Saturday, March 03, 2007

Mad Monks and Cardinals: When Sobriety is Abandoned Ecumenism Suffers

Two stories this week show that the cause of ecumenism is not universally embraced (in case you didn't know): John Allen's report on the declaration of the Mt Athos Monks against Orthodoxy's involvement in ecumenism, and Cardinal Biffi's "reflections" for the Pope's Lenten Retreat. The net result of both these stories is that I was inundated with cat-calls of "Anti-Christ!" everywhere I went in the Archdiocesan offices on Friday!

The monks of Mt Athos are universally recognised to be quite mad, but in this case, they are at least in part, spot on in two of their criticisms:

1) That (from the Orthodox perspective) the Pope ought not to be received by Orthodox Patriarchs "as though he were a canonical bishop of Rome", since "only Orthodox prelates carry legitimate episcopal authority". This follows from the fact that although the Catholic Church acknowledges the canonical validity of the bishops of the Orthodox Churches, the Orthodox Churches have not altered their negative judgement on the canonical validity of the Catholic episcopate.

2) That Orthodox Churches ought not to be using the term “Sister Churches” in the context of Orthodox/Catholic relations, since “‘Sister churches’ are only the local Orthodox Churches sharing the same faith.” Here they are in complete agreement with Mons. Garuti, whose essay on the use of the term "Sister Churches" is appended to his book "The Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and the Ecumenical Dialogue". I have discussed this elsewhere. What needs to be said at this point is that, although for different reasons, both Orthodox and Catholic theologians are uneasy with the use of the term "Sister Churches" in theologically unhelpful ways.

Thus, although they could have made their statements with a little more Christian charity, these rather bad tempered statements about ecclesiology on the part of the monks of Mt Athos actually do us all a favour. They tell us to take a deep breath and be a little bit patient in regard to prospects for Catholic / Orthodox unity. Of course, with regard to their historical grievances ("the Crusades, the Inquisition, the slave trade and colonialism"), they are completely mad. They may once have been justified in resenting the West for these various attrocities, but the West has repented and done penance for all them them, and it reasonable that the Orthodox Churches should find it in their Christian hearts to extend the grace of absolution.

Now we come to Cardinal Biffi. For a bit of background on the Cardinal, see Cooees from the Cloister. True to form, he is on about the Anti-Christ again. He quotes a passage about "tiny groups of Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants" being "chased by the AntiChrist", in a passage from the work of Vladimir Solovyev, a 19th-century Russian philosopher, which sounds very similar to the stuff of the "Left Behind" series.

But he also claims that the AntiChirst will be "a pacifist, ecologist and ecumenist". Curious, because if these causes are in fact "anti-Christ", that would make Christ a promoter of violence, an exploiter of his Father's creation, and a lover of disunity among his people.

I actually agree with the Cardinal when he says that "today, in fact, we run the risk of having a Christianity that puts Jesus with his cross and resurrection into parentheses", I certainly support him in his insistence that "Christ is the truth, beauty and justice". He is also right in saying that an error is committed when one absolutises "solidarity, love for peace and respect for nature", rather than seeing them as "relative" values in the light of the Resurrection of Christ. BUT he errs if he sees these values to be at odds with the Evangelical proclamation of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. It is, rather, because of the Resurrection that Christians are committed to peace, environmental stewardship and unity between all the baptised.


At Sunday, March 04, 2007 2:02:00 am , Blogger melancholy pot plant said...

I don’t believe the Cardinal’s assertion can be so easily dismissed. His Eminence did not say the causes are anti-Christ. Rather, he spoke of characteristics of the Antichrist – i.e. that he embraces certain ideologies: "the Antichrist presents himself as a pacifist, ecologist and ecumenist." They are not the same thing. If he had said, "the Antichrist presents himself as a Christian", that would not make Christianity anti-Christ. Yet it is not out of the question that the Antichrist will claim to be a Christian. Likewise (though not in reference to an ideology, but characteristics nonetheless) if he had said, "the Antichrist presents himself as highly intelligent and charismatic", that would not make intelligence or charisma anti-Christ, or Christ a promoter of foolishness and dullness.

There is a distinction between the terms "Antichrist" and "anti-Christ", as you use them. I would say the first is a proper noun, referring to a specific person – "the Antichrist"; the second is an adjective – "if these causes are in fact "anti-Christ"." Using them interchangeably is equivocation and will lead to confusion.

At Sunday, March 04, 2007 2:43:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Yeah, on the reasonableness of Cardinal Biffo's statements, you have persuaded me, MPP. You are right to emphasise that the Cardinal wrote "presents himself", rather than (as I read it) "is". Indeed, the antiChrist will quite likely present himself as Christian, as you say.

With regard to the the adjective and the pronoun, the scriptures only use the noun, but it presupposes the adjective. The Antichrist is, by definition, anti-Christ, and thus so are his motives.

Furthermore, it is an error to try to identify ONE historical antiChrist. The "antiChrist" is mutliply manifested, even as 2 John 7 makes clear. We should therefore always be on the look out for "AntiChrist" in our own day, without making a definitive definition that would prevent us from being on the lookout for AntiChrist in other manifestations.

For instance, Luther in his day identified the AntiChrist with the pope. Given what we know of the papacy in his day, we can perhaps excuse him for this mistake. But many of his followers continue to assert that the Pope is antiChrist even while in everyway the evidence contradicts this assertion.

This is the danger of using a 19th Century philosopher to identify the AntiChrist. I think it would have been a good thing for these reflections to have remained private rather than reported in a bits and pieces mode where the whole context of Biffi's statement cannot be appreciated.

At Monday, March 05, 2007 8:26:00 pm , Blogger Mild Colonial Boy, Esq. said...

David Schütz said:
"For instance, Luther in his day identified the AntiChrist with the pope. Given what we know of the papacy in his day, we can perhaps excuse him for this mistake. But many of his followers continue to assert that the Pope is antiChrist even while in everyway the evidence contradicts this assertion."

What evidence contradicts this? The previous Bishop of Rome kissed the Koran and the latest one prayed in a Mosque towards the idols in Mecca. Christians in the past have martyred themselves before making gestures such as these which will be interpreted as Christian weakness and subservience to the claims of Mohammadism.

I don't see that there has been any essential changes that disprove the statements made by Luther and maintained by confessional Lutheran Churches such as the AELC (quoted here) and WELS (in more detail here).

At Monday, March 05, 2007 9:37:00 pm , Blogger melancholy pot plant said...

I don’t think any answer to your question will satisfy you, because your problems with the Catholic Church run a lot deeper than the fact of the Pope kissing the Koran.

The AELC link you provided refers to “the Roman papacy, whose blasphemous errors, such as the anathema against justification by faith alone without works of love, the sacrifice of the mass, and the dogma of papal infallibility, represent a fearful “falling away” from the Christian faith.” So it appears that you have many more reasons for believing the Pope is the Antichrist. I suspect they would each need to be dealt with before you would reject that conclusion.

Pardon the crude analogy, but it is somewhat like a lesbian abortionist saying she wouldn't become a Catholic because she doesn't like the fact that the Church opposes euthanasia.

At Tuesday, March 06, 2007 8:58:00 am , Blogger Schütz said...

Dear MPP,

What a hoot! I laughed and laughed at the last analogy! Good for one's health.

Dear MCB,

As I have pointed out to our readers before, you belong to a rather extreme form of conservative Lutheranism that (admirably, perhaps) sticks to its 16th Century statements like velcro. None-the-less, the world out there is not the 16th Century anymore, but the 21st.

Unlike the AELC or WELS, the Lutheran Church of Australia has recognised this (perhaps to subtle for some) change in the historical milieu, and adjusted their fulminations against the Bishop of Rome accordingly. Readers might want to have a look at the 1952 statement on the Antichrist by the two former Lutheran Churches preparing for the 1966 union which gave us the current LCA and the more recent LCA statement "Is the Pope the Antichrist?".

The former statement, while affirming the 16th Century condemnations, does make the statement that "The Church cannot definitely state how and in what form the prophecy on Antichrist may still be fulfilled
in the future in the Papacy
and elsewhere." This seems to have been considered by the 1993/2001 statement which says: "The Lutheran Church of Australia cannot continue to affirm at this time that the Roman papacy bears the distinguishing features of the Antichrist. We dialogue with Roman Catholics as with brothers and sisters in the faith; we certainly do not regard them as people under the authority and spirit of Antichrist."

The main evidence I bring to the table for the fact that the Pope is not the Antichrist is this: The two popes I have known and studied most in my life, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have fearlessly and clearly proclaimed and taught the Gospel of Life in the face of the tremendous diabolical culture of death that threatens the whole of humanity. While the AELC and WELS has been sitting on its 16th Century principles like the servant in the parable who buried his talent, the Holy Roman Pontiffs have truly shown themselves to be the Vicars of Christ by their tireless evangelisation in fulfillment of the Great Commission.


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