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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Messy theological situations

The duty of theology is not to make up new teachings, nor to make new discoveries (unless an ever-deepening awareness of what we already knew - doctrinal development - is called a "new discovery"), but rather to defend, explain, understand, and demonstrate the consistency of the teaching and practice of our Holy Church.  Yet explaining the practice and teaching of the Church can be awkward at times.  The Church's theology is not simple and clean, especially when we look at multiple Rites.  And her history has been very, very messy.  And many Catholics do not know their faith well enough to know the messy parts of theology.  Let me begin by summarizing some messy parts of theology, in order to desensitize my reader to a quite controversial argument I am giong to make in the next post, explaining an uncomfortable and quite messy historical fact.

(1)  Transubstantiation does not necessarily occur in the Words of Institution.  In most of the non-Roman rites, including the Maronite and the Byzantine, the epiklesis occurs AFTER the Words of Institution - it is only afterward that the priest prays "make this bread the precious Body of Your Christ... and that which is in this chalice, the precious Blood of Your Christ... changing them by Your Holy Spirit, Amen, Amen, Amen."  Byzantine theology (pace St. Nicolas Cabasilas, who placed the moment of transubstantiation quite firmly at the epiklesis) has tended to say that the whole anaphora, rather than one point during it, turns the prosphora into the Eucharist.  Even the prosphora before consecration is regarded as so holy that during the Great Entrance when they are carried up to the altar before the anaphora, Archbishop Joseph Raya (the Melkite Catholic prelate in Galilee) would prostrate himself and have the gifts carried over his prostrate body, and when the antidoron (unconsecrated particles cut from the same loaf as the prosphora) is distributed after Divine Liturgy, the faithful are always careful to avoid spilling crumbs on the floor.  Furthermore, the Anaphora of Mari and Addai does not even have the Words of Institution, yet it was declared by Pope Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) to confect a valid Eucharist.

(2)  The Sacrament of Holy Orders is not limited to men - only the degrees of the presbyterate and episcopacy are.  The Eastern Church used to ordain deaconesses.  I will not quibble with the Latins over whether that is a "Sacrament" or "Sacramental".  Grace is given, and no special powers are given to deacons anyway.

(3)  The bishop is only the ordinary minister of the Sacrament of Holy Orders.  Ordinations, even ordinations to the priesthood, can be performed validly by a simple priest.  I quote Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 459: 

In regard to the sacramental Order grades of diaconate and presbyterate, most theologians, with St. Thomas, hold the opinion that a simple pries cannot validly administer these, even with plenary power from the Pope. But there are grave historical difficulties with regard to this opinion: Pope Boniface IX, in agreement with the teachings of numerous medieval canonists (for example, Huguccio + 1210), by the Bull "Sacrae religionis" of the 1st February, 1400, conferred on the Abbot of the Augustine Monastery of St. Osytha at Essex (Diocese of Lincoln) and his successors, the privilege of administering to those subject to them both the Minor Orders and those of the subdiaconate, diaconate, and priesthood. The privilege was withdrawn on 6th February, 1403, on the insistence of the Bishop of Lincoln. But the Orders conferred on the ground of the privilege were not declared invalid. Pope Martin V, by the Bull "Gerentes ad vos" of 16th November, 1427, conferred the privilege on the Abbot of the Cistercian Monastery of Altzelle (Diocese of Meissen) of promoting all his monks and others subject to him for the term of five years, to the higher Orders also (Sub-diaconate, Diaconate, and Presbyterate). Pope Innocent VIII, by the Bull "Exposcit tuae devotionis" of 9th April, 1489, conferred on the four Proto-Abbots of the Cistercian Order and their successors the privilege of ordaining their subordinates to the Sub-diaconate and the Diaconate. The Cistercian Abbots were still using this privilege in the 17th century without hindrance."
 4)  The Catholic Church has saints on her calendar who were not only not Catholic but virulently anti-Catholic, who deliberately refused to embrace communion with Rome, and who even spent their life preaching against Union.  St. Alexis Toth, who led 200,000 Rusyn Greek Catholics in the United States into Orthodoxy leading to the creation of the Orthodox Church of America and the American Carpatho-Rusyn Orthodox Diocese, is on the calendar of the Russian Catholic Church under the jurisdiction of the Roman Catholic bishops in California.  The Russian Catholics simply use the OCA calendar.  St. Gregory Palamas, who engaged in no few polemics himself against Rome, is celebrated on the Second Sunday of Great Lent as the theologian whose work completes the Triumph of Holy Orthodoxy.  St. Photios the Great of the "Photian Schism" of 869 is on the Rusyn or Ruthenian Catholic calendar.  All of the Orthodox saints are in principle on our calendar, though we do not have time to sing troparia to all of them, and you will find Ukrainian Catholics with strong devotions to St. Alexis Toth, St. Photios the Great, St. Cyril Loukaris (the "Calvinist Patriarch" who prevented the Union of Brest from being fully implemented), and even the "monophysite" Pope St. Dioscorus, despite the latter's mistreatment of St. Flavian at the latrocinium ("Robber's Council") of Ephesus.  Eastern Catholics are quite liberal with our saints; we were first and foremost Orthodox before we returned to communion with Rome, and now that we are willing to venerate Roman Catholic saints, we'll venerate just about anybody.  With Rome's blessing, too.

6)  Purgatory is not a dogma of the Faith - only a statement of the Latin expression of it.  Article V of the Union of Brest states, "We shall not debate about purgatory, but entrust ourselves to the teaching of the Holy Church."  The Ukrainians did not want to define and give a term to something which we have always treated as a mystery, and which carries with it a lot of medieval baggage about a spatial place where physical combustion goes on (whereas in reality there are no bodies there to make it a place and no oxygen to permit combustion) - and Rome has not insisted that we do so.

7)  The Catholic Church permits divorce and remarriage.  In fact, it was canonically permitted - without pretense of declaring the marriage null from the beginning - right up until 1917.  It was only permitted within the Byzantine rite, which brought the practice with them from Orthodoxy.  This seems to be problematic.  We have always been taught that the Catholic Church regards marriage as indissoluble.  How are we to resolve this?  This shall be the topic of my next post.  The purpose of this post was to desensitize my reader to what I am going to say in the next one.


  1. #4 has been the most troubling to me, but one that I accept humbly under the authority of the Church. St. Augustine's definition of orthodoxy as one who has right-practice over one who has right-belief, I believe might be helpful to accept #4. He was certainly no person to allow backsliding in terms of holding the faith, but he says that the aim of reading the Scriptures is to learn to love God above all things, and that errors in interpreting Scripture are permissible in the grand scheme of things so long as charity and a love of the Church as the teacher of the Faith is accepted.

    Would you be willing to speak more on how to reconcile these anti-Catholic moments with their being saints whom we ought to imitate and ask for their prayers?

  2. Steven, I will answer not in my own words but in those of Elder Epiphanios, whom I did not read until quite a while after writing that post. From his book Counsels for Life, p. 219:

    "Saint Theodore the Studite ceased commemorating the Patriarch. He did not become a saint, however, because of this action of his, but because of his lifestyle. The same with Saint Alexios, the Man of God (March 17th), who abandoned his wife for the love of Christ, and Saint Epiphanios, who proceeded to ordinations in Constantinople against the wishes of the local Hierarch, Saint John Chrysostom. These Saints, that is, became holy despite these things and not because of these things. The Lord obviously looked upon the whole of their life, independently of whether as people they had been at fault in something, for which, of course, they must have repented later on."

    One might also mention the atrocious temper of St. Jerome, and the even worse temper of St. John Chrysostom (we may honor him as a confessor for being exiled, but honestly, he had it coming - calling the Empress a "fat pig" during his sermon was probably not too bright, and not too charitable). We venerate the saints for their piety and love for God, and overlook their many failings. The point is, they tried. (Many canonized Fathers and Doctors of the Church were certainly guilty of material heresy - St. Gregory of Nyssa was overly angelistic, St. Thomas Aquinas denied the Immaculate Conception, and Origen certainly made plenty of errors although he is a saint on the Armenian calendar. Evagrios Pontikos made it into the Philokalia despite his errors. The point is, they tried in good faith, and we're good at having selective memory and a hermeneutic of charity.)

    I think it is illustrative that the Orthodox Church canonized St. Photios the Great but never Michael Cerularius. These saints certainly had their anti-Catholic moments - but that was not the reason for the canonization, even by the Orthodox. (Incidentally, more recent Catholic scholarship has tried to rehabilitate Cerularius' reputation, but that's irrelevant.) St. Mark of Ephesus was the most highly venerated and regarded delegate at the Council of Florence in both Catholic and Orthodox eyes, and it was his vote for union that the Holy Father sought the most ardently (and allegedly exclaimed "then all is lost" when Mark refused to sign the union). And St. Mark came to the Council as a unionist with full charity toward the West, calling upon the "most Holy Father" to receive "his children coming from the East" and "seeking his embrace". Rabid anti-Catholicism wasn't the reason he was canonized. St. Alexis Toth wasn't canonized for being anti-Catholic so much as pro-Orthodox, with the fullness of Orthodoxy including the apostolic Byzantine tradition of a married clergy which we consider essential to the practice of our Faith as Byzantines. Archbishop Ireland was in the wrong by either Catholic or Orthodox perspectives.

    So, in short, I reconcile these anti-Catholic moments by recognizing that that's not why they were holy, that we approach the saints with a hermeneutic of charity and recognize that like us they were fallen, fallible creatures working out their salvation, whose zeal in pursuing the Lord we ought to emulate even if they misplaced sometimes what was right and what was wrong.

    1. Thanks for the response James. I will certainly make a note then of calling these Eastern saints as saints. Certainly the Eastern Catholics recognize them in spite of their faults (no saint was perfect). Your friendship has opened me up to a much wider array of the catholicity of our beautiful Church. It is a privilege to share it with you. Thank you.