Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Catholicism and Orthodoxy again: the American experience in real life

From the lively comment thread here.
A great thing about being Catholic is on principle they don’t hate the Orthodox.
My and Jim C.’s point stands; thanks, Joseph. The range of Catholic popular opinion is from mostly ignorance and benign indifference to an acceptance that reflects Catholic teaching: it’s really the same. Educated trads see the obvious resemblance; culture-wars and liturgy-wars allies.

Rank-and-file American Catholics know little about the Orthodox because they don’t need to know; Orthodox are a small minority so it’s possible to go through life in America without knowing any, and the ones you do meet might not be religious.

Catholics on the other hand may have been and may remain America’s biggest minority and the biggest single church (outnumbered by Protestants but bigger than any one Protestant denomination). Thus Catholics almost never define themselves by badmouthing Orthodoxy. Of course all Orthodox are Greeks to most Catholics, because most American Orthodox are Greeks!

(The rank-and-file Catholics most likely to know the Orthodox exist are Ukrainian Catholics, the first East Slavs [Russians and their close cousins] and the first Byzantine Christians I knew, refugees from the war. And of course they don’t like or identify with the Orthodox, because of their history, from immigrant schisms in America 100 and 75 years ago* splitting families to the USSR stealing their Galician homeland, banning their church, and trying to force them into the Russian Orthodox Church, long a government puppet. You can call the people I knew Roman Catholics or Uniates, but never call them Russian or Orthodox, even though they’re obviously related to both. By the way, the Ukrainian Catholic story during the Soviet occupation is heroic: how a traditional Catholic church survived modern persecution by going underground. Read it and take notes.)

*Often not the immigrants’ fault! Pushed out of the church for no good reason: they wanted to keep married priests, just like in the old country, and to locally own their church property for protection, because the Roman Rite clergy were hostile to them. When you look at the Johnstown denomination of Orthodox historically, with its monsignors and First Communions, it’s obvious they didn’t want to leave. Some Catholic churchmen had a lot of explaining to do when they met their Maker.

So the Orthodox, because of the big Catholic presence in America, have to deal with Catholics and indirectly with Catholicism. (Their kids and grandkids marry outside the ethnic group, often to Catholics.) That said, ethnic Orthodox Americans rarely have a chip on their shoulder. Same range of opinion as ours, from ignorance/benign indifference to ‘that's beautiful; it’s so close’. They have nothing to prove; they know who they are (Greek, etc.) and are proud of that. (There aren’t that many Russians here; most ethnics in the Russian Orthodox denominations are descended from the immigrant schisms from the Ukrainian and Ruthenian Catholics.)

Reminds me of Owen White’s observation that being Orthodox in Greece and Russia is lot like being Catholic here, since over there they’re the big church or only church. Not like the sectarian American converts. So to a lot of them, somebody being Catholic in America makes sense.

But of course Joseph’s right that, outnumbered by Catholics worldwide and with their countries or empires historically threatened by Catholic powers in Europe, the official Orthodox narrative is largely about spiting Rome; you can find a lot of shallow, ignorant anti-Catholic rants from the old country. The convert cult drags in evangelical Protestant anti-Catholicism AND feeds off the defensive obnoxiousness of the old-country propaganda. So you get a lot of anti-Westernism. The schismatic mentality. (The late Gerard Bugge, a born Catholic who was Orthodox for a few years, called it the anti- spirit.) Online Orthodoxy is converts so there you get it in spades. Some nice, well-meaning Catholic bounces into one of their forums, being all sweetness and light about how close we are and how the Pope says nice things about the East, and gets slapped down. Happens a lot.
Antipathy to the West just seemed present in a way that (outside of apologetics circles) is simply unseen in any comparable form in Catholic circles.

Rank-and-file Orthodoxy’s really Catholic. Then you have their relative liberals in academia, the Parisian school of Russian Orthodoxy, represented in America by St Vladimir’s Seminary. (Do the nice, easygoing, Catholicky Slavic boys, the few native priestly vocations they still have**, go to St Tikhon’s in their home base, upstate Pennsylvania?) A very relative term, liberal, since they’re sound compared to Catholic Modernists and mainliners. High-church and still old-school compared to the groups I mentioned. (Editing and translating the services, not rewriting them.) But there you have that anti- spirit, that chip on their shoulder, plus assimilation, being like their liberal professor friends around the country. So they’d rather hang out with the mainline National Council of Churches People Don’t Go To Anymore, pro-abortion, homosexualist and all, and give lectures musing about women deacons, than admit they’re really Catholic. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven. It’s ethnocentrism/anti-Westernism and political correctness: anything but the old America and anything but Rome. They get a pass in academia because they’re seen as exotic. They don’t like tsarist Russian Orthodoxy*** because it’s too much like us trads: their way of hissing ‘Graceless heretics!’ at the West. They make the mainliners feel good, giving them an air of approval from antiquity, like how the Episcopalians claim apostolic succession. It also partly explains their sellout on contraception: they’re saying what the mainline was saying in the ’50s and the evangelicals say today.

**Proves that married priests aren’t a cure for the vocations slump.

***Our scholastic theology, slightly modified; our architecture; our style of painting; and their High Mass with a choir doing our Italianate operatic harmonies (but with a sad Slavic lilt; beautiful), all in an archaic language, while the congregation’s quiet or milling about doing their devotions.

(It used to be better. Once talked to a Greek-American priest who went to an Episcopal seminary in the ’50s after being ordained. He told me there were lots of Catholic-minded Episcopal priests there then who really cared what he thought. He went to a reunion recently. That’s gone.)

P.S. I don’t know Rod Dreher in person and am not one of his online haters, but it strikes me that as far as I know from his posts over the years, he’s never hung out with ‘real’ Orthodox, Greeks or Slavs. Never joined a Greek or Slavic parish. Always the convert world. You can say it’s the same as other ethnics sticking together; why can’t the few Anglo-Saxon Orthodox do the same? (Practical too: Greek parishes often speak Greek.) Still, it makes me go hmm. (For those who don’t know: he’s a born mainliner who was Catholic for about 15 or 20 years; the priestly underage gay sex scandal and coverup shook him so much he switched to the Orthodox; I’ll add that the scandal hurt him especially because he's a father. We obviously don’t agree, but like him now, I’m wary of churchmen. Be wise as serpents.) Ethnics are normally not defensive; the small, probably waning convert cult hates our guts. But, being a polite WASP (plus he really knows better?), he doesn’t seem to hate us like they do.


  1. +Philip took the Antiochians out of the NCC some time ago with a single phrase: "Enough is enough."

    The old lion is inelegant and heavy-handed and up to his eyeballs in Old Country synod politics but he has kept his flock out of what were proved in retrospect to be some serious trainwrecks.

    History will be good to +Philip notwithstanding his impassioned detractors because by golly, the old boy just keeps getting proved right.

    1. Though I was horrified by much of what those "impassioned detractors" were up in arms about a few years ago, I have been coming around to your point of view on Metr Philip. Not only has he avoided some train wrecks, but some of his ventures that others confidently thought would be train wrecks have worked out all right (e.g. bringing in the Evangelical Orthodox).

      "Inelegant and heavy-handed" indeed, but he is still standing and his jurisdiction is (by Orthodox diaspora standards) thriving, as nearly as I can tell.

  2. Rank-and-file Orthodoxy’s really Catholic

    You keep saying that, but I'm still not buying it. If that were true, I think the "Uniate" project would have a lot more traction than it has had.

    I have to ask, also, just what "rank-and-file Orthodoxy" really means. If there is an "Orthodoxy of the people" that is somehow distinct from the teaching of the hierarchy, the public confession of the Orthodox Churches, and the concrete Tradition of the Church, then is that truly "Real Orthodoxy"? Think for a moment what "rank-and-file Catholicism" would mean: a Catholicism in which Humanae Vitae does not exist and which is long on Moral Therapeutic Deism and short on any genuine belief in the Real Presence. I should hesitate, if I were you, to appeal to "the rank and file" to find the confessional identity of any Church.

    Finally, I wonder whether you are seeing hatred of Catholicism where there is only genuine and principled theological disagreement, based on real differences in the public confessions of the two Churches. If, as you believe, "the Orthodox are really Catholic but won't admit it," then what Orthodox see as principled disagreement, you can't see and must attribute to an irrational emotion such as hatred. That does not make it so.

    1. The Uniate project at first did! It wasn't just Galicia but much of the rest of the Ukraine (including Kiev; the metropolitan signed onto the 1596 union) and Byelorussia. Tsarist Russian expansion and persecution whittled it down to Galicia, owned by Poland until the USSR stole it. (Most Uniates are Ukrainian Catholics.) That said, other attempts, such as the French Assumptionists in Greece and the small Russian Catholic project after a few intelligentsia converted on their own, failed spectacularly. You have the Melkites of course (a fair number of Arab Christians), and beyond Byzantium, the Chaldeans are Iraq's No. 1 church, bigger than their Nestorian parent. (All Eastern Catholics are 2% of all Catholics.)

      By rank-and-file Orthodoxy of course I don't mean the equivalent of Catholic Modernism as a 'people's church' vs. the hierarchy. I mean the basic creeds, doctrines (Trinity; Jesus is true God and true man) and practices, from the Mass (and a traditional Mass at that) to prayer for the dead to devotion to the saints and to images, we share. On that level, the experience of a older Greek in his village, a older Slavic-American at his OCA parish in an old steel town, and an Irish-American Catholic at my Mass are very, very similar. We believe that sacramentally we're the same. It's abundantly obvious. Things like the mechanics (?!) of the procession of the Holy Spirit, essence vs. energies, and created vs. uncreated grace? Catholicism's right; not really issues. Orthodox controversialists are picking a fight where there is none. The rank and file on both sides have no idea what those are about. Both believe Communion's the true Body and Blood and that Panagia/Bogorodista's all holy; they're obviously not Protestants. (Or a Catholic-minded minority duking it out in a Protestant denomination: the Anglo-Catholic story.) No, it's that the Orthodox aren't under Rome and being Orthodox is part of being name-the-ethnicity (like being Catholic's part of being Mexican).

      Sure, there's such a thing as 'genuine and principled theological disagreement, based on real differences in the public confessions of the two Churches'. The scope of the Pope's the real difference. Hatred of Catholicism is all over online Orthodoxy, among at least a few converts in person, and an ethnic or two.

      So as a Missouri Synod Lutheran cousin of ours, what do you think is the true church? The LCMS's 'close communion', itself and similar confessional Lutherans, full stop? I'm guessing you still think Orthodoxy and, in some sense, we are still in, though in error, like in the well-meaning high-Anglican branch theory. (You take the pre-'Reformation' churches' consensus and indeed get Catholicism more or less.)

  3. Catholicism's right; not really issues.

    With respect, saying "not really issues" is not what Catholicism says; it's what "the Young Fogey's version of Catholicism" says. To take just one issue, the double procession of the Holy Spirit tanquam ab uno principio is Roman Catholic dogma: dogmatized at the Council of Florence, confirmed by the Pope, and recited in the Church's public confession of faith at every Mass. And it is rejected as heresy by the Orthodox Church. It is disingenuous to say that "it's not really an issue." The same could be said of purgatory, created grace, and (a fortiori) the Papal claims. The two Churches teach differently on all of these, and one or both of the Churches have made them a matter of Church-dividing dogma.

    So as a Missouri Synod Lutheran cousin of ours, what do you think is the true church?

    I'm not sure. If I were sure, I'd be Catholic or still Orthodox (depending on which I was sure of). I rather resent the fact that I am expected to decide that question, as if my personal reading of theology and Church history would ever be enough to give the right answer.

    I'm still "Orthodox enough" that the "true Church" question resolves to "which Church is the true Church in this place," or, as I sometimes put it, "Will the real Orthodox bishop of Boston please stand up?". I think if the Orthodox were ever to give me a straight answer to that question, I might very well go back. (Don't hold your breath.)

    So, are you sure which is the true Church? And if you are sure, how did you manage to decide the question?

    1. I don't buy the anti-Westernism or the sellout on contraception so I'm a Catholic.

  4. For my part, it seems like a lot of the more virulent form of anti-Roman anti-Westernism is dying down, at least online. A good many of us Orthodox converts have the difference narrowed down to a few points, starting with Young Fogey's trademarked "scope of the pope," which, if fixed, would resolve the rest of the differences nearly overnight. That is, if the pope were to return to his traditional role of presiding over Councils (though he never really did make it to one of the Ecumenical ones) and hearing appeals and left the actual defining of dogma and doctrine up to the Ecumenical Councils (which, being Orthodox, I would argue he hasn't been able to do since the schism) the remaining dogmatic differences (IC and purgatory are fine as pious opinion) would no longer be dogma.

    A big cause of some of the anti-anti-Western backlash has been the treatment of St. Augustine by some of the more vocal and vicious of the anti-Western crowd. The insistence of some that St Augustine of Hippo is not a saint merely because he might have made some errors is ridiculous (witness no similar accusations against St Gregory of Nyssa coming from the same quarters).

    1. Thanks for your comment. Interesting about the Pope never presiding in person at the first ecumenical councils, the ones the Orthodox accept as defined doctrine (some add two medieval councils to come up with nine ecumenical councils, the late Fr Serge [Keleher] explained to me). Thanks for reminding me. (The Catholic claims don't depend on his being present at those councils but interesting anyway.) And THAT reminds me: we trads are actually papal minimalists. We're not that different from you! A laissez-faire papacy in which immemorial custom, the traditional Catholic religion, largely runs itself is fine with me. (Better than Vatican II.) A lot like Orthodoxy, ¿no? That said, when you look at how papal infallibility's been used in recent centuries, we in the Catholic Church don't see a heavy-handed use of power; quite the opposite. In 200 years it's only been used twice, both times to define something Catholics already believed for centuries: the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption. I wouldn't have minded if they remained pious opinions but don't oppose them nor their definition as doctrine. To me they seem interesting asides, theological add-ons, related to the main point that Jesus is true God and true man so Mary is the Mother of God (Theotokos/Bogoroditsa - correcting an earlier comment of mine, that's the right transliterated spelling of the Slavonic/Russian Богородица), per the Council of Ephesus we both believe in. (And Panagia, what Greeks call Mary, of course means all-holy.) Not new doctrine but developed thought in continuity with already defined doctrine; how Catholicism works. Thanks for calling out the double standard about St Augustine.

    2. I'm an Orthodox convert and I agree entirely (100%) with Michael. The anti-Westerners are starting to move to the sidelines in American Orthodoxy.

      The "rank-and-file" claim is BS. I have personally found far more anti-Romanism among pious ethics than among converts. It exists both places, to be sure. But where it is found among converts it is usually the result of parroting something said by an ethnic. Not to mention "rank-and-file" as an argument strikes me as entirely "no true Scotsman"-esque.

      We are two churches with some differences in both dogma and praxis. The biggest one is the place of the Pope's authority. There are others. We should be frank about both our difference and our commonality. And I hope this frankness will not be confused for antipathy.

  5. Anti-Orthodoxy is alive and well in Catholic circles: one only has to count how many times the Orthodox are dismissed as mere puppets of their governments (as if Catholicism, especially colonial-era Catholicism, had no failings in this regard) or how many Catholics routinely reason that Orthodox are Orthodox only because they don't want to be Catholic, it's all about "being ethnic" and "being ignorant".

    As for "Catholicism and Orthodoxy are the same", I don't think even the Holy See buys that: one only has to remember how the CDF shot down the Zoghby initiative in 1997, or how the CDF has not given official approval to the Ravenna Document to this very day (it is "not an official declaration of Church teaching", as the Vatican webpage on it clearly states), or how the brand-new official Ukrainian Catholic catechism "Christ our Pascha" accepts the Western Councils (Florence, Vatican I) as Ecumenical Councils.

  6. On Catholicism and Orthodoxy, one might wish to read this article and the ensuing comments, especially the marvellously lucid comments at the end of the thread by Matthew Baker:


Leave comment