Archive for August, 2009


Gentle readers, I will be out of town all next week and will not be able to look after the blog. I have some interesting articles to post when I return: one by a Dominican scholar on East/West polarization, and another by some fellow called Ratzinger on the Immaculate Conception.

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On the Present Apparent Conflict Between “Orthodoxy” and “Catholicism

From Dissertations on Subjects Relating to the “Orthodox” or “Eastern-Catholic” Communion (1853), by William Palmer, M.A., Fellow of St. Mary Magdalene College, Oxford, and Deacon.

As there is one God and Father, one Lord Jesus Christ, one Holy Ghost, and one Baptism, so also there is One Body of the Church, the essential attributes of which are all inseparably united together. The Church is Holy: the same Church is Catholic, or Universal: the same is Apostolic: the same is Orthodox, or rightly-believing: the same is One. If there can be two Gods, one Almighty and the other all-merciful, then there may be two Churches, one Catholic or Universal, and the other Orthodox.

Yet at a certain point of time, or between two certain points of time, we see that great body of the visible Catholic or Oecumenical Church, which from the division of the Oecumenical Roman Empire (tes oikoumenes) was distinguished superficially into two branches, Eastern and Western, Greek and Latin, without detriment to its essential unity, splitting into two separate and hostile communities, one of which insisting upon “Orthodoxy'” was nevertheless unable to enforce that Orthodoxy upon the consciences of men by the weight of manifest Catholicism, the other insisting at the time on the Roman pre-eminence and the indivisible unity of the Church (and now also upon the note of a greater appearance of Catholicism,) was little careful or able to meet the charge brought against it with regard to Orthodoxy.

The Eastern section of Christendom in condemning the Latins urged openly that they had become heterodox, and assumed or implied tacitly that therefore they could not be Catholic, while their own Eastern Church, in spite of any appearances to her disadvantage, must be also Catholic, because she was unquestionably Orthodox. The Latins retorted that having on their aide the See of Peter (to which was attached the unity and Catholicity of the Church), they must therefore, in spite of any appearances to their disadvantage, be also Orthodox, while the Easterns refusing to follow them, and so breaking off from unity, could not really have any advantage in respect of Orthodoxy, whatever appearances they might think they had in their favour.

Each side had its own strong point, on which it insisted: neither side answered fairly or adequately to the objection of the other. Each alike dissembled the point of its own apparent disadvantage, and trusted to that point on which it felt itself strong to overbalance and hide its weakness.

Under such circumstances if the two contending bodies had been at the first equal in strength the one to the other, and had remained so since, the two forces would have absolutely neutralized one another, and it would have seemed to us now that cither there is no such thing in existence as the Church of the Creed, at once Orthodox and universal, (the two destroying one another,) or else that the two conflicting bodies are both equally the Church, that is parts of the Church, their conflict and external separation being only a superficial accident and disease, and not reaching to the essential orthodoxy and Catholicity inherent in them both.


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The Benedictine Monastery of St Mary on Mount Athos

Dom Leo Bonsall

Eastern Churches Review 2:3 (1969), pp. 262-7 (footnotes omitted)

BENEDICTINE contacts with the Church of the East have been many and varied, but the foundation of the abbey of St Mary on Mount Athos and its continuing existence during a period when official relations between Rome and Constantinople were at a very low ebb is perhaps the outstanding example of monastic co-operation transcending the estrangement of East and West. The full history of the monastery has never been written, for much of it is shrouded in mystery. There are very few documents and the dating of some of these is difficult; all that visibly remains of the buildings is a tower and a few walls on the eastern side of the Athonite peninsula. It is hardly surprising that one of the first Benedictine foundations in the East should have been made by monks from the maritime city republic of Amalfi: Amalfitan merchant ships were trading throughout the area, and monks from that city continued their founding work with the monastery of St Mary the Latin in Jerusalem, and another monastery in Constantinople itself.


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This approach [of the “Confession of Faith Against Ecumenism”] is at variance with the policy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and, increasingly, the body of local Orthodox Churches which are involved in the painstaking dialogue and progress towards restoring communion between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church undertaken by the International Theological Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue, and with the active participation of the Orthodox Church in the work of the World Council of Churches and the Faith and Order Commission. For these a ‘theology of return’ has been set aside, as in Roman Catholic circles, it being recognised that visible Christian unity and re-integration is unlikely to be achieved by insisting that the various sides abandon their tradition and positions and convert to others. Instead, it is envisaged that through dialogue and friendship, no tradition should surrender its integrity but, instead, grow in theological, spiritual and pastoral awareness of the others towards finding a common mind in Christ, reflected faithfully in each Christian tradition, and towards realising greater unity and ultimately communion. Furthermore, it cannot be a threat to tradition and integrity to receive from others what accords, or comes to accord, with them through this growth.

From the blog of the Pontifical Society of St John Chrysostom (UK and Europe)

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Orrologion has posted the original text of the “Twelve Differences between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches” by Teófilo de Jesús along with excellent responses to each of the twelve points from Fr Alvin Kimel, of Pontifications* fame, who in his extended period of discernment after leaving the Episcopal Church studied the claims of both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy in great depth.

Some excerpts:

On Primacy. Is it true that the Orthodox Church rejects totally any understanding of ecclesial headship? What about the bishop of a diocese? Does he not wield and embody a divine authority given to him by Christ Jesus? Is he not the head of his community, which precisely is the Church? And when Catholics speak of the Pope as the earthly head of the Church, are they in any way denying that Christ alone is properly head of the Church? When Catholics speak of the primacy of the Pope, are they exalting the Pope above the Episcopate, as if their power and authority derived from him? And are Orthodox theologians incapable of entertaining an authentic primacy within the episcopal college for the bishop of Rome? …

On Conciliarity. The Catholic Church understands the Church precisely as a communion of particular Churches and local dioceses; moreover, the Church as the universal Church is not to be understood as simply the sum or collection of all particular Churches: each diocese is itself a truly catholic body … Catholic ecclesiology is so much more complex and diverse than is sometimes appreciated …

On Original Sin. I’m sure there are differences between Catholic construals of anthropology and Orthodox construals of anthropology (please note the plural); but I do not believe that this is because the Catholic Church authoritatively teaches a forensic imputation of original sin and the Orthodox Church does not. Why do I say this? Because it is not at all clear to me that the Catholic Church authoritatively teaches the *forensic* imputation of Adam’s guilt to humanity. I know that some (many?) Catholic theologians have sometimes taught something like this over the centuries, but the Catholic Church has strained over recent decades to clarify the meaning of Original Sin not as the forensic transfer of Adam’s guilt but as the inheritance of the Adamic condition of real alienation from God–i.e., the absence of sanctifying grace … Important differences on the nature of original exist between St Augustine and magisterial Catholic teaching …

On Liturgical Reform. I agree here that there are important differences between Catholic and Orthodox liturgical praxis at the present time. Sadly, many sectors of the Catholic Church appear to have uncritically embraced the thesis that the Church must adapt her liturgy to the spirit of the modern age. This has been disastrous for Catholic life and spirituality. One does see signs, however, that the insanity is passing.

On Grace and Deification. While perhaps it might have been true at some point in the past that Catholic theologians tended to reduce grace to a created power, this cannot be asserted today. Catholic theologians are quite clear that everything begins with and centers around Uncreated Grace. Catholic theologians do have a problem with some of the Palamite construals of grace and the popular Orthodox rejection of any notion of created grace–they do not see how the Palamite position does not lead to the annihilation of human nature–but this does not mean that Catholic theologians and poets cannot envision an eschatological life as full and vivid as the Orthodox. Surely Dante’s Paradiso may be invoked at this point. But I do acknowledge a difference of homiletical and ascetical emphasis between Catholics and Orthodox on theosis, sanctifying suffering, and the life of the resurrection.

* I was inspired to begin blogging after reading Pontifications, though I am not nearly as erudite and well-spoken as Fr Kimel and some of his interlocutors, both Catholic and Orthodox.

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Twelve Differences

Making the rounds in the Orthodox-Catholic blogosphere: Twelve Differences between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, by Teófilo de Jesús, a Roman Catholic, of the blog Vivificat. Please read also the ensuing combox discussion, and leave any comments there.

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From the blog Gregorian Rite Catholic:

Benedict XVI is “on board” with ecumenism, but he calibrates it carefully. It is a refreshing change from the near-indifferentism that characterized the previous pontificate.

The first substantial ecumenical address he gave was in Cologne. And everyone was all aflutter when he said this: “On the other hand, this unity does not mean what could be called ecumenism of the return: that is, to deny and to reject one’s own faith history. Absolutely not!

It does not mean uniformity in all expressions of theology and spirituality, in liturgical forms and in discipline. Unity in multiplicity, and multiplicity in unity: in my Homily for the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul on 29 June last, I insisted that full unity and true catholicity in the original sense of the word go together. As a necessary condition for the achievement of this coexistence, the commitment to unity must be constantly purified and renewed; it must constantly grow and mature.”

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A friend forwarded me a couple of gems from a recently published text which purports to be “an Orthodox catechism for our times” and “a book with the big answers to the big questions every person asks themselves about faith, science and doubt” –

Western Christianity, in all its expressions (whether Catholic, Protestant or so-called Western Orthodox) shares the same ontological and dualistic ecclesiology. Following Plato’s dualism, Western Christianity speaks of a God outside the box and creates a church inside the box. For the West, the Kingdom of God exists in heaven, but it is men who create the Kingdom of God on earth.

Western worship, regardless of whether it is Catholic, Protestant or Western Orthodox so-called, is man-made.

I can think of no better example of the kind of pseudo-intellectual pablum that David Bentley Hart identifies as “something of a cottage industry in the Orthodox Church—especially among converts—to discover and ‘market’ ever newer ancient differences between Eastern and Western Christian theology, morality, devotion, spirituality, politics, cuisine, or whatever else one can think of.”

Or, as I’ve seen it called somewhere on the net, “Pop Byzantine.”

I’m told the back cover of this exciting new book bears the endorsement of Orthodox bishops. Kyrie eleison.

P.S. I’m also told that the author, a former Baptist seminarian, seems to be enamored of biblical higher criticism, e.g. the tired old “documentary hypothesis.” What such late 19th century unbelieving German protestant blather has to do with Orthodox Christian catechesis is beyond me. “Western captivity” indeed.

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