Ravenna Statement

Ian Falconer reports on the recent RC-Orthodox agreement

'A modest first step'. So Cardinal Walter Kasper, leader of the l Roman Catholic delegation, described the Ravenna Statement.

In October, the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church addressed ecclesial communion, conciliarity and authority'. These issues feature also in the Anglican-Orthodox Cyprus Statement, which I surveyed in the September New Directions.

The largest Orthodox Church was missing from Ravenna. Moscow Patriarchate delegates walked out because of the presence of the Church of Estonia, declared autonomous by Constantinople but not recognized by Moscow. The Bulgarians were also absent. The Orthodox Church in America and The Orthodox Church in Japan weren't invited, not being recognized by Constantinople. Ravenna includes wording concerning ecumenical councils that Moscow had previously criticised. The Moscow Patriarchate will comment in due course.

But divisions within Orthodoxy are ethnic, historical and political rather than doctrinal. Anglicans note: RCs and Orthodox agree that no local church can 'modify the Creed' or 'change a fundamental point regarding the form of ministry by a unilateral decision.

Like Cyprus, the Ravenna Statement begins with the Trinity, from whom koinonia (communion) derives. Conciliarity is an expression of the communion of the whole people of God. But it is normally the bishops, successors of the apostles appointed by Jesus, who exercise responsibility and authority by meeting in council (Latin concilium, Greek synodos).

Authority derives from the Word of God. The revealed Word in Scripture is interpreted, through the Holy Spirit, by the Church in the apostolic Tradition, alive in the community, with the Eucharist at its heart. Authority is 'a service of love', to be obeyed on the principle that 'for Christians, to rule is to serve'. Its goal is 'the gathering of the whole of humankind into Jesus Christ'.

There are three levels of authority and conciliarity - the local community of bishop, presbyters and laity with their different gifts; regional (province, patriarchate, etc.), where bishops meet in synod, with one first among equals; and universal, where the catholicity of the Church embraces not only the diversity of human communities but also their fundamental unity', one bishop again first among equals.

How are authority and conciliarity practised at this level? The Ecumenical Councils of the undivided Church made decisions that 'remain normative'. After the division, some councils in East and West 'contributed to mutual estrangement'.

Both sides agree that from early times Rome was the Church that 'presides in love' (Ignatius of Antioch, c.107). But even in the first millennium differences arose as to the nature of the bishop of Rome as first among the patriarchs. Differences concern the manner of exercising this primacy and its scriptural and theological foundations.

Anglo-Catholics should follow the Commission's next task with interest: 'What is the specific function of the bishop of the 'first see' in an ecclesiology oikoinonia and in view of what we have said on conciliarity and authority?

The full text appears on several websites, including wwwpontificalori-entalinstitute.com

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