Archive for March, 2007

Short Hiatus

This blog will be closed (no new posts, or comments) until Pascha. A blessed Great and Holy Week to all!

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… I desire you therefore, in the first place, to hold fast this as the fundamental principle in the present discussion, that our Lord Jesus Christ has appointed to us a “light yoke” and an “easy burden,” as He declares in the Gospel (Matthew 11:30): in accordance with which He has bound His people under the new dispensation together in fellowship by sacraments, which are in number very few, in observance most easy, and in significance most excellent, as baptism solemnized in the name of the Trinity, the communion of His body and blood, and such other things as are prescribed in the canonical Scriptures, with the exception of those enactments which were a yoke of bondage to God’s ancient people, suited to their state of heart and to the times of the prophets, and which are found in the five books of Moses. As to those other things which we hold on the authority, not of Scripture, but of tradition, and which are observed throughout the whole world, it may be understood that they are held as approved and instituted either by the apostles themselves, or by plenary Councils, whose authority in the Church is most useful, e.g. the annual commemoration, by special solemnities, of the Lord’s passion, resurrection, and ascension, and of the descent of the Holy Spirit from heaven, and whatever else is in like manner observed by the whole Church wherever it has been established.

… There are other things, however, which are different in different places and countries: e.g., some fast on Saturday, others do not; some partake daily of the body and blood of Christ, others receive it on stated days: in some places no day passes without the sacrifice being offered; in others it is only on Saturday and the Lord’s day, or it may be only on the Lord’s day. In regard to these and all other variable observances which may be met anywhere, one is at liberty to comply with them or not as he chooses; and there is no better rule for the wise and serious Christian in this matter, than to conform to the practice which he finds prevailing in the Church to which it may be his lot to come. For such a custom, if it is clearly not contrary to the faith nor to sound morality, is to be held as a thing indifferent, and ought to be observed for the sake of fellowship with those among whom we live …

… For often have I perceived, with extreme sorrow, many disquietudes caused to weak brethren by the contentious pertinacity or superstitious vacillation of some who, in matters of this kind, which do not admit of final decision by the authority of Holy Scripture, or by the tradition of the universal Church or by their manifest good influence on manners raise questions, it may be, from some crotchet of their own, or from attachment to the custom followed in one’s own country, or from preference for that which one has seen abroad, supposing that wisdom is increased in proportion to the distance to which men travel from home, and agitate these questions with such keenness, that they think all is wrong except what they do themselves …

… Let every man, therefore, conform himself to the usage prevailing in the Church to which he may come. For none of these methods is contrary to the Christian faith or the interests of morality, as favoured by the adoption of one custom more than the other. If this were the case, that either the faith or sound morality were at stake, it would be necessary either to change what was done amiss, or to appoint the doing of what had been neglected. But mere change of custom, even though it may be of advantage in some respects, unsettles men by reason of the novelty: therefore, if it brings no advantage, it does much harm by unprofitably disturbing the Church._

– Saint Augustine of Hippo, Replies to Questions of Januarius 


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True Christian faith is taught by the bishops of the Church, in particular the bishop of Rome, in other words the Pope: it is public and unique, not intellectual in it’s nature in so far as it is inspired by the Holy Spirit and destined for all people.  The principles of the Apostolic tradition and the transmission of faith were addressed by Benedict XVI today in his catechesis to over 30 thousand pilgrims gathered in St Peter’s square for the weekly general audience, under a sun dappled sky.

Continuing in the catechesis on the Church Fathers from the first centuries, today the Pope spoke of Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, probably born in Izmir Turkey between 135 and 140, a follower of bishop Policarp, disciple of John, who went on to become the bishop of the French city where he died between  202 and 203, perhaps by martyrdom.

“As a writer –said Benedict XVI – he had the twin aim of defending true doctrine from heretical attacks and of exposing with great clarity the truth of faith”.  His works “can be defined as a most ancient Catechism”. At a time when the Church was threatened by Gnostic doctrine according to which “ the Church’s teachings of faith were merely symbolic for the simple incapable of true comprehension”, while the initiated were the only ones capable of understanding the meaning behind those symbols.  But “in this way a Christianity for the elite, the intelligencia was being formed”, which risked diversifying itself into many different schools of thought with “strange curios yet attractive elements”.

A common element among the diverse Gnostic sects was their Dualism: The oneness of God was denied while the theory of evil caused by material wealth was counter posed to the idea of a kind God.  Irenaeus contrasted the Gnostic pessimism which depreciated material reality.   But his work “goes well beyond his confutation of heresy”.   In the Popes description he is “ the first great Theologian who created systematic theology”, at the centre of which emerges the question of the “rule of faith ”, as well as it’s transmission. “The rule coincides with the apostles’ creed and gives us the key to interpreting the Gospel” “how it must be read”.

The Gospel Irenaeus preached was the Gospel preached by his teacher Polycarp, who in turn received it from the Apostle John in an unbroken line of succession going back to Christ himself” and that this faith was taught “simply” but at the same time with great “depth”. “There is no secret doctrine, a superior Christianity for intellectuals, does not exist”, the faith which is taught is faith for everybody, publicly transmitted by the apostles to their successors the bishops.  Among these the teachings of the Church in Rome must be considered above all, as it traces its roots to the apostles Peter and Paul.  All other Churches must agree themselves to it.

“In this teaching –underlined Benedict XVI – the theory that intellectuals posses a superior faith to the one taught by the Church is contested”; faith “is not a privilege of the few”, but anyone can pertain to reaching it through the teachings of the bishops, in particular the bishop of Rome.

The Pope affirmed, this is where the genuine concept of tradition, which is not traditionalization, comes from, and which has three essential characteristics.  First “it is “public”, because it is available to all through the teaching of the Bishops; to know the true doctrine it is enough to know the faith as taught by the bishops successors.

Secondly , the apostolic tradition “is “one”, because its content remains the same despite the variety of languages and cultures;”.  Benedict XVI here recalled some of the excerpts from Irenaeus book on heresies when he says “even though the Church is disseminated throughout the world, it holds the faith of the apostles as if it were one single home, spoken with one single tongue”.

And finally the apostolic tradition is, in the Greek word “pneumatic”, because, through it, the Holy Spirit continues to enliven and renew the Church even today”. “It is not a case of the transmission of faith being entrusted to men who are more or less capable, but it is the Spirit of God who guarantees the truth of faith”. At the same time this also guarantees a “freshness” of the Church.  In short “a precious deposit, held within a valuable vase, which renews itself continuously also renewing the vase which contains it.”

Source: Asia News

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Hope against hope

Rome must reckon … with the probable continuance and even accentuation, within Orthodoxy, of a vigorous ecclesiastical nationalism, and, from her viewpoint, little seems more depressing … Until those attitudes are purified, and replaced by an inter-nationalism, a catholicity, better befitting the pattern of the Christian koinonia, there can be no place within Orthodoxy for a Roman see embodying the universal pastorate of Peter and the apostolate to the Gentiles of Paul.

Rome looks at this important aspect of contemporary Orthodoxy with such dismay because she not only desires but needs reunion with the Orthodox East. In the face of her own numerous theological liberals and the innovationist tendencies of churchmen (and churchwomen) in various portions of her far-flung ‘Western’ patriarchate, from Santiago de Chile to Manila, from Melbourne to Detroit, Catholicism’s grasp of the historic Christian tradition can only be strengthened by the accession of Orthodoxy to communion with Rome.

In such matters as: the upholding of the transcendentality of revelation vis-à-vis human understanding, the defence of the Trinitarian and Christological doctrine of the first Seven Councils, a perception of the nature of salvation as more than temporal alone, the maintenance of a classical liturgical life, the nourishment of group and personal devotion to Mary and the saints, the preservation of the threefold apostolic ministry of bishops, presbyters, and deacons (in that same gender in which the incarnate Word exercised his own high priesthood), the encouragement of the consecrated life, especially in its most basic form, monasticism, and the preservation of the ascetic dimension in spirituality – in all of these the present struggle of the Papacy to uphold Catholic faith and practice in a worldwide communion exposed to a variety of intellectual and cultural influences often baleful, if sometimes also beneficient, can only benefit from Orthodox aid.

The energies of authentic Catholicism can only be increased by the inflow of Orthodox faith and holiness: the precious liquid contained within the not seldom unattractive phial of Orthodoxy’s canonical form. Can this greatest of all ecclesiastical reunions can be brought off? The auguries are not good, yet the Christian lives from hope in the unseen.

– Aidan Nichols, OP

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Here’s a brief but fascinating account of the life of Blessed Leonid Fedorov, hieromartyr and advocate for Christian unity (from Saint Joseph de Clairval Abbey, Flavigny). Another account can be found here (from the Australian Catholic periodical AD 2000). An akathist hymn and a supplicatory canon have been written, so that the faithful may invoke his intercession. And then there’s the beautiful prayer for Christian unity composed by Blessed Leonid himself:

O Merciful Lord Jesus, Our Savior, hear the prayers and petitions of Your unworthy sinful servants who humbly call upon You and make us all to be one in Your one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Flood our souls with Your unquenchable light. Put an end to religious disagreements, and grant that we Your disciples and Your beloved children may all worship You with a single heart and voice. Fulfill quickly, O grace-giving Lord, your promise that there shall be one flock and one Divine Shepherd of Your Church; and may we be made worthy to glorify Your Holy Name now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

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Thou art Kepho

Thanks to the miracle of Google Books, I found the following fascinating volume:

The Traditions of the Syriac Church of Antioch Concerning the Primacy and Prerogatives of Saint Peter and of His Successors the Roman Pontiff, by the Most Reverend Cyril Behnam Benni (London: Burns, Oates & Co, 1871).

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See Part I and Part II.

3. We come now to a third hermeneutical principle: the historical interpretation. As is the case for all dogmas, so also for the First Vatican Council it is fundamental to make a distinction between the unchangeable binding content and the changeable historical forms. This principle was clearly expressed by the Second Vatican Council: “The deposit and the truths of faith are one thing, the manner of expressing them is quite another” [Gaudium et spes, 62]. Hence it would be wrong to take the formulations of the First Vatican Council as the only possible way of expressing what the Petrine ministry concretely means and what is permanently binding in it.

The Fathers of the First Vatican Council experienced specific historical conditions that led them to formulate things the way they did. The Council majority saw the Church besieged from all sides and in an almost apocalyptic situation. They were traumatized by the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the absolutism of modern states, by Gallicanism and Episcopalism, and wanted to make sure that the Church would remain capable of action even in extreme situations. This is why they reverted to the modern idea of sovereignty: they defined the primacy of the Pope in terms of an absolute sovereignty, in such a way that he could act even if he were to be prevented from communicating with the Church. Their statements on primacy were especially conceived for extreme and exceptional situations.

The understanding of the primacy in the sense of sovereignty does not mean – even according to the First Vatican Council – that the Pope’s power is unlimited. It is limited in several ways: by revelation itself and by the binding tradition, by the sacramental structure and the episcopal constitution of the Church, and by human rights given by God. Therefore the problem is not the dogma of the First Vatican Council itself but its maximalist interpretation both by its Ultramontane advocates and by its critics. This has turned what was considered an exceptional situation into a normal one. The exceptional case has been, so to say, stretched in time and made permanent. Therefore we should agree with Cardinal Ratzinger when he says that the centralized image given by the Church until the Council did not stem directly from the Petrine ministry. The uniform canon law, the uniform liturgy, and designation of episcopal chairs by the central power in Rome – all these are elements that do not necessarily belong to the primacy as such.

If we separate the declarations on the primacy of jurisdiction from their historical forms, then we find their binding essential meaning, that the Pope is free to act according to the specific and changing necessity of the Church. The primacy should therefore be interpreted in the light of the needs of the Church and applied accordingly. In this sense, Pope John Paul II, in Ut unum sint, speaks of the need to find ways of exercizing the primacy according to the new ecumenical situation of today.

4. A fourth and last hermeneutical principle is the interpretation of the Petrine ministry in the light of the gospel. The importance of this principle has been highlighted especially in the dialogue with the Lutherans, but also Catholics agree on its significance. Real value in the Church belongs to what has its foundation in the gospel and not to what is only a human invention.

In this sense, the Catholic Church is convinced that the primacy is founded in the testimony of the Bible and ultimately in Jesus Christ himself. Mention should be made not only of the well-known Petrine references in the New Testament (especially in Matt. 16:18f; Luke 2:32; John 21:15-17) but also of the fact that Jesus gave Simon the name Kephas (John 1:42), meaning “rock,” thereby explaining his function in the Church. Furthermore, mention should be made of the privileged role of Peter among the twelve as their spokesman and representative, and his role as leader of the early community in Jerusalem, as well as the entire Petrine tradition in the Bible (especially 1 and 2 Peter) which goes beyond the earthly existence of Peter, extending into the postapostolic and postbiblical era and tradition.

While it is true that historical interpretation of the Bible provides a firm basis, historical interpretation alone does not provide the ultimate foundation for our belief. In its original meaning, the gospel is not a book but the message witnessed in the Bible and, in the power of the Spirit, also proclaimed and believed in the Church. Therefore the Bible witness cannot be cut off from this witness of the living Church tradition. Thus today a purely historical understanding of the gospel, which looks only for the exact historical meaning of the words of the so-called historical Jesus, is obsolete. Historical exegesis is certainly legitimate, helpful, and fundamental, but theological debate cannot be in a narrow sense biblistic and should not separate the Scriptures from the living tradition. It should take into account both Scriptures and tradition, employing a spiritual and theological hermeneutics.

In this sense, the faithfulness of the community of Rome despite persecution and the confrontation with Gnosticism, its steadfastness against Marcion, and its contribution to the final establishment of the biblical canon, together with the role of its bishops, who very early took over responsibility for the unity of the Church beyond the Roman community, were all factors that convinced the early Church that in the church of Rome and in its bishop the promises given to Peter are realized and still at work. And so, from the third and fourth century on, the Church referred to the biblical witness, which is given especially in Matt. 16:18.

However, such a historical and, at the same time, spiritual interpretation entails not only finding the formal biblical foundation of the Petrine ministry but also highlighting its meaning and exercise according to the Gospel, that is, its interpretation not in the sense of power but in the sense of service. Indeed, the Gospel says: “Whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave” (Matt. 20:27). This aspect is reflected in the expression servus servorum Dei used by Pope Gregory the Great.

Pope John Paul II has emphasized this dimension anew. He has referred to the martyr bishop Ignatius of Antioch, who described the primacy of Rome as the “primacy of love.” Thus, the Pope himself has given an important indication for a new interpretation of primacy inspired by the gospel. His interpretation is not a jurisdictional one based on the idea of sovereignty; it is a spiritual one based on the idea of service – a service to unity, a service and sign of mercy and love [Ut unum sint, 88-93].

This closer reference to the Bible has brought it about that the commonly employed language now substitutes, for the expressions papal ministry and papacy, the terms Petrine ministry and Petrine service. This linguistic change is quite telling. It seeks to give the papacy – developed throughout history and in part also burdened by history – a new interpretation and reception in the light of the gospel, not renouncing its essential nature but setting it in a new, wider spiritual understanding on the theoretical as well as on the practical level. The Petrine ministry is episkope; that is, it is a pastoral service following the example of Jesus the good shepherd, who gives his life for his flock (John 10:11). In this sense Peter admonishes his fellow elders: “Tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it – not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock” (I Pet. 5:2-4).

In this sense we can say that the Petrine ministry should be interpreted theologically as episkope. Such an interpretation of the juridical formulations would correspond to the intentions expressed in the Proemium of the First Vatican Council, taken up also by the Second Vatican Council. Pope John Paul made reference to this interpretation in Ut unum sint, placing such juridical formulations in a biblical and theological context. This could constitute an ecumenically useful approach.

Such a pastoral understanding of episkope does not exclude authority in the biblical sense of exousia, a primacy of jurisdiction and a pastoral primacy cannot be mutually substituted or places in opposition, as some theologians propose. For pastoral responsibility without the means to carry it out would be void and would not help the Church in the urgent situations in which she would most need it. Rather, the question is now the service of episkope in the spirit of the gospel can be carried out with exousia. This question concerns, in different ways, both our ecclesiological traditions.

In conclusion, I would say that with the help of such an interpretation in the light of the four hermeneutical principles outlined above, it is possible to uphold the binding and unchangeable essence of the Petrine ministry and, at the same time, open and explore a pathway and prepare a new spiritual reception in our own Church that – as we hope – can facilitate a broader ecumenical reception as well. My hope is that, as was the case in the first millennium, the Petrine ministry may take a form that, although differently exercised in the East and in the West, could be recognized both by the East and by the West within a unity in diversity and a diversity in unity. I have no illusions. I am aware that the path ahead, on the basis of human measures, may yet be long. But I still hope that when we patiently and at the same time courageously do what we can do, God’s Spirit will help and accompany us to reach what He has in mind for the full visible unity of the Church.

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