Skip to comments.Back to the Beginning: A Brief Introduction to the Ancient Catholic Church
Posted on 11/21/2005 11:58:28 AM PST by NYer
The culture is now flooded with bogus scholarship whose main purpose is to put Christianity and especially orthodox Catholicism on the defensive. But most Catholics have no idea how to respond, and more than a few take these books and documentaries at face value. After all, they have the imprimatur of the History Channel or a large publishing house like Doubleday.
Macaulay keeps laying it on, awestruck by the Church's perdurance through the centuries. The rhetorical excess is particularly striking coming from an agnostic who regarded history as a steady climb from religious obscurantism to secular enlightenment. But Macaulay's point is always worth making: No institution in history is remotely comparable to the Catholic Church. It is a subject that well repays study. And yet most Catholics know very little about their own history.
This is unfortunate for many reasons, but especially today, when a dinner-party conversation can suddenly turn to some specious best-seller that presumes to rewrite Church history. The culture is now flooded with bogus scholarship whose main purpose is to put Christianity and especially orthodox Catholicism on the defensive. But most Catholics have no idea how to respond, and more than a few take these books and documentaries at face value. After all, they have the imprimatur of the History Channel or a large publishing house like Doubleday.
The new wave of anti-Catholic "scholarship" predictably revisits hot-button topics like the Inquisition and Galileo; but increasingly its focus is on the first centuries of Christianity. Its object is to make the early Church look like a bad mistake, a betrayal of Jesus' intentions, a conspiracy of dead white males obsessed with controlling their followers and, even worse, putting a lid on everyone's sexual fulfillment.
The media have a sharp appetite for this recycling of 19th-century, anti-clerical scholarship, and so books by scholars like Gary Wills and Elaine Pagels get maximum exposure. And then there is The Da Vinci Code, which has sold a staggering nine million copies. Both the New York Times and National Public Radio seem to think that it is based on historical fact. Even its author appears to think so. But a book that claims that Christians did not believe in the divinity of Christ until the fourth century, that a Roman emperor chose the four Gospels, that the Church executed five million witches, and that Opus Dei has monks is obviously little more than a farrago of nonsense.
We live in a sea of false historiography, and so it is worth asking: What exactly happened during the first centuries of Christianity? How did a small band of believers, starting out in a despised outpost of the Roman Empire, end up the dominant institution of the Mediterranean world? What was "primitive Christianity"? John Henry Newman became a Catholic in the course of answering that question. History, he said, is the enemy of Protestantism. It is also the enemy of the newly vigorous anti-Catholicism that circulates among our cultural elites.
In the Beginning
The word gospel means "good news," and the first thing to say about the early Church is that its members had an urgent message for a civilization that already contained the seeds of its own demise. Early Christianity was above all a missionary enterprise, an evangelical movement in a world ripe for its teachings. At the end of his public life Christ had said to His disciples, "Go"; and, in addition to the journeys recorded in the New Testament, tradition has the apostles spreading all over the map: Thomas to Parthia and India, Andrew and John to Asia Minor, Bartholomew to south Arabia. Each may have undergone exploits as spectacular as St. Paul's, but unfortunately there was no St. Luke to record them.
Early Church Fathers like St. Augustine believed that Providence had arranged ancient history so that Christianity could spread as rapidly as possible. The Pax Romana was a remarkable achievement, and the general law and order, combined with Roman road-building, made it easier to get around Europe at the time of Tiberius and Claudius than it would be a thousand years later. There was also a widespread Hellenistic culture, which meant that many people spoke Greek. This was the legacy of Alexander the Great, who not only spread a common tongue but, like other rulers of that era, had a mania for building cities. The large concentration of urban dwellers made evangelization more efficient, and within the space of about a century we find Christianity flourishing in all the vital nerve-centers of the Roman empire, which had a population of about 60 million.
The great tipping points of history often occur beneath the radar, and it is doubtful that anyone in the year 51 noticed an itinerant rabbi from Tarsus crossing the Aegean Sea into Macedonia. But this was Christianity's entrance into Western Europe, with incalculable consequences for the future. Christopher Dawson writes that Paul's passage from Troas in Asia Minor to Philippi did more to shape the subsequent history of Europe than anything recorded by the great historians of the day. Put simply: The Faith created modern Europe, and Europe created the modern world.
What Paul and other missionaries found everywhere in the Roman Empire was a spiritual vacuum: The Roman gods, practically speaking, were dead, the victims of much scoffing from intellectuals and poets. The upper orders had turned to Stoicism self-cultivating itself in aristocratic isolation but this spoke only to a small minority. Others with spiritual hankerings went to more dubious sources: mystery cults, Asiatic magic, exotic neo-Platonisms, whose goal was ecstatic visions and emotional release. There was a lot of philosophical mumbo jumbo in an atmosphere of tent revivalism, with a dash of emperor worship on the side. But no matter where it turned for solace, the late classical mind was steeped in melancholy, a kind of glacial sadness; it was utterly lacking in what Catholics would call the theological virtue of hope.
Since The Da Vinci Code and other dubious best-sellers claim that early Christianity was anti-feminist, it's worth recalling that large numbers of women during these centuries thought otherwise....No world religion has ever given women a more important place than Roman Catholicism.
Since The Da Vinci Code and other dubious best-sellers claim that early Christianity was anti-feminist, it's worth recalling that large numbers of women during these centuries thought otherwise. The Church's teachings about marriage and family, along with its strictures against divorce, abortion, and the exposure of newborn babies all of which a pagan husband could force his wife to do, no questions asked resonated with women who were treated like chattel under the old dispensation. In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke goes out of his way to mention female converts like Lydia and Damaris. Even at this early date, women played a key role in the Church's evangelical mission. No world religion has ever given women a more important place than Roman Catholicism. Even Protestantism would turn out to be largely a male enterprise.
Preserving the Traditions
These early Christians were conscious of a single responsibility that transcended and sustained all others. They were bound to preserve with the utmost fidelity what had been taught by the apostles. Long before there was a New Testament, there was a deposit of faith concerning the nature of God, His threefold personality, His purpose in making man, the Incarnation. It is already presupposed in the early letters of Paul as well as ancient documents like the Didache. Any departure from these teachings provoked the strongest possible response, and the Acts of the Apostles and most of Paul's letters show the Church facing her first doctrinal and disciplinary problems.
The determination to hold fast to "what has been handed on" (tradere, hence "tradition") is one explanation for the early Christian's veneration of the episcopal office. If there has been a revelation, then there must be an authoritative teaching office to tell us what it is. And so the role of bishops whose job was, and still is, to teach, govern, and sanctify was crucial from the beginning.
We do not know the precise details of how the Church's internal authority evolved in the first century. It is one of the most debated points of Church history. Protestants have an obvious bias toward an early congregationalism, but there is little evidence for this. We do know that from the original "twelve" there soon emerged a hierarchical church divided into clergy and laity. It seems that at first there were apostolic delegates, people like Timothy and Titus, who derived their authority from one of the apostles in this case, Paul. These men governed the local churches under the apostles' direction, and, while some apostles were still on the scene, this arrangement naturally evolved into the college of bishops.
What was "primitive Christianity"? John Henry Newman became a Catholic in the course of answering that question. History, he said, is the enemy of Protestantism. It is also the enemy of the newly vigorous anti-Catholicism that circulates among our cultural elites.
Within each city there was a single church under a bishop, who in turn was assisted by priests in the spiritual realm and deacons in the administrative. The latter devoted themselves especially to alms-giving, and a striking feature of primitive Christianity is its organized benevolence. These local churches were largely self-sufficient but would group around a mother church in the region Antioch, Alexandria, Rome and the bishops of each region would occasionally meet in councils. But they all considered themselves part of a universal Church the Catholic Church, as Ignatius first called it united in belief, ritual, and regulation.
From the earliest times we find one of these churches exercising a special role, acting as a higher authority and final court of appeal. We don't know much about the early development of the Roman church, and the lists of the first popes are not always consistent. But we do know that around the year 90 a three-man embassy bearing a letter from Rome traveled to Corinth, where there were dissensions in the local church. In that letter, Pope St. Clement speaks with authority, giving instructions in a tone of voice that expects to be obeyed. The interesting point is that the apostle John was still living in Ephesus, which is closer than Rome to Corinth. But it was Rome (at the time, a smaller diocese) that dealt with the problem. Here was the prototype of all future Roman interventions.
It is not difficult to find even liberal Catholic scholars who endorse the early primacy of Rome. In his popular history of the papacy, Saints and Sinners, Eamon Duffy writes that the apostolic succession of the Chair of Peter "rests on traditions which stretch back to the very beginning of the written records of Christianity." Around the year 180, St. Irenaeus, battling heretics who presumed to correct and supplement the Faith with their Gnostic speculations, wrote that if anyone wishes to know true Christian doctrine, he has only to find those churches with a line of bishops going back to one of the apostles. But it is simpler, and suffices, to find out the teaching of the Roman see: "For with this Church all other churches must bring themselves into line, on account of its superior authority."
Worship in the Ancient Church
The early Church was not only hierarchical, it was liturgical and sacramental. But it was above all Eucharistic. St. Ignatius, in his letter to the church at Smyrna, attacks local heretics who "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...." By the year 150, when St. Justin Martyr described the Sunday liturgy in some detail, all the principal elements of the Mass are in place: Scriptural readings, prayers of intercession, offertory, Eucharistic prayer, and communion. There was no need back then to remind the faithful that Sunday Mass attendance was obligatory, since they regarded the liturgy as absolutely central to their lives as Christians. It would not have occurred to them to forgo Sunday Mass for a brunch date or ballgame.
The readings at these early Masses were from both the Old Testament (then simply called "Scripture") and from many (but not all) of the documents that eventually would comprise the New Testament. And how did the New Testament canon come together? Although some Protestants seem to think otherwise, this was not a spontaneous process. Humanly speaking, it involved a lot of institutional machinery. The 27 books themselves were a kind of providential accident. Christ Himself did not write anything, nor (so far as we know) did He tell His disciples to write anything. There is, after all, something about hearing, rather than just reading, the Christian message. "Faith comes by hearing," writes Paul, who, even though a scholar, does not say "by reading." Books are wonderful evangelical tools, but it is still true that most conversions are brought about by personal witness.
In the ancient Middle East, the preferred medium for passing on the teachings of a religious master was oral, and people had strongly trained memories. Christ spoke in the traditional rhythms of Jewish speech, often using parallelisms that are easy to remember: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." The Old Testament is shot through with this kind of mnemonic device. Christ's immediate disciples probably did not write down His words during His lifetime. Being a close-knit Jewish community with a strong oral tradition, they didn't have to.
But as time went by and the Church spread out, the danger of inaccurate reporting grew. This was especially true when Christianity moved into the Greek-speaking cities of Asia Minor and Macedon, where the habit of oral transmission was not strong. So the practice of giving the earliest Christian missionaries little books, or manuals, with the sayings and miracles of Jesus may have arisen. If there was such a document, it has not survived. Yet scholars reasonably posit an ur-document they call Q, which is said to be a sourcebook for the Gospels.
But we may leave the Jesus Seminar to find out what really happened. First, the scholarly consensus is that the three synoptic Gospels were written much earlier than heterodox "experts" wish us to think: Between 50 and 65 A.D. John's Gospel was written last, perhaps as late as 95, when John, the only apostle not martyred, was a very old man. More than any documents in history, these four books have been the target of the "hermeneutics of suspicion." It is therefore worth pointing out that the four evangelists were closer to their material than were most ancient historians. The biographers of the caesars Tacitus and Suetonius were not better placed to get accurate information about their subject than were the evangelists about the life of Christ.
Even though the four Gospel writers differ markedly from one another and have diverse agendas Matthew is proselytizing his fellow Jews, Luke is fact-gathering for Gentile converts, Mark relates Peter's version of events, John is responding to heresies that deny the Incarnation the striking thing is how strong, consistent, and identifiable the personality of Christ is in all four books. C. S. Lewis remarks that in all the world's narrative literature, there are three personalities you can identify immediately if given a random and even partial quotation: Plato's Socrates, Boswell's Johnson, and Jesus Christ of the Gospels.
Most of the documents in the New Testament are ad hoc; they address specific issues that arose in the early Church, and none claims to present the whole of Christian revelation. It's doubtful that Paul even suspected that his short letter to Philemon begging pardon for a renegade slave would someday be read as Holy Scripture. Moreover, there is no list of canonical books anywhere in the Bible, nor does any book (with the exception of John's apocalypse) claim to be inspired.
Who, then, decided that these books were Scripture? The Catholic Church. And it took several centuries to do so. It was not until the letters and decrees of two popes and three regional councils near the end of the fourth century that the Catholic Church had a fixed canon. Prior to that date, scores of spurious gospels and "apostolic" writings were circulating around the Mediterranean basin: The Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, Paul's Letter to the Laodiceans, and so forth. Moreover, some texts later judged to be inspired, such as the Letter to the Hebrews, were controverted, and there were also cogent arguments to jettison the Old Testament. All these issues were sorted out by the hierarchy, and, as Augustine logically remarks, it is only on the authority of the Catholic Church that we accept any book of Scripture.
A Theological Parasite
To paraphrase Hilaire Belloc, there was no such thing as a religion called "primitive Christianity." There is and always has been the Church, founded by Christ around the year 30 A.D. That Church has always been hierarchical and sacramental. And it saved Western Europe from both pagan barbarism and Eastern nihilism.
Mired in the evil of creation, the Gnostic sought liberation by joining an elite band of believers who through gnosis arcane speculation, philosophical pirouetting, secret verbal formulas sought to obtain Promethean control of the spiritual realm. The object was a mystical knowledge that separated the believer not only from the corrupt world but also (and even better) from his neighbors. The initiate, moreover, was above sexual taboos, since the body is of no account. The resulting mixture of hedonism and mystical exclusivity was heady stuff, and the power of Gnosticism to assimilate elements from any source Platonism, Persian dualism, even Judaism made it very dangerous when it encountered Christianity and tried to subsume it into a higher and more beguiling synthesis.
Gnosticism's attempt to insert itself into Christianity involved the production of its own scripture, which it tried to smuggle into the Christian canon. The most famous Gnostic text, the Gospel of Thomas, comprises 114 "secret" sayings of Jesus. You don't have to read more than a few of them to recognize that the author has simply skimmed material from the original Gospels and given it a strange "spiritual" twist. Christ is now something of a Magus, a shadowy dispenser of puzzles and gnomic utterances. He bears no resemblance to the Christ of the four evangelists.
In her best-selling books, Pagels makes much of these "forbidden gospels" whose message despite the occasional anti-feminist hiccup gives her a fuzzy inner feeling. It seems that the modern Gnostic can retreat into a cozy realm of the spirit and then do whatever he or she pleases. There are no dogmas or commandments to scandalize the post-Christian academic mind. Pagels plays down the intellectual rubbish in these documents, and she's not entirely forthcoming about their elitism and anti-Jewish bias. And finally, it's ridiculous to speak of the Church's exclusion of these spurious second-century documents as a power play by a self-appointed male hierarchy bent on eliminating genuine spiritual impulses. Pagels ought to read the lives of the saints, which include not a few early popes and bishops.
How the Church Saved Civilization
The Church did Western civilization a huge favor in beating back these esoteric, anti-humanist ideas, as it would in the 13th century when it crushed the Cathar heresy, another nihilistic doctrine that had blown into Europe on the winds from Persia. In fact, no institution has done more for the surrounding culture than the Catholic Church. And it is identifiably itself from the beginning. To paraphrase Hilaire Belloc, there was no such thing as a religion called "primitive Christianity." There is and always has been the Church, founded by Christ around the year 30 A.D. That Church has always been hierarchical and sacramental. And it saved Western Europe from both pagan barbarism and Eastern nihilism.
In fact, almost everything we value in our civilization hospitals, museums, universities, the idea of human rights is by origin Catholic. These things did not come from the Vikings or northern German tribes; they certainly did not come from the Gnostics. But our modern secular culture displays a willful amnesia on the subject of our Catholic patrimony. The technocrats currently drafting a new constitution for the European Union don't even want to hear about it. As Chesterton quipped, first Catholic, then forgotten. Perhaps we can change that by getting out a clearer picture of the splendors and perils of the early Church.
Best of both worlds! The Catholic Church breathes with two lungs - a Roman Catholic may attend the liturgy or join the parish of an Eastern Catholic Church. It also helps to have a definitive voice at the Vatican ;-D
From the oca.org website, I quote the following:
"The Orthodox Church recognizes the sanctity of marriage and sees it as a life-long commitment. However, there are certain circumstances in which it becomes evident that there is no love or commitment in a relationship.
While the Church stands opposed to divorce, the Church, in its concern for the salvation of its people, does permit divorced individuals to marry a second and even a third time.
The Order of the Second or Third Marriage is somewhat different than that celebrated as a first marriage and it bears a penitential character. Second or third marriages are performed by "economy" -- that is, out of concern for the spiritual well being of the parties involved and as an exception to the rule, so to speak."
This quote seems to indicate that the Orthodox Church has it both ways. Honestly, I'm more confused about its position on divorce than before. And the Catholic Church, while it doesn't permit divorce and remarriage, does provide for annulments, which involve a decision on the sacramental nature, or lack thereof, in a marriage. I see nothing about the sacrament of marriage in this description of divorce and remarriage within Orthodoxy - only situations in which there is "no love and commitment in a relationship."
Not sure if it was the History, TLC or Discovery Channel but one of them recently did a show on how Jesus communicated. They used the Sermon on the Mount to disprove He ever delivered it from a 'mount' or a valley, citing the large numbers who were in attendance. It was not possible, accoustically they claim, to project such a message from either locale. The deduction? He communicated the message through His apostles to small communities on different days. "Click" went the remote control.
" "Why Catholic and not Eastern Orthodox?"
Best of both worlds! The Catholic Church breathes with two lungs - a Roman Catholic may attend the liturgy or join the parish of an Eastern Catholic Church. It also helps to have a definitive voice at the Vatican ;-D"
Trumpets our resident voice of Uniatism! :( This attitude is precisely what drives the Orthodox insane and which the Roman Church has disavowed!
And on contraception, I again quote from oca.org:
"Married couples may express their love in sexual union without always intending the conception of a child, but only those means of controlling conception within marriage are acceptable which do not harm a foetus already conceived." - http://www.oca.org/DOCmarriage.asp?ID=19
Before joining the Orthodox Church I actually looked up that one a lot (the view on birth control and contraception).
The OCA site stands in contradiction to a lot of published official materials from the various churches.
A difference between the Orthodox and the Catholics is that there isn't one top down canon, there's several different self governing churches (Antiochian, Greek, OCA, ROCOR, Moscow Patriarchiate, etc). On issues like this there are gaps, and further within those churches there are the occasional lapses in clarity which lead to some otherwise knowledgable folks misinforming others about the doctrine, it's why I linked to a bunch of sites. You find the same thing betwen dioceases in the Catholic church.
I have seen both the "tolerated in some situations within marriage but consult your priest first" and the "absolutley wrong never do it".
There's a rather exhaustive look at the debate here:
I do not suspect this is entirely undebated within Catholic circles either. (After all there are even bishops defending openly gay clergy)
And here's some Catholic bishops who do as much:
I suspect if you asked anyone in a ROCOR parish they'd be 100% against contraception in any circumstances. (These are folks afterall who have a sign on the parish door reminding folks that women should cover their head in church).
Hey any chance of you helping me explain the official doctrine on contraception and divorce?
Haven't you heard the Uniate church is in no way an attempt to win over converts in Orthodox areas by exempting them from key aspects of Catholic doctrine, and giving all orthodox parishioners and clergy a free pass to join. (/sarc)
"Hey any chance of you helping me explain the official doctrine on contraception and divorce?"
Simple. Civil divorce followed by an ecclesiastical divorce and remarriage is a matter of economia and is purely and simply an accomodation to the civil society around us and has been since the first Imperial divorce statutes in, I think, the 7th century, though it may have been the 8th century. You stated the basis of that economia as well as it can be stated.
Non-abortifacient contraception is considered to be a matter between a spiritual father and a married couple. Abortion of course is condemned as a grave sin. Orthodox theology does not hold with the basically Augustinian foundation of the Latin Church's teachings on contraception. This raises another broader point. In the Latin Church, the pope, under certain circumstances can proclaim dogma and bind all members of that Church to the teaching. In Orthodoxy, nothing becomes dogma until the people proclaim their AXIOS by living out the proclaimed dogma. In the case of contraception, after what, 40 odd years, it is quite apparent that the Roman Catholic laity has not proclaimed its AXIOS; quite the contrary if polls are to be believed.
Here's a comment from the GOA website:
"Fertility control, or contraception, is the practice by which mechanical, chemical, or other means are used, either before or after a sexual act, in order to prevent fertilization of the ovum by the sperm, thus circumventing the possible consequences of the sexual act - the conception and ultimate birth of a child.
General agreement exists among Orthodox writers on the following two points:
1. since at least one of the purposes of marriage is the birth of children, a couple acts immorally when it consistently uses contraceptive methods to avoid the birth of any children, if there are not extenuating circumstances;
2. contraception is also immoral when used to encourage the practice of fornication and adultery.
Less agreement exists among Eastern Orthodox authors on the issue of contraception within marriage for the spacing of children or for the limitation of the number of children. Some authors take a negative view and count any use of contraceptive methods within or outside of marriage as immoral (Papacostas, pp. 13-18; Gabriel Dionysiatou). These authors tend to emphasize as the primary and almost exclusive purpose of marriage the birth of children and their upbringing. They tend to consider any other exercise of the sexual function as the submission of this holy act to unworthy purposes, i.e., pleasure-seeking, passion, and bodily gratification, which are held to be inappropriate for the Christian growing in spiritual perfection. These teachers hold that the only alternative is sexual abstinence in marriage, which, though difficult, is both desirable and possible through the aid of the grace of God. It must be noted also that, for these writers, abortion and contraception are closely tied together, and often little or no distinction is made between the two. Further, it is hard to discern in their writings any difference in judgment between those who use contraceptive methods so as to have no children and those who use them to space and limit the number of children.
Other Orthodox writers have challenged this view by seriously questioning the Orthodoxy of the exclusive and all-controlling role of the procreative purpose of marriage (Zaphiris; Constantelos, 1975). Some note the inconsistency of the advocacy of sexual continence in marriage with the scriptural teaching that one of the purposes of marriage is to permit the ethical fulfillment of sexual drives, so as to avoid fornication and adultery (1 Cor. 7:1-7). Most authors, however, emphasize the sacramental nature of marriage and its place within the framework of Christian anthropology, seeing the sexual relationship of husband and wife as one aspect of the mutual growth of the couple in love and unity. This approach readily adapts itself to an ethical position that would not only permit but also enjoin sexual relationships of husband and wife for their own sake as expressions of mutual love. Such a view clearly would support the use of contraceptive practices for the purpose of spacing and limiting children so as to permit greater freedom of the couple in the expression of their mutual love."
"I do not suspect this is entirely undebated within Catholic circles either. (After all there are even bishops defending openly gay clergy) "
Regardless of the opinions of some members of the clergy, even bishops, I have an objective and unchanging standard against which to measure all doctrine. In contrast, however, there appears to be little in the way of such objective standards within Orthodox Christianity.
So, even though it may be far from undebated within Catholic circles, everyone knows precisely the official stand of the Church on matters like these. I haven't found the same clarity in my research of Orthodoxy.
"In Orthodoxy, nothing becomes dogma until the people proclaim their AXIOS by living out the proclaimed dogma."
Do you mean that the faithful determine the dogmas of the faith? Then what is to prevent ANY dogma of the faith from being changed in the future?
That is such a humorous discription of the situation.
The official Orthodox and Catholic doctrine are identical, and the level of capitulation in various circles is identical. The level of false teaching against doctrine however is much higher in the Catholic church especially in America.
Paul says it's a sin for women to talk in church or pray uncovered, I don't see the Catholic doctrine following that one.
Further manditory priestly celibacy, which is also against both scripture and the early church, is forced in the Catholic church as a result of mideval politics.
What about the lack of clarity & consistency regarding primacy and papal infailbility? Purgatory?
Have you ever been to an Orthodox liturgy? Have you ever seen either the Latin Rite or Eastern Rite overseas?
I've never met only one divorced Orthodox, and I've met numerous divorced Catholics. I've never read an article about an abusive Orthodox priest and I've read at least a hundred with Catholic priest and Bishops.
Shouldn't something be said with regard to by their deeds you'll know them?
"Do you mean that the faithful determine the dogmas of the faith? Then what is to prevent ANY dogma of the faith from being changed in the future?"
Hasn't happened yet...2100 years and counting. In any event, I think you've misunderstood what I wrote. Dogma isn't dogma until the people accept it. Once accepted, it can't be changed. The only ones to do that were the Romans with the filioque and perhaps the Immaculate Conception. Beyond that, since the Great Schism there have been no great councils to proclaim dogma since the whole Church by definition can't get together. Canons do fall into disuse (ie no riding in public conveyances with Jews or using a Jewish doctor) and I suppose one might say they have been changed but of course not all canons are even close to dogma.
"I've never met only one divorced Orthodox, and I've met numerous divorced Catholics. I've never read an article about an abusive Orthodox priest and I've read at least a hundred with Catholic priest and Bishops."
Wish I could say the same. I do believe our divorce rates are lower than among most other Christians for example, here in the States its about 14% while the Roman Catholics have a rate of about 19%, but that's nothing to crow about. It is interesting to note that in Greece as a whole, the rate is about 15% while in the US its 43% and in Russia 65%!
"Shouldn't something be said with regard to by their deeds you'll know them?"
That's a positively Protestant statement. Of course you'll know INDIVIDUALS for their deeds. The Church consists not just of the wheat, but also the chaff.
"Further manditory priestly celibacy, which is also against both scripture and the early church, is forced in the Catholic church as a result of mideval politics."
You misunderstand the difference between dogmas/doctrines, which cannot be changed, and disciplines (such as priestly celibacy, Friday abstinence from meat), which are subject to change. Furthermore, the Eastern churches permit married clergy, and Rome has no problem with that. It is simply a discipline of the Roman rite.
"Paul says it's a sin for women to talk in church or pray uncovered, I don't see the Catholic doctrine following that one."
Another issue of a permissible (though not required) discipline, in contrast to a required and unchangeable dogma. Try again.
"I've never read an article about an abusive Orthodox priest and I've read at least a hundred with Catholic priest and Bishops."
I wasn't going to do this until you threw that last comment out there. Here are at least two mentions of clergy sexual abuse in the Orthodox churches:
A Call for a Reporting Policy on Sexual Abuse in the Orthodox Church: http://www.helleniccomserve.com/sexabuse.html
Ad Calls for Bishops to Account In Case of Defrocked Priest
Keep in mind that you'll obviously see more cases of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, particularly in America, because the Church is so much larger here than the Orthodox Churches.
"Dogma isn't dogma until the people accept it."
Right. In other words, the faithful have some say in what is and isn't absolute truth. I like the Roman position much better, thank you.
Thanks so much for the ping list. I converted five years ago, and these threads really help me "catch up" on all that I've missed the first 30 years of my life!
I find that I am very interested in the history of the Church - do you have any recommendations on a book to read this holiday season?
"Right. In other words, the faithful have some say in what is and isn't absolute truth. I like the Roman position much better, thank you."
Well, you demonstrate one of the differences between the One Church of the 7 Ecumenical Councils and what developed in the West. The Orthodox system is one of "syndeesmos" or a sort of partnership among the hierarchs, clergy and the laity, each having its own function and proper role and together making up The Church. The Roman Church is a top down system. In Orthodoxy, infallibilty rests with The Church while in the Roman system it dogmatically rests with the Pope; two different systems which, having lasted a very long time, have formed the essential, and different, phronema or worldview of each particular church and its members. As Orthodox, we believe that the Roman system has lead to error and innovation but we also recognize the historical fact that the proper exercise of the Petrine Office also, on numerous occasions in the Pre Schism Church, assured the survival of Orthodoxy against the assaults of heretical groups.