The Full Implementation of Vatican Council II, the 21st Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church, Will Make Roman Catholic Christians Generally Much More Truly Catholic (Universal) and less Roman in Their Understanding of Their Church, Which Will Aid the Restoration of the First Millennium Christian Unity in Diversity in One Undivided Catholic (Universal) Church
Vatican II Formally Corrects Overly-Roman Misconceptions of the Nature of the Catholic Church Which Came about from Eastern Catholics Being a Small Minority of Catholics since the Muslim Conquests of the Catholic East
I do understand and to a certain point even respect the current Eastern Orthodox separation from the Catholic Communion because I do recognize that due largely to Muslim conquest of the East the Catholic Church for many centuries has been mostly Roman Catholic in its population and that this has in the past caused many Roman Catholics to lose sight of their Church’s true catholicity (universality) and that Roman Catholic Christians in the past have thus sadly done much to encourage those Eastern Orthodox Churches no longer within the ancient Catholic Communion to stay out of the Catholic Communion. But I am pleased to report that the 21st Ecumenical Council (Vatican II, 1962-5), with the same force as the Early Ecumenical Councils, has at last officially clarified and dogmatically decreed the Catholic Church’s official and irrevocable understanding of it’s own ancient First Millennium Christian Communion, in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church with its two supporting decrees (on the Eastern Catholic Churches and on Ecumenism) promulgated on the same day, and thus the Catholic Church has officially put to an end the misconceptions of many Roman Catholic Christians about the nature and structure of their Church which has in the past sometimes resulted in a sad Roman Catholic prejudice against non-Roman expressions of Christianity (including those of their own brother Eastern Catholics within the ancient Catholic Communion headed by the pope – anti-Eastern prejudice against fellow Catholics of the Eastern Rites who have in the past sometimes been pressured to “Romanize” themselves, which the Eastern Orthodox have seen and which motivates them to stay out of the Catholic Communion). Some time will be required for the Catholic Church’s new official and irrevocable dogmatic self-understanding to sink deeply into the minds and hearts of the “average Roman Catholic,” but this will happen. At Vatican Council II, the 21st Ecumenical Council of the Catholic (Universal) Church, all of the world’s Catholic overseers/bishops/eparchs and patriarchs (Roman and Eastern) met together with the pope and, for the first time ever in any Ecumenical Council, prayerfully considered and (with the Holy Spirit’s guidance) dogmatically described in great detail the ancient nature and structure of the Universal (Catholic) Christian Church, which in one place is summarized this way:
The Catholic Church’s Official Understanding of the Nature and Structure of the Church as the Mystery of the Body of Christ (see Ephesians 5:22-32) organized in the World as a Catholic (Universal) Communion of Orthodox Eastern and Western Christian Rites or Particular (Sister) Churches Pastorally Guided by the (Universal) Pope and the (Particular) Patriarchs, in the Words of Vatican II (the 21st Ecumenical Council)
“The holy Catholic Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ, is made up of the faithful who are organically united in the Holy Spirit by the same faith, the same sacraments and the same government. They combine into different groups, which are held together by their hierarchy, and so form particular churches or rites. Between those churches there is such a wonderful communion that this variety, so far from diminishing the Church’s unity, rather serves to emphasize it … These individual churches both Eastern and Western, while they differ somewhat among themselves in what is called “rite,” namely in liturgy, in ecclesiastical discipline and in spiritual tradition, are none the less all equally entrusted to the pastoral guidance of the Roman Pontiff [the pope], who by God’s appointment is successor to Blessed Peter in primacy over the Universal Church. Therefore these churches are of equal rank, so that none of them is superior to the others because of its rite. They have the same rights and obligations, even with regard to the preaching of the Gospel in the whole world (cf. Mk. 16:15), under the direction of the Roman Pontiff [the pope].” (Vatican II, OE 2,3, emphases added)
This means that it is absolutely unacceptable as well as being quite literally anti-Catholic (anti-universal!) for any Roman Catholic Christian to think that the Roman Rite of the Catholic/Universal Church (in any of its liturgical forms throughout history) is superior to any other non-Roman or non-Western Rite of the Catholic Church despite the current difference in size (in the Early Church only one quarter of all Catholics were Roman Catholics, after all). It is absolutely unacceptable and literally anti-Catholic for Roman Catholic Christians to think that the particularly Roman theological, practical, liturgical, and devotional expressions of the common orthodox, Universal (Catholic) Christian faith, are in any way better than those expressions of the same universal faith which are different, based in a different ancient culture than the Roman culture. The Roman culture was not even the first culture to embrace the Gospel – the original culturally Jewish Christians, including Peter the first pope himself, spread the Gospel to the Jews and Syrians in Antioch before there were any Christians in Rome! Each culture renewed in Christ Jesus responded to the Universal Christian (Catholic) truths and emphasized different aspects of the Catholic truths such that more of the Christian faith is expressed practically and liturgically in the many different culturally-based Rites together, each Sister Church a jewel in Jesus’ Crown which is all the more magnificent and beautiful because of their variety. The Catholic (Universal) Communion of culturally-based Sister Churches together is superior to any of its Rites alone, including the Roman Rite, despite its current size as the largest Catholic Rite (and despite the accidental fact that Peter died in Rome and so his universal office happens to be succeeded there).
In other places than the above quotation, Vatican II similarly describes the structure of the Catholic Church, but in ways which emphasize the typically national or cultural character of the “different groups” which make up the different “Particular Churches or Rites” within the Universal Church, or in ways which call attention to the ancient Patriarchates and the patriarchs which lead each individual “Sister Church” as its Head Pastor (all of whom are under the pope’s universal jurisdiction). These Patriarchates are simply culturally-based “Particular (“Sister”) Churches or Rites” of venerable age and great historic contribution to the Church Universal, whose highest hierarch has (usually in an Ecumenical Council) been declared a patriarch in official recognition of this long contribution to the Universal Church (regardless of this distinction of appropriate respect or honor, all of the Rites, Sister Churches, or Patriarchates still have “fully equal dignity” with each other and all are equally called to proclaim the Christian Gospel to the whole world – OE 3). The first five Patriarchates of the Church (known as the Pentarchy) have the particularly great contribution of being part of the Early Ecumenical Councils which established the fundamentals of basic Christian orthodoxy, and of being the “Mother Rites” or “Mother Churches” of all later cultural expressions of Christianity:
“The one People of God is accordingly present in all the nations of the earth, since its citizens, who are taken from all nations, are of a kingdom whose nature is not earthly but heavenly. All the faithful scattered throughout the world are in communion with each other in the Holy Spirit so that ‘he who dwells in Rome knows those in most distant parts to be his members’[Chrysostom].1 “(Vatican Council II, LG 13)
“Holding a rightful place in the communion of the Church there are also particular Churches that retain their own traditions, without prejudice to the Chair of Peter which presides over the whole assembly of charity, and protects their legitimate variety while at the same time taking care that these differences do not hinder unity, but rather contribute to it. ” (LG 13)
“”It has come about through divine providence that, in the course of time, different Churches set up in various places by the apostles and their successors joined together in a multiplicity of organically united groups which, whilst safeguarding the unity of the faith and the unique divine structure of the universal Church, have their own discipline, enjoy their own liturgical usage and inherit a theological and spiritual patrimony. Some of these, notably the ancient patriarchal Churches, as mothers in the faith, gave birth to other daughter-Churches (LG 23) …. The patriarchate as an institution has existed in the Church from the earliest times, and was already recognized by the first ecumenical councils. (OE 7)
“… This multiplicity of local Churches, unified in a common effort, shows all the more resplendently the catholicity of the undivided Church. ” (LG 23)
What Vatican II Clarifies about Eastern Patriarchs and Other Heads of Rites Applies Also to Western Patriarchs and Head of Rites Including the Pope in His Secondary Office as Roman Patriarch, and including the Heads of Any Future Roman “Daughter Rites”
Vatican II’s Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches (Orientalium Ecclesiarum, OE) deals more specifically with the particular office of Christian patriarchs, since they are of particular importance to the Catholic East. All Eastern Christians (Catholic and Orthodox) understand themselves to be under the jurisdiction of a patriarch, whether one of the ancient Pentarchy or one who heads a “Daughter Church” or “Daughter Rite” of the ancient Eastern Patriarchates (not all of the Daughter Rites or Churches have been around long enough to be officially recognized as Patriarchates in their own right, and their “head overseer” may have another title, usually “Major Archbishop,” but they perform the same duties for their younger Rites as do patriarchs).
However, it must be remembered that one of the pope’s titles has always been “the Western Patriarch,” the other four patriarchs of the original ancient “Pentarchy” of patriarchal “Mother Rites” being from the East, and this title of the pope is important enough to be symbolized in the traditional papal triple-crowned bishop’s mitre (this mitre actually symbolizes the whole authority structure of the Catholic Church, as will be explained below). Most Roman Catholic Christians have forgotten that the pope is their patriarch as well as their pope holding Peter’s office, for two reasons:
1) The separation of most of the East (including the four Eastern Patriarchs of the original Pentarchy though not all the Patriarchs of their Daughter Churches) from the Catholic Communion guided by the pope. This means Roman Catholics almost never hear about what other Catholic patriarchs than the Roman Patriarch are doing.
2) The fact that the one ancient Western Patriarch, in Rome, also has an even higher, universal, office, as the Successor of Peter who happened to die in Rome, which has eclipsed the pope’s patriarchal office in the minds of most, and so they usually do not properly distinguish between what the pope in Rome is doing as the Roman Patriarch (things which the other Catholic patriarchs do within their jurisdictions), and what he is doing as the Successor of Peter (things which only the pope can do).
The ancient Ecumenical Councils cited above by the 21st Ecumenical Council of Vatican II included the Roman Patriarchate along with the Eastern Patriarchates, so what Vatican II confirms and clarifies about patriarchs in the context of the East also applies to the West, the only difference being that the Successor of Peter is not a different person than the Roman Patriarch, which means that when the pope makes a decision as the Roman Patriarch, affecting only the Roman Rite and not the Church Universal or Catholic, his patriarchal decision can be considered to already be approved and ratified by the pope as Successor of Peter and Universal Bishop, if such papal approval or ratification for patriarchal decisions is necessary – which it usually is not, though it is sometimes given to Eastern patriarchs anyway as a papal encouragement or confirmation, since, as Vatican II clarifies below, “The patriarchs … are the highest authority for all business of the patriarchate” (OE 9). In practice, the Catholic patriarchs or major archbishops still usually seek the pope’s approval or confirmation for major decisions like their appointments of bishops or eparchs within their Rite, even though Vatican II (OE 9) confirms they have the autonomous authority to do such things. They can reasonably expect to get the pope’s approval and confirmation for such patriarchal decisions, since they are, after all, the proper purview of the patriarch and the pope would only exercise his right as universal overseer to intervene in patriarchal matters in the most extreme of cases. Seeking the pope’s approval, which is easy enough to do in the modern age of telecommunications and easy travel, is largely a formality which simply confirms that the pope is aware of and agrees with the step taken and will not use his higher office to intervene. And Catholics like to know that their local bishops/eparchs have been directly approved by the Successor of Peter even if they strictly speaking do not need to be (for much of the history of the Church this was not even possible due to the limitations of travel and communication).
In any case, it is important to note that what Vatican II clarifies below about patriarchs properly applies to the West as well as the East because there is no reason that there should remain only one Western Patriarch or only one significant Western Sister Church within the Catholic (Universal) Communion of orthodox Eastern and Western Sister Churches.
Why the West Historically Tended to Form Fewer Distinct Patriarchates/Sister Churches/Rites than the East and Why this Will Not Remain the Case, Making it Particularly Important for Western Christians to Properly Understand the Ancient Patriarchal Structure of the Church
It is true that the multi-cultural nature of the city of Rome at the center of a vast Empire made the Roman Rite’s cultural expression of the Gospel more flexible and adaptable than those of the East, which meant the West was less likely than the East to fix into culturally distinct Sister Churches with culturally distinct Daughter Churches. It is true that the sending of missionaries from Rome all over barbarian Western Europe after the Fall of the Western Roman Empire, missionaries who gradually both Christianized and civilized all of Western Europe, meant that all of Western Europe (and its later colonies in the New World) had a common Roman cultural baseline despite national variations, which, combined with an initially flexible and adaptable Rite, also meant that distinct Roman Daughter Churches tended not to form as in the East. Distinct Roman Daughter Rites (still around today) tended to be small and very local, like the Ambrosian, Bragan, and Mozaribic Rites, and major Roman Daughter Rites like the Celtic Rite and the Gallican Rite tended to be absorbed into the mainstream Roman Rite, still leaving their permanent mark on it, instead of forming distinct Rites and eventually organized Sister Churches which might eventually be recognized as new Patriarchates. So in the East, for example, the Eastern Armenian Patriarchate was initially a Daughter Rite of the Eastern Antiochene Patriarchate from the original Pentarchy which eventually became an organized Sister Church with its own hierarchy in its own right and was later even acknowledged as a Patriarchate itself. This process was common in the East, and there are a great many distinct Sister Churches which are Daughter Churches of the ancient Byzantine Patriarchate from the ancient Pentarchy, some of which later became known as Patriarchates themselves. But it was different in the West, where, for example, the barbarian Gauls known as Franks (the ancient French) who had been Christianized indeed formed their own Western Gallican Rite of the Catholic Church, their own cultural expression of Christianity based on the Roman “Mother Rite” which had brought the Gospel of Jesus to them, but instead of eventually becoming a distinct younger “Roman Gallican Rite or Church” alongside the ancient Roman Patriarchate or Mother Rite which gave birth to it, the powerful and influential Frankish culture actually influenced the liturgy of the entire Roman Patriarchate, making it much more poetic and flowery than the comparatively simple Roman Rite liturgical worship of the eminently practical ancient Roman culture had been previously. The Celtic Rite, a Roman Daughter Rite or distinct cultural expression of Christianity which developed among the Celts who had been initially evangelized by the Roman Catholic Saint Patrick in Ireland, also never formed a distinct Roman Celtic Sister Church alongside its ancient Roman “Mother Rite,” yet it influenced the entire Roman Patriarchate, it left its mark on it even as it was absorbed into the mainstream Roman Rite.
Accident of history also prevented the formation of distinct Western Daughter Churches of the ancient Patriarchates as happened in the East. The North African Roman Rite Church of Saint Augustine was culturally distinct enough from the European Roman Rite Church that it might have developed into a distinct Roman “Daughter Church” had it not been destroyed by the barbarian invasions (followed by Muslim invasions). Before the schism of King Henry VIII, the Church of England, on that island which has always maintained cultural distinctiveness from Continental Europe, already was effectively the Roman Anglican Rite of the Catholic Church. The Church of England was the Anglican Daughter Church of the ancient Roman Patriarchate, with the Archbishop of Canterbury (the successor of Saint Augustine of Canterbury who planted the Christian Church in England at the direction of Pope Saint Gregory the Great) functioning as its patriarch or major archbishop, the head of a distinct Western Sister Church within the Catholic Communion of Sister Churches. Any future formal reunification of the Church of England with the Catholic Church it left in the 16th Century would involve reestablishing and formalizing the distinct Roman “Daughter Church” status it effectively (though not formally) had before the schism.
Since the Catholic Church in Vatican II has started to recapture the lost sense of the patriarchal nature of the Undivided Early Catholic Church, it has formally recognized another Western, African Rite, the Zairean Rite (which includes liturgical dancing), which is an important step because it makes sense that cultures which do not share that Roman cultural baseline of Western European nations and their colonies will naturally develop a very distinct cultural response to the Gospel. The Roman Catholic Bishops in Africa routinely use their legitimate authority as local bishops to dispense their flock from certain patriarchal norms of the Roman Rite on the basis of cultural appropriateness. This is a sign that a distinct culturally-based Rite is appropriate if not overdue! This Zairean Rite is so newly recognized it is not yet a distinct Sister Church with a separate hierarchy, but since ancient times all the Christian Rites start as missionary Rites related to one of the original Mother Rites which brought the Gospel to them, and many gradually develop into Sister Churches with their own hierarchy, and, given time, some are even officially recognized as Patriarchates.
As the Russian and Ukrainian and other Daughter Churches in the East still retain a great deal of their Byzantine Greek “Mother Rite” which brought the Gospel to them, including its liturgy, though they are also culturally distinct, so the African Zairean Rite and any other Roman Daughter Rites will naturally retain a great deal of their missionary “Mother Rite’s” Roman ways, while also being distinct. Even before Vatican II, Pope Pius XI was already setting up China, currently a Roman missions territory which also does not share the Western European cultural baseline, for its own Rite, by forbidding that Catholic Churches in China be built according to gothic or other European style architecture. He knew the Chinese must develop their own particularly Chinese cultural response to the Gospel, within the bounds of Catholic Communion which only regards the Rule of Faith and basic Eucharistic worship (though it typically takes centuries to develop a solid distinct Rite).
In any case, it must be remembered that the pope is both the Successor of Peter with universal jurisdiction and the Patriarch of the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, with particular jurisdiction over the particularly Roman Rite in the same areas the Eastern patriarchs have particular patriarchal jurisdiction over their particular Eastern Rites, as described by Vatican II below:
“The patriarchate as an institution has existed in the Church from the earliest times, and was already recognized by the first ecumenical councils … By the term … “patriarch” is meant the bishop who has jurisdiction over all the bishops, metropolitans [called archbishops in the West] not excepted, clergy and people of his own territory or rite (OE 7) … The patriarchs … are all equal in patriarchal rank, without prejudice to their legitimately established precedence of honor (OE 8) … and without prejudice to the primacy of the Roman Pontiff. (OE 7) … This multiplicity of local Churches, unified in a common effort, shows all the more resplendently the catholicity of the undivided Church. ” (LG 23)
“Following the most ancient tradition of the Church, special honor is to be given to the patriarchs … Therefore this holy council enacts that their rights and privileges be restored in accordance with the ancient traditions of each church and the decrees of the ecumenical councils. These rights and privileges are those which existed in the time of union between East and West, although they must be adapted somewhat to present-day conditions … The patriarchs with their synods [of overseers/bishops/eparchs under them] are the highest authority for all business of the patriarchate, not excepting the right of setting up new eparchies (dioceses) and appointing bishops of their rite within the patriarchal territory, without prejudice to the inalienable right of the Roman Pontiff to intervene in any particular case (OE 9) …What is laid down concerning patriarchs applies also, in accordance with canon law, to major archbishops who rule the whole of some individual church or rite.” (OE 10)
Taken together, all these official proclamations quoted in this section, from the highest level of the Catholic Church’s authority, from a Dogmatic Constitution on the Church with its two supporting Decrees promulgated the same day within an Ecumenical Council of the whole world’s Catholic overseers/bishops/eparchs and patriarchs together with their chief overseer, the pope (citing the ancient Ecumenical Councils), make it extremely clear that the Catholic Church is much more than the Roman Catholic Church, which has “fully equal dignity” with the other Catholic Sister Churches.
However, change does not happen overnight. These quite recent official directives of the Second Vatican Council which finally clarified and officially proclaimed the ancient Divinely-ordained nature of the Undivided Early Catholic Church cannot be practically implemented in the minds and hearts of a billion Roman Catholic Christians right away, and thus the past “overly Roman” misconceptions about the nature of the Catholic Church still remain in many Roman Rite Catholics, though in not near so many and not near so badly. There has been steady improvement as the Council’s directives to Catholic Christians as to just how they should understand the nature and structure of the Catholic Church slowly trickles into the consciousness of the average Roman Catholic. Thus Pope John Paul II said that “the Church needs to learn to breathe again with both lungs, Eastern and Western.” Any process of learning takes time.
Early on the Overseers/bishops/eparchs of the Christian “Pentarchy” Cities Were All Known as Both Popes and Patriarchs, Both Words Derived from “Father”: as it Is Very Useful to Have One Simple Word “Pope” Limited to the Universal Overseer of the Entire Catholic Communion, it Is Very Useful to Have One Word (I Suggest “patriarch” in the Lower Case) to Refer Generically to Heads of Rites, Whether or Not Their Rite or Sister Church Has (yet) Been Formally Recognized as a Patriarchate Headed by an (Upper-Case) Patriarch
It helps to have easily recognizable and clearly defined terms in any learning process. Traditionally the term “Patriarchate” is given to a Rite or Sister Church which has reached a certain venerable age and level of establishment which is worthy of respect for long service to God within the Catholic Communion of Sister Churches who are otherwise of “equal rank” and share equally in the mission of the Church, new or old. The head overseer/bishop/eparch of such a Sister Church becomes formally known as a “Patriarch,” but as the term “Patriarchate” is simply one of honorable age and respect the Patriarch of a Particular Patriarchate has no different duties or responsibilities over his jurisdiction than the head of any whole Sister Church or Rite does. Thus Vatican II says “What is laid down concerning patriarchs applies also, in accordance with canon law, to major archbishops who rule the whole of some individual church or rite” (OE 10). As the position held by one who oversees an entire Sister Church in the Universal Christian Communion of Sister Churches is extremely important to the understanding of the very nature and structure of the One Universal (Catholic) Church of Christ, it is extremely useful to have a simple term that generically refers to the head overseer of a particular Church. It seems to me that the term “patriarch” in the lower case is the simplest and best way to generically refer to the “head overseer of a particular Rite or Sister Church or Patriarchate,” reserving the upper case formal title “Patriarch” for those overseers who head formally recognized Patriarchates. Both the terms “pope” and “patriarch” are derived from the word for “father” and both terms were used by the overseers of the ancient Pentarchy in very early times. As it is very useful today to have the one simple word “pope” that now refers specifically to the Successor of Peter and Chief Overseer of the Entire Catholic (Universal) Church, it is also very useful to have the one word “patriarch” to refer generically to the overseer/bishop who heads a distinct cultural expression of the Gospel, a distinct Rite of the Catholic Church, a distinct Sister Church within the Catholic Communion of Sister Churches, whether or not any particular head overseer (as yet) officially bears that title.
Four Discussions to Help Roman Catholic Christians to Fully Adopt the Catholic Church’s Self-understanding (based on the Undivided Early Catholic Church) Irrevocably Decreed at its 21st Ecumenical Council of Vatican II (And to Help Non-Catholic Christians Fully Understand the Official Catholic Understanding of the Structure of Christ’s Church)
I wish to present here four different discussions which I believe will help Roman Catholics to really entrench the above official Catholic teaching about the structure of the Church in their minds and hearts, towards the future healing of the wounded Body of Christ the Church. As this teaching is from a Dogmatic Constitution of an Ecumenical Council, it has the same force for Catholics as the Undivided Early Church dogmas, and Catholics (Roman and otherwise) are obligated to accept this teaching. The long-overdue appropriateness of this teaching is obvious in any case, since it simply accurately describes the divinely-given life of the Undivided Catholic Church in its first thousand years – before the East/West Schism (greatly influenced by Muslim conquests of the East), before the subsequent second millennium over-Romanization of the Universal/Catholic Church, and before the Western Schism of the Protestant Reformation.
Eastern Orthodox Christian readers will also come to appreciate just how serious the Catholic Church is about reversing the past damage some Roman Catholic Christians have done to the Undivided Early Catholic Church’s unity in diversity between East and West by having an “overly Roman” and “not Catholic enough” understanding of the Church. Since Eastern Orthodox Christians, sadly, often similarly have an “overly Eastern” and not “Catholic (Universal) enough” understanding of the Church, I hope these discussions will help Eastern Orthodox readers also to recapture the Undivided Early Church’s implicit sense of what the Church is (this implicit sense was lost in history because it was not made explicit before there were schisms). The Protestant churches inherited from the Roman Catholic Sister Church they left, which had already largely lost its conscious grasp of the Church’s proper unity in diversity between West and East, the assumption that there is only one proper way to express the Christian faith in theology and practice, and they went on to multiply Christian divisions over any differences almost beyond belief (with currently 35,000 registered denominations disagreeing with each largely over the kind of things which did not divide the Early United Sister Churches and which do not divide today’s Catholics of the 26 different Catholic Rites). So, although aimed particularly at Roman Catholic readers (Eastern Catholics generally already have a good sense of this, or they would not still be in the Catholic Communion with a billion Roman Catholics who in the past have not always properly respected them), I believe these discussions will be of benefit to Protestant readers as well, for more than just truly understanding what is now the official and irrevocable Catholic position. These discussions help one to think about Christ’s Church as truly one and truly universal within its enriching variety.
The first discussion starts, appropriately, with the Bible. I will deal here with only one Old Testament prophecy of the New Covenant People which is suggestive of the kind of unity in diversity the Undivided Early Catholic Church of East and West actually had. For more on this, I have written an entire book on how the whole Bible, viewed in terms of what I call Family Theology (which combines Trinitarian Theology with Covenant Theology), shows that God intended from the beginning to bring about the Christian Church as it actually existed in the Undivided Early Church, as a Universal (Catholic) Communion of culturally-based Sister Churches, nations renewed in Jesus, which are meant to together make up a world renewed in Jesus as the nations of humanity together make up the world of humanity (as Saint Augustine said, “the Church is the world, redeemed” – and the Rites of the Church are the nations of the world, redeemed). This book is entitled The Bible’s “Big Picture”: Using “Family Theology” to Understand the Single Overarching Story Told Throughout the Scriptures, Which Makes the Bible Our Family History as Christians.
The second discussion makes the point that “At Least Half of the Martyrs, Saints, and Doctors of the First Millennium Catholic Church (And over 20 Popes) Were Not Roman Catholic, but Eastern Catholic, as Are Tens of Millions of Catholics (including Cardinals) Today” – which proves beyond all doubt that the Catholic Church is and always has been really Universal, and never just Roman, despite the overly-Roman misconceptions of many Roman Catholics today who often do not properly distinguish between the elements of their Roman Catholicism which are truly Catholic, part of the Universal (Catholic) faith life of all the Catholic Rites, and which elements are merely Roman, a legitimate part of the Roman Rite’s particular contributions to the rich treasures of the Universal Church’s enriching diversity of faith expressions and celebrations, but not part of the Universally expressed faith life of the Catholic Church. The third discussion emphasizes this point by considering the tiny groups of Roman schismatics (I call them “Roman Orthodox” Christians), who share with Roman Catholics the distinctively Roman faith perspectives and expressions just like Eastern Orthodox Christians share with Eastern Catholics the distinctively Eastern faith perspectives and expressions, yet are no longer Catholic just as the Eastern Orthodox are no longer Catholic. As it is possible to be truly Catholic without being at all Roman, as half the early Catholic Saints were, it is also possible to be definitely Roman without being at all truly Catholic. The fourth discussion ties it up with a number of considerations relating to how “Vatican II Affirms the Primacy of Peter’s Successors in Rome as the Universal Overseers/Bishops of the Universal (Catholic) Church, Not the Superiority of the Cultural Expression of Christianity of Rome (Where Peter Happened to Die) over the Other Ancient Christian Patriarchates” – which merely officially affirms the actual life of the Undivided First Millennium Church. One of the considerations shows how even the Vatican Flag contains an ancient Catholic symbol which, properly understood, proclaims the fully Universal and not merely Roman structure of the Catholic Church under the pope’s pastoral guidance.
The Old Testament Prophecy of Messiah Ruling the Nations from Sea to Sea in a New Covenant Wherein Messiah’s People (From All Nations) Are like Beautiful Jewels in a Crown – as the Ancient and Newer Eastern and Western Catholic Rites (The Nations Renewed in Jesus) Are like Different Jewels in Jesus’ Crown, Which Is All the More Beautiful Because of Their Variety
I metaphorically stated above that each different culturally-based Eastern and Western Sister Church in the Universal (Catholic) Communion of Sister Churches is a jewel in Jesus’ Crown which is all the more magnificent and beautiful because of their variety. A wonderful Old Testament prophecy of the coming of the Messiah in Zechariah 9 predicted that this beautiful jeweled crown image is what the Messiah’s people would in fact be like:
Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your King comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey … (verse 9)
This part is the prophecy of King David’s Messianic descendant Jesus Christ’s Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey just like King David’s immediate son Solomon did when he was crowned King after David. Jesus’s followers recognized He was fulfilling this Messianic prophecy and hailed Him as “the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:38).
He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth … (verse 10)
The Jews were expecting the prophesied Messianic King of Israel in line from David who would rule the nations (as David and Solomon had in fact ruled many conquered nations surrounding Israel) to be a political and military King, like David and Solomon. Their disappointment with and lack of appreciation for the worldwide spiritual Kingdom the Messiah actually came to establish led the same Jews who hailed Jesus as King on Palm Sunday to shout for His crucifixion on Good Friday. But the Messiah did in fact establish a spiritual Kingdom, the portion on Earth called the Church, in which “the nations,” that is, the Gentile or non-Jewish cultures, did in fact embrace the Israelite Messiah’s “peace” proclaimed to them. The nations of humanity restored to God’s Family through King Jesus (as culturally-based Rites of the Universal Christian Church) indeed “extend” the “rule” of Jesus’ spiritual Kingdom “from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.” Jesus rules as spiritual King nowhere else in the world but in His Church, which is now spread throughout the world among the Gentile nations or cultures.
As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit … (verse 11)
The “you” in this verse most immediately refers back to the “Daughter of Zion” at the beginning of the prophecy, the Jewish people, and by extension to the Gentile nations of humanity “from sea to sea” who later came into the New Covenant of Messiah Jesus through the ministry of the original Jewish Christians. The spiritual King on a donkey who comes with “salvation” in verse 9 (Jesus), brings that freedom of salvation to those (Jews and Gentiles) who are spiritually imprisoned by sin through the “blood” of his “covenant” in verse 11, particularly the “new covenant” in the “blood” of Jesus (Luke 22:20), though this verse also hearkens back to the blood of animals used in the Jewish Covenant (which prefigured the blood of Jesus). The blood of animals was symbolic of salvation, the blood of Jesus actually effects salvation. It is on the basis of the Old Covenant with Israel, with its symbolic animal blood, that the Messiah will “free the prisoners” of “the daughter of Zion,” the Jewish people who accept Messiah, first, through the New and everlasting Covenant in His actually saving Blood. And then, through the ministry of these Jews transformed by the New Covenant of Messiah Jesus, the spiritual rule of the Messianic King of Israel will be extended to the Gentile nations/cultures “from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth” as the Gentile prisoners of sin are also freed by the New Covenant in the blood of Jesus. The Gospel of Jesus “is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Romans 1:16). The prophecy of Zechariah 9 concludes:
Then the Lord will appear over them … The Lord their God will save them on that day as the flock of his people. They will sparkle in his land like jewels in a crown. How attractive and beautiful they will be! (Zechariah 9:14,16-17)
So, the prophecy says that Messiah’s people – who come from all the nations (cultures) from sea to sea (brought into God’s Family through the original Jewish Christians’ ministry) – will be like beautiful jewels in a crown, and the different national Rites or Sister Churches of Jesus Christ’s one Church are indeed like different sparkling jewels in Jesus’ Crown which is all the more magnificently beautiful because the variety of the different jewels. The Catholic (Universal) Communion of culturally-based Sister Churches together is indeed superior to and more beautiful than any of its Rites alone, including the Roman Rite, despite its current size as by far the largest Catholic Rite.
Revelation 21:24,26 also confirms this Old Testament prophecy of the nature of Messiah’s Kingdom and Church being enriched and more magnificent because of the contributions of not only Israel but of the nations (that is, the Gentiles renewed in Jesus) . In describing the New Heavens and the New Earth and the Heavenly New Jerusalem in his vision, John writes:
The nations will walk by its light [the light of the “lamp” of the “Lamb,” Jesus], and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it … The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.
That is, all of the good things (the “splendor” and “glory”) within the many different cultures of mankind descended from faithful Noah according to God’s design when He scattered mankind at Babel so they would develop different cultures (not the evil things) belong in the Church and Kingdom of Christ Jesus because they are meant to enrich it and thus they “will be brought into it,” as they are in fact brought into Christ’s Church and Kingdom through the different cultural Rites of (Catholic/Universal) Christianity.
There are many other Scriptural prophecies fulfilled in the Early Catholic/Universal Church Communion of cultural Sister Churches, for example Psalm 87 (NAB), wherein God says “Babylon and Egypt I will count among those who know me…Ethiopia, these will be her children and Zion shall be called ‘Mother’ for all shall be her children.” Zion, that is, Jerusalem, is indeed mother of all the Gentile Rites of the Catholic Church, since the original Jewish Jerusalem Church brought the Gospel to all the other ancient cultures. The Syrian Rites of the Antiochene Patriarchate are “Babylon” knowing the true God; the Coptic Rite and Ethiopian Rite of the Alexandrian Patriarchate are “Egypt” and “Ethiopia” knowing the true God through their “Mother” Rite, the Jewish Jerusalem Church.
At Least Half of the Martyrs, Saints, and Doctors of the Undivided First Millennium Catholic Church (And over 20 Popes) Were Not Roman Catholic, but Eastern Catholic, as Are Tens of Millions of Catholics (including Cardinals) Today
It may also help Roman Catholics, in this process of conforming their understanding of their Church to Vatican II’s Holy Spirit-given directives, to consider that for Roman Catholics to think they are somehow “more Catholic” because they are Roman would be an insult to half the Saints and Doctors of the First Millennium Catholic Church, who were not Roman Catholic. Many great Catholic Saints never celebrated their Catholic faith according to Roman practices and customs, but celebrated their Catholic (Universal) faith according to Eastern customs still practiced by Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Christians. Many great Eastern Catholic Saints’ Feast days (whose contributions to the whole Church were vast) are still celebrated on the Roman Calendar. These include Saint Athanasius, the Patriarch of the Eastern, Alexandrian Rite of the Catholic Church, sometimes called “the father of orthodoxy” because he was the greatest defender of the Divinity of Jesus against the Arian heretics, and he first put together the list of the 27 books of the New Testament Canon which all Christians know today. These include Saint John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople (center of the later Byzantine Patriarchate), arguably the greatest Eastern theologian of the Undivided Early Church, who wrote the Eastern Byzantine liturgy still used by the majority of Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Christians. These include Saint Basil the Great, who also wrote a famous Byzantine liturgy and who founded an Eastern religious order (the Basilians) which a large number of Roman Catholic priests belong to (since religious orders each follow a particular Christian spirituality and Rule of Life which is not tied to the culturally-based Rite the order was founded within. I myself as an Eastern, Byzantine Catholic belong to the 3rd Order founded by the much-loved Western Saint, Francis of Assisi). And these include many, many other Eastern (not Roman) Saints, Martyrs, and Doctors (Teachers) of the Catholic (Universal) Church. Even over 20 popes of the Catholic Church were not Roman Catholic, but Eastern Catholic, before they became pope. Although a minority for centuries, there have always been Eastern Catholic Christians in full Catholic Communion under the pope, including a number of Catholic Cardinals (who elect the pope) today. It is the nature of the Catholic Church to be Catholic, Universal, and not Roman although it includes the Roman Catholic Church within its Catholic Communion of Sister Churches headed by the pope.
As One Can Be Truly Catholic Without Being at All Roman, it Is Also Possible to Be Truly Roman Without Being at All Truly Catholic, as the Small Numbers of What I Call “Roman Orthodox” Schismatics Who Broke Away from or Were Excommunicated from the Catholic Communion
It may also help Roman Catholic Christians to make the proper distinctions between being Roman and being Catholic, to realize that not only is it possible to be Catholic without being Roman, as the early Eastern Catholic Saints and Doctors were and as Eastern Catholics like myself today are fully Catholic without being at all Roman, it is also very much possible to be definitely Roman without being at all truly Catholic. As on the one hand there are Eastern Catholic Christians who remained in or returned to full communion with the pope as their Head Pastor, and schismatic Eastern Orthodox Christians who are no longer in communion with the pope and who typically exalt their particularly Eastern expressions of Christianity over all others including the Roman expressions, so there are on the other hand Roman Catholic Christians who maintain full communion with the pope as their Head Pastor, and schismatic Roman Christians who are no longer in communion with the pope, who rejected one or more of the last few Ecumenical Councils, and who typically exalt their particularly Roman expressions of Christianity (usually an older, though not near the oldest, form of the Roman Rite in Latin) over all others including the Eastern expressions (some of these tiny groups of Roman schismatics have even elected their own anti-pope [not legitimately ordained as pope] to lead them).
The rest of Discussion 3 is still somewhat rough in its organization, but it expresses what I think are many good ideas that not only help illustrate the distinction between the terms Catholic and Roman by showing how you can be one without being the other, but which will also help the average Roman Catholic better understand and have a better and more appropriate response to both the Roman schismatics and today’s “Latin Mass” Roman Catholics whose love of the old Tridentine Latin Roman Mass is entirely appropriate, part of the beautiful “bouquet” of different Western and different Eastern Catholic worship forms, as long as they do not share the same misunderstandings the Roman schismatics do, but recognize themselves as part of a loving Universal (Catholic) Communion of over a billion Catholics of different Rites and Orders and movements who worship God according to many different and mutually enriching spiritualities and liturgical forms approved of by the ordained guiding pastors of the Universal (not just Roman) Church, including the Tridentine Latin form they happen to personally prefer. It would be literally anti-Catholic, anti-Universal, to say that the particular worship form one personally prefers (for whatever reasons) must be for everybody.
Liturgy Means “Work of the People” – It Is the Work We Human Beings on Earth Offer to God in Love, and it Has Always Been Offered in Different Ways in Different Places and Times, Accepted by God on the Basis of its Love and Not its Particular Forms Which Vary with Rite, Era, and Order/Spirituality
Before returning to the discussion of the excommunicated groups of schismatic Romans in particular, I think it is worth noting in general that a major confusion in the minds of the Roman schismatics (and those Roman Catholics who unduly sympathize with them) is that they do not know what the word “liturgy” means and so they confuse its particular forms which have always been different in different places and which frequently changed with the times2 with dogma which is much more important and which is unchanging (though even dogma can be deepened without being abandoned, as in the case of the early Christological dogmas, each more specific than the last). The word liturgy comes from the Greek for “work of the people.” Liturgy is the work we human beings on Earth offer to God in love. The Eastern, Byzantine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, which is over 1000 years older than the Western, Tridentine Latin Mass, makes the point that our human liturgical work of worship is always so limited compared to that of the angels:
“We thank You also for this Liturgy which You have deigned to accept from our hands, even though there stand before You thousands of archangels, and tens of thousands of angels, the cherubim and seraphim, six-winged and many-eyed hovering aloft on their wings, singing, crying, exclaiming, and saying the triumphal hymn, Holy, Holy, Holy…”
Although the angels never sinned and so do not come before God weekly or daily, broken and sinful, as we do, but offer pure, perfect and unadulterated praise and worship to God constantly, God our Father who loves us still deigns to accept our human worship offered to Him in love through many distinct liturgical forms, Eastern and Western, older and newer. Even though the angels worship Him more perfectly, God the Father deigns to accept this liturgy, this “work of the people,” this work of our hands and voices and hearts lifted up to Him in love, as a loving father accepting imperfect sketches from his adopted children and proudly displaying them on the refrigerator. As one Family of those adopted by God the Father through Christ, we get to worship together with the unseen “cloud of witnesses” of the angels and saints in heaven (our older brothers and sisters in the family) when we gather together to perform the “work of the people” of the Divine Liturgy (Eastern term) or Holy Mass (Western term), to celebrate our love of God in different ways from Rite to Rite, era to era and even Order to Order (some religious orders have their own distinct worship liturgies). Any of the many Eucharistic liturgies throughout the Universal Church of East and West throughout history which were approved by and celebrated by the legitimate ordained authorities within the Living Body of Christ the Church were valid Eucharistic liturgies in which Christians had true Holy Communion with Christ the Head of the Body in the consecrated Bread Jesus said was His Body and the consecrated wine Jesus said was His Blood. The current Pope, not in his universal office as pope but in his office as Roman Rite Patriarch, has approved the currently-used Novus Ordo Mass of 1976, celebrated in the local vernacular language, for Roman Rite Catholic liturgies, and he has also approved the continued use of other, older Roman Rite liturgies including the Tridentine in Latin, for those Roman Rite Catholics who still prefer them – though most of the Roman schismatics use only the Tridentine Latin Mass out of a misguided notion that of all the different approved liturgies of all the different Catholic Rites throughout history, this one is somehow the “only” best or “only” valid way to worship God (ironically, the “anti-Vatican I” Roman schismatics also still use the Tridentine Mass which was in common use when they left the Catholic Church after Vatican Council I in 1870, but they celebrate it in the local vernacular language – they have different criticisms of the Catholic Church which motivated them to leave or be excommunicated, and they are not hung up about trivialities of language as are most of the anti-Vatican II Roman schismatics).
The Particulars of Liturgical Norms and Canon Law Guidelines for Christian Worship and Ritual Are Important, but Not near as Important as the Love with Which Christian Worship Is Offered, and Such Guidelines Have Always Been Alterable by Any Particular Rite’s Patriarch in Accordance with the Spiritual Needs of the Times
This does not mean that the particular details of liturgical worship, whether Eastern or Western, are not important. Liturgical norms and the Canon Law giving guidelines for a particular Rite’s worship and ritual practices developed for practical reasons, initially to ensure no heresies crept in to Christian worship, and for ensuring proper order and shared norms for greater Christian participation. But such details have an importance of a much lesser order than the importance of the love with which the “work of the people” in liturgy is offered by God’s adopted children. For over 1000 years even the Roman Church did not have an organized and strict Code of Canon Law (and in any case the Code can be revised and has been on a number of occasions, since it has little to do with Catholic Christian faith itself but merely establishes current meaningful and orderly guidelines for the practical celebrations and rituals of faith, that only apply within the one Roman Rite of the Church – other Rites have their own Codes of Canon Law3 – also changeable with time and circumstance. The Patriarch of any given Rite, the Pope being also the Roman Rite Patriarch, has the authority and duty to adjust both liturgy and Canon Law with the spiritual needs of the times within each Rite). Before the 16th Century Council of Trent, even with a Code Roman Rite worship varied significantly almost from diocese to diocese! So obviously, strict liturgical norms and Canon Law are not strictly necessary for authentic Christianity (even particularly Roman Rite Christianity) at all! The Living Body of Christ the Church in all its several Rites (Roman and otherwise) lived its mission for most of its life without the kind of rigid and unchanging liturgy which seems to attract Roman schismatics (merely on the basis of habit, since their one Roman Rite of the Catholic Church had an unusually fixed liturgy for an unusually long time, between the late 16th Century and the mid-20th Century – more on this later).
As a theologian, I would say that probably the greatest value knowing past liturgies (and Codes of Canon Law) has for us today is that they are a record of the Living Worship of the Living Body of Christ the Church, in its various Rites through various periods of history. Each Rite (each Christian culture), and each era, had a different perspective on the infinite truth revealed in Jesus Christ, and the variations within their different liturgies and Canon Law formally approved by their Catholic Patriarch each emphasize different aspects or elements of that truth that were particularly important to Christians of each culture and era. As the formally approved rituals and liturgical worship of the Living Body of Christ the Church in each era, past liturgies are extremely important “Monuments of Tradition,” that is, documents which reveal Sacred Tradition, the Living Faith Life of the Living Church through history. The writings of individual Saints and Doctors of the Church are also important “Monuments of Tradition,” which give great evidence of Sacred Tradition because they testify to the explicit and implicit faith of Christians from earlier eras who have been formally recognized as exemplary Christians and teachers (Latin: doctors) of the Church of their era. Still, such writings are personal and may contain some personal theological speculations which are not part of the Living Sacred Tradition of the whole Church, especially if such speculations are not continued by later theologians and spiritual writers or not ratified by later Church Councils. The liturgies on the other hand, in their many forms in different Rites and eras, are even better sources of information about Sacred Tradition, because they record the actual living worship of the Living Body of Christ the Church in their particular era, as approved by the ordained successors of the Apostles given the gift and responsibility of overseeing and guiding the Body of Christ. Thus formally approved liturgies are the premier “Monuments of Tradition,” revealing Sacred Tradition with the greatest accuracy and authority. As such, past liturgies not only reveal what Christians explicitly understood about their faith at the time, but also give many clues as to what Christians believed implicitly – things which they had not yet worked out in great theological depth but which they assumed or believed implicitly, shown by just how they worshiped and prayed in their highest and most formal liturgical worship. This kind of information was used as evidence of the Living Sacred Tradition passed down at least implicitly within the Church since Apostolic times, to help the Ecumenical Councils settle disputes in later eras when heretical Christians came up with new theology and doctrine which did not contradict the already-established Christian dogmas but which were not compatible with such evidence of what Christians had always at least assumed – not compatible with how the Christian Church had always at least implicitly lived its faith life before the questions of the heretics had been asked. Canon Law, past and present, is similarly useful and valuable as an indicator of what was and what is important to Christians in their ritual practice. However, because it guides the many practical issues of performing Christian rituals and of governing the Church in a particular time, and only within the particular culturally-based Rite (Roman or Eastern) the particular Code of Canon Law is for, Canon Law is not at all “unchangeable,” nor is it at all “universal” (Canon 1 of the Roman Rite’s Code of Canon Law states clearly that its regulations are only for the Roman Rite of the Church). Thus Canon Law is not near as valuable as the liturgies of the various Catholic Rites through time nor even as valuable as the writings of the Doctors of the Church, both of which express the Universal Christian faith with less concern for particularities and practical needs of era and culture (although liturgies are indeed steeped in the culture of the time they were written, unlike Canon Law with its niggling little practical details, liturgies are primarily focussed upon direct worship of the Deity according to orthodox Christian faith).
Moreover, although liturgical norms and Canon Law in any era are genuinely useful and valuable, they lose their value if they are used legalistically and judgementally, as the Pharisees used the Old Testament Law and their own traditional “hedge around the law” which had similar purposes to Canon Law. “If I have not love, I am only a resounding gong…If I have not love, I am nothing” (see 1 Corinthians 13:1-2). Without love, the Tridentine Latin Liturgy, though valid in itself as are other approved liturgies, is less than nothing, for it fails in its purpose as the liturgical “work of the people” offering their love to the God who is the Holy Trinity of Love. A good rule of thumb is: whatever it is, if the Apostles did not do it, if the Entire Universal Undivided Early Church did not do it, then it is not strictly necessary for Christian salvation and Christian living even if it is good, even if it reflects theological depth gained later, even if you find it personally inspiring and uplifting. These things can be good but not if they are practiced in a Pharisaical way which judges as inferior those who do not practice them. Many heretical groups throughout history (such as the Montanists and Donatists) broke away from the Catholic Church precisely over their heretical way of looking at the Church in one way or another as “the community of the perfect” rather than the Catholic way as “a refuge of salvation for sinners,” and they were excommunicated from the Catholic Church for self-righteous attitudes that were too exclusive or too rigid or too harsh with sinners, insisting on their own preferred norms and standards for all Catholic Christians and lacking the forgiveness and compassion of Christ for sinners. Roman schismatics should take note of how much they resemble many groups of ancient excommunicated heretics in these regards!
In any case, the tiny excommunicated Roman schismatic groups often use the word “Catholic” within their self-description, or think of themselves as “true Catholics” (while they think the billion member Roman Catholic Church has gone astray), but nothing about them is more obvious than the fact that they are completely and utterly Roman, distinctly dedicated to older forms of specifically Roman Rite Christian worship, and it often seems they have not the foggiest clue that to be truly Catholic literally means being Universal and not necessarily Roman at all, as half to three quarters of the First Millennium Catholic Church were not Roman Catholics at all and never practiced anything like the late 16th Century Roman Rite (and Latin language) worship practices many of them are fixated upon instead of being a loyal part of the Living Body of Christ the Catholic (Universal) Church throughout history.
It is very important to distinguish Roman schismatics from Roman Catholics who happen to still prefer the older, 16th Century Tridentine Latin form (still not near the oldest form!) of the Roman Mass. There is nothing wrong with Roman Catholics personally finding this older form more spiritually edifying for their particular personality, and the Roman Catholic hierarchy has appropriately made Tridentine or other Latin Masses5 available where there is enough desire for them, though this particular form of Roman Catholic worship, which was the cultural response to the Gospel of a different culture than ours today, from a bygone era, naturally enough does not have the same broad appeal it once did for the majority of today’s Roman Rite Catholic Christians. For more details, see the below section “Roman Orthodox” Schismatics must Not Be Confused with the “Latin Mass” Roman Catholics Whose Love of the 16th Century Tridentine Latin Roman Mass Is Entirely Appropriate, Part of the Beautiful “Bouquet” of Different Western and Different Eastern Catholic Worship Forms, as Long as They Do Not Share the Same Misunderstandings the Roman Schismatics Do.
Most of the Tiny Groups of “Roman Orthodox” Schismatics Are Fixated upon the Post-Protestant Reformation 16th Century Tridentine Form of the Roman Rite Mass in Latin as “Proper Christian Worship,” Without Recognizing That Latin Was Never the Liturgical Language of the Entire Catholic Church and it Was Not Even the Original Language of Roman Catholic Worship and it Only Became the Roman Rite (Only)’s Liturgical Language in the 4th Century Because it Had Become the “Vulgar Vernacular” Language Which Most Roman Rite Christians Spoke Daily
Ironically, the current Roman liturgy the Roman schismatics reject and criticize restores a number of elements of Roman Catholic liturgical worship from ancient times, much older than the 16th Century post-Tridentine (after the Council of Trent) Latin liturgy (usually referred to as “the Tridentine Mass” since the Council of Trent called for it) which they often exalt as even “the only valid form of the Mass” (with an ignorant Roman bigotry that assumes all the Eastern forms of ancient Catholic worship are inferior to it). Although the Roman schismatics usually insist that Latin is the only proper language for Catholic liturgy, one of these ancient Roman Catholic worship elements the current Roman Catholic liturgical practice restores is worship in the vernacular, or common (“vulgar”) language of the people who have gathered to worship God.
Greek, not Latin, was the original language of the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, because everybody in Roman territory spoke Greek while only certain classes spoke Latin (and before this the original Palestinian Jewish Christians had been celebrating the liturgy in the Aramaic, a variant of Hebrew, commonly spoken in Palestine). It was only centuries later, when Western Romans had come to more commonly speak Latin and less spoke Greek, that Latin became the official liturgical language of the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church (only) because by then everybody in the West spoke it (the Eastern Catholic Sister Churches continued to worship in Greek or Syriac because they did not speak Latin and never would). The introduction of Latin to the Roman Rite Catholic liturgy only was an act of Pope Saint Damasus not in his role as Successor of Peter and Universal Overseer of the Catholic Church, but in his role as Patriarch of the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church only – the Eastern and Western Catholic patriarchs were each responsible for guiding Christian worship norms in their individual patriarchal jurisdictions.
Ironically, given the Roman schismatics usual fixation upon Latin, when Latin was first introduced into the Roman Catholic Mass liturgy in the late 4th Century, at first Roman Catholic priests continued to speak the words of Jesus over the Eucharistic bread and wine in Greek, because the people, accustomed to worship in Greek, at first found those most holy words of Jesus seemed too holy to be spoken in the common or vulgar language of Latin (though neither Greek nor Latin were the language Jesus spoke the words in). Similarly, today some Roman Catholics celebrate Mass in English except for Jesus’ words of consecration over the bread and wine, and maybe a few other parts still spoken in Latin. The initial discomfort with a new liturgical language is simply a temporary effect in the transitionary period between what one is accustomed to and therefore most comfortable with, and what is new, however practical and important – and it is both practical and important that people be able to worship God in the language they commonly use. Pope Saint Damasus in the 4th Century recognized this importance, and acting in his secondary office as the Roman Patriarch he commissioned Saint Jerome’s famous Latin translation of the Bible for use in the Roman liturgy about the same time as he made Latin the Roman Rite’s liturgical language, both for the same reason – so that Roman Catholics under his jurisdiction as Roman Patriarch could celebrate their Catholic Christian faith in the language they commonly spoke, which then happened to be Latin. Saint Jerome’s famous Latin Bible translation is called the Latin Vulgate because it was written in what was then the vulgar or common Western language of Latin.
Ecclesiastical (“Church”) Latin Is Now the Official Language of Catholic Church Documents Because it Is a Dead, Unchanging Language and the Church Guards its Meaning, but it Is Not and Never Was the Official Liturgical Language of the Living Worship of the Entire Catholic (Universal) Church
It is true that the dead language of Ecclesiastical Latin is now the official language of official Catholic/Universal Church documents, and new Church documents written in other languages are later translated back into an “official Latin version.” This is very useful because unlike living languages, dead languages no longer change in meaning with time, and the Church guards the meaning of Ecclesiastical or “Church” Latin. This helps guarantee that the genuine meaning of official Church documents is never lost however much history is left before Christ’s return. But Latin has never ever been the official liturgical language of the Catholic (Universal) Church, and it was not even the first language of the specifically Roman Catholic Sister Church, and it only became the liturgical language of the Roman Rite when it became the common, vulgar vernacular language which most Roman Rite Catholics spoke every day.
In a Protective Response to the Western Liturgical Chaos Following the Protestant Reformation, the Council of Trent Called for an Unnaturally Uniform, Fixed and Unchanging Form of the Western, Roman Rite Mass in Latin as a Temporary Measure Officially Ended by Vatican Council II 400 Years Later; This, Together with the Severe Reduction of the Eastern Catholic Rites Which Roman Rite Catholics Had Very Little Contact With, Helps Explain but Not Excuse the Roman Schismatics’ Literally Anti-Catholic Misconception That There Is Only One Proper Form of Catholic (Universal) Christian Worship
The post-Protestant Reformation Council of Trent, the 19th Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church which was called specifically to respond to the Protestant Reformation, not only corrected many of the sadly common misconceptions and abuses within the Roman Rite which the Protestant Reformers had legitimately complained about. The Council of Trent also seriously considered restoring vernacular language worship to the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church back in the 16th Century, and seriously considered other things the Protestant Reformers were demanding which were not contrary to Catholic faith, but the Council decided to maintain Latin language worship and other common elements of then-current Roman Rite Catholic practice so that it would not appear that the Catholic Church was validating some of the bad or incorrect reasons some Protestants had for some of their demands. Since Christian worship in the West was changing dramatically and quickly in every direction, with dozens of different Western, Protestant Reformation churches suddenly worshiping God in many different ways and often losing elements of Early Christian faith, some Protestant groups on the fringes even losing basic Christian orthodoxy (Protestant churches would continue to split into 35,000 Protestant churches by today, many of them increasingly unorthodox), the Council of Trent decided that the best way to protect the Western, Roman Catholic Church from all this was to (temporarily, not for all time) fix the Roman Rite Catholic Mass Liturgy into one form, in Latin, practiced throughout the Roman Catholic Sister Church (but not the Eastern Catholic Sister Churches).
The Roman Catholic Mass had varied almost from diocese to diocese before this time, as part of the living faith life of the Living Body of Christ the Church expressing itself in its different locales and times, but the Council of Trent decided to suspend the use of the all the many variations of the Roman Mass which were less than 200 years old (still leaving the much older Roman “daughter Rites” like the Ambrosian, Bragan, and Mozaribic Rites as legitimate to use in the local areas in which they were common). The “Tridentine” (of Trent) Latin Mass was developed in the late 16th Century to fulfill the Council of Trent’s call for one fixed Roman Rite Mass for use throughout the Roman Rite (but not the Eastern Rites of the Universal Church, which did not even use the word Mass for the Divine Liturgy of the Eucharist, since Mass is a Latin word). This (temporarily) fixed and unchangeable Roman Mass in Latin would prevent heresies or Protestant errors from creeping into Roman Catholic worship during this tumultuous time of the fracturing of the Western Church in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, and this Mass and its Latin language would serve as a common unifying identity for Roman Catholics worldwide in the face of constantly splintering Protestantism worldwide (since both Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians had wide-ranging missions in the newly discovered New World, unlike the Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, which were mostly persecuted Churches in Muslim countries).
The Tridentine Mass served its intended purpose of helping the Western Catholic Church weather the Western Protestant Reformation, but it had the unfortunate side effect of entrenching in many Roman Catholic minds the misconception that there is only one proper form of Catholic worship and any variations must be wrong or inferior. Since the Eastern Catholic Sister Churches had been severely reduced in size by Muslim conquest and interference, and since there were no modern telecommunications which help people remain aware of what is going on far away, most Roman Catholic Christians never had any contact with their brother Eastern Catholic Christians also pastored by the pope within the Catholic (Universal) Christian Communion. And since the 16th Century 19th Ecumenical Council (of Trent) and the Tridentine Mass had also put an end to local liturgical variations within the Roman Rite, Roman Catholics got used to Catholic worship being exactly the same wherever they went in the world – since the whole world had been colonized by Western European nations which planted Western, Roman Rite Catholic missions throughout the world, which all used the fixed and unchangeable Tridentine form of the Roman Rite Mass. Pre-Vatican II-era Roman Catholic apologists often defended the continued Roman Catholic use of Latin centuries later by incorrectly claiming that “a universal Church all over the world should have a universal language which all worship in” – showing their total ignorance of the over twenty small but ancient Eastern Catholic Sister Churches within the Universal Church which never used Latin (though they were correct that there were certain advantages to the common Roman Rite use of Latin all over the world).
It is understandable, then, after almost four centuries of a single unchanging Roman Mass and hardly any contact with non-Roman Catholics, that many Roman Catholic Christians would have a hard time adjusting to the Catholic Church in its 21st Ecumenical Council (Vatican II) essentially proclaiming that the Protestant crisis is over and so the Tridentine Latin Mass which helped the Roman Catholic Church to weather that storm is no longer needed, and that Roman Catholic worship can go back to being less rigid and more flexible and alterable to times and locations (under the local bishop’s guidance and under the pope as the Roman Patriarch’s guidance) as it was in the sixteen centuries before the Protestant Reformation. The Roman Rite Mass had changed with the times as Western culture changed over the previous 16 centuries much more than the Eastern Divine Liturgies had, since the Eastern Rite territories were overrun by Muslims and, as persecuted minority churches, Eastern Christians (Catholic and later Orthodox) had to work to preserve their entire culture (and its ritual expressions of Christianity) in the face of a hostile non-Christian greater culture. While the great majority of Roman Catholic Christians found the restored liturgical freedom after Vatican II to be spiritually refreshing, a small minority of Roman Catholics who personally found the Tridentine Mass the most spiritually edifying for them were greatly disturbed at its loss (and legitimately concerned about some liturgical excesses among those suddenly given new freedom who took it too far). The Roman Catholic hierarchy in response to the pastoral needs of these Roman Catholics has appropriately made Tridentine Latin Masses available in areas where there is sufficient interest (unfortunately, only after some small schisms, some of which have now been healed). The Tridentine Latin Mass is part of the spiritual heritage of the Roman Rite of the Universal (Catholic) Church, and it is completely appropriate that some Catholics still celebrate their Christian faith in this way, as part of the enriching unity in diversity of the Universal (Catholic) Church which has a vast heritage of both Eastern and Western Christian worship forms which mutually enrich each other by emphasizing different aspects of the infinite truth revealed in Jesus. As long as “Latin Mass Catholics” are not tempted to think the form of the Mass they personally prefer is intrinsically “better” than other forms of Catholic worship, Western and Eastern, as the Roman schismatics do, then they are acting as truly Catholic, truly Universal, Christians, a legitimate part of the Universal/Catholic Christian Communion of 26 different culturally-based Rites under the pope’s pastoral care of which the Roman Rite is only one – all of which have past forms and customs of worship which, if they were valid expressions of orthodox Christianity before, are still valid forms of Christian worship now (even if they no longer have the same appeal they did in the particular culture and time each worship form was developed).
Nothing Could Be More Anti-Catholic (Anti-Universal) than to Think, as the Roman Schismatics Do (Often With Rampant Self-Righteous Pharisaism), That There Is Only One Proper or Best Way to Worship God
In any case, nothing could be more anti-Catholic (anti-universal) than to think, as the Roman schismatics do, that there is only one proper or best way to worship God. Nothing could be more anti-Catholic (anti-universal) than to think that only one culturally-based form of Christian worship (the Renaissance-era Roman Rite form they happen to like) and only one language for liturgical worship (the Latin) is best among all the cultures and languages which have worshiped the God of the Universe since the beginning of Christianity. The only parallel to this kind of cultural bigotry is those Eastern Orthodox Christians (thankfully not all of them) who think the Eastern Byzantine form of the Early Undivided Church’s worship is superior to all other forms which are inferior or wrong. The Byzantine Patriarchate of Constantinople, since the devastation of the older Eastern Patriarchates of Antioch and Alexandria in the First Millennium first by heresy and then by Muslim military destruction, came to influence what was left of all the other ancient Eastern Patriarchates. But sadly, Byzantine Eastern Orthodox Christians have not always been that respectful even of the Antiochene and Alexandrian Rites of Early Eastern Christianity with whom they have maintained a loose communion,6 as well as not respecting the Roman Rite they are totally separated from. The Roman schismatics (and those Romans who are so far still Catholic but who unduly sympathize with them) typically have the same attitudes of cultural ignorance and prejudice as such Eastern Orthodox Christians sadly have.
So I call these tiny excommunicated groups of Roman Rite Christians “Roman Orthodox” Christians, because, just like the Eastern Orthodox Christians, they maintain the fundamentals of orthodox Christianity (and one in itself valid liturgical form) but are no longer in communion with the pope of the Catholic (Universal) Church like Eastern Orthodox Christians, and, as is typical of Eastern Orthodox Christians, in very un-universal (un-Catholic) fashion they are fixated upon one specific form of Christian worship as either the “best” or even the “only proper” form of Christian worship. While Eastern Orthodox Christians typically exalt one particular Eastern form of Christian worship (usually the Byzantine, with its “daughter-Rite” variants) as the “best” or “only proper” Christian worship, the Roman schismatics typically exalt one particular older Roman form of Christian worship as the “best” or “only proper” form.
So even though they are totally Roman, firmly committed to Roman forms of Christian worship, they cannot possibly be confused with Catholic Christians because they lack two essential marks of Catholic Christianity: communion with the pope as Universal (Catholic) Bishop and Successor of Peter, and being part of the Catholic (literally Universal) Communion of Eastern and Western Sister Churches which all have legitimate and mutually enriching forms of Christian worship, which together more fully express the Catholic or Universal Christian faith. They were so completely fixated upon older particularly Roman expressions of the Universal Christian faith and worship that they held on to these and let go of Catholic (Universal) Communion with both non-Roman and Roman Catholics and the Successor of Peter (the Universal Bishop who pastors all of them) himself, to the point that he excommunicated them. The excommunicated Roman schismatics are indeed much more Roman than Saint Basil the Great and today’s Eastern Catholics, but Saint Basil the Great and today’s Eastern Catholics are far more Catholic than they.
Moreover, I have often noticed among them (and even among those Roman Catholics whose love of the Tridentine form of the Roman Mass is entirely legitimate but who are (sadly) unduly influenced by Roman schismatic thinking), that they often suffer from a rampant self-righteousness that sits in judgement over others, as did the Pharisees Jesus so often opposed, where they condemn any Christian who varies from their preferred forms of Christian worship with a distinct lack of Christian charity (even condemning sinners with a Pharisaic self-righteousness totally devoid of Jesus’ loving compassion for the sinners He came to save).
As the Pharisees self-righteously sat in uncompassionate judgement over all those who not only failed to keep the Mosaic Law but also those who failed to keep the customs and traditions they had built around the Mosaic Law, so the Roman schismatics sit in self-righteous and uncompassionate judgement over all those who not only fail to keep the New Covenant’s moral laws but also those who fail to keep the particular medieval and renaissance era Roman Rite traditions for expressing the timeless and universal Christian faith, which they happen to prefer, even though the Apostles did not practice them and thus they are no necessary part of Christianity though they are a valid expression of it.
I find it incredible that so many Christians want to follow the Pharisees with their legalism and judgementalism instead of following Christ’s Apostles with the Love and Truth that sets people free from legalism and judgementalism! If Roman schismatics so badly want to remain in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church’s past, they would do well to learn from the most popular Roman Catholic saint of the past, Saint Francis of Assisi, sometimes called “the most perfect imitator of Jesus who ever lived,” whose soaring passionate love shining through him from Jesus Christ made him deeply and lovingly concerned for the welfare of sinners. Even when sinners directed their sinful hate or violence at him personally, Saint Francis, rather than being offended by their sins against him, was deeply concerned about how they were harming their souls by sinning, and told them so with compassionate love for them from Jesus Christ who died to save them and from God the Father who created them lovingly, desiring them to be forever with Him in Heaven. This way of dealing with sinners often converted them to saving faith in Jesus Christ who they saw clearly through such expressions of God’s overpowering love. Why so many Roman Schismatics (and other “fundamentalist” Christians, both Catholic and Protestant) have chosen instead to pattern themselves after the Pharisees in their response to sinners, is beyond me. Since they do have orthodox Christian faith, I pray for them and I encourage them to embrace that saving Christian faith with unbounded love from the Holy Spirit and not with Pharisaic legalism, or they may find themselves having a great deal of explaining to do before God’s throne, as to why they spent so much time trying to sit on it in judgement over others.
Roman schismatics, since they think of themselves as Catholics, should keep in mind how it is very “Protestant” and “denominational” to think that the only real or best Christians are the ones who think almost exactly as YOU do and practice their Christianity almost exactly as YOU do – the 35,000 Protestant denominations are generally tiny, as are the Roman schismatic groups, because of this. The strength of the Catholic Church is its true universality – Dominicans, Franciscans, Byzantines, Romans, Syrians, Charismatics, Marians, and so on all in One Universal (Catholic) Church loving the One God who adopted all of them and who accepts their love and worship expressed in different ways – this strength is WHY the Catholic Church reached the whole world. And that’s why both Latin Mass-Loving Catholics and schismatics who think of themselves as Catholics are a minority today. Latin never was the liturgical language of the Universal Church.
The Roman Schismatics Usually Confuse Catholic Sacred Tradition with Mere Roman Catholic traditions and Mistakenly Apply the Necessary Preservation of Catholic Dogma Contained in Sacred Tradition to Mere traditional practices Which Are Based in Culture and Era and Appropriately Change with Them
The schismatic Romans (and those Roman Catholics who unduly sympathize with them without formally going into schism as they have) are sometimes mistakenly called “ultra-traditionalist Catholics” (or “non-revisionist Catholics”) because they did not change with Vatican Council II and they hold onto a more “traditional” form of Roman Catholic practice. I have already shown how the Roman schismatics are not at all truly Catholic once that word’s literal meaning and its meaning as concerns the Catholic Communion is understood. But they are also not “traditionalists” in any important sense. The word “tradition” literally means “to hand on,” and many things have been “handed on” within the Christian Church in all its branches throughout its history, many good and some not so good, some helpful for a time and perhaps not so helpful later. The Catholic Church has therefore always distinguished between “small t” traditions handed on in history at least for a while (which include several Irish Catholic legends and quirky practices!) and the “capital T” Sacred Tradition, the Deposit of Christian faith itself first handed on by the Apostles themselves (including their written Scriptures and how they interpreted them), which is a Living Tradition, which is the very life of the Body of Christ actively handing on its saving Christian faith, complete and entire, if sometimes implicit, from generation to generation of the Living Church throughout history – one generation introducing the next personally to Jesus Christ.
The Living Tradition (literally the living “handing-on”) of the Catholic Church is exactly how the Living Body of Christ the Church passes on its Apostolic Christian faith through history since Apostolic times, and it passes on this faith more precisely as time goes on. Newer explicit insights on the initially more implicit faith which come from longer reflection (in the West and the East) upon Divine Revelation are gradually incorporated into more and more precise dogmatic definitions of Ecumenical Councils and popes, more doctrinal subtleties are identified in the continually more mature (Western and Eastern) Christian reflection of the Living Body of Christ the Church. It is such mature theological subtleties the schismatics who reject any Ecumenical Council (there are always some) often seem incapable of handling, and they prefer to retreat to older and more blunt formulas which do not expand their understanding of their saving faith. The modern schismatics often quote centuries old documents as if the newer documents of the same Church (which they often misquote) were contradictory, when they are in fact consistent with older dogma but penetrate deeper, in ways the schismatics lack either the intellect or the will to see.
On anti-Vatican II schismatic websites I have often noted that they try to “prove” the Catholic Church of today has strayed from its previous faith the schismatics think they maintain by paralleling older document quotes with newer document quotes. One problem with this is that the older documents do not always express dogma – which is the only thing that cannot change (though it can get deeper, as in the case of the sequence of early Christological dogmas). Even papal documents often express the current theological opinions of a pope as a private theologian, whose theological opinion should be respected but is not the Living Body of Christ the Church’s final word on the matter. (Ironically, the anti-Vatican I Roman schismatics would not even look at old papal documents looking for something they think contradicts the Church’s current teaching, because they rejected the 1870 Vatican I Council which clarified and explicitly defined papal infallibility, the pope’s previously only implicitly understood and only instinctively accepted capability, in a limited set of circumstances, to even make dogmatic pronouncements on his own, without an Ecumenical Council.) But the bigger problem is that the anti-Vatican II schismatics often misquote the newer documents! They are either intellectually incapable or unwilling to distinguish mature subtleties of Christian understanding, so in their minds they just reduce the Catholic Church’s complex and subtle current teaching (which incorporates all previous Catholic dogma) to a blunt and incorrect form that contradicts previous teaching – and they will even misquote the Church by presenting their own blunt misunderstanding as if it was the Catholic Church of today’s official teaching! In an anti-intellectual and anti-scholarly and utterly dishonest way, they actually misquote the Catholic Church’s teaching which they do not understand because it is too complex and subtle for them, and then parallel their blunt misunderstanding of it with older statements, as if that proved they were right! To quote the Church honestly and accurately would force them (and those they are trying to convince of their position) to think through what the older and more mature Living Body of Christ is actually saying and try to truly understand its strong connection to older dogmatic formulas.
The specifically practical expressions of this Traditional faith (in the East and the West) are expressions of Sacred Tradition but are not Tradition itself, which is understood as the Apostolic Deposit of Christian faith as at least implicitly understood since Apostolic times, though it may have taken centuries for it to be clearly articulated (like “fully God and fully man”). Therefore none of the Renaissance-era Tridentine Roman, nor ancient Byzantine, nor any other practical expressions of this Christian faith are directly part of the Apostolic Sacred Tradition (the Apostles did few of these specific things), though they may express elements of the Apostolic tradition implicitly or explicitly grasped by earlier Christians – and only together do the different practical expressions of Christian faith through time shed the most light on the Sacred Tradition, which the Magisterium from time to time then expresses in a more clear manner at new Ecumenical Councils. Practical expressions of Christian faith are rooted in culture and time, in the five original ancient cultures renewed in Jesus Christ and in their later missionary “daughter churches,” and thus practical expressions of Christian faith have changed with time, many practices being altered or improved or abandoned as times and cultures change (and no Rite of the Catholic Church has changed its liturgy and customs more through history than the Roman Rite, since Rome was a multi-cultural city to begin with, its Rite more flexible from the beginning since it was not based in only one culture, and since unlike the Eastern Rites it was never conquered and persecuted so as to make it take great pains to preserve its ancient form in a hostile external situation, as in the East). While the Apostolic Deposit of Faith itself has not changed and cannot change, the Christian and Catholic understanding of it has deepened with time and reflection – hence the series of early dogmatic formulas of the Incarnation at different Early Ecumenical Councils which each said more about Jesus than the previous dogmatic definition had without losing anything of what the Church meant by the previous formula.
One of the Roman schismatic mistakes is to apply the principle of preservation of dogma to culturally-based and time-based Christian practices – they want to “crystallize” the Roman liturgy in its 16th Century post-Tridentine form (younger than the Protestant Reformation!), without explaining why it didn’t crystalize in its very different 8th Century formal papal Mass form (nor in dozens of other forms)! They do not seem to realize that the 1976 Novus Ordo Mass of Pope Paul VI currently in use (which they detest) is also not the Roman Catholic Church’s last word on the Roman Mass – it too will change and improve and adjust to the times and to future deeper Christian understanding. And this Mass is a product of Pope Paul VI as Roman Patriarch and not as Successor of Peter the pope, by the way – see Discussion 4 below – this Mass was never for the Catholic (Universal) Church but for its Roman Rite only!
When I consider how a piano or a pipe organ – instruments for liturgical music which the Roman schismatics usually accept even if they prefer Gregorian Chant – are pretty new-fangled technology compared to what the Early Church used in liturgical worship, it is easy for me to imagine that those who think like the Roman schismatics centuries from now will look back at Pope Paul VI’s 1976 Novus Ordo Mass accompanied by electric instruments as it sometimes is today as “the good old days” of the way “the Mass should be celebrated” (!).
The Roman Schismatics Have No Good Sense That the Church Is the Living Body of Christ Himself, Which, like Any Living Body, Preserves its Basic Nature but Still Changes and Grows with Time and Experience; Today’s Roman Schismatics Who Rejected Either Vatican Council I or Vatican Council II Do Not Realize That after Every Single Ecumenical Council a Tiny Minority of Catholics Were Unwilling to Change and Grow with the Living Body of Christ the Church and Became Schismatics Just like Them
The Roman schismatics have no good sense that the Church is the Living Body of Christ Himself, which, like any living body, preserves its basic nature but still changes and grows with time and circumstance and does not stagnate so as to die. Most of today’s Roman schismatics rejected growth changes (in liturgy and in understanding) the Living Body of Christ the Catholic Church made in its last two Ecumenical Councils of 1870 and 1962-5 (the 20th and 21st Ecumenical Councils, Vatican I and Vatican II). They unfortunately did not realize that there have always been small minorities of Catholic Christians who refused to accept the Holy-Spirit-led directions of the latest Ecumenical Council, becoming schismatics or heretics. There are still tiny 5th Century Eastern Nestorian and Monophysite schismatic and heretic churches around (which rejected the 3rd or 4th Ecumenical Councils), to which today’s excommunicated Roman schismatics have added themselves in the category of “tiny schismatic groups who refused to accept the guidance of the Holy Spirit speaking to the current age in an Ecumenical Council.” On the rare occasions I run into what I call a “Roman Orthodox” schismatic, my temptation is to say to him, “through history there has always been a tiny minority of Catholics who rejected the latest Ecumenical Council and became schismatics. If you don’t think it’s you, then where is the latest tiny schismatic group?
The other thing I am tempted to say to Roman schismatics is that they should not take offense at my calling them “Roman Orthodox,” since the next word that comes to my mind to describe them is “Protestant,” a comparison which I am sure would offend them all the more. I could tell them that I was born and raised Protestant, and I know a Protestant when I see one! Having been formally excommunicated by the pope because they refused to submit to the Living Catholic Church Magisterium but protested against it and its papal authority, they remain formally in schismatic protest against the very same Catholic Magisterium with its pinnacle in the papacy which I, raised a Protestant, had to submit to in order to cease being Protestant and become Catholic! So how could you get more Protestant at heart than they are, despite their superficial resemblance to specifically Roman Rite Catholics? They protested against and broke communion with the same Living Catholic Magisterium that the Protestant Reformers did. As the Protestant Reformers decided they would only accept the Apostolic authority of the original Apostles in their Scriptural writings, and not the continuing Apostolic authority of the Apostolic successors the overseers or bishops (including the popes) and their formal magisterial writings, so the Roman schismatics have decided to only accept the Apostolic authority of the Apostolic successors the overseer/bishops and popes up to a certain point in history. For the misnamed “Old Catholic Union” they only accepted the authority of the popes before the First Vatican Council of 1870 which they rejected, and for the equally misnamed “Society of Saint Pius X” (SSPX) and other Roman schismatics they only accepted the authority of the popes before the Second Vatican Council of 1962-5 which they rejected (the SSPX is less extreme than other Roman schismatic groups; Catholicism is genuinely important to their members even though they do not understand its First Millennium nature and scope which Vatican II is restoring after a millennium of the un-Catholic (un-Universal) over-Romanization of the Catholic (Universal) Church of East and West which they suffer from more than most – and thus they try to convince themselves and others that they have not been “actually” excommunicated!). But, whether mild or extreme, just like the Protestants the Roman schismatics are unable to submit to the Living Body of Christ the Church with its Living Magisterium graced by the Holy Spirit to lead and teach the Church throughout living history, but will only submit to an old and dead Church Magisterium which they can interpret any way they like. The Protestants accept only the original Apostles and their Biblical writings as authoritative over them, and since the Apostles are dead and cannot tell them exactly how they must interpret the New Testament, Protestants interpret the Apostolic Scriptural writings however they want to – often even losing those interpretations of the Bible we know as the fundamentals of Christian orthodoxy (in “liberal” Protestantism). Likewise the Roman schismatics, with the Protestant pride that refuses to submit to God’s ordained Living Magisterium of Christ’s Living Body the Church, will only accept the authority of old and dead popes over them, popes whose writings the Roman schismatics can interpret any way they like. Unlike the Protestants, they are sure to remain basically orthodox this way (“Roman Orthodox,” as I said), since they accept the papal authority of Leo I who defined the orthodox understanding of Jesus as “fully God and fully man,” and so on, but they are not Catholic, being out of communion with the Living Magisterium of the Living Body of Christ the Catholic Church which is the only authoritative interpreter of the documents of the older popes they do accept! Even where they may happen to correctly discern how an old and dead pope was speaking to the Catholic Church of his time in different circumstances, they cannot authoritatively discern how older papal documents apply to the current time and circumstances of the Living Body of Christ the Church. Pope Saint Pius X in heaven, who himself had to deal with the anti-Vatican I Roman schismatics of the misnamed “Old Catholic Union,” would tell the anti-Vatican II Roman schismatics who for some reason named themselves after him (even though he set in motion the liturgical reforms to the Roman Rite which decades later culminated in Vatican II’s changes to the Roman liturgy they hate) that they need to submit to the living Magisterium of the Catholic Church in their own era, not to their own impressions of what past dead popes might have said today, or even to what they did say in a different era.
“Newsflash” — The Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), which is likely the largest and most organized of the small “Roman Orthodox” schismatic groups, and one of the least extreme, has just very recently, in 2009, been partly reconciled with the Catholic Communion. The Catholic Church has lifted the excommunication which previously banned SSPX members from receiving Holy Communion in Catholic Churches, in exchange for the Society’s promise to seriously reconsider the more mature and developed Catholic teaching of the 21st Ecumenical Council (Vatican II) which they had previously rejected out of hand. However, SSPX priests and bishops cannot hold positions nor perform priestly functions within the Catholic Church until they formally accept the teaching of Vatican II as the authoritative 21st Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church. We should pray that this partial reconciliation continues and eventually bears the fruit of full reunion of the SSPX within the Catholic Communion – and that this may eventually pave the way for the other, often more extreme Roman schismatic groups to also reconcile with the Catholic Church Communion – that God may be praised for this healing of division among Christians sharing orthodox Christian faith! In any case, this partial reconciliation is an example of exactly what the Church discipline of excommunication is for. Since New Testament times, excommunication (or disfellowshipping) is meant to make schismatics, heretics, or gross sinners realize the seriousness of their errors, in order to motivate them to reconsider their positions and hopefully to humbly submit to the divinely guided wisdom of Christ’s Body the Church.
Despite this positive movement towards reconciliation of the SSPX, other tiny Roman schismatic groups, including some who elected anti-popes (who almost nobody recognizes as being the legitimate pope, for obvious reasons), still exist. And as indicated earlier, the “Roman Orthodox” schismatics can also often be very appropriately described as “Protestant” not only for their Protest against the Living Catholic Magisterium, but because they resemble Protestants so much just in their ways of thinking: that there is only “one” proper or best form of Christian worship, theirs; and that they only fully recognize Christians who are almost totally like-minded with them as their Christian brothers in one Church, the “truest” or “best” Church. These are the attitudes which splintered Protestantism into 35,000 small denominations.
“Roman Orthodox” Schismatics must Not Be Confused with the “Latin Mass” Roman Catholics Whose Love of the 16th Century Tridentine Latin Roman Mass Is Entirely Appropriate as Long as They Do Not Share the Same Misunderstandings the Roman Schismatics Do, but Recognize Themselves as Part of a Loving Universal (Catholic) Communion of over a Billion Catholics of Different Rites and Orders and Movements Who Worship God According to Many Different and Mutually Enriching Spiritualities and Liturgical Forms Approved of by the Ordained Guiding Pastors of the Universal (Not Just Roman) Church, Including the Tridentine Latin Form They Happen to Personally Prefer
It is important to distinguish Roman schismatics from Roman Catholics who happen to still prefer the older Tridentine Latin form (still not near the oldest form!) of the Roman Mass. There is nothing wrong with Roman Catholics personally finding the older form more spiritually edifying for their particular personality, and the Roman Catholic hierarchy has appropriately made (Tridentine or other) Latin Masses available where there is enough desire for it. The “Tridentine Mass” is part of the rich heritage of the Universal (Catholic) Church which includes older and newer forms of both Eastern and Western liturgies. But these minority Roman Catholics are to be distinguished from the tiny number of Roman schismatics who claim the Catholic Church is wrong to have made the liturgical changes of Vatican II (and other Holy Spirit-guided changes of Vatican II which reflect Catholic growth and more sophisticated maturity in understanding), and, persisting in their defiance (some not even recognizing the Vatican II and post-Vatican II popes as legitimate, on no reasonable basis – scroll down to footnote 7 for details7), have been formally excommunicated by the Catholic Church’s hierarchy and are no longer within the billion-member Catholic Communion headed by the pope (some of these tiny fragmented groups have even, in farcical ceremonies, declared one of their tiny number to be the “real” pope – such papal claimants are traditionally called anti-popes, not legitimately elected and ordained). Unlike the Roman schismatics who only call themselves Catholics and who have some bad reasons for their devotion to the Tridentine Latin Mass, Roman Catholic Christians who recognize the Pope in Rome as their Head Pastor and personally enjoy or prefer the Tridentine Mass in Latin as their regular form of Catholic worship among the many Eastern Rite and Western Rite liturgies approved by the Catholic Church’s hierarchy should not be in any way looked down upon for their preference. All these various Eastern and Western Catholic worship forms are part of the richness of the Universal Church.
Unfortunately, I am sad to say that a number of “Latin Mass Catholics,” at least in my local area, although they recognize the current pope and are not willing to go as far as the Roman schismatics have in their criticism, still sympathize a great deal with the Roman schismatics and echo many of their criticisms. Some have even been fooled by some of the schismatics’ very flawed arguments to justify inordinate and uncharitable criticism of the pope and the Council (the schismatics usually still erroneously call themselves Catholics and try to argue that they somehow have not really been excommunicated – they refuse to take the loving discipline of Mother Church which excommunicated them in order to motivate them to seek reconciliation with the Church by trying to really understand and then submit to Mother Church’s now more sophisticated and mature teaching which is entirely consistent with previous Catholic dogma). Those “Latin Mass Roman Catholics” who have allowed themselves to be influenced by schismatic sources reflect much of the schismatics’ ignorance and prejudice and they exalt Roman particulars over Catholic universals as the Roman schismatics do (and as Eastern Orthodox schismatics similarly exalt Eastern particulars over Catholic universals). I would say that some of these Roman Catholics are perhaps on the borderline of schism, and they should read carefully Volume III and this Discussion 3 in particular, in order to learn how to be more truly Catholic than Roman, lest they eventually cease to be truly Catholic while remaining Roman and Latin, just like the “Roman Orthodox” schismatics and their anti-popes.
I do understand that some of the concerns some “Latin Mass Catholics” have over certain liturgical excesses or loss of reverence among some Roman Rite Catholics observing the Novus Ordo Mass are legitimate, but they must understand that such things are part of the Church being a living Body, which learns and grows by trying things and making mistakes. The Novus Ordo Mass itself is not to blame – it is entirely orthodox (noone could intelligently argue there was anything in the least heretical about it!) and I have seen it celebrated in very rich and reverent ways, as well as in very inspirational and joyful “non-traditional” ways which lifted my spirit. Tridentine Mass Catholics (that is, Roman Rite Catholics who personally prefer the Tridentine Mass form which is younger than the Protestant Reformation) should understand that it was Pope Saint Pius X himself (who for some reason one group of anti-Vatican II schismatics named themselves after) who actually started in motion the liturgical reform movement which culminated in Vatican II’s call for a new Mass and Pope Paul VI’s Novus Ordo Mass in response to it. Pope Saint Pius X in the early 1900s noticed that many Roman Catholics were not participating in the Mass, but often even praying their personal Rosary meditation while the priest performed the Tridentine Mass, since they had no direct involvement or parts to play in the main celebration of the faith of the Body of Christ the Church of which they were members. Saint Pius X himself (as Roman Patriarch, not as Pope, since it concerned the Roman Rite only) desired that the Roman Rite Mass be reformed to give the lay faithful more direct participation, and the Novus Ordo Mass is a recent response to his desire and the call of Vatican II which came out of it (the Eastern, Byzantine Catholic liturgy already had plenty of lay participation, much more even than the Novus Ordo Mass, so it underwent no changes). Of course as a new thing being tried out by the Living Church it will take some time for the Roman Rite Catholic faithful to find the best ways to celebrate their liturgy. The new restoration of the freedom for local liturgical variations under the guidance of the local bishop which was normal in the Roman Catholic Church before the 16th Century Council of Trent will also be a big adjustment for Roman Catholics and it may take some time for all of them to find the most appropriate way to get the most out of their celebrations of the Mass in their local area. “Latin Mass Catholics” will have to have patience with the organic realities of the Church as a living Body, which learns and grows by trying things and making mistakes. Many of the “Latin Mass Catholics” I know like to point out that many people who come to their Latin masses find the very reverent older style appeals to them. This is true and good. But many more people raised in this modern era do not find the Tridentine Latin Mass appeals to them or edifies them spiritually as much as the modern era Novus Ordo Mass does. The whole richness of a Universal Church is that there is a place for everybody, so that the kind of people who will find the Tridentine Roman Rite Mass more spiritually edifying and the kind of people who will find the Novus Ordo Roman Rite Mass more spiritually edifying and the kind of people who will find the Byzantine Rite Divine Liturgy more spiritually fulfilling all have a place to go within the one Catholic/Universal Church of Jesus Christ.
The realities of any living Body can be messy. Mistakes will be made in a living and growing Body of Christ. But to fixate on an older form developed in another era for another purpose in order to avoid making any mistakes today is to petrify and die. It would be the height of arrogance for any “Latin Mass Catholic” to insist that the great majority of his fellow Catholic Christians who lovingly meet with Jesus regularly in the Novus Ordo Roman Rite Mass are wrong are inferior for celebrating a form of the Roman Rite Mass developed in their own era – of course only a minority still prefer the previous form, for the same reasons that most Tridentine Mass Catholics have little interest in the many even earlier forms of Roman Catholic worship. It would be the height of ignorance for a “Latin Mass Catholic” to not recognize that the Tridentine Latin Mass they prefer is only one of a string of previous Roman Catholic liturgies – in Latin and in Greek – among many other non-Roman Eastern and Western Rite liturgies throughout history which are equally Catholic, equally part of the legitimately approved worship of the Universal Church. It would be a gross lack of Christian charity for “Latin Mass Catholics” to criticize fellow Catholics of any of the Catholic Rites including their own Roman Rite today for not worshiping according to the same approved liturgy they prefer to celebrate. And it would be schismatic and literally anti-Catholic to accuse other Catholics of being wrong for having different worship preferences and styles than the Tridentine Latin form they prefer (not to mention literally satanic, since satan is the Hebrew word for accuser). Vatican Council II is the 21st Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church, and it has the same authority as the early Ecumenical Councils of the very same Holy-Spirit-guided Catholic Magisterium of bishops/eparchs, patriarchs and pope which established the basic fundamentals of Christian faith amid controversies among early Catholic Christians who disagreed about many things. Its permanent dogmatic teaching (in two Dogmatic Constitutions) is guaranteed by the same Holy Spirit as the Early Ecumenical Councils and its culture and time-conditioned directives deserve the same high respect, especially while we are still in the general era they were written in. It is inappropriate for Roman schismatics and for those “Latin Mass Roman Catholics” who sometimes sympathize with them to criticize Vatican II and the current Successor of Peter the way I have sometimes heard them do. What business do they have to virulently criticize a Mass approved by their own pope and patriarch? Are they “more Catholic than the pope?” I hope that this Discussion 3 section will help “Latin Mass Catholics” to continue to enjoy the Tridentine Latin Mass they appropriately love as the form of Catholic worship most edifying to them personally within the wonderful bouquet of approved Catholic liturgies, without falling into the pitfalls of being influenced by Roman schismatics who also love the Tridentine Mass in Latin but for un-Catholic reasons.
The Minuscule Groups of Anti-Vatican I and Anti-Vatican II Roman Schismatics Are Each Fixated upon Different Older Forms of Roman Rite Catholicism but Neither Are Catholic While Both Remain Distinctly Roman
It is worthy of emphasis that while I focus in this Discussion 3 on the tiny number of non-Catholic Roman Christians who rejected the Catholic Church’s 1962-5 21st Ecumenical Council (Vatican Council II), and are particularly distinguishable by their Latin Mass fixation (not to be confused with Roman Catholics who legitimately still enjoy the Tridentine Latin Mass), the category of non-Catholic Roman schismatics includes the tiny so-called “Old Catholic Union” and other tiny Roman schismatic groups which rejected the Catholic Church’s earlier 1870 20th Ecumenical Council (Vatican Council I). These long-ago excommunicated non-Catholic Romans (who also call themselves Catholics without any good understanding of the word) are also fixated upon older forms of Roman Rite Catholicism, rejecting Vatican Council I’s dogmatic clarification of the ancient Christian recognition of papal infallibility and such. Interestingly, I have been to one such church where they performed the older Tridentine Mass, but in English not Latin – their fixations on older forms of Catholicism are different from those of the later Roman schismatics. But neither are Catholic while both remain distinctly Roman. The whole point of Discussion 3 is to help illustrate the distinction between the terms Catholic and Roman by showing how you can be one without being the other. I hope this section will also help the average Roman Catholic better understand and have a better response to both the Roman schismatics and to the “Latin Mass” Roman Catholics whose love of the Tridentine Latin Roman Mass is entirely appropriate as long as they do not share the same misunderstandings the Roman schismatics do.
If the Relative Sizes of the Eastern and Western Catholic and Schismatic Groups Were Reversed So That There Were Many More Eastern Catholics than Roman Catholics Instead of the Other Way Round, the Catholic Church Would Still Be the Universal (Catholic) Communion of Those Eastern and Western Sister Churches in Communion with the Pope in Rome as Their Head Pastor
One thing which Roman Catholic Christians should note in all this, to help them to understand the truly Catholic (Universal) nature of the Catholic Church as at last formally and dogmatically decreed in the Catholic Church’s 21st Ecumenical Council (Vatican II), is that if the relative sizes of the Eastern and Western Catholic and schismatic groups were reversed, the Catholic Church would still be the Universal (Catholic) Communion of those Eastern and Western Sister Churches in communion with the pope as their Head Pastor. If there were 300 Million Eastern Catholics and only 30 Million Eastern Orthodox, instead of the other way round, and if there were only small tiny groups of Roman Catholics and over 1 billion “Roman Orthodox” schismatics, instead of the other way round, then the Catholic Church would be a Church of mostly Eastern Rite Catholics instead of mostly Roman Rite Catholics, in communion with the successor of Peter in Rome who in his “Second Crown” office (see below) as Patriarch of the Roman Rite governed only a tiny flock of specifically Roman Rite Catholics.
Vatican II Affirms the Primacy of Peter’s Successors in Rome as the Universal Overseers/Bishops of the Universal (Catholic) Church, Not the Superiority of the Cultural Expression of Christianity of Rome (Where Peter Happened to Die) over the Other Ancient Christian Patriarchates
Some Roman Catholic Christians have been tempted to think that the accidents of history which gradually diminished the numbers and the prominence of the Eastern Rites of the Undivided Early Catholic Church were somehow God’s will (rather than Satan’s attacks upon Christ’s Church), and that God somehow “intended” to exalt the Roman Rite over the other Rites as superior over all others. Vatican II, clearly expressing the lived reality of the Undivided Early Church’s mutually enriching unity in diversity in the First Millennium, makes clear this is an absolutely unacceptable and untenable position for Catholics to hold, and the Western (Roman) and Eastern Catholic Sister Churches, despite the current difference in size, “are of equal rank, so that none of them is superior to the others because of its rite” (Vatican II, OE 3).8
After all, the Universal Bishop of the Universal (Catholic) Church, the Pope, is only based in Rome at all because Peter died there. If Peter had stayed in Antioch where he helped set up the local Church, and died there, the Overseer/Bishop of Antioch would be the Pope, not the Bishop of Rome! Even though Peter did die in Rome and his universal office as “holder of the Keys” is succeeded there, one does not even need to be Roman Catholic to become pope, one only needs to be Catholic. Over 20 popes of the Catholic Church in the First Millennium were not Roman Catholic, but belonged to one of the Eastern Catholic Rites before they became pope. As recently as 1958, Patriarch Gregory Peter XV of the Armenian Catholic Church (also known as Cardinal Agagianian) was considered a front-runner to be elected pope (though Cardinal Roncalli was elected instead, as Pope John XXIII). My own Byzantine Ukrainian Catholic patriarch (formally Major Archbishop), Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, was not elected pope but technically he could have been. With other Eastern Cardinals, Cardinal Husar was part of the conclave of Cardinals who elected Pope Benedict XVI, the current pope, since the cardinals who advise and elect the universal bishop, the pope, also do not need to be Roman Catholic but only Catholic (Universal Christian).
The Traditional Papal “Triple-Crowned Bishop’s Mitre” Which Appears on the Vatican Flag: This Symbol Proclaims the Universal and Not Merely Roman Nature and Structure of the Catholic Church
Ironically, the truly universal (not just Roman) nature of the Catholic (Universal) Church is proclaimed right on the Vatican Flag, but many people do not fully understand the important symbol of the traditional papal “triple-crowned bishop’s mitre” which appears on the Vatican Flag. The three crowns on this bishop’s mitre (special hat) symbolize the three distinct offices of authority the pope holds:
The Three Crowns Symbolize the Pope’s Three Distinct Offices of Overseership as the Local Bishop of the City of Rome; the Patriarch of the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church; and the Successor of Peter and Holder of the Keys Jesus Gave to Peter, Universal Overseer/Bishop (Head Pastor) of the Entire Catholic Communion of Sister Churches Collectively Known as the Catholic Church
1) First Crown: the pope is the local overseer or bishop of the city of Rome where Peter died. In this capacity the pope is like any other local bishop, responsible for the local flock of Christians who live in or near Rome (which includes a substantial minority of Byzantine/Greek, not Roman, Catholics, who fled the Muslim conquest of the East), and he casts only one vote at an Ecumenical Council of Christian bishops, like any other overseer/bishop/eparch.
2) Second Crown: the pope is the Patriarch of the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, head of the ancient Roman Sister Church within the Catholic Communion of Sister Churches (commonly known simply as the Roman Catholic Church). In this capacity the pope, as head of one Rite or Sister Church in the Catholic Communion which has “fully equal dignity” with all the other Rites or Sister Churches or Patriarchates, has essentially equal dignity with all the other patriarchs, and shares with the other four patriarchs of the ancient “Pentarchy” the honorable distinction of leading one of the foundational Patriarchates of the Universal (Catholic) Church. In addition to this, the pope has a “primacy of honor” among the patriarchs which is widely recognized. In his Second Crown capacity as Roman Patriarch, in deference to Peter’s death in Rome the pope is indeed “first among equals” among the Christian patriarchs, as even many Eastern Orthodox Christians would readily acknowledge him.
3) Third Crown: the Pope is the Successor of Peter and Holder of the Keys Jesus gave to Peter (Matthew 16:19), the universal overseer/bishop, Head Pastor of the entire Church, in all of its (currently 26) united Rites or Sister Churches or Patriarchates. In the Old Testament the King descended from King David gave the keys to the man who would act as the King’s “Prime Minister,” managing the daily affairs of the Kingdom on behalf of the Davidic King, and Jesus, the prophesied everlasting Messianic King descended from David, gave the keys to Peter and his successors the popes who manage the affairs of the Church, which is that portion of Jesus’ Kingdom which is on Earth. In his “Third Crown” capacity the pope is (as Jesus called Peter) the “rock” or foundation (Matthew 16:18) of the Universal Christian (Catholic) Church on Earth (not of the Heavenly branch of Christ’s Church). The pope’s importance as that “rock” foundation is seen in the facts that:
A) The pope is the guardian of the Church’s ancient fundamental Christian orthodoxy or “right teaching.” The early Ecumenical Councils which clearly articulated and established the traditional essential fundamental beliefs of Christianity against heretical challenges were directed or ratified by popes, most of them presided over by those the pope chose. The pope’s specially-graced authority as Successor of Peter and holder of “the Keys of the Kingdom” from Jesus with their ability to “bind and loose on Earth and in Heaven” (see Matthew 16:19) was directly involved in the permanent establishment of the New Testament Canon (the list of its traditional 27 inspired books) and the Christian fundamental doctrines within the Undivided Early Church. For example, Pope Saint Leo the Great precisely clarified the fundamental Christian doctrine that Jesus is “fully God and fully man” and directed the 4th Ecumenical Council (451 AD) to adopt his definition even though many Eastern overseer/bishops were willing to compromise with the Eastern Monophysite heretics. It was Pope Innocent I in 405 AD who ended all Christian disputes over the New Testament Canon in the Early Church. (For many more historical details about the pope’s integral role in the early establishment of fundamental Christian orthodoxy and New Testament Canon, see Volume II Appendix II and Volume III Chapter 5).
B) The pope is the center of the Catholic Church’s unparalleled unity of over 1 billion Christians in over 20 unified Eastern and Western orthodox Christian Sister Churches. By comparison, there are dozens of separate Eastern Orthodox Churches only loosely connected with each other and increasingly divided as time goes by (there are currently three separate denominations of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church), and over 35,000 distinct Protestant/Evangelical Christian churches, many of the Protestant churches now unorthodox or heretical or uncertain about even basic Christian orthodoxy.
Peter died in Rome and the man who is made Peter’s Successor the Pope becomes the Bishop of Rome and the Patriarch of the Roman Rite as well, a triple office indicated by the traditional triple-crowned bishop’s mitre. Nothing makes the particularly Roman cultural expression of Christianity practiced by Roman Catholics superior to any others – if Peter had stayed in Antioch and died there instead of in Rome, the Bishop of Antioch would be the pope. In fact the Catholic Communion of Sister Churches is superior to any one of its Rites alone, despite the current huge size of the Roman Rite in comparison to the Eastern Rites mainly because the Roman Rite did not suffer Muslim military conquest as the Eastern Rites did (the traditional territories of the Eastern Patriarchates are today largely known as Muslim countries, while the Roman Patriarchate’s territory of Western Europe remained free from Muslim oppression).
As bishop the pope is overseer of the Christians in Rome, as patriarch the pope is overseer of the Christians in the Roman Rite of the Universal Church, and as Successor of Peter (or as pope) the pope is the overseer of all Christians in the Universal (Catholic) Church of Jesus Christ. Although one becomes the Roman Patriarch as well when one is made pope, one does not even need to be Roman Catholic to be made pope: over 20 popes in history were not Roman Catholic when they became pope, but Eastern Rite Catholics.
Popes do not usually wear the “triple-crown” that symbolizes their triple-office anymore because this headgear came into use when political leaders commonly wore crowns of office. Since political leaders no longer use crowns to denote their office, and since modern people now regard the very concept of the royalty which usually wore crowns as pretentious, modern popes usually do not wear the triple-crowned bishop’s mitre. Yet it remains an extremely important symbol of the nature and structure of the Catholic Church, which is why it appears on the Vatican Flag and in the Coats of Arms of most individual popes.
I think the modernization of the traditional papal triple-crowned bishop’s mitre would be very useful so that the pope’s very appearance would once again remind people of the structure of the Catholic Church which he leads as its Head Pastor. I would suggest that papal mitres be made with three “bands” of office rather than the outmoded “crowns” of office, with a distinct simple symbol at the front and center of each band which represents each of the pope’s three distinct offices of authority.
I suggest that the first band at the bottom of the mitre, which represents the pope’s office as local bishop of the city of Rome, have a symbol with the distinctive shape of a Roman Rite bishop’s mitre (wide at the bottom, with rounded sides which come to a point at the top). This symbol would proclaim the pope is a bishop in the Roman Patriarchate (since Eastern bishops’ mitres have a different shape, more reminiscent of the headgear of the Old Testament high priests), specifically the local bishop of the city of Rome itself.
I suggest that the second band in the middle of the mitre, which represents the pope’s office as Patriarch of the Roman Rite of the Universal/Catholic Church, have a symbol indicative of some uniquely Roman expression of the Catholic Christian faith. I think a circle with a small cross in the middle would be the best symbol here, the distinct shape of the type of Eucharistic host bread most commonly used in the Roman Rite for some time now (while other Rites use various kinds of wheat bread cut or broken in various ways, as Roman Catholics also do occasionally, Roman Catholics today most commonly use unleavened and crushed bread cut into circle-shaped wafers, sometimes with a cross impressed at the center, which is a uniquely Roman style of Holy Communion bread). This symbol would proclaim the pope is the Patriarch of the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church which usually (though not always) uses this type of Eucharistic Holy Communion bread.
I suggest that the third band, highest on the mitre, which represents the pope’s office as Successor of Peter, holder of the Keys of the Kingdom Jesus gave to Peter, the pope’s office as pope, have a symbol of two crossed keys, similar to those the Vatican Flag has in addition to the triple-crowned mitre. Representing, obviously, the Keys of the Kingdom which Jesus gave to Peter, the very symbol of highest authority in the Kingdom next to the King which makes Peter’s successors the popes the Head Pastors of the Church on Earth, the Church being that portion of the Kingdom of Christ which is on Earth (the Church in its fullness being a Heavenly reality which will not reach its completion until the end of time). This symbol of the keys on the mitre would proclaim the pope in his third office is the Successor of Peter and holder of the keys of the kingdom Jesus gave to Peter, the Universal Overseer or Bishop of the entire Catholic (Universal) Church.
I suggest this modernized “triple-banded bishop’s mitre” to replace the no longer used medieval “triple-crowned bishop’s mitre” as part of the pope’s usual garb, to remind people of the pope’s triple-office within the structure of the Catholic Church, because unfortunately, the fact of the pope’s greatest office as Successor of Peter and Universal Bishop has eclipsed his two lesser but still important offices in the minds of most people, and this has contributed to the confusion many Roman Catholics have about the exact nature and structure of their own Church. Most of the things the pope does which affect Roman Catholics are done in his Second Crown (or “second band”) capacity as Patriarch of the Roman Rite and are not strictly papal actions at all. Anything the pope does affecting Roman Catholic liturgy, worship, ecclesiastical discipline (such as requirements governing priestly marriage or celibacy which are different in the non-Roman Rites of the Catholic Church) or the Canon Law which regulates these affects only the Roman Rite and not the Church Universal or Catholic. The first Canon of the Roman Code of Canon Law specifies its contents are for the Roman Rite only. The Bishop of Rome and Patriarch of the Roman Rite would still govern such things for Roman Catholics even if Peter had stayed in Antioch and the Bishop of Antioch was the Successor of Peter, the pope, the universal bishop. The patriarchs or major archbishops who head the other Catholic Rites are responsible for such things in their own Catholic Sister Churches. Eastern Catholic Christians have their own Code of Canon Law (recently established as part of the Catholic Church’s formal restoration of its First Millennium unity in diversity in Vatican II). The Roman Patriarch only has the advantage that as the Successor of Peter also, any patriarchal decisions he makes are already ratified or approved of by the pope if necessary! But if the pope formally clarifies a solemn dogma or a point of Christian morality in changing world circumstances, or calls or ratifies an Ecumenical Council to discuss and decide matters pertaining to the whole Church, he is acting as Successor of Peter, holder of “the keys of the kingdom,” the pope.
To Fully Implement Vatican II, Catholic Christians Will Have to Gradually Change Their Habits of Speech to Reflect the Now More Complete and More Mature Catholic Understanding of the Church Dogmatically Proclaimed in Vatican II
Historically the term “pope” (derived from father – the Italian for pope is il papa) was first used for all the patriarchs (whose title is also derived from father), but it eventually became uniquely associated with the Roman Patriarch who is also Peter’s Successor, and it is indeed very useful to have a short unique title for the unique universal office of the Successor of Peter and holder of Peter’s keys from Jesus. It would be cumbersome to have to always specify the Third Crown office as “Successor of Peter” or “Holder of the Keys of the Kingdom” or even “Universal Overseer” or “Universal Bishop” – pope is much handier! But if the papacy and the term “pope” uniquely refers to the pope’s unique universal “Third Crown” Petrine office (from Peter), not to the same man’s “Second Crown” office of patriarch of a Catholic Sister Church (an office which he shares with other Catholic but not Roman Catholic patriarchs) and not to the same man’s “First Crown” office of local Catholic overseer/bishop of a city region (an office which he shares with thousands of other Catholic overseers/bishops/eparchs, Western and Eastern), then it is important, for the leadership structure and the Patriarchal/Rite structure of the Catholic (Universal) Church to remain clear in people’s minds, to properly distinguish the pope’s three major offices. The sad fact of many centuries of most Catholic Christians being Roman Catholic Christians, and their Roman Patriarch being also the Universal Bishop the Pope, has meant that many ways of commonly speaking about the pope and the Church he heads do not properly distinguish between what is papal and what is patriarchal, between what is universally Catholic and what is particularly Roman. Catholics and non-Catholics alike routinely confuse the terms Catholic and Roman Catholic as if they were completely interchangeable, instead of recognizing the Roman Catholic Church as part of the Catholic (Universal) Church (among other ancient Sister Churches “of equal dignity”). This misconception has fueled the scandalous Christian divisions for centuries. Now that the Catholic Church has finally officially reflected upon itself and dogmatically defined itself in Vatican II, to be the most true to itself, Catholic Christians will have to gradually change their habits of speech to reflect the now more complete and more mature Catholic understanding of the Church, brought about through the magnificent blessing of the Holy Spirit through Vatican II, the very first Church Council ever to define what the Church is, in a Dogmatic Constitution of an Ecumenical Council of the worldwide Catholic overseers/bishops/eparchs in union with their pope – the highest possible expression of the Catholic Church’s authority.
As one example of the common habits of speech which ideally should be altered to reflect the Catholic Church’s now more mature understanding of itself, I note that Roman Catholics sometimes refer to “the norms of the Universal Church” when what they are talking about are not actually norms of the Universal/Catholic Church but norms of the Roman Rite of the Universal/Catholic Church only. Before they use this term they should reflect upon just which norms they are actually talking about. As another example: to say that “to be Catholic one must be in communion with the Bishop of Rome” is technically correct, but it is correct in the same way that it would be technically correct to say that “to get a pardon granted you must go to the President of the Country Club” (where the President of the Country Club also happens to be the State Governor). If the same man happens to be both State Governor and President of the Country Club, it is technically correct to say “to get a pardon granted you must go to the President of the Country Club,” but it would be much more precise to say that “to get a pardon granted you must go the State Governor,” since it is only in his office as State Governor and not in his office as President of the Country Club that the man who is both can grant pardons. Similarly, while not technically incorrect, it is imprecise to say “to be Catholic one must be in communion with the Bishop of Rome.” It would be much more precise and accurate to say that “to be Catholic one must be in communion with the Successor of Peter” (or “with the pope,” the papacy understood as referring particularly to the Petrine office held uniquely by the pope, and not to the patriarchal and episcopal offices he also holds which are also held by many others). It is only in his “Third Crown” office as Successor of Peter and not in his “First Crown” office as local Bishop of the particular city of Rome nor in his “Second Crown” office as Patriarch of the particularly Roman Rite of the Universal Church that the pope is the center of unity of the Universal (Catholic) Church. To be Catholic one must be in communion with the Successor of Peter who only happens to also be associated with the city of Rome and the culturally Roman Sister Church based there, only by the accident of history that Peter died there and not somewhere else (had Peter died somewhere else, there would still be a Bishop of Rome and Roman Rite Patriarch who does most of the things the pope now does which concern Roman Rite Catholics, but he would not be Peter’s Successor and universal bishop with authority over all the Rites of the Catholic Church).
Such precision is important because while technically correct it is misleading to use the pope’s other titles of Bishop of Rome or even Patriarch or Head of the Roman Catholic Church when one is referring to some element of the pope’s universal office. Such imprecise application of the pope’s three titles and offices, mixing up the pope’s “Romanness” in his lesser two offices with his “Universality” in his highest office, has historically misled many Roman Catholic Christians to think of the Catholic Church as more Roman than truly Catholic, and these Roman Catholic misconceptions about the nature of the Catholic Church have fueled the Eastern Orthodox schism for centuries. There were some Eastern Sister Churches (like the Antiochene Maronites and Byzantine Italo-Albanians) who were never out of communion with the Universal Bishop the pope, and there were portions of all the Eastern Orthodox Churches who were forced out of the Catholic Communion by their Muslim conquerors in 1472 who came back into Catholic Communion afterwards (including my own Byzantine Ukrainian Catholic Church in 1595, representing half of all Ukrainian Rite Christians of the time). But the largest numbers of Eastern Orthodox Christians have preferred to deny their own Eastern Orthodox heritage of recognizing the pope as Head Pastor rather than come back into the Catholic Communion with a great majority of Roman Catholics, who often do not respect the Eastern Orthodox expression of Christianity as of “fully equal dignity” with the Roman Catholic expression of Christianity within the Catholic (Universal) Communion of Sister Churches, and who thus might try to “Romanize” the Eastern Orthodox (as they sometimes have the Eastern Catholics) such that they would lose even more of their Eastern Orthodox (and Catholic!) heritage – despite the fact both the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches were united in a loving unity in diversity in the Undivided Early Catholic Church.
One Example of Properly Distinguishing Particular Patriarchal Elements of Catholic Expression from Truly Universal or Catholic Elements of Catholicism: it Has Never Been True to Say That “Catholic Priests must Be Celibate” since Only the One Roman Rite of the Catholic Church Has Ever Required this Particular Clerical Discipline, and Only since 1123
As one example of the common habits of speech (and thought) which ideally should be altered to reflect the Catholic Church’s now more mature understanding of itself, I note that it is improper and wholly inaccurate to say “Catholic priests must be celibate.” There has never been a time in the history of the Catholic Church where all Catholic priests have been required to be celibate. Even the Roman Rite’s discipline of clerical celibacy is under 900 years old, and has lawfully dispensed exceptions even today. In the New Testament Church Saint Paul makes clear that neither clerical celibacy (which he prefers personally for its distinct advantages of undistracted service to God’s Church) nor clerical marriage (also practiced since the beginning of the Church) is obligatory as a matter of Christian faith, the only Biblical regulation being that an overseer/bishop or presbyter/priest cannot be the husband of more than one wife, which many Rites have interpreted to mean (in addition to forbidding polygamy) that a cleric cannot be married again once ordained, though they may be ordained as married men. Both celibate and married clergy existed in the whole Church for a long time, and many popes between Saint Peter himself and Pope Adrian II (867-872 AD) were married. Pope Saint Gregory the Great, though himself a monk, was actually the (legitimate) grandson of Pope Felix III. When the papal primacy of the Successor of Peter in Rome became an irreformable dogma of the Catholic Church at the 8th Ecumenical Council (Constantinople IV) in 869 AD, the current Pope, the above Pope Adrian (or Hadrian) II, was married. Since the 692 Council of Trullo, bishops/eparchs only, and only in the Byzantine Rite, have been required to be celibate. Though priestly celibacy was much more common in the Roman Rite early on, celibacy as the requirement for all clergy of any rank in the Roman Rite (only) came into Roman Rite Canon Law only in 1123. Today all the Rites require celibacy of their overseers/bishops/eparchs for the very practical reason that it is too great a conflict to have that much responsibility in the Church and have family responsibilities as well. But since all the Eastern Catholic Rites have both married and celibate priests (though only celibate bishops/eparchs), it is simply improper and inaccurate to say that “Catholic priests must be celibate.” Only Roman Catholic priests must be celibate, as a changeable clerical discipline in force since 1123. Technically even this does not convey the full Roman Catholic reality, since there are in fact today some married Roman Catholic priests who have been “dispensed” from the normal Roman requirement, most often married Anglican/Episcopalian priests who later joined the Roman Catholic Church.
Clerical celibacy is not unchanging Catholic dogma nor even a doctrine, it is simply a clerical discipline affecting the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church only. As such, it does not even fall under the direct purview of the pope as pope – it is a matter under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of the Roman Rite, which is the “Second Crown” office the pope happens to hold in addition to being the Successor of Peter. The other Rites have their own traditional clerical disciplines (regulated by their patriarchs), such as the requirement that although married men can be ordained priests, already-ordained priests cannot be married, such that the Byzantine tradition enjoys the distinct and separate advantages of having both married and celibate priests. Married priests have a greater insight into married life through which to advise their married parishioners, and they provide godly models for raising a family; while celibate priests, not being divided in their duties between family and church, can devote themselves undistractedly to the needs of Christ’s Church, which is why Saint Paul personally endorses clerical celibacy without requiring it as the norm for the New Testament Christian leadership of episkopoi (eparchs/bishops or overseers) and presbyteroi (priests or elders).
Those who today (Protestant and Eastern Orthodox) are unthinkingly critical of the Roman discipline of clerical celibacy should be aware that they are criticizing Saint Paul’s expressed preference for Christian leaders in the Bible – Paul’s opinion (which the Holy Spirit inspired him to put into the Bible) is not to be ignored, and the Roman Rite which strictly follows his advice recorded in the Bible (as one of the mutually enriching ways Christians organize themselves in the Catholic Communion of Sister Churches) should not be criticized for doing so! The Roman Rite has been served well by its almost 1000-year discipline of required clerical celibacy. The Roman Rite, being the most missionary Rite in history since the Eastern Rites were more concerned with their own survival in hostile Muslim territory, has found that in hostile mission territories it has been of great advantage for the priest to not have a family which could be threatened in ways that might make the priest follow the directions of thugs rather than their that of their Christian conscience. Even Protestant missionary organizations have sometimes noted this advantage of single missionaries. The discipline of priestly celibacy has also lessened the impact of the current shortage of priests in some territories of the Roman Rite like North America. Those celibate priests they have (even if imported from other countries with no shortage) can do much more work for the Church than married priests can, as per Saint Paul’s advice. It would be naive to say “if they just allowed married priests, there would be no priestly shortage.” It would take many more married priests to do the work that a smaller number of celibate priests can do, since they are distracted by the not-inconsiderable responsibilities of a family, and so there is no guarantee that lifting the current Roman Rite ban upon married priests would solve the priestly shortage problem. Even the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church, which have both celibate and married priests, in some areas have a priestly shortage.
In any case, what is important to realize for genuine Catholicity is that required priestly celibacy is not a discipline of the Church Universal or Catholic but only a discipline of the Roman Rite of the Catholic or Universal Church. I realize that priestly celibacy, especially in Protestant majority countries where the Catholic minority has been criticized for it (despite Paul’s endorsement of it in the Bible!), has become part of the “Catholic identity” of many Roman Catholics – they are used to distinguishing themselves as Catholics partly through their distinction of having celibate priests. But this way of thinking is part of the overly-Roman and ultimately un-Catholic or un-Universal mindset which confuses what is particularly Roman with what is universally Catholic and does not make the appropriate and accurate distinctions between the two. Such befuddled and imprecise thinking about the Catholic Church on the part of Roman Rite Catholics is a big part of what fuels the ongoing Christian divisions which mar the beauty and effectiveness of Christ’s Church on Earth. To correct this kind of thinking, Vatican II, the 21st Ecumenical Council of the truly Universal Catholic Church, “solemnly declares that the churches of the East like those of the West have the right and duty to govern themselves according to their own special disciplines [including clerical disciplines regarding celibacy]. For these are guaranteed by ancient tradition” (OE 5).
There is one very small change to the currently used 1976 Roman liturgy of Pope Paul VI (acting as Patriarch of the Roman Rite only!) which I think would better reflect the Catholic Church’s more mature understanding of itself defined in Vatican II, and help lead Roman Catholics to adopt this more mature understanding. I here suggest it to whichever Church authorities have the ability to adopt this small change within their jurisdictions. At the point in the Mass where the priest prays for “Benedict our pope, Frederick our bishop, and all the clergy,” I think it would be better if the priest prayed for “Benedict our pope and patriarch, Richard our (Metropolitan) Archbishop, Frederick our bishop, and all the clergy.” This small addition would clarify the common leadership structure of the entire Catholic Church, and it would subtly remind Roman Catholics that their pope is also their patriarch in the Universal (Catholic) Church which from the early centuries has been organized into different Patriarchates including but not limited to the Roman Patriarchate. It would help Roman Catholics to never again forget that the Catholic Church is much more than the Roman Catholic Church. This would also serve the Church’s unity by paralleling the most common Eastern Catholic liturgy (the Byzantine) which already prays for all four levels of overseership in the Catholic Church. The pope has the overseership of the entire Universal church; the patriarchs (or Major Archbishops) have the overseership of Rites or Sister Churches or Patriarchates within the Catholic Church; the Metropolitan Archbishops oversee larger regions within their Patriarchate (these are commonly known as Archbishops in the West and Metropolitans in the East) and the bishops (Western term) or eparchs (Eastern term) oversee local churches (usually centered around a city). Byzantine Catholics never forget the structure of the Universal Church partly because every time they celebrate their liturgy they pray for “our most holy universal Pontiff, Benedict, Pope of Rome; our most blessed Patriarch (or Major Archbishop), Lubomyr, our most reverend Metropolitan, Lawrence, our God-loving Bishop, David; all the priestly, diaconal and religious religious orders…and all you, orthodox Christians, always, now and for ever and ever.” The Byzantine Rite also asks God to watch over His “churches,” meaning the local churches and the different Patriarchal Sister Churches – so they do not confuse the Catholic Church entire with their own Sister Church, as Roman Catholics often do when they pray only that God look after His “Church” – meaning the Church Universal or Catholic, but which they easily confuse with their own Roman Catholic Sister Church specifically.
Vatican II in Principle Officially Corrects the Past Un-Catholic “Romanization” of the Eastern Catholic Rites Which Fuels the Eastern Orthodox Schism from Catholic (Universal) Communion
Sadly, the lack of such common reminders of the truly Universal and not just Roman nature of the Catholic Church in the normal faith lives of most Roman Catholics has meant that there have been actual past periods of partial “Romanization” of the Eastern Catholic Rites, where majority Roman Catholics, ignorant of the proper truly universal and not merely Roman nature of the Catholic (Universal) Church, have pressured or forced minority Eastern Catholics to abandon certain Eastern elements and adopt certain Roman elements in order to be accepted by Roman Catholics as “really” Catholic (even though nothing could be more anti-Catholic, anti-Universal, than to insist that all Christians universally have be like Roman Christians are specifically). This past unjust and un-Catholic Roman cultural prejudice against their own Eastern Catholic brothers and sisters in communion with the pope has entrenched the Eastern Orthodox fear of being “Romanized” if they ever return to the Catholic Communion of East and West under the pope, as their own First Millennium history of Eastern acceptance of the papacy (listed in Volume III Chapter 5) on its own would logically lead them to do were it not for this fear.
The popes themselves for the most part have generally been good at understanding that they are universal overseers of the entire Catholic Church in its Western and Eastern Rites. It helps that in their “First Crown” capacity as local bishop of the city of Rome they actually have a sizable minority of Byzantine Rite Italo-Albanian Catholics in their local flock, who originally fled the Muslim conquests of the East and settled in Rome. Thus Pope Benedict XIV in the 1700s actually prescribed punishments for Roman Catholic missionaries working in Eastern Orthodox territories who tried to Romanize those Eastern Orthodox Christians who came to came back under the pope’s universal jurisdiction. Pope Benedict XIV wrote that “the point is to make them Catholics, not Romans.” The Pope knew the distinction! Unfortunately, the average Roman Catholic, clerical and lay, for centuries has not understood as much. The historical backbone of the Orthodox Church in America were actually Eastern Catholics coming to the New World in the 19th Century who were treated so badly by Roman Catholics who would not acknowledge and respect them as fellow Catholics unless they were much more Roman, that they joined the Eastern Orthodox schism from Catholic Communion in order to continue to practice most of their ancient Eastern Catholic traditions from the Undivided Early Catholic Church! (Many other Eastern Catholics heroically refused to leave the Catholic Communion under such pressure of Satan using the ignorance of their fellow Catholics to harm them and tempt them to break communion, but they unjustly suffered the Romanization of some of their ancient Eastern rituals and practices and sometimes the look of their worship spaces because of their unfailing loyalty to the Catholic Church and the Successor of Peter. All Catholics owe a debt of gratitude to these minority Eastern Catholics who have suffered ignorance in order to remain a living sign of the true Eastern and Western universality of the Universal/Catholic Church under the pope’s pastoral guidance). Thankfully, Vatican II has started the process of correcting this past very un-Catholic (un-Universal) attitude and activity of some Roman Catholics. The 21st Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church (Vatican II) officially declares:
“The Catholic Church values highly the institutions of the Eastern Churches, their liturgical rites, ecclesiastical traditions and their ordering of Christian life. For in those churches, which are distinguished by their venerable antiquity, there is clearly evident the tradition which has come from the apostles through the Fathers and which is part of the divinely revealed, undivided heritage of the Universal Church. This holy, ecumenical synod [the Second Vatican Council, the 21st Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church], therefore, has a special care for the Eastern Churches, which are living witnesses of this tradition, and wishes them to flourish and to fulfil with new apostolic strength the task entrusted to them (OE 1) … Provision must be made therefore everywhere in the world to protect and advance all these individual churches (OE 4) … History, tradition and very many ecclesiastical institutions give clear evidence of the great debt owed to the Eastern Churches by the Church Universal. Therefore the holy council not merely praises and appreciates as is due this ecclesiastical and spiritual heritage, but also insists on viewing it as the heritage of the whole Church of Christ. For that reason this Council solemnly declares that the churches of the East like those of the West have the right and duty to govern themselves according to their own special disciplines. For these are guaranteed by ancient tradition, and seem to be better suited to the customs of their faithful and to the good of their souls .” (OE 5)
Ideally, had the Catholic Church maintained its First Millennium Catholic unity in diversity, none of the above would even need to be said, it would be a given. If the average Roman Catholic in America had understood this a century before, they would not have pressured Eastern Catholics to Romanize, and those Eastern Catholics that became Eastern Orthodox would have had no reason at all to do so. But it is stated here, in a supplementary Decree to the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church promulgated the same day, to correct past Roman Catholic ignorance of and abuse of the Eastern Catholic Sister Churches, to help start the process of getting the over-Romanized Catholic Church back to its First Millennium truly Catholic, Universal ideal. There is of course no undue criticism of the Catholic Church here – all Christians suffer the attacks of Satan who tries to get as many individual Christians as he can to discredit the Body of Christ the Church by their unloving and foolish actions. This has happened before in the life of the Catholic Church. The 19th Ecumenical Council, the post-Protestant Reformation Council of Trent in the 16th Century, had to officially reform the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church in many areas where many Roman Catholics had lost sight of some Catholic ideals and had come to abuse various Catholic customs and practices. In the same manner the 21st Ecumenical Council (Vatican II) has had to officially reform this area where most Catholics had lost sight of their truly Catholic, Universal, Christian identity, and where Roman Catholics had started acting inappropriately towards Eastern Catholics because of this loss (some Eastern Catholics had also sometimes come to accept the inappropriate “second class Catholic” status and failed to appreciate the appropriate “fully equal dignity” of their Rite with the Roman Rite). So in correction of this the Vatican Council II Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches continues:
“All members of the Eastern Churches should be firmly convinced that they can and ought always preserve their own legitimate liturgical rites and ways of life, and that changes are to be introduced only to forward their own organic development. They themselves are to carry out all these prescriptions with the greatest fidelity. They are to aim always at a more perfect knowledge and practice of their rites, and if they have fallen away due to circumstances of times or persons, they are to strive to return to their ancestral traditions.” (OE 6)
In this way this worldwide, Ecumenical Council of bishops and pope acknowledged that the Eastern Catholic Sister Churches within the Catholic Communion had been Romanized in the past and, to correct this (now that the Catholic Church had dogmatically defined itself and saw that an injustice had been done to a part of itself), here told Eastern Catholics, from the Catholic Church’s highest authority so they could indeed be “firmly convinced,” that they should preserve their Eastern heritage and essentially commanded them to in fact “return to their ancestral traditions” wherever they had been lost (Roman Catholics having been already told in OE 4 to “protect and advance” these Eastern Sister Churches – that is, instead of trying to Romanize them!).
It should be noted here that the whole tone of Vatican Council II emphasized the positive, the Council articulated positive principles or defined Catholic and Christian truth positively, without directly referring to past sins and it did not mention heresies or errors by name, as many past Ecumenical Councils and other Church documents did. The Council in general chose to positively display the Church’s ideal for the world to see and referred to serious current errors only in general terms – likely with a mind towards the Council being more directly applicable for longer, its terminology not so tied to the mid-20th Century situation of when the Council was held. The Council intended to articulate guiding Catholic principles which would last beyond the particular challenges of the time.
I think this approach of the Council Fathers was generally wise, and it is part of the magnificent Christian beauty of Vatican Council II, which will stand as a source of clearly articulated guiding Catholic principles for centuries to come. However, in this one case of the reform of the Catholic Church’s self-understanding to bring it fully back to its First Millennium lived reality of unity in diversity, not mentioning the specific sins of past Roman Catholics violating the principles here articulated can make the directives of OE 6 seem contradictory – Eastern Catholics are to “strive to return to their ancestral traditions” of the past yet they are to allowed to introduce changes “to forward their own organic development,” to develop organically into the future. But this makes sense in the historical context of past Romanization of the Eastern Catholic Rites which needs to be corrected: Eastern Catholics are to strive to return to those past genuine Eastern traditions lost or altered in the past due to unjust Romanization, but they are also to develop organically as living churches adapting to new circumstances and not be stagnated in that Eastern past as a “museum piece.” Eastern Catholics are to be open to developing a new Eastern future, but only an Eastern future, not a forced or pressured Romanization ever again. From now on “changes are to be introduced only to forward [the Eastern Churches’] own organic development,” and never to Romanize the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church. OE Section 6 attempts to articulate a balance between:
1) on the one hand, undoing the damage caused by the past Romanization brought about by Roman Catholics who were ignorant of the proper distinctions between being Roman and being Catholic pressuring the Eastern Catholics to be more Roman to “prove” their Catholicity (this is not mentioned specifically but this is the primary issue that this section addresses), by affirming to the Eastern Churches which have suffered Romanization that they not only are properly allowed to but should in fact preserve their rituals and traditions and are essentially commanded to restore Romanized ones to their full Eastern form (which in the past Roman Rite Catholics did not allow them to do in North America and Ukraine and other places); and
2) on the other hand, not stifling the future organic development of the Eastern Rites as living churches adapting to new circumstances for the best spiritual service of the Kingdom of God (including “the preaching of the Gospel in the whole world” – OE 3) and for the best spiritual service to their individual members, by so encouraging them to restore the past.
[The following to the end of the Chapter is particularly rough in its organization but has many good ideas expressed in complete sentences and paragraphs]
In any case, Eastern Orthodox Christians should realize and be very encouraged by the fact that this Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches promulgated by Catholic Church’s highest authority in supplementation of its new Dogmatic Constitution on the Church9 means that at last the Catholic Church is really serious about properly respecting Eastern Christianity and therefore it is no longer in any way accurate or understandable for Eastern Orthodox Christians to reduce the word “Catholic” to “Roman” (and anti-Eastern) in their minds, since even those Roman Catholics who themselves once had such misconceptions are slowly learning to abandon them for a truly universal understanding of the Catholic (Universal) Church, at the direction of their own Church hierarchy. Catholic Christians should realize that they still have to earn the trust of their separated Eastern Orthodox brothers in this regard. On paper and in principle, Vatican II solves the major problems of Eastern and Western Christian division. Had the more mature and reflected conscious understanding of the nature and structure of the Church proclaimed at Vatican II (looking to the instinctively lived reality of the Undivided Early Church as its model) existed in the First Millennium, there would have been no enduring East-West schism in the first place. But the Second Vatican Council’s directives have to be fully implemented in the minds and hearts of average Roman Catholics, who thus become genuinely open to being enriched by contact with non-Roman forms of Christianity and not critical of them for being different, before their Eastern Orthodox “separated brothers” will ever be comfortable enough en masse to seriously consider formal reunification with the Catholic Church.
It is important to understand that the Church reunion Jesus wishes “so that the world may believe” (John 17:21) will never come by Eastern Orthodox Christians becoming Roman Catholic nor by Roman Catholic Christians becoming Eastern Orthodox, but by both Churches recovering the full sense of the ancient structure of the Undivided Early Catholic (Universal) Church of East and West in which Jesus’ prayer for Christian unity was lived out successfully for centuries, and consciously restructuring themselves according to the Undivided Early Church pattern (which was gradually lost in history because it was instinctively lived in love for centuries – part of the implicit Living Sacred Tradition of the Undivided Catholic Church – without being explicitly and consciously defined). In Vatican II the Catholic Church has laid the groundwork for this conscious restructuring and the Church has already made some big leaps towards implementing it.
But both sides need to acknowledge that in the past they have sinned against Church unity, and move forward together towards restoring it. (Vatican II also acknowledged this generically on behalf of Catholics). Eastern Orthodox Christians in the past have sinned against the unity of Christ’s Church by not recognizing the pope as Head Pastor of the one Christian Church and visible center of the Church’s unity, and by coming to pridefully judge the Eastern expressions of Christianity as superior to the Western. Roman Catholic Christians in the past have sinned against the unity of Christ’s Church by not recognizing the fully equal dignity of the Roman and non-Roman Rites or Sister Churches or Patriarchates of the one Christian Church which gathers around the pope in Rome as its visible center of unity, and by coming to pridefully judge the Western and Roman expressions of Christianity as superior to the Eastern on no more basis than the accidental fact that the first Universal Bishop of the Christian Church happened to die in their territory such that his universal office is succeeded there.
Thankfully, Vatican II has officially corrected the Roman Catholic error, though, to paraphrase John Paul II, the Catholic Church made mostly of Roman Catholics is still learning to breathe with both lungs, Eastern and Western. I would say that the past ignorance and past inappropriate and literally anti-Catholic (anti-Universal) prejudice of many Roman Rite Catholic Christians against non-Roman expressions of Christianity is the only legitimate or at least understandable reason the Eastern Orthodox Churches ever had to ignore their own Eastern Orthodox Tradition of recognizing the papacy (demonstrated in Volume III Chapter 5), and stay out of the Catholic Communion under the Successor of Peter. But once enough Roman Catholic Christians have formed their view of their Church according to how the Catholic position was dogmatically clarified in Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church with its two supporting Decrees, and thus become more and more open to non-Roman expressions of Christianity and recognize such differences as mutually enriching the whole Church (as in the Undivided Early Church), the Eastern Orthodox Churches will find themselves with no more legitimate reason at all to desire to stay out of the ancient Catholic Communion of East and West which recognizes the pope as Peter’s Successor as did their own ancient Eastern Orthodox Saints and Patriarchs during the first seven Ecumenical Councils and beyond (see Volume III Chapter 5). Ideally, in a future formal reunion today’s Eastern Orthodox Christians can teach today’s Eastern Catholic Christians how to be more authentically and traditionally Eastern in any areas in which they still bear the scars of past Romanization, helping Eastern Catholics “to aim always at a more perfect knowledge and practice of their rites, and … to return to their ancestral traditions,” as Vatican II (OE 6) has directed them. And today’s Eastern Catholic Christians can teach today’s Eastern Orthodox Christians how to once again be both Catholic and Eastern as they were in the First Millennium, and how to be part of an organic and living Eastern Church that maintains its Eastern identity while growing organically with the times and circumstances so as to maintain vibrant Christianity, rather than, as is sometimes known to happen with Eastern Orthodox Churches, preserving ancient worship forms so precisely as to become more of a “museum piece” than a Living Church body, resulting in the loss of active members. When I was in Greece in 1989, I was informed that 97% of the population are officially Greek Orthodox, but only 3% are regular churchgoers. I attended a Greek Orthodox Divine Liturgy but I saw no young people there whatsoever. Those outside I talked to said they did not attend because the Church seemed utterly irrelevant to them.
There are certain advantages to how strictly the Eastern Orthodox have typically preserved their ancient or semi-ancient worship forms, especially for historical testimony of the ancient tradition or “handing-on” of the faith in the East. But this advantage is outweighed wherever it is at the expense of living and vibrant and dynamic Christian faith among its members in new eras and new cultures and new circumstances. It must be remembered that the tendency towards strict preservation of ancient worship forms among the Eastern Orthodox historically comes from the traditional Eastern Christian territories being overrun by Muslims for most of their history (Byzantium or Constantinople itself, the center of the largest and most influential Eastern Patriarchate after Alexandria and Antioch fell to Muslim domination in the First Millennium, is today known as Istanbul in the Muslim country of Turkey). Historically the Eastern Churches have had to work very hard at preserving their whole Christian faith and Christian culture, including its formal Eastern cultural ritual expressions of Christian faith, in the face of a greater non-Christian culture often hostile to Christianity. So it is no wonder they became so good at preserving ancient traditions and did not have the luxury, in a hostile environment, of growing dynamically and organically with times and circumstances, as the Western Church did because it was free from non-Christian domination. Cut off from regular contact with the Universal Church of East and West, it is not surprising then that the Eastern Orthodox frequently came to associate their particular cultural expressions of their Christian faith, maintained at great cost, with their Christian faith itself, resulting all-too-often in prejudice against cultural forms of Christianity other than their own. But this is not a natural nor ideal condition for a Christian Church, and as Roman Catholics slowly “learn to breathe again with both lungs, Eastern and Western,” and as Eastern Catholics ideally learn from the Eastern Orthodox to be more authentically Eastern and divest themselves of any Romanizations which have replaced valuable Eastern elements of their faith expressions, one can hope that the Eastern Orthodox will learn from Eastern Catholics how to be more Catholic as in the First Millennium and how to “breathe with both lungs,” and how to be more dynamic and vibrant in places where strict preservation of past culture has stifled dynamic and world-changing Christianity.
When Either the Roman Catholic or the Eastern Orthodox Churches Try to Be the “Whole” Church of Jesus Christ on Their Own, Both Are Diminished, Both Are less than God Meant Them to Be, Because Together They Are Meant to Enrich Each Other as They Did in the Undivided Early Universal (Catholic) Church of West and East
The greatest proper dignity the Roman Catholic Church has, and the greatest proper dignity the Greek (or Byzantine) Orthodox Church has (being the most influential of the Eastern Orthodox Churches10), are as ancient foundational culturally-based Sister Churches which each contribute to the rich fullness of the Undivided Universal (Catholic) Church of Jesus Christ. When either try to be the “whole” Church of Jesus Christ on their own, both are diminished, both are less than God meant them to be, because together they enrich each other. The sadly still-not-uncommon Eastern Orthodox prejudice against non-Eastern (and even non-Byzantine) expressions of Christianity, and the sadly still-not-uncommon Roman Catholic prejudice against non-Western or non-Roman expressions of Christianity, where “other” forms are wrong or at least “not as good” as ours – is nothing less than bigotry, as all bigotry, rooted in ignorance, a bigotry that is against the whole spirit of the Undivided First Millennium Church of Jesus Christ, unworthy and unchristian attitudes by which Satan the Accuser has duped Christians into doing his work, displaying him and his uncharitable accusations to the world instead of displaying Jesus and His Love. This is a harsh way of putting it, but one which I believe is wholly accurate and which I hope will shock Christians into examining their attitudes towards other Christians. All too often, Christians even within their own denomination (Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant) judge each other with similar unloving harshness for any variations in their particular expressions of orthodox Christianity.
As God’s New Covenant Children Christians Are Still Striving and Often Failing to Grow up in God’s Love So as to Live up to God Our Father’s Mature Ideal for Us, Just as God’s Covenant People Always Have – We must Forgive Each Other for Our past Failures in Christ’s Love and Continue to Strive Together to Be the Unified Church Jesus Wants Us to Be “So That the World May Believe”
In any case, the current divided Christian Church situation came about because both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians have sinned against Christian unity (since before there were any Protestant Christians to do the same). The Bible reminds us there is no insult to either side here, neither side needs to defend itself against this charge, because of the simple reality that “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). What I call “Family Theology,” a comprehensive framework of Biblical Theology which brings to light the Bible’s “Big Picture” or single overarching story, as one of God the Loving Covenant Father slowly and very patiently raising His child humanity descended from Adam towards its full maturity of love through a succession of 6 Biblical Covenants, actually puts a positive perspective on the past failures of Christians to maintain Christian unity, because it demonstrates we are really God’s Covenant People, who struggle, strive, and often fail to live up to God’s expectations for us, as the God’s Covenant People in the Bible always have (see Volume I Chapters 3 & 4 for much more on Family Theology). In each Biblical Covenant, God raised the standard of love the Covenant People were meant to strive for, and God did not institute a newer Covenant with a higher standard of love until they had become reasonably good at keeping the earlier standard. Adam and Eve failed a test of loving obedience to the Covenant Father by eating the fruit He told them not to, and once Noah had passed a test of loving obedience by building a boat on dry land, God instituted a new Covenant (the Noahic Covenant) with a higher standard and the first “thou shalt not” (prohibiting murder). When ready, the Covenant People would have 10 such commandments primarily requiring the avoidance of the anti-love of sin, but the Covenant People would have many miserable failures at living this standard the Covenant Father had set for them for many centuries. When, after the Babylonian exile, the Jews as a nation had finally matured in love to the point that they never again were known for going back and forth between worshiping the LORD and worshiping idols, but as a nation were known for great zeal for the LORD which would rather die than deny Him, only after then did God institute the New Covenant of Jesus Christ which would raise the standard of love the Covenant people were to strive for to the highest standard yet – the perfection of love (“be ye perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect”) – given by Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount which deliberately paralleled the giving of the lesser standard of the 10 Commandments on Mount Sinai (which primarily required merely the avoidance of the anti-love of sin). The New Covenant Christian Church being given this New Covenant standard of love does not mean the Christian people were capable of living it really well right away any more than the previous Covenant People immediately mastered the lesser standards of love God had given them (though the restoration of the indwelling Holy Spirit of Love helped this a great deal, meeting the New Covenant’s very high standard of Love is still a great challenge). The uncharitable, unloving divisions in Christianity are the biggest and most obvious signs of the New Covenant People’s continuing immaturity in love (just as Old Covenant Israel was divided among itself into a northern and southern kingdoms) – but at least our striving to love better as God has called us to even though we fail marks us as God’s Covenant People.
After a First Christian Millennium of Instinctively Lived Unity in Diversity and a Tumultuous Second Millennium of Christian Divisions, the Third Christian Millennium Is the New Covenant Christian Church’s Opportunity to Show God the Covenant Father That after Centuries of Divisions Due to Failures in Love We Are Ready to Grow up Now and Display Mature Christian Love for Each Other “So That the World May Believe”
The First Millennium Christian Church had a challenging childhood, having to get good at understanding and defending its fundamental faith against many heretics from within it (while surviving persecutions from without). The Second Millennium Christian Church suffered a tumultuous adolescence in which the ugly pimples of Christian division came to the fore and marred the beauty of the Undivided Early Church. The Third Christian Millennium is the New Covenant Christian Church’s opportunity to show God the Covenant Father that after centuries of divisions due to failures in love we are ready to grow up now and display mature Christian love for each other, as Old Covenant Israel eventually did grow up and much better live the task God had given them, after centuries of back-and-forth idol worship.
The Huge Roman Catholic Church or Rite Is “Of Equal Rank” and “Fully Equal Dignity” with All the Other Eastern and Western Catholic Sister Churches or Rites That Together Make up the Catholic (Universal) Church – this Recent Official and Irrevocable Self-Understanding of the Catholic Church Which Already Possesses Both a Worldwide Unity and Unshakeable Orthodoxy Which Is Completely Unparalleled in Protestant or Eastern Orthodox Christianity Has Tremendous Implications for the Eventual Reunification of the Church of Jesus Christ According to Jesus’ Prayer for Our Unity
In any case, in conclusion of Discussion 4 it must be reiterated that the primacy of Peter the Universal Overseer/Bishop but not of Rome where Peter’s successor happens to live is affirmed by the 21st Ecumenical Council of Vatican II. The papacy is important, but the papacy’s being located in Rome is incidental. Had Peter died in Antioch instead of in Rome, the Bishop of Antioch would be the pope. Roman Catholics need to really understand this if they are to become more truly Catholic than Roman so they can undo the damage to truly Catholic universality done in the past by Roman Catholics who were more Roman than Catholic. The Roman Rite, even though due to accident of history it is currently the largest Catholic Rite by far, is still “of equal rank” and “fully equal dignity” with all the other Rites which like the Roman Catholic Church make a significant contribution to the overwhelming beauty of the truly Universal (Catholic) Church of Jesus Christ which is superior to any one of its Rites alone (even the current largest). This official and irrevocable self-understanding of the Catholic Church which already possesses both a worldwide unity and unshakeable orthodoxy which is completely unparalleled in Protestant or Eastern Orthodox Christianity has tremendous implications for the eventual reunification of the Church of Jesus Christ according to Jesus’ prayer for our unity, and thus I am motivated to share my Vatican II-informed understanding of the papacy as an integral part of the Undivided Early Church which called itself the Catholic Church with my Protestant/Evangelical and Eastern Orthodox Christian brothers and sisters in Christ as something which I believe can truly help them to overcome the problems they suffer with unity or orthodoxy and become all that God meant their churches to be – while at the same time helping the Catholic Church to be all that it is meant to be, since it is still not as Catholic or Universal as it should be as long as there are fundamentally orthodox Christians outside of its unparalleled worldwide communion.
© 2005, 2009 Peter William John Baptiste SFO
Go To Chapter 7: The Catholic Church Since the 21st Ecumenical Council (Vatican II) Has by Far the Most Well-Thought-Out and Sophisticated Position on its Own Participation in the One Body of Christ the Church and That of its “Separated Brothers” in the Non-Catholic Christian Churches, a Strong Position That No Christian Who Values the Christian Unity Jesus Values Can Afford to Ignore but must Seriously Consider
1Saint John Chrysostom, who wrote this, was the Eastern Archbishop of Constantinople (before it was made a Patriarchate). While the main point of this quote is that a Catholic (Universal) Christian from anywhere knows Christians far away are members of the same Body of Christ he belongs to, he likely also has the pope in Rome in mind when he says “he who dwells in Rome [specifically] knows those in most distant parts to be his members.” Chrysostom recognized the pope as Peter’s Successor and referred to the pope in Rome in terms such as “fisherman of the universe” and “pillar of the Church.”
2Though the Western, Tridentine liturgy of the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church (only) was unnaturally fixed in one form for a very long time as a way of weathering the liturgical chaos following the Western, Protestant Reformation, which created the illusion in the minds of the schismatic Romans that liturgy was meant to be in one form only and unchanging. More on this below.
3Though such strictly organized codes came much later to the Catholic East.
5There are many “Latin Masses” in the history of the Roman Rite, which changed its liturgical worship with the times more through history than any other ancient Rite of the Catholic Church. The Ambrosian, Bragan, and Mozaribic Rites are also small Roman “daughter Rites” with their distinct form of the Roman Mass written in Latin.
6Despite the tremendous contribution to orthodox early Christianity made by the famous theological schools of Antioch and Alexandria, which each emphasized the true humanity and the true divinity of Jesus, respectively. Both these cities were declared Patriarchates more than a century earlier than Byzantium/Constantinople was.
7The ridiculous basis of their claim is that: since Vatican II’s teaching on some topics is somewhat different from what they personally previously understood to be the Catholic Church’s teaching on those topics, that whole Ecumenical Council of the whole world’s around 2500 ordained Catholic bishops in union with the chief bishop, the pope (who met together precisely to clarify the Catholic Church’s now more mature and sophisticated understanding on matters which had not previously been dogmatically settled), must be invalid, and the pope who called and first led Vatican Council II must have somehow not have been legitimately ordained pope (even though there were no irregularities in Pope John XXIII’s election or ordination); and therefore they claim all the popes since Blessed John XXIII have not been legitimate. Of course, the anti-Vatican I schismatics make the same kind of ridiculous claims about Pope Pius IX who called Vatican Council I and all the popes after him who the anti-Vatican II schismatics accept as legitimate popes. Though their zeal for their faith as they previously understood it is some ways admirable, it is not Catholic since they refuse to be led and taught by the Living Magisterium (Teaching Office) of the Living Body of Christ on Earth the Catholic Church. Just like Protestants, they put their own personal understanding over that of the Living Body of Christ the Church which speaks most clearly and formally through an Ecumenical Council of the world’s overseers/bishops together with their chief the pope, guided into “all the truth” by the Holy Spirit just as the Acts 15 Jerusalem Council of all the Church’s Apostolic leaders was. The Roman schismatics (whichever Council they rejected) appear to be too dull to realize that theology and doctrine are not faith but are only human attempts to intellectually understand what God has revealed which Christians accept in faith. Many once-popular Catholic theologies and doctrines have come and gone through the centuries, including ones the anti-Vatican I schismatics hold onto which the anti-Vatican II schismatics would not accept because Vatican I clarified the Church’s more mature understanding in ways which made certain Catholic theories or theological opinions no longer tenable (it was acceptable for Catholics to not believe the doctrine of papal infallibility before this doctrine was dogmatically clarified by the Living Body of Christ the Church speaking through its most formal instrument, an Ecumenical Council, but not after). Only Catholic dogma is unchangeable and even it can be deepened, as the series of Christological dogmas from the early Ecumenical Councils which are all unchangeably true even though each one is more detailed than the previous one and thus makes invalid certain heretical interpretations which would have been legitimate theological speculation according to the previous less detailed dogma. Basically good Catholics could hold the Nestorian or Monophysite interpretation of Christ’s nature as their personal theological opinion on the matter before the Living Magisterium of the Body of Christ the Church dogmatically clarified the matter and declared the Nestorian and Monophysite interpretations heretical at the 3rd and 4th Ecumenical Councils, but if they were indeed good Catholics they submitted to the Ecumenical Council’s decisions and changed their theological opinion to be in line with what the Living Church Magisterium had dogmatically clarified – they allowed themselves to be led and taught by Christ the Head through His Body the Church. Those who were not good Catholics held on to their heretical theological opinion even after the Church had ruled against it – and their descendants in heresy are still around today in the “Lesser” Eastern Churches. The Roman schismatics have likewise rejected the extremely significant dogmatic teaching of Vatican Council II’s two Dogmatic Constitutions, and because they cannot adjust their (I am tempted to uncharitably say “small”) minds to the teaching of the very first Ecumenical Council to seriously consider and dogmatically clarify the nature and structure of the Catholic Church itself, led by the same Holy Spirit who guarantees the truth of all of the dogmatic pronouncements of Ecumenical Councils, they have put themselves outside of that Catholic Church which now understands itself much better after the Holy Spirit-guided effort of self-reflecting upon its 2000 year history as the Living Body of Christ Himself.
Some Roman schismatics, while realizing how foolish it is to claim the entire billion member Catholic Church in union with the Pope in Rome is now a false Church and make one of their tiny little group an anti-pope leading a minuscule flock in an obviously illegitimate and farcical ceremony (as other Roman schismatics have), have instead foolishly attempted to say “the See of Peter is empty,” that no legitimate pope is guiding the world’s billion Catholics since before Vatican II (even though they too can point to no fault or irregularity in the elections and ordinations of the popes following Pius XII, the last pope they recognize, and they too cannot explain why so many of the most recent popes they recognize like Saint Pius X and Pius XII in many ways set things up for the reforms of Vatican II which they hate). These Roman schismatics foolishly attempt to justify their claim that the current line of popes in Rome is not legitimate so that there currently is just no pope by claiming that the papal schism of the middle ages was a precedent of a period of several decades where there was no legitimate pope. A close look at the history of that papal schism shows there is no such precedent there. The pope in Rome at that time was elected and ordained completely normally and legitimately, as were the papal successors in line from him. When he started angrily criticizing the French Cardinals, they met together secretly on their own and elected one of their own number to be pope, who set up his court in Avignon, France, where the legitimate line of popes had stayed for a number of decades before returning to Rome. This clandestine meeting of only the French cardinals who elected one of their own while there was already a clearly legitimately ordained pope in Rome was obviously not anything close to a normal or legitimate papal election, so the Avignon pope and his line of successors were clearly anti-popes. When the local Council of Pisa, without the cooperation of either the legitimate pope in Rome or the anti-pope in Avignon, declared both deposed and elected their own pope in an attempt to heal the confusing schism of two papal claimants and those who accepted each of them, this was also clearly not a normal or legitimate papal election and so the pope in Pisa and his successors were also clearly anti-popes. The now even greater papal schism (3 papal claimants) was finally healed by a truly Ecumenical Council approved of by the legitimate pope in Rome who willingly abdicated his legitimate papal office at the same time as the two anti-popes in Avignon and Pisa laid aside their false claim, and the Ecumenical Council legitimately elected and ordained Pope Martin V as the next pope, who was accepted as such by the followers of all three of the previous papal claimants. Since the line of popes in Rome during this decades-long papal schism was clearly legitimate, having no irregularities, there is no precedent here to say that the See of Peter could be empty for anything more than the short time it takes to have a normal conclave of cardinals to elect the next pope. There were also no irregularities in the elevations to the papacy of the Vatican II and post-Vatican II popes, so there is no reason at all for anyone who wants to claim to be Catholic to not accept Pope Benedict XVI, the current pope, as legitimate. If they want to claim to be Catholic, in fact, they should act like Catholics and humbly submit to the mystery of the Body of Christ the Church expressed in the authority of the current pope and the bishops in union with him to lead and teach the Catholic faithful in ways that are guided and guarded by the Holy Spirit of Christ Himself. This means that when they do not understand what the Church is speaking to the current age through current Living Magisterium, they should humbly and submissively seek to understand (or accept without understanding if their capacities are not up to it, as good Catholics regularly do) instead of trying to find excuses to act like Protestants and pridefully protest against the Holy Spirit-graced Living Magisterium of the Body of Christ the Catholic Church.
8I would say that I am inclined to think that Divine Providence, knowing in advance the major movements of history, did not allow Peter to die in Antioch but led him later to Rome where he died, so that the Successor of Peter and Universal Bishop of the Catholic Church who is also the Patriarch of Rome specifically would be free of persecution and would not be under Muslim domination as happened to the other 4 ancient Christian Patriarchs. Given that the Catholic (Universal) Church is a Universal Communion of different culturally-based Sister Churches which enrich each other and which together contribute most to the Church Universal, I would even suggest that Divine Providence may have led Peter to die in the territory of the Roman culture specifically because the particularly Roman cultural talent for organization (which gave them their vast ancient Empire) would have a particularly beneficial contribution to the Universal Church’s organizational structure which developed around the Universal Bishops following Peter in Rome. But such historical advantages for the Universal Church of having Peter the first pope die in Rome still does not make the Roman culture nor its Rite superior to the other cultures and their ritual expressions of Christianity. Each Rite makes its particular contribution to the Church as a whole, and therefore, as the Church now officially and irreformably teaches, each Rite is of “equal rank” and “fully equal dignity.”
9The Decree was originally part of the Dogmatic Constitution, but in the end was produced as a separate supplement because it also deals with issues concerning the East only, whereas the Dogmatic Constitution more generally concerns the whole Church.
10Byzantium, renamed Constantinople, was the center of the Greek culture, and it came to influence what was left of the older Eastern Antiochene and Alexandrian Patriarchates after they were devastated first by the Nestorian and Monophysite heresies (large portions becoming the heretical “Lesser Eastern Churches”), and then by Muslim conquest. Because Constantinople was not conquered by the Muslims until much later, Byzantine Christians had many successful missions to other cultures, especially the Slavic cultures of Eastern Europe, so most Eastern Orthodox and most Eastern Catholic Christians today belong to the Byzantine (Greek) Rite or one of its daughter Rites (like the Ukrainian and Russian and Romanian daughter Churches).