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Marian dogmas and reunion: what Eastern Catholics can teach us about Catholic ecumenism.


The role that the humble peasant girl Mary of Nazareth played in the history of Christianity is possibly one of Christianity's greatest ironies. Her simple, yet profound faith in God gave birth to Christianity; however this faithful woman has occupied one of the most controversial and contentious places within the Christian tradition. Beloved among Catholics and Orthodox, she is the object of hyperdulia; she is the greatest disciple of Christ, who intercedes for humankind before Jesus Christ. However, for many Protestants and Anglicans she is merely a woman, and the attention that the Catholic Church has paid to her represents a gross exaggeration and betrayal of the gospel. Catholic attention toward Mary was seen as idolatry. Mary's role in the economy of salvation is at the same time responsible for the Christian faith and for its division.

Nonetheless, this past century has witnessed a renewed interest in the Mother of Jesus among all Christian churches. Within the Catholic community Marian devotion and doctrine are no longer exalted above the church but are subsumed into ecclesiology. (1) In Reformation churches, Mary's example of discipleship in the Second Testament has received renewed interest. Among many Protestant Christians, Mary is looked upon with admiration as a great example of faith in Jesus Christ, who was justified by her faith. She is a "witness to God's sovereign, electing grace." (2) For this reason, especially among feminist Protestant theologians, her active role during the ministry of Jesus and at the crucifixion is emphasized. (3)

Due in part to the ecumenical movement, openness and dialogue have replaced traditional antagonism over Mary's place in the Christian church. In 2003, Christianity witnessed one of most important agreed statements on this topic: Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ, authored by the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC). What is interesting about this document is that it legitimized authentic Marian devotion and doctrine. Not only is the traditional typological approach to Marian texts in the Scriptures employed, but the Anglicans also proclaim with the Catholics that both Marian dogmas--the Assumption of Mary and her Immaculate Conception--are consonant with the scriptures.

Nevertheless, the ARCIC document raised an important question for consideration, namely, "whether it would be a condition of the future restoration of full communion that they [the Anglicans] should be required to accept the definitions of 1854 and 1950." (4) In other words, does union with the Catholic Church presuppose promulgation of Catholic dogma? These questions touch upon the methodology of Catholic ecumenism that has implications for all Christian churches in dialogue with Rome.

Although the Catholic magisterium has never officially promulgated an ecumenical method with regard to these questions, I will demonstrate that in the Catholic Church's practical dealings with the Ukrainian Catholic Church it has developed an ecumenical method relevant to this discussion. Although this essay will draw upon documents and statements relevant to all Eastern Catholics, it will focus solely on the Ukrainian Catholic Church, not other Eastern Catholic churches. The practical dealings of the magisterium with the Ukrainian Catholic Church illustrate an ecumenical method in place that is reminiscent of the method proposed by Karl Rahner and Heinrich Fries in the mid-1980's, albeit with an important qualification. Rahner and Fries suggested that reunited churches not require the profession of Catholic dogmatic teachings, though these dogmas could not be denied. (5) However, unlike Rahner and Fries, the magisterium requires the Ukrainian Catholic Church to accept formally the teaching of the Immaculate Conception, yet the Ukrainian Catholic Church is not only permitted but encouraged to express its own understanding of Mary's sinless conception by the magisterium that is authentically Eastern and ironically at odds with the 1854 dogmatic definition of Pope Plus IX. The expression of Ukrainian Catholic theological tradition is limited by the magisterium only insofar as it cannot explicitly deny the 1854 dogmatic definition.

In this essay I will outline and explore this method and its implications for the Anglican-Catholic dialogue. If the method the Catholic Church applied to the Ukrainian Catholic Church was applied to the Anglican-Catholic ecumenical movement, much like the Ukrainian Catholic Church, the Anglican Church would be required to accept the Immaculate Conception only insofar as it is consistent with the Anglican tradition. With respect to the Immaculate Conception, the affirmation that Anglicans made with Catholics in the 2003 ARCIC statement that "Christ's redeeming work reached 'back' in Mary to the depths of her being, and to her earliest beginnings" would be a sufficient affirmation of this dogma. (6)

For the purpose of clarity this essay is divided into three sections and focuses primarily on the Immaculate Conception. (7) The first section will examine important contemporary magisterial teachings that establish the "legitimate diversity" of the Ukrainian Catholic Church; this respect for diversity necessitates that Ukrainian Catholic Christians understand Catholic dogmas within the Eastern theological tradition. The second section will examine the Eastern tradition's doctrine of sin and Mary. Finally, based upon the findings of the first and second sections, the third section will demonstrate more exactly how the Catholic Church has applied this method to the Ukrainian Catholic Church and will demonstrate how it might be applied to the Anglican-Catholic ecumenical movement.

The "Legitimate Diversity" of the Ukrainian Catholic Church

Ukrainian Catholics are first and foremost Eastern Christians. They are entirely Byzantine Orthodox in their spirituality and theological orientation. The Ukrainian Catholic Church shares not only the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil and John Chrysostom but also the Eastern patristic theological tradition with the Orthodox Church. This respect for the Ukrainian Catholic Church's Eastern perspective was guaranteed by the articles of the Union of Brest (1595), the union that reunited Ukrainian Orthodox churches with Rome, forming the Ukrainian Catholic Church. It is essential to note that the basis of this union was the guarantee of the autonomy of the Eastern theological heritage of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. For instance, in Article 33 the Fathers of Brest wrote:
   so that assured as to the faith, the Mysteries, and our ceremonies,
   we might come to this holy accord with the Roman Church without any
   violation of our conscience and the flock of Christ committed unto
   us and likewise that others who are still hesitating, seeing that
   we retain everything inviolate, might more quickly come after us to
   this holy union. (8)

This canon, which remains in effect, preserves the Ukrainian Catholic Church from unwarranted latinization. Due to this fear of latinization, the Fathers of Brest determined that the Ukrainian Catholic Church cannot be required to profess the infamous Western dogma of Filioque, (9) defined at the Council of Florence, a century prior to Brest. Profession of the Filioque could not be required because it was not "in the writings of the holy Greek Doctors." (10) Today, the Ukrainian Catholic Church does not profess the Filioque in the Nicene Creed.

Unfortunately, as I shall discuss below, the articles of Brest were not always upheld by the Roman Catholic Church, and, in fact, the Ukrainian Catholic Church was at times required to profess the Filioque. Contemporaneously, however, vouchsafing the autonomy of the Eastern tradition of the Ukrainian Catholic Church has become a hallmark of the Roman Catholic magisterium. In the past fifty years the Roman Catholic Church has taken great steps to guarantee the diversity of the Ukrainian Catholic Church and, for that matter, all Eastern Christians. Vatican II not only devoted an entire decree to the Eastern Catholic Church, the "Decree on the Eastern Churches," but it also counseled all who "by reason of their office or an apostolic assignment" work with Eastern Catholics "be carefully trained to know and respect the rites, discipline, doctrine, history, and characteristics of Easterners." (11) Ukrainian Catholics are not second-class Catholics but have the rights and responsibilities that the Western Catholic church is given. Great steps have been taken to guard the distinctive theological heritage and ecclesial administration of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. In the post-Vatican II church, Rome granted all Eastern Catholic churches, (12) which includes the Ukrainian Catholic Church, their own code of canon law, which was published in 1990, as well as the authority to write their own catechism. With respect to the Ukrainian Catholic Church, this project has recently been completed and is scheduled for publication in 2011. It is of interest to note that this catechism was written to counter the assimilation of the Ukrainian Church by the Roman Church. Bishop Peter Stasiuk, who chaired the synodal catechetical commission responsible for this catechism, wrote that the Ukrainian Church may already be a hybrid between East and West. He feared that, if this task is not completed, the Ukrainian Catholic Church might not exist in fifty years. He stressed that it will employ Eastern theology in its elucidation of Christian doctrine. (13)

One of the most vocal supporters of the unique theological perspective of the Ukrainian Catholic Church was Pope John Paul II. On the 400th anniversary of Brest, he wrote an apostolic letter to celebrate its legacy. In it he reaffirmed the canons of Brest and in particular the guarantee of the "legitimate diversity" of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, noting that this "diversity is in no way opposed to the Church's unity, but rather enhances her splendour and contributes greatly to the fulfilment of her mission." (14) More importantly, he had the foresight to see the existence of the Ukrainian Catholic Church as "relevant for the entire field of ecumenism." (15) The fact that Eastern Christians can remain Eastern and yet exist in communion with Rome has implications for future union with other churches that desire to reunite Christianity but fear that doing so will sacrifice their history and theological perspective; thus, promoting the authentic Eastern theological expression of the Ukrainian Catholic Church is of paramount importance.

John Paul II's teaching on "legitimate diversity" reiterated what was written in the Eastern code of canon law, (16) which stated that Eastern Christians must "follow their own form of spiritual life consonant with the teaching of the Church." (17) Eastern Catholics have to appropriate the teaching of the Church within its own framework; to do otherwise is an illegitimate latinization that undermines the magisterium's teachings on the diversity of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. Nevertheless, Ukrainian Catholic Christians are Catholics in communion with Rome and the Western Catholic church; therefore, they share the deposit of faith and are bound to infallible teachings. The Code of Canon Law for Eastern Churches testifies that the pope "possesses infallible teaching authority if, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the Christian faithful who is to confirm his fellow believers in the faith, he proclaims with a definitive act that a doctrine of faith or morals is to be held." (18) Furthermore this teaching "must be believed with divine and catholic faith" and that the faithful must "avoid any doctrines whatever which are contrary to these truths." (19) As I will illustrate below, avoidance of whatever is "contrary to these truths" of papal teaching is qualified by the magisterium's teaching on the legitimate diversity that entails that the Ukrainian Catholic Church is required only to profess the teaching of a dogma and not the exact wording of that dogma.

Based on Eastern Catholic canon law, statements by the pope, Vatican II, and the articles of Brest, two fundamental premises are clear that will guide the rest of my discussion. First, Eastern Catholics are bound to believe infallible teachings. Second, based on the "legitimate diversity" of the Eastern Catholic churches, these teachings must be believed within their theological tradition.

Eastern Doctrine and the Immaculate Conception

The dogma of the Immaculate Conception poses a significant difficulty for the premises I have outlined above, because the Western conception of sin, presupposed in the 1854 definition of the Immaculate Conception, is not the traditional Eastern conception of sin. "Put briefly, the Orthodox simply do not think of it [original sin] in terms of a guilty stain at all [sic]," (20) and sin understood as stain is central to the 1854 dogmatic definition of the Immaculate Conception. This difference will necessitate a different treatment of sinlessness and therefore compels Ukrainian Catholic Christians who are intent upon keeping their Eastern heritage formally to reject the definition of the Immaculate Conception.

The differences between Western and Eastern conceptions of sin revolve around the relationship between Adam's sin and the consequence of this sin. For the West, the sin of Adam is inherited by all people born by the natural means of procreation; that is, sex involves inordinate passion that is the vehicle for Adam's sin to affect the newly conceived human soul. Born with Adam's sin, Adam's sin is our own; therefore, "Augustine taught that Adam's guilt and his penalty of death have been inherited by all." (21) In a sense original sin is our personal sin; Thomas Aquinas referred to original sin as a sin of nature. Original sin causes morality and death. Pope Plus IX's dogmatic definition presupposed this conception of sin. Because Mary was chosen by God to be the mother of the Incarnate Word, she received a singular privilege and, as Plus IX declared, at the moment of her conception "was preserved free from all stain [labe] of original sin." (22) Mary received at her conception a special grace that prevented sin from infecting her. Mary was, therefore, free from the guilt and punishment of original sin. (23)

For Easterners, however, sin has no connotation of stain or disease. Sin is a state. (24) It is the state of mortality. Thus, original sin, which, strictly speaking, is the sin of Adam, resulted in the loss of Adam's immortality. This state of mortality was then passed on to all of Adam's descendents through sexual intercourse. The human race is conceived in mortality, not sin; mortality has no relationship to guilt, but it is simply the state of affairs that humankind now experiences. Needless to say, mortality weakens human nature and in this sense one may speak of original sin as "the universal sickness of the human essence, which becomes mortal and subject to sin." (25) Whereas in the West, sin causes mortality, in the East, mortality causes sin. Formally speaking, original sin's originality is relative to the individual human agent, once that agent chooses to sin. The Eastern understanding of original sin is must closer to the Western understanding of personal sin. In a sense, for Eastern Christians all humans are conceived sinless, for sin as a choice against God is not actualized until a personal choice against God is made. However, because all human persons are conceived through cohabitation, they are all affected by the consequence of Adam's sin and are, therefore, mortal. This mortality makes sin inevitable except for the most exceptional of souls, one of whom is the holy mother of God. (26) This position is dominant in the English-speaking Orthodox world and has been evinced by such important theologians as John Meyendorff. (27) This same statement is true for the majority of Ukrainian Catholics who are in the process of reasserting their Eastern perspective, avoiding unwarranted latinization.

However, Eastern theology is neither monolithic nor stagnant and offers a variety of positions on this issue. Sergius Bulgakov is a notable example, who offers one of the most original and comprehensive Eastern theologies of Mary, which clearly demonstrates doctrinal development. His mariological work, The Burning Bush: On the Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God, which was translated into English in 2009, offers a middle ground between traditional Eastern and Western theologies insofar as he treats original sin as both an inherited disease that causes mortality and as a condition of mortality that causes further sin. In other words, original sin is both an essential sin and a personal sin. (28) His appropriation of Schelling's ontology allows him to collate Augustinian anthropology (29) with Eastern theology. (30) For instance, he takes the tradition that all are guilty of original sin, the existential experience of a "fundamental fault" in our character, and his radical understanding of God's love and offers the position that all human souls are given the freedom to choose to be born into sin. In so doing, all human beings accept personal responsibility for original sin (31) and experience original sin not simply as a weakness of nature but also as guilt. Following the Orthodox tradition, he rejects the Immaculate Conception and admits that, from the moment of Mary's conception, original sin existed solely as an unrealized potential state. Though mortal because of original sin, Mary never committed a personal sin and, in fact, was free from concupiscence. (32)

Needless to say, consensus exists among patristic and contemporary Eastern theologians with regard to Mary. She is declared as sinless. However, because she is a human being and is born through natural means, she is affected by mortality, which is directly the result of the original sin of Adam. In this sense, it is impossible to affirm that Mary was immaculately conceived, that is, that she was unaffected by Adam's sin. The effect of original sin is death and mortality. Original sin affected Mary because she was mortal; proof of her mortality is the fact the she died a natural death. (33) For this reason even those Eastern theologians who are willing to admit the Augustinian understanding of sin, such as Bulgakov, are unwilling to accept the Immaculate Conception on the grounds that the Immaculate Conception is inconsistent with the great tradition. Death is a result of original sin, yet sin itself as a choice against God was never actualized by Mary. It was "reduced to zero to pure potentiality." (34) For the Orthodox the Immaculate Conception, if we grant that they would ever employ such a term, only makes sense in the instance of Jesus Christ because he was conceived outside of the conjugal act and is therefore immortal. (35)

Therefore, the Immaculate Conception as it is professed in the 1854 dogma does not represent the Eastern understanding of sin, (36) and it cannot be replaced by a Western understanding of sin. The acceptance of this dogma in the terms by which it was defined by Pius IX would be an unwarranted latinization. Thus, Eastern Catholics cannot profess the Immaculate Conception without qualification.

Before I conclude this section it is important to note that, although the Ukrainian Catholic Church is Eastern, because of the influence of the Roman Catholic Church certain anomalies are present within its theological tradition. For instance, though the Eastern teaching on sin is widely taught and accepted among Ukrainian Catholics, there is no definitive Eastern Catholic magisterial statement that states this, and therefore there is a plurality of opinions on this subject, which is permitted. Speaking from my own experience in the Ukrainian Catholic Church, there are some Ukrainian Catholics who accept the Western teaching of sin and the dogma of the Immaculate Conception without qualification. This group, which subsists in small pockets within the Ukrainian Catholic Church, is a result of latinization.

It is important to note that only recently, due to a variety of factors both political (37) and theological, the Ukrainian Catholic Church is in the process of "regaining its lost heritage." (38) Unfortunately, few Christians are aware that, like the Orthodox Church, the Ukrainian Catholic Church was continually oppressed throughout its history, and "[a]s is known by anyone who has suffered oppression ... the oppressor's shadow lingers long after liberation, and much time is needed to recover any sense of authentic identity." (39) However the oppression of the Ukrainian Catholic Church was in some ways much more insidious than the oppression of the Orthodox Church, because Rome was at times their oppressor. One of the main reasons why the Ukrainian Catholic Church has only in past decades begun to develop its own Eastern understanding of Catholic dogma is due to the magisterium's change of heart toward the Ukrainian Catholic Church. "Before Vatican If, original Eastern Catholic contributions were unimaginable; whenever attempted, they evoked denunciations," (40) and when theologizing was attempted, it was latinized and sought only to find "eastern support for Roman doctrines." (41) Vatican II for the Ukrainian Catholic Church and all Eastern Catholics was a momentous event because it gave new voice and prestige to their tradition, and permitted "Eastern Catholics to develop a distinctive theology." (42) Plus IX's definition of the Immaculate Conception was defined within a pre-Vatican II context, and it was defined without any regard for Eastern Catholic theology.

Nevertheless, today Eastern Catholic theology and, in particular, Ukrainian Catholic theology "is characterized by an appropriation and application of Orthodox theology." (43) Few Ukrainian Catholic theologians would admit an understanding of sin contrary to the traditional Eastern understanding that I have outlined in this essay. In fact, recent popular publications intended for Eastern lay Catholics teach the Eastern conception of sin and of Mary's sinless state. Faulk, in his popular work, 101 Questions and Answers on Eastern Catholic Churches, wrote, "For the Eastern Catholic, original sin is seen not in terms of stain or guilt, but of the condition of the world into which we are born." (44) Therefore, "the basic premise of the Immaculate Conception makes no sense to the Orthodox East.... it follows that this teaching on Mary is not quite the same in the East." (45)

Making Explicit an Implicit Method

To reiterate, Ukrainian Catholics accept the Immaculate Conception as dogma, but because of their Eastern heritage they are permitted to teach this dogma in consonance with their heritage. What results, if an authentic Eastern understanding of sin is granted, is a rejection of Plus IX's expression of the Immaculate Conception. Mary, because she was mortal, cannot be seen as immaculate, insofar as immaculate means without the effect of original sin. Indeed, Mary was affected by the sin of Adam. Materially speaking, the central teaching of the Immaculate Conception that Mary never sinned because of God's grace is affirmed. Only in this qualified sense can we affirm that Ukrainian Catholics, who accept the notion of sin outlined above, believe in the Immaculate Conception. Nevertheless, from a Roman Catholic perspective, Ukrainian Catholics are neither heretics nor in error. Magisterial teachings allow for this freedom in the expression of Catholic dogmas. This can be deduced by the magisterium's teachings on the limitation of human language in dogmatic formulations (46) and its insistence on the Eastern Catholic church's special character "that is to be taken into account ... in conveying catechesis," (47) which requires the Catholic Church to allow for an Eastern understanding of the Immaculate Conception that formally contradicts the 1854 dogma. In fact, this formal teaching is affirmed by the contemporary Catholic Church's actions toward the Ukrainian Catholic Church.

The clearest indication that the Catholic Church is applying an ecumenical method toward the Ukrainian Catholic Church is the variety it allows Ukrainian Catholic theologians to have in expressing the Immaculate Conception. Also, more importantly, the Catholic Church does not force the Ukrainian Catholic Church to affirm the Western understanding of the Immaculate Conception. One notable exception to this statement is the Ukrainian Catholic Church's divine office. The office was composed by the Basilian order and, for our purpose, incorporates a Western understanding of sin and Mary's conception. During the matins on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the first sessional hymn states, "Today a branch has sprouted forth from the root of Jesse; today Mary is conceived without any stain of sin." (48) However, although this office is still used, the Immaculate Conception is neither celebrated nor mentioned in the Divine Liturgy. This is an important omission, since, for Easterners, the liturgy is not simply the encounter with God in and as a eucharistic community but actually "the source of all other meaning in life. Sunday worship is not merely a segment of life; it is our life united and offered with Christ in the living sacrifice of love." (49) The relationship between worship and theology is best expressed by the ancient theological axiom lex orandi lex credendi--the law of prayer is the law of belief. The liturgy is life to an Eastern Catholic. All theology, devotion, social action, and life in Christ ushers forth from the Divine Liturgy. If the Catholic Church intends for the Ukrainian Catholic Church to believe in Pius's definition of the Immaculate Conception, then it must require the Ukrainian Catholic Church to profess it in its liturgy.

In summary, the Catholic Church in both its formal teachings and its actions applies an implicit ecumenical method toward the Ukrainian Catholic Church. This method consists of three premises: first, that all dogmas must be believed; second, every dogma must be understood relative to each church tradition; third, if a contradiction in understanding occurs, because human language can never fully convey divine mystery, neither church may reject the diverse interpretation.

The first premise is evinced by canon 598 of the Eastern Catholic code of canon law. The second premise is demonstrated by the contemporary Catholic Church's insistence on the "legitimate diversity" present in John Paul II's teaching, the Eastern Catholic code of canon law, and Vatican II. Based on this affirmation, the Eastern Catholic Church cannot accept the Immaculate Conception without illegitimating its tradition because it understands original sin differently, and in order to maintain its diversity the Ukrainian Catholic Church cannot profess the Immaculate Conception explicitly. Rather, the Ukrainian Catholic Church affirms that Mary from the moment of her conception never sinned. The third premise that a dogma cannot be denied is an implication of the first premise. Although it would be much simpler for a Ukrainian Catholic to simply deny the Immaculate Conception, Ukrainian Catholics are not permitted to do so out of respect to Western Catholics. (50) Thus, the complementarity must be stressed.

Interestingly, this ecumenical method allows for both the Ukrainian Catholic Church and the Catholic Church to come to a deeper understanding of what is essential to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. After all, by allowing the Ukrainian Catholic Church to reinterpret the Immaculate Conception so that it adheres to its tradition, the Catholic Church allows for a delineation to be made within a dogma between what is the essence of that dogma and what is an aid to an essence. This delineation is a further development of the teaching of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith's document Mysterium Ecclesiae that admitted the limitation of language in conveying dogma. Unexpectedly, the Catholic Church's ecumenical method helps to further clarify the dogma. The essence of the Immaculate Conception is that Mary never sinned. The 1854 dogma therefore illustrates not the means of her sinlessness--her sinlessness is a mystery that human language cannot completely convey--but the fact that she was sinless.

Fundamentally, the method I have outlined requires a church in dialogue with Rome to ask what is essential to the Marian dogma that is consonant with my church tradition. With regard to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, the Anglican Church could agree that Mary was a holy woman, who was effected by "Christ's redeeming work [that] reached 'back' in [her] to the depths of her being and to her earliest beginnings." (51) What exactly happened to Mary, that is, whether she was affected by the "stain" of sin or the state of sin, is not within the Anglican's Church's tradition and therefore need not be made explicit. (52) Yet, that Mary was immaculately conceived in the Roman Catholic sense cannot be denied.


Reunited churches are not free to believe whatever they want. The ground of reunion must be respect for each church's dogmatic tradition. Even less-central dogmas, such as the Marian dogmas, must require belief, albeit with qualification, because for Catholics they are apostolic truths made explicit by the Holy Spirit. To deny them is to deny the work of the Holy Spirit in the Catholic Church.

This is not to say that other ecumenical methods, such as the ecumenical method of Rahner and Fries, which would allow for the complete silence on dogmas by reunited churches is not also a possibility. (53) Rather, this method is only one method, albeit an effective method, that the Catholic magisterium employs. Because this method is bearing much good fruit today for both the Ukrainian Catholic Church and the Roman Catholic Church, it should at least be considered. If nothing else, making this method explicit will help allay Catholic fears that the work of the Holy Spirit in a given dogma must be sacrificed, as well as Protestant and Anglican fears that the Catholic Church is duplicitous in its ecumenical attention and will "Romanize" their church tradition in a future union.

The Catholic-Ukrainian Catholic Church ecumenical method is a valuable tool that offers an answer to the ARCIC question. It may not be the answer with which all Anglicans are comfortable, but, if it were, how much closer could our churches be to reunion? We would be one step closer to fully actualizing Christ's command in John 17 that "they all be one." Moreover, if this ecumenical method were applied to the Anglican Church it would require nothing more than for Anglicans to state what they already affirmed in the 2003 ARCIC statement.

(1) The placing of Mary in the last section of the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church of the Second Vatican Council is indicative of the Catholic Church's intention to reframe the Marian tradition within ecclesiology and not above or beyond the Christian faith. Recall that at Vatican II many Catholic bishops desired that Mary receive her own text because she was seen as not a member of the Church but the mother of the Church. Note that "Mother of the Church" is never employed in the documents of Vatican II.

(2) Daniel L. Migliore, "Woman of Faith: Toward a Reformed Understanding of Mary," in Beverly Roberts Gaventa and Cynthia L. Rigby, eds., Blessed One: Protestant Perspectives on Mary (Louisville, KY, and London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), p. 129.

(3) For an insightful feminist account of Mary's role at the crucifixion, see Beverly Roberts Gaventa, "'Standing Near the Cross': Mary and the Crucilixion of Jesus," in Gaventa and Rigby, Blessed One, pp. 47-56.

(4) The Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ--An Agreed Statement (Harrisburg, PA, and London: Morehouse, 2005), no. 63 p. 61.

(5) See note 53, below.

(6) Mary: Grace and Hope, no. 59, p. 58.

(7) The Assumption is an important dogma; however, at least among Eastern and Western Christians, it is much less contentious, since it is based on an early tradition that dates back to at least the sixth century that both traditions share. However, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception is based on rational inquiry into the tradition that Mary never personally sinned, and, unlike the Assumption, or Dormition for Eastern Christians, a consensus among the church Fathers in support of the Immaculate Conception does not exist.

(8) The hierarchy of the Church in Kiev and the Roman Catholic Church, The Union of Brest, June, 1595, no. 33; available at; emphasis added.

(9) The Ukrainian Catholic Church was eventually compelled to accept the Filioque. However, this acceptance was not legitimate, and in the past decade the Ukrainian Catholic Church in America and Canada has omitted it from the Creed.

(10) Union of Brest, no. 1. (Note that Brest does not deny the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Son and the Father.)

(11) "Decree on Eastern Catholic Churches" (Orientalium Ecclesiarum), in Walter M. Abbott, ed., The Documents of Vatican II in a New and Definitive Translation with Commentaries and Notes by Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Authorities, tr. Joseph Gallagher (New York: Herder and Herder, and Association Press, 1966), no. 6, pp. 376-377.

(12) "Eastern Catholic Churches" refers to all Eastern Christians, primarily those who share the Byzantine Orthodox liturgy and tradition.

(13) Peter Stasiuk, "The Catechism of the Ukranian Catholic Church," September 26, 2005; available at http://www.catholicukes.orgau/tiki-read_article.php?articleld=150.

(14) John Paul II, Apostolic Letter of the Supreme Pontiff John Paul H for the Fourth Centenary of the Union of Brest (Rome: The Vatican, 1995), no. 9: available at uploads_portfolio_document/57/348.pdf.

(15) Ibid., no. 10.

(16) Canon 621 states that "the special character of the Eastern Churches is to be taken into account, so that the biblical and liturgical emphasis as well as the traditions of each Church sui iuris in patrology, hagiography, and even iconography are highlighted in conveying the catechesis" (The Holy See, Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (Latin-English edition), tr. Canon Law Society of America (Washington, DC: Canon Law Society of America, 1990), no. 621, [section] 2; available as Code of Canons of the Oriental Churches at

(17) Ibid., no. 17.

(18) Ibid., no. 597, [section] 1.

(19) Ibid., no. 598, [section] 1. This reiterates statements made in Mysterium ecclesiae, no. 4, at n. 35, that "all dogmas, since they are revealed, must be believed with the same divine faith" (Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, "Mysterium ecclesiae," St. Michael's Call: The Official Website of the Order of the Legion of St. Michael. June 24, 1973; available at Mysterium_Ecclesiae.html.

(20) Paul McPartlan, "Mary and Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue," One in Christ, vol. 34, no. 1 (1998), p. 7: emphasis in original.

(21) Ibid.

(22) Marianne Lorraine Trouve, Mother of Christ. Mother of the Church: Documents on the Blessed Virgin Mary (Boston, MA: Pauline Books and Media, 2001), p. 24.

(23) Both traditions define sin as primarily a psychological state. It has no being, for, if it did, then it would be a creation of God. It is the utter negation of being. For an enlightening exposition on the theology of sin that is consonant with both Western and Eastern theological traditions, see Sergius Bulgakov, The Bride of the Lamb, tr. Boris Jakim (Edinburgh: T & T Clark; Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002).

(24) McPartlan, "Mary," p. 10.

(25) Sergius Bulgakov, The Friend of the Bridegroom, tr. Boris Jakim (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003), p. 20.

(26) For many Eastern Fathers including Gregory Palamas, John the forerunner of Christ would have also been an exception.

(27) See John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology: Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes, (New York: Fordham University Press, 1983), pp. 146-148.

(28) See chapter 2 of this work for his teaching on this issue: Sergius Bulgakov, The Burning Bush: On the Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God, tr., ed., and intro. Thomas Allan Smith (Grand Rapids, MI, and Cambridge, UK.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002 [orig.: Kupina Neopalimaia: opyt dogmaticheskogo isolkovaniia nekotorykh chert v provoslavnom pochitanii Bogomateri [Paris: YMCA Press, 1927]).

(29) His usage of Augustine is worth mentioning because few Eastern theologians, both contemporary and traditional--Georges Florovsky and the Russian school, whence Bulgakov is a product, are exceptions--consider Augustine's contribution to theology positive; therefore, they either ignore him completely or view him with rancor.

(30) The Burning Bush provides an Eastern alternative to Catholic theology that systematically approaches Mary's sinlessness without positing the Immaculate Conception.

(31) Bulgakov, Burning Bush, pp. 30-31.

(32) On this matter, Bulgakov has claimed that the passion involved in the passing of concupiscence from parent to offspring during the conjugal act was absent due to the advanced age and holiness of Ann and Joachim, the parents of Mary.

(33) There is some ambiguity in the West regarding Mary's death. Though consensus in the West exists that Mary died before she was assumed into heaven, her death has not been defined dogmatically. In fact, Pope Plus XII in his 1950 definition of Mary's assumption, Munificentissimus Deus, was careful in his definition to avoid this issue and left open the possibility of her immortality.

(34) Bulgakov, Friend of the Bridegroom, p. 20.

(35) Christ could only die by unnatural means. Immortality does not preclude death by violent means.

(36) The Eastern understanding of sin also results in a different approach to grace and the sacraments.

(37) The Ukrainian Catholic Church story is one of oppression. In the twentieth century the Communist regime disbanded the Ukrainian Catholic Church within its empire and forced it underground.

(38) Joan L. Roccasalvo, The Eastern Catholic Churches: An Introduction to Their Worship and Spirituality (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1992), p. 55.

(39) Aristotle Papanikolaou, "Orthodoxy, Postmodernity, and Ecumenism: The Difference that Divine-Human Communion Makes," J.E.S. 42 (Fall, 2007): 528.

(40) Peter Galadza, "Eastern Catholic Christianity," in Ken Parry, ed., The Blackwell Companion to Eastern Christianity (Malden, MA, and Oxford, U.K.: Blackwell Publishing, 2007), p. 298.

(41) Ibid.

(42) Ibid., p. 297.

(43) Ibid., p. 298.

(44) Edward Faulk, 101 Questions and Answers on Eastern Catholic Churches (New York and Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2007), p. 72.

(45) Ibid., p. 73.

(46) See no. 5 of Mysterium ecelesiae at n. 37.

(47) Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, no. 621, [section]2.

(48) Divine Office: Horologion--Octoechos--Triodion--Menaion, tr. Demetrius Wysochansky (Glen Cove, NY: The Basilian Fathers. 2003), p. 1096.

(49) Roccasalvo, The Eastern Catholic Churches, p. 20; emphasis in original.

(50) And, in fact, most Ukrainian Catholics, from my experience, will say that "we believe that tile Immaculate Conception means simply that by the grace of God Mary never sinned."

(51) Mary: Grace and Hope, no. 78, p. 79.

(52) The reverse would also be a requirement of the Catholic Church. The Catholics Church must profess a dogma of another church insofar as that dogma reflects their tradition. Recently, in dialogue with the Lutheran Church, the Catholic Church has made significant steps in this direction. Today Catholics confirm the basic Lutheran understanding of justification that justification occurs by the grace of God through faith.

(53) They wrote, "Nothing may be rejected decisively and confessionally in one partner church which is binding dogma in another partner church.... no explicit and positive confession in one partner church is imposed as dogma obligatory for another partner church" (Heinrich Fries and Karl Rahner, Unity of the Churches: An Actual Possibility, tr. Ruth C. L. Gritsch and Eric W. Gritsch [New York and Ramsey, NJ: Paulist Press; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985 (orig.: Einigung der Kirchen--reale Moglichkeit [Freiburg i/B: verlag Herder, 1983])], p. 25).

Walter N. Sisto (Catholic) has been a PhD. student in systematic theology at the University of St. Michael's College in Toronto since 2007. He holds an M.A. in systematic theology (2007) from Seton Hall University, So. Orange, NJ; and a B.A. from Rutgers, the State University of N J, New Brunswick, NJ. Since 2010, he has been an instructor at Bishop Moore Catholic High School in Orlando, FL. He taught at Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft., NJ, 2004-07. He has lectured in parishes in New Jersey and New York and at Regis College, Toronto; as well as in catechetical formation programs in both Canada and Florida. He has published an article on Sergii Bulgakov in Sophiology (Moscow) in Russian in 2010, as well as articles in Ecumenical Trends and the Buffalo News. He has a book review forthcoming in the Heythrop Journal. In 2007, he participated in a colloquium on the Faith and Order Commission document, The Nature and Mission of the Church, at the Toronto School of Theology; and he has presented papers at the 8th Annual ACEDO Student Conference (Dominican University, Ottawa, 2008), at an international conference on Russian Sophiology in European Culture (St. Andrew's Biblical Theological Institute, Moscow, 2008), and at the Annual Slavic and Eastern Studies Conference (Columbus, OH, 2009).
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Author:Sisto, Walter N.
Publication:Journal of Ecumenical Studies
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2011
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