Are the Orthodox more Mystical than the Catholics?

Ok, this one got me scratching my head, so i’m coming to you folks for a reply.

I was inquiring about the whole “Gnostic Christianity” thing with some Orthodox acquaintances and it opened a boatload of arguments regarding the origin of Christianity in general. They also made some assertions regarding you folks.

The most striking one was your relationship with Faith and Reason.

I was given the old “cut/paste” routine by my correspondents, so i’ll do just the same here.

Following the Holy Fathers, Orthodoxy uses science and philosophy to defend and explain her Faith. Unlike Roman Catholicism, she does not build on the results of philosophy and science. The Church does not seek to reconcile faith and reason. She makes no effort to prove by logic or science what Christ gave His followers to believe. If physics or biology or chemistry or philosophy lends support to the teachings of the Church, she does not refuse them. However, Orthodoxy is not intimidated by man’s intellectual accomplishments. She does not bow to them and change the Christian Faith to make it consistent with the results of human thought and science.


Roman Catholicism, on the other hand, places a high value on human reason. Its history shows the consequence of that trust. For example, in the Latin Middle Ages, the 13th century, the theologian-philosopher, Thomas Aquinas, joined “Christianity” with the philosophy of Aristotle. From that period til now, **the Latins have never wavered in their respect for human wisdom; and it has radically altered the theology, mysteries and institutions of the Christian religion. **

On the other hand, Roman Catholicism,** unable to show a continuity of faith** and in order to justify new doctrine, erected in the last century, a theory of “doctrinal development.”

Following the philosophical spirit of the time (and the lead of Cardinal Henry Newman), Roman Catholic theologians began to define and teach the idea that Christ only gave us an “original deposit” of faith, a “seed,” which grew and matured through the centuries. The Holy Spirit, they said, amplified the Christian Faith as the Church moved into new circumstances and acquired other needs.

Consequently, Roman Catholicism, pictures its theology as growing in stages, to higher and more clearly defined levels of knowledge. The teachings of the Fathers, as important as they are, belong to a stage or level below the theology of the Latin Middle Ages (Scholasticism), and that theology lower than the new ideas which have come after it, such as Vatican II.

The letter is kind of huge, and it reads like essentially the “Orthodox Grievance list toward Catholics.” Geez, i thought you folks were simply divided over the matter of the Pope and the Filioque (did i even spell that correctly?)

But two underlying objections keep popping up.

1.) It seems, in their eyes, you’ve sold out Faith to Reason.

2.) The element of a mystical experience with God is traded in favor of “mere philosophizing.”

Erm, someone care to give me the Catholic perspective?

  1. The person misunderstands this entirely. Faith and reason have an intrinsic relationship - they are not opposed to one another. Christ is the eternal word - the rational foundation of the universe. While some things must be left to mystery because they escape the limited human capacity for comprehension, what we know by faith cannot contradict reason.

  2. This is an odd objection. Did the first seven ecumenical councils not “develop” doctrine? Did the First Nicene Council not define the Father and Son as “homoousios” - “of like substance”? Did the Council of Chalcedon not define the hypostatic union - the two natures of Christ? This is the sort of development of doctrine which Catholic theologians talk about; from the beginning, the Church has clarified and defined her faith. Like a bud becoming a flower, a greater understanding of always-present truths has been developed.

Out of the 3 branches of Christianity, history shows that the Orthodox Christians have done the same thing the same way for the longest.

So once you believe that Christ is Who He says He is, then become Orthodox - we’re the Original Christian Church.

If you want Scientists to prove your Christian Faith and from time to time change your Christian Faith, then become a Catholic. Recently, about 15 years ago, the Catholics have even changed their stance on Creation vs. Evolution. They now say that it is possible that we, human beings, were not created directly from God, but that it is okay to believe that we were created as Aps who evolved into humans, who then fell into sin, etc. The Orthodox, especially the Russian Orthodox who struggled to survive amid Communism, Atheists, for so many years are appauled that this type of non-sense.

There is a book written by a Russian Orthodox Priest or Bishop (I don’t recall) which is really fat, yet each chapter is an easy short read which takes someone from the beginning of time up to this very day - specifically written from Atheists to understand called “The Law of God”. You, as an Atheist, may find this very interesting as it addresses issues that you would struggle with as an Atheist which are different that those who are Hindu, or Muslim or Protestant, etc. are struggling with. I think you can either get it through the Dormition Skete in CO or you can contact the Skete to find out where you can obtain it.

I say, stick to the Original, the Orthodox Church, the Christians who aren’t afraid to go against the “logic” of the times. For a long time all scientists thought the world was flat…well times certainly have changed…the True Church and the Christian Faith shouldn’t be subject to change at the whim of science - The Orthodox Church is not - if/when you ever become a Christian, join the Orthodox Church.

I will admit that in my time among the Orthodox (I considered Orthodoxy before becoming Catholic), they did seem to me to be more mystical than the RCC. My question is: Either way, so what? If the EO are “more mystical” and the RCC “more rational”, what does that mean? Is either tradition possessed of only one to the complete exclusion of the other?

I don’t want scientists to “prove” my Christian faith. They can’t even if I wanted them to. Does this mean that I should become Orthodox? I always thought that there was more to faith than its relation to the outside world, meaning that it cannot be defined as completely “anti-science” or “pro-science” (anti-faith?). To do that seems like a false dichotomy. What about all the scientists of the past who were also men of faith (Mendel, Saccheri, Polonus, etc)?

Re: Are the Orthodox more Mystical than the Catholics?

Absolutely. Much more comfortable with mystery than the Western Church.

If I were going to cross a river, it would be the Bosphorus, not the Tiber.

Can’t swim across, until you jump in. Come on in the water is nice! Visit this website to find an Orthodox Church near you and come for a visit, I’m inviting you:

I can just as easily say that they claim things are mysteries because they know taking them to their logical conclusions leads to Catholicism (a good example of this is their placing the sensus fidei as the supreme teacher and judge rather than an externally verifiable authority–this is because they have had to backtrack a few times when their externally verifiable teaching authroity taught Catholic ideas they now reject like the filioque, the papacy, original sin, indulgences, etc. Of course, this is historically untenable as those who dissented from the seven Councils they do accept were punished forthwith–the people weren’t given the opportunity to pass judgment on it–those who passed unfavorable judgment were cut off from the Church).

As for doctrinal development, it is not just a century old. St. Vincent de Lerins explains it over 1500 years ago:

Therefore, whatever has been sown by the fidelity of the Fathers in this husbandry of God’s Church, the same ought to be cultivated and taken care of by the industry of their children, the same ought to flourish and ripen, the same ought to advance and go forward to perfection. For it is right that those ancient doctrines of heavenly philosophy should, as time goes on, be cared for, smoothed, polished; but not that they should be changed, not that they should be maimed, not that they should be mutilated.

[The Church of Christ] keeps this one object carefully in view,— if there be anything which antiquity has left shapeless and rudimentary, to fashion and polish it, if anything already reduced to shape and developed, to consolidate and strengthen it, if any already ratified and defined, to keep and guard it. Finally, what other object have Councils ever aimed at in their decrees, than to provide that what was before believed in simplicity should in future be believed intelligently, that what was before preached coldly should in future be preached earnestly, that what was before practised negligently should thenceforward be practised with double solicitude? This, I say, is what the Catholic Church, roused by the novelties of heretics, has accomplished by the decrees of her Councils,— this, and nothing else,— she has thenceforward consigned to posterity in writing what she had received from those of olden times only by tradition, comprising a great amount of matter in a few words, and often, for the better understanding, designating an old article of the faith by the characteristic of a new name.

Furthermore, anyone who says the Catholic faith is somehow less mystical has never read the writings or lives of a great many saints. St. Thomas Aquinas may write in the scholastic school, but his prayer life was highly mystical. And that is not even to mention to the great Carmelite Doctors (John of the Cross, Teresa, Therese), Catherine of Siena, Brigdet of Sweden, Hildegard of Bingen, Bonaventure, Bernard, the list can literally go on and on.

Anyone who desires it can find just as much appreciation of mystery in the Catholic Church. Reason is subordinate to faith–the truths of the faith purify our reason (when the disordered flesh is not subject to the rational soul). Plus, it’s not an either/or, but an and/both. You will also find both mystery and a harmony of faith and reason which only the true religion could have since God is the author of all truth.

Actually, there are quite a few Orthodox who accept the Theory of Evolution, and (like Catholics) they are not forbidden to do so ( - see question #6).

Of course, since you don’t have a “final authority” (like, say, a Pope :wink: ), neither you nor any other Orthodox Christian can say that “the Orthodox” have any agreed-upon opinion about anything. :rolleyes:

Actually with Christ Jesus leading the Orthodox Church rather than a human being, aka a Pope;) , leading our Church, the Orthodox Church has complete consistency on things like: Liturgy, Our Faith - Creed, Doctrines, Dogmas, etc…it is the Catholics (all 12 Rites of them) who are led by a human leader, aka a Pope;) , that differ on all that: Each of the 12 Rites cannot agree on things like: the Liturgy, the Faith - Creed, Doctrines, Dogmas, etc. I mean seriously, the 12 Rites can’t even agree on the Person of Christ - Does He have 2 Natures or 1 Nature? Roman Catholics say He has 2 (Divine and Human) and the Coptic Catholics say He has 1 Nature. :eek: Seriously, if you don’t have an across the board consistant belief of Christ, how in the world are you going to have anything else right?

Quick Tip: Become an Orthodox Christian :thumbsup: - no matter which Orthodox Church you attend through out the world, the Liturgy, Faith, Creed, Doctrines, Dogmas, etc. will be identical - although the language will vary.

First off, I am not sure where you get the 15 years number. 58 years ago this was explained by Pius XII. Before that, there were plenty of others who did not read Genesis in a strictly literal fashion (Augustine and Anselm come to mind). They affirmed that it could have taken a great deal of time for God to fashion us from clay–why would that exclude there being biological material present before the final infusion of the soul? In fact, Genesis states God did make the body before breathing in the soul. Here are additional Early Church Fathers from East and West who did not read Genesis with reigid literalism:

Anyway, it’s a moot point. Orthodox are permitted to believe this too. Is there an authoritative source saying otherwise?

Orthodox have human leaders too. In fact, they claim the entirety of the Church is present ine ach particular Church. And of course, each particular Church has a visible head–a bishop, who is a man. A visible head does not rule out divine guidance.

Second, the Church before the schism had a diversity of liturgical traditions as well as theological expressions. Since the EO see themselves as subject to this ancient Church, they must admit that the presence of these things do not mean there is only human guidance.

Well, that is when it came out in the news - when the CCC was first printed by the Vatican. I was pregnant and my daughter is now 14…so about 15 years ago is right.

This is not true. Some accept more Councils than others (up to 9). There are also different calendars used.

Plus, there are situations where autocephalous Church A is in communion with B, but not with C, but A and C are in communion.

In my opinion, this is much ado. Faith and reason go together, and God did not tell us that Genesis can be read in this or that way.

I forgot to mention the other jurisdictional fights as well.

The closest is 128 miles from my home.

Required reading in seminary. Was referring to present day.

Plus, it’s not an either/or, but an and/both.

I would love to agree with you, but Aristotelian philosophy is very much either/or. This is why the dogma of transubstantiation is unacceptable to the Orthodox and liturgical Protestants. Western thought and Thomism very much de-mystifies the sacraments… which are by their very nature mysterious.

Hey that’s great! It’s only two hours away!

At one point, I used to have to drive 3 1/2 - when the weather was good - longer when it wasn’t.

Another parishioner drove from another State altogether.

The retired priest who comes each weekend to give Divine Liturgy in Lynchburg, VA drives about 4 hours each way from North Carolina - and he’s in his late 80’s with health problems.

Don’t be a stinker, just fill up your gas tank and enjoy the drive. It will give you time to thank God for stuff like: a. that you don’t have to walk or ride a smelly horse since He created you in a time of history when motor vehicles have been invented and b. you can also thank Him that the gas prices have recently fallen. :thumbsup: c. you can also thank Him for everything else under the Sun (and over it) while you’re at it.

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