I do not pretend, nor have I ever pretended, that this blog is neutral. It is an exploration of the theological and historical claims of the Papacy. I currently lean strongly towards the veracity of these claims (as anyone who reads this blog can obviously tell), but I always give equal time to commenters who disagree and are willing to express their viewpoint intelligently and respectfully.
His comment stems from the fact that, in part, Perry Robinson is pointing out that among the collection articles he is engaging which seem to support his own view, there is an article which opposes it.
I have commented before on my views of an Eastern Orthodox Christian blogging openly and publicly his journey toward what would appear to be apostasy from the Orthodox Church. So I won’t cover old ground.
But I will point out something illustrative from this recent example.
Contrary to most polemics you’ll get from certain Roman Catholics (like she-who-must-not-be-named), Orthodox don’t want to downgrade the Pope to a backwater, Mister Magoo-like bishop of a provincial western town. The canons are clear: the bishop of the see of Rome is to be accorded high honor, indeed is to be held as a primus inter parus, and with that honor has some level of appropriate authority (such as ecclesiastical appeal). And many Orthodox would love to see restored the appropriate honors, titles and privileges to the papal see. (There are no doubt semi-converted anti-papist Protestants who see their Orthodoxy vis-a-vis Rome, and there are, of course, those Athonite monks, but I think many more have a healthy regard for the Pope.)
The difference, however, is that Roman Catholic apologists argue, unyieldingly, a narrow set of papal privileges that Orthodox simply cannot accept (universal jurisdiction, infallibility, and so forth). There are even pretenses–such as divesting certain papal titles–presented as “accomodations” to Orthodox, that fail to touch on the significant issues. Such apologists then harangue Orthodox for being so stiff-necked themselves. One might suggest that this is a case where the senus patrum here would legitimately boil down to Orthodoxy’s more broad views, and that Roman Catholics should leave their narrower claims and join us there.
But all that said, in reality the Western and Eastern Papal claims are not going to be won through the debate on historical and patristic evidences. Orthodox see the condemnation of Honorius as indicating he’s a heretic–calling into question the claims of Roman Catholics to the infallibility of the pope. Roman Catholics see the conciliar condemnation of Honorius as something less damning. Roman Catholics will argue that the Roman see must authorize a council for it to be ecumenical. Orthodox point out that Constantinople II (381) was not presided over or contemporaneouosly authorized by the pope (such authorization came later). (And then there’s the question of which Eighth Ecumenical Council is the real Eighth Ecumenical Council: 869/870 or 879/880? And did the pope first accept then later reject the 879/880 council?) Orthodox see conciliarity throughout the Fathers, while Roman Catholics read such “conciliarity” as submitted to the single see at Rome. One could multiply examples.
The point of all this is that the argument relative to papal claims is often played out in a way at marked odds with the Orthodox mindset (or so, at least, I take it): rational arguments over what counts and doesn’t count as evidence, the examination of the truth of the premises of, and the validity of, the arguments made, and so on. And there the debate stays, with unending back and forth lo these dozen centuries. To the degree that Orthodox engage western papal claims in the arena of reason alone, they engage in a debate that is at odds with who and what the Orthodox Church is. The Church is, fundamentally and radically, a mystery. It is a grace that cannot be plumbed. And to the extent that the pope is considered in ecclesiology, it means that things will not nicely be tied up into rational boxes. Fully explain to me the distinctions between grace and works, and then you have earned the right to pontificate on the pope.
That does not mean, I hasten to add, that Orthodox have no rational case to make nor that that rational case will, since it is anchored in mystery, always be deficient to that of the western apologists. On the contrary, persons like the gentleman at the Energetic Procession blog have done what I take to be definitive work in that regard, and I take their arguments against western papal claims and their defense of eastern papal claims to be conclusive.
But it is in the why of my taking them to be conclusive that is the important point. In the end, Roman Catholic apologists for the western claims of the papacy, just as Orthodox apologists for the eastern claims of the papacy, read the exact same evidence, make arguments with the same rigor and strength, and decide for their own case, because their fundamental presuppositions dispose them so to do. None of us can come to claims about the papacy without a set of first principles, whether or not we are conscious of them or they are educated by the evidence, and those first principles will ultimately be that which tips the argument in one direction or not.
This is what I find so, I’ll be blunt here, egregious about the blogging of a self-called Orthodox who advertises ahead of time his affinity to Roman Catholic claims regarding the papacy. In effect, his mind is already made up–despite contrary protests–because the first principles with which he engages the question already dispose him to the particular conclusions toward which he admits he leans. All he awaits now is the proper amount of evidence fitting his predisposition by which his conscience can be consoled and comforted, so that when he does finally unite with Rome, he may do so with a clear conscience.
Which is well and good. After all, I had already determined I was going to become Orthodox when I began investigating more deeply the matters which interested me. Like, I assume, the Cathedra Unitatis blogger, I had a predisposition: to accept Orthodox claims. Perhaps the only thing that would have stopped my trajectory would be evidence that called into serious question the claims of Orthodoxy itself. And, I’m going to guess, the same is true of Cathedra Unitatis. It may be that he has not swum the Tiber because his conscience has not yet been fortified with enough courage. And it may be just at this point that the CU blogger may be saved from his presumably immanent apostasy: there may be just enough evidence that comes his way to keep in significant doubt the Roman claims he wants so to believe. Though he admits to no perfidious motivations for ignoring an article calling into question some of the claims he accepts, perhaps that is a signal to his commitment to first principles by which all his evidence is pre-sorted.
But this is true of all of us Protestant and other western converts to Orthodoxy. We Orthodox who come by way of western culture and religions are disposed toward if not even subject to a rationalism that is not Christian. Protestants change churches because they have changed their reasonings about various doctrines. And if the CU blogger is genuine in his comments (and I take him so to be), then he will change churches because he has changed the weight of his reasonings about the pope. (Note what I say here: he has changed the weight of his reasonings. It will be something he himself does, though he may describe it as something passively done to him.)
But the Orthodox Church–contrary to our western culture and religions–calls for more than changes of mind. In Orthodoxy the primary organ by which we relate to God and one another is the heart, a heart into which the intellect has by grace and askesis descended. For an Orthodox examining papal claims, the rational aspect (collecting, sorting and weighing evidences, premises and validity) is one part, and only one part, and not even the greater part. First comes the askesis of regular and faithful prayer in community, then regular and faithful prayer at home, the vigorous exercise of the community’s askeses (including and especially priestly counsel, with fasting and other self-denial), and then, one may take on the rational arguments.
For me the papal claims are primarily answered, not by the rational arguments, but by the experience of the Divine Liturgy and the Sacraments. My mind is not the primary organ in which I engage God, and therefore is not to be the primary organ by which I come to know his Church. If the Divine Liturgy cannot speak to me of papal claims, then my reason will have absolutely nothing else to add.
If Cathedra Unitatis truly wants to know what is the reality of the papal claims, western and eastern, he would do well to take all his questions to the confessional first, seek the counsel of his priest and bishop, and then stand in union with God in the Eucharist, and to leave the rational arguments to the rationalists.