An Eastern Orthodox Perspective on Vatican II (Guest: Fr. Peter Heers)

Synopsis Vatican II and its implementation is still controversial among Catholics. Today on Crisis Point we’re going to consider an Eastern Orthodox perspective to the Council, particularly its ecclesiology. Guest: Archpriest Peter Heers was raised as the son of an Anglican priest, who, in 1992, together with much of his parish, converted to the Orthodox … Read more

Crisis Point
Crisis Point
An Eastern Orthodox Perspective on Vatican II (Guest: Fr. Peter Heers)
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Synopsis

Vatican II and its implementation is still controversial among Catholics. Today on Crisis Point we’re going to consider an Eastern Orthodox perspective to the Council, particularly its ecclesiology.

Guest: Archpriest Peter Heers was raised as the son of an Anglican priest, who, in 1992, together with much of his parish, converted to the Orthodox Church. Then, in 1996 Fr. Heers came to Thessaloniki, Greece, in order to visit Mt. Athos, returning again in 1998 to begin studies at the Theological School of the University of Thessaloniki, where he earned undergraduate, masters and doctoral degrees in Dogmatic Theology. He is the founder and current head of Uncut Mountain Press, the founder and first editor of “Divine Ascent, A Journal of Orthodox Faith,” the host of the online podcast, Postcards from Greece, hosted by Ancient Faith Radio, and a regular speaker to parish groups in the United States and Canada.

Transcript:

(Note: We provide this transcript as a service to our readers, but we do not guarantee 100% accuracy in the transcription. Feel free to contact us if you notice any errors.)

Eric Sammons:

Vatican II and its implementation is quite controversial among Catholics, especially among traditionalist Catholics. I thought today it would be a good idea to have a different perspective, an Eastern Orthodox perspective, on Vatican II, particularly Vatican II ecclesiology.

Hello, I’m Eric Sammons, the host of Crisis Point and editor-in-chief of Crisis Magazine. Welcome to the program. Before we get started, I just want to encourage people to like this episode, subscribe to the channel, let other people know about it. I always appreciate that. Also you can follow Crisis Magazine on all the different social platforms, @CrisisMag.

Let’s get right into it. I want to introduce our guest. A little bit of a long introduction, but I think it’s important because I think most of our audience probably is not familiar with Father, so I will go ahead and get started with that. Archpriest Peter Heers was raised as the son of an Anglican priest, who in 1992 together with much of his parish converted to the Orthodox Church. In 1996, Father Heers went to Greece in order to visit Mount Athos, returning again in 1998 to begin studies at the Theological School of the University of Thessaloniki, where he earned undergraduate, master’s and doctoral degrees in Dogmatic Theology. He then served as director and spiritual father of a small parish church in a village in the mountains outside of Thessaloniki, Greece from 2006 to 2017.

He is the founder and current head of Uncut Mountain Press, the founder and the first editor of Divine Ascent, a Journal of Orthodox Faith, the host of the online podcast, Postcards from Greece hosted by Ancient Faith Radio, and a regular speaker to parish groups in the United States and Canada. He’s also the author of the Ecclesiological Renovation of Vatican II: an Orthodox Examination of Rome’s Ecumenical Theology Regarding Baptism in the Church, which that’s light. There it is right there, which I own a copy of. Welcome to the program, Father.

Fr. Peter Heers:

Thank you, Eric. It’s good to see you again after many, many years of not seeing you. It’s nice to be here. Thanks for having me.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. For those who don’t know, actually, Father and I go way back. Almost 30 years ago, we were both involved in pro-life work together. Just before we get started on the actual topic at hand, I do have to ask you, what was your reaction to Dobbs when Roe v. Wade was overturned?

Fr. Peter Heers:

Well, we were, of course, thrilled. I don’t think back in 1990, when we were in college sitting in front of abortion clinics, we thought that this day would come. I don’t know, most people thought it was pretty far away. So thank God. Of course, it is a little bit deceptive because now it’s going back to the states. And so the real struggle among Christians on the ground is just beginning in many ways. But thanks be to God. We were all grateful to God.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. I just didn’t think it would happen in my lifetime, so I’m glad it did in the courts, like you said. We still have a lot of work to do. In fact, I’m going to a fundraiser tonight for a crisis pregnancy center because a lot of work needs to be done there. I need to support them to help out the women who we’ll meet and their babies.

Fr. Peter Heers:

Yes. I think you will see this country divide even more and you’ll see states there going to infanticide, unfortunately, like California. But it’s a trend that’s been going on for a long time, of separating the sheep from the goats, so it’s happening more and more.

Eric Sammons:

That’s right. Exactly. Okay, so we won’t bore everybody with stories about going to jail together or anything like that here. Instead, we’ll focus on the topic at hand which is Vatican II. It’s commonly thought in Catholic circles and I think probably in many Orthodox circles, that Vatican II, particularly the ecclesiology of Vatican II, brought the Catholic Church, in a sense, closer to Orthodoxy. Because the common narrative is that Vatican I, of course, with the definition of papal primacy, papal universal jurisdiction, papal infallibility, that of course brought us further away from Orthodoxy, whereas the more collegial aspects of Vatican II perhaps brought us a little bit closer to Orthodoxy. But I think both you and I would have some problems with that narrative and so that’s why I wanted to bring you on. I just want to tell people ahead of time, this is not intended as a debate. This is really more of a discussion.

I think it’s good to get an actual Orthodox priest on to talk about it from the perspective of Orthodoxy of Vatican II, because as Catholics, we tend to just assume Vatican II is good for ecumenical relations, good for bringing us closer to our Orthodox brothers and sisters. So let’s actually talk to an Orthodox priest about what he thinks about that.

So what we’re doing here is we’re mostly going to focus on Lumen Gentium, particularly Lumen Gentium, chapters one through three, which talk about the church. Chapter one talks about basically the mystery of the church. Chapter two is the people of God, basically membership in the church. And then chapter three is how the church is organized, the hierarchy of the church. I don’t know how much of this we’re going to actually cover, but we’ll at least get a high level perspective. We could have a graduate level discussion course on this, of course, but we’ll stick to the high level.

First, chapter one of Lumen Gentium, what is the church, the mystery of the church? It talks about the church in Christ is in the nature of a sacrament. It’s a sign and instrument that is of communion with God and unity among all men. It talks a lot about imagery for the church. I just want to ask you, how would an Orthodox answer, “What is the church?”

Fr. Peter Heers:

Yeah, thank you. I appreciate that. Just to lead into that before I get to that direct answer. I think that on a surface level, many people do think that it was, obviously, an opening of Vatican II toward not only Orthodox, but Protestants and all the shades of Christianity outside Catholicism. An interest in research was the dogma of the church, ecclesiology. What does Vatican II say is the church? It’s not how they feel about orthodoxy or the rhetoric or the political stance or the pastoral stance, but do we have a new dogma, a new ecclesiology? What is it? How has it changed from the previous ecclesiology that we heard in the previous centuries and how does it compare to the patristical ecclesiology? That was my mission in my doctoral thesis, which is what this book originally was.

What was at stake was what are they saying about the nature of the church and the mysteries of the church? What I found was something, I don’t think I expected it to this degree, but what I found from my perspective as an Orthodox priest and scholar is that I found a approach and understanding of the unity of the church and the mission of the church which is very different, quite different from the Orthodox perspective. What is the church is the question. Of course, the church is the body of Christ and we are members of the body of Christ.

One of the things that jumped off the page to me when I was reading, especially Yves Congar and others who really formed theologically the Second Vatican Council’s understanding of the church, is that they intentionally did not want to use that language to describe the church. They wanted to go to the people of God, they wanted to use other language because, as they say in the writings in which I document in the book, is that they said, “This is going to be difficult for ecumenical relations.”

They intentionally strove to not think about the church in that organic way, in which there’s really no room for degrees of churchliness. There’s no room for a partial communion when you talk about members. And that’s exactly what somebody like Congar or Joseph Ratzinger discussed in their discussions. I don’t have the quotes in front of me, but they’re in my book.

So we are very much Pauline, the Orthodox. That’s the core. It’s an organic unity in the Eucharist. All the mysteries are one. All the mysteries are the one mystery of the incarnation. The continuation of the incarnation is the church.

Another point which they seem to get away from in Vatican II, is they don’t want to talk about it as the continuation of the incarnation, which is very much front and center in somebody like say St. Justin Popovich, a great 20th century saint of the Orthodox church. And so they’re moving away toward a definition of understanding the church which allows for incremental or partial communion, and therefore opens up the way for ecumenical dialogue and relations. We could talk about many aspects of that, how they get away from the patristic ecclesiology, from the Orthodox perspective.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, this is very fascinating to me because my most recent book, Deadly Indifference, I talk about this issue of partial and full communion, and how it’s an innovative terminology, frankly, this idea that there is partial or full communion. And so from Orthodox perspective, how is one in communion with the church? And is there any type of a gray area of people who perhaps are not fully members of the church or are somehow connected to the Orthodox church?

Fr. Peter Heers:

Well, I think we need to talk positively about the church first, before we talk about what the church is not. Because that’s the way the patristic understanding would go and that’s going to properly put things in the right perspective. Usually where people start is at the end. In other words, they look at their own experiences. They look at the pastoral reality on the ground. And then they go back and they try to do ecclesiology. And that’s not going to work. You have to start with revelation, Christology, Pauline patristic ecclesiology. And then in that context, try to understand these fuzzy, these areas of, “Well, what about this? What about that? And what about the reality of those not in communion with the church?”

So you go to St. Maximus the Confessor, for instance. It’s very clear in his understanding of the church that for every member of the church, there is no degrees of participation. What opens up to them is the same, the one and the same Christ. How that is appropriated and assimilated of course is going to be a thousand differences. That’s on a personal level of assimilation. That’s not on the level of Christ and His offering and who He is.

So when we are baptized, chrismated and communed in the Orthodox church…. And those three mysteries are united in terms of its initiation. That might seem minor, but it’s massively important in understanding the differences between the Orthodox and the medieval Catholic, let alone the Vatican II ecclesiology. And there’s a lot of practical historical things that one could discuss, as how could they get to the point where they talked about in Vatican II, someone being baptized alone and being a part of the body of Christ? Like a Protestant is baptized and he is, according to Unitatis Redintegratio, he is fully participating in the mysteries and the grace of Christ. Maybe not full communion, he wouldn’t say that, but he is participating in church.

In the Orthodox church initiation means baptism, chrismation and communion for infants or every single person who becomes an Orthodox Christian. So here practically and theologically, you can’t be a member of the church in the Orthodox church if you’re not communing. Whereas Vatican II ecclesiology allows you to be a part of the church if you’re not chrismated and you’re not communing. And that has to do with the medieval understanding of what happened in the West, which did not happen in East, which was there was a separation first in time between baptism and chrismation and communion, as well as confession. And that led to essentially a different understanding of the mysteries and their unity and what it means to be a Christian in the West.

It must seem minor, but it’s really important. Because you can’t get to the point where you talk about every baptized person on the face of the earth, whoever they are, outside, inside of Catholicism being somehow participants in the one mystery of the church, in the ancient practice of initiation. So there’s no incremental, partial degrees of communion in that vision of initiation and that vision of the participation in the church. It is all or nothing.

People like Father George Florovsky, well-known patristic scholar or Kallistos Ware said exactly that in the 1970s when they were talking about ecclesiology in relation to Vatican II. And they make very clear… Let me just actually quote Florovsky. I think it’s very helpful. He says, “There was simply the question of full communion, that is of membership in the church. There were identical terms of membership for all.” And Kallistos Ware says, “The Bible, the Fathers, or the canons know of only two possibilities, communion and non-communion. It is all or nothing. Did not envision any third alternative such as partial intercommunion.”

Father Dumitru Staniloae, the great Romanian patristic scholar, who is likely going to be glorified by the Romanian church here as a saint, he says much of the same, talking about the question of intercommunion in terms of the Eucharist. But it’s applicable to all the mysteries because the mysteries are one. Christ is one. The church is one.

From the Orthodox perspective, there was a breakdown probably long before Vatican II in the vision of baptism and its initiation. They talk about, for instance, I believe it’s in Trent, they talk about a non-Christian, could be even an atheist or a Jew or a Muslim, if he’s doing what the church intends and what the church says is a baptism, he could theoretically initiate somebody into the church. From an Orthodox perspective, that’s just impossible. That’s not conceivable, we couldn’t have imagined that to happen. So that’s pretty huge in the whole development of doctrine in the West, that kind of perception.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, just to be clear on the Catholic perspective. So basically the Catholic church teaches that anybody, theoretically, anybody could baptize somebody.

Fr. Peter Heers:

Right.

Eric Sammons:

So an atheist could administer baptism.

Fr. Peter Heers:

Right.

Eric Sammons:

If for example you’re driving by somebody in a car wreck and says, “I want to be baptized as a Catholic.” And the atheist is there. He could pour water over the head and say, “Okay, I’ll do what you want me to do and what you intend this to happen.” And we would consider that a valid baptism.

Fr. Peter Heers:

Right. It’s an extreme example, but it’s interesting. That points to a perspective on what the mystery is and how one’s initiated. I think that’s important.

Eric Sammons:

Right, because I think from the Catholic’s perspective, it is that the baptism is so important, that obviously baptism is our entrance into the body of Christ. And so we don’t want to have any barriers to that. It’s also interesting. For example, Mormon baptism is not considered valid by the Catholic church because their views of the Trinity are so wrong. They don’t believe in the Trinity. That doing it in the Father, Son, Holy Spirit is a fundamentally ontologically different thing for them. So there is some-

Fr. Peter Heers:

Yes.

Eric Sammons:

…. limitations on baptisms that can be done in the Catholic church. But so what you’re saying though, is from an Orthodox perspective, it needs to be an Orthodox… Can a Orthodox lay person baptize validly?

Fr. Peter Heers:

Yeah. Theoretically one who is baptized can baptize in extreme economy. We would call it an oikonomia which would be exception to the rule. But if somebody was in a hospital and did a baptism in the air, for instance, and that baby lived, we would baptize them in the Orthodox church. We would consider that to be the proper path. But I don’t want to get in the weeds because that gets off topic.

But I think the organic unity of the mysteries, as one with the mystery of the church, how these are inseparable in both our understanding of communion and initiation, I think that’s really at the heart where there’s a different vision of that in Vatican II. That’s really fleshed out. I don’t think it was all fleshed out in the Middle Ages. I think it really is fleshed out-

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, to make it clear, kind of what you’re saying here is in the West, of course, we separated baptism from confirmation from communion. In the East, it’s always been at the same time. And it’s pretty much understood that in the early church, the first days, it was all one. I don’t think anybody disputes that, obviously, especially because most people coming in were adults and their families, and so they got it all. But for historical reasons, developmental reasons, whatever, it was separate.

So what you’re arguing then is kind of saying that that started a process where membership in the church… Because the Catholic understanding of membership in the church is baptism and it’s baptism only, really. Now we would say you become fully initiated through confirmation and the Eucharist. So we do have this concept. But that, what you’re saying, even that alone is kind of the start of what eventually turned into Vatican II and the church today saying that you have these partial communions. So it’s almost like the baptized Catholic infant is almost in partial communion with the church. That’s not really what we would say. But you’re saying that that’s kind of the foundation.

Fr. Peter Heers:

You did just say full initiation with chrismation and communion. So there is, practically, at least on some level, there’s this understanding that there’s more to it than baptism.

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Fr. Peter Heers:

So you’re in but you’re not quite 100% in.

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Fr. Peter Heers:

I’m not sure how it’s explained today, post Vatican II.

Eric Sammons:

I think the distinction is you are a full member of the church at baptism, but you’re not fully initiated. Maybe that’s a little bit of a distinction without a difference. I don’t know. I think that’s how we would look at… So for example, my youngest daughter has not yet received her First Communion. But she’s baptized, so she’s fully Catholic and nobody would claim she’s not fully Catholic. Yet she’s not fully initiated into the church, all the mysteries, all the sacraments because she hasn’t received communion yet.

Fr. Peter Heers:

Right. And so for the Orthodox, there’s no reason why we wouldn’t commune them. It’s just never been even something that was discussed. It would be impossible. And I think that both the practical aspect of that, and then the theological development of that is instrumental in allowing for a Vatican II ecclesiology.

Eric Sammons:

Okay.

Fr. Peter Heers:

And I think that you can find a lot of scholars who have examined that, for instance, even some Lutheran scholars who are very good scholars examined the development of this whole issue. And they’ll say that this was instrumental in the development of ecclesiology in the West. So that’s a big difference with the Orthodox and it’s one of the reasons why it couldn’t happen. We couldn’t have a Vatican II ecclesiology in Orthodoxy, it’s impossible.

Eric Sammons:

Okay. So going back into what the church is, when you say the church is the body of Christ. Orthodoxy, membership in the church then, to be a member of the church basically means you’ve received those three mysteries. Correct?

Fr. Peter Heers:

Mm-hmm.

Eric Sammons:

If there was-

Fr. Peter Heers:

And the faith. And you’ve confessed the Orthodox faith. That’s also a presupposition. So there’s certain presuppositions that we hold to on all the mysteries as really, really important today. And I would say the crisis today in the world is that those presuppositions are not being preserved by many Orthodox. That’s a big part of why there is secularization in the church. And I’ll give you an example. So there are presuppositions for every mystery. So faith and repentance is a presupposition for every mystery. Repentance is a continual process throughout the whole life. It’s not a one-time thing, it’s a constant returning. We’re always on the path of the prodigal going back to the Father. Faith, the confession of the faith and trust in Christ, is a spiritual presupposition of the mysteries.

So for instance, for ordination to the priesthood, there are canonical presuppositions that have to be met. For marriage, for the initiation into the church, like we said, there are presuppositions that have to be met. So we can’t talk about Orthodox Christians initiated without all of these presuppositions being met. Otherwise it becomes… The danger is it becomes very mechanical and legalistic, otherwise. External.

Eric Sammons:

Now a baby-

Fr. Peter Heers:

And we can’t see-

Eric Sammons:

And we can’t tell who’s initiated. Sorry. A baby who’s initiated, I assume they obviously can’t consciously receive the faith. So is it the same as with the Catholic in the sense that the parents are standing in for them and receiving it, but they of course eventually will have to receive it themselves or…

Fr. Peter Heers:

Yes. And the way we would explain that I think is that we would say catechism properly understood is a process of assimilation of the grace of God, of purification so that one can receive the grace of God. Catechism is not an intellectual event. It’s not an intellectual academic exercise, but it’s a process that in the ancient church, they would take three years. They would go through a long process. They would be then be able to receive the grace of God because they had put off the old man, the old way of living. All of that is presupposed in infant baptism that this will happen after the baptism, as a process over time.

And the guarantee for that to happen is that we have parents and a sponsor who are faithful members of the church, will raise them in the church. Without that, there really is no basis for baptism because the Lord is clear in the gospel that you have to have faith and baptism. They’re inseparable, they have to go together, the confession of faith and the trust in the Lord for the baptism to be, let’s say, energized or activated and experienced, the whole fruit of it. So yes, it’s still presupposed even in infant baptism.

Eric Sammons:

Okay. Now related to this, and this is in Lumen Gentium, as well. This is interesting, the idea of the necessity of the church for salvation. And so one thing that’s kind of funny is among Catholics, a lot of people think that Vatican II is what came up with the idea that somebody who’s not a baptized Catholic could theoretically be saved, but that actually predates Vatican II. Pope Pius IX in the 19th century talked about that. But it also is funny because Vatican II does say, in paragraph 14 says, “Whoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or remain in it, could not be saved. They are fully incorporated in the society of the church who, possessing the Spirit of Christ accept her entire system and all the means of salvation given to her, and are united with her as part of her visible bodily structure and through her with Christ, who rules her through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops.”

Now I know a number of things were brought up in that passage. But what I want to focus on right now is, because we’re still talking about membership in the church, the Catholic church would accept that it is possible that somebody who is not a baptized… that it is possible that somebody who is not a baptized Catholic visibly could be saved through the mercy of God. Now, I talk a lot about in my book, Deadly Indifference, that this assumption should never be made of a non-Catholic, that we should be evangelizing and bringing people to baptism, things like that, interest into the church. How would an Orthodox then view a membership in the church as necessity for salvation? In other words, those who are not baptized Orthodox, is there any possibility for them at all or is it more just the church is necessary, period?

Fr. Peter Heers:

So I think it’s really important to understand what is salvation, because then you’re going to understand immediately, is it possible outside the church, right? I think there’s a lot of confusion in the Christian world, what is salvation. A lot of differences of opinion and disagreements. And salvation in the Orthodox Church is a process of purification, illumination, and glorification or deification, it’s theosis. I think one of the big difference between Orthodoxy, both with Catholicism, not maybe theoretically in some aspects, some teachers, but for the most part in practice, what’s stressed, what’s understood, what’s focused on, and in the Coptic and non-Chalcedonian Eastern denominations, is that theosis is not really focused on, not understood as what salvation’s all about.

So what is theosis? We have to start there, what is theosis? Theosis is what Saint Athanasius the Great said, “God became man, that man might become God, by grace.” And the Lord himself says, “Ye are gods.” What does this mean in the Orthodox context? What is a Christian contex? It doesn’t mean the essence of God, obviously we don’t become gods in essence. So what does it mean? And then we have this distinction in patristic theology, which between essence and energies, which also is missing in much of Western theology and even in non-Chalcedonian theology. So this distinction is so important to understand what theosis is. So your question presupposes a lot to unpack to get to the point where, so what is salvation? Salvation is union with God communion with God, but that doesn’t really explain it either. That’s not quite, we can’t really get it there.

So you have to be in communion with God at the very least. You have to be in the process of being purified and illumined by the grace of God. How does that happen outside the church? In what way in this life? And when we say outside the church, we mean outside of Christ because the church in Christ are one. The church is Christ according to Saint John Chrysostom. The fathers don’t make distinctions between, and again, this is really important because I think in Vatican theology, somebody like Cardinal Kasper and others, they get away from this idea of the church as the continuation of the incarnation. Saint Augustine says clearly that the head and the body are one and the church is Christ. They’re one and the same, Saint John Chrysostom and others say.

So to be united to Christ, to be in communal with Christ, to be unified on the path toward theosis is obviously you’re going to be in the body of Christ, in the mysteries you’re going to be participating and fruitfully so, aesthetically, spiritually making progress. It’s impossible to imagine salvation outside of that context, that’s what salvation means. And so when somebody says, can you be saved outside the church? It’s like the church is salvation.

Christ is the church, the church is salvation. Saint Cyprian famously said, there is no salvation outside the church. And as Father Georges Florovsky said, this is a tautology. In other words, it’s not that controversial of a statement. It’s just saying that church is Christ, Christ is the church. It’s just a confession of the church of the body of Christ being Christ himself.

And so, of course you can’t be saved outside of Christ. And this actually seems kind of simple, but this is what’s happened in Protestantism. Protestantism has systematically said essentially the manifestation of the continuation, incarnation, which is the church is no longer a doctrine in most Protestantism. And so therefore they don’t connect the two. They connect, you can be a disciple of Christ and not be in a visible church. And for that’s impossible in patristic vision of things and in the Orthodox vision of things. I don’t know if that helped, but hopefully.

Eric Sammons:

No, it does because I mean, I definitely, the Catholic church teaches, and that’s one of the big points of my book was that outside the church there is no salvation. And I like that idea of it being a tautology because it just makes no sense that you could be saved outside of the church where I think the West, what we’ve done is we have, I think this probably because of the way we try to explain everything. I get that, that’s kind of our way. And so what does it mean? And this goes back for previous discussion, what does it mean to be a member of the church? And Vatican II talks about this, that people are, I think I have, like says, the church recognizes that in many ways she is linked. And I emphasize it on my notes here the word linked with those who being baptized honored with the name Christian, though they do not profess the faith in its entirety, or do not profess unity of communion with the successor of Peter.

And of course, that would refer to Protestants and actually Orthodox when you talk about unity with the successor of Peter. And so I think that is where the Catholic view of what it means to be a member of the church does sound like it differs from the Orthodox meaning, in that a person can be, because I mean, I think most Catholics today, and I think I would agree with this statement myself, that for example, an Orthodox Christian like yourself with valid sacraments and all that is in some way a member of the Catholic church, but not in a full way. And I think that’s, even though I have problems with a lot of the way that’s been interpreted, it is Catholic teaching and I think we would accept that, but I would just say everybody needs to become Catholic. I mean, bluntly, that’s what I think.

Fr. Peter Heers:

I think that’s one of the, forgive me if interrupted. I just want to say that, I think that’s one of the strangest parts of Vatican II, and post-Vatican II, unpacking of Vatican II from an Orthodox perspective. And let me explain it this way and I’d love to hear your perspective. And that is that they fully recognize in the documents of Vatican II, but also post Vatican II, in the commentary by the Vatican is that the Orthodox church is a church.

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Fr. Peter Heers:

And it has the Eucharist and it has the mysteries and yet it’s still missing something. And it is missing of course, communion with the Pope. For us, that’s just, not insanity, but it’s just so shocking to hear because how can you be missing something when you have the Eucharist, when you have Christ, whatever that is that we’re missing, it can’t be all that important from an Orthodox perspective. That doesn’t make any sense to us.

Because here we have a separation between, for us, everything is the church is Christ and in the Eucharist, right? So, the administrative, there’s somehow in the mind of the Vatican II and in Catholic doctrine around the Pope, there is a separation of the administrative juridical. I don’t know how you want to describe it. I’m happy to be corrected. From the Sacramento and Eucharistic. And, and that’s just impossible. The Bishop outside the Eucharistic assembly has no function, no meaning for us. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s from that synaxis, from that Eucharistic assembly is where he drives all of his authority and all of his grace, and therefore any kind of separation. So what they’re doing in that approach is saying, yes, you have all that, but you’re missing something. But then outside of that Eucharistic context, there’s something else. But for us, there is nothing else, everything’s derived from that life in Christ. So that’s one of the aspects of contemporary differences with Vatican II and Orthodoxy that’s pretty major.

Eric Sammons:

And of course this is like it goes deeper than Vatican II before Vatican II because the Catholic church has always recognized Orthodox sacraments is valid. And so we would say you do have the Eucharist. And so I understand, and I remember, I actually funny because I read that part in your book just yesterday. And I was like, that’s I see that. I thought that was a very good point you’re making. I would say from a Catholic perspective, what we would argue is that there’s a totality here of everything and part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ is to be in communion with the Bishop of Rome. And that is an essential part. Of course, the way we would interpret passage like Matthew 16, 18, in Luke chapter, whatever, I can’t remember right now, John 21.

And of course the practice of the church. And of course this is where we would have a major disagreement I’m sure on interpreting how the early church viewed the papacy. And I do think there are problems on the Catholic side. I mean, people who follow this podcast know I’ve talked, in fact, next week we have a guest talking about Hyper-papalism. The idea that everything is about the Pope. And I think that’s a real danger as well. And I’ve always, I’ve actually argued for a more Eastern understanding. Now I would not go Orthodox, but I would go a more Eastern understanding of the role of the Pope. But we would say that that is part of being in the church fully is communion with Rome, communion with the Pope. And…

Fr. Peter Heers:

I can accept that, but then why, how, if that’s essential to the nature of the church and you can’t be a Christian without that, how do you recognize the mysteries and the Eucharist? See that, because it’s almost more essential than the Eucharist. That’s what it sounds like.

Eric Sammons:

I have a question then for you that kind to try put this in perspective, because I want to hear what you wouldsay about this. There’s schisms at times between different Orthodox jurisdictions. So for example, right now, Greece and Russia, they, they have their things going on with that. And so they’re not in communion with one another, but would they still, I’m actually asking a question because I just don’t know the answer. Would they still recognize each other as true churches with the Eucharist, with everything that in and fully Orthodox or would they say they’re not anymore?

Fr. Peter Heers:

So the church history teaches us a ton of things about what the answer to this question. I think church history and the church fathers how their approach is. Obviously this is not the first time there’s been a breaking community between two local churches.

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Fr. Peter Heers:

Probably it happened hundreds of times. You can go back and cite them again and again throughout the first millennium. So what is it that makes a local church no longer the church? Right? The body of Christ? And that comes with an ecumenical council. That comes with over, it’s a process of falling away. You have, if you want to go back to the great schism and the orthodox perspective, I think that would she shed light on the answer to this question, right? So there was initially in 1014, the introduction to Filioque which from the Orthodox perspective, the council in 879 under Photios, which was accepted in the West for 200 years from 879 until 11th century, that condemned the addition to the creed.

It essentially condemned the theology of the Filioque and any addition to the creed. And so that was recognized by popes for hundreds of years. So when they introduced it in 1014 initially, there was a removal of the pope from the diptychs by the patriarchy of the Constantinople. And then it was actually 1009, then 1014 again. And then by the time 1054 comes, and you actually have an open anathematizing from the legates to the patriarchy and then in return. That actually is not where the schism begins. And that’s not where we would say the Rome is no longer the church or from the orthodox perspective. It’s a process like when they turned their back on 879 and they said, we’re not going to keep those, the decisions of that ecumenical council. Then there was a break in communion because of that. There was no need to have another council because there had already been a council on that decision.

And then as that was doubled down in the West and they said, we’re not going to go back from that decision. And we’re going to anathematize those who are calling us out on that. Then you had essentially a major demarcation line of the Orthodox saying we don’t recognize Christ increasingly in that church called the church of Rome. And then over time that became fully solidified. So I don’t think a break in communion in and of itself is the end of the story. It certainly is the beginning. So the schism really began in 1014 or 1009 even.

But so in terms of Orthodoxy today and Constantinople and Moscow, you have a break in, you have a major problem in terms of innovation in ecclesiology. There’s been an innovation in ecclesiology, and that is a dogma of the church. We believe in the church. The church is a divine human organism, it’s Christ. So that’s why we say, I believe in the one holy catholic and apostolic church. So when you have an innovation in ecclesiology, you have a departure from the one faith that’s been delivered to us 2000 years.

Is it over, is the story over? No, of course not. And all the other local Orthodox churches are in communion with both.

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Fr. Peter Heers:

So it’s a local schism. It’s not the end of the story. That can’t be the case. It’s not the case with Catholicism, with the church of Rome, they doubled down on Filioque, which we considered a heresy, the church fathers considered a heresy, Saint Gregory Palamas, Saint Fortus the Great. And so then you entered into, from the Orthodox perspective, a pretty clear reality of not being the one church. If you want to put it this way, there’s no longer a reflection. We don’t look there and see the same church anymore because we have a different confession of faith in terms of the creed.

Eric Sammons:

So Constantinople and Moscow, they’re in schism with each other, but they still recognize in each other, the church in the sense that they, if all of a sudden, let’s say Constantinople, I’m not trying to pick on either side, but let’s say Constantinople all of a sudden said, we’re going to start staying in the Filioque in the creed. Then Moscow would say, now are we not only broken in communion with you, but we don’t recognize the church in you. Is that kind of a good way to put it? But since they haven’t done anything like that, it’s more of a spat. I don’t want to diminish it as, I’m not trying to diminish it by saying spat more like a spat that hopefully will be resolved before too long, but they still recognize the church so to speak in each other, even though they’re not in communion with each other.

Fr. Peter Heers:

Because the church is not just the Bishop, the church is not just the holy Senate. The church are the monks of Mount Athos and all the people around the world. And they don’t confess a different faith and they don’t probably even want this schism to be go on. Right. So that’s also why in the West, in the late 11th century, there are people who Orthodox would say, we recognize the Orthodoxy of people in England, for instance, who were still not confessed in Filioque. And that was long after the schism of 1054. So we would not say the church is, you can have a radical bishops and still have an Orthodox church until such a time as the church, the ecumenical council happens and they say, now no longer do we recognize Christ in this local church, it’s no longer confessing the faith.

Eric Sammons:

So then to get back to the original question of the role then of the papacy in what we were asking before, I would say from a Catholic perspective, we would see it somewhat like the break in communion that, we are broken in communion and so therefore because you’re not in communion with Rome, essentially, that’s what we would see. And so, whereas it might be more serious than like the spat between Constantinople and Moscow, I think from Catholic perspective, we would see Orthodoxy in general. We still would see the church on some level in Orthodoxy because you’ve kept the faith. It’s not a heretical thing. Now, I don’t want to get into the weeds of discussions about like divorce or contraception and things like that.

But in general, I think we would have a perspective of for example, of course we obviously don’t think the Filioque is a heresy, but we recognize for example, not saying the Filioque in the creed as well as legitimate. So I think we would kind of see it, we would look at kind of like you would say, Constantinople might look at Moscow now. We would look at the Orthodox like, yes, you’re not in communion with Roman. That is necessary. That is something to be in communion is an important thing. Just like I’m sure Constantinople and Moscow would say it is important to be in communion with each other. That’s not well…

Fr. Peter Heers:

The question I have then is what does that mean for Vatican I? What does that mean for the infallibility of the Pope? Since Vatican I, hasn’t it been required of Catholics to accept that or otherwise be in danger of losing their salvation?

Eric Sammons:

Yes.

Fr. Peter Heers:

What you just said seems to undermine that to me. Well, the doctrine of infallibility doesn’t really instruct anyone from being, coming to saint. I think the contemporary Catholicism would say that we have saints, we have the Eucharist, we have saints. People are becoming glorified, deified. So whether I accept infallibility or not, doesn’t really play a role in that, which is the whole point of life. So why would I be troubled as an Orthodox Christian if that’s the case?

Eric Sammons:

Well, for example, the teachings on the Pope, I do think are important. And I think this is probably where we fundamentally see things differently is that, whereas I don’t accept, for example, Cardinal Kasper’s view that goes what I think is very extreme of the idea that basically Protestants, even in everybody’s kind of part of the Catholic Church, I think that we’re getting way far afield. I would say there is truth in the sense that in Orthodoxy with the valid sacraments, you do have the possibility of salvation. But I do think, honestly, it comes down to the fact that as a Catholic, that is the fullness of the faith, and that is the way that Christ wants us all to come to him. And so that is the best way to do it.

And I think outside of the sacraments, somebody could be safe, but I think we should assume they probably won’t be. So I guess my view is kind of a middle way I admit between, I’m not saying that people who don’t have valid sacraments are fine or anything like that, but I do have maybe a more ecumenical view towards the Orthodox because of the valid sacraments. So I do think it’s important for example, the teachings of the West after the schism. But I’d also say though, that because you have valid sacraments, I cannot deny that valid sacraments are a big deal. So…

Fr. Peter Heers:

So this is really interesting for me, because what I want to do is look at the ecclesiology of Vatican II. And this is clearly expressing a good portion of that.

Eric Sammons:

I would say it’s the ecclesiology before Vatican II.

Fr. Peter Heers:

Well, there were pretty hard lines statements back in the 1900’s, 1800’s regarding, I don’t think it was as clear, but with Vatican II, it’s very clear.

Eric Sammons:

Yes. You’re right. Vatican II definitely made things. Did develop them a certain way. In some ways I think that they’ve been implemented and taken in ways that I don’t think are legitimate, but yes. I mean, no question. That’s a big part of my book actually is how I talk about how, if you look at the language of Catholic leaders before Vatican II, really before the early 1960s, you see a much different in how it viewed Protestants particularly, but also Orthodox. And calling Orthodox, I mean, just like the language how you refer to Orthodox as schismatics and we don’t really do that anymore.

But at the same time, if you look closely though, at what is said, there is always been the acknowledgement of valid sacraments. And I think if the church recognizes the validity of the Orthodox sacraments, I mean, I think what happened is that there has to be some acknowledgement. What does that mean? I mean, if you acknowledge that you have to acknowledge something.

Fr. Peter Heers:

I agree wholeheartedly. For us the many, you say that there’s the mysteries and you say they’re the Eucharist, which the mysteries are inseparable, right. They’re one, then that’s salvation. That’s the access to heaven. So the implications are massive, but then for me it doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t seem to be a patristic ecclesiology when you have major doctrines that we reject and even call heresy. And yet that’s not at all an obstacle for having these mysteries because then you have a dichotomy between the mysteries and the faith. And that doesn’t seem to bother people in Catholicism today.

Eric Sammons:

I would say…

Fr. Peter Heers:

From a patristic view, you would be like, this is impossible. You can’t have the Filioque and papal infallibility, and have a rejection of that as doctrines that have to be accepted well and have the mysteries. That’s not possible in patristic ecclesiology. Well, it is today in Catholicism.

Eric Sammons:

I think there would be.

Fr. Peter Heers:

Does that make sense?

Eric Sammons:

I understand exactly what you’re saying. I think there would be obstacles when you’re not Catholic to salvation, even with valid sacraments. And I think that’s where you’re saying that makes no sense to you. I get that. But what I’m saying is I do think it would matter because for example, I think just the ability of the church to maintain the full teachings of Christ of the church. And I said I didn’t want to get into it and I probably still don’t, but for example, the teachings on divorce and remarriage, the teaching. I actually, I need to just ask you, I’m not 100% sure, the view on contraception in the Orthodox churches. I know there’s a lot of, from my perspective, it looks like, it just depends on the jurisdiction. I don’t know if that’s true or not. I don’t want to speak for Orthodoxy.

Fr. Peter Heers:

We don’t have a magisterium like Catholicism does. So these kind of issues do not get dogmatic definitions from on high. And so that’s why it seems very in flux for Roman Catholic, right? But it’s not at all for an Orthodox because our magisterium are the saints and the saints of every day and the saints today in the 20th century. So if, as North wants to know, what should I do about contraception? Well, of course I have my spiritual father, which is very much focused on the New York life church. Every Christian should have a guide, a spiritual guide. He goes to confession to and he’s guided. And that person, that priest or Bishop, or monk even, has to, if he’s Orthodox, follow the holy father, father of the saints. What are the saints saying? That’s the only ultimate authority for us.

Even the bishops have to submit to the saints. And true bishops in our day would’ve been, for instance, in Greece, they would’ve been, if not literal disciples, they would’ve been spiritual disciples of somebody like Saint Paisios the holy mountain or Saint Porphyrios or whatever might be, these various saints of the 20th century. What did they say? And that’s the answer. That’s the ortho answer for us because those are the ones who have true authority.

One of the criticisms I make of Vatican II, and this is relevant here is that academic theologians played a huge role in developing the whole Vatican II ecclesiology. And I would say that that is a not consistent with patristic approaches to a theology. A theologian for us is one who prays, one who’s deified, one who’s glorified. And that’s the one who had true authority in the church. Academic theology, and I’m an academic theologian, I’m not an authority unless I make progress, and there signs of that in my life in purification, illumination, and glorification. And so to come back to the question of authority, essentially what you’re asking me is what’s the authority in the Orthodox church, right? What do we do? Well, there’s all kinds of priests and Bishops today, as there is in Catholicism…

What do we do? Well, there’re all kinds of priests and bishops today, as there is in Catholicism, who aren’t following the Saints and I’m sure that’s the case in Catholicism, I can see it from afar as well. And I remember in my days when I was with you, going to Protestant and Roman Catholic services, before I became Orthodox. And so, if I’m a faithful member of Church and I have somebody who tells me different than the Saints, I don’t follow him, even if he’s a Bishop, even he’s the patriarch, I don’t follow him. Because the Saints are the only authorities. And the Saints are very clear, that in marriage only our relation’s blessed. And in that relationship, contraception has no part, there’s no place in it. It’s certainly not any artificial means. And obviously not, anything that’s an abortifacient. All of that is contrary to the union of the man and woman in Christ.

So the Saints will tell you that, if you read their writings and you talk to them, people don’t do that today because we have a tremendous amount of secularization in the world. So there’s no doubt in my mind what the Church teaches on that. It’s not going to be defined in any document coming down from the Patriarchate of Constantinople anytime soon, that’s not how it works in Orthodox. It never has, actually. Same thing with divorce. Divorce, in the Orthodox Church according to the Saints, there is no second marriage as the first. In other words, the service of a second marriage is not the service of the first marriage. In other words, it’s not marriage properly spoken. It’s an economy to try to help these two people who’ve now failed and walked away from the path of crucifixion, the path of discipleship, to not fall into fornication.

And so it’s an extreme economy, would say, in the Orthodox Church, to try to keep people on the narrow path, but there is no blessing for divorce. The Church does not say, “Yes, go ahead and divorce and go on to the next person.” They say, “This is a tragedy. This is a fall. And here’s how we’re going to try to handle it so you don’t fall into fornication, because that’s far worse. That’s certainly not going to lead you back to Christ.” So anyway, like you said, it’s another issue, but it is interesting because it does point to the question of authority and that’s actually relevant to our discussion with Vatican II.

Eric Sammons:

And that’s where, like you said earlier, something I said, I can’t remember what it was very strange to your thinking. And I will admit that your answer to authority is a bit strange to my thinking. And I admit to being very Western type of person, where I want it written down somewhere. I want an authority to tell me, and I admit that freely. And I personally do think that is the best way to know for sure, because I feel like there’s too much openness to misinterpretation if we just… I don’t know. I understand, do it the way that you’re saying, I can say, “Listen, the Church has definitively said that artificial contraception is immoral.” Now, I also do think it’s important. You don’t just stop with that.

You explain why. You do talk about what the Saints have said about what marriage is, what the Church Fathers have said, all that. You don’t begin and end argument by just saying, “Well, the Pope said so.” You do have to have the totality of it. And so that, going back to the point you’re saying is, that’s where I would say that the point of communion with Rome is important because of that authority. And I think that comes down to a very different way of looking at the role of what authority is in the Church. And of course, that goes much deeper than just Vatican II. Catholics and Orthodox have a very different view of authority for a very long time. So I think that’s probably where we’re diverging on this particular issue.

Fr. Peter Heers:

I think what’s interesting here in terms of ecclesiology, if you want to get back to ecclesiology a little bit, is that I see in Lumen Gentium for instance, 14 and 15, one after the other. 14, if you want to talk about, this dichotomy or this separation between what applies to those in communion with Rome and what applies to those outside of communion with Rome. And it seems to me to be, this whole question of full and partial that you said that you’re not so comfortable with it’s everywhere in Vatican II ecclesiology. There can’t be a Vatican II ecclesiology without this distinction. It’s really important, non-plena, plena communion. And it seems like that’s guiding 14 and 15 in Lumen Genium and I like to tell you how I see it and tell me how you think contemporary post-Vatican II Catholicism sees it.

It seems to me that it’s a double standard, basically. It’s like there’s two visions. And so 14 says, it’s talking about full participation in the unity of the Church for Roman Catholics. And then following immediately you have article 15, which we read, the unity in Christ and the holy spirit and the mysteries of the Church. There are multiple internal links that establish a separated brethren in an incomplete communion. And so 14 applies to a part of the body of Christ, I guess. And then 15 applies to the rest of the body of Christ. It seems to me, and if you put that together with the change in terms of, the Church is the Roman Catholic Church and the Church subsistit in, you put that together with that, and you put in full communion all these things you try to… As an outsider, looking in, I was studying for seven years Vatican II ecclesiology and I’m trying to make sense of it.

I literally felt like sometimes my brain was going to explode. I was like, “How did they understand these things? There seems to be a dichotomous and inconsistencies in a lot of places.” And I think 14 and 15 seem to be also to an Orthodox perspective inconsistent, at two levels of communion or two levels of participation, depending on where you are. And it does seem to be that they’re implying that there’s a body of Christ outside of Catholicism and that there’s participation in that body of Christ. So it’s bigger than Catholicism. Would that be wrong?

Eric Sammons:

No, it would be wrong in one sense. So, I have a whole chapter on the whole subsistit in controversy. I do think that’s unfortunate language. I for say, just say is. I would say though, I feel like that the fundamental differences is that in Catholicism, there is this idea of more of a concentric circles, I guess you would say. Whereas I know in Orthodoxy, as you’re presenting, it seems to be more of an either or type of situation, whereas you have the Catholic Church. So the Catholic Church, which is defined as, by the way is defined, but the essential parts that work for our purpose discussion is, communion with Rome, Bishops can communion with Rome and all of that. So that is the Catholic Church. And that is what Christ wants us to belong to. That would be the Catholic view, is that, that is what Christ wants us to belong to.

That is the fullness of the faith. That is the way to salvation. That is the way Christ has given us to salvation, but because of human sin, human air, over the centuries, there have been unfortunate divisions that have occurred over time and they vary in their seriousness. And some of them, obviously somebody who is completely a pagan, maybe a Muslim, something like that, that it can choose language. I think it’s a little squishy, to be frank, about the Muslims. I think it should be more clear that they’re outside. They’re not part of the body of Christ in any way, same with Jews or anybody who’s not Christian. Who’s not baptized, I guess we should say, just to be more specific. So, there is truth that somebody who is Protestant, for example, a Protestant Christian who’s baptized, that person as a Catholic, I want them to become Catholic.

That is the way to salvation for them. And I will tell them that and I will urge them to convert to Catholicism, as I did. At the same time, I would say that person is likely closer to Christ than the Muslim, for example, in all cases here, I’m talking about the practicing person, not the person who just maybe baptized Protestant doesn’t do anything or the Muslim who doesn’t do anything. I’m talking about the person who does what they’re supposed to do in their faith or religion or whatever. So for example, the Protestant is closer to Christ. We still want them to become Catholic, because we know that’s the way of salvation. Orthodox, the same thing is even closer, because of the valid sacraments, but we still want the Orthodox to become Catholic. Now I personally think that there’s something to be said for, I think the ecumenical movement is a waste of time, but I do think there is a purpose to Orthodox-Catholic ecumenical relations because of the possibility of an actual union of the ecclesial body, so to speak.

I think you and I would see that differently how it happened, but it could happen, just however. So my point is that the Orthodox then is closer to Christ and is much closer than, for example, the Protestant, but still does need to become Catholic. And I think that jives with what Lumen Gentium is saying here, but I think what’s happened is that in many cases the language in Lumen Gentium I do think, at times, is ambiguous. I think subsistit in is an ambiguous term that can be reconciled with classic traditional Catholic theology. But I do think the fact that the Vatican has taken three different times to do that, tells you that it wasn’t that great a language, because if it was clear, they wouldn’t have had to have dumbness Jesus, and three other times they had to clarify it. So I’m a critic there, but I think you can read it such that is faithful to what the Church teaches in this area. And I do think that does seem to be a different ecclesiology than what you’re presenting for orthodoxy, I admit that freely. But there is this idea of you have the core, which is the Catholic Church the way everybody wants to be, but because of sin because of human history, what’s happened, there are variations on how close you are connected to that Catholic Church.

Fr. Peter Heers:

My task, as an Orthodox in doing my doctoral thesis was to say, “Is that the patristic teaching of the first millennium of 2000 years?” And that’s a question I would ask you and every Roman Catholic today. Is Vatican II the same teaching that you find in all the Church Fathers and the seven or eight or nine ecumenical councils that the Orthodox Church recognizes. And if not, how do you explain that? And why isn’t that bothering you as a Roman Catholic today?

Eric Sammons:

I would say the ecclesiology, I don’t want to say Vatican II period, because I think there’s some issues in various places in Vatican II. But just to stick to our topic at hand, particularly 14 and 15, I’m going to bring up the word which I hesitate to bring it up because I believe it’s being abused by a lot of Catholics today, and that’s the word development. I do believe in the development of doctrine, in fact, that’s one of the reasons I became Catholic. Because I saw that there is a development of doctrine over the centuries. And I do think it’s very important that we have the Newman view of development, which is that it’s not evolution, it’s not change into a new thing, but it is a development, a further and deepening understanding of it. And I would argue that, yes, the modern Catholic ecclesiology is a legitimate development of patristic ecclesiology.

Is it exactly the same in the sense that everything out is the exact same? I would say, no, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, but I think that’s okay, because it’s legitimate development. And I would compare it to, for example, the development when I look at, for example, how the Church of Apostolic Fathers before Nicaea, how you see the writings about the Trinity. I don’t think it came to its full development until the fourth century. I don’t think anything written… I don’t think it was heretical. I just think that it was the full development of understanding, the father, son, holy spirit, the natures, the persons and all that, all those aspects.

Fr. Peter Heers:

If I was to show you how the Church understands in the, let’s say, the first nine ecumenical councils or seven, whatever, that it’s opposed to aspects of Vatican II ecclesiology. They stand opposed. What would happen to your view of things? Would you say, “Well, no, that’s just a development.” Because I think there’s actually a lot of areas where they’re just opposed.

Eric Sammons:

I would argue, from my own study of them and I don’t claim to be on the level of you, of understanding the patristics and stuff like that, but my own level of studying it is that is it’s not opposed. That’s a development. And so, I think that’s probably where we differ because obviously as an Orthodox-

Fr. Peter Heers:

But the Church fathers never talked about plena and non-plena, full and partial communion, to my knowledge.

Eric Sammons:

But you have situations, for example… Actually, I’ll ask a question before I give the example, cause it might not be a good one otherwise. For example, what would be the case of a catechumen who’s martyred, who has not yet been baptized? That would be an example of a catechumen, before they’re baptized they’re not in communion, in full communion obviously. I wouldn’t say necessarily the term partial communion might not be correct, but I would say that if they were martyred, they would go to heaven. They go straight to heaven as a martyr, even though they weren’t baptized. So that would be an example. And like Venerable Bede talks about, I was just talking to somebody about this recently, St. Alban the first martyr of Britain, his executioner said, “No, I’m not going to execute. I want to be a Christian.” And he was killed, but he wasn’t baptized. And Bede says very clearly, “Of course this person is saved.”

Fr. Peter Heers:

Saint Gregory the Theologian and other Saints talk about there being different kinds of baptism. And there’s a baptism in the blood-

Eric Sammons:

Exactly.

Fr. Peter Heers:

… And that is baptism. And that is like the thief from the cross and other examples, that’s the economy of salvation. The Lord himself, who gave what we would say the exactitude of the gospel. He says, “You must be baptized and believe to enter into the kingdom of God.” He himself said that, that’s not at all in dispute. And yet there are things and conditions and places and people in which the economy of salvation is worked out by the Lord himself, because he gave those, but he’s not subject to those. So that freedom of our Lord to work with salvation outside of the church does not in any way, undermine the exactitude of what he taught us and everyone needs to be bad, but that’s not an ecclesiology that’s developed. That’s not a whole new theory of what it means to be the Church. That’s clearly not the same thing. There’s not a ecumenical council, which then took that and ran with it and developed a whole new teaching or at least a partially new teaching about the Church. So I don’t think those are examples that could then prove, “Well, we had this doctrine in the ancient Church and now we just fleshed it out.” It seems to be two different things.

Eric Sammons:

I understand your point. I think it’s a good one. I would say though, the teaching of the Church, Pius IX in the 19th century, talks about invincible ignorance and somebody who could be saved. And I think that’s an economy type thing where it’s like we’re saying that, “Yes, we’re not telling God what to do, essentially. He’s told us what we should do.” And I would say, that is definitely the teaching of the Church and should be a teaching that we do what God tells us to do and we leave up to God to do whatever he wants to do. And so I would say though, that this Vatican II, I would view as fleshing that out, fleshing out that economy. The idea of, for example, Protestants, their baptism being valid. We were recognizing a process, Baptism is valid.

These days, a lot of Protestant baptisms I would put into question, but at the time I think most Protestant baptisms were done in name the Trinity and all that stuff. So, the point is that that person, God wants them to become Catholic, but in economy of things, it is possible that that person could be saved, but we can’t… And I think this is where a lot post-Vatican II teaching, by Church leaders, by bishops, and by even popes, have gone astray at times, is the idea that this economy has become a way that we just live as a Church teaching that it doesn’t matter if you become Catholic, then. I think that’s where-

Fr. Peter Heers:

There’s so much more to the development of Vatican II than working out of economy. If you go back to Congar, and I did very thorough research in Congar, who I think is the father of second Vatican council, to go back to him. He doesn’t talk at all about economy that I remember of. But even, he’s not just fleshing out a few things, he’s actually saying, “Look, we need to reorient the way we think about, not just the dissident, but the congregations or the Churches that are dissident.” And he fundamentally changes the perspective, in terms of Catholicism, when they would see individuals pre-Vatican II as possibly saved, like you just said, but they would not see confessions or communis as ecclesial entities, and that’s what Vatican II did. They changed that. So, it’s pretty fundamental, in terms of even within Catholicism and the change that happened pre and post Vatican II. Congar is not at all dancing around it. He’s clearly saying we need to reorient things.

Eric Sammons:

Well, the Church recognized Orthodox Churches as ecclesial Churches before Vatican II.

Fr. Peter Heers:

He’s talking about Protestantism.

Eric Sammons:

And we use the word ecclesial community communities. One of my best friends is Protestant. And we always joke about that. He goes, “Hey, I’m going to my ecclesial community this Sunday,” or something, because it is a weird terminology. And I would say that the idea of trying to make Protestant communities, whatever we want to call them, they’re not Churches. And the Catholic Church acknowledges that, that they are not Churches. Even the Anglican Church is not an actual ecclesial Church as the Catholic Church would define it. And so I do think that, we can take that too far and that there are problems with this idea of these communities. And this is one of the things I emphasize a lot is, if you’re Protestant and you are saved, you’re not saved through your Protestantism. If you’re Muslim and you happen to end up being saved, you’re not saved through Islam. And so I do-

Fr. Peter Heers:

You know that there are pretty heavy hitters that disagree with that.

Eric Sammons:

Yes, I do know that.

Fr. Peter Heers:

Cardinal Kasper, the representative of the Vatican for decades.

Eric Sammons:

Cardinal Kasper’s awful. I would just say it. I’ll just be blunt about it. Cardinal Kasper’s awful. And he has been awful for a long time. I do think though that Cardinal Ratzinger, I’m going along with what he would say too. At least if you read, he’s very clear about that, you’re not saved through a Protestant Church. And I think this is exactly where-

Fr. Peter Heers:

What about Francis Sullivan? What would you think about Francis Sullivan? Was he a pretty solid teacher? Do you know anything about-

Eric Sammons:

I do know who he is. I think he was good as a historian, but I do not think he’s good theologian.

Fr. Peter Heers:

Let me quote something to you, which I think from my reading was pretty consistent with Vatican II, but maybe you’ll say, “No, he gets it wrong.” And for us as Orthodox, it is mind boggling, when I read this. He says, “One can think of the universal Church as a communion at various levels of fullness, of bodies that are more or less fully Churches. It is a real communion, realize that various degrees of density or fullness of bodies, all of which, though some more fully than others have a true ecclesial character.” And he’s talking about branches, he’s not just talking about orthodoxy. And you would say this is mistaken, not a proper reading of Vatican II.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. And I think here’s the thing, I know you don’t follow me in what I say, but it’s pretty well known I’m a critic of Vatican II. And the way I’m a critic of it is, particularly because I believe the language used, at times… I think there’s something a lot of things Vatican II are written fine and just whatever. But there are times, and I do think, for example, subsistit in, some of the language using Lumen Gentium and other places. I do believe it opens itself up to some interpretations that are not in keeping with Catholic theology. And I think, for example, Kasper is a prime example somebody who does this. You take a lot of the language, subsistit in was taken to mean that therefore the Church of Christ does also subsistit in Protestant Churches. When I was doing research, I was unbelievable how many Catholic people were saying that, but that’s not the case. And if you look at the actual teaching of the Catholic Church, in for example, the congregation act of faith, Dominus Iesus in 2000, that is what they are saying. That is not good Catholic theology, that is not Catholic ecclesiology. So I will admit, on the Catholic side, I can see where an outsider like you, as an Orthodox, you’re just simply reading the Catholic. So you can’t be blamed for not necessarily knowing, “Okay. Which Catholic is that-”

Fr. Peter Heers:

This contemporary Pope would seem to be totally agreeing with Kasper and Sullivan and all the rest, is that right?

Eric Sammons:

You had to bring him up, didn’t you? (Laughing)

Fr. Peter Heers:

He’s your Pope.

Eric Sammons:

I know.

Fr. Peter Heers:

He’s the one you want me to be in communion with to be fully Catholic.

Eric Sammons:

I know.

Fr. Peter Heers:

It’s a pretty legitimate, I think, question.

Eric Sammons:

No, it is. I’m joking. I have a lot of podcasts and writing about being a communities Pope and what it means to Pope Francis. I’m not going to go into details here, but yes, it is possible that, at times, Francis has an understanding that’s not correct on that, but our teaching what means being communing with the Pope isn’t that we necessarily… Just like, you don’t agree with everything the Patriarch of Constantinople or Patriarch of Moscow, I don’t even know what jurisdiction you’re in, to be honest. So I don’t want to presume.

Fr. Peter Heers:

I understand that, the contemporary Vatican for the last… I don’t know how long it has, pretty much followed Kasper and Sullivan and these figures.

Eric Sammons:

Well, not if you look at, for example, the CDF was teaching under Ratzinger and JP II and Benedict, stuff like that. And even today, if you look at the official documents, I don’t think you see an official endorsement of this idea that Protestant, ecclesial communities, whatever you want to call them, are actually true Churches or part of, in a sense of an ecclesial sense of it being part of. I do think there are a lot of people involved in the ecumenical movement who would argue that, on the Catholic side. And I think they’re just wrong.

Fr. Peter Heers:

But they are baptized, and therefore they are somehow-

Eric Sammons:

Assuming. The individual members, not the Churches themselves. So by the fact…

Fr. Peter Heers:

How is that not separating the mystery from the Church though? That’s what I don’t get. How can someone individually be baptized, the communion that they’re in, there’s no Eucharist for them, there’s no Chrismation for them, just the baptism, and yet they’re somehow members of the Church. Just help me understand that. How’s it possible?

Eric Sammons:

Well, I think it’s just possible. Just like for example, if I was baptized as a Catholic, let’s say when I was born, I wasn’t, but say when I was born, and then I left the Church, let’s say my family left the Church before my communion. And of course I know this is goes back to the whole first thing about communion connecting, things like that. But let’s say my family left the Church when I was three or something like that. I am a member of the Catholic Church.

Fr. Peter Heers:

You were baptized in the Catholic Church.

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Fr. Peter Heers:

This person is not. So what-

Eric Sammons:

Well, they are. No. Anybody who’s baptized is baptized into the Catholic Church.

Fr. Peter Heers:

But then, are we not separating baptism from all the other mysteries and therefore from the teaching of the Church and all the rest? They’re going to become very legalistic and it seems to me a disintegration, not a unity there.

Eric Sammons:

Well, I think what it’s saying is, “Yes, people can be baptized and they don’t necessarily follow the teaching of the Church.” And obviously as people can be baptized, and they don’t necessarily follow the teaching of the church and obviously a baptized person can be damned, they can go to hell because they don’t have the faith. It’s what you were saying earlier about the connection of the faith.

And so, for example, somebody who is baptized as a Protestant, grows up Protestant, they do not have that connection of the faith to baptism anymore, and so we would say they’re still, in some way, a member of the church because they’re baptized, but they don’t have the faith. And so, therefore, their salvation is in clear jeopardy. I’m mean, I’m not going to damn them or save them, but clearly they need to become Catholic to receive the faith, the fullness of the faith. So it’s like what you were saying near the beginning about the connection between faith and baptism. And so a Protestant who is baptized is in some way a member of the church, but they do not have the faith.

Fr. Peter Heers:

So heresy doesn’t really play any role in negating any of the mysteries then? Somebody could hold heretical opinions, teach heresy, and clearly a lot of Protestants do, according to Catholicism, and that is not an obstacle for the Grace of God to work in the baptism.

Eric Sammons:

I mean the baptism would still be valid. Is that what you’re asking? Are you saying if a Protestant minister baptizes somebody, is that what you’re saying? Who clearly holds heretical things?

Fr. Peter Heers:

For instance, in the second Ecumenical Council in the Canon dealing with this question, they particularly point out the Eunomians, just to give one example. The Eunomians, they say, must be baptized because their baptism is a baptism to the death of Christ. In other words, they reject entirely this particular heretical sect, even their baptism and there’s no economy for them, there’s nothing. I guess that only would apply to the Mormons or something today. But there’s tons of heresies in the Protestants today, according to Catholicism, which are pretty great. I mean, they reject the Eucharist-

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Fr. Peter Heers:

… they reject the episcopacy, they reject things far more than the Eunomians rejected in the Second Ecumenical Council. So I’m just baffled at what seems to me to be a total separation between the faith, confession of the faith and the mysteries and the Grace of God. The fathers always saw those as inseparable. So that’s why I can’t understand how you can see mysteries present where there’s no confession of faith. And there’s actually not just that, it’s not just an absence, there’s actually an active negation of the faith that’s been received and passed down from the church fathers.

Eric Sammons:

Well, I would argue that the church has always accepted in many cases, baptisms of people, of heretics, that they didn’t re-baptize them or baptism first time … I don’t know … Re-baptism … I don’t know.

Fr. Peter Heers:

There’s many heretics in the ancient church who were baptized. In other words, they were considered … It was impossible to economize. They were not … Church fathers said, “No, these people cannot be economized. There’s no room for it.” That’s a whole different issue, a whole theology and everything we can’t get into. But I’m saying that’s very fascinating to me because that’s a huge issue in Orthodoxy today. And so among people in the west anyway, not really among people in the old country, but in America there seems to be a lot of confusion. And I think it’s partly because there’s a lot of the people in America who are coming from Catholicism and Protestants becoming Orthodoxy and they’re bringing with them what you’re talking about.

But in terms of understanding the mysteries outside of the Orthodox Church, being some … But that’s one of the biggest points I make in the book is that this autonomy of mysteries, to me, it’s an autonomizing of the mysteries.

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Fr. Peter Heers:

They become almost self propelling and magical because there’s no context for those. There’s no life in Christ for those. Even according to Catholicism, there wouldn’t be a life in Christ outside of the Eucharist, right? How can you have a life in Christ outside of the Eucharist?

Eric Sammons:

Well, I would … Yes. Agreed. But I would say for … Because, I mean, this is funny, it goes back to the separation of the communion, because I would say, for example, a Protestant who’s baptized as a baby and if, for example, they died a week later, they’re saved because they have a valid baptism and so they would be saved. At some point, though in their life, they’re going to reject the faith because they’re being … This is just me. I mean, I’m talking about me. I was baptized a Methodist. If I had died a little bit later, I would’ve been saved. But at some point in my life, I did reject the faith. I did not have that, what you said, when a baby is baptized Orthodox, eventually they do come to the faith, catechism. So I did not do that. I eventually rejected the faith.

So if that had had happened before I’d become Catholic, then my salvation would’ve been in serious jeopardy. And, of course, I’m not saying I’m saved now because we’re not Protestants anymore. But you know what I mean? So I would say, though, that a Protestant … The reason that the Catholics accept Protestant baptism is because of the fact that, yes, we do know that Protestants have heretical beliefs. Yet, at the same time, we would argue that the baptism itself is valid because what is necessary for baptism is present and there’s a few things, but the most important being the acceptance of the Trinity. And that’s why Mormon baptism does not fall under economy.

Fr. Peter Heers:

Does that not imply that salvation is not what we talked about earlier, the patristic vision of it, God became man, that man not become God? Because is it possible that someone who’s only been baptized, not participating in the church, not confessed the faith, not participated in the Eucharist, he is becoming God by grace?

Eric Sammons:

Well. I think somebody who was, for example, like me when I was growing up Protestant, that wasn’t happening. So I do think that that’s why my salvation was in jeopardy because-

Fr. Peter Heers:

Right. Right. The context of Protestant does not lead one to become God by grace. So how does baptism salvific in that? I mean, I don’t think it’s … I think the patristic view would be that there is no baptism inside the church. You cannot separate the mysteries from the body, and the body is necessarily manifest because Christ became man and walked among us. The same Christ who walked among us is walking among us today as the church. And so there’s so many problems from, I think, is a patristic view, but certainly the Orthodox view of many saints of this approach that you’re talking about because it disintegrates the unity on so many levels. I mean, we’re talking piecemeal autonomy and it’s very legalistic from an Orthodox perspective.

I understand the desire so much to try to apply that but, at the same time, it doesn’t stand. It doesn’t stand when you actually look at it organically and holistically, Catholically. I mean, that’s what the word Catholic means: The whole faith. You have, essentially, a piecemeal disintegration of things. And then you see it’s like a boat that’s been torn apart by the sea and there’s pieces of it all. But you know what? There’s baptism over there and there’s chrismation over here and there’s parts of the faith over there. That’s not the ship of the church, though. So how can that person … I guess, that person just hanging onto that piece of wood, I guess you’re saying he can be saved…

Eric Sammons:

But I’m making very clear that that is not what Christ wants. That it’s not the sense that … I mean, what Christ wants is baptism and then living a full life in the Catholic Church, which as you said very well, is union with God and eventually theosis. And that is what we are going for and that is what we’re preaching and that is what the church is teaching. I would just say, though, that it is a Western way, temperament, whatever, to try to explain all those various … I don’t like the word “Exceptions” because I think there are no exceptions, but I think just simply saying, explain all these different situations, sometimes they’re economy, like you talked about, but the idea that … So, for example, the person who is baptized as a Protestant, raised Protestant, there is fundamentally something wrong with that. The Catholic Church isn’t saying that that’s what we should be going for.

We’re just simply acknowledging, yes, that the baptism is valid and so, for example, if the person dies the next week, to me, it’s an infant so he committed no actual sins, they’re going to heaven. And if they’re received into the Catholic Church, they do not need to be baptized because their baptism was valid, assuming … And these days, I do think that assumption’s less because you hear more and more stories of Protestant baptisms that are just crazy, not even in the Trinity or things like that.

So, for me, you still have this view, this vision of salvation, which is in keeping in a lot of ways with what you’re saying, but we just are simply explaining all the different actual realities of what has happened and saying that, yes, in these situations … And I do think there’s a danger. And, I mean, a big thing I put in my book is that there is a danger that you start being an exception church, that you start saying things.

I mean, I brought it up. I brought it up before in my book. Bishop Robert Barron, he’s talking to Ben Shapiro, who’s a well known practicing Jew. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with him,-

Fr. Peter Heers:

I am.

Eric Sammons:

Okay. He’s great on a lot of social issues and whatever. And he asked Bishop Barron, who is a top Catholic Bishop in our country, “Basically do I need to become Catholic?” And he said to him that, “Basically, according to Vatican II, that Christ is a privileged way.” And that he, basically, really punted on the question. And I thought that was horrible because the answer is no, yes, you do need to become Catholic. Absolutely. And if you want to then have a scholarly discussion about the chances of a practicing Jew being saved, okay, fine, but that’s not the point. You should be presenting what you’re presenting here in a lot of ways from Orthodox perspective, this is it.

So I would just argue my defense of Catholicism is, yes, we do have a tendency to want to explain all these various exceptions or whatever you want to call them. And I do think there’s a danger in that that we lead with them like Bishop Barron did in that example with Ben Shapiro. But I think fundamentally, though and consistent with what Lumen Gentium is saying, but what the church has always taught, that still fundamentally what we’re saying is baptism, communion with Christ, everything in the Catholic Church.

Fr. Peter Heers:

See, I think you’re spinning Vatican II also from the right to make it read with how you want it to read. Barron and others are probably are saying, “This is what the text says.” And then that’s one of the criticisms I make in the book is that it can be read both ways.

Eric Sammons:

And that’s the criticism I make in my book.

Fr. Peter Heers:

Well, that’s not a patristic problem. When you go to Ecumenical Councils they’re not reading it both ways. The whole point of the Ecumenical Council is to say, “Here are the boundaries. You need to be in those boundaries.” And so here in Vatican II they’re, basically, … You walk away … Well, boundaries according to this person or that, according to the other person or that, that’s not … I mean, you should say at the end, “Vatican II is a false council.” It can’t be a council of the church that’s teaching and yet people are walking away with two different views. That would be-

Eric Sammons:

I don’t think I have to say that. Yeah. I think you have some valid criticisms and I would admit it freely that some of your criticisms here are valid and, in fact, are similar to my criticisms of it. I do think … But I would argue that a valid Ecumenical Council is one that the Bishop of Rome and all the bishops in union with him come together so it’s not like it’s not valid, but I don’t think … If you look at a lot of … Of course, now I talk about councils that you don’t recognize so that doesn’t really muster with you at all.

But just, in general, I think you can have situations in which a church council can say something that isn’t … It can be the church … The council still be infallible. In fact, it doesn’t teach air, but it can be worded poorly. It could be worded better. But, in fact, if you look at it, if you think about it, the first Ecumenical Councils, they did deepen understanding from Nicaea to Chalcedon, for example, because what happened was after Nicaea we see a huge debate that happens in the church and where people are rejecting obviously Nicaea, the Aryans and whatnot, but there was this understanding, “Okay. Now, we also have to make sure we clarify what we mean about the Holy Spirit.” We had to now clarify what we mean about the person and nature of Christ.

Fr. Peter Heers:

That’s not a-

Eric Sammons:

So I do think there is-

Fr. Peter Heers:

That’s not a deepening, though. The term deepening implies that we didn’t have it earlier.

Eric Sammons:

No, I think you have it. You just didn’t fully … I think we had it. We just didn’t fully understand it or necessarily clarify exactly what the boundaries of it were. I think that’s what happens a lot in-

Fr. Peter Heers:

We’re not going to go back and correct the previous councils. Whereas-

Eric Sammons:

Correct. Yes, absolutely.

Fr. Peter Heers:

But there are a lot of people who would like to correct Vatican II in contemporary Catholicism on the right and the left probably because it doesn’t give satisfaction and clarity.

Eric Sammons:

I would say that we would want to. Bishop Athanasius Schneider is a Bishop that I admire a lot and he’s talked about this. And we wouldn’t correct it. What we would do is we would say, “Okay, here clearly is … Let’s make it clear what we’re saying here because it wasn’t as clearly stated as it should have been in Vatican II.” So-

Fr. Peter Heers:

Okay. So clarifying. I mean, could you imagine us going back to … I guess maybe 2000 was okay, but it would be an anathema for us to go back to the first two councils, which had formed The Creed and say, “Okay, we’re going to clarify. Or we’re going to …”

Eric Sammons:

Well, I think you could say, for example, the third and fourth councils. The word “Clarify,” I agree can be taken in a way that is problematic. And I admit that.

Fr. Peter Heers:

But-

Eric Sammons:

But I would say, for example, the third and fourth councils did deepen our understanding of the Blessed Trinity, of the person and nature of Christ from what the first two councils said. It did not, of course, correct them in any way, but it did deepen that understanding so that we knew the boundaries better because that was the whole point of the debate was that Christians weren’t … Need to be clarified. It didn’t need to be clarified. What are the boundaries of what we mean when we talk about the person and nature of Christ, because … And so that’s exactly why we had to have the third and fourth councils.

Fr. Peter Heers:

So the question is did the fathers go to the Fourth Ecumenical Council saying, “I don’t really know. Let’s go discuss and try to figure out and define who Christ is?” Or did they go and say, “Dioscorus is teaching this and this is not the faith once delivered. And, therefore, we’re going to lay down the boundary to show that this is not in the boundary. This is not within the received faith.” That’s what’s happening in the council. They’re not doubting or searching or wondering and, therefore, finding some formula, which … I think it’s really important to understand that because the faith was once delivered. And this, we’re going to probably part company here, but the faith was once delivered. There’s no development in the sense of we’re unpacking it and something new comes or some new insight comes. It’s rather saying these are their ideas, not based on the experience of the Apostles, are formulated in a way that’s dangerous and leads people astray. Therefore, here are the boundaries. That’s not within the boundaries.

And so if that’s the case, then you look at Vatican II very differently from an Orthodox perspective. You would say, “Whoa. There can’t be a whole new version or vision of the church or of the mysteries and that we didn’t have in the fourth century or in the fifth.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. I would definitely say the Vatican II itself, I can see where, from an Orthodox perspective, how you would have a hard time seeing it as an Ecumenical Council first. I mean, obviously not an Ecumenical Council because it doesn’t have Orthodox bishops there. I just mean because a pastoral council, in a sense, it’s like an economy council.

Fr. Peter Heers:

Right. Right.

Eric Sammons:

It’s an economy council. And so I would say, as a Catholic, yeah, you could have an economy council, but I think you probably would argue, “No, that’s not really.” You could have a senate, maybe an economy senate maybe, but not an Ecumenical Council.

Fr. Peter Heers:

We don’t see the Ecumenical Councils as dealing strictly with pastoral issues. But again,-

Eric Sammons:

Right.

Fr. Peter Heers:

… there are people who clearly think that Vatican II did not stay within those boundaries. They did put down doctrine, right? I mean the ecclesiology, who was it that was talking? It was a famous American Bishop from New York, who was talking about … I forget his name right now. Who was talking about Congar and he says, “No. That was dogma.” And the dogma was the church. Maybe that’s a minor view. I don’t know. Is that a minor view in-

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. I mean, Paul VI, himself, called a pastoral council and didn’t have any new dogmas, but that’s a debated point within Catholicism.

Fr. Peter Heers:

Is it debated in Catholicism?

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, and I would fall on the side of what Paul VI said that it was a pastoral council not a dogmatic council. I do think you’re right, though. For example, in Lumen Gentium 14-15 we are talking about dogmatic issues, in a sense, but I would say it’s more of an economy sense of understanding them. I also think that … I’m looking at the time, I’ve never had a podcast over an hour.

Fr. Peter Heers:

It’s been interesting.

Eric Sammons:

It’s been great. I enjoyed it greatly because I, personally, and I think you agree with me on this, that you don’t have just us sitting at cocktail parties and saying how much we agree with each other. I think that doesn’t really … I don’t see the point of that, frankly.

Fr. Peter Heers:

Absolutely.

Eric Sammons:

But I appreciate the more frank discussions like this. But I think we should wrap it up.

Fr. Peter Heers:

Yes. Very good. Very good.

Eric Sammons:

I do want to let you, though give a last word. You’re the guest here, a last word on simply maybe an Orthodox understanding of the church and maybe finish with the first question: What is the church? Maybe you could wrap it up with the Orthodox understanding here.

Fr. Peter Heers:

Yeah. Well, thank you for having me. I appreciate it. It was a very good discussion and, hopefully, I’ve helped in some way, I hope, to properly present the Orthodox view, I’ve not done damage to it, God forbid, and we’ve been charitable in expressing that. But I would say just a few things. There’s a lot that could be said. There’s actually a couple of hundred pages worth of things that could be said.

But, for us, the Orthodox view, communion is both vertical and horizontal, it’s one and the same. So what does that mean? It’s both with God and among men, between the head and his body. “It’s full and it’s only full because being complete here,” as Saint John Cassian says, “is complete also there.” And he’s talking about that relationship between God and man and between Orthodox Christians.

So on the horizontal plane, we cannot imagine or see, let’s say, a full and complete, a whole spectrum in terms of participation in the mysteries, in terms of the mysteries being inaccessible to some and totally accessible to others. That’s not something that’s possible in the Orthodox vision of the church because the Lord shows no partiality. “He distributes the gifts to all alike within his body,” according to Saint Maximus the Confessor, “and once the people are united in the mysteries, all become a single house.” They’re all related. They’re all brothers in Christ, same access to the mysteries, access to Christ. There’s no partial Christ from our vision of things. There could be no partial communion with Christ.

The body of communion is, as Saint Paul says, “His body, the fullness of Him, that filleth all and all.” So from the moment one is a member, the communion he enjoys in Christ is full for Christ only gives himself fully. So, for instance, in the Orthodox church, when you commune in the mysteries, the priest, doesn’t say, “A portion of the holy mysteries. A portion of the body of Christ.” But, “The body of Christ.” And it’s a mystery that Christ cannot be divided. The body of Christ cannot be divided in any way, in any form on any level.

So whether I fully actualize that, is another issue. That has to do with my appropriation, my assimilation, my disposition. That’s a personal issue, not an ecclesiological matter. It’s not institutional. It’s individual.

So whether you’re talking about baptism or Eucharist, it’s one and the same Christ across the board, all the mysteries are one. And so from the orthodox perspective, I think that’s the core of the criticism of Vatican II ecclesiology is this whole idea of a partial or incomplete or incremental communion in terms of the church, from the perspective of Christ that he’s offering himself, he can offer himself partially to one, but fully to the other. For us that’s impossible. So, ultimately, it’s about Christ. Who is Christ and how does he operate in the world? It’s very grave implications of an ecclesiology. It’s dogma for us and so you cannot … It’s not on the level of economy. It’s on the level of doctrine. And so when we look at Vatican II we see a dogma and an image and a presentation of Christ, which doesn’t seem to be patristic.

So that would be one of many, many things one could say but, hopefully, that’s helpful from the Orthodox perspective for everybody who’s listening.

Eric Sammons:

And I really appreciate that. I think it’s important that we understand that.

Okay. Well, everybody, I really appreciate you. If you’re still listening and you’re still watching, good for you. I hope it was interesting for you, but this is a great discussion. I enjoyed it greatly. And it was great also to catch up with Father after 30 years of not having too much contact. So that’s great too.

Fr. Peter Heers:

Thank you, Eric.

Eric Sammons:

Until next time everybody. God love you.

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