Saturday, January 15, 2011
Do church leaders promote unity or division?
One of the U.S. Bishops’ stated priorities is strengthening marriages, helping married couples remain united. Since children learn by parental example, let’s look at the example church fathers offer their children. How do they demonstrate an enduring unity through differences? How do they demonstrate patiently, lovingly and steadfastly abiding with others? At any point do they justify divorcing themselves from others?
The early church benefited from plurality as each apostolic community stressed what resonated with the community. The amalgam of these diverse views strengthened not weakened the church. Relating Jesus’ messages in a manner comprehensible to various demographic groups did not evoke cries of “relativism” or “dissension”.
The communities had differences needing resolution such as whether or not to require gentiles to follow Mosaic Law. The Apostle James as bishop of Jerusalem, not Peter (bishop of Rome), led the 1st century Council of Jerusalem to resolve that conflict. Somehow, the early church existed with a great deal of plurality, collegiality and equality working things out between the various apostolic communities.
Then how did Christ’s one Body, the Church, splinter into so many divorced factions?
The first major division occurred in 1054 A.D. when Eastern and Roman churches split. Prior to 1054, the five Patriarchal centers of Antioch, Alexandria, Rome, Jerusalem and Constantinople, each with leadership connected to the original Apostles, enjoyed equality and communion despite differences.
Why did the men leading these five religious communities decide upon ecclesial divorce rather than unity? Two things: 1) Rome’s insistence on papal supremacy over peer bishops and 2) Rome’s addition of the Filioque to the Nicene Creed. The latter is a theological difference; the former is a power and hierarchal structure difference.
I would imagine most Roman and Orthodox Catholics have no idea what the Filioque is. For the record, “filioque” means “and the son” in Latin. The Roman Catholic hierarchy added the word “filioque” (“and the son”) to this phrase in the Nicene Creed, “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father”.
The Holy Trinity is called a “mystery”. Furthermore Roman and Eastern Orthodox Church leaders agree upon the order, role, nature and relationship of the Trinity’s three persons. The only thing upon which they differ is who sent the Spirit. Evidently that part of the Trinitarian mystery cannot remain a mystery.
Maybe you are like me and find yourself asking “Does it matter that I know which parts of the Trinity sent the Holy Spirit?”
Church leaders are beginning to ask the same question. Theological writings such as a 2003 joint statement issued by Roman and Orthodox Church leaders entitled, “The Filioque: A Church-Dividing Issue?” start to admit that this might be a petty issue. Basically, both camps admit that they agree on key theological points but just express it with different words. Furthermore they agree that neither camp can authoritatively speak on God’s inner workings…hence the mystery of the Trinity is, in fact, a mystery.
You might think, “Wow, this is so easy to resolve.” Since both sides agree they mean the same thing, one side just needs to humbly yield to use the other side’s wording or just say “it doesn’t matter; use the words that resonate with your community”.
However, the Roman Church’s infallibility doctrine complicates things. Because Roman Church leaders hold fast to their infallibility rule they believe reconciliation requires the Orthodox to say, “It’s the same thing so let’s say it the Roman way.” The Roman leaders’ rules don’t permit themselves the humility to say, “It’s the same thing so let’s say it the Orthodox way.” The result of this pettiness is almost 1,000 years of division.
With church leaders clinging to petty differences rather than acting in humility to preserve unity, should they be surprised that many marriages end over superficial differences? With excommunications and a focus on insisting other people humbly yield to them versus leaders humbly serving others, do church leaders promote unity or division?