Ut Unum Sint
Encyclical "That They May Be
His Holiness Pope John Paul II
May 25, 1995
UT UNUM SINT! The call for Christian
unity made by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council with such
impassioned commitment is finding an ever greater echo in the hearts of
believers, especially as the Year 2000 approaches, a year which
Christians will celebrate as a sacred Jubilee, the commemoration of the
Incarnation of the Son of God, who became man in order to save humanity.
The courageous witness of so many martyrs of
our century, including members of Churches and Ecclesial Communities not
in full communion with the Catholic Church, gives new vigor to the
Council's call and reminds us of our duty to listen to and put into
practice its exhortation. These brothers and sisters of ours, united in
the selfless offering of their lives for the Kingdom of God, are the
most powerful proof that every factor of division can be transcended and
overcome in the total gift of self for the sake of the Gospel.
Christ calls all his disciples to unity.
My earnest desire is to renew this call today, to propose it once more
with determination, repeating what I said at the Roman Colosseum on Good
Friday 1994, at the end of the meditation on the Via Cruces
prepared by my Venerable Brother Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch
of Constantinople. There I stated that believers in Christ, united in
following in the footsteps of the martyrs, cannot remain divided. If
they wish truly and effectively to oppose the world's tendency to reduce
to powerlessness the Mystery of Redemption, they must profess
together the same truth about the Cross. The Cross! An
anti-Christian outlook seeks to minimize the Cross, to empty it of its
meaning, and to deny that in it man has the source of his new life. It
claims that the Cross is unable to provide either vision or hope. Man,
it says, is nothing but an earthly being, who must live as if God did
2. No one is unaware of the challenge which all
this poses to believers. They cannot fail to meet this challenge.
Indeed, how could they refuse to do everything possible, with God's
help, to break down the walls of division and distrust, to overcome
obstacles and prejudices which thwart the proclamation of the Gospel of
salvation in the Cross of Jesus, the one Redeemer of man, of every
I thank the Lord that he has led us to make
progress along the path of unity and communion between Christians, a
path difficult but so full of joy. Interconfessional dialogues at the
theological level have produced positive and tangible results: this
encourages us to move forward.
Nevertheless, besides the doctrinal differences
needing to be resolved, Christians cannot underestimate the burden of
long-standing misgivings inherited from the past, and of mutual
misunderstandings and prejudices. Complacency, indifference and
insufficient knowledge of one another often make this situation
worse. Consequently, the commitment to ecumenism must be based upon the
conversion of hearts and upon prayer, which will also lead to the
necessary purification of past memories. With the grace of the Holy
Spirit, the Lord's disciples, inspired by love, by the power of the
truth and by a sincere desire for mutual forgiveness and reconciliation,
are called to re-examine together their painful past and the hurt
which that past regrettably continues to provoke even today. All
together, they are invited by the ever fresh power of the Gospel to
acknowledge with sincere and total objectivity the mistakes made and the
contingent factors at work at the origins of their deplorable divisions.
What is needed is a calm, clear-sighted and truthful vision of things,
a vision enlivened by divine mercy and capable of freeing people's minds
and of inspiring in everyone a renewed willingness, precisely with a
view to proclaiming the Gospel to the men and women of every people and
3. At the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic
Church committed herself irrevocably to following the path of the
ecumenical venture, thus heeding the Spirit of the Lord, who teaches
people to interpret carefully the "signs of the times". The experiences
of these years have made the Church even more profoundly aware of her
identity and her mission in history. The Catholic Church acknowledges
and confesses the weaknesses of her members, conscious that their
sins are so many betrayals of and obstacles to the accomplishment of the
Savior's plan. Because she feels herself constantly called to be renewed
in the spirit of the Gospel, she does not cease to do penance. At the
same time, she acknowledges and exalts still more the power of the
Lord, who fills her with the gift of holiness, leads her forward,
and conforms her to his Passion and Resurrection.
Taught by the events of her history, the Church
is committed to freeing herself from every purely human support, in
order to live in depth the Gospel law of the Beatitudes. Conscious that
the truth does not impose itself except "by virtue of its own truth, as
it makes its entrance into the mind at once quietly and with power",
she seeks nothing for herself but the freedom to proclaim the Gospel.
Indeed, her authority is exercised in the service of truth and charity.
I myself intend to promote every suitable
initiative aimed at making the witness of the entire Catholic
community understood in its full purity and consistency, especially
considering the engagement which awaits the Church at the threshold of
the new Millennium. That will be an exceptional occasion, in view of
which she asks the Lord to increase the unity of all Christians until
they reach full communion. The present Encyclical Letter is meant as
a contribution to this most noble goal. Essentially pastoral in
character, it seeks to encourage the efforts of all who work for the
cause of unity.
4. This is a specific duty of the Bishop of
Rome as the Successor of the Apostle Peter. I carry out this duty with
the profound conviction that I am obeying the Lord, and with a clear
sense of my own human frailty. Indeed, if Christ himself gave Peter this
special mission in the Church and exhorted him to strengthen his
brethren, he also made clear to him his human weakness and his special
need of conversion: "And when you have turned again, strengthen your
brethren" (Lk 22:32). It is precisely in Peter's human weakness
that it becomes fully clear that the Pope, in order to carry out this
special ministry in the Church, depends totally on the Lord's grace and
prayer: "I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail" (Lk
22:32). The conversion of Peter and that of his Successors is upheld by
the very prayer of the Redeemer, and the Church constantly makes this
petition her own. In our ecumenical age, marked by the Second Vatican
Council, the mission of the Bishop of Rome is particularly directed to
recalling the need for full communion among Christ's disciples.
The Bishop of Rome himself must fervently make
his own Christ's prayer for that conversion which is indispensable for
"Peter" to be able to serve his brethren. I earnestly invite the
faithful of the Catholic Church and all Christians to share in this
prayer. May all join me in praying for this conversion!
We know that during her earthly pilgrimage the
Church has suffered and will continue to suffer opposition and
persecution. But the hope which sustains her is unshakable, just as the
joy which flows from this hope is indestructible. In effect, the firm
and enduring rock upon which she is founded is Jesus Christ, her Lord.
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH'S COMMITMENT TO ECUMENISM
God's plan and communion
5. Together with all Christ's disciples, the
Catholic Church bases upon God's plan her ecumenical commitment to
gather all Christians into unity. Indeed, "the Church is not a reality
closed in on herself. Rather, she is permanently open to missionary and
ecumenical endeavor, for she is sent to the world to announce and
witness, to make present and spread the mystery of communion which is
essential to her, and to gather all people and all things into Christ,
so as to be for all an 'inseparable sacrament of unity"'.
Already in the Old Testament, the Prophet
Ezekiel, referring to the situation of God's People at that time, and
using the simple sign of two broken sticks which are first divided and
then joined together, expressed the divine will to "gather from all
sides" the members of his scattered people. "I will be their God, and
they shall be my people. Then the nations will know that I the Lord
sanctify Israel" (cf. 37:16-28). The Gospel of John, for its part,
considering the situation of the People of God at the time it was
written, sees in Jesus' death the reason for the unity of God's
children: "Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only,
but to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad"
(11:51-52). Indeed, as the Letter to the Ephesians explains, Jesus
"broke down the dividing wall of hostility . . . through the Cross,
thereby bringing the hostility to an end"; in place of what was divided
he brought about unity (cf. 2:14-16).
6. The unity of all divided humanity is the
will of God. For this reason he sent his Son, so that by dying and
rising for us he might bestow on us the Spirit of love. On the eve of
his sacrifice on the Cross, Jesus himself prayed to the Father for his
disciples and for all those who believe in him, that they might be
one, a living communion. This is the basis not only of the duty, but
also of the responsibility before God and his plan, which falls to those
who through Baptism become members of the Body of Christ, a Body in
which the fullness of reconciliation and communion must be made present.
How is it possible to remain divided, if we have been "buried" through
Baptism in the Lord's death, in the very act by which God, through the
death of his Son, has broken down the walls of division? Division
"openly contradicts the will of Christ, provides a stumbling block to
the world, and inflicts damage on the most holy cause of proclaiming the
Good News to every creature".
The way of ecumenism: the way of the Church
7. "The Lord of the Ages wisely and patiently
follows out the plan of his grace on behalf of us sinners. In recent
times he has begun to bestow more generously upon divided Christians
remorse over their divisions and a longing for unity. Everywhere, large
numbers have felt the impulse of this grace, and among our separated
brethren also there increases from day to day a movement,
fostered by the grace of the Holy Spirit, for the restoration of
unity among all Christians. Taking part in this movement, which is
called ecumenical, are those who invoke the Triune God and confess Jesus
as Lord and Savior. They join in not merely as individuals but also as
members of the corporate groups in which they have heard the Gospel, and
which each regards as his Church and, indeed, God's. And yet almost
everyone, though in different ways, longs that there may be one
visible Church of God, a Church truly universal and sent forth to
the whole world that the world may be converted to the Gospel and so be
saved, to the glory of God".
8. This statement of the Decree Unitatis
Redintegratio is to be read in the context of the complete teaching
of the Second Vatican Council. The Council expresses the Church's
decision to take up the ecumenical task of working for Christian unity
and to propose it with conviction and vigour: "This sacred Synod exhorts
all the Catholic faithful to recognize the signs of the times and to
participate actively in the work of ecumenism".
In indicating the Catholic principles of
ecumenism, the Decree Unitatis Redintegratio recalls above all
the teaching on the Church set forth in the Dogmatic Constitution
Lumen Gentium in its chapter on the People of God. At the same
time, it takes into account everything affirmed in the Council's
Declaration on Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae.
The Catholic Church embraces with hope the
commitment to ecumenism as a duty of the Christian conscience
enlightened by faith and guided by love. Here too we can apply the words
of Saint Paul to the first Christians of Rome: "God's love has been
poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit"; thus our "hope does not
disappoint us" (Rom 5:5). This is the hope of Christian unity,
which has its divine source in the Trinitarian unity of the Father, the
Son and the Holy Spirit.
9. Jesus himself, at the hour of his Passion,
prayed "that they may all be one" (Jn 17:21). This unity, which
the Lord has bestowed on his Church and in which he wishes to embrace
all people, is not something added on, but stands at the very heart of
Christ's mission. Nor is it some secondary attribute of the community of
his disciples. Rather, it belongs to the very essence of this community.
God wills the Church, because he wills unity, and unity is an expression
of the whole depth of his agape.
In effect, this unity bestowed by the Holy
Spirit does not merely consist in the gathering of people as a
collection of individuals. It is a unity constituted by the bonds of the
profession of faith, the sacraments and hierarchical communion. The
faithful are one because, in the Spirit, they are in communion
with the Son and, in him, share in his communion with the Father:
"Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ"
(1 Jn 1:3). For the Catholic Church, then, the communion
of Christians is none other than the manifestation in them of the grace
by which God makes them sharers in his own communion, which is
his eternal life. Christ's words "that they may be one" are thus his
prayer to the Father that the Father's plan may be fully accomplished,
in such a way that everyone may clearly see "what is the plan of the
mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things" (Eph 3:9).
To believe in Christ means to desire unity; to desire unity means to
desire the Church; to desire the Church means to desire the communion of
grace which corresponds to the Father's plan from all eternity. Such is
the meaning of Christ's prayer: "Ut unum sint".
10. In the present situation of the lack of
unity among Christians and of the confident quest for full communion,
the Catholic faithful are conscious of being deeply challenged by the
Lord of the Church. The Second Vatican Council strengthened their
commitment with a clear ecclesiological vision, open to all the
ecclesial values present among other Christians. The Catholic faithful
face the ecumenical question in a spirit of faith.
The Council states that the Church of Christ
"subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the Successor of
Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him", and at the same time
acknowledges that "many elements of sanctification and of truth can be
found outside her visible structure. These elements, however, as gifts
properly belonging to the Church of Christ, possess an inner dynamism
towards Catholic unity".
"It follows that these separated Churches and
Communities, though we believe that they suffer from defects, have by no
means been deprived of significance and value in the mystery of
salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as
means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of
grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church".
11. The Catholic Church thus affirms that
during the two thousand years of her history she has been preserved in
unity, with all the means with which God wishes to endow his Church, and
this despite the often grave crises which have shaken her, the
infidelity of some of her ministers, and the faults into which her
members daily fall. The Catholic Church knows that, by virtue of the
strength which comes to her from the Spirit, the weaknesses, mediocrity,
sins and at times the betrayals of some of her children cannot destroy
what God has bestowed on her as part of his plan of grace. Moreover,
"the powers of death shall not prevail against it" (Mt 16:18).
Even so, the Catholic Church does not forget that many among her members
cause God's plan to be discernible only with difficulty. Speaking of the
lack of unity among Christians, the Decree on Ecumenism does not ignore
the fact that "people of both sides were to blame", and acknowledges
that responsibility cannot be attributed only to the "other side". By
God's grace, however, neither what belongs to the structure of the
Church of Christ nor that communion which still exists with the other
Churches and Ecclesial Communities has been destroyed.
Indeed, the elements of sanctification and
truth present in the other Christian Communities, in a degree which
varies from one to the other, constitute the objective basis of the
communion, albeit imperfect, which exists between them and the Catholic
To the extent that these elements are found in
other Christian Communities, the one Church of Christ is effectively
present in them. For this reason the Second Vatican Council speaks of a
certain, though imperfect communion. The Dogmatic Constitution Lumen
Gentium stresses that the Catholic Church "recognizes that in many ways
she is linked" with these Communities by a true union in the Holy
12. The same Dogmatic Constitution listed at
length "the elements of sanctification and truth" which in various ways
are present and operative beyond the visible boundaries of the Catholic
Church: "For there are many who honor Sacred Scripture, taking it as a
norm of belief and of action, and who show a true religious zeal. They
lovingly believe in God the Father Almighty and in Christ, Son of God
and Savior. They are consecrated by Baptism, through which they are
united with Christ. They also recognize and receive other sacraments
within their own Churches or Ecclesial Communities. Many of them rejoice
in the episcopate, celebrate the Holy Eucharist, and cultivate devotion
towards the Virgin Mother of God. They also share with us in prayer and
other spiritual benefits. Likewise, we can say that in some real way
they are joined with us in the Holy Spirit, for to them also he gives
his gifts and graces, and is thereby operative among them with his
sanctifying power. Some indeed he has strengthened to the extent of the
shedding of their blood. In all of Christ's disciples the Spirit arouses
the desire to be peacefully united, in the manner determined by Christ,
as one flock under one shepherd".
The Council's Decree on Ecumenism, referring to
the Orthodox Churches, went so far as to declare that "through the
celebration of the Eucharist of the Lord in each of these Churches, the
Church of God is built up and grows in stature" Truth demands that
all this be recognized.
13. The same Document carefully draws out the
doctrinal implications of this situation. Speaking of the members of
these Communities, it declares: "All those justified by faith through
Baptism are incorporated into Christ. They therefore have a right to be
honored by the title of Christian, and are properly regarded as brothers
and sisters in the Lord by the sons and daughters of the Catholic
With reference to the many positive elements
present in the other Churches and Ecclesial Communities, the Decree
adds: "All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to him, belong
by right to the one Church of Christ. The separated brethren also carry
out many of the sacred actions of the Christian religion. Undoubtedly,
in many ways that vary according to the condition of each Church or
Community, these actions can truly engender a life of grace, and can be
rightly described as capable of providing access to the community of
These are extremely important texts for
ecumenism. It is not that beyond the boundaries of the Catholic
community there is an ecclesial vacuum. Many elements of great value (eximia),
which in the Catholic Church are part of the fullness of the means of
salvation and of the gifts of grace which make up the Church, are also
found in the other Christian Communities.
14. All these elements bear within themselves a
tendency towards unity, having their fullness in that unity. It is not a
matter of adding together all the riches scattered throughout the
various Christian Communities in order to arrive at a Church which God
has in mind for the future. In accordance with the great Tradition,
attested to by the Fathers of the East and of the West, the Catholic
Church believes that in the Pentecost Event God has already
manifested the Church in her eschatological reality, which he had
prepared "from the time of Abel, the just one". This reality is
something already given. Consequently we are even now in the last times.
The elements of this already-given Church exist, found in their fullness
in the Catholic Church and, without this fullness, in the other
Communities, where certain features of the Christian mystery have at
times been more effectively emphasized. Ecumenism is directed precisely
to making the partial communion existing between Christians grow towards
full communion in truth and charity.
Renewal and conversion
15. Passing from principles, from the
obligations of the Christian conscience, to the actual practice of the
ecumenical journey towards unity, the Second Vatican Council emphasizes
above all the need for interior conversion. The messianic proclamation
that "the time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is at hand", and the
subsequent call to "repent, and believe in the Gospel" (Mk 1:15)
with which Jesus begins his mission, indicate the essential element of
every new beginning: the fundamental need for evangelization at every
stage of the Church's journey of salvation. This is true in a special
way of the process begun by the Second Vatican Council, when it
indicated as a dimension of renewal the ecumenical task of uniting
divided Christians. "There can be no ecumenism worthy of the name
without a change of heart".
The Council calls for personal conversion as
well as for communal conversion. The desire of every Christian Community
for unity goes hand in hand with its fidelity to the Gospel. In the case
of individuals who live their Christian vocation, the Council speaks of
interior conversion, of a renewal of mind.
Each one therefore ought to be more radically
converted to the Gospel and, without ever losing sight of God's plan,
change his or her way of looking at things. Thanks to ecumenism, our
contemplation of "the mighty works of God" (mirabilia Dei) has
been enriched by new horizons, for which the Triune God calls us to give
thanks: the knowledge that the Spirit is at work in other Christian
Communities, the discovery of examples of holiness, the experience of
the immense riches present in the communion of saints, and contact with
unexpected dimensions of Christian commitment. In a corresponding way,
there is an increased sense of the need for repentance: an awareness of
certain exclusions which seriously harm fraternal charity, of certain
refusals to forgive, of a certain pride, of an unevangelical insistence
on condemning the "other side", of a disdain born of an unhealthy
presumption. Thus, the entire life of Christians is marked by a concern
for ecumenism; and they are called to let themselves be shaped, as it
were, by that concern.
16. In the teaching of the Second Vatican
Council there is a clear connection between renewal, conversion and
reform. The Council states that "Christ summons the Church, as she goes
her pilgrim way, to that continual reformation of which she always has
need, insofar as she is an institution of human beings here on earth.
Therefore, if the influence of events or of the times has led to
deficiencies . . . these should be appropriately rectified at the proper
moment". No Christian Community can exempt itself from this call.
By engaging in frank dialogue, Communities help
one another to look at themselves together in the light of the Apostolic
Tradition. This leads them to ask themselves whether they truly express
in an adequate way all that the Holy Spirit has transmitted through the
Apostles. With regard to the Catholic Church, I have frequently
recalled these obligations and perspectives, as for example on the
anniversary of the Baptism of Kievan Rus' or in commemorating
the eleven hundred years since the evangelizing activity of Saints Cyril
and Methodius. More recently, the Directory for the Application
of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, issued with my approval by the
Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, has applied them to
the pastoral sphere.
17. With regard to other Christians, the
principal documents of the Commission on Faith and Order and
the statements of numerous bilateral dialogues have already provided
Christian Communities with useful tools for discerning what is necessary
to the ecumenical movement and to the conversion which it must inspire.
These studies are important from two points of view: they demonstrate
the remarkable progress already made, and they are a source of hope
inasmuch as they represent a sure foundation for further study.
The increase of fellowship in a reform which is
continuous and carried out in the light of the Apostolic Tradition is
certainly, in the present circumstances of Christians, one of the
distinctive and most important aspects of ecumenism. Moreover, it is an
essential guarantee for its future. The faithful of the Catholic Church
cannot forget that the ecumenical thrust of the Second Vatican Council
is one consequence of all that the Church at that time committed herself
to doing in order to re-examine herself in the light of the Gospel and
the great Tradition. My Predecessor, Pope John XXIII, understood this
clearly: in calling the Council, he refused to separate renewal from
ecumenical openness. At the conclusion of the Council, Pope Paul VI
solemnly sealed the Council's commitment to ecumenism, renewing the
dialogue of charity with the Churches in communion with the Patriarch of
Constantinople, and joining the Patriarch in the concrete and profoundly
significant gesture which "condemned to oblivion" and "removed from
memory and from the midst of the Church" the excommunications of the
past. It is worth recalling that the establishment of a special body for
ecumenical matters coincided with the launching of preparations for the
Second Vatican Council and that through this body the opinions and
judgments of the other Christian Communities played a part in the great
debates about Revelation, the Church, the nature of ecumenism and
The fundamental importance of doctrine
18. Taking up an idea expressed by Pope John
XXIII at the opening of the Council, the Decree on Ecumenism
mentions the way of formulating doctrine as one of the elements of a
continuing reform. Here it is not a question of altering the deposit
of faith, changing the meaning of dogmas, eliminating essential words
from them, accommodating truth to the preferences of a particular age,
or suppressing certain articles of the Creed under the false
pretext that they are no longer understood today. The unity willed by
God can be attained only by the adherence of all to the content of
revealed faith in its entirety. In matters of faith, compromise is in
contradiction with God who is Truth. In the Body of Christ, "the way,
and the truth, and the life" (Jn 14:6), who could consider
legitimate a reconciliation brought about at the expense of the truth?
The Council's Declaration on Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae
attributes to human dignity the quest for truth, "especially in what
concerns God and his Church", and adherence to truth's demands. A
"being together" which betrayed the truth would thus be opposed both to
the nature of God who offers his communion and to the need for truth
found in the depths of every human heart.
19. Even so, doctrine needs to be presented in
a way that makes it understandable to those for whom God himself intends
it. In my Encyclical Epistle Slavorum Apostoli, I recalled that
this was the very reason why Saints Cyril and Methodius labored to
translate the ideas of the Bible and the concepts of Greek theology in
the context of very different historical experiences and ways of
thinking. They wanted the one word of God to be "made accessible in each
civilization's own forms of expression". They recognized that they
could not therefore "impose on the peoples assigned to their preaching
either the undeniable superiority of the Greek language and Byzantine
culture, or the customs and way of life of the more advanced society in
which they had grown up". Thus they put into practice that "perfect
communion in love which preserves the Church from all forms of
particularism, ethnic exclusivism or racial prejudice, and from any
nationalistic arrogance". In the same spirit, I did not hesitate to
say to the Aboriginal Peoples of Australia: "You do not have to be
divided into two parts . . . Jesus calls you to accept his words and his
values into your own culture". Because by its nature the content of
faith is meant for all humanity, it must be translated into all
cultures. Indeed, the element which determines communion in truth is
the meaning of truth. The expression of truth can take different
forms. The renewal of these forms of expression becomes necessary for
the sake of transmitting to the people of today the Gospel message in
its unchanging meaning.
"This renewal therefore has notable ecumenical
significance". And not only renewal in which the faith is expressed,
but also of the very life of faith. It might therefore be asked: who is
responsible for doing this? To this question the Council replies
clearly: "Concern for restoring unity pertains to the whole Church,
faithful and clergy alike. It extends to everyone, according to the
ability of each, whether it be exercised in daily Christian living or in
theological and historical studies".
20. All this is extremely important and of
fundamental significance for ecumenical activity. Thus it is absolutely
dear that ecumenism, the movement promoting Christian unity, is not
just some sort of "appendix" which is added to the Church's
traditional activity. Rather, ecumenism is an organic part of her life
and work, and consequently must pervade all that she is and does; it
must be like the fruit borne by a healthy and flourishing tree which
grows to its full stature.
This is what Pope John XIII believed about the
unity of the Church and how he saw full Christian unity. With regard to
other Christians, to the great Christian family, he observed: "What
unites us is much greater than what divides us". The Second Vatican
Council for its part exhorts "all Christ's faithful to remember that the
more purely they strive to live according to the Gospel, the more they
are fostering and even practicing Christian unity. For they can achieve
depth and ease in strengthening mutual brotherhood to the degree that
they enjoy profound communion with the Father, the Word, and the Holy
The primacy of prayer
21. "This change of heart and holiness of
life, along with public and private prayer for the unity of Christians,
should be regarded as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement, and can
rightly be called 'spiritual ecumenism'."
We proceed along the road leading to the
conversion of hearts guided by love which is directed to God and, at the
same time, to all our brothers and sisters, including those not in full
communion with us. Love gives rise to the desire for unity, even in
those who have never been aware of the need for it. Love builds
communion between individuals and between Communities. If we love one
another, we strive to deepen our communion and make it perfect. Love
is given to God as the perfect source of communion-the unity of
Father, Son and Holy Spirit-that we may draw from that source the
strength to build communion between individuals and Communities, or to
re-establish it between Christians still divided. Love is the great
undercurrent which gives life and adds vigour to the movement towards
This love finds its most complete expression
in common prayer. When brothers and sisters who are not in perfect
communion with one another come together to pray, the Second Vatican
Council defines their prayer as the soul of the whole ecumenical
movement. This prayer is "a very effective means of petitioning for
the grace of unity", "a genuine expression of the ties which even now
bind Catholics to their separated brethren". Even when prayer is
not specifically offered for Christian unity, but for other intentions
such as peace, it actually becomes an expression and confirmation of
unity. The common prayer of Christians is an invitation to Christ
himself to visit the community of those who call upon him: "Where two or
three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Mt
22. When Christians pray together, the goal of
unity seems closer. The long history of Christians marked by many
divisions seems to converge once more because it tends towards that
Source of its unity which is Jesus Christ. He "is the same yesterday,
today and forever!" (Heb 13:8). In the fellowship of prayer
Christ is truly present; he prays "in us", "with us" and "for us". It is
he who leads our prayer in the Spirit-Consoler whom he promised and then
bestowed on his Church in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, when he
established her in her original unity.
Along the ecumenical path to unity, pride of
place certainly belongs to common prayer, the prayerful union of those
who gather together around Christ himself. If Christians, despite their
divisions, can grow ever more united in common prayer around
Christ, they will grow in the awareness of how little divides them in
comparison to what unites them. If they meet more often and more
regularly before Christ in prayer, they will be able to gain the courage
to face all the painful human reality of their divisions, and they will
find themselves together once more in that community of the Church which
Christ constantly builds up in the Holy Spirit, in spite of all
weaknesses and human limitations.
23. Finally, fellowship in prayer leads
people to look at the Church and Christianity in a new way. It must
not be forgotten in fact that the Lord prayed to the Father that his
disciples might be one, so that their unity might bear witness to his
mission and the world would believe that the Father had sent him (cf.
Jn 17:21). It can be said that the ecumenical movement in a certain
sense was born out of the negative experience of each one of those who,
in proclaiming the one Gospel, appealed to his own Church or Ecclesial
Community. This was a contradiction which could not escape those who
listened to the message of salvation and found in this fact an obstacle
to acceptance of the Gospel. Regrettably, this grave obstacle has not
been overcome. It is true that we are not yet in full communion. And
yet, despite our divisions, we are on the way towards full unity, that
unity which marked the Apostolic Church at its birth and which we
sincerely seek. Our common prayer, inspired by faith, is proof of this.
In that prayer, we gather together in the name of Christ who is One. He
is our unity.
"Ecumenical" prayer is at the service of the
Christian mission and its credibility. It must thus be especially
present in the life of the Church and in every activity aimed at
fostering Christian unity. It is as if we constantly need to go back and
meet in the Upper Room of Holy Thursday, even though our presence
together in that place will not be perfect until the obstacles to full
ecclesial communion are overcome and all Christians can gather together
in the common celebration of the Eucharist.
24. It is a source of joy to see that the many
ecumenical meetings almost always include and indeed culminate in
prayer. The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, celebrated in
January or, in some countries, around Pentecost, has become a widespread
and well established tradition. But there are also many other occasions
during the year when Christians are led to pray together. In this
context, I wish to mention the special experience of the Pope's
pilgrimages to the various Churches in the different continents and
countries of the present-day oikoumene. I am very conscious that
it was the Second Vatican Council which led the Pope to exercise his
apostolic ministry in this particular way. Even more can be said. The
Council made these visits of the Pope a specific responsibility in
carrying out the role of the Bishop of Rome at the service of
communion. My visits have almost always included an ecumenical
meeting and common prayer with our brothers and sisters who seek
unity in Christ and in his Church. With profound emotion I remember
praying together with the Primate of the Anglican Communion at
Canterbury Cathedral (29 May 1982); in that magnificent edifice, I saw
"an eloquent witness both to our long years of common inheritance and
to the sad years of division that followed". Nor can I forget
the meetings held in the Scandinavian and Nordic Countries (1-10 June
1989), in North and South America and in Africa, and at the headquarters
of the World Council of Churches (12 June 1984), the organization
committed to calling its member Churches and Ecclesial Communities "to
the goal of visible unity in one faith and in one Eucharistic fellowship
expressed in worship and in common life in Christ". And how could I
ever forget taking part in the Eucharistic Liturgy in the Church of
Saint George at the Ecumenical Patriarchate (30 November 1979), and the
service held in Saint Peter's Basilica during the visit to Rome of my
Venerable Brother, Patriarch Dimitrios I (6 December 1987)? On that
occasion, at the Altar of the Confession, we recited together the
Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed according to its original Greek text. It
is hard to describe in a few words the unique nature of each of these
occasions of prayer. Given the differing ways in which each of these
meetings was conditioned by past events, each had its own special
eloquence. They have all become part of the Church's memory as she is
guided by the Paraclete to seek the full unity of all believers in
25. It is not just the Pope who has become a
pilgrim. In recent years, many distinguished leaders of other Churches
and Ecclesial Communities have visited me in Rome, and I have been able
to join them in prayer, both in public and in private. I have already
mentioned the visit of the Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I. I would now
like to recall the prayer meeting, also held in Saint Peter's Basilica,
at which I joined the Lutheran Archbishops, the Primates of Sweden and
Finland, for the celebration of Vespers on the occasion of the Sixth
Centenary of the Canonization of Saint Birgitta (5 October 1991). This
is just one example, because awareness of the duty to pray for unity has
become an integral part of the Church's life. There is no important or
significant event which does not benefit from Christians coming together
and praying. It is impossible for me to give a complete list of such
meetings, even though each one deserves to be mentioned. Truly the Lord
has taken us by the hand and is guiding us. These exchanges and these
prayers have already written pages and pages of our "Book of unity", a
"Book" which we must constantly return to and re-read so as to draw from
it new inspiration and hope.
26. Prayer, the community at prayer, enables us
always to discover anew the evangelical truth of the words: "You have
one Father" (Mt 23:9), the Father -- Abba -- invoked
by Christ himself, the Only-begotten and Consubstantial Son. And again:
"You have one teacher, and you are all brethren" (Mt
23:8). "Ecumenical" prayer discloses this fundamental dimension of
brotherhood in Christ, who died to gather together the children of God
who were scattered, so that in becoming "sons and daughters in the Son"
(cf. Eph 1:5) we might show forth more fully both the mysterious
reality of God's fatherhood and the truth about the human nature shared
by each and every individual.
"Ecumenical" prayer, as the prayer of brothers
and sisters, expresses all this. Precisely because they are separated
from one another, they meet in Christ with all the more hope,
entrusting to him the future of their unity and their communion.
Here too we can appropriately apply the teaching of the Council: "The
Lord Jesus, when he prayed to the Father 'that all may be one . . .
as we are one' (Jn 17:21-22), opened up vistas closed to
human reason For he implied a certain likeness between the union of the
Divine Persons, and the union of God's children in truth and
The change of heart which is the essential
condition for every authentic search for unity flows from prayer and its
realization is guided by prayer: "For it is from newness of attitudes,
from self-denial and unstinted love, that yearnings for unity take their
rise and grow towards maturity. We should therefore pray to the
divine Spirit for the grace to be genuinely self-denying, humble,
gentle in the service of others, and to have an attitude of brotherly
generosity towards them".
27. Praying for unity is not a matter reserved
only to those who actually experience the lack of unity among
Christians. In the deep personal dialogue which each of us must carry on
with the Lord in prayer, concern for unity cannot be absent. Only in
this way, in fact, will that concern fully become part of the reality of
our life and of the commitments we have taken on in the Church. It was
in order to reaffirm this duty that I set before the faithful of the
Catholic Church a model which I consider exemplary, the model of a
Trappistine Sister, Blessed Marta Gabriella of Unity, whom I
beatified on 25 January 1983. Sister Maria Gabriella, called by her
vocation to be apart from the world, devoted her life to meditation and
prayer centered on chapter seventeen of Saint John's Gospel, and offered
her life for Christian unity. This is truly the cornerstone of all
prayer: the total and unconditional offering of one's life to the
Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. The example of Sister Maria
Gabriella is instructive; it helps us to understand that there are no
special times, situations or places of prayer for unity. Christ's prayer
to the Father is offered as a model for everyone, always and everywhere.
28. If prayer is the "soul" of ecumenical
renewal and of the yearning for unity, it is the basis and support for
everything the Council defines as "dialogue". This definition is
certainly not unrelated to today's personalist way of thinking.
The capacity for "dialogue" is rooted in the nature of the person and
his dignity. As seen by philosophy, this approach is linked to the
Christian truth concerning man as expressed by the Council: man is in
fact "the only creature on earth which God willed for itself"; thus he
cannot "fully find himself except through a sincere gift of
himself". Dialogue is an indispensable step along the path
towards human self-realization, the self-realization both of each
individual and of every human community. Although the concept
of "dialogue" might appear to give priority to the cognitive dimension (dia-logos),
all dialogue implies a global, existential dimension. It involves the
human subject in his or her entirety; dialogue between communities
involves in a particular way the subjectivity of each.
This truth about dialogue, so profoundly
expressed by Pope Paul VI in his Encyclical Ecclesiam Suam,
was also taken up by the Council in its teaching and ecumenical
activity. Dialogue is not simply an exchange of ideas. In some way it is
always an "exchange of gifts".
29. For this reason, the Council's Decree on
Ecumenism also emphasizes the importance of "every effort to eliminate
words, judgments, and actions which do not respond to the condition of
separated brethren with truth and fairness and so make mutual relations
between them more difficult". The Decree approaches the question
from the standpoint of the Catholic Church and refers to the criteria
which she must apply in relation to other Christians. In all this,
however, reciprocity is required. To follow these criteria is a
commitment of each of the parties which desire to enter into dialogue
and it is a precondition for starting such dialogue. It is necessary to
pass from antagonism and conflict to a situation where each party
recognizes the other as a partner. When undertaking dialogue,
each side must presuppose in the other a desire for reconciliation,
for unity in truth. For this to happen, any display of mutual
opposition must disappear. Only thus will dialogue help to overcome
division and lead us closer to unity.
30. It can be said, with a sense of lively
gratitude to the Spirit of Truth, that the Second Vatican Council was a
blessed time, during which the bases for the Catholic Church's
participation in ecumenical dialogue were laid. At the same time, the
presence of many observers from various Churches and Ecclesial
Communities, their deep involvement in the events of the Council, the
many meetings and the common prayer which the Council made possible,
also helped bring about the conditions for dialogue with one another.
During the Council, the representatives of other Churches and Ecclesial
Communities experienced the readiness of the worldwide Catholic
Episcopate, and in particular of the Apostolic See, to engage in
Local structures of dialogue
31. The Church's commitment to ecumenical
dialogue, as it has clearly appeared since the Council, far from being
the responsibility of the Apostolic See alone, is also the duty of
individual local or particular Churches. Special commissions for
fostering the ecumenical spirit and ecumenical activity have been set up
by the Bishops' Conferences and the Synods of the Eastern Catholic
Churches. Suitable structures similar to these are operating in
individual Dioceses. These initiatives are a sign of the widespread
practical commitment of the Catholic Church to apply the Council's
guidelines on ecumenism: this is an essential aspect of the ecumenical
movement. Dialogue has not only been undertaken; it has become an
outright necessity, one of the Church's priorities. As a result, the
"methods" of dialogue have been improved, which in turn has helped the
spirit of dialogue to grow. In this context mention has to be made in
the first place of "dialogue between competent experts from different
Churches and Communities. In their meetings, which are organized in a
religious spirit, each explains the teaching of his Communion in greater
depth and brings out dearly its distinctive features". Moreover, it
is useful for all the faithful to be familiar with the method which
makes dialogue possible.
32. As the Council's Declaration on Religious
Freedom affirms: "Truth is to be sought after in a manner proper to the
dignity of the human person and his social nature. The inquiry is to be
free, carried on with the aid of teaching or instruction, communication,
and dialogue. In the course of these, people explain to one another the
truth they have discovered, or think they have discovered, in order thus
to assist one another in the quest for truth. Moreover, as the truth is
discovered, it is by a personal assent that individuals are to adhere to
Ecumenical dialogue is of essential importance.
"Through such dialogue everyone gains a truer knowledge and more just
appreciation of the teaching and religious life of both Communions.
In addition, these Communions cooperate more closely in whatever
projects a Christian conscience demands for the common good. They also
come together for common prayer, where that is permitted. Finally, all
are led to examine their own faithfulness to Christ's will for the
Church and, wherever necessary, undertake with vigour the tasks of
renewal and reform".
Dialogue as an examination of conscience
33. In the Council's thinking, ecumenical
dialogue is marked by a common quest for truth, particularly concerning
the Church. In effect, truth forms consciences and directs efforts to
promote unity. At the same time, it demands that the consciences and
actions of Christians, as brethren divided from one another, should be
inspired by and submissive to Christ's prayer for unity. There is a
close relationship between prayer and dialogue. Deeper and more
conscious prayer makes dialogue more fruitful. If on the one hand,
dialogue depends on prayer, so, in another sense, prayer also becomes
the ever more mature fruit of dialogue.
34. Thanks to ecumenical dialogue we can speak
of a greater maturity in our common prayer for one another. This is
possible inasmuch as dialogue also serves as an examination of
conscience. In this context, how can we fail to recall the words of
the First Letter of John? "If we say we have no sin, we deceive
ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, God is
faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all
unrighteousness" (1:8-9). John even goes so far as to state: "If we say
that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us"
(1:10). Such a radical exhortation to acknowledge our condition as
sinners ought also to mark the spirit which we bring to ecumenical
dialogue. If such dialogue does not become an examination of conscience,
a kind of "dialogue of consciences", can we count on the assurance which
the First Letter of John gives us? "My little children, I am writing
this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have
an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is
the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins
of the whole world" (2:1-2). All the sins of the world were gathered up
in the saving sacrifice of Christ, including the sins committed against
the Church's unity: the sins of Christians, those of the pastors no less
than those of the lay faithful. Even after the many sins which have
contributed to our historical divisions, Christian unity is possible,
provided that we are humbly conscious of having sinned against unity and
are convinced of our need for conversion. Not only personal sins must be
forgiven and left behind, but also social sins, which is to say the
sinful "structures" themselves which have contributed and can still
contribute to division and to the reinforcing of division.
35. Here once again the Council proves helpful.
It can be said that the entire Decree on Ecumenism is permeated by the
spirit of conversion. In the Document, ecumenical dialogue takes on
a specific characteristic; it becomes a "dialogue of conversion",
and thus, in the words of Pope Paul VI, an authentic "dialogue of
salvation". Dialogue cannot take place merely on a horizontal level,
being restricted to meetings, exchanges of points of view or even the
sharing of gifts proper to each Community. It has also a primarily
vertical thrust, directed towards the One who, as the Redeemer of the
world and the Lord of history, is himself our Reconciliation. This
vertical aspect of dialogue lies in our acknowledgment, jointly and to
each other, that we are men and women who have sinned. It is precisely
this acknowledgment which creates in brothers and sisters living in
Communities not in full communion with one another that interior space
where Christ, the source of the Church's unity, can effectively act,
with all the power of his Spirit, the Paraclete.
Dialogue as a means of resolving
36. Dialogue is also a natural instrument for
comparing differing points of view and, above all, for examining those
disagreements which hinder full communion between Christians. The Decree
on Ecumenism dwells in the first place on a description of the attitudes
under which doctrinal discussions should take place: "Catholic
theologians engaged in ecumenical dialogue, while standing fast by the
teaching of the Church and searching together with separated brothers
and sisters into the divine mysteries, should act with love for truth,
with charity, and with humility".
Love for the truth is the deepest dimension of
any authentic quest for full communion between Christians. Without this
love it would be impossible to face the objective theological, cultural,
psychological and social difficulties which appear when disagreements
are examined. This dimension, which is interior and personal, must be
inseparably accompanied by a spirit of charity and humility. There must
be charity towards one's partner in dialogue, and humility with regard
to the truth which comes to light and which might require a review of
assertions and attitudes.
With regard to the study of areas of
disagreement, the Council requires that the whole body of doctrine be
clearly presented. At the same time, it asks that the manner and method
of expounding the Catholic faith should not be a hindrance to dialogue
with our brothers and sisters. Certainly it is possible to profess
one's faith and to explain its teaching in a way that is correct, fair
and understandable, and which at the same time takes into account both
the way of thinking and the actual historical experiences of the other
Full communion of course will have to come
about through the acceptance of the whole truth into which the Holy
Spirit guides Christ's disciples. Hence all forms of reductionism or
facile "agreement" must be absolutely avoided. Serious questions must be
resolved, for if not, they will reappear at another time, either in the
same terms or in a different guise.
37. The Decree Unitatis Redintegratio
also indicates a criterion to be followed when Catholics are presenting
or comparing doctrines: "They should remember that in Catholic teaching
there exists an order or 'hierarchy' of truths, since they vary in their
relationship to the foundation of the Christian faith. Thus the way will
be opened for this kind of fraternal rivalry to incite all to a deeper
realization and a clearer expression of the unfathomable riches of
38. In dialogue, one inevitably comes up
against the problem of the different formulations whereby doctrine is
expressed in the various Churches and Ecclesial Communities. This has
more than one consequence for the work of ecumenism.
In the first place, with regard to doctrinal
formulations which differ from those normally in use in the community to
which one belongs, it is certainly right to determine whether the words
involved say the same thing. This has been ascertained in the case for
example of the recent common declarations signed by my Predecessors or
by myself with the Patriarchs of Churches with which for centuries there
have been disputes about Christology. As far as the formulation of
revealed truths is concerned, the Declaration Mysterium Ecclesiae
states: "Even though the truths which the Church intends to teach
through her dogmatic formulas are distinct from the changeable
conceptions of a given epoch and can be expressed without them,
nevertheless it can sometimes happen that these truths may be enunciated
by the Sacred Magisterium in terms that bear traces of such conceptions.
In view of this, it must be stated that the dogmatic formulas of
the Church's Magisterium were from the very beginning suitable for
communicating revealed truth, and that as they are they remain for ever
suitable for communicating this truth to those who interpret them
correctly". In this regard, ecumenical dialogue, which prompts the
parties involved to question each other, to understand each other and to
explain their positions to each other, makes surprising discoveries
possible. Intolerant polemics and controversies have made incompatible
assertions out of what was really the result of two different ways of
looking at the same reality. Nowadays we need to find the formula which,
by capturing the reality in its entirety, will enable us to move beyond
partial readings and eliminate false interpretations.
One of the advantages of ecumenism is that it
helps Christian Communities to discover the unfathomable riches of the
truth. Here too, everything that the Spirit brings about in "others" can
serve for the building up of all Communities and in a certain sense
instruct them in the mystery of Christ. Authentic ecumenism is a gift at
the service of truth.
39. Finally, dialogue puts before the
participants real and genuine disagreements in matters of faith. Above
all, these disagreements should be faced in a sincere spirit of
fraternal charity, of respect for the demands of one's own conscience
and of the conscience of the other party, with profound humility and
love for the truth. The examination of such disagreements has two
essential points of reference: Sacred Scripture and the great Tradition
of the Church. Catholics have the help of the Church's living
40. Relations between Christians are not aimed
merely at mutual knowledge, common prayer and dialogue. They presuppose
and from now on call for every possible form of practical cooperation at
all levels: pastoral, cultural and social, as well as that of witnessing
to the Gospel message.
"Cooperation among all Christians vividly
expresses that bond which already unites them, and it sets in clearer
relief the features of Christ the Servant". This cooperation based
on our common faith is not only filled with fraternal communion, but is
a manifestation of Christ himself.
Moreover, ecumenical cooperation is a true
school of ecumenism, a dynamic road to unity. Unity of action leads to
the full unity of faith: "Through such cooperation, all believers in
Christ are able to learn easily how they can understand each other
better and esteem each other more, and how the road to the unity of
Christians may be made smooth".
In the eyes of the world, cooperation among
Christians becomes a form of common Christian witness and a means of
evangelization which benefits all involved.
THE FRUITS OF DIALOGUE
41. What has been said above about ecumenical
dialogue since the end of the Council inspires us to give thanks to the
Spirit of Truth promised by Christ the Lord to the Apostles and the
Church (cf. Jn 14:26). It is the first time in history that
efforts on behalf of Christian unity have taken on such great
proportions and have become so extensive. This is truly an immense gift
of God, one which deserves all our gratitude. From the fullness of
Christ we receive "grace upon grace" (Jn 1:16). An appreciation
of how much God has already given is the condition which disposes us to
receive those gifts still indispensable for bringing to completion the
ecumenical work of unity.
An overall view of the last thirty years
enables us better to appreciate many of the fruits of this common
conversion to the Gospel which the Spirit of God has brought about by
means of the ecumenical movement.
42. It happens for example that, in the spirit
of the Sermon on the Mount, Christians of one confession no longer
consider other Christians as enemies or strangers but see them as
brothers and sisters. Again, the very expression separated brethren
tends to be replaced today by expressions which more readily evoke the
deep communion -linked to the baptismal character-which the Spirit
fosters in spite of historical and canonical divisions. Today we speak
of "other Christians", "others who have received Baptism", and
"Christians of other Communities". The Directory for the Application
of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism refers to the Communities to
which these Christians belong as "Churches and Ecclesial Communities
that are not in full communion with the Catholic Church". This
broadening of vocabulary is indicative of a significant change in
attitudes. There is an increased awareness that we all belong to Christ.
I have personally been able many times to observe this during the
ecumenical celebrations which are an important part of my Apostolic
Visits to various parts of the world, and also in the meetings and
ecumenical celebrations which have taken place in Rome. The "universal
brotherhood" of Christians has become a firm ecumenical conviction.
Consigning to oblivion the excommunications of the past, Communities
which were once rivals are now in many cases helping one another: places
of worship are sometimes lent out; scholarships are offered for the
training of ministers in the Communities most lacking in resources;
approaches are made to civil authorities on behalf of other Christians
who are unjustly persecuted; and the slander to which certain groups are
subjected is shown to be unfounded.
In a word, Christians have been converted to a
fraternal charity which embraces all Christ's disciples. If it happens
that, as a result of violent political disturbances, a certain
aggressiveness or a spirit of vengeance appears, the leaders of the
parties in question generally work to make the "New Law" of the spirit
of charity prevail. Unfortunately, this spirit has not been able to
transform every situation where brutal conflict rages. In such
circumstances those committed to ecumenism are often required to make
choices which are truly heroic.
It needs be reaffirmed in this regard that
acknowledging our brotherhood is not the consequence of a large-hearted
philanthropy or a vague family spirit. It is rooted in recognition of
the oneness of Baptism and the subsequent duty to glorify God in his
work. The Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on
Ecumenism expresses the hope that Baptisms will be mutually and
officially recognized. This is something much more than an act of
ecumenical courtesy; it constitutes a basic ecclesiological statement.
It is fitting to recall that the fundamental
role of Baptism in building up the Church has been clearly brought out
thanks also to multilateral dialogues.
Solidarity in the service of humanity
43. It happens more and more often that the
leaders of Christian Communities join together in taking a stand in the
name of Christ on important problems concerning man's calling and on
freedom, justice, peace, and the future of the world. In this way they
"communicate" in one of the tasks which constitutes the mission of
Christians: that of reminding society of God's will in a realistic
manner, warning the authorities and their fellow-citizens against taking
steps which would lead to the trampling of human rights. It is clear, as
experience shows, that in some circumstances the united voice of
Christians has more impact than any one isolated voice.
Nor are the leaders of Communities the only
ones joined in the work for unity. Many Christians from all Communities,
by reason of their faith, are jointly involved in bold projects aimed at
changing the world by inculcating respect for the rights and needs of
everyone, especially the poor, the lowly and the defenceless. In my
Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, I was pleased to note
this cooperation, stressing that the Catholic Church cannot fail to take
part in these efforts. In effect, Christians who once acted
independently are now engaged together in the service of this cause, so
that God's mercy may triumph.
This way of thinking and acting is already that
of the Gospel. Hence, reaffirming what I wrote in my first Encyclical
Letter Redemptor Hominis, I have had occasion "to insist on this
point and to encourage every effort made in this direction, at all
levels where we meet our other brother Christians" I have thanked
God "for what he has already accomplished in the other Churches and
Ecclesial Communities and through them", as well as through the Catholic
Church. Today I see with satisfaction that the already vast network
of ecumenical cooperation is constantly growing. Thanks also to the
influence of the World Council of Churches, much is being accomplished
in this field.
Approaching one another through the Word of
God and through divine worship
44. Significant progress in ecumenical
cooperation has also been made in another area, that of the Word of God.
I am thinking above all of the importance for the different language
groups of ecumenical translations of the Bible. Following the
promulgation by the Second Vatican Council of the Constitution Dei
Verbum, the Catholic Church could not fail to welcome this
development. These translations, prepared by experts, generally
offer a solid basis for the prayer and pastoral activity of all Christ's
followers. Anyone who recalls how heavily debates about Scripture
influenced divisions, especially in the West, can appreciate the
significant step forward which these common translations represent.
45. Corresponding to the liturgical renewal
carried out by the Catholic Church, certain other Ecclesial Communities
have made efforts to renew their worship. Some, on the basis of a
recommendation expressed at the ecumenical level, have abandoned the
custom of celebrating their liturgy of the Lord's Supper only
infrequently and have opted for a celebration each Sunday. Again, when
the cycles of liturgical readings used by the various Christian
Communities in the West are compared, they appear to be essentially the
same. Still on the ecumenical level, very special prominence has
been given to the liturgy and liturgical signs (images, icons,
vestments, light, incense, gestures). Moreover, in schools of theology
where future ministers are trained, courses in the history and
significance of the liturgy are beginning to be part of the curriculum
in response to a newly discovered need.
These are signs of convergence which regard
various aspects of the sacramental life. Certainly, due to disagreements
in matters of faith, it is not yet possible to celebrate together the
same Eucharistic Liturgy. And yet we do have a burning desire to join in
celebrating the one Eucharist of the Lord, and this desire itself is
already a common prayer of praise, a single supplication. Together we
speak to the Father and increasingly we do so "with one heart". At times
it seems that we are closer to being able finally to seal this "real
although not yet full" communion. A century ago who could even have
imagined such a thing?
46. In this context, it is a source of joy to
note that Catholic ministers are able, in certain particular cases, to
administer the Sacraments of the Eucharist, Penance and Anointing of the
Sick to Christians who are not in full communion with the Catholic
Church but who greatly desire to receive these sacraments, freely
request them and manifest the faith which the Catholic Church professes
with regard to these sacraments. Conversely, in specific cases and in
particular circumstances, Catholics too can request these same
sacraments from ministers of Churches in which these sacraments are
valid. The conditions for such reciprocal reception have been laid down
in specific norms; for the sake of furthering ecumenism these norms must
Appreciating the endowments present among
47. Dialogue does not extend exclusively to
matters of doctrine but engages the whole person; it is also a dialogue
of love. The Council has stated: "Catholics must joyfully acknowledge
and esteem the truly Christian endowments from our common heritage which
are to be found among our separated brothers and sisters. It is right
and salutary to recognize the riches of Christ and virtuous works in the
lives of others who are bearing witness to Christ, sometimes even to the
shedding of their blood. For God is always wonderful in his works and
worthy of admiration".
48. The relationships which the members of the
Catholic Church have established with other Christians since the Council
have enabled us to discover what God is bringing about in the members of
other Churches and Ecclesial Communities. This direct contact, at a
variety of levels, with pastors and with the members of these
Communities has made us aware of the witness which other Christians bear
to God and to Christ. A vast new field has thus opened up for the whole
ecumenical experience, which at the same time is the great challenge of
our time. Is not the twentieth century a time of great witness, which
extends "even to the shedding of blood"? And does not this witness also
involve the various Churches and Ecclesial Communities which take their
name from Christ, Crucified and Risen?
Such a joint witness of holiness, as fidelity
to the one Lord, has an ecumenical potential extraordinarily rich in
grace. The Second Vatican Council made it clear that elements present
among other Christians can contribute to the edification of Catholics:
"Nor should we forget that whatever is wrought by the grace of the Holy
Spirit in the hearts of our separated brothers and sisters can
contribute to our own edification. Whatever is truly Christian never
conflicts with the genuine interests of the faith; indeed, it can always
result in a more ample realization of the very mystery of Christ and the
Church". Ecumenical dialogue, as a true dialogue of salvation, will
certainly encourage this process, which has already begun well, to
advance towards true and full communion.
The growth of communion
49. A valuable result of the contacts between
Christians and of the theological dialogue in which they engage is the
growth of communion. Both contacts and dialogue have made Christians
aware of the elements of faith which they have in common. This has
served to consolidate further their commitment to full unity. In all of
this, the Second Vatican Council remains a powerful source of incentive
The Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium
links its teaching on the Catholic Church to an acknowledgment of the
saving elements found in other Churches and Ecclesial Communities.
It is not a matter of becoming aware of static elements passively
present in those Churches and Communities. Insofar as they are elements
of the Church of Christ, these are by their nature a force for the
re-establishment of unity. Consequently, the quest for Christian unity
is not a matter of choice or expediency, but a duty which springs from
the very nature of the Christian community.
In a similar way, the bilateral theological
dialogues carried on with the major Christian Communities start from a
recognition of the degree of communion already present, in order to go
on to discuss specific areas of disagreement. The Lord has made it
possible for Christians in our day to reduce the number of matters
traditionally in dispute.
Dialogue with the Churches of the East
50. In this regard, it must first be
acknowledged, with particular gratitude to Divine Providence, that our
bonds with the Churches of the East, weakened in the course of the
centuries, were strengthened through the Second Vatican Council. The
observers from these Churches present at the Council, together with
representatives of the Churches and Ecclesial Communities of the West,
stated publicly, at that very solemn moment for the Catholic Church,
their common willingness to seek the re-establishment of communion.
The Council, for its part, considered the
Churches of the East with objectivity and deep affection, stressing
their ecclesial nature and the real bonds of communion linking them with
the Catholic Church. The Decree on Ecumenism points out: "Through the
celebration of the Eucharist of the Lord in each of these Churches, the
Church of God is built up and grows in stature". It adds, as a
consequence, that "although these Churches are separated from us, they
possess true sacraments, above all-by apostolic succession- the
priesthood and the Eucharist, whereby they are still joined to us in a
very close relationship,"
Speaking of the Churches of the East, the
Council acknowledged their great liturgical and spiritual tradition, the
specific nature of their historical development, the disciplines coming
from the earliest times and approved by the Holy Fathers and Ecumenical
Councils, and their own particular way of expressing their teaching. The
Council made this acknowledgment in the conviction that legitimate
diversity is in no way opposed to the Church's unity, but rather
enhances her splendor and contributes greatly to the fulfillment of her
The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council wished to
base dialogue on the communion which already exists, and it draws
attention to the noble reality of the Churches of the East: "Therefore,
this Sacred Synod urges all, but especially those who plan to devote
themselves to the work of restoring the full communion that is desired
between the Eastern Churches and the Catholic Church, to give due
consideration to these special aspects of the origin and growth of the
Churches of the East, and to the character of the relations which
obtained between them and the Roman See before the separation, and to
form for themselves a correct evaluation of these facts".
51. The Council's approach has proved fruitful
both for the steady maturing of fraternal relations through the dialogue
of charity, and for doctrinal discussion in the framework of the
Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the
Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. It has likewise proved most
fruitful in relations with the Ancient Churches of the East.
The process has been slow and arduous, yet a
source of great joy; and it has been inspiring, for it has led to the
gradual rediscovery of brotherhood.
52. With regard to the Church of Rome and the
Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the process which we have
just mentioned began thanks to the mutual openness demonstrated by Popes
John XXIII and Paul VI on the one hand, and by the Ecumenical Patriarch
Athenagoras I and his successors on the other. The resulting change
found its historical expression in the ecclesial act whereby "there was
removed from memory and from the midst of the Church" the
remembrance of the excommunications which nine hundred years before, in
1054, had become the symbol of the schism between Rome and
Constantinople. That ecclesial event, so filled with ecumenical
commitment, took place during the last days of the Council, on 7
December 1965. The Council thus ended with a solemn act which was at
once a healing of historical memories, a mutual forgiveness, and a firm
commitment to strive for communion.
This gesture had been preceded by the meeting
of Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I in Jerusalem, in January
1964, during the Pope's pilgrimage to the Holy Land. At that time Pope
Paul was also able to meet Benedictos, the Orthodox Patriarch of
Jerusalem. Later, Pope Paul visited Patriarch Athenagoras at the Phanar
(Istanbul), on 25 July 1967, and in October of the same year the
Patriarch was solemnly received in Rome. These prayer-filled meetings
mapped out the path of rapprochement between the Church of the East and
the Church of the West, and of the re-establishment of the unity they
shared in the first millennium.
Following the death of Pope Paul VI and the
brief pontificate of Pope John I, when the ministry of Bishop of Rome
was entrusted to me, I considered it one of the first duties of my
pontificate to renew personal contact with the Ecumenical Patriarch
Dimitrios I, who had meanwhile succeeded Patriarch Athenagoras in the
See of Constantinople. During my visit to the Phanar on 29 November
1979, the Patriarch and I were able to decide to begin theological
dialogue between the Catholic Church and all the Orthodox Churches in
canonical communion with the See of Constantinople. In this regard it
would seem important to add that at that time preparations were already
under way for the convocation of a future Council of the Orthodox
Churches. The quest for harmony between them contributes to the life and
vitality of these sister Churches; this is also significant in view of
the role they are called to play in the path towards unity. The
Ecumenical Patriarch decided to repay my visit, and in December 1987 I
had the joy of welcoming him to Rome with deep affection and with the
solemnity due to him. It is in this context of ecclesial fraternity that
we should mention the practice, which has now been in place for a number
of years, of welcoming a delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate to
Rome for the Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, as well as the
custom of sending a delegation of the Holy See to the Phanar for the
solemn celebration of Saint Andrew.
53. Among other things, these regular contacts
permit a direct exchange of information and opinions with a view to
fostering fraternal coordination. Furthermore, taking part together in
prayer accustoms us once more to living side by side and helps us in
accepting and putting into practice the Lord's will for his Church.
On the path which we have traveled since the
Second Vatican Council, at least two particularly telling events of
great ecumenical significance for relations between East and West should
be mentioned. The first of these was the 1984 Jubilee in commemoration
of the eleventh centenary of the evangelizing activity of Saints Cyril
and Methodius, an occasion which enabled me to proclaim the two Holy
Apostles of the Slavs, those heralds of faith, co-patrons of Europe. In
1964, during the Council, Pope Paul VI had already proclaimed Saint
Benedict patron of Europe. Associating the two Brothers from
Thessalonica with the great founder of Western monasticism serves
indirectly to highlight that twofold ecclesial and cultural tradition
which has proved so significant for the two thousand years of
Christianity which mark the history of Europe. Consequently it is worth
recalling that Saints Cyril and Methodius came from the background of
the Byzantine Church of their day, at a time when the latter was in
communion with Rome. In proclaiming them patrons of Europe, together
with Saint Benedict, it was my intention not only to reaffirm the
historical truth about Christianity in Europe, but also to provide an
important topic for the dialogue between East and West which has raised
such high hopes in the period since the Council. As in Saint Benedict,
so in Saints Cyril and Methodius, Europe can rediscover its spiritual
roots. Now, as the second millennium since the Birth of Christ draws to
a close, they must be venerated together, as the patrons of our
past and as the Saints to whom the Churches and nations of Europe
entrust their future.
54. The other event which I am pleased to
recall is the celebration of the Millennium of the Baptism of Rus'
(988-1988). The Catholic Church, and this Apostolic See in particular,
desired to take part in the Jubilee celebrations and also sought to
emphasize that the Baptism conferred on Saint Vladimir in Kiev was a key
event in the evangelization of the world. The great Slav nations of
Eastern Europe owe their faith to this event, as do the peoples living
beyond the Ural Mountains and as far as Alaska.
In this perspective an expression which I have
frequently employed finds its deepest meaning: the Church must breathe
with her two lungs! In the first millennium of the history of
Christianity, this expression refers primarily to the relationship
between Byzantium and Rome. From the time of the Baptism of Rus' it
comes to have an even wider application: evangelization spread to a much
vaster area, so that it now includes the entire Church. If we then
consider that the salvific event which took place on the banks of the
Dnieper goes back to a time when the Church in the East and the Church
in the West were not divided, we understand clearly that the vision of
the full communion to be sought is that of unity in legitimate
diversity. This is what I strongly asserted in my Encyclical Epistle
Slavorum Apostoli on Saints Cyril and Methodius and in my
Apostolic Letter Euntes in Mundum addressed to the faithful
of the Catholic Church in commemoration of the Millennium of the Baptism
of Kievan Rus'.
55. In its historical survey the Council Decree
Unitatis Redintegratio has in mind the unity which, in spite of
everything, was experienced in the first millennium and in a certain
sense now serves as a kind of model. "This most sacred Synod gladly
reminds all . . . that in the East there flourish many particular or
local Churches; among them the Patriarchal Churches hold first place;
and of these, many glory in taking their origin from the Apostles
themselves". The Church's journey began in Jerusalem on the day of
Pentecost and its original expansion in the oikoumene of that
time was centered around Peter and the Eleven (cf. Acts 2:14).
The structures of the Church in the East and in the West evolved in
reference to that Apostolic heritage. Her unity during the first
millennium was maintained within those same structures through the
Bishops, Successors of the Apostles, in communion with the Bishop of
Rome. If today at the end of the second millennium we are seeking to
restore full communion, it is to that unity, thus structured, which we
The Decree on Ecumenism highlights a further
distinctive aspect, thanks to which all the particular Churches remained
in unity: "an eager desire to perpetuate in a communion of faith and
charity those family ties which ought to thrive between local Churches,
as between sisters".
56. Following the Second Vatican Council, and
in the light of earlier tradition, it has again become usual to refer to
the particular or local Churches gathered around their Bishop as "Sister
Churches". In addition, the lifting of the mutual excommunications, by
eliminating a painful canonical and psychological obstacle, was a very
significant step on the way towards full communion.
The structures of unity which existed before
the separation are a heritage of experience that guides our common path
towards the re-establishment of full communion. Obviously, during the
second millennium the Lord has not ceased to bestow on his Church
abundant fruits of grace and growth. Unfortunately, however, the gradual
and mutual estrangement between the Churches of the West and the East
deprived them of the benefits of mutual exchanges and cooperation. With
the grace of God a great effort must be made to re-establish full
communion among them, the source of such good for the Church of Christ.
This effort calls for all our good will, humble prayer and a steadfast
cooperation which never yields to discouragement. Saint Paul urges us:
"Bear one another's burdens" (Gal 6:2). How appropriate and
relevant for us is the Apostle's exhortation! The traditional
designation of "Sister Churches" should ever accompany us along this
57. In accordance with the hope expressed by
Pope Paul VI, our declared purpose is to re-establish together full
unity in legitimate diversity: "God has granted us to receive in faith
what the Apostles saw, understood, and proclaimed to us. By Baptism
'we are one in Christ Jesus' (Gal 3:28). In virtue of the
apostolic succession, we are united more closely by the priesthood and
the Eucharist. By participating in the gifts of God to his Church we are
brought into communion with the Father through the Son in the Holy
Spirit . . . In each local Church this mystery of divine love is
enacted, and surely this is the ground of the traditional and very
beautiful expression 'Sister Churches', which local Churches were fond
of applying to one another (cf. Decree, Unitatis Redintegratio,
14). For centuries we lived this life of 'Sister Churches', and together
held Ecumenical Councils which guarded the deposit of faith against all
corruption. And now, after a long period of division and mutual
misunderstanding, the Lord is enabling us to discover ourselves as
'sister Churches' once more, in spite of the obstacles which were once
raised between us". If today, on the threshold of the third
millennium, we are seeking the re-establishment of full communion, it is
for the accomplishment of this reality that we must work and it is to
this reality that we must refer.
Contact with this glorious tradition is most
fruitful for the Church. As the Council points out: "From their very
origins the Churches of the East have had a treasury from which the
Church of the West has amply drawn for its liturgy, spiritual tradition
Part of this "treasury" are also "the riches of
those spiritual traditions to which monasticism gives special
expression. From the glorious days of the Holy Fathers, there flourished
in the East that monastic spirituality which later flowed over into the
Western world". As I have had the occasion to emphasize in my recent
Apostolic Letter Orientale Lumen, the Churches of the East have
lived with great generosity the commitment shown by monastic life,
"starting with evangelization, the highest service that the Christian
can offer his brother, followed by many other forms of spiritual and
material service. Indeed it can be said that monasticism in
antiquity-and at various times in subsequent ages too-has been the
privileged means for the evangelization of peoples".
The Council does not limit itself to
emphasizing the elements of similarity between the Churches in the East
and in the West. In accord with historical truth, it does not hesitate
to say: "It is hardly surprising if sometimes one tradition has come
nearer than the other to an apt appreciation of certain aspects of the
revealed mystery or has expressed them in a clearer manner. As a result,
these various theological formulations are often to be considered as
complementary rather than conflicting". Communion is made fruitful
by the exchange of gifts between the Churches insofar as they complement
58. From the reaffirmation of an already
existing communion of faith, the Second Vatican Council drew pastoral
consequences which are useful for the everyday life of the faithful and
for the promotion of the spirit of unity. By reason of the very close
sacramental bonds between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches,
the Decree on Eastern Catholic Churches Orientalium Ecclesiarum
has stated: "Pastoral experience clearly shows that with respect to our
Eastern brethren there should and can be taken into consideration
various circumstances affecting individuals, wherein the unity of the
Church is not jeopardized nor are intolerable risks involved, but in
which salvation itself and the spiritual profit of souls are urgently at
issue. Hence, in view of special circumstances of time, place and
personage, the Catholic Church has often adopted and now adopts a milder
policy, offering to all the means of salvation and an example of charity
among Christians through participation in the Sacraments and in other
sacred functions and objects".
In the light of experience gained in the years
following the Council, this theological and pastoral orientation has
been incorporated into the two Codes of Canon Law. It has been
explicitly treated from the pastoral standpoint in the Directory for
the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism.
In so important and sensitive a matter, it is
necessary for Pastors to instruct the faithful with care, making them
clearly aware of the specific reasons both for this sharing in
liturgical worship and for the various regulations which govern it.
There must never be a loss of appreciation for
the ecclesiological implication of sharing in the sacraments, especially
in the Holy Eucharist.
Progress in dialogue
59. Since its establishment in 1979, the
Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the
Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church has worked steadily,
directing its study to areas decided upon by mutual agreement, with the
purpose of re-establishing full communion between the two Churches. This
communion which is founded on the unity of faith, following in the
footsteps of the experience and tradition of the ancient Church, will
find its fulfillment in the common celebration of the Holy Eucharist. In
a positive spirit, and on the basis of what we have in common, the Joint
Commission has been able to make substantial progress and, as I was able
to declare in union with my Venerable Brother, His Holiness Dimitrios I,
the Ecumenical Patriarch, it has concluded "that the Catholic Church and
the Orthodox Church can already profess together that common faith in
the mystery of the Church and the bond between faith and
sacraments". The Commission was then able to acknowledge that "in
our Churches apostolic succession is fundamental for the sanctification
and the unity of the people of God". These are important points of
reference for the continuation of the dialogue. Moreover, these joint
affirmations represent the basis for Catholics and Orthodox to be able
from now on to bear a faithful and united common witness in our time,
that the name of the Lord may be proclaimed and glorified.
60. More recently, the Joint International
Commission took a significant step forward with regard to the very
sensitive question of the method To be followed in re- establishing full
communion between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, an issue
which has frequently embittered relations between Catholics and
Orthodox. The Commission has laid the doctrinal foundations for a
positive solution to this problem on the basis of the doctrine of Sister
Churches. Here too it has become evident that the method to be followed
towards full communion is the dialogue of truth, fostered and sustained
by the dialogue of love. A recognition of the right of the Eastern
Catholic Churches to have their own organizational structures and to
carry out their own apostolate, as well as the actual involvement of
these Churches in the dialogue of charity and in theological dialogue,
will not only promote a true and fraternal mutual esteem between
Orthodox and Catholics living in the same territory, but will also
foster their joint commitment to work for unity. A step forward has
been taken. The commitment must continue. Already there are signs of a
lessening of tensions, which is making the quest for unity more
With regard to the Eastern Catholic Churches in
communion with the Catholic Church, the Council expressed its esteem in
these terms: "While thanking God that many Eastern sons of the Catholic
Church . . . are already living in full communion with their brethren
who follow the tradition of the West, this sacred Synod declares that
this entire heritage of spirituality and liturgy, of discipline and
theology, in their various traditions, belongs to the full catholic and
apostolic character of the Church". Certainly the Eastern Catholic
Churches, in the spirit of the Decree on Ecumenism, will play a
constructive role in the dialogue of love and in the theological
dialogue at both the local and international levels, and thus contribute
to mutual understanding and the continuing pursuit of full unity.
61. In view of all this, the Catholic Church
desires nothing less than full communion between East and West. She
finds inspiration for this in the experience of the first millennium. In
that period, indeed, "the development of different experiences of
ecclesial life did not prevent Christians, through mutual relations,
from continuing to feel certain that they were at home in any Church,
because praise of the one Father, through Christ in the Holy Spirit,
rose from them all, in a marvelous variety of languages and melodies;
all were gathered together to celebrate the Eucharist, the heart and
model for the community regarding not only spirituality and the moral
life, but also the Church's very structure, in the variety of ministries
and services under the leadership of the Bishop, successor of the
Apostles. The first Councils are an eloquent witness to this enduring
unity in diversity". How can unity be restored after almost a
thousand years? This is the great task which the Catholic Church must
accomplish, a task equally incumbent on the Orthodox Church. Thus can be
understood the continuing relevance of dialogue, guided by the light and
strength of the Holy Spirit.
Relations with the Ancient Churches of the
62. In the period following the Second Vatican
Council, the Catholic Church has also, in different ways and with
greater or lesser rapidity, restored fraternal relations with the
Ancient Churches of the East which rejected the dogmatic formulations of
the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon. All these Churches sent official
observers to the Second Vatican Council; their Patriarchs have honored
us by their visits, and the Bishop of Rome has been able to converse
with them as with brothers who, after a long time, joyfully meet again.
The return of fraternal relations with the
Ancient Churches of the East witnesses to the Christian faith in
situations which are often hostile and tragic. This is a concrete sign
of how we are united in Christ in spite of historical, political, social
and cultural barriers. And precisely in relation to Christology, we have
been able to join the Patriarchs of some of these Churches in declaring
our common faith in Jesus Christ, true God and true man. Pope Paul VI of
venerable memory signed declarations to this effect with His Holiness
Shenouda III, the Coptic Orthodox Pope and Patriarch, and with His
Beatitude Jacoub III, the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch. I
myself have been able to confirm this Christological agreement and draw
on it for the development of dialogue with Pope Shenouda, and for
pastoral cooperation with the Syrian Patriarch of Antioch Mor Ignatius
Zakka I Iwas.
When the Venerable Patriarch of the Ethiopian
Church, Abuna Paulos, paid me a visit in Rome on 11 June 1993, together
we emphasized the deep communion existing between our two Churches: "We
share the faith handed down from the Apostles, as also the same
sacraments and the same ministry, rooted in the apostolic succession . .
. Today, moreover, we can affirm that we have the one faith in Christ,
even though for a long time this was a source of division between
More recently, the Lord has granted me the
great joy of signing a common Christological declaration with the
Assyrian Patriarch of the East, His Holiness Mar Dinkha IV, who for this
purpose chose to visit me in Rome in November 1994. Taking into account
the different theological formulations, we were able to profess together
the true faith in Christ. I wish to express my joy at all this in
the words of the Blessed Virgin: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the
Lord" (Lk 1:46).
63. Ecumenical contacts have thus made possible
essential clarifications with regard to the traditional controversies
concerning Christology, so much so that we have been able to profess
together the faith which we have in common. Once again it must be said
that this important achievement is truly a fruit of theological
investigation and fraternal dialogue. And not only this. It is an
encouragement for us: for it shows us that the path followed is the
right one and that we can reasonably hope to discover together the
solution to other disputed questions.
Dialogue with other Churches and Ecclesial
Communities in the West
64. In its great plan for the re-establishment
of unity among all Christians, the Decree on Ecumenism also speaks of
relations with the Churches and Ecclesial Communities of the West.
Wishing to create a climate of Christian fraternity and dialogue, the
Council situates its guidelines in the context of two general
considerations: one of an historical and psychological nature, and the
other theological and doctrinal. On the one hand, this Decree affirms:
"The Churches and Ecclesial Communities which were separated from the
Apostolic See of Rome during the very serious crisis that began in the
West at the end of the Middle Ages, or during later times, are bound to
the Catholic Church by a special affinity and close relationship in view
of the long span of earlier centuries when the Christian people lived in
ecclesiastical communion". On the other hand, with equal realism
the same Document states: "At the same time one should recognize that
between these Churches and Communities on the one hand, and the Catholic
Church on the other, there are very weighty differences not only of a
historical, sociological, psychological and cultural nature, but
especially in the interpretation of revealed truth".
65. Common roots and similar, if distinct,
considerations have guided the development in the West of the Catholic
Church and of the Churches and Communities which have their origins in
the Reformation. Consequently these share the fact that they are
"Western" in character. Their "diversities", although significant as has
been pointed out, do not therefore preclude mutual interaction and
The ecumenical movement really began within the
Churches and Ecclesial Communities of the Reform. At about the same
time, in January, 1920, the Ecumenical Patriarchate expressed the hope
that some kind of cooperation among the Christian Communions could be
organized. This fact shows that the weight of cultural background is not
the decisive factor. What is essential is the question of faith. The
prayer of Christ, our one Lord, Redeemer and Master, speaks to everyone
in the same way, both in the East and in the West. That prayer becomes
an imperative to leave behind our divisions in order to seek and
re-establish unity, as a result also of the bitter experiences of
66. The Second Vatican Council did not attempt
to give a "description" of post- Reformation Christianity, since "in
origin, teaching and spiritual practice, these Churches and Ecclesial
Communities differ not only from us but also among themselves to a
considerable degree". Furthermore, the Decree observes that the
ecumenical movement and the desire for peace with the Catholic Church
have not yet taken root everywhere. These circumstances
notwithstanding, the Council calls for dialogue.
The Council Decree then seeks to "propose . . .
some considerations which can and ought to serve as a basis and
motivation for such dialogue".
"Our thoughts are concerned . . . with those
Christians who openly confess Jesus Christ as God and Lord and as the
sole Mediator between God and man unto the glory of the one God, Father,
Son and Holy Spirit."
These brothers and sisters promote love and
veneration for the Sacred Scriptures: "Calling upon the Holy Spirit,
they seek in these Sacred Scriptures God as he speaks to them in Christ,
the One whom the prophets foretold, God's Word made flesh for us. In the
Scriptures they contemplate the life of Christ, as well as the teachings
and the actions of the Divine Master on behalf of the salvation of all,
in particular the mysteries of his Death and Resurrection . . . They
affirm the divine authority of the Sacred Books".
At the same time, however, they "think
differently from us . . . about the relationship between the Scriptures
and the Church. In the Church, according to Catholic belief, an
authentic teaching office plays a special role in the explanation and
proclamation of the written word of God". Even so, "in [ecumenical]
dialogue itself, the sacred utterances are precious instruments in the
mighty hand of God for attaining that unity which the Savior holds out
Furthermore, the Sacrament of Baptism, which we
have in common, represents "a sacramental bond of unity linking all who
have been reborn by means of it". The theological, pastoral and
ecumenical implications of our common Baptism are many and important.
Although this sacrament of itself is "only a beginning, a point of
departure", it is "oriented towards a complete profession of faith, a
complete incorporation into the system of salvation such as Christ
himself willed it to be, and finally, towards a complete participation
in Eucharistic communion".
67. Doctrinal and historical disagreements at
the time of the Reformation emerged with regard to the Church, the
sacraments and the ordained ministry. The Council therefore calls for
"dialogue to be undertaken concerning the true meaning of the Lord's
Supper, the other sacraments and the Church's worship and
The Decree Unitatis Redintegratio,
pointing out that the post-Reformation Communities lack that "fullness
of unity with us which should flow from Baptism", observes that
"especially because of the lack of the Sacrament of Orders they have not
preserved the genuine and total reality of the Eucharistic mystery",
even though "when they commemorate the Lord's Death and Resurrection in
the Holy Supper, they profess that it signifies life in communion with
Christ and they await his coming in glory".
68. The Decree does not overlook the spiritual
life and its moral consequences: "The Christian way of life of these
brethren is nourished by faith in Christ. It is strengthened by the
grace of Baptism and the hearing of God's Word. This way of life
expresses itself in private prayer, in meditation on the Bible, in
Christian family life, and in services of worship offered by Communities
assembled to praise God. Furthermore, their worship sometimes displays
notable features of the ancient, common liturgy".
The Council document moreover does not limit
itself to these spiritual, moral and cultural aspects but extends its
appreciation to the lively sense of justice and to the sincere charity
towards others which are present among these brothers and sisters. Nor
does it overlook their efforts to make social conditions more humane and
to promote peace. All this is the result of a sincere desire to be
faithful to the Word of Christ as the source of Christian life.
The text thus raises a series of questions
which, in the area of ethics and morality, is becoming ever more urgent
in our time: "There are many Christians who do not always understand the
Gospel in the same way as Catholics". In this vast area there is
much room for dialogue concerning the moral principles of the Gospel and
69. The hopes and invitation expressed by the
Second Vatican Council have been acted upon, and bilateral theological
dialogue with the various worldwide Churches and Christian Communities
in the West has been progressively set in motion.
Moreover, with regard to multilateral dialogue,
as early as 1964 the process of setting up a "Joint Working Group" with
the World Council of Churches was begun, and since 1968 Catholic
theologians have been admitted as full members of the theological
Department of the Council, the Commission on Faith and Order.
This dialogue has been and continues to be
fruitful and full of promise. The topics suggested by the Council Decree
have already been addressed, or will be in the near future. The
reflections of the various bilateral dialogues, conducted with a
dedication which deserves the praise of all those committed to
ecumenism, have concentrated on many disputed questions such as Baptism,
the Eucharist, the ordained ministry, the sacramentality and authority
of the Church and apostolic succession. As a result, unexpected
possibilities for resolving these questions have come to light, while at
the same time there has been a realization that certain questions need
to be studied more deeply.
70. This difficult and delicate research, which
involves questions of faith and respect for one's own conscience as well
as for the consciences of others, has been accompanied and sustained by
the prayer of the Catholic Church and of the other Churches and
Ecclesial Communities. Prayer for unity, already so deeply rooted in and
spread throughout the body of the Church, shows that Christians do
indeed see the importance of ecumenism. Precisely because the search for
full unity requires believers to question one another in relation to
their faith in the one Lord, prayer is the source of enlightenment
concerning the truth which has to be accepted in its entirety.
Moreover, through prayer the quest for unity,
far from being limited to a group of specialists, comes to be shared by
all the baptized. Everyone, regardless of their role in the Church or
level of education, can make a valuable contribution, in a hidden and
71. We must give thanks to Divine Providence
also for all the events which attest to progress on the path to unity.
Besides theological dialogue, mention should be made of other forms of
encounter, common prayer and practical cooperation. Pope Paul VI
strongly encouraged this process by his visit to the headquarters of the
World Council of Churches in Geneva on 10 June 1969, and by his many
meetings with representatives of various Churches and Ecclesial
Communities. Such contacts greatly help to improve mutual knowledge and
to increase Christian fraternity.
Pope John Paul I, during his very brief
Pontificate, expressed the desire to continue on this path. The
Lord has enabled me to carry on this work. In addition to important
ecumenical meetings held in Rome, a significant part of my Pastoral
Visits is regularly devoted to fostering Christian unity. Some of my
journeys have a precise ecumenical "priority", especially in countries
where the Catholic communities constitute a minority with respect to the
post-Reformation communities or where the latter represent a
considerable portion of the believers in Christ in a given society.
72. This is true above all for the European
countries, in which these divisions first appeared, and for North
America. In this regard, without wishing to minimize the other visits, I
would especially mention those within Europe which took me twice to
Germany, in November 1980 and in April-May 1987; to the United Kingdom
(England, Scotland and Wales) in May-June 1982; to Switzerland in June
1984; and to the Scandinavian and Nordic countries (Finland, Sweden,
Norway, Denmark and Iceland) in June 1989. In an atmosphere of joy,
mutual respect, Christian solidarity and prayer I met so very many
brothers and sisters, all making a committed effort to be faithful to
the Gospel. Seeing all this has been for me a great source of
encouragement. We experienced the Lord's presence among us.
In this respect I would like to mention one
demonstration dictated by fraternal charity and marked by deep clarity
of faith which made a profound impression on me. I am speaking of the
Eucharistic celebrations at which I presided in Finland and Sweden
during my journey to the Scandinavian and Nordic countries. At Communion
time, the Lutheran Bishops approached the celebrant. They wished, by
means of an agreed gesture, to demonstrate their desire for that time
when we, Catholics and Lutherans, will be able to share the same
Eucharist, and they wished to receive the celebrant's blessing. With
love I blessed them. The same gesture, so rich in meaning, was repeated
in Rome at the Mass at which I presided in Piazza Farnese, on the sixth
centenary of the canonization of Saint Birgitta of Sweden, on 6 October
I have encountered similar sentiments on the
other side of the ocean also: in Canada, in September 1984; and
particularly in September 1987 in the United States, where one notices a
great ecumenical openness. This was the case, to give one example, of
the ecumenical meeting held at Columbia, South Carolina on 11 September
1987. The very fact that such meetings regularly take place between the
Pope and these brothers and sisters whose Churches and Ecclesial
Communities originate in the Reformation is important in itself. I am
deeply grateful for the warm reception which I have received both from
the leaders of the various Communities and from the Communities as a
whole. From this standpoint, I consider significant the ecumenical
celebration of the Word held in Columbia on the theme of the family.
73. It is also a source of great joy to observe
how in the postconciliar period and in the local Churches many programs
and activities on behalf of Christian unity are in place, programs and
activities which have a stimulating effect at the level of Episcopal
Conferences, individual Dioceses and parishes, and at the level of the
various ecclesial organizations and movements.
Achievements of cooperation
74. "Not every one who says to me, 'Lord,
Lord', will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my
Father who is in heaven" (Mt 7:21). The consistency and honesty
of intentions and of statements of principles are verified by their
application to real life. The Council Decree on Ecumenism notes that
among other Christians "the faith by which they believe in Christ bears
fruit in praise and thanksgiving for the benefits received from the
hands of God. Joined to it are a lively sense of justice and a true
What has just been outlined is fertile ground
not only for dialogue but also for practical cooperation: "Active faith
has produced many organizations for the relief of spiritual and bodily
distress, the education of youth, the advancement of humane social
conditions, and the promotion of peace throughout the world".
Social and cultural life offers ample
opportunities for ecumenical cooperation. With increasing frequency
Christians are working together to defend human dignity, to promote
peace, to apply the Gospel to social life, to bring the Christian spirit
to the world of science and of the arts. They find themselves ever more
united in striving to meet the sufferings and the needs of our time:
hunger, natural disasters and social injustice.
75. For Christians, this cooperation, which
draws its inspiration from the Gospel itself, is never mere humanitarian
action. It has its reason for being in the Lord's words: "For I was
hungry and you gave me food" (Mt 25:35). As I have already
emphasized, the cooperation among Christians clearly manifests that
degree of communion which already exists among them.
Before the world, united action in society on
the part of Christians has the clear value of a joint witness to the
name of the Lord. It is also a form of proclamation, since it reveals
the face of Christ.
The doctrinal disagreements which remain
exercise a negative influence and even place limits on cooperation.
Still, the communion of faith which already exists between Christians
provides a solid foundation for their joint action not only in the
social field but also in the religious sphere.
Such cooperation will facilitate the quest for
unity. The Decree on Ecumenism noted that "through such cooperation, all
believers in Christ are able to learn easily how they can understand
each other better and esteem each other more, and how the road to the
unity of Christians may be made smooth".
76. In this context, how can I fail to mention
the ecumenical interest in peace, expressed in prayer and action by ever
greater numbers of Christians and with a steadily growing theological
inspiration? It could not be otherwise. Do we not believe in Jesus
Christ, the Prince of Peace? Christians are becoming ever more united in
their rejection of violence, every kind of violence, from wars to social
We are called to make ever greater efforts, so
that it may be ever more apparent that religious considerations are not
the real cause of current conflicts, even though, unfortunately, there
is still a risk of religion being exploited for political and polemical
In 1986, at Assisi, during the World Day of
Prayer for Peace, Christians of the various Churches and Ecclesial
Communities prayed with one voice to the Lord of history for peace in
the world. That same day, in a different but parallel way, Jews and
representatives of non-Christian religions also prayed for peace in a
harmonious expression of feelings which struck a resonant chord deep in
the human spirit.
Nor do I wish to overlook the Day of Prayer
for Peace in Europe, especially in the Balkans, which took me back
to the town of Saint Francis as a pilgrim on 9-10 January 1993, and the
Mass for Peace in the Balkans and especially in Bosnia-Hercegovina,
which I celebrated on 23 January 1994 in Saint Peter's Basilica during
the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
When we survey the world joy fills our hearts.
For we note that Christians feel ever more challenged by the issue of
peace. They see it as intimately connected with the proclamation of the
Gospel and with the coming of God's Kingdom.
QUANTA EST NOBIS VIA?
Continuing and deepening dialogue
77. We can now ask how much further we must
travel until that blessed day when full unity in faith will be attained
and we can celebrate together in peace the Holy Eucharist of the Lord.
The greater mutual understanding and the doctrinal convergences already
achieved between us, which have resulted in an affective and effective
growth of communion, cannot suffice for the conscience of Christians who
profess that the Church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. The
ultimate goal of the ecumenical movement is to re-establish full visible
unity among all the baptized.
In view of this goal, all the results so far
attained are but one stage of the journey, however promising and
78. In the ecumenical movement, it is not only
the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches which hold to this
demanding concept of the unity willed by God. The orientation towards
such unity is also expressed by others.
Ecumenism implies that the Christian
communities should help one another so that there may be truly present
in them the full content and all the requirements of "the heritage
handed down by the Apostles". Without this, full communion will
never be possible. This mutual help in the search for truth is a sublime
form of evangelical charity.
The documents of the many International Mixed
Commissions of dialogue have expressed this commitment to seeking unity.
On the basis of a certain fundamental doctrinal unity, these texts
discuss Baptism, Eucharist, ministry and authority.
From this basic but partial unity it is now
necessary to advance towards the visible unity which is required and
sufficient and which is manifested in a real and concrete way, so that
the Churches may truly become a sign of that full communion in the one,
holy, catholic and apostolic Church which will be expressed in the
common celebration of the Eucharist.
This journey towards the necessary and
sufficient visible unity, in the communion of the one Church willed by
Christ, continues to require patient and courageous efforts. In this
process, one must not impose any burden beyond that which is strictly
necessary (cf. Acts 15:28).
79. It is already possible to identify the
areas in need of fuller study before a true consensus of faith can be
achieved: 1) the relationship between Sacred Scripture, as the highest
authority in matters of faith, and Sacred Tradition, as indispensable to
the interpretation of the Word of God; 2) the Eucharist, as the
Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, an offering of praise to the
Father, the sacrificial memorial and Real Presence of Christ and the
sanctifying outpouring of the Holy Spirit; 3) Ordination, as a
Sacrament, to the threefold ministry of the episcopate, presbyterate and
diaconate; 4) the Magisterium of the Church, entrusted to the Pope and
the Bishops in communion with him, understood as a responsibility and an
authority exercised in the name of Christ for teaching and safeguarding
the faith; 5) the Virgin Mary, as Mother of God and Icon of the Church,
the spiritual Mother who intercedes for Christ's disciples and for all
In this courageous journey towards unity, the
transparency and the prudence of faith require us to avoid both false
irenicism and indifference to the Church's ordinances. Conversely,
that same transparency and prudence urge us to reject a halfhearted
commitment to unity and, even more, a prejudicial opposition or a
defeatism which tends to see everything in negative terms.
To uphold a vision of unity which takes account
of all the demands of revealed truth does not mean to put a brake on the
ecumenical movement. On the contrary, it means preventing it from
settling for apparent solutions which would lead to no firm and solid
results. The obligation to respect the truth is absolute. Is this
not the law of the Gospel?
Reception of the results already achieved
80. While dialogue continues on new subjects or
develops at deeper levels, a new task lies before us: that of receiving
the results already achieved. These cannot remain the statements of
bilateral commissions but must become a common heritage. For this to
come about and for the bonds of communion to be thus strengthened, a
serious examination needs to be made, which, by different ways and means
and at various levels of responsibility, must involve the whole People
of God. We are in fact dealing with issues which frequently are matters
of faith, and these require universal consent, extending from the
Bishops to the lay faithful, all of whom have received the anointing of
the Holy Spirit. It is the same Spirit who assists the Magisterium
and awakens the sensus fidei.
Consequently, for the outcome of dialogue to be
received, there is needed a broad and precise critical process which
analyzes the results and rigorously tests their consistency with the
Tradition of faith received from the Apostles and lived out in the
community of believers gathered around the Bishop, their legitimate
81. This process, which must be carried forward
with prudence and in a spirit of faith, will be assisted by the Holy
Spirit. If it is to be successful, its results must be made known in
appropriate ways by competent persons. Significant in this regard is the
contribution which theologians and faculties of theology are called to
make by exercising their charism in the Church. It is also clear that
ecumenical commissions have very specific responsibilities and tasks in
The whole process is followed and encouraged by
the Bishops and the Holy See. The Church's teaching authority is
responsible for expressing a definitive judgment.
In all this, it will be of great help
methodologically to keep carefully in mind the distinction between the
deposit of faith and the formulation in which it is expressed, as Pope
John XXIII recommended in his opening address at the Second Vatican
Continuing spiritual ecumenism and bearing
witness to holiness
82. It is understandable how the seriousness of
the commitment to ecumenism presents a deep challenge to the Catholic
faithful. The Spirit calls them to make a serious examination of
conscience. The Catholic Church must enter into what might be called a
"dialogue of conversion", which constitutes the spiritual foundation of
ecumenical dialogue. In this dialogue, which takes place before God,
each individual must recognize his own faults, confess his sins and
place himself in the hands of the One who is our Intercessor before the
Father, Jesus Christ.
Certainly, in this attitude of conversion to
the will of the Father and, at the same time, of repentance and absolute
trust in the reconciling power of the truth which is Christ, we will
find the strength needed to bring to a successful conclusion the long
and arduous pilgrimage of ecumenism. The "dialogue of conversion" with
the Father on the part of each Community, with the full acceptance of
all that it demands, is the basis of fraternal relations which will be
something more than a mere cordial understanding or external
sociability. The bonds of fraternal koinonia must be forged
before God and in Christ Jesus.
Only the act of placing ourselves before God
can offer a solid basis for that conversion of individual Christians and
for that constant reform of the Church, insofar as she is also a human
and earthly institution, which represent the preconditions for all
ecumenical commitment. One of the first steps in ecumenical dialogue is
the effort to draw the Christian Communities into this completely
interior spiritual space in which Christ, by the power of the Spirit,
leads them all, without exception, to examine themselves before the
Father and to ask themselves whether they have been faithful to his plan
for the Church.
83. I have mentioned the will of the Father and
the spiritual space in which each community hears the call to overcome
the obstacles to unity. All Christian Communities know that, thanks to
the power given by the Spirit, obeying that will and overcoming those
obstacles are not beyond their reach. All of them in fact have martyrs
for the Christian faith. Despite the tragedy of our divisions,
these brothers and sisters have preserved an attachment to Christ and to
the Father so radical and absolute as to lead even to the shedding of
blood. But is not this same attachment at the heart of what I have
called a "dialogue of conversion"? Is it not precisely this dialogue
which clearly shows the need for an ever more profound experience of the
truth if full communion is to be attained?
84. In a theocentric vision, we Christians
already have a common Martyrology. This also includes the martyrs
of our own century, more numerous than one might think, and it shows
how, at a profound level, God preserves communion among the baptized in
the supreme demand of faith, manifested in the sacrifice of life
itself. The fact that one can die for the faith shows that other
demands of the faith can also be met. I have already remarked, and with
deep joy, how an imperfect but real communion is preserved and is
growing at many levels of ecclesial life. I now add that this communion
is already perfect in what we all consider the highest point of the life
of grace, martyria unto death, the truest communion possible with
Christ who shed his Blood, and by that sacrifice brings near those who
once were far off (cf. Eph 2:13).
While for all Christian communities the martyrs
are the proof of the power of grace, they are not the only ones to bear
witness to that power. Albeit in an invisible way, the communion between
our Communities, even if still incomplete, is truly and solidly grounded
in the full communion of the Saints-those who, at the end of a life
faithful to grace, are in communion with Christ in glory. These
Saints come from all the Churches and Ecclesial Communities which
gave them entrance into the communion of salvation.
When we speak of a common heritage, we must
acknowledge as part of it not only the institutions, rites, means of
salvation and the traditions which all the communities have preserved
and by which they have been shaped, but first and foremost this reality
In the radiance of the "heritage of the saints"
belonging to all Communities, the "dialogue of conversion" towards full
and visible unity thus appears as a source of hope. This universal
presence of the Saints is in fact a proof of the transcendent power of
the Spirit. It is the sign and proof of God's victory over the forces of
evil which divide humanity. As the liturgies sing: "You are glorified in
your Saints, for their glory is the crowning of your gifts".
Where there is a sincere desire to follow
Christ, the Spirit is often able to pour out his grace in extraordinary
ways. The experience of ecumenism has enabled us to understand this
better. If, in the interior spiritual space described above, Communities
are able truly to "be converted" to the quest for full and visible
communion, God will do for them what he did for their Saints. He will
overcome the obstacles inherited from the past and will lead Communities
along his paths to where he wills: to the visible koinonia which
is both praise of his glory and service of his plan of salvation.
85. Since God in his infinite mercy can always
bring good even out of situations which are an offense to his plan, we
can discover that the Spirit has allowed conflicts to serve in some
circumstances to make explicit certain aspects of the Christian
vocation, as happens in the lives of the Saints. In spite of
fragmentation, which is an evil from which we need to be healed, there
has resulted a kind of rich bestowal of grace which is meant to
embellish the koinonia. God's grace will be with all those who,
following the example of the Saints, commit themselves to meeting its
demands. How can we hesitate to be converted to the Father's
expectations? He is with us.
Contribution of the Catholic Church to the
quest for Christian unity
86. The Constitution Lumen Gentium, in a
fundamental affirmation echoed by the Decree Unitatis Redintegratio,
states that the one Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic
Church. The Decree on Ecumenism emphasizes the presence in her of
the fullness (plenitudo) of the means of salvation. Full
unity will come about when all share in the fullness of the means of
salvation entrusted by Christ to his Church.
87. Along the way that leads to full unity,
ecumenical dialogue works to awaken a reciprocal fraternal assistance,
whereby Communities strive to give in mutual exchange what each one
needs in order to grow towards definitive fullness in accordance with
God's plan (cf. Eph 4:11-13). I have said how we are aware, as
the Catholic Church, that we have received much from the witness borne
by other Churches and Ecclesial Communities to certain common Christian
values, from their study of those values, and even from the way in which
they have emphasized and experienced them. Among the achievements of the
last thirty years, this reciprocal fraternal influence has had an
important place. At the stage which we have now reached, this
process of mutual enrichment must be taken seriously into account. Based
on the communion which already exists as a result of the ecclesial
elements present in the Christian communities, this process will
certainly be a force impelling towards full and visible communion, the
desired goal of the journey we are making. Here we have the ecumenical
expression of the Gospel law of sharing. This leads me to state once
more: "We must take every care to meet the legitimate desires and
expectations of our Christian brethren, coming to know their way of
thinking and their sensibilities . . . The talents of each must be
developed for the utility and the advantage of all".
The ministry of unity of the Bishop of Rome
88. Among all the Churches and Ecclesial
Communities, the Catholic Church is conscious that she has preserved the
ministry of the Successor of the Apostle Peter, the Bishop of Rome, whom
God established as her "perpetual and visible principle and foundation
of unity" and whom the Spirit sustains in order that he may enable
all the others to share in this essential good. In the beautiful
expression of Pope Saint Gregory the Great, my ministry is that of
servus servorum Dei. This designation is the best possible safeguard
against the risk of separating power (and in particular the primacy)
from ministry. Such a separation would contradict the very meaning of
power according to the Gospel: "I am among you as one who serves" (Lk
22:27), says our Lord Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church. On the other
hand, as I acknowledged on the important occasion of a visit to the
World Council of Churches in Geneva on 12 June 1984, the Catholic
Church's conviction that in the ministry of the Bishop of Rome she has
preserved, in fidelity to the Apostolic Tradition and the faith of the
Fathers, the visible sign and guarantor of unity, constitutes a
difficulty for most other Christians, whose memory is marked by certain
painful recollections. To the extent that we are responsible for these,
I join my Predecessor Paul VI in asking forgiveness.
89. It is nonetheless significant and
encouraging that the question of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome has
now become a subject of study which is already under way or will be in
the near future. It is likewise significant and encouraging that this
question appears as an essential theme not only in the theological
dialogues in which the Catholic Church is engaging with other Churches
and Ecclesial Communities, but also more generally in the ecumenical
movement as a whole. Recently the delegates to the Fifth World Assembly
of the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches,
held in Santiago de Compostela, recommended that the Commission "begin a
new study of the question of a universal ministry of Christian
unity" After centuries of bitter controversies, the other Churches
and Ecclesial Communities are more and more taking a fresh look at this
ministry of unity.
90. The Bishop of Rome is the Bishop of the
Church which preserves the mark of the martyrdom of Peter and of Paul:
"By a mysterious design of Providence it is at Rome that [Peter]
concludes his journey in following Jesus, and it is at Rome that he
gives his greatest proof of love and fidelity. Likewise Paul, the
Apostle of the Gentiles, gives his supreme witness at Rome. In this way
the Church of Rome became the Church of Peter and of Paul".
In the New Testament, the person of Peter has
an eminent place. In the first part of the Acts of the Apostles, he
appears as the leader and spokesman of the Apostolic College described
as "Peter . . . and the Eleven" (2:14; cf. 2:37, 5:29). The place
assigned to Peter is based on the words of Christ himself, as they are
recorded in the Gospel traditions.
91. The Gospel of Matthew gives a clear outline
of the pastoral mission of Peter in the Church: "Blessed are you, Simon
Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my
Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock
I will build my Church and the powers of death shall not prevail against
it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you
bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth
shall be loosed in heaven" (16:17-19). Luke makes clear that Christ
urged Peter to strengthen his brethren, while at the same time reminding
him of his own human weakness and need of conversion (cf. 22:31-32). It
is just as though, against the backdrop of Peter's human weakness, it
were made fully evident that his particular ministry in the Church
derives altogether from grace. It is as though the Master especially
concerned himself with Peter's conversion as a way of preparing him for
the task he was about to give him in his Church, and for this reason was
very strict with him. This same role of Peter, similarly linked with a
realistic affirmation of his weakness, appears again in the Fourth
Gospel: "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these? . . . Feed
my sheep" (cf. Jn 21:15-19). It is also significant that
according to the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians the Risen
Christ appears to Cephas and then to the Twelve (cf. 15:5).
It is important to note how the weakness of
Peter and of Paul clearly shows that the Church is founded upon the
infinite power of grace (cf. Mt 16:17; 2 Cor 12:7-10).
Peter, immediately after receiving his mission, is rebuked with unusual
severity by Christ, who tells him: "You are a hindrance to me" (Mt
16:23). How can we fail to see that the mercy which Peter needs is
related to the ministry of that mercy which he is the first to
experience? And yet, Peter will deny Jesus three times. The Gospel of
John emphasizes that Peter receives the charge of shepherding the flock
on the occasion of a threefold profession of love (cf. 21:15-17), which
corresponds to his threefold denial (cf. 13:38). Luke, for his part, in
the words of Christ already quoted, words which the early tradition will
concentrate upon in order to clarify the mission of Peter, insists on
the fact that he will have to "strengthen his brethren when he has
turned again" (cf. 22:32).
92. As for Paul, he is able to end the
description of his ministry with the amazing words which he had heard
from the Lord himself: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is
made perfect in weakness"; consequently, he can exclaim: "When I am
weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor 12:9-10). This is a basic
characteristic of the Christian experience.
As the heir to the mission of Peter in the
Church, which has been made fruitful by the blood of the Princes of the
Apostles, the Bishop of Rome exercises a ministry originating in the
manifold mercy of God. This mercy converts hearts and pours forth the
power of grace where the disciple experiences the bitter taste of his
personal weakness and helplessness. The authority proper to this
ministry is completely at the service of God's merciful plan and it must
always be seen in this perspective. Its power is explained from this
93. Associating himself with Peter's threefold
profession of love, which corresponds to the earlier threefold denial,
his Successor knows that he must be a sign of mercy. His is a ministry
of mercy, born of an act of Christ's own mercy. This whole lesson of the
Gospel must be constantly read anew, so that the exercise of the Petrine
ministry may lose nothing of its authenticity and transparency.
The Church of God is called by Christ to
manifest to a world ensnared by its sins and evil designs that, despite
everything, God in his mercy can convert hearts to unity and enable them
to enter into communion with him.
94. This service of unity, rooted in the action
of divine mercy, is entrusted within the College of Bishops to one among
those who have received from the Spirit the task, not of exercising
power over the people as the rulers of the Gentiles and their great men
do (cf. Mt 20:25; Mk 10:42)-but of leading them towards
peaceful pastures. This task can require the offering of one's own life
(cf. Jn 10: 18). Saint Augustine, after showing that Christ is
"the one Shepherd, in whose unity all are one", goes on to exhort: "May
all shepherds thus be one in the one Shepherd; may they let the one
voice of the Shepherd be heard; may the sheep hear this voice and follow
their Shepherd, not this shepherd or that, but the only one; in him may
they all let one voice be heard and not a babble of voices . . . the
voice free of all division, purified of all heresy, that the sheep
hear". The mission of the Bishop of Rome within the College of all
the Pastors consists precisely in "keeping watch" (episkopein),
like a sentinel, so that, through the efforts of the Pastors, the true
voice of Christ the Shepherd may be heard in all the particular
Churches. In this way, in each of the particular Churches entrusted to
those Pastors, the una, sancta, catholica et apostolica Ecclesia
is made present. All the Churches are in full and visible communion,
because all the Pastors are in communion with Peter and therefore united
With the power and the authority without which
such an office would be illusory, the Bishop of Rome must ensure the
communion of all the Churches. For this reason, he is the first servant
of unity. This primacy is exercised on various levels, including
vigilance over the handing down of the Word, the celebration of the
Liturgy and the Sacraments, the Church's mission, discipline and the
Christian life. It is the responsibility of the Successor of Peter to
recall the requirements of the common good of the Church, should anyone
be tempted to overlook it in the pursuit of personal interests. He has
the duty to admonish, to caution and to declare at times that this or
that opinion being circulated is irreconcilable with the unity of faith.
When circumstances require it, he speaks in the name of all the Pastors
in communion with him. He can also-under very specific conditions
clearly laid down by the First Vatican Council- declare ex cathedra
that a certain doctrine belongs to the deposit of faith. By thus
bearing witness to the truth, he serves unity.
95. All this however must always be done in
communion. When the Catholic Church affirms that the office of the
Bishop of Rome corresponds to the will of Christ, she does not separate
this office from the mission entrusted to the whole body of Bishops, who
are also "vicars and ambassadors of Christ". The Bishop of Rome is
a member of the "College", and the Bishops are his brothers in the
Whatever relates to the unity of all Christian
communities clearly forms part of the concerns of the primacy. As Bishop
of Rome I am fully aware, as I have reaffirmed in the present Encyclical
Letter, that Christ ardently desires the full and visible communion of
all those Communities in which, by virtue of God's faithfulness, his
Spirit dwells. I am convinced that I have a particular responsibility in
this regard, above all in acknowledging the ecumenical aspirations of
the majority of the Christian Communities and in heeding the request
made of me to find a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no
way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to
a new situation. For a whole millennium Christians were united in "a
brotherly fraternal communion of faith and sacramental life . . . If
disagreements in belief and discipline arose among them, the Roman See
acted by common consent as moderator".
In this way the primacy exercised its office of
unity. When addressing the Ecumenical Patriarch His Holiness Dimitrios
I, I acknowledged my awareness that "for a great variety of reasons, and
against the will of all concerned, what should have been a service
sometimes manifested itself in a very different light. But . . . it is
out of a desire to obey the will of Christ truly that I recognize that
as Bishop of Rome I am called to exercise that ministry . . . I
insistently pray the Holy Spirit to shine his light upon us,
enlightening all the Pastors and theologians of our Churches, that we
may seek- together, of course-the forms in which this ministry may
accomplish a service of love recognized by all concerned".
96. This is an immense task, which we cannot
refuse and which I cannot carry out by myself. Could not the real but
imperfect communion existing between us persuade Church leaders and
their theologians to engage with me in a patient and fraternal dialogue
on this subject, a dialogue in which, leaving useless controversies
behind, we could listen to one another, keeping before us only the will
of Christ for his Church and allowing ourselves to be deeply moved by
his plea "that they may all be one . . . so that the world may believe
that you have sent me" (Jn 17:21)?
The communion of all particular Churches
with the Church of Rome: a necessary condition for unity
97. The Catholic Church, both in her praxis
and in her solemn documents, holds that the communion of the particular
Churches with the Church of Rome, and of their Bishops with the Bishop
of Rome, is-in God's plan-an essential requisite of full and visible
communion. Indeed full communion, of which the Eucharist is the highest
sacramental manifestation, needs to be visibly expressed in a ministry
in which all the Bishops recognize that they are united in Christ and
all the faithful find confirmation for their faith. The first part of
the Acts of the Apostles presents Peter as the one who speaks in the
name of the apostolic group and who serves the unity of the community
all the while respecting the authority of James, the head of the Church
in Jerusalem. This function of Peter must continue in the Church so that
under her sole Head, who is Jesus Christ, she may be visibly present in
the world as the communion of all his disciples.
Do not many of those involved in ecumenism
today feel a need for such a ministry? A ministry which presides in
truth and love so that the ship-that beautiful symbol which the World
Council of Churches has chosen as its emblem- will not be buffeted by
the storms and will one day reach its haven.
Full unity and evangelization
98. The ecumenical movement in our century,
more than the ecumenical undertakings of past centuries, the importance
of which must not however be underestimated, has been characterized by a
missionary outlook. In the verse of John's Gospel which is ecumenism's
inspiration and guiding motif-"that they may all be one . . . so that
the world may believe that you have sent me" (Jn 17:21)-the
phrase that the world may believe has been so strongly emphasized
that at times we run the risk of forgetting that, in the mind of the
Evangelist, unity is above all for the glory of the Father. At the same
time it is obvious that the lack of unity among Christians contradicts
the Truth which Christians have the mission to spread and, consequently,
it gravely damages their witness. This was dearly understood and
expressed by my Predecessor Pope Paul VI, in his Apostolic Exhortation
Evangelii Nuntiandi: "As evangelizers, we must offer Christ's
faithful not the image of people divided and separated by unedifying
quarrels, but the image of people who are mature in faith and capable of
finding a meeting-point beyond the real tensions, thanks to a shared,
sincere and disinterested search for truth. Yes, the destiny of
evangelization is certainly bound up with the witness of unity given by
the Church . . . At this point we wish to emphasize the sign of unity
among all Christians as the way and instrument of evangelization. The
division among Christians is a serious reality which impedes the very
work of Christ".
How indeed can we proclaim the Gospel of
reconciliation without at the same time being committed to working for
reconciliation between Christians? However true it is that the Church,
by the prompting of the Holy Spirit and with the promise of
indefectibility, has preached and still preaches the Gospel to all
nations, it is also true that she must face the difficulties which
derive from the lack of unity. When non- believers meet missionaries who
do not agree among themselves, even though they all appeal to Christ,
will they be in a position to receive the true message? Will they not
think that the Gospel is a cause of division, despite the fact that it
is presented as the fundamental law of love?
99. When I say that for me, as Bishop of Rome,
the ecumenical task is "one of the pastoral priorities" of my
Pontificate, I think of the grave obstacle which the lack of unity
represents for the proclamation of the Gospel. A Christian Community
which believes in Christ and desires, with Gospel fervor, the salvation
of mankind can hardly be closed to the promptings of the Holy Spirit,
who leads all Christians towards full and visible unity. Here an
imperative of charity is in question, an imperative which admits of no
exception. Ecumenism is not only an internal question of the Christian
Communities. It is a matter of the love which God has in Jesus Christ
for all humanity; to stand in the way of this love is an offense against
him and against his plan to gather all people in Christ. As Pope Paul VI
wrote to the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I: "May the Holy Spirit
guide us along the way of reconciliation, so that the unity of our
Churches may become an ever more radiant sign of hope and consolation
for all mankind".
100. In my recent Letter to the Bishops, clergy
and faithful of the Catholic Church indicating the path to be followed
towards the celebration of the Great Jubilee of the Holy Year 2000,
I wrote that "the best preparation for the new millennium can only be
expressed in a renewed commitment to apply, as faithfully as
possible, the teachings of Vatican II to the life of every individual
and of the whole Church". The Second Vatican Council is the
great beginning-the Advent as it were-of the journey leading us to the
threshold of the Third Millennium. Given the importance which the
Council attributed to the work of rebuilding Christian unity, and in
this our age of grace for ecumenism, I thought it necessary to reaffirm
the fundamental convictions which the Council impressed upon the
consciousness of the Catholic Church, recalling them in the light of the
progress subsequently made towards the full communion of all the
There is no doubt that the Holy Spirit is
active in this endeavor and that he is leading the Church to the full
realization of the Father's plan, in conformity with the will of Christ.
This will was expressed with heartfelt urgency in the prayer which,
according to the Fourth Gospel, he uttered at the moment when he entered
upon the saving mystery of his Passover. Just as he did then, today too
Christ calls everyone to renew their commitment to work for full and
101. I therefore exhort my Brothers in the
Episcopate to be especially mindful of this commitment. The two Codes
of Canon Law include among the responsibilities of the Bishop that
of promoting the unity of all Christians by supporting all activities or
initiatives undertaken for this purpose, in the awareness that the
Church has this obligation from the will of Christ himself. This is
part of the episcopal mission and it is a duty which derives directly
from fidelity to Christ, the Shepherd of the Church. Indeed all the
faithful are asked by the Spirit of God to do everything possible to
strengthen the bonds of communion between all Christians and to increase
cooperation between Christ's followers: "Concern for restoring unity
pertains to the whole Church, faithful and clergy alike. It extends to
everyone according to the potential of each".
102. The power of God's Spirit gives growth and
builds up the Church down the centuries. As the Church turns her gaze to
the new millennium, she asks the Spirit for the grace to strengthen her
own unity and to make it grow towards full communion with other
How is the Church to obtain this grace? In the
first place, through prayer. Prayer should always concern itself
with the longing for unity, and as such is one of the basic forms of our
love for Christ and for the Father who is rich in mercy. In this journey
which we are undertaking with other Christians towards the new
millennium prayer must occupy the first place.
How is she to obtain this grace? Through
giving thanks, so that we do not present ourselves empty-handed at
the appointed time: "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness . . .
[and] intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words" (Rom
8:26), disposing us to ask God for what we need.
How is she to obtain this grace? Through
hope in the Spirit, who can banish from us the painful memories of
our separation. The Spirit is able to grant us clear-sightedness,
strength and courage to take whatever steps are necessary, that our
commitment may be ever more authentic.
And should we ask if all this is possible, the
answer will always be yes. It is the same answer which Mary of Nazareth
heard: with God nothing is impossible.
I am reminded of the words of Saint Cyprian's
commentary on the Lord's Prayer, the prayer of every Christian:
"God does not accept the sacrifice of a sower of disunion, but commands
that he depart from the altar so that he may first be reconciled with
his brother. For God can be appeased only by prayers that make peace. To
God, the better offering is peace, brotherly concord and a people made
one in the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit".
At the dawn of the new millennium, how can we
not implore from the Lord, with renewed enthusiasm and a deeper
awareness, the grace to prepare ourselves, together, to offer this
sacrifice of unity?
103. I, John Paul, servus servorum Dei,,
venture to make my own the words of the Apostle Paul, whose martyrdom,
together with that of the Apostle Peter, has bequeathed to this See of
Rome the splendor of its witness, and I say to you, the faithful of the
Catholic Church, and to you, my brothers and sisters of the other
Churches and Ecclesial Communities: "Mend your ways, encourage one
another, live in harmony, and the God of love and peace will be with you
. . . The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the
fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all" (2 Cor 13:11,
Given in Rome, at Saint Peter's, on 25 May, the
Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, in the year 1995, the
seventeenth of my Pontificate.
Joannes Paulus II
1. Cf. Address following the Way of the Cross on Good Friday (1 April
1994), 3: AAS 87 (1995), 88.
2. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Declaration on Religious Freedom
Dignitatis Humanae, 1.
3. Cf. Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente (10 November
1994), 16: AAS 87 (1995), 15.
4. CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Letter to the Bishops of
the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of the Church Understood as
Communion Communionis Notio (28 May 1992), 4: AAS 85
5. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis
7. Ibid., 4.
8. Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution on the
Church Lumen Gentium, 14.
9. Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Declaration on Religious
Freedom Dignitatis Humanae, 1 and 2.
10. Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution on the
Church Lumen Gentium, 14.
11. Ibid., 8.
12. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis
14. No. 15.
16. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis
17. Ibid., 3.
19. Cf. SAINT GREGORY THE GREAT, Homilies on the Gospel, 19, 1:
PL, 1154, quoted in SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL Dogmatic
Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 2.
20. Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Decree on Ecumenism
Unitatis Redintegratio, 4.
21. Ibid., 7.
22. Cf. ibid.
23. Ibid., 6.
24. Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution Dei
25. Cf. Apostolic Letter Euntes in Mundum (25 January 1988):
AAS 80 (1988), 935- 956.
26. Cf. Encyclical Epistle Slavorum Apostoli (2 June 1985):
AAS 77 (1985), 779-813.
27. Cf. Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on
Ecumenism (25 March 1993): AAS 85 (1993), 1039-1119.
28. Cf. in particular, the Lima Document: Baptism Eucharist and
Ministry (January 1982), and the study of the JOINT WORKING GROUP
BETWEEN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND THE WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES,
Confessing the "One" Faith (1991), Document No. 153 of the
Commission on Faith and Order, Geneva, 1991.
29. Cf. Opening Address of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (11
October 1962): AAS 54 (1962), 793.
30. We are speaking of the SECRETARIAT FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN UNITY,
established by Pope John XXIII with the Motu Proprio Superno Dei Nutu
(5 June 1960), 9: AAS 52 (1960), 436, and confirmed by successive
documents: JOHN XXIII Motu Proprio Appropinquante Concilio (6
August 1962), c. III, a. 7, # 2, I: AAS 54 (1962), 614; cf. PAUL
VI Apostolic Constitution Regimini Ecclesiae Universae (15 August
1967), 92-94: AAS 59 (1967), 918-919. This dicastery is now
called the PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN UNITY: cf. JOHN
PAUL II, Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus (28 June 1988), V,
Arts. 135-138: AAS 80 (1988), 895-896.
31. Opening Address of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (11 October
1962): AAS 54 (1962), 792.
32. Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Decree on Ecumenism
Unitatis Redintegratio 6.
33. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Declaration on Religious Freedom
Dignitatis Humanae, 1.
34. Encyclical Epistle Slavorum Apostoli (2 June 1985), 11:
AAS 77 (1985), 792.
35. Ibid., 13: loc. cit., 794.
36. Ibid., 11: loc. cit., 792.
37. Address to the Aboriginal Peoples (29 November 1986), 12: AAS
79 (1987), 977.
38. Cf. SAINT VINCENT OF LERINS, Commonitorium primum, 23: PL 50,
39. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis
40. Ibid., 5.
41. Ibid., 7.
42. Ibid., 8.
44. Cf. ibid, 4.
45. Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente
(10 November 1994), 24: AAS 87 (1995), 19-20.
46. Address at Canterbury Cathedral (29 May 1982), 5: AAS 74
47. WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES, Constitution and Rules, III, 1.
48. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Pastoral Constitution on the
Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 24.
49. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis
50. Maria Sagheddu was born at Dorgali (Sardinia) in 1914. At twenty-one
years of age she entered the Trappistine Monastery in Grottaferrata.
Through the apostolic labors of Abbe Paul Couturier she came to
understand the need for prayers and spiritual sacrifices for the unity
of Christians. In 1936, at the time of an Octave for Unity, she
chose to offer her life for the unity of the Church. Following a grave
illness, Sister Maria Gabriella died on 23 April 1939.
51. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Pastoral Constitution on the
Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 24.
52. Cf. AAS 56 (1964), 609-659.
53. Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution on the
Church Lumen Gentium, 13.
54. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis
55. Cf. Code of Canon Law, Canon 755; Code of Canons of the
Eastern Churches, Canons 902-904.
56. Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Decree on Ecumenism
Unitatis Redintegratio, 4.
57. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Declaration on Religious Freedom
Dignitatis Humanae, 3.
58. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis
59. Cf. ibid.
60. Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Suam (6 August 1964), III: AAS
56 (1964), 642.
61. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis
62. Cf. ibid.
63. Ibid.; cf. CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH,
Declaration in Defense of Catholic Doctrine on the Church Mysterium
Ecclesiae (24 June 1973), 4: AAS 65 (1973), 402.
64. CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Declaration in Defense
of Catholic Doctrine on the Church Mysterium Ecclesiae, 5: AAS
65 (1973), 403.
65. Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Decree on Ecumenism
Unitatis Redintegratio, 4.
66. Cf. Common Christological Declaration between the Catholic Church
and the Assyrian Church of the East: L'Osservatore Romano, 12
November 1994, 1.
67. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Decree of Ecumenism Unitatis
69. PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN UNITY, Directory for
the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism (25 March
1993), 5: AAS 85 (1993), 1040.
70. Ibid. 94: loc. cit., 1078.
71. Cf. COMMISSION ON FAITH AND ORDER OF THE WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES,
Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry (January 1982).
72. Cf. Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (30 December
1987), 32: AAS 80 (1988), 556.
73. Address to the Cardinals and the Roman Curia (28 June 1985 ), 10:
AAS 77 (1985), 1158, cf. Encyclical Letter Redemptor Hominis
(4 March 1979), 11 AAS 71 (1979), 277-278
74. Address to the Cardinals and the Roman Curia (28 June 1985 ), 10:
AAS 77 (1985), 1158.
75. Cf. SECRETARIAT FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN UNITY and the EXECUTIVE
COMMITTEE OF THE UNITED BIBLE SOCIETIES Guiding Principles for
Interconfessional Cooperation in Translating the Bible (1968). This
was revised and then published by the SECRETARIAT FOR PROMOTING
CHRISTIAN UNITY, "Guidelines for Interconfessional Cooperation in
Translating the Bible": Information Service, 65 (1987), 140-145.
76. Cf. COMMISSION ON FAITH AND ORDER OF THE WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES,
Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (January 1982).
77. For example, at the most recent assemblies of the World Council of
Churches in Vancouver (1983) and in Canberra (1991), and of the
Commission on Faith and Order in Santiago de Compostela (1993).
78. Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Decree on Ecumenism
Unitatis Redintegratio, 8 and 15; Code of Canon Law, Canon
844; Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Canon 671;
PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN UNITY, Directory for the
Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism (25 March 1993)
122-125, 129-131, 123 and 132: AAS 85 (1993), 1086-1087,
1088-1089, 1087 and 1089.
79. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Decree On Ecumenism Unitatis
81. Cf. No. 15.
82. No. 15.
83. Ibid., 14.
84. Cf. Joint Declaration of Pope Paul VI and the Patriarch of
Constantinople Athenagoras I (7 December 1965): Tomos Agapis,
Vatican-Phanar (1958-1970), Rome- Istanbul, 1971, 280-281.
85. Cf. AAS 77 (1985), 779-813.
86. Cf. AAS 80 (1988), 933-956; Cf. Message Magnum Baptismi
Donum, (14 February 1988): AAS 80 (1988), 988-997.
87. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Decree On Ecumenism Unitatis
89. Apostolic Brief Anno Ineunte (25 July 1967): Tomos Agapis,Vatican-Phanar
(1958-1970), Rome-Istanbul, 1971, 388-391.
90. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis
91. Ibid., 15.
92. No. 14: L'Osservatore Romano, 2-3 May 1995, 3.
93. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis
94. No. 26.
95. Cf. Code of Canon Law, Canon 844, ## 2 and 3; Code of
Canons of the Eastern Churches, Canon 671, ## 2 and 3.
96. PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN UNITY, Directory for
the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism (25 March
1993), 122-128: AAS 85 (1993), 1086-1088.
97. Declaration by His Holiness Pope John Paul II and the Ecumenical
Patriarch Dimitrios I (7 December 1987) AAS 80 (1988), 253.
98. JOINT INTERNATIONAL COMMISSION FOR THE THEOLOGICAL DIALOGUE BETWEEN
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND THE ORTHODOX CHURCH, "The Sacrament of Order in
the Sacramental Structure of the Church, with Particular Reference to
the Importance of the Apostolic Succession for the Sanctification and
the Unity of the People of God" (26 June 1988), 1: Information
Service, 68 (1988), 173.
99. Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Letter to the Bishops of Europe on the Relations
between Catholics and Orthodox in the New Situation of Central and
Eastern Europe (31 May 1991), 6: AAS 84 (1992), 168.
100. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis
101. Cf. Apostolic Letter Orientale Lumen (2 May 1995), 24:
L'Osservatore Romano, 2-3 May 1995, 5.
102. Ibid., 18: loc. cit., 4.
103. Cf. Joint Declaration by His Holiness Pope Paul VI and His Holiness
Shenouda m, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of Saint Mark of
Alexandria (10 May 1973): AAS 65 (1973), 299-301.
104. Cf. Joint Declaration by His Holiness Pope Paul VI and His
Beatitude Mar Ignatius Jacoub III, Patriarch of the Church of Antioch of
the Syrians (27 October 1971): AAS 63 (1971), 814-815.
105. Cf. Address to the Delegates of the Coptic Orthodox Church (2 June
1979): AAS 71 (1979), 1000-1001.
106. Cf. Joint Declaration of Pope John Paul II and the Syrian-Orthodox
Patriarch of Antioch, Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas (23 June 1984):
Insegnamenti VII/1 (1984), 1902-1906.
107. Address to His Holiness Abuna Paulos, Patriarch of the Orthodox
Church of Ethiopia (11 June 1993): L'Osservatore Romano, 11-12
June 1993, 4.
108. Cf. Common Christological Declaration between the Catholic Church
and the Assyrian Church of the East: L'Osservatore Romano, 12
November 1994, 1.
109. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis
111. Ibid., 19.
112. Cf. ibid.
114. Ibid., 20.
115. Ibid., 21.
118. Ibid., 22.
120. Ibid., 22; cf. 20.
121. Ibid., 22.
122. Ibid., 23.
124. Cf. Radio Message Urbi et Orbi (27 August 1978): AAS
70 (1978), 695-696.
125. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis
127. Cf. ibid., 12.
129. The steady work of the Commission on Faith and Order has led to a
comparable vision adopted by the Seventh Assembly of the World Council
of Churches in the Canberra Declaration (7-20 February 1991); cf.
Signs of the Spirit, Official Report, Seventh Assembly, WCC, Geneva,
1991, pp. 235-258. This vision was reaffirmed by the World Conference of
Faith and Order at Santiago de Compostela (3-14 August 1993); cf.
Information Service, 285 (1994), 18-37.
130. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis
131. Cf. ibid., 4 and 11.
132. Cf. Address to the Cardinals and the Roman Curia (28 June 1985), 6:
AAS 77 (1985), 1153.
133. Cf. ibid.
134. Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution on the
Church Lumen Gentium, 12.
135. Cf. AAS 54 (1962), 792.
136. Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Decree on Ecumenism
Unitatis Redintegratio, 6.
137. Cf. ibid., 4; PAUL VI, Homily for the Canonization of the
Ugandan Martyrs (18 October 1964): AAS 56 (1964), 906.
138. Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente
(10 November 1994), 37: AAS 87 (1995), 29-30.
139. Cf. PAUL VI, Address at the Shrine in Namugongo, Uganda (2 August
1969): AAS 61 (1969), 590-591.
140. Cf. Missale Romanum, Praefatio le Sanctis I: Sanctorum
"coronando merita tua dona coronans".
141. Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Decree on Ecumenism
Unitatis Redintegratio, 4.
142. Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution on the
Church Lumen Gentium, 8.
143. Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Decree on Ecumenism
Unitatis Redintegratio, 3.
144. After the Lima Document of the Commission on Faith and Order,
Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (January 1982), and in the spirit of
the Declaration of the Seventh General Assembly of the World Council of
Churches, The Unity of the Church as "koinonia": Gift and Task
(Canberra, 7-20 February 1991): cf. Istina 36 (1991), 389-391.
145. Address to the Cardinals and the Roman Curia (28 June 1985), 4:
AAS 77 (1985), 1151-1152.
146. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution on the
Church Lumen Gentium, 23.
147. Cf. Discourse at the Headquarters of the World Council of Churches,
Geneva (12 June 1984), 2: Insegnamenti VII/1 (1984), 1686.
148. WORLD CONFERENCE OF THE COMMISSION ON FAITH AND ORDER, Report of
the Second Section, Santiago de Compostela (1993 ): Confessing the
One Faith to God's Glory 31, 2, Faith and Order Paper No. 166, World
Council of Churches, Geneva, 1994, 243.
149. To cite only a few examples: ANGLICAN-ROMAN CATHOLIC INTERNATIONAL
COMMISSION, Final Report ARCIC-I (September 1981); INTERNATIONAL
COMMISSION FOR DIALOGUE BETWEEN THE DISCIPLES OF CHRIST AND THE ROMAN
CATHOLIC CHURCH, Report (1981); ROMAN CATHOLIC/LUTHERAN JOINT
COMMISSION, The Ministry in the Church (13 March 1981). The
problem takes clear shape in the research conducted by the JOINT
INTERNATIONAL COMMISSION FOR THE THEOLOGICAL DIALOGUE BETWEEN THE
CATHOLIC CHURCH AND THE ORTHODOX CHURCH.
150. Address to the Cardinals and the Roman Curia (28 June 1985 ), 3:
AAS 77 (1985), 1150.
151. Sermon XLVI, 30: CCL 41, 557.
152. Cf. FIRST VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL Dogmatic Constitution on the
Church of Christ Pastor Aeternus: DS 3074.
153. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution on the
Church Lumen Gentium, 27.
154. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis
155. Homily in the Vatican Basilica in the presence of Dimitrios I,
Archbishop of Constantinople and Ecumenical Patriarch (6 December 1987),
3: AAS 80 (1988), 714.
156. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (8 December 1975),
77: AAS 68 (1976), 69; Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL,
Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 1; PONTIFICAL COUNCIL
FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN UNITY, Directory for the Application of
Principles and Norms on Ecumenism (25 March 1993), 205-209: AAS
85 (1993), 1112-1114.
157. Address to the Cardinals and the Roman Curia (28 June 1985), 4:
AAS 77 (1985), 1151.
158. Letter of 13 January 1970: Tomos Agapis, Vatican-Phanar
(1958-1970), Rome- Istanbul, 1971, pp. 610-611.
159. Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente (10 November
1994), 20: AAS 87 (1995), 17.
160. Cf. Code of Canon Law, Canon 755; Code of Canons of the
Eastern Churches, Canon 902.
161. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis
162. On The Lord's Prayer, 23: CSEL 3, 284-285.