Congregation for the Eastern Churches Prot. No. 251/75
June 11, 1997
His Beatitude Maximos V HAKIM
Greek-Melkite Catholic Patriarch of Antioch and of all the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem.
The news of the project for "rapprochement" between the Greek-Melkite Catholic Patriarchate and the Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch has given rise to various echoes and comments in the public opinion.
The Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, and the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity have made an effort to study and closely examine the areas which fall within their competence in this domain; and the heads of these Dicasteries have been charged by the Holy Father to express some considerations to Your Beatitude.
The Holy See is greatly interested in and encourages initiatives which favor the road to a complete reconciliation of the Christian Churches. She appreciates the motivation behind the efforts undertaken for several decades by the Greek-Melkite Catholic Patriarchate, which is trying to hasten the coming of this full communion so greatly desired. The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches recognizes the duty for every Christian (Can. 902), which becomes for the Eastern Catholic Churches a special duty (munus) (Can. 903), whose exercise will be governed "through special norms of particular law while the Roman Apostolic Church functions as the moderator for the universal church" (Can. 904).
This is all the more true for two communities which see themselves as being closely united because of the ties of common origin and common ecclesiastical tradition, as well as by a long experience of common initiatives which no doubt place them into a privileged situation of proximity.
The Church's desire is to find adequate ways and means to progress further along the road of brotherly understanding and, to encourage new structures which further such progress towards full communion.
Pursuing such goals, Your Patriarchate is motivated by a sensibility and a knowledge of the situation and an experience which are peculiarly its own. The Holy See desires to contribute to this process by expressing some considerations which she believes will eventually help the future progress of this initiative.
The Dicasteries involved appreciate very much that common pastoral initiatives are undertaken by Catholics and Orthodox, according to the instructions found in the Directory for the application of the principles and norms for Ecumenism, especially in the areas of Christian formation, of education, a common effort in charity, and for the sharing of prayer when this is possible.
As to experiences of a theological nature, it is necessary to labor patiently and prudently, without precipitation, in order to help both parties to travel along the same road.
The first level in this sharing concerns the language and the categories employed in the dialogue: one must be very careful that the use of the same word or the same concept is not used to express different points of view and interpretations of a historical and doctrinal nature, nor lends itself to some kind of oversimplification.
A second level of involvement necessitates that the sharing of the content of the dialogue not be limited only to the two direct participants: the Patriarchates of the Catholic Greek-Melkites and the Orthodox of Antioch, but that it involve the Confessions with whom the two Patriarchates are in full communion: the Catholic communion for the former and the Orthodox for the latter. Even the Orthodox ecclesiastical authorities of the Patriarchate of Antioch have brought forth a similar preoccupation. This global implication also will permit averting the risk that some initiatives, meant to promote the full communion at the local level, might give rise to a lack of understanding or suspicions beyond the generosity of the intentions.
Now we consider the elements contained in the profession of faith of his Excellency Kyr Elias Zoghby, Greek-Melkite Catholic Archbishop emeritus of Baalbek, signed in February 1995, and to which numerous hierarchs of the Greek-Melkite Catholic Synod have adhered.
It is clear that this Patriarchate is an integral part of the Christian East whose patrimony it shares. As to the Greek-Melkite Catholics declaring their complete adhesion to the teaching of Eastern Orthodoxy, it is necessary to take into account the fact that the Orthodox Churches today are not in full communion with the Church of Rome, and that this adhesion is therefore not possible as long as there is not a full correspondence in the profession and exercise of the faith by the two parties. Besides, a correct formulation of the faith necessitates a reference not only to a particular Church, but to the whole Church of Christ, which knows no frontiers, neither in space nor in time.
On the question of communion with the Bishops of Rome, we know that the doctrine concerning the primacy of the Roman Pontiff has experienced a development over time within the framework of the explanation of the Church's faith, and it has to be retained in its entirety, which means from its origins to our day. One only has to think about what the first Vatican Council affirmed and what Vatican Council II declared, particularly in the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium Num. 22 and 23, and in the Decree on ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio Number 2.
As to the modalities for exercising the Petrine ministry in our time, a question which is distinct from the doctrinal aspect, it is true that the Holy Father has recently desired to remind us how "we may seek--together, of course--the forms in which this ministry may accomplish a service of love recognized by all concerned" (Ut unum sint, 95); however, if it is legitimate to also deal with this on a local level, it is also a duty to do this always in harmony with a vision of the universal Church. Touching this matter, it is appropriate to be reminded that in any case, "The Catholic Church, both in her praxis and in her solemn documents, holds that the communion of the particular Churches with the Church of Rome, and of their Bishops with the Bishop of Rome, is--in God's plan--an essential requisite of full and visible communion" (Ut unum sint, 97).
As to the various aspects of communicatio in sacris, it is necessary to maintain a constant dialogue in order to understand the meaning of the current regulation in force, in the light of underlying theological presuppositions; premature, unilateral initiatives are to be avoided, where the eventual results may not have been sufficiently considered, they could produce serious consequences for other Eastern Catholics, especially for those living in the same region.
In summary, the fraternal dialogue undertaken by the Greek-Melkite Catholic Partriarchate will be better able to serve the ecumenical dialogue to the degree that it strives to involve the entire Catholic Church to which it belongs in the maturing of new sensitivities. There is good reason to believe that the Orthodox in general so share the same worry, due also to the obligations of communion within their own body.
The Dicasteries involved are ready to collaborate in order to further the exchange of verifications and echoes; they express their satisfaction for these meetings which have been held on this subject with the representatives of the Greek-Melkite Catholic Church, and they hope and wish that these meetings continue and intensify in the future.
Not doubting at all that Your Beatitude would want to share these ideas, we beg you to accept the expression of our fraternal and cordial greetings.
Joseph Card. Ratzinger
Achille Card. Silvestrini
Edward Card. Cassidy