Something very like what I suggest has occured in Christological dialogue, with both the Coptic Orthodox (“monotheists”) [sic] and the Assyrian Church of the East {“Nestorians”), in which, laying aside the acrimonious approaches of the past, it was seen that there had been bad faith and misunderstandings in the past, and doctrinal statements were eventually agreed upon that brought our Churches to the brink of unity. ~Daniel Nichols

The Orthodoxy post at CetT that I commented on here has generated another discussion about how papal primacy might be stated in such a way as to make it more “palatable” to the Orthodox.  In the thread of this second post, Mr. Nichols said what is quoted above as a model for restating that teaching in less acrimonious or polemical ways.  Let me say straightaway that this is precisely the kind of model that makes Orthodox Christians very anxious and causes them to start looking for the exits to the ecumenical dialogue. 

But first, a couple words on papal primacy.  For such a teaching to be made more “palatable” to the Orthodox, I think it would probably have to be a very bare-bones idea of papal primacy in which the Bishop of Rome is recognised as primus inter pares of the patriarchs of the several local churches based principally on the canonical order of the ancient patriarchates that granted Rome the first place of honour and precedence.  That would be a reasonably acceptable formulation.  Overreaching historical claims about how the other churches in the first millennium regarded Rome as the moderator and arbiter of church disputes will tend not to sit well with many.  It is just such readings of St. Cyril’s appeal to Pope Celestine’s judgement in the Nestorian controversy that have left Orthodox cold.  Going much beyond that to claims of universal jurisdiction and indeed sovereignty would not go over at all.

But the example of conciliatory Catholic dialogues with non-Chalcedonian churches (i.e., the monophysites) and the Church of the East, which have been mirrored to some degree in the case of the former on the Orthodox side, is not what I would call a felicitous one if the goal is to encourage the Orthodox in pursuing reconciliation.  (Note, however, that in even these cases they were brought only to the “brink of unity,” and not to unity itself, since the guardians of non-Chalcedonian and Assyrian traditions are no more prepared to accept the councils that condemned their predecessors than Catholics and Orthodox are prepared to acknowledge their fathers as our own.)  

It should be taken as a given that I come from an anti-ecumenist jurisdiction in the Orthodox Church, so my view will not be representative of what all Orthodox today think, but after spending a fair amount of my time thinking about Christological problems of the fifth, sixth and seventh centuries I have only become more convinced than I used to be that the schisms of those centuries were not the product simply or even primarily bad faith or misunderstandings (though there may have been some of both to some degree).  I think Severos of Antioch, for example, understood perfectly well what he was saying in insisting on one nature after the Incarnation and he believed he was saying the exact same thing as St. Cyril.  He understood quite well that he was saying something very different from and opposed to the Council of Chalcedon, and this was not for lack of understanding of what the Fathers of the Council meant to say. 

For all the well-understood reasons enunciated by the Fathers of the the later ecumenical councils and afterwards, I believe he was gravely mistaken when he began speaking, for instance, of one synthetic nature of Christ.  To the extent that all non-Chalcedonian churches continue to teach such “synthetophysism,” as we might awkwardly call it, they understand the Incarnation in a significantly different way than adherents of Chalcedon do.  As for the Church of the East (as it is now irenically called), it is often said in its defense that it holds a Mopsuestian, and not a Nestorian, Christology, which to those who accept the doctrines of the Fifth Ecumenical Council is a distinction without a significant difference.  As Donald Fairbairn has convincingly shown us again in his excellent Grace and Christology in the Early Church, Theodore of Mopsuestia and Nestorios both taught a charitology that led them to teach an eccentric and, in the eyes of the Orthodox, deficient Christology that was opposed to the consensus of the Church.  If dialogue with these churches is taken as the model for Catholic-Orthodox reconciliation, I am afraid that it may be even farther off than I originally believed.