Sunday, February 27, 2005

What the Great Schism Means

It is not a habit of mine to seek out disagreement, especially disagreement about theological matters. This is not to say that I am not interested in theology; I am. And as an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I think theology is an important part of life. But I usually don't seek out disagreements about it.

So when a friend of mine sent me a package recently, I was tempted to ignore the piece of paper stuck inside titled "Dear Roman Catholic Friend . . . ."

My friend remains in the Baptist tradition in which we grew up, and I think I can understand why I was sent that piece of paper. To many Baptists, most things liturgical tend to be conflated with the Roman Catholic church, and since I am now a member of a smells-and-bells church, I can see how my friend thought I would be interested in a discussion about the Roman Catholic church. I do not mean to be rude, but I am not very interested in such a discussion. This is because in the Great Schism of 1054 the churches of the East and West parted ways. I am a member of the Eastern church and offer no apologies for what the Western, Roman, church has done. (Unfortunately, many people --Eastern Orthodox included -- attribute doctrines or practices to the Roman church that it does not necessarily embrace. When such an unfair attribution comes up in conversation, I think it's necessary to clarify for the attributer what the Roman church actually holds. So I am a stickler for understanding properly what the Roman church believes, though I am not an apologist for those beliefs, except when those beliefs overlap with the beliefs of the Eastern church. Such instances of overlap usually mean that we're discussing matters of "mere Christianity," and in those cases I suppose I could also be considered an apologist for the Baptist, Methodist, Anglican, or Lutheran.)

As I say, I was tempted to throw away the "Dear Roman Catholic Friend" missive, but after a few moments' reflection, I thought it would provide a good opportunity to explain to my friend -- via this blog -- some of the differences between the churches East and West.

The piece of paper began with the following paragraph:
The following challenge is given out of a heart of love and is presented to encourage you to do some serious research in your Bible. The issue before us is whether to embrace the traditions of man, or to believe doctrine that has Biblical foundation. This study is not intended to ridicule or mock your religion, but is only presented to motivate you and your family to carefully and prayerfully study the Word of God. Are you willing to accept the challenge?"

Well, I don't think that this really gets the issue straight, for the issue is not "whether to embrace the traditions of man, or to believe doctrine that has Biblical foundation." For one, neither the Roman Catholic church nor the Eastern church thinks that they are following "the traditions of man." They think that they are following divinely guided traditions. Secondly, it's not clear whether these two things are mutually exclusive. Couldn't I follow tradition and biblical doctrine? More on this later.

Anyway, the opening paragraph was followed by a number of statements beginning with the phrase "Can you produce a text of Scripture . . ." where the ellipsis was filled in by a Roman Catholic doctrine or practice, for example, that priests ought not to marry.

Since I am no scholar on this issue, I thought I would start with some of the easy ones. The challenge is to find a text of Scripture supporting the specific doctrine or practice (1) that the Blessed Virgin Mary was born without sin, (2) that priests ought not to marry, (3) that the pope is infallible, (4) that unbaptized children who die go to "Limbo," (5) that the Bible should not be read by everyone, and (6) that the Church of Rome is the first or oldest church.

I'll address each of these with the Eastern Orthodox response.

(1) EO do not have a doctrine of immaculate conception. They do not hold that Mary was born without sin.
(2) EO do not have a rule prohibiting priests from marrying. In practice, priests may be married if they are married before they are ordained. If they are ordained while single, they are not (usually; I'm sure there have been very rare exceptions) allowed to marry. As far as I know, bishops are not to be married. This follows from the example of, among others, the apostle (and bishop) Paul, who found it better to be single since he could devote his time to overseeing his churches. (I recently heard that celibacy in the RC church is not, strictly speaking, a law. It is a discipline. But even if this is true, it seems to be a discipline that is mandatory, which in practice amounts to being a law.)
(3) EO do not think the pope is infallible. Strictly speaking, neither do the RC. For the RC, the pope's pronouncements on doctrine that are given ex cathedra are considered infallible, but the pope is not considered infallible all of the time.
(4) EO do not believe that children who die unbaptized go to "Limbo."
(5) Neither the RC nor the EO church believe that there are some people who should not read the Holy Scriptures. This seems to be an urban legend among some Protestants. In some times and places such rules were probably made by priests and bishops. But according to RC and EO doctrine, they were wrong to do so.
(6) Obviously, the EO church thinks that it is the first and oldest church.

In the future I'll try to address some of the other questions from the "Dear Roman Catholic Friend" paper. If anyone has comments or corrections, please e-mail me (bourgeoisburglar [at] gmail [dot] com).

No comments: