Monday, September 22, 2008

Synod of Bishops

VATICAN 5-26 October 2008 Pope Benedict XVI convenes synod of world's Catholic bishops

The 12th general assembly of the Synod of Bishops meets in October to discuss "The Word of God in the Life and the Mission of the Church." Significantly, Bartholomew I, the 270th patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church, will attend this first Synod called by Pope Benedict XVI.

One result of the Vatican Council II of the Catholic Church, which ran 1962 to 1965, was the decision to welcome "fraternal delegations" to synod assemblies. Father Joseph Ratzinger was a theological consultant for the 3-year Council. Now Pope Benedict XVI, he extended an invitation to the Synod to Bartholomew I when he visited the Vatican in March. The Patriarch accepted, and both leaders will address the Synod.

The gesture represents one of the Vatican's few fruitful overtures to leaders of the Eastern rite, or Orthodox, branch of Christianity, which split from the Roman church in the Middle Ages. Vatican sources describe the gesture as in "the spirt of Ravenna," referring to the mixed international commission for theological dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church that was held in Ravenna, Italy, in October 2007.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the pontifical council for Christian unity, explained the development to Vatican Radio in March as an important step forward, although "the road to full unity is still a very long one." The main obstacle is the Vatican's insistance on the primacy of the Pope.

Pope Paul VI established the Synod as a \"permanent council of bishops for the universal Church\" in 1965.

This is the first time Pope Benedict XVI has called a synod and chosen its theme. His predecessor, the late Pope John Paul II, had already set the 2005 Synod on the Eucharist in motion.

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Thoughts on our Recent Dialog

baptism of christImage by Sacred Destinations via Flickr

Thank you to all for your comments.

I would please remind everyone—as I have some privately—that charity and respect for others are not optional here.

Reading through the various comments, I do not think I have anything to add to the comments offered. This is especially the case in those offered by Chrys and Sherry.

The "Called & Gifted" workshop is certainly not without its own challenges. But it is worth noting, I think, that this kind of practical exchange between Catholic and Orthodox Christians—especially on the grassroots level—has a long history. This is especially so in Russia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. To take but one example, no less venerable an Orthodox saints than Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain and Theophan the Recluse offered their own version of the Roman Catholic text Unseen Warfare: The Spiritual Combat and Path to Paradise of Lorenzo Scupoli.

St Theophan's work, to take another quick example, is noteworthy for his incorporation into an Orthodox spiritual context of the decidedly Counter-Reformation theme from Catholic spirituality of the dark night of the soul/spirit (San Juan de la Cruz).

And of course there is the defense of St Augustine by Blessed Seraphim Rose of Platina.

It seems to me that in any conversation between Catholics and Orthodox, both sides must exercise great care that we hold ourselves above the polemics of the Reformation/Counter-Reformation era. This is something, I must point out in the strongest possible terms, that historically voices on both sides have failed to do. It is somewhat ironic, to me at least, that in the contemporary Orthodox theology, some of the most strongly polemic voiced sentiments, at least in the Russian tradition, are found in the anti-scholastic passages of the works of J. Meyendoroff, A. Schmemann and V. Lossky. What makes this ironic is that these men are often characterized by self-professed Traditionalists in the Orthodox Church as liberals (or if you rather, modernists).

Orthodox theology—including the theological scholarship of the men I just referenced—would be much the poorer it seems to me without the work of such Catholic scholars as H. von Balthasar, H. de Lubuc, and L. Bouyer who in leading the return of Catholic theology to the Fathers also made possible a like return among the Orthodox.

Finally, and unless I miss my guess all, or at least most, of those who have commented on the "Called & Gifted" workshop are ourselves converts to either Catholicism or Orthodoxy. One great temptation, especially I must say frankly and directly for those who were not well ground in the Great Tradition prior to their becoming Orthodox or Catholic, is to assume wrongly that the Catholic or Orthodox incarnation that, by God's grace they have found, exhausts that the Great Tradition. If, as a matter of faith, we hold that one expression (East or West, Greek or Latin) is theologically normative, we may not reasonably assume as a consequence that normative equals exhaustive. It does not. Let me go further and say that neither tradition is exhaustive in its articulation of the Gospel. And, likewise, we cannot understand either the Western or Eastern expression of the Great Tradition separate from, much less in opposition to, the other.

If East and West have grown apart in recent years, this separation does not undo our shared historical foundation. Much less does schism undo over 1,000 years of communion anymore than my sin undoes the grace given me in Baptism.

Acknowledging as we do baptism in each other's community, reminds us that there exists between us a real, if imperfect, communion. And, even if we argue that baptism is absent in other tradition, we would do well—or so it seems to me—to remember that we have put on Christ in Whom God has joined Himself to all humanity. Vested now in the grace of Holy Baptism, having been incorporated into the Body of Christ, I have then also, and with my Lord, been joined in Him to those He has already united Himself to in the Incarnation. If I really believe that I am in Christ, then, in Christ, I am also already joined, as is He, personally to the whole human family.

Who then am I to say by my words or deeds that I would refuse this gift from the hands of my Lord and the Master of my life?

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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The Use of Authority part I: What is Authority?

Recent comments offered by AK and Mark Partalis raise for me important questions that are of both great theoretical and practical interest. Specifically, the comments they, and others, offer cause me to reflect on the nature of authority generally and in the life of the Church.

In classical Christian thought, authority--whether personal, secular or religious--is not an end in itself, but given for the common good. So for example we have Jesus reminding the disciples that in imitation of his example, they are given authority not to lord it over others, but for service:

Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, "You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." (Mk 10: 42-45)

The Apostle Paul builds on this idea when he argues that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are given to each on behalf of all:

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head-Christ- from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (Eph 4:12-16)

It is worth noting, that for Paul (as with Jesus) authority to rule, and by implication, the rule of law and the demands of justice, are not opposed to love. Rather, authority, law, justice are all in the service of joining and knitting together of the whole Body of Christ. Seen in this light, authority takes on a decidedly eschatological character--it points beyond itself to that time in the life to come when it will be revealed that " Christ is all and in all." (see, Col 3:11)

Authority, the rule of law and the fulfillment and transcendence of the demands of justice is what makes it possible for us, personally and communally, to put to "death" that in us which is of "the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry." (Col 3:5) These vices bring down upon us as Paul says, "the wrath of God . . . upon the sons of disobedience (v. 6) and bred in the human heart "anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, [and] filthy language." (v. 8) And not only that, but between us, in the social realm grounded not in truth spoken in love (see Eph 4:15), but rather a "lie . . . since [we] have [not yet] put off the old man with his deeds." (Col 3.9).

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory
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