Archive for April, 2007

Father Kimel of Pontifications has alerted me to the following blog articles which provide a rather different Orthodox perspective on the alleged chasm between Greek and Latin understandings of sin and salvation. I doubt that the author, Ephrem Bensusan, a conservative Eastern Orthodox, can be accused of being a “latinophile” or “crypto-Catholic”, although apparently he does not think that Orthodox can so easily dismiss or disqualify theologians or theological statements (especially conciliar ones) on the basis that they are from the “Western captivity” of Orthodox theology in the modern period. I’m sure that there is a real basis to the “pseudomorphosis” argument as proposed by Florovsky; however, in popular (mostly American convert) Eastern Orthodox discourse (e.g. the “Frederica” school of American Orthodoxy), this narrative has become horribly overblown.

Anyhow, without any further ado, here are the articles from Ephrem Bensusan’s Razilazenje:

And on the related topic of the contemporary Orthodox dismissal of the seventeenth century Orthodox confessional statements under the suspicion of “Western captivity”, here’s Bensusan’s take.


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You should understand that the head of the Apostles was Saint Peter, to whom Christ said, “You are the rock; and on this rock I shall build my church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it.” After his resurrection, he also said to him three times, while on the shore of the sea of Tiberius, “Simon, do you love me? Feed my lambs, rams and ewes.” In another passage, he said to him, “Simon, Satan will ask to sift you like wheat, and I prayed that you not lose your faith; but you, at that time, have compassion on your brethren and strengthen them.” Do you not see that Saint Peter is the foundation of the Church, selected to shepherd it, that those who believe in his faith will never lose their faith, and that he was ordered to have compassion on his brethren and to strengthen them?

As for Christ’s words, “I have prayed for you, that you not lose your faith; but you, have compassion on your brethren, at that time, and strengthen them”, we do not think that he meant Saint Peter himself. Rather, he meant nothing more than the holders of the seat of Saint Peter, that is, Rome. Just as when he said to the apostles, “I am with you always, until the end of the age”, he did not mean just the apostles themselves, but also those who would be in charge of their seats and their flocks; in the same way, when he spoke his last words to Saint Peter, “Have compassion, at that time, and strengthen your brethren; and your faith will not be lost”, he meant by this nothing other than the holders of his seat.

Yet another indication of this is the fact that among the Apostles it was Saint Peter alone who lost his faith and denied Christ, which Christ may have allowed to happen to Peter so as to teach us that it was not Peter that he meant by these words. Moreover, we know of no Apostle who fell and needed Saint Peter to strengthen him. If someone says that Christ meant by these words only Saint Peter himself, this person causes the Church to lack someone to strengthen it after the death of Saint Peter. How could this happen, especially when we see all the sifting of the Church that came from Satan after the Apostles’ death? All of this indicates that Christ did not mean them by these words. Indeed, everyone knows that the heretics attacked the Church only after the death of the Apostles – Paul of Samosata, Arius, Macedonius, Eunomius, Sabelllius, Apollinaris, Origen, and others. If he meant by these words in the Gospel only Saint Peter, the Church would have been deprived of comfort and would have had no one to deliver her from those heretics, whose heresies are truly “the gates of hell”, which Christ said would not overcome the Church. Accordingly, there is no doubt that he meant by these words nothing other than the holders of the seat of Saint Peter, who have continually strengthened their brethren and will not cease to do so as long as this present age lasts.

– From On the Councils by Theodore Abu Qurrah, Bishop of Haran, Syria (+820)


As for us, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, our sole goal is to build ourselves on the foundation of Saint Peter, he who directed the six holy councils. These councils were gathered by command of the Bishop of Rome, the city of the world. Whoever sits on that city’s throne is authorized by Christ to have compassion on the people of the Church, by summoning the ecumenical council, and to strengthen them, even as we have demonstrated in other places. We ask Christ to confirm us in this forever, that we might inherit through it his kingdom, in that we have joined with it the doing of his commandments. To him be praise, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, forever and forever.

– From On the Death of Christ by the same author

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Michael Joseph at Evangelical Catholicism has posted a detailed account of the rather chaotic process by which the First Vatican Council arrived at its decision concerning papal infallibility. Many thanks to Michael for making his excellent research available! The article is in six parts:

I look forward to reading the entire paper … but sometimes I like to cheat and read conclusions first. If you’re like me, here’s Michael’s conclusion:

What becomes apparent from such a survey of the infallibility controversy of the First Vatican Council is the impact of the Minority upon the final adopted decree, Pastor aeternus. From the onset, those bishops that fought vehemently for the definition of papal infallibility were concerned with a theoretical, dogmatic pronouncement that focused upon the precise locus of infallibility within the Church. Such is the case with Manning, whose arguments stemmed from a juridical and ideological mindset rather than from a practical or historical consciousness. However, the greatest of Minority speakers pointed to the historical difficulties surrounding the definition, and forced the Council Fathers to adapt the schema to fit within the concrete, historical actions of the Church. While many of the Minority left the Council in what they perceived to be defeat, they truly succeeded in forcing the Council to consider historical facts in its formulation of doctrine, naturally distilling the forceful doctrine of the Ultramontanes. Even Newman realized this Providential effect: “Pius has been overruled—I believe he wished a much more stringent dogma than he has got. Let us have faith and patience.” Faith and patience would indeed be necessary for those bishops haunted by the Council; the Church would not again official take up the matter of papal authority until the Second Vatican Council, ninety-two years later.

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“Alongside his many Letters, speeches, homilies, travels and symbolic gestures dealing with the Christian East, the late Pope John Paul II gave a series of Angelus addresses in which he explicitly invokes the East and its irreplaceable gifts to the Universal Church. Here are some excerpts from these papal messages.”

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In addition to Pontifications, Michael Liccione’s blog Sacramentum Vitae is another fantastic resource for those looking for an intelligent Roman Catholic take on Eastern Orthodoxy, and for substantive combox debate on some of the central issues dividing Orthodoxy and Catholicism.

Posts on the Theology of God

Posts on the Development of Doctrine

Posts on Ecclesiology

Posts on Miscellaneous Topics

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I’m sure that the entire Catholic blogosphere breathed a collective sigh of relief when Father Alvin Kimel’s Pontifications came back online after it was hacked. I have always found Pontifications to be an immensely informative blog (both the posts themselves as well as many of the comments, both Orthodox and Catholic). I’m currently going through the archives to glean everything that has been posted relevant to Catholic-Orthodox issues. I thought that I would produce a handy index here (please let me know if I have omitted any important posts):

Posts on East and West in General

Posts on the Theology of God

Posts on Ecclesiology

Posts on Original Sin and Immaculate Conception

Posts on Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Conversion

Posts on Miscellaneous Topics

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Archbishop Demetrios

TODAY, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians have the wonderful opportunity to celebrate Easter together on the same date. To many, that idea might sound natural, since the celebration of Easter speaks to the most central aspect of the Christian faith: the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

Regrettably, though, the phenomenon happens only every few years. Most years, the date of Easter observed by Eastern and Western Christians varies from one to four weeks. The explanation is complex — a matter of calendrical calculations and astronomical applications based upon the lunar cycle. So whenever a common celebration of Easter does occur, it constitutes a true blessing.

With that in mind, I would like to point out a remarkable occurrence in the history of the long walk toward Christian unity: the visit last November of Pope Benedict XVI, the 264th successor of St. Peter the Apostle, to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, in Istanbul, at the invitation of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the 270th successor of St. Andrew the Apostle and spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians.

While historic, this was not the first visit of a pope to the Ecumenical Patriarchate: Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II had visited in 1967 and 1979, respectively. (Patriarch Athenagoras, Patriarch Dimitrios and the present Patriarch Bartholomew in turn visited the Vatican several times.) These meetings are important because they offer hope in view of the long and painful history of separation between the Christian Churches, which officially occurred in 1054, the result of historical circumstances, theological differences and misunderstandings.

The exchange of visits has contributed to a rapprochement of the two churches and to more examination of those things that unite — as well as separate — Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy. In fact, just two months before the visit of Pope Benedict to Istanbul, the official international dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church had resumed for the first time since 2000.

That is too long a period of inactivity. But, happily, the dialogue is scheduled to continue with a meeting tentatively planned for Ravenna, Italy, in May. There is a strong possibility that both Pope Benedict and Patriarch Bartholomew will be present.

Their meeting last November was therefore of much more than symbolic importance. I had the honor to be with the patriarch and the pope throughout the visit, and I witnessed firsthand a genuine atmosphere of mutual understanding and respect. The patriarch and the pope clarified, in a common declaration, that our churches share much in terms of our commitment to safeguard human rights and religious freedom, to protect our natural environment from human harm and to advocate for justice and peace — especially as we are mindful of those who live with poverty, threats of terrorism, war and disease. Because the world’s Christian population stands at nearly 33 percent, or 2.1 billion people, our work to alleviate dire conditions is of global significance.

Our common celebration of Easter this year raises two hopeful perspectives for us to consider: first, the steps that we are taking toward the reconciliation of the churches; and second, the rediscovery of the holy and the sacred in human life and, ultimately, the discovery of the transcendent. Here are two things worth not only considering, but seriously pursuing.

Demetrios is the archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church in America.

From the New York Times, April 8, 2007.

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From the Denver Catholic Register

Last December’s visit by Pope Benedict XVI to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople revived speculation that the millennium-long division between Rome and the Christian East might soon end. That was certainly the dream of Benedict’s predecessor, the Servant of God John Paul II, who really did seem to believe that Rome and Constantinople could achieve ecclesial reconciliation by the end of the twentieth century, so that a millennium of division — the formal split having taken place in 1054 — would be succeeded by a new millennium of unity, in a return to the relations that prevailed in the first centuries of Christian history.

It was a noble vision, but it may not have accurately measured the depth of the chasm between Catholicism and some parts of the worlds-within-worlds of Orthodoxy. Recent comments on Benedict’s December pilgrimage by the Orthodox monks of Mount Athos suggest that the division is deep and wide indeed.

Mount Athos, a craggy peninsula in northern Greece, is home to twenty self-governing Orthodox monasteries. In fact, Mount Athos is virtually a country unto itself; its formal designation in Greece is the “Autonomous Monastic State of the Holy Mountain.” No women or female animals are allowed on Mount Athos; visitors are strictly limited; only male members of the Orthodox Church may become monks. And, while Mount Athos comes under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Athonite monks, who regard their monasticism as what they term “the non-negotiable guardian of the Holy Tradition,” were very unhappy with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the way he treated his Roman guest in December.

Why? Because, the monks complained, “the Pope was received as though he were the canonical bishop of Rome.” There were other complaints, but that was the first listed in a statement released last December 30 by the Assembly of Representatives and Superiors of the twenty monasteries: Why was Bartholomew treating Benedict as though the latter were, in fact, the bishop of Rome?

Well, if we can’t agree on that, we do have, as Jim Lovell told Mission Control, a problem.

To be sure, Athonite monasticism, “the non-negotiable guardian of the Holy Tradition,” is a particularly stringent form of Orthodoxy. And if the monks of Mount Athos have their dubieties about the ecumenical openness of Patriarch Bartholomew, it is, perhaps, not surprising that they imagine Benedict XVI as a usurper and a teacher of heresies. Yet this Athonite intransigence reflects a hard truth about Catholic-Orthodox relations after a millennium of division: namely, that, for many Orthodox Christians, the statement “I am not in communion with the Bishop of Rome” has become an integral part of the statement, “I am an Orthodox Christian.”

The obverse is not true. I very much doubt that there are more than a handful of Catholics around the world whose confession of Catholic faith includes, as a key component, “I am not in communion with the Patriarch of Constantinople.” The truth of the matter is that, outside historically Orthodox countries and certain ethnic communities, the thought of how one stands vis-à-vis the Patriarch of Constantinople simply doesn’t enter Catholic heads. Perhaps that’s a problem, but it’s nowhere near as great an obstacle to ecumenical progress as the conviction in some Orthodox quarters that non-communion with Rome is a defining characteristic of what it means to be “Orthodox.”

1054, it now seems clear, was not a date-in-a-vacuum. Rather, the mutual excommunications of 1054 were the cash-out, so to speak, of a drifting-apart that had been going on for centuries, driven by language and politics, to be sure, but also by different theological sensibilities. Are those two sensibilities necessarily Church-dividing? The Catholic answer is, “No.” But that is emphatically not the answer of Mount Athos, and of those Orthodox for whom the Athonite monks are essentially right, if a bit over-the-top.

All of which suggests that John Paul II’s dream of a Church breathing once again with both of its lungs is unlikely of fulfillment anytime soon. Unless, that is, Islamist pressures compel a reexamination within Orthodoxy of what a life-line to Rome might mean.

George Weigel is a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. Weigel’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver.

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We must fight to insure that Latinism and Catholicism are no longer synonymous, that Catholicism remains open to every culture, every spirit, and every form of organization compatible with the unity of faith and of love. At the same time, by our example, we must force the Orthodox Church to recognize that a union . . . with the See of Peter can be achieved without their being compelled to give up Orthodoxy or any of the spiritual treasures of the apostolic and patristic East which is open toward the future no less than toward the past. If we remain faithful to this mission, we shall arrive at shaping and finding the kind of union that is acceptable to the East as well as to the West, a union that is neither pure autocephaly nor an absorption, in principle or in actual fact. but a sharing of the same faith, same sacraments, and same organic hierarchy, in a spirit of sincere respect for the spiritual heritage and organization proper to each Church, under the vigilance, both paternal and fraternal, of the successors of the One to Whom it was said: “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.”

– Melkite Catholic Patriarch Maximos IV (Sayegh)

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المسيح قام من بين الأموات ووطئ الموت بالموت ووهب الحياة للذين في القبو

‘Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.’

Some beautiful photos and a video of the respective Paschal Celebrations of the Antiochian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch Ignatius IV, and the Melkite Catholic Patriarch of Antioch Gregory III. From Samer al-Batal, via A Conservative Blog for Peace.

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