Wednesday, May 30, 2007

An Excellent Assessment of the Western Rite

When someone asked for the blogs that make me think, I listed Julio Gurrea prominently. He has more than earned that title in three recent posts on the Western Rite. Together, they are an ecclesiological and liturgical, take-no-prisoners tour de force. Passionately written, with clarity and charity, he offers an excellent description of how those of Western ritual and piety can exist in an "Eastern" church. (I put "Eastern" in quotation marks, because the Orthodox Church is a catholic body for all believers, not an ethnic or cultural institution.) You must read the whole series (three parts, so far). Part I offers a wonderful assessment of Orthodox ecclesiology (which I'm greatly simplifying; again, please read it all):
All other ecclesiastical bodies which claim the title of the One True Church, the Catholic Church, etc. are not in fact the Holy Catholic Church...In some cases, [they] may be so painfully close that the fact that such a body is not in the Church is a source of much anguish and lack of sleep on my part. I hate the fact that a schism ever happened... [However] No amount of miracles, saints, and good works outside of the Orthodox Church disprove this belief. It only shows how merciful the Holy Spirit is and how He moves where He wills.
He adds, in Part II:
I am of the opinion that if the people who lived hundreds of years ago during some of these controversies did not see a way to reconcile two different beliefs, then we are being presumptuous by assuming that we “understand things better.”
I thank him for noting the Branch Theory is simply another form of modernism, which its advocates claim to oppose. It asks if we can't sweep aside all those untidy theological disputes and render "the Church" a spiritual non-entity, unmoored from any doctrinal components of Her essence. Historically, the theory was not accepted by Orthodox (who believe certain Roman doctrines were heretical), Roman Catholics (who believe Orthodox are Schismatics), or Protestants (who levied a pox against both houses, of "pagans" and "the anti-Christ"). In essence, it says, "Orthodox Christians; Vatican I Roman Catholics; Puritan Anglicans: What's the difference?" It is the theological equivalent of "Can't we all just get along?" (It also has the demerit of being false.) :)

If Western Rite Orthodoxy is not identical to other Western churches, does this make us somehow un-Western? Does subscription to Orthodox (which is to say, merely catholic) theology make us Byzantines light? He takes as an example St. Gregory Palamas:
The uncreated light is neither Eastern nor Western. It is a description of reality.
In other words, to rework a phrase of St. Augustine of Hippo, "All God's truth is our truth," wherever it may be found.

Julio's series is so good, I take a modicum of pride in seeing I may have had an influence on him. In Part III, he borrows an exact phrase of mine:
Little girls in America dream of growing up, meeting a nice boy, and saying their vows at the altar. Read it again. They do not dream of and will never dream of exchanging their crowns at the wedding table.
I think my exact words were, "Little girls in America growing up dreaming of saying 'I do,' not dancing around an altar three times." This is not to say anything negative about that beautiful rite, simply that the Byzantine custom is not part of our national consciousness, while exchanging vows is almost universally regarded as sacred. But I'm glad the truth is being repeated: Americans may be strangers to the Orthodox Church, but most are not entirely estranged from God. Our Western forefathers passed on to them a set of rituals and phrases that pervaded the whole of our culture. If the Orthodox Church recognizes these formulae as Her own, why would we not remove any unnecessary cultural stumbling blocks delaying those Westerners who love the Father from being reconciled with their Holy Mother, the Church?

Thus far, Julio has developed his themes magnificently; I look forward to see where he will go next.

Read all of Julio's posts (so far): Parts I, II, and III.



Blogger JGurrea said...

I forgot where I had heard that phrase or a similar one! I'm not suprised it was you who said it, but I remember that the reason it originally struck me was because it went to core of how unconscious religious influences form how we think about life even from a young age.

And thank you very much for the kind words. I think I've said everything I wanted to get off my chest concerning this subject. There are more strange things people say about the subject, pointless comparisons they make, etc. However, I think you have addressed most of them and continue to address them very effectively on your blog.


2:24 PM  
Blogger Ben Johnson said...

No problem, Julio; I was genuinely honored. And as I posted on your blog, yours were a few of the posts I'd read to which I could respond to every line "Yes" and "Amen." Great work, my friend; I look forward to reading whatever you tackle next.

God bless,

10:21 AM  

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