Joint Declarations, the Vatican I anathemas and "Big and Little Issues"

Christopher Orr said in the combox of the previous post regarding points of difference between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches:

I’m sure the effort would be made to work out these lesser points of difference if the major points were seriously close to being resolved, but they are not [and] so the major and minor points remain a jumble and [are] used to indicate paradigmatic differences that may not be essential. Papal Supremacy, universal jurisdiction and the filioque (I think the first two are the big ones, though many would also argue for the third, too) get mixed up with mandatory clerical celibacy, unleavened bread, shaving, the rosary, the use of imagination in prayer and changes to the traditional Roman Rite.

This is right, and I appreciate the fact that the “big ones” have been identified as these three. However, I would like to suggest that in fact these issues may be resolved if first our Orthodox dialogue partners took us seriously when we say that we believe that our faith is the same.

Note that the recent Catholic/Orthodox meeting which has just concluded in Ravenna was on the topic of “The Ecclesiological and Canonical Consequences of the Sacramental Nature of the Church: Ecclesial Communion, Conciliarity and Authority in the Church.” Note the way that this topic is worded–in terms of consequences of what is considered an agreed matter, namely “the Sacramental nature of the Church”. It is natural that this discussion will be followed at the next meeting with a discussion of “The role of the Bishop of Rome in the communion of the Church in the first millennium”, since the issue of the primacy is an ecclesiological issue.

Now, if what I have just said is true (about the primacy of the Bishop of Rome being an ecclesiological view) and if we sincerely believe (as I do) that we fundamentally share the same ecclesiology (albeit with strikingly different nuances), then surely there is hope for reconciliation on the matter of the Primacy and Jurisdiction of the bishop of Rome.

Yes, there were some very blunt anathemas thrown around at the 1st Vatican Council (see here and here and here and here for eg.). However, I believe that these texts, like the 1054 mutual excommunications, need to be treated in the light of the Joint Declaration of Paul VI and Athenagorus I in 1965. Certainly, Pope John Paul II’s gesture in “Ut Unim Sint” applies to this situation:

As Bishop of Rome I am fully aware…that Christ ardently desires the full and visible communion of all those Communities in which, by virtue of God’s faithfulness, his Spirit dwells. I am convinced that I have a particular responsibility in this regard, above all in acknowledging the ecumenical aspirations of the majority of the Christian Communities and in heeding the request made of me to find a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation.

…When addressing the Ecumenical Patriarch His Holiness Dimitrios I, I acknowledged my awareness that “for a great variety of reasons, and against the will of all concerned, what should have been a service sometimes manifested itself in a very different light. But…it is out of a desire to obey the will of Christ truly that I recognize that as Bishop of Rome I am called to exercise that ministry… I insistently pray the Holy Spirit to shine his light upon us, enlightening all the Pastors and theologians of our Churches, that we may seek—together, of course—the forms in which this ministry may accomplish a service of love recognized by all concerned.

Like the anathemas of Trent, the anathemas of Vatican I are not ignored–but it is clear that today we have a new situation and a new context in which our ancient churches may communicate with one another in a way they previously did not, and thus find a new path to unity that completely sidesteps the anathemas.

Of course, if (like the conservative Lutherans who rejected the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by insisting that Justification and Justification alone is the only way of viewing the work of Christ’s paschal mystery in us) we continue to insist that the language and paradigms of the past are the only acceptable language and paridigms of the future, then there is not much hope.

But if our faith is truly the same, then we will find a unified way to express it. A clear example (better even than the JDDJ) that comes to mind is the Christological affirmations with the non-Chalcedonian Churches (see here for the agreement with the Syrian Orthodox and here with the Assyrian Church of the East).

This leads me finally to the matter of the filioque. Catholics can (and do) omit the recitation of the filioque under special conditions (eg. when reciting the Creed in Greek, or in the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches, or when the Eucharist is celebrated in the presence of Orthodox guests). In otherwords, we do not insist upon these words, but not only that they have a place in our (specifically Latin liturgical) Tradition. Furthermore, we believe that dialogue on this point will strengthen our own understanding of the procession of the Spirit–something about which we do not believe we have all the answers.

However there are a lot of similarities even on this doctrine: We too uphold that the Father, and the Father alone, is the “monarche”. We too uphold that the Spirit cannot be separated from the Son. I am intrigued by some things that were said in the Colloquium lectures (eg. That the Spirit does not proceed “beyond” the Father and the Son. I think the issue was that the procession was internal to the Godhead, and that the Spirit proceeded FROM the Father TO the Son, rather than from the Father and the Son into the world. Did I hear and understand that right?). But these are things to be explored within the conviction that we hold (and desire to hold) the one and the same faith. I am also intrigued as to how the rejection of the filioque can be fully squared with the patristic idea (which is both eastern and western) of the Spirit as the fully Personal bond of love between the Father and the Son. Does this Love proceed only one way (ie. from the Father to the Son) or is it not both ways?

In any case, these are areas in which we can find agreement if we work at it and truly believe that fundamentally we do believe the same faith and are simply seeking the words to express it in unity. But in fact, I think the real issues are those other “little ones”: “mandatory clerical celibacy, unleavened bread, shaving, the rosary, the use of imagination in prayer and changes to the traditional Roman Rite.” These are the things that are really passionately rejected, and finding agreement in the “big issues” may well be feared because it will mean finally recognising that the “little issues” are legitimate areas of variation within the Unity of the One Church

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18 Responses to Joint Declarations, the Vatican I anathemas and "Big and Little Issues"

  1. Christine says:

    agreement in the “big issues” may well be feared because it will mean finally recognising that the “little issues” are legitimate areas of variation within the Unity of the One Church

    An excellent summation, David. If an Orthodox Christian honors Mary in an akathist hymn and a Catholic Christian honors her in the Rosary, isn’t there room for both in the legitimate unity within diversity?

  2. Christopher Orr says:

    The question really comes down to innovation, which has been far more acceptable in the West than in the East (though it isn’t as if the East has been ossified). The cover for acceptable innovation in the West has had but a single hurdle to give it cover – the papacy. This allows for a quicker approval than has ever been the case in the East. In fact, this decntralization is seen as a divinely gifted brake on sinful man’s tendency to create his own gods, to be proud, etc. All are keepers of the tradition, and conciliarity requires the ‘acceptance’ of development and formation by the entire Body of Christ – not just by one of its members. This is the guarantor that the change is of God and worthy of the Head, Christ, and not simply a flight of fancy, a tradition of men, etc.

    As Patriarch Bartholomew said, it is as if there has developed an ontological difference between how we each approach the faith. It isn’t just the ends we arrive at, but also the means by which we get there.

    Unfortunately, while many RCs and perhaps even the RCC as a whole may see us as sharing the same faith, this is not necessarily the case from the Orthodox POV. This is no more stubborn a position than Christians refusing to accept the Hindu or Buddhist conception that all paths lead to Brahma or Nirvana, so Christianity is as good a path as any, though perhaps not as ‘enlightened’.

  3. Schütz says:

    The question really comes down to innovation, which has been far more acceptable in the West than in the East (though it isn’t as if the East has been ossified).

    Well, that’s one way of looking at it Christopher. There is another way: that the papacy as it has developed is a gift of the spirit that keeps the Church alive and living and growing etc.–precisely not “ossified”. If we wanted to be nasty about it, we could say that the East has become a paralysed fossil, unable even to call an pan-Orthodox council because there is no “protos” with the necessary authority.

    But we don’t want to be nasty. We want to say that the East’s aversion to innovation has preserved valuable riches that we can learn from and from which we can regain elements of our own Tradition.

    So why not show equal courtesy to us and realise that there is true benefit in a strong primacy?

    Isn’t the lack of a clear primacy precisely the issue between the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Moscow Patriarchy? Ie. who has the necessary primacy to be able to settle disputes (such as Estonia) for the sake of the preservation of communion? Isn’t this another benefit of strong primacy? Is such a clear primacy not a gift of the Holy Spirit for the sake of unity?

    And when it boils down to it, are not our two different traditions entirely due to the historico-political situation of the Roman Empire?

    The east has always (until the coming of communism and Islam) had an emperor/Tsar to turn to for the necessary authority to sort out these issues and call councils etc.

    The West lost its emperor (or gained freedom from him) and thus there was room for a strong primacy of the Bishop of Rome to develop.

    Is either of these a “false” development? Or are they not both legitimate and understandable given the historical circumstances?

    Now we are in different circumstances, can we not find a different solution with which we can work together to face the significant challenges to Christianity throughout the world?

  4. Christopher Orr says:

    Actually, the model for a strong primacy is already present in Orthodoxy. An appeal to Constantinople is always an option after appeal to one’s bishop, Metropolitan, head of an autocephalous church, the synod of an autocephalous church. This was in place for all in the East since the time Constantinople was given second place in the Pentarchy. After that, an appeal to Rome was allowed, and if that failed (such as during the Monophysite Controversy) appeal can be made to an Ecumenical Council. In this way consensus is achieved rather than enforced or legislated from above by a single, potentially erring individual – man and bishop can err, the Church as a whole cannot.

    Sorry if it seems as if I am being insulting. I’m not saying your position is stupid and am not trying to be uncourteous, or such, I’m simply laying out the Orthodox understanding of how the Church worked prior to the Emperor, in those areas outside of the Empire, and since the fall of the various Empires over the past 500+ years. Yes, a strong papacy could be seen as a blessing, and strong, centralized powers have developed in the Russian and Constantinopolitan churches (though not in the Serbian and Romanian, etc.). The stamp of holiness in the development of this universal centralization would be in whether the entire Church accepted and recognized it as in keeping with the Faith in the way the entire Church accepted and recognized the centralization of powers for Metropolitans and Patriarchs prior to the Great Schism. Raising local practices and teachings to the level of dogma has often been the dividing line between acceptable, local theologoumena and heresy; I see it as odd that the only really clear support for Papal Supremacy and the like is found primarily in Roman Fathers about Rome, not Alexandrian and Antiochian Fathers about the papacy as a developed gift of the Holy Spirit (of course, we can argue about this, but that has been my reading of the patristic support or lack thereof; I haven’t found the RC ‘proof’ convincing). It is this differing understanding of how change and development is ‘done’ that is at the root of all of the other issues, most notably the filioque, and I just don’t see that as changing. I don’t see the Pope renouncing his ‘right’ to universal and immediate jurisdiction and personal infallibility on faith and morals apart from the College of Bishops. Peter never without the Apostles and the Apostles always with Peter the Orthodox could likely accept, but that won’t jive with Vatican I, so…

    If we have the same faith and partake of the same Eucharist, then we are already in communion with Him Whose Body the Eucharist is; if our differences in faith have risen to the level of heresy, then we have zealously guarded the truth being true stewards of the things of God – or have been protected from sinfully partaking of a real Eucharist to our condemnation, depending on what side we fall on.

    Personally, I like the separation of powers model of Orthodox ecclesiology since it staunches our tendencies as sinful humans to create gods in our own image and to mistake our thoughts and desires for God’s. Efficiency is only a good thing if you are more quickly doing a good thing; after all, the difference between the Armenian and Jewish Holocausts was simply that the Germans were more efficient than the Turks.

  5. Schütz says:

    Dear Chris,

    You seem to be taking Vatican I in isolation from Vatican II. The two councils treat the same doctrine and are to be read together and not in isolation (the First Vatican Council was, as you will remember, rudely interupted by the outbreak of hostilities and only finally declared closed at the beginning of the Second Vatican Council). Vatican II makes it quite clear that the Pope exercises his teaching magisterium in communion with and not apart from the bishops, even if the setting for this may not always be within an actual ecumenical council.

    I have a timeline of relationships between the East and the West that I would like you and other Orthodox readers to look at and critique. I will blog on this separately.

  6. Past Elder says:

    This is not a matter of courtesy.

    It is a matter of truth — and the underlying assumption that there is such a thing.

    Now, we can learn that forcible conversion is no conversion at all, we can attempt to show others why we believe what we believe in a civil fashion, and so on. And these are good efforts.

    But, there seems to be a deaf ear here to the idea that no, Othodoxy and Catholicism are not the same faith, whose differences simply result from past circumstances of divergent history.

    The papcy as defined by Rome and the church in Orthodox understanding are simply not compatible, and the fact is at some point someone has to say We were wrong about that.

    So the whole Roman ecumenical effort is based on false assumptions, one being that the West and the East really hold the same faith and another being that the Roman faith is really what everyone would want if properly presented and understoood.

    Yes, it is my belief that not just the two traditions but the entire two religions derive from the historical and political environment of the Roman Empire. But let’s say I’m wrong about that. The Eastern Church seems to have a good deal more self honesty and honesty toward those outside it that the West, which Roman and Protestant alike seems possessed by the idea that we’re really all the same.

    1960s with mitres and crosiers. Or as I’ve put it before, swim the Bosphorous and you get Orthodoxy, swim the Tiber and you get who knows what these days.

    (FWIW, one of the most stunning experiences of my life was attending a Melkite church in Miami — I didn’t understand a word and everything was quite clear despite a foreign-to-me culture.)

  7. Schütz says:

    I should add, Chris, that the problem with the “line of appeal” model, is that it tends to set patriarchs against one another–as in fact has happened with many cases including the current Estonian problem. Estonia appeals to Constantinople over Moscow, Moscow walks out of meeting where Estonia and Constantinople are represented. Is this good? Appeals are all very well, but there needs to be acceptance on the part of all that the one to whom the appeal is made has the authority AND (here comes a horrible word) jurisdiction to make sure that his decision vis a vis the appeal is honoured by all.

  8. Jeff Tan says:

    I don’t suppose it helps to throw in the whole “you are Peter, and on this rock” thing?

    Perhaps, to answer the question “who says we have to be one?”, we might simply go back to exactly who says we have one earthly shepherd: the Lord says. And there’s a whole stack of things to consider:

    – Given that the Lord gave the keys of the kingdom to one person, to the exclusion of the other Apostles also present, is this principle still valid today? Does the Lord want one keeper of the keys?

    – Given how the Lord instructed Peter to feed his lambs after his ascension, and this Peter is no longer here, and given that here we remain, lambs of the flock, is this principle of the lambs looking to one Peter still valid today?/

    The first thing to get out of the way, I think, is the objection to unity. Or an objection to a further development of that unity. And this is a development that should be seen in the light of a previous form of unity once enjoyed. The papacy is seen as an innovation, but surely visible unity is not? We seek to regain what we had lost.

    Is visible unity as much as the Lord wants us to have? How does this sound?

    “That they may be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, .. so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me.”

    And does the Lord consider this visible unity important in this world or the next?

    “.. that the world may believe that you sent me.”

    The unity we seek does not mean that the East adopt Western rites, or that the Orthodox stop being Orthodox. On the ground, we seek a unity that allows us to receive the sacraments from either the Western or the Eastern rite, and there is no Schism that stop us from doing so. And at the top, when questions of the day are asked, we can have the answer from Rome: one answer from one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, with all the bishops, cardinals, metropolitans and Patriarchs speaking as one.

    Here’s an interesting thought: is it a prerequisite for the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church to be one if and only if all members are in complete agreement? Is it a unity by referendum or by mandate from above?

    I”m probably being naive for the most part. But I am also hopeful, greatly trusting that the Holy Spirit is so much greater than our apparently insatiable penchant to bicker and dither. I just wish we’d get on with it. The world is waiting.

  9. Past Elder says:


    The world could not care less.

    Of course Jesus prayed we would all be one. He was equally clear about avoiding false teachers and that they would come, about not believing false teaching, about not elevating human practice to divine doctrine, etc.

    As to the Rock, it’s the confession, not the man.

    If you want a Rock who’s a man, go for Dwayne Johnson.

  10. Dixie says:

    David, one can attempt to force unity by law or one can work toward unity guided by love. That there are squabbles in Orthodoxy is not proof that things aren’t working as designed. In Orthodoxy we recognize that the Cup cannot be divided. We work things out…and sometimes it takes time, sometimes a loooong time. But humility and love guide this process.

    I think you have read this before on my blog and may have even commented on it before but it still rings true. From Father Stephen Freeman, Glory to God in All Things blog:

    The ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church, the Pillar and Ground of Truth, is found precisely in its weakness and is found there because God wants it that way. If salvation means loving my enemies like God loves His enemies, then I am far better served by my weakness than my excellence. If humility draws the Holy Spirit, then my weakness is far more useful than any excellence I may possess.

    The Orthodox Church has perhaps the weakest ecclesiology of all, because it depends, moment by moment, on the love and forgiveness of each by all and of all by each. Either the Bishops of the Church love and forgive each other or the whole thing falls apart. “Brethren, let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” These are the words that introduce the Creed each Sunday, and they are the words that are the bedrock of our ecclesiology…

  11. Jeff Tan says:

    > As to the Rock, it’s the
    > confession, not the man.

    And naming the man Rock has absolutely no bearing, I suppose. Likewise the Lord alluding to Eliakim with the keys, to open and to shut, and to be as a father to Israel.

    Why is it either/or? Why not both/and? Both the confession and the man. And it isn’t because of the man — Simon Peter being as imperfect as any of the Apostles. It is because of grace.

    The alternative being that.. we who make this same confession are all rocks. And we all hold the keys to the kingdom. And it holds true for each of us that what we bind on earth is bound in Heaven, and what we loose on earth is loosed in Heaven.

    Or.. maybe not.

  12. Past Elder says:

    I bought the tu es Petrus thing once myself.

    You argue for a both/and then present an either/or?

    Even if one accepts that Jesus is saying upon Peter I build my Church, it’s a bit of a jump to find Josef Ratzinger in there — upon the Petrine ministry I build my church.

    No, we are not all rocks any more than one man or succession of men are the rock. Or any more than we are to tell no-one he is the Christ.

    It’s all about thou art the Christ, not thou art Peter.

  13. Christopher Orr says:

    I thought it was interesting that the “Petrine Ministry” book has the Orthodox participants admit the point that the Rock passage is specifically referring to Peter and not to his confession, which is the traditional Orthodox and Protestant reading of the text. It is not acknowledge that this promise to Peter is therefore given to his successor bishops in the city of Old Rome. Even language from Chalcedon saying to Leo that “Peter has spoken” is not admitting that Leo is somehow heir to all promises of Christ to Peter, simply that Leo sits on Peter’s throne and speaks as Peter would have spoken; it’s simply rhetoric in the same way that American politicians have had the Lincoln and Kennedy metaphors pinned to them. One can assume contrariwise, but it is just that, an assumption that is just as (or more) easily explained in other ways, i.e., it isn’t “proof”.

  14. Schütz says:

    You are right, Christopher, it isn’t “proof”, but it IS evidence. If you assume that the Roman claims about the Petrine Ministry are wrong, then of course, you will dismiss everything that appears to corroberate it. That’s called bias–and it is on both sides. There is plenty of “evidence” of acceptance of the Roman primacy by the East in the first Millenium. But no “proof”. The kind of “proof” you are looking for is a little like the “scriptural proof” the protestants look for. There is much (for eg.) in the Scriptures that supports giving honour to and praying to the saints. But you will not find “proof” there. It all depends how you want to approach the matter.

  15. Christopher Orr says:

    Well, the definition Rome gives for an ecumenical council is dependent on its understanding of the petrine ministry. A Catch-22 of circular reasoning. Conciliar is not simply holding a council in the Orthodox understanding of conciliarity (sobornost).

    Once could make the argument that Ecumenical Councils from Ephesus onward were not ‘ecumenical’ since they did not include the Oriental Orthodox. Not sure that the Orthodox could accept that; it’s probably as difficult to imagine at Rome limiting all Councils since Nicea II as simply “Western Councils”, including Vatican I and II. I know something like this has been floated, but I doubt it would ever be accepted in full – though it would allow the Orthodox to simply consider the oddities it sees in the Western Church as simply local tradition and opinion.

    Then again, the ECs were pretty innovative in their day, so perhaps we need to return to the pre-Empire notion of local councils and an understanding of doctrinal systematics as the sign of a breakdown in tradition and the transmission kerygma and ‘dogma’.

  16. Schütz says:

    But you would have to admit that there was something fairly universal about both the 1st and 2nd Vatican Councils? The 2nd Vatican Council was attended by more than 2000 bishops from all over the world, Easten and Western. That’s fairly universal in anyone’s book.

    I guess the difficulty is that not even the conciliar conventions are in any sense “apostolic”–I mean, Christ never commanded the Church to hold ecumenical councils to determine the teaching of the Church. Conciliarism was and is a useful and fitting tool for dertermining the true Catholic Faith, but it was not instituted by Christ in the same sense as the episcopacy was, or the Petrine ministry itself.

  17. Jeff Tan says:

    > You argue for a both/and
    > then present an either/or?

    I’m only going by what the Lord said. He identified St. Peter as the rocky foundation with a singular “you” (for giving the keys and the authority to bind and to loose) and the name change to “Kepha”. It wasn’t my idea.

    > bit of a jump to find Josef
    > Ratzinger in there —
    > upon the Petrine ministry
    > I build my church.

    Succession comes into play when the Lord alludes to Eliakim when he gives St. Peter the keys of the kingdom to bind and to loose.

    “I will thrust you from your office and you will be cast down from your station and on that day I will call my servant Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah, and I will clothe him with your robe and will bind your girdle on him and will commit your authority to his hand, and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the House of Judah; and I will place on his shoulder the key of the House of David.” — Isaiah 22, 19-20

    Eliakim succeeds Shebna whom the Lord deposes, and the former now receives the keys of the kingdom as a visible sign of authority. In the Davidic kingdom, there really was a vicar, who was a father figure as well, wielding authority as well as responsibility. This really is an office that is filled by appointment.

    But David is right: this won’t convince anyone who is coming in with a preconceived and immutable position. And the one thing I’ve despaired over is that, in the end, healing the Schism as well as the Protestant Reformation is not going to be a matter of proofs and arguments, although they help. It is ultimately a matter of heart, not only in owing up to past misdeeds, but in a willingness to lose prestige and power for the sake of obedience to the will of the Lord. And this pertains to everyone. It will be hard and painful for all, but that’s the nature of obedience, humility, forgiveness and love, no?

    But while part of me is pessimistic about whether I shall see such a day in my lifetime, because we are all quite stubborn of heart, reason and faith both tell me that the Lord’s words never depart from him in vain, and he did will for the Church to be one. His breath melts ice and moves the waters. May he melt stubborn hearts and move us all into obedience.

    I’ve even been given to fancies of what that future reconciliation might look like: inter-communion among Orthodox and Catholics, Orthodox and Catholic dioceses merged under one bishop (either Catholic or Orthodox — it doesn’t matter), and yes, one bishop of Rome as final arbiter should there be universal dispute about doctrines.

    One can hope. :-)

  18. Past Elder says:

    Yeah, who knows, a couple more “Councils” and maybe the “Catholic” church will catch up.

    “Obedience” is pretty cool when it leads you to exactly where you are and ropes in everyone else too!

    For immutable positions, it’s pretty hard to beat Rome. They can say the same thing whether they are or not! Call it the hermeneutic of continuity or something.

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