The Pastoral Office: A Joint Statement

U. S. Theological Consultation, 1976

Introduction

  1. Both the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches acknowledge that the pastoral office, exercised by bishops and priests, is an essential element of the structure of the church founded by Jesus Christ.

    The members of this dialogue, while recognizing this fact, also understand that certain changes have taken place in the exercise and in the understanding of this office both in the early church and later in the separated churches.

  2. In the interest of furthering the mutual recognition of the pastoral office exercised in each of our churches this Consultation has judged it useful:

    1. To record the results of its discussions of the under-standing and function of pastoral office in the history of the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches;

    2. To formulate a statement concerning important elements of our common understanding of pastoral office;

    3. To single out recent discussions on the subject of pastoral office which seem to require the serious attention of both churches.

I. Historical Considerations

According to the New Testament, the witnesses to the resurrection formed the original church on the basis of their common faith in Christ. Within this group, chosen witnesses were given special authority by the risen Lord to exercise pastoral leadership. While this leadership seems to have been exercised in a variety of concrete ways in the New Testament period, the tendency towards a presbyterial form of government, presided over by a bishop, was apparently more common.

At the outset of the second century this movement towards a more "mono-episcopal" form of local church government continues to develop. In the course of the second and third centuries the bishop gradually emerges everywhere as the center of unity of his own local church and the visible point of contact with other local churches. He is responsible for faith and order locally.

During this period the presbyterate comes to share in the exercise of more aspects of the pastoral office in subordination to the bishop. This subordinate role is seen especially in presbyterial ordination, which is reserved to bishops.

In accord with the development whereby the presbyterate is explicitly included in the pastoral office of the bishop under virtually all aspects, the presbyter is viewed as having the same relationship to Christ as the bishop. Both are seen directly to represent Christ before the community and, at the same time, to represent the church, as confessing believers, in their official acts.

However, the tendency in the West towards the dissociation of pastoral office from its ecclesial context provided a difference of perspective on the conditions for the valid exercise of the functions of pastoral office. Thus, while Orthodoxy never accepted in principle the concept of "absolute ordination," this notion did find acceptance in the West in the late Middle Ages.

However, the Second Vatican Council's stress on the pastoral dimension of priestly office corrected the weakness of western theology of priesthood. Furthermore, the fathers of the council refocused attention on two major traditional themes: (a) the sacramental nature of episcopal consecration; and (b) the collegial or corporate character of each of these orders, a theme which harmonizes with the traditional Orthodox perspective.

II. Our Common Understanding of the Pastoral Office in the Orthodox and Catholic Traditions

Although the historical perspective points out many divergent practices through the centuries, the members of the Consultation recognize the following as important elements towards the development of a consensus.

  1. In the rites of ordination of bishop and presbyter a commission is bestowed by the Holy Spirit to build up the church (Eph. 4:12) on the cornerstone of Christ and the foundation of the apostles (Eph. 2:20).

  2. Presiding at the Eucharist belongs to those ordained to pastoral office: bishops end presbyters. This exclusive connection between ordination to the pastoral office and the celebration of the Eucharist affirms that the pastoral office is realized most directly in this celebration of the faith. In the Eucharist the Lord builds up his church by uniting it with his saving worship and communicating his personal presence through his sacramental body and blood (I Cor. 10:16-17).

  3. The offices of bishop and presbyter are different realizations of the sacrament of order. The different rites for ordination of bishop and presbyter show that a sacramental conferral of office takes place by the laying on of hands with the ordination prayer which expresses the particular significance of each office.

  4. While both bishop and presbyter share the one ministry of Christ, the bishop exercises authoritative leadership over the whole community. The presbyter shares in the pastoral office under the bishop.

  5. Ordination in apostolic succession is required for the bestowal of pastoral office because pastoral office is an essential element of the sacramental reality of the church: Ordination effectively proclaims that pastoral office is founded on Christ and the Spirit who give the grace to accomplish the task of exercising the ministry of the apostles.

  6. The fundamental reason why pastoral office is required for the celebration of the Eucharist lies in the relationship of pastoral office to church and the relationship of Eucharist to church. Pastoral office is a constitutive element of the structure of church and the Eucharist is the place where the church most perfectly expresses and realizes itself. Consequently, the requirement of correspondence between the comprehensive ecclesial reality and the Eucharist dictates the exercise of pastoral office.

  7. Bishops and presbyters can only represent Christ as bishops and presbyters when they exercise the pastoral office of the church. Therefore, the church can recognize only an ordination which involves a bishop with a pastoral office and a candidate with a concrete title of service.

  8. We have a common understanding of these effects of sacramental ordination: (a) the ordained is claimed permanently for the service of the church and so cannot be "reordained"; (b) in the exercise of his office, he is distinct but not separated from the community; (c) he is not dependent merely on his subjective capabilities for the exercise of his service, since he receives the special bestowal of the Spirit in ordination.

Catholic theologians have explained these elements in terms of character, priestly character. Similar elements are included in Orthodox understanding of priesthood as a charisma. Both character and charisma stress the relationship of the ordained to the gift of the Holy Spirit on which the exercise of his ministry in service to the community depends.

III. Recent Trends and Disputed Questions in Both Traditions

Roman Catholic and Orthodox theologians today have addressed themselves to several major topics related to the theology of pastoral office.

  1. Some Roman Catholic theologians are challenging the traditional presentation of the pastoral office as direct representation of Christ. They interpret pastoral office as directly representing the faith of the church and consequently, Christ who is the living source of the faith. From this viewpoint the peculiarity of pastoral office is situated in the public guardianship of the common matter of all believers: the mission of Christ.

  2. The traditional exclusion of women from ordination to the pastoral office affects both Catholic and Orthodox theologians, but in a differing way. Concerning this issue, Catholic theologians are examining biblical data, traditional practice, theological and anthropological data. Since they have not reached a consensus, the question remains disputed among them.

    Some Catholic theologians share the position of those Orthodox theologians who reaffirm the traditional practice of excluding women from the pastoral office and base this on the necessity of the iconic representation of Christ in the person of bishops and presbyters.

  3. Two of the issues touching the life-style of those called to pastoral office come under serious consideration in both traditions: (a) the compatibility of ordination with occupations which are not directly part of the pastoral office, and (b) the existing practice of celibacy.

    1. Both Catholic and Orthodox theologians see a long tradition of ordained persons exercising certain occupations compatible with the pastoral office which are also seen to serve the sanctification of society.

    2. In the Orthodox Church questions are raised concerning a married episcopate and marriage after ordination. Among Catholics of the Latin rite the celibacy issue focuses on the possibility of also committing the pastoral office to a married clergy.

  4. Faced with the important issue of mutual recognition of ministries, both Orthodox and Roman Catholic theologians are searching for criteria leading to such a goal.
Conclusion

The members of the Consultation draw the following conclusions: despite differing emphases, both churches agree on the nature and forms of pastoral office; theologians of both traditions perceive that they have common as well as distinct questions to be resolved.

Washington, D.C.
May 19, 1976
14th meeting


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