Archive for the ‘Critiques of Orthodoxy’ Category

From an interesting post by Hieromonk Maximos over at the Anastasis Dialogue:

Why do some ultra-traditionalist Orthodox re-baptize Catholic converts to Orthodoxy? Because, in the name of Holy Tradition, they are heirs to the innovative notions of St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain in the 18th century … In trying to synthesize this exclusivist ecclesiology with the notion of “oikonomia” a la St. Basil, and which had guided Orthodox praxis for centuries, St. Nicodemus had to invent a whole new way of understanding that notion as it applied to the sacraments. In effect, he invested Orthodox bishops with the power to determine by an exercise of sheer authority whether a sacrament was valid or not. Thus the practice before 1755 of admitting Catholics to Orthodoxy without baptism could be explained as an “economic” exercise of episcopal authority, rather than (as it had been for centuries) as flowing from the actual validity of the Catholic baptism.

And from one of the post’s comments:

If it is true, as some Orthodox believe, that Catholic baptisms are invalid, then nothing should be able to change that except a valid baptism — not even the application of episcopal “oikonomia”, lest we say that a bishop can by his decree actually make a person that which he/she is not, i.e. a Christian baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, if Catholic baptisms are valid, then the Orthodox must no longer regard Western Christians as “other”, but as co-heirs to the life in Christ–brothers and sisters from they must not suffer themselves to be alienated. What then?


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Irenaeus, over at CatholiDoxies, has a post about Vladimir Soloviev’s classic Russia and the Universal Church (currently in print only in an abridged English edition, under the title The Russian Church and the Papacy). I too have read through the abridged work, and I have mixed feelings about it.

On the negative side, those who know a bit about Soloviev’s philosophical background will be justly wary of the strange ideas which underlie his ecclesiological and ecumenical thought. I am very nervous about Soloviev’s sophiology and his ideal of world “all-unity”, which of course informs his idea of the “Universal Church” and the Papacy as a “universal fatherhood” for all mankind. Personally, I think that both Orthodox and Catholics would be right to be a bit nervous about these esoteric and utopian concepts.

On the other hand, Soloviev was undoubtedly a genius, and I think that he makes some very good points that Orthodox should not simply reject out of hand. If a solid Orthodox theologian like Florovsky can praise Soloviev for his passion for Christian unity and call his contribution to the solution of this problem “momentous”, I would hope that more Orthodox would seek to engage with Soloviev’s thought seriously. His identification of the disasterous effects of imperial interference in the Eastern Church, while in many ways exaggerated, nevertheless do seem to have solid basis in the history of both Byzantium and Russia; and I think that one can still discern the negative effects of this today even where Orthodoxy is not subject to imperial autocracy. One scholar has summarized Soloviev’s criticism of Byzantine religious particularism thus:

The root of Byzantine exclusiveness was its ahistorical religiosity, which attempted to protect the mystical contemplation of Truth, but which did not call for its realization in history. In the Byzantine experience, Soloviev maintained, the perfection of the Church was linked to a past historical era and to a specific geographical place, causing eastern Christians to lose the sense of the universal character of the Church, a universality which needs to be realized in the history of all nations and throughout the world. In reaction to what he perceived as Byzantine particularism and exclusivity, Soloviev sought for a more universal expression of the Christian Church … Soloviev emphasized the “catholic,” or “universal” character of the Church, as contrasted with self-affirmation, exclusivism and arbitrary human willfulness. “Universality” versus “particularism”: this was to become the heart and core of Soloviev’s ecclesiological concern and was to guide the development of his thinking. (Chrysostom Frank, “The Problem of Church Unity in the Life and Thought of Vladimir Soloviev,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, 36:3, 1992).

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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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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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The Pontificator points us to a lengthy excerpt from Vladimir Soloviev’s Russia and the Universal Church by Vladimir Soloviev (originally published in 1889).

As a member of the true and venerable Eastern or Greco-Russian Orthodox Church which does not speak through anti-canonical synod nor through the employees of the secular power, but through the utterance of her great Fathers and Doctors, I recognise as supreme judge in matters of religion him who has been recognized as such by St Irenaeus, St Dionysius the Great, St Athansius the Great, St John Chrysostom, St Cyril, St Flavian, the Blessed Theodoret, St Maximus the Confessor, St Theodore of Studium, St Ignatius, etc. etc.–namely, the Apostle Peter, who lives in his successors and who has not heard in vain our Lord’s words: ‘Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build My Church’, ‘Strengthen thy brethren’, ‘Feed My sheep, feed My lambs’.

One may not care for the style of Soloviev’s rhetoric here, but can the historical and patristic data which he references here be accounted for in Orthodox ecclesiology as it has developed?

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The last part of the article “A Catholic View of Orthodoxy” is devoted to Father Nichols’ take on “one negative aspect of Orthodoxy” from his Roman Catholic perspective. This “one negative aspect” often comes to the fore when Orthodox are confronted with the topic of “Uniatism”*, or the existence of the Eastern Churches in communion with the See of Rome.

One might recall that the Orthodox-Catholic Joint International Commission actually suspended official talks in 2000, after reaching a bitter impasse at its meeting in Baltimore. The divisive issue was not the Papacy, or the Filioque. The issue was the problem of “Uniatism”. The disagreement in 2000 was so bitter that the Commission only recently decided to return to formal talks.

I have to admit that I have never been able to figure out the Orthodox obsession with Eastern Catholic “Uniatism”. But I can personally testify to the “animosity” and “barely contained fury” of some Orthodox with regard to this issue. I knew a very bright Orthodox lady, a member of the OCA, who was by all accounts very open-minded and irenic about most religious topics. But in the course of one conversation, I mentioned Eastern Catholicism, and I was shocked at the visceral reaction that this produced in her. She said, in effect, that these churches ought to be utterly obliterated. Their faithful should be forced to become either Roman Catholic or Orthodox, but preferably Orthodox. I stated, in effect, that you really can’t “put the toothpaste back into the tube” with regard to the Eastern Catholic Churches. They exist, they’ve existed for quite some time, they include real Christian souls, and you can’t simply nuke their tradition because it offends somebody. My arguments were to no avail.

What lies behind this reaction? According to Father Nichols, “The animosity, indeed the barely contained fury, with which many Orthodox react to the issue of Uniatism is hardly explicable, except in terms of a widespread and not readily defensible Orthodox feeling about the relation between the nation and the Church.”

Not all Orthodox, actually, are so “anti-uniate”. For instance, in the Middle East, the Antiochian Orthodox have never been particularly offended about the existence of Melkites among them. In fact, I am told that there exists a sort of unofficial, de facto communio in sacris between Orthodox and Melkites. Many families have both Orthodox and Melkites in them, and they think nothing of attending each others’ churches and even receiving each others’ sacraments. Now, I’m not claiming that this is technically a kosher practice according to both Catholicism and Orthodoxy, but it is rather interesting nonetheless.

Father Nichols mentions the existence of “Western-Rite Orthodoxy” as a sort of “gotcha” to Orthodox who attack Eastern Catholicism. This criticism, however, is not particularly fair. The establishment of Western-Rite parishes within, for instance, the Antiochian Archdiocese in North America has not been without opposition from other Orthodox (particularly among the Greeks and in the OCA). According to a Western-Rite blog, the founder of the Western-Rite Vicariate, Metropolitan Antony Bashir, coming from the very friendly Middle Eastern Christian community described above, actually somewhat admired the Melkites and thought that it made all the sense in the world to have some “reverse Melkites” in his own jurisdiction. So, to be fair, Father Nichols’ “gotcha” here, with regard to Western Rite Orthodox “Uniatism” in the Antiochian jurisdiction, then, doesn’t really work.

For whatever reason, some Orthodox, like Metropolitan Antony Bashir, are not mortally offended by the existence of Eastern Christians in communion with Rome. He had no problem, likewise, with welcoming Western Catholics into his own communion. In the case of those Orthodox who are mortally offended by “Uniatism”, though, I can’t discern much rational explanation for their reaction, other than what Father Nichols identifies as “Orthodox nationalism”, “the close link between Church and national consciousness.”

To be fair, I must add to this a few very significant factors that Father Nichols does not mention. There is a distinct impression, perhaps based on real events in the past (I am not an expert in the history), that the existence of Eastern Catholicism is a plot on the part of Latin missionaries to bait Orthodox Christians into accepting union with Rome. And then, of course, there is the perception of persecution Eastern Catholics by Roman Catholics (e.g. the Archbishop Ireland / Alexis Toth debacle), as well as the strong tendency to “Latinize” the Eastern Catholics in liturgy, theology, spirituality and ethos (though Rome itself has more often than not encouraged the Eastern Churches to remain true to their tradition). All of these factors, I think, contribute to the “anti-uniate” sentiment on the part of many Orthodox, and probably with very good reason.

However, none of these considerations, in my mind, do away with the nationalistic problem that Father Nichols identifies. This linkage of a general “Easternness”, or particular nationalities and ethnic groups, with the “True Faith”, has always been very troublesome to me, especially as an Orthodox convert who does not come from an historically “Orthodox” cultural background. To its credit, American Orthodoxy has made great strides in overcoming nationalism and ethnocentrism. But can this really be said of Orthodoxy in general, throughout the centuries, and universally today?

To put it very bluntly, I am deeply concerned about Orthodoxy’s claim to be fully “catholic”, in the sense that Father Nichols describes here:

To a Catholic mind, the Church of Pentecost is a Church of all nations in the sense of ecclesia ex gentibus, a Church taken from all nations, gathering them – with, to be sure, their own human and spiritual gifts – into a universal community in the image of the divine Triunity where the difference between Father, Son and Spirit only subserves their relations of communion.

I know that this is certainly the Orthodox ideal, but I am not sure how this sense of catholicity plays itself out practically or concretely. For me, the problem is not merely nationalism, but of a certain exclusivist orientalism that constantly seeks to distinguish itself from some terrible monolith called “The West”. This is a fundamentally negative attitude, one which defines itself by what it’s not. It’s the sort of attitude that one does not become “really Orthodox” until he has shed his “Western” assumptions and has assumed something called “the Orthodox phronema” – a mindset which, it seems to me, is almost exclusively “Eastern” and only tolerates “Western” things if they are run through an “Orthodox” (read: Eastern) filter.

Father Nichols, a convert from the established state Church of England, feels that becoming Catholic has freed him “from particularism into the more spacious life of a Church raised up to be an ensign for all nations, a Church where those of every race, colour and culture can feel at home, in the Father’s house.” I am sorry to say that this has not been my experience as an Orthodox convert. My Orthodox friends might say that this is because I’ve never really assumed “the phronema” – which, as far as I can tell, means that I’ve never become an Easterner in mind and heart. Perhaps they are correct. To be perfectly honest, I don’t want to be just a “Greek” or just a “Latin”. I simply want to be a catholic, orthodox Christian, who has the phronema or mind of the entire catholic Church, East and West.

I will conclude my reflections on Father Nichols’ article in a third part, dealing with his specific ideas for the reform of the exercise of the Petrine Office in the event of corporate reunion with Eastern Orthodoxy.

* Please note that I do not mean to be offensive in the use of this term. I am using it in the sense that Father Nichols is using it, in a technical rather than a condescending sense.

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The article “A Catholic View of Orthodoxy” by Aidan Nichols, OP seems like an excellent place to begin my reflections on my own reasons for exploring the desirability of entering into the communion of the Church of Rome. I will present my own rambling and possibly incoherent comments on Father Nichols’s piece in several parts.

I have never been a polemical Orthodox. When I joined the Orthodox Church, almost a decade ago, I decided that I would do my best to avoid the plague of convertitis. I considered the Roman Church before considering Orthodoxy, and I chose Orthodoxy because, at the time, I could not bring myself to accept the papal claims. But I never wanted to be anti-Western, anti-Roman, or anti-Catholic. In fact, I have always maintained a healthy respect for the Christian West, and even a love for the riches of the Western Catholic tradition.

And if, by God’s grace, I do become a fulfilled Orthodox by joining the communion of the Roman Church, I am determined not to become a polemical Catholic or to reject or despise my previous Church.

Reflecting on Fr Nichols’s words, I am heartened, first of all, by his irenic and non-polemical tone. One might expect an article entitled “A Catholic View of Orthodoxy” to be a syllabus of Greek schismatic errors, or a triumphalist screed. Thankfully, since Vatican II, anti-Orthodox attacks on the part of Roman Catholics have become very rare indeed (very sadly, the same cannot be said for anti-Catholic attacks on the part of Eastern Orthodox). Polemics may be appealing and persuasive to some inquirers. The “true believers” may think that this is the sort of thing that’s really going to “reel ’em in”. Specifically in the case of many Protestants, perhaps polemical discourse has its place. I’m not sure that the same kind of polemics are going to be helpful in helping folks to see East-West problem more clearly. Personally, I am far more impressed by a sane and balanced approach to the heart-breaking scandal of Orthodox-Catholic division.

The first crucial point that Father Nichols makes is that the Orthodox should be the Catholic Church’s preferred, primary “ecumenical partner.” “[T]here cannot be any doubt that the Catholic Church must accord greater importance to dialogue with the Orthodox than to conversations with any Protestant body.”

Why is this? Clearly, it is because the Latin West and the Greek East were so very close. And we remain very close, despite the millenium of separation, the polemics, the betrayals, and the atrocities – even though this may not always appear to be the case to folks on both sides of the schism. We really do, for the most part, hold the same Apostolic, Catholic and Orthodox faith, expressed in the dogmatic work of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. We, Orthodox and Catholics, are together the bearers of Holy Tradition (“the Gospel in its plenary organic transmission through the entirety of the life – credal, doxological, ethical – of Christ’s Church.”)

The second crucial point that Father Nichols makes is that the schism is not merely a tragedy for one side or the other. It is a tragedy, a scandal, and in fact a “catastrophe” for both parties, for the West as well as for the East.

A triumphalist Orthodox reading of the schism might assign not only most of the blame of the schism to the Western Church, but most of the ill-effects of the schism as well. After all, it is the Western Church, following the spurious claims of the Pope of Rome, which fell away from the unity of Orthodoxy, and thus left the visible boundaries of the true Church of Christ (and, according to some extreme Orthodox readings, deprived of grace and the Holy Spirit). Translation: “Too bad for the RCs! They ought to come back to us.”

Likewise, a triumphalist Roman Catholic reading of the schism might sound similar, assigning most of the blame to the “Greek schismatics” who have rebelled against the true Vicar of Christ and have thus cut themselves off from the visible Church of Christ. Translation: “Too bad for the Orthodox! They ought to come back to us.”

Perhaps these are extreme caricatures. I hope they are. My point is that it’s not “too bad” for one side – it’s “too bad” for both sides. It’s “too bad” for Christendom. It’s “too bad” for the Body of Christ. Both sides have suffered the catastrophic effects of the tearing asunder of the seamless garment of the Lord Jesus Christ.

To use the powerful image of Yves Congar, the Church now has a major breathing problem. Both sides have been deprived of a lung, and it is madness for either side to ignore this and act as if all is well. Speaking for the Western Church, Father Nichols is frank about the Western Church’s need for the insights of the Eastern Orthodox tradition, in order to withstand the onslaught of an increasingly hostile Western world. “Practically speaking, then, the re-entry into Catholic unity of this dogmatic, liturgical, contemplative and monastic Church could only have the effect of steadying and strengthening those aspects of Western Catholicism which today are most under threat by the corrosives of secularism and theological liberalism.”

Thank God that Father Nichols, echoing Pope John Paul II’s extraordinary Orientale Lumen, has the humility and honesty to admit that the Roman Catholic Church needs the Eastern Orthodox Church like it needs a lung transplant. Would that more Orthodox feel the same way about the riches of the Western Church, and in particular, the Petrine ministry!

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A very balanced article by the excellent English Dominican theologian:

In this article I attempt an overview in four parts. First, I shall discuss why Catholics should not only show some ecumenical concern for Orthodoxy but also treat the Orthodox as their privileged or primary ecumenical partner.

Secondly, I shall ask why the schism between the Catholic and Orthodox churches occurred, focussing as it finally did on four historic ‘dividing issues’.

Thirdly, I shall evaluate the present state of Catholic-Orthodox relations, with particular reference to the problem of the ‘Uniate’ or Eastern Catholic churches.

Fourthly and finally, having been highly sympathetic and complimentary to the Orthodox throughout, I shall end by saying what, in my judgment, is wrong with the Orthodox Church and why it needs Catholicism for (humanly speaking) its own salvation.

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