IARCCUM: Growing Together in Unity and Mission

by Paul McPartlan
The Rev. Dr. Paul McPartlan is Carl J. Peter Professor of Systematic Theology and Ecumenism at the Catholic University of America, Washington, DC. He is a member of the Joint International Commission for Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, and has served as a theological consultant for IARCCUM.

This paper was delivered at the National Workshop on Christian Unity (NWCU), Washington DC, on January 30, 2007.
It has also been published in
Ecumenical Trends 36, no. 2 (February 2007). It is published here with permission from the author.

We are here this morning to consider the latest Anglican-Roman Catholic agreed statement, soon to be published. At the outset, however, I would like to 'triangulate' our reflection by mentioning something very significant happening today in London. In a little over an hour from now (London time), there will be a special Evensong in Westminster Abbey attended by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, to celebrate the publication of the latest Anglican-Orthodox agreed statement, the fruit of seventeen years' work (1989-2006).

In fact, if we consider the triangle, Catholic-Anglican-Orthodox, there are significant things happening on all three sides right now. I have mentioned the new Anglican-Orthodox agreed statement. Its title is: The Church of the Triune God. That reference to the Trinity immediately signals a communion ecclesiology. The international Catholic-Orthodox dialogue resumed last September in Belgrade and was gives a strong boost by the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Turkey, and especially to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in November. That dialogue is continuing to work within the matrix established by the first Catholic-Orthodox agreed statement in 1982, entitled: The Mystery of the Church and of the Eucharist in the Light of the Mystery of the Holy Trinity. Again, clearly, a communional matrix.

Then finally there is our new Catholic-Anglican text, which bears the title: Growing Together in Unity and Mission, and is subtitled: Building on 40 Years of Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue. In a very far-sighted way, right from the outset, Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue, conducted by ARCIC, the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, has taken communion, or koinonia, as the central theme of all its texts. You will recall what The Final Report said in 1982, presenting the fruits of the first round of ARCIC's work: 'we present the eucharist as the effectual sign of koinonia, episcope as serving the koinonia, and primacy as a visible link and focus of koinonia'.[1]

Communion, or koinonia, is the theological territory in which all of us, Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox are conducting our mutual dialogues at present, and particular attention is being given to the role of primacy within an ecclesiology of communion. Indeed, the proper balance of communion and primacy is an issue not only between but also within our respective churches. After the controversy caused by the episcopal ordination of Bishop Gene Robinson here in the USA in 2003, the Archbishop of Canterbury established the Lambeth Commission under Archbishop Robin Eames, and one of the major recommendations of the subsequent Windsor Report 2004 was a strengthening of the 'instruments of communion' in the Anglican Communion, and especially a strengthening of the primacy of the Archbishop of Canterbury.[2] The autonomy of the thirty eight provinces of the Communion needed to be an 'autonomy-in-communion', a 'freedom-in-relation', and excessive provincial independence needed to be tempered in favour of interdependence.[3]

Primacy is something the Catholic Church does rather well, some might say perhaps too well! It is more collegiality and decentralisation that ecumenical partners tend to look for from the Catholic Church. Significant in that light is the fact that Pope Benedict chose to have an episcopal mitre rather than a papal tiara on his coat of arms, and that having presided over a worldwide Synod of Bishops on the topic of the Eucharist soon after his election, he will preside in October of next year over another Synod, this time on the Word of God, a topic he himself chose. Overall, it is clear that the main christian churches need to engage lovingly with one another and to undertake an exchange of gifts. As Pope John Paul II said in his encyclical on ecumenism, Ut Unum Sint (1995), 'Dialogue is not simply an exchange of ideas. In some way it is always an "exchange of gifts"'.[4]

There's a strong pointer in that phrase to a more practical rather than a purely theological encounter between the christian churches. When people think of Anglican-Roman Catholic relations, they tend to think straight away of ARCIC, a commission largely made up of theologians. But the new text, Growing Together in Unity and Mission, is a product not of ARCIC, but of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission, which revels in the acronym IARCCUM!

I have not been personally involved with ARCIC, but I have been a theological consultant to IARCCUM, which is primarily an episcopal commission, for the last five years or so, working with others on the drafting of this text. Why has it been written and what really is the purpose of IARCCUM? Well, IARCCUM picks up the broad thrust that Anglican-Roman Catholic relations had at the very start. When Archbishop Rowan Williams visited Pope Benedict in November 2006, they commemorated the fortieth anniversary of the 1966 meeting between Archbishop Michael Ramsey and Pope Paul VI, a historic meeting which launched Anglican-Catholic dialogue. The 1966 meeting was followed by the formation of a Joint Preparatory Commission which swiftly held a series of meetings, culminating in the production of the Malta Report early in 1968. That Report is crucial for an understanding of IARCCUM.

The Malta Report mapped out a broad practical programme for the rapprochement of the two communions, starting with a public act.

'We recommend ... an official and explicit affirmation of mutual recognition from the highest authorities of each Communion. It would acknowledge that both Communions are at one in the faith that the Church is founded upon the revelation of God the Father, made known to us in the Person and work of Jesus Christ, who is present through the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures and his Church, and is the only Mediator between God and Man, the ultimate Authority for all our doctrine. Each accepts the basic truths set forth in the ecumenical Creeds [and] the common tradition of the ancient Church, although neither Communion is tied to a positive acceptance of all the beliefs and devotional practices of the other.'[5]

The act of mutual recognition never happened, but the outline at Malta of what the two communions needed to be able to acknowledge in one another set the programme for ARCIC and was a prime resource thirty five years later when IARCCUM began its work of drawing together the achievements of ARCIC. Essential also for appreciating the bond between Malta and IARCCUM is the fact that Malta saw theological dialogue as just one strand of a rich programme of corporate ties to be fostered. Immediately after the statement just quoted, the Report said: 'In every region where each Communion has hierarchy, we propose an annual Joint meeting of either the whole or some considerable representation of the two hierarchies'.[6] It then went on to recommend 'constant consultation between committees concerned with pastoral and evangelistic problems', 'agreements for joint use of churches and other ecclesiastical buildings', sharing facilities for theological education, common prayer, bonds between religious orders of the two communions, collaboration in liturgical renewal, 'joint or parallel statements from our Church leaders at international, national, and local level on urgent human issues',[7] and so on.

Within all of that activity, as part of the broad practical programme, there was to be an ongoing theological dialogue. Malta actually mapped out the agendas for what proved to be two successive rounds of ARCIC: Eucharist, ministry and authority for ARCIC 1, and salvation, communion, morals, authority and Mary for ARCIC 2.[8] That second cycle of dialogue began after Pope John Paul's visit to Canterbury in 1982 and finished only recently in 2004 with the agreed statement on Mary, Grace and Hope in Christ.

It is clear that theological dialogue was never meant to be all that was going on. Looking back from the vantage point of today, however, we must acknowledge that theological dialogue has been the bulk of what has gone on; and that, in light of Malta, has been something of an impoverishment. Of course, theological dialogue is a vital part of the process, but there is much more to ecclesial reconciliation than just theological dialogue. The process cannot largely be deputed to theologians, not least because theological dialogue is always in danger of developing a life of its own. There is always another topic that might be considered for an agreed statement! Theological dialogue needs to be anchored in the life of the Church, and its achievements need to be regularly 'cashed in', so to speak: if we have now reached this measure of agreement in this particular area, how should this make a difference in our corporate relations? How then might we establish a new context of relationship, a new level or plateau, from which to tackle the next topic. Malta foresaw a process of unity by stages, and there was wisdom in that.

However, theological dialogue (ARCIC) proceeded largely on its own. The Lambeth Conference of 1988 endorsed the results of the first round of ARCIC, and the Vatican finally gave a measure of approval in 1992, but the second round of ARCIC has been through no formal process of ecclesial reception. There have been considerable achievements in the theological dialogue, but there has also been a mounting backlog of reception, in other words, the ecclesial digestion of the results. It really was high time to cash something in, high time for the bishops, the pastors of the two communions, to take charge instead of just the theologians.[9]

One of the many splendid initiatives of the Jubilee Year 2000 was the convening by Cardinal Edward Cassidy, at that time the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU), and the then Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, of a gathering of bishops of the two communions at Mississauga, near Toronto, in Canada. There were pairs of bishops, one Anglican and one Roman Catholic, from thirteen countries, and they took stock of relations between the two churches. It was a remarkable meeting which profoundly affected the participants. Their final statement said: 'We have come to a clear sense that we have moved much closer to the goal of full visible communion than we had at first dared to believe. A sense of mutual interdependence in the Body of Christ has been reached, in which churches of the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church are able to bring shared gifts to their joint mission in the world'.[10] They continued:

'We believe that now is the appropriate time for the authorities of our two Communions to recognise and endorse this new stage through the signing of a Joint Declaration of Agreement. This agreement would set out: our shared goal of visible unity; an acknowledgement of the consensus in faith that we have reached, and a fresh commitment to share together in common life and witness. Our two Communions would be invited to celebrate this Agreement around the world.'[11]

The bishops drew up an 'action plan', with a new commission being established to oversee the production of the Joint Declaration, to monitor the reception of all the ARCIC statements, and generally to develop strategies for translating the progress that had been made into 'visible and practical outcomes'.[12] Thus was IARCCUM conceived, as a 'new stage' on the journey to the reiterated goal of 'full and visible unity'.[13] The new Commission was actually established in 2001 and duly began its work. It met in Malta in 2002.

The following year, 2003, saw the controversial ordination in New Hampshire, which dealt a severe blow to the process. The ordination caused major internal problems for the Anglican Communion, but it also caused problems for Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue, not only because of Catholic concern about the ordination of an actively gay man as bishop (many Anglicans shared that concern), but also because of the fault lines that began to appear in the Catholic Church's dialogue partner. Ever since Vatican II, the Catholic Church has been in dialogue with the Anglican Communion, and that dialogue partner needs to be intact and functioning for the dialogue to take place.

ARCIC continued working, though Archbishop Peter Carnley of Perth (Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia) took over from Bishop Frank Griswold (Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church USA) as the Anglican Co-Chair, in order to complete the document on Mary, Grace and Hope in Christ (2004), but the work of IARCCUM was suspended. Then something very significant happened. Having established the Lambeth Commission to make recommendations about the way forward for the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Rowan Williams invited Cardinal Walter Kasper, the current President of the PCPCU, to join him in establishing an ad hoc sub-commission of IARCCUM to make a submission to the Lambeth Commission specifically from the perspective of the results of over thirty years of Anglican-Catholic dialogue.

The PCPCU subsequently praised this initiative for several reasons. 'It showed the degree of mutual confidence which has come to characterise Anglican-Catholic relations; it was an acknowledgement that the actions of one church had a significant effect on the other; and it was an important step towards the reception of the results of the dialogue'.[14] I was a member of that sub-commission and I well remember our first meeting, which was held in Seattle in 2004 immediately after ARCIC had completed work there on the Mary document. Having just arrived for our crisis-prompted meeting, we joined the members of ARCIC for the celebratory dinner that concluded their own meeting. There was a mixture of emotions around the tables, but predominantly the sense that what ARCIC had achieved over the years was substantial and too precious to be squandered. What had been achieved must rather be deployed to help in the crisis, and in fact (as later stressed in the comment above) the whole exercise would itself be a valuable opportunity for the reception of ARCIC's results.

We duly completed and submitted our report, and The Windsor Report was published later in 2004, with the recommendations I mentioned earlier. In the more settled climate that ensued, IARCCUM resumed its work in 2005, and the agreed statement is now complete and ready for publication. It, too, has a vital role to play in the reception of ARCIC's achievements, and is in a sense a means of fast-tracking their reception, which has got so far behind.

All of this history and background indicates two main purposes for the new agreed statement: first, to draw together the main results of ARCIC, so that they can be comprehended and, hopefully, received; and second, with the original vision of The Malta Report in mind, to reinstate and promote a broad practical programme of engagement between the two churches, not just in relation to one another but primarily in view of our shared task in the world. These two aims, of course, overlap and interlock, because it is hoped that the results of ARCIC will themselves enable greater unity and more concerted action. As is stated in Growing Together in Unity and Mission,[15] the document is 'a call for action, based upon an honest appraisal of what has been achieved in our dialogue' (Preface); 'we believe that it is ... time to bridge the gap between the elements of faith we hold in common and the tangible expression of that shared belief in our ecclesial lives' ( n.10). Accordingly, the text is structured in two main parts. Part One is entitled: 'The Achievements of Anglican - Roman Catholic Dialogue', and Part Two has the title: 'Towards Unity and Common Mission'. I would like now briefly to give the flavour of these two parts.

It is important, first of all, to highlight the candid and realistic tone of the text. The first part is presented under nine headings: 'Belief in God as Trinity', 'Church as Communion in Mission', 'The Living Word of God', 'Baptism', 'Eucharist', 'Ministry', 'Authority in the Church', 'Discipleship and Holiness', and 'The Blessed Virgin Mary'. In all but two of these areas, the text frankly indicates in a boxed section issues that still require further exploration. The two areas where this thankfully wasn't necessary relate to 'Belief in God as Trinity' and 'Baptism'! Then, while the document acknowledges that the time may not be right to initiate 'a formal new stage in our relations' (reading between the lines: the way ahead for the Anglican Communion and therefore for the dialogue is not yet fully clear), it nevertheless says that the second part 'proposes some specific steps to deepen our fellowship in life and mission which we believe are responsibly open for us and would be appropriate for us to take in the present context' (n.10).

The first section, 'Belief in God as Trinity', rejoices that Anglicans and Catholics can together proclaim the Apostles' Creed, as 'graced recipients of the wholly unmerited gift of God's self-revelation in Christ' (n.13). Acknowledging the Trinitarian structure of the Creed, the text speaks of the Church's participation in the communion life of God (n.14), and naturally moves on to the second theme of 'Church as Communion in Mission', because the Son and the Spirit have come into the world on a mission of salvation; the Church's mission is 'a sacramental form of that divine mission' (n.16). Church as communion and Church as sacrament are prominent and interwoven motifs here, and there is a strong emphasis on the work of the Spirit and on the eschatological aspect of the Church's life. The Spirit 'nurtures the new life of the Kingdom within the Church' (n.18). Commendably, the text then makes the discussion very concrete. It is relatively easy to agree on 'the Church' in the abstract, but where do we respectively think that the Church is actually to be found? Both Catholics and Anglicans have adopted the idea that the Church has components or elements, for example, scripture, sacraments and creeds, with a unifying ministry of oversight, but the nature and number of those elements and the form and shape of that ministry are matters needing further work. Nevertheless, there is agreement that 'the goal of the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion is to come together in a common confession of the apostolic faith and a shared sacramental life with a common ministry of oversight' (n.25).

Before turning to the sacramental trio of Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, grouped in this way to recall the Lima Report of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches in 1982,[16] the text gives a strong presentation of 'The Living Word of God' and makes its own the valuable formulation of the Montreal Report of the same Commission in 1963, that 'We exist as Christians by the Tradition of the Gospel, testified in Scripture, transmitted in and by the Church through the power of the Holy Spirit' (n.29). It is also emphasised that effective preaching of the word is indispensable (n.31).

The section on 'Baptism' stresses that Anglicans and Catholics recognise one another's Baptism and that it is imperative that the obstacles which prevent us from enjoying 'the fulness of eucharistic communion to which baptism should lead' be overcome (n.38). There is an extensive treatment of 'Eucharist' which clearly states our agreement that the Eucharist sacramentally makes present the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Christ, and incorporates the superbly crafted statement of ARCIC's very first document, that in the Eucharist the members of Christ 'enter into the movement of his self-offering' (n.40).[17] The difference of discipline between the two churches regarding eucharistic sharing is an obvious point of divergence that is described and acknowledged (nn.46-48). The section on 'Ministry' starts with the strong statement of agreement that Christ's ministry is 'the source and the model from which all ministry flows and takes its shape', and emphasises that the ordained ministry exists to uphold and strengthen the ministry of the whole community as the Body of Christ in the world (n.50). The three-fold ordained ministry and the responsibilities of the ordained are treated, as is the specifically priestly designation of bishops and presbyters (nn.56-58). Two serious matters are carefully noted at the end of the section: Pope Leo XIII's negative judgement on Anglican orders and the disagreement between our two churches regarding the ordination of women (nn.60-61).

Again, when the text turns to consider 'Authority in the Church', the opening emphasis is on our agreement that 'the primary authority for all Christians is Jesus Christ himself' (n.62), an authority entrusted to the Church. While there is much agreement on basics, there are many ticklish issues here, regarding the reaching of decisions, the authority of councils, papal infallibility, and so on (nn.73-76).

We agree that 'the Christian vocation is to holiness of life' and that moral behaviour is 'integral to the maintenance of communion with the Holy Trinity' (n.77). The section on 'Discipleship and Holiness' notes that Catholics and Anglicans have 'similar ways of moral reasoning' and lots of agreement on social ethics (nn.83-84), but it also carefully considers issues such as divorce and remarriage, birth control, abortion, and homosexuality, where it is important for us to do more work together and 'develop common structures for decision making' (nn.86-87). Finally in Part One, in the section on 'The Blessed Virgin Mary', the 'unique vocation of Mary, Mother of God Incarnate', whom all generations have called blessed, is treated, with emphasis that any interpretation of her role that would obscure the unique mediation of Jesus Christ between God and humanity must be rejected (nn.88-89).

Part Two of the agreed statement opens by stating firmly that 'Genuine faith is more than assent: it is expressed in action'; 'the extent of common faith described in this statement compels us to live and witness together more fully here and now' (n.96). 'We should always be seeking to share with one another and with the world at large the good gifts of the living God', it adds (n.97). There is careful recognition that 'the context and dynamics of relationships between Anglicans and Roman Catholics differ widely across the world' (n.99), meaning that what is appropriate in any given place must be determined locally. Nevertheless, the text makes numerous practical recommendations under four headings: 'Visible expressions of our shared faith' (nn.100-103), 'Joint study of our faith' (nn.104-107), 'Co-operation in ministry' (nn.108-117), and 'Shared witness in the world' (nn.118-125), often taking up and expanding The Malta Report's proposals.

In Conclusion, the bishops of IARCCUM call on all bishops around the world, 'mindful of the specific responsibilities of bishops for the promotion of Christian unity and the mission of the Church', 'to encourage their clergy and people to respond positively to this initiative, and to engage in a searching exploration of new possibilities for co-operation in mission' (n.126).


[1]. Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, The Final Report (London: CTS/SPCK, 1982), Introduction, n.6

[2]. The Lambeth Commission on Communion, The Windsor Report 2004 (London: Anglican Communion Office, 2004), nn.97-112.

[3]. The Windsor Report 2004, nn.21, 40, 46, 49, 51, 66, 76, 80, 82, 84, 121, 122, 132, 143.

[4]. Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Letter, Ut Unum Sint (1995), n.28.

[5]. Anglican/Roman Catholic Joint Preparatory Commission, The Malta Report (2 January 1968), n.7. The Report is available at: http://www.prounione.urbe.it/dia-int/arcic/doc/e_arcic_malta.html

[6]. The Malta Report, n.8.

[7]. The Malta Report, nn.9-14.

[8]. Cf The Malta Report, nn.18-20, 22-23.

[9]. Cf the important words of Pope John Paul in 1995: 'While dialogue continues on new subjects or develops at deeper levels, a new task lies before us: that of receiving the results already achieved. These cannot remain the statements of bilateral commissions but must become a common heritage. For this to come about and for the bonds of communion to be thus strengthened, a serious examination needs to be made, which, by different ways and means and at various levels of responsibility, must involve the whole People of God.... [F]or the outcome of dialogue to be received, there is needed a broad and precise critical process which analyses the results and rigorously tests their consistency with the Tradition of faith received from the Apostles and lived out in the community of believers gathered around the Bishop, their legitimate Pastor' (Ut Unum Sint, n.80).

[10]. Statement from the Mississauga Meeting, May 2000, Communion in Mission, n.6. The Statement is available at: http://www.anglicancommunion.org/ecumenical/rc/arcic/acns2137.html. We may particularly note in this context the use of the word 'interdependence'.

[11]. Communion in Mission, n.10. The desire for a Joint Declaration of Agreement was strongly reminiscent of Malta's desire for 'an official and explicit affirmation of mutual recognition' (see above).

[12]. Communion in Mission, n.12.

[13]. Communion in Mission, n.13.

[14]. PCPCU, Information Service n.119 (2005/III), p.102. The sub-commission's report, entitled Ecclesiological Reflections on the Current Situation in the Anglican Communion in the Light of ARCIC, is reproduced in the same issue of Information Service, pp.102-115.

[15]. To avoid lots of further notes, I shall give bracketed references to the agreed statement in my text.

[16]. Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches, Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (Faith and Order Paper no.111; Geneva, WCC, 1982).

[17]. Cf ARCIC, Eucharistic Doctrine (1971), n.5; also Eucharistic Doctrine: Elucidation (1979), nn.5, 8.