Why I didn’t become Orthodox

18 01 2020

I want to keep this one short because there’s really not much to say about it.

As background, there was a time in my youth when I spent more time in Orthodox churches than I did in Catholic ones, and made friends and acquaintances of a few Orthodox priests. Orthodox theology and Patristics was all I read, and so on and so forth.

For me, Orthodoxy isn’t the answer for the same reason Catholic traditionalism isn’t the answer. It’s because quantity counts. That is to say, especially in approaching the inherent logic of the Christian faith, universality isn’t a minor detail, but its essence. Whether Orthodoxy didn’t spread because of legitimate and unfortunate historical reasons is beside the point. The fact that it hasn’t really achieved universality beyond certain ethnic and national manifestations means that it is not the Faith preached in the Gospels.

By “Orthodoxy” here, I am not indicating the liturgical and theological particularities of the historically Greek-speaking Church in a certain area of the world: those continue to have a certain legitimacy. However, taking these to be the sole valid interpretation of the Christian mystery is erroneous. There are those who cite the problems of the Christian West as proof that the Christian East was right all along. But in the historic game of Truth, one doesn’t win by default. Just because your system was encased in amber because you had other problems to deal with, and thus failed to intellectually evolve, doesn’t mean that you win by default. That system didn’t face the problems that an expanding and vibrant theological system faced.

George Florovsky spoke of a “Babylonian captivity” of Orthodox theology prior to the 1920’s, which was a diplomatic way of saying that before that time, Orthodox theology was an unflattering imitation of Western Scholastic manual theology. Coupled with a pristine liturgical tradition (due mostly to the hegemony of the monastic usage) and the subordination of church governance to the Czarist / Ottoman state, meant that Orthodoxy had no meaningful excuse for existing prior to the early 20th century. It was just a political distinction used to maintain their independence from Rome and the Christian West (though Orthodox countries were often indistinguishable in terms of piety, art, music, etc.) One only need cite the influence of Lutheran Pietism on Russian devotional writers in the 18th century, Slavic polyphonic Church music, “Italian-style” icons, etc.

With the 20th century, Orthodox theology emerged heavily influenced by philosophical romanticism and phenomenology, as well as the “recovery” of Patristic texts in Western circles, especially around Paris. The same forces that created the Western resourcement and ultimately Vatican II are the ones that allow some ill-informed Internet convert to say they believe in an unadulterated Apostolic Faith, as if St. Peter celebrated the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and saw the Uncreated Light while chanting the Jesus Prayer.  You don’t even have to go back that far in the timeline to conclude that this is nonsense. Orthodoxy was never a thing separate from “the West”: it was always a creature of the West, and in paranoid dialogue with it.

Now if people just want to become Orthodox because they like it or it resonates with them on some personal level, that’s completely understandable. But to say it’s the true church because it doesn’t have the problems of the Western Church… well for one thing, that’s an incredibly naive perspective even from what is going on in the Orthodox Church at present. At the same time, children have fewer problems than adults: that does not make childhood objectively superior. If you have to think about Christianity, you have to think of the Christian West: St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, the Reformation, John Paul II, etc. There’s no other honest way to go about it.



2 responses

18 03 2020
Bernard Brandt

Arturo, you appear to be proceeding on the assumption that the ‘more developed’ doctrine of the West is superior to that of the East.

But what good is that more highly developed doctrine, when it seems that few if any RC clergy either know that doctrine, nor believe in it?

At least Orthodox clergy both know the basics of Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, AND believe in them.

The overwhelming majority of RC clergy neither know, nor believe, Scripture, Tradition, and especially,, they know nothing of the Magisterium of the RC Church.

3 02 2020

Good resources you can recommend on the influence of Lutheran Pietism on Orthodox practices?

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