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

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Orthodox (non?)-ecclesiology, continued

It appears that Owen White, the Ochlophobist, had been composing his latest, and characteristically lengthy, contribution to this topic even as I had been composing and posting mine of yesterday. That leaves me a bit embarassed for closing that post by criticizing a different and weaker argument of his that he had posted in my combox. Here, I want to address what I now see as his real—or, at least, more interesting—argument. For reasons of both charity and self-interest, I won't make this post nearly as long as his. So I just want to focus on what I see as the heart of the matter.

First, he writes (emphasis added; paragraph broken up):

The spiritual ascesis Mike wants from the Orthodox is one in which we refrain from our "rejectionism" of various sorts, and develop our ecclesiology to the point where we can accept the above statements of Vat I (and the other RCC dogmas we have problems with) and state that there is nothing false found in them. In other words, Mike, as a good and devout RC, thinks that spiritual ascesis for the Orthodox will lead Orthodox to accept Roman Catholic dogma. The "radical spiritual ascesis" that Rome must undertake is what? They already think that they formally embrace all that is authentically Orthodox. Thus what can be meant here other than posturing[?]

Rome will promise not to exercise certain powers she believes she has. Rome will make formal statements against abuses in her own liturgy (which as we know, will accomplish little). Rome may even remove the filioque from her recitation of the Creed, but I assure, you, dear reader, that she will not relent from her dogmatic commitment to the filioque (thus while the filioque remains formally true, in their dogma, it is not practiced for reasons of Christian charity - absurd!). Rome's work, her "radical spiritual ascesis" is to posture herself in any way which will foster reunion without relenting a single Roman dogma. This is what Benedict XVI, Mike, and conservative Catholics on the whole intend. But couching this intent in language which suggests that we will go on a great spiritual journey together, finding our hope in a mutual development is flattery of the first order.

What they want of us is that we state that Vat I and other Roman innovations are not false. Thus our "development" is to develop into those with Roman Catholic dogma while still retaining Byzantine Rites and nomenclature. This is indeed their own formal teaching. They state that we lack nothing save our affirmation of certain Roman dogmas. Thus this "progress" so often spoken of is the progress of Rome and Orthodoxy coming to see Orthodoxy accept Roman dogma.

For reasons I needn't elaborate, it is flattering of Owen to call the ecumenical approach favored by the Pope, and myself, as "flattery of the first order." But I'm afraid that, in my case—the only case of which I can confidently speak—a distinction must be made between what I hope for and what I think it reasonable to seek directly.

I hope for what Owen says I do, because I believe Catholicism to be true in a way that does not contradict the positive affirmations of Orthodoxy. But I don't think that the cause of unity will be advanced by Catholics trying to argue Orthodox into that view. Human beings don't work that way. The cause of unity will indeed be better advanced in more spiritual ways. Owen doesn't think much of the ways I believe the Catholic Church could undertake from her side, but that is neither here nor there. What I think it reasonable to seek directly from the Orthodox side is greater clarity about its own ecclesiology. If such clarity were forthcoming, that would not necessarily improve the prospects for unity; for all I know, it might worsen them; for if the Athonites turn out to speak for Orthodoxy, then the prospects for reunion, at least on the collective level, are dim indeed. If Athonite ecclesiology truly is the ecclesiology of Orthodoxy, then the only thing left for the Catholic Church to do is die. Of course, for all I know, Orthodox ecclesiology could develop along lines similar to that which is manifest in Vatican II's teaching for Catholics. That would hold out more favorable prospects for collective reunion. But none of that is particularly germane to Owen's critique either. Owen's position is not only that Orthodoxy now lacks the ecclesiological clarity I think it reasonable to seek; he holds, in effect, that there is no objective reason for Orthodoxy even to develop such clarity.


I suppose someday I may write at length about Orthodox ecclesiology, but come to think of it I probably will not. Orthodoxy does not really have an ecclesiology in a formal, academic sense. Certain of our theologians, especially now Zizioulas, have written such, but in the end I think the Church takes such as suggested ways of conceiving things, not as theology proper (by theology proper I mean Orthodox theology proper - the manner in which we formally speak of Christ and what He has taught us, which takes place in the liturgy and its cosmic ripple effects). Zizioulas may help us grasp things ecclesial, but that grasp will remain provisional.... How do we define the Church? What are the categories? Blessed is the Kingdom.... my friend.

Mike wants "enough clarity about the meaning of the term ["the Church"] to give a clear, consensual, and consistent account of how the Roman and [Oriental Orthodox] communions relate to "the" Church, understood as the Eastern Orthodox communion."...

The Church, in a since, has no real need to know how those outside her relate to her - not because she is arrogantly triumphant, but because she is so dependent upon God's presence and grace herself that she has not the time or resources to devote to her relations with others. Her need is wholly for God. The widow of Nain has no defined relationships outside of her when her son is dead, she is nothing in this world. When her son is risen, her identity is connected to that of her risen son, or so her culture had it. When God hung dead on a tree, the icon of all reality, the triumph of the Church, what does it mean to be outside of Him who has died in obedience to the Father? God has died on a tree. What else means? Can anything else mean after that? There is only one meaningful relationship at that point, and it is Triune.

He is risen from the dead, and He proceeds to teach the pattern of the Cross in all things, on the road to Emmaus, telling of Jacob crossing his arms in the sign of the Cross as he blessed Ephraim and Manasseh, and on and on and on, the cruciform nature of the God who empties Himself in His saving of man. Christ taught the apostles, the apostles taught the fathers, the fathers teach the Church, the Church knows this hermeneutic of reality in her liturgy. Many Eastern Orthodox look at the Oriental Orthodox liturgy and think that the similarities suggest that we share the same hermeneutic, but this remains to be seen, and for it to be seen, literally seen (and heard, and touched, and felt, and smelled), the Oriental Orthodox would have to sing and pray and accept our prayers with regard to all 7 ecumenical councils as well as the prayers of the Church concerning Sts. Photius, and Gregory Palamas, and Mark of Ephesus. Most Orthodox do not look at the Roman Catholic liturgy and think that we share anything close to the same christocentric hermeneutic of reality.

The argument I can extract from that, to the extent there is an argument, is this: given how Christocentric and crucifiorm Eastern Orthodoxy is, there is no need or basis for EOs to get clearer about how "the" Church—understood as the EO communion—relates in the economy of salvation to other churches. If one becomes Christocentric and cruciform in the sort of way Eastern Orthodoxy is, then the notion that "the" Church would do well to commit herself to some doctrinal account of how she relates to other churches will melt into the irrelevance it deserves. Obversely, since the Roman liturgy just doesn't have that "christocentric hermeneutic of reality," it is quite understandable that the Catholics would, and do, go in for such a conceit. But the flattery motivated by such clarity is empty.

Frankly, I can't make any more of that argument than I could make of the argument of Owen's that I criticized yesterday. Catholicism too has its own tradition of cruciform spirituality; indeed, it could well be argued that Catholic piety and mysticism places more emphasis on the Cross, as distinct from the Resurrection, than Orthodoxy piety and mysticism does. When I attend Mass, virtually all I can think of Christ. He is constantly spoken of and celebrated; his Passion is made sacramentally present in the sacrifice of the Mass; his risen body is what I receive when I receive the sacred elements, so that I may be incorporated into both his Passion and his Resurrection. Such a liturgy, says Vatican II, is "the font and summit" of the Church's life. It is what enables the members of the Church to be transformed, individually and collectively, into Christ "for the world." If Owen does not find in that liturgy a sufficiently "christocentric hermeneutic of reality," that is because something extrinsic to the liturgy has prevented him from doing so. Like my solid bishop and like the Pope himself, I can assure him that it is there and that I experience it regularly. Yet we don't think it follows that there's no need for the kind of ecclesiological development that Vatican II exhibited. Indeed, and for reasons I've given already, the cause of that unity which is celebrated in the Eucharist could be promoted by such clarity.

I am getting the sense that theology is not the problem here. And I mean 'theology' not merely in the relatively academic sense that Catholics normally mean, but also in the more Orthodox sense, whereby theology is spirituality manifested through the intellect. I don't know what I'd call the problem, at least not at the moment. I can intuit it better than I can describe it. And I'm not motivated to describe it in words, because I cannot think of a charitable way to do so.
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