The Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue: Where does it truly stand at present?

There have been several recent threads which, although only tangentially related to this subject, nonetheless have featured comment (ranging from factual to highly polemic) regarding both the status of ecumenical efforts toward reunion and, more profoundly, questioning the wisdom and necessity of ecumenism itself even in the context of dialogue among the Apostolic Churches.

In addition, there has been frequent mention of the role of the Eastern Catholic Churches, which is why I chose to post this here in the Eastern Catholic forum. While this is not meant to imply that the Eastern Catholic Churches are indeed the “bridge” to the East as often asserted (and refuted), the position of the ECCs within the Catholic Communion is essential to the dialogue and deserves careful consideration. None other than the eloquent Metropolitan Kallistos Ware speaks of this often, as he did near the beginning of this February 2010 speech on the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue.

With prayerful hope for open, honest and non-polemic discussion among the many knowledgeable and well-informed CAF contributors (Catholic, Orthodox and otherwise) this thread is intended to explore the current state of Orthodox-Catholic relations and progress toward meaningful reconciliation and reunion. Reference is made here at the onset to the work of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, which last met in September 2010 (some seven months or so after the referenced lecture of Metropolitan Kallistos), for a second plenary session dedicated to the subject of the “Role of the Bishop of Rome in the Communion of the Church in the First Millennium”.

As there has been a bit of a lull in the formal dialogue and not much mention out of Rome of late (or so it seems), this might be an opportune moment to reflect and share perspective from both sides.

Again, hoping to have a fact-based exchange from both perspectives.

The biggest question really is the role of the papacy but that is not the entirety of the issue. Even if that were to be solved by lunch today, there is still a long list of things we need to sort out between East and West. Wasn’t it also Met. Kallistos who said that the Catholic and Orthodox Church have grown ontollogically different over the last Millennium? If the ontology of East and West is indeed different, then union is near impossible.

That was actually Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew who said that.

In reality I don’t think it is any further along than just figuring out what each side really believes. The preliminary stages. I think we still have a long way to go before we can advance out of this stage.

I think that’s a fair way of putting it to an extent. As noted in the OP, the dialogue is up to the point of examining the role of the Bishop of Rome in the First Millenium. That would imply (without assurance or certainty) that the Commission feels that most theologial differences can be reconciled, as they have moved on to the first steps of evaluating what mostly all acknowledge is the real hurdle; namely, the Papacy.

Nearly two years have passed since the second of two plenary sessions devoted to the subject commenced, yet nothing official has come out on this subject. A draft document presented at the first of these sessions (2009, in Paphos, Cyprus) was leaked to the press by Chiesa, the Italian Catholic news service (link here). Reaction to the leaked document was mixed, and it was dismissed as a discussion draft.

Thus, the last significant statement of the Joint Commission was the Ravenna Document.

The “pause” if you will on this subject in particular is not at all surprising, yet I have not been able to find any information as to when the next plenary session may be held. Any clues?

As a conservative Lutheran, I find this concept fascinating. It occurs to me, that much of the debate regarding the role and authority of the Bishop of Rome precipitated the Great Schism of east and west, and continued to create schisms in the west up to and through the Reformation.

If the East and Rome could come to terms on this very substantive issue, it occurs to me, that we may find hope of healing the subsequent schisms of the west, as well.

Looking forward to hearing good news…

Yes, that language was contained in an address his All Holiness gave at Georgetown University 15 years ago. Without getting into the issue of whether it was properly understood at the time or whether the Ecumenical Patriarch changed his mind; here is an excerpt from his address in 2010 at the John Paul II Catholic University:

“Then, we recognize how the benefits of dialogue far outweigh the risks. We are convinced that, in spite of cultural, religious and racial differences, we are closer to one another than we could ever imagine.”

A reason for hope.

Indeed, and a lot has happened in those 15 years, including the renunciation of uniatism, which at the time was a major stumbling block to further progress.

Thanks for the link to the more recent address, which certainly provides ample support for cautious optimism.

Well, just how much “union” is necessary? What is it exactly that each side wants? I don’t mean in terms of concessions, I mean what is the union supposed to accomplish?

What is the union supposed to accomplish? Can it be accomplished without the Orthodox having to accept Papal supremacy? What would “union” have to look like to achieve the goal and is the goal even shared at this point?

Julia Mae - thanks for the post. It is taken for granted in the OP that unity is a desired goal, as it has been mutually recognized that unity is consistent with Christ’s wish for His own Church. I started this thread really with two ideas in mind: (i) to foster understanding of the current status of the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue, ongoing for over three decades now, and (ii) to share fact-based observations on the current status of that dialogue.

No one truly knows what is expected, or rather, how it might work. In that regard, at least one working group of Orthodox and Catholic Christians have put forth a set of ideas, based on their own efforts: Steps Towards A Reunited Church: A Sketch Of An Orthodox-Catholic Vision For The Future (October 2010)

This might give you some idea, at least in terms of what this group (The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation) has proposed. It’s a pretty quick read.

Okay, I think it was you who have cited it in other threads and I’ve read it. Here is the Prologue:

  1. *Prologue. *For almost forty-five years, the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation has been meeting regularly to discuss some of the major pastoral and doctrinal issues that prevent our Churches from sharing a single life of faith, sacraments, and witness before the world. Our goal has been to pave the way towards sharing fully in Eucharistic communion through recognizing and accepting each other as integral parts of the Church founded by Jesus Christ.

For the sake of your thread and the discussion you want, it seems to me we cannot figure out where we are at until we know where we want to go. So, can we start by agreeing with the goals in this prologue? Is this what we all want:

…sharing fully in Eucharistic communion through recognizing and accepting each other as integral parts of the Church founded by Jesus Christ.

It’s clever that you say that, because that seems to be the challenge behind the challenge (and infers a bit of circular logic that exists, yet needs to be overcome).

You quote the document well in that regard, focusing on the phrase “sharing fully in Eucharistic communion”. This implies (from Orthodox speak) changes in ecclesiastical structures on both sides, Catholic and Orthodox, to conform to more of a first millenial model but in modern context. It’s likely not simply a matter of “diluting” the Papacy - it is suggested that the notion of “local churches” would have to be re-examined, as well.

I like it.

I think figuring out the the practical ways of realizing the primacy is actually an easier job than what I feel really separates us - the THEOLOGICAL foundations of the primacy.

As Catholics, we believe primacy is not only a canonical prerogative (which EO easily recognize), but a divine prerogative as well with its basis - theologically speaking - in the establishment of Christ Himself. This is, btw, a perspective shared by the Churches of the Syriac Tradition as well, not just the Catholic Church.

Can Eastern Orthodox admit that the reality of primacy in the Church has a divine foundation? I think that is the main question. We can discuss particulars of its manner of exercise afterwards.

(As an aside, I do believe the issue of infallibility will be easy enough to solve, once we can all agree that “papal infallibility” is simply the infallibility of the Church exercised in a unique and necessary [albeit rare] way. The Catholic Church has never taught that only one man is infallible, which is the usual misunderstanding of the Catholic doctrine)


No it is not. Pastor Aeternus ends (or the penultimate sentence) with the following text:

Therefore, such definitions of the Roman pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the church, irreformable.

Obviously the Pope’s pronouncements are by the nature of his charism as heir to the throne of St. Peter, and not because he speaks in behalf of the Church. So the infallibility of the Pope is not the infallibility of the Church, but rather the infallibility of the office he occupies and is possessed by him alone.

And if you use the Catholic argument about the keys to defend infallibility, where is it that the keys were given to the Church and not to Peter himself? No, the keys were given to the person of Peter, not the Church. If infallbility is inherent with the Church and not just the Pope, then every bishop should be able to speak ex cathedra.

Actually the interpretation of that phrase is more nuanced than you give it credit. The Relatio by Gasser as spokesman of the Deputation that wrote the formula of infallibility at Vatican I - given before the Council Fathers voted - and therefore expressing what the Deputation meant when it used the particular language it chose, is instructive. Bishop Vincent Gasser, in his famous defense of papal infallibility (the Relatio) at the First Vatican Council, discussed the aspects of collegiality and community as follows:

"We do defend the infallibility of the person of the Roman Pontiff, not as an individual person but as the person of the Roman Pontiff or a public person, that is, as head of the Church in his relation to the Church Universal . . .

We do not exclude the cooperation of the Church because the infallibility of the Roman Pontiff does not come to him in the manner of inspiration or of revelation but through a divine assistance. Therefore, the Pope, by reason of his office and the gravity of the matter, is held to use the means suitable for properly discerning and aptly enunciating the truth. These means are councils, or the advice of the bishops, cardinals, theologians, etc. Indeed the means are diverse according to the diversity of situations, and we should piously believe that, in the divine assistance promised to Peter and his successors by Christ, there is simultaneously contained a promise about the means which are necessary and suitable to make an infallible pontifical judgment.

**Finally we do not separate the Pope, even minimally, from the consent of the Church, as long as that consent is not laid down as a condition which is either antecedent or consequent. We are not able to separate the Pope from the consent of the Church because this consent is never able to be lacking to him. Indeed, since we believe that the Pope is infallible through the divine assistance, by that very fact we also believe that the assent of the Church will not be lacking to his definitions since it is not able to happen that the body of bishops be separated from its head, and since the Church universal is not able to fail. **(11)" emphasis added
Here is a site for the Relatio

Yes, we do not separate the Pope from the Church. The problem is that when the Pope speaks unilaterally, we believe he speaks for the entire Church. This will never be accepted by the Orthodox. We believe that the Pope is the Church in the sense that lack of communion with him is to be outside the Church. So the dilemma remains the same.

That is a major issue. Talking to lay Catholics I’ve found that how Orthodox and how Catholics envision union is very different - meaning we’re talking about two very different things. I’ve never looked in to what the Catholic Hierarchy is actually looking for, but from the few things I’ve read it is the same sort of thing the laity see.

Obviously you are misinterpreting that because the dogma itself states right before that excerpt you quoted that the infallibility exercised by the Pope is simply “that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed His Church to be endowed.” Your interpretation that it is something other than the infallibility of the Church, or apart from the Church is not in line with the dogmatic Decree itself nor of the intentions of the Fathers who wrote the Decree.

And if you use the Catholic argument about the keys to defend infallibility, where is it that the keys were given to the Church and not to Peter himself? No, the keys were given to the person of Peter, not the Church. If infallbility is inherent with the Church and not just the Pope, then every bishop should be able to speak ex cathedra.

I’m not sure where you are getting your information. I don’t know of any official Catholic sources which attach the keys to the charism of infallibility (the keys are normally attached to the prerogative of Primacy). But I have read confused non-Catholic arguments that make that connection between the keys and infallibility. Maybe you are reading non-Catholic sources for your information about the Catholic Faith?

But I don’t want to derail this thread to a theoretical/theological discussion on the infallibility.


Perhaps to a certain and disturbingly high level on the Catholic side, that is true, yet the current Pontiff and his predecessor of blessed memory have expressed sentiments otherwise and clearly indicated a willingness to consider the matter with open minds and hearts. I admittedly wonder from time to time whether or not that will carry over into the next Papacy, and could not honestly discount that concern.

We’ve all heard versions of what you are saying. To paraphrase, the standing presumption with respect to the lay Catholic view is that the Orthodox simply agree to submit to the Pope and all will be just as well, with no difference to them (other than perhaps there being more “Eastern Catholic Churches”). The standing presumption of the lay Orthodox view is that the Pope will become Patriarch of Rome and primus inter pares, and all will be just fine as long as the Churches can be equal yet separate, with no difference to them.

Yet, both presumptions completely disregard the true meaning of Communion. I do think based on all that we can see from the publicly disclosed work of the Joint Commission that Church leaders on both sides clearly recognize this.

Excellent post… :thumbsup:

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