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full communion
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{{about|the relationship between different Christian churches|the general concept of Christian communion|Koinonia}}Full communion is a communion or relationship of full understanding among different Christian denominations that share certain essential principles of Christian theology. Views vary among denominations on exactly what constitutes full communion, but typically when two or more denominations are in full communion it enables services and celebrations, such as the Eucharist, to be shared among congregants or clergy of any of them with the full approval of each.

Definition and terminology

In the view of the World Council of Churches, an inter-church organization that includes "most of the world's Orthodox churches, scores of Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and Reformed churches, as well as many United and Independent churches",WEB,weblink World Council of Churches, "What Is the World Council of Churches",, 2012-12-17, 2019-04-09, "the goal of the search for full communion is realized when all the churches are able to recognize in one another the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church in its fullness", a communion "given and expressed in the common confession of the apostolic faith; a common sacramental life entered by the one baptism and celebrated together in one eucharistic fellowship; a common life in which members and ministries are mutually recognized and reconciled; and a common mission witnessing to all people to the gospel of God's grace and serving the whole of creation".WEB, Seventh Assembly of the World Council of Churches, 20 February 1991, The unity of the Church: gift and calling - The Canberra Statement,, Geneva, World Council of Churches,weblinkweblink" title="">weblink 25 October 2014, live, n. 2.1,

Protestant churches

Several Protestant denominations base their idea of full communion on the Augsburg Confession which says that "the true unity of the church" is present where "the gospel is rightly preached and sacraments rightly administered." They believe that full communion between two denominations is not a merger, they respect each other's differences, but rather it's when two denominations develop a relationship based on a mutual understanding and recognition of Baptism and sharing of the Lord's Supper. They may worship together, exchange clergy, and share commitments to evangelism and service.WEB, Full Communion Partners, Evangelical Lutheran Churches in America,weblink 4 April 2017, Groups recognized as being in full communion with each other on this basis include the Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America, United Church of Christ, The Episcopal Church (United States), the Moravian Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and the United Methodist Church.The United Church of Christ (UCC) defines full communion as meaning that "divided churches recognize each others' sacraments and provide for the orderly transfer of ministers from one denomination to another." Some of these go back to the 17th century Pilgrims in Holland; other relationships are recent. The UCC is in full communion alliance with the members of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the Union of Evangelical Churches in Germany, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and several others in North America and elsewhere.WEB, Ecumenical partnerships and relationships of full communion,weblink, 4 April 2017,

Anglican Communion

The Anglican Communion distinguishes between full communion and intercommunion. It applies the first term to situations "where between two Churches, not of the same denominational or confessional family, there is unrestricted communio in sacris including mutual recognition and acceptance of ministries", and the second term to situations "where varying degrees of relation other than full communion are established by agreement between two such Churches".WEB, 1958 Lambeth Conference, Resolution 14, Anglican Communion,weblink This distinction differs from the distinction that the Catholic Church makes between full and partial communion in that the Anglican concept of intercommunion implies a formal agreement entered into by the churches concerned. The Anglican understanding of full communion differs from that of the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Christianity, which consider that full communion between churches involves them becoming a single church, as in the case of the particular churches "in which and formed out of which the one and unique Catholic Church exists",BOOK, Vatican II, 21 November 1964, Lumen gentium,,weblink n. 23, In addition the Anglican Communion recognizes the possibility of full communion between some of its member provinces or churches and other churches, without having the entire Anglican Communion share that relationship.WEB, In Full Communion,weblink Anglicans Online, 4 April 2017, An example is the Porvoo Communion.The Anglican Communion established full communion with the Old Catholic Churches on the basis of the 1931 Bonn Agreement, which established three principles:
  1. Each communion recognizes the catholicity and independence of the other and maintains its own.
  2. Each communion agrees to admit members of the other communion to participate in the sacraments.
  3. Full communion does not require from either communion the acceptance of all doctrinal opinion, sacramental devotion or liturgical practice characteristic of the other, but implies that each believes the other to hold all the essentials of the Christian faith.WEB, Meaning of Full Communion,weblink Episcopal Church, 4 April 2017, WEB, Churches in communion,, London, Anglican Communion Office,weblinkweblink" title="">weblink 13 March 2015, live,
The Anglicans Online website provides a list of non-Anglican churches "in full communion with the See of Canterbury" and also indicates some important ecumenical agreements of local character (i.e., not involving the whole of the Anglican Communion) with other non-Anglican churches. It also lists churches that, in spite of bearing names (such as "Anglican" or "Episcopal") that might suggest a relationship with the Anglican Communion, are not in communion with it.WEB, Not in the Communion,weblink Anglicans Online, 4 April 2017,

Catholic Church

Full and partial communion

The Catholic Church makes a distinction between full and partial communion: where full communion exists, there is but one church; partial communion, on the other hand, exists where some elements of Christian faith are held in common, but complete unity on essentials is lacking. Accordingly, it sees itself as in partial communion with Protestants and in much closer, but still incomplete, communion with the Orthodox churches. It has expressed this distinction in documents such as Unitatis redintegratio, the Second Vatican Council's decree on ecumenism, which states: "... quite large communities came to be separated from full communion with the Catholic Church ... men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect".WEB,weblink Unitatis redintegratio, Vatican II,, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 21 November 1964, 26 August 2016, n. 3, dead,weblink" title="">weblink 6 March 2013, The Catechism of the Catholic Church, citing the Second Vatican Council and Pope Paul VI, states:}}Full communion involves completeness of "those bonds of communion – faith, sacraments and pastoral governance – that permit the Faithful to receive the life of grace within the Church."WEB,weblinkweblink" title="">weblink 9 March 2008, USSCB memo,

Universal and particular Churches

{{see also|Catholic particular churches and liturgical rites|Sui juris}}In Catholicism, the "universal Church" means Catholicism itself, from the Greek adjective καθολικός (katholikos), meaning "universal".{{OED|Catholic}} The term particular church denotes an ecclesiastical community headed by a bishop or equivalent, and this can includes both local dioceses as well as autonomous (or sui juris) particular churches, which include other rites such as the Latin Church and the Eastern Catholic Churches.WEB,weblink Orientalium Ecclesiarum, Vatican II, 21 November 1964,, Libreria Editrice Vaticana,weblink" title="">weblink 1 September 2000, 26 August 2016, The particular Churches that form the Catholic Church are each seen, not as a separate body that has entered into practical arrangements concerning its relations with the others, but as the embodiment in a particular region or culture of the one Catholic Church.A 1992 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) letter to Catholic bishops expressed this idea as: "the universal Church cannot be conceived as the sum of the particular Churches, or as a federation of particular Churches. It is not the result of the communion of the Churches, but, in its essential mystery, it is a reality ontologically and temporally prior to every individual particular Church."WEB,weblink Letter to the bishops of the Catholic Church on some aspects of the Church understood as communion, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 28 May 1992, 8 September 2015, n. 9, dead,weblink" title="">weblink 15 December 2010,

List of Catholic churches in full communion

The autonomous Catholic churches in full communion with the Holy See are:

Churches in partial communion

The Catholic Church sees itself as in partial, not full, communion with other Christian groups. "With the Orthodox Churches, this communion is so profound 'that it lacks little to attain the fullness that would permit a common celebration of the Lord's Eucharist.{{'"}}

Sharing in the Eucharist

{{canon law}}{{see also|Canon 844}}As a practical matter for most Catholics, full communion means that a member of one Church may partake of the Eucharist celebrated in another, and for priests, that they are accepted as celebrants of the Eucharist in the other Church.Restrictions in this matter were already in force in the second century as witnessed to by Justin Martyr in his First Apology: "No one is allowed to partake (of the Eucharist) but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined."WIKISOURCE, Roberts, Alexander, Donaldson, James, Coxe, A. Cleveland, The Ante-Nicene Fathers: the writings of the fathers down to A.D. 325, Buffalo, Christian Literature, American, 1870, 2, The writings of Justin Martyr and Athenagoras, Justin Martyr, Marcus Dods, The First Apology of Justin Martyr, Ante-Nicene Christian Library, ch. 66, For acceptance into full communion with the Catholic Church a specific profession of the faith of the Catholic Church is required even of those who have been members of a separate church whose sacraments the Catholic Church considers to be valid.WEB,weblink RCIA and Confirmation Qualifications: On Participants in RCIA and Confirmation,, Archdiocese of Boston,weblink" title="">weblink 4 October 2015, 8 November 2015, WEB,weblink When an Orthodox joins the Catholic Church, McNamara, Edward, Rome,, Innovative Media Inc,weblink" title="">weblink 31 August 2009, 8 November 2015, Being "in full communion with the Catholic Church" requires that they "firmly accept" its teaching on faith and morals.WEB,weblink Doctrinal Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the Professio fidei, Ratzinger, Joseph, Pope Benedict XVI, Bertone, Tarcisio, Libreria Editrice Vatican, 29 June 1998, 26 August 2016, dead,weblink" title="">weblink 2 December 2013, Intercommunion usually means an agreement between churches by which all members of each church (clergy with clergy, or laity with laity, respectively) may participate in the other's Eucharistic celebrations or may hold joint celebrations.BOOK, Gribble, Richard, The Everything Guide to Catholicism: A complete introduction to the beliefs, traditions, and tenets of the Catholic Church from past to present,weblink 7 November 2015, 18 November 2010, Everything Books, Avon, Massacnusetts, 978-1-4405-0409-9, 115, Part IV: Roman Catholic Theology, The Catholic Church has entered into no such agreement: it allows no Eucharistic concelebration by its clergy with clergy of churches not in full communion with it.{{efn|"Catholic priests are forbidden to concelebrate the Eucharist with priests or ministers of churches or ecclesial communities which do not have full communion with the Catholic Church{{CIC1983|908}}{{sfn|CCEO|1990|loc=c. 702}}}} The Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, indicates the limited circumstances in which Catholics may receive the Eucharist from clergy of churches not in full communion (never if those churches are judged not to have valid apostolic succession and thus valid Eucharist), and in which Catholic clergy may administer the sacraments to members of other churches.WEB,weblink Principles And Norms On Ecumenism,, 8 September 2015, dead,weblink" title="">weblink 16 August 2010, {{rp|at=nn. 122–136}}The norms there indicated for the giving of the Eucharist to other Christians (communicatio in sacris) are summarized in canon 844 of the Latin Church's 1983 Code of Canon Law.{{CIC1983|844}} The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (CCEO) indicates that the norms of the Directory apply also to the clergy and laity of the Eastern Catholic Churches.{{sfn|CCEO|1990|loc=cc. 908, 1440}}

Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches and Church of the East

Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Christians have an understanding of what full communion means that is very similar to that of the Catholic Church.{{citation needed|date=June 2017}} Though they have no figure corresponding to that of the Roman Catholic Pope, performing a function like that of the Pope's Petrine Office for the whole of their respective communions, they see each of their autocephalous churches as embodiments of, respectively, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. They too consider full communion an essential condition for common sharing in the Eucharist. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, as first among equals among the Eastern Orthodox autocephalous churches, though not having authority similar to that of the Roman Catholic Pope, serves as their spokesman. The Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria holds a somewhat similar position in Oriental Orthodoxy.For the autocephalous churches that form the Eastern Orthodox Church, see Eastern Orthodox Church organization. Their number is somewhat in dispute.The Oriental Orthodox churches are: The Church of the East is currently divided into churches that are not in full communion with one another. The Assyrian Church of the East and the Ancient Church of the East divided in the 20th century over the former's limitation of the post of patriarch to members of a single familyWEB,weblink Our History, St Zaia Cathedral, Middleton Grange, NSW, AU, 26 August 2016,weblink" title="">weblink 13 July 2016, live, and due to the adoption of the New Calendar by the former. There is movement towards reunity, but they are not in full communion with one another at present. The Chaldean Catholic Church shares a similar history with both, but is currently in full communion with neither. The Catholic Church, of which the Chaldean Church is part, allows its ministers to give the Eucharist to members of Eastern churches who seek it on their own accord and are properly disposed, and it allows its faithful who cannot approach a Catholic minister to receive the Eucharist, when necessary or spiritually advantageous, from ministers of non-Catholic churches that have a recognised Eucharist.{{sfn|CCEO|1990|loc=c. 671}}{{CIC1983|844}} The Guidelines for Admission to the Eucharist between the Chaldean Church and the Assyrian Church of the East explicitly apply these rules, which hold also for the Ancient Church of the East and all the Oriental and Eastern Orthodox churches, to the Assyrian Church of the East.WEB,weblink Guidelines for admission to the Eucharist between the Chaldean Church and the Assyrian Church of the East,, 8 September 2015, dead,weblink" title="">weblink 3 November 2015, "When necessity requires, Assyrian faithful are permitted to participate and to receive Holy Communion in a Chaldean celebration of the Holy Eucharist; in the same way, Chaldean faithful for whom it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister, are permitted to participate and to receive Holy Communion in an Assyrian celebration of the Holy Eucharist".

Other churches

Churches or denominations holding to open communion allow all persons who consider themselves "Christian believers" to participate, even without any arrangement of full communion with the other church or denomination involved, and still less requiring an arrangement involving interchangeability of ordained ministers.It is in the stronger sense of becoming a single church that in 2007 the Traditional Anglican Communion sought "full communion" with the Roman Catholic Church as a sui iuris (particular Church) jurisdiction, but in 2012 declined the possibility offered by Pope Benedict XVI to join a personal ordinariate for former Anglicans in full communion with the see of Rome.PRESS RELEASE, 1 March 2012, 2012 meeting of Traditional Anglican Communion College of Bishops,, Traditional Anglican Communion,weblinkweblink" title="">weblink 12 April 2012, dead,

Agreements between churches

{{Refimprove section|date=November 2015}}The following groupings of churches have arrangements for or are working on arrangements for:
  • mutual recognition of members
  • joint celebration of the Lord's Supper/Holy Communion/Eucharist (these churches practice open communion)
  • mutual recognition of ordained ministers
  • mutual recognition of sacraments
  • a common commitment to mission.

Agreements completed
  1. The Anglican Communion, the Old Catholic Church, the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of India, and the Philippine Independent ChurchWEB, 25 July 2015, In full communion, Anglicans Online,, Society of Archbishop Justus,weblinkweblink" title="">weblink 30 July 2015, live,
  2. The Churches of the Porvoo Communion.WEB, History,weblink The Porvoo Communion, 26 August 2016,
  3. The Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada
  4. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and each of the following: the member churches of the Lutheran World Federation, the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Reformed Church in America, the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist ChurchPRESS RELEASE, 26 August 2009, ELCA shares significant actions with ecumenical, global partners, Chicago, IL, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America,weblink and the Moravian Church in America.
  5. The Leuenberg Agreement, concluded in 1973 and adopted by 105 European Protestant churches, since renamed the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe.WEB,weblink Agreement & Statute,, Vienna, Community of Protestant Churches in Europe,
  6. The Moravian Church and each of the following: the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Episcopal Church USA.
  7. The United Methodist Church with the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the African Union Methodist Protestant Church, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church, and the Northern and Southern Provinces of the Moravian Church.
  8. The United Church of Christ and each of the following: the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA), and the Reformed Church in America.
  9. The United Episcopal Church of North America and each of the following: the Anglican Catholic Church, the Anglican Province of Christ the King, and the Diocese of the Great Lakes.
  10. The Anglican Province of America has intercommunion with the Reformed Episcopal Church and the Church of Nigeria.
  11. The Church of Ireland and the Methodist Church in Ireland have established full communion and are working toward interchangeability of ministry.WEB,weblink Church of Ireland and Methodist Covenant, Armagh, Robert, Graham, W Winston, 26 September 2002, Church of Ireland, 26 August 2016,
  12. The Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht and the Church of Sweden are in full communion since the joint signature of the Uppsala Agreement in 2016.WEB,weblink Utrecht and Uppsala on the way to communion, Union of Utrecht of the Old Catholic churches, 26 June 2017,

Agreements in progress
  1. The United Methodist Council of Bishops have approved interim agreements for sharing the Eucharist with the Episcopal Church in the United States of America.WEB,weblink Council approves interim pacts with Episcopalians, Lutherans,, 2006-11-06, 2019-04-09,
  2. The Methodist Church of Great Britain is currently working toward full communion with the Church of EnglandWEB,weblink An Anglican-Methodist Covenant, 2001, Methodist Publishing House and Church House Publishing, 26 August 2016, and the United Reform Church.WEB,weblink History of the Covenant, An Anglican-Methodist Covenant, The Methodist Church and the Church of England, 26 August 2016,

See also






  • BOOK, Prepared under the auspices of the Canon Law Society of America, 4 November 2003, Code of Canon Law, from 2001 Latin-English print, Vatican City, Libreria Editrice Vaticana,weblink, {{SfnRef, CIC, 1983, }}
  • BOOK, Prepared under the auspices of the Canon Law Society of America, 17 July 2007, Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, from 1992 Latin-English print, Rome, IT, Èulogos SpA,weblink, {{SfnRef, CCEO, 1990, }}

Further reading

  • WEB,weblink On Receiving Anglican clergy into the Catholic Church: Statement of the bishops of England and Wales given on April 15, 1994,, Eternal Word Television Network, Irondale, Alabama,weblink" title="">weblink 9 February 2001, 7 November 2015,
  • WEB,weblink How to Become a Catholic, Keating, Karl,, Catholic Answers,weblink" title="">weblink 17 December 2001, 7 November 2015,

External links

  • weblink" title="">Broken but Never Divided: An Eastern Orthodox Perspective

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