Saturday, October 30, 2010

Oh, Those Orthodox...

I have made my sympathies for the Eastern churches quite evident, and yet, I can't help but find this pithy little quote from John Zmirak to be hilariously spot-on:
Of course, this holiday was born to commemorate the many nameless saints and prepare for the feast of holy souls in Purgatory -- that scary, fascinating middle place that only we Catholics really believe in. That makes All Souls' Day (November 2) the most distinctively Roman Catholic holiday in the calendar. The Orthodox pray for the dead, but if you accuse them of agreeing with Catholic teaching on this subject -- as on any other --they will vigorously deny it. Likewise, their liturgy and traditions affirm truths suspiciously similar to the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, which they only began to deny once Rome declared them infallible. Had I the pope's ear, I'd beg him to teach, ex cathedra, that Jesus really existed -- if only to hear the monks of Mt. Athos find ways to deny it.
Lol! So true, sometimes...


FrGregACCA said...

Them crazy monks on Mt. Athos sometimes have a great deal in commom with them crazy RC trads.

Anyway, some Orthdoox are closer to the RCC than others when it comes the purgatory question.

A Sinner said...

The difference is that the Athonites seem to wield (especially in proportion to their numbers) a lot of weight in the Orthodox world, from what I can tell, at least in terms of slowing ecumenism, etc.

Rad trads, on the other hand...wield almost NONE in the mainstream Catholic Church.

Who Am I said...

Rad Trads however are the MOST vociferous of Trads in The Catholic world, ZING ! XD

musicalguy said...

This is not exactly true. Actually, Eastern Catholics do not teach the doctrine of purgatory as defined by the Latin Church. Yes, we in the East pray for the dead, but we do not use the same terminology of merits and temporal and eternal punishment that the Latins use. In this, we are just like our Orthodox brethren, so the accusations in this paragraph could easily apply to us Eastern Catholics as much as the Orthodox.

This is also why the definition of the Immaculate Conception does not readily resonate with many Eastern Catholics. The Holy Father in defining the dogma used strictly Latin terminology, so in the East, it doesn't make any sense. Plus, we have a different understanding of original sin. Eastern Catholics have to "redefine" this dogma in terms that make sense to us.

For a very good explanation of the differences, I would refer you to this website: Dr. Dragani gives a nice summary of the differences.

musicalguy said...

I might add that while the Latin Church has one day in the liturgical year to commemorate and pray for the Faithful Departed, those Churches that follow the Byzantine tradition have several Saturdays of the Souls throughout the year to pray for the dead.

I only mention this because in the quote you posted, there seems to be this condescending tone that only Latin or Roman Catholics really get the whole praying for the dead concept since they have this one day out of the year when they liturgically pray for the Faithful Departed. Like many Latin Catholics, he gives the impression, whether he means to or not, of superiority and seems to demonstrate a lack of knowledge about his Eastern brothers and sisters.

Also, no Orthodox is going to deny the Assumption or, more properly, the Dormition. The point of contention the Orthodox, and many Eastern Catholics, have with the definition of the dogma is not the truth of the dogma itself but rather the ex cathedra definition.

I recognize that the Orthodox can be contentious at times, but writing something like this is not going to help matters.

Peace and blessings,

A Sinner said...

I think he was just having some fun at their expense.

The whole point of what he's saying (and which I firmly believe) is exactly as you describe: the differences are semantical.

Sure, there are different philosophical frameworks and terminologies in play, but at their core, the CONCEPTS expressed are structurally the same.

This is what Eastern Catholics are supposed to have recognized (and which the Orthodox will come around to recognize eventually too).

Vehemently insisting that the teachings are different just because the expression is not helpful.

Very often, I think, we Latin Catholics will hear the Eastern "different understanding" explained to us...and we are able to say (enthusiastically, even), "Oh, that's the same thing. That's a valid and great description of it too!" Whereas the Easterners themselves will insist there are big irreconcilable differences.

I read this article you link to about Purgatory instead being described as "Final Theosis" and see absolutely no problem with that. I think it's really neat. I don't see it as contradictory to our teaching, I see it as a perfectly valid and complementary expression. And I think that's the general attitude of the West towards the East now. If only they could feel likewise...

A Sinner said...

As for Orthodox "differences" on Original Sin...that's a big red herring, I've always found.

They insist there is an essential difference, but only by misportraying what (Western) Catholics actually teach, or by twisting our words and insisting they mean things that we don't, actually, intend them to mean (and as such, are knocking down merely a straw-man).

They speak as if we believe original sin is the personal guilt of Adam or something like that (just because we sometimes use the analogy of a stain) when really we have always believed (like the East) that it is an ABSENCE (ie, grace, divine life, needing to be restored through baptism).

Again, I think the Eastern thoughts on mortality causing sin are very profound. But, at the same time, it's clear that they believe even personally innocent infants are to be baptized to receive Divine Life...

This post is, I think, very relevant when it comes to alleged differences in our teachings on original sin:

As the article you sent describes, the "translation" from Latin to Eastern terminology is easy enough. Mary's Immaculate Conception means simply the indwelling of divine life from the moment of conception (which, in the rest of us, starts at baptism). We may speak of a "stain" being "removed" because of the washing symbolism of baptism...but our theology has always admitted that what is really happening is an absence being filled. It doesn't make us immortal, though, either.

A Sinner said...

"In this, we are just like our Orthodox brethren, so the accusations in this paragraph could easily apply to us Eastern Catholics as much as the Orthodox."

No. Because what Eastern Catholics are willing to admit (as your article explains) is that the teachings are conceptually the same, just one is spoken "in Latin" and the other is spoken "in Greek" as it were. But they are found to be in essentials equivalent when "translated" one from the other.

The Orthodox, on the other hand, will not admit that the two ways of speaking are valid expressions of the same mystery. Some of them insist antagonistically that their formulation is not only right, but that our teaching is positively wrong. That they are contradictory rather than complementary.

It is funny, sometimes it seems as if every Orthodox doctrine really has two doctrines: the doctrine itself, and a partner doctrine insisting that the Roman version must be held as absolutely false!

While it may be of the Orthodox faith that there is a final theosis and that they are helped by our sometimes seems like it is equally (or even MORE emphatically) of the Orthodox faith that the Roman formulation (ie, as "purgatory") must be held to be somehow different than this (even though it really isnt), and in an irreconcilable way too!

Eastern Catholics are willing to say that they are complementary, not contradictory. If the Orthodox were like the Eastern Catholics in this regard...we'd already be reunited.

FrGregACCA said...

Well, y'all, after all the other differences are reconciled, including the filioque (and I am one that thinks such reconciliation is largely possible with the possible exception of the latter) there is STILL going to be the other fundamental question which separates Rome from everyone else, and that is the role of the papacy and, by extension, the proper structure of the universal Church.

A Sinner said...

Well, but at that point doesnt the papacy question become rather moot? Like...if we can agree on everything else, then it means that the Pope never HAS, in fact, taught heresy. So he would have to be recognized as at least PRACTICALLY infallible (something that certainly can't be said for any of the other patriarchates).

And so whether he really is "theoretically" a bridge that could be crossed if and when he ever did teach heresy ex cathedra. I don't think he ever would. Especially if he had to be extra careful not to rock the boat to maintain the reunion.

But if he did, then so what? The Orthodox are clearly willing to be out of communion with him (ala their current situation) for "good reason," so what would be the problem with recommuning "tentatively" as it were? You could always go back to your current situation if an obvious problem DID arise in the future.

Furthermore, "universal jurisdiction" becomes likewise just some hypothetical if he is not, in fact, actually meddling in the affairs of the East. He wouldn't appoint their bishops, he wouldn't mess with their liturgy, and (again) I doubt he'd ever meddle in Eastern internal affairs especially if there was the threat of that reopening the schism. This isn't the middle ages anymore, they're not going to be so bullheaded as to try something like that, and at that point...who cares about whether he theoretically "could" in an extreme situation? We'd deal with that question when and if it arose.

FrGregACCA said...

Please note, asinner, that I'm not optimistic about reconciliation on the question of the filioque, and to that I would have to add the matter of the Immaculate Conception as being de fidei (a matter which, of course, directly affects the question of papal infallibility).

In any event, even if the issue came down to the question of the pope alone, the problem is that, according to the Orthodox, infallibility is given to the Church as a whole, not to any single member, not even a bishop, not even the bishop who is the successor of Peter. The same type of consideration would apply to the question of universal jurisdiction. This fundamentally distorts the structure of the Church, and this distortion is signficant theologically in that the Church is an ikon of the Trinity.

Having said that, I don't think any of this should preclude either side (all sides actually, if the Oriental Orthodox are included) from opening their altars to members of the other communions, and I would think that a further step could be taken in the form of allowing concelebration with clergy of the other communions as well. I realize that the (mainstream Byzantine) Orthodox are more likely to be oppposed to both of these things at this point than RC's and possibly the mainstream Oriental Orthodox.

A Sinner said...

"Having said that, I don't think any of this should preclude either side (all sides actually, if the Oriental Orthodox are included) from opening their altars to members of the other communions, and I would think that a further step could be taken in the form of allowing concelebration with clergy of the other communions as well."

But then we would be one Church by definition. If you have intercommunion (and even concelebration) like that...then we're by definition "in communion" again. We already allow Orthodox to commune in the West. If they allowed us tomorrow...communion would thus be achieved. I don't think anything "more" needs to happen for reunion to be real.

FrGregACCA said...

That's true concerning communion. However, AFAIK, the RCC does not allow concelebration with Orthodox clergy (assuming that any Orthodox would be willin to do that: I would imagine that this would be received better among the Oriental Orthodox than the Byzantines).

musicalguy said...

I just tried to post a comment, and it got deleted. Argh!

I had written a few things about how communion in sacris might actually aid in healing divisions and how the pastoral implications of Western speculation on the doctrine of original sin are very different than those of the East.

The focus on how original sin affects the individual person never really caught on in the East. I believe this emphasis in the West made a huge difference in the approach of Western and Eastern Christians to things like the Mystery of Confession and an overly juridical approach to sin and the punishment associated with it. This opened up the whole idea of Limbo, which never existed in the East.

David B. Hart has an excellent essay about the differences in approaches to the papacy and ecumenism between East and West. I would highly recommend it.

Here are two quotes that struck me as I read it.

"Of course a Catholic who looks eastward finds nothing to which he objects, because what he sees is the Church of the Seven Ecumenical Councils (but—here’s the rub—for him, this means the first seven of twenty–one). When an Orthodox turns his eyes westward he sees what appears to him a Church distorted by innovation and error: the filioque clause, the pope’s absolute primatial authority, purgatory, indulgences, priestly celibacy."

"t is not simply the case that the Orthodox are so fissiparous and jealous of their autonomy that the Petrine office appears to them a dangerous principle of homogeneity, an ordo obedientiae to which their fractious Eastern wills cannot submit. Jurisdictional squabbling aside, the Orthodox world enjoys so profound a unity—of faith, worship, spirituality, and ecclesiology—that the papacy cannot but appear to it as a dangerous principle of plurality. After all, under the capacious canopy of the papal office, so many disparate things find common shelter. Eastern rites huddle alongside liturgical practices (hardly a peripheral issue in the East) disfigured by rebarbative banality, by hymnody both insipid and heterodox, and by a style of worship that looks flippant if not blasphemous. Academic theologians explicitly reject principles of Catholic orthodoxy, but are not (as they would be in the East) excluded from communion.... As unfair as it may seem, to Orthodox Christians it often appears as if, from the Catholic side, so long as the pope’s supremacy is acknowledged, all else is irrelevant ornament."

Before I moved East, I often summarily dismissed Orthodox roadblocks to reconciliation as their being stubborn or, worse, malicious. However, I now better understand their perspective.

A Sinner said...

Good points!

As for Limbo, I will just point out that from the Western perspective, this was actually an attempt at MERCIFUL speculation.

The only Revealed means of salvation we have is baptism. As such, positing a place with no positive punishment for the unbaptized was a merciful idea.

Of course, what the West has come around to now (as we become less legalistic) is what the Orthodox already knew: God Himself isn't bound by the sacraments, and so we may well have hope (though not presume) that He saves the personally innocent through unrevealed means.

I think it is a healthy attitude: that we might as well just trustfully hope that He does this rather than speculate on what would happen to them "if" He didn't.

And yet...the lacuna in Revelation on the matter does suggest that "what if" and the Western mind finds it satisfying to have an answer, even if we also hope it is one never actually used.

Just like we have Hell; even if we hope no one actually does ever die in such a state as to deserve it, it serves a spiritual and conceptual purpose even just as a foil, even just as a mere possibility.

Limbo likewise reminds us that heaven is a free and unmerited gift, and that no one deserves it or can aspire to it outside of God's mercy; in other words, even for the naturally innocent, heaven cannot be presumed. It is a supernatural destiny.