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Archive for the ‘Papacy’ Category

Differences

As a Protestant, one of the key mental operators one has is the opposition to Rome. Depending upon the Protestant group, though I have in mind here and throughout this reflection evangelical Protestants, one more or less defines oneself over against Rome. This, of course, results in a distortion of Roman doctrine and practice (again depending on how much more or less one defines oneself over against Rome), a distortion which can reach Jack Chick proportions. So one thing a Protestant converting to Orthodoxy must be careful of is distorting Orthodoxy into an anti-Roman image.

Thankfully, not a few Protestant converts to Orthodoxy have come to Orthodoxy by way of investigations into Rome. The Protestant turn to Rome is completely normal and natural: many Protestants know very little, sometimes even nothing, about Orthodoxy. Once the inherent contradictions of Protestantism weigh in on the Protestant soul, the convert begins a reconsideration of his stance vis a vis Rome. And not a few conclude that they should find their anchorage in that church.

But Orthodoxy is not as much of a well-kept secret anymore. More and more literature is being published in English–one might dare to call it an explosion in the last ten years or so. Orthodoxy is finding its way into the so-called “new media” especially in the online world. So Protestants looking for resolution of the contradictions of Protestantism are now aware that there is more to investigate than the Tiber crossing. And herein lies the potential danger of turning Orthodoxy into a new Protestantism.

Some Protestant converts, in a normal and laudable effort to make sense of their journey find the differences between Orthodoxy and Rome comforting. We have no Pope. We don’t have the problem of indulgences. We’ve never had Limbo. And so on.

The problem is these differences are superficial in many respects and simply reinstantiate the opposition to Rome, which does not get anywhere close to the heart of Orthodoxy. A Protestant convert to Orthodoxy will find, sooner or later, that he has much more in common with Roman Catholics after his conversion than he does with Protestants. His Bible is the same (with a few extras). He has a sacramental foundation to his Christian life. He has bishops and priests. His babies are baptized. He has the Church as the cornerstone of biblical and doctrinal belief and interpretations. And so on.

Only when a Protestant convert to Orthodoxy can come to grips with the deep similarities he has with Rome can he effectively also come to grips with the deeper differences, differences which do not map out on his former dichotomies.

The Pope. Both Orthodoxy and Rome give primacy to the Bishop of Rome. The difference is of what the primacy consists. Orthodoxy teaches that the primacy is synodal, not jurisdictional.

Mary. Both Orthodoxy and Rome claim for Mary the role of the Mother of God, that Mary was assumed into heaven (there are some differences as to when that took place and whether or not she died prior to her assumption), and that she is the Queen of Heaven. The difference, however, relates to whether or not Mary is an exception to original or ancestral sin or not.

The Sacraments. Both Rome and Orthodoxy teach a sacramental soteriology. The difference, however, is in the view of grace which underlies the sacramental theology. For Orthodoxy, the Sacraments are a real participation in God and not a participation in a creature of God.

The Trinity. Both Rome and Orthodoxy teach the Trinity, of course, but the difference lies in the understanding of God’s Tri-Personality and his essence. The Orthodox teach the distinction between God’s essence and energies and do not accept the teaching of absolute or definitional divine simplicity.

Development of Doctrine. Both Rome and Orthodoxy accept the authority of the Church Councils and the Fathers, as well as the defined dogmas of the Church (though with some obvious differences). And both teach that the doctrine of the Church has developed over time. The difference is in the nature of that development. The Orthodox teach a development that preserves apophasis, the utlimate unknowability of God, whereas Rome teaches a development of understanding, that the Church has come to know these theological matters more deeply.

This is only a partial list, and with thumbnail descriptions at that. But it is meant to emphasize that evangelical Protestants who convert to Orthodoxy must not settle for the easy dichotomies between themselves and Rome that were once the mainstay of their intellectual parameters. The truth is more complex. And only when Protestants can be converted from such former dichotomies can they come to a truer understanding and appreciation of their new Faith and the Church.

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Is Peter the Rock?

T. R. Valentine: Is Peter the Rock? A Look at Matthew 16

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So, it turns out the Pope is Roman Catholic, huh.  What a shock.  I suppose the next thing we’ll learn is that the earth is a sphere and not flat.

The media must think that Rome has never declared itself the one, and only, true Church. And, of course, they are playing up the notion of how offensive this declaration must be to everyone else. ‘Cuz, gosh, we all know that the primary thing of utmost importance is to never, ever, for even a teensy weensy moment, hurt someone’s feelings.

It does, of course, seem odd that HH Benedict XVI would state it so starkly given the late John Paul II’s penchant for the use of the term “sister churches” and the “two lungs” analogy (both of which, of course, implicitly call into question Rome’s claim to be the one true, visible Church). But, that is, nonetheless, what Rome has been claiming for centuries: she and she alone is the one true visible Body of Christ.

It is interesting, given recent exchanges between myself and the blogger at Cathedra Unitatis–and my post linking the discussion at Perry’s blog–that this declaration would come out into the media when it did. But it illustrates an important point.

That point is made by the Pope himself. Orthodoxy is not the one true visible Church, because it is defective. And in what is it defective? It has apostolic succession. It has the sacraments. It teaches the Gospel. What’s missing? That’s right: allegiance to the Pope as supreme bishop of the Church.

One call talk all one wants in flowery ecumenical language. One can form and support and maintain “fraternal relations.” One can lift anathemas, and so forth. But it comes down to this one point: the Orthodox Church teaches and has always maintained that the Roman see has a place of primacy (honor, respect, some authority), but it does not have a place of supremacy. The episcopacy, for Orthodox, must be collegial, in which no single bishop rules the others, but that all come together in mutual accord. Orthodox believe that this models the relations of the Trinity, the historical and biblical evidence, and is, in fact, the life of the Church. To make one bishop supreme among all others is to distort this collegiality, with ramifications for other aspects of Christian belief.

I have found it to be the case often in the online world that Orthodox are denigrated and judged for being so abominably stubborn. Roman Catholics will say something like, “Come on! We call you sister churches. We call you the other lung. We admit you have grace. We admit you have apostolic succession. We admit you teach the Gospel. Isn’t that enough? Why hold out on this pope thing? After all, you admit to a primacy of honor. How is that different from what we ask you to join us in believing about the Pope?”

Well, is the Father supreme over the Son? Doesn’t that teach essential subordinationism? Isn’t subordinationism a heresy? Then how is it that one bishop, who partakes of the life of the Trinity along with all the other bishops, elevate himself above his brother bishops such that all must subordinate themselves to him? How is that all the bishops have one head, who is Christ, but all the bishops save Rome also have another earthly head, the occupant of the Roman See?

No, Orthodox resist on just this point precisely of the distortions it brings into the common life in Christ of us all.

For a few Ortho-blogger reactions:

Clay, over at All Saints Forum, guesses that he was wrong.
Fr Stephen, is glad that we cleared that all up.
Reader Christopher gives three cheers for clarity.
James implicitly asks, does a bear wear a funny hat? (No, wait, I’ve got the joke wrong.)

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