Wednesday, March 6, 2013

On Orthodoxy and a new Pope of Rome

From the blog Opus Publicum, a take on Orthodoxy and the papal election.



The trad-Caths at Rorate Caeli are beside themselves with joy over Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfayev)’s recent remarks concerning his hope that the College of Cardinals elects a traditionalist Pope. This is nothing new for the R.C. crowd. It wasn’t that long ago that they were swooning over the Russian State’s crackdown on Pussy Riot, and that blog has, in the past, sung the praises of the Russian Church while blithely ignoring the less-than-stellar history of Russian Orthodox/Catholic relations in Eastern Slavic lands. That’s typical because, really, when you deal with R.C., you’re not dealing with individuals who exhibit much in the way of historical, theological, or liturgical sophistication. When something comes along that they assume works with their worldview they fawn over it, and maybe, if there’s time, they’ll think about it later.

While I do not doubt that Hilarion’s sentiments are honest, it’s worth pointing out that he’s more likely than not uninterested in an authentically traditionalist Pope, that is, one in the mold of, say, Pius IX who, as many Orthodox know, wasn’t shy about asserting the necessity for Orthodox reunion with Rome rather than, say, fulfilling the Orthodox’s dream of a substantially reduced, if not altogether gutted, papal office. When Hilarion thinks “tradition” with respect to the Papacy, he’s likely thinking one of two things (or perhaps both combined). That is to say, he either wants another Pontiff who, like Benedict XVI, shares the Russian Church’s socio-cultural outlook on issues such as abortion, marriage, and so forth or, perhaps, a Pope that embraces the Orthodox Church’s contentious view of what a “traditional papacy” looks like — namely, something roughly akin in size, structure, and power to the practically extant Orthodox Patriarchates. Both ideas of a traditional Pope are a far cry from what most (though not necessarily all) traditionalist Catholics think of when they get misty eyed about a traditional Pope.

Really, at the end of the day, the Russian Church wants a Pope they can play ball with, and “playing ball” — in the mind of the contemporary Russian Church — has nothing to do with reunification, let alone submitting to the authority of the Roman Pontiff. They want a Pope that won’t press for the rights of Catholics in Ukraine and Russia and they certainly want a Pope who will withhold the green light on further missionary activity in those regions. Is that what the traditionalists at R.C. want? It never ceases to strike me as pathetic and sad when (Western) traditionalists are so quick to abandon the concrete problems facing their own Catholic brethren in the East just for the hope of getting some bearded smiles from the Orthodox. Perhaps the R.C. crowd should consider converting to the Orthodox Church. They have so much in common. Both of them, after all, blame the Pope for everything bad in the world. They’d fit right in.

Now, to be fair, the Russian Church has expressed what seems to be a genuine interest in how the Catholic Church handles its liturgy. The late Patriarch Alexii II, for instance, expressed his admiration for Summorum Pontificum in 2007. According to Bishop Bernard Fellay, the Russian Church has taken some interest as well in the relations between Rome and the Society of St. Pius X, though I have a hard time believing that interest, too, isn’t bound up with liturgical matters. The assumption among some traditionalists that the Novus Ordo Mass is a barrier to unity between Catholics and Orthodox is a convenient fable. Relations between the two parties were plenty sour for many of the nine centuries that the Tridentine Mass reigned supreme following the Great Schism. There’s a far stronger case to be made that the First (not the Second!) Vatican Council has caused the most consternation among the Orthodox insofar as the definition of Papal Infallibility flies directly in the fact of what most Orthodox believe Church governance ought to look like. And, more importantly, the resistance to East/West reunification is rooted in many unsavory prejudices held by both sides. The Orthodox might not like the Novus Ordo Mass (that’s just a guess), but there are 99 other matters on their List of 100 Gripes with Catholicism that they’d rather see addressed first.

19 comments:

  1. It is sad, at least for me, to read these words from the Opus Publicum blog, not because the tone is that of a petulant teenager but more so for what it reveals about the attitudes of some in Orthodoxy to relations with the See of Peter. As a Catholic, and as one who loves and admires much in Orthodoxy, to read these words is more than just a mere "breaking of the bubble". I find them tragic.

    Here we are in a world dripping with hatred for Christ, the Blessed Mother, all the Eastern and Western Saints, Fathers and Doctors, all Christian traditions, even human normalcy, and all the blog at Opus Publicum can do is throw gasoline on a fire that I have been praying would would at least cool down to embers, if not be extinguished altogether. Yes there have been bad mistakes committed on both sides over the course of the centuries, and there are mistakes still being made today by both sides. But tell me why in the face of the monumental evil that is engulfing the entire world this horrendous schism should continue? And if it cannot be healed in the immediate future, why continue efforts to keep us apart, especially now when the perverts, murderers and revolutionaries are engaged in a full frontal attack on Christianity in a clear aim to wipe it from the face of the earth? Here in America the hatred for Catholicism coming from the Federal Government is palpable, in case you haven't noticed. Can we not both of us, Orthodox and Catholic, recall the words of Benedict XIV (the 14th, not 16th) found in this passage from Fortescue:

    "We have no more right to think less of them than they have to despise us. This has always been most clearly the attitude of the Holy See, best summed up in the immortal words of Benedict XIV: 'Eastern Christians should be Catholics; they have no need to become Latins.' For our Lord gave his followers most explicit commands that they should belong to the one Catholic Church he founded; He never commanded them all to say their prayers in Latin or to use the Roman rite." (Fr. Adrian Fortescue, The Uniate Eastern Churches Pg. 44)

    Regarding the Rorate site I will admit that I, too, find them a bit annoying at times, particularly in the rather supercilious attitude its editors have, and in the penchant they have for patting themselves on the back. They do not encourage thoughtful discussion often enough, either. This is not to condemn them outright, because they do on occasion publish useful information. But you do not need to be a devotee of Rorate to glean the true position of Rome vis-a-vis the Orthodox. The Metropolitan's words, whatever their nuanced meaning may be in the eyes of Opus Publicum, were refreshing, encouraging and hopeful. If he indeed said those words then my heart is even more full of love for the man than they were before. If Opus Publicum wishes to get a truer, and less puffed-up view of what solid Catholics are thinking there are certainly other sites he can visit. He can try Catholicism.org, a site very strongly Catholic but one full of admiration and love for the Orthodox.

    In closing let me respectfully ask that we put the flame-throwers away for now and start the process of mending. I believe I can say that many solid Catholics subscribe to this view of their Orthodox brothers: we need each other.

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    1. If memory serves the author of the blog post himself is Catholic.

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    2. Dear Josephus:

      Thank you for pointing that out to me. I perused the blog and what I saw didn't change my view on the petulance of his attitude. The greatest tragedy in the Catholic Church in recent decades was the triumph of the Modernists with their ridiculous Second Vatican Catastrophe, which has split the unity of Catholics right in half, so that those who want to maintain the 2,000 year traditions of the Church are flippantly referred to as "trads" or "rad trads". Sickening.

      But if he is a Catholic he is doing no good to either the Catholics or the Orthodox by writing the way he does. I hate this division between us. It is so awfully unnecessary.

      Thanks again - and thanks for your fine blog.

      Aged Parent
      www.theeye-witness.blogspot.com

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  2. I would add, Aged Parent, that I am not (intentionally) throwing any gasoline on the fire of Catholic/Orthodox relations. If I am throwing gasoline anywhere, it is on those burning within my "own house" (so-to-speak).

    I am generally supportive -- and realistic -- about the Russian Church's attitude toward Rome. Where I am critical is with respect to the Catholic Church failing to do all that it could for its own members in Ukraine and Russia in the name of bumping fists with the Orthodox. But that's a side matter. The thrust of my blog post was against traditionalist Catholics who fawn over what the Orthodox say without critically evaluating it. Hilarion wants a traditionalist Pope, and as I wrote, that means a Pope in the mold of Benedict XVI. Fine. But when traditionalist Catholics think of a "traditionalist Pope," they're thinking someone like Pius IX. The gulf between those conceptualizations is pretty wide if you ask me.

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    1. Thank you, Modestinus, for your thoughts. Alas, I am unable to peer into the mind of Hilarion as to precisely what he meant by the phrase in question. I will await clarification from the man himself, if he should ever care to expand on it.

      When I glanced at your blog I noticed a tiresomely typical response from one of your readers, to the effect that some Catholics are (I'm paraphrasing) "Ortho-loving, Pope-hating, etc." If that person was a Catholic he or she has a very superficial knowledge of Catholicism. Believe it or not, Catholics can criticize their Popes, respectfully, when they need criticism. That precedent was set by Peter and Paul. They don't cease to be Catholics when they point out certain papal foibles or bad judgements. I can say that John Paul II was an utter disaster for the Church while at the same time recognizing he was the Pope and while still being Catholic. Catholics are Catholics, not papolators.

      Regarding the throwing of gasoline: just don't throw it at anybody. Please. We are both Catholics.

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  3. Funny that Modestinus condemns Rorate for "fawning" over the Orthodox. More often, Orthodox themselves criticize Rorate and its combox for being anti-Orthodox.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that Rorate's posts are sometimes tongue-in-cheek. The recent post on Hilarion's comments seem to be in this category.

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    1. Even though R.C. does engage in tongue-in-cheek posting, the comboxes over there reveals that a large number of its readers don't see it that way. One could argue that R.C. isn't responsible for the views of its readers, but that claim rings hollow when you consider how tightly "New Catholic" policies the combox, deleting anything that points out manifest errors in R.C.'s reporting/"analysis." So it goes.

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    2. Very true, Modestinus. Many an interesting discussion has been summarily quashed by the Rorate administrators. Sad.

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  4. We keep hearing about the rupture of civility amongst Catholics and Orthodox In the Ukraine. And yet much dialogue and cooperation exists on both sides in terms of educational pursuits and common efforts as they seek re evangelize the society at large. Problems? yes, of course, but not insurmountable when the Love of Christ embraces both sides.

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    1. Fair points.

      From my understanding, Orthodox/Catholic relations in Ukraine and Russia have improved over the last decade, but there are still a lot of problems and injustices that have not been addressed. The Russian Church has yet to answer (apologize) for the near-genocide against the Ukrainian Catholics it blessed during Stalin's reign, nor has the Russian Church restored all of the property that was illegally seized from Catholics during the Soviet era. Moreover, I believe the Catholic Church has every right to evangelize in Ukraine and Russia; it should not be bashful about doing so just to score ecumenical fluff points.

      However, as a matter of prudence, I do think the Catholic Church would probably be wasting its resources to try and convert Orthodox. This is particularly true in the Slavic East where there are still so many un-baptized and un-catechized souls in need of saving.

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  5. The guy who writes that blog spent several years in the Orthodox Church and then went back to Catholicism. He has axes to grind, in my opinion. Read with discernment.

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    1. I spent seven years in the Orthodox Church to be exact. While I don't shy away from criticizing aspects of the Orthodox Church (particularly Orthodox critiques/conceptualizations of Catholicism), I think I am uniquely positioned to do this insofar as I have been "on the inside" and still keep close contact with a number of Orthodox that I consider to be intelligent and reliable sources of information. Also, members of my own family remain in the Orthodox Church to this day.

      I find Orthodox or, at least, American convert-dox, to be among the most thin-skinned Christians in human history. A single critical word about something Orthodox and so many of you fall to pieces with invective and hyperbole. In the past, some of the staunchest defenders of Orthodoxy on my blog have been -- get this -- the "wicked uniates" (more responsibly known as Eastern Catholics). So it goes. My remarks on Orthodoxy are almost never centered on substantive matters of theology and spirituality (which are just as much a part of the Catholic tradition as they are a part of the Orthodox tradition) and instead focus on what I would call the "nonsense of contemporary Orthodoxy." It's a different sort of nonsense than the Catholic Church has to deal with, but it's still nonsense at the end of the day.

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  6. I spent twenty years as a Roman Catholic, and have been Orthodox for almost ten. I have family members who remain Roman Catholic, and as a matter of fact have great affection for all that is good and true in the Latin Church. I hardly think I'm thin-skinned. I respect you doing what your conscience told you to do-if you think you should be Roman Catholic, if you are convinced that it is true, then that is certainly where you should be and I applaud you for it. I do, frankly, find your attitude toward your former communion a bit snotty sometimes-but I suppose someone could accuse me of the same. I stopped reading your blog because I didn't care for your tone-not because I'm particularly easily offended, or unwilling to give the Latin Church its due. Perhaps it depends on which nonsense you are willing to put up with.

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  7. I'll confess that I crack wise about some aspects of Orthodoxy, but from my experience the Orthodox can handle it until you start cracking wise about sacred cows (which, ironically enough, are the most disposable parts of Orthodoxy). The thing with Orthodoxy is that it benefits from its own obscurity, not to mention its own self-promotion of "mystery" (and all that jazz). The fact is, few who are outside the Orthodox Church know much about it other than what they read in a Kallistos Ware book. Orthodoxy's "dirt" isn't in mainstream papers in the West. Moreover, the internal problems of contemporary Orthodox governance and politics don't get much notice outside of Orthodox circles. Also, the Orthodox maintain a pretty closed circle when it comes to its assessments of Catholicism (or Protestantism). So what seems like a critical engagement with other confessions is, at the end of the day, little more than myth promotion. If Catholics (or Protestants) really felt like they had to bother with the Orthodox Church, it'd be a different ballgame altogether. But I am a small potato who writes a hobby blog. So I have the time (and the resources) to attack Orthodox myth promotion.

    As for going Catholic, it has nothing to do with conscience unless, of course, conscience is inextricably bound up with critical reflection (which, I suppose, it can be). I'm Catholic because I believe -- as the Act of Faith expresses -- what the Church says is true. I was, for a time, Orthodox because I thought otherwise. We all make mistakes.

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  8. I have never read this person's "hobby" blog. But since he/she likes to dialogue about "thin-skinned" Orthodox Christians, "Orthodox myth promotions" and Orthodoxy's "dirt"....I doubt there is anything edifying to read.

    We are all better off attending to the beam in our own eye.

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    1. Frankly, I think I have to agree with you...

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  9. Michael Albert,

    Amen. Well said.

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  10. Reunification does not mean "returning to Rome", as so many confused people claim. The Church in Rome left Orthodoxy, and it is the group which needs to return. (The same may be said for non-Chalcedonian Christian groups.) It makes no sense for the Orthodox to be chasing after the Catholics, seeking their approval.

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  11. A reader,

    Well, maybe, but, umm, no...

    You'll be back eventually.

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