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2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

About 3 million people visit the Taj Mahal every year. This blog was viewed about 58,000 times in 2010. If it were the Taj Mahal, it would take about 7 days for that many people to see it.

In 2010, there were 42 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 187 posts. There were 21 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 6mb. That’s about 2 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was July 8th with 575 views. The most popular post that day was “Orthodox Constructions of the West”: Report (2).

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were ad-orientem.blogspot.com, byztex.blogspot.com, theanglocatholic.com, sergesblog.blogspot.com, and orthocath.wordpress.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for eirenikon, gabriel bunge, santa maria antiqua, pistevo, and to pistevo.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

“Orthodox Constructions of the West”: Report (2) July 2010
43 comments

2

An ecumenical reality check May 2010
80 comments

3

Gabriel Bunge, OSB, received into Orthodoxy September 2010
117 comments

4

Pistevo eis ena Theon June 2008
3 comments

5

“An insider’s view of Catholic-Orthodox dialogue” February 2010
41 comments

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.

Abbot Nicholas, on Holy Resurrection Monastery’s Practical Ecumenism blog, continues his thoughts on Pope Benedict’s “Reform of the Reform” here and here.  We discussed the first part of Abbot Nicholas’s thoughts here.

(Pictured above: The dome of St Isaac’s Cathedral, Petrograd)

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I’m continuing my reflection on Cardinal Ratzinger’s (as he then was) 2000 book, The Spirit of the Liturgy.

In The Spirit of the Liturgy Cardinal Ratzinger is not only speaking of ‘image’ in the narrow sense of an icon. He is including in this understanding all Christian sacred symbolism, all liturgical action, including space and time and also sacred music. Celebration of the eucharistic prayer ad orientem or ad populumwould be included in this discussion of the image or the symbolic. Ratzinger says that we need sacred space and sacred time, mediating symbols so that precisely through the image, through the sign, we learn to see the openness of heaven. Surely, it is to heaven, to the Father that the eucharistic prayer is addressed. This symbolism has a long history in all the Apostolic Churches. It is always the Risen Christ, even His image on the Cross to whom the community looks as the true Oriens.

Cardinal Ratzinger asks: “Is this theology of the icon, as developed in the East, true? Is it valid for us (in the West)? Or is it just a peculiarity of the Christian East?” (p. 124.)

He goes on to say that the West in the first millennium emphasized, almost exclusively, the pedagogical function of the image. This is born out in such great Western Church Fathers as St. Augustine and St. Gregory the Great. The so-called Libri Carolini, as well as the synods of Frankfurt (794) and Paris (824), came out against the poorly understood Seventh Ecumenical Council. This was partly due to faulty translations of the Greek text of the Council’s decrees into Latin. But the problem went deeper, touching on the theological function of symbols which in turn speaks to their anthropological function. In the East, the defeat of iconoclasm was the triumph of a vision of human life materially linked with the Divine through the Incarnation. Ratzinger certainly does not claim that the West rejected this vision—indeed it did not. It was not rejected, because it was not fully understood.

One suspects that the full consequences of this disconnect did not emerge for centuries, as long as it was submerged beneath the obvious similarities between the art of Christians on both sides of the Latin/Greek divide. At least until the thirteenth century the fundamental orientations of iconography remained essentially the same in East and West. But the Renaissance did something quite new. “Sacred art” now became merely “religious art.”

Now we see the development of the aesthetic in the modern sense, the vision of a beauty that no longer points beyond itself but is content in the end with itself, the beauty of the appearing thing. (p. 129).

Ratzinger sees Baroque art, in its Christian form, as an attempt to recapture the sacred. However, it is here that we see most clearly the ancient tendency of the West to regard art and symbols as pedagogical tools.

In line with the tradition of the West the Council [of Trent] again emphasized the didactic and pedagogical character of art, but as a fresh start toward interior renewal, it led once more to a new kind of seeing that comes from and returns within. (Ibid.)

In short, what was missing from the western Baroque was precisely its iconic, which is to say liturgical function. Religious art did not seek to effect union between humanity and divinity, but merely to encourage, or describe, the inner experience of a highly individualized spirituality. Baroque art was capable of an intense emotionality (Ratzinger speaks of it as an “alleluia in visual form”, p. 130), but it was not itself a sacrament making possible the participation of human emotion—indeed, any aspect of human experience—in divine reality. We have here the old problem that the West, especially after Augustine, could never quite overcome: how can material creatures participate in immaterial life? The Baroque is, in many ways, the traditional Western solution expressed in a new way: we participate in God’s life through an inward adjustment of our emotional and intellectual capacities. We feel, we think like God, but we cannot be gods. And this means the world we inhabit, however beautifully it might reflect, by analogy, divine power, cannot be drawn up with us into divinized life.

Here, I have to inject my own observation that this problem that I have called “Western” penetrated deeply into the Greek, Arabic, Slavic and Balkan churches of this same period. The adoption by Orthodox Churches of Baroque styles of visual and musical art is well known. However, it would not be true to say that the more ancient, patristic view of the image as sacrament was entirely lost. The forms changed, and to some extent this inevitably obscured the theology of image, but not entirely. Icons retained their specifically liturgical function. Instrumental music was never accepted in the East. However powerful the enticements of Counter-Reformation Catholic vitality, the Orthodox retained an instinctive sense that art was more than a way of seeing within, but rather pointed outwards, beyond itself to the divine heart of reality itself.

By the time of the Enlightenment an impoverished view of the image deprived the Church of a stronger defense against the secularization of cultural and intellectual life. This in turn was the foundation for a fully developed “iconoclasm.”

The Enlightenment pushed faith into a kind of intellectual and even social ghetto. Contemporary culture turned away from the faith and trod another path, so that faith took flight in historicism, the copying of the past, or else attempt at compromise or lost itself in resignation or cultural abstinence. The last of these led to a new iconoclasm, which has frequently been regarded as virtually mandated by the Second Vatican Council. (p. 130.)

In the end the “new iconoclasm” of which Ratzinger speaks is not simply the abandonment of images, although it may at times involve this. Sometimes the kind of iconoclasm to which he refers could even take place within an explosion of images in a quantitative sense (as may be seen in many places in the 19th century, for example, with the embrace of kitsch). What matters is not so much the number of images and other symbols, nor even their form, but rather the theological and anthropological vision that determines how they are seen and experienced, either solely as expressions of individual spirituality or as means of communion. Cardinal Ratzinger says:

The Church in the West does not need to disown the specific path she has followed since about the thirteenth century. But she must achieve a real reception of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, Nicaea II, which affirmed the fundamental importance and theological status of the image in the Church. The Western Church does not need to subject herself to all the individual norms concerning images that were developed at the councils and synods of the east, coming to some kind of conclusion in 1551 at the council of Moscow. Nevertheless, she should regard the fundamental lines of this theology of the image in the Church as normative for her. (pp. 133-4.)

In any discussion involving the broad generalizations of “West” and “East” there is often the danger of making out distinctions in expression to amount to differences in faith. In ecumenical, or anti-ecumenical, polemics this danger is often eagerly embraced. I would hate to think that my reflections, and still less Ratzinger’s thought on which they are based, should seem to fall into the category of polemic.

The basic faith of the universal Church is, and has always been, that Jesus Christ unites in Himself all things in heaven and on earth (cf Ephesians 1:10). This is a fact, the fact of the Incarnation, and it forms the irreducible content of Christian hope. There are certain consequences of this faith in terms of the way in which Christians have access to the Incarnation as a historical and trans-historical fact: notably the sacraments, of which the Church herself is the first. This basic theological truth, and the practice it enlivens, form the common patrimony of the Eastern and Western Churches. It unites at the deepest level.

What divides, or at least distinguishes East and West, then, is not so much a matter of faith or practice, but of ways of explaining this faith and practice. What really divides us, then, is theological language.

I think that this is at least what Ratzinger thinks (and I certainly agree with him). What he is seeking to do in The Spirit of the Liturgy is not to make Roman Catholics adopt oriental icons or liturgical forms. Not at all! What he is trying to do is point out something that Roman Catholics already know is missing from their theological language, including their non-verbal, their iconic, language. The fact that they can sense that it is missing is a sign that they belong to the ancient Church, not that they are excluded from it. What Ratzinger sees in the Seventh Ecumenical Council is a way of giving back to Catholics something they have always known, but have never been able to completely express within the parameters and limitations of their own theological discourse. He seeks to give them a language to help explain what they have always tried to see within the “way of seeing” that is sometimes revealed, sometimes obscured, in the symbolic arrangement of their worship and devotional lives.

In short, it is not only Eastern Christians who are convinced that, in Christ, heaven and earth are mingled together (as one of the hymn writers of the Byzantine tradition puts it). Western Catholics believe this also. They know it; it informs their attitude to the world, to nature, to care for the poor, to the construction of Christian community, to the role of natural law and in so many other different aspects of the genius of the Roman Catholic tradition. What Ratzinger wants to do is strengthen this tradition by introducing, or re-introducing to it, a way of seeing that it will recognize with joy, because it already corresponds to its deepest insights and longings.

This is ecumenical work at the highest level. I am deeply grateful for it.

by Fr Thomas Hopko

From Orthodox Christians for Accountability

Orthodox Christians devoted to accountability are surely aware that accountability in behavior cannot be separated from accountability in understanding since practice (praxis) is necessarily connected to vision (theoreia).

This conviction inspires me, given the present state of things, to raise the following question: Is it possible that the teaching of the Second Vatican Council about the ministry of bishops in the Roman Catholic Church is now being taught and practiced in an adapted and altered form in our Orthodox churches today?

Let me explain why I raise such a question.

According to the Second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church, following Vatican I and the Council of Trent, bishops are not organically connected to the specific dioceses in which they serve. They rather have their episcopal position and power by virtue of their personal sacramental consecration as bishops. They are, so to speak, considered to be bishops in their own right, and not in virtue of their ministries as heads and overseers of actually existing ecclesial communities to which they belong. As such, they can be moved about from church to church, and even function in bureaucratic positions with titles of sees that no longer exist and therefore without being the leading member of any particular church, and without having any flock at all.

In this teaching and practice, bishops are not elected by the people of their dioceses and confirmed by all the bishops of the regional church to which they belong who, as brother bishops, affirm their election by first examining their faith and behavior, and then, when all is found to be acceptable, by consecrating them through the “laying on of hands.” They are rather appointed directly by the Pope of Rome. While their validity as bishops derives from their sacramental consecration, their legitimacy as bishops derives from their communion with the Pope, and their submission to him.

Together with the Pope, and under his immediate direction, and in obedience to his unique authority considered to derive directly from God (whatever “politicking” may have produced him by vote of the qualified bishops in the college of cardinals, all Vatican-appointed men with titular pastorates of churches in the diocese of Rome), the bishops as consecrated individuals corporately form a “college” (collegium) that governs the universal catholic Church. And, as just noted, they do so by virtue of their union with the See of Rome and in submission to its bishop who is believed to be the unique “successor of Peter” and “vicar of Christ” and “supreme pontiff of the Church” who possesses direct and immediate episcopal authority and jurisdiction over every member of the universal church, including all the other bishops, and who also possesses the authority to speak infallibly on matters of faith and morals when speaking from the chair of Peter (ex cathedra Petri) not from the consensus of the Church (ex consensu ecclesiae) but rather in, by and from himself (ex sese).

In this understanding, the bishops of a regional Roman Catholic Church like, for example, the RCC of the United States or the RCC of Canada, may for practical purposes form a local “episcopal assembly”. In the United States such an assembly exists. It is called The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). This conference elects its president and officers. It hires its employees and operates its offices. It organizes and coordinates certain ecclesial activities. It makes statements about church teachings and policies. It represents the Catholic Church in public life. And it leads and represents the regional Catholic Church as a whole, i.e. as a federation of Catholic archdioceses and dioceses in the USA. But this assembly of bishops has no ecclesial or ecclesiastical status whatsoever. According to Roman Catholic doctrine, it is not essential to the Church’s being and it need not exist. As the saying goes, it may be established for the church’s “well being” (bene esse) while being not at all necessary to the church’s “very being” (esse). It is not a canonical body. It is not an episcopal synod. It has no official place or status in the Church’s essential structure. It surely does not govern a self-governing church in communion with all other self-governing churches. It exists and operates exclusively under the direction of the Pope of Rome and the Vatican’s curial officers who are appointed by the Pope and answerable to him alone.

[Those interested in this subject should read the decrees of Vatican II, especially the decree on the constitution of the Church called Lumen Gentium. They may also read John O’Malley’s book recently published by Harvard University Press called "What Happened at Vatican II" And on the relationship between the RCC “episcopal assembly” in the US and the Vatican, Archbishop Rembert Weakland’s memoir published by Eerdmans entitled "A Pilgrim in an Pilgrim Church" is especially instructive and illuminating.]

The Orthodox Church, of course, has no infallible Pope who exercises direct and immediate episcopal jurisdiction over all the Church’s members in the world, including the other bishops. It has no bishop of any see that can speak in any way binding on all the faithful in matters of faith and morals. It has no curia. It has no magisterium. It has no college of cardinals. It has no international advisory council of bishops from around the world. It has no “ecumenical council”, or a council of any kind, that can be considered authoritative, still less infallible, before its decisions are taken and are universally accepted – or perhaps rejected — by all the churches that recognize each other as Orthodox.

According to traditional Orthodoxy, using the celebrated third century formula of St. Cyprian of Carthage in his controversy with the bishop of Rome, Christ’s Church knows no “bishop of bishops” (episcopus episcoporum). The “episcopate is one” (episcopatus unus est) and all of the Church’s bishops hold the same episcopal authority and exercise the same episcopal service “in solidarity” (in solidum) with each other. The holy hieromartyr also teaches that the bishop of every church who makes St. Peter’s confession of faith and receives the Holy Spirit with the authority of “binding and loosing”, sits on the “seat of Peter” (cathedra Petri.) And St. Cyprian also holds, as proven by his famous letter 69, that the bishop in his own church does nothing by himself, but acts in everything in harmony with the church’s “common council” to which, as a member and head of the church, he is accountable for everything he says and does.

These convictions, formulated so clearly and so well by St. Cyprian, are proclaimed and defended by all Orthodox doctrines and canons through the centuries. They are also demonstrated in Orthodox liturgy, including the rites of election and consecration of bishops. The Orthodox Church unequivocally rejects the teachings of Vatican Council I about the special position, prerogatives and powers of the Bishop of Rome. And today the Orthodox Church, it seems to me, should also reject the explanation of Vatican II about how bishops function in the Church, and how they and their churches are to relate to each other, including even to autocephalous churches and their primates.

So what might a version of the Vatican II doctrine about bishops look like in the Orthodox Church?

It might be that Orthodox “episcopal assemblies” will be established and organized not by an “apostolic see” with special powers, but by common agreement of the synods and primates of the world’s autocephalous churches. These “episcopal assemblies” will come into being in regions where no common autocephalous Orthodox church, with its synod of bishops headed by its episcopal primate, exists. The bishops of the autocephalous churches that are virtually all “national” or “ethnic” in character will control their bishops and dioceses in these regions even when the majority of their members are no longer of the ethnicity or nationality of the autocephalous church to which they belong. The names of the primates of the autocephalous churches will be raised in the liturgies of the churches that belong to them in the given region, either in all the churches, or just by the bishops, or just by the local primates. The synods of the autocephalous church will appoint the bishops and organize their dioceses in the region, or will at least confirm or reject local elections and decisions. And then, all the bishops in the regions belonging to different autocephalous churches will together form an “episcopal assembly” under the joint direction and corporate guidance of the autocephalous churches to which they belong led by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Thus the autocephalous churches will act together as a kind of “corporate Orthodox papacy” governing the regional episcopal assemblies whose actions will be subject to their review, revision and even ultimate rejection if they consider that to be necessary.

In this understanding, the regional “episcopal assemblies” will, for example, be allowed, and even encouraged, to undertake common missionary, educational and philanthropic activities, and to represent Orthodoxy in social and governmental activities. They may also be allowed to organize their dioceses as they see fit, and to care for all legal, fiduciary and financial matters as they decide. But only the synods of bishops of the autocephalous churches under the direction of their primates will ultimately approve or disapprove their activities. Only they will have authentic synodical status and genuine canonical authority. The local, regional assemblies of bishops will have none at all. They will not elect their own officers, but will be structured according to the order of the autocephalous churches. In the United States this would mean Constantinople would be first, then Antioch, the Moscow, etc. They will remain subject to the universal “collegium” in which they are included by virtue of their membership in the given autocephalous churches to which they belong. Thus the regional “episcopal assembly” will exist and operate solely within the areas and conditions that the universal “collegium” allows them. They will not elect their own bishops, at least not without approval subject to certain conditions of the autocephalous churches to which they belong. And they will certainly not be self-governing “sister churches” equal to and identical with all the others, however much it may be claimed that this is the ultimate goal of their existence.

Given the origin and history of the Orthodox ecclesiastical “jurisdictions” in North America, and given the behavior of the autocephalous churches, and given the activities to date of the United States Episcopal Assembly and the relationship of its “member jurisdictions” to the old world patriarchates from which they originate, one can only hope that what we are now experiencing is not the working out of an “Orthodoxized” version of the Vatican II doctrine. Time will tell as the process goes on. And what will surely be told as time goes by is how our Orthodox bishops in North America and throughout the world understand themselves, and their episcopal service in their own churches, and their relationship to each other in their local regions, and their relationship to all the Orthodox Churches that make up Christ’s holy Church in the world as a whole.

Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko
Dean Emeritus
St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary

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).

—————–

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).

Continue Reading »

A symposium to be held at The University of Scranton on Friday, Oct. 15, will bring together scholars and clergymen involved in the work of ecumenism — the effort to bring into full, sacramental unity Christian bodies that have been long separated and sometimes hostile to one another.

At the beginning of the new millennium, a document issued by the Vatican sparked intense debate through ecumenical circles because of “its candid re-emphasis on singular and exclusive claims of the Catholic Church and its direct reference to what it called the ‘defects’ of other, non-Catholic Christian communities,” said Will Cohen, Ph.D., assistant professor of theology and religious studies at The University of Scranton.

Dr. Cohen explained, “Although the document’s main focus was on relations not between divided Christians, but between Christianity and other faiths, its comments on inter-Christian relations sparked intense controversy and debate, both within and outside the Catholic Church — debate about the nature of the Church, its purpose, the basis of its unity and the meaning of Christian division.”

The event begins with a panel discussion entitled “The Church of Christ and Ecumenism 10 Years after Dominus Iesus: a Symposium on Christian Division and Reconciliation” that will bring together theologians from Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Polish National Catholic and Anglican traditions to discuss Dominus Iesus ten years after its publication and to consider current prospects and challenges of ecumenical dialogue. The panel discussion, which will take place from 3 to 5 p.m. in room 406 of the DeNaples Center, is sponsored by the University’s Education for Justice Office and the Department of Theology and Religious Studies

In addition, a Catholic Studies Lecture will be presented by Monsignor Paul McPartlan, the Carl J. Peter Professor of Systematic Theology and Ecumenism at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.  A member of both the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church and the International Commission for Dialogue Between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Methodist Council, Monsignor McPartlan will focus his presentation on the progress of these two dialogue commissions in a paper titled, “An Exchange of Gifts: Catholic-Orthodox and Catholic-Methodist Dialogue.” The lecture will take place at 7 p.m. in the Moskovitz Theater of the DeNaples Center.  Monsignor McPartlan’s address will be followed by a question-and-answer period.

Afternoon speakers include the Right Reverend Anthony Mikovsky, Ph.D., pastor of St. Stanislaus Cathedral in Scranton, Pa., and Bishop Ordinary of the Central Diocese of the Polish National Catholic Church (PNCC), as well as a member of the PNCC-Roman Catholic Dialogue; Reverend Dr. Ephraim Radner, professor of historical theology in Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto and a member of the Covenant Design Group, established in 2007 by Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury with the aim of developing an Anglican Covenant that would affirm the cooperative principles binding the worldwide Anglican communion; and Reverend Dr. John Panteleimon Manoussakis, the Edward Bennet Williams Fellow and assistant professor of philosophy at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. and an ordained deacon in the Greek Orthodox Church.

Both the afternoon panel discussions and the Catholic Studies Lecture are free and open to the public. For additional information, please contact Dr. Cohen at The University of Scranton at 570-941-4545 or cohenw2@scranton.edu.

A new iconoclasm?

From the blog of Holy Resurrection Monastery, Valyermo, CA, a traditional Byzantine monastic community under the omophorion of Bishop John Michael (Botean), Eparch of the Romanian Catholic Eparchy of St. George in Canton, OH.

—–

 

Abbot Nicholas has been re-reading Joseph Ratzinger (now, of course, Pope Benedict XVI) in his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy. He’s going to post some reflections on his reading over the coming weeks.

Here are some very general thoughts.

No decision of the Second Vatican Council has been as dramatic, as contentious and as influential in the practice of the Faith, or lack of, as the changes brought about in the liturgical celebration of the Roman Catholic Mass and through this, the general liturgical life of the Church. Many believe that getting this right is the most significant work for the Church and will have the greatest and most important results in resolving some of the greatest crises the Church is facing. There is much evidence to suggest that Benedict XVI is one of the most enthusiastic advocates of this position. When the liturgical life of the Church is authentic, everything else in the Faith will also become authentic. As an Eastern Christian, it is perhaps not surprising that I wholeheartedly agree with Pope Benedict in this matter.

Unfortunately many Catholics even so-called liturgical experts, lack a clear formulated theology of liturgy to under-gird the externals of liturgical celebrations. This is very unfortunate. As long as there are no agreed and secure theological foundations for the liturgy, the politicized, liturgical wars will continue reflecting the present Culture Wars in Western Societies. Whether the Mass is in Latin or the Vernacular seems to be the main dividing line for most Roman Catholics but, of course, it is not as simple as this, although this is certainly one of the issues. A correct English translation from the Latin and the use of sacral as opposed to a more horizontal language is another political fight that is currently taking place, not to mention the controversial arguments regarding so called gender-inclusive language.

Benedict XVI speaks of authentic liturgical reform according to the hermeneutic of continuity, of course, he believes the whole of the Second Vatican Council needs to be interpreted in this way. But, at least, with respect to liturgy, how far back in history do we need to go to make repairs where this break in continuity has taken place. For many Catholics, this break took place at Vatican II especially in the area of liturgy. This is why the ordinary form of the mass and the extraordinary form of the mass is such an important ideological battle ground for so many Catholics. For others the break happened at Trent. However, for Pope Benedict the break takes place long before then. Benedict XVI believes the Western Church never fully understood and therefore never fully received the Seventh Ecumenical Council and it is for this reason that a sound liturgical theology has not developed in the West. Basically, Joseph Ratzinger believes the West’s liturgical theology is semi-iconoclastic and sometimes, perhaps in the present close to fully-blown iconoclasm.

We speak of the Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Roman Catholic Church having the first Seven Ecumenical Councils in common but perhaps a lot more work needs to be done in this area to agree on a common and definitive understanding of the Orthodox victory over iconoclasm. I am very surprised that the Catholic-Orthodox International and American Theological Dialogues have never explicitly discussed this issue. Pope Benedict certainly believes a new iconoclasm is infecting the Western Church.

To be continued.

 

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