Papist Orthodoxy

October 17, 2009

A Catholic View of Orthodoxy by Fr. Aidan Nichols, O.P.

originally from: New Blackfriars, Vol 77, No. 905, June 1996

this version from Christendom-Awake.org.

In this article I attempt an overview in four parts. First, I shall discuss why Catholics should not only show some ecumenical concern for Orthodoxy but also treat the Orthodox as their privileged or primary ecumenical partner.

Secondly, I shall ask why the schism between the Catholic and Orthodox churches occurred, focussing as it finally did on four historic ‘dividing issues’.

Thirdly, I shall evaluate the present state of Catholic-Orthodox relations, with particular reference to the problem of the ‘Uniate’ or Eastern Catholic churches.

Fourthly and finally, having been highly sympathetic and complimentary to the Orthodox throughout, I shall end by saying what, in my judgment, is wrong with the Orthodox Church and why it needs Catholicism for (humanly speaking) its own salvation.

Part 1

First, then, why should Catholics take the Orthodox as not only an ecumenical partner but the ecumenical partner par excellence? There are three kinds of reasons: historical, theological and practical – of which in most discussion only the historical and theological are mentioned since the third sort ? what I term the ‘practical’ takes us into areas of potential controversy among Western Catholics themselves.

The historical reasons for giving preference to Orthodoxy over all other separated communions turn on the fact that the schism between the Roman church and the ancient Chalcedonian churches of the East is the most tragic and burdensome of the splits in historic Christendom if we take up a universal rather than merely regional, perspective.

Though segments of the Church of the Fathers were lost to the Great Church through the departure from Catholic unity of the Assyrian (Nestorian) and Oriental Orthodox (Monophysite) churches after the Councils of Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451) respectively, Christians representing the two principal cultures of the Mediterranean basin where the Gospel had its greatest flowering – the Greek and the Latin – lived in peace and unity with each other, despite occasional stirrings and some local difficulties right up until the end of the patristic epoch.

That epoch came to its climax with the Seventh Ecumenical Council, Nicaea II, in 787, the last Council Catholics and Orthodox have in common, and the Council which, in its teaching on. the icon, and notably on the icon of Christ, brought to a triumphant close the series of conciliar clarifications of the Christological faith of the Church which had opened with Nicaea I in 325.

The iconography, liturgical life, Creeds and dogmatic believing of the ancient Church come down to us in forms at once Eastern and Western; and it was this rich unity of patristic culture, expressing as it did the faith of the apostolic community, which was shattered by the schism between Catholics and Orthodox, never (so far) to be repaired.

And let me say at this point that Church history provides exceedingly few examples of historic schisms overcome, so if history is to be our teacher we have no grounds for confidence or optimism that this most catastrophic of all schisms will be undone. ‘Catastrophic’ because, historically, as the present pope has pointed out, taking up a metaphor suggested by a French ecclesiologist, the late Cardinal Yves Congar: each Church, West and East, henceforth could only breathe with one lung.

No Church could now lay claim to the total cultural patrimony of both Eastern and Western Chalcedonianism – that is, the christologically and therefore triadologically and soteriologically correct understanding of the Gospel. The result of the consequent rivalry and conflict was the creation of an invisible line down the middle of Europe. And what the historic consequences of that were we know well enough from the situation of the former Yugoslavia today.

After the historical, the theological. The second reason for giving priority to ecumenical relations with the Orthodox is theological. If the main point of ecumenism, or work for the restoration of the Church’s full unity, were simply to redress historic wrongs and defuse historically generated causes of conflict, then we might suppose that we should be equally – or perhaps even more – interested in addressing the CatholicProtestant divide.

After all, there have been no actual wars of religion – simply as such – between Catholics and Orthodox, unlike those between Catholics and Protestants in sixteenth century France or the seventeenth century Holy Roman Empire. But theologically there cannot be any doubt that the Catholic Church must accord greater importance to dialogue with the Orthodox than to conversations with any Protestant body.

For the Orthodox churches are churches in the apostolic succession; they are bearers of the apostolic Tradition, witnesses to apostolic faith, worship and order – even though they are also, and at the same time, unhappily sundered from the prima sedes, the first see.

Their Fathers and other ecclesiastical writers, their liturgical texts and practices, their iconographic tradition, these remain loci theologici – authoritative sources – to which the Catholic theologian can and must turn in his or her intellectual construal of Catholic Christianity. And that cannot possibly be said of the monuments of Anglican, Lutheran, Reformed or any other kind of Protestantism.

To put the same point in another way: the separated Western communities have Christian traditions – in the plural, with a small ‘t’ – which may well be worthy of the Catholic theologian’s interest and respect. But only the Orthodox are, along with the Catholic Church, bearers of Holy Tradition – in the singular, with a capital ‘T’, that is, of the Gospel in its plenary organic transmission through the entirety of the life – credal, doxological, ethical – of Christ’s Church.

There is for Catholics, therefore, a theological imperative to restore unity with the Orthodox which is lacking in our attitude to Protestantism – though I should not be misinterpreted as saying that there is no theological basis for the impulse to Catholic-Protestant rapprochement for we have it in the prayer of our Lord himself at the Great Supper, ‘that they all may be one’.

I am emphasising the greater priority we should give to relations with the Orthodox because I do not believe the optimistic statement of many professional ecumenists to the effect that all bilateral dialogues – all negotiations with individual separated communions – feed into each other in a positive and unproblematic way.

It would be nice to think that a step towards one separated group of Christians never meant a step away from another one, but such a pious claim does not become more credible with the frequency of its repeating. The issue of the ordination of women, to take but one particularly clear example, is evidently a topic where to move closer to world Protestantism is to move further from global Orthodoxy – and vice versa.

This brings me to my third reason for advocating ecumenical rapport with Orthodoxy: its practical advantages. At the present time, the Catholic Church, in many parts of the world, is undergoing one of the most serious crises in its history, a crisis resulting from a disorienting encounter with secular culture and compounded by a failure of Christian discernment on the part of many people over the last quarter century – from the highest office – holders to the ordinary faithful.

This crisis touches many aspects of Church life but notably theology and catechesis, liturgy and spirituality, Religious life and Christian ethics at large. Orthodoxy is well placed to stabilise Catholicism in most if not all of these areas.

Were we to ask in a simply empirical or phenomenological frame of mind just what the Orthodox Church is like, we could describe it as a dogmatic Church, a liturgical Church, a contemplative Church, and a monastic Church – and in all these respects it furnishes a helpful counter-balance to certain features of much western Catholicism today.

Firstly, then, Orthodoxy is a dogmatic Church. It lives from out of the fulness of the truth impressed by the Spirit on the minds of the apostles at the first Pentecost, a fulness which transformed their awareness and made possible that specifically Christian kind of thinking we call dogmatic thought.

The Holy Trinity, the God-man, the Mother of God and the saints, the Church as the mystery of the Kingdom expressed in a common life on earth, the sacraments as means to humanity’s deification – our participation in the uncreated life of God himself: these are the truths among which the Orthodox live, move and have their being.

Orthodox theology in all its forms is a call to the renewal of our minds in Christ, something which finds its measure not in pure reason or secular culture but in the apostolic preaching attested to by the holy Fathers, in accord with the principal dogmata of faith as summed up in the Ecumenical Councils of the Church.[1]

Secondly, Orthodoxy is a liturgical Church. It is a Church for which the Liturgy provides a total ambience expressed in poetry, music and iconography, text and gesture, and where the touchstone of the liturgical life is not the capacity of liturgy to express contemporary concerns (legitimate though these may be in their own context), but, rather, the ability of the Liturgy to act as a vehicle of the Kingdom, our anticipated entry, even here and now, into the divine life.

Thirdly, Orthodoxy is a contemplative Church. Though certainly not ignoring the calls of missionary activity and practical charity, essential to the Gospel and the Gospel community as these are, the Orthodox lay their primary emphasis on the life of prayer as the absolutely necessary condition of all Christianity worth the name.

In the tradition of the desert fathers, and of such great theologian-mystics as the Cappadocian fathers, St Maximus and St Gregory Palamas, encapsulated as these contributions are in that anthology of Eastern Christian spirituality the Philokalia, Orthodoxy gives testimony to the primacy of what the Saviour himself called the first and greatest commandment, to love the Lord your God with your whole heart, soul, mind and strength, for it is in the light of this commandment with its appeal for a God-centred process of personal conversion and sanctification – that all our efforts to live out its companion commandment (to love our neighbour as ourself) must be guided.

And fourthly, Orthodoxy is a monastic Church, a Church with a monastic heart where the monasteries provide the spiritual fathers of the bishops, the counsellors of the laity and the example of a Christian maximalism. A Church without a flourishing monasticism, without the lived ‘martyrdom’ of an asceticism inspired by the Paschal Mystery of the Lord’s Cross and Resurrection, could hardly be a Church according to the mind of the Christ of the Gospels, for monasticism, of all Christian life ways, is the one which most clearly and publicly leaves all things behind for the sake of the Kingdom.

Practically speaking, then, the re-entry into Catholic unity of this dogmatic, liturgical, contemplative and monastic Church could only have the effect of steadying and strengthening those aspects of Western Catholicism which today are most under threat by the corrosives of secularism and theological liberalism.

1. Cf. A. Nichols, O. P., Light from the East. Authors and Themes in Orthodox Theology (London 1995).

Read the rest of the article HERE.

September 22, 2009

“Twelve Differences”

This comes to us from Vivificat! via Orrologion via Eirenikon. — Antiochian-Thomist

Fr. Alvin Kimel publishes on the blog, Pontifications.

Fr. Alvin Kimel on the “Twelve Differences”

Originally posted by Irenaeus.

Orrologion has posted the original text of the “Twelve Differences between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches” by Teófilo de Jesús along with excellent responses to each of the twelve points from Fr Alvin Kimel, of Pontifications* fame, who in his extended period of discernment after leaving the Episcopal Church studied the claims of both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy in great depth.

Some excerpts:

On Primacy. Is it true that the Orthodox Church rejects totally any understanding of ecclesial headship? What about the bishop of a diocese? Does he not wield and embody a divine authority given to him by Christ Jesus? Is he not the head of his community, which precisely is the Church? And when Catholics speak of the Pope as the earthly head of the Church, are they in any way denying that Christ alone is properly head of the Church? When Catholics speak of the primacy of the Pope, are they exalting the Pope above the Episcopate, as if their power and authority derived from him? And are Orthodox theologians incapable of entertaining an authentic primacy within the episcopal college for the bishop of Rome? …

On Conciliarity. The Catholic Church understands the Church precisely as a communion of particular Churches and local dioceses; moreover, the Church as the universal Church is not to be understood as simply the sum or collection of all particular Churches: each diocese is itself a truly catholic body … Catholic ecclesiology is so much more complex and diverse than is sometimes appreciated …

On Original Sin. I’m sure there are differences between Catholic construals of anthropology and Orthodox construals of anthropology (please note the plural); but I do not believe that this is because the Catholic Church authoritatively teaches a forensic imputation of original sin and the Orthodox Church does not. Why do I say this? Because it is not at all clear to me that the Catholic Church authoritatively teaches the *forensic* imputation of Adam’s guilt to humanity. I know that some (many?) Catholic theologians have sometimes taught something like this over the centuries, but the Catholic Church has strained over recent decades to clarify the meaning of Original Sin not as the forensic transfer of Adam’s guilt but as the inheritance of the Adamic condition of real alienation from God–i.e., the absence of sanctifying grace … Important differences on the nature of original exist between St Augustine and magisterial Catholic teaching …

You can follow the rest of this article at Eirenikon or Orrologion.

Will “Third Rome” Reunite with “First Rome”?

Filed under: Doctrine, Papacy & Patriarchy — Tags: , , , , , , , — Antiochian-Thomist @ 5:43 pm

Might be a bit over-zealous. Nonetheless, there is reason to hope.  — Antiochian-Thomist

From Zenit.org.

Recent Meeting Could Mark Turning Point

By Robert Moynihan

WASHINGTON, D.C., SEPT. 21, 2009 (Zenit.org)- Sometimes there are no fireworks. Turning points can pass in silence, almost unobserved.

It may be that way with the “Great Schism,” the most serious division in the history of the Church. The end of the schism may come more quickly and more unexpectedly than most imagine.

On Sept. 18, inside Castel Gandolfo, the Pope’s summer palace about 30 miles outside Rome, a Russian Orthodox Archbishop named Hilarion Alfeyev, 43 (a scholar, theologian, expert on the liturgy, composer and lover of music), met with Benedict XVI, 82 (also a scholar, theologian, expert on the liturgy and lover of music), for almost two hours, according to informed sources. (There are as yet no “official” sources about this meeting — the Holy See has still not released an official communiqué about the meeting.)

The silence suggests that what transpired was important — perhaps so important that the Holy See thinks it isn’t yet prudent to reveal publicly what was discussed.

But there are numerous “signs” that the meeting was remarkably harmonious.

If so, this Sept. 18 meeting may have marked a turning point in relations between the “Third Rome” (Moscow) and the “First Rome” (Rome) — divided since 1054.

Archbishop Hilarion was in Rome for five days last week as the representative of the new Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.

One key person Archbishop Hilarion met with was Cardinal Walter Kasper. On Sept. 17, the cardinal told Vatican Radio that he and Archbishop Hilarion had a “very calm conversation.”

Cardinal Kasper also revealed something astonishing: that he had suggested to the archbishop that the Orthodox Churches form some kind of “bishops’ conference at the European level” that would constitute a “direct partner of cooperation” in future meetings.

This would be a revolutionary step in the organization of the Orthodox Churches.

Papal-Patriarch encounter?

Cardinal Kasper said a Pope-Patriarch meeting was not on the immediate agenda, and would probably not take place in Moscow or Rome, but in some “neutral” place (Hungary, Austria and Belarus are possibilities).

Archbishop Hilarion himself revealed much about how his Rome visit was proceeding when he met on the evening of Sept. 17 (before his meeting with the Pope) with the Community of Sant’Egidio, an Italian Catholic group known for its work with the poor in Rome.

“We live in a de-Christianized world, in a time that some define — mistakenly — as post-Christian,” Archbishop Hilarion said. “Contemporary society, with its practical materialism and moral relativism, is a challenge to us all. The future of humanity depends on our response… More than ever before, we Christians must stand together.”

A report from Interfax, the news service of the Moscow Patriarchate, on Sept. 18 revealed that Archbishop Hilarion spoke to the Pope about “cooperation between the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches in the area of moral values and of culture” — in particular during the “Days of Russian Spiritual Culture,” a type of exhibit with lectures scheduled for spring 2010 in Rome. (One might imagine that the Pope himself could attend such an exhibition).

In memory of the visit, Archbishop Hilarion gave the Pope a pectoral cross, made in workshops of Russian Orthodox Church, the report said, Interfax reported.

Today, an Interfax report supplied details of Hilarion’s remarks this morning in the catacombs of St. Callixtus.

“Denied by the world, far from human eyes, deep under ground in caves, the first Roman Christians performed the feat of prayer,” Hilarion said. “Their life brought the fruit of holiness and martyr heroism. The Holy Church was built on their blood shed for Christ.”

Then the Church came out of the catacombs, but Christian unity was lost, the archbishop said.

Archbishop Hilarion said that human sin is the cause of all divisions, while Christian unity can be restored only in the way of sanctity.

“Each of us, conscientiously fulfilling a task the Church has given him or her, is called to personally contribute to the treasury of Christian sanctity and work to achieve God-commanded Christian unity,” the archbishop said.

A second Interfax report today added further information about the meeting with the Pope.

Growing influence

“During a talk with Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk pointed out the status of Orthodox believers in Western Ukraine where three Orthodox dioceses had been almost eliminated as a result of coercive actions of Greek Catholics in late 1980s and early 1990s,” Interfax reported.

Archbishop Hilarion “stated the need to take practical steps to improve the situation in Western Ukraine,” within the territories of Lvov, Ternopol and Invano-Frankovsk Dioceses, the report said.

Meanwhile, in Russia itself, the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church, headed by Patriarch Kirill, seems to be growing, though not without opposition.

The rise in Russia of Kirill and his increasing influence in legislative matters seems to be arousing opposition from the “siloviki,” forces connected with the old KGB.

In an article in the current issue of Argumenty Nedeli, Andrey Uglanov says that Kirill’s extraordinary activity has attracted attention from some who do not like to have their positions questioned, let alone challenged. And that has become Kirill’s “big problem.”

These “siloviki,” Uglanov says, have been offended by Kirill’s “anti-Stalinist and anti-Bolshevik actions,” including his appearance at the Solovetsky stone in Moscow’s Lubyanka Square on the very Day of the Memory of the Victims of Political Repression.

In this context, Hilarion’s visit to Rome takes on even more importance.

The Russian Orthodox Church is a power in Russia, but it faces opposition and needs allies.

What is occurring in Hilarion’s visit to Rome, then, may have ramifications not only for the overcoming of the “Great Schism,” but also for the cultural, religious and political future of Russia, and of Europe as a whole.

It is especially significant, in this context, that Hilarion, Kirill’s “Foreign Minister,” has some of the same deep interests as Benedict XVI: the liturgy, and music.

“As a 15-year-old boy I first entered the sanctuary of the Lord, the Holy of Holies of the Orthodox Church,” Hilarion once wrote about the Orthodox liturgy. “But it was only after my entrance into the altar that the ‘theourgia,’ the mystery, and ‘feast of faith’ began, which continues to this very day.

“After my ordination, I saw my destiny and main calling in serving the Divine Liturgy. Indeed, everything else, such as sermons, pastoral care and theological scholarship were centered around the main focal point of my life — the liturgy.”

Liturgy

These words seem to echo the feelings and experiences of Benedict XVI, who has written that the liturgies of Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday in Bavaria when he was a child were formative for his entire being, and that his writing on the liturgy (one of his books is entitled “Feast of Faith”) is the most important to him of all his scholarly endeavors.

“Orthodox divine services are a priceless treasure that we must carefully guard,” Hilarion has written. “I have had the opportunity to be present at both Protestant and Catholic services, which were, with rare exceptions, quite disappointing… Since the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, services in some Catholic churches have become little different from Protestant ones.”

Again, these words of Hilarion seem to echo Benedict XVI’s own concerns. The Pope has made it clear that he wishes to reform the Catholic Church’s liturgy, and preserve what was contained in the old liturgy and now risks being lost.

Hilarion has cited the Orthodox St. John of Kronstadt approvingly. St. John of Kronstadt wrote: “The Church and its divine services are an embodiment and realization of everything in Christianity… It is the divine wisdom, accessible to simple, loving hearts.”

These words echo words written by Cardinal Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, who often said that the liturgy is a “school” for the simple Christian, imparting the deep truths of the faith even to the unlearned through its prayers, gestures and hymns.

Hilarion in recent years has become known for his musical compositions, especially for Christmas and for Good Friday, celebrating the birth and the Passion of Jesus Christ. These works have been performed in Moscow and in the West, in Rome in March 2007 and in Washington DC in December 2007.

Closer relations between Rome and Moscow, then, could have profound implications also for the cultural and liturgical life of the Church in the West. There could be a renewal of Christian art and culture, as well as of faith.

All of this was at stake in the quiet meeting between Archbishop Hilarion and Benedict XVI on Friday afternoon, in the castle overlooking Lake Albano.

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