Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Do we need Rome?

Owen of The Ochlophobist posted the following reply to the thread over at Pontifications that I noted below. I am not in full agreement with every point he makes. For instance I do think we need a Church Council. But broadly speaking he makes a very powerful argument about the difficulties that lie between Orthodoxy and Rome. Please direct any comments or replies to the thread on Pontifications. Owen’s post #80:
People who get offended by comments annoy me, so never worry about offending me. I did mean what Mr. Grano suggests. I think that most patristic scholars (Prot, Catholic, Orthodox) would agree that it is an anachronism to suggest that St. Maximus or any other Eastern father would have held something akin to universal jurisdiction or papal infallibility as defined by Vat. I. The fact that they held to papal primacy, that they had a very high regard for the papacy, that they believed that Rome had consistently and faithfully taught the Catholic faith, and that Rome was the place to go for final appeal when things went bad in the home region does not amount to the two points of Vat. I which RCs and Orthodox will never agree on. Whether or not these pro-papal beliefs of the Eastern fathers naturally develop into Vat. I is another matter RCs and Orthodox will never agree on.

My comments regarding why we Orthodox should not want and do not need the Pope (as part of some ecumenical agenda) is easily construed as lacking in my former irenic manner. Fair enough. I must confess that I recently had the opportunity to attend a Novus Ordo Mass for the first time in over 4 years. During those 4 years I have tried my darndest to immerse myself in the Byzantine liturgical tradition and spiritual discipline. After having seen a Novus Ordo in this context, I must argue that while I might not be irenic in a technical sense I am being loving when I state this: The Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches will never reunite. For them to reunite one of them will have to stop being who she is, and this simply is not going to happen. This is the reality that professional ecumenists and internet theo-pundits refuse to acknowledge. As many Catholics have noted in this thread, if the Roman Catholic Church were to agree to Fr. Hopko’s terms, it would not be the Roman Catholic Church that reunited with Orthodoxy, but some other new communion. Likewise, if Rome did not agree to something like Fr. Hopko’s terms, and Orthodoxy nonetheless united with her, the Orthodox Church at that point would cease to exist, despite the condescending analysis of Roman Catholic theologians and ecclesiocrats who assure us that we need do nothing more than say yes. To speak that yes would be to speak no to Orthodoxy. As an Orthodox, you might imagine how likely I think that scenario is. Time and time again in these debates, it seems to me that many RCs simply don’t believe us when we say that we are the fullness of the Church, that we are the Church which Christ founded, that we are and nobody else is. The general response from RCs carries with it a tone that communicates, “O, isn’t that cute, little Orthodoxy thinks she’s the Church!” But, alas, we really do believe what we say, and because we believe what we say, we believe that we don’t really need the Roman Church. If Rome returns to Orthodoxy, great, if not, Oh well.

This brings me to the ecumenical economic reality that is the elephant in this room. We Orthodox are chided for the fact that our terms for a reunite (via Fr. Hopko in this case) demand so much from Rome while Rome’s terms demand so little from us. Well, uh, yeah. When you get us you get our problems - some jurisdictional issues, a piety that is often enough totalizing (in a day in which the rest of Christianity, including American Catholicism, can barely muster any piety), and your usual amount of corruption and sin, etc. But when you get us you also get a large influx of churches which are liturgically and devotionally stable, and which hold on (in a relatively clear fashion) to Holy Tradition and venerable traditions. That would certainly help the good guys, whoever they are, in the trad-con-prog wars going on inside the RCC. It might even breathe some life into some of the old Western traditions which were once thought dead. But what do we Orthodox stand to gain if we accept Rome’s terms? Please keep in mind that we already understand ourselves to be the Church, so we do not gain that understanding. Many of our jurisdictional problems would not be solved - how many Patriarchs of Jerusalem are there right now who are in communion with Rome? Our discipline is not going to get any better, if anything it might get worse, following Rome. The Pope, from an Orthodox point of view, is not able to keep his own house in order, in terms of what Orthodox consider to be basic Church discipline. Furthermore, the Pope of Rome in this day and age is, as you admit, not able to play too strong of a hand in administrative affairs. He would be on pins and needles with the incoming Orthodox Churches in that regard. The only thing a Pope could offer us that we do not already have is a spokesperson, his ability to call a council, and his ability to declare dogma. As I have already stated, I don’t share Fr. Hopko’s enthusiasm for a central, formal, spokeperson for the Church. I don’t think that the Orthodox Church needs a council, because there are no new heresies under the sun, Christology and Trinitarian thought have been fully explained and defended by the Church, and there are no matters of discipline in the Orthodox Church at this time which I believe justify an Ecumenical Council. As for declaring something to be a dogma, why? We have the fullness of dogma now. We have more doctrinal and dogmatic unity now than the contemporary RCC could ever dream of. Thus, I don’t see any benefit for the Orthodox in agreeing to Rome’s easy terms (assuming that were even possible), other than an increase in prestige, and I am of the opinion that we should not be all that concerned with prestige. Should the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches reunite (something which is possible), that would put the nails into the coffin of Rome’s eastward ecumenical agenda. Then we would have a multi-rite Eastern Orthodox Church with the full weight of the Greek and Syriac traditions under one roof. And the Latins then, as now, can wander about as they see fit.

Perhaps I am less irenic in tone because after some years of being Orthodox and then visiting a Novus Ordo Mass (in a “conservative” RC mega-parish) I was struck by the fact that it may as well have been a mainline Presbyterian service or a happy clappy Pentecostal service, it was so far from what I recognize Christianity to be. We think it kind in these circles to talk about what we have in common, but what is not said (enough anyway) is that what we have in common is all abstract. In the real flesh and blood terms of authentic communion we have very little in common. You talk about Eucharist, but in the end your Eucharist is very, very different from ours. You talk about the veneration of Mary, but in the end your Marian veneration is very, very different from ours. You talk about the communion of the saints, but in the end your relationship to the saints is very, very different from ours. You talk about Sacraments, but in the end your Sacraments are very, very different from our Mysteries. You talk about prayer, almsgiving, and fasting but in the end your understanding of the spiritual disciplines is very, very different from ours. You talk about Church, but in the end your understanding of Church is very, very different from ours. I used to think that these differences were merely aesthetic and trivial. I no longer do. I have to agree with His All-Holiness Bartholomew that there is an ontological difference at the heart of what divides us. Yes, we are the poor little Orthodox Church, but we are the Church, and every time we are “mocked” by a thinly veiled condescension for thinking so it only serves to increase our resolve and identify all the more with the cross of Christ.