Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A Welcome Rejoinder

"The ways of fools are right in their own eyes, but a wise man hearkens to counsel." - Proverbs 11:15.

Someone has forwarded this comment - from a blog on that seems no longer to exist. Its author originally intended it for Western Rite Orthodox:
The Orthodox Church into which you or your community within the past century or so were received is the same Orthodox Church which has been estranged from Western heterodoxy for nearly a millennium and which also has developed its own theological teaching in the meantime, expressing the faith once delivered to the saints in formulae appropriate to the time. You were received into this Church and not into the pre-Schism Western Church. That means that you can't pretend that people like St. Gregory Palamas aren't relevant to you. For one thing, there is no East-West dividing line for what is needful in the Church, and for another, those to whom you rightly look for inspiration in the ancient West absolutely had zero problem with adopting the "Eastern" language and theology of their time (where, quite frankly, most of the serious doctrinal work was being done, due to heresy). [and where most of the serious heresy was being developed, too. - BJ.] They even adopted liturgical customs! It's not a question of what's appropriate to "the East" or "the West," but what is Orthodox. Anything else is really a form of phyletism.

You do not have more in common with either the Roman Catholic or Anglican communions than you do with the Byzantine Rite Orthodox. Thinking or speaking as though you do is really just a schism waiting to happen.
In another entry, the same blogger termed certain currents in WRO (and "Orthodox blogdom" generally) Deconstructionist: they hear a certain doctrine being spoken of as "Orthodox" and immediately set out to find counter-examples that dovetail with Anglican/Roman Catholic theology (see also the last paragraph above).

It may surprise my readers, and the original author, to know that I appreciate the general sentiment (if, as the Geico caveman says, I'm not 100 percent in love with its tone). Both Fr. Fenton and I have recently reaffirmed there is no theological difference whatever between Western Rite Orthodox and "Eastern" Orthodox. We are all merely "Orthodox," and the modifiers refer only to the (approved) rituals with which we celebrate this shared faith. Thus, developments after the Great Schism are of vital importance to WRO. The Western rite employs only what is "proper to the West" liturgically, but theologically we venerate all the Eastern Fathers and regularly refer to their theology. (St. Gregory Palamas's theology of uncreated light is particularly inspirational to me.) Is it possible to say we are Orthodox but reject 1,000 years of Church theology? That would be a form of "historical reconstructionism" unimagined.

I'd take exception on one front: Often when WR bloggers - and I among them, on occasion - have discussed the affinity some figures outside Orthodoxy have for the Church, it has been, not to show how close Orthodox are to (e.g.,) Anglicanism, but to show them how close they are in heart and mind to Orthodox, whether Eastern or Western Rite. Non-Orthodox may turn a deaf ear to St. Symeon the New Theologian, but if you mention that John Mason Neale believed the same thing, or that Bp. Charles Grafton longed for corporate reunion with the East, they may give Orthodoxy a hearing. Under no circumstances, though, should we portray ourselves as closer to heterodox than to Orthodox.

Out of respect for some of those deemed "Deconstructionist," it is true that there is an "Only Legitimate Orthodoxy" school of internet-and-newsletter theology, whose Eastern proponents vastly overplay their hand to the disadvantage of the West. These are the people who seem to believe all the world's ills, from ethnic cleansing to halitosis, stem from the fact that St. Augustine's Bible said man was "born in sin" rather than "born in sins." Such Westernphobia is supposed to be a mark of how far the "convert" has come from his old home but is rather a sign of how far he has to go.

To be fair, it's certainly true there are differences of opinion, theologoumena, on non-dogmatic issues. I cherish this freedom, as distinct from fundamentalist sects. It is also true that not everything is a matter of opinion, as in modernist churches (TEC, PCUSA, ELCA, UCC, etc.).

However, it is most emphatically not true that all theologoumena are created equal. Some seem to give the impression that presenting "The Orthodox Position"TM on anything not settled by an Ecumenical Council is impossible - that all non-condemned views are equally vying for recognition as truth, and describing any belief as "Orthodox" outside dogmatic theology is like trying to find the Orthodox view of the Balanced Budget Amendment or "Tastes Great/Less Filling."

It is not impossible to establish a theologoumenon's underlying theological pedigree, and its acceptance (or lack of same) within the Church. Although we don't conduct theology by survey, how widely a belief has been held is of pivotal importance in a traditional Church.

We must be careful, in our freedom of theologoumena, not to become "cafeteria Orthodox." Just as it is possible for one to pluck singular and idiosyncratic phrases from putatively Western missals, one line at a time, and end up with a ridiculously Byzantized Mass not at all reflective of Western piety, so is it possible to pluck from Eastern theological sources, one essay at a time, a theology that is not reflective of how mainstream Orthodoxy has defined Herself throughout history. We do Western Rite Orthodoxy no favors by indulging either fantasy.

Ultimately, theologoumena are a matter of conscience, and the perimeters of debate will not be decided online. (Deo gratias!) That is the province of our Shepherds in Christ. But let us not unnecessarily tax them. Since our Holy Mother has offered us a loving home, we must become Her grateful, and obedient, children.

I thank this defunct blog and its author (whomever it was) for reminding us of this.

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Blogger Eric Jobe said...

"born in sin" rather than "born in sins."

I wrote a paper on this for my Hebrew class. I concluded that the singular usage in the Hebrew is not semantically significant, and therefore does not teach any sort "Augustinian" original sin.

8:32 AM  

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