The subject of ecumenism rears its head this past week. Normally, this is a subject I approach with some queasiness, because it seems in this country it means we Catholics give up what makes us Catholic to make friends with those who have no interest in being united with us in the faith… No matter what we do, unless it’s renounce the Church and get “saved”, praise Jesus!
That said, this week was full of ecumenism from the Vatican front. JP2 met with the Patriarch of Constantinople (located in Istanbul, Turkey) on the feast day of St. Peter. This also marked the 40th anniversary of the meeting between Paul VI and his counterpart. That started the ball rolling to get the Orthodox to come back home.
Now, I know that probably wouldn’t be an approved statement and that’s likely why the Vatican hasn’t called upon me for all my expertise… But I digress. The point is that these two met and while the relations were somewhat cool, due to the words of the Patriarch in my opinion, it’s a good sign. The Patriarch seemed to say at one point that Papal infallibility is a major obstacle to reunion between the East and the West.
Well, duh! They don’t like it and we can’t give it up, since it’s True and infallibly defined by a council. So what to do? Good question. Honestly I don’t know, but I do know that we need to keep talking and doing things that will bring them closer and closer to full communion.
The Patriarch of Constantinople is the defacto head of the Orthodox Churches. A little background is in order here…
After Constantine legalized Christianity, he moved the Roman Empire’s capital to what is now Istanbul and called it Constantinople after himself. Eventually, the Patriarchs there, started to stand up for more of an equal footing/power with the Bishop of Rome because of the status of the new capital being in their hometown. They mistakenly equated the location of the secular capital with the authority of the Church. At various times the Patriarch of Constantinople (and many other Bishops) have been material heretics. Only the Bishop of Rome has never taught error. The others have. The Eastern bishops have at various times gone schismatic and returned, even after the original schism in 1054. Eventually, they left for good. They have managed to keep Apostolic succession though, unlike the Anglicans. They have valid sacraments and holy orders.
So what keeps us from reuniting the Church of Christ (Catholic Church)?
That’s my opinion. Initially, it was pride on both sides and for quite a long time too. But in the reign of this Pope, we have seen the Church return to a more fitting humility and charity. Many disagree on the appropriateness of much of it, but it’s there. He has reached out to all who call themselves Christian in an effort to restore unity to the Body of Christ.
Though they meet and talk, I wonder how we will ever get back together. In the West our understanding of the Deposit of Faith has deepened over the centuries. Our search for understanding and faith didn’t end after the 7th ecumenical council. There’s seems to have. Now we have formally defined dogmas that the East seems unlikely to embrace. Yet to restore communion, they must as they are formal dogmas.
Only the grace of God can help us. Pray for them and us.