Our friend Michaël alerts us to an interesting document, recently issued by the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation: “A Common Response to the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue Between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church Regarding the Ravenna Document.”
The North American Consultation’s conclusion about the Ravenna Document (emphasis mine):
We find much to commend in the Ravenna document and welcome its publication. The document identifies conciliarity with the entire Church, not just in episcopal councils. It draws an analogy among the three levels of communion: local, regional, and universal, each of which appropriately has a “first” with the role of fostering communion, in order to ground the rationale of why the universal level must also have a primacy. It articulates the principle that primacy and conciliarity are interdependent and mutually necessary. It provides both a sacramental and Trinitarian basis for the koinonia of the Church. It identifies ministry as a service of communion. It attempts to broaden the basis of authority wherein each of the baptized exercises an authority proper to that person’s ordo in the Church, and it invites us to reflect on the fact that just as primacy and conciliarity are interdependent, so are the processes of reception and teaching.
At the same time our Consultation also judges that some issues mentioned in the text are in need of further dialogue and clarification. Like any analogy between the eternal God and created beings, the analogy between the order (taxis) which exists among the three persons of the Holy Trinity and the order (taxis) which exists among local Churches requires further explanation and development. The Ravenna text does not make sufficiently clear the ecclesiological status of regional expressions of primacy and synodality. Even at regional levels, and not only at the universal level, the limits and exercise of authority by the “first” are also not made clear. The document’s historical treatment of apostolic succession and of ecumenical councils lacks precision and may occasion oversimplification and misunderstanding. The understanding of the local parish within the context of the modern diocese or local Church is in need of study.
Finally, we take exception to the contents of the Ravenna document’s sole footnote: “Orthodox participants felt it important to emphasize that the use of the terms ‘the Church’, ‘the universal Church’ and ‘the Body of Christ’ in this document and in similar documents produced by the Joint Commission in no way undermines the self-understanding of the Orthodox Church as the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, of which the Nicene Creed speaks. From the Catholic point of view, the same self-awareness applies: the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church ‘subsists in the Catholic Church’ (Lumen Gentium, 8); this does not exclude acknowledgement that elements of the true Church are present outside the Catholic communion.”
We find this footnote inaccurate. First, we think that its two assertions do not adequately represent the ecclesiology of either the Orthodox or the Catholic Church. The Orthodox Church’s self-understanding as the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church is not understood by all Orthodox in exclusivist terms. Throughout the centuries, significant currents within Orthodox ecclesiology have recognized the presence of the Church’s reality outside the canonical, visible boundaries of the Orthodox Church. Also, to assert that “from the Catholic point of view the same self-awareness applies” misrepresents Catholic ecclesiology at and since the Second Vatican Council, in spite of the Ravenna document’s reference to Lumen Gentium 8. Because of apostolic succession and the Eucharist, Vatican II did not hesitate to recognize that the Orthodox constitute “Churches,” (Unitatis Redintegratio, 14) that they are “sister Churches,” and to assert that in their celebration of the Eucharist, the Church of God is being built up and growing. To our Consultation, these two points of view point to the fact that the ecclesiological issues regarding mutual recognition raised at Bari still require resolution.