Scripture describes ecclesial division as harmful to Christ’s flock, and something that requires correction (1 Cor. 1.10-13; 12.25). The continued absence of full communion between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church--each comprised of local Churches that together in the first millennium formed a single communion of Christ’s Holy Body--is a sorrowful reality that inhibits a united Christian witness to the world. The non-Christian world, however, does not have to look far to find Christian writers “satisfied” with the status quo.
The Church itself, however, has not been satisfied with the detached communion of hundreds of millions of Orthodox and Catholic Christians. While some who oppose the dialogue might point to various synodical documents of the 19th century to support their viewpoint, they cannot ignore the parts of those documents that actually support the dialogue. Continue Reading...
Over the course of the past century, Augustine’s theology has been generally regarded by Orthodox as problematic at best and disastrous at worst. This is perhaps most obviously true where Augustine’s trinitarian thought is concerned, for it was in his treatise On the Trinity that Augustine so influentially advanced what one might call an early formulation of the filioque (i.e., the claim the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son as well as the Father). By doing so, John Romanides and other Orthodox have argued, Augustine infected the Western tradition to follow him with the disease of “filioquism,” a disease whose theological repercussions extend far beyond the narrow domain of pneumatology. Indeed, for Romanides and his ilk, the filioque is not so much an isolated doctrinal error as it is a corrosive agent whose effect is to erode the trinitarian foundations upon which Christianity stands.
While not all Orthodox have been as extreme in their pronouncements as Romanides, Eastern theologians as noteworthy and influential as Vladimir Lossky have nevertheless shared Romanides’ overarching conviction that the broadly Augustinian pneumatology of the West poses a grave threat to Orthodoxy. In particular, according to both Lossky and Romanides, the filioque is fundamentally incompatible with theosis ("deification,"or divine-human communion), the doctrine at the very heart of Orthodox thought and practice. The verdict is therefore clear: a choice must be made between the (mutually exclusive) doctrines of filioque and theosis.
This is a claim, however, which has been called sharply into question by recent scholarship on Augustine. Continue Reading...
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. (more…)
Early Christian thinking on non-Christian religions was conditioned by the official paganism of the Roman Empire, Greek philosophy, Christianity’s relationships with Judaism and flourishing mystery cults. Later, Orthodoxy had extensive historical experience, often but not entirely negative, as a religious minority under non-Christian regimes in Persia, the Middle East and the Ottoman Empire. Christian communities under Muslim rule were frequently in a survival mode, which made theological reflection on the meaning of religious diversity in God’s plan for salvation next to impossible. Only in recent times have Orthodox begun to consider the theological significance of religious diversity, especially as Orthodoxy is increasingly challenged with this reality both in countries of Orthodox immigration in Western Europe and North America, and increasingly in countries of Orthodox tradition. Continue Reading...
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. (more…)