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Archive for the ‘Assyrian Churches’ Category

Good friend of the blog and frequent commenter, Michaël de Verteuil, attended the recent “Orthodox Constructions of the West” conference at Fordham University (June 28-30), and sent the following first installment of a report about the conference to Eirenikon readers:

Update – The official press release from Fordham can be read here.  Michael Liccione, of Sacramentum Vitae, discusses the conference here.  An interesting combox discussion can be read over at John’s Ad Orientem.

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The Conference was amazingly rich both in content and participants. I felt it was money well spent for several reasons that should come out in our discussion. As it covered two and a half days and involved the presentation and discussion of about a dozen papers, a single report would not do it justice. On the other hand, offering a dozen reports at one go would just lead to a confused and scattered discussion, so I have proposed to our kind host that we offer offer no more than one or two a day, perhaps holding off on the next one until comments trickle to a stop. I should also note that the proceedings will eventually be published, and this approved and more comprehensive version should ultimately be given primacy over the notes I offer here.
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One major disappointment for me was the limited time I was able to spend with Dr. Tighe, Dr. Peter Gilbert (of “Bekkos” fame) and Fr. Paul [frequent commenter on Eirenikon – Ed.] (who managed to make his way from Greece for the Conference). It was wonderful to see them and chat with them in the flesh, however, no matter how briefly. Unfortunately, Dr. Michael Liccione who had planned to attend doesn’t seem to have been able to make it.
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From what I could tell, about half the participants appeared to be Orthodox, perhaps a quarter to a third were Catholic with teh remainder a smattering of secular historians and Protestants. I am told that attendance was just under 180 at its highest, and that seems about right though I didn’t take a count myself.
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Anti-ecumenists were notably absent, perhaps understandably, though as you will see in subsequent reports, their flag bearers were present in spirit and their works discussed, in some cases not altogether unsympathetically.
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I will begin with this report of Fr. Taft’s opening address. It proved hard to bear for some of the Orthodox attendees but, as one of them put at lunch to the agreement of his fellow Orthodox at the table, Fr. Taft has pretty well earned to right to say whatever he wants. ;-)
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Monday, keynote address, Fr. Robert F. Taft, SJ:
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“Perceptions and Realities in Orthodox-Catholic Relations Today: Reflections on the Past, Prospects for the Future”
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In the opening keynote address, Fr. Taft, introduced as the world’s foremost expert on the history of the Byzantine liturgy with over 800 publications to his credit, noted that the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue remained on track (which he found encouraging), but offered two grounds for disillusion: the field remained the preserve of theologians and hierarchs and needed to be pursued more at the grassroots level, and the process continued to be plagued by failure to accept and confront respective responsibility for “a dolorous past.”
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In the spirit of openness, Fr. Taft began by acknowledging the responsibility of his own (Jesuit) order, describing its relentless 16th and 17th century proselytism against Eastern Christians in the Ottoman Empire, India, Ethiopia and the Polish Commonwealth as a form of ecclesial imperialism. Uniatism pursued in this way had resulted in merely partial unions while dividing Eastern Churches as lay people loyally followed their bishops without clearly appreciating the underlying issues in dispute. As a result, the consequences of uniatism posed the greatest obstacles to wider reunion.
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Ironically, only full reunion would resolve the resulting problems, but there was still a role for interim solutions. As examples, Fr. Taft pointed to the need for steps like abandoning “selective histories” and adopting “shared history” that would be based on common hermeneutic principles. Each side should also be clearer on what was required of the other as a basis for reunion. (By this I understood him to mean more than the restatement of simplistic, insulting and empty exhortations to “repent” and “return to the true faith,” but he didn’t specify.)
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He noted progress on the Roman side with recognition that the 9th century had seen a problematic evolution of the exercise of its primacy in the East, and the fact that Catholic scholarship no longer referred to the “Eastern schism” preferring instead to a more neutral and less judgmental “East-West schism.” He contrasted this Roman movement, however, with an Orthodox failure to acknowledge that Papal primacy in the West had played a critical role in keeping the Western Church united as a bulwark against rising secularism, and that the absence of the exercise of this Petrine function in the East left chaos, usurpation and local schism there as the only responses to intra-Orthodox ecclesiological quarrels.
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Fr. Taft also stressed that the Jesuits/Catholic side was not solely responsible for uniatism. Whatever its flaws, it had been proposed initially by Eastern bishops bashed by the Reformation on one side, by the Poles and Jesuits on another clamoring for absorption of their Orthodox flocks into the Latin rite, and finally by Russian imperialism treating this same flock as ripe for military conquest and incorporation. Uniatism had in fact been offered as a compromise by five of the seven Orthodox bishops under Polish rule and only secured after lengthy negotiations with the aim of respecting Eastern faith, worship and autonomy.
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Orthodoxy needed to undertake its own examination of conscience and adopt a less polemic view of history. Fr. Taft noted, for example, that the Catholic apology for past sins against the unity of the Church was met largely with indifference, with Russian and Greek bishops even averring that Orthodoxy, for its part, had nothing to apologize for never having resorted to uniatism or used the secular arm to impose its will or oppress the conscience of others (this elicited some nervous chuckling from a largely scholarly audience). Orthodox forms of “uniatism” had been manifest with respect to an Assyrian “Orthodox” Church under Russian auspices in the interwar period and could be found even today in the existence of “Western rite Orthodoxy”. Historically, the East had often resorted to the civil power in imposing its jurisdiction and oppressing minorities, and Fr. Taft cited as examples instances in Southern Italy and Sicily as well as amongst Armenians, Syriacs and Copts at the hands of Byzantines, and against the Georgian Church, Old Believers and Polish Catholics by Orthodox Russians.
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It was important to avoid anachronistic impositions of current standards and rules on ages past, as all powers, not just Western ones, had sought to impose religious conformity by force. It was, Fr. Taft brutally argued, time for Orthodox polemicists to “grow up.” Behaviour, not doctrine remained the main obstacle to reunion in his view. Ecumenical scholarship was in need of the application of Christian principles to unite faithful rather than stress and highlight often superficial differences; to be realistic and truthful while applying the same standards with consistency to both sides. Fairness required recognition that differences that were already in play in the first millennium should be accepted as valid, as the magisterium would otherwise be contradicting itself in having once accepted what to some was now unacceptable. Both the Western and Eastern fathers had to be incorporated in any review of our respective theologies. Misrepresentation had to be avoided, and he offered two examples. Orthodox critics still tended to treat scholastic theology as “the” rather than “a” Western theological framework. Similarly, Neo-Palamite efforts to treat existing differences as having been dogmatized should be resisted. It was false, for example, to claim that Palamism had been condemned by the Catholic side and ignore the fact St Gregory figured on the calendar of Eastern Catholic Churches and was thus considered a Saint by Catholics as well as by Orthodox.
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Concluding, Fr. Taft argued that the discourse was sorely in need of increased “common human decency.” He pointed to the dialogue with Anglicanism as a model to follow (though it was unclear to me whether he meant the Anglican dialogue with Catholicism, the one with Orthodoxy, or both), at least in terms of courtesy and temper.
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During the subsequent question period, Fr. Taft acknowledged that the autocratic model of Roman primacy had never been accepted in the East. He also noted, however, that there was no evidence the West had ever for its part recognized the Pentarchy and thus autocephally as the Church’s organizing principle. The way forward thus probably lay in a synthesis rather than in the imposition of one or the other model. Fr. Taft also stressed the primacy of saving souls over the strict application of abstract ecclesiological principles that were, in any case, not universally respected by either side. Overlapping episcopal jurisdictions, for example, could be accepted as legitimate pastoral responses to local cultural diversity so long as the communities concerned felt a genuine need for them.
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The Conference was amazingly rich both in content and participants. I felt it was money well spent for several reasons that should come out in our discussion. As it covered two and a half days and involved the presentation and discussion of about a dozen papers, a single report would not do it justice. On the other hand, offering a dozen reports at one go would just lead to a confused and scattered discussion, so I have proposed to our kind host that we offer offer no more than one or two a day, perhaps holding off on the next one until comments trickle to a stop. I should also note that the proceedings will eventually be published, and this approved and more comprehensive version should ultimately be given primacy over the notes I offer here.

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I have been remiss in posting about the recent act of reunion between the Assyrian Diocese of Mar Bawai Soro and the Chaldean Catholic Church in union with Rome. The Mar Bawai Soro blog, as well as the Ab Oriente Weblog (written by Anthony, a subdeacon under Mar Bawai Soro), has assembled a great deal of information about this event.

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