Presented here is the first document adopted by the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church from their talks last month in Ravenna, Italy. It should be noted that representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate were not present.
Ecclesiological and Canonical Consequences of the Sacramental Nature of the Church. Ecclesial Communion, Conciliarity and AuthorityThe agreement is nothing really that new, but it is nonetheless a good and substantial document and a significant step toward unity. In particular, it concerns the nature of Communion, Conciliarity and Primacy, and Authority. The agreements and questions concerning the primacy of the bishop of Rome and the nature of that primacy and authority are also summarized. I encourage you to read the whole of the document, but here is a snippet:
40. During the first millennium, the universal communion of the Churches in the ordinary course of events was maintained through fraternal relations between the bishops. These relations, among the bishops themselves, between the bishops and their respective protoi, and also among the protoi themselves in the canonical order (taxis) witnessed by the ancient Church, nourished and consolidated ecclesial communion. History records the consultations, letters and appeals to major sees, especially to that of Rome, which vividly express the solidarity that koinônia creates. Canonical provisions such as the inclusion of the names of the bishops of the principal sees in the diptychs and the communication of the profession of faith to the other patriarchs on the occasion of elections, are concrete expressions of koinônia.Yes, and it is an interesting study with some very diverse opinions, particularly among the Orthodox. Eastern Orthodox theologian Olivier Clément admitted as much several years ago and went on to argue:
41. Both sides agree that this canonical taxis was recognised by all in the era of the undivided Church. Further, they agree that Rome, as the Church that “presides in love” according to the phrase of St Ignatius of Antioch (To the Romans, Prologue), occupied the first place in the taxis, and that the bishop of Rome was therefore the protos among the patriarchs. They disagree, however, on the interpretation of the historical evidence from this era regarding the prerogatives of the bishop of Rome as protos, a matter that was already understood in different ways in the first millennium.
42. Conciliarity at the universal level, exercised in the ecumenical councils, implies an active role of the bishop of Rome, as protos of the bishops of the major sees, in the consensus of the assembled bishops. Although the bishop of Rome did not convene the ecumenical councils of the early centuries and never personally presided over them, he nevertheless was closely involved in the process of decision-making by the councils.
43. Primacy and conciliarity are mutually interdependent. That is why primacy at the different levels of the life of the Church, local, regional and universal, must always be considered in the context of conciliarity, and conciliarity likewise in the context of primacy.
Concerning primacy at the different levels, we wish to affirm the following points:1. Primacy at all levels is a practice firmly grounded in the canonical tradition of the Church.44. In the history of the East and of the West, at least until the ninth century, a series of prerogatives was recognised, always in the context of conciliarity, according to the conditions of the times, for the protos or kephale at each of the established ecclesiastical levels: locally, for the bishop as protos of his diocese with regard to his presbyters and people; regionally, for the protos of each metropolis with regard to the bishops of his province, and for the protos of each of the five patriarchates, with regard to the metropolitans of each circumscription; and universally, for the bishop of Rome as protos among the patriarchs. This distinction of levels does not diminish the sacramental equality of every bishop or the catholicity of each local Church.
2. While the fact of primacy at the universal level is accepted by both East and West, there are differences of understanding with regard to the manner in which it is to be exercised, and also with regard to its scriptural and theological foundations.
45. It remains for the question of the role of the bishop of Rome in the communion of all the Churches to be studied in greater depth. What is the specific function of the bishop of the “first see” in an ecclesiology of koinônia and in view of what we have said on conciliarity and authority in the present text? How should the teaching of the first and second Vatican councils on the universal primacy be understood and lived in the light of the ecclesial practice of the first millennium? These are crucial questions for our dialogue and for our hopes of restoring full communion between us.
The primacy of honor-- which, we should note, is granted to the Pope by all the Orthodox churches-- must inevitably convey to the Patriarch of Rome some measure of power as well, even if it is only the power of presiding.Clément lays out many of the substantial, but not insurmountable, obstacles involved in the discussion in his book, You Are Peter: An Orthodox Reflection on the Exercise of Papal Primacy, as I noted in my very brief review. The book was authored as a response to John Paul II's encyclical, Ut Unum Sint.
The commission's document concludes:
We, the members of the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, are convinced that the above statement on ecclesial communion, conciliarity and authority represents positive and significant progress in our dialogue, and that it provides a firm basis for future discussion of the question of primacy at the universal level in the Church. We are conscious that many difficult questions remain to be clarified, but we hope that, sustained by the prayer of Jesus “That they may all be one … so that the world may believe” (Jn 17, 21), and in obedience to the Holy Spirit, we can build upon the agreement already reached. Reaffirming and confessing “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4, 5), we give glory to God the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who has gathered us together.Absolutely, and Amen! Please continue to pray for Christian Unity, particularly among the apostolic churches!
Thanks, Fr. Z.