Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio), 21 November 1964 INTRODUCTION 1.
Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio), 21 November 1964
1. The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the
principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council. Christ the Lord
founded one Church and one Church only. However, many Christian
communions present themselves to men as the true inheritors of Jesus
Christ; all indeed profess to be followers of the Lord but they differ
in mind and go their different ways, as if Christ himself were divided
. Certainly, such division openly contradicts the will of Christ,
scandalizes the world, and damages the most holy cause, the preaching
of the Gospel to every creature.
The Lord of Ages nevertheless wisely and patiently follows out the
plan of his grace on our behalf, sinners that we are. In recent times
he has begun to bestow more generously upon divided Christians remorse
over their divisions and longing for unity.
Everywhere large numbers have felt the impulse of this grace, and
among our separated brethren also there increases from day to day a
movement, fostered by the grace of the Holy Spirit, for the
restoration of unity among all Christians. Taking part in this
movement, which is called ecumenical, are those who invoke the Triune
God and confess Jesus as Lord and Saviour. They do this not merely as
individuals but also as members of the corporate groups in which they
have heard the Gospel, and which each regards as his Church and indeed
God's. And yet, almost everyone, though in different ways, longs for
the one visible Church of God, a Church truly universal and sent forth
to the whole world that the world may be converted to the Gospel and
so be saved, to the glory of God.
The sacred Council gladly notes all this. It has already declared
its teachings on the Church, and now, moved by a desire for the
restoration of unity among all the followers of Christ, it wishes to
set before all Catholics guidelines, helps and methods, by which they
too can respond to the grace of this divine call.
 Cf. 1 Cor. 1:13.
CATHOLIC PRINCIPLES ON ECUMENISM
2. What has been revealed the love of God among us is that the
only-begotten Son of God has been sent by the Father into the world,
so that, being made man, he might by his redemption of the entire
human race give new life to it and unify it . Before offering
himself up as a spotless victim upon the altar of the cress, he prayed
to his Father for those who believe: "that all may be one, as you,
Father, are in me, and I in you; pray that they may be one in us, that
the world may believe that you sent me" (Jn. 17:21). In his Church he
instituted the wonderful sacrament of the Eucharist by which the unity
of the Church is both signified and brought about. He gave his
followers a new commandment to love one another , and promised the
Spirit, their Advocate , who, as the Lord and life-giver, should
remain with them forever.
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
to the one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism"
(Eph. 4:4-5). For "all you who have been baptized into Christ have
put on Christ ... for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:27-28).
It is the Holy Spirit, dwelling in those who believe and pervading and
ruling over the entire Church, who brings about that wonderful
communion of the faithful and joins them together so intimately in
Christ that he is the principle of the Church's unity. By
distributing various kinds of spiritual gifts and ministries , he
enriches the Church of Jesus Christ with different functions "in order
to equip the saints for the work of service, so as to build up the
body of Christ" (Eph. 4:12).
In order to establish this his holy Church everywhere in the world
till the end of time, Christ entrusted to the College of the Twelve
the task of teaching, ruling and sanctifying . Among their number
he chose Peter. And after Peter's confession of faith, he determined
that on him he would build his Church; to him he promised the keys of
the kingdom of heaven , and after his profession of love, entrusted
all his sheep to him to be confirmed in faith  and shepherded in
perfect unity , with himself, Christ Jesus, forever remaining the
chief corner-stone  and shepherd of our souls .
It is through the faithful preaching of the Gospel by the Apostles
and their successors -- the bishops with Peter's successor at their
head -- through their administering the sacraments, and through their
governing in love, that Jesus Christ wishes his people to increase,
under the action of the Holy Spirit; and he perfects its fellowship in
unity: in the confession of one faith, in the common celebration of
divine worship, and in the fraternal harmony of the family of God.
The Church, then, God's only flock, like the standard lifted on high
for the nations to see it , ministers the Gospel of peace to all
mankind , as it makes its pilgrim way in hope toward its goal, the
fatherland above .
This is the sacred mystery of the unity of the Church, in Christ and
through Christ, with the Holy Spirit energizing its various functions.
The highest exemplar and source of this mystery is the unity, in the
Trinity of Persons, of one God, the Father and the Son in the Holy
3. In this one and only Church of God from its very beginnings there
arose certain rifts , which the Apostle strongly censures as
damnable . But in subsequent centuries much more serious
dissensions appeared and large communities became separated from full
communion with the Catholic Church -- for which, often enough, men on
both sides were to blame. However, one cannot charge with the sin of
the separation those who at present are born into these communities
and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic
Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers. For men
who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in some,
though imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church. Without doubt,
the differences that exist in varying degrees between them and the
Catholic Church -- whether in doctrine and sometimes in discipline, or
concerning the structure of the Church -- do indeed create many
obstacles, sometimes serious ones, to full ecclesiastical communion.
The ecumenical movement is striving to overcome these obstacles. But
even in spite of them it remains true that all who have been justified
by faith in baptism are incorporated into Christ ; they therefore
have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are
accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church .
Moreover, some, even very many, of the most significant elements and
endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church
itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic
Church: the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and
charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as
visible elements. All of these, which come from Christ and lead back
to him, belong by right to the one Church of Christ.
The brethren divided from us also carry out many liturgical actions
of the Christian religion. In ways that vary according to the
condition of each Church or community, these liturgical actions most
certainly can truly engender a life of grace, and, one must say, can
aptly give access to the communion of salvation.
It follows that the separated Churches  and communities as such,
though we believe they suffer from the defects already mentioned, have
been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the
mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from
using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the
very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church.
Nevertheless, our separated brethren, whether considered as
individuals or as communities and Churches, are not blessed with that
unity which Jesus Christ wished to bestow on all those to whom he has
given new birth into one body, and whom he has quickened to newness of
life -- that unity which the Holy Scriptures and the ancient Tradition
of the Church proclaim. For it is through Christ's Catholic Church
alone, which is the universal help towards salvation, that the
fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained. It was to the
apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, that we believe
that Our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant, in
order to establish on earth the one Body of Christ into which all
those should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the people
of God. During its pilgrimage on earth, this people, though still in
its members liable to sin, is growing in Christ and is guided by God's
gentle wisdom, according to his hidden designs, until it shall happily
arrive at the fullness of eternal glory in the heavenly Jerusalem.
4. Today, in many parts of the world, under the influence of the
grace of the Holy Spirit, many efforts are being made in prayer, word
and action to attain that fullness of unity which Jesus Christ
desires. The sacred Council exhorts, therefore, all the Catholic
faithful to recognize the signs of the times and to take an active and
intelligent part in the work of ecumenism.
The term "ecumenical movement" indicates the initiatives and
activities encouraged and organized, according to the various needs of
the Church and as opportunities offer, to promote Christian unity.
These are: first, every effort to avoid expressions, judgements and
actions which do not represent the condition of our separated brethren
with truth and fairness and so make mutual relations with them more
difficult. Then, "dialogue" between competent experts from different
Churches and communities; in their meetings, which are organized in a
religious spirit, each explains the teaching of his communion in
greater depth and brings out clearly its distinctive features.
Through such dialogue everyone gains a truer knowledge and more just
appreciation of the teaching and religious life of both communions.
In addition, these communions engage in that more intensive
cooperation in carrying out any duties for the common good of humanity
which are demanded by every Christian conscience. They also come
together for common prayer, where this is permitted. Finally, all are
led to examine their own faithfulness to Christ's will for the Church
and, wherever necessary, undertake with vigor the task of renewal and
Such actions, when they are carried out by the Catholic faithful
with prudent patience and under the attentive guidance of their
bishops, promote justice and truth, concord and collaboration, as well
as the spirit of brotherly love and unity. The results will be that,
little by little, as the obstacles to perfect ecclesiastical communion
are overcome, all Christians will be gathered, in a common celebration
of the Eucharist, into the unity of the one and only Church, which
Christ bestowed on his Church from the beginning. This unity, we
believe, subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never
lose, and we hope that it will continue to increase until the end of
However, it is evident that the work of preparing and reconciling
those individuals who wish for full Catholic communion is of its
nature distinct from ecumenical action. But there is no opposition
between the two, since both proceed from the marvelous ways of God.
In ecumenical work, Catholics must assuredly be concerned for their
separated brethren, praying for them, keeping them informed about the
Church, making the first approaches toward them. But their primary
duty is to make careful and honest appraisal of whatever needs to be
renewed and done in the Catholic household itself, in order that its
life may bear witness more clearly and faithfully to the teachings and
institutions which have been handed down from Christ through the
For although the Catholic Church has been endowed with all divinely
revealed truth and with all means of grace, yet its members fail to
live by them with all the fervor that they should. As a result the
radiance of the Church's face shines less brightly in the eyes of our
separated brethren and of the world at large, and the growth of God's
kingdom is retarded. Every Catholic must therefore aim at Christian
perfection  and, each according to his station, play his part,
that the Church, which bears in her own body the humility and dying of
Jesus , may daily be more purified and renewed, against the day
when Christ will present her to himself in all her glory without spot
or wrinkle .
While preserving unity in essentials, let everyone in the Church,
according to the office entrusted to him, preserve a proper freedom in
the various forms of spiritual life and discipline, in the variety of
liturgical rites, and even in the theological elaborations of revealed
truth. In all things let charity prevail. If they are true to this
course of action, they will be giving ever richer expression to the
authentic catholicity and apostolicity of the Church.
On the other hand, Catholics must gladly acknowledge and esteem the
truly Christian endowments for our common heritage which are to be
found among our separated brethren. It is right and salutary to
recognize the riches of Christ and virtuous works in the lives of
others who are bearing witness to Christ, sometimes even to the
shedding of their blood. For God is always wonderful in his works and
worthy of all praise.
Nor should we forget that anything wrought by grace of the Holy
Spirit in the hearts of our separated brethren can contribute to our
own edification. Whatever is truly Christian is never contrary to
what genuinely belongs to the the faith; indeed, it can always bring a
more perfect realization of the very mystery of Christ and the Church.
Nevertheless, the divisions among Christians prevent the Church from
realizing the fullness of catholicity proper to her in those of her
sons who, though joined to her by baptism, are yet separated from full
communion with her. Furthermore, the Church herself finds it more
difficult to express in actual life her full catholicity in all its
This sacred Council is gratified to note that the participation by
the Catholic faithful in ecumenical work is growing daily. It
commends this work to the bishops everywhere in the world for their
diligent promotion and prudent guidance.
 Cf. 1 Jn 4:9; Col. 1:18-20; Jn. 11:52.
 Cf. Jn. 13:34.
 Cf. Jn. 16:7.
 Cf. 1 Cor. 12:4-11.
 Cf. Mt. 28:18-20, in conjunction with Jn. 20:21-23.
 Cf. Mt. 16:19, in conjunction with Mt. 18:18.
 Cf. Lk. 22:32.
 Cf. Jn. 21:15-18.
 Cf. Eph. 2:20.
 Cf. 1 Pet. 2:25; Vatican Council I, Session 4 (1870), the
Constitution Pastor Aeternus: Coll. Lac. 7, 482a.
 Cf. Is. 11:10-12.
 Cf. Eph. 2:17-18, in conjunction with Mk. 16:15.
 Cf. 1 Pet. 1:3-9.
 Cf. 1 Cor. 11:18-19; Gal. 1:6-9; 1 Jn. 2:18-19.
 Cf. 1 Cor. 1:11ff; 11:22.
 Cf. Council of Florence, Session 8 (1439), Decree Exultate Deo:
Mansi 31, 1055 A.
 Cf. St. Augustine, In. Ps. 32, Enarr. II, 29: PL 36, 299.
 Cf. Lateran Council IV (1215), Constitution IV: Mansi 22, 990; II
Council of Lyons (1274), Profession of faith of Michael Palaeologus:
Mansi 24, 71 E; Council of Florence, Session 6 (1439), Definition
Laetentur caelis Mansi 31, 1026 E.
 Cf. Jas. 1:4; Rom. 12:1-2.
 Cf. 2 Cor. 4:10; Phil 2:5-8.
 Cf. Eph. 5:27.
THE PRACTICE OF ECUMENISM
5. The concern for restoring unity involves the whole Church,
faithful and clergy alike. It extends to everyone, according to the
talents of each, whether it be exercised in daily Christian living or
in theological and historical studies. This concern itself already
reveals to some extent the bond of brotherhood existing among all
Christians and it leads toward full and prefect unity, in accordance
with what God in his kindness wills.
6. Every renewal of the Church  essentially consists in an
increase of fidelity to her own calling. Undoubtedly this explains
the dynamism of the movement toward unity.
Christ summons the Church, as she goes her pilgrim way, to that
continual reformation of which she always has need, insofar as she is
an institution of men here on earth. Consequently, if, in various
times and circumstances, there have been deficiencies in moral conduct
or in Church discipline, or even in the way that Church teaching has
been formulated -- to be carefully distinguished from the deposit of
faith itself -- these should be set right at the opportune moment and
in the proper way.
Church renewal therefore has notable ecumenical importance. Already
this renewal is taking place in various spheres of the Church's life:
the biblical and liturgical movements, the preaching of the Word of
God and catechetics, the apostolate of the laity, new forms of
religious life and the spirituality of married life, and the Church's
social teaching and activity. All these should be considered as
promises and guarantees for the future progress of ecumenism.
7. There can be no ecumenism worthy of the name without interior
conversion. For it is from newness of attitudes of mind , from
self-denial and unstinted love, that desires of unity take their rise
and develop in a mature way. We should therefore pray to the Holy
Spirit for the grace to be genuinely self-denying, humble, gently in
the service of others and to have an attitude of brotherly generosity
toward them. The Apostle to the Gentiles says: "I, therefore, a
prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to
which you have been called, with all humility and meekness, with
patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity
of the spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:1-3). This exhortation is
directed especially to those raised to sacred orders in order that the
mission of Christ may be continued. He came among us "not to be
served but to serve" (Mt. 20:28).
St. John has testified: "If we say we have not sinned, we make him a
liar, and his word is not in us" (1 Jn. 1:10). This holds good for
sins against unity. Thus, in humble prayer we beg pardon of God and
of our separated brethren, just as we forgive them that offend us.
The faithful should remember that they promote union among
Christians better, that indeed they live it better, when they try to
live holier lives according to the Gospel. For the closer their union
with the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, the more deeply and easily
will they be able to grow in mutual brotherly love.
8. This change of heart and holiness of life, along with public and
private prayer for the unity of Christians, should be regarded as the
soul of the whole ecumenical movement, and merits the name, "spiritual
It is a recognized custom for Catholics to meet for frequent
recourse to that prayer for the unity of the Church with which the
Saviour himself on the eve of his death so fervently appealed to his
Father: "That they may all be one" (Jn. 17:20>
In certain circumstances, such as in prayer services "for unity" and
during ecumenical gatherings, it is allowable, indeed desirable that
Catholics should join in prayer with their separated brethren. Such
prayers in common are certainly a very effective means of petitioning
for the grace of unity, and they are a genuine expression of the ties
which still bind Catholics to their separated brethren. "For where two
or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of
them" (Mt. 18:20).
Yet worship in common (communicatio in sacris) is not to be
considered as a means to be used indiscriminately for the restoration
of unity among Christians. There are two main principles upon which
the practice of such common worship depends: first, that of the unity
of the Church which ought to be expressed; and second, that the
sharing in the means of trace. The expression of unity very generally
forbids common worship. Grace to be obtained sometimes commends it.
The concrete course to be adopted, when all circumstances of time,
place and persons have been duly considered, is left to the prudent
decision of the local episcopal authority, unless the bishops'
conference according to its own statutes, or the Holy See, has
9. We must become familiar with the outlook of our separated
brethren. Study is absolutely required for this, and it should be
pursued in fidelity to the truth and with a spirit of good will.
Catholics who already have a proper grounding need to acquire a more
adequate understanding of the respective doctrines of our separated
brethren, their history, their spiritual and liturgical life, their
religious psychology and cultural background. Most valuable for this
purpose are meetings of the two sides -- especially for the discussion
of theological problems -- where each can treat with the other on an
equal footing, provided that those who take part in them under the
guidance of the authorities are truly competent. Form such dialogue
will emerge still more clearly what the situation of the Catholic
Church really is. In this way, too, we will better understand the
outlook of our separated brethren and more aptly present our own belief.
10. Sacred theology and other branches of knowledge, especially
those of a historical nature, must be taught with due regard for the
ecumenical point of view, so that they may correspond as exactly as
possible with the facts.
It is important that future pastors and priests should have mastered
a theology that has been carefully elaborated in this way and not
polemically, especially in what concerns the relations of separated
brethren with the Catholic Church. For it is upon the formation which
priests receive that so largely depends the necessary instruction and
spiritual formation of the faithful and of the religious.
Moreover, Catholics engaged in missionary work in the same
territories as other Christians ought to know, particularly in these
times, the problems and the benefits which affect their apostolate
because of the ecumenical movement.
11. The manner and order in which Catholic belief is expressed
should in no way become an obstacle to dialogue with our brethren. It
is, of course, essential that the doctrine be clearly presented in its
entirety. Nothing is so foreign to the spirit of ecumenism as a false
irenicism which harms the purity of Catholic doctrine and obscures its
genuine and certain meaning.
Furthermore, in ecumenical dialogue, Catholic theologians, standing
fast by the teaching of the Church yet searching together with
separated brethren into the divine mysteries, should do so with love
for the truth, with charity, and with humility. When comparing
doctrines with one another, they should remember that in Catholic
doctrine there exists an order or "hierarchy" of truths, since they
vary in their relation to the foundation of the Christian faith. Thus
the way will be opened whereby this kind of "fraternal rivalry" will
incite all to a deeper realization and a clearer expression of the
unfathomable riches of Christ .
12. Before the whole world let all Christians confess their faith in
God, one and three, in the incarnate Son of God, our Redeemer and
Lord. United in their efforts, and with mutual respect, let them bear
witness to our common hope which does not play us false. Since
cooperation in social matters is so widespread today, all men without
exception are called to work together; with much greater reason is
this true of all who believe in God, but most of all, it is especially
true of all Christians, since they bear the seal of Christ's name.
Cooperation among Christians vividly expresses that bond which already
unites them, and it sets in clearer relief the features of Christ the
Servant. Such cooperation, which has already begun in many countries,
should be developed more and more, particularly in regions where
social and technological evolution is taking place. It should
contribute to a just appreciation of the dignity of the human person,
to the promotion of the blessings of peace, the application of the
Gospel principle to social life, and the advancement of the arts and
sciences in a truly Christian spirit. It should use every possible
means to relieve the afflictions of our times, such as famine and
natural disasters, illiteracy and poverty, lack of housing, and the
unequal distribution of wealth. Through such cooperation, all
believers in Christ are able to learn easily how they can understand
each other better and esteem each other more, and how the road to the
unity of Christians may be made smooth.
 Cf. V Lateran Council, Session 12 (1517), Constitution
Constituti: Mansi 32, 988 B-C.
 Cf. Eph. 4:23.
 Cf. Eph. 3:8.
CHURCHES AND ECCLESIAL COMMUNITIES
SEPARATED FROM THE ROMAN
13. We now turn our attention to the two principal types of division
which affect the seamless robe of Christ. The first divisions
occurred in the East, either because of the dispute over the dogmatic
formulae of the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon, or later by the
dissolving of ecclesiastical communion between the Eastern
Patriarchates and the Roman See. Still other divisions arose in the
West more than four centuries later. These stemmed from the events
which are commonly referred to as the Reformation. As a result, many
communions, national or confessional, were separated from the Roman
See. Among those in which Catholic traditions and institutions in
part continue to exist, the Anglican communion occupies a special
These various divisions, however, differ greatly from one another
not only by reason of their origin, place and time, but still more by
reason of the nature and seriousness of questions concerning faith and
Church order. Therefore, without minimizing the differences between
the various Christian bodies, and without overlooking the bonds which
continue to exist among them in spite of the division, the Council has
decided to propose the following considerations for prudent ecumenical
I. The Special Position of the Eastern Churches
14. For many centuries the Churches of the East and of the West went
their own ways, though a brotherly communion of faith and sacramental
life bound them together. If disagreements in faith and discipline
arose among them, the Roman See acted by common consent as moderator.
This Council gladly reminds everyone of one highly significant fact
among others: in the East there flourish many particular local
Churches; among them the Patriarchal Churches hold first place, and of
them many glory in taking their origins from the apostles themselves.
Hence, of primary concern and care among the Orientals has been, and
still is, the preservation in a communion of faith and charity of
those family ties which ought to exist between local Churches, as
From their very origins the Churches of the East have had a treasury
from which the Church or th West has drawn largely for its liturgy,
spiritual tradition and jurisprudence. Nor must we underestimate the
fact that the basic dogmas of the Christian faith concerning the
Trinity and the Word of God made flesh from the Virgin Mary were
defined in Ecumenical Councils held in the East. To preserve this
faith, these Churches have suffered, and still suffer much.
However, the heritage handed down by the apostles was received
differently and in different forms, so that from the very beginnings
of the Church its development varied from region to region and also
because of differing mentalities and ways of life. These reasons,
plus external causes, as well as a lack of charity and mutual
understanding, left the way open to divisions.
For this reason the Council urges all, but especially those who
commit themselves to the work for the restoration of the full
communion that is desired between the Eastern Churches and the
Catholic Church, to give due consideration to this special feature of
the origin and growth of the Churches of the East, and to the
character of the relations which obtained between them and the Roman
See before the separation, and to form for themselves a correct
evaluation of these facts. The careful observation of this will
greatly contribute to the dialogue in view.
15. Everyone knows with what love the Eastern Christians celebrate
the sacred liturgy, especially the eucharistic mystery, source of the
Church's life and pledge of future glory. In this mystery the
faithful, united with their bishops, have access to God the Father
through the Son, the Word made flesh who suffered and was glorified,
in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And so, made "sharers of the
divine nature" (2 Pet. 1:4), they enter into communion with the most
holy Trinity. Hence, through the celebration of the Eucharist of the
Lord in each of these Churches, the Church of God is built up and
grows in stature , and through concelebration, their communion
with one another is made manifest.
In this liturgical worship, the Eastern Christians pay high tribute,
in beautiful hymns of praise, to Mary ever Virgin, whom the ecumenical
Synod of Ephesus solemnly proclaimed to be the holy Mother of God in
order that Christ might be truly and properly acknowledged as Son of
God and Son of Man, according to the scriptures. They also give
homage to the saints, among them the Fathers of the universal Church.
These Churches, although separated from us, yet possess true
sacraments, above all -- by apostolic succession -- the priesthood and
the Eucharist, whereby they are still joined to us in closest
intimacy. Therefore some worship in common (communicatio in sacris),
given suitable circumstances and approval of Church authority, is not
merely possible but is encouraged.
Moreover, in the East are to be found the riches of those spiritual
traditions which are given expression in monastic life especially.
>From the glorious times of the holy Fathers, that monastic
spirituality flourished in the East which alter flowed over to the
Western world, and there provided a source from which Latin monastic
life took its rise and has often drawn fresh vigor ever since.
Therefore, it is earnestly recommended that Catholics avail themselves
more often of the spiritual riches of the Eastern Fathers which lift
up the whole man to the contemplation of divine mysteries.
Everyone should realize that it is of supreme importance to
understand, venerate, preserve and foster the rich liturgical and
spiritual heritage of the Eastern Churches in order to faithfully
preserve the fullness of Christian tradition, and to bring about
reconciliation between Eastern and Western Christians.
16. From the earliest times the Churches of the East followed their
own disciplines, sanctioned by the holy Fathers, by Synods, and even
by Ecumenical Councils. Far from being an obstacle to the Church's
unity, such diversity of customs and observances only adds to her
beauty and contributes greatly to carrying out her mission, as has
already been stated. To remove all shadow of doubt, then, this holy
Synod solemnly declares that the Churches of the East, while keeping
in mind the necessary unity of the whole Church, have the power to
govern themselves according to their own disciplines, since these are
better suited to the character of their faithful and better adapted to
foster the good of souls. The perfect observance of this traditional
principle -- which indeed has not always been observed -- is a
prerequisite for any restoration of union.
17. What has already been said about legitimate variety we are
pleased to apply to differences in theological expressions of
doctrine. In the study of revealed truth East and West have used
different methods and approaches in understanding and confessing
divine things. It is hardly surprising, then, if sometimes one
tradition can come nearer to a full appreciation of some aspects of a
mystery of revelation than the other, or has expressed them better.
In such cases, these various theological formulations are often to be
considered complementary rather than conflicting. With regard to the
authentic theological traditions of the Orientals, we must recognize
that they are admirably rooted in Holy Scripture, are fostered and
given expression in liturgical life, are nourished by the living
tradition of the apostles and by the works of the Fathers and
spiritual writers of the East; they are directed toward a right
ordering of life, indeed, toward a full contemplation of Christian
This sacred Council thanks God that many Eastern children of the
Catholic Church preserve this heritage and wish to express it more
faithfully and completely in their lives, and are already living in
full communion with their brethren who follow the tradition of the
West. But it declares that this entire heritage of spirituality and
liturgy, of discipline and theology, in the various traditions,
belongs to the full catholic and apostolic character of the Church.
18. After taking all these factors into consideration, this sacred
Council confirms what previous Councils and Roman Pontiffs have
proclaimed: in order to restore communion and unity or preserve them,
one must "impose no burden beyond what is indispensable" (Acts 15:28).
It is the Council's urgent desire that every effort should be made
toward the gradual realization of this unity in the various
organizations and living activities of the Church, especially by
prayer and by fraternal dialogue on points of doctrine and the more
pressing pastoral problems of our time. Similarly, to the pastors and
faithful of the Catholic Church, it commends close relations with
those no longer living in the East but far from their homeland, so
that friendly collaboration with them may increase in a spirit of
love, without bickering or rivalry. If this task is carried on
wholeheartedly, the Council hopes that with the removal of the wall
dividing the Eastern and Western Church there may be but one dwelling,
firmly established on the cornerstone, Christ Jesus, who will make
both one .
II. The Separated Churches and Ecclesial Communities in the West
19. The Churches and ecclesial communities which were separated from
the Apostolic See in Rome during the grave crisis that began in the
West at the end of the Middle Ages or in later times, are bound to the
Catholic Church by a specially close relationship as a result of the
long span of earlier centuries when the Christian people had lived in
But since these Churches and ecclesial communities differ
considerably not only from us, but also among themselves, due to their
different origins and convictions in doctrine and spiritual life, the
task of describing them adequately is extremely difficult; we do not
propose to do it here.
Although the ecumenical movement and the desire for peace with the
Catholic Church have not yet taken hold everywhere, it is nevertheless
our hope that the ecumenical spirit and mutual esteem will gradually
increase among all men.
At the same time, however, one should recognize that between these
Churches and ecclesial communities, on the one hand, and the Catholic
Church on the other, there are very weighty differences not only of a
historical, sociological, psychological and cultural character, but
especially in interpretation of revealed truth. To facilitate
entering into the ecumenical dialogue in spite of these differences,
we wish to set down in what follows some considerations which can, and
indeed should serve as a basis and encouragement for such dialogue.
20. Our thoughts are concerned first of all with those Christians
who openly confess Jesus Christ as God and Lord and the only Mediator
between God and man for the glory of the one God, the Father, the Son
and the Holy Spirit. We are indeed aware that there exist
considerable differences from the doctrine of the Catholic Church even
concerning Christ the Word of God made flesh and the work of
redemption, and thus concerning the mystery and ministry of the Church
and the role of Mary in the work of salvation. But we rejoice that
our separated brethren look to Christ as the source and center of
ecclesiastical communion. Their longing for union with Christ impels
them ever more to seek unity, and also to bear witness to their faith
among the peoples of the earth.
21. A love and reverence -- almost a cult -- of Holy Scripture leads
our brethren to a constant and diligent study of the sacred text. For
the Gospel "is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has
faith, to the Jew first and then to the Greek" (Rom. 1:16).
While invoking the Holy Spirit, they seek in these very scriptures
God as he speaks to them in Christ, the one whom the prophets
foretold, the Word of God made flesh for us. In the scriptures they
contemplate the life of Christ, as well as the teachings and the
actions of the Divine Master for the salvation of men, in particular
the mysteries of his death and resurrection.
But when Christians separated from us affirm the divine authority of
the sacred books, they think differently from us -- different ones in
different ways -- about the relationship between the scriptures and
the Church. For in the Church, according to Catholic belief, its
authentic teaching office has a special place in expounding and
preaching the written Word of God.
Nevertheless, in the dialogue itself, the sacred Word is a precious
instrument in the mighty hand of God for attaining to that unity which
the Saviour holds out to all men.
22. By the sacrament of Baptism, whenever it is properly conferred
in the way the Lord determined and received with the proper
disposition of soul, man becomes truly incorporated into the crucified
and glorified Christ and is reborn to a sharing of the divine life, as
the Apostle says: "For you were buried together with him in baptism,
and in him also rose again through faith in the working of God who
raised him from the dead" .
Baptism, therefore, constitutes the sacramental bond of unity
existing among all who through it are reborn. But baptism, of itself,
is only a beginning, a point of departure, for it is wholly directed
toward the acquiring of fullness of life in Christ. Baptism is thus
ordained toward a complete profession of faith, a complete
incorporation into the system of salvation such as Christ himself
willed it to be, and finally, toward a complete integration into
Although the ecclesial communities separated from us lack the
fullness of unity with us which flows from baptism, and although we
believe they have not preserved the proper reality of the eucharistic
mystery in its fullness, especially because of the absence of the
sacrament of Orders, nevertheless when they commemorate the Lord's
death and resurrection in the Holy Supper, they profess that it
signifies life in communion with Christ and await his coming in glory.
For these reasons, the doctrine about the Lord's Supper, about the
other sacraments, worship, and ministry in the Church, should form
subjects of dialogue.
23. The Christian way of life of these brethren is nourished by
faith in Christ. It is strengthened by the grace of baptism and the
hearing of the Word of God. This way of life expresses itself in
private prayer, in mediation on the scriptures, in the life of a
Christian family, and in the worship of the community gathered
together to praise God. Furthermore, their worship sometimes displays
notable features of a liturgy once shared in common.
The faith by which they believe in Christ bears fruit in praise and
thanksgiving for the benefits received from the hands of God. Joined
to it is a lively sense of justice and a true charity towards others.
This active faith has been responsible for many organizations for the
relief of spiritual and material distress, the furtherance of
education of youth, the improvement of social conditions of life, and
the promotion of peace throughout the world.
And if in moral matters there are many Christians who do not always
understand the Gospel in the same way as Catholics, and do not admit
the same solutions for the more difficult problems of modern society,
they nevertheless want to cling to Christ's word as the source of
Christian virtue and to obey the command of the Apostle: "Whatever you
do in word or in work, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving
thanks to God the Father through him: (Col. 3:17). Hence, the
ecumenical dialogue could start with the moral application of the
24. Now, after this brief exposition of the conditions under which
ecumenical activity may be practiced, and of the principles by which
it is to be guided, we confidently look to the future. This sacred
Council urges the faithful to abstain from any frivolous or imprudent
zeal, for these can cause harm to true progress toward unity. Their
ecumenical activity cannot be other than fully and sincerely Catholic,
that is, loyal to the truth we have received from the Apostles and the
Fathers, and in harmony with the faith which the Catholic Church has
always professed, and at the same time tending toward that fullness in
which our Lord wants his Body to grow in the course of time.
This sacred Council firmly hopes that the initiatives of the sons of
the Catholic Church, joined with those of the separated brethren, will
go forward obstructing the ways of divine Providence, and without
prejudging the future inspirations of the Holy Spirit. Further, this
Council declares that it realizes that this holy objective -- the
reconciliation of all Christians in the unity of the one and only
Church of Christ -- transcends human powers and gifts. It therefore
places its hope entirely in the prayer of Christ for the Church, in
the love of the Father for us, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
"And hope does not disappoint, because God's love has been poured
forth in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us"
 Cf. St. John Chrysostom, In Ioannem Homelia XLVI, PG 59, 260-262.
 Cf. Council of Florence, Sess. VI (1439), Definition Laetentur
caeli: Mansi 31, 1026 E.
 Cf. Rom. 6:4.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank