Relations between the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church have taken a further step with the publication of a Response by the House of Bishops to the Pope’s 1995 Encyclical on Christian unity Ut Unum Sint. In the Encyclical, the Pope invited “church leaders and their theologians” to engage with him “in a patient and fraternal dialogue” on the ministry of unity which belongs to the Bishop of Rome.
In May 1995, Lambeth Palace and the Council of Christian Unity welcomed the publication of Ut Unum Sint with its reaffirmation of the ecumenical vision of the Second Vatican Council and its strong commitment to the goal of Christian unity. A more considered response to the Encyclical was promised and encouragement was given to members of the Church of England to explore the text.
In its Response, the House of Bishops affirms that there is much in the Encyclical with which Anglicans can agree wholeheartedly: the insistence on the primacy of common prayer; the need for repentance and conversion; the affirmation of what has been gained through joint action and patient theological dialogue; the recognition of our common baptism and the degree of communion that flows from it; and the conviction that unity is required for authentic mission.
At the same time the bishops raise areas that, despite much agreement, still require further study by the churches. These include: the exercise of the teaching office of the Church; the place of the Blessed Virgin Mary; the implications of our common baptism for eucharistic hospitality; and the role of the Bishop of Rome. The Response underlines the importance of the work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission and the deepening Anglican-Roman Catholic relations in this country.
In their foreword to the Bishops’ Response, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York say that their response is made with the same joy and fraternal affection that characterises the Encyclical itself. “We trust that these reflections will be of help in the on-going ecumenical dialogue.”
May they all be one, a House of Bishops occasional paper, is published by Church House Publishing, price £2.50, available from Church House Bookshop, 31 Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BN, UK. Fax 0171 340 0278.