Monday, January 16, 2006

Catholic Ecumenism and the Elephant in the Room (II)

Herewith the second of three installments by Fr Matthew Kirby of a piece on the obstacles to ecumenism within the Catholic world.

C-1* EXHIBIT A. During the Meletian Schism in the ancient Church, Meletius of Antioch and his flock were not recognised by or in communion with Rome. Most of the East did recognise him and reject his rival – even to the point where he presided for a while at the sitting of an Ecumenical Council. Eventually, not only was Meletius’ claim to be the legitimate Catholic Bishop recognised universally after his death, but he was canonised and his successors (not his rival’s) were the Patriarchs of Antioch. Thus, visible unity was broken without either side being considered by anyone in hindsight as outside the Church. However, it could be argued that visible unity was merely “somewhat obscured” since Meletius was in communion with bishops who were in communion with Rome.

C-1* EXHIBIT B. A large number of Orthodox theologians and hierarchs contend that the difference between themselves and the Monophysites has been, for many centuries at least, based on logomachies. As a consequence they also hold that the two Churches already hold to the same Faith and possess the same Sacraments, and are thus already one in the most important sense, such that restored intercommunion is justified. These theologians appear not to contend that such a restoration would be a return of a schismatic body to the Catholic Church but that it would be the resolution of unfortunate, long-standing misunderstandings between sister Churches. Thus, it is effectively recognised that true ecclesial unity can co-exist with lack of visible unity for considerable periods.

C-1* EXHIBIT C. During the Great Western-Papal Schisms, when there were multiple claimants to the papacy, each with considerable followings at times, visible unity of the Western Church was broken. However, the RCC has canonised as Saints people on opposing sides of these schisms. Also, the fact that it was difficult to tell with certainty which was the true Pope, such that even till today no official and binding decision has been made by the Vatican as to who were the true Popes, has led to RC historians and theologians not portraying any of the various flocks as outside the true Church.

C-1* EXHIBIT D. It is now common in ecumenical (revisionist?) history to claim that the EOC and RCC did not really completely break communion or finalise the schism till many centuries after previously posited dates. It appears to be a permissible and common opinion among orthodox RCs and the EO to say that sacramental communion was not properly or completely absent till the 18th Century. However, the very fact that the schism had been dated by most people as being from much earlier shows that whatever unity there was, was not easily visible. And this includes to the people contemporary with the disputed period, since in Anglican-Roman debates of the 17th Century it was commonly contended by Roman interlocutors that the EOC was in schism and heresy.

C-1* EXHIBIT E. It has never been contended by any canonist or theologian, as far as I know, that any excommunications, even at the Papal or Conciliar level, are infallible. Though the theological reasoning behind them can be, the necessarily accompanying examination of particular evidence regarding a person or group is corrigible. Thus it is implicitly accepted that people, including bishops, can be visibly excluded from the Church unjustly and thus not truly be outside the Church. This is yet another case when the visibility of unity is imperfect, and admission of such imperfection is permissible.

Hence, it is clear that C-1* obtains, the corollary 1* is deniable without automatic loss of Catholicity, thus the foundational premise of Pontificator’s Fourth Law is false as stated. There is thus no reason to apply the Law in its present form automatically to define as unCatholic Anglican Churches because they claim to be a part of the Catholic Church and recognise the RCC and EOC as also belonging to the Church, refusing to see the visible disunity between these bodies as proof of true, fundamental disunity.

So, how should we explain the significance of present divisions? In what ways has unity been preserved? Can the history of the “schisms”, especially at the apparent breaking points, be understood in a way that acquits both sides in each case of formal schism or heresy? Is there a way the elephant in the room can be dealt with rather than ignored, without anyone having to repent of their self-understanding? I believe there are satisfactory answers to all these questions – yes to the last two! -- that will allow Catholic ecumenism to succeed.

Regarding the E-W split, C-1* EXHIBIT D above shows it was not complete even in an outward sense until the 18th Century – and the eventual complete loss of communio in sacris was not the result of any official or binding statement by either Church as a whole. To quote the great Roman Catholic theologian Louis Bouyer, “the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church, though dreadfully tempted by the spirit of division remain one Church, in fact and by right, despite contrary appearances. This is verified by the most thorough historical investigation of this problem … In fact, neither the conflict and reciprocal excommunications of the patriarch Michael Cerularius and Cardinal Humbert, nor the scandalous Crusade, redirected toward Constantinople, and its consequences, nor even the fruitless attempts at reconciliation at Lyon and Florence, which merely embittered the oppositions, suspended all communion between the Church the East and the Church of the West. To the end of the eighteenth century, limited incidents of intercommunion between the two Churches are innumerable. … all baptized and communicating members of one received in the other on the same basis, without abjuration, … priests and even bishops passed from one to the other or, more exactly, occasionally “moved through” both, without encountering major difficulties. … [At] the beginning of the nineteenth century did Latin missionaries, moved by unfortunate zeal, take it into their heads to apply to Orientals, canons decreed by Trent against Protestants, and, through a regrettable understandable twist, that Orientals (particularly Greeks, in permanent conflict with Latins in the islands of the Peloponnesus or elsewhere) did the same.” [Emphasis added.]

Since the schism was grown into in such a gradual, haphazard and (in the end) unreflective or non-binding manner, it seems permissible to view it as never definitive. In that case, there is no need for either side to exclude the other from its identification of the One Church. Instead, they should start from the premise that they at least might never have been truly or fully divided, and approach doctrinal dialogue from that hopeful perspective. (Let’s not forget that both East and West have basically disowned the mutual excommunications of 1054, so one must assume they accept that, whatever happened afterwards, the state of schism existing at that time did not really mean one side or the other was outside the Church.)

An objection to this reasoning from the RC side might consist of a simple quotation of the recent Papal Encyclical, DOMINUS IESUS:
“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. 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. 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.” [Emphasis added.]

But, even if this were an infallible doctrinal pronouncement, its statements of historical fact rather than principle would be corrigible (and fallible). What if the RCC and EOC can come to an agreement on Roman Primacy (which neither EO nor Anglican Catholics have ever simply denied, all believing themselves to hold to the Catholic teaching in this matter) without repudiating their respective authoritative Traditions, but instead synthesising them? Then the above statement would be seen to be based on sound theology and reasoning but a historically conditioned misapprehension of the relationship between the other particular Churches’ teaching and the dogma of the RCC. Thus the statement could be “moved beyond” with relative ease and no loss of face or authority.

A related objection could be that, even if the purely doctrinal question could be resolved in this way, this would not change the fact that those outside the RCC are not in communion with or submitted to the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome, and have not been so for some time. In other words, RCs could say “Maybe you did have, theoretically or implicitly, all the right teachings about Rome/Peter, but you did not have Rome/Peter! Thus you were outside the Church.”

However, given that, as stated above, the 1054 excommunications have been mutually disowned and that Constantinople’s excommunication of the Westerners was a reaction to their prior excommunication in the other direction, it is fair to say that the schism was initiated from the Western side by unjust action. The reason “who started it” is important is that, once it is accepted that Rome did so, and that Rome now thinks that was wrong, and this is joined with the recognition that the EO reaction (even if it was an over-reaction) was based on a belief that the Roman action was wrong, then the schism’s beginning takes on a particular nature. It can no longer be claimed that the East left the One Church, even if communion with Rome is a normal condition of being in the One Church. Why? Because the initial breaking of communion was due to a fallible-in-theory (cf. C-1* EXHIBIT E) and erroneous-in-fact excommunication by Rome. So, even on RC assumptions, there is room to accept that the EO never left the Church. Once communion was (mostly) broken, communication and mutual enrichment was severely restricted, so that it was virtually inevitable that the two sides would develop in ways that appeared incompatible but were not necessarily so. And that is part of the reason the division was never properly healed and why it is unreasonable to ask the East to simply accept RC distinctives on trust and without having the chance to contribute to their formulation in a way that was not possible before, due to Rome mistakenly considering them outside the Church.

Also, the Fathers of the 5th Ecumenical Council struck Pope Vigilius off the diptychs and refused him communion till he would do what they (and the whole Catholic Church, eventually) considered the right thing about the Three Chapters: i.e., condemn them and the doctrines contained therein. To say that an Ecumenical Council did its job successfully but, by the way, was composed pretty much entirely of formal schismatics (and heretics for denying in practice the absolute necessity of being in communion with and complete subjection to Rome?) is a bit too ridiculous for words. Therefore, broken communion with Rome, even when it is broken deliberately from the non-Roman side, is not and never has been sufficient proof of schism.

(to be continued here)Link

1 comment:

Fr. John W. Morris said...

As an Orthodox Priest, I must disagree with some of the comments in this article. Although we do believe that the Orthodox Church is the true Church, that does not mean that we consider all non-Orthodox non-Christians or believe that only members of the Orthodox Church can be saved. We recognize that there are many sincere dedicated Christians outside of the Orthodox Church. Actually, if it were possible to reach full doctrinal agreement with Rome, reunification would be comparatively easy to achieve.

Archpreist John W. Morris