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My official task in the Russian Orthodox Church in Belgium is as a representative of the Church to non-Orthodox confessions, meaning mainly, but not always, Roman Catholics.

Paradoxically, in a Russian context, I find myself constantly defending Catholicism from constant misrepresentations, in particular about infallibility.

I repeat here a couple of paragraphs out of a longer article I wrote a few months ago entitled 'Comparative theology - the need for a paradigm shift'. 

"The first caveat is to bear in mind in relations with the Roman Catholic church is that while its dogmatic pronouncements are as a rule clearly stated and irrevocable, there is considerable stretch as to both their interpretation and their degree of reception at any one particular time. The doctrine of Papal Infallibility, in as far as it has ever really been received by the people, is interpreted quite differently today, with much a much greater emphasis on the corporate consciousness of the Church, than when the doctrine was first pronounced in 1870. Once we make allowances for this 'stretch’, we find that the basics on which Orthodox and RC spirituality are built, are in fact quite at bit closer than we might have thought. Further examples:


filioque ­­- whatever the 'wrongness' in principle of adding a couple of words to the creed, there is a general understanding of why the words were added, and generally this difference is no longer seen as a major stumbling block. I surmise that, if this was the last stumbling point on the way to visible unity, the Catholics would be ready to drop the filioque.

- Immaculate Conception - while the 'biology’ of how Mary's 'immaculacy' differs, her purity, her role in salvation and her intercessory power are generally accepted in both the Orthodox and RC churches.

- idem for the bodily resurrection of the Mother of God. While the mechanics vary (in Roman Catholic theology she does not die, in Orthodox theology she does), the net result is the same: she has ascended as a firstfruits of humanity and with a special position next to Christ in heaven (both Orthodox and RC theology and iconography attributes the places ‘at my right or my left’ (Matt. 20.23) to Mary and John the Baptist).

(…) I do wonder if there isn’t in fact a tendency in both Protestant and Orthodox theology to define oneself at least in part by 'what one is not'.  The very word Protestant speaks of drawing theological distinctions ("we protest against certain doctrines and practices of the Church of Rome"). The Orthodox Church has picked up this practice: it has taken on the identity of purists who have not allowed themselves to be led astray by papal doctrines. And if suddenly these doctrines were to be invalidated (and de facto they are pretty much invalidated by having very little real influence on the spiritual life of Roman Catholic Christians), I rather fear that Orthodox would desperately search round for others in order to retain a difference by which to define an identity."

The full text, if you have the courage, is in my Journal on 20 July.


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October 2015

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