Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Roman Catholic Who Gets It

From a discussion at the New Liturgical Movement:

"There are several other patriarchs out there who would love full communion with Rome, but out of reverence for Moscow have been awaiting for Moscow to lead. The process of dialogue and reunification has for a long time been held up by Moscow."

Roger, this is the line that much of the Catholic media likes to feed us, but unfortunately it isn't true.

I would like to point out that Patriarch Bartholomew, for all of his friendliness to Rome, has always insisted that we Catholics are heterodox. To this very day, many Greek Orthodox dioceses under Constantinople reject the validity of Catholic sacraments. And you can be sure that if ever Bartholomew were to proclaim reunion with Rome, the Athonites and most of his own bishops will rebel against him.

Same with the Patriarchate of Antioch, which, with Constantinople, is considered as the friendliest to Catholicism. When the Melkite Catholics tried to reunite with the Antiochene Orthodox in 1997 the Antiochenes made it clear that there will be no reconciliation unless the Melkites explicitly rejected all the ecumenical Councils not also recognized by the Orthodox Church.

When Daniel of Moldova was elected Romanian Orthodox Patriarch last year, he made clear that there will be no reunion with Rome. And he is almost as friendly to Catholics as Bartholomew.

The Church of Greece continues to be shot through with anti-Catholicism, and Jerusalem doesnt even recognize Catholic baptisms. As for the Slavic Orthodox -- Serbia, Bulgaria, Czech and Slovak Lands, Poland, OCA -- these follow the indications of Moscow.

Perhaps the most telling fact is that, when the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue appealed in 1999 to all the Orthodox Churches to recognize the validity of Catholic BAPTISMS, NOT A SINGLE Orthodox Church responded to the proposal. Not Constantinople, not Antioch, not Alexandria...

There is a saying that the Orthodox tend to overestimate the division between Catholicism and Orthodoxy, while we Catholics tend to underestimate it.

One could fairly quibble (though I do not) about this being a rather broad generalization, but here is a Roman Catholic who seems to grasp something that far too many of his coreligionists (and not a few Orthodox) do not. Yes there is some diversity of opinion in Orthodoxy on a few points. But this is a breath of fresh air compared to the kumbaya crowd who persistently attempt to minimize the differences between Orthodoxy and Rome and tend to get snarky with those of us who periodically attempt to inject some reality into these discussions.

I am very strongly in favor of improving relations with Rome. There are many obvious areas of mutual interest for both confessions. But as I have noted ad infinitum, I am more than a little skeptical about restoration of communion. I think we have grown too far apart for that to happen without, as Owen the Ochlophobist once observed, one or the other (Orthodoxy or the Roman Catholic Church) ceasing to be what it is.

I am going to leave the comments open but I would ask that comments on Carlos' post be left at the original discussion over at NLM (see the link above).


Momcilo said...

It is sad that the two Churches seem so far apart. As a Catholic I don't see why it's so hard to reunify. I just don't see what the big deal is about the filioque? I don't really understand the theology, and how can anyone claim to understand the relationship between the trinity anyway? I have many Orthodox friends (Coptic and Serbian) and they have no charity whatsoever towards the Catholic Church. It's such a shame.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

I deeply regret any lack of charity towards your church by other Orthodox. Whatever our differences may be they can not justify a lack of charity or indeed love. It is a great sadness that our churches are so far apart. But we must deal with the world as it is and not as we might wish it to be. The reality is that the doctrinal differences between our churches are real and deep.

It is possible that these might have been overcome once upon a time. But I believe too much has passed and your church has (for good or ill) added doctrines to which we can not assent and on which you can not compromise. Given this sad fact let us love one another and strive together to make the world a better place. While it is true that we can not share the cup that does not mean we can not feed the poor and fight secularism and Islamic fascism together.

Under the mercy,

AMM said...

I just don't see what the big deal is about the filioque?

It's a big deal because of the theology and the divergence in the conciliar tradition it represents.

AngloCatholic said...

Excellent post. Too often "playing nice" is mistaken for true ecumenical dialogue.

What are your thoughts then about EO fellowship with continuing Anglican churches (particularly those who subscribe to the Affirmation of St. Louis - which affirms the seven ecumenical councils)? As a member of the Anglican Catholic Church, I personally don't see as many obstacles as with EO-Rome talks. Sure, there are differences between East and West that need to be discussed and taken seriously (as you articulated so well in the post) but there is much common ground in our case given the similar approaches to Papacy and what constitutes dogma.

Momcilo said...

AMM;I didn't mean to be flippant about the theological differences between our two Churches. Apologies on that score.

John; How do the Eastern Catholic's square the circle? I mean they say they are Catholic, but have an Eastern "understanding" of the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception? I'm a bit curious.

AngloCatholic; Another point of contention for Catholics is the fact that some Anglican's genuinly think they are like the Orthodox. I find this bemusing because, as Anglicans, you are in communion with heretics like evangelicals and liberals. Some of you are close in spirit sure, but not in any meaningful way. In my experience "high anglicans" like the liturgy, but the principle attraction is anti-Catholicism. Why don't you actually become Orthodox or Catholic rather than stay in the C of E, which is a joke.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

The Eastern Catholics have no theological differences with Rome. The are doctrinally Roman Catholics who choose to worship using the Byzantine rite. They may place greater emphasis on the historically Byzantine feasts (such as the Dormition) but they fully accept each and every article of faith promulgated by Rome.

Yours in ICXC

Momcilo said...

AngloCatholic; I just re read my last post. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to sound the way I did. I just don't see why Catholic minded Anglicans simply join either the RCC or the OC.

AMM said...

AngloCatholic, it's possible married bishops would be an issue.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

I think that there are a number of problems with the various continuing groups starting with how many of them there are. Most of them reject w/o but beyond that there is a large variety in both doctrine and praxis. Many are not even in communion with each other.

I think the Antiochians especially have made point of keeping the welcome mat out and the lights on for those seeking to preserve a western form of expressing the Christian Faith within the Orthodox Church. But I also believe that's not the same thing as what many in the so called continuum want. They seek recognition of their orders and sacraments and their status as a legitimate part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church spoken of in the creeds. Despite some flirtation in the early part of the last century between some of the Orthodox churches and the Anglican Communion, such is not going to happen.

Orthodox ecclesiology expressly affirms that the Church is One and Visible. The branch theory has been roundly condemned as heresy and there is little in the way of a path around that. Those seeking Orthodoxy will find us very welcoming. But the Church is not a theological buffet. In this respect any sort of serious union would likely resemble what is going on between Rome and the TAC. Which is to say first profess the Orthodox Catholic Faith as it has been consistently taught and practiced by the Orthodox saints and Fathers of the Church.

Once that is done the door starts to open wide and there are many possibilities in terms of accommodation for those with a Western Christian phronema. The liturgy is not a major issue. As my patron (and that of this blog) St. John of San Francisco once noted "we must remember that the West was Orthodox for a thousand years and her venerable liturgy is far older than any of her heresies." Other issues involving discipline can be addressed on a case by case basis. Again we are mindful that even in the age of the undivided Church there were differences between East and West and yet communion was maintained. But that unity was, and future unity must be, based on a clear and unambiguous agreement with respect to the essentials of the Faith.

Yours in ICXC

Anonymous said...

It will take a miracle of grace for their to be true reunion.

Anonymous said...

there* not their... forgive me, it's nearly one in the morning.

Fr. Andrew said...

For those who are baffled as to why Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism are not in communion, they may want to take a listen at a recent lecture I delivered on the topic. A serious look at the real theological and practical differences between the Orthodox Catholic Church and the Roman Catholic Church will reveal a gulf that is quite massive. I don't see how anything but a superficial examination can yield a conclusion that we're really the same.

Joseph said...

I do not understand why almost all Latins always think that union is around the corner. Perhaps, after arguing with the Reformers for five centuries, they look at us and think, "Wow, they're so close; they're practically Roman Catholic in all but in name." I have heard and read this statement countless times. Yet, they do not see the differences with us because they fixate on a few external symptoms of the gulf (the filioque and papal supremacy, for instance) rather than the root causes. I am not sure what those root causes are, but, along with many wonderful currents in Tiber, there run mighty secular flows. It was this aspect of Rome that provoked Dostoevsky's ire . . . with accusations of the counterfeit Christ and the religion of the Grand Inquisitor. Pious Italian women may dearly love Jesus, but I think that many leaders and followers in Rome see their faith in secular terms. At its worst, such is about power. At its best, it is about social morality and transformation (e.g. their endless harping on "social justice"). Lost, though, is the transcendent end of each soul, here and now rather than at some removed moment of beatific vision.

Fr. J. said...

"Ad O., you have said we have to deal with the world as it is, not how we wish it to be." I would counter that we have to deal with the world as you Orthodox have made it to be. The great divide between Catholic and Orthodox is apparently only really visible to modern Orthodox. The Orthodox have an enormous hurdle of conversion of heart to undertake. There is an almost universally snide tone to Orthodox commentary against the West. This is unChristian and flouts the very desire of Christ that we may be one.

Western interest in the East is waning fast. For we, having heeded the bidding of JPII, have sought to extend a hand of friendship and mutual understanding only to have it viciously bitten. The historic window is passing and it will be the Orthodox who will have to answer for the road not taken.

Joseph, as for the "secular flows" in the Tiber, I would suggest you check out the businessmen and politicians who participated in the election of the new Pat. of Moscow. You wont find that in a papal election, for sure. It must make you crazy that Jesus harped on social justice: "When I was hungry..." As for Rome and power, you might again look to Moscow which has been systematically destroying Catholicism in Russian for nearly a century. You wont find a parallel in the West.

Fr. Andrew said...

The hand that Rome has held out to Orthodoxy has been the same it always has—papal supremacy. So long as Rome continues to embrace this and other heresies, Orthodoxy will continue to reject it.

We will not unite with heretics unless they renounce their heresy. St. Mark of Ephesus, who famously made a large prostration before the Pope at Florence, said as much.

Union must be in the Orthodox Catholic Christian faith, not in the heretical deviation of it that Rome has been promulgating for nearly a millennium. Affirming that isn't snide. It's simply earnestly contending for the truth.

Christian humility and love for one's fellow man would never reject Christ by embracing heresy.

Momcilo said...

The secular currents in the Tiber are sadly the hallmark of a particular kind of Catholic. They have long since abandoned any belief in the divine and desire to create a paradise on earth. However, to paint all Catholics with this is unfair and wrong. The Holy Father, in his book Jesus of Nazareth warns us of succumbing to this satanic temptation.

I attended my first Divine Liturgy today. It was Beautiful. Like I said above, the division of the truly apostolic churches is such a shame.

Jim Cole said...

One of the several things Catholics (of which I am one) often don't recognize is the differing concepts of the Eucharist between East and West. We hear that Orthodox acknowledge the "real presence" of Christ in the Communion species, but we aren't told that there is a world of difference between the churches on what that concept means. Reading Fr. Schmemann's For the Life of the World was an education for me in this regard. The concept of "real presence" and "mystical body" is, if I understand correctly, almost reversed in meaning from one church to the other.

As was said by another commenter, the commonly-identified differences are manifestations of deeper differences in perception and understanding. Catholics don't know that, for the most part. Some authors believe that differing metaphysical assumptions (Cappadocians vs. Scholastics) are the root cause of the differences. From my amateur layman's viewpoint, it seems likely that cultural differences (e.g., attitudes about the legitimacy of state power over the external life of the Church, such as the appointment of bishops) also have a large share in the differences.

Jim Cole

Carlos Antonio Palad said...


Thank you for posting my little comment. Please write me at caloyraj at yahoo dot com and I have a couple of notes to pass on to you.

Fr. J:

You know, back when I was a sixteen year old who religiously read Fatima Crusader and who believed everything that Fr. Nicholas Gruner said, I also thought the same way as you do. Ten years later I think I've learned to look at these things with much greater nuance.

The fact is that both Catholics and Orthodox have committed serious crimes and offenses against each other, and not just in the past, but even in the present day -- and the fact that the Catholic media refuses to recognize this deeply embarrases me. Conversely, there have been many real instances of friendship extended by the Orthodox to the Catholics -- instances that have been totally ignored. I say this without blinding myself to the serious offenses committed by not a few Orthodox towards Catholics. Both Catholics and Orthodox need to repent and have a genuine conversion of heart on a lot of matters. Any talk -- such as yours -- that portrays this as a struggle between sinless, spotless Romans and devious, malicious Easterners is not helpful to the cause of true reunion, to say the least.

Matthew Bellisario said...

First off, there have been multiple admissions of offenses by the Catholic church to the Orthodox in recent years by the Pope himself, which were totally rejected by the Orthodox. Don't throw stones in glass houses.

Secondly it is well-known that the Orthodox are growing further away form the true faith by the fact that immoral acts such as contraception are being welcomed by the Orthodox as acceptable practices. There are more issues as well where we can see that immorality is being embraced, where it cannot be in order to be "Catholic". How many marriages will you embrace in your "Orthodox" Church? I am most open to Orthodox Catholic dialog, and I have great sympathies for the Orthodox as a Catholic. But when push comes to shove, I will always push back to defend the uniting Chair of Saint Peter which you unfortunately reject in favor of your democratic, conciliar nonsense which leads you into heresy.

Phil said...

One of the things certain Catholics like to level at Orthodox as a black mark is the supposed obsession the latter have with tearing down Rome. Doubtless that exists, but it's put out there almost as though Catholics are above all that, or, to put it another way, as though people like Matthew Bellisario don't exist. So much for that.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

I have been down with a nasty cold and apologize for my absence from the discussion. After reviewing some of the more recent comments I am thinking this might be an appropriate moment to remind all to take a breath (or two) before posting and ask how you would respond to the comment you are preparing were you on the receiving end of it.

Given the differences between Orthodoxy and the Roman Catholic Church terms like "heresy" and "schism" or variations thereof seem to be a bit unnecessary. I am sure we can all agree that there is a schism between our respective confessions and that there are sharp theological differences. While not asking anyone to compromise their beliefs, I would ask that people please be as charitable as they can when making their points. In my admittedly limited experience, I have yet to see anyone converted by calling them a heretic or schismatic.

Also I want to remind people to debate the issues not personalities. Ad Hominum attacks are a no no on this blog. Please refer to the guidelines for comments in the side bar if you have any questions on that subject.

Under the mercy,

John (Ad Orientem) said...

Fr. J,
Thanks for your input as always. I am not really sure I can agree with your observations though.

First you refer to Western interest in the East waning fast. I have seen no evidence of this. Point in fact; I would have to say my observations rather suggest the contrary. Rome has been and continues to be showing increased interest even as the dream of Anglican re-union is finally being pronounced dead by the Vatican. Pope Benedict has exceptionally close relations with more than a few major figures in Orthodoxy including Metropolitan Iakovos of Pergamon one of the foremost living theologians in the Orthodox world.

What's more is the interest is actually being reciprocated (albeit on a different level). There is today a very serious interest within the Orthodox Church in improved ties with Rome (not to be confused with inter-communion). A casual glance at some of the top hierarchs will show that at least four Orthodox Patriarchs (the EP, Antioch, Romania and now Moscow) are supportive of this. Of the others only Jerusalem, the Russian Church Abroad and the monks of Mt. Athos remain unyielding in their anti-Catholic positions. Indeed by historical standards this is a veritable springtime for Catholic - Orthodox dialogue.

What I really find encouraging about the recent thaw in relations, is that it is occurring S L O W L Y and without a gun to anyone’s head (unlike the previous failed efforts). And the emphasis is where it should be for now, which on the areas of mutual interest and agreement, i.e. charity and combating secularism and Islamic Fascism. Once we get used to working with each other on that level it will make the other more difficult aspects of dialogue somewhat easier.

Mind you I still see an ocean of differences between us. And I (along with most Orthodox) have zero interest in restoration of communion at the expense of Orthodoxy. But I really don’t; see any danger of that so I am content to let things ride and see where they go.

You also refer to a door closing. I suspect that the door is actually opening wider. But perhaps you were referring to a different door? If the door you mention is the same one that was opened by Pio No-No in his Letter to the Easterns or Leo XIII in his similarly themed communiqué than you may be right, though the point would be moot. That door basically consisted of “come, kneel and kiss Our ring and all will be forgiven.” With all possible respect, that invitation has already been answered.

Indeed we could offer substantively the same in return. If Rome will merely renounce her theological innovations of the last thousand or so years, restore the Creed, and abjure the ultra-monantinist claims of Vatican I, communion could be restored with the speed of a fax machine. But I am guessing that your answer is substantively the same as ours was to Pius IX. “Thanks but we’ll pass.”

Under the mercy,

rc realist said...

I'm a Catholic who visits Russia frequently, and I, too, think that union is an illusion. Anyone who has any awareness of Orthodox views about Catholicism in that largest Orthodox of countries would know that any talk of unity is silly.

What I hope for, however, is that the Orthodox Church, especially in Russia, would stop agitating politically against the Catholics. My wife is a Russian who joined the Catholic Church in Russia, and the priest who baptized her was convinced, at first, that she was an Orthodox agitator "testing" him. Apparently, it is against the law for the Church to prozlytize in Russia. Eventually she persuaded him that she was sincere, and he agreed to baptize her and receive her into the Church. However she knew that she held the priest's fate in her hands; she was very careful not to be indiscrete about her conversion with her Russian friends.

One would expect this in a state like Saudi Arabia, but Russia? I don't know what the kumbaya Catholics are smoking if they think that union is around the corner. I'm not even confident that the Catholic Church won't be expelled from Russia altogether in the near future.

No need even to mention the fate of the Russian Byzantine Catholic Church.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

RC Realist,
OK, granted there is without a doubt a lot of tension on the ground between the Catholics of the Eastern Rite and the Russian Church especially in the Ukraine and Russia. But such tension is pretty limited where the Roman Rite of the Church exists. I am no fan of comrade Putin's regime but your comment had a touch of hysteria in it. From the tone of your post you make the priest sound like a Jew in Nazi Germany. And frankly the comparisons of Russia with Saudi Arabia are way over the top and more than a little offensive. Last time I checked we are not cutting the heads off Roman Catholics. I really think you should tone it down a little bit. Finally, I can not imagine the issue with your wife's conversion in any case since she was never Orthodox.

As for the Russian Rite, I am pretty sure that exists in only two or three parishes here in the United States under the direction of Latin Rite bishops.

Under the mercy,

rc realist said...


I'm just describing my wife's experience in Russia. Mind you, that was the early 90's but the laws have not changed: it is still illegal for the Catholic church to 'proselytize", which means that even a non-Christian cannot become Catholic. The Catholic Church is permitted to minister only to people who are already Catholic. Even Catholic charities are not permitted to operate freely in Russia, for fear that they might draw people to the Catholic Church.

No, people are not beheaded, but, as Catholics we expect much more from fellow Christians than the consolation prize of not being beheaded. You have to agree that that's not much of a triumph of inter-faith relations.

Again, I'm not saying this to slam the Orthodox; I respect the Orthodox Church immensely, and I wish Orthodox Christians only good things. It is because I respect the Orthodox that I expect much more from them than I do from Muslims and other non-Christians.

My only point was that acquaintance with Russia confirms your view that some sort of Catholic-Orthodox union is very unlikely, at least in the largest Orthodox country. In fact, for Catholics in Russia, there are far more pressing issues than union.

Anonymous said...

I'm sick of the RC media's full court press on the Pope's "joy" at the election of Patriarch Kirill and his salivating over the prospect of "full communion" with the Russian Orthodox Church (and by extension all of Orthodoxy) as if it were just a matter of stepping over the still warm body of a conveniently deceased Patriarch Alexei (Memory Eternal).

Nicholas said...

I actually sing in a Greek Orthodox parish (though I am not Orthdox I'm still looking for a home) and I just don't get this hate for inter-communion (especially Anonymous' last comment).

Yes there are issues. Yes they need to be worked out, but don't _many_ of them amount to theological theory rather than dogma? Even the so called big issues are fairly weak. Rome has decreased the use of the filoque and has enforced the jurisdictional independence of the Eastern Rite Churches (that is no "kissing of the ring...come on people).

John (Ad Orientem) said...

Thanks for your comment. I think you need to read the decrees of the First Vatican Council, and then the councils of Lyons or Florence. Irrespective of whether or not it is used, Rome has dogmatized the filioque. Then read the Synodikon of Orthodoxy and the various decrees of the synods of the Orthodox Church addressing the Roman Catholic Church. The theological issues which divide the East and West are vast. For inter-communion to occur we must be on the same page doctrinally. That means our acceptance of each and every article of faith dogmatically pronounced by Rome or Rome backing off them. Either way, it aint happening.

Under the mercy,

Nicholas said...


Let's assume that you're right (and I'd love to see the actual references you're using in those documents with Lyon especially). Then we have an interesting historical quandary. Since these teachings began to pop up before the split in 1204 and passed in large part without comment. I believe the legates were warned that this was a stupid action by the Patriarch, but I can't find the quote right now. This also fails to explain why communion continued amongst the other Orthdox patriarchs with Rome in some cases for centuries.

We also have the odd fact that Constantinople and Rome have lifted the mutual excommunications...despite the fact that communion doesn't exist. This strongly implies that some see the episode as largely over but don't want to stumble the more emotional members of their flock and cause further schism.

The part of your reply that I find most troubling is your closing line, "it ain't happening." That is _absolutely_ wrong. You are right to point out that issues must be ironed out. Some are theory, others are matter of dogma and somebody is right. Claiming that it isn't going to happen though is wrong and sets the wrong tone for the discussion.