Thursday, October 23, 2014

Innovation? No, thanks says St. Maximus

Often what makes news in the Catholic and Protestant worlds doesn't resound quite the same way in Orthodoxy. That's not to say Orthodoxy lacks its faults in execution (this blog is full of snapshots of such moments), but that things like an "Extraordinary Synod on the Family" get a muted response from the laity. Why? Because Orthodoxy is loathe to do anything new. If we can't find a biblical, patristic, or conciliar precedent for something it's not going to go very far. Even if we look to the Great and Holy Council set for 2016, we aren't going to see anything new I hazard to guess. We're going to see consensus on points that need consensus and some flowery wording on, as the agenda puts it, "Proclaiming Christian ideals to the work of Justice and Human Rights" and "Presence of the Orthodox Church in the World Council of Churches" among other similar "timely" topics. The hot button topic of autocephaly and who grants it didn't even make it onto the schedule.

"[T]hose who have itching ears and itching tongues are those who wish only to hear or or tell of something new, who are always delighted by innovations, and in relocating the boundaries established by their fathers — to use a biblical phrase — and who take pleasure in the ephemeral and exotic, and who rise up against whatever is well known, well established, and unchanging, as being dull, commonplace, and of no value. They would gladly embrace the latest fashion, even though it were demonstrably false and could bring no benefit to the soul."

- St. Maximus the Confessor
Ambiguum 13


  1. Mmm...that's some tasty -- and empirically falsifiable -- triumphalism. Good job. The surest safeguard of Orthodoxy's strange view of history is for the Orthodox to remain blissfully ignorant of history -- theirs and everyone else's.

    1. I don't think I'm being triumphalist. There is merit in being able to put together huge meetings and make decisions in a timely way. There is also merit in being so wary of innovation that you don't make decisions that Orthodoxy finds so unacceptable. Also, I wasn't talking about this historical actions of either church. You and I can point to very different modi operandi over the centuries that look nothing like today. I am talking about how an Orthodox person feels today: There's no clamor to see "What will the synod do next?!" because we know the system in place doesn't allow for much movement. That is both good and bad, but it certainly mutes our response to pan-Orthodox events.

    2. To some extent I do agree with you, but if you go back through the first 1,000 years (maybe 1400 years) of Eastern Christianity, innovations and upheavals were the name of the game. The view of a very static, almost immovable, Orthodoxy emerges not out of an absolutely strict attachment to "holding the line" but rather a series of unfortunate events, if not catastrophes, which left the Orthodox world so paralyzed that when it began to emerge into modernity, it didn't know what to do with itself. (That's still true in large parts today.)

      Is that all bad? Of course not. There are plenty of traditional Catholics who probably wish we had some of Orthodoxy's problems, but we don't; so we have to deal with them in a more robust manner. Moreover, Catholicism is three to four times as large as world Orthodoxy (depending on how you count); our problems are going to dwarf yours by an order of magnitude. We are, for better or worse, embedded in the very cultures which today are directly attacking Christianity. While I think we should be digging in our heels and fighting back, we don't have the option of running and hiding in ghettos. We do, however, have the perilous option of compromise and surrender -- and today far, far too much of our leaders want to do exactly that.

      I don't rejoice over Orthodoxy's problems, and I am not sure why they rejoice over ours. I reject out of hand the idea that the Roman Church needs to "Easternize" in some respects. As I have discusses in Crisis, The Angeus, and the Remnant, Rome would do well to emulate the Orthodox East's fidelity to liturgy and spirituality while avoiding at all costs synodality and other forms of Orthodox governance -- their importation into the West has been nothing but trouble for 50 years.

    3. Well said!

      I will point out that the problem is not synodality. A little true synodality would be much appreciated. The problem is that the RC laity look to Rome for everything and ignore the care of their local churches and dioceses. Why wouldn't they? The supposedly inerrant and infallible Rome takes care everything and NEVER EVER makes a mistake...

      On the other hand, I look at the Orthodox sometimes and go "you guys really need the pope to referee your petty squabbles", which was his job in the early Ecumenical Councils.

      Honestly, there needs to be a balance and the first millenium history of the Roman church is a good place to start looking. The ultramontanist papacy is a modern innovation, as is collegiality.