In search of Oscar Cullman and “reconciled diversity”

Tony Palmer told me about Oscar Cullman and “reconciled diversity” when I interviewed him in early July less than three weeks before his untimely death in a motorcyle crash.

Then Pope Francis mentioned this principle when he visited a Pentecostal pastor in Caserta (my emphases):

When one walks in God’s presence, there is this fraternity. When, instead, we are still, when we look too much to one another, there is another way … which is bad, bad!  — the way of gossip. And we begin to say, “but you, don’t you know?” “No, no, I’m not for you. I’m for this and that …” “I am for Paul,” “I am for Appollos,” “I am for Peter.” And so we begin, and so from the first moment division began in the Church. And it isn’t the Holy Spirit who creates division! He does something that is quite similar to it, but not division. It’s not the Lord Jesus who creates division! He who creates division is in fact the Envious One, the king of envy, the father of envy: the sower of darnel, Satan. He interferes in communities and creates divisions, always! From the first moment, from the first moment of Christianity, this temptation was in the Christian community. “I belong to this one,” I belong to that one.” “No! I am the Church, you are a sect.” And so the one who wins over us is him, the father of division – not the Lord Jesus who prayed for unity (John 17(), he prayed!

What does the Holy Spirit do? I said he does something else, which perhaps one might think is division, but it isn’t. The Holy Spirit creates “diversity” in the Church. The First Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 12. He creates diversity! And this diversity is truly very rich, very beautiful. But then, the Holy Spirit himself creates unity, and so the Church is one in diversity. And, to use the word of an Evangelical whom I love very much, a “reconciled diversity” by the Holy Spirit. He creates both things: He creates the diversity of charisms and then He creates the harmony of charisms. Therefore, the early theologians of the Church, the early Fathers – I am speaking of the 3rdor 4thcentury – said: “The Holy Spirit is harmony,” because He creates this harmonious unity in diversity.

We are in the age of globalization, and we wonder what globalization is and what the unity of the Church would be: perhaps a sphere, where all points are equidistant from the center, all are equal? No! This is uniformity. And the Holy Spirit does not create uniformity! What figure can we find? We think of the polyhedron: the polyhedron is a unity, but with all different parts; each one has its peculiarity, its charism. This is unity in diversity. It is on this path that we, Christians, do what we call with the theological name of ecumenism. We try to have this diversity become more harmonized by the Holy Spirit and become unity. We seek to walk in the presence of God to be irreproachable. We seek to find the nourishment of which we are in need to find our brother. This is our way, this is our Christian beauty! I refer to what my beloved brother said at the beginning.

Well, it turns out that Cullman had other fans, among them Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

This is an article I found while Googling Cullman.  It’s by a traditionalist who thinks Ratzinger was heretical, so keep that in mind as you read.

But this is nevertheless interesting:

[Cullman] taught as a professor of the independent faculty of Protestant theology at the Sorbonne in Paris (1948—72), among other places, and was later a member of the Waldensian theological faculty at Rome.  He took part in the Second Vatican Council as an observer, and Paul VI called him “one of my best friends” (Il Sabato, p. 62).  “During Vatican II, Cullmann, who was a personal guest of the Secretariat for the Unity of Christians, aided in determining the scriptural, christocentric and historical orientation of conciliar theology…more recently, Cullmann has proposed a model for a ‘Community of Churches’ in his work Unity Through Diversity (Brescia, 1988).  Ratzinger praised this model during his meeting with the Waldensians of Rome on January 29” (p. 62).

He knew Ratzinger during the Council, and considered him “the best of the so–called periti, the experts…with the reputation for being an avant-garde progressive” (ibid. p. 63). —


Thus he is a bridge between Catholics and Protestants…in order to make the Catholics become protestants, and at the same time having them believe that they are still Catholic: “united” yes, but …“in diversity”.


I will sum up Ratzinger’s thoughts, then discuss them individually in greater detail:

1)  Ecumenism is necessary, fundamental, and indisputable

2) The papacy is the hindrance to ecumenical progress

3) The ultimate aim of the ecumenical movement is “The unity of the churches within the Church”.

4) This ultimate aim will be achieved in ways as yet to us unknown.

5) The more immediate goal of ecumenism is an intermediate step, that is, the model proposed by Cullmann of “unity in diversity”.

6) This intermediate step will be reached through a continual “return to the essentials.”

7) This “return to the essentials” will be aided by a reciprocal purification on the part of the churches.


Very interesting.   The article goes into great detail in what each one of these steps entails.

Anyone else have any thoughts or concerns about “reconciled diversity”?

I see the strategy of focusing on essentials unfolding—and I have mixed feelings about it.  I was once a diehard fan.

Now that I’m Catholic, less so.


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6 Responses to In search of Oscar Cullman and “reconciled diversity”

  1. TACit no more says:

    It’s perhaps a little confusing to read a traditionalist (who thinks Ratzinger a heretic) on the matter. I would like to suggest that the Ordinariates are an example of how Benedict XVI as Pope understood ‘unity in diversity’. That was a phrase used quite a lot as the Ordinariates took shape. I recall. And I suspect they, now in communion with the See of Peter, are not what O. Cullman was thinking of when he coined his phrase. By 1991 when ‘Called to Communion’ was published Ratzinger did not express an uncritical esteem for Cullman’s ideas at all.

  2. Richard Grand says:

    Why say “true ecumenism” when you are really just saying that everyone should be a Roman Catholic?

    • Rev22:17 says:


      You asked: Why say “true ecumenism” when you are really just saying that everyone should be a Roman Catholic?

      Nobody is saying that everyone should be a Roman Catholic. If there’s a healing of the schism between the Catholic Church and the churches of the Orthodox Communion or between the Catholic Church and any of the ancient oriental churches, those bodies will NOT become Roman Catholics. Rather, they will retain their current ecclesial structure, canonical tradition, and rite of worship within the Catholic Church. What’s more interesting is how soon, and by what process, the non-Roman elements of the Catholic Church may return to the ecclesial bodies from which they split off in the past to return to Catholic communion.

      Having said that, the Catholic Church obviously is the largest Christian denomination in the world by far, with about ten times the membership of any other denomination and over 75% of the world’s Christian population. Full Christian unity is utterly impossible without the Catholic Church. Further, it’s inevitable that the ecclesial structure of the Catholic Church will be the ecclesial structure that will endure through all of the mergers.


  3. TACit no more says:

    Everyone should be in communion with the Bishop of Rome.
    Ratzinger’s approach to facilitating that outcome, which he partly carried out as Benedict XVI, was certainly at odds with the approaches suggested by Cullman and numerous others. It is inaccurate and misleading to suggest that Ratzinger, let alone Benedict XVI, remained a ‘fan’ of Cullman for long, which is why I posted my first comment.

  4. Tim S. says:

    People who say Ordinariates and Non-Latin rite Catholics are “second rate” Catholics because they’re not doing what the majority is doing should be ashamed of themselves because they are hateful people.

    Even if the Ordinariates are Latin Rite, and therefore part of the Roman Catholic Church, they have the same special privileges as the Traditional Latin Rite Catholics. You never hear any whining from those people when it comes to the Neocatechumenical Way, or some other stupid quasi-pentecostal/evangelical/charismatic group just because they have a weird cult-like appeal. They tend to whine about “People stuck in the past” even though they weren’t around when, for example, Canterbury broke from Rome; or when the priests abandoned Latin in favor of the vernacular.

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