"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Without a Pope: Orthodoxy & Unity


"His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew addresses the heads of the Orthodox churches in the Patriarchal Cathedral of Saint George." (October 10, 2008, Photo by N. Manginas)


Patrick Archbold of Creative Minority Report published this post on Patriarch Bartholomew's Friday address to the heads of the Orthodox churches. I recommend reading the Patriarch's complete address, because it is almost all about unity, especially starting in section 5. The most interesting part comes at the end, however, when the Patriarch says this:

We need, then, greater unity in order to appear to those outside not as a federation of Churches but as one unified Church. Through the centuries, and especially after the Schism, when the Church of Rome ceased to be in communion with the Orthodox, this Throne [i.e. in Constantinople] was called -- according to canonical order -- to serve the unity of the Orthodox Church as its first Throne. And it fulfilled this responsibility through the ages by convoking an entire series of Panorthodox Councils on crucial ecclesiastical matters, always prepared, whenever duly approached, to render its assistance and support to troubled Orthodox Churches. (my emphases)

Patrick Archbold writes:

The Ecumenical Patriarch rightly sees the problem. The Church needs to be Visibly unified to the world, not just a federation of independent State churches. That visible unity must come by way of public and open Communion with One See and its Patriarch. The Ecumenical Patriarch even goes so far as to say that this responsibility falls to his see and his person only because of the break with Rome. I think, although I may be reading into this with Roman eyes, that the Ecumenical Patriarch might even agree that were communion with Rome re-established, the role of being the visible unifier of the Church would no longer fall to him and his See.

Now I know that the Patriarchs of many of these autocephalous Churches would vehemently disagree with such a notion, whether Rome or Constantinople. With that said, I think that the Ecumenical Patriarch's pitch to his fellow Orthodox is an important step in the road to full and visible Unity of the Church as Jesus prayed. If these national Churches come to realize the importance of that visible unity to the world, we will be that much closer to being one, as Jesus and the Father are one.

I agree with Patrick's comments. It is a basic principle of metaphysics that you can't get unity from non-unity, just as you can't get being from non-being. Patriarch Bartholomew wants visible unity, saying, "We need, then, greater unity in order to appear to those outside not as a federation of Churches but as one unified Church." If the Orthodox are not a mere federation of Churches, but are in fact a visible unity, then there should be no worry about their appearing as a mere federation of Churches. But if they are a mere federation of Churches, then they can't solve this disunity problem by redoubling their efforts to be more unified with each other, because the problem is in that case an ontological problem, not merely a deficiency of cooperation or collaborative effort.

Trying to achieve or establish visible unity by means of a principium unitatis, i.e. being united to an existing visible unity, likewise faces the following dilemma. If Christ did not found the Church with a principium unitatis, then clearly we should not seek to outdo Christ by establishing one. But if Christ did found the Church with a principium unitatis, then visible unity can be attained only by union with that divinely appointed principium unitatis.

Patriarch Bartholomew seems to be aware of the need for a principium unitatis for visible unity. This is revealed in his emphasis on the importance of his own Throne for the visible unity of the Church. He is thus in a difficult situation. On the one hand, without a principium unitatis there cannot be actual visible unity. On the other hand, insofar as he seeks to elevate his own Throne as a principium unitatis, he highlights the intrinsic need for Orthodox reunion with the Chair of St. Peter.

Speaking as a Catholic, it is our constant prayer and desire for the restoration of full communion with our Orthodox brothers and sisters. We long for that day of reconciliation and reunion. We pray for full visible unity among all Christians, for this is the desire of the sacred heart of our Lord Jesus, that we would be one, as He and the Father are one.

Holy Spirit, hasten the day when we are one with one another. Make our hearts to beat with the same deep desire and passion as that of Christ's heart. Heal the wounds that divide us. Help us overcome the obstacles that keep us separated. Clothe us in true humility and fill us with charity toward one another. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

4 comments:

CD-Host said...

The United States is a federation of states and both seems and is quite unified into a single government. It also avoids a patriarch. One does not need a monarchy to create unity.

Principium Unitatis said...

Collin,

The US has a president. But Christ did not set up the Church with a "president", but with Apostles, and to one He gave the keys of the kingdom.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

CD-Host said...

You don't think that reply begs the question? In your article you argued that there were theoretical problems with a federation, I think the US provides a good counterexample to the theoretical point.

Further if you accept the analogy with the US president (who has powers delineated in a constitution/bible and whose ruling are subject to review) that would resolve the central dispute not only with the Orthodox but with Protestants as well.

Principium Unitatis said...

Collin,

I don't think it begs the question to claim that Jesus didn't set up the Church with a "president", or to claim that Jesus gave the "keys of the kingdom" to Peter. I think those are both quite apparent.

Regarding "theoretical problems with a federation", that was not what I claimed. I claimed rather that "if they are a mere federation of Churches, then they can't solve this disunity problem by redoubling their efforts to be more unified with each other, because the problem is in that case an ontological problem, not merely a deficiency of cooperation or collaborative effort." I understand your appeal to the US as a counterexample of a unified federation, but as I said in my initial reply, there is an important difference in that the US has a president, while the Orthodox do not.

Jesus was not elected by democratic vote, nor were the Apostles. In the case of the bishops appointed by the Apostles, these descisions (about whom to ordain) were made by the Apostles. In some cases in later generations the lay people would nominate a candidate, and then the bishops would ordain him if they judged him to be worthy. But ordination per se has always been 'top-down'.

If your proposal is that the Protestants, Orthodox and Catholics should get together and elect a president of the Church, by what authority are you suggesting this? Who gets to decide who gets to be included in the vote? The authority issue cannot be bypassed. Your proposal assumes that no one right now has ecclesial authority, and therefore that the Catholic position is false. So your proposal is question-begging viz-a-viz the Catholic Church. I think that the path to unity is to unite to those having actual authority from Christ, not to appoint our own authorities. The latter, in my opinion, is precisely the path to disunity.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan