Oikonomia- Beware gifts from the East

Trojan-Horse rep

Last week I attended a meeting of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy in London. It was time well spent. For the lecture, delivered by Father Dylan James, focused minds on the forthcoming Synod on the family by asking if the Eastern Orthodox pastoral practice of oikonomia, which allows for a sort of watered down re-marriage under certain circumstances, might be useful to Catholics as well.

That is certainly the feeling in certain quarters of the church, most especially where there is desire for a more liberal application regarding moral theology. And little wonder oikonomia is being heralded for a surface understanding suggests it delivers what those hungering for change desire. A ‘get out of jail free’ card. A way to ensure doctrine does not change but discipline does.

In effect oikonomia gives a nod to divorce and re-marriage for pastoral reasons without actually endorsing this position in official teaching. A point emphasised for the Orthodox within the liturgy by the fact that second and third marriages involve public penance and crowns normally placed on heads of bride and groom are placed instead on the shoulder.

On the surface a healthy compromise. So you see why it is gaining interest- for all are surely united in wanting to see mercy, love and forgiveness as clear and tangible factors in the life of the Church. But this is where we need to pause because there is no mercy without justice. And so an eye to the law and to the demands of reason and logics are also therefore essential to ensure we do not create more damage than we heal.

This is what Father Dylan helped us explore. For scrutiny suggests flaws that reveal oikonomia can be seen as theological cop out. Something that would not work for Catholics, who do not have the same structures and ways of the East, because it undermines our tribunals and runs a coach and horses through Canon Law.

After all if one can be encouraged to note official teaching whilst not actually living by it regarding marriage then why not abortion? Or the use of artificial contraception? The list is endless.

What Father James skilfully demonstrated  is that this apparent ‘golden ticket’ is nothing of the sort. Far from delivering pastoral care it threatens to undermine Catholic moral teaching and cause confusion, double standard and hypocrisy. Do we really want to set the bar according to man’s behaviour and not God’s standard? Encouraging discipline at odds with doctrine?

This is to say ‘on the one hand this but on the other that’ A remainder of Anglican days! And having witnessed first hand what happens when pastoral permissiveness, not fidelity to  Christ’s teaching, drives the agenda I  personally fear that adopting oikonomia could quickly bring down the entire edifice of Catholic moral teaching. It really is that serious.

We would be booking a ticket on the liberal express! A train that, though often driven by kind well meaning people, only ever leads us into mess and confusion. For it is driven by the desire of man not the will of God as clearly set out in scripture and tradition. And if you doubt that just ask why the orthodox allow third but not fourth marriages? There is no obvious or apparent reason.

But Father Dylan explains it all better than I. So I really do urge you to read his article to understand why the best thing the Catholic church can do is resist gifts from the East at present.

Do not forget the divorced are not barred from communion – only those entering sexual relationships when a first marriage has not been dealt with and many can be dealt with. There is, in truth, lots of mercy within Catholic teaching and practice and I would urge a simpler tribunal process over embracing practices from outside our Church. 

A Trojan Horse is being prepared I fear, pray that the Holy Spirit protects us from it and that Pope Francis has the wisdom to see it for what it is.

8 thoughts on “Oikonomia- Beware gifts from the East”

  1. Thank you, Father, for bringing Fr Dylan’s talk to our attention. You are doing sterling work with your blog. This is so important in the current atmosphere.

    Please excuse me, but is there a word or more missing between lines 2 and 3 of your last paragraph?

    God bless,
    Dorothy B

  2. I believe that most applications for an annulment are granted; I recollect reading that 90% were granted in one recent year in this country.
    If so, the first question to ask is why, so it appears, many remarriages are not preceded by applications for the annulment of the previous marriage.
    Once there are some answers to that question, even if only tentative, decisions about change (or no change) are more likely to be right.
    One answer may be that people remarrying do not wish to assert to a former spouse, and the children of a former marriage, that the former marriage was not a valid marriage at all.
    To take one specific instance, a future stepmother may well balk at starting her relationship with teenage stepchildren by getting their father to assert – in a form of judicial proceeding – that he was not really married to their mother!

    1. It is not so black and white though is it. For a start children from the first would never be viewed illegitimate. The point being that the church does not deny the civic reality of the marriage merely the sacramental aspect of it.

      1. This is interesting. I did not know that the Roman Catholic Church draws a distinction between the civic reality of a marriage and the sacramental aspect of it. The idea of some marriages that only have a civic reality, and others that have a sacramental aspect as well, seems strange to me – unless “civic reality” means no more than ‘valid under the law of the land’.

    2. I recollect reading that 90% were granted in one recent year in this country.

      That can’t be right, can it? That would mean that 90% of Catholic marriages in this country are sacramentally invalid, wouldn’t it?

      So 90% of those who think they are good Catholics are in fact living in sin because their marriages are in fact invalid?

      Or do I not understand how annulments work? I thought that an annulment was a declaration that the marriage was never valid, which means that it must have been invalid even before the annulment was applied for, right? So if a marriage is potentially annulable then it must be void even if an annulment is never applied for?

      Have I misunderstood?

  3. I’ve commented on this already, but I’ve since read a couple of articles on this subject by Orthodox bishops. They have both said, basically, that there is no Orthodox complaint about the way Rome currently handles divorce, since it fits within the Roman theological narrative – but that there would be a problem if Rome simply picked up this one bit of oikonomia and dropped it into her own Tradition and practice, because it would be like hammering a square peg into a round hole.

  4. I think that the reason the Orthodox Church does not permit a fourth marriage is because an ecumenical council ruled against this possibility … However, I don’t think anyone would accuse the Orthodox Church of being liberal! In many respect (apart from marriage discipline) they are stricter than the Roman Catholic Church. For example, their attitude to inter-communion is much less open than Rome. And their strict Lenten discipline would shock the average Roman Catholic; no meat or dairy products.

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