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Orthodox Christianity and anti-Catholicism

stpeterwith-key.jpgiconstandrewnewbrand.jpgFirst off, a brief explanation of what this post is not: it is not an examination of the issues surrounding the lack of unity between the Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Churches in communion with the See of Rome. There are plenty of other people willing to go there; I’m not, at least not today. This post will mention some of the issues which exist, but it will neither focus on nor analyze them.

It is also in no way a polemic against any particular individuals; the problem of Christian disunity is everybody’s problem, and however we may be convinced of how that came about, blame is never going to accomplish as much as charity and humility. If we are to be “little Christs” even to those with whom we cannot partake of Holy Communion, we must act in love. That said, Our Lord wasn’t one to sugarcoat. Therefore we must speak the truth, but we must do so in love or it is worthless.

And so, my point: when an Eastern Orthodox Christian frankly and openly acknowledges issues which divide East and West, this is not de facto anti-Catholicism. This is not to say that there isn’t anti-Catholicism among some Orthodox, any more than Roman Catholics can fairly say there aren’t any anti-Orthodox among their number. There are some embarrassingly hostile anti-Catholics among the Orthodox; those, for example, who see that there have been differences in practice and expression between East and West since just about day one, and subsequently conclude that the West has been in grave error from the beginning. No question about it, this exists, and as much as is possible, other Orthodox should work to counteract that.

Be that as it may, when an Orthodox Christian tells his Roman Catholic brother, “There are these stumbling blocks which exist for us in terms of papal supremacy/the Immaculate Conception/created grace/etc. which are, from our perspective, obstacles to unity,” assuming that the context is appropriate for the exchange, this is not automatically an example of Orthodox hostility towards Rome. It could very well be that the person has taken a hostile tone, but an attempt to discuss the issue and in particular, a subsequent “sticking to one’s guns” does not in and of itself indicate hostility.

It is true that such discussions are not likely to solve anything; presumably an Orthodox is convinced of the truth of the Orthodox position and a Catholic of the Catholic position. It is true that people far better educated than I ever will be have chosen to swim the Tiber rather than the Bosphorus, but it is also true that others with the same class of education, given access to the same evidence, have chosen New Rome over Old Rome. For example, I have heard some suggest that Dr. Jaroslav Pelikan’s conversion to Orthodoxy was really a product of an inherited anti-Catholicism which was ultimately too strong to overcome; I suppose it would be just as easy to suggest that Newman’s conversion to Catholicism was effectively a product of a Western enculturation which was too strong to overcome. Charity, I find, is lacking in both assertions, as well as in a parallel assertion, that if someone like Pelikan or Newman had truly considered the evidence “in faith,” they would have chosen differently.

There are real issues which divide Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, and there are practical consequences of those issues.  To acknowledge this is not to be hostile to whichever side one has not chosen; it is simply to admit reality.  I suggest, however, that for those of us who aren’t bishops, we’re better off frankly acknowledging the issues, agreeing to disagree (however sadly), but then further acknowledging that, while lacking the power to formally resolve any issues, we can work to cultivate the unity that would already have to exist before formal procedures would ever do any good (think of the Council of Florence). False ecumenism isn’t helpful; I’m not sure something as lofty-sounding as “dialogue” is really going to get laypeople anywhere, and there’s certainly nothing we can do about concelebration or communion. Conversation and cooperation, however, in the context of treating each other as brothers and sisters in Christ regardless of what issues our bishops might have with each other, might just accomplish something.

We’ve got to be able to talk openly and honestly without fear that points of disagreement and recognition of reality are going to be automatically interpreted as hostility. If we can’t do that, conversation and cooperation won’t get far. We must truly walk in love just as Christ loved us.

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2 Responses to “Orthodox Christianity and anti-Catholicism”


  1. 1 Maximus Daniel 25 December 2007 at 10:51 am

    I hate the polemics that go between both sides. the Anti-Western thought that sometimes pervades Orthodox without much real thinking going into it. And Catholics giving Orthodox the label of being the “First Protestants”.

    As you said, real ecumenical dialogue means actually dealing with the REAL issues. I fear that more Orthodox would be opposed to union than Catholics would. But it seems to me the union would have to fundamentally alter some major Catholic dogmas.
    All I can say is, Lord, have Mercy!

  2. 2 Richard Barrett 25 December 2007 at 11:08 am

    That’s all anybody can say!


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