I recently discovered the excellent BBC4 radio programme, “In Our Time” with Melvin Bragg. The April 10th episode, “The Norman Yoke”, was particularly interesting to me, since I’ve always been a bit skeptical of some Orthodox accounts of the religious significance of the “Norman Invasion” of 1066: that this event marks some sort of transition from something called “Orthodox England” to something called “Roman Catholic England” (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here, here or here).
Archive for April, 2008
By Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ
The Oberlin conference on The Nature of the Unity We Seek, which met fifty years ago, in September 1957, marked an important stage in the ecumenical movement. For the first time, the churches in North America in large numbers committed themselves to the quest for Christian unity. The composition of the conference was diverse, including delegates from several Orthodox churches and the Protestant Episcopal Church, as well as Lutherans, Reformed, Methodists, Baptists, Disciples of Christ, Adventists, and others.
The delegates heard thoughtful addresses by a brilliant array of theologians from North America, Europe, and Asia, including a sermon by the secretary-general of the World Council of Churches, Willem A. Visser ’t Hooft. After some days of discussion, the delegates came up with a “Message to the Churches,” which recommended steps toward a greater visible manifestation of the unity of the Church.
Although I had to leave the United States in June 1957 for a three-year sojourn in Europe, I can recall the interest that the scheduled Oberlin Conference aroused in the Catholic Church even before I left. My own professor and mentor in ecumenism, Fr. Gustave Weigel, S.J., took part in the conference as one of the two Catholic observers. The other was my good friend the Paulist editor of Catholic World, John B. Sheerin.
At the time, H.P. Van Dusen judged that the Oberlin Conference “cast virtually no light on the theme which the gathering was summoned to examine,” which remains theologically defensible. But, in my estimation, the conference achieved all that could reasonably have been expected of it. Large multilateral conferences of this type, gathering for the first time, cannot be expected to come up with profound new consensus statements. The delegates were effectively exposed to the complexities of the problem in the areas of faith, liturgy, and the Christian life. They became conscious of the length of the road ahead but at the same time were eager to bring their respective churches, with God’s help, as far as they could along that road.
The ecumenical movement, which had been going on for a generation in Europe, was formally launched in the United States. Oberlin stands near the beginning of a half century of thriving ecumenical activity. The impetus toward unity was strengthened, four years later, by the General Assembly of the World Council of Churches at New Delhi and then, in 1963, by the Fourth World Conference on Faith and Order at Montreal. The full and official entry of the Catholic Church into the ecumenical movement came with the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).
Sofia, Bulgaria, Apr 24, 2008 / 02:02 am (CNA) – Bishop Hilarion, the Russian Orthodox Bishop of Vienna and Austria, has said in an interview that the Orthodox and Catholic Churches are allies who could form a strategic alliance to defend Christian values, Interfax reports. He also criticized many Protestants for having a “light version” of Christianity.
Speaking to the Bulgarian magazine Christianity and Culture, Bishop Hilarion said, “We must realize that Orthodox and Catholic believers are no longer rivals. We are allies. The rivalry must be gone once and for all. If we understand that, proselytism will stop.”
The bishop said that “romantic ecumenism,“ which he said characterizes the World Council of Churches and the Conference of European Churches, is not viable. He said that many Protestants have created a “light version of Christianity, without apostolic succession, without sacraments, without strict dogmatic teaching and what is also important they don’t require sticking to Christian moral norms.”
He said this version of Christianity, when it revises Christian theological or moral teachings to become more “modern” or “politically correct,” becomes “a direct way to spiritual death.” He said this version of Christianity had stopped recognizing centuries-old sins, and now even promotes them.
Bishop Hilarion’s statement comes just days after Pope Benedict addressed an ecumenical gathering in New York where he also denounced versions of Christianity that contradict apostolic teachings. At the gathering of about 300 people, the Pope said that Christian churches which change their beliefs by so-called ‘prophetic actions,’ often use a method of interpretation that is inconsistent with Scripture and Tradition.
The Holy Father added that this causes those interested in Christianity to become “understandably confused about the Gospel message itself” because they see Christians splintering and disagreeing about the beliefs of the faith.
The “message that the world is waiting to hear from us,” the Pope said, is “a clear, convincing testimony to the salvation wrought for us in Christ Jesus”… “based upon the notion of normative apostolic teaching: a teaching which indeed underlies the inspired word of God and sustains the sacramental life of Christians today.”
According to Interfax, Bishop Hilarion said a joint Orthodox-Catholic “front” is necessary to oppose both the challenges of secularism and dialogue with other world religions. Bilateral, strategic partnerships between the two Churches, he thought, would be the best way to achieve this.
“I don’t mean union, administrative merger or compromise in theological teaching, I mean strategical partnership,” said Bishop Hilarion, who is also the Russian Orthodox Church Representative to European International Organizations.
Moscow, April 28, Interfax – Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia has called for the development of relations between Orthodox and Catholics at a meeting with Salzburg Archbishop Alois Kothgasser, the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations told Interfax-Religion on Monday.
“This relationship is particularly important for the promotion of traditional moral values, Christian ideas of social and family relations, human rights and dignity in modern Europe,” Alexy II said.
The archbishop is visiting Moscow with a delegation of Salzburg clerics and believers. He met with Patriarch at the Savior Cathedral in Moscow on Sunday.
“We attribute a huge significance to the development of friendly relations with the Catholic diocese of Salzburg. This is not just because your city has cultural and historical importance,” Alexy II said.
He confirmed the good relations between the Catholic Church in Austria and the local diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church.
“We are grateful to representatives of the Roman Catholic Church for their unwavering attention and assistance to the church life of our flock in Austria,” he said.
Posting will be sparse to non-existent. A blessed Holy Week and Pascha to Orthodox readers, and a blessed remainder of Eastertide to Western Christian readers.
In response to the earlier post “Bishop Hilarion: God’s Mercy is immeasurable”, His Grace, Hilarion (Alfeyev), Russian Orthodox Bishop of Vienna, posted the following clarification in the combox:
Friends, I came across your blog by accident. Thank you for your interest in what I said in Rome. However, I must state that what some of you take as my position is in fact that of St Isaac of Nineveh. It is his views that I tried to present as faithfully as I could in my paper and in my earlier book The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian, on which this paper is based. Please read the text of my paper here.
As you will see, I clearly state: “The teaching on universal salvation, which is so explicitly preached by Isaac the Syrian, has never been approved by the Orthodox Church. On the contrary, Origenist idea of the apokatastasis ton panton (restoration of all), which has certain resemblance with this teaching, was condemned by the Fifth Ecumenical Council”.
Then I try to explain the difference between St Isaac and Origen: “However, we would not completely identify Isaac’s idea of the universal salvation with Origenist ‘restoration of all’. In Origen, universal restoration is not the end of the world, but a passing phase from one created world to another, which will come into existence after the present world has come to its end. This idea is alien to Christian tradition and unknown to Isaac. The latter is more dependent on other ancient writers, notably Theodore of Mopsuestia and Diodore of Tarsus, who also developed the idea of universal salvation, yet in a way different from Origen’s. On the other hand, it would not be fair to say that Isaac simply borrowed the ideas of his predecessors and inserted them into his own writings. Isaac’s eschatological optimism and his belief in universal salvation are ultimate outcomes of his personal theological vision, whose central idea is that of God as love. Around this idea the whole of his theological system is shaped”.
Many thanks, Vladika, for this important clarification. We are truly honored by your participation in our humble ecumenical forum!
By Father James K. Graham
From Sophia (Journal of the Melkite Catholic Eparchy of Newton), Winter 2008 (pp. 26-28).
The works of the recently-reposed Archbishop Elias Zoghby, former Patriarchal Vicar in Egupt and Sudan, and retired Metropolitan of Baalbek, especially the essays collected in A Voice from the Byzantine East and Tous Schismatiques?, provide a vision of Melkite ecclesiology solidly based in the Eastern Tradition, representative of the thinking of the Melkite Fathers of Vatican II, and consistent with contemporary Orthodox ecclesiological thought.
Archbishop Elias bases his ecclesiology in the first millennium of undivided, but diverse, Christianity. During that period, he says, the Churches founded by the Apostles grew and evangelized the known world, developing liturgically, theologically, and ecclesiologically according to the particular needs of each geographical location and also according to their unique historical-cultural-political situations. A basic agreement on the essential content of the Christian faith, derived from the Scriptures and the teaching of Jesus and the disciples and their successors, and articulated for the universal Church at the seven Ecumenical Councils, united all Christians, despite their wide geographic dispersal and their many divergent local practices.
The Great Schism of 1054 between Rome and Constantinople came as the culmination of intensifying conflict between the two Churches, two cultures, and two political systems. The Councils of Lyons (1274) and of Florence (1439) aimed at reuniting the separated Churches, and despite the increasingly institutionalized condition of schism, both councils bear witness to a consciousness of some kind of continuing communion, for the bishops of both East and West convened and voted. This sense of communion without administrative uniformity, at least tolerant of each other’s differences, but still agreeing on the essentials of the Christian faith, forms the foundation of Archbishop Elias’ proposal for reunion of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches in our time.