Ravenna Document

Ecclesiological and Canonical Consequences of the
Sacramental Nature of the Church. Ecclesial Communion, Conciliarity and

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 (BariDocument, 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

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 them1.

1Orthodox 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.

1. The Foundations of Conciliarity and of Authority

1. Conciliarity

5. The term conciliarity or synodality comes from the word “council” (synodos in Greek, concilium
in Latin), which primarily denotes a gathering of bishops exercising a
particular responsibility. It is also possible, however, to take the
term in a more comprehensive sense referring to all the members of the
Church (cfr. the Russian term sobornost). Accordingly we
shall speak first of all of conciliarity as signifying that each member
of the Body of Christ, by virtue of baptism, has his or her place and
proper responsibility in eucharistic koinônia (communio
in Latin). Conciliarity reflects the Trinitarian mystery and finds
therein its ultimate foundation. The three persons of the Holy Trinity
are “enumerated”, as St Basil the Great says (On the Holy Spirit,
45), without the designation as “second” or “third” person implying any
diminution or subordination. Similarly, there also exists an order (taxis) among local Churches, which however does not imply inequality in their ecclesial nature.

6. The Eucharist manifests the Trinitarian koinônia
actualized in the faithful as an organic unity of several members each
of whom has a charism, a service or a proper ministry, necessary in
their variety and diversity for the edification of all in the one
ecclesial Body of Christ (cfr. 1 Cor 12, 4-30). All are called, engaged
and held accountable – each in a different though no less real manner –
in the common accomplishment of the actions which, through the Holy
Spirit, make present in the Church the ministry of Christ, “the way,
the truth and the life” (Jn 14, 6). In this way, the mystery of
salvific koinônia with the Blessed Trinity is realized in humankind.

7. The whole community and each person in it bears the “conscience of the Church” (ekkesiastikè syneidesis), as Greek theology calls it, the sensus fidelium
in Latin terminology. By virtue of Baptism and Confirmation
(Chrismation) each member of the Church exercises a form of authority
in the Body of Christ. In this sense, all the faithful (and not just
the bishops) are responsible for the faith professed at their Baptism.
It is our common teaching that the people of God, having received “the
anointing which comes from the Holy One” (1 Jn 2, 20 and 27), in
communion with their pastors, cannot err in matters of faith (cfr. Jn
16, 13).

8. In proclaiming the Church’s faith and in
clarifying the norms of Christian conduct, the bishops have a specific
task by divine institution. “As successors of the Apostles, the bishops
are responsible for communion in the apostolic faith and for fidelity
to the demands of a life in keeping with the Gospel” (Valamo Document,
n. 40).

9. Councils are the principal way in which communion
among bishops is exercised (cfr. Valamo Document, n. 52). For
“attachment to the apostolic communion binds all the bishops together
linking the épiskopè of the local Churches to the College of
the Apostles. They too form a college rooted by the Spirit in the ‘once
for all’ of the apostolic group, the unique witness to the faith. This
means not only that they should be united among themselves in faith,
charity, mission, reconciliation, but that they have in common the same
responsibility and the same service to the Church” (Munich Document,
III, 4).

10. This conciliar dimension of the Church’s life
belongs to its deep-seated nature. That is to say, it is founded in the
will of Christ for his people (cfr. Mt 18, 15-20), even if its
canonical realizations are of necessity also determined by history and
by the social, political and cultural context. Defined thus, the
conciliar dimension of the Church is to be found at the three levels of
ecclesial communion, the local, the regional and the universal: at the
local level of the diocese entrusted to the bishop; at the regional
level of a group of local Churches with their bishops who “recognize
who is the first amongst themselves” (Apostolic Canon 34); and at the
universal level, where those who are first (protoi) in the
various regions, together with all the bishops, cooperate in that which
concerns the totality of the Church. At this level also, the protoi must recognize who is the first amongst themselves.

11. The Church exists in many and different places,
which manifests its catholicity. Being “catholic”, it is a living
organism, the Body of Christ. Each local Church, when in communion with
the other local Churches, is a manifestation of the one and indivisible
Church of God. To be “catholic” therefore means to be in communion with
the one Church of all times and of all places. That is why the breaking
of eucharistic communion means the wounding of one of the essential
characteristics of the Church, its catholicity.

2. Authority

12. When we speak of authority, we are referring to exousia,
as it is described in the New Testament. The authority of the Church
comes from its Lord and Head, Jesus Christ. Having received his
authority from God the Father, Christ after his Resurrection shared it,
through the Holy Spirit, with the Apostles (cfr. Jn 20, 22). Through
the Apostles it was transmitted to the bishops, their successors, and
through them to the whole Church. Jesus Christ our Lord exercised this
authority in various ways whereby, until its eschatological fulfilment
(cfr. 1 Cor 15, 24-28), the Kingdom of God manifests itself to the
world: by teaching (cfr. Mt 5, 2; Lk 5, 3); by performing miracles
(cfr. Mk 1, 30-34; Mt 14, 35-36); by driving out impure spirits (cfr.
Mk 1, 27; Lk 4, 35-36); in the forgiveness of sins (cfr. Mk 2, 10; Lk
5, 24); and in leading his disciples in the ways of salvation (cfr. Mt
16, 24). In conformity with the mandate received from Christ (cfr. Mt
28, 18-20), the exercise of the authority proper to the apostles and
afterwards to the bishops includes the proclamation and the teaching of
the Gospel, sanctification through the sacraments, particularly the
Eucharist, and the pastoral direction of those who believe (cfr. Lk 10,

13. Authority in the Church belongs to Jesus Christ
himself, the one Head of the Church (cfr. Eph 1, 22; 5, 23). By his
Holy Spirit, the Church as his Body shares in his authority (cfr. Jn
20, 22-23). Authority in the Church has as its goal the gathering of
the whole of humankind into Jesus Christ (cfr. Eph 1,10; Jn 11, 52).
The authority linked with the grace received in ordination is not the
private possession of those who receive it nor something delegated from
the community; rather, it is a gift of the Holy Spirit destined for the
service (diakonia) of the community and never exercised
outside of it. Its exercise includes the participation of the whole
community, the bishop being in the Church and the Church in the bishop
(cfr. St Cyprian, Ep. 66, 8).

14. The exercise of authority accomplished in the
Church, in the name of Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit, must
be, in all its forms and at all levels, a service (diakonia)
of love, as was that of Christ (cfr. Mk 10, 45; Jn 13, 1-16). The
authority of which we are speaking, since it expresses divine
authority, cannot subsist in the Church except in the love between the
one who exercises it and those subject to it. It is, therefore, an
authority without domination, without physical or moral coercion. Since
it is a participation in the exousia of the crucified and
exalted Lord, to whom has been given all authority in heaven and on
earth (cfr. Mt 28, 18), it can and must call for obedience. At the same
time, because of the Incarnation and the Cross, it is radically
different from that of leaders of nations and of the great of this
world (cfr. Lk 22, 25-27). While this authority is certainly entrusted
to people who, because of weakness and sin, are often tempted to abuse
it, nevertheless by its very nature the evangelical identification
between authority and service constitutes a fundamental norm for the
Church. For Christians, to rule is to serve. The exercise and spiritual
efficacy of ecclesial authority are thereby assured through free
consent and voluntary co-operation. At a personal level, this
translates into obedience to the authority of the Church in order to
follow Christ who was lovingly obedient to the Father even unto death
and death on a Cross (cfr. Phil 2, 8).

15. Authority within the Church is founded upon the
Word of God, present and alive in the community of the disciples.
Scripture is the revealed Word of God, as the Church, through the Holy
Spirit present and active within it, has discerned it in the living
Tradition received from the Apostles. At the heart of this Tradition is
the Eucharist (cfr. 1 Cor 10, 16-17; 11, 23-26). The authority of
Scripture derives from the fact that it is the Word of God which, read
in the Church and by the Church, transmits the Gospel of salvation.
Through Scripture, Christ addresses the assembled community and the
heart of each believer. The Church, through the Holy Spirit present
within it, authentically interprets Scripture, responding to the needs
of times and places. The constant custom of the Councils to enthrone
the Gospels in the midst of the assembly both attests the presence of
Christ in his Word, which is the necessary point of reference for all
their discussions and decisions, and at the same time affirms the
authority of the Church to interpret this Word of God.

16. In his divine Economy, God wills that his Church
should have a structure oriented towards salvation. To this essential
structure belong the faith professed and the sacraments celebrated in
the apostolic succession. Authority in the ecclesial communion is
linked to this essential structure: its exercise is regulated by the
canons and statutes of the Church. Some of these regulations may be
differently applied according to the needs of ecclesial communion in
different times and places, provided that the essential structure of
the Church is always respected. Thus, just as communion in the
sacraments presupposes communion in the same faith (cfr. Bari Document,
nn.29-33), so too, in order for there to be full ecclesial communion,
there must be, between our Churches, reciprocal recognition of
canonical legislations in their legitimate diversities.

II. The threefold actualization of Conciliarity and Authority

17. Having pointed out the foundation of
conciliarity and of authority in the Church, and having noted the
complexity of the content of these terms, we must now reply to the
following questions: How do institutional elements of the Church
visibly express and serve the mystery of koinônia? How do the
canonical structures of the Churches express their sacramental life? To
this end we distinguished between three levels of ecclesial
institutions: that of the local Church around its bishop; that of a
region taking in several neighbouring local Churches; and that of the
whole inhabited earth (oikoumene) which embraces all the local Churches.

1. The Local Level

18. The Church of God exists where there is a
community gathered together in the Eucharist, presided over, directly
or through his presbyters, by a bishop legitimately ordained into the
apostolic succession, teaching the faith received from the Apostles, in
communion with the other bishops and their Churches. The fruit of this
Eucharist and this ministry is to gather into an authentic communion of
faith, prayer, mission, fraternal love and mutual aid, all those who
have received the Spirit of Christ in Baptism. This communion is the
frame in which all ecclesial authority is exercised. Communion is the
criterion for its exercise.

19. Each local Church has as its mission to be, by
the grace of God, a place where God is served and honoured, where the
Gospel is announced, where the sacraments are celebrated, where the
faithful strive to alleviate the world’s misery, and where each
believer can find salvation. It is the light of the world (cfr. Mt 5,
14-16), the leaven (cfr. Mt 13, 33), the priestly community of God
(cfr. 1 Pet 2, 5 and 9). The canonical norms which govern it aim at
ensuring this mission.

20. By virtue of that very Baptism which made him or
her a member of Christ, each baptized person is called, according to
the gifts of the one Holy Spirit, to serve within the community (cfr. 1
Cor 12, 4-27). Thus through communion, whereby all the members are at
the service of each other, the local Church appears already “synodal”
or “conciliar” in its structure. This “synodality” does not show itself
only in the relationships of solidarity, mutual assistance and
complementarity which the various ordained ministries have among
themselves. Certainly, the presbyterium is the council of the bishop
(cfr. St Ignatius of Antioch, To the Trallians, 3), and the deacon is his “right arm” (Didascalia Apostolorum, 2, 28, 6), so that, according to the recommendation of St Ignatius of Antioch, everything be done in concert (cfr. To the Ephesians 6). Synodality, however, also involves all the members of the community in obedience to the bishop, who is the protos and head (kephale)
of the local Church, required by ecclesial communion. In keeping with
Eastern and Western traditions, the active participation of the laity,
both men and women, of monastics and consecrated persons, is effected
in the diocese and the parish through many forms of service and

21. The charisms of the members of the community
have their origin in the one Holy Spirit, and are directed to the good
of all. This fact sheds light on both the demands and the limits of the
authority of each one in the Church. There should be neither passivity
nor substitution of functions, neither negligence nor domination of
anyone by another. All charisms and ministries in the Church converge
in unity under the ministry of the bishop, who serves the communion of
the local Church. All are called to be renewed by the Holy Spirit in
the sacraments and to respond in constant repentance (metanoia), so that their communion in truth and charity is ensured.

2. The Regional Level

22. Since the Church reveals itself to be catholic in the synaxis
of the local Church, this catholicity must truly manifest itself in
communion with the other Churches which confess the same apostolic
faith and share the same basic ecclesial structure, beginning with
those close at hand in virtue of their common responsibility for
mission in that region which is theirs (cfr. Munich Document, III, 3,
and Valamo Document, nn.52 and 53). Communion among Churches is
expressed in the ordination of bishops. This ordination is conferred
according to canonical order by three or more bishops, or at least two
(cfr. Nicaea I, Canon 4), who act in the name of the episcopal body and
of the people of God, having themselves received their ministry from
the Holy Spirit by the imposition of hands in the apostolic succession.
When this is accomplished in conformity with the canons, communion
among Churches in the true faith, sacraments and ecclesial life is
ensured, as well as living communion with previous generations.

23. Such effective communion among several local
Churches, each being the Catholic Church in a particular place, has
been expressed by certain practices: the participation of the bishops
of neighbouring sees at the ordination of a bishop to the local Church;
the invitation to a bishop from another Church to concelebrate at the synaxis
of the local Church; the welcome extended to the faithful from these
other Churches to partake of the eucharistic table; the exchange of
letters on the occasion of an ordination; and the provision of material

24. A canon accepted in the East as in the West,
expresses the relationship between the local Churches of a region: “The
bishops of each province (ethnos) must recognize the one who is first (protos) amongst them, and consider him to be their head (kephale), and not do anything important without his consent (gnome); each bishop may only do what concerns his own diocese (paroikia) and its dependent territories. But the first (protos) cannot do anything without the consent of all. For in this way concord (homonoia) will prevail, and God will be praised through the Lord in the Holy Spirit” (Apostolic Canon 34).

25. This norm, which re-emerges in several forms in
canonical tradition, applies to all the relations between the bishops
of a region, whether those of a province, a metropolitanate, or a
patriarchate. Its practical application may be found in the synods or
the councils of a province, region or patriarchate. The fact that the
composition of a regional synod is always essentially episcopal, even
when it includes other members of the Church, reveals the nature of
synodal authority. Only bishops have a deliberative voice. The
authority of a synod is based on the nature of the episcopal ministry
itself, and manifests the collegial nature of the episcopate at the
service of the communion of Churches.

26. A synod (or council) in itself implies the
participation of all the bishops of a region. It is governed by the
principle of consensus and concord (homonoia), which is
signified by eucharistic concelebration, as is implied by the final
doxology of the above-mentioned Apostolic Canon 34. The fact remains,
however, that each bishop in his pastoral care is judge, and is
responsible before God for the affairs of his own diocese (cfr.
Cyprian, Ep. 55, 21); thus he is the guardian of the
catholicity of his local Church, and must be always careful to promote
catholic communion with other Churches.

27. It follows that a regional synod or council does
not have any authority over other ecclesiastical regions. Nevertheless,
the exchange of information and consultations between the
representatives of several synods are a manifestation of catholicity,
as well as of that fraternal mutual assistance and charity which ought
to be the rule between all the local Churches, for the greater common
benefit. Each bishop is responsible for the whole Church together with
all his colleagues in one and the same apostolic mission.

28. In this manner several ecclesiastical provinces
have come to strengthen their links of common responsibility. This was
one of the factors giving rise to the patriarchates in the history of
our Churches. Patriarchal synods are governed by the same
ecclesiological principles and the same canonical norms as provincial

29. In subsequent centuries, both in the East and in
the West, certain new configurations of communion between local
Churches have developed. New patriarchates and autocephalous Churches
have been founded in the Christian East, and in the Latin Church there
has recently emerged a particular pattern of grouping of bishops, the
Episcopal Conferences. These are not, from an ecclesiological
standpoint, merely administrative subdivisions: they express the spirit
of communion in the Church, while at the same time respecting the
diversity of human cultures.

30. In fact, regional synodality, whatever its
contours and canonical regulation, demonstrates that the Church of God
is not a communion of persons or local Churches cut off from their
human roots. Because it is the community of salvation and because this
salvation is “the restoration of creation” (cfr. St Irenaeus, Adv. Haer.,
1, 36, 1), it embraces the human person in everything which binds himor
her to human reality as created by God. The Church is not just a
collection of individuals; it is made up of communities with different
cultures, histories and social structures.

31. In the grouping of local Churches at the
regional level, catholicity appears in its true light. It is the
expression of the presence of salvation not in an undifferentiated
universe but in humankind as God created it and comes to save it. In
the mystery of salvation, human nature is at the same time both assumed
in its fullness and cured of what sin has infused into it by way of
self-sufficiency, pride, distrust of others, aggressiveness, jealousy,
envy, falsehood and hatred. Ecclesial koinônia is the gift by
which all humankind is joined together, in the Spirit of the risen
Lord. This unity, created by the Spirit, far from lapsing into
uniformity, calls for and thus preserves – and, in a certain way,
enhances – diversity and particularity.

3. The Universal Level

32. Each local Church is in communion not only with
neighbouring Churches, but with the totality of the local Churches,
with those now present in the world, those which have been since the
beginning, and those which will be in the future, and with the Church
already in glory. According to the will of Christ, the Church is one
and indivisible, the same always and in every place. Both sides
confess, in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, that the Church is one
and catholic. Its catholicity embraces not only the diversity of human
communities but also their fundamental unity.

33. It is clear, therefore, that one and the same
faith is to be confessed and lived out in all the local Churches, the
same unique Eucharist is to be celebrated everywhere, and one and the
same apostolic ministry is to be at work in all the communities. A
local Church cannot modify the Creed, formulated by the ecumenical
Councils, although the Church ought always “to give suitable answers to
new problems, answers based on the Scriptures and in accord and
essential continuity with the previous expressions of dogmas” (Bari
Document, n.29). Equally, a local Church cannot change a fundamental
point regarding the form of ministry by a unilateral decision, and no
local Church can celebrate the Eucharist in wilful separation from
other local Churches without seriously affecting ecclesial communion.
In all of these things one touches on the bond of communion itself –
thus, on the very being of the Church.

34. It is because of this communion that all the
Churches, through canons, regulate everything relating to the Eucharist
and the sacraments, the ministry and ordination, and the handing on (paradosis) and teaching (didaskalia) of the faith. It is clear why in this domain canonical rules and disciplinary norms are needed.

35. In the course of history, when serious problems
arose affecting the universal communion and concord between Churches –
in regard either to the authentic interpretation of the faith, or to
ministries and their relationship to the whole Church, or to the common
discipline which fidelity to the Gospel requires – recourse was made to
Ecumenical Councils. These Councils were ecumenical not just because
they assembled together bishops from all regions and particularly those
of the five major sees, Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and
Jerusalem, according to the ancient order (taxis). It was also
because their solemn doctrinal decisions and their common faith
formulations, especially on crucial points, are binding for all the
Churches and all the faithful, for all times and all places. This is
why the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils remain normative.

36. The history of the Ecumenical Councils shows
what are to be considered their special characteristics. This matter
needs to be studied further in our future dialogue, taking account of
the evolution of ecclesial structures during recent centuries in the
East and the West.

37. The ecumenicity of the decisions of a Council is
recognized through a process of reception of either long or short
duration, according to which the people of God as a whole – by means of
reflection, discernment, discussion and prayer – acknowledge in these
decisions the one apostolic faith of the local Churches, which has
always been the same and of which the bishops are the teachers (didaskaloi)
and the guardians. This process of reception is differently interpreted
in East and West according to their respective canonical traditions.

38. Conciliarity or synodality involves, therefore,
much more than the assembled bishops. It involves also their Churches.
The former are bearers of and give voice to the faith of the latter.
The bishops’ decisions have to be received in the life of the Churches,
especially in their liturgical life. Each Ecumenical Council received
as such, in the full and proper sense, is, accordingly, a manifestation
of and service to the communion of the whole Church.

39. Unlike diocesan and regional synods, an
ecumenical council is not an “institution” whose frequency can be
regulated by canons; it is rather an “event”, a kairos
inspired by the Holy Spirit who guides the Church so as to engender
within it the institutions which it needs and which respond to its
nature. This harmony between the Church and the councils is so profound
that, even after the break between East and West which rendered
impossible the holding of ecumenical councils in the strict sense of
the term, both Churches continued to hold councils whenever serious
crises arose. These councils gathered together the bishops of local
Churches in communion with the See of Rome or, although understood in a
different way, with the See of Constantinople, respectively. In the
Roman Catholic Church, some of these councils held in the West were
regarded as ecumenical. This situation, which obliged both sides of
Christendom to convoke councils proper to each of them, favoured
dissentions which contributed to mutual estrangement. The means which
will allow the re-establishment of ecumenical consensus must be sought

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.

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.
  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.

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

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.

46. 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.


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • Easter Dates says:

    If you are interested as an individual to take a step towards Christian Unity you can sign the petition to unite the dates of Easter at http://www.onedate.org

  • Rob Mitchell says:

    Andrew, I note with interest that as always, both the RCC and the EOC still hold to an essentially eucharistic ecclesiology, that is, it is the sacraments that primarily define the church (see p. 18 in the doc).
    In p. 19, the mission is held to be something the church “has” or “does.” While I’m not in disagreement that the local church should engage in all the activities listed in that paragraph, I’m inclined toward an ecclesiology that sees mission as an essential part or mark of the church, the telos for which she exists, and this kind of thinking is largely absent from the document.
    I am gratified to see an expression that seeks greater unity and cooperation in the activities and mission of the church, and I will also agree that there is much we can appreciate and learn from our brothers and sisters in the Roman and Eastern confessional traditions (and we have many true brothers and sisters in both!)
    But I suppose that when we Protestants affirm catholicity and apostolicity we have slightly different emphases in mind. Perhaps if we can move toward a more missional ecclesiology we can also move more toward unity.
    As to the date of Easter, though it’s something I don’t think we should divide over, I actually think it’s kind of neat still having the differences around – this opens the door for conversations about calendar reform, Dionysius Exiguus, the quartodecimian controversy, and a host of historical topics that help us to understand our ancestors in the faith.
    All this being said, though, moves toward unity centered in the historic confessions of the faith are always welcome.

  • GLW Johnson says:

    No doubt I will be castigated by the progressives out there as a hopelessly retrograded Reformational anal retentive type- but the last I checked both of these communions catagorically reject ‘Sola Fide’, which Luther rightly called the aricle of a standing or falling Church. Since this is the case, I for one will refrain from celebrating this display of ‘Christian’ Unity.

  • Nathan says:

    I don’t see where the handwringing over the ascendancy of the Pope is coming from.
    It sounds like they are confirming ancient conciliar pronouncements regarding order of rank for each major see(taxis). But the issue of prerogatives (i.e. control) is being called for study…
    I think they’re just confirming what the universal church declared prior to schism in the councils.
    This isn’t what people are freaking out about.
    I don’t get it…

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