Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Fr. Al Kimel on the 12 Differences between the Orthodox and the Catholic Churches

Folks, you all probably remember Fr. Al Kimel, legendary author of the blog Pontifications, an Anglican convert to the Catholic Church and currently a Catholic priest in New Jersey.  Well, the good father wanted to comment on my post on the Twelve Differences Between the Orthodox and the Catholic Churches, but his comments were too long for the comment field. He then sent his input to me which I am now reproducing for your reading pleasure. Folks, it is my distinct honor and pleasure to present to you Fr. Al Kimel:


Iconic engraving of the last Liturgy at Hagia Sophia, as two priests, one Latin, one Greek, flee with the Holy Eucharist to reappear again when Hagia Sophia becomes a Christian building again.Your list raises many questions for me.  My suspicion is that both the Latin and Eastern traditions are more diverse than is sometimes entertained.  Here are some brief thoughts and questions about each of the Twelve Differences:

1)  This seems accurate.  The Catholic Church, of course, makes a similar claim about herself.

2)  Is it true that the Orthodox Church rejects totally any understanding of ecclesial headship?  What about the bishop of a diocese?  Does he not wield and embody a divine authority given to him by Christ Jesus?  Is he not the head of his community, which precisely is the Church?  And when Catholics speak of the Pope as the earthly head of the Church, are they in any way denying that Christ alone is properly head of the Church?  When Catholics speak of the primacy of the Pope, are they exalting the Pope above the Episcopate, as if their power and authority derived from him?  And are Orthodox theologians incapable of entertaining an authentic primacy within the episcopal college for the bishop of Rome?  I refer folks to the collection of essays *The Petrine Ministry*, ed. Walter Cardinal Kasper, and Paul McPartlan, *The Eucharist Makes the Church*.  It is important to observe that the sobornost theory of Khomiakov, which has become so influential in some parts of diaspora Orthodoxy, is itself a matter of some controversy within Orthodoxy:  see, e.g., Stylianos Harkianakis, *The Infallibility of the Church in Orthodox Theology*. 

I am not denying that important ecclesiological differences may and perhaps do exist between the two communions, but it is not at all clear to me that they are accurately specified by a difference in "headship."  Both communions struggle to assert the hierarchical authority of bishops, while at the same time grounding this authority not in power but in eucharistic love and qualifying this authority by the coming Kingdom. 

3) This may be an accurate statement of a real difference, yet sometimes things are not as always as clear as they sometimes appear.  See, e.g., the Ravenna document:

4) This statement does not accurately represent the Catholic understanding of the Church.  The Catholic Church understands the Church precisely as a communion of particular Churches and local dioceses; moreover, the Church as the universal Church is not to be understood as simply the sum or collection of all particular Churches:  each diocese is itself a truly catholic body.  See *Lumen gentium* and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, *Called to Communion*.  Catholic ecclesiology is so much more complex and diverse than is sometimes appreciated.  

5) I think that most Orthodox theologians would agree with this.

6) Does this statement accurately represent consensual Orthodox opinion?  I know that some Orthodox theologians speak this way, but I am dubious that this view represents *the* Orthodox understanding of authority, particularly when Orthodox are talking, not to Catholics, but to each other, and especially when Orthodox bishops and priests are speaking to the Orthodox faithful.  On the Catholic side, on the other hand, all contemporary Catholic theologians seek to interpret authority and authority through Christ Jesus and the mutual love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Even the Pope, it is now commonly asserted, presides in charity and is the servant of the servants of God. 

7) I'm sure there are differences between Catholic construals of anthropology and Orthodox construals of anthropology (please note the plural); but I do not believe that this is because the Catholic Church authoritatively teaches a forensic imputation of original sin and the Orthodox Church does not.  Why do I say this?  Because it is not at all clear to me that the Catholic Church authoritatively teaches the *forensic* imputation of Adam's guilt to humanity.  I know that some (many?) Catholic theologians have sometimes taught something like this over the centuries, but the Catholic Church has strained over recent decades to clarify the meaning of Original Sin not as the forensic transfer of Adam's guilt but as the inheritance of the Adamic condition of real alienation from God--i.e., the absence of sanctifying grace.  Consider the catechetical teaching of John Paul II:

"In this context it is evident that original sin in Adamâ’s descendants does not have the character of personal guilt. It is the privation of sanctifying grace in a nature which has been diverted from its supernatural end through the fault of the first parents. It is a 'sin of nature,' only analogically comparable to 'personal sin.' In the state of original justice, before sin, sanctifying grace was like a supernatural 'endowment' of human nature. The loss of grace is contained in the inner 'logic' of sin, which is a rejection of the will of God, who bestows this gift. Sanctifying grace has ceased to constitute the supernatural enrichment of that nature which the first parents passed on to all their descendants in the state in which it existed when human generation began. Therefore man is conceived and born without sanctifying grace. It is precisely this 'initial state' of man, linked to his origin, that constitutes the essence of original sin as a legacy (peccatum originale originatum, as it is usually called)."

Important differences on the nature of original exist between St Augustine and magisterial Catholic teaching.  As influential as the bishop of Hippo has been, his positions have not been received uncritically or without correction.  For my own very fallible reflections on this question, see:  I would suggest that hyper-Augustinianism is not only impossible in Orthodoxy, but it is also impossible in contemporary Catholicism. 

8)  Once the Catholic understanding of Original Sin is properly clarified, then the differences between Catholics and Orthodox on the topic of the Blessed Virgin's Immaculate Conception narrows considerably.  What, after all, does the dogma positively assert?  Nothing more nor less than the full and perfect indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the soul of the Theotokos from the moment of her conception.  At no point in her existence was she ever separated from God.  Do Orthodox theologians really want to assert otherwise? 

9)  It is certainly true that the Divine Liturgy is decisive for Orthodox faith and life and "is the true locus of Orthodox unity"; but does this represent a critical difference between Orthodoxy and Catholicism?  The last time I checked going to Mass was still pretty important for Catholics, which is why the liturgy is such a battleground in the contemporary Catholic Church.  Certainly the fathers of Vatican II believed that the Eucharist is the true locus of Catholic unity (see Sacrosanctum Concilium). 

10) I agree here that there are important differences between Catholic and Orthodox liturgical praxis at the present time.  Sadly, many sectors of the Catholic Church appear to have uncritically embraced the thesis that the Church must adapt her liturgy to the spirit of the modern age.  This has been disastrous for Catholic life and spirituality.  One does see signs, however, that the insanity is passing. 

11) I guess there is a difference here, but is it really worth mentioning. 

12) The Catholic understanding of grace, sanctification, and glorification is inadequately presented in this statement.  While perhaps it might have been true at some point in the past that Catholic theologians tended to reduce grace to a created power, this cannot be asserted today.  Catholic theologians are quite clear that everything begins with and centers around Uncreated Grace.  Catholic theologians do have a problem with some of the Palamite construals of grace and the popular Orthodox rejection of any notion of created grace--they do not see how the Palamite position does not lead to the annihilation of human nature--but this does not mean that Catholic theologians and poets cannot envision an eschatological life as full and vivid as the Orthodox.  Surely Dante's Paradiso may be invoked at this point.  But I do acknowledge a difference of homiletical and ascetical emphasis between Catholics and Orthodox on theosis, sanctifying suffering, and the life of the resurrection.