Orthodox and Roman Catholic differences part 1 by Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick-ancient Faith Radio

Here is an interesting podcast on ancient Faith radio that is part of a series called “Orthodoxy and heterodoxy”. I want to know how a Catholic answers some of the objections to the Catholic Faith from this very knowledgable Orthodox priest.

Here are some of the issues he brings up:

  1. The development of doctrine
  2. Papal supremacy and infallibility and how they can be believed in light of some of the Popes being condemned as heretics by councils and even some Popes.
  3. The filioque and Pope John the VIII’s opposition to it.
  4. The distinction between uncreated and created grace.
  5. The practical problem of papal infallibility in the Church.
  6. The Western legalistic mindset and its need for absolute certainty and assurance.
  7. The Role of Peter in the council of Jerusalem and the absence of papal authority in the early Church.

Before any of you respond, please listen to the full podcast to avoid reactionary and immediate posting. Also, please season your posts with salt and charity. I have been guilty of not doing this in the past so I know how easy it is to be bombastic and aggressive. God have mercy.

Fr. Damick’s podcast is easy to understand and is accessible to the common layman. He does use technical theological terms when the need requires it but he explains what they mean clearly.

Here is the podcast:ancientfaith.com/podcasts/orthodoxyheterodoxy/orthodox_and_roman_catholic_differences

Not really pertaining to the topics, I would like to make an observation in the way the Orthodox and Catholics view their differences.

Orthodox: The gulf is wide, and there is serious error that needs to be corrected before any talks of reunification can occur.

Catholics: The differences between Rome and the Orthodox are just superficial, and mostly boil down to misunderstandings in translation and history. Now about those Protestants.

I’ve read his book of the same title after listening to his whole podcast and frankly I think he has some very valid points. I’ve kept a running list of the theological differences between the two churches as I study them over the years. Including claims of one and how they are explained by the other. Some of it comparing notes from the Orthodox Study Bible and the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible and the CCC. I have not found Catholic explanations that make sense to me for the issues he brings up, especially regarding grace, jurisdiction and validity.

ETA, oh and the Trinity

I’ll have to read up on the Roman Catholic teaching on grace. What I got from Fr. Damick is that Catholics believe in actual vs habitual grace. Actual grace has to do with God’s direct intervention in the life of the believer. Habitual grace confuses me more. It is more like an effect of actual grace that allows one to draw near to God but is not directly caused by God Himself, which means that the Christian has a grace that is not God. For some reason, I do not have a problem with that. It is not as if the Catholic Faith alienates the Christian from the Holy Spirit with this teaching. It is just very technical.

I am a bit uncomfortable with Fr. Damick’s problem with the development of doctrine. He phrases the teaching in such a way as if the CC can come up with doctrines right out of the hat. Eastern Orthodoxy is itself a result of development of doctrine. They just decided to stop at the 7th ecumenical council. It seems a bit unfair to accuse one ecclesiastical institution of innovations when one’s own ecclesiastical institution is itself a development. The church did not begin with Metropolitan bishops, Patriarchates, or even priests.
it began with Bishops and presbyters. The Church exists in time. It has to develop or risk turning into a museum. That does not mean, however, that such change has to be so radical it breaks with the time before it. That would be a “hermeneutic of discontinuity”.

I have to admit, his quotes from Pope Gregory the VII scared me. The tone of his Pontificate is definitely one of absolute dominance over men, the exact opposite tone of the post-Vatican II papacy, which is more conciliar. Also, Damick is clever when he points out that a council determined who the new Pope would be during the West's great Schism. There were three popes so one could not rely on the authority of a super Bishop. Popes can be questioned and rebuked as the case with St. Peter demonstrates. It would be a sin of willful ignorance to say otherwise because the truth is right in front of us in the text. 

Also, if the Pope can never error in matters of doctrine, why is one Pope guilty of the heresy of Monothelistism?

Catholics are wrong to say that there are only superficial differences with the Orthodox Churches with the only big issue being the Papacy. The Papacy is only the tip of the iceberg. They disagree with many doctrines Catholic must believe such as:

3.The role of reason in theology.

Orthodox are also cautious of Catholic spirituality, which Fr. Damick calls, in his own words, fleshly. It brings man down to earth rather than Heaven. This is why Orthodox iconography is not realistic. It is supposed to bring man’s focus down to Heaven and not earth. Personally, I think heaven will be on earth one day because we will all have resurrected bodies and dwell in the New Jerusalem. I find no need to oppose the two to each other.

Also, the Orthodox are against the use of the imagination in prayer, which the CC encourages in the prayer of the Rosary.

These don’t sound like superficial differences to me (not saying you think that)

I found this part of his book on development of doctrine interesting

Orthodoxy, however, believes in the development of the expression of Christian doctrine, but not of its meaning and substance, which is eternal, having been given by God in its wholeness to the Apostles. Further, although it is often the starting point for further theological reflection, Orthodox dogmatic formulation, especially in its conciliar expression, is primarily a pastoral response to heresy, not an opportunity for codifying speculation or systematic imagination in doctrine. Orthodox dogma never claims to expound the whole truth about anything, but only delineates the borders of the mystery.

Damick, Fr Andrew Stephen (2011-11-22). Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy: Exploring Belief Systems through the Lens of the Ancient Christian Faith (Kindle Locations 531-535). Conciliar Press. Kindle Edition.

He also says this regarding faith and reason

Development of doctrine is possible in part because of the relationship Rome sees between faith and reason, in which reason is placed on a much higher level in Christian life than it is in Orthodoxy. Especially since the time of Thomas Aquinas (thirteenth century), Rome has defined and redefined much of its doctrine (often new dogmas) in terms of reason. Aquinas’s project was to merge Catholic dogma with the philosophical requirements of Aristotelian logic. This merger is the origin of most modern Christian attempts to “prove” God’s existence—which are based on the proposition that all doctrine must be logical and scientific in order to be believable. (Interestingly, Newman wrote in his An Essay in Aid of Grammar of Assent that strict paper logic was not enough for functioning in concrete life, including religious belief.)

Damick, Fr Andrew Stephen (2011-11-22). Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy: Exploring Belief Systems through the Lens of the Ancient Christian Faith (Kindle Locations 550-556). Conciliar Press. Kindle Edition.

Yes, Catholics highly underplay the differences between the two, but it makes sense when you see how the Orthodox view jurisdiction, validity and grace so differently than Catholics do.

Here is his list of issues between the two churches

The Grounds of Union

In summary, in order for the Orthodox Church to accept sacramental communion with the Roman Catholic Church—that is, for Roman Catholics to be readmitted into the Orthodox Church—they must repudiate and reject (not merely brush aside or “theologize around”) the following:

Papal universal jurisdiction
Papal infallibility
Papal Petrine exclusivism (i.e., that only the pope is Peter’s successor)
Development of doctrine
The Filioque
Original sin understood as guilt transmitted via “propagation”
The immaculate conception of Mary
Absolute divine simplicity
Merit and satisfaction soteriology
Purgatory and indulgences
Created grace

Roman Catholics would have to accept and fully confess:

The authority of Ecumenical Councils over the pope
The essence/energies distinction

Roman Catholics would have to restore Orthodox practices (already present for Eastern Catholics):

Reconnect confirmation/chrismation to baptism rather than delaying it

Give Holy Communion to all church members, including infants

In other words, what the Orthodox expect of Roman Catholics is that they become Orthodox again, that they return to the ancient Orthodox faith of the pre-Schism West. They would not have to give up their ancient traditions of worship (though they would probably want to turn the clock back on the liturgical revolution of Vatican II).

Damick, Fr Andrew Stephen (2011-11-22). Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy: Exploring Belief Systems through the Lens of the Ancient Christian Faith (Kindle Locations 1047-1062). Conciliar Press. Kindle Edition.

A tall order indeed!

most of the differences the orthodox reject of the catholic church would be veiwed by catholics as legitimate expressions of spiritual diversity in the church. for example, the orthodox would reject the use of unleavened bread in the eucharist. this is not viewed as an impediment to union by catholics.

it almost is like the orthodox church believes that their way to God should be the only way. This is why the western rite orthodox are never going to grow significantly.

im not saying the orthodox issues with the west are baseless. i believe that VII was instrumental in beginning to fix the problems in the western church. much needs to be done.

Basically underlies why all this ecumenical talk is nice… but it will almost certainly never result in the reunification of the RCC with the Eastern Orthodox churches. I mean some of the things the RCC would have to “give up” such as the Immaculate Conception, Purgatory, and Papal Authority are part of the very fabric of the Roman Catholic faith.

And by the same token I’m sure the list of things the RCC wants the Eastern Churches to accept should they reunify with the Bishop of Rome as the RCC would require would be equally as daunting to the EO churches.

Made even more difficult if you think about it because any EO adherents who wanted to reunify with Rome have a pretty easy path comparatively to do so personally by joining one of the Eastern Catholic churches and vice versa for any Roman Catholics who want to join an Eastern tradition. With having an individual “out” on both sides of the issue, IMO there’s even less incentive for those in the main EO churches or the RCC to push for an institutional unification.

JMO but I think it’s a huge mistake made by many Catholics to think that just going over to an Eastern Catholic parish/liturgy/jurisdiction is the easy answer to the very real differences between the CC and EO.

Here is a concrete example of Rome’s view of doctrine and its development. This is a quote from a CAF poster:

“…although we must bear in mind that while what has been declared true in the past will never become false, we cannot think it legitimate to explain the truth according to the comprehension of prior generations. The Church today has a more developed insight into divine revelation because of advancements in human learning as a whole, as well as the great changes that have occurred in society, as directed by the Holy Spirit. Centuries from now, later generations of ecclesiastics will say the same regarding our time. The truth is constant but it does develop according to the needs of different ages, without losing its substance - indeed its reality becomes more clearly refined and sharpened with time.”

For the Orthodox, doctrine never develops according to the need of generations. Also, needless to say, the Orthodox regard all these developments as guided by the Holy Spirit as a very dubious claim. The evaluation of whether or not a development is consistent with the doctrine it attempts to build upon depends upon Newman’s 7 criterion. By all appearances, the development of doctrine appears as a completely rational process. How is the supernatural intervention of the Holy Spirit evident when the process is guided by logicians, canon lawyers, and an army of other theologians relying on their intellectual powers?

It’s interesting that from an Orthodox perspective, a theologian is one who prays. To quote Fr. Damick, “even a retard can be considered a theologian”. You don’t need the intellect of scholars to know God deeply/profoundly.m

  1. Catholics also believe in uncreated grace. All of these various types of grace Latin theology defines are useful constructs to help us understand how the divine interacts with the soul. They aren’t literal separate substances or things. What is sanctifying grace for example? The divine life of the Trinity infused within the soul. The divine life of the Trinity obviously is uncreated. Grace is created in that the synergy, the union, the interaction of the Creator and creature starts in time creating something new- new life within the soul. That’s my understanding anyway.
  2. I know Orthodox in real life who have no issue with the Immaculate Conception. What is the real point of the IC? Our Lady was all-holy, in communion with the Blessed Trinity, from the first moment of her conception. In the Byzantine tradition this is called the pre-sanctification of the Theotokos- even if some Orthodox don’t agree with that particular belief. My Orthodox friends definitely do.
  3. Original sin isn’t a substance or a thing. It is the lack of something. Namely, the lack of sanctifying grace and original justice. That’s what baptism corrects. It restores full communion with God. While we express it differently the Orthodox believe this too. At least the ones I know in real life…

In mainstream Orthodoxy, the use of unleavened bread isn’t really an issue. Like all faith traditions, Orthodoxy has its fundamentalists and zealots who are a vocal minority. The fundamentalists are also, for the most part, made up of western converts who are reacting against their own cultural inheritance. I think the big debate is what role should philosophy play in theology. In Rome, it plays a big one and the west has always been comfortable with using reason to deepen the faith.

I would hesitate to characterize the issue of azymes necessarily as a matter of fundamentalism. Those who object to the use of azymes often do so based on reasoned argument (no matter how flawed the arguments may seem), and they are usually quite consistent in their application of the principle that the bread for the Eucharist ought to be leavened (in other words, they usually insist that both Rome and the Armenians should have to cease using azymes as a precondition for union). Fundamentalists tend to approach things in a different manner than that.

My apologies Cav. I just don’t understand Orthodoxy completely yet and I appreciate the. correction. I have been more focused lately on Roman Catholicism and how it responds to the objections laid out by Fr. Damick. So far, not one single Catholic here has tried to make a defense (probably because they are afraid of you) What is the argument against the use of unleavened bread?

Btw, if any Catholic here could tell me what Rome thinks of Pope innocent iii’s use of interdict and Pope Gregory vii dictatus papae that was mentioned in the podcast and supports the use of interdict, please feel free to share. Surely, not even the Pope has the power to suspend the sacraments. Also, how do you reconcile the Pope as the supreme authority with the Great schism?

Yes, they are not the same.

That reminds me of what an Orthodox friend told me about an Eastern Rite Catholic Church he visited. He told me they had a stained glass window of the sacred heart. Some also practice western devotions so it is definitely more western than an Orthodox Church. Though I have heard similar things about Western rite orthodox churches having an eastern flair.

Assuming that Father Damick is correct, one would have to have a good grasp of history to know whether or not there is bias in his interpretation, and from what he’s stated regarding the papacy, I would say it is.

I find that the differences which he states are exaggerations (the West was always rather more legalistic than its Byzantine counterpart since even before the schism, although that’s not to say that the Byzantines were not or could not be legalistic also) and/or biased with regard to the papacy (the pope who was condemned by a council was not, in effect, condemned for teaching heresy, but rather for not effectively stopping it). Moreover, the fact that the first three centuries of Christianity saw Christians being persecuted, may be why we don’t know as much about the Church Universal’s inner workings as we would after the Edict of Milan (but there is historical evidence of papal supremacy if one reads certain excerpts from St. Irenaeus, St. Ignatius, St. Clement, and if one carefully ponders the issue of rebaptism and the Quatradecimans, notwithstanding that papal infallibility is based on Scripture and Tradition). As for Pope John VIII’s opposition to the filioque, I don’t believe that is entirely correct, i.e., I believe he was opposed or rather he agreed that the filioque should not have been put into the Nicene creed, but not because he believed it to be heretical.

Here is a summation of the history surrounding the filioque put together by the North American Orthodox-Catholic Consulltation (from 1999-2003):


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