I. A Statement on Christology
The Joint Commission between the Catholic Church and Coptic Orthodox Church established by His Holiness Pope Paul VI and His Holiness Pope Shenouda III during their meeting in Rome, May 1973, held its first plenary session in Cairo from March 26 to 30, 1974. According to the mandate given it, the commission is «to guide common study in the fields of church tradition, patristics, liturgy, theology, history and practical problems, so that by cooperation in common we may seek to resolve, in a spirit of mutual respect, the differences existing between our Churches and be able to proclaim together the Gospel in ways which correspond to the authentic message of the Lord and to the needs and hopes of today's world».
During its meetings the Commission considered the progress made up to the present in theological studies with a view to seeing if further steps could be taken regarding our understanding of Christology and to determining points which need further clarification and study. It was possible to move a step further in the presentation of the faith of our churches at this time in Jesus Christ the Incarnate Son of God. Recommendations for further theological studies to be undertaken by experts of both Churches, as well as recommendations concerning the cooperation between the two Churches in the practical field were agreed upon.
II. Further Theological Studies
The Joint Commission recommends that the following issues be further studied by experts of both Churches:
With regard to the Christological understanding of both our Churches, and as a further development of what was already stated by our church leaders in their Common Declaration, the members of the Joint Commission are in agreement on the following.
We confess that the union that took place in the Incarnation between the Godhead and the Manhood of Our Lord is a mystery incomprehensible to any created mind, ineffable, inexpressible, beyond description and too great for words.
We must humbly recognize the limitations of our minds to grasp the truth of it, nor are we able to give adequate words in our human language to fully express it.
According to the truth of our salvation which is revealed to us through the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures and the tradition of our common Fathers before the schism, we together confess that one of the Holy Trinity, the Second Person, who is true God, for the sake of the economy of our salvation, has assumed to Himself from the holy Virgin Mary a real body possessing a rational soul. This ensouled flesh did not exist before the union. The body remained body although glorified after the Godbefitting resurrection and ascension. It is from the very moment of the descent of the Divine Word in the Virgin's womb, that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity united to Himself the perfect humanity which he took from the virgin. He Himself one and the same consubstantial with the Father with respect to His Divinity became consubstantial with us with respect to His Humanity.
As we confess the faith formulated above according to the first three Ecumenical Councils, we together anathematize Arianism, Apollinarianism, Nestorianism, Eutychianism and profess the faith expressed in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan symbol. Still we need a formula of reconciliation between what the non-Chalcedonian Orthodox confess: one nature, out of two natures, or one nature that possesses the properties and qualities of the two natures, and what the Chalcedonian Catholics confess: in two natures.
We accept a perfect real union, and not a conjunction or combination of two persons or entities. When the Orthodox part rejects all duality in Jesus Christ, it is intended to say that every act of Jesus Christ is in fact the act of God the Word incarnate and not that some of His acts be attributed to His Divinity alone and some others to His humanity alone as it might seem. When the Catholics confess their faith in Jesus Christ, then they do not deny what the Orthodox say, but they want to emphasize that in Him are preserved all the properties of the Divinity as well as all the properties of the Humanity, a fact which the Orthodox profess incessantly.
When the Orthodox confess that Divinity and Humanity of Our Lord are united in one nature, they take «nature», not as a purely simple nature, but rather as one composite nature, wherein the Divinity and Humanity are united inseparatedly and unconfusedly. And when the Catholics confess Jesus Christ as one in two natures, they do not separate the Divinity from the Humanity, not even for the twinkling of an eye, but they rather try to avoid mingling, commixtion, confusion or alteration.
The Orthodox part stresses in the union the reality of the humanity of Our Lord, for the salvation of mankind could not be but the act of the Divine Word incarnate. The Divinity did not and could not forsake the Humanity for a moment neither during the time of crucifixion nor any time after. In the Eucharist, the faithful always partake of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, a fact which stresses the reality of His Humanity. On the other hand, they stress the reality of the Divinity of Our Lord, the Word Who was and still is the very God incarnate. For this reason the resurrection of Our Lord is a conclusive evidence of His Divinity. This explains the most illustrious importance the Orthodox give to the feast of Resurrection.
It is precisely the same concern of the Catholics to confess the reality of the Humanity in Jesus Christ as the indispensable instrument of our salvation. But they also affirm that our salvation is the very act of the Word of God. They also believe that there has never been any separation of Divinity and Humanity in Jesus Christ even at the moment of crucifixion, death and descent to hell.
This is our faith in the mystery of the Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the economy of our salvation. In this we all agree.
It is the conviction of the Joint Commission that this statement can serve not only the deepening of relations between our two Churches but also can be used as our authentic expression of our beliefs in our relations with other Christian Churches and communities.
The history and doctrine of the Councils of the Early Church and in particular those concerned with Christology:
their theological and non-theological factors
their ecclesiastical authority as such
the acceptance of the Canons in both Churches, especially concerning their application to our contemporary differences and needs.
The Sacraments in their relation to the Church and the economy of Salvation.
The recognition of Saints, concerning Orthodoxy of faith and spirituality.
The ways of implementing the above mentioned points in liturgical and historical books and theological institutions.
This list is not an exhaustive one. It indicates those points of particular importance which should be given priority.
The Joint Commission will examine the ways for involving experts in these studies and bringing the results of their work to the attention of our Churches.
III. Practical Affairs
The joint Catholic-Coptic Orthodox commission recognizes that the struggle of ideologies, rapid social changes, the exaltation of materialism and atheism challenge the faith of Christians and the Churches themselves. We are called by the grace of God to a cooperation which is both serious and sincere, and which will help the Churches meet their responsibility in this world.
In their Common Declaration, Pope Paul VI and Pope Shenouda III clearly encouraged this cooperation and indicated the principles which should guide it. This commission hopes, by what it will now say, to contribute to its concrete realization.
The Joint Commission recognizes that some of the people of our Churches still have a strong feeling of mistrust when it comes to common cooperation. We must strive to eliminate this feeling and to root out its causes. The commission also recognizes that certain people, because of a lack of proper understanding both of the Church's responsibility in the world and of the ecumenical spirit, might use the common declarations of our leaders, and our own proposals, to disturb another's community by trying to recruit new members from it or by cultivating attitudes of minds which are opposed to the exigencies of Christian love or to what should characterize brotherly relationships between Churches. Actions and attitudes of this kind can find no justification in the efforts of Catholics and Orthodox to deepen charity and cultivate mutual consultation, reflection and cooperation in the social and intellectual fields. On the contrary, we are convinced that Christian pastors and faithful who have been working zealously for the spread of Christ's kingdom will find that, by implementing the directives of our church leaders and by giving concrete substance to the suggestions and guidelines given by this Joint Commission, they will give a deeper significance to their pastoral activities and exert a more profound influence on their own people and on all with whom they will work.
Moreover, the Joint Commission is convinced that the programs it proposes should be implemented with an eye to concrete situations and to the needs of our people and the resources at our disposition. To attempt to do everything in one day could lead to failure and disillusionment. To refuse to take a step because of difficulties which might be foreseen could be a refusal of the inspirations being given by the Holy Spirit and of the clear manifestations of the desire the leaders of our Churches have for the development of that profound unity among us which is Christ's will for His Church.
It is with these reflections in mind that the Joint Commission recommends the formation of a Local Joint Committee in Egypt whose function will be to implement the use of resources for the service of Christ and His Church in Egypt, and to take effective measures to eliminate activities which obstruct this service.
In consultation with the authorities of our Churches, this committee will determine the structures useful for carrying out its task. One of these should be a joint sub-committee for regular contact with church institutions, to plan, promote and guide the use of personnel and resources towards a wider service of the whole Church and of all the people in Egypt, in a spirit of mutual respect for each other's Churches. A second sub-committee is to be established to examine and take effective measures against those practices which create tensions among the Churches or affect the spirit of mutual confidence between them.
Furthermore, this committee will advise and guide other groups which may wish to propose joint programs of action, according to the spirit mentioned above.
The committee can also arrange studies on practical questions as shall be indicated to it by this Joint Commission. Included among these are studies of the procedures and problems arising in the perspective of our Churches' present endeavor along the road of unity in Christ which is God's gift.
In its endeavors the Local Joint Committee will maintain regular contact with local church authorities and will report to this Joint Commission on its work and on perspectives for future activities, to be guided and supported by the Commission.
As an aid towards dealing with some practical problems which may arise on the local level, our Joint Commission wishes to recall the words of the Common Declaration of Pope Paul VI and Pope Shenouda III: "The Divine life is given to us and is nourished in us through the seven sacraments of Christ in His Church: Baptism, Chrism (Confirmation), Holy Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Matrimony and Holy Orders". We wish to emphasize that this passage underlines the common regard and mutual respect which should be had for each other's sacraments. We want to see this reflected in our pastoral practices and in our concern for the conscience of everyone.
This Joint Commission recommends to our Church authorities to encourage through exhortations, pastoral letters and synodal decisions, the work of the Local Joint Committee as well as to promote the adoption of the principles enunciated in the common declarations of our leaders both in the statutes and the activities of our church institutions.
Finally this Joint Commission expresses its conviction that the more it proves in a practical way its own sincerity and seriousness as it works to implement the mandate given it, the more our pastors and church leaders will respond to the concrete demands made upon them to develop and guide our people towards working for full unity in the spirit of the Gospel of Christ.
Rev. Msgr. Charles Moeller
Secretary of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, head of the Catholic delegation
His Excellency Msgr. Youhanna Kabes
Auxiliary bishop to His Beatitude Patriarch Stephanos I
Rev. Louis Abadis
Rector of the Coptic Catholic Seminary of Meadi
Rev. Prof. Aloys Grillmeier
S.J., professor at the Jesuit Faculty of Theology, Sankt-Georgen, Frankfurt
Rev. Prof. André de Halleux
O.F.M., professor at the University of Louvain
Rev. John Long
S.J., staff member of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, secretary of the delegation
Mr. Amin Fahim
President of the Christian Association of Upper Egypt for Schools and Social Promotion
|For the Coptic Orthodox Church|
His Excellency Bishop Gregorious
Bishop of Coptic Culture and Higher Theological Studies, head of the Coptic Orthodox delegation
His Excellency Bishop Athanasius of Beni Suef and Bahnasa
His Excellency Bishop Samuel
Bishop of Public, Ecumenical, and Social Services
His Excellency Bishop Yohannes of Gharbieh
Dr. Maurice Tadros
Professor of New Testament, Coptic Theological College
Dr. George Bebawi
Professor of Patristics; General Secretary of the Association of Theological Institutions in the Near East; secretary of the Coptic Orthodox delegation
Mr. Amin Fakhry Abdelnour
Lay leader in church, social, and civil institutions.
(Information Service 24 (1974/II) 14-16, reprinted in IS 79 (1991/I) 14-17)