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.