A Followup Comment on the Neo-Orthodox

Is it possible that the American neo-Orthodox attack on Catholic sacraments is simply a manifestation of the same inferiority complex which has haunted other parts of world Orthodoxy for centuries? That question was proposed to me in a recent chat and I was simply unsure how to answer. It is important always to bear in mind how many Anglophone neo-Orthodox polemicists are either converts or, now, the children of converts. Having drunk the dregs of Protestantism for many years, many of these folks still can’t shake the idea that Rome is the “Great Satan” which has arbitrarily imposed its will on Western Christendom for a millennium, distorting doctrine and obscuring truth all along the way. Of course, these are the same folk who believe that the “Uniates” represent a class of duped-and-deluded wannabes who kneel before their king on the Tiber while liturgically play-acting with stolen rites. Far be it for the neo-Orthodox to take a frank look at history—including their own tumultuous history—before drawing radical conclusions about the spiritual state of millions of fellow Christians.

Catholics should keep in mind that the neo-Orthodox do not represent world Orthodoxy. In fact, they do not even represent American Orthodoxy despite the latter’s annoying penchant for repacking shopworn Protestant polemics and calling them “apologias” for the East. Some of the neo-Orthodox will parade about claiming that their “theological critiques” of, say, Roman ecclesiology or Latin sacramental theology have “never been answered.” The truth is that they are largely ignored. Why? Because all of this “stuff” has already been hashed out in respectable theological circles. Moreover, neo-Orthodox ignorance of what the Catholic Church actually believes and professes can be downright painful. As Fr. Robert Taft has stated numerous times, if you want to know what the Catholic Church actually holds to, Google it. The Catholic Church does not hide its doctrines or praxis; they are contained in numerous documentary sources for all to read. I know some Orthodox have an exaggerated interest in “mystery.” Well, I hate to break it to them, but Catholic teaching is not mysterious; it is right there, out there, and in the open for all to see, if they are so inclined.

This doesn’t mean that Catholicism is not riddled with its fair amount of theological disputes and hermeneutical quarrels. Drop by Google Scholar sometime and type in “Second Vatican Council” or, heck, “Dignitatis humanae” and you will quickly find yourself drowning in a sea of scholarship. What is wonderful today is how many of these disputes are carried out with an “Eastern perspective” as well. It is simply not possible to make absolute statements on what the Church has “always believed” without incorporating what the Eastern churches have also “always believed.” Is it neat and clean? No. Is it messy and divisive? Sometimes. But is it necessary? Absolutely. If the neo-Orthodox think for one second that the Catholic Church and her theologians have not seriously considered the Eastern perspective on sacraments, ecclesiology, liturgy, and spirituality, they are simply kidding themselves (or are woefully ignorant). Maybe the neo-Orthodox won’t always be pleased with the conclusions Catholic theologians draw, but those conclusions are not produced in ignorance of the Church’s universal intellectual patrimony. In other words, the neo-Orthodox are not sitting on a legitimate treasure chest of “secret knowledge” (Patristic consensus!) into which they can freely dip to trump Catholic doctrinal claims.

There’s always room for improvement, of course. Although the last half-century of Catholic thought has been something of a mixed bag, the introduction of Eastern sources, including contemporary Eastern theologians, into Catholicism’s theological discussion has been a great boon for the Church. I see no reason why Catholics should not take Orthodox claims seriously, at least so long as those claims are coming from individuals who are interested in doing more than grinding axes and spouting triumphalist rhetoric. As I have stated many times before, the Orthodox Church does not possess a greener pasture for any Christian to run to. Orthodoxy does have certain comparative advantages over present-day Catholicism, but it is also riddled with internal problems (not to mention doctrinal confusion) that no Catholic should envy (or mock for that matter). Most are well aware of Catholicism’s problems. They are advertised daily. Orthodoxy, for better or worse, skates by criticism in the West because it is largely an unknown quantity. That is its triumph and its tragedy.

A Note on the Neo-Orthodox Attack on Catholic Sacraments

Since the book is getting a lot of attention in Eastern circles, I thought I would make mention of the recently translated neo-Orthodox polemic against the Second Vatican Council, Fr. John Heers’s newly translated The Ecclesiological Renovation of Vatican II: An Orthodox Examination of Rome’s Ecumenical Theology Regarding Baptism and the Church from Uncut Mountain Press. Heers, for those who are unaware, is a vocal opponent of Catholic/Orthodox ecumenism and the intellectual heir of Greek-nationalist theologians such as Fr. John Romanides. To be clear: I have not read the book, though I am not against doing so at some point down the line. In the meantime I decided to check out an earlier paper by Heers, one which appears to summarize the “findings” contained in his book: “The Mystery of Baptism and the Unity of the Church: The Idea of ‘Baptismal Unity’ and its Acceptance by Orthodox Ecumenists.” The title effectively gives away the author’s conclusions. Heers wants the Orthodox Church to “return to strictness” when it comes to “heretical baptisms.” In other words, he wants all converts to be re-baptized and for Orthodoxy to go full Jansenist in declaring there is no grace to be found in non-Orthodox sacraments. Wonderful.

As most know, the push for re-baptism and grace-denial is of relatively recent vintage. In the centuries prior to the rise of Greek nationalism, the Greek Orthodox Church—like its Russian counterpart—accepted non-Orthodox (Catholic and Oriental) baptisms, and if chrismation or confirmation had already been administered, they were sometimes accepted as well. (I will leave to the side the various debates about this.) Further, Catholic priests who converted to Orthodoxy, whether from the Latin or one of the Eastern churches, were traditionally received through vesting, not re-ordination. Once the modern “Greek view” started to become normative, theories were developed about previous practice, with oikonomia being proposed as the “magic answer.” According to this line of thinking, it wasn’t that Orthodoxy accepted the validity of non-Orthodox baptisms; reception into the Orthodox Church retroactively filled the otherwise empty sacraments with grace.

It is ironic that Heers and his fellow travelers are so rabidly against the possibility that Orthodoxy could develop a broader and deeper sacramental theology which contemplates the validity of sacraments conferred by non-Orthodox ministers. None of them seem to have any problem with the development (some might argue degeneration) of Orthodox sacramental theology with respect to marriage, one which now allows for the dissolution of valid marriages and the possibility for an Orthodox layman to marry two additional times. When, I wonder, will the neo-Orthodox now calling for a “return to strictness” regarding baptism do the same regarding marriage? That’ll be the day.

Shame on Patheos

Update: Just as I hit “Publish” on this brief post, Steve Skojec posted his own — far more detailed — account of the events noted below over at One Peter Five. I suggest you go read it: “Blasphemy from the Patheos Channel Manager

I confess that Patheos is not a site I normally visit. Most of the content is rather pedestrian, if not poor. And so it came as no surprise when it was announced that Artur Rosman, author of the vapid web-log Cosmos in the Lost, would become the site’s channel manager. As one friend observed in response to the news, “Now the chief inmate is running the asylum.”

Rosman, who has a long history of picking pointless fights with those who refuse to share his strange worldview, recently attacked Rod Dreher over the latter’s well-placed indignation concerning the TV show Scandal‘s depiction of a woman receiving an abortion while the classic Christmas hymn “Silent Night” played in the background. Dreher referred to the scene as “diabolical.” Good for him. Rosman, never one to miss an opportunity to draw attention to himself, laid into Dreher for failing to approach the ghastly scene with a more sophisticated and ostensibly charitable hermeneutic. Rosman’s remarks were met with criticism from Steve Skojec, editor of One Peter Five. What followed next was an unedifying Twitter exchange where Skojec was accused by Rosman of being a Protestant, running a heretical website, and lacking intellectual credibility. Although Skojec asked Rosman to substantiate these false charges, Rosman continued to fire off insults and accusations, culminating with this blasphemous Tweet:

Tuesday Comment on Christ the King

Mattias A. Caro, writing over at Ethika Politika, calls on Catholics to detach themselves from the petty things of this world in order to better serve Christ the King. I couldn’t agree more. Quoting Pope Pius XI’s Quas Primas, Caro reminds readers that before Christ can reign in society, He must first reign in our hearts, minds, and wills. In most instances, Christ’s social reign begins in the home and then moves outward into the schools, workplaces, and seats of political authority. It is a pious practice for Latin Catholics to enthrone the Sacred Heart of Jesus in their homes, reciting this prayer nightly:

The Feast of Christ the King?

Something strange must be happening in the world if so many of my (non-traditionalist) Catholic friends are heralding the Novus Ordo Feast of Christ the King and citing Pope Pius XI’s Quas Primas, as if the two are somehow compatible. For those following the traditional Roman liturgical cycle, the Feast of Christ the King arrived nearly a month ago and in the form Pius XI intended. This is made strikingly apparent at Mass, where the Collect for the feast has been intentionally mutilated.

  • Original: Let us pray, dearly beloved, for the holy Church of God: that our God and Lord may be pleased to give it peace, keep its unity and preserve it throughout the world: subjecting to it principalities and powers, and may He grant us, while we live in peace and tranquility, grace to glorify God the Father almighty.
  • Novus Ordo: Almighty ever-living God, whose will is to restore all things in your beloved Son, the King of the universe, grant, we pray, that the whole creation, set free from slavery, may render your majesty service and ceaselessly proclaim your praise.

Of course there is nothing wrong with the new Collect per se; but it redirects the liturgical day away from a celebration of Christ’s social reign toward a heavenly expectation which will only be fulfilled at the end of time. One has to wonder how much of today’s feast would Pius XI even recognize.

Public Prayer II

In several recent posts (e.g., here) I have discussed the absence (or, rather, loss) of the Divine Office, that is, the public prayer of the Church, among Latin Catholics. By comparison, the Eastern Orthodox (and, to a lesser extent, Eastern Catholics) have done a much better job offering services like Matins, Vespers, and the small hours to the faithful. It remains my contention that public prayer outside of Mass will not return to the Latin Church until the clergy takes up the cause. Lay demand for these services is, at best, minimal, mostly due to ignorance or a (false) belief that it is not “their place” to address the matter. This does not mean that the lay faithful have to be shut out of praying liturgically even if they cannot participate in a formal parish setting. Although the vernacular Liturgy of the Hours has been around for decades, traditionally minded Catholics—or those who are simply not thrilled by the U.S. Catholic Church’s official translations—have mostly steered clear of it. Thankfully, a number of liturgical resources, in both Latin and English, have started to become available so as to allow the faithful—and their families—to pray with the Church even if, for now, it must be done in the privacy of the home.

Charlie Hebdo Again

The French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo is back in the mainstream news today for its latest cartoon cover related to last week’s attacks in Paris. I shall refrain from comment. However, I thought it would be appropriate to re-link my blog entries (and one anonymous reflection from The Josias) on the Charlie Hebdo attacks. The first of these posts became — somewhat to my surprise — the single most controversial thing I ever wrote for Opus Publicum.