Archive for November, 2007

A bit of a break

I’ll be taking a bit of a break for Advent/pre-Nativity fast. I will continue to look after the comboxes but there shouldn’t be new posts until after Christmas. A holy and blessed season to all.

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Here’s a report in rather confusing English from Interfax: “Bishop Hilarion requests the Theologian Commission to examine the ambiguous document adopted at the Orthodox-Catholic conference in Ravenna.”

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The Ravenna Document is stimulating great and profound thoughts in the Orthodox-Catholic blogosphere.

First, from an Orthodox perspective, John at Ad Orientem has two posts on Ecumenical Councils (post I and post II). I’m encouraged to see this sort of constructive, rather than nitpicky and dismissive, response from a fellow Orthodox.

Since Orthodoxy for whatever reasons (I would opine there are many) has not held an oecumenical council since 880 AD, and therefore has not formally condemned the Latin innovations, they could be treated as theologumen. Granted, I think there is far greater unanimity among the Orthodox hierarchs and the lay faithful that many Western doctrines are heretical, than there is support for some of them among the Roman Catholic faithful. But it still boils down to theologumen on our side. But if you remove Rome’s carved in stone claim that those doctrines are infallible truths binding on all of the faithful, then we may move back to square one.

This would not of course end the schism or restore communion. But it would have the effect of saying both sides have strongly held contrary OPINIONS of great import that need to be resolved. On that basis it might be possible to convene a Great Council of The Church to begin the process of sorting things out and resolving them one at time …

Partly in response to John’s posts, Dr. Mike Liccione (Sacramentum Vitae) has some excellent reflections from a Roman Catholic perspective. This point in particular is of great interest to me:

As evinced by Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium and Unitatis Redintegratio, as well as other pertinent documents since that council closed, the Catholic Church has undergone and fostered the development of ecclesiological doctrine in such a way as to give an account of how the EOs and OOs relate to “the Church,” which is said to “subsist” in the Roman communion as a perduring whole. As a matter of fact, John’s challenge to us Catholics makes use of that development. But something analogous does not seem to have occurred in Orthodoxy. We have Zizoulas’ eucharistic ecclesiology, which dovetails somewhat with Ratzinger’s theology of communio and has clearly influenced the Ravenna proceedings. But further progress in Orthodox ecclesiology is necessary if the process embodied by Ravenna is to continue. What direction could and should such progress take? That’s the question that Orthodox like John need to consider.


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From the Telegraph‘s Damian Thompson:

Two and a half years after the name “Josephum” came booming down from the balcony of St Peter’s, making liberal Catholics weep with rage, Pope Benedict XVI is revealing his programme of reform. And it is breathtakingly ambitious.

The 80-year-old Pontiff is planning a purification of the Roman liturgy in which decades of trendy innovations will be swept away. This recovery of the sacred is intended to draw Catholics closer to the Orthodox and ultimately to heal the 1,000 year Great Schism. But it is also designed to attract vast numbers of conservative Anglicans, who will be offered the protection of the Holy Father if they covert en masse.

… The liberation of the Latin liturgy, the rapprochement with Eastern Orthodoxy, the absorption of former Anglicans – all these ambitions reflect Benedict’s conviction that the Catholic Church must rediscover the liturgical treasure of Christian history to perform its most important task: worshipping God.

One might recall this passage from a prophetic letter to Pope Paul VI written by Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci, on the eve of the promulgation of the Novus Ordo Missae:

The Apostolic Constitution makes explicit reference to a wealth of piety and teaching in the Novus Ordo borrowed from Eastern Churches. The result – utterly remote from and even opposed to the inspiration of the oriental Liturgies – can only repel the faithful of the Eastern Rites. What, in truth, do these ecumenical options amount to? Basically to the multiplicity of anaphora (but nothing approaching their beauty and complexity), to the presence of deacons, to Communion sub utraque specie.

Against this, the Novus Ordo would appear to have been deliberately shorn of everything which in the Liturgy of Rome came close to those of the East.

Moreover in abandoning its unmistakable and immemorial Roman character, the Novus Ordo lost what was spiritually precious of its own. Its place has been taken by elements which bring it closer only to certain other reformed liturgies (not even those closest to Catholicism) and which debase it at the same time. The East will be ever more alienated, as it already has been by the preceding liturgical reforms.

By the way of compensation the new Liturgy will be the delight of the various groups who, hovering on the verge of apostasy, are wreaking havoc in the Church of God, poisoning her organism and undermining her unity of doctrine, worship, morals and discipline in a spiritual crisis without precedent.

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RAVENNA, Italy, NOV. 15, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the final document of the plenary assembly of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, held Oct. 8-14 in Ravenna. The statement, which was released today, is titled “Ecclesiological and Canonical Consequences of the Sacramental Nature of the Church: Ecclesial Communion, Conciliarity and Authority.”


1. “That they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (Jn 17, 21). We give thanks to the triune God who has gathered us — members of the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church — so that we might respond together in obedience to this prayer of Jesus. We are conscious that our dialogue is restarting in a world that has changed profoundly in recent times. The processes of secularization and globalization, and the challenge posed by new encounters between Christians and believers of other religions, require that the disciples of Christ give witness to their faith, love and hope with a new urgency. May the Spirit of the risen Lord empower our hearts and minds to bear the fruits of unity in the relationship between our Churches, so that together we may serve the unity and peace of the whole human family. May the same Spirit lead us to the full expression of the mystery of ecclesial communion, that we gratefully acknowledge as a wonderful gift of God to the world, a mystery whose beauty radiates especially in the holiness of the saints, to which all are called.


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Merton on Church Unity

I can unite in myself, in my own spiritual life, the thought of the East and the West, of the Greek and Latin Fathers, I will create in myself a reunion of the divided Church and from that unity in myself can come the exterior and visible unity of the Church. For if we want to bring together East and West we cannot do it by imposing one upon the other. We must contain both in ourselves, and transcend both in Christ.

– Thomas Merton

Hat tip to Teófilo at Vivificat 

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The life of the Church reproduces on a large scale the life of the individual soul. The Christian Church in its two thousand years of existence has gone through the same religious experience as the Christian, the same crises and the same conflict.

I want to touch upon one aspect of this interior and intimate conflict within the Church in dealing with Christian unity.

God, himself perfectly one in the Trinity, in creating a world with elements so varied and often so opposed, intended to manifest his glory and show forth his power by placing and maintaining unity in his world. Having made heaven and earth, the vegetable and animal kingdoms, the day star and the stars of night, he brought them together in harmony and order. This unity, realized according to God’s eternal designs, is the foundation of all that is good and beautiful.


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Rome, Nov. 15, 2007 (CWNews.com) – The final document produced by a joint Catholic-Orthodox theological commission is a “modest first step,” Cardinal Walter Kasper told reporters. The 46-paragraph statement approved by the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue at an October meeting in Ravenna, Italy, was released in Rome on November 15. While saying that the document shows progress in relations with the Eastern churches, Cardinal Kasper — the president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, and the head of the Vatican delegation to the Ravenna conference — cautioned that “we must not exaggerate its importance.”

The Ravenna meeting concentrated on the nature of authority within the Church. The final statement explored the relationships between individual bishops, synods, and patriarchs. In that context, the final document acknowledges that the Bishop of Rome enjoys primacy as the first among patriarchs.

However, the joint theological commission did not explore the nature of the authority that the Pope derives from that primacy. Cardinal Kasper explained that the Ravenna meeting “did not talk of the privileges of the Bishop of Rome; we merely indicated the praxis for future debate.”

The next meeting of the Catholic-Orthodox commission will explore the question of papal authority, concentrating on the ways in which that authority was exercised during the first millennium of Christian history, before the schism that separated the Orthodox from Rome. Beyond that discussion, Cardinal Kasper noted, lie questions about the centuries since that schism, and the teachings of Vatican I and Vatican II regarding authority in the Church. “The road is very long and difficult,” the German cardinal said.

Neverthless, the Ravenna document is an important one, Cardinal Kasper said, because “for the first time the Orthodox churches have said: Yes, this universal level of the Church exists.” He continued: “This means that there is also a primate; according to the practice of the ancient Church, the first bishop is the Bishop of Rome.”

In discussing the work of the Ravenna meeting, Cardinal Kasper observed with regret that the Russian Orthodox Church had not been involved in the deliberations. Delegates from the Moscow patriarchate walked out of the October meeting in a dispute about the inclusion of representatives from the Estonian Orthodox Church, which Moscow has refused to recognize.

Cardinal Kasper noted that the dispute over the Estonian delegation– which was supported by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople– is an “inter-Orthodox question,” in which the Vatican will not interfere. However, he said, the Holy See is anxious to see the problem resolved.

The Russian Orthodox Church is by far the largest of the Eastern churches, and Vatican officials see the relationship with Moscow as a key to future ecumenical advances. As Cardinal Kasper put it, “we do not want to dialogue without the Russians.”

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In August, Pope Benedict XVI released a letter commemorating the 1,600th anniversary of the death of Saint John Chrysostom. Until an official English translation becomes available, Father John Zuhlsdorf offers his own translation (Microsoft Word format), as well as some interesting comments on the letter (see especially his comments on the connection between the Roman Church’s liturgical “Reform of the Reform” and relations with the Orthodox Churches).

Here’s an interesting excerpt, germane to the themes discussed at this blog:

In view of the ecumenical progress made between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches since the Second Vatican Council and especially in recent years, we wish to recall the outstanding efforts that St John Chrysostom made in his day in promoting reconciliation and full communion between Eastern and Western Churches. Singular among these achievements was his contribution in ending the schism which separated the See of Antioch from the See of Rome and other western churches. At the time of his consecration as Archbishop of Constantinople, John sent a delegation to Pope Siricius at Rome. He also won in advance of this mission the crucial collaboration of the Archbishop of Alexandria in Egypt for his plan to end the schism. Pope Siricius responded favorably to John’s diplomatic initiative, and the schism was peacefully resolved so that full communion between the churches was restored.

Later, toward the end of his life, following his return to Constantinople after his first exile, John wrote to Pope Innocent at Rome as well as to bishops Venerius of Milan and Chromatius of Aquileia. He appealed for their assistance in his effort to restore order in the Church at Constantinople which continued to suffer ecclesial divisions spawned by the injustice committed against him. John asked Pope Innocent and the other western bishops for a compassionate response, one which “confers a favor not upon ourselves alone but also upon the Church at large.” In fact it is clear in John’s thinking that when one part of the Church suffers injury, the whole Church suffers the same injury. Pope Innocent defended John in letters to Theophilus, bishop of Alexandria. The Pope maintained full communion with him, thus ignoring a deposition which he regarded as unlawful. He wrote to John in order to console him, and he wrote to the Constantinopolitan clergy and faithful who were loyal to John to express his full support of their lawful bishop. “John, your bishop, has unjustly suffered,” the Pope wrote to John’s followers. Moreover, Pope Innocent convened a synod of Italian and eastern bishops in order to seek justice for the beleaguered bishop. With the western emperor’s support, the Pope sent a delegation of western and eastern bishops to the eastern emperor at Constantinople to defend John and to demand that an ecumenical synod of bishops be convened to seek justice on his behalf. When, shortly before John’s death in exile, these measures failed, John wrote to Pope Innocent to thank him for “the great consolation” he received from having his support. In this letter John insisted that although he was separated from the Pope by the great distance of his exile, he was nevertheless in “daily communion” with him. Aware of the Pope’s efforts on his behalf, John wrote to him, “You have surpassed even affectionate parents in your good will and zeal concerning us.” John urged the Pope to continue with this zeal to seek justice on behalf of himself and the Church at Constantinople, because “the contest now before you has to be fought on behalf of nearly the whole world, on behalf of Churches humbled to the ground, of people dispersed, of clergy assaulted, of bishops sent into exile, of ancestral laws violated.” John also wrote to other western bishops to thank them for their support, among them Chromatius of Aquileia, Venerius of Milan and Gaudentius of Brescia.

Both at Antioch and at Constantinople John spoke passionately about the unity of the Church throughout the world. He observed that “the faithful in Rome consider those in India as members of their own body.” He insisted that there is no place for division in the Church. “The Church,” John exclaimed, “exists not in order that we who come together might be divided, but that they who are divided might be joined.” He found divine authority for this ecclesial unity in the Sacred Scriptures. Preaching on Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians, John reminded his hearers that “Paul refers to the Church as ‘the Church of God’ showing that it ought to be united. For if it is ‘of God,’ it is united; and it is one, not only in Corinth, but also throughout the world. For the Church’s name is not a name of separation, but of unity and concord.”

For John, the Church’s unity is founded in Christ, the Divine Word, who through his Incarnation unites Himself to the Church as the head of his own body. “For where the head is, there is the body also,” John proclaimed, so that “there is no separation between the head and the body.” John understood that in the Incarnation, the Divine Word not only became man, he united Himself to us in his own body. “For neither was it enough for Him to be made man, to be beaten and slaughtered, but He also commingles Himself with us, and not by faith only, but also in very deed makes us His body.” Commenting on the Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians: “He has put everything under Christ’s dominion, and made him the head to which the whole Church is joined, so that the Church is his body, the completion of him who everywhere and in all things is complete,” John teaches that “the head is, as it were, filled up by the body, because the body is composed and made up of all its several parts. It is by all then that His body is filled up. Then is the head filled up, then is the body rendered perfect, when we are all knit together and united.” John thus concludes that Christ unites all the members of His Church to Himself and to each other. Our faith in Christ requires that we work for an effective, sacramental unity between the members of the Church; such faith seeks to put an end to divisions in the Church.

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We speak increasingly of Christian unity but I wonder how many people understand what it means.

Ask a Christian, even an enlightened one, and he will almost always tell you: “If the heads of the churches reach agreement, we shall have union.”

At first sight this appears reasonable. We all have the impression that union would be achieved if the leaders of the Orthodox churches agreed with the Roman Pontiff on definitions of the Roman primacy and infallibility and if they solved some other largely verbal differences between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

But to reduce Christian unity to an agreement between the heads of the churches and make them the chief and indeed only agents of this unity is to reduce the Church of Christ to the level of ordinary human societies where the good will and intentions of a small group of men often decide the fate of nations. In other words, it means reducing the mystery of redemption which Christ himself, when about to enter his passion, summed up in the prayer for unity, to a mode of Church government and to a hierarchical mechanism determining relations between the leaders of Christendom. To look at unity in this way is to substitute churchmen for the Church, which is the mystical Body of Christ, and to substitute the various activities of human diplomacy for the life of grace in the redeemed soul.


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