Orthodoxy, Protestantism and Roman Catholicism

This post is sort of an addendum to my previous posts on the differences between Orthodox and Protestant (or “bible-believing”) Christianity.   You can read my previous posts as follows:

Since many of the arguments I used to explain the Orthodox viewpoint also apply to Roman Catholicism, it could be easy for Protestants to assume that Orthodoxy is simply a more antiquated version of Roman Catholicism without the Pope.  Indeed, this seems to be how many Catholics themselves view things.  But there are serious differences both in doctrine and in the entire approach to faith.  Orthodoxy is no less than a different mindset from both Catholicism and Protestantism.

Some of the more theoretical theology (such as the filloque dispute) may not seem like a big deal, but these “minor” deviations have cancerous practical consequences.  The fundamental differences are:

original-sin-garden-of-eden1.  Original Sin.  Originally both the Eastern and Western Church were in communion, a situation which lasted for the first thousand years of Christianity.  But separation began as early as the turn of the 4th Century, when Augustine first postulated the idea of “original sin”.  While Augustine made invaluable contributions to Christian theology, his Greek was poor, and this doctrine in particular sprung from a mistranslation of Romans 5:12 in the Vulgate.  It soon gained widespread popularity in the West, where Latin was spoken, but was never adopted by the East, where the original Greek was understood.  Tied in with this is the idea of Complete Corruption – that to be human is inherently to be sinful regardless of our actions.  This later became popular among Protestants during the Reformation.

Orthodoxy has instead held that sin is not a pre-existing condition of being human, only that the consequences of Adam’s sin were death and decay, and God’s curse (Genesis 3:15-25 – LXX), from which we must still be saved.  In Orthodoxy, our sin is a result of our free will and choice only, and therefore our own responsibility.

filioque2.  The Filloque.  At the Council of Toledo in 589AD, the local Bishops proposed an addition to the Creed stating that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Son as well as the Father.  Since the purpose of the Council was to reconcile Arians back into the Church, the error of what became known as the filloque came about from the influence of the Gothic King Reccard and other new converts, who could still not quite bring themselves to view the Trinity as a co-equal entity.  The Bishops, eager to reconcile the Arian Goths to the Church, acquiesced.  While not formally agreed to by the Pope at the time, reciting the filloque as part of the Creed also became popular Western practice, and at the turn of the 9th Century was adopted throughout the Frankish Holy Roman Empire, which covered the bulk of Western Christendom.  Eventually, the Papacy itself acquiesced to adopt it in 1014AD, despite the Third Ecumenical Council of 431AD specifically forbidding further additions to the Creed.  This in time triggered a break in communion with the rest of the Church in 1054AD, also known as the Great Schism, whereupon the Pope officially tried to excommunicate the Ecumenical Patriarch.

To this day, Orthodoxy holds that the Spirit proceeds from the Father as an equal Person fulfilling His saving acts, and not from both the Father and the Son.

popepatriarch3.  Papal Primacy.  The filloque controversy was, in many ways, simply an excuse for the Papacy to wield what it saw as its rightful powers as “the Holy See of Peter”.  While the Church always regarded the Bishop of Rome as the “first among equals” in honour, and made use of him to settle disputes, the Papacy gradually began to interfere proactively in other jurisdictions, especially during the 9th Century, when Pope Nicholas tried to interfere in the election of the Patriarch of Constantinople, and claim that the Pope had primacy over the whole Church, not just his diocese or his Patriarchate.  Ever since, Popes have made this jurisdictional claim, which Orthodoxy completely rejects.  Orthodoxy sees all Bishops as equals, and that only the Whole Church can discern doctrine.  While the Bishop of Rome is the most important Bishop, he is not regarded as the “Vicar of Christ”, or a “Bishop of the Bishops”.

thuggee-from-indiana-jones4.  Satisfaction.  Traditionally Orthodoxy has described salvation in a variety of ways – Christ saves by conquering sin and death, by an exchange of love between God and man, by atoning for sin Himself where man could not, by an exemplary life, by incarnation as both God and man, and so on.  None of these descriptions are complete in and of themselves, or stand alone separate from each other as a discrete explanation of salvation.  However, in the late 11th Century, Anselm of Canterbury propagated the idea that sin was a crime against God that offended God’s honour (similar to the way crime offended the honour of Western medieval Kings), and therefore implied salvation involved not personal transformation, but satisfying this honour – the crime must be paid for one way or another.  This soon became the standard primary explanation of Christ’s saving acts in Western Christianity.  But while Christ’s suffering is regarded as an atonement by the Orthodox Church, this does not imply that God separates from Himself by sacrificing Himself to appease Himself – a veritable “god of the volcano” into which things must be hurled to prevent eruption.  Anselm, while well-meaning, turned salvation into a legal transaction or contract rather than a process of rehabilitation.

These four innovations to the faith, sometimes in concert with one another, had massive implications for what followed.  Just for starters:

  • The Roman doctrines of purgatory and indulgences – unknown in Orthodoxy –  came directly from the ideas of Satisfaction and Original Sin, and triggered the Reformation in the West.  But instead of repudiating the underlying doctrines, the main point of contention between Roman Catholics and Protestants became not over whether or not God’s justice, honor, or wrath needed to be satisfied, but whether man could add anything to that satisfaction in penance;
  • Original sin also led to an unnecessary need for Mary’s conception to be “immaculate”.  As Orthodox see it, this has in turn caused an undue focus on the uniqueness of Mary as a separate heavenly entity in Roman Catholicism, instead of stressing her humanity and her relationship to her Son.  Meanwhile, Protestants took it in the opposite direction – if humanity is Corrupt through original sin, it is impossible for Mary to be anything special, or to be “More honourable than the Cherubim, and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim”;
  • There was a degrading of the sacredness of sexuality in the West into something inherently sinful in itself (since original sin is sexually transmitted).  Sex ceased to be a sacrament, and more of an activity allowed only because it was the only way humans could reproduce.  This in turn solidified the practice of Priestly celibacy in the West;
  • Papal Primacy led to Papal infallibility, and, combined with the Filloque, into a weakening of the Holy Tradition and a strengthening of the role of the ecclesiastical office-holders at its expense.  The Roman Catholic Magisterium became the determinant of Truth, not the Orthodox councillar approach of what has been believed “always, and everywhere, by all”.

healing_sm…and there are numerous other ways in which these innovations have created theological differences.  While a lot of the externals remain similar to this day, Roman Catholicism became a very different beast from the Orthodox faith which spawned it.  The same rituals and trappings soon took on quite different meanings.  And while the Protestants of the Reformation repudiated the Roman church’s innovations, they did not break from the underlying theology behind them, which is what really separates the West from the East.  Nowhere is this difference better articulated than by Alexandre Kalomiros in his famous 1980 presentation The River of Fire.  While this sermon is unfortunately shrill, and lacking in charity towards Western Christianity in its accusations, it lays things out very well.  On one hand, we see a judicial and rationalizing faith on the part of Protestants and Catholics, and on the other, a rehabilitative, experiential and mysterious one on the part of Orthodox.  In a nutshell:  Is Christianity merely a restoration of our relationship with God, through Jesus, or us, or both of us, being justly punished?  Or does Christianity restore our relationship with God by using all of His saving acts to heal us of our sinful passions so we are ultimately holy and at one with God’s Energies?

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9 thoughts on “Orthodoxy, Protestantism and Roman Catholicism

  1. Barking and trees comes immediately to mind – no pun intended.

    It’s all religion and it’s designed deliberately to deceive. To discuss it is like a group of doctors putting forward their individual ideas on how to treat the patient’s symptoms, instead of seeking a cure and healing them.

    • Religion as a word means different things to different people. It can be given positive or negative connotations. To me it simply means living out one’s faith in a practical manner.

      One of the things that appeals to me about Orthodoxy is that it does not take a strictly intellectual approach to doctrine based on Western (specifically Cartesian) philosophy. It is very much experiential – touching, tasting, hearing, seeing. The focus is on a direct experience of a material faith, rather than what can be thought through, intellectualised, or debated.

      Unfortunately, the Latin approach to Christian faith, and indeed the Protestant approach, is about simply thinking things through and drawing your own conclusions. It starts with the Self, rather than with the I AM. Ironically, you yourself are doing this with your own interpretation of Scripture. You are the pot calling the kettle black.

      Orthodoxy is the original Christian faith as handed down by Christ to His Apostles, and by His Apostles to the Bishops. That is the historical truth. It is the only Tradition that requires us to humble ourselves before God and experience Him in His fullness, instead of thinking our way through how we interpret a book. I’d encourage you not to seek your own interpretations of the faith, but seek Christ’s Church instead. You should go to an Orthodox Divine Liturgy service and experience it for yourself.

      • Religion means only one thing – lies or deceptions i.e. things that are not The Truth. What religion means to different people is an irrelevance. If people put their faith in religion then they are deceived – period.

        When you say: “living out your faith,” what do you mean? Faith in what or in whom? Surely not religion!!

        Philosophers???

        Col 2:8 (KJV) Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.

        Are you aware that the early so called ‘church fathers’ were vain philosophers groomed by the Canaanite Jew Philo out of Alexandria in Egypt in the first century who then infiltrated the Assemblies in order to spy out what they were teaching and then to go off and start their counterfeit – a religious counterfeit? All with the eager assistance of Simon Magus of course who loved the filthy lucre.

        The Truth needs no interpretation – The Truth IS and you either comprehend it or you don’t.

        The first assembly outside Jerusalem was planted in Britain in circa 37AD which predates the Antioch assembly. Read the Joseph of Aremathea histories.

        The Twelve Messengers went to the Lost Tribes of Israel (NOT The Jews) that were spread as far east as Media and Parthia (modern Iran – Eran was an Israelite) and as far west as Britain.

        Eastern Orthodoxy is just another futile religion amongst other futile religions in which there is no salvation.

  2. I see you’ve ignored almost everything I said and are attempting to use my blog to proselytise with your own made-up heresies. It must be wonderful to be the first person in nearly 2000 years to have the true Christian faith! Good for you. But I’d prefer you address what I said if you choose to comment further. This is my blog and you should discuss what I wrote.

    • Yes, because everything you said was of RELIGION. I have no use for RELIGION and you did insult me by accusing me of being someone with his own interpretations when I boast solely in Yashua Messiah – not in any RELIGION nor in any man made edifice (idolatry).

      Yashua Messiah didn’t come to this earth to start a RELIGION. The disciples, later the apostles, never did LITURGY unless you can point out in the Holy Scriptures where they did. LOL

      I can assure you there has always been a FEW down through the ages that have followed The Way and rejected RELIGION.

      MANY are called, FEW are chosen.

      WIDE is the path to destruction (Spiritual ruin) and MANY there be that find it.

      NARROW or STRAIGHT (tough, hard and difficult through trials and adversities) is path (The Way) and only a FEW there be that find it.

      Let me know when you come to your senses and repent.

      • You seem to be caught up in a word and ascribing meaning to it that I do not subscribe to.

        James the Just wrote the first liturgy for the Church, a ceremony for Christians to imbibe the real Body and Blood of Christ, as detailed in John 6. It’s not in “scripture”, it just exists. It has been handed down as his Liturgy. It is fact.

        Your allegation of secret gnostic schisms is false. There has always been a Church – the Orthodox Church.

        You want to label anything you disagree with “Religion”, but religion is simply following the practice of what one believes. That’s all it is. It’s a neutral term. To call things you disagree with “religion” and things you agree with “spiritual” is a false dichotomy.

        I repent of my many sins, but you should repent of your heresies. You talk about a narrow path, but there is none narrower than Orthodoxy. People to this day die for Orthodoxy in the Middle East. What is your sect up to? You deny the Holy Trinity, does that not make you a heretic?

        Who follows your faith other than you? What makes you special?

        Humble yourself before God. Lean not on your own understanding. 2000 years of theology versus your opinion – who is right?! Who should I bet on? Who should I favour? Your special opinion or the Holy Fathers of the Church? I think I should stick with Orthodoxy personally. Yes, I think I will stick with them over your heresies.

  3. I won’t publish further comments from you unless they calmly and rationally address my own views, specifically the post I wrote, which is about the Latin church. For anything else, you have your own blog, which you are welcome to use to say what you like about me and my faith. Invective without sound argument has no place here.

  4. Merwyn Bogue says:

    I think that many of the issues dividing the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics can be worked through, at least in the U.S., by The North American Orthodox – Catholic Theological Consultation. While an actual “meeting of the minds” on the points you mention may be a long way off, it is a hopeful sign that they have been talking for many years.

    Perhaps, one day, what now appear to be “innovations to the faith” will then be seen as unfortunate misunderstandings – caused by language, culture, or politics – because, ultimately, “the Church must breathe with her two lungs!”

    Here is a link to their documents:

    http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/ecumenical-and-interreligious/ecumenical/orthodox/orthodox-dialogue-documents.cfm

  5. Perhaps, one day, what now appear to be “innovations to the faith” will then be seen as unfortunate misunderstandings – caused by language, culture, or politics – because, ultimately, “the Church must breathe with her two lungs!”

    I think a lot of Roman Catholics see it that way, but that is certainly not how Orthodox see it, and that is the problem. Ultimately, for Roman Catholics, the Church is the Church because it is in communion with the Bishop of Rome. But for Orthodox, the Church is the Church because it is orthodox. The Latins see the schism as a matter of ecclesiastical authority, which it is in part, but for Orthodox, there is no “other lung”, there is the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, and there are schismatics and heretics who have separated themselves from that Church by deviating from Orthodoxy. For 1000 years the Bishop of Rome and his Patriarchate have fallen into this category.

    One can envisage a union where, following an Ecumenical Council, the Bishop of Rome is accorded more powers than the historic canons afford him – that is the discretion of a Council. But in return the Pope and the Latin Bishops would need to return to orthodoxy in doctrine. And would the Pope ever stoop to being chrismated by the Ecumenical Patriarch? I can’t see it happening. But of course, our God is a God of miracles!

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