Thursday, October 18, 2007

Ecumenical Sand Castles

Over at the excellent Sacramentum Vitae Mike Liccione has posted his thoughts on recent developments in the world of ecumenism. His report on the developments with the TAC was very interesting (and not terribly surprising). I wish them luck in their efforts since Rome is a vast improvement over being a splinter sect of the fast disintegrating Anglican Communion. However that is not the subject of tonight’s post. I wish to address very briefly Mike's suggestion of a compromise that he feels might help us Orthodox get around Vatican I. Those who have read some of my earlier posts know that I generally see the decrees of that council as quite likely the single greatest obstacle to eventual restoration of communion.

Before proceeding let me begin by noting that I abhor the schism dividing the Latin Church from Orthodoxy. It is an open wound in Christendom that has been aggravated by all too often petty and self interested parties on both sides of the great chasm. And I have no patience for knee jerk anti-Catholics who seem too often more possessed of small minded prejudice than Christian agape. But my great concern is that any restoration of communion be based on a mutual understanding of Truth in the great issues which have separated us. Anything less than that is like trying to build a castle out of sand. It may look pretty, but what is its life expectancy when the tide comes in?

Now let me present Mike's views and idea in his own words.

"...But there is hope nonetheless, and action motivated by such hope. Constantinople and Athens remain closely involved in the current panel discussions. My optimism about the Orthodox stems from the fact that they have held no council, of a kind even they would consider ecumenical, committing Orthodoxy dogmatically to rejecting the Roman communion as one of true, particular churches. There seem to be many Orthodox who take the view that "we know where the Church is, but we don't know where she isn't." Not all Orthodox take the view of the Athonites that popery is a diabolical scourge of Christendom and that Rome doesn't even have a canonical bishop. That actually allows many Orthodox to consider the Latin Church a church with true sacraments, even if she's gone off the rails somewhat about doctrine. Imagine that. But what, realistically, could talks on primacy yield?

Taking their cue from the generation-old Ratzinger proposal made in his book Principles of Catholic Theology, some Eastern Catholics seem to take the view that Vatican I's decrees about papal authority would hold only in the West, not in the East, within a reunited Church. That's a non-starter. If the pope is what Vatican I says he is, then he is that in the East as well as the West. The Orthodox should not expect Rome to retract anything she considers dogma any more than Rome should, or does, expect the Orthodox to retract anything they consider dogma. The real room for compromise is on the level of the exercise of jurisdiction. And that's where theology can help.

The compromise might look like this: to end the schism, the Orthodox patriarchs would defer to Rome on matters not resolved otherwise, and Rome would confine her interventions in those patriarchates to matters not resolved otherwise. The theoretical basis for such an arrangement exists in nuce in the work of Ratzinger on communio and of Zizioulas on eucharistic ecclesiology. I for one believe this is how one aspect of the Ratzinger proposal can be worked out: the one where he says that Rome can require no more of the East than was "held in common during the first millennium." To be sure, views about what was thus held in common diverge, and often diverge sharply. Getting agreement on the point will require consensus about what general form the development of doctrine may take. I think that's where the hard work remains to be done. But it's far from hopeless. I've encountered a good number of Orthodox authors who, while averse to the phrase "development of doctrine" as smacking of addition to the faith-once-delivered, admit what amounts to development in a sense not irreconcilably different from what Newman and Vatican II meant."

First let me restate that I think many Catholics put way too much stock in the lack of a council anathematizing any of the various dogmas of the Latin Church. Councils are not generally held to discuss something which is not controversial. And the decrees of Vatican I relating to Papal Infallibility and Universal Jurisdiction are simply not controversial over on our side of the fence. That’s not to say that we accept them. Rather it’s to say that we are more or less of one mind on the subject. And since we can’t even agree on what day it is, that’s pretty impressive. In the minds of even the most ecumenically minded Orthodox, the decrees of Vatican I are heretical (though many are too polite to say it). Those few who don't see it as heresy either have swum the Tiber or they probably should as a matter of personal honesty.

Having said all this, Mike’s suggestion for getting around the problem of Universal Jurisdiction is an interesting one. But it has a fairly major flaw. This compromise lasts only for as long as Rome chooses to adhere to it. In other words it is a compromise of choice for Rome not of obligation. The decrees of Vatican I remain fully in place. The lack of papal intervention in the Churches of the East is based on restraint, not a lack of authority. And the Pope could at any time choose to set aside that compromise if he deemed it proper to do so. Living under an absolute monarch who chooses to exercise restraint in the use of his powers is not the same thing as having rights which he is bound to respect. However benevolent or restrained the current Pope may be, what guarantee is there for the next, or the one after that?

I am not going to get into all of the theological arguments since that’s a horse that has been beaten to death. But the bottom line is this… If Vatican I is not heresy, we Orthodox have no business doing anything other than kneeling in front of the Pope and kissing his ring. And the Pope has no need or legitimate reason for not exercising his universal jurisdiction throughout The Church. If God gave him the authority it was not done with a view to only using it in the West. And if Vatican I is heresy, then Orthodoxy must never ever under any circumstances compromise with it. Whatever failings I have (and they are legion) I am not a relativist. Any attempted compromise in a matter of Truth is a recipe for disaster. It is the foundation for another Florence. As Owen the Ochlophobist once observed in one of his more memorable quotes (I paraphrase) 'In order for communion between Rome and Orthodoxy to be restored, one or the other must cease to exist.' Either Rome is right or we are.

Those are not comfortable words. But there it is.


Mike L said...


You (and Owen of course) are among the Orthodox who, in my words, "cite Vatican I as the deal-breaker." If one so defines Orthodoxy that rejection of universal primacy of jurisdiction is essential to it, then of course Vatican I must be the deal-breaker. But I am hardly eccentric in finding insufficient evidence that the Eastern patriarchs consensually took that position in the first millennium, when Rome and the other patriarchal sees were normally in communion with each other. It seems to me that Leo the Great's teaching about his authority was Vatican I in nuce, and that the way the Acacian Schism was formally resolved is some evidence that Leo's teaching was not consensually rejected.

If that is correct, then just because most Orthodox have rejected the papal claims since the time of Photius, it does not follow that rejecting them is essential to Orthodox identity. That is why I don't believe that reunion means the annihilation of either Catholicism or Orthodoxy. Zizioulas doesn't seem to think so either.


Anonymous said...

I agree with what you say. Vatican 1 leaves absolutely no wriggle room about the role of the Pope - it's admirably clear.

As you have pointed out, the only valid reason for the Orthodox to accept unification under the terms proposed by Mr Liccione, or under any terms for that matter, would be if it became apparent that the modern papal claims had been right all along. And in such a situation, it would be impertinent to haggle.

Besides, surely the type of arbitrational role, the presidency in love, that the Pope would be assigned under the proposed arrangement could just as easily be fulfilled by the Ecumenical Patriarch without having to buy into any of the RC baggage. Yes, I know that even this would be highly controversial, especially given the current Moscow-Constantinople detente, but surely it's less controversial than Old Rome.

If I was involved in ecumenical dialogue, I'd put far more effort into trying to restore communion with the Oriental Orthodox. They are far closer to us in all respects than the Roman Catholics.


Ad Orientem said...

Thanks for your comment. The thrust of my post is not that we must reject universal primacy. But rather that primacy must be clearly defined since Rome believes certain things about it that we Orthodox almost universally disagree with. I happen (as I said in my comments over at Cathedra Unitas) to be a big fan of Met. +John of Pergamon. For a variety of reasons (some understandable & some just knee jerk reaction to ultramontism) we have spent far more time declaring what primacy is not than what it is. I also believe that primacy must necessarily involve more than simply the right to sit at the head of the table and call meetings to order. But again that is not the same thing as what Vatican I says. The dogmatic proclamations on the papacy that emanated from that council are so crystal clear that they really don’t admit to much clarification or “doctrinal development.” And you firmly rejected (rightly IMO) the claims by a number of Eastern Rite Catholics that they can reject Vatican I as applying only to the Latin Church.

When we boil it all down you are saying that we can restore communion while remaining Orthodox. That rejection of Vatican I is not inherent in our identity. I disagree. I do not for a moment believe that even Met. +John supports the Latin interpretation of primacy as defined by Vatican I. And as you yourself noted in your essay infallibility and universal jurisdiction are now defined dogmas of your church. Ipso facto they are nonnegotiables. Your assertion that Leo’s claims in part form the basis of the Roman Church’s teaching on primacy and jurisdiction is accurate from an historic point of view. But it is quite a leap to suggest that his role in ending the schism (or the respect shown for him by the Fathers of Chalcedon) translate into an acceptance of such dogmatic claims in the age of the undivided church. This is of course a subject being debated by lots of people above my paygrade as we used to say in the navy.

What you are basically calling on us to do is to become Uniates, or as some Eastern Rite Catholics like to self style themselves “Orthodox in communion with Rome.” The problem is that how can they be Orthodox when they are not in communion with any Orthodox Church? No Orthodox that I know of recognize Uniates to be Orthodox. Maybe I am oversimplifying your position (I have a bad habit of doing things like that) but as I see it you are saying Orthodoxy can restore communion with Rome and remain Orthodox because true Orthodoxy is found in accepting all of the dogmatic definitions of the Latin Church. In short you are saying we can remain Orthodox by embracing Rome’s definition of Orthodoxy.

This takes us back to square one.


Ad Orientem said...

I think restoration of communion with the Oriental Churches is not that far off. On an informal level it is already a fact in many places where Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox live in the same region.


Alice C. Linsley said...

I wonder if we aren't taking the stick by the wrong end? If the great sees of Christiandom are to address the impending eschatological crisis, they must co-operate in ways they never have. They must speak as one to the Jihadists who want to bring the end of the world on their own terms. The must speak as one against modernism's false claims. All must be in humble submission to the Holy Spirit. We can't undo what has been done without first repenting. Our arrogance and insistance on our own way will handcuff the Body of Christ and we we indeed be led like sheep to the slaughter.

Anonymous said...


Catholics and Orthodox should certainly unite in the ways and for the reasons that you suggest - we have many, many commonalities - but this is not the same as seeking formal institutional unification which would require, I think, a certain amount of compromise on both sides. The reason I think the latter is not really on the cards at the moment is that I can't see how the Roman Catholic Church can compromise, or even "spin", the assertions of Vatican I. Therefore, every concession at the level of fundamental ecclesiological and theological principles would have to come from the Orthodox. In short, the Orthodox would have to buy Vatican I hook, line, and sinker.

I found Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev's paper on Prospects of Orthodox-Catholic Relations very useful and fair-minded.

"More collaboration, co-operation and mutual trust are needed on a local level between Catholics and Orthodox. As I said earlier, there are already regular contacts between the dioceses, monasteries, parishes, theological schools and other structures of both Churches. These contacts must be developed, in spite of all the difficulties experienced at the official level. Joint charity projects should be encouraged, whereby Catholics and Orthodox could work together for the benefit of the poor and needy. These activities, if carried out successfully and on a large scale, may eventually compel the officials to reconsider their positions and begin to work towards reconciliation.

At some point in the future, when the relationship on a practical level is normalized, the two Churches may resume theological discussions. One of the most important theological questions to be discussed then will be that of primacy. It seems to me that, while the Catholics may wish to revisit this issue in order to make their doctrine more consonant with the tradition of the Ancient Undivided Church, the Orthodox may, on their part, wish to develop further their own comprehension of primacy in the Universal Church. We are accustomed to criticizing the Catholics for their view on primacy, but can we develop our own understanding of it in a way that convinces Catholic theologians? In order to do this, we must agree among ourselves on our interpretation of the relations between the local and the universal Church. In what precisely does the 'universality' of the Church consist? How is this universality to be manifested? Is there any room in Orthodox ecclesiology for a kind of 'universal' leadership? It seems to me that the representatives of the Patriarchate of Constantinople will differ in their response to the last question from the representatives of other Orthodox Churches. The question therefore is not solved and requires further discussion.

Once the divisive issues have been addressed and the existing difficulties resolved, Catholics and Orthodox will be much more amenable in their common response to the challenges of the modern world, such as ever growing secularism, ever increasing globalization, ever more evident loss of moral and ethical values. The Catholic and the Orthodox Churches both belong to the 'traditional' stream of Christianity, and together have much to say to the modern world, where the very notion of 'tradition' is put into question. Their testimony, however, will be successful only if they are able to speak 'with one mouth and with one heart'.

There is, therefore, a long road ahead. But there are always some signs of hope. And there is indeed a common well from which both the Catholics and the Orthodox may draw. As one of my close friends, a Roman Catholic hermit and theologian, said, 'it is sin that divided the Churches and it is sanctity that will unite them again'. The legacy of saints and martyrs is common to both Churches - both have centuries-old experience of martyrdom and sanctity. In the 20th century both Catholics and Orthodox, together with people from other confessions and religions, suffered in Soviet and Nazi camps: many gave their lives for the faith. There are many striking testimonies of solidarity among Christians of different confessional backgrounds in the Soviet camps. These Christians were united not only because they had a common enemy, but also because they shared with each other their love for Christ and for his Church, a love which was not shaken even by the most severe persecutions. There was more that united them than that divided them, because what united them was Christ himself."


Mike L said...


Excellent quotation from Hilarion. Thank you.


Maybe I am oversimplifying your position (I have a bad habit of doing things like that) but as I see it you are saying Orthodoxy can restore communion with Rome and remain Orthodox because true Orthodoxy is found in accepting all of the dogmatic definitions of the Latin Church. In short you are saying we can remain Orthodox by embracing Rome’s definition of Orthodoxy.

That is oversimplifying to such an extent as to yield distortion.

In his sketchy 1982 proposal for reunion, Ratzinger said:

Rome must not require more from the East with respect to the doctrine of primacy than had been formulated and was lived in the first millennium … Reunion could take place in this context if, on the one hand, the East would cease to oppose as heretical the developments that took place in the West in the second millennium and would accept the Catholic Church as legitimate and orthodox in the form she had acquired in the course of that development, while, on the other hand, the West would recognize the Church of the East as orthodox and legitimate in the form she has always had.

Note that last phrase: Rome would "recognize" Orthodoxy as "orthodox and legitimate in the form she has always had." It it mysterious to me, to say the least, how that constitutes Rome's defining Orthodoxy for the Orthodox. What Rome is really asking is that Orthodoxy recognize the Catholic Church as "orthodox and legitimate." If that recognition ever occurs, it would follow that the developments in the Catholic Church during the second millennium would come to be seen in Orthodoxy as compatible with what was held and lived in common during the first millennium. I cannot for the life of me understand why that would be incompatible with Orthodoxy itself, unless one defines as essential to Orthodoxy its negation of the distinctively Catholic doctrine of the primacy, which didn't really start happening until after the Seven Ecumenical Councils. But I've already indicated in my previous comment why I don't find reason enough to agree with such definition, even and especially in Orthodoxy itself. The rejection of the papal claims among Orthodox can be explained in other terms.

It seems to me that what Orthodox such as yourself are really worried about is that Vatican I defines papal authority in such a way that there is no effective check on papal power, so that the Roman See's "presiding in charity"—to use the late Patriarch Demetrios' phrase—would be just a pious patina on an ugly reality. Now as a concrete, historical matter, that is not so; the cases of Honorius and John XXII indicate as much. Papal latitude is always limited in doctrinal terms by the highest-level decisions of previous popes, especially by their ratifications of conciliar dogmatic decrees; and usually, it is practically limited by political considerations both within and outside the Church. At any rate, if "universal primacy" were limited in the sort of way you seem to want, then Leo the Great would have had no right to reject Canon 28 of Chalcedon, which Rome has never conceded and never will concede. Most of the Eastern patriarchs seemed to want him to accept it; but they never said, as a matter of doctrine, that he was obliged to do so on pain of unpoping himself.


Ad Orientem said...

Thanks again for your comment. Unfortunately we are in different time zones. I will post a response later tonight after work.


Greg DeLassus said...

This compromise lasts only for as long as Rome chooses to adhere to it. In other words it is a compromise of choice for Rome not of obligation. The decrees of Vatican I remain fully in place. The lack of papal intervention in the Churches of the East is based on restraint, not a lack of authority. And the Pope could at any time choose to set aside that compromise if he deemed it proper to do so.

Two brief responses:

1) It seems to me that this still offers a means to end the schism. That is to say, it is not obvious to me that it would be a bad thing to end the schism with a promise of mutual restraint, well aware that the schism would re-emerge if said restraint were violated. What exactly is lost in restoring communion under such an arrangement?

2) Can the pope really set aside such an arrangement at will? How so? Imagine that some future Pope gets a big head and issues an order in violation of the agreement - at that point the other patriarchates would presumably ignore him. One notices that this sort of thing goes on all the time in the Catholic Church without schisms erupting. Hans Küng says that the pope is not really infallible. Cardinal Daneels tells us that contraceptives are not so bad. Cardinal Mahoney says that women seeking ordination need merely be patient. And yet communion is not broken, despite the fact that we are supposedly all under orders from the pope not to believe any of these things. Why, then, should anyone be hung up about the possibility that the Pope will stick it to the Bishop of Bucharest, or some such, when he is not even willing to stick it to the Bishop of Los Angeles?

analiise said...

The ends do not justify the means.

Why would the East, which does seem to place a very high value on authority, order, as one of the safeguards to the Faith, unify with a body that does not seem to practice the same guardianship of the Faith, to the detriment of the flock.

And If it fell apart later, the big guns could take their toys and go home, but what happens to all those little people in the pews who are caught in the middle. In may not be as bad as Uniates this time, but personal and maybe even parish relationships. Who gets what in the next divorce.
And if Eastern Orthodox who marries a Roman Catholic while in full communion. How do they decide which Church to go with, or do they put in the vows(or make a provision in a prenup), until another schism do us part.

Stephen said...

Why a Pope chooses or not chooses to exercise his authority is indeed a mystery; take, for example, your point that not much has been done against the prelates you mention, yet certainly harsher measures where inflicted upon Archb. Lefebrve, even before the ordination of three extra bishops. Seems rather capricious, to pick on the one and not the others, esp. as the others seem clearly to be closer to heresy, and the former near vindicated 30 years later. Back and forth, back and forth. One would expect the mantle of primacy to be a beacon of consistency and predictability. In contrast, the Papacy seems to add more beta, not less.

Ad Orientem said...

Granting that my earlier post may have been too broad, I would ask for a clarification on your most recent post. How do you get to…“What Rome is really asking is that Orthodoxy recognize the Catholic Church as "orthodox and legitimate." without implicit acceptance of the various doctrinal developments/innovations (depending on POV) of the Western Church? If those doctrines are legitimate then they are Orthodox (no need for the small ‘o’). And if they are not then they are heterodox and illegitimate.

My point is not that Primacy is unimportant. I have stated (more times than I can recall) that I think Orthodoxy has for sometime underestimated the place of primacy in The Church. My point is that communion can not from our perspective be established when there remain serious unresolved theological issues. You seem to feel that Orthodoxy can restore communion on the basis that we have not held a formal church council to anathematize the post schism doctrinal innovations of the west, and that therefore we can leave it as a gray area for the sake of communion.

But this approach strikes me as less than honest. It’s a bit like sweeping our dirt under the rug and trying to pretend it’s not there. As I have noted on multiple occasions and I have yet to hear anyone refute my point, Councils in Orthodoxy are not the sole source of doctrine. The clear sensus fidei of The Church is that at least some of the doctrines peculiar to the Latin Church, most prominently those involving papal infallibility and universal jurisdiction are heretical. The most ardent Roman Catholic proponents of restoring communion seem determined to ignore this or assert that it is not important. But it is of VITAL importance to us. Orthodoxy can not restore communion with a church that is almost universally seen as heretical irrespective of the lack of a council so declaring it..

This might also be a good place to note my surprise that Rome is willing to restore communion with a church that will certainly not recognize the Vatican I claims vis a vis the papacy or sign off on many of the other doctrines promulgated post schism. Over at T-19 Dr. Tighe posted several brilliant (as usual) comments regarding the recent petition from the TAC for full corporate union with Rome. One commenter responded to the original post with this…

I believe what the TAC is attempting is a simple mutual recognition of communion. They will remain administratively and organizationally separate. Anglicans will still be Anglicans, under their own authority and not that of Rome. They will not become Roman Catholics. I have not seen or heard anything to indicate otherwise.

Dr. Tighe’s reply is I think is not only completely on target it is a clarion reminder that communion can not be restored with gaping holes in our respective understanding of important doctrines.

Surely you jest, or are thoroughly misinformed. Rome does not do “simple recognition of communion:” when you go to Rome you get “table d’hote” and not an “a la carte” selection. Take the case of the Polish National Catholic Church here in the USA (which began as a schism in the Polish-American Roman Catholic community in Scranton, PA in 1898): after nearly 25 years of dialogue beginning in 1968 between the PNCC and Rome both parties agreed that except on the issue of the papacy and the nature and extent of its authority there differences between them are disciplinary rather than doctrinal. Rome allows “sacramental hospitality” to PNCC members who find themselves in circumstances (for the most part of a geographical nature) in which they cannot confess or communicate in a PNCC church and will allow Roman Catholics on “special occasions” to receive communion in a PNCC church if they happen to have occasion to be present at a PNCC Mass —but “eucharistic hospitality” is not yet “intercommunion” and PNCC and RC clergy are not allowed to “concelebrate.” For the “relationship” to proceed to that stage there would have to be a complete agreement in matters of faith (i.e., regarding the papal ministry and its authority) and a worked-out structural/institutional relationship between the PNCC and Rome. Nothing less than this would be acceptable to bring the TAC into communion with Rome as well. In fact, when I was present at the ACA synod in Orlando in 2004 and there was an “open meeting” afterwards, Abps. Hepworth and Falk, responding to questions “from the floor” made this clear. To several questioners who asked “would this mean that we would have to accept the Catholic teaching on birth control” the reply was “the traditional Anglican teaching and the Catholic magisterial teaching are identical; Anglicans Communion bishops abandoned it at the 1930 Lambeth Conference, but we in the TAC hold to the prior position,” and to others who asked whether this meant that “we would have to accept papal infallibility” the answer was “we have made it clear to Rome that we reject none of the defined dogmatic teachings of the Magisterium; the question is how we would relate to papal authority in practice in an Anglican Catholic church in communion with Rome.” I was there, and with my own ears I heard it.

That’s not to say that I think we need to have every “i” dotted and ever “t” crossed. There is no point in the history of the undivided church where east and west agreed on everything. There are without doubt points on which we can and will of necessity have to “agree to disagree.” But serious doctrinal issues need to be resolved before restoration of communion. As just one example, what do you think will be the response of the Roman Church to having to commune (presuming communion were restored) divorced and remarried Orthodox? What about all of your divorced and remarried Catholics who have long been barred from the communion rail? They would be able to enter an Orthodox parish and commune.

On a final note in a response that is already much longer than I had expected it to be, I do agree with you on an important point. Orthodoxy can and should clarify its understanding of the Roman Church. I think this can be done by declaring that pending resolution of outstanding doctrinal issues, we are willing to accede that the Roman Church’ sacraments are not void of grace. This is only my opinion (which with a dollar will get you a very small cup of bad coffee) but I don’t believe that any of the doctrinal innovations of Rome touch on the accepted (Orthodox) understanding of the Mysteries to any degree that they would inhibit sacramental grace. I am increasingly of a contrary opinion on that subject with respect to our Protestant brothers and sisters. Given the current chaos in even the so called confessional sects I now believe that all Protestants converting into Orthodoxy should be received by full baptism as well as Chrismation.


Visibilium said...

If Old Rome's sacraments aren't void of grace totally, but only in degree, then we've turned ourselves into Latinist philosophizers--and for what?

Maybe someone should explain to me what would happen to SS Mark of Ephesus and Gregory Palamas after we become philosophizers.

Greg DeLassus said...

As just one example, what do you think will be the response of the Roman Church to having to commune (presuming communion were restored) divorced and remarried Orthodox?

I should imagine it would be much the same as the response to communing divorced and remarried Melkite Catholics. That is to say, it is not an issue which has divided Rome from the Melkites, so why should it divide Rome from anyone else?