Wednesday, March 23, 2022

We All Have One Enemy…

 …and that's President Snow!

Katniss Everdeen

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.

-          Evelyn Underhill

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.

-          Haymitch Abernathy

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.


  1. If I were a cynical man, I might wonder if this Orthodox antagonism towards the West was born of the Eastern Church's symbiosis with the Byzantine state and the latter's view of Westerners as secessionist upstarts.

    It's a delicate problem, this issue of truth and reconciliation vs. will to power (which in this world is inextricably joined with the will to survive and grow). Extremely so, considering how leadership leans strongly towards the latter.

  2. From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?

    Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.

    3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.
    and then there is this
    Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.

    Think You nailed on your other post on Natural law. Love God and Love my neighbor.

  3. My reaction to your findings on the West-East division of the Church.

    Did Peter and Paul had a different view as to who Christ is?

    Did their preaching of Christ's death, burial and resurrection had a common foundation as to the nature of Christ? Whether yes or no, what were their agreements and disagreements?

    Maybe the Western Tradition is stale but to focus on the "mystery" gives us a bunch of immature emo-snowflakes, unmoored from the Scriptures. By unmoored I mean like lawyers/judges handle laws these days, picking an choosing previous cases, aspects of those cases, to justify their arguments.

    IMO, God gave us reason (as uniquely created beings separate from the lower animals) not to be discarded but to be able to discern and judge/guide, and emotions to properly react and act.

    Reason, informed by emotions.

    For where emotions have primacy, there is no reasoning.

    Anywho, not commenting much but always reading. Thanks for sharing, BM.

    1. Thanks, Jaime.

      I agree (if I am understanding you correctly): we cannot stand still on our simple understanding of the faith, doctrine, etc. We must each, eventually, find a room and leave the hallway, as CS Lewis put it.

      But I don't like that those in one room end up damning those in other rooms. We can understand some of these "mysteries" differently and still remain true in our faith. Other than a few fundamentals (e.g. Jesus was both human and divine), the differences in these mysteries need not be causes of division.

    2. But, is it another room or is it another building?

    3. JaimeInTexas raises a good question. I agree Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and mainline (non-dispensationalist) Protestants are in the same building. Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Scientists, and LDS? Not so much.

    4. Per Lewis:

      "The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start."


      "There are three things that spread the Christ-life to us: baptism, belief, and that mysterious action which different Christians call by different names – Holy Communion, the Mass, the Lord’s Supper."

      The details of the practices might be different, but all are fundamental. I don't believe Peter and Paul disagreed on any of these points - we have written evidence of other disagreements, hammered out in the first council as recorded in Acts.

      Now, I think one or two things are missing (the divinity of Christ and the Resurrection, for example), but this was Lewis's explanation of "the building." With these, the building is sufficient for me.

    5. Tony, your comment came in just as I was publishing mine. I believe my comment clarifies my thoughts on this point.

      Yes, for these, a different building. Wrong side of the tracks.

      But these are all outside of the context within which I have written (albeit many JW and LDS live better "Christian" lives, ethically speaking, than many "in the building" Christians. (I don't know enough of any Christian Scientists to say anything on this specific point.)

    6. Should we engage in the listing of the fundamentals, which define the Christian building?
      I propose the list of single assertions. No ands. Here is a starter.
      1) birth from a virgin mother.
      2) a male born.
      3) the male born was named Jesus.
      4) Jesus performed miracles.
      5) Jesus claimed to be equal with God.
      6) Jesus was crucified.
      7) Jesus died on the cross.
      8) Jesus was buried before the Sabbath day.
      9) Jesus resurrected on the third day.
      10) Jesus visited various people.
      11) Jesus ascended into Heaven.

    7. Jaime, you and I don't have a fight. Nor do any of the Orthodox, Catholic, or pre-nineteenth century Protestant denominations disagree with any of this.

      I must be missing something that you are trying to say. I know the list is longer than what Lewis wrote; I said as much in my reply to you.

    8. No. No fight between us. I really am curious where end up.

    9. Jaime - I believe the fundamental statement of the Christian faith is the Nicene Creed of 381 AD. It seems to be the earliest statement of the Faith which attained universal acclaim and usage.

    10. I know the Nicene Creed. My attempt was to created a list of single/simple assertions but not in prose form. To all Creeds, my list of simple assertions, all depends on implicit acceptance that both Old and New Testaments are substantially accurate and are the record for what we know regarding salvation. To "believe in Jesus" and disregard the accuracy of Scriptures (once made aware of them) is contradictory - unstable.

      I like CS Lewis. I have read his Narnia series, Mere Christianity, Til We Have Faces, and many others.

      The ending of the series is a bit too close to universalism, IMO.

    11. Jaime, without my looking back to find it, I am pretty sure it was you that pushed back on Lewis's simple construct when I first wrote about it.

      You were right to do so. Nothing wrong with what Lewis included. But there are a few things not included that are equally important.

    12. BM, you are right, there are other things not included. But, my list was a starting point and not the whole.
      Alas, no one is interested in adding to the list.
      Oh well.

    13. Jaime, as you know I try to minimize doctrinal / theological discussions - albeit I am often one of the worst at sticking to this.

      So I have stayed away from furthering the list for this reason. However, your comments on this both in this thread and the past have helped me see some shortcomings in Lewis's approach, so I thank you for this.

  4. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. James 1:27
    Religion was defined 200 years ago as “Real piety in practice[1], consisting in the performance of all known duties to God and our fellow men”. Religion for centuries consisted of the manner and method by which a people took care of their needy within a society or community.

    During the time of Christ and the early church there was Public religion which was run through the government temples of Rome. These government-funded temples as a part of the Imperial Cult of Rome provided free food and care for the needy people of the world. Since the Christians were in the world but not of it they depended upon the Church established by Jesus Christ for their Private welfare.

    The differences between these two types of welfare were at the basis of the Christian conflict. While historians like Polybius and philosophers like Plutarch made it clear that when Rome moved from the practice of Private welfare to Socialism people would lose their liberty and capacity to be a free people. Paul and David said that that welfare would be a snare.

    Peter warned how the Covetous Practices of Public religion would make people Merchandise and curse their children with debt. Of course, Jesus told his followers who would eventually be called Christians not to depend on the public welfare state such Benefactors who were the Fathers of the earth.

    From the beginning John the Baptist and Jesus said we were to live by faith hope and charity which Paul called the perfect law of liberty. We were told that the Corban of the Pharisees made the word of God to none effect. That Corban was a form of Public religion which was run as a socialist program through pagan government Temples which was the same error of the Nicolaitan and Balaam.

    Therefore religious service was the way the people provided for the needy within a society or community according to the directives of their God or gods they have chosen for themselves.[2]

    Over time Religion was redefined by men to mean what you think about a supreme being.[3]

    So which definition is correct? The word religion is mentioned five times in the Bible. Only once is it mentioned in a positive sense and we find that in James 1:27.

    Religion is clearly how you take care of the needy of your society but what does it mean to be "unspotted from the world"?

    1. Kevin, once the Church decided to act charitably through the state, there became no need - in the minds of many - for the Church.

      It is the lazy Christian's way out of loving thy neighbor. Just petition the government to be charitable with someone else's time and money.

    2. Yes , Religion it is not what we think but what we do.

  5. More details here>>