Friday, June 10, 2005

Some Thoughts on East and West

I’ve often found it helpful to distinguish between the subjective, biographically culturally and historically conditioned factors which motivate a person to consider a belief, and the true always and everywhere for all objective observers reasons which justify regarding a proposed belief as true. In this, I’m not the first to propose distinguishing between a subjective “context of discovery” and an objective “context of justification.”

I mention this because I believe that we are in the beginning of cultural and historical developments which will change, for many, their perception of the probable practical consequences of belief in Papal Infallibility in a way that favors the belief - this is, if I am right, something pertaining to the “context of discovery”, and until it has worked itself out farther than I believe we are likely to see in the lifetime of even the youngest among us, I do not believe the time will be ripe for full restoration of communion between East and West.

My suggestion is that, in the First Vatican Council’s definition of Papal Infallibility, the Orthodox most often saw a doctrinal innovation which was likely to be the foundation of further doctrinal innovations. That, of course, is something no Orthodox person could affirm. However, I believe that historical developments in the industrialized democracies (attitudes toward abortion and a proposed equivalence between heterosexuality and homosexuality, to name just two) will increasingly cause both Catholic and Orthodox to recognize in Papal Infallibility, not an engine of innovation, but an attribute which must be possessed in order for any authority to be able to put a stop to endless debilitating debate by saying, “The matter has been settled once and for all.”

Sadly but realistically, to seek a full reunion before historical developments have made this plain to almost everyone within both churches is to invite a major schism within Orthodoxy - one only needs to look to the Holy Mountain to see that, and the memory of the failed reunion thought to have been attained at the Council of Florence reinforces the dangers of a premature reunion.

I don’t see dogmatic arguments (which concern the “context of justification”) bringing about reunion until historical developments have plowed the soil of the “context of discovery” for Papal infallibility.

And perhaps most of all, I believe that by the time reunion does occur, *each* party will have adopted an attitude of sincere penitence toward the other, recognizing the damage that each party’s intransigence has done to both the church and the world.