In the beginning
As a newcomer to blogging I should introduce myself, for just because it’s the internet it doesn’t mean all rules of communication should go out the proverbial window, though unfortunately all too often manners do. I am Mark, simply a ‘cradle’ Roman Catholic Layperson, a revert to Christianity after many years of holding various brands of belief in what C.S. Lewis might have called a ‘life force’.
Growing up and much to the annoyance of pretty much everyone, I was enthusiastically studying religions such as Sanatana Dharma, Buddhism and even Islam, ignoring Christianity as even a viable option.
”Like the Trinity, seriously?” So, I’m all too aware how absurd Christianity appears to de facto outsiders conditioned by modern underlying assumptions. And from this experience, I am very much aware of the spirit of the times. By God’s grace however I did finally like Lewis, almost kicking and screaming, come reluctantly to Christianity.*1
For me personally (and despite my real dislike for ‘Thomism’) this manifested itself largely through the intellect, first unspectacularly to anyone else I’m sure; through a simple but profound education of Icons and their meaning in Eastern Christianity. Before breezing on through the exceptionally clarifying work of Vladimir Lossky, and then on to Hans Urs Von Balthasar. (The latter I now find very unOrthodox funnily enough.)
Finally, I began to familiarise myself more broadly with orthodox Catholicism, with Scott Hahn,Fr Robert Barron, Catholic Answers and a whole host of others. Indeed all great guides in introducing Catholic Christianity. However, proceeding from this Catholicism commonly understood, I had to move to a broader orthodoxy, one comparable to Crunchy Con Rod Dreher’s definition in ‘Crunchy Cons..’- though one limited to Christianity itself.
Fidelity to Truth in the Bride of Christ
The biggest reason for my move towards this ecumenism was in that I became ‘disturbed’ (one of the best things that can happen a man) -specifically by what I saw as the ‘dead end’ of the current Catholic view of Marriage. This was raised by an article on Marriage in the afterlife by one of my Catholic favourites at the time, Steve Ray.
In spite of the great work of Pope Saint JP2 and his part redemption of Marriage as Sacrament, I found much to be objectionable, and now see the work of this Catholic Saint as a ‘half-story’, well not even that to be honest; so weak is his exegesis. His is an opinion on and portrayal of Marriage that, if not critically examined and critiqued in the light of Christian thought and practice East and West, could prove very dangerous. ( his contemporary Balthasar’s anthropology is very problematic as well.)
The wholesale acceptance we see of JP2’s work in the USA for example, which is juxtaposed with an assumption, that to be Catholic requires to accept Humanae Vitae unquestionably is absurd. (See some of the wonderful Catholic Theologians who reject this- David Tracy, Ivan Illich, Fr Richard McCormick, Bernard McGinn et al.)
Indeed Pope JP2 had a large part to play in this unfortunate document which Pope Paul 6th pushed through against all sense and collegiality. Distressingly, we can see historically that the ideas expressed therein have their roots very much in fallible human thought. The critique from the Eastern Church which we will begin to mention below can therefore open up new dimensions in taking the good and bad in this Western view as it relates to Christian Truth and respond to the profound crisis we are in around this very issue in the West.*2 However, that is not to idealise the east, which has serious problems here also oftentimes.
The doubts I had went in to high gear with Philip Sherrard’s good but one- sided and over the top critique,(A.N. Williams or John Milbank are helpful in highlighting problems with his approach to Aquinas for example) but were impressed upon me more reasonably by Fr John Meyendorff, Fr John Behr and Dr Vigen Guroian’s great Orthodox critiques of the contemporary Catholic understanding of Marriage.
I still now believe that we are a long way from expressing the truth of Christian Marriage. In this respect I happily accept Vigen Guroian’s rallying cry to look East for a ‘strange’ understanding of Marriage and encourage my fellow Christians to do the same.*3 *4 *5 Future Blog Posts will attempt to share the truly Christian Life of Marriage and Human Sexuality that God has created for Eternity; His Good Creation.
Alongside this personal mini-crisis I have, over time, became more and more concerned with the differences in Christianity in-toto. It seems however that contrary to the popular view, and despite some of the enormous differences over not just Marriage but other areas, that we have not just a common enemy in the dehumanising sciences or ideologies of modern man, the ‘Drama of Atheist Humanism’ as De Lubac called it, but that often we are really all getting at the same ultimate Truth in different degrees and with different emphases.
It very much appears that in reality neither of us can claim to have a perfect understanding of Christianity in this imperfect world, and that when it comes to Catholics and Orthodox, even other Christians we often differ by degree more than by genus.
Especially now in our even more imperfect than usual world, severely restricted by ideology and non-Christian dualism as it is, we should be skeptical of claims to orthodoxy or ‘what the Church has always taught’- This hubristic claim is commonly demonstrably false.
The excellent female Theologian A.N. Williams, Kallistos Ware or Fr Behr can raise important questions and provide invaluable insights here based on their understandings of the worldview of the Church Fathers. With Williams being helpful to Catholic-Orthodox relations, addressing a lot of pertinent problems which result in current unecumenical ‘straw men’. She is returning rather to a more multi-dimensional understanding of Christian belief and paving the way for a much clearer orthodox understanding of the Church, one based on a finely balanced study of and conversation with the Early Church Fathers, as well as later Church Fathers such as St Gregory Palamas and the Roman Catholic Churches go-to-guy St Thomas Aquinas. The two latter she presents as differing again in degree in many ways previously thought to be of completely different order.
This charitable and intelligent approach to two supposedly irreconcilable figures gives one hope, and is just one approach the Ecumenical movement would do well to build on if we are to ‘speak the Truth in Love’. Stanilaoe’s Sobornicity is an idea with great potential Ecumenically as well, and has been opined on by Radu Bordeianu- see also Alan Jacobs’ Way of Exchange or Martin Thornton’s School and Wilderness.
Complex problems and solutions
If we view Ecumenism with ‘modern eyes’ and only falsely ‘humanly’ we are neglecting God’s involvement (and therefore failing to see truly humanly). Only when we open ourselves to Christ’s call to union will we see that apparent ‘irreconcilable’ differences should not be conjectured as such. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit may suggest otherwise. Eugen Rosenstock Huessy suggests we are entering Johannine age and who are we to say where The Spirit will blow
From the ‘top-down’ the future looks more hopeful, Vatican 2 has brought about great reforms in the western Church, Pope’s Saint JP2, Benedict and now Francis are standing with their Orthodox brothers, especially now that we are blessed with the current Ecumenical Patriarch, His All Holiness Bartholomew of Constantinople, and these great Christians are affirming in practice what is Theologically and Historically becoming clearer, that ecumenism is a necessity if we are to obey our Lord who commands us to be one.
This should be the end game of Ecumenical discussion, peaceful co- existence or stoic resignation to the Schism are not congruent with what the Lord calls us to, so this recent talk in ecumenicism amongst some about being peaceable besides our differences is not enough in my view.*6
And then there are the other Churches, forgive me for neglecting them in this post but it is more from lack of awareness than that I do not care…
There are great potential dialogues with anyone with ears to hear but the Methodists, Lutherans, Anglicans and Oriental Orthodox may be more realistic partners. Yet, that all Christians be one is the beautiful longing of our Lord Jesus and I Pray for all Christians.
On the reformed traditions, please see Dr Peter Leithart, who knows much more than I.
‘Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’. Romans 15:5,6