A Brief Observation

A small uproar can be heard from conservative Catholic circles over Notre Dame University’s decision to honor Vice-President (and pro-abortionist politician) Joe Biden. But an uproar is all it is, and soon it shall pass just as all of the other uproars common in American Catholicism when some figure or wing of the Church shakes hands with evil. Nothing ever comes of it though, just as nothing usually comes from any disciplinary or doctrinal affront occurring within the walls of the Church. (Child sexual abuse and gross financial misdealings are the notable exceptions here.) People, even clerics, get indignant, but then life goes on. Despite this, Catholics continue to insist to their estranged Orthodox and (even more estranged) Protestant brethren that one of the “selling points” of the Catholic Church is its clear, unambiguous rules which, allegedly, forestall doctrinal and disciplinary anarchy. Such claims are utterly implausible at this stage in the game. While I cannot speak for the various Protestant sects, it is unimaginable that the various Orthodox churches in either the United States or abroad would allow church-backed institutions to openly support immoral politicians and/or policies. This isn’t to say it never happens or that there aren’t pockets of exceptions in Orthodox-dom, but it is hardly commonplace.

I make mention of this for two reasons. First, Catholic triumphalism over the Orthodox in the realm of discipline and doctrine simply needs to stop. Second, and more importantly, there is a discussion which needs to be had concerning the particular virtues of decentralization when it comes to taking meaningful action against those who openly dissent from Church teaching. Many fear that decentralization in the Roman Church will lead to chaos . . . but is not the chaos already here? Contrary to the magic longings of certain conservatives and traditionalists, the Vatican is not going to swoop in and save the day. If subsidiarity still means anything, then perhaps it is time to get jettison the Latin fetish for hyper-centralization and top-down, command-plan ecclesial politics. Or maybe people just enjoy complaining.


  1. Gabriel, excellent posting. Two points, autem

    1. “it is unimaginable that the various Orthodox churches in either the United States or abroad would allow church-backed institutions to openly support immoral politicians and/or policies.” I have two words for you: Michael Dukakis (the Greek Orthodox democratic Governor of Massachusetts and Presidential candidate, who supported abortion and was still called ‘a loyal son of the Church’ by the late Archbishop Iakovos). You are correct that such things happen far less among the Orthodox than the Catholics, but they still, alas, happen.

    2. Agreed that “Catholic triumphalism over the Orthodox in the realm of discipline and doctrine simply needs to stop.” While I will remind you of your former efforts on that front, I do so, not to bash you over the head with your past, but to commend you, that you have risen above that past. A happy journey to Pascha, my friend.

    1. (1) Yes, the Dukakis thing did ring in my head when I was writing this, though I know there were a number of non-Greek Orthodox bishops — including the late Archbishop Job of Chicago — who refused the call to support Dukakis simply because he was Orthodox. The Orthodox support for Dukakis was driven primarily by ethnic considerations and was largely confined to the Greeks (in fact, I have never seen any evidence of non-Greek bishops and priests supporting him openly).

      (2) Yes, well, I have learned my lesson on that front.

      1. Not only Dukakis, who was actually an Episcopalian, but several other Greek-American politicians with 100% rating from Planned Parenthood. Here is an interesting article on one such Greek American politician: http://www.orthodox.net/articles/iocc-and-paul-sarbanes-abortion-the-approval-of-the-ecumenical-throne.pdf

        One must also remember that the Ecumenical Patriarch has on several occasions championed a woman’s right to an abortion, free of interference from the Church: http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/blog/2013/07/patriarch-bartholomew-and-abortion/

        And here: http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2009/10/a-not-so-pro-life-patriarch

        Recently when the Patriarch of Russia did condemn abortion, he did so only because of the declining Russian population, not because it was a moral imperative.

        1. Dale,

          Yes, you are absolutely right the the Orthodox hierarchy have a poor record as many Catholic hierarchs do when it comes to standing firm against pro-abort politicians. The Ecumenical Patriarchate awarded Joe Biden himself the Athenagoras Human Rights Award, despite his extreme pro-abort record.

          1. Even when the present Russian Patriarch recently seemed to give an anti-abortion message to Russia, which like Greece has a very high abortion rate, it was not because of a moral imperative, but simply because of the decrease in Russia’s population.

  2. Dukakis came right to my mind, too.

    Of course you are totally right, but humanly, the Latins are still playing out the final acts of the Counter-Reformation, and many of their engaged laity define themselves, whether they know it or not, by the degree to which they are NotProtestant (one word), or to which they are accommodationists.

    Three of the key shibboleths of being NotProtestant are clerical celibacy, what I call “hypernomianism,” … and most relevant here, ultramontanism.

    It’s a lot of historical baggage to unwind.

    1. Those are good points — ones I should mull over a bit more. Yes, I think the “notProtestant” identity driver is key here, especially when it comes to papal worship, clerical celibacy, and centralization. Interesting…

      1. “Hypernomianism” is my amateur attempt to define an attitude of obsessed with rules. In this mindset everything must have a rule or a law, and the tiniest deviation from the most minor rule is an abuse, a sign of an authority problem, and maybe even a mortal sin.

        You could call it “legslism,” but that’s a loaded word now, and I think my word is more precise.

        “Antinomianism” is the word for the contrary attitude that, roughly speaking, law and authority are bad. So I changed the prefix.

        I also played with “ultranomianism,” buy I like hyper- better. :-)

        I could give examples or analyze the mindset further, but I think we’ve all seen it.

  3. If Matthew Gaul will permit, let me take a crack at parsing his beautiful neologism, ‘hypernomianism’. Le Wik, in its article on the term ‘antinominianism’, indicates that it is the opposite of the idea of justification by works, or the belief that faith in Christ alone justifies us. If one takes the view that old Roman Catholicism can be summed up by the alternative neologism of ‘pronomianism’ (which I’d like to say that I coined, but that eminent philosopher, Google, seems to indicate otherwise), then ‘hypernominism’ would take that point of view to its extreme. Thus, it would not simply be the tendency towards a central authoritarian rule of law (as Gabriel would tend to indicate in his take on the term), but the wish to apply a single canon (be it the canon law of the past or present, the Baltimore or more recent Catachism, or the Summa Theologiae or its more recent manuals) to every aspect of our lives. And I would say, yeah, I see a lot of that going on among the NotProts.

    This is not to say that that sort of thing does not go on among the Orthodox. There are a fair number of Pedalion-olaters out there, to the point at which one modern Greek theologian has had to caution that ‘the Fathers are not another Talmud’. But to their credit, the Orthodox have come up with that beautiful synthesis of opposites which transcends both the antinomianism of the Prots and the hypernomianism of the NotProts: synergia or the cooperation between us silly critters and the Lord Christ. Or, as the Theotokion Stichera of the Second Tone has it: “The Shadow of the Law passed away when Grace came…”

  4. Has anyone made the case that Vatican centralization made the abuse crisis worse in that some bishops couldn’t eject abuser priests without Vatican approval so they shifted them around instead? If this was so, it would show how the Pope’s supreme and immediate jurisdiction is an ecclesiological scramble of the traditional bishop-priest relationship where a priest is a diocesan bishop’s deputy and subject to his control.

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