One View from the East on the Papacy

David Bentley Hart, an Orthodox theologian, penned these thoughts on the papacy in First Things back in 2001. It was from a symposium entitled The Future of the Papacy written towards the end of Pope John Paul II’s pontificate.  One could describe a piece written over eight years ago as “dated,” but discussions on such East-West issues take much longer to go out of date. Hart offers some interesting thoughts on the papacy and what still divides East and West. A brief excerpt:

Anyone familiar with the Eastern Christian world knows that the Orthodox view of the Catholic Church is often a curious mélange of fact, fantasy, cultural prejudice, sublime theological misunderstanding, resentment, reasonable disagreement, and unreasonable dread: it sees a misty phantasmagoria of crusades, predestination, “modalism,” a God of wrath, flagellants, Grand Inquisitors, and those blasted Borgias. But, still, and from my own perspective ab oriente, I must remark that the greater miscalculation of what divides us is almost inevitably found on the Catholic side, not always entirely free of a certain unreflective condescension. Often Western Christians, justifiably offended by the hostility with which their advances are met by certain Orthodox, assume that the greatest obstacle to reunion is Eastern immaturity and divisiveness. The problem is dismissed as one of “psychology,” and the only counsel offered one of “patience.” Fair enough: decades of Communist tyranny set atop centuries of other, far more invincible tyrannies have effectively shattered the Orthodox world into a contentious confederacy of national churches struggling to preserve their own regional identities against every “alien” influence, and under such conditions only the most obdurate stock survives. But psychology is the least of our problems.

The rest of Hart’s contribution can be read here.

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