Christian ecumenism has made great strides during the twentieth century but is now widely seen as needing a new path. Avery Dulles has proposed an “exchange of gifts” notion of dialogue in which the participant churches share their understanding of the Christian life and all of the reasons they have for holding their particular doctrines and practices, drawing on whatever normative sources they believe are appropriate. The approach enables the participants to bear testimony in love in the hopes that they may better understand and appreciate each other more fully, thereby opening a path to increased doctrinal consensus and thus greater visible unity among all Christians. For Roman Catholics, the primacy of the Petrine office is a precious gift to the Church, and Dulles, among many other Roman Catholic leaders, has invited non-Catholic Christians to help develop and articulate a way the Petrine office might be exercised in a manner non-Catholic Christians would embrace.

With Dulles, I embrace the “exchange of gifts” model and see the Petrine office as an indispensable instrument for achieving visible unity. As a response to the invitation, this dissertation attempts to demonstrate that Paul’s express purpose for writing Ephesians was to provide a definitive teaching regarding what we today would call an ecumenical theology and a notion of ecumenical dialogue. After unpacking Paul’s message in Ephesians to better understand its ecumenical implications, I then turn to examine the central issues in contemporary Roman Catholic theology in light of that message. That examination enables me to suggest ways Rome might continue its ongoing project of developing its doctrine of primacy after Vatican II, based on the deep insights of some of its own top scholars. As I argue, the light of Ephesians supports and enhances those insights and helps clarify the way forward within Roman Catholic theology on its own terms. I then turn to make modest proposals regarding how Rome might reform its exercise of the Petrine office based on that enhanced clarity. The proposed reforms appear consistent with Roman Catholic doctrine and, if made, should enable most non-Catholic Christians to embrace the Petrine office as shepherd of ecumenism.

Degree Date

Winter 12-21-2019

Document Type


Degree Name



Religious Studies


William J. Abraham

Subject Area

Philosophy, Religion, Theology/Religious Education

Number of Pages




Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License