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.
Then you wrote ...The Orthodox church has Christ as it's head. The Catholics instead have a man (and one who has long since been outside the bloodline of Peter).
I don't know where you "learned" about Catholicism, but that is not what Catholicism teaches. Peter is the VISIBLE head, the sign of unity of the Church, but Christ is the leader of the Church. It is Christ's SPIRIT that guides the Pope and the Bishops and the faithful. Such ignorance does not help matters in the reunion of our churches.
Perhaps you are not aware that the Bible itself provides for such actions. Consider re-reading 1 Cor 5:5. I guess Paul's Church was top-down, too, by your definition.
I had presumed that heretical priests could be excommunicated by their Patriarchs in the Orthodox Church. If this is not the case, I believe you need to look to why the Orthodox Church doesn't follow the Scriptural precedent. Isn't it the job of the Bishops to protect the flock?
To me, top-down means orders are given from above and followed to the letter in all occasions. There is little autonomy. I see the Catholic Church as being subjected to "interference" from Rome, but the Bishops are relatively unimpeded, unless they are WAY off-base.
The US is the relevant question for one joining the Catholic Church in the US in the midst of this struggle.
That is actually my big point. Doctrine is one thing, practice is another. The Catholic doctrine practiced in the Vatican is not the same doctrine practiced at 'US Diocease X'.
Were it a question of official doctrine alone it would be a lot diferent scenerio however when one joins a faith they also incur going to a specific parish, and associating with person of that faith. It opens one to the influence of their execution of that faith. So it is not a measure of doctrine alone it's a measure of the folks in the parish keeping the faith, the priest correcting those who don't, and the bishop correcting the priest when he doesn't follow it, or fails to address parishioners not following it.
FWIW if he was joining an Eastern Catholic church it would also be a lot different being as those churches operating both in the US and in the East have not suffered the same kind of entrenchment of these problems.
As I've stated on other threads the reason I was never baptised Catholic even though I went to a Catholic school, and largely beleived the Catholic religion classes was that it was plain to me that the doctrine in those materials was not followed by the majority.
So it comes down to a question of do I go with a church that has an official ban on contraception, and abortion, and divorce, but whenever I meet parishioners outside church they openly support these things, or do I go with the one that has the same beleifs on abortion and divorce, and an apparently relaxed policy on contraception, but when I meet parishioners they support the church's stance on these, and remind me to do things like fast during fasting periods, etc.
One must be interested in both following a doctrine that leads to the kingdom and also being in a parish headed that way, that will keep one in line when one treads off the path.
I suspect there are a great many parishs in the Catholic church like that some even in America, but certainly haven't seen them where I live.
[Further I resent the notion that the pope is the head of the church, and sinless, where as the orthodox don't call any men sinless and confess Christ to be the head of the church; that is the main difference.]
I'm hardly saying it wasn't called for, I'm just saying the pope is in fact hands on.
I already mentioned the situation in Boston:
Clearly that was called for.
I think you know well the situation where the Orthodox disagree with the top down application of 'papal supremacy' (changing canon for instance).
"Were it a question of official doctrine alone it would be a lot diferent scenerio however when one joins a faith they also incur going to a specific parish, and associating with person of that faith. It opens one to the influence of their execution of that faith."
But indeed, it IS a matter of official doctrine alone. Dissenters are responsible for their dissent; the non-dissenting hold themselves accountable to the officially-taught (and objectively known) doctrines of the Church. I choose to be in the latter camp, and those who choose otherwise KNOW they've chosen otherwise. Therefore, this objection is moot.
"One must be interested in both following a doctrine that leads to the kingdom and also being in a parish headed that way, that will keep one in line when one treads off the path."
Folks, Catholics KNOW what the Church teaches (or at least have recourse to find out from official and reliable publications of the Church), and they know that what they're doing is outside the bounds of orthodox Catholicism. The problem is, I can't figure out the doctrinal position of much of Orthodoxy on rather key issues. And when I bring up exceptions to your rules (you asserted there's no sex abuse problem, and I showed you at least two, and you asserted from the Bible that men are not to cover their heads while praying, and you rejected the Syriac Orthodox who do this practice to be members of a non-mainstream Orthodox Church). To everything, you take recourse in ROCOR, which appears to be more 'conservative' in its rendering of marital and sexual morality, but I've discovered this not to be the case in other Orthodox Churches. So, which way, again, do you want it?
"[Further I resent the notion that the pope is the head of the church, and sinless, where as the orthodox don't call any men sinless and confess Christ to be the head of the church; that is the main difference.]"
You've been shown that the Pope is the VISIBLE head of the Church on earth, as a representative of Christ. But for some reason you keep insisting that he's more than that. The Church has ALWAYS held that Christ is the head of the Church!
The Church also rejects the notion that the Pope is sinless. I'm not sure where you've gotten this idea, but it isn't true.
"[Further I resent the notion that the pope is ... sinlessm...]
We Catholics don't think the pope is sinless, either!
One more thing on which Catholics and Orthodox agree. ;-)
Also, as to "top-down" and the excommunication of apostate priests, I assume that Orthodox Patriarchs hold the same authority? To excommunicate apostate priests?
The priest involved was, after all, Roman Catholic, and thus answerable to the Patriarch of the West.
It is not Doctrine alone. You do not exist in a vaccum. You rely on the fellowship with other parishioners to keep you in line. You rely on the priest to properly bless the Eucharist. You rely on the priest to not intentionally cause your children harm. You rely on all of the above to keep your family in the true faith when you're gone.
And Frankly most modern Catholics don't have a CLUE what the church teaches.
I said there was no sex abuse EPIDEMIC. 20 cases NATION WIDE. There's Catholic Parishs with that many.
The Orthodox church are not one heirarchy. ROCOR is a separate church. It was the pope who came up with the idea that there is one top man, that didn't exist until 1054. The pope is first amoung EQUALS with the other patriarchs.
"It is not Doctrine alone. You do not exist in a vaccum. You rely on the fellowship with other parishioners to keep you in line."
Here's where you're wrong. Indeed, I do not exist in a vacuum - I worship with a group of highly faithful, reverent, orthodox Catholics who are interested in following the objective teachings of the Church. This parish is led by priests who are likewise interested in orthodoxy, and aren't afraid to admonish us when we're on the wrong path.
Though it may be the case for some that they take their lead from those around them, I prefer to learn doctrine from objective sources. I am not accountable for the sins of those in my Church who choose to follow something other than that.
"And Frankly most modern Catholics don't have a CLUE what the church teaches."
You're right. And your point is? Again, am I responsible for the errors of others, or for my own?
"The Orthodox church are not one heirarchy. ROCOR is a separate church. It was the pope who came up with the idea that there is one top man, that didn't exist until 1054. The pope is first amoung EQUALS with the other patriarchs."
I'm not sure of the development on the doctrine of Petrine primacy and supremacy, so someone else with a firmer grasp of history will have to help me out here.
The Vatican I defintion of the pope is way different than the Pre 1054 understanding of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome.
The Orthodox church regards the Bishop of Rome as heretical for this reason.
As for top down, as I've said I AGREE with the pope using top down. jo kus was saying that almost never happens in the Catholic church, that they are self managed on the local level, That's why I brought it up, I wasn't weighing in against the pope doing so.
If the priest does not properly bless the sacrements you're simply eating a cracker (and a stale tasting one at that). That affects you.
If your son is an alter boy and the priest molest him secretly that affects you.
You do not exist in a vaccum. There are tons of disilushioned Catholics recovering from finding out JUST HOW TRUE THAT IS.
First, I notice that you glossed over our agreement that the pope isn't sinless.
Second, you seemed to state that the pope excommunicating an apostate priest was an example of the top-down nature of the Catholic Church. Definitions from Vatican I aside, I'm just pointing out that patriarchs generally have the authority to excommunicate apostate priests. Don't Orthodox Patriarchs have the capacity to excommunicate apostate priests?
Thus, the pope's action, in this case, wasn't an excercise of papal authority, as defined at the First Vatican Council, or at any other time, but rather was the action of a patriarch. In that case, it doesn't represent a difference between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
"If the priest does not properly bless the sacrements you're simply eating a cracker (and a stale tasting one at that). That affects you."
Right. So I've found a priest (actually, a whole parish full of 'em) who are quite diligent about doing it correctly.
"If your son is an alter boy and the priest molest him secretly that affects you. "
Come now, I'm sure you know that not all priests are molesters! As much as we're in disagreement, I still can't believe you've chosen to be this nasty!
Secondly, you're speaking of a situation that doesn't affect me, as none of my children will be altar servers for various reasons that have nothing to do with priestly sex abuse.
"You do not exist in a vaccum. There are tons of disilushioned Catholics recovering from finding out JUST HOW TRUE THAT IS."
Please, please, please tell me why you keep insisting on comparing those who are faithful to the teachings of the Church to those who are not, and holding the faithful accountable to the sins of those who are not! I may not exist in a vacuum, but, my friend, I am only accountable for what is taught and held true in my household.
I'm going to say this one last time, and then I'm completely done with this thread: those who choose to flagrantly disobey Church teaching will receive in themselves the due course of their disobedience - if not here, then in the afterlife. We, as Catholics, have an objective basis of determining what is acceptable and non-acceptable with respect to doctrine, and we are held accountable to THAT and that alone! Let the dissenters have their way - those who are interested in following the faith will continue to flock to our parish as some of the others in our city continue to die, because so many Catholics are insisting on right doctrine.
I have to disagree. The Catholic Church does NOT have confusion in its doctrine. WHat it HAS, and has had for a while now, is a tendency to not demand adherence to that doctrine by people lower down on the ladder. This is atarting to change, as Pope Benedict appears serious in his determination to right the ship.
Orthodoxy does have, on the surface, an appearance of greater fidelity to its own traditions today. At least in the West. But a good deal of this stems from its insular, national-church nature. Orthodoxy rarely even tries to engage the secularizers in the West; it cheerfully leaves that to the Catholics, with the results I've already alluded to (That's okay with me. I wish we let *you* guys handle all that so we could have been able to circle our own wagons!). ;-) But Orthodoxy, in these circumstances, maintains fidelity by a laxity in outreach. It is fidelity by default.
Let's face it. The Orthodox have never made any attempt to evangelize the New World or any parts of the Old World outside of eastern Siberia. They are too insular for that. This insularity makes them highly susceptible to xenophobic tendencies. A particularly irksome example: to this day, they refuse to recognize the Gregorian calendar for liturgical use (and some Orthodox coutries only recognized it for civil use in the 20th Century!), even though it is now thirteen days off relative to the equinoxes. This borders on simple childishness. It's benefits are denied because a *pope* made the adjustments.
They are highly nationalistic, and, until VERY recently, had memberships, even in the US and similar places, based *heavily* on ethnicity. They jostle each other regularly for pride of place and prominence within their circle, ceding a barely elevated pride of place to the Patriarch of Constantinople, but the method employed here usually results in frozen positions on new issues for lack of consensus. Since they can't agree on anything much that's new to the discussion, they simply ignore it all, and live in the past.
Another factor in Orthodoxy's outward display of fidelity to the essentials is that the overwhelming majority of Orthodox live in parts of the world where secularized notions are not in great circulation. They don't need to fight them. To be fair, in many parts of the world where Orthodoxy is the prevalent Christian faith, they're too busy just staying afloat against the Moslems, or only recently freed from the yoke of communism. But all this means is that they have had to maintain a very conservative stance for survival against non-Christians; they have never had to engage in survival against heretical Christians and the inevitable secularism those Christians tend to dissolve into over time.
It is therefore only natural that the Orthodox maintain a high level of consistency in the essentials. They simply don't engage anyone in the larger world where heterodoxy tends to take root. They don't really evangelize, so they don't have to compete in the maelstrom of Christian ideas in the West. They have no one who can speak for them universally, so they live in the past, or, better, time is frozen for them at the the end of Nicaea II in 787. If no controversies exist for them from 787 that call for an ecumenical council to resolve, what do we glean from that? Either they think the Church is in a state of relative perfection, and no council has been required for 1200 years (after 7 were needed in 450 years), or they have lived in a state of insulation and denial. I suspect the latter, comingled with the hunch that no council *can* be convened, because there is a tacit admission there that the Church is headless - there is no Peter - and cannot convene one. There's "one" departure from the Faith, but I'll content myself to just gloss it for now. It's easy to keep the faith when you can pretend nothing happens in the rest of the Christian world outside of your sphere.
In spite of the foregoing, I have much respect for the Orthodox, and regard them as my brothers and sisters in almost all of the essentials of the Faith. I admire their tenacity in the face of hostile, anti-Christian forces that have surrounded them to this day in most of their homelands. I even have grea respect for them just for maintaining the entire core of the Faith (save primacy issues) even in the isolationist circumstances and instances of internal bickering I have cited. Isolated or not, they have still largely succeeded in handing down that which was received from the apostles, and I commend them for it.
But your comments on "Catholic" positions brought me to this post. I do not wish to be overly argumentative, and I pray daily for our reconciliation as the two lungs of the Church, but I will not engage in false ecumenism. Catholicism has problems, too; I'd be the first to admit them. But it is NOT true that Catholicism is undergoing a splintering in the doctrines of the Faith. Nothing has been abolished or altered in any official document. Individuals, usually lower down in the hierarchy, have spoken in the spirit of the age and the tenor of those who surround them in the West. At least the spirit of the age is confronted by them, if only ultimately in acceptance of it. But they are WRONG, and they are, when contradicting the Ecumenical Councils and the Magisterium when it deals in faith and morals, at least material heretics.
The main fault of Catholicism has been a terrible reluctance on the part of recent popes to properly control this heretical dissent. When, as I strongly suspect, THIS pope starts a long overdue crackdown on the heretical leeches parasitically attempting to suck the lifeblood from the Church in the West, can BOTH of us, East and West, Orthodox and Catholic, PLEASE heal the scandal of division that makes a mockery of the clear desire of Christ in John 17:20-21? "I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me."
You should read up on the great schism:
It explains the contentions between the Orthodox and the Catholics. The 'doctrine issues' you site are a straw man. There have been eccumenical relations for years and neither divorce nor contraception have ever come up as a point of disagreement.
Further the Vatican and Russian Moscow Patriarchiate (The Russian Orthodox Church IN Russia) are jointly promoting "Catholic Values" in Europe:
Something the Vatican would hardly agree to if they felt the Russian church's view on abortion, contraception, and marriage differed from theirs.
The only point of contention between the Orthodox and the Catholics regards the primacy of the Roman Church and the Pope, proselytism in the East and Uniatism:
The bishop enforces Doctrine or doesn't that is the state of the Catholic church.
Orthodoxy does not water down the religion to evangelize. Yet it is growing and many protestants and protestant clergy are converting as well.
Further the Orthodox church came to America through the purchase of Alaska. ROCOR is the old missionary Russian church. The notion that the Orthodox church did not evangelize is silly. It simply didn't go the Atlantic route.
The old Calendar lines up for instance Easter with when the jews celebrate passover. Not the convenince of human sales seasons. There are also Catholics who use the old Calendar. Ridiculing it's use is childish.
Nationalistic but multi-ethnic. The Orthodox church is integrated into several nations traditions. So is the Catholic church for that matter. Italy. Ireland. Brazil.
The Russian orthodox Church, the largest Orthodox church operates on the territory of government enforced athiest, the Orthodox church has fought FAR HARDER against secular society. While the pope rested in the Vatican bishops were being executed for their faith in Russia. Having been to Russia and seen the church there you're comments that the Orthodox church has had it easy and not needed to change are ridiculous.
So what happens in your perfect parish when the priest retires and your new priest is sent from the miami seminary?
I said it was an example of top down exercising of authority because another poster was denying that the modern Catholic church ever does that. Again I am all for patriarchs exercising their authority. Though strictly speaking they should be doing so in their canonical churchs.
As for the sinless not sinless silliness its not the true debate. The true debate is whether the powers of the pope as outlined in Vatican I are heretical to those in the 3rd and 4th councils; and whether the pope began expanding his power unilaterally by changing the creed in 1054.
Do you really expect me to believe that every single Orthodox parish everywhere in the world, and that every Orthodox seminary everywhere in the world, is entirely populated by good, solid, faithful and obedient priests? This is amazingly difficult to believe.
If indeed we were ever to get a priest like those coming out of the Miami seminary, I imagine that there would be a mass (pardon the unintentional pun) exodus.
'magisterium' mentioned the evangelism angle. I should've mentioned, way back in my original post, that I've never had an Orthodox Christian share his or her faith with me. Indeed, I'm not sure if I've ever met an Orthodox Christian, other than on Internet forums such as this one.
"As for the sinless not sinless silliness its not the true debate"
Except that you chose to make it a part of this debate!