Sunday, January 1, 2012

DOGMA in the "strict sense"

     When I was in the process of becoming a member of my church I did not know what to believe in.  There was this new spiritual identity of the Byzantine tradition and it was being presented to me by conflicting sources. One source wanted everything to be in conformity with the Latin church and the other wished to throw everything Latin out. Being grafted into this new tradition I felt it was my obligation to be faithful to its roots and I really did not want to be involved in picking sides. In essence, much of the conflict I experienced was based upon how to apply the doctrines and official positions  that were exclusively developed in the Latin tradition. Eventually, I came to understand that just because an official statement or doctrine comes from Rome it does not mean that it exhausts all possibilities or theology.
     For those who have no experience with what I am saying, I believe some presentations by Byzantine Catholics can be threatening. For example, to hear things like, "we don't have a purgatory in our tradition" or even worse "the Pope is First amongst equals" sends up red flags. For some Catholics to hear such things goes against what they are "obligated" to believe. Unfortunately, this way of believing demonstrates a narrow experience of Catholic tradition. To this problem, I believe St. John Paul II offered a better model for all Catholics. As he says, "Our Eastern Catholic brothers and sisters are very conscious of being the living bearers of this tradition, together with our Orthodox brothers and sisters. The members of the Catholic Church of the Latin tradition must also be fully acquainted with this treasure and thus feel, with the Pope, a passionate longing that the full manifestation of the Church's catholicity be restored to the Church and to the world, expressed not by a single tradition, and still less by one community in opposition to the other; and that we too may be granted a full taste of the divinely revealed and undivided heritage of the universal Church which is preserved and grows in the life of the Churches of the East as in those of the West (Oriental Lumen1)." Keeping the words of the saint in mind I don't think my tradition should be a source of conflict for any Catholic. I think the key to the saint's words is to understand that the Latin tradition is not the only tradition that has been birthed by the apostles. Nor do they have exclusive rights on how to express doctrines.
     In saying such things, I often here the phrase, "dogma is dogma" and all Catholics even the Eastern ones are bond to what comes from Rome. Well, as the noted Roman Catholic monk Fr. David Bird explains, "although the councils and dogmatic decrees of the Roman Catholic Church are preserved from error and express Catholic Tradition with the aid of the Holy Spirit, they reflect the Truth as seen by the Latin tradition and presuppose a Latin western context.The obvious fact here is that the Roman church does not exhaust all the possibilities of Catholic teaching through its traditions alone. In fact, as Fr. David also points out, "it must also be accepted that separation from Rome by itself is not enough to separate a church from Catholic Tradition: only separation from its apostolic past does that.   It must also be accepted that, in so far as a separated Church is living the tradition it has received, it is being guided by the same Holy Spirit that guides the Catholic Church, with its source in the Eucharist."  
     In addition to the "dogma is dogma" position, historically, at the Ecumenical councils the Latin tradition did not have near the central influence that some assume today. Nor did the Latin traditions theological expression become the criteria for how the councils formulated dogma. I think its worth mentioning that in the Ravenna document it says," the break between East and West which rendered impossible the holding of Ecumenical Councils in the strict sense of the term". This presentation by the Joint Theological Commission between Catholics and Orthodox opens a new perspective on Catholic dogma. Even though the Latin tradition went on as if it was the only true church and held councils with that point of view we find a totally relaxed understanding of Ecumenical available to Catholics. Consequently, some might say dogmas of Rome for the East must be received in a different sense rather than the strict sense. At least, this seems to be the theme of Joint theological Commission and Pope Francis.
     When it comes to dogmatic positions formulated by the church of Rome {alone} I think Pope Francis adds a new perspective. In speaking about unity with the church of Constantinople he said the following, "the Catholic Church does not intend to impose any conditions except that of the shared profession of faith". In past, before there was a schism or the concept of an eastern catholic church, shared faith came from the Ecumenical councils. For the Roman Catholic church these ecumenical councils continued after the schism.  As a result, not only did the doctrines from them became binding but also how they were expressed. For the Eastern Catholic such a position by Rome has been challenging because it often was assumed that Eastern Catholics had to forsake their own traditions. Unfortunately, to this day there have been Eastern Catholics with this assumption compelled to forsake their ritual churches. They either leave for the Orthodox or end up becoming Roman catholic. This of course is not the message  from the church of Rome, especially under Pope Francis. According to Pope Francis, its possible to be adhere completely to the diversity in Orthodoxy and be in communion with the Roman church. 
     Obviously the proposition of Pope Francis has brought up many questions. One thing for certain, at least in my case, is that I can fully embrace the theological diversity of my tradition with no reservations, even it mirrors theologically everything found in those churches not yet in full communion with the church of Rome. Also, I think its important to note that Rome's openness is not something new.  In the past, the evidence  demonstrates the Rome was naturally  open is some ways to the theological diversity found in my tradition, as witnessed by  the Treaty of Breast and Uzhhorod. As  this demonstrates, we are indeed a Catholic communion and one tradition is not in subornation to the other . I believe Saint John Paul II expresses this best when he said in ORIENTALE LUMEN that one tradition sometimes arrives a little closer at the meaning of the mysteries then the other.



  1. Now see, this is difficult for me to understand and accept. I am currently converting the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, and so I am investigating all of these issues and the different particular Churches as part of my formation. I have a great attraction to the Byzantine Rites of worship and their laudable Traditions, but this issue of lax and loose application of dogma to the Byzantine particular Churches bothers me immensely. I don't see how this is possible when all of the Ecumenical Councils held by the Pope and the Bishops in communion with him after the East/West split claimed to be infallible in every sense of the term. They proclaimed the same Anathemas as the first seven Ecumenical Councils, with the same consequences: being binding on all Christians everywhere.

    I desire unity above all things between all of the particular Churches and with the Holy See, but the problem is this wiggling out of Anathemas and infallibly proclaimed Dogmas just seems plain wrong, and it disturbs me because it makes it seem as if unity is impossible. Take the Immaculate Conception for example. That was defined in no uncertain terms as dogma in the Catholic Church, with the consequence of teaching contrary to it being loss of the Catholic Faith. How can you get around that by saying it shouldn't apply strictly to the Byzantine Traditions..? that strikes me as necessarily denying the very ecclesiastical structure of the Catholic Church, namely, that dogmas decided by the Pope and the Bishops in communion are not "really binding," or that Anathemas aren't "really damning," unless the Byzantine traditions out of communion with the Holy See at the time "agree" that they are. That's rather impious and I doubt any faithful Catholic, be he Bishop or layman, could see it as any less than unity-defying.

    None of this sits well with me because it almost makes it seem like a TRULY Universal Church is nearly if not completely impossible. If watering down of Catholic dogmas has to happen, to the extent of denying Anathemas or watering them down so that they don't mean anything, then I don't think true and lasting union is possible.

    The problem, again, is in this idea that the Bishop of Rome is not the central validation of Anathemas or Dogma, such that wherever He is, there is the Church of God. Some would say that by the break in communion with the Bishop of Rome, the Byzantine Traditions invalidated themselves from Ecumenical Councils. The Bishop of Rome and the Western Bishops continued to function as the true Church because the Chair of Peter is the necessary prerequisite of Ecumenical Councils and true functioning as the one true Church, and those united to Him constitute that Church at all times and in all places, without question, and therefore the dogmas and the Anathemas stand.. If we cannot even agree on that much, that's a shame.

  2. Please understand that when I say all of this, I do not intend to say that Byzantine Catholics should have a Latinization mindset wherein it becomes the greatest good to at any time conform to the Roman Rite. On the contrary, whenever possible the separate and laudable Traditions should be maintained as just that- separate and laudable. But wherever they contradict a legitimately defined dogma or Anathema, it has to be either not spoken of or conform to the Latin understanding in some way. To do anything else is quasi-heretical.

  3. Jonathan let me give you a different perspective. When the hierarchs of the church of Kiev entered into communion with Rome there was a treaty involved(treaty of breast). This treaty specified specific conditions of union on points of which the church wanted to remain faithful to byzantine tradition. For example,
    "1.Since there is a quarrel between the Romans and Greeks about the procession of the Holy Spirit, which greatly impede unity really for no other reason than that we do not wish to understand one another—we ask that we should not be compelled to any other creed but that we should remain with that which was handed down to us ... or even "5.—We shall not debate about purgatory, but we entrust ourselves to the teaching of the Holy Church."
    The terms for union demonstrate that it was not essential for this byzantine church to adapt itself to how Rome preceded theologically after the schism. Purgatory for instance is a dogma of the Latin tradition and yet this church was able to enter into union with Rome without adapting it to its theology to it. It's not watering down Catholic dogma but its applying it differently. Byzantine Catholics do not oppose any "latin"dogmas" but do not have to integrate them into a spirituality that foreign to it. It's a different spiritual system that is complementary to Rome and not at odds to it.

    1. Hi Ric,

      I responded to your posts on my blog with a blog post. Feel free to read it when you get the chance.


  4. Perhaps what is helpful is to not merely assert the differences between East and West but to show how dialogue such as the Union of Brest and the Ravenna Document are able to show that there is harmony and concord between East/West Differences. We can stress our Byzantine patrimony and that it is different, and that it is blessed by our bishops, without doing so. For many, theological discourses are akin to the problem of the One and the Many in philosophy. If we keep hearing about one side of an eternal truth and that someone else holds to the other side, we grasp the discord without ever having come close to grasping the concord.

  5. Eastern catholics do not have to believe in purgatory?

    1. At final Theosis, some type of transformation/purification happens after death. Our prayers help in this process. That’s pretty much standard belief for all Catholics. Everything else is theological speculation.