Should I want everyone to become Orthodox?

florovsky-charityI recently ran across on Facebook a group named “Catholic & Orthodox: Steps Towards a Reunited Church,” which naturally interested me since I am, among other things, keen to understand how Orthodoxy compares and relates with Rome and vice versa. It’s always hard to figure out exactly what the character of these groups is at first blush, even from reading their official descriptions, so I read through several dozen posts. I eventually came across this one from an administrator (Update: Concerning this quoted passage, see my note at the bottom of this post):

As an administrator, I would like to welcome all of our new members. I also want to take the opportunity to let them know, as well as remind all members, that if you are not committed to reunification and the diakonia of koinonia, which certainly requires charitable engagement (i.e., if your idea of ecumenism is that the Orthodox and Eastern Catholics become Roman, or vice-versa), this is likely not the place for you.

I was suddenly reminded of the eminent Fr. Georges Florovsky, a multi-decade participant in ecumenical dialogues who was at the founding of the World Council of Churches and is probably the foremost Orthodox Christian theologian of the 20th century. What immediately came to mind was a passage from one of his papers given in the context of the WCC (if this seems familiar, it may be because I’ve quoted this bit before; it’s a favorite):

I believe that the church in which I was baptized and brought up ‘is’ in very truth ‘the Church’, i.e. ‘the true’ Church and the ‘only’ true Church . . . I am therefore compelled to regard all other Christian churches as deficient, and in many cases can identify these deficiencies accurately enough. Therefore, for me, Christian reunion is simply universal conversion to Orthodoxy. I have no confessional loyalty; my loyalty belongs solely to the ‘Una Sancta’.

(From “Confessional Loyalty in the Ecumenical Movement”)

That is, Florovsky believed that everyone (including Roman Catholics, who largely were not involved in the WCC during Florovsky’s time) should become Orthodox Christians. So one of the most prominent Orthodox ecumenists (and I use that term in the sense Florovsky embodied, not in the sense of doctrinal compromise) of all time would not be welcome in that group. Why? It is because (based on this administrator’s presumably authoritative comment) it is based on an ecclesiology which both Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics should reject, i.e., that their own church is not uniquely the true Church of Christ.

Yes, it is true that the Roman Catholic Church regards the Orthodox as “true churches” in some sense, but there is still a sense in which the Orthodox are nonetheless lacking something—that we “suffer from defects,” as written in Dominus Iesus, approved by Pope John Paul II but signed by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI). So while there is some kind of recognition there, it certainly is not anything that would preclude the notion that Orthodox (and other) Christians really ought to become Catholics in the Vatican’s sense.

But even setting aside the somewhat complicated reality of Orthodox/Catholic relations, other Christians and most of the world’s other religions probably harbor the notion that what they believe is actually true. And if what they believe really is the truth, shouldn’t they want other people to agree with them and become part of their religion?

Sadly, the truth is that the answer to that question, at least here in the West, is more and more becoming “No.” Yes, I believe what I believe is true, but it is true for me and maybe isn’t true for you. Or maybe we just don’t know the truth or can’t know the truth. Isn’t the important thing that we just love each other?

Now, I know that my previous paragraph is certainly taking things beyond the portion I quote above from that Facebook group (and its official description certainly seems to allow far more room for actual debate), but isn’t this really just pietism in another form? Isn’t this just another way of saying that doctrine does not really matter? Surely ecumenists of any sort would recognize that there really are doctrinal differences between the churches. One can only conclude that the “no-convert” types must believe that the differences just don’t matter, because doctrine really doesn’t matter. Or maybe only some doctrine matters.

That said, I did find some honest engagement over doctrinal differences in that Facebook group, indicating that those people actually believe that doctrine matters and that differences should be overcome. But that leads me to wonder if it wasn’t therefore in violation of the administrator’s admonition. After all, what is the point in debating doctrine if you don’t actually want the other guy to change his mind? Nevertheless, the idea of actually believing in one’s own faith and wanting other people to convert to it is referred to in a comment on one post in the group as “unilateral ecumenism” which is “like, so two centuries ago.”

Anyway, to me, good ecumenism is really the sort that tries to get other people to convert. We should want them to convert, and quite frankly, I want people who are not Orthodox to want me to convert to their religion. Why? It shows that they 1) really believe in it and 2) want to share it. If you don’t want me to convert to your religion, I have to conclude that either 1) you don’t really believe in it or 2) you don’t want to share it. Or maybe both!

It should be said that working for conversion is not the same thing as proselytizing, which generally involves some kind of coercion or manipulation. I’m not advocating anything of that sort. But shouldn’t we care enough about our faiths and about our family and friends that we should want to share that faith with them?

Should one be sensitive about how one shares one’s faith? Of course. Should one be careful about not being overbearing? Of course. Should one know that it’s sometimes most fruitful just to leave someone alone entirely? Of course. Should one hope that sometimes doctrinal differences turn out not to be differences at all? Of course. Should one not presume that membership in one’s own church guarantees salvation? Of course. (Actually, come to think of it, some may well believe that. And if that’s what their church teaches, well, they should either believe it or jump ship.)

But at least be praying that they convert. Anything else can only mean you either don’t believe your own faith or you don’t care about them enough to hope they share it.

If some of these ideas sound familiar, I’ve written on them here before. Here are a couple of those pieces:

I’ve also written on my personal weblog more generally about the question of theological engagement (“ecumenism”):

Update: Since writing this post, I’ve been informed by an administrator that the approach criticized here is not the official policy of that Facebook group and also that the post quoted above from another administrator has been removed and that its author has left the group. He also invited me to join the group. In any event, while I drew some examples from the group, my point is not really to criticize it (after all, its members clearly take different approaches) but to comment on a certain approach to theological engagement I observed there.


  1. I think reunification dialogue must explore if we are *already* in communion theologically taking into account if a discrepency is a theologoumenon.

    1. Daniel, I’m not really sure the idea that we can be “in communion theologically” while not in communion in actuality makes much sense.

      That said, it is true that an important part of dialogue with other churches should be to really get at the meaning behind the words. This is just as important for points where we may be using different words (and, thus, think we believe different things) to mean the same thing as it is for points where we use the same words (and, thus, think we believe the same thing), but mean different things. As an example, from what I understand, Orthodox, Catholics, and Protestants all use the term “grace.” However, all three mean slightly different things by that term! We use the same word, but mean different things!

  2. I challenge the presumption that Father Georges did indeed believe that reunion with the papal Church meant that the papal Church would be “coming home to Orthodoxy”…There are other indicators in his writings and in his interactions in Paris that would point to a different conclusion. It is my fervent prayer that both Orthodox and papal Catholics may resume communion with full respect for their shared and divergent traditions and shared faith. I understand your concerns and assertions Father Andrew. I know many of my own Catholic brothers and sisters who feel the same way and would not be nearly as calm in their presentation of their position. But I think you and they both need to come another step forward before you can see that the reality is not quite as you portray it. I can only and ever do only speak with respect to my understanding of the Catholic and Orthodox life and dialogue….Mary

    1. I challenge the presumption that Father Georges did indeed believe that reunion with the papal Church meant that the papal Church would be “coming home to Orthodoxy”… There are other indicators in his writings and in his interactions in Paris that would point to a different conclusion.

      Okay, like what? The quote from him included here certainly isn’t falsified.

      1. Father: I am simply commenting on my understanding of Father Georges based on reading much of his corpus that is available in English, and on the personal and anecdotal remarks of clergy and monastics who knew him. Since I am just beginning to celebrate Lent now, I will not be arguing here or trying to prove any point. I appreciate that you will discredit and reject what I have to say but I appreciate your allowing me to say it.

        1. I simply asked on what basis you challenge what Florovsky said. Sourced quotes would do the trick.

          I won’t say that Florovsky’s thought was monolithic throughout his life. He developed in some points. (I am not really the person to flesh that out, though, since I am not really an expert in his work.) That said, I get no sense from anything I’ve ever read from him that he reversed his position on this question. He really believed that Orthodoxy is uniquely the Una Sancta.

          If you’re interested in his thoughts on the question of the Church’s limits, he wrote a piece on the matter, which we published here last year: “The Limits of the Church”. There’s actually a good bit in the comments there from someone who is an expert in Florovsky (Matthew Baker), many of which are relevant to the question of Florovsky’s view of Rome.

  3. “After all, what is the point in debating doctrine if you don’t actually want the other guy to change his mind?”
    To both learn and grow, if one doesn’t enter a debate with a humble mindset, with the understanding that this is what I believe, but I am not omniscient so therefore I could be wrong. And just sets out to prove the other guy wrong, then it will quickly escalate into nothing more than a senseless argument devoid of love.

    The point of debate is dialogue. Not proving yourself right.

    1. Who said anything about proving oneself right? But debate and dialogue are not the same thing. The former is a particular type of the latter, and it presumes an actual belief in what one is saying. If one doesn’t believe in one’s own position, then why hold it?

  4. If I may make one further comment Father Andrew: Pope Benedict has also said in the very same documents that you indicate above that the papal Church is also wounded by the schism, for it is the schism that prevents the papal Church from fulfilling its charge to protect and keep unity in time. So it is not just the Orthodox Church that is wounded/deficient through the realities of the schism. That is a very bitter pill for many Catholics to swallow and you don’t find many of them making reference to that comment but it is one of the most important statements made with respect to the bi-lateral Orthodox Catholic and papal Catholic dialogue….thank you….Mary

    1. That’s nice language, of course, but the RC teaching is still that the Church “subsists” in its fullness only in the communion subject to the pope. That means there’s really nothing lacking, no “defects.” So it’s disingenuous to use the pastoral language of a “wound” to imply that Pope Benedict was actually teaching that there really are defects in his own communion, that it really is not quite the Church.

      1. Father: Pope Benedict did not make his comments about Orthodoxy to indicate that they were not quite the Church. In fact, at least through the pontificates of John XXIII through Benedict XVI and now Francis, it has been recognized [implicitly for John XXIII but explicitly from John Paul on] that Orthodoxy is fully Church except for the schism which is material and not formal or theological. So you are articulating a perspective, and then giving it to those who do not deserve it or did not and do not promote it. It is far more than nice language on the part of Pope Benedict to say that the Churches are incomplete without one another. The open teaching of the Catholic Church is that in theological reality we already are one…What we need to do is yield to that in charity and truth and….trust. That is what is taking the time and causing no end of distress to some.

        1. Not sure how you get that from “defect.” Benedict is not exactly known as a man who plays fast and loose with language. It seems to me that you want him to be saying something that he isn’t. I can understand why, of course, but I think that reading is wrong.

      2. Of course we see the contradiction whenever the papacy is vacant. If fullness requires communion with the pope, then logically we must reach the conclusion that Roman Catholicism believes it is defective whenever the chair of Rome is vacant.

        1. That is indeed a question I myself have. My understanding is that RC canon law says that all episcopal power devolves to the cathedral chapter on the vacancy of its throne, which in the case of the papacy would be the College of Cardinals. But does that then mean that papal infallibility, papal supremacy, full catholicity, etc., are during that period communally in their hands? I ask not as a “gotcha” but because it’s something I don’t quite understand. If the divinely instituted papacy is of the constitution of the Church, what happens at the sede vacante?

      3. Father: elijahmaria is correct in what she is saying about the Roman view of Orthodoxy. She knows the sources quite well. If anything, Benedict XVI believed the Latin tradition should learn from the Greek. Through his writings and his actions (retiring), he’s single-handedly moved Roman theology, as well as practice, substantially closer to that of late antiquity.

        As for talk about “defect”: you have to read wider. But even “defect” is a material problem, not a formal or theological one, i.e. the “defect” is schism, not heresy, and does not prevent recognition of real ecclesiality.

        1. Part of the problem here is the moving target of RC theology, which is why I was largely confining my comments to magisterial statements, which still are the only truly official declarations of RC theology. And in them, as the dead horse beaten elsewhere in these comments shows pretty readily, there is not only a sense of a “defect,” but it’s explicitly defined for the “separated Churches” in doctrinal terms, i.e., that they reject “the doctrine of Papal Primacy.”

          I certainly recognize Benedict’s attempt to move the RCC in a more Orthodox direction on such things, and I hope it bears much fruit, but unfortunately not everything he’s written or done is actually part of the magisterial corpus.

    2. Father, during a period of sede vacante all Vatican Curial positions are dissolved, except one office, the sacred tribunal which handles all excommunications which require involvement from the Holy See. Because the salvation of souls is a mission which can never end or be interrupted, this is the only Vatican office which remains in power. Generally for other matters, the local bishops have sufficient authority and power, as successors of the Apostles, to “run” the Church during sede vacante. (You realize right that bishops don’t generally need the pope or the Vatican to run their local church. The last infallible papal statement was in the 1950s) If there is a problem which needs Roman involvement, then the college of cardinals convened in Rome for the conclave would have to handle it as a group during the interregnum.

  5. 1) Do you see any contradiction in what Fr. Florovsky said and did? How could he in good conscience have participated in the World Council of Churches? It was overtly committed to syncretism. Even today, with the Catholic Church full of rank apostates, it is still not a member. I encourage a reading of Pius XI’s MORTALIUM ANIMOS if you haven’t read it.

    2) Like I mentioned above, I think a commission of devout and learned Orthodox and Catholics should examine the Holy Sacrament of Matrimony. I realize Matthew Baker doesn’t speak for the Orthodox Church, but when he said the following, ” It seems to me that both the Orthodox system of dealing with remarriage as well as the RC system is less than ideal: in the first you have what appears to be a contradiction to the literal sense of the NT…” this certainly revealed a problem that deserves attention. If an Orthodox Christian believes that his Church has a problem with its understanding of the nature of a Sacrament, then, to me, this would need to call into question the nature of the Church’s ability to protect and defend the Apostolic Faith. The true Church of Christ should not get it wrong when it comes to something as basic as what is Christian marriage. How can the Orthodox allow remarried couples, living in a state of adultery, to be absolved of their sin and again to receive Holy Communion, without requiring first that they end the adulterous relationship? How can a period of penance, no matter how long or severe, remedy the fact that the couple is living in a persistent state of sin? I’m sorry if I’m beating a dead horse and this point, but to me this issue is so much more blatantly obvious that the Orthodox Church needs Rome than any other matter of Faith or Morality out there. If this theological commission would ever happen, hopefully, it would be also an occasion for the Catholic Church to reform its absolutely evil practices with the modern use of annulments.

    1. 1) No. As for the WCC, it did not start out syncretistic. But even as it grew in that direction, Florovsky still participated, even into the ’70s. He still believed it important to witness Orthodox there.

      2) Not fair asking me to account for Mr. Baker’s statement. 🙂 In any event, though, it’s worth noting that marriage has not really been the subject of much dogmatic declaration; it’s mostly been a matter for pastoral care and canonical regulation. To say that there is a general problem with the current “understanding” does not mean that there is something heretical going on. And of course not all Orthodox would necessarily agree with Mr. Baker’s assessment. To say that the Orthodox “need” Rome on this question is really just to assert that Rome is right and Orthodoxy wrong. Suffice it to say that there’s no particular reason to be convinced by that. From my view, it’s Rome who needs Orthodoxy, since it’s clear (as per your admission) that the understanding of marriage for Rome has problems, evinced by the annulment spree that seems to be giving no signs of abatement.

      3) (I know you gave no #3, but I will.) Your bit on #2 really has hardly anything to do with this post. Please try to keep on-topic. Not every post should be an occasion to beat whatever particular dead horse is your preference.

      1. Father, I’ll try harder to stay on topic! (I thought it related insofar as I believe the issue of Christian marraige is a worthy topic for doctrinal discussion/cooperation between East and West, which is somewhat related to your original post,, I think?)

        1. Oh, so you’re not just a lion roving about seeking to devour the maritally defectible? 🙂 Almost anything is “somewhat related.”

          We’re fairly liberal when it comes to moderation. If the moderators regard something as contributing something worthwhile to the conversation, it will get posted. But if there are attempts (especially repeated ones) to contribute something mostly unrelated, then comments start not getting published.

          This post is about how one views the truth of one’s own beliefs when discussing them with others.

      2. Just a note: I was not saying I think the received way of dealing with second marriages (while the estranged spouse is still living) as now received in Orthodoxy is wrong, nor did I at all suggest that I think the RC understanding is right. Nor did I say that our practice contradicts the NT; rather, I said it *appears* to contradict the literal sense. My point was a different one. The reality is that

        (1) Both communions uphold the indissolubility of marriage;

        (2) both regard divorce as a sin not to be dealt with lightly;

        (3) both communions have had to deal with the less than ideal situation of how the Church is to respond to that situation of sin and brokenness (divorce);

        and finally (4) both in dealing with such situations have devised practices and understandings (regarding second marriage, annulments, etc) which are hard to justify simply from the literal text of the NT itself.

        If you really want a strictly literalist application of the Pauline statements on second marriage while the spouse is still living, then the RCC would not be your candidate — as Apostle Paul gave no loophole for annulments and second marriages based on the couple’s defective “intention” in the sacrament, or lack of understanding of it, etc.

        Rather, if you really want a strictly literalist application of the Pauline statements on second marriage while the spouse is still living, then your best candidate would be the Church of England prior to the 1960’s. As was pointed out by one RC writer in a study of CS Lewis [can’t remember which, but it may have been Christopher Derrick’s CS Lewis and the Church of Rome], the Church of England in Lewis’ day had a stricter canonical practice regarding marriage than any communion in Christendom, including the
        RCC. Very simply, the C of E canon law did not allow second marriages while the spouse was still living, and there was no annulment loophole either. Which is why Lewis had a problem even in marrying an American Jewish divorcee convert to Christianity, whose first unhappy marriage to an alcoholic husband was not even a church marriage. When Lewis finally found a priest-friend willing to conduct the marriage with Joy Davidman, it was against C of E canon law at that time.

        An honest historical assessment would show you that early patristic treatment of marriage and divorce can not be used as apologetic fodder for *either* the current RC or the current Orthodox understanding and practice, both of which are later developments. Probably the Ethiopian Church, which strictly forbids anything beyond one single Church marriage (which I believe is celebrated by eucharistic communion, under a liturgical tent similar to the Jewish huppah), would be the closest thing to the primitive Church’s practice. However, the result of that is that many members of their church who are not priests never have a church marriage, and thus, having contracted a non-sacramental marriage, they do not receive communion either. Unless you want to start your own rigorist sect, there is apparently no *ideal* solution to these issues at hand.

        And as Fr Andrew said, these really aren’t matters of fundamental dogmatic importance. From my study recently of some scholarship on the Council of Trent, even Trent did not actually teach that the RC practice was a literal strict fulfillment of the NT, or the only way that Scripture and Tradition might be faithfully reflected with regard to marriage and divorce issues. Rather the formula used was a looser one: something like this practice etc is “according to” Scripture and Tradition, etc.

        These matters *are* indeed of theological importance, and eventually they should be dealt with at greater depth in ecumenical dialogue (the N. American RC/Orthodox dialogue commission did produce one document touching on marriage). BUT neither church has (to my knowledge at least) ever named this issue as dogmatically or ecumenically decisive. The ONLY people who seem to bring the issue up as somehow decisively reflective of the dogmatic integrity of either communion are “pop apologists” from the RC side!!

      3. Up late nursing a very bad head cold. Will comment on the more substantive issues discussed in this thread in the next couple days; but on the marriage thing, this from the statement I referred to above, by the North American Orthodox/RC dialogue commission from 1990 is, I think, helpful in addressing the questions raised above and clarifying the actual situation re: marriage and divorce as it is now view by those involved dialogues.
        The full statement is to be found here:

        The Enduring Nature of Marriage

        The common teaching of our churches follows Sacred Scripture in affirming the enduring nature of marriage. Already the Old Testament used marriage to describe the covenantal relationship between God and God’s people (Hosea). The Epistle to the Ephesians saw marriage as the type of the relationship which exists between Christ and the Church (Eph 5:31-33). Jesus spoke of marriage as established “from the beginning of creation.” He also taught: “And the two shall become one. So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” (Mk 10:6,8-9; Mt 19:4-6).

        A number of scholars of Sacred Scripture in our churches consider it likely that Jesus’ teaching about the indissolubility of marriage may have already been interpreted and adjusted by New Testament writers, moved by the Holy Spirit, to respond to new circumstances and pastoral problems (cf. Mt 5:32 and 1 Cor 7:15). Hence they ask, if Matthew, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, could have been moved to add an exceptive phrase to Jesus’ saying about divorce, or if Paul, similarly inspired, could have introduced an exception on his own authority, then would it be possible for those exercising authoritative pastoral decision-making in today’s Church to explore the examination of exceptions?

        Our churches have expressed their conviction concerning the enduring nature of Christian marriage in diverse ways. In the canonical discipline of the Orthodox Church, for example, perpetual monogamy is upheld as the norm of marriage, so that those entering upon a second or subsequent marriage are subject to penance even in the case of widows and widowers. In the Roman Catholic Church the enduring nature of marriage has been emphasized especially in the absolute prohibition of divorce.

        Our churches have also responded in diverse ways to the tragedies which can beset marriage in our fallen world. The Orthodox Church, following Mt 19:9 (“whoever divorces his wife except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery”), permits divorce under certain circumstance, not only in the case of adultery but also of other serious assaults on the moral and spiritual foundation of marriage (secret abortion, endangering the life of the spouse, forcing the spouse to prostitution and similar abusive situations). Out of pastoral consideration and in order better to serve the spiritual needs of the faithful, the Orthodox Church tolerates remarriage of divorced persons under certain specific circumstances as it permits the remarriage of widows and widowers under certain specific circumstances. The Roman Catholic Church has responded in other ways to such difficult situations. In order to resolve the personal and pastoral issues of failed consummated marriages, it undertakes inquiries to establish whether there may have existed some initial defect in the marriage covenant which provides grounds for the Church to make a declaration of nullity, that is, a decision attesting that the marriage lacked validity. It also recognizes the possibility of dissolving sacramental non-consummated marriages through papal dispensation. While it true that the Roman Catholic Church does not grant dissolution of the bond of a consummated sacramental marriage, it remains a question among theologians whether this is founded on a prudential judgment or on the Church’s perception that it lacks the power to dissolve such a bond.

        Study of the history of our various traditions has led us to conclude that some at times may raise a particular theological explanation of relatively recent origin to the level of unchangeable doctrine. The Second Vatican Council’s “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” stated that there was need for a renewal of the Roman Catholic Church’s understanding and approach to its teaching on marriage. That council implicitly recognized that teaching on marriage had frequently proceeded from a biological and juridical point of view rather than from an interpersonal and existential one.’

      4. Matthew wrote:

        “Very simply, the C of E canon law did not allow second marriages while the spouse was still living, and there was no annulment loophole either.”

        This is not accurate. There was an “annulment loophole” in the Canon Law of the Church of England, explicitly from 1604 onwards. It was essentially a continuation of the Medieval Catholic understanding, but employed in the most restrictive way. Reasons for annulment included marriage within the forbidden degrees, coerced marriage and impotence (lack of consummation, cf. the notorious Essex “divorce” [i.e., annulment] case of 1610-13, better known as the “Overbury Case”). After 1855, when civil divorce (and remarriage) first became available in England, a procedure for civil annulments was introduced at the same time, but because the standard of proof for obtaining such annulments is so much higher than for getting a divorce it is seldom used.

        Then, too, there was the curious phenomenon known as “parliamentary divorce,” of which some 325 were granted between 1670 (Lord Roos’ case) and 1821 (the fiasco of King George IV’s to get such a divorce). Parliament would pass an act granting a divorce to a couple, and going on to allow (a) one or the other party to the divorce, or both parties, to remarry “any law, custom or canon of the Church of England to the contrary notwithstanding.” and (b) any clergyman of the Church of England to perform such remarriages, likewise without incurring any penalty of the law, whether civil or canon.

        Since civil divorce and remarriage became legal in 1855, there were no available legal or canonical sanctions that could be used against clergymen of the Church of England who chose to officiate at such “remarriages” in defiance of the relevant 1604 canon. However, down to the 1960s bishops of the Church of England maintained a united front, publicly at least, against allowing the solemnization of such remarriages in churches, and at the same time they all maintained a “blacklist” of clergy who performed such “remarriages.” Such clergy could not be removed form their benefices, but they were effectively “marginalized” as clergymen and in the clerical affairs of their dioceses, and were excluded from transfers or promotions to other benefices or positions.

        1. Thanks for the erudite note of correction, Dr Tighe. I got my history fuzzy — but would you agree with what was said by this RC scholar on CS Lewis (whose name I couldn’t remember)? namely that a “second marriage” after divorce was harder to obtain in the C of E than in the RCC in Lewis’ day? From what you are saying, it sounds like yes.

      5. “… would you agree with what was said by this RC scholar on CS Lewis (whose name I couldn’t remember)? namely that a “second marriage” after divorce was harder to obtain in the C of E than in the RCC in Lewis’ day?”

        If you mean by “divorce” the civil dissolution of a valid marriage without an accompanying or ensuing ecclesiastical annulment (which was the case with regard to Joy Davidman), the answer to your question is “of course not; one could always, even if with some difficulty, find a clergyman of the Church of England willing to officiate at such a ‘marriage,’ but never a Catholic priest;” but if you mean by it “civil divorce and ecclesiastical annulment,” then the answer would probably be “yes.”

      6. Yes — OK, I get *all that*; but the reality was that it was actually harder to gain an annulment in the C of E than the RCC, no? That was the original point.

      7. Okay; I missed the point of your question. The answer is almost certainly “yes” — if, that is, there was any formal “annulment procedure” in the Church of England after marriage and divorce (and annulments) were “secularized” in 1855. (I’m sure that there must have been one, but possibly, after 1855, it was entirely informal and “off the record.”)

  6. Just as a final and necessary comment: From the time of John XXIII on the Catholic Church has openly recognized that the only defect in the Orthodox Churches vis a vis the papal Church is that we are not in communion. In all other ways we are Sister Churches. This is not something that is said of any other Christian confession. It is unique to the Mystical Body of Christ to recognize all Orthodox Churches as Sister Churches. The defect or wound in the papal Church is the schism and the historical condition of disunity. It matters not how you and I read that. What matters is how our patriarchs read it. Blessed Lent, Father. In Christ….Mary

    1. It matters not how you and I read that. What matters is how our patriarchs read it.

      Well, perhaps that is true for you, since your ecclesiology is papal. Orthodoxy does not have that ecclesiology, however, so for us, it very much matters how even a lowly parish priest or the laity read such things. We regard the whole Church as being the guardians of the faith.

      In any event, while I appreciate that you are willing to say that the RCC has a “defect” and that defect is that the Orthodox aren’t subject to the pope, that’s not at all what I read in Dominus Iesus or related statements. It of course matters what patriarchs say about these things (though not, I think, to me as much as it may to you), so I would be interested in statements from the magisterium to the effect that because of the schism the RCC has a “defect” (not just a “wound,” etc.; “defect” is real, ontological language). Can you point me to sources?

      I know you said elsewhere that you don’t intend to argue or prove your point, but does it make sense to make assertions (such as that Florovsky held your view of the schism) without any kind of material on which to base such assertions?

      1. It is Catholic teaching that schism is a sin. As long as schism remains the earthly form of the Body is ontologically unsound, and the Body, in history cannot fulfill its mission…that means it is defective. One does not call Church that which is not part of the Mystical Body. So you may make your assessments but I am content with my own understanding of my canonical home.

        Perhaps I will come back another time and in another topic where we can discuss more of Father Georges. He is one of my most favorite of the Orthodox thinkers of his generation, time and place. It would not cross my mind to think that he would say anything different from what he said in your quote when it comes to membership in the Body!!

        1. I can certainly agree that schism is sin, but to say that sin therefore creates an ecclesial defect is essentially a form of Donatism. A defect is something that impinges upon validity.

          In any event, you are of course free to read such things as you will, but the fact nevertheless remains that in Dominus Iesus and other documents, language regarding “defect” is used only of churches and “ecclesial communities” that are not under the pope. There is most assuredly a hierarchy there, and the only people that are fully “Church” in all its catholicity are those subject to the pope.

          I’m not really sure what there is to gain for an RC by not recognizing that. Indeed, it is completely consistent with all other RC theology, which insists again and again that only the RCC is the true Church of Christ in all its fullness.

          Let me know if you do plan to bring any sources with you that demonstrate the sort of thing you say regarding either Florovsky or Benedict’s teachings, indicating that they really aren’t what they appear to be. Until then, well, it’s just Mary Lanser. 🙂 (I must admit it is somewhat ironic to assert in one breath that it doesn’t matter what either of us thinks and then with many others to let me know just what it is you think!)

  7. I always read Nietzsche during Lent. Here’s a quote that’s apropos: “”It is not their love for men, rather it is the impotence of their love that hinders Christians of today from burning us.”

    This is, from Nietzsche, a criticism of all of us. Our generation of Christians, regardless of stripe, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or Protestant has no problem whatsoever with allowing the greater mass of humanity, not just in the world but immediately around us, to shuffle through this life and into the grave completely ignorant of the Light of Christ. And we pretend that by not saying anything that might make someone uncomfortable or ruffle their feathers, that we’re being loving and kind. The reality is quite the reverse. By keeping our mouths shut about the Truth as He has revealed Himself to us, we are exercising toward our neighbor the purest form of hatred.

    Love would mean that, like the Lord Himself, we would desire that none should perish, but that all should come to the knowledge of the Truth, and we would spend our lives working to make that a reality. Love would mean that, as the Psalms say, we would rebuke the errant in mercy. Love would mean that even if the whole world rose up against us to destroy us as a result, we would suffer whatever torments it could muster gladly rather than let a single soul perish in ignorance.

    That’s the kind of love that the Apostles had, that the Fathers had, and that the Saints through every age have had, and that we need to be seeking to acquire during this Lenten period.

  8. Father: I went back and read the several documents preceding and surrounding Dominus Iesus and I think you are correct. I think that defect does indeed refer to validity, and because that is true then it can be said that the term “defects” cannot really apply to Orthodoxy since my canonical home recognizes the sacramental validity of all Orthodoxy, regardless of whether or not they are in communion with one another. I cannot find anywhere where it is stated explicitly that Orthodoxy is defective. I believe my comment on being wounded by the schism is indeed the correct understanding. If you can find a quote that says that any or all Orthodox Churches are defective in light of your connecting validity and defect, then I will happily stand corrected…..In Christ…Mary

    1. But that’s exactly what Dominus Iesus says (click that link to get to the endnotes included numerically here):

      “The Christian faithful are therefore not permitted to imagine that the Church of Christ is nothing more than a collection — divided, yet in some way one — of Churches and ecclesial communities; nor are they free to hold that today the Church of Christ nowhere really exists, and must be considered only as a goal which all Churches and ecclesial communities must strive to reach”.64 In fact, “the elements of this already-given Church exist, joined together in their fullness in the Catholic Church and, without this fullness, in the other communities”.65 “Therefore, these separated Churches and communities as such, though we believe they suffer from defects, have by no means been deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church”.66

      If “these separated Churches” does not refer to the Orthodox Church, then who are they talking about? (As a side note, I think it is contradictory to say that one can have all the means of salvation and not really be the Catholic Church. Isn’t that what salvation is, to be truly in the Church?)

      From the paragraph appearing two above that one:

      Therefore, there exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him.58 The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches.59 Therefore, the Church of Christ is present and operative also in these Churches, even though they lack full communion with the Catholic Church, since they do not accept the Catholic doctrine of the Primacy, which, according to the will of God, the Bishop of Rome objectively has and exercises over the entire Church.60

      Now, I think it’s a contradiction to say that something can be a “true particular Church” yet not actually in communion with the Catholic Church. (Isn’t there only one Church, the Catholic Church? How can you be truly the Church and not in communion with the Church?) But it’s clear here not only that Rome is teaching that Orthodoxy is a “true particular Church” that lacks “full communion with the Catholic Church,” but it is because “they do not accept the Catholic doctrine of the Primacy, which, according to the will of God, the Bishop of Rome objectively has and exercises over the entire Church.”

      That sounds an awful lot like we are not actually one “in theological reality,” to use the phrase from one of your other comments. Rome herself is right here saying that the problem is doctrine.

      Also, it should be noted that the idea is explicitly rejected here that there really is anything theologically lacking in the Catholic Church because of schism:

      The lack of unity among Christians is certainly a wound for the Church; not in the sense that she is deprived of her unity, but “in that it hinders the complete fulfilment of her universality in history”.67

      And from earlier in the document, even more explicitly:

      With the expression subsistit in, the Second Vatican Council sought to harmonize two doctrinal statements: on the one hand, that the Church of Christ, despite the divisions which exist among Christians, continues to exist fully only in the Catholic Church, and on the other hand, that “outside of her structure, many elements can be found of sanctification and truth”,55 that is, in those Churches and ecclesial communities which are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church.

      (All bolding in the above quotes is mine and not in the original.)

  9. Father: In the first place, Dominus Iesus was not written to address any difficulties with Orthodoxy. It was written to address what was going on in the protestant and reformed world in the aftermath of the agreed statement on justification with the Lutherans. And you simply have posted from the document and not at all addressed the reality that the Catholic Church recognizes the validity of all of the Orthodox mysteries, which include the sacraments and liturgical rites and rituals. So you cannot have defects of the magnitude discussed in Dominus Iesus and be speaking of Orthodoxy…at least not in terms set out by the papal Church beginning with Pope John XXIII.

    Dominus Iesus was not speaking to the Orthodox in fact, because the papal Church has a far different interaction with the Orthodox which was made clear in the Orthodox patriarchal responses to the Pope Emeritus AND to the current Pope Francis. It has never been more clear, the difference, in fact.

    And THAT is why I said that you and I need to leave it to the hierarchs. NOT because I do not understand the role of the laity in both the papal Church and Orthodoxy but because they are the ones best situated to resolve the question that you and I are hashing out here simply by asking, one hierarch to another. But I do happen to know, in this particular case that I am not wrong. Forgive me for pressing the point but it is an important one….in Christ….Mary

    1. Dominus Iesus talks about a whole lot more than just the Lutherans. Indeed, it specifically delineates two different kinds of non-RC Christian communities: 1) Those with “apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist,” which it defines as “true particular Churches,” and 2) those “which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery,” which it calls “ecclesial communities” that are “not Churches in the proper sense.”

      After that definition, it goes on to use “Churches” and “ecclesial communities” in various places, including the section referring to both together as having “defects,” a quotation from Vatican II’s Unitatis redintegratio (which uses “deficient” in this linked translation).

      The language in Dominus Iesus is therefore quite explicit in including the Orthodox. But even if somehow it weren’t, the portion referring to “defects” (or “deficient”) is actually from Unitatis redintegratio, which was a decree of Vatican II and has a very great deal to say about the Orthodox Church, which it includes among the “separated Churches.”

      So, no, I’m not buying this “we’re theologically the same” business. And neither, if I may say so, is Rome. These are public documents written for the whole world’s consumption (indeed, Unitatis redintegratio is held up to be the decree of an Ecumenical Council), not merely to be worked out privately in back room hierarchical hermeneutics. I really do not see how one could walk away from reading these things and not get the clear sense that Rome regards only itself as fully and totally the Catholic Church and that everything else is various degrees of, well, deficient.

  10. Yes. There is more being discussed in Dominus Iesus than the Lutherans. But believe me when I say that the Lutherans were the prime target and the Lutherans got the point. The papal Church does not consider them to be Sister Church…and that was the point of writing Dominus Iesus: to stop the protestant and reformed churches from thinking of themselves as Sister Churches.

    Only the Orthodox, among those outside of communion can hold that title. And it is also clear that as Orthodoxy is, well, deficient, so to is the Catholic Church in that she cannot accomplish unity in history, and she will remain, well, deficient…until such time as she can. And I have never said that the papal Church and Orthodoxy are the same theologically. That is not my brand of business. But to say that the papal Church has called Orthodoxy “defective” rather than “wounded” is not accurate.

    1. Well, that’s just not true. It’s quite plainly there in those documents, which are written in very clear prose by masters of language. I’m not sure whether your dishonesty here is deliberate or not, though.

      BTW, you did indeed say that bit about theological oneness. Here’s the comment: “The open teaching of the Catholic Church is that in theological reality we already are one.”

      If you’re not even willing to stand by your own comments, I’m not quite sure what to make of your contributions.

      1. Father: I am on the phone with my spiritual father as I type and he assures me that I am reading the document accurately, and he was quite active with the Joint Declaration at the time and knows the history of Dominus Iesus quite intimately. So I will not be retracting.

        Yes. I did say that we are theologically one. Pardon. I suppose that I was thinking that I don’t think that we express the same things the same way or that we emphasize the same things…or that we need to do so.

        I expect this will be the end of my contributions for the time being. Thank you for the opportunity…

  11. There seems to be a very significant fundamental difference between the Latins and the Greeks/Slavs – namely, we don’t agree about the definition of “Church”. I can’t speak for the Latins, since I have never been nor really even studied the Latin Church. I can’t really even speak for the Greeks/Slavs/Arabs (ie, Orthodox). But what I have been taught and heard informs me that the Orthodox vest their authority in the consensus of the entire body of Christ and define the Church as such, while the Latin Church vests authority in a person, the Bishop of Rome, and defines Church as the relationship to and with that person.

    One need only look back to the Council of Florence, in which the Eastern authorities, save St. Mark of Ephesus, signed the documents of union. Yet, that was rejected by the people, and came to essentially no effect. Could the same thing happen in Rome? Somehow, I doubt it very much. And thus, I would state there is a distinction in our understanding of Church.

    Until we can understand the distinctions in definitions, I’m not sure the discussion even makes sense.

  12. Some comments on the debate between Fr Andrew and elijahmaria on the document Dominus Iesus:

    Fr Andrew is undoubtedly right that Dominus Iesus with its comments about the “defect” and “wound” of schism addresses the Orthodox too, not just Lutherans as Mary was claiming. High-ranking Orthodox authorities involved in the dialogue understood it this way, including Met Damaskinos of Switzerland and Met Maximos of Pittsburgh (who criticized it) and Met. Hilarion Alfeyev (who praised it as a firm clarification of Roman ecclesiological self-understanding). Both of you should look at the correspondence between Cardinal Ratzinger and Metropolitan Damaskinos Papandreou of Switzerland, published in Ratzinger’s book *Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith: The Church as Communion* (2002 German edition; English 2005). Met. Damaskinos, who died just last year, was a student and friend of Ratzinger and wrote his dissertation under him in Regensberg (so also did Archbishop Stylianos Harkianos of Australia). The correspondence deals with Dominus Iesus and with a related document released by the CDF the very same month: “Note on the Expression ‘Sister Churches’, which you can find here:

    It is clear from Ratzinger’s comments that he does understand the “defect” as applying not just to Protestants but also to the Orthodox — if only on the sole basis that the Orthodox are not in full communion with Rome and do not recognize Roman primacy in the sense that Rome does. On the other hand, there really does seem to be something to the view expressed by Mary, that Ratzinger also thinks that lack of communion with Orthodoxy is a “wound” for Rome as well. This is borne up by Ratzinger’s comments in the aforementioned book, as well as certain statements in his other writings as a theologian as well. However, I am fairly certain that, for Ratzinger, the “defect” pertaining to the Orthodox for lack of communion with Rome and the wound pertaining to Rome due to loss of the Orthodox are non-parallel and of two different orders. That is to say: Ratzinger is not expressing a branch theory of the Church! Rome may lack for its loss of the “spiritual treasures of the East,” etc, and JPII can say “the Church must breath with both lungs” — but Rome is not saying that its catholicity in the strict sense is defective for lack of communion with the Orthodox.

    Evidence of this? Dominus Iesus and Ratzinger speak of the Orthodox Churches as “true particular Churches.” This concept of particular churches (Teilkirchen) must be clearly understood. You will note that Ratzinger, while speaking of “the Catholic Church,” does not speak of “the Orthodox Church,” but “the Orthodox Churches” — in plural. Likewise, the “Note on the Expression ‘Sister Churches'” and Ratzinger’s comments on this in letters to Met Damaskinos clarify that it is simply *wrong* to speak of “the Catholic Church” and “the Orthodox Church” as “sister Churches,” as is often done. First of all, because, as RC and Orthodox theologians have increasingly realized after several decades of employing this phrase, the phrase “sister Churches” applied in the ancient context to *churches that were in full communion* with one another. But second — and here’s the kicker — the claim of the RCC is that the Church of Christ “subsists” fully in the Catholic Church in communion with the Bishop of Rome. So: “the Catholic Church” referred to here *cannot* be a “sister Church” with any other. Similarly, the Orthodox claim that their Church is the Una Sancta. As the document clarifies and Ratzinger reiterates, “sister Churches” can apply *only* to local Churches — ie “particular Churches” (*Teilkirchen*), for instance the local Church of Rome and the local Church of Antioch. Finally, as is evident from preference for the plural use of the term “Orthodox Churches” in Roman magisterial documents, Rome sees the Orthodox as a series of true” local Churches, yes, but local Churches lacking in full communion with the Universal Church — the Universal Church which subsists fully in those local Churches in communion with the Bishop of Rome.

    So again, Fr Andrew is right: Rome has not given in to ecclesiological relativism, and Rome does not see Rome and Orthodoxy as fully parallel or lacking in the same ways. And yet, on the other hand (since this whole conversation arose on account of Fr Andrew’s talk of “conversion”), Rome has — in a semi-official way, but only semi-official (ie the Balamand Statement) — renounced “Uniatism” as a means of unity between East and West. So I think it is fair to say that, while there have been RCs in places like Russia and Ukraine who seem to have been involved in proslytizing Orthodox, the official view of Rome is against this, and has come to prefer instead the means of ecumenical dialogue in hope of eventual corporate reunion, rather than converting individual Orthodox to RCsm via the Uniate Churches or other means.

    Will get around to Florovsky’s views on Rome, ecumenism, conversion etc in a bit.

  13. I would note too that Ratzinger — including in his correspondence with Damaskinos — very often stresses the difference between Ratzinger the theology professor and writer and Ratzinger the head of the CDF. My strong sense is that if he thinks loss of the East is a “wound” for Rome, he also regards this as his personal view. Even as head of the CDF, he made comments at conferences where he said, for instance, that the East has no need of the Roman magisterium as this function is fulfilled by the Liturgy.And there are other equally radical statements about papacy and the East in articles and books he wrote just before going to Rome in ’79. HOWEVER, I have not seen any evidence of this kind of viewpoint EVER being expressed in a document authored under his watch by the CDF or any other official Roman organ.

    This needs to be recognized, particularly as regards Fr Andrew’s question re: the views of individual theologians vs the official stance of Rome.

    On the other hand, one should recognize too that they can’t be radically separated in the end either: there is an inevitable trickle-over and influence when you have a theologian like Ratzinger in the Vatican, or a theologian like Fr Paul McPartlan (who is more or less a follower of Zizioulas) on the Vatican Theological Commission. Things are changing in Rome, there is a rethinking going on, but the change is much slower and there are greater limitations and restrictions on an official level than with individual theologians. The question is the limit of these limitations, and how far they can be stretched or changed. And that nobody really knows; only time will tell.

  14. About the ‘sister Churches’ bit, I should say that the insistence that this applies only to churches in full communion does not appear in the Vatican note. This only seems to be the view of many RC and Orth. theologians today, and it is why there has been a backing away from this phrase of recent. (See the dissertation done on this topic at Catholic U a few years by Will Cohen, an Orthodox who is currently teaching at Univ. of Scranton, who as I recall makes a plea for retaining the phrase in RC/Orthodox relations.) What the Vatican note *does* insist on, however, is that the phrase “sister Churches” applies strictly and only to relations between two local Churches. And Rome does not regard “the Catholic Church” as a local church, or merely a confederation of local churches. Whereas the implication does seem to be clearly that she views the Orthodox only as a confederation of true local churches, in imperfect communion with the Universal Church — the mark of full communion being communion with the local Church of Rome.

  15. Does it ever cross your mind that the process of a contemporary protestant converting to Orthodoxy is a process that is highly privatized, relies on personal interpretation of Scripture and millennia of history and reactionary? I am a protestant and find some of my own tendencies to want to do similar have their root in my own pride of a desired intellectual superiority over other evangelicals. On a related note I see lots of Protestant to Orthodox converts as self-professing Libertarians! This is a huge warning sign to me that this trend and it is a growing trend, to be based on… individualism and western ‘freedom’, post-modern angst at its best.

    1. It can. Every personal process is “privatized” to some extent. The question, of course, is whether someone actually submits to an authority or retains himself as the authority.

      Regarding libertarian converts, well, libertarians are still a pretty small minority and not, in my experience, particularly prevalent among converts. But perhaps they are in your particular circles. They aren’t in mine.

      But I think it’s worth noting that many people subscribe to libertarian politics not because they are ideological individualists but because they believe that bigger government is bad for everyone and represses humanity. Political libertarianism is really not so much about being anti-community, but about being against the use of violence (i.e., government) for nearly everything community-related.

      1. Blessings on you brother. May the Lord have mercy on me a sinner and draw me deeper into Himself, community and His Church.

        Regarding personal interpretation, I think of Scott Hahn and the process of “going back”. It is a compelling story, but to deconstruct all of Protestantism (and he effectively does) as an individual himself with a bunch of books before himself in a study sounds so Luther-like to me! I feel alone in seeing this irony though.

        1. I do not think it is necessarily an irony so much as it can be (but is not always) a tension. Some would argue that any conversion at all is essentially “Protestant.” But I think this is lazy and belies the true nature of conversion. Someone may really be convinced that what he used to believe is wrong and change his beliefs and even his church as a result. Does that mean he is simply deciding for himself what is true? Can no one ever really convert to anything? It seems to me that that essentially just denies that conversion is actually possible, something that Christ, the Apostles and all the saints throughout the ages don’t witness to.

          I wrote about this a couple years ago:

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