"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Friday, 2 December 2016



The basic problem between the Catholic and Orthodox churches is that, when the schism happened neither church was aware of any breach on its part with the tradition that it had faithfully received and lived since apostolic times, and neither believed that it was rejecting any doctrine it had previously taught.  If there had been any infidelity to the truth, both sides blamed the other.

The other part of the problem was the complete inability of both sides to be able to see the point of view of the other side, the total absence of empathy.  This was also true with the Nestorians and Monophysites.   In our conversations with churches representing these "heresies", it has been found by both Catholic and Orthodox theologians that differences are often due to differences in vocabulary, perspective and culture, rather than a real difference of faith.  I am not denying the existence of real heresy, but am suggesting that it has often been caused by lack of true love on both sides rather than be the cause of the mutual antagonism.  We must remember that St Isaac the Syrian, much admired by everybody nowadays, was a Nestorian by ecclesiastical allegiance.  It is also true now: the complete inability of Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev - one of my favourite theologians - to understand what it has felt like being a Greek Catholic in the Ukraine since 1945, nor to see what kind of image the Russian Orthodox Church has projected in the Ukraine during and since the fall of Communism, with priests divorcing their wives to become patriarchs, with clergy moonlighting as KGB agents, sending  back regular reports on each other as well as on other Christians to the atheist authorities, on collaborating with Russian political policy etc.

  Things were even more difficult because of the piecemeal way that the schism took place.  Russian Orthodoxy was in communion with Rome long after Rome's breach with Constantinople and, even afterwards, the Archbishop of Kiev took Rome's side at the Council of Florence.   Relations between Rome and Eastern Orthodoxy in Southern Italy varied from generation to generation; and even in Greece, Jesuit missionaries sometimes asked permission of the local bishops before hearing confessions.  In Syria, Egypt etc, lay people have habitually simply ignored the schism, while priests have helped each other out in emergency.  There is a schism, but its theological meaning is not clear, and there is a difference of opinions on both sides of the divide as to its implications..

However, because there has been no sense of departure from the Apostolic 
Tradition on either side of the schism, both churches went away from the schism believing that the other had fallen away; which means that both churches could agree with this note, added to the Ravenna Document (2007) by the Orthodox:  

 Orthodox participants felt it important to emphasise that the use of the terms “the Church”, “the universal Church”, “the indivisible 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.

Both the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church believe that their own communion is the "one, true, holy and Catholic Church", while the other is in schism.  This fact I am calling the "elephant in the room".

However, since Vatican II, there has been a new ecclesiology based on the theology of the Fathers which brings new light to this teaching: it is called eucharistic ecclesiology.   Its starting point is "Where the Eucharist is, there is the Church."

Those who argue in favour draw a conclusion:   The Catholic Church is centred on the Eucharist, as are the Orthodox Churches, therefore the Catholic and Orthodox Churches are Sister Churches.  

Those who are against it, like Father Peter Heers and many Russian Orthodox, argue that the doctrine of "sister churches" contradicts the note from the Ravenna Document which we have quoted above and is heretical, being a reformulation of the Anglican Branch Theory, rejected by both Orthodox and Catholics: instead of three branches there are now "two lungs".

In this essay which supports eucharistic ecclesiology and Orthodoxy and Catholicism being sister churches, I will argue that

  1. that eucharistic ecclesiology is Orthodox and not Anglican and first came to light in the Institut Saint-Serge, the Russian Orthodox theological institute in Paris and is associated with Nicolai Afanasiev;
  2. that is doesn't contradict the note in the Ravenna Document but puts Catholic and Orthodox counter-claims in a new context where we can seek to reconcile them; 
  3. that, on the contrary, the vision of the Church as being made up of a number of totally autocephalous patriarchates with no organisational connection between them is the closest thing there is to the Anglican Branch Theory;
  4. that eucharistic ecclesiology requires corrections to Catholicism and Orthodoxy and lights up the way to unity.:

In order to give us an idea of eucharistic ecclesiology, here is a brilliant summary, taken from "Orthodox Ecclesiology in Outline", published by the Orthodox Christian Information Center.   This understanding of the Church is, since Vatican II, as much Catholic as Orthodox:

The grace of the Trinity is the starting point for understanding the nature of the Church, and especially for her unity in multiplicity, as the Holy Spirit shares one life and one being. The three distinct and unique Persons are one in life and in nature. Similarly, the Church exhibits a parallel multiplicity of persons in unity of life and being. The difference between God and the Church is that, in the former, multiplicity in unity is the truth, whereas in the latter, this is only a participation in the truth. In patristic language the former is ousia, while the latter is metousia. The unity of the three divine Persons in life and being is, therefore, the prototype of the unity of the Church’s persons in life and in being. As Christ Himself says in His prayer for the Church: "even as Thou O Father are in me and me in Thee, so they may be one, that the world may believe that Thou has sent me." The mark of unity is collegiality and love, and not subordination. Orthodox Triadology, based on the grace of the Trinity, supplies the basic ontological categories for Orthodox ecclesiology. The Church is an eikon of the Holy Trinity, a participation in the grace of God.
The Church of Christ
How does the Church participate in God’s mystery and grace? How is metousia Theou ("participation in the essence of God") achieved? How does the Church become an eikon of the Holy Trinity? The answer, in its simplest form, is contained in the phrase "in and through Christ." Christ has established the bond between the image of the Triune God, and that which is made after the image, namely, the Church, mankind. In Christ we have both the eikon and the kat eikon ("that which is according to the image"). Hence, we must say that the Church is the Church of the Triune God as the Church of Christ. The link between the Holy Trinity and Christology, that is, between theology and economy, demands a similar link in ecclesiology. The Church is in the image of the Triune God, and participates in the grace of the Trinity inasmuch as She is in Christ and partakes of His grace. The unity of persons in life and being cannot be achieved apart from this economy of Christ, and we here encounter what the New Testament calls the "Body of Christ."Christ is the Head of the Church and She is His Body. It is from this Christological angle that we better understand the multiplicity in unity which exists in the Church. This angle of the Body of Christ is normally connected with the divine Eucharist, because it is in the Eucharist that the Body is revealed and realized. In the divine Eucharist we have the whole Christ, the Head, and the Body, the Church. But the Eucharist is celebrated in many places and among many different groups of people. Does this then mean that there are many bodies of Christ? This is not the case because there is one Head, and one eucharistic Body (His very body which He took up in the Incarnation) into which all the groups of people in the different places are incorporated. It is the Lord Himself who is manifested in many places, as He gives His one Body to all, so that in partaking of it they may all become one with Him and with one another. "In that there is one bread, the many are one Body, for we all partake of the one bread." The many places and the many groups of people where the eucharistic Body of Christ is revealed do not constitute an obstacle to its unity. Indeed, to partake of this Body in one place is to be united with Him who is not bound by place and, therefore, to be mystically (or "mysterially," or "sacramentally") united with all. This is how St. Athanasius explains the prayer of our Lord that the apostles may be one. "... because I am Thy Word, and I am also in them because of the Body, and because of Thee the salvation of men is perfected in Me, therefore I ask that they may also become one, according to the Body that is Me and according to its perfection, that they, too, may become perfect having oneness with it, and having become one in it; that, as if all were carried by me, all may be one body and one spirit and may grow up into a perfect man." And St. Athanasius concludes: "For we all, partaking of the same, become one Body, having the one Lord in ourselves." What is given in one specific place is something which also transcends it, because of its particular perfection, that is, its being Christ’s risen body. The different eucharistic localities, with the eucharistic president (the bishop), the clergy, and the participants (the people) constitute or reveal the whole Church. It is a local church, and yet she reveals the catholic mystery of one Church. The one Church of Christ is equally and fully in all these localities because of the one, perfect Eucharist, the one Lord, and the one Body.

Of course, there are differences between Catholicism and Orthodoxy; otherwise, union would have already taken place; but, in the above quotation, there is no difference.

Now, let us look at what is meant by "sister churches" by attending to a quotation from Archimandrite Robert Taft: 

The new Catholic “Sister Churches” ecclesiology describes not only how the Catholic Church views the Orthodox Churches. It also represents a startling revolution in how the Catholic Church views itself: we are no longer the only kid on the block, the whole Church of Christ, but one Sister Church among others. Previously, the Catholic Church saw itself as the original one and only true Church of Christ from which all other Christians had separated for one reason or another in the course of history, and Catholics held, simplistically, that the solution to divided Christendom consisted in all other Christians returning to Rome’s maternal bosom.
Vatican II, with an assist from those Council Fathers with a less naïve Disney-World view of their own Church’s past, managed to put aside this historically ludicrous, self-centered, self-congratulatory perception of reality. In doing so they had a strong assist from the Council Fathers of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church whose concrete experience of the realities of the Christian East made them spokesmen and defenders of that reality.
The argument is this:

Where the Eucharist is, there is the Church. In the words of Cardinal Ratzinger, "‘The Church is the celebration of the Eucharist: The Eucharist is the Church; they do not simply stand side by side; they are one and the same."  As the Orthodox summary of eucharistic ecclesiology states:
In the divine Eucharist we have the whole Christ, the Head, and the Body, the Church. But the Eucharist is celebrated in many places and among many different groups of people. Does this then mean that there are many bodies of Christ? This is not the case because there is one Head, and one eucharistic Body (His very body which He took up in the Incarnation) into which all the groups of people in the different places are incorporated. It is the Lord Himself who is manifested in many places, as He gives His one Body to all, so that in partaking of it they may all become one with Him and with one another. "In that there is one bread, the many are one Body, for we all partake of the one bread." The many places and the many groups of people where the eucharistic Body of Christ is revealed do not constitute an obstacle to its unity. Indeed, to partake of this Body in one place is to be united with Him who is not bound by place and, therefore, to be mystically (or "mysterially," or "sacramentally") united with all.
The whole Church is in Christ, and Christ is present in each Eucharist; therefore, to partake of this Body in one place is to be united to Christ in all.   Whatever the schism has done, it remains true that the Eucharist is the central reality in the Catholic Church as well as in the Orthodox Church; therefore, in both churches it is the Lord Himself who is manifested in many places, as He gives His one Body to all, so that in partaking of it they may all become one with Him and with one another. "In that there is one bread, the many are one Body, for we all partake of the one bread."  For this reason, the schism does not stop us from being sister churches.

In eucharistic ecclesiology, the local church that celebrates the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, is the source of Tradition which was first preached by the Apostles and disciples who were sent by Christ.  Although Tradition has a single source in Christ, it has been formed by the synergy of the Holy Spirit and the Church in different places, within churches with different cultures, languages and histories.  Tradition at its most basic is, therefore, pluriform in its cultural expression, languages and history.  At the same time, in every place, culture, language and diverse historical experiences, authentic Tradition manifests the same Christ. Thus, Christian unity is a unity in diversity.

In eucharistic ecclesiology the unity that Christians enjoy with one another is a Unity of identity.  Each eucharist makes the eucharistic assembly the body of Christ; but although Mass is celebrated in many places, there are not many bodies of Christ but only one. Just as hundreds of consecrated hosts can be placed in one ciborium, and each is the body of Christ and all of them together are the body of Christ; so it is with the Church: every eucharistic assembly is body of Christ and the church on a diocesan, regional and universal level is body of Christ based on our dwelling in Christ through the Eucharist.

Our unity in Christ is a reflection of the Holy Trinity, "even as Thou O Father are in me and me in Thee, so they may be one, that the world may believe that Thou has sent me." (Jn 17, 21)   We are brought up into the presence of the Father through the veil which is the flesh and blood of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is our participation in the life of the Trinity as a eucharistic community that  gives shape to the Church as an institution at a local, regional and universal level.  

When Pope Francis said that the only authority that exists in the Church is service and the only power is the power of the Cross, he implies the enormous difference between civil authority based on power to enforce it and ecclesial authority based on love that reflects the presence of the Holy Spirit that transforms relationships through participation in the Eucharist.   Civil and ecclesiastical law may use the same language, but they are very different, as Jesus himself taught.

Eucharistic Ecclesiology does not contradict the Ravenna Document, even when both churches agree on its basic tenets.   It puts the counter-claims in a new context.  It does extend recognition of local and regional churches as participators in the fullness of Catholicism which is the eucharistic Christ; but, at a universal level there is disagreement.  Catholics would say that the reality of universal Christian unity cannot be adequately expressed by a group of autocephalous churches that jostle with one another for power like nation states and live their Christian lives as parallel but relatively isolated institutions. Catholic unity in its engagement with each other reflects the life of the Trinity; and, as an expression of God's reign,  it must transcend nationality and all other divisions and limitations that, when not transcended, keep fallen humanity locked up in the Tower of Babel.  Thus, the Letter to Diognetus says of members of the Church:
"Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language, or custom. For nowhere do they live in cities of their own, nor do they speak some unusual dialect, nor do they practice an eccentric lifestyle....While they live in both Greek and barbarian cities, as each one's lot was cast, and follow the local customs in dress and food and other aspects of life, at the same time they demonstrate the remarkable and admittedly unusual character of their own citizenship. They live in their own countries, but only as aliens; they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is foreign."
While Orthodox reject the papacy, they present nothing really credible to take its place, only a loosely knit group of patriarchs, often representing different national traditions who often squabble among themselves.  I don't think the writer of the Letter to Diognetus would have recognised them!

On the other hand, in the past we Catholics have projected the papacy as a kind of divine right monarchy; and Orthodox have rightly considered this to be a kind of ecclesiastical worldliness. Catholics did not distinguish between civil law and ecclesiastical law sufficiently, even though Jesus in his teaching was very clear about the difference, and it often acted as one world power among others, although with special privileges.  Also, everything was centralised on the Vatican: unity was stressed at the expense of diversity.

Eucharistic ecclesiology requires corrections to Catholicism and Orthodoxy, but corrections that are more faithful to the core of their traditions than their customary practice. The key word for change is "communion" or, in Greek, "koinonia".  The Church is communion.  The implications of communion as a basis for understanding primacy and the Church at a universal level are worked out in the Ravenna Document (2007) and the most recent "SYNODALITY AND PRIMACY DURING THE FIRST MILLENNIUM" published at Chieti in 2016.

Both sides, Catholic and Orthodox, advocate a regular synod to best express Catholic communion, called to exercise universal authority under the direction of a protos or presiding primate.  Pope Francis called the "Synod on the Family."  He said in October, 2015,
“The journey of synodality is the journey that God wants from his church in the third millennium,” the pope said Oct. 17. “A synodal church is a listening church, aware that listening is more than hearing. It is a reciprocal listening in which each one has something to learn.”
Francis, members of the Synod of Bishops on the family, theologians and other guests dedicated a morning to marking the anniversary of Blessed Paul VI’s institution in 1965 of the synod as a forum for sharing the faith and concerns of the world’s Catholics, reflecting together and offering counsel to the pope.
Referring to the Greek roots of the word “synod,” Francis said, “walking together -- laity, pastors, the bishop of Rome -- is an easy concept to express in words, but is not so easy to put into practice.”
In fact, before Francis spoke, five cardinals, an archbishop and the patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church spoke about the blessings and challenges of the synod process over the past 50 years. They agreed that while the synod’s methodology has improved over the past five decades, there still is work to do.

“We must continue on this path,” Francis told them. “The world in which we live and which we are called to love and serve, even with its contradictions, requires from the church the strengthening of synergies in all areas of its mission.”
The Orthodox had their "Holy and Great Council" in Crete in 2016.  At its ending, the bishops said the following:
"The Orthodox church, faithful to the unanimous apostolic tradition and her sacramental experience, is the authentic continuation of the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church as confessed in the Creed and confirmed by the teaching of the Church Fathers," the Orthodox representatives said in a final message.

"The Orthodox church expresses her unity and catholicity in council -- conciliarity pervades her organization, the way decisions are taken and determines her path," the message continued.
"The church does not involve herself in politics -- her voice remains distinct, but also prophetic, as a beneficial intervention for the sake of man. Human rights today are at the center of politics as a response to social and political crises and upheavals, and seek to protect the citizen from the arbitrary power of the state. Our church adds to this the obligations and responsibilities of citizens and the need for constant self-criticism."

Both the Catholic and Orthodox synods met with opposition: Catholic prelates who expected the synod to act just like the Vatican and Orthodox prelates wary of handing over any authority from their autocephalous, independent selves.  Both synods plan to hold further ones, even though the Orthodox one became caught up in the usual Moscow-Constantinople rivalry.   Both Catholic and Orthodox hope to improve in the future.

Lastly, we must demonstrate the an ecclesiology that starts with, "Where the Eucharist is, there is the Church" is very different from the Anglican Branch Theory.
Firstly, after Pope Francis attended the Armenian Orthodox Mass during his visit to Armenia, he said,
“We have met, we have embraced as brothers, we have prayed together and shared the gifts, hopes and concerns of the Church of Christ,” Francis told Karekin on Sunday, after taking part in an Orthodox Divine Liturgy staged at the headquarters of the Apostolic Church in Etchmiadzin.We have felt as one her beating heart, and we believe and experience that the Church is one,” he said.

He said that, even though he could not communicate, he felt the beating heart of the Catholic Church in the Eucharist, and that, in that experience, Catholics and Armenians together, "We believe and experience that the Church is one."

It is as assertion of absolute unity in Christ through the Eucharist that is contradicted by the schism.  It is an urgent challenge to Catholics, Armenians and anyone else who finds themselves in this position, like Fr Peter Heers and the Greek Orthodox, to try to solve the problems that keep us apart.  It doesn't justify the schism, but shares out both the blame and the responsibility to love one another that the Eucharist implies and, within the context of ecclesial love, to jointly seek the solution.  Schism contradicts the deepest self of every church that is involved.  Schism must be tackled because it makes the Church invisible to the world.  Only unity in love makes it visible to  ordinary people (Jn 17, 21)  

The Eucharist also points out the way to unity: if we allow the eucharistic love for one another to flower into joint Christian action, even before we are ready to become one ecclesial body in communion, then we will be within the context in which the Holy Spirit will do his work.

In contrast, the branch theory is a way of justifying the Anglican Church's position as a branch of the Catholic Church. The view of the Catholic Church that sees it as a number of completely independent churches is not all that different from the way that some people view the Orthodox Church.   The oneness of our Eucharists challenges the status quo: the branch theory in its Anglican or Russian form defends it.

for information of Pope Francis'  Synods on the Family, please click on

for information on the Orthodox Holy and Great Council, please click on


The Society for Ecumenical Studies
The Spirit, the Catechism and Primacy
London Ecclesiology Forum, 1995
Paul McPartlan
Image result for icon of christ as celebrant of the eucharist

The Holy Spirit through the Eucharist gives a foretaste of the Kingdom of God: the Church receives the life of the new creation and the assurance of the 
Lord's return.' 1
In 1982, the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches produced its famous 'Lima Report', entitled, Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry. Over a hundred theologians, representing, as they said, 'virtually all the confessional traditions' (BEM Preface), including Roman Catholic representatives, finalised an outstanding ecumenical text, which the Pope himself praised in his encyclical on ecumenism, Ut Unum Sint (UU), in 1995 (UU 45, cf 17,87). Bearing in mind the wide variations in emphasis upon the Eucharist and in the frequency of its celebration by Christian Churches since the Reformation, what the statement said about this sacrament is quite remarkable:
Christian faith is deepened by the celebration of the Lord's Supper. ... As the Eucharist celebrates the Resurrection of Christ, it is appropriate that it should take place at least every Sunday. As it is the new sacramental meal of the people of God, every Christian should be encouraged to receive communion frequently (BEM, Eucharist, 30,31).
The Holy Spirit has been very active in bringing the Churches at large to this new, shared appreciation of the importance of the Eucharist for the life of Christian people. Many ecumenical dialogues have now produced agreed statements on the Eucharist 2 and it is notable how prominent in all of them is the trio of elements highlighted in the opening quotation above. They relate the Eucharist to the Holy Spirit, to the Church and to the future, so much so that the re-appropriation of that three-fold link seems to be what has enabled fruitful ecumenical dialogue on the Eucharist and its vital place in the Church.2
 If, in our previous days of division, Catholics and others in the West have, speaking broadly, tended to think of the Eucharist as my personal encounter with Christ in a re-enactment of the past event of the Last Supper, we are now finding agreement in the West and reaching out to our brothers and sisters 
in the East by complementing those emphases and painting a fuller picture of the Eucharist as a celebration of the Church community, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in a foretaste of the future event of the heavenly banquet.

The decisive element of this trio is undoubtedly the Holy Spirit. The primary, long standing weakness in Western theology has been a lack of attention to the person and work of the Spirit. Discussion of the Church and particularly of the Eucharist has been enlivened and greatly advanced in recent times through recognising them as prime works of the Spirit in the world. Vatican II signalled   this renewed awareness in its Decree on Ecumenism. Unitatis Redintegratio (UR).

After being lifted up on the Cross and glorified, the Lord Jesus poured forth 
the Spirit whom he had promised, and through whom he has called and 
gathered together the people of the New Covenant, which is the Church, into a unity of faith, hope and charity, as the Apostle teaches us: "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called into the one hope of your 
calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Eph 4:4-5).... It is the Holy Spirit ... who brings about that wonderful communion of the faithful and joins them so intimately in Christ that he is the principle of the Church's unity' (UR 2).

In an address in 1987, Pope John Paul recalled the teaching of the Council and
then made a striking reference to the Holy Spirit:3 

Only the Holy Spirit can overcome the divisions still existing between Christians. On the day of Pentecost, when he descended upon the Apostles, he transformed them into decisive and mutually united witnesses to Christ.... Throughout Christendom there is now a deepening conviction that the invocation of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharist - that is, the so-called epiclesis - is a great prayer for Christian unity and an incessant appeal for union.' 3

The Holy Spirit is here being identified as the one who gathers the Church, transforms individuals into a community, and directs our gaze to a fuller union in the future, all of this activity being focused upon the celebration of the Eucharist. This perception is deeply rooted in the New Testament. St Paul prays that the fellowship, or communion, or koinonia of the Holy Spirit will be with the Corinthians (2 Cor 13:13) and St John says that it was when the Holy Spirit caught him up that he saw the future, visions of 'what is to take place hereafter', that he endeavours to describe in the Book of the Apocalypse (cf Apoc 1:10,19). John gives a clue that these visions were vouchsafed to him by the Spirit in the context of the Eucharist, celebrated on the Lord's day (cf Apoc 1:10), but more directly, we can note that, in the eucharistic context of the Last Supper in John's Gospel, Jesus himself promises: 'When the Spirit of truth comes, ... he will declare to you the things that are to come' (Jn 16:13). The Holy Spirit declares and reveals the future, namely the heavenly assembly gathered by the same Spirit, all in the context of the Eucharist.

Before moving on, let us recall the passage, quoted in the Decree on Ecumenism, from St Paul's letter to the Ephesians, and notice how prominent in the list he gives of factors that should unite the Church is the sharing of one hope: 'There is one body and one Spirit,' says Paul, but before he explains this in terms of 'one Lord, one faith, one baptism', which is the part we normally remember, he says first of all: 'just as you were called into one and the same hope when you were called' (Eph 4:4-5). 

Paul's insight is a liberating one, in that it offers an alternative to thinking that ecumenical discussion must somehow aim to understand and remedy all the past disputes that have divided Christians from one another, a task which is at least daunting, if not impossible. He suggests that we should look rather to the future and consider the hope that is in us, the very hope that St Peter urges us to be ready to explain (1 Pet 3:15). If we can agree on that hope and upon the way in which we 4 already anticipate its fulfilment, primarily in the Eucharist, then perhaps we can cast off some of the baggage of a divided history and move forward together. 

All in all, then, Christians of many traditions now increasingly looking towards the Eucharist as the key to the mystery of the Church. Furthermore, ecumenical agreement on the Eucharist is being found by acknowledging that the Eucharist is not just my personal encounter with Christ in a re-enactment of the Last Supper, it is also a celebration of the Church, empowered by the Holy Spirit, in a foretaste of the future heavenly banquet. Now, these complementary emphases are very prominent in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and we can therefore immediately note the ecumenical value of this new resource.

Let us now look more closely at what the Catechism actually says on these three points and relate its teaching directly to the leading ecumenical dialogue that the Catholic Church is currently engaged in, namely that with the Orthodox Churches of the East. By seeing very practically the great rapport between what that dialogue has said and what the Catechism teaches,5 we can appreciate that the Catechism is promoting, in many ways, a catechesis that implicitly draws Catholics closer to their Christian brothers and sisters in the Orthodox Church.

Pope John Paul and Patriarch Dimitrios of Constantinople launched the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue in 1979, when the Pope visited the Patriarch in Turkey. The Pope said then that he hoped that significant reconciliation between Catholics and Orthodox would be achieved by the year 2000.

Is it not time to hasten towards perfect brotherly reconciliation, so that the dawn of the third millennium may find us standing side by side, in full communion, to bear witness together to salvation before the world, the evangelisation of which is waiting for this sign of unity?' 6

There has been great upheaval in eastern Europe since then, but in 1994, the Pope showed that his hope is undimmed. He told the cardinals assembled in Rome that, 'in view of the year 2000', reconciliation between the Catholic West and the Orthodox East is 'perhaps the greatest task'.7 After his Lenten retreat, in 1995, which centred 5 on the rich spirituality of the Eastern Churches, he said, 'We truly wish to draw closer and closer to our Eastern, Byzantine and Russian brethren, because we are deeply convinced that the same faith unites us.' 8 We shall see how the Catechism helps that process, by what it says about the Holy Spirit, the Church and the future.

The Holy Spirit

Queen Victoria had seven blissful holidays with Prince Albert at Balmoral Castle in Scotland before his untimely death. I recently discovered that they used to go on 'Great Expeditions' lasting several days and covering nearly a hundred miles a day by carriage and on horseback. Apparently, Queen Victoria delighted in staying in simple inns in remote villages and meeting people who, in those days before television and photographs, had no idea who she was. The Queen herself, so powerful and yet so unrecognised, travelling around incognito.

I thought about the Holy Spirit! St Paul tells the Corinthians that no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' unless they are under the influence of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3). No Christian word is uttered or Christian deed is done without the prompting and grace of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is so powerful and yet normally so unrecognised. Jesus himself promised that the Spirit would remind us of all that he had said (Jn 14:26) and also tell us of the things to come (Jn 16:13). So, whenever we look back to the life of Christ or forward to heaven, the Spirit is at work. The Spirit 'will teach you everything' (Jn 14:26), says Jesus. Let us see what the Catechism has to say.

The Catechism has four parts. They treat the Creed, the sacraments, the ten commandments and the Our Father. The first two concern how God comes to us, giving us faith and life. The second two concern how we respond in action and prayer. That order is highly significant in stressing that the initiative is God's and that we simply respond with thankfulness. The new Catechism takes this order from the catechism produced after the Council of Trent to counter the Reformers who maintained that Catholics forgot that God's unmerited grace always has priority in our lives and thought that it was possible to earn a place in heaven. In order to stress that all is grace, and to show that Catholics believe that as much as anyone else, 6 the Catechism of the Council of Trent was constructed with that specific order of topics. The same ordering in the new Catechism should reassure modern members of Reformation Churches, who may have the same misgivings. So, the Catechism is ecumenical even in its very structure.

Now, the Catechism relates each of its four sections strongly to the Holy Spirit. First of all, it points out that the Creed is essentially trinitarian and that what we may think of as its twelve articles are, in fact, grouped under just the three headings of belief in the Father, belief in the Son and belief in the Holy Spirit. That means that all of its final articles are in fact just a teasing out of aspects of belief in the Holy Spirit. In other words, belief in the holy, catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting, is all embraced by belief in the Holy Spirit. All of these things are simply the ways in which, as it says, '[the] divine plan, accomplished in Christ, ... [is] embodied in mankind by the outpouring of the Spirit' (686).

So, in particular, the Catechism treats the Church under the heading of the activity of the Holy Spirit in its analysis of the Creed in Part 1. We know that the Church is utterly dependent on Christ, the one source of the light she reflects (748), but the Catechism emphasises that what we believe about the Church 'also depends entirely' upon our faith in the Holy Spirit (749). Then, in Part 2, it deals with the individual sacraments, which are the ways by which 'Christ communicates his Holy and sanctifying Spirit to the members of his Body' (739). Furthermore, it indicates that 'the new life' engendered by the sacraments, which Part 3, on morality, will examine, is a life 'in Christ, according to the Spirit' (740) and that Christian prayer, treated in Part 4, is itself a gift of the Holy Spirit, for this 'artisan of God's works' is, in particular, 'the master of prayer' (741, cf Rom 8:26; also 2672).

From beginning to end, then, the Catechism explicitly marvels in the activity of the Holy Spirit. This is of great ecumenical significance with regard to the Orthodox. As is well known, historically the rift between East and West centred upon the Western insertion of the filioque ('and from the Son') into the credal statement about the procession of the Holy Spirit (cf 247). The Orthodox still today proclaim simply that the Spirit proceeds 'from the Father' (cf 245, 248). It is notable that, while of course 7 defending the use of the filioque in the Latin tradition (246), the Catechism indicates that it pertains to the theological explanation of the mystery of God's trinitarian life rather than to the mystery itself; between West and East there is, it says, 'identity of faith in the reality of the same mystery confessed' (cf 248).

The filioque prompts criticism in the East that the Holy Spirit is being relegated to third place in the Trinity, so it is significant that the Catechism goes out of its way not to do down or subordinate the Holy Spirit with regard to the Son. It uses the lovely image of St Irenaeus to bring out the complementarity of the Son and the Spirit in doing the Father's will. When the Father fashioned man, he did so 'with his own hands [that is, the Son and the Holy Spirit]' (704). If it is true that Christ poured out the Spirit upon the apostles (730) and now continues to pour out the Spirit upon us in the sacraments (739), which seems to give him a certain priority over the Spirit, it is also true that Jesus is the Christ, the anointed one, only because the Holy Spirit was first poured upon him by the Father, which instantly redresses the balance:

The entire mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit, in the fulness of time, is contained in this: that the Son is the one anointed by the Father's Spirit since his Incarnation - Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah.
So essential is this fact for the very identity of the Saviour that the whole of the second chapter of the Creed, where we profess our belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, 'is to be read in this light' (727): 'everything that occurs from the Incarnation on derives from this fulness [of Christ's anointing]' (690). 'Christ's whole work is in fact a joint mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit' (727).

Thus, the Catechism reflects the richness of the scriptural data about the relationship between Jesus and the Spirit. Jesus gives the Spirit but also, as the Christ, is given to us by the Spirit. This mutuality points us to the Father as the author of salvation as he is the origin of the Godhead, a recognition which deeply unites the Western with the Eastern half of Christianity. The Son and the Spirit complement one another in the work of the Father at all times.8 The first Catholic-Orthodox agreed statement focused upon the Eucharist and emphasised the Spirit's constant contribution to the work of salvation, invisibly alongside Christ, as it were. It is the Spirit who 'manifests Christ in his work as Saviour', still today in the Eucharist (I,5b, cf CCC 737), where the Spirit 'transforms the sacred gifts into the Body and Blood of Christ' (I,5c; cf 1375). Then, the Spirit 'puts into communion with the Body of Christ those who share the same bread and the same cup' (I,5d; cf 725, 737).

Speaking broadly, the statement says that the Church is 'continually in a state of epiclesis [invocation of the Spirit]' (I,5c), particularly while celebrating the 
sacraments, which are 'all acts of the Spirit', and most of all in the Eucharist, 'the centre of sacramental life' (I,5d). In short, it says simply but profoundly that the Eucharist and the Church are 'the place of the energies of the Holy Spirit' (I,4a).

The Catechism reiterates all of these points in a marvellous section entitled, 'The Holy Spirit and the Church in the Liturgy' (1091-1109). The Liturgy, which centres upon the Eucharist, is 'the common work of the Holy Spirit and the Church' (1091).

 At the heart of each celebration of the Eucharist is the anamnesis, the memorial of God's saving acts, particularly in the paschal mystery of Christ, and the epiclesis, the invocation of the Spirit to transform the gifts and the assembly (1106). These two elements are not juxtaposed but interlocked, as we can see from the description of the Spirit as 'the Church's living memory' (1099), whose outpouring makes present 'the unique mystery' being solemnly remembered (1104). The final words of this section extend the epiclesis to cover the entire life of the Church:

The Church therefore asks the Father to send the Holy Spirit to make the lives of the faithful a living sacrifice to God by their spiritual transformation into the image of Christ, by concern for the Church's unity, and by taking part in her mission through the witness and service of charity.' (1109)

The Church 9

The title of the first agreed statement is rather daunting: The Mystery of the Church and of the Eucharist in the Light of the Mystery of the Holy Trinity. The mysteries of the Trinity, the Church and the Eucharist all bound together. How can we understand this?The Catechism takes us into the same territory, with the same connections. Speaking of the eucharistic gathering around the bishop, it says that 'it is in the Eucharist that the sacrament of the Church is made fully visible' (1142). Earlier, it declares that the Church, in turn, 'is the great sacrament of divine communion which gathers God's scattered children together' (1108, cf 747). Combining these statements, we can see that the Catechism is at one with the agreed statement in affirming that 'the eucharistic celebration makes present the Trinitarian mystery of the Church' (I,6).

An image may be suggested. We may imagine the bishop, or the priest, surrounded by the people for the celebration of the Eucharist; then Christ in heaven on the last day, surrounded by the whole Church for evermore; then, finally, the Father surrounded by the Son and the Spirit in the eternal life of the Trinity. As those three pictures overlap, we see the different layers of meaning in the Eucharist.

United around Christ in heaven, we shall share the life of the Trinity, and that life isimprinted upon us from the future every time we gather around the bishop or the priest for the Eucharist. A principle summarises that idea, namely, the Eucharist makes the Church. The Catechism actually puts those words into italics for emphasis (CCC 1396). I gave that title to my book on Henri de Lubac and John Zizioulas, Catholic and Orthodox respectively, because both of these major theologians give a central place to that principle.9

 In particular, both of them understand that, by making the Church, the Eucharist remedies the individualism that afflicts humanity as a result of sin.In fact, the Catechism tends to define the Church in terms of local, liturgical gatherings. 'The Church', it says, is 'the People that God gathers in the whole world'. 'She exists in local communities and is made real as a liturgical, above all a 10 Eucharistic, assembly' (752). This is music to Orthodox ears, but, of course, a question instantly arises: what sort of relations should these local churches and their bishops have with one other? And a discord threatens, because we are close to asking about the ministry of the pope, which is clearly one of the most sensitive topics in relations between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, So, let us look closely at what the Catechism teaches on these matters.  It emphasises that 'every bishop exercises his ministry from within the episcopal college, in communion with the bishop of Rome, the successor of St Peter and head of the college' (877). The collegiality of the bishops is manifested by the ancient. practice of requiring several bishops for the ordination of a new one (1559). This is not just a safeguard in case one of them has evil intent or forgets the words; it is to recognise the ordination as an essentially collegial act. Now, the Orthodox believe and practise that, as well. However, regarding the ordination of a new bishop, the Catechism adds that, for its legitimacy, 'a special intervention of the Bishop of Rome' is required (1559). At this point it may seem that Catholics and Orthodox must sadly differ, but it is not necessarily so.

In its third agreed statement, the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue said the following: 

'It is in [the] perspective of communion among local churches that an approach could be made to the question of primacy in the Church in general and, in particular, to that of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome' (55). 

Now, the reason given in the Catechism for the necessity of the Pope's intervention is precisely one set in this perspective: 
'because he is the supreme visible bond of the communion of the particular Churches in the one Church and the guarantor of their freedom' (1559), it says.

As we reflect that it is the Eucharist that profoundly unites all the particular churches in the one Church, we may wonder whether a link between the papacy and the Eucharist is being suggested here. Indeed it is. The Catechism takes the most important step of translating the rather juridical approach to the papacy of the past into a sacramental, eucharistic one, with great ecumenical potential.

The First Vatican Council declared that the 'ordinary and immediate authority' which the Pope has over the whole Church does not compete with, but rather 11 'confirms and defends' the ordinary and immediate authority of each bishop in his own diocese (DS 3060-3061; cf CCC 895). What this rather dry formula means becomes a lot clearer when it is set back into the context of the communion of local eucharistic communities.

In 1992, there was a Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on some aspects of the Church understood as Communion, and it pointed the way. It noted that local churches are not independent entities: 'it is precisely the Eucharist', it says, 'that renders all self-sufficiency ... impossible'. Now, the papacy has its place in the context of their mutual openness: 'the existence of the Petrine ministry ... bears a profound correspondence to the eucharistic character of the Church'. 10 Because openness to one another is essential to the integrity of the Eucharist that each local church celebrates, the pope's ministry reaches into the very heart of each local celebration: 'we must see the ministry of the successor of Peter not only as a "global" service, reaching each particular church from "outside", as it were, but as belonging already to the essence of each particular church from "within" '.11 The pope, in short, is here being understood as eucharistic guardian and guarantor, as one who primarily strengthens his brother bishops not juridically but eucharistically. 

The definitive act of a bishop in his local church is that of presiding at the Eucharist, as Catholics and Orthodox would both agree, and the fact that each local church, with its bishop, is striving to live out one and the same mystery in its own locality, means that the witness of each affects all of the others, for good or ill. What is being said here is that it is the pope's task to exercise a ministry of vigilance to ensure that the eucharistic lives of the many local churches are in harmony with one another in their witness to the world of today and in harmony, also, with the witness of past ages, and that, by doing so, the pope underpins and consolidates the eucharistic ministry of each bishop in his own church.

The Catechism appeared later in 1992 and endorsed this account of the papacy in the light of the Eucharist, an account set so promisingly within the perspective of the communion of local churches that the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue recommended. 

'The whole Church', it says, ‘is united with the offering and intercession of Christ.' In other words, wherever the Eucharist is celebrated, it is always an act of 12 the whole Church. 'Since he has the ministry of Peter in the Church,' it continues, 

'the Pope is associated with every celebration of the Eucharist, wherein he is named as the sign and servant of the unity of the universal Church' (CCC 1369).

We may note, at this point, that both de Lubac and Zizioulas have acknowledged an insight of the Calvinist theologian, Jean Jacques von Allmen, that offers remarkable support for the papacy as a ministry which is both eucharistic and ongoing. In Luke's Gospel, Jesus commissions Peter by saying: 'Simon, Simon, Satan has demanded to have you so that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren' (Lk 22:31-32). Von Allmen observes that Jesus does this in the setting of the Last Supper. He says: 'Luke situates Jesus' words to Peter about the particular work which will be his within the framework of the institution of the Eucharist, that is, within the framework of what Jesus wants to see endure until his return (Lk
22:31ff)'.12 The implication is that, if the Eucharist is set to continue, so too is Peter's ministry, as a service rendered to the Eucharist.

In his encyclical, Ut Unum Sint, Pope John Paul describes himself as 'the first servant of unity', whose task is task is one of 'vigilance over ... the celebration of the Liturgy and the sacraments' (UU 94). Looking towards 'a new situation', he momentously asks leaders and theologians of other Churches to help him to find a way of exercising the primacy so that it may be recognised by all as 'a service of love' (UU 95-96). The Eucharist is clearly emerging as a key to ecumenical progress on this most sensitive topic.

The Future

Finally, and briefly, we turn to the future, to see how the Catechism and the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue have treated it. God's purpose is to divinise us; that is the great common message. The Catechism clearly states that: 

'The fruit of the sacramental life is that the Spirit of adoption makes the faithful partakers in the divine nature by uniting them in a living union with the only Son, the Saviour' (1129). 

The original French text says starkly that the Spirit deifies believers.13 The roots of this teaching lie, of course, in the second letter of Peter, where it is said that we are to become 'partakers of the divine nature' (2 Pet 1:4). This biblical theme of divinising transformation is very prominent in Orthodoxy under the name of theosis, and it recurs many times in the Catechism, accompanied by quotations from the great Eastern Fathers, e.g. 'those in whom the Spirit dwells are divinized’ (St Athanasius, CCC 1988). Catholics and Orthodox bear united witness to the great tradition that divinisation is indeed our destiny. This profound agreement was expressed and its importance shown when the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue said that: 'every expression of faith should envisage the final destiny of man, as a child of God by grace, in his deification through victory over death and in the transfiguration of creation' (second agreed statement, 31, my italics; cf first agreed statement, I,4b). Faith, we are told at another point, 'seeks a reorientation towards the realities of the Kingdom which is coming and which, even now, is beginning to transform the realities of this world' (second statement, 11). The place where such a faith is lived most intensely is in the celebration of the Eucharist, about which the first agreed statement says that it 'anticipates the judgement of the world and its final transfiguration' (I,4c).

Finally, an important point, the Eucharist is celebrated not on the Sabbath, the seventh and last day of the first creation, but on the Lord's day, which is the eighth day, the first of the new creation (cf CCC 349, 1166, 2174-2175). The Catechism returns to this several times. It was on that day, not Saturday but Sunday, that the author of the Apocalypse heard those mighty words from the throne of God: 'Behold, I make all things new' (Apoc 21:5). It is likewise on that day of Resurrection that we receive a foretaste of our final transfiguration (cf 1000) for the heavenly liturgy. 'In the earthly liturgy we share in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem' (1090).

 To this emphasis upon the future, the Catechism significantly adds the other two elements of the trio with which we began, when it states: 'It is in this eternal liturgy that the Spirit and the Church enable us to participate whenever we celebrate the mystery of salvation in the sacraments' (1139, my italics).14
1 Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (Faith and Order Paper 111; World Council of Churches, Geneva, 1982), hereafter BEM, Eucharist, 18.

2 Cf my book, Sacrament of Salvation, An Introduction to Eucharistic Ecclesiology 
(T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1995), chap.6.

3  Pope John Paul II, address to ecumenical representatives in Poland, 8 June 1987, in
Osservatore Romano (English edition, hereafter OssRom), 6/7/87, p.5.

4 Catechism of the Catholic Church (Geoffrey Chapman, London, 1994;, hereafter CCC.
The French original was published in 1992.

5 Cf my article, The Catechism and Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue, One in Christ 30(1994),

6 Cf Paul McPartlan (ed.), One in 2000? Towards Catholic-Orthodox Unity (St Paul, Slough,
1993), p.9. This book contains the first three Catholic-Orthodox agreed statements together
with related articles.

7 OssRom, 22/6/94, p.8.

8 OssRom, 15/3/95, p.1

9 Cf Paul McPartlan, The Eucharist Makes the Church: Henri de Lubac and John Zizioulas in dialogue (T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1993).

10 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on some aspects of the Church considered as Communion (28/5/92), 11.

11 Ibid., 13.

12 J J von Allmen, L'église locale parmi les autres églises locales', Irénikon 43(1970), p.529
(my italics).

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