Thursday, December 2, 2010

Eastern Orthodoxy - Our differences

There was a time when I did quite a bit of research into the differences between Eastern Orthodoxy and the Catholic Church. It was a very informative and enriching experience to dialogue with EO’s (Eastern Orthodox) whom at least spoke a very similar theological lingo. Never did I have to dig so deep for answers. The East is so rich in liturgy, icons, and over all aesthetics that it is an experience I’d recommend for all Catholics. Mysticism is also another dimension to EO that intrigued me. It brought to surface just how legalistic we tend to be in the west. Hopefully I can reignite my neurons and cover the underlying difference between us in as short of post that I can. This will be the beginning of perhaps a serious of posts on EO and our differences.

A small but perhaps important note is that some (dare I say many?) in Eastern Orthodoxy are quick to correct you if you use the term - “Catholic Church”; to them, it is more proper to identify it as the “Roman Catholic Church”. It might not seem like a big deal to most of us within the walls of the Church but to them it makes a world of difference. Adding “Roman” gives it more of an autonomous feel to it. Since this is precisely how the Fifteen autonomous Orthodox churches operate; it is of great comfort to them that they see us in the same manner and most importantly they see the early Church operating this way as well. There was no central authority like what you see now in Rome; no Pope with authority as you see it now. It was just a bunch of mega-churches who gathered together and held councils.

The consensus is that the Pope is the primary difference; however you could point to something even broader then the pope that would nail down why we differ. Off I go…

I think the difficulties that some Eastern Orthodox have with Catholic doctrine on the Procession of the Holy Spirit, Papal Infallibility, purgatory, the two Marian dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, and in fact, even some other teachings, stem from a profound incomprehension of the development of dogma that has taken place in the history of the Church. In the numerous dialogues I've had and reading on this matter, Eastern Orthodox have a habit of interpreting the immutability of Christian dogma in the sense that every defined dogma or traditional doctrine of the Church must have been explicitly believed as such by the faithful from the beginning of its history.

It is true that every dogma proclaimed by the Church for belief is true, always has been true, and its meaning can not be altered or changed so that it bears a different meaning than that held by the Church in previous times. But it is not true that every dogma or doctrine contained in the “deposit of faith” confided to the Apostles has been the object of explicit belief in every age, and only subject to new technical language in the definitions of Ecumenical Councils.

Those who deny doctrinal evolution in the life of the Church only manifest once again their adherence to a non-historical orthodoxy. For an authentic development of doctrine has taken place in the life of the Church (almost no scholars denies this), and it involves not only new philosophical/theological expression for the revealed truths that were always explicitly believed (say, the divinity of Christ) but also the folding aspects of our doctrines (e.g., the canon of Scripture, the number of the sacraments, the hypostatic union, the immaculate Conception of the Mother of God, the particular judgement, et.) under the guidance of the Holy Spirit leading the faithful to a greater understanding of the supernatural mysteries revealed in Jesus Christ.

This is the crux of our differences and it all stems from this misunderstanding.

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