When it comes to the Eastern Catholic churches there are two extreme “schools of thought” on how they are “to be.” The first, which I will call the “Latin school,” holds that the Eastern churches ought to conform themselves fully to Western Catholic forms with some minimal space given to their unique, “exotic” elements. In other words, the Eastern churches should resemble the Latin Church in theology, spirituality, and ecclesiastical structure with “allowances” or “tolerance” given for certain liturgical elements and pious practices. On the level of doctrine, the Eastern churches ought to express themselves in a Latin idiom, removing all articulations which do not conform to Scholastic or semi-Scholastic formularies. Although the Latin Catholic Church has steadily drifted away from this “school of thought” over the past 50 years, many traditional Latin Catholics still hold fast to this belief out of chauvinism, ignorance, or both.
The other extreme, what I will call the “anti-Latin school,” holds that everything which appears to be rooted in Latin theology, spirituality, or ecclesiastical structure is not just alien to the East, but presumably defective as well. The East, according to this line of “thinking,” is essentially defined by being “not Western” (whatever that means) and has nothing to learn from Latin Christianity (though Latin Christianity has much to learn from it). On the level of doctrine, the “anti-Latin school” maintains a general agreement with the Latin Catholic Church on most first-millennium “essentials” while feeling entitled to ignore or discard any and all second-millennium doctrinal developments, particularly those associated with the Council of Trent and the First Vatican Council.
Situated somewhere between these two poles is everyone else, though only Eastern Catholics are likely to give this reality any careful thought. Eastern Catholics, particularly those living in the geographic West, are compelled to live out the tension of existing in a “Latin normative” ecclesiastical space while also trying to retain their heritage — which is part of the heritage of the Universal Church — in full. Some claim there is a “golden mean” to be found, but it often seems to exist as a theoretical rather than a practical point. This raises the unsettling question of whether or not, at this moment in history, it is possible for Eastern Catholics to “be themselves” without compromises or contradictions. It is that question which I plan to probe in due course.