Contrary to what some have murmured about in other forums, the previous two posts on Fr. John Meyendorff’s views concerning Catholic marriage and contraception were not intended as cheap shots against the Eastern Orthodox, nor were they meant to be read as easygoing vindications of contemporary Catholic praxis. As I have stated before, the Catholic Church has little-to-no “moral high ground” on the Orthodox with respect to marriage, divorce, contraception, abortion, and sexual ethics as a whole. No one should triumphalistically wave the text of Humane Vitae in the air without first acknowledging that most Catholics ignore it. Similarly, the days of condescending digs at the Orthodox over marriage dissolutions should be over, particularly in light of the fact that Pope Francis has cleared a pathway for “Catholic divorce.” Although I believe that Fr. Meyendorff was mistaken on certain points of Catholic doctrine, and exhibited a strange lack of knowledge concerning the natural-law tradition, that hardly means I think less of him as a serious scholar. His works on classical Byzantine theology, St. Gregory Palamas, and East/West relations should be required reading for any serious student of Eastern Christianity.
All thinkers have faults of course, and Meyendroff was no exception. Fr. Peter Totleben, whose contributions to this blog are always welcome, had this to say in the combox to “Meyendorff on Roman Catholic Marriage“:
A typical pattern that you see in the works of Meyendorff (especially when he is critical of Western practices) is that he takes a term, a tag, or a catch-phrase that strikes him as odd, gives it his own meaning, and then criticizes it in terms of the meaning he has given it. So he can be a bit hard to engage.
There are also some problems with Meyendorff’s historical work. He’s usually invested in a particular “side” in the historical events that he investigates. And he doesn’t really take the positions of other sides seriously. He usually is too trusting of his own party’s evaluations of its opponents, and he uncritically repeats them as if they were objective summaries of the state of affairs. And he never really consults what the opponents of his side have to say.
So, reading Meyendorff can sometimes be like letting Rush Limbaugh explain democrats to you . . .