Monday, December 22, 2014

Orthodoxy again: Gabriel Sanchez reads David Bentley Hart

Hyper-traditionalist Catholics, intoxicated with a very myopic view of ecclesial history, may not think much of the Church’s "need" for the East.
Maybe it's because, although I'm a traditionalist, I'm not of the "hyper" persuasion, but I've never come across this attitude in person. I credit that to the "ecumenism in the trenches" as conservative Roman Riters have taken refuge in Greek Catholic churches after Vatican II (my first traditional Catholic liturgy was Ukrainian, about my only option in 1985) and so have learned about the Christian East and appreciate it, even if they don't adopt it by switching rites (some do, which is fine). Virtually every conservative Catholic I've known has felt this way.
I like to think — call it the Sophiologist in me — that the tribulations that Eastern Christianity has suffered under Islamic and communist rule have insulated it from some of the more corrosive pathologies of modernity for a purpose, and endowed it with a special mission to bring its liturgical, intellectual, and spiritual strengths to the aid of the Western Christian world in its struggle with the nihilism that the post-Christian West has long incubated and that now surrounds us all, while yet drawing on the strengths and charisms of the Western church to preserve Orthodoxy from the political and cultural frailty that still afflicts Eastern Christianity. Whatever the case, though, we are more in need of one another now than ever.
Hart's linchpin paragraph can be read in either a Catholic or an Orthodox way. At face value I'm fine with it; I was saying things like that over 15 years ago on my long, slow walk back to the church:
Although the Schism between East and West was tragic and probably preventable, it seems that God providentially has spared the Eastern Churches, including the Byzantine Rite ones of the Orthodox tradition and communion, from many of the mistakes and their consequences that have beset the West, from Eucharistic heresies (from Berengarius to the Protestants – there never have been any heresies about the Blessed Sacrament in the East) and the rise of "man-centered" rationalism to its fruits, from the Renaissance (revival of pagan thought) and the rise of private judgement (resulting in the Protestant heresies or "Reformation") to their logical results, "Enlightenment" deism and today’s secular humanism. Might there be some cracks in the foundation of Western thought that caused these problems? Fr. Seraphim (Rose) (1934-1982), an Orthodox monk, explained much of this in his writings. While one may not necessarily criticize Latin Christianity as harshly as many Orthodox (perpetuating the Schism), it seems that the living, sanctifying tradition of Orthodoxy offers the healing medicine the West needs to restore it: a holistic view of Tradition including liturgy, icons and a strong monastic life. (As good as the Roman Mass but with a mystical "kick" all its own.)
Maybe providentially the Christian East can help us out of the mess we've made for ourselves. Sed timeo Danaos et dona ferentes. In this case the "Greeks bearing gifts" are the seemingly friendly ecumenical Orthodox, recognizing our sacraments as dogmatically we do theirs. (Why talking to the Orthodox is different from talking to Protestants: they have bishops and the Mass, and all of their defined doctrine is true.) Hart's paragraph, in the mouths of such and their quisling convert "Orthodox in communion with Rome" (not to be confused with unlatinized good Catholics) tagalongs in but not of the church, really means "Dump your doctrine and join the true church."

Gabriel is wise to dissent disguised as Eastern mysticism, easy to dupe Catholics with back when ecumenism was fashionable:
Third, though the movement has not been uncontroversial, I believe it is safe to say that the Roman Catholic Church, for more than a century, has internalized a great deal of the Eastern Christian liturgical, intellectual, and spiritual deposit, albeit with mixed results. In fact, one might say that the results are “mixed” because the mixing of traditions itself was highly imprudent. An excessive fascination with “things Eastern” (or what certain theologians and reformers assumed were “things Eastern”) prompted a premature, and in my estimation damaging, abandonment of “things Western.” Certainly matters were not helped by the desire of some “broadminded clerics” to play the Christian East off against the Christian West, using inchoate theological speculations and other vagaries yanked from Patristic sources to do an end-run around Scholasticism and, some might say, the Church’s magisterium altogether.
The Orthodox liberals who hated scholasticism and claimed to liberate their church's theology from "Western captivity" (sounds like self-hating Western liberals now: exoticism) and return to the pure teaching of the Fathers were just copying OUR French liberals from before Vatican II. (Ironically, ROCOR openly hates us yet has internalized the good Catholic scholasticism the liberals hate.) In Orthodoxy, the rot has set in (their teaching on divorce and remarriage is a hash and they've caved on contraception); without the magisterium, their center (the old liturgy, Anglicanish credal orthodoxy, and ethnic folklore) won't hold.

Everything in our polity EXCEPT the papacy and the episcopate is negotiable. I think the Orthodox just won't take yes for an answer. We're working to restore married priests among Eastern Catholics in the West, the original, real reason for two waves of Slavic-American defections to the Orthodox. (In your face, liberal Protestant America: CONSERVATIVE married priests.) They won't come back, even if a later Pope finishes Benedict XVI's conservative revival.

I don't see it as Eastern vs. Western (we include the East) or the Pope vs. everybody else (the proud Russian and Balkan peoples vs. the Evil Roman Dictator). It's about a set of universal beliefs, for all, including but transcending all peoples, vs. reducing that same set of truths to boosterism for your tribe (which emperors, sultans, and atheist dictators have found convenient). The Pope has only defended that set of beliefs, so I'm with him.

If a millennium ago, God really turned his back on Western Europe ("outside of Balkan folklore there is no salvation"), despite its holding the same core beliefs as Byzantium, simply for not being under Byzantium or Russia, then he's a sicko and I'd be better off Buddhist.
“The West” is, in a Schmittian sense, the enemy which inadvertently assists the Orthodox in knowing who they are. There’s nothing salvific, or holy, about that.
Indeed, though it understandably appeals to Slavic-Americans still mad at us, and it WAS our fault, after 75 or 100 years. (The OCA thinks it's Russian.)

Commenter Stephen:
I appreciate what you’re saying here, but I’ve run across not a few Roman Catholics, priests in particular, 40-60 years and older, who are fairly uniform in their thought that Orthodox theology has remained “static”, “frozen”, “lacking in development” for that past 1000 years or so. Reasons given typically center on some perceived captivity or sloth of the Church, such as “caesaropapism”, “no councils in a while”, “lack of a magisterium”, etc. All of which they learned in their seminary formation, they tell me.
Makes Orthodoxy look good in comparison to the Novus Ordo, but the Anglican high churchmen were conservative that way too and look where it got them: Evangelicalism (lots of Anglicans are still conservative but they sure aren't Catholic), women priests, and gay marriage. ("I can't abide any Mass newer than 15th-century Sarum or office since Pius X's ghastly reform," said the aesthete to his husband and their woman priest.) Also, I detect a whiff of sucky Novus Ordo neoconservatism. Such people, talking to people like me in the '80s: "Be open to the Spirit. Give up that artsy old-fashioned stuff and become a charismatic." To my ears, it sounds like Episcopalianism that happens to have a Pope.

That said, Newman's theory is right, and I don't believe the church went mute for a millennium; we can clarify but not change doctrine like Protestants can.

The Orthodox, estranged Catholics, have nothing to lose and everything to gain by coming back to the church.


  1. "The Orthodox just won't take yes for an answer." Oh my gosh! As the younguns say, this wins the Internet.

  2. I am somewhat of a Roman Rite refugee attending an EC parish. I was going to a diocesan TLM for about 7 years, but left for practical reasons. They changed the time of Sunday Mass from 9 AM to 12:30 PM, which isn't a good time for me and my family. I was going to just go to an early NO Mass (they are in abundance here), but there is a Ukrainian Catholic parish 25 minutes from my house that has English Divine Liturgy at 9 AM. They are a little latinized, but that doesn't bother me. The OiCwR crowd would be aghast as they say the filioque, kneel at the consecration, pray the rosary before DL and have statues in the lobby.

  3. In fact, one might say that the results are “mixed” because the mixing of traditions itself was highly imprudent. An excessive fascination with “things Eastern” (or what certain theologians and reformers assumed were “things Eastern”) prompted a premature, and in my estimation damaging, abandonment of “things Western.”

    It's late, I am tired, 2 cocktails in and ready for bed... but I have a hard time with the idea that "The West" could ever get too much "Eastern infusion"... A handful of enthusiasts lauding Byzantine-ness in a "Western" church spread from Poland to Korea and down through Africa and South America (hell, even Antarctica!) is a fart in a windstorm not a diving suit.


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