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An update

My apologies for the lack of activity here since the beginning of the Nativity Fast.

Cathedra Unitatis has been around now for a year (it premiered on January 12, 2007). I originally started the blog for a very selfish reason: I wanted answers to my own questions about the differing ecclesiological visions of Rome and the Eastern Churches. I wanted smart Orthodox and Catholics to come together and engage in an honest yet charitable dialogue on ecclesiology, and specifically, the issue of the Papacy and primacy in the Universal Church.

When I started the blog, I was an Orthodox convert seriously contemplating the possibility of coming into the communion of the Church of Rome. Today, a year later, I remain an Orthodox Christian, and I am determined to remain in this faith and communion until I die (a fact which will, no doubt, dismay both my Catholic friends and my Orthodox critics alike!).

The question now is whether to abandon the blog, or to keep it going albeit in a somewhat different form. I am still very interested in ecclesiology and the Papacy, but perhaps at this point the blog would work better as a place for discussion of Orthodox-Catholic rapprochement. It seems to me that ecumenically-minded Orthodox are woefully under-represented in the blogosphere (two exceptions being the wonderful blogs by Fr Gregory Jensen and Peter Gilbert).

I am grateful for your readership and especially for your insightful comments during the past year. I have learned a great deal, and I look forward to learning more from the discussions here, God willing.

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

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

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

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

– Saint Augustine of Hippo, Replies to Questions of Januarius 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Asia News

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Thou art Kepho

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

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

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Short break

I will be taking a short break from blogging, and will not be approving comments until I return.

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Thanks to all!

The comments on the Soloviev post have been really very informative and thought-provoking. However, I am finding it extremely difficult to keep up with all of the comments. I hope to post a summary of highlights from the comments and some further questions / discussion starters as soon as I can.

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Some clarifications

Before I continue exploring the objective Orthodox-Catholic issues that are of interest to me, let me make a few clarifications about my intentions as a blogger.

First, this blog was not meant to be all about me. I have no desire for fame, and I have no lust for “blogpress” or “public affirmation”. Nor am I looking to be made a “martyr” at the hands of my fellow Orthodox who strongly disagree with me. I was actually quite taken aback when my blog was found so soon and linked to on a couple of Catholic blogs that I first linked to on my blogroll. The attention and the comments came on very fast. This may have given the wrong impression to others, that I was out to promote myself from the get-go. That was not my intention.

Second, my aim is not to stir up controversy for the sake of controversy. I don’t like controversy, and I don’t like polemics. But I also realize that the issues I am interested in are controversial, whether I like it or not. I certainly expected disagreement, but it is wrong to assume that I have some malicious intent to stir up disagreement for the sheer heck of it. My intention, admittedly selfish, was merely to “think out loud” about the Orthodox-Catholic problem, and to have knowledgeable folks from both traditions tell me where I’m on track, and where I’m off track. I am trying to be very strict about the comments on this blog. Perhaps I am naive to think that I can somehow harness one thousand years of bitter religious controversy and have everybody “play nice”. We shall see.

Oh, and I have changed the subtitle of the blog to: “An Eastern Orthodox Christian Looks at the Church of Rome.” This should be less provocative than the phrase “On the Road to Rome”. Perhaps I did convey the wrong impression that my mind was already 100% with Rome (though I never said that I was actually in any formal process of being received into full communion with Rome). At this point, I do feel a strong attraction to the Roman Communion, but honestly, I am still “just looking” and trying to sort through the major issues.

We shall see how the blog progresses. I consider it to be an experiment in progress. If it becomes a hindrance, rather than a help, to me and to the participants, I will not hesitate to pull the plug. Thanks to all who have contributed so far. I have already learned quite a bit.

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