Today in Catholic History – Augustin Bea becomes first president of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity

On 6 June 1960, Cardinal Augustin Bea became the first president for the newly established Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, a department within the Curia responsible for promoting ecumenical relations. Pope John Paul II will later change its name to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

Initially, the responsibilities of the Secretariat were to help other Christians follow the course of the upcoming Second Vatican Council. Today the Pontifical Council is responsible for working with the World Council of Churches, to send representatives to major events associated with other Christian denominations and in turn invite representatives of those denominations to major events in the Catholic Church.

Cardinal Bea was to become very influential in the Second Vatican Council, especially in the document Nostra Aetate, which condemned anti-Semetism. He also had a great influence upon Pope Pius XII’s encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu, which permitted modern methods of Biblical interpretation and was Pius’ confessor.

While Bea was supportive of union, he was also aware of the great challenges ahead, saying: “There is no need to fool ourselves about the prospects for union. There are veritable mountains to scale. In addition to the work of the divine spirit of union, there must be cooperation of all the baptized in a long and patient effort, gradually to come closer and to understand each other.” So Bea himself would set an example by answering more than 2,000 letters a year as President of the Secretariat and becoming good friends with the heads of other Christian denominations.

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