"I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history." -Cardinal Francis George

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Discussion about Orthodoxy and Catholicism

[What follows is a segment of an email exchange with someone looking into the diferences between the two. These are tough topics for scholars, let alone a biased layamn like me, so cut me some slack]

I highly recommend submitting some of these question to Bryan Cross on Called to Communion. He will give a better answer in every way, and most importantly, he will give an answer that you can trust to be the Catholic answer, and not just Dave’s feelings.

You said:

“Oriental and Eastern who aren't exactly in communion (although I think they have reached some sort of formal agreement) can seem to be so much alike theologically and yet both agree with each other against Roman Catholics on a variety of issues?”

You chose the perfect description when you said “against”. I find that the antipathy both groups (in general) have for Catholicism helps them to overlook big things they disagree with each other about like the dual nature of Christ. The Orientals are non-Calcedonian Monophysites who only accept the first 3 councils. It is great if they are showing signs of wanting to change, but the fact remains the Eastern Orthodox have far more in common doctrinally with Catholics than with them.

Check out the Orthodox doctrine (of not all Orthodox, but some) of “aerial tollhouses”. For some reason they are ok with being in communion with Orthodox who believe the aerial tollhouses theory, but not “purgatory”. Orthodox believe in purgatory. They just have a less defined doctrine of it. Otherwise why would they pray for the dead? Praying for the souls of the dead can only mean one thing… the soul is not known to be in heaven or hell, and the soul still has some journeying left to do. Is there anything else it could possibly mean? But anyway, Orthodox when being polite will insist that even that much cannot be said about the topic, and say it is a mystery, -or- they will just keep insisting on purgatory being heresy while their doctrine (or lack of one), because it is mystery, is just fine. Well as I said, they do have a doctrine (praying for the dead has very specific implications), and what is wrong with one tradition having something more defined or a different nuance than another? Look at the doctrine of the Trinity for instance. The Orthodox developed the essence-energies distinction. The Latin west did not. Therefore we talk past each other on the filioque. In my personal experience, Orthodox folks usually believe the filioque to be a big dividing issue between the 2 sides, yet the same people, in my experience, have never heard that Roman Catholics (the Latin rite) do not have a category for an essence/energy distinction within God. So often the criticism of the Latin rite is criticizing something they have no category to even describe or believe. The fact is, that the Orthodox have a more fully developed doctrine of the Trinity with their essence/energy distinction. It is not necessarily at odds with the Catholic (Latin rite) doctrine, it is just saying thing the Latin rite has left to mystery, simply affirming the unity of God. The Orthodox doctrine says more than the Catholic doctrine, and the Catholic Church is a-ok with that! Catholics just don’t want to be forced to adopt a tradition they do not share without a council or some discussion. And honestly, many Catholics have some reasonable reservations about the essence/energies distinction. Nevertheless, officially, the Catholic Magisterium does not see these differences as something which prevents reunion. Nor does it see a lack of specifics concerning the purgatorial state a barrier. The traditions are not necessarily at odds, they just have different emphases. The Church, even before the schism, has always had different groups within the Church give different emphasis on doctrines and which have different traditions (small t) within the Church, or different schools of theology. What I have found, and something which Timothy Flanders says well, is that Orthodox often want to tell Catholics what the Catholic tradition is and should be. (I am assuming you have read Timothy’s great article on Devin’s blog? http://www.devinrose.heroicvirtuecreations.com/blog/2012/11/26/an-eastern-orthodox-christian-looks-west/) But if a Catholic says that the doctrine of aerial tollhouses is compatible with what he means by purgatory, or that he sees no contradiction with Catholic doctrine with the essence/energy distinction, but prefers to leave more mystery, I think Orthodox should give the benefit of the doubt.

“The fact is, that in matters of ecumenical dialogue, talk of reaching consensus and points of agreement only serves to mask the very real theological differences that separate the Orthodox Churches from Roman Catholicism.”

This saddens me and I couldn’t disagree more! In matters of ecumenical dialogue, talk of reaching consensus and points of agreement… in the Truth, should be what we are constantly doing! Not only between Catholic and Orthodox, but between Christians and non-Christians as well. This “talk of reaching consensus” does not by necessity mask anything. If he truly believes the Orthodox Church to be the true Church, which he no doubt does, how will he ever bring that truth to others who disagree if he does not try to reach a consensus with them? I am always puzzled when I hear this statement from Orthodox. I see it as a straw man view of ecumenism. There is good and bad ecumenism, the bad one wants agreement and unity without unity in the truth. The good kind wants unity and consensus in the truth. This does not “mask” anything.

I must be more of a Catholic partisan than I thought, my appologies for that. because I was pretty frustrated by that Ancient Faith article. Almost every sentence I was saying “wait a minute, that’s not true”. One thing is for sure, I am not the best person to give a full defense of Catholic ecclesiology. And I certainly am no scholar. So I will just touch on a few points that really stood out and make a general comment as well.

First the general comment: Many things he said about Catholic ecclesiology a Catholic would not agree with, or would certainly want stated in a different way, or with more nuance. I will give one example for the sake of brevity:

“…Roman Catholics, however, use the term [catholic] to mean the universal Church, which to their minds, is the Church, proper.”

No, that is not true. As I am accustomed to saying to Protestants, “It is both/and, not either/or”. Catholics also believe what he says, interpreting St. Ignatius as saying “when the people of God gather around their bishop in the same place to celebrate the Eucharist, there is the Catholic Church. There is Christ in all of his fullness. Nothing is lacking.”

Catholics fully believe this! My Archbishop, who sits on the chair (cathedra) in the Cathedral of St. Paul, is the “the image of the father” (as St. Ignatius said) and has the highest office in the Catholic Church, and that where he is, with his priests and deacons and his Eucharist, that there is the Church in its fullness. Nothing is lacking, and if the rest of the world suddenly were destroyed, nothing would be lacking in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to call it the Catholic Church. Not even the pope. Oh, sure, Archbishop Nienstedt would then become the pope, but the pope is just a bishop.

And even as Clarck rightly points out in the article, Orthodox absolutely have a hierarchy of bishops (Bishop, Metropolitan, Patriarch) while at the same time the level of Holy Orders is the same for each*. In a similar way, Catholic hierarchy sees all bishops with equal authority, yet some have different functions based on the prominence of their diocese. I want to ask the author: If it is good for the Orthodox why is it bad for the Catholics? If, for the Orthodox, only a Metropolitan or Patriarch can do certain things within the government of the church, why is that wrong for Catholics? Nevertheless, my main point here is that I think he misstates the Catholic position. And calling our view of the papacy blasphemous is inflammatory. For Catholics, the term “Church” must include both what St. Ignatius says about the local Church, but also the universal “Church” in terms of individual “Churches” who are in communion with each other. The difference is that instead of merely one group of reference points which supposedly determine the “whole”, Catholics have that but also a single reference point which all others must be in communion with. This is very consistent with the fathers of the Church view of the apostolic see. It does not trump the unity of the episcopal college, but it must be present to have such a “whole” or “catholic” unity.

And if the Orthodox do not think in terms of this second “universal” church, as Clark implies, then why do they refer to themselves as “THE Orthodox Church”? I think the Orthodox have a very healthy understanding of a hierarchy of Bishops while at the same time, having no hierarchy. They both are true at the same time, it just depends on what we are talking about. And the Catholic ecclesiology is no different in that respect. Bishops of greater sees can depose or excommunicate those of lesser sees, call councils, vet and approve decisions, and all sorts of things, all while being of the same, (highest office) rank of “Bishop” in another sense. An Orthodox bishop and an Orthodox “Patriarch” are of the same office and are the source of the same Eucharist. Yet they have different authority in matters of Church governance. So if this is a wrong form of ecclesiology for the Catholics, then it should be for the Orthodox as well.

As far as his take on St. Cyprian, I completely disagree with his take. Let me suffice by encouraging you to read this article by Bryan Cross. http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/09/st-cyprian-on-the-unity-of-the-church/

If you haven’t already, I highly recommend checking out Called to Communion. Particularly Bryan Cross. You can even email him privately, and I know he will respond, but feel free to leave comments on old posts and he will respond. I am no theologian! So things I say in this email will be less accurate and far less helpful than someone like Bryan Cross. Honestly, even just emailing or commenting to him with a short list of your top questions, you will not regret it. He will give you the authentic, best elucidated take on things from the Catholic point of view, and in a totally polite way. If you end up not being convinced by the Catholic arguments, please make sure that they are the best arguments--- and that they are arguments made by knowledgeable Catholics, not Orhtodox/Protestant glosses of those doctrines. By all means, read the glosses, but ask a Catholic like Cross “is this what Catholics believe? Or is there something missing?” At least then you can know you are making a totally imformed choice.

One more personal addition to this already long letter. When I found myself up my epistemic creek looking for a paddle, I happened to be looking at all the articles on Called to Communion. So obviously the Catholic take on theings was strongly presented. I knew I needed some balance. So I personally corresponded with Keith Mathison for a while. If you havent heard of him, look him up. But he has the cutting edge Reformed book on sola Scriptura, and is quite qualified to defend the solas. I knew that if he couldn’t defend sola Scriptura, no one could. Of course I also read many books (written by Protestants) on sola Scriptura. This gave me confidence in future decisions knowing I had gone to the best sources. I also did this with Orthodoxy. I read Orthodox literature and talked with Orthodox folks. But again, I am no scholar. The best I can give you is a fireside chat type of discussion/testimony with most likely weak and self-serving proofs. Bryan Cross can cut through the BS and get to the root of stuff. I cannot recommend him enough.

Sorry for the long letter again, peace to you and yours!

*Or perhaps not, because he says a single Orthodox bishop cannot ordain? I didn’t realize the Orthodox believed that. My mind immediately raced to think of what a bishop is lacking in order to ordain? Catholics certainly do not believe that more than one bishop is needed to ordain.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Militant Fecundity

The Duggar Family
"I am not convinced that we are in any very meaningful sense in the midst of a “culture war”; I think it might at best be described as a fracas. I do not say that such a war would not be worth waging. Yet most of us have already unconsciously surrendered to the more
insidious aspects of modernity long before we even contemplate drawing our swords from their scabbards and inspecting them for rust. This is not to say that there are no practical measures for those who wish in earnest for the battle to be joined: homeschooling or private “trivium” academies; the disposal or locking away of televisions; prohibitions on video games and popular music; Greek and Latin; great books; remote places; archaic enthusiasms. It is generally wise to seek to be separate, to be in the world but not of it, to be no more engaged with modernity than were the ancient Christians with the culture of pagan antiquity; and wise also to cultivate in our hearts a generous hatred toward the secular order, and a charitable contempt. Probably the most subversive and effective strategy we might undertake would be one of militant fecundity: abundant, relentless, exuberant, and defiant childbearing. Given the reluctance of modern men and women to be fruitful and multiply, it would not be difficult, surely, for the devout to accomplish — in no more than a generation or two — a demographic revolution. Such a course is quite radical, admittedly, and contrary to the spirit of the age, but that is rather the point, after all. It would mean often forgoing certain material advantages, and forfeiting a great deal of our leisure; it would often prove difficult to sustain a two-career family or to be certain of a lavish retirement. But if it is a war we want, we should not recoil from sacrifice...."

David B. Hart is an Eastern Orthodox theologian

This guy reads like a modern Chesterton. Read the rest here.