Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A Coptic bishop enthroned in a Catholic church


  • Chair of Unity Octave prayers. Today's intention is close to me, the reconciliation of most of the Christian East, a topic about which there is much misunderstanding. The Orthodox, fellow Chalcedonians, clearly are estranged Catholics, not personally guilty of schism though they're in schism. Or heresy for that matter because they've never dogmatized their anti-Catholic opinions. Born Orthodox get the benefit of the doubt. Clearing up a misunderstanding among them: you don't have to latinize to be Catholic. But the self-latinized Eastern Catholics among us have the right to be. The Lesser Eastern Churches (Monophysites and Nestorians): also estranged Catholics or something like Mormons with holy orders, Christological heretics? (If you get Jesus wrong, are you really Christian? The Mormons aren't.) I don't have a problem with the recent understanding that the accusations of heresy were a misunderstanding (only recently have the Monophysites generally been considered Orthodox); we recognize their orders. (Our semi-"branch theory," only with Catholicism as the whole truth: our teaching on valid orders, requiring credal orthodoxy so basic the Lesser Easterners pass, unbroken apostolic succession, and unbroken true teaching about the Eucharist. The entire Christian East and a few Western splinters are, sacramentally, still in the Catholic family.) Another misunderstanding about the Christian East: that they recognize us like we do them. Not so fast. They can but they don't have to. Many don't. That's right; to them we're in worse shape than the Anglicans, not even having valid baptisms! (Because we're outside the church, see.) And for centuries the three families of Easterners, the Orthodox, the Monophysites, and the Nestorians, didn't recognize each other. (Competing true-church claims.) Still another from well-meaning Catholics: because Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras revoked the excommunications of 1054, we're in communion again or are about to be, imminently. Excommunications don't apply to the dead of course; those excommunications were of certain people on each side and didn't involve the churches. The estrangement remains. Which relates to still another: that Constantinople's the Orthodox Vatican; all we need is for the Pope and the Orthodox Pope to reconcile. No such thing as the Orthodox Pope. They're a loose communion actually little to do with each other; the Monophysites even more so. Misunderstanding No. 5: we're sister churches. The truth: because sacramentally we're still the same, our respective dioceses ("the church of Brooklyn," "the church of Johnstown") are sisters. The Catholic Church has no sisters. So there is no such thing as "the Orthodox Church." At the top there is only one church.
  • Anyway, "what's wrong with this picture," literally? Bishop Arsany (or Arsenios), the Coptic Orthodox Bishop for the Netherlands, attended today a Sung Mass (1962 Missal) celebrated at the Sint-Agneskerk in Amsterdam, where a personal parish dedicated to the Traditional Latin Mass is under the care of the FSSP. He might not be the first Orthodox prelate to attend a TLM in recent years, but as far as I know he is the first one to do so while seated on a throne inside the sanctuary. First off, good! Those at least slightly acquainted with the church know that the Christian East has never had a Vatican II; they had the grace and sense not to cave to the Sixties by modernizing. The Slavs in America just switched to English, including on the Greek Catholic side here (whence most of the Slav Orthodox in America came, "Greek" here meaning "Greek Rite"; by the way, most American Orthodox are actually Greek). So you have rites that are better than the Novus Ordo and historical, natural analogues to the Tridentine Mass. Some of their bishops recognize our sacraments. Well and good. Also, again, born members of these churches aren't personally guilty of schism. And again, our dioceses are sisters. So what's the matter here? Catholics believe there is only one true church, which gives the authority of jurisdiction to clergy, first to bishops, who in turn delegate some of their authority to priests. An estranged Eastern bishop belongs in "choir," on sedilia in the sanctuary with Catholic clergy, not vested to serve (anyway, the traditional Roman Rite usually doesn't have concelebration; the Eastern rites do) but in "choir dress," as indeed Msgr. Arsany (more on that address in a bit) is here, in his monk's habit (Eastern bishops are usually monks, so yes, they're celibate; diocesan deacons and priests may marry before ordination and widowers can't remarry — same in the Eastern Catholic churches and for the few married Roman Rite deacons and priests). Bishops are given jurisdiction by the Pope, so a Coptic bishop shouldn't sit on the bishop's throne in one of our churches. The estranged East certainly wouldn't do that for one of ours, logically. By the way, because jurisdiction comes from the Pope, and because estranged Eastern bishops, unlike Anglican bishops, are real bishops, before Vatican II it was common Catholic practice to refer to them as "Msgr. Name in Religion," much like a European Roman Rite bishop who is not a diocesan bishop. So the Archbishop of Canterbury was "Dr. Lang"; the Patriarch of Constantinople was "Msgr. Meletios." That said, I don't have a problem with the idea that not-guilty, not-ex-Catholic Eastern bishops have apostolic authority over their own people in the same situation as they; you could say the church supplies jurisdiction in that case of "good faith" ("they don't know they're schismatic" as a priest put it to me). So "Bishop Arsany" is fine.
  • In any case ecumenism with these churches (arguably the only kind that matters) is completely different from with Protestants, because they're churches, with apostolic bishops and the Mass, not groups of baptized Christians in non-churches, commonly called Protestants (heretics but not Christological ones). Our goal is to reconcile them to the church from the top down so all their dioceses come into the church at the same time, after which we would leave their rites alone. Huge moral support for traditionalists and conservatives in the Roman Rite.

1 comment:

  1. Further, Daniel Knight writes:

    The right to use the throne historically was quite restricted. Cardinals, the (nuncio or) Apostolic Delegate, the Metropolitan (archbishop, head of the province your diocese belongs to) and the Ordinary are the only ones (plus Abbots in their own Abbatial churches) who generally have the right (apart from by personal indult or similar).

    The closest analog would be an Eastern Catholic bishop in territory that overlaps with a Latin Catholic bishop, but I doubt (but do not know for sure) the Eastern Catholic bishop would be considered a Greater Prelate at a Latin Rite liturgy since the Eastern Bishop has no jurisdiction canonically over the Latins (ordinarily). Likewise for this case.

    The use of the throne is determined by who would be using it first and not where the throne is placed (other than Cardinals, most prelates using the throne are restricted to a specific territory to use the throne).


    I was thinking similarly. In the Catholic Church, the throne (cathedra, sede as in "see") is the ordinary's (diocesan bishop's) by right (the church's basic unit is the diocese under its "apostle," the bishop: "the church of Brooklyn," etc.); only Catholic bishops who outrank him may use it too. Abbots are canonically like ordinaries for their monks even though they're not bishops. Likewise the monsignor ordinaries of the ordinariates of Anglican alumni would use it in their churches (like they wear mitres, etc.).

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