The current juridical situation in Anglicanism closely resembles, at least in fragmentation, the present state of Orthodoxy. One might say that Rome has managed to avoid this frenetic competition among jurisdictions by eschewing Conciliarism in the 16th century.
This is something which must be soberly considered by those proposing Conciliarism as the juridical model for 2011 AD. Are the benefits of Conciliarism worth the obvious difficulties which allows competing jurisdictions. Some of the questions raised by this decision are written about by Fr. Ernesto’s September 25th post in his series on Conciliarism in Orthodoxy. Fr. Orthohippo
There is a most interesting fact that points to a very interesting idea. Do you realize that the Orthodox have never appointed a replacement Patriarch of the West? There are many Eastern Orthodox Churches in the West. There are many Metropolitans in the West. There are various jurisdictions in the West. But, there is no universally recognized autocephalous autonomous Church in the West. (I say universally recognized because the Orthodox Church in America has not achieved that status yet.) Why is that?
I have no overt theological proof. But, we do believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in the Church. And here is an interesting point. There has been no long-lasting Eastern Orthodox agreement about there being more than Seven Ecumenical Councils. I am convinced that this is because the Holy Spirit has been mounting a restraining influence that keeps speaking to the Church and saying that in some indecipherable way, the Church is not whole enough to have an Ecumenical Council until such a time as the Roman Church (and maybe also the Oriental Orthodox) is re-united with its brother patriarchates. (I apologize Fr. Greg, but I do believe that the agreement between Romans and Eastern Orthodox about the Oriental Orthodox and the Copts has some accuracy to it. Having said that, I am open to some of the conversations that appear to point to a reunification that recognizes that both cultural and linguistic misunderstandings may have played a prominent part in the divisions after Chalcedon. But, ultimately, we are the Church.)
And it is the evidence of that very restraining influence over the Church that has preserved the faith of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Apostles in its fullest form that gives me the most hope that God is at work arranging matters in such a way that there is indeed hope of reunification. There are those Eastern Orthodox who try to argue for further Ecumenical Councils. But, the bottom line is that their arguments have not been accepted. There are those who argue that as the Church we can hold an Ecumenical Council without any other Christians present. That argument is juridically correct, nevertheless, the Holy Spirit has yet to allow such an united viewpoint to develop and has yet to allow another council to be named as ecumenical among us Eastern Orthodox. (In other words, there has been no universal reception among the Eastern Orthodox of any further ecumenical councils.)
In other words, going by the historical evidence, it appears that God Himself in some way considers that his Body is so fractured that they cannot fully accurately listen to him until there is some measure of reunification. This does not mean that there is no visible Church. Nor does it mean that there are various visible Churches. Either statement is not only not accurate, but militates against the possibility of Truth. Rather, it does mean that there is a Church that is true and is a remnant. And, that is the Eastern Orthodox family of jurisdictions. But, just like in the Old Testament, in some mysterious way, that true and faithful remnant is somehow a remnant like the tribes of Judah and Benjamin without the 10 other tribes. Something was missing in the Kingdom of Judah without those tribes, and various of the prophets say so, especially Jeremiah. Somehow, as various Orthodox saints have stated, we may know where the Church is, but we do not know all who are within her.
It also does not mean that no further “true” decisions can be made. There is broad agreement among the Orthodox about various Encyclical letters. Nevertheless, there are also arguments among the Orthodox about people such as Saint Gregory Palamas. There is absolute and universal agreement that he is a saint. But, there is significantly less than universal agreement that all his teachings are true, or perhaps I should say that all the later developments of his teachings are true. And, that is only one example.
What it does mean is that apparently the Holy Spirit has not chosen to “support,” in the fullest way that the Holy Spirit can, any further councils as having a truly ecumenical status. Various people can argue all they want that there are further ecumenical councils. But, if the Church (the Eastern Orthodox) do not even among themselves agree on further ecumenical councils, then the juridical and formal arguments all have a tendency to fall flat to the ground.
And, the way it has worked out in history is that the Eastern Orthodox have never appointed another Patriarch of the West. In other words, they have not felt free to declare that the Pope of Rome is so outside the Church that he needs to be replaced. That is, the Pope of Rome may be outside the Church, nevertheless the Roman Church is not yet dead or at least not so dead that it is time to declare that the see of Rome is totally vacant and in need of replacement. And, that is an interesting spiritual conundrum. On the one hand we can make our juridical arguments. On the other hand, the actual and the spiritual realities do not agree with those who propound juridical arguments.