Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Roger of Taize


Brother Roger of Taize was murdered by an insane woman not long after Pope John Paul II's death. A mild controversy arose at the Pope's funeral when Brother Roger received Holy Communion at the funeral Mass from none other than Cardinal Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI. Though a public action, I assumed there must have been some understanding or dispensation to allow a Protestant monk to communicate. It later turned out, after Roger's death, that he had, quite awhile back, come into union with the Roman Catholic Church.

That news was not surprising to me since the religious of Taize, though Protestant, seem to be very close to the Catholic Church, which is apparent by their embrace of monastic life. Brother Roger was undoubtedly a man of deep prayer and spirituality. After his death Pope Benedict spoke of him as being in heaven.

Catholic News has an article clarifying the nature of his entering into communion with the Catholic Church. His confreres at Taize insist it was not a conversion, but an entering into union with the Church, therefore he had no need of repudiating his Protestant heritage. Here is a portion of that article:

"The ecumenical Community of Taize issued a statement last week denying its founder, the late Brother Roger Schutz, underwent a “conversion” to the Catholic faith, saying instead he entered “progressively into a full communion with the faith of the Catholic Church without a ‘conversion’ that would imply a break with his origins.”

The statement denies a story in the French newspaper “Le Monde,” which the Taize Community said was based on a rumor spread “by Catholic traditionalist circles” and that “misrepresents his true intentions and defames his memory.”

The Taize leaders point out that the Bishop Emeritus of Autun, Raymond Seguy, has clarified his statements to Le Monde, telling France Presse: "I did not say that Brother Roger abjured Protestantism, but he showed that he subscribed fully to the Catholic faith."

“From a Protestant background, Brother Roger undertook a step that was without precedent since the Reformation: entering progressively into a full communion with the faith of the Catholic Church without a ‘conversion’ that would imply a break with his origins,” the statement notes.

It goes on to explain that in 1972, “the bishop of Autun at the time, Armand Le Bourgeois, simply gave him Communion for the first time, without requiring any other profession of faith from him besides the creed recited during the Eucharist, which is held in common by all Christians. Several witnesses were present and can attest to this.” [snip] "Taize leaders deny “conversion” of Brother Roger to Catholic faith" CNA

This news in itself will renew the controversy surrounding Roger, yet it explains why the monk of Taize was able to receive Communion at the Holy Father's funeral. His union with Rome may have been kept quiet for pastoral reasons, known only to those involved. It is my understanding that dispensations and special circumstances allow for many things in the Church, hence the union of Br. Roger of Taize with Rome may have been considered private. Despite the fact one's profession of faith is a public witness. It's another difficulty to understand, isn't it? Then again, it could be his brothers at Taize were not pleased with Roger's choice and seek to downplay the union with Rome thing. Perhaps it is better left to heaven to figure out.


  1. The comments I will offer are not based on knowing anything special about Brother Roger, but about the norms of the Church: this isn't all that shocking to me.

    Church documents do not refer to Protestants, who become Catholics, as "converts" -- because they are validly baptized, and baptism is the sacrament of fundamental conversion. So non-Catholic Christians who become Catholic "enter into full communion."

    A Protestant can become Catholic almost instantly: by making a simple, formulaic profession: I profess all that the Catholic Church teaches (that's from memory). Going to confession is appropriate, but I don't believe it's strictly mandatory. (And for all we know, he received sacramental absolution before his first communion. Such a person should be confirmed, and that isn't answered here.

    Of course, that must actually be true, and one may need a fair amount of time to discern that. My point is, what you described is consistent with that.

  2. Thank you Father for confirming that, it is good to have this assurance. What a wonderful grace! God bless.

  3. The case of the holy hieromonk, Father Lev Gillet, whom I'm sure you remember, Terry, as the author of all those wonderful books "By a Monk of the Eastern Church," was very similar. He began as a Roman Catholic Benedictine and entered into communion with the Orthodox Church without ever renouncing full communion with the Church of Rome. His vocation was to live and suffer and pray for the unity of the Churches. Unlike Blessed Maria Gabriella dell'Unità who did this without leaving her cloister, Father Lev Gillet did it as an idiorhythmic monk by serving within Orthodoxy without ever leaving the Church of his baptism and priestly ordination.

  4. Thanks Don Marco, I did indeed know of this and forgot about Fr. Gillet entirely. It is good to remember. I'm so pleased about Br. Roger, yet I had wondered about it after hearing some who criticized his receiving Communion. I understand it much better now.

  5. Oh, and another thing. During the dark reign of Soviet Communism there were some Russian Orthodox hierarchs who entered secretly into communion with Rome. And there was the beautiful death of Metropolitan Nikodim in the arms of Pope John Paul I. He whispered a secret to John Paul I before dying, a secret that the Pope took with him to his grave. Oh, mystery!

    On the Anglican side of things there was dear Evelyn Underhill who lived — and died — absolutely paralyzed on the threshold of the Roman Catholic Church. She attended daily Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament at the Convent of the Dames de l'Assomption in London, consumed with love and with longing. Her great spiritual friend was the famous Sorella Maria who lived in a hermitage in the mountains near Foligno. I visited there in the company of the Lutheran deaconess named Violette in 1975. Oh, mystery!

  6. Terry, did you ever run into Soeur Violette, the Lutheran Deaconess who lived with the French Colettine Poor Clares, Borgo San Pietro, in Assisi? She played the recorder and dressed in a white tunic and yellow scapular (!) with her little fluted bonnet. Quite the picture! It was with her that I set out to discover the hermitage in the mountains near Foligno: a very isolated community of extremely poor minoresses.

  7. With all due respect, I am a convert and I was validly baptized as a baby. When one rejects the Catholic faith they reject in a sense their baptism since there is but one baptism, one faith, one Church. Ergo, it does not seem right to me to say that Prots who become Catholic are not converts. Conversion means a "turning to" I believe. They are turning to the true faith..converting.

    And also, again with all respect for Father, Protestants are referred to as converts by the Church. A simple glance at the website of the Holy See shows this.

    As far as this man receiving Communion from the Pope..just because the Pope does it doesn't make it right and beyond question. Mass is by it's nature a public act. Recieving Holy Communion is a public act of saying, "Amen. I am in communion with this Church." If his union with Rome was private, what do they have to hide? That's called scandal. And if it's not scandalous and legit the Pope should clarify and say so to protect the flock of Christ from scandal. Everyone, including his own community, believed him to be a Protestant! To me, this is just one more long, drawn out, yawner of an excuse to justify the notion that there's essentially no difference between the two religions and that the Holy Father must have some incredibly holy and private reason for this that no one may question. No offense TN. It's not directed at you personally but toward the attitude.

  8. Lady Fett:

    My point concerned how the Church, in its documents pertaining to the process of entering the Church, refers both to those who are entering as unbaptized and those who are baptized. My point is that Catholic theology emphasizes baptism as the sacrament of fundamental conversion, and also emphasizes that non-Catholics, if validly baptized, are Christians, and are in an imperfect but real communion. In essence, they are "in" the Church, but not all the way in.

    So, for example, the Rite for Christian Initiation of Adults refers to those who were previously baptized, but not in full communion, as those in "continuing conversion" -- the modifier "continuing" means they already started their conversion -- when? At baptism.

    Of course, I understand that we all use the term "convert" loosely, and I am not trying to quarrel over that. I was responding in the context of the original post, and trying to give a theological background that might make sense of what our site host asked about. Specifically, how it would be very legitimate for Brother Roger et al. to "deny he converted."

    I would be interested if you could point me toward documents at the Holy See's website that contradict me; it's a pretty large website, perhaps you could recall just where you saw what you saw?

  9. Father Martin: I went to the Holy See website and put "convert" into the Search and scanned down the list of entries. There are many referring to Protestant "converts".

    While I understand that validly baptized people are Christian(Catholic) I still maintain that once they embrace the heretical sect they are raised in they, in a sense. reject that grace.

    I think saying "continuing conversion" suggests that what they were practicing before was fine and legitimate but now it's just better. I have the same problem with the phrase "the church of Jesus Christ subsists in the Roman Catholic Church." Like how a Coke subsists in the can but when I pour it into a glass now it subsists in the glass. It's like saying the Catholic Church is accidental and that the true Church only currently subsists within it but tomorrow it might be found somewhere else.

    The same thing applies sort of to the current discussion. Yes, they are Christian because of baptism but there is one baptism not a Lutheran baptism, a Methodist baptism etc.. If it's valid..it's Catholic. But to say that they aren't converts is to say that each Prot. sect's baptism is it's own and that that religion is sufficient and worthy practice of Christianity. It's not. It's false Christianity because Christianity and Catholicism are the same thing. I hope I made some sense. (:

  10. Anonymous9:54 PM

    I get the sense that you're saying 'if you're not Catholic, you're not Christian.' I don't think that's correct. Of course, I have a bias on this point, having been raised a Protestant. But I don't find any mention of the word 'Catholic' nor of the word 'Protestant' in the Bible. The word 'Christian,' however, does appear. I have rejected labels such as Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, etc. as not very meaningful. But as for 'Christian,' if it means one who believes in and tries to follow the living Christ, then I am most willing to wear that label. I recently returned from a retreat at a Catholic monastery. I was happy to learn that I could take communion and even present the gifts. The monks were gracious and welcomed me as Christ. I was overwhelmed by their love and generosity. I pray for such unity among all the faithful, whatever other labels they might prefer to use for themselves.


Please comment with charity and avoid ad hominem attacks. I exercise the right to delete comments I find inappropriate. If you use your real name there is a better chance your comment will stay put.