"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Friday, November 02, 2007

Ever ancient, ever new...arguments: Part II

Yesterday I replied to a few criticisms of my position on faith and reason made by The Ochlophobist, Owen White. Today I want to take up his criticism of a typically Catholic approach to Orthodox-Catholic ecumenism that I share. I shall do so partly because the substance of his position is quite representative of Orthodox thinking on the topic, and yet partly because it is framed in a more moderate, fair-minded, and erudite fashion than is customary for such criticisms.

What Owen presents as his main point is one that I actually agree with. He gives contemporary, on-the-ground examples of what a reunified Church might look like, and concludes:

The purpose of this post is not to reflect on East/Orient relations. I simply use that issue as an example of how an actual ecumenical reunion with the Eastern Orthodox Church might occur. We should note that this means of reunion is slow and organic. There is no guarantee that the reunion will take place.

I agree with that because nothing which might be decreed at the highest ecclesiastical levels would have much practical effect without the kind of thing Owen talks about. One is, after all, reminded of the fates of the reunion councils of Lyons (1274) and Florence (1438-43). There must be an evolution of real human attitudes—one parish, one monastery, and one person at a time—before any official "reunion" would matter. And it is mainly at that level that my hope for reunion lies. It is by the intercession of the Mother of God, using the slow evolution of human attitudes as raw material and probably a crisis as a catalyst, that concrete reunion will occur if at all.

That said, however, I don't think Owen's criticism of professional Catholic-Orthodox ecumenism follows. Of course I agree with him about what's become of the WCC and the NCC, and about much of the spiritual consumerism that passes for ecumenism at the local level. In fact I often agree with Owen, and not just about those particular criticisms. But here's the problem (emphasis added):

Both Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism believe that the Church is undivided and that the manifestation of this undividedness is revealed in the icon of their own ecclesia. For Romans this is centered in the Petrine See and for Orthodox it is rooted in the unity of Orthodox faith, as evidenced in the theological and liturgical unity of our bishops...

The RCC has very specific ways in which it deals, theologically, with the Orthodox. We are a "true, particular Church" not in communion with the see of Rome, in their view. I have been engaged in arguments concerning that designation in the past and will not do so again here. The Orthodox liturgical texts make it quite clear that we believe that Rome has added to the deposit of faith. Orthodox have varied views with regard to the assurance we might have of grace in Roman sacraments. It is not my intention to debate that question either. Ask your bishop. What I wish to address is the question of RCC/EOC dialogue and ecumenism. In my opinion we should stop promoting dialogue as a means of accomplishing unity, unless we mean unity via conversion, or simply a desire to better know the other side. This dialogue is generally so infected with modernist sentiments and activist hyperactivity that it inevitably distorts both sides, and initiates a process in which both Churches must in a sense submit to an intellectual order that we then must presume is higher than the Church. Thus, through these modern forms of historical criticism and sociological and psychological theories we might be able to posture hints of reunion or a pattern of interaction which might facilitate reunion, etc. In doing this we make the Church the pawn of social sciences. This is not an honest means of reunion and it undermines the Church's own claims. For the EOC and RCC to reunite there must be a broad mutual recognition, from Pope and Patriarchs to Italian grandmothers and the lowliest of ochlophobes that we share the same faith. Such a recognition is not mutual. We Orthodox are often castigated by Catholics because we are the side that does not recognize the RCC as having an Orthodox faith. I haven written on this matter numerous times before and will not cover it again here.

I have argued before that for reunion to occur one of the two Churches must stop being who she is. Catholics deny this is the case for Orthodox, thinking as they do that they require much less from us than we would of them in order for reunion to occur. But accepting various Catholic dogmas as non-heretical, accepting the universal jurisdiction of the Pope, and accepting RCC praxis as Orthodox would change the whole ethos of the Orthodox Church, as we have seen in the cases of the eastern rite Catholics and to a lesser degree in those varied Western Rites more or less forced into the Roman Rite over the ages. I have been to score upon score of Catholic churches in my lifetime (including a number of eastern rites), and I have never there witnessed the icon of the Body of Christ that I have witnessed, time and time again, in various jurisdictions of Orthodoxy. I am only one person, but most Orthodox I know with experience in the RCC say the same thing. This is one reason virtually all Orthodox would demand things of Rome before they could accept Rome as Orthodox, and why those changes would have to be in place for some time, to settle as it were, before communion could be restored. But again, all of this is beside the point really. Such is not going to happen.

Hmmm. I happen to have read every document published in English by every Orthodox-Catholic theological conference that I'm aware of, and I just don't detect in them the sort of "modernism" and "Church of the social sciences" that Owen decries. And I say so as a Catholic who accepts Pope Pius X's condemnation of "Modernism" exactly a century ago, which many Catholics today would do well to read. So on that score, I just don't know what he's talking about. But that hardly matters, since the bottom line lies elsewhere.

The bottom line is actually the top line in the last paragraph of his that I quoted: "...for reunion to occur, one of the two Churches must stop being who she is." And that's because doing what Catholics see as the relatively little Orthodoxy would have to do to achieve reunion would "change the whole ethos of the Orthodox Church." And what's the evidence for that?

To judge from the terms in which Owen first discusses it, the evidence is what's happened with both "eastern rite Catholics and to a lesser degree in those Western rites more or less forced into the Roman Rite over the ages." Now, what's happened in the case of those "Western rites" is liturgical: over the ages, the Roman Rite has become the normative form of liturgical celebration even in those sectors, such as the Celtic Church or the Church of Milan, where another ancient yet more indigenous form had been the norm. Personally, I dislike that fact and would love to see a reversion; but as a purely practical matter, that is unlikely even if Rome gives broad permission for it; there's just been too much cultural homogenization in those sectors to permit much native interest in such a thing. But that is irrelevant for purposes of argument. What's relevant is what I take it Owen means in regard to Eastern-Catholic rites: viz., the degree to which their liturgies and disciplines have been "Latinized."

Now I've been to Russian-Catholic, Byzantine-Catholic, and Chaldean-Catholic liturgies, and I saw little evidence of "Latinization" in them. What I saw outwardly resembled the Greek- and Russian-Orthodox liturgies I've attended much more than the Roman Rite, whether Tridentine or Novus Ordo, and in the latter case whether vernacular or Latin editio typica. And those Eastern-Catholic churches were and are in communion with Rome. Certainly there have been cases when Eastern-Catholic liturgies have been unduly Latinized, and I decry that. Rome apparently does too, since she actually encourages the Eastern-Catholic churches to recover their ancient traditions. But none of that seems to matter in the end to most Orthodox. What matters, apparently, is not whether Rome does or does not enforce Latinization on any particular church at any particular time; what matters is that, given the universal jurisdiction of the papacy, she could do so at any time.

Now if the question of the "ethos" of Orthodoxy were allowed to hinge on that point, then despite Owen's denial immediately after the paragraphs I've quoted, the question really would boil down to one of "power" pure and simple. Yet, to give him credit, he doesn't really believe it does boil down to that. For him, the question is more basic and, to me, more interesting than that.


We should note that if we believe that the Orthodox Church is the Church in her fullness now as ever, then we must admit that the Papacy is not essential to the Church. If the Papacy is not essential to the Church then there is no theological need for the Pope to play any specific role. If, in the event of a reunion, the Church restored the Papacy to her ancient honor that would be a matter of canonical arbitration. There would be no need for it, even in the event of reunion. To say that the Papacy must have such an honor is to say that the Church lacks an essential office now, and she does not. It might be nice to have a Papacy. It might be useful to have a Papacy. It is not, from an Orthodox point of view, a needful thing to have a Papacy.

If the fear is that "the whole ethos of the Orthodox Church" would have to change in the event of reunion, so that the Orthodox communion would "cease to be what it is," the above seems to explain why. From that point of view, to admit that the papacy must have some substantively meaningful form of primacy in a reunited Church would be tantamount to admitting that the Orthodox Church is not "the Church in her fullness now as ever." But that is less a matter of "ethos" than of ecclesiology, and anything that would change in the ethos would only do so if necessitated by the change in ecclesiology, which in most cases it wouldn't be, at least from Rome's point of view. Of course it is easy to understand why such an ecclesiological concession would be unacceptable to Orthodox believers as such. Don't they think of the Orthodox communion as "the" Church, and thus as the Church of Christ in her fullness, just as the Catholic Church does regarding herself? And if they do, then why would they see any reason to believe that reunion with the Catholic Church would supply them with anything essential that they now lack?

All the same, I don't believe that, logically speaking, the matter must remain stuck there. If I'm right, here is the key to breaking the impasse.

As Owen well knows, the Catholic Church views the Orthodox churches as "true, particular churches" whose communion with one another is, nonetheless, not the universal Church in her fullness because it lacks communion with the Church of Rome. But what does Orthodoxy say about the Church of Rome? The general line is that Rome departed from Orthodoxy by arrogating to herself a degree of primacy she had not enjoyed in the once-unified Church, and then certifying by that alleged authority certain doctrines, chiefly the filioque, incompatible with the faith once professed in common. Some Orthodox say that the Church of Rome thus negated her own status as a true church, so that the Roman communion, otherwise known as "the Catholic Church," not only is not "the" Church but is not even, in any substantive sense, part of "the" Church. Such is the theological innovation manifest in the Cyrillian council of 1755's decree that Western Christians, even Catholics, seeking to become Orthodox must be rebaptized. And such remains the position of the monks of Mt. Athos; for that reason I shall call it "the Athonite ecclesiology" ('AE' for short). On AE, the Roman Communion is related to "the" Church in roughly the same way that, on Catholic ecclesiology, the Anglican Communion stands to "the" Church: a mere "ecclesial community," but no longer a true, particular church. Perry Robinson has even gone so far as to say that Rome was "the first Protestant church." But given its relatively recent vintage and, shall we say, flexibility of application, I think we can safely say that AE is not "essential" to Orthodoxy.

What's the alternative? Well, there really is no clear alternative one can identify as essential to Orthodoxy, in such wise as to rule out the idea that the schism is one "within" the Church rather than a matter of one ancient church leaving the Church. And herein lies the ecclesiological hope, at least from the Catholic standpoint. I shall first describe that standpoint and then raise a few questions which, from that standpoint, Orthodox would do well to consider.

From said standpoint, the Roman communion is indeed "the" Church, yet the Orthodox churches are properly parts of the Church that, sadly, have defied Peter and thus broken communion with the main body. Thus even as a communion of churches, they exist as church "ectopically" as it were: authentic, and properly parts of the Church, but deficient by maintaining distance from an indispensable principle of communion, namely Rome. The Catholic Church in turn, in which "the" Church of Christ is said to "subsist"—i.e. to exist as a perduring whole—is also impoverished by the fact that churches which are every bit as much church as the Church of Rome exist in only an ectopic relationship with her. Although she is not "deficient" in the sense of lacking some indispensable principle of communion, she is gravely wounded all the same by being unable, in concrete historical terms, to make fully and visibly manifest that unity of Christ's Church which she maintains in herself. (See the most recent CDF responsum on the subject.) And so, from the Catholic standpoint, the schism is one which is ultimately "within" the Church, in such wise that a substantial part of that Church fails to recognize something essential to that unity. That is the sense in which the Catholic Church affirms an "imperfect" communion with the Orthodox Church. The imperfection is caused by a degree of detachment, a "schism," between the whole and certain parts that properly belong to the whole. Such schisms occasionally occurred during the first millennium but were repaired out of a sense of duty to the Lord. The one that occurred at the start of the second millennium has never been repaired. But it ought to be. And from the Catholic standpoint, relatively little is needed to do so.

To be sure, that's not how most Orthodox see the matter; but my concern is how they could, self-consistently, come to see it. Try as I might and have, I have never been able to find anything in Orthodoxy that would rule out its eventually coming to see the schism as one within the Church, even on the premise that the Orthodox Church is the Church. Whether we're discussing the ecumenical councils of the first millennium as distinct from councils of disputed ecumenicity or merely local authority, or liturgical texts that are standard throughout Orthodoxy as distinct from those peculiar to this or that local tradition, I've never encountered anything which would begin to persuade me that Orthodoxy is committed to viewing the schism with Rome as something more than a dispute between two sectors of "the"Church whose differences arise more from historical and cultural exigencies than from irreformable doctrine. In other words, I can find nothing in Orthodoxy that would commit the Orthodox communion irrevocably to viewing Rome as anything worse than the primatial Orthodox church that's exercised her primacy imprudently for too long—any more than I can find anything in Catholicism committing the Catholic Church to viewing Orthodoxy as anything worse than a communion of local churches that, for a good while now, have got a few key issues wrong and thus have refused to maintain communion with the primatial see of the Church. So as far as I can tell, it remains possible, at least in principle, for Orthodoxy to reunite with Rome along the lines of the Ratzinger proposal of 1982, without abandoning the idea that the Orthodox Church is the Church. Rome would come to be viewed among the Orthodox churches as the first among Orthodox churches and, in that capacity, as having brought the rest along to recognizing that fullness of the truth which was the common patrimony all along.

What then of the fear, articulated by Owen, that reunion along such lines would change "the Orthodox ethos" to such an extent that Orthodoxy would "cease to be" what it is? Well, if one assumes that Orthodoxy's negation of Catholic distinctives is essential to Orthodoxy, then that fear is justified. But if I'm right about the ecclesiological issue, then that fear, though fully understandable, is ultimately unjustified because the negations are not irreformable. I've already supplied a negative argument for that claim: there's nothing in Orthodoxy to prevent the evolution of attitudes necessary for reunion along the lines of the Ratzinger proposal. But I also think there's positive evidence for it: the evolution of Eastern-Orthodox attitudes to the "Oriental Orthodox," i.e., those ancient churches which rejected, and continue to reject, Chalcedonian Christology.

I've always been puzzled by the fact that, for a good while now, most EOs are just fine with ecumenical outreach to the OOs, despite the fact that the latter reject that Chalcedonian Christology which Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism profess in common. Indeed, the things I hear EOs saying about their differences with the OOs are strikingly similar to what I hear Catholics saying about their differences with the EOs: the key theological issue is at bottom semantic, we really have so much in common that there's no need to maintain the schism, etc. The cynical, uncharitable interpretation of that fact would be that EOs don't consider such an important Christological divergence insuperably church-dividing among those agreed on the really key point, namely rejection of Rome's claim to primacy. But I reject that interpretation precisely because, being cynical and uncharitable, it is not of the Holy Spirit. I believe EOs are right to reach out ecumenically to the OOs. They are right to believe that the Christological issue is resolvable to the satisfaction of both sides. I also believe that Catholics are right to reach out ecumenically to EOs and that the filioque issue is resolvable to the satisfaction of both sides. My suggestion here is that the spirit of EO outreach to the OO churches not only should, but could, manifest itself in how they approach Catholicism.

Of course if Vatican I remains a "deal-breaker," as it is so often viewed among Orthodox, then the main problem will have been revealed as one about power not the doctrine of God. But I'm more inclined to agree with Owen that it's not about power, but about the legitimate desire to preserve what is good and true in one's own tradition. From that standpoint, Owen's concluding observations on ecumenism are more to the point and merit a response.

He says:

There is no use making a reunion deal if you are incapable of returning home and teaching the faithful exactly how it is that we recognize the RCC as Orthodox. Then you have only signed on paper something which has not been sealed by the Holy Spirit. But there is part of this whole ethos which goes even deeper.

There is something within Orthodoxy which disregards modern notions of human progress, in the sense of Babel and human attempts to seize the Divine on its own initiative. For Orthodox, salvation and grace manifest themselves in human lives through the recapitulation of that life with the life of Christ. We do not evolve from point A to point B in a linear sense of acquiring a greater level of spiritual power, with transitions (punctuated equilibrium, we might say) along the way. For Orthodox, salvation and grace is more akin to something we begin to wear, it is God's clothing us in his mercy. The icon of our life is rewritten as cruciform, as Christ. The question then, for us, is generally not "how to we get from point A to point B?" It is rather, "how are we to be clothed in God's mercy here?" This intuition on the part of Orthodox is quite frustrating for some.

That first paragraph is quite right. Reunion deals signed on paper are only "of the Holy Spirit" when the faithful, or at least a notable bloc of the faithful, are ready to accept them. Reception by the faithful does not make dogmas true, but it is certainly needed in order to see dogmas as true. (More technically: reception is a heuristic condition but not a constitutive condition on dogma.) And in the concrete, the faithful will only become ready in the manner Owen and I agree about. But the second paragraph illustrates what I've come to see as the main obstacle to the needed evolution of attitudes on the Orthodox side: needlessly dichotomous thinking.

Suppose everything he says about Orthodox spirituality in that paragraph is true. I especially like the bit about being "cruciform" and asking "how are we to be clothed in God's mercy here?" But how on earth does it follow that "we do not evolve from point A to point B" in a way that would constitute spiritual progress? Traditional Catholic spirituality, especially among the mystics of the Catholic tradition, is very cruciform. Just study St. Francis or his 20th-century spiritual son, St. Pio, both of whom had the stigmata. Indeed, Catholic spirituality in general is much more focused on the Passion than on the Resurrection; the most widely growing devotion in the Catholic Church today is to the Divine Mercy as manifest through St. Faustina. Yet the Catholic Church is both officially and concretely committed to ecumenism as a divine imperative, ecumenism with the Orthodox being the first and most important item on that agenda. In a church with such a strong tradition of cruciform spirituality, is such a commitment mere "Babel," mere "human initiative" in the grip of a false ideology of progress? Or could it not, just conceivably, be a participation in the wounds of Christ for the sake of that love and unity which he is in himself and which he prayed his Church would manifest? As a Catholic, I can only see it as the latter. I certainly can find no inconsistency. If Owen does find it, which he has by no means demonstrated, then he is mistaking the fatuity and self-absorption of some professional ecumenists with the heart of the Catholic Church.

This false dichotomy between cruciform spirituality on the one hand and collective spiritual progress on the other is but one more manifestation of an attitude I often find among Orthodox and, sadly, a good many tradition-minded Catholics as well. It manifests itself in every other area of theology, and I've often argued against it, especially in my posts on the filioque and the development of doctrine. It is that attitude, more than any other, which will have to change if reunion is to become concretely, as distinct from theoretically, possible.
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