On the second anniversary of the Pope's historic visit to Turkey to heal the rift with the Orthodox world, Fr Henry Rute argues that surface differences should no longer stand In the way of re-union.
TOP-LEVEL ecumenical contacts can be frustrating events to the average man and woman today. We are used to instant results.
It helps, of course, to look at the matter in perspective. The Pope has spoken of the first millennium when the Church was united (barring the odd heresy and temporary schism), the second millenium of separation, and a third milleninum of Reunion.
Not that the process needs to be measured in thousands of years. But it is unrealistic to expect the effects of a thousand years to be obliterated overnight.
And yet. the dramatic meetings of Pope and Patriarch, both at Jerusalem and Constantinople, were important and deserving of widespread coverage.
It is arguable that the two serious attempts at mending the rift between Rome and Constantinople, at the Council of Lyons in 1274 and Florence in 1439, failed because the two well meaning Emperors who had engineered the Union had forgotten to bring public opinion along with them.
The story of the relations of the two great Churches of Rome and Constantinople is one that does little credit to Christendom.
But to attempt to assign absolute right and wrong, morally or historically. is useless, and apologists that write long works to justify either cause waste their time.
One could argue that both Pope and Patriarch had put the past to rest when simultaneously in 1965 they lifted the sentence of excommunication that had been hurled at their predecessors in 1054.
Two years later, in 1967, Paul VI and Athenagoras the first would spell out the spirit in which conversations between the two churches should be conducted: "a spirit of loyality to the truth and mutual understanding, coupled with a desire to avoid the grudges of the past and any kind of spiritual or intellectual domination".
The "committing of those anathemas to oblivion" would seem to suggest that most of what happened a thousand years ago can no longer be an issue today. Still, if the schism endures, its cause must endure. And it is important in our efforts at reconciliation that we should address ourselves at real issues.
To a large extent the estrangement between East and West was inevitable. East and West grouped themselves around different centres, used different rites and spoke different languages. And it is here that we notice the healing effect that history has had.
It may seem strange to us. but at the time when these disputes arose hardly anyone knew a foreign language.
At Councils the papal legates addressed the assembled fathers in Latin and no one understood them; the council deliberated in Greek and the legates wondered what was going on. Interpreters had to be called in could their versions be trusted?
Legates were asked to sign documents they did not understand on the assurance that there was nothing really compromising in them. And so little could make so much difference!
Today we are used to the breath-taking performance of a polygot Pope, and at congresses can avail ourselves of the services of simultaneous translations.
As to the rite, undoubtedly both sides knew that the other rites were equally legitimate ways of celebrating the same mysteries, but the differences made it difficult to pray together.
We see that this point was an important one from the number of accusations against purely ritual matters brought by Cerularius in 1053 when he looked for grounds to quarrel; this is the list of customs that Latins must give up if East and West are to be reunited: use of unleavened bread at Mass, the eating of flesh meat not killed in the Eastern manner, fasting on Saturday. the suppression of the Alleluia in Lent.
Who is left today that would attack the slightest relevance to those differences? Even in the past, divergent customs, contradictory practices were in no wise a hindrance to communion; the differences of rite are such as existed naturally in different Churches practically from the beginning: they did not cause a breach of the peace.
The great Eastern Schism must not be conceived as the result of only one definite quarrel.— It is not true that after centuries of perfect peace, suddenly on account of one dispute, nearly half of Christendom fell away.
Such an event would be unparalleled in history, at any rate, unless there were some great heresy, and in this quarrel there was no heresy at first, nor has there ever been a hopeless disagreement about the Faith.
It is a case, perhaps the only prominent case of a pure schism. of a brteach of communion caused by anger and bad feeling, not by a rival theology.
And what about the filioque? the theological import of the addition of that word to the creed is not very great. Eastern fathers had used similar expressions when they said that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father through the Son, and Cyril of Alexandria shows both formulae to be equivalent when he says that the Spirit proceeds from both, that is, from the Father through the Son".
But still, to tamper with the creed seemed unpardonable in the eyes of the East. Was it always so?
The fact is that, after the Photian schism had been healed. Rome accepted that the addition of the filioque had been unofficial. and the Papacy itself would see that the genuine text should be preserved.
As is well known, today Rome on this point as on many others has returned to wisdom and truth, since it has authorised the Uniates to recite the creed without the plaque.
There was art agreement to disagree. Rome remained in peaceful possession. but would not enforce the change on the East. This settlement lasted for nearly two centuries, and there is no reason why it should not have lasted till today.
Hardly any of the differences of the past seem to have any relevance today. This makes the work of reconciliation all the more urgent: new. greater differences could emerge which, in this rapidly changing world, could make us drift further apart.
The world needs the unity of the Church. As Pope John Paul said earlier this month: "Europe, as a geographical whole, is so to speak the fruit of the action of two movements of Christian traditions, to which are added also two different forms of culture, which are, however, at the same time, deeply complementary".
He has also spoken of the Eastern and Western Church as two lungs in the same body. under the same head and father whose role is to "preside in charity".