Category Archives: Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations

How Catholics Have Always Believed and Taught Deification

by Jared Ortiz

Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox all have an unfortunate habit of thinking that deification is somehow the exclusive provenance of the Orthodox. This claim is unfortunate not only because it has no basis in reality, but because it blinds us to the riches to be discovered in the tradition and because it slows down ecumenical progress.

The Reformed theologian Carl Mosser has done the most interesting work on how we all came to adopt such an odd prejudice (see his essay here). The details are too complicated for a short post, but let me summarize briefly.  Many people know that Adolf von Harnack, the great Protestant historian of dogma at the turn of the twentieth century, proposed a theory about the development of Christian doctrine which cast the tradition primarily as one of decline. Starting from the simple moral teachings of Christ, Christian doctrine became corrupted due to the pernicious influence of Greek philosophy. What many people don’t know is that Harnack argued that the main culprit in this decline was the doctrine of deification which early Greek Christians imported from the pagans.  While the west was only mildly infected with this doctrine, it became, he claimed, the defining feature of eastern Christianity. Continue reading

Pope Francis’s Relic Diplomacy

by George Demacopoulos

In June of 594, Pope Gregory the Great received a letter from Constantina, the empress, asking him to send the head of St. Paul to Constantinople so that she and others might benefit from venerating the bodily remains of such a great saint. St. Gregory denied the request, noting that it was not the custom of the Roman Church to dismember the bones of the saints.

A great deal has happened between Rome and Constantinople since the sixth century, but Pope Francis’s decision last week to send the Ecumenical Patriarch an actual portion of the body of St. Peter should be understood as nothing short of remarkable. More than anything else, it is a clear indication of the pontiff’s desire to advance the cause of Christian unity.

A point of clarification might help to demonstrate why Francis’s gift is both so unprecedented and significant. Continue reading

Engaging Orthodox Theology Thoughts on IOTA from an Ecumenical Observer

by Robert Saler

Metropolitan Cathedral in Iasi, Romania

There are two dangers that Western theologians such as myself face when engaging  Eastern orthodox theology: exoticism and over-familiarity. My ongoing work as a Lutheran ecumenical observer at the International Orthodox Theological Association (first at its initial planning meeting in Jerusalem, and then recently at the full conference in Iasi, Romania) has given me occasion to ponder both extremes.

Exoticism in general can take on flattering aspects—“Easterners can solve Western theological problems if we just import their way of thinking”—or unflattering ones (“the Orthodox don’t do systematic theology; they are focused instead solely on mysticism”). The Western theological imagination has a tendency to freeze Orthodox theology in stasis for a host of reasons. Western theological conservatives may look to Orthodoxy as a bulwark against perceived creeping liberalism (particularly on culture war issues) in their own traditions. Western progressives, meanwhile, may celebrate Orthodoxy’s historic lack of biblical literalism (in the modern sense) or what they take to be its emphasis upon individual spiritual struggle over against centralized magisterial authority. The list of oversimplifications (all of which depend upon treating “Orthodoxy” as a static monolith) goes on, and a useful tonic for all of them is to witness contemporary Orthodox theology in all of its dynamicity.

This was certainly my experience at IOTA.  Continue reading

How to Respond to Religious Pluralism? Orthodoxy and the “New Comparative Theology”

by Kerry San Chirico

How should Christians engage other religious traditions? Today religious diversity has never been closer to home. Our uncle might be Jewish, our neighbor Muslim, and our sister engaged in sincere Buddhist practice. Then there is the fact that Americans are increasingly willing to borrow religious beliefs and practices deemed beneficial—yoga from Hindus, mindfulness from Buddhists, and the Jesus Prayer from Orthodox. Whether we like it or not, in the wake of our Baby Boomer parents, we do in fact live in a spiritual marketplace. Such eclecticism does not in itself make one a Buddhist, Hindu, or Orthodox, of course, but it does demonstrate an increasing permeability between religious traditions. Yet for all this admixing, some seventy-percent of Americans still identify as Christian, while seven percent identify as Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist. Meanwhile, according to The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, no less than one fifth of Americans are now religiously “unaffiliated.” These so-called “nones” cause scholars, clergy, and pundits to scratch their heads or wring their hands. We move, as ever, into uncharted waters.

How to respond? We can pine for simpler times. We can try to batten down our hatches, attempting to be “untainted” by such religious difference, remaining polite but fundamentally uninterested in the religious lives of relatives, friends, or neighbors. Such difference can be frightening, after all. Many who converted to Orthodoxy have experienced this same attitude from our closest relatives, who responded to our conversion with a combination of bewilderment, fear, or even repulsion.

Yet Christian love compels us to a different response. Continue reading