Friday, July 02, 2010

Fr. Robert Taft (SJ) calls for restoration of communion between Rome and Orthodoxy

The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches should own up to their past misdeeds and work to restore communion, according to a Jesuit liturgical expert.

Robert F. Taft, S.J., a former professor of Eastern liturgy at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, said that the rift between the churches was sustained primarily by offensive actions—not theological differences.

"The main problem that we Catholics and Orthodox face in our ecumenical dialogue is not doctrine but behavior," Father Taft said. "The issue is not that Catholics and Orthodox do not know how to pray and believe and live Christianity in the right and true apostolic way. The problem is that we do not know how to act."

Father Taft delivered "Perceptions and Realities in Orthodox-Catholic Relations Today," on June 28 at the Rose Hill campus.

He pointed to Catholic "uniatism"—aggression against another church—as a major problem blocking fruitful dialogue between the religions. He added that although the Orthodox faith has been victimized, it also refuses to admit its own misdeeds.

"Western Christianity’s historic defects of imperialism, power and domination led to the crimes for which Pope John Paul II asked pardon in Rome on the first Sunday of Lent in 2000," Father Taft said. "Metropolitan Kallinikos of Piraeus—an official spokesman of the Orthodox Church of Greece—responded … by declaring there was nothing for which Orthodoxy had to ask pardon."

Father Taft advocated a system of "ecumenical scholarship and theology"—a new way to study Christian tradition that seeks to reconcile and unite, rather than to confute and dominate. To accomplish this, the Catholic and Orthodox churches must recognize one another as historic apostolic sister churches, he said.

"For Catholics, such an 'ecumenical theology' must mean an end to declarations on the nature of the priesthood that exalt the celibate clerical state of the Latin tradition in a way that is demeaning to the thousands of legitimately married eastern clergy," he said.

"It might also mean Catholic theologians realizing that Latin scholastic theology of the Eucharist is 'a' theology and not 'the' theology."

The point of this new ecumenical theology is not that Catholics and Orthodox never disagree. "What it does mean, is that at the official level, disagreements can be discussed truthfully and courteously, without invective, rudeness and slander," Father Taft said.

His was the first keynote at "Orthodox Constructions of the West," a three-day conference that examined how Orthodox authors created artificial categories of "East" and "West" and then used that distinction as a basis for self-definition.

The event was supported by the Patterson Triennial Conference Endowment for Orthodox/Catholic Relations as well as several units at Fordham University, including the Center for Medieval Studies and Orthodox Christian Studies Program.

Founded in 1841, Fordham is the Jesuit University of New York, offering exceptional education distinguished by the Jesuit tradition to approximately 14,700 students in its four undergraduate colleges and its six graduate and professional schools. It has residential campuses in the Bronx and Manhattan, a campus in Westchester, the Louis Calder Center Biological Field Station in Armonk, N.Y., and the London Centre at Heythrop College in the United Kingdom.


Nathan said...

And once again it becomes obvious which side really believes lex orandi lex credendi.

Chris Jones said...

A restoration of communion between Rome and Orthodoxy would be a good thing, no doubt. But it has to be done on the basis of the truth.

Someone who pretends that the differences between the two Churches are not doctrinal is naive, ill-informed, or worse. Someone of Fr Taft's intelligence and scholarly acumen is not naive or ill-informed. Why, then, does he say something that is patently false?

Besides, what Nathan said.

Unknown said...

Am I the only person that thinks that this statement is a thinly veiled, subversive attempt to do away with the requirement for priestly celibacy in the Roman Rite?

"For Catholics, such an 'ecumenical theology' must mean an end to declarations on the nature of the priesthood that exalt the celibate clerical state of the Latin tradition in a way that is demeaning to the thousands of legitimately married eastern clergy."

I was not aware that this was a point of contention between East and West. It seems to me that this is more an issue for Taft than for Orthodox/Catholic relations.

The other statement that struck me was: "The main problem that we Catholics and Orthodox face in our ecumenical dialogue is not doctrine but behavior." No one disagrees that behavior is a large component, but it seems deluded to me to believe that doctrine is not involved, specifically, the dogmatic formulations of:
* the primacy of the bishop of Rome (Vatican I)
* the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Son
* the immaculate conception of Mary

I just can't help but think that Taft, in spite of all his brilliance, is being disingenuous. Even Hart, probably the most beloved Orthodox thinker in the west, attributes the continuance of the schism to the "dogmatic imbalance."

I cant help but think that the same "they should just get over it" attitude toward the schism is no different than the "they should just get over it" attitude present in debates on the blessings of homosexual relationships, woman priests and happy-clappy, clowns with guitar masses. In short, the Catholicism that falsely believes there are no dogmatic issues is *precisely* the Catholicism we least want union with.

AP said...

"Why, then, does he say something that is patently false?"

He is simply repeating the ecumenist "party line" that still prevails among some quarters in Rome. This speech was delivered on June 28, 2010. On that same day Patriarch Kirill of Moscow gave a sermon that, among other things, denounced the "false union" of Florence:

As early as the 1970's, people such as Cardinals Willebrands and Philippe were already proclaiming that there were no real doctrinal differences between Orthodoxy and Catholicism. The inclusion of St. Gregory Palamas in the Roman Martyrology in 1974 (which was NOT equivalent to formal canonization by a Pope) was an expression of the same mindset, even though Catholic theologians pre-1965 were practically unanimous in declaring Palamas a heretic. The most troubling thing, of course, is not that people were willing to be irenic and to be as generous as possible in allowing for legitimate differences. I would be the first to grant that many apparently insourmountable obstacles are not really such. Rather, it is that (then as now) many ecumenists liked to assume this alleged unity of faith between Catholicism and Orthodoxy without going beyond the rhetoric and PROVING it. (Yes, I am aware of various joint statements and studies regarding the Filioque, but all these that have really managed to do is to make some Orthodox suspect that some Catholics are willing to bend or distort their own theological heritage in order to make way for union.)

Some ecumenists like to cite Joseph Ratzinger as having believed the same thing, but this is apparently untrue, as the following shows:

"In his classic work "The Church of God" which appeared in French in 1970 (in English in 1982), Fr. Louis Bouyer merely repeated the same "Reflections" he submitted to the 1974 Pro Oriente Conference held in Vienna. With regard to the suggestion that the Catholic Church accept only the dogmatic decisions of the first Seven Ecumenical Councils as fixed doctrine, one of the theological experts at the Conference, Prof. Joseph Ratzinger, declared Fr. Bouyer’s proposal to be "une utopie realiste". That the definitions of later Catholic Councils be not regarded as obligatory would be, Ratzinger noted, "to destroy the Catholic Church". Fr. Bouyer’s proposals were also firmly rejected by historian and theologian Fr. Wilhelm De Vries who noted that Fr. Bouyer’s proposition that Catholics and Orthodox constituted but one Church was acceptable neither to Catholics or Orthodox. "

I see the speech of Fr. Taft, the never-ending flurry of misleading reports from some Catholic news agencies, and other similar occurences as signs of desperation from Catholic ecumenists. Both Catholicism and Orthodoxy are developing towards a more traditional line, especially the Russian Orthodox Church, and even Catholicism (for all the rhetoric still coming from some quarters in the Vatican) is developing ecumenism fatigue. Many of the "old guard" (both Catholic and Orthodox) from the '60's and 70's see their work crumbling right before their eyes.

Odysseus said...

Yes, but when will the Jesuits return to communion with Rome?

(Drum crash) Thank, thank you, folks. I'll be here all night.

David said...

Am I the only person that has a major problem with the treasury of merit, the actual worship of the Theotokos by poorly educated lay people, and the superstition Rome?

Steve Hayes said...

The problem is that there are too many people like Fr Robert Taft who don't see the problem.

I recently wrote about it on my blog here Notes from underground: Are Roman Catholics and Orthodox about to unite?, so I won't take up any more space on it here.

AP said...

Just one final note.

In discussions relating to the question of the allegedly "impending union" between East and West, those who protest against this rush to union are often characterized as "uncharitable" and "unhelpful"; as if to dabble in illusions is helpful, and to encourage these is charitable.

The fact of the matter is that the acts of not a few ecumenists only lead, in the end, to a worse lack of charity between the two sides. For example, we have already seen how irresponsible news reports that imply "impending reunion" have created immense headaches for the Patriarch of Constantinople. There are other, worse effects. On the Orthodox side, in reaction to the moves of some ecumenists, there is intensely un-Christian rhetoric about the "plotting of the Vatican" to invade the East's "canonical territory" and to subordinate the Orthodox Churches -- rhetoric that often enjoys distorting even the most innocent gesture on the part of Catholics, into something terrible and sinister. On the Catholic side, accustomed to forever expecting a reunion that has not come, there seems to be a growing bitterness towards the East for dashing the hope of reunion, a bitterness that often finds expression in the age-old accusation that the Eastern Churches are nothing more than the puppets of nationalist or Caesaro-papist forces. This, in its turn, is unfair to the Orthodox, who have never given any real cause for hoping that reunion is, indeed, imminent.

It is something of a commonplace as well to assume that the theological divergences between East and West are merely the result of "political" or "cultural" circumstances. While there is much truth in this position, to accuse either (or both) East or West of adopting its current theological position vis-a-vis the other side, mainly or solely because of non-theological reasons, is to do nothing else but insult the integrity of the Saints, Fathers and the Doctors who had forged these same positions.

Union will come for certain: this we know as certainly as the fact that Christ is risen. However, it will come not by the artifice of man, and definitely not by ignoring history and compromising on principles for which saints suffered and martyrs bled.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

this illustrates the main problem I've had so far in attempts at dialog with Catholics; namely, I keep encountering this business of being 'disingenuous,' which is a charitable euphemism.

Beyond the lack of candor, I also keep encountering this mendacious implication (or outright charge) that the obstacle to unity is Orthodox refusal to forgive Catholics.

So this article illustrates why I've largely given up on dialog with Catholics.