Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How Not to Conduct Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue

Dear Catholics,

The very first pre-requisite for dialogue with Orthodox Christians is to accept that the differences between us are at root theological. Yes, theological. And they are genuine, authentic, theological differences, and they are grave. You need to take that seriously if we are to get anywhere in dialogue.

It is neither accurate nor charitable to tell us the separation between us is because we Orthodox Christians are simply unforgiving, as in this remark:

I will never quite grasp the animus of the Orthodox attitude towards the Catholic Church. I know that many (and in fact most) regard Western Christianity as unorthodox, but I rather suspect that this is an historical grievance looking for a doctrinal excuse.
At least such a dismissive remark does acknowledge that there are grievances -- conveniently relegating them to history, however, and ignoring the current and continuing grievances.

But historically, we made the doctrinal issues clear three hundred years before the first significant grievance, the sacking of Constantinople in 1204 by Catholic Crusaders.

Nor does it further the cause of Christian unity to tell us our differences are merely products of our proud imagination. Do not, for example, say this:

My contention would be that the Orthodox are simply creating doctrinal errors that don’t exist. On any of the issues you cite … the “difference” comes about because of exaggerated Orthodox insistence that there must be a fundamental difference. We, on the other hand, see that the Eastern and Western theologies are compatible rather than contradictory. Because the doctrines that the East denies are not those which the West teaches, but those which they imagine we teach.
Who has created anything?  Our doctrine is the same as it has ever been, from centuries before the split.  You are the ones who believe in "doctrinal development".

But if you think Catholic and Orthodox teachings all mean the same thing, then say it the Orthodox way and put an end to the controversy.  If you mean the same thing by the filioque as we mean without it, then say the Creed without it; as it's all the same, you've nothing to lose and much to gain.  You could have done this a thousand years ago and ended or prevented all these centuries of bitter controversy, but you haven't and that tells us there is some meaning in the filioque more important to Catholics than union with the Orthodox.  In other words, there's a real difference, a substantial one.

It would also be prudent, as well as more charitable, not to tell us the corollary to this insult, which is that we are ignorant:

the disagreements have arisen as a result of linguistic and cultural isolation rather than authentic disagreement on the heart of the faith.
Upon what basis does this opinion rest? 

And please, do not tell us you know and understand the Orthodox Christian faith better than the Orthodox do:

...the Protestant rejections really do amount to a disagreement, because they reject them in the context of a shared Western Church view ... Thus the Protestants really DO reject these doctrines, but we Catholics see these very doctrines as implicit within the Orthodox Faith as well as our own.
Take the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, for example.  It is not implicit in the Orthodox Faith; instead, it is predicated upon the Catholic doctrine of Original Sin, which is not the same as the Orthodox doctrine of the Ancestral Sin.  (The former has guilt and accountability for it being inherited by all of Adam's descendants.)  In fact, the Immaculate Conception, far from being implicit in our Faith, actually undermines it, for Orthodox Christianity teaches that Christ healed fallen human nature by assuming it.  By assuming fallen human nature - inherited from whom?  from His mother - and uniting it to the Divine Nature, thereby purifying, sanctifying , re-creating that fallen human nature, without any compromise to the Divine.

I found all four of these dismissive insults on one blog, by one author, in regard to one post.  But I have also found them in virtually every discussion with Catholics. 

Unfortunately, the reality is that the gap between us is theological.  It is not the result of animus or imagination or ignorance or misunderstanding.  It is theological and very real.  And it is both deep and wide. Facing this gap, acknowledging it for what it is, will be the first step toward bridging it.

But if all you are going to do is cast aspersions, well, don't expect not to create "animus"..


melxiopp said...

It should be pointed out that there are cultural and historical grievances, too. The question is which came first, and which is rooted deepest.

So, yes, trust has been broken over many centuries due to cultural and political actions and factors exacerbated by eastern isolation and domination, Turkish intrigues vis a vis the West, the Crusades (especially the Fourth Crusade and Latin episcopal presumption in Orthodox lands), bribery to force Unia, the Unia, etc.

However, the root issues between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic church have been discussed and argued since at least the end of the first millenium, e.g., the "Photian Councils" of 869 and 879. (The latter was originally proclaimed the Eighth Ecumenical Council by East and West; later, the RCC changed its mind and proclaimed the previously overturned council of 869 its own Eight Ecumenical Council, which was and is unrecognized as such by the Eastern Churches.) These are the root causes. Much of the cultural and political irritants come from the West seeing itself as the sine qua non of Christianity, dismissing the Easts' perspective and seeking to force agreement by any means necessary (whether for beneficent, selfish, religious or secular reasons).

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Yes, and just before I read your excellent comment, I updated this post to say some of that.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

What I would like very much to know is why? Why are they so eager for agreement by any means, even insulting, dishonest,or coercive?

Bribery? Okay. You Easterners want to keep your own rite? Right. You want to recite the Creed without the filioque? Okay. You want married priests? Have them. You want to express the doctrines in your own way? No problem. None of these things matters, so long as you submit.

Why??? What is driving this?

melxiopp said...

I wonder if part of it has to do with the cultural diversity of Western Europe and the pattern of evangelism in the West. Most of the West was never really under the Empire, and there wasn't the same common culture already existing when the West was evangelized. The Empire was mainly along the coasts, never controlled the Germanic lands (or Scotland or Ireland or the North-lands), pulled back significantly from Brittania and Gaul, and then collapsed before losing all North Africa to the Muslims; all while combating Arianism and Pelagianism throughout the West and fighting for some level of political stability and peace between barbarians of various, unaligned kinds and old Romans. The only common culture, the only common institution was the sole apostolic foundation of the West, the Church of Rome. Submission to the guidance of Rome was the way in which the various tribes and factions of the West came to peace and stability.

I was also interested to learn that in Germanic/Frankish law there was no concept of ownership beyond that of land. No 'corporate personality' could be granted anyone - a company, an association, a parish or diocesan or universal Church. Churches, therefore, within the Germanic paradigm of law and ownership, needs must have been owned and managed by the landowner and not the priest, bishop - who themselves were first and foremost subjects of the landowner/king -, diocese or Church. Very interesting church-state implications, not to mention the identification of a major impetus toward papal prerogatives in the Church of Rome's interactions with the Germanic barbarians. This fact ties together well with the fact that Cluny and its establishments placed themselves under the direct protection of the Church of Rome - they were in some sense 'stavropegial', as we Orthodox would say - and this took them out of the orbit of local Germanic landowners (and bishops).

Everything was referenced to Rome as the standard. This is just part and parcel with the Latin view of what Church is, with pastoral economia given to allow for local differences of taste, culture and politics.

Quite honestly, I think it also has quite a lot to do with a Roman (now Western) preoccupation with order and law as compared to the way things were done in the East. The messiness of ecclesiology in the East seems lazy and inefficient and unfair, political and selfish to the West. This Eastern Christian's response would be that the need for order is due to a lack of faith in God, and a need to create an indisputable authority to answer all your questions - law over love, definition over person.


James the Thickheaded said...

zee bee eez in zee bonnet. ouch!

Just kidding. I mean really... there is a certain 'tude on so many blogs. Once someone actually explained that there is a desire for the street cred of 12 or 15 million 20th century martyrs. Not sure if I buy that given that most people aren't even aware of them.. but that's one rumor.

I think it is soooooooo hard to explain Orthodoxy that if I could, then I guess I could explain why I love my wife. the words just don't exist. And the difference seems not just the Marines vs. the Army, but love versus duty, the "A" answer versus the "C". I know that' not exactly fair, but if you visit some of those blogs, you'll run into a certain famous "Diane" ... known by many as "she who cannot be named" who projects the 'tude of a lifetime.

I look at Catholicism as very good. I would recommend it to many. I don't agree with some of its "stuff", and wonder as you say: "Well if that's what it means, then why don't you just say so?" And you sense there's this bait and switch thing.

But Orthodoxy just comes naturally and seems like the real thing. And yes, it is more than Coke is better than Pepsi.