Friday, November 16, 2007

Ecumenical Councils II

Continuing the discussion on the subject of the previous post I just posted this over at CU. In order to preserve a coherent discussion please make any replies there.

I am on record as being more than slightly skeptical about the chances for any form of restoration of communion between East and West. One of the things which I have always seen standing in the way of the reunification are the dogmatic definitions of the Latin Church post 1054 (most especially but certainly not limited to Vatican I). Many Roman Catholics have attempted to assert the possibility of reunion on the basis of the fact that Orthodoxy has never dogmatically anathematized the various doctrinal developments/innovations of the Latin Church.

Mike Liccione is one of the great champions of that line of reasoning. The counter which I always raised was that it boiled down to an acceptance that Rome is in fact THE CHURCH and that we are wrong. That is of course a nonstarter since both East and West independently affirm that they are the One True Church. From an Orthodox perspective therefore it is not possible for the Roman Catholic Church to make true dogmatic definitions.

However Mike is correct on an important point which does lend some small hope. Since Orthodoxy for whatever reasons (I would opine there are many) has not held an oecumenical council since 880 AD, and therefore has not formally condemned the Latin innovations, they could be treated as theologumen. Granted, I think there is far greater unanimity among the Orthodox hierarchs and the lay faithful that many Western doctrines are heretical, than there is support for some of them among the Roman Catholic faithful. But it still boils down to theologumen on our side. But if you remove Rome’s carved in stone claim that those doctrines are infallible truths binding on all of the faithful, then we may move back to square one.

This would not of course end the schism or restore communion. But it would have the effect of saying both sides have strongly held contrary OPINIONS of great import that need to be resolved. On that basis it might be possible to convene a Great Council of The Church to begin the process of sorting things out and resolving them one at time.

By no means is this any guarantee that we would succeed. Florence failed. But I think it is quite probably the only way true and lasting communion could ever be restored. Also I think this would not be something that could be resolved in a year or two. I am thinking decades on the conservative side, but more likely centuries. The mere act of sitting in the same room with the Pope at what might eventually claim to be an ecumenical council would spark schisms within Orthodoxy, and very probably among Roman Catholic traditionalists as also liberal Catholics who would understand the mortal threat to their dreams posed by the prospect of restored communion between Rome and Orthodoxy. And then there is the fact that Ecumenical Councils don’t just happen and get rubber stamped in Orthodoxy. They take years and sometimes centuries to gain acceptance.

Now if you think getting the Orthodox to agree to anything like this is going to be hard then just consider the idea of Rome entertaining, even for a millisecond, the idea that there has not been a true and binding ecumenical council in well over a thousand years. If you like those odds, I have some Enron Stock I would like to sell you at the bargain price of $100.00 per share. Saying that this would be messy and downright ugly would be the understatement of the year. The bottom line is that this is one of the most unlikely ideas ever floated. But I also think it might be the only way that will really work. I do not see communion ever being restored without a Great Council.

Rome claims two very key things. First that all of the Latin dogmas proclaimed post 1054 are correct, and secondly that the Orthodox Churches are true and particular churches that are a part of the One True Church, if imperfectly. In support of this they note (repeatedly) that we have never formally anathematized those doctrines. Assuming for the sake of discussion those two claims are correct then Rome should have nothing to fear from putting it all on the table. Let a true Great Council of The Church be convened and hammer it all out. The worst that happens is it fails and we are back to where we stand today (with a few dozen more schisms on the side). That might indeed be the result. I suspect it is quite likely. The odds against agreement are staggering. But maybe, just maybe, we would see a miracle. I think the possibility of living to see a concelebrated liturgy with all of the Orthodox Patriarchs and the Pope of Rome is worth the risk. But it really comes down to this; how confident is Rome of its position? Are they willing or even able to take such a leap? What say my Roman brothers and sisters, is restored communion worth such a risk?