Saturday, December 02, 2006

Unam Sanctam

FRIEND draws my attention to the following article by an Orthodox priest:
...the Orthodox would be delighted for His Holiness of Rome, repudiating what we regard as the errors attendant on his recent understanding of his ministry, to take once again his rightful place as the ranking spiritual leader of the Orthodox Church (a position that the patriarch of Constantinople has held since the separation of Rome from Orthodoxy in the 11th century).

To Orthodox Christians, such a "solution" to the problem would seem very attractive. In fact, however, one fears that it would be no solution at all. Such a weakening of the papacy would be an utter disaster for the Roman Catholic Church as it is currently constituted. To many of us outside that institution, it appears that the single entity holding the Roman Catholic Church together right now is probably the strong and centralized office of the pope.

This sobering and, in my opinion, deadly accurate view really should send icy fingers up our collective Roman spine. At the end of a thousand years of the "Roman Adventure" the unity of the Catholic Church is reduced to a legal fiction, sleeping between the covers of the Catechism and a million parish registers; it is almost nowhere effectively operative at the level of faith and worship. Without the central-beaureaucratic Papacy it would crumble at the touch. This is not the "Oneness" of the Creed, nor of any ecclesiology worthy of the name. Historically too, it's absolutely true that once a dictatorship has been erected and citizenship defined solely in terms of obedience to it, any subsequent weakening at the centre will set in motion, ineluctably, the disintegration of the state.

Having choked off Sacred Tradition, the "living Magisterium" is itself now in retreat - leaving some, like Protestants, with scripture alone and most of the remainder prey to a kind of "magisterial fundamentalism" that reduces the content and practice of the faith to following the Pope (forgetting that a Rock ought not to be "going" anywhere).


Visibilium said...

I agree. The Pope won't give up his power, especially in the face of non-Christian enemies.

I've always wondered why recent Popes seemed to be so blind to the well-known Orthodox requirement that the Papacy return to its former status. What was in fact happening was that sincere Popes were jumping over themselves trying to find a formula that would bridge the innate contradiction of maintaining their church and uniting with the Orthodox. Or, as some would say, the Popes were trying to bridge the innate contradiction of doctrinal development and doctrinal reiteration.

As you ably point out, there's no core, and unity is being imposed on chaos. The problem is that the Roman church may crumble, just as Byzantium did. Imposing unity goes only so far.

The Orthodox survived via decentralization--via communion--rather than institution.

I hate to bring up a sore point, but even the Anglicans, at whom the ultramontanists laugh, have a sorta common liturgy that is sorta holding them together in the face of disparate theologies--and they have no central authority, either. In fact, that adhesion is source of wonderment to those of us who ask of various Anglican churchmen, "Why haven't you left yet?"

Pontificator said...

I realize that I am pretty new to this Catholic Church thing, but I have to say that I do not recognize the ultramontane reality of which you speak. I'm know that papalist positivism--whatever the Pope speaks is God's truth--characterized post-Vatican I Catholicism for a hundred years; but this certainly is no longer the case. If anything, the central problem in the global north is just the opposite, namely, the adoption of the cafeteria-style religion that characterizes liberal Protestantism. It should come as no surprise that Catholics, just like Anglicans, Lutherans, and Presbyterians, reflect the pluralism of the culture in which they live. We rightly protest this unacceptable condition, but surely we can see the "inevitability" of the problem.

If Orthodoxy seems to be afflicted less, this is only because Orthodoxy has been "protected" from modernity by its sufferings imposed by the Ottoman Empire and communism. Survival has required the creation of an orthodoxy, centered on the liturgy; but this orthodoxy has also come at a cost--namely, the dogmatic elevation and freezing of one particular theological and liturgical development of the catholic tradition and the exclusion of the Western witness and experience. Speak as one might about sacred tradition, but for Orthodoxy this tradition is a restricted tradition. In my opinion, the Catholic Church, with all of the problems that you rightly identify, is far more truly catholic. This is the great advantage in possessing a divinely instituted center of unity: it keeps, as Stanley Hauerwas likes to quip, the Irish and Italians, the Franciscans, Dominicans, and Jesuits, in one Church.

And as far as living, vital religion, all Christian communities that have been around for more than a couple of generations suffer greatly from the problem of formalism and superficial faith. One need only visit Greece or Russia, so I am assured, to learn that Orthodox deadness is just as great as Catholic deadness. I know well the attractions of Orthodoxy, but it's best to be ruthlessly honest about Orthodox reality on the ground.

mr bleaney said...

I think that Pope Benedict understands the reality of the situation at least at least as well as any modern Pope. This is a proposal for reunion with the Orthodox that he first formulated in 1976:-

"Rome must not require more from the East with respect to the doctrine of primacy than had been formulated and was lived in the first millennium. When the Patriarch Athenagoras, on July 25, 1967, on the occasion of the Pope’s visit to Phanar, designated him as the successor of St. Peter, as the most esteemed among us, as one also presides in charity, this great Church leader was expressing the essential content of the doctrine of primacy as it was known in the first millennium. Rome need not ask for more. Reunion could take place in this context if, on the one hand, the East would cease to oppose as heretical the developments that took place in the West in the second millennium and would accept the Catholic Church as legitimate and orthodox in the form she had acquired in the course of that development, while, on the other hand, the West would recognize the Church of the East as orthodox and legitimate in the form she has always had."

But ... thought these are warm words, are they consistent? How could "the East ... cease to oppose as heretical the developments that took place in the West in the second millennium" (e.g. Papal Infallibility) whilst maintaining itself in the "form she has always had." (ecclesial collegiality based on intercommunion)? East and West represent two completely opposed ecclesiologies, and I don't think a fudge is possible. Truth is truth, and at least one of these models is wrong.

What would be the result of such a solution anyway? A purely juridical communion? Like a bad arranged marriage?

That would be even worse than what we have now.

Pseudo-Iamblichus said...

I agree with this post. For all of the shaking of heads going on right now in the Catholic Church over what is going on in the Anglican Communion, if the wrong man is elected Pope and calls another "ecumenical" council, it is so over. Imagine the episcopate of France, Germany, and the United States getting together and having a field day with the doctrines and traditions of the Church. And they all will be able to say, "Well, we are inspired by the Holy Spirit." In spite of some more conservative prelates who are around right now, who is left in the Church who knows how to be 100% Catholic? Indeed, an ecumenical council, even if held in Rome, would be a veritable Tower of Babel; how many prelates know Latin well enough in order to give a speech in it?

Sometimes I can't help but feel that most conservative Catholic layman are so naive about what the Church is really like. This is due to the fact that they have always been on the outside of the facade, and think that it is a mighty fortress when in reality it is a structure made out of styrofoam. They have never lived with priests, have never had long talks with bishops, and have never had to witness all of the clerical cynicism and back-stabbing that goes on behind the scenes of any Catholic hierarchical structure.

Get real, folks. The Holy Spirit is not going to spoon-feed you your Christian life and He isn't going to cut your meat for you. There is no easy way out, and anything and everything can happen now, because, as this blog post says, the foundation has been kicked out from under the Catholic ethos.

Moretben said...

What would be the result of such a solution anyway? A purely juridical communion? Like a bad arranged marriage?

That would be even worse than what we have now.

You’re right – a kind of universal “Anglicanisation”: a protean “unity” of incompatibles that shifts between mutually exclusive propositions depending on who you’re talking to. Many years ago, finding myself in a new town with a very splendid Anglo-Catholic edifice (by Comper, I think), I went to their (versus populo, from behind the rood screen) High Mass. By coincidence this was the Sunday when C of E vicars in this particular deanery were invited to preach in one another’s parishes, and St Barnabus (let us call it) had landed an Evangelical. They pulled out all the stops for him – solemn procession with lights and incense, chanting the Elizabethan litany to start; solemn Benediction and procession of the Blessed Sacrament to follow (umbrellino and everything). The preacher returned the compliment with a number of “humorous” remarks from the pulpit (which, he admitted with relish, he had been dying for years to climb into) about the canonical dubiousness of these proceedings and quaint conception of Christianity they represented, compared with his own spirit-filled, charismatic assemblies, before resuming his place in the choir stalls for the rest of the service. It was one of the most depressing and unpleasant occasions I’ve ever witnessed in an ecclesiastical setting.

Moretben said...

The Holy Spirit is not going to spoon-feed you your Christian life and He isn't going to cut your meat for you.


Moretben said...

I have to say that I do not recognize the ultramontane reality of which you speak. I'm know that papalist positivism--whatever the Pope speaks is God's truth--characterized post-Vatican I Catholicism for a hundred years; but this certainly is no longer the case. If anything, the central problem in the global north is just the opposite, namely, the adoption of the cafeteria-style religion that characterizes liberal Protestantism. It should come as no surprise that Catholics, just like Anglicans, Lutherans, and Presbyterians, reflect the pluralism of the culture in which they live. We rightly protest this unacceptable condition, but surely we can see the "inevitability" of the problem.


I didn't take "cafeteria-style" liberalism into consideration, because I'm convinced that theirs is already a different religion and they'll get on with it regardless. Among orthodox Catholics though, those identified according to varying categories of "conservatism", I'm convinced that the "false spirit of Vatican One" is more dominant now than at any time since the 1870's. The re-definition of the "living Magisterium" is a strategy for assimilating the ruptures and reverses of recent years, while maintaining the appearance of unity and continuity. I don't think it's sustainable.

Anonymous said...


A few observations.

1. I doubt you've read
my little treatise at Pontifications
defending the Catholic Church from the sort of charge you level in your previous comment. Even if you have, I have no doubt you'd dismiss it as special pleading. But it would behoove you to at least acknowledge that many minds greater than either of ours interpret what you call the "ruptures and reverses" by means of a hermeneutic of continuity, of which my approach is but one small instance for ready Internet consumption. It can indeed be demonstrated that the Catholic Church has negated no teaching of hers which met her own criteria for infalllibility.

2. As for what the Pontificator said, I say as a lifelong, active Catholic that it is absolutely spot on. I'm old enough to remember the pre-Vatican II days rather well, and at one point I was disgusted enough with the Jesuits and other Catholic clergy to investigate Orthodoxy seriously and systematically. I decided to remain a Catholic for reasons I've explained at Pontifications and my own blog.

3. I have also discussed, at length and at the two aforementioned blogs, the "Ratzinger proposal" for reunion quoted by "Mr Bleaney" and rejected out of hand by him and you as incoherent. But I've yet to see any Orthodox blogger do more than beg the question by way of arguing for that point. It is simply assumed that "what was formulated and lived" in the first millennium is logically incompatible with Vatican I. Sometimes I see gestures in the direction of an "ecclesiology of communion" by way of bolstering that assumption; but of course, Ratzinger was and is familiar with that both in general and in his professional interactions with Zizioulas. It is simply insulting to the Pope to suggest that he fails to see the obvious. More likely, what seems obvious to lesser minds is not so obvious.


Moretben said...

Thanks, Mike

I'll read your article with interest.

Anonymous said...

Christ didn't just choose peter as the man on whom he would build his Church; he also promised that Hell would not prevail against it. So the Church is not doomed.

Even if the Orthodox priest is right:

To many of us outside that institution, it appears that the single entity holding the Roman Catholic Church together right now is probably the strong and centralized office of the pope.:

my conclusion would have to be that the centralised office of the Pope is the slender but indestructible thread on which the permanence of God's Church on earth will be maintained. But I don't think he's right.

I don't think I know enough to argue this point successfully, but isn't it the case that the Bishop's Conferences are one of the great negatives of the period following Vatican II? The Bishops have "pooled sovereignty" and have submerged their identity as Head of their local Church. Restoring authority to (orthodox (in the Cetholic sense)) Ordinaries would be an excellent reason for dissipating neo-Ultramontanism.

Is this mad, or is it worth thinking through?

Moretben said...


I think that's a very interesting paradox. Collegiality can be seen as "re-balancing" attempt, subverted at one level by its dissipation in the system of National Bishops'Conferences (which, as you correctly point out, submerges the the independence of the bishop in the quest for consensus) and at another by its prosecution as an agenda to be pursued in an ultramontane manner (change of policy, identical mentality).

Pseudo-Iamblichus said...

Mike wrote:

"But it would behoove you to at least acknowledge that many minds greater than either of ours interpret what you call the "ruptures and reverses" by means of a hermeneutic of continuity, of which my approach is but one small instance for ready Internet consumption."

Many great minds.... but they are still wrong. Black isn't white, and white isn't black, even if a Nobel prize-winning scientist says it's so.

Special pleading indeed.

The Ochlophobist said...

per your #3.
From an Orthodox point of view I think it is BenXVI's duty, since he has posited the theory in question, to show exactly what he means when he says that the Orthodox Church can believe what she believed in the first Mil but only must stop considering later Latin papal beliefs as false. He has made comments here and there, but nothing comprehensive. I think he should explain exactly what he thinks the views of the Eastern Church regarding Rome were in the 1rst Mil, and explain exactly how one might hold those views and not reject VatI as false. He should show how there is no contradiction between the views of the East 1rst Mil and VatI. As things stand now he seems quite generous. But if, say in an Encyclical, he spelled out very clearly how these things might be reconciled, he would have to explicitly take positions which would inevitably be Latin positions on certain theological matters, which would be more honest and stop some of the base assumption that goes on with this discussion.

As you have said before, no one in the 1rst Mil East taught materially and explicitly what VatI teaches. Certainly the general understanding of the papacy on the part of the East during that time (well, the general understandings) is not, materially, what VatI teaches. The only way the VatI teaching can be shown to be consistent with 1rst Mil understanding is through the apparatus of Development of Doctrine. I wonder if you would agree with me that no Eastern Christian thinker in the 1rst Mil articulated a belief in the Development of Doctrine which is essentially equivalent to that of Newman? If not, then we can only reconcile VatI and 1rst Mil with an intellectual method that 1rst Mil never knew - thus we must engage in a certain level of anachronism. If, on the other hand, Fr. John Behr is correct about the pesher exegetical method evident in the Hebrew Scriptures as the model for Christ's hermeneutic of the OT, and the Apostles hermeneutic of Christ, and the Fathers hermeneutic of the Apostles, then one would believe that the Church’s understanding of how she understands things has not changed. In other words, Catholics believe that DOD has taken place from the beginning but only in the last 150 years have they gradually come to understand that DOD is the method through which Catholic doctrine takes its course. Orthodox believe that the method Christ used to explain the OT is the same method that the Apostles used to explain Christ which in turn is the same method which the Fathers used to explain the Apostolic witness, through means of both dogma and liturgy, and not only that, but the Orthodox Church has always recognized (quite evident in the Fathers) that the method of the Church’s hermeneutic method applied to the Apostles is the same hermeneutic method the Apostles applied to Christ who taught them the hermeneutic method as He used it to explain the OT. Thus, the Orthodox Church today is committed in principle to the same method of determining doctrinal truth that the 1rst Mil Church was, and in fact the Church then and the Church today acknowledge the same method for making those determinations. Of course, one could quite easily accuse me of anachronism because I say that the Orthodox Church of pre1000A.D. and 2006A.D. use the same hermeneutical method. I would first I would refer such an accuser to Behr’s work. I would next suggest that the Church being consistently aware of her hermeneutical method is a much more hopeful line of thought than that which teaches that the method through which the Church came to determine doctrinal truth was not disclosed to the Church until the mid to late 19th Century, and not widely adopted until the 20th.

Pseudo-Iamblichus said...

Mr. O,

Can you refer us to some of Fr. Behr's works? Sounds really interesting.

I left a comment on your blog just now. Tell me what you think of the link I sent you.


Anonymous said...


I like your post and agree with it. I think Catholic theologians, including the present pope, need to do more to show how a sound kind of "DOD" occurred right from the outset and is inevitable, so that the modern contribution would be that we (or some of us, at any rate) have become maturely aware of it. That, I recall, was what I was groping at in discussing Isaiah 7:14 in another post at Pontifications where we clashed about DOD.

If the right account of DOD can be given and extended along Behr's lines, then the development of the Catholic doctrine of papal primacy could conceivably be shown to be an instance of it. That would probably not convince many Orthodox, at least at first, but it would at least give some specificity to that aspect of the Ratzinger proposal that you rightly find too vague.

I'll add the Behr book to my priority list.


Anonymous said...

Ben- Why are half the bloggers I keep tabs on named Ben? An excellent post. Thank you for putting it up.

Fr. Kimel- First congratulations on your ordination and many years to you! Secondly I don't agree at all with your historical basis for dismissing Orthodoxy's lack of DD, but that may be the subject of another post. Its too late for tonight and I am working a very long day tomorrow.

OCH and Mike L- I agree with most of what you wrote, although the references to the Orthodox approach to OT and Apostolic hermeneutic were a bit over my head. I am adding Behr to my Christmas list. But broadly speaking I think the ball is Bendict's court as far as explaining exactly what he is going to expect in the form of acceptance of post 1st Mil DD. No one on this side of the fence is going to be signing any blank checks.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I can't help but feel that most conservative Catholic layman are so naive about what the Church is really like.

Like, say, Rod Dreher?

As a cradle Catholic with relatives employed by various California dioceses and archdioceses and other heavy involvement with NewChurch, as Hilary calls it, I would say that the flipside of this is that a lot of ordinary American Catholics know too much about what the Church is really like. In the most extreme cases they haven't only lived with priests; they've dated them. Any attempt to impose discipline from the center is going to be met, in America at least, with a righteous sense of "and who the hell are YOU to tell ME what to do?"

Moretben said...


Thanks again for linking to your excellent and very valuable article. As a matter of fact I had read it (or at least part of it) before – it was a pleasure to do so again. As for "dismiss(ing) it as special pleading", the thought would never have occurred to me; are you perhaps operating something akin to a "hermeneutic of suspicion" of your own ;o)?

However…(yes, I'm afraid the "however" persists):

You identify two "parties of rupture": traditionalists "in technical schism" and "progressives and others". I'd like to concentrate on the "others" as constituting a third party - a "party" which includes, in fact, most of the rest of the Church – laity, priests and bishops.

Party 1 – There's been a rupture – bad.
Party 2 - There's been a rupture – good
Party 3 – There's been a "rupture" - It's a matter of indifference. Catholics "follow the Pope."

For Party 3 the disputes around the contested points of doctrine you identify are either absurdly recondite, or too entirely in the category of the self-evident to give rise to a moment's hesitation. I don't have the slightest doubt that authority, assisted by learned and conscientious apologists, is able to posit a hermeneutic of continuity in these as in other areas: but it's an exercise which, however necessary, will remain under the radar of Party 3 – because the primary locus of rupture as actually experienced is not in doctrine but in praxis – in the liturgy. The reformulation of the liturgy does actually entail a real, tangible alteration to the most powerfully formative influence on the way Catholics think and believe - not merely in relation to the objective content of the Faith - but about the relationship of the Magisterium to that objective content itself. And it's a fait accompli – there's no clear way in which the genie can be got back in the bottle, because any kind of "change back", while delivering this or that correction, will nevertheless only confirm the impression that everything, down to the most intimate actions of the believer, is at the disposal of the living Magisterium.

This is simply an observable fact. I reject absolutely the proposition that pointing it out amounts to insulting the Pope, or pretending to some privileged perspective denied to those far better equipped than myself with learning, intellect and graces of state. I talk to Catholics every day, of progressive, middle-of-the-road, and "conservative" stripes, for whom it is simply self-evident that there is at least some level of discontinuity between pre- and post-Conciliar Catholicism, and they are for the most part absolutely untroubled by it. For them, "to think with the Church" means simply to assimilate the current policies, whatever they are, of the living hierarchy, without much regard to anything that has gone before. You can quote Pastor Aeternus (with which, incidentally, I have no difficulties) or Trent or even Pius XII and it will provoke nothing more than an indulgent rolling of the eyes. This is what you're up against, compared with which crass espousal of the "Hermeneutic of Party 2" by the French Hierarchy pales into minor significance.

Daniel Mitsui said...

I see the problem as this: there are two types of obedience that are imperative on Christians, and they are supposed to work in accord: Obedience to the Church Triumphant, through a willful traditionalism that upholds our inheritance from the saints in our liturgy, devotion, iconography, etc. And obedience to the Church Militant, through a deference to the divinely instituted hierarchy and its proper head in the successor of Peter.

These two forces are supposed to work in accord. A Christian should be able to uphold sacred tradition through obedience to the historical ecclesiastical structures associated with it. But obviously, the reality is that they currently do not. In the Byzantine Churches, the hierarchy is a mess. In the Roman Church, the normative expression of the faith is unrecognizable as the faith of history.

What is imperative is that all those involved recognize the irregularity of the situation, and do not become satisfied with that irregularity. I shan't presume to lecture the Orthodox on what they need to do to fix their problems, but I'll say that a mentality exists among certain Orthodox (and certain traditionalist Catholics) that the Papacy isn't just in a bad state, but that it isn't important at all. That takes an irregular situation and makes it regular.

But the wooden beam in the Roman Church's eye is pretty obvious. The new conservative Catholics refuse to admit that anything but a minimalist sort of traditionalism (which could fit between the covers of the 1992 Catechism) is important at all, and only then as an expression of Papal power with no real objective content.

That is just as offensive, just as wrong. Probably more so, as the pastoral effects have been far more disastrous in the Roman Church. And it is the animating mentality of the new conservative Catholics.

But the reasons for hope are several: First, the near destruction of the Roman Church on the initiative of the proper hierarchical authorities has cured a small but important group of traditionalist Catholics of papal sycophancy. Pontificator may not have recognized the neo-ultramontanism that is deafeningly obvious to the blogger and to me, but he is right that our sort of criticism would not have been advanced by a traditionalist before this mess. Before the Council, enough of tradition had survived that we really could entertain all sorts of naive illusions about the papacy.

And a smaller but still important section of traditionalists - those who have begun to make their traditionalism into a workable philosophy rather than a mere protest or an exercise in nostalgia - have begun to seriously and sympathetically examine the Orthodox Churches, and to recognize that Roman Catholicism has problems that long predate VII.

I think that it is among these that the ideas necessary to truly reform the Roman Church, and to work toward a real union with the Orthodox, are beginning to be discussed. They are beginning to ask the right questions.

Because the wrong question, the one that expends so much intellectual energy, is this: If the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant are set at odds, which do you choose? The correct questions are Why in God's name are they set at odds, and how can we correct that?

And among Roman Catholics, the wrong question is this: How do we make the Orthodox become Catholic? The constructive question is rather How do we make the Catholics become Orthodox? Because Roman Catholicism should be an Orthodox-with-a-capital-O religion.

And I'll say from my own experience: If a Roman Catholic has access to the traditional rites enough to live a full sacramental life without attending the new Mass (obviously many Catholics are denied that right), it is pretty easy to live and think and pray as a Latin Orthodox sort of Christian, without needing to question his obedience to the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Too much of the sense of scandal and betrayal among traditional Catholics is a result of paying too much attention to every silly thing the Pope says or does - precisely what we fault the new conservative Catholics for doing.

Moretben said...

Perfect, Daniel.

I'd like to print out this post and frame it (I'd consult you about the font, first)


Anonymous said...


This is exactly my experience. But what now?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I guess I mean to say that as one of those Catholics who grew frustrated with neoCath "evangelical" ultramontanism (terrible music), and tradCath counterreformational-victorian ultramontanism (great music), and tradCath adhoc uber-rationalism (indifferent to music), and looked eastward, I just don't see the deviations I think I ought to see from a Church that was split from "the successor to Peter" for more than a thousand years and through Islamic and Communistic torture. I also don't see how their liturgy won't carry them through hyper-modernity. I have to ask myself, exactly who is the schismatic?

Daniel Mitsui said...


First, I don't fault any Roman Catholic for the decisions he makes when he is denied the right to worship in a traditional matter.

But my last point was that, if a Catholic can attend a Traditional Mass, he can live a pretty satisfactory "Latin Orthodox" sort of life. Because aside from the liturgy, many of the flaws of lived Roman Catholicism are ones that can be fixed without papal or episcopal intervention. The Pope and the Bishops don't tell you what books to read, what devotions to maintain, what saints to venerate, what art to like, what attitude to have.

The Ultramontanist-Counterreformational tenndencies of Traditional Catholicism are more often encountered in periodicals and on websites than in pulpit oratory, at least in my experience. Those are pretty easy to ignore.

I think that if one values the occidental expression of Christianity, he should devote his efforts to constructive measures - reading the Church Fathers and discussing their teaching, studying and making efforts to revive the lost iconography of the western Church (as an artist, this is my pet project, although still in its infancy), venerating the old forgotten saints, etc.

As for the question Who is schismatic?, I think that is another one of the wrong questions, one that reduces the problem to choosing the least defective side. Because everyone is schismatic - either from Peter, or from History. The duty is for an apostolic Christian of a particular heritage to do what he can to correct the flaws of his Church.

Anonymous said...


I guess I am losing hope in RC. I'm wary of being part of the thorougly modern divorce culture in doing so, but I can't seem to see any other way.

I tried Tridentine-rite Catholicism, but I found it just as problematic as the novus ordo, only for different reasons. It struck me as the expression of a failure to appreciate the doctrinal and soteriological necessity of divine immanence to true Christian expression.

By *divine* immanence I do not mean the thoroughly modern, humanist immanentization project, which is how the half-hour, sentimentalizing praise and worship, ad populum, chicken soup for the soul, "here comes everybody" tromping through the sancturary in flip flops and belly rings, novus ordo can often come off. No encouter with the holy here. (Who invented those damned wire-less mics anyway!) However, the Tridentine rite felt like the flip side of this, as if God was so holy as to be entirely unapproachable.

Alternatively, the Orthodox divine liturgy felt Christologically balanced. It radically affirmed God's unapproachable holiness, "One is holy, One is Lord" and "Holy things are for the Holy." But, it also paradoxically affirmed God's saving presence, "Christ is in our midst. He is and he ever shall be." And it was chanted and in English!

I think the DL gets the Christian soteriological paradox right, which makes me suspicious that our tradition has been disordered for much longer than we care to admit.

Per said...

I agree with some of the comments here. A problem is that for over a millenium, Catholics and Orthodox have unsuccessfully tried to settle the dispute over the papacy with apriori arguments. However, for settling disputes the Lord proposed empiricism: "by the fruits...".

It is in my view painfully obvious that the modernism afflicting and destroying the Catholic Church has been engineered by the popes. It was the Pope who called the VII council. It was the Pope who intervened during it in favour of the progressives and who let them carry the day. It was papal fiat that imposed the Novus Ordo on the faithful, despite it being rejected by two thirds of the synod. Thus, with synodality there would have been no New Mass.

It is interesting to compare this with the modernist innovations that the patriarch Metaxas tried to impose on the Orthodox in the 1920s. But he was only able to produce limited damage (more or less limited to the introduction of the new calendar, which is followed by a minority of the Orthodox). Thus, the 20th century has given us a "controlled experiment" by which the respective ecclesiologies of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches can be compared. It turns out that the decentralised synodality of the Orthodox is much more resilient, much more able to resist modernist innovations and preserve Holy Tradition, than is the unrestricted monarchism of the Catholic Church.

It is also interesting that traditional Catholics like the SSPX have been able to preserve Tradition by walling themselves off from Rome, by denying the Pope jurisdiction over their parishes. Unwittingly, but in practice, they have adopted an Orthodox ecclesiology.

The prospects for a future reconsiliation between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches therefore need not look bleak. With the arrival of new popes who are brought up on the Novus Ordo, ungrounded in the old faith, the corrosive fruits of papal supremacy will become ever more apparent for traditional Catholics, and they will ever more embrace an Orthodox ecclesiology.

Anonymous said...

With the introduction of the Protestant mass, I fear that "traditional Catholicism" has mostly dried up. Who needs to render due worship and praise with beauty according to tradition if we have the natural law, policy wonkism, and televised mass?

Salvation is disciplined participation in right sacramental worship. Loving God is the first command. And, this is necessarily worship that comes down "from above" and is not the product of the fallen imaginations of pagan theurgists who worship "the Creator," protestant deformers, or liturgical renewal committees.

Plus, "traditional Catholicism" is so deeply scarred in so many ways by its tangle with the counter-Deformation that it is "traditional" in only the historicist meaning of that term, IMHO. And, even if it isn't, it feels like "continuing Anglicanism" which, I'm sorry, I have little sympathy for. I understand it. I feel for it. But I do not see it as a true way to go. Now, if "traditional Catholics" and "continuing Anglicans" and "high-church Lutherans" were willing to enter into communion with the One Holy Catholic and Apostlic Church with a traditional western rite that would be a very different question.

Thanks for helping move me closer to a decision. I need to re-enter communion again soon. Just wish we all communed together.

Anonymous said...

This is a sobering article. I know next to nothing of theology, but I have been attending Catholic and Orthodox services. I am searching. This article descibes something I've experienced. Othodoxy just seems alive. It's a living Tradition. I don't want to offend, but the Catholic Church does not.

Daniel Mitsui said...

1) I am as vocal a critic of the Counter-Reformation as any Catholic on the internet, but that is because its flaws are still very much with us. Pre-Tridentine Catholicism, the very sort of Latin Orthodoxy I desire, had serious flaws (as does Eastern Orthodoxy), when considered as an historical reality rather than as a lofty ideal.

The biggest compliment that I can pay Trent and its aftermath is that we no longer need to discuss the worst aspects peculiar to earlier expressions of Roman Catholicism, because they no longer exist. The counter-Reformation was very effective in that regard, and I think that any restoration of a Latin Orthodoxy would need to be one that has learned certain lessons from the experience. We might remmeber that in the Middle Ages, there was general confusion about things as basic as the number of sacraments.

2) While it is undeniable that most of the currently existing liturgical problems in the Roman Church happened on Papal initiative, it is a hasty generalization to say that the papal office has had an overall negative effect on the Roman Church. Urban VIII's Hymnal, Pius X's Psalter, and Paul VI's Mass are not the only, or even the characteristic, products of the papal office in the second millennium. It might be remembered that the old ultramontanism, unlike the new, was not about securing the rights of the papacy over tradition, but about securing the rights of the papacy over secular rulers. Independence from Caesar in ecclesiastical governance is the great triumph of Catholicism over that time. And in that regard, I find it agreeable - who wants bishops appointed by the French Republic?

I suppose that what I am trying to say is that even those (like myself) who pay most attention to worship should realize that the state of the Roman Church, and of all Churches, is formed by a lot of external factors - politics, war, revolution, plague, invasion, technology - that simply are not things that its hierarchy initiates. In other words, one cannot treat the schism between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy as a controlled experiment on papal supremacy. Because it is not. So many other factors affected the results that it is impossible to say whether Orthodoxy would have been better or worse with a supreme Pope, or whether Catholicism would have been better or worse without one. It is a matter of speculation, and ultimately faith.

What we know for certain is that Christ promised that Hell would not prevail against the Church of Peter (whatever that means), and that he prays for us all to be one (whatever that means).

Daniel Mitsui said...

That isn't to say that I thinkl Papal supremacy as currently exercised and understoon in the Roman catholic Church is a good thing - I don't. It's just that history isn't science, and the hasty judgment on the papacy and its role in Catholic history is usually informed by a very selective view of events.

A constructive reform of Roman Catholicism needs to presume that it is worth saving, and the words spoken by an incarnate God are enough to convince me of that.

Anonymous said...

Anon (and any and all other non-Catholic or non-Orthodox Christians):

My hyperbolic polemic was meant for insiders who are trying to come to grips with the problems that afflict *both* communions. I happen to think this stock-taking is necessary to avoid many of the modern reductions. I may well be wrong. Anyway, this string happens to be aimed at RC. Please read the comments above with great caution.


I don't see the need for "seven" sacraments. That seems to be part and parcel of the modernistic reduction. What about funeral-burial (now cremations)? Monk tonsure? The blessing of the waters at theophany? Icons? Viaticum? Home blessings? Parish councils? Ecumenical conferences? Etc. The Church appears to have a sacramental hierarchy with three "major" sacraments--orders, baptism-christmation, and eucharist--and many many "minor" ones that ought to fully encompass all aspects of a truly Christian life infusing it with God's very saving presence.

Nevertheless, I hear you about the real problems of medievalism. You are clearly better informed than I. I hope you were not offended by my hyperbolic screed. I was hoping to provoke you to continue your apologia, which was successful. Your comments have enabled me to see the situation with both greater clarity and greater charity. Thanks.

We are all struggling with the unbelievable thinness of culture out here on the spatio-temporal frontier of hypermodernity. It is becoming pretty difficult to see tradition anywhere. I suppose we should be thankful for whatever crumbs that are left.

Daniel Mitsui said...


I was thinking more along the lines of What about Kingly coronation? Knighthood? etc. Early Catholicism had some big problems as a result of granting sacred privileges to secular powers (often of dubious legitimacy), and a clarification that such ceremonies carry no sacramental power is pretty important.

And the story of second-millennium Catholicism is mostly that of the Church gaining those privileges back, or failing to do so (in Reformation England, for example, or contemporary China).

Now in the process, a lot of bad ideas took hold in the Catholic consciousness. The Pope took on secular duties not proper to his office. And the theology formulated as the old untramontanism was falsely applied in the new ultramontanism, at the expense of sacred tradition. But on the whole, I'm very much glad that the Roman Catholic Church asserted its independence in these matters. I prefer Papism with a valid Peter to Caesaropapism without a valid Caesar.

Daniel Mitsui said...

Sorry to comment excessively... I just wanted to clarify that my remark about "Caesaropapism without Caesar" was not in any way intended as an insult to Orthodoxy - rather, it's what I think western Christendom might have become without the Papacy, in the particular historical circumstances under which it developed in the 2nd millennium.

I am not satisfied with the current results of the Roman Church's decisions about the role of the papal office (obviously), but I recognize that they were made in response to something. It didn't happen in a vaccuum.

Anonymous said...


None taken. I wonder if the better question is, "what was the role of the papacy in the Great Church?" Olivier Clement's short book, "Thou art Peter" is decent and fair.

Per said...

Indeed, a balanced historical account should include the merits of the centralised papacy, such as its standing up to secular rulers. The WWII could also be mentioned, where the Catholic Church was able to save perhaps 800 000 Jews, something that would probably not have been possible without the centralised monolithic structure of the church of the time.

Nevertheless, the data of the last 50 years in my view points in a direction where an EO ecclesiology is basically the healthy one for the future. Two moves could be beneficial.

1. A move towards a culture where the rule of Faith is associated with Holy Tradition rather than with Magisterium, and where it is incumbent upon every faithful, and not just a select group of hierarchs, to uphold it.

2. A redefinition of the Petrine ministry in terms of a chairman rather than a monarch. This would mean backtracking on previous prerogatives regarding jurisdiction and infallibility, which could have detrimental repercussions. But on the other hand, perhaps one could have great hope that the hermeneutists of continuity will be able to use their skills to convince everyone that this is what the Church has always taught.

Per said...

Here is a continuo-hermeneutic reading of papal infallibility. The Pope, as successor of Peter, is the Primate of the Universal Church, which means that he chairs the universal synod of bishops. Chair is "cathedra" in latin. The Cathedral, the church of his chair, is "Sobor" in russian, a word that connotes both catholicity and synodality. When the Pope speaks infallibly ex cathedra, it means that he, in his capacity as Primate, from his primatal chair gives voice to the decisions that has been reached in unison by the Universal Church. The different ways described in councils by which the Church makes infallible decisions thus essentially means the same thing.

Anonymous said...

The way forward.

"Apostolic" Canon 34:
"It is fitting that the bishops of each ethnos should know who is first among them, that they should acknowledge him as head and not undertake anything beyond the confindes of their own sees without having consulted him. But the one who is first, for his part, ust not do anything without consulting them. Thus a communion of thought will reign, and God will be glorified in the Lord through the Holy Spirit."

Moretben said...

An embarrassment of riches on this thread. I am amazed that such a slight, rather querulous original posting should have provoked such a wealth of insight from all sorts of different points of view.

My sincere thanks to everyone who has contributed. It has been a real education.

Anonymous said...


"What is imperative is that all those involved recognize the irregularity of the situation, and do not become satisfied with that irregularity."

I don't know if the "mess" found within Orthodoxy at least can really claim to be "irregular." Looking prior to the "great schism", and even prior to the Muhammedan menace, I'm hard pressed to see a time when things were not a mess. If anything, the whole "the good times" ideal is a myth of western Christians, and not at all born out by the Orthodox experience (and I think if one is a student of history, it isn't born out by the history of the post-schism west either.)

I hate to say it, but there has never been a time when there weren't heretics running around (both within and outside of the visible confines of the Church), schisms both big and small, or otherwise Orthodox Bishops stepping on each others toes by trying to lay their grubby paws on each others jurisdictions. Again, I don't want to be the one raining on any parades, but I think what some are describing as "regularity" has scarcely manifested itself in the life of the Church Militant.

Tim Rivera

The Ochlophobist said...

It is also interesting that traditional Catholics like the SSPX have been able to preserve Tradition by walling themselves off from Rome, by denying the Pope jurisdiction over their parishes. Unwittingly, but in practice, they have adopted an Orthodox ecclesiology.

I am fairly familiar with current Orthodox ecclesiological thought. I know next to nothing about SSPX or other traditionalist Catholic ecclesiological thought, though I have met some SSPX and other trads over the years, and I always assumed that they were a sort of ecclesiology in crisis and therefore lacked a developed ecclesiology. Could someone here point me in the direction of trad ecclesiological thought? Who does one read to get a grasp on such a thing?

Acolyte4236 said...

I couldn’t disagree more with Pontificator’s comments. There is truly nothing new in the world. Pontificator amply testifies to the dialectical process that is fresh with new interpretations of itself. The excuse that “this is certainly no longer the case” gets boring after a while and makes obvious the fact that Rome lacks tradition in the fullest sense of the word. Custom perhaps would be a term more appropriate I suppose.
The Orthodox have been afflicted less for all kinds of reasons. Some of historical “chance” and others of a more endemic nature. It is quite funny to speak of something like a process that lead to the creation of an Orthodoxy centered on the liturgy. When did this happen? Apart from the vacuity of such a claim (Orthodoxy was centered on the Liturgy before Mohammed could wipe his own arse and Lenin stole his first piece of property.), I am quite happy to be part of something centered on the liturgy. Lex orandi. By contrast, what is Catholicism centered on? Non-liturgy? Too true.

Apart from the esteemed Pontificator’s rhetoric concerning the temperature of teaching, I am not clear on why the fixing of teaching, otherwise known as tradition, would be a problem. I suppose he imagines that doctrine was doing its appropriate thing in the East, making ever new conceptual discoveries, amplication and clarification, via that good ole hellenistic dialectic and then a massive temperature drop left Orthodoxy in the freezer with the usual rhetorical denigrations of being “static” “turgid” and “stagnant.” Such are the things myths are made of. The teaching of Palamas is not a “development” anymore than Maximus’ teaching concerning the energies was. It was essential (PUN!) to his defense of dyothelitism.

Those people who thought that doctrine could be “developed” through hellenistic dialectic were such persons as Origen, Arius, Nestorius, et al. If anything, it is Rome that has elevated to dogma a particular theological view, and one that is the result of a development, testifying to its un-Catholicity. The theology of Vat 1 simply isn’t found in the Apostolic deposit of all or any other See founded by the Apostles and hence it is not “according to the Whole."

Ever forward, Pontificator confuses unity with simplicity. Unity with a single head hardly constitutes anything amounting to the apostolic deposit according to the whole. If it were any other sect, Al would clearly see it as a Gnostic invention. And it is quite easy to see how Rome keeps unity with the Irish, Italians, et al. They are either the later creations of itself or were subjugated to it over time. Of course Rome has for some time been more like an adherent of Catholischism since it has spawned more schisms with no amendment in sight after 500 years. Of course this is what the Gnostic dialectic does-reason never stops making ever new discoveries and hence new sects are born. Rome keeps some, but looses others. She is the ever pregnant wife in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life-Oops! There’s another one!

It is quite true that there is much formalism in Greece or Russia for all kinds of historical reasons. Fair enough. But does anyone wonder if Orthodoxy will survive in Greece? How many Catholic Churches in the US have had to be sold in the last 5 years?

Anonymous said...

This post is amazing. I have learned much. I know little about Catholicism , even though I was baptized and received communion in the Catholic church as a child. As a adult, when I tried to begin being a Christian, I went to a large Catholic church where I lived. It felt totally dead to me, and it was probably traditional. Then I went to an Orthodox church (Antiochian, converts mostlt). No comparison. I became Orthodox. Of course I based my decision on more than this.

When I hear the defense of new Catholic doctrine, it just seems dead to me. All the time we hear 'the gates of Hell will not prevail against it,' etc. I don't hear Orthodox saying that, perhaps because Orthodox don't see that threat every day.

For one's own salvation, it has to come down to these kinds of arguments, i.e. that Orthodoxy has remained relatively unchanged in liturgy while adding converts in the West during the 20th century, and the Vatican is constantly issuing encyclicals and having innovative councils, creating new masses and orders in an attempt to save itself.

Per said...

I think it interesting that although in theory the SSPX are the most ultramontane and anti-Orthodox, their approach towards integration with Rome shows similarities with that of the Eastern Patriarchs for example in their encyclical letter of 1848 in response to Rome.

When the Pope contradicts Tradition, what then? While indult trads want to "be with the Pope" and work within current ecclesial structures as long as Tradition is reasonably tolerated, the SSPX does not want to "be an exotic animal in a syncretistic zoo". Integration can only occur when Rome abandons its modernist orientation and returns to her Tradition. Then the crisis will be over and the Pope may assert his jurisdiction over their works.

Thus, in contrast to the ├╝berultramontanism of the neoultramontanists, for whom the Pope determines what is orthodox and what is tradition, the tradultramontanists make obedience to the Pope contingent upon his orthodoxy and orthopraxy, which are measured by the yardstick of the living Tradition. While in neoultramontanism the Pope is an absolute monarch who is above Tradition, in tradultramontanism he is a constitutional monarch who is under Tradition. By thus asserting the supremacy of Tradition over hierarchy, the SSPX in my view is making a healthy contribution and a move in the right direction.