Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Moscow takes aim at (new?) Rome

Despite all the ink spilled over the subject of my preceding post, many Orthodox (including yours truly) will tell you that the Filioque is something that can probably be overcome. In fact most of the differences between Orthodoxy and Rome are in my opinion not insurmountable. This doesn't mean it would be a cake walk. But with a lot of charity and patience and a healthy dose of creativity most of the separating issues probably can be overcome to a degree sufficient to permit some sort of restoration of communion. The key word there is "most."

To me and I think again most (I only avoid the term "all" out of an abundance of caution) Orthodox the deal breaker is papal primacy and Vatican I. The language in the decrees of the First Vatican Council regarding the universal jurisdiction of the Pope and his infallibility are regarded as heresy by almost all Orthodox. And unfortunately the language used in those decrees is so crystal clear and unambiguous that there is not really any wiggle room for creative reinterpretation or "doctrinal development."
Wherefore we teach and declare that,
  • by divine ordinance,
  • the Roman church possesses a pre-eminence of ordinary power over every other church, and that
  • this jurisdictional power of the Roman pontiff is both
    • episcopal and
    • immediate.
  • Both clergy and faithful,
    • of whatever rite and dignity,
    • both singly and collectively,
  • are bound to submit to this power by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, and this
    • not only in matters concerning faith and morals,
    • but also in those which regard the discipline and government of the church throughout the world.
So, then,
  • if anyone says that
    • the Roman pontiff has merely an office of supervision and guidance, and
      • not the full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the whole church, and this
      • not only in matters of
        • faith and morals, but also in those which concern the
        • discipline and government of the church dispersed throughout the whole world; or that
    • he has only the principal part, but not the absolute fullness, of this supreme power; or that
    • this power of his is not ordinary and immediate both over all and each of the churches and over all and each of the pastors and faithful:
    let him be anathema.
This is just not acceptable to the Orthodox Church.

In fairness we Orthodox, partly from historical circumstances, have been very clear in articulating what primacy is not, and not particularly clear about what it is. Indeed until recent times the subject has not really been much on anyone's agenda. There really was no need. However some years ago the late +John Paul Magnus of blessed memory issued a challenge to the Orthodox world to give our interpretation of the function of the Roman See. The silence was deafening. Now we are coming to the point where the silence will need to be broken. At the forthcoming session of the Catholic-Orthodox theological dialogue the topic is to be the primacy of the Bishop of Rome in the Church. I would give a lot of money that I don't have to be a fly on the wall of that meeting (with a universal translator).

As an interesting background to this, the chilly relations between Moscow and Constantinople seem to be growing cooler. Moscow has long accused the Patriarchate of New Rome of meddling in the affairs of the other churches (Russia's in particular) and of asserting a jurisdiction it does not have. Whereas +Bartholomew and the Synod of Bishops in Constantinople have been taking a more expansive view of things. Met. +John of Pergagmum, one of the foremost theologians in the Orthodox Church today, has strongly hinted at a broader interpretation of primacy than what has been normative within Orthodoxy. Of course nothing he has written even comes close to supporting the monarchical claims of the First Vatican Council. It is with this fascinating mix of church politics as a background that we see Moscow announcing that it is preparing an official position on the subject of primacy in the Church.

The Interfax News Service reports...
‘Our principal affirmation is this: primacy in the Church is necessary, also on the universal level, but on the level of the Universal Church it cannot be the primacy of jurisdiction but only the primacy of honour’, Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria, Russian Church representative to European organizations, told Interfax on Monday.

‘There can be no compromises’ in this matter for the Moscow Patriarchate, he said. The aim of the theological dialogue is not to make a compromise but to identify the original understanding of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome in the early undivided Church, he noted.

‘Historically, the primacy of the Bishop of Rome in the Christian Church, from our point of view, was that of honour, not jurisdiction. That is to say, the jurisdiction of the Pope of Rome was never applied to all the Churches’, the bishop stressed.
No real surprises there. However, one might begin to wonder just who Moscow is taking aim at when reading a little farther down we note...
‘We consider it (the primacy of Constantinople - IF) exclusively as primacy of honour, while the See of Constantinople itself tends occasionally to give a broad interpretation to this primacy. These are the questions I believe around which principal problems will emerge’, Bishop Hilarion said.
We aint called "byzantine" for nothing.

All of the politics aside, the bottom line remains. Vatican I is the show stopper. I know of no Orthodox hierarch or credible theologian who would accept it. All of the other debates won't amount to a hill of beans because Vat. I is a nonnegotiable for the Roman Catholics and also for the Orthodox. In order to overcome it one or the other would have to cease to be what they are. And that is not gonna happen.


Anonymous said...

Hasn't the Moscow Patriarchate been doing some inter-jurisdictional meddling of its own?

See this article:

"At the same time, we learn that the Church of Russia has begun requesting of the Israeli authorities the right to penetrate the jurisdiction of the Jerusalem Patriarchate on the basis of offering her spiritual assistance to the hundreds of thousands of Russian Orthodox believers of Jewish origin established in Israel during the past fifteen years."

The Ecumenical Patriarchate's "neo-papist" tendencies often get press, but what of this and other blatant violations of the canonical territory of the other Orthodox churches by the MP?

And why is the MP trying to penetrate the JP? Because there are Russians there, of course. Isn't this the heresy of phyletism?

318@NICE said...

I don't think it would merely be Vatican I that is an obstacle. But I think the Council of Trent as well. Vatican I is merely an affirmation of Trent.
But then again, since Vatican I is an affirmation of Trent, then Vatican I is the show stopper. But Trent is the show stopper for Protestants.

But I pray that all will one day be worked out.


Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

anonymous, the problem may lie also with the Jerusalem Patriarchate and its own phyletism, not caring for all those in the country in a language with which they are familiar. From what I recall, there is one JP parish with the liturgy in Modern Hebrew, the rest are Greek and Arabic, but overwhelmingly Greek in an area where the general population has not spoken Greek for over a thousand years. Russian Orthodox immigrants of Jewish heritage understandably request help of Moscow. It's a messy situation, but it can be resolved.

Steve Hayes said...

When I was still an Anglican rhe Anglo-Catholic Dean of Umtata wrote an article on what those who believed in the importance of apostolic succession should do if the Anglican Church in Southern Africa ordained women.

His preferred solution was that they should aim for some kind of uniate arrangement with Rome, sons the Pope of Rome "is, after all, the Patriarch of the West".

I wrote to him, pointing out that South Africa wasn't exactly "the West", and therefore one should look to the Patriarch of Alexandria , who was, after all the Patriarch of Africa.

He replied, asaying, in effect, "haven't you heard of Universal Ortdinary Jurisdiction". In fact I hadn't, but didn't like the sound of it. And now that I know what it means, I still don't like the sound of it.

And Russian parishes in South Africa fall under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Johannesburg and Pretoria -- we are determined to avoid the American disease of jurisdictionalism here.

Anonymous said...

Kevin (or whoever wants to answer),

Anonymous here. Wouldn't the best solution be to have Russian priests in the service of the Jerusalem patriarch, not parallel hierarchies?

Artyom said...

I really share your sentiment John re reconciliation with Rome but yes indeed the barrier of primacy is a big one. I always wonder how the Catholics explain how it was for hundreds of years before the claim to jurisdictional primacy? Like it was and is an innovation and not something that ALWAYS was.