Ecclesial Dialogues: East and West I
The Church of God is forever and remains one and unique.
(Nicolas Afanassieff, Una Sancta)
The Church of God is forever and remains one and unique.
(Nicolas Afanassieff, Una Sancta)
This paper touches on some issues having virtually no place in official Catholic-Orthodox dialogue, including moral questions around marriage and divorce; historiographical and liturgical-hagiographical questions centred on the canonization and commemoration of saints in one communion who left and/or were used in conciliar debates and liturgical texts to condemn the sister communion; and questions of synodal organization and structures in both Catholicism and Orthodoxy in the face of centralizing tendencies. It proposes a model of ‘gradual’ and localized sacramental communion inspired in part by the work of several contemporary Orthodox scholars—Staniloae, Bordeianu, Plekon, Arjakovsky, inter alia.
I began my official involvement with the ecumenical movement in high-school in 1988, assisting a local chapter of the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue in south- western Ontario. Then, in 1990, I became involved with the Canadian Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches whose seventh assembly in Canberra, Australia I attended, followed by seven years of working for the WCC during which I crossed the globe to many gatherings on five continents.
I learned immediately after returning from Australia in 1991 that the over- whelming majority of Christians had never even heard of the WCC, and had little clue as to what the word ‘ecumenism’ or its cognates even meant, and, more alarming still, they seemed completely uninterested in learning more. Worse still, those tiny few who actually were aware of the WCC were almost uniformly hostile, picketing our worship tent in Australia every morning with Pauline proof-texts (‘be ye not yoked together with unbelievers!’) or later taking to the pages of that august and venerable journal of theological scholarship, Reader’s Digest, to denounce the WCC as a vehicle for advancing what a contemporary Canadian crank, fondly imagining he has invented the phrase, calls ‘cultural Marxism’.
While depressing, this realization that the vast majority of people knew little and cared even less about ecumenism was sobering and helpful when we would get
My title is a paraphrase of a line from W.H. Auden’s 1940 poem ‘In Memory of Sigmund Freud’.
The Church of England, which in origin is two separated provinces of the Western Latin Church, became formative of the Anglican Communion worldwide. However, it has never in those years of separation considered itself wholly separated in the sense that it has always asserted its connectedness and incompleteness as ‘part of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church’, independent in polity, interdependent with other Anglicans and other churches, especially those ordered in the historic episcopate. More recently, asserting its legitimate patrimony, it has sought ecclesial unity without simply being absorbed into the polity of those with a more exclusive claim to identity with the Una Sancta, causing Anglicans to wrestle with the legitimate terms of communion in the Una Sancta. This journey has been at its most complex and rewarding with the Roman Catholic Church, especially in relation to the terms of communion focused on the papal office.
‘Those who do not smart from the wounds of Christ’s body are not nourished by the Spirit of Christ’
Non vegetate Spiritu Christi
qui non sentit vulnerabilis corporis Christi
Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Cluny
A part not the whole
‘The Church of England is part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, worshipping the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’ Thus begins the preface to the Declaration of Assent, approved through a process involving the Lambeth Conference of 1968, which all deacons, priests, and bishops in the Church of England have for nearly fifty years had to affirm publicly at their oath-taking either when they are ordained and on every new appointment. It is increasingly used in ecumenical discussion as the definition of the Church of England’s position. For example, in the English bishops’ response to the papal encyclical Ut unum sint, it was quoted in relation to the use of the verb ‘subsistere in’ at the Second Vatican Council: not only in Lumen gentium (to affirm that all the elements of sanctification and truth can be found in the Catholic Church), but also in Unitatis redintegratio to say
Although there are doubtless some (mostly Orthodox) who would disagree, it seems safe to say that, so far as the doctrine of the Eucharist is concerned, there is agreement between both Orthodox and Catholic: that is, we both affirm that that in the Eucharist Christ becomes present, in his full humanity and full divinity, as the Body and Blood of Christ, the elements of bread and wine having been changed by the Eucharistic prayer. Furthermore, this presence is not fleeting; the Holy Gifts are reserved and given as the Body and Blood of Christ. In addition, both Orthodox and Catholic are agreed on the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist. But what about devotion to Christ present in the Eucharist? More specifically, what about devotion to Christ’s consecrated Body and Blood outside the Eucharist, which in the West is called ‘extra-liturgical’ devotion? There is a sense in which there is no extra-liturgical devotion to the consecrated Holy Gifts among the Orthodox; the sacrament is reserved in an artophorion kept on the holy table, but it receives no especial devotion separate from the Holy Table itself. This paper will concentrate on comparing the Western Rite of Benediction and, closely associated with this, the Exposition of the Host and Adoration, with the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts in the East. Despite accord on doctrine, the nature of Eucharistic devotion expressed in these two rites is in most ways strikingly different.
I think I have taken the subject of our colloquy, Mapping the Una Sancta, in perhaps a slightly different way from most of us here. I understood Dr Sotiris Mitralexis’s suggestion, when he asked me to take place in the Syros Symposium, to be that we think ahead and begin to consider what the next steps might be if Catholics and Orthodox reached the conviction that there are no doctrinal differences between us. Judging from the abstracts, several have taken this to mean the papacy, looking at the last major issue—which is why Edward Siecienski’s book on the papacy has been suggested as preliminary reading—and wondering if we are approaching this issue in the right way. I took Sotiris’s suggestion in a different way: if we were agreed on doctrinal issues, are there other issues that might distinguish or even divide us? Issues where, although there is no real doctrinal disagreement, there are still differences of ethos or of devotion: what might these differences entail? My proposal is to consider this in relation to the Eucharist, for although there are doubtless some (mostly Orthodox) who would disagree, it seems safe to say that, so far as the doctrine of the Eucharist is concerned, there is broad agreement between Orthodox and Catholic: that is, we both affirm that that in the Eucharist Christ becomes present, in his full humanity and full divinity, as the Body and Blood of Christ, into
Why does interpreting the Fourth Crusade as a colonial encounter usefully recalibrate our understanding of the rapid escalation of Orthodox/Catholic animus that occurred during the thirteenth century and what are the ecumenical implications of this reorientation? Scholars have long since identified the Fourth Crusade as a pivotal moment in the history of Orthodox/Catholic estrangement so, why, one might ask, do we need to view the crusades as colonialism per se in order to chart the history of Orthodox/Catholic estrangement? And why do we need the theoretical resources of postcolonial critique to explain something we already know?
In a recent book, Colonizing Christianity: Greek and Latin Religious Identity in the Era of the Fourth Crusade (Fordham, 2019), I argued that the religious polemics, both Greek and Latin, that emerged in the context of the Fourth Crusade should be interpreted as having been produced in a colonial setting and, as such, reveal the political, economic, and cultural uncertainty of communities in conflict; they do not offer theological insight.1 Given that it was in the context of the Fourth Crusade—and not the so-called Photian Schism of the ninth century, the so-called Great Schism of 1054, or any other period of ecclesiastical controversy—that Greek and Latin apologists developed the most elaborate condemnations of one another, I argued, it behooves historians, theologians, and Church leaders alike to reconsider the conditions that give rise to the most deliberate efforts to forbid Greek and Latin sacramental unity in the Middle Ages and to ask whether those arguments are theologically revealing or whether they simply convey animosity in the guise of theological disputation. This essay begins with a summary of these historical conditions and then develops a more constructive theological argument regarding the ecumenical implications of that historical work.
I began the book by asking the reader to consider with me how treating the Fourth Crusade as a colonial encounter might alter our interpretation of Orthodox/ Catholic hostility, which first took its mature form in that context. Four of the
George Demacopoulos, Colonizing Christianity: Greek and Latin Religious Identity in the Era of the Fourth Crusade (New York: Fordham University Press, 2019).
As an introduction to the current issue, this paper looks at certain details of the current state of the ecclesial dialogue between East and West, in light of Edward Siecienski’s two important contributions, The Papacy and the Orthodox: Sources and History of a Debate (Oxford University Press, 2017) and The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy (Oxford University Press, 2010) and of other sources. The core question of the paper is, which Church is the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” that we confess to during each liturgy and mass? Is it one of two divided Churches, or the one Church in schism?
Allow me to start with my personal incentives for embarking upon this enquiry. Reading Edward Siecienski’s treatises on the history of the divide, the recent The Papacy and the Orthodox: Sources and History of a Debate1 and his earlier The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy,2 I saw with considerable clarity that the actual historical trajectories of the Orthodox and the Catholic Church, in all the vertiginous complexity of these trajectories in all their details, look quite different from the simplified, retroactively formulated historical narratives concerning purported clear-cut divisions.
Of course, there is much to be said about which differences are indeed seemingly or currently irreconcilable doctrinal and ecclesiological divisions and which differences are merely legitimate local liturgical, ecclesiological and theological traditions, from the vast pool of theologoumena, of apostolic churches comprised of different peoples and at different points and circumstances in history. It must be remarked that this diversity of legitimate traditions of apostolic churches has also been largely lost within both the Roman and the Byzantine Church, in view of the homogenisation that emerged during the reign of the empires within which each of these churches flourished.
A. Edward Siecienski, The Papacy and the Orthodox: Sources and History of a Debate (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017).
A. Edward Siecienski, The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).
In 1983 Karl Rahner, SJ and Heinrich Fries wrote Unity of the Churches: An Actual Possibility (Einigung der Kirchen—reale Möglichkeit) a small book proposing eight theses that they hoped could bring about the almost immediate reunion of Christendom. Although widely criticized for their ‘epistemological tolerance’, if ‘resurrected’ and properly adapted to issues currently under discussion in the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue (e.g., the filioque, the papacy, the Marian dogmas), these theses (particularly 1, 2, 4a, 4b) have the potential to build upon the progress already made and move East and West even closer toward full communion.
A Personal Note
In the years since the publication of my book on the filioque,1 and then its companion volume on the papacy,2 I have been asked many times by both Catholic and Orthodox friends if and when these debates will end so that the goal of unity between the churches can finally become a reality. Up to this point I have not addressed these questions in print, because until now I have restricted myself to chronicling what has been rather than detailing what should be. My work has largely been descriptive rather than prescriptive, a natural consequence of being a dogmatic historian far more concerned with the past rather than with the future.
However, I must admit that as a scholar who has spent the last two decades studying the genesis and progression of the schism I have often wanted to take the
A. Edward Siecienski, The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).
A. Edward Siecienski, The Papacy and the Orthodox: Sources and History of a Debate (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).
[...] we need in this world the experience of the other world, its beauty, depth, treasure, the experience of the Kingdom of God and its Sacrament – the Eucharist.
Alexander Schmemann, The Journals, p. 24–25.
The nominalist contagion has become transversal in contemporary culture. Schmemann sees it as pervasive in Western Christianity, but it can be also found in the Eastern Church in the excessive ritualism and formalism associated with Byzantium: in sum, Orthodoxism and the issue of clericalism. Moreover, the transversality of nominalism is such that it practically defines secularism with its own universalist pretensions. The two great church bodies that see themselves as apostolic and catholic would do well to look back to Schmemann’s criteria for the right kind of consolidations, especially in regard to sacramental realism, to break the hold of nominalism. In exploring this theme, we shall note Paul Ricoeur’s critical hermeneutics to bring forth the peculiarities of Schmemann’s Orthodox positioning, and, we shall briefly allude to some facets of Donald Davidson’s theory of radical interpretation to suggest how the dialogue might proceed, as well as Bulgakov’s own take on Una Sancta and where it meets one of Schmemann’s crucial concerns.
The issue of ‘Mapping the Una Sancta’ would have interested Father Alexander Schmemann. To begin with, from the time of his upbringing in Paris to his mission on behalf of the Orthodox Church in North America, his relationship with the Roman Catholic Church was been never less than meaningful.1 Along with his
In his Journals he would recall his student life in Paris and the positive experience of stopping by to hear parts of the Catholic Mass. He associated with it the same intuition that he experienced as an Orthodox and will have a place in this essay, namely, ‘the coexistence of two heterogeneous worlds, the presence in this world of something absolutely and totally “other.” This “other” illumines everything, in one way or another. Everything is related to it—the Church as the Kingdom of God among and inside us.’ The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann (1973–1983) translated by Juliana Schmemann (Crestwood: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2000), 19. Besides his interest in the works of Catholic theologians, specifically those associated with La nouvelle théologie and the idea of returning to the Fathers as an important resource for overcoming the dominance of neo-scholastic theology in their Church, he became an Orthodox observer at the Second Vatican Council. From the Catholic side, Fr Richard John Neuhaus’s admirable and admiring recollection of him in, ‘A Man in Full’, written on the occasion of Schmemann’s posthumous publication of his Journals in the influential periodical, First Things (January, 2001), gives us a picture of a man to be reckoned with.
The creed’s confession that we believe in ‘one holy catholic church’ should not simply be understood as a doctrinal datum, but as an understanding of the Spirit’s work based in the experience of the early churches. The churches did not exist as discrete groups with merely a common religious profession, but as nodes within a network. This network was established and maintained by constant contact and by those who saw it as part of their service/vocation to travel between the churches—and these human and physical links account for how the Christian Church as a whole developed; its common heritage in the writings it produced which became, in time, the canonical collection; and its awareness that, despite difficulties, such links were essential to its identity. This culture of links, of sharing and borrowing, could form a model for a practical way forward today towards a renewed sense of our oneness in the Christ.
Around 150 CE we get the first explicit mention of the one Church—encompassing all the communities of Christians—as itself an intrinsic element of the Christian faith. The statement comes from the Epistula apostolorum and takes this creedal form:
Then when we had no food except five loaves and two fish, he commanded the men to recline. And their number was found to be five thousand besides women and children, and to these we brought pieces of bread. And they were satisfied and there was some left over, and we removed twelve baskets full of pieces. If we ask and say, ‘what do these five loaves mean?’, they are an image of our faith as true Christians; that is, in the Father, ruler of the world, and in Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit, and in the holy church, and in the forgiveness of sins. (5,17–21).1
This text, the Epistula, presents historians with a wonderful array of problems such as how it relates to those texts, the gospels, which were at that time shifting in their status from being the standard and, possibly somehow authoritative, texts in use in the churches towards becoming the canonical texts of those groups by
I rely on Francis Watson, An Apostolic Gospel: The Epistula Apostolorum in Literary Context (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming) for the dating and the translation of the Epistula. I am indebted to Prof. Watson for making available to me his work, ahead of publication, so that I could cite it here.