Monday, May 19, 2014

A Catholic opinion on Catholic-Orthodox relations

These dialogues are important - that point is inarguable. What is lacking is a real groundswell of support by either side in the US (and I suspect elsewhere) to make closer relations a reality. I have attended annual ecumenical gatherings for years now and have yet to see the hundreds or thousands one might expect in attendance if there were a real desire for "unity now." It will be interesting to see what the other patriarchs have to say about the upcoming meeting of the Ecumenical Patriarch and Pope of Rome in Jerusalem, but it will also be worth watching what is not said or done in the days following their meeting. Real "progress" will require the support of the other patriarchates or nothing will happen beyond photo-ops.

Vatican City, May 19, 2014 (CNA) - A member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity affirmed the sentiments of many who believe that Catholic-Orthodox relations have improved in recent years, especially under Pope Francis.

“When I look to what I hear about Pope Francis, and I remember when he was elected he spoke to the immense group of the faithful at St. Peter’s Square, I remember that he referred to the introduction of the letter of Ignatius of Antioch to the Christians of Rome,” Fr. Gabriel Quicke told CNA May 16.

“In his introduction in the letter to the Christians of Rome he speaks about the Church of Rome that is presiding in charity over the whole world of Christians, and Pope Francis used that expression,” he recalled: “The Church of Rome is presiding in charity over all the churches.”

“It was really a very important expression and most appreciated by the orthodox churches. This is a warming up for all of us.”

A former missionary in Lebanon, Fr. Quicke is a member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and works specifically with the Oriental Churches.

Out of the four separate dialogues the Oriental section maintains, the priest is in charge of three, which include the whole of the Oriental Orthodox churches, the two Malankara churches, also known as the Indian or Syrian Orthodox, and the Asian church of the east.

What they are seeking to do through these ongoing dialogues, Fr. Quicke explained, is to “put very important steps forward” in order to strengthen their bonds of unity with the Catholic Church.
Observing how there is only “one obstacle” preventing the full union of the Catholic Church with the orthodox churches, the priest explained that this is “the role of the Pope, the Petrine ministry.”

“We realized that we have so many things in common; we are proclaiming the same faith, we have the same sacraments, we have the same ecclesial structure, and we realized that we have the same spiritual roots. Most of the churches also have an apostolic tradition,” he observed.

Noting how great “fraternal dialogue” is already happening within the Orthodox churches of Constantinople and those of the Slavic tradition, Fr. Quicke admitted that “it is not easy” and that “we need a lot of patience and we try to establish an atmosphere of fraternity, brotherhood.”

Speaking of the upcoming encounter between Pope Francis and various patriarchs during his visit to the Holy Land later this week, Fr. Quicke explained that this meeting is especially significant firstly because “it is a commemoration of that unbelievable meeting, that fraternal encounter between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras 50 years ago.”

Referring to it as “a milestone in the relationships of both churches,” the priest observed that “after a thousand years of excommunication that was a radical change.”

“And the fact that Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartolomeo of Constantinople will meet again 50 years after that historic meeting has a very important significance.”

“The fact that they meet each other in such an important place where Christ prayed for the unity of his disciples and where they would pray together,” he continued, “is a sign that we have become closer to one another and that we both are engaged in putting further steps for unity.”

One of the things they are seeking to discuss during the trip is “looking together for a common date for Easter,” Fr. Quicke revealed, noting that “the fact that we don’t have the same date for the celebration of Easter is something painful.”

Regarding the future of the Catholic-Orthodox relationships, the priest explained that “we can learn from them and they can learn from us,” but “with our human efforts we also have to pray for unity because Christian unity is not only the result of human efforts.”

“Ecumenical dialogue is not only discussing high theological issues. It is firstly to enter together into the prayer of Jesus that all may be one.”


  1. I beg you don't confuse Catholic opinion with what some liberal bureaucrat says. Catholic teaching, not "opinion," is that the schismatic Eastern groups must repudiate their heresies and schism and return to the Catholic Faith whole and inviolate in submission to the Supreme Pontiff. No bureaucrat priest, whatever his "importance" in Roman politics, can change this.

    1. True. And as long as that position stands there can be nothing more than episcopal glad-handing and gift exchanges.

    2. Well obviously I quite disagree with that, but I do agree that the gulf of separation will not be cured by repeating ad nauseam episcopal glad-handing and secret santa events.

    3. I would prefer Roman Catholics to speak with me in a direct way like Matthew. According to RCC doctrine, Orthodox are schismatic and under papal anathema for the heresy of rejecting papal infallibility.

      I guess a lot of people must really like these empty ecumenical gestures, heretical "two-lung/sister churches" statements and photo-ops.

    4. Maximus,

      Kindly, let me speak directly to you.

      First, it is not Roman Catholic Doctrine or teaching (the magisterium) to state that the Orthodox are schismatic. Rather, the distinction is that it is a jurisdictional statement, a legal (canonical) position. When you are in schism, the point is to resolve it, and both Rome and Constantinople are working in good faith to resolve this. Both sides understand that we are to bring people to salvation in Christ, and agree we should not spend our days trying to find reasons to damn others, that is, find excuses to exclude people from salvation.

      In regards to the Anathema of Vatican I, it is understood that since the Orthodox were not at the Council, it does not apply to them.

      Yes, I am one those who appreciates and approves of these ecumenical gestures, joint statements and photo-ops.

    5. James ignatius,

      Fr. Lawrence Cleenewerk disagrees with you in the very book that you recommended. He says that the anathema of Vat I on those that reject that dogma is a clear reference to the Orthodox. He concludes: "it is therefore preferable and more honest to present things as they really are: the Roman Catholic Church teaches that the Orthodox are in a state of schism and heresy, under papal anathema." He also quotes Fr. John Hardon, S.J. as holding the same teaching. Plus, any Roman Catholic sources that one reads prior to the recent ecumenical overtures bears this out.

    6. Well, Maximus, Father Lawrence is a wonderful fellow, but I respectfully disagree with him. I have his book, and while there is a lot of good in it, I do not believe everything he said is correct about the Roman position Further, while the good Father John Hardon may have held such a position, it is hardly normative anymore. Now, if you read most Catholic literature vis-a-vis the Orthodox from 1870 to 1958 you will find various positions - it depends who you read, and you can cherry pick the source to reflect the answer you wish. Having gone through the libraries of several Catholic universities, I can state affirmatively that this is true. Further, many of these sources are based on ignorance or misinformation, reflecting the breakdown in communication and suspicion that existed. Both my father and grandfather had thoroughly pre-Vatican II Catholic educations and both told me that the Orthodox were only viewed as Schismatics - heretic was a title reserved for Protestants. As my old teacher Father Conrad Harkins O.F.M. told me, in the time before the John the XXIII you could get different answers regarding the Orthodox depending which religious order you inquired with (Jesuits, Redemptorists, Franciscans, Dominicans, etc.). The late Bishop Zayek of the Maronites told me the same thing, but he added the Orthodox view of Rome depended on the historical circumstances of the local Orthodox Church - some were positive and warm, others, cold and suspicious.

      We need to heal the memory of the past, many wrong things were said about the Orthodox and done to the Orthodox from the Roman side. However, no one in my family tree had any experience of eastern Christianity until you go back to my ancestors in the first and second crusades. Protestantism was the issue for us for the last 400+ years and some of my ancestors were persecuted for holding to the Catholic faith, and lost land and jobs and security. Until my paternal grandfather attended Venerable Fulton Sheen's Byzantine Liturgy, none of us knew anything about Orthodoxy. The whole schism affair was a non-issue for us in Germany, Ireland, Scotland and England.

      Anyways, Maximus, pray for me, and I shall pray for you. Father Lawrence is a wonderful priest and his bible is my favorite to read.

    7. The candid (but courteous) replies are what best serve ongoing dialogue. I feel acute discomfort from the sugar-coated pretenses (delusions, perhaps) that Orthodoxy and Catholicism are "two lungs", "sisters", and so on down the road of falsehood. We are fully separated religious bodies.

      The Catholics, to preserve their integrity, are obligated to stand with their allegations that the Orthodox churches "left" them and that they must "come home." The Orthodox, to preserve the truth, are obligated to stand with their knowledge of accurate history and maintain that Catholics must renounce all manner of additions to the faith (as well as deletions from the faith) and "come home."

      The situation cannot possibly make anybody happy. Christians pray for unity and for the salvation of all mankind. Lies about the situation, however, do not further this goal. Let us respectfully recognize the many incompatible differences and work together in those ways on earth which remain available to us.

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  3. Quote from article: Observing how there is only “one obstacle” preventing the full union of the Catholic Church with the orthodox churches, the priest explained that this is “the role of the Pope, the Petrine ministry.”
    Outside a small "ecumenical dialogue" bubble, how many Orthodox think that the role of the Pope is the "one obstacle" preventing union? Very substantial dogmatic differences would remain, and in my experience this is common knowledge among the Orthodox faithful who follow this issue.

  4. To have true unity we must confess the same faith in its fullness. To say that the Roman Pope's role is the only stumbling block is just foolish.

    "And in the Holy Spirit, The Lord, the Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father"


    The Roman Pontiff is "First Among Equals", not "Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church"

    Then and only then when the Roman Church confesses these two teachings as it did for a millennia, can we even BEGIN true ecumenical dialogue.

    Until then, it's just mutual cooperation, helping the needy, and agreement on social matters.

    1. As a lifelong Catholic (raised Roman until I discovered Byzantine spirituality) I need to clarify our Trinitarian beliefs. They can be summed up with these three quotes:

      "the Spirit proceeds from the Father, and is proper to the Son and gushes forth from Him" -First Ecumenical Council

      "For even though the Spirit exist in His Own Person, and is conceived of by Himself, inasmuch as He is the Spirit and not the Son, yet is He not therefore alien from Him; for He is called the Spirit of truth, and Christ is the Truth, and He proceedeth from Him, just as from God the Father." - St Cyril of Alexandria, The Three Epistles of S. Cyril, Third Letter to Nestorius

      "And in the Holy Spirit, Who proceeds from the Father through the Son, and Who is acknowledged to be Himself God." - Seventh Ecumenical Council

      In other words, there is a procession of the Holy Spirit that involves the Son and it is distinct from the procession of the Holy Spirit with regards to the Father. The issue was a result of a language barrier between Greek and Latin ("procedit" being a very passive proceed as in "passing by" but does not translate into Greek at all). The Roman pontiffs through the centuries have held up the definitive version of the Creed, despite adopting the modified version (originally used by the bishops in 7th Century Spain to combat an Arian Visigoth King).

      The autocephalous Orthodox churches in communion with the Roman church still adhere to the original unaltered Creed. The Filioque is a non-issue.

      As for the Papacy, I believe the ultramontanist idiocy of the 19th century is on its way out after the narrow minded Papal-centric structure collapsed in the latter half of the twentieth century. The Roman Church is shellshocked after the liturgical nonsense of that era and (I believe) needs the Orthodox more than ever. Erstwhile, the pointless bickering between Jerusalem and Antioch proves why the Orthodox need the Papacy to mediate these issues as it did at Ephesus and Chalcedon.

  5. The Orthodox side is no less strident, less someone think the rather ultramontane Latin position is the only one with teeth.

    The Western Church, from the tenth century downwards, has privily brought into herself through the papacy various and strange and heretical doctrines and innovations, and so she has been torn away and removed far from the true and orthodox Church of Christ. How necessary, then, it is for you to come back and return to the ancient and unadulterated doctrines of the Church in order to attain the salvation in Christ after which you press.

    —Ecumenical Patriarch Anthimos (Synodal reply to the Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII, 1895)

  6. Josephus Flavius,

    While being realistic, let us also not be too cynical or doom and gloom. True, most Catholics are simply oblivious to the existence of Orthodox or past hurts to the Orthodox, or hurts of the Orthodox to Catholics. However, there is more good will on the local level than years ago. The talking at the top is needed, but we also now see the rise of efforts at the academic level. We have the Catholic Paul McPartlan's works, influenced by the holy John Zizoulas. We have the wonderful conferences that produced Orthodox Readings of Augustine and Through Their Own Eyes: Liturgy as They Saw It by Robert Taft. We have the new book by Christiaan Kappes: The Immaculate Conception: Why Thomas Aquinas Denied, While John Duns Scotus, Gregory Palamas, and Mark Eugenicus Professed the Absolute Immaculate Existence of Mary. And then we have Marcus Plestad's Orthodox Readings of Aquinas. Then there is Laurent Cleenewerck's book His Broken Body. All of these books are important, because so much of what we have been taught about the other is based on misinformation, simply wrong, or lost in translation.

    Of course, it helps to hug one another, so a hug to you!