The Center for Ecumenical, Missiological and Environmental Studies “Metropolitan Panteleimon Papageorgiou” (CEMES) has announced this academic year’s ecumenical activities, the most important of which was a series of Open Public Lectures of its Master Program in “Orthodox Ecumenical Theology” (MOET).
They started on Tuesday, November 30, 2021, with Rev. Prof. Hyacinthe Destivelle, Director of the Institute of Ecumenical Studies of Angelicum, who spoke on: “From Schism to Imperfect Communion. Evolution of the View of the Catholic Church on Division”.
Its coordinator, Emer. Prof. Petros Vassiliadis, before introducing the renowned Roman Catholic speaker and officiate of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, made the following introductory remarks:
“Your Eminences, Reverend fathers, sisters, and brothers of the Church of Christ from both Eastern and Western Christianity. Today is a historic date: the very day of the thronal Feast of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the 30th anniversary of H.A.H. Patriarch Bartholomew’s elevation to the throne of New Rome. But also, the year of H.H. Pope Francis’ courageous initiative to start an authentic conciliar process that will pave the way to an authentic synodality of the entire Church of Christ. And of course, H.H.’s visit to Cyprus and Greece.
The English program of the Open Publish Lectures of MOET, jointly organized by members of CEMES (and the Scientific Committee and Teaching Staff of MOET), as well as by the Ecumenical Institute of the Pontifical University of St. Thomas (Angelicum), is inaugurated this evening. The series will include also lectures by scholars of the Ecumenical Monastery of Bose, and the Oriental Orthodox and Greek Catholic Churches, always scheduled at 18:00 pm Greek time (17:00 Italian time), and lasting 1:30 hours.
Both CEMES and Angelicum decided to devote this academic year’s Open Public Lectures to the “Eastern/Oriental Orthodox-Latin/Greek Catholic relations”, which will hopefully lead to the visible unity of the Church of Christ.
Parallel to these English lectures, this academic year CEMES will also has planned a series of Open Public Lectures in Greek for the Greek-speaking public around the globe on the same general theme and at the same time, starting next Tuesday.
In both the English and the Greek series of lectures, in addition to the speaker and the coordinator, other scholars will join them for an in-depth discussion in an as much as possible balanced selection.
To honor today’s main speaker let me remind you what the famous papal encyclical “Ut Unum Sint” said: “To believe in Christ means to desire unity; to desire unity means to desire the Church; to desire the Church means to desire the communion of grace which corresponds to the Father’s plan from all eternity. Such is the meaning of Christ’s prayer: “Ut unum sint” (ΙΝΑ ΠΑΝΤΕΣ ΕΝ ΩΣΙΝ).”
Despite the successful outcome of many official theological dialogues, no significant steps have yet been taken towards full Eucharistic unity, due to certain preoccupations and prejudices, which this series of lectures intended to analyze in order to overcome, as far as possible, any canonical, historical, ecclesiological, theological, etc obstacle standing to this very day against the command of our Lord ‘that we may all be one”.
Prof. Destivelle in his insightful presentation underlined that “Yves Congar in 1937 understood the origins of the separation of 1054 as the result of anthropological factors. Two years later, he offered a speculative synthesis on the question, as he studied the connection between “nationalism” and schism. Finally, in 1954 he presented schism as an “estrangement”. This word means a) that separation was realized as a gradual evolution that began before the 11th century, which continued even after 1054; b) that the separation was not a unilateral initiative, but a common process, a “state of mutual ignorance”; c) that this estrangement concerned politics, culture, ecclesiology. Vatican II abandoned the category of schism and spoke of “separation”. Unitatis Redintegratio 3 enumerated Church elements beyond the Catholic Church, putting baptism in the first place.
In addition, UR mentioned other existing elements outside the canonical boundaries of Catholicism, namely ‘the written word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit.
While the ancient Church was convinced that the baptism outside the ‘Catholic’ Church had no salvific efficacy, for Vatican II every validly baptized Christian is in communion with the Church of Christ. The Council used the words “incorporation”, “bond”, “ordination” and “communion”.. Lumen Gentium took up the trilogy of unity in faith, sacraments, and ministry, i.e., unity in doctrine, sacraments, and canonical order. As to ‘communion’, it refers to common participation in the same good, in a third reality. This ‘communion’ among Christians is imperfect, because ‘each of these three dimensions lacks certain elements, which vary from one community to another. This explains the Council’s use of the expression ‘Churches and Ecclesial communities’ to designate other Christians: as there are degrees of communion, there are many degrees of ecclesiality’.
One can thereby distinguish two dimensions of communion: ontological/spiritual dimension (at the level of the mystery of the Church), and institutional-canonical dimension (at the level of the visible Church); to these, it is necessary to add sacramental-Eucharistic communion, which is the expression of the ‘perfect communion’.
Thus, when the Catholic Church speaks of ‘imperfect communion, it means an ontological and spiritual communion in faith, sacraments, and ministries which is real, but incomplete, as it is not yet manifested in the canonical and the Eucharistic communion”.
During the discussion that followed, Emer. Prof. Rev. George M. Kondothra remarked: “The word “evolution” used by Fr Hyacinthe Destivelle is significant. We need to recognize that theological interpretation is an evolving process. What we call “timeless truth” is approached and interpreted by us differently in different space and time. Our hermeneutical tools differ depending on language, cultural presuppositions, political and economic factors, and so on. If we properly deal with such things with the best intention of unity we can overcome the negative influences and achieve what Christ willed for us.
The various doctrinal formulas and definitions created in the history of the Church must be subject to the ineffable mystery of the relationship between the Three Hypostases in the Holy Trinity and the Union of the divine and the human in the incarnate hypostasis of Jesus Christ, the Word of God. They are dynamic realities, and our concepts and language fall far short of their infinitely vibrant dynamism that we can only dimly experience but not articulate in any logical discourse. This apophatic approach taught to us by great discerning teachers and fathers of the church is sometimes lost sight of when we engage in the war of words without love and without sensitivity to the spiritual riches of our brothers and sisters.
The long Christological division between the Eastern and Oriental Churches has been theologically overcome in the 20th century by the sustained efforts of our churches and their committed theologians under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. To the great joy of all Christians, we stated that in spite of differences in interpretations and acrimonious conflicts in past history we hold the same apostolic faith and we proclaim the same Christ. In fact, we overcame 1500 years of prejudice, mistrust, exclusion, anathemas, and counter-witness to Christ. However, this great accomplishment guided by the Holy Spirit is still not translated into the final Eucharistic Communion as expected. Unless we positively collaborate with the guidance of the Holy Spirit in realizing fraternal love, mutual trust, forgiveness, compassion, and unity as the great values of the Kingdom of God we will be stuck with scholastic definitions and formulas unable to move forward. Hence I attach great importance to an evolutionary view of our past conflicts and divisions with a view to experience the healing and unity of the Church as the one Body of Christ in true faith, forgiveness, and love.
Rev. Dr. Ihor Shaban expressed his gratitude to Vassiliadis’ optimism concerning the situation in Ukraine at the present time and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is an instrument for ecumenical reproaching between Eastern and Western Christianity. As Pope John-Paul II said Ukraine can really become a lavatory of ecumenism. And yes, there were special occasions during the present-day crises, especially the pandemic, of common Christian witness. What I want to stress is that ecumenism is not just a beautiful idea, but a style of our life. We can speak to the world as one body of Christ with one voice. What I consider as important, at least for me, is what Fr Destivelle described as models of unity, eschatological, eucharistic, etc. These can be better defined by the curia. We know as Uniates that this old model of unity cannot be applied today in the ecumenical era. And we are very delighted by Pope Francis conciliar process that is now going on in the Catholic Church
Prof. Dimitrios Keramidas reminded that “we need to study contemporary Catholic theology as a whole, not fragments of it, as it was for a long time the case among the Orthodox. We also need, especially, to understand the development of the Catholic ecclesiological understanding of the churches and confessions beyond her boundaries”.
Finally, Prof. Nikolaos Dimitriadis, as the deputy-director of these Open Public Lectures, cordially thanked Rev. Prof Hyacinthe Destivelle for his lecture, as well as the moderator Emer. Prof. Petros Vassiliadis, and the two respondents Emer, Prof. Rev. K.M. George and Rev. Dr. Ihor Shaban, as well as Prof. Dimitrios Keramidas, for their contributions, and reminded next week’s (next Tuesday at the same time) Emer. Prof. Grigorios Larentzakis presentation in Greek – hoping with English translation – on “Was there a ‘canonical’ Schism between Rome and Constantinople?”, coordinated again by the President in Honour of CEMES, Emer. Prof. Petros Vassiliadis, with the Catholic Archbishop Ioannis Spiteris and the Greek Catholic Archbishop Dimitrios Salachas, both Emer. Professors
The full program, with 30 presentations and discussions in English and Greek by academic theologians, clergy, and laypeople, of the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Oriental Orthodox, and Greek Catholic, Churches is published on the CEMES website (cemes-en.weebly.com).
The whole inaugural Open Public Lecture is available at the CEMES YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2VBKY2maTKI&t=104s and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6UJxsuTZ1x4), as will be all future lectures.