Pod people: Vatican III? Nicea III? Press blind spot 666?

The questions jumped into Twitter in a flash, which is what one would assume would happen when there is a chance that a once-a-millennium news story could be breaking.

So Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and Pope Francis have proposed a 2025 event to mark the great Council of Nicea.

Line up, religion-news consumers, to ask your big questions. Father James Martin, you go first:

So no Vatican III?

But a proposal for Nicea III?

Slow down. First things first. Was this a proposal for a true Ecumenical Council between the ancient churches of East and West?

It quickly became clear, from Rome and Istanbul, that this was not the case.

But what did it mean, really, to say that this date — so far off in the future — is now on the calendar for an ecumenical gathering to celebrate the great Ecumenical Council of Nicea? That, of course, is the gathering of the church fathers best known because of the Nicene Creed and its proclamation of the Holy Trinity.

Once again, I was amazed that the big guns in the mainstream media didn’t jump in on this story. Amazed.

During this week’s Crossroads podcast chat, host Todd Wilken and I pondered, once again, why journalists concluded that the Pope Francis pilgrimage to the Middle East was primarily a political event about statecraft. It was not, repeat NOT, as the Vatican kept stating, an event that grew out of the highly symbolic invitation by Bartholomew for the pope to meet him in Jerusalem. (Click here to listen in.)

In this case, I had written both a GetReligion post (click here) and a Universal Syndicate column (click here) on this topic. In the column I noted:

The symbolic leader of the world’s Eastern Orthodox Christians, the successor to the Apostle Andrew, had earlier invited Francis, the successor to the Apostle Peter, to join him in Jerusalem to mark the 50th anniversary of the breakthrough meeting between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I. Their embrace ended 900-plus years of mutual excommunication in the wake of the Great Schism of 1054.

So why wasn’t this gathering newsworthy? Why was it missing from the vast majority (kudos to the Associated Press for being a major exception) of the mainstream reports about this trip?

Even in the fine AP report, the truly historic ecumenical prayer rite at the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulcher was referred to as the “spiritual” highlight of the pilgrimage. In the GetReligion post on that I asked:

Ah, there we have it. This was the “spiritual” highlight of the pilgrimage. As opposed to? The political highlight? The real highlight? The news highlight?

Yes, there we have it again, the same old, same old. When the pope travels it is a big news event. Big news is, by definition, primarily about politics. Thus, the most important events in a papal tour must, by their very nature, be political. The religion stuff? That’s nice for photographs, unless the pope stops at an Israeli security wall and there is (validly so in this case) a spectacular photo with political implications.

Got that? Politics are real. Religion is not so real. At best it is “spiritual.”

Now, in the case of yesterday’s bombshell/media blind spot, The Huffington Post did offer a short report that spotted the news hook:

Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Barthlomew I prayed together in Jerusalem at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in a beautiful act of unity.

Now, they’re taking a further step to heal the centuries-old schism between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches by holding a gathering together to commemorate the Council of Nicaea, which took place in 325. Seventeen centuries later, Francis and Bartholomew will come together in 2025 to celebrate the historic meeting, reports Vatican Insider.

“We agreed to leave as a legacy to ourselves and our successors a gathering in Nicaea in 2025, to celebrate together, after 17 centuries, the first truly ecumenical synod, where the Creed was first promulgated,” Bartholomew told Asia News.

Nicaea, now known as Iznik, brought together over 300 bishops from the Eastern and Western traditions in 325. While the next planned gathering is eleven years away, both leaders can use that time to continue to work towards friendship and cooperation between their churches.

OK, fellow Godbeat scribes, let’s stop and think about this for a moment. This event is a long way off. What else might be on the ecumenical discussion agenda in the meantime?

Obviously, there is the issue of the pope striving to find a way to tweak Rome’s claim for absolute, total primacy over all of the world’s ancient churches, a claim that the other ancient patriarchates cannot accept. However, we have already heard more papal references to the pope being the Bishop of Rome, a title that warms the heart of the Eastern Orthodox. We have also heard papal references to the pope as the patriarch of the West, a title that implies there could still be — as in the first millennium — patriarchs of the East, with the pope seen as the first among equals. And what’s up with the steady drumbeat of “synod” language from Pope Francis?

And wouldn’t it be fitting if, in an event marking the Nicean Council, East and West made progress on the ultimate issue of the 1054 schism, as in the infamous, from an Eastern Orthodox point of view, Roman insertion of the filioque clause into its version of the creed? As Father Alexander Webster, an Orthodox historian, once noted in Crisis Magazine, a conservative Catholic publication:

The real dogmatic difference revolves around the insertion of the Latin compound word filioque into the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed originally formulated in Greek by the bishops assembled at the first and second ecumenical councils (325 and 381). The Latin addition has the Holy Spirit “proceed from the Father and the Son” (filioque) instead of proceeding from the Father alone, as in the original Greek. There is no room here to rehearse the arguments for and against that pesky term. Let it suffice to note that the Orthodox are convinced that the insertion radically, albeit unintentionally, changes the meaning of the Creed (by demeaning the Personal dignity of the Holy Spirit) and remain adamant that the filioque must be disavowed by Rome.

And so forth and so on, world without end. Amen.

Yes, Webster’s 2000 essay did propose a way for Rome to end this ancient logjam. Yes, the word “synod” plays a crucial role.

Stay tuned, and enjoy the podcast.

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Julia B

    Saw this on FB – Jake and Elroy on a mission from God. Nothing in the newspapers around here – St Louis area.

  • Darrel Braun

    The mainstream press doesn’t carry this because most people in North America know little about the Orthodox Church. Catholics might be interested in this but for most Protestants, believers of other faiths, and atheists like myself, this is just two guys in funny clothes getting together.

    • Julia B

      It has been my experience that most Protestants think that the only Christians in the Near East are converts. They do not seem to understand that Christians have been there from the beginning. They also don’t know that the Holy Land was still mostly Christian at the time of the Crusades and that the Crusaders were not out to convert anybody.

      • Darrel Braun

        Where I grew up in the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada there was a definite hierarchy of believers. It began with the Pentecostals who knew the full blessings of God, followed by Charismatics who were coming into God’s fullness but didn’t yet have the history and theology to fully grasp the blessing, and followed in turn by Baptists, Christian Reformed and other Protestants who knew God but were missing out on the Holy Ghost baptism. After them were the churches preaching more of a social gospel, including Anglicans and the United Church. There were no doubt some true believers in their midst (and God bless them) but most were only social Christians. Generally the higher a church’s liturgy, the fewer the number of true believers. Catholics were pretty much outside the true faith: following the Pope, worshiping idols and praying to saints.

        This isn’t just my idea. I heard this preached more than once.

        Oddly, the Orthodox Church had so little presence where I grew up that I don’t remember it ever being mentioned in the hierarchy of believers. If it had been I suspect its strangeness, from a Pentecostal perspective, would have put it even further down than the Catholics.

        • Julia B

          No, I’m sure it’s not just your idea. I have Protestant relatives who are down in Mexico trying to convert the heathen Catholic Mexicans.

          • helen

            When I was in Thailand (95% Buddhist) I met a protestant missionary wife, who related her efforts to convert her maid (who was Roman Catholic). As I anticipated (privately…I don’t believe Lutheran equaled Christian with her either) she shortly was in need of a new maid.

      • wlinden

        ” most Protestants think that the only Christians in the Near East are converts.”
        And India.

  • Julia B

    Interesting podcast. Brought to mind 2 things:
    1) Benedict is on record as having said there is no reason why the Orthodox should be expected to accept a role for the Bishop of Rome that is greater than what it was before the split.
    2) Re: more behind the scenes things to come out about JPII’s role in the downfall of Communism. When Stan Musial died not long ago his son told a little story that is quite significant. Stan had met Cardinal Wojyla at the St Stanislaus Church in St Louis a few years before he became Pope. (Yes, that St Stan’s) They talked about setting up some sports programs for kids in Krakow. Later Stan visited Pope JPII in Rome and the subject came up again. In the 80s Stan went with the Polish founder of Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks and the novelist James Michener to Krakow in connection with setting up the sports teams and brought along money to do it – from the three of them. However, much of the money was to secretly prop up the Solidarity movement. I believe they made several such trips and nobody knew what they were really there for. Michener’s trips to Poland with Musial got him interested in writing his book “Poland”.

    • douglas kraeger

      I really do not understand how the Orthodox can be so absolute that the Holy Spirit did not proceed from Both the Father and the Son. John 17:12 has Jesus declaring that everything of His belongs to the Father and everything of the Father belongs to Him. That there must be infinite sharing for both the Father and the Son to be truly infinite must be a given in any Faith that professes belief in a true Trinity and therefore all three must be infinitely sharing everything, every thought, every action, sharing their Name “Jesus”, sharing everything infinitely without loosing their individual, divine person hoods. This unfathomable mystery is the heart of the Christian Faith whether you are Pentecostal, Baptist, Catholic, or Orthodox. If there is truly infinite sharing, (something we have a problem in understanding) then the Holy Spirit must come from Both the Father and Son. How can the Orthodox claim that the Father and Son infinitely share everything and deny that the Holy Spirit comes from both (each)?

      Perhaps the orthodox did not see this a long time ago (The theology had not developed) but is that a reason they can not accept it now?

      I do not understand. Perhaps the insertion of the word filioque was not accompanied with enough dialogue or perhaps the right questions were not asked. Perhaps it may have appeared like this was all done by Papal decree relying on the absolute authority of the Pope and the means ruffled a few feathers? I do not know. Is there anything wrong in the idea that infinite sharing requires that the Holy Spoirit proceeds from each (both)?

      • tmatt

        And your journalistic point is what?

        • Howard

          It is on par with that of Julia B.

        • douglas kraeger

          My point, (intent) was to put forward two qyuestions:

          How can the Orthodox claim that the Father and Son infinitely share everything and deny that the Holy Spirit comes from both and (each)? and

          Is there anything wrong in the idea that infinite sharing (absolutely) requires that the Holy Spirit proceeds from each and (both)?

          I do not have a lot of knowledge in this area. If someone can give me more information and answer these two questions from the Orthodox viewpoint: then I will learn. If others agree that these are questions that the Orthodox might not have good answers for (other than the answer that we already have in the word ‘filioque’), if asking these questions might help them see God’s answer, filioque, then maybe someone will ask the Orthodox people they know these questions. My point, intent, was to try and help. Can you give me the direct answer the Orthodox would give, scripture based, that is other than filioque?

  • Howard

    “It was, repeat NOT, as the Vatican kept stating, an event that grew out of the highly symbolic invitation by Bartholomew for the pope to meet him in Jerusalem.”

    I think you meant, “It was, repeat NOT; as the Vatican kept stating, it was an event that grew out of the highly symbolic invitation by Bartholomew for the pope to meet him in Jerusalem.” Or maybe, “It was, repeat NOT, as the Vatican kept stating; it was an event that grew out of the highly symbolic invitation by Bartholomew for the pope to meet him in Jerusalem.” Or just possibly, “It was, repeat NOT, as the Vatican kept stating, an event that outgrew the highly symbolic invitation by Bartholomew for the pope to meet him in Jerusalem.”

    • tmatt

      Typo. I will fix.

  • Howard

    Also, when are we going to hear, “Bishop of Constantinople”? I may have heard that phrase as an explanation, and possibly as a title before Constantinople was raised to the dignity of a patriarchate, but never as a title since then. The closest is on Bartholomew I’s official website, where he is described as “His All Holiness, Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch.”

    • Julia B

      I would like to see an exposition of how the different groups think juridical-geographical authority stuff is going to be settled. I think Benedict dropped the title of Patriarch of the West because the Bishop of Rome claims no jurisdiction over the various ethnic Orthodox churches who have now set up in the geographical West for their diaspora or over the Protestant groups. A better description of the Bishop of Rome’s function would be “head of the Latin Church”, not any title intimating that he is the Christian authority in the West. Those days are over. I think Francis may have made a mistake in bringing back the title Patriarch of the West.

      There are lots of Orthodox churches in the West now and Rome never tries to tell them what to do. However, in Russia (and maybe some other areas of the Orthodox East), the Orthodox powers are very hostile to any provisions made for the Poles and other Catholic ethnicities who now live in the East, much less the outright antipathy to Baptists or Presbyterians. In modern times, people are moving all over the place – how can the old Orthodox geographic rules still work? Aren’t they a remnant of the Ottoman system of governance – where the Turks wanted a designated person to speak for the Christians in each geographic area?

      Bottom line: there is more than theology involved in patching up the Big Schism. A lot of the problems are actually political – church and government politics. I have read Orthodox saying that there are big juridical problems. Perhaps many of these political problems are mostly a hang-over from the days when the Ottomans wanted a specific person to speak for all the Christians in a district? Reporters have no historic memory or knowledge of what went on for nearly a thousand years in the Muslim East vis a vis Christians – do US un-churched reporters even have any concept of the Ottoman Empire? I’m thinking maybe at most – something of what they saw of it in the movie “Lawrence of Arabia”.

      • Howard

        The “Bishop of Rome” still, as always, claims universal jurisdiction, including jurisdiction over the “Bishop of Constantinople” and the “Bishop of Moscow” — at least in principle. In practice, a Pope already is responsible for much more than any one mere human can do (as no doubt are the Patriarchs of Constantinople and Moscow) and has to delegate most of his authority. I think the only things that would trigger “interference” by a Pope in the internal affairs of the Orthodox side of a reunified Church would be (a) doctrinal conflict with the rest of the Church (which I think would be rare) or (b) attempts by governments to carve off and control churches — like Henry VIII and Elizabeth I did, and like China is attempting to do.

        • Julia B

          I think the East’s fixation on “jurisdiction” is something left over from the days when the heads of state determined the religious affiliation of their citizens. That’s been gone for along time in the West.

          • Howard

            Not really. Look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edict_of_toleration to get a rough idea of the timeline; the gist of it is that developments in Russia did not lag that far behind those in “the West”. This point is obscured because toleration permitted by Nicholas II became meaningless when he was replaced by Bolsheviks.

          • Julia B

            I give up on this argument. Who cares about timelines in the era of the Tzars. People are interested in what is happening today – in the era of Putin.

          • Howard

            So, “a long time ago” you only meant “before Putin”? You think you can discuss the differences in Catholic and Orthodox positions without going back even a mere century? Then yes, you really do need to give up. Both sides have long memories, and dealing with history is perhaps the greatest challenge in ending the schism.

          • Julia B

            No, I’m mentioning the differences in attitude TODAY on whether people are free to chose their own religious affiliations without government interference. That is what has changed in the West and not Russia. Ir has nothing to do with the correctness or mistakenness of theological positions or historical arguments. Has nothing to do with whether Orthodox theological positions or grievances trump the West or vice versa. “Jurisdiction” is an outdated concept – people should be free to choose their own religious affiliation – whether the East and West reconcile or not. The Russians evidently don’t see it that way and, as a result, I think there will be no reconciliation.

          • Howard

            Then you are attempting to apply a concept from the end of the 30 Years War to a Russian Orthodox Church which has just endured more than 70 years of official disfavor. That is far too simplistic. The memories of the men in the Russian hierarchy go back before Putin and even before Yeltsin.

          • Julia B

            I’m outta here.

  • https://sites.google.com/site/truthinphilosophy/ Jim J. McCrea

    The Filioque must be because the Holy Spirit must proceed from the Son. Love must proceed from truth, or it is not real love.

    Another reason why the Holy Spirit must proceed from both the Father and the Son is that the distinctions of the persons of the Trinity are based upon their relations of origin. The Son is distinct from the Father on the basis that He comes from the Father. If the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone, there would be nothing to distinguish Him from the Son as they would each have the same relation of origin. If the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son He has a unique relation of origin that distinguishes Him from the Son who proceeds from the Father alone.

    This article explains it.

    https://sites.google.com/site/truthinphilosophy/concerningtrinity

    • tmatt

      This is a site for discourse about journalism, not for massive theological debates.

  • R. Howell

    I don’t see this as a big deal and am surprised you’re surprised by the lack of coverage. The EP, unlike the pope, has no real authority. He is a leader only to the extent that local Orthodox Churches choose to follow. It’s nice that he had a chat with the pope, but if the biggest deal to come out of their meeting is a proposal to maybe meet again in 11 years, that’s not my idea of big mainstream news.

  • bonaventure

    Liberals are hoping that the October Synod on the Family will become a Vatican III. Of course they hope that all their sacred cows (communion for divorced-remarried, contraception, and homosexual “marriage”) will be deified.

    Oh boy they will be disappointed.

  • JohnnyVoxx

    All human creatures are subject to the authority of the successor of Peter. There is really nothing else to discuss. The question is whether and/or when others who claim the name of Christ submit to theological reality or not. Peter’s legitimate successor still holds the keys. Get with the program people.

    • helen

      I would ask if JohnnyVox if he is being serious, humorous or sarcastic (Christ had a dozen disciples who “received the keys”) but that is not a journalism question either. Interesting discussion!
      If the two church bodies get organized for a commemoration of Nicaea in 11 years, I suppose it will occur whether the principals of today are in attendance or not. [That was my first question... nobody else's, apparently.
      The second and even more obvious, given the state of the world today, will Turkey let them come and will it be safe for a lot of Christians to go there?]

      • JohnnyVoxx

        Very serious, although I am speaking the truth to you in a pointed fashion for effect. Modern ears are unaccustomed to hearing it. Please review Matthew 16:18 and Matthew 18:18 and correct your misimpressions. All the Apostles (not disciples, as Christ had many disciples) received the power to “bind and loose” (forbid and permit), just as all Apostles received the power to “forgive or retain” sin (Jn. 20:19-23), BUT ONLY PETER RECEIVED THE POWER OF THE KEYS (Mt. 16:18), and he was the Apostle Christ specifically asked three times to “feed his sheep” (clear pastoral language) (Jn. 21:15-17). There are other indications of Peter’s primacy among the Apostles. Remember, the Bible is a Catholic Book and only the Church can interpret it for you properly because, as St. Paul tells us, the Church (led by Peter and his successor) is the “pillar and ground of the Truth.” 1 Tim. 3:15. Pax Christi.

        • tmatt

          And your journalism comment?

          • JohnnyVoxx

            Fair enough. I think the tagline of this site, “The Press Just Doesn’t Get Religion” is overly charitable. I think the mainstream press is guided by the “angel that rides in the whirlwind and directs this storm,” a certain fallen arch-angel that goes by many names. Certainly the cub reporters (if there are any true “reporters” anymore) can be guilty of not “getting” religion, and they are useful idiots. But the drivers of coverage — what gets covered and how — know very well what is going on and make sure to drive the coverage away from the real story. And, of course, for those of us who know the history of Christendom, the massive, blockbuster story of Pope Francis’ trip to the Holy Land was his meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew. It was ignored by mainstream outlets not because the press “just doesn’t ‘get’ religion” — it was ignored because the press DOES get religion and promotes distraction, deflection and disinformation away from the Truth, the truth here being that a reunification of the EO with the Church would do more to disrupt the plans of the New World Order types than any other single event.

          • JohnnyVoxx

            It should be said as well Mr. Mattingly I appreciate your efforts and will be following your work.

          • Guest

            It should be said as well, I appreciate your efforts and will be following your work.

        • Guest

          Typical Catholic threats and nonsense, yawn.


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