Ways to Church Reunion (II)

Part II of Ways to Church Reunion


There is no doubt that in the course of ages quite a number of dogmatic differences have emerged between the Western and the Eastern Church, although all these are not of equal significance. There are the questions of Filioque, of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin, of Purgatory, of the Pope, and all the other dogmatic definitions of a doctrinal nature which have come to be accepted by the Catholic West (and following in its steps, to some extent Orthodoxy), in its struggle with the Reformation. In this Roman


Catholicism is distinguished by the greatest dogmatic maximum in so far as it attempts to transform every thesis of theological doctrine into dogma (an example of this may be seen in the Council of Trent). In such a method all doctrinal postulates acquire equal significance. One should learn to abandon such dogmatic prejudice when striving towards Reunion, if one ceases to interpret it, of course, as absorption of individual Christians either by the Orthodox or the Roman Catholic Church. In the general context of dogmatic differences which exist between the Churches, we must learn to discern the essentially important dogmatic teaching which finds its expression in the Eucharistic dogma, and contrast it with other dogmatic assumptions which should be set aside as calling for further consideration and elaboration as theologoumena. And we must also have faith that a union in Eucharistic love before the holy Chalice will give us greater power to overcome them, than tournaments between theologians which never result in complete union, for the ‘human,’ the all to human, always dominates them.

It is also unfortunate for the Church that from the most ancient times it has acquired the method of stating dogma in the form of anathemas against those who think differently, whilst a hasty anathema always represents an unnecessary further obstacle to discussion. The idea of a dogmatic agreement in necessaeriis for the purpose of Eucharistic union, which precedes complete dogmatic agreement instead of succeeding it, does not by any means imply dogmatic indifference. But in the question of dogmatics a certain hierarchy of order should be maintained, by virtue of which things should be put in their proper places. One cannot, for instance, assign to the doctrine of transsubstantiation the same compulsory significance as to the Christological and Trinitarian dogma. (The same remark would be true of the majority of the definitions of Trent, which so obviously bear the imprint of Medieval Scholasticism.) We have a whole series of dogmatic definitions which really possess only the significance of theological doctrine. They are valuable in their intention, but certainly not in the form of their expression. In relation to these, for the time being, the principle of in dubiis libertas should be applied.

But we may find that some may argue that the drawing of such distinction between dogmas, their classification as Eucharistic and non-Eucharistic, the more important and the less important, would serve to undermine the infallibility and self-sufficiency of the Church (infallibilitas or indefectibilitas), in which all is equally important and valuable, by introducing an intolerable relativity. Such an objection is based on an abstract Roman interpretation of infallibilitas. This should really be understood not as formal abstraction but as something historically concrete. The Church possesses indefectibilitas in the sense that the Church is complete or self-sufficient. In this sense with a divinely inspired infallibility it meets the needs of its dogmatic consciousness in every epoch. Thus early Christianity, notwithstanding all its dogmatic simplicity and the fact that dogma had not been expressed, was no less indefectibilis, than the later dogmatic epochs, each of which has its own particular style. This style is comprised not only of the postulates which are of abiding value (such as Christology) even when they are expressed in the dogmatic language of a particular epoch, but also of those propositions which minister par excellence to the specific requirements of that age. Revelation, generally speaking, is concrete and historical, but it certainly does not represent a mechanical dictation of infallible truths, nor a sort of automatic script. Therefore it is absurd to accept that an abstract equipollence of all the parts of dogmatic teaching in accordance with a formal stamp of ‘infallibility,’ because the former is conveyed to us ‘at sundry times, and in divers manners’ (Heb. i. I).

Ex Cathedra
Ex Cathedra

In Roman-Catholicism the main barrier to the establishment of such a preliminary dogmatic minimum – the Eucharistic dogma in the extended sense – is represented by the Vatican dogma of Papal infallibility. This dogma in itself constitutes a sort of dogmatic microcosm of Roman Catholicism, a criterion for all Roman dogmatics, which attributes its own peculiar significance to any dogmatic definition. In practice this dogma constitutes the main barrier to Reunion, for it turns Reunion into a simple absorption by the Roman Church. Its rejection makes reunion with Rome impossible, while it is unreserved and unconditional acceptance is impossible for the non-Roman Catholic. Therefore the destinies of the Reunion with Rome depend on how far the Roman Church would wish it and would find it possible to consider its Vatican dogma among those which should be subjected to a soborny investigation as regards its relationship to the whole of the Universal Church. In relationships between the Orthodox and the Anglicans, of course, this Vatican barrier is non-existent.

To be Continued

2 thoughts on “Ways to Church Reunion (II)

  1. Fr. Gregory,

    This may be a stupid question, but what exactly does the word soborny mean? I follow the rest of the argument, but this slightly eludes me. . .

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