My continuing discussion with Fr Lawrence

Today, I had a good email conversation with Fr Lawrence about his letter. We came to an agreement that indeed the issue in the CDF Responses on the Doctrine on the Church are about communion with the Bishop of Rome rather than about the recognition of the Primacy of the Bishop of Rome, although of course, both actually go together under normal circumstances, and a paradoxical situation (a “wound”?) developes when the latter exists without the former.

In his response, Fr Lawrence said that “I still hold that both East and West are wounded or maimed. Maybe differently.” That statement got me thinking. I am putting my thoughts up here, because it represents for me where my thinking on this matter is currently, and may help others also. I am myself searching for a vocabulary, a precise way of trying to explain to both myself and others what the ecclesiological situation is. In this endeavour, I appreciate being able to use those whose expertise and perspective are different and more experienced/learned than mine as a sounding board (eg. Fr Lawrence, and you, dear reader).

Fr Lawrence wrote to me that “Finally there are no Churches East or West. There is finally only the Church.”

I think there is a problem with the terminology “East and West”. “East” and “West” have no part in our theological ecclesiology (although a huge part in our historical theology). Perhaps JPII simply fueled confusion when he talked about “breathing with both lungs”. People took him to be talking about two “sister Churches”, the East and the West, aka the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. This is a great confusion. Geographical terms are even more confusing when the “East” and the “West” exist side by side in a place like Australia that is neither East nor West!

“But I still hold that both East and West are wounded or maimed. Maybe differently,” Fr Lawrence wrote. I agree with the “maybe differently part” (which I will explore in a moment), but, for the reasons given above, I find the use of the terms “East” and “West” difficult and confusing. Especially if it is taken to mean (as it usually is) “West=Catholic Church” and “East=Orthodox Church”.

If we could remove from the whole ecclesiological picture any distinction between Eastern or Western particular Churches, perhaps what we are trying to say is that both the Una Catholica and the particular local Church is “wounded” when that particular local Church is not in full visible communion with the Una Catholica–although from each perspective this “wound” is differently expressed.

1) For the Una Catholica, the “wound” is that the “fullness of universality” which is proper to it is “not-fully realised in history”;

2) whereas for the local, particular Church the “wound” is experienced as an “internal defect” in its nature as a true local Church.

Moreover, when such a lack of full visible communion exists between a local particular Church and the Una Catholica, it always expresses itself in a lack of full visible communion between particular local Churches.

In this case, the particular local Churches not in full visible communion with one another experience a “wound” in respect to their relationship with one another–because their relationship is less than that which is Christ himself desired and prayed that it should be.

Therefore, when a particular Eastern Church (eg. Moscow) and a particular Western Church (eg. Rome) are not in full communion with one another, the result is definitely a wounded relationship. Unlike the wound that is experienced between the Una Catholica and the local particular Church not in full visible communion with it, when two particular local Churches are not in communion with one another, this wound is felt equally and in exactly the same way on both sides. It is not as if the wound is only experienced on the part of the Eastern particular Church and not also the Western particular Church. And for such wounds, as Vatican II said, “often enough, men of both sides were to blame”.

So there are two different types of wounds being spoken of here. On the one hand, there is the wound that exists between two particular Churches, or between one group of particular Churches and another group particular Churches, when they are not in full visible communion with one another, and on the other hand there is that wound which exists when a particular Church or a group of particular Churches is not in full visible communion with the Una Catholica.

It is this latter kind of wound, rather than the former, which is spoken of in the Responses.

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4 Responses to My continuing discussion with Fr Lawrence

  1. Joshua Martin says:

    Quite right, David – Fr Lawrence’s comments, while understandable, savour of the old Anglican ‘branch theory’, in which the Orthodox, the Catholic and the C of E are each somewhat damaged bits of the one Church: which is wrong. Certainly Catholics lack unity with the Orthodox – or rather, they have unity with some of them, what I dare to call the truly Orthodox Eastern Catholic Churches, truly orthodox because in union with Rome.

    But the Orthodox not in union with Rome are in a wounded state indeed; even their own ecclesiology recognizes that they should be in union with Rome, as all of them hold Rome to hold the primacy (though they believe Rome to be in error, hence their schism from Rome). They lack many of the good theological developments that Catholicism has been graced with since the schism began – though surprisingly many of them have been copied across (witness how the Russian Orthodox still teach from 19th C style theological manuals, obviously copied from 19th C Catholic seminary practice).

    Catholicism, however, despite its Eastern Rites, despite possessing the visible head Christ indended for his Church, lacks much of the fervour and piety of the East – examples, such as near absence of serious and widespread doctrinal abberations, fruitful and popular lay attendance at Office, real fasting (virtually extinct in the West), a liturgy maintained as holy and transcendent, etc., are all too obvious.

  2. Chris Jones says:

    Mr Martin,

    You wrote:

    even their own ecclesiology recognizes that they should be in union with Rome, as all of them hold Rome to hold the primacy

    This is a misunderstanding. “Primacy” has a different meaning in Orthodox ecclesiology than it does in Catholic ecclesiology. In Catholic ecclesiology, primacy is an absolute concept; that is, it is understood to be of divine foundation, a part of the Apostolic deposit of faith. Our Lord’s dictum “on this rock” is understood to confer a permanent primacy not only on Peter but on his successors.

    It is otherwise in Orthodox ecclesiology. For the Orthodox, primacy is a contingent matter, of limited scope and changeable in principle. It is a matter of order rather than a matter of faith, that is, a canonical rather than a theological matter.

    That is why the Roman primacy of the first millenium is, for the Orthodox, a contingent matter grounded at least as much in the pre-eminence of Rome as the imperial capital as it is in the status of Rome as the seat of Peter’s successors. And it is why the Roman primacy is seen as contingent on Rome’s continued fidelity to the Apostolic Tradition, rather than being seen as an a priori guarantee of that fidelity.

    So you are mistaken to conclude that Orthodox ecclesiology somehow requires union with Rome, simply because the Orthodox acknowledge that Rome did, in fact, enjoy the primacy. It is only by assuming that the concept of primacy is the same for the Orthodox as it is for the Catholics that you could draw that conclusion. But the two concepts are quite different.

  3. Joshua Martin says:

    Thanks, Mr Jones, for the clarification – in my simplicity I thought that they too regarded the Roman primacy as given to the Church by the Lord, rather than being a contingent fact dependent on geopolitical factors among others.

  4. Schütz says:

    There are in fact a variety of Orthodox opinions on the Roman Primacy, and Chris has simply given us one of them–although a significant one.

    For more detailed study, I recommend Garuti’s “The Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and the Ecumenical Dialogue”.

    It is important to note that the “contingent” understanding of primacy is partly based on the ancient notion of “pentarchy”, by which there are five primatial sees: Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Rome and Constantinople. All of these can boast ancient apostolic churches except Constantinople, which is obviously a “contingent” primacy due to its status as “New Rome”. Therefore, in order to argue Constantinople’s primacy, which is contingent and canonical rather than necessary and theological, some Orthodox theologians have been led to see all primacy in these terms.

    Nevertheless, even if the Roman primacy is taken to be contingent rather than necessary, canonical rather than theological, there must be a connection between the acknowlegement of primacy and visible communion with the primatial see.

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