For Your Consideration
Note: What is written below is a reply to a comment from the previous post. I am putting it on the main page because, after writing it, I realized that it expresses, better than most things I have written, my — how shall we say — “attitude” with respect to the contemporary Catholic Church and its relations with the Orthodox Church in particular and the Christian East generally (including those brave churches that are in communion with her). But I want to preface my posting of this comment with an apology toward those Orthodox readers of this blog who have, for good reason, taken my remarks toward their confession as hostile or, at the very least, uncharitable. It’s important to stress that I did not leave the Orthodox Church because I detest it; I became Orthodox — for a time — because I truly loved and revered the childhood-to-teen years I spent as an Eastern Catholic. Because of my very particular situation nine years ago, I saw no alternative to the childish atheism I embraced from my late teens to my early twenties than Eastern Christianity. Growing up where I did, and coupled with the decision some of my immediate family made, “Eastern Christianity” meant Orthodoxy. Yes, I could have held fast and returned to a dying Eastern Catholic parish, but that choice was not immediate to me at the time. I needed something concrete, something stable, and the Orthodox Church — for a time — offered it. The fragments of piety that I have as a professed Roman Catholic is due in no small part to what I experienced and learned as an Orthodox Christian. I have used this blog to defend the Catholic Church from what I consider to be the inadequate criticisms of the Orthodox, and I will — to the best of my ability — continue to do so. But that’s all it should be: a defense. I have no interest in seeing Orthodoxy fail. I do not rejoice in the afflictions of the Orthodox Church, whether here in the United States or abroad. The most meager student of military history, likely from the time of Ug the Caveman to the freshman class at West Point, knows that the surest martial strategy remains “divide and conquer.” That is exactly what Satan has done to a once unified Christendom. The unified counterattack has yet to come.
An Orthodox priest I respected and cared about a great deal once preached a sermon where he talked about several non-Orthodox visiting the church “after hours” because they were curious about what was inside. He showed them around, let them see the iconography and so forth, and answered their questions. I presume that these individuals were Protestants since they expressed to him that everything they saw and heard made them conclude that the Orthodox “were just like the Catholics.” He boasted that he told them that was not the case, that Orthodoxy was something substantively distinct, and that it should not be confused with Catholicism. I will confess openly and honestly that that sermon was one of the “kickers” that brought me back to the Catholic Church.
There are honest Orthodox quarrels with Catholicism. Some of them substantive, and some of them illusory. I don’t begrudge any Orthodox — particularly cradles — who are wary of Rome because, to be quite honest, there are a lot of problems in the contemporary Catholic Church. Even now, for the life of me, I can’t imagine why a devout Orthodox Christian in a stable, healthy parish would convert. The sad state of affairs is that most would see nothing to convert to. Sure, the “ideal” or, to put it another way, the “essence” of Catholicism should — in my humble opinion — lead to the conclusion that communion with Rome is the right decision, but these are, for most people, abstractions. In far too many circumstances, an Orthodox Christian would see nothing to convert to; they would only see what they would lose in the process. And let’s be frank, the thrust of the Great Commission was not to convert all nations after the populace had been schooled in 2,000 years of nuances, contradictions, problems, tensions, difficulties, etc. You cannot expect — and I, certainly, never expect — people to invest large amounts of time to studying the details so intricately that they can conclude that a Church beguiled by some of the most devilish problems in her long history is “the place to be” when their current position is, by even Catholic lights, a sufficient pathway to Salvation. That is a failing of Rome or, rather, the modern Rome — the one that sold out so much of its patrimony as to be, to the passing eye, a shell of herself.
Let me be clear. I say this as someone who loves the Catholic Church. It is the Church I was Baptized and Confirmed into, and it is the Church that I will remain loyal to — God willing — until the day I die. It is my path to Salvation, but I won’t ignore the fact that my path has not been a straight one. I pray for the day when the Catholic Church restores her heritage to the fullest and, with that, fulfills without compromise, politics, and chauvinism the profession of being the universal Church. That means, at the very least, ending its senseless internal quarrel with traditionalist Catholics and, with respect to the Christian East, making good on its promise to respect, uphold, and promote the fulness of the Eastern Christian heritage. I believe that God smiles on the Eastern churches in communion with Rome and the unjust hardships they have endured for embracing the full meaning of Catholicism. But their cross is a unique one to bear, and it is not one that Rome, in good faith, can expect the Orthodox to bear as well simply because it is convenient to do so. Traditionalist Catholics would do well to remember that and make the cause of unity with the East — and the promotion of their heritage and rites — part of their struggle.