There has been much legitimate criticism of past ecumenical statements which have sought to further doctrinal agreement between the Catholic Church and other Christian bodies. The previous "Agreed Statement" on the Mass and Eucharist issued by the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) was unfortunately riddled with imprecise language and ambiguous formulations. As Catholic Professor David Knowles noted in 1973:
"On the strictly factual level, it is undeniable that whereas, even in these latter days, the Roman Catholic Church has a clearly expressed teaching with which all are in substantial agreement, there is within the Anglican communion a very wide spectrum of belief, ranging from a total agreement with the Catholic formulae to an understanding of the doctrine of the Eucharist which no Catholic can accept".
(in "The Eucharist: Unity of Truth", Faith-Keyway Publications, Essex, 1973)
Since the above was written, the Anglican communion has suffered further disintegration in belief and practice with its ordination of women bishops and priestesses, exposing even more clearly than ever the hollow pretense to uphold Apostolic Tradition in matters of doctrine and dogma. Nevertheless, ARCIC's latest document "The Gift of Authority (Authority in the Church,III)" represents — despite certain reservations — a most remarkable appreciation of Papal Primacy by its Anglican signatories. As ARCIC Co-Chairmen Rt. Reverend Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, (Catholic Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, UK) and Rt. Reverend Mark Santer (Anglican Bishop of Birmingham, UK) observe:
"Much has happened over these years to deepen our awareness of each other as brothers and sisters in Christ... Without agreement in this area [i.e., Authority in the Church] we shall not reach the full, visible unity to which we are both committed."
In "the Gift of Authority III" one finds impressive acknowledgement by Anglican Representatives that:
- Bishops are essential to the nature of the Church, not just for its well-being. Moreoever, the role of Bishops is "magisterial, that is, they are to determine what is taught as faithful to the apostolic Tradition." (#38)
- Similarly, there is the essential role of the Pope in the Church as Successor of Peter.
- "In the pattern found in the New Testament one of the Twelve is chosen by Jesus Christ to strengthen the others so that they will remain faithful to their mission and in harmony with each other (see the discussion of the Petrine texts in Authority in the Church, II). Augustine of Hippo expressed well the relationship among Peter, the other apostles and the whole Church, when he said, 'After all, it is not just one man that received these keys, but the Church in its unity'. So this is the reason for Peter's acknowledged pre-eminence, that he stood for the Church's universality and unity." (#46)
- "Historically, the Bishop of Rome has exercised such a [primatial] ministry either for the benefit of the whole Church...or for the benefit of a local church." (#46)
- Within his wider ministry, the Bishop of Rome offers a specific ministry concerning the discernment of truth, as an expression of universal primacy. This particular service has been the source of difficulties and misunderstanding among the churches. Every solemn definition pronounced from the chair of Peter in the church of Peter and Paul may, however, express only the faith of the Church...When the faith is articulated in this way, the Bishop of Rome proclaims the faith of the local churches. It is thus the wholly reliable teaching of the whole Church that is operative in the judgment of the universal primate... It is this faith which the Bishop of Rome in certain circumstances has a duty to discern and make explicit. This form of authboritative teaching has no stronger guarantee from the Spirit than have the solemn definitions of ecumenical councils. The reception of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome entails the recognition of this specific ministry of the universal primate. We believe this is a gift to be received by all the churches. (#47)
The above recognition of the Universal Primacy of the Pope by the Anglican members of ARCIC expresses a remarkable convergence towards Catholic doctrine on the Primacy found in the Dogmatic Constitutions on the Church of Vatican I and II. True, "Gift of Authority III" has been issued for purposes of "discussion" and is not binding upon other Anglicans. Actually, it is impossible to see how any document agreed to by some Anglican theologians can be binding upon other members of a body so radically rent by contradictory doctrines and which possesses no visible unity. Nevertheless, it represents a most welcome repudiation of the stale Protestant polemics of the past which denied "the sacred Primacy of the Roman Pontiff" and negated the truth that:
"In order that the episcopate itself be one and undivided, Christ put Peter at the head of the other apostles, and in him He set up a lasting and visible source and foundation of the Unity both of faith and of communion."
(Vatican II's "Lumen Gentium" 18)
In my recent book "The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy", I dealt in some detail with many of the objections made by Eastern Orthodox writers to the Primacy of Peter and his successor, the Roman Pontiff. Ironically, many of these standard objedctions have been taken from Protestant writers, and vice-versa! Our Eastern Orthodox brethren who retain their own medieval Byzantine prejudices and misunderstandings concerning the Petrine ministry of the Bishop of Rome would surely benefit greatly from the results of the modern historical and theological scholarship incorporated in ARCIC's "the Gift of Authority III".