In June of this year, after ten years of preparation, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) –the largest Eastern Catholic Church in union with the Pope of Rome– released its first official Catechism. Entitled Christ our Pascha, it received the unanimous support of all the Bishops of the Ukrainian Catholic Church and also was reviewed by the Eastern Congregation in Rome before publication. A description of the development process by the Patriarchal Catechetical Commission can be read here. Translation into other languages is proceeding, including Spanish, Russian, Portuguese and English.
There was speculation that the new Catechism might present some nuanced understandings of some of the issues that divide the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, especially with regards to the role of the papacy. However, some rough, unofficial translations of key paragraphs in the new UGCC Catechism indicate that this is not a breakthrough document that might suggest a way to resolve the doctrinal differences.
For example, here are two key paragraphs that describe the Pope:
291. Each local congregation in administering the Eucharist by its bishop and through community of faith comes into communion with the other local congregations. Local congregations being in communion form the Local Church headed by a primate – a bishop, archbishop, metropolitan or patriarch. The first among the local Churches is the Roman Church, since it has the Pope of Rome – a successor of Apostle Peter – as its primate. He is the teacher and the rule of the apostolic faith, to whom the Lord gives a gift of infallibility in the matters of faith and morals. Just as apostle Peter expressed a love to Christ that was greater than that of the others and received a commission from Christ to tend his flock (cf. Jn 21:15-18), so the Roman Peter’s Chair “presides in love”244 and holds primacy among the local churches245. This primacy is effected through Peter’s ministry of the Roman bishops, which our Church confesses in the title “The Most Holy Universal Hierarch”.
Footnote 245 is translated below:
[Footnote]245. VATICAN II, Dogmatic Constitution about the Church Lumen Gentium, 13, see also i.d. 18: “So that the episcopate itself would be kept in unity and indivisibility, He put Saint Peter over the other apostles and established in him a continuous and visible origin and foundation for the unity of faith and communion (cf. Vatican I, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, (18.07.1870): Denz. 1821 (3050 w.). And this teaching about establishment, continuity, power and sense of the sacred primacy of the Roman Hierarch and about his infallible teaching is again given by the Sacred Council to all believers for their steadfast believing.”
It is important to note again that the translations provided here are unofficial. I would welcome input from those who know Ukrainian who might offer improvements in the translation. It does seem clear, however, that by citing both Pastor Aeternus from Vatican I and Lumen Gentium from Vatican II the traditional doctrines of papal infallibility and primacy taught at those Councils are being reaffirmed in the new UGCC Catechism.
A couple of paragraphs later, the Council of Florence (one of the failed “union” councils between East and West) is directly quoted to explain the Pope’s universal care of “the whole Church.”
293. Christ entrusts the ministry of Church universality to the apostle Peter: “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have returned, strengthen your brothers.” (Lk. 22:32). The Bishop of Rome – a bearer of Peter’s ministry – convenes Ecumenical Councils, approves of their decisions, ascertains and expresses the infallible doctrines of the Church, resolves difficulties that arise in the life of local Churches. The ministry of the Roman Hierarch testifies of “the most ancient apostolic times”247. His ministry is to “strengthen the brothers” in common faith (cf. Lk. 22:31-42), be a “rock” (cf. Mt. 16:18) and a “shepherd” (cf. Jn. 21:15-18). “It is to him (the Roman Hierarch), in St. Peter, that Jesus Christ passed on the whole authority to tend, manage and take care of the whole Church, as it is established at the Ecumenical Councils and in the sacred canons”248.
247. See Dmytro Tuptalo, Lives of Saints. October 11. Remembering the 7th Ecumenical Council.
248. Council of Florence, Oros.
The union decree (available here under the date of July 6, 1439) of the Council of Florence, which was rejected by Orthodoxy as a whole, served as a basis for union of the various Eastern Catholic Churches with Rome. The Florentine decree is cited a few more times in the new UGCC Catechism: in a discussion of the procession of the Holy Spirit (paragraph 98), when discussing Purgatory (paragraph 250), and in discussing East-West unity (paragraph 306).
The new UGCC Catechism also reaffirms the teaching of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, quoting Pope Pius IX’s proclamation made in 1854:
311. The Church universally confesses that Mary, the Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, is the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin, and venerates her in the festivals of the liturgical year. In the festivals dedicated to the Theotokos the Church prayerfully commemorates the salvific events from Theotokos’s life: Conception by St. Anna 274, Christmas, Introduction to the Temple, Annunciation, Presentation and Dormition, seeing in her an example for our growing in holiness.
Footnote 274 is below:
274. The Pope of Rome Pius IX by his bull Ineffabilis Deus (December 8, 1854) proclaimed the dogma on the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary: “The Most Holy Virgin Mary from the moment of Her very conception by a special blessing and privilege from the Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was protected against any spot of the original guilt” (DS 2803; also CCC 491).
was not written as an ecumenical statement. You cannot speak of ecumenism if you do not know who you are. I suppose this is a starting point for our ecumenical dialogue with others. But at no time did we have ecumenism in mind. Our task was to explain our church as clearly as possible to our people.
The official English translation is due out in late 2012. I’m sure that further research on the new UGCC Catechism will reveal many areas of common identity between Eastern Catholics and Orthodox. A future article will go into the new Catechism in greater detail.
However, this initial look at the new Catechism indicates that it is solidly in the Catholic tradition and is not to be, as some had hoped, a document suggesting new approaches to issues that divide East and West.
For further reading: