In the past half-century, relations between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church have been growing ever closer and oriented ever more toward possible reunion. Perhaps the greatest hope of the late Holy Father John Paul II, of happy memory, was the reunion of these two oldest Churches of Christendom. In his many efforts to bridge the doctrinal and cultural divides which separate the Churches, he was successful in fostering much greater mutual respect, if not any actual reunification. Understandably, the steps taken by the Holy Father’s predecessor have excited much hope for reunion. However, it is my belief that the steps taken, on each side, toward the noble goal of rebuilding the single pre-schism Church, truly amount to little more than window-dressing, with no substantial gains made.
Not to be a party-pooper, but there is a huge list of very important things that need to be cleared up before reunion can be effected.
In compiling this list, I have provided a brief summary of each point. In order to shorten this article to a readable length, I have eliminated source citations. If you would like a citation on a particular point, please let me know in the comments section or via e-mail.
I invite your commentary.
1. The Canon of the Saints.
The canonization of a saint is held by both Churches to be a dogmatic statement of the eternal beatitude of a particular person. While coming to an agreement on the number of saints before the Great Schism is problematic enough, sorting out exactly who is a saint after the schism is even worse. Certain of those revered as saints in each Church are undoubtedly not palatable to the other Church: take, for example, Mark of Ephesus, an Eastern saint. Mark of Ephesus was the sole Eastern bishop who dissented from the decisions of the reunion Council of Florence in 1439, eventually sinking the Council’s chance of succeeding in the East. According to Western thought, Mark of Ephesus is not only not a saint, but a man who scuttled the Council worked for so hard by the fifteenth-century Latins, including among them several saints. Since the Orthodox Church believes Mark of Ephesus infallibly canonized, it would have to admit that it does not have the authority to infallibly canonize. The same story goes for those Western saints inimical to the East: the Catholic Church would have to retract its post-1054 canonizations, admitting that it hasn’t the infallible authority it claims. A compromise position, in which each Church retracts the canonizations unpalatable to the other, would force each Church to acknowledge that it has no infallible authority, which raises the question, are the Protestants right that infallibility is not divinely invested in any ecclesial body?/
It seems that, on this issue, there can be no agreement without one or the other Church admitting that it is not what it has claimed to be for the last thousand years.
2. The Canon of Scripture.
While not a deal-breaking matter, the Churches do not agree on a canon of Scripture; the Orthodox typically include in the canon Psalm CLI, I Esdras, III-IV Maccabees, Odes, and the Letter of Jeremiah, while the Western Church is dogmatically bound to reject the status of these books as Holy Scripture. Since, however, the Orthodox have never promulgated a dogmatic canon of Scripture, and do not hold these books in the same regard as the mutually accepted books, the issue is not insoluble, though not necessarily a simple matter, either.
3. The Councils.
The Orthodox Church accepts as ecumenical the first seven Councils — I Nicaea (325), I Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431), Chalcedon (451), II-III Constantinople (553, 681-681), and II Nicaea (787), and holds that other Councils are local in nature, and not dogmatically binding.* The Eastern Church accepts the Council in Trullo of 692 (the so-called "Quinisext Council [literally, "fifth-sixth]," as a legitimate part of the fifth and sixth Ecumenical Councils, because it promulgated the disciplinary canons absent in the previous councils two councils. The canons of Trullo are notoriously anti-Latin, attempting to impose Byzantine liturgical praxis upon the Western Church. Except for S. John VIII, the Popes never received the canons of Trullo, and he only received "all those canons which did not contradict the true faith, good morals, and the decrees of Rome."
Of course, the Roman Church holds that there have been twenty-one Ecumenical Councils, up to II Vatican inclusive. There are several possibilities for reconciliation. The Orthodox Church can affirm these Councils as ecumenical, despite the fact that most of these councils promulgated canons that the Orthodox consider heretical, and even though none of their bishops were present at most of them, clearly indicating that the Eastern Church had not been part of the una sancta since the schism of 1054. Secondly, the Catholic Church could acknowledge that these councils are not ecumenical until they are received and ratified by the bishops of the Eastern Church. The problem with this approach is that the Latin Church would be forced to acknowledge that it had not been part of the una sancta since the Great Schism. The third approach would be for the Catholic Church to submit fully to the view of the Orthodox, namely that the decrees of the Western councils have been in error, an acknowledgement of the West’s lack of divine authority.
*Some Orthodox argue that the Eighth Council, IV Constantinople (870) is ecumenical, and this presents its own problems. There were, in reality, two councils to call themselves IV Constantinople, the other being held in 869 against the schismatic Patriarch of Constantinople, Photius, who had unjustly excommunicated the Latins. The Latin Church has, since the eleventh century, held that the 869 council is ecumenical, while the Greek Church has never recognized the 869 council as legitimate, accepting instead the council of 870.
a. Appointment of Eastern Bishops.
Currently, all episcopal appointments within the Catholic Church are overseen by the Holy See. In the Eastern Patriarchates, episcopal candidates are named by the Patriarch of the autocephalous church, which then sends the names to Rome, where the Pope approves the candidates. In the Orthodox Church, however, the Holy Synod of each autocephalous church maintains the right to episcopal appointment. In the period before the schism, each Patriarchate held the right of appointment of bishops of the suffragan sees. The only realistic option here is for the Holy See to turn appointment rights over to the respective Patriarchs of the eastern churches, something that, I’m afraid, the Popes would rather not allow.
b. The Novus Ordo Missae.
Stated plainly, the Orthodox are flabbergasted at the promulgation by Pope Paul VI of an entirely new liturgy for the Roman Patriarchate, and one that dispenses with the previous universal practice of eastward orientation of the priest, at that. While the Orthodox have maintained the same liturgies with little change since the Patristic period, the West has abandoned its corresponding liturgy in favor of one composed in the 1960s. The East is more than a little put off by the notion that the Pope feels no qualms about taking tradition in his hands and trimming it as he pleases. Such an attitude is utterly foreign to the Orthodox Church, where tradition, both doctrinal and disciplinary, is regarded as the ultimate authority in matters of faith and praxis.
5. Dogmatic sticking points.
a. Procession of the third Person of the Trinity.
The filioque clause ("…and from the Son…") added to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Symbol of Faith promotes a view of the Trinity nearly absent in Eastern theology: double procession of the Holy Spirit. The East views this Western addition to the Creed, which appeared in post-Arian Hispania in the sixth century, and was officially added to the Roman liturgy in the eleventh century, as an unbelievable act of hubris on the part of the Papacy. While the notion of double procession is said by many Orthodox theologians to be theolegumenon, acceptable belief, though not official doctrine, many do not hesitate to call double procession a heresy.
Even if Orthodoxy were to accept the doctrine of double procession, it is unlikely that they would accept the actual filioque clause, due to the fact that it was a late addition to the Creed, and not given acceptance by an Ecumenical Council. Such an allowance would be tacit admission of Papal authority in matters of dogma — something inimical to Eastern belief. If the West were to suddenly drop the filioque, the obvious admission is that the Pope had overstepped his bounds in adding to the Symbol, although the Catholic Church has dogmatically acknowledged Papal authority many times over.
b. Metropolitical Authority.
In the Eastern Church, the dominant theology of today holds that all bishops hold equal authority, and that the primacy enjoyed by Metropolitans and Patriarchs is one of honor only. Papal authority aside, Catholic theology generally holds that Archbishops and Patriarchs hold a measure of doctrinal and canonical authority above that of simple bishops, though this article of belief has never (to my knowledge, anyway) been canonized.
While it is true that the two Churches have little actual material difference of belief on the matter of divine Eucharistic presence — both firmly assert that Christ is made manifest in more than a merely spiritual way — the Orthodox are more than a bit hesitant to affirm the Roman doctrine of transubstantiation, which was developed in response to the eleventh-century heresy of Berengarius. The Orthodox objection to the doctrine of transubstantiation has not to do with its truth value, but to its use of a pagan Greek, particularly Aristotelian, metaphysic. Aristotle’s metaphysics are used heavily in medieval Scholastic philosophy, and particularly in S. Thomas, albeit through a Western theological lens. Relevant to the debate on transubstantiation is the Scholastic use of the Aristotelian notion of substance. In Scholastic thought, substance is the metaphysical material which gives a particular object its identity, making it that which it is (haecceity, literally its "thisness"). Substance is in opposition to accidents, the outward, sensible appearances of an object. Transubstantiation is the substantial change of one object into an ontologically different one, without a necessary accompanying accidental change. Orthodox insist that the usage of metaphysical categories such as these (and others, such as form, essence, etc.) serve only to demystify and humanize realities of being and process which may only be known imperfectly anyway.
Dogmatically, the Catholic Church is irrevocably bound to transubstantiation as its primary definition of the Eucharistic transmutation. The Orthodox Church has, to my knowledge, no definitive definition regarding Christ’s presence in the Eucharist.
Catholicism is dogmatically attached to single predestination — the notion that a particular elect are predestined to eternal beatitude.
The Catholic conception of predestination is not to be confused with Calvin’s Double Predestination (also known as predestinarianism). In Catholic belief, God has determined that some specific persons shall be received into eternal beatitude. The theological arguments put forward in this debate are diverse, but well beyond the scope of this article. It suffices to say that most Catholic theological schools hold that God, having a foreknowledge of each man’s response to grace, chooses to bestow upon the men who will respond favorably the first grace, which in turn assures the merit necessary for the reception of subsequent graces. By holding to this position while still rejecting strong monergism, Catholicism is able to neatly avoid problems of determinism.
The Orthodox Church finds the debate on predestination pointless, and believes that attempts to explain such a mystery in human terms merely leads to fatalistic philosophical traps, determinism, and an overly mechanistic view of grace and salvation, which Orthodox theologians typically do not attempt to tackle.
It is well-known that Catholicism holds to the existence of a place of purifying fire for those who die with venial sin, or with the scars of many past, now-forgiven, sins. The doctrine of Purgatory is repulsive to the Greeks because they perceive a conflict between the existence of Purgatory and the eastern doctrine of theosis, divinization (which, as we shall see later, is, for its own part, rooted in theologies inimical to the Latin fathers). In the eastern conception of theosis, sufficient holiness for the entrance of a believer into bliss is channeled to the repentant sinner on Earth by the sacraments, charitable works, and prayer; in western theology, temporal punishment is cited as the primary means by which the grace of spiritual restoration is channelled to the repentant sinner. If the condition of his soul is enough to win salvation, yet not fit to enter Heaven directly, the flames of Purgatory await. The difference can be traced to the Churches’ differing ideas regarding sin. Orthodoxy has little conception of the idea of the permanent spiritual damage caused by sin, the damage that, even though the sin may be forgiven, Latins claim, temporal punishment (i.e. Purgatory) repairs. The Orthodox ultimately confuse the Catholic doctrine of the repair of the spiritual damage remaining from sins since forgiven with the notion of conversion. Latins and Greeks agree that fervent prayer, charitable works, and reception of the sacraments are the key to repentance, and ultimately salvation, but the East, having no idea paralleling the Latin conception of the spirital scars left by sin, ultimately finds the notion of a place of purification before Heaven extraneous.
f. Divine Simplicity/Essence and Energies of God.
In the High Middle Ages, theology underwent a revival in sorts, in both East and West. In the West, the friar-schoolmen of the great mendicant orders wrote long treatises systematizing the doctrines of the Church; in the East, Constantinopolitan monks attacked and defended new, and supposedly heretical, doctrines and spiritualities. Naturally, having few real contacts, Latin and Greek theologies diverged. In the West, the doctrine of Divine Simplicity was expounded more clearly than it had been before, though it is a traditional conception in Christianity and Judaism; its rising doctrinal prominence in the High Middle Ages, culminating in its dogmatic definition at IV Lateran (1215) can be explained by the fact that it dovetails so well with the Scholastic notion of God as first cause, and the renaissance of the Aristotelian conception of God as unmoved mover. In the medieval conception of Divine Simplicity, God is conceived of as absolutely simple — having no components, physical or metaphysical, or intrinsic properties. In the Orthodox East, however, this conception was rejected for a few reasons: importantly, the contradiction between absolute simplicity and the seemingly intrinsic qualities of God (mercy, justice, inter alia). If, indeed, God has no parts, then all things are identical to His essence. His existence, justice, mercy, will to create, and all other possible attributes are identical to His existence. And because God exists necessarily, His will to create also exists necessarily, which is clearly heretical. Also, the Orthodox object on the grounds that, in the Eastern theology, both essence and energies can be predicated to God. Theosis is dependent upon God’s possessing energies distinct from His essence. Obviously, the contradictions between Latin and Greek theologies on these points are not resolvable without one or the other Church capitulating to the other.
h. Immaculate Conception.
Catholicism holds that the Mother of God was conceived without Original Sin or the other effects of the Fall, including concupiscence, meaning that she remained sinless. The Eastern Church, while not having a dogmatic position on the matter, does not hold to the same Augustinian conceptions of Original Sin and concupiscence, and renounces the Roman conception of the Mother of God’s sinlessness, though it does not deny her perpetual sanctity.
The Greek Church believes itself to be the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. While the West believes the same of itself, the Second Vatican Council introduced the notion that the Church of Christ "subsists" in the Catholic Church, rather than simply that the two bodies were one and the same. It is still very much under debate within the Western Church as to how, exactly, the notion of subsistence meshes with the dogmatic definitions of the Catholic Church as the Church of Christ. Until a particular understanding takes hold, it is impossible to know how the Western teachings will fare in ecumenical matters with the East.
l. The Fall of Adam.
Since the time of S. Augustine, Doctor of Grace, the Latin West has held to a fairly specific view of Original Sin and the other consequences of the Fall, while the Greek Church has never adopted a detailed view of the spiritual consequences of the Fall, holding only to the idea that the Fall has resulted in material consequences for man — namely the need of man to provide for himself, the existence of physical pain, and, most importantly, death. While the Catholic Church has no problems with these ideas, it has a fairly complex view of the spiritual conseuqences of the Fall — Original Sin, concupiscence, and a darkened intellect (all of which are de fide). The Eastern Church has never accepted, formally or informally, these views, and typically considers the doctrines of Blessed Augustine heterodox.
m. Conceptions of Authority.
The Western Church teaches that apostolic ecclesiastical authority was invested in three authorities: Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium. The Orthodox see no problem with Scripture or Tradition, although they typically consider Scripture a part of Tradition. Magisterium, however, the Orthodox do not accept. The role of bishops in the East is seen as primarily one of teaching, shepherding, and the guarding of Tradition. There is no binding authority invested in the individual bishop, unless he is acting in his role as teacher of traditional beliefs. The duty of creating new teachings in response to heresies is believed to be the job of the ecumenical council alone, whereas, in the West, each bishop’s teaching is considered binding (though not dogmatically) upon his flock.
6. Canonical Issues.
The Orthodox Church is a communion of autocephalous patriarchal churches bound together by the common Orthodox faith. The communion of the Church has its efficient cause Eucharistic communion between the Patriarchal churches, which is why the East never has intercommunion with other Churches. The Latin Church, however, has always conceived of its Patriarch — the Pope — as the head of the whole Church, possessing authority over the other local churches. Therefore, in the West, the title of Patriarch has always been one of honor bestowed upon heads of ritual churches, with no real accompanying canonical authority. In this way, the Catholic Church is able to have multiple Patriarchs of certain sees, while the Orthodox consider such a notion confusing (and, rightly, not historic).
It will be quite a challenge for the Churches to work out exactly who lays claim to each Patriarchate. It would be historically sensible for the West to allow the East to appoint Patriarchs to each of the Eastern sees, although it is not clear exactly how Patriarchates such as Antioch would work out, as the Catholic Church has three Patriarchs there (for the Maronites, the Melkites, and the Chaldeans), and the Orthodox one (of the Antiochian Orthodox church). The Melkites and the Antiochian Orthodox being ritually identical churches, it would only be sensible for the two Patriarchates to be merged. But that would leave the Catholic Maronite and Chaldean Patriarchs co-existing with the Byzantine-rite Patriarch (call him Melkite or Antiochian Orthodox, since they would hypothetically be one and the same). I have no idea how one could work out this mess in such a way as to return to the ancient, still-maintained-in-the-East practice of one Patriarch per see.
b. Papal Elections.
Since the Pope is fundamentally the bishop (and Patriarch) of Rome, the East never voted in the elections for that chair. Prior to the Great Schism, each Patriarch was appointed by the bishops of each autocephalous church. The Orthodox still maintain this practice, while, in the West, the Pope has usurped the right to appoint each bishop, western or eastern. The Orthodox would, most likely, not submit to Papal appointment of each of its bishops. While the Catholic Church would probably cede to the Orthodox the right to elect its own Patriarchs, the West may not allow the East to have a say in the election of the Pope, whether or not the East accepts Papal authority. Creativity will probably play a role in the solution of this problem, if one comes.