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Roman Catholic-Orthodox Agreed Statement Essay Sample

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Roman Catholic-Orthodox Agreed Statement Essay Sample

            Forty-three years ago, in 1964, the Roman Catholic Church promulgated the Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism[1]. The decree states that; “Christ the Lord founded one church and one church only; division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel”. According to a document of the Joint Working Group (JWG) of the World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church from the Centro Pro Unione, the Decree was composed after the World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church exchanged gestures that signaled both Church’s openness to ecumenical dialogues in the early 1960s.  In 1961, Pope Paul VI of the Roman Catholic Church sent delegates to observe the World Council of Church’s Third Assembly in India.

The Council, in response, sent delegates to observe the sessions of the Second Vatican Council from 1962 to 1965 (Centro Pro Unione, 2007). The Decree on Ecumenism was the official charter of the Roman Catholic Church’s active participation in the one ecumenical movement. This cooperation was described as being “fostered by the grace of the Holy Spirit” for “the restoration of unity among all Christians” who “invoke the Triune God and confess Jesus as Lord and Savior” (Centro Pro Unione, 2007).  James Likoudis  of the Catholic Culture.org, in his article said, “that the growing brotherly attitude overriding the `sins against unity` committed by both Catholics and Orthodox in the polemical atmosphere of the past which has prompted the Catholic Church for the sake of furthering the reunion of the dissident Eastern Churches…” (Likoudis, 2007)[2]

After Pope Paul VI, at the Second Vatican Council, and Patriarch Athenagoras, in a special ceremony at the Phanar in Constantinople, simultaneously removed the excommunications of 1054, ecumenical dialogues were instituted to push for understanding between the two Churches (St. Paul Greek Orthodox Church, 2007)[3]. Fourteen years later in 1979, Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Demetrios created an international commission for theological dialogue, which led dialogues that resulted to series of agreed statements of common beliefs between the two Churches. One of these joint declarations touched on the Mystery of the Church and the Eucharist in Light of the Mystery of the Trinity.

The Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church met in Munich in 1982 to discuss the commonality of the Roman Catholic Church with the Orthodox Church on matters concerning the Church and the Eucharist in light of the Holy Trinity.

The Joint Statement

Essentially, the statement was divided into three parts.  The first part discussed the nature of the risen Christ, and Christ being the only One who has conquered death, enabling man to experience the Kingdom of God. This is how Christ exists in history starting from the Pentecost until the Second Coming. However, this promised eternal life is only a pledge.  It also discussed the Eucharist in the sacrament form, which essentially is Christ giving His body to the disciples and to many. The Eucharist is also the Sacrament of Christ, which gives us the token of eternal life, and, which incorporates us fully in Christ.  According to the statement, the Son of God’s Incarnation went according to the Father’s plan, which was made real through the works of the Holy Spirit. [4]

Discussing the Church and the Eucharist, the statement points out that, although some Christian sects have no established position on the action of the Spirit in the Last Supper, the agreed document stipulated the Spirit was nevertheless united closer than ever to the “Incarnate Son” for making possible the Father’s plans.  Even as the disciples have not accepted Christ as a person, (Jn 7:39) He was praised as the Spirit manifested Itself.  “The Lord Jesus enters into the glory of the Father and, at the same time, by the pouring out of the Spirit, into his sacramental tropos in this world” (1. para. 4a)[5].  It further discusses, that the Holy Spirit manifested itself through the Son, and prepares Christ for the Father’s plan.  Moreover, the Spirit reveals itself when Jesus carried out the Father’s work, and when Jesus was glorified as the Incarnate. The Eucharist and Church, body of the crucified and risen Christ, becomes the points where the Spirit manifests its works.  Furthermore, the Spirit’s handiwork is Christ the Savior. Both Churches believe that the Eucharistic celebration is in memorial (anamnesis) of Christ’s sacrifices. As a sacrament, the Eucharist is the best manifestation of the “proper time” of the mystery.  The Spirit transforms the gifts into the body and blood of Christ in order to bring growth to the body, which is the Church.  The second part of the document discussed the Church, the premise of how it is formed. It said:

Now the Church existing in a place is not formed, in a radical sense, by the persons who come together to establish it. There is a “Jerusalem from on high” which “comes down from God”, a communion which is at the foundation of the community itself. The church comes into being by a free gift, that of the new creation” (II, para.2).

            John D. Zizioulas echoed the same outlook, “…the Church is not catholic (universal) not because it is obedient to Christ. It is Catholic first of all, because she is the Body of Christ. Her Catholicity depends not on herself, but on Him” (Zizioulas, 1985).[6]  Similarly, in an interview by the Eternal Word Television Network with Fr. Paul McPartlan, he said that, “the Eucharist is at the very core of the life of the Church and gives the Church its identity.  The Church is the Body of Christ, and, as St. Augustine taught, we receive the body of Christ in order to become the body of Christ: “Be what you see and receive what you are.” (McPartlan, 2005)[7]

            The document further discussed that the Eucharistic celebration shows the communion that takes place in the Church. Its premise is repentance and confession as sacramental expression. But the Eucharist also heals sin, it being the sacrament of divinizing love by the Holy Trinity.

            It also discussed the role of the bishop, that as they are bestowed upon by the sacrament of ordination, the Spirit gives to the bishop, sacramentally, the authority of being a servant whom the Son received from the Father (II.3.para.1). The uniqueness of the sacrament and the identity of the Church were stipulated through the uniqueness of Christ himself, and all who have the same faith, celebrating the same memorial of Christ’s sacrifices, partaking His Blood and Body.

For a local Church celebrating the Eucharist to be truly within the ecclesial communion, it must fulfill two premises: the identity of the mystery of the church lived by the local church fundamental; and that mutual recognition between this local church and the other churches should also be observed.  The document exhorts the role of the Holy Spirit in actualizing the hope of the Decree on Ecumenism:

We find then among these churches those bonds of communion which the New Testament indicated: communion in faith, hope and love, communion in the sacraments, communion in the diversity of charisms, communion in the reconciliation, communion in the ministry. The agent of this communion is the Spirit of the risen Lord. Through him the church universal, catholic, integrates diversity or plurality, making it one of its own essential elements. This catholicity represents the fulfillment of the prayer of Chapter 17 of the Gospel according to John, taken up in the Eucharistic epiclesis (III, 4.para.1).

Responses to the Agreed Statement

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops hailed the Commission in their effort to reduce the estrangement between the two communities of faith. The Conference, in a statement drafted in 1983, said that the fruits of the ecumenical dialogue gave less focus on the “history of mutual estrangement”, and allowed the two Churches present to their faithful a unified voice on issues of the Christian faith (USCCB, 1983)[8].

Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev of the Russian Orthodox Church meanwhile, reflected on the prospects of Orthodox-Catholic relations in light of the previously presented agreed statement. He said that the intention of the two Churches is to come up with grounds for better understanding of each other’s positions, while keeping tabs on the major differences that existed between them.  “A significant degree of unity was achieved, and the participants were ready to embark upon a discussion of the major dividing issue, the question of the authority of the Pope of Rome” (Alfeyev, 2002)[9].

It is significant, however, to examine the separate doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church and of the Orthodox Church on the said aspects of the faith.

The Roman Catholic Church

            The struggle to understand the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church have resulted to the Reformation, by “reformers” Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and Knox. These reformers’ revolt against Rome hinged upon their disagreement on the infallibility of the Pope, Mary, the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the Mystery of the Holy Trinity (Hahn, 1996).

Several issues have given fuel to the evangelical Christian upheaval against the Church on the issues of justification and authority. The Reformers’ hold firm on sola fide (faith alone), where they believe that they are justified by their faiths alone, and Sola Scriptura (Scriptures alone), rendering the Scriptures to be one and only authority. The Roman Catholic Church, however, believes in sola verbum Dei (The Word of God alone), which differs significantly from sola scriptura.  The Catholic principle of sola verbum Dei recognizes the authority to be the Word of God alone, something that can be found in the Scriptures and in Traditions handed down by works and word of mouth, and the Councils (Hahn, 1996).

Perhaps, the central bone of contention would be the claim of Rome to be one true Church, and the only Church that traces its roots directly to Jesus Christ.

            Efforts to iron out ecumenical relations between organized religions, although gaining positive grounds in the past decades, remain in a state of tight-rope walking. The release of the Dominus Iesus in 2000 by the Vatican did not help either[10].

An ecumenical uproar ensued, most disbelieving that despite modern areas of understanding and acceptance of one another, the Roman Catholic Church described itself  “the Church of Christ … continues to exist fully only in the Catholic Church” (Alvin Kimmel, 2005).

Former Presbyterian pastor and Catholic convert, Dr. Scott Hahn, a specialist in covenant theology, made sense of the Roman Catholic Church through the covenants that Jesus Christ forged with his people.

In his book, Rome Sweet Home, Dr. Hahn, who was initially a confessed anti-Catholic by conviction before his study of the Scripture lead him to “swim the Tiber”, narrated how he underwent spiritual and intellectual dissonance with the concept of liturgy and sacraments.  Dr. Hahn said that going over the Letters to the Hebrews and the Gospel of John, he finally admitted to himself that “the liturgy and sacraments are essential parts of God’s family life” (Hahn, 1996, p.45).

Pope Benedict XVI, in a Vatican document, the apostolic exhortation, Sacramentum caritatis, reflected on the Church and the Eucharist: The spiritual father of the Roman Catholic Church exhorted that the Eucharist is what binds God and His Church, as with the death of Christ on the Cross, He gave birth to the Church His Bride.  Pope Benedict, in his words, touched on the relationship of the origins of the Church and the Eucharist:

A contemplative gaze “upon him whom they have pierced” (Jn 19:37) leads us to reflect on the causal connection between Christ’s sacrifice, the Eucharist and the Church. The Church “draws her life from the Eucharist” Since the Eucharist makes present Christ’s redeeming sacrifice, we must start by acknowledging that “there is a causal influence of the Eucharist at the Church’s very origins (Pope Benedict XVI, Sacramentum caritatis).

The Roman Catholic Church celebrates the Liturgy of the Eucharist in the Holy Mass, where the Catholic faithful commune with Christ by partaking his “body” in the form of consecrated bread[11].  Pope Benedict XVI said:

In the Eucharist Jesus does not give us a “thing,” but himself; he offers his own body and pours out his own blood. He thus gives us the totality of his life and reveals the ultimate origin of this love (Pope Benedict XVI, Sacramentum caritatis).

The communion of the Holy Trinity and the Eucharist was reflected upon by Pope Benedict XVI, in his exhortation, saying that the Eucharist reveals the loving plan that guides all of salvation history where the Deus Trinitas, who is essentially love, becomes fully a part of our human condition through the bread and wine under whose appearances Christ gives himself to us in the paschal meal. His Holiness said:

God’s whole life encounters us and is sacramentally shared with us. God is a perfect communion of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. At creation itself, man was called to have some share in God’s breath of life (cf. Gen 2:7). But it is in Christ, dead and risen, and in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, given without measure (cf. Jn 3:34), that we have become sharers of God’s inmost life (Pope Benedict XVI, Sacramentum caritatis).

The Pope said that Jesus Christ, offered himself without blemish to God, made us sharers in God’s own life through the Eucharist, which is a free gift, and the manifestation of the fulfillment of God’s promises. This “mystery of faith” reveals a Trinitarian love, a mystery in which believers are called by grace to participate in and rejoice for.

The Orthodox Church

Father Michael Azkoul, in his book published in 1994, said that the Orthodox Church does not endorse the view that the teachings of Christ changed from time to time, rather, it teaches that Christianity has remained unaltered from the moment that the Lord delivered the Faith to the Apostles (Azkoul, 1994)[12].

Fr. Azkoul discussed that in contrast to Roman belief that the Pope heads the Church and is rendered infallible by the Holy Spirit to interpret Christian Tradition, the Orthodox Church believes that all bishops are equal.  As there may be  differences in  ranks like “patriarch”, “archbishop”, and “metropolitan”, nevertheless, they are the same, Fr. Azkoul said that” the only differences apply to the administration of a church or group of churches, and not the nature of the bishop. The president of a Synod of Bishops is called “Archbishop” for the Greek custom and “Metropolitan for the Russian custom” (Azkoul, 1995)[13].

Discussing the ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church, Orthodoxy teaches that every bishop is “the living icon of Christ”[14]. This bishop’s flock constitutes the Church in a certain place. Fr. Azkoul cited St. Ignatius the God-bearer saying, “The Church of Christ is in the bishop, his priests and deacons, with the people, surrounding the Eucharist in the true faith. All bishops and their flocks so constituted, together compose the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church”.

As with the Orthodox doctrine regarding the Eucharist, Fr. Azkoul put it this way: “there is no Orthodox Church without the Eucharist, the Sacrament of unity, because the Church is formed through it[15]. The Body and Blood of Christ unite the faithful to God. To the believers, this fellowship, or koinonia, is the whole purpose of Christianity. At the same time, there can be no Eucharist – and no other Mysteries – without a bishop who teaches the true faith to the baptized” (Azkoul, 1994)[16].

The universality – or catholicity – of the Church in light of the Eucharist was discussed by Greek Orthodox theologian, John D. Zizioulas (1985).  Zizioulas wrote, “The Eucharistic community was in its composition, a catholic community in the sense that it transcends not only social but natural divisions” (Zizioulas, 1985)[17]

Zizioulas described the catholicity of the Eucharistic community by means of its structure. He puts emphasis on the role of the Orthodox bishop at the center of the “whole church” (Zizioulas, 1985). He went on:

A fundamental function  of this “one bishop” was to express in himself the multitude of the faithful…He was the one who would offer the Eucharist to God in the name of the Church, thus bringing up to the throne the whole Body of Christ (Zizioulas, 1985)[18]

Regarding the Holy Trinity, the Orthodox Church believes that the only Holy Spirit preceded the Holy Father, and removed the filioque clause (…and The Son) (Hahn, 1996,) after it had been added to the Nicene Creed by the Roman Catholic Church, who believes that The Son precedes both the Father and the Holy Spirit[19].

Theologians from both sides have made clear how and why either community of faith have falls short of the proper and correct interpretation of the Word of God.

For instance, in Dr. Hahn’s account of his search for the true Church of God, he mentioned what he perceived to be a horrifying prospect of being called into the Roman Catholic Church, of whom he was previously and spiritually trained to antagonize. He looked into Orthodoxy, and mentioned meeting with an evangelical convert to Antiochene Orthodoxy, Peter Gilquist. Dr.Hahn said that upon close examination of Orthodox Christian churches, he found the Orthodox Church to be “hopelessly divided among themselves…. and are split along ethnic nationalism” (Hahn, 1996, p. 61), Dr Hahn further noted that, “…they have co-existed for centuries, but more like a family of brothers who have lost their father (Hahn, 1996)[20].

Perhaps, the most intense observation by the theology expert on the Orthodox Church, would be that despite wonderfully preserved liturgy and tradition, it is stagnant in theology.  The Church’s rejection of the Pope seemed to have been based more on imperial political reasons than on serious theological grounds (Hahn, 1996).

On the other hand, Fr. Michael Azkoul, of the American Orthodox Church, claims that while the Orthodox Church uses philosophy and science to explain its faith, the Roman Catholic Church does not. Fr. Azkoul further noted that that from the how the Orthodox Christians see it, the Roman Catholic Church “…does not seek to reconcile faith and reason” (Azkoul, 1994)[21], and that it makes no effort to prove by logic or by science what Christ gave His followers to believe.

The Orthodox Church, it says, is faithful to the teaching of the Church Fathers, and claims not to have changed or altered the observance of the teachings of Christianity from its original form.  On the other hand, the Roman Catholic faith, Fr. Azkoul claims, justify new doctrines by way of doctrinal development. Fr. Azkoul’s observations came off from Roman Catholic idea that Christ only gave us an “original deposit” of faith, or a “seed” (Azkoul, 1994)[22].

            Despite thousands of years worth of estrangement between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, the efforts of finding common spiritual ground became the testament to the wishes of Christ the Lord, whose brief sojourn into our undeserving nature, culminating in His glorious ascension to heaven after having been resurrected from the dead, was the rock upon which the rites of the universal Church is founded, until such time, when the divine promise of the Parousia (The Second Coming) comes to pass.


Azkoul, M.  (1994). What are the differences between orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. St. Louis, Missouri. St. Nectarios American Orthodox Church. Retrieved on November 10, 2007 from http://www.ocf.org/OrthodoxPage/reading/ortho_cath.html

Alfeyev, H. (2002, October 7) Prospects of Orthodox-Catholic Relations. Retrieved November 14, 2007 from http://orthodoxeurope.org/page/7/1/2.aspx

Centro Pro Unione. The History of the RCC/WCC Joint Working Group. Retrieved November 14, 2007 from http://www.prounione.urbe.it/dia-int/o-rc/doc/e_o-rc_03_munich.html

Eternal Word Television Network. (2005 February 5) Eucharist makes the Church: Father Paul McPartlan on the centrality of the Sacrament. Retrieved November 10, 2007 from http://www.ewtn.com/library/Doctrine/ZEUCHAR.HTM

Hahn, S. (1996). Rome sweet home. San Fransisco. Ignatius Press

  1. Pohle. (1909) The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume V. Published 1909. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, May 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York

Kimmel, A. (2007). Pontifications.  Retrieved on 10 November 2007 from (http://pontifications.wordpress.com/ecclesiological-relativism/)

Likoudis, J. (2007) The Catholic-Orthodox dialogue: light and shadows. Retrieved November 14, 2007 from http://www.catholicculture.org/library/view.cfm?recnum=6392

St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church.  Dialogue among Christians Orthodox  participation in the ecumenical movement. Retrieved November 10, 2007, from http://stpaulsirvineorg_ecumenical.htm

The Vatican. (2007) The Mystery of the Church and of the Eucharist in the light of the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Retrieved November 11, 2007 from http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/ch_orthodox_docs/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_19820706_munich_en.html

The Vatican. (2007)  Sacramentum caritatis Pope Benedict XVI, (2007).  Retrieved November 11, 2007 from http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_ben-xvi_exh_20070222_sacramentum-caritatis_en.html

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (1983, May, 25). A response to the Joint International Commission for theological dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church regarding the Munich document: “The Mystery of the Church and of the Eucharist in the Light of the Mystery of the Holy Trinity”. Retrieved November 14, 2007 from http://www.usccb.org/seia/munich.shtml

Zizioulas, J.D. (1985)  Being as communion. Crestwood, NY.  St. Vladimir Seminary Press.

[1] The Roman Catholic’s Church Decree on Ecumenism was proclaimed on November 21, 1964.  For the full text of the document, see http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decree_19641121_unitatis-redintegratio_en.html, 2007

[2] J. Likoudis. (2007)  http://www.catholicculture.org/library/view.cfm?recnum=6392

[3] St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church’s portal explains the history of ecumenical relations between the Orthodox Church and other sects. More can be found here: www.stpaulsirvine.org

[4] The full text of the Agreed Statement can be found on the web portal of the Holy See, www.vatican.va.

[5] Some Bible Christian sects believe that “re-sacrificing Christ” over and over again is the greatest sacrilege man could commit. More on this insight on the theological odyssey of S. Hahn. Rome Sweet Home 1996. p. 87

[6] J. Zizioulas, Being as communion. 1985, p. 158.  Zizioulas suggested further readings on the works of Y.N. Lelouvier (1968) and G. Florovsky  (1954) regarding approaches to Christology.

[7] Excerpts from Fr. Mc. Partlan’s interview with EWTN can be found here http://www.ewtn.com/library/Doctrine/ZEUCHAR.HTM

[8] The USCCB drafted the response in Jamaica, NY in May 25, 1983.  For full text of the statement, refer to the USCCB portal, http://www.usccb.org/seia/munich.shtml

[9] H. Alfeyev. Prospects of Orthodox-Catholic Relations. Bishop Alfeyev’s paper was delivered on 7 October 2002 at the University of St Thomas (St Paul, Minessota, USA), and also on 9 October 2002 at the Catholic University of America (Washington D.C).

[10] The Vatican document, Dominus Iesus ominus Iesus, which was issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, concerns the role of Christ and his church in the salvation of people who do not share Christian faith. For the full text of the document, http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20000806_dominus-iesus_en.html, 2007

[11] The Roman Catholic faithful partake only the symbol  the body of Christ in form of a consecrated host. For more information see J. Pohle.. (1909) , for an insightful analysis of the Eucharist at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05573a.htm

[12] M. Azkoul. (1994). http://www.ocf.org/OrthodoxPage/reading/ortho_cath.html

[13] Ibid.

[14] The fundamental function of the bishop was to express in himself the “multitude” of the faithful in the Church. J. Zizioulas, Being as communion 1985.

[15] The Orthodox faithful receive both the symbols of the “body” and “blood of Christ” in Holy Communion. both kinds on a spoon (a small piece of leavened bread that has been dipped in wine.

[16] M. Azkoul. (1994). http://www.ocf.org/OrthodoxPage/reading/ortho_cath.html

[17] J. Zizioulas. (1994). p.152

[18] Ibid. (p.153)

[19] The filioque clause was the main subject discussed at the 62nd meeting of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation, in June 2002. As a result, it has been suggested that the Orthodox could accept an “economic” filioque that states that the Holy Spirit, who originates in the Father alone, was sent to the Church “through the Son”.  See The Filioque: A Church-Dividing Issue, the Agreed Statement of the Consultation.

[20] S. Hahn. Rome Sweet Home  (1996). P 61 Hahn’s observation also came with the fact that the Orthodox church are split as the Oriental and Eastern, labeling themselves along ethnic nationalisms lines, such as Greek, Bulgarian, Russian, Ruthenian, Hungarian, Serbian, and so on.

[21] M. Azkoul. (1994). http://www.ocf.org/OrthodoxPage/reading/ortho_cath.html

[22] Ibid

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