Monthly Archives: August 2013

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?

Moa Beer is a Con

moabeerI see that the bubbles have recently burst on the con job that is Moa beer.

Having last October described its New Zealand distribution deal with Treasury Wine Estates as “the perfect partner to super-charge growth”, the company came out last week and blamed TWE for its failure to hit the prospectus sales volume target of 195,100 cases this year.

The shortfall would be big, 30 per cent, implying sales of about 136,000 cases in the 12 months to March 2014. Investors were naturally spooked and the shares were gutted by more than a quarter.

I can’t believe that there were seriously suckers out there that would invest in this dog of a company.  Moa is the Enron of beer.  While it has a good distribution network (I’ve seen it on sale in my local supermarket here in San Antonio), it’s completely priced out of the market.  Nobody is going to pay eleven bucks for that crap.

For eleven bucks, my beer had better actually come from a Trappist monastery in Belgium, be bottle fermented, and taste like God’s nectar.  Moa beer does not meet these requirements.  It is a bog standard craft brew which tastes nice enough, but nothing special that can’t already be gotten for half the price.

There seems to be no effort on Moa’s part to either make beer, or brand their beer, so that it is actually competitive in the marketplace.  The whole point of Moa, in fact, seems to be to have a product that looks flashy so that investors will part with their cash.  It seems to me to be nothing more than a Ponzi scheme.  The goal is not to make beer and sell it at a profit.  The goal is to run a company, get investment, and look like you are doing something to justify that investment by putting overpriced bottles on as many shelves as you can.

Eventually Enron Beer is going to run out of money, and some people are going to lose their shirt.  But nobody should pretend that anything about this is actually about selling beer.

Zoo Substitutes Dog for Lion

Easily confused species of animals…doglion

A Chinese zoo’s supposed “African lion” was exposed as a fraud when the dog used as a substitute started barking.

The zoo in the People’s Park of Luohe, in the central province of Henan, replaced exotic exhibits with common species, according to the state-run Beijing Youth Daily.

It quoted a customer surnamed Liu who wanted to show her son the different sounds animals made — but he pointed out that the animal in the cage labelled “African lion” was barking.

It’s like some sort of real life Monty Python sketch!  In fact, it’s sort of like this one:


In latter years, I have tried to be more modest about putting my personal life online, but I would be remiss not to share the happiness of myself and my fiancee at our recent engagement.  I am very proud to have this beautiful, intelligent and wonderful woman at my side!  The photo below was taken at Enchanted Rock, Texas, a few minutes after I proposed:


Orthodoxy, Protestantism and the Church

The concluding post of my series comparing Orthodoxy with Protestantism.  Though obviously not my last post on Orthodoxy!  I may do another one on Orthodoxy and Catholicism.

When I originally listed the main differences between the two traditions of faith, I neglected to mention one big difference:  How they view the Church and what they believe “The Church” to consist of.  Orthodoxy especially is concerned with the questions of what, where and who the Church is.  And in both traditions, the definition is very different, and very complicated.

Protest by the fringe Westboro Baptist ChurchProtestantism defines the Church as the full body of saved Christians, including those who are not part of any individual churches.  It then becomes a matter of what a “saved Christian” is.  Often it will come down to simply “believing that the Bible is the inspired Word of God”, and whatever group of Christians do that, then that is the Church.  But of course it is more complicated than that, and there are also standards of (“little-o”) orthodoxy that come into the equation.  Of that group of “bible believers”, some would consider Mormons to be part of the Church, others look at their lack of belief in the Trinity and Christ’s nature, the addition of the Book of Mormon to the Canon, and their strange views on the afterlife and say no.  Some look at Catholics and Orthodox and regard them as idolaters for their prayers to Mary and the Saints, and would exclude them from the Church.  Beyond the Bible itself, there is no hard and fast standard.  It ranges from the idea that anyone who believes Jesus died and rose again is a Christian and part of the Church, no matter what outlandish ideas they add to that;  through to the other extremity of those who believe their Protestant denomination or church is The Only True Church, and all others are lost to the fires of hell!

bishopsOrthodoxy does take a similarly exclusionary view of what the Church is, namely that no church other than the Orthodox Church, its Bishops, and its visible and invisible (ie. passed on) members is the Church.  They believe this because all Orthodox Bishops are preceded by a line of Bishops going back to the laying on of hands by the original Apostles, and because they have kept the “right beliefs”, those held “everywhere and always, by all”.  But this is not a condemnatory stance – remember that in Orthodoxy salvation is not a contractual arrangement that predetermines the final destiny of the soul.  A humble pagan living by faith based on his limited knowledge of God may receive God’s grace at the last, while the strictest, baptised at birth Orthodox monastic may yet fall from grace and not finish the race he has begun.

Being in the Church is not a guarantee of God’s mercy, and being outside of it is not a guarantee it will be withheld.  Rather, Orthodoxy sees the Church as the vessel of salvation – it is the Way, not the destination.  And its claim to be the One True Church is a positive one only, not a negative one.  As the English Bishop Kallistos Ware says:  “We know where the Church is but we cannot be sure where it is not; and so we must refrain from passing judgment on non-Orthodox Christians.”

A good analogy of how Orthodox Christians view the Church is that of marriage.  A couple may live together, and consummate their relationship, and spend the rest of their lives together in complete happiness and fidelity to one another in an identical fashion to a married couple.  But they are not married.  They need to actually hold a ceremony for that to happen.  It is not a judgment on their relationship to say they are not married, merely an observation.  So it is with the matter of the Church, and what is the True Church.  It is possible for God to work in your life outside of the Church if you “fornicate” with Christianity, and God will bless you and bestow His grace if you know no better.  But just as only marriage allows one to experience the full blessing of a relationship, so the Church is the only means of experiencing the fullness of Jesus Christ and His salvation.

eucharistI could write screeds of theological detail on the Orthodox view of the Church – it is an almost inexhaustible subject.  But if one were to boil it all down, the Orthodox Church is the Eucharist – the imbibing of the real Body and Blood of Christ in communion with those of the same “orthodox” faith.  Rather than the Protestant view of Communion as a unifying ritual whereby they partake in holy symbols of Christ’s saving acts, Orthodox see the bread and the wine of the Eucharist as literally Christ’s Body and Blood, and their participation as literal salvation.  This is in keeping with the Orthodox view that Christianity is not just the intellectual exercising of faith in the metaphysical, as Protestants usually view it, but something that can also be seen, touched and tasted.  It is also entirely Biblical, as detailed in John 6.

Because Orthodox see Communion this way, they guard it zealously.  You can’t just rock on up to an Orthodox Church and take it.  You must be baptised in the name of the Trinity, chrismated with oil from the Bishop, and have made a recent confession verified by a Priest.  In short, you must be all square before God and already in Communion with the Church intellectually before participating in reality.  It’s a big deal.  After eight months attending an Orthodox Church I still cannot partake of the Eucharist, and will not be able to do so until the Priest deems me ready for chrismation.  Which is fine by me – it is not unusual for catechumens to wait up to two years in a church before they are deemed ready for baptism and/or chrismation.  My Priest likes to joke that if he can’t have sex with your wife, why should he let you take the Eucharist?  Both are covenant relationships that are exclusive to those who are in them and have formalised them before God.

This all causes Protestants to come back to the basics of their tradition – aren’t we all saved by grace through faith, not through our own effort?  Aren’t baptism, chrismation and confession merely outward works that do not save in and of themselves?  And why should these rituals, and the consent of a Bishop through his Priest, be a “barrier” to God?  The answer is that, first of all, if our faith is there and found to be true, the invitation is always extended to us to partake, and if we hunger for God, there is no other Way offered, either in the Bible or in the rest of the Holy Tradition of the Church.  The Way is Jesus, and Jesus is the Way.  We must be baptised into Him, receive His Spirit, confess our sins to Him, and imbibe His Body and Blood.  This is what we stake our faith in.   Secondly, neither we, nor the Church by itself can ultimately save our souls, but we are saved, and undertake the journey to salvation, through the Church.  God uses these things, the water of baptism, the oil of chrismation, the transformed bread and wine of the Eucharist, to purify us, to seal us with His Spirit, to revive us and work from within us, so that we are pure, holy and fit for the Life to come.  We can partake falsely, by deceit instead of faith, in which case these acts condemn us.  But to partake truly is to receive eternal life.

IgnatiusIf the Church is the Eucharist, and the Communion of orthodox Christians, then what makes bread and wine the Body and Blood of Christ?  Only the consecration of the Bishop, or his appointed Priests.  The word “bishop” simply means “overseer”, and it is clear that, just as Jesus separated the twelve Apostles from the rest of his disciples and gave them divine authority, so the Apostles in turn passed on that authority by the laying on of hands and appointed Bishops to safeguard the faith wherever they founded churches in their missionary  travels of the 1st Century.  One of these Bishops, Ignatius of Antioch, was a contemporary of the Apostles and latterly a disciple of the Apostle John, and it is from him that we see much of the theology surrounding both Bishops, and the Eucharist, established at the turn of the 2nd Century.  In his letter to the Smyrnaeans c110AD, he states:

“Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic Church. It is not lawful to baptize or give communion without the consent of the bishop. On the other hand, whatever has his approval is pleasing to God. Thus, whatever is done will be safe and valid…

…Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God … They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes.”

So Christ’s Church was from the earliest, and still is today, a Church of Bishops, of orthodox faith, and of the Eucharist.  It still invites all those who seek God today to receive Christ in all His fullness, for the salvation of their souls.  For me personally, Orthodoxy has been an illumination – it has tied up all of what I had perceived to be the “loose ends” of Christianity and made it all make sense.  In every sense of the word, it “completes” Christianity and rounds it out from being a mere “textbook” faith of a Holy Book dropped from the sky in isolation.  All that remains is an invitation, for Protestants and “Bible-believing Christians” especially, to explore the true history of the Church, examine the doctrinal claims of Orthodoxy, and especially experience a Divine Liturgy service for themselves (since Orthodoxy is lived and experienced, not just thought through).  From there it can be decided if this ancient tradition of faith is merely antiquated custom, or if, in fact, it does represent the completeness and fullness of Christianity.