Thursday, June 16, 2005

The drama of the Catholic gestalt?

A reader decided to engage me a bit about my patristic evidence regarding the supremacy of Rome.

Here’s my reply (for now):

Thanks for your efforts to reply. I must admit you sounded a little snide in your opening remarks, as if you are out to "school me" and my whole silly proof-texting thing. I hope neither of us comes across that way to each other, though.

As for the substance of your replies, first, qualifying or questioning a few parts of a few initial quotes is only the beginning. I’m looking for patient, articulate guidance among this evidence in order to see how the frequent claim that "it does, it really does!" jive with Eastern Orthodox ecclesiology can stand up to the Fathers. Thus, for example, allow me to re-post some of the most pungent patristic papal propaganda. ;)

+ St. Ephraem the Syrian (ca. A.D. 350):

"Then Peter deservedly received the Vicariate of Christ over His people."
(Ephraem, Sermon de Martyrio. SS. App. Petri et Pauli)

[As if spoken by Jesus:] "Simon my follower, I have made you the foundation of My holy Church. I betimes called you Peter, because you will support all its buildings. You are the inspector of all who will build on earth a Church for Me. If they should wish to build what is false, you, the foundation, will condemn them. You are the head of the fountain from which My teaching flows, you are the chief of My disciples. Through you I will give drink to all peoples. Yours is the life-giving sweetness which I dispense. I have chosen you to be, as it were, the first-born in My institution, and so that, as the heir, you may be the executor of all My treasures. I have given you the keys of My Kingdom. Behold, I have given you authority over all My treasures!

"To whom, O Lord, didst Thou entrust that most precious pledge of the heavenly keys? To Bar Jonas, the Prince of the Apostles, with whom, I implore Thee, may I share Thy bridal chamber...Our Lord chose Simon Peter and appointed him chief of the Apostles, foundation of the holy Church and guardian of His establishment. He appointed him head of the Apostles and commanded him to feed His flock and teach it laws for preserving the purity of its beliefs."
(Ephraem, Homilies, 4:1, 350 A.D.)

+ Opatatus (c. 367 A.D.):

"In the city of Rome the Episcopal chair was given first to Peter, the chair in which Peter sat, the same who was head — that is why he is also called Cephas [Rock] — of all the Apostles, the one chair in which unity is maintained by all. Neither do the Apostles proceed individually on their own, and anyone who would presume to set up another chair in opposition to that single chair would, by that very fact, be a schismatic and a sinner.... Recall then the origins of your chair, those of you who wish to claim for yourselves the title of holy Church."
(Opatatus, The Schism of the Donatists, 2:2)

+ Asterius (A.D. 400):

"In order that he may show his power, God has endowed none of his disciples with gifts like Peter. But, having raised him with heavenly gifts, he has set him above all ... as first disciple and greater among the brethren, ... [and thus] has shown, by the test of deeds, the power of the Spirit. The first to be called, he followed at once.... The Saviour confided to this man, as some special trust, the whole universal Church, after having asked him three times 'Lovest thou me?'. And he receive the world in charge..."
(Homily 8, in GILES, 145-146)

+ Macedonius, Patriarch of Constantinople (A.D. 466-516):

"Macedonius declared, when desired by the Emperor Anastasius to condemn the Council of Chalcedon, that 'such a step without an Ecumenical Synod presided over by the Pope of Rome is impossible.'"
(Macedonius, Patr. Graec. 108: 360a [Theophan. Chronogr. pp. 234-346 seq.])

+ St. Maximus the Confessor (ca. AD 580-662), a celebrated theologian and a native of Constantinople:

"The extremities of the earth, and everyone in every part of it who purely and rightly confess the Lord, look directly towards the Most Holy Roman Church and her confession and faith, as to a sun of unfailing light awaiting from her the brilliant radiance of the sacred dogmas of our Fathers, according to that which the inspired and holy Councils have stainlessly and piously decreed. For, from the descent of the Incarnate Word amongst us, all the churches in every part of the world have held the greatest Church alone to be their base and foundation, seeing that, according to the promise of Christ Our Savior, the gates of hell will never prevail against her, that she has the keys of the orthodox confession and right faith in Him, that she opens the true and exclusive religion to such men as approach with piety, and she shuts up and locks every heretical mouth which speaks against the Most High."
(Maximus, Opuscula theologica et polemica [A.D. 650], in PG 91:137-144)

"How much more in the case of the clergy and Church of the Romans, which from old until now presides over all the churches which are under the sun? Having surely received this canonically, as well as from councils and the apostles, as from the princes of the latter [Peter & Paul], and being numbered in their company, she is subject to no writings or issues in synodical documents, on account of the eminence of her pontificate... even as in all these things all are equally subject to her [the Church of Rome] according to sacerodotal law. And so when, without fear, but with all holy and becoming confidence, those ministers [the popes] are of the truly firm and immovable rock, that is of the most great and Apostolic Church of Rome."
(Maximus, in J.B. Mansi, ed. Amplissima Collectio Conciliorum, vol. 10)

"I was afraid of being thought to transgress the holy laws, if I were to do this [write this letter to Peter – EBB] without knowing the will of the most holy see of Apostolic men, who lead aright the whole plenitude of the Catholic Church, and rule it with order according to the divine law. ... If the Roman See recognizes Pyrrhus to be not only a reprobate but a heretic, it is certainly plain that everyone who anathematizes those who have rejected Pyrrhus also anathematizes the See of Rome, that is, he anathematizes the Catholic Church. I need hardly add that he excommunicates himself also, if indeed he is in communion with the Roman See and the Catholic Church of God ...Let him hasten before all things to satisfy the Roman See, for if it is satisfied, all will agree in calling him pious and orthodox. For he only speaks in vain who... does not satisfy and implore the blessed Pope of the most holy Catholic Church of the Romans, that is, the Apostolic See, which is from the incarnate of the Son of God Himself, and also [from] all the holy synods, according to the holy canons and definitions, has received universal and surpreme dominion, authority, and power of binding and loosing over all the holy churches of God throughout the whole world. -- for with it the Word who is above the celestial powers binds and looses in heaven also. For if he thinks he must satisfy others, and fails to implore the most blessed Roman pope, he is acting like a man who, when accused of murder or some other crime, does not hasten to prove his innocence to the judge appointed by the law, but only uselessly and without profit does his best to demonstrate his innocence to private individuals, who have no power to acquit him.
(Maximus, ca. AD 642, in Mansi x, 692)

+ St. Theodore the Studite of Constantinople, a giant in Eastern monasticism (759-826):

>> Writing to Pope Leo III...

"Since to great Peter Christ our Lord gave the office of Chief Shepherd after entrusting him with the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, to Peter or his successor must of necessity every novelty in the Catholic Church be referred. [Therefore], save us, oh most divine Head of Heads, Chief Shepherd of the Church of Heaven."
(Theodore, Bk. I. Ep. 23)

Such evidence can be extended and expanded from East to West, from the firs to the eleventh centuries. But I hope these suffice to show that, so to speak, non-Catholics have a lot explaining to do if you want to see eye to eye with our common forebears about their deference to Rome.

Second, in your zeal to explode my proof-texts (with... yet more proof-texts), I'm afraid you've missed my overall point: the early (and Eastern) Church once proclaimed -- as well as liturgically enshrined -- papal supremacy in its theandric life, but Eastern Orthodoxy now appears simply incapable or unwilling to face up to that heritage, mainly because of a lot of Western scandal and a lot of theological miscommunication.

A practical outworking of my main point is to ask you simply and genuinely, on the appropriate feast days, to say "Amen!" -- with a clear conscience -- to the memory of Popes St. Leo, Gregory, Hormisdas, et al. who explicitly defined and lived papal supremacy. Take a lok at their papalism, and especially at the East's affirmation of it (e.g., Acacian schism, Formula of Hormisdas, Robber Synod, Tome of Leo, Photian and Florentine reaffirmation of Hormisdan formula, etc.), and see how your attitudes today might square with that. The "rub" that I see is that your own liturgy has "swallowed" this bitter Roman pill and I simply am at a loss to see how you can digest it -- the absolutely Petrine nature of the Church – as an Eastern Orthodox. That, not who has the sweetest quotes, is my main point.

Now, hopefully to show the probative force of my silly prooftexts in the correct larger context, let me emphasize a few points that I think get lost in the polemics. First, we must be honest about something: no matter how much sweat and fire Orthodox (or Anglicans for that matter) work up against Rome's heresies, Orthodoxy, by its own criteria of ecclesial authority, lacks the ability to "bust" Rome. Orthodoxy -- "the Church of the First Seven Councils" (mutatis mutandis) -- regards the councils and their canons as their highest canonical authority. But what truly ecumenical council -- e.g., pre-Schism -- ever condemned the Immaculate Conception of our Lady? Or defined Palamism as the divine truth? Or stipulated for a council to "take" without papal ratification? Or declared the invalidity of Catholic sacraments? And so on. You may dislike Rome's developments after these councils, but, short of calling an ecumenical council right quick, I simply fail to see how you, or any Orthodox Christian, can credibly say Rome actually violated one of the ecumenical councils.

A second guiding reservation I have towards Orthodoxy is the questionableness of autocephalism. As Henri De Lubac, S.J., says in his essay "Petrine Office and Particular Churches",

There has never been a Christianity without Church, and there has never been a universal Church without particular churches. Wherever the Eucharist is celebrated, the Catholic Church is present whole and undivided. The bishop of the most insignificant market town is in this respect, as St Jerome observes, the equal of the bishop of Rome.

But there were never any autonomous particular churches which then joined together in a federation to form a universal church, any more than the twelve disciples chosen by Jesus subsequently came together on their own initiative.

This, the development of autocephalism in modern Eastern Orthodoxy, is a serious challenge to the traditional (and I do mean Traditional) “givenness” of the Church. Autocephalies are bureaucratic creations; but are they the fullest and truest expression of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church? Alleged papal "megalocephaly" is one thing, but certainly Orthodox "polycephaly" has its own serious difficulties. Though it's tempting, I refuse to sucker punch Orthodoxy with the charge of "unruly", "chaotic" jurisdiction -- "Too many cooks int he kitchen!" My point is not whether autocephaly works or not -- as if religion were about results! ;) -- but that it skews the intended form Christ wills for the Church. It may work, but it's not, I believe, how Christ wills His Body, His house, to function.

This point becomes more significant when we consider the infant structure, or primal gestalt, of the Church. The paradosis came to all Christians, and comes to us, in more than verbal terms. It comes to us, in fact, in phenomenological, even dramatic, vividness and concreteness. This "dramatic catechesis" – typically known as Tradition – finds its greatest expression and continuation in the Eucharist. Just as the sacrifice of our Lord continues in the drama of the Eucharistic liturgy, realizing and applying his mercy into every age, so too the Church gathered around the risen, crucified Lord must continue in the same phenomenological integrity that Christ first gave it. To cite de Lubac again at some length (op. cit.),

The collegial bond links every particular church with all other churches, each church leader with all others, since all together are responsible as a corporate body for the tradition of Christ. And within this universal network, of which the one Church of God is composed, there exists a center, an obligatory point of reference: The particular church of Rome, which is led by the successor of Peter, the "first" of the Twelve, as Matthew's expression has it. Fundamentally the Church, in the words of Mark and Luke, is "Peter and those who are with him." ...

“[Citing Schleier,] In the epilogue to John's Gospel, "Simon Peter who in the Gospel itself already stands out preeminently among the Twelve (Jn 1: 42; 6: 68ff.; 13; 18; 20: l ff.), in a symbolic scene brings fishes to the Risen Lord in his net (Jn 21: 10f.). Jesus solemnly entrusts to him the 'flock' to feed (21: 14fl). The Church is one. And it is the Church of Peter. The risen Jesus committed to him (in the company of the Twelve) the harvest and the draught of fishes and the pasturing." ...

But as the Protestant theologian Jean-Jacques von Allmen remarks, Jesus also says in Luke 22: "I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail ... strengthen your brethren", he entrusts Peter with this function "in the framework of the Eucharist", that is to say, "in the framework of what Jesus willed to endure until his return".

Consequently we have every reason to say with Jacques Guillet in his recent book on Jesus, "The Church is already present there in Caesarea. It already speaks, it already receives all its authority from Jesus, in the confirmation he gives to Peter ... such was the Church at its source, so it remains throughout the centuries..." Furthermore, it is normal to think that if nothing is said to the contrary, the unity of the particular churches among themselves must mirror the unity that linked the apostles. ...

What can be reconstructed in regard to the first few centuries, shows us the bishop of Rome in his double role as center and as arbitrator. "It is one of our synodal laws", observes St Avitus of Vienne, for example, "if any doubt arises in anything that concerns the state of the Church, to have recourse to the great bishop of the Roman Church, just as the members of the body are subordinate to the head." Even in times when various objections were raised on the part of the East, people knew that that was the law of salvation in difficult matters. Thus the Patriarch of Constantinople wrote to Pope Hormisdas, "With the apostolic see the Catholic religion is always preserved unimpaired." ...

The only thing that matters--but it is of vital importance -- is to uphold the authentic role of Peter's successor--that of embodying the "form of unity" of the successors of the apostles.

As de Lubac, and any other ecclesiologist worth his salt (a la Meyendorff's _The Primacy of Peter_ or de Satge's _Peter and the Single Church_), shows, the Church’s primal gestalt unquestionably had a Petrine “center of gravity.” This same Petrine gestalt *must* continue in any Church that claims to be the embodiment of the primal Church. But where is Peter today in Eastern Orthodoxy? Say what you will about papal abuses, at least in the Catholic -- and primal -- Church *there is a Peter* to do some abusing! To say Peter is unnecessary is outrageous, since our Lord so clearly rooted Peter in the infant Church’s order and consciousness, thus obliging us to heed the contours of the Church's primal drama. To say Peter is in the patriarch of Constantinople or Russia or some other “stand-in” is silly, as probably every Orthodox Chritian would insist. To say Peter is, along the lines of Afanassieff’s “Eucharistic ecclesiology”, in every local bishop only begs the question: What about the supra-local (universal) Church? Arguing that Peter is simply the episcopal head of a local church completely distorts the primal apostolic gestalt, since Peter was the Rock *among the apostles*. Thus, to say each local bishop is Peter, wholly and truly, is to say the priests, deacons and laity are the successors of the other apostles as well! Further, suggesting so radically that each church does not, fundamentally, need the Petrine axis that the Catholic Church still preserves is to seriously risk a fragmentalization and apathy towards our Christian neighbors who happen to be outside the jurisdiction of "our" local Peter. To say each local church exists adequately without other churches’ apostolic successors challenges the unity of the churches as the Church.

What other Apostle so clearly has, and had, his living, authoritative succession connected to a single city? James? Maybe so. Andrew? Maybe. John? Hardly. Paul? He’s in Rome too. Only Peter – and Peter in Rome – has been understood by the Church as *the* head of the apostles, a headship which clearly outsized the exact margins of "the Twelve" (as Paul refers to more than a few apostles in his epistles). Biblically, the apostles were and are understood as the tenders of the Church in a general sense. Only Peter, however, is and was recognized to be the divinely appointed coryphaeus and prince of the Apostles in a concrete – and concretely Roman – sense. Thus, to admit our need for Peter is to admit our need for Rome. To cite de Lubac once more:

"It will be noted [in the Letter of Clement to the Corinthians]", says the Orthodox theologian Nicolas Afanassieff, "that the Roman Church does not consider it necessary to justify its intervention in any way; it has no doubt that its preeminence will be accepted without discussion." And that is what happened; its rebuke was respectfully accepted. About the year A. D. 170, Dionysius of Corinth wrote to Pope Soter that the Letter of Clement was still read in the liturgical assemblies; and this continued to be done for centuries in various regions of East and West.

Third, let’s leave aside the issue of papal infallibility. The real problem for Eastern Orthodoxy, as for Protestantism, is its lack of a concrete, incarnational, Petrine center of unity. The Church, like every organism, has a center of gravity. The Catholic Church has this center. But in Orthodoxy? Autocephalous centers of gravity. Admittedly non-Petrine collegiality. In short, a warped development of the Church’s infant wholeness. By my lights, Orthodoxy clearly and I suppose willingly lacks the authentic apostolic “form of unity” given us in the paradosis. It is in this light, and this divinely cast phenomenological light alone, that papal infallibility has any use, let alone makes any sense. The reality Protestants must face is that ecclesial infallibility is a part of the deposit of faith because a teaching order (magisterium) is a part of the deposit of the faith, as well as because, as Newman said, infallibility is a necessary corollary of inspiration. The reality Orthodox must face, though, is that Petrine infallibility is a part of the deposit of faith because Petrine authority is essential to the teaching order as the living successors of the apostles. Pastoral authority necessitates infallibility, since for God to give a non-infallible head to the heads he gave to the Church, would be effectively to hoodwink the Church. As Stanley Jaki says in Keys of the Kingdom,

[In Protestantism, ecclesiastical] superiors are not yet simply written off, perhaps because it is written in the Scriptures: “Obey your leaders and submit to them for they keep watch over you as men who must render account” (Heb 13:17). But it is also instinctively realized that on the basis of the gospel-alone logic one remains always entitled to question anyone who presents himself as the leader or superior, with the words, “That is the question,” words almost as old as Christianity, according to the observation of St. Ignatius of Antioch. Debates about the keys of the kingdom will go on forever unless Christians steep themselves not so much in reading the Bible as in the attitude invariably urged there, the attitude of loyal adherence to those who were sent to speak with authority. Such adherence was conjured up by Christ who said to the twelve after having washed their feet: “I solemnly assure you, he who accepts anyone I send accepts me, and in accepting me accepts him who sent me” (Jn 13:20). Giovanni Perrone, S.J., one of the influential theologians blamed by some nowadays for Vatican I, was therefore on most biblical grounds when he pointed out that Christians must adhere to the pope not because he is infallible; but since they must, on divine command, adhere to the pope, he has to be infallible.

Loyalty to the Pope is but a consequence of our loyalty to the primal gestalt of teh Church formed by Christ Himself. For all the singular press (good and bad, Catholic and non-Catholic) that the dogma of papal infallibility gets, it is, in its purest reality, not a singular doctrine at all. It is a wholly ecclesial and collegial truth, insofar as papal infallibility is merely a device in the larger service of the Church as the pillar and foundation of the truth. This notorious dogma is actually a quite modest theological effort by the Church to come to terms, or to better articulate and thus "own", already existing the *theandric reality* given to us by Christ, much as the Trinitarian dogmas were and are theological epiphanies expressed in the Church to articulate and "own" the already thriving reality of Trinitarian worship.

I submit to the pope’s infallibility because I submit to God’s ordination of the pope as our Peter, our coryphaeus. Far from pitting orthodoxy against authority, Jesus shows us that Peter was called the Rock precisely in his divinely guarded profession of orthodoxy. I do not pretend to be able to see above my pastors through all ages into a Church without Peter. I refuse to indulge in the luxury of private judgment (whether by being really well-read or for simply not liking how the West or East does things). Like it or not, this is what it means to be Catholic.

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