Saturday, February 20, 2016

Fisking an Orthodox parish page about us

From the respected Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick's parish in Pennsylvania. Let's take apart their apologetics on the parish tract-rack level, not a bad effort for these things but Fr. Andrew would do no less.
For a Roman Catholic walking into an Orthodox church, there will be many elements that are familiar — services led by an ordained priesthood, sacramental worship, ancient tradition, Christian art, etc.
Got to love the "canon" of St. Vincent of Lérins, "always, everywhere, and by all," which we ancient churches share with our Anglo-Catholic brethren, who often articulate this family feeling as their branch theory. Even limited to the church's first few councils, a Catholic liturgy, and lots of immemorial custom, you essentially get the church.
But Orthodoxy also has much that is unfamiliar — a mostly married priesthood, communing infants, no papacy, and so forth. It is also likely that an Orthodox church will be a riot of color in comparison with the simpler statuary of Rome’s churches.
All of these EXCEPT the papacy are ONLY cultural differences, and, thanks to Eastern Catholics, centuries-old communities largely converted from the Orthodox, we have those things too!
But beyond these initial impressions, there is actually much that continues to separate Rome from Orthodoxy. One of the most common mistakes is an assumption that surface similarities mean that there really isn’t any major difference between Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy.
Your defined doctrine is only our first few councils and your liturgy is entirely Catholic. Proceed.
What is necessary for unity between Rome and the Orthodox Churches? From the Orthodox point of view, Roman Catholics would be expected to return to the Orthodox faith that the Church of Rome professed during the period before it broke from Orthodoxy in roughly the 11th century (the Great Schism).
Dump our defined doctrine after the 11th century. Well, you DO have your Western Rite experiment, with St. Augustine's, Denver, for example; as we have Eastern expressions, you do have a fair copy of Western Catholicism, and in my cultural form, so what's the harm, for unity's sake? I'll turn that around. Our defined doctrine ONLY defends the ancient faith, which I sum up here. We don't need to, shouldn't, and anyway can't drop our defined doctrine. If we did, either the Protestants were right all along that there really is no church, certainly not an infallible one (so Jesus at the end of Matthew was a liar or the disciples made that up, since he didn't rise from the dead: the Jews are right?) or God mysteriously went mute after the 11th century because the Pope happened not to live in your empire anymore. Catholics spread that faith literally all over the world, including creating Catholic cultures in Latin America, not being bound to one culture or set of cultures; Eastern Orthodoxy remained parked in Eastern Europe really, chained to rulers, states, and ethnic groups. Church, sect; sect, church.
From Orthodoxy’s point of view, it is Rome who has left the tradition of the Apostles and introduced new teachings, such as Papal Infallibility, Purgatory and the Immaculate Conception, not to mention unilaterally altering the Nicene Creed to add the word Filioque (“and the Son”) to the phrase concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit, a term that was not in the original version of the Creed agreed upon by Rome with the eastern churches.
"The Pope is a Frank, no longer in our empire. So he's not really in the church anymore." There is only one church and it has a chief bishop who shares in its infallibility under certain conditions, God's mercy and justice call for an intermediate state, without which prayer for the dead (which the Orthodox enthusiastically do) would be nonsense or even the blasphemy Protestants claim it is, Mary is all-holy, redeemed by her son, transcending time, and we don't believe in a Quaternity of two Holy Spirits, "through the Son" not being impossible to understand well enough.
How is Orthodox worship different from Roman Catholic worship? Even prior to the 1960s, the Eastern Christian liturgical tradition was different from the Western Christian tradition represented by Rome. Even then, it was far more complex and multi-vectored (i.e., multiple things going on at the same time)...
Right, a cultural difference that we include. And my parish's pre-1960s Sung Mass has three activities going on at once, the actual Mass with the priest at the altar, the people's prayers, which may or may not be in sync with the prayers at the altar, and the music, likewise, over it all. No different really from a Russian congregation quietly standing as the service proceeds with or without them, in a haze of incense like grace. We cense too.
...a difference which has become more pronounced since the major liturgical changes beginning in the 1960s and continuing since then for Roman Catholics.
We Roman Riters flubbed, but this is culture, not doctrine. Our teachings remain.
Orthodoxy has not made any similar alteration to its mode of worship.
Nor, for the most part historically, have we. The 1960s were the huge exception.
While Orthodox worship has changed somewhat over the centuries, the changes have been extremely gradual and comparatively minor. Orthodox worship has never been modernized and continues much as it has for centuries.
Exactly how the Roman Rite historically has operated, and what my Sunday worship is still like: the Divine Liturgy without an iconostasis and with the second oldest Eucharistic prayer still in use.
Regarding the language of worship, Orthodoxy never had a single liturgical language like Rome did with Latin prior to the 1960s. The language of worship has generally been the local language. In the case of some parishes in America with many immigrants, it is possible that one will hear a language in addition to English used in worship as part of the ministry to those immigrants.
Cultural, not doctrinal, Eastern churches do have archaic liturgical languages (medieval Greek and Slavonic, for example; modern Greek and Russian not being allowed in your rules), and if by "Rome" you mean the Catholic Church, false. We have had all the Eastern liturgical languages for centuries and in some cases now their vernacular (such as Ukrainian and English) like you.
The Rosary dates from the 1400s, well after the split between Rome and the Orthodox Church, so the use of the Rosary is unknown in Orthodoxy. In Orthodoxy there is, however, the similar practice of praying the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me”) with a knotted prayer rope (or sometimes with beads). Other brief prayers may also be associated with the use of the prayer rope, though there is not any corresponding system of imaginative systems of meditations as there sometimes is in Roman Catholicism.
The Rosary might be a little older but it is post-schism medieval Western. There are different schools of spirituality and even theological opinion, not doctrine, in the church; we're a big tent, not a Byzantine straitjacket. That also answers the shallow argument against purgatory, in addition to what I've written above. These meditations obviously aren't heresy, and in any event you don't have to use them. A modern myth about the Orthodox is that the Jesus Prayer and prayer ropes are a staple of their spirituality, among the laity, for instance. It's really an esoteric monastic practice (the rope being part of the monk's or nun's habit like the Rosary is for many Western vowed religious), truly different from the Rosary that way. Their lay spirituality is more about going to the services and keeping the fasts.
There is just sin, and although some are more serious than others, Orthodox do not make the distinction between mortal and venial sins that Roman Catholics do. All sin is believed to be serious in Orthodoxy.
Some do, from us. As long as mortal sin is absolved in the sacrament of confession, which they do, no problem. But the trouble with this "Orthodox" spirituality is it feeds the neurosis of scrupulosity. The distinction is comforting; God forgives venial sin outside of confession.
Orthodox Christians believe in the Real Presence and accept it as a mystery. Western theology tends to approach theological matters via the use of reason; this is a legacy of Augustinianism and the medieval Scholastics, who applied the techniques of Greek philosophy to the investigation of theological matters. Orthodoxy believes that certain matters are beyond the use of reason, so it is presumptuous for us as limited human beings to think that we can use our reason to understand that which is beyond us. As a consequence, we Orthodox are comfortable with accepting mysteries like the Real Presence as what they are—mysteries, without feeling obliged to explain them.
See above on different schools of spirituality and not just opinion but theological method. That's fine. The Christian East has never defined doctrine on this nor has it formally denied ours. It has always passively accepted that the Mass is Christ's one sacrifice made present, actually giving the grace it signifies, the elements completely changed into him. Entirely Catholic. The objection is a lame culturally based one.
In former centuries, Roman Catholic fasting and other asceticism was in most respects quite similar to Orthodoxy—nearly half the days of the year were fasting days! This kind of practice really is part of Roman Catholic tradition, as well, but it has largely been almost completely abandoned in our own day. It is now rare to find a Roman Catholic who goes without meat on Fridays in Lent, something that was normal even just a few decades ago.
A cultural difference, the church can and does change such disciplinary rules, and the Orthodox do the same with "economy," where the nearly impossible fasting rules are not under pain of sin (them priding themselves on not being legalistic like those Romans). Their canon law is an outdated, contradictory jumble so they're winging it. And the rule in the Roman Rite still includes Friday abstinence in Lent.
What is the Orthodox view of Original Sin? ...not all Roman Catholic theology (especially official dogma) has tended to this strong contrast toward favoring the “guilt” model, and Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism are sometimes understood as not being far from each other in this regard.
Admitting it's not a doctrinal difference rather than the Pelagianism some of their apologists do in order to deny they're really Catholic. Good.

Regarding the Immaculate Conception, we have to believe that Mary has always been all-holy; the difference is of theological method, not doctrine. Catholics don't have to use St. Augustine's method.
...while both Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians believe in the Virgin Mary’s great holiness (perhaps even to the point of sinlessness), for Roman Catholics, this holiness is the result of the Immaculate Conception; that is, she could not have sinned.
Eve was created without sin. Mary had the same choice.
Roman Catholics believe that Mary, because she was born without the stain of Original Sin (see the previous question on the Immaculate Conception), did not have to die; as a consequence, she is the only human being to be assumed directly to heaven without passing through death.
The schismatics denying the Assumption are especially comical, because it is an Eastern story! Their version is far more flowery, with the apostles being whisked from their locations to Mary's bedside. Anyway, the church says no such thing. When Pius XII declared this longstanding belief a doctrine, he purposely left Mary's death an open question out of deference to the Christian East. We don't have to believe she died, but we can.
It was at the First Lateran Council in 1123 (after the Great Schism) that celibacy became mandatory for Roman Catholic priests. Before this, a local council in Elvira, Spain, in 316 declared that celibacy was mandatory for clergy, and the practice began to spread in the West over the following centuries under the encouragement of various popes.
Disciplinary rule and culture, not doctrine. Eastern Catholic priests in their homelands, and now again in America, may marry before ordination, just like theirs. We have ex-Anglican priests following the same rule.
Roman Catholic doctrine holds that a child must be old enough intellectually to understand the mystery of Christ according to “his capacity.” He should be able to discern the difference between the Eucharist and ordinary bread. Western doctrine places a premium on the role of reason in understanding God and in forming a relationship with Him. Orthodoxy, on the other hand, believes that God in His Essence is unknowable, and dwells in “divine darkness.” No one will ever apprehend the mysteries of God, the Incarnation, or the Eucharist through reason. Why, then, withhold the grace of the sacrament from those whose understanding is after all only a little less than an adult’s? As a consequence, Orthodox do not believe in holding back children (or those who who are developmentally challenged and may be permanently incapable of reason) from receiving the Body and Blood of Christ.
Disciplinary rule and culture, not doctrine. The Eastern Catholics confirm and commune babies too.
For Rome, the declaration of a saint is a more-or-less top-down process; by recognition of miracles by the hierarchy, analysis of the prospective saint’s life under the direction of the hierarchy; and the juridical approach involving a “Devil’s Advocate.” For Orthodoxy, a saint is recognized as such by more of a bottom-up process: the community recognizes the saint’s holiness, which is then investigated, acknowledged and proclaimed by the hierarchy.
I'm going to surprise you. I don't see this as a problem to us. Not doctrine. If they come back to the church, they should have far more autonomy than the Eastern Catholics now have, including on this.
Why does the Orthodox Church use leavened bread and the Roman Catholic Church use unleavened bread (wafers)?
Disciplinary rule and culture, not doctrine.

Photo: Benedict the Great and Msgr. Bartholomew; actually Msgr. John in Damascus is Fr. Andrew's patriarch. Orthodox bishops are real bishops but don't have titles by right; those come from the Pope.


  1. Anonymous8:17 pm

    "Orthodox bishops are real bishops but don't have titles by right; those come from the Pope." Isn't it the case that this (1) an ecclesiastical economy that has grown up in the Roman patriarchy, and (2) is not of Dominical institution? Christ created Apostles, who ordained bishops; the Apostles did not receive their apostolic gift from Peter. One could therefore argue for e.g. calling Bp. Fellay a "Msgr" as technically correct, but I am questioning whether this is really a proper form of address for bishops of non-Roman ritual churches (whether schismatic or not). The relevant point of information being: did the bishops of Antioch or Alexandria or Jerusalem ever "receive their title" from the Pope?

    1. One could therefore argue for e.g. calling Bp. Fellay a "Msgr." as technically correct, but I am questioning whether this is really a proper form of address for bishops of non-Roman ritual churches (whether schismatic or not).

      The Society of St. Pius X and I agree! An important point: the society has NEVER claimed to be a separate church. Jurisdiction comes from the Pope because there is only one church. They believe the state of emergency in the church supplies jurisdiction for the sacraments but their bishops don't claim to be diocesans. So Msgr. Williamson, for example, never claimed to be the Bishop of Winona when he lived there and was in the SSPX. As for the schismatic bishops of non-Roman ritual churches, it fits and they deserve it for their attitude to us; I'm letting them off easy, acknowledging their orders, because in principle they don't recognize our orders and thus our Eucharist or even our baptisms.

  2. "Christ created Apostles, who ordained bishops; the Apostles did not receive their apostolic gift from Peter."

    This is the conventional view, among Catholics I mean, but St. Leo the Great taught otherwise:

    «Connexio totius corporis unam sanitatem, unam pulchritudinem facit; et haec connexio totius quidem corporis unanimitatem requirit, sed praecipue exigit concordiam sacerdotum. Quibus cum dignitas sit communis, non est tamen ordo generalis: quoniam et inter beatissimos apostolos in similitudine honoris fuit discretio potestatis; et cum omnium par esset electio, uni tamen datum est ut caeteris praeemineret» (Ep. 14, 11, ad Anastasium episc. Thessal.: PL 54, 676).

    «De toto mundo unus Petrus eligitur, qui et universarum gentium vocationi, et omnibus apostolis, cunctisque Ecclesiae Patribus praeponatur: ut quamvis in populo Dei multi sacerdotes sint multique pastores, omnes tamen proprie regat Petrus, quos principaliter regit et Christus. Magnum et mirabile, dilectissimi, huic viro consortium potentiae suae tribuit divina dignatio; et si quid cum eo commune caeteris voluit esse principibus, numquam nisi per ipsum dedit quidquid aliis non negavit» (Serm. 4, 2, de natali ipsius: PL 54, 149-150).

    «Transivit quidem etiam in alios apostolos ius potestatis istius» (hoc est, ligandi atque solvendi) «et ad omnes Ecclesiae principes decreti huius constitutio commeavit; sed non frustra uni commendatur, quod omnibus intimetur. Petro enim ideo hoc singulariter creditur, quia cunctis Ecclesiae rectoribus Petri forma praeponitur» (Serm. 4, 2, de natali ipsius: PL 54, 151; cf. Serm. 83, 2, in natali s. Petri Apost.: PL 54, 430).

    1. Anonymous8:17 am

      I'm not disputing the primacy of Peter or his full personal authority over all Christians, the question is rather about whether the episcopal office per se derives from Peter and I can't see that there is anything in these quotes from Leo the Great that claims this. The words from the second quote "numquam nisi per ipsum dedit quidquid aliis non negavit" make it clear that there is an indissoluble link between Peter's primacy (which is according to Vatican I is after all vere episcopalis) and the episcopal office, but the final words "aliis non negavit" are the other side of the coin. Leo is speaking of Peter's primacy in the episcopal college, and not to the gift of the episcopal office as such. And so with quote no. 3.

  3. Isn't it telling that EO apologetics always, always involve invidious comparisons -- east vs west, Orthodoxy vs Rome. It is what Von Balthasar called the anti mentality. As a then-Reformed, now-Catholic friend observed back when he was still Protestant, the Catholic Church is the only church that isn't always defining herself against other churches. Sure, she does sometimes engage in comparisons, e.g., when the topic at hand is "What are the differences between Catholic and Calvinist beliefs?" But overall, overwhelmingly, her apologetic is positive: the beauty and truth of Catholicism, rather than: What's wrong with everyone else?

    This is apparent to anyone who has read our Catechism. Or our parish tract racks, for that matter. 99.99% of our self-explanation is positive, because the Catholic Church is secure in her identity and therefore does not feel this constant urge to define herself against other churches. Much less to bash other churches.

    Not so the Orthodox, it seems, who can never extol the beauties of Orthodoxy without getting a few swipes in at Rome and/or the West. If that's not a sign of insecurity, I sure don't know what is.

    Just once I wish these guys would extol their own tradition without defining it against ours. Just once. But I guess that's impossible as long as you're trying to defend the indefensible, I.e., estrangement from your Christian brothers and sisters.

  4. At the Ukrainian Catholic parish I attend St Gregory Palamas was commemorated for the Second Sunday of Lent. The pastor in his homily preached positively, on St Gregory a man who was never in Communion with Rome during his earthly life.

    I would never imagine any Orthodox parish officially commemorate one of our post schism saints such as St Thomas Aquinas or St Francis of Assisi, let alone speak any words of praise about them. They have actually disparaged our saints.

    I point this out to show that the Catholic Church can find holiness in men and women who lived outside her bounds, whereas many Orthodox see everyone outside her bounds as unworthy to even be called Christian and in utter darkness.


    1. Your general message here is a selling point of the church for me. Also, we see people such as him as estranged Catholics not personally guilty of schism, because their churches have never defined an un-Catholic doctrine. And I understand that his importance to the Orthodox, as a defining difference between them and us, is 1) greatly exaggerated and 2) modern.

    2. You lost me in the heading. What the hell is "fisking" supposed to mean? Would St Vincent of Lerins have recognised it?

    3. "I point this out to show that the Catholic Church can find holiness in men and women who lived outside her bounds ..."

      This seems to assume ("outside her bounds") that the schism was complete and "consummated" by Palamas' time. This seems highly doubtful. The significance of 1054 is greatly exaggerated; it marked only (if even that) a breach between Rome and Constantinople, consciousness of which became generally disseminated throughout the "Byzantine world" between the 1180s and the 1280s. 1204 was a significant milestone; so was the failure in 1282 of the union effected at the Council of Lyon in 1274. But if required to provide a symbolic date, I would choose 1484, the year in which the Patriarchs of C'ple, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem all agreed both to repudiate the union effected in 1439 at the Council of Florence and to require all those Latins passing over to Orthodoxy to be chrismated and to renounce "Latin errors."

    4. Fisking is named for the journalist Robert Fisk and means a point-by-point criticism of a piece.

    5. Yes, and some would say the schism was never completely consummated as Greek bishops brought in Jesuits to preach and hear confessions on some Greek islands during the seventeenth century. Today in the Middle East many Catholics and Orthodox commune at each others parishes. That in no way makes my point invalid that Catholics are more generous with saints who were generally not considered to be in Communion with Rome during their lifetime than Orthodox are with saints that were. I highly doubt St Gregory Palamas would have considered himself part of the Communion of Catholic Churches that had the Pope of Rome as her head, just as St Thomas Aquinas would believe he was in Communion with the Patriarch of Constantinople. You don't write treatises about the errors of the Greeks or plan to attend reunion councils if there were no rupture to heal in the first place.


    6. Right; the schism was a gradual estrangement largely fueled by Eastern politics, and the cases both a couple of centuries after the split (Catholic priests in Greece) and today (Syria) where both sides' rules on intercommunion are broken are actually backhanded testimonies to our teaching on the sacraments, not theirs.

  5. The page isn't apologetics.

    As it notes at the top: "This page gives an introduction and answers some of the most common questions about the differences between Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity. If you have a question that is not answered here, or want more in-depth information, please contact us."

    The idea is to address the kinds of things visitors ask, not to offer up a doctrinal apologia against Rome.

    1. I'm sorry, Father. Not buying it.

      You would never, ever find a similar tract in a Catholic parish -- even on the extremely unlikely off-chance that some hapless visitor might ask, "Hey, how do youse guys differ from those Greeks down the street who hold the cool food festivals?"

      It's not just that we are the 800-lb gorilla and therefore secure in our identity. It's also that we simply do not feel this constant urge to define ourselves invidiously versus everyone else. (Yeah, that's directly related to the secure, confident gorilla thing, but anyway....)

      I live in the Bible Belt, where my faith is under constant assault and people constantly ask about what Catholics really believe. Yet I have yet to see a Catholic tract that indulges in invidious comparisons vs non-Catholics or makes uncharitable false claims about the beliefs of local evangelicals. Au contraire, our tracts and pamphlets emphasize common ground and sincerely seek to understand our non-Catholic neighbors' perspective.

      That is the mark of a church secure in her identity. I have found it only in Catholicism.

      The polemics in that EO tract John fisks are ignorant at best, mendacious at worst. Call it what you will. That tract has no counterpart in any healthy Catholic parish. Not even close.

    2. And by the way...if you Orthodox *are* going to define yourself against Catholics, it would really help if you got your facts straight. As John points out in his fisk, a number of the tract's representations of Catholic belief are just plain flat-out wrong. At least attack what we actually *believe,* not some wildly inaccurate caricature. It's not hard to find out what we actually believe, either. Just Google the Catechism. Easy as pie.

    3. Right; non-Catholics' talk about the church is usually, impressively, about essentials such as the Trinity or God becoming man, or about sexual matters on which all Christians used to agree (but many don't know it), obviously of interest since God made us sexual. You don't see Catholic tracts at church "loudly" arguing "We We Are Not Baptists" like Fr. Andrew, et al.'s try-hard, they-doth-protest-too-much "Why We Are Not Catholics" efforts here. (I understand our close cousins the Lutherans do something similar or at least used to regarding us. They accidentally have more in common with us than with other Protestants even though the core of their version of the Christian message is similarly changed from ours.)

      When the grownups came out to play, Georgie Porgy ran away. Beats being trolled.


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