Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Ecumenism

Some — though thankfully not all — traditionalists have taken umbrage with certain “ecumenical” posts on Opus Publicum concerning Catholic/Orthodox relations. According to common legend, the Orthodox have been “schismatics” since 1054, obstinately refusing submission to the Roman Pontiff while illicitly ministering to the Christians of the East. Anyone familiar with the actual history of second-millennium Christianity knows what a load of hooey this is. Although Catholics and Orthodox regrettably remain divided, that division is not as “clean” as some would like. Much to my delight, Fr. John Hunwicke, in a post simply entitled “Ecumenism,” offers up some important historical details on the positive and edifying interactions between Latin Catholics and Greek Orthodox in previous centuries. Wonderful it would be if things were still so.

For those interested, the following is an incomplete list of posts touching upon East/West ecumenical matters with a specific emphasis on the 21 New Coptic Martyrs and the elevation of the great Armenian saint, Gregory of Narek, as a Doctor of the Universal Church.

One on Orthodoxy, Two on Catholicism

Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but I couldn’t help but notice that First Things posted a critical (some might say damning) analysis of Russian church/state mingling on the anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima’s Miracle of the Sun. Sergei Chapnin’s “A Church of Empire” will be a sobering read for those who believe “Holy Russia” has returned under the gaze of President Vlaidmir Putin and Moscow Patriarch Kirill. Chapnin, an Orthodox believer himself, does not buy the line that a great moral awakening is ongoing in Russia. Rather, the Orthodox Church has become “a post-Soviet civil religion providing ideological support for the Russian state.” It’s difficult to argue with that conclusion in light of both the Moscow Patriarchate’s “Russian World” rhetoric and the dreadful number of abortions and divorces which occur in the country each year. None of this is to say that all is lost, however. Even if the Russian Church lacks living links to its pre-Soviet past, the Russian Orthodox tradition itself holds the seeds for authentic spiritual, moral, and social renewal. The question now is when the upper hierarchy in the Russian Orthodox Church will have the fortitude to truly resist secular political influences on ecclesiastical life. Some are hoping it will come during this generation, but given current circumstances, it may still be a long ways off.

Over at the site One Peter Five, a gent going by the alias Benedict Constable has some sobering words for Catholics. “Getting Real About Catholic History: A Brief Review of Papal Lapses” dumps a bucket of ice water on ultramontane sentiments by reviewing some fairly infamous moments in Church history where popes scandalized the faithful and, arguably, undermined the Catholic Faith. Perhaps it is too early to tell for sure, but there seems to be a slow — but steady — drift away from papal maximalism within certain circles of the Catholic Church, a drift that undoubtedly bodes well for the future as far as both preserving the Faith and improving relations with the Eastern Orthodox are concerned. It is interesting to see that while Pope Francis has done next-to-nothing to curb open dissent against Church doctrine during the ongoing Synod on the Family, several Greek Catholic leaders, including Patriarch Sviatoslav of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), have stood firm for the Apostolic Faith. The successor to St. Peter is not the only one available to shepherd the faithful in these troubling times.

Speaking of the UGCC, I made a brief mention yesterday of an academic article by Fr. Peter Galadza where, inter alia, he examines four 17th C. Kievan Liturgicons (roughly equivalent to a Missal for Latin Catholics), including the first printed 1617 edition which was edited in part by St. Josaphat Kuntsevych, the polarizing promoter of Orthodox reunion with Rome. This foundational liturgical text for the Greek Catholics, which was printed just 21 years after the Union of Brest, includes neither the filioque in the Creed nor a commemoration for the pope. Following proper Byzantine liturgical praxis, such a commemoration would have been reserved to the metropolitan bishop rather than parish priests. Today, regrettably, the pope is given primary commemoration during the litanies despite the fact that he is not the primate of the UGCC. The practice has no support in Byzantine liturgical history and will hopefully be eliminated in due course.

The Malaysia Airlines Tragedy and International Law – Post-Postscript

Today’s news that a Russian-built Buk missile launched from eastern Ukraine brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) has set off fresh calls to hold the perpetrators legally responsible. That is exponentially easier said than done, as I discussed last year on Opus Publicum in a series of off-the-cuff posts examining the international-law issues surrounding the tragedy. (For those unaware, I am the co-author of a critical treatise on international aviation law published by Cambridge University Press.)

At this point I see no compelling reason to substantially revise the preliminary conclusions I reached last year: Russia will skate; the Ukrainian rebels directly responsible will likely not be apprehended; and Malaysia Airlines itself will wind up footing the civil-liability bill. For those interested, I have linked the original posts below.

Andrew Continues to Speak to the Synod

The heir of St. Peter may wish to remain silent, but the successors to the Holy Apostle Andrew will not be dissuaded from speaking the truth. Following on last week’s intervention by Patriarch Sviatoslav of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, His Beatitude Fülöp Kocsis, Metropolitan Archbishop of the Archeparchy of Hajdúdorog and head of the Hugarian Greek Catholic Church, had this to say to the so-called Extraordinary Synod on the Family:

We must say with clarity that in our very spoilt world the family and the man of good will with good intentions is under attack, under a ferocious and enormous attack. And this attack is of the Devil. We must call these diabolic forces which have a role to play with these phenomena by name because this way we can find some indications even for the research of possible solutions.

“Our battle in fact is not against flesh and blood, but against the Principalities and the Powers, against the dominations of the dark world, against the spirits of evil that live in the celestial regions.” (Ephesians 6, 12)

Thus, we can clearly see that in reality a spiritual struggle is required in order to fight the attacks of Satan in these our times. I would very much see with favor a marked emphasis of this spiritual struggle, even in the final part of the document where the proposals and possible solutions must be formulated.

“Take therefore the armor of God, in order that you may resist in the evil day and remain firm after having overcome all of the obstacles.” (Ephesians 6, 12)

Read the rest of the good bishop’s words over at Voice of the Family.

Some Comments on Taft and Sister Churches

Archimandrite Robert Taft, S.J., retired professor at the Pontifical Oriental Institute and world-renowned liturgical scholar, continues to vex some Catholics (mainly of a traditionalist variety) with his promotion of what he perceives to be Roman Catholicism’s new “Sister Churches” eccesiology. Taft’s most recent restatement of this position, “Problems in Anaphoral Theology,” 57 St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 37 (2013), runs like this:

The Catholic Church considers [the Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox Churches to be] “Sister Churches,” which despite their rejection of communion with Rome, are ancient Churches tracing their roots, like those of the Roman Communion, to Apostolic Christianity, and are recognized by Rome as possessing the full panoply of what makes them merit the title “Church” as Catholics understand it: a valid apostolic episcopate assuring their apostolic heritage of valid Baptism, Eucharist, and other sacraments and means of salvation to sanctify their flocks.

Note that this new “Sister Churches” designation describes not only how the Catholic Church views those Orthodox Churches. It also represents a startling revolution in how the Catholic Church views itself. Previously, the Catholic Church saw itself as the original one and only true Church of Christ from which all other Christians had separated for one reason or another in the course of history and held, simplistically, that the solution to divided Christendom consisted in all other Christians returning to her maternal bosom. But the Vatican II Council, with an assist from those Council Fathers with a less naïve view of their own Church’s past, managed to put aside this self-centered, self-congratulatory perception of reality.

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Saving The Remnant

The Remnant, the Matt family apostolate which has provided news and commentary to traditional Catholics for nearly 50 years, is in serious trouble. Last week, regular columnist and lawyer Christopher Ferrara issued an urgent appeal to raise one million dollars to keep the newspaper (and its accompanying website) alive. Whether it will meet that goal or not remains to be seen. Having both contributed an article to the paper and previously subscribed, I can say without reserve that I have no interest whatsoever in seeing it fold. I do believe, however, that its survival, and the survival of many traditional Catholic endeavors, depends on refreshing what Catholic tradition means. Gone are the days when traditionalists can speak fondly of “the good old days”; most now living have no recollection of them. Moreover, simpleminded dismissals of certain theological and liturgical currents in the name of keeping alive a conception of both which is historically and intellectually untenable no longer flies. But most important of all, it is time for Catholic tradition to be presented in a positive, upbuilding manner, free of polemical potshots, hyperbole, and useless griping. Yes, the Church is in the midst of a grave crisis and our society has fallen into darkness, but neither abysmal fact provides any soul the right to suspend fundamental Christian charity.

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Four Uncontroversial Paragraphs for Saturday

The ongoing dispute among traditionalist Roman Catholics concerning the background of one Bishop Ambrose Moran (see here, here, and here) has brought back into the open how little some (perhaps many) traditionalists understand the Christian East—Catholic or Orthodox. While some traditionalists revel in referring to the Orthodox as “schismatics,” it is worth noting that no official papal decree, at least from the time of Blessed Pius IX’s 1846 letter to the Eastern Christians to the present day, uses that expression. Moreover, anyone with at least cursory knowledge of East/West relations since 1054 knows—or ought to know—that the “Great Schism” was not a singular event which neatly split the Church of Christ in two. For centuries following the Schism, Catholics and Orthodox continued to intercommune in various parts of the world up to the point when Constantinople fell to the Turks. And even after that cataclysmic event, “on the ground” cooperation and intercommunion continued in parts of the Middle East. The past century of strife in Eastern Europe, starting with the Soviet Revolution and continuing with the present crisis in Ukraine, Catholics and Orthodox have found themselves ministered to by each other’s clergy. Although none of this obviates the sad fact that Catholics and Orthodox are not in visible communion, this history is worth keeping in mind before proceeding to speak “authoritatively” on the status of Orthodoxy, the nature of its disagreements with Rome, and the disposition of the Orthodox faithful.

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