With respect, this is, in fact, an anti-gospel argument. The gospel is intended for the world, for every people, for every culture. The gospel is not just for Jews but also for Greeks, not just for Greeks but also for Latins, not just for Latins but also for Asians and South Americans and whomever. Hence the need to translate the gospel when it moves from one culture to the next. This work of translation requires both the baptism of the thought forms, concepts, and symbols of the new culture but also the correction of these forms, concepts, and symbols, as well as the creation of new ones. There is death and resurrection. It is arrogance and sin for any single Church to believe that its culturally-contingent expression of the gospel is superior in all respects to all other expressions. Our theological constructions are ultimately always inadequate and thus in need of reform. The gospel is not “Byzantine” or “Latin” or “semitic” – it is catholic.
If one believes that the Church to which one belongs is the true Church, it is, I suppose, natural and inevitable that one will believe that that Church’s theological formulations are superior in all respects. And so we spend our time and energy demonstrating to all others how and why this is so. But this is apologetics, not theology. It has its place but its place is subordinate to theology and the search for truth.
… It is arrogance for either the Latin Christian or the Byzantine Christian to think that the truths of grace, theosis, and sanctification that they seek to express in their respective theological formulations are the only way or even the ultimately best way to express these truths. What is of first importance is to understand why theologians developed, and indeed invented, the language and concepts that they did. What essential truths and insights were they seeking to express? Just as the scholastic notion of “created grace” was the fruit of centuries of Latin reflection, so the Palamite notion of divine energies/being was the fruit of centuries of Eastern reflection. Before the Latin believer can begin to critique the Eastern position, he first needs to comprehend and master his own tradition and then he needs to understand in its own terms – or at least seek to understand – the Eastern position. And ditto for the Eastern believer. Unless this is done, constructive engagement and mutual understanding are impossible. All we have is fruitless and demeaning polemic.
Before throwing out the usual polemical criticisms, I suggest that each person ask his debate partner “Have I stated well your position?” “Do you think I have understood it?”
Archive for August, 2008
A reader sent me this very interesting question for discussion (and, by the way, you can now send questions or comments to eirenikonblog at me.com):
… I was hoping to use this forum to moot an issue that has troubled me relating to the transmission of the Petrine function in the early Church. It involves Clement’s letter to the Corinthians. I have always had difficulty with the traditional Catholic portrayal of the transmission as flowing seamlessly from Peter to Linus and their successors as president of the apostolic see down to our time. How could Linus have exercised the Petrine function (as Catholics understand it) of leadership within the universal Church while many of the apostles remained alive, indeed while Paul himself was not only present in Rome but actually writing from Rome to other churches from the capital (in a classic demonstration of Petrine leadership)? Surely this is only a role that could have been assumed by the bishop of Rome once the apostles had all died. This is why the traditional dating of Clement’s letter made sense to me as by the mid to late 90s, John would have either passed on or been sent on the exile that Tradition links with his martyrdom. If, as Dr Tighe and the current Pope seem to prefer, the letter is to be ascribed to the mid 70s, why would Clement be intervening in Corinth at all when the Apostle John himself could do so with greater ease (being closer at Ephesus) and with so much greater authority? Indeed, it is only the context of John absence or indisposition that Clement’s authoritative language and intervention makes any sense. Such an understanding of transmission (from the apostles as a whole and not just from Peter) to the Church of Rome would seem to explain satisfactorily from the Catholic point of view the otherwise embarrassing absence of demonstrable exercise of Petrine leadership by any Roman bishop between Peter and Clement. An earlier dating of the letter, while consonant with the traditional Catholic view of the chronological assumption of the Petrine role by Peter’s immediate episcopal successors, strikes me as deeply problematic ecclesiologically.
N.B. If I remember correctly, Dr Tighe argues on the basis of George Edmundson’s The Church of Rome in the First Century (the 1913 Bampton Lectures) (available online here). Also, I am not sure that the current Pope argues for the early date of Clement’s letter. Here, in his March 7, 2007 address on Clement of Rome, he seems to accept the later date of Clement’s letter, “immediately after the year 96.” Perhaps the younger Ratzinger argued differently?
I’m thinking about taking a bit of a retreat from the blogosphere. You may not see new posts for a little while. I will, of course, continue to read and moderate, if need be, the comboxes.
By Father Lev Gillet
From Chrysostom, Vol. VI, No. 5 (Spring 1983), pp. 151-159.
V. There are three principal causes which provide an explanation for the opposition with which the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception has been met in the Orthodox Church.
First and foremost, there is the mistrust felt a priori by many Orthodox about any doctrine defined by Rome since the separation of East and West. That, of course, is primarily a psychological reason.
There is also the fear of formulating a doctrine which might not seem to have sufficient foundation in Holy Scripture and the patristic tradition. We have left the patristic age outside the bounds of our discussion, limiting ourselves to the Orthodox theology of Byzantium: but it seems that (from St Andrew of Crete to St Theodore the Studite) much evidence can be produced from Greek sources in favour of the Immaculate Conception.
Finally there is the fear of restricting the redemptive work of Christ. Once you have exempted Mary from original sin, have you not exempted her from the effects of her Son’s redemption? Is it not possible for a single exception to destroy the whole economy of salvation? The Orthodox theologians who think on these lines have not given careful enough consideration, or indeed any at all, to the fact that according to Pius IX’s definition, Mary was only exempt from original sin in view of the merits of Christ: “intuitu meritorum Christi Jesu Salvatoris humani generis“. Therefore, Christ’s redemptive action was operative in Mary’s case although in a quite different way from that of the rest of mankind.
We will add this, too. Orthodox theology has always insisted on the beauty of human nature in its integrity before the fall. Now it is the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception which alone can justify this ‘humanism’. It is only in Mary conceived without sin, that human nature has reached its fulfilment and actualized all its possibilities. Mary is the one and only success of the human race. It is through her and in her that humanity has escaped total failure and has offered to the divine a point of entry into the human. Mary, said Metropolitan George of Nicomedia (19th century) “was the magnificent firstfruit offered by human nature to the Creator.” (16) “She is”, said Nicholas Cabasilas (14th century), “truly the first man, the first and only being to have manifested in herself the fullness of human nature.” (17)
VI. Let us draw our conclusions:
- The Immaculate Conception of Mary is not a defined dogma in the Orthodox Church.
- One can say that since the first part of the nineteenth century the majority of Orthodox believers and theologians have taken their stand against this doctrine.
- Nevertheless. it is impossible to say that from the Orthodox point of view the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception constitutes a heresy; for canonically it has never been defined as such by an oecumenical council and in fact it has never met with the disapproval of a universal and unchanging consensus of opinion.
- There does exist a continuous line of eminent Orthodox authorities who have taught the Immaculate Conception.
- Therefore the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception has every right to its existence in the Orthodox Church as an opinion of a school or as a personal theologoumenon based on a tradition worthy of respect.
- It follows therefore that the Roman definition of 1854 does not constitute an obstacle to the reunion of the Eastern and Western Churches.
- It is my own view that not only does the Immaculate Conception not contradict any Orthodox dogma but that it is a necessary and logical development of the whole of Orthodox belief. (18)
Regina sine labe concepta, ora pro nobis.