Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

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)


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.

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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).



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).


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Via Rorate caeli comes this interesting quote from Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Volokolamsk:

“All current versions of Christianity can be roughly divided into two main groups: traditional and liberal. The difference today is not so much between Orthodox and Catholics, or between Catholics and Protestants, but precisely between Traditionalists and ‘Liberals’. Some Christian leaders, for instance, tell us that marriage between a man and a woman is no longer the only way to build a Christian family: there are other available models, and the Church should become sufficiently ‘inclusive’ in order to recognize alternative behavioral standards and to grant them official blessing. Some try to persuade us that human life is no longer an absolute value, and that life in the womb may be ended at will. Traditionalist Christians are in fact being asked to reconsider their views under the pretext of keeping up with modern times.”

Original source in Italian.

UPDATE: The full English text of Met. Hilarion’s address to the Annual Nicean Club Dinner, Lambeth Palace, 9 September 2010.  The address was given in the presence of Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury.

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We continue with the fourth part of Michaël de Verteuil’s report on the recent “Orthodox Constructions of the West” conference at Fordham University (June 28-30) (Part 1Part 2, and Part 3).


Vera Shevzov, “The Burden of Tradition: Russia’s Orthodox academic theologians and the ‘West’ (late XIX-early XX cc)”
Dr. Gilbert’s already-posted summary of Dr. Shevzov’s presentation is excellent, but I would like to emphasize different aspects. I found her talk difficult to follow, particularly as someone with no background in the subject matter. It is only after carefully reviewing my notes and reading Dr. Gilbert’s summary that I can claim to grasp some of the points Dr. Shevzov was attempting to make. I have taken the liberty of glossing and restructuring somewhat the order of some of what I take to be her observations in order to highlight what I drew from her presentation. Ultimately I think it was worth the pain.
According to Dr. Shevzov, 19th century Russian intellectuals analyzing the future of Russia in its relationship with the West generally fell into Slavophile or Westernizing camps, both of which continue to influence Orthodox views of the West today. She noted however, that both tended to portray the West in reductionist and simplistic terms as culturally homogenous and undifferentiated, respectively either to be eschewed (for Slavophiles) or emulated (according to Westernizers).
Both perspectives were largely secular, however, and one has to look to academic theologians of the time period for an explicitly Orthodox Russian understanding of the West that was nevertheless characterized by a debate that closely paralleled that between the Slavophiles and Westernizers.
Much of this debate would turn on critiques, favourable or unfavourable, of the thoughts of Aleksei Khomiakov. For Khomiakov, the unilateral interpolation of the filioque into the creed had exemplified the defining characteristic of the West: a radically egotistical and individualistic world view that, in his view, explained Papal authoritarianism, Protestant dismissal of Tradition, and ultimately Western philosophical atheism. All this Khomiakov traced to a cultural imprinting contributed by and seemingly innate to a “Germanic” ethos dating from the barbarian conquest of the West.
(Just as an aside, while widely discredited and ridiculed today, this kind of quasi-genetic ascription of inherent and immutable “national culture” to broad language groups with objectively little natural (as opposed to artificially and anachronistically-created) sense of shared identity was a staple of 19th century writers and nationalist ideology. It provided a sort of intellectual veneer to racist and imperialist views, and still has some currency, as we shall see in subsequent conference reports, amongst contemporary Orthodox thinkers as well as in extremist right-wing circles.
Komiakov’s ascription of a “Germanic” ethos that would have pulled the West away from authentic Christian roots actually has a rather long pedigree. Traces of it can be found in the writings of usually anonymous 12th century Byzantine polemicists claiming that the West had been lost to heresy and become essentially Arian since the Gothic invasions. As this involves completely abstracting out Rome’s participation in the later ecumenical councils and its critical role in the ‘Triumph of Orthodoxy’, such notions require remarkably blinkered and bigoted historical amnesia. This hasn’t prevented more recent Orthodox thinkers like Romanides from subscribing to them, however. But back to Dr. Shevzov’s presentation…)
According to Dr. Shevzov, Russian Orthodoxy’s anti-Latinism had been largely inherited. Her quote from Vassily Roznov bears repeating: “It was as if decaying and dying Byzantium whispered to Russia all of its vexations and bequeathed Russia to guard them. Russia, at the bedside of the departing one, gave its word, mortal enmity towards the Western tribes.”
Yet this had to be set against the profound impact on Russia of post-Reformation Western intellectual and educational currents. Indeed, in the 19th century, most of Russia’s seminarians had received their education largely in Latin, and “progressive” Western influences continued to penetrate into Russian theology via Ukraine. Even Khomiakov’s work had to be translated into Russian after originally being published in French.
A more sympathetic theological response was to accept from the West what was good and useful with the aim of enriching an Orthodox response to the modern world that was then emerging from the West. Traditional polemic literature continued to play a strong role, however. In particular, anti-Westernizers like Khomiakov stressed the role of “national culture” in facilitating (in Russia’s case) or hindering (in the West) a full or proper internalization of Christianity. According to Dr. Shevzov, this understanding has since become standard, and risks mutating in some Orthodox circles from being merely traditional to gaining the status of “Tradition” in the full sense.

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We continue with the third part of Michaël de Verteuil’s report on the recent “Orthodox Constructions of the West” conference at Fordham University (June 28-30) (Part 1 and Part 2)


The presentations by DD. Markus Plested and Norman Russell respectively completed the first day of the Conference. As these were more descriptive than analytical, and relied more on biographical material and textual citations, my notes were more perfunctory. As a result, what I draw here may reflect more my personal interests than what the presenters really chose to focus on. I have also taken some liberty in filling some of the historical “blanks” in rounding off Dr. Russell’s argument, based in part on side conversations with him. For an alternative perspective, you may wish to read Dr. Gilbert’s observations here.
In his presentation, “‘Light from the West’: Byzantine Readings of Aquinas,” Dr. Plested noted that in the 20th century it became common place to define the differences between Orthodoxy and Catholicism in binary mystical vs. legalistic or universalist vs. nationalistic frameworks. He described, in contrast, the picture in the last century of the Byzantine Empire (circa. 1250-1350) as far more complex. Far from dismissing Aquinas as a schismatic heretic of no relevance to Orthodoxy, Byzantine scholars of the period took him very seriously as a skilled and insightful theologian and made extensive use of his writings. Aquinas’ works were engaged not only in controversies with the West, but also by all parties to disputes within Orthodoxy. Both unionists and anti-unionists as well as both Palamists and anti-Palamists would cite Aquinas favourably (albeit not uncritically) and use his arguments in defending their respective positions.
In the next presentation, “From the Shield of Orthodoxy to the Tome of Joy: the Anti-Western Stance of Dositheos II of Jerusalem (1641-1707),” Dr. Norman Russsell jumping forward 350 years and described the role played by Patriarch Dositheos Notaras of Jerusalem in the hardening antipathy between East and West. Dr. Russell argued that despite his subsequent reputation Dositheos’ view of the West was more nuanced than is commonly believed, and that it was important to appreciate the specific historical context and that Orthodoxy faced in the second half of the 17th century. Material circumstances had changed profoundly for Orthodoxy under Islam, and this was to shape the East’s attitude to the West.
The initial Orthodox reaction had not been entirely negative. The superior learning of the Jesuit priests serving the Latin communities in the East was recognized early on. A number of Orthodox bishops were to license Jesuits in their dioceses to preach and hear confessions in support of the comparatively poorly trained Orthodox lower clergy. In addition, Eastern scholars were to take advantage of the superior educational opportunities available in the West where they consequently gained a greater appreciation and sympathy for Western theological perspectives.
Dositheos was to identify and confront the negative consequences shortly after becoming Patriarch of Jerusalem in 1669. In 1672, he summoned a synod to oppose the theology contained in the “Confession of Faith” issued earlier in 1629 by Patriarch Cyril Lucaris of Constantinople. Cyril had come under Calvinist influence while studying in Geneva and Wittenberg, and his Confession had notably expressed agreement with predestination and salvation by faith alone. Under Dositheos’ leadership, the Jerusalem synod rejected these doctrines and reformulated Orthodox teaching in a manner that distinguished it not only from Protestantism but from Tridentine Catholicism as well.
The rest of Dositheos’ tenure as Patriarch was to focus on polemic but also jurisdictional disputes with the Catholic West, notably against French efforts to secure from the Sultan control of the Holy Sepulchre and other key shrines for Catholic religious orders. Dositheos gathered funds to this end and, to counter Jesuit inroads, set up the first printing press in the Ottoman Empire (actually set up in semi-autonomous Moldavia to avoid Ottoman hostility and charges of proselytism). By means of this printing press, Dositheos was able to publish his key apologetic works and compete against the flow of Jesuit-published Greek-language works that were pouring into the Ottoman Empire.
From Russell’s description and Fr. Taft’s admissions in his address, I draw the conclusion that the Catholic side lost a major ecumenical opportunity in the 17th century in pressing too hard for sectarian advantage. In reduced circumstances and denied access to official patronage, Orthodoxy found itself at a serious disadvantage with respect to both the theological ferment stemming from Western Protestantism and the battle-hardened, Jesuit-led Catholic response reinforced by the reforming Council of Trent. The Union of Florence had failed, but Rome could still have made common cause with the East against the Reformation. Instead, it demonstrated contempt for Orthodoxy in its weakened state, pressing sectarian advantage quite literally to the breaking point. The Melkite Church was to split with most of it coming to Rome just a few years of the death of Dositheos. Whereas Dositheos, despite his efforts to contain Latin influence, had been disposed to view Catholics as prodigal sons, (and without my wanting to minimize Constantinople’s role in exacerbating it) the Melkite split was to lead to the deep and lasting chill that would colour Catholic-Orthodox relations down to our day.

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We continue with the second part of Michaël de Verteuil’s report on the recent “Orthodox Constructions of the West” conference at Fordham University (June 28-30).  Part one may be found here.
Update – Dr Peter Gilbert, of De unione ecclesiarum, has posted the first part of his reflections on the Conference.


Dr. Kolbaba is a secular historian for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect. I relied in large part and on whose work on the background to the 1054 dispute in drafting my article on Patriarch Michael Cerularius.

In her lead presentation at the conference, “The Tenth Century: Orthodox Constructions of the West in the Golden Age of Byzantium”, she set out to explain not so much why the schism occurred, but why it occurred when it did in the latter half of the 11th century. Specifically, she sought to answer this question in such a way as to avoid a deterministic view of history which treats critical events in retrospect as if they were somehow inevitable. What made the timing of the schism so difficult to explain, in her view, was that it followed on a long period of generally good relations between East and West. The 9th century dust-up between Rome on one hand, and Constantinople in the person of Photius on the other was widely seen in retrospect in the 10th century as an aberration.

Nevertheless, Dr. Kolbaba noted that this earlier dispute had not occurred in a vacuum.

All the factors that were later offered up to justify the schism (the papal claims, the filioque, as well as liturgical and disciplinary differences) were of long standing and were known in the 10th century, though they were not yet seen at the time as obstacles to communion. Both East and West had gone through a period of missionary expansion early in the 10th century with their evangelization efforts overlapping notably in Moravia and Bulgaria. Differences in ritual practice had been noted in these shared missionary areas, but without the “other side” necessarily being seen as “wrong” as a result. Differing liturgical practices had also been a minor factor in the political and ecclesial rivalry between the Lombard duchies and the Byzantine empire in Southern Italy, though not one that had attracted much notice in Constantinople prior to the 11th century.

In essence, Rome was still viewed positively in the 10th century for its earlier role in resisting iconoclasm, and the West was correspondingly not then perceived as a source of heresy. Despite the 9th century controversy over the filioque, Dr. Kolbaba noted that a comprehensive review of extant documents has yielded not a single Greek treatise against the interpolation that can be traced unambiguously to the 10th century, a lacuna all the more remarkable as one would in later times be expected (she observed half jokingly) to write at least two before being taken seriously as an Orthodox theologian.  Furthermore, works condemning typically Western liturgical practices which would characterize Orthodox polemics in later centuries had yet to be written. So what changed in the 11th century?

Some early developments in the West were to have a latent impact on relations and on the way in which it would be perceived in the East. Dr. Kolbaba noted, for example, to the differing way in which Rome and the Frankish court were to receive the decisions of the 7th ecumenical council (albeit the Frankish reaction being based on a seriously flawed translation of the canons). The Gregorian reforms in the 11th century were to  usher in a harder Western line on clerical celibacy and independence from secular authorities, as well as on the Papal claims; but Dr. Kolbaba argued that it was the East rather than the West that was ultimately to pick fault with the other, and that it was in the East that we should look for the key developments that would leading to a change in attitude that in turn would make the schism possible. Specifically and perhaps surprisingly she pointed to the substantial improvement in the Byzantine military situation along the empire’s eastern and southeastern frontier in the late 10th and early 11th centuries as the key underlying game changer.

Territorial contraction in earlier centuries and the struggle against iconoclasm had resulted in a more homogenous Greek-speaking and liturgically Byzantine empire. These features were to become, for courtly and religious elites based in Constantinople, the empire’s defining attributes any weakening of which could be seen as posing an existential threat to its survival. The later reestablishment of Byzantine control in Armenia and northern Syria, however, was to significantly alter the political and cultural balance of power in the empire in ways that would prove threatening to these self-described “Guardians of Orthodoxy.”

The reversal of the empire’s fortunes was to occur under a successful string of emperors from military families with allegedly non-Greek antecedents. Non-Greek populations, most notably Armenians, were resettled in the reconquered areas, forming a client and martial recruitment base for these new military elites. In order to facilitate the incorporation of populations that had largely broken with the official Church over Chalcedon, emperors such as Basil II tended to adopt a policy of de facto religious toleration that was bitterly contested by the more “purist” traditional elites in the capital. For the Guardians of Orthodoxy, the policy of tolerance pursued by emperors themselves of allegedly Armenian descent became increasingly reminiscent of the heretical proclivities of the earlier non-Greek (“Isaurian”) iconoclast emperors. This led to fears that the new military elites now based in the reconquered east were poised to link up politically with the new non-Greek “other” increasingly associated with heresy, in a way that threatened the empire’s unity, purity and thus divine protection.

The ire of these traditional elites in Constantinople came to be focused on the main distinguishing features of the Armenian liturgy, namely the use of azymes (unleavened bread) in the eucharist portrayed as a deliberate downplaying of the Resurrection and thus of Christ’s humanity, i.e. of monophysite heresy made liturgically manifest. Dr. Kolbaba concluded that it is in the context of the resulting anti-Armenian polemics (in which difference in liturgical practice was linked conceptually with religious dissent, and in which non-Greekness came to be increasingly identified with heterodoxy) that previously low-level tensions over rite and jurisdiction in Southern Italy came to be seen in Constantinople in a new light, and in which the orthodoxy of the non-Greek, “azymite” West first came to be questioned.

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Good friend of the blog and frequent commenter, Michaël de Verteuil, attended the recent “Orthodox Constructions of the West” conference at Fordham University (June 28-30), and sent the following first installment of a report about the conference to Eirenikon readers:

Update – The official press release from Fordham can be read here.  Michael Liccione, of Sacramentum Vitae, discusses the conference here.  An interesting combox discussion can be read over at John’s Ad Orientem.


The Conference was amazingly rich both in content and participants. I felt it was money well spent for several reasons that should come out in our discussion. As it covered two and a half days and involved the presentation and discussion of about a dozen papers, a single report would not do it justice. On the other hand, offering a dozen reports at one go would just lead to a confused and scattered discussion, so I have proposed to our kind host that we offer offer no more than one or two a day, perhaps holding off on the next one until comments trickle to a stop. I should also note that the proceedings will eventually be published, and this approved and more comprehensive version should ultimately be given primacy over the notes I offer here.
One major disappointment for me was the limited time I was able to spend with Dr. Tighe, Dr. Peter Gilbert (of “Bekkos” fame) and Fr. Paul [frequent commenter on Eirenikon – Ed.] (who managed to make his way from Greece for the Conference). It was wonderful to see them and chat with them in the flesh, however, no matter how briefly. Unfortunately, Dr. Michael Liccione who had planned to attend doesn’t seem to have been able to make it.
From what I could tell, about half the participants appeared to be Orthodox, perhaps a quarter to a third were Catholic with teh remainder a smattering of secular historians and Protestants. I am told that attendance was just under 180 at its highest, and that seems about right though I didn’t take a count myself.
Anti-ecumenists were notably absent, perhaps understandably, though as you will see in subsequent reports, their flag bearers were present in spirit and their works discussed, in some cases not altogether unsympathetically.
I will begin with this report of Fr. Taft’s opening address. It proved hard to bear for some of the Orthodox attendees but, as one of them put at lunch to the agreement of his fellow Orthodox at the table, Fr. Taft has pretty well earned to right to say whatever he wants. ;-)
Monday, keynote address, Fr. Robert F. Taft, SJ:
“Perceptions and Realities in Orthodox-Catholic Relations Today: Reflections on the Past, Prospects for the Future”
In the opening keynote address, Fr. Taft, introduced as the world’s foremost expert on the history of the Byzantine liturgy with over 800 publications to his credit, noted that the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue remained on track (which he found encouraging), but offered two grounds for disillusion: the field remained the preserve of theologians and hierarchs and needed to be pursued more at the grassroots level, and the process continued to be plagued by failure to accept and confront respective responsibility for “a dolorous past.”
In the spirit of openness, Fr. Taft began by acknowledging the responsibility of his own (Jesuit) order, describing its relentless 16th and 17th century proselytism against Eastern Christians in the Ottoman Empire, India, Ethiopia and the Polish Commonwealth as a form of ecclesial imperialism. Uniatism pursued in this way had resulted in merely partial unions while dividing Eastern Churches as lay people loyally followed their bishops without clearly appreciating the underlying issues in dispute. As a result, the consequences of uniatism posed the greatest obstacles to wider reunion.
Ironically, only full reunion would resolve the resulting problems, but there was still a role for interim solutions. As examples, Fr. Taft pointed to the need for steps like abandoning “selective histories” and adopting “shared history” that would be based on common hermeneutic principles. Each side should also be clearer on what was required of the other as a basis for reunion. (By this I understood him to mean more than the restatement of simplistic, insulting and empty exhortations to “repent” and “return to the true faith,” but he didn’t specify.)
He noted progress on the Roman side with recognition that the 9th century had seen a problematic evolution of the exercise of its primacy in the East, and the fact that Catholic scholarship no longer referred to the “Eastern schism” preferring instead to a more neutral and less judgmental “East-West schism.” He contrasted this Roman movement, however, with an Orthodox failure to acknowledge that Papal primacy in the West had played a critical role in keeping the Western Church united as a bulwark against rising secularism, and that the absence of the exercise of this Petrine function in the East left chaos, usurpation and local schism there as the only responses to intra-Orthodox ecclesiological quarrels.
Fr. Taft also stressed that the Jesuits/Catholic side was not solely responsible for uniatism. Whatever its flaws, it had been proposed initially by Eastern bishops bashed by the Reformation on one side, by the Poles and Jesuits on another clamoring for absorption of their Orthodox flocks into the Latin rite, and finally by Russian imperialism treating this same flock as ripe for military conquest and incorporation. Uniatism had in fact been offered as a compromise by five of the seven Orthodox bishops under Polish rule and only secured after lengthy negotiations with the aim of respecting Eastern faith, worship and autonomy.
Orthodoxy needed to undertake its own examination of conscience and adopt a less polemic view of history. Fr. Taft noted, for example, that the Catholic apology for past sins against the unity of the Church was met largely with indifference, with Russian and Greek bishops even averring that Orthodoxy, for its part, had nothing to apologize for never having resorted to uniatism or used the secular arm to impose its will or oppress the conscience of others (this elicited some nervous chuckling from a largely scholarly audience). Orthodox forms of “uniatism” had been manifest with respect to an Assyrian “Orthodox” Church under Russian auspices in the interwar period and could be found even today in the existence of “Western rite Orthodoxy”. Historically, the East had often resorted to the civil power in imposing its jurisdiction and oppressing minorities, and Fr. Taft cited as examples instances in Southern Italy and Sicily as well as amongst Armenians, Syriacs and Copts at the hands of Byzantines, and against the Georgian Church, Old Believers and Polish Catholics by Orthodox Russians.
It was important to avoid anachronistic impositions of current standards and rules on ages past, as all powers, not just Western ones, had sought to impose religious conformity by force. It was, Fr. Taft brutally argued, time for Orthodox polemicists to “grow up.” Behaviour, not doctrine remained the main obstacle to reunion in his view. Ecumenical scholarship was in need of the application of Christian principles to unite faithful rather than stress and highlight often superficial differences; to be realistic and truthful while applying the same standards with consistency to both sides. Fairness required recognition that differences that were already in play in the first millennium should be accepted as valid, as the magisterium would otherwise be contradicting itself in having once accepted what to some was now unacceptable. Both the Western and Eastern fathers had to be incorporated in any review of our respective theologies. Misrepresentation had to be avoided, and he offered two examples. Orthodox critics still tended to treat scholastic theology as “the” rather than “a” Western theological framework. Similarly, Neo-Palamite efforts to treat existing differences as having been dogmatized should be resisted. It was false, for example, to claim that Palamism had been condemned by the Catholic side and ignore the fact St Gregory figured on the calendar of Eastern Catholic Churches and was thus considered a Saint by Catholics as well as by Orthodox.
Concluding, Fr. Taft argued that the discourse was sorely in need of increased “common human decency.” He pointed to the dialogue with Anglicanism as a model to follow (though it was unclear to me whether he meant the Anglican dialogue with Catholicism, the one with Orthodoxy, or both), at least in terms of courtesy and temper.
During the subsequent question period, Fr. Taft acknowledged that the autocratic model of Roman primacy had never been accepted in the East. He also noted, however, that there was no evidence the West had ever for its part recognized the Pentarchy and thus autocephally as the Church’s organizing principle. The way forward thus probably lay in a synthesis rather than in the imposition of one or the other model. Fr. Taft also stressed the primacy of saving souls over the strict application of abstract ecclesiological principles that were, in any case, not universally respected by either side. Overlapping episcopal jurisdictions, for example, could be accepted as legitimate pastoral responses to local cultural diversity so long as the communities concerned felt a genuine need for them.
The Conference was amazingly rich both in content and participants. I felt it was money well spent for several reasons that should come out in our discussion. As it covered two and a half days and involved the presentation and discussion of about a dozen papers, a single report would not do it justice. On the other hand, offering a dozen reports at one go would just lead to a confused and scattered discussion, so I have proposed to our kind host that we offer offer no more than one or two a day, perhaps holding off on the next one until comments trickle to a stop. I should also note that the proceedings will eventually be published, and this approved and more comprehensive version should ultimately be given primacy over the notes I offer here.

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A. Edward Siecienski

Oxford University Press (April 2010)
ISBN13: 9780195372045
ISBN10: 0195372042
Hardback, 368 pages


Among the issues that have divided Eastern and Western Christians throughout the centuries, few have had as long and interesting a history as the question of the filioque. Christians everywhere confess their faith in the ancient words of the Nicene Creed. But rather than serve as a source of unity, the Creed has been one of the chief sources of division, as East and West profess their faith in the Trinitarian God using different language. In the Orthodox East, the faithful profess their belief in “the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father.” In the West, however, they say they believe in the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father “and the Son”-in Latin “filioque.” For over a millennium Christendom’s greatest minds have addressed and debated the question (sometimes in rather polemical terms) in the belief that the theological issues at stake were central to an orthodox understanding of the trinitarian God. To most modern people, this may seem like a trivial matter, and indeed most ordinary Christians would be hard pressed to explain the doctrine behind this phrase. In the history of Christianity, however, these words have played an immense role, and the story behind them deserves to be told. For to tell the story of the filioque is to tell of the rise and fall of empires, of crusades launched and repelled, of holy men willing to die for the faith, and of worldly men willing to use it for their own political ends. It is, perhaps, one of the most interesting stories in all of Christendom, filled with characters and events that would make even the best dramatists envious.

The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy is the first complete English language history of the filioque written in over a century. Beginning with the biblical texts and ending with recent agreements on the place and meaning of the filioque, this book traces the history of the doctrine and the controversy that has surrounded it. From the Greek and Latin fathers, the ninth-century debates, the Councils of Lyons and Ferrara-Florence, to the twentieth- and twenty-first century-theologians and dialogues that have come closer than ever to solving this thorny problem, Edward Siecienski explores the strange and fascinating history behind one of the greatest ecumenical rifts in Christendom.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: The Procession of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament
Chapter 2: The Greek Fathers
Chapter 3: The Latin West
Chapter 4: Maximus the Confessor
Chapter 5: The Filioque from the Seventh to the Eleventh Century
Chapter 6: The Filioque from the Eleventh Century to the Thirteenth Century
Chapter 7: The Council of Lyons to the Eve of Ferrara-Florence
Chapter 8: The Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438-39)
Chapter 9: From Florence to the Modern Era
Chapter 10: The Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries


“The tragic schism between Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Christianity has for more than a millennium centered on the doctrine of the procession of the Holy Spirit within the Trinity, whether the Spirit proceeds from the Father, or from the Father and the Son (Filioque), and in particular on the Western addition of the phrase Filioque to the creed. It is a long and tangled controversy which is traced in all its twists and turns with admirable clarity by Edward Siecienski in this fine book. Siecienski explores the past and looks to the future. One of his more astonishing revelations is that it is one of the earliest attempts at an irenical approach to the question-by the seventh-century monk and theologian, St Maximus the Confessor-that holds out the best hopes in the present for a final resolution of this controversy.”

–Andrew Louth, Author of Greek East and Latin West: the Church AD 681-1071

“At last we have the history of the Filioque controversy from beginning to end, free of confessional bias, engaging with both the theology and the historical context. An admirable presentation of the blend of Trinitarian theology, ecclesiastical rivalry, and historical events that sustained (and sometimes still sustain) the controversy, Siecienski’s book should be required reading for interested historians, theologians, and ecumenists. I have wanted this book for a long time and am thrilled to have it on my desk at last.”

–Tia Kolbaba, Author of Inventing Latin Heretics: Byzantines and the Filioque in the Ninth Century

“Siecienski excavates the intricacies of the Filioque controversy with magisterial ability in this excellent study. He is equally adept in telling us why the argument arose, and why it still matters. This is a book that is bound to become an authoritative classic on the subject.”

–John A. McGuckin, Author of The Orthodox Church: Its History and Spiritual Culture

About the Author

Assistant Professor of Religion and Pappas Professor of Byzantine Culture and Religion, The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey

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(Excerpt from an interview with Radio Vaticana, June 4, emphasis added)

Your Holiness, there has been a lot of progress in dialogue with the Orthodox in terms of cultural, spiritual and life issue. At the recent concert hosted for you by the Patriarch of Moscow, the profound harmony between Orthodox and Catholics was felt particularly in relation to the challenges to Christianity in Europe from secularization. But what is your assessment from a more strictly theological point of view?

Let me start by underscoring these great strides that we have made in our common witness to Christian values in the secular world. This is not just a coalition of political morality, but it is really something profoundly rooted in faith, because the fundamental values for which we are in this secular world is not moralism, but the fundamental physiognomy of Christian faith. When we are able to witness these values, to engage in dialogue, discussion of this world, witnessing to live these values, we have already made a fundamental witness of a very deep unity of faith. Of course there are many theological problems, but here there are very strong elements of unity. I would like to mention three elements we unite us, which see us getting closer, drawing closer. First, Scripture; the Bible is not a book that fell from heaven, it is a book that grew within the people of God, that lives in this common subject of God’s people and only here is always present and real, that can not be isolated, but is the nexus of tradition and Church. This awareness is essential and belongs to the foundation of Orthodoxy and Catholicism, and gives us a common path. As a second element, let us say, tradition that interprets us, it opens the door of Scriptures to us, it also has an institutional, sacred, sacramental form, desired by the Lord, that is the episcopate, it has a personal form, that is the college of bishops which together is a witness and presence of this tradition. And the third element, the so-called Regula fidei, that is the profession of faith drawn up by the ancient councils is the sum of what is in Scripture and opens the door to interpretation Then other elements of the liturgy, our common love for Our Lady which unites us deeply, and it also becomes increasingly clear that they are the foundations of Christian life. We must be aware, and delve deeper into the details, but it seems that although different cultures, different situations have created misunderstandings and difficulties, we are growing in awareness of the essential and unity of the essential. I would add that of course it is not the theological discussion alone that creates unity. It is an important dimension, but the whole Christian life, mutual knowledge, learning despite the experiences of the past, this brotherhood are processes that also require great patience. But I think we are learning patience, so love, and with all dimensions of theological dialogue, where we are moving forward leaving it to the Lord to decide when to gift us perfect unity.

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By Cristian Ciopron (English translation via De unione ecclesiarum)

[Our friend Michaël comments on this interesting piece: “I can’t tell if the author is Catholic or Orthodox … but what I found surprising were the extensive citations from the Venerable Bede and St Thomas regarding the light on Mount Tabor. While this might not be remarkable for a Catholic, the weaving of citations from late Western Fathers with those of Eastern saints would be very striking for an Orthodox. Even for a Catholic, the focus on the Uncreated Light would in itself be noteworthy.“]

The Transfiguration of Jesus occurs in the Synoptic Gospels. It is an event narrated only by the Synoptics, as it belongs to their logic and to their line of discourse about who Jesus of Nazareth is. These Gospels narrate the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor as a sequence of events, the first of them being a visible manifestation of Christ’s identity, something which must be interpreted in conjunction with the other signs. I presume that the Gospels are speaking about a visible light, a visible reality, not about a metaphorical light, such as the light of knowledge or understanding; in fact, each synoptic author tries to convey the exact impression made by the Lord’s transfigured luminosity, and seems to indicate a visible light, something to be seen, in the proper sense of the word. I believe that the Gospels speak about a light pertaining to the domain of visibility, not to that of knowledge.


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