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Common Declaration

A Common Declaration1 made by Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, expressing their decision to remove from memory and from the midst of the Church the excommunications of 1054.

  1. Full of gratitude towards God for the favor which in his mercy he has granted them of meeting one another in brotherly fashion in the sacred places where the mystery of our salvation was brought to fulfilment by the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and where the Church received its birth by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I have kept in view the plan they then formed, each for his own part, to leave nothing undone in making such overtures as charity inspires and which could facilitate the development of the fraternal relations thus inaugurated between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church of Constantinople. They are persuaded that they are thus answering the call of divine grace, which is today leading the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, together with all Christians, to overcome their points of difference, so as to be once more "one" as the Lord Jesus asked for them of his Father.

  2. Among the obstacles along the way, as these brotherly relationships of trust and esteem are developed, there looms the memory of the decisions, actions and painful incidents which came to a head in 1054 in the sentence of excommunication passed on the Patriarch Michael Cerularios and two other persons by the legates of the Roman See, led by Cardinal Humbert, which legates were then themselves the object of a corresponding sentence on the part of the Patriarch and the Synod of Constantinople.

  3. Nothing can be done to change the fact that these events were what they were in that particularly disturbed period of history. But now that a calmer and fairer judgment has been made about them, it is important to recognize the excesses by which they were marked, and which brought in their train consequences which, as far as we can judge, went beyond what was intended or foreseen by those responsible. Their censures bore on particular persons and not on the Churches, and were not meant to break the ecclesial communion between the sees of Rome and Constantinople.

  4. It is for this reason that Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I in his Synod, being certain that they are expressing the common desire for justice and the unanimous feeling of charity of their faithful people, and remembering the Lord's command: "If you bring your gift to the altar and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift at the altar, and go first to be reconciled with your brother" (Mt 5:23-24), declare in mutual agreement:
    a) that they regret the offending words, the baseless reproaches, and the blameworthy symbolic acts which on both rider marked or accompanied the sad events of this time;
    b) that in the same way they regret and remove from memory and from the midst of the Church the sentences of excommunication which followed, the remembrance of which acts right up to our own times as an obstacle to our mutual approach in charity, and they condemn these to oblivion;
    c) that they deplore, finally, the troublesome precedents and the further happenings which, under the influence of various factors, including misunderstanding and distrust on both sides, eventually led to a real rupture of ecclesial communion.

  5. Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I together with his Synod are aware that this gesture, expressive of justice and mutual forgiveness, cannot be sufficient to put an end to the subjects of difference, ancient or more recent, which still exist between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, and which through the action of the Holy Spirit will be surmounted through the purification of hearts, through regret for the wrongs done in the course of history, and through a practical desire to reach a common understanding and expression of the apostolic faith and the demands it lays upon us.
        In carrying out this symbolic action, however, they hope that it will be acceptable to God, who is quick to pardon us when we pardon one another, and that it will be appreciated by the whole Christian world, but above all by the general body both of the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, as the expression of a sincere mutual desire for reconciliation, and as an invitation to follow up, in a spirit of trust, esteem, and mutual charity, the dialogue which will lead them with the help of God to live afresh, for the greater good of souls and the coming of God's kingdom, in the full communion of faith, of brotherly harmony, and of sacramental life, which obtained between them throughout the first thousand years of the life of the Church.

    7 December 1965

    [E.J. Stormon, ed., Towards the Healing of Schism. The Sees of Rome and Constantinople. Public statements and correspondence between the Holy See and the Ecumenical Patriarchate 1958-1984,
    Ecumenical Documents, 3 (NY/Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1987) 126-128.]


  1. At this last solemn session of Vatican Council II in St. Peter's Basilica, Bishop Willebrands read the public declaration in French. Then the Pope exchanged the kiss of peace with Metropolitan Meliton, the Patriarch's representative. In the Cathedral of St. George at the Phanar in Constantinople, the same text was read in the presence of the Patriarch and of Cardinal Lawrence Shehan (Baltimore), the Pope's representative.

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