Beliefnet
Q: Although I consider myself a Catholic, I do not agree with all of theChurch's tenets, including papal infallibility. Is the only divisivedifference between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches the authority accordedto the Bishop of Rome? Why do we allow all the other secondary issues toseparate us?

A.: You and I could concur on papal infallibility, but we would not therebyachieve much of a union. The great challenge is not to pick and chooseindividual beliefs, but to bridge the gap between our respective Churches asreligious communities with long histories and deep memories. Theestrangement between Orthodoxy and Catholicism is over a millennium old. Ithas been caused not only by doctrinal differences, such as opinions over therole of the Pope, but also by historical events, especially thePope-sanctioned Crusades; during these, Orthodox lands were ravaged andLatin episcopates set up in the East to convert Orthodox Christians. Suchwounds take time to heal. This healing process began only about ageneration ago, with an ecumenical meeting between the Pope and thePatriarch of Constantinople in Jerusalem. It will take many moregenerations of patient dialogue and healing between the communities beforesubstantial results could emerge, by God's grace.

The first need is to reject the way of polemics and instead embrace aprayerful path to fulfill Christ's prayer "that they may all be one" (Jn17:21). Christians were commanded in the Sermon on the Mount to love eventheir enemies (5:44). It is to our shame that we have fostered contempt,prejudices, conflicts and even war against each other. The current Pope'srecent gesture of asking for forgiveness for historical wrongs committed byRoman Catholics, even though he did not mention the Crusades, is animportant step toward authentic dialogue and healing.

The other important need is for theologians and church leaders to continueto work on resolving the divisive doctrinal issues while acknowledging thatwe share a common, rich tradition of Christian antiquity. The maindoctrinal difference that divides us is indeed the role of the Pope. It isthe one which actually caused the official break between the two Churches in1054. From the Orthodox viewpoint, the Pope may be accorded a "primacy ofhonor," meaning the right to call and preside over meetings and councils, aswell as the right to be the spokesman for the Church. But he is not given aprimacy of legal power--or accorded infallibility.

A second crucial difference is over the interpretation of the NiceneCreed, specifically a clause that was inserted by the Western church, oftenreferred to as the "filioque clause," meaning "and from the Son." Whenreciting the Creed, Orthodox Christians say that the Holy Spirit proceedsfrom the Father, while Catholics say the Holy Spirit proceeds from theFather and the Son. This "and from the Son" phrase was improperly inserted,Orthodox believe, into the Creed's article on the Holy Spirit. Not only didthe Eastern Church believe it was a break with the traditionalinterpretation of the Holy Trinity, that is, the relationship of the HolySpirit to the Father and the Son, it was also an assertion of authority onthe part of the Latin church, and eventually by the pope himself, againstthe universal authority of the Second Ecumenical Council (381 AD)--anillegal act rejected by the Eastern Church.

If these two key doctrinal differences could be resolved, a solidtheological foundation, as well as a deposit of trust, would be establishedto deal with other theological disputes (for example, purgatory, merits,indulgences, and the understanding of priestly authority). Only then can wecontinue on the long process of reconciliation and hope-for unity.

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