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Sunday, June 03, 2007

A Modest Little Proposal

Should the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church ever reunite a new conciliar structure would be required to serve the unity of the Church. The details are difficult to foresee but the general shape might just be discernible.

Each autocephalous church would be represented by its patriarch or pope. The Bishop of Rome would facilitate this body by convening and presiding in love. Any participating hierarch could petition Rome for a meeting and should this be supported by the other churches, the Pope would call his brothers together.

There would be one rule. Any decision would only be effective if it had the unanimous assent of all. “Never the Twelve without Peter; never Peter without the Twelve.”

Clearly there are huge questions left unresolved by this proposal ... the balance of primacy and authority amongst the brethren and with Peter, the relationship to the faithful and Tradition, the linkages between the Pope’s own apostolic role and that of an Ecumenical Council, the day by day administration of the Church to name but a few. Nonetheless, these can be worked out if the questions of primacy and conciliarity have first been satisfactorily resolved in a spirit of love and truth.

There remain also significant challenges to be faced in the mentality and wounded history of both churches. How can we seek that honesty and generosity of spirit that might recover through forgiveness and reconciliation that primordial Christocentric unity that Christians once had across the Oikumene? Only the Holy Spirit can forge such a new mindset. For this to happen, contrary forces are going to have to “move out of the way” ... on both “sides.”

Many will probably not be very popular for supporting such explorations and the temptations to further schism will be great (especially, sadly I feel amongst the Orthodox). Remaining as we are though is simply not an option. Christian unity in truth is never a luxury but a vital component of preaching and living out the gospel. It’s about time we took this challenge more seriously; in the Orthodox constituency at least.


James Siemens said...

I can think of few Christian projects more important than this. Pope John Paul might have hoped for such a thing, as expressed in the encyclical 'Ut Unum Sint', but its urgency could quite clearly be seen in Pope Benedict's visit to Patriarch Bartholemew: not so much out of desperation as out of a sense that the Incarnation was more fully made present when the two stood side-by-side.

Of course, there have been concrete efforts made in the past to work toward such a thing as you have proposed, as expressed, for example, by the Society of St Alban and St Sergius. But I suspect that these societies have had their day. In many cases, the work undertaken by them is dominated (on one side at least) by a rarefied constituency, and in so many cases, a rarefied constituency that has a romantic - as opposed to a real theological - interest in the East.

The benefits to be gained from any reunion between the Latin and Eastern Churches are too innumerable to list in a small space like this. Certainly the proposals above seem congenial enough that both sides could easily accept them and so pull back the curtain of separation. Were they to do so, I believe that the great issues of our time - and of every time - would take on a very different hue.

Thanks for this article, Father.

Father Gregory said...

This is a bit tangential James as the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius is an Anglican-Orthodox society. However, I agree that such societies were (and to some extent, still are), rarefied and romantic. Sometimes they have been used to forestall and control movement between the participating churches.

I am involved at the moment with a local Anglican priest in an attempt to restore the local branch of the Fellowship. We are determined though that the work will not be an exotic preoccupation of enthusiasts but rather an engagement integral to the normal life of both churches. The Fellowship with become a vehiclr toward wider goals, not an end in itself.

Are you aware of any such similar bilateral endeavours between Rome and Orthodoxy in the UK?

James Siemens said...

Sorry about the reference to 'St Alban and St Sergius'. I thought that their mandate was more broadly 'Western and Eastern' as opposed to 'Anglican and Eastern', especially considering the existence of the 'Anglican and Eastern Churches Association'.

In any case, I am on the hunt for something similar between Rome and Orthodoxy. Working on something like this could be a very edifying experience.

I already have a vested interest in the nature of the so-called 'Unitate' Churches, and perhaps less practically, such historical representatives of Latin-Greek ecumenism as Theodore of Tarsus. So I would relish the opportunity to put theory into practice.

Paula Maillet said...

Why on earth would anyone even think of being joined in any way with the heretical church of Rome? The call to "Christian unity" does not imply being united with a denomimation that believes that the mother of the Lord Jesus is "co-redemptrix," or that the Pope is infallible. The call to "Christian unity" does not imply being united with those who believe that salvation is dependent on a balance of goodness over badness in one's life. How can one be united with those who bow before statues and wear charms, they call them medals, upon their bodies for good luck or protection (St. Christopher, the Miraculous medal, etc) These are heresies. And from such we are to stay away.

Father Gregory said...

Dear Paula

You will notice that I started my post in this manner .... emphasis extra ....

"SHOULD the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church ever reunite ..."

The rest of the article has to be read in that light.

There is no way that Orthodoxy and Rome can or should reunite whilst contested matters remain.

One or two clarifications though ...

Mary as "co-redemptrix" is not part of Roman Catholic dogma. There are a few theological hotheads who have pressed for this historically, but Rome shows no sign of giving way to them.

The infallibility of the papacy could not be accepted by the Orthodox either BUT it should at least be recognised that such pronouncements only have effect when made "ex cathedra" ... which means, essentially, very, very rarely. However, I agree the principle should not be conceded.

"Balance of goodfness and badness" is not RC doctrine either but I guess that you will find just as many ill informed persons in the Protestant churches who believe that as well.

Medals are not worn as "charms" ... they signify faith in something. Again, lots of things are misused and misunderstood across all churches .... and that includes the Bible as well.

As to statues ... (I guess you could include our icons as well here). We most certainly do not bow down TO them; we venerate representations of the saints as indicating their transparency to Christ. Him only do we worship.

I am sorry Paula but your comments (with the exception of infallibility) are based on a gross cartoon version of Catholicism which has little or anything to do with reality or fact.

dave said...

• Samuel Clear, a 28 year old from Australia, is attracting the attention of Christians worldwide, as he independently walks an 18 month pilgrimage across the planet inviting people to join him in praying for the unity of all Christians.
Naming the pilgrimage, Walk4One, Sam left Australia on December 14, 2006 to begin his 29,000km, 564 day, worldwide journey, which includes 18,000kms traveled on foot. To read about Sam’s mission, see

rhett said...

I really enjoyed reading this post. Thank you, Father. My wife is Catholic, and I'm Orthodox, so I have a personal interest in this topic.
I was wondering if you have any suggestestions for further readings on the topic of re-unification. Where do things stand now? Who else is interested in, and working toward, unification?

Father Gregory said...

Dear Rhett

I think that the work is "patchy" - there are some Orthodox who think that any ecumenical work is a betrayal and that is a mirror image of similar views in some Catholic quarters, (notwithstanding the last 40 or so years since the Second Vatican Council "opened the window.")

Many others though in both churches have proceeded more positively but with due caution. I personally support this approach. On the Orthodox side one thinks of Olivier Clement and Metropolitan John Zizoulas. On the Catholic side Pope John Paul II is credited with a determination to draw together the two traditions but I think he was sometimes too optimistic about the short term prospects.

Like most genuine ecumenical work and with so many wounds of history to heal it will take much patience, honesty and prayerful forgiveness. I do think though that great progress has been made in the last 20 years or so and that this will continue. A key factor in all of this is the attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church. If the Pope ever visits Russia I think a lot will change, for the better.

A note of caution though .... Orthodoxy cannot compromise on the papacy. It has to be reformed in a more conciliar direction. With this though might come a more positive attitude (in practice as well as theory) from the Orthodox toward the Petrine primacy.

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