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

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Ecumenism: alive and well

First, this, with hat tip to The Continuum:

The College of Bishops of the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC) met in Plenary Session in Portsmouth, England, in the first week of October 2007. The Bishops and Vicars-General unanimously agreed to the text of a letter to the See of Rome seeking full, corporate, sacramental union. The letter was signed solemnly by all the College and entrusted to the Primate and two bishops chosen by the College to be presented to the Holy See.

The letter was cordially received at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Primate of the TAC has agreed that no member of the College will give interviews until the Holy See has considered the letter and responded.

+ John

And of course this, on the new meeting of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox :

On the first day of the meeting, as is customary in this commission, the Roman Catholic and Orthodox members met separately to coordinate their work. At the Orthodox meeting, the delegate of the Moscow Patriarchate presented a decision of that Church to withdraw from the meeting because of the presence of delegates from the Church of Estonia, declared “autonomous” by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, a status not recognized by the Patriarchate of Moscow, and in spite of the fact that the Ecumenical Patriarchate with the agreement of all the Orthodox members offered a compromise that would have acknowledged the Moscow Patriarchate’s non-recognition of the Autonomous Church of Estonia.

The theme for the next plenary session will be: “The role of the Bishop of Rome in the communion of the Church in the first millennium.”

The place and time for the next Coordinating Committee will be decided at a later date.

The 10th plenary session ended with prayer. On Saturday, Oct. 13, the Catholic members celebrated the Eucharist in the Cathedral of Ravenna, in the presence of the Orthodox members. On Sunday, Oct. 14, the Orthodox members celebrated the Divine Liturgy in the Basilica of St. Vitalis, in the presence of the Catholic members. On both of these occasions the Archbishop of Ravenna and members of the clergy and laity of Ravenna attended.

Hat tip to Cathedra Unitatis.

Both events warrant cautious optimism. Before the Parousia, we probably won't see full, institutional reunion between Anglicanism as a whole and Rome or between Orthodoxy as a whole and Rome. The Anglicans are slowly breaking up anyhow, and the Orthodox have never been unified in a juridical sense. But these current events are not mere show, mere "making nice" to satisfy a rather narrow circle of professional ecumenists unknown to most church members. TAC is serious about crossing the Tiber, and the Orthodox panel is headed by Metropolitan Ioannis Zizioulas, noted theologian and friend of Joseph Ratzinger. Zizioulas is actually willing to discuss with Rome the question what primacy is, instead of hurling the usual nostrums about what primacy is not and citing Vatican I as a deal-breaker.

Of course the usual suspects are making themselves heard. About the TAC letter, one reader has already snorted: "Rome never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity," as indeed she has done before with traditional Anglicans. Since Rome rightly refuses to recognize the Anglican Communion as one of "true, particular churches," the hangup seems to be mostly about the validity of Anglican orders. As a practical matter, that means Rome would probably require conditional re-ordination of most TAC clergy admitted to full communion. It is not clear yet how that will go down with TAC clergy; but it seems to me that if they've already petitioned Rome for full communion, it would be rather silly of them to reject Rome's position on orders.

The Orthodox are another matter, but at least with them we resume on a firmer footing. Since Rome already recognizes the Orthodox communion as one of true, particular churches, there can be no question of conditional re-ordination following on full communion, which the Orthodox are far from officially seeking anyhow. Yet, in a move of a kind all too familiar, the Russian Orthodox have already stalked out of the current meeting in a dispute with the Ecumenical Patriarch about jurisdiction over the Orthodox Church of Estonia. Apparently, talking theology with the Catholics is considered even more pointless than usual when an intra-Orthodox power struggle is unresolved. And there's always some such struggle, somewhere in the Orthodox world, that's unresolved.

But there is hope nonetheless, and action motivated by such hope. Constantinople and Athens remain closely involved in the current panel discussions. My optimism about the Orthodox stems from the fact that they have held no council, of a kind even they would consider ecumenical, committing Orthodoxy dogmatically to rejecting the Roman communion as one of true, particular churches. There seem to be many Orthodox who take the view that "we know where the Church is, but we don't know where she isn't." Not all Orthodox take the view of the Athonites that popery is a diabolical scourge of Christendom and that Rome doesn't even have a canonical bishop. That actually allows many Orthodox to consider the Latin Church a church with true sacraments, even if she's gone off the rails somewhat about doctrine. Imagine that. But what, realistically, could talks on primacy yield?

Taking their cue from the generation-old Ratzinger proposal made in his book Principles of Catholic Theology, some Eastern Catholics seem to take the view that Vatican I's decrees about papal authority would hold only in the West, not in the East, within a reunited Church. That's a non-starter. If the pope is what Vatican I says he is, then he is that in the East as well as the West. The Orthodox should not expect Rome to retract anything she considers dogma any more than Rome should, or does, expect the Orthodox to retract anything they consider dogma. The real room for compromise is on the level of the exercise of jurisdiction. And that's where theology can help.

The compromise might look like this: to end the schism, the Orthodox patriarchs would defer to Rome on matters not resolved otherwise, and Rome would confine her interventions in those patriarchates to matters not resolved otherwise. The theoretical basis for such an arrangement exists in nuce in the work of Ratzinger on communio and of Zizioulas on eucharistic ecclesiology. I for one believe this is how one aspect of the Ratzinger proposal can be worked out: the one where he says that Rome can require no more of the East than was "held in common during the first millennium." To be sure, views about what was thus held in common diverge, and often diverge sharply. Getting agreement on the point will require consensus about what general form the development of doctrine may take. I think that's where the hard work remains to be done. But it's far from hopeless. I've encountered a good number of Orthodox authors who, while averse to the phrase "development of doctrine" as smacking of addition to the faith-once-delivered, admit what amounts to development in a sense not irreconcilably different from what Newman and Vatican II meant.

In the final analysis, however, such theoretical considerations are instrumental not fundamental. The fundamental work is at the level of will. Something has to happen to motivate rejectionists on both sides to make the necessary compromises possible. I think that will happen, and I suspect it will somehow involve the direct, universally acknowledged intervention of the Mother of God.
blog comments powered by Disqus