arrogance itself.

Of course, the point is not simply to defend the Catholic practice of a closed Eucharist. The point is that, when discussing anything or judging any act, we must consider not only our own moral feeling but the state of the other's conscience. Magnanimity -- that is, giving others the benefit of the doubt; being generous in the face of suspicion; putting the best interpretation upon others' words and deeds -- is not merely a social pleasantry. It is a responsibility of charity. Even, perhaps, of justice.

CRANMER Then the matter is capable of question?

MORE Certainly.

CRANMER But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty -- and sign.

MORE Some men think the earth round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.

CROMWELL (Leaping up, with ceremonial indignation) Then you have more regard to your own doubt than you have to his command!

MORE For myself, I have no doubt.

CROMWELL No doubt of what?

MORE No doubt of my grounds for refusing this oath.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Quick and the Dead

This being All Souls' Day, I thought I would take a look at the practice of praying for the departed. This will be a little bit more polemical than most of my posts have been thus far.

According to the cheat sheet in the back of my Bible, there are a total of fourteen works of mercy. Seven are corporal: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, bury the dead; seven are spiritual: admonish the sinner, instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, comfort the sorrowful, bear wrongs patiently, forgive all injuries, pray for the living and the dead.

It is commonly believed that prayers for the dead are derived from what are, inaccurately, called the Apocrypha. It is true that the only explicit Scriptural reference to prayers for the dead comes from a passage not accepted as canonical by most Protestants (Anglicans can go either way). II Maccabees, alluded to occasionally in the New Testament (e.g. Hebr. 11.35b, cf. II Macc. 7), is a literary account of the Jewish revolt against the religious persecution of the Seleucid Empire in the second century BCE. The relevant passage describes Judas Maccabee and his men, after a battle, performing the last corporal work of mercy (burying the dead) and combining it with the last spiritual work of mercy:

"Then under the tunic of every one of the dead they found sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the Law forbids the Jews to wear. And it became clear to all that this was why these men had fallen [cf. Josh. 7]. So they blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous Judge, who reveals the things that are hidden; and they turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out. ... [Judas Maccabee] also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin." -- II Macc. 12.40-42a, 43-45

Although the books of the Maccabees are not accepted by the Jews as Scripture, this does reflect the practice of some Jews at the time, and contemporary Orthodox practice: for nearly a year after their death, Orthodox Jews to this day pray for their dead.

The key is the mention of the resurrection. As St Luke mentions in Acts 23.6-9, "The Sadducees say there are no such things as resurrection, or angels, or souls; but the Pharisees acknowledge all three." It is a little-realized fact that, although He clashed with them on spiritual grounds more often than anybody else -- and perhaps not least because they were more widespread, numerically and geographically, than the other sects of Judaism -- Jesus and the Pharisees shared an overwhelming majority of their doctrine. The original premise of praying for the dead was a doctrine still accepted by both Protestant and Catholic Christians: that death is not the end, that the soul survives death and will receive bodily resurrection and judgment at the End, and that the worldly habit of talking about death as the end and the dead as the non-existent -- which has crept even into Christian usage -- is simply wrong.

Messianism aside, it was primarily the heart attitude of Jesus and 'the Nazarenes,' rather than dogmas, that distinguished them from the Pharisees; which is why St Paul was able to play the Pharisees off against the Sadducess, when the Sanhedrin was convened for the express purpose of condemning him. Though the book's status as canon was in dispute, this part of II Maccabees was probably written partly as a polemic against the Sadducee doctrine that humans have no souls and will not be resurrected -- doctrines found chiefly in literature written during the intertestamental period (e.g. I and II Maccabees, Daniel, Wisdom).

It is therefore, based simply on the historical data, more than possible that the earliest Christians did pray for their dead; for the reason that would have occurred to them not to do so, coming immediately from the Jewish matrix of the faith, would have been a denial of the resurrection, which was (well, and still is) heretical. This may be in the back of the mysterious reference to baptism for the dead in I Corinthians 15.

The standard Protestant reason for dissenting from this ancient practice is rather different. No Protestants that I know are conspicuous for resembling the Sadducees in this regard. For one thing, their beards are not nearly long enough, except maybe for my friend Nazim's. But the reason put forth by Luther, Calvin, and co. for rejecting prayers for the dead was twofold: first, when they determined that the Deuterocanonical books (I and II Maccabees et al.) were not Scripture, they no longer felt that there was Biblical support for the practice; second, they felt that the practice encouraged, or was even premised upon, a belief in Purgatory, which they rejected for similar reasons.

When I was a Calvinist I thought our grounds for rejecting the additional books of the Catholic canon were rather silly. Rejecting them on dogmatic grounds didn't make any sense to me -- surely we ought to settle what Scripture is first, and then derive our doctrine from that, rather than deciding what we think and then subjecting Scripture to our own litmus test of validity? And the argument that the Jews rejected them cut no ice either. After all, the amount of the New Testament accepted by the Jews is small; nay, negligible. Yet that had never stopped us from accepting it.

I think I still take that view. However, I have come to appreciate some of the arguments in favor of a Jewish Old Testament, even though I do not find them persuasive -- as, for instance, the point that to them were committed the oracles of God (Rom. 3.1ff). But even taking that into consideration, if the Jewish people have the privilege of determining the contents of the Old Testament, then how much more ought they to have a say in how it is to be interpreted? And it is only the Orthodox Jews, who have maintained the two-and-a-bit-thousand-year-old practice of praying for the dead, who can be viewed as the heirs of the Judaism that existed in Jesus' time; Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist Judaism all have as much or more to do with the dialogue between Judaism and modernity as they do with the internal developments of the Jewish faith since Christ's day. Moreover, it is the Orthodox who are organically descended from, and most closely approximate, the Pharisees in particular: the Sadducees, Essenes, and Zealots all perished within about a century of the Crucifixion, and the Samaritans can scarcely be regarded as the main current. As for the Alexandrian Jews, they were precisely the sect of Judaism that accepted the additional books which appear in the Catholic canon. So if we credit the Jews with the right to the greater act of determining the Old Testament canon, and therefore correspondingly with the lesser act of interpreting that canon, it hardly seems logical to rule out a practice that we originally got from them.

Now, about the connection between prayers for the dead and Purgatory. It must be noted that Purgatory is not part-time Hell, as most Protestants have been led to believe. The word in Latin literally means "place of cleansing," and that is just what the Catholic Church teaches about Purgatory. Those who die in the friendship of God, but who have not yet reached the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, as St Paul says in Ephesians, are purified, so as to be able to enjoy the vision of God, in which the blessedness of the dead consists. It is sometimes described as punishment, but it is not retributive. It is corrective; just as setting a broken bone is not retributive punishment for breaking it, but nonetheless will probably hurt.

It might be argued that Purgatory does not appear in the Bible. I am not so sure. Having accepted the doctrine for years simply on the strength of the Christian tradition, I was intrigued by this verse that I had never noticed, about a year ago:

"And some of those who are wise shall fall, to refine and to cleanse them and to make them white, until the time of the end, for it is yet for the time appointed." -- Daniel 11.35

Smack in the universally accepted part of Daniel. Reflections on I Corinthians 3.10-15 could be regarded as pointing in the same direction; and at least one major theologian of the primitive Church, Origen -- what makes it more piquant, he was a formidable scholar of Scripture -- regarded the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matt. 18.23-35) as a discourse on this same subject. In other words, whether the Bible speaks to Purgatory depends not so much on whether the Catholic or the Protestant canon of the Old Testament is correct, as it does upon what is the proper interpretation of various parts of the New.

But why make a fuss over praying for the dead in the first place? Sure, the Catholic Church lists it as one of the works of mercy -- but that's a didactic tool, not a set of demands. Well, I dare say that, if the dead can receive help from our prayers, they would welcome them. In the writings of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, a visionary of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, it is said that Protestants usually spend far longer in Purgatory than anybody else, not because they are any worse than Catholics (frequently the reverse is true), but because so few people aid them by prayer.

But, quite apart from the practical dimension, this is one of the points over which Catholic-Protestant ecumenical discussion has to take place. Catholics and Protestants can certainly cooperate over a pretty wide range of issues, but that is not the same thing as being united -- I pray that they may be one, just as We are one, Jesus said to the Father in John 17. Not talking about our divisions does not make them disappear. A lowest-common-denominator approach to Christian unity suggests contempt for the truth as such, and is inconsiderate of the feelings of those who treasure things that lie beyond the bounds of the LCD -- and, moreover, it implies that the Holy Spirit cannot be trusted to guide us into all the truth (John 14.26, 16.12-14). If we are serious about achieving Christian unity, we have to be willing to talk about the things that constitute obstacles to it.

Of course, that may seem abstract; not everyone is inclined to care deeply about the cause of reunion. Permit me to make a suggestion. We all acknowledge that none of us, except by Divine revelation, can know whether another person is saved. Might we not, then, pray that the dead have received salvation? After all, as long as we do not know whether something has happened or not, we may pray for it: once we do know, it falls into the category of God's known will, which is to be submitted to. But until that point, it makes very little difference whether the things we don't know are past or future; for all are known to God. Might we then, in consequence, take prayers for the final salvation of the dead, whether we believe in Purgatory or not, as a starting point for further discussion?