Tuesday, February 18, 2014

East, You Hurt Me Like None Other

Ecumenism? No, thanks, I just ate.

I'm not really all that in to ut unum sint - 'that they all be one.' Yes, that's a terrible thing to say, but the fact of the matter is, when it comes to ecumenism in the North American context, I can firmly say that I like, and have far more in common with, conservative Jews than liberal Protestants. The latter are really the only ones who are "into" ecumenism. (Neither group believes in the divinity of Christ, anyway.) Ecumenism is kind of a code-word for relativism. You religion is ok because my religion is just ok.

There is one exception for me: the Orthodox.

It's not that they are easy to like either! They have always struck me as arrogant. Now, that's a really bigoted thing to say - but you obviously haven't read much Orthodox lit., have you? No, I don't want to judge whole churches by the chip-on-the-shoulder comments of a few of their theologians and clerics, but you have to admit, Catholics treat the Orthodox more kindly than the reverse... Do we deserve it? Not any more than they do.

Nevertheless, I look upon even the most cantankerous Orthodox person as a family member. They can bug you because they are family. They are the cousins you never visit because their dad said my dad's friend's mother was... well, you get the point.

You must listen to them because they are great. They love the Holy Trinity, Christ Our God and Man, and the Holy Theotokos. They have suffered much for their faith in these things. Like us, they will, we know, suffer in the future for these things. With us, they emulate the great Fathers of the Church. They adore and make the centre of their lives the Holy Eucharist. Like us, they hold themselves up to the high standards of the great Christian spiritual writers. Because of all of this, we are compelled to listen to them.

Even when it hurts.

I mean, you can look back on the history of Russia and feel great disappointment in their resistance to the Bolsheviks, but I think that would be misplaced. You can blame them now for fighting with us and criticizing us, rather than fighting the secularization of their own country. But that, again, would be unfair.

On the other hand, they have criticized us for our nominalism, our rationalism, and the way we have given over to capitalism. It is accurate to do so, but it should not be done.

For all we have in common, and the fact that our commonality lies in the Apostolic Faith itself, and that we commonly receive from the sacramental economy of the Grace of Christ, our disunity is a shameful fact.

I don't feel this way with the 'other' separated brethren. People can and ought to do what they believe right. I respect and appreciate the Lutheran concept enough to know that that it cannot be squared with the ecclesiological concept of grace that the Catholic and Orthodox Churches share. There is a part of me that considers that we would not be stronger together if unity meant sacrificing Lutheran individualism. I don't know how one can move from the genius of the one to the truth of the other.

Had I? Come to think of it, I might have. As a non-concluding autobiographical postscript, which seems like an appropriate Kierkegaardian turn of phrase to suit the subject, in the Protestant religious idea, one is an individual before God, all graces are communicated to him directly without reference to any other fact of the world. It is a moral rather than a communal and incarnational conception of grace. Yes, one can in fact move from the former to the latter, but in my case a complete transition took quite a lot longer than I had originally realized.

Anyway, back to the Orthodox. We need to insist on papal primacy and the Filioque, but we need to respect their reasons for dissenting from them, and they our reasons for consenting. I can accept no ground whatever for recrimination between us and them. We must be totally free from harsh words with each other. Catholics ought not to accuse them of the failure signified by a Caesaro-papistic history, and they not accuse us of novelty, spiritual and ascetical laxity, and whatnot. These things do not accurately represent the glory of our traditions. We are the Church of the popes, Augustine and Aquinas; they are the Church(s) of the great Eastern Fathers, too many to be listed here. That is what they are, this is what we are. I will accept no other terminology or conception.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Its a bunch of crap, the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Eastern bishops save one signed the Council of Florence in 1439, which declared the unity between the Eastern and the Western Church and supremacy of the Pope, but unity disintegrated after Constantinople fell to the Turks and they appointed the most extreme separatist Patriarch that they could find.

  3. Our nominalism? You're going to have to explain that one, because I thought nominalism went out the window with the Counter-Reformation. Am I wrong?

    I don't read much from the Orthodox, but the few encounters I have had with Orthodox have given me the same impression as you. I wouldn't judge the whole Church by what goes on in comboxes, but I have seen it.

    Even if the leaders of their Churches should sign an accord of Union with Rome, it wouldn't "take" because I think a lot of the grassroots would create another schism. Just look at what happened with the Eastern Rites.

    I think reunification will only happen with miracles, not with "dialogue", "documents" and other token gestures. We Catholics easily forgive slights, but some cultures don't.

  4. Oh yes. Much offensiveness here.

    I agree though.