Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
November 2, 2009
Rome's welcoming Anglicans may fuel Orthodox trepidation
The Vatican's decision to allow new "personal ordinariates" for Anglicans who wish to be in full communion with Rome is an historic decision. What it will mean for local churches, such as ours in Alberta, is probably not much. At most, small traditionalist Anglican congregations in Calgary and Edmonton will come into union with Rome.
But there are at least two significant implications in the grander picture of ecumenism that are worthy of note.
The first is that this can be taken as a sign that visible union between Rome and the larger Anglican communion centred at Canterbury is further away than it has been for a long while. At the Second Vatican Council, there were great hopes of reunion. No longer.
Anglican-Catholic dialogue will continue. But given that bred-in-the-bone Anglicans see their Church as having moved so far away from them that they prefer union with Rome to the Church of their fathers and mothers is a strong testimony to a rapidly widening gap between Canterbury and Rome.
The other implication lies for relations with the Eastern Orthodox. On one hand, there is great affinity of doctrine between Rome and Constantinople. On the other hand, a large cultural divide makes mutual understanding difficult and dialogue essential. Misunderstandings are not only possible, but also relatively frequent.
Doctrinally, one main point of difference is Catholic insistence on the supremacy of the pope's teaching and juridical authority in the Church.
From Rome's point of view, differences can be worked out; the Orthodox are more dubious. The Orthodox are opposed to the "uniate" model of reunion by which some Orthodox churches, including the Ukrainian Catholic Church, came into union with Rome in 1596. These churches acknowledged papal supremacy in exchange for Catholic recognition of their liturgical traditions and a degree of self-governance.
For the rest of the Orthodox, the 1596 treaty is seen as abhorrent, both for recognizing supreme papal authority and because for centuries the traditions of the "uniate churches" did not receive the expected respect from Rome.
The Orthodox cannot but see the new arrangement allowing Anglican ordinariates in a similar vein as that of the uniates. This is so, even though Rome publicly disavowed the uniate model less than 20 years ago. From the Orthodox view, if uniatism remains Rome's model for Church unity, then visible union simply will not happen.
Pope John Paul II tirelessly maintained that for the Church to be its full self, it needs to breathe with both lungs - there must be a full union between East and West. While we will joyfully welcome any Anglicans who come into union with Rome, the effect of this move on Orthodox perceptions is not likely to be positive.
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