Referring to Kontoglou’s comparison of the Pope with the Patriarch, you write that a Christian is not to be judged by the exterior. You are right, and Kontoglou does not say the opposite. However, is not the exterior influenced by the interior?
To use an example as extreme as it helps us understand what I mean. Would you imagine a desert monk wearing the suit of a corporation executive? If you read western medieval commentaries and monastic rules, you will see how important the exterior is considered in the western tradition. Kontoglou says that, even if we didn’t know deeper realities, even the exterior would give us some hints. External appearance may be nothing at all, but if you had to have one, why would you choose an appearance that does not resemble the leader of your faith?
I also don’t believe that your thinking is helped by the example of ancient Greeks having beards. First, because Kontoglou does not refer to ancient Greeks, but to Romans, who calls “pagan ancestors” of Papacy, as they are, and they had no beard, second, because, yes, not everyone who has a beard is a Christian, yet a Christian, to the degree that he follows the renunciation of this world, is more likely to have a beard than not to have – and ancient Greeks were not shaved, exactly because they had an ascetic attitude of life.
Besides this, since we don’t refer to a particular Christian personally, but to an institution, as is the papal clergy, at least there one would expect a greater similarity with Christ and renunciation of worldly pleasure, because the foundation and meaning of an institution is to symbolise. I repeat, this may sound old-fashioned criticism; yet Kontoglou says that even such ‘secondary’ details, maybe have something important to tell us, especially when they are features of institutions.
And you are not obliged to stay to these details, on the contrary, you will understand better if you apply them to aspects yourself consider important, and see if they are confirmed there. If your eyes are not closed, I am sure it will be easy to find this confirmation in many and important aspects of papacy.
Indeed outside appearence reflects the inside. But, to echo Ratramnus of Corbie, such details do not account for salvation or damnation. I think--and forgive me if I repeat myself on this point--that this is more a difference of cultural practice than a pure practice of faith. To Greeks--and Orientals, like Muslims today or Ancient Persians-- the beard was a symbol of virility and manhood, and, as you said, of an ascetic life (all philosophers were bearded). In Rome, it was more of a fashion. While Republican Caesar and Cicero were clean shaven, Emperors Hadrian or Marcus Aurelius had a beard. Indeed Julian the Apostate wore a beard because it symbolized the pagan religion he sought to revive. Is it for this reson that the western church, which sought to eradicate paganism totally, also forbade the beard? Perhaps. But it is not even clear whether St Jerome or Augustine prohibited the beard or simply a too long beard.
Besides, we do not know if Christ Himself had a beard. There are no representation of Him during his life on earth. Paleochristian art depicts Christ as a beardlesss youth, symbolizing eternal life. Christ as a bearded man with long hair is a later representation pointing at the transformation Christians had of Him: a Teacher whose message is authoritative. We should not focus too much on those issues, for salvation does not depend on the beard or other physical appearence.
Take for example St Francis of Assisi. He is indisputably one of the greatest (if not the most perfect) Christian, who lived his life in imitation of Christ, and remained loyal to the Papacy. He had no beard, had the tonsure, and wore a simple wollen robe tied by a rope. St Francis is a saint whose example transcends Christianity's divisions; Catholic of course, but also Protestants, and (please tell me if I am wrong on this point) Orthodox can make a universal exemple of his virtues. What makes a Chrisitian? It is his or her faith in God and Christ, and his deeds which are naturally sujugated to the Good and Just which God created. Catholic, Orthodox, (and Protestant), leading a life conform to Christ's should be our ideal.
"If we are all Christians, why are we all divided?" Christians have been divided ever since the death and resurrection of Christ. Take the Nag Hammadi gospels, for example. We know that a Gnostic movement existed in parallel to the "mainstream" Church as early as the first and second centuries, and this does not include all other minor movements that claimed to follow Christ. We shouldn't forget, as well, the Arian and Nestorian movements of later centuries, and the Cathar and Hussyte movements preceding the Luther and Calvinist reformation in the West. Even the Eastern Church had its own independent movements: the Bogomiles, the Coptic, Syrian or Armenian Churches.
We are all Christians, yet we are divided. But why, besides, do all major religions have different movements reflecting the various interpretations and approaches they take? It is true of Islam (Sunnis and Shiites) and Buddhism. Even Judaism, in a lesser degree, is divided into ultra orthodox and liberal. This is what happens when a certain belief is also a way of life, an "ideology" ( meaning that it defines what we are and do). Because this belief is too important, therefore we build different opinions, each claiming to interpret it correctly. There were no such divisions in paganism, for example, because the gods reflected no greater truth about the self and the cosmos; they did not define society's attitude towards itself and others. This was the role of philosophy in Greece and Rome. Religious divisions have the same roots, ultimately, as modern ideological political divisions (Capitalism vs. communism, conservative vs. liberalism, etc). In the West, the religious focus has merely shifted to a "secular" one, but these ideological divisions would have been impossible without the influence of Christianity (Catholics vs. Protestants, etc). Take the Marxist, or "Communist" movement, for instance. If they are all Communists, why are they divided into Trotskysts, Maosits, Leninists, or the modern Marxist parties? All would reject the others' arguments as misinterpretation, yet all would agree they have one thing in common: establish the dictatorship of the proletariat and end the class struggle. While they disagree on the means, they agree on the end. And the end, the goal, is ultimately the most important element. It is the same with Christianity.
If, by "faith," you mean belonging to a Church, participate in its rituals and, more importantly, believe in the Salvation by Christ, I agree with you, our ancestors were more faithful than we are today. And this is precisly why we were divided: those issues were of uttermost importance. We become divided when an issue is important. If, 600 years after the last attempt at reunification, the Pope wants to open discussions on a potential reunification, it means that Christianity (of whatever confession or Church) is on the decline in Europe. We feel the need for unification because we feel threatened, weakened. We see the end, our goal as Christians, moving away, getting out of reach. Therefore we seek others who share the same goal in order to strengthen all groups. This is what is happening now. I agree, it is not merely faith which stimulates the "modern union-folly." It is also the survival of the Church itself. And what if, overtime, the Orthodox Church itself lost its hold? Would this stimulate Orthodox unification with Catholicism? Nothing tells that it will not. Orthodoxs and Catholics might not always trust each other, but they would find here a common ennemy in secularism and scientism. And this is what the Pope is thinking: there is a common interest of both Churches against a common ennemy, secularism and scientism.
Both Churches, if they want to regain influence, or, at the very least, keep their hold, must learn to overlook those ideological, liturgical differences, and seek what they have in common. For catholicism and Orthodoxy share a common goal: the salvation of all humankind. Take this question: "If we are all Christians, why are we divided?" and turn it over: "We are all divided, but we are all Christians." This could ultimately save Christianity from collapse.
Dear Laellius, if, as you admit, “outside appearence reflects the inside”, then it is not always just “a difference of cultural practice”. Besides this, “cultural practice” is not always something so superficial and/or relative that it can be changed without problem.
Images of Christ we do have. Most of the Orthodox images of Christ are not artistic inventions, but testimonies of saints who saw Him, which is something I can’t prove and you are not obliged to accept. There are ‘ages’ of the Christ, of course, but his manly figure is never without beard.
That “salvation does not depend on the beard or other physical appearance” is something we agreed upon from the start, yet this doesn’t mean a priest can wear whatever. Symbolic appearance (as is the cloth of the clergy, etc) is a guide; it does not ensure salvation, but it can help or impede. What helps and what not, is to be judged by the end, that is, by the response of a people to the teaching of a people’s Church.
For Francis I can’t agree, and I think maybe you are not so familiar with the ‘status’ of Francis in the East (– and not exclusively in the East. If you read, for example, Salinger [Franny and Zooey] somewhere Zooey rebukes his sister for confusing Christ with Francis, sweet to all, etc). I’m not saying that Francis was not a saint; just that in the East is almost completely unknown, and that he doesn’t fit to the Eastern way of recognising man as incomparably superior to all creatures, image of God, member of a loving relationship, where Christ is revealed (as you also say) independently of any imitation or condition (such as ‘good works’ etc), no matter how important these conditions may be, a man sometimes revolutionary and even angry.
To the second part of what you say, I don’t know about Alex, but it is my point that we should have our focus precisely on what divides us, and not on what unites us, which means, if we are to co-operate, we must not do it by overlooking or underestimating our differences, but without an official ‘union of the churches’ and despite the differences, while recognising the differences as most important. We need, in my opinion, a co-operation based on the awareness of our division and of the importance the causes of division have, which means that we co-operate knowing that this is not the best we can have, be or do, and pretty far from the best, at that. This way we can also co-operate with Muslims, etc., being not happy, but sad, that we don’t have a real and complete unity, contacting each other and co-operating with each other in the most low common denominator.
Finally, as I see that scientism concerns you a lot, how could we have a (common or separate) attitude about scientism, when both of us have made of Christian theology an academic discipline? Let us not be scientists ourselves, and then talk to atheists about the problems of their own scientific devotion. Scientism is not to reject faith and God, scientism is even to ‘accept’ and ‘approach’ God by the ways of a science, subjugating what should be a living relationship with Him, to the net of experiment-and-proof.
Having nothing to add, I’m thinking about our conversation itself. Wouldn’t that be an example of how we can have a contact (in discussion and even co-operation) without union? If catholicism and orthodoxy became united, what this union would have added to our discussion? Nothing, because it is obvious, that our differences are so deep, that even what is just a common place for an Orthodox, to a Catholic seems almost absurd. Yet we still talk and try to communicate to each other our different views and experiences. An official union will just declare our differences unimportant, while they seem to be very important.
I believe this is the word of the end. Divisions remain sharp, but cooperation hopefully remains possible.
This being said, I would like to add that this discussion has shown the gap that exists between our two Christian communities. There is in Orthodoxy a beauty absent in Catholicism. The error of Catholicism, I admit, was to merge theology with a sort of "rationalism," merge which proved deadly to Christianity in the West. Orthodoxy--and this is what I have seen here--has remained on a deeper level. Catholicism speaks with the mind, Orthodoxy simply speaks with the heart; loving your neighbor needs no justification. Orthodox Christianity needs no "support" of any sort; it stands by itself. This is perhaps why Orthodoxy has been the true preserver of Christ's teachings. Christ's Love emanated from the Good we find in Humankind, and needed nothing else to exist. Orthodoxy has understood it, while--and it is her misfortune--Catholicism added a complex and "rational" theology that was unecessary and that eventually destroyed its beauty.
Perhaps the Pope himself will eventually understand this, and thus heal Catholicism. Then will we all be Orthodox.