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Archive for the ‘Schism’ Category

‘We should not pretend we are close to solving this problem’

BY JOHN BURGER
National Catholic Register
Monday, February 07, 2011

(Emphasis and [my comments] added)

There’s been encouraging — sometimes tantalizing — news in recent years about the growing potential for Catholic-Orthodox unification. Pope Benedict XVI is said to be viewed more favorably by the Orthodox than his predecessor. The Catholic Archbishop of Moscow exclaimed in 2009 that unity with the Orthodox could be achieved “within months.” And the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation issued a document last October that envisions practical steps each Church can begin taking to begin the process of reunification.

But Russian Orthodox Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev is a lot more cautious about any predictions of imminent unity between East and West. Archbishop Hilarion heads the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department of External Church Relations, a position that was held by now-Patriarch Kirill before Patriarch Alexei died in 2008.

At 44, Hilarion has experienced a meteoric rise in the hierarchy of the Orthodox Church. A brilliant theologian and author, he was elected bishop at age 35, has served as bishop of Vienna and head of the Representation of the Russian Orthodox Church to the European Institutions in Brussels. He is deeply involved in ecumenical dialogues with the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.

He’s also an accomplished composer and is in New York for the U.S. English-language premiere of his St. Matthew Passion oratorio this evening. He also delivered the annual Father Alexander Schmemann lecture at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y., on Saturday, where he spoke about the meaning of icons in the Orthodox Church.

Thanks to Father John Behr and Deborah Belonick of St. Vladimir’s, I was able to sit down with Archbishop Hilarion for a chat after the lecture. Here’s a transcript of our conversation.

How important is Christian unity to the Orthodox Church?

The notion of Christian unity is essentially linked to the last words of Jesus Christ, which he pronounced at the Last Supper and, notably, those which were addressed to his father, when he preached about the unity of his disciples. It is a tragedy that Christ’s disciples throughout the world were unable to preserve this unity and that many schisms and divisions arose in the Church, and the call to Christian unity is the ultimate goal of our exposure to inter-Christian activities and to various dialogues which we lead with the Roman Catholic Church and with other Christian traditions.

So I think for an Orthodox Christian, it is essential to participate in inter-Christian exchanges in order to bring different Christian traditions closer to mutual understanding in order to overcome centuries of prejudices with the ultimate goal of the restoration of the full Eucharistic communion between various Christian denominations.

Of course, the Orthodox and the Catholic are the closest ones. We have certain differences in dogma, certain differences in ecclesiology, but we have the same teaching on the apostolic succession of the hierarchy, on the sacraments and on the Church in general.

Therefore, though there are obstacles to unity, they are, I believe, in no way insurmountable.

(more…)

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The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation
Georgetown University, Washington, DC

Saturday, October 2, 2010

[Emphasis and a few comments added]

1.  Prologue. For almost forty-five years, the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation has been meeting regularly to discuss some of the major pastoral and doctrinal issues that prevent our Churches from sharing a single life of faith, sacraments, and witness before the world.  Our goal has been to pave the way towards sharing fully in Eucharistic communion through recognizing and accepting each other as integral parts of the Church founded by Jesus Christ.

2. A Central Point of Disagreement.  In the course of our discussions, it has become increasingly clear to us that the most divisive element in our traditions has been a growing diversity, since the late patristic centuries, in the ways we understand the structure of the Church itself, particularly our understanding of the forms of headship that seem essential to the Church’s being at the local, regional and worldwide levels.  At the heart of our differences stands the way each of our traditions understands the proper exercise of primacy in the leadership of the Church, both within the various regions of the Christian world and within Christianity as a whole.  In order to be the Body of Christ in its fullness — to be both “Orthodox” and “Catholic” — does a local community, gathered to celebrate the Eucharist, have to be united with the other Churches that share the Apostolic faith, not only through Scripture, doctrine, and tradition, but also through common worldwide structures of authority — particularly through the practice of a universal synodality in union with the bishop of Rome?

[There is no question here of one side or the other returning to some pure, patristic, first millennium standard. It's unfair for each side to reproach the other for departing from such a mythic standard. Church history is full of both "Orthodox" and "Catholic" moments (and even a few "Protestant" ones!), and apologists for each side will use the bits that best fit their case. The problems which arose between the Churches in the second millennium arose because there was no consensus about the relationship between primacy and conciliarity in the first! There must, then, be a model of Orthodox-Catholic communion for the third millennium.]

It seems to be no exaggeration, in fact, to say that the root obstacle preventing the Orthodox and Catholic Churches from growing steadily towards sacramental and practical unity has been, and continues to be, the role that the bishop of Rome plays in the worldwide Catholic communion. While for Catholics, maintaining communion in faith and sacraments with the bishop of Rome is considered a necessary criterion for being considered Church in the full sense, for Orthodox, as well as for Protestants, it is precisely the pope’s historic claims to authority in teaching and Church life that are most at variance with the image of the Church presented to us in the New Testament and in early Christian writings.  In the carefully understated words of Pope John Paul II, “the Catholic Church’s conviction that in the ministry of the bishop of Rome she has preserved, in fidelity to the Apostolic Tradition and the faith of the Fathers, the visible sign and guarantor of unity, constitutes a difficulty for most other Christians, whose memory is marked by certain painful recollections” (Ut Unum Sint 88).

(more…)

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Adam de Ville, editor of LOGOS: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, and blogger at Eastern Christian Books, has provided a wonderful summary of points of interest for Eastern Christians in the Pope’s newest book-length interview with Peter Seewald, Light of the World.  Most of the points have to do with the nature of the Roman Papacy.

These points show, I think, that Benedict XVI truly understands Eastern Christian concerns about papal authority, and more than that, is sympathetic to them. I might even venture to say that this Holy Father appears to have a much “lower” (dare I say more Orthodox?) doctrine of the Roman Primacy than many of his ardent conservative and traditionalist Catholic supporters.

(Recently I had a discussion with a theology professor at one of the most “traditional” Roman Catholic seminaries in the States. He informed me that the Holy Father no longer believed the foolish things he wrote about the Orthodox as a young professor, i.e. “the Ratzinger Formula”. Not too long after this discussion, the Pope’s new man at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Koch, referred to this formula as a position, not just of young Professor Ratzinger, but of Benedict XVI.)

DeVille’s excellent post can be found here.

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The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation recently held its annual meeting and has just released the text of two statements: one on the date of Easter, and the other entitled “Steps Towards a Reunited Church: A Sketch of an Orthodox-Catholic Vision for the Future”.  The latter statement is reproduced below (emphasis added).

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STEPS TOWARDS A REUNITED CHURCH: A SKETCH OF AN ORTHODOX-CATHOLIC VISION FOR THE FUTURE

The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation
Georgetown University, Washington, DC
October 2, 2010

1.  Prologue. For almost forty-five years, the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation has been meeting regularly to discuss some of the major pastoral and doctrinal issues that prevent our Churches from sharing a single life of faith, sacraments, and witness before the world.  Our goal has been to pave the way towards sharing fully in Eucharistic communion through recognizing and accepting each other as integral parts of the Church founded by Jesus Christ.

2. A Central Point of Disagreement.  In the course of our discussions, it has become increasingly clear to us that the most divisive element in our traditions has been a growing diversity, since the late patristic centuries, in the ways we understand the structure of the Church itself, particularly our understanding of the forms of headship that seem essential to the Church’s being at the local, regional and worldwide levels.  At the heart of our differences stands the way each of our traditions understands the proper exercise of primacy in the leadership of the Church, both within the various regions of the Christian world and within Christianity as a whole.  In order to be the Body of Christ in its fullness — to be both “Orthodox” and “Catholic” — does a local community, gathered to celebrate the Eucharist, have to be united with the other Churches that share the Apostolic faith, not only through Scripture, doctrine, and tradition, but also through common worldwide structures of authority — particularly through the practice of a universal synodality in union with the bishop of Rome?

It seems to be no exaggeration, in fact, to say that the root obstacle preventing the Orthodox and Catholic Churches from growing steadily towards sacramental and practical unity has been, and continues to be, the role that the bishop of Rome plays in the worldwide Catholic communion. While for Catholics, maintaining communion in faith and sacraments with the bishop of Rome is considered a necessary criterion for being considered Church in the full sense, for Orthodox, as well as for Protestants, it is precisely the pope’s historic claims to authority in teaching and Church life that are most at variance with the image of the Church presented to us in the New Testament and in early Christian writings.  In the carefully understated words of Pope John Paul II, “the Catholic Church’s conviction that in the ministry of the bishop of Rome she has preserved, in fidelity to the Apostolic Tradition and the faith of the Fathers, the visible sign and guarantor of unity, constitutes a difficulty for most other Christians, whose memory is marked by certain painful recollections” (Ut Unum Sint 88).

(more…)

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Via Byzantine Texas, a “robo-translation” of this news article from the of the Moscow Patriarchate [a few comments in blue]:

As the President of the Department for External Church Relations of Moscow Patriarchate popular idea several media working document of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Church does not reflect the position of the Orthodox parties on the issue of primacy of the Roman bishop, and can only be seen as merely auxiliary material for further work. [Compare this judgment of Met. Hilarion with the words of Met. John Zizioulas, that "On the whole the basic ideas of Ravenna are accepted by all the orthodox churches." Met. Hilarion, on behalf of the Russian Church, also voiced his disagreement with Ravenna as well.]
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Contrary to the assertions of the press, at the meeting of the Orthodox-Catholic Theological Commission in Vienna, there were no “breakthroughs” made. ["The press", of course, were following the lead of both Met. John Zizioulas and Archbishop Kurt Koch. Met. Hilarion is suggesting, I think, that Met. John shouldn't be speaking for the Orthodox.] All the session was devoted to discussion of the role of the bishop of Rome in the first millennium. On this subject the steering committee of the Commission had earlier prepared a document discussed in the last year in Cyprus . A draft version of the document “flowed” ["leaked"?] in the media and has been published.
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It was assumed that Vienna will be able to finish the discussion of this document. But nothing happened: It took a lot of time discussion of the status of the text. Orthodox members from the very beginning of the meeting insisted that “the Cyprus document” can neither be formally issued on behalf of the Commission, nor signed by its members. From our perspective, this paper needs substantial revision, but after treatment he may have only the status of “working document” that is merely auxiliary material (instrumentum laboris), which can be used to prepare the following documents, but he will not have any official status.
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“The Cyprus paper has strictly historical in nature and, speaking about the role of the bishop of Rome, almost no mention of the bishops of other Local Churches of the first millennium, creating misconceptions about how to distribute power in the early Church. In addition, the document is not clear and precise allegations that the jurisdiction of the bishop of Rome in the first millennium did not extend to the East. It is hoped that these gaps and omissions will be filled in the finalization of the text.
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After a lengthy discussion, the Commission decided that the document needed more work and that a final decision on his status will be made at the next plenary meeting of the committee, ie expected in two years. By this time, will be drafted a new document, which will consider the same issues, but only from the theological point of view.
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For the Orthodox participants [All of them? Who is speaking for them, Met. Hilarion or Met. John Zizioulas?] is obvious that the first millennium jurisdiction of the bishop of Rome was distributed solely to the West, whereas in the East territories were divided between the four Patriarchy – Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. The Bishop of Rome had no direct jurisdiction of the East [would very many Catholic theologians and historians argue that he did?], despite the fact that in some cases Eastern hierarchs spoke to him as an arbiter in theological disputes. Data treatment did not have a systematic character and in no way be interpreted in the sense that the bishop of Rome was seen in the East as the holder of the supreme authority throughout the universal Church.
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I hope that in subsequent meetings of the commission the Catholic side would agree with this position, as evidenced by numerous historical evidence. [Met. Hilarion is certainly right in wanting to have his Church's ecclesiological views reflected in the work of the Commission, especially since his Church is by far the largest Orthodox Church: its views are those of the Orthodox majority!  At the same time, I do think Met. Hilarion's words are as much about the continued ecclesiological spats with Constantinople, as they are about old ecclesiological spats with Rome.]

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Dr Adam deVille, at his blog Eastern Christian Books, raises the question of rethinking Eucharistic discipline between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, from the perspectives of two Orthodox authors: historian Antoine Arjakovsky, and philosopher/theologian David Bentley Hart.

As I said in my review in Logos (vol. 49 [2008]), Arjakovsky is someone who knows how to be at once faithfully Orthodox and fully ecumenical, not a common combination today, alas. In his essay “On Eucharistic Hospitality” [in Church, Culture, and Identity: Reflections on Orthodoxy in the Modern World (UCU Press, 2007), 231pp.], Arjakovsky proposes that the ban on eucharistic hospitality between Catholics and Orthodox be re-examined and changed where possible. I confess that prior to reading this essay, I was in favor of maintaining the traditional position, but after reading and considering the Arjakovsky’s arguments, I have changed my mind and can now see why eucharistic sharing between Catholics and Orthodox would be beneficial and could very well be justified. Arjakovsky is aware that some, perhaps most, of his fellow Orthodox will not agree with him, but he does cite as support the considered thought of such important figures as Olivier Clément and the Armenian Catholicos Aram of Cilicia, who in 1993 argued in favor of eucharistic sharing.

Perhaps the strongest argument Arjakovsky advances for revising the traditional ban on eucharistic sharing among Catholics and Orthodox is that first put forward by Nikos Nissiotis in 1968. To the usual argument that one cannot share the Eucharist because one is not fully united on each and every detail of each and every doctrine, Nissiotis retorted that such an argument is historically unsupportable (divisions in the early Church did not prevent eucharistic sharing in most instances) and, moreover, is currently belied by the fact that certain Orthodox Churches, who do enjoy a unity of faith on doctrinal questions, nonetheless do not practice eucharistic hospitality among themselves. Michael Plekon in his preface to this volume, and Arjakovsky in his antepenultimate essay “Porto Alegre’s Redefinition of Ecumenism and the Transformation of Orthodoxy,” both note that at a recent WCC gathering in Porto Alegere, the Orthodox were unable to come together to concelebrate the Eucharist, instead having two separate liturgies of the Moscow and Ecumenical patriarchs. How can these Churches turn around and maintain that doctrinal agreements are the sine qua non for eucharistic hospitality when plainly they are not among the Orthodox themselves, whose lack of eucharistic sharing must be explained by other reasons?

Nissiotis additionally notes that such an argument flies in the face of very traditional eucharistic theology and spirituality, which holds that the Eucharist is the medicine of immortality, the means of the healing of body and soul, the gift of the Divine Physician who binds all wounds and makes all whole. The Eucharist, according to Nissiotis, is not merely the fruit of unity but “also the God-given means of maintaining unity and of healing divisions if this unity is at stake or if the appropriate conditions for restoring it exist.” If that is the case, how much sense does it make to deny this most vital of all medicines to the most evangelically destructive of all diseases, viz., Christian disunity?

Such questions acquire even greater force when one considers the arguments of another Orthodox theologian, David Bentley Hart. In his “The Myth of Schism,” Hart asks pointedly: “not how we can possibly discover the doctrinal and theological resources that would enable or justify reunion, but howe we can possibly discover the doctrinal and theological resources that could justify or indeed make certain our division. This is not a moral question–how do we dare remain disunited?–but purely a canonical one: are we sure that we are? For, if not, then our division is simply sin, a habit of desire and thought that feeds upon nothing but its own perverse passions and immanent logic, a fiction of the will, and obedience to a lie.” Hart’s essay is in Francesca Aran Murphy and Christopher Asprey, eds., Ecumenism Today: the Universal Church in the 21st Century (Ashgate, 2008), viii+222pp.

Hart argues that the so-called East-West Schism no longer exists, if it ever did. Hence he can ask: are we really sure that we are really and truly divided? He’s not being flippant, either, but notes the serious canonical questions in support of his position: first, it was a “local” issue insofar as it was 2 hierarchs (Cardinal Humbert and Patriarch Cerulerius) excommunicating each other, not formally confecting a division between two churches. Second, there is extensive evidence of communicatio in sacris down through the ages, including into the 20th century. Third, the mutual liftings, in 1965, of the excommunications by the pope of Rome and the Ecumenical Patriarch should have resolved any lingering question. In the end, then, Catholics and Orthodox are (to use a Freudian heuristic) divided on a manifest level, but not at a latent level. And if that is so–and I think it is–then there is nothing to stop each from sharing the Eucharist with the other. One of the reasons Florence failed was that it did not have the people onside. Perhaps it is time for the people to push the hierarchs towards finally healing this division, and to do so by simply disregarding any sacramental-eucharistic distinction between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, and instead receiving the sacraments in both. This is what I would call the Lev Gillet solution, and I think Orthodox and Catholics who are serious about unity should start availing themselves of this whenever and wherever possible. In a rebarbative world we can no longer afford the luxury of division.

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Via Rorate caeli comes this interesting quote from Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Volokolamsk:

“All current versions of Christianity can be roughly divided into two main groups: traditional and liberal. The difference today is not so much between Orthodox and Catholics, or between Catholics and Protestants, but precisely between Traditionalists and ‘Liberals’. Some Christian leaders, for instance, tell us that marriage between a man and a woman is no longer the only way to build a Christian family: there are other available models, and the Church should become sufficiently ‘inclusive’ in order to recognize alternative behavioral standards and to grant them official blessing. Some try to persuade us that human life is no longer an absolute value, and that life in the womb may be ended at will. Traditionalist Christians are in fact being asked to reconsider their views under the pretext of keeping up with modern times.”

Original source in Italian.

UPDATE: The full English text of Met. Hilarion’s address to the Annual Nicean Club Dinner, Lambeth Palace, 9 September 2010.  The address was given in the presence of Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury.

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We continue with the fourth part of Michaël de Verteuil’s report on the recent “Orthodox Constructions of the West” conference at Fordham University (June 28-30) (Part 1Part 2, and Part 3).

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Vera Shevzov, “The Burden of Tradition: Russia’s Orthodox academic theologians and the ‘West’ (late XIX-early XX cc)”
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Dr. Gilbert’s already-posted summary of Dr. Shevzov’s presentation is excellent, but I would like to emphasize different aspects. I found her talk difficult to follow, particularly as someone with no background in the subject matter. It is only after carefully reviewing my notes and reading Dr. Gilbert’s summary that I can claim to grasp some of the points Dr. Shevzov was attempting to make. I have taken the liberty of glossing and restructuring somewhat the order of some of what I take to be her observations in order to highlight what I drew from her presentation. Ultimately I think it was worth the pain.
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According to Dr. Shevzov, 19th century Russian intellectuals analyzing the future of Russia in its relationship with the West generally fell into Slavophile or Westernizing camps, both of which continue to influence Orthodox views of the West today. She noted however, that both tended to portray the West in reductionist and simplistic terms as culturally homogenous and undifferentiated, respectively either to be eschewed (for Slavophiles) or emulated (according to Westernizers).
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Both perspectives were largely secular, however, and one has to look to academic theologians of the time period for an explicitly Orthodox Russian understanding of the West that was nevertheless characterized by a debate that closely paralleled that between the Slavophiles and Westernizers.
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Much of this debate would turn on critiques, favourable or unfavourable, of the thoughts of Aleksei Khomiakov. For Khomiakov, the unilateral interpolation of the filioque into the creed had exemplified the defining characteristic of the West: a radically egotistical and individualistic world view that, in his view, explained Papal authoritarianism, Protestant dismissal of Tradition, and ultimately Western philosophical atheism. All this Khomiakov traced to a cultural imprinting contributed by and seemingly innate to a “Germanic” ethos dating from the barbarian conquest of the West.
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(Just as an aside, while widely discredited and ridiculed today, this kind of quasi-genetic ascription of inherent and immutable “national culture” to broad language groups with objectively little natural (as opposed to artificially and anachronistically-created) sense of shared identity was a staple of 19th century writers and nationalist ideology. It provided a sort of intellectual veneer to racist and imperialist views, and still has some currency, as we shall see in subsequent conference reports, amongst contemporary Orthodox thinkers as well as in extremist right-wing circles.
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Komiakov’s ascription of a “Germanic” ethos that would have pulled the West away from authentic Christian roots actually has a rather long pedigree. Traces of it can be found in the writings of usually anonymous 12th century Byzantine polemicists claiming that the West had been lost to heresy and become essentially Arian since the Gothic invasions. As this involves completely abstracting out Rome’s participation in the later ecumenical councils and its critical role in the ‘Triumph of Orthodoxy’, such notions require remarkably blinkered and bigoted historical amnesia. This hasn’t prevented more recent Orthodox thinkers like Romanides from subscribing to them, however. But back to Dr. Shevzov’s presentation…)
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According to Dr. Shevzov, Russian Orthodoxy’s anti-Latinism had been largely inherited. Her quote from Vassily Roznov bears repeating: “It was as if decaying and dying Byzantium whispered to Russia all of its vexations and bequeathed Russia to guard them. Russia, at the bedside of the departing one, gave its word, mortal enmity towards the Western tribes.”
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Yet this had to be set against the profound impact on Russia of post-Reformation Western intellectual and educational currents. Indeed, in the 19th century, most of Russia’s seminarians had received their education largely in Latin, and “progressive” Western influences continued to penetrate into Russian theology via Ukraine. Even Khomiakov’s work had to be translated into Russian after originally being published in French.
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A more sympathetic theological response was to accept from the West what was good and useful with the aim of enriching an Orthodox response to the modern world that was then emerging from the West. Traditional polemic literature continued to play a strong role, however. In particular, anti-Westernizers like Khomiakov stressed the role of “national culture” in facilitating (in Russia’s case) or hindering (in the West) a full or proper internalization of Christianity. According to Dr. Shevzov, this understanding has since become standard, and risks mutating in some Orthodox circles from being merely traditional to gaining the status of “Tradition” in the full sense.

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We continue with the second part of Michaël de Verteuil’s report on the recent “Orthodox Constructions of the West” conference at Fordham University (June 28-30).  Part one may be found here.
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Update – Dr Peter Gilbert, of De unione ecclesiarum, has posted the first part of his reflections on the Conference.

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Dr. Kolbaba is a secular historian for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect. I relied in large part and on whose work on the background to the 1054 dispute in drafting my article on Patriarch Michael Cerularius.

In her lead presentation at the conference, “The Tenth Century: Orthodox Constructions of the West in the Golden Age of Byzantium”, she set out to explain not so much why the schism occurred, but why it occurred when it did in the latter half of the 11th century. Specifically, she sought to answer this question in such a way as to avoid a deterministic view of history which treats critical events in retrospect as if they were somehow inevitable. What made the timing of the schism so difficult to explain, in her view, was that it followed on a long period of generally good relations between East and West. The 9th century dust-up between Rome on one hand, and Constantinople in the person of Photius on the other was widely seen in retrospect in the 10th century as an aberration.

Nevertheless, Dr. Kolbaba noted that this earlier dispute had not occurred in a vacuum.

All the factors that were later offered up to justify the schism (the papal claims, the filioque, as well as liturgical and disciplinary differences) were of long standing and were known in the 10th century, though they were not yet seen at the time as obstacles to communion. Both East and West had gone through a period of missionary expansion early in the 10th century with their evangelization efforts overlapping notably in Moravia and Bulgaria. Differences in ritual practice had been noted in these shared missionary areas, but without the “other side” necessarily being seen as “wrong” as a result. Differing liturgical practices had also been a minor factor in the political and ecclesial rivalry between the Lombard duchies and the Byzantine empire in Southern Italy, though not one that had attracted much notice in Constantinople prior to the 11th century.

In essence, Rome was still viewed positively in the 10th century for its earlier role in resisting iconoclasm, and the West was correspondingly not then perceived as a source of heresy. Despite the 9th century controversy over the filioque, Dr. Kolbaba noted that a comprehensive review of extant documents has yielded not a single Greek treatise against the interpolation that can be traced unambiguously to the 10th century, a lacuna all the more remarkable as one would in later times be expected (she observed half jokingly) to write at least two before being taken seriously as an Orthodox theologian.  Furthermore, works condemning typically Western liturgical practices which would characterize Orthodox polemics in later centuries had yet to be written. So what changed in the 11th century?

Some early developments in the West were to have a latent impact on relations and on the way in which it would be perceived in the East. Dr. Kolbaba noted, for example, to the differing way in which Rome and the Frankish court were to receive the decisions of the 7th ecumenical council (albeit the Frankish reaction being based on a seriously flawed translation of the canons). The Gregorian reforms in the 11th century were to  usher in a harder Western line on clerical celibacy and independence from secular authorities, as well as on the Papal claims; but Dr. Kolbaba argued that it was the East rather than the West that was ultimately to pick fault with the other, and that it was in the East that we should look for the key developments that would leading to a change in attitude that in turn would make the schism possible. Specifically and perhaps surprisingly she pointed to the substantial improvement in the Byzantine military situation along the empire’s eastern and southeastern frontier in the late 10th and early 11th centuries as the key underlying game changer.

Territorial contraction in earlier centuries and the struggle against iconoclasm had resulted in a more homogenous Greek-speaking and liturgically Byzantine empire. These features were to become, for courtly and religious elites based in Constantinople, the empire’s defining attributes any weakening of which could be seen as posing an existential threat to its survival. The later reestablishment of Byzantine control in Armenia and northern Syria, however, was to significantly alter the political and cultural balance of power in the empire in ways that would prove threatening to these self-described “Guardians of Orthodoxy.”

The reversal of the empire’s fortunes was to occur under a successful string of emperors from military families with allegedly non-Greek antecedents. Non-Greek populations, most notably Armenians, were resettled in the reconquered areas, forming a client and martial recruitment base for these new military elites. In order to facilitate the incorporation of populations that had largely broken with the official Church over Chalcedon, emperors such as Basil II tended to adopt a policy of de facto religious toleration that was bitterly contested by the more “purist” traditional elites in the capital. For the Guardians of Orthodoxy, the policy of tolerance pursued by emperors themselves of allegedly Armenian descent became increasingly reminiscent of the heretical proclivities of the earlier non-Greek (“Isaurian”) iconoclast emperors. This led to fears that the new military elites now based in the reconquered east were poised to link up politically with the new non-Greek “other” increasingly associated with heresy, in a way that threatened the empire’s unity, purity and thus divine protection.

The ire of these traditional elites in Constantinople came to be focused on the main distinguishing features of the Armenian liturgy, namely the use of azymes (unleavened bread) in the eucharist portrayed as a deliberate downplaying of the Resurrection and thus of Christ’s humanity, i.e. of monophysite heresy made liturgically manifest. Dr. Kolbaba concluded that it is in the context of the resulting anti-Armenian polemics (in which difference in liturgical practice was linked conceptually with religious dissent, and in which non-Greekness came to be increasingly identified with heterodoxy) that previously low-level tensions over rite and jurisdiction in Southern Italy came to be seen in Constantinople in a new light, and in which the orthodoxy of the non-Greek, “azymite” West first came to be questioned.

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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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