Note Originally to Roman Catholics on Restoring Communion with Non-Canonical Ex-Orthodox

Surgeon General's Warning

Roman Catholic readers are asked to seriously consider hitting the "Back" button and not reading further than this warning.

This piece is being kept online for the benefit of Orthodox readers.

Rome's position is that Rome and Orthodoxy agree on all essentials needed for appropriate reunion. Orthodoxy's position is that there are unresolved essential differences which need to be addressed before appropriate reunion. This piece is intended to articulate several (not all) of unresolved essential differences in response to Roman communication that acknowledged no genuine Orthodox objection to Roman ecumenism. It remains posted because it may be helpful for Orthodox who are searching for why Orthodoxy disagrees with Rome and Roman ecumenism. Its closest predecessor has been flamed by Romans, interpreted as unprovoked hostility, and interpreted as clueless terms of cooperation with Roman ecumenism. Orthodox are edified by it; Romans aren't.

You have been warned.

I will briefly make some assertions without backing up crucial assertions, for the simple reason that I do not want to increase the guilt of Romans who read this article and reject it.

T-Shirt: ":Roman Catholic in Communion with the Archdruid of Canterbury"

I would compare the assertion that Rome may on Pascha 2024 anathematize the Filioque clause and restore communion with the Orthodox Church. I might compare this to Anglicans announcing that they will restore communion with Rome, when what that means is that they will restore communion with Catholics for a Free Choice, or for that matter that they have already restored communion with Old Catholics.

What Rome may be restoring communion with is a non-canonical group that is out of communion with the Orthodox Church. It has swept some apostate bishops and their flocks, but this is like the dragon sweeping a third of the stars down from Heaven.

The Filioque clause is not the only barrier to doctrinally appropriate restoration of communion with Rome. Rome has developed other doctrinal heresies after separating itself from the Orthodox Church, and these are believed to survive Pascha 2024. Some related issues include:

  1. The Roman placement of Thomas Aquinas among the most central Doctors of the Church is problematic because Thomas Aquinas is problematic (and also because systematic theology is problematic). In some sense asking Orthodox to accept Thomas's Scholasticism is something like asking Rome to remain Roman but accept intercommunion with people who place Radical Reformers like Zwingli as a central Doctor of the Church.

  2. The doctrine of papal infallibility, even when clarified to mean that Rome will never put its fullest weight behind an error, is problematic to Orthodox.

  3. The place of the Pope, whom Orthodox regard as being offered primacy but having demanded supremacy, is problematic to Orthodox.

  4. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is anathema to Orthodox.

  5. Modern Catholic social teaching is stranger next to Orthodox theology than Thomist Scholasticism.

  6. Rome is willing to be in communion with liberal Catholic dissent that Orthodoxy is not comfortable being in communion with, and Rome is comfortable asking Orthodoxy to accept being in communion with Rome's Left Coast.

  7. Regarding the question of whether Grace is created or uncreated, the Orthodox doctrine is that grace is uncreated, period. I am not completely sure whether Rome allows people a choice between believing Grace is created or uncreated, or requires people to believe Grace is created, but either of those options undermines a doctrine associated with one of our most beloved saints, St. Gregory Palamas.

This list is not exhaustive. Rome has developed several points of doctrine that are incompatible with Orthodoxy, and my experience has been that when a Roman tells me, "We've been a bit daft, but now Rome is getting our act together," the English translation is, "Rome is in the process of severing one more continuity with Orthodoxy."

I have read in various Roman publications something like this:

  1. Orthodox believe Rome has valid orders.

  2. Orthodox believe Rome has valid sacraments.

  3. Orthodox don't care about reunion.

I have only seen Orthodox raise the question once every several years about whether Rome has valid orders and valid sacraments. It is not ordinarily a "top of mind" question to Orthodox in evaluating Rome, and among people who have raised the question, some vehemently deny that Rome has valid orders or valid sacraments.

What I have never once seen in Romans seeking reunion, outside one hotheaded flame that bitterly attacked Orthodoxy at all, is the bare acknowledgment of Orthodox concerns about doctrinal reconciliation before restoring communion. That is to say, I have seen Romans, including Roman priests, offer a very warm smile and express a desire for reunion; I have not heard, even once, "We understand that Orthodox are concerned about doctrinal differences that have developed in the last half of the life of the Church, and here is what we are doing to address your concerns about legitimate doctrinal reconciliation."

In dealing with Protestant converts, Romans have repeatedly brought up a quote, from the 19th century as best I recall, where Protestants tried to approach Orthodox and the Orthodox figure said that they should approach him through their own Patriarch, meaning the Pope. One at least of them followed up and became Catholic, and Catholics believe that Protestants belong under their jurisdiction.

What I have to say is this. I have never heard any Orthodox of any stripe bring up or repeating that quote. Its presence as quoted by Romans is something that I would compare to G.K. Chesterton's "new white post" quote as quoted by liberal Roman dissidents:

If you leave a white post alone it will soon be a black post. If you particularly want it to be white you must be always painting it again; that is, you must be always having a revolution. Briefly, if you want the old white post you must have a new white post.

From the number of times I have heard these words quoted, one might get the impression that Chesterton said these words and nothing else. In fact G.K. Chesterton was a prolific and eminently quotable author, and I have read about as much of him as I could get my hands on. I do not see a responsible way to deny that the above is a verbatim quotation from one of Chesterton's most famous works, but I do plainly deny its adequacy as a simple summary of Chesterton's vast corpus. I deny entirely that it is adequate to treat that quote as what G.K. Chesterton's prodigious literary output might as well have begun and ended with. That those words are quoted by liberal Roman dissidents is a feature of liberal Roman dissidents and not a particularly interesting feature of Chesterton. In the same way, I cannot deny that some Orthodox figure at some point in the past regarded Protestants as belonging to Roman jurisdiction and not Orthodox, but I flatly deny that I have met anything like it in the living spirit of Orthodoxy such as I have encountered in the past two decades.

Orthodox believe that there are major legitimate points of unresolved doctrinal difference with Rome, and do not find the doctrinal differences to be undone by Rome renouncing the first mistake on the list. There have been a thousand years of separate development, and Rome has claimed with its fullest weight claims that are anathema to Orthodoxy.

My advice to Romans in all this is: You are probably as incapable as I am in preventing Black Bart from restoring communion with your own problematic Pope on Pascha of 2024, and I do not ask you to try and stop it. However, please do not confuse any such intercommunion with a healing step to help restore Catholic-Orthodox relations. The reconciliation between two groups severed from the Orthodox Church, if it occurs, will make Roman-Orthodox relations more problematic, not less, a bit like it would be more and not less problematic in Roman-Protestant relations for Rome to take up the Protestant invitation to simply take communion together without bothering about doctrinal reconciliation. Furthermore, the place of Black Bart in relation to the Orthodox Church will become even more problematic.

It is no more helpful than it would be for the Orthodox Church to restore communion with some of the bickering out-of-communion Traditionalist splinter groups that have apostasized from Rome, and it is no more of a rapprochement between Rome and the Orthodox Church.

Meanwhile, if you are willing to repent of the various heresies and oddities Rome has developed over the past thousand years, the real, canonical Orthodox Church will welcome you into full communion with open arms, and I will welcome you with open arms. That would include the unpleasant step of entering full communion as a reconciled heretic, which may raise Roman hackles, but it is one that I have taken, and one I have not regretted for a minute in the past two decades of membership.

Would you come home to Orthodoxy?

Br. Christos Hayward