Friday, May 31, 2013

Catholicism and Orthodoxy: OicwRs and ecumenism

Steve Hayes writes here:
I've no idea what "OicwRs" are, but I think the two-lungs metaphor is a bad one, and bad theology. Too sentimental, really. Though I don't think there will be reunion any time soon, we can find a modus vivendi if we learn to recognise differences without minimising them (which some Catholics are tempted to do, and it's patronising) or maximising them (which some Orthodox are tempted to do, and it's belligerent). Most Orthodox responses that I've seen to the election of Francis as Pope of Rome have been positive and sympathetic.
OicwR is short for ‘Orthodox in communion with Rome’, confusing because it sounds like a positive description of what Rome wants Greek Catholics to be, liturgically Orthodox and doctrinally Catholic but expressing that in Orthodox terms, showing the Orthodox it’s doable and desirable. The people I’m describing dissent from Catholic teaching.

There aren’t that many OicwRs. Stuart Koehl, their doyen online for about 20 years; a Melkite bishop or two; and a few Catholics and others who pass through Greek Catholicism, get fed up with the latinization and second-class treatment, buy into Orthodoxy and convert.

Right, bad theology and too sentimental. Relativistic, which is why ‘ecumenist’ is a fightin’ word among online Orthodox.

It’s like the Anglicans with their branch theory, trying to be nice by including Catholicism and Orthodoxy in the true church but patronizing because it insults the teachings of both.

I understand why you don’t like Catholics minimizing the differences. But it’s not patronizing, according to Catholicism. It is an assertion of the true-church claim, which of course conflicts with the Orthodox claim to that.

My opinion: the only real difference is the nature and scope of the papacy.

My guess is most Orthodox don’t care about the Pope or the current holder of the office; he’s irrelevant to them, like the Patriarch of Moscow’s irrelevant to Catholics. In liberal academia you get some who sound like Catholic liberals (contradicting the fine traditionalism in real Orthodox life) or mainline Protestants such as Anglicans, so they like social-justice Francis. (Who as far as I can tell is not interested in the Orthodox.)
Though I don’t think there will be reunion any time soon, we can find a modus vivendi if we learn to recognise differences without minimising them ... or maximising them ...
The Russian bishops now, such as Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), their ecumenical officer, seem to be of that mind about Catholics, which is great. (The fanatical, belligerent faction of ROCOR, around since the ’60s, lost when ROCOR rejoined the Russian church, so the crazy splinter Orthodox churches got a few more people.) Right, a way to co-exist. That’s as far as ecumenism all around will go. We know what the other churches teach and aren’t trying to kill each other.

Catholic/Orthodox ecumenism is not only self-limiting (one side would have to give in on the Pope; not going to happen) but as society’s become less religious, most people just aren’t interested in ecumenism anymore. Unlike the ’60s, when most still went to church and people thought church union was just around the corner. The symbolic lifting of 1054’s excommunications (excommunications no longer apply after you die) got Catholics’ hopes up and scared Orthodox (some of whom jumped jurisdictions to become the fanatics in ROCOR) that Florence and the unias were about to come to full fruition with the Orthodox coming into Catholicism; the council got liberal Catholics’ and liberal Protestants’ hopes up that Catholicism was turning liberal Protestant; the English Anglicans and the Methodists were talking reunion; Paul VI gave Archbishop Ramsey one of his rings and Anglo-Catholics got their hopes up; American mainliners (liberal Protestants, though not as liberal as they are now) had the COCU merger plan. Nope.


  1. Fr Deacon Steve expresses very succinctly what I have always tried to say: it is patronizing.

    The reason that it is patronizing is that Catholics are in effect saying that they understand the faith of the Orthodox better than the Orthodox themselves do. Saying that it is an assertion of the true Church claim does not make it not patronizing; it reinforces it.

    It's very similar to the attitude of Christians towards Judaism: if the Christian faith is true, that means that we Christians understand the Jewish Scriptures better than the Jews do, and in fact the Jews have entirely missed the point of their own Scriptures. We have no choice but to have that perspective; if we don't we have denied that Jesus is the Christ. But we would do well, when interacting with observant Jews, to recognize how patronizing (and indeed offensive) that attitude is to the faithful Jew, and speak the truth with as much gentleness, sensitivity, and love that we can muster.

    Likewise with Orthodox, to whom you come across as saying that you, as a Catholic, know their faith better than they do themselves.

    1. Fr Deacon Steve expresses very succinctly what I have always tried to say: it is patronizing.

      Sure, the Orthodox think it is.

      Catholics are in effect saying that they understand the faith of the Orthodox better than the Orthodox themselves do.

      We are.

      It's very similar to the attitude of Christians towards Judaism... Likewise with Orthodox, to whom you come across as saying that you, as a Catholic, know their faith better than they do themselves.

      True. I get it. It's still what I believe.

    2. So we understand each other. That is a good thing.

      Nevertheless, what you are saying is not "it's not patronizing"; it's "we have every right to be patronizing."

    3. The patronizing "I know your faith better than you do" cuts both ways, in my experience (which includes more than a decade of Orthodoxy). Gross caricatures of Roman Catholicism are general in Orthodoxy (even in academic environments, where they should know better); when the Catholic tries defending Catholicism, they're very often told that they are quite simply mistaken about their own faith.

    4. As I wrote privately to Chris:

      John's conclusion seems to follow almost of necessity from his premises, and (as it seems to me) the reverse would necessarily follow too, that Orthodoxy knows Rome better than Rome knows itself. (Maybe the same might follow for Confessional Protestants as well -- if, at least, their claims about their particular "selves" are true -- but I'm not quite sure about that, and haven't thought it through).

      What I meant is, that if the Catholic Church's claim about itself is true (that it is "the Church"), then it does know Orthodoxy better than Orthodoxy knows itself; and so, contrarywise, the Orthodox Church would know Rome better than Rome knows itself, if its claim that it is "the Church" is true. I don't think that the same does apply to Protestant Confessional bodies (the Lutherans, the Reformed), since their respective Confessions are not self-interpreting, and in fact bodies which embrace the same confessional documents, or some of them (, the PCUSA and the PCA for the Reformed, and the ELCA and the Missouri Synod for the Lutherans) give them rather different, and often incompatible, "readings," as regards both doctrine and practice. (Indeed, among the Lutherans, even conservative Confessional bodies like, e.g., the Missouri Synod and the Wisconsin Synod, give them in some respects incompatible readings, such that these two bodies are not in communion with each other.)

  2. I've never heard Melkites call themselves anything but 'Melkite' or 'Melkite Catholic.' In my area, they are a Middle Eastern ethnic church, with some Westerners who attend because they can't stand the Novus Ordo. I don't get the Uniate concept. If Rome has universal jurisdiction they are superflous. Be Catholic or be Orthodox.

    I have the same sort of reservations about Western Rite Orthodox. The pre-Schism forms are mostly lost to history. Stick with the Byzantine rite and eventually, say three hundred years from now, the rite will have evolved into an organic form for an autocephalous Church in the New World. That, or the Schism will be healed by then.

    1. You're right that most Melkites, like most Ukrainian and other Greek Catholics, don't call themselves anything like OicwR, and that Greek Catholic churches have long been a good refuge for Westerners who can't stand the Novus Ordo. Those refugees have saved some parishes and are the lifeblood of some others.

      The Uniate concept, Greek Catholicism with its own bishops with jurisdiction, can be seen as a nod to Orthodox decentralization. I understand, though, the problem with overlapping jurisdictions; there should be only one Catholic bishop per place, but that's not reality, thanks to rite and language, just like the Orthodox jurisdictional smorgasbord in America. As I like to say, Orthodoxy is a communion of churches with very little to do with each other. The Slavs here don't join the Greek church or vice versa. Same reason Roman Riters have default Irish-American territorial parishes but also Italian and Polish parishes; the newcomers 100 years ago didn't speak English.

      Might the American Orthodox, the descendants of all the ethnics, eventually merge into an American recension of the Byzantine Rite in a small American Orthodox church? Maybe. But it's not a priority. American Orthodox are happy with their patchwork of churches.

  3. Reunion will occur. But it will come about via a miracle wrought through the intercession of the Theotokos.

    She'll say, "This is hopeless. What a mess my kids are making. Time for Mama to intervene!"

    And yes, it will be an "ecumenism of return." Minus any triumphalism or imposed Latinization, of course.

    You heard it here first. (Well, actually, you've probably heard it many times before. But it bears repeating. :))

    1. While we're speculating on hypotheses here:

      If the Schism ends, it will be because the hierarchy recognizes the laity's facts on the ground, e.g., the rather common parish-level intercommunion in the Middle East.

      In other words, it will happen when a Catholic or Orthodox bishop performs a hierarchical Liturgy and realizes he's celebrating for the hundred or so Catholic and Orthodox still left in town.

      So long as both sides can pay their bills and worship openly, there's no real incentive for reunion.

    2. I like this comment too.

  4. Hmm, I wonder what will happen to Lviv (Lwów). The majority of churches in that area are pre-conciliar Roman Catholic churches occupied currently by Greek Catholics and Orthodox of three recensions. Who do you award Lwów to? The Roman Catholics, the Greek Catholics or the Orthodox, and which ones.

    1. Lwów is Ukrainian Greek Catholic central. In the unlikely event of reunion, I guess they'd go under the Russian Orthodox, or, more likely given the historical hard feelings with the Russians, remain their own autonomous church (with a patriarch?) with the UOC-KP and even the UOC-MP (Russian Orthodox Church in the Ukraine) dioceses in it. The Poles don't live there anymore as far as I know, so their claim to the old churches is a dead letter.


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