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While I was gone …

I’m catching up on interesting posts bearing on Orthodox-Catholic relations on some of my favorite blogs. Here are some of the juiciest highlights:

From Fr Gregory Jensen’s ‘Koinonia’ comes a smorgasborg of excellent posts on Orthodox ecumenism:

Some More Thoughts on Ravenna (November 16, 2007):

Reading through the Ravenna statement on ecclesiology, I find it to be well balanced and consistent with an Orthodox understanding of the Church. Rightly understood, and the document addresses this, there is not a single primacy in the Church, but rather primacies. Moving from the “bottom up,” each primacy becomes part of a synod with its own primate, who in terms is in another, more expansive synod with its own primate, etc. Moving from the “top down,” these different levels of primacy nest in each other—each primate having a responsibility to care for the primacy of those in the “lower” level … As I have said in other venues, before the Great Schism can be healed we—Orthodox Christians and Catholics—must desire reconciliation. For that desire to be born in our hearts we need at least some mutual understanding or sympathy for each other’s ecclesiology. On that score, I think, the Ravenna document represents a significant advance in Catholic/Orthodox ecumenical relations.

Answering Critics (December 12, 2007):

Ecumenical work is not something that can be engaged in simply out of a personal interest—one needs to have the blessing of the Church in order to represent her in ecumenical contacts. It is, I would suggest, a vocation, a ministry to which one is called by Christ and which must be confirmed by the Church. There are those in the Church who Christ calls to help heal the wounds on the Body of Christ. Much like the priest in confession, ecumenical healing requires that we examine ourselves and our respective communities carefully. This is done not simply to root out sin but also to uncover God’s hidden mercy in the midst of human failings and shortcomings. As presented in [the Basic Principles of the Attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church Toward the Other Christian Confessions], ecumenical work participates in the larger therapeutic work of Christ and His Church.

Conversion or Reconciliation? (December 13, 2007):

This therapeutic approach to ecumenicism is rooted, I would argue, in the more general, therapeutic approach of Eastern Church to the spiritual life. In my experience, the Orthodox tendency to see Christian faith and morality in therapeutic terms is very powerful. For many Roman Catholics and Protestants however, the therapeutic emphasis of Orthodoxy is one of the most attractive and life-giving aspects of Holy Tradition. It is with some irony then that when the topic turns to ecumenicism many Orthodox Christians, especially in America, eschew any language that suggests that reconciliation or healing is what is called for in our conversation and witness to Christians in other confessions. The bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate however take the high road and refuse to acquiesce to those strident and sectarian voices that would counsel a simplistic reduction of ecumenical work to “us” vs. “them” or “Orthodox” vs. “heterodox.” Instead, BPA challenges Orthodox Christians to foster the reconciliation of non-Orthodox Christians with the Church. Speaking of reconciliation is more appropriate because, as we have seen, the bishops argue that the grace of Christ is not absent from non-Orthodox confessions. Indeed central to any Orthodox ecumenical witness is the conviction that “In spite of the rupture of unity, there remains a certain incomplete fellowship which serves as the pledge of a return to unity in the Church, to catholic fullness and oneness.” (1.15)

Dialog and Self-Criticism (December 14, 2007):

The remedies for relativism and triumphalism are the same: not only knowledge of the faith of the Church, but also a commitment to dialog that is rooted in both an openness to others and a spirit of self-criticism ground in Christ’s call to His Church to always empty herself of any pretention and self-confidence.

An Incomplete Communion: Ecclesiology or Anthropology? (December 17, 2007):

In the early Church, it is worth noting, this acknowledgement of a limited communion is never taken to be a rejection of the catholic nature of the Church as such. Nor did it turn the grace of God into something “free floating” and divorced from the Body of Christ. The emphasis, I would suggest, in a partial or incomplete communion is not on a rarified view of the Church, but an attempt to take seriously human freedom in response to divine grace. Though they have implications for ecclesiology, statements about an incomplete communion, or so it seems to me, are fundamentally statements about anthropology. I would suggest that, in speaking about incomplete fellowships, the bishops are making statements about the human person, and even concrete human communities, in whom they can recognize at least a partial communion with Christ and His Body the Church. They pass over in silence the ecclesiological status of these communities because their concern is anthropological and not about ecclesiology as such. The tension they are trying to maintain is between God free bestowal of His grace and human freedom to respond to that grace. Though in varying degrees, both of these are essential to communion with Christ and His Body the Church.

Transcending Relativism and Triumphalism (December 18, 2007):

Overemphasize our similarities and you fall into a relativism that denies any real difference between Christian confessions and, indeed, between Christians and non-Christians. Overemphasize our differences, however, and you fall into a triumphalism that makes the Church a sectarian group radically divorced from the very human family that Christ joins Himself to and for which He suffers and dies. In both cases, the catholic (kata + holos, or wholeness) nature of the Church is lost.

Do We Wish to be Reconciled? (December 19, 2007):

While I can’t speak for Catholics and Protestants, at least among the Orthodox (myself included I am ashamed to say), there are many who prefer a divided Christendom. It is simply easier not to have to deal with the many questions that seem to be tearing western Christian confessions apart. We happily exist in splendid isolation. Alas, this isolation is, as Fr Alexander Schmemann points out, is only possible if we stay in our grace proof chancelleries and rectories. Yes, we can keep “alive”—like some spiritual Disneyland—the glories of Byzantium and Holy Rus and our separation from Western culture and Christendom, but at what cost? How much of Orthodox resistance to a reconciled Christendom reflects a commitment to the Gospel and how much narcissism? How much of our talk about “conversion,” is simply in the service of requiring that “you” change and conform yourself to “me.” How much of our profession of faith is simply a way to excuses us from any real self-examination. To speak of reconciliation means not simply that “you” change, but that “we” change, that “I” change together with “you.” Even if that change is not dogmatic, it does mean making room in my parish for new people with their own problems and struggles. But oh, how this disturbs the “peace.” … So I ask myself again: Are we, Orthodox, Catholics, Protestants and Evangelical Christians willing to take seriously the task of reconciliation not simply with one and other, but with Christ? If the answer is “No” how can we then claim to be faithful to Christ? As St Basil reminds us, fidelity to Christ demands of us above all this “one aim—to bring back into union [those] Churches [and Christians] that have been severed from one another.” (Letter, 114).

From Mike Liccione at ‘Sacramentum Vitae’, more fascinating back-and-forth on the Ravenna document:

Ravenna: The latest chapter in Orthodox-Catholic ecumenism (November 17, 2007):

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 [Eastern Orthodox] and [Oriental Orthodox] relate to “the Church,” which is said to “subsist” in the Roman communion as a perduring whole … 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?

Orthodoxy on churches outside “the Church” (November 2o, 2007):

What I’m calling for, in effect, is the sort of development in Orthodox ecclesiology that has occurred, within living memory, in Catholic ecclesiology. Any such development would, of course, assume that the Eastern-Orthodox communion is “the” Church, with the question being how other churches relate to her—just as the Catholic Church sees herself as “the” Church, with the question being how other churches relate to her. Even so, one should not assume that Orthodoxy as a whole will come to see non-Orthodox churches, especially the Catholic Church, in a way that would be a mirror image of how the Catholic Church has come to see non-Catholic churches, especially the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox communions. I know of nothing to rule out that happening, but expecting it to happen would be presumptuous. Yet I believe it can be safely said that if Orthodoxy did develop greater clarity about the ecclesial status of non-Orthodox bodies, especially the Catholic Church, then the possibilities of ecumenism would be more clearly understood on both sides. And clarity about that could only constitute progress—even if the possibilities thereby exhibited would not please everybody.

Orthodox (non?)-ecclesiology, continued (November 21, 2007):

What I think it reasonable to seek directly from the Orthodox side is greater clarity about its own ecclesiology. If such clarity were forthcoming, that would not necessarily improve the prospects for unity; for all I know, it might worsen them; for if the Athonites turn out to speak for Orthodoxy, then the prospects for reunion, at least on the collective level, are dim indeed. If Athonite ecclesiology truly is the ecclesiology of Orthodoxy, then the only thing left for the Catholic Church to do is die. Of course, for all I know, Orthodox ecclesiology could develop along lines similar to that which is manifest in Vatican II’s teaching for Catholics. That would hold out more favorable prospects for collective reunion.

Getting perspective on ecumenism (November 21, 2007):

Is all the negativity about ecumenism I’ve been sensing of late just myopic on my part? The Internet, whose discussion forums breed even more logomachy than they allow, can darken the vision and mood of almost anybody who spends much time on it. I see the temptation to succumb to that as an invitation to spiritual combat—or, if you prefer, to a form of ascesis that must occasion a deepening of prayer. Indeed, when it comes to ecumenism, the Internet negativity one senses can be surreal in a way that I’ve only encountered regularly before in reading transcripts of full-blown exorcisms.

From Hieromonk Maximos at ‘The Anastasis Dialogue’:

Power, Power, Power (November 19, 2007):

The whole problem with the primacy is issue is not who has it but what primacy is. It’s about how authority works in a Church founded on the ultimate refusal of power, the kenosis of the Son of God. Does there really need to be an “arbiter” whose final word ends all disputes, as the Roman side claims? Or is the real guarantor of Truth the Spirit at work in Scripture, Sacrament and the Saints as the Orthodox aver? My view is that the final solution, from which we are intellectually, emotionally and culturally very far, will come about only when the notion of “hierarchy” is rescued from the power-political prison into which it has been placed since the cultural triumph of nominalism sealed by the Reformation and Enlightenment. Only then will we be in a position to understand the mystical, sacramental symbolic weight of apostolic authority that witnesses to, without recourse to worldly strategies of domination, what the Areopagite calls “the most conspicuous fact of theology — the God-formation of Jesus amongst us.”

The Ochlophobist on Ravenna (November 20, 2007):

Lurking behind this ecclesiology (and yes, that’s what it is—and not an “undefined” one, as is argued, but an ill-defined one) is, in my view, a kind of crypto-protestant “me and Jesus” attitude. Not everyone who cries, “Lord, Lord” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The Church does not exist solely in relation to Christ; it is also the means by which Christ extends Himself through the Spirit to all creation. The world matters; for its sake the God who so loved it sent his only Son into it, not to condemn it but so that it might be saved. Askesis and repentance are not just things we do for ourselves, to secure our own salvation. They are the ways by which we become co-workers with Him for the sake of the All. That seems a good enough reason for those ecumenical meetings, with or without the wine. And it certainly seems a good enough reason to think twice before sneering at those who attend them.

The askesis of ecumenism (November 26, 2007):

If the fathers of the Holy Mountain mean what they say, then the fact that they pray daily for, “the peace of the whole world, the welfare of the holy Churches of God and for the union of all” makes them, in the truest sense of the word, ecumenical. This means that all their acts of personal and corporate asceticism have an ecumenical dimension. They pray and fast not only for themselves but also that this prayer may be fulfilled. I’m not just playing with words. Yes, I am trying to re-define “ecumenism” away from the idea that it’s about professional theologians, conferences and junkets. I’m even trying to re-define it away from those of us who actually believe the Churches are already in a fundamental sense united. I want the word to mean what it ought to mean: faith in the salvation of the peopled world, the oikumene, through Christ Jesus and the need to witness to this salvation throughout that world. So yes, by acting as our kathartic conscience, the ecumenists of Athos are as essential to the work of re-union as the optimists of Bari and Geneva; perhaps more so.

From Wei-Hsien Wan, at ‘Bumi Dipijak’:

Christian Unity and the Renunciation of Autonomy (November 16, 2007)

The continued separation between the Churches is in part the furtherance of the quest for autonomy that began in Eden. History has wounded us, and we’ve numbed ourselves by writing the other out of every day life. Between East and West is the lie that we do not need each other, and this, perhaps, is the greatest chasm and the thickest wall. If it is true that we long for reunion and not simply discussions about it, then it seems to me that we must first repent by unmasking this. That way, when we actually sit down to talk about things that really do stand in the way of our living together, we can at least see each other face to face. If not, we’ll have to stand before the dread judgment seat of Christ and defend ourselves with that primordial lame duck of questions, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

A Jagged Little Pill (November 28, 2007):

… [w]hat do we have in common with those “vagabond” apostles of Christ, Paul, Peter and the others? And the hierarchs, charged with communicating the life of Christ to men, would one day, with the connivance of emperors, arrogate to themselves the right of life and death over the children of God, unscrupulously executing those who did not share their opinions and the letter of their faith, forgetting that faith is a gratuitous gift of God. These are not the type of men who would gather believers around the crucified Jesus and the Eucharistic table and who would bring about communion of hearts and spirits, as enjoyed by the first Christian communities. It is necessary to seek this communion from the “little brothers” and the “little sisters” of Jesus Christ, either in hidden cloistered life, or in the midst of the world, in obscure and daily labor of fathers and mothers who generously bear the concerns of a family, living from day to day. No, Christian unity would not be brought about by pastors of the churches, of whom it is written: “Awake, O sword against my shepherd, … says the Lord of hosts. Strike the shepherd, that the sheep may be scattered” (Zech 13.7). – Archbishop Elias Zoghby

From Peter Gilbert at ‘De Unione Ecclesiarum’:

Why Read Bekkos? (December 20, 2007):

Given that so much of Orthodox dogmatic theology has in fact taken shape in conscious opposition to Bekkos’s thought, can an examination of that thought now serve any irenic purpose, or only a polemical one? If a restoration of communion between Catholics and Orthodox is to be achieved, it would hardly appear to be possible now upon the theological grounds on which Bekkos would have established it … Why then read Bekkos, if his thought is so tied to a theology that the Churches are trying to get beyond? First of all, any attempt to get beyond something has to be very careful; it is always possible that what one seeks to get beyond is something one never quite understood correctly in the first place. That, I suspect, is the case with at least some of the criticisms of Bekkos’s thought. And even if those who read Bekkos continue to wish to get beyond him, I would hope that at least, by reading him, people who make it their business to criticize the West would learn to be a little more charitable towards this much-maligned Greek of the thirteenth century, who had the audacity to hope for a world in which Christians would not hate each other, and who sought with all the resources of his faith and intellect to bring that world into being. Is it too much to hope that such a world might still come about? Perhaps one reads Bekkos to reawaken the notion of that possibility.

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Ouch

Wei Hsien offers more hard spiritual medicine, especially for us chatty theological bloggers, from Saint Diadochos of Photiki (c. 450).

Spiritual discourse fully satisfies our intellectual perception, because it comes from God through the energy of love. It is on account of this that the intellect continues undisturbed in its concentration on theology. It does not suffer from the emptiness which produces a state of anxiety, since in its contemplation it is filled to the degree that the energy of love desires. So it is right always to wait, with a faith energized by love, for the illumination which will enable us to speak. For nothing is so destitute as a mind philosophizing about God when it is without Him.

The unillumined should not embark on spiritual speculations nor, on the other hand, should anyone try to speak while the light of the Holy Spirit is shining richly upon him. For where there is emptiness, ignorance is also to be found, but where there is richness of the Spirit, no speech is possible. At such a time the soul is drunk with love of God and, with voice silent, delights in His glory. We should therefore watch for the middle point between these two extremes before we begin to speak of God. This balance confers a certain harmony on our words glorifying God; as we speak and teach, our faith is nourished by the richness of the illumination and so, because of our love, we are the first to taste the fruits of knowledge.

In other words, why this blog will probably go silent for Advent!

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On simplicity of faith

It would have been truly a blessing if the preaching of the Gospel had forever shone brilliantly in Christ’s Church in all its unspeculative simplicity. It would have been genuinely salvific if the seal imprinted by the invocation of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit upon those undergoing regeneration through baptism had been seen by all as the one and only seal of godliness. But since Sextuses and Pyrrhons (I mean those people who, at various times, have discredited the true teachings by their argumentation) have thrown ecclesiastical matters so far off center that, on the one hand, unspeculative simplicity of faith now appears as stupidity to our theological connoisseurs and religious intelligentsia, and those who know no more than their confession of faith in the Holy Trinity are scarcely counted as belonging to our religion, while, on the other hand, variety and hyper-speculation in doctrinal matters are considered a form of wisdom and of nearness to God, perished is the blessedness of simplicity of faith, perished is the common salvation which was expected to be enjoyed once and for all by all who are imprinted with the seal of baptism; for theological divergence over the Trinity, united above all reason, and theoretical variety over the Unity, ineffably made Three, have splintered the Christian people into competing denominations.

– Patriarch John IX (Bekkos) of Constantinople
(Read more here)

Some commentary by Peter Gilbert:

… [T]his quotation from the work On Peace already shows that Bekkos is not a relativist, as some people make him out to be; he differentiates between orthodoxy and heresy, and he goes on in the book to specify what some of these heresies are. As for his understanding of catholicity, that is a more difficult question. The passage suggests that Bekkos identifies Christ’s Church, in some way, with the totality of the baptized. (St. Augustine, in his debates with the Donatists, said exactly the same thing.) There is a “common salvation, which was expected to be enjoyed once and for all by all who are imprinted with the seal of baptism.” Even though Bekkos says that this “common salvation” has “perished” (along with the “blessedness of simplicity of faith”), I sense that he is engaging in at least slight rhetorical exaggeration here. At the very least, he does not want to be too quick about defining the Church’s mystical boundaries. His business is to heal a division; he knows he cannot succeed in that task if he starts off by sharply differentiating between “us” and “them,” between what is “mine” and what is “yours,” employing “cold terms that banish godly concord.” He thinks that at least some of those differentiations have been made prematurely and stupidly, and that the Church has suffered because of it.

Russian Catholic Wei Hsien Wan, on his blog Bumi Dipijak, has some comments on Bekkos’s words (“Truth or the Politics of Truth?”).

Other interesting Bekkos posts at Peter Gilbert‘s blog De Unione Ecclesiarum:

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Technical question

Help! It seems that evil robots have taken over the archive to the old Pontifications blog. Does anyone know any way around this, or an alternative place where the old Pontifications may be archived? Thanks!

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Two from Mike

Dr. Liccione has posted two interesting articles recently:

Infallibility: An Infinite Regress?

Just as one cannot be maintain the virtue of humility by reflecting on one’s humility, so one cannot maintain the virtue of faith by reflecting on the degree of certainty one’s faith enjoys. For the Catholic it suffices, and ought to suffice, simply to trust that the Church is preserved by God from error about the deposit of faith when she teaches thereon with her full authority. One doesn’t have to know, in each and every instance, when the Church has done that; all that’s needed is to know that there have been clear instances when, according to universally acknowledged criteria, she has done so.

Mary and EENS

As some of my regular readers know, I use the acronym ‘EENS’ for the Catholic Church’s dogma Extra ecclesiam nulla salus, which is usually translated “Outside the Church there is no salvation.” As all Catholics ought to know, one of the titles that the Catholic Church has bestowed on Mary, the Mother of God, is “Mother of the Church” (see Lumen Gentium, Chapter VIII). Now in my experience, it is the ecclesiological and Mariological doctrines of the Church that cause the most protest among Protestants. After decades of meditation and debate, I have concluded that the two areas of doctrine are even more closely connected to each other than most Catholics realize, centering on the two particular points I’ve just described. Here I propose to sketch what I believe the connection to be. The matter would be of interest not only to some Catholics but also to some earnest, prospective would-be Catholics.

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Ecumenism: Alive and Well

Dr. Liccione has some interesting thoughts on Roman ecumenism with the Traditional Anglican Communion on one hand, and the Orthodox Churches on the other.

My optimism about the Orthodox stems from the fact that they have held no council, of a kind even they would consider ecumenical, committing Orthodoxy dogmatically to rejecting the Roman communion as one of true, particular churches. There seem to be many Orthodox who take the view that “we know where the Church is, but we don’t know where she isn’t.” Not all Orthodox take the view of the Athonites that popery is a diabolical scourge of Christendom and that Rome doesn’t even have a canonical bishop. That actually allows many Orthodox to consider the Latin Church a church with true sacraments, even if she’s gone off the rails somewhat about doctrine. Imagine that. But what, realistically, could talks on primacy yield?

Taking their cue from the generation-old Ratzinger proposal made in his book Principles of Catholic Theology, some Eastern Catholics seem to take the view that Vatican I’s decrees about papal authority would hold only in the West, not in the East, within a reunited Church. That’s a non-starter. If the pope is what Vatican I says he is, then he is that in the East as well as the West. The Orthodox should not expect Rome to retract anything she considers dogma any more than Rome should, or does, expect the Orthodox to retract anything they consider dogma. The real room for compromise is on the level of the exercise of jurisdiction. And that’s where theology can help.

The compromise might look like this: to end the schism, the Orthodox patriarchs would defer to Rome on matters not resolved otherwise, and Rome would confine her interventions in those patriarchates to matters not resolved otherwise. The theoretical basis for such an arrangement exists in nuce in the work of Ratzinger on communio and of Zizioulas on eucharistic ecclesiology. I for one believe this is how one aspect of the Ratzinger proposal can be worked out: the one where he says that Rome can require no more of the East than was “held in common during the first millennium.” To be sure, views about what was thus held in common diverge, and often diverge sharply. Getting agreement on the point will require consensus about what general form the development of doctrine may take. I think that’s where the hard work remains to be done. But it’s far from hopeless. I’ve encountered a good number of Orthodox authors who, while averse to the phrase “development of doctrine” as smacking of addition to the faith-once-delivered, admit what amounts to development in a sense not irreconcilably different from what Newman and Vatican II meant.

(Please leave your comments at Sacramentum Vitae.)

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Tim Enloe has posted more on “Romanitas” and the Papacy, specifically on the concept of the paterfamilias:

The word “pope” comes from the Latin papa, which of course, means “father.” To understand the cultural world of Romanitas, which deeply undergirds papal theory and assumptions about reality, we must understand about father is the concept of paterfamilias. This term can also mean “father,” but to unpack its implications it is better to say that it means “head of the house.”

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