Agreed statement on ecclesiology: Walking Together on the Way

3 July 2018 • Persistent link:

The Third Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC III) has issued its first agreed statement with the title Walking Together on the Way: Learning to be the Church – Local, Regional, Universal. Since its first meeting in 1970, ARCIC has published thirteen agreed statements. The third phase of the dialogue began in 2011 with the dual mandate to explore “the Church as Communion, local and universal, and how in communion the local and universal Church come to discern right ethical teaching.” The current document completes the first part of this mandate.

Walking Together on the Way employs the method of Receptive Ecumenism to examine the structures by which Catholics and Anglicans order and maintain communion at the local, regional and universal level. It examines common theological principles that Anglicans and Catholics share, and the differentiated structures, based on these principles, by which they make decisions. This method invites both traditions to repentance and conversion, by looking at what is underdeveloped or wounded in themselves. It is also predicated on the belief that in our dialogue partner we meet a community in which the Holy Spirit is alive and active. We can therefore ask firstly, where our communities are in need of reform, and, secondly, what we can learn from the our dialogue partner to help us in this growth. The Commission described this process as “receptive learning.”

The two co-chairs, Archbishops David Moxon and Bernard Longley, write in the preface:

“Both of our traditions affirm that ecclesial communion is rooted in Word, sacrament, common creedal faith, and the episcopate. Ecclesial communion requires that the structures and procedures which serve and express the bonds of communion are attended to with diligence and care. This document examines how well these instruments of communion serve us and maintain the unity in diversity that communion implies. This task requires frank assessment: the courage to look at ourselves honestly and to learn from the other. It is a task that resonates with Pope Francis‘s call for a fully synodal Church in accord with the vision of the Second Vatican Council, while Anglicans continue to explore the meaning and efficacy of synodality for its life in communion at all levels.”

In addition to the document released July 2, 2018, there is also an official Catholic commentary written by Fr. Ormond Rush from Australian Catholic University. An Anglican commentary has also been commissioned and will be released in the coming days.

ARCIC I met from 1970 to 1981 and produced agreed statements on Eucharist, Ministry and Ordination, and Authority as well as “elucidations” on each of these topics. The collected papers of the first phase were published under the title The Final Report and submitted to the Anglican Communion and the Secretariat for Christian Unity for their evaluation and response. The second phase began almost immediately with many of the same members, exploring a broader mandate that addressed particular questions that had arisen in the first phase of dialogue: Salvation and the Church, Church as Communion, Life in Christ, Authority in the Church, and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Each of the ARCIC II statements was set within the context of an ecclesiology of communion (koinonia). ARCIC II came to a conclusion in 2004 just as the disputes over sexual orientation began to boil over within the Anglican Communion.

In 2009, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and Pope Benedict XVI agreed that the ARCIC dialogue could make a decisive contribution to understanding the nature of ecclesial communion and the discernment of ethical teaching within communion. It is hoped that these reflections might contribute to the broader reflection on communion within both the Anglican and Roman Catholic communities.

In the years since 2011, when ARCIC III began its reflections at Bose Monastery in Italy, the election of Pope Francis has raised the profile of certain other ecclesiological questions in the life of the churches. For example, the process of reforming the Roman Curia and the reinvigoration of the Synod of Bishops and episcopal conferences has drawn attention to the notion of “synodality.” The Roman Catholic dialogue with Eastern Orthodoxy has focused in this area as well, with considerable success. Fraternal visits between Popes and Archbishops of Canterbury have continued since 1966, but have become an annual occurrence in more recent years. At the same time, the ordination of women to the episcopate and the introduction of same-sex blessings or marriage in some Anglican provinces have raised new challenges within Anglican-Roman Catholic relations. The consistent response to these challenges from both Roman Catholic and Anglican leadership has been to reaffirm the importance of dialogue.

The work of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission has also been significant in raising the profile of the ecclesiology of communion. The agreed statement Growing Together in Unity and Mission (2007) reviewed the 40 years of dialogue since the first preparatory meetings in Malta in 1967. GTUM called upon the bishops of the two churches to find ways to implement the agreements of the ARCIC dialogue. In their joint pilgrimage from Canterbury to Rome in 2016, the 19 pairs of IARCCUM bishops issued a further call to common witness and service entitled Walking Together: Common Service to the World and Witness to the Gospel.