Why we can’t all just get along… #ecumenism #ecumanianism

The following are excerpts from USC’s 26 May 2014 post about how “Ecumenism is the Church’s Bad Dream

With the pope’s much publicized trip to the Holy Land coming to an end, I thought it appropriate to look at the Common Declaration of Pope Francis and the Patriarch Bartholomew. The meeting between the two prelates was, after all, the putative reason for the trip, as it was meant to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras. Many pundits are really hyping the importance of this meeting and the Common Declaration as a great step forward in the search for Catholic-Orthodox unity. It is epic! It is historic! A giant leap towards full reunion! The full text of the Common Declaration can found here.

In my opinion, however, this declaration is much ado about nothing.

There are two things to be considered: First, issues raised by the text itself, and second, broader obstacles to Catholic-Orthodox unity that remain unresolved. Let us look first at the text of the Declaration, which begins with the Pope unfortunately lending credibility to a historical farce that the Orthodox have been trying to push for centuries – the lie that the See of Constantinople was founded by the Apostle Andrew….

As in all these ecumenical meetings, the concept of unity is discussed a lot, but what it looks like or how to get there is never discussed. It is as if we are perpetually standing on the shore talking about sailing somewhere but never getting on the ship – or like one of those bad dreams you have where you know you need to get somewhere in a certain time but can’t bring yourself to actually get moving. … Modern ecumenism is like the Catholic Church’s bad dream. We will see later what underlies this concept.
“This is no mere theoretical exercise, but an exercise in truth and love that demands an ever deeper knowledge of each other’s traditions in order to understand them and to learn from them. Thus we affirm once again that the theological dialogue does not seek a theological lowest common denominator on which to reach a compromise, but is rather about deepening one’s grasp of the whole truth that Christ has given to his Church….
These are just platitudes. Indeed, in the modern Church such ecumenical meetings can yield little else; having abandoned the concept of full, formal return to Rome whilst simultaneously denying that we are working towards a mere “lowest common denominator”, the Catholic Church is in an awkward spot. All that is left is searching for “an ever deeper knowledge of each other’s traditions in order to understand and learn from them.” This is what unity means in the modern Church – sharing experiences. …
Of course, sharing experiences will never lead to formal unity, and Francis knows it, as well as Benedict and John Paul II knew it; it is thrown off into the future, as some eschatological reality beyond history. What is left for today then? To work for the good of humanity! Yes, we can find common ground in saving the planet!
It is our profound conviction that the future of the human family depends also on how we safeguard – both prudently and compassionately, with justice and fairness – the gift of creation that our Creator has entrusted to us. Therefore, we acknowledge in repentance the wrongful mistreatment of our planet, which is tantamount to sin before the eyes of God. ….”
Since when did the mistreatment of the planet constitute one of the occasions of the Orthodox schism? This is just sappy, syrupy feel-goody stuff. Totally irrelevant to the divisions within Christianity and unworthy of this historic meeting.
After some pleas for peace in specific regions, the document closes with this comment:
In an historical context marked by violence, indifference and egoism, many men and women today feel that they have lost their bearings. It is precisely through our common witness to the good news of the Gospel that we may be able to help the people of our time to rediscover the way that leads to truth, justice and peace” [ibid., 9].
“Common witness?” This is wrong on so many levels. There can be no “common witness” between Rome and the Orthodox precisely because we have different understandings of what the “good news of the Gospel” constitutes. The Orthodox reject a very important element of the Gospel – the real primacy entrusted to Peter and his successors by Christ. That is not some extrinsic custom or negotiable point; it is part of the Gospel; Vatican I stated the authority of the Pope to be de fide, which means it cannot be rejected without loss of the faith any more than can be the Trinity or the truths of our Lord’s Incarnation. There can be no “common witness to the good news of the Gospel” if an essential element of the Gospel is rejected. …
[R]eunion with the Orthodox is impossible and all ecumenical conversations on reunion are farcical until the Vatican formally renounces the 1993 Balamand Agreement. The Balamand Agreement was a declaration of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue which has formed the foundation for the Church’s approach to the Orthodox over the past twenty years. Balamand specifically repudiates what it calls the “outdated ecclesiology” of presuming that the Orthodox need to “return” to Rome. … The Balamand document also goes as far as to deny that the Catholic Church is the one true Church…
Again, let me emphasize, this document forms the backbone of the Catholic Church’s understanding of its relation with the Orthodox. And in this document, formal reunion via return to Rome is repudiated. Until the Vatican backs away from these sorts of statements, the sort of meetings that happened this week in the Holy Land can yield nothing substantial. …
The meeting between Francis and Bartholomew is an expression of this “new ecclesiology of communion”, which proposes no “particular modes of integration” but simply speaks of moving towards an ill-defined unity grounded in mutual understanding which will somehow result in the Church becoming present in the dynamism of the faith-filled exchange between us. …

In Redemptor Hominis, St. John Paul II reminds us that the path forward towards unity is uncertain, and that we have a right to express our uncertainties:

“There are people who in the face of the difficulties or because they consider that the first ecumenical endeavours have brought negative results would have liked to turn back. Some even express the opinion that these efforts are harmful to the cause of the Gospel, are leading to a further rupture in the Church, are causing confusion of ideas in questions of faith and morals and are ending up with a specific indifferentism. It is perhaps a good thing that the spokesmen for these opinions should express their fears” (St. John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis, 6).

Consider my fears expressed.


About The Codgitator (a cadgertator)

Catholic convert. Quasi-Zorbatic. Freelance interpreter, translator, and web marketer. Former ESL teacher in Taiwan (2003-2012) and former public high school teacher (2012-2014). Married father of three. Multilingual, would-be scholar, and fairly consistent fitness monkey. My research interests include: the interface of religion and science, the history and philosophy of science and technology, ancient and medieval philosophy, and cognitive neuroscience. Please pray for me.
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17 Responses to Why we can’t all just get along… #ecumenism #ecumanianism

  1. John says:

    Driving into the meat and potatoes of actually bringing about spiritual, theological, and practical unity doesn’t seem high on the agenda, does it? Sadly, I can’t say that I expect to see the two traditions united in my lifetime.

    I am curious about something though: Why would St Andrew being the original founder of the See of Constantinople make any difference? He was an important, being one of the Twelve, yes, but another of the Twelve, Peter, has always been recognized as the designated Head of the Church on earth. Seems to me that Constantinople being founded by St Andrew is interesting, but irrelevant.

  2. “Our meeting, another encounter of the Bishops of the Churches of Rome and Constantinople founded respectively by the two Brothers the Apostles Peter and Andrew, is a source of profound spiritual joy for us” [Common Declaration, 1].

    Brother Boniface responds:

    The assertion that St. Andrew founded the Church of Constantinople is a historical fabrication that the Orthodox began asserting in the fifth century to contest the claims of the papacy, the thinking being that since Andrew was called before Peter by our Lord, a Church founded by Andrew could have a claim to some sort of preeminence. At any rate the West has never accepted this claim. Nor do early Eastern Fathers know anything about it. Eusebius of Caesarea places Andrew’s apostolic activity in Scythia and St. Gregory Nazianzus states it was Epirus. Surely if anyone had a motive for trying to bolster the authority of Constantinople it would be Eusebius, the court historian of Constantine, the builder of the New Rome. Yet Eusebius says nothing of St. Andrew founding the Church at Constantinople for the simple reason that this fable had not been invented yet. It was the translation of the relics of Andrew to Constantinople in 357 that probably occasioned the legend that he in fact founded that Church, something the West has never acknowledged. It is greatly to be regretted that Pope Francis gives credence to this historical fiction – this fiction which every serious historian knows to be a fabrication. It would be as silly as Patriarch Bartholomew affirming the Donation of Constantine – something that would be both historically false and damaging to traditional Orthodox claims.

    The revolution within the Form of ecumenism (previously an ecumenism of return) has resulted in an ineffective and effete ecclesiastical farce; always meeting with them so we can tell those heretical schismatics how absolutely wonderful they are..

    O, and the lungs; did I mention the lungs?

    Apparently, Jesus built His Body of Christ absent one lung; that is, it never was a perfect society (as Catholic Tradition teaches) containing all that is necessary for its purpose – carrying on the work of Salvation – no, presumably, it was Body lacking its natural constitutive properties.

    Look, when the schismatic heretics split, they did not take a lung with them anymore than when the Heresiarch, Luther, split, he took a kidney with him.

    What is it that makes the modern prelate so quick to slight what Jesus established and what the Holy Ghost preserves and protects? ABS does know that not a few Fathers at V2 were embarrassed to be a part of the Body of Christ which claimed sole possession of the truth.

    They considered that “arrogant” but it is precisely the opposite of that false charge (what, you don’t think many modern prelates have internalised the criticisms and categories of their enemy?)

    It is the pro-tess-tents who are arrogant; that is, it is they who took – arrogated – authority and power unto themselves; we Catholics are not arrogant; we merely – or used to – teach the truths of Divine Revelation entrusted to we Catholics by Jesus Christ.

    Good Lord…To be HUMBLE is not to grovel before our enemies and to be reticent about that which divides us from the many False Faiths; to be HUMBLE is to pass on what we were given by Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour.

  3. The tragicomic icing on the cake is that Wikipedia gets it more right than our leading prelates:

    “What has been called another version of the branch theory was discussed by some Roman Catholic theologians, such as Robert F. Taft and Michael Fahey, in the era of the Vatican II Council, held that the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church are ‘Sister Churches’ or ‘two lungs’ of the Body. Both the churches in question reject these ideas. The Eastern Orthodox Church rejects the opinion as being incompatible with the Orthodox faith, due to its belief that the “two lung” branch theory presents “a territorialist concept” and that “the Church is not composed of parts of a body, two lungs, but of a single body”. The Catholic Church denies outright that the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church are “sister Churches”, and applies the term “sister Churches” only to the relations between the particular Churches, such as the sees of Constantinople and Rome. The metaphor of “Christianity” or “Christendom” (not “the Church”) breathing with “two lungs” was first used by the Russian poet and philosopher Vyacheslav Ivanovich Ivanov, drawing inspiration from the worldview of Russian intellectual Vladimir Solovyov. Pope John Paul II applied the metaphor to “the Church”, which for him was not some amalgam of the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church, but the Catholic Church itself, thus indicating that it must avail itself of the traditions of both Eastern Christianity and Latin Christianity.”

    That last part gives away the game, since the entire point of believing in ONE, Holy, CATHOLIC, and Apostolic Church is that the Church always has enjoyed, AND STILL DOES ENJOY, the riches of both Eastern and Western orthodoxy.

  4. Tony Jokin says:

    ABS, Codg,

    What I don’t get is that it seems to be the case that one can still attain heaven and be raised to the altars for saying and acting this way. St. John Paul II seems to have said everything that you rightly point out as absurdities. If a Pope with much responsibility on this matter can get away with it, then why can’t a Cardinal, Bishop, priest or most certainly an average lay Catholic?

    Yes, one can say that the canonization was infallible and therefore implies that St. John Paul II certainly repented of his acts and sayings before he died or was very ignorant. But you have to admit there is a problem where as far as we know, the Saint espoused these views, promoted them publicly and acted upon them but there is not even a slight hint that he recanted any of it. While infallibility is intact, how does one tackle this issue?

    Has there even been a book in recent times explaining that those actions and sayings of the saint are not to be imitated? I doubt there ever will be given the large amount of people in the Church that have adopted his views. I also doubt that the adopted view will change given that it can be reinforced by reminding the faithful that it is from a Saint or someone who is a “Great” according to some.

    So how would you address the questions pitting your claim that what is said today in the name of ecumenism is absurd against the fact that these words and actions were from St. John Paul II? The answer that the Pope was probably invincibly ignorant on this issue or that he repented just seems like a weak reply unless the other person is already convinced of your case and merely looking for a way to reconcile infallibility of the canonization with the difficulty presented by the saints actions and words.

  5. Tony:

    I think you are aware of this, but I will reiterate that the dogma of infallibility only guards the formal rescripts [of the pope of the episcopal college in union with him]; it does not bear upon the arguments or artifacts used in support of said declaration. In udda woids, the pope invokes his infallible authority in declaring X a saint, but any reasons adduced by advocates or admirers for that final sanctity are not likewise shielded from error. If Constantine could enter Heaven, despite years of impenitence, and a deathbed conversion, then so can anyone else. Yet it falls to prudence and the winnowing by Tradition to ascertain how and to what extent X’s life and witness should be imitated. A canonization means that X can be invoked as a heavenly patron, and that at least something in his life is worthy of imitation by the faithful. In JPII’s case, the imitation may only reside in his noble death. His errors, meanwhile, must be castigated and interred as such.

  6. Tony Jokin says:

    Thanks Codg! I was aware regarding the extent of the scope of infallibility in this case, but the point regarding our need to imitate what is consistent with Tradition is I think what I was looking for. And now that you mentioned it, the issue is resolved in my head 🙂

    I have this routine checks where I just question my self to make sure I am not going off the deep end thinking things look confusing and bleak haha. This was one of these moments where the check sort of clicked in :).

  7. Branch says:

    “Yet it falls to prudence and the winnowing by Tradition to ascertain how and to what extent X’s life and witness should be imitated.

    In JPII’s case, the imitation may only reside in his noble death.”

    If that is so, then why was he even canonized? I mean, if we are even unsure of what should be imitated, then what is the purpose at all? The canonizations are for us, after all, right? It’s precisely in calling attention to someone’s example that justifies a canonization as I understand it. But if St. John Paul II had so many errors and imitation of him should only extend perhaps to his noble death, then it seems only to add to the current confusion because what is largely considered noble about him is precisely those errors!

  8. Branch: ” The canonizations are for us, after all, right?”

    Aye, there’s the rub. I know a prominent traditionalist writer who has told me that he’s “pretty much lost all confidence in the canonization process”. I’m not willing to go that far, though there is theological space for such cynicism (see my comment to Tony about the non-infallibility of causes vs. the canonization itself). Nobody can deny that the dual canonization, presided over by a strange “dual papacy”, was a supreme way of canonizing Vatican II. That’s what the canonizations are for: The Cause. If the faithful can’t get behind the campaign’s poster boys, so much the worse for the faithful. “Fidelity to the Council is not negotiable.” As always, though, which Council? Which horn of which ambiguity?

  9. ABS sees revolutions within perviously existing Forms al around him whether it be Ecclesiology, Mass, Doctrine, Sainthood, whatever… Even Father Z has written about the change (although he does not refer to a revolution with Form). When ABS heard Saint applied to a Pope before, he thought Pope Saint Pius X (who seems to have recently been placed on the ecumenical operating table so various time-bound limbs can be removed) and who had nary one questionable misstep during his papacy and whose Catechism is STILL useful today in that it DEFINES.

    Go look-up what he taught about men being members of the Catholic Church….

    Anyways, Fr. Z has addressed the changes but then, like Dobie Gray, just drifted away…

    There seems to be a development over the last few decades in what the Congregation accepts as “heroic virtue”.  There seems to be a less and less strong connection between the person’s actual accomplishments according to his “state in life”, with the life of virtue lived in a heroic way.
    Some will scratch their heads saying, “But Father! Maybe Paul was personally holy, and he prayed and was sincere, but can he have lived a life of heroic virtue if he wasn’t a very good Pope?”
    In trying to make sense of this, in connection with Paul VI and what seems to many to be a lack of positive accomplishments according to his state in life, perhaps we have to take more and more seriously the circumstances in which he was Bishop of Rome.

    I don’t have an answer to this difficulty right now.  I have been thinking about it for a while.  One of the things I ponder: Given what happened on Paul’s watch, did he exercise in a heroic way the virtue of Prudence?  Prudence is one of the Cardinal Virtues. Prudence is said to marshal, guide, other virtues.  Paul was faced with many difficult circumstances in which he had to make prudential judgments.  I think he made a lot of decisions which, in the long term, proved not to be so good.  Had he done something else, would things have turned out better? Even worse?  Must we only say a person lived a heroically virtuous life if what he did in life turned out well?

    However, something that Pope Benedict said about the role of the Holy Spirit in a conclave or council comes back to tickle my thought process.  Ratzinger said that the role of the Holy Spirit in those special situation was not so much to elect the Pope or write the Council documents Himself.  Rather, the Holy Spirit guarantees that whomever or whatever we choose isn’t a total disaster.
    Another thing I ponder in light of this question is of a personal anecdotal nature.  Whenever I bless a car, very soon after it seems to be involved in an accident.  Thus, I always warn people that, if I bless the car, they had better have good insurance.  On one occasion a woman came back to me to tell me, of course, that she had been in an accident.  She added, “Think how bad it would have been if you hadn’t blessed the car!”

    Somewhere in these questions and points and anecdotes may lie a way through what the Congregation for Causes of Saints (and Popes) are doing these days with the concept of “heroic virtue”.
    I spent time with officials of the Congregation when I did their Studium some years ago.  These guys were super-prepared, not just well-prepared.  They were reliable.   The shift in “heroic virtue” still leaves me turning around on my own axis, but I am slowly getting oriented.


    Ratzinger said that the role of the Holy Spirit in those special situation was not so much to elect the Pope or write the Council documents Himself.  Rather, the Holy Spirit guarantees that whomever or whatever we choose isn’t a total disaster

    Yay !! Trent and Vatican 1 were not total disasters…Good grief; it has come to this?

  10. Imagine a Father who was a real loser whose pathetic praxis did not keep his family from falling apart or, worse, a Father whose praxis led to his family falling apart…well, apparently he too can be raised to the Altars which sort of gives new meaning to the phrase, failing up.

    Well, far be it from ABS to suggest that because this change (unspecified, naturally) in the definition of what constitutes heroic virtue has to do with the Canonisation of Popes we could, wryly, refer to this, tongue-in-chekily as, The new Peter Principle.

  11. The Vatican II Times: All the Ambiguity That’s Fit to Print

  12. Tony Jokin says:

    ABS, Codg, Branch,

    I guess one thing with any canonization is that we know one more person we can pray to for intercession. So in that sense, the canonization is for us.

    So perhaps the problem is in the fact that these days we are used to seeing saints primarily in the view of imitation rather than intercession (sounds even somewhat Protestant). This provides certain people in the hierarchy with a sort of tool to shift Catholic opinion. But in reality, the main point of the canonization was that we have another intercessor in heaven and that we can rejoice that one our fellow brothers or sisters made it to heaven.

    At the end of the day, we are called to imitate Christ and not St. Francis of Assisi, or St. John Paul II. We can of course imitate the Blessed Virgin Mary because she was a perfect creature of God. But with the other saints, it is often a hit or miss with respect to their particular actions.

    And whenever we say “look at how St. XYZ did that”, we implicitly expect the other person to see the value in that act. That value is given by Catholic teaching. So when we speak of a martyr, every Catholic can understand the importance because doctrine has made it clear. Or when we speak of a particular zeal to convert others to Christ, we can see that consistency with doctrine. So in practice, we usually always look at tradition to identify admirable things about a saint.

    But with St. John Paul II, there is a practical problem in that he does have questionable things that stand out and heretical bent factions like to admire. So it is hard to admire him honestly. If anything, you usually get the feeling of “wow, he did that?!!”. To that end, the canonization decision I think was odd. My guess is that with time, this particular saint will be forgotten for these reasons. Or, his bad acts will be forgotten and history will remember him for his positive things.

  13. Tony Jokin says:

    I guess something that might add to this problem is that today there is a tendency to identify admirable actions of a person through ones subjective opinion. So people usually don’t turn to doctrine to evaluate an action but instead try to massage the admirable action to become part of doctrine.

    So for an example, most people don’t want to evaluate the Papacy of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI using doctrinal standards. Instead, they hate him first and then try to fit that hatred in to a doctrinal formulation. They will say things like Benedict was rigid, not like Jesus, less humble and more about pomp etc. Then they look at Pope Francis, his sayings and actions and go “Christ is here on earth”!!!. In other words, Pope Francis is the doctrinally accurate one and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was like a pharisee in some sense.

    But good news I think is that the whole thing is an error as Codg pointed out.

  14. ABS can see how what he wrote could across as more wicked than wiseass and so he wants to make it clear he absolutely accepts the recent canonisations although he would like to be informed as to the reasons for whatever changes were instituted.

    Maybe Fr. Z, will write more about those changes in the future but even if he doesn’t there is something to be said for his becoming unstable upon learning of them.

    Fr. Z. welcome to the Fraternitas Fidelium Frustri (Fraternity of the Flummoxed Faithful) and as time progresses, you’ll find your flummification will only increase.

  15. Branch says:

    I think that’s a good insight, Tony. Thank you.

    And perhaps contrary to the St. John Paul II hysteria, the faithful ought to be looking at him and his holiness more soberly, recalling that “And if the righteous one is barely saved, where will the godless and the sinner appear?”.

    Perhaps that is one of the real meanings we ought to be taking from the canonization.

  16. Tony Jokin says:


    A saint that came to mind during this discussion to me is St. Philomena. Now of course, some will point out she was never officially canonized. There are no facts known about her life that are historically credible or verifiable.

    But Popes had a devotion to her and so did St. John Vianney. In fact, St. Vianney used to attribute all the miracles he did to the intercession of St. Philomena. And devotion to her continues even today regardless of the fact that her feast is not even celebrated today because people receive help through her intercession.

    I am pretty sure most people who practice a devotion to her were touched by her intercessory prayer and never started off with “This is a saint I want to imitate”. They only know little about her from the stories constructed from a persons visions about her. But as they receive help, they are drawn to imitate the qualities of the Blessed Virgin Mary or Christ which they naturally attribute as probably being possessed by St. Philomena as well.

  17. Tony Jokin says:

    Or you know, worse case scenario, St. John Paul II will be the saint pointed to by historians and Atheists in the very distant future as “how do you reconcile that and his sainthood with the following declarations” haha.

    Then there will be the Catholic apologists who clarify how St. John Paul II was just influenced by the decadent culture of the time and was constantly influenced and feeling the pressure of its etiquette. One might say he struggled mightily in trying to reconcile the contradiction he faced in trying to preserve the faith vs. the modern sensibilities that were hostile to such preservation. He gave up much that was in the Church that was not directly doctrine because he felt that will curb the thirst of the modern world to destroy the Church or be hostile toward it.

    Maybe that is what really happened too. Maybe St. John Paul II’s goal was the preservation of the Church and to sign peace treatise with all other religions and states to make sure that the Church will not face persecution. At least without persecution, those who want to practice the faith will somehow find a way. But with persecution, even those who want to practice the faith might end up rejecting their faith.

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