ANSWERS A CRYING NEED IN THE CHURCH
“The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy: Letters to a Greek Orthodox” is the second volume in a trilogy of works on Eastern Orthodoxy by James Likoudis, well known as a writer on catechetics and sex education. Earlier he had written a classic work on the dissident Eastern Churches, “Ending the Byzantine Greek Schism” which featured the remarkable “Apologia for Unity With Rome” by the 14th century Byzantine Greek convert, the lay theologian Demetrios Kydones, who had translated various works of St. Thomas Aquinas into Greek. Also contained in the same volume were the first English translations of St. Thomas Aquinas’s famous “Contra Errores Graecorum” (“Against the Errors of the Greeks”, 1264 A.D.) and St. Peter Damian’s “Letter Against the Error of the Greeks Concerning the Procession of the Holy Spirit” sent to the patriarch of Constantinople in 1061 A.D.
Originally published as a booklet of 89 pages, “The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome” was expanded by the author to over 300 pages. Its value has been enhanced by containing also the invaluable 1871 treatise of Bishop Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler on the “Infallible Teaching Authority of the Pope According to the Definition of the Vatican Council” which was directed against the apostate Ignaz Dollinger and his coterie of “Old Catholics”.
The book fulfills a crying need in the Church. It is urgent that Catholics gain a deeper knowledge of our separated Eastern Orthodox brethren and their quarrels with the Catholic Church, not only to further the goals of a legitimate ecumenism but also to safeguard souls from lapsing into an ancient Schism. It is true that recent ecumenical dialogues have resulted in easing some past tensions between Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. However, the vitriol of medieval Byzantine Greeks and Russians denouncing Catholics as “heretics” have been reproduced in a spate of recent books, tapes, and Internet polemics by former Catholics and former Protestants particularly engaged in attacking the Papacy. They have also revived long-refuted charges against such Catholic doctrines as the Procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and from (or through) the Son, Purgatory, the Immaculate Conception, “created grace”, the use of unleavened bread and a host of Catholic liturgical practices (e.g., baptism by infusion). Those Catholics who have abandoned the Church to join a medieval Schism traceable to the unfortunate events of the 13th century (e.g., the sacking of Constantinople in 1204) saw their faith shaken by widespread Dissent tolerated in the “American Church” and the awful degradation of the liturgy of the Roman rite as practiced in all too many parish “celebrations”. They chose to abandon Catholicism for the great beauty of the Divine Liturgy and services retained in Eastern Orthodoxy, and have sought to justify their action by renewed polemics against the Successor of Peter with a blatant denial of the Pope's Primacy of universal authority and jurisdiction granted the Prince of the Apostles by Christ the Lord.
With impressive supportive documentation from the Fathers, Ecumenical Councils, and Saints of both East and West during the first thousand years, Mr. Likoudis demonstrates that the Petrine Primacy of the Pope is grounded in the powerful and prophetic words of Christ Himself to his disciple Simon, whom He made the Rock-foundation and visible head of the Church Militant. Eastern Orthodox attempts to limit Papal primacy to a mere “primacy of honor” fail to do justice to the import of Christ's words to Peter establishing him alone as the Rock-foundation of the Church, Bearer of the Keys of supreme authority in the Church, the Confirmer and strengthener of his apostolic brethren, and Chief Pastor of all the lambs and sheep. Our author has no difficulty in showing that this perduring Office of Peter in the succession of the Bishops of Rome was acknowledged by the orthodox Fathers, Saints, and Popes of the pre-Schism Church. Rather than an “innovation” foreign to the history of the Church during the First Millennium and a “soul destroying error” (the familiar refrain of centuries of Protestant and Eastern Orthodox polemics), it is the Papacy which has always preserved that Unity and Catholicity of the Church which serve to identify the true Church of Christ from any counterfeit body of bishops claiming to preserve the entire Apostolic “deposit of faith”.
Mr. Likoudis shows that in their senseless and tragic separation from the See of Peter, the Eastern Orthodox churches do not, in fact, constitute One Church but rather a plurality of independent national churches which can no longer act as one infallible Mystical Body of Christ. Since the repudiation of the Council of Florence in 1439 (that was defended by the wisest and most learned of the Byzantine Greeks such as the renowned Bessarion), Peter has been missing from the hierarchy of the separated Eastern Churches which, consequently, can not be considered the continuation of the Apostolic College as established by Christ (with Peter as its head and leader). Lacking Peter, the autocephalous Byzantine Greco-Slav churches have been unable for a thousand years to hold an Ecumenical Council to which they continually defer as their supreme authority. However, the original and authentic Byzantine Catholic tradition held that there can be no Ecumenical Council without its confirmation by the Papacy.
This is a unique work of Catholic Apologetics answering not only Eastern Orthodox objections to the Petrine Primacy of the Pope but also the theological challenges posed other Catholic doctrines, such as the doctrine embodied in the Filioque addition to the Latin text of the Creed. Especially valuable are reflections on a legitimate development of doctrine that takes place in the Church and the chapter dealing with Hesychasm and the 14th century controversial teachings of Gregory Palamas. The section on the Church as Icon of the Holy Trinity develops the theme dear to St. Thomas Aquinas that the Papacy as the center of visible unity in the Church images and reflects the undivided unity of the Holy Trinity.
There is no similar volume that treats in such detail Eastern Orthodoxy and refutes contemporary Eastern Orthodox objections to the Catholic Faith. It will hopefully stimulate more American Catholics to pray and work for the restoration of Unity with the dissident Eastern churches in accordance with Our Lord’s prayer that “All May Be One”.
This Review appeared in “Pro Ecclesia” magazine, Volume XXXVII (2006), no. 2
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