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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

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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”).
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.

Joe
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.

Joe
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
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

Alice
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.

Joe
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
Quote
. . . 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
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.
Originally Posted by theophan
Quote
. . . 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
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."
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
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.
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).
Quote
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
Originally Posted by Apotheoun
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.


Knowing Dr. Howard and as a friend of my family's I can say that he would smile in agreement with that Ultramontane title.
Originally Posted by Byzantine TX
Originally Posted by Apotheoun
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.


Knowing Dr. Howard and as a friend of my family's I can say that he would smile in agreement with that Ultramontane title.


Perhaps it would be better to say "Who is Jesus Christ and what is the Church?". Those seem to be THE pivotal questions and the papacy can certainly addressed in the context of the latter, although neither question is entirely separate.

In ICXC,

Fr. Deacon Daniel
I looked at this quickly. I'm going to read it in more depth. But a few first impressions, from one who is sitting on the fence on this issue.

1. As one poster noted, this is approached from a very Western standpoint. I really don't think you can understand the "Byzantine tradition" of Christianity if you come in thinking like this.

2. The following quote, would be - to some - the main point which gets to the heart of it all.

Quote
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.


The Orthodox position - as expressed by Abbot Vasilios of the Iviron monastery, in his book "Hymn of Entry" - would probably be that this is unacceptable, and is a substitution of a worldly "infallibility" and a moralistic "certainty" in the place of the authentic life of the Trinity which the faithful are called to.

Instead, we would have examples like that of the Hesychast controversy of the 1300s. Those looking for absolute philosophical certainties will be confounded - instead, what Orthodoxy has to offer is participation in the life of the Church, expressed through philosophy. The "authority" is in the consensus, in the body of the Church.

Instead of confession of the faith, this quote would have the Church essentially toeing an ideological line for an elusive certainty. Or this is what some Orthodox might say.

Now, I'm not at all sure that the quote accurately reflects Catholic teaching. Pope Benedict has stated that his office is not an absolute monarchy. Also, an article I read explicitly lists the "ultramontanist" trend as being actually unfaithful to even the first Vatican council. This is Professor H. Pottmeyer's essay "Recent Discussions of Primacy in Relation to Vatican II" (in the book The Petrine Ministry: Catholics and Orthodox in Dialogue , Paulist Press, 2006. It's the papers from a 2005 Orthodox-Catholic symposium).

Now, one will say that all kinds of modernists have published similar things. This is true. However, Dr. Pottmeyer's essay was included in official Vatican-Orthodox discussions, has the implicit approval of the Vatican, and more importantly quotes the notes and proceedings of the first Vatican council and uses these to provide insight in the overall concept and background to the document. These notes and proceedings are to my knowledge unpublished and unavailable in English. So, one could say he bases his opinions on facts that are essentially ignored by many out there.

Anyway, I rant. Maybe I'll have more (and more coherent!) things to say tomorrow.
Originally Posted by MarkosC
The Orthodox position - as expressed by Abbot Vasilios of the Iviron monastery, in his book "Hymn of Entry" - would probably be that this is unacceptable, and is a substitution of a worldly "infallibility" and a moralistic "certainty" in the place of the authentic life of the Trinity which the faithful are called to.


Marcos,

Of course, there is a middle position which respects the intrinsic connection between magisterium and mysticism, between the proclamation of the apostolic teaching authority of the bishops with the "vicar of Peter" as their leader and spokesperson and the theologia, our participation in the inner life of the Trinity.

In my opinion, the "achilles heel" of the position of some Orthodox "not in communion with Rome" is that while their views are solidly and passionately Athanasian in their Christology, they remain Eusebian in many of their views on Ecclesiology and Church polity. Until the Orthodox Churches divest themselves of any assumptions of an "Imperial Ecclesiology", they will never recover their unified, conciliar voice which is desperately needed in this world today.

And so, tragically, Constantinople and Moscow will continue their battles to the scandal of the whole world.

In the Catholic view, the solution is a return to full communion with the Apostolic See and its bishop which alone has the charism of being the "matrix of Catholic unity" (as opposed to the Imperium of state power) as it exercises a primacy of charity and service among the Churches. Until that time, any claim by any Church to teaching authoritatively and according to the divine charism of infallibility will ironically be viewed by some Orthodox as suspect, presumptuous, "worldly" and "moralistic".

In ICXC,

Fr. Deacon Daniel
I must correct my earlier citation: I realized upon reading the above quotation of me that it was Sheldon Vanauken and not Tom Howard who said it: though Tom said something similar.

In either case, both were evangelicals who became Anglicans who became Catholics. Both came to a Newman-like realization about the inadequacies of Anglicanism.

I don't believe Tom ever considered Orthodoxy. I know that, from one of his appearances on _The Journey Home_, the Traditional Latin Mass was a big factor in his conversion.

Vanauken, like many Evangelical converts, did seriously consider Orthodoxy, partly as a way of achieving the Apostolic Succession and Valid Sacraments while still maintaining his anti-Papist prejudices (not saying that Orthodox have anti-Papist prejudices, but that evangelicals do).

So, yes, the question really is threefold: Who is Jesus? What is the Church? What is the role of the Pope?

But all three questions really are fundamental to which of the three basic kinds of Christian one becomes.

An Orthodox Christian must at least implicitly answer the third question, even if the answer is already tied to his understanding of "the Church."

One must also acknowledge the "genetic" component to all this. In the Catholic Church, if a person of Western European descent wants to convert to an Eastern Catholic Church, that person is normally expected to convert to the Roman Church *first* and then change Rites (even if the process happens in a few minutes): I witnessed this at a Maronite Easter liturgy.

So, it is understandable that Protestant converts "default" to Roman Catholicism, even if they have some philosophical attraction to Orthodoxy.
I have Slovakian ancestry (25%), and I am strongly drawn to the East. My wife is all Irish, German and English, and she says she feels totally alien when we've gone to Eastern liturgies.

All that said, Markos, I agree with you about the over-intellectualism of the West, even as much as I tend towards it myself. Doctrinal and moral certitude are the foundation, but too many Western Catholics stop there.
Originally Posted by John C. Hathaway
Doctrinal and moral certitude are the foundation, but too many Western Catholics stop there.


Well said.

God bless,

Fr. Deacon Daniel
I carefully read Fr Harrison's essay, and think it is excellent.

So far, no one has refuted his argument. Or even made an attempt.

It is a cowardly dodge to bring in another convert, Thomas Howard, take a quote from him, and then equate him with Fr Harrison.

And then to talk about how long one should be Catholic before speaking out about the Faith? Come on, now! Another silly dodge. For what it's worth, Fr. Harrison has long since passed the seven year marker.

If anyone thinks they can destroy his "silver bullet", let them try. Put up or shut up.
Originally Posted by asianpilgrim
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

[. . .]

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.

Part of the problem with this section of Fr. Harrison's essay is the Orthodox source he uses to support his claim that Orthodoxy has changed its position on contraception. A far better source is the official synodal response of the Russian Orthodox Church, which was published in English with the name Bases of the Social Concept, and which rejects all forms of contraception that are abortifacient, while simultaneously supporting only periodic continence in order to space births, for the Russian Synod explained: "The deliberate refusal of childbirth on egoistic grounds devalues marriage and is a definite sin." [Bases of the Social Concept, XII, 3] Moreover, Bishop Hilarion of Vienna, who on many occasions has condemned the use of artificial contraception, has promoted the idea of an alliance between the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church in order to promote Christian morality, a morality which involves -- according to the good bishop -- a rejection of abortion, contraception, homosexual relations, etc.

The Western biases present within Fr. Harrison's article are glaringly obvious to anyone who has been a Western Christian and has become an Easter Christian, and it is probably his Calvinist past that promotes these tendencies within his thought (e.g., an overly rationalistic systematization of the faith of the Church, and an anachronistic reading of papal supremacy -- instead of primacy -- that places the conceptual theories of Vatican I in the first millennium).
Originally Posted by Gabriel
I carefully read Fr Harrison's essay, and think it is excellent.

So far, no one has refuted his argument. Or even made an attempt.

It is a cowardly dodge to bring in another convert, Thomas Howard, take a quote from him, and then equate him with Fr Harrison.

And then to talk about how long one should be Catholic before speaking out about the Faith? Come on, now! Another silly dodge. For what it's worth, Fr. Harrison has long since passed the seven year marker.

If anyone thinks they can destroy his "silver bullet", let them try. Put up or shut up.


My friend, be patient. I want to take my time so that I can be precise and too the point as possible.

Joe
My friends, what I offer here is a first, working draft of my thoughts on Fr. Harrison's essay. This essay of mine is far from being complete or comprehensive. But I wanted to go ahead and put up that which I think is the most fundamental issue in Fr. Harrison's essay. Your comments and criticisms are appreciated.

A Response to Rev. Brian W. Harrison’s “From Constantinople to Rome: Why I did not Join the Eastern Orthodox Church,” found at http://www.rtforum.org/lt/lt133.html#Harrison

Joseph Schneider
October 2008

Father Harrison’s article explains his reasons for joining the Roman Catholic Church rather than the Eastern Orthodox Church. Fundamentally, what Fr. Harrison wishes to show is that Eastern Orthodox theology is plagued with the same problem that Fr. Harrison believes is present in Protestant theology; namely, that all arguments for authority (whether that be for scripture alone, the consensus of the Church, the statements of the councils, etc.) are found to be circular and that the same arguments fail to establish with certainty a clear, univocal voice of orthodoxy that causes us to believe in God and the Christian faith with certain and firm conviction. In other words, as Fr. Harrison claims that what is needed is an uncontested ecclesiastical authority that can speak clearly and truly communicate the contents of divine revelation infallibly. He says,

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.

In short, there must be a clearly recognizable infallible voice so that Christians may be able to rest in true doctrine without doubt or the worry of falling into heresy. Fr. Harrison argues that only the Roman Catholic Church, with its notion of papal primacy, can be such a voice.

The next question is this; how does Fr. Harrison proceed to argue for his case? What is his methodology? Well, according to Fr. Harrison want he really needed to answer his questions about Eastern Orthodoxy was a “silver bullet” or some logical argument that would cut to the chase and show clearly and convincingly that Eastern Orthodoxy was incoherent. In fact, Fr. Harrison admits that such an argument is necessary because he could come to his conclusion simply from reading Scripture and church history alone. He says,

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.



It is significant that Fr. Harrison admits that he cannot refute the view of the Orthodox Church simply from research into exegesis and church history alone. I think that there is a good reason for this. History is just too complex and messy to follow the strict canons of logic. And I believe that this is the “achilles’ heel” of Fr. Harrison’s argument. And so I would like to make a counterargument to Fr. Harrison’s that rests on a two-pronged argument. The first prong is to claim that all arguments regarding church authority are circular. There are simply no arguments that are not question-begging arguments. The second prong of my argument claims that we must look into the facts of church history and come up with as plausible and coherent an explanation as is possible, recognizing that we cannot achieve certitude. In fact, the whole problem with Fr. Harrison’s approach is that he wants to argue from the necessity of having a certain, authoritative, infallible teaching voice to the claims of Roman Catholicism. But this itself begs a huge question.
The fundamental premise is that God, in order to guarantee His truthfulness, must provide some clear, infallible voice of revelation on earth. But must God do so? If we take seriously the notion that God is absolutely free from any kind of finite necessity, then we cannot a priori claim that God must do anything in this world. There is nothing incoherent about the view that God may have given some revelation of Himself to human beings without guaranteeing them an infallible human institution or voice. One might ask why God wouldn’t provide such an instrument that guarantees certitude for human beings, but one can also provide myriad answers to this question. Perhaps God values human freedom so much He wills a certain degree of uncertainty in the world in order for people to search out and work for the truth. Perhaps an infallible, certain voice is just too easy? Gotthold Lessing made this argument in his essay, The Education of the Human Race.” And one can argue that in keeping with the Irenaean view that man was created in innocence and expected to grow into maturity, one could argue God gave only hints of revelation in much the same way as a good pedagogue would lead students slowly through problems so that they could come to greater knowledge themselves.
So it doesn’t seem strictly necessary for there to be guaranteed authoritative infallible voice to protect and preserve God’s revelation. And in fact, it seems that any candidate for such a role would depend on some kind of question-begging argument. For example, the common criticism of the Protestant view of sola scriptura is that it depends upon circular reasoning. How do we know that the scriptures we have are the word of God? Because they say so, but how do we know that their claim to be the Word of God is true? Well, we know this because they are the Word of God. Fr. Harrison believes that a similar sort of reasoning is found in Eastern Orthodox positions on church infallibility and authority. And in fact, I will concede this to him. He is right! There are no non-question-begging arguments for why the consensus of the Church or its teachings in councils should be considered infallible. In fact, there are no a priori reasons that distinguish true councils from false councils or what has been received by the church and what hasn’t. But this same problem exists in Roman Catholic arguments. Let me illustrate: How does one know that the Pope is infallible? Well, because the ecumenical councils, the Scriptures, or writings of many of the fathers say so. Yes, be how do you know that any of these sources is infallible? How do you know what is an ecumenical council? It is one that designated an ecumenical council by the Pope. But how do you know that the Pope is correct or that he has the authority to do such a thing? Well, because of the teaching of prior councils. One could go on and show that any arguments made rely ultimate on the assumed premise that the Pope is the voice of truth and authority.
I believe that the points that I have just made here are sufficient and there is no need to go into each specific refutation of an Eastern Orthodox view of infallibility as presented by Fr. Harrison. Indeed, though some might be disappointed, I should say that my purpose in writing this response is not to prove that Orthodoxy is true and Roman Catholicism is not. My more modest goal has been simply to show that there is no “silver bullet” as Fr. Harrison calls it and I simply add to this that if one sincerely attempts a thorough investigation of church history, then one will come to realize that the great deal of conflicting positions and situations in the early Church do not clearly lend themselves to one theory of church authority. I happen to believe that Eastern Orthodox ecclesiology makes better sense of the historical facts than Roman Catholic or the various Protestant ecclesiologies. However, I recognize that someone coming at this with some different assumptions might come to a conclusion different from mine. I truly believe that most of the ecclesiologies that are present in Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and classical Protestantism can find some support in the history of the Church. And indeed, I truly believe that a plausible argument can be made for many views. I do think that some views are more plausible than others. Specifically I do believe that the Orthodox view is the most plausible. But that is the subject for another essay as is Fr. Harrison’s analysis of Eastern Orthodox views of contraception.
To quote the Ecumenical Patriarch from today's speech:

8. And now, beloved brothers in the Lord, let us turn our thought to the internal affairs of our Orthodox Church, whose leadership the Lord's mercy has entrusted to us. We have been deigned by our Lord to belong to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, whose faithful continuation and expression in History is our Holy Orthodox Church. We have received and preserve the true faith, as the holy Fathers have transmitted it to us through the Ecumenical Councils of the one undivided Church. We commune of the same Body and Blood of our Lord in the Divine Eucharist, and we participate in the same Sacred Mysteries. We basically keep the same liturgical typikon and are governed by the same Sacred Canons. All these safeguard our unity, granting us fundamental presuppositions for witness in the modern world.

Despite this, we must admit in all honesty that sometimes we present an image of incomplete unity, as if we were not one Church, but rather a confederation or a federation of churches. This is largely a result of the institution of autocephaly, which characterizes the structure of the Orthodox Church. As is known, this institution dates back to the early Church, when the so-called "Pentarchy" of the ancient Apostolic Sees and Churches -- namely, of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem -- was still valid. The communion or "symphony" of these Sees expressed the unity of the universal Church in the oikoumene. This Pentarchy was severed after the tragic schism of 1054AD between Rome and Constantinople originally, and afterward between Rome and the other Patriarchates. To the four Orthodox Patriarchates that remained after the Schism, from the middle of the second millennium to this day, other autocephalous Churches were added until we have the prevailing organization of the Orthodox Church throughout the world today.

Yet, while the original system of Pentarchy emanated from respect for the apostolicity and particularity of the traditions of these ancient Patriarchates, the autocephaly of later Churches grew out of respect for the cultural identity of nations. Moreover, the overall system of autocephaly was encroached in recent years, through secular influences, by the spirit of ethnophyletism or, still worse, of state nationalism, to the degree that the basis for autocephaly now became the local secular nation, whose boundaries, as we all know, do not remain stable but depend on historical circumstance. So we have reached the perception that Orthodoxy comprises a federation of national Churches, frequently attributing priority to national interests in their relationship with one another. In light of this image, which somewhat recalls the situation in Corinth when the first letter to the Corinthians was written, the Apostle Paul would ask: has Orthodoxy been divided? This question is also posed by many observers of Orthodox affairs in our times.

Of course, the response commonly proffered to this question is that, despite administrational division, Orthodoxy remains united in faith, the Sacraments, etc. But is this sufficient? When before non-Orthodox we sometimes appear divided in theological dialogues and elsewhere; when we are unable to proceed to the realization of the long-heralded Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church; when we lack a unified voice on contemporary issues and, instead, convoke bilateral dialogues with non-Orthodox on these issues; when we fail to constitute a single Orthodox Church in the so-called Diaspora in accordance with the ecclesiological and canonical principles of our Church; how can we avoid the image of division in Orthodoxy, especially on the basis of non-theological, secular criteria?

We need, then, greater unity in order to appear to those outside not as a federation of Churches but as one unified Church. Through the centuries, and especially after the Schism, when the Church of Rome ceased to be in communion with the Orthodox, this Throne was called -- according to canonical order -- to serve the unity of the Orthodox Church as its first Throne. And it fulfilled this responsibility through the ages by convoking an entire series of Panorthodox Councils on crucial ecclesiastical matters, always prepared, whenever duly approached, to render its assistance and support to troubled Orthodox Churches. In this way, a canonical order was created and, accordingly, the coordinating role of this Patriarchate guaranteed the unity of the Orthodox Church, without in the least damaging or diminishing the independence of the local autocephalous Churches by any interference in their internal affairs. This, in any case, is the healthy significance of the institution of autocephaly: while it assures the self-governance of each Church with regard to its internal life and organization, on matters affecting the entire Orthodox Church and its relations with those outside, each autocephalous Church does not act alone but in coordination with the rest of the Orthodox Churches. If this coordination either disappears or diminishes, then autocephaly becomes "autocephalism" (or radical independence), namely a factor of division rather than unity for the Orthodox Church.

Therefore, dearly beloved brothers in the Lord, we are called to contribute in every possible way to the unity of the Orthodox Church, transcending every temptation of regionalism or nationalism so that we may act as a unified Church, as one canonically structured body. We do not, as during Byzantine times, have at our disposal a state factor that guaranteed -- and sometimes even imposed -- our unity. Nor does our ecclesiology permit any centralized authority that is able to impose unity from above. Our unity depends on our conscience. The sense of need and duty that we constitute a single canonical structure and body, one Church, is sufficient to guarantee our unity, without any external intervention.
This was just marvelous! Do you have a link to the full text?

Joe
Here 'tis: http://www.archons.org/news/detail.asp?id=266
Thanks smile
Shame on me; I've been overlooking the possibilities in this matter. For quite some time, articles and books on "Why I joined this or that" have been in circulation. But studies of why someone did not join this or that are a good deal scarcer.

Perhaps there could be a book on "Why Pope Benedict XVI has never become a Mormon" or "Why Winston Churchill Dissented from the Views of the Plymouth Brethren". We could even combine the two genres, with something like "Why Oscar Wilde Became a Catholic on his Deathbed Instead of Becoming a Deathbed Quaker".

Fr. Serge
Originally Posted by Serge Keleher
Shame on me; I've been overlooking the possibilities in this matter. For quite some time, articles and books on "Why I joined this or that" have been in circulation. But studies of why someone did not join this or that are a good deal scarcer.

Perhaps there could be a book on "Why Pope Benedict XVI has never become a Mormon" or "Why Winston Churchill Dissented from the Views of the Plymouth Brethren". We could even combine the two genres, with something like "Why Oscar Wilde Became a Catholic on his Deathbed Instead of Becoming a Deathbed Quaker".

Fr. Serge


Dear Father Serge,

HEHEHE!! grin

I agree...such a bizarre and strange title!! crazy confused

Respectfully,
Alice
Or I could write a book on "Why I did not Join the Hindus"!

Fr. Serge
Originally Posted by Serge Keleher
Or I could write a book on "Why I did not Join the Hindus"!

Fr. Serge


A timely topic considering the martyrdom of Christians in Orissa and other areas of India.
Those fond of conspiracy theories might do some studies also:

"Is Father Serge a Secret Agent of the Hasidim?"!

"Do the Initials SSJC Really Mean Secret Society of Jesus in England?"!

More possibilities will no doubt occur to us.

Fr. Serge
A convert has found the truth. In other news....
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