Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Concrete Proposals vis a vis Orthodoxy: Intro

I'm going to be doing a series of posts on-and-off regarding ecumenism with the Orthodox.

The Orthodox, I think most people would now agree, represent a much more viable option for ecumenism than the Protestants. If we should have been trying to please anyone all these years, it was the Orthodox. Instead, we tried to Protestantize, and no one ended up liking us; the Orthodox are appalled by our current liturgical situation, for example.

Even though we are so much closer to the Orthodox, and there is such greater hope of reunion, once again, the Vatican's corrupt allegiance to "Western" culture won out back in the time of Vatican II, leading us to pursue in vain those heretics who happened to share a Western European history, rather than those strange Oriental folk with whom, nevertheless, we actually share
the Faith itself. Yet it was a popular position for a time to think that we had more in common with Western Protestants (merely because they were Western) rather than with Eastern Orthodox (even though they are much more orthodox).

Of course, ecumenism continued on both fronts fortunately, and as of late the emphasis on the Protestant side has greatly decreased. They're finally realizing that we have no hope there except maybe for some traditional-minded Anglo-Catholics to jump ship, and we should really throw in all our cards with the East. And things seem to be progressing quite nicely there, especially with the Russians these days.

One great thing about the East is that I really do feel that it represents a sort of snapshot of the First Millennium Church. The problem, of course, is that the West has gone on to have doctrinal development and refinement since then, forming explicit crystallizations of ideas previously left more fuzzy...whereas the East sort of became frozen after the Seventh ecumenical council, believing anything not defined by then couldn't possibly be of the Faith since it wasn't already.

You can already find Orthodox who agree, essentially, with the Catholics on most issues, from the Immaculate Conception to Purgatory...but the problem is that they never officially "concretized" one formulation or another, so these all remain merely "theologoumenons" for them that admit debate and a variety of interpretations, and
you will find other Orthodox who will vehemently reject such interpretations if only to deliberately distinguish themselves from Rome. And their authorities are reluctant to come down in favor of one interpretation for fear of alienating the other side, so there is a sort of ambiguity about certain teachings that the Western Church developed with more precision only in the Second Millenium.

For Catholics, it is hard to understand how the Orthodox can believe that development and refinement of formulation is possible for the Trinitarian and Christological questions (ala the first seven councils)...but then so much is left undefined and sort of vague for them about issues of ecclesiology, sacraments, grace and justification, etc. And yet, this
was no doubt the situation in the First Millennium. Orthopraxy came long before any abstract formulations of the dogmas of the Faith. The Church was praying for the Dead long before it was ever explicitly spelled out exactly what state those dead were in and how and why our prayers for them are efficacious. It was recognizing Mary as All-Holy long before it ever explicitly discerned that this took the specific form of having Sanctifying Grace/Divine Life from the moment of her conception. It was believing in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, long before terms like "substance" and "hypostasis" ever came into play, and was practicing the Eucharist long before the word "transubstantiation" was invented.

And yet such theological precision can be useful as long as it doesn't become too narrow or suffocating. As long as we don't turn the
formulation of the dogma into the dogma itself, as long as we don't let the specific theological framework we parse the Truth in become confused with the Truth itself. It's true that such things like purgatory were rather fuzzy and not explicit before the 10th century or later. But, then again, things like the Trinity and Hypostatic Union were fuzzy before the 4th century. When looking at the Orthodox, I think Catholics can rightly ask why can there be clarification up to the 4th century or the 6th century, but then not for other questions up to the modern day?

I am convinced, personally, that there are no actual differences of Faith with the East, as much as strident voices on both sides might insist there are. But I have looked at all the doctrinal issues, and found them to be semantical. And, I think, there is a general recognition of this fact among the more nuanced heads on both sides (especially ours). The problems that remain are practical/political.

If the Orthodox could accept
us wholesale today, I could accept them wholesale today. The Pope would, presumably, not dare interfere in any inter-Eastern or intra-Eastern affairs in the Church, and would only step in when there was a question with a disparity of jurisdictions both West and East involved; in other words, true ecclesiastical subsidiarity would be practiced. So they could continue in every way exactly the same as they do now, except we would be in communion, and they would let us receive communion their churches. But they wouldn't have to say anything different, they wouldn't have to do anything different...as long as they could accept the same tolerance for us.

There are some things, like the date of Easter and them putting the Pope's name in their liturgy...which it would be nice to resolve practically, of course, but that could come later. For example, I could see us agreeing to adopt the "Reformed Julian" calendar for our liturgy (it doesnt differ from the Gregorian for 600 more years, anyway)...if we could all agree to just calculate Easter based on the actual astronomy at Jerusalem instead of all the complicated tables. It would be better, as the New Calendarist churches in the East have messed up their whole liturgical year since the Sanctoral uses the new calendar, but Temporal doesnt, so certain overlaps can no longer occur (such as the Kyrio-Pascha, the coincidence of Annunciation and Easter) since the new calendar is 12 days back but the earliest and latest dates for Easter are not. But those things are disciplinary and non-essential. If we never reached an agreement about the date of Easter, we could still be one Church (some Eastern Catholic Churches still use Orthodox-style reckoning).

My point is, they wouldn't have to change any of their theological formulations, and wouldn't have to suddenly answer to the Pope in any practical questions as they seem to imagine. They wouldn't have to conform to the model that the Latin West currently uses vis a vis the Pope as Latin Patriarch (a role that, without an East to balance, has become somewhat confused and entangled with his role as Pope qua Pope). He wouldn't dare meddle in their internal affairs. They'd just exchange letters of communion each time a new Pope or Patriarch was elected. It would be otherwise totally the same, and hopefully would help act as a "counterbalance" to the power and centralizing influence of the Papacy in the West, and help reignite dynamic debate and dialogue in the Church, being mutually enriching.

However, while I believe the "dogmatic" issues are all entirely semantic, and that we actually teach the same thing (just we are "speaking Latin" and they are "speaking Greek" and something gets miscommunicated in translation), that our positions are complementary, not contradictory...still, I believe this must be made explicit. Statements must be made demonstrating how the two positions are the same and clarifying how they are complementary instead of contradictory, otherwise people will just be confused and both sides will look suddenly indifferentist or latitudinarian about doctrinal issues.

We can't, for example, suddenly say that the Filioque or Immaculate Conception are just Western theologumenons that may be safely ignored by the East. It must certainly be maintained that, given a Latin theological framework, as a Latin formulation, they are correct and dogmatic. But, at the same time, it must be admitted and demonstrated and agreed upon that the Greek formulations are also correct given a Greek theological framework, and are actually equivalent formulations of the same Truths, just with complementary emphases or perspectives. In other words, we're both right. We need to agree to that and demonstrate it convincingly.

If such reconciling explanations are not issued and agreed upon by both churches (perhaps in a third "neutral" language like English), I fear we lose clarity rather than gain it in a potential reunion. We give up the mutual enrichment by simply not addressing the issues, and thus make both sides look "wrong" instead of making both sides be right (which is the real solution).

Unfortunately, the current strategy seems to attempt to solve the semantical issues by having each side distance itself from its position. By making each side's position increasingly vague and blurry until they end up being so ambiguous that they would admit possible equivalency between them. This, I fear, is what happened with the Joint Declaration on Justification with the Lutherans. We didn't actually reconcile the two positions (impossible, because with the Protestants it isn't just a semantical "misunderstanding"...they actually believe something different). Rather, they simply phrased it in terms so broad and ambiguous that either side could fit their position under that umbrella. The same formulations were agreed on, but understood by each side as meaning totally different concepts.

What we need is the opposite. We need to allow a diversity of theological formulations with the East, while realizing that they actually are formulations of the
same concepts, or we'll just end up with something as intellectually dishonest as the Joint Declaration again.

So, to that end, I'll be doing several posts soon, each on a certain concrete issue that allegedly divides us from the Orthodox, and attempt to show concretely and specifically how the two positions, in their separate formulations, are actually the same just with different emphases, complementary not contradictory. I'll try to point out where they're equivalent, and where each side might gain something through an encounter with the complementary emphasis of the other on that issue.

9 comments:

Tony said...

As a Greek Orthodox Catholic, that is Catholic though of Greek-Byzantine Rite, I am happy to see plans for such a series of posts, and I could agree more with what you've said so far.

I don't know if you saw the recent "leak" of a certain draft concerning Catholic Orthodox declarations about the role of the Pope in the first millennium of Christendom, but I remain as optimistic as you. Hopefully we're not fools.

Mark of the Vineyard said...

Just thought I'd share the opinions of a Catholic-converted to Orthodoxy-converted back to Catholicism. He brings up some interesting points.

http://vivificat1.blogspot.com/2010/01/orthodox-and-catholics-seriously.html

Jonathan said...

Well I disagree with two points made within this particular blog entry.

The first point being that The East is "frozen" in The Early Ecclesial Eras of The Church and the second being the "neutral" language of dialogue.

As for your first point, you cite that both Churches essentially (keyword being essentially) believe the same things, on this I can agree. But you later cite that they are not as refined in their definitions as we are and thus must be further polished. On this particular point I take issue, for it wreaks of Latinization. The Church has not "per se" defined any new dogmas, rather she has further elaborated on such teachings that have already been held to be part of the deposit of Faith. BUT this is ultimately when said doctrines are called into question, not just randomized declarations. Had they never been put into question, perhaps we would still have the same definitions in the "blurry" terms (ie, we hold it as part of our Faith (dogma) and thus there is no need to formally define it (after all, we're not Sola Scriptura-ists (applying this to any Ecclesial Document (ie immemorable T/tradition)))) (Honestly have we Catholics (perhaps this is particular to The West) become so ANAL that we have to have everything set in print ? Isn't this at the core of legalism and thus part of the problem with Traditionalist movements ? Why not leave some mystery.) Consequently my second point ties into this.

I know you weren't necessarily considering English as a "neutral" language of dialogue (at least I hope not as this would ultimately be a contradiction of your statement on anti Globalization (ie English (primarily English being equated with Westernization/Americanism in this case)).). Nonetheless there is no "neutral" language (per se)as any one language can be politicized for any particular agenda (ie Greek is superior to Latin and so on and so forth with any number of languages.). On the other hand we do have access to a particular language/logic which is neutral and common to all parties involved (Oriental Orthodoxy somehow gets categorized with Eastern Orthodoxy, when the fact is both schisms have separate issues that need to be addressed.). This particular language/logic being our common Patristic heritage. Only in speaking through this particular discourse can any progress be made. Scholasticism is a "recent" innovation in The West and very much foreign (at least to an extent) to Eastern Theological discourses (not to mention it is also the defining point of what most Orthodox would say equates Catholic Christianity with The Latin/Roman Ritual and not the whole of Christian Tradition). It can be argued that The Church should speak PATRISTICALLY (aka Pre Schism Style) in her pronouncements for the ENTIRE Church and SCHOLASTICALLY for those local proclamations particular to The West. In my limited knowledge of The East, it is my understanding that they have preserved the use of Patristic language in their Theological discourses (a language that we in The West once upon a time also spoke). I do believe that The Pope in his role as Shepherd of The Universal Church can and should be able (and I do believe he is well versed in such language) to communicate between The Churches. Plainly put either The Church as a whole returns to using Patristic thought, or a Patristic and Scholastic edition of any pronouncements be published for the respective Churches (the same teaching through a different theological discourse). There seems to be this rather sick trend to always have a litmus test for Eastern Christians to constantly keep tabs on them to see if they are indeed Catholic. Any and I do mean any divergence in ritual practice is always seen as suspect and used as a justification for Latinization.

I do believe you recall a particular thread on a forum whose name we shall not mention that "debated" (it was more of a shouting match not an actual debate) this particular issue.

Jonathan said...

Let me clarify that before my post is taken as an anti Latin rant, what I am trying to express is the simple fact that we need to breathe with both lungs. The West needs The East and vice versa, but this does not indicate that one side need sacrifice, because it does not mirror the same teaching in the exact same way. The Saints from all rituals have expressed the same love for Christ in their different capacities based on the language afforded to them. It would thus indicate that The Church is of one heart and one mind even if our human failings cannot comprehend The Church being as diverse.

As to the point of Protestantism, the fact is that those with backgrounds in "The Old World" (not necessarily those of us with roots in "The New World", but thats another subject) are subject to a Catholicism which is very much Counter Reformation in spirit. Every event during The Early Ages of Protestantism (John Huss,etc.) and those that would follow later with The Protestant Revolution are all attempts by The West to crush these never ending heresies. Unlike the heresies of The Early Church, Protestantism has never died out. The ideologies which sprang forth from it and took foot in the secular world are ideas which The Church CONSTANTLY strives against in this day and age. Notice how most of these trends typically come as a result of a continued proliferation of Protestantism (which can in many ways be equated with Globalization/Westernization of Nations). Protestantism,colonialism, etc. are gashes that The Church has not fully recovered from. The errors made by The human element of The church (not her Divine Element) during these eras has very much shifted the focus of The Church as Western.

A Sinner said...

"The first point being that The East is "frozen" in The Early Ecclesial Eras of The Church"

It's not so much that I really believe that, as that this is how THEY present themselves. They portray their teachings as being simply the same as First Millennium expressions, whereas we admit openly that we have had doctrinal development.

It is the Orthodox to whom "doctrinal development" is unfortunately still sort of a dirty word.

"But you later cite that they are not as refined in their definitions as we are and thus must be further polished."

No, I didn't say they must be. That's my whole point. We could accept them without requiring that they polish things. That's my big argument: that if the "unpolished" state was okay in the First Millennium, it must remain okay...so long as they do not, on the same token, reject the polishing the West has done on its end, and accept that this is complementary, not contradictory, to the formulation they hold.

"Isn't this at the core of legalism and thus part of the problem with Traditionalist movements ? Why not leave some mystery."

That is one way I think their perspective could enrich and complement ours. In reminding us of the "vaguer" form of the doctrine, which must needs maintain its validity (as long as there is no attempt to reject or contradict the "clearer" form of the doctrine).

There are things said by the Fathers that would scandalize some anal "legalist" Catholics because they don't speak so precisely about issues that would later be further refined.

But, to use a metaphor, the Apostle's Creed remains valid even in the face of the Nicene Creed.

You have to "accept" the Nicene Creed in itself, but you don't have to use it (just like Eastern Catholics don't have to add the Filioque to it), and could even come up with your own elaboration of the Apostle's Creed, as long as it wasn't directly contradicting the Nicene.

I think the discourse in the Church could become very dynamic and fascinating if the "younger selves" of dogmatic formulations (such as are preserved in Orthodoxy) encountered their "older selves," after a millennium of growth and choices. Each might have something to teach the other.

A Sinner said...

"I know you weren't necessarily considering English as a "neutral" language of dialogue"

Well, that's why I put "neutral" in quotes. Everything you say is true, but the fact remains it would be a convenient Third Language to use to get around some of the barriers that I am convinced are caused by semantical problems in the Greek and Latin.

Honestly, when one investigates certain issues like the Filioque, one realizes how much of the fuss was caused by the fact that there were problems finding a direct equivalent in Latin or Greek for the other side's concepts.

Conversations I've had, however, as an English-speaking Catholic with English-speaking Orthodox...have actually been very fruitful when it comes to resolving some of these confusions by being able to describe the differences in how we were using the same terms but in different ways.

"This particular language/logic being our common Patristic heritage. Only in speaking through this particular discourse can any progress be made."

I agree, but that's only half the battle. There were Greek Fathers and Latin Fathers, and the Orthodox tend to be very suspicious of Augustine, for example. A language divide was causing problems even then.

But I'd totally agree that, while Thomism may form "common ground" for dialogue with, say, the SSPX...it definitely cannot be used as the paradigm of discourse with the East.

Your Patristic proposal is very prophetic, and I believe may indeed be a big part of the solution in the end.

However, part of my goal is to demonstrate to Catholics, who are familiar with doctrines in their Scholastic formulations...how Orthodox positions are actually equivalent. To demonstrate to CATHOLICS, mainly, the possibility of "translation" between those two languages of discourse. I think you'll see more what I mean in my posts on specific topics.

Jonathan said...

"No, I didn't say they must be. That's my whole point. We could accept them without requiring that they polish things. That's my big argument: that if the "unpolished" state was okay in the First Millennium, it must remain okay...so long as they do not, on the same token, reject the polishing the West has done on its end, and accept that this is complementary, not contradictory, to the formulation they hold."

I do not necessarily think MOST Orthodox have a problem with our language/logic (at least on paper they "do not"), rather I think the bulk of the problem has to do with Catholicism being equated with Rome (ie The Latin West). I mean think about when The Church was truly one (prior to The Oriental and Eastern Schisms), how was the authority of The Pope managed in relation to the other Ritual Churches ? Mind you I am still learning about this particular era in Church history. I would imagine that as time progressed, there would have perhaps been a trend towards a more Latin (Western) expression of Christianity for the whole of Christendom at the time (coughs* Latinization coughs*). I would assume that this was more or less around the time when ONLY Latin Patriarchs were able to become Pope . I realize that this trend (in essence) ultimately does make sense, but it also impresses in the minds of many that Catholic = Roman/Latin/West (ie. The Head of The Church is of Rome, therefore the character of The Church is Roman.). You and I both know this is a trend that still persists in the minds of many a Latin Catholic. Ultimately The Greco-Roman divide of cultured vs. barbarian has been transformed in the debate of East vs. West. Now in accord with my own pipe dream (I am still optimistic on this one.), if The Papacy had remained in Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) I do believe these debates would have been null and void. Aside from being THE very CRADLE of our Faith, its geographic as well as cultural makeup is a crossroads between ALL nations (Let us just pretend for a moment that The Americas, Australia etc. are latched onto Africa and Asia.). So to speak, there is a perfect balance between all forms as it swears no allegiance to any side. For this reason, you have this perpetual battle of who can say "FIRST!",in reference to who has "dibs" on the territory. Not only physically, but also spiritually. But this is beside the point and just a random musing of mind, though it would have been nice to have had a truly neutral patriarchate.

Jonathan said...

"Well, that's why I put "neutral" in quotes. Everything you say is true, but the fact remains it would be a convenient Third Language to use to get around some of the barriers that I am convinced are caused by semantical problems in the Greek and Latin."

"Conversations I've had, however, as an English-speaking Catholic with English-speaking Orthodox...have actually been very fruitful when it comes to resolving some of these confusions by being able to describe the differences in how we were using the same terms but in different ways."

I understand what you are saying, but realize also that English is for the most part equated with The West (or rather Globalization). True, it does not have all the "baggage" that perhaps Latin has as being THE language of The West (no matter what some English speakers may opine on the matter), but it nonetheless has some cultural baggage.

I would assume that for the most part, most if not all of the conservations you have had with English speaking Orthodox, are those who live somewhere in The West. If not in The West, perhaps areas of the world that have been permeated by English as the envoy of The West in the name of globalization.

Like I said, I do not know the specifics.

Regardless you are more than likely already aware of my own bias towards the language that should be used, but lets not activate that hornet's nest just yet.

Nonetheless I do believe that the more appropriate language would be Greek (ducks for cover*). Why you ask ?, well Greek is a bit more sophisticated when it comes to defining terms. It also provided most of the building blocks for Early Cristian thought. Not to mention, it was for a time a lingua franca of sorts between most if not all Churches (and to an extent it still is). Ultimately what needs to happen is that any and all languages need to be divorced from their political baggage (quite a feat if you ask me) and each side needs to swallow its pride. If a particular term cannot be properly translated in one tongue, leave it be and adopt the term for the purposes of the document (just elaborate on what is meant by the term). Translations are never perfect, but elaborating and using figurative language facilitates the process and makes it possible (Compare The Tanakh in Hebrew with The Targum/Peshitta in Syriac/Aramaic with The Septuagint in Greek and you will see that a lot of phrases lose their meanings in translation. Think St.Jerome and why The Vulgate was particularly difficult to compose). You do recall the "scandal" that was caused in The Mission Use text we both read when it came to translating The Creed in a Native tongue (at least I think it was The Creed), right ? That is basically what is at work here.

A Sinner said...

Interesting you should mention the Masoretic Text vs the Targumim vs the Septuagint vs the Vulgate.

I'm taking a class on the Reception of Genesis through the ages, and the other day we went through those four versions and saw how, in each one (for the Masoretic we looked at the Jewish Publication Society Bible), the ambiguous word "adam" or "ha-adam" in the Hebrew...made the shift from generic noun "man" to the proper name "Adam" at four very different points in the text, and what this could imply for the translators outlook regarding individuation of humanity.

There is also an interesting story about Jerome changing the translation of the plant Jonah slept under from "gourd" to "ivy" in the Vulgate, and Augustine complaining because the people in the Churches were much disturbed by this change (a lesson perhaps to be cautious when it comes to the new translation of the Novus Ordo):
http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/jonah.pdf