The Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church announced that it had reached substantial agreement on the questions of primacy and synodality in the Church. It was described as a “landmark agreement”.
There is increasing acceptance of the first-among-equals of the Bishop of Rome role in the pre-1054 church. This new document is a landmark in that it is beginning to agree to a shared reading of history. This now gives episcopally-led churches a common foundation on which to stand. To be fair, the reading of history is closer to what Orthodoxy has consistently said it has been… The increasing role of the Bishop of Rome (beyond first-among-equals) was a Western, mostly-post-4th-Century development that did not follow that particular trajectory in the East. The Bishops of Rome, for example, were not even present in the first councils. The kind of authority now exercised by the Pope was simply not present in the early church.
The document still needs to be ratified by Roman Catholic authorities – but after that, it would become the official, agreed position. If that is the case, it would formally be the end of the overly-simplistic RC apologetics in which it is “the one true church” and Eastern Orthodoxy, for example, “broke away in 1054”.
Other churches (beyond RC & Orthodoxy) with episcopally-led governance should read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest this text. Those churches not episcopally led could also reflect on the first millennium of our Christian history and what it might teach us for the future.
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