Doctrine Theology and Theologians

Forty years after Vatican II freed Eastern Catholics to develop a distinctive theology, no Eastern Catholic author or work stands out as universally significant. Only in the area of ecclesiology, where collegiality and ecumenism have been studied, are contributions part of larger discussions (see below). Of course, Roman Catholics have advanced theology, as Tomas Spidlik has done, in this case 'spiritual theology', by employing eastern sources to elaborate the holistic foundation of theologizing, but this is 'Catholic eastern theology' rather than Eastern Catholic theology.

Before Vatican II, original Eastern Catholic contributions were unimaginable; whenever attempted, they evoked denunciations. It was easier for a Roman Catholic to appropriate elements of Greek patristics, for example, than for an Eastern Catholic to do so: the former's loyalties could be presumed while the latter was often suspected of 'schismophilia'.

Before Orientalium dignitas, and the founding of the Pontifical Oriental Institute in 1917, Eastern Catholic theology tended simply to (1) transmit Tridentine manualism and Scholasticism into the languages of these churches, (2) interpret liturgical usages, and (3) contextualize Catholic social and pastoral reflection. In this last area, the benefits of western influence were significant, leading to involvement in education and economic betterment, and the revitalization of catechesis and preaching.

After 1917, the stress came to fall on finding eastern support for Roman doctrines. Thus Greek and Syriac texts, for example, were combed for serviceable references to Roman primacy, the procession of the Holy Spirit, the Bodily Assumption, and so on.

Today, the nascent field is characterized by an appropriation and application of Orthodox theology. To the extent that Eastern Catholics are in greater contact with western Christianity, they could forge an organic and dynamic synthesis of the two. But this has yet to occur. Another aspect of contemporary Eastern Catholic theologizing is the issue of newer Catholic doctrines proclaimed before Vatican II - during the First Vatican Council, for example. Some theologians pose the question of their authentic reception. Can they be embraced unreservedly by Eastern Catholic Churches who before Vatican II were required to be passive receptors of these formulations? Nonetheless, Eastern Catholics stress that communion with Rome guarantees a universality and unity otherwise unattainable. For them, the inability of the Orthodox Churches (1) to overcome the multiplicity of rival jurisdictions not only in the 'Old World' but also in the new, (2) to convoke a pan-Orthodox council, not to mention forge cooperation in other areas, and (3) to mitigate an almost endemic identification of church and ethnos - all of these are adduced as positive reasons for continuing recognition of Rome's authority by Eastern Catholics.

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