The Difficult Path to Unity

Despite some hopes last week that the three Assyrian churches may be on the path to unity following an open letter from Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael offering to resign his patriarchal title, it seems there is still a long way to go. Byzantine Texas has posted the Assyrian Church of the East’s detailed, firm, but charitable response. Anyone with any interest in East/West relations or, more accurately, Catholic/Oriental (or Catholic/Orthodox) relations should pay It a careful read.

I make mention of it here not to ignite pointless bickering but because I believe the letter does a splendid job articulating the real barriers that lie in the way of full ecclesial communion between the See of Rome and the separated Eastern churches. Too often these discussions (at least online) devolve into nitpicking over trivial matters with no deep-rooted doctrinal significance. Far too many Orthodox, and not a few traditional Catholics, relish this. Why? What is to be gained? No, the truth should never be compromised — a point the Assyrian Church repeats several times in the aforementioned letter. However, the pursuit of truth could stand to come packaged with a lot more humility from all sides.

I sincerely hope and pray for the day when the Assyrian churches will find unity just as I hope and pray for the day when Catholics and Orthodox lay down their arms, repent of past sins, and restore full ecclesiastical communion. With God, all things are possible.

8 comments

  1. That’s always the problem. Somebody has to give. But all sides see themselves as being in possession of the unalloyed truth, and, thus, cannot give. The only answer it seems to me is that all of the Apostolic Churches unify forthwith, without conditions, and immediately call for an Ecumenical Council to resolve any disputes. That’s how they did it in the old days, and it should work now. But if everyone says, “Agree with me on everything or I won’t even meet with you,” then reunification will never happen. And that would be too bad.

    1. “The only answer it seems to me is that all of the Apostolic Churches unify forthwith, without conditions, and immediately call for an Ecumenical Council to resolve any disputes.”

      A silly and frivolous response, since many of the matters separating “the Apostolic Churches” concern matters of dogmatic integrity and truth, which cannot be waved aside in favor of a so-called “ecumenical council” whose authority and ecumenical standing would not be recognized by those who disagree with its vaticinations.

      1. Sorry, William, I didn’t mean to get your dander up. But Ecumenical Councils were the means of resolving disputes back when the Apostolic Churches were undivided. So you might want to rethink my silly and frivolous proposal in light of that history. But if you don’t want to meet with those who disagree with you, perhaps you can shed some light on what you think the authority is for your separation from other Christians, as in, what council authorized the division? And who excommunicated who, and what authority did they have to do that?

        1. While councils should resolve disputes if you look at Ephesus and Chalcedon, existing divisions were cemented by doctrinal definitions.

        2. The council of Florence might illustrate the fact that there are inherent difficulties associated with the just-call-a-council-and-hash-out-our-differences approach.

        3. “So you might want to rethink my silly and frivolous proposal in light of that history.”

          Tu quoque. “Ecumenical councils” were, historically, councils of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, not councils at which representatives of various bodies not in communion with one another, and professing opposed doctrines. met together; and the very concept of separated communions being brought together as “Apostolic Churches” is a concept unknown to the Church Fathers. (The point of the Council of Florence is that both parties to it acted for the most part on the assumption that the division between East and West were within the Church, and had not quite reached the point of complete separation and repudiation of each other’s views as heretical.) Arian bishops were not invited to Chalcedon, nor Miaphysite bishops to Constantinople III, and when one of the bishops invited to Nicaea in 325 by Constantine was discovered to be a bishop of the Novatianists’ church he was promptly ejected from the assembly, despite his being hot against the views of Arius.

          Furthermore, your notion is vitiated by another consideration. No council’s ecumenical standing, or status, or the acceptability of its formulations, can be guaranteed in advance. This has been forgotten in the West over the past millennium, since such councils have come to be summoned by popes, but none of their conclusion or definitions have any force or validity (in the Western understanding) until and unless the Pope gives them his formal approbation; and in the East the very ecumenical status of a council, as well as the acceptability of its definitions and canons, is only evident in their subsequent acceptance by “the Church.”

          This, any heterogeneous assembly such as you postulate that might, say, redefine or reconfirm the “papal dogmas” of Vatican I would most like be refused or repudiated by the Orthodox Church(es) as incompatible with their dogmatic ecclesiology; any such council that repudiated those Vatican I definitions would rightly be rejected and repudiated by the See of Rome; any council that attempted to rehabilitate and “canonize,” say, Theodore of Mopsuestia or Nestorius, would be repudiated by the Oriental Orthodox churches – and so one (one might multiply examples).

          The “light” that you adduce is not founded in “history” at all, but merely in fantasy.

          1. Well, William, it’s not up to either one of us. I guess I’ll continue to fantasize, and you’ll continue to dig in. But we’re not going to get anywhere if everyone just folds their arms and says “I’m right, you’re wrong, and there’s nothing to talk about until you understand that.” I can live with the separation from my own perspective, having the confidence of my convictions. I think it’s sad, though. And I think it presents a poor witness to the world, which should be a primary concern for all of us.

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