In Christian ecclesiology, full communion is the relationship of communion, with mutually recognized sharing of the same essential doctrines, between a Christian community and other communities or between that community and individuals.
The Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox churches see full communion between local particular churches as uniting them into a single Church. Western Protestant denominations apply the term "full communion" differently, in this case meaning practical arrangements entered into by different denominations and communities that fully maintain their distinct identities and different (but usually substantially similar) doctrines.
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. For instance, the Roman Catholic Church sees itself as in partial communion with Protestants, and as in much closer, but still incomplete, communion with the Orthodox Churches.
It has expressed this idea in many documents. The Decree on Ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council, 3 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". The Catechism of the Catholic Church, citing documents of the Second Vatican Council and of 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."
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.
The 28 May 1992 Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on some aspects of the Church understood as Communion expressed this idea as follows::
This applies both to the local particular Churches, such as dioceses or eparchies, in the Catholic Church and to the "sui iuris" (autonomous) Churches within it.
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