Archive for February, 2007

Great Lent is here

My posting might be a bit sparse during Lent. A blessed Clean Monday to my Eastern Christian readers, and a blessed Ash Wednesday to my Western Christian readers.

Superessential Trinity, adored in Unity, take from me the heavy yoke of sin, and in Thy compassion grant me tears of compunction. Mother of God, hope and intercessor of those who sing of thee, take from me the heavy yoke of sin, and as thou art our pure Lady, accept me who repent.” (Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete)


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The Pontificator has posted an interesting excerpt from Papal Primacy by Klaus Schatz, SJ.

“[T]he Church learns through the experience of schisms that it needs an enduring center of unity. But because the Church cannot ‘create’ its essential elements, but lives its life as a Church founded by Jesus and endowed with certain gifts and traditions, it cannot produce such a unity out of nothing. It must seek within its apostolic traditions for such a point of unity. An artificially created center of unity devised for practical purposes could, of course, have a certain usefulness as an administrative clearinghouse and center for arbitration of disputes, but in times of real crisis and when the faith is in danger there is no guarantee that the Church can maintain itself in truth purely by relying on such a manufactured office of unity. In effect, the Christian imperial throne from Constantine onward was such an ‘artificially manufactured,’ human devised center, and it is prime illustration of the problems involved. The Church must therefore seek within its own tradition to see whether it does not possess at least the elements of such a center. In the course of that search it discovers the Roman church, which has an advantage over all the other ‘apostolic’ churches in its ties to the beginning by the fact that it is associated with Peter and Paul, and therefore as a potentior principalitas.”

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2. The second principle of dogmatic hermeneutics concerns the rereading of the First Vatican Council in light of the whole tradition and the integration of that Council within this tradition as a whole. The texts of the First Vatican Council itself already pointed out this route. The introduction to the Dogmatic Constitution Pastor aeternus described it as the intention to interpret this teaching “secundum antiquam atque constantem universalis Ecclesiae fidem” and defend it against mistakes. Clear mention was made of the declarations of the previous Popes and of the preceding Councils. The First Vatican Council even appealed to the consensus between the Church in the East and the Church in the West. The Second Vatican Council reinforced especially this last point when it mentioned the legitimacy of the particular tradition of the Oriental Churches and recognized that they can rule themselves according to their own law.

Such indications express an important concept, valid for all Councils: the Church is the same in all centuries and in all Councils; this is why each Council is to be interpreted in the light of the whole tradition and of all the Councils. The Holy Spirit, Who guides the Church, particularly in its Councils, cannot contradict Himself. What was true in the first millennium cannot be untrue in the second. Therefore the older tradition should not be simply considered as a first phase of a further development. The other way round is also true: the later developments should be interpreted in the light of the wider older tradition. Therefore the First Vatican Council should be seen in the context of the older Councils. Thus the first millennium’s ecclesiology of communion, reaffirmed in its validity by the Second Vatican Council, constitutes the hermeneutical framework for the First Vatican Council.

In the meanwhile, especially after Cardinal Ratzinger’s conference in Graz, the normative importance of the first millennium has been widely recognized also in Catholic theology. But it is essential to understand it correctly. It is clear that it is not a question of simply going back to the first millennium or reverting to an “ecumenism of return.” Such a return to the first millennium is impossible, in any case, for historical reasons: divergent views already existed in the first millennium, and so it cannot offer us any miraculous solution. Moreover, significant developments have taken place in the second millennium not only in the Catholic Church but also within the Eastern Churches. Why should we suppose that the Spirit guided the Church only in the first millennium? And did not the first millennium already contain the foundations of what developed in the second, which is true of the Eastern tradition also?

Therefore today, at the dawn of the third millennium, we cannot turn back the clock of history; but we can interpret the different events of the second millennium in the light of the first one in order to open the door to the third millennium. The Second Vatican Council had already initiated the interpretation of the First Vatican Council within the wider horizon of communio ecclesiology.

A corresponding reception on the part of the Churches in the East has not happened so far. Such a reception would not imply a mechanical acceptance or a submission of the East to the Latin tradition: it would entail a lively and creative process of appropriation into one’s own tradition. This would enrich the tradition of the Eastern Church and give it a greater degree of unity and independence that is currently lacking. Also, the Latin tradition would be freed from the constraints in which it found itself in the second millennium. The Church as a whole – as the Pope has expressed many times – would start breathing with two lungs again. This implies that integrating the other tradition and vice versa could lead to different forms and expressions in the exercise of the Petrine ministry, as occurred in the first millennium and as occurs today in the Oriental Churches in full communion with Rome.

To be continued …

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The Catholic Church is dogmatically bound to the First and Second Vatican Councils, which she cannot give up; also the Orthodox Churches are de facto bound by their critique of, and opposition to, these dogmas. Rereading and re-reception are not an escamotage [slight of hand]. It means to interpret the teaching of the First Vatican Council on the primacy and infallibility of the Pope according to the “normal” and common rules of dogmatic hermeneutics. According to these rules, dogmas should be abided by in the sense in which the Church once declared them. But in the Catholic view, this does not imply an irrational and fundamentalist compliance with a formula. In fact, according to the First Vatican Council, faith and understanding belong together. Catholic teaching therefore recognizes a progressive deepening in the understanding of the truth that was revealed once and for all. There is a history of dogmas in the sense of a history of understanding and interpretation, and there are corresponding theological rules of interpretation. In this context, Ratzinger speaks of a rereading, Congar and others speak of a re-reception of the First Vatican Council.

The concept of reception, which has often been neglected in the past, is fundamental for Catholic theology, particularly for ecumenical theology and the hermeneutics of dogmas. Such reception and re-reception do not mean questioning the validity of the affirmations of a Council; rather, they mean its acceptance on the part of the ecclesial community. This is not a merely passive and mechanical acceptance; rather, it is a living and creative process of appropriation and is therefore concerned with interpretation …

1. A first rule for such a rereading and re-reception of the Petrine ministry is the integration of the concept of primacy in the whole context of ecclesiology. This rule was formulated by the First Vatican Council itself. It affirmed that the mysteries of faith are to be interpreted “e mysteriorum ipsorum nexu inter se,” that is, according to the internal context binding them together. The Second Vatican Council has expressed the same idea with the help of the doctrine of the hierarchy of truths. Therefore no dogma should be considered as isolated but should be interpreted taking into account the whole doctrine of the faith. Especially it should be interpreted on the basis, in the context, and in the light of the basic Catholic dogmas on Christology and the Holy Trinity.

This integration of the primacy had already been suggested by the First Vatican Council. The Council describes the meaning of primacy in the Proemium to the Constitution Pastor aeternus. It affirms that, according to God’s will, all faithful should be kept together in the Church through the bond of faith and love. It then mentions the famous quotation that is now at the basis of today’s ecumenical commitment, “ut omnes unum essent.” Finally, it refers to Bishop Cyprian: “ut episcopatus ipse unus et indivisus esset,” Peter was called to be “perpetuum utriusque unitatis principium ac visibile fundamentum.” An article recently published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith presents again this formulation in its fundamental importance for a theological interpretation of the juridical declarations on the doctrine of primacy. Thus, the unity of the Church is the raison d’etre and the context of interpretation of the Petrine ministry.

Because of the outbreak of the Franco-German War, the First Vatican Council was not able to proceed with the integreation of primacy into the whole ecclesiological context. This process remained uncompleted, since it only managed to define the primacy and infallibility of the Pope. This led later to unilateral and unbalanced interpretations. Nonetheless Vatican I had affirmed that the primacy does not cancel but confirms, strengthens, and defends the direct authority of the bishops. Pope Pius IX explicitly highlighted this when he confirmed the declaration of the German bishops against the dispatch of Bismarck. In this way, Pius IX defended himself against extreme interpretations and defended the position of the bishop as the ordinary pastor of his diocese. Even the formula considered scandalous in the ecumenical perspective, that the Pope is infallible “ex sese, non autem ex consensu Ecclesiae,” had already been interpreted during the Council by the speaker of the Doctrinal Commission in a purely juridical sense, in the sense that definitions did not require juridical ratification from a higher source, but, in theological terms, it is not a question of an infallibility that is separate from the faith of the Church.

The Second Vatican Council took up the question and took a second step towards the integration of primacy into the whole doctrine of the Church as well as into the whole collegiality of the episcopal ministry. This Council also reaffirmed the importance of the local Church, of the sacramental understanding of the episcopal ministry, and, above all, of the understanding of the Church as communio. This has revived synodal elements, especially at the level of synods and bishops’ conferences.

Nevertheless, the Second Vatican Council was not able to reconcile fully the new elements – which in reality correspond to the oldest tradition – with the statements of the First Vatican Council. Many issues have remained unconnected. Sometimes there is mention of the existence of two different ecclesiologies in the texts of the Council. This has led, since the Second Vatican Council, to a controversy on interpretation, to some degree continuing even today. In this sense, the Second Vatican Council, too, has remained an uncompleted Council. The integration of the Petrine ministry in the whole of ecclesiology, the relation between the universal and the local dimensions of the Church, the applicability of the principle of subsidiarity, and other questions raise theological and practical questions that have not yet been definitively resolved.

When one takes seriously that the Petrine ministry is constitutive within the Church and that all other ministries have to be in communion with it though they are not derived from it but have their own sacramental root, then a one-sided pyramidal conception of the Church is overcome and a communal one prevails, where the different institutions and ministries have their respective irreplaceable roles and are in an interplay with each other. Such a communal view, which makes room for the freedom of the Spirit, could result from a fuller reception of the Second Vatican Council.

To be continued . . .

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Eastern Catholic blogs?

Is anybody aware of any good Eastern Catholic blogs? They seem to be few and far in between.

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A quick reminder

If you leave comments on this blog which contain snide remarks directed at individuals, it does nothing for your argument, adds nothing to the discussion, and such comments will be deleted. I have deleted comments from posters on both sides, Orthodox and Catholic. Also, some of the comments lately have been a bit sarcastic. I have not deleted these, but I ask that in the future, that you think before you say it, and consider that the other commenters are fellow Christians.

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Dictatus Papae

Here’s a question for the Catholic readers of this blog: What is the status of the document Dictatus Papae, issued during the pontificate of Gregory VII? (See a translation of the text of the document here.) It is a document essential to the Catholic understanding of the Papacy? Does Benedict XVI, for instance, understand his primacy exactly as is expressed in Dictatus Papae? Using the distinction of the late John Paul II, does the papal doctrine of the Dictatus Papae belong to the essence of the Petrine ministry, or is it simply one of the ways in which this ministry has expressed itself in history (for better or for worse)?

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Paths and Polemics

Here’s a very interesting review of three apologetical books on the Papacy – two of them Orthodox (The Truth by Clark Carlton, and Two Paths by Michael Whelton) and one Catholic (On This Rock by Stephen Ray) – by Professor William J. Tighe (who has commented on this blog).

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An age-long anti-Roman prejudice has led some Orthodox canonists simply to deny the existence of [a universal] primacy in the past or the need for it in the present. But an objective study of the canonical tradition cannot fail to establish beyond any doubt that, along with local “centers of agreement” or primacies, the Church has also known a universal primacy . . .

It is impossible to deny that, even before the appearance of local primacies, the Church from the first days of her existence possessed an ecumenical center of unity and agreement. In the apostolic and the Judaeo-Christian period, it was the Church of Jerusalem, and later the Church of Rome – “presiding in agape,” according to St. Ignatius of Antioch. This formula and the definition of the universal primacy contained in it have been aptly analyzed by Fr Afanassieff and we need not repeat his argument here. Neither can we quote here all the testimonies of the Fathers and the Councils unanimously acknowledging Rome as the senior church and the center of ecumenical agreement.

It is only for the sake of biased polemics that one can ignore these testimonies, their consensus and significance. It has happened, however, that if Roman historians and theologians have always interpreted this evidence in juridical terms, thus falsifying its real meaning, their Orthodox opponents have systematically belittled the evidence itself. Orthodox theology is still awaiting a truly Orthodox evaluation of universal primacy in the first millennium of church history – an evaluation free from polemical or apologetic exaggerations.

From The Primacy of Peter: Essays in Ecclesiology and the Early Church, John Meyendorff, ed., pp. 163-164 (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1992)

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