DECREE ON ECUMENISM
Proclaimed By His Holiness, Pope Paul VI on November 21, 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 differ in mind and go their
different ways, as if Christ Himself were divided. Such division openly
contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages the
holy cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature.
But the Lord of Ages wisely and patiently follows out the plan of grace
on our behalf, sinners that we are. In recent times more than ever
before, He has been rousing divided Christians to remorse over their
divisions and to a 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 the movement, fostered by the grace of the Holy
Spirit, for the restoration of unity among all Christians. This movement
toward unity is called "ecumenical." Those belong to it who invoke the
Triune God and confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, doing this not merely as
individuals but also as corporate bodies. For almost everyone regards the
body in which he has heard the Gospel as his Church and indeed, God's
Church. All however, though in different ways, long for the one visible
Church of God, a Church truly universal and set forth into the world that
the world may be converted to the Gospel and so be saved, to the glory of
The Sacred Council gladly notes all this. It has already declared its
teaching 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 the ways and means by which they too can respond to this grace
and to this divine call.
CHAPTER I CATHOLIC PRINCIPLES ON ECUMENISM
2. What has revealed the love of God among us is that the Father has sent
into the world His only-begotten Son, so that, being made man, He might
by His redemption give new life to the entire human race and unify it.
Before offering Himself up as a spotless victim upon the altar, Christ
prayed to His Father for all who believe in Him: "that they all may be
one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may
be one in us, so that the world may believe that thou has sent me". In
His Church He instituted the wonderful sacrament of the Eucharist by
which the unity of His Church is both signified and made a reality. He
gave His followers a new commandment to love one another, and promised
the Spirit, their Advocate, who, as Lord and life-giver, should remain
with them forever.
After being lifted up on the cross and glorified, the Lord Jesus poured
forth His Spirit as He had promised, and through the Spirit He has called
and gathered together the people of the New Covenant, who are 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". For "all you
who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ ... for you are all
one in Christ Jesus". It is the Holy Spirit, dwelling in those who
believe and pervading and ruling over the Church as a whole, who brings
about that wonderful communion of the faithful. He brings them into
intimate union with Christ, so that He is the principle of the Church's
unity. The distribution of graces and offices is His work too,
enriching 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
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 selected
Peter, and after his confession of faith determined that on him He would
build His Church. Also to Peter 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.
Christ Jesus Himself was forever to remain the chief cornerstone and
shepherd of our souls.
Jesus Christ, then, willed that the apostles and their successors the
bishops with Peter's successor at their head should preach the Gospel
faithfully, administer the sacraments, and rule the Church in love. It is
thus, under the action of the Holy Spirit, that Christ wills His people
to increase, and He perfects His people's fellowship in unity: in their
confessing the one faith, celebrating divine worship in common, and
keeping the fraternal harmony of the family of God.
The Church, then, is God's only flock; it is like a standard lifted high
for the nations to see it: for it serves all mankind through the
Gospel of peace as it makes its pilgrim way in hope toward the goal
of the fatherland above.
This is the sacred mystery of the unity of the Church, in Christ and
through Christ, the Holy Spirit energizing its various functions. It is a
mystery that finds its highest exemplar and source in the unity of the
Persons of the Trinity: the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit, one
3. Even in the beginnings of this one and only Church of God there arose
certain rifts, which the Apostle strongly condemned. But in
subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions made their appearance
and quite large communities came to be separated from full communion with
the Catholic Church
for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame. The children
who are born into these Communities and who grow up believing in Christ
cannot be accused of the sin involved in the separation, and the Catholic
Church embraces upon them as brothers, with respect and affection. For
men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion
with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect. 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
members of Christ's body, and have a right to be called Christian, and
so are correctly accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic
Moreover, some and even very many of the 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, and visible elements too.
All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to Christ, belong by
right to the one Church of Christ.
The brethren divided from us also use many liturgical actions of the
Christian religion. These most certainly can truly engender a life of
grace in ways that vary according to the condition of each Church or
Community. These liturgical actions must be regarded as capable of giving
access to the community of salvation.
It follows that the separated Churches and Communities as such,
though we believe them to be deficient in some respects, 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 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 who through Him were born
again into one body, and with Him quickened to newness of life- that
unity which the Holy Scriptures and the ancient Tradition of the Church
proclaim. For it is only through Christ's Catholic Church, which is "the
all-embracing means of salvation," that they can benefit fully from the
means of salvation. We believe that Our Lord entrusted all the blessings
of the New Covenant to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the
head, in order to establish the one Body of Christ on earth to which all
should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the people of God.
This people of God, though still in its members liable to sin, is ever
growing in Christ during its pilgrimage on earth, 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 inspiring 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 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
planned and undertaken, according to the various needs of the Church and
as opportunities offer, to promote Christian unity. These are: first,
every effort to avoid expressions, judgments 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. At
these 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. In such dialogue, everyone gains a truer knowledge
and more just appreciation of the teaching and religious life of both
Communions. In addition, the way is prepared for cooperation between them
in the duties for the common good of humanity which are demanded by every
Christian conscience; and, wherever this is allowed, there is prayer in
common. Finally, all are led to examine their own faithfulness to
Christ's will for the Church and accordingly to undertake with vigor the
task of renewal and reform.
When such actions are undertaken prudently and patiently by the Catholic
faithful, with the attentive guidance of their bishops, they promote
justice and truth, concord and collaboration, as well as the spirit of
brotherly love and unity. This is the way that, when the obstacles to
perfect ecclesiastical communion have been gradually overcome, all
Christians will at last, in a common celebration of the Eucharist, be
gathered into the one and only Church in that unity which Christ bestowed
on His Church from the beginning. We believe that this unity subsists in
the Catholic Church as something she can never lose, and we hope that it
will continue to increase until the end of time.
However, it is evident that, when individuals wish for full Catholic
communion, their preparation and reconciliation is an undertaking which
of its nature is distinct from ecumenical action. But there is no
opposition between the two, since both proceed from the marvelous ways of
Catholics, in their ecumenical work, 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 a careful and honest appraisal of whatever needs to be
done or renewed in the Catholic household itself, in order that its life
may bear witness more clearly and faithfully to the teachings and
institutions which have come to it from Christ through the Apostles.
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, so that the radiance of the
Church's image is less clear in the eyes of our separated brethren and of
the world at large, and the growth of God's kingdom is delayed. All
Catholics must therefore aim at Christian perfection and, each
according to his station, play his part that the Church may daily be more
purified and renewed. For the Church must bear in her own body the
humility and dying of Jesus, against the day when Christ will present
her to Himself in all her glory without spot or wrinkle.
All in the Church must preserve unity in essentials. But let all,
according to the gifts they have received enjoy a proper freedom, in
their various forms of spiritual life and discipline, in-their different
liturgical rites, and even in their 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 better expression to the authentic
catholicity and apostolicity of the Church.
On the other hand, Catholics must gladly acknowledge and esteem the truly
Christian endowments from 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 the grace of the Holy
Spirit in the hearts of our separated brethren can be a help to our own
edification. Whatever is truly Christian is never contrary to what
genuinely belongs to the faith; indeed, it can always bring a deeper
realization of the mystery of Christ and the Church.
Nevertheless, the divisions among Christians prevent the Church from
attaining the fullness of catholicity proper to her, in those of her sons
who, though attached 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 her
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 to be vigorously stimulated
by them and guided with prudence.
CHAPTER II THE PRACTICE OF ECUMENISM
5. The attainment of union is the concern of the whole Church, faithful
and shepherds alike. This concern extends to everyone, according to his
talent, whether it be exercised in his daily Christian life or in his
theological and historical research. This concern itself reveals already
to some extent the bond of brotherhood between all Christians and it
helps toward that full and perfect unity which God in His kindness wills.
6. Every renewal of the Church is essentially grounded in an increase
of fidelity to her own calling. Undoubtedly this is the basis of the
movement toward unity.
Christ summons the Church to continual reformation as she sojourns here
on earth. The Church is always in need of this, in so far as she is an
institution of men here on earth. Thus 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 can
and should be set right at the opportune moment.
Church renewal has therefore notable ecumenical importance. Already in
various spheres of the Church's life, this renewal is taking place. 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 pledges and signs of the
future progress of ecumenism.
7. There can be no ecumenism worthy of the name without a change of
heart. For it is from renewal of the inner life of our minds, from
self-denial and an 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, gentle in the service
of others, and to have an attitude of brotherly generosity towards them.
St. Paul 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". This
exhortation is directed especially to those raised to sacred Orders
precisely that the work of Christ may be continued. He came among us "not
to be served but to serve".
The words of St. John hold good about sins against unity: "If we say we
have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us". So
we humbly beg pardon of God and of our separated brethren, just as we
forgive them that trespass against us.
All the faithful should remember that the more effort they make to live
holier lives according to the Gospel, the better will they further
Christian unity and put it into practice. 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 have frequent recourse to that
prayer for the unity of the Church which the Savior Himself on the eve of
His death so fervently appealed to His Father: "That they may all be
In certain special circumstances, such as the prescribed prayers "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 an effective means of
obtaining the grace of unity, and they are a true 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
Yet worship in common (communicatio in sacris) is not to be considered as
a means to be used indiscriminately for the restoration of Christian
unity. There are two main principles governing the practice of such
common worship: first, the bearing witness to the unity of the Church,
and second, the sharing in the means of grace. Witness to the unity of
the Church very generally forbids common worship to Christians, but the
grace to be had from it sometimes commends this practice. The course to
be adopted, with due regard to all the circumstances of time, place, and
persons, is to be decided by local episcopal authority, unless otherwise
provided for by the Bishops' Conference according to its statutes, or by
the Holy See.
9. We must get to know the outlook of our separated brethren. To achieve
this purpose, study is of necessity required, and this must be pursued
with a sense of realism and 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 general
background. Most valuable for this purpose are meetings of the two
sides--especially for discussion of theological problems where each can
treat with the other on an equal footing--provided that those who take
part in them are truly competent and have the approval of the bishops.
From such dialogue will emerge still more clearly what the situation of
the Catholic Church really is. In this way too the outlook of our
separated brethren will be better understood, and our own belief more
10. Sacred theology and other branches of knowledge, especially of an
historical nature, must be taught with due regard for the ecumenical
point of view, so that they may correspond more exactly with the facts.
It is most important that future shepherds and priests should have
mastered a theology that has been carefully worked out in this way and
not polemically, especially with regard to those aspects which concern
the relations of separated brethren with the Catholic Church.
This importance is the greater because the instruction and spiritual
formation of the faithful and of religious depends so largely on the
formation which their priests have received.
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 in their apostolate which derive from the ecumenical
11. The way and method in which the Catholic faith is expressed should
never become an obstacle to dialogue with our brethren. It is, of course,
essential that the doctrine should be clearly presented in its entirety.
Nothing is so foreign to the spirit of ecumenism as a false irenicism, in
which the purity of Catholic doctrine suffers loss and its genuine and
certain meaning is clouded.
At the same time, the Catholic faith must be explained more profoundly
and precisely, in such a way and in such terms as our separated brethren
can also really understand.
Moreover, in ecumenical dialogue, Catholic theologians standing fast by
the teaching of the Church and investigating the divine mysteries with
the separated brethren must proceed 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 a "hierarchy"
of truths, since they vary in their relation to the fundamental Christian
faith. Thus the way will be opened by which through fraternal rivalry all
will be stirred to a deeper understanding and a clearer presentation of
the unfathomable riches of Christ.
12. Before the whole world let all Christians confess their faith in the
triune 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. In these days
when cooperation in social matters is so widespread, all men without
exception are called to work together, with much greater reason all those
who believe in God, but most of all, all Christians in that they bear the
name of Christ. Cooperation among Christians vividly expresses the
relationship which in fact already unites them, and it sets in clearer
relief the features of Christ the Servant. This cooperation, which has
already begun in many countries, should be developed more and more,
particularly in regions where a social and technical evolution is taking
place be it in a just evaluation of the dignity of the human person, the
establishment of the blessings of peace, the application of Gospel
principles to social life, the advancement of the arts and sciences in a
truly Christian spirit, or also in the use of various remedies to relieve
the afflictions of our times such as famine and natural disasters,
illiteracy and poverty, housing shortage and the unequal distribution of
wealth. All believers in Christ can, through this cooperation, be led to
acquire a better knowledge and appreciation of one another, and so pave
the way to Christian unity.
CHAPTER III CHURCHES AND ECCLESIAL COMMUNITIES SEPARATED FROM THE ROMAN
13. We now turn our attention to the two chief types of division as they
affect the seamless robe of Christ.
The first divisions occurred in the East, when the dogmatic formulae of
the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon were challenged, and later when
ecclesiastical communion between the Eastern Patriarchates and the Roman
See was dissolved.
Other divisions arose more than four centuries later in the West,
stemming from the events which are usually 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 place.
These various divisions differ greatly from one another not only by
reason of their origin, place and time, but especially in the nature and
seriousness of questions bearing on faith and the structure of the
Church. Therefore, without minimizing the differences between the various
Christian bodies, and without overlooking the bonds between them which
exist in spite of divisions, this holy Council decides to propose the
following considerations for prudent ecumenical action.
I. The Special Consideration of the Eastern Churches
14. For many centuries the Church of the East and that of the West each
followed their separate ways though linked in a brotherly union of faith
and sacramental life; the Roman See by common consent acted as guide when
disagreements arose between them over matters of faith or discipline.
Among other matters of great importance, it is a pleasure for this
Council to remind everyone that there flourish in the East many
particular or local Churches, among which the Patriarchal Churches hold
first place, and of these not a few pride themselves in tracing their
origins back to the apostles themselves. Hence a matter of primary
concern and care among the Easterns, in their local churches, has been,
and still is, to preserve the family ties of common faith and charity
which ought to exist between sister Churches.
Similarly it must not be forgotten that from the beginning the Churches
of the East have had a treasury from which the Western Church has drawn
extensively in liturgical practice, spiritual tradition, and law. Nor
must we undervalue the fact that it was the ecumenical councils held in
the East that defined the basic dogmas of the Christian faith, on the
Trinity, on the Word of God Who took flesh of the Virgin Mary. To
preserve this faith these Churches have suffered and still suffer much.
However, the heritage handed down by the apostles was received with
differences of form and manner, so that from the earliest times of the
Church it was explained variously in different places, owing to
diversities of genius and conditions of life. All this, quite apart from
external causes, prepared the way for divisions arising also from a lack
of charity and mutual understanding.
For this reason the Holy Council urges all, but especially those who
intend to devote themselves to the restoration of full communion hoped
for between the Churches of the East and the Catholic Church, to give due
consideration to this special feature of the origin and growth of the
Eastern Churches, and to the character of the relations which obtained
between them and the Roman See before separation. They must take full
account of all these factors and, where this is done, it will greatly
contribute to the dialogue that is looked for.
15. Everyone also knows with what great love the Christians of the East
celebrate the sacred liturgy, especially the eucharistic celebration,
source of the Church's life and pledge of future glory, in which the
faithful, united with their bishop, have access to God the Father through
the Son, the Word made flesh, Who suffered and has been glorified, and
so, in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, they enter into communion with
the most holy Trinity, being made "sharers of the divine nature".
Hence, through the celebration of the Holy Eucharist 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 Christians of the East pay high tribute,
in beautiful hymns of praise, to Mary ever Virgin, whom the ecumenical
Council of Ephesus solemnly proclaimed to be the holy Mother of God, so
that Christ might be acknowledged as being truly Son of God and Son of
Man, according to the Scriptures. Many also are the saints whose praise
they sing, among them the Fathers of the universal Church.
These Churches, although separated from us, yet possess true sacraments
and above all, by apostolic succession, the priesthood and the Eucharist,
whereby they are linked with us in closest intimacy. Therefore some
worship in common (communicatio in sacris), given suitable circumstances
and the approval of Church authority, is not only possible but to be
Moreover, in the East are found the riches of those spiritual traditions
which are given expression especially in monastic life. There from the
glorious times of the holy Fathers, monastic spirituality flourished
which, then later flowed over into the Western world, and there provided
the source from which Latin monastic life took its rise and has drawn
fresh vigor ever since. Catholics therefore are earnestly recommended to
avail themselves of the spiritual riches of the Eastern Fathers which
lift up the whole man to the contemplation of the divine.
The very rich liturgical and spiritual heritage of the Eastern Churches
should be known, venerated, preserved and cherished by all. They must
recognize that this is of supreme importance for the faithful
preservation of the fullness of Christian tradition, and for bringing
about reconciliation between Eastern and Western Christians.
16. Already from the earliest times the Eastern Churches followed their
own forms of ecclesiastical law and custom, which were sanctioned by the
approval of the Fathers of the Church, of synods, and even of ecumenical
councils. Far from being an obstacle to the Church's unity, a certain
diversity of customs and observances only adds to her splendor, and is of
great help in carrying out her mission, as has already been stated. To
remove, then, all shadow of doubt, this holy Council solemnly declares
that the Churches of the East, while remembering the necessary unity of
the whole Church, have the power to govern themselves according to the
disciplines proper to them, since these are better suited to the
character of their faithful, and more for the good of their souls. The
perfect observance of this traditional principle not always indeed
carried out in practice, is one of the essential prerequisites for any
restoration of unity.
17. What has just been said about the lawful variety that can exist in
the Church must also be taken to apply to the differences in theological
expression of doctrine. In the study of revelation East and West have
followed different methods, and have developed differently their
understanding and confession of God's truth. It is hardly surprising,
then, if from time to time one tradition has come nearer to a full
appreciation of some aspects of a mystery of revelation than the other,
or has expressed it to better advantage. In such cases, these various
theological expressions are to be considered often as mutually
complementary rather than conflicting. Where the authentic theological
traditions of the Eastern Church are concerned, we must recognize the
admirable way in which they have their roots in Holy Scripture, and how
they are nurtured and given expression in the life of the liturgy. They
derive their strength too from the living tradition of the apostles and
from the works of the Fathers and spiritual writers of the Eastern
Churches. Thus they promote the right ordering of Christian life and,
indeed, pave the way to a full vision of Christian truth.
All this heritage of spirituality and liturgy, of discipline and
theology, in its various traditions, this holy synod declares to belong
to the full Catholic and apostolic character of the Church. We thank God
that many Eastern children of the Catholic Church, who preserve this
heritage, and wish to express it more faithfully and completely in their
lives, are already living in full communion with their brethren who
follow the tradition of the West.
18. After taking all these factors into consideration, this Sacred
Council solemnly repeats the declaration of previous Councils and Roman
Pontiffs, that for the restoration or the maintenance of unity and
communion it is necessary "to impose no burden beyond what is
essential". It is the Council's urgent desire that, in the various
organizations and living activities of the Church, every effort should be
made toward the gradual realization of this unity, especially by prayer,
and by fraternal dialogue on points of doctrine and the more pressing
pastoral problems of our time. Similarly, the Council commends to the
shepherds and faithful of the Catholic Church to develop closer relations
with those who are no longer living in the East but are far from home, so
that friendly collaboration with them may increase, in the spirit of
love, to the exclusion of all feeling of rivalry or strife. If this cause
is wholeheartedly promoted, the Council hopes that the barrier dividing
the Eastern Church and Western Church will be removed, and that at last
there may be but the one dwelling, firmly established on Christ Jesus,
the cornerstone, who will make both one.
II. Separated Churches and Ecclesial Communities in the West
19. In the great upheaval which began in the West toward the end of the
Middle Ages, and in later times too, Churches and ecclesial Communities
came to be separated from the Apostolic See of Rome. Yet they have
retained a particularly close affinity with the Catholic Church as a
result of the long centuries in which all Christendom lived together in
However, since these Churches and ecclesial Communities, on account of
their different origins, and different teachings in matters of doctrine
on the spiritual life, vary considerably not only with us, but also among
themselves, the task of describing them at all adequately is extremely
difficult; and we have no intention of making such an attempt here.
Although the ecumenical movement and the desire for peace with the
Catholic Church have not yet taken hold everywhere, it is our hope that
ecumenical feeling and mutual esteem may gradually increase among all men.
It must however be admitted that in these Churches and ecclesial
Communities there exist important differences from the Catholic Church,
not only of an historical, sociological, psychological and cultural
character, but especially in the interpretation of revealed truth. To
make easier the ecumenical dialogue in spite of these differences, we
wish to set down some considerations which can, and indeed should, serve
as a basis and encouragement for such dialogue.
20. Our thoughts turn first to those Christians who make open confession
of Jesus Christ as God and Lord and as the sole Mediator between God and
men, to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are
aware indeed that there exist considerable divergences from the doctrine
of the Catholic Church concerning Christ Himself, the Word of God made
flesh, the work of redemption, and consequently, concerning the mystery
and ministry of the Church, and the role of Mary in the plan of
salvation. But we rejoice to see that our separated brethren look to
Christ as the source and center of Church unity. Their longing for-union
with Christ inspires them to seek an ever closer unity, and also to bear
witness to their faith among the peoples of the earth.
21. A love and reverence of Sacred Scripture which might be described as
devotion, leads our brethren to a constant meditative study of the sacred
text. For the Gospel "is the power of God for salvation to every one who
has faith, to the Jew first and then to the Greek".
While invoking the Holy Spirit, they seek in these very Scriptures God as
it were speaking to them in Christ, Whom the prophets foretold, Who is
the Word of God made flesh for us. They contemplate in the Scriptures the
life of Christ and what the Divine Master taught and did for our
salvation, especially the mysteries of His death and resurrection.
But while the Christians who are separated from us hold the divine
authority of the Sacred Books, they differ from ours some in one way,
some in another regarding the relationship between Scripture and the
Church. For, according to Catholic belief, the authentic teaching
authority of the Church has a special place in the interpretation and
preaching of the written word of God.
But Sacred Scriptures provide for the work of dialogue an instrument of
the highest value in the mighty hand of God for the attainment of that
unity which the Savior holds out to all.
22. Whenever the Sacrament of Baptism is duly administered as Our Lord
instituted it, and is received with the right dispositions, a person is
truly incorporated into the crucified and glorified Christ, and reborn to
a sharing of the divine life, as the Apostle says: "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 establishes a sacramental bond of unity which links all
who have been reborn by it. But of itself Baptism is only a beginning, an
inauguration wholly directed toward the fullness of life in Christ.
Baptism, therefore, envisages a complete profession of faith, complete
incorporation in the system of salvation such as Christ willed it to be,
and finally complete ingrafting in eucharistic communion.
Though the ecclesial Communities which are separated from us lack the
fullness of unity with us flowing from Baptism, and though we believe
they have not retained the proper reality of the eucharistic mystery in
its fullness, especially because of the absence of the sacrament of
Orders, nevertheless when they commemorate His death and resurrection in
the Lord's Supper, they profess that it signifies life in communion with
Christ and look forward to His coming in glory. Therefore the teaching
concerning the Lord's Supper, the other sacraments, worship, the ministry
of the Church, must be the subject of the dialogue.
23. The daily Christian life of these brethren is nourished by their
faith in Christ and strengthened by the grace of Baptism and by hearing
the word of God. This shows itself in their private prayer, their
meditation on the Bible, in their Christian family life, and in the
worship of a community gathered together to praise God. Moreover, their
form of worship sometimes displays notable features of the liturgy which
they shared with us of old.
Their faith in Christ bears fruit in praise and thanksgiving for the
blessings received from the hands of God. Among them, too, is a strong
sense of justice and a true charity toward their neighbor. This active
faith has been responsible for many organizations for the relief of
spiritual and material distress, the furtherance of the education of
youth, the improvement of the social conditions of life, and the
promotion of peace throughout the world.
While it is true that many Christians understand the moral teaching of
the Gospel differently from Catholics, and do not accept the same
solutions to the more difficult problems of modern society, nevertheless
they share our desire to stand by the words of Christ as the source of
Christian virtue, and to obey the command of the Apostle: "And whatever
you do, in word or in work, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ,
giving thanks to God the Father through Him". For that reason an
ecumenical dialogue might start with discussion of the application of the
Gospel to moral conduct.
24. Now that we have briefly set out the conditions for ecumenical action
and the principles by which it is to be directed, we look with confidence
to the future. This Sacred Council exhorts the faithful to refrain from
superficiality and imprudent zeal, which can hinder real progress toward
unity. Their ecumenical action must be fully and sincerely Catholic, that
is to say, faithful to the truth which we have received from the apostles
and Fathers of the Church, in harmony with the faith which the Catholic
Church has always professed, and at the same time directed toward that
fullness to which Our Lord wills His Body to grow in the course of time.
It is the urgent wish of this Holy Council that the measures undertaken
by the sons of the Catholic Church should develop in conjunction with
those of our separated brethren so that no obstacle be put in the ways of
divine Providence and no preconceived judgments impair the future
inspirations of the Holy Spirit. The Council moreover professes its
awareness that human powers and capacities cannot achieve this holy
objective the reconciling of all Christians in the unity of the one and
only Church of Christ. It is because of this that the Council rests all
its hope on the prayer of Christ for the Church, on our Father's love for
us, and on the power of the Holy Spirit. "And hope does not disappoint,
because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy
Spirit, who has been given to us".
Each and all these matters which are set forth in this Decree have been
favorably voted on by the Fathers of the Council. And We, by the
apostolic authority given Us by Christ and in union with the Fathers,
approve, decree and establish them in the Holy Spirit and command that
they be promulgated for the glory of God.
Given in Rome at St. Peter's, November 21, 1964
1. Cf. 1 Cor 1,13.
2. Cf; Jn. 4, 9, Col. 1-18-20; Jn. 11, 52.
3. Jn. 17, 21.
4. Cf. Jn. 13, 34.
5. Cf. Jn. 16, 7.
6. Eph. 4, 4-5.
7. Gal. 3, 27-28.
8. Cf. 1 Cor. 12, 4-11.
9. Eph. 4,12.
10. Cf. Mt. 28, 18-20, collato Jn. 20, 21-23.
11 Cf. Mt. 16, 18, collato Mt. 18, 18.
12 Cf. Lc. 22, 32.
13 Cf. Jn. 21, 15-18.
14. Cf. Eph. 2, 20.
15. Cf. 1 Petr. 2, 25; CONC. VATICANUM I, Sess. IV (1870), Constitutio
Pastor Aeternus: Collac 7, 482 a.
16. Cf.ls.11, 10-12.
17. Cf. Eph. 2, 17-18, collato Mc. 16, 15.
18. Cf. 1 Petr. 1, 3-9.
19. Cf. 1 Cor. 11, 18-19; Gal. 1, 6-9; 1 Jn. 2, 18-19.
20. Cf. 1 Cor. 1, 11 sqq; 11, 22.
21. Cf. CONC. FLORENTINUM, Sess. VIII (1439), Decretum Exultate Deo:
Mansi 31, 1055 A.
22. Cf. S. AUGUSTINUS, In Ps. 32, Enarr. II, 29: PL 36, 299.
23. Cf. CONC. LATERANENSE IV (1215) Constitutio IV: Mansi 22, 990; CONC.
LUGDUNENSE II (1274), Professio fidei Michaelis Palaeologi: Mansi 24, 71
E; CONC. FLORENTINUM, Sess. VI (1439), Definitio Laetentur caeli: Mansi
31, 1026 E.
24. Cf. Iac. 1, 4; Rom. 12, 1-2.
25. Cf. 2 Cor. 4, 10; Phil. 2, 5-8.
26. Cf- Eph- 5, 27.
27. Cf. CONC. LATERANSE V, Sess. XII (1517), Constitutio Constituti:
Mansi 32. 988 B-C.
28 Cf. Eph. 4, 24.
29. Eph. 4, 1-3.
30. Mt. 20, 28.
31. 1 Jn. 1, 10.
32. Jn. 17,21.
33. Mt. 18. 20.
34. Cf. Eph. 3, 8
35. 2 Petr. 1, 4.
36 Cf. S. IOANNES CHRYSOSTOMOS, In Ioannem Homelia XLVl, PG 59, 260-262.
37. Acts 15,28.
38. Cf CONC FLORENTINUM, Sess. VI (1439), Definitio Laetentur caeli:
Mansi 3 1 1026 E.
39. Rom. 1, 16.
40. CoI. 2, 12; cf. Rom. 6, 4.
41. CoI. 3, 17.
42. Rom. 5, 5.