"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Friday 3 December 2010

The Pope of Rome and the Christian East (and my commentary)

Peter Seewald's new book-length interview with the pope,

Light of the World: The Pope, The Church and The Signs Of The Times 

on which I briefly commented earlier, has of course already generated enormous discussion on--predictably and tiresomely--sex. Some have said that the pope allowed himself to be played by the media and should have known how these comments would be received. I would say, based on the entire book, that the pope did know the likely reception his comments would receive, and proceeded anyway. His previous interviews--especially the 1985 Ratzinger Report--as well as his 1997 volume of memoirs, Milestones set off firestorms so I'm sure he was not unaware that something similar would happen again--all the more so in an Internet age. In any event, I've just finished reading the entire thing and have seen that the "condom comments" are so tiny that only the tendentious would be interested in repeating them.

Let me, instead, focus on those aspects of direct interest to Eastern Christians, of which there are about twenty or so passages in the book that are noteworthy. I would divide the comments into (i) the encouraging but not really surprising comments (not surprising, that is, to anyone who has read Ratzinger over the last 40 years); (ii) the truly surprising; and (iii) the disappointing. Of these, (i) is the largest category; (ii) the next largest; and (iii) has only one disappointment. Let me take them in order. Not all treat Orthodoxy directly, but all of them, I believe, have clear and obvious bearing on issues about which Orthodoxy is concerned.

i) Encouraging Comments: 
  • The pope is not omnipotent: right at the outset (p.6), he underscores that notwithstanding the fact the Catholic Church is the largest such organization in the world, "the Pope does not have power because of these numbers." Indeed, he goes on to say that while the pope bears "a great responsibility," he "is, on the one hand, a completely powerless man" (6). He cannot control or correct or confront everything, and it is not his job to keep the entire Church in being: "only the Lord himself has the power to keep people in the faith" (7).
  • The pope is not exclusively the "vicar of Christ": this title, rather, belongs to "every priest" when he "speaks on behalf of Jesus Christ" (7). This is important, not only because history clearly bears him out in refusing to see the title as exclusively papal, but also because, in the furor in 2006 over papal titles (about which more presently), Orthodox commentators like Met. Hilarion (Alfeyev) noted that other titles, including "vicar of Christ" needed critical examination.
  • Infallibility cannot be invoked arbitrarily: Vatican I has, of course, been seen (often incorrectly, in my judgment) as a huge impediment to Orthodox-Catholic unity. Much of that is based on misunderstanding, which the pope is at pains here briefly to correct, insisting that the pope can never act "arbitrarily" but only in concert with other bishops and only "when tradition has been clarified" so as to proclaim "the faith of the Church" (8).
  • A papacy of martyrdom: Seewald quotes back to the pope a paper the latter gave in 1977, with which he still agrees today, saying the papacy must first and foremost be understood to have and to exercise "a primacy of martyrdom" (9). In other words, "standing there as a glorious ruler is not part of being pope" (10).
  • Papal bibliophilia: not a major point, but on a blog about books, I was heartened and amused to read that after he moved into the papal apartments in 2005, he gave pride of place to his bookshelves: "in them all are my advisors, the books" (14). Only after they were installed did he give any thought to furniture, decorations, etc.
  • Curial criticism: In several places he very briefly (and in one place obliquely) criticizes the curial bureaucracy, calling it "spent and tired" (59); noting that "certainly John Paul II sometimes put off making decisions"; and agreeing that, while his predecessor "did undertake reform of the Curia," he "subsequently left many decisions to his collaborators" (79), not always, he seems to suggest, to good effect.  
  • Synodality: saying he sees no need for a "Vatican III," he expresses his view that "I believe that at the moment the bishops' synods are the right instrument, in which the entire episcopate is represented and is, so to speak, 'searching,' keeping the whole Church together and at the same time leading her forward" (65-66). This is not really surprising, though a little disappointing because the limits of the Roman "synods of bishops," as I have noted elsewhere, are considerable and perhaps most memorably summed up in the words of the late Ukrainian Catholic Metropolitan Maxim Hermaniuk, who dismissed them as synods, archly calling them no more than "international study days of the Catholic bishops." No Orthodox recognizes these synods as real synods in the sense in which that word is used in the East: i.e., as a legislative body, having real power exercised in conjunction with its (usually patriarchal) head. Roman synods are purely consultative bodies. That being said, the popes have so far not ignored the recommendations of all the synods held since Paul VI instituted them in 1965, but they are certainly free to do so, and that remains a point of concern to Eastern Christians. 
  • On not being a busybody: Referring to a document written in the 12th century by Bernard of Clairvaux for Pope Eugene III, Benedict agrees with him that no pope can allow himself to be consumed with files, meetings, decisions at the expense of "deeper examination, contemplation, time for interior pondering, vision...remaining with God and meditating about God" (71). Remember, he says, the pope is "not the successor of Emperor Constantine but...of a fisherman" (71). This is important because, as David Bentley Hart has memorably observed, many Orthodox fear the papacy as "the advance embassy of an omnivorous ecclesial empire." It is good to have (as he notes below, and had done so previously) a "pared down" papacy, and thus good to have a pope who is not forever trying to insert himself into the business of his brother bishops around the world--unless, of course, a truly genuine emergency, that admits of no other solution, requires his intervention.
  • On not being a star: Some time ago, as those who follow him know, Cardinal Ratzinger expressed considerable unease with the fact that John Paul II was considered a "superstar." (He appeared on the cover of Time more than a dozen times.). He reiterates that here, but more gently and circumspectly, asking "is it really right for someone to present himself again and again to the crowd in that way and allow oneself to be regarded as a star? On the other hand, people have an intense longing to see the pope" and not him personally so much as "this office...the representative of the Holy One" (73).
  • On dialogue with Orthodoxy: Noting that as a "professor in Bonn and Regensburg, I always had Orthodox among my students, and this gave me the opportunity to form many friendships in the Orthodox world," he goes on to note that it is with Orthodoxy "where there is...the most hope of reunion" in part because "Catholics and Orthodox both have the same basic structure inherited from the ancient Church" (86). I confess I was slightly taken aback by this because Orthodox and Catholic structures--assuming the pope means ecclesial structures--do vary considerably: the Roman is bipartite (the universal and local), while the East is usually tripartite (the local, the regional, and the "universal" in some sense, pace the denials of some ignorant Orthodox polemicists who like to sneer at "universal" structures as purely Western and having no place in Orthodoxy, a risible claim to anyone who really knows what he is talking about). But this is a very brief comment he does not develop so we should not read too much into it. His larger point is valid.
    • Cordial relations between Old and New Rome: he expresses delight in the "real friendship and sense of brotherhood between" him and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.
    • Russian relations: he notes his gratitude for "the friendship and the great cordiality that Patriarch Kirill has shown me," noting the latter has "such a joy about him, such a simple faith....So we understood each other well" (87).  The interviewer presses him a little later as to whether there will be a meeting between the two "in the not too distant future", and the pope responds: "I would say that, yes" (91). 
  • The nature of the unity we seek: he notes that unity between Orthodoxy and Catholicism needs to happen in order to spread the gospel and help the world believe, but that we must "truly relearn to see and understand our inner spiritual kinship with each other." He is not, he says, concerned firstly with "tactical, political progress, but rapprochement on the level of our interior affinity" (87). He expands on this later, rightly noting that 'beyond the doctrinal issues, there are still many steps to be taken at the level of the heart. God still needs to do some work on us here. For the same reason, I would also be shy about making any predictions about when reunion will happen. The important thing is that we truly love each other, that we have an interior unity, that we draw as close together and collaborate as much as we can--while trying to work through the remaining areas of open questions" (89-90).This, of course, clearly echos John Paul II's oft-stated call for the "healing of memories," on which I've commented previously with reference to Orthodoxy (“The Healing of Memories: a Suggestion for Liturgical Enactment,” Ecumenical Trends 34 [2005]: 9-12), including here.
  • No new Uniates: Discussing the prospect of Anglicans entering the Catholic Church, the pope notes that structures being set up for them will be flexible. "We don't want to create new uniate churches, but we do want to offer ways for local church traditions, traditions that have evolved outside of the Roman Church, to be brought into communion with the pope and thus into Catholic communion" (97).

ii) Surprising Comments:
  • No hand kissing? The interviewer enumerates things that changed in 2005 when Benedict took office, saying "you abolished the custom of kissing the Pope's hand--though no one followed the new protocol" (82). Is this true? I never heard or saw this anywhere. Orthodoxy has objected to an over-exaltation of papal authority and some of its concrete expressions, but this would not be an objectionable practice given that Orthodox regularly kiss not only patriarchal and episcopal but also priestly hands.  The pope does not respond to this comment, instead insisting that his removing the tiara from the papal coat of arms was not so original because already Paul VI had given it away (and none of his successors have worn one). Frankly no Orthodox could object to the tiara (except, perhaps, the one Paul VI wore because it looked like some nasty cheap nursery-school project) unless we were prepared to renounce the use of imperial headgear on our bishops.
  • Backtracking from Dominus Iesus?  Discussing the conciliar language of particular churches, the pope notes that "the Eastern Churches are genuine particular churches, although they are not in communion with the pope. In this sense, unity with the pope is not constitutive for the particular church" (89; my emphasis)! When I have time I'll have to check this (especially the word "constitutive") against Dominus Iesus and also the 1992 declaration on the Church as communio because it sounds like the pope is introducing an important clarification or nuance here....  
  • No nationalism or nationalist "autocephaly" in the Church: Noting that "there has always been a tendency toward national churches, and in fact some have actually been founded," he nonetheless notes that in today's world the need is "precisely" for "an interior unity": "the Church needs unity, that she needs something like a primacy. It was interesting for me that the Russian Orthodox theologian John Meyendorff, who lives [sic] in America, said that their autocephalies are their biggest problem; they could use like a first authority, a primate" (138-39).
    • this is certainly true, as I have demonstrated at length in my Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy, forthcoming from the University of Notre Dame Press early next year. But I was a little taken aback here by two things: others have said this more recently--e.g., Nicholas Lossky--so this suggested to me the pope has not followed the recent literature. (I'm sure he's kept sleepless at nights waiting for my book on this score!) And surely he knows that Meyendorff is...dead? Meyendorff died in 1992--perhaps this is a translation issue--or even a typo--and the present tense ("lives") should, of course, have been in the past: lived.

iii) Disappointing Comments: 
  • Papal reform: the interviewer presses him to say more about why the title "Patriarch of the West" was abandoned and about how the papacy might be reformed to take account of Orthodox concerns, but the pope will not say, arguing that "these are contentious issues, which I would have to say more about than I can right now..." (89). I examined this question in  my “On the Patriarchate of the West," Ecumenical Trends 35 (June 2006): 1-7. There I said we very much needed to hear from the pope because the decision created such turmoil in the Orthodox world and the statement put out by Cardinal Kasper at the time was unhelpfully ambiguous--a concern I expressed in greater detail here. I very much stand by those comments. The 2006 deletion of the title was, and is, a puzzling decision. Many of us have tried to remain hopeful about its intended import, but further developments and clarifications here would be most useful.
This book covers much else besides. The overall impression, right from the beginning, is confirmed for those of us who know and have read and met Ratzinger (as I did very briefly in 1998), but may be new to others, including the media: he is a wonderfully gracious, humble, open man with a deeply affecting, inspiring simplicity of faith and trust in Providence.
Posted by Dr. Adam DeVille at 12:05 AM


In this really excellent article by Dr De Ville who clearly knows what he is talking about, there is one point where he says:
Papal reform: the interviewer presses him to say more about why the title "Patriarch of the West" was abandoned and about how the papacy might be reformed to take account of Orthodox concerns, but the pope will not say, arguing that "these are contentious issues, which I would have to say more about than I can right now..."

May I suggest that there is a clue in the article itself - I am only guessing, but it seems to be a good explanation.  Dr De Ville writes:
No nationalism or nationalist "autocephaly" in the Church: Noting that "there has always been a tendency toward national churches, and in fact some have actually been founded," he nonetheless notes that in today's world the need is "precisely" for "an interior unity": "the Church needs unity, that she needs something like a primacy. It was interesting for me that the Russian Orthodox theologian John Meyendorff, who lives [sic] in America, said that their autocephalies are their biggest problem; they could use like a first authority, a primate" (138-39)
 The Pope follows  the Fathers in believing that  it is the Holy Spirit, invoked in the Liturgy who holds the Church together both worldwide and locally, and that the the Spirit's presence in the Church is manifested in ecclesial love.   As the Byzantine Liturgy teaches, it is only when ecclesial love, expressed in the sign of peace, is present that the Church, with one heart and one mind, can recite the Creed together.   When ecclesial love fails, it is not long before understanding breaks down and communion is disrupted.   Jurisdiction and Canon Law are important means of allowing this love to operate effectively; but they are secondary and derivative, the servants of ecclesial love, not its master.   No juridic structure, no national or regional boundary, can be allowed to limit, obstruct or distort the free flow of that love in all parts of the Church.

The unity of the Church is, in the first place, an "interior unity", a unity with Christ's risen and glorified body, forged by the Holy Spirit working through word and sacrament (the liturgy) and bringing about an interior transfiguration of the heart that turns the individual into a person and makes him a centre of ecclesial love  involved in a network of relationships spread throughout the world; a unity all the more intense because each church and each person finds unity with the rest of the Church and between heaven and  earth, with the angels and saints, in the dead and risen Christ in heaven.   Ecclesial love, at this level, is not brought about by doctrinal agreement: it is the evident manifestation of the presence of the Holy Spirit and is the cause of doctrinal agreement.  Christian unity is maintained (or restored) by the synergy between the Holy Spirit (the divine element) and ecclesial love (the human element0 which are distinct but inseparable, and which is brought about and expressed by means of eucharistic communion.   Henri de Lubac, in his wonderful book "Catholicism", quotes St Peter Damian in on this subject:
The cohesive force of mutual charity by which the Church is united is so great that she is not merely one in her many members but also, is some mysterious way, present in her entirety in each individual.....By reason of her unity of faith, she has not, in her many members, many parts, and yet through  the close-knit bond of charity and the varied charismatic gifts she shows many facets in her individual members.   Through the Holy Church is thus diversified in many individuals, she is none the less welded into one by the fire of the Holy Spirit. (On the Dominus Vobiscum)  
 In his turn, St Gregory Palamas teaches that, when we receive Christ in holy communion, we are "bones of his bones and flesh of his flesh" and, by carrying him within us we also carry all our brothers.
The pope is clearly at variance with those who consider that the Church on earth is divided into regional patriarchates, completely independent of one another and relating to each other like foreign countries, and who sometimes treat smaller churches like colonies.   There are clear differences between his ecclesiology and that of Patriarch Kiril and Metropolitan Hilarion.   However, he also agrees with both on the next steps we all have to take.   He knows that both churches depend on one another in their efforts to re-evangelize Europe; and,like the Patriarch and Archbishop Hilarion, he hopes to build up that interior unity in a friendship that, under the Spirit's guidance, can turn into an ecclesial love which the Holy Spirit can use to bring about understanding and agreement in other areas where now both churches would now meet a brick wall.   Real unity is not based on agreement in these things even though they must eventually be resolved,.    Nor is it the job of the Pope to attempt to enforce a doctrine on a particular church from outside or from above,  Unity begins in the heart where Christ is received by Christians who belong to a particulat tradition.   The Pope must be a witness to the Truth, before anything else, and  by so doing to "nudge" the church into appreciating what it sees within its own tradition.   However, at this time, we have to go back to Tradition as it was when Orthodoxy and Catholicism were united, and this is more complicated for both sides.   If the Western Church is right and the Eastern is wrong in certain respects or vice versa, then only the Holy Spirit, working through ecclesial love as an instrument, can help us find a solution; and, like the Apostles before Pentecost, the only thing to do is to wait for the Holy Spirit.   Shoving our differences down each other throats is not the way to unity; and the time for putting emphasis on the things which separate us is not yet.  Fullness of Catholicism is to be found in the Eucharist which Catholics and Orthodox receive in the host or portion of the Lamb; but the problem is deep down in our hearts where we receive the living Christ.  It is  there that we are one; but it is also there that we need healing from the effects of history.  Until that happens, there will not be agreement on secondary matters like jurisdiction, even though agreement at these levels are also necessary for the healing of the schism.

I suspect that he dropped the title "Patriarch of the West" because his patriarchate extends far beyond the West to wherever the Latin Rite is dominant and because he does not agree with those in Orthodoxy who believe that the church should be divided into independent churches on national or regional lines.   This goes back to his youth when Hitler wanted both Catholicism and Protestantism to re-organize themselves as the religion of the volk.   He wants to shelve this problem until the Holy Spirit, manifesting his Presence in ecclesial love, will bring about agreement so that, with one heart  and one voice, we can recite the Creed together in understanding and love. We must go from cooperation to friendship, from friendship to ecclesial love, and from ecclesial love to understanding and unity.  

Does that mean he has no time for the Patriarchates?  In no way, because they are the product of Tradition that means so much in his understanding of the Church.   He sees them primarily as guardians of Tradition in the particular form that it has taken in their particular history.  Just as there are four gospels but only one Gospel, so there are several traditions that took concrete form in the major centres of Rome, Antioch and Alexandria, and in several minor centres like Armenia and Toledo with its Mozarabic Rite.  Each of these traditions is the product of the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church, and each is thus a particular way of living out the  one Tradition.   Each is precious in relation to the whole,like each gospel is in relation to to the Gospel.  Rites cannot be invented because authentic, Catholic rites have their roots in the preaching of the Apostles, and all are precious forms of the one Tradition.  As guardians of their tradition, the patriarchs' authority extends beyond their historical boundaries to wherever their faithful are living.  However, they are not, for him, regional or national potentates that can block the flow of ecclesial love from one part of the Church to another part because of their rivalries.   They need the papacy to make their power relative for the good of the whole.   On the other hand, the pope's power is modified and shaped by the same tradition from which they get their authority: no one can just do as he likes.

I THINK that that is roughly Pope Benedict's point of view.   He sees the fullness of Catholicism in the eucharistic life of a church that has been passed down from the time of the Apostles through the liturgy.  Tradition and Liturgy are central to his understanding of the Church.  He believes that the eucharistic unity brought about by the celebration of the Mass in local churches requires a universal primate so that it can be effective as a visible and lived reality that all can experience, and that this leaves no room for autocephalous churches if that means they are completely independent from one another.  However, he considers the whole question of jurisdiction and law to be secondary to the Church's sacramental nature; and this imposes limits on his own authority, but it also  allows him to shelve the legal dimension and aim for a much deeper level, that of ecclesial love.

I can't quite remember when, or whether, at that time Kallistos Ware was a bishop; but once he was giving a talk on East-West relations, and he was asked by an Anglican in the audience what the Church of England should do to help bring about christian unity.   He replied, "Become reconciled with your patriarch" by which he meant the pope.   A uniate solution to the problem of the reunification of Anglicans to the Catholic Church is simply not possible, even if it were a good thing to do, because an Anglican Rite with its roots in the Apostolic Age simply does not exist.   At the Reformation, they abolished the Roman Rite and replaced it with a new one.   There was no hermeneutic of continuity there!!   Yet a life of grace continued, and the holiness and Christian maturity of Lancelot Andrewes and of John Henry Newman before his conversion to Catholicism, and the balance of C.S. Lewis and many others shows us that Anglican tradition can be very effective in communicating grace, and that the Uganda martyrs show us that Anglicans have reached heroic sanctity alongside their Catholic brothers.   Hence, the ecumenical task is not to create an "Anglican Rite", because "rites" cannot be created, but to re-integrate Anglican tradition into the Roman R ite from which it was so rudely separated at the time of the Reformation.   They need to be reconciled with their patriarch.   Hence, in the Ordinariate, Anglican liturgical customs and prayers and spirituality are integrated into the Roman Liturgy.   This would have to happen, even if the whole Anglican Communion came over.

The fact that Christian unity has its roots in the heart that receives the Eucharist means that ecumenism at that level is particularly fitting for monks.  Both Lev Gillet and Thomas Merton held up the ideal of East and West simply becoming one in their heart, demonstrating in the coherence if their spirituality that such a thing is possible and anticipating the time when this unity will become generally true.  Chevetogne, Taize and Bose show how unity of heart in the midst of schism is not an unrealistic ideal that all might be one

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