A Catholic writer who runs a fairly well-trafficked Latin traditionalist website recently tried to rebuke me on social media for inordinately focusing on “things Eastern” vis-à-vis the ongoing crisis in the Catholic Church when, so the argument goes, Pope Francis is systematically destroying the Latin Church (which, as we all know, is the dominant form of Catholicism today). This came in response to my rhetorical question over whether or not the same traditional Catholics who are upset over Francis’s recent intervention into the affairs of the Knights of Malta would holler as loudly if the Pope moved to impose clerical celibacy on the Eastern Catholic churches. Clerical celibacy, mind you, was just an example; I could just as easily used azymes. My point was not to discuss the issue of clerical celibacy but to highlight a certain myopia which exists within the Catholic Church (particularly among traditionalists) when it comes to the Christian East, particularly Eastern Catholics who, for centuries, have had to endure incessant incursions into their proper autonomy from Rome for largely indefensible reasons. Why are these incursions—which still transpire today—acceptable but the one against Malta not?
As a Greek Catholic, I have no love for what Pope Francis is doing to the Latin Church; but I believe in consistency. If it is beyond the pale for the Ordinary of Rome to meddle with longstanding constructs of sovereignty, to say nothing of traditional disciplines and norms of the Latin Church, then why should the East ever be fair game for any interference from the West? Granted, most traditional Latin Catholics don’t think on such things, just as they don’t pray the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary either.
Now, before people start jumping down my throat claiming that I am unfairly picking on Latin Catholics, let me remind everyone reading that I am equally critical of Eastern myopia, particularly when that myopia leads to emptyheaded triumphalism. This is not an exclusively Eastern Orthodox phenomenon, mind you. Plenty of Eastern Catholics—cradle or otherwise—love reveling in the apparent differences (read: deficiencies) found within Latin Catholicism compared to the allegedly “pure East.” For some of those coming from the Byzantine tradition in particular, anything which is not “Byzantine” immediately becomes suspect, if not presumptively aberrant or heretical. Such folks also rejoice at finding instances where the Latin West broke with some (allegedly) “unbroken” tradition from the first millennium, but howl in agony when a Latin notes the many instances where the Byzantines did the same. Undoubtedly the most contentious example of this breaking involves the Eastern Orthodox condoning the practice of second (and even third) marriages when the first spouse is still living—a rather late development that emerged from the conflation of Byzantine (Roman) civil and ecclesiastical law. Make mention of this inconvenient historical truth as a Greek Catholic and be prepared to be called a “Latinizer.”
At some point one has to realize this is all very silly (if not terribly sad). There is no form of triumphalism on this earth that is in any way, shape, or form defensible. Moreover, in a day and age where mankind’s historical horizon stretches to unprecedented lengths, the ignorance which certain bands of Apostolic Christians cling to for dear life are as lamentable as they are perverse. The Church neither began in 1563 nor ended in 1054. Our Lord Jesus Christ had 12 Apostles, not one. No one thought until recent centuries that pious devotions ranging from Novenas to Akathists should displace the Divine Office. Oh, and by the way, “thought” is not a late-medieval Scholastic innovation, either.