Western and Eastern Papal Claims (the Debate on Which This Post Will Not Resolve)

The blogger at Cathedra Unitatis, writes in a recent post:

I do not pretend, nor have I ever pretended, that this blog is neutral. It is an exploration of the theological and historical claims of the Papacy. I currently lean strongly towards the veracity of these claims (as anyone who reads this blog can obviously tell), but I always give equal time to commenters who disagree and are willing to express their viewpoint intelligently and respectfully.

His comment stems from the fact that, in part, Perry Robinson is pointing out that among the collection articles he is engaging which seem to support his own view, there is an article which opposes it.

I have commented before on my views of an Eastern Orthodox Christian blogging openly and publicly his journey toward what would appear to be apostasy from the Orthodox Church. So I won’t cover old ground.

But I will point out something illustrative from this recent example.

Contrary to most polemics you’ll get from certain Roman Catholics (like she-who-must-not-be-named), Orthodox don’t want to downgrade the Pope to a backwater, Mister Magoo-like bishop of a provincial western town.  The canons are clear: the bishop of the see of Rome is to be accorded high honor, indeed is to be held as a primus inter parus, and with that honor has some level of appropriate authority (such as ecclesiastical appeal).  And many Orthodox would love to see restored the appropriate honors, titles and privileges to the papal see.  (There are no doubt semi-converted anti-papist Protestants who see their Orthodoxy vis-a-vis Rome, and there are, of course, those Athonite monks, but I think many more have a healthy regard for the Pope.)

The difference, however, is that Roman Catholic apologists argue, unyieldingly, a narrow set of papal privileges that Orthodox simply cannot accept (universal jurisdiction, infallibility, and so forth).  There are even pretenses–such as divesting certain papal titles–presented as “accomodations” to Orthodox, that fail to touch on the significant issues.  Such apologists then harangue Orthodox for being so stiff-necked themselves.  One might suggest that this is a case where the senus patrum here would legitimately boil down to Orthodoxy’s more broad views, and that Roman Catholics should leave their narrower claims and join us there.

But all that said, in reality the Western and Eastern Papal claims are not going to be won through the debate on historical and patristic evidences.  Orthodox see the condemnation of Honorius as indicating he’s a heretic–calling into question the claims of Roman Catholics to the infallibility of the pope.  Roman Catholics see the conciliar condemnation of Honorius as something less damning.  Roman Catholics will argue that the Roman see must authorize a council for it to be ecumenical.  Orthodox point out that Constantinople II (381) was not presided over or contemporaneouosly authorized by the pope (such authorization came later).  (And then there’s the question of which Eighth Ecumenical Council is the real Eighth Ecumenical Council: 869/870 or 879/880? And did the pope first accept then later reject the 879/880 council?)  Orthodox see conciliarity throughout the Fathers, while Roman Catholics read such “conciliarity” as submitted to the single see at Rome.  One could multiply examples.

The point of all this is that the argument relative to papal claims is often played out in a way at marked odds with the Orthodox mindset (or so, at least, I take it): rational arguments over what counts and doesn’t count as evidence, the examination of the truth of the premises of, and the validity of, the arguments made, and so on.  And there the debate stays, with unending back and forth lo these dozen centuries.  To the degree that Orthodox engage western papal claims in the arena of reason alone, they engage in a debate that is at odds with who and what the Orthodox Church is.  The Church is, fundamentally and radically, a mystery.  It is a grace that cannot be plumbed.  And to the extent that the pope is considered in ecclesiology, it means that things will not nicely be tied up into rational boxes.  Fully explain to me the distinctions between grace and works, and then you have earned the right to pontificate on the pope.

That does not mean, I hasten to add, that Orthodox have no rational case to make nor that that rational case will, since it is anchored in mystery, always be deficient to that of the western apologists.  On the contrary, persons like the gentleman at the Energetic Procession blog have done what I take to be definitive work in that regard, and I take their arguments against western papal claims and their defense of eastern papal claims to be conclusive.

But it is in the why of my taking them to be conclusive that is the important point.  In the end, Roman Catholic apologists for the western claims of the papacy, just as Orthodox apologists for the eastern claims of the papacy, read the exact same evidence, make arguments with the same rigor and strength, and decide for their own case, because their fundamental presuppositions dispose them so to do.  None of us can come to claims about the papacy without a set of first principles, whether or not we are conscious of them or they are educated by the evidence, and those first principles will ultimately be that which tips the argument in one direction or not.

This is what I find so, I’ll be blunt here, egregious about the blogging of a self-called Orthodox who advertises ahead of time his affinity to Roman Catholic claims regarding the papacy.  In effect, his mind is already made up–despite contrary protests–because the first principles with which he engages the question already dispose him to the particular conclusions toward which he admits he leans.  All he awaits now is the proper amount of evidence fitting his predisposition by which his conscience can be consoled and comforted, so that when he does finally unite with Rome, he may do so with a clear conscience.

Which is well and good.  After all, I had already determined I was going to become Orthodox when I began investigating more deeply the matters which interested me.  Like, I assume, the Cathedra Unitatis blogger, I had a predisposition: to accept Orthodox claims.  Perhaps the only thing that would have stopped my trajectory would be evidence that called into serious question the claims of Orthodoxy itself.  And, I’m going to guess, the same is true of Cathedra Unitatis.  It may be that he has not swum the Tiber because his conscience has not yet been fortified with enough courage.  And it may be just at this point that the CU blogger may be saved from his presumably immanent apostasy: there may be just enough evidence that comes his way to keep in significant doubt the Roman claims he wants so to believe.  Though he admits to no perfidious motivations for ignoring an article calling into question some of the claims he accepts, perhaps that is a signal to his commitment to first principles by which all his evidence is pre-sorted.

But this is true of all of us Protestant and other western converts to Orthodoxy.  We Orthodox who come by way of western culture and religions are disposed toward if not even subject to a rationalism that is not Christian.  Protestants change churches because they have changed their reasonings about various doctrines.  And if the CU blogger is genuine in his comments (and I take him so to be), then he will change churches because he has changed the weight of his reasonings about the pope.  (Note what I say here: he has changed the weight of his reasonings.  It will be something he himself does, though he may describe it as something passively done to him.)

But the Orthodox Church–contrary to our western culture and religions–calls for more than changes of mind.  In Orthodoxy the primary organ by which we relate to God and one another is the heart, a heart into which the intellect has by grace and askesis descended.  For an Orthodox examining papal claims, the rational aspect (collecting, sorting and weighing evidences, premises and validity) is one part, and only one part, and not even the greater part.  First comes the askesis of regular and faithful prayer in community, then regular and faithful prayer at home, the vigorous exercise of the community’s askeses (including and especially priestly counsel, with fasting and other self-denial), and then, one may take on the rational arguments.

For me the papal claims are primarily answered, not by the rational arguments, but by the experience of the Divine Liturgy and the Sacraments.  My mind is not the primary organ in which I engage God, and therefore is not to be the primary organ by which I come to know his Church.  If the Divine Liturgy cannot speak to me of papal claims, then my reason will have absolutely nothing else to add.

If Cathedra Unitatis truly wants to know what is the reality of the papal claims, western and eastern, he would do well to take all his questions to the confessional first, seek the counsel of his priest and bishop, and then stand in union with God in the Eucharist, and to leave the rational arguments to the rationalists.

30 thoughts on “Western and Eastern Papal Claims (the Debate on Which This Post Will Not Resolve)

  1. For me the papal claims are primarily answered, not by the rational arguments, but by the experience of the Divine Liturgy and the Sacraments. My mind is not the primary organ in which I engage God, and therefore is not to be the primary organ by which I come to know his Church. If the Divine Liturgy cannot speak to me of papal claims, then my reason will have absolutely nothing else to add.

    “20 To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.” – Isaiah 8:20

  2. Benedict Seraphim –

    Thanks for this post. It contains many good points and much food for thought. Allow me to make a couple of points. Please let me know where I have misunderstood your words.

    First, I’m a bit surprised by your use of the word “apostasy.” I know that in Eastern Orthodox usage this word has have a wider application than in Western Christian usage, but it still strikes me as strange that a sincere inquirer into another ancient apostolic Christian Church (albeit in schism or heresy) would be classed in the same category as a Christian who reverted to paganism, atheism, or some non-Christian religion. Again, I don’t doubt that, from a very rigorist Orthodox ecclesiological perspective, “apostasy” is what I’m flirting with. But, to be perfectly honest, I suppose it’s this sort of rigorist Orthodox thinking about the boundaries of the Church that has become very problematic for me. I have never found this sort of thinking to be universal within Orthodoxy, but nevertheless it’s widespread enough to be problematic for me.

    As an Orthodox Christian (not merely “self-professed” but canonically so) I can also understand your sensitivity about unfair caricatures of Orthodoxy by Catholic apologists. I have seen many a doozy over the years. However, I have seen my fair share of unfair caricatures of Catholicism by Orthodox apologists as well. Please, let’s not play this game about which side has been more offended or abused than the other. There’s plenty of blame to go around. Instead, perhaps we could do our best to understand the other’s position on his own terms, and only then to respond carefully and charitably.

    I am far more sympathetic to your understanding of Church as mystery than perhaps you think I am (one need only pick up Henri De Lubac’s “The Mystery of the Church” to find that this is definitely not something foreign to the Catholic understanding). But I can’t help but think that on this particular point you are engaging in the very sort of thing that you denounce on the other side: caricaturing and building straw men. I’m sorry, but it’s just not as simple as those “rationalist” Latins and those “mystical” Greeks. In many ways, as I hinted above, I am finding Catholic ecclesiology to be far more mystical and far less rigorist than many Orthodox takes on ecclesiology. This may seem paradoxical to those who find the office of the Papacy as being overly restrictive, but I’m finding it to be the case.

    Also, I honestly don’t see where a “mystical” understanding of the Church somehow precludes or makes useless or superfluous a study of its history and structure of the Church on earth (please correct me if this is not your argument). I mean no offence, but I find this line of thought to be a tad gnostic. The Church is theanthropic, am I correct? It is the mystical Body of Christ, both divine and human, visible and invisible. It is the kingdom of God but it also has a hierarchical, visible, tangible structure on earth. The Church is a “mystery” not in the sense of “no one can rationally figure it out” but in the sense of “sacramentum,” no? Obviously, this means that the Church in her full reality (both human and divine, earthly and heavenly) cannot be entirely rationally comprehended, but it does not mean that it is some sort of Platonic eidos floating about somewhere in the heavens.

    I am confused about all the talk about my “first principles” and how they have led me to read all of the evidence in a particular (wrong, according to you) way. You say that this is what you’ve found “egregious” about me and my blog … and then you proceed to admit that you too (as other Orthodox) read the evidence according to your own first principles and presuppositions, and consequently find the Orthodox understanding to be persuasive. One moment, you call it “egregious” and the next you call it “well and good” and something that you, as well as everyone else, does. I’m confused. Am I missing something here? I’d appreciate a clarification.

    I have no doubt that there is a great deal of truth to what you say here about the role of presuppositions in reading the history of the Church and the writings of the Fathers. But I certainly don’t believe that we are somehow prisoners of our presuppositions, or that it’s impossible for Orthodoxs and Catholics to hash out ecclesiology, church history, or patristics in an objective way. In fact, I even think that it’s possible for both sides to come to a high level of agreement, setting aside the reactionary positions and polemical misrepresentations to get to the essence of the ecclesiological differences between the two Churches. Yes, it can be done (Olivier Clement’s book “You Are Peter” is a perfect Orthodox example of this; some of the Catholic and Orthodox commenters at CU also seem to exemplify this). This is what I’ve been trying to do (no doubt very ineffectively) at CU. But, perhaps you’re right, I am naive, and the whole thing’s a fool’s errand. We shall see …

    Anyhow, I’ve already written too much. Again, please let me know where I’ve misunderstood you. Above all, I’d appreciate your prayers for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in my life.

  3. One more comment: I resent the entirely unwarranted assumption that I have not sought the counsel of Orthodox pastors and guides in my reconsideration of Rome. In fact (not that it’s anyone else’s business!) for some time I have indeed struggled over these issues with several priests and especially with my spiritual father. And the response has not been nearly as harsh or judgmental as what I’ve encountered online.

  4. Benedict Seraphim (Clifton):

    I certainly don’t have much to add, but I’ve wondered – since both the ‘Roman communion’ and the ‘Constantinople communion’ have been heavily engaged in talking to the Oriental Orthodox concerning means to reunion (i.e., neither has completely dismissed this communion [except in a few circles] as so heretical currently as to be ignored or shunned) is there anything we can learn from the witness of the Oriental Orthodox as to the historical understanding of the ecclesiology of the Church? In other words, might one argue that the Eastern Orthodox ecclesiological view is not some late invention around the time of Photios and later, but is indicative of a quite early view?

    That said, I believe we also must look at those churches within the same geographical sphere as Oriental Orthodox that have chosen to enter into communion with Rome and ask, how does their understanding inform our views about the role of the Bishop of Rome? I think similarly we can look at Greek Melkite and Maronite Catholics to help inform the view. Personally, I come away from all of that with more confidence in the Orthodox ecclesiology [agreeing also, with you, that there are other reasons which defy simple fact gathering and argument] but that nevertheless the [Eastern] Orthodox Church is profoundly the less for the absence of the Bishop of Rome, as she also is for the absence of her separated brethren from India, Ethiopia, Egypt, Armenia, Iraq, etc.

    While personally I think the EOs and OOs are more likely to heal their separation within my lifetime than for the RCC/EO (and OO) ecclesiological matters to be resolved, all is in the hands of God and many of those matters seem beyond me, other than to pray about it and remain faithful.

    Finally, of your charity, I humbly ask your prayers as I prepare for reception into the Church this weekend and ask also for your forgiveness for any wrong I may have done you or offence I may have given in any of our correspondence. I will be received under the name ‘John.’

    Eric John

  5. CU:

    Thanks for your considered reply. You do misunderstand some of my points–no doubt because I have so infelictously expressed them–so allow me to clarify.

    My point is not about the antithesis between rationalists Latins and mystical Greeks. Nor is my point about rationalism (really a form of gnosticism) and mysticism (often construed as essentially irrational). Nor, finally, am I advocating anti-rationalist approaches to this question.

    My point is however, quite dogmatic: this question will not be resolved by reasoned arguments alone. In part this is due to the presuppositions we carry to the argument. And you are correct, we are not prisoners to those first principles–we may, after all change them–but unless we change those first principles (which change cannot be predicated upon reason alone–unless I misread the ancient sceptics), our reason, if we are careful, will fall in line with them. We are “prisoner” to our first principles if we are careful to argue rigorously in light of them. But establishing first principles goes beyond reason to . . . well, take your pick, inclinations, faith/conviction, and so on. (I’ll shy away now from further epistemological reflection.)

    So, to the degree that your first principles already dispose you to Roman Catholic claims, then you will ultimately come to Roman Catholic (as distinguishable from Orthodox) conclusions. It will be, in a sense, inevitable, unless of course you are inconsistent in your argument from your first principles.

    An example of your first principles is already revealed in your inclination to (if not outright espousal of) the idea of Rome and Orthodoxy as having complementary ecclesiologies (the two lungs or what have you). Let me say clearly that I know I’m a baby Orthodox, but I think it unproblematic to assert that the Orthodox claim is that in Orthodoxy is the fulness of the Church. In what sense, then, is there a need for Orthodox to “hash out” ecclesiology with Rome? Unless, of course, one takes it that both churches are, in fact, Churches. If, on the other hand, I am mistaken and you do not think Rome is in any sense the Church (in the way that Orthodoxy is), then why bother with the papal question? If you believe that Orthodoxy is the fulness, what possibly can the pope add to that?

    This is behind my “egregious” comment. I apologize for my wording of “self-called.” I know that you are canonically Orthodox. (I might also add the question as to what the revelation of your blog, its contents, and your search to satisfy the question of the papacy might do to your communicant status were these things to be made known by you to your priest and bishop. Perhaps you’ve addressed these questions already on your blog. I only recall that you wish to remain anonymous due to the supposed deleterious effects such a revelation might have.) But what is egregious to me is to “own” your canonical Orthodoxy while approaching the papal question from an ecclesiology at odds with your status as canonical Orthodox.

    And ultimately, it doesn’t matter to my point as to what your canonical status is. Rather, the point is that Orthodox have a particular ecclesiology AND a particular askesis for addressing ecclesiological questions. It would seem to me that by staring with a phronema that is at odds with Orthodoxy is a fundamentally contradictory way to begin (first principles again/still).

    Again, I apparently did not make clear enough: I’m not anti-rational. But this question is being approached–so far as your blog is any indication–from a wholly rational standpoint, and my thesis in this post here being commented on is that rational approaches to this question will ultimately only confirm what one already believes to be the case. Which is why the askesis which establishes the heart in union with God in Christ is the only proper starting point for this venture.

    That is to say, if one truly wants to know the answer to the papal question, one first begins in confession, repentance, prayer, and fasting, tightly bound in with one’s community (which means open and frank revelations to one’s priest and/or bishop). Only then can the mind be brought into the heart, and thereby formed and informed properly to address the question.

    It’s not a matter of either/or (either the heart or the mind), but rather one of primacy. And here the heart–and all its askeses–must take precedence before the mind can properly work.

    I recognize that the asketical aspect of these things is hard to portray on a blog–and difficult to portray without pride and prelest/plane–but that is all the more reason to blog less and pray and fast more, I suppose, if one truly seeks an answer to this question.

    And given, especially, that for you this will be a communion changing question–you will NOT knowlingly be communed in an Orthodox parish–one would think a proper primacy of engagement would be paramount.

    Now, as to labelling you a potential apostate: I may well be off on the technical distinctions. Perhaps instead of an apostate, you will only be seen from an Orthodox perspective as a schismatic and/or heretic. I suppose there are important distinctions about those things. I for one would like to be known by none of them. None of them can be good for one’s soul.

  6. CU:

    I was still writing my reply (#5) when you posted your second (#3), and so I had not read it when I posted my #5 above. My apologies for any offense. I only recall your comments early on about wishing to remain anonymous and not discussing this with your priest. If I remembered incorrectly, or if things have changed, again, my apologies for those assumptions.

    But again, this is my point. From the Orthodox perspective there is an askesis to this question (which focuses on the heart), while a rational approach is a different askesis altogether.

  7. Eric:

    Prayers, friend, and many years! (Would you email me the particulars offline?)

    As to the difference in the EO and OO schism and the Roman and EO schism, as well as the place of “Byzantines” who ascribe allegiance to Rome–these are many a tangled argument. Superficially, I think the EO and OO schism may be healed more quickly because it is easier to see that there was a fundamental terminological distinction that created the division. I think already consensus is building on that, and that is why I agree with your positive assessment on the reunion of the EO and OO churches.

    Rome, on the other hand, is far deeper–with the filioque and the papal claims–ecclesiologically speaking. If it were a matter of clarifying terminology this would have been healed long ago. But the OOs and EOs are far more similar in terms of polity, theology and askesis than is Rome and the EOs–in my humble opinion–which also adds to the ease with which I believe EOs and OOs will reunite and the concomitant difficulty in reuniting Rome and EOs.

  8. Well said, Benedict Seraphim!

    (But with Fr Patrick Reardon in your corner I’m not surprised.)

    Like I’ve been saying:

    Not believing the Pope has been the Vicar of Christ on earth (infallible with immediate jurisdiction everywhere) by divine institution from the beginning, since St Peter, does not mean hating the papacy or Western Catholicism!

    That his office may be a man-made one like any rank of the divinely instituted episcopate (like patriarchs and archbishops), for the orderly running of the church, is a far cry from Jack Chick and obnoxious nationalist or nasty Protestant-convert online Orthodoxy.

    We seem to agree that if you filter out the problems of nationalism/ethnocentrism and anti-Westernism this is the authentic Orthodox position.

    And I agree it’s obvious CU wants to be a Roman Catholic.

    If he believes the Pope has been the Vicar of Christ on earth (infallible with immediate jurisdiction everywhere) by divine institution from the beginning, since St Peter, he should do so.

    Eric John, regarding EO-OO reunion happening long before EO-RC or RC-OO reunion, I agree.

  9. Clifton –

    OK, now I understand where you’re coming from a great deal better. Thank you.

    I am very receptive to your plea to “blog less, and pray and fast more.” You are quite right. My sinful tendency is to invert the proper order. Thank you for this important reminder. That being said, I don’t find the historical questions raised by my blog to be entirely unrelated to my own ecclesiological status and spiritual ascesis. It may seem like wrangling over details, but it’s still very much an existential question, at least for me.

    I admit that the focus on my blog has been for the most part historical, only incidentally theological, and not all all spiritual or ascetical. I am interested primarily in the development of the Papacy, and in the patristic witness to the primacy of Rome, and how Catholics and Orthodox understand these things. I would certainly like to do more with the theology of the Papacy vis-a-vis the Orthodox theology of the Church, but I feel that it’s important to establish the historical and patristic witness to the Papacy first, because I think it might blow away polemical misrepresentations and outright fabrications on both sides of the debate.

    Perhaps it’s bass-ackwards to do the history before the theology; but, then again, I’m not sure how to dive into the theology without consulting the history (which has indeed shaped the respective ecclesiologies) and especially the patristic witness (which both Orthodox and Catholics take to be normative and authoritative). It’s a bit of a paradox that I’m not able to figure out just now: in doing the history, one can’t entirely prescind from the theology; and in doing the theology, one can’t entirely prescind from the history.

    Sorry for this rambling response. Again, thanks for your thought-provoking words.

  10. I agree, Young Fogey, that non-reception of the papal claims by the Orthodox does not automatically equal anti-Romanism or anti-Westernism.

    However, in my own personal experience (especially with converts and many self-proclaimed “traditionalists”) this distinction is not nearly as clear in their minds as it is in our minds. In fact, I find the anti-Western pathology to be so widespread in American Orthodoxy that irenic Orthodox folks such as Father Pat Reardon (who I have the utmost respect for) and David Hart are the exceptions rather than the rule. It obviously helps that both Reardon and Hart have actually studied Roman Catholic theology, and are real theologians rather than polemical hacks.

  11. With regard to Young Fogey’s distinction above, I should also make clear that Catholics who regard the Orthodox non-reception of the papal claims as being schismatic and aberrant are not necessarily anti-Eastern or anti-Orthodox. If Orthodox are free to make criticisms (in all charity and humility) about what they regard to be defects in the theology and life of the Western Church, I don’t see why Catholics should not be allowed to make similar criticisms about the development of the theology and life of the Eastern Churches (again, in all charity and humility).

  12. CU:

    I find your esteem for Father Patrick both unsurprising and suprising. Unsurprising, because, well, gosh, that’s obvious. He is truly a man to be admired (and I am so fortunate to have him as my priest and father confessor).

    But I also find it a little surprising, because, as you say, Father has “studied Roman Catholic theology.” In fact, Father Patrick has worked in two doctoral-level programs in Church history, and was once a monk at Gethsemani in KY (and was Fr Thomas Merton’s first novice). Father Patrick, of all those I know, has standing above anyone to speak about Rome. He is not, of course, infallible (pun intended!), though clearly he influences my own views.

    That is to say, Father Patrick knows the historical evidence, the dependent theology, and the attendent askeses for Orthodox and papal claims. It’s clear what are his conclusions on these matters.

  13. CU, you’re right about pervasive ‘anti-Western pathology’. I hate that too.

    And you’re right that sincere RCs are not necessarily anti-Eastern or anti-Orthodox. What they may not understand is the Orthodox think adding the modern papacy on top of Eastern liturgy/praxis would change the church – even if done in the name of defending tradition you’d end up with something un-, even anti-traditional, they say.

    IOW why are the Orthodox and the Byzantine Catholics so different from each other?

    I’d forgotten that Fr Patrick was Roman Catholic (and a Trappist with Merton) before becoming an Episcopal and later an Orthodox priest. AFAIK he knows what he’s talking about and does not hate the Pope or Western Catholicism. Quite the opposite.

    Back to why RCs and BCs on one hand and the Orthodox on the other differ so much when they hold IMO nearly the same faith…

    Somewhere along the line I’ve picked up the idea that ‘head religion’, where liturgy and other practice don’t matter as much as ‘doctrine on paper’, is something that appeals to former hard-core Presbyterians and other conservative Protestants; they seem happy as conservative Novus Ordo RCs (‘we don’t want that artsy-fartsy high-church stuff; we’ve got the catechism and “Santo subito! Santo subito!”‘). From the Institutes to JPII’s catechism… almost seamlessly.

    (The natives in the latter church scene – descended from persecuted Irish – are the people Thomas Day described perfectly.)

    Those for whom practice including liturgy matters as much as doctrine are happier as Anglicans or Orthodox… and possibly as conservative high-church Lutherans… than as mainstream RCs today. (Nobody can accuse the Orthodox or the Lutherans of being weak on doctrine either.)

    To be fair Western Catholicism has always assumed the faithful experiencing a whole body of practice, not just adherence to the Pope. (In fact that was the mediæval norm, long before ultramontanism.) And there are traditional Roman Catholics who think this way.

    Unsurprisingly the two brands of high churchmanship (in the old sense of high theology and church authority not necessarily ceremonial) don’t understand each other or really get on.

  14. YF –

    On praxis and “head-religion” … again, I quite agree. I myself tend to be more praxis/heart-oriented than head-oriented (though, from the subject matter of my blog, one might not be able to detect that). Liturgical and aesthetical matters are very high on the list for me. Believe me, I have absolutely no desire to leave Orthodoxy and enter into the wild world of American Catholicism (however sane the parish, whether Eastern or Roman, I would be able to find myself). The only thing compelling me to consider such an (otherwise insane) action is conscience.

  15. Clifton –

    I believe I’ve met Father Patrick once or twice personally, and I have followed his books, articles, and pastoral ponderings almost religiously. Of course, I would love to hear his take on Rome and the Papacy in particular (I believe I’ve gotten a taste from an article he wrote not too long ago on the subject of Orthodox-Catholic ecumenism). I have no doubt that his arguments would be quite formidable (there are, of course, formidable men on both sides of the argument).

  16. CU,

    “But, to be perfectly honest, I suppose it’s this sort of rigorist Orthodox thinking about the boundaries of the Church that has become very problematic for me. I have never found this sort of thinking to be universal within Orthodoxy, but nevertheless it’s widespread enough to be problematic for me.”

    It sounds like in addition to the veracity of the claims of the Papacy, you are also considering the veracity of the claims of the Orthodox as the One True Church, and the soundingly obnoxious and exclusive implications for those not within her. The role of the Bishop in the Orthodox Church is firstly to preserve the truth of faith and practice. We do not believe this truth changes. Although there is a certain call on Bishops to decide in matters that come up as society develops, but I think the witness of the Fathers has surprisingly shown that the more things change, the more they stay the same, and the Bishops consult precedent rather than make up new rules. So the Church preserves the Truth, and thus that which contradicts the conciliar, Apostolic Church, which in Acts includes more than Peter’s voice, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us”, is considered false. Therefore the Orthodox Church considers anything that contradicts or adds to or takes away from the Faith once delivered to be a soul destroying heresy. She is concerned not with legalistic acquiescence, but with the health that the pure faith nurtures us in. It is the Truth that sets us free.

    About those outside the Church, I have read that Bishop Ware has repeated the phrase, “We know where the Spirit is, but not where He is not”. The Truth is also in our hearts, so a person who is pure in heart, but ignorant of correct doctrine in practice may be closer to God than one who conforms to the outer trappings but with a corrupt heart. We must all clean the inside of our cups, but the inside should be consistent with the outside. St. Bernadette may have been wrong about whose Immaculate Conception Mary was talking about, but I think all would agree her heart was purer than most, at least by the accounts I’ve come across. Same with St. Theresa of Avila. Yet it would have been nice if the Catholic Church leadership had been more supportive of such hearts and echoed a more consistent witness with them.

    Closed communion is about preserving the purity of the outside of the cup as well as purifying those who partake. Whenever anyone is excluded, it’s not about if they are a Christian or not, but whether they maintain the True Faith once delivered.

    And since we do not believe in once saved always saved, not affirming the status of salvation in people with other creedal alignments seems beside the point. However if you have a low bar and broad view of what is “essential” to the faith, I don’t know why you became Orthodox in the first place.

    I’m sorry you are plagued with such doubts though. Not fun.

  17. >The canons are clear: the bishop of the see of Rome
    >is to be accorded high honor, indeed is to be held as a
    >primus inter parus, and with that honor has some
    >level of appropriate authority (such as ecclesiastical
    >appeal). And many Orthodox would love to see
    >restored the appropriate honors, titles and privileges
    >to the papal see.

    The fact that such honors would have to be restored means that such honor no longer exists.

    In the past the solution to a wayward diocese, in Antioch or Alexandria, was to ignore the currently presiding, but in schism bishop, and insert a new one. Thus, we have a Coptic and Greek Orthodox patriarch of Alexandria etc. The same thing happened in Antioch. Already there are Orthodox bishops with jurisdiction in Rome.

  18. CU wrote. “Also, I honestly don’t see where a “mystical” understanding of the Church somehow precludes or makes useless or superfluous a study of its history and structure of the Church on earth (please correct me if this is not your argument). I mean no offence, but I find this line of thought to be a tad gnostic. The Church is theanthropic, am I correct? It is the mystical Body of Christ, both divine and human, visible and invisible. It is the kingdom of God but it also has a hierarchical, visible, tangible structure on earth.”

    Well here’s one reason one might take Catholicism to fail in this regard. On the Orthodox view all of the energies are deity and yet not reductively so. All of them interpenetrate each other fully but without reduction. Likewise, the authority of all of the bishops is equal in communion yet without subordination. Now throw the Papacy into the mix and you get a different Trinitarian theology, one where subordination is necessary, so much so that the Church becomes the “mystical body” rather than the genuine body of Christ, where the former is a theoretical construct made by those whose theory of causation would not permit them to see God as the formal cause of creation and also as a consequence precluded the deification of Christ’s humanity in terms of energies but asserted it as a created effect.

  19. CU,

    I am not clear on what you mean by “objective.” Do you mean apart from our presuppositions qua interpretive principles? If so, then all data will be explanatorily idle since it is only in light of our presuppositions that the data become factually meaningful. Consequently on what suppose theoretically neutral ground do you propose that Catholics and Orthodox hash out the issues?

    I suspect what irks many Orthodox is not that you are considering Rome, but that you have made your blog a venue for the usual suspects of pop Catholic rhetoriticians, especially, she who must not be named. It is one thing to go to the library, crack open the journals, consult experts and such. It is quite another to run a venue that pretty much stacks the deck and provides a safe and uncensored haven for the worst that the other side has to offer.

    And when I met Fr. Patrick a year or so ago his take on the Papacy was in sum that “Rome made it up.”

  20. Acolyte –

    I’m the first to admit that I’ve not done everything right or well on my blog. As I said early on, it’s an experiment. I’m undecided at this point whether or not it’s been mostly successful or unsuccessful. At least for me, the jury’s still out. Perhaps it should be put out to pasture sometime soon, or perhaps its best days are still ahead of it.

    On one hand, I’ve learned an incredible amount from erudite commenters, both Orthodox and Catholic. For instance, I probably would never have come into contact with folks like Gregorio, Fr Patrick, Prof. Tighe, or Mr DeLassus if I hadn’t started the blog. In this sense, I think that the blog has been very successful, at least for me (and, to be honest, I have had a very selfish motive in starting the blog in the first place).

    On the other hand, there have been less-than-helpful comments. Many of these I have specifically not allowed, or edited, because they were overly argumentative or off-topic or just incredibly inane. At the same time, I have let through all sorts of more polemical comments simply because I want to see how commenters of the opposite view would refute them. Another benefit of letting through less-than-erudite commenters (again, from both sides) – namely, what sort of polemical pitfalls not to fall into. My criterion (for right or wrong) has been to reject comments that cannot possibly lead to any sort of clarification or shed any further light on the topics I’m interested in (again, very selfish motive).

    As to your point about that particular individual, I do not feel comfortable singling out any individual publicly here. In fact, I think that it would be very bad form to do so. The only thing I would say is that I would think that those who want to see the authentic Orthodox viewpoint well represented might want to engage such “pop Catholic rhetoricians” and show where they are wrong.

    I will say this: If my blog ever gets to the point where it’s ONLY Catholics giving their point of view, then it’s of very little worth to me and I would not hesitate to put it out to pasture. I can, of course, read and I have access to all of the pro-Catholic materials. None of this is news to me. What I have not been able to find are good Orthodox answers to such materials (sorry, I have not been at all impressed by the Abbe Guettee or Michael Whelton).

    Anyhow, enough about my pathetic blog . . .

  21. PS. By “objective” I don’t mean that in an absolute sense, “apart from our presuppositions qua interpretive principles.” Perhaps that was a very bad word to use. I think what I was getting at is a non-polemical approach. I have very little respect for polemics. In fact, I blame polemics on both sides for the crystallization of the East-West schism.

  22. CU:

    You wrote: “I can, of course, read and I have access to all of the pro-Catholic materials. None of this is news to me. What I have not been able to find are good Orthodox answers to such materials (sorry, I have not been at all impressed by the Abbe Guettee or Michael Whelton).”

    I find this to be an incredibly (even, perhaps, willfully) blind comment.

    If you have not found “good Orthodox answers” to the likes of the what you have posted, then you haven’t very carefully read the ones given, or you dismiss them without proper engagement.

    After all, by what criteria do you measure a “good” Orthodox answer? One that meets the essential points of the argument? Or, more likely: One that’s persuasive to you? If so, then you are not looking for evidence, you are dealing with psychology.

    Which is just to say that this is, to me, more evidence that your mind has already been made up and you are just trying to amass enough material to salve your conscience.

  23. As a follow up: why not write Fr Patrick Reardon, mention I recommended him to you, and engage a priest of your Church on these matters, one who will be able to provide you good Orthodox answers.

    Unless, of course, you are merely wanting to be persuaded.

  24. “The only thing I would say is that I would think that those who want to see the authentic Orthodox viewpoint well represented might want to engage such “pop Catholic rhetoricians” and show where they are wrong.”

    I certainly wouldn’t claim to present an “authentic Orthodox viewpoint” but I know many of the regulars at the old Pontifications blog engaged “she who must not be named” and the other RC cheerleaders. No one on either side ever changed their mind (at least as far as I could tell). Why go through it again?

    Maybe Jonathan Carpenter should snoop around, find out your true identity and ‘out’ you for the whole (or rather tiny) on-line cathodox world.

  25. Sigh … this will be my last comment on this post, because I have no time to go back and forth on this topic.

    Jennifer – How charitable! I really hope that your suggestion is just an incredibly tasteless joke. If not, you are far more dangerous and vindictive than the woman you constantly complain about.

    Clifton – Sorry, but you’re just going to have to take my word on this one. I am unpersuaded by the Orthodox rebuttals that I have heard/read so far (meaning, I don’t think that they have adequately ruled out the Catholic interpretation of the historical and patristic data). Perhaps there are some rebuttals that I haven’t read that will be persuasive. You remain unpersuaded by the Catholic arguments, and I am currently unpersuaded by the Orthodox arguments.

    I could very easily throw the same kinds of things back at you that you’ve thrown at me here. What??? (I speak as a fool) Clifton’s unpersuaded by the Catholic arguments? Well, of course, he’s just incredibly (even, perhaps, willfully) blind! He either hasn’t read the Catholic arguments, or he’s not properly engaged them. Of course, I’m sure that before he became Orthodox his mind was already closed to the Catholic arguments, and he’s just trying to amass enough material to salve his conscience.

    But, of course, I would never make such arguments, because I don’t know Clifton from a hole in the wall! In fact, I assume that Clifton has looked at all the evidence to the best of his ability, and he’s made his choice according to his conscience. I assume that he’s Orthodox, not because he has some neurotic need to be Orthodox, but because he’s done his very best to discern God’s will for his life and he has acted accordingly.

    Now, why on earth am I not allowed the same benefit of the doubt?

    I would be very happy to correspond discreetly with Father Patrick on these topics.

  26. “Jennifer – How charitable! I really hope that your suggestion is just an incredibly tasteless joke. If not, you are far more dangerous and vindictive than the woman you constantly complain about.”

    Of course it was a joke. But I do think that it’s a bit ironic that there was group of people in the on-line cathodox world who thought it was acceptable to violate Dreher’s privacy but don’t seem to mind that you’re anonymous. The fact is that it was completely unacceptable for Carpenter to call Dreher’s priest and then make his conversion public. It would also be completely unacceptable for someone to ‘out’ you.

    Your personal journey that you make public for the whole world to see would be a bit more ‘sincere’ if you didn’t come off as being overly sensitive with a bad tendency towards sarcasm. In fact, you come across a bit like Dreher.

  27. CU:

    You prove my point.

    Where on your blog have you engaged the Orthodox answers and either demonstrated their weakness over against the Roman Catholic ones or admitted their superiority?

    I admit I haven’t read every post and response on your blog, so perhaps you can point me to the comments/posts where you do such demonstration or admit the Orthodox superiority on a point and/or argument.

    Instead, what I see is a lot of “amen-ing” the pop neo Caths, a lot of criticizing the Orthodox points, and very little rational engagement of the latter. Maybe I’ve missed it all.

    Of course keeping this in the realm of psychology and persuasion is useless and does no argumentative work. But simply appealing to the relativity of persausive causation in particular individuals doesn’t save you from the necessary obligation you have as an Orthodox Christian to maintain the faith you have received.

    And that has been my point all along: I see a lot of talk about inclination, persuasion and other psychology, all under the guise of mere rationalism.

    Look, you’re right that I do not know you from Adam–which is, apparently, how you wish to keep it–but as a fellow Orthodox it is my responsibility to give caution and warning to the path you’re on. You are not, of course, answerable to me pastorally speaking. But I am responsible not to cooperate in apostasy and to warn those of my brothers and sisters of the dangers they may be heading into.

    The fact that on your blog you encouraged an inquirer/catechumen into the Orthodox faith, one Andrew, who had no background for Orthodoxy, along your personal path will only lead such a one to confusion and despair–save, of course, from the grace of mercy of God.

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