Archive for February, 2008

Here are two very interesting articles from His Grace, Bishop Hilarion (Alfeyev), Russian Orthodox Bishop of Vienna and representative to the European Institutions.

The first piece is a fantastic address on “liberal Christianity”, given by His Grace to the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches in Geneva, on February 13. I couldn’t agree more that “liberal Christianity” is a “danger” and “will not survive a long time.” So, bravo to Bishop Hilarion for his brave words to the WCC.

The second piece is unfortunate, in my opinion, but not surprising. It’s a short response to the Cardinal Kasper interview I posted yesterday. Basically, more fallout from the Russian-Constantinopolitan row over Estonia which caused Bishop Hilarion and the Russian delegation to boycott the Orthodox-Catholic meeting in Ravenna.

I am especially confused about Bishop Hilarion’s interpretation of the Cardinal words about “a new form of the exercise of the primacy” as a dastardly plan to bring the Orthodox under the yoke of Uniate servitude.

Apparently His Grace passed over the part where Cardinal Kasper says that “the model of the exercise of primacy we have in the Eastern Catholic Churches is not necessarily the model for the future reconciliation with the Orthodox Churches.” And again: “We do not want to impose the system which today is in the Latin Church on the Orthodox Churches” (I would assume that this current system includes Rome’s heavy-handed way of relating to the Eastern Catholic Churches). Thus, I don’t believe that the old model of Uniatism is what the Cardinal refers to when he speaks of “new forms” for the exercise of universal primacy within the Church. I am surprised that the brilliant young Bishop of Vienna would jump to the sloppy conclusion that “the Chairman of the Council for Promoting Christian Unity invites the Orthodox to accept the Uniate understanding of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome.” The Pope and Cardinal Kasper, I’m sure, are well aware that the Uniate model is a no-go with the Orthodox.

I do appreciate, however, His Grace’s willingness to continue on with the dialogue: “I would like to reiterate that good and constructive relations between the Catholics and the Orthodox are crucial for the present and future of Christianity. We need a type of relationship based on the understanding of the fact that we are allies, not adversaries, that we have a common missionary task and face common challenges, to which we can respond together.”

This just in …

Another one from Cardinal Kasper, hailing a “new climate” with the Russian Orthodox Church. Kasper clarifies, by the way, that uniatism, “understood as a method, today and in the future, is no longer a means of achieving Church unity.”

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On Bradshaw

Drew at Paradoxicon has a very interesting review of David Bradshaw’s Aristotle East and West. I’d like to complement Drew’s thoughtful review with some excerpts from a review of Bradshaw by Augustine Casiday, an Orthodox professor at the University of Wales (Lampeter) and a student of Fr Andrew Louth.

… I often find his claims unpersuasive. Without intending to evaluate Dr Bradshaw’s claims about the reception of Aristotelian philosophy as such, I can say in fairness that argument is cogent, but even so I have reservations about his analysis, which in many ways lacks nuance and, in a few important cases, substance. To put it bluntly, the accounts of particular figures and their beliefs are often crudely executed. I will come to specific examples in due course, but it is striking that, in general, the East is good and the West is bad. That is to say, Eastern thinkers are treated sympathetically and interpreted generously; these passages are richer and fuller than the comparable accounts of Western thinkers … For all the clarity of its evaluation and the discipline with which the analysis is arranged, the basic presuppositions of the book (the unargued beliefs, that is, which support the generalities to which I have been objecting) are by no means self-evidently justified.

The review appeared in a recent issue of Sobornost (28:2). It’s not an entirely negative review, but Dr Casiday does confirm some impressions I’ve had of the book, without being able to put my finger on exactly what bothered me about it. (Of course, Dr Casiday’s judgment must always be suspect because of his first name … just kidding, folks!).

Personally, I wouldn’t dream of attacking Bradshaw from this blog, because (though I’ve studied philosophy) I am not a very good philosopher, and I am scared of his very clever online defenders. The most I can say is that I found his philosophical arguments to be fascinating, but, like Dr Casiday, I am far less impressed with some of his historical judgments.

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Cardinal Kasper Looks Ahead

ROME, FEB. 18, 2008 (Zenit.org). – The so-called Ravenna Document is a real breakthrough in Orthodox-Catholic dialogue, says the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

In an interview with Gerard O’Connell for Our Sunday Visitor, Cardinal Walter Kasper explained what made the breakthrough possible, and what’s left in the process of achieving full unity.

His comments centered on the concluding document of the Oct. 8-14, 2007, plenary assembly of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, held in Ravenna, Italy.

“We started the dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches as a whole in 1980. The first phase of the dialogue between the 1980s and 90s sought to reaffirm what we have in common: the Eucharist and the other sacraments, episcopacy and priesthood,” Cardinal Kasper explained. “Now, we are discussing the canonical and theological consequences; for the first time, we approach the questions: What is the Church? Where is the Church? What are the structures of the Church?

“We came to the concept that the Church is realized on three levels: the local level, that is, the diocese with the bishop; the regional level, that is, the metropolitan or patriarchate; and the universal level. And on every level we have a tension between authority — bishop, patriarch, and the ‘protos,’ Greek for primate, that is, ‘the first of the bishops’ — and the principle of synodality, synodal structures.”

Cardinal Kasper explained that at each level, there is a tension between authority and synodality, “which is essential to the nature of the Church — “ecclesiologically constitutive” — and that is already an important point on which to have agreement.”

But the real breakthrough, he said, was that “the Orthodox agreed to speak about the universal level — because before there were some who denied that there could even be institutional structures on the universal level. The second point is that we agreed that at the universal level there is a primate. It was clear that there is only one candidate for this post, that is the Bishop of Rome, because according to the old order — ‘taxis’ in Greek — of the Church of the first millennium the see of Rome is the first among them.

“Many problems remain to be resolved, but we have laid a foundation upon which we can build.”

A Catholic challenge

Cardinal Kasper clarified that the foundation reached is a challenge also for the Catholic Church.

“Whereas the Orthodox must clarify more deeply the question of ‘primacy, ‘protos,’ on the universal level, we Catholics have to reflect more clearly on the problem of synodality and conciliarity, especially on the universal level,” he said.

The prelate continued: “The Ravenna document is only a first step and a basic statement. It quotes the Letter of Ignatius of Antioch to the Romans — around 100 A.D. — stating that the community of Rome presides in love. Other early statements concur. When in the first millennium local churches were in difficulty or in distress, they often appealed to Rome. Rome was an instance of appeal, and had therefore already in the first millennium an important role to play.”

The Ravenna document mentions this, but when we in Ravenna spoke in detail about it, it became obvious that there are often different interpretations of the same facts.

“These differences existed partly already in the first millennium. For instance, the doctrine of primacy was much more developed in the West than in the East. Therefore, it is necessary to study the first millennium in detail, in order to come to a common understanding of the Fathers, both the Western and the Eastern ones. I hope we will find a common view of the first millennium.”

The pontifical council president clarified that a common view does not mean “a totally unified view.”

“There can still be a difference in understanding,” he affirmed. “For we have to distinguish between differences that are complementary and those that are contradictory. Complementarity existed already in the first millennium. So we have to look if we can transform our contradictions into new, fruitful complementary positions.”

Cardinal Kasper said the atmosphere in Ravenna was “so positive” that he is hoping to reach such a point of agreement with the Orthodox.

“We will not arrive at uniformity, that is not the goal, but we can come to a common view, a common basic understanding; and within this common basic understanding there can be different accents and different emphases. This does not necessarily prevent Church unity. But we must overcome the contradictions of the first millennium.”

Moving on

The president of the pontifical council clarified that a consensus on the first millennium is not enough.

“When we have finalized the discussion about the first millennium, then we have to go to the second millennium,” he said.

The cardinal clarified that in the second millennium there was “a decisive development not only in the Latin Church, but also in the Eastern Churches, a development which till today continues to give reason for the existing schism.”

He explained: “In the first millennium we had five Patriarchates, now we have 15 Patriarchates and some autonomous Churches. In the West we had the development that led to the First Vatican Council — 1869-70 — with the definition of the primacy of jurisdiction and the infallibility of the Pope, a development the Orthodox never accepted. Therefore, we have to discuss how to interpret these different developments on the basis of the first millennium. This will not be an easy discussion; on the contrary, it will be very difficult to reach an agreement about the First and the Second Vatican Councils.

“So the next step after the study of the first millennium will be the study of the second millennium, and only when we have finished that discussion will we be able to draw the consequences for the future of our relationship. Only then will the documents be mature enough to be formally submitted to the respective authorities of the Churches.”

Asked how long he thinks this process will take, the cardinal answered: “Nobody can know exactly. But I think at least one decade! But we should leave this to God’s providence and in his hands. We should only keep in mind that this is not just an intellectual and an academic process, but that we have to involve the whole body of our Churches, thus entailing also an emotional process.”

We are aware that much resentment, prejudice, and misunderstanding continue to persist, and that all kinds of oppositions and obstacles need to be overcome. Such a change of deep-rooted mentalities takes time; you cannot do it from one day to another.

“We need a reception process not only on the level of our hierarchies but also on the level of our faithful. Or to put it in a more spiritual way: Ecumenical rapprochement is not possible without the conversion of hearts. Here everybody has to begin with himself or herself.”

A guiding lightIn the extensive interview, Cardinal Kasper gave some hints as to how varying concepts of primacy could be reconciled.

“In this context it should be noted that already today we have two forms of exercise of Roman primacy within the Catholic Church,” he explained. “We have two Codes of Canon Law: one for the Latin Church, the other for the Eastern Churches which are in full communion with Rome. According to these Codes of Canon Law, primacy is exercised in a different way in the Latin Church and in the Eastern Churches.

“So we do not want to impose the system which today is in the Latin Church on the Orthodox Churches. In the case of the restoration of full communion, a new form of the exercise of the primacy needs to be found for the Orthodox Churches.

“Already the apostolic constitution enforcing the Eastern Code of Canon Law stated that its regulations were valid only in the intermediate term, that is, until full reconciliation with the Eastern Churches not in full communion. Thus, the model of the exercise of primacy we have in the Eastern Catholic Churches is not necessarily the model for the future reconciliation with the Orthodox Churches.

“At this stage, however, it would be premature to speculate on what form the final outcome will take.”


Asked what is the biggest obstacle in moving forward to unity, Cardinal Kasper affirmed that a “‘spirit of possessiveness’ is a main obstacle, which can also be seen as lack of willingness to ‘metanoia,’ that is, to conversion. It is also a lack of love, an unwillingness to open oneself to a partner, to learn from and be enriched by the other, and to share with the other.

“This implies purification of memories, to ask for forgiveness and to correct wrong and non-evangelical attitudes of the past. Pope John Paul II often affirmed that there cannot be ecumenism without the conversion of hearts. The same Pope defined the ecumenical dialogue as the sharing of gifts. All this is a spiritual problem and a spiritual task, which can be done only in the power of the Holy Spirit.”

It’s because of this that spiritual ecumenism is so important, the cardinal said.

“According to the Second Vatican Council spiritual ecumenism is the heart of ecumenism,” Cardinal Kasper affirmed. “This means: personal conversion of the heart, sanctification of life, of shared Bible study and above all of prayer. We as weak human beings cannot ‘make’ or organize the unity of the Church; unity is a gift of the Spirit. We have to pray for the Spirit to make ours the prayer of Jesus on the eve of his suffering and death ‘that all may be one.’

“Spiritual ecumenism is also an ecumenism that is not reduced to academic circles and academic dialogue or to a kind of Church diplomacy. All this is important, but it is too far away from the basis of the Church. In spiritual ecumenism everybody can participate. This is important for the reception of the ecumenical documents, because without reception in the body of the Church they remain just pieces of paper.”

[Emphasis added]

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Another interesting blog

The Catholicity Question, by a Reformed (Calvinist) Christian who is exploring the “Great Tradition” shared by both Catholics and Orthodox. There are some interesting posts so far on Zizioulas’s book Eucharist, Bishop, Church.

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Paradoxicon: “Where Eastern Orthodoxy and Western philosophy combine to address contemporary intellectual, political, and cultural issues”

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According to Zenit, a group of cardinals are asking other Roman Catholic bishops worldwide to join them in petitioning Pope Benedict XVI to proclaim a new Marian dogma which would “proclaim the full Christian truth about Mary” – namely, that Mary is “the Spiritual Mother of All Humanity, the co-redemptrix with Jesus the redeemer, mediatrix of all graces with Jesus the one mediator, and advocate with Jesus Christ on behalf of the human race.”

The full letter of the cardinals may be found here.

Vox Populi Mariae Mediatrici is an entire website devoted to a new Marian dogma.

My impression is that the Orthodox in general would have less of an objection to the actual content of the proposed dogma. Mary’s role as our spiritual Mother, intercessor, and pivotal figure in the drama of the Incarnation is already quite apparent in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, not to mention the Western Catholic tradition (why then, if these concepts are already well-represented in the Tradition, would we have to have a dogma proclaimed?).

But from the perspective of ecclesiology (in my opinion this is where the real chasm between East and West still lies), I believe that this unilateral action would put the cause of Orthodox-Catholic rapprochement back several centuries. The very act of the promulgation of the dogma by the Pope, assuming as it does the ecclesiological propositions of Vatican I, would be the bone of contention.

The whole idea also betrays a very modern understanding of the very nature and purpose of dogmatic formulations within the Church. See Hieromonk Maximos’s comments (here and here) on “dogma as tragedy” (and note the reference to Dr Mark Miravalle, who happens to be a major champion of the “new dogma”).

Of course, this campaign has been around for quite a while. My guess is that Benedict XVI, like his predecessor John Paul II (a very “Marian” Pope), does not see the wisdom or the necessity in making such a proclamation.

Orthodox and Catholics have enough to hash out concerning primacy and infallibility in the Church, the procession of the Holy Spirit, the Immaculate Conception (and depending on who you ask, there are many more issues that need to be settled). We’ve come so far, and we have a long way to go. Let’s not add another disputed topic to the list!

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Ite ad Scripturam

Apologies for a lackluster beginning to this blog. I am still trying to figure out whether or not I have the time to devote to such an endeavor. Just so you all know I’m still around, I did want to post an interesting combox exchange about Saint Augustine and original sin at the Anastasis Dialogue:

The esteemed Pontificator, Father Alvin Kimel, said:

I found the discussion [about original sin on an Eastern Orthodox message board] ecumenically quite discouraging. I am amazed by the continuing polemical charge that the Catholic Church teaches a doctrine of original guilt, i.e., God holds everyone morally responsible for the sin of Adam. It doesn’t matter how many times Catholics protest the caricature, the polemic continues. It appears that the East has nothing to learn from Western theological reflection or spiritual experience.

Ben Mann from Denver replied:

What amazes and saddens me the most about that thread … and similar threads, ad nauseam … is the almost total neglect of Holy Scripture by all parties … Catholics and Orthodox often chide protestants for being ignorant of Sacred Tradition and of the Fathers, and thus having no unity; yet it appears to me that much of the division between eastern and western churches exists because we do not love our own Bible as much as the protestants do. Do we have the humility to temporarily leave off examining Patristic citations and points of history, and attempt to find our common ground in the Scriptures? I am not at all saying that we should start ignoring the Fathers and simply read the Bible. I do think, though, that Orthodox and Catholics become distressingly gridlocked when discussing their apparent disagreements because they are prioritizing Church Councils and Church Fathers over the Church’s own Bible — when in fact we all know that Scripture, Tradition, and Teaching Authority are not even separable. If we have disagreements about a controversial teacher like augustine, why not simply go back to the Scriptures that inspired him? If we think that the “other” tradition overemphasizes one view of sin or salvation, why not return to Scripture and see how it harmonizes several views? I truly think that just as protestants will only find unity by getting over their fear of Tradition and Teaching Authority, the Catholics and Orthodox will only find it by learning to love the Bible as much as the Fathers and Doctors of the Church did.

To which Father Kimel replied:

Ben, I agree with you. I would instance the ecumenical convergence on justification between Lutherans and Catholics as an example of what can happen when fellow believers sit down and prayerfully and patiently read the Scriptures together.

Going to the Scriptures … What a concept! I must confess that this is one of the last things that I do when I contemplate the difficulties and differences between East and West. And yet this is the very first thing that we ought to do, because it is precisely what the Fathers did.

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