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The Church Of God


It is precisely here that the first major difficulty arises--the first and perhaps the greatest scandal for the faith. On first sight, there are two Churches: the Catholic Church, whose distinctive sign is communion with the successor of Peter, and the Orthodox Church, which no longer has (or seems to have) this communion. But each claims for itself, in equally exclusive fashion, this identification with the una, sancta, catholica, which both confess in the same Credo. It would seem that one or the other might be right, but not both at the same time. After so many centuries, their apparent incapacity to reconcile themselves may suggest that one or the other is in error and that una, sancta, catholica. has simply disappeared from earth. This is the greatest scandal given by members of the Church, by "men of the Church," charged with the highest responsibilities, so that it becomes very difficult for the faith itself not to see this scandal of the Church, her preeminent scandal--seeming to be divided (against God's will).

There seems to be only one answer: the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church, though dreadfully tempted by the spirit of division remain one Church, in fact and by right, despite contrary appearances. This is verified by the most thorough historical investigation of this problem, however painful it may be.

In fact, neither the conflict and reciprocal excommunications of the patriarch Michael Cerularius and Cardinal Humbert, nor the scandalous Crusade, redirected toward Constantinople, and its consequences, nor even the fruitless attempts at reconciliation at Lyon and Florence, which merely embittered the oppositions, suspended all communion between the Church the East and the Church of the West. To the end of the eighteenth century, limited incidents of intercommunion between the two Churches are innumerable.

Not only (as a general rule) were all baptized and communicating members of one received in the other on the same basis, without abjuration, but priests and even bishops passed from one to the other or, more exactly, occasionally "moved through" both, without encountering major difficulties.

However violent and acrimonious the polemics, they were only disputes of particularly spirited schools, and not necessarily more spirited than those that occasionally arose among Easterners or Westerners themselves, without a break in communion as the result. The policy among the great sees of Christendom, despite spasmodic outbursts of violent reproaches (though not one them seemed to justify a schism), was to ignore one another in mutual embarrasment, rather than to condemn one another absolutely. In fact, at least per conniventiam, Rome--like Constantinople and Moscow--did not concern itself with preventing communion, which remained the rule where there was untroubled opportunity to meet and cooperate.

Not until the beginning of the nineteenth century did Latin missionaries, moved by unfortunate zeal, take it into their heads to apply to Orientals, canons decreed by Trent against Protestants, and, through a regrettable understandable twist, that Orientals (particularly Greeks, in permanent conflict with Latins in the islands of the Peloponnesus or elsewhere) did the same.

On both sides, then, people developed outrageous practices, such as repetiion of baptism or ordination, in certain cases of contact. Also on both sides, theologians for the first time treated not only bishops or theologians other side as schismatics, but the totality of the two blocs, accusing each of heresies with a systematization unknown until then (except in brief local flushes of intolerance).

To all of these procedures and to those responsible for them we must apply Christ's prayer: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!"

If their sly maneuvers made any sense, it could only be rejection of the Church they defended, as well as the one they attacked, as schismatic or heretical. For all these wretched polemics suppose, on both sides, a confusion of tradition, whether Catholic or Orthodox, with an artificial partisanship that, for this very reason, is adulterated, which is precisely the process whereby people normally go from schism into formal heresy. The primary question, then, is: How did we arrive at a situation as deplorable as it is absurd? Obviously, once this question has been answered, the complementary question can be broached: how are we to get out of it?

What is primarily responsible for preventing the East from returning to full and lasting communion with the Christian West is this hypertrophy and, consequently, this deformation of authority we have analyzed, whose consequences we gave in the preceding section. However, what obliges us to acknowledge that responsibilities for the division are shared on both sides is the undeniable fact that Church authority in the West involved itself in a near-fatal evolution from a healthy and originally necessary reaction against encroachments of the supposedly Christian empire on the Church, of the secular authority on the ecclesiastical authority, to which, on the whole, the East became too easily resigned.
On the other hand, it is only right to acknowledge that if the endeavors of ancient popes, such as St. Leo and St. Gregory the Great, to regain or defend the independence of the Church, were in principle unassailable and, in fact, were never assailed in the East, bishops of the East, such as St. Basil and St. John Chrysostom, were never less clear or less courageous for the same cause. Consequently, in this conflict the de facto failings (in the opposing sense) of both East and West were never improperly canonized. At the time when the first conflicts threatened, the Byzantine doctrine of the Epanagoge was firmly articulated (as we have seen) with the doctrine uttered by Pope Gelasius. Even long after the apparently consummated division, the episcopate of the East, even when subjugated by basileus or tsar, never made a dogma of this situation--any more than Boniface VIII dared do with the more than doubtful vision that the famous bull, Unam Satictam, proposed for relations between the two authorities.

For a stronger reason, the Christian West, in its totality, was far from making such a view its own. It is true, however, that alienation of the apostolic authority in the East, in contrast with its cancerous development in the West, permitted the liturgical function, more than the function of the magisterium (threatened with coemption, along with authority itself, by the secular power), an autonomous development which was not entirely beneficial. Orthodoxy became, or aspired to become, "heaven on earth"--above all, if not exclusively, in liturgical and sacramental celebration. Without doubt, this celebration retained substantial richness, and even had lasting and fecund developments, which had scarcly any equivalents in the West, where, as we have seen, the agrandizement of authority tended to reduce worship to a court ceremonial. Tending to develop more and more outside real life (monastic life apart), the liturgy in the East instead of remaining in this sacramental world (which should be intermediary between the eschatological world of the risen Christ and the concrete universe of our daily life), would always be tempted to become a world in itself--a dream world enclosed within itself--wishing to substitute itself for the real world but without the power to do so; indeed, concealing its reality, which had remained in great part pagan.

Undoubtedly, as their best modern thinkers are the first to acknowledge, this was the major sin of the Orthodox, just as the major sin of Catholics of the West was their clerical imperialism.

Thus a twofold orbit was accentuated in the life of the Church and determined, over the course of centuries, a de facto separation, tending more and more to opposition in principle between Christian realities that should be conjoined in unity.

Confusing the papal function with its exercise or its more or less excessive, theoretical justifications, the East, unlike the West, never developed its whole significance, implied in the deeds and texts of the New Testament and the early Church. What is worse, the East tends, if not to reduce its import unduly, to forget the attestations of its own past.

Reciprocally, the West neglected and more and more misunderstood the irreplaceable value of the traditions it received from the fathers and the Church of the East; and believing it could build itself independently of this heritage, it unconsciously risked cutting itself off from its roots.

Thus, on both sides, undue identification of the truth as Catholic and Orthodox became dangerously confused with partial form of its expressions and with cultural nationalism: Orthodoxy and Byzantinism, Catholicism Latinism (or, later, Romanism).

Today, the first remedy to this situation, now that sufficient historical awareness of these errors (which are above all, moral faults) has been assumed or is in process of being assumed on both sides, is escape from religious nationalism and the unilateralism it crystallized.

Finally, it would be necessary to deny the obvious negation of "catholicity," or "sobornost" (to use a term the modern Orthodox have developed, often fortuitously). Beginning with this rediscovery and re-establishment of full unity would become possible on both sides, or rather in common.

Recuperation of doctrinal harmony in the apostolic ministry, between its function of pastoral authority and its liturgical function, would come about in common renewal of its magisterium. However, renewal of the two inseparable units of the Church, finally coming together, could happen only in symphony with a common rebirth of living witness to the truth of love by the entire (now fraternal) life of all Christians, Orthodox and Catholic. Then, the unity of the Church, Catholic and Orthodox--which we believe has never ceased, though many clouds have obscured it--would reappear. Reappearing, she would immediately flourish and fructify in the special manifestation of charity and holiness that the modern world expects from the Church of Christ, which she will never bring it so long as this basic reunion is not effected.

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