Fr. James Martin, SJ posted a link on Facebook yesterday to an article in the Vatican Insider,
“A Nicea nel 2025 tutti i cristiani celebrino un sinodo davvero ecumenico,” and then he added the following comments:
Whoa! Potentially huge news. Have Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew called for an Ecumenical Council in 2025? Nicea III? Both East and West are invited to celebrate, as in participate in, a “truly ecumenical council,” said the Patriarch. Or perhaps celebrate, as in commemorate, the original Council of Nicea.
In other words, the big question is: Will this simply be a commemoration of the original Council of Nicea (AD 325), which gave us the Nicene Creed? Or will this be a new ecumenical council, with the power to promulgate decrees and possibly help unite East and West? I’m sure the Vatican press office will clarify soon.
The Patriarch said that he and the Pope, “agreed to leave as a legacy to ourselves and our successors a gathering in Nicaea in 2025, to celebrate together, after 17 centuries, the first truly ecumenical synod, where the Creed was first promulgated.”
Fr. Martin, of course, hit the nail on the head. Some have favored a Nicaea III in 2025: “With the unpredictability of Pope Francis, some Catholics have wondered if he would call another council — a Vatican III. It appears not. Something that big won’t do for Francis. He’s thinking even bigger: the church universal will be getting a Nicea III.” Others, however, have seen 2025 as a commemoration. And it appears that there is more warrant for interpreting the given statements to indicate commemoration rather than an ecumenical council. So why is Nicaea 2025 important? Besides that it will probably be an important step in healing the Orthodox-Catholic split, it could also still turn into the closest thing to an ecumenical council since the last ecumenical council in AD 787. How is this not the Spirit at work?
Plan for Planning to Give Way to Timing
I think it matters if the plan for 2025 is focused on being a celebration rather than an ecumenical council. But that is because I don’t think the planning for 2025 should be quite as pre-determined as we are inclined to do. Be careful Christians. When we gather together to celebrate, it can easily become so much more, like worship. Indeed, things change when we get together, so it shouldn’t be surprising if 2025 develops into something different than our original expectations.
I think we can agree that the central issues at hand aren’t entirely about substance. We already know what life should be like at a general level. As an Anabaptist of sorts at a Catholic school, I would love to see greater movement towards reconciling a 1,000 year split. But all the informed Catholic and Orthodox people I know would love to see the split healed as well. The problem is we have yet to ‘discover’ reconciliation in friendship, and in friendship figure out what to do with the filioque.
The other issue is time—and the question is what kind of time. The funny thing about Nicaea I is that it didn’t matter much initially, or at least those who gathered at Nicaea seemed to think so. It is a bit of an understatement to say that written records were not a priority. In fact, the reason why we have the Nicene Creed written down is because the following ecumenical council, Constantinople I, wrote down the creed in the process of affirming Nicaea I. Therefore, here is to hopeful prayer for unplanned riches to develop in 2025, even if they won’t be seen for a long time.
Yet, there is also another sense of time other than the long game. Vatican II had its own odd twists and turns in between the first few sessions, but it still went far beyond the general assumption of just re-affirming Vatican I held by many going into Vatican II. Therefore, our own expectations for Nicaea 2025–if indeed the ‘plan’ is for more of a con-celebration of sorts rather than a new council–should nevertheless be open to the Spirit’s direction, perhaps including some measure of reconciliation that goes beyond what we imagined possible. Why shouldn’t there be a miracle at Nicaea in 2025?
Location, Location, Location
I’ve already heard some people dismiss the location for the 2025 gathering as unimportant, and what is really important are the talks themselves. Yet, I think the location of Nicaea matters a great deal. A Nicaea III, as an ecumenical council, would trump a Vatican III in terms of authoritative weight. “Well duh,” you might say, “thats what ecumenical means.” But a trip to Nicaea is also deeply fitting. Of course one shouldn’t forget the initial Patriarch churches in Jerusalem, Antioch, Constantinople, Alexandria, and Rome; and of course Vatican II was deeply important for the Catholics. However, Nicaea is not just an ecumenical home at the crossroads of Asia minor; it is also a kind of theological home. It was at Nicaea, in the first ecumenical council, that Christological reflection began to take shape leading to Trinity, and where, centuries later in the seventh and last ecumenical council, icons were determined to helpful rather than idolatrous.