Answering an Orthodox friend

This is my first post on Catholic Answers, so please be nice!

I’ve been having this ongoing argument with my Orthodox friend (who converted from Catholicism) about the differences between our theologies. While I contend that it is mostly style and emphasis (and of course key doctrines like Petrine supremacy) that separates us, he holds that Catholicism has drifted far from historical Christianity because our reliance on pagan philosophers has created a strong whiff of rationalism and “legalism” in our theology. Instead, he emphasizes the need to have proper experiences formed by correct religious practice as the primary (and only) means of encountering the divine.

I am stumped, mostly because his position involves denying the importance of reason and holding to what I believe amounts to fideism. IMO even atheists are easier to argue with because at least they nominally uphold the vital importance of reason and logic. How do you argue with someone who denies that argument can answer anything really important about God?

I would really appreciate feedback not only from Catholics but also any Orthodox reading. Am I misunderstanding his position because of language differences?

Don’t worry :smiley:

Welcome !!!

It would be terrible if it was merely that.

:hmmm:What is his REAL beef with the Catholic Church? Is he by chance divorced and remarried and didn’t want or couldn’t get an annulment? Is THAT what he meant by legalism?

Frankly I would stop arguing with him over this. Instead I would perhaps point him to the saints in the Catholic Church - and Doctors of the Church I might add - who are very much of the mystical - the “experiential” - tradition. Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Catherine of Sienna and others all fit into this mold (See the book suggestion in my signature :thumbsup:)

The reason that I suggest this is simple - the Catholic Church is large and has room for both approaches. Many people benefit from the more rational approach while others take a more mystic - contemplative approach.
It’s not really an “either / or” subject.


LorenzoCanuck #1
he holds that Catholicism has drifted far from historical Christianity because our reliance on pagan philosophers has created a strong whiff of rationalism and “legalism” in our theology. Instead, he emphasizes the need to have proper experiences formed by correct religious practice as the primary (and only) means of encountering the divine.

Such conjecture denies Christ and makes His expressed mandating of authority to St Peter and his successors in founding His Church into a farce.

Myopia blinds him to “The Lord says to Peter: ‘I say to you,’ he says, ‘that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. . . . ’ [Matt. 16:18]. On him [Peter] he builds the Church, and to him he gives the command to feed the sheep [John 21:17],
…If he [should] desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?” (*The Unity of the Catholic Church *4; first edition [A.D. 251]).

How strange:
that he should deny Christ Himself – it is clear from Scripture that Jesus established His Church on His First Vicar Peter.
All four promises to Peter alone:
“You are Peter and on this rock I will build My Church.” (Mt 16:18)
“The gates of hell will not prevail against it.”(Mt 16:18)
“I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of heaven." ( Mt 16:19)
“Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.” (Mt 16:19) [Later to the Twelve].

Sole authority:
“Strengthen your brethren.” (Lk 22:32)
“Feed My sheep.”(Jn 21:17).
Jesus warned dissenters: “if he refuses to hear even the Church let him be like the heathen and a publican.” (Mt 18:17).

St. Paul says also, “through the Church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places (Eph 3:10).” The Church teaches even the angels! This is with the authority of Christ!

Christ’s Church that teaches the angels is denigrated – a type described by Christ as a “heathen and a publican” for not listening to Christ’s Church.

In many cases, it often is merely just that.

I don’t think you have to look into some sort of extra motivation. You can take it at face value. The viewpoint he expressed is quite a common one in the orthodox church and goes back a long time.

You should be aware that, in addition to the Roman Rite, there are Eastern rites within the Catholic Church, who share many traditions and beliefs with the Orthodox. For example, I am Ukrainian Catholic (Byzantine Rite). In accordance with our traditions, we ordain married men to the priesthood.

Pursuant to the Union of Brest, signed in 1596, we came into communion with the Apostolic See at Rome (or maybe they came into communion with us). The Union of Brest excuses us from including the word “flioque” in the Nicene Creed, permits us to use the Julian Calendar (although in the United States we generally use the Gregorian Calendar), allows us to retain our married priests, and declares that we will not talk about purgatory (because Eastern Catholics really do not believe in it). We also have different emphases of faith.

You should investigate the existence of Eastern Catholic churches in your area. We are in communion with the Pope, and just as Catholic as anyone else (though not “Roman” Catholic), and there is complete intercommunion between us.

Wow, you guys answered fast!

With regards to ‘legalism’, I think he was specifically referring to the Catholic penchant for resolving problems via procedure as determined by central authority, whereas Orthodox communities resolve problems in a more fraternal, organic manner by some kind of consensus.

I remember that the topics of mystics in the Latin church arose, but he dismissed their experiences as, well, basically not pure enough because they were informed by faulty doctrine (he acknowledged the Eastern Rite Catholics but still considers them to be in schism).

So based on this and the suggestions made, I’m getting the feeling that the standbys-for-when-you-can’t-do-anything (prayer and example) are going to have to do here. Do we have any patron saints for East-West unity?

Yea - this place is like that…:smiley:

I remember that the topics of mystics in the Latin church arose, but he dismissed their experiences as, well, basically not pure enough because they were informed by faulty doctrine.

Obviously his mind is made up so further argument at this point is futile.

So based on this and the suggestions made, I’m getting the feeling that the standbys-for-when-you-can’t-do-anything (prayer and example) are going to have to do here. Do we have any patron saints for East-West unity?

Quite correct…
As for a saint - - I just choose any saint predating the schism. How about Augustine?


These are the results of denying the primacy and infallibility given by Christ to His Church.

How strange that primacy and infallibility can be ignored when it suits – such as with the case of the Orthodox Churches over the infallible teaching against contraception, denial of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, and the permission of divorce and remarriage.

As the faith and mind of Christ are made clear by His institution of primacy and infallibility in faith and morals in His chosen leader St Peter and his successors, so everything that is orthodox (faithful and universal) depends on that fact. Muddying the waters by expressing dissent against this fact and Magisterial teaching by various opinions (theological or otherwise), distorts the essence of the message.

The key is that “there is no sure norm outside of the Catholic Church”, because only She teaches with the infallibility conferred by Christ. Confusion and uncertainty come from fallible teaching and picking and choosing.

Fr Brian Harrison:
"…many Orthodox theologians and bishops have now severely qualified or even surrendered any serious claim to infallibility on the part of their Church. Also, there is no longer any unity, any identifiable “official” position of Orthodoxy as such, in regard to unnatural methods of birth control. Some authorities continue to reprobate these practices, while others – probably the majority by now – condone them. Increasingly, Orthodox married couples are advised just to follow their own conscience on this issue.

“…in recent decades, with more extensive cultural and ecumenical contacts, and with an increasingly large and active Eastern diaspora in Western countries, Orthodoxy’s underlying vulnerability to the same liberal and secularizing tendencies in faith, morals and worship that have devastated the West is becoming more apparent. That virus – an inevitable result of breaking communion with the visible ‘Rock’ of truth and unity constituted by the See of Peter – is now inexorably prodding Orthodoxy toward doctrinal pluralism and disintegration.” [My emphasis].

Pope Benedict XVI gave a General Audience where he spoke about the difference between scholastic and monastic theology.

The OP’s friend sounds like he has a very monastic theology and spirituality. Not everyone in the Western Church is scholastic.


Timothy that’s a fantastic excerpt from Papa Benedict! I definitely need to work on the ‘monastic’ half of my spirituality, for sure, and it would help show my friend the authenticity of Catholic spirituality, too.

I would recommend a retreat at a Benedictine or Cistercian monastery. Call and tell them exactly what you just wrote and ask them to recommend a retreat for you, or just ask if you can come down and spend some time. You won’t regret it. I didn’t.

I would also recommend making scripture a part of your life. Monastic spirituality is nothing if it is not deeply rooted in scripture. Scripture is one of the greatest joys of my life.

Another good introduction into the monastic way is to get a copy of the Rule of St. Benedict and a good commentary for oblates. “A Commentary for Oblates” by G.A. Simon is very good.,204,203,200.jpg

Eastern Catholics and Orthodox seem to be more monastic and I think the OP is up against this issue - monastic vs scholastic theology. Not everyone is a student of St. Thomas or Peter Abelard.


Since I am Ukrainian Catholic – Byzantine Rite, I will answer from a somewhat different perspective. In discussing this matter with your Orthodox friend, it is important to understand that the argument is not entirely one sided. There is enough blame to go around on both sides.

There were five principal churches: Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, and Rome. Each of these churches, united in a common faith, nevertheless had different liturgies, disciplines, and styles of worship, and were governed more or less independently. While the head of the church of Rome (the Pope) was considered the first among equals, and was generally looked to as source of authority on matters of faith, it was never conceded that he had any right to interfere with matters of liturgy, discipline, or style of worship, not affecting a matter of faith and morals.

In the period from 500 to 1000, the Pope in Rome began to assert that he had supreme power over the entire universal church in all matters. He insisted on what Eastern Christians referred to as “Latinization” of the church. For example, he wished to bar our use of icons. At an ecumenical council held around 843, it was agreed, however, that we could continue to use our icons. That was the last ecumenical council at which East and West were able to reach agreement.

Also during that time period, the Pope took it upon himself to amend the Nicene Creed, by requiring the insertion of the word “filioque,” to indicate his belief that the Holy Spirit proceeded from both the Father and the Son. Now wait a minute, the Nicene Creed’s text was established by the Council of Nicea back in 325, and the word “filioque” was not in there. While the Eastern Church did not necessarily disagree with the concept of double procession, who is the Bishop of Rome, the head of only one of the five co-equal churches of Christendom, to amend their common statement of faith, solely on his own initiative? If there is some reason to amend the Nicene Creed, let’s have another ecumenical council to discuss and pray about it, and have the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Well, the Bishop of Rome disagreed, the parties could not agree, and we had the mutual excommunications and schism in 1054.

Think of it this way: if the Governor of California decided to strike the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, and insist that the rest of the nation adhere to that, and take steps to enforce his will, what do you think the reaction would be?

In 1596, the Western Ukrainians signed the Union of Brest, which contained the provisions mentioned in my previous post. As for our married priests, in 1054, both East and West allowed married priests. The West adopted the celibacy rule in 1123, but the East never did, so we rejoined, there was no need to require us to adopt a rule that we never had, and had no desire of having. The celibacy of the clergy is not Biblically required, and as the Roman Rite admits today, it is merely a matter of discipline, and not a matter of faith or morals, and therefore is not a requirement for union between us.

This worked fine until about the 1880’s, when Ukrainians began coming to the United States. Once here, our Roman Catholic cousins made fun of our married priests (called us names like “Orthodox” – which we are not), and generally made life miserable. I guess the Roman Catholic priests in the United States were jealous.

To keep peace in the Catholic family, Ukrainian Catholics, despite our traditions, and despite our rights as secured under the Union of Brest, agreed not to have married priests in the United States or Canada,

Many people think of Vatican II as turning the Roman Catholic Church upside down. We Eastern Catholics welcomed it, as it let us resume our traditions. Now, we simply ordain married men to the priesthood in the United States. In 1983, Pope John Paul II (whose mother was Ukrainian!) enacted a separate Code of Canon Law, which applies exclusively to Eastern Catholics.

In many cases, the people who engaged in the Protestant Reformation stole some of our ideas. For example, in traditional Eastern Catholic art, you will not see Mary alone in an icon. Jesus is always in the picture, usually as a babe in arms. That is to emphasize our belief that Mary is not to be worshipped or venerated or honored solely in her own right, but as the agency through whom Christ was brought into the world (theotokos is the Greek word).

As for papal authority, we acknowledge, on paper at least, that the Pope has supreme authority, which he may exercise freely, but there seems to be tacit understanding, at least after Vatican II, that he will not exercise that authority to the detriment of the traditions of the Eastern Catholics.

An earlier example: When Pope Pius XII declared infallibly that Mary was assumed into heaven, it was necessary to resolve a dispute between the Western and Eastern church on whether Mary died first, and then was assumed, or whether she was assumed while still living. Pope Pius XII’s declaration punted on the issue, because it says “at the end of her earthly life” and does not address the matter specifically.

Thus, in discussing this matter with your Orthodox friend, my suggestion is to emphasize the similarities between us, particularly in light of Eastern Catholics, and to narrow the issues for discussion, which relate to the legitimate authority of the Pope of Rome. In the Eastern Catholic view, he has authority in matters of faith and morals, which is a relatively small category, but no authority to interfere in matters of liturgy, worship, or discipline, except in the Roman Rite, of which he is also the head. The confusion stems from the fact that the Pope is head of the Universal Church and head of the Roman Rite, but those are two different roles, and, with all due respect, the Pope needs to concentrate on not getting the two confused!


Great Post. Thanks for sharing that…:thumbsup:


Just an observation,

Given that divorce in this country is approaching 60% of marriages, with Catholic statistics in that statistic tracking along the same numbers, it’s one of the big reasons Catholics either stop practicing the faith, or they go searching for an alternative place to worship. And when that happens, often the Catholic who leaves, leaves REAL angry. It doesn’t matter WHAT’s said, they dig in their heels and won’t budge off their new position. As I recall, from conversations with Orthodox, Orthodox allow 3 marriages. Can’t think of the official term they use for this.

No ONE speaks for the whole of them, because they aren’t one Church.

Re: E Catholics

Bp John is an Eastern Catholic. Be sure and read the links.

…being Catholic means not Orthodox and being Orthodox means not Catholic. To be a Catholic Christian means that one accepts the primacy of the Pope of Rome, because he is the successor of St. Peter. To be an Orthodox Christian means that one does not recognize the primacy of the Pope of Rome, but considers him as “first among equals.”
According to the Catholic teaching, Christ did not create a church with five heads of equal importance. He established One Holy Catholic and Apostolic church whose invisible head is the Lord, but whose visible head is the Pope of Rome.[snip]…

From [/FONT]…ited-with-rome

Papal teachings
When we declared our union with Rome – in consistency with Apostolic tradition interrupted somehow by historical circumstances – we accepted the Catholic faith in its entirety. We do recognize the authority of the Pope of Rome, including universal jurisdiction and infallibility for whatever concerns faith and morals.

[snip for space]

We cannot pose as “Orthodox united to Rome” only for what suits us. I do mean it when we pray every day, at the Divine Liturgy, for “unity of faith and the communion of the Holy Spirit.”
There is no ‘Eastern truth’ vs ‘Western truth’. Truth is one. It may be articulated according to various cultural expressions, but truth is super-cultural.

[snip for space]

The Church teaches truth. If something is true, it would be absurd to say “Oh, we don’t believe that in the East.”


All too frequently, such “dialogue” seems to presuppose a relativism where you speak “your truth” and I’ll speak “my truth” and we’ll just leave it at that. A sort of ecumenical schizophrenia.

from [/FONT]…n-the-melkites

…Several folks have asked questions concerning the doctrine of indulgences given the heightened interest in indulgences granted during this jubilee year. I am often astonished at remarks that the legal nature of indulgences seem to prove that they are applicable only to the Latin Church and are thus foreign to our Eastern theology. Many people do not realize that the legal aspects of church life, including canon law, began in the East. The Emperor Justinian and the Byzantine court developed canons that are still the basis for many principles of law used in the church today.
Indulgences deal with the wider notion of praying for the dead. We ask the question: Are our prayers for the dead efficacious? Can we benefit our deceased loved ones by prayer, good works and suffrage prayers such as liturgies? Our Eastern liturgy is replete with prayers for the dead. [snip]…

from [/FONT]…of-indulgences

Re: 1st among equals. This was an invention by the East.

Then Card Ratzinger wrote

  1. In Christian literature, the expression begins to be used in the East when, from the fifth century, the idea of the Pentarchy gained ground, according to which there are five Patriarchs at the head of the Church, with the Church of Rome having the first place among these patriarchal sister Churches. In this connection, however, it needs to be noted that no Roman Pontiff ever recognized this equalization of the sees or accepted that only a primacy of honour be accorded to the See of Rome.It should be noted too thatthis patriarchal structure typical of the East never developed in the West.

  2. The expression appears again in two letters of the Metropolitan Nicetas of Nicodemia (in the year 1136) and the Patriarch John X Camaterus (in office from 1198 to 1206), in which they protested that Rome, by presenting herself as *mother and teacher, *would annul their authority.In their view, Rome is only the first among sisters of equal dignity.[/FONT]

The technical term used by Orthodox, I was having trouble recalling is “economy”.

Within “economy”, The bishop can allow up to 3 marriages for individuals.

Shirtless #13
While the head of the church of Rome (the Pope) was considered the first among equals, and was generally looked to as source of authority on matters of faith, it was never conceded that he had any right to interfere with matters of liturgy, discipline, or style of worship, not affecting a matter of faith and morals.

Fr Brian Harrison, O.S., before becoming a Catholic investigated the Orthodox. He writes:
“The Orthodox countered the standard Catholic reading of the New Testament’s Petrine texts with interpretations similar to those of Protestant scholars. And when it came to the witness of history, they claimed that Eastern recognition of the Bishop of Rome’s universal jurisdiction over all the local churches in the first thousand years was a reflection only of Rome’s high political status and human ecclesiastical law, rather than (as Catholics claim) a disposition of divine law issuing from Christ himself.

"Now, what does the Eastern Orthodox communion see as the agent of the infallibility it claims for itself? In fact, it recognizes only one of those forms of teaching mentioned above. Let us highlight this answer:
"Proposition 1: Infallibility is to be recognized in the solemn doctrinal decisions of ecumenical councils.

"However, does this mean that the Orthodox recognize the authority of all the same ecumenical councils that we Catholics recognize? Unfortunately not. While our separated Eastern brethren claim that, in principle, any ecumenical council between Pentecost and Judgment Day would enjoy the charism of being able to issue infallible dogmatic decrees, they in fact recognize as ecumenical only the first seven councils: those that took place in the first Christian millennium, before the rupture between East and West. Indeed, even though they claim theirs is the true Church, they have never, since that medieval split, attempted to convoke and celebrate any ecumenical council of their own.

"They have had to maintain that the participation in a given council of bishops representing the whole Church and the confirmation of their decrees by the Pope, while undoubtedly necessary, is still not sufficient to guarantee the true ecumenical status and infallibility of that council. For over and above the fulfilment of those conditions, it is also necessary (according to standard Orthodox ecclesiology of recent centuries) for the faithful as a whole in both East and West – not just the pope and bishops or even the entire clergy – to accept that council’s decrees as expressing the true faith.3 So the simple Proposition 1 set out above now becomes:
Proposition 2: Infallibility is to be recognized in the solemn doctrinal decisions of those Councils which are not only papally confirmed as ecumenical, but which are also subsequently accepted as such by the whole Church.

"How are her members to be identified? Who has ‘voting’ rights, as it were, in this monumental communal decision whether to accept or reject a given council’s doctrinal decrees?

"In answer to this question, our Eastern friends certainly cannot say that for these purposes “the whole Church” consists of all who profess faith in Christ, or all the baptized. For on that basis the Orthodox would rule out as ‘un-ecumenical’ (and thus, non-infallible) not only the second-millennium councils recognized by Rome and the Western Church, but also the seven great councils of the first millennium which they themselves recognize in common with Catholics! For each one of those councils was rejected by significant minorities of baptized persons (Arians, Monophysites, Nestorians, etc.) who professed Christianity. It is equally clear that they cannot define “the whole Church” as Catholics do, namely, as consisting of all those Christians who are in communion with Rome, the See of Peter, Prince of the Apostles. For on that basis the Orthodox would disqualify themselves as being part of “the whole Church”, given that they have not been in communion with Rome for the best part of a thousand years. Could they perhaps try to define “the whole Church” in terms of communion with their own present patriarchal See of Constantinople? As far as I know, no Orthodox theologians themselves would dare to go that far, not only because they cannot deny that this See was itself in heresy at certain periods of antiquity, but above all because it did not even exist for three centuries after Christ was on earth. So it could not possibly claim – and never has claimed – any privileged status at the level of revelation and divine law. (The Orthodox agree with Catholics, and with nearly all other professing Christians except the Mormons, that revelation was completed in the first century A.D., at the time of Christ and the Apostles.)

“In short, any Orthodox attempt to formulate a theological definition of “the whole Church” in terms of any empirically verifiable criterion – for instance, as the community of those who have undergone the visible, audible and tangible sacrament of baptism, or of those who visibly and audibly call themselves Christians, or of those who visibly and audibly profess their communion with certain publicly identifiable prelates who in turn hold ecclesiastical office at some fixed, highly visible and publicly identified city – any such attempt will land our Eastern brethren in impossible absurdities. So the only other course open to them, logically, is to attempt to define “the whole Church” in terms of an empirically unverifiable criterion, namely, adherence to true, orthodox doctrine. Unlike cities, sayings and sacraments, doctrinal orthodoxy cannot be recognized as such by any of the five senses. It cannot, as such, be seen, touched or heard, only discerned in the mind and heart.”
From Constantinople to Rome: Why I did not join the Eastern Orthodox Church

Shirtless #13
As for papal authority, we acknowledge, on paper at least, that the Pope has supreme authority, which he may exercise freely, but there seems to be tacit understanding, at least after Vatican II, that he will not exercise that authority to the detriment of the traditions of the Eastern Catholics.
Fr Harrison:
“After the East-West rupture that hardened as a result of the mutual excommunications of 1054 and the brutal sack of Constantinople itself by Latin crusaders in 1204, two ecumenical councils were convoked by Rome for the purpose of healing the breach. They were held, respectively, at Lyons in 1274 and at Florence in 1439, with Eastern Christendom being duly represented at both councils by bishops and theologians sent from Constantinople. And in both cases these representatives ended up fully accepting, on behalf of the Eastern Church, the decrees, promulgated by these councils, that professed the true, divinely ordained jurisdiction of the Successors of Peter over the universal Church of Christ – something much more than a mere primacy of honor. And these decrees were of course confirmed by the then reigning popes.”

It’s interesting also that Sir Arnold Lunn in Now I See, Sheed & Ward, 1955, could quote from the Anglican Vicar of Oddington, Rev S Herbert Scott, that St Peter and his successors were recognised as the supreme judges in matters of faith by a long succession of great Eastern saints, Ignatius, Irenaeus, Denys, Athanasius, Chrysostom, and others.

**St. Jerome **
“[Pope] Stephen . . . was the blessed Peter’s twenty-second successor in the See of Rome” (Against the Luciferians 23 [A.D. 383]).

“Clement, of whom the apostle Paul writing to the Philippians says ‘With Clement and others of my fellow-workers whose names are written in the book of life,’ the fourth bishop of Rome after Peter, if indeed the second was Linus and the third Anacletus, although most of the Latins think that Clement was second after the apostle” (Lives of Illustrious Men 15 [A.D. 396]).

“Since the East, shattered as it is by the long-standing feuds, subsisting between its peoples, is bit by bit tearing into shreds the seamless vest of the Lord . . . I think it my duty to consult the chair of Peter, and to turn to a church [Rome] whose faith has been praised by Paul [Rom. 1:8]. I appeal for spiritual food to the church whence I have received the garb of Christ. . . . Evil children have squandered their patrimony; you alone keep your heritage intact” (Letters 15:1 [A.D. 396]).

**Council of Chalcedon **
“After the reading of the foregoing epistle [The Tome of Leo], the most reverend bishops cried out: ‘This is the faith of the fathers! This is the faith of the apostles! So we all believe! Thus the orthodox believe! Anathema to him who does not thus believe! Peter has spoken thus through Leo! . . . This is the true faith! Those of us who are orthodox thus believe! This is the faith of the Fathers!’” (Acts of the Council, session 2 [A.D. 451]).
See: The Papacy
What did the Early Church Fathers Say?

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