It would be useful for us to take another look at the Ravenna Report. It is part of an ongoing dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches and is seen by some as a genuine breakthrough, especially on the question of authority and the role of the Bishop of Rome in the first centuries of Christian history and indeed of the first millennium. It is also important for a resolution of one of the central problems separating the Catholic and Orthodox churches.
The Orthodox-Roman Catholic Dialogue (1980-2010)
The Orthodox-Roman Catholic Dialogue gathers both the Oriental Orthodox and the Eastern Orthodox in dialogue with delegates from the Catholic Church. This dialogue began at Rhodes in 1980 and produced three significant statements in the first years of the dialogue. For over a decade the question of “uniatism” occupied the dialogue; in spite of the demise of the Communist regime in Russia and satellite countries, this did not hasten the progress of the dialogue.
The Ravenna Report of 2007 is generally considered to be a breakthrough which “put the dialogue back on track” along the lines foreseen by the original discussion in 1980. After clarifying the nature of the church in the light of the Eucharist and the Trinity, the Orthodox-Roman Catholic Dialogue explored the relations between the bishops and between the local Churches over which each presides in communion with the One Church of God extending across the universe (cfr. Munich Document, 1982). The joint commission underlined the relationship which exists between faith, the sacraments –especially the three sacraments of Christian initiation– and the unity of the church (cfr. Bari Document, 1987). They studied the sacrament of Order in the sacramental structure of the church indicating clearly the role of apostolic succession as the guarantee of the communion (koinonia) of the whole church and of its continuity with the Apostles in every time and place (cfr. Valamo Document, 1988). From 1990 until 2000, the main subject discussed by the Commission was that of “uniatism” (Balamand Document, 1993; Baltimore, 2000). In the Ravenna Report, the Commission took up the theme raised at the end of the Valamo Document, and reflected upon ecclesial communion, conciliarity and authority. Since Ravenna the Commission has studied the role of the Bishop of Rome in the first millennium (Cyprus in 2009, Vienna in 2010).
The Ravenna Report (2007)
The Ravenna Report concludes with the following statements:
“It remains for the question of the role of the bishop of Rome in the communion of all the Churches to be studied in greater depth. What is the specific function of the bishop of the “first see” in an ecclesiology of koinonia and in view of what we have said on conciliarity and authority in the present text? How should the teaching of the first and second Vatican councils on the universal primacy be understood and lived in the light of the ecclesial practice of the first millennium? These are crucial questions for our dialogue and for our hopes of restoring full communion between us.” (#45)
“We, the members of the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, are convinced that the above statement on ecclesial communion, conciliarity and authority represents positive and significant progress in our dialogue, and that it provides a firm basis for future discussing of the question of primacy at the universal level in the Church. We are conscious that many difficult questions remain to be clarified, but we hope that, sustained by the prayer of Jesus ‘ That they may all be one…so that the world may believe’(Jn 17:21), and in obedience to the Holy Spirit, we can build upon the agreement already reached. Reaffirming and confessing ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism’ (Eph 4, 5), we give glory to God the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who has gathered us together.” (#46)
At the twelfth session in Vienna, Archbishop Koch said: “I think there is certainly recognition that in the early days of the Church, there was a practice or an order of things in which Rome had a special role, a primary role. We still have to speak about what that meant and implied. Ravenna was the great recognition that there was a protos, a first one, at all levels – at the level of the local church, of the region and on the universal level. Now we are at the universal level and we’re looking more closely what this protos at this level looked like at that time. This is something new.”
Metropolitan Zizioulas added: “We are still studying the first millennium; we have not reached a conclusion yet. But the main and most important thing we have discovered in the discussions is that we decided in Ravenna seems to be confirmed by the history of the first millennium. In other words in the first millennium there was a recognition of the special role that the Bishop of Rome played in the Church. There was also the fact that the Bishop of Rome did not operate without consultation with other bishops in his own area as well as universal. So we are discovering that in history and this is an important aspect.” The Russian Orthodox Church had some reservations about the Ravenna Report and its understanding of the role of the Bishop of Rome in the first millennium.
The Ravenna Report is available at www.vatican/va under roman curia/pontifical council/christian unity-orthodox docs/ravenna document. Its subtitle is Ecclesial Communion, Conciliarity and Authority, dated Ravenna, 13 October, 2007. The Ravenna Report is part of the research on the Ecclesiological and Canonical Consequences of the Sacramental Nature of the Church, which had been the focus of the dialogue before the question of uniatism was introduced.