About 26 years ago, Yves Congar (d. 1995), one of the most influential theologians of the last century and a luminary at Vatican II, expressed three wishes at the conclusion of a colloquium on Paul VI (Paul VI et la modernite dans l'Eglise, Rome, 1984). "Paul VI and John Paul II have pronounced words and made gestures of great significance, which call for some follow-up. When Paul VI puts his own pastoral ring on the finger of Michael Ramsay and has him bless the crowd with him, when John Paul II in the cathedral of Canterbury appears small at the side of Robert Runcie in miter and with crozier, does that leave intact Leo XIII's bull which proclaimed the nullity of Anglican ordinations? Under Pius XII, the least of my writings was submitted to Roman censure and they wanted me to say "the so-called (Anglican) bishop". How do things stand today?"
In 1983 when those lines were written, it was widely anticipated in ecumenical circles that the Catholic Church would "move beyond" the bull Apostolicae Curae of Leo XIII. But in 2009 when Benedict XVI's apostolic constitution established personal ordinariates for former Anglicans, it was said that Anglican ministers would be ordained to the priesthood absolutely (not conditionally), in accord with the bull Apostolicae Curae of Leo XIII.
Congar continued, "At the time of the anniversary of the martyrdom of Peter and Paul, in 1967, Paul VI composed, signed and carried to Constantinople-Istanbul the admirable letter Anno ineunte. There he speaks of the Orthodox Churches and the Roman Church as "sister Churches". But if that is the case, can the Roman Church still call herself "mother and mistress, Mater et magistra"?"
26 years later, the answer to that question is, "Yes, she can." In 2000 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith addressed a letter to the world's presidents of episcopal conferences to clarify that properly speaking the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church cannot be called "sister Churches". And since then, the use of the expression "sister Churches" to describe the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church has gradually been disappearing. (Of course, the See of Constantinople, although occupied for centuries by objective schismatics, can be called a sister to the Church of Rome, but not the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church.)
Congar again: "When John Paul II came to Paris and received the representatives of the other Churches . . . he alluded to the 450th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession, and he said, "I live it intensely. Someone is living it in me." And so, what consequences should be drawn?"
The consequence which Congar may have wished to draw was a Catholic "reception" of the Confession of Augsburg. One hears less talk of this in 2009. It is true that Cardinal Cassidy signed the Joint Declaration with the Lutheran World Federation in 1999 and this has been repeatedly lauded by John Paul II and Benedict XVI. However, no one can say for sure what the exact canonical status of this document is, and its Annex admits that the two dialogue partners do not use the key concept of "concupiscence" in the same sense, which inadvertently constitutes an admission that when the Catholic signer said Lutherans can, without condemnation by Trent, say "concupiscence is truly sin" even though Trent said it is not properly speaking sin, he was turning the Joint Declaration into the Joint Equivocation, at least on that point.
Congar concluded his remarks as follows, "For the anniversary of the Council of Constantinople of 381, which gave us the Creed without "Filioque", John Paul II declared three times that the text of 381 is normative. Does that not call for some measure to be taken, in no way revolutionary, and for which I have passed on to him a written suggestion of a possible formula? So there are some examples of ideas which call for translation into the concrete. That would require some tries and some time, obviously . . ."
26 years later, we are still reciting the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed with the Filioque rather than any formula of Yves Congar's devising. It is good to remind ourselves from time to time of Pope Eugene IV's definition of the Filioque, signed by dozens of Greek bishops too, at the Council of Florence in 1439: "With this sacred universal Council of Florence approving we define that this truth of faith is to be believed and received by all Christians, and that all profess together thusly: that the Holy Spirit is eternally from the Father and the Son, and has his essence and subsisting being from the Father and at the same time from the Son, and proceeds eternally from both as from one principle and one spiration; . . . All things which are of the Father, the Father himself gave by generating to the only-begotten Son, except being Father, and this very fact that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son, the Son eternally has from the Father . . ."