Orthodox in Communion with Rome…Something To Think About

One of the documents that Eastern Catholics love to use as a defense for the idea of being Orthodox in Communion with Rome is the Ratzinger Solution or Proposal. It says:

Rome must not require more from the East with respect to the doctrine of primacy than had been formulated and was lived in the first millennium. When the Patriarch Athenagoras, on July 25, 1967, on the occasion of the Pope’s visit to Phanar, designated him as the successor of St. Peter, as the most esteemed among us, as one also presides in charity, this great Church leader was expressing the essential content of the doctrine of primacy as it was known in the first millennium. Rome need not ask for more. Reunion could take place in this context if, on the one hand, the East would cease to oppose as heretical the developments that took place in the West in the second millennium and would accept the Catholic Church as legitimate and orthodox in the form she had acquired in the course of that development, while, on the other hand, the West would recognize the Church of the East as orthodox and legitimate in the form she has always had. Ratzinger, Joseph: Principles of Catholic Theology, Ignatius, 1976, page 199

This small citation seems very hopeful for the idea of being Orthodox in Communion with Rome and for Orthodox/Catholic dialogue. BUT, In 1988 Pope Benedict (then still Joseph Ratzinger) explained further what he meant and clarified his earlier statement. This clarification [the bolded parts were bolded by a friend of mine who sent this to me.My friend’s blog can be viewed at http://orthocath.wordpress.com/ ] points to important texts that seem to refute the OICWR idea.

A kind of ecumenical dogma seems to be developing here which needs some attention. Quite likely it began with this train of thought: for intercommunion with the Orthodox, the Catholic Church need not necessarily insist on acceptance of the dogmas of the second millennium. It was presumed that the Eastern Churches have retained the traditional form of the first millennium, which in itself is legitimate and, if rightly understood, contains no contradiction to further developments. The latter after all only unfolded what was already there in principle in the time of the undivided Church. I myself have already taken part in attempts to work out things like this [here he cites what he wrote in 1976 inPrinciples of Catholic Theology]), but meanwhile they have grown out of hand to the point at which councils and the dogmatic decisions of the second millennium are supposed not to be regarded as ecumenical but as particular developments in the Latin Church, constituting its private property in the sense of “our two traditions”. But this distorts the first attempt to think things out into a completely new thesis with far-reaching consequences. For this way of looking at it actually implies a denial of the existence of the Universal Church in the second millennium, while tradition as a living, truth-giving power is frozen at the end of the first. This strikes at the very heart of the idea of Church and tradition, because ultimately such an age test dissolves the full authority of the Church, which is then left without a voice at the present day. Moreover, one might well ask, in reply to such an assertion, with what right people’s consciences, in such a particular Church as the Latin Church would then be, could be bound by such pronouncements. What once appeared as truth would have to be characterized as mere custom. The claim to truth that had hitherto been upheld would thus be disqualified as an abuse.

Unity is a fundamental hermeneutic principle of all theology, and hence we must learn to read the documental that have been handed down to us according to the hermeneutics of unity, which gives us a fresh view of many things and opens doors where only bolts were visible before. Such a hermeneutics of unity will entail reading the statements of both parties in the context of the whole tradition and with a deeper understanding of the Bible. This will include investigating how far decisions since the separation have been stamped with a certain particularization of both language and thought–something that might well be transcended without doing violence to the content of the statements. For hermeneutics is not a skillful device for escaping from burdensome authorities by a change of verbal function (though this abuse has often occurred), but rather apprehending the word with an understanding that at the same time discovers in it new possibilities.

Ecumenical dialogue does not mean to opt out of the living, Christian reality, but rather it means advancing by means of the hermeneutics of unity. To opt out and cut oneself off means artificial withdrawal into a past beyond recall; it means reducing tradition to the past. But that is to transfer ecumenism into an artificial world while one goes on practicing particularization by fencing off one’s own thing. Since this preserve is regarded as immune from dialogue but is still clung to, it is lowered from the realm of truth into the sphere of mere custom. Finally, the question arises of whether it is a matter of truth at all or just a question of comparing different customs and finding a way of reconciling them. In any case, the axiom that introducing dogmatic definitions made since the separation should be regarded as “not in keeping with dialogue” would mean a flight into the artificial, which should be firmly resisted.

Joseph Ratzinger, “Problems and Prospects of the Anglican-Catholic Dialogue,” Church, Ecumenism and Politics, pp. 83-84, 84-85.

We Eastern Catholics should ponder the words of Pope Benedict and really examine our belief in the idea of being Orthodox in Communion with Rome. Not that all Eastern Catholics buy into the OICWR idea. It did strike me to the core and is making me examine my beliefs. The Ratzinger proposal was something I believed in, but it seems that Pope Benedict didn’t mean it as many see it, as his later clarification seems to imply.

I , and many, fully believe[d] that “Rome must not require more from the East with respect to the doctrine of primacy than had been formulated and was lived in the first millennium” but does Rome?

Just something to think about.


22 thoughts on “Orthodox in Communion with Rome…Something To Think About

  1. We have to remember the context here. In 1976 Ratzinger was a priest-theologian advancing a thesis of his own. A year later he is ordained a bishop and made a cardinal. Five years after that he would be summoned to Rome and never leave. His time in Rome, as he makes clear in his 2002 interview-book with Peter Seewald has given him a different perspective on ecclesiological and ecumenical matters. This is clear, e.g., in his views, from the late 1960s, on the importance of the office of Patriarch of the West. Early on he called for it to be taken seriously, and other patriarchates created in the Latin Church. By 2002 he had backed off that and openly admitted he no longer held that view. I detail all this in my recent book *Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy* (University of Notre Dame Press, 2011).

    1. The views expressed by the pope in his 2002 interview seem not so much to be a case of his having “second thoughts,” as of him returning to his first thoughts, expressed in 1961, before the Second Vatican Council, when in a book entitled *The Episcopate and the Primacy* which he and Karl Rahner jointly authored, he wrote also of the “confusion” between the “administrative” patriarchal office and the “apostolic” papal universal primacy, but here as the emergence of the Eastern notion of a “patriarchal constitution” of the Church tending to “obscure” the apostolicity of “the Roman claim” by casting Rome itself more and more into an “administrative” light. “The overshadowing of the old theological notion of the apostolic see … by the theory of the five patriarchs must be understood as the real harm done in the quarrel between East and West,” Ratzinger wrote. As a patriarch, he writes, an office created by the Church, the pope is but first among patriarchal equals, but as “holder of the office of the Rock” he occupies a unique position.

      I have a short review of Prof. DeVille’s book forthcoming in *First Things* and a longer one will appear subsequently in *New Oxford Review*.

  2. I don’t think we need his proposal to justify our legitimate traditions. We are who we are because of our Fathers and not by dictates of the Roman rite. Why can’t the dogmas of Rome after the schism be both particular and ecumenical? The same questions can be said for the Orthodox tradition such as the Palamite councils. Eastern Catholics obviously haven’t remained with a vision of the papacy that is stagnate in the first millennium. Yet, we have our tradition of the papacy that’s different then the roman tradition in our modern day. This is what we invite are Orthodox brothers and sisters to experience that being everything Orthodox with the big or little “plus” of communion with Rome. Yes, many of us need to live up to this ourselves and rediscover our own authentic tradition. Was this not the call of Vatican 2?If we have to find our Eastern identify based upon the Latin tradition we no longer have a tradition of our own and are nothing less than rites of the Roman church

  3. ‘Orthodox in communion with Rome’ are small, almost all converts and more online than in real life. They mean well (credally and sacramentally small-o orthodox Catholic and liturgically traditional, not liberals/Modernists), and externally (liturgically) are what Rome wants the Greek Catholics to be, but they don’t make sense theologically. Of course Rome turns them down flat. They’re like Protestants who happen to agree with the apostolic churches and particularly with the Orthodox Church, on their own terms and not the terms of either the church they belong to or the church they like. If they agree with the Orthodox on the scope of the Pope they should convert. A lot of them do. Most born ethnic Greek Catholics (most of them are Ukrainian Catholics) are like Roman Riters and don’t identify with the Orthodox at all.

  4. Mr. fogey Patriarch Gregorios III said::”We are an Eastern Church in communion with Rome and faithfully so, yet which wants to remain faithful to the pure, Orthodox spiritual tradition. I make bold to say that we are an Orthodox Church with the little or big plus of communion with Rome, with the Pope and our Holy Father Benedict XVI who presides in primacy and charity. Treat us as a real Eastern Church, just as you would the Orthodox on the day when the much longed for union takes place!”. Is he another second rate citizen of the kingdom. Its a real shame that you treat people who follow this spiritual leader among others as just a “convert” or “online”.

  5. Rome does not agree with us but our Fathers don’t agree with them, such as the Patriarch I mentioned on the blog. The Melkites continue to bring forward an ecclesiology that’s different then Rome. However, this was the fruit and teaching of Vatican 2. Rome seems to be confused. On the one hand they tell us not be Orthodox and on the other they do and don’t know how to let us. This is the problem as the Patriarch has said “The difficulty lies in the fact that Rome is not ready to accept the genuine rights of the Eastern Catholic Churches as proclaimed by Vatican II.” He also puts forth a challenge to Eastern Catholics ” have to speak up, to discover the real Eastern ecclesiology and to develop it, and help the Western mentality to mature in that regard.” Are you willing to speak up my friend? We are who we are because of our ecclesiology and its far from Roman. As far as I know the Patriarch of the Melkites has not been excommunicated so Rome must be listing. If you think this is a big issue why not the dogma of purgatory which we don’t accept in our spiritual tradition. I think theologically this is more complicated then the papal dogmas. Not to mention the immaculate. Should Eastern Catholics be Eastern by what goes on in Rome or by that which we have received from our Fathers. We are a Church and not a rite and we have our own Patrimony that’s different then Rome’s.

  6. As far as I know the Patriarch of the Melkites has not been excommunicated so Rome must be listing.

    I think it’s dangerous and/or disingenuous to equate lack of excommunication with Rome listening (or yet more absurd, assenting).

    1. Rather, its “disingenuous” to think that Rome is not listening and if they are not then he continues to promote this position “dangerously” misleading many Eastern Catholics.

      1. I was commenting more broadly than just Patriarch of the Melkites. There are all sort of people – laity, clergy, theologians, bishops – saying all sorts of things that are not in line with the official Roman line, but they aren’t excommunicated. That doesn’t mean they represent official RC teaching, or that Rome agrees with them.

      2. in addtion, Exactly, he is not a RC he is a BC promoting only what’s “organic” to his tradition. Since, he is being true to his TRADITION it is not fair to label him in a group of possible dissenters commonly associated with the Latin rite. He is only promoting the authentic rights that on the one had are promoted by Rome in Vatican II but on the other hand some in Rome are not fully ready to accept. He continues to push this position with all the weight and authority associated with his office. If he as Patriarch promotes these things on a grand scale many are being deceived if Rome if fully convinced that he is in error. However, they have no tried to silence him by any form of canonical punishments.

  7. Together with what has always felt to me to be a psychological and sociolo-political rather than a theological need, the concept of a Universal Church that ‘needs’ a physical head other than Christ in the same way a parish, monastery or diocese has a physical head other than Christ would seem to be a primary point of Rome and others talking past each other. The universal pastorate of Rome does not seem to be there in the early Church or in the Church of the first millenium, and it remains absent in the East, but the extrapolation of the diocesan or parish ‘headship’ to the universal has taken on a tone of ‘necessity’. Oddly, it seems to be born as much of the same ideology that led to the pentarchy itself, though it would take pains to dismiss this connection due to the way it would somehow equate Old Rome with New Rome, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. That is, I do not believe there is an office over and above that of bishop in the non-Roman, non-second millennium Church. Any ‘more senior bishops’ are really just examples of the protos (First) of a region being accorded the ‘presidency’ of the council of bishops of that region; the same is then done in the assembly of these ‘Firsts’ under a Patriarch; Rome holds the office of ‘First’ of ‘Firsts’ of ‘Firsts’. These primacies are worked out in various and sundry ways from highly centralized to highly decentralized (and everywhere in between) – but Old Rome has always made the mistake of assuming its internal, local, Latin way of exerting primacy is and was and should be the only way that primacy is exercised throughout the Church. This was never the case and was never directly contradicted as long as Old Rome was the poor backwater it was for so long; it was only with the rise of western power that Old Rome was able to back its bark with bite.

    1. Opp,

      A counterargument to your statement that the patriarchs in non-Roman non-second millennium Churches were simply protoi of their synods is the case of Alexandria. At least in the Coptic Church of Alexandria (though I believe also in the Chalcedonian Church), the Pope of Alexandria has from early times had an almost absurd level of centralized power. The most disastrous example of this centralization is that no bishops can be consecrated in Alexandria without the physical participation of the Pope. In Ethiopia, this led to there being just a single bishop in the Ethiopian Church, always an Egyptian, until 1959. While the Ethiopian Church several times narrowly missed being strangled to death from long periods without a bishop, the Church in Nubia (modern North Sudan) was not so lucky, and it effectively died out by the 15th century, some hundred years after contact with Alexandria ceased. So in Alexandria from at least the 5th century, there very much was an office over and above bishop.

      If we look at the ‘pentarchy’, say, immediately before Islam, we can find a variety of different self-contained ecclesiologies: Jerusalem exists basically as a very small, tightly-knit local Church, closely tied to the imperial court due to pilgrimage and the internationalized monasteries from which it drew its bishops. Antioch was very far-flung and decentralized, both with individual bishops within the Patriarchate having a great deal of authority and far-flung ‘catholicosates’ existing with practical autonomy. Constantinople, of course, was basically subservient to the court, and when it wasn’t, exile of a bishop quickly resolved the situation. Rome followed a model of ever-increasing centralization somewhat more moderate than Alexandria (the importance of sees such as Milan and Aquileia in balancing out Rome early on is under-emphasized today and deserves reexamination) with obvious political rivalry with Constantinople.

      So, I’m really resistant to the idea that there was any rhyme or reason to ecclesial organization other than local political and cultural factors. The concept of the pentarchy, with all its anachronisms, does illustrate the historical reality of the existence of a number of basically self-contained Churches which all shared belief in the divinely-ordained office of the bishop, but structured episcopal authority in quite different ways. Something else that would have to be examined to get an understanding of 1st millennium ecclesiology is exactly what was understood to be the meaning of the autocephaly granted to Cyprus and Georgia (as well as maybe the first several times Constantinople tried to create an autocephalous Bulgarian Church). This is another under-examined issue. The 11th-century re-granting of autocephaly to Georgia by Antioch (not Constantinople…) seemed to result in granting the Georgian Church jurisdiction over ethnic Georgian churches and monasteries in the territory of Antioch, anticipating modern Orthodox messiness….

      Which is all to say, a genuine return to first millennium ecclesiology would amount to enshrining the modern Orthodox ecclesiological free-for-all, with disputes settled through ad-hoc negotiations or councils calling outside bishops from wherever seems convenient, following temporary mini-schisms. The first millennium looks very much like what is going on now between Romania and Jerusalem or what went on to resolve the messiness in Jerusalem of a few years back…..

      And I think such a ridiculous, messy non-system is a good thing. Very often Roman arguments for the papacy (and for much else besides!) rest on nothing more than a kind of emotional need to feel like there’s a system behind it all when really there’s not, never has been, and wouldn’t be even if we pretended there was one.

      The Church, like an extended family, is a community tied together by mutual love. Of course it’s going to be messy.

  8. Perhaps I am simply stupid and ignorant but I don’t see the pope’s comments in either text in the light that they are portrayed here.

    It’s not rocket science to know that there’s tension in a living Church when it comes to the expression of doctrine/dogma. Patristic consensus is, most often, more an oxymoron than anything else.

    I entered an eastern Catholic particular Church because I was seeking the bread of a pure eastern spiritual tradition…not because I was seeking and alternate doctrinal theology. I don’t need doctrinal certitude beyond the Creed and supporting teachings that I can find in conciliar documents and in the liturgy.. I don’t seek a theology that is nothing more than a course in systematic doctrine. I don’t hope to see Antioch, Alexandria or Rome come out the “winner” in some kind of ancient doctrinal wrestling match. My spirituality comes down to me through the ages from all three sources. I happen to find the best expression of it, for my interior being, in the east.

    Somehow I delude myself into thinking that my approach to being eastern Catholic does not put me at odds with either Pope Benedict or Patriarch Gregorios III…and when in Rome I can do as the Romans do, and when at home do not feel constrained by Rome. I am an eastern Catholic in communion with Rome, praying soon to be in communion with my Orthodox Catholic brothers and sisters.

    Somehow I am figuring that there are more than just me in that queue.

  9. I’m not Catholic or Orthodox (pray for us poor, banished children of Luther and Zwingli), though I’m drawn to both and have been heavily praying about conversion for a few years, but the mutual love and respect that I see in this thread so far is really encouraging. Church unity is messy; it always has been and always will be. Family is a messy business. But these conversations give me hope. God bless all of you.

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