Thursday, March 04, 2010

Clarity on Ecumenism

Those of my readers who are Orthodox have probably at times heard the usual line from many of our Roman Catholic interlocutors about how so many Orthodox tend to be rude or worse in their attitudes towards Rome. And in fairness I have run into some of that on our side of the fence (though certainly not routinely). I am not a fan of the kumbaya approach to ecumenism. But yes, I have at times been embarrassed by some of the more strident commentary one occasionally runs into. I guess my main complaint is that far too often Catholics act like we Orthodox have a monopoly on polemical commentary. That of course is nonsense.

But even in snarky commentary I often find redeeming elements. In the case below the redemption comes in the form of clarity. The tone is obviously polemical and intentionally insulting. But if you can move past that the message is important. However sneering the language, the points made are fundamentally an accurate reflection of Roman Catholicism's historic attitude towards us. And that is something we should never forget.

Rome is not interested in restoration of communion as equal parts of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Rome wants submission. To restore communion with Rome is to concede that Innocent III was within his rights to appoint the Patriarch of Constantinople. It is to concede each and every addition to the Deposit of the Faith by the Latin Church including those promulgated by Lyons, Florence, Trent and yes... Vatican I without reservation or equivocation. It is to concede that we are and have been for a thousand years, schismatics and yes, heretics.

Every Orthodox Christian should read this essay.
L’Osservatore Romano recently published Pope Benedict’s birthday greetings to the schismatic Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I. The successor of Peter prays in his letter that the Lord will sustain the Patriarch with his strength and grace as he carries out his exalted ministry of Pastor, Preacher of the Gospel and Teacher of spiritual life.
The Pope’s words presuppose that the sacrament of Order has perdured in Constantinople. Through his sacramental consecration as a bishop, Bartholomew has received the high priestly character whereby a bishop is rendered an apt subject to receive a canonical mission in teaching, ruling and sanctifying the Church. Not only that, the Pope also addresses him as Archbishop of Constantinople and Patriarch, just as Pope Eugene IV in the fifteenth century treated the holder of the See as Patriarch when he invited him and all the schismatic bishops to sit at the Council of Ferrara-Florence, where the Greeks would come to agreement with the Latins and co-define the Filioque and papal primacy. In other words, even though the de facto Greek Patriarchs of Constantinople since Cerularius’s schism have not been in communion with the successor of Peter, the successors of Peter have generally been willing to accept their elections, even as they hoped for their return to the unity of the Church. Thus the schismatic Patriarchs accepted to a certain extent by the Pope can be considered as having a “colored” but true title to the See of Constantinople.
However Leo XIII taught in the Encyclical Satis Cognitum, “[b]ishops are deprived of the right and power of ruling, if they deliberately secede from Peter and his successors; because, by this secession, they are separated from the foundation on which the whole edifice must rest. They are therefore outside the edifice itself; and for this very reason they are separated from the fold, whose leader is the Chief Pastor; they are exiled from the Kingdom, the keys of which were given by Christ to Peter alone.” Bartholomew is no different from his Greek predecessors since the Middle Ages in rejecting the authority of the successor of Peter over the whole Church. That is to say, he adheres to the schism of his predecessors and has been known over the years to come out with particularly strong statements of his positions against Catholic doctrine...
Read he rest here.


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

It's just hard to tell the truth about Rome without being snarky, because that truth IS snarky.

VSO said...

Ditto Anastasia. It's impossible to tell them things they wont like.

Anonymous said...

CS Lewis identified two great heresies of Rome: dogma on the papacy and dogma on Mary. Considering the latter is established through the former, there remains one primary issue, which is rather well expressed in the linked post. Unless and until Rome repudiates Peter as the chief cornerstone of the Church on which all else is built, there is no real hope for union.

Bob Glassmeyer said...

Dear John,

The above comments "that truth is snarky" and "it's impossible to tell them things they won't like" prove to me that we Roman Catholics do not have a monopoly on polemical commentary.

I've also heard from a number of Orthodox people that it is we Roman Catholics who are schismatics and heretics. It seems to me that both we Roman Catholics and you Orthodox are equally impoverished by the Schism.

To the authors of the two above snide comments, I'd like to ask, do you even know any Roman Catholics? Sometimes it helps to put a human face on Roman Catholicism. We're not the lot of us a bunch of unwashed philistines, thank you very much.

Like you Orthodox, we struggle for repentance, conversion, love of God and our neighbor, and daily living out our Baptismal promises.

I can assure you that there is much, much more to what it means to be a Catholic than our beliefs about who the Pope is. Before the Pope is anything else and after he is everything else, he is a servant and shepherd, a priest who points his flock to Jesus Christ. Do you know why he wears that funny scarf thing around his neck, called a pallium? So he can go into the world and look for his flock who are frightened, alone, and suffering.

Does he make a pig's breakfast of things sometimes? You bet! News flash-he's a sinner, just like you and me.

And with due respect, folks, when you take pot shots at us Roman Catholics and presume to tell us what's wrong with our church, you're preaching to the choir!

So, how about some of that Orthodox humility you people are always going on about?

By the by, one of my best loved prayerbooks is the Jordanville Prayerbook.

Visibilium said...

Same crap, different day. The comments were more interesting.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Dear Bob,

I've had almost lifelong exposure, in intimate ways, with Catholicism. (And I've lived a pretty long life by now.) I even studied theology for a year in a Jesuit university, Xavier in Cincinnati. I've known and loved many, many Catholics, good, kind, devout, upstanding, admirable people.

But I haven't told them the truth, which is that the more I learn, the more I find the history, the teachings, and the over-all ethos of Catholicism appalling.

So there's this choice I face between being truthful or being diplomatic. Patriarch Batholomew has found a way to be both, but, Lord have mercy, I have not. Like VSO, I truly can't find anything to tell you about it that you'd like.

Anonymous said...

Uh, so you point to radtrad Catholic blog post about the pope and patriarch and conclude that it is an accurate reflection of what "Rome wants"? Isn't it telling that this very same radtrad blog often criticizes the pope himself when he doesn't act according to their desires or doesn't do their bidding in exactly the way they want?

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Rome has spent the past thousand years making it perfectly, painfully clear to us what she wants.

VSO said...


I was raised novus ordo, and my family is all novus ordo, with one sister who goes to a parish with a TLM who also screamed at me when I told my mother my Trophy Wife and I were joining the Orthodox Church. If you've ever read my blog you'd know that I link to and greatly respect the Catholic Cavemen, am a good friend of a radtrad blogger known as "Inquisitor Generalis, sing for a novus ordo parish as a job, was brought into Orthodoxy by a former catholic priest now Orthodox priest, and learned more about the Church of Rome, ESPECIALLY THE TRUE MASS, in one class of music history at a secular school than in 12 years of novus ordo indoctrination. In fact I never saw the TLM until last year. So you see, for me it's personal.

That said, I'm not so much "anti-catholic" as I am Pro-Orthodox. My goombas at the Catholic Cave don't insult my Church; I don't insult theirs. They do that so much I don't have to.

Also if you've read my blog you'd know that I rip my own a new one far more, am NO FAN of Patriarch Bartholomew and much prefer the Western Orthodox expressions. Don't feel bad, I don't read my blog either.

I have never shared the Truth with my catholic friends because they wont like it, so I just tell them what we do and what we're against. It's just that most of what came from Rome after 1100 AD is what we're against.

Dominus Vosbiscum

Bob Glassmeyer said...

Hi, Anastasia Theodoridis,

Wow! You studied at XU in Cincinnati? That's where I grew up! What a small world! I know an Orthodox priest here in town who teaches a course on Orthodoxy there. (probably the only Orthodox thing studied at that school :) Did you ever attend Bellarmine Chapel? One more Haas and Haugen ditty and I'm gonna spit up!

I'm so glad you wrote what you did just now. You know, I think I can understand, if even just a little, where you're coming from. I've been a lifelong Catholic, and there are things about the RCC that make me want to scream. YIKES!

You see, I love my church...and I will defend it, stand up for it...I am also not afraid to criticize it :)

I also admire Orthodoxy (and I'm not saying this to blow smoke up your skirt, either), and as I said I love the Jordanville Prayerbook, along with other Orthodox resources, too.

Please know that my remarks earlier were not an attempt to attack you or your faith; they were directed toward the statement you made, not you as a person. Please forgive me if I gave offense.

God love you very much!

Bob Glassmeyer said...

Dear VSO,

Thank you for what you shared with me. Shortly ago I saw your blog. Beer good.

Gave it up for Lent, and on the weekend, I would so love an Affligem, Ommegang, or Mad Elf. Old Rasputin wouldn't come amiss, either. Holy Saturday night a friend of mine comes into the Catholic Church. I plan to celebrate his arrival with some sudsy libations. I'm here to say that Affligem Noel is good ALL YEAR ROUND!

Like you, I was raised in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Presently I belong to such a parish. There is only 1 Extraordinary Form parish here in Cincinnati. That sucks. So does the Haugen and Haas crap we have to endure every Sunday. Like you, it's personal for me.

Pax tibi, frater,

AP said...

"Isn't it telling that this very same radtrad blog often criticizes the pope himself when he doesn't act according to their desires or doesn't do their bidding in exactly the way they want?"

Show me a single post on Rorate that criticizes the Pope outright.

A lot of commentators do, but not the blog posts. At least, not mine.

Phil said...

Bob Glassmeyer,

You make some fair points in your initial post. I think the main thing for me, though, is not necessarily the substance of each side's arguments (not in this case; of course, that substance is important to me in general), but, as John alluded to, the ringing condemnation of Orthodoxy as hopelessly failed and schismatic, given that we're always told no Catholic writes such things. Revanchist fire-breathing only comes from one side, you see - the Orthodox.

Anyway, this obviously isn't directed at you, but that's the subtext as I see it.

Anonymous said...

This thread is completely typical of Orthodox discussions about Rome that I've had in person and online. And together with the pervasive practice of rebaptism, it's a key reason I won't consider becoming Orthodox.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

The most recent anonymous,
If you think this thread is hard core you obviously did not bother to even glance at the one I linked in the post. As for the question of baptism I wold refer you to the explanation offered by Patrick Barnes in his excellent article "The Non-Orthodox: The Orthodox Teaching on Christians Outside The Church." It is linked in the sidebar. You are of course free to disagree with the reasons for the practice (where it is done). However there are theological reasons for it.

The Sacraments are not magic. While conceding that there are degrees of separation and error, there does reach a point where the grace of the Holy Mysteries ceases to operate. When we baptize we do so in most cases because we don't know what was done beforehand or we are reasonably certain that the previous "baptism" was not sacramental in its intent or formula.

Under the mercy,

Anonymous said...

Taking that blog as seriously reflecting Roman Catholicism is equivalent to taking HOCNA as representative of Orthodoxy.

It would be much better for all if the exremetist positions on both sides were identified as such and essentially ignored.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

Rorate is certainly a Trad blog. But I think you are way off base by implying that they are schismatic or supportive of schismatics. They are most definitely not. Any suggestion that they are a Roman Catholic equivalent to HOCNA is absurd. The fact remains that while certainly snide and condescending to the point of insult, the linked article is in fact a pretty accurate representation of the Roman Church's historical attitude towards Orthodoxy.


Visibilium said...

4th anon, HOCNA's a cult, not Orthodox.

3rd anon, we don't practice rebaptism. Heterodox rites that resemble our baptism are dress rehearsals for the real thing. For pastoral reasons, I'd prefer that all heterodox be received into Holy Orthodoxy by baptism.

Fr Paul said...

however much Rorate Caeli may not belong to the lunatic fringe of Catholicism, it cannot be said that they represent mainstream Catholic teaching. They have failed to assimilate the clear teaching of Vatican II, by which I mean not the council interpreted according to the progressivist hermeneutic of rupture, nor according to the hermeneutic-of-nothing-has-changed of the rad trad blogosphere, but a hermeneutic of true reform as expounded by the present Pope. He has, I believe, made it clear that he seeks a sincere dialogue between our churches (and yes, in that dialogue the two churches have to be equal partners) and if you think that underneath he wants submission rather than communion then you are judging his intentions to be different from his stated aims, and therefore judging his integrity (and that of the mainstream Catholic hierarchs and theologians who are at one with him in this matter). I think that temerarious judgement is seen as aa sin by Orthodox spiritual writers as mucg as Catholic ones, no?
For the record, i was appalled by the Rorate article you quote. I thought it was ignorant, condescending and arrogant, and although I am often saddened by similar and worse excesses from the Orthodox side, I do not think that this excuses Rorate's bigotry. I did think of writing to protest, but my experience in the past is that these people do not tolerate dissenting voices (unless thety be from rad trads more extreme than themselves - the guiding principle seems to be "pas d'ennemis a droite") and are not open to rational criticism, so I decided to let them be. The fact that I am reacting here should suggest to you that I am hopeful that you yourself are more open to debate.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Bob: Bellarmine Chapel! Oh, yes, been there, done that. Attended every Sunday, probably, during the school year 1989-81. Newman Club and all. Brings back memories.

In those days, that was exactly what I thought worship ought to be.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Fr. Paul,,

I myself (and numerous of my Orthodox friends) have more hope from this current pope than from previous ones.

Given, however, the long history of trickery and deceit, extending through to the previous pope, our optimism is very guarded, at best.

This pops wants communion, not submission? With respect, Fr. Paul, what on earth are you talking about? How can there not be submission, given this, from the Cathechism of the Catholic Church?

882. The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter's successor, "is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful." "For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered."

I;m not sure how you define "communion," but the above is incompatible with any Orthodox understanding of it.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Forgive the type; I meant to type "pope", not "pops"!

Fr Paul said...

obviously I do not claim to posess a ready-made formula for resolving a dispute as old and as bitter as that concerning the papal claims. Your question is a valid and indeed inescapable one. However, since the then Cardinal Ratzinger is on record as saying that there might be reunion on the basis of what was agreeed on in the first milennium, and since the kind of language you quote was never accepted bby the East in that or any other milenium, then it is implicit that he thought then (and he has never repudiated what he said) that reunion was possible without such "submission" and that our two Churches might be in communion while having different understandings of the precise nature and extent of the Roman prerogatives. This implies that certain definitions made in the West might be considered binding only in the West (and the same would go mutatis mutandis for doctrinal developments peculiar to the East - eg the Palamite teachings on the divine energies).
Cardinal Ratzinger expresssed the hope that the two Churches, henceforth in communion but with non-identical teachings on some second order doctrines - of which papal authority is one - might in time grow towards a common understanding by a reverse process to the estrangement which occured in the centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire in the West. The final shape of the understanding that might emerge from an eventual convergence of this type is known only to the Holy Spirit.

This idea is, I admit, pretty impenetrable to some Cathlics (it certainly would be to the Rorate Caeli crowd) but it relies on another Vatican II evolution in the understanding of Catholic teaching, that of the hierarchy of truths. This brings me back to what was the real point of my last comment. I fully understand that you and other Orthodox are suspicious after centuries of arrogant assertions of Roman supremacy. The Rorate Caeli article shows that such arrogance continues to exist in our Church, but the official position of the Catholic Church HAS changed. Vatican II was not a "new Pentecost" in the sense of cancelling out all that went before, but it was a genuine change of heart based on a broader and deeper undertanding of Tradition than that of the blinckered neo-scholastic apologetics which still survive here and there. The Catholic Church has been in the process reforming itself, without denying itself. There are those who would go back to the pre-conciliar status quo. In fact they have gained new strength in reaction to the tired and superficial sloganising of the modernists, and the smiscariage of some aspects of reform, notably of the liturgy. Nonetheless there will be no going back, and the clear-sighted theoologians who surround the present Pope are genuinely in search of a way to unity which will not entail either side annihilating its own self-understanding and simply submitting to the other. That such a solution is possible is far from certain humanly speaking, but I think that generosity in being willing to believe that the other side is sincere is a Christian virtue. I personally am not interested in practcing ecumenism as a Trojan Horse, and I can assure you that the mainstream Catholic hierarchy and theologians are not either.

Bob Glassmeyer said...

I can relate, I think, to both Anastasia and to Father Paul. Not being a theologian, scripture scholar, or ecclesial expert, I may be wrong, but I think part of the problem has been a sense of blind ultramonatism on the part of some Catholic people. Too, I wonder if part of the problem with our credibility as Catholics has been the way Second Vatican has been misrepresented, and in some ways badly implemented.

While I certainly do not believe true unity can happen at the expense of the truth (and I think both Orthodox and Catholic people can agree on that), there's got to be mercy, charity, and listening to each other.

In terms of my own household of faith, I am hopeful about what Benedict XVI is trying to do. I'm deeply grateful for communities such as the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, and I'm also grateful for striving for a more worthy (for lack of better words) celebration of the Ordinary Form of Holy Mass. Just as one should not be used to denigrate the other, so, too, the Catholic and Orthodox Churches should not be pitted against each other. What's the old saying? "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in ALL things, charity."

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Dear Fr. Paul,

“…being willing to believe that the other side is sincere”… Okay, I’m willing. Able is another matter. I am only able to believe it provisionally, tentatively. I am able to hope it, in other words, more than actually believe it. (Of you personally, Fr. Paul, I am even able to believe it, yes, but of your organization and the authorities in it, not yet.)

Yes, going back to what was agreed upon in the first millennium is the only approach. It is a hopeful sign if the pope is willing to try tt.

I’m sure you know, this is far more complex than it sounds. We can’t even agree what WAS agreed upon back then. Also, there were already strained relations by the year 1000; there were already important disagreements and there had already been breaks in full communion.

For us, the papal claims (supremacy, temporal power, infallibility) are nothing secondary, but errors of the first magnitude. That is, if the issue of the “Roman prerogatives” could be corrected, then all the rest might quickly follow, since the value to Rome of all the other errors is precisely that every one of them bolsters the papal claims.

One thing the Roman doctrines concerning the pope do is sabotage and quickly destroy communion as the Orthodox have always known it, rendering it impossible – even among yourselves, let alone with us. (We suspect you and we have different meanings for this one word.)

A corollary: we have never known any dogma or definition as binding upon us or anybody else. The idea is foreign to us, the very antithesis of what we know as communion, making it unacceptable ever. The idea that someone has the power to declare any definition or dogma “not binding” is equally out of the question for us. Our communion is something that arises from deep within us, not that is imposed upon us. It is exercised absolutely voluntarily, a function of love that always leaves the other free. We know nothing of coercion.

Communion without having the same doctrine(s) or the same worship??? Whatever could that mean? What would be left (if not submission to the pope)?

You wrote, “…since the kind of language you quote was never accepted by the East in that or any other millennium…” For us, it is not about language. Not that I think you, Fr. Paul, mean it this way, but many Catholics insult us by seeming to think if we could just find wording we could all agree on, that would solve something. But it isn’t about verbal formulations; it’s about substance.

Well, there are many more things I want to say in response to your comment, but I will limit myself to one more, what you refer to as “the Palamite teachings on the divine energies”. That teaching far predates St. Gregory Palamas. Besides being implicit in the Biblical doctrine of creation and in the very early Fathers such as St. Justin Martyr, it is explicit in St. Basil the Great (330-379), St. Cyril of Alexandria (376-444), St Athanasius (born c.a. 296), and St. John Chrysostom (ca. 337-404).

Together with the biblical doctrines of creation ex nihilo upon which it is founded, this distinction between the Divine Essence and the Divine, Uncreated Energies forms the bulwark in Orthodoxy against multitudes of heresies, old and new, including Monophysitism, Monotheletism, Gnosticism, Pantheism, and Nestorianism. It is also the theological guarantor of the doctrine of the freedom of God and is the necessary context, sine qua non, for all of Orthodox spiritual life. Without it, spiritual life as we have always known it disappears.

Now I fear I have but illustrated my opening remark that being honest involves sounding snarky, and VSO’s comment as well, for I think I have failed to tell you anything you liked to hear. As you perhaps can see by now, those comments were not at all meant to be snide. They just describe, in a nutshell, how honest dialogue unfortunately goes.


Fr Paul said...

your comments contain nothing unknown to me. I live in Greece. That they still disapoint me (in part) only shows that I am an eternal optimist. That I take the time tp reply to them may only show that I am in addition foolhardy, but what the hell...

In no particular order: first about the Palamite teaching. That there is a pre-Palamas pedigree for talking about divine energies: of course. That it is a good thing to talk about them: (personally) yes. That St Gregpry Palamas' way is the only possible way to systematise the question and the answers: no.

About the importance of language: that substance is miore important then language: yes of course. That is is ever possible to prescind from the historically conditioned use of language in understanding doctrine: emphatically not.

About communion co-existing with doffeences in teaching and worship: well, it is a fact that it did for a thousand years, albeit with the tensions and temporary ruptures you mention. THe latter seem to be due at least in equal part to political, cultural and all too human factors as to theological ones.

About there being no definitions or binding definitions in Orthodoxy: try telling that to those expelled from the Church to not signing up to formulae: Arius, Nestorius and other you mention and correctly reject as heretics, along with many you did not. Where they expelled by a "spontaneous" movement of love, which somehow failed to carery them and their followers along with it? Why was the spontaneous movement of love unexplicably confined to the Byzantine/Roman cultural and political space? Are the DECISIONS (for such they were) of the 7 Ecumenical Councils historical figments, or did they not occur within an institutional framework?

Finally, can you explain what you mean when you write "the Roman doctrines concerning the pope do is sabotage and quickly destroy communion as the Orthodox have always known it, rendering it impossible – even among yourselves, let alone with us"?

Concerning your use of "we" and "us", I get the impression you mean all Orthodox collectively. In fact, you must know that there is no consensus within Orthodoxy around the ecclesiology and theology of revelation which underlies your writing. It is conceivable that I might one day become Orthodox (I almost certainly would if the only Catholicism on offer within the Roman communion were the Ultramontane variety which sparked off this thread), but it is inconceivable that I would subscribe to this theology, which is very much born of modern thinking. Splendid as it may seem, in all the simplisztic glory of its ahistorical a-priorism, I think that it is in fact, like much of the Roman Catholic apologetics you rightly reject, to a large degree a post factum justification of a schism with which too many have got to feel quite comfortable. I am sorry if it now I who am sounding a little "snarky", but it is that feeling of comfort which to me is the saddest thing of all.

Anonymous said...


You wrote: Yes, going back to what was agreed upon in the first millennium is the only approach. It is a hopeful sign if the pope is willing to try tt.

This, indeed, is happening:

I think it would be good for all Roman and Orthodox Catholics to pray for fruit to come from this.


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Fr. Paul,

I'm on my way out the door to Washington, D.C., where my Great Aunt is going to receive the Congressional Gold Medal tomorrow.

Will also be gone Thursday, to be with my mother as she has surgery (laser, I think) on her varicose veins.

Hope to be able to reply by Friday. Meanwhile, I seem to have conveyed a picture for you of mayhem, disorder, free-for-all and make it up as you go along, which of cours is far from what I meant.


This is indeed a heartening move, of which I have heard before from Met. Kallistos, a member of that commission. Yes, we ought all to pray for good results!


John (Ad Orientem) said...

After reviewing a large number of comments posted on another thread over at Rorate Caeli and upon some reflection, I am compelled to concede that some of the criticisms posted above may have been a bit more accurate than I had thought.

I don't think Rorate is a Catholic schismatic website. But there is a disturbing degree of tolerance for posters who are almost certainly schismatic/extremist. Feenyism seems to be pretty well received by some there. And there are at least a couple of posters who have skirted perilously close to sede vecantism.

In the past I came close to removing Rotate from the sidebar links over comments posted that were unambiguously anti-Semitic. The blog owner and his assistants have cracked down on that odious symptom of radicalism. Still, there are opinions posted there that are as far outside of Roman Catholic teachings as our Old Calendarists are.


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Fr. Paul, although I am still out of town, I have had more time with my mother's computer than I had expected, and have written you a reply. It is about three times too large for this combox, however, so I have put it in the form of a post over at my blog. Please find it at:

Thank you!

P.S.) Where do you live in Greece? We live there, too, part-time.

Fr Paul said...

Thanks Anastasia - I am flattered by the attention.
I spend my time between Athens and the Didecanese. You?