Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Catholicism and Orthodoxy again: Chris Jones again

On this link from Bill Tighe on an Anglo-Catholic’s long road into the church, the local libs turning him off at first.
For in the view over twenty centuries of Christian history, how could "Rome" not be Christ's Church? The question had only to be asked to see the answer.
I find it infuriating when someone says "to ask the question is to answer it" when it is obvious that the person has not actually examined the question in any depth at all. One may conclude that "twenty centuries of Christian history" are a slam-dunk for Rome only by passing very lightly indeed over the first ten of those centuries.

The author is yet another Protestant who converts to Catholicism without ever, apparently, giving any notice at all to Orthodoxy. I can understand how someone can examine the claims of Rome and Orthodoxy and honestly decide that Rome's are the stronger; I cannot understand how someone can give the verdict of history to Rome while ignoring Orthodoxy altogether.

This is a shallow article that does not even answer the question in its title. If the author were going to accept the claims of Rome on the basis of such a facile view of Church history, why indeed did he not do so decades ago? It would have saved a lot of trouble.

I respect the Roman Catholic Church and I have no quarrel with those who conclude in good conscience that her claims are true (emphatically including my Catholic friends on this list). But I do not believe that the specifically historical case in her favour is any more than generally plausible. That is why I am infuriated by shallow and facile appeals to history such as this article makes.
But on this scale of history, the agitprop of a Luther or a Calvin became a farce. These were obsessions from some narrow place and time.
... this time theologically rather than historically vapid.

Now I hate Calvin just as much as the next man, and even Luther I am not all that fond of, considering that I am a Lutheran. But it is hardly fair to reduce the theological thought of these men to "agitprop," and to intimate that their conclusions were only a reaction to the human flaws of the Church, rather than to serious theological issues. One may certainly conclude, at the end of the day, that they were wrong in their theological conclusions, but it is not necessary or accurate to say that they were not intellectually and theologically serious men who struggled honestly with the real theological issues that late mediaeval Catholicism presented.

And what the hell does "obsessions from some narrow place and time" mean? On what grounds does the author believe that early sixteenth-century Germany was a "narrow" place and time? This seems to me to be a cheap and insupportable psychological shot at Luther.

I could respect an article that says "I believe that Catholicism is right on the merits and Luther (or Calvin, or the Orthodox, or whoever) is wrong, and here is why." This is not that article. All that this article says is, it just feels right.
Sorry but although the Orthodox have much beautiful to reteach the West and they often do get shortchanged, fact is Westerners don’t need to know. Catholicism is not just the church. It’s Western civilization. Islam left Byzantium a backwater. Not feeling. Historical fact.


  1. Catholicism is not just the church. It’s Western civilization.

    You say that as if it were a good thing. Being a "civilization" is not the mission that Christ gave his Church. If men are more civilized because of the influence of the Gospel, all well and good; but it is a side effect, not the Church's raison d'être. To the extent that the Church concerns herself with being, or promoting, a "civilization" she is neglecting her mission.

    Historically, of course, Orthodoxy is as susceptible to that temptation as Rome (if not more so).

  2. First century Palestine was a backwater, too. Nothing wrong with backwaters simply because they are nor where all the action is at. Neither is lack of worldly power or numbers required of Christ's followers.

    And western civ is great but it's not the definition of great, and its greatness is not without serious flaws and open to question - it also has little to nothing to do with the question at hand.

  3. Islam left Byzantium a backwater.

    As noted, not really germane. I'd note that Islam threatens to render Europe a backwater as well, even as the Church to which Charles Martel once belonged rolls out the welcome mat for it.

    For that matter the Catholic Church is increasingly no longer Western, but Central and South American.

    Rome could very well end up exactly like Byzantium: a tiny, Christian ghetto in a Muslim/atheist sea, dependent on remittances from diaspora Spanish-speakers, and clinging to dreams of long-dead empire.

  4. I truly lament the loss of the liturgical patrimony of the West; that you are among the few who strive to keep lit the flame of its glory is admirable. Perhaps with the internet and new media it will not dissipate as did other patrimonies, but I doubt it.
    And, there's a sound, logical and consistent understanding that this loss is the blame of the modern Papacy, and so long as those such as yourself place the Papacy above your patrimony, you reduce yourself to being an enabler of its destruction.

    1. I think I know the 'traditionalist case against the modern papacy', or 'blame the Pope for the council'. As Archbishop Lefebvre said, it was a masterstroke of Satan to order disobedience to tradition in the name of obedience. Distrust people in the official church? You bet. Bishop Williamson's on his own (he recommends The Poem of the Man-God, which the church condemned in the ’50s, so he only speaks for himself) but he has a point. The temptations to sedevacantism, where you accept the Pope in principle but believe there hasn't been a real one for 50+ years ('the last Pope was Pius XII'), or to accept Orthodoxy's claim to be the church are understandable. Again, Orthodoxy's grassroots traditionalism, a folk Catholicism, is wonderful; something to reteach Western Catholics. But here's the rub. If Catholicism's been false for 1,000 years, which Orthodoxy teaches, why care about its patrimony? Caring about Catholicism's patrimony acknowledges Catholicism's truth.

      The current eclipse of the church in the West doesn't erase the fact that Catholicism has fulfilled the Great Commission. (A reason the church is Western civilization besides being the church.) Orthodoxy hasn't; it's limited really to Eastern Europe.

    2. I don't think there's unanimity or consensus in Orthodoxy that "Catholicism's been false for 1,000 years" in toto. By far the largest of Orthodox churches (Russia) accepts Catholic ordination, baptism and confirmation and does not even always require chrismation of Catholics. Swiss Catholic Hieromonk Fr. Gabriel Bunge was received into the Russian Orthodox Chruch by declaration of faith and vesting. The dean of students at STOTS in the US was received in the same way. The Greeks and Antiochians in the US have effectively the same position when it comes to non-Orthodox sacraments, as well. Such differences are on the agenda to be discussed by the Orthodox Bishops in North America in their Episcopal Assembly and the differing practices of other local churches is respected. I don't mean to imply there's consensus that RC sacraments are fully valid, either, just that it's still an open question (even among Athonite monasteries thought the tilt toward complete non-recognition).

      In that context, the patrimony of the Western Church is worth caring about. What that means in practice is a very different question. The analogy in reverse in the West is how the Latin church deals with married Eastern Rite clergy residing in the West.

      This argument from numbers and how good or broad our numbers are over others is so specious. I have to accept that whatever protestations there are, it must be a major component of people's reasoning. It's as if the Great Commission is a 'race to the top' program. By such rationale, Islam will soon be the most true religion because it has the most believers. It's little different than the colonial argument implicitly underlying a lot of mission work: the West is rich and powerful which means our religion is right and yours is wrong. Besides, the promises surround the Great Commission and the end of the world do not require depth of numbers (>1 seems to fit the bill, minimally), they simply require the Gospel be preached to all nations. Doesn't even require converts. It also ignores Orthodoxy's claims to be in direct line with all those pre-schism nations (not just pre-1054, but pre-Chalcedon and pre-Ephesus), not to mention the rather blurry borders of Orthodox ecclesiology mentioned above and the fact of St. Isaac of Syria being out of communion with the Chalcedonians and in the calendar of those same Chalcedonians. It also ignores the very real presence of Orthodox Christians around the world - while admitting such can often be ghetto parishes it is not always the case, and intermarriage can 'indigenize' a church as much as mass evangelism outreach can. By way of analogy, was Rome just an ethnic church when the vast majority of its faithful lives in traditionally Catholic countries in Europe prior to colonialism and its mixed legacy re evangelism? What about when it really just represented one apostolic foundation among the many in the East? Arguing from numbers is too easy, and too trite, and too common. (Orthodox arguing against the Oriental Orthodox, Old Calendarists, or the Old Believers is similarly trite. Interestingly, it was part of the successful argument within ROCOR that led to its reincorporation into the Church of Russia.)

    3. Just erased a long post, but that's probably for the best.

      In short, there is no consensus within Orthodoxy that Catholicism in toto has "been false for 1,000 years", and vice versa, of course. Russia has more believers than all other local Orthodox churches combined (with as equally poor an attendance rate as the RCC in most traditionally Catholic countries) and they recognize RC orders, confirmation and baptism as seen in the fact that RC priests are accepted by vesting and declaration of faith, in the main, the same with many lay converts, e.g., Fr. Gabriel Bunge, the dean of students at STOTS in the OCA, and the practical reality of convert reception in the GOA and AOCANA, etc. So, there can be quite a lot in a seperated church's patrimony that may be important and true. How that respect works in practice, how error is divided from truth, and how sometimes competing truths are handled pastorally is just as difficult and messy in Orthodoxy as it is in the RCC, e.g., how Eastern Rite married priests are treated in Latin Rite territory.

      The argument from numbers that seems at least implicit in "Catholicism has fulfilled the Great Commission" is just so tiresome. The Turks made that argument when Christianity was on the run, colonialist missionaries preached the same to their poor, less technologically advanced targets, so do Protestants in traditionally Catholic countries, and secular materialists, etc. Of course, such an argument was not made when Rome represented but one of the multitude of apostolic foundations in the world and its rather unique views of its own rights were found only in the countries of the West. None of which is meant to extol the virtue of being and remaining and accepting as inevitable or required the 'small church in the upper room' paradigm, it's just that it doesn't prove what everyone always wants it to prove when they bring it up - even when they follow it up with a hollow "of course I don't believe numbers and power and wealth equals truth" when that's exactly what was meant (as long as no one called them on it and it scored a point with someone who didn't think too hard about it and didn't know much about the Bible or Church history).

    4. When a great limb from a large tree is sawed off, it isn't immediately dead. It still has sap, and can even produce another yield of flower. Over time, it will die and crumble to dust; but to remember the limb in its magnificence when is a part of the tree, to lament the sawing, and to recognize the reality of its slow corruption, is different than saying it has no value the moment it was sawed off.

      In like manner do Orthodox view the Western patrimony. We can appreciate the millenium long decay, without accepting any validity of those who did the sawing, and still wield the saw. However, we do bring one grace-filled difference into our view - that the power of Christ through His Church can restore that branch and repair the result of the sawing. It is not inevitable that the limb of the West will crumble to dust; and it is this hope which informs Orthodox in many dealings with the West. Thus did St. John Maximovitch urge exiled Russians to discover the "life" of the West before the sawing, in all the great Orthodox saints in the West in the first millenium, and to see the presence of God everywhere, even while holding fast so that the fullness of God in the Church is not diluted.

  5. If Catholicism's been false for 1,000 years, which Orthodoxy teaches, why care about its patrimony? Caring about Catholicism's patrimony acknowledges Catholicism's truth.

    Yes, caring about Catholicism's patrimony is an acknowledgment that Catholicism retains much of the truth. And it is an acknowledgment that the Western liturgical, ascetic, intellectual, and theological expression of the Faith can be perfectly valid, as long as it expresses the Orthodox faith without the errors of Rome. The errors of Rome are specific, and relatively few. There is no need to condemn the entire heritage of the Western Church in order to guard against those specific errors, and Orthodoxy does not condemn it.

    In short, it is not right to say that Orthodoxy teaches that "Catholicism is false" tout court. She teaches that Catholicism has made, and persists in, certain specific errors. That is different from simply saying that Catholicism is "false."

    1. Catholicism and Orthodoxy have the same true-church claim, but believing that Orthodoxy is false tout court isn't allowable in Catholicism. The reverse is allowable in Orthodoxy, as reading convert message boards makes clear.

    2. Well, there's the problem: reading convert message boards as if they are authoritative. Prime example of comparing the most nuanced of one tradition with the least nuanced of another.

    3. Believing that Orthodoxy's 'absolutely null and utterly void' is not an option in Catholicism. It has real bishops and a real Eucharist. Again, sacramentally we're the same. But there is a strict, narrow allowable opinion in Catholicism that Fr Leonard Feeney was famous for, parallelling hardline Orthodox: believing that everybody outside the visible church is going to hell.

      I understand Western Orthodoxy's basis in Orthodoxy's true-church claim, but setting up a small imitation Catholic Church and claiming it's the real one is ridiculous. That said, the Antiochian Western Riters are nice, Catholic-friendly, mirroring Catholicism's positive teaching on the Orthodox. Lots of them are Anglo-Catholic alumni; they're like nice high-Episcopal churchmen in the ’50s, Tridentine ceremonially, so we're simpático, but with the Tractarians' well-meant suspicion of the papacy and its doctrinal development. The ROCOR one's so anti-Western (they're likely to believe Catholicism's false tout court) and byzantinized I don't know why they bother. (In any event it's very small. Most ROCOR people are fine, just happy to be Russian.) Or they do recently cobbled-together anglicanized services. The Antiochian Western Riters mostly use the old Tridentine Anglican missals I want the ordinariates to use.

    4. Both churches allow for and proclaim themselves alone to be the True Church. Seriously, you believe Orthodoxy teaches that Rome is false in every particular, full stop, and nothing else? Seriously? There are plenty of arguments for Rome and against Orthodoxy, no need to make any up or chose the worst ones to hang one's hat on.

    5. I answered this above.

    6. Strawmen, canards, and stereotypes.

      Great, Rome teaches that Orthodoxy's sacraments are valid. She also very clearly states in William Cardinal Levada's “Response to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church” that while Rome recognizes the sacraments and Apostolic Succession of the Orthodox Churches, they “lack something in their condition as particular churches” because of their separation from Rome. That lack is, of course, communion with the see of Peter which is other places is a required mark of the Church. So, you have sacraments but you aren't Church, not really. Not as beneficent and ecumenical sounding when put that way.

      In the same document, William Cardinal Levada recognizes that Christians outside of the Roman Church may be saved, which is basically the doctrine Orthodoxy espouses, too. For that matter, those in the Church only may be saved, too, it's not like membership confers automatic salvation in either communion.

      Ironically, the Russian Church agrees with the Cardinal's document in that “The Orthodox Church is, according to Apostolic Succession, successor and heir to the old, undivided Church. Which is why everything contained in the Catholic document rightfully applies to the Orthodox Church,” according to Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad (now Patriarch Kirill of Moscow).

    7. (Continued)

      The Orthodox Western Rite is controversial within Orthodoxy for much the same reason as you state above. Note, Orthodox ecclesiology would seem to call for the establishment of an Orthodox Patriarchate of Rome in much the same way a Patriarchate of Constantinople was maintained abroad when the Franks were in possession of the city itself. The same was done for other sees when they were in the hands of others and residency was not possible, whether Persian, Muslim, or Latin. But, Orthodoxy has not. Many see the establishment of Western Rite parishes in the same way: too much like "setting up a small imitation Catholic Church and claiming it's the real one". Others simply acknowledge the difficulty of dividing what is good and laudable from what may be influenced by error in the Western tradition and are loathe to try and manufacture an Orthodox Western Rite from archaeology (and therefore out of context) or from the Western context (with the difficulty of determining baby from bathwater). The former pertains to ROCOR's preference for pre-Schism rites and the latter applies to the Antiochian practice of 'reforming' Tridentine and Anglican rites. As to the ROCOR WR believing Catholicism is false tout court, again, that's hypoerbole. More to your point, though, it's simply an acknowledgment of the problem of 'reforming' the living organism of a rite. Oddly, to me, the same critique can be used of ROCOR's preferred, archaeological method. How can one understand a living rite outside of its context. The analogy is the near impossibility of serving a legitimate Byzantine Rite cycle of services with only the service books. There's so much that would be lost or assumed or made-up that it really becomes something on its own distinct from a living rite. And all that is, of course, the argument for simply sticking with the Byzantine Rite for all/most converts: it comes with context, it's a living tradition. Of course, all that is quite beside the point should the question be a reunion of churches, but those are pastoral matters more than anything else. Rome's practice on most things in similar situations would probably prevail: let each church keep their own practice, including hymns and saints that attack(ed) Rome, and the Councils of Ephesus, Chalcedon, etc.

    8. (Continued)

      Problems of ethnicity in Orthodoxy aren't problems in the traditional Orthodox countries. They are problems in the West and around the world. However, one should not that most of those churches were created by immigrants facing the typical problems of all immigrants. Much the same critique of them were made of ethnic Catholic and Protestant churches built through emigration by immigrants. One should also make a distinction between the intent of the immigrant believer/church and the immigrant worldview and community it arises from, and the subjective experience of the choices of that immigrant believer/church. That is, while an American might very well feel he is entering an ethnic ghetto, the immigrant has very purposefully changed the way things are done to be more 'American' (according to their understanding of that). The smattering of English in a typical GOA parish feels to the locals like an enormous welcome mat to the xenoi, but it feels like tokenism by a self-important ghetto to many an American who isn't already steeped in the Greek language or drawn to exoticism. Such immigrants are also seen as quite American by people back in the home country, but they are seen as foreign by Americans. It's the immigrant's perennial dilemma and it is not particular to Orthodoxy.

      It's also simply true that Orthodox ecclesiology has not yet caught up with globalization. That shouldn't be a surprise, and it isn't just Orthodoxy that has had a hard time adapting to globalization. Most churches abroad have been built either by immigrants who called back to their home churches for antimens (as would be expected) or built by missionaries from specific local churches (e.g., Greek mission parishes in non-coastal Africa) who are obviously under the bishops who sent them. Especially in communities where there are traditional Orthodox ethnic communities, this can lead to a parish becoming both church and community center. This is understandable, even if there are easy ways to walk and chew gum at the same time.

    9. Regarding Orthodox hostility to or at least unease about the Western Rite, my guess is most of it is in official circles (bishops, professors, apologists; the rank and file have never heard of it) because they really don't like the Catholic Church so they don't want to imitate it; understandable. (The rank and file: 'Want to worship that way instead of becoming Greek or Russian? OK. Be Catholic.') And that the second-biggest view is because they know they're really Catholic and know they can't set up a fake Pope in Rome.

    10. Actually, all of what you reference (in a rather skewed way) simply reinforces what Chris and I have said: Orthodoxy does not see Rome as false tout court. It sees the RCC as having fallen into specific errors. The longstanding schism reaches to levels of heresy primarily because of its longstanding intransigence, but it is unclear to Orthodoxy as a whole what that means, exactly, and given Orthodox ecclesiology that means there is no official position just local practice. Are Orders valid, are other sacraments valid, how should converts each way be understood, how would an envisioned reunion happen, what are essential errors and what are essentially local errors of opinion or practice, should laity and clergy be treated differently, what of each others' saints and visions? In reality, reticence over the WR and the rank and file's view that such people should just be Catholic is an acknowledgement that Orthodoxy does not see the RCC as "false tout court". Echoing Met. Kirill's line above, yes, the Orthodox "know they're really Catholic" and confess to be so in the Creed at every Liturgy - and they hope Rome will return to that Catholicism one day, too. FWIW, Lutherans and Anglicans "know they're really Catholic", too, and hope Rome returns to their understanding of what that means. Remember, it's Rome who has kicked all these churches out of communion with her, not the other way around. It's almost the definition of chutzpah to get indignant they remain apart and won't accept your (Rome's) olive branch to return when you and they still believe the same things about yourself and themselves as when you excommunicated them.

    11. I've been saying all along that 'the other side's a complete fraud' is an allowable Orthodox opinion but not a Catholic one, not that all Orthodox believe that. Much of the rank and file doesn't, as you said above. Regarding the bait, as you know, I know Orthodoxy says it's the church. As the late Gerard Bugge wrote, if you tell an American cab driver to take you to the nearest Catholic church, you won't end up at St Demetrios or St Vladimir's.

      Those churches (the East) and denominations (Protestants) left.

    12. At heart the East is theologically Catholic, like Rome. The Georgian and Armenian patriarchs are the Catholicos; duh. But in Russian for example, Russians are православные; католики are foreigners.

    13. I bet those are really convincing, seemingly pertinent examples to some people. The same people who think Easter is named for a pagan god.

  6. Conversely, "Rome may be the Church" is an allowable Orthodox position while "Orthodoxy is Church" is not an allowable Roman position.

    In Russia or Greece if you ask a cab driver to take you to the nearest church, they aren't going to take you to St. Francis or Immaculate Conception. Arguments from local demographics is even more useless than arguments from numbers in general. Arguments from popular adjectives are also pretty useless since Rome and Orthodoxy both claim they are orthodox and catholic, e.g., the now 'Catholic' "Baptistry of the Orthodox" in Ravenna. I guess Lutherans/Calvinists worship Luther/Calvin, too, and Buddhists believe Buddha is God.

    Sure, and the Orthodox originally believed in Rome's version of the papacy as defined by Rome, it's just no one can find any proof of it in practice (and any language used that would point that way is shown as flowery, diplomatic rhetoric since Byzantines used it of other bishops, other leaders, even those in other religions.) The Lutherans quite purposefully did not leave Rome but were excommunicated for their protest. Calvinists and Reformed did leave.

    1. 'Rome MAY BE imperfectly part of the church, with real sacraments' is allowable Orthodox opinion. So is 'Rome's a complete fraud'. The only Orthodox defined doctrine on this is 'Orthodoxy is the church and has sacraments'.

      'Orthodoxy IS imperfectly part of the church, with real sacraments' is Catholic doctrine. 'Orthodoxy's a complete fraud' is neither Catholic doctrine nor allowable opinion.

      'Both Rome and Orthodoxy are fully the church; the true church is divided' is neither Catholic or Orthodox doctrine or opinion.

      Regarding the cab ride in Russia or Greece, definitely. Culturally Orthodoxy is THE church there. Catholicism now often says something like that theologically, acknowledging that reality. Born Orthodox get the benefit of the doubt regarding schism; their churches are an estranged part of Catholicism; their bishops have apostolic authority over them.

      'Rome's version of the papacy': development of doctrine. Catholicism says it's a logical conclusion, not a change; Orthodox apologists and the old Anglican high churchmen such as the Tractarians saw/see a new or changed doctrine, which is impossible for the church to do.

      Interesting about the Lutherans. I like to say the conservative ones are our cousins; they're half-Catholic. Belief in the Real Presence similar to ours but a little less than a complete change, and they believe the presence is functional, limited to its use in Communion. The Missouri Synod for example defends crossing yourself and using the crucifix, because Luther kept them. Educated Catholics feel for the Lutherans. The Lutherans meant well but made bad mistakes, but you can understand why they made them. Chesterton: the reformer is right about what's wrong but wrong about what's right. My guess is the Lutherans passively left. Demanded changes to doctrine, which were impossible, so Rome of course said no. (For example, they don't believe in the necessity of bishops or that ordination is forever. Attempted reform: a pastor without a call isn't a pastor, instead of the priesthood's indelible character. Understandable reactions to corrupt clergy. But wrong.)

      The Anglicans did leave but weren't Protestant at first. It was like the government schism in Red China, putting the country's Catholics under state control. Because it happened at the same time as the 'Reformation', soon it became Protestant. But the point is they weren't thrown out; they quit.

    2. In Russia or Greece if you asked the cabbie to take you to the nearest Catholic church he'd probably take you to St Francis or Immaculate Conception, one of the foreigners' churches. 'The nearest church' would be the nearest Orthodox one.

  7. > We can appreciate the millennium long decay, without accepting any validity of those who did the sawing, and still wield the saw.

    Millennium long decay? So, do you believe that the Catholic Church has been a sawed-off limb since the very moment that she and Constantinople broke communion with each other?

    By that logic it would appear that Rome was also a sawed-off limb many times in the first millennium.

  8. > The author is yet another Protestant who converts to Catholicism without ever, apparently, giving any notice at all to Orthodoxy. I can understand how someone can examine the claims of Rome and Orthodoxy and honestly decide that Rome's are the stronger; I cannot understand how someone can give the verdict of history to Rome while ignoring Orthodoxy altogether.

    I too have wondered about this trait that many Protestants apparently share.


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