PLAN TO SET UNDERWAY THE THEOLOGICAL
DIALOGUE BETWEEN THE ROMAN CATHOLIC
CHURCH AND THE ORTHODOX CHURCH
International Commission, 1980
Purpose of the Dialogue
purpose of the dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and
the Orthodox Church is the re-establishment of full communion
between these two churches. This communion, based on unity of
faith according to the common experience and tradition of the
early Church, will find its expression in the common celebration
of the holy eucharist.
Method of the Dialogue
this is the purpose of the dialogue between the Orthodox and Roman
Catholic Churches, the best method for approaching and discussing
the various problems involved should include the following points:
1. The dialogue should begin with the elements
which unite the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. This in no
way means that it is desirable, or even possible, to avoid the problems
which still divide the two churches. It only means that the dialogue
should begin in a positive spirit and that this spirit should prevail
when treating the problems which have accumulated during a separation
lasting many centuries.
2. In examining the theological problems which
exist between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches, consideration
must also be given to more recent developments both of a theological
and of an ecclesial nature in relations between the two churches.
The history of the past certainly should not be ignored, and perhaps
it can even help the positive progress of the dialogue (for example,
study of the Council of 879-880). Nonetheless, historical developments
of the past must also be seen in the light both of further theological
developments and of recent ecclesial practice in the Roman Catholic
and Orthodox Churches.
In light of these, the points of difference between
our churches can also be considered in a new way. Thus one can hope
that it will be possible to overcome progressively and successively
the concrete obstacles which stand in the way of the renewal of
common life between our churches.
3. During discussion of existing problems, a
distinction must be made between differences which are compatible
with eucharistic communion and those which are incompatible and
require that a solution and common agreement be found.
There are a large number of developments which
are due to special historical conditions which have prevailed unilaterally
either in the East or in the West. These developments do not constitute
elements which necessarily are acceptable or unacceptable to the
two sides. At the same time, without serious examination they cannot
be considered as indifferent as far as eucharistic communion is
concerned. It is therefore necessary, in each particular case, to
search out criteria by which particular differences in both the
Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church may be judged.
4. We judge it useful that, in the dialogue,
serious consideration be given to, and profit taken from, the work
accomplished on various occasions by mixed study groups composed
of Roman Catholic and Orthodox theologians.
5. The dialogue of love should continually accompany
the theological dialogue in order to facilitate resolution of difficulties
and to strengthen the deepening of fraternal relations between the
two churches both on the local and on more general levels. For this,
it would be profitable that some disagreeable situations be reconsidered,
as, for example, the question of "uniatism," of proselytism,
etc. In general, the theological dialogue can be fruitful only in
an atmosphere of love, of humility and of prayer.
Themes of the First Stage of the Dialogue
1. As for the themes which should be the object
of the dialogue during its first stage, we judge that the study
of the sacraments of the Church is propitious for an examination,
in depth and in a positive way, of the problems of the dialogue.
Sacramental experience and theology express themselves the one through
the other. For this reason, the study of the sacraments of the Church
presents itself as a very positive and natural theme. From, the
study of problems relating to the sacraments, one will normally
come to an examination of ecclesiological as well as other aspects
of the faith, without moving away from the lived character which
is fundamental for theology.
2. While examining the theme of the sacraments
within the framework of the dialogue, the Commission for Dialogue
should free itself, as much as possible, from the problematic created
by the theology of the schools of earlier days. In the formulation
of the entire problematic concerning the theme of the sacraments,
it is practically obligatory to study and give serious consideration
to all the recent theological efforts in both Roman Catholic and
Orthodox theology, so that these efforts may be connected to the
tradition of the early Church.
3. The principal purpose of studying the theme
of the sacraments is not to examine every aspect of this very wide
theme, but primarily those aspects which touch upon the unity of
the Church. Consequently the principal problems which should be
proposed for discussion are related to ecclesiology in its broad
theological sense. More particularly, these problems are related
to the way in which the presence or absence of unity between Roman
Catholics and Orthodox has an influence on communion in the sacraments
and in the Christian life in general of the faithful of the two
churches, and vice versa.
4. If one tries to reconnect the problematic
regarding the sacraments to the tradition of the early Church, one
will see that, in principle and in essence, it is not necessary
to speak of several sacraments but rather of one sacrament, the
"sacrament of Christ," which is expressed and realized
by the Holy Spirit as the sacrament of the Church. The sacraments
should not be conceived of principally as autonomous actions or
as individualistic means for transmitting divine grace, but as the
expression and realization of the unique sacrament of the Church.
5. This unique sacrament of the Church is expressed
and realized in history above all in the holy eucharist. It is not
by chance that all the particular sacraments were connected in the
early Church, even in their liturgical dimensions, with the eucharist.
The eucharist, then, should not be considered as one sacrament among
others, but as the sacrament par excellence of the Church. Consequently,
it should be the basis for every examination of the theme of the
sacraments within the framework of the dialogue.
6. On this basis, and with the sacrament of the holy
eucharist as its point of departure, the Commission for Dialogue
will be asked to examine the following fundamental problems:
What is the relationship between the other "sacraments of
initiation," that is, baptism and chrismation/confirmation,
and the holy eucharist? In the West, these three sacraments have
been separated from each other on the liturgical level in the
baptism of children. In the East, these three sacraments have
remained united. What importance does this question have for one's
conception of the unity of the Church and even for the spiritual
life of the faithful? Another question related to this one is
the "recognition" of these sacraments between the churches.
Up to what point is it possible to say that one recognizes the
baptism of a church without participating in the eucharist of
that church? How can we have unity with respect to only one or
two of these sacraments of initiation?
(b) What is the relationship of the sacramentsalways conceived
of as connected with the holy eucharist with the structure and
government of the Church (or the canonical unity of the Church)?
Here it is necessary to examine the following questions Can there
exist in the Church an "administration" or a structure
or a "canonical jurisdiction" which does not flow immediately
and necessarily from the sacramental life of the Church, more
particularly in the case of ordination and of the eucharist? It
is evident that a host of problems concerning the relationship
between sacraments and canonical jurisdiction present themselves
at this point and are directly connected with the unity of the
(c) Given that the Church is built up and is realized in time
and space by means of the eucharist of the local community gathered
around one sole bishop, what does this fact mean for the communion
of all the local churches and their witness in the world?
(d) In what sense is right faith (orthodoxy) related to the sacraments
of the Church? Is it a presupposition for communion in the sacramentsand,
if so, in what sense or to what extent?or is it rather the
result and expression of such a communion? Or can both these things
be true? This subject is essential above all in view of sacramental
unity and, in particular, of eucharistic unity.
7. During the examination of these questions, we
consider it indispensable that the entire discussion of the theme
of the sacraments be continually presented in light of the following
How should the entire structure and the realization of the sacramental
life of the Church be understood in relation to Christ and in
relation to the Holy Spirit? What relationship exists between
the sacraments and christology, pneumatology and triadology? Should
there be placed in this perspective questions concerning, for
example, the epiclêsis of the Holy Spirit, or the visible
elements of the sacraments or again the connection between the
celebrant and the community in relation to Christ and in relation
to the Holy Spirit?
(b) Also connected to this should be the problem of the meaning
of eschatology in the understanding of the sacraments. It is true
that in the West an historical approach to the sacraments has
more or less prevailed, while in the East the understanding of
the mysteries has been rather "iconological" and "metahistorical."
Are there problems arising out of this fact that might be essential
for the unity of the Church?
(c) Finally, the anthropological question, which has different
accentuations in the East and in the West, should not be neglected
in studying the sacraments. For example, the question could
be raised as to what is the new reality (the "new creation")
which the sacramental life creates. In what does the new creation
consist? Consideration must be given to the fact that for theology
and tradition the sacraments, in the light of the holy eucharist,
contain dimensions wider than the psychological and individual
levels and reach out even unto the transformation of the social
milieu as well as of the natural and cosmic milieu of mankind.
How is this transformation conceived of, and what consequences
can such a consideration have for the life of the faithful in
List of Proposed Themes
1. The sacrament of Christ expressing itself
and realizing itself, through the Holy Spirit, as the sacrament
of the Church (section III.4 above). How should one understand
the sacramental nature of the Church in relation to Christ and
in relation to the Holy Spirit? What is the connection between
the sacraments and christology, pneumatology and triadology? (section
2. The eucharist as sacrament par excellence of the Church (section
3. The sacraments of initiation, their interrelationship and
the unity of the Church (section III.6.a above).
4. Relationship between the sacraments and the canonical structure
of the Church (section III.6.b-c above).
5. Faith and communion in the sacraments (section III.6.d).
6. The sacraments in their relationship to history and to eschatology
(section III 7.b).
7. The sacraments and the renewal of mankind and of the world
(section III 7.c).
8. Ritual and canonical differences in the celebration of the
The two preparatory commissions submit this report to their respective
church authorities and unanimously recommend:
that the commissions which should enter into dialogue be set up
as soon as possible;
the proposed plan be the basis for the work of these commissions
for the first stage of the dialogue;
that each commission be composed of an equal number of members
on each side.
June 1, 1980
First Plenary Meeting
Information Service 47 (1981/III-IV) 117 and John BORELLI
& John H. ERICKSON, eds., The Quest for Unity Orthodox
and Catholics in Dialogue: Documents of the Joint International
Commission and Official Dialogues in the United States 1965-1995
(Crestwood, NY/Washington, DC: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press/United
States Catholic Conference, 1996) 47-52]