I hope to get into the book Orthodox Constructions soon. For now, though, I thought I’d share a recent review of Turning to Tradition. If you haven’t yet read this book, give this review a read and consider doing so:
For this reading list series I turn my attention to a book that all Orthodox should read. Just as it should be required by Orthodox seminarians and clergy to be informed about Anselm (not the caricature of him too easily found in popular Orthodox writings), so this book should be required reading. Frankly, it should probably be required of catechumens too but I realize that might be too hard a sell. For now, I simply provide a book review I wrote: Orth Constructions of West. This review appeared in Theologia 85 (2014). I will discuss individual chapters in future posts.
Adam DeVille, one of our bloggers here at Red River Orthodoxy, maintains a most esteemed site devoted to books on Eastern Christianities called http://easternchristianbooks.blogspot.com/. His site is a huge resource that should be thoroughly reviewed by anyone who is interested in Eastern Christianity and especially anyone who desires to write popular level writings, whether in print, online, or both.
I raise this point for two reasons: 1) books we are about to discuss here on RRO may sometimes be found there, though some books are not and at times, this reading list will cite articles rather than books but regardless, we recommend reading Adam’s blog in addition to this one and 2) we are not seeking to replace, in any way, shape or form, what he is doing there. He’s done all of us a great service and continues to do so.
What I wish to begin now, however, is looking at that book list that I think we Orthodox should read. Indeed, if I were at a seminary (and no, don’t worry, I don’t ever foresee one of our seminaries desiring to hire me–let your beating hears be still!), I would do what I could to make these books required reading. Why? Because I think we Orthodox need more informed perspectives on both our own theologies as well as the theologies of those around us. This is true whether we are “cradle” or “convert.” This is true whether we are Orthodox or Eastern Catholic. This is true, because some of the stuff we author is, well, not as nuanced and informed as it could be. I also think lacking subtlety and information fosters the anti-Western aspect of “Orthodoxy.”
So, here in post one of this reading list, I thought I would take head on, one of the boogeymen that so scares, intimidates, frustrates, perplexes, and/or angers many an Orthodox–Anselm of Canterbury. If you are Orthodox, you might better know him as Anselm-who-proferred-a-heretical-tyranical-soteriology (view of salvation). Or perhaps he’s better known as Anselm-whom-we-love-to-hate. Perhaps you just reduce it to “heretic.” However, you look at him, Orthodox have been using him as a foil by which to describe their own Orthodoxy, especially since the twentieth century.
So, what are some things that Orthodox have claimed about Anselm? Well, Fr. Symeon Rodger could hardly hold himself back in a 1989 GOTR article, wherein he claimed to find numerous problems. One was an alleged Nestorianism within Anselm’s Christology, as expressed in Cur Deus Homo. On this score, one is better off reading my article on Anselm, published in St. Vladimir’s Theological Quaterly back in 2008. I’ve included the file here: AnselmArticleSVS. For some odd reason, an editor mistyped my name as “Oliver J. Herbel,” but it’s I who wrote the piece. What I argued was we need to take a look at De Incarnatione Verbi, an earlier work. If one does that, and then sees how that lies behind Why the God-Man (Cur Deus Homo) one realizes Anselm was not some 11th century Neo-Nestorian.
Another charge Fr. Symeon Rodger brought against Anselm, however, was that of a juridical soteriology that is out of place within Christianity. This seems to be the charge Orthodox are most likely to level at the venerable monk-bishop. Frederica Matthewes-Green has hit on Anselm at least twice: here and here. According to her, sin was viewed in one way until Anselm came along and said sin was a debt that had to be paid and only Jesus could pay the bill and she noted this was in opposition to a view that saw God the Father as lovingly not letting us go such that “Orthodox have a completely different understanding of Christ’s Saving work.” God is this giant dishonored man who must be satisfied–even to the point that “there is no Devil.” At least, that’s the picture of Anselm’s theology she leaves us. An even simpler overview is given by Timothy Copple in his advice to converts and those looking into Orthodoxy. Orthodox Wiki has an article dedicated to showing how different the East and West are in which Anselm is mentioned as a seminal figure in the development of atonement and substitutionary theory (away from earlier Patristic models): http://orthodoxwiki.org/Justification. Additionally, one might see the post and discussion on Justice over at Glory to God for All Things. There, Anselm is presented as speaking of an “infinite” offense against God and comments complain about the aspect of God being “owed.” Moreover, Eric Jobe even pointed out that a guest author here on RRO (David O’Neal) had reservations about atonement.
I would strongly recommend a couple readings and from Adam’s site we can learn a bit more as well. For starters, I’d recommend an article by David Bentley Hart: A Debt Exceeding Every Debt. If you read my article, you’ll notice this is where I had pointed the reader on this question. Hart’s article points out some problems with the Anselmian caricature, even noting Vladimir Lossky’s guilt in this anti-Anselmian slug-fest that we Eastern Christians like to engage in. Indeed, one of Hart’s strengths is taking on the notion that Anselm is all about punitive penance.
In addition to these two articles (by myself and Hart), a most important book, one that can truly help when assessing Anselm’s “juridical” soteriology is Saint Anselm: A Portrait in a Landscape by R.W. Southern. All Orthodox (especially) and even Eastern Catholics would do themselves well to read this. They would become much more informed about who Anselm was, what his contexts were, and what his arguments were. Anselm was a complex thinker responding to real issues of his day and Southern gets at that well. To note just a few things that might help us all be more informed and therefore avoid the temptation to repeat ignorant claims, Southern covers the relationship between freedom and obedience in Anselm quite well on pages 167-74. He also noted, when discussing Why the God-Man, that “freedom of choice between Good and Evil is servitude in Anselm’s system; inability to sin is perfect freedom, to be sought in this life but attained only in Heaven” (219). Eastern Orthodox should appreciate this. Sounds just a little like St. Maximus the Confessor, no? The mere fact of ping-ponging between Good and Evil is, itself, a result of the fall.
His discussion of “honor” is likewise important. “Something more than ‘honour’ in this general sense is required if Anselm’s language is to be intelligible. . . . This background, which sets Anselm as far apart from Patristic as from modern, or even later medieval thought, is the complex of feudal relationships. In the language of feudal tenure a man’s honour was his estate” (225, emphasis in the original). In other words, God’s honor is the universe correctly ordered around him and worshiping him and living in harmony with him. So, when the fall occurs, humanity acts in rebellion and God must assert his honor, not in response to some sort of injury, but in order to re-establish the harmony, order and beauty (yes, beauty is an important term for Anselm) of the created cosmos. “And so the whole sevitium debitum of the universe is re-established, and God’s ‘honour’ in its full extent is displayed in the restored order and beauty of the whole” (226). Ironically, those who see Anselm’s God as some giant tyrant demanding a payment have failed to recognize the feudal imagery or analogy at play. Now, it is true that Anselm did not believe that the Devil could claim any justice against God but this is because Anselm saw that as a diminution of God’s divine majesty. The harmony is disrupted by the fall. The fall does not mean the Devil has a claim (on us) against God. Likewise, the beauty of the universe is the reason God could not simply just say “yeah, sure, I forgive you, no harm done.” The beauty had to be restored. Humanity had to be brought back into a position of free submission toward God. Here feudalism helped Anselm once again. For by likening redemption to the act of a king who accepts the service of one on behalf of the others (who are guilty), he expresses the Christian faith in a manner that fit his context. For all who would present themselves to the king and accept what the one innocent man did would be brought back into a right relationship with the king. In fact, during a time in which intense penances and alms were seen by many as the only means of justifying oneself before God, Anselm actually articulated a way of looking at salvation that was less penance focused.
Anselm does present a unique take on things, by using the feudal imagery of his time. That much, Orthodox Christians seem to have gotten right, but the subsequent conclusion, that feudalism itself was the driving force, rather than a means of connecting with his context, and that Anselm is to be blamed for a view of God as an angry tyrant needing payment or that Anselm created a view of salvation “completely different” from Eastern Christian or earlier Christian views goes too far–way too far, actually. What Anselm is most concerned with is responding to those (primarily Jews, actually) who asked why the incarnation was necessary and in answering that, Anselm fixated not on tyranny but beauty and utilized feudalism as an analogy to show how this is so. All analogies break down, of course, but if we’re intellectually honest, we would conclude that the “honor” system Anselm presented was one that looked less like the Klingons of Star Trek and more like the kind of harmony and beauty an artist intends on a canvas or, to stick with that feudal system, the kind of harmony and beauty that will exist after the Second Coming when all will be rightly worshiping God as our Loving Creator.
In closing, I would like to point us, as well, to two books Adam mentions on his site. Once one has read the two articles and books mentioned (Southern’s and the two by Ward on Adam’s site), then I think the Orthodox reader should move on to read Anselm. Truly, there is much to appreciate there–monasticism, church-state relations, Christian apologetics, the combination of beauty, prayer, and reason. All of these themes, if properly understood, would actually reveal to us an Anselm with whom we have more in common than we might have dared thought, but getting there will require a willingness to see Orthodoxy and Orthodox soteriology as something that can be defined without a “necessary” anti-Anselmian polemic attached thereto.
It seems my last post has caused quite a stir, from some internet chatter pro and con to an active comment thread to at least one email thread wherein it became open season on me for a while. In light of all this, I find Fr. Stephen Freeman’s comments here on RRO to be the ones most useful to respond to. The email thread I’ll completely ignore for now. You know who are 😉
I think some clarifications might help underscore what is and is not at issue. In order to do this, first and foremost, I am thankful to Fr. SF for being willing to comment on this recent post of mine. Such can, I hope, be the beginning of fruitful dialogue and exchange rather than the beginnings of spite and vice.
With regard to his comments, I’d like to clarify a few things:
1) I never once questioned his credentials. I’m not sure why he felt obligated to lay claim to “serious work” done with the blessing of hierarchs and his book. Indeed, I would further note that the book was published by Conciliar Press and that he studied at Duke, earning a terminal masters rather than completing the doctorate. I’m not sure how mentioning that helps us in this exchange, but the key line might be when he said, ” I have generally not been charged with being ignorant, uneducated or uninformed.” For the record, I never accused him of such. Though I admit I am ignorant of the extent to which he is engaged with the Orthodox and non-Orthodox theological academy, I did not make such a statement. I don’t know how he read that into my post and I hope no one else did either. RRO is not about “whose CV is bigger.” It’s about Eastern Christianities engaging the West (in a myriad of ways).
2) He is concerned I misunderstood him and made a straw man. To the first, I concede an extent of misunderstanding but that in itself does not create a straw man. It creates a miscommunication. There is a difference.
3) What did I misunderstand? I thought (honestly) that he meant to reduce American Christianity to a particular version of Evangelical Christianity, one that I wasn’t so sure represented even all Evangelicals and Baptists. I also think I missed a bit of the way he was opposing Schmemann to popular level evangelicalism. The Baptists I’ve engaged would encourage reading the likes of Dallas Willard (who critiques “once saved always saved” quite harshly) as well as Russell Moore and Al Mohler. The ethical implications are important to them and so relationships between believers as well as believers and creation are changed by Christ’s redemptive work. I can see better now what Fr. SF was wanting to articulate even while there remain points of legitimate disagreement.
4) Therefore, I concede that in his comments, he was simply responding to a particular sub-set of American Christianity in that particular post and doing so by utilizing Schmemann’s sacramental (“ontological”) view. For this reason alone, I am thankful Fr SF commented here.
5) It is important to keep in mind that in my original blog post I was not defending Evangelicals specifically, nor specifically the once saved always saved types (as indeed, I noted they seemed to be the only types who would hold to the kind of views he seemed to me to be reducing all non-Orthodox too). Nor was I attacking certain bloggers specifically, even while giving a couple recent examples, but was rather aiming at the common Orthodox practice of presenting Orthodoxy in polemical terms – and it always being some one or another Western expression of Christianity that becomes the target of what Orthodoxy *is not* so as to affirm what Orthodoxy *is*. My point was simply – Why not affirm what Orthodoxy is without trotting out some impoverished Western version of Christianity that Orthodoxy *is not*?
6) The risk in this more polemical approach is twofold: it risks mischaracterizing the named impoverished version of Christianity, and it risks mischaracterizing Orthodoxy itself by means of introducing an unnecessary and possibly untruthful false dichotomy.
7) Connecting Fr SF with other Orthodox bloggers who make extended use of such a polemical approach is warranted, based on a reading of his blog and his own words describing what is at the foundation of his own thought. So, from: http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2014/11/23/doubt-modern-belief/
“My own belief is that the Fathers see something to which we are largely blind – that our historicized view of the world is extremely limiting and skews everything in our minds. One way that I have pressed this question has been to ask, “If the bread and wine of the Eucharist truly become the Body and Blood of Christ, what kind of world do we live in?” What is unique in this question is my assumption that it tells us something about how the world is.
This is a key point in the sacramental teaching of the late Fr. Alexander Schmemann. He carefully critiqued the traditional Roman Catholic approach to the sacraments as positing an “addition” to reality as we know it, whereas, he contended, in Orthodoxy, sacraments reveal something that is always true of reality. He said famously, “Sacraments do not make things to be different. They reveal things to be what they truly are.”
This has been perhaps the most foundational understanding of my Orthodox life and undergirds all of the writing that I have done.”
Note that last sentence… In his own words, the single most foundational understanding that he has of Orthodoxy is Schmemann’s assertion about Orthodox sacramental understanding, which is intrinsically tied to his view of Orthodox soteriology. Note also, though, that when explaining what’s been “the most foundational understanding of my Orthodox life and undergirds all of the writing that I have done” he is referencing what is framed as a criticism of “the traditional Roman Catholic approach to the sacraments”. With this in mind, if the very “foundation” upon which he builds is a “criticism” of what is believed to be “the traditional Roman Catholic approach,” then isn’t this foundation itself intrinsically polemical? There is, here, a mode for describing Orthodoxy that is inherently contra-West.
Here are a couple of examples of polemicizing specifically against “the West” categorically:
8) Finally, I think this is the beginning of a good self-examination for Orthodox. Fr. SF raised the work of Florovsky and the likes of Nietzsche. I hope to return to this angle at some point–in fact, plan to, since this is important and will help readers really get into core issues at play here. Fr. SF and I may disagree on the extent to which a foil is necessary to present Orthodoxy but that is precisely why this discussion needs to be had. I think there is a better way, a way that Fr SF does get at, when he expresses the positive aspects of Orthodox spirituality and theology. It is my hope to see more of this from Orthodox and less of needing to contradict the other, for that “need” often actually masks passions that are better left below deck rather than manning the helm.
A recent post by Fr. Stephen Freeman reminded me of just how common it is for we Orthodox to paint with a broad, reductionistic brush when it comes to the West. He opened his post on “An Illegal Christmas” by saying:
“The great advantage to thinking about God in legal terms, is that nothing has to change. If what happens between us and God is entirely external, a matter of arranging things such as the avoidance of eternal punishment or the enjoyment of eternal reward, then the world can go on as it is. In the legal model that dominates contemporary Christian thought, the secular world of things becomes nothing more than an arena, the stage on which we act out our moral and psychological dilemmas, waiting only for our final grades to be issued when we die.
In the contemporary world-view, Christ’s death and resurrection change nothing within the day-to-day world. Their effect is entirely and completely removed from this world and reserved for the next. This is a great advantage for Christian thought, for everything of significance becomes theoretical, removed from the realm of practical discussion. Not only does Christ’s work change nothing in this world, it changes nothing within us other than by moral or psychological suasion. And we therefore need argue or labor for nothing other than abstractions. The inert world of secularism is left intact.
This is to say that if “accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior” only brings about a change in my eternal disposition, then it is largely meaningless in this world. Everything Christians do in this world would be but tokens of eternity.
But this is not the teaching of the New Testament or classical Christianity.”
Frankly, I don’t think it’s the teaching of anyone, though the “once saved, always saved” crowd probably does come close to this. Yet, I don’t think that crowd alone is meant by the “contemporary world-view.” That’s left undefined, unfortunately, but it seems to apply to “other Christians” or even “the other Christians.”
But Fr. Stephen Freeman is not alone. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick makes a slight error in how he presents Luther as well in a recent post on his site also. He gets Luther partially right. Luther was reacting against a system that encouraged the likes of Tetzel, who went around selling time out of purgatory. And yes, Luther does speak and write in places about faith as opposed to works, but if that’s all one gets out of Luther, one read him way too quickly (if at all). Luther himself actually saw good works as flowing out of faith and as free will even existing in this kingdom (his “two kingdoms” approach also applies here–read up on it if you haven’t encountered this before). Fr. Andrew wrote, “Luther was wrong that the story was “faith versus works.” No, it’s “faith and works” on both sides of the question. The real difference is which faith and works you’re going to follow.” Thing is, Luther would have agreed with the second and third sentences too. Although a full treatise of Luther’s faith and works is beyond the bounds of my writing here, this extract might help produce a more appreciative view of what Luther was trying to get at.
The two Frs. Stephen are not alone nor is it just an Orthodox blogger problem. I’ve mentioned Orthodox Constructions of the West before on this site. It really should be a must-read. In fact, at some point soon I’ll write a post giving a list of “must reads” for Orthodox Christians. One of the upshots of that book is that it shows just how prevalent our caricatures often are. Popular Orthodox writers can tend in this direction regardless of whether they are blogging about it. It can also happen around the coffee hour table. For example, how easy is it to find simple dismissals of Augustine and Anselm by Orthodox, even well known Orthodox writers?
Now, I am standing on the belief that such reductionist generalizations are not good and appropriate, at least not when perpetuated by people who are educated leaders and influencing the way others interpret fellow non-Orthodox Christians around them. So, in light of that, what are some things we can do? Well, one will be to read the books I’ll list in my next post. Reading those will provide one with a more nuanced and informed view. Another thing we can do, though, is easy, and if done by the likes of Frs. Stephen and Andrew and other Orthodox bloggers and writers, could be quite effective. We could articulate our theology and spirituality primarily as standing on it’s own, not needing a heretical “foil.” So, in Fr. Stephen’s post, his discussion of “transformation” was good and enlightening and a positive expression of what our Orthodox faith is (at least in part) about. Fr. Andrew’s discussion of good works and faith works quite well without needing an overly simplistic view of Luther thrown in. Both blogging priests have good things to say to us, as do other Orthodox bloggers and writers. Heck, now and then, even I might hit the mark (and I hope I am here). I think if we present Orthodoxy as a positive rather than as a reaction to something, it will help us.
Take fencing. I mentioned “foil” above, so I hope this will work. If my whole strategy is only to parry your attack and riposte it, and that’s all I ever do, you’ll pick up on it. You’ll notice I have a rather simplistic approach to fencing. You’ll even believe that if that’s the only action I ever do, I don’t even really understand fencing and you’ll want to be instructed by someone else eventually. On the other hand, if I add attacks and feints and counter attacks and indirect attacks, you’ll see I have a more complete understanding of the sport. You’ll have to fence me more carefully and, if you’re learning the sport, you might just stay with me as a coach. Yes, even in fencing, one has an “area of expertise,” and that area might well be certain parries, but to be succesful, one needs to be able to create situations that lead to those parries succeeding. Right now, we Orthodox need a more complete game. It’s too easy to find caricatures of the West in popular Orthodox writings, whether online or in print.
This hurts us, for it gives us a reputation as ignorant, uneducated, knee-jerk, chip-on-our-shoulders, etc. At least educted and informed non-Orthodox will conclude that and why shouldn’t they? We’d conclude something similar if we encountered simplistic dismissals of Orthodoxy. It also hurts us because it means we are not preparing ourselves or our fellow Orthodox for real meaningful encounters with non-Orthodox. It hurts us because it limits our audience. We end up preaching to the Orthodox choir. To take the two blogs I just mentioned, for example, I highly doubt Ancient Faith wants its podcasts and blogs and such only heard and read by Orthodox (but maybe I’m wrong here). It also hurts us because we set up converts to deconvert later if they come to see their reasons for converting as simplistic and even false. If we truly believe our church has a rich tradition and a spirituality that is open and beneficial to all, why risk that?
Claude S. Fischer recently wrote an intriguing sociology of religion article for the Boston Review. The data is data that’s been well known for some time. The “spiritual but not religious” or the “nones” category is growing and growing fast. What is fascinating in this article, though, is that he correlates the rate of that group’s growth with political views. In sum, the more a church coheres with values of “the Christian right,” the less likely it is to attract members who believe in God but call themselves spiritual but not religious. In fact, the data suggests such churches not only fail to attract such people, but push such people away.
So, what does this mean for the Orthodox Churches in America? I think it means balancing between two extremes. One extreme may be found in many places online, on Facebook, and amongst seminarians and clergy: that of accepting nearly everything from the political right, especially as expressed by the Republican Party and the Religious Right, as “the” Orthodox position. Taking that extreme, Eastern Orthodox Christians would look at the data and thumb their noses at it, prideful to remain “the one true church” at the expense of demographics. The other extreme would be to reject all that exists in the political right, including the religious right, in order to bring in as many “nones” as possible, no matter what the cost to doctrine. Here one who thumb one’s nose at the right, taking pride in how progressive and enlightened one is.
Both extremes have their temptations depending on who we are and the issue(s) raised. The best approach, however, and the one that will prevent Orthodox Churches in America from reducing themselves to a High-Church sect, is the more difficult approach. The best approach requires discernment, a virtue I fear too many of us are lacking these days (because, frankly, it’s easier to demonize the other and run oneself toward one extreme or the other). What does this balance look like?
Well, I think it looks a little more like the essay Fr. Robert Arida wrote for the OCA Wonder Blog and less like the reaction it received. That reaction, btw, included taking down his essay and leaving up the negative comments. That reaction included the clergy in the Diocese of the West of the OCA finding it pro-gay marriage or some such and demanding Bishop Benjamin work to take it down. The Orthodox Church has never had a “gay marriage rite” and for the record I would not support creating a new marriage rite for gay couples, but the challenge Fr. Robert left us, which was simply finding new ways to speak to the surrounding culture on this issue as well as others, is a vital one.
I also think the balance looks less like the PTCD (post traumatic convert disorder) one finds amongst convert blogs decrying what one non-Orthodox Church after another is doing. It’s not just blogs. In fact, it probably happens more on Facebook, but the point is, this is a reactionary problem. So a Protestant church has contemporary services. OK. So a Protestant church gave dogs communion. Ok. So a Protestant church let Muslims pray in their worship space. Ok. All these things and others are what other churches did. They are not what our church did. Yet, it’s too common to expend a lot of energy criticizing what other churches are doing or have done.
A more balanced approach would not ignore traditional teachings on sexuality nor ignore what other churches are doing, but it also wouldn’t be so primed that it went off half cocked whenever cultural questions were merely raised. It wouldn’t devote nearly the energy and time to criticizing others (that seems currently devoted–you know, because of “culture wars”) but would turn that energy inward. We have problems–a lot of them. An obvious one seems to be that we prefer to critique non-Orthodox to an unhealthy degree.
Eastern Orthodox Christians need to take the sociological data very seriously. We need to turn our energy to working on our own problems. We need to turn our energy to finding new ways to engage our culture other than proof-texting from patristic sources. This will be hard work. It will mean we have to admit the Church is big enough house both Democrats and Republicans alike. It means we will have to bring together those who stand against a same-sex marriage rite and those who believe we are not doing enough to minister to those who are gay. It means we have to deal lovingly with those who think homosexuality is the touchstone issue in the first place.
Ultimately, it will mean we will have to have faith in the Holy Spirit, that Jesus’ words about him are true, that he will actually lead us “into all truth.” Truth is not something that only existed centuries ago. Truth is Christ Himself who is eternal. Truth is everlasting. A balanced approach to moral and political issues will engage the “nones.” True, many will still object and prefer to be “spiritual but not religious,” but for those who are open to being lovingly engaged, a balanced approach will be appreciated. For us within the Orthodox Churches, it will be a blessing as well, for balanced engagement that brings people in is the only thing that will prevent us from going down the road to being reduced to a High-Church sect in America, and a very small one at that.
In the recent months, book reviews have come out on my book Turning to Tradition and I think I have mentioned most of them here on the blog. One I haven’t mentioned yet is this review by Dr. Amy Slagle in Review of Religious Research. She highlighted how my book noted the variances in what “tradition” could mean as well as its importance for African American religious studies. Her concluding paragraph reads:
“Of appeal to specialists of American religions and Eastern Orthodoxy as well as
educated lay readers, this study fills a lacuna in the historical scholarship of American
religions since few studies solidly devoted to Orthodox Christian history in North
America have been produced. This monograph enhances our understanding of Orthodoxy
in the United States as well as the standings and perspectives of traditional Christianity as
it is found in twentieth-century America.”
I return, finally, to my exchange with humanist Jon Lindgren, emeritus professor of economics for NDSU and former mayor of Fargo. The delay was entirely my own fault. These last several months have been hectic, so finding the time to put together a short essay even proved difficult. Nonetheless, I have done so. Here we each give our take on the matter. I argue, of course, for a relationship between morality and faith and Jon Lindgren argues rather for a consensus approach, providing an ecological example.
Recent discussions and debates and political brokering in Rome has centered on relational ethics, including the question of divorce. Although most non-Roman Catholics probably look to papal infallibility as the main stumbling block to uniting or converting to Roman Catholicism, I must confess, as a pastor, the Roman Catholic approach to marriage has always struck me as significantly vexing and problematic. Sometimes I even see it as a bigger problem than Infallibility, which, if it requires a council, doesn’t seem impossible for the two Churches to navigate at some point. Over dinner during this past weekend’s Image and Spirituality Symposium, I told Adam DeVille that I thought the solution might be for Rome to look to Eastern canon law, which is technically within its own tradition. Whether that’s viable or not, I don’t know, but seemed to me to be an available “out” if it can be “legislated” correctly in Western Canon Law (and that I cannot say for sure as I’m no Roman Catholic canon lawyer). Into the foray enters Andrew Cuff, a Ph.D. student at Catholic University (from where he has already earned an MA). Mr. Cuff seeks to articulate formal distinctions around different kinds of adultery and offers that as a solution–a unique suggestion, with an Eastern Orthodox utilizing Western categories as a means of aid and suggestion: adultery and the synod on the family
In my book Turning to Tradition, I argued that restorationism lied at the heart of Orthodox convert movements throughout the twentieth century in America. Interestingly, that same impulse toward a primitivism, which can inspire resorationists, those who wish to “restore” what had been lost, is something that has been presented as a reason to look toward Orthodox Christianity in a recent article entitled “Scotland the Brave,” which may be found in Orthodox Canada: a Journal of Orthodox Christianity as well as republished on pravmir.com. The article has started gaining some renewed traction, though it was originally written in 2007. What makes it so interesting is the broad-brush attempt to link current Canadians to an “Orthodox” heritage. First, the author claims that Scottish heritage has a pint or two of its own running through Canadian heritage. Then the author noted the Cross of St. Andrew as hearkening back to an “Orthodox” Celtic Christianity. To bolster that claim, the author claimed, “What is very clear, Celtic Christians had far less in common with the free-wheeling nature worship one might find in certain Protestant or Roman Catholic circles than it did with the spiritual life of Greek monasteries in Byzantium. This shouldn’t surprise us: the Greeks and the Celts had the same faith and liturgical life, while the Christian Celts and the modern western confessions, distorted by the Great Schism and the Protestant Reformation, do not.” To support such a claim, the article noted the resistance to centralization on the Roman bishop as a Western development and artistic similarities to Christian art found elsewhere, such as Africa and parts of the Eastern Empire. Liturgical similarities such as women wearing veils and the priest facing the altar were also noted, and led to the conclusion: “It should not surprise us to find these similarities, since in comparing the Celtic Church to the Church in Byzantium, or to Orthodox Christianity today, we are in fact comparing the Church to itself. The Orthodox Christianity of the Apostles, of the Ecumenical Councils, of the Byzantines, the Slavs, the Arabs, and the Celts – it is one faith, not many. The Celtic Church was astonishingly similar to Orthodox life today – because it was Orthodox.” Making such an argument allows the Orthodox to leapfrog over a Presbyterian heritage to return to something that is actually found, apparently in toto, in contemporary Orthodox Christianity.
There are reasons for Orthodox to slow down a bit when making such restorationist appeals, however. First, the connection found in art is one that one has to evaluate much more carefully. Artisans traveled in the Roman Empire. Artistic styles could travel and, perhaps more importantly, early Christian art was shaped by preceding art (such as Roman reliefs and Egyptian funerary art). A good source to consult o this would be Robin Margaret Jensen’sFace to Face: Portraits of the Divine in Early Christianity. The claim of an early iconostasis is one that should also be taken with some care. The iconostasis as we know it today is a late addition (“Medieval”) development. Sure, it had its roots in earlier architectural dividing points and then screens and Christians (and Jews!) were using art from late antiquity onward, but one needs to be careful that one does not perform anachronism. Indeed, that is the general weakness of restorationism writ large. It is anachronistic. This leads to a second problem: the liturgical similarities could be cited for many other areas of the Christian world as well and fails to note for liturgical variation. What one sees in Christianity of the first millennium is not actually the Byzantine Rite as we know it today, nor even simply little variations of that rite. What we see are rites, in the plural. The third weakness I wish to point out is that in making errors along the lines of these first two that I noted, the author is more easily set up to make the kind of exaggerated attacks on non-Orthodox. Sure, it is only “some” Protestants and Catholics who are into “nature worship,” but the problem here is Protestantism and Catholicism is treated as though it has a part of its faith-essence that is “nature worship.” That’s actually not true. When Protestants and Catholics turn to worship nature, they turn to worship another God. Reducing whole movements and churches to the extremes of some within the movement is grossly unfair. The same could all too easily be done to the Orthodox. Frankly, maybe it should be, though ideally by those from within, who are willing to stand for the Gospel over and above things such as ethnocentrism and bizarre “interpretations” of marriage that lead to sexless lives, etc.
In the end, Orthodox would do well to do better than mere restorationism. Restorationism distorts the faith. Orthodoxy is not simply a liturgical time-warp. Art has changed. Liturgy has changed. Theology has changed. In fact, all three have–yes–developed! Now, I know that’s anathema to those who wish to claim Orthodoxy does not uphold development of doctrine but the reality is, these things have changed. What should concern us is not whether change has occurred, but whether the changes have been natural, consistent developments. Is there a natural, consistent development from mosaics of Christ the Good shepherd to the icons on an iconostasis/templon? I think so, but I would never claim there’s no development. To reject development in favor of seeking a primitive church that can be restored (or somehow managed to survive hardly or completely unchanged) is to reject tradition, ironically.
Do I think Canadian Orthodox of Scottish heritage should not look back and see connections to what still exists in Orthodoxy? No, but I do think they should be careful in how they understand those similarities and the kind of conclusions they might draw from them.