Tuesday, October 30, 2007

What is one to make of this? Are Catholicism and Orthodoxy two different religions?

This comment was left by Anastasia Theodoridis recently in the combox:
ISTM the more we Orthodox learn both of Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, the more we become convinced that they are not at all the same. They often sound the same. But behind the words is a very, very different way of life, a different spirit, and a different way of doing things that is different intentionally and for a theological reason, rather than because of any historical accident or circumstance. (Those kinds of differences also exist, yes.)

Just for one example, the filioque is a *major* issue, making for a whole different Holy Trinity. And you do not mean the same thing by it that we do without it; if you did you could simply delete the word and end the whole controversy, but that does not and will not happen. It is important to Catholics to keep the filioque.

For another example, the papal claims of supramacy and infallibility are no minor matter. They alter the faith very significantly, from the Orthodox POV. Not only are they, for us, in themselves major changes of the faith, but they have also come, from an Orthodox POV, to color almost every other Catholic doctrine to make the Catholic way of stating it sound strange to our ears.

If we take the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as I have done, and read very attentively and begin underlining parts that are put incorrectly in ways that may seem small but have huge implications, we end up underlining a huge percentage of the book. Another huge percentage of it we put question marks beside because the language is too vague (syncretistic) and/or too contradictory (again, syncretistic)to be able to know for sure whether it agrees with Orthodoxy or not.

Sorry, but the idea that we share the same faith is wishful thinking. I, too, wish it were so and pray it may one day be so. For now, we have a lot of hard work to do, and a lot of honest discussion is required.
What a bleak outlook.

Am I to take it from that that we are really two different religions? That would be the conclusion, if we really believe that the "filioque" clause actually teaches "a whole different Trinity". [I should point out that we can, in fact, delete the filioque in the sense of omit it on occasion, but we cannot delete it in the sense of obliterate it, as it is a part of our liturgy and tradition!]

And parts of the Catechism that are "put incorrectly"? Surely you mean "differently from the way Orthodoxy would put it", but surely not "heretically"? Do not the Orthodox themselves have different ways of putting things within the one tradition? Or is there only ever one way of saying what is true? Of course, Western theology will sound "strange" to Eastern ears--the opposite is also true. Latin and Greek are different languages. Are they to be different religions too?

Is there really a "different spirit" behind Orthodoxy and Catholicism? That is, does one of us have the Holy Spirit, and the other "a different spirit" in the sense of St Paul's "different gospel" or "another Jesus" (2 Cor 11:4)?

Tell me it isn't so!


At Wednesday, October 31, 2007 12:11:00 am , Anonymous Christine said...

Thanks for raising some very valid issues, David.

A co-worker of mine was raised Orthodox in an Orthodox/Catholic home.

When she married she converted to Roman Catholicism.

I've going to have to sit down with her and see if we can't have a meaningful discussion.

At Wednesday, October 31, 2007 4:01:00 am , Blogger eulogos said...

In my part of the world, Ruthenian and Ukrainian rite churches, whose history was in the unia; that is, a few centuries ago they left Orthodoxy and adhered to Rome, in the 1930's left Rome and returned to Orthodoxy. One such church kept the same sign outside of it, St X's Greek Catholic Church. It kept the same liturgy, except that it commemorates the Patriarch instead of the Pope. It took the filioque out of the creed, but then so has the Ruthenian church a block a way, formed from those from this parish who wished to remain with Rome. It kept the same interior accountrements, including a large picture of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, the same one found in many Roman rite churches. It kept a concrete crucifix statue, at least bas relief, almost 3D, in its front yard. The reasons for the change were about priestly celibacy or not, and about local or diocesan ownership of the parish...not theology. So, how can these be two different religions?

An Antiochian Orthodox priest told me that some parishes switched back and forth from Rome to Orthodoxy 3 or 4 times; if they didn't like their priest they would switch in hopes of getting one they liked better from the other jurisdiction.

This tells me that these folks did not believe they were dealing with two different religions.

Of course all of them feel that they belong to something very different from Latin rite Catholicism. And certainly these days, mass in a typical RC parish has little in common with a celebration of the Divine Liturgy whether in Orthoxy or in a Byzantine rite Catholic parish. A quick look would certainly give the impression of at least a very different version of Christianity.

But as for the Holy Spirit and Not the Holy Spirit....I wouldn't even say that of Protestants.

By "spirit" in this case I think the above writer means something like "ethos." By ethos I don't mean something like ethnicity, as certainly the Orthodox ethos transcends ethnicity. But I mean a whole separate cultural pattern of thought, based in a different cultural history. The question is whether Christianity can exist incarnated, as it were, in more than one ethos, without being a different gospel or speaking of "another Jesus." When on has met Him within one ethos, that ethos can seem like His only proper home. It takes careful discernment to tell what is a matter of truth and falsehood and what is a matter of ethos. Orthodoxy has such an emphasis on preserving tradition, and the tradition is incarnated in a particular ethos, that its naturally conservative tendency causes it to be suspicious not only of anything which bears the marks of a different ethos, but even of the very act of making an intellectual separation between truth and falsehood and its incarnation in the ethos. I am not unqualifiedly criticizing this. The lack of such suspicion, and the idea that there are theological essentials separable from that eithos, enabled the Latin rite of the Roman Catholic church to jettison in a very few years a huge chunk of its historic ethos, and to transform itself into something that looks so different that many cannot see it as the same church as it was. (ie past Elder who often comments here.)

AS important as an ethos is for the living out of religious belief, God and the truths of the gospel transcend any one ethos and even any one theological framework. This is NOT to say that there is no truth or falsehood, not even that there is no truth or falsehood expressable in human words, but it is to say that the Truth is great and it can be embodied in more than one human ethos and theological tradition.

Susan Peterson

At Wednesday, October 31, 2007 4:07:00 am , Blogger eulogos said...

But for a really well stated contradiction of my (ultimately very RC) position, read the blog Ochlaphobist. I really like how that guy writes, but boy does it depress me!
Susan Peterson

At Wednesday, October 31, 2007 5:38:00 am , Anonymous William Tighe said...


At Wednesday, October 31, 2007 5:41:00 am , Anonymous William Tighe said...

But (on the other hand) see also:


At Wednesday, October 31, 2007 9:00:00 am , Blogger Schütz said...

thanks, guys. After going to be last night, I thought to myself: how can they be so different when it is demonstrably possible for there to be communion between Eastern and Western churches? The filioque is now universally omitted in Eastern Rite Churches (the Ukrainians finally removed it world wide a year or two ago), and that hasn't affected communion with Rome one jot. Certainly Rome is not asking the Eastern Churches to incorporate it in their own liturgy and tradition.

At Wednesday, October 31, 2007 4:17:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...


Try honest. Factual, not emotional.

Perhaps Rome's greatest conceit, among its many, is that Christian churches not in union with it somehow really want to be, and with only more "dialogue" will come to see that they are and then there will be the unity Christ prayed for -- under Rome, of course.

All of which springs from the idea, now kept well in the background, that these churches originate in a split from the full church, itself of course. It just does not get that from these other churches' points of view, it is Rome which originates in a split from the full Christian faith.

I agree with Anastasia. The idea that we share the same faith is wishful thinking, and would add, self serving thinking on Rome's part. Yes there are points of overlap theologically, historically, liturgically, and many misunderstandings which are culturally (by which mean something like what I think eulogos intends by ethos) derived rather than essential.

But Anastasia speaks of essentials.

That the Latin Rite RCC did not just jettison ethos but essentials is the crux of the "traditionalist" argument; that the essentials remain but with a revised ethos is the crux of the current regime's argument.

This would not appear to be a uniquely Christian phenomenon -- witness the Orthodox/Reform in Judaism, and similar divides in other non Christian religions.

The Orthodox remain Orthodox. They did not have a Reformation nor a Vatican II -- both of which, so far as I can understand, the Orthodox see as distinctly Western responses to distinctly Western disgressions.

Between the Kristallnacht that was Vatican II and my conversion to confessional Lutheranism (30 years) there was exactly one time when I actually felt like I had been to Mass/Divine Liturgy/Divine Service. That was in the culturally completely unfamiliar to me environment of a Melkite Rite Sunday liturgy in Miami in the mid 80s. One of the most profound experiences of my life.

At Wednesday, October 31, 2007 8:58:00 pm , Blogger Athanasius said...

Past Elder said: But Anastasia speaks of essentials

Does she? She certainly claims that the basis of disagreement is theological, but I see no demonstration of that.

I am inclined to agree that the differences betwen Catholics and Orthodox are bigger than we usually understand. But to claim that the "different way of life, a different spirit, and a different way of doing things" arises from a "theological reason" is a little naive. Theology is a cultural product too (though not simply a cultural product), which means that the causal arrow goes ways. So is the difference cultural or theological or both? She doesn't seriously address this crucial issue, and therefore the writer hasn't done the work needed to demonstrate her proposition.

I am also unimpressed by proof-texting of the Catechism. This would only be convincing if there were a similar catechism of Orthodoxy we could compare, but no such thing exists. The writer has no authority to speak for the royal "we" she refers to ("we end up underlining a huge percentage of the book..."). It's only her opinion, and I find this kind of argument unworthy of the Orthodox. If Catholics and Orthodox have one thing in conmon, it's that we aren't Protestants.

And so we come back to the question of authority. Again. Funny, that.

At Wednesday, October 31, 2007 9:17:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Orthodox Jews do not, in fact, even recognise any other kind of Jew as a Jew. For an Orthodox Jew to become a reform/liberal/conservative jew is tantamount to apostacy and equal to dying.

Jews and Muslims--who all have many divisions in their communities--are curious about what drives Christians to seek unity among themselves. Some also have a little "holy envy" for the ecumenical movement.

What makes us Christians different? Because we believe that Christ intended all Christians to be one, and we confess that there is One Church. "One Church, One faith, one Lord", as I sung in the hymn to the children this All Saints Eve as they went to sleep.

I for one will not give up that hope.

At Thursday, November 01, 2007 1:02:00 am , Anonymous Christine said...

The idea that we share the same faith is wishful thinking,

We?? To whom are you referring, Past Elder? Your status as a former Catholic or current affiliation as a Lutheran? Lutherans are pretty removed from the sacramental and ecclesiastical economy of Orthodoxy.

As far as essentials go, Rome and Constantinople share seven sacraments, the sacrifical nature of the Eucharist, holy orders, and a common understanding of the Communion of Saints.

I also agree with Athanasius. I find it somewhat mystifying for a lay Orthodox person to go through the Catechism of the Catholic Church "underlining" what she perceives to be "syncretistic", et al.

I was raised by parents of whom one was Catholic and thereby was exposed to the "flavor" of Catholicism, as Anastasia puts very early on in life, as well as continuing that exposure upon my marriage into a Catholic family. But it was only after I converted and joined head and heart in actively praying and living the sacramental life of a committed Catholic that I began to really understand what it was all about. Prior to that it was looking on from the "outside in".

Rome is not interested in bludgeoning anyone over the head or forcing "Roman" ways upon them. There is already true unity in diversity in the Catholic Church in her Western and Eastern Rites, and Eastern Rite churches are encouraged to live their liturgical and historical patrimony.

As I continue to study the writings of the Holy Father I am more grateful than ever for the gifts he brings to the Church.

At Thursday, November 01, 2007 2:08:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

Great Scott.

It was an indirect quote from Anastasia. The antecedent to we is Orthodox and Catholic in that context. I borrowed it with no personal reference: we is simply Rome and non-Roman churches, or ecclesial unions if you will.

We flatly do not share the same faith. What allows Rome to persist in this illusion is the idea that it is the fulness of the church and all others exist by rupture from it.

I believe I said Anastasia spoke of essentials, not that she set them out in detail. I do not believe I said Lutherans or Protestants and Orthodox share a common faith -- I don't think they do, though we have some things in common as do Rome and the East. Why should an Orthodox not read a book of another religion and mark what is contrary to her own, or report her findings as typical of her co-religionists?

Unity in what? Moses was unconcerned about ruptures within Israel? Mohammed did not see a union such that the people shall not agree in error? The NT isn't pretty clear about false teachers and teachings? Christians (some of them) aren't the only ones impelled by "unity".

Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuehrer!

At Friday, November 02, 2007 12:04:00 am , Anonymous Christine said...

"Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuehrer!"

Well, I see our discourse has reached a new low.

Ich bin am ende mit Dir.

At Friday, November 02, 2007 11:33:00 am , Blogger Athanasius said...

"Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuehrer!"

Godwin's Law strikes again:


At Friday, November 02, 2007 1:13:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...


Actually, I borrowed the usage from a criticism within LCMS (still heavily German) of Kieschnick's "one mission, one message, one people" as part of the Ablaze! thing. Relax.

Godwin's Law, if memory serves, addresses the probability of Nazi analogies being drawn and is neutral on their factual appropriateness. Post conciliar apologetics is remarkably unconcerned with facts however, only emotion and "experience".

But thanks for confirming again the real object of RC faith -- the RCC itself, against which nothing may be said. I guess the "All roads lead to Rome" thing got borrowed from the Empire as well.

At Wednesday, November 07, 2007 2:13:00 pm , Anonymous Timothy Anglican said...

Well, now! Everyone take a deep breath (and maybe a gin-and-tonic). And let's focus on the word Christian for awhile. Funny how infrequently that word pops up in discussion sometimes.

In another post, I wrote that "Humpty Dumpty cannot be put back together again. Individuals and individual parishes, on the other hand, have options." That is what I believe. We can all be one, but it won't happen the way we think it will (or should or might) happen.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home