Lecture by Cardinal Kurt Koсh, the Head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity

On June 10, Cardinal Koch delivered a short address in German at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv. It was entitled, “Prospects for the Ecumenical Dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. This is the full text of the lecture

Prospects of the ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches


Ecumenical relations between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church began promisingly in 1965. Even during the Second Vatican Council, 7 December 1965, there was a significant event: Pope Paul VI made a great ecumenical step towards Orthodoxy by removing, along with the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, the mutual anathemas of 1054. Through this act there was removed from the body of the Church the poison of mutual excommunication, and "a symbol of division" was replaced by "a symbol of love." It started the ecumenical dialogue of love and truth between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, which aims to restore the Eucharistic communion between them.

1. The phases and themes of the ecumenical dialogue

This comforting step was made possible primarily through an awareness: both sides retained the foundation of the church structures that exists from the second century - the structures, sacramental-Eucharistic and hierarchical. Moreover, both parties believe church unity in the Eucharist and in the episcopal ministry essential for the existence of the Church. So ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church could focus primarily on establishing a common foundation of faith. The Joint international commission for theological dialogue between the Churches dedicated itself to this task.

This applies primarily to the first decade of 1980-1990, when they were able to identify significant similarities between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic theology in the areas of sacramentology, the sacraments of the Church and the Eucharist, the relationship between faith, sacraments and the unity of the Church, and the sacrament of the priesthood. However, the next decade (1990-2000 years) theological dialogue was increasingly focused on the problems of "uniatism" and "proselytism", which the Orthodox side saw as the greatest danger for theological dialogue and which eventually led to the suspension of the work of the commission in 2000. Despite the long period of development, theological dialogue collapsed, primarily because of problem of uniatism; and, at least in the solution of this delicate problem seemed to return again to its rising point.

Among the major achievements of Pope Benedict XVI is that shortly after the beginning of his pontificate, the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches was able to continue its work. In this it focused on the examination of the painful point of ecclesiology that is still hindered communion between the churches - namely, the question of the primacy of the bishop of Rome. With the adoption in 2007 in Ravenna of the fundamental document on "the ecclesiological and canonical consequences of sacramental nature of the Church," it managed to move forward, because both Churches declared that the Church needs primacy at the local, regional and universal levels. However, on this mutual understanding looms the shadow of an objection by the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, which at the universal level does not recognize any primacy. [Moscow did not participate in the Ravenna plenary.] Still, on the theological foundations Ravenna document it was necessary to take the next step - to consider the historical question: what role belonged to the bishop of Rome in the first millennium, when East and West were together? The study of this history in the meantime has also stalled, and there has continued a theological discussion of the relationship in the Church between primacy and councilarity.

Some steps in this direction had been made by Pope John Paul II in his invitation to the Christian world to participate in a patient and fraternal dialogue with him about the primacy of the Bishop of Rome to find a "form of the exercise of primacy," " while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation” or rather – it should serve to “accomplish a service of love recognized by all concerned. " The dialogue that distinguishes the essence of the primacy and its specific method of implementation continues to take place under a good sign if one does not lose sight of the purpose that the future Pope Benedict XVI had already formulated in the ‘70’s: Rome from the East "must not demand more on the doctrine of primacy"," than was formulated and practiced in the first millennium. " In a great interview with Peter Seewald, Pope Benedict XVI even ventured to state that the Eastern Churches “are genuine particular Churches, although they are not in communion with the Pope,” and in this sense the unity with the pope is not "constitutive for the particular Church ". But on the other hand, this lack of unity is, he says, an "internal defect of the particular Church", so with this view no communion with the Pope is “a defect in the living cell." And in conclusion, the Pope said: "It remains a cell, it is legitimately called a Church, but the cell is lacking something, namely, its connection with the organism as a whole.” Thus, Pope Benedict XVI made important steps towards Orthodoxy, and further dialogue should move in this direction.

2. The key question of primacy in horizon ecclesiological issues

However, the question of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome is not some isolated issue. This is particularly evident from the fact that the Orthodox side generally believes papal supremacy to be destructive of ecclesiastical structures. At the same time Orthodox theology justifies this conclusion by the need of unity between the sacred mysteries and jurisdiction, which, in its view, the government by the Pope violates, because it is not the holy mysteries and "only" legal status, which however exalts itself above sacramental structures. It is clearly seen that the problems of primacy are differences in ecclesiology.

The Orthodox understanding of the Church perhaps best fits the concept of Eucharistic ecclesiology, which was originally developed by Russian émigré scholars in Paris after World War I - obviously opposed to the papal centralism in the Roman Catholic Church. From the Orthodox point of view, the Church of Jesus Christ is present and accomplished in every local church, gathered around their bishop, which goes to the Eucharist. Because it is the local church that fulfills the Eucharist with its bishop, understood as a representation, actualization and realization of a single church in a particular place, each Eucharistic community is totally Church and lacks nothing. Hence the unity of the Eucharistic community with other communities that fulfills the liturgy is ultimately its external dimension, and horizontal unity of the local churches together is not considered fundamental for being a Church, at least is not critical. Although such unity is considered commendable and entirely characteristic of the fullness of the Church, and yet - not decisive. A fortiori it applies to possible unity with the separate Eucharistic community of the Church of Rome and its bishop, for no priority of the universal Church over the local may be the basis. So, other than Ecumenical Councils, there cannot be any visible and effective principle of unity and authority of the Universal Church, which would be endowed with any legal prevailing authority as the Catholic Church understands and recognizes in the ministry of Peter.

Instead, in the Catholic understanding of the Church although completely present in a particular Eucharistic community, a separate Eucharistic community is not the whole Church. Therefore, unity of the separate Eucharistic communities with each other and with the relevant bishop and the bishop of Rome is for existence of the founding church, as seen from the Eucharistic anaphora in memento ecclesiae, since saying the name of the relevant local bishop and the bishop of Rome is not trivial, which one in certain circumstances can avoid, but "an expression of communion", "in which a separate Eucharistic celebration in its most profound essence just acquires its exclusive content." From the Catholic viewpoint, the Church lives in the mutual intersection of multiple local churches and the oneness of the universal Church.

So totally appears the main ecumenical problem in meetings between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. In these circumstances, one comes to the conclusion “that the understanding of the Church, linked to national culture, yet opposes unbalanced its sobornost, universal understanding."[???] No wonder those problems are most acute in the question of the primacy of the bishop of Rome, namely in the sense of the primacy of the general Church, and not just regional.

3. Ecumenical way into the future

For this complex issue to move forward on the one hand, it has long been postulated by Archbishop Bruno Forte, that the Catholic Church must strengthen the argument that the primacy of the Bishop of Rome is not just an external legal addition to Eucharistic ecclesiology, but itself is predetermined, since a worldwide network of Eucharistic communities needs the service of unity and on the global level. The papacy could eventually be understood only on the basis of a universal Eucharistic network. It is an everlasting essential element of the Church, because it serves the Eucharistic unity of the Church and cares about what the Church again and again verifies with the Eucharist.

On the other hand, from the Orthodox Church, it is hoped that it boldly considers its main ecclesiological problem - namely autocephalous national churches and their unfailing tendency to nationalism. In this case one can noted with gratitude that Orthodox theologians, such as John Meyendorff, consider the concept of autocephalous national churches an inherent weakness in Orthodoxy, so that on this basis may be proposed the reconciliation between Eucharistic ecclesiology and principles of the Petrine ministry.

From an ecumenical view in this broader context, the problem of the supremacy of the bishop of Rome, on the one hand, as noted by Pope Paul VI, is a "major obstacle" for the restoration of full ecclesial communion with Orthodoxy. On the other hand, in the opinion of Pope Benedict XVI, it is at the same time a "major opportunity" for achieving the same goal, "because without it, the Catholic Church would have long ago disintegrated into national and ritual churches, that would have made the ecumenical space entirely impenetrable; it also makes possible binding steps toward unity. "

Thus, it is important not to lose sight of the inherent goal of ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, which, at least from the Catholic point of view, can consist only in the restoration of visible communion of the churches. Because, as rightly said Pope Benedict XVI, the observance of the current way of statements about "our two Churches" may lead to the establishment of dualism in the ecclesiological plane and converting "one church into a specter", "whereas it is inherently precisely a physical existence."

4. Ecumenical Value of the Catholic Eastern Churches

On the way to overcome this ecclesiological dualism the Catholic Eastern Churches can help greatly. For, on the one hand, they have theology and liturgy, discipline and law oriented to the East, on the other hand, they live in communion with the Bishop of Rome. The relevant conciliar decree "Orientalium ecclesiarum" in this sense emphasized the special responsibility of the Church to promote Christian unity, "Eastern Churches, being in communion with the Apostolic See, have a special obligation to foster the unity of all Christians, especially Eastern, according to the principles of the decree of this Sacred Council, "On ecumenism." In addition, the Council recognized in the legal norms of Catholic Eastern Churches, as well as in the later KKST [Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium], their transient and temporary, clearly stating: "All these legal standards are set for today's circumstances, while the Catholic Church and the separated Eastern Churches have not come to full communion ".

While this ecumenical responsibility appears not easy, since the existence of the churches, united with Rome, again and again causes in the Orthodox churches alarm, or at least irritation, but in spite of this appeal, the Catholic Eastern Churches perform the important function of building bridges and helping us now already to breathe ecumenically stronger with two lungs, contributing to the "expansion to the East" in the area of ​​ecumenism. For this they have - our special gratitude and respect.

Translated from German [into Ukrainian] by Oleg Konkevych [translated from Ukrainian into English by Google with some correction by Peter Anderson, Seattle USA]