Friday, June 27, 2008

Pray for the Holy Father's Efforts toward Unity

Father Zuhlsdorf has issued the call for prayer, and I am adding my two cents' worth.

There are two noteworthy efforts the Church is making toward unity, either would be a great step forward.

On the one hand are the ongoing efforts to restore the unity that once existed between Catholic and Orthodox. This is a thorny subject, usually misunderstood; but the long and short of it is that East and West are very close to each other in what we believe, and yet because of a lot of history, and some fundamental differences, less in Faith per se, but in structure and culture, create excessive complications in restoring unity.

For one thing, because the various Orthodox Churches do not have their own pope, as it were--they do not have the same structure amongst themselves that the Church of the West has--it makes it very hard for "the Orthodox" to respond. Bishops and theologians can respond, tentatively, but the goal is not simply communion with this or that Orthodox theologian or prelate, but between sister Churches. If segments of Orthodoxy restore communion with Rome, while others don't, that only replicates what happened in centuries past, and creates new barriers to overcome.

At any rate, there are always hints and hopes. As has become common, the Patriarch of Constantinople (aka Istanbul), the preeminent Orthodox prelate, will join the Patriarch of Rome (yes, I know the pope doesn't use the title anymore, but that's still who he is) this Sunday for the Solemnity of Peter and Paul. You may recall the Holy Father journeyed to Istanbul last year and prayed with Bartholemew on a feast of importance to the East, but I have forgotten which it was, Saint Andrew I believe?

And then there is a wound in the unity of the Roman Church, involving those who especially identify with Catholic Tradition and the ancient liturgy. I mean the Society of Saint Pius X.

This is the group that is identified with the late Archbishop Lefebvre; and some may recall that when he ordained four bishops in 1988 without clear approbation of our late Holy Father, John Paul of happy memory, this created a wound that continues to this day.

Pope Benedict has made many efforts toward reconciliation, most prominent--but hardly the only one--was his move to make the older form of the Mass freely available, and to restore it as a vital part of our lived tradition. Recently, the pope--or someone acting for him--communicated to the current superior of the SSPX some expectations of mutual charity as a basis for further work together. Some are calling them "demands"--but when you see what was requested, it seems so elementary:

1. A commitment to a proportioned response to the generosity of the Pope.
2. A commitment to avoid any public speech which does not respect the person of the Holy Father and which can be negative for ecclesial charity.
3. A commitment to avoid the pretense of a Magisterium superior to the Holy Father and to not put forward the Fraternity [SSPX] in opposition to the Church.
4. A commitment to demonstrate the will to behave honestly in full ecclesial charity and in respect to the authority of the Vicar of Christ.
5. A commitment to respect the date – fixed at the end of the month of June – to respond positively. This will be a required and necessary condition for the immediate preparation for adhesion to have full communion.

Please note what was not specified--nothing about celebrating the newer form of the Mass or sacraments, nothing about Vatican II, nothing about any doctrinal questions whatsoever. Some will say, but aren't those important? Yes, of course they are, and they must be addressed in some fashion. But what is noteworthy is that the Holy Father is asking such basic things as a starting point.

(I might add that this gives us all a reminder for each of us--may everyone of us always "avoid any public speech which does not respect the person of the Holy Father and which can be negative for ecclesial charity" and not assume a "pretense of a Magisterium superior" to that of the Church.)

Father Z rightly observes that this may be a key moment, so pray, pray pray!


Anonymous said...

How wonderful if the five original arms of the church formed by the apostles were reunited!

As most probably already know, but I'll mention it just in case, it is in the Acts of the Apostles that the early formation of the church is described. Five centers of the Christian church were organised and located in Rome, Alexandria, Jerusalem, Constantinople, and
Antioch. Acts states that it was in Antioch that the followers of Jesus were first known as Christians. Many perceive this to be the start of Christianity right then and there, the founding of the new religion.

The church in the west was within the Roman Empire, and the church in the east was within the Byzantine Empire.

The same five patriarchates exist today. One is in the west, in Rome, and the other four are in the east, in Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Constantinople (presently known as Istanbul).

The eastern arms of the church have suffered terribly over the past two thousand years as a result of continual invasion and hostilities from non-Christians.

The eastern church was separated from the western church partly by geographic separation, partly by a few disagreements on theological doctrine, and by some administrative differences.

However, the eastern church endures to this time, and has much to offer the western church - and vice versa, of course!

The Orthodox recognise the RC Pope as "first among equals", and the four eastern patriarchs regard the Roman Pope as their leader in certain issues. If the four eastern patriarchs disagree on something they consult with the Holy Father and accept his pronouncements. However, they do not see him as infallible, and for the sake of diplomatic understanding it is important to recall that the doctrine of infallibility in the Roman Catholic church did not itself exist until the year 1895, which is relatively recent.

When Roman Catholics get up in arms about the Orthodox not accepting papal infallibility, most of these RCs are completely unaware, for reasons I do not know, that the Pope was not considered infallible until the Council of Trent in 1895. Even at that time the notion of infallibility was introduced for purposes of limiting the Pope's authority to matters of faith, rather than extending it out into the political or social arena. Given this background it is easier to see why the Orthodox, though they respect and revere the Roman pope, find the idea of papal infallibility to be a recent innovation. In truth, it is.

The Orthodox church actually has a strong administrative system. The four patriarchs form the nucleus of church governing which is always based on the determinations of the ecumenical councils of the early years of Christianity, with the Patriarch of Constantinople in a pre-eminent role. The individual churches or parishes of the Orthodox are autonomous, self governing within the praxis and theology f the mother church.

Finally, the eastern churches are far less legalistic than the Roman church has become over the years.
I know that many RCs find this legalism so comforting that they will fight to protect it. The Orthodox church requires members to work on their conscience formation in an intense and personal way, and to police themselves, rather than follow a rule book. There is an emphasis on both personal responsibility and personal freedom.

There aren't too many Orthodox locally, so it would be hard for us to know many of them, but if and when you do meet and come to know an Orthodox Catholic, you will find that most are sincere and faithful followers of Christ. Their Divine Liturgy (DL and the Mass are two sides of one coin) is classic, ancient, and beautiful. Their sacraments are valid. The Orthodox are not our enemy.

In short, let us celebrate the hope of a re-union. It cannot be imagined for a second that God would not crave this. Let us be tolerant, prayerful, and optimistic about it. I know for sure that I am!


Anonymous said...

"most of these RCs are completely unaware, for reasons I do not know, that the Pope was not considered infallible until the Council of Trent in 1895." !

And the Apostles organized and located a center of the Church in Constantinople? remarkable.