Nuancing the "Original Church" to include Eastern Orthodox, Church of the East, and Oriental Orthodox

When I first got interested in Apologetics, some of the most straight-forward defenses of Catholicism were along the lines of “we’re the original church.” We can “trace ourselves back to the first century.” Or “We are the church of the church fathers, the Apostles, and Peter.”

Well, this is certainly true. And I am Catholic in part because I believe these arguments.

However, don’t claims like this need to be carefully nuanced? All these church communions are rooted in the original church of the Apostles:

  • Catholic Church (in communion with Rome)
  • Eastern (Chalcedonian) Orthodox
  • Oriental Orthodox (like the Coptic church)
  • Assyrian Church of the East

The Catholic discerns the true church by discerning who is in communion with Peter (i.e., the Pope), because he is the focal point of the church’s visible communion. Even so, how do we carefully and honestly present this history?

How would you say it?

For instance, see how these communities originated:


And HERE is an example of an unhelpful, biased chart (from the Eastern Orthodox perspective):

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I know the Catholic Church does not believe in a “branch theory,” whereby the true Church is equally present (in all aspects) through different “branches” of the Church. However, might we say something analogous? From the Catholic perspective, the three major Eastern communions (listed above) are genuinely apostolic, but they lack certain aspects, especially full visible union with Peter (Rome). Might we say that all these are truly original Christianity, but they have gone astray in certain key aspects, or at least that they are original Christianity that has lost full communion with the Apostles (considering Peter)?

I’ll shut it now and let others contribute :slight_smile:

It’s not wrong to say we are the one, original Church professed in the Creed. No nuance is needed.

But to address the issue you raise, we need to look at this question from two perspectives: that of the universal/catholic Church and that of particular churches (a particular church being a bishop and his flock celebrating the Eucharist). Not all particular churches belong to the one catholic/universal Church professed in the Creed.

Christ founded one Church–there is and always will be only one Church of Christ. At the time of the definitive separation of each of those other communions, groups of particular churches broke communion with the universal Church (the Catholic Church). Many of those particular churches had ancient origins, even being founded directly by an Apostle in certain cases. But since there is only one Church, all of the resulting separated communions cannot each be it. The Church of Christ cannot not be in communion with itself (pardon the double negative). In that sense, new societies/communions came into being at those times that are not the one Church professed in the Creed, even though they are made up of particular churches of ancient origin that previously were part the universal Church founded by Christ.


Yes, I like this answer and the distinction between the universal Church and the particular churches. Could you help address these three things, depending on your knowledge:

(1) How do we square the idea that authentic “churches” exist independent of the One (Catholic) Church, and yet there is only one Body of Christ – one church? Do we have to bring in “visible” vs “invisible” distinctions?

(2) Pretend you are at a table with real flesh-and-blood fellow Christians: one Eastern Orthodox, one Assyrian, one Oriental Orthodox. How would you describe it in a way that would include their perspectives? How would you convince them of the Catholic perspective?

(3) Could you speak to the Eastern Orthodox understanding of universal church? Your description makes sense, but it may not be convincing to an Orthodox Christian who does not believe in a universal Church in the same Catholic sense.

Due to sin, elements “properly belonging to the Catholic Church” have been separated from her–in the most basic example, this is the case with each separated baptized person. These particular churches, while real churches, are wounded by the separation. The one Church in the Creed still has visible delineation (communion with the primatial church–Rome–being the point of delineation). So no need to go an invisible church route.

(2) Pretend you are at a table with real flesh-and-blood fellow Christians: one Eastern Orthodox, one Assyrian, one Oriental Orthodox. How would you describe it in a way that would include their perspectives? How would you convince them of the Catholic perspective?

I think they generally share our understanding, just from their perspective. In other words, an EO person would surely admit that the Church of Rome was founded way earlier than 1054, but that the separation of 1054 removed them from the universal Church. How to convince someone that the Catholic Church is actually the right one would depend on what the objections of the other person is.

Let me start a new post on the third one.

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Honestly, this is the biggest issue I see with the EO Churches. They don’t really have that one, catholic Church as we profess in the Creed. They get into situations where EO particular church A is in communion with B, B is in communion with C, but A and C are not in communion with each other (A=B=C≠A) (e.g. the Moscow Patriarchate breaking communion with Constantinople over who had jurisdiction over Estonia in 1996 while other Churches remained in communion with both; the Bulgarian schism of the 19th century when most patriarchates, but not Moscow, broke communion with the Bulgarian Churches; ROCOR currently; etc., etc.). How can one church simultaneously have some parts in communion with other parts, while other parts are separated from each other? This can only make sense if there is a plurality of Churches–the “one” of the Creed is lacking–and without this oneness, the concept of a universal Church becomes untenable. This is why many EO theologians have adopted a pure “Eucharistic ecclesiology” and completely reject any “universal ecclesiology”–but this blatantly denies the “catholic” in the Creed, which affirms the one, universal Church.


Sorry I’m so quick to respond to your thought-out responses.

But a quick question I would have to:

This is why many EO theologians have adopted a pure “Eucharistic ecclesiology” and completely reject any “universal ecclesiology”–but this blatantly denies the “catholic” in the Creed, which affirms the one, universal Church.

(and your post in general) would be:

Then how does an individual Orthodox Christian know he is in communion with the Original Church? In other words, is it merely a common faith — and not communion with a single church (say Constantinople) — that is necessary?

The problem that an Orthodox will see with that is that the Orthodox have an official original creed without the filioque and the Roman Catholics do not have the original creed since they added the filioque to the creed. And then in 1054, the Roman Catholics excommunicated the Eastern Orthodox listing several reasons, one of which was that the EO creed( which was an official original creed) did not have the filioque (which was added later). The EO argument might be that if the EO have an official original creed without the filioque and the Roman Catholics have added something to the creed which was not agreed to by an official ecumenical council, then the EO are the original Church. Further according to the Catholic Douay Rheims translation the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father John 16:26 But when the Paraclete cometh, whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceedeth from the Father, he shall give testimony of me.

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I think a common faith is the principle (as well as certain canonical considerations)–it’s why they put “orthodox” in their names. As a practical matter, though, the national patriarchate is the focal point (EO theologians who hold strictly to Euchriastic ecclesiology tend to complain that the “universal eccelsiology” has simply been applied to the national church). Then it is a matter of the patriarchates agreeing to have communion amongst themselves (which they sometimes don’t, as I mentioned earlier).

For example, look at the recent pan-Orthodox Synod (or whatever it ultimately was classified as). If you look at how that synod was explicitly organized and carried out, the bishops who participated in that synod did not do so as equal bishops of one Church neither were they even invited as such. They weren’t even there in their capacity as pastors of eucharistic/particular churches. Rather, it was convened as a meeting of patriarchates/national churches, and each sent a delegation of representatives. What was sought was not a consensus of the bishops of one Church (or even a consensus of particular Churches), but rather a consensus of national Churches/patriarchates (which didn’t happen anyway).

There’s an issue with your preferred chart - the split with Orthodoxy isn’t traced to one particular event. It was gradual. Spanning a millenium. If you HAD to pick one, the Venetian sack of Constantinople is a far better candidate.

Other bishops at the time of the mutual excommunications essentially rolled their eyes and said “those two again…”. The intervening centuries made it a bigger event that it was.



So then, in Orthodox eyes, is the Roman Catholic Church merely in schism because it lacks the common faith of the communion of Orthodox churches?

But on what grounds? Obviously, Orthodox reject papal infallibility, for example. But your explanation suggests that Rome is in schism from the Orthodox Church (in their view) because of unorthodox doctrine? Please don’t tell me it’s because of something like the filioque. How sad if THAT was the cause.

The Filioque primarily, but also the primacy–but controversy about that was really a result of the Filioque controversy. Although, maybe now, the primacy has become the first and foremost thing.

The modern neo-Palamites, which dominate modern EO thought, have tried to create additional points of division, but those two are the real substance.

Well, this thread isn’t really about the chart, but the fact that these four groups are separate and originate in the early church of the Apostles.


The hijack of the Church by the Petrine seat made possible by the Islamic conquests.

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Eh, my understanding is that Rome always had a certain understanding of papal primacy, despite whatever views were in the East.

It’s hard to get out in words, but I just have this gut feeling that it’s such an odd reason for the schism. I feel like there has to be something more than the “common faith.” Because as we know, Orthodox and Catholics really are 99% of the common faith, especially during the late first millenium – even if the points of divergence were exaggerated.

So like, Constantinople also excommunicated Rome.

But the excommunications have been lifted. So what does this mean?

The debate was over what primacy means. In the west, it is also supremacy and immediate jurisdiction. In the larger east (which was conquered) it was not.
It was more “chairman of the board”. “Arbiter of last resort” is some occasionally encountered language - which clearly contradicts immediacy on an elementary level.

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It means one of many obstacles has been removed.

I would merely say that even the latter view is most consistent with Catholic development (so it’s possible Rome could lessen its extent in jurisdiction). Everything develops, including the practical enactment of theory. We have to ask what the basis for the Roman primacy is, and we know in the West it was ALWAYS because of the apostolic foundation in Peter. So if it is based in Peter, and ultimately Christ, I would argue it odd that the office would suddenly become defunct.

This thread is not meant to get into the debate on papal primacy. So let’s please refrain from it. I know @Genesis315 and I got into more specific issues, but I needed some clarification.

So I would ask you how you would nuance the “Original Church” – without getting all negative towards the Catholic claims.

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