Here’s a question: Is it stranger that Roman Catholics, ostensibly informed by a social tradition which has, for well more than a century, rejected the core tenets of free-market capitalism, embrace such tenets in open defiance of their magisterium or that Orthodox embrace such tenets as well? The Orthodox “defense,” which isn’t much of a defense at all, goes something like this. Because communism had such an undeniably disastrous impact on the lives of millions upon millions of Orthodox Christians, it not only makes sense, but is in fact fully justifiable, that they should see in capitalism, with its apparent nod toward “freedom,” a safe haven, nay, a glowing alternative to the communist system which, in practice, oversaw the nailing of priests to church doors and the violent oppression of those who would dare to live out their ancestral faith. The problem with that line of argument — one of many problems — is that it’s simplistic to the point of being worthless. For while it is true that communist rule over Eastern Europe brought with it unimaginable persecution against the Church of Christ, it is not necessarily true that such persecution came as a result of pure economic ideology. That is to say, whatever satanic violence dwelt at the core of 20th Century communism was not generated out of anti-capitalist animus per se. Something else was at work, and that horrific violence could very well have flowered under an apparently “free” economic system as it did under one that was largely command planned.
Imagine my surprise when I found out that Orthodoxy is under progressive captivity in America, or so says Fr. Johannes Jacobse. Writing partially in response to Orthodox dissent over the 2013 Acton Institute/St. Vladimir’s Seminary conference on poverty, Fr. Jacbse attributes any and all Orthodox dissatisfaction with Acton’s pro-market agenda to “Orthodox Progressives,” an undefined cabal of Christians whose vision is “materialist,” that is one which holds that “man is a biological machine” and “a better society is achieved by manipulating the mechanisms of state.” While these elements may be part of the progressive vision writ large, it still doesn’t mean they are part of a peculiarly “Orthodox Progressive” vision, assuming such a vision exists in the first place. By refusing to identify a single soul who may be fairly called an “Orthodox Progressive,” Fr. Jacobse sets up a convenient hobgoblin that no right-thinking man would want anything to do with. The problem is that he may not exist. But if he does exist, rest assured that any of his ideas which may not coalesce with Acton’s preferred economic ideology are wrong a priori.
The Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church is little known outside of Orthodox circles, and certainly underappreciated within them. The following excerpt, from Chapter VII (“Property”), will form the backbone of subsequent posts. As such I am providing the chapter here in full without the bold highlighting that normally accompanies it. It is important to consider the chapter in full, and not simply a few “tag lines” lacking context.