Two Rights Declare a Wrong-on Appeals to OrthodoxyMar 11th, 2010 | By J. Andrew Deane | Category: Blog Posts
Throughout the past year on Called to Communion, the various blog posts and full-length articles by the contributors have been met with objections of various stripes and sizes. It has been a mixture of excitement, hope, prayer, frustration, and calls for mercy for me to read many of those posts and the dialogue that has followed-my hope is that this venture has led us all to grow in learning more about one another and where we come from in our understanding of the Christian Faith. One comment which I have observed that seems to be repeated with an ever-growing frequency by some of our Protestant readers goes something like this: “Well, you Catholics argue for X but so do the Eastern Orthodox!”
Be it Apostolic Succession, opposition to Solo/Sola Scriptura, a Canon that is based more on the Septuagint than the Hebrew Scriptures as collected in Jamnia, or what have you, it seems that the essence of this argument is that because other Christians apart from Catholics assert something about our faith, that something does not argue for the particular correctness of Catholicism. Well, yes and no.
Yes, Catholics adhere to X, and yes, so do other Christians of the Apostolic Churches. Does it then logically follow that the common voice of Catholics and the other Traditional Christian Churches should not be heeded? Not by any means. As I recall my own days of searching and wrestling with Tradition as contrasted to my former Reformed Protestant home, I knew that the variety of options before me did not make their common voice any less persuasive, or fearful to consider. I recall saying with much trepidation that God had clearly called me to become Catholic or some flavor of Orthodoxy (Eastern, Oriental, Coptic, Armenian, etc.). It was a huge change that I knew would come to my life, and while I did not know where I would end up exactly, I knew without a doubt that the arguments over Apostolic Succession had me needing to leave Protestantism.
And so I write this post in dedication to the ones who make this sort of argument–realize what you are saying when you say that the Orthodox Churches also advocate a particular doctrine being supported by the writers on Called to Communion. The Catholic and Orthodox Churches speak in unison about so many things. That we differ on important matters like the nature of the episcopacy, particularly the successor of Peter, is worthy of reflection for Catholics, Orthodox and those Protestants who see our common message. But despite our differences, we are so close. We make the same call to communion with the Church Fathers. We venerate the Holy Mother of Our God (on this note, I want to parenthetically state that devotion to the Blessed Virgin is more full and flowering in the East than the West in terms of during the liturgical services, but my point is that Protestants should feel less at home in an Orthodox or Eastern Catholic Parish than they would in a Roman Catholic service, if Marian devotion is troubling). We beseech our Lord and King to have mercy on the souls of those who have gone to their eternal Rest. We view some of God’s faithful saints who lived lives of exceptional holiness as those to whom we may call upon in prayers on earth. We see the laying on of hands from the Apostles and their successors as something integral to ordination. We proclaim that we partake of the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharistic Mystery. We call upon Christ’s representative to hear our confessions of weakness and trust in his priestly prayer to absolve us of our sins, not through his own power, but through the grace of the ministry of Christ our high priest which has been passed down through that laying on of hands. We are anointed with oil for a fuller reception of the Holy Spirit in confirmation/chrismation. When we see our frailty of human illness, we are anointed again and partake of the body and the blood of Our Lord if possible, confident that the words of St. James will be true for us, and that any sins we have committed will be forgiven, again through the prayer of the elders who pray to God for us. We join ourselves to history with a liturgical calendar that reminds us of the rhythm of life. We fast on a regular basis. We see sacred art as a help and not some idolatrous hindrance to our spiritual life. In fact, we were together at an Ecumenical Council where iconoclasm was not only thought to be bad aesthetics–it was declared to be heresy.
Doctrinally, we do have our differences. But for my part as a Catholic, I am taught to thank God for the fullness of the sacraments that exist in Eastern Orthodox Churches that are not in communion with the Pope. In fact, as of the time of this writing, I have two good friends who are catechumens in the Antiochian Orthodox Church. When I have heard of their departure from Protestantism, I did not hesitate to express my joy at this growth in union with the Church that has existed since the time Our Lord’s ministry.
This joy is not something that I do of my own analysis or affections. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is even more joyful than me when it speaks of what we share in common with the Eastern Orthodox. Let’s examine two key points from its discussion of the Orthodox Churches.
838 “The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christian, but do not profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter.” Those “who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church.” With the Orthodox Churches, this communion is so profound “that it lacks little to attain the fullness that would permit a common celebration of the Lord’s Eucharist.”
And later in the Catechism we read:
1399 The Eastern churches that are not in full communion with the Catholic Church celebrate the Eucharist with great love. “These Churches, although separated from us, yet possess true sacraments, above all – by apostolic succession – the priesthood and the Eucharist, whereby they are still joined to us in closest intimacy.” A certain communion in sacris, and so in the Eucharist, “given suitable circumstances and the approval of Church authority, is not merely possible but is encouraged.”238
All of the sacraments that the Orthodox Churches celebrate are viewed by Catholics to be entirely valid. We are separated, yes, but we are united in sharing the holy mysteries. This may be something that some readers do not know. One friend of mine who left evangelicalism for Orthodoxy had no idea that we as Catholics accept all of the sacraments of the Orthodox, but yes, our affection goes beyond smiles. It goes to the center of our spiritual life in the Church. If I were on my deathbed and there were no Catholic priests around, I would beg an Orthodox priest to say the last rites to me, and I would be faithful to my devotion to the Pope as the Bishop who is first among equals.
In contrast, the Catholic Catechism is clear that while our Reformed background is worthy of some admiration, it is simply not on the same ecclesial footing as the Orthodox Church.
1400 Ecclesial communities derived from the Reformation and separated from the Catholic Church, “have not preserved the proper reality of the Eucharistic mystery in its fullness, especially because of the absence of the sacrament of Holy Orders.”239 It is for this reason that, for the Catholic Church, Eucharistic intercommunion with these communities is not possible. However these ecclesial communities, “when they commemorate the Lord’s death and resurrection in the Holy Supper . . . profess that it signifies life in communion with Christ and await his coming in glory.”240
Here we read that there is a deficiency in the sacramental life of the Protestant ecclesial communities, as compared to that of the Orthodox Churches. The same words of closeness and sacramental fullness that were uttered regarding the Eastern Churches are not poured out by the councils and catechetical writers when thoughts turn to Protestantism. Forthcoming discussions here on Called to Communion will flesh out our understanding of the sacrament of Holy Orders, but for now I simply want to emphasize that Catholicism sees Orthodoxy as something far grander than Protestantism. Therefore, if one sees these arguments as a Protestant and feels called to communion vis a vis a conversion to Orthodoxy, this is not something that I as a Catholic bemoan. It is not a nudge in the right direction. Leaving Protestantism for Orthodoxy is to possess the fullness of sacramental life, despite not being in communion with Rome.
In a forthcoming post, I will explain the qualifications to my joy. But before qualifying my joy, I want to embrace and celebrate it. I thank God so much for my Orthodox brethren, and am truly happy to hear of God calling people to Himself through growth in the sacramental life that occurs when one leaves Protestantism for Orthodoxy.
May we all be faithful to His call to growth in faith, hope, and charity. May the divisions that scandalize the Lord and His Church end, so that they may no longer be causes for excuses to consider Tradition.