Monday, October 22, 2007

Ecclesial Communion, Conciliarity and Authority

The following is the final report of the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church that recently met in Ravenna, Italy.  While long, it is certainly well worth reading.  I have included only the Introduction with a link to the remainder of the report.  Though I have not studied the report in depth, what I have read impresses me and encourages me for the future of Catholic/Orthodox relations and reconciliation (and if God so wills, let this be in my life time).

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Ecclesiological and Canonical Consequences of the Sacramental Nature of the Church. Ecclesial Communion, Conciliarity and Authority
Ravenna, 13 October 2007


1. "That they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (Jn 17, 21). We give thanks to the triune God who has gathered us – members of the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church - so that we might respond together in obedience to this prayer of Jesus. We are conscious that our dialogue is restarting in a world that has changed profoundly in recent times. The processes of secularization and globalization, and the challenge posed by new encounters between Christians and believers of other religions, require that the disciples of Christ give witness to their faith, love and hope with a new urgency. May the Spirit of the risen Lord empower our hearts and minds to bear the fruits of unity in the relationship between our Churches, so that together we may serve the unity and peace of the whole human family. May the same Spirit lead us to the full expression of the mystery of ecclesial communion, that we gratefully acknowledge as a wonderful gift of God to the world, a mystery whose beauty radiates especially in the holiness of the saints, to which all are called.

2. Following the plan adopted at its first meeting in Rhodes in 1980, the Joint Commission began by addressing the mystery of ecclesial koinônia in the light of the mystery of the Holy Trinity and of the Eucharist. This enabled a deeper understanding of ecclesial communion, both at the level of the local community around its bishop, and at the level of relations between bishops and between the local Churches over which each presides in communion with the One Church of God extending across the universe (Munich Document, 1982). In order to clarify the nature of communion, the Joint Commission underlined the relationship which exists between faith, the sacraments – especially the three sacraments of Christian initiation – and the unity of the Church (Bari Document, 1987). Then by studying the sacrament of Order in the sacramental structure of the Church, the Commission indicated clearly the role of apostolic succession as the guarantee of the koinônia of the whole Church and of its continuity with the Apostles in every time and place (Valamo Document, 1988). From 1990 until 2000, the main subject discussed by the Commission was that of "uniatism" (Balamand Document, 1993; Baltimore, 2000), a subject to which we shall give further consideration in the near future. Now we take up the theme raised at the end of the Valamo Document, and reflect upon ecclesial communion, conciliarity and authority.

3. On the basis of these common affirmations of our faith, we must now draw the ecclesiological and canonical consequences which flow from the sacramental nature of the Church. Since the Eucharist, in the light of the Trinitarian mystery, constitutes the criterion of ecclesial life as a whole, how do institutional structures visibly reflect the mystery of this koinônia? Since the one and holy Church is realised both in each local Church celebrating the Eucharist and at the same time in the koinônia of all the Churches, how does the life of the Churches manifest this sacramental structure?

4. Unity and multiplicity, the relationship between the one Church and the many local Churches, that constitutive relationship of the Church, also poses the question of the relationship between the authority inherent in every ecclesial institution and the conciliarity which flows from the mystery of the Church as communion. As the terms "authority" and "conciliarity" cover a very wide area, we shall begin by defining the way we understand them.*

*Orthodox participants felt it important to emphasize that the use of the terms "the Church", "the universal Church", "the indivisible Church" and "the Body of Christ" in this document and in similar documents produced by the Joint Commission in no way undermines the self-understanding of the Orthodox Church as the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, of which the Nicene Creed speaks. From the Catholic point of view, the same self-awareness applies: the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church 'subsists in the Catholic Church' (Lumen Gentium, 8); this does not exclude acknowledgement that elements of the true Church are present outside the Catholic communion.

Read more: Ecclesial Communion, Conciliarity and Authority.