Four Uncontroversial Paragraphs for Saturday

The ongoing dispute among traditionalist Roman Catholics concerning the background of one Bishop Ambrose Moran (see here, here, and here) has brought back into the open how little some (perhaps many) traditionalists understand the Christian East—Catholic or Orthodox. While some traditionalists revel in referring to the Orthodox as “schismatics,” it is worth noting that no official papal decree, at least from the time of Blessed Pius IX’s 1846 letter to the Eastern Christians to the present day, uses that expression. Moreover, anyone with at least cursory knowledge of East/West relations since 1054 knows—or ought to know—that the “Great Schism” was not a singular event which neatly split the Church of Christ in two. For centuries following the Schism, Catholics and Orthodox continued to intercommune in various parts of the world up to the point when Constantinople fell to the Turks. And even after that cataclysmic event, “on the ground” cooperation and intercommunion continued in parts of the Middle East. The past century of strife in Eastern Europe, starting with the Soviet Revolution and continuing with the present crisis in Ukraine, Catholics and Orthodox have found themselves ministered to by each other’s clergy. Although none of this obviates the sad fact that Catholics and Orthodox are not in visible communion, this history is worth keeping in mind before proceeding to speak “authoritatively” on the status of Orthodoxy, the nature of its disagreements with Rome, and the disposition of the Orthodox faithful.

Assuming there are more than a few traditionalist Catholics who are reading this, allow me to mention a brutal truth few are willing to acknowledge. Orthodox bishops and clergy, by and large, are more grounded in the Apostolic Faith than contemporary Roman Catholic bishops and clergy. Orthodox clergy, by and large, are not prone to preach heresy from the pulpit; turn a blind eye to concrete moral issues; or deny the supernatural nature of the Church and its mission in the world. This is not to say that Orthodox clergy are better educated or holier than their estranged Catholic clerical brethren; but the culture of the Orthodox East is rigidly conservative to the point where it has been able to successfully trade off a certain healthy degree of openness and centralization in exchange for fidelity to the dogmas of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. That may not seem like much at first blush, but spend six months in a typical Orthodox parish; listen to the hymnography and the homilies; and then try and come back and say that the Christian Faith is conveyed with such power and precision in a typical Roman Catholic parish.

None of this is to say that Orthodoxy is some safe haven to which Roman Catholics ought to flee. There is no “greener pasture” on this side of the eschaton. However, it would behoove at least some traditional Roman Catholics to reflect, in an open and detached manner, on how and why the Orthodox have been so much better (generally speaking) at preserving the truth than Catholics have been. Oh sure, Orthodoxy is, at a certain level, riddled with theological confusion over secondary, even tertiary, matters, and some of its moral doctrines have been upended in recent decades (albeit unofficially), but all of that stuff is fairly small potatoes when compared to the top-level attempts by Princes of the Catholic Church to effectively destroy core tenets of the Faith. Some Catholics still chide the Orthodox for lacking a central authority figure, but in light of what is going on under the current reign of Pope Francis, does that really seem like such a bad thing anymore? I mention this not to challenge the legitimate authority of the Roman Pontiff, but to remind certain readers that the existence of the papacy is not, in and of itself, a guarantee of doctrinal surety and steadfastness in the face of modern errors.

Again, the “lesson to be learned” from all of this is not to run and join the Orthodox Church (though it is hardly my place to counsel anyone on their respective spiritual journeys). Traditional Catholics, particularly those scandalized by the present state of Catholic ecclesiastical affairs, can still look to the experience of the Orthodox for some positive lessons and, more crucially, embrace the living faith of the Eastern Catholic churches, many of which have been forced to find a home in the West. On the level of liturgy, spirituality, and theology, there is much traditional Catholics can learn. Latin is a wonderful language; the Rosary a beautiful devotion; and Scholasticism a precise method of passing down the Faith, but there is a wider tradition available to all of the faithful. Embracing it does mean setting aside a good number of prejudices and petty triumphalist narratives, but believe me it’s worth it.


  1. Well, the homilies in Orthodox parishes can be horrible as homilies, though, sure, most priests don’t preach heresy or anything like that.

    1. Agree with you on that one. Recently attended a French-speaking Russian Orthodox parish in Paris, the very young priest simply read great chunks out of Lossky’s “Mystical Theology” without an explanation of what any of it meant. It was long, boring, but nothing was heretical. My neighbors here in the states came fuming home from mass not long ago since the whole sermon was about how racist white people are. Give me Lossky any day.

  2. My somewhat limited three to four years of on the ground experience of both the Orthodox and the Greek Catholics very much confirms what you are saying, Gabriel. Looking to the holy Fathers does wonders for one’s perspective and serenity. Now off to a class on Saint Antony and the origins of Egyptian monasticism at our local Ruthenian church.

  3. Well, not all of us RC traditionalists are enamored of triumphalism or the current papolotry. Yes, there is much in Orthodoxy to learn from, but in my case particularly there is mostly yearning for worship as beautiful as that of the Divine Liturgy.
    I do appreciate this blog.

  4. The painful fallout of ultramontanism – neo or otherwise – is not purely a function of Pastor Aeternus or Gaudium et Spes. Rather, it goes back to the papal ukase of the filioque in the tenth century, and continues through the Codes of Canon Law of both 1918 and 1983. So it’s not so much that a Kasper or Bugnini is able to manipulate the hyper-centralized machinery of the Papacy to advance noxious nostrums; rather it is that the Papacy itself is the engine of change. Innovation, thy home is Rome.

    1. This absurd obsession with the Filioque must cease. The Latin Church stopped fighting that battle over half a millennium ago. It is a solemnly defined truth that will not change. Let it go.

      Speaking of innovation, pray tell which ecumenical council sanctioned the abominations of ecclesiastical divorce and contraception. By what authority do the non-apostolic sees of Constantinople and Moscow dissolve the sacrosanct bond of matrimony? It is not economia; it is adultery.

      1. I agree, the filioque is really a non-issue, and although it does not belong in the Creed, it was after all introduced by an Emperor and not the Pope (That perhaps should make it more acceptable to the Byzantines), in Latin it is not heretical.

        The issue of the centralized power of the papacy is another matter. For many traditionalist Catholics, the issue is always the Pope. It is hard to denounce as perhaps even heretical services and attitudes that are openly supported by the Pope, since any criticism of the Pope or his office is simply taboo. As long as Catholic traditionalists remain enamored of the modern papal office and power, they will continue to fail. The beauty and theology of the old Roman rite and tradition pales in comparison with the rock-star status of the personality of the Pope.

      2. IM, not too long ago I posted, on this page, a fairly involved posting on Orthodox Sacramental theology and why it allows divorce, or better the dissolution of the Sacrament of Marriage (They also allow the dissolution of the Sacrament of ordination as well). Too many Roman Catholics wish, erroneously, to think that modern Roman Catholics and the Orthodox believe the same about the Sacraments, this is simply not true.

        But even then, personally I think an honest Orthodox divorce is better than a pretend annulment; which are past-out like candy in the United States. A strict Russian Orthodox divorce is often considerably more difficult to obtain than an American Roman Catholic annulment.

        1. Wait, what? Dissolution of ordination? Are you serious? I thought that pompous, self-appointed spokesman for Eastern Orthodoxy Father Andrew Damick was the sole proponent of that bilge. So much for being a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. Please, I want a simple answer. Does not dissolution of the indissoluble contradict Our Lord? Is it not a grave offense that imperils souls? True, the annulment process is abused, but the principle is distinct. I am concerned with principles, not abuses.

          While I am here, what is this nonsense of the bread and wine existing alongside the Body and Blood in a manner like unto the hypostatic union? I’ve experienced first-hand that strange doctrine emanating from Orthodox circles.

          As far as the papacy is concerned, it is a definition de fide and if Our Lord condemns my soul to hell for affirming the authority of the Roman Pontiff, all I will say in my defense is, “Lord, you can neither deceive nor be deceived. I only adhered to what your Church had me believe.”

          1. The Eastern Orthodox lack a developed sacramental theology, which has given rise to numerous abuses over the years. I have asked around about whether a priest can be truly laicized, that is, stripped of the character of the priesthood and, of course, I received different answers. Some Orthodox jurisdictions have been clearer on this than others.

            There is an implicit recognition, at least among the Russians, that the priesthood is indeed forever, as can be seen by the decision of the OCA, ROCOR, and the Moscow Patriarchate to take priests (and deacons) who defected from one jurisdiction or another but were, arguably, defrocked. I don’t know what the outcome was, but I do know there was a joint OCA/ROCOR meeting many years back to settle the question of priests who had flipped from one side to the other despite being canonically defrocked (or at least suspended).

            1. Gabriel, yes and no. But marriage is understood to be a Sacrament and not as in Romanism an oath that is simply witnessed by the priest or deacon, hence in Orthodoxy a marriage must be celebrated by a priest alone; and since it is a Sacrament, many of the defects of intention that can be used by the Roman Church to grant an annulment do not exist in Orthodoxy; one needs to remember such things as Emperor Charles the Great having eight marriages, how many defects can one keep committing? The Orthodox Church believes that the power of the Sacraments belongs to the Church, and outside of Baptism, can be removed by the Church as well. Even the Russian Church believes that a priest can be laicized, which is quite different from defrocked.

              IM is quite correct about some very odd things, via American Protestantism, entering mostly Konvertzi Orthodoxy, especially concerning the change effected in the Consecration. When I was in seminary, a very traditional Russian one, our teaching on this was that of S Peter Mohila and we used the word Transubstantiation in its Russian form. But having said that, and only two weeks ago attended a novus ordo, including dancing girls, hand clapping, and quite a few other oddities, one is tempted to ask, “Do modern Roman Catholics even believe in the Real Presence at all?”; it certainly was not liturgically evident. I do know a priest who was removed for demanding some sort of fasting before communion and that people not receive whilst chewing gum.

            2. Oh, on another point Gabriel, it is nice, well perhaps not, to see that some Roman Catholics, such as IM, can be as nasty and pig-headed and ahistorical as the Byzantine Orthodox.

          1. I thought Charles the Great had four successive wives, with the first marriage being annulled and the other three dissolved by death of the spouse. Dale, those liturgical atrocities make me ask the same question, but the principles are not destroyed by rampant misbelief or perversion. I still fail to see how the Church can possess the authority to divorce. Again, the principle is what I seek.

            1. Im, once again, the Orthodox concept of the nature of Sacraments is different than the Roman Catholic standard, hence your judgments are not completely valid.

              The Orthodox believe that the Church has the power to give, to retain, and to remove Sacraments, except for Baptism. Hence, the Church can laize clergy, something the Roman and Anglican Churches do not believe is possible. The same for marriage, and as mentioned the Sacrament of marriage is very different in Orthodoxy from Rome.

              You are trying to judge Orthodox marriage concepts based upon a Roman model, and it does not work. The Orthodox are completely shocked by Roman Catholic annulments actually; that one can declare a marriage, often with many children that has existed for years, as no marriage at all dependent upon a defect of intention at any time before and even during the marriage oath is truly bizarre, and making all the children of such a “marriage” (which is nothing more than fornication) bastards. For the Orthodox, this is complete nonsense.

              For the Orthodox, the priest, and not the couple involved, completes the Sacrament. This is what I am trying to convey. I personally know people who have been granted annulments on defects that would have gotten them laughed out of an inquiry into granting an Orthodox divorce. And contrary to Roman Catholic gossip or wishful thinking, especially amongst most Russians, an ecclesiastical divorce is very difficult to get. The last case I knew of, when a divorced woman wanted to marry in the church she was refused by the bishop since he concluded that she was the guilty party in the divorce, not the husband. In the recent past often the only reason for granting an ecclesiastical divorce was adultery on the part of one of the parties involved; and the one who had committed adultery was not granted the right to remarry in the church.

              But IMF, I enjoy your postings, but let us please not get nasty or use phraseology such as “that pompous, self-appointed spokesman for Eastern Orthodoxy.” Of course, it may be true, but there are nicer ways to express opinions.

          1. I personally prefer the Orthodox Russian dissolution of marriage, mainly because I believe that most modern Roman Catholic annulments are fundamentally dishonest and really are not too much more than a Catholic form of divorce whilst trying to avoid actually saying the word divorce. Any canon lawyer can find a defect of intention if that is what is wanted; and it is mind boggling the annulments and the reasons for such annulments now being passed out in the Catholic Church. The reason, at least until recently, that people did not bother to get an annulment was because they were time consuming, asked all sorts of impertinent and strange questions (often of a sexual nature), and were costly. Now that they are cheap and granted quickly, I think that there will be a surge of such quickie annulments; it is all rather dishonest to then play the game of “The Catholic Church believes in the permanence of marriage.”

            And no one now wishes to even mention that the children from an annulled marriage are indeed no longer legitimate, since a marriage never existed in the first place. There should only be a permitted level of hypocrisy within the Church, this is far past the limit.

            1. I’m not sure from where you are getting information regarding the types of questions asked during an R.C. annulment, but there are not ‘all sorts of impertinent and strange questions (often of a sexual nature), asked —and if about $500 is costly today, then I’m not sure which state, region or nation you live in, but $500 today isn’t ‘costly’. This is my first-hand perspective.

      3. IM, the Filioque is indeed a non-issue if one sees nothing wrong with the Pauline liturgical reforms in the West. The point is, if one does indeed believe that things are amiss in this regards, and further that one wishes to understand the who, what, when, where, why and how it got this way, then A logical answer would be to understand the evolution of the Papacy into whatever it is now, and the inflection points over the last 1000 years that made it this way.

        One thing everyone agrees one, from Popes on down, is that how the Popes viewed themselves, their mandates and the Papacy has changed over time. You say the filioque is inconsequential; I say it is the first universal innovation by a Pope, and still the most monumental, as it set precedent with direct, enormous and negative impact on the state of the Church today.

        If I am wrong, then either things are not as bad as I make them out to be, or even if they are, somehow things will right themselves and the filioque will be the minor thing you say it is. Helluva risk, but that’s more yours to take, not mine, as my liturgical patrimony has not been destroyed by my bishops, even though I lament deeply the loss of yours.

        If, on the other hand, things get worse or not any better, you cannot say nobody ever told you where to look to find the root cause.

        1. But since the Filioque was introduced by Emperor Charles the Great against the wishes of the Pope at that time, I fail to understand much of your comment here. One could also mention that only the Armenians use the original Creed of the Councils. What the Filioque has to do with the novus ordo is beyond my comprehension.

          Actually, quite a few Orthodox, including von Schmemann and Meyendorf prefer the novus ordo over the traditional Roman rite (says so much about a Jesuit training one suspects); and the Dean of the Antiochian Greek Orthodox British Deanery, gregory Hallam, has posited that if Orthodoxy has a western rite, it should be the novus ordo and not the rite of St Gregory.

          1. Dale, part of the whole issue is whether or not the Pope had the authority to change the Creed. The Third Ecumenical Council said “no”.

            Had the usage of the filioque in the Creed remained local, it may very well have been one of those things that everyone who didn’t use it – at that time the majority – would have ignored it or chalked it up to how this or that bishop or group of bishops fought a heresy in their neck of the woods.

            It only became a concern when the Church in Rome and its Bishop several generations after Charlemagne declared that to reject belief in the filioque was tantamount to heresy UNIVERSALLY, and that this was so mandated not by an appeal to tradition (as there were only by the authority of the Bishop of Rome, even though a previous Pope had said NOT to use it, and oh, you don’t have to use it yourselves, just believe that it’s the truth.

            By what authority did Pope Paul VI claim he had to introduce the Novus Ordo? Same.

            1. But Steven someplace along the line even the Orthodox are not tied to the Ecumenical Councils, where, as an example, does one find Palamism in any Council? A theological concept unknown in any Council and unknown by the Oriental Orthodox as well. The west was suffering under the introduced eastern heresy of Arianism, in that context, especially since it is not heretical in Latin at all, it was perhaps only natural to introduce the Filioque, and once again, even the Greek churches do not use the original Creed. Only the Armenians.

            2. If one wishes to give an example of the Pope making dogma unilaterally, it is not the Filioque, but the Immaculate Conception…even against the teachings of a Doctor of the Church, S Thomas Aquinas. Whose writings against this novel dogma we even studied in an Orthodox seminary.

            3. Also, since the Filioque was used in the West, especially in Spain, for centuries before the schism, it would appear that it was more an invented issue than a real one. Just heaping coals on a fire. it is a non-issue.

          2. I always thought the filioque was introduced at the Third Council of Toledo by Reccared…a layman… Was I wrong?

            1. Catherine, please do not introduce real history here, it upsets the Byzantine narrative. Of course, Stephen has yet to explain how Palamism has been accepted as a theological truth by the Byzantine Church without the benefit of an ecumenical council.

            2. I found this on Father Hunwicke’s Mutual Enrichment:

              From Edward Siecienski’s new book on the Filioque.

              “Among the seventh century councils that taught the double procession, the Council of Hatfield (680) is perhaps the most interesting, especially as its president was a Greek, Theodore of Tarsus (602-90).

              “According to Bede, when Pope Vitalian (657-72) appointed Theodore to Canterbury, he sent the monk Hadrian with him ‘to prevent Theodore from introducing into the Church over which he presided any Greek customs’. Despite these misgivings, Theodore was a sound choice who antimonothelite credentials were impeccable (he had probably been at the Lateran Synod with Maximus the Confessor in 649). AlthoughBede claimed that Theodore convoked the Council of Hatfield ‘to preserve the churches from the heresy of Eutyches’, there is some evidence that he also used the gathering to respond to Bishop Wilfrid of York, who had been in Rome complainingabout Theodore’s governance of the English Church. The Council’s statement of faith, which apparently assured Pope Agatho of Theodore’s orthodoxy, affirmed the faith of Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus, Chalcedon, Constantinople II, and the Lateran Suynod of 649, and included belief in ‘the Holy Spirit, ineffably proceeding from the Father and the Son, as proclaimed by all whom we have mentioned above, holy apostles, and prophets, and doctors.

              “The two questions raised by this confession of faith were how Theodore would have interpreted this teaching, and how long the filioque had been part of the creed in England. While it is possible that Augustine of Canterbury (d609) might have taught the filioque during his mission to England (given his connection with Pope Gregory I), there is also a chance that it was introduced by Theodore’s companion Hadrian, an African by birth whose study of Augustine and Fulgentius would likely have included their teaching on the procession. As for Theodore himself, it is possible that he understood the filioque in accordance with the principles Maximus had enunciated years earlier in the Letter to Marinus, especially if (as is likely) the two knew each other in Rome. What is clear is that Pope Agatho, although busy preparing his own statement of faith for the Constantinopolitans (without the filioque), happily received the proceedings of Hatfield, including its confession in the procession of the Holy Spirit from both the Father and the Son.”

              I wonder how those ‘English Orthodox’ and ‘British Orthodox’ who tell us that the Anglo-Saxon Church was “Orthodox”, deal with the little matter of Hatfield.

          3. From what I understand, Saint Thomas Aquinas’ objection against the Immaculate Conception was connected to the concept of the vegetative soul, which is incapable of sin. The more I read about this dogma and listen to homilies on Regina Prophetarum, the more beautiful it becomes.

            1. I am very happy for you. Have you actually read S Thomas on the issue? It is not as you have portrayed it. My favourite, presented without proof, is that towards the end of his life, S Thomas accepted the Immaculate Conception. Lossky’s rejection of the Immaculate Conception is based firmly on S Thomas, and is also very solid. Have you ever read the propers for the pre-1856 feast of the Conception of the BVM? Very rich indeed. But unfortunately, does not include hand-clapping, dancing girls, or middle aged female Eucharistic ministers.

        2. The growing power of the Popes and a centralization owes far more to the fall of the Empire in the west than to the Filioque, which developed not in Rome, but in Spain against the Arians, to proclaim the divinity and equality of the Son to the Father.

          1. For you Dale, it begins with the promulgation of the Immaculate Conception, for me, it starts with the filioque. You know all the ins and outs, but the issue is the degree to which Catholics, an to Gabriel’s point of this post, traditional Catholics in particular, will ever consider that the Papacy as currently developed is less their friend than they want it to be. “If only the Tsar knew”, was an old refrain from those on the butt end of the bureaucratic abuses of Imperial Russia. “If only we had a Pope who was this or that” one hears from Catholics. Either way, it’s a fool’s errand to place so much in centralized authority, especially when it’s your ox that’s going to get gored.

            But you can’t have it both ways and be honest. The interesting dynamic at present is the degree to which conservative and traditionalist Catholics are exploring the “limits” of the Papacy. Not what you heard during the reign of Pius XII, though, was it? And he was the most progressive of all, paradoxically and to everyone’s detriment.

            1. Stephen, of course what you write about the centralized authority and power of the Papacy, for me anyway, is correct. But simply making this a Catholic issue is a false narrative. You seem to forget that the Tzar and Patriarch introduced, for the time, the first novus ordo in Russia in 1666; and outside of a small group of heavily persecuted Old Believers virtually everyone accepted it. The power of the Russian Church was also concentrated in the hands of only two men (the new liturgies were heavily unpopular), and eventually, the Tzar, on his own prerogative, suppressed the office of Patriarch itself and instead invented the “Holy Synod” which simply did followed his orders.

              You may state that the Tzar did not change the theology of the Church with his new liturgy in 1666; this only means you have never spoken with an Old Believer.

          2. I always understood that the fiioque was against the Arians. Having found my way to “Canterbury” (a continuing church) from Constantinople I have no problem with it.

            1. Agree with you here Catherine. In seminary one of our professors and a well-known Latinist (yes, there are such people in the Orthodox Church) gave a full series of classes on the Filioque and the difference between the Latin, Procedit, and the Greek, Ekporefomenon, his conclusion was that Filioque was not and never was heretical. A river may proceed through many lakes, which is the Latin understanding of the Filioque, but in Greek, it is only the ultimate source of the river which is understood. When the Roman Church recites the Creed in its original Greek, it never uses the Filioque, this is not done not to offend the Orthodox, but because in Greek to add “and the Son” would indeed be heretical.

  5. For good or for ill, all of the “theory” of later “papalism” was present in the sermons, discourses, and writings of Leo the Great; the “practice” is, of course, another matter. See “Leo I and the Theme of Papal Primacy,” by Walter Ullmann, *Journal of Theological Studies,* new series, XI (1960), pp. 25-51; and for some aspects of its background, see another article by Ullmann in the same volume of that same journal, “The Significance of the ‘Epistola Clementis’ in the Pseudo-Clementines,” pp. 295-317. Ullmann treated at length the working-out of that “theoretical papalism” in his book *The Growth of Papal Government in the Middle Ages* (1955). Ullmann’s last book, published in German, *Gelasius I (492-496): Das Papsttum an der Wende der Spatantike zum Mittelalter* (Stuttgart, 1981: Anton Hiersemann), sees Gelasius as the key figure at the beginning of making this “theoretical papalism” a central focus of papal ecclesiopolitical practice.

    1. Dr Tighe, if this present Pope is succeeded by a like-minded individual, I think that we may say more for ill than for good.

      Of course, the above is simply my own opinion…

  6. I wouldn’t know about the ‘petty triumphalist narratives’, nor am I a theologian, but I can tell you I’m currently fulfilling my Sunday duties at a Ukr. Greek Catholic Church as a refugee from what passes for the Roman rite. This article certainly spoke to me.
    As for “bishop” William Ambrose Moran or whichever name he currently uses, I have it on what I think is first hand knowledge that Moran may have been elevated only to the sub-diaconate in the Ukr. Orthodox church.

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