Patriarch Maximos IV was a legendary figure at the Second Vatican Council. He was a representative of the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches and a Patriarch of the Greek Melkite Church. Moreover, he was a champion for the Eastern Rites, and a deeply insightful advocate for diversity within unity. He is probably most remembered for his campaign against “Latinization,” something that is still debated. I would like to focus on one of my favorite quotes of Patriarch Maximos IV, because It continues to be relevant today.
If to be Catholic, one must renounce one’s liturgy, hierarchy, patristic tradition, history, hymnography, art, language culture, and all of one’s spiritual heritage, in order to adopt the rite, philosophical and theological thoughts, religious poetry, culture, and the spirituality of a given group, albeit the best, the Church would no longer be the great gift of God to humanity. Instead it would become a human institution that is closely associated with the interests of one group, and would no longer be the true Church of Christ.
If the Catholic Church is a strong institution, why would it resist diversity within its ranks? Patriarch Maximos had no intention of assimilating the Latin rite into the Greek, but rather he fought for the right of the Eastern Catholics not to be assimilated into the Latin Church. Maximos respected the rite of the Latins, but clearly spoke against the Latin Rite being the “Catholic Ideal.” To paraphrase his great words: If to be Catholic, one must assimilate, cast off our identities, and conform to one ideal, than this Catholic Church is surely not great, or what Christ intended it to become.
As an American, I think that Maximos IV’s criticism strikes deep. The practice of Latinization is redolent of pure colonialism, only with humans claiming inspiration from God as its justification. I believe Emma Lazarus’s famous poem on the Statue of Liberty, in contrast, describes the American ideal:
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
I am missing where this beautiful piece says, “but first behave like a white European who speaks English.”
Christ himself says this, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, NASB). There is no asterisk which states, “but first be a Thomist, and you must learn Latin to worship me properly.”
To be clear, I deeply love and respect the Roman Rite I was raised in; I continue to worship in the Roman Rite. I believe that there are beautiful particulars to the Roman Rite, such as a celibate clergy, although that is a non-essential. I also believe that Unitatis Redintegratio clearly states the essentials, especially in discussing the special position for the Eastern Orthodox Churches (UR 14-18). The Roman Rite should not be held up as the purest form of Catholicism. The Eastern Rites, and all others non-Roman rites should not be seen as “fringe-groups,” but as shining stars illuminating the ideals of a diverse Universal Church.
If the Catholic Church is truly the Universal Church, it must claim unity in essentials, but allow diversity in non-essentials. Christian unity should never be an assimilation of all the Christian faithful into one particular expression, but a perfect harmony of non-essentials within one Church. Truly, this must be the work of God, because we as Christians continually get it wrong.
I invite you to reflect on every one of the regimes, political parties, and zealous groups throughout history who believed in striving toward one monolithic and undifferentiated worldview. Who were they? What did they stand for? How did they justify their positions? Who and/or what was sacrificed to achieve this “greater good”? How did that impact the world?
This is not the Catholicism that I long to experience.