Radical Traditionalism Breathes With Both Lungs? A Followup Note

Update 10/6/2015: The below statement that Bishop Ambrose Moran was part of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church appears to be a mistake. Please see the follow-up post on this matter for more details.

Last week I posted about the case of one Bishop Ambrose Moran, an Eastern hierarch who had been linked previously to the Genuine Orthodox Church in America and now, apparently, is aligned with the so-called “Resistance” traditionalist Catholic movement. After having the opportunity to conduct research both online and through personal contacts, it appears that Moran’s claims regarding his past ecclesial affiliation with the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and Patriarch Josyf Slipyj are fabrications. Not only is there no record that Moran had ever been consecrated by Patriarch Slipyj, but it appears that he was brought up and ordained in the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church — one of three Orthodox jurisdictions currently operating in Ukraine. Although it is likely that he has — somewhere along the line — been validly ordained, clearly the ordination did not come from the Catholic Church.

This is all very unfortunate for several reasons. First and foremost, Bishop Ambrose has willfully shattered any and all credibility which he may have had by fabricating an elaborate tale about his relationship with Patriarch Slipyj and his activities as a Catholic priest and bishop. Had Ambrose simply come clean about his prior affiliations with two (uncanonical) Orthodox jurisdictions before pledging to join the Catholic Church, none of this would be a big deal. Now, however, it appears that Ambrose is (opportunistically) looking for a new outpost to hang his hat, and he’s perfectly willing to lie in order to make it happen.

Second, by aligning with the “Resistance,” Ambrose is not so much joining the Catholic Church as he is assisting those who are effectively outside of her borders. Recognizing neither the authority of any legitimate Orthodox body nor the Catholic Church, Ambrose is vesting himself in the mantle of a true schismatic. If Ambrose honestly desired unity with the Catholic Church, his first order of business should be to submit himself to Patriarch Sviatoslav and go from there. Instead, he is lending his hand to the “Resistance” and attempting — unsuccessfully it seems — to boost their credibility. The irony here is that by letting themselves be conned, the “Resistance” appears even more deluded and foolish than it already was.

Last, Ambrose’s behavior has, sadly, inspired certain traditional Catholics to issue uncharitable and ignorant remarks about the Eastern Orthodox. Ambrose’s case is not normative. Most Orthodox bishops are upstanding servants of their respective churches who carry out their mission with honesty, integrity, and humility. No, the Orthodox Church’s episcopate isn’t perfect and, yes, there remains some substantial (but not insurmountable) disagreements between Catholics and Orthodox that need to be resolved before full communion can be restored. But the case of Bishop Ambrose should not be leveraged into an excuse to engage in needless, and indeed un-Christian, polemics against the Orthodox.

Pray for the man. Pray for his soul, and pray that he finds his way back into the flock of Christ.

The Vicar of Christ

Both Pius X and you, Most Holy Father, received the fullness of the authority to teach, sanctify, and govern in obedience to Christ, Who is the head and pastor of the flock at all times and in all places, and whose faithful vicar the Pope must be on this earth. That which has been subject to a solemn condemnation cannot, over time, become an approved pastoral practice.

These words, taken from Bishop Bernard Fellay’s recent petition to Pope Francis before the upcoming Synod on the Family, should be common knowledge among all Catholics. Sadly, that is not the case. During his recent trip to the United States, social media and news outlets (Catholic and secular) were filled with the spirit of neo-Ultramonantism, shouting down anyone who would dare question any of the Holy Father’s words or actions as he addressed the President, Congress, the United Nations, and, yes, faithful Catholics as well. There is, admittedly, a contingent of American Catholics who drink deep from the well of (politically conservative) liberalism; their critiques — unimaginative, ignorant, and ideologically charged — needn’t be paid any mind. But there is a more serious, and apparently growing, body of believers who see in this Pontificate a noticeable, perhaps even radical, break with the reigns of Benedict XVI, John Paul II, and even Paul VI. To mention as much is tantamount to heresy in conservative Catholic circles, though liberal Catholics, the sort that expect the Holy Father to revamp the Church’s teachings on marriage and the family, have no problem identifying Francis as a “Radical Pope” destined to set the Barque of Peter on new course through the dark waters of (post)modernity.

The Roman Pontiff is the Vicar of Christ, not the Oracle of God — a point that Fr. John Hunwicke has found necessary to drive home again, and again, and again. And just recently Elliot Milco, editor of The Josias and maintainer of his own excellent web-log, has started a series of posts critiquing the new Ultramontanism. The first two parts are available here and here; a third part is still in the works. Read them both. In fact, read them both twice.

Radical Traditionalism Breathes with Both Lungs?

I am normally disinclined to write about ecclesiastical gossip on Opus Publicum, especially when it involves the fringes of either the Catholic or Orthodox churches. However, this one is too good to pass up. Although there are very few concrete details at the moment, it appears that Bishop Ambrose (Moran), a (former?) member of the Old Calendarist Genuine Orthodox Church in America (GOCA), has aligned himself with the so-called “Resistance,” a very loose confederation of traditionalist Catholic priests de facto headed by former Society of St. Pius X Bishop Richard Williamson. Moran, as the story goes, was either “received” or “consecrated” by the head of GOCA, a move that initially sparked outrage among some traditionalist Orthodox due, ironically enough, to its “uncanonical” nature. The story later surfaced that Moran had already been a bishop in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (a point that remains unclear), though the YouTube video linked above indicates that he was, in fact, consecrated clandestinely by Patriarch Josyf Slipyj, the saintly head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. One can easily imagine why hyper-traditionalist Orthodox wouldn’t want that fact coming to light.

Perhaps Moran had a falling out with GOCA since he is now pledging to assist the traditionalist Catholic movement and, aside from some remarks that he had worked with some Ukrainian Orthodox back in the 1970s and 80s, makes no mention of any direct Orthodox affiliation. Certain traditionalist Catholics are, naturally, going nuts over this, albeit for all of the wrong reasons. That the “Resistance” could even think of interacting with a bishop (loosely) associated with the Orthodox is beyond the pale. Beyond the pale—or beyond comprehension—as well is the reality that the borderlands between Greek Catholicism and Orthodoxy have shifted considerably over the centuries; if there is a wall between the two confessions, it’s a porous one. None of this is to say that Moran should have anything to do with the “Resistance” or any other traditionalist movement that routinely demonstrates flagrant contempt toward Rome, but there you have it.

Strange times these be.

Carl Schmitt on the Catholic Church

Perhaps all of this is quite a bit less true than when Carl Schmitt, in Roman Catholicism and Political Form pgs. 7-8, , first made these observations. (H/T Faith and Theology for saving me the time it would take to type them out.)

The Catholic Church is a complex of opposites, a complexio oppositorum. There appears to be no antithesis it does not embrace. . . . Ultimately, most important is that this limitless ambiguity combines with the most precise dogmatism and a will to decision as it culminates in the doctrine of papal infallibility.

From the standpoint of the political idea of Catholicism, the essence of the Roman-Catholic complexio oppositorum lies in a specific, formal superiority over the matter of human life such as no other imperium has ever known…. This formal character of Roman Catholicism is based on a strict realization of the principle of representation, the particularity of which is most evident in its antithesis to the economic-technical thinking dominant today[.]

The Church requires a political form. Without it there is nothing to correspond to its intrinsically representative conduct. The domination of ‘capital’ behind the scenes [of modern politics] is still no form, though it can undermine an existing political form and make it an empty façade. Should it succeed, it will have ‘depoliticized’ the state completely. Should economic thinking succeed in realizing its utopian goal and in bringing about an absolutely unpolitical condition of human society, the Church would remain the only agency of political thinking and political form. Then the Church would have a stupendous monopoly: its hierarchy would be nearer the political domination of the world than in the Middle Ages.

Schmemann on Papal Visits to America

Matthew Schmitz, over at First Things, has a thoughtful piece up concerning the limits of papal celebrity. It indirectly reminded me of this October 3, 1979 entry from Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s journals, which is one of my favorites.

The Pope of Rome [John Paul II] is in New York. We watched him on television in Yankee Stadium. A mixed impression. On one hand, an unquestionably good man and full of light. Wonderful smile. Very genuine — a man of God. But, on the other hand, there are some “buts”! First of all, the Mass itself. The first impression is how liturgically impoverished the Catholic Church has become. In 1965, I watched the service performed by Pope Paul VI in the same Yankee Stadium. Despite everything, it was the presence, the appearance on earth of the eternal, the “super earthly.” Whereas yesterday I had the feeling that the main thing was the “message.”

This message is, again and again, “peace and justice,” “human family,” “social work,” etc. An opportunity was given, a fantastic chance to tell millions and millions of people about God, to reveal to them that more than anything else they need God! But here, on the contrary, the whole goal, it seemed, consisted in proving that the Church also can speak the jargon of the United Nations. All the symbols point the same way: the reading of the Scriptures by some lay people with bright ties, etc. And a horrible translation: I never suspected that a translation could be a heresy: Grace — “abiding love”!

Crowds — their joy and excitement. Quite genuine, but at the same time, it is clear that there is an element of mass psychosis. “Peoples’ Pope . . .” What does this really mean? I don’t know. I am not sure. Does one have to serve Mass in Yankee Stadium? But if it’s possible and needed, shouldn’t the Mass be, so to say, “super-earthly,” separated from the secular world, in order to show in the world — the Kingdom of God?

Maybe Not So Difficult to Coopt Today

Pater Edmund Waldstein, over at his excellent web-log Sancrucensis, has posted an interesting quote from Alexandre Kojeve, the Russian-born French philosopher best known as being one of the intellectual architects of the European Union and a lifelong sparring partner of Leo Strauss. It reads thus:

The political and economic investment provided by France in view of the creation of a Latin Empire cannot, and should not, occur without the support of the Catholic Church, which represents a power which is immense, although difficult to calculate and even more difficult to coopt.

Kojeve wrote that in 1945. Today the situation may not be so simple. For while it may be difficult for outsiders to coopt the power of the Church, it has been disastrously easy for insiders to do so. No ideologically warped earthly force had to break down the doors; those entrusted with the keys, intentionally or not, opened them up to a spirit of questionable progress, all under the belief that somehow, someway a “New Springtime” would emerge. Well, it didn’t, and it hardly seems likely that, barring a miracle, the situation will change anytime soon.

American Orthodox Unity Interrupted

A little more than a year ago I wrote an article for Crisis discussing what Catholics should not learn from the Eastern Orthodox Church. In it I called attention to the process of establishing a single American Orthodox jurisdiction and its unraveling after the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) took a walk. Now the Antiochians have joined them. There is a brief, but thoughtful, post on the matter over at the Byzantine Texas blog. As the author notes, an apparent lack of leadership on the part of the Ecumenical Patriarch with respect to Antioch’s grievances over the canonical situation in Qatar coupled with growing displeasure toward the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America appears to be at the root of Antiochian Archdiocese’s decision. Also possibly motivating the Antiochians is an unwillingness to break ties with their besieged Patriarchal church. Whatever deciding factors were involved, it seems like the promise (or the threat) of an authentic American Orthodox Church is a long ways away.

Search Terms

Occasionally I grow curious enough to explore WordPress’s Site Stats feature which, among other things, alerts me to some of the search terms people use to find this web-log. Recently there has been a string of hits involving Eastern Orthodoxy and traditional Catholicism, such as “sspx russian orthodox,” “traditionalist catholic views of the orthodox,” and “traditional eastern catholics.” The only reason Opus Publicum pops up in these searches is likely because I am one of the few bloggers who writes on both Orthodoxy and traditional Catholicism, not because I have any great insight into the mind of traditionalism when it comes to the Christian East. The few forays I have made into this territory, such as those involving St. Gregory of Narek and the 21 New Coptic Martyrs of Libya, ended with some rather scornful remarks being directed my way. So it goes. The truth of the matter is that most traditional Catholics, like most Catholics in general, know very little about the Christian East, including the sui iuris churches in communion with Rome. As I have noted in other articles and posts before, this is unfortunate because it contributes to needless theological, spiritual, and liturgical myopia on the part of traditionalists. This is not to say that traditional Roman Catholics ought to “easternize” (Heaven forbid). However, the traditional movement, to the extent it wishes to be a movement for the betterment of the universal Church while being an authentic reflection of the full Catholic tradition, cannot exist in ignorance of the East, or so I would think.

But I have been wrong before about such things. Not long ago I was engaged in what was initially a friendly e-mail exchange that quickly turned sour when I suggested, nay, observed that Eastern Catholics, by and large, have shown more respect for their liturgical patrimony than Roman Catholics. This gentleman—a true blue traditionalist—could not accept that the Divine Liturgy was a “true Catholic liturgy”; its existence within the Church was a “concession” that has since become “an abuse.” Indeed another traditional fellow who used to comment on this blog once went so far as to claim that none of the Eastern Catholics who arrived in North America should have been allowed to retain their rites—a claim that surely would have sat well with the late Archbishop John Ireland, the unwitting founding father of the Orthodox Church in America. Alienating the East is a time-honored tradition some folks apparently can’t let go of.