…and that's President Snow!
I bet if I asked for comments on where and why “the other” Christian tradition or denomination has erred in doctrine or theology, I would receive a thousand comments (I am NOT asking). I am sure I could come up with a few dozen of my own, regarding just about every tradition or denomination (no, I am not going to do that either).
The more I have come to understand the whats and whys of the doctrinal disagreements, the more I have come to conclude that many of these (certainly not all) are just looking at different angles of the same picture, or emphasizing different aspects of the concept. We have four Gospels for a reason, each with slightly different (or very different) points of emphasis, etc., and we have not denounced three of the four Gospel writers as heretics.
Further, on some of the more difficult items (the Trinity, a precise description of the nature of Christ, etc.), well, who are we fooling?
If God were small enough to be understood, He would not be big enough to be worshipped.
I recall someone once telling me that maybe the items that are not made clear in Scripture are things that perhaps we are not meant to understand. We have enough trouble with the things that are made clear in Scripture….
Then, I have come to learn that there are Eastern Rite Churches under the pope, and there are Western Rite Orthodox Churches. Go figure.
Add to this the reality that in this world – certainly in the West – we are all Protestants; we each make a call about the church we attend, the form of worship that best suits us, etc. We aren’t in pre-Reformation Europe, or in the Byzantine Empire, or in the post-conversion Russian Empire.
And then we have the first recorded sermon in the book of Acts, chapter 2, delivered by St. Peter. Do you know what is in it? The Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Do you know what’s not in it? Pretty much everything that has divided Christians since. Yet very few have had the success of Peter: 3,000 were added to their number that day.
In Acts chapter 13, the Apostle Paul had a similar message and he also didn’t get into any of the issues that divide Christians today. This message was so well received that on the next Sabbath almost the whole city of Antioch “gathered to hear the word of the Lord.” And this was before there was a written “word of the Lord!”
So…I came across a wonderful discussion between Austin Suggs and Fr. Patrick Cardine, a Western Rite Orthodox priest. The relevant part begins here, in a section entitled Learning to Despise the West. Fr. Patrick has written that he learned to despise the West at the same time he was learning to love the faith of the Orthodox Church. This wasn’t happenstance. He was taught to scorn by the same ones teaching him to love. Yeah, a bit shocking when it is put that way, I know.
Where does this come from? Fr. Patrick replies:
It’s not an abstract theory that is causing it; it’s a very concrete thing. The apologetic materials that have been produced are laced with an anti-Western sentiment.
He offers possibilities of psychological / emotional reasons why this approach has been so successful. But then he says, “I really don’t think it has been successful. I am actually going to challenge that idea that it’s so successful.” Much later in the discussion he returns to this point:
For the number of people who are won over by the anti-Western polemics, I think there are thousands who walk away. This has been my personal experience.
Believe me, I understand this sentiment completely, and, I stress, while the Orthodox seem to be especially good at this anti-type polemic, I have heard the same by Catholics and Protestants – a war of all against all.
But before he gets to this, he offers some background: the view was that the Western Church has to be cut off at the knees, and this means going after Augustine. Further, Anslem and Aquinas are key targets. Yet there are many misrepresentations made regarding all of these (Western) saints.
Augustine, Anslem, Aquinas. The three bogeymen of the Eastern Church. Per Fr. Patrick, the Eastern description of Augustine’s “Original Sin” is wrong. It isn’t clear that the initial criticisms of Anselm were based on actually reading and understanding Anselm. When Aquinas was translated into Greek and introduced in the East, he was beloved.
Orthodox Christians will say “we don’t have any systems; we don’t speak in syllogisms.” But the first systematic theology was Eastern, St. John of Damascus. St. Gregory of Palamas also should not be forgotten.
While all traditions and denominations have this tendency to focus on the errors of the other, Fr. Patrick points to the significant degree that this has occurred in the Eastern Church. He points to the Byzantine Lists, lists compiled as far back as a thousand years ago, documenting the “errors” of the Latin Church.
The Byzantine Lists: I guess not every tradition is worth salvaging.
Katniss, when you're in the arena, remember who the real enemy is.
Fr. Patrick offers that this anti-Western polemic is what is taught today because this is what was received by those doing the teaching. It is the material they digested when they became Orthodox.
To which I offer something I heard from Tim Keller (and I won’t go looking for the video right now). The Church needs a new catechism. He is speaking, of course, of churches in the Reformed tradition, but his words are applicable, in my view, to all Christian traditions and denominations.
After the Reformation, the Protestant catechism was one that pointed out the differences against the Catholics. The Protestant catechism was designed to train against the prevailing culture of the day – the Catholic faith and tradition.
This is not what is needed today. What is the prevailing culture of today? I need not expand on this, but suffice it to say the prevailing culture is an enemy of all true Christians. It is against this culture that all Christians must be catechized, because all Christians have a common enemy.
I return to the earliest sermons of Peter and of Paul. Have we over-complicated the message, doing nothing more than sew division? Who gains by this?
Ephesians 6: 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
To paraphrase Katniss: We all have one enemy, and that’s Satan.
Fr. Patrick is asked what is lost in the Eastern Church by so treating the West. To summarize his answer, it loses a lot. The exchange begins here.
And the final question focuses on the right point: why be Orthodox? In other words, don’t tell me I should be Orthodox because everyone else is wrong. Give me a positive message of Orthodoxy. The answer is offered by analogy.
Sadly, the analogy assumes that one view (the Orthodox) is pure and clean, while the other – because it is slightly tainted – is not. All I can say to this, with absolute certainty, is that every view is tainted; some more so than others, perhaps, but all with flaws.
There is so much that is good and beautiful in the Orthodox Church – just as there is in the Catholic and in many (not all) Protestant denominations. Let’s be grateful for these; let’s bring others in based on these.
And let’s remember who the true enemy is.