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What would Catholic-Orthodox reunion look like?
Posted By Eric Sammons On December 4, 2009 @ 10:23 am In Eastern Christianity,Ecumenism | Comments Disabled
There have been a flurry of news stories recently about the thawing of relations between the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church (the two largest Christians Churches in the world). Here are a few examples:
I have blogged previously (here  and here ) that I don’t think reunion will happen anytime soon – there is just too much baggage that needs to be overcome and there are a lot of details in any reunion that are still not close to being achieved. But I want to take a moment to consider: what would reunion actually look like?
There are two concrete proposals that have circulated within East-West ecumenical circles over the past few years which address this question. They are the Zoghby Initiative and the Ratzinger Proposal.
The Zoghby Initiative  is named after the late Melkite Catholic Archibishop Elias Zoghby, who proposed a “double-communion” between the Melkite Catholic Church and the Antiochian Orthodox Church (from which the Melkite Catholic Church originated). The Initiative was basically a profession of faith, which stated:
This profession was endorsed by 24 of 26 Melkite bishops at a 1995 Synod, but it found a cold reception both from Antiochian Orthodox officials as well as from Rome (including from then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger). Fundamentally, Zoghby felt that the Catholic and Orthodox faiths were essentially the “same faith” and therefore communion could be established now.
The Ratzinger Proposal refers to a speech made by then-Father Joseph Ratzinger in 1976 which was included in his book “Principles of Catholic Theology ” published by Ignatius Press in 1987. In the speech, he proposed the following, which is very similar to Archbishop’s Zoghby’s profession (emphasis added):
Certainly, no one who claims allegiance to Catholic theology can simply declare the doctrine of primacy null and void, especially not if he seeks to understand the objections and evaluates with an open mind the relative weight of what can be determined historically. Nor is it possible, on the other hand, for him to regard as the only possible form and, consequently, as binding on all Christians the form this primacy has taken in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries…Although it is not given us to halt the flight of history, to change the course of centuries, we may say, nevertheless, that what was possible for a thousand years is not impossible for Christians today. After all, Cardinal Humbert of Silva Candida, in the same bull in which he excommunicated the Patriarch Michael Cerularius and thus inaugurated the schism between East and West, designated the Emperor and people of Constantinople as “very Christian and orthodox”, although their concept of the Roman primacy was certainly far less different from that of Cerularius than from that, let us say, of the First Vatican Council. In other words, Rome must not require more from the East with respect to the doctrine of primacy than had been formulated and was lived in the first millennium. When the Patriarch Athenagoras, on July 25, 1967, on the occasion of the Pope’s visit to Phanar, designated him as the successor of St. Peter, as the most esteemed among us, as one also presides in charity, this great Church leader was expressing the essential content of the doctrine of primacy as it was known in the first millennium. Rome need not ask for more. Reunion could take place in this context if, on the one hand, the East would cease to oppose as heretical the developments that took place in the West in the second millennium and would accept the Catholic Church as legitimate and orthodox in the form she had acquired in the course of that development, while, on the other hand, the West would recognize the Church of the East as orthodox and legitimate in the form she has always had.
This is an incredible statement and one I’m not even sure if Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, would still endorse. He is basically saying that reunion can occur if we both treat the situation of the 1st millennium as normative for relations and accept the separate developments of each other during the 2nd millennium as valid if not normative on the universal Church. If you take a minute you can see how radical that proposal really is.
Neither of these two proposals have gotten much traction lately, but I think we would all do well to prayerfully consider if they are a road to reunion. What are we willing to concede for the greater good of unity? Are we Catholics willing to accept a form of primacy different than that which has been practiced since Vatican I?
Sts. Peter and Andrew, pray for us!
Article printed from Divine Life – A Blog by Eric Sammons: http://ericsammons.com/blog
URL to article: http://ericsammons.com/blog/2009/12/04/what-would-catholic-orthodox-reunion-look-like/
URLs in this post:
 New hints of movement toward Vatican-Moscow ‘summit’: http://www.catholicculture.org/news/headlines/index.cfm?storyid=4781
 Vatican-Russian Relations Upgraded: http://www.zenit.org/article-27738?l=english
 Russian Orthodox publish book of Pope Benedict’s Writings: http://www.zenit.org/article-27732?l=english
 Kremlin Calls…Vatican Answers: http://whispersintheloggia.blogspot.com/2009/12/kremlin-calls-vatican-answers.html
 here: http://ericsammons.com/blog/2009/09/23/laying-the-groundwork-for-reunion/
 here: http://ericsammons.com/blog/2009/10/28/some-cold-water-is-needed/
 Zoghby Initiative: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elias_Zoghby
 Principles of Catholic Theology: http://www.amazon.com/Principles-Catholic-Theology-Building-Fundamental/dp/0898702151/
 here: http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/blog/?p=5667
 here: http://eirenikon.wordpress.com/2009/11/26/are-the-ratzinger-proposal-and-zoghby-initiative-dead/
 here: http://www.imageandword.com/agc/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/are-the-ratzinger-and-zoghby-proposals-dead-20080404.pdf
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