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"We are all to come to unity in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God, until we become the perfect Man, mature with the fullness of Christ himself" (Eph 4:13 BJ).
With its call to unity in truth and to living the truth in love, the Epistle to the Ephesians depicts the Christian life as the growth of a body to maturity or, in another passage, as the erection of a building whose cornerstone is Christ. The goal is a completeness, a perfection, a fullness that lies ahead and toward which each Christian and the Christian fellowship as a whole must grow.
Ecumenical dialogue among separated Christians is a part of this process of growth. Its aim is not to produce a statement of minimum essentials by which one Church can measure the orthodoxy of another, but to deepen, strengthen, and enrich the life of both. As Vatican II declares in the Constitution on Divine Revelation: "There is growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. ... As the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her" (Dei Verbum 8).
Churches coming out of the isolation imposed by the divisions of the past find that they are able to contribute to each other's growth in the fullness of divine truth. But unless the origins and purposes of theological discourse are rightly understood differences in terminology and in modes of conceptualization, due in part to past isolation, can lead to failure of communication and even impasses in doctrinal discussion. Theological discourse must always be interpreted within the horizon of man's experience of the divine mystery because it grows out of that experience. From this it follows that no formal or conceptual statement can ever be fully adequate to the religious data. Because of man's nature, however, his religious experience must come to expression by every means available to him.
Whenever man speaks about the engulfing mystery of God he speaks from within a particular situation - geographical, temporal, cultural, sociological, psychological, linguistic. ... Because of the transcendence of God's mystery, one must always speak about him symbolically, but these symbols, taken from man's experience of the world, always have the stamp of human particularity. Even statements made by groups of men in representative councils bear this stamp of particularity. For example, when the early councils apply to God and Christ terms such as substance, person, and nature, they are using the terminology and conceptual tools available in a given culture. When these terms in another time and culture take on different connotations their effectiveness for expressing the truths of faith may be impaired. Human discourse even under the working of grace is perspectival and hence also pluralistic.
To acknowledge the relativity of theological statements is not to fall into relativism but to escape it. Because encounter with God always calls man beyond himself, it must be recognized that all religious expression may itself be transcended. The abiding presence of the Holy Spirit moves communities of believers to express their life in Christ in ways that may not be abstractly deducible from their previous statements.
The result of the preceding analysis is to recognize that Christians who are orthodox in their faith may express it in varying formulations, as the Bible and the creeds of the early Church so well exemplify. This does not mean that all formulations are equally appropriate. Some may in fact express, and conduce to, a misapprehension of God and his relationship to man, and thus be impediments to the Christian life.
The participants in this dialogue, fortunately, rejoice in the possession of the same Sacred Scriptures, the same creedal formulations of the ancient Church, and a substantial body of shared intellectual and spiritual tradition. They also acknowledge the need for critical scholarship if the meaning of the ancient texts is to be accessible to modern man. There are, however, some other doctrinal formulations which, in the course of a sadly separated history, have been adopted by one communion or the other and are generally seen as obstacles to full communion between the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches.
In order to promote the cause of full mutual recognition and full ecclesiastical communion, the participants commend the following operative principles in the assessment of whether such divergent formulations do indeed constitute an essential obstacle to full communion:
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