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Summary of Post-Conciliar Anglican Roman Catholic Ecumenical Dialogue

Paul M. Nguyen
Vatican II
Rev. Thomas Carzon, OMV
May 16, 2012

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The Anglican communion was formed in 1535, as the result of a process of secession of
the Church in England from communion with Rome, in light of the Pope's disapproval of the
marriage arrangements of King Henry VIII. Latourette claims that, at least initially, it was more
of a political separation than doctrinal, notwithstanding Henry's excommunication, and that fairly
orthodox piety was maintained for some time. In the decades that followed, however, the
separation grew deeper and impacted individuals' lives ever more. 1
The Catholic Church convened its Second Council of the Vatican on October 11, 1962,
and in that council, published Unitatis redintegratio (UR), the Decree on Ecumenism. In this
decree, the Church calls for a renewed vigor in seeking this reintegration of unity of all
Christians into the one universal church founded by Christ. The decree describes how the various
separated confessions are related to the Catholic Church, but devotes particular attention to the
Anglican communion, which, among those in which Catholic traditions and institutions in part
continue to exist, occupies a special place (UR 13). Following the publication of the decree,
and responding to its invitation, the Catholic Church and the Anglican communion have each
established analogous bodies for ecumenical dialogue. These bodies seek both to articulate their
own doctrine and discipline, and to begin the process of reconciliation. The Roman Pontiff and
the Archbishop of Canterbury have met and published a series of Common Declarations
summarizing the progress of their ecumenical dialogue, and these letters will guide us through
our investigation of ecumenical relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican
communion.
A recent development in this dialogue is the fruit borne in the establishment of Anglican
Ordinariates by Pope Benedict XVI's Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, in 2009.2

1 Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity (Peabody: Prince, 1975), pp. 802803.
2 Benedict XVI, Anglicanorum coetibus, November 4, 2009.

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This permits individuals and communities of Anglican heritage to enter into full communion
with the Roman Church, whilst maintaining some of their distinctive tradition; thus, relations
with these individuals and communities cease to be ecumenical, and our investigation will focus
on AnglicanCatholic relations prior to this point.
Unitatis redintegratio offers several principles for approaching ecumenical dialogue.
Above all, it proclaims that the primary motivation for engaging in dialogue is Christ's prayer at
the Last Supper, that they may all be one (NRSV, John 17:21; UR 2), and the motivation for
Christ's prayer, as John tells us in that same verse, is for the integrity of the Gospel: so that the
world may believe. The Church teaches that, while in most cases of division between
confessions, men of both sides were to blame, we cannot hold responsible those who at
present are born into these communities and nonetheless possess faith in Christ. On this basis,
the Church teaches that through a process of mutual understanding, Catholics may deepen their
faith, and those of separated confessions may come to realize the fullness of truth in the
depositum fidei guarded by the Catholic church (UR 4). This is what is meant by ecumenical
dialogue. The Church also recognizes sacramental unity as a primary sign of reconciliation, the
common celebration of the Eucharist being chief among them (UR 4). Finally, the Church
warns that, while Catholics should have an orientation to this kind of work, praying and
[making] first approaches toward them, they should also attend to the Catholic household
itself in order that a coherent Church be presented to the world and that we answer our own
calling to Christian perfection (UR 4).
With these principles in mind, and recalling the 1964 publication of Unitatis
redintegratio, let us examine the 1966 Common Declaration between Pope Paul VI and
Archbishop Michael Ramsey. The letter contains a sense of urgency, that this dialogue should

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begin immediately and with purpose, citing the Bishop of Ripon, who attended the Second
Vatican Council, as having said, We have gone on with our divisions long enough. The two
leaders encouraged a serious dialogue which, founded on the gospels and on the ancient
common traditions, may lead to that unity in truth, for which Christ prayed. 3 The declaration
called for the establishment of a Joint Preparatory Commission that met in 196768 and laid the
groundwork for subsequent dialogue.4
The next Common Declaration was published in 1977 by Pope Paul VI and Archbishop
Dr. Donald Coggan. The document opens with an acknowledgement of what the two confessions
have always held in common, especially doctrinally and in living traditions of liturgy, theology,
spirituality and mission (no. 2). It then acknowledges the work of Anglican and Roman
Catholic theologians who have come together to investigate historical and doctrinal
differences and who have found several theological convergences, to their delight and
surprise (no. 3). The two leaders then acknowledge the work of the newly-established
commission that is the formal structure within which their ecumenical dialogue occurs, the
Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC). In its first session, which
extended to 1982, documents were published on the Eucharist (1971), on Ministry and
Ordination (1973) and on Church and Authority (1976). The first two documents establish a
baseline of common belief in their respective areas, in order that variances may be betterunderstood and more precisely reconciled. Not surprisingly, they rely heavily on clear scriptural
foundations.5 The third addresses the issue of authority, repeatedly using the Greek term
(meaning community), a way of referring to the body of believers that recalls the
common history of both the Anglican and Catholic traditions, returning to the original texts of
3 Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey, Common Declaration, 1966.
4 Anglican Roman Catholic Joint Preparatory Commission, Malta Report, 1968.
5 ARCIC I, Eucharistic Doctrine, 1971.
ARCIC I, Ministry and Ordination, 1973.

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the Gospels and Epistles.6 These first documents seem to create a structure that becomes a model
for ecumenical dialogue on the three principal areas of doctrine, liturgical discipline, and
ecclesial discipline, and can be both extended and interpolated to make for a complete dialogue.
The Pope and Archbishop also note in their 1977 Common Declaration that the response
of both communions to the work and fruits of theological dialogue will be measured by the
practical response of the faithful to the task of restoring unity, giving importance to the role of
the laity in this work (no. 5). In the remainder of the document, they introduce the next topics the
commission (and, so it happened, the Roman Pontiff) would approach: marriage, particularly
mixed marriages (no. 6, cf. Pope Paul VI, Matrimonia Mixta), and the work of evangelization
(no. 9, cf. Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi).
The Common Declaration of 1982, between Pope John Paul II and Archbishop Dr. Robert
Runcie, was issued upon the conclusion of ARCIC I. They recognized the work acknowledged in
the previous Common Declaration, and the work completed in the elapsed decade, and decided
to call for a second session of ARCIC (no. 3).7 The Anglican communion addressed the Catholic
ecumenical dialogue at their Lambeth conferences, held roughly each decade since 1867, 8 and
the 1988 Lambeth Conference had the opportunity to respond to the Final Report of ARCIC I.
Their response was affirmative, with their reservations outlined as particular questions, and
possible areas of further dissent described briefly and carefully. 9
The Common Declaration of 1989, again between Pope John Paul II and Archbishop
Runcie, contained similar acknowledgements of recent ecumenical work, as in past Declarations.
In this one, they also approached two issues: the obstacle to unity posed by the practice of the
ordination of women, and the theme of secularization as a movement that the two should
6
7
8
9

ARCIC I, Authority in the Church I, 1976.


Pope John Paul II and Archbishop Dr. Robert Runcie, Common Declaration, 1982.
Resolutions Archives, The Lambeth Conference Official Web site.
Lambeth Conference, Resolutions from 1988, Resolution 8, 1988.

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address.10 This latter theme is found in the poignant remark about Europe as a continent, where
the progressive secularization of society erodes the language of faith and where materialism
demeans the spiritual nature of humankind.
In the 1996 Common Declaration between Pope John Paul II and Archbishop Dr. George
Leonard Carey, they again renew the invitation to the laity to participate in receiving the fruits of
the International Commissions: ARCIC I on the Eucharist and on the understanding of ministry
and ordination, and ARCIC II on salvation and the Church, the understanding of the Church
as communion, and on the kind of life and fidelity to Christ we seek to share. They assert that
these teachings deserve to be more widely known. They require analysis, reflection and
response.11 The two leaders also reiterate the challenges to communion that lie in questions of
the authority of the Church and of the ordination of women. Finally, they encourage unity in
prayer and celebration in the jubilee year 2000, an opportunity for renewal.
The Anglican Lambeth conference of 1998 recalls what it affirmed a decade earlier, and
commends intervening documents of ARCIC to the provinces of the Anglican communion for
their review and feedback.12 It also specifically welcomes warmly the invitation of Pope John
Paul II in his Encyclical Letter Ut unum sint (1995) to consider the ministry of unity of the
Bishop of Rome in the service of the unity of the Universal Church and invites the provinces to
likewise give their responses to it. The Anglican communion also formed the Inter Anglican
Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations (IASCER), which would more specifically
regulate their ecumenical work.
In 2001, the International Anglican Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission
(IARCCUM) was established. As the name suggests, this commission was tasked with
10 Pope John Paul II and Archbishop Dr. Robert Runcie, Common Declaration, 1989.
11 Pope John Paul II and Archbishop Dr. George Leonard Carey, Common Declaration, 1996.
12 Lambeth Conference, Resolutions from 1998, Resolution IV.23, 1998.

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determining how Anglicans might better collaborate with Catholics in their missionary activity.
Regarding the importance of this work, Pope John Paul II stated: It is clear that disunity has
impaired our mission in the world. In these troubled times the world needs more than ever the
common witness of Christians in every area, from the defence [sic] of human life and dignity to
the promotion of justice and peace. 13
In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI and Archbishop Rowan Williams published another
Common Declaration. After the standard summary, this time reaching back to the beginning of
post-conciliar dialogue, on the fortieth anniversary thereof, they assert that true ecumenism goes
beyond theological dialogue; it touches our spiritual lives and our common witness. 14 This is an
extension of the kind of affirmations that preceded it, in bolstering the direct participation of the
laity in the work of ecumenical reconciliation. They proceed to commend ARCIC II for the
publication of its most recent (and final 15) documents: The Gift of Authority (1999) and Mary:
Grace and Hope in Christ (2005). After renewing their commitment to continue this work, they
outline particular ways in which laity from each of their churches may cooperate with one
another in living out the Gospel they profess, in human charity, pro-life work, and environmental
stewardship. The 2008 Lambeth Conference likewise speculated about the effectiveness of topdown ecumenism and suggested that perhaps a bottom-up approach, while it would need to
follow its leading theologians and pastors, might more effectively accomplish progress toward
unity.16
Today, the Roman Curia contains the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity,
within which relations with the Anglican communion formally reside. 17 Within the Anglican
13
14
15
16
17

Pope John Paul II, Address to the Members of the Anglican Roman Catholic Working Group, 2001.
Pope Benedict XVI and Archbishop Rowan Williams, Common Declaration, 2006.
Relations with the Anglican Communion, The Holy See.
Lambeth Conference, Resolutions from 2008, Section F, Resolution 80, 2008.
Relations with the Anglican Communion, The Holy See.

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communion, it is the Anglican Consultative Council and, in particular, the IASCER that oversees
and engages in relations with various other churches and that participated in ARCIC I & II and
IARCCUM.18
The process of ecumenical dialogue, moving from an openness to seek a mutual
understanding of doctrine to approaching discussion of differences, and eventually to
reconciliation in the truth, is on the one hand cold and factual, and on the other, very much alive
with the real experiences of believers and the life-giving spirit of the Christ, the Word made flesh
for the salvation of the world. It is a process that requires courage and initiative as well as
humility, and it is, above all, a divine work, carried out at the hands of mere men. How much
must the Lord Jesus look forward to the day when we are finally united, in Him! And how
blessed have we been to have such shepherds, open to His grace, who have brought us to the
point of understanding at which some separated brethren may enter at last into full communion
with the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church of Christ, pledging their allegiance to His
vicar, and adding to this Body the beautiful character that they have developed in their time
away. As the Church has encouraged time and again, let us, the whole church, attend to the
integrity of the Catholic household itself and make the first approaches toward those who yet
lack this full communion (UR 4).

18 Unity Faith and Order Dialogues, The Anglican Communion Official Website.

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