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Here is a thoughtful essay written by the renowned "traditionalist" Catholic theologian, Brian Harrison, on why he chose Catholicism over Orthodoxy (he grew up Calvinist).

I hope that I am not breaking any rules in posting this, and I look forward to reading thoughtful, theological reactions from our Eastern Orthodox / Greek Catholic posters.

http://www.rtforum.org/lt/lt133.html#Harrison

Quote
From Constantinople to Rome: Why I did not join the Eastern Orthodox Church

by Brian W. Harrison

NB: This article is a slightly edited version of a talk given at the Trialogos Festival in Tallinn, Estonia, on September 28, 2007. The previous day’s talk had been entitled “From Geneva to Constantinople” in which the author explained why he had become disillusioned with the Calvinistic Protestantism of his upbringing. It was in turn based on an earlier Living Tradition article, “Logic and the Foundations of Protestantism” (no. 18, July 1988).

In yesterday’s talk I spoke of my personal spiritual journey away from the Calvinism of my youth, guided by the λόγος of classical philosophy. Logic enabled me to cut through the mountains of erudition which for centuries have filled libraries with religious controversy, in order to detect a fatal weakness in the basic structure of Reformation Christianity. I came to see that it suffers irremediably from internal incoherence: its fundamental Sola Scriptura principle itself nowhere appears in Scripture, and so is self-referentially contradictory.

I also shared with you how I became increasingly convinced that if there is to be any true and definitive revelation from God to humanity, then – given that God has plainly not decided to offer this revelation immediately and directly to each individual – he will need to establish a completely reliable intermediary, perennially accessible here on earth to ordinary people like you and me. In short, an infallible teaching authority. My talk ended at that point in my story wherein I found myself confronted by the reality of two great communions – the two largest in Christendom, in fact – presenting themselves as rival claimants to the gift of infallibility. I had long known of the Catholic Church’s claim to be the divinely appointed authority endowed with this charism. But now I discovered the similar claim of Eastern Orthodoxy. Constantinople now flashed onto my radar screen as a challenger to Rome. How was I to decide between them?

At this point I need to open a parenthesis regarding another important aspect of my spiritual quest which I did not mention at all in yesterday’s lecture. We are talking now of the year 1971, in which the Catholic Church was still convulsed by the controversy that erupted three years earlier with the promulgation of Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae. The world at large – and indeed, many Catholics – had indignantly dissented from Pope Paul’s reiteration of the traditional Judaeo-Christian reprobation of all those unnatural, manipulative techniques of sexual intimacy which rob the marriage act of its power to beget new life. However, while the encyclical’s ‘hard saying’ alienated millions of moderns from orthodox Catholicism, it was starting to have quite the opposite effect on me. Pope Paul’s decision was beginning to look like a much wiser decision than I had thought it was at first – a further sign of the Church’s credibility, in fact!

Why was I changing my mind? Well, one needs to remember that the late ‘60s and early ‘70s were also those very years when the movement for ‘gay liberation’ (as it was then called) began to flex its muscles defiantly and to propagate itself like wildfire. This began in the U.S.A. and then spread rapidly throughout the remainder of the West. And I had to admit that one of the arguments the homosexual militants were using to justify their life-style at least had logic on its side. They were saying that once you accepted it as morally permissible for a man and a woman (or a solitary individual) to attain sexual orgasm with acts that by their very nature1 exclude any possibility of procreation, then you must, logically, permit homosexual acts as well. To an already permissive and unchaste Western society, the ‘gays’ were proclaiming from the housetops that if you allow condoms, diaphragms, pills, “withdrawal”, heterosexual oral and anal sex, and masturbation, then you can no longer consistently condemn same-sex sodomy as “unnatural”. For all those practices themselves are likewise “unnatural” in the same basic sense: that is, all of them are the kinds of actions that can never result in the primary biological function of genital activity – the reproduction of the species. (St. Thomas Aquinas, in his wisdom, classified all of them together as essentially the same sin, which he called “the sin against nature”.)

The logic with which this appallingly permissive conclusion followed from its premise (which, we may add, also logically paves the way for approving other still more obviously perverse practices such as bestiality, sado-masochism and sundry pathological ‘philias’) helped me to realize that something must in fact be wrong with that premise. It was one that I and most other ‘modern’ and ‘respectable’ folks had been accepting much too uncritically: namely, the premise that unnatural contraceptive techniques can sometimes be morally acceptable for married couples in the interests of spacing children. The fact that Rome – almost alone – was holding firm on this foundational principle of chastity, undaunted by the scorn and rejection of an increasingly impure world and the Church’s own rebellious children, now appeared to me as confirming her credibility as God’s true messenger on earth.

Why has this parenthesis about the birth control controversy been relevant to the main theme of today’s talk – my choice between ‘Rome’ and ‘Constantinople’? Simply because I quickly discovered that reprobation of unnatural contraceptive practices was another point on which these two great claimants to infallibility were in agreement. Or so it seemed back then.2 My main source of information about Eastern orthodox doctrine was The Orthodox Church, a book written in the 1960s by an English convert to Orthodoxy, Timothy Ware (who later became a Greek Orthodox archbishop). It was widely considered an authoritative source. Now, Ware declared categorically in his book that the Orthodox Church does not allow such practices. Hence, given the recent evolution in my own thinking on this subject, this firmness in the face of worldly impurity was another factor, along with Orthodoxy’s claim to infallibility that reinforced its credibility in my eyes as a rival to Roman Catholicism.

Another feature of Orthodoxy’s attractiveness back in 1971 was simply that, for me, it remained refreshingly untainted by the emotional anti-Catholic Calvinist prejudices which I had imbibed during adolescence. These were still strong enough to deter me from getting any closer than necessary to that great “mystery of iniquity” – that alleged mountain of subtle diabolical deceit masquerading as holiness – which I had for so long been sternly warned about under the dread title of “Romanism”. By way of contrast, Eastern Orthodoxy conjured up no such phobias from the depths of my inner ‘hard disk’. Nobody, as far as I knew, was describing Istanbul as “Mystery Babylon”. I had read no reports of a Scarlet Woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, sitting astride a ten-headed Bosporus Beast. And I saw no accusatory fingers pointing to Constantinople’s white-bearded patriarch as “that man of sin” – the Antichrist invading the temple of God and blasphemously speaking “great things” against the Lord and his elect.

Indeed, the truth of the matter is that some of the darker episodes in history that have fed these flames of hatred against the “intolerant” and “dictatorial” Church of Rome find no close parallel in the history of Eastern Orthodoxy. How many modern Catholic apologists, if we are to be honest, would not heave a sigh of relief were it only possible to undo the past and so, for instance, eliminate from our historical ‘baggage’ practices such as the Inquisition’s use of torture and the burning of heretics? Would it not lighten our apologetic load to be relieved of the perennial necessity of explaining afresh to every new interlocutor why, contrary to appearances, such extreme harshness – for which Pope John Paul II publicly apologized on Ash Wednesday of the Jubilee year 2000 – does not in fact militate against the Church’s claim carefully circumscribed to infallibility?

However, after a couple of tentative Sunday visits to Greek Orthodox liturgies in Sydney (I am an Australian), after which I attempted to converse with the local priest, obstacles of a very different sort soon began to swing the balance back in the other direction. Given the priest’s very limited knowledge of English, any serious discussion between us on doctrinal or theological matters proved to be impossible. Indeed, he seemed rather surprised that I, as an ‘Anglo’, should even be interested in joining his denomination. All his other parishioners, even there in the center of a large and cosmopolitan city, were ethnically Greek.

In fact, my very theoretical, bookish search for the true brand of Christianity – understood almost as a kind of abstract philosophy or set of correct doctrinal beliefs – was now being brought down to earth by a cold splash of practical reality: the sort of reality that God, in his wisdom, realizes is going to carry even more weight for the vast, non-scholarly bulk of mankind than for academics like myself. I was running up against the rather obvious fact that Orthodoxy is, well, not exactly catholic. I mean, not in the original sense of that word. It lacks the cultural universality and openness, the capacity to provide a true and welcoming home for all the world’s tribes and nations that is in fact one of those four marks of the true Church that most mainline Christian denominations include in their Nicene profession of faith: one, holy, catholic and apostolic. I know that these days, in some big cities in non-oriental lands, one can find Orthodox churches that cater for those coming from Western backgrounds and so offer services at least partly in English and other local vernaculars. But such churches are rather few and far between. And in 1971 they did not exist at all in Australia (nor, I suspect, anywhere else in the southern half of this planet). Every single word of the liturgies I attended in Sydney – including the Scripture readings and preaching – was in Greek, of which I understood absolutely nothing. So, insofar as Christianity is a lived, communal reality, and not just a set of doctrines, the thesis that Eastern Orthodoxy is the true religion was turning out to bear the practical corollary that, for the vast majority of mankind, becoming a true Christian would pretty much require a kind of spiritual ghetto-ization: alienation from each one’s own language and culture in precisely the most important aspect of one’s life. To share fully and fruitfully in the life of the Body of Christ, one would almost have to become a Greek. (Well, O.K., maybe a Russian, a Serb, a Syrian, or whatever – but in any case the ethnic options would be very limited.). And this sort of very burdensome de facto addition to the Gospel was plainly foreign to the New Testament. On the contrary, its message stresses that in Christ there is no longer, Jew, Gentile, Greek, etc. So was it possible, I was forced to ask myself, that after two thousand years God in his Providence had not yet succeeded in providing his own true Church with anything like that geographical and cultural universality that so manifestly characterizes her main rival (whose very name, paradoxically, includes that of a quite specific Italian city)?

In short, Eastern Orthodoxy, as far as I could see at this stage of my journey, had certain strengths over against Catholicism, but also certain weaknesses. So I still felt far from certain as to where to go. Indeed, I felt confronted by another version of the same problem I had faced earlier in trying to decide whether Protestantism was true or false: the problem of having to negotiate mountains of erudition that could easily occupy a lifetime of study, if I was to have any hope of arriving at a definitive answer. If these detailed questions of theology, exegesis, and history had kept the rival Catholic and Orthodox experts in these fields interminably divided in spite of centuries of scholarly debate and oceans of spilled ink, who was I to presume the ability ever to reach any certainty as to which side was right? In this case the debate was mainly over the nature of the Petrine primacy, as revealed in Scripture and manifested in ancient church tradition. The Orthodox countered the standard Catholic reading of the New Testament’s Petrine texts with interpretations similar to those of Protestant scholars. And when it came to the witness of history, they claimed that Eastern recognition of the Bishop of Rome’s universal jurisdiction over all the local churches in the first thousand years was a reflection only of Rome’s high political status and human ecclesiastical law, rather than (as Catholics claim) a disposition of divine law issuing from Christ himself. Modern Orthodox apologists, of course, also made much of the fact that papal infallibility was not itself defined by the Roman Church until 1870. Catholics then countered the claim that this definition was an unwarranted novelty by appealing to the principle of “development” in doctrine that had so occupied the great Cardinal Newman. And so the debate went on – and on, and on. It all looked very daunting – and the outcome very doubtful – for this not very erudite young amateur searching for a clear and certain answer.

Inevitably, in my prayers and studies during 1971, I began to wonder whether there was another quick, ‘silver bullet’ argument like the one I had already found to be so fatal for Protestant theology? That is, could there perhaps be an heuristic procedure which, by emphasizing pure logic rather than the endless attempt to accumulate and evaluate biblical and historical data, would penetrate straight through this mass of tangled scholarly undergrowth in order to reveal a hidden internal inconsistency – a fatal, credibility-destroying incoherence – in the fundamental structure of either Catholicism or Orthodoxy?

Eventually I found what I believed – and still believe to this day – to be that silver-bullet. It gave me a certainty that I don’t think I could ever have arrived at solely on the basis of further research into exegesis and church history. It revealed a fatal flaw in Orthodoxy’s account of how we can know what God has revealed. As with my explanation yesterday as to why Protestantism’s basic doctrine of “Sola Scriptura” is incoherent, I shall use a series of several simple propositions to argue that Eastern Orthodoxy’s account of church infallibility is vitiated by a circular argument, and so cannot be true.

You will remember that my spiritual search had by this time led me to the conviction that a genuine Christian revelation directed to the whole of humanity would require the existence of a stable institution of some sort, endowed permanently with the charism of infallibility. The purpose of this gift would be, quite simply, to enable Christians to distinguish with certainty true doctrine from false doctrine (heresy) Now, clearly, if God has given the gift of infallibility to his Church, there must be some identifiable authority or agent within her capable of exercising that gift – of putting it to work, so to speak. And Catholics, as is well known, believe that the ‘college of bishops’ – the successors of the Apostles, led by the Pope, the successor of St. Peter – constitute that authority. They can exercise the gift in several ways (as explained by Vatican Council II in article 25 of Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church). The whole group (the ‘college of bishops’) can teach infallibly, either gathered together in Councils that their leader, the Pope, recognizes as “ecumenical” (that is, sufficiently representative of the whole Church), or even, under certain conditions, while remaining dispersed around the world. Finally, the Pope even when speaking alone is guaranteed the charism of infallibility in his most formal (ex cathedra) pronouncements.

Now, what does the Eastern Orthodox communion see as the agent of the infallibility it claims for itself? In fact, it recognizes only one of those forms of teaching mentioned above. Let us highlight this answer:

Proposition 1: Infallibility is to be recognized in the solemn doctrinal decisions of ecumenical councils.

However, does this mean that the Orthodox recognize the authority of all the same ecumenical councils that we Catholics recognize? Unfortunately not. While our separated Eastern brethren claim that, in principle, any ecumenical council between Pentecost and Judgment Day would enjoy the charism of being able to issue infallible dogmatic decrees, they in fact recognize as ecumenical only the first seven councils: those that took place in the first Christian millennium, before the rupture between East and West. Indeed, even though they claim theirs is the true Church, they have never, since that medieval split, attempted to convoke and celebrate any ecumenical council of their own. For they still recognize as a valid part of ancient tradition the role of the See of Peter as enjoying a certain primacy – at least of honor or precedence – over the other ancient centers of Christianity (Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria). After all, the first-millennium historical evidence is abundantly clear to practically all historians that confirmation (not necessarily convocation) by the Bishop of Rome was seen by both Eastern and Western Christians as essential in order for a council to qualify as being truly ecumenical.

Does this mean, then, that the Orthodox theology falls into the same illogical trap which we discussed yesterday in connection with certain Protestant and Anglican theories, namely, the absurd postulation of a merely temporary church infallibility? Not quite. For mainstream Orthodox theologians, as I understand them, would prefer to say, rather, that for a thousand years we have had a situation of interrupted infallibility. The interruption, they would maintain, has been caused above all by the ‘ambition’, ‘intransigence’ or ‘hubris’ of the bishops of the See of Peter, who are said to have gradually exaggerated their privileges to the point of seriously overstepping the due limits of the very modest primacy bestowed on them by Jesus. However (it is said), once the papacy comes to recognize this grave error and so renounces its claims to personal infallibility and universal jurisdiction over all Christians – ‘novel’ doctrines solemnly defined only as recently as 1870 – why, then the deplorable schism will at last be healed and the whole Church, with due representation for both East and West, will once again be able to hold ecumenical councils. As such, these will be endowed, as before, with the capacity to issue infallible dogmatic decrees.

Now, while this position might seem plausible at first sight, or at least, not obviously unreasonable, it involves serious problems. Our separated Eastern brethren are acknowledging that any truly ecumenical council will need to include not only their own representatives, but also those of the Bishop of Rome, whose confirmation of its decrees would in due course be needed, as it was in those first seven councils of antiquity. Well, so far so good. But does this mean the Orthodox acknowledge that the Pope’s confirmation of a council in which they participate will not only be necessary, but also sufficient, as a condition for their own recognition of it as ecumenical and infallible? Unfortunately, the answer here is again in the negative. And it is the Easterners’ own history which has, as we shall now see, re-shaped their theology on this point during the last half-millennium.

After the East-West rupture that hardened as a result of the mutual excommunications of 1054 and the brutal sack of Constantinople itself by Latin crusaders in 1204, two ecumenical councils were convoked by Rome for the purpose of healing the breach. They were held, respectively, at Lyons in 1274 and at Florence in 1439, with Eastern Christendom being duly represented at both councils by bishops and theologians sent from Constantinople. And in both cases these representatives ended up fully accepting, on behalf of the Eastern Church, the decrees, promulgated by these councils, that professed the true, divinely ordained jurisdiction of the Successors of Peter over the universal Church of Christ – something much more than a mere primacy of honor. And these decrees were of course confirmed by the then reigning popes.

Why, then, did neither of these two councils effectively put an end to the tragic and long-standing schism? Basically because the Eastern delegations to Lyons and Florence, upon returning to their own constituency, were unable to make the newly decreed union ‘stick’ and take practical effect. At Constantinople, the nerve-center of the Byzantine Empire, deep suspicion and even passionate hostility toward the Latin ‘enemies’ were still very strongly ingrained in the hearts and minds of many citizens – great and small alike. The result was that politics and public opinion trumped the conciliar agreements. The Eastern Christians as a whole simply refused to acquiesce in the idea of allowing that man – the widely feared and detested Bishop of Rome – to hold any kind of real jurisdiction over their spiritual and ecclesiastical affairs.

As a result, in order to justify this continued separation from Rome, the Orthodox have had to nuance their position on the infallibility of ecumenical councils. They have had to maintain that the participation in a given council of bishops representing the whole Church and the confirmation of their decrees by the Pope, while undoubtedly necessary, is still not sufficient to guarantee the true ecumenical status and infallibility of that council. For over and above the fulfilment of those conditions, it is also necessary (according to standard Orthodox ecclesiology of recent centuries) for the faithful as a whole in both East and West – not just the pope and bishops or even the entire clergy – to accept that council’s decrees as expressing the true faith.3 So the simple Proposition 1 set out above now becomes:

Proposition 2: Infallibility is to be recognized in the solemn doctrinal decisions of those Councils which are not only papally confirmed as ecumenical, but which are also subsequently accepted as such by the whole Church.

In the post-Enlightenment Western world wherein opposition to ‘clericalism’ (real or imagined), and the ideas of democracy and popular sovereignty have long enjoyed great political popularity, this Eastern Orthodox ecclesiology, with its emphasis on the role of the laity, will inevitably sound attractive to many. Indeed, some neo-modernist, dissident Catholic advocates of ‘liberation theology’ and a ‘People’s Church’ have in recent decades been advocating some such ‘democratization’ of church structures and procedures as a remedy for so-called ‘Roman centralism’. But on closer inspection a fatal logical flaw in the Orthodox theory comes to light. For if the crucial factor in deciding whether a given council’s teaching is infallible or not depends on how it is received by the rank-and-file membership of “the whole Church”, then it becomes critically important to know who, precisely, constitutes “the whole Church”. How are her members to be identified? Who has ‘voting’ rights, as it were, in this monumental communal decision whether to accept or reject a given council’s doctrinal decrees?

In answer to this question, our Eastern friends certainly cannot say that for these purposes “the whole Church” consists of all who profess faith in Christ, or all the baptized. For on that basis the Orthodox would rule out as ‘un-ecumenical’ (and thus, non-infallible) not only the second-millennium councils recognized by Rome and the Western Church, but also the seven great councils of the first millennium which they themselves recognize in common with Catholics! For each one of those councils was rejected by significant minorities of baptized persons (Arians, Monophysites, Nestorians, etc.) who professed Christianity. It is equally clear that they cannot define “the whole Church” as Catholics do, namely, as consisting of all those Christians who are in communion with Rome, the See of Peter, Prince of the Apostles. For on that basis the Orthodox would disqualify themselves as being part of “the whole Church”, given that they have not been in communion with Rome for the best part of a thousand years. Could they perhaps try to define “the whole Church” in terms of communion with their own present patriarchal See of Constantinople? As far as I know, no Orthodox theologians themselves would dare to go that far, not only because they cannot deny that this See was itself in heresy at certain periods of antiquity, but above all because it did not even exist for three centuries after Christ was on earth. So it could not possibly claim – and never has claimed – any privileged status at the level of revelation and divine law. (The Orthodox agree with Catholics, and with nearly all other professing Christians except the Mormons, that revelation was completed in the first century A.D., at the time of Christ and the Apostles.)

In short, any Orthodox attempt to formulate a theological definition of “the whole Church” in terms of any empirically verifiable criterion – for instance, as the community of those who have undergone the visible, audible and tangible sacrament of baptism, or of those who visibly and audibly call themselves Christians, or of those who visibly and audibly profess their communion with certain publicly identifiable prelates who in turn hold ecclesiastical office at some fixed, highly visible and publicly identified city – any such attempt will land our Eastern brethren in impossible absurdities. So the only other course open to them, logically, is to attempt to define “the whole Church” in terms of an empirically unverifiable criterion, namely, adherence to true, orthodox doctrine. Unlike cities, sayings and sacraments, doctrinal orthodoxy cannot be recognized as such by any of the five senses. It cannot, as such, be seen, touched or heard, only discerned in the mind and heart.

Having inevitably resorted to this seemingly reasonable criterion – trying to define the true Church as that which teaches true doctrine – it is no accident that the main body of Eastern Christians began to call their communion the “Orthodox” Church after their rupture with Rome. Why do they not recognize as constituent parts of the “whole Church” those baptized, Christ-professing Aryans, Nestorians, etc., who rejected one or more of the seven first-millennium councils? The answer is deceptively simple: “Why, because they were unorthodox, of course! They lapsed into heresy while we – and up till that time the Latin Church under Rome as well – maintained the true faith.”

Now that the Orthodox position regarding infallibility and ecumenical councils has been further specified, we can reformulate it a third time, replacing the expression “the whole Church” at the end of Proposition 2 with another which clarifies what is meant by those three words:

Proposition 3: Infallibility is to be recognized in the solemn doctrinal decisions of those Councils which are not only papally confirmed as ecumenical, but which are also subsequently accepted as such by the whole community of those Christians who adhere to true doctrine.

But here, I am afraid, we come face to face with the fundamental logical flaw in the whole Eastern Orthodox account of how we can know what – if anything – God has revealed to mankind. Since Christ founded his Church on earth to be a visible community, we cannot define her in terms of an invisible criterion – possession of doctrinal truth – without falling into absurdity. The flaw this involves is that of a circular argument – or, if you like, including the term to be defined within the definition itself. This results in a mere tautology: a self-repeating affirmation that provides no information at all.

We can see this more clearly if we recall once again the basic purpose of all the above three Eastern Orthodox propositions in bold type: they aim to identify and point out to us the organ of that infallible church teaching which needs to exist – and to be clearly recognizable – if there is to be any credible public divine revelation. For the very concept of divine revelation implies the communication of clear and certain knowledge of something (even if that ‘something’ is itself – like the Trinity and the Incarnation – profoundly mysterious and not fully comprehensible to our finite minds). But suppose the Supreme Being were to “reveal” some message to humanity in general through the agency of avowedly fallible messengers – modest prophets who could announce their message to us (whether in speech or in writing) only in something like the following terms: “Well, I think God has said and done such-and-such, and I’m personally pretty confident that such-and-such is what he means by what he has said; but, mind you, I could be wrong”. In that case, of course, the rest of us could have no clear and certain knowledge at all of the divine mind and intention. God would in fact be revealing to us nothing at all – certainly nothing which we could accept with that firm, unconditional faith which the Scriptures take for granted as the appropriate response of Christians to God’s Word.

Keeping in mind, then, that the whole purpose of an infallible church authority is simply to enable Christians to distinguish revealed truth clearly and certainly from falsehood and heresy, we can formulate once again the Eastern Orthodox proposition, rewording Proposition 3 above so as to ‘unpack’ the word “infallible”, spelling out its epistemological import:

Proposition 4: Christians can come to know with certainty what is true doctrine by recognizing the solemn doctrinal decisions of those Councils which are not only papally confirmed as ecumenical, but which are also subsequently accepted as such by the whole community of those Christians who adhere to true doctrine.

The words italicized above lay bare the underlying circularity – the tautology – that vitiates the logical coherence of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, therefore destroying its rational credibility. We want to know how to identify true Christian doctrine with certainty; but the proffered answer to our problem assumes we already know the very thing we are seeking to discover! We are being told, “To discover what is true Christian doctrine, you must pay heed to the teaching of those who adhere to true Christian doctrine”!

Not long after I came to the firm conclusion that Eastern Orthodoxy was illogical, so that its claim to infallibility could not be sustained, I was received into the Roman Catholic Church at the Mass of the Easter Vigil in 1972. My long journey had been completed, something for which I continue daily to give thanks to God.

It remains only to add that, in the thirty-five years since I returned to full communion with the one Church founded by Christ, my conviction as a Catholic has only become stronger. For the Orthodox Church today is by no means in the same condition as it was then. The very features which had most attracted me to it back then have now largely faded into a twilight of doubt and confusion. For some centuries the tenacity of the Orthodox in adhering strictly to their ancient, stable liturgical traditions, together with their relative isolation from the post-Enlightenment West, combined to act as a quite powerful antidote, in practice, to the effects of the ingrained ‘virus’ of illogicality that we have just exposed. But in recent decades, with more extensive cultural and ecumenical contacts, and with an increasingly large and active Eastern diaspora in Western countries, Orthodoxy’s underlying vulnerability to the same liberal and secularizing tendencies in faith, morals and worship that have devastated the West is becoming more apparent. That virus – an inevitable result of breaking communion with the visible ‘Rock’ of truth and unity constituted by the See of Peter – is now inexorably prodding Orthodoxy toward doctrinal pluralism and disintegration.

From my reading on Eastern church affairs in recent years, I have the impression that many Orthodox theologians and bishops have now severely qualified or even surrendered any serious claim to infallibility on the part of their Church. Also, there is no longer any unity, any identifiable “official” position of Orthodoxy as such, in regard to unnatural methods of birth control. Some authorities continue to reprobate these practices, while others – probably the majority by now – condone them. Increasingly, Orthodox married couples are advised just to follow their own conscience on this issue – in dialogue, if possible, with a priest who is trusted as ‘spiritual father’.4

A traditionally-minded Orthodox apologist might reply, of course, that confusion and dissent on these and many other matters are also rampant within Roman Catholicism, and indeed, to a large extent have spread to Orthodoxy as a result of powerful liberal and neo-modernist influences going virtually unchecked in our own communion, especially since Vatican Council II. This objection, unfortunately, is all too well-founded as far as it goes. But it misses the vital point for present purposes, which is that the admittedly grave confusion in contemporary Catholicism is not due to its own underlying epistemic structure – its own fundamental theology of revelation. It is due rather to what many of us Catholics would see as a temporary weakness at the practical level: the level of Church discipline and government. We have witnessed a failure of many bishops, and arguably even recent popes, at times, to guard and enforce with sufficient resolve that doctrine which remains coherently and infallibly taught in theory and in principle by the Catholic magisterium. A solution to the present problems will not require the reversal of any Catholic doctrine; on the contrary, it will involve the more resolute insistence, in theory and in practice, on our existing doctrines. (This insistence, it is true, will probably need to include further authoritative papal interpretations of certain Vatican II texts whose ambiguity or lack of clarity betray something of the conflicting pastoral, philosophical and theological tendencies that were all too apparent among the Council Fathers themselves.)

In Eastern Orthodoxy, on the other hand, the currently growing problem of internal confusion and division goes down to a deeper level. It is rooted in unsound principle, not just defective practice. It is a problem involving the essential defining feature of the Orthodox communion over against Catholicism, namely, its fateful medieval decision to repudiate the full primacy and authority of that ‘Rock’ established by Christ in the person of Blessed Peter and his successors in the See of Rome. Perhaps, if more of our Orthodox brethren can come to recognize the underlying logical flaw in their ecclesiology that I have tried to pinpoint and explain in this talk, we shall see more fruitful ecumenical progress toward the restoration of full communion.


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Endnotes
1 I stress the words “by their very nature” to counter the common argument that since procreation is equally impossible as a result of normal marital acts carried out when one or both spouses are temporarily or permanently infertile, the Catholic Church’s doctrine is logically inconsistent, and hence rationally untenable. We are often told that, in order to be consistent with her own ‘ban’ on unnatural sex acts, the Church should not only forbid the use of periodic continence to avoid pregnancy (Natural Family Planning), but should also prohibit marriage itself in cases where the woman has already passed the menopause, or if either partner is for any other reason permanently sterile.

In fact, there is no inconsistency here on the part of Catholic doctrine. For the impossibility of procreation in these conjugal acts which the Church permits is due not to the kind or type of sexual act carried out by the spouses, but to the biological condition of one or both of them at the time of intercourse. This condition is something designed by the Creator himself when it is a normal and healthy one, and at least permitted by his Providence when it is not. In either case the infertility of the acts in question is not itself caused by any human decision or initiative. The act itself – by which semen is deposited in the vagina – remains a procreative-type act even though no procreation can occur. By way of contrast, in the case of those sexual sins condemned by the Church as contra naturam (“against nature”), it is the essential character of the freely chosen act itself, and not the biological condition of the agent, that renders procreation impossible. Regardless of whether or not the agent is choosing such acts for the conscious, subjective purpose of preventing offspring, those acts are immoral because by their own essential structure they objectively express an inversion of the true order of values. Using a perverse ‘language of the body’, they insult the value and nobility of new human life as such. (That is the basic reason why, reacting to the thought of masturbation, ejaculating into condoms, oral and anal intercourse, lesbian devices, etc., every pure-hearted person who understands our human anatomy intuitively sees, senses and appreciates that “our bodies are not made for that!”) Indeed, such actions usurp the Creator’s sovereignty over human life. The man or woman who seeks orgasm in these ways eliminates the possible creation by God of a new human being through his/her act for the sake of something far inferior in value: the physical and/or emotional gratification it produces.

2 See the further discussion of this point below on p. 13.

3 A standard textbook of Orthodox dogmatic teaching puts it thus: “True Councils – those which express Orthodox faith – are accepted by the Church’s catholic [i.e., universal] consciousness; false councils – those which teach heresy or reject some aspect of the Church’s Tradition – are rejected by the same Catholic consciousness. The Orthodox Church is the Church not of ‘councils’ as such, but only of the true councils, inspired by the Holy Spirit, which conform to the Church’s catholic consciousness” (M. Pomazansky, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology: A Concise Exposition, 3rd edition (Platina California: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2005), p. 41, n. 21. Pomazansky does not use the word “infallibility” here in connection with “true councils”, but that charism is clearly implied in different terminology when he asserts that they are “inspired by the Holy Spirit”. Notice, however, that even while he ascribes this awesome divine privilege to “true councils”, Pomazansky offers no criterion whatever for deciding which Christians are to be counted as belonging to “the Church”. Yet this is an absolutely crucial question, given that if it is answered incorrectly, the resulting “consciousness” of those consulted may, according to the Orthodox theory itself, reflect Satan-inspired heresy instead of Spirit-inspired truth.

4 Cf. J. Likoudis, Eastern Orthodoxy and the See of Peter (Waite Park, Minnesota: Park Press, 2006), pp. 87-99, “Contraception and Eastern Orthodoxy”).

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An adequate response to this essay would probably be just as long, if not longer than the essay itself. I suppose I might post a response later if I'm feeling up to it but right now I just don't have the energy to go through and adequately respond to every bad argument in the essay.

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Okay, this is what I'm going to do. I am going to compose a rejoinder essay, but this will take some time. It may be a week or two but I'll post it here when I am finished and perhaps post it on my blog. I confess that I really dislike polemics and I do realize that this essay does not intend to be polemical (for the most part it isn't). Still, it demands a point by point response.

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JOE:

Christ is in our midst!! He is and always will be!!

To be fair we need to allow this sort of thing.

OTOH, I would ask those who post on this forum not to include this type of thing in the future. It seems to me that our age demands that we find ways to understand each other, to learn from each other, and to explore together the Lord's own prayer for His believing servants--of which we are members.

This type of essay does not bring people together, brings up old wounds, and makes the whole of Christ's message to the world come under ridicule. How can we love/care for others when we devour each other with polemics like this?

In Christ,

BOB

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I didn't even read it, because everyone is entitled to their opinion and to choosing wherever God speaks to them for the salvation of their souls. I do wonder why diaries of people's personal thoughts, (I see that the article is called a 'thought essay') feelings and experiences have to be public--is it to sway others to their points of view? confused

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Bob and Alice,

If I do post something here, it will be as non-polemical as I can possibly make it. I agree that the essay is not helpful, though I support the author's right to express his opinions.

Alice, you ask why someone would publish his thoughts and make them public. Well, simply because the author believes that people should become Roman Catholics and he desires that other protestants choose Catholicism rather than Orthodoxy. In a way, it is no different than Scott Hahn's "Rome Sweet Home," or a biographical account of conversion by Fr. Peter Gillquist or Frederica Matthews-Green.

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Joe,

I commend you on your efforts to write a reply. I look forward to reading it when you have a chance to finish it.

In Christ,
Aaron

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. . . wonder why diaries of people's personal thoughts, (I see that the article is called a 'thought essay') feelings and experiences have to be public . . .


ALICE:

Christ is in our midst!! He is and always will be!!

To me it's a form of semantic and mental "exhibitionism." It used to be that certain things were private and shared with one's close confidants. Now it seems everyone is encouraged to "let it all hang out." Hmmmmm . . . a 60's carryover?

It used to be that this sort of thing, especially when it involved religious conversion or religion in general, was meant as a polemic--something new converts are prone to in their enthusiasm for a new-found faith path in their pilgrimage. Or it was the vitriol of a closed-in persoanlity or someone so closed in that he forgot the second rule of Christianity: to love one's neighbor as oneself. We've all been guilty of that, I'm sure. (We've also forgotten Christ's warning about damaging the faith of one of His "little ones": people whose faith is not strong enough for wahtever reason to withstand such a nasty attack. I wonder at what point one crosses the line between drawing people to Christ and helping the Enemy turn them away.

But enough.

In Christ,

BOB

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Someone once wrote that people should wait at least seven years before writing the story of their conversion.

By that time, if the Holy Spirit is truly working within them, then they can see more clearly their own faults and what it was that made them run away from their first church in the first place. Initial thoughts about a conversion tend to be ones that rationalize and accuse, while as they mature in the faith, their thoughts become much more sober, if they have grown in the faith and not fossilized.

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Originally Posted by theophan
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. . . wonder why diaries of people's personal thoughts, (I see that the article is called a 'thought essay') feelings and experiences have to be public . . .


ALICE:

Christ is in our midst!! He is and always will be!!

To me it's a form of semantic and mental "exhibitionism." It used to be that certain things were private and shared with one's close confidants. Now it seems everyone is encouraged to "let it all hang out." Hmmmmm . . . a 60's carryover?

It used to be that this sort of thing, especially when it involved religious conversion or religion in general, was meant as a polemic--something new converts are prone to in their enthusiasm for a new-found faith path in their pilgrimage. Or it was the vitriol of a closed-in persoanlity or someone so closed in that he forgot the second rule of Christianity: to love one's neighbor as oneself. We've all been guilty of that, I'm sure. (We've also forgotten Christ's warning about damaging the faith of one of His "little ones": people whose faith is not strong enough for wahtever reason to withstand such a nasty attack. I wonder at what point one crosses the line between drawing people to Christ and helping the Enemy turn them away.

But enough.

In Christ,

BOB


Bob,

I think that one crosses the line when one deliberately tells untruths, or tells untruths out of careless sloppiness. One also crosses the line when one attempts to paint one's own decision with beautiful roses and then paint a "straw man" or perhaps even a "straw demon" out of one's opponents (and actually I think that viewing a person of another faith tradition as an opponent is crossing the line). We must remember too that Christ taught us to love our neighbor as ourselves but Christ also taught us to love our enemies. So even if a person considers another an enemy, that person is still called to love him and to seek his good.

Spiritual autobiographies that include conversion have a long history. Just think of Cardinal Newman's Apologia and Thomas Merton's The Seven Story Mountain These are now considered classics of Catholic spirituality, but they certainly are polemical. In fact, I have read that Thomas Merton, later in life, wanted to retract some of his work but his superiors wouldn't let him. Merton felt that he had been too harsh on protestantism.

Joe

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I thought Merton renounced _Seven Storey Mountain_ because he was considering converting to Buddhism.. . .
Regardless, what's wrong with a spiritual autobiography and apologia? Remember, we are a religion based upon *personal testimony": the personal testimony of the Apostles, etc. Personal testimony is the whole founding argument of the Gospel of John.

We can call this focus on personal stories to be too postmodern or Evangelical or whatever, but it is really Evangelical in the true sense of the word.

But this is not even just a personal testimony: "I liked the Catholic Mass better, so I became a Catholic" or "A Catholic priest really inspired me, so I became Catholic." This is a reiteration of his own *intellectual* arguments: the same arguments that led him to Rome. This is *certainly* no different than anything apologists from St. Augustine to C. S. Lewis have done.
It is absolutely necessary to answer the question of the Church. Thomas Howard says that every Christian must address two questions: the person of Jesus and the person of the Pope. Non-Catholic Christians obviously answer the first question, but, most of the time, they don't even bother with the second: even though it's right there in their faces.

Ultimately, the role of the Pope is the only issue separating Catholic and Orthodox. We both accept Apostolic Succession, and, to Protestants, it's "same, difference" between us. I cringed recently at hearing a Catholic mother at a play group refer to her husband's Orthodoxy as "Catholicism lite" (I wanted to say, "My understanding was that Orthodoxy was more like 'Catholicism Hi-Test'")

I may have missed it (I read the first half and skimmed the rest), but I see nowhere that he denies Orthodox are Christians or that they have the presence of Jesus.

I'd argue that one is far more likely to encounter Christ in an Orthodox Church than in many churches that are nominally in "communion" with Rome yet celebrate invalid "Masses."

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Originally Posted by John C. Hathaway
I thought Merton renounced _Seven Storey Mountain_ because he was considering converting to Buddhism.. . .
Regardless, what's wrong with a spiritual autobiography and apologia? Remember, we are a religion based upon *personal testimony": the personal testimony of the Apostles, etc. Personal testimony is the whole founding argument of the Gospel of John.

We can call this focus on personal stories to be too postmodern or Evangelical or whatever, but it is really Evangelical in the true sense of the word.

But this is not even just a personal testimony: "I liked the Catholic Mass better, so I became a Catholic" or "A Catholic priest really inspired me, so I became Catholic." This is a reiteration of his own *intellectual* arguments: the same arguments that led him to Rome. This is *certainly* no different than anything apologists from St. Augustine to C. S. Lewis have done.
It is absolutely necessary to answer the question of the Church. Thomas Howard says that every Christian must address two questions: the person of Jesus and the person of the Pope. Non-Catholic Christians obviously answer the first question, but, most of the time, they don't even bother with the second: even though it's right there in their faces.

Ultimately, the role of the Pope is the only issue separating Catholic and Orthodox. We both accept Apostolic Succession, and, to Protestants, it's "same, difference" between us. I cringed recently at hearing a Catholic mother at a play group refer to her husband's Orthodoxy as "Catholicism lite" (I wanted to say, "My understanding was that Orthodoxy was more like 'Catholicism Hi-Test'")

I may have missed it (I read the first half and skimmed the rest), but I see nowhere that he denies Orthodox are Christians or that they have the presence of Jesus.

I'd argue that one is far more likely to encounter Christ in an Orthodox Church than in many churches that are nominally in "communion" with Rome yet celebrate invalid "Masses."


John,

You make good points and I appreciate the balanced view of Catholicism and Orthodoxy that you hold. I don't have a personal problem with the author of that essay. I think that there is some flawed logic and analysis going on there but hey, I'm Orthodox, of course I'm not going to agree with the author's analysis and conclusions.

Joe

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Originally Posted by John C. Hathaway

Thomas Howard says that every Christian must address two questions: the person of Jesus and the person of the Pope.

This comment betrays a very Western, and more specifically an Ultramontanist, view of Christianity, and does not reflect my original conversion experience at all. In fact, when I converted to Roman Catholicism in 1987/88 I did so because I came to accept the incarnational and sacramental worldview of the Church Fathers, and not because of the Papacy, which only became important to me several years later.

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Dear all:

I posted Fr. Harrison's essay because it struck me as an honest, intellectual, and charitable exposition of why he chose Catholicism over Orthodoxy. It is a whole universe apart from some of the strawmen arguments against Orthodoxy used by too many Catholic apologists, especially in "Trad" circles, including the essay-cum-rubbish published by "Christian Order" a few years ago.

As I indicated, I would like to know what the Orthodox here have to say about his essay -- and that, by implication (an implication clear in my mind), involves asking to what extent Fr. Harrison misrepresents Orthodoxy, if indeed he does so. I for one look forward to what JSMelkiteOrthodoxy will have to say.

As long as Orthodoxy and Catholicism are separate, we cannot -- and should not, IMHO -- avoid this respectful exchange of arguments. For the fact is that there are differences between the two bodies (differences that are often overestimated by certain Orthodox and underestimated by most Catholics), and many Christians are facing and will face the dilemma of having to choose between the two. At the same time, these exchanges can serve to rectify the misconceptions that each side has.

I personally believe that, in the coming decades, more and more Catholics will also consider the claims of Orthodoxy, just as many Orthodox will continue to consider the claims of Rome. Much, of course, hinges on what will happen to Pope Benedict's reforms after he passes on to his eternal reward. Right now, I think it is only the recent hopeful signs of restoration coming from Rome that is preventing many liturgically-and-spiritually-starved, traditional Catholics from swimming the Bosphorus (or the Dniepr).

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I wonder at what point one crosses the line between drawing people to Christ and helping the Enemy turn them away.


Dear BOB,

This is so profoundly true...and ministers, priests, hierarchs, and laypeople are often guilty of crossing the line (with polemics, bullying, arrogance) that turns people away from any church.

In Christ,
Alice

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