On the Pan-Orthodox Council – Followup

For reasons which should be obvious to most, the “Great and Holy Council,” which is currently underway in Crete, has been on my mind quite a bit. Last Friday, over at First Things, I gave a sobering account of where matters stood on the eve of the Council without wishing to get bogged down with predictions (most of which probably wouldn’t come to pass anyway).

On Sunday, Pope Francis sent out the following tweet.

No doubt the Holy Father meant well, but Catholics should not forget the extent to which anti-Catholic animus coupled with ecclesiastical chauvinism have conspired to derail the Council. Now with word getting out that the Council is considering a draft document which would, in effect, “elevate” four Orthodox councils/synods to “ecumenical” status, a new line is being drawn in the sand between East and West — and to what end? The Orthodox world is splintering in profound ways along national and ethnic lines. Some are even predicting an eventual schism between the Ecumenical and Moscow patriarchates. How does it make sense, at this late stage in the game, to go beating the anti-Scholastic/anti-Papal war drums? Or perhaps this is a necessary growing pain which both Catholics and Orthodox must endure on the fraught path to unity. Now may be a good time to wonder if the oft-derided project of “Uniatism” isn’t the way to proceed, at least with respect to those parts of the Eastern Orthodox Church who are willing to prioritize both unity and truth without fictitiously shrinking the Body of Christ down to a ghetto.

In closing, let me call your attention to a quote by the Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov which Pater Edmind Waldstein recently posted up on his web-log, Sancrucensis. Maybe this says it all?

Otherwise, if apart from Peter the universal Church can expressly declare the truth, how are we to explain the remarkable silence of the Eastern episcopate (notwithstanding that they have kept the apostolic succession) since their separation from the Chair of St. Peter? Can it be merely an accident? An accident lasting for a thousand years! To those anti-Catholics who will not see that their particularism cuts them off from the life of the universal Church, we have only one suggestion to make: Let them summon, without the concurrence of the successor of St. Peter, a council which they themselves can recognize as œcumenical! Then only will there be an opportunity of discovering whether they are right.



  1. matthewgaul
    June 21, 2016

    Glad to see you are still posting here.

    Is it still “uniatism” if a whole autonomous particular church joins the Catholic communion? Wouldn’t that be their right as a particular church?

    I suppose that some folks will just howl regardless.

    If the Orthodox elevate certain councils to ecumenical status, Rome could always choose to “receive” those councils. I wouldn’t put it past Pope Francis, and it would be great fun to see the apoplexy it would cause in so many quarters.

    1. trevsliw
      June 21, 2016

      I am curious how any council can be called ecumenical without Peter.

      What is the metric by which the first seven are ecumenical for the Eastern Orthodox? That it was agreed upon by all the bishops? I think Arius and a few others would have been dissenting at Nicea. Were they thrown out so as not to count as a bishop then and therefore no say? (Honest questions)

      1. Gabriel Sanchez
        June 21, 2016

        There is no settled “theory” among the Orthodox for how a council becomes “ecumenical.” The most common (popular) view is that a council becomes ecumenical over time, as it is “received” by the Church (which is ambiguous). This view became popular only in the 19th C., and is used by the Orthodox to disregard certain councils they no longer like. This is called “receptionism” and it is largely formulated in direct opposition to the Catholic view that the pope’s ratification determines a council’s “ecumenicity.”

      2. matthewgaul
        June 21, 2016

        “What is the metric by which the first seven are ecumenical for the Eastern Orthodox?”

        The first seven were convoked by the emperor, and, if memory serves, it was a common opinion that this was needed for legitimacy. I don’t know how the modern Orthodox view this.

        1. William Tighe
          June 21, 2016

          “The first seven were convoked by the emperor, and, if memory serves, it was a common opinion that this was needed for legitimacy.”

          True enough, but it is interesting how the Lateran Synod of 649, which met at Rome to condemn Monothelitism under the presidency of Pope Martin I (who was arrested and exiled to the Crimea by the Byzantine Emperor as a result) was planned by Pope Theodore I (a Greek born in Jerusalem, who died shortly before the council met) and St. Maximos the Confessor as an “ecumenical council” convoked by the Pope because of the heresy of the Emperor Constans.

  2. Nelson
    June 22, 2016

    I don’t think the recognition of the so-called eight and ninth Ecumenical Councils would be a problem for Catholics. I think that both councils don’t teach anything contrary to the Catholic faith. I suppose that the last Photian Council, which does condemn the addition to the creed, could create a stir but given recent developments in Catholic/Orthodox dialogue on the Holy Spirit, I believe Rome and the Orthodox are more in agreement than disagreement.

    What will be interesting to see is if the current council does recognize these councils as Ecumenical will the anti-Catholic/ecumenist boycotting recognize them as such? Given their rejection, already, of this council’s authority it would be interesting if they do because most radical Orthodox already recognize them as ecumenical.

    1. Gabriel Sanchez
      June 22, 2016

      While Catholics and Orthodox have come to a better understanding of the filioque, it is still concerning that its addition to the Creed is what is being (re-)condemned here. Even if there is a “mild” way to interpret this move, I imagine it will get blown out of proportion in Orthodox-land and be used as further proof that Catholics are all a bunch of heretics.

      One thought which occurred to me in all of this is the possibility that by “ecumenizing” these four additional councils, the Ecumenical Patriarch is essentially setting up an alternative “theory” of “ecumenicity” to counter receptionism. That is to say, he is setting himself up (in concert with *some* of the bishops of the Church) to declare authoritatively that A, B, C, etc. council is “ecumenical” and therefore binding on the entire (Orthodox) Church.

      1. Nelson
        June 22, 2016

        If your thoughts on the Ecumenical Patriarch are correct, then a schism within Orthodoxy could be on the horizon. I can’t see Moscow accepting this development, especially given her aspirations for dominance. If the attitudes and opinions expressed on Orthodox blogs and social media are to be believed, then a schism already exists within Orthodoxy.

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