Project Canterbury

Anglican/Orthodox Joint Doctrinal Discussions

Address by the Archbishop of Canterbury to the meeting of the Joint Anglican/Orthodox Steering Committee at Lambeth Palace on 28th October 1974.

By A.M. Ramsey

No place: no publisher, [1974]

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Terry Brown
Retired Bishop of Malaita, 2011


Address by the Archbishop of Canterbury to the meeting of the Joint Anglican/Orthodox Steering Committee at Lambeth Palace on 28th October 1974.

Your Graces and dear Brothers in Christ, I welcome enormously the opportunity of meeting the Steering Committee of the Anglican/Orthodox Theological Commission. During the years in which I have held my office no event gave me more joy than the inauguration of this Theological Commission. It was the fulfilment of the high hopes which I shared with Patriarch Athenagoras when we discussed the matter first in Constantinople in 1962, and when the Commission met fully for the first time in Oxford in 1973; and it was a wonderful moment of fulfilment.

It was also a moment of very great promise. I have been reading the documents of the Commission and I have been reading the documents of the three sub-Commissions and it is very clear that things are happening. First a spirit and method of good theological dialogue is being created, and then the content of the dialogue shows that theological understanding is deepening, and also that theological discussion is being related to the spirituality of the life of the Churches. It is very apparent from the documents concerning the Eucharist, concerning Scripture and Tradition, and concerning the authority of Councils, that the union of theology and spirituality is something inevitable and something which is already marking the course of the discussions. Let me enlarge upon the ways in which that is so.

The Eucharist, clearly, through Christ upon whom Christians feed in the Holy Eucharist, is the Christ who is himself the indwelling life of the Church, and as the very life of the Church he is himself the beginning of the new creation and the gathering up of all men and all things into itself. It is thus impossible to discuss the doctrine of the Eucharist without also exploring the meaning of the Church's life in Christ, the life which is derived from the Eucharist, and thus, as for Eucharistic understanding doctrine and spirituality go together, so this is no less true in the discussion of the doctrines concerning Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition. In Holy Scripture the divine Word uses human media for the revelation of Himself. The Holy Tradition is no less the action of the Divine Word in the faithful, illuminating their minds and consciences with understanding of Himself; and thus what the Word says to us in Holy Scripture is inseparable from what the Word does in us and for us through his indwelling, which is the very life of the Church. And thus the problems of Scripture and Tradition are inseparable from the exploring of the meaning of the Church's spirituality.

No less is this true concerning the authority of the General Councils. The life of the Church is sustained by the presence in the Church of Christ the God-man, Christ divine and human. The Church knew and knows that without the life of the God-man on whom all Christians depend for every moment of their existence, the Church perishes. The formulations of the Councils are the putting into intellectual language of the meaning of Christ the God-man, Christ divine and human; and it was because of the deep understanding of the meaning of the God-man in life and spirituality that the members of the Church cared so greatly that this truth should be unfolded, and such is the role of the Councils.

When we come to the Council which has been a bit controversial at times between Anglicans and Orthodox, namely the seventh Oecumenical Council, here I believe that a little interior spiritual understanding makes all the difference. It has been possible for people in the West to see questions concerning Icons totally out of that context of the spiritual life of the Church, within which icons or iconography have their significance, but at the moment that the thing is seen on a different spiritual kind of level then at once understanding begins to be possible. So then, I am saying that the documents already before us illustrate most strikingly the interdependence of theology and spirituality.

[2] The practical inference which I draw is this: that Anglicans when they study Orthodox theological formulations should also give more time to the study of the Orthodox spirituality in which the formulations have their context. And, conversely, if I dare say so, when Orthodox Christians study Anglican dogmatics they should also give time to the study of that Anglican spirituality within which Anglican dogmatics have their place. In the Anglican way of life liturgy has indeed a very important role. It is important that whereas the Protestant Churches in the West generally have their Confessions of Faith as defining their position, Anglicans have valued the Book of Common Prayer as well as the Confessions of Faith; and thus Anglicans are, in the west, in a very special way people of the liturgy. But as these documents show, all Christians are people of the liturgy, in that our dogmatic understanding of faith is inseparable from the life in Christ of which the liturgy is the symbol and the constant sustaining power.

I make this brief contribution to your ongoing discussion, but I chiefly want this morning to listen to you doing your ownbusiness and discussing the work you have done and the work which you are planning.


Project Canterbury