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Very Brief Observation on Continents

Pertinent both to the Pan-Orthodox Synod and yesterday’s post on the “Doctrine of Discovery”, albeit obliquely, is the concept of ‘continents’. I was first intrigued by international disagreement on this seemingly obvious issue during the Great Jubilee of 2000, when the logo was presented:

Within a sphere formed by black capital letters which read “Iubilaeum A.D. 2000”, on a background of a blue circle, representing the earth, there is a cross sustaining humanity on the five continents represented by doves of different colours. The cross is made up of the same colours as the doves to indicate the mystery of the Incarnation: Christ takes on our human condition, “becoming like us”. [emphasis mine]

Now, as any American elementary school pupil can tell you, there are seven continents: Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America.

But since the cross is sustaining humanity, the doves are meant to reflect the inhabited continents, excluding Antarctica (though i think that white dove would represent perfectly the home of the penguins). That still leaves one out.

Instead, the Vatican tends to take the position of the Latin Americans, that “America” is a single continent from Nunavit to Tierra del Fuego.

In deference to this ideology, in Italian, as in many romance languages, people from the United States are not called “Americans” (and the afore mentioned latinoamericanos would insist “we are all Americans!”), but are statunitense, literally, “UnitedStatesians”, which clearly does not work at all in English. However, Mexico is also a “United States”, as well as a dozen other countries which have been, at one point in their recent history, also officially called the “United States of Somewhere”, including Brazil. Only one country in the world has the word “America” in it’s name, however, so “American” is actually more specific to a country than is “United Statesian” – though i tend to avoid it now for diplomatic reasons.

If we take the definition offered by most dictionaries: “large landmasses separated by others by oceans or seas” it seems obvious, but it gets complicated, and explained succinctly and humorously by the internet’s great “explainer of things”, CGP Grey:

One thing is clear: there is no justifiable reason to treat Europe as a separate continent from Asia, as there is no water separating them (as there is between the Americas, and between Africa and Eurasia, or Eurasia and Australia, etc). At minimum, if you are going to combine the Americas, you cannot possibly consider Europe anything other than a subcontinent or a political-cultural identity.

So, there are clearly six: Africa, Antarctica, Australia, Eurasia, North America, and South America.

Now, how does it relate to ecclesiology? Well, Vatican II considered it a possibility to establish new patriarchates – really new particular ritual churches – and the Orthodox have already done so. Consider some of the ancient patriarchates, like the Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, etc. Why not a patriarch of Los Angeles and All North America, of São Paolo and All South America, etc.? At the least, it makes for a fun thought-exercise.


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