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The Orthodox Church as seen by the Roman Church

Filed in Articles by on December 9, 2013 0 Comments • views: 1133

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After the Schism between Constantinople and Rome, the Roman Church tended to work on the assumption that there was no Church in the East, but only scattered Christians. Although this contention may be dismissed as a polemic exaggeration, Rome interpreted Christian universality as universality of the West. The situation was changed by Pope Pius IX and his successors, who although they issued documents inviting the Orthodox to return to the Roman Church, emphasized that there is no great gap between the two Churches.

The Roman Church now tends to believe that the Orthodox Church keeps intact the same Catholic faith as itself. What separates Orthodoxy from Catholicism is merely historical and national. Orthodoxy, according to Roman Catholics, is really a chip off the Roman block, detached from the golden mountain but still made of the same gold. Owing to the schism and to the contingencies of history-the invasions of the Crusades and then of Islam-Orthodoxy ‘withdrew from history’ (they say) at the end of the tenth century, ‘whose convictions and mentality it has carefully preserved, but in a sterile way’ (1). This view is demonstrated by Encyclical Letters of the Popes, and from the position of those Orthodox who are united with Rome but maintain more or less the Orthodox teaching and tradition (Uniate Churches). If Orthodoxy were to recognize the Roman Primacy in the fuller sense, it could be in full communion with Rome . ‘Our Orthodox brothers are not separated from us by a very wide gulf’, said Leo XIII (non ingenti discrimine seiunguntur, Encyclical Praeclara gratulationis). ‘Their attachment to the great mysteries of the Faith, their eucharistic liturgy, their belief in the infallibility of the Church, their veneration for the Mother of God and for the Saints, as well as the attitude of their best theologians and the radical changes in political conditions, all inspire me with the confidence that the end of the schism is no longer very far away’ (2). According to the Roman Church, the Orthodox Church is in schism. If the Orthodox Church will recognize the Pope as the head of the Church and the successor of Peter, it will maintain all its privileges and customs and nothing is to be changed in its constitution (3). Similarly, the union of these churches is very easy, provided that the East will recognize the leadership of the West and come to the Roman court. The Roman Church admits that both Churches have the same faith in different forms of expression. Ac­cording to Roman Catholic ecumenists, for example, the problem of the Procession of the Holy Spirit is merely a divergence in point of view. This opinion is by no means unanimously acceptable to all Roman Catholic authors. ‘It is logical from the Roman point of view that the Orthodox Church, as a “schism”, must have her distinctive, schismatic features, and cannot be “identical” with the Catholic Church of old, even in its Eastern version.’ Such were the opinions of M. Jugie, Th. Spacil, etc (4).

Cardinal Bea expresses a modern Roman view when he writes:

The Oriental Church still preserves unbroken the succession of Bishops from the Apostles and, along with that valid sacraments, above all the Holy Eucharist. The Liturgy of the Mass is the centre of their religious life, is considered the true sacrifice atoning for the living and the dead, and is celebrated with great solemnity. In doctrine the Orientals retain the ancient apostolic and patristic tradition, and differ from the faith of the Latin Church only in a few points, particularly in their denial of the dogmas defined by Councils since the separation, such as the primacy and infallibility of the Pope. Although they have not accepted the definitions of the Immaculate Conception and Assumption, devotion to Our Lady remains strong amongst them and these dogmas are found in their liturgical books and generally admitted by their members (5).

‘The Church of Constantinople’, he says elsewhere (6), ‘maintained the true faith, therefore she took the name Orthodox, i.e. of the true doctrine.’ Particularly with regard to administration, W. de Vries writes that ‘throughout the first ten centuries Rome never claimed to have been granted its preferred position of jurisdiction as an explicit privilege. The Popes recognize the powers of the Patriarchs of Alex­andria and Antioch as being derived in each case from ancient custom and the Canons, especially Canon 6 of the Council of Nicaea, which in turn justifies its action with reference to legitimate custom (7). In accordance with these customs the Patriarchs and Bishops of the East are freely elected, the liturgy and canonical legislation are regulated independently, and the discipline of the clergy and the people is managed without the Pope’s interference (8).

H. J. Schultz gives a fresh account of the attitude of Roman Cathol­icism towards the Orthodox Church. He concludes his chapter ‘Autonomy of the Patriarchates’ thus:

Especially because of the development of the liturgical rites in the several Patriarchates, even to-day the patriarchal structure in the whole Christian East is regarded as just as untouchable as the rite itself. Patriarchate and liturgy are considered the pillars of their tradition (9). Every abridgement of the ancient patriarchal rights, such as occurred from 1000 A .D. onwards in the case of those united with Rome, is therefore felt as a violation of the original tradition and shocks all Eastern Christians as much as would an interference with their liturgy (10).

It is true that today Roman Catholic authors like Schultz, W. de Vries, who are mentioned above, and Gommenginer (11) show, from a Roman Catholic point of view, that the Orthodox are really in­corporated in the undivided Church of Christ. This is because the withdrawal from Communion (which happened between Rome and the Orthodox) is a sign of loss of membership in the Church only if and when it has been decreed because of open heresy or apostasy, or for schism and rebellion against the authority of the Church. Another voice, that of Orest Kerame (12), asks:

Is the average Catholic prepared to accept the Orthodox for what they are, namely the Catholicism of the East?

Father Leeming writes that:

The concept of the Church’s catholicity and apostolicity must include the Eastern Churches, which are so closely united to us in doctrine, out­look and spirituality; and for the fullness of catholicity and apostolicity union with the Orthodox, and indeed with all separated Christian brethren, is a clear postulate. I repeat: the assumption must not be made that the Catholic Church is the Church of the West. To make that assumption and act upon it by exclusive attention only to the “Western tradition is to impoverish, or even deny, the very idea of the Church’s catholicity (13).

The Second Vatican Council in the Decree on Ecumenism included a special consideration of the Eastern Churches (14). The Decree acknowl­edges that for many centuries the Churches of the East and West followed their own path yet were linked in the fellowship of brothers, in faith and sacramental life. By common consent, the Roman See was in control should disagreements over faith of discipline arise between them [sic]. Among other important matters, the sacred Synod takes pleasure in reminding all men that many particular local churches are flourishing in the East, including the Patriarchal Churches which hold the leading position, and several of them boast an Apostolic origin. From that time onwards, there has prevailed among the Eastern Christians a concern and care for the preservation of the family relationship in the fellowship of faith and charity that should exist in local churches, for they are sisters; it still prevails in our day. There is, likewise, no ignoring the fact that, from the beginning, the churches of the East have been in possession of a treasury from which the Western Church has borrowed heavily in the way of liturgical practice, spiritual tradition and juridical organization. Nor must it be considered unimportant that the funda­mental dogmas of Christian belief; the Trinity and the Word of God made flesh of the Virgin Mary, were defined in the East. The preser­vation of this belief has cost and still costs that Church much suffering. The Apostolic heritage has had various forms of modified acceptance; from the very beginning of the Church, it has had a different develop­ment in various places as a result of variety of character and living conditions. With the failure of mutual understanding and charity, not to mention external causes, all this has given divisions their chance. For this reason, the sacred Synod calls upon all men to give due consider­ation to the special character of the birth and development of the Churches of the East and to the character of the relations which existed between them and Rome before the separation; they must he correct in their appraisal of these matters. The exhortation is especially directed to men who make it their aim to further the restoration of full com­munion which is desired between the Eastern Churches and the Catholic Church. If these points are carefully kept in mind, it will make a supreme contribution to the proposed dialogue. Everyone is familiar with the great love which Eastern Churches put into the performance of the sacred liturgy, especially the celebration of the Eucharist, the Church’s life spring and pledge of the glory that is to come. That is where the faithful join their bishop and, through the Son, the Word made flesh, who has suffered and entered his glory, with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, have access to God the Father and attain fellowship with the Blessed Trinity, for they are made ‘to share the divine nature’ (2 Peter 1 -.4). The celebration of the Lord’s Eucharist in the individual churches builds up the Church of God and makes it grow, while the practice of concelebration makes their fellowship manifest.

In the worship of the liturgy Eastern Churches extol Mary, ever a virgin, with hymns of great beauty. It was, after all, the Ecumenical Synod at Ephesus that made the solemn proclamation of Mary as the most holy Mother of God, to secure for Christ an appropriate and true recognition as Son of God and Son of Man, as the Scriptures show him. They also, in the liturgy, sing the praises of many other Saints, including the Fathers of the Universal Church .

These churches, for all their separation, are in possession of true sacraments, notably the priesthood and the Eucharist, by virtue of the Apostolic Succession. This possession of theirs keeps them connected to us by the closest degree of kinship. Given appropriate circumstances therefore, and the approval of ecclesiastical authority, some sharing in sacred rites (Communicatio in Sacris ) is not only possible but advisable.

In the East one finds, moreover, a wealth of spiritual traditions formed chiefly by monasticism. Monastic spirituality has had a flourish­ing existence in the East ever since the glorious days of the Fathers. It has spread to the West from the East and has been the source and well-spring of the formation of the religious life among the Latins, and has repeatedly been a force of re-invigoration. This is the reason why Catholics are earnestly recommended to have frequent recourse to the spiritual treasury of the Eastern Fathers; it catches a man up entirely in Divine contemplation.

Recognition, respect, preservation and encouragement-everyone must know the importance of the attitude with regard to the liturgical and spiritual heritage of Eastern Christians, if a loyal guard is to be kept on the fullness of the Christian tradition and the reconciliation of Eastern and Western Christians is to be accomplished.

Furthermore, the Churches of the East had, from earliest times, always followed their own rules which had the authorization of the Fathers, the Synods, and Ecumenical Synods at that. Variety in practice and custom is no obstacle to the Church’s unity; on the contrary, it is an embellishment and it makes no slight contribution to the fulfillment of her mission (cf. supra). The sacred Synod, therefore, hopes to remove all doubt with the announcement that the Churches of the East, with the requirements of the unity of the whole Church in mind, have every opportunity to govern themselves by their own rules which are, after all, more suited to the mentality of their faithful and better adapted to securing the good of their souls. Thorough-going observance of this traditional principle-it has not always been maintained-is one of the essential preliminary conditions for reunion.

What has already been said about legitimate variety we are pleased to apply to differences in theological expressions of doctrine. When revealed truth is explored there is a difference to be seen in the methods and approaches of the East and the West to the understanding and state­ment of Divinity. It is not surprising that perception of revealed mystery on the one side is occasionally more penetrating than the other, and set in a better light. Consequently it must be admitted that, in such cases, the theological expressions which differ are often complementary rather than contradictory. As far as the genuine theological traditions of Eastern Christians are concerned they are admittedly remarkably well rooted in the sacred Scriptures, they find their support and their ex­pression in the life of the liturgy, they draw sustenance from the living traditions of the Apostles and from the writings of the Eastern Fathers and spiritual writers, their tendency is towards the right ordering of life or, rather, to the full contemplation of Christian truth.

This sacred Synod thanks God that many Eastern children of the Catholic Church who keep guard over their inheritance and desire to live it with greater freedom from fault, with greater fullness, are now living in full communion with their brethren who support the tradition of the West. It declares that the whole of this heritage, spiritual and liturgical, disciplinary and theological, in its varying traditions, is relevant to the fully Catholic and Apostolic character of the Church.

After thorough scrutiny of these points, the sacred Synod repeats the statement of past Councils and Roman Pontiffs: if fellowship and unity are to be restored, ‘no burden should be imposed beyond those which cannot be avoided’ (Acts 15:28). It eagerly desires that, from now on, every effort be directed towards the gradual achievement of unity, in the different institutions and forms of the Church’s life, chiefly by prayer and brotherly dialogue on the subjects of doctrine and the requirements of the pastoral office, to which our age gives increased urgency. In the same way, it brings to the notice of the faithful and the Pastors of the Catholic Church their ties of kinship with men who have left the East and are spending their lives far from their homeland. It is hoping thereby for an increase in brotherly co-operation with them, in a spirit of charity from which every breath of faction and rivalry is excluded. If this work is promoted wholeheartedly, the sacred Synod hopes that, with the removal of the wall dividing the Western from the Eastern Church, one single building will, at long last, come into ex­istence, firmly based on its cornerstone, Christ Jesus, who will make them both one. (Cf. Council of Florence, sess. vi (1439), Definition Laetentur caeli : Mansi 31, 1026 E.)

The above quotation from a decree of the Second Vatican Council requires special consideration. In it the Fathers of the Roman Church diligently avoid condemnation of the Eastern Church. Not only this, but they admit that the Latin Church has profited greatly from the Eastern spiritual treasury. When they speak about separation, they say that the break took place between East and West, instead of the traditional Roman contention that the Eastern Church broke off communion with Rome . What the Eastern Church rejects completely is the statement of the Council Fathers that ‘by common consent, the Roman See was in control should disagreement over faith or discipline arise between’ the Eastern Churches. Here lies a fundamental difference of interpretation of the several contacts between East and West, which divides Western and Eastern thought (15). Another point which needs special emphasis is that the Council Fathers do not ask the Easterners to come back to Rome, but they hope ‘that, with the removal of the wall dividing the Western from the Eastern Church, one single building will, at long last, come into existence, firmly based on its cornerstone, Christ Jesus, who will make them both one.’ This state­ment reveals a change for the better in the traditional attitude of the Roman Church towards the East (16).

Unfortunately this Decree of the Vatican Council does not fully satisfy the Orthodox. First of all the Orthodox Church, in Orthodox eyes, is not separated from Rome in the sense in which the Council understands the ‘separated brethren’. Secondly, the Orthodox Church is treated together with the ‘ Uniates ‘, whom in any case the Orthodox regard as betrayers of Eastern Christendom. In other words, the Orthodox Church is one of a number of Churches which are separated from Rome . In this the Orthodox Church desired deeper under­standing from the Vatican Council. However, we can say that the present Decree on Ecumenism as it stands marks a tremendous improve­ment in the attitude of the Roman Church towards the East, when one considers the real attempts which have since been made to interpret the Decree in a manner which gives great satisfaction to the Orthodox. An example of this is the article by Cardinal Giacomo Lercaro, to which we will refer again (17). Cardinal Lercaro emphazises that the Orthodox Churches have their own heritage and they must be known and respected. Another commentary on the Decree on Ecumenism, made by Fr. Thomas F. Stransky, C.S.P., a member of the Vatican Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, tends to acknowledge an ecclesial equality between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. Like­wise Cardinal Jaeger in his book A Stand on Ecumenism stresses the strong interest of the Council Fathers in the Orthodoxy and Catholicity of the Eastern Orthodox Churches.

There is another example of great importance indicating the new attitude of the Roman Church towards the Orthodox, which W. de Vries (18) describes as follows:

We witnessed the most recent case of liturgical services in common with non-Catholics on the occasion of the trip of the reigning Pope, Paul VI, to the Holy Land in January, 1964, and of his meeting with Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople. The Pope gave the Patriarch a Chalice for the Holy Sacrifice. In doing this he was acknowledging the Eucharistic celebration of the separated Eastern Christians as in itself good, and paid no attention to the view that the separated churches do not celebrate the Holy Sacrifice legitimately. Many stricter moralists had previously declared this to be absolutely inadmissible. Now that the Pope himself has admitted it, no one will henceforth have the hardiness to maintain the contrary.

Cardinal Lercaro, Archbishop of Bologna, said that this symbolic gesture in offering a chalice to each of the Eastern Patriarchs he met at Jerusalem is of great theological significance. One does not offer a chalice to those heads of Churches whose Eucharistic celebrations one thinks to be illegitimate … is not this an eloquent confirmation of the text of De Oecumenismo, which affirms that by the celebration of the Eucharist the Orthodox Churches are built up in the One Church of God? (19) A great impression was made on the third Pan-Orthodox Conference (Rhodes 1964) by the humble and brotherly tone of Pope Paul’s Message:

Your Excellencies and dearly beloved Brethren in Christ. It is from the bottom of our heart that we send you our fraternal greetings. While your brothers of the Roman Catholic Church, gathered in Council, are asking themselves about the way to follow ever more faithfully the designs of God for His Church in this time, so rich in possibilities and at the same time so full of trials and temptations, you are preparing also to turn to the same problems in order to respond always better to the Lord’s will.

Fully aware of the importance of your venerable assembly, we fervently pray for the light of the Holy Spirit upon it.

Rest assured that we ourselves, with the Council gathered together now, and the whole Catholic Church, watch the progress of your labors with the greatest interest, associating them in fervent prayer with those going on at present near the tomb of the Apostle Peter, in full confidence that the grace of the Lord will the more richly be with both because a common charity has inspired this common prayer.

We keep in mind the recommendations of the Apostle Paul: ‘Bear one another’s burdens; it is thus that you will fulfill the law of Christ.’ We dare to count on the fruits of your prayers, your Excellencies and beloved brethren in Christ, that the Lord will grant us the grace necessary to the faithful accomplishment of the work to which the mysterious design of His Providence has called us.

May the All-holy Mother of God, to whom we pray and whom we honor with the same fervor, intercede for us that we grow ever in the love of her Son our one Savior and Lord. May charity nourished at the table of the Lord make us daily more eager for ‘the Unity of the Spirit in the Bond of Peace’. Eph. 4:3. From the Vatican, 29th October 1964 Paulus PP. VI

Bishop of Rome (20).

A very important statement on the Orthodox Church was also made by Pope Paul at Castelgandolfo on 2 August 19 67. He said: ‘The East is teacher. It teaches us how the faithful are called upon to speculate on the revealed truth, that is, to the formulation of a theology which we may call scientific…’

It remains to examine the Orthodox representation in the World Council of Churches. The Roman Catholics recognize that by partici­pation in the World Council the Orthodox Church defends the Catholic Faith, and ‘whatever may have happened in the distant past, Catholicism must recognize Orthodoxy for the courage and constancy of its doctrinal witness. The fidelity of the Orthodox to the ancient tradition is a precious guarantee of ecumenical relations in the future’ (21). ‘In a particular sense we also felt thankful to the Orthodox delegation’ (in Evanston ), writes Eva-Maria Jung (22), ‘because it was due to them alone that the Catholic voice was heard in the ” Ecumene “. Their two statements signified a unanimous witness to our common Catholic Tradition and a challenge to the Protestant Churches to re-evaluate their position in the light of this tradition.’ Another view on this is that ‘the Orthodox Church does not seem capable of standing the strain alone (owing to its lack of an appropriate theology and adminis­tration). Sooner or later’, continues Clement, ‘it looks as if it will have to apply for fraternal aid to Rome, and to theological “science” perfected by Rome; it will have to take stock of itself and of its own adhesion to Catholicity’ [Roman, of course] (23).

Methodios Fougias (+)(Bishop of Pisidia), Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism & Anglicanism,

London 1972, ed. Oxford University Press, p. 68- 78.

NOTES

(1) O. Clement, ‘A misunderstanding at Rhodes ?’ E.R . xii (i960), p. 224.

(2) C. Boyer, ‘An Ecumenical Testimony’, E.E . p. 17, and G. Thils, Ecumenism’, E.E . pp. 174-5.

(3) Osservatore Romano, 13 May 1956, and Herder Korrespondenz, July 1956, p. 450 ff.

(4) cf. Florovsky, The Ethos of the Orthodox Church, p. 185. See also the article of T. O. Reilly, ‘Apostolicity’ in the Catholic Encyclopaedia, from, which it would appear that Roman Catholics think that the Eastern Orthodox by withdrawing from the See of Rome have lost the Apostolic succession. K. Adam, on the other hand, accepts that the Eastern Orthodox, in view of their valid episcopal ordinations, preserved the Apostolic succession; cf. his Spirit of Catholicism, p. 190.

(5) Augustin Cardinal Bea, The Unity of Christians, ed. Bernard Leaning, S.J . (London, Geoffrey Chapman, 1963), pp. 27 ff. Cf. also A. Cardinal Bea, The Way to Unity after the Council (London, G. Chapman, 1967), p. 138.

(6) op. cit ., p. 40.

(7) Die Entstehung der Patriarchate, pp. 346 ff.

(8) W. de Vries, op. cit., pp. 348 ff., 356 ff., quoted in Hans Joachim Schultz, ‘The Dialogue with Orthodox’, C. iv (1965), p. 69.

(9) Cf. Archbishop J. Tawil, ‘Die Ostkirche gestern und heute’ in Die Stimme der Ostkirche (Freiburg, 1962), pp. 11-12.

(10) Schultz, ‘The Dialogue with the Orthodox’, ibid. p. 69.

(11) ‘Bedeutet die Excommunikation Verlust der Kirchemitgliedschaft?’ in Zeitschriftfiir Katholische Theologie, 73 (1951), pp. 1-17.

(12) ‘Einheit mit der Orthodoxie ?’ in Una Sancta, 17 (1962) pp. 197-224, and Concilium , iv (1965), p. 73.

(13) The Vatican Council and Christian Unity. A Commentary on the Decree on Ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council, together with a translation of the text ( London, 1965), p. 159.

(14) Decree De Oecumenismo, edition pub. by the Catholic Truth Society ( London, 1964), pp. 22-26 (quoted by kind permission). See also the English text in The Decree on Ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council. A New Translation by the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, with a Commentary by Thomas F. Stransky, C.S.P . ( Paulist Press, New York, 1965), pp. 69-77. See also Bernard Leeming, The Vatican Council and Christian Unity, pp. 12-15. [Italics in this quotation are the present author’s.]

(15) Cf. Francis Dvornik, Byzance et la Primauti Romaine (Paris, Editions du Cerf, Unam Sanctam (49), 1964), p. 152.

(16) W. de Vries, ‘ Communicatio in Sacris’, C, iv (1965), p. 12.

(17) C. i (1965), pp. 83-91.

(18) ‘Communicatio in Sacris’, C. iv (1965), p. 21.

(19) Cf. O.I.C . i (1965), p. 187.

(20) G. Dejaifve, ‘The Third Pan-Orthodox Conference in Rhodes’, O.I.C . i (1965), pp. 140 ff.; cf. also J. Karmiris, ‘The Third Pan-Orthodox Conference in Rhodes ‘, Eccl. 41 (1964), pp. 608-69.

(21) Tavard, Two Centuries of Ecumenism, p. 210.

(22) ‘Roman Catholic impressions of the Evaston Assembly’, E.R ., vii (1955) p. 118. Cf also ‘ What can Western Churches learn from Eastern Churches: The Contribution of Eastern Orthodoxy to European Culture’, E.R . xi (1959), pp. 321- 22.

(23) O. Clement, “A misunderstanding at Rhodes ?”, op. cit. p. 225.

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