Last night, in our ecumenical discussion group, I once again heard a Catholic say that after all, we have no significant theological differences. Many Catholics, if not most, seem to have been taught this. It is false, and I thought it useful to show, very briefly, why. So here are just a few of the major differences.
We deny the papal claim to supremacy, except in an honorary sense. (Our patriarchs are in no sense intended to be rival popes, nor to be thought of in that way.) You Catholics wouldn't consider that an insignificant difference, would you?
We deny the papal claim to infallibility. And these two denials are not mere isolated objections. As if they were not major enough in themselves, they reflect a whole different ecclesiology (doctrine of the Church). We differ on what the Church is and how she operates, how she is governed, and the role she plays in our lives. Is this a small difference?
We object to the doctrine of the Filioque. Usually this seems to people abstruse, arcane, and nit-picking, yet its consequences are concrete, profound, and far-reaching. The Filioque is built upon a whole different triadology (doctrine of the Holy Trinity) from the Orthodox one. This means we have two different understandings of who God is, no small matter in itself, but which in turn results in two different, in some points conflicting, kinds of devotional life. The Filioque also has, from the Orthodox point of view, wrong ecclesiological implications.
"Palamism", to use the wildly inaccurate Catholic pejorative term, also divides us. What St. Gregory Palamas was defending so vigorously, bottom line, was the fact that the Christian can and does have direct, personal experience of God, a point denied by scholasticism. Obviously this is not a trivial issue, but it is only one of the implications of what St. Gregory fought for. I once made a list of reasons it was important, and as I recall, there were 13 items on it.
I hope this is enough to show you that whole systems are at variance and at stake in our Catholic-Orthodox dialogue. But there is much, much more. This morning I picked up the Catechism of the Catholic Church and five times opened it to a random page, and five times found there some divergence from Orthodox teaching. The CCC is flat-out wrong when it states, "With the Orthodox Churches, this communion [with the Catholics] is so profound "that it lacks little to attain the fullness that would permit a common celebration of the Lord's Eucharist." (838)
It is far from true and what really bugs me (and other Orthodox Christians, you can be sure) is that, not lacking in sophisticated, informed, and intelligent scholars, Rome has got to know it is false. How are we supposed to have any real dialogue in the face of that?