Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Rome speaks on "other churches"

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) - ex Holy Office- has issued a document reaffirming the traditional Roman Catholic understanding of the nature of non-Roman religious confessions. Protestants are said to not be true "churches" because they have abandoned apostolic succession and departed from the apostolic faith. The Orthodox although recognized as "sister" churches with some nice things said about us are nonetheless deemed defective for want of our understanding of primacy and communion with the Roman See. In short this rather brief document seems to restate much of what was said in Dominus Jesus, a similar document Pope Benedict XVI authored while head of the CDF.

It's not completely clear why +Benedict has chosen to restate these positions now. However I suspect it is in keeping with a developing theme of his Pontificate, namely assertion of the hermeneutic of continuity in relation to Vatican II. This has been a major point of his going back decades. The former Cardinal Ratzinger was a consistent and vocal critic of those espousing the hermeneutic of rupture, i.e. the concept that Vatican II was the end of one church and the beginning of another. This was also reinforced by his Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum issued this last Saturday (see most of the immediately preceding posts).

How is this likely to be received? I suspect that internally most Roman Catholics will not care greatly. However liberal Catholics will groan at yet another blow to their agenda, while conservative Catholics will feel that the man whose election to the Chair of Peter they cheered a couple of years ago seems finally to be emerging. Many Protestants will huff in indignation. And most Orthodox will say that this is not helpful in the cause of restoration of communion (and they are of course right). But since most Orthodox take the idea of restoration of communion with more than a grain of salt (more like the whole shaker), I think expressions of indignation will be a bit contrived.

I for one am not even remotely offended. This is the traditional understanding that Rome has always had and it’s on balance a good thing for them to reassert some level of orthodoxy (small ‘o’) in the face of the liberal wing in their church. Also it’s not terribly far removed from Orthodoxy’s understanding of the Church. We would generally agree with most of what the document says about Protestants although we might employ a different rational for reaching the same conclusions. Most Orthodox would say that Protestants lack the grace of the Holy Mysteries by virtue of being heretics, as opposed to simply having abandoned the mechanics of apostolic succession. Here we differ from Rome. Orthodoxy generally does not recognize that true sacramental grace exists outside of the Church, which of course we would argue subsists (what a wonderful term) in Orthodoxy. Whether or not a certain sect was careful to maintain the form and intent of Apostolic Succession is not terribly germane to us. In short, the so called “Dutch Touch” does not impress on this side of the Bosporus.

Broadly speaking this is a document which restores clarity where it was lacking, and helps to explain where Rome is coming from when they talk to other religious confessions. And that’s a good thing. True, it will not be helpful in the discussions with us (Orthodox) on important theological questions. But I think honesty is more important. And I think it may facilitate an agreement to disagree between the two sides on those issues where agreement is impossible or at least out of reach for the foreseeable future. This in turn could open the door to a very fruitful and productive level of collaboration on other matters where such is possible and in my opinion even desirable. Possible fields of joint venture or coordinated effort might include charity and combating the rising tide of secular humanism now rampant in Europe and much of North America. Both have already been proposed (several times) by the Moscow Patriarchate. Cooperation on this level over a long period of time might ultimately produce more positive results than more charity or a unified voice against post modernism. In time it might produce good will and trust, which in my opinion is a key ingredient to any substantive agreements on other more controversial subjects.

For now this Orthodox Christian will give a hearty two cheers for +Benedict XVI and his program for putting the Roman house back in order.


Sophocles said...


I too am glad for Rome to clearly define herself.
Bothersome to me personally is oftentimes in conversation with RC's, unstated(but assumed) premises are utilized in the talks between our two communions. Many a well meaning RC, engaging us Orthodox in dialogue, often quickly become exassperated when they realize we don't concede to Rome's concessions to us as "Sister" Churches or the "Two-lung theory" which our RC friends bring to the table.
I think it much healthier(and sane) to acknowledge how different we really are and I believe that from an honest appraisal(on both sides) as to what each believes, we stand on much more solid ground.
It is a real hindrance, I believe, to often use much of the same terminology but to pack such different meaning into the terms so that what seems to be a no-brainer conversation often if not always gets lost in tangents with no real understanding ever being accomplished.
To clearly define oneself is a virtue insofar as to not leave false impressions as to what motives are.
Rome is Rome. She believes that unless a church is in communion with her, such a church lacks something.
We Orthodox believe that in actuality, Rome in existing ontologically as she does, lacks fullness.
But again, an endless debate can begin just on my use of the word "fullness". It means onething to me and another to an RC. Clearly defined positions are much more conducive to reach such understandings.
And at the end of clearly stated viewpoints, I still have the option of remaining an Orthodox and the RC remaining as such. No foul. Each of us must consult our conscience and one day answer to Him based(among other things) on how much light we received and what we did with that light.
These are just some of my thoughts.

Francis said...

Seems to me the claim of the Bishop of Rome a.k.a. "pope" is pretentious and unwarranted. The Greek-speaking Eastern church was established before the Latin-speaking Western church, and the separation of the two was a secession by Rome from orthodoxy.

The followers of Jesus were first called "Christians" not at Rome but at Antioch.

The Roman claim that Peter was there is not verifiable, and the bones found in Rome and alleged to be Peter's remains have been proved to be just animal bones. And even if Peter really did set up the church at Rome, that was only after he set up the church at Antioch.

The alleged primacy claimed by the Bishop of Rome is not based on any apostolic assignment of authority but is just based on custom. This one diocese remained aloof from the disputes wracking other dioceses and so became accepted as a neutral arbiter. The Roman Church has without evidence inflated that position into a claim of primacy which cannot be supported by the facts.

Josephus Flavius said...

I can only say that I am heartened by this post. Both East and West claim that they are a church in fullness, not incomplete or defective. The document, while unhelpful in the short term, provides clear doctrine with a minimum of verbiage (which often clouds the meaning of declarations for the laity) that one can easily reference.

I hold a naive, American hope that with shirt sleeves rolled up and enough people in a room together the division of lungs can be healed.

This might sound trite, but...

Nothing stands against the power of the Holy Spirit. Old hate borne of politics and bigotry, tooth for a tooth mentality for things done a thousand years ago, and an unwillingness to resolve disputes for fear of a loss of position, all shrink when exposed to Its light.

We're trying to build a kingdom here, but the patriarchs of the Church are its servants not its king. There is only one king and none of us is He.

Josephus Flavius said...

Not sure what the point of Francis's post is. It's like he just went into his anti-Catholic closet and pulled out some dog bones, terminology of East and West that didn't even exist at the time, and identifying ecumenical council declarations as "custom."

Steve Hayes said...

It seems that most Orthodox are not remotely offended, while, as you said, the Protestants huff and puff.

And one Protestant blogger noted, after about 100 comments, that most of the Protestant objectors had hardly begun to engage with RC (or Orthodox) ecclesiology, apart from making ex cathedra pronouncements that they were wrong.

Tikhon said...

I find it odd that B16, wanting to put the Roman House in order, needs to hurl invectives such as *The Orthodox Church is defective*. It strikes me as a latent form of passive-aggressivity. No, I'm not offended - just flabbergasted.

Ad Orientem said...

I think what you termed invective is fairly mild compared to what many Orthodox say about the Roman Catholic Church. That said it was simply a statement of position. If they did not think we were wrong on at least some level then they would be Orthodox. If not for the amusing reaction from so many Protestants the whole thing would have been worth a very large yaaawwwnnn.

Tikhon said...

Blessed Ad Orientem,

As a former Protestant(Lutheran) I sense the *grave and injurious offense* that B16 has committed against the Protestants and causing them to huff and puff. True, some Orthodox do say some pretty caustic things about the RC Church.

This too shall pass away as another *Tempest in a Samovar*.