THE DIVINE PRIMACY: The Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy
by James Likoudis
(Available from the author at PO Box 852, Montour Falls, NY 14865, USA for US$27.95 postpaid, softcover, 312pp)
The days of ecumenical interest and endeavours seem to have passed away. The matter of the regaining the unity of the Eastern and Western Christians has slipped from our minds and our list of projects, and Western Christianity, at least, is now busied with other things.
It was not always thus: during 70 or so years up to recent decades discussions on ecumenical ideas, and contacts between individual members of the two families were to the fore in the life of the Churches: indeed for some this interest was the spring of their theological activity and concern.
The current frigid insouciauce, shown by Westerns especially, is something abnormal. The Russian Orthodox theologian George Florovsky wrote some decades ago: "For many centuries the East and the Western Churches lived in complete separation from one another. Yet this separation is always to be understood in the light of the complementary truths that these different blocks of insights and convictions grew out of what was originally a common mind" ("Christ and Culture", Nordland, 1973, p. 161).
Allowing for the existence of this "once and future" common mind, a book such as James Likoudis' The Divine Primacy comes as a welcome event. It is full of information and the author runs through all the contentious points that divide East and West today: from St Cyprian of Carthage (d. 258) on to Photius (who died in union with Rome) and the Filioque, the unionist council of Ferrara-Florence (1445) where the Latins and the Greeks actually met face to face for discussions, down to the events of Vatican I and the definition of papal infallibility. The presentation of this wealth of historical facts provides one of the advantages of Likoudis' book.
In compiling this dossier the author uses the literary device of composing letters to a Greek Orthodox friend, Euthymios, in which the two engage in dialogue. The letters are quite short, each one dealing with a separate matter of dispute.
However, the whole argument might have been somewhat rounder and more balanced if we were given Euthymios' side of the correspondence. This would have shown the point of view of the Orientals and their grounds for their opposition to the position of the Western Church on these doctrines: it is not a question of malice, it is rather a matter of a different viewpoint. James Likoudis is forthright, and forceful in his opinions and judgements as they appear in his side of the correspondence.
Meanwhile, international meetings of official representatives of the two sides have not proved very fruitful. Rather, international conferences of theologians and interested parties have been more realistic. (Three such conferences took place in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide in July 2003).
Good contacts can be created in a world of family and neighbourly relationships, but the most effective method for understanding the point of view of the Western Church as of the East is the monastic life. (Not what is called in the West "religious orders", but the Eastern Athonite monk and the Western Benedictine type.)
In Australia, Eastern monastic families are sparsely scattered; Europe fares better, but in our days it is the USA that provides a place for many genuine monastic foundations (both Orthodox and Eastern Catholic): they profess the life that Pope John Paul II praised so highly in his document Orientale Lumen. (A text, by the way, that should be read in conjunction with Likoudis' book.)
The Divine Primacy is a worthwhile book for the interested ecumenist, detailed and rich in its historical offerings. Unhappily there are some printing errors, and no index. A technical work like this that lacks an index loses much of its potential usefulness. Yet it can be a teaching-guide, leading to the original "common mind" that Florovsky speaks of.
Fr Peter Knowles is a Dominican who resides at St Lawrence's Priory, Adelaide.