Archive for March, 2008

Church Nomenclature

As your kind and long-suffering blogger, when you leave comments here, I ask that you consider the following:

(1) In referring to that group of Christians in communion with the Bishop of Rome (regardless of rite or local tradition), let us use the generic term “Catholic” (capitalized), according to the common English usage (even if, theologically speaking, you find your own communion to be as “catholic” as the communion of Rome, more “catholic” than this communion, or even the sole “catholic church” of the Creed).

  • When referring to the notion of catholic Christianity in a broad sense, as encompassing not only Rome’s communion but also Chalcedonian Orthodox, non-Chalcedonian Orthodox, Old Catholics, or Anglo-Catholics, it would be helpful to use the uncapitalized word “catholic.” (A good description of broad Christian catholicity is the following: “credally orthodox, sacramental, liturgical, episcopal, believes in a complete and lasting change of the elements at Communion and believes in an infallible church.“).

(2) In referring to those Christians in communion with the Bishop of Rome who worship according to the Latin Rite and belong canonically to the Church of Rome, let us use the terms “Roman Catholic” or “Latin Catholic.” Please do not use the term “Roman Catholic” with general reference to those Christians in communion with Rome, for the sake of peace and Christian charity.

  • There are other catholic Christians who worship according to the Western/Latin tradition, but are not in communion with Rome: “Old Catholics” (of the Utrecht communion, or the Polish National Catholic Church in the USA), “Anglo-Catholics” (high church Anglicans either in the official Canterbury communion or one of the continuing Anglican-type bodies), and “Western Rite Orthodox” (mostly within the jurisdictions of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia), not to mention various sorts of “independent Catholics”.

(3) In referring to those Christians in communion with the Bishop of Rome who worship according to a non-Latin or non-Roman Rite and belong canonically to one of the other sui juris Churches in communion with Rome, let us use the general term “Eastern Catholic” (unless you are referring to one of the specific traditions, such as Melkite, Ukrainian, Armenian, Syro-Malabar, etc.). For Catholics who worship according to the Byzantine tradition, the terms “Byzantine Catholic” or “Greek Catholic” are acceptable.

(4) In referring to those Christians who belong to the communion of the 15 autocephalous Chalcedonian Churches including Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, and Russia, let us use the generic term “Orthodox” (even if, theologically speaking, you find your own communion to be as “orthodox” or more “orthodox” than this communion, or even the only fully “orthodox church” of Christendom).

  • Another acceptable general term for these Christians is “Eastern Orthodox” (although there are a handful of Western Rite Orthodox Christians who might object to this term applied to themselves), which also becomes necessary another communion of churches, commonly called the “Oriental Orthodox” (Non-Chalcedonian), enters the conversation.
  • Some Eastern Catholics are wont to refer to themselves as “Orthodox in Communion with Rome,” a description which many Orthodox Christians find dubious and inaccurate at best. It might be helpful, for the sake of peace, to avoid this terminology as much as possible, unless the concept can be debated in a respectful and irenic manner.
  • When referring to a general notion of Christian credal orthodoxy, it would be helpful to use the uncapitalized word “orthodox.”

(5) For the sake of peace and Christian charity, let us avoid the following sorts of terminology (when writing in our own words; exceptions can be made for historical documents): “Roman Catholic” (referring generally to Christians in communion with Rome, and especially in reference to those of non-Roman liturgical/theological traditions), “Romans”, “Papists,” “Latins”, “Western schismatics/heretics”, “Eastern/Greek/Oriental dissidents/schismatics”, “Photians”, “Byzantines”, “Monophysites” (with reference to the contemporary Oriental Orthodox).

Please try your best to adhere to these general guidelines. I am not trying to impose some sort of “politically correct” speech, or Orwellian Newspeak, on anybody. I am simply trying to make the combox conversations as smooth, peaceful, charitable, and fruitful as possible.

Did I forget anything?

Revised: March 25, 2008

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Of possible interest

The Institute of Ecumenical Studies is part of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, Western Ukraine. It offers “the first distance learning Master’s program in Ecumenical Studies.” It appears to have a strong emphasis on Orthodox-Catholic ecumenism. The faculty include Eastern Orthodox, Greek Catholics, Roman Catholics and Protestants. I can’t tell whether or not it’s accredited at this point.

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I do not deny that there are differences between the Churches, but I say that we must change our way of approaching them.  And the question of method is in the first place a psychological, or rather a spiritual problem.  For centuries there have been conversations between theologians, and they have done nothing except to harden their positions.  I have a whole library about it.  And why?  Because they spoke in fear and distrust of one another, with the desire to defend themselves and to defeat the others.  Theology was no longer a pure celebration of the mystery of God.  It became a weapon. God himself became a weapon!


I repeat: I do not ignore these difficulties. But I am trying to change the spiritual atmosphere.  The restoration of mutual love will enable us to see the questions in a totally different light.  We must express the truth which is dear to us – because it protects and celebrates the immensity of the life which is in Christ – we must express it, not so as to repulse the other, so as to force him to admit that he is beaten, but so as to share it with him; and also for its own sake, for its beauty, as a celebration of truth to which we invite our brothers.  At the same time we must be ready to listen.  For Christians, truth is not opposed to life or love;  it expresses their fullness.  First of all, we must free these words, these words which tend to collide, from the evil past, from all political, national and cultural hatreds which have nothing to do with Christ.  Then we must root them in the deep life of the Church, in the experience of the Resurrection which it is  their mission to serve.  We must always weigh our words in the balance of life and death and Resurrection.


Those who accuse me of sacrificing Orthodoxy to a bind obsession with love, have a very poor conception of the truth.  They make it into a system which they possess, which reassures them, when what it really is, is the living glorification of the living God, with all the risks involved in creative life.  And we don’t possess God; it is He who holds us and fills us with His presence in proportion to our humility and love.  Only by love can we glorify the God of love, only by giving and sharing and sacrificing oneself can one glorify the God who, to save us, sacrificed himself and went to death, the death of the cross.


But I would go further.  Those who reproach me with sacrificing truth to love have no confidence in the truth.  They shut it up, they lock it up like an unfaithful woman.  But I say, if the truth is the truth, we must not be afraid for it; let us give it, let us share it, let us show it in its fullness, let us welcome all that there is of light and love in the experience of our brethren. If we continue in this attitude, then truth will become clear of itself, it will conquer all limitations and inadequacies from within, on the basis of the common mystery of the Church.  Let us enlarge our hearts, “let each one of us, as the apostle says, look not to our own things, but rather to the things of others” (Phil. 2:4).  We have a sure criterion – life in Christ.  Faced with a partial expression of the truth, let us ask in what measure it conveys the life in Christ, or in what measure it is liable to compromise it.


Orthodoxy, if it goes back to the sources of its great tradition, will be the humble and faithful witness to the undivided Church.  The Orthodox Churches, in coming together themselves in mutual respect and love, will set a movement of brotherhood going throughout the Christian world, giving the example of a free communion of sister Churches, united by the same sacraments and the same faith.  As to the Orthodox faith, centered as it is on liturgical praise and worship, and on holiness, it will bring the criterion of spiritual experience to ecumenical dialogue, a criterion which will allow us to disentangle partial truths from their limitations so that they may be reconciled in a higher plenitude of truth.


But we Orthodox: are we worthy of Orthodoxy?  Up till the efforts we have made in recent years, what kind of example have our Churches given?  We are united in faith and united in the chalice, but we have become strangers to one another, sometimes rivals.  And our great tradition, the Fathers, Palamas, the Philokalia: is it living and creative in us?  If we are satisfied to repeat our formulas, hardening them against our fellow Christians, then our inheritance will become something dead.  It is sharing, humility, reconciliation which makes us truly Orthodox, holding the faith not for ourselves – if we did that we should simply be affirming yet one more historic confession of faith – but for the union of all, as the selfless witnesses of the undivided Church.


Athenagoras I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople (1886-1972) [source]

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From our old friend Mike Liccione comes an important clarification on the Latin Catholic notion of “created grace” –

There certainly were Catholic theologians in the later Middle Ages who were “nominalists,” and it is certainly true that many of those nominalists treated the question of grace in more or less the way janotec criticizes. But not all scholastics were nominalists by any means. The via moderna of that period in Catholic theology, in my opinion, did tend to go wrong as janotec says; and that was a key precursor to Protestantism’s essentially forensic account of justification. But some Catholic theologians were Franciscans and Thomists who were anything but followers of that path. Indeed, in the hands of those more traditionally-minded theologians, the very concept of “created grace” was intended largely to explain how justification and sanctification consisted in what we’d now call an “ontological” change in the human soul, in such wise that the soul could become a “partaker of the divine nature” without becoming God-by-nature. In that respect, use of the concept of created grace had the same goal as that of St. Gregory Palamas when he expatiated on the distinction between the divine “essence,” which cannot be shared, and the divine “energies” or actions ad extra, which can and indeed must be shared if we are to have the life God destines us for—the “life eternal” otherwise known as theosis or “divinization.” As I see it, the chief difference between the older, more robust Catholic theology postulating “created” grace, and the Palamite view that the divine energies are “uncreated” and thus God, is that the Catholics used the term grace not merely for its primary referent, which is indeed the Uncreated himself insofar as he communicates his life to us, but also for the instruments he uses to communicate his life to the human person, and especially for some of the effects of that communication within the human person.

Please read the entire informative post here.

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Memory eternal!

Father Peter Knowles, OP, a Dominican and prominent Russian Catholic priest, passed away on March 11, 2008. The Australian newspaper has an interesting article on his life and work.

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Or, the real reason why this year the vast majority of Eastern Orthodox Christians are celebrating the Feast of Feasts five weeks after the rest of Christendom. From the always informative blog De unione ecclesiarum:

Although for most Christians Easter is just around the corner, for the Orthodox Church Lent began this week; there is a five-week disparity this year between the dates of Easter (April 27th for the Orthodox, March 23rd for everyone else). When I was younger I asked my mother why the Orthodox Easter and the Protestant and Catholic Easter fall on different dates, and was given the following explanation: for the Protestants and Catholics, Easter falls upon the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox; for the Orthodox, Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox after Passover. As a rule of thumb, I have found this explanation always to work (e.g., Passover begins this year on the evening before April 20th, which also happens to be a full moon); however, I have also learned that, as an explanation for why the differences exist between the Orthodox Church and other churches in their calculation of the date of Easter, it is erroneous. The difference between the dates of Easter arises from the fact that the Western churches calculate this date according to the revised, Gregorian calendar while the Orthodox Church calculates Easter according to the old Julian calendar. That is to say, all the churches observe the rule, established by the Council of Nicaea in the fourth century, that Easter be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox; but they identify differently the day on which the vernal equinox occurs. Although the vernal equinox — the moment when day and night are exactly equal, or, to speak in Ptolemaic terms, when the sun, in its annual journey through the zodiacal belt, crosses the celestial equator, marking the beginning of Spring in the Northern hemisphere — actually occurs on March 20th this year, the Orthodox Church reckons “March 21st” as a fixed date for this astronomical event, and it reckons this fixed date according to the Julian calendar. Currently, the Julian March 21st is the Gregorian April 3rd, that is, roughly 13 days later than the astronomical equinox; over time, the discrepancy will continue to grow, at the rate of about a week per millennium, so that, if nothing else changes, Orthodox Christians in the year 6008 will be celebrating Easter in late May or June.  

See also this very helpful article by the late Orthodox canonist Archbishop Peter (L’Hullier).

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Textual analyses of five of his most recent Wednesday catechesis, on Saint Augustine. The words that the pope added spontaneously, beyond the written text, are underlined. They’re on the themes closest to his heart 

by Sandro Magister 
ROMA, March 11, 2008 – Last Wednesday, Benedict XVI dedicated his weekly audience with the faithful and the pilgrims to a catechesis on Pope St. Leo the Great. 

Joseph Ratzinger recalled that he was not only “at the same time both a theologian and a pastor,” but was “also the first pope whose preaching has reached us today, first addressed to the people who gathered around him during the liturgies.” It is a preaching that consists of “very beautiful sermons” written in “splendid and clear Latin.” 

And he added: 

“It comes naturally to think of him also in the context of the current Wednesday general audiences, appointments that over the past two decades have become for the bishop of Rome a normal form of the encounter with the faithful and with the many visitors from every part of the world.” 

These words are enough to indicate how Benedict XVI recognizes in himself many traits of this great predecessor, who was a respected advocate of the primacy of Peter and of the bishops of Rome – a primacy that was “necessary then as it is today” – a sure teacher of faith in Christ as true God and true man, in a time of great Christological disputes, and an authoritative celebrant of a Christian liturgy that “is not the memory of past events, but the actualization of invisible realities at work in the life of each person.” 

Before turning to St. Leo the Great, Benedict XVI dedicated his Wednesday audiences to other Fathers of the Church, after dedicating a previous cycle of audiences to the Apostles and to other figures of the New Testament. 

After the Easter season, the pope will dedicate catecheses to other great Patristic figures like Gregory the Great, and then, little by little, to Western and Eastern pioneers of medieval theology like Anselm, Bernard, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, Gregory Palamas.

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I don’t quite know what to say about this.  Just file it in the “Things that make you go hmmm” file, I suppose … but be sure to read the ensuing combox discussion.

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Here follows an extract from the Answers of Demetrius Chromatenus, Archbishop of Bulgaria (A.D. 1203,) to Constantine Cabasilas, Archbishop of Dyrrachium.

Question.  Is it any harm for a Bishop to enter the churches of the Latins, and to worship in them, on any occasion when he may be invited by them? And should he give them the kataklaston [that is, the antidoron or blessed bread,] when they are present at the Liturgy in the holy and Catholic Church?

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Once again, apologies for the lack of activity here. Lately I am finding it very hard to focus on blogging.

There’s a very interesting combox discussion going on over at The Continuum, an Anglo-Catholic blog. It’s in response to this essay, “Basic Points of Difference between the Orthodox Church and Papism”, by Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos), Metropolitan of Nafpaktos in Greece. The Metropolitan’s little book, Orthodox Spirituality, is one of the first Orthodox books I ever read. On the whole it’s a wonderful book, and I highly recommend it.

But I’m afraid that I have very little patience for the sort of polemic that the Metropolitan offers here. Generally, my impression is that theological polemics (whether Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant) very rarely, if ever, clarify anything. In fact, polemical discourse tends to crystallize existing differences, create new differences, or even alter the theologies of the polemicists themselves. Theology becomes ideology and an excuse for the inexcusable evil of schism. And so I find myself in broad agreement with the responses left by Anglican posters Fr Robert Hart and “Poetreader”, and the Eastern Catholic poster “A Simple Sinner”. (Fr Hart, of course, is the brother of David Bentley Hart, the brilliant Eastern Orthodox theologian whose gentler approach to Western Christianity makes him a favorite punching-bag of some Orthodox bloggers.)

There are real differences, of course, between the Churches; I do not deny that. Authentic ecumenism begins with humble and honest acknowledgement of our differences. But it also involves a very careful parsing, by both sides, of real problems from problems that are merely apparent or resulting from misconceptions or even lies about the “other side.” The Metropolitan mentions some real problems, such as the current Roman Catholic understanding of the Papacy, or the alteration of the ecumenical Creed by the Latin West. However, I find it very hard to see most of the Metropolitan’s other points as authentically church-dividing issues.

The liturgical complaints are, to me, the most disappointing, as most of these points haven’t been taken seriously even by strict Orthodox authorities for many centuries (surprise! the Latin Rite and the Byzantine Rite are different, had been quite different for some time before the schism). Some of the complaints regarding the Franks, Scholasticism, Palamism, Original Sin, etc. are merely talking points from twentieth-century Greek neo-patristic sources (with a particularly heavy-dose of Romanides), feeding on popular caricatures about Rome and the Western Church. It’s alarming that so many Orthodox, particularly converts, understand their faith, and other Churches, only through the lenses of these modern (and in many cases novel) thinkers.

While I’m at it, I’d like to say that I have only recently discovered The Continuum and I am reading through its archives with great interest. I have never been an Anglican, but I have always had an admiration for the traditional Anglo-Catholic temperament, its characteristic balance and “feel” for the Faith. Two of the most valuable books on the Papacy I have ever run across were written by English Anglo-Catholic priests: The Church and the Papacy by Trevor Jalland (1944) and Dom Gregory Dix’s Jurisdiction in the Early Church: Episcopal and Papal (1936) [and I must once again thank Professor Bill Tighe for bringing these studies to my attention … are you still out there, Professor?].

At some point in the near future, I’d like to post here on Jalland’s conclusions concerning the development of the Papacy and the current state of the Church following the Schism.

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