"Baptized and Confirmed in the Orthodox Church, Andrew J. Gerakas, D.Min., has been a deacon in the Roman Catholic Church for some 25 years. It has been his lifelong dream and daily prayer before the Blessed Sacrament that the Churches of East and West will soon 'break bread' together again at the same table of the Lord."
In the preface Deacon Gerakas notes his Greek Orthodox upbringing, going as a youngster to Greek School in NY City, and moving later to a largely Orthodox Jewish neighborhood which he believes helped him to "better understand the Jewish legacy in Christian belief and practice." His "Greek background encouraged an interest in the contribution of the early Greek Fathers to Christian theology and its relation to the Eucharist" (p. xi).
The book contains some fine writing concerning the Eucharist, its origins and prefigurement in the Jewish Scriptures, and the debt owed the Greek Fathers for developing the Church's basic Trinitarian theology, Christology, and Mariology. That having been stated, however, it must regretfully be said that there are some misleading aspects in this work. It is inexplicably curious, first of all, that a Catholic deacon should bow to one of the shibboleths of contemporary unbelief by using throughout the book the politically-correct "BCE" and "CE" instead of the traditional (and Christian) B.C. and A.D., thus serving to downplay the historic impact of the Savior's birth on Western civilization and culture.
The author follows uncritically the questionable views of Raymond Brown in accepting that:
- "none of the Gospels were written by an eyewitness to the events" (p. 52),
- and he ignores the irresponsible use by some biblical scholars of the "Q" document as a source of information for both Matthew and Luke (ibid.).
- He downplays the supreme authority of Peter, Chief and Head of the Apostles, at the Council of Jerusalem, by stating that "It was at the first synod of the Church in Jerusalem (46 CE) that James determined that the Gentile converts, which made up the majority of the church of Antioch, did not have to be circumcised..." (p. 28)
Actually, it was St. Peter's authority which ended the dispute; it was Peter who "rose up" and proclaimed the Church's teaching, binding on all believers – and "all the assembly kept silence". St. James as Bishop of Jerusalem simply concurred with Peter's determination, making a practical suggestion that the Council issue a formal decree making allowance for the religious sensitivities of Jewish Christians.
In commenting (p. 97) on the sorry events of 1054 beginning the Byzantine Greeks' departure from Catholic communion, our author exaggerates in declaring the papal legate Cardinal Humbert's anathemas were directed "against the Eastern Church" and the Patriarch Michael Cerularius' anathemas were issued "against the Western Church". The mutual excommunications only involved the persons in question. On page 99 he terms the present Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I as "the head of Orthodoxy", an expression which would assuredly surprise Eastern Orthodox prelates and theologians opposed to any "papism" in their ecclesiology from Constantinople or Moscow. On page 101 he states that:
"With regard to the Filioque (the source of centuries of dogmatic controversy)... the Orthodox believe that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father "through the Son."
This is not correct since many Eastern Orthodox continue to follow the 9th century Patriarch Photius' heresy in rejecting the Catholic doctrine of the eternal procession of the Spirit from the Father through the Son. Those Orthodox admitting a temporal procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and (or through) the Son (for the sanctification of the faithful) nevertheless fail to profess the revealed truth and Catholic dogma of the Spirit's eternal procession from the Father and (or through) the Son. The Catholic Church does not and cannot admit that the doctrine embodied in the formulation of the Filioque is a heresy as was charged by the Patriarch Michael Anchialos (1170-1177) whom the author, in fact, quotes (p.103).
Nor is the author correct in stating that "With regard to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, Orthodox believe that it is not so much erroneous as it is superfluous" (p. 103). This does not take into account those Eastern Orthodox prelates and theologians who have frankly declared it heretical or even those who find the dogma expressive of the doctrine traditionally held in the Byzantine Church.
Deacon Gerakas repeatedly takes for "Orthodox belief" what are only the opinions of certain Eastern Orthodox theologians, laity, and clergy – opinions, moreover, which have no support in the teaching of the first Seven Ecumenical Councils which alone, those theologians say, can determine questions of dogma. It is surprising that our author, despite his background, thoroughly ignores the Eastern Catholic Churches in union with Rome and their witness to the Catholic doctrines that have been contested (original sin, for example see page 104) or suffer outright rejection (e.g., the Filioque and the Petrine Primacy of universal jurisdiction) by the Eastern Orthodox. The latter he mistakenly (and simplistically) identifies with "the East" (as if the Eastern Catholic Churches and the Oriental Orthodox Churches did not exist).
He continually contrasts the teaching of "the Eastern Church" and "the Western Church" when the question is one of a Catholic doctrine that is also held by the Eastern Catholic Churches of various rites in communion with the See of Peter. Catholic doctrine is not Western nor Eastern, but simply Catholic. Apparently he has been too much influenced by an uncritical reading of Eastern Orthodox theologians like Jean Meyendorff and Bishop Kallistos Ware whose individual theological opinions can not bear – for lack of the infallible Magisterium centered in the Petrine Office – the character of final and obligatory doctrine.
Another troubling matter is the author's treatment of the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. It is uneven, and it even raises questions concerning adherence to what Pope Paul VI in "Mysterium Fidei" termed "the dogma of Transubstantiation". On the one hand, the author notes accurately the Lord's "abiding presence, body, blood, soul and divinity... under the appearance of bread and wine. (p. xiii). In other places he writes:
- "Jesus leaves us Himself in the form of bread and wine" (p. 26);
- "Jesus challenges our faith to believe that He is truly present in the consecrated bread and wine" (p. 26);
- "Mark's words of institution emphasize that the bread and wine truly bear the presence of Jesus" (p. 51);
- "Jesus is not only present in the bread and wine, offered and consumed, but is also unifying the community as each partakes of Him, and His presence permeates the congregation" (p. 58);
- While there is no consecration and the Lord is not present in the food elements, and here is not the universal invitation to all, He is present because He has been called upon. "For where two or three are present gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them" (Mt. 18:20);
- "Jesus offered both the bread and wine as His body and blood." (p. 122)
The statements fall short of excluding the truth that bread and wine no longer exist after the consecration of these elements but only the Living Christ. Some expressions are open to the imputation of impanation (the Lutheran teaching that bread and wine co-exist with the Body and Blood of Christ). In the Council of Trent's teaching on the "true, real, and substantial" Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, there is no reference to the Presence of Christ in the bread and wine. Rather there is the explanation of Transubstantiation (which remains the Church's proper term for the mysterious, unique and truly wonderful change that results from the priestly consecration at Mass). This dogmatic Council insisted:
"This has always been the belief of the Church of God, that immediately after the consecration the true body and the true blood of our Lord, together with His soul and divinity exist under the form of bread and wine, the body under the form of bread and the blood under the form of wine 'by the force of the words'; but the same body also under the form of wine and the same blood under the form of bread and the soul under both, in virtue of that natural connection and concomitance whereby the parts of Christ the Lord, 'who has now risen from the dead, to die no more' (Rom. 6:9), are mutually united; also the divinity on account of its admirable hypostatic union with His body and soul. Wherefore, it is very true that as much is contained under either form as under both. For Christ is whole and entire under the form of bread and under any part of that form; likewise the whole Christ is present under the form of wine and under all its part."
(13th Session, Chapter III)
It has proved risky for Catholic writers to forego or to contest the precise language of the Church's Councils in the explanation of her heavenly mysteries. With respect to the Most Holy Eucharist, one tragic result has been confusion among the faithful and the weakening, if not the outright loss of faith, among many. When during the 1960's, the notorious "Dutch Catechism" proceeded to distort the Church's teachings on the Eucharist, it is not surprising that the Commission of Cardinals charged with exposing its errors sought fit to "urge that the faithful avoid speaking simply of bread and wine when referring to the consecrated bread and wine; in this case, one should always say 'the species of bread and wine'" (See "The Credo of the People of God" by Candido Pozo, S.J., pp. 146-147).
Our author writes that:
"the problem that the Eastern Orthodox Churches have is that the word 'transubstantiation' begins to philosophically define what happens to the bread and wine, something unknown in the early Church. The position in the East is that what happens to the Eucharist is a mystery beyond comprehension and should be accepted by faith."
The implication here is that the Eastern Orthodox reject both the term Transubstantiation and its philosophical underpinning. He ignores the fact that there are plenty of Eastern Orthodox theologians who have used and continue to use the term "transubstantiation" to best express the "Mystery of faith" that is the Holy Eucharist. The Patriarch Gennadius who rejected the Reunion Council of Florence (1439) but was a devotee of the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, used the term "transubstantiation". So did Gabriel Severus, Bishop of Philadelphia in the 16th c.; so did two important and weighty confessions of faith drawn up to refute Protestant errors: the Orthodox Confession of Peter Mohila in 1640 and that of the Patriarch Dositheos and his Council of Jerusalem (1672). The latter explained as well as any Western scholastic theologian that:
"By the word Transubstantiation the manner in which the bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of the Lord is not explained; for this is altogether incomprehensible and is impossible except for God Himself; and attempts at explanation bring Christians to folly and error. But the word denotes that the bread and wine after the consecration are changed into the Body and Blood of the Lord not figuratively or by way of image or by superabundant grace or by the communication or presence of the Deity alone of the Only Begotten. Neither is any accident of the bread and of the wine transformed in any way or by any change into any accident of the Body and Blood of Christ; but really and actually and substantially the bread becomes the real Body of the Lord itself, and the wine the Blood of the Lord itself..."
Of course, the Eucharist is a mystery beyond human comprehension, but, as the Jesuit theologian Charles Boyer noted in 1972:
"The eucharistic fact is the change of one reality (substance) into another. The explanations that follow should not eliminate that fact which is suitably termed transubstantiation. The explanations given by St. Thomas are intelligible and consistent. If anyone finds better ones, let him propose them, but let him respect the fundamental fact. Let him not make a bugbear of the word transubstantiation. The concept of substance is of all times. The human spirit spontaneously conceives as substance, without any need of Aristotle, the primary reality of a being."
("On the Windsor Declaration", L'Osservatore Romano, 3/16/72)
It is the belief of both Catholics and Eastern Orthodox that at Mass or the Divine Liturgy the being of bread and the being of wine by the word of the Lord undergo an ontological change into His Body and Blood. Deacon Gerakas might well have emphasized that the precise meaning of "Real Presence" in the Eucharist cannot be adequately safeguarded by any other dogmatic formulation, as we see in the controversies prompted by the Lutheran notions of impanation and consubstantiation and the more recent formulations of "transignification" and "transfinalization" severely criticized by Pope Paul VI. Dositheos' Council of Jerusalem in 1672 put the matter succinctly in observing:
"This term [transubstantiation] the Church employs constantly from one end to the other, nor has anyone protested its use by the Church except heretics."
It is regrettable that the author succumbs to another modern folly affecting liturgical and scriptural translations: namely, the use of "inclusive language". He gives this translation of the ancient document "Didache" ("The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles") for part of the Eucharistic prayer in connexion with the cup: "We thank You, Father, for the holy vine of David, Your child, which You have revealed through Jesus, Your Child." On three more ocasions, "Jesus, Your Child" is used for the usual translation of "Jesus, Thy Son." This tampering with liturgical texts for the sake of fostering a radical feminist ideology affecting Christology is inexcusable.
The author's terminology contrasting medieval Byzantine liturgical customs with historically different Latin observances is anachronistic. He writes of "Hellenic emperors", "Hellenic liturgy", and says 'the Hellenes used leavened bread", "the Hellenes prayed standing", "the Hellenes baptized by immersion", "Hellenic priests were allowed to marry", and "Hellenic priests had beards". But "Hellas" refers either to ancient pagan Greece or to the modern independent kingdom, and "Hellenes" are Greeks of classical times, or of the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries. In the medieval period, Greek-speaking Byzantines called themselves "Romaioi" (Romans), and not "Greeks" or "Hellenes". Only after the fall of Constantinople and the rise of ethnic nationalism in the wake of the French Revolution did the Greeks begin to call themselves "Hellenes" once more.
Though originally Greek Orthodox, Deacon Gerakas is a Latin-rite deacon. Unfortunately, he has undergone the questionable influence of some modern Western theology, such as that of the German, Karl Rahner, and seems unaware of some of Rahner's unorthodox teachings. On pages 84-86, he follows the Russian Orthodox Jean Meyendorff in praising Rahner for giving "modern theological language to the theosis [doctrine of divinization] introduced by the Greek Fathers. Rahner's evolutionary theory of intrinsic grace begins at creation and continues through human history". He writes further:
"Because of God's will to save all human beings and because of the presence of the supernatural grace of Christ in all men, every self-communication of God may be called revelation even though it occurs in the transcendental and not yet reflective human consciousness... The evolution of matter into spirit is generated by the spirit. While they are different, matter and spirit have an intrinsic co-ordination as both were created by the same God. They are distinct but not separate. This so-called 'essential self-transcendence' not only results in a change beyond human power but, in becoming part of God through union with Him, still retains the essential self. The result is theosis or divinization... It is in this evolutionary process of God's self-communication in grace that Jesus Christ appears in human history as the climax of the complete self-emptying (Ph. 2:7) and complete acceptance of the self-communication of God."
A careful examination of the above and other Rahnerisms reveals a serious error concerning grace as intrinsic to human nature. As critics have noted, for Rahner grace no longer reaches man from the outside as God's gratuitous gift of Himself, but is already present in nature, in man and in all things. The result is to reject the gratuitousness of the supernatural order of grace, so that Christ and God Himself are shifted into the natural things of this world. There is also a dangerous understanding of "revelation" that obscures the objective content of what God has revealed in "words and deeds" (cf. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 53). The Church does not teach an "on-going Revelation". There are other questions that need clarification. What does it mean to be "part of God"? Can God be divided into parts? When it is said that the soul cannot be separated from the body, is the reference point this life only? Does not the soul separate from the body at death? How is God's self-communication an evolutionary process? Evolution involves changes within the created order, but God transcends creation.
The author does not seem to realize that much of the secularism in post-conciliar theology is due to Rahner's influence which introduced the philosophic errors and skepticism of German idealists (Kant, Hegel, and Fichte) into Catholic theology. Nothing would be more antithetical to the philosophy and theology of the Greek Fathers of the Church than Rahner's enthrallment by German philosophy which has played a large role in the apostasy of many modern intellectuals from Christianity. It is not surprising that the British theologian Fr. Edward Holloway should term Rahner "the master-figure, the pied-piper of the post-conciliar Church" and note that "Rahner is totally unorthodox in Christology, – [Jesus] is not truly divine... certainly not God by very essence." ("Faith" magazine, January 1996). Earlier Fr. Holloway has declared:
"Time will show him [Rahner] to have been the most subtly intelligent, and the most corrosively wrong. The opacity of his writing does not proceed simply from an academic mind living in isolation from the common herd but much more from the effort to combine the affect, the emotional feel of authentic Catholic theology with principles which are ambivalent or directly opposed to it. He is basically an immanentist and pantheistic thinker, a true Hegelian, in whom God is an aspect of Man, and Man an aspect, in different degrees of self-realization, of a central core of reality, which he would name God. Therefore, in Rahner there is no real distinction of matter and spirit, and no complete transcendence of God from the creation. His writing techniques can be, and have been subtle enough to deceive 'even the elect' of the older generation, because they wrest his words into the frame of orthodoxy..."
("Faith" magazine, Jan/Feb 1986)
The present writer can only sympathize with Deacon Gerakas' desire to promote the union of the separated Eastern Orthodox churches with the See of Peter, but the various defects and shortcomings noted above are not calculated to foster a better understanding of the issues that impede Catholic/Orthodox rapprochement.