Pro Unione

Shared Ministry and Divine Grace: Restoring the Diaconate in Orthodoxy

Public Orthodoxy

by Rev. Dr. Nicholas Denysenko

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The Orthodox world is buzzing with the recent news report on the ordination of deaconesses in the Patriarchate of Alexandria. To the best of our knowledge, the ordination occurred after the Divine Liturgy in the nave of the temple, and appears to resemble the rite used to ordain subdeacons. This rite includes the presentation of the orarion, handlaying, a prayer, and the washing of the bishop’s hands. The reports do not offer details on the prayer said by the Patriarch. It seems that the Patriarch did not use the Byzantine Rite for the ordination of a deaconess, which takes place at the end of the anaphora (before the deacon intones the litany before the Lord’s Prayer, “Having remembered all the saints”), in the altar, and includes the deaconesses receiving Communion with the other clergy in the altar, according to order. While Patriarch Theodoros II appeared…

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Interview on “Thinking with the Church”, Part II

This is Vocaris Media, and you are listening to Thinking with the Church. In this edition: the second part of a conversation with a man who has dedicated his life to studying, praying, and working to achieve Christian unity.

Andrew J. Boyd – “A.J.” to his friends – is Adjunct Professor of Theology in the Rome program of the Catholic University of America, as well as in the Rome programs of Providence College and Assumption College.

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In the first part of our conversation, we talked about the evolution – so to speak – of the modern ecumenical movement: the prayerful, patient, painstaking search for full, visible unity in doctrine, life, and worship, of all Christ’s faithful.

This search for unity arises out of Christ’s own high priestly prayer at the Last Supper, when Jesus prayed:

Father, the hour is come, glorify thy Son, that thy Son may glorify thee. As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he may give eternal life to all whom thou hast given him. Now this is eternal life: That they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. I have glorified thee on the earth; I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now glorify thou me, O Father, with thyself, with the glory which I had, before the world was, with thee.

I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou hast given me out of the world. Thine they were, and to me thou gavest them; and they have kept thy word. Now they have known, that all things which thou hast given me, are from thee: Because the words which thou gavest me, I have given to them; and they have received them, and have known in very deed that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me. I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them whom thou hast given me: because they are thine: And all my things are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them.

And now I am not in the world, and these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name whom thou has given me; that they may be one, as we also are. While I was with them, I kept them in thy name. Those whom thou gavest me have I kept; and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition, that the scripture may be fulfilled. And now I come to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy filled in themselves. I have given them thy word, and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world; as I also am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from evil.

They are not of the world, as I also am not of the world. Sanctify them in truth. Thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for them do I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. And not for them only do I pray, but for them also who through their word shall believe in me;

That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou hast given me, I have given to them; that they may be one, as we also are one: I in them, and thou in me; that they may be made perfect in one: and the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast also loved me. Father, I will that where I am, they also whom thou hast given me may be with me; that they may see my glory which thou hast given me, because thou hast loved me before the creation of the world. Just Father, the world hath not known thee; but I have known thee: and these have known that thou hast sent me.

And I have made known thy name to them, and will make it known; that the love wherewith thou hast loved me, may be in them, and I in them. – Holy Gospel according to St. John, Ch 17

That desire, which comes from Christ Our Lord in the climactic moment of His earthly ministry – at the institution of the Eucharist – is not therefore an adjunct, nor is it an ancillary element of the Faith: it is of the essence.

Toward the end of Part 1, I said something about the surprise I experienced when I first began to encounter Christians of different confessions and discovered how fervently they believe in the so-called “four marks” of the Church: Oneness, Holiness, Catholicity, and Apostolicity.

This week, in the second part of our conversation, A.J. and I explore some of the concrete possibilities for achieving a further and substantial measure of unity, especially as regards the Lutheran community.

We also address what Pope Francis has called, “the ecumenism of blood”: the unity of Christians in suffering and dying for faith in Jesus Christ – and our duty to make the most of the opportunities they have won for us by their heroic witness.

It happens that the second anniversary of one of the most starkly brutal episodes of Christian martyrdom in the early years of the 21st century fell just a few days ago – right in the middle of the week between the two editions presenting our conversation with Prof. Boyd.

I refer to the murder of 21 Coptic Orthodox Christians in Libya (I say 22 in the recording), a video recording of which traveled around the world.

Pope Francis condemned the act as soon as he heard of it.

On February 16th – the day after the video emerged – in remarks during a scheduled meeting with an ecumenical delegation from the Church of Scotland, the Holy Father departed from his prepared text to say, in his native Spanish:

I read about the execution of those twenty-one or twenty-two Coptic Christians. Their only words were: “Jesus, help me!”. They were killed simply for the fact that they were Christians. You, my brother, in your words referred to what is happening in the land of Jesus. The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a testimony which cries out to be heard. It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants. They are Christians! Their blood is one and the same. Their blood confesses Christ. As we recall these brothers who died only because they confessed Christ, I ask that we encourage each another to go forward with this ecumenism which is giving us strength, the ecumenism of blood. The martyrs belong to all Christians.

The spokesman for the Coptic Catholic Church, Fr. Rafic Greiche, gave an interview to Vatican Radio in which Fr. Greiche spoke of the early reception of the martyrdom of these men, whom he described as, “very poor people, but very near to God,” men who, “were not theologians, they were not people who even read the Bible or can read…but [had] the faith, and were brave.”

One of the martyred men was a convert – a man who received a baptism of blood – who came from Chad, and, seeing the faithful courage of his fellows, desired to be counted among their number on earth and in heaven. “He found his faith when he saw the [faith] of the other Egyptian Christians, he didn’t want to leave,” Fr. Greiche told Vatican Radio. “He wanted to be a martyr like them.”

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21 Martys of Libya – icon by Tony Rezk

 

The reason I bring all this up – aside from the obvious and already mentioned 2ndanniversary of their martyrdom this past week – is to emphasize the urgency of the ecumenical project: an urgency palpable in A.J.’s remarks as he begins this segment, discussing a different specific area of ecumenical effort, namely, the work that Catholics and Lutherans have been doing together – work that has some surprising elements of “out-of-the-box” thinking.

That was A.J. Boyd, Adjunct Professor of Theology in the Rome Program of the Catholic University of America.

You can find Part 1 of our conversation in Episode 6 of Thinking with the Church.

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Friends, the podcasting arm of Vocaris Media is listener-supported, so, your donations really are what makes this possible. $1 / show is what we ask – though we’re always happy to receive more.

You can make your donation by going to the blog – www.thinkingwiththechurch.wordpress.com – and click on the “support TwtC” tab in the menu at the top, or by going to www.vocarismedia.com and looking for the “donate” button in the top-right corner of the page.

You can participate in discussions by going to the blog: again, that’s at www.thinkingwiththechurch.wordpress.com and leaving your thoughts in the comboxes.

Follow us on Twitter: @TWTC_Rome

You can write me directly on the emails: the address is craltieri@vocarismedia.com

Subscribe and leave us a review on iTunes, or use the RSS feed to subscribe through your favorite podcast manager.

“Thanks!” as always to Executive Producer Ester Rita.

Our web guru is Christopher Bauer Anderson – “Topher” Anderson of www.lifesiteministries.org.

Sean Beeson composed our theme. Hear more of his musical stylings at www.seanbeeson.com.

St. Gabriel Archangel, pray for us!

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Interview on “Thinking with the Church”

I was interviewed recently by Christopher Altieri, host of “Thinking with the Church”, a podcast series started by the philosopher/Vatican Radio reporter earlier this year. The conversation ranges over a variety of ecumenical questions for just under an hour. Please check out the rest of the series, too, if you enjoyed our conversation.

https://thinkingwiththechurch.wordpress.com/

Episode 6: Ut unum sint – Part 1 of an ecumenical conversation with Prof. A.J. Boyd

This is Vocaris Media, and you are listening to Thinking with the Church. In this edition: Part 1 of a conversation with a man who has dedicated his life to studying, praying, and working to achieve Christian unity.

Andrew J. Boyd – “A.J.” to his friends – is Adjunct Professor of Theology in the Rome program of the Catholic University of America, as well as in the Rome programs of Providence College and Assumption College.

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He has taught short term courses through the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas – the Rome center founded in 1986 and dedicated to the formation of the laity and to the promotion of the lay vocation in the Church and in the world, which also works to promote Christian unity and to create opportunities for genuine encounter and sincere dialogue with people of other religions.

AJ has also worked with the sabbatical program of the Pontifical North American College.

We’d known of each other for some time before we met “in real life” at the inauguration of the KAICIID dialogue foundation in Vienna in 2015.

He is an extraordinarily thoughtful interlocutor – only, don’t let his soft-spoken demeanor fool you – he is capable of giving as good as he gets in any discussion.

Don’t take my word for it, though. Let AJ get us rolling with his take on what the ecumenical project is.

ultima_cena_-_juan_de_juanes“Last Supper” by Vicente Juan Masip [Public domain], c. 1562, via Wikimedia Commons

That was Part 1 of a two-part conversation with ecumenist AJ Boyd.

We’ll bring you Part II next week.

There’s a story told among analytical philosophers – not that I traffic very much in such circles – about a theologian or divine who, one night at dinner in the college, pronounced, “The Church is One!” only to have one of his companions archly ask, “One what?”

Well, the Catholic Church has always thought – believed and taught – that there exists a single Church of Jesus Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him (cf. Dominus Iesus 17):

Just as there is one Christ, so there exists a single body of Christ, a single Bride of Christ: “a single Catholic and apostolic Church”. Furthermore, the promises of the Lord that he would not abandon his Church (cf. Mt 16:18; 28:20) and that he would guide her by his Spirit (cf. Jn 16:13) mean, according to Catholic faith, that the unicity and the unity of the Church — like everything that belongs to the Church’s integrity — will never be lacking. (ibid.)

Indeed, one of the surprising things for me has been the discovery of how fervently Christians of other confessions also believe in the Four Marks: that the Church is indeed “One, Holy, Catholic,  and Apostolic” – however different their understanding of what the marks indicate and what it means to profess them – because – I must confess – I cannot understand caring about the Marks at all and not being instantly and therefore Catholic. So this fellow, who grew up in CatholicTown, USA, and has spent almost the whole of his adult life in Rome, is on a pretty steep learning curve.

I am sure of one thing, though: it is for us, the baptized faithful of every confession and of every state of life in the Church, to live, pray, and work for the unity desired and promised by Christ Our Lord:

In treating the question of the true religion, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council taught: “We believe that this one true religion continues to exist in the Catholic and Apostolic Church, to which the Lord Jesus entrusted the task of spreading it among all people. Thus, he said to the Apostles: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’ (Mt 28: 19-20). Especially in those things that concern God and his Church, all persons are required to seek the truth, and when they come to know it, to embrace it and hold fast to it”. (Ibid., 23, DH, 1)

In all this, “The revelation of Christ will continue to be ‘the true lodestar’ in history for all humanity. (Ibid.)” Dominus Iesus – a much maligned and deeply misunderstood document, supposedly one-sided and heavy-handed, ends with an almost mystical vision taken from the Fathers of the II Vatican Council.

“The truth, which is Christ,” writes Pope St. John Paul II in his Encyclical Letter Fides et ratio, “imposes itself as an all-embracing authority.” He goes on to say:

The Christian mystery, in fact, overcomes all barriers of time and space, and accomplishes the unity of the human family: ‘From their different locations and traditions all are called in Christ to share in the unity of the family of God’s children… Jesus destroys the walls of division and creates unity in a new and unsurpassed way through our sharing in his mystery. This unity is so deep that the Church can say with Saint Paul: ‘You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are saints and members of the household of God’ (Eph 2:19). – Ibid.

It’s not by accident, I think, that Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger concluded his doctrinal note on the relation of the Catholic Church to other Christian Churches and ecclesial communities and other religions, with just these quotations from the then-recently-published Fides et ratio. It is as if he were recalling us to the task set for us by Peter in his first letter: to give a reason for the hope that is in us.

I’ve told the story before on this podcast, about how a friend once asked me why I am Catholic – or why, after all, I am still Catholic?

I answered:

I am Catholic because the Catholic Church is true. The Catholic Church is the One Church founded by our Divine Savior, Jesus Christ, as the vehicle by which humanity is redeemed from sin and death, and restored to friendship with God. The Church is the efficacious sign of that friendship. I am Catholic because I would be reconciled to God, and to all my fellows, and at peace with all and every one, and the Catholic Church promises this. For now, I see this through a glass, darkly, in a darkness the brightest spots of which are often but the dimmest glimmers of hope – though I am told this is a hope, which does not disappoint. Why am I Catholic? Let me answer with Peter: where else shall I go?

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Friends, the podcasting arm of Vocaris Media is listener-supported, so, your donations really are what makes this possible. $1 / show is what we ask – though we’re always happy to receive more.

You can make your donation by going to the blog – www.thinkingwiththechurch.wordpress.com – and click on the “support TwtC” tab in the menu at the top, or by going to www.vocarismedia.com and looking for the “donate” button in the top-right corner of the page.

You can participate in discussions by going to the blog: again, that’s at www.thinkingwiththechurch.wordpress.com and leaving your thoughts in the comboxes.

Follow us on Twitter: @TWTC_Rome

You can write me directly on the emails: the address is craltieri@vocarismedia.com

Subscribe and leave us a review on iTunes, or use the RSS feed to subscribe through your favorite podcast manager.

“Thanks!” as always to Executive Producer Ester Rita.

Our web guru is Christopher Bauer Anderson – “Topher” Anderson of www.lifesiteministries.org.

Sean Beeson composed our theme. Hear more of his musical stylings at www.seanbeeson.com.

St. Gabriel Archangel, pray for us!

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

*********** Show Notes ***********

For the Common Declaration of the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East, click here

The Assyrian Church of the East grew out of the Nestorian tradition, which affirms that Christ existed as two persons – one human and the other Divine, to which one of the exaggerated responses was Monophysitism – the idea that Christ had only one Divine nature, either because His human nature had been subsumed by His Divine nature, or because the Divine mind somehow replaced or supplied Christ’s human reason in the Incarnation.

Both Nestorianism and Monophysitism were condemned by Church Councils at Chalcedon et passim.

For more on Nestorianism, click here

For more on Monophysitism, click here

At 24:05, A.J. refers to the “Ravenna Document” – the framework agreement among the Catholic Church and several Orthodox Churches regarding – among other things – the taxis of the 1st millennium, according to which, “Rome, as the Church that ‘presides in love’ according to the phrase of St Ignatius of Antioch (To the Romans, Prologue), occupied the first place in the taxis, and that the bishop of Rome was therefore the protos among the patriarchs.”

For a brief history of the modern ecumenical movement – especially the Catholic Church’s commitment to the movement in the wake of the II Vatican Council – see the summary from the US Catholic Bishops, here

Catholic voting: The Myth of the Five Non-Negotiables

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Cafeteria Catholicism at its worst

Oh, the lies they tell you! And no, i do not mean the politicians, unfortunately.

If you are a U.S. Catholic on social media, you may have noticed there is an election coming up next week.

Perhaps, as i did, you saw the following meme shared by a young priest, or received a flyer, as i did, from the local Knights of Columbus Council promoting the same “Five Non-Negotiables” for voting Catholics.

Simple, easy to remember, and easy to identify with one major party over another.

Problem is, they are a myth.

Like all myths, there is a lie built upon some truths: The Church is opposed to these five issues. The are some of the moral issues considered intrinsic evils, and some of these are Life issues, which take priority over others, however well integrated.

But to claim that these are THE five non-negotiables is entirely, and deliberately, misleading. There are several other issues that could be described the same way. This is classic “cafeteria Catholicism” at its most insidious: cherry-picking certain issues, ignoring or downplaying others, to get a partisan result rather than a faithfully Catholic one.

Disclaimer

Now, those who know me well know that i have never felt comfortable in either of the U.S.’ major political parties precisely because i am a faithful, orthodox Catholic – and both are to a degree incompatible with Christian moral principles. As far back as i can remember being engaged or aware of national politics – the 1992 election, before i could even vote – i have had a difficult time choosing between candidates, as i did, say, between Barack Obama and John McCain. Often, i write someone in or pick a third party that better fits Catholic social and moral teaching.

This year is bad. There is no moral argument for Trump. None, whatsoever. He is an anthropomorphic personification of a “culture of death”. And Hillary is mediocre at best, with typical Democratic blindness on religion and critical life issues, but at least she’s qualified for the office. A low bar. In any case, i cannot vote for either. Persuasion to pick one or the other is not the point. What concerns me are the lies being told in the name of the Church, which is intolerable.

The myth: Where did they come from?

The first problem is the source of these rumored “five non-negotiables”. This is not an official teaching, nor an official summary of Church teaching.

(If you want to know the Church’s actual position, go to the U.S. Bishops’ Voting Guide. Read the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Compendium of Social Doctrine.)

This particular marketing comes from a group that has been, at times, openly critical of the Catholic hierarchy, the folks behind CatholicAnswers.com. The meme i saw, pictured here, is from Joseph Karl Publishing, which is all about something called Catholic Restorationism, whatever that is. It has also been widely publicised by Priests for Life and the Culture for Life Foundation with their “Voter’s Guide for Serious Catholics

Catherine Pakaluk researched the history of the myth a couple of years ago, and Mark Shea reminds us of times when they suddenly became negotiable as long as partisan politics were involved.

What does “Non-Negotiable” really mean?

A second concern is the use of the term “non-negotiable”. This is not a theological term, nor a category of Catholic social teaching, as such. You cannot find it, for example, in the USCCB official election guide, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Compendium of Social Doctrine, nor in any magisterial document that i can find.

According to the voter’s guides linked above, they start by correctly referring to “non-negotiable” principles and values, which is consistent with Church teaching and papal allocutions on the topic, but then abruptly abandon discussion of moral values and principles and go straight to listing issues – which is where things go wrong.

What they also conflate is “non-negotiable” with the idea of “intrinsically evil” actions, which is fair enough. The nature of something being “intrinsically” evil is that it is always morally wrong in itself, not as a matter of circumstance. This is true as far as it goes, but again, the authors of this voter’s guide have ignored whole swaths of “non-negotiable” and “intrinsically evil” issues in order to present an entirely one-sided, partisan rendition.

Moreover, there is a reason the Church avoids the term “non-negotiable” when it comes to issues. Take the most obvious one, abortion.

Even if we take the safest, most obvious of the issues, abortion, we find some problems with this terminology. Clearly, abortion is a grave moral evil which Catholics must work to end, that much clearly is “non-negotiable”.

However, we can negotiate on the method: is it better to reverse Roe v. Wade? Or to get legislature to pass a new law? Or to work to eliminate the motivations for abortions, like poverty, lack of health care access and education? To promote adoption and support single mothers? All of the above? Is it better to make abortion illegal, or irrelevant? To treat it as a crime, or as a trauma? Is this one issue enough to ignore all other evils a candidate might promote? (oops… that one is not negotiable, and the answer is a clear “no!” from the Church.)

So, apparently, “non-negotiable” is not the right term, especially when so erratically applied to Church teaching. That could explain why the Church itself avoids such oversimplification of issues, even the clear-cut moral biggies, like torture, care for the environment, intentional killing of any kind, etc…

So, Values and Principles then?

While the Church avoids use of “non-negotiable” for issues, there are non-negotiable principles, like the moral obligation to vote.

That’s right, abstaining, or “none of the above” is not an option.

However, and this is my own opinion, you should be well-informed enough not to buy into the GOP-Dem propaganda that you only have two options. Vote for the Libertarians, the Greens, the Socialist Workers, Socialism and Liberation, the Constitution party… or write in Bernie Sanders, or Evan McMullin, or, how about this, a party actually modeled on Catholic social teaching? the American Solidarity Party… anyone who actually fits your idea of a good candidate better than the big two.

The thing is, all moral principles are non-negotiable. You cannot sacrifice commitment to solidarity for the sake of subsidiarity, or the protection and promotion of human dignity for the protection and promotion of human life. The idea that the life issues form a “seamless garment” and are indivisible – meaning you cannot pit abortion against the death penalty or torture, for example – is itself a non-negotiable principle.

What of the issues? 

The protection of human life and dignity at all ages and stages, from conception to natural death is one such principle. There are a dozen life issues outlined by the magisterium: In addition to the four life issues in the meme (abortion, euthanasia, cloning, and the destruction of embryos during research), other intrinsically evil life issues include genocide, torture, the targeting of noncombatants in war, terrorism, the promotion of war when peace is an option, the death penalty in societies such as ours, the development or use of weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, chemical, and biological).

But, according to popes Francis and Benedict, as well as the US Bishops, not only life issues have an intrinsic nature, and do not admit exception, compromise, or derogation – what you might call “non-negotiable”. Some of the examples they have used include the care of the environment – which has direct impact on human life on a massive scale; the freedom of choice in education; protection from slavery, prostitution, and human trafficking; development of an economy that is at the service of the human person and the common good, rather than greed and capital; feeding the hungry, both directly and through the development of better systems; eradication of poverty, including every level of assistance from personal charity to government welfare; a living wage for workers. While, as with every issue, there is room to negotiate the best methods, what is not negotiable is the principle behind the issues. ALL of these are as critical as “Catholic issues” as the five in the popular meme.

Seriously, when even a Legion of Christ priest is more ‘liberal’ in defining non-negotiables – by adding torture, war, religious liberty, and racism – you know your sources are flawed and more ‘conservative’ than orthodox.

Anybody selling you something different than the official teaching, or dumbing it down to meme-size, is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, whether Catholics4Choice or Catholics4Trump. For a priest to do so is entirely inappropriate, similarly, members of  the Knights of Columbus are not allowed to promote such obviously partisan nonsense, in disobedience of the magisterium.

Can a Catholic vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?

Perhaps. But not without serious reservations in both cases, and only in light of the following: You cannot vote for them because of their support for any of the issues the Church opposes, from abortion and torture, to the death penalty and global climate change.

You can, however, vote for a candidate with some views in opposition to Catholic teaching if you find that there are other compelling reasons to do so. This is realistic – almost no candidate is going to have a 100% Catholic-compatible voting record. You have to promote good and avoid evil, and you cannot avoid some evil in either case here.

For example, Hillary’s views on abortion are obviously incompatible with Church teaching but her views on a number of other, similarly “non-negotiable” issues, are consistent with the Church. You could vote for her if those other issues outweigh the abortion issue, or even if they might conceivably do something to reduce the number of abortions more than simply making it illegal would. Or if the alternative is someone who would threaten nuclear war, promote the use of torture, or any other equally intrinsic evil.

Trump’s views on torture, the environment, the economy, etc. are also “non-negotiable” issues where he is out of line with the Church, and even his stand on abortion has ranged from “very, very pro-choice” to a lukewarm “personally opposed, but legally indifferent” and cannot be relied upon. As the most dishonest candidate in modern history, anything Trump says should be taken with a bucket of salt. But if you could find any moral issue where he is in agreement with the Church, and make an argument that it overrides the many issues he is in opposition, you could vote for him in spite of all of those.

The logic is the same in both cases.

Easier, by far, to find a safer alternative to either of them. That is what i have done, and in this cycle, seems the only reasonable option.

Very Brief Observation on the Great and Holy Council

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The Russian Orthodox are the last of four local churches to withdraw from participation in the Great and Holy Council, the Pan-Orthodox Synod, set to begin tomorrow – Pentecost Sunday in their calendar. Their reason given that as consensus was adopted as the model for any and all work of the Council, and that at least one local church had withdrawn, consensus was no longer possible.

The timeline of last-minute withdrawal from the Council:

  • 1 June – Bulgarian Orthodox Church
  • 6 June – (Greek) Patriarchate of Antioch
  • 10 June – Georgian Orthodox Church
  • 13 June – Russian Orthodox Church

As I see it, consensus to hold the Council now, under the presented procedures, and the promise to attend by each local church was achieved in March 2014 and affirmed just a few months ago, at the January 2016 Synaxis of Primates. The Churches themselves committed to hold the Council, to attend, and to participate.

Therefore, now is too late to back out. Common sense would dictate that after having committed to the Council, if you back out, you lose your voice and vote, but the decisions are still binding upon you and consensus depends on those who are actually present and participating. You forfeit your right to vote, you do not get a veto, by backing out. If you want to object to some document, you have to be participating to do so.

In other words, dear Bulgaria, et al., you do not have to agree, but you do have to show up.

Of course, this is a moral obligation, there is no juridical, binding power that would compel otherwise. One could argue that failure to participate in a general council to which unanimous consensus compels you to attend is tantamount to excommunication – to me, non-participation in the Council seems a far more serious breach of communion that disagreements over the calendar, over jurisdiction in Bahrain, or over who can grant the Americans autocephaly.

To be sure, some of the objections of the local churches are valid and should be considered. Some are nonsense. But I admire far more the Serbian Orthodox Church, who, while deeply concerned about several aspects of both process and content, are still committed to exercising synodality. You cannot claim to be a church who takes synodality seriously, over and against what you perceive as excessive papal primacy in the Catholic Church, and then fail utterly to even organize yourselves into a regular exercise of that synodality on a universal level.

You go to a Council to resolve issues, to raise new ones, to practice being Church together even in disagreement. Unity cannot be achieved by putting off meeting. True, we should see this as the beginning of a lengthy process, not a stand-alone event. Vatican II was eight months of meetings spread over four years allowing generous time for research and consultation. And it had only been ninety years since the last attempt at a general council, only 400 years since the last complete council. The Orthodox have three times as much time to make up for – a real council could be expected to take a full year of meeting together. One week is nowhere near enough.

But at the end of the day, it is hard to respect anyone who claims “we have not had enough time to get ready” or “let’s postpone procrastinate some more.” Seriously? 1229 years since the last general council, 115 years since the first call for this one, and 55 years since the planning commissions started meeting, even by the glacial ecclesial standards, this is absurd.

Still, we can be grateful that the leaders themselves seem to have more patience with childishly manipulative behavior than I do, as telling the Russian (or Bulgarian, Georgian, or Antiochene) Patriarch he has just been demoted to the bottom of the table for skipping a required meeting probably would not do much to actually get him to show up next time he promises to do so. But since they do seem so concerned about seating arrangements, maybe that would work better than appeals to common sense and episcopal responsibility…

Patriarchs and primates in Crete, 18 June 2016

Very Brief Observation on Continents

Pertinent both to the Pan-Orthodox Synod and yesterday’s post on the “Doctrine of Discovery”, albeit obliquely, is the concept of ‘continents’. I was first intrigued by international disagreement on this seemingly obvious issue during the Great Jubilee of 2000, when the logo was presented:

Within a sphere formed by black capital letters which read “Iubilaeum A.D. 2000”, on a background of a blue circle, representing the earth, there is a cross sustaining humanity on the five continents represented by doves of different colours. The cross is made up of the same colours as the doves to indicate the mystery of the Incarnation: Christ takes on our human condition, “becoming like us”. [emphasis mine]

Now, as any American elementary school pupil can tell you, there are seven continents: Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America.

But since the cross is sustaining humanity, the doves are meant to reflect the inhabited continents, excluding Antarctica (though i think that white dove would represent perfectly the home of the penguins). That still leaves one out.

Instead, the Vatican tends to take the position of the Latin Americans, that “America” is a single continent from Nunavit to Tierra del Fuego.

In deference to this ideology, in Italian, as in many romance languages, people from the United States are not called “Americans” (and the afore mentioned latinoamericanos would insist “we are all Americans!”), but are statunitense, literally, “UnitedStatesians”, which clearly does not work at all in English. However, Mexico is also a “United States”, as well as a dozen other countries which have been, at one point in their recent history, also officially called the “United States of Somewhere”, including Brazil. Only one country in the world has the word “America” in it’s name, however, so “American” is actually more specific to a country than is “United Statesian” – though i tend to avoid it now for diplomatic reasons.

If we take the definition offered by most dictionaries: “large landmasses separated by others by oceans or seas” it seems obvious, but it gets complicated, and explained succinctly and humorously by the internet’s great “explainer of things”, CGP Grey:

One thing is clear: there is no justifiable reason to treat Europe as a separate continent from Asia, as there is no water separating them (as there is between the Americas, and between Africa and Eurasia, or Eurasia and Australia, etc). At minimum, if you are going to combine the Americas, you cannot possibly consider Europe anything other than a subcontinent or a political-cultural identity.

So, there are clearly six: Africa, Antarctica, Australia, Eurasia, North America, and South America.

Now, how does it relate to ecclesiology? Well, Vatican II considered it a possibility to establish new patriarchates – really new particular ritual churches – and the Orthodox have already done so. Consider some of the ancient patriarchates, like the Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, etc. Why not a patriarch of Los Angeles and All North America, of São Paolo and All South America, etc.? At the least, it makes for a fun thought-exercise.

Calls to revoke the “Doctrine of Discovery”

What is the “Doctrine of Discovery”?

First of all, it is not a Christian doctrine – this term is used in its legal sense. This is already confusing for some people. There is no Christian teaching by this name, and anyone familiar with Catholic Social Teaching of the last 125 years knows the value of universal human dignity, religious freedom, opposition to slavery, etc. It comes as no surprise then that most Catholics, most Christians, and even those in positions of authority in the Church, might have no idea what you were talking about if you raised the question.

In full disclosure, I do not recall ever hearing the term “Doctrine of Discovery” before this year. It probably came across my radar in the last couple years but did not catch my attention since I am neither a legal scholar nor an historian of European imperialism per se.

In primary school history classes I remember learning about the Age of Discovery; the European maltreatment, enslavement, and even genocide of indigenous peoples; the Papal Line of Demarcation that assigned points west to Spain and points East to Portugal; and so on. So, the idea is not entirely new, but it did come as some surprise when a Canadian friend asked if Pope Francis was planning to rescind the doctrine.

From the beginning it struck me as a bit fishy – certainly there is, nor was there ever, any Catholic doctrine known by such title. It is rather a reference to U.S. legal doctrine, an 1823 codification of international law and European mores that

…gave to the nation making the discovery, as its inevitable consequence, the sole right of acquiring the soil and of making settlements on it. It was an exclusive principle which shut out the right of competition among those who had agreed to it, not one which could annul the previous rights of those who had not agreed to it. It regulated the right given by discovery among the European discoverers, but could not affect the rights of those already in possession, either as aboriginal occupants or as occupants by virtue of a discovery made before the memory of man. It gave the exclusive right to purchase, but did not found that right on a denial of the right of the possessor to sell. (US Supreme Court, Worcester v. State of Georgia, pg 31, US 544)

What has that to do with the Catholic Church?

More broadly, it has come to be understood to mean, basically, “finders keepers” – and only if the finders were European. Though the term, and the concept, of a “doctrine of discovery” was coined by John Marshall during the legal preceding quoted above, protests today focus on the “Judeo-Christian” and papal origins of the body of decisions and laws that came to be associated with the idea. For example, the opening paragraph of the site www.doctrineofdiscovery.com:

Papal Bulls of the 15th century gave Christian explorers the right to claim lands they “discovered” and lay claim to those lands for their Christian monarchs. Any land that was not inhabited by Christians was available to be “discovered”, claimed, and exploited. If the “pagan” inhabitants could be converted, they might be spared. If not, they could be enslaved or killed.

The papal bulls that contributed to this line of thinking – and its consequence of unjust and inhumane treatment of indigenous peoples by European explorers – are generally cited to be the following:

Nicholas V, Dum Diversas (1452) – Issued in an effort to gain Portuguese support in defense of Constantinople against the Ottoman Empire, it offered Portugal exclusive land and trading rights in newly-discovered parts of West Africa, granting him permission to seize lands of and enslave any local “Saracens, pagans, and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ”.

Nicholas V, Romanus Pontifex (1455) – Confirmed the Portuguese rule over the African coast, and forbade other nations from engaging in trade with the Saracens (Generally, Muslims. Specifically, it seems, the Seljuk [Turkish] empire, as distinct from “Moors”, Berbers of North Africa and the Fatimid Caliphate).

Alexander VI Borgia, Inter Caetera (1493) – Issued immediately after Christopher Columbus returned from the West Indies, established the Line of Demarcation between Spanish and Portuguese exploration 100 leagues (about 320 miles) west of the Azores. The purpose of the bull was to spread Christianity to the natives there, who were thought to be positively disposed based on reports from Columbus, and its intent seems to be to regulate missionary activity in the Americas, rather than land rights.

The Spanish-Portuguese Treaty of Tordesillas (1494), conducted without any participation from the papacy, moved the line of demarcation west a few hundred miles and was clearly more focused on land claims. This was eventually ratified by Julius II in 1506.

There is no question that Spanish, Portuguese, English, and other explorers invented justifications for the enslavement of indigenous peoples and the conquering of their lands (inasmuch as the land would be said to ‘belong’ to anyone), for example, by claiming that non-Christians could not own land, or could be enslaved, using as justification portions of the above bulls.

Over the next three centuries, European powers expand and develop these conjured excuses to lay claim to the New World and its resources. The American republic takes the ball and runs with it, yelling “Manifest Destiny!” Over these centuries, the loss of human life, of property, and the degradation of humanity is long, it is horrific, and it is utterly unchristian.

Modern interest in the “Doctrine of Discovery”

LexisNexis turns up under 1000 references to the ‘doctrine of discovery’ going back to 1949, and almost all of these are legal cases, law reviews, or legal news outlets. It is only recently that it seems to have become an item for attention in religious circles, and is of particular interest in Canada, who often takes the lead in addressing past or present injustices against First Nations.

Since 1984, there have been petitions to the popes to “rescind the Doctrine of Discovery”. As we will soon see, when there is a cause du jour, memories are short – but first the current context of the cause.

It seems recent interest has been sparked by the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, originating in a 1998 Statement of Reconciliation between ‘Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians’, which sought to “put the events of the past behind us so that we can work towards a stronger and healthier future.”

In December 2015, the Commission published its Final Report, and a set of Calls to Action. Articles §48 and §49 call on all religious denominations and faith groups to formally adopt and comply with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to formally “repudiate concepts such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius.”

Pre-emptive responses came from a number of groups, such as the Society of Friends (2013), the World Council of Churches (2012), the Unitarian Universalist Association (2012), and the Anglican Church of Canada (2010).

In 2013, several Catholic organizations petitioned the pope to formally revoke the bulls mentioned above, which are claimed to provide the basis for the “doctrine of discovery”. This included Pax Christi International and representatives of more than 40 religious congregations. In May of 2016 there was called a Long March on Rome to ask Pope Francis to revoke the “Papal Bulls of Discovery” [sic].

It was already two months too late, however. The Catholic Church in Canada also complied with the Commission’s request, and issued a formal rejection of the so-called “Doctrine of Discovery” and a number of related ideas condemned as “errors and falsehoods perpetuated, often by Christians, during and following the so-called ‘Age of Discovery’”. (CCCB, The Doctrine of Discovery, Terra Nullius, and the Catholic Church: A Catholic Response. 19 March 2016)

But what about the calls on the pope to revoke the papal bulls of 1452 and 1493?

Well, it seems he already has.

Or rather, his predecessors have, several times, over the last 500 years. At least, the ideas have been repudiated, rejected, and expunged from Church teaching.

Already there were objections to and retractions of these claims within the Church at the time they were being made by “Christian” monarchies and their explorers, for example:

Francisco de Vitoria, On the Indians (1532) – who used ‘the law of the nations’ (international law) and Inter Caetera to argue that “the barbarians [sic] possessed true public and private dominion. The law of nations expressly states that goods which belong to no owner pass on to the occupier/discoverer, but since the goods in question here had an owner, they do not fall under this title ‘by right of discovery.’”

In fact, the first petitions to the pope to repeal the teachings of these papal bulls were not in 1984, but 450 years earlier. They received a powerful response.

Paul III, Sublimis Deus (1537) – Begins by declaring unequivocally that God so loved the whole human race that he gave all people the ability to know God and come to faith in God. It then responds directly to the claims – not present in previous papal teaching – that the native peoples were subhuman and that they could be enslaved or their property stolen. In fact, he refers to this idea as a lie perpetuated by Satan! In a clear and authoritative revocation of anything to the contrary previously promulgated:

We define and declare . . . that . . . the said Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession [dominio] of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ; and that they may and should, freely and legitimately, enjoy their liberty and the possession of their property; nor should they be in any way enslaved; should the contrary happen, it shall be null and have no effect.

That is about as clear as it gets, and those key words “we define and declare” put this at a rather higher level of authority than the so-called ‘bulls of discovery’.  The Church had already rejected the core ideas of the doctrine of discovery three hundred years before anyone would even call them that.

Moreover, there are multiple papal and conciliar documents that reject the ideas, in whole or part, of the so-called ‘doctrine’. These include, but are not limited to:

1537 – Paul III, Sublimus Dei
1591 – Gregory XIV, Bulla Cum Sicuti
1639 – Ruling of the Inquisition against slavery
1741 – Benedict XIV, Immensa Pastorum
1839 – Gregory XVI, In Supremo Apostolatus
1890 – Leo XIII, Catholicae Ecclesiae
1963 – John XXIII, Pacem in Terris
1965 – Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes; Dignitatis Humanae

Finally, just in case those were not clear enough, popes have explicitly asked forgiveness of indigenous peoples for the Church’s role in supporting imperialism during the age of discovery, most notably:

1992 – John Paul II in Santo Domingo – on the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ landing there, confessed and begged forgiveness for the sins of the Church and the Spanish conquistadors.

2000 – John Paul II during the Great Jubilee, in Rome – during a mass of reconciliation, asked forgiveness for any Catholics in history who “had violated the rights of ethnic groups and peoples, and for showing contempt for their cultures and religious traditions”.

2015 – Francis in Bolivia – “I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offenses of the Church herself, but also for crimes committed against Native peoples during the so-called conquest of the Americas”

To be sure, it never hurts to repeat oneself. Just in case you were not heard the first time. Or the last time. God knows that if the people you agree with do not know they agree with you, the people who disagree might also be in the dark.

David Close & Pope Francis

From Long March to Rome

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