Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Critique of Orthodoxy (John McAlpine)

I'm new, so pardon me for jumping in. I couldn't resist, however, adding my own two cents' worth, since I too have so often been struck by the obvious incompleteness of the Eastern Orthodox position and its apologists' failure to recognize this incompleteness.

Quite rightly one of you has noted that it is insufficient to point to the first seven ecumenical councils as the criterion of Eastern Orthodoxy, as these councils can better be adduced in proof of the Catholic position. In fact, a real consideration of what constitutes an ecumenical council is not helpful at all to today's Eastern Orthodoxy, it seems to me. Are there not disagreements even among among Eastern Orthodox as to which councils are ecumenical? Why are there only seven for some EO's, but more for others? Who finally decides whether a given council is ecumenical or not? What about the Robber Council of Ephesus? Why has the separated East failed to have any more ecumenical councils, if (1) she says they alone are the highest authority, and (2) she had them formerly at the rate of one per century? What happened, are there no more threats to the faith? Can it be that without Rome Eastern Orthodoxy is not the same church that she was before the separation from Rome? Answering any of these questions is child's play for a Catholic, but a real contortion for an EO.
It seems to me that the real criterion of Eastern Orthodoxy, i.e., what sets it apart from Catholicism (though this also makes it kindred with Protestants), is something over and beyond the ("first seven"?) ecumenical councils. The root of it is what I'll call here the "anti-Roman animus", a reflexive refusal to admit any Roman teaching, and this despite the fact that no witness of ecumenical councils against Roman teaching can be found. Indeed no such witness can be found since the early ecumenical councils are better witnesses to Roman teaching than they are to the modern EO denial of it.
So what the EO are stuck with is this popular anti-Roman animus founded ultimately on Eastern nationalism and ethnocentrism and fed by lurid claims of Western injustices or heresies. But justifications for the EO denial of Catholic doctrine seem to me always to be insufficient even by an EO yardstick: for the EO's with no ecumenical councils for the past 13 centuries there is no definitive infallible EO judgement in this matter, only individual rejections and private theories and local catechisms that even by EO principles might logically be wrong or heretical and are even assailed as such be some Eastern Orthodox, so that, quite logically by EO principles, Rome's teaching (or anyone else's) might indeed be the correct one. I have been told by some EO's that an EO could accept the Catholic doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and the Roman Primacy (!) without being a formal heretic, and we know that the EO hierarchy at the Council of Florence accepted the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory before they went back on their word later after they had returned home, all this yet another illustration that the EO's without Rome cannot be sure of the correctness of their own doctrinal teaching.
Once in 1968 just before the issuance of Humanae Vitae I asked a Greek friend, "Georgia, what does your church teach about contraception?" I was surprised when she told me that her youth group had just asked her priest that question, and that he had said, "We're not sure. We're waiting to hear what Rome says." I'm told, by the way, that the three successive editions of Kallistos Ware's book on Orthodoxy betray the recent decades' change in EO teaching on contraception (paralleling the earlier Protestant collapse on the same issue); one may say that Ware is not authoritative, but he is an EO bishop, and what more authoritative source is one likely to have? A Russian Orthodox priest I know who is also a professor of history and classics, even told me privately that he as an EO priest was ashamed of the EO practice of remarrying divorced people, since even the muted way it is done among today's EO's testifies to their failure to uphold the apostolic teaching. So, anyway, EO claims that Eastern Orthodoxy does not teach this or that have to be taken with a grain of salt. Is it their doctrine, or just dyspepsia in the face of Rome's teaching?
Are these tough comments? You bet! I have said them, however, not because I dislike the East or the Eastern Orthodox or non-Catholics in general, nor because I am a Western "legalist" who can't understand "the spirit of the East". No, I've said these things because true regard for the Eastern Orthodox means I have to tell them the truth, viz., that they need Rome today just as much as their ancestors of the first millenium needed Rome then. Rome, in the words of the great Vladimir Soloviev, a "Russian Orthodox in union with the Apostolic See of Rome," is that "miraculous icon of universal Christianity." With Rome the Eastern Orthodox would again be complete and Catholic, and one with the same Undivided Church to which they once belonged.
Thanks for your attention to this post, and regards to all.

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