Father Louis Bouyer (1913-2004) was one of the most respected theologians of the 20th century. Born in France, Bouyer was a Lutheran minister who converted to Catholicism. He was a member of the Oratorians in France, he authored many major theological works, and his ideas contributed greatly to the Second Vatican Council. His other works include The Word, Church and Sacrament in Protestantism and Catholicism and Newman: An Intellectual & Spiritual Biography of John Henry Newman. A post [reading selection] on PayingAttentiontotheSky from the latter work is here. Note that part 2 follows the part1post.
We have not yet come to the most serious stigma in the body of Christ the sin of its members, including (perhaps above all) the sin of her visible leaders. Accordingly, we want to speak about the present division of the People of God.
It is important to differentiate carefully between “schisms” and “heresies”, inevitable accompaniments of the development of the Church, which essentially are not sins of Church members, who remain with her, but of unfaithful members who separate themselves from her and from the majority of divisions that afflict the People of God at present. These divisions are the result of sins, and persistent sins, of supposedly faithful members, and particularly of responsible leaders in the Church.
This is why all attempts at Catholic ecumenism, however well intentioned, that are meted to proposing radical change in the Church’s attitude toward schisms and heresies are irreconcilable with Catholic tradition, starting with the New Testament, and especially St. Paul and St. John. It must be said that ecumenists put aside the question and, despite generous plans, misconstrue the positive value of Protestantism, to say nothing of Eastern Orthodoxy. The Orthodox are not in general schismatics, nor are the Protestants agile heretics, like Valentinus or Arius. To ignore this, while working (our purpose also) to make rapprochement easier, is not to see the real question. We are sorry to point out such an error, even with an author so open to Protestantism as H. Kung. Cf. The Church, 42ff.]
Certainly, the distinction is not always easy to make in practice. It can even be supposed that no or scarcely any schisms or heresies could have developed without the presumed or actual existence of culpable inadequacies in faithful (or supposedly faithful) Christians, and especially in their leaders. For example, deeper Christian reflection in the early Church might have prevented, or at least considerably limited, the Gnostic and, later, the Arian crises.
Yet these crises lasted for one or two generations because churchmen did not more forcefully reassert the truths misunderstood by the Gnostics and the Arians, although they were able to understand the gravity of the problems the latter had posed and poorly resolved, and to give them satisfactory solutions. The misunderstandings were soon clarified, and all that remained of these ancient heresies was their errors, and all men of good faith rapidly abandoned them, so that they were extinguished “automatically”.
Nothing like this followed the schism between the Church of the East and the Church of the West, nor even the proliferation of undeniable heresies in which, later, the Protestant movement became involved, dividing itself against itself as well as from the Church. Of course, the problems in these latter cases were not so simple as the problems in the former; but are we right in thinking that, in such a situation, the initial faults must have been widely shared on both sides for there to have been no conciliation, after so many centuries? In the Church herself, did the faithful and their pastors not know how, or not want, to correct their faults?
This suspicion becomes a certainty when we observe that those who separated from us, and remain separated, have produced results of undeniable holiness. They are quite capable of positive missionary endeavor. In fact, they continue to develop essential elements of the Catholic tradition which today, with Catholics themselves, have only a dwarfish existence or a barely visible survival. In such cases, it is clear that comparison of the schismatic or the heretic with a detached branch of the trunk condemned to swift death if its connection with the stock is not quickly restored (as verified in the schisms and heresies of antiquity, and in others since), has no or hardly any application. It must be acknowledged that even the possibility of such a situation poses a problem that menaces the faith.
Could it be possible, then, that the Church that Christ establishes unity, as his own body, in which his Spirit lives and to which he assured survival until his return, might be fallen from this unity? But this unity is so constitutive that to say that the Church has ceased to be one, to be the one Church of Jesus Christ, would come down to saying there is no longer any Church in the New Testament sense and that Jesus’ work in history has therefore failed. If this were the case, not only would there no longer be a Christian Church, a Catholic Church that is worthy of name; we would have to say that there never will be any. For if the Church founded by Christ fails, if her very existence ceases, no one other than Jesus Christ, returning into our history before his time (which seems unthinkable), could resurrect her.
Consequently, we must believe that, despite all contestations, the Church still subsists, is still one and unique. That she could subsist in a series of social bodies, independent and different from one another, and even in endemic conflict, is absolutely contrary to the vision of the New Testament and the ancient Church. The contrary idea, that, whatever her vicissitudes, there is not and will never be but one Church of Jesus Christ, is therefore essential (and rightly so) to Catholic tradition. It is no less essential to Orthodox tradition. Neither, without denying themselves, could abandon it.
Orthodox and Catholics
It is precisely here that the first major difficulty arises — the first and perhaps the greatest scandal for the faith. On first sight, there are two Churches: the Catholic Church, whose distinctive sign is communion with the successor of Peter, and the Orthodox Church, which no longer has (or seems to have) this communion. But each claims for itself, in equally exclusive fashion, this identification with the una, sancta, catholica, which both confess in the same Credo.
It would seem that one or the other might be right, but not both at the same time. After so many centuries, their apparent incapacity to reconcile themselves may suggest that one or the other is in error and that the una, sancta, catholica has simply disappeared from earth.
This is the greatest scandal given by members of the Church, by men of the Church”, charged with the highest responsibilities, so that it becomes very difficult for the faith itself not to see this scandal of the Church, her preeminent scandal: the Church teaching her unity as the greatest gift of God but, in fact, seeming to be divided (against God’s will).
There seems to be only one answer: the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church, though dreadfully tempted by the spirit of division, remain one Church, in fact and by right, despite contrary appearances. This is verified by the most thorough historical investigation of this problem, however painful it may be. In fact, neither the conflict and reciprocal excommunications of the patriarch Michael Cerularius and Cardinal Humbert, nor the scandalous Crusade, redirected toward Constantinople, and its consequences, nor even the fruitless attempts at reconciliation at Lyon and Florence, which merely embittered the oppositions, suspended all communion between the Church of the East and the Church of the West.
To the end of the eighteenth century, limited incidents of inter-communion between the two Churches are innumerable. Not only (as a general rule) were all baptized and communicating members of one received in the other on the same basis, without abjuration, but priests and even bishops passed from one to the other or, more exactly, occasionally “moved through” both without encountering major difficulties. However violent and acrimonious the polemics, they were only disputes of particularly spirited schools, and not necessarily more spirited than those that occasionally arose among Easterners or Westerners themselves, without in break in communion as the result.
The policy among the great sees of Christendom, despite spasmodic outbursts of violent reproaches (though not one of them seemed to justify a schism), was to ignore one another absolutely in mutual embarrassment, rather than to condemn one another absolutely. In fact, at least per conniventiam, Rome — like Constantinople and Moscow — did not concern itself with preventing communion, which remained the rule where there was untroubled opportunity to meet and cooperate.
Not until the beginning of the nineteenth century did Latin missionaries, moved by unfortunate zeal, take it into their heads to apply to Orientals the canons decreed by Trent against Protestants, and, through a regrettable but understandable twist, that Orientals (particularly Greeks in permanent conflict with Latins in the islands of the Peloponnesus or elsewhere) did the same.
On both sides, then, people developed outrageous practices, such as repetition of baptism or ordination, in certain cases of contact. Also on both sides, theologians for the first time treated not only bishops or theologians of the other side as schismatics, but the totality of the two blocs, accusing each other of heresies with a systematization unknown until then (except in brief and local flushes of intolerance).
To all of these procedures and to those responsible for them, we must apply Christ’s prayer: “Father, forgive them, for they know not they do!” If their sly maneuvers made any sense, it could only be rejection of the Church they defended, as well as the one they attacked, as schismatic or heretical. For all these wretched polemics suppose, on both sides, a confusion of tradition, whether Catholic or Orthodox, with an artificial partisanship that, for this very reason, is adulterated, which is precisely the process whereby people normally go from schism into formal heresy. The primary question, then, is: How did we arrive at a situation as deplorable as it is absurd? Obviously, once this question has been answer complementary question can be broached: How are we to get out of it?
What is primarily responsible for preventing the East from returning to full and lasting communion with the Christian West is this hypertrophy and, consequently, this deformation of authority we have analyzed. However, what obliges us to acknowledge that responsibilities for the division are shared on both sides is the undeniable fact that Church authority in the West involved itself in a near-fatal evolution from a healthy and originally necessary reaction against encroachments of the supposedly Christian empire on the Church, of the secular authority on the ecclesiastical authority, to which, on the whole, the East became too easily resigned.
On the other hand, it is only right to acknowledge that if the endeavors of ancient popes, such as St. Leo and St. Gregory the Great, to regain or defend the independence of the Church, were in principle unassailable and, in fact, were never assailed in the East, bishops of the East, such as St. Basil and St. John Chrysostom, were never less clear or less courageous for the same cause. Consequently, in this conflict the de facto failings (in the opposing sense) of both East and West were never improperly canonized. At the time when the first conflicts threatened, the Byzantine doctrine of the Epanagogē was firmly articulated (as we have seen) with the doctrine uttered by Pope Gelasius. Even long after the apparently consummated division, the episcopate of the East, even when subjugated by basileus or tsar, never made a dogma of this situation — any more than Boniface VIII dared do with the more than doubtful vision that the famous bull, Unam Sanctam, proposed for relations between the two authorities. For a stronger reason, the Christian West, in its totality, was far from making such a view its own.
It is true, however, that alienation of the apostolic authority in the East, in contrast with its cancerous development in the West, permitted the liturgical function, more than the function of the magisterium (threatened, along with authority itself, with being taken over by the secular power), an autonomous development which was not entirely beneficial. Orthodoxy became, or aspired to become, “heaven on earth” — above all, if not exclusively, in liturgical and sacramental celebration.
Without doubt, this celebration retained substantial richness, and even had lasting and fecund developments, which had scarcely any equivalents in the West, where, as we have seen, the-aggrandizement of authority tended to reduce worship to a court ceremonial. Tending to develop more and more outside real life (monastic life apart), the liturgy in the East, instead of remaining in this sacramental world (which should be intermediary between the eschatological world of the risen Christ and the concrete universe of our daily life), would, always be tempted to become a world in itself — a dream world enclosed within itself — wishing to substitute itself for the real world but without the power to do so; indeed, concealing its reality, which has remained in great part pagan. Undoubtedly, as their best modern thinkers are the first to acknowledge, this was the major sin of the Orthodox as the major sin of Catholics of the West was their clerical imperialism.
Thus a twofold orbit was accentuated in the life of the Church and determined, over the course of centuries, a de facto separation, tending more and more to opposition in principle between Christian realities should be conjoined in unity.
Confusing the papal function with its exercise or its more or less excessive theoretical justifications, the East, unlike the West, never developed its whole significance, implied in the deeds and texts of the New Testament and the early Church. What is worse, the East tends, if not to reduce its import unduly, to forget the attestations of its own past. Reciprocally, the West neglected and more and more misunderstood the irreplaceable value of the traditions it received from the Fathers and the Church of the East; and in believing it could build itself independently of this heritage, it unconsciously risked cutting itself off from its roots.
Thus, on both sides, undue identification of the truth as Catholic Orthodox became dangerously confused with a merely partial form of its expression and with cultural nationalism: Orthodoxy and Byzantinism Catholicism and Latinism (or, later, Romanism).
Today, the first remedy to this situation, now that sufficient historical awareness of these errors (which are above all, moral faults) has been assumed or is in process of being assumed on both sides, is escape from religious nationalism and the unilateralism it crystallized. Finally, it would be necessary to deny the obvious negation of “catholicity”, of sobornost; (to use a term the modern Orthodox have developed, often fortuitously). Beginning with this, rediscovery and reestablishment of full unity would become possible on both sides, or rather in common.
Recuperation of doctrinal harmony in the apostolic ministry between its function of pastoral authority and its liturgical function, would come about in common renewal of its magisterium. However, renewal of two inseparable units of the Church, finally coming together, could happen open only in symphony with a common rebirth of living witness to the truth of love by the entire (now fraternal) life of all Christians, Orthodox and Catholic.
Then, the unity of the Church Catholic and Orthodox — which we believe has never ceased, though many clouds have obscured. it — would reappear. Reappearing, she would immediately flourish and fructify in the special manifestation of charity and holiness that the modern world expects from the Church of Christ, which she will never bring it so long as this basic reunion is not effected.