Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Catholic and Roman Catholic

S.M. Hutchens at "Mere Comments":

As I interpret these documents, language used of the Orthodox churches indicates a communion that is, if we may use the term, quantitatively greater, for their apostolic episcopate and validity of their Eucharist is added to recognition of the baptism which is granted to Protestants—all as “impelling toward Catholic Unity.” But the communion is still "imperfect"--that is, qualitatively the same as that of Protestants in that it is “defective.”

If this is so, John Paul II's analogy of the Roman and Eastern Catholic churches as the two lungs of the body of Christ is untenable. It was a generous thing to say, and the sentiment behind it should be remembered and treasured, but it implies an equality between Rome and Orthodoxy that official Catholic dogma does not appear to support. Orthodoxy, like Protestantism, "derives its efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the [Roman] Catholic Church,” and so whatever about either of them is the Church, and—if being “Christian” implies membership in the Church, as I believe the Vatican documents do, whatever makes their members Christians—is derived from the Roman congregation in which the Catholic Church subsists.

I'm not sure I understand the argument here. The Eastern Orthodox are, in the Catholic view, imperfectly united to Rome (and thus, since Rome as fulfilling its Petrine Office contributes something essential to the fullness of communion, are imperfectly part of the body of Christ). But this tells us nothing about Eastern Catholics, who don't lack this element. And the Catholic view is that the fullness of grace and truth subsists not in the Roman Catholic Church but in the Catholic Church, which includes Roman Catholics and Eastern Catholics alike. Maronites, for instance, who are not Roman but have never been out of communion with Rome, don't have to look to Rome for the fullness of grace and truth. They have it in their own right. (To that extent we could just as easily call Roman Catholics 'non-Eastern Maronite Catholics' as we could call Maronite Catholics 'Roman Catholics'; Maronite Catholics are genuinely Catholic, but they are only Roman in that they are in communion with Rome, and one could just as easily say that Roman Catholics are Maronites in that they are in communion with Maronite Catholics. Roman Catholics don't usually think in that way, but this is one of the areas where Roman Catholics don't usually think. The fact that the patriarch of Rome has primacy among the patriarchs doesn't imply that those Catholics under his patriarchal care have primacy among Catholics.) Of course, there is an inequality between Rome and everyone else; it's called Roman primacy, and if Hutchens means that Rome considers acceptance of it a non-negotiable point, that's certainly right (although it's pretty clear from the case of the Melkites, who tend to be skeptical about anything beyond a very minimal claim to Roman primacy, that Rome will tolerate a certain amount of divergence of opinion on the matter as far as communion goes).

So when the Catholics say that the fullness of grace and truth subsists in the Catholic Church, they really do mean the Catholic Church, East as well as West; they only mean the Roman Catholic Church if we are using 'Roman Catholic' to mean anyone in communion with Rome regardless of whether they are actually in the Roman patriarchate or not.

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