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Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Tradition and truth

One of the positive intellectual developments of the past few decades has been an increasing appreciation of the role of tradition in our apprehension of truth. This awareness has even affected our understanding of scientific progress. Thomas Kuhn, in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, has argued that science proceeds not by an obvious and inevitable overcoming of error by objective truth, but rather through a series of "paradigm shifts" in which previous frameworks for interpreting the universe undergo crisis and are replaced by new paradigms. The old paradigms are not necessarily false--they may explain certain things better than the new paradigms do. Scientists abandon one paradigm for another in an often wrenching process which Kuhn describes as a "conversion." They experience more and more phenomena which the old paradigm cannot explain, and if these are frequent enough and important enough (for their particular purposes) they eventually feel the need to "convert" to the new paradigm, even though this may mean losing the ability to explain certain other phenomena.

This understanding of intellectual development fits in well with the view I've been defending in my previous discussions of "relativism" and "soft rationalism." It does not claim that there is no ultimate truth--simply that our access to that truth is necessarily limited and contingent. We only have access to the truth via certain paradigms which necessarily limit our perspective. Yet we cannot escape into an unlimited, unmediated vision of the truth--not in this life at least.

It follows further that we have access to the truth only via particular traditions, and that we come closer to the truth the more deeply we root ourselves in the understanding of the world given us by our particular tradition.

But it follows further, if we adopt Kuhn's basic approach and apply it to religious truth, that it is possible for us to undergo a "conversion" to a new paradigm. It may be that our former paradigm becomes unworkable and we find ourselves compelled to take the wrenching step of abandoning it for some other way of approaching the Truth. This is precisely the question faced by those of us who are concerned with the current direction of the Episcopal Church. Is the crisis faced by ECUSA, and by mainline Protestantism generally, sufficiently acute that we are obligated to abandon our current paradigm?

Of course, there are various ways of defining a "paradigm," and for many of us denominational affiliation may not be the primary source of our religious paradigm. The paradigm under which I've been operating for the past few years is best described as "ecumenical Protestantism." That is to say, I see myself as a member of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, and I see all baptized Christians as being similarly members of that Church, although in varying degrees. I acknowledge the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, but I do not believe that he or any other office or structure within the Church enjoys the charism of infallibility. I am unwilling to say, as both Catholics and Orthodox say, that Protestant sacraments are in some qualitative way less valid than those of the churches enjoying apostolic succession. At the same time, I do not see myself as identifying with some unified reality called "Protestantism" over against Catholicism and/or Orthodoxy. Indeed, on most specific issues where Catholicism and Orthodoxy agree over against Protestantism, I believe Protestantism is wrong. (This is Pontificator's Somethingth Law--I forget exactly which but I think it's Third.) The major exception to this, of course, is ecclesiology. Catholicism and Orthodoxy agree in denying Protestantism full ecclesial status. This is the primary issue that marks me as a Protestant, however "Catholic" I may be in other respects.

And, of course, it is this understanding of the Church that is currently threatened. Because of the impending (or should I say current?) split in the Anglican Communion, I find myself in a situation of radically conflicted loyalty. My denomination, ECUSA, has taken a step condemned (rightly, as I believe) by the Anglican Communion as a whole--a step that furthermore increases our isolation from the tradition of the Church and from the majority of Christians worldwide (in particular, from both Catholicism and Orthodoxy, without one or both of which there can be no meaningful reunion of Christians). And yet, to side with one of the conservative Anglican bodies angling for recognition by the international Communion not only involves me in a local schism, but requires a deep loyalty to Anglican identity which I do not feel. I am not a cradle Anglican, and joined ECUSA because, from where I then stood (as an unaffiliated, nondenominational Christian of Wesleyan Holiness extraction), such a step was a movement closer to the heart of the Christian Tradition.

The current situation of ECUSA thus highlights my existing misgivings about the ecclesiological paradigm under which I've been operating. I am compelled to act in some way--to remain in ECUSA under current circumstances is an act equally radical as the act of leaving the denomination. My personal "via media," which has sheltered me for seven years, has collapsed over my head. I am forced to choose between reaffirming my commitment to my ancestral Protestantism (probably by joining the United Methodist Church), or taking the leap I've avoided so long and converting to Catholicism (or less probably Orthodoxy).

This choice presents itself to me in the form of two different approaches to the relationship between tradition and truth. I will explore these two options in subsequent posts.


Pontificator said...

Trackback Pontifications

Michael Patrick said...

Edwin, I look forward to your posts on this important and personal subject. Thanks for sharing.

Doug said...

Well said. Wonderful post. I'll be a regular reader.

William Tighe said...

I know little about the spiritual state of the UMC. Is it in a relatively more healthy state, theologically and morally, than denominations such as ECUSA, the ELCA or the PCUSA? What about missouri Synod Lutheranism? (Forgive my curiosity about your theological and ecclesiological thinking.)

Christopher Culver said...

Why is Orthodox a "less probable" choice for you? I myself have left Anglicanism for Orthodoxy, and am happy beyond words.

For what it's worth, I started my exploration of Christianity through Roman Catholicism, but the absurd lengths to which its mariolatry have gone made it very unattractive. In Roman Catholicism statuary Mary is often presented on her own, and I have been to a few RC churches where in place of a crucifix above the altar, there is a statue of Mary with a cheesy Christmas-light crown of stars. In Orthodox iconography, on the other hand, she is always with Christ because her role is not to get any especial veneration by herself, but to confirm that Our Saviour was fully Man. Then there is the ahistorical nature of RC claims that the Roman bishop has "universal ordinary jurisdiction", etc.

CPA said...

Amplifying William Tighe's point, on all the issues of morals between the sexes, women's ordination is the decisive point. A church that accepts that has decisively broken with Christian teaching on both men and women and on the role of Scripture (and tradition--on this issue they speak absolutely with one voice). If you believe in Wesley's teachings, there are of course Wesleyan churches that have rejected this innovation. But the UMC isn't one of them.

Death Bredon said...


Why not the Continuum?

Contarini said...

Prof. Tighe, I'd say things are better in the UMC than in ECUSA. I'm less willing to draw comparisons with ELCA and PCUSA, but on the whole evangelicalism is stronger in the UMC than in any other mainline denomination (unless of course we're counting the SBC as mainline!). Of course, this is a fairly moderate evangelicalism, which accepts women's ordination. As you probably know, that is not a problem for me. The lack of episcopal apostolic succession is--and if you want to argue that the two are related, I won't contest the point.

I certainly believe, against atwood, that the male-only priesthood is only defensible (if it's defensible at all) on the basis of a thoroughly Catholic understanding of ordination. In a Protestant context, I'm thoroughly in favor of women's ordination. In a Catholic context, I find the arguments against it unconvincing but am willing to accept the authority of the Church, although I'm less convinced than conservative Catholics that the Church has spoken with absolute finality on the point. The slippery slope for which you're arguing, atwood, does not apply to the holiness/Pentecostal traditions. Contrary to your implication, many of the conservativ Wesleyan bodies have historically ordained women, and in some cases (such as the Free Methodists), advocated women's ordination before the mainline Methodists did. (The founder of the Free Methodists was one of the earliest defenders of women's ordination. The Salvation Army is of course another example.) If the slippery slope argument against women's ordination has any weight at all (of which I'm far from certain), it has weight only for traditions with a Catholic understanding of the priesthood.

William Tighe said...

Atwood has amplified my comment in a way that was far from my thought when I wrote it, but I agree with him entirely. For me a "church" that ordains women is no church --but, then, for me a "church" that lacks real in-the-apostolic-succession bishops is no church, either, and even were I not a Catholic, were I a forlorn Anglican/Episcopalian for instance, I would not consider such a body, however generically orthodox or sacramental, as a possibility for me.

As to Death Bredon's query, is it not answered inthe third paragraph before the end? Edwin states that he is not attracted to Anglicanism per se, as an "-ism" and, this being the case, why should he be attracted to bodies whose sole raison d'etre is to preserve "orthodox Anglicanism" and whose endless multiplication demonstrates how contested a thing (if it exists in rerum natura) "Anglican orthodoxy" is.

William Tighe said...

Edwin, what I wrote a moment ago I wrote before I saw your reply. I *think* that I agree with you about Protestantism, in general, and women's ordination. However, I have had a enough vicarious experience of Lutheranism to know that some Lutherans make as strong and insistent a case against WO as any Anglican Catholic or as the East and th West. My puzzlement is that those Lutherans with whom I have had dealings make the case on very different bases. Some of them, especially "catholicizing" Lutherans, or Lutherans whose churches retain a Catholic form (whatever the substance) such as the Scandinavian Lutheran churches, make agruments that are very "catholic-minded" while others are more "headship-orientated." I suppose what I find most incredible is those who make "catholic-resembling" cases in Lutheran bodies (like the Missouri Synod) that lack "Catholic Order" but appear to assume that they do, by (for example) arguing that a parish pastor is the "functional equivalent" of a bishop, the church elders of presbyters, and other parish officials of deacons. It's all a matter of one's "vantage point" I guess.

Contarini said...

Dr. Tighe,

Exactly. In Methodism, in my experience, the case is reversed. That is to say, the tiny minority of Methodists (and larger number of members of conservative Wesleyan bodies) who oppose women's ordination do so on purely Protestant "headship" grounds. As a general rule, in Methodism, the more "catholic"-minded wing is also the more liberal wing. This seems to be changing, much to my (and my wife's) delight. There are a substantial (and growing) number of (mostly younger) Methodists who embrace both a more Catholic understanding of sacramental theology and an orthodox approach to not only creedal doctrines but also matters of sexual ethics. Even these more conservative catholic-minded Methodists (particularly prominent at Duke, though they also exist at Asbury, and can be found in embattled minorities in the more liberal seminaries as well) in my experience uniformly believe in women's ordination, and indeed share the belief of their more liberal counterparts that women's ordination is a non-negotiable truth of the Faith. (Geoffrey Wainwright is a conspicuous exception, holding that women should not have been ordained without a decision of a General Council. I tend to agree. I don't know where Tom Oden stands on this point.) My advisor, David Steinmetz (whom you may know), is by most standards a very conservative Methodist, but considers denial of women's ordination to be a heresy.

As for Death Bredon's question, you have answered it better and more succinctly than I could have done, so I will add nothing, except to say that my first close encounter with Anglican liturgy was under the auspices of the Continuum. When I first came to Duke, a Continuing Anglican seminarian (Paul Blankenship, now a priest in the APA I believe) was saying Evening Prayer from the 1928 BCP in the crypt of Duke Chapel. I will always have great affection for the 1928 BCP and its staunch defenders, but ecclesiologically their position has never appealed to me for exactly the reasons you describe.

Contarini said...

Mr. Culver,

As for Orthodoxy, I've mentioned the subject in earlier posts on this blog, and will no doubt return to it. Until I went to grad school, I had more direct experience of Orthodoxy than of Catholicism, having spent a lot of time in Romania in my late teens and early 20s (I grew up in East Tennessee, where Catholics were _extremely_ rare on the ground). I sometimes think that this "inoculated" me against the sort of attraction to Orthodoxy experienced by many Westerners.

My first and foremost reason for considering Catholicism before Orthodoxy is that I am, for better or worse, a Westerner. Throughout my ecclesiastical peregrinations, my basic approach has been to focus on those traditions from which my own nondenominational holiness evangelicalism derives--which primarily means Methodism, Anglicanism, and ultimately Latin Catholicism. I do not see myself as a neutral, autonomous agent; I am not certain that I am qualified, much less required, to make a dispassionate choice of available options. I approach ecclesiological questions from within a particular historical trajectory. I became Anglican because I could embrace with confidence those aspects of tradition which my family had discarded but which Anglicanism retained, and I was less certain about those aspects which Anglicanism had discarded but Catholicism retained. I would thus only become Orthodox if I were convinced that the entire Western tradition had fallen into heresy and abandoned the Tradition. Arguments to this effect have so far failed to convince me. When they are not specious, they generally involve matters of such abstraction and difficulty that I do not consider myself either intellectually or spiritually qualified to come to a decisive conclusion concerning them. (Perry Robinson's argument about absolute simplicity is one of the most obvious examples.) I am convinced that when the Reformers called the Mass idolatrous, they were horribly and indeed blasphemously wrong. That's something I can deal with. The questions at issue between Orthodoxy and Catholicism are not for me to judge, with the possible exception of the basic ecclesiological questions. And there I generally think Catholicism has the better of the argument.

I share many of the Orthodox concerns about the _form_ Roman primacy has taken. But I am far more convinced that there ought to be a papacy than I am that it cannot take the form it currently takes in the Roman Communion. (Dave Armstrong pressed that point in his recent exchange with me, and Diane Kamer has also made arguments to that effect.) It seems clear to me from the Fathers that they saw the Church as a visibly unified entity with an authoritative message to give to the world, and that they saw the See of Rome as having a special part to play in delivering that message. When Orthodoxy abandons the conception of a visible universal Church (as in some of the more extreme versions of "Eucharistic ecclesiology") I think it is abandoning something present in the Fathers. When it maintains its claim to be such a church over against Rome, it falters. In particular, the Roman Communion has historically done a much better job of maintaining the claims of the Church against the State--something which (no doubt because of my radically anti-Constantinian upbringing) I regard as one of the central tasks of any body that calls itself Christian. And yes, I've read Meyendorff and Schmemann and I know that there are plenty of nuances to this picture. I know that there were periods in the early Middle Ages where Latin Catholicism was more deeply enslaved to the secular powers than Byzantine Christianity. I know that the Latins freed themselves from that subjugation by highly questionable methods--indeed I've described the Gregorian papacy in a Tolkienesque metaphor as "putting on the Ring," and I think that many of our current ills derive from that disastrous decision. But when all is said and done, the See of Rome stands as an autonomous voice speaking for apostolic Tradition against secular forces throughout the centuries, from the Roman Empire to the New York Times. And I believe that it has been divinely commissioned to do so, and that there is no other institution or movement or force in this world capable of taking its place.

Finally, I share your concerns about some aspects of modern Western Mariology. I've seen a church such as you describe in Bucharest. In fact, I had a rather amusing experience in North Carolina during one of my abortive attempts to become Catholic. The priest at the parish where I was enrolled in RCIA insisted that no Catholic Church would ever put Mary behind the altar rather than Jesus. I pointed out that I had seen such a church in Romania, and he was very indignant that such a thing should exist. Then someone gave me a book with pictures from the history fhat parish, and lo and behold, the picture of the altar from the 1950s clearly showed a statue of Mary.

However, on the other hand the Orthodox liturgy contains far more and far more extravagant references to Mary than the Latin-Rite Mass. I know that this is because the Latin Mass became "frozen" at a much earlier point, while the Byzantine Rite continued to grow and develop through the Middle Ages. The Marian piety of the Byzantine Liturgy is a testimony to its living, popular quality. The same medieval developments in the West found little or no place in the Mass (because it had become the preserve of the clergy alone), but rather took extraliturgical form. (At least that seems a plausible reconstruction--perhaps someone can correct me.)

Nonetheless, I don't think a member of a church that regularly calls out "Most Holy Theotokos, save us" in the Liturgy has much ground for criticizing the "excessive" Marian devotion of the West. I don't think Marian devotion in the West has been isolated from Christology to anywhere near the degree that Orthodox controversialists claim, and insofar as that has happened it is clearly an unhealthy corruption. I have hopes that the current Pope, even more than the last one, will do a lot to put Marian devotion in its rightful context.

Anonymous said...

Christopher Culver--are you sure you have really left Anglicanism? Your cheap shot about Catholic "Mariolatry" seems straight out of the 39 Articles. And your sneering reference to Mary statues with "cheesy crowns" reminds me of the painfully fastidious aesthetic snobbery that helped drive *me* out of Episcopalianism and back to good old billion-strong, gloriously unsnobby Catholicism.

Moreover, your airy dismissal of the historical arguments for the doctrine of papal universal jurisdiction betrays a highly selective reading of the historical sources, and that's putting it charitably.

ISTM some Protestants embrace Orthodoxy as a way to have apostolic succession and "smells and bells" without sacrificing their anti-Catholic prejudices. I hope that's not true in your case. But your facile caricatures of Catholic teaching and piety are not exactly reassuring on that score.


P.S. You may want to read some official Catholic teachings re Mary. Know what I mean? ;)

William Tighe said...

I think the better of Prof. Wainwright (of whom I ahve always thought well) from your comments. But who gave Prof. Steinmetz a cathedra from which to pontificate? As to Prof. Oden, what can I say? He is a friend of *Touchstone*; we have had him as an honored guest at *Touchstone* conferences; and at some of them he has haltingly and apologetically owned his support for WO. But when we have asked him (in ever so gentle a manner; one would think that butter would not melt in so hot a mouth as my own), he has been unwilling to speak about the issue.

Anonymous said...

BTW, Mr. Culver:

An Orthodox poster at Greg Krehbiel's baord posted the following link to an Orthodox site:

I must say I appreciated this spot-on indictment of Eastern chauvinism--because it is precisely such chauvinism that seems to dominate Internet discussions between Orthodox (especially converts!) and Everyone Else. And I for one find it silly and tiresome.

Re statues depictng Mary on her own, without her Son: So what? Why on earth should this pose a problem for *any* apostolic Christian with a healthy devotion to the Theotokos? Do you honestly think depicting Mary alone equates with adoring her as a goddess?

Catholicism depicts Mary *both* ways: with her Divine Son (e.g., the Black Madonna, the Madonna of the Streets, Our Lady of Good Counsel, Our Lady of Bon Secour, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, roughly a bajillion Raphael Madonnas, another half-bajillion Titian Madonnas, a slew of Sienese Madonnas, and on and on); and alone (Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Grace, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Fatima). Both/and, you might say. And why not? Yes, Our Lady is intimately involved with her Divine Son; she lives for Him; she serves and adores Him; she is entirely oriented toward Him. But she is also a separately created human being, not merely a protoplasmic extension of Jesus.

I'm a mom of two boys. Sometimes, in family photographs, I appear with my sons. Sometimes I appear alone. When I'm alone, does that mean I'm getting undue attention, much less that I'm being worshipped as a goddess? Good grief, I hope not.

By insisting that Mary can be portrayed ONLY with her Son in her lap, aren't you running the very real risk of denying her humanity and reducing her to a mere appendage of Jesus? I repeat: What's wrong with depicting a HUMAN BEING by herself? If we can depict any other human being by himself or herself, then why not Mary? Is she not fully human in your book, or sumpin'? (Scratching head here.)

As for putting Mary statues behind the altar: I confess that this also strikes me as a "big whoop" kind of issue. As long as she is not exalted above her Son, why is this such a big deal?

Why is it OK to plaster Mary and the saints all over huge, elaborate iconostases but NOT OK to put a Mary statue behind the altar (or wherever)? (Oh, I know--no doubt you will give me an elaborately reasoned argument showing why the Orthodox praxis in this area is SOOOO superior, patristic, and perfect, whereas the Catholic/Western/Latin praxis is just bad-bad-bad-bad-bad. I look forward to the latest iteration of these shopworn anti-Latin polemics. ;))

In our parish, we have a lovely statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, donated by a local Mexican restaurant. (I fear the gold plastic sunbeams would offend your aesthetic sensibilities, but I'm rather fond of 'em myself. :D) Per the directive of a former pastor, this beautiful statue was relegated to the back of the church. I rather wish it was up front, myself. After all, if Our Lady is supposed to be close to her Son, shouldn't she be with Him at the foot of the Blessed Sacrament? She was present at the foot of the Cross, after all. Jesus obviously approved of this. Do you really think He's all that keen on our pushing her out of the way?

One more thing. I've been Catholic most of my life. I grew up in the dread pre-VCII Catholic Church. And I have NEVER known ONE SINGLE Catholic who seriously worshipepd Mary as some sort of goddess. I'm speaking the honest truth here. This "Mariolatry" stuff is a calumny. IMHO, it just goes to show how profoundly *Protestant* Protestant converts to Orthodoxy too often are. The Protestant "anti-papist" baggage is still there; it's simply concealed under a cloud of incense and chant. ;)

Sorry for the bluntness. Fr. Pontificator has chided me (correctly) for being too blunt in my reaction to Eastern chauvinism. But frankly, I must say, I've had it. It gets old. I'm tired of constantly having to defend my Church against the same old nonsense. I don't routinely say this kind of crap about other people's churches. Why do they constantly feel this compulsion to sling mud at *mine*?

Speaking of which--here's something else I've noticed about Protestant converts to Orthodoxy (and your post exemplifies it, IMHO): These converts' stated reasons for choosing EOxy always seem to involve what Hans Ur von Balthasar called "the anti mentality." Do we hear about the glories of Orthodoxy, the positive stuff, the positive reasons for converting? Noooo. Instead, we get all this negative stuff about How Horrible Everyone Else Is--and especially how horrible Big Bad Rome is. As an Anglican observer (married to a cradle Orthodox) put it on another forum, Orthodox--like Protestants--essentially define themselves *against* Catholicism. Catholics, on the other hand, define themselves on their own terms--or, rather, they define Catholicism on *its* own terms, without constant relentless references to How Horrible Everyone Else Is. For my money, this is yet one more piece of evidence (among many) supporting the Catholic contention that the Catholic Church is the fullness of the faith.



Anonymous said...

OK, now I feel bad about ranting so much in my previous two posts. :o

I think I made valid points, but I apologize for making them so strongly and ad-hominem-ishly.

Guess I've just been exposed to one too many East-Good/West-Bad polemics lately.... :p



Doug said...


As much as I’ve come to appreciate your contributions (on Pontifications) and even your periodic criticism of the “anti” attitude taken up too easily by Orthodox converts from Protestantism, I must agree with you (*smile*) that you’ve overstated yourself here. You’re in danger of turning a well-aimed criticism into nothing more than “anti”-Orthodox-convert vitriol. I hope you don’t mind my saying so.

I agree with you that some Orthodox offer poor or caricatured criticisms of Rome. But when you imply that to choose Orthodoxy one isn’t making a positive act but merely a negative – rejection of Rome; well, you’re painting with too wide a brush. Though all conversion requires an implicit rejection of what one opts not to choose (and one does well to consider why one opts not to choose something), this need not require that one chooses what one chooses for merely negative reasons. I, for one, did not choose Orthodoxy based on what I disliked about Rome, but based on the positives of Orthodoxy itself. And I know I’m not alone in this. And I know I’m not alone in praying that one day we might be one Church again. I have hopes for Benedict XVI in this regard (God grant him many years).

For a good example of Catholics and Orthodox working together and appreciating each other’s perspectives, check out Blogodoxy –

Anonymous said...

Hi, Doug. Your criticism is well taken. But I must say that Blogodoxy does not exactly furnish a shining example of Orthodox irenicism. I happened upon it for the first time tonight--talk about coincidence!--and at first I was delighted by its seeming ecumenical spirit. Then I scrolled down just a little farther--and wham! There was a post by one "Closer" calling JPII a heretic. As he apparently posted this quite soon after JPII's death, his timing (as well as his sentiments) betrayed a certain tacky insensitivity, to put it mildly. :p

IOW, I was disappointed to find the samne-old-same-old at Blogodoxy. Once again, IOW, I ecountered the Internet phenomenon of converts to Orthodoxy who focus relentlessly on their opposition to Rome rather than on the positive aspects of Orthodoxy. (Leastwise, these converts can't seem to invoke EOxy's positives without in the same breath comparing them invidiously to what they perceive as the deficiencies in other communions--especially in the Catholic Church.) Combox commenters at Blogodoxy made the same observation, so I am not alone in feeling profoundly put off by this sort of thing.

No doubt there are converts to Catholicism who spend most or all of their time dissing the communions they either converted from or decided against. But frankly, I haven't met too many Catholics like this. However, I constantly run across Internet Orthodox who exemplify this Anti syndrome. (I'm not sure it's entirely limited to the Internet, either. Remember the Archbishop of Athens calling the Pope "the two-horned satan"? And the Athenian clergy demonstrating angrily against JPII's visit--hoisting placards labeling him the anti-Christ? Can you imagine Catholics--much less a Catholic archishop!!--greeting an Orthodox patriarch in a similar manner?)

But be that as it may--whether the Anti phenomenon is as prevalent in Real Life as on the Internet--I must say it has rather soured me on ecumenical dialogue with my Orthodox brethren. I started out as your typical ecumenical '60s-retread kumbayah "two-lungs" Catholic, enamored of icons and the Jesus Prayer...and grateful that I had so much in common with my EO brehtren. But it didn't take much exposure to Internet EO anti-Catholicism to disabuse me of my naivete'. Now I'm afraid I'm rather hardened and cynical. And encountering the same-old-same-old at Blogodoxy doesn't help!

Please don't get me wrong. I deeply appreciate the fact that you and many other Orthodox take a more irenical view. In Real Life, it may be, yours is the dominant Orthodox voice. But on the Internet, your voice is definitely drowned out by that of your less irenical coreligionists.

Hope that makes sense....



Doug said...

There’s some truth to what you’ve said, Diane, I admit. It’s true that online Orthodox tend to be a bit more vocally critical of Rome than Roman Catholics critical of Orthodoxy (I’m not sure this is a plus for the Catholics, however). Regarding JPII’s visit to Greece, I’ve heard that a lot of the worst of the ruckus was raised by non-Canonical Orthodox groups. Either way, I, for one, think that the Orthodox need to get over some of their anti-Catholicism, at least if they have any desire of a hope for reunion whatsoever (and most do). No doubt, however, the Orthodox will only pursue or accept reunion on Orthodoxy’s terms rather than Rome’s. And in my opinion (surprise) that’s as it should be. After all, it’s no secret: the Orthodox think there’s something wrong with Rome. On the other hand, it seems sometimes that the Catholics don't so much think there's something wrong with Orthodoxy so much as they think there's something wrong with the Orthodox thinking there’s something wrong with Rome. :)

What a lovely muddle...

Blessings to you too. Christ is risen!

Eddie said...

After reading this post, and one of your comments at Pontifications, as an ex-Anglican myself, I have to say something:
You are also yourself whether you should become a Methodist.
You also wrote:
"I am drawn to Catholicism but find this issue (I think it's women ordinations) an obstacle. One reason I have not become a Catholic is precisely that I’m not sure I could be a fully obedient one".
Please, allow me to ask (from an hiper-Catholic point of view):
You think you'll have problems with obedience. If you don't become a Roman Catholic, how can you be OBEDIENT? There's no such a thing as "obedience" neither in Anglicanism nor in Methodism.
If you think "obedience" is important, well, you have to become a Roman Catholic (or an Eastern Orthodox, but I think you are not considering this as possible).

(As an ex-Anglican, I still love Anglicanism, I love Anglo-Catholic liturgy, I love my Anglican brethren. But I insist there's not such a thing as "obedience" in Anglicanism).

Eddie said...

I'm sorry, the second sentence should say:
"You are also ASKING yourself..."

saint_therese said...

There are a substantial (and growing) number of (mostly younger) Methodists who embrace both a more Catholic understanding of sacramental theology and an orthodox approach to not only creedal doctrines but also matters of sexual ethics.

Hi all:

Two pieces of information necessary for you to know before I say my piece:
1) I'm Edwin's wife (I've been lurking, but not commenting, and he had no idea I was going to make this post).
2) I have never posted before here or anywhere else.

I wanted to speak up for the group Edwin describes above, since I actually belong to it and thought you might appreciate a view from the inside. Plus, it may provide some context to the views of my esteemed spouse. :-)

Unlike other posters here (including my husband) I do not claim to have a fully developed and consistent ecclesiology. Growing up a lifelong United Methodist with an evangelical tinge, it was not an issue I gave much thought to, other than feeling called into the ministry through a burning desire to renew the UMC via a return to Wesley's ideals of devotion to the means of grace and a vibrantly sacramental holiness.

I do, however, count myself among those Edwin describes--believing in, and willing to hold in tension until the final resolution of the eschaton, the following things:

1) The orthodox truth of the Christian creeds in all particulars, including the virgin birth and the bodily resurrection.

2) The Real bodily Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

3) A sacramental priesthood that represents Christ by virtue of the humanity of the priest (sharing in Christ's identity as fully human), not the gender of the priest.

4) A traditional stance on sexual morality which disapproves of divorce and homosexual practice and would not ordain divorced or practicing homosexual persons to the ministry.

5) A firm commitment to the sacredness of life from the moment of conception to natural death.

6) A view of the male and female genders which sees them as essentially different in makeup (as opposed to the belief of most first-wave feminists that all gender is socially constructed) but complementary and equal in their roles, rights, and responsibilities in the world.

7) The appropriateness of most Catholic devotional practices which Protestantism has often attacked including prayer to the saints and the use of the rosary.

8) Complete comfort with traditional gender language for God, combined with a commitment to use of inclusive language for humanity.

8) A belief that God, though never contrary to reason, is not fully comprehensible by it, and that many of the deepest issues of life find their ultimate resolution in His mysteries. Furthermore, that the Eucharist (and standing behind it the Incarnation) is both the most central and the most mysterious act of the Christian faith.

Although United Methodism is a possible place to exist spiritually while holding all of these views, it is perhaps not the most appropriate one. At the moment, however, it remains the "tradition of my ancestors" (for five generations and counting) and as long as it continues to house a growing number of us orthodox sacramental types, I'm not going anywhere yet.

Eddie said...

If I may ask, what do you think about Purgatory?

saint_therese said...

Both Edwin and I believe in Purgatory (sorry for speaking for you, darling, but I'm sure you'll jump in when you feel the need). I usually end up explaining my belief to sqeamish Protestants along the line of the famous quote from C.S. Lewis on the matter.

(Incidentally, I also intended to include in that list as part of number 7 that I both believe in and practice Eucharistic adoration.)

Eddie said...


No doubt you are one of the most "peculiar" Methodist I've ever seen on the net.
Well, I MUST ask:
What do you think about the Pope?

Pontificator said...

May I respectfully suggest that it is simply impossible to be a catholic in a Protestant denomination. By what authority do you preach your catholicism to your congregation? By what authority do you pick and choose from the treasures of catholicity? This is just another form of private judgment. I sympathize with your present position, but trying to be catholic within Methodism (or Anglicanism or Lutheranism) is ultimately incoherent and indefensible. At best one can end up as a Patristico-Protestant, like Tom Oden or Geoffrey Wainwright--and I respect both men immensely--but they still remain fundamentally Protestant.

Catholic movements come and go within Protesantism. Always they ultimately fail. What these movements do prove, however, is the desire and need for that which only Catholicism or Orthodoxy can provide.

Newmans' correspondence on this theme (found in Jaki's *The Church of England as Viewed by Newman*), as well as his lectures *Anglican Difficulties* is decisive here, IMHO. There is fundamental difference, Newman says, between Catholicism and mimic catholicism.

saint_therese said...

Sorry--I didn't mean to take this long to answer Eddie's question (and now I have Pontificator's to respond to as well.)

Regarding my opinion of the Pope, here's where I come out Protestant. I was not brought up to regard the papacy as much of anything one way or another. That is, I wasn't told it was the Antichrist but I also wasn't told it or its incumbents were particularly relevant to me.

Over the past few years (and under some influence from Edwin and EWTN) I have come to see it as more relevant and to pay more attention to the spiritual example and writings of both the previous pope and the new one, both of whom strike me as saintly and intelligent individuals, but I have absolutely no urge to relate myself to the papacy ecclesiologically or structurally.

Which makes a good segue into my answer to Pontificator's question, building on my original comment that I don't claim to have a developed and consistent ecclesiology. (This is also why Edwin finds me so frustrating to argue with. Just ask him.) One reason I have not until now jumped into the Internet apologetics and argumentative forums to which my husband is so dedicated is that I am not overly concerned about the question of coherence, which seems to be a major topic in venues like this one. I don't mean that I am deliberately setting out to be either incoherent or unreasonable, nor that I don’t believe that in the mind of God everything makes perfect sense (that is in fact the only place where I think everything makes perfect sense), but that I have never found building a coherent theory of the church, out of which my specific practices must then by necessity be informed, to be helpful. (If I do lay claim to any such somewhat coherent theory, it is found in Wesleyan statements, particularly those in Charles Wesley’s hymns, on the means of grace and the necessity of growth in holiness.)

I tend to attribute incoherence in my commitments and beliefs to the sort of mysteries which will be sorted out at the eschaton, and even delight (to some extent) in holding seemingly paradoxical commitments in continuous tension (Edwin attributes this to having read all the right Chesterton books and gotten all the wrong things out of them.) After all, most of the great doctrines of Christianity (such as Jesus Christ being fully human and fully divine) seem paradoxical and will never fully be systematized by us in this life--yet we can still believe them fervently, and truly, to the extent we understand them. Perhaps it’s also because I remain at first and at heart a poet, and believe that theology is only good theology when it’s good poetry (and good poetry, especially that of my heroes Charles Wesley and George Herbert, usually comes with a heady dose of reverence in the face of mystery).

I say all that to say that pointing out to me that my position is incoherent does not, as it might for others (my husband included) create in me a great sense of obligation to change that position. For me incoherent does not equal impossible, and as long as I remain in and practicing this position, it's by definition not impossible. Sorry…so far, even after two years of marriage to my esteemed husband, I remain completely immune to Roman fever…

saint_therese said...

As an addendum illustrative of reverence in the face of mystery, here are my three favorite statements of Eucharistic doctrine:

Charles Wesley's "Victim Divine"

George Herbert's "The Call"

Charles Wesley's "O the Depth of Love Divine" (sorry, couldn't find online full text...)

O the depth of love divine, the unfathomable grace!
Who can say how bread and wine God into us conveys!
How the bread his flesh imparts, how the wine transmits his blood,
Fills the faithful people’s hearts with all the life of God.

Let the wisest mortals show how we the grace receive;
Feeble elements bestow a power not theirs to give.
Who explains the wondrous way, how through these the virtue came?
These the virtue did convey, yet still remain the same.

How can spirits heavenward rise, by earthly matter fed,
Drink herewith divine supplies and eat immortal bread?
Ask the Father’s wisdom how; Christ who did the means ordain;
Angels round our altars bow to search it out, in vain.

Sure and real is the grace, the manner be unknown;
Only meet us in thy ways and perfect us in one.
Let us taste the heavenly powers, Lord, we ask for nothing more.
Thine to bless, ‘tis only ours to wonder and adore.

Dave Armstrong said...

Hello to "Edwin's wife" (dunno if "Therese" is actually your real name). I'm delighted to "meet" you, and I enjoyed your posts a lot. I consider your husband to be one of the very best dialogue partners I have had the pleasure to encounter (out of many many dozens).

Whether we agree or disagree on everything is quite beside that point. My only gripe is that he takes, oh, generally, two to three years between replies. LOL

I fully expected that you would also be an exceptionally thoughtful person, and my guess was correct. I hope you will continue to contribute to the discussion (and we get interesting tidbits about Edwin's epistemology and "personal life" as a bonus, too :-)

One day I may actually see a photograph (!!) of Edwin! It's kind of weird to "talk" to someone for so long and not even be able to put a face to a name and all the words. I'm always in favor of making the Internet a more "personal" or "personable" place.

Yours in Christ,

Dave Armstrong

Antonio said...

Saint Therese, you wrote:
"I am not overly concerned about the question of coherence, which seems to be a major topic in venues like this one".
Believe me, I'm not OVERLY concerned either.
But I would like to know if you believe that the "Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church" is ONE.
That's the best "first step" (for someone looking for an "ecclesiology") to do.

philos said...

Since Edwin's wife has weighed in, I decided to post as Edwin's friend. Please forgive me if I am know less than some of you in these areas.

What strikes me about the whole conversation is that (like much "ecumenical" discussion) it essentially dismisses a large chunk of Christ's body. I'm not sure of the percentages worldwide, but in many countries most of Christ's church is functioning in rather loose, ad hoc, and ecclesiastically informal fellowships--not unlike (perhaps) those found in first-century Galatia, Corinth, or Thessalonica.

What I challenge is the idea that these congregations are somehow bastard children, unable to claim descent from the same historical church that produced the RC or EO. Jerusalem is a broader home than Rome. One need not reject any given doctrine, creed, or council to believe that these doctrines, creeds, and councils are not determinative of the esse of church.

Edwin, you holiness roots tended to claim that only those who are "morally pure" are really church. In my own tradition, we can sometimes claim that only those who are "Biblically pure" (i.e. restorationist or patternistic) are really church. But too many Catholics and EO seem to say that only those who are "ecclesiastically pure" are really church.

There seems to me more room for grace than this allows. The church to which I give allegiance is at once broader and messier than any single fellowship. When the RC or EO do not acknowledge this broader fellowship, they seem to be more fastidious than Jesus or Paul.

saint_therese said...

philos said:

The church to which I give allegiance is at once broader and messier than any single fellowship.

Hi all:

First off, Therese is not my real name; I adopted it as a "handle" because of my devotion to Therese of Lisieux. I am not particularly comfortable with the use of real names on the Internet (I wouldn't have used Edwin's, but everyone else has!)

Secondly, I'm not particularly looking for an ecclesiology (although, since my husband is, I am often along for the ride.) :-) I do believe the church is one as well as holy, catholic, and apostolic. I believe this, however, not in terms of a visible unity closely identified with any one tradition, but rather on the terms Philos so aptly describes above.

That is, I think (when I think about it at all) that the church is one as a whole, incorporating into that unity the diversity of all the different existing Christian traditions. I think every time the church has splintered through the ages that each of the resultant parts contained some portion of the one true church —and we will probably have to wait for the eschaton to be put back together again (the glorious and holy Trinity presumably being better at this than all the king's horses and all the king's men...)

Antonio said...

Thanks "St. Therese" for your answer.
I think I understand your point of view. The only thing I think I must add, is that if the Church is ONE but "not in terms of a visible unity closely identified with any tradition", surely the Church is one because its FAITH is ONE.
I know that there are good Christians in every "tradition". But - and you can answer this better than me - how many Methodists believe in Purgatory (to use an example)? Or how many within Anglicanism believe in the Real Presence?
So, I think we SHOULD pray for some kind of "visible unity". (At least for the Christian testimony in this too divided world).

PS: It's good to know that there are Methodists with devotion to St. Therese of Lisieux.

philos said...

Of course we should pray for visible unity. The question is where that is to be found--ecclesiastical solutions, holiness solutions, charismatic solutions, and Biblical restoration solutions ALL seem credible (to me) as sources of unity, but have (so far) failed to produce unity.

As to a united faith--here I think we return to the "tradition and truth" theme. What place does tradition have in establishing truth? I agree with Edwin that neither Scriptural inerrancy nor papal infallibility can ultimately save us from human limitations in grasping truth. (Is it possible that both doctrines were created out of a psychological need for epistemologically cut-and-dried certainty?)

Given those limitations, I am (personally) struck with the unifying possibilities of the Biblical strand within all traditions--that is, the strand that appeals to what is clearest in the canon as being most central. (This isn't just a Protestant theme.) For me, this means affirming the "real presence" as Paul taught it--a broader base for unity than affirming the Real Presence as Aquinas taught it (even assuming Aquinas was right). Similarly, I am reluctant to put much emphasis on the doctrine of purgatory--supposing that there is a purgatory, I see little evidence that the New Testament writers cared much about it.

I would guess that if we listed the themes that are clearest and most emphatic in the New Testament, we would probably have a set of doctrines that most of us DO agree with--a sort of "mere Christianity" that, while certainly insufficient for the Church's unity and witness, is at least a good start.

Antonio said...


I used to think that finding (at least) what we could call "Mere Christianity" would be of much help in our way towards "visible unity".
But after reading Lewis "Mere Christianity", I realized that much of what we were able to call "Mere Christianity" today wouldn't be accepted by all Christians in some fifty years.
To use your own words:
" I think we (SHOULD) return to the "tradition and truth" theme".

Anonymous said...

Edwin and St. Therese, let me recommend you "Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism by Scott Hahn,Kimberly Hahn".
(In fact, anything written by them is recommendable)

Contarini said...

I'm glad to see that the discussion has continued here even though I haven't posted for a while (I've been very busy with the end of the semester and some travelling). Anonymous, I read _Rome, Sweet Home_ long ago, at the beginning of my exploration of Catholicism. It was a very interesting and helpful book in terms of getting me thinking about the issues and also of introducing me to the possibility of Protestants becoming Catholic. However, the Hahns make it all sound far too easy--intellectually, I mean, not emotionally. Of course this is the fault of the genre and the intended audience rather than of the Hahns themselves. I know that they wrestled deeply with the issues--but in the book it generally goes something like this: Mary? Well, you ask your mother to pray for you, so obviously all Catholic Marian devotion is OK. End of story. (Yes, I'm caricaturing, but not too much.) Again, this was helpful as the beginning of a deeper investigation of the issues, but for me at least it was very far from being fully convincing or satisfactory.

Philos, as you know I'm not as convinced of the sufficiency of Scripture as you are (granted that this is a vague blanket term). I think you're somewhat too confident in the ability of all Christians to agree even on what things are most clearly taught in Scripture. Many Protestants, for instance, would say that the central theme of Scripture is justification by faith alone, defined in a way that neither your tradition nor my Wesleyan tradition nor Catholicism nor Orthodoxy would find fully Scriptural (much less absolutely central). Yes, the New Perspective on Paul points toward a certain interdenominational consensus that this way of reading Scripture is flawed, but do we really want to pin too much on a trend in recent scholarship, however promising? I'm not willing to say that Luther and Melanchthon and Calvin were stupid or disingenuous readers of Scripture. But they all (in somewhat different ways) believed that sola fide and/or predestination (without regard to foreknowledge) were central themes in Scripture. Or again, many Roman Catholics (and I'm using that term deliberately--I don't think Eastern Catholics think quite this way) would say that an absolutely central theme in Scripture is authority--who can speak for God and on what basis. To a great extent many Protestants would agree, even though they would draw different conclusions about where that authority resides. But I don't think either you or I would give that theme the same centrality. The Orthodox would say that the central theme of Scripture is deification by participation in the divine life through grace. I would tend to agree--you may or may not. But certainly many Protestants would deny that the Orthodox doctrine is even correct, much less central.

These are three quite different understandings of what themes are strongest and clearest and most central in Scripture. Of course you can find a central core of beliefs on which all three groups would agree. And you can, if you like, say that these are the points on which Scripture is clear. But each of the three groups I'm describing would say that those uncontroverted teachings are only explicable and meaningful if seen through the lens of their particular emphasis (however much validity they may grant to other Christians whose teaching is less clear or even partially erroneous). They would flatly deny that sola fide or ecclesiastical authority or deification are somehow less than fully clear or central. A hardline Lutheran or Calvinist or Baptist would say that if you deny sola fide you are denying the Resurrection--or at least robbing it of all meaning. (My friend Bucer says flatly in one of his early German writings that anyone who ascribes salvation to human works is denying that Christ is come in the flesh, as per 1 John.) So I see no alternative to giving considerable authority to the Church's traditional pattern of interpreting Scripture, however much we may want to leave open the possibility of tinkering with or fleshing out that pattern.

philos said...

Contarini and Antonio, thanks for your response to my humble offerings. Certainly I wasn't trying to make a case for the sufficiency of Scripture--at least, not without endless qualifiers to the word "sufficient." I was, more specifically, not attempting to find a shortcut past "tradition."

Rather, I was suggesting two related things: First, that tradition itself is not as univocal or as uncomplicated as the RC or EO can pretend. There is certainly a "hermeneutical" problem in approaching tradition (no less than Scripture); the only difference is that we know what Scripture is (give or take a few books!) while we DON'T know which Christ-followers, through history, deserve to be part of "church tradition." We beg the question when we determine truth by excluding all tradition which does not fit our (predetermined) definition of truth.

None of which is an argument against using tradition as a lens for apprehending truth; I just think it is problematic, and that tradition alone is as hopeless as Scripture alone.

Second, we find in all the credible Christian traditions an emphasis on Scripture as somehow foundational. This doesn't mean that Scripture needn't be read through tradition and (perhaps) under authority. It does mean that the tradition, and the authority, continually points beyond itself to the Scripture. When it ceases to do so, it becomes unfaithful to itself (not just unfaithful to Scripture).

To take Contarini's examples: It is precisely by interacting with the Bible that I find the ways in which "sola fide" is, however distorted, a valid Christian (Scriptural) theme. But when the Scriptural grounding is lost, we really do have Reformed theologians talking about sola fide in a way that does not resonate AT ALL with Scripture and sounds (not coincidentally) heretical to the broader Church. It is precisely by reading the Bible that I learn what the RCs are talking about when they speak of authority--but any given RC may use the rhetoric of authority in a way that does not resonate AT ALL with Scripture and sounds (not coincidentally) heretical to the broader Church. And it is precisely by reading the Bible that I learn that Christianity IS all about deification by participation in the divine life through grace. But if any EO use this language in unBiblical ways (I don't know if any do), then they will suddenly reveal themselves as heretical to the broader church.

Perhaps this is all a long-winded way of saying that Scripture, if not "sufficient," is the best we have. But it is the best we have specifically because it is the shared ground that all traditions flow from and return to. And for this reason it may hold SOME PART of the key to doing what tradition alone can never do: judging between traditions (or between readings of the same tradition) on issues of truth.

Anonymous said...

Now that I know you have read about Scott Hahn, let me tell you that his "theology of the Alliance" is a great "ecclesiology" if you are "looking for" one.
I'm not a theologian. But this man is great...

Contarini said...


Est-ce que vous etes peut-etre francais? Ou francophone?

Anonymous said...

I wish I could speak French, but it seems I can not even speak in English.
My "native" language is spanish.
I'm interested in books written by converts (to Catholicism, I'm a Roman Catholic).
Card. Newman, Robert Benson, Scott Hahn, Chesterton.
They always have something to "teach" to a Catholic-born like me.
And if I'm allowed to say, you would be a great Catholic writer (if you ever become a Catholic). But listen to your conscience and not to me.

Contarini said...


My apologies. Since I don't know Spanish (although I can read it to some extent), I didn't know that you also use some form of the word "Alliance" for "covenant." French is the only language that does that. I was trying to be clever, and of course just made myself look like an idiot :)

Hahn's "covenant theology" stems from his Reformed origins (that's not a put-down). He does indeed have some wonderful insights. The big problem with the way Western theology has often been expressed (and this increased both with the rediscovery of Roman law in the Middle Ages and with the fierce battles over authority in the Reformation era) is that everything has often been put in terms of law and authority. Hahn has managed to transpose a lot of Catholic doctrines into a more relationship-oriented approach, and he's done a great service by doing so. Besides his Reformed roots, he's been very influenced by the "Nouvelle Theologie" of the mid-20th century (folks like Louis Bouyer, who wrote the book Hahn read to Matatics on the phone and made him guess the author). These guys were similarly trying to go back to both an earlier and a more "Eastern" vocabulary (rescuing theology from the canon lawyers is one way of putting it). That's not to say that all Catholicism had been dominated by this "legal" thinking by any means, but it does seem to have been the primary vocabulary of catachesis and apologetics until recently. Servais Pinckaers (a Dominican priest) wrote an excellent book called _The Sources of Christian Ethics_ in which he laid this out very nicely.

JPII's "theology of the body" is another excellent example of this approach. Instead of simply discussing sexual morality in terms of laws and rules, Wojtila put it in the context of a holistic understanding of the human person and how sexuality could serve the purposes for which God made us.
But it applies to all sorts of issues.

The problem of course with much modern Catholic theology is that it's abandoned the substance of traditional teaching under the guise of rejecting this overly legalistic approach. Hence much of the confusion within Catholicism.

These are just my two cents as an interested outsider. Scott Hahn is a small part of a much bigger picture--but he's a very important part with regard to the catachesis of American Catholics. Certainly I might not have taken Catholicism seriously from the beginning (of my career in grad school and my exposure to Catholicism along with other ideas) if I hadn't fallen in with one of his students (Tim Gray).

Contarini said...

Of course I meant, "French is the only language I know that does that." My apologies yet again!

Anonymous = Sebastián said...

Edwin, what you wrote about "the 'breakdown' of Protestantism" is exactly what I'm talking about when I say that many within Protestantism help us (Catholics) to realize many things about our Catholic faith.

PS: In Spanish we say "alianza". But thanks for the correction.
PS2: I apologize for using ten thousand times the word "about" in anything I write.

rob k said...

Diane, you didn't like Culver's tone about Orthodoxy/Roman Catholicism. I don't like yours about the Episcopal Church either. We needn't try to go into the historical/theological, etc. reasons as to whether Anglicanism is genuinely Catholic or not, but you ought to know that in the Episcopal Church there is plenty of veneration of the BVM(some would say it's excessive). I'm used to seeing smart and snide little comments from several people on Pontificator's blog about my church, with never an apology. I'm sorry I can't say that on Ponty's site because this computer is not mine, and messages on his blog now require an e-mail address. Edwin, I'm sorry to take up this complaint on your site. Thx.

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