Two videos for your enjoyment today. First, a look back at how well we here in the mid-Atlantic handle snow:
Next, a look forward at the season we are about to enter:
Why We Were Created
a blog by Eric Sammons
Two videos for your enjoyment today. First, a look back at how well we here in the mid-Atlantic handle snow:
Next, a look forward at the season we are about to enter:
If fasting gets the most press during Lent, then almsgiving most certainly gets the least. But it is an important component of the triumvirate of pietistic practices that a Catholic should make habitual. In Matthew 25:31-46, our Lord makes it quite clear what will happen to those who do not help the poor. Giving alms to the poor is a required part of the Catholic Faith; it is not just something tacked on to our more “spiritual” practices. In many ways, almsgiving makes our faith incarnational: we are body and soul composites, so we must help both the soul and body of those around us.
How are we to give alms? Our Lord tells us:
(But) take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. (Matthew 6:1-4)
Like all our spiritual practices, we must not give alms to win the esteem of men. They must instead be done with a sincere heart that truly wishes to help others.
What are some practical things you can do this Lent in regard to almsgiving?
Find some time to volunteer at your local soup kitchen, crisis pregnancy center or food pantry.
2) Give a painful donation
See how much money you have available for a charitable donation, then double or even triple the amount and give it away. How much we think we can give away is usually nowhere near how much we really can – and God will honor your generous heart.
3) Befriend someone you don’t know at your parish, work or school
We all know the type: there often is someone at our place of business, our school, or at our parish that makes everyone uncomfortable. He (or she) doesn’t follow normal social conventions, so most people stay away from them. Find the time during Lent to approach him and strike up a conversation. He is as much an image of God as anyone else, after all.
4)Take your kids to volunteer at a soup kitchen or food pantry
Too often we grow up in our comfortable middle-class neighborhoods and never have to directly encounter the poor. This attaches a stigma to them that is hard to overcome later in life. Take your kids to a soup kitchen or food pantry so that they can directly be involved in helping the poor. It will create a lasting image for them of the humanity of the poor.
5) Give something to the panhandler you meet on the street
I realize that many people have legitimate reasons they don’t give to the beggar on the street. However, St. Francis would give to ANYONE who asked of him, no exceptions, because he saw everyone as Christ. If you don’t want to give cash, give him an apple. Have faith that God will work out the details of your generosity.
Also, Aggie Catholics has a great “mega-post” about Lent which includes some more great suggestions. Check it out!
Whatever you do this Lent, be sure to make it a time that prepares your heart for the resurrection of our Lord and God Jesus Christ.
By now most people have probably seen the cute Google Super Bowl ad called “Parisian Love”, which follows a relationship through Google searches (if you haven’t seen it, click here).
I thought I’d make my own video for a higher love – I call it “Divine Love”:
Yesterday I posted some suggestions for how to intensify your prayer life during Lent, which starts next Wednesday. Today I’d like to make some suggestions in the area of fasting.
Fasting, of course, gets the most press during Lent. I think everyone, Catholic or non-Catholic, knows the practice of “giving up” something for Lent. Often it involves some sweet or other small delicacy. These are good ideas, but it is also good to sometimes think “outside the box” so that our fasting does not become routine. Furthermore, I personally think it a good idea to think of how much fasting we can handle, then resolve to do just a little bit more than that for Lent. God is generous with us, and I believe He will reward the heart that strives after Him.
But first we must remember the heart of fasting, and to do this, we look to Jesus:
When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you. (Matthew 6: 16-18)
Fasting is the practice of piety most likely to abused. If we tell everyone about our fasting, we have clearly broken the Lord’s command. However, if we keep it secret, there is the danger that we will have spiritual pride inside, thinking we are “more holy” than others who appear to give up less than we do. The fact is that fasting should only make us humble, as it reminds us how dependent we are.
Now, on to some practical suggestions:
1) Give up TV.
Yes, I know I might be a one-trick pony when it comes to giving up TV, but I can’t overemphasize how helpful it has been to me. I gave up TV for Advent one year and never looked back. So try to give up TV for all of Lent, or, if you don’t think you can do that, give it up a few days a week.
2) No Internet one or two days a week.
I recognize that the Internet has become a vital part of life today (my job, for example, depends on it), so I won’t suggest giving up the Internet completely (although if you can, God bless you). But try to pick a day or two a week in which you completely stay off the web.
3) Complete Fast once a week
The Church asks us to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstain from meat on the Fridays of Lent. Consider fasting as well every Friday. What exactly is “fasting”? I think each person must define it based on their personal situation, but the Church’s overall guideline is good: two very small meals plus one regular meal.
4) No Caffeine
If a large number of people followed this one, I’m sure we would have a lot of cranky people out there by the 2nd week of Lent. But seriously, if you are addicted to caffeine, Lent is a great time to kick the habit. It is not only physically beneficial, but by offering your physical sufferings in union with Christ’s, it can be spiritually beneficial as well.
5) Drink only water
I did this one year, and I found it quite difficult. Make water the only thing you drink during Lent – no soda, no coffee, no orange juice. The reason I liked this one is it is a constant reminder; every day you probably have some non-water drink with a meal or during a break, so limiting yourself to water is a good reminder of the penitential season we are in.
Over the past twenty years I have read countless theology books, the vast majority written by either Catholic or Orthodox scholars. But at times I have also read theological texts by Protestant believers, and although I obviously have some serious disagreements with their fundamental presuppositions, I have found a lot of fine, worthwhile work done by Protestants over the years. Below I have listed a number of Protestant theologians* I have particularly enjoyed.
* Technically, they are not all theologians; some are biblical scholars or historians. But you get the idea of the overall category.
N. T. Wright. Wright is an Anglican bishop who is probably the preeminent “orthodox” biblical scholar alive today. His work on the origins of Christianity is outstanding, and his study of Paul is phenomenal as well.
Jaroslav Pelikan. Originally a Lutheran, near the end of his life Pelikan converted to Eastern Orthodoxy, but his magnum opus – the five-volume The Christian Tradition series – was written while he was still Lutheran. Pelikan was more a historian than a theologian, and his study of the development of Christian doctrine in the aforementioned series is the standard for the subject today.
Larry Hurtado. A professor at the University of Edinburgh, Hurtado wrote the monumental work Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity, which gives detailed proofs regarding the early worship of Christ among the first Christians.
William Farmer. Farmer converted to Catholicism before he died, but the work he is most known for, The Synoptic Problem, which argues that Matthew was the first Gospel written, was written by him while he was a Methodist. He also co-wrote a number of books with Catholics on ecumenical issues (from the Protestant perspective).
I’m not as well read on the following scholars, but I have enjoyed what I have read nonetheless.
Stanley Hauerwas. Although I am not overly familiar with Hauerwas’ work, the little I have read (including the volume on Matthew in the Brazos Theological Commentary) has been impressive.
Peter Leithart. I’ve mostly just read Leithart’s work in First Things, but his commentary on 1 & 2 Kings for the Brazos Theological Commentary is also well-done. And besides, he has ten kids, so he must be alright.
F.F. Bruce. The late Bruce was one of the premier Evangelical Biblical scholars of the 20th century. He was also one of the best defenders of the reliability of the New Testament texts that have been handed on to us.
Bruce Metzger. Another biblical scholar, Metzger wrote a standard text on the development of the New Testament canon and was also involved in many biblical translations.
R.T. France. I own France’s commentary on the Gospel of Matthew for the New International Commentary on the New Testament, and while it definitely had a Protestant flavor, I found the work to be rigorous and well-argued (for example, he acknowledges that the “rock” in Matthew 16 can only be referring to Peter himself, and not simply his faith or his confession).
John Calvin. Not.
Feel free to add any of your own favorites to the comments.
It is a week until Ash Wednesday, so we all need to be thinking about how we can grow spiritually during the beautiful season of Lent. The Church asks us to engage in more intense prayer, fasting and almsgiving as ways to prepare ourselves for the glorious feast of Easter. I wanted to give some of my own suggestions for how we can intensify our spiritual life in these areas during Lent. I’ll begin with prayer.
The model for all three practices is found in Matthew 6. Let us keep these words of Christ in mind whenever we pray:
When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. This is how you are to pray:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread;
and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors;
and do not subject us to the final test,
but deliver us from the evil one.
If you forgive others their transgressions,
your heavenly Father will forgive you.
But if you do not forgive others,
neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.
Some practical suggestions:
1) Daily Mass
Try to go to Mass at least one more time a week than you currently do. There is no greater prayer we can participate in. Furthermore, I have found that every time I added a day to my routine for Mass, I kept going that day after Lent ended.
2) Read the Gospel
Take 5-10 minutes in the morning to read the Gospel passage for the day and then reflect on it. We are called to be Christ-like, and there is no better way to know what Christ is like than the Gospels.
3) Liturgy of the Hours
As Catholics, we do not believe that we are being saved alone. We in fact are being saved as a body, and the Liturgy of the Hours is a beautiful way to join that body in prayer. And the great thing is that you can do it anytime of the day. Try to add one of the following to your routine: Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, or Night Prayer. Each of them only takes about 10-15 minutes, and the power of this form of prayer is that it forms your intentions to the intentions of the Church.
I’ve often extolled the power of the Rosary. Lent is a great time to get into the habit of praying the Rosary. I guarantee that you won’t regret it.
5) Family Prayer
The cliché that holds true is that “the family that prays together, stays together”. Too many families either don’t pray together or they only do so before meals. But family prayer is a powerful way to deeply unite the family. Find a time each day to pray together as a family; you can combine this with one of the above: go to daily Mass together, say Night Prayer together or pray the Rosary as a family.
Whatever you choose to do (and please feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments if you wish), just be sure to do something. And don’t get discouraged if you forget a few times the first few weeks of Lent; we all do. That is just a reminder to get back up and try again.
In the next two days I’ll add suggestions for fasting and almsgiving as well.
The other day I blogged about the importance of silence in our lives. Imagine my surprise when I find Oprah of all people agreeing with me:
Maybe now I can get booked on her show when my book comes out…
Today, as we all know, environmentalism is a huge political issue. Many are advocating for new laws, new regulations and new rules in order to “protect the environment”, while many others are claiming that there is little need for these laws as the environmental situation is either not as bad as advertised or simply a hoax. Christians today fall on both sides of this issue.
But one thing I think too many Christians ignore is the terrible spiritual impact modern consumerism has on us. Regardless of the impact on the environment, rampant consumerism – as is practiced in the Western world today – is destroying our souls.
And the evidence that our world is relentlessly consumerist cannot be denied. During the 2008 World Youth Day in Australia Pope Benedict noted that, “reluctantly we come to acknowledge that there are… scars which mark the surface of our earth… in order to fuel an insatiable consumption“. Some of the extent of that insatiable consumption can be seen in this slideshow:
Some statistics from that slideshow:
One does not have to be an environmentalist to recognize the poverty of such wasteful living. But what is the Christian response to such flagrant consumerism? Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church says, “Christian asceticism”. This does not mean living in a cave, but instead “It’s the ability to regulate one’s consumption and the condition of one’s heart, and win a victory over passions and instincts. It is important that the rich and the poor alike possess these qualities.”
Patriarch Kirill further notes the terrible spiritual impact of this inability to regulate our consumption: “The trinkets of modern life make one giddy, and inebriate the human consciousness. People believe in advertisement, fashion, stereotypes, and this virtual world as if it were reality.” We end up living with a consumerist mentality in which we are only satisfied with more “stuff”, and the only thing that can truly satisfy us – God alone – is shoved aside in the endless quest for more and more things.
Let us pray that we might only strive to find satisfaction in God rather than the trinkets of this world.
St. Francis, pray for us!
Last week I took my teenage daughter to a special Mass which I hoped she would find especially appealing. It included inspiring worship music, elaborate visual stimulation and inspired preaching. And afterward, when I asked her what she thought, she enthusiastically told me that she liked it. Here is a description of this “teen-friendly” Mass from the parish’s website:
A Solemn High Mass in the Extraordinary Form for the Feast of the Purification (Candlemas) with a blessing of the Candles and Procession with polyphonic propers composed by William Byrd, and the Ordinary from his Mass for Four Voices, sung by Chantry.
Now I admit that I am not an “Old Mass-only” Catholic. Nor do I think the Mass needs to be in Latin; I prefer the vernacular, truth be told. However, I can’t help but marvel at the fact that we have spent countless hours and enormous amounts of energy over the past 40 years trying to create a Mass that is “relevant” and engaging to our teens, when perhaps it was collecting mothballs in the closet the whole time?
Bankers are not the cause of the global economic crisis, according to the president of the Institute for the Works of Religion. Rather, the cause is ordinary people who do not “believe in the future” and have few or no children.
“The true cause of the crisis is the decline in the birth rate,” Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, said in an interview on Vatican Television’s “Octava Dies.”
He noted the Western world’s population growth rate is at 0% — that is, two children per couple — and this, he said, has led to a profound change in the structure of society.
“Instead of stimulating families and society to again believe in the future and have children […] we have stopped having children and have created a situation, a negative economic context decrease,” Gotti Tedeschi observed. “And decrease means greater austerity.”
“With the decline in births,” he explained, “there are fewer young people that productively enter the working world. And there are many more elderly people that leave the system of production and become a cost for the collective.
People have been saying for years that the Western world cannot continue socially, economically or culturally with our current birthrates. But the reason for our falling birth rates is spiritual, not economic: without belief in a loving God, you are very likely to be self-centered and/or pessimistic about the future, and both of these attitudes will make it less likely that you will have children.
Ultimately, it is a crisis in evangelization: we need to proclaim the Good News to others so that they will joyfully welcome new life into their families. Then it is also likely that our economic fortunes will improve as well.
I mentioned a couple weeks ago that Metropolitan Kallistos Ware was coming to the Washington, DC area for a series of talks. However, the snow beat him to it, so today’s talk entitled “An Insider’s View: Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue Today” will be rescheduled for next Tuesday, February 16th. The schedule for the day is the same:
“An Insider’s View: Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue Today”
Caldwell Auditorium, The Catholic University of America
400 Michigan Avenue, NE, Washington, DC
4:30 pm – Prayer Service
5:30 pm – Reception
6:30 pm – Lecture
I plan to attend – if you are going as well, let me know!
As everyone knows, we got a little snow here in the DC area this weekend. About 30″ worth. I work at home and my kids are homeschooled, so such large amounts of snow don’t really affect our daily routine. But one of the things I love about the snow is the silence it brings. Not only does the snow dampen all surrounding noise, but it also dramatically diminishes the traffic, which leads to more silence.
Yesterday morning I was out early shoveling my driveway and quite enjoying this silence. Then my neighbor came out to shovel his driveway, wearing an ipod. The volume was so loud that I could hear every word of the song he was listening to (and to make matters worse, it was a Duran Duran song. Ugh). It got me to thinking about how noisy our world is today. From ipods to radios to TVs to the Internet, we have a device with us at all times which will push some noise into our ears. And the biggest danger of all this noise is that it drowns out the still, small voice of God.
God is the Lord of all Creation and He is the Alpha and the Omega. With one Word He can create and destroy. Yet He is a low-talker. We can only hear Him if we are silent.
What are some practical ways in which we can make our lives more silent? Here are seven I thought up:
1) Turn off the car radio.
For many of us, the car radio is always in one position: ON. We can’t imagine driving somewhere without listening to either music or talk radio. But in all honesty, is there anything you listen to in the car that is that important? Would not that time in the car be a great time to reflect on life?
2) Get up early.
Too often we get up and are immediately rushing around to get out the door. But what if we got up 15 or 30 minutes before usual and spent that time in silence, perhaps meditating on the Gospel for the day? Early morning is the quietest time of the day, both externally and internally.
3) Abstain from media once a week.
I have mentioned before that I abstain from the Internet once a week. Another thing we can do to bring silence into our lives is to abstain from all media – radio, ipod, TV, Internet – for a day (Sunday being a natural choice). Just spend an entire day with the only noise being other human beings you are in physical contact with. It seems radical, but is it really so hard to comprehend?
4) Turn off the “background” TV.
Many people have a TV in their kitchen or workshop which they have on in the background while they do some other task, such as preparing dinner or working on a project. However, one of the best times to focus your thoughts is when you are active with monotonous work. This is the tried and true method of monks, and it can work for those outside the monastery as well.
5) Take a hike.
Something I only discovered a few years ago is the silence of nature. Going on a hike in the woods – sans ipod – is a wonderful way to clear your head of the noise of the modern world.
6) Go on a retreat.
Every Christian should go on retreat on a regular basis. In the Catholic tradition, retreat usually means “silent retreat”. I have found that when I go on retreat it takes me a whole evening just to “detox” from the pace and noise of the world. But once I do, I am able to more clearly hear the voice of the Lord in my life.
7) Pray the rosary.
Really, any prayer will do, but praying the rosary is a particularly “silent” prayer. I have found nothing that is better for focusing my thoughts and allowing me to listen for the voice of the Lord.
Whatever you choose to do, try to find time every day for silence, for it is then that you are most likely to hear the most wondrous noise of all: the voice of the Lord.
Imagine my surprise this morning. Just about everywhere I look, people are proclaiming the victory of the Saints!
Every site I go to this morning – even sports-related sites – are rejoicing in this truth of our faith: that the Saints have overcome all obstacles placed in front of them and have emerged victorious. Hallelujah!
But I’m left curious: why did everyone suddenly recognize this great truth?
When I was a young Evangelical in high school, I remember picking up the book “The Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis. The book, which recounted the letters of a demonic tempter to his younger apprentice, had a profound effect on my spiritual life, primarily in that it reminded me to look at my own sins rather than studying everyone else’s. The book’s unique format allowed Lewis to remind his readers that demons can tempt everyone into sin no matter their personal beliefs and convictions. Are you conservative? Liberal? Traditionalist? New Christian? Long-time Christian? It doesn’t matter, the devil will find a way to tempt you into sin. As St. Peter wrote, “Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for (someone) to devour” (I Peter 5:8).
So it was exciting to find out that popular blogger Fr. Dwight Longenecker has taken Lewis’ format and written an updated version called “The Gargoyle Code”. There are two key differences between the two books, however: (1) Longenecker uses specifically contemporary examples which do not allow the reader to easily excuse himself of the sins being tempted; and (2) Longenecker writes from an explicitly Catholic perspective, as opposed to Lewis, an Anglican who wrote his books for “Mere Christians”. Whereas The Screwtape Letters will always remain a useful classic, The Gargoyle Code does modern Catholics a needful service by making a similar book more specifically geared towards them.
The Gargoyle Code primarily consists of the communications of Slubgrip, a senior-level demonic tempter who is advising his young protegé, Dogwart. Slubgrip’s “patient” is an older, conservative Catholic, and Dogwart’s is a young Catholic who is discerning his vocation. With this setup, Longenecker is able to address most situations that face Catholics today, regardless of their age or status in the Church. And Longenecker leaves no one unscathed: through the writings of Slubgrip, he warns against the sins that can beset traditionalists, charismatics, liberals and everyone in-between.
The book recounts the communications over the course of one Lent, so it obviously would be a wonderful book to read during that season. However, this leads to my one criticism of the book: it would be impossible to read over 40 days, as it is too enjoyable! I read the short book (103 pages) in only two sittings myself. But I would recommend it to anyone looking for spiritual reading for this Lent or any time of the year.
You can purchase The Gargoyle Code at Fr. Longenecker’s website.
I mentioned in a previous blog post that a document prepared by a joint Catholic-Orthodox committee in 2008 was leaked to the public recently. The document dealt with the role of the bishop of Rome during the first millennium; I have now read it more carefully and I’d like to give an analysis of it here. I found it fascinating and insightful, and it even contained two surprises: one that might upset Orthodox polemicists and one that could potentially disturb their Catholic counterparts.
But before I dig in, I’d like to make clear the status of this document. It was prepared by the Joint Coordinating Committee for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church in preparation for the official meeting between Catholic and Orthodox leaders in Cyprus in late 2009. It has no official standing and might even have been scrapped completely by the hierarchs at the Cyprus meeting, but I do think it is instructive as to the common view of important Catholic and Orthodox figures. Now on to the document itself.
The purpose of the document is to study the role of the bishop of Rome during the first millennium. The reason for this in the context of ecumenical relations is clear: the role of the papacy is the key stumbling block to reunion: since the first millennium Church was a united Church, it is important to see how the papacy was practiced and understood in that time frame as a possible indication of how it can be practiced and understood in a future, united Church. Obviously, reunion would not magically occur even if Catholics and Orthodox were in complete agreement as to the role of the papacy for the first 1,000 years of Christianity, but such an agreement would go a long way towards reunion.
The document breaks down its study into four categories:
Each of these points are important, as they all were factors in how both the East and the West came to understand the role of the bishop of Rome in the life of the Church. Let’s take a look at each one individually:
The Church of Rome, prima sedes
One of the first things the document notes is something that might surprise your average Catholic: for the early Church, the primacy of Rome came not from Peter being its first bishop, but from the dual martyrdom of Peter and Paul in Rome. By shedding their blood in Rome, they became the true “founders” of the Church in Rome, even though Christians lived in the Imperial Capital before either of the two apostles got there. This does not mean that Peter was not the first bishop of Rome, but it shows two vital points sometimes forgotten by Catholic apologists: the importance of martyrdom in Roman claims and the role of Paul in the primacy of Rome. As we will see below, it was a later development that resulted in all papal claims being tied to Peter’s role as the first bishop of Rome.
Another important point from this section is the priority of the local church over the bishop. It is the church of Rome that has primacy, and the pope derives his authority from his position as the bishop of that local church. As the document states, “Both East and West have continued to maintain that the primacy of the see precedes the primacy of its bishop and is the source of the latter” (paragraph 9). This just makes sense, as, for instance, Cardinal Ratzinger had no special authority until he was made bishop of Rome. It is the office which has primacy, not the person.
This section also contains the first “surprise,” and it is one that I don’t think will please hard-line Orthodox polemicists. In a discussion of the authority of the Ecumenical Councils, the document notes, “Although in the first millennium Ecumenical Councils were called by the emperor, no council could be recognised as ecumenical without it having the consent of the pope, given either beforehand or afterwards” (paragraph 12, emphasis added). I think that this is a significant statement, having encountered many Orthodox apologists who would like to remove the necessity of papal approval completely from a council’s requirements for consideration as “ecumenical”. Later (in paragraph 27) the document does list a number of other factors needed in order to make a council truly “ecumenical,” but I thought the explicit recognition of the need for papal consent was quite a concession on the Orthodox side.
The bishop of Rome as successor of Peter
In this section, the document relates the history of divergent East-West views of the Pope as the successor of Peter. Standard Catholic theology today states unequivocally that the reason the Pope has the authority he does is because he is the successor of St. Peter. However, as the document notes, this understanding took time to develop, and it was never really accepted in the East. In fact, I would say that this divergent development was the first real beginning of the separation between East and West. Beginning in the third century, while Eastern Christians viewed the importance of the bishop of Rome as deriving from Rome’s political importance, Western Christians tended to base that authority on apostolic – and specifically Petrine – grounds.
In this context the document reviews Pope Leo’s role at the Council of Chalcedon. At that council, Leo’s “Tome” was read in defense of the orthodox Faith, and afterwards the bishops cried out, “Peter has spoken through Leo.” In most apologetical contexts, Catholics have used this statement to prove that the Pope is the successor to the person of Peter and therefore has his authority, whereas Orthodox Christians have either downplayed the statement or noted that it was simply a recognition that Leo had given voice to the faith of Peter. It is here that I think the document has the second surprise, this time one that might not be acceptable to many hard-line Catholic polemicists. It comes down conclusively on the Orthodox interpretation of these events: “In the early Church, both East and West, it was the succession of Peter’s faith that was of paramount importance” (paragraph 18). I know many Catholics who would challenge that claim.
But importantly, this section concludes with what I would say is the main theme of the document: that unity was preserved in the first millennium in spite of different understandings of the role of the Pope. “It is notable that these rather different understandings of the position of the bishop of Rome and the relationship of the major sees in West and East, respectively, based on quite different biblical, theological and canonical interpretations, co-existed for several centuries until the end of the first millennium, without causing a break of communion” (paragraph 22).
The role of the bishop of Rome at times of crisis in the ecclesial communion
There is little that is controversial in this third section. Mostly it notes that many appeals were made to Rome during the various crises of the first millennium. There is general agreement between both Western Christians and Eastern Christians that the Pope has a role as a court of appeal when a controversy extends outside the border of a diocese or patriarchy, but less agreement as to the exact nature of his authority in those situations. After recounting examples of these appeals, the document simply concludes this section, “It can be affirmed that in the first millennium the bishop of Rome, as first (protos) among the patriarchs, exercised a role of coordination and stability in questions relating to faith and communion, in fidelity to the tradition and with respect for conciliarity” (paragraph 28).
The influence of non–theological factors
The final section has a “tacked-on” feeling, as it simply lists, without comment, a number of non-theological factors in the divergent views of the role of the papacy. These factors are very important, but I imagine that the Committee felt that it would take them too far afield to explore them in any depth.
The document concludes by emphasizing its overall theme: unity existed even during times of widely divergent views on the papacy. As the document states, “Distinct divergences of understanding and interpretation did not prevent East and West from remaining in communion” (paragraph 32). It implies, “we didn’t really agree back then and we were still in communion, so what is stopping us now?”
Although the findings of the Committee are unofficial and hold no authoritative ecclesial weight, I do think this is an important document. I hope that it can set the tone in every level of discussions between Catholics and Orthodox. For too long apologists have mined the first millennium looking for “proofs” of their position, often at the expense of the subtleties of what really happened. The fact is that Eastern and Western Christians have never fully agreed on the role of the Pope within the Church, so to think we will come to complete agreement in the future is unrealistic. What we can hope for, however, is a level of agreement that, while appreciating legitimate differences, is compatible with full communion between the two great Churches.
Sts. Peter and Paul, pray for us!