HISTORICAL APPROACH TO THE CONTEXT OF THE DIALOGUE WITH THE NON-ORTHODOX
THE TORONTO STATEMENT
(This lecture was presented at the Inter-Orthodox Conference organized by the Initiative Committee of the Conference «St. John’s Readings» of the Ancient Church of Saint George (The Rotunda) of Sofia, under the blessing of His Beatitude Metropolitan of Sofia and Patriarch of Bulgaria, Neophytos, in Sofia, June 9-10, 2017)
Your Beatitude Patriarch of Bulgaria Neophytos,
In 1950, two years after the first General Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Amsterdam, the Central Committee of the WCC composed a declaration which entered in history with the title Toronto Statement. Along with the Constitution of WCC, the Toronto Statement is considered to be one of the pillars of the ecumenist movement, sometimes even called the „Magna Carta” of the WCC.
Toronto Statement has been elaborated by the secretary of the WCC Willem Visser’t Hooft along with his colleague Oliver Tomkins and is the result of prior consultations with roman-catholic theologians and some orthodox theologians, among which a contribution was also made by the protopresbyter George Florovski. The purpose of this statement was the development of a conception in order to determine what the WCC represents and what it does not. The idea behind this concept was to create a place of dialogue that takes into account the diversity existing in Christian space, including the ecclesiological and dogmatic ones. As stated by Russian ecumenist Vitali Borovoy, it was the Statement that created a space of ecclesiological diversity.
The manner in which it was approved, the Toronto Statement seeks to outline some general principles on how the WCC should work and report to its member „churches”, but also contains some fundamental principles on what the Church is from an ecumenist point of view.
Orthodox theologians have long considered that the Toronto Statement provide the framework for a safe cooperation between the Orthodox Churches and the Protestant-based heresies within the WCC. Their assessment was based on some of the premises (assumptions) in the Statement, which were quoted or paraphrased in the document regarding the relation of the Orthodox Churches and the rest of the Christian World, under paragraph 19:
Premise III.1: WCC is not and must not become a super-Church
Premise III.2: The purpose of the World Council of Churches is not to negotiate unions between churches, which can only be done by the churches themselves acting on their own initiative, but to bring the churches into living contact with each other and to promote the study and discussion of the issues of Church unity.
Premise III.3: The World Council cannot and should not be based on any one particular conception of the Church. It does not prejudge the ecclesiological problem.
Premise III.4: Membership in the World Council of Churches does not imply that a church treats its own conception of the Church as merely relative.
Premise III.5: Membership in the World Council does not imply the acceptance of a specific doctrine concerning the nature of Church unity.
Premise IV.4: The member churches of the World Council consider the relationship of other churches to the Holy Catholic Church which the Creeds profess as a subject for mutual consideration. Nevertheless, membership does not imply that each church must regard the other member churches as churches in the true and full sense of the word.
Further, we will make a small analysis of these premises of Toronto Statement:
„The World Council of Churches is not and must never become a superchurch.” (Premise III.1)
The most attractive promise for Orthodox theologians was that WCC would never become a „super-church” and that in principle it would never adopt ecclesial characteristics. No later than 1961, on the occasion of the approval of the Toronto Statement by the New Delhi WCC General Assembly, in a document called “the Unity Report”, Article 49 states that „At least we are able to say that the World Council is not wholly other than the member churches. It is the churches in continuing council.” In other words, WCC does not constitute a „super-church”, but the supreme deliberative organ of the ecumenist „church”, its permanent synod. This idea is reinforced at the end of the invoked paragraph, which states: „Many christians are now aware that the Council is in some new and unprecedented sense an instrument of the Holy Spirit for the effecting of God’s will for the whole Church, and through the Church for the world”.
From the Orthodox perspective, the synodic leadership of the Church is the one that gives the measure of its catholicity. Therefore, by accepting this point of view [of the WCC] as a promise that the WCC will not become a super-church, the idea of „catholicity” has henceforth been accepted by default as WCC being the leader of the „Church of Christ„, as formulated by the New Delhi declaration. A practical application of branch theory. Continuă lectura