"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?


  1. Good thoughts, David.

    I have thought about this a good deal over the years. I almost went Orthodox (my wife was raised Orthodox) but eventually we both ended up Catholic.

    This is a bit of a twist, but it is based on observation. My dad was a Jew. Jews, generally speaking, are inoculated from becoming Christian because from early childhood a deep distrust of Christians is subtly fostered. It is usually justified based on history. Even among non-religious Jews part of being a Jew means not believing in Jesus. It is almost in the marrow. Ask a nominal Jew sometime what it means to be a Jew and you will likely hear: "Well, we don't believe Jesus was the Messiah".

    I noticed this same type of inoculation in ethnic Orthodox about Catholicism. Sometimes all it takes to be a good Orthodox is to know that you are not Catholic and that the Catholic Churh exists to vicitimize your church over and over again. It is drilled in from childhood. It actually comes with a good deal more negative bias than the Jewish version of this inoculation because there is a superiority complex inherent in it that Jews do not typically have towards Christians. But like the Jews, this bias is a part of their identity.

    So another for your list that they do not need to agree on is who has been (historically) naughty or nice. The Orthodox hold long grudges while not acknowledging their failings in the battles of the past. This is a huge huge obstacle.

    1. Very interesting. I can really see the "deep distrust" which can be fostered. My Orthodox friend even finds the extreme ethnocentrism of his community annoying.But even for him, the "naughty or nice" tug-o-war just seems part of his DNA.
      Literally everything that Catholics do/have done is inferior to Orthodoxy, and usually evil or dangerous. Even the rosary seems diabolical to him some how. When I point out the similarities with Orthodox pracitice, he denies any similarity whatsoever. Catholic saints have no miracles... whwn I point them out, he says they have no modern miracles... when I point out Padre Pio he says those miracles dont count because no Orthodox saints have had the stigmata... round and round it goes. I always get the impression he really has never even heard of the things I bring up, like Padre Pio, as if he has only been exposed to a very negative view of Catholicism, and never bothered to hear a Catholic explain for himself what he actually believes.
      But hey, that gives me hope, too. Because where there is misunderstanding, understanding is possible, and from there agreement is possible.

  2. It is hard to be wrong when your church is 'THE Church'.

    All those things you listed are praxis (except number 9). wrong praxis comes from wrong theology. Your right, they shouldn't be stumbling blocks to re-unification, but neither side will change without a change in the underlying theology that produces the praxis.

    What that means is that once a side admits error, their praxis will also change to come in line with whichever side did not admit error. Incidentally, if you do a little history research, you will see that many of these changes in praxis only happened in the west and not the east (east kept the original praxis - and the original theology as well).

    As for number 9, I've heard you say the exact same thing you are chiding the orthodox for - but to protestants. I call hypocrite.

    1. "if you do a little history research, you will see that many of these changes in praxis only happened in the west and not the east (east kept the original praxis - and the original theology as well)."

      Catholic and Orthodox both have tons of developement. And in the context of this post, some of our developements we want the other one to submit to. Catholics have tried to force celibacy on the eastern Catholics, and Orthodox will stare you in the face and tell you Catholics will have to become Hesychasts, even though it developed post schism.
      My point is that these developements are often secondary and need not be discussed. There is time for that after the essentials are nailed down.

      "As for number 9, I've heard you say the exact same thing you are chiding the orthodox for - but to protestants. I call hypocrite."

      Protestant sects are heretical. Orthodox churches are true churches. The debate between Orhtodox and Catholic on this issue usually has an Orthodox crying foul because Catholics view the as a true church, yet desire to have a Church in communion with Peter in "Orthodox lands". They see this as inconsistent.

      No such disagreement exists between any Protestants and either Cath. or Orth., so the situations are not comparable, so I am not a hypocrite.

  3. This is specifically about the use of unleavened bread in the west. It was not adopted in Rome until the end of the 1st millennium.

    Fr. Joseph Jungman -- in his book The Mass of the Roman Rite -- states that:

    "In the West, various ordinances appeared from the ninth century on, all demanding the exclusive use of unleavened bread for the Eucharist. A growing solicitude for the Blessed Sacrament and a desire to employ only the best and whitest bread, along with various scriptural considerations -- all favored this development.

    "Still, the new custom did not come into exclusive vogue until the middle of the eleventh century. Particularly in Rome it was not universally accepted till after the general infiltration of various usages from the North" [Joseph Jungman, The Mass of the Roman Rite, volume II, pages 33-34]

    Fr. Jungman goes on to say that, ". . . the opinion put forward by J. Mabillon, Dissertatio de pane eucharistia, in his answer to the Jesuit J. Sirmond, Disquisitio de azymo, namely, that in the West it was always the practice to use only unleavened bread, is no longer tenable" [Jungman, The Mass of the Roman Rite, volume II, page 33]

    "Now, the fact that the West changed its practice and began using unleavened bread in the 8th and 9th century -- instead of the traditional leavened bread -- is confirmed by the research of Fr. William O'Shea, who noted that along with various other innovative practices from Northern Europe, the use of unleavened bread began to infiltrate into the Roman liturgy at the end of the first millennium, because as he put it, "Another change introduced into the Roman Rite in France and Germany at the time [i.e., 8th - 9th century] was the use of unleavened bread and of thin white wafers or hosts instead of the loaves of leavened bread used hitherto" [Fr. William O'Shea, The Worship of the Church, page 128].

    "Moreover, this change in Western liturgical practice was also noted by Dr. Johannes H. Emminghaus in his book, The Eucharist: Essence, Form, Celebration, because as he said: "The Eucharistic bread has been unleavened in the Latin rite since the 8th century -- that is, it is prepared simply from flour and water, without the addition of leaven or yeast. . . . in the first millennium of the Church's history, both in East and West, the bread normally used for the Eucharist was ordinary 'daily bread,' that is, leavened bread, and the Eastern Church uses it still today; for the most part, they strictly forbid the use of unleavened bread. The Latin Church, by contrast, has not considered this question very important." [Dr. Johannes H. Emminghaus, The Eucharist: Essence, Form, Celebration, page 162]

    "Thus, with the foregoing information in mind, it is clear that the use of leavened bread by the Eastern Churches represents the ancient practice of the undivided Church, while the use of unleavened bread by the Western Church was an innovation introduced near the end of the first millennium."

    1. I fail to see the point of this. I could give a laundry list of practices which have changed since the practice of the undivided Church, even while she was undivided, on both the Catholic and Orthodox side. So what?

      The question is if the changes are valid, and specifically for the purpose of this post, if the changes make reunion impossible. Catholics do leavened and unleavened. This is right up there with beards on the priority list.

  4. The top 3 most important topics to discuss in marriage counceling.... ROFL!!!! XD Hilarious!!!
    And I absolutely love that "Beards" is number 1 on the "THINGS ORTHODOX AND CATHOLICS DO NOT NEED TO AGREE ON FOR REUNION" list.
    I'll admit that I didn't read the whole post in depth and I'm sure this is truly serious business for the church, but it totally made my day! =D

    1. Yeah believe it or not beards are a big deal to some Orthodox. It is hard to know whether to laugh or cry it is just so crazy.

  5. The main problem here is that the fact of the matter is the Eastern Orthodox are NOT united. There is no official head or magisterium. Instead, they model Protestantism in that there are major things which they cannot agree upon (the least of which is some turning 'non-essentials' like beards/azymes into essentials), including the status of the Catholic Church. The very fact the EO cannot agree on whether the Catholic Church has valid sacraments and such is an insurmountable problem and tarnishes their claims to legitimacy.

    There are Eastern Orthodox who would agree with your post, saying that there really aren't these huge issues that divide us, but these men are 'canceled out' by EO who disagree. This is even more problematic given that the Patriarch of Constantinople (who originally led the schism) has effectively been a puppet for the Turks for the last 500 yeasr, but even then "better the Sultan's turban than the Pope's tiara" was a mantra they never really threw off.

    There have been a few noteworthy times when Eastnern Orthodox have reconciled, such as at the Ecumenical Councils of Lyons and Florence, but again, a significant opposing EO party refused these unions. The only reunion that is likely is if individual EO Patriarchates come into union one at a time, which will take some serious humility. The Catholic side has always been more than generous in accepting and welcoming legitimate traditions than the EO side has, which is a huge testament in our favor.

  6. Nick,
    I largely agree with you, except I don't think we should think in terms of the problem being insurmountable. Unless you are talking about 'all' E.O. achieving reunion at once. Of course that is not likely/possible. But like Catholic efforts with Protestants, the goal is more 'piece by piece'. Of course the monks on Mount Athos will never accept reunion under any circumstance(barring a wondrous miracle), so we are looking at segments reuniting, as you say in your last paragraph.
    But having said that to you, I don't think it is helpful to say that to an Orthodox person. Why? Because this hard reality is something... like I point out in my post... that they don't need to accept to achieve reunion. Really all that needs to happen is to have one of the E.O. Churches reunite with Rome and that will create a bridge of legitimacy for other individual Orthodox to start some serious thinking. My personal prediction is that the segments in Orthodoxy which disagree will begin to disolve in this century as a result of the triple onslaught of Islam, low fertility/abortion, and modernization. My hope is that if these 3 unfortunate elements do combine to stress Orthodox Churches, that at the same time a humble Catholic Church will be waiting with open arms, ready to sit down at the table, and that the 'coming one at a time' scenario you mention will start to happen. So far, of the 3 threats, Orthodoxy has only had to seriously deal with Islam. But Orthodoxy is an Eastern European religion, and Eastern Europe is commiting suicide through low fertility and abortion right now. Combined with increased post cold war modernization and standard of living, and the increased irreligion that goes with it, I believe this will combine to isolate and stress the Orthodox patriarchates, and if Catholics are ready, and have our crap together (dumping the Novus Ordo clown masses, etc.), we could be seen as a harbor in the storm. But I think Catholics need to be ready to give up whatever we can, and we need to be ready to do whatever we can do to achieve unity, up to and including stripping down the papacy to it's essentials, and having the pope take his finger off of any hot buttons he can (stop appointing bishops in the east, zero interference with on celibacy in the east, etc.) Also I think we Catholics need to discuss this in terms of reunion rather than Orthodox coming back to us. I don't think we need to agree on who was in schism to achieve unity.

    Thanks for the discussion.


  7. When I say:
    "Really all that needs to happen is to have one of the E.O. Churches reunite with Rome and that will create a bridge of legitimacy for other individual Orthodox to start some serious thinking..."

    I mean a Church which would likely not be percieved as "Uniate" by modern Orthodox.

  8. Agreed. I can see either the Patriarch of Moscow or Constantinople being the first to reunite, since lately they've shown interest to some degree of this. Of course, as you said, we really need to clean up things on our end that have been a scandal, and who knows if our dirty laundry is really the main stumbling block?

  9. "I can see either the Patriarch of Moscow or Constantinople being the first to reunite..."


    "...and who knows if our dirty laundry is really the main stumbling block?"

    But removing it would remove it from being an excuse.

  10. I doubt you will see any OC reunite with Rome without all the others. To do so would be to break communion with them. The uniting church going it alone would be immediately viewed as Uniate, even if it was Constantinople or Moscow.

  11. Hey Jeff,

    "I doubt you will see any OC reunite with Rome without all the others."

    The Orthodox (particularly Moscow) are really good at being in communion with some and not others already (at least in terms of recognizing them, and sometimes more extreme). If Moscow suddenly reunited, that puts the ball in the court of other Orthodox to *act* to break communion with Moscow. It wouldnt be automatic.
    Orthodox are content with many tensions and contradictions as to who is in communion with who right now, and I dont see why that should be any different if one church came back to the Apostolic See.

    1. Dear David,

      I am intrigued by your post. Would you please elaborate on who Moscow is currently in communion with that other Orthodox patriarchs are not?

      I am praying for full communion to be restored soon.

      All best wishes,


  12. David, well the ecuminical Greek Orthodox patriarch bartholemew I would have to reunite ALL Orthodox, NOT just the Russian See!

  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

  14. The real question is, do the Orthodox even want to reunite? For most of us, no, we see no purpose in it.

    The things about unleavened bread and round statures are actually doctrinal, dogmatic issues, at least to us. The thing about celibate clergy is also important because the Orthodox Church discourages non-monastic celibacy since one is living outside of community.

  15. Austin,

    Thanks for your comment.
    Some observations.
    First, I find it fascinating what you say about not wanting to reunite, and there being no purpose in it. Presumably you believe the Orthodox faith to be the truth. And presumably you believe Catholics to be outside of that faith. Yet you see no purpose in reuniting? How about the purpose of bringing all those billion Catholics closer to the truth of Christ? There are 1.2 billion people on the globe who share many of your beliefs (certainly far more than the Muslims or Hindus do), and Christ calls His followers to go into all the world and make disciples (bring people into His Church), and yet you "see no purpose" in reuniting! Not sure how you will explain this attitude which is viral in some corners of Orthodoxy.

    Second, unleavened bread is a doctrinal, dogmatic issue to Orthodox? So if it were the last thing "on the table" in reunion talks, that would prevent reunion, correct?

    Here is my question to you: would it prevent your reunion with the Maronites?

    "The real question is, do the Orthodox even want to reunite?"

    Such a sad, hopeless statement.
    "The thing about celibate clergy is also important because the Orthodox Church discourages non-monastic celibacy since one is living outside of community."

    Lets be clear: I think celibacy is important to... that priests remain celibate... and I can give you reasons for it... That is what my tradition teaches. But "thinking its important" is not convincing in the slightest. What you have to show is that the Latin practice is opposed to apostolic tradition. And you cannot show that. Incidentally, why cant Orthodox priests remarry if their wife dies? Whatever your answer, this fact shows that the Orthodox have some understanding of the latin practice, and practice it to a degree themselves.

    So "the Orthodox Church discourages non-monastic celibacy". In other words, many of the churches in the east have the tradition of discouraging non-monastic celibacy. So what? Why does their tradition trump other valid traditions? I could say the same to the Orthodox, that "the Latin Rite Catholic Church usually forbids priests from marrying"... and the Orthodox would yawn. Not convincing.

    As a final question, I want to ask WHY you would not want to reunite? Why in the world would you not want the 2 largest Christian bodies to be united again as they were for a millenia? I see no possible answer that makes sense, but please go ahead and try.