Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Why not let Rome roam?

In the same conversation over at Papal Ponty's about infalliblity, the same EO reader (a delightful dialogue partner, by the way) made the following statements about this question:

Someone asked me earlier why I care so much about this, why can’t the EO just let Rome be? If you had a brother who would only relate to you on terms of authority, and you hurt because love was hard, you would not give up trying to find ways to relate on more basic brotherly terms.

To which I replied:

I appreciate this explanation. I am aware of the fact that you as an Orthodox are ecumenical out of love. That’s awesome (me too, except that my runty love is always in need of growth and grace). My question is not about why EOs reach for Catholics on a moral, Christian level — to reach the lost and call back sinners — but why Rome as a disembodied See has any such slack or indulgence by the East.

My point is not why EOs care for Catholics as separated, confused brethren, but why the East can’t seem to let Rome the bishopric go. In the very act of denouncing and excommunicating Rome, I see a thousand years of Orthodox history as a big obsession with the one thing it can’t admit it HAS to retain. The very resilience of Rome as a need for the East to stay in union, even in extremely painful union, with – as opposed to simply moving past other lost sees – suggests a divine permanence undergirds Rome.

The Catholic Church acknowledges its NEED for the East as a living bearer of the Tradition, and therefore as a key resource in a unified, effective struggle for the Kingdom (see _Ut Unum Sint_ and _Lumen Orientalum_). But that in now way hampers the Catholic Church’s ability or self-awareness to pronounce and bind and loose and worship AUTHORITATIVELY as THE ONE (unus, not solus) Church.

By contrast, the East seems unable to admit its need for the riches of the West, much less unable to articulate its vision for the Petrine primacy since Rome went all nutty. Much more important, though, is the fact that the East also, by its own admission, seems unwilling or unable to proceed in a collectively unified, catholic, ecumenically infallible way while she is without Rome. I think the asymmetry – thankful admiration without incapacitation vs. contempt with fragmented authority – is hugely telling. Even in being pushed to the outside, Rome slides to the center. Even in being denounced as an accidental heresiarchy for the East, Rome remains a living part of the East. Why, in the mystery of providence, is that?

Until, perhaps on some dark day as a disillusioned Catholic, I can answer that question, satisfactorily against Rome, I have no desire to pit myself against such a mysteriously vital part of the Church.

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