Monday, May 26, 2014

Follow the Pope on This

      In the recent common declaration ,signed by Pope Francis with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Catholic Church received a powerful statement. When speaking about the theological dialogue undertaken by the Joint International Commission the declaration says, “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, a truth that we never cease to understand better as we follow the Holy Spirit’s promptings”.   After reading this statement it should be pretty clear to Catholics that these dialogues mentioned are done in the context of Orthodox and Catholics belonging to the same One Church. In other words, no church involved (Rome or Constantinople) has the intention of converting the other through the dialogues. As the common declaration emphasized it is, “about deepening one’s grasp of the whole truth that Christ has given to his Church.” Obviously, by not properly grasping “the whole truth” in the past we now have some of the divisions we do in the Church.
     As I have said many times, those churches in communion with Rome and those churches in communion with Constantinople are “sister Churches”. These churches might be in some sense estranged sisters but they are sisters none the less and that of the One Mother.  Speaking of this bond Saint John Paul II said the following, “For centuries we lived this life of 'Sister Churches', and together held Ecumenical Councils which guarded the deposit of faith against all corruption. And now, after a long period of division and mutual misunderstanding, the Lord is enabling us to discover ourselves as 'Sister Churches' once more, in spite of the obstacles which were once raised between us (UT UNUM SINT 57)”. It is unfortunate that the saint’s invitation to discover the reality of sisterhood has often been met with hostility. Of course, the discovery that he is offering challenges an experience and understanding of the Church that many have. It seems that for some they are more comfortable with having the divisions outside of the realm that might affect their own salvation. Unfortunately, if these people expressing hostility fail to embrace the saint’s call to discovery they will in some ways estrange themselves from the Church in which the sisters belong.
     I can’t speak for others but I have no trouble as a Catholic proclaiming that the sister churches (Orthodox & Catholic) belong to the One Church. In fact, the common declaration signed by the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch gives me even more reason to do so. As usual, I know there will be hostilities toward me for making this proclamation. However, this time no one can claim that I am going against Catholic teaching in doing so. As a Catholic I am free, with the pope, to embrace the work of the Joint International Commission that seeks the reestablishment of Full visible communion within the One Church of Christ. As the recent common declaration signed by Pope Francis teaches I am to “follow the Holy Spirit’s promptings” and I most certainly can discover the “whole truth that Christ has given to his Church” with the help of the Joint International Commission. In fact, I think all Catholics should follow their pope in this. The sooner we realize that we are one, the sooner we will overcome what divides us.


  1. Far from being hostile, I'm just puzzled. I don't get it. What difference does this make? So we define ourselves as "sister Churches" by adopting some sort of retread Branch Theory. How does that change the fact? The fact is: they are not in communion with us. Further, how is any of this consistent with Eucharistic ecclesiology, which we are always touting as the norm for the Eastern Church, and, of course, for the ancient Church as well? At the Eucharist, there can only be one altar, and only one can preside in the first place. It is a fact that we do not eat from the same altar. He who presides at our altar, has no right to preside at theirs and vice versa. How does the merely semantic exercise of calling ourselves "sisters" alter this fundamental reality? In fact, if we indulge in a lot of irenic sugar-coating, do we not risk softening the effect of a scandal that should daily disturb and offend us?

    1. The Branch Theory came out the Anglican tradition well over a century ago. It was immediately rejected by both Orthodox and Catholics. There is no indication of this theory being revived in any of the documents from the Joint Theological commission. Defining ourselves as sister churches is to once again understand our relationship with the Orthodox churches, which has been the direction of the Catholic church for the last 50yrs. The fact is not that there not with us, we are equally responsible for the lack of communion. Eucharistic theology is the norm for all Catholic churches, not just Eastern ones. The Eucharist makes the Church," which is the source and goal of all the Church's powers and activities;
      Eucharistic assemblies, with their roots in the church established by the apostles, are the source of Tradition which is the product of the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the action of the Church attained in the Eucharistic celebration. This is the ground for accepting Orthodox tradition as an authentic version of Tradition. Once this is accepted, then it must also be accepted that separation from Rome by itself is not enough to separate a church from Catholic Tradition. The Eucharist in their churches is the same one in ours, making their altars mystically the same. In terms of it being a fundamental reality, I would point your to the fact we have a de facto intercommunion with the Assyrian Orthodox church through the Chaldean Catholics. Catholic priests do use their altars and they use ours and they use our priests and we use theirs, which has been going for over 10yrs. Branch theory-NO! Sister churches-YES! This is not sugar coat, but real Catholic teaching that more Catholics need to become aware of,