Once again, apologies for the lack of activity here. Lately I am finding it very hard to focus on blogging.
There’s a very interesting combox discussion going on over at The Continuum, an Anglo-Catholic blog. It’s in response to this essay, “Basic Points of Difference between the Orthodox Church and Papism”, by Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos), Metropolitan of Nafpaktos in Greece. The Metropolitan’s little book, Orthodox Spirituality, is one of the first Orthodox books I ever read. On the whole it’s a wonderful book, and I highly recommend it.
But I’m afraid that I have very little patience for the sort of polemic that the Metropolitan offers here. Generally, my impression is that theological polemics (whether Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant) very rarely, if ever, clarify anything. In fact, polemical discourse tends to crystallize existing differences, create new differences, or even alter the theologies of the polemicists themselves. Theology becomes ideology and an excuse for the inexcusable evil of schism. And so I find myself in broad agreement with the responses left by Anglican posters Fr Robert Hart and “Poetreader”, and the Eastern Catholic poster “A Simple Sinner”. (Fr Hart, of course, is the brother of David Bentley Hart, the brilliant Eastern Orthodox theologian whose gentler approach to Western Christianity makes him a favorite punching-bag of some Orthodox bloggers.)
There are real differences, of course, between the Churches; I do not deny that. Authentic ecumenism begins with humble and honest acknowledgement of our differences. But it also involves a very careful parsing, by both sides, of real problems from problems that are merely apparent or resulting from misconceptions or even lies about the “other side.” The Metropolitan mentions some real problems, such as the current Roman Catholic understanding of the Papacy, or the alteration of the ecumenical Creed by the Latin West. However, I find it very hard to see most of the Metropolitan’s other points as authentically church-dividing issues.
The liturgical complaints are, to me, the most disappointing, as most of these points haven’t been taken seriously even by strict Orthodox authorities for many centuries (surprise! the Latin Rite and the Byzantine Rite are different, had been quite different for some time before the schism). Some of the complaints regarding the Franks, Scholasticism, Palamism, Original Sin, etc. are merely talking points from twentieth-century Greek neo-patristic sources (with a particularly heavy-dose of Romanides), feeding on popular caricatures about Rome and the Western Church. It’s alarming that so many Orthodox, particularly converts, understand their faith, and other Churches, only through the lenses of these modern (and in many cases novel) thinkers.
While I’m at it, I’d like to say that I have only recently discovered The Continuum and I am reading through its archives with great interest. I have never been an Anglican, but I have always had an admiration for the traditional Anglo-Catholic temperament, its characteristic balance and “feel” for the Faith. Two of the most valuable books on the Papacy I have ever run across were written by English Anglo-Catholic priests: The Church and the Papacy by Trevor Jalland (1944) and Dom Gregory Dix’s Jurisdiction in the Early Church: Episcopal and Papal (1936) [and I must once again thank Professor Bill Tighe for bringing these studies to my attention … are you still out there, Professor?].
At some point in the near future, I’d like to post here on Jalland’s conclusions concerning the development of the Papacy and the current state of the Church following the Schism.