Pope Benedict and ecumenical dialogue with the Orthodox

Pope Benedict XVI is the Pope of Christian Unity.

He is the Pope of Christian Unity because he is the Pope of Continuity.

Liberals will always try to define the parameters of ecumenical dialogue and will inevitably introduce compromises in essential points of Catholic doctrine and identity for the sake of continuing dialogue. 

Benedict XVI doesn’t do that.  He has shown how we can move on issues that are not of essence while representing those that are in new terms without undermining them.

I read this on chiesa of Sandro Magister.  You should go over there and read the whole text.

My emphases and comments.

ROME, January 25, 2010 – This evening, with vespers in the basilica of Saint Paul’s Outside the Walls, Benedict XVI is closing the week of prayer for Christian unity.

There are some who say that ecumenism has entered a phase of retreat and chill. [And you know who they are.  These are the same folks who gripe about dialogue with the obviously Catholic (though without manifest unity) SSPX but who happily move in the ethos of the LCWR.  They carp about the Holy See’s offer to traditionally minded Anglicans, while seeming to smile on the very aberrations which are tearing the Anglican communion apart.]  But as soon as one that looks to the East, the facts say the opposite. Relations with the Orthodox Churches have never been so promising as they have since Joseph Ratzinger has been pope. [Benedict XVI is the Pope of Christian Unity.]

The dates speak for themselves. A period of chill in the theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches of Byzantine tradition began in 1990, when the two sides clashed over so-called "uniatism," meaning the ways in which Catholic communities of the Eastern rites duplicate in everything the parallel Orthodox communities, differing only by their obedience to the Church of Rome.

In Balamond, in Lebanon, the dialogue came to a halt. It hit an even bigger obstacle on the Russian side, where the patriarchate of Moscow could not tolerate seeing itself "invaded" by Catholic missionaries sent there by Pope John Paul II, who were all the more suspect because they were of Polish nationality, historically a rival.

The dialogue remained frozen until, in 2005, the German Joseph Ratzinger ascended to the throne of Peter, a pope highly appreciated in the East for the same reason he prompts criticisms in the West: for his attachment to the great Tradition.   [He is the Pope of Christian Unity because he is the Pope of Continuity.]

First in Belgrade in 2006, and then in Ravenna in 2007, the international mixed commission for theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches started meeting again.

And what rose to the top of the discussion was precisely the question that most divides East and West: the primacy of the successor of Peter in the universal Church.

From the session in Ravenna emerged the document that marked the shift, dedicated to "conciliarity and authority" in the ecclesial communion.

The document of Ravenna, approved unanimously by both sides, affirms that "primacy and conciliarity are mutually interdependent." And in paragraph 41, it highlights the points of agreement and disagreement[NB…]

"Both sides agree that . . . that Rome, as the Church that ‘presides in love’ according to the phrase of St Ignatius of Antioch, occupied the first place in the taxis, and that the bishop of Rome was therefore the protos among the patriarchs. They disagree, however, on the interpretation of the historical evidence from this era regarding the prerogatives of the bishop of Rome as protos, a matter that was already understood in different ways in the first millennium."

"Protos" is the Greek word that means "first." And "taxis" is the structure of the universal Church.

Since then, the discussion on controversial points has advanced at an accelerated pace. And it has started to examine, above all, how the Churches of East and West interpreted the role of the bishop of Rome during the first millennium, when they were still united.

The basis of the discussion is a text that was drafted on the island of Crete at the beginning of autumn in 2008.

The text has never been made public before now. It is in English, and can be read in its entirety on this page of www.chiesa:

> The Role of the Bishop of Rome in the Communion of the Church in the First Millennium


This should be interesting.

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  1. roamincatholic says:

    This is phenomenal– though, I must confess, it goes around its elbow to get to its tail a few times…

    I found it most interesting that, though in later years, the East strove for independence, specifically in misunderstanding of the phrase “The first see is judged by no–one”– meant to be directed at Caesar, or at least, the document states; in contrast with the fact that in earlier years, the East obeyed the summons of the Pope. (The Athanasius and Julius scene).

    What is amazing, is that as a joint document, it seems the East is giving a lot of credit to the Primacy of the see of Peter, even in spite of disagreement over some interpretation. This is a cause of great hope, indeed!

    Thanks for posting, Fr. Z!

  2. sea the stars says:

    Didn’t Archbishop Hepworth of the TAC say something along these lines a couple of months back and people (not on this blog, mind) said he had no idea what he was talking about.

  3. pedesxpi says:

    I think this is perhaps more important folks realize. Talking to the Orthodox I know, their fear is of an arbitrary use of papal power to undermine the Tradition. Given some of the things that have happened in the Catholic church, especially in the 20th century, it is hard not to have sympathy with this fear. One of the disturbing things about looking at the history of the papacy is that there have been too many popes (even otherwise good and saintly ones) who suffered from a minimalist approach to doctrine and a consequent grandiose sense of their own power.

    What the present Holy Father has done is to re-anchor our sense of papal and eccleisal authority in Christ, in the Deposit of Faith, and in Scripture and Tradition. This means that even an infallible pope has limits to that authority, and that infallible authority is not his own but Christ’s as exercised through the papal office, and through Peter in the rest of the hierarchy. This limitedness is most obvious in the case of women’s ordination, as both the present holy Father, and his predecessor John Paul II of blessed memory, made clear. The stage for this clarification was already set forth in the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation of the Second Vatican Council, a much under-appreciated document, which set forth the nature of the deposit of faith, and of Scripture and Tradition, and clarified the relation between the two latter two.

    This ecumenical move is important for us as Catholics, as it may help to give us a better understanding of the nature of Tradition — and of the need to be rooted in Scripture and Tradition (of which the liturgical traditions is a part). In the same way I believe it will be helpful for the Orthodox, who may perhaps be lacking in a sense of the unity and universality of the Church, and of the need for a personal authority to be exercised in the Church militant if we are to respond with courage to the challenges offered to Christians in this fallen world.

  4. An American Mother says:

    This is very encouraging.

    One of our young priests is working very hard locally to encourage communication between the local Orthodox parish and our parish. It has already borne fruit with joint prayer services, meals, and friendly meetings.

    This can only help. A hundred years for the Pope of Christian Unity!

  5. markjohn316 says:

    Is it ethical to read this leaked document?

  6. Ogard says:

    Ad pedesxpi –
    “infallible authority is not his (i.e. the pope’s) own but Christ’s as exercised through the papal office, and through Peter in the rest of the hierarchy”.

    This is not how I understand Pastor Aeternus or Lumen Gentium. The papal authority is, of course, derived from Christ in the last analysis; but in the context of the Church of which the pope is a member, his infallible propositions are nothing but explicit articulations of what the Church has always believed, and in some way proposed by the Ordinary Magisterium of which he is a member. Otherwise, they are only an expression of his own teaching.

    “the Orthodox…may perhaps be lacking in a sense of the unity and universality of the Church”.

    They would be scandalized by this statement. They put emphasis on another, but complementary, notion of unity and universality, which does not consist in juridical unity, but in every Eucharistic celebration, which is always a united celebration of the whole Church. I think that this doctrine is implicit in conciliar and postconciliar documents, but it would take too much space to substantiate it here. For example: LG 26/1, UR 15/1, CCC 1325-1326, CDW Communionis Notio 4, Ecclesia de Eucharistia Ch. II and IV, Sacramentum Caritatis 15/1.

  7. Garth says:

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but the fact they would be scandalized doesn’t make it untrue.

    Certainly the Church is One and undivided in the Eucharist! But you can’t count out visible (or ‘juridical’ if you insist) unity. The Church is a Body.

  8. Ogard says:

    Garth, I have only tried to see the matter from the Orthodox viewpoint. Father Laurent Cleenewerk, an American Orthodox, can explain better in His Broken Body, Euclid Consortium University Press, 2007, pp 400. It is a scholarly work.

    The Church is both visible and invisible; so is the Eucharist. Visibly, the Catholic Church as it is today, is divided; or if it isn’t, the flock of those in full visible, as different from nominal, unity with the Pope is very small. On the other hand, the Orthodox Church is administratively divided, but they all are in communion in the sense that they share the Eucharist, which is visible. They do not see the administrative division as relevant. One can compare it with our administrative division between the Latin Church and individual Eastern Catholic Churches.

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