Some of you may have thought that the dispute I ridiculed, between Islam’s Sunnis and Shiites (“The Final Solution to Terrorism”, Nov.15, 2015, and “Isis is Germany, Assad is Japan”, Nov.28, 2015), was pretty silly. Not only silly but pathetic, because it is what is behind the multiple tragedies of the war in Syria, the mass exodus of emigrants seeking salvation, at the risk of their lives, by fleeing to Europe, and the conflict between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia. But Christianity has its own schism, almost as old and just as stupid as that between the 15% of Muslims who believe that the Supreme Head of Islam should be a descendant of the Prophet (Shiites) and their coreligionists (85%) who believe he should be elected (Sunnis). The Christian schism does not bother us much. In fact we never think of, or care a fig about, it; many have never even heard of it. It is however what has divided Christianity for a thousand years into the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches.
In yesterday’s “The Guardian”, reporting the Pope’s visit to a refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, where he invited three Muslim Syrian families to live in the Vatican, we read :
“The Pontiff spent five hours on Lesbos with Bartholemew 1, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, and Ieronymus 2, the Archbishop of Athens and Greece, meeting refugees and holding a service to bless those who have died trying to reach Europe. . . . The visit is … seen as a further warming of ties between the western and eastern branches of Christianity, almost a millennium after their bitter split in 1054. In a break with protocol, the Pope chose to be driven to the detention camp … with Bartholemew.”
The only serious paper I wrote sixty years ago as an undergraduate in Theology in the Franciscan seminary of St Paschal’s in Melbourne, was about the … “Filioque”. This is not often spoken of in sermons or in fact anywhere anymore. It means “and from the Son”. I have no intention of boring you with the details I dissected in my dissertation. It is quite enough to know that a millennium ago theologians argued till they were cardinal purple in the face about the Blessed Trinity and whether or not the Holy Spirit “proceeded” (?) from just the Father or from both the Father “AND the Son” (“Filioque”) : a question, clearly, of critical importance to humanity …
Today no one gives a ratz about all this (except maybe godologians like Ratzinger, retired Pope Benedict XVI). Some Church officials, on both sides of the schism, would like to patch things up and bury the hatchet. But it is hard to compromise on the doctrine that divides them. That Divine Ghost either “proceeds” from only one, or from both the other two Persons of the conundrum we call the Trinity. I suspect that run-of-the-pew Roman Catholics and members of the Russian and Greek Orthodox Churches will just go on ignoring the issue and content themselves with ecumenical photo-ops of Patriarchs embracing in a meaningless Kiss of Peace and leave the issue where it belongs, in the dusty tomes of a forgotten Theology and in brilliant undergrad dissertations on the subject.
I felt it was about time I added this fanciful facet of the ridiculousness of religion to all the other silly beliefs, rules and rituals with which it and this Blog are filled. Now it’s done, so you can go back to the more rational, important or trivial things you were doing before I distracted you with this Byzantine – our word for “weird” – post.