Towards a theological reconciliation between East and West
In the annals of history, theological dialogue has been a fairly regular occurrence between the Greek Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church. It is worthwhile to recall that bishops and theologians were often sent from both Rome and Byzantium to enter into theological discussions, especially following the cause célèbre, known as the "Schism of 1054". From that period until present it is true that there were only two "success" stories of a corporate reunion between the two Churches as recorded in the annals of the Catholic Church's biographers. Yet, the principle of the theological dialogue with the Orthodox Church was never in question. The first "successful" reunion of Churches was accomplished at the Second Council of Lyons (1274). Tragically, St Thomas Aquinas died on his way to the Council, despite his invitation to attend as a theologian. His fellow doctor, St Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, was perhaps the most notable theologian present. Due to a minimal Greek presence and over-reliance on the will of the Byzantine Emperor, the Union effected by the Council has been commonly described as a "dead letter". No sooner had Emperor Michael VIII returned to Constantinople, than the Greek Church refused en masse to make the Union effectual.
More serious theological debates and overtures were subsequently sponsored by the Byzantine Court at various times following the ineffectual Council of Lyons. These public debates and theological discussions familiarized Latins with Greek Fathers and Synods. The theological exchange was also an occasion for some erudite Greeks to become familiar with and even translate Latin Fathers and Scholastic authors into the Greek idiom. Especially following the translation of St Augustine (De Trinitate) and St Thomas Aquinas (Summa contra Gentiles), Greek theologians began to absorb Latin patristic insights and even Scholastic ideas into their own corpus theologicum during the Palaeologian dynasty. Even famous authors like Gregory Palamas and Mark Eugenicus (two of the three "Pillars of Orthodoxy") employed Latin learning within their own works. Many of these discoveries have escaped even specialists' notice until recent times. At present, there is a burgeoning group of scholars who have dedicated themselves to exploring Latin and Scholastic influences in 14th and 15th century Byzantine theology.
In the early 20th century, Cardinal Joseph Dyčlovskyj wrote an inspiring article noting that — even in the East — the study of St Thomas Aquinas in se has always tended toward Catholic unity. Undoubtedly, there are both philosophical and theological reasons for the Cardinal's thesis. Due to the natural exposition of the universal principles of reasoning and correct thinking as espoused by St Thomas, the Doctor Communis secured for himself the perennial value of his works. Each person, insofar as he is rational, can grasp the fundamental ideas and loci upon which Scholasticism bases its arguments. Secondly, due to St Thomas' profound grasp of Christian doctrine, he was able to reflect the mens Ecclesiae in nearly every major area of importance to the Roman Magisterium. The vast majority of the theological propositions explained and promoted by St Thomas were held in common with Byzantine Orthodoxy. On this score, a former Patriarch of Constantinople, the hand-picked successor of Mark of Ephesus to oppose Florence, wrote: "O excellent Thomas would that you had not been born in the West such that you would have need to advocate the differences of that [Roman] Church! You were influenced by it with regard to both the procession of the Holy Spirit as well as by the difference with respect to the divine essence and energy. For surely, then, you would have been infallible in your theological doctrines, just as you are so too inerrant in these matters of ethics (S. Th. Prol., 17-19)"!1
Following Thomas' sweeping influence in Byzantium, a sort of "first Scholasticism" penetrated the confines of the Byzantine East. The list of admirers and imitators of both St Thomas and/or Scholastic method (vel in parte vel in toto) continues to grow as Byzantine theologians of the Medieval and Renaissance period are studied and their sources are uncovered.
It is true that St Thomas' doctrine was a fertile soil that ultimately paved the way for the Council of Florence, but it must also be admitted that he was cause for polemics in Byzantium. The question of St Thomas' intrinsic value vis-à-vis Greek Orthodoxy is a hotly debated issue. Historically, Orthodox of the late 14th century often psychologically associated Aquinas with anti-Palamism, i.e. a theology tending to reject the mystical theology of Gregory Palamas. Gregory's distinctions between the essence and energy of God, the notion of the "uncreated light" seen by saints, and his understanding of divinization were all subject to scrutiny by the very first Byzantine Thomists, Demetrius and Prochorus Cydones. Their opposition to Gregory Palamas and their "Latin-minded" way of theologizing sealed a negative fate of "first Scholasticism (c. 1398)" in Byzantium.
The question of St Thomas' intrinsic value in East-West dialogue remains. He was understood and utilized positively and negatively by many celebrated Byzantine divines (e.g. Macarius Makres and Gennadius Scholarius). Perhaps the most learned theologian of his time, Gennadius Scholarius (d. c. 1472), was able to give a balanced and philosophically well-founded presentation of Catholic and Orthodox differences because of his sound knowledge of Latin theology and Scholastic philosophy. Ultimately, both Churches have adopted their champions from this period. Therefore, it is only fitting and proper that these theological giants should be understood before any serious attempt is made to speak about "commonalities" and "divergencies" between East and West. Following Florence (1439), additional theological developments have increased the points of discussion between the two Churches at present. Nonetheless, any history of theology should be deemed questionable if it does not recognize what Aquinas, Palamas, and Mark of Ephesus recognized as real doctrinal stumbling blocks towards unity. If these (and other "doctors" of both respective Churches) are not read as the foundational sources for understanding East-West divisions theologically, one risks positing too many or too few points of disharmony between the two Churches.
This fundamental importance of understanding the classic and perennial theology of each Church is incumbent on both Eastern and Western theologians. Taking the example of both St Thomas and (St) Mark of Ephesus, both were willing to be in theological dialogue with their opponents. Thomas' very educational system depended on the professor being a skilled debater. Holding quodlibetal disputations required a thick skin and willingness to work through each objection from one's interlocutor. The professorial task was to reconcile the areas of substantial agreement and focus on the areas of fundamental irreconcilability of any proposition with Christian doctrine. Mark was on friendly terms with Latins aiding the scholarly pursuits of men like Nicholas of Cusa. He did not refuse to enter into dialogue with the Latins and came freely to Florence. His addresses to the Pontiff in Italy were respectful and sincere. He asked the members of the Council to remember that debates sometimes contain strong language. He apprized his Roman interlocutors that anything that sounded harsh was said in charity and that such mishaps should be excused as peculiarities of cultural expression.
This traditional task of theological dialogue and mutual theological understanding has not ceased. Following Blessed John XXIII's establishment of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity In 1960 and his Successors' emphasis on Christian unity, scholars are still attempting to understand better all aspects of the traditional Catholic-Orthodox debate. This summer, an opportunity for better mutual understanding will take place in London. The Institute of Classical Studies 2012 Byzantine Colloquium "When East met West: the Reception of Latin Theological and Philosophical Thought in Late Byzantium", to be held in Senate House, University of London, between 11-12 June 2012, will explore some important aspects of the theological dialogue between the two sides.2 The contributors, both eminent and younger scholars, hope to present a scholarly and objective look at Latin patristic and Scholastic influence on Byzantine theology. An exciting part of this colloquium will be devoted to reports on the progress and utilization of texts of "Thomas de Aquino Byzantinus",3 an international research project aiming at providing new critical editions of translations of, and commentaries on, Thomas Aquinas' opera omnia by Byzantine authors.4 The influence of Thomas on Byzantine writers and saints is only gradually coming to light. These editions will help the theological world secure Thomas' factual place within Byzantine theology. In order to illustrate the depth of influence that Thomas graecus exercised, presentations will focus on the sources used by Byzantine theologians like Matthaios Blastares, Demetrios Chrysoloras, and Gennadios Scholarios. There will also be presentations on the role of Augustine in Eastern theology and the Latin authorities employed for discussions at the Council of Florence. Contributors come from both Catholic and Orthodox backgrounds (inter alia). Also, in small part, the conference represents a happy result of efforts initiated under the Vatican's Secretary for the Holy See's Relations with States. Among the contributors will be a participant under the auspices of the Holy See's venture with the Hellenic Ministry of Foreign Affairs.5 The joint venture is a scholarship program to provide Catholics with an opportunity to study Orthodox theology in Greece in order to increase mutual understanding between Orthodox and Catholic theologians.6
*Fr Kappes holds a licentiate in philosophy and a doctorate in Sacred Liturgy
1 Gennadius Scholarius, "Résumé de la Prima Secundae de la Somme théologique de sanit Thomas d'Aquin", in Oeuvres Completes de Georges Scholarios 5, ed. L. Petit -X. Siderides -M. Jugie, Paris, Maison de la Bonne Presse 1933, 1.
3 http://www.elemedu.upatras.g/labart /dimitr/index1.html
4 http ://www. rhul ac.uk/Hellenic-Institute/Research/Reception html
5 For further information on this program, go to: http://www2.mfa. gr/www.mfa.gr/en-us.
6 Dr Charalambos Dendrinos, Director of the Hellenic Institute, Royal Holloway, University of London, who is co-organizing the colloquium, may be contacted for reservations: Ch.Dendrinos@rhul.ac.uk
Weekly Edition in English
13 June 2012, page 9
TWO ORTHODOX VIDEOS ON ST THOMAS AQUINAS AND ORTHODOXY
by Dom David Bird
Vatican II says of the Orthodox and other apostolic churches:
15. Everyone also knows with what great love the Christians of the East celebrate the sacred liturgy, especially the eucharistic celebration, source of the Church's life and pledge of future glory, in which the faithful, united with their bishop, have access to God the Father through the Son, the Word made flesh, Who suffered and has been glorified, and so, in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, they enter into communion with the most holy Trinity, being made "sharers of the divine nature".(35) Hence, through the celebration of the Holy Eucharist in each of these churches, the Church of God is built up and grows in stature(36) and through concelebration, their communion with one another is made manifest.In this liturgical worship, the Christians of the East pay high tribute, in beautiful hymns of praise, to Mary ever Virgin, whom the ecumenical Council of Ephesus solemnly proclaimed to be the holy Mother of God, so that Christ might be acknowledged as being truly Son of God and Son of Man, according to the Scriptures. Many also are the saints whose praise they sing, among them the Fathers of the universal Church.These Churches, although separated from us, possess true sacraments, above all by apostolic succession, the priesthood and the Eucharist, whereby they are linked with us in closest intimacy. Therefore some worship in common (communicatio in sacris), given suitable circumstances and the approval of Church authority, is not only possible but to be encouraged.
Vatican II also taught that this liturgical activity is the source of all the Church's powers and the goal of all its activity (Sacrosanctum Concilium 1, 10). This liturgical activity of each local church is the source of Tradition, which accounts for the fact that it takes several forms, according to the graces, culture and history that belong to these churches. It follows that, although the Catholic Church has all the essential components of a universal structure is the one, true Church, because of schism within the churches of Tradition, than neither they Orthodox nor we can formulate the truth in a fully Catholic way without taking into account the traditions of other apostolic churches which are separated from us.
Because of their valid functioning as liturgical communities, they are not outside the work of the Holy Spirit; and it is the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church in the local and regional churches' life that produces Tradition, always old and apostolic, and always new; always varied, but in its profund centre is the same eucharistic mystery, and hence, all Catholic variety is centred of a deeper Catholic unity. In spite of the schism from the universal structure of the Church, the Orthodox validly and fruitfully function as local and regional Catholic churches, and their traditions are authentic forms of Catholic Tradition to which we, as Catholics, must adhere.
Thus, in the Vatican document by Cardinal Kasper, issued on the 40th anniversary of Unitatis redintegratio, he says:
The Council went a decisive step further with the aid of the “subsistit in”. It wished to do justice to the fact that there are found outside of the Catholic Church not only individual Christians but also “elements of the church”, indeed churches and ecclesial communities which, although not in full communion, rightly belong to the one church and possess salvatory significance for their members (LG, 8, 15; UR, 3; UUS, 10-14)
Understood in this sense “subsistit in” encompasses the essential thrust of the “est”. But it no longer formulates the self-concept [self-image] of the Catholic Church in “splendid isolation”, but also takes account of churches and ecclesial communities in which the one church of Jesus Christ is effectively present (UUS, 11), but which are not in full communion with it. In formulating its own identity, the Catholic Church at the same time establishes a relationship of dialogue with these churches and ecclesial communities.
...the separated communities have on occasion better developed individual aspects of the revealed truth, so that the Catholic Church, under the circumstances of division, is unable to fully accomplish its intrinsic catholicity [without them.] (UR, 4; UUS, 14).
Certain conclusions arise logically from this position.
From the Ravenna Document, written by Catholic and Orthodox theologians
- Firstly, to come to a more fully Catholic position on any subject, it is not enough to rely only on the Latin tradition, but to critically examine the traditions of other apostolic churches. This is evident in the Vatican II ecclesiology and in the liturgy that came from it which integrates important elements of the Antiochene and Alexandrian traditions into the Latin liturgy. Much is the result of fruitful dialogue with the East. As we shall see from the Ravenna document, we have already learned to complement our doctrine of the papacy from sources in the wider tradition, seeing it in the light of the synodal tradition of Orthodoxy and, at the same time, making it much closer to the the practice of popes like Leo the Great. At the same time, the Orthodox engaged in dialogue have had to think more rigorously on what is meant by "primus inter pares"
- Without losing confidence in our own tradition, we should take seriously any approach which is different from ours, even those which seem to contradict ours. If their tradition springs from the same synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church as ours does, then there is a deeper unity which is awaiting our discovery.
- We must accept that not all apostolic churches are ready for dialogue, either because the prejudice between Orthodox and Catholics makes ecumenism a divisive issue, or because that particular church has different priorities it wishes to pursue. True ecumenism involves looking at this lack of readiness with patience and charity.
- The Russian Orthodox Church can point to both motives. Its over-riding goal is the restoration of Holy Russia: it is trying to restore Christendom in Russia. Part of the slav myth is that all bad things come from the West. In the 19th century, Orthodoxy in Russia tended to adopt the worst Evangelical propaganda against Rome, recruiting it in the service of pan-slavism. The idea of history as a subject really distinct from party propaganda is grasped by very few. Any agreement between Catholic and Orthodox theologians is looked at with alarm.
- From the perspective of the Patriarch of Moscow, any theological agreement before we know and love one another would only spell disaster, as well as a possible loss of an opportunity to convert Russia. The ecumenical priority for Russian ecumenists is that Catholics and Orthodox should cooperate in an entirely uncontroversial manner until we know, trust and love one another: only then will theological agreement work.
From the Ravenna Document, written by Catholic and Orthodox theologians
10. This conciliar dimension of the Church’s life belongs to its deep-seated nature. That is to say, it is founded in the will of Christ for his people (cfr. Mt 18, 15-20), even if its canonical realizations are of necessity also determined by history and by the social, political and cultural context.
Defined thus, the conciliar dimension of the Church is to be found at the three levels of ecclesial communion, the local, the regional and the universal: at the local level of the diocese entrusted to the bishop; at the regional level of a group of local Churches with their bishops who “recognize who is the first amongst themselves” (Apostolic Canon 34); and at the universal level, where those who are first (protoi) in the various regions, together with all the bishops, cooperate in that which concerns the totality of the Church. At this level also, the protoi must recognize who is the first amongst themselves.
.Let us never forget! For the disciples of Jesus, yesterday, today and always, the only authority is the authority of the service, the only power is the power of the Cross".
"In a Church Synod, the Synod of Bishops is only the most obvious manifestation of a dynamism of communion that inspires all the ecclesial decisions.
The first level of exercise of collegiality is realized in the particular Churches. After recalling the noble institution of the diocesan Synod, in which priests and laity are called to collaborate with the Bishop for the good of the whole ecclesial community, the Code of Canon Law devotes ample space to those who is usually called the 'bodies communion 'of the particular Church: the Council of Priests, the College of Consultors, the Chapter of Canons and Parish Council. Only to the extent that these organizations are connected with the 'base' and spring from the people, from everyday problems, can a Church Synod begin to take shape: these instruments, which sometimes progress with fatigue, must be treated as an opportunity for listening and sharing ".
"The second level is that of Ecclesiastical Provinces and Regions, Particular Councils and especially Episcopal Conferences. We need to think about fostering even more instances of collegiality, through these organizations, perhaps by integrating and updating some aspects of the ancient church order. The hope of the Council that such bodies can help increase the spirit of episcopal collegiality has not yet been fully realized. In a Church Synod, as I said, "it is not appropriate for the Pope to replace the local Episcopates in the discernment of all the problems that lie ahead in their territories. In this sense, I feel the need to proceed with a healthy 'decentralization'.
"The last level is that of the universal Church. Here the Synod of Bishops, representing the Catholic episcopate, it becomes an expression of episcopal collegiality in a synodal Church. It manifests the affective collegiality, which may well become in some circumstances 'effective', joining the Bishops among themselves and with the Pope in caring for the people of God. "11. The Church exists in many and different places, which manifests its catholicity. Being “catholic”, it is a living organism, the Body of Christ. Each local Church, when in communion with the other local Churches, is a manifestation of the one and indivisible Church of God. To be “catholic” therefore means to be in communion with the one Church of all times and of all places. That is why the breaking of eucharistic communion means the wounding of one of the essential characteristics of the Church, its catholicity.
This "wounding of one of the essential characteristics of the Church, its catholicity," has wounded all sides, making us partly blind to the riches enjoyed in the other apostolic churches; but the schism has never been absolute. This has been indicated by a number of factors:
- I used to know an Orthodox bishop, an ex-Benedictine monk of Amay (now Chevetogne) who taught Church History at Oxford, whom I met at the Patristic Conference and while attending the Semaine Liturgique at the Institut Sant-Serge in Paris some time in the early sixties. His name was Bishop Alexis van de Mensbrugge. He had a deep knowledge of both traditions. He told us that, in spite of the schism, there were several instances of parallel spiritual movements - he cited the liturgical emphasis of Cluny and the liturgical splendour of Byzantium, the rich mystical theology of St Gregory Palamas and the Rhineland mystics. Perhaps we could quote Dorothy Day and Saint Mary of Paris. I know that Orthodox apologists immediately hone in on the differences, but Alexis van der Mensbrugge knew too much about both sides and had too much respect to go in for cheap arguments.
- There has been a flourishing, of late, in both Churches on eucharistic ecclesiology with its emphasis on the local church, as well as a theology of communion that binds together "the plenitude of the Church"
- There has never been a time when "communicatio in sacris" has not taken place somewhere, notably in southern Italy until 17th century and in the Middle East. A Greek Orthodox priest told me that he once looked after a Jesuit parish for a few weeks, using the modern Missa normativa, with permission from his bishop. "We are not in communion with the Catholic Church because we disagree about the pope: we don't want the pope. However, we do recognise the Catholic Church as a sister church, even if somewhat estranged, and we help each other out in emergencies. It doesn't happen often but it is quite normal. Another example: back in the sixties, a monk of my monastery who speaks Greek celebrated Holy Week for Orthodox students in Rome, using the name of the Patriarch of Constantinople in the Liturgy: it happened every year, because the Greeks couldn't get their act together. Both Churches pretended it wasn't happening but could see no alternative. I think this indicates that our ecclesiology does not do justic to the ecclesial reality.