Category Archives: Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations

Catholic Colonialism and Its Subaltern Celibates

by A. A. J. DeVille

Cover, From the Depths of Our Hearts

In researching my book Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power, which features extensive discussion of Orthodox and Anglican ecclesial structures, I came across a curious tranche of letters and legislative documents from Anglican churchmen in my native Canada in the pre-confederation period. In the 1850s, these men, having tasted freedom in the colonies, found it de trop and began writing to London begging the mother of Parliaments to centralize all nascent Anglican structures throughout the empire and to severely restrict any local powers that were then emerging, including the power of local synods to elect their own bishops rather than having one appointed by the Crown and sent from England. A series of bills putting these restrictions into effect came before Westminster but were—mirabile dictu—ultimately voted down, leaving the locals free once more to design a system of synodal election and accountability in the Diocese of Huron (the Anglican jurisdiction in southwestern Ontario where I grew up) that was utterly novel at the time, but is now normative throughout most of the Anglican Communion.

Many of us might find the request of proto-Canadian Anglicans to be ruled yet more strictly by England very strange indeed. And yet as scholars working in the areas of colonial theory and Christianity, including George Demacopoulos and Daniel Galadza, have recently shown, this is not nearly so odd nor so rare as we might expect. Sometimes the subaltern becomes an uber-imperialist. Continue reading

How Catholics Have Always Believed and Taught Deification

by Jared Ortiz

Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox all have an unfortunate habit of thinking that deification is somehow the exclusive provenance of the Orthodox. This claim is unfortunate not only because it has no basis in reality, but because it blinds us to the riches to be discovered in the tradition and because it slows down ecumenical progress.

The Reformed theologian Carl Mosser has done the most interesting work on how we all came to adopt such an odd prejudice (see his essay here). The details are too complicated for a short post, but let me summarize briefly.  Many people know that Adolf von Harnack, the great Protestant historian of dogma at the turn of the twentieth century, proposed a theory about the development of Christian doctrine which cast the tradition primarily as one of decline. Starting from the simple moral teachings of Christ, Christian doctrine became corrupted due to the pernicious influence of Greek philosophy. What many people don’t know is that Harnack argued that the main culprit in this decline was the doctrine of deification which early Greek Christians imported from the pagans.  While the west was only mildly infected with this doctrine, it became, he claimed, the defining feature of eastern Christianity. Continue reading

Pope Francis’s Relic Diplomacy

by George Demacopoulos

In June of 594, Pope Gregory the Great received a letter from Constantina, the empress, asking him to send the head of St. Paul to Constantinople so that she and others might benefit from venerating the bodily remains of such a great saint. St. Gregory denied the request, noting that it was not the custom of the Roman Church to dismember the bones of the saints.

A great deal has happened between Rome and Constantinople since the sixth century, but Pope Francis’s decision last week to send the Ecumenical Patriarch an actual portion of the body of St. Peter should be understood as nothing short of remarkable. More than anything else, it is a clear indication of the pontiff’s desire to advance the cause of Christian unity.

A point of clarification might help to demonstrate why Francis’s gift is both so unprecedented and significant. Continue reading

Engaging Orthodox Theology

by Robert Saler

Metropolitan Cathedral in Iasi, Romania

There are two dangers that Western theologians such as myself face when engaging  Eastern orthodox theology: exoticism and over-familiarity. My ongoing work as a Lutheran ecumenical observer at the International Orthodox Theological Association (first at its initial planning meeting in Jerusalem, and then recently at the full conference in Iasi, Romania) has given me occasion to ponder both extremes.

Exoticism in general can take on flattering aspects—“Easterners can solve Western theological problems if we just import their way of thinking”—or unflattering ones (“the Orthodox don’t do systematic theology; they are focused instead solely on mysticism”). The Western theological imagination has a tendency to freeze Orthodox theology in stasis for a host of reasons. Western theological conservatives may look to Orthodoxy as a bulwark against perceived creeping liberalism (particularly on culture war issues) in their own traditions. Western progressives, meanwhile, may celebrate Orthodoxy’s historic lack of biblical literalism (in the modern sense) or what they take to be its emphasis upon individual spiritual struggle over against centralized magisterial authority. The list of oversimplifications (all of which depend upon treating “Orthodoxy” as a static monolith) goes on, and a useful tonic for all of them is to witness contemporary Orthodox theology in all of its dynamicity.

This was certainly my experience at IOTA.  Continue reading