Apostle of unity

The night before he died our Lord prayed that all might be one. To the extent that we have made our own the mind of Christ Jesus we must share his desire for unity among Christians, however difficult the situation may appear. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Abbé Paul Couturier, sometimes called the apostle of unity, so it is a good opportunity to look again at his teaching. 

He did not believe that unity would come quickly but that it would ultimately be a fruit of the interior life of Christians and advocated ‘spiritual emulation’, a friendly rivalry in true holiness, outdoing one another in love and rejoicing in the truth when we find it in another. That will include learning to guard our tongues and control the fingers on our keyboards in what we say about other Christians. 

Saviour, under the intolerable weight of this affliction – the division of Christians –my heart fails me. I have trust in thee who hast conquered the world . . . My confidence in thee . . . is limitless and justly so, for thou art omnipotent: it casts me into thy heart where I find thy prayer, ''Father, may they be one, that the world may know that thou hast sent me. May they be consummated in unity'. My prayer, the prayer of a sinner is thine own prayer which alone gives me peace. When and how will unity come to be? What are the obstacles to be surmounted? That is thy concern: my faith only bids me pray with thee, in thee, that thy unity may come. that unity which thou hast not ceased to desire, that which thou seekest and preparest.

God's business 

This prayer avoids ‘confusionism’, a failure in doctrinal integrity. Agreement in thetruth can be the only sure basis for unity and we have to recognize the doctrinal positions that separate Christians as well as those which draw us together. Such prayer is also helpful in that it teaches us that the timing for full organic unity is God's business; ours is to pray for it and to avoid doing anything that might make the situation more difficult. 

Sanctifying prayer 

Abbé Couturier used to ask the prayers of his friends from other Christian confessions, and in the material he prepared for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in 1936 he suggested that on the first day everybody might pray for the Unity of all Christians, and then on subsequent days for the sanctification of different groups of Christians, and finally for the Unity of all men in the charity and truth of Christ. I think we can learn from that today in our rather different situation. Let’s start praying for the sanctification of those with whom we disagree within our own church. 

The invisible monastery 

It was Abbé Couturier who suggested the ‘Invisible Monastery’ of Christians whoevery Thursday evening would pray for unity within the Church, uniting their prayer with that of Our Lord at the Last Supper. I use the Prayers for Unity in CelebratingCommon Prayer; there are similar ones in Common Worship Daily Prayer. This is something we can all do if we share Our Lord's desire for unity – join the invisible monastery and continue praying on Thursday evenings fifty years after the Abbe’s death.

Progress not hopelessness 

So the situation is far from hopeless. Progress has been made over these years and in God’s time the unity for which his Son prayed and in which we can join will undoubtedly come about.

Jane Gore Booth is a member of General Synod.

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