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Orthodoxy and Catholicism - John Charmley - 01-01-2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

In Chapter 17 of part IV of the Vatican's Dominus Iesus (2000) the then Cardinal Ratzinger wrote:
Quote:17. Therefore, there exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him. The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches. Therefore, the Church of Christ is present and operative also in these Churches, even though they lack full communion with the Catholic Church, since they do not accept the Catholic doctrine of the Primacy, which, according to the will of God, the Bishop of Rome objectively has and exercises over the entire Church.

Now, of course, we would say, politely, that the current Roman interpretation of the doctrine of the Primacy is one not accepted by the early Church and one not accepted by all the 'true particular Churches', even as we would say the same about various other doctrinal innovations such as the filioque clause and the Immaculate Conception.

The Romans would say that these things are not 'innovations' as such but are developments in our understanding of doctrine in like manner to, for example, the notion of Christ being homoousios.

Now for the questions.

Do we have any counterpart to the Catholic statement quoted above? How do we regard the Roman Catholic Church?

Secondly, given that we know from the history of the Church that the idea of a developing understanding of the Faith once given is not a novelty, what is our attitude to the idea now?

To what extent, for example, would it be possible for us to say to Rome that whilst we are aware of their bishop's developing understanding of the Faith, we are equally aware that it is not one accepted by all the Church and that whilst it might be in order for those who accept Rome's readings to do so, it ought to be equally in order for others not to hold it until the mind of the whole Church can be taken on these things?

Of course, Rome might well retort that nothing save an acceptance of the bishop of Rome's view would do - but in that case we would at least know where we were.

From my reading of the practice in the early Church it was not unknown for differences to coexist provided there was no suspicion of heresy. We are very keen on the practice of the early Church, so unless we actually believe that Rome teaches heresy, are we right to reject its interpretations rather than simply express an interest but say that until proper discussion has taken place they are, at best, a local practice.

Any thoughts?

In Christ,


- Fr Gregory - 01-01-2008

There seem to be three particular issues relating to Roman Catholic claims regarding the Pope, and therefore to the definition of the Church: (1) primacy ? the primacy of the See of Rome is an ancient tradition and not one which Orthodoxy would reject as such, but it is the nature and meaning of the primacy that is in dispute; (2) universal jurisdiction ? the claim that the Bishop of Rome has universal jurisdiction over the whole Church is certainly rejected by Orthodox and is contrary to ancient tradition and Canon Law; and (3) infallibility ? a doctrine unknown to the ancient Church, rejected by Orthodoxy, and obviously a modern innovation (and one which was adopted with hardly overwhelming support from the Vatican Council which declared it). Claims of universal jurisdiction and infallibility are of such significance to ecclesiology (and much else besides) that they cannot be seen as ?minor differences? of Faith.

Orthodoxy also has a major problem with the Roman definition of Ecumenical Councils: this also derives from the doctrine of the Papacy.

A distinction needs to be made between ?doctrinal development? in the sense of a growing understanding of doctrine, and ?doctrinal innovation?, which is the adoption of new doctrine. The Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, may ?grow in wisdom and stature? in its understanding of the Faith once delivered. It cannot change, add to or delete from that Faith. The obvious example of a Roman deviation in this regard is the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, declared to be a binding article of faith. It may be possible (although I do not think it is) to hold this doctrine as a ?pious belief?, but it is not possible to teach it as Orthodox doctrine.

The Orthodox Church is, I think, defined as the community of local churches holding to the Orthodox Faith. Some would add ?and in communion with the Patriarch of Constantinople? (which creates difficulties not only for Oriental Orthodox). Unfortunately, the jurisdictional chaos and scandal (and I would probably say, heresy) which infests modern Orthodoxy with multiple bishops, and multiple churches, claiming jurisdiction in the same places, in direct violation of the ancient Canons, makes any definition of ?local church? very difficult.

Fr Gregory

- John Charmley - 02-01-2008

Dear Fr. Gregory,

Happy 2008 to you!

I had been hoping you would answer, and what you say is most helpful; it also reassures me about my grasp of the Orthodox position Smile

As you say, the issue of primacy of the See of Rome is, in one sense, the least problematic; if the Vatican would accept it as a primacy of honour, we'd have no problem on that. However little the Vatican exercises its infallible powers, their very existence is a novelty and a major obstacle.

My Catholic friends would respond that the universal jurisdiction is exercised only after consultation with all the bishops and ask me how it differs from Pope Shenouda pronouncing after consultation with the Synod. My answer, for what it was worth, is that Pope Shenouda is not claiming that every other Church is bound by what he says; I'm sure there's a better answer!

On the Immaculate Conception I am not sure that many Romans actually have a secure grasp on this; my three friends have each given me slightly different readings of it - and since two of them are ecclesiastical historians, that's interesting!

As you rightly remind us, our own Orthodox house is not exactly in perfect order on this.

Is there anything similar to the Vatican's document from any of the Orthodox Churches?

Thank you for your help on this - it is much appreciated.

In Christ,


orthodoxy and catholicism - kirk yacoub - 03-01-2008

If 'innovations' and doctrinal 'refinements' are not accepted by the entire Church in common, prayer-guided discussion, then they have no basis for acceptance and become exclusivist. My wife, a Roman Catholic, has a special portrait of Christ connected to the Immaculate Heart of Jesus, beneath which is the statement - to be signed! - that we accept the Primacy of the Pope. It remains unsigned because my wife, in true ecumenical spirit, understands that I do not and cannot accept Papal supremacy.
The Syriac Orthodox Church traces its origins to the arrival of the same
St Peter in Antioch c. 36/37 AD and, therefore, could just as easily claim supremacy for itself, but it does not, understanding that there is really one Church divided through, let's be blunt, human arrogance and pride, so therefore, instead of claiming 'primacy' we must strive for unity.
Doctrinal developments can only be based on Scripture, Apostolic and Patristic Tradition. The so-called Immaculate Conception of Mary is a serious error because it carries within itself serious theological ramifications. The logical conclusion to this error was almost committed
(so I have read) by the late Pope John Paul II who was rumoured to want to proclaim that Mary was of the same essence as Christ, ie turning the Holy Trinity into a Quartet! (My apologies if these rumours are unfounded)
The 'infallibilty' of the Pope is, of course, a nonsense which feeds on human pride. Unfortunately there have been a number of Orthodox Church leaders who have behaved as if they believed themselves to be infallible also!
The only true test is Scripture, Tradition, and, of course, the fruit of the tree.

Kirk Yacoub

- John Charmley - 03-01-2008

Dear Kirk,

Your posts are always informative, thought-provoking and edifying; you have an enviable knack of putting your finger on the central point.

It would be hard to find a non-Catholic historian (and hard to find many professional historians, even the Catholic ones) who would agree with the way in which Rome now chooses to interpret the history of the early Church. Of course one finds many references to the 'primacy' of Rome, and many references to the authority of its bishop. But to read these in the light of what is now sometimes (and there's another misleading bit of rewriting history) called Vatican I, is to practice a type of Whig history. Of course, in the West, the authority of Rome was widely received, but the West was less urban, less literate and less prosperous than the East, and where else would authority have come from?

But if the early Church had accepted the universal jurisdiction of Rome there would have been no need for ecumenical councils. Pope Leo's refusal to accept the canon establishing New Rome's equality with old Rome speaks volumes for what was going on here. Of course he, like other Popes before and since, was seeking to use the Petrine verses to establish Rome's primacy; but since no one outside of the West seems to have accepted these intermittent claims, it is a little rich of modern Catholic apologists to point to the existence of those claims as evidence the Rome has always had universal jurisdiction.

But oddly enough I suspect that this claim is less of an obstacle to unity than the use to which it was put in declaring the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. After all, one could envisage a system of patriarchal authority in which the Bishop of Rome spoke for the patriarchs after consultation. Were Rome willing to discuss the uses, basis and type of Magisterium that might be exercise in today's world with reference to the traditions of the Church, something useful might emerge; it won't if Rome has already made its mind up.

But the IC seems plain heresy which might well lead in the unfortunate direction you indicate in your comments about John Paul II.

Presumably the idea is necessary for Rome because of its belief that we are all born with the taint of Original Sin? But even if that is so, what follows from it is, if I read it aright, disturbing.

If the blessed Theotokos was indeed born without sin, even if you believe in what is often called the Augustinian version thereof, then she was not fully human. We are told that only one was born without sin - Christ. But if the holy Theotokos is not fully human how could her son be fully human as well as fully divine; would this not make Him something of a 'quiddity'?

I have noticed that my Catholic friends get very edgy on this one, and retreat into saying that it is a mode of honouring the Mother of God. How one honours her by making her not fully human is never clear.

In proclaiming this, and papal Infallibility unilaterally, Rome has, alas, contributed as much to the cause of 'unity' as the Anglicans have with their decision of ordain women.

I am eirenic enough to be open to the idea that all these notions may indeed have something to be said for them; but they should only be received if the mind of the Church is set in that direction. To do otherwise is, perhaps, to substitute one's own views for those of the Holy Spirit.

In Christ,


Orthodox, Catholic and Original Sin - John Charmley - 04-01-2008

The Catholic Catechism says this about Original Sin:
Quote:Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam's descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence". Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ's grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.

This differs from the Orthodox view how?

I have come across Orthodox sources which talk about the 'taint' of Adam. My understanding was that we held that the sin Adam brought into the world was death, and that we inherit the world marred by this sin and its consequences, in which Satan is able to tempt us by our misdirected passions.

Is this Catholic definition so different?

In Christ,


orthodoxy and catholicism - kirk yacoub - 18-01-2008

Dear John,
The passage you quote from the Roman Catholic Catechism regarding 'Original Sin' may seem to resemble Orthodox understanding but, having read the Catechism on 'Original Sin', I find that the aforementioned quotation to be at odds with the main thrust of the RC argument.
There are three things that immediately stand out in the RC explanation and interpretation of the Fall of Man: 1) the use of the term 'Original Sin' and not 'the Original Sin'; 2) the absence of the word 'pride'; 3) the explanation that one of the things Adam and Eve lost for us was 'justice'.
The Catechism does state that 'Original Sin' for us is not an act of sin, but a state of being in sin. However by using the term 'Original Sin' the RC Church expresses it as a concept. If they wrote about 'the Original Sin' which led to mankind's fall from the grace of paradise into the dominion of death, then that would make sense. A concept implies that we are in a state of 'original Sin', which neither concurs with Orthodox understanding, nor with much the the RC Catechism states.
It is astonishing that the Catechism does not use the word 'pride', neither in connection with the fall of Lucifer and his kind, nor with the sin committed by Adam and Eve. They correctly state that this sin was committed as an act of disobedience, but do not state how they came to disobey God. Lucifer fell because of pride, and it is pride that led Adam and Eve to disobey God and eat of the forbidden fruit. It is pride that leads us to fall into temptation and commit sins. We puff ourselves up into believing that not only are we the equal of God, but His superior. There is no mention of this in the RC Catechism regarding the Fall of Mankind, making it very inadequate. Reading the Philokalia we can see not only how sin and the fall originated, but also the mechanism by which we are tempted into sin, a mechanism which seduces us into colluding with the
Regarding 'justice', suffice it to say that God goes far beyond justice, which is basically being punished in due measure to the crime. If we commit a sin and do not acknowledge it, neither repenting nor asking for forgiveness, then we will duly receive our punishment. That is justice. But if we acknowledge our sins, repent and beg God for forgiveness, then we are forgiven without punishment. This is called mercy.
The above is only a few observations on what I have read, but the more I think about it, the bigger the gulf seems to exist between Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Let us try and bridge this gulf with patience, prayer and calm dialogue.

Kirk Yacoub

- John Charmley - 22-01-2008

Dear Kirk,

Many thanks, as ever. I suspect it illustrates that there are actually a variety of positions within the RCC, and the more I discuss matters with them, the clearer this becomes.

Someone like Pope Benedict seems, on some matters, to come very close to an Orthodox position, but many of his own flock clearly find him 'academic' and difficult to follow.

Justice is, as St. Isaac points out, not something God deals in, since we need His mercy, which by ourselves we could hardly earn or deserve.

Pride is, indeed, at the root of our disease in this world. Odd that so many Protestants who are convinced of our sinfulness and innate depravity seem to imagine that our private judgement is enough to inform our reading of scripture.

In Christ,


orthodoxy and catholicism - kirk yacoub - 24-01-2008

In his book The Orthodox Church, Bishop Kallistos Ware expresses very clearly what the understanding of Orthodoxy is regarding Original Sin, Free Will, and the Immaculate Conception.
Summarised and interspersed with comments of my own, we see that
because humankind was created in God's image it means that we neccesarily have free will. Adam and Eve were free to choose between the Commandment of God or the temptation of the serpent. As it turned out they chose to fall into temptation, setting their own will up against the will of God because the serpent had appealed to their pride. Being expelled from Eden means that humankind must live contrary to nature, ie being deprived of deep communion with God who is immortality and life.
Our unnatural state leads to physical and moral disintegration, eventually to death. The consequences of this sinful act of Adam and Eve extend to all humanity. St Paul underlines the fact that we are all members of one another, therefore we are all stuck in the same boat, not only of physical death, but of being subject to sin and the dictates of the devil. Sin prevails in the world and it is much easier to sin than to do good because our severance from God has enfeebled our will. However, Bishop Kallistos emphasises that "the Orthodox Church rejects any doctrine of grace which might seem to infringe upon human freedom." We still have the power to exercise free will and cannot blame Adam, Eve, or the serpent for our wrong choices. The fact that we have been enfeebled means that we always require the help of God, which is most fully expressed by the Incarnation, death and Resurrection of God Himself. But because we are free to choose "God knocks but waits for us to open the door - He does not break it down. The grace of God invites all but compels none..." We must collaborate with God, show willing. In Greek this relationship we have is called 'synergeia', co-operation.
The faith and submission to God's will as demonstrated by Mary the Mother of God is the highest example of 'synergeia'. Old Testament Patriarchs and Prophets practised this to a greater of lesser degree because contrary to Calvin's idea that post-Fall humankind is utterly depraved, we have in us still the image of God, distorted by sin, but never destroyed.
Just a few thoughts for now. I hope they are useful

Kirk Yacoub

- John Charmley - 25-01-2008

Dear Kirk,

Thank you. Your thoughts are never less than extremely interesting - and always provoke much thought back; the dialogues here with you I find a really great help.

Often, with the RCC, I feel as though it has the same basic concept, but has added to it in various ways, some very ingenious, but the general effect of which is to complicate that concept; you bring it back to where we need to be with it.

I have had various discussions about literalism where people ask whether I really believe there was a Garden of Eden and an actual Fall, or whether it is not just a metaphor for the fate of mankind. My usual answer is that I believe in a literal existence of the Garden of Eden and the Fall; indeed I see no alternative to it - although the metaphor is a powerful one too; but what posit and either/or?

The fact we see around us and within us everyday is that given the alternative of following God's way and our own, we have trouble doing the former and get into trouble doing the latter; as the young say: 'go figure'. The Augustinian doctrine of Original Sin is one way of expressing this profound truth, and in some moods one can indeed feel entirely worthless and utterly corrupted; that does not mean one is - just that one's conscience is greatly troubled and is trying to warn one back to His way.

We need always to remember the point about being made in God's image; the purpose of this life is to uncover that image, regain it, become it as far as we can; and without the help of God through His Church, we cannot do it. It requires humility and repentance to admit that and to let Him in; but to that we are called.

In Christ,


orthodoxy and catholicism - kirk yacoub - 28-01-2008

Dear John,
As far as I can understand, the problem with Augustine is not so much 'Original Sin', but rather his concept of 'Original Guilt' which makes us party to Adam and Eve's guilt for their sin, an obvious nonsense because that would in effect take away our freedom of choice because we
would have no alternative but to sin. One of the objections to the concept of the Immaculate Conception is that Mary had to have a special dispensation in order not to sin, something which removes her from us as a fellow human being and, also, from those Old Testament figures such as Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Daniel, and so on, who managed to submit to God's will without any special dispensation. Surely the greatness of Mary is that, being just as human as us, she managed to submit herself to the divine will, showing all of us what is possible through faith and obedience.

Kirk Yacoub

- John Charmley - 28-01-2008

Dear Kirk,

I have made the same point about the blessed Theotokos to my Catholic friends, who then tend to retreat into comments about honouring the Mother of God; I don't think they get the point you make. To my mind our approach is much closer to honoring her since she could have sinned but did not; on the Catholic reading she had no choice - so where's the virtue in that?

On Original Sin I suspect they have a variety of positions, some close to our own, others very far away. Our position seems much closer to the way we experience sin and the world.

In peace,


A Russian view of Papal Primacy - John Charmley - 11-04-2008

Rather than start a fresh 'conversation' thread, I thought I would revive this one since it bears on the nature of the Petrine Primacy claimed by Rome. The following quotation from Soloviev's, Russia and the Universal Church is of interest here.
Quote:This pseudo-Orthodoxy of our theological schools, which has nothing in common with the faith of the universal Church or the piety of the Russian people, contains no positive element; it consists merely of arbitrary negations produced and maintained by controversial prejudice:

"God the Son does not contribute in the divine order to the procession of the Holy Spirit."

"The Blessed Virgin was not immaculate from the first moment of her existence."'

"Primacy of jurisdiction does not belong to the See of Rome and the pope has not the dogmatic authority of a pastor and doctor of the universal Church."

Such are the principal negations which we shall have to examine in due course. For our present purpose it is enough to observe in the first place that these negations have received no sort of religious sanction, and do not rest on any ecclesiastical authority accepted by all the Orthodox as binding and infallible. No ecumenical council has condemned or even passed judgment on the Catholic doctrines anathematized by our controversialists; and when we are offered this new kind of negative theology as the true doctrine of the universal Church, we can see in it only an extravagant imposture originating either in ignorance or in bad faith.

In the second place, it is obvious that this false Orthodoxy is no more adequate than true Orthodoxy as a positive basis for the "Russian idea." Let us try to substitute real values for this unknown quantity called "Orthodoxy" over which a pseudo-patriotic press is always working up an artificial enthusiasm. According to you, the ideal essence of Russia is Orthodoxy, and this Orthodoxy which you especially contrast with Catholicism amounts in your view simply to the divergences between the two professions of faith. The real religious basis which is common to us and the Westerns seems to have no more than a secondary interest for you; it is the differences between us to which you are really attached. Very well, then, substitute these specific differences for the vague term "Orthodoxy" and declare openly that the religious ideal of Russia consists in denying the Filioque, the Immaculate Conception, and the authority of the pope.

It is the last point that you are chiefly concerned with. The others, you know well, are only pretexts; the sovereign pontiff is your real bugbear. Essentially, all your "Orthodoxy," all your "Russian idea" amounts to, then, is simply a national protest against the universal power of the pope. But in the name of what?

Here begins the real difficulty of your position. This bitter protest against the monarchy of the Church, if it is to win men's minds and hearts, should be justified by some great positive principle. You should confront the form of theocratic government of which you disapprove with another and better form. And that is exactly what you cannot do. What kind of ecclesiastical constitution would you confer upon the Western peoples? Are you going to extol conciliar government and talk to them of ecumenical councils? Medice, *** teipsum ["Physician, heal yourself"] (Luke 4:23). Why has not the East set up a true ecumenical council in opposition to those of Trent or the Vatican? How are we to explain this helpless silence on the part of truth when faced with the solemn self-assertion of error? Since when have the guardians of Orthodoxy become mean-spirited curs that can only bark from behind a wall?

In point of fact, while the great assemblies of the Church continue to fill a prominent place in the teaching and life of Catholicism, it is the Christian East which has for a thousand years been deprived of this important feature of the universal Church, and our best theologians, such as Philaret of Moscow, themselves admit that an ecumenical council is impossible for the Eastern church as long as she remains separated from the West. But it is the easiest thing in the world for our self-styled Orthodox to confront the actual councils of the Catholic Church with a council that can never take place, and to maintain their cause with weapons that they have lost and under a flag of which they have been robbed.

The papacy is a positive principle, an actual institution, and if Eastern Christians believe this principle to be false and this institution to be evil, it is for them to create the organization which they desire to see in the Church. Instead of doing so, they refer us to antiquarian traditions, though they admit that they can I have no relevance to the present situation. Our anti-Catholics have good reason indeed for going so far afield in search of support for their thesis; the fact is that they dare not expose themselves to the ridicule of the whole world by declaring the Synod of St. Petersburg or the Patriarchate of Constantinople to be really representative of the universal Church. But how can they talk of appealing after all this time to ecumenical councils when they are obliged to admit that they are no longer feasible? Such beating of the air is only a complete revelation of the weakness of this anti-Catholic Orthodoxy. If the normal organization and proper constitution of the universal Church requires ecumenical councils, it is obvious that the Orthodox East, fatally deprived of this essential organ of church life, possesses no longer a true church constitution or regular church government.

During the first three centuries of Christianity, the Church cemented by the blood of the martyrs, convoked no worldwide councils because she had no need of them; the Eastern church today, paralyzed and dismembered, is unable to convoke them though she feels her need of them. Thus we are placed in a dilemma: either we must admit, with our extreme sectarians, since a certain date the Church has lost her divine character and no longer actually exists upon earth; or else, to avoid so dangerous a conclusion, we must recognize that the universal Church, having no organs of government or representation in the East, possesses them in her Western half.

In his post above, Fr. Gregory brings his usual acuteness to bear on this question, and I would commend what he says to those starting here. But he also says, inter alia that:

Quote:Unfortunately, the jurisdictional chaos and scandal (and I would probably say, heresy) which infests modern Orthodoxy with multiple bishops, and multiple churches, claiming jurisdiction in the same places, in direct violation of the ancient Canons, makes any definition of ?local church? very difficult.
Is that the inevitable result of our failure do what Soloviev says here:
Quote:create the organization which they desire to see in the Church

Any way, food for thought and discussion perhaps?

In Christ,