Wednesday, May 17, 2006

An Interesting History of Uniatism

The following article is very interesting and rich in historical detail. I will not address the theological issues, but I do feel that it presents a pretty fair and ballanced look at the history of uniatism and its implications.

The Healing of Memories and the Problem of Uniatism
21st Kelly Lecture, University of St. Michael’s College
Toronto, Canada
1 December 2000
The Very Rev. Archimandrite Robert F. Taft, S.J.
Vice-Rector of the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome

No one who keeps abreast of the religious news can be unaware that ecumenical relations between the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches are in a period of crisis, worse, perhaps, than at any time since the official international ecumenical dialogue between these two communions began in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council. The Eighth Plenary Session of the Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church on July 9-19 at Mount St. Mary's College and Seminary in Emmittsburg, Maryland, is known to have ended in a stalemate or worse - some have privately branded it a complete fiasco. [1]

What has led to this impasse is the phenomenon known as "Uniatism,"[2] a pejorative neologism coined to denote a method of Church union the Orthodox see as politically rather than religiously motivated, and contrary to the "communion ecclesiology" of the Church of the first millennium.[3] In "Uniatism," one Church is perceived as an aggressor against a "sister Church" with which it happens at the moment to be in schism, absorbing groups of its faithful deceptively by allowing them to retain their own liturgical and canonical traditions and a certain autonomy. This type of union, considered the result of political pressure reinforced by violence, created not unity but new divisions in an already fragmented Christendom.

To understand "Uniatism" and this negative view of it, one must understand the nature of the reunions of the 16th and later centuries, and of the Eastern Catholic Churches that resulted. Regardless of the intentions behind them, these reunions were not, except in the most formal theological sense, a restoration of the communion that had existed before the schism between East and West. They represented something new in the history of the Church, a departure from the past, which is why the Slavic neologism "unija" was invented to describe it.

Had the Union of Florence in 1439 been successful, the phenomenon of "Uniatism" would never have emerged. For at Florence the Latin West and the Byzantine East tried to face and deal with each other directly as equals. But the Orthodox repudiation of the Union of Florence in 1484 provoked a clear though perhaps unconscious shift in tactics by the Latin Church. Disillusioned by the failure to achieve a general union, the Roman Church began to sign separate union agreements with individual groups of Orthodox, thus nibbling away at the fringes of Orthodoxy in areas under the political control of Catholic powers.

For the Orthodox, this was perfidious, like signing a separate peace behind the backs of one's allies instead of working for a general peace. Rome could respond that they were simply entering into union with a local Church (which indeed the Roman Church, like any other Church, had every right to do). [4]

But phenomenologically, the Churches had in fact evolved beyond the pre-Nicene system in which one could still legtimately view the universal Church as a federation of local Churches with no intervening higher structures - as if Canada, for example, were just a collection of towns not united into separate provinces. So the Orthodox groups that entered into union with Rome were not simply restoring the former, broken unity between a local Church and the Church of Rome, even if this is what they had intended. Rather, they were separating themselves from one entity, their Orthodox Mother Church, and being absorbed into another, the Latin Catholic Church of the West. In short, they were leaving the Eastern Church and being assimilated into the Western Church. Far from restoring the broken communion between East and West, this led to new divisions.

For the Orthodox, such partial reunions remove the whole ecumenical problem from its proper context. This is a view that most ecumenists now share. In this perspective, the separation between our Churches resulted between the hierarchies of East and West over ecclesial questions like the extent and powers of the Roman See, and it is up to those two hierarchies together, and not individuals or splinter groups of bishops, to solve these problems in common. Partial reunion only divides the Orthodox Churches and is seen as deceiving the simple faithful, who follow their bishops in good faith with no understanding of the issues involved. For the Orthodox, such partial reunions are not Union but "Unia," breaking ranks and entering premature and treacherous submissions to one side in a dispute without the consent of one's partners.

Read the rest here

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