I’m Glad We Cleared That Up!

popebenedict.jpg

Pope Benedict XVI has just released a clarification on the documents of Vatican II where he explains what is meant by calling the Orthodox “Churches” while still maintaining that they are “defective.” In a major problem that exists between Orthodox understandings of the nature of the Church and Roman Catholic understandings of the nature of the Church – he reiterated that the recognition of the papacy as universal primate of the Church is necessary for the proper constitution of every local Church.

This has not been embraced by Orthodox theology but has been seen as an aberration on the part of Rome. There is no news in this, except for the fact that the Vatican is now saying openly what the Orthodox thought they were always saying. Honest dialog where all the cards are turned face up on the table is appropriate dialog. Thus, I am pleased.

My own understanding of ecclesiology, refecting on Orthodox works and writings, is well documented on this blog: the series of articles on ecclesiology were among my earliest postings. I commend them to you for re-reading. Doubtless, proper responses will come from Orthodox authorties soon enough. I am only a parish priest and in this matter do not speak for my Archbishop, Metropolitan, nor any of the Patriarchs of the Orthodox Church.

The text of the Pope’s relevant remarks:

Fourth Question: Why does the Second Vatican Council use the term “Church” in reference to the oriental Churches separated from full communion with the Catholic Church?

Response: The Council wanted to adopt the traditional use of the term. “Because these Churches, although separated, have true sacraments and above all – because of the apostolic succession – the priesthood and the Eucharist, by means of which they remain linked to us by very close bonds”[13], they merit the title of “particular or local Churches”[14], and are called sister Churches of the particular Catholic Churches[15].

“It is through the celebration of the Eucharist of the Lord in each of these Churches that the Church of God is built up and grows in stature”[16]. However, since communion with the Catholic Church, the visible head of which is the Bishop of Rome and the Successor of Peter, is not some external complement to a particular Church but rather one of its internal constitutive principles, these venerable Christian communities lack something in their condition as particular churches[17].

On the other hand, because of the division between Christians, the fullness of universality, which is proper to the Church governed by the Successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him, is not fully realised in history[18].

The footnootes refer to notes in the original text [editor's note]

I thought the following quote from my articles on ecclesiology to be appropriate for mediatation:

I would start… with the fact that everyone who is Orthodox has agreed to “deny himself, take up his cross and follow Christ.” The ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church, the Pillar and Ground of Truth, is found precisely in its weakness and is found there because God wants it that way.  If salvation means loving my enemies like God loves His enemies, then I am far better served by my weakness than my excellence. If humility draws the Holy Spirit, then my weakness is far more useful than any excellence I may possess.

The Orthodox Church has perhaps the weakest ecclesiology of all, because it depends, moment by moment, on the love and forgiveness of each by all and of all by each. Either the Bishops of the Church love and forgive each other or the whole thing falls apart. “Brethren, let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” These are the words that introduce the Creed each Sunday, and they are the words that are the bedrock of our ecclesiology.

Universal Primacy has a way of offering a [false] guarantee that transcends the cross [which can never be transcended]. No matter how badly we fail, the de jure Primacy of the Pope in every local Church, guarantees that no one can really mess it up. I think that is neat, and the product of human imagination. I believe that God has established His Church such that, just like Christ, when pierced with nails it will bleed. Only love binds the Church together, nothing more.

[notes added for fear that some were misunderstanding - again read my earlier posts on ecclesiology of the cross]

Comments

  1. says

    Father bless,
    I completely agree with your article and I flatter myself in noting that some of my own comments at A/O seem to mirror your thoughts. An honest understanding of where the other side is coming from is important in any discussion. And in that sense this is a very positive development. I think however that this document was primarily intended for internal consumption rather than external. B-16 is trying to clean up a mess that has been a half century in the making. And that is IMO the main reason he is restating what for Roman Catholics are old truths.

    ICXC
    John

  2. Joseph says

    **However, since communion with the Catholic Church, the visible head of which is the Bishop of Rome and the Successor of Peter, is not some external complement to a particular Church but rather one of its internal constitutive principles, these venerable Christian communities lack something in their condition as particular churches.**

    Was this true of all the New Testament Churches that existed before Peter reached Rome, or even those churches that existed before the gospel ever reached Rome? I do not see how it could be so. How can something be an “internal constitutive principle” when it comes much later than a church’s founding? Did all the churches in the world prior to the 60’s AD in fact have the fullness of the gospel?

  3. George Parker says

    Hello again Father!

    I don’t intend to address the obvious terms of controversy raised in this post, but I must say it’s unfair to history, to the testimony of the fathers, and even to the nuanced understanding of Roman primacy that is well evidenced in Orthodox treatments of Roman claims to dismiss the Roman doctrine as if it were simply dreamed up. That said, I did want to note the profound significance of Pope Benedict’s clear intention to address the confusion introduced consequent to the Second Vatican Council. Catholics, as you well know, have suffered to have their faith (and traditional worship) vindicated now for way too long. I should think the Orthodox will likewise heartily welcome these straightforward affirmations, as you indicate. I must go now, but I’d like to check back when I have the opportunity (now very limited.) My best to you and your family and to everyone here.

    See you, George.

  4. John Hudson says

    A minor correction, father:

    The document released by the Vatican today (unlike the motu proprio on the pre-Vatican II liturgy released on Saturday) is not a personal pronouncement of the Pope, i.e. these are not Benedict XVI’s ‘remarks’. The document was produced by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Obviously it is approved by the Pope, and presumably requested by him, but it is not a personal document, as your commentary might suggest.

  5. mrh says

    Joseph,

    The church ca. 60 AD also did not have the New Testament, but most Christians today would agree that any church that does not acknowledge the authority of the NT is seriously defective. Orthodox Christians would say the same about the Nicene Creed (as would many others).

    So, the fact that the doctrine of the papacy hadn’t been articulated in the first century doesn’t, by itself, prove that the doctrine isn’t true or essential. It is really not an easy question to settle, particularly in a setting such as a blog (many have tried!).

    As an Orthodox Christian I naturally agree with Fr. Stephen here, but I did not reach that conclusion quickly or easily.

  6. John Hudson says

    Joseph, the issue is not that the primacy is in Rome, but that the primacy was with Peter, and went with him where he went. I don’t think anyone disagrees that the individual churches established by the apostles and their successors recognised that primacy, given to Peter by Christ. What that primacy means, in terms of succession and, especially, in juridical terms, is the question.

    There seems to be a developing idea within the Catholic Church, emanating from the recent Popes, that the primacy is primarily pastoral, and that while it may have a particular juridical aspect for the Latin Rite, this is already different with regard to the Oriental Catholic Churches (e.g. in the election of bishops by synod), in practical terms the exercise of the primacy may mean different things in the context of the ecclesiology of the particular Churches, and that shouldn’t necessarily be a barrier to communion.

  7. says

    Fr Stephen,

    Thanks for your helpful comments. What is the source for the pope’s remarks? And where might one find the original document released by the pope?

    Fr John

  8. Michael Bauman says

    John, the reason the Primacy question is a barrier to communion and rightfully so is because how one answers the question defines the nature of the Church, the Body of Christ. How can we commune when we are partking of a different body?

  9. JohnNicholas says

    “I don’t think anyone disagrees that the individual churches established by the apostles and their successors recognised that primacy, given to Peter by Christ. ”
    Perhaps not. If, in those formative years, all churches universally recognized the Primacy (and hence, authority) of St. Peter, how can there be any dispute on this point centuries later? Implicit in the concept of Primacy is the presence leadership and authority; Primacy without authority is merely a respecful honorific and not something to be contentious about. Paul cautions us to be wary of attributing the character and success of congregations to those who planted the seed of the gospel. God gives the increase and Christ is the head of all.

  10. says

    It is also the case, that it cannot be true for the Latin rite and not true for the Eastern. Ecclesiology is of the one church, not special cases made for the sake of Ecumenism. It is fairly easy to see how the papacy evolved in the West and understand the reasons why. A Catholic would see this development as the work of the Spirit. The East tends to see this as rather the work of man and other social forces.

    I wish them no evil. I pray only God’s blessings for this Pope. I suspect that as Ad Orientem said, this is a document for internal consumption primarily – on those grounds I don’t think the Papacy has enough strength in the modern Catholic Church, as of yet, to make much difference.

    The likelihood is that others will take this in a negative way and react accordingly. But as I said, better to have all the cards on the table face up.

    John,

    I appreciate the finer disctinctions of Vatican diplomacy – but everyone is attaching this document to this Pope and not to a department acting on its own. It used to be his department. I know it’s not an official infallible proclamation, etc. But it does clarify.

    For me it clarifies yet again why I am not a Roman Catholic but rather an Orthodox Christian.

  11. Don Bradley says

    Something to keep in mind……. The Eastern Orthodox Churhes have valid sacraments and succession in Rome’s eyes NOT because of some objective criteria, but because Rome says they do. The first 7 Councils are Ecumenical and binding NOT because of some objective criteria that makes them Ecumenical, but because Rome says so. The validity of Eastern Churches is solely dependant upon Rome granting them that status, and NOT because they have it by some other means.

    That is how Rome has always done business, and always will do business. If I cared deeply what Rome thought about anything, I’d be a Roman Catholic. I don’t, so I’m not.

  12. says

    Father bless,

    I posted this on “Ad Orientum” before seeing your entry, Father:

    “I too am glad for Rome to clearly define herself.
    Bothersome to me personally is oftentimes in conversation with RC’s, unstated(but assumed) premises are utilized in the talks between our two communions. Many a well meaning RC, engaging us Orthodox in dialogue, often quickly become exassperated when they realize we don’t concede to Rome’s concessions to us as “Sister” Churches or the “Two-lung theory” which our RC friends bring to the table.
    I think it much healthier(and sane) to acknowledge how different we really are and I believe that from an honest appraisal(on both sides) as to what each believes, we stand on much more solid ground.
    It is a real hindrance, I believe, to often use much of the same terminology but to pack such different meaning into the terms so that what seems to be a no-brainer conversation often if not always gets lost in tangents with no real understanding ever being accomplished.
    To clearly define oneself is a virtue insofar as to not leave false impressions as to what motives are.
    Rome is Rome. She believes that unless a church is in communion with her, such a church lacks something.
    We Orthodox believe that in actuality, Rome in existing ontologically as she does, lacks fullness.
    But again, an endless debate can begin just on my use of the word “fullness”. It means onething to me and another to an RC. Clearly defined positions are much more conducive to reach such understandings.
    And at the end of clearly stated viewpoints, I still have the option of remaining an Orthodox and the RC remaining as such. No foul. Each of us must consult our conscience and one day answer to Him based(among other things) on how much light we received and what we did with that light.
    These are just some of my thoughts.

  13. says

    Fr Stephen, I’m afraid I must dissent from your suggestion that the the Latin claim for the universal primacy of the successors of Peter somehow transcends the cross. Quite the contrary, I would suggest that the primacy of Peter secures the cross in the life of the Church. To the sinful, weak, and often incompetent and corrupt successors of the one who thrice denied Christ is given the office of visible unity in the Church catholic. One of the best places to begin one’s theological reflections on the Papacy is Hans Urs von Balthasar’s The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church.

    The document is, as you say, clarifying. In fact, of course, it does not say anything that has not already been said in earlier documents. It simply restates briefly the ecclesiology articulated in Lumen gentium and Dominus Iesus. While the document is principally an internal document, correcting as it does the ecclesiological relativism of some Roman ecumenists, it does pose a fresh challenge to Orthodoxy. Compare the generosity of the ecclesiology of Vatican II to the exclusivity of Orthodox ecclesiology. The Catholic Church gladly acknowledges the ecclesial reality of Orthodoxy. She acknowledges the Churches of Orthodoxy as being authentic particular Churches. As she explains in her Catechism:

    “The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christian, but do not profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter.” Those “who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church.” With the Orthodox Churches, this communion is so profound “that it lacks little to attain the fullness that would permit a common celebration of the Lord’s Eucharist.”

    It is precisely this recognition of the existence of Church outside of her visible bounds that empowers the commitment of the Catholic Church to the work of ecumenism. But no such flexibility is to be found within the popular ecclesiologies of Orthodoxy. As you yourself like to say, “We know where the Church is; but we do not know where she is not.” This is perhaps more generous than the line taken by folks like Romanides, but it still falls far short of the generosity and warmth of Catholic ecclesiology. Catholic ecclesiology is messier, I grant; but it also rings true to reality. “Here is Church in its fullness … yet here too is Church.” This is, perhaps, the decisive reason why I finally had to become Catholic rather than Orthodox. Ultimately, I simply could not believe that the Church of Jesus Christ was restricted to the Churches of the Orthodox communion. It is precisely the gift of universal primacy, embodied in the Bishop of Rome, that permits the Catholic Church to celebrate and affirm ecclesial reality wherever it is to be found.

  14. Michael Bauman says

    Forgive me if I offend but must we once again lapse into an endless round of my dog’s better than yours? I disagree with Rome’s interpretation of the Primacy of Peter. I cannot think of anything that will change my mind. I know that many Roman Catholics feel the same about the Orthodox belief. I’ll happily tell anyone who asks why I believe what I believe, but I refuse any longer to argue. Fr. Stephen stated the differences quite clearly IMO. Let it go at that. There is a real substantive difference. The attempt to “convince” each other of the correct position is fruitless. All the arguments have been out there for about 1600 years. Pick one, be happy, do something productive and let God sort it out. Who knows, maybe we are both wrong.

  15. Han says

    What is the practical effect of this new document? Will it change contenporary Roman discipline on the reception of Communion? For some time now, the Catholic Church has allowed Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Nestorians to receive Communion at a Catholic Mass without so much as a profession of faith. This cannot just be there-are-no-differences-ecumenical nonsense, since the Catholic Church does not extend Communion to Protestants or non-Christians. Perhaps it is because Rome knows that any Orthodox Christian who would have a mind to receive at a Catholic Mass is probably swimming the Tiber anyway, but nevertheless, the ecclesiological statement is still there. It would seem that by permitting an Orthodox Christian to recieve Catholic Communion, Rome is saying that the Orthodox are Catholic. After all, what sort of schism from the Church still allows Communion? Yet on the other hand, this most recent document seems to draw a distinction between a “particular Church” and a “particular Catholic Church” while affirming the Church-ness of both. Are we to understand this as a schism *within* the Church? Are there varying levels of Catholic-ness? Or is the current discipline just an abuse that should be stopped now that this latest document has cleared up the matter?

  16. Wei-Hsien says

    Father, bless.
    I agree with you that the primacy of Peter can be offered as a false guarantee of the unity of the Church, or its security for that matter. The afflictions that have befallen the Western Church have shown us at least this much. But what if there exists a primacy of honor that serves the Church’s unity–and is truly exercised as service, not coercion or power? Perhaps the papacy isn’t quite there yet, but can you agree that the East and the West need each other, and that we must spend our efforts on learning to live together again? Since the Great Schism, we’ve learned to move on and survive in the absence of the other, but maybe one of the first questions we should ask is, “Do we, for the sake of becoming what God wants us to be, need each other after all?” And what if the Pope can someday be the one who helps us all live a common life again? It seems that, in light of John 17, I should at least dream of that possibility.

  17. says

    Michael Bauman, I quite agree with you that we do not want to get into one more fruitless round of disputation. But of course, I didn’t write this article. My dear friend Fr Stephen did. And when it comes to the question of Petrine primacy and the nature of the Church, I fear that he simply does not do justice to the nuance and subtlety of the Roman understanding nor to the complexities of the historical questions. I would also point out that the arguments advanced by Fr Stephen in his article could just as easily be turned against Orthodoxy and its insistence upon the necessity of the historic episcopate for the life of the Church. Free-church Baptists and charismatics are happy to glory in the weakness of their Spirit-inspired ecclesiology over against both Orthodoxy and Catholicism.

    But I think I’ve said enough and will retire back to lurker status. Blessings!

  18. says

    Nothing new here. B16 is holding the line that the “Greeks” have defective Christianity, first put forth from whole clothe for political reasons by the Germanic Karling Franks.

    But should B16 finally realize that, unlike its prior iterations, the EU (a/k/a the Unholy Germanic Empire or Third Reich) has no place for the papacy, he finally might find the shoe on the other foot regarding the need for reunion under duress — a new Florence but this time with the European Christians under the gun.

  19. MichaelPatrick says

    I don’t think Christ pressed his authority except when cleaning the temple or dealt with demons. God wears his authority so casually that it’s scandalous in our world where power over men is the surest sign of kingship.

    I’m thankful that EO churchmen leave many things unsaid and invite us into the church as a hospital for souls where we may be nourished for life by the food of Christ’s body given for us. This is a good way, I think, for Christ’s bride to hold up his legacy among men.

  20. says

    John Hudson said:

    “the exercise of the primacy may mean different things in the context of the ecclesiology of the particular Churches,”

    Fr. Alvin Kimel said:

    “It is precisely the gift of universal primacy, embodied in the Bishop of Rome, that permits the Catholic Church to celebrate and affirm ecclesial reality wherever it is to be found.”

    Wei-Hsien said:

    “what if there exists a primacy of honor that serves the Church’s unity–and is truly exercised as service, not coercion or power?”

    I have been studying Fr. Schmemann’s ecclesiology over the past few weeks.
    http://paedagogus.squarespace.com/witness-to-joy/2007/7/3/primacy-part-1.html

    He would agree whole-heartedly that one’s understanding of a universal primacy depends on one’s ecclesiology. He, in fact, was for primacy at various levels, including the universal. But his ecclesiology is eucharistic, not universal, which means that the relationship between “particular Churches” (to use the RC phrasing) and the primacy of a given bishop within a group of local churches was based on something other than juridical power or any kind of power above that of bishop (any “supreme power”). Simply put, there is no power (grace) conferred by the Church above the rank of bishop. (The bishop is the highest ordination.) Fr. Al comes close when he says that it is the unifying function of bishops to recognize, to testify to, and to witness to (“to celebrate and to affirm”) the fullness of Church in other local churches (“ecclesial reality”).

    But Fr. Schmemann would say that each local church, gathered around its bishop as the Body of Christ, with the Eucharist, with orthodox faith and the life of Christ, IS The Church in its fullness. Bishops in council, and bishops in a position of primacy, can do no more than to witness to this reality — given by God, not man — and draw upon the strength of all churches in communion together with each other to support and edify each local church, and to proclaim Christ in mission to the world.

    Historically, universal primacy existed first in Jerusalem. At certain periods in history, perhaps it belonged to the church (bishop) in Antioch, Alexandria, or Constantinople. The bishop of Rome was often (always?) revered and respected, although often enough, the Roman church was completely out of touch with what was going on in the East during various turmoils. It’s hard to believe the Pope of Rome historically could be a voice of universal witness among the churches when he didn’t know what was going on.

    Still, even given a eucharistic ecclesiology, Fr. Schmemann saw a role for a universal primacy — one voice — giving visible testimony to the unity of local churches, who each in their own right, and all together as “identical” to each other in space and time, constitute the One Church.

  21. Joseph says

    mrh,

    That’s not my point. The NT, and the Nicene Cred for that matter, are not “internal constitutive principles” of the church. I’m not trying to argue against any development of doctrine, but I am trying to understand how something can be an internal constitutive element in a particular church when it developed later. I do not see how something can be foundational if it is not in fact in the foundation.

  22. says

    “Here is Church in its fullness … yet here too is Church.” This is, perhaps, the decisive reason why I finally had to become Catholic rather than Orthodox. Ultimately, I simply could not believe that the Church of Jesus Christ was restricted to the Churches of the Orthodox communion.

    What the phrase “We know where the Church is; but we do not know where she is not” is really pointing to is the same as what Fr. Alvin ascribes to Rome, but with an important difference. Orthodoxy, in that generalized tendency so often identified, simply refuses to overly define every last little point of teaching leaving dogma and doctrine, properly defined, as fences put up in response to persistent errors. The vast bulk of Orthodox teaching is simply part of Tradition and unsystematized. So, Orthodoxy simply says, we don’t know what exactly is ‘out there beyond our bounds’. We therefore have no need of ‘clarifications’ on poorly understood ‘definitions’ attempting to ‘systematize’ the RCC’s position on how those outside of the Church can yet be a part of the Church.

    As in many things, Orthodox Tradition – even in those sectors of Orthodoxy most stridently against ecumenism and the errors of non-Orthodox communions – requires converts to love all that was good in the churches, religions or non-religions that brought them to the Church while leaving aside its errors. This is simply the Orthdox way of saying “Here is Church in its fullness”, and yet God was with you where you had been, too. After all, God is ‘everywhere present and fillest all things’ – which includes non-Orthodox churches and persons.

    I’m also not sure if non-RCCs see the fact that their ecclesial communions are defined as ‘defective’ while also being accorded the term ‘church’ as any great example of either ‘generosity’ or ‘warmth’, though I can see how RCs could perceive their church’s actions in that way.

  23. says

    Fr. Alvin Kimel wrote:

    It is precisely this recognition of the existence of Church outside of her visible bounds that empowers the commitment of the Catholic Church to the work of ecumenism.

    1. But no such flexibility is to be found within the popular ecclesiologies of Orthodoxy.

    As you yourself like to say, “We know where the Church is; but we do not know where she is not.” This is perhaps more generous than the line taken by folks like Romanides, but it still falls far short of the generosity and warmth of Catholic ecclesiology. Catholic ecclesiology is messier, I grant; but it also rings true to reality. “Here is Church in its fullness … yet here too is Church.”

    2. This is, perhaps, the decisive reason why I finally had to become Catholic rather than Orthodox. Ultimately, I simply could not believe that the Church of Jesus Christ was restricted to the Churches of the Orthodox communion.

    3. It is precisely the gift of universal primacy, embodied in the Bishop of Rome, that permits the Catholic Church to celebrate and affirm ecclesial reality wherever it is to be found.

    To Fr. Alvin and Fr. Stephen:

    1. Just because no such flexibility is found within the popular ecclesiologies of Orthodoxy, does that mean that Orthodoxy forbids its members to have such flexibility?

    2. Do Orthodox Christians have to believe that the Church of Jesus Christ is restricted to the Churches of the Orthodox communion? In this case, by “Church of Jesus Christ” I am referring to something other than a 1:1 correspondence with the physical Orthodox Church. By admitting that “we don’t know where the Church is not” (a popular phrase, but one that some Orthodox argue is not Orthodox – see, e.g., The Non-Orthodox by Patrick Barnes), don’t Orthodox recognize or admit the work of Christ in the gatherings of two or more in His name, as well as in the lives of non-Orthodox individuals?

    3. Are Orthodox Christians prevented from celebrating and recognizing ecclesial reality wherever the work of the Holy Spirit is to be found? Again, the term “ecclesial” would have to have a broader meaning than a 1:1 correspondence with the physical Orthodox Church.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  24. Don Bradley says

    Joseph,

    They would answer that though Rome wasn’t even evangelized yet, the fullness of communion was with Peter. They would then say for YOU to experience the fullness of the Catholic faith, you must commune with Peter’s successor, which at this point in time is Benedict. There are libraries dedicated to this subject, the volumes of which you couldn’t read in 100 lifetimes, and is right now doing more to further the cause of carpal tunneling syndrome than any other theological subject. There is no, “Gotchya” that will suddenly change Rome’s thinking, because Roman supremacy is as core to them as which direction the sun will rise tomorrow morning. They are what they are; either you buy their line of reasoning or not. If Rome suddenly tossed in the towel on Papal supremacy, it would be a disaster…. over one billion people wouldn’t say on that day, “Boy, I think I’ll be Orthodox now.” It would create hundreds of millions of agnostics in an instant. Be careful what you wish for.

  25. Phil says

    Don Bradley, I think you are reading something into the document that isn’t there. It makes an objective statement about Orthodoxy: “Because these Churches, although separated, have true sacraments and above all – because of the apostolic succession – the priesthood and the Eucharist, by means of which they remain linked to us by very close bonds.”

    In fact, this gets to the heart of the problem Rome is forced to confront in Orthodoxy: indeed, it does contain a valid episcopate and it does contain true sacraments. It further teaches the fullness of the Faith that built and nourished Rome itself; to say otherwise wouldn’t pass the giggle test. What else is there? Isn’t this enough to fully join oneself to Christ’s Body? Of course.

    And so, Rome is left to suppose that the Orthodox “lack something in their condition as particular churches.” What is that something? That is left unsaid – as it must be.

  26. Ron says

    I know I should let this slide, but I can’t, since I am a ex-Roman, Orthodox convert. Father Kimel’s comment exemplifies what I find most incomprehensible about modern Roman Catholicism, the blithe and unsubstantiated equation of what the Roman church teaches TODAY with what it has always taught. Until Vatican II, the ecclesiology of Rome was every bit as exclusive as that of Orthodoxy. Read Mystici Corporis of Pius XII. To be outside the visible Roman Catholic Church was to be outside the church. Period. Full stop. The late Dorothy Day, who was baptized as an Episcopalian, had her baby daugher baptized a Catholic before she entered the church herself. She writes in her autobiography, The Long Loneliness, that it pained her to realize that her baby was a member of the Body of Christ when she herself was not, even though, according to the ecclesiology of Vatican II, she already was. As much as I loved the Roman Catholic tradition, I never mastered the sense of historical amnesia that seems to be a prerequisite for contented membership in the modern Roman Catholic church.

  27. says

    I love this quote. Thanks

    “I believe that God has established His Church such that, just like Christ, when pierced with nails it will bleed. Only love binds the Church together, nothing more.”

  28. Phil says

    Fr. Kimel referred to the same Orthodox document elsewhere, but I don’t see much difference between its evaluation and that of Rome’s. See in particular these statements, which sound remarkably like the CDF’s:

    1.15. The Orthodox Church, through the mouths of the holy fathers, affirms that salvation can be attained only in the Church of Christ. At the same time however, communities which have fallen away from Orthodoxy have never been viewed as fully deprived of the grace of God. Any break from communion with the Church inevitably leads to an erosion of her grace-filled life, but not always to its complete loss in these separated communities. This is why the Orthodox Church does not receive those coming to her from non-Orthodox communities only through the Sacrament of Baptism. 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.

    1.16. The ecclesial status of those who have separated themselves from the Church does not lend itself to simple definition. In a divided Christendom, there are still certain characteristics which make it one: the Word of God, faith in Christ as God and Saviour come in the flesh (1 Jn. 1:1-2; 4, 2, 9), and sincere devotion.

    1.17. The existence of various rites of reception (through Baptism, through Chrismation, through Repentance) shows that the Orthodox Church relates to the different non-Orthodox confessions in different ways. The criterion is the degree to which the faith and order of the Church, as well as the norms of Christian spiritual life, are preserved in a particular confession. By establishing various rites of reception, however, the Orthodox Church does not assess the extent to which grace-filled life has either been preserved intact or distorted in a non-Orthodox confession, considering this to be a mystery of God’s providence and judgement.

  29. says

    Gosh guys, I was afflicted with some form of bubonic plague or other medieval illness starting yesterday afternoon, that left me asleep until noon today. The Pontificator has resurrected while I slept! Thanks be to God.

    First, I am deeply sure that I do not understand the nuances of Petrine Doctrine and I am sure I do them an injustice. Forgive me.

    Generally my thought was this is a useful pronouncement because things are beginning to be said more clearly. Excellent. I did not mean to create
    an opportunity for Catholic bashing. So everyone, please quit doing that. It is unkind even if you think they are wrong. I said I pray for this Pope (not in my services) but I do pray.

    I will take one small exception with my beloved friend the Pontificator. I do think there is a difference between what Rome professes ecclesiologically and what I have spoken of as the ecclesiology of the Cross. It doesn’t make it of non effect, but I’m not sure it moves it to the utter center of things. My work in this aspect of the cross has been indebted to St. Silouan and Fr. Sophrony, whose kenotic teaching is perhaps slightly radical even for some Orthodox – but is true – restoring the cross to the center of all speach about theosis, etc.

    Now, on a slightly different note, and this is just a blog observation. I published in short order two thoughts (partly autobiographical in one case) arguing for greater sobriety in spiritual matters and the other, but a brief response from a non expert on the latest Vatican clarification.

    The result was the largest number of views in a single day. It went through the roof and is continuing today.

    Most of this (I feel a sermon coming on) points to the fact that we would rather argue about what cannot be changed than discuss or practice the small things I write about all the time.

    My suggestion to all: you think to much and you sin too much. Pray more, be kind, forgive all by the resurrection. And above all, forgive this poor sick sinner and pray for my quick recovery. I have a wedding to attend (“Get me to the Church on time”) and a house full of guests while I lie in bed with whatever it is I’ve got.

    Pontificator, thank you for lurking and for your posts. Always welcome!

  30. says

    The Pope and I agree. I am deficient. In fact, I am the chiefest of sinners. But, perhaps being in the company of the wounded is not a bad place to be when the Lord of Creation is so compassionate and kind.

    I will rather glory in my weakness because when I am weak then I am strong.

    If my wound is healed there is a very good chance I will be come complacent and lazy in my focus on Christ and His Cross. If I have to choose, I will keep my wound.

    The Pope and I agree (not that that matters!)

    B

  31. Tom says

    Vatican’s honest position furthers dialogue – Metropolitan Kirill

    MOSCOW. July 10 (Interfax) – The Russian Orthodox Church has called
    “honest” the position of the Vatican published in a document of the
    Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stating that the Catholic
    Church is the only church approved by Christ.
    “It is an honest statement. It is much better than the so-called
    ‘church diplomacy’.” It shows how close or, on the contrary, how divided
    we are,” Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, who heads the
    Moscow Patriarchate’s Department of External Church Relations, told
    journalists in Moscow on Tuesday.
    “For an honest theological dialogue to happen, one should have a
    clear view of the position of the other side,” because “it helps
    understand how different we are,” he said.
    Basically, the Vatican’s current document has nothing new and is in
    “full conformity with the doctrine of the Catholic Church,” Metropolitan
    Kirill said.
    “The Orthodox Church is, according to Apostolic Succession,
    successor and heir to the old, undivided Church. Which is why everything
    contained in the Catholic document rightfully applies to the Orthodox
    Church,” the Metropolitan said.

  32. says

    I am also glad to note, that in light of Met. Kyrill’s statement, I was in agreement with the Orthodox hierarchs. Thank God. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

  33. says

    I am not suprised by what the Pope said. It is hardly news and doesn’t present us anything new to discuss.

    I am somewhat confused by Fr. Kimel’s statements. I don’t understand how these two concepts link up, namely generosity, if it be generosity, and truth. I suppose in some sense it is more “generous” metaphysically speaking to grant to a defective and temporary instance of a form some measure of reality due to its cause. That or something like that seems to be the relationship envisioned by Rome. But of course that conflates a metaphysical generosity with a moral one.

    As for the moral generosity, this is in fact quite recent in Rome’s attitude, say only in the last fifty years. I seriously doubt that it is of the esse of Rome then and can be put to do the kind of criteriological work that Fr. Kimel in all sincerity wishes to put it too. Consequently, it seems quite possible that Rome will eventually develop beyond it and correct it from the other pole, when the pendulum swings back in the other direction. Perhaps though the moral generosity will last. A good marker of that would be say in relation to Eastern Rite Catholics with respect to ordination in the US. From my understanding they can’t even get ordained if they are married here because of opposition from Latin Rite bishops. This is what I am told and could be completely wrong. There’s generosity on paper and then there is generosity in deed.

    In some ways it is true that Rome is more flexible. Of course the rigidity of Orthodoxy doesn’t permit a new philosophical grid to be poured into the dogma every 25 years either. Is there anything in principle or in scale like Liberation Theology in Orthodoxy? I keep getting group emails complaining about the the seemingly vast amount of liturgical abuse going on, with notable extremes, Barney Masses, Clown Masses, etc, not to mention your general run of the mill and steady stream of deliberate subversion of Catholic doctrine and morality from the pulpit. My response is, why are these people complaining so loudly if they knew this was the situation when they converted? That’s Rome. Thats the situation. Live with it or leave. This is not to say that Orthodoxy doesn’t have its practical problems that one has to live with-it does. But one should knowingly choose such things when one converts.

    Fr, Kimel implicitly suggests that Rome has essentially recognized everything the Orthodox could want. Of course, except the persistent belief in the East that they lack nothing of the deposit of faith. And isn’t that the whole game? I suppose one reason I became Orthodox was beause I couldn’t believe that the deposit of faith given by Jesus Christ was restricted to one see.

  34. Don Bradley says

    I read an interesting part of St. Silouan today:

    “The Staretz had an idea of his own-that only someone who has known God and then lost Him can seek after Him. He would say that any search for God must be preceded by some sort of experience of God.”

    That begs the question from me; am I to look for something in my past to point me towards knowing God now or in the future?

  35. says

    Fr. Stephen,

    Maybe we’re celebrating the advent of an honest Vatican a bit too soon.

    Are Orthodox Churches defective owing to a defective ecclesiology or owing to defective dogma? Vatican 1 seems to suggest that papal primacy is a dogmatic truth, rather than being just one characteristic of a properly constituted church. Making us believe that dogmatic defects are simply ecclesiological defects would suggest to me that the Pope’s statement is more of a red herring than an honest document.

  36. says

    Don,

    I would rather say, that it’s not looking for an experience in the past – but one in the future – and St. Silouan would say – don’t be surprised that this experience seems taken away and is followed with darkness and longing. It is God drawing us deeper to himself.

    Visibilium,

    I suppose one of the reasons (among many) that I am not Roman Catholic is that I cannot understand their theology – it is too rational, too subtle, but somehow in a fashion that does not seem to me to save. I have only read what was forced on me from time to time.

  37. Patty in WA says

    I don’t have anything brilliant to contribute, but I do thank God for your pastoral care and responses on this blog; I do hope you get to the church on time; and I will pray that it is without bubonic plague or whatever has afflicted you.

  38. says

    It seems to me that we are united in truth, and truth is expressed in theology. Different theology, different church. Truth cannot develop.

  39. MichaelPatrick says

    I’m unable to use the links Pontificator posted above:

    interview with Fr Augustine DiNoia
    –and–
    Basic Principles of the Attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church Toward the Other Christian Confessions

    Having tried both Firefox and Internet Explorer, I don’t think my browser is the cause.

  40. Mark Kondylis says

    Bless Fr. Alvin Kimel

    It’s good to read something from you. I hope all is peaceful with you and your family. I would like to quote Pontificator’s Fourth Law:

    “A church that does not understand itself as the Church, outside of which there is no salvation, is not the Church but a denomination or sect.”

    The Orthodox Church understands itself as the Church. Can there be two equal Churches? For the Orthodox and I think as well for Catholics the answer is no. Would not both communities be forced to consider itself a sect or denomination if they took any other stand? This is the way I understand the Fourth Law.

    Yes, the attitude seems exclusive and lacking in generosity. But, I would like to suggest that the attitude is reflective (“understand itself as the Church”) and functions to guide members of the community in relation to its sacraments, clergy and confession.

    An Orthodox Christian must be absolutely convinced of the validity of its sacraments, the authority of its clergy and the purity of its confession. How could the Church affect spiritual healing without its members being convinced of the exclusivity of its sacraments, clergy, and confession — that there was no other way? So, an Orthodox Christian not only believes in the promise of the resurrection (like all Christians) but in the exclusivity of the Way.

    The “we are the only Church” attitude is less useful when in dialogue with other communities. But, I would like to mention again that it is an attitude that is meant to govern the members of the Orthodox Church in relation to the sacraments, clergy, and confession of the Orthodox Church. Does this attitude mean that everyone outside the Orthodox Church is going to hell? No. I think it is possible to hold both beliefs. Most Orthodox and I include most of those who hold anti-ecumenist beliefs would think it presumptuous to judge who or who does not go to heaven or which way the Spirit blows.

    I hope when you feel better Fr. Kimel you will resume your service to the community of Christians who benefited from your intelligence and wisdom. Seeking your prayers, Mark