The “Indivisible Church” commemorates this year the 1700th anniversary of the Edict of Milan. The Edict of tolerance taken by Emperor Constantine on behalf of the Christians. Not a full recognition. The Christians got a sort of decree of tolerance including them in the borders (limes) of the Roman Empire. At that time, one year after the meeting at Nis (Serbia at the present) between Constantine who was the Emperor in the Western part of “Hellenistic and Latin cultural area”, Constantine has been struck by his victory at the Milvian Bridge.
This aspect is absent from the general comments on the stepping down of His Holiness (emeritus) Pope Benedict XVI, Bishop of Rome, former Patriarch of the West. On the other hand, it is certain that Joseph Ratzinger does think these days of the major event that brought to a tolerant attitude, in politics and societal recognition, of the Christian belief in 313 A.D. It is incumbent upon the Church as it is at the present, in its great variety, extension and significance for all the human souls, to reflect on this event that allowed the development and spreading through the ages of the News of the very existence of the Resurrected, Jesus of Nazareth.
It sounds like a defect that no word has been uttered about the connection that does exist between the dismissal of the present Bishop of Rome and the event that the “Indivisible Church” should celebrate openly. The Edict of Milan was issued in February 313. The connection with all events that actually affect the life of all the Church “divisions” or “bodies, entities, segments” should be regarded adequately. This is not the case, precisely because of a real feeling of deep estrangement among all the Church jurisdictions and their believers.
On the one hand, it has been quite easy for the Roman Church to call their faithful to overcome the splits that had occurred over the centuries inside of the Church. They were mainly due to a persistent and profound expression of “primacy” that is not denied or disputed when facing the reality of the history of the Church, provided that the initial Pentarchy (the five “Mediterranean early Church Patriarchates” that had been set from the territorial importance of the Roman Empire that then was linked both East and West in one body, subsequently one Christian identity coherence).
In fact, the Church has been affected by a sort of uncontrolled “swelling” for many centuries, in particular since 1054 that marks a process of pre-determined – though not conscious – desire to ascertain the truth of side rectitude of faith versus the position of a diversified rank of traditions, to begin with the See of Constantinople. This “overvaluation process” led the Church of the West to anathematize the Eastern traditions. It generated a real situation of “isolation, solitude” felt by the West. Everything could keep the West unaware of such a deviance, subsequently a true “schizophrenic religious attitude”. It is not either possible to say that the West got “isolated”. The same process of solitude and spiritual isolation deeply knocked down,drew into distress and discomfort all the other parts of the “segmented Churches” as they existed after the disappearance of the Indivisible Church.
Church scholars and theologians are often at ease to use the words of the New Testament and Saint Paul’s Epistles to justify their one-way reflection or “para-dogmatic decisions or positions”. Thus, such has often been the position taken on “the suffering of one and all the members of the body” (1 Corinthians 12:26). This usually has led to self-justification of one side against, opposed or facing any other side of the Church. All splits have led to substantial absence of coherence. The search for unity cannot just be satisfied with the mutual friendly recognition of our mutual forms of estrangement. Estrangement has become the rules that govern our standards, the varied norms of each “Church segment”.
Josef Ratzinger acts as an Elder, an aging man responsible for his part of the Church, aware of the breadth of the true Body of Christ. In these very last days of February, he took a decision showing that he is duly aware of present times and delays. Many other patriarchs and heads of different communities are also aware of the 1700th anniversary of the proclamation of the Edict of Milan. No word can truly be uttered on the matter for the moment. Many theologians refer to the structure of the Early Church. Lately, Roman thinkers and experts have expressed that the Roman Pope’s dismissal could pave the way to an overall reconsideration of the specificities developed throughout history with regards to the institution of the “patriarchates”.
The Bishop of Rome leaves the See of Peter at Rome with full knowledge that the relationships with the other historic parts, portions, “segments or splits of the Church” need to cool down the swelling raised from the long-age process of leadership and isolation of the Western Roman Church. They need a repair. Benedict XVI is an old man. He has certainly been much affected by all the terrible Church defects he had felt and mentioned in his speeches. Indeed, he can say that he wants to dedicate his years to theology. He is defintely one of the most brilliant theologians, rooted in and on the true branches of the Tradition of the indivisible Church. It does not mean that all of us can understand or cope with such a point of view.. It does not mean that, in his own Church, whenever applauding his decision, the members of his Church, at all levels concerned, can get to the heart of his true intuitions.
No doubt that Saint Bernadette and, indeed, the miracle at Lourdes are more than significant for the dismissing pope. In the last days of this month of February 2013, the Ecclesia Universa has the task to recall the decision taken at Milan. It was a long-term prospect whose reality only remained in force for a short period.
The rescript’s main provisions are as follows:
“Our purpose is to grant both to the Christians and to all others full authority to follow whatever worship each person has desired, whereby whatsoever Divinity dwells in heaven may be benevolent and propitious to us, and to all who are placed under our authority. Therefore we thought it salutary and most proper to establish our purpose that no person whatever should be refused complete toleration, who has given up his mind either to the cult of the Christians or to the religion which he personally feels best suited to himself. It is our pleasure to abolish all conditions whatever which were embodied in former orders directed to your office about the Christians, that every one of those who have a common wish to follow the religion of the Christians may from this moment freely and unconditionally proceed to observe the same without any annoyance or disquiet.” (Eusebius, from the Greek version).
It does not mean that the present Bishop of Rome can impact on the specific movement that may raise from within the different Churches. The Edict of Milan allowed a parity among all the creeds and religious beliefs that then existed throughout the Roman Empire. Still, by that time Constantine already want to provilege the Christians even if the Christian faith was not intended, to begin with, to become a rule for the Roman Empire of the East and of the West. It is a decree of tolerance. In times of real recognition, the faithful of all creeds need this blessing of showing tolerance.
The decision was taken by Constantine in order to combat his enemy Maximinus Daia who was ruling over the Eastern part of the Empire. It progressively allowed leading to a full recognition inside of the limits of the Roman Empire. These limits are challenged today by many Church jurisdictions, in particular by the Patriarchate of Moscow. Nonetheless, the Roman Empire Church identity mainly relies upon the basis of the georaphic existence of a specific body that is still present and active in our contemporary world.
As by the time of Constantine, the real concern is linked to how to get to the East, especially beyond the borders of the the near and Middle-East, i.e. for example to reach out to Persia/Iran and to Asia. At the present, there is no sense of “pending Pentarchy” as the sense of the “Local Church” has split far beyond any standards relatting to coherent ecclesiastical territories.
There is no more East or West. The Church is “universal” and pains at finding out the existing borders of each jurisdiction. No doubt that Benedict XVI is the heir of the embattled history of the European Church. He had to live through a true process of “apostasy” that affected the European Churches as a whole. The yare not able for the moment to contemplate the meaning of all the crimes committed over centuries against different nations, faithful, human souls, human beings. It will take centuries. This also explains why so many non-European Church bodies would not accept to cope with what all European Churches try to correct or to reach some credible expression of repentance.
Yesterday, the Roman Orthodox Church of Jerusalem commemorated Saint Onesimus. Quiet the more striking story and shortest epistle in the New Testament and maybe the most Good-Tiding-compating “writ”. Saint Paul had met Onesimus in jail. He who had robbed and deceived his master, Philemon, a wealthy Christian much appreciated by Paul. The Apostle wrote to Philemon asking him to welcome back the thief who was his slave and to accept him as a brother, more than that a co-worker for the sake of the Church. Saint Paul added that, in case Onesimus had some debts, he would repay Philemon and this he swore “on his own blood”.
This is somehow what happens tonight as the Bishop of Rome goes on his way. The history of the Church has long bee naway and expanding far out of the territories of the Pentarchy. The inital coherence of ruling the Church must be reconsidered, tracked back throughout history and widen out to the full of the real plenitude of the Ecclesia universa.
At this point, Joseph Ratzinger is the son of Bavaria, a German who experienced the Western Schism as a national reality in his home country and the Austrian traditional development to the East, beyond Velehrad (Moravia) and the rejection of Cyrill and Method, the Apostles of the Slavs. In Vienna, the “Pentarchy” also faced a long-age clash with Islam. It is quite significant that the Cardinal-Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Schönborn, has written his dissertation on Saint Sophronios, Patriarch of Jerusalem who was entrusted the Decree/ Achtiname in 637 A.D. by Umar Ibn-al-Khattab.
Joseph Ratzinger steps down from the Petrine See of Rome in the year when a new Patriarch of Antioch has been elected, His Beatitude Youhanna X (Yazgi). He traveled to the Middle-East, convoked a special synod on the existence of the Oriental Churches, born into the cradle of the orthodox Byzantine tradition and connected with some others. These Churches would contemplate how to reconnect with the Orthodox Churches of the East, to begin with the first See that was created outside of Jerusalem at Antioch. At the present, it is located in Damascus, in the historic quarters of the Early Church.
The Church of Antioch is mostly the first Petrine See since Shimon Bar Yona, Caiapha (same name as the High Priest who condemned Jesus), Petros/Peter historically links the Church to its roots of Jerusalem. The terrible events that currently take place in Syria do not allow to really anticipate how the Christians will be able to remain and face adversity. Nonetheless, the first Petrine See of Antioch has a local significance that spreads along the Middle-East, to the Caucasus, the Arab Peninsula, the Emirates, just as the Patriarchate of Jerusalem does.
The “swelling” must pass. By acting in a very special way, Benedict XVI draws the Church to re-estimate its real borders, limits and width. It will take a long time to “uplevel, update” such an imbalanced state of relationships between all the Churches.
“Quo vadis, Domine?”
I thought that on such a rare circumstance for the Ecclesia universa, there is als oto track back the spiritual experience of Cardinal Dr. Joseph Ratzinger, Papa emeritus. it maybe found in the book written by late Cardinal Hans Urs von Balthasar, also a co-worker of the papa emeritus (Communio). In his rare book “Einsame Zwiesprache mit Buber/”Martin Buber & Christianity, A Dialogue Between Israel And The Church”, the German-speaking Swiss theologian wrote these words(pp. 126-127, Conclusion) :
“What is the Schechina, where is the witness to it and the sanction for it? And if we remain obedient to the word of God, how can we cross the line of demarcation traced by the notion of the ‘distance’ between God and creature at any other point than the one shown to us by God himself in Christ, which is at the point of the hypostatic union? Are we not compelled to interpret the passages about the groaning spirit from this point of view, as indeed the whole context of Romans 8 proves? And yet, we Christians, too, must concede that the fundamental Christological fact implies going a step beyond the ‘distance’ between God and man promulgated by the Old Testament. The fact that God in the person of Christ, in his human nature, desires to take upon himself the sufferings of the world, demonstrates that suffering is not indifferent to him, and that he is concerned an touched by it in his human nature.
We cannot assert both things at the same time: that God is inwardly concerned with the tragedy of creation, and simutaneously that he is inwardly untouched by it. Unless, of course, we understand God’s transcendence in so high a sense that it allows him to participate freely. ‘One can, and indeed must say as much, without being accused of being a Hegelian’ Karl Rahner writes. ‘For it is after all true, it is part of dogma, that the Logos himself became man, and therefore himself became something which (formaliter) he was not always, and that therefore what he became – precisely as itself and through itself – is the reality of God. And if that is the truth of faith… then ontology will have to take it into account and be enlightened by it and concede that while God remains unchangeable “in himself”, he can become “in the other”, and that both statements can be made really and truly of the same God.’ (‘Probleme der Christologie von heute’ in Schriften zur Theologie (1954 I, 202).
Buber clings to this mytery in spite of the fact it seems to us Christians as though he cannot possibly give it a biblical foundation except by taking into account the Christian fact of the incarnation. But that mystery also compels us Christians to interpret the Christian fact in a deeper and more daring way than we are accustomed or inclined to do.
It is a good thing that this convergence of ideas should once again come into view, that we should both of us be brought up against the identical marvel that we cannot put into words, and that at the very limit of human power of expression we should both withdraw into silence and prayer. That will also ensure that whatever we expect the unveiling of the mystery to bring forth we both ultimately wait for the same thing. ‘For there is one one theological hope’. (Paul Démann, Cahiers Sioniens, no. 10 (1950) 110).