Theologizing as an Eastern Catholic

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bR8zyW0gmY8]

My previous post, “Some Brief Words on the ‘Orthodox in Communion with Rome’ Phenomenon,” along with a recent unedifying discussion with certain extremists from that camp, prompted me to revisit Fr. Andriy Chirovsky’s provocative 2014 talk, “Theologizing as an Eastern Catholic After Orientalium Ecclesiarum,” which was delivered at a conference marking the 50th anniversary of that document.

I don’t want to attempt summarizing the talk; I doubt I would do it full justice. However, let me say that Chirovsky represents a balanced understanding of what it means to be an Orthodox in communion with Rome, even if he does not use that particular expression here. That is to say, he understands that it is both necessary and proper to be both fully Orthodox, and fully Catholic while recognizing the historic difficulty of this position from the time of the Union of Brest onward. Moreover, Fr. Andriy puts on the table the reality that unlike the Orthodox, Eastern Catholics cannot simply dismiss Roman doctrines (or the formulation of those doctrines) as wrongheaded but must instead endeavor to understand them in a complementary fashion that remains true to the Christian East’s theological patrimony.

Some will, of course, harbor reasonable disagreements with some of Chirovsky’s observations, though even he admits that the talk is an exploration rather than a final declaration. He embraces, without apology, the need for Eastern Catholics, specifically Ukrainian Greek Catholics, to confront Roman teachings with an authentically Byzantine understanding, even at the risk of conflict with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Fr. Andriy asserts this not in the interest of stirring up needless controversy or rejecting settled dogma, but as part of the Ukrainian Church’s larger witness to the importance of unity with Rome without falling prey to a subservient mentality.

Some Brief Words on the “Orthodox in Communion with Rome” Phenomenon

It’s probably not worth dwelling too much on the phenomenon known as “Orthodox in Communion with Rome” (OICWR), an initially well-intentioned reorientation of how Greek Catholics understand their relationship with Rome which has—at least in certain online forums—degenerated into a cafeteria ecclesiology. Although there are several variants of OICWR, the most extreme (and seemingly most vocal) wing takes the position that the Greek Catholic churches need not treat as ecumenical or binding any “Roman council” held between the Seventh Ecumenical Council (Nicaea II) and the Second Vatican Council. Not even Florence, which transpired with the participation of the Greek Church, is seen as binding due to its eventual repudiation by the Orthodox. By radical OICWR reckoning, Purgatory, the Immaculate Conception, and Papal Infallibility are not settled dogmas for the universal Church but rather Latin doctrines that amount to little more than theological opinions which can, and perhaps ought to be, critiqued in the light of the Byzantine theological tradition. Instead of seeking a shared understanding on the perennial truths of the Catholic Faith, the OICWR extremists revel in the apparent divisions that allegedly separate East from West. And, like all good ideologies, these individuals are quick to disparage their critics, including their Greek Catholic critics, as “Latinized” or “Uniates.”

Needless to say, the OICWR—moderate and extreme alike—claim to take their bearings from the Vatican II declaration Orientalium Ecclesiarum despite the fact that no less an authority on things Orthodox than Fr. Alexander Schmemann, an observer at the Council, found the document unsatisfactory in certain respects. The extremists also point to the “sister churches” ecclesiology promoted by Vatican II, albeit in splendid isolation of the 2000 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Note on the Expression Sister Churches.” Moreover, for reasons that remain vague and underdeveloped, the far reaches of the OICWR seem to believe that the perilous project of “reclaiming their tradition” (as if the historic Greek Church only had a single tradition) means imitating the theology, spirituality, and liturgy of the contemporary Orthodox Church, as if it that communion, both before and after the “Great Schism” of 1054 A.D., was monolithic and without change. The pursuit of a “magic moment” of “purity” in the fog of history often results in pick-and-choose “reconstruction” which, in the end, bears little resemblance to how things ever were.

None of this is to say that the Greek Catholic churches (Ukrainian, Ruthenian, Melkite, etc.) shouldn’t take proper and prudent steps to remove accretions from their liturgy that undermine its integrity nor ignore the rich Eastern theological patrimony in favor of Thomism. Greek Catholics have been rightly encouraged to maintain their identity in recent decades. However, there is a wide gulf between maintaining one’s identity and taking up positions that are openly hostile to the Catholic Faith. It seems that the fringes of the OICWR movement are more interested in appeasing the worst circles of Orthodoxy rather than standing firm for true catholicity, that is, particularity within universality. No one today should seriously buy into the shopworn prejudice that “to be Catholic” is “to be Latin.” Still, that is not a warrant for rank doctrinal dissent and schism mongering.

Y100B: A Life of Blessed Gennaro Maria Sarnelli

Franceso Chiovara, C.SS.R., A Life of Blessed Gennaro Maria Sarnelli: Redemptorist (Liguori Publications 2003 (1996), 113pgs.)

It struck me as prudent to start my “Year of 100 Books” endeavor with a short work, and one that should spiritually edifying. Having had very little direct knowledge of Blessed Gennaro Sarnelli, I stumbled across this brief work quite by accident while perusing the shelves of a local Catholic bookstore some months ago. The book, which was written initially in 1996 for Sarnelli’s beatification by Pope John Paul II (Sarnelli had been declared venerable 90 years earlier by Pope Pius X), is not a classic work of hagiography, nor is it a detailed critical biography. Rather, it is a brief recounting of Sarnelli’s life, work, and writings filled with equal parts uplifting details and needless polemical potshots at Tridentine ecclesiastical life, traditional piety, and, somewhat ironically, classic Redemptorist spirituality. Such is the way of things in the era after the Second Vatican Council.

Sarnelli, for those unaware, came from a prestigious Neapolitan family, had a brief career as a successful lawyer, and then, like his friend St. Alphonsus Liguori, answered God’s call to the priesthood and eventually joined the nascent Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists). During his 41-year stay on earth, Sarnelli was perhaps best known for his work among the poor and sick, particularly his work with prostitutes and his desire to remove prostitution altogether from the city of Naples. As the author notes, Sarnelli (like Liguori) was out-of-step with his times for both refusing to see prostitution as a “necessary evil” to be tolerated and linking prostitution to poverty. Although Chiovara chides Sarnelli for not being a “social reformer” dedicated to some modern sense of “equality,” he does recognize that Sarnelli wanted to rid prostitution by finding other alternatives for the young women whose circumstances had forced them to sell their bodies.

Beyond his work with prostitutes, Sarnelli, like the other Redemptorists of his time, preached missions among the most poor and abandoned in society while also offering spiritual instruction to any who would listen. Sarnelli’s tireless work, coupled with long hours spent ministering to the sick and dying, took a terrible toll on his health, leading him to question God’s favor and making him fearful of death. By the close of his life, however, Sarnelli was given spiritual consolation and died a peaceful death on June 30, 1744. Although he was given only 12 years to serve as a priest of Jesus Christ, he made a lasting impact on Naples and the surrounding areas and the cause for his canonization was taken up a century later.

While I appreciate the knowledge gained of Blessed Genarro’s holy life, I find books like this to be distasteful to the extent that they seem intended to denigrate Catholic piety and holiness from Trent up to Vatican II. The author never misses a chance to remind readers about the “bad old days” and to make the Church appear to have been a harsh, thoughtless, and insensitive institution that “miraculously” produced a handful of “progressive” priests who placed the social above the spiritual. The end result is a rather uneven work which should be read with caution.

A Year of 100 Books

Almost a decade ago I ripped-off an idea from another blogger to read 100 nonfiction books in a year. It is a feat I consciously attempted thrice, and accomplished once. By 2009, I was too immersed with my work in legal academia to spend as much time as I wanted with books; needlessly long law review articles and, to a lesser extent, court opinions occupied far too much of my time. Since then, I my yearly reading has steadily decreased to the point where 2016 may be the first time in a long while I cleared less than 40 nonfiction books (though my fiction reading jumped up a tad). While several forces have been conspiring against me as of late, the primary one is too much time spent reading articles, blogs, and pop pieces on the Internet. At the same time, I have simply fallen out of the habit of dedicated reading, preferring instead to skim certain books or set many aside before completion.

To (hopefully) remedy this unfortunate situation, I am committing myself to another “Year of 100 Books,” only with slightly less demanding criteria than I used before. So here are the rules.

  1. The year will runs from December 18, 2016 until December 18, 2017.
  2. Both fiction and nonfiction books are eligible, though fiction can represent no more than 25 of the books read.
  3. Books I  have already read — fully or partially — are eligible, though partially read books must be started from the beginning.
  4. Books I am editing for work don’t count.
  5. And while nonfiction books can include spiritual and devotional titles, liturgical books and Sacred Scripture don’t count.

In order to help keep myself disciplined, I will be posting regular updates on Opus Publicum on what I have been reading. I am cautiously optimistic that I will be able to complete this task. Even if I’m unsuccessful, I know the venture will be worth it.

Rogue One: A Spoiler-Packed Review

The following post is a spoiler-heavy “review” of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (R1). More accurately, it is a series of thoughts on the film written from the perspective of someone who has been a die-hard fan of the franchise since his youngest years. I am not by any stretch of the imagination a “film buff,” nor do I suffer under any illusion that R1, or any installment in the Star Wars saga (which, since Disney took custody of the property, now includes closely monitored cartoons, books, and comics, in addition to the movies), will ever be deemed “high art.” Moreover, the eight films contain errors, contradictions, continuity flaws, flat characters, under-developed plot points, etc. that can never be fully rectified, especially at this stage in the game. And that’s fine. As you will see from my thoughts below, R1 is intended to both deepen and widen Star Wars, not just in terms of galactic scale, but the motives and desires of both the Empire and the Rebel Alliance. In my opinion, it was highly successful at doing so.

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Any Given Sunday

Somewhere in the world a Tridentine Mass was said without the servers reciting the second Confiteor and a Divine Liturgy served without the second antiphon. Millions of complacent Christians did their weekly duty of showing up to church, pretended to pray, and silently judged the proceedings with thoughts of football, fornication, or just about anything else besides Christ on their minds. And then, in the ancient city of Cairo, dozens of Coptic Christians—mainly women and children—were torn to shreds as a giant explosion ripped through St. Mark’s Cathedral.

As honest as the Western media may want to be when it comes to the state of Egyptian politics in the wake of the so-called “Arab Spring,” the religious significance of the attack is all but lost on them. The Islamists who no doubt carried out this strike are already being referred to as “extremists” and the Copts themselves defined in terms of politics rather than religion. Lost is any sincere acknowledgment that from the days of the false prophet Muhammad, whose tragic birth is celebrated this day, millions of Christians have perished under the crescent moon.

Eastern Christians are, unsurprisingly, much more sensitive to this reality than their Western brethren. For while Latin Catholics may still give passing notice to events such as Lepanto or the Battle of Vienna, Easterners are forced to recall the fall of their ancient patriarchal sees, not to mention historical defeats at Constantinople, Kosovo, and many more. Regardless of local church affiliation or rite, the Eastern liturgical year commemorates numerous incidences of grotesque Muslim violence against the Christians of the East. It is hoped that the prayers of these holy martyrs will sustain what’s left of Christianity in the Middle East, though right now those prayers must feel unanswered.

Without discounting the deleterious effect secular liberalism has had on the West for two centuries, it is difficult at times like this to take the persecution narrative of certain Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants all that seriously. The day may come when the liberal order finally seeks to violently rid itself of the last remnants of Christendom, but that still seems a long way off when compared to the more immediate and savage violence that Islam continues to perpetrate all over the world against the followers of Jesus Christ. Western political leaders will, naturally, express some condolences before returning to business-as-usual, that is, ignoring the plight of the Middle East’s dwindling Christian population.

And what will the Church say? Should we expect an outcry followed by an outpouring of prayers for the deceased and wounded or some highly qualified statements meant to ensure everyone that the attack in Cairo, like the numerous attacks which preceded it in the past few years, was the work of “extremists,” a “fringe” not representative of Muslims generally? Shall we be scolded into accepting the lie that Muslims and Christians worship the same God? Heaven help us all.

Ephemera XVI: Gifts and Wrestling

If you haven’t done your Christmas shopping yet, allow me to begin by offering up three suggestions for you.

  • First, click on over to Chews Life, a Catholic small-business venture rooted in my home city of Grand Rapids, MI that my wife is heavily involved in. Chews Life — as the punny brand name indicates — offers Rosaries and other devotional items for not only mothers, but their small children as well. They also carry bracelets, baby carriers, and special seasonal items. They also have some excellent deals going right now, but you will need to order no later than December 13 to guarantee delivery by Christmas. (If you celebrate Nativity according to the Julian Calendar, then December 26 should suffice.)
  • Second, Angelus Press has a host of new and reprinted titles available, including a beautifully bound Latin/English edition of Vespers according to the 1962 Breviarium Romanum and A Young Catholic’s Daily Missal.  There is also a host of other recent titles available, including a newly typeset edition of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a traditional version of Catholic Trivia, and the annual Angelus Press wall calendar, which focuses on the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • Last, if you’re someone like me who can never have enough calendars, then pop over to the website of the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer (Transalpine Redemptorists) and pick up the 2017 Papa Stronsay calendar. Not only does the calendar follow the traditional Roman Rite liturgical year, but it also includes the feasts for many Redemptorist saints along with noting special anniversaries and commemorations from Catholic history.

Since I am plugging things, allow me to direct you to the latest issue of The Angelus magazine which features two articles by yours truly, “Latins and Greeks on Purgatory” and “Celebrating the Nativity with the Redemptorists.” (The online version is available here.) If you don’t have a subscription to The Angelus yet, let me suggest you get on that right now as 2017 has a number of excellent thematic issues planned on topics such as politics, Luther and the Reformation, Fatima, and Middle Eastern Christianity. Also, if you are interested in contributing to The Angelus, please feel free to drop me a line through the “Contact” page.

Although I do enjoy writing the occasional pro-wrestling post, time will not permit me to follow through on my original plan of putting together several “Best of . . .” 2016 installments covering both matches and wrestlers from around the world. For those who care, the most consistently good (if not great) wrestling to be found in 2016 was from the (primarily) east-coast independent promotion EVOLVE. Now that they have struck a deal with FloSlam, you can have access to their live shows via iPPV and on-demand steaming of past events for $20/month. Also included in the package are several other independent promotions, along with a reservoir of archival material. However, I must also recommend that everyone go out of their way to watch the Cruiserweight Classic (CWC), which aired on the WWE Network during the summer. This unique tournament, which brought together light heavyweight wrestlers from all over the world, delivered some of the best pro-wrestling seen in the United States in decades. By presenting the tournament as a sport and focusing on the real-life struggles and aspirations of the participants, the CWC demonstrated that even in a day and age when everybody knows pro-wrestling is “a work,” it is still possible to draw audiences in through the natural drama that accompanies any competitive event.