"I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history." -Cardinal Francis George

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Orthodox Catholic Reunion: What will it NOT take?

Pope Benedict XVI and Eccumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

Chart of World Religions based on my own research
 In the chart above look at the grey blob at the top. Catholicism will not be reaching unity with Protestantism any time soon simply because there is no single Protestantism, and it continues to divide like a cancer cell. But what about Orthodoxy? They are true Churches in Catholic eyes, with all 7 sacraments being valid, and compared with other Christian groups they have rock solid unity. A unified "Cathodox" Church would be a great witness to the world, and would unite the 2 main Christian groups (51% Catholic + 11% Orthodox = 62%) into a true majority of Christians. But isnt there a lot that hold us back from unity?

In this post, I dont want to focus on what we need to agree on for unity to take place. I think the two biggest items on that list are obviously going to take time and effort to work through. The question I think is helpful before getting to the "big 2" is this:

What will it not take to achieve unity?

In other words: All else being equal, will my pet issue prevent unity? One thing is for sure: It should not take agreement about beards to achieve unity. Yet believe it or not I have seen this argued about as a reason for continued separation. A "sign" of where the true Church is that Latin's trend toward no beards and Orthodox have them. Stupid, silly, ridiculous, bad reasoning, which completely ignores the Maronites and other "bearded" Eastern Catholics. We need to get beyond it.

A few weeks ago I was chatting with an Orthodox co-worker. Let's call him "Nicholas" (And lest you think I am stereotyping, that really is his name!). For background, we are both "devout" in our respective traditions. I take my Catholicism deadly serious, as he does Orthodoxy. Although it is also his familys heritage, it is not merely that for him. He really cares about his faith. So our discussion gets around to distinctives of our respective "teams". Incorruptible saints bodies, quantity and types of saints, Holy Fire shooting from the Holy Sepulchre, marrying priests, monastic life, beards, ethnicity, nationalism, calendar differences, the Rosary, etc, etc.

After quite a bit of that sort of back and forth (quite congenial I might add), I was struck with the realization that we never quite got around to discussing Papal Primacy or the Filioque. As someone who is very interested in reunion between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, I always find this situation somewhat depressing. It seems comparable to a troubled couple going to marriage counselling and on the top of the list of crucial discussion topics for potential reunion is:

#1. Toothpaste tubes: Rolling or Squeezing?
#2. Toilet seat: To leave up or put down.
#3. Which is better: Mexican food or Thai food?


Misses the point eh? Perhaps instead of focusing on this meaningless stuff getting down to the real issues would be nice? Okay, so how to do that? I propose first using this same "non-issue" list as a starting point in narrowing the discussion. The guiding principle should be this:

If issue X were the last issue on the table would it prevent reunion? And if not, forget discussing it.

In other words, if the issues of papal primacy and filioque were resolved, and whatever else is deemed crucial to either side, and all that was left is issue X (beards for instance), would that issue prevent reunion? If the answer is "no", then please for goodness sake, let's ignore that issue from the get-go. So I propose we come up with a list which gives the many worthless, go-nowhere debates that would not and do not needfully separate Catholics and Orthodox. Keep in mind that some of these are worth discussing, and some are even fairly important, but they don't rise to the level of something that separates us from being in full communion with each other.

I would start the list thusly:

#1. Beards. Get over it. No sane Jesus loving Christian would prevent reuinion because of such a triviality.
#2. Celibate priests. This is not a matter of dogma for Catholics, but merely the practice of the latin rite and not even the eastern rite Catholics such as the Maronites. And Orthodoxy would not need to change to accept this practice, they would merely need to allow some (latin rite) Catholics to continue this practice. And the fact that Orthodox priests may not remary, and that their bishops may not be married shows that they understand the latin reasoning to a degree, and should be able to respect and tolerate the Latin Rite on this discipline.
#3. Charisms of religious orders. Some Orthodox criticize Catholic piety for having different religious orders with different callings, unlike the Orthodox who have a more singular vision of what religious life should be like.
#4. Leavened or unleavened bread.
#5. Statues in the round vs. icons only.
#6. Different types of miracles. (Orthodox saints do not have stigmata, while some other miracles seem to only happen to Orthodox or Eastern Catholic saints, such as miracles of uncreated light appearing). Either way, let's agree that we both have holy ones who have miracles, and not disrespect the other side for it's differences.
#7. Differences of devotional practices. This one actually get's me steamed up a little. I have heard Catholics roundly criticized by Orthodox for praying the Rosary or Stations of the Cross. Generally the critique is that prayer focusing on events is not spiritual enough, and the Orthodox are soooo much more spiritual in how they pray. This kind of attitude is toxic for everyone who touches it. Both sides have deep histories of very intense types of prayer, and getting into a spitting contest here is just petty. In defence of the Orthodox critics on this topic, I have often found that they have wrong information about Catholic practices anyway.
#8. Calendar issues. Fact: There are three calendars in use among Orthodox churches who are in communion with each other: Julian, Revised Julian, and Gregorian. This fact should be the end of the discussion if this issue is brought up in the context of reunion. It is currently a controversy in Orthodoxy, and it can continue to be a controversy in a reunited Chruch.
#9. Orthodox crabbing about "proselysing" in "their lands". Give me a break. If I, as a Catholic, lived in a majority Orthodox country (in Eastern Europe or Russia), I would need to go to a Church in communion with the pope. It is as simple as that. The presense of Catholic Churches in these areas is totally legit, and Orthodox need to get over it. Was the way they got there in some cases not a good way? Perhaps. But the fact is that Catholics who wish to recieve the Eucharist from priests in communion with the Apostolic See need somewhere to go. And the fact that Orthodox have churches in America and elsewhere shows that they do the same thing the Catholics have done, yet the Catholics don't gripe one bit about it. I am just fine with there being an Orthodox diocese in my area. Let's each make our case and let people decide which team is right.
These a just a few things that it will not take to achieve unity. Unfortunaltely, that are often the ones most discussed as if they really are an impediment to unity. Anyone have any other items to add to the list?

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Medieval Mind

The medieval mind is awesome. And personally I would say that humanity is on the slow slide downward since the 13th century. Look at our culture, be it architecture, theology, morality, music, literature, and even science (yes I went there), and a very good case can be made that humanity has not outdone the Middle Ages. In fact, in the case of architecture, I think it is not even up for debate. Shall I compare Chartres Cathedral to the signature architecture of today, which would have to be a Wal-Mart building, or the big box mega-church auditorium?  We should be ashamed. Compare the following images and ask yourself where the focus is, and what kind of mind created each worship space.

Inside the Medieval mind.
Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres, France, completed in 1250AD.

Lakewood Church - megachurch
Inside the Modern mind.
Lakewood Church and zombie thunderdome, Houston, TX. Completed... who cares.

On a personal level, I love the era because I *get* their thinking better than 21st century thinking. I did a bit of reading today in Religious art in France, XIII century: a study in mediaeval iconography and its Sources of Inspiration by Émile Mâle (Which you can read online for free btw). It is a fascinating peek into the medieval mind, to whom, to sum up the intro to the book, the whole world is a symbol. Here is a excerpt with my bolded emphasis:
The author of the Bestiary, whoever he may have been, must have drawn largely on his imagination. The traditional symbolism founded on the Bible gave him little help, for the animals of the Physiologus are fabulous monsters like the griffin, the phoenix and the unicorn, or animals of India unknown to the Old Testament, and he had of necessity to invent most of the moral interpretations accompanying his descriptions of animals. His symbolism was accounted none the less excellent, and was accepted without criticism through the Middle Ages. It occurred to no one, moreover, to verify the accuracy of stories in the bestiary. In the Middle Ages the idea of a thing which a man framed for himself was always more real to him than the actual thing itself, and we see why these mystical centuries had no conception of what men now call science. The study of things for their own sake held no meaning for the thoughtful man. How could it be otherwise when the universe was conceived as an utterance of the Word of which every created thing was a single word? The task of the student of nature was to discern the eternal truth that God would have each thing to express, and to find in each creature an adumbration of the drama of the Fall and the Redemption. Even Roger Bacon, the most scientific spirit of the thirteenth century, after describing the seven coverings of the eye, concluded that by such means God had willed to express in our bodies an image of the seven gifts of the spirit.

I think there is profound wisdom here that has been lost. We sure don't see the world this way anymore. If there is anything our age will be known for once it has passed from the earth, it will not be our search for meaning in the universe. Oh sure, we might be able to describe (to some degree)  how the physics how light is both particle and wave, or how Kryptonite has so many and such electrons in its valence field, but who cares? What we as humans long to know is why. And we long to know what the creator is telling us through His creation. And that longing is something modern "science" laughs to scorn.

At the foot of one of the side altars at the front of my Church is a pelican tearing at its chest so as to feed its blood to its brood gathered around. Something like this:

The modern mind looks at this and laughs, because of course we now know pelicans don't actually do this in the wild, like the silly medievals thought, so we have really advanced from the old superstitions they were beholden to.

But the medieval mind doesn't care if the fable is true or not, -the modern mind has missed the entire point- and in their "wisdom" has become as fools. Because the whole world is a symbol, we should see the pelicans action pointing us to Christ, who feeds us with his blood, which he says is real drink indeed (Jn. 6:55). Does it matter that a phoenix may not have existed? If you think it does, then you are a fool. You have missed a beautiful lesson about the Resurrection. And what I find ironic is that modern science has found these animals*, yet modern man ignores their significance. 

The difference is not one of scientific ability, as modern men might think, but it is one of philosophy, and specifically teleology (purpose). If medeival people had cared to know for sure if gryphons or unicorns or the pelican story were real, they could have easily examined the question. But for them it would be a worthless question. Because whether the pelican feeds its young of its own blood or not is not what matters. What maters is that Christ feeds us, and that the creation itself speaks of this feeding if we would just pay attention. What a wonderful world God has placed us in if we would only humbly look.

*Off the top of my head, I think of frogs who bury themselves in mud and are dead in a kind of hybernation, then when rain comes they come alive ala the phoenix. Or the many animals who sacrifice their life for their young, often even giving their own body as food, as Christ does for us.