IF, AS reported, the world's 14 Orthodox churches are "edging closer" to the holding of an Orthodox ecumenical council, it will be their first since the great schism of 1,100 years ago. They are said to have reached unanimity last month on important issues of discipline and policy, thus making such a council a possibility. (The Times, November 24).
Whereas most Catholics like to feel that the Orthodox split "away" from Rome, the Orthodox church feels that it was really the other way round. They believe that it was the West that grew away from the orthodox east by putting the Patriarch of the West, the Bishop of Rome, above all the other Patriarchs and no longer a mere first among equals.
They also feel that distinct innovations over original belief, such as the famous "filioque" clause, definitely cast Rome in the role of avant garde theological thinking at odds with pristine orthodoxy.
The rest is history, often forgotten in the West because of the overwhelming glory of medieaval papalism. But the first seven ecumenical councils established the dogmatic foundation of all Christendom. All of these councils were convoked by the emperors of the day and all were held in the "East", at Nicaea (twice), at Ephesus and Chalcedon and, on three occasions, at Constantinople. None of them was attended by a "Pope" in the later, Western sense of the word.
The title "Pope" was ultimately derived from the child's word for father in classical Greek. From the third to the fifth centuries it was applied to all bishops, but more particularly after the sixth century, to the Bishop of Rome. It was not universally recognised in the West as a Roman title until the eleventh century. In the East it was never recognised at all.
The Eastern Church, moreover, held that, in matters of faith, the final decision belonged not with the Bishop of Rome alone but with a council representing all the Bishops of the Church.
This claim, now known as "collegiality", corresponded with the normal means for settling disputed theological points during the first' milennium of the Church's (then undivided) life. In other words, only Councils could speak for the entire Church. Conciliarism, was then the norm.
Call of the west
IT WILL be interesting to see what reaction, if any, comes from Rome when and if an Orthodox ecumenical council is called in the near future. Will "Western" observers be asked? If so will they accept, and in, what capacity or role will they do so?
The situation will pose difficult questions for Rome. If tactfully handled they could lead to the means toward a formula for healing the Schism, without the need for uniformity. Or they could, if clumsily handled, merely solidify and prolong the Schism indefinitely.
It may be worth recalling, meanwhile, that it was Pope Damasus I (366-84) who, after the removal of the capital of the Empire to Constantinople, enhanced the position of Rome and laid the foundations for an eventual "papacy". But what view did such of his illustrious contemporaries as St Ambrose and St Augustine take as to the meaning of papal "primacy"; They disagreed with the interpretation of the Bishop of Rome since Peter, according to Ambrose, had "a primacy of confession not of office, a primacy of faith not of rank."
Are these the sort of matters which could be discussed by an Orthodox Ecumenical Council attended by representatives from Rome and the Western Church? We may soon know the answer.
Woman of courage
THE LATEST number of the Sogat Journal (house organ of the Society of Graphical and Allied Trades) is a special crisis edition. It carries a passionate appeal from its General Secretary, Brenda Dean. The gist of her message is encapusulated in a banner slogan saying "58p. It won't buy two loaves and five fishes but it will feed 5,000."
No blasphemy is intended or conveyed. But the attention of sympathisers — and there are more of these than one might suspect — is dramatically called to the need to help feed those numerous men and women who have been locked out of work since the dispute with Rupert Murdoch began.
Brenda Dean writes that "The brutal truth is that the union is financially crippled" and this means that only a minimum extra levy of 58p on each member can provide any hope of survival.
"For the best part of 12 months," she goes on to claim, "while SOGAT officials were trying, in good faith, to negotiate with News International executives, Rupert Murdoch and a small team, sworn to secrecy, were engaged in a master plan to destroy union representation in his UK-based newspapers . . . Despite being the oldest established trade union in Britain, stretching back over 203 years, with a history of our founders having been jailed for forming our union; even deported and giving their lives for what we now have, if we were pursued for all the damages being sought through the Courts, that would be the end of us. Our two Convalescent Homes would have to go; so too would our modern head office at Hadleigh."
Might is not right and popular opinion may well change direction if Murdoch really does attempt a final trial of strength, a contest in which many hitherto little appreciated facts and figures will come to light. Brenda Dean was thrown willynilly into the fight. Whatever the ultimate rights and wrongs, her courage cannot be doubted.
DAVID Frost has now collaborated with Michael Shea in producing a penetratingly observant book about the impact on each other of Britain and the USA.
Frost at one time virtually commuted across the Atlantic and Michael Shea, as Press Secretary to the Queen and a diplomat for 20 years, served extensively in the United States.
Their book is published with excellent illustrations by Messrs Collins. It is called The Rich Tide.
I particularly liked the chapter entitled "The Tide of the Future" with Frost interviews of many celebrities including President Reagan.
"Here is Reagan", says Frost, "who thinks he has a doctrine and whenever one has a doctrine, you want to keep your fingers crossed."
A particularly timely comment on current events.
LAST WEEK saw the launching of the first "anti-yearbook" by the Economist Group. Instead of reviewing the past year, this riveting 128 page magazine is devoted to the prospects for Britain and the world in 1987.
Among its prophecies are that next year will see: a nasty shock for Mrs Thatcher; a swing back to "big is beautiful" in management theory; a Japanese takeover bid for a major Wall Street firm; an alarming widening of the Gulf War; a London property bust; a pharmaceutical breakthough; an election surprise in France; a possible coup in Guinea-Bissau; seven British industries that will do surprisingly well; a new computer that turns talk into type; a glut of firms going public (with "dustbins" for some); a last-ditch push by America's moral majority; three City firms that will have trouble with Big Bang; and four wheel steering on family cars.
Old Moore's Almanack was never like this. "The World in 1987" costs £2.95.