Friday, December 12, 2014

The Essence of Catholicism

I have no idea why I was thinking about this at mass today. As far as I can remember, the readings had nothing to do with the issue, nor the feast of Our Blessed Lady of Guadalupe.
You know what's in this box? Ever since Peter the Great,
we have been putting the self-respect of bishops in here.
I am hoping to catch up to Stalin soon. Hey, look, Kirill,
this one is yours. Right there. See it?

I started to think about the difference between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. If there is one thing you could say about the essential difference between these two general communions (there is no one Orthodox Church as there is one Catholic Church), what would it be? If you asked an Orthodox theologians he might say something like the mysticism of the East versus the rationalism of the West. Those are general characteristics, but they are not essential differences. John of the Cross is as Catholic as Newman. Augustine is as mystical as any Eastern Father. Yes, we have Aquinas, and they have Palamas, but let's not exaggerate. No Catholic theologian has a problem with the East's mysticism.

Is it the filioque - the West's addition to the creed that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and (que) from the Son (filio)? I would like someone to show me, then, how your average Catholic and Orthodox pew-sitter has been remotely effected by this little word if this is a source of our great difference.

Leave it to the great Hungarian, Cardinal Mindszenty.
Tortured and then imprisoned for forty years.
You are getting warmer if you start to talk about the papacy. And, yes, it is key, but I am going to say that it is key, but not for the reason you think. The papacy merely expresses and strengthens the independence that essentially characterizes the Catholic understanding of the Church, versus the inescapable caesaro-papism of the East. Over the centuries the patriarchs have been subsumed by the secular rulers of the countries in which they have found themselves: under the Byzantine emperors, under the Russian czars, premiers and now presidents, under the Turkish sultans. The Protestants have exhibited the same history: cuius regio, cuius religio - the ruler determines the religion of the country. Most Protestants have been very happy status quo functionaries. Yes, there have been exceptions in great men like Kierkegaard, and groups like the Quakers, the Doukhobors, the Mennonites, etc. It is no surprise that in a country that gave birth to the cuius regio doctrine of Luther that such a pathetic resistance to Nazism was offered by the Christians of that country. It also says something about the pathetic state of German Catholicism today, as exemplified by such zeitgeist conformists like Kasper.

Gregory VII with humbled Henry IV - would never happen in the East.
But this has not been the history, the remarkable part of the history, of Catholicism. Our greatest heroes are bishops (and popes) who have stood up against Caesar. Yes, the goodness of this resistance proves an ecumenical embarrassment today, but it is Catholicism. It is Augustine's doctrine lived out: the City of God is in but not of the City of Man, and there is only one allegiance.

The East's list is far shorter than the West's. I can think of St. John Chrysostom (not a great example as his primary persecutor was the Bishop of Alexandria) and those like St. Germanus and the iconophiles who resisted the iconoclastic emperors for that one glorious moment in the 8th century.

Archbishop Darboy
The West is full of examples like this. Most of us would know of people like St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher, a few of us have heard of St. Thomas of Becket and Popes Gregory VII, Innocent III, Boniface VIII. But don't forget about Pius VII who stood up to Napoleon, to Leo XIII, and Pius XI and XII who stood up vs. the Fascists and Italian imperialists. We should remember Georges Darboy killed by the Paris Commune and all other self-respecting prelates who resisted up to the point of death, worthy of the name, bishop.  But let us note that this all started way back with the 4th to 9th century popes who continually stood up against kings and especially Emperors - usually, but not always popes (remember St. Ambrose). And, although I am not his biggest fan, I have to tip my hat to Bergoglio in the old days, living out the Catholic tradition of resistance to Caesar.

Go ahead and comment that I forgot about some Eastern bishop - go ahead: I am here to learn! But, and this is a challenge I throw out to our Eastern brothers: live like we have lived, or I should say, like our greatest have lived.

Telling the World Bank and the IMF to share (other people's money) with the poor is a good start, Holy Father. But talking about global warming and pets isn't living out our Catholic tradition of resisting Caesar. Leave the economics to the communists. Give us Christ!


  1. Bold. But as far as I know, you could be right. Solzhenitsyn embodies the non-conformist spirit you describe, but he is not a representative of the Eastern Church, exactly.

  2. I thought of him, but it is hard (for me, anyway) to say how much his resistance was ever inspired by Christ. At first it was not, but maybe it was eventually? I just don't know. Sadly, the more Orthodox Dostoevsky became the more 'conformist' too.

  3. Talking about global warming, boycotting Israel, trying to accommodate native spirituality, and other progressive leftist ideas is partially what has done in the United Church of Canada. It's really quite sad to see such a pronounced decline for a once dominant protestant religion in Canada. All christian churches would be well advised to concentrate on Jesus, church doctrine and the bible if they know whats good for them. Quit trying to be so "progressive". It will be your undoing.

  4. I think they get that... I think. But maybe they don't because they still talk about being relevant to the next generation.

    People who want to be a part of something bigger than themselves don't want to see the world they are trying to escape from reflected back at them on Sunday and told that that world is so good.