Monday, December 04, 2006

Some thoughts on the Pope,western phronema, & Orthodox Doctrinal Development

Ben of the Undercroft has posted an interesting essay on an often undiscussed aspect of the Rome Orthodox reunion debate. We Orthodox tend to spend a great deal of time discussing what changes the Latins will have to make for reunification to occur. But we frequently ignore the reality of the current situation in the West. And that reality is that the Roman Catholic Church has become to a certain degree dependent on a strong centralized administration for government. As I noted in a post on this subject a long time ago over in Free Republic; Rome having decided to ride the tiger may find it hard to dismount without injury.

The West largely lacks what we would call an Orthodox phronema. The Latin sensus fidei if you will has become severely eroded. The idea that Rome could just snap its fingers and become Orthodox in its ecclesiology is naive. The Roman Church has over the course of a thousand years become very dependent on the power of the papacy. Given the disciplinary and theological chaos now rampant in the Roman Catholic Church, a reasonable argument could be made that the Latin Church would suffer significant harm if it were not for a powerful papacy. Ben makes the point well in his essay.

I can think of several Roman bishops and at least one cardinal here in the United States who I strongly suspect would be ordaining women and marrying same gender couples the day after the Pope renounced his universal and absolute jurisdiction over the church. I can’t say that about any Orthodox hierarchs. Again this comes down to sensus fidei. When was the last time a Roman Catholic bishop called one of his brothers a heretic (excepting the schismatic Lefebvrists)? Has that happened in my lifetime? If so I am unaware of it. I think this is in part due to the subserveint role that Latin bishops have been relegated to in the Roman ecclesiology. This is alien to Orthodoxy. The faith in the Orthodox Church is not the property of just one supreme bishop. It is the property of The Church as a whole including even the laity. And in that context it has been jealously guarded for a thousand years.

I have occasionally asked Orthodoxy's critics for an explanation for its remarkable theological stability in various forums and discussions. Generally I don’t get much in the form of a response. Fr. Kimel (I am going to have get used to the new/old title) however gave a brief glimpse of his thinking on the subject in his comment on Ben’s article. He is rather dismissive of Orthodoxy’s lack of doctrinal development, attributing it to the historic conditions of the Orthodox Church under Ottoman and Communist oppression. This is in my opinion both an historically weak argument and also a double edged one that could cut the other way with equal force.

First the Orthodox world has never been completely under the heal of oppression. The (Eastern) Roman Empire lasted up until the XV century before its final collapse. And the Ottoman Empire had lost much of its grip on traditionally Orthodox lands by the end of the XIX century. It was not until 1918 that the Communists became a great power and threat to the Church. And while the injury done was great (we will never know the number of martyrs but certainly they are in the millions), the Communist yoke was from an historical point of view rather short lived. Other than that bloody space of roughly three quarters of a century the Russian Church was never directly repressed on a large scale.[1]

Depending on when you date Rome's departure an argument can be made that the Orthodox Church enjoyed at least moderate freedom for more than half of the period since the schism and in the case of Russia almost the entire post schism period less the heart of the XX century. Additionally, during this time there were some fairly long periods in certain locals where Ottoman rule was relatively tolerant of Christianity. Add to this the combination of a lack of central authority and the autonomous national churches and you have what should be a recipe for one schism after another.

And yet in the eight or so centuries since Rome’s departure there have been no significant schisms in the Orthodox Church over matters of faith. Nor has there been any major reinterpretation or “doctrinal development” of the faith. When one examines the totality of historical circumstances and also the ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church (which at a casual glance bears a frightening similarity to Anglicanism) the above statement becomes truly astonishing.

The inverse of Fr. Kimel’s argument of course is that one could look at a great deal of the development of Latin doctrine especially in relation to the Petrine ministry and see powerful links to the historical and political circumstances then present in the West. I alluded to this in a previous discussion over at Sacramentum Vitae.[2] Fr. Kimel also appears to date ultramontanism from the First Vatican Council.[3] To say that Fr. Kimel’s dating shocked me would be putting it mildly. The language of the decrees of Vatican I is the epitome of moderation compared to some of the pretensions to papal power and prerogatives which preceded it. One need only glance at the wording of the Bull Unam Sanctam of Boniface VIII for evidence of this.[4] One may indeed look as far back as the remarkable claims of St. Leo the Great, pointed out to me in a gentle but well aimed rebuke to one of my earlier posts by Dr. William Tighe.[5]

On one point I am in strong agreement with Father Kimel. The East has suffered from its estrangement from the Christian West. This tragic truth is undeniable. But again this cuts both ways. In its isolation from her sister churches and the theological phronema of the East following the schism, Rome had virtually no restraints or temporizing influence on its ambitions and claims. And there was no effective counterbalance to the rise of the scholastics which wreaked so much havoc theologically in the Latin Church. Nor was the isolation of the East as complete as Fr. Kimel seems to imply. Russia, especially from the time of Czar Peter (the not so great), was heavily exposed to all things western. And yet the Russian Church seems to never have seriously considered reunion with Rome. This was certainly not for want of exposure. Exposure was everywhere as a result of Peter’s efforts to “modernize” Russia and also from the periodic invasions from Catholic Poland and other locals. Nor did Peter for all of his occidentophile tendencies attempt to force the Russian Church into any union with Rome. [6]

Fr. Kimel asserts that the Roman Catholic Church is more catholic as a result of its centralization. He correctly identifies the cafeteria style theology now prevalent in much of Europe and the United States as one of the major problems facing the Roman Catholic Church. However I would respectfully argue that the long term solution is not a papal monarchy but rather the restoration of an Orthodox phronema or sensus fidei to the faithful of the Western Church. A short term abandonment of the papal prerogatives is unrealistic given the present situation in the Western Church. However long term this would be the best course of action.

Despite the fairly chaotic jurisdictional soup that is the Orthodox Church today we share one faith. We may occasionally throw furniture at each other when someone mentions the word “calendar” but we still recite the same creed and no one is arguing for the ordination of women. Fr Kimel also comments on the centralized powers of the papacy… “This is the great advantage in possessing a divinely instituted center of unity: it keeps, as Stanley Hauerwas likes to quip, the Irish and Italians, the Franciscans, Dominicans, and Jesuits, in one Church.” Try keeping Greeks Russians Arabs and Serbs in one church without a central authority! There is no other way to explain that beyond the working of the Holy Spirit.

[1] Obviously there were exceptions on the fringes of the Russian state where territory traded hands as a result of wars and other occurrences.

[3] “I'm know that papalist positivism--whatever the Pope speaks is God's truth--characterized post-Vatican I Catholicism for a hundred years; but this certainly is no longer the case.” Fr. Al Kimel

[4] It is also worth noting that the aforementioned bull was issued at a time when the Holy See was involved in a highly political and nasty feud with Philip IV of France. Mere coincidence of course.

[6] In fairness this was as likely a political consideration as much as anything else.


john said...

However I would respectfully argue that the long term solution is not a papal monarchy but rather the restoration of an Orthodox phronema or sensus fidei to the faithful of the Western Church.

How do you think the Western Church could go about restoring the sensus fidei to the faithful?

Phil said...

You make a great point, and it's one I've thought about many times, in nearly the exact words used by one of the commenters on Ben's article: elect the wrong man as Pope, just once, and it's all over. To argue, as Fr. Kimel (for whom I have immense respect) seems to do, that Orthodox doctrine not developing is a bad thing, rings hollow for someone mired in Anglicanism.

Frankly, I've always been a little suspicious about Rome's claim that a teaching can validly appear, even if it was not part of the Apostolic Deposit, simply by not contradicting that Deposit or by being reflected in some not-too-tortuous way in a truly Catholic doctrine.

Yes, a true sensus fidei seems to exist in Orthodoxy, even as a Mystery. You are correct that this is so despite many years, circumstances and a staggering diversity of ethnicities, which speaks to me deeply about Orthodoxy as the Body of Christ.

Ad Orientem said...

I think +Benedict XVI is off to a good start on that. Lex orandi, lex credendi. Start by reforming the reform of the liturgy. If you ensure the way people pray and worship is orthodox then that will have both short and long term results. I am not just interested in seeing the liberation of the classical Roman Rite (although I think that would be a very good move), but I want to see the reforms mandated by Vatican II put in place the way the council intended as opposed to this hybrid concoction by committee created by Bugnini and company.

Another area where I would suggest a slight change is a little less emphasis on the things of this world and a lot more emphasis on the next. For some in the RCC it's all about the social gospel. In fairness that end of things probably got less attention than it should have before Vatican II but the pendulum has now swung all the way in the other direction.

Reforming the seminaries to get rid of the dying generation of hippies and the lavender mafia who have been running them into the ground over the last forty years is another good move. Again I am seeing very encouraging signs. As more orthodox clergy are created and more orthodox bishops begin to fill in for the Rembert Weaklands out there the Patriarch of Rome can slowly loosen his grip a little bit and allow more latitude to local and national bishop’s conferences. Eventually this might even evolve to the point of effectively becoming local synods. Rome will (and should) always retain a special primacy. There is an obvious advantage to having a court of final appeal for resolving some issues. I think most Orthodox would agree with that.

Exactly what that will translate into I will leave to others. But it will almost certainly be more than what Bartholomew now exercises and considerably less than what Vatican I says at least in print. I am sure some creative theologians in Rome can work out the necessary explanation for how the decrees of Vatican I have been grossly misunderstood and don't really mean what we all have been told they mean or simply read them as meaning.

Here I think Owen of the Ochlophobist makes a very good point in his comment over at the article on the Undercroft. He notes that +Benedict needs to spell out exactly what he expects that the Orthodox will have to accept. Once upon a time the future Pope said we should not be required to agree to more than what was believed in the first millennium. The problem is that we (Rome & Orthodoxy) don't really agree on what was accepted back then. That needs to be clarified.

It might actually be useful if both sides could draw up a list of items which they see as the critical sticking points to restoration of communion and work on them. It bears remembering that the East and West were never really in 100% agreement on all subjects even before the schism. That’s not a realistic goal. So let’s focus on the deal breakers and try to resolve them. The other items can fall into place or be dealt with by a Great Church Council after we agree to kiss and make up.

Ad Orientem said...

Good to hear from you again. Did you try to email me? I have reason to believe that aol has been eating a lot of emails for me. My godfather has had several emails to me go astray.

Phil said...

AO, thanks for asking, I did send an email, maybe a week ago? AOL must have eaten that one. Should I try again?

Ad Orientem said...

Phil yes try again.

Phil said...

AO - I re-sent it a couple of hours ago. Hope it works this time.

Thanks again.

Death Bredon said...

History is clear that after the Barbarian conquest and domination of the Western Roman Empire, the stage was set for possible parallel religious tensions in the Imperial Church too.

Surprisingly, however, the Merovingian Franks generally conformed to the preexisting Greco-Roman consensus patri that had spanned both the Greek-favoring East and Latin-favoring West.

But, this delicate trans-civilization unity (Hellenic and Germanic) was soon ruptured by the political ambitions of Karl the Barbarian to the Imperial Throne. The East refused to recognize him as the Western Emporer, so he fought back by emphasizing amd dogmatizing emerging Latin theological oddities based on the brilliant, but innovative and quirky seculations of St Austin (who really didn't plough through the Greek texts enough to firmly grasp the consensus partri). In short, Charlemagne used religion to create a religious wedge between the Latin, Germanic West and the Greel, Hellenic, East.

In the end, the Carolingian dream to recreate a Western Holy Roman Empire just didn't pan out irregardless of Greek recognition or not, but unfortunately the Carolingian religious wedge -- typified by the filioque -- lived on. In time, the filioque-ridden Augustinian Synthesis became the standard Germanic theological mindset, especially among the Cluniac monastics.

Th Germanic/Hellenic schism was completed in the Eleventh Century when the German potentates finally managed to wrest control of the papacy from the remants of the Old Roman Aristocracy and then sealed the split with the ratification of the Fourth Crusade by the creation of a parallel heirarchy (which continues to this day in Uniatism.)

In the meantime between the ascendancy of Gregory VII and the Fourth Crusades, the Cluniac Reforms, backed by stupendous claims of papal and clerical power and authority, stamped an Augustinian puritanism and proto-scholaticism into the minds of all Western Christian thinkers (the Anglo-Saxons getting their medicine with the Norman Invasion and its after math).

What is important to note about the Gregorian Reforms is that they were cramped down on the people and that they were theologically innovative, but eventually they crowed out the consensus parti, as figures like St Vincent of Lerins, St John Cassian, and Scotus Erugena faded from the Western scene.

Still, it is no suprise that the West exploded with a counter-reaction (or perhaps over-reaction) with the Reformation, as the folk rebelled against the Cluniac clericalism that had become as or more corrupt than the old church-state symphonia they replaced!

Those that stayed within the sway of the Augustinian Synstheis + Medeival Scholasticism did so largley due to polictial force and the psycological force of the papal claims -- not any deep seated folk scholasticism. Those that went with Reformed (Calvinistic) scholasticism again did so not as a restoration of a deep seated folk memory, but to fill a vaccum -- the mindset of the consensus patri had been lost by the folk in the West. Karl the Barbarian and the Cluniacs at least suceeded in this.

Thus, unlike the East, where Apostolic Traditon has always resided in the deep seated folk memories as much as it has in the heirarchy (think of the after math of the Council of Florence or off the struggles against Imperial Inconoclasm), in the West, any strand of theological agreement largely exists on paper. Indeed, any fragile unity is symbolized in largely empty and ineffectual shell institutions which demand no real, internal theological unity -- the Papacy, the Protestant Confessions, the Book of Common Prayer, etc. For proof, ask any lay Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Presbytarian, or Anglican what he believes and compare it to the historical formulas of thier respective communons. In contrast, in the East, despite imperfections in folk theology, it is largely consistently held among the active laity.

In sum, true East-West unity is going to require, at a minimum, that the West get the laity back to the consenus patri that preexisted Augustine. That, my friends, is going to take a long, lng time. And it has little to do with hammering out agreements on the filioque or the scope of papal power.


The young fogey said...

Good point overall about healing coming from the inside - fix the liturgy and much good will flow from that.

Fr Patrick Reardon wrote something very similar a while back: that the RCs who want a weak papacy usually are Modernists; they have little in common with Orthodoxy. Much like the kind of RC who says he recognises Anglican orders often has more in common with Katharine Jefferts-Schori than with Eric Mascall. I agree that the 1960s-bred people who still run nearly everything in the RC Church are like that.

If the two sides can reach an agreement on the papacy - God-made or man-made rank in the divinely instituted episcopate? - then there's the spanner in the works that many Orthodox accept contraception, which no Christians officially did before the Church of England cautiously allowed it in 1930. You'd think divorce and remarriage would be another but, amazingly, historically no: I admit I don't understand.

The rest of the differences are theologoumena, adiaphora and disciplinary not doctrinal.

Anonymous said...


I think contraception and divorce are the least of our concerns.

(1) I'm sure you've read Gregory the Theologian on divorce.

(2) If you have had any exposure to Orthodoxy, you are aware of the fact that the Orthodox are supposed to practice sexual continence most of the year.

These common RC issues are non-issues. In fact, to my mind, they simply reflect a peculiarly Western penchant to reduce Christianity to moralism, i.e., so long as you keep the "natural law" who cares what you believe or who or what or how you happen to worship.

Go attend an Orthodox (not ByzCath) Divine Liturgy.

Visibilium said...

Great post. The genius of the Orthodox liturgy is that it reflects the Orthodox intuition. Orthodox theology isn't a series of propositions, as it is in the Roman and Confessional churches. In fact, Orthodox theology as a series of "doctrines", or whatever, arose only as a defense against its enemies. Orthodoxy isn't really theological at all, but rather is experiential and communal, which leads to some disadvantages when Orthodox are engaged in philosophical disputes with Westerners.

If the Roman liturgy reflected its theology, would it look any different than what it is today?

Anonymous said...

It is not so much "folk memory" as liturgical continuity.

Waugh almost broke with Catholicism over VII, but he was in the minority. The fact that he was only a minority reflects the Roman Catholic "sensus fidei."