Monday, December 04, 2006

Answering Roman Accusations

Browsing through blogs yesterday, I came across a post at The New Liturgical Movement, where one of the (Roman Catholic) commentators brought up several charges against the East:

We keep talking up the East, but remember, they bowed down the Emperors, fell into first Caesaro-Papism, then various heresies, then nationalism (what Irish, or German, African, etc. would feel welcome, in a Serbian, Greek, etc. church)? Another thing, they converted no-one. Western (Roman) Catholicism is the reason there are still 1.5 billion who believe in the Divinity of Jesus Christ. The East was happy to sit in the caves, and monasteries chanting and growing their beards. Complete lack of Apostolic Dynamism, almost no missionary work.

Nothing new, really. I've heard most of them before - the usual allegations of heresy and nationalism. I tend to avoid answering them; I know the Latins who bring them up usually have little or no knowledge of the East whatsoever and are, more often than not, unwilling to listen. This time, however, there was an Eastern - it was not me, I assure you - who did not let these charges pass:

Nationalism isn't a problem. I'm Chinese Singaporean, which is about as far as one can get from any sort of Byzantine heritage, and I've been perfectly welcome at every single Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Church I've popped into, and on 4 out of 5 continents. 'eck, I've been invited onto kliros or to be server at most of them. I don't get stares and I've received a warm welcome almost every single time. Don't try to presume any of us Easterns aren't comfortable in each other's churches.

Next, bowing to Emperors? Of COURSE we bow to Emperors - the Emperor is God's chosen ruler. We had the guts to excommunicate and depose Emperors when they became heretics (iconoclasm aside), did you guys have the guts to depose John XII when he preached heresy, in full papal vestments, from the pulpit, about the Beatific Vision? We certainly never attempted to declare the Emperor to have universal immediate jurisdiction or dreamed up the silly notion that he was infallible without an Œcumenical Council. So sometimes we gave the Emperor too much ecclesiastical power, we goofed, Cæsaro-papism indeed. You guys on the other hand, made the Pope a temporal ruler and gave him the power to depose monarchs (who are placed there by God). Can you, in your turn, say Papo-Cæsarism?

Various heresies? True, we gave birth to Arianism, Monophysitism, Nestorianism, Monothelitism, Iconoclasm, and the usual suspects, but you guys gave the world Protestantism, Secular Humanism, Communism and Nihilism. With these four, you've completely pwned us when it comes to giving birth to heresy.

Complete lack of Apostolic Dynamism? Almost no missionary work? Ahem. By the end of the first millennium, there were flourishing Eastern Churches in India, China, Japan, Indo-China and many other small missions scattered throughout Southeast Asia. Any reputable historian will tell you the biggest missionary church of the Middle Ages was the Persian Church, with a mission territory stretching over India, Tibet, China and Japan. The fact that almost nothing remains of these missions is due mostly to the Mongol hordes who pretty much killed everything in sight. Our missions ended gloriously in blood. On the other hand, in Western Europe, you guys pretty much gave up the faith without a fight. Were there persecutions in France, Holland, Italy and America? From the way your churches there look, it appears your Catholic populations decided one day that they simply couldn't be bothered anymore.

When WE plant churches, we inculturate them and make them authentic expressions of Christianity with national characteristics. This is why the Indian Church remains. Ditto the Copts, Assyrians, Armenians, Syrians and suchlike.

What we don't do is make our faith the tool of empire, of imperialistic aggression. Offhand, I can't think of one non-European country, aside from Korea (which is a special case) and North Africa (which was Roman anyway) where the Latin Faith was strong in past centuries, and was NOT made a colony.

'bout time someone stood up to these sanctimonious Romans.


Anonymous Cathodox said...

Heh...that must be His Pompousness Patriarch Edward.

Mon Dec 04, 11:27:00 pm 2006  
Blogger Sprezzatura said...

Who in that comment said naught that was untrue.

Tue Dec 05, 09:11:00 pm 2006  
Anonymous Cathodox said...

Alright. Correction. That ought to be His All-Pompousness Patriarch Edward.

Tue Dec 05, 10:21:00 pm 2006  
Anonymous Very Rev. Fr. Gregori said...

Bless you my friend.
How very true and to the point are your words. Such a strong and accurate defense of Orthodoxy I have not heard in a long time.

I am proud to call you a brother in Orthodoxy.

Fr. "Abouna" Gregori

Sun Dec 10, 01:32:00 am 2006  
Anonymous Very Rev. Fr. Gregori said...

By the way, I want you to know that I enjoyed this site very much and the pictures and icons are fantastic.

God Bless,

Fr. "Abouna" Gregori

Sun Dec 10, 01:53:00 am 2006  
Anonymous Christopher (aka. Anonymous) said...

Just want to clarify: I am a Roman Catholic, but I sympathize strongly with the Orthodox churches and I agree with them more often than I agree with the Holy See--in fact, I see Vatican II as an act of (slavish) capitulation to Modernity and its vices that has so far not found its parallel in the Orthodox churches, which makes me happy.

However, the historian in me recoils at that last suggestion regarding the Orthodox churches being untainted by complicity in imperialistic expansion. Having just read Cynthia H. Whittaker's seminal work on Count Sergei Uvarov (you all might remember him by his tripartite formula of 'Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationalism' whilst education minister), the Russian Orthodox church played an important role in the empire and its attempt to extend sovereignty to newly conquered peoples.

During the 19th century, at least, when the government's system of lower education in rural areas was effectively based on the 'parish' and 'district' school system--one of the r's of Russian education at that time being 'religion'--the Orthodox priesthood acted, to some extent, as the government's proxy in Russifying the youth of these areas. Historians argue that the Orthodox church had been sufficiently co-opted at this point to blend the 'Orthodoxy' and 'Nationality' premises of Uvarov's platform.

Of course, this is not to moralize or say that what happened was wrong: far from it, at the time (without the post-Colonial mentality of multi-culturalism and equal validity of cosmologies) the greatest service possible for these people whose societies were considered 'backwards' and 'isolated' would be to deliver them Christianity and bring them into the larger fold where they could take advantage of the benefits the Empire had to offer (as well as shouldering part of its burden).

Just wanted to point out what may or may not be an unfair appraisal of Orthodoxy in Empire. In general, I side with Pobedonostsev's consideration that the Roman Catholic Church was the inheritor of Christian 'philosophy' while the Orthodox miraculously maintained the 'living faith / living tradition' element of Christianity. I am inclined to the former.


Mon Jan 12, 01:50:00 am 2009  

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