Roman Catholic Spirituality and Byzantine Catholic Spirituality

I don’t know the western orders well enough to make a comparison, but I also remember hearing that cloistered Benedictines were close to Eastern spirituality. I would think the Basilians would be, too, since they also use the Rule of St. Basil, but I don’t know.

For understanding the Byzantine spirituality, I recommend Archbishop Joseph Raya.

The Passaic eparchy has a short summary on their site.

By Basilians, do you mean OSBM or CSB (congregation of st Basil)? I believe the CSB are very western, OSBM very eastern. Orders, of course, are a Latin thing, for the most part.

OSBM are Eastern Catholic, so I must have meant CSB. The Basilians here in Texas came from Toronto, which is where the OSBM are active so I thought the Eastern Catholics must have influenced the western order. I obviously don’t know much about western orders!

My :two cents:, for what little it’s worth:

The Benedictines and Carmelites tend to be closest to Eastern/Byzantine spirituality. St. Benedict’s Rule, if memory serves me correctly, is fairly similar to the Rule of St. Basil, and St. Benedict himself is highly regarded among the Orthodox. There’s a Greek Orthodox parish a couple of blocks from me that has a very large icon of St. Benedict in the foyer.

The Carmelites through the lens of John of the Cross bear a great deal of similarity to Eastern/Byzantine spirituality primarily because John of the Cross drew the bulk of his insights from the Desert Fathers. Actually, I’ve found the reading John of the Cross in conjunction with the Eastern Fathers has made more specific some of the things that I found rather vague in the Eastern Fathers, and he uses very similar language.

St. John Cassian is considered to be the Western saint who translated Eastern spirituality into Western culture. I believe he’s also considered a Father among Easterners. Met. Kallistos Ware holds him in very high regards and mentions him in his “Mystical Theology” DVD/CD series.

I cannot recommend the writings of Kyr Joseph Raya highly enough. They have been my favorite writings in Eastern/Byzantine spirituality I’ve read thus far. Very simple and easy to read, while at the same time communicating an incomparable depth. In reading his works you can tell that he really lived what he preached. I’m also coming to an appreciation for the works of Catherine Doherty, although I haven’t read enough to determine whether or not I can whole-heartedly recommend them. :stuck_out_tongue:

I second what Phillip says regarding the Benedictines and Carmelites. I do know that Brother David (ByzCath) is canonically an Eastern Catholic (I can’t remember to which Church he is ascribed) who is a Carmelite. Perhaps we could ask him to illuminate a bit more of the similarity between Carmelite spirituality and Byzantine Catholic spirituality.

I believe he is Ruthenian.

I believe you are write :smiley:

Or should I say, rite?:smiley: Ha ha…get it?

I get it. And now I see my typo. Alas. :o

I think in these discussions people often paint the Latin Church with one brush. This is highly misleading. We must remember that the Latin Church is truly vast in every sense of the word. Latin Catholicism has spread to virtually every corner of the globe, often adopting much of the native culture in its local expression of Latin spirituality. Latin spirituality and theology varies greatly among the great religious famlies - Franciscan, Carmelite, Dominican, Benedictine, etc. Carmelite theology tends to be very mystical, as other posters have pointed out, and has a bit of an Eastern “flavor” to it (after all, they trace their origins to monks who settled on Mt. Carmel in the Near East). When people describe Latin theology as rationalistic as opposed to mystical, I think they have Thomism in mind, which in reality is just one of several major branches of Latin theology - but even then, St. Thomas certainly had his own profound mysticism (as do the Dominicans in general). Franciscan liturgy tends to be very austere, simplistic, and reverent - for example, the Franciscan form of the Roman Rite does not employ Gregorian chant as it is seen as too ‘elaborate’ and ‘rich’ for Franciscan spirituality and an empty cross is used in place of a crucifix. Dominican liturgy on the other hand tends to be much more elaborate and solemn with heavy use of ritual and beautiful external “trimmings” - more akin to the Byzantine focus on “heaven on earth”. At the lay devotional level, Latin Catholic piety, devotions, and customs vary immensely from nation to nation and culture to culture. Latin American Roman Catholics, for example, have a very outgoing, expressive, elaborate, and richly emotional devotional life, while North American Roman Catholic spirituality tends to be much more austere and internal. While the structure of the liturgy is identical, the “feel” of a Roman rite mass in Africa, Latin America, or North America will vary greatly. The Church has made it clear, for example, that dancing is inappropriate in the context of the mass in North America or Western Europe, but may be appropriate, within the proper context, in Africa, reflecting profound differences in the culture and spirituality within the Latin Church.

I agree. Oftentimes, the Latin Church’s spirituality has been painted unfavorably in my encounters with ECers. Thankfully, I haven’t seen too much of that attitude here at CAF as I’ve seen it on the parish level.


Great question! After the first month of attending Divine Liturgy, the deacon’s wife gave me the book, “Light of the East: A Guide to Eastern Catholicism for Western Catholics” by George Appleyard. (I’m sure you can find it for less elsewhere, but here is the link). This is by no means exhaustive, but from a good primer:

First, Appleyard defines spirituality:

Spirituality is composed of, but not exhausted by, several elements: the way we experience our acceptance of Jesus as Lord, the [S]acraments, the disciplines of prayer and worship, the expression of devotion, the cult of saints, and our service to others.

Byzantine spirituality is Trinitarian

Salvation is viewed primarily as participation and communion with God through the Word by the Spirit, And so a majority of Byzantine theologians prefer to speak of the human person as a trichotomy of the body, soul and spirit (or mind) rather than the body-soul dichotomy of the West. This image better serves to facilitate an understanding of the human person’s participation in God through the Trinity.

Byzantine spirituality is communal [and Liturgy-Centered]

It is axiomatic in thought that an individual is not saved as an individual but as a member of a body.

It is said that Slav Byzantine piety is founded on two pillars: the psalter and the lives of the saints.

Byzantine spirituality encompasses elements of Theosis, Synergy, and Apathia

**Theosis: "**The Byzantines agree that it is not possible for humans to know ir share the divine essence, but the can receive …] the truly divine grace of God. …] "

Synergy: “While God provides all that is necessary for human salvation and perfection, the human…must accept and apply these gifts.”

Apathia: “Byzantine theology and psychology admonish the individual to strive for apathia, or spiritual tranquility [which is not apathy or indifference].”

Other ideas to note are: there are eight deadly sins instead of seven: the eighth is despondency. The “eight deadlies” are a progression of uncontrolled passions that lead from one to the next.

Paul’s letter to the Romans (6:23) is read differently. The Latins read, “because of sin all die,” while the Byzantines read “because of death, all sin.” The text, in Greek, can be read both ways. St. Jerome chose the former option, influencing the Latins to see death as punishment. By contrast, Byzantines see death as a “consequence,” or as St. Gregory of Nyssa states, “death is the final remedy.” By training/taming our instincts to a higher order, “that which has brought about our fall can also bring about our restoration.”

In summation, Appleyard states that, “…to generalize, we can say that the Latin tradition is more Aristotelian, preferring to work inductively (from the bottom up) as an empirical scientist might, while the Byzantine is more Platonic, working deductively (from the top down) as a mystic does.

Please, please get the book. :thumbsup:

I am not sure how any of what I’ve written matches up with the spirituality or charism of a particular Western order. :blush: Perhaps someone else would kindly compare and contrast what they know with the framework I’ve shared.

Thanks, Miserissima. That may help my friend out a bit and give a framework in order to make some comparisons.

And thanks to others who have mentioned Benedictines and Carmelites. I think that really helps. I’ve never heard of the Basilians, so that’s a cool new thing to learn about!

I’ve often heard about RCers going to ECC due to the spirituality (among other things), but after seeing some of the connections pointed out here – one wonders an RC wouldn’t just look more widely and deeply into into the spiritual traditions of Latin Catholicism before crossing the Dnieper.

Well, spirituality is, to a large extent, tied in with the Liturgy and the liturgical life of the Church. To such an extent that emphases in liturgy are different, spirituality too will be somewhat different. Those RCs who “cross the Dnieper” (or the Bosphorus for that matter) do so because they’ve found something that speaks to them within the Eastern tradition that perhaps either isn’t there or isn’t emphasized in the Roman tradition.

I grew up, by the mercy of God, in a strong Roman Catholic home. I was always encouraged to read and study both the lives of the saints and their writings, and my family always had a good number of spiritual books on hand, which I took advantage of. I went to a Roman Catholic university and studied theology from a Roman perspective. It wasn’t until a couple of years after my graduation from college that I really discovered the Byzantine East (although I had heard whispers and rumors of it). The discovery of the Byzantine East filled me with something I found wanting in the Roman tradition. To a large extent the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom played a huge role in my move Eastward. But the spirituality that flowed from the East’s liturgical life is really what drew me East.

I found that in the West, since for so many centuries the Liturgy/Mass was not so much a communal event as the act of the priest in which the laity were little more than specters, spirituality really took on an individualistic shape - hence the growth of what scholars have coined the “Devotio Moderna.” The attitude can be summed up in a phrase a Dominican professor of mine loved to quote, “Jesus and me, and to hell with thee.” Because of this it really seems like spirituality is something that is reinvented in as many individuals as seek a truly spiritual life. Hence you see the growth of “centering prayer,” “traditional Catholicism,” the “Charismatic Renewal,” etc. I’m not saying that any of these things or movements are bad, I’m just trying to paint a very broad picture.

In the East, on the other hand, Liturgy is very much a communal event. A priest cannot celebrate a “private” Mass, nor can he even celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours by himself. Our liturgical services always presume the presence of two or more individuals. Because of this there is much more of a communal emphasis not only on liturgy, but on spirituality as well. Eastern spirituality is not something that is reinvented from one generation to the next, rather it is something that each generation enters into. Naturally each generation has to give it an expression that speaks to its own particular time and circumstances, but we always look for that expression by turning to the great Fathers and Mothers of our tradition. There is also a huge emphasis on having a guide (who had a guide, who had a guide, who in turn was guided by X mystic, who’s guide was…) so that our spiritual lives are truly in line with the teaching of the Fathers and Mothers, and not just something we are making up as we go.

Both expressions have their strengths and weaknesses. If the West’s weakness is to an overly-individualistic approach with no emphasis on the community, then the East’s weakness is on an overly communal approach with all but ignores the individual. A strength of the West is that somehow, despite the overemphasis on individualism, you have a near plethora of spiritual fathers, mothers, directors, confessors, etc. In the East, at least among the Byzantines, it has been bemoaned since at least the times of St. Theophan the Recluse (18th Century) how few spiritual fathers and mothers there are. I can only speculate as to why this is. I have some thoughts, but it’d take too long and too much space to lay them out here. :smiley:

Reasons for requesting a transfer of canonical enrollment are varied, and several justifications are found throughout the threads here on CAF:

A transfer is never allowed for flippant reasons such as, “I think the spirituality is deeper in the East,” because that would certainly a lack of comprehension of the elements of Latin spirituality, tradition, and historical development.

Any personal conversion*** story could be better taken up in PM or a separate thread where people are invited to share.

(*** I use the word, ‘conversion’ here in the sense of a deepening faith, not in the sense of turning away one’s heart from what was formerly known.)

@ Philip: good call on the Bosphorus. :thumbsup:

Canonical transfers often come up with folks in CAF EC after a first visit to an ECC, though they sometimes wait till after the second visit. :wink:

BWAH! :smiley: That was good!

This might help, though is rather simplistic also. Western Latin theology ‘tends’ to emphasize what God ‘is’ (cataphatic theology), while Eastern theology emphasizes what God ‘is not’ (anaphatic theology). Aquinas saw the two as complimentary and corrective of one another. Easterns use images (icons) ideally as a step on the path of going ‘beyond’ images to what cannot be imaged. Examples of Western Latin ‘imageless’ (anaphatic) saints are St. John of the Cross, and the author of ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’.

This thread has prompted me to look a bit deeper into Benedictine spirituality. Thanks for the interesting discussion…


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