onsdag 6 december 2017

The Journey East #7

I am coming close to making up my mind. There are several factors prompting me in the same direction. This weekend, for example, there will be no Tridentine Mass at my parish, not because of a shortage of priests but because all but one of them (there are at least a dozen in and around the city) refuses to celebrate it. What does that say?

This is, however, only one little push moving me along on a journey which began,  imperceptibly, many years ago but gathered momentum following various events in 2013, including the election of Pope Francis, but also the local situation. The election of Pope Francis struck me as odd from the outset. A Jesuit, having made the special Fourth Vow of Obedience to the Pope, should have ruled himself automatically out of the running since obedience to oneself is meaningless or worse.

Another push was the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation which took place in Sweden on 31st October last year with a strange ecumenical liturgy at Lund Cathedral, followed by an equally strange celebration of Mass at the Malmö football stadium the following day. Then again there is the local liturgical situation where a wealth of musical talent is available but is applied to the production of liturgies that usually turn out as pick-and-mix liturgical concerts, with something for everyone but which add up to nothing coherent. Yet another was the negative response by the Bishops in England and Wales, and then by the Pope himself, to Cardinal Sarah’s appeal last year that priests should celebrate Mass ad orientem.

Although liturgy was my point of entry the consistently good quality of the Orthodox liturgy would be a bad reason for joining the Orthodox church if the Roman claims are true.

What tips the balance comes from a careful re-reading of “Orthodoxy and Catholicity” by John Meyendorff, written in 1965 in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. The reasons are the usual ones. The Papal claims do not stand up. There have been some fine Popes, but for too much of the past millennium, it has not been an illustrious institution; rather, it has been for long periods a trophy for aristocratic Roman families to pass between each other. At one time there were three contestants for the office. Julius 11 was responsible for precipitating the Reformation.

The whole Roman edifice rests on a particular interpretation of Matthew 16:18. From this is developed an entire monarchical ecclesiology which is, arguably, the cause of the present troubles in the Catholic church. There are other possible interpretations. Within Orthodoxy, as Meyendorff explains, there is a “flat” episcopal structure whereby they all keep each other in check and so maintain faith and praxis.

The other big issue is the Filioque clause in the Creed. It is an alteration which is unscriptural and has never been endorsed by an Ecumenical Council. It also gives rise to an imbalance in the Holy Trinity, in which, on the Orthodox view, which is derived directly from scripture, the Son is begotten of the Father before all worlds, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. The end effect of the “double procession” implicit in Filioque is to downgrade the Holy Spirit.

Further points in which the Orthodox appear to be correct are in not defining as dogmas of Original Sin, Purgatory (the spark which ignited the reformation), and the Immaculate Conception, their use of leavened bread, , their understanding of the Real Presence and avoidance of discussion on the mystery of Transubstantiation, as though it were some kind of mystical chemical process.

I am not making any hasty move but it seems inevitable that I must do so eventually, uncomfortable and demanding though it will be.

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