Sincere inquiry from an Orthodox Christian

Hello everyone

I start this topic to ask about a number of interrelated issues I was pondering recently about. As way of introduction I’d like to say that I was born in a cradle Catholic family. At the age of 17 I left the Catholic Church and became an Evangelical (with a dramatic conversion story and all), but then after a few years after my studies in Bible, Church Fathers and history I gradually came to believe that the Orthodox Church is the Church of Christ. Consequently, this is who I am today - an Orthodox Christian. However my studies also recovered my appreciation of Catholicism from my original Evangelical fundamentalist-like anti-Catholicism.

Recently I started to reconsider the claims of the Catholic Church to be the true Church. I must admit that I also discovered that I still have an attraction to Catholic faith from my youth deep at my heart. That’s why I decided to come here and ask few questions - to see if the reasons of my continuing rejection of the Catholicism are legitimate. I really hope you can help me in my quest. But, to the point.

When I think about my reservations regarding the Catholic teaching, I find that the most unconvincing or controversial to me is the development of doctrine. Before you accuse me of hypocrisy (‘Hey, Orthodox doctrine also developed!’), I would like to underline that I have more or less to specific instances of this development. One is the development of the understanding of Papacy and the second is the development of different, let’s say, devotions.

As for the first question - the Papacy. I have, I believe, much more sympathetic view of of the Papacy than the most of the Orthodox. Investigating the authority of the Bishop of Rome in the Church I came to see that it was something more than the primus inter pares. Yet it still appears to me quite complicated in the first millennium, as if there were two strands. On the one hand there are clear instances of appealing to Rome and its bishop with regards to its apostolic foundation, to its history, to its significance in the Empire, to its being beyond the Eastern Church filled with controversies and having more objective view of the situation. There is also something what I would call Petrine charism sometimes ascribed to the bishop of Rome and of course there is quite elevated view of this office that some of the popes held in antiquity. But on the other hand it doesn’t seem to me that the juridical authority of the Pope of Rome was clear throughout the Church, let alone his infallibility. I can understand that the jurisdiction of the Pope could develop over time, that this was a process in the Church consolidating all local Churches under the explicit and undisputable leadership of the Pope of Rome. As a process it could be tumultuous, with dissent here and there, I can accept such a vision. However as far as I know it’s not the jurisdiction of the Pope that was dogmatized in the Catholic Church, but his infallibility. And that’s a whole another problem to me, because I can’t see this truth universally accepted in the ancient Church. Once the other Churches agreed with the Bishop of Rome without questioning (“Peter has spoken!”), the other time they were rather eager to dispute the opinion of Rome. Of course someone can say that they were just disobedient, but if it were so, someone should have appeal to them reminding them that in such matters as faith one should not question the statement of the Pope as St. Peter’s successor. Here’s were I ask for help. As I said I can imagine the development of the jurisdiction of the Pope, however I cannot believe in the development of the doctrine of his infallibility when its not clear at all in the first millennium. It’s just does not appear as an objective truth (even if not defined) in that time. How do you, dear friends, see that historical matter? I can see usefulness of infallibility of the Pope, I can perheaps see Scriptural justification for it, but the history of the Church reveals to me a great gap between the possible Scriptural justification and the dogma from Vatican I. And I’d be more than happy if I could resolve that matter in my own mind and heart with your help :slight_smile:

The second question is a bit like the first one. I know of numerous Catholic devotions, especially connected with different visions and apparitions experienced by Catholic saints (e.g. Sacred Heart devotion). Taking into account how great role they seem to play in the spiritual lives of the Catholics, I become quite overwhelmed. All those promises of our Lord or our Lady connected with praying specific prayer specific number of times or on the specific days… :hypno: And especially since those devotions revealed to the saints have such a strong influence on the Christian’s salvation, it appears to me very unlikely that God waited whole centuries to reveal the details of the path of salvation in Christ. I could understand the gradual development of the devotions from the early times, but the ones I am speaking about were, well, revealed in an instant to a specific person long after the Apostles, let alone Jesus and His Holy Mother, walked the earth. How is it supposed to be understood? For example as far as I know Sacred Heart devotion does not have really any precedent before the second millennium, yet I hardly can find today a Catholic teaching not making reference to it. It seems to have become like one of the constitutive elements of the Catholic everyday faith. It’s quite different to my present Orthodox view where practically most of the practices or devotions can be seen as logical extensions of some precedent. In Catholicism it seems totally different, there is a lot of creation ex nihilo :slight_smile: I humbly ask you to explain me how you see that.

I would very much appreciate any relevant help, my questions are sincere and although these are not the only ones, I think that these are ones that strike me the most.

In Christ

As to the Papacy, you are correct that our understanding of it developed over centuries (the same could be said about our understanding of the nature of Christ). We see seeds of Papal doctrine in the Scriptures and the Early Fathers, but it is absurd to think that anybody in the First Century had a fully formed idea of the Papacy (and, arguably, we have not yet arrived at a fully formed idea, and the doctrine continues to develop).

That’s just the way it is. If you’re considering Rome, there’s nothing I can tell you that you don’t already know. Sorry.

As to the second point (devotions), no Catholic is ever required to perform any private devotions. They are all the result of personal revelation, and no post-Apostolic personal revelation can be forced upon the faithful as doctrine or obligation. Therefore, the Church does not actually teach anything about First Saturdays, etc. In some cases, the Church expressly allows certain things to be taught privately (not with Church authority). Allowing something to be taught is not the same thing as teaching it yourself.

In many situations, I think the Church follows the advice of Gamaliel:

Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop it; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”[Acts 5:38-39]

And some of these “promises” are known to be highly questionable. For example, the “promise” on the back of the Brown Scapular had traditionally been ascribed to St. Simon Stock, but nobody in authority (either in the Church or the Carmelite Orders) believes that today, and the Carmelite Orders (OCarm and OCD) have specifically distanced themselves from and discouraged this “promise” (though, it would appear, makers of religious items have not gotten the word).


I can see usefulness of infallibility of the Pope, I can perheaps see Scriptural justification for it, but the history of the Church reveals to me a great gap between the possible Scriptural justification and the dogma from Vatican I.

You asked a long question, so I will give you a long answer from Cardinal Newman who offers a logical explanation for why the modern papacy does not look the same as the papacy of the early Church.

Bl. Cardinal Newman on the Development of Papal Infallibility

The following excerpt is taken from John Henry Cardinal Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine written just prior to his conversion to the Catholic Church from Anglicanism. In this passage, Newman considers the development of the modern papacy and explains why an explicit understanding of Papal Supremacy by the early Church Fathers is not necessary and the lack thereof not fatal to the Catholic claims defined at the First Vatican Council in 1870.

Let us see how, on the principles which I have been laying down and defending, the evidence lies for the Pope’s supremacy.

As to this doctrine the question is this, whether there was not from the first a certain element at work, or in existence, divinely sanctioned, which, for certain reasons, did not at once show itself upon the surface of ecclesiastical affairs, and of which events in the fourth century are the development; and whether the evidence of its existence and operation, which does occur in the earlier centuries, be it much or little, is not just such as ought to occur upon such an hypothesis.

. . . While Apostles were on earth, there was the display neither of Bishop nor Pope; their power had no prominence, as being exercised by Apostles. In course of time, first the power of the Bishop displayed itself, and then the power of the Pope . . .

. . . St. Peter’s prerogative would remain a mere letter, till the complication of ecclesiastical matters became the cause of ascertaining it. While Christians were “of one heart and soul,” it would be suspended; love dispenses with laws . . .

When the Church, then, was thrown upon her own resources, first local disturbances gave exercise to Bishops, and next ecumenical disturbances gave exercise to Popes; and whether communion with the Pope was necessary for Catholicity would not and could not be debated till a suspension of that communion had actually occurred. It is not a greater difficulty that St. Ignatius does not write to the Asian Greeks about Popes, than that St. Paul does not write to the Corinthians about Bishops. And it is a less difficulty that the Papal supremacy was not formally acknowledged in the second century, than that there was no formal acknowledgment on the part of the Church of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity till the fourth. No doctrine is defined till it is violated . . .

Moreover, an international bond and a common authority could not be consolidated, were it ever so certainly provided, while persecutions lasted. If the Imperial Power checked the development of Councils, it availed also for keeping back the power of the Papacy. The Creed, the Canon, in like manner, both remained undefined. The Creed, the Canon, the Papacy, Ecumenical Councils, all began to form, as soon as the Empire relaxed its tyrannous oppression of the Church. And as it was natural that her monarchical power should display itself when the Empire became Christian, so was it natural also that further developments of that power should take place when that Empire fell. Moreover, when the power of the Holy See began to exert itself, disturbance and collision would be the necessary consequence . . . as St. Paul had to plead, nay, to strive for his apostolic authority, and enjoined St. Timothy, as Bishop of Ephesus, to let no man despise him: so Popes too have not therefore been ambitious because they did not establish their authority without a struggle. It was natural that Polycrates should oppose St. Victor; and natural too that St. Cyprian should both extol the See of St. Peter, yet resist it when he thought it went beyond its province . . .

On the whole, supposing the power to be divinely bestowed, yet in the first instance more or less dormant, a history could not be traced out more probable, more suitable to that hypothesis, than the actual course of the controversy which took place age after age upon the Papal supremacy.

It will be said that all this is a theory. Certainly it is: it is a theory to account for facts as they lie in the history, to account for so much being told us about the Papal authority in early times, and not more; a theory to reconcile what is and what is not recorded about it; and, which is the principal point, a theory to connect the words and acts of the Ante-Nicene Church with that antecedent probability of a monarchical principle in the Divine Scheme, and that actual exemplification of it in the fourth century, which forms their presumptive interpretation. All depends on the strength of that presumption. Supposing there be otherwise good reason for saying that the Papal Supremacy is part of Christianity, there is nothing in the early history of the Church to contradict it . . .

Moreover, all this must be viewed in the light of the general probability, so much insisted on above, that doctrine cannot but develop as time proceeds and need arises, and that its developments are parts of the Divine system, and that therefore it is lawful, or rather necessary, to interpret the words and deeds of the earlier Church by the determinate teaching of the later.

(Ven. John Henry Cardinal Newman, Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, 1878 ed., Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1989, pp. 148-155; Part 1, Chapter 4, Section 3.)

Devotions are not doctrine. And private revelations to saints are not binding.

If a particular devotion is attractive to you, pray it. If another is not, don’t.

I just finished the Way of a Piglrim (for the second time), and while I don’t fancy myself wandering through the Russian countryside saying the name of Jesus to myself 6,000 times a day, I do say it sometimes.

Your mileage may vary. :slight_smile:

Give glory to Jesus Christ! Now and forever!

Welcome, brother!
Are you familiar with the Eastern Catholic Churches Sui Juris?
You might find that you get answers from more of an Eastern Christian perspective in the forum for that -

Which of the Orthodox Churches do you belong to?

To the OP:

Just to take a step back, you seem to acknowledge there was some sort of real primacy that had some sort of real authority and real consequences. However, you are having trouble discerning whether that authority is to the extent that the Catholic Church claims it to be.

The thing is, the EO Churches don’t claim it at all–the primacy exists in a particular form in the Catholic Church, but it doesn’t exist at all in the EO Church. Unless the primacy itself became corrupted or lost (and if Jesus willed it for His Church, how could it be?), then by default, the Catholic claims must be correct.

DavidFilmer, thank you for your comment, especially about the continuing development of the Papacy. As for the devotions however, although I can see that the practice of perheaps most of them is optional, it’s not in the case of all of them. In practice there are feasts of the Sacred Heart or of the Mercy of God that were established in consequence of private revelations. Also as I read the local Catholic diocese’s regular prayerbook, there are references to a number of devotions here and there in prayers not specifically connected with these devotions (I am speaking again about Sacred Heart in particular - that one is common). So private nature of these devotions seems to me to exist largely in theory, because in practice both in prayerbooks and in the daily parish life (as I remember it from my youth) the whole Catholic life seems to be soaked with them. I guess when someone becomes a Catholic, one has just to accept that reality. And that’s ok, but I sense a dissonance between that reality and the theory you’re speaking about.

Randy Carson, I am very grateful for your quote from Cardinal Newman. For sure it nuances the idea of dogma in a way I have never actually met before. It is great food for though for me. Thanks also for bringing some order to my thoughts about devotions :slight_smile:

Ignatius, I will check out the linked forums for sure. Thanks! I am currently in the Polish Orthodox Church (I am not from the USA). While I am aware of the Eastern Catholic Churches, I don’t think that as a Catholic I would end up anywhere else than in the Latin rite where my journey of faith began.

The thing is, the EO Churches don’t claim it at all–the primacy exists in a particular form in the Catholic Church, but it doesn’t exist at all in the EO Church. Unless the primacy itself became corrupted or lost (and if Jesus willed it for His Church, how could it be?), then by default, the Catholic claims must be correct.

Genesis315, I am still not sure if Jesus willed specifically the kind of primacy as exemplified by Rome’s bishops throughout history. I am still pondering whether this is just a historical accidental development (like, say, five patriarchates) or the historical realisation of Christ’s will. My study continues :slight_smile:

Clement of Rome answered the question about apostolic succession. And Clement speaks for the whole Church when he says “we” as he is settling sedition among bishops in Corinth Greece. First Epistle . One has to already acknowledge, the bishop of Rome already has authority in other Churches in other countries as well, even during apostolic times…

Remember Thomas the apostle? He wasn’t there to see what the other apostles saw after the resurrection. His own friends told him what they saw and Thomas wouldn’t believe them. His response was, I will not believe until I not only see but to probe the wounds . And fortunately Jesus showed him. One could only surmise, if Jesus hadn’t shown him personally, would Thomas have doubted to his grave?


Neqtar (posts 1 and 7) – This thread gives me the idea to mention a scholar and theologian named Jaroslav Pelikan (1923-2006) who was a convert from Lutheranism to Orthodoxy. He taught at Yale Divinity School for many years and was the author of The Christian Tradition (5 volumes, 1973-1990). If I try to compare Orthodoxy and Catholicism in very general (almost aesthetic) terms, I think that they are at least equal in terms of providing a good Platonic-otherworldly-transcendental atmosphere (or accent or emphasis or focus), which I think is truly essential for any religion or religious tradition. This thought in turn reminds me to mention an Orthodox theologian named Michael Pomazansky (1888-1988) who was the author of a well-known textbook entitled Orthodox Dogmatic Theology.

In regards to private devotions, you are correct that they are very prevalent in the spiritual life of many (most?) Catholics…but I think you are missing a few key points:

  1. The liturgical feasts you mention may have been inspired by private revelations / devotions, but the feasts themselves do not depend upon them. If you read the propers for those feasts (feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus for example), the Church does not reference or quote private revelations, but rather Scripture. The Church takes this idea of the Sacred Heart and uses it as a metaphor of Christ’s love and mercy. As a Catholic you would not be required to go beyond the prayers and Scripture of the liturgical texts.

  2. Private devotions may seem to dominate spiritual life in many parishes, but these devotions DO vary from country to country or region to region. They thus cannot be universal “means” to salvation, but rather local expressions of the faith that are useful for individuals to grow in Christ. Only the sacraments, and especially the Eucharist, is universal. I know from firsthand experience that private devotions in my wife’s home country of the Dominican Republic are very different from those in Canada. Furthermore, Eastern Catholics are exhorted to live out a strictly Eastern spirituality. In theory there should be zero difference between the spiritual life of an Eastern Catholic or an Orthodox Christian. Eastern Catholics are truly and fully Catholic, not just an “exception to the rule”.

  3. I, as a convert to Catholicism from Protestantism, also long considered Orthodoxy. My biggest issue with rejecting the papacy is determining, definitively, WHERE the Church of Christ is. There isn’t a single Orthodox communion. Various schisms have occurred. What would happen if the Orthodox bishops disagreed on an issue right down the middle…50/50…which side would you as a lay person follow?

The biggest issue for me would be deciding between the Eastern Orthodox communion and the Oriental Orthodox communion. Yes, I realize that the Oriental Orthodox rejected the council of Chalcedon, which both Catholics and EO accept as an ecumenical council…but what makes it an ecumenical council? The Catholic answer is simple and definitive: it was accepted by the Pope of Rome and the bishops in communion with him. The Eastern Orthodox answer, at least the only answer I’ve come across, is circular: the Council of Chalcedon was ecumenical because it was accepted by the whole Church. Clearly this wasn’t true, as most of the Alexandrian (Coptic) and Antiochian (Syriac) Churches rejected it.

The formal dogmatic definition of infallibility was made at Vatican I, and the limits were elaborated at Vatican I and II, yet the finality of the teaching authority was confirmed long ago as mentioned in the Vatican I statements.

It is the finality of the teaching authority of the Supreme Pontiff which implies infallibility as defined at Vatican I.

Expounded at Vatican I and II: “That apostolic primacy which the Roman pontiff possesses as successor of Peter, the prince of the apostles, includes also the supreme power of teaching.”

“Papal infallibility means the Pope’s exercise of teaching authority on behalf of and in communion with the Church which is juridically irreformable, and limited to truths which form a part of the deposit of faith and that must be held as true.”
A source about middle ages is the New Catholic Encyclopedia (2003), “Infallibility”, p. 448, paragraph entitled “Doctrinal Formation”: “While the term infallibility first emerged in medieval theology, Christians eventually ascribed some type of infalliblity to the Church …”.

Sources in the first 1000 years includes Hormisidas, 517 A.D., and Constantinople IV (Catholic not Orthodox accepted) in 869 A.D., and Lyons II, and Florence after 1000. In general, however, Vatican I includes all statements of the councils as explained in earlier posts, including all before and after 1000 A.D.

You can read the relatio of Bishop Gasser from Vatican I, translated into English for insight into what they voted on at Vatican I.

The Gift of Infallibility: The Official Relatio on Infallibility of Bishop by James T. O’Connor.

As the Catholic Church has defined there are only three situations where infallibility holds, all requiring assent of the Pope:

  1. Pope ex cathedra
  2. Bishops, in union with Pope, defining doctrine at General Council
  3. Bishops proposing definitively, dispersed, but in unison, in union with Pope

I would just add one more (which of course also includes the Pope):

[quote=Vatican II, Lumen Gentium]The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One,(111) cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole peoples’ supernatural discernment in matters of faith when “from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful” (8*) they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals.

It may be argued that the infallibility of the Pope and of the whole college of bishops is implied by the infallibility of the whole Church and the fact that the Pope and bishops have the authority to definitively teach and judge the faith of the whole Church.

That is an excellent comment and shows that there is a repetition at each level, of the infallibility of the faith.

Sometimes there is objection due to a misunderstanding of the authority as an individual matter rather than the infallibility of the whole Church (through the Holy Spirit) expressed through the role of Supreme Pontiff.

Bishop Gasser noted that Papal authority:

  1. is not personal: not as the person, but as the role of Supreme Pontiff, not because of the authority of the Supreme Pontiff, but due to the assistance of the Holy Spirit when acting in that role as supreme judge in matters of faith and morals.

  2. is not separate: not apart from, or opposed to, or set over against the entire Church, even though the promise of Christ of the aid of the Holy Spirit to the role of sucessor of Peter in matters of faith and morals is, in a sense, different than that of the indefectability and infallibility in truth promised to the entire Church.

  3. is not absolute since absolute authority belongs to God alone and it is restricted by the subject: what must be accepted or rejected of faith or morals.

See The Gift of Infallibility, Gasser, O’Connor, pages 44-50. This is the book on the relatio of Vatican I.

I echo the call to “take a step back”…but I would also follow up and say that you should be very careful in your discernment.

The Primacy does exist in Orthodoxy…The Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I of Constantinople has it. There is a great difference between Primacy and Supremacy.

There are several threads going on in Non-Catholic Religion right now on these issues…in addition I would encourage you to read some of the knowledgable Orthodox posters here (Cavaradossi is a prime example) and get both views.

After that it comes down to Prayer Prayer Prayer. Obviously, I don’t want to you to leave Orthodoxy, but we all have Free Will.

God be with you in your journey.

This is to Randy…tks…Beautifully stated…I’m going to look into The Way of the Pilgrim" I have a dear friend who is a Hieromonk…Eastern Orthodox Priest Monk…he went East years ago while being a Catholic Seminarian…but he like others became disenchanted with the direction the Church was taking with V-2…nevertheless, I have always had a strong interest in religions…I am cradle Catholic who served Holy Mass prior to V-2 (barely, I’m not that old) and admit to a deep attraction to the Latin Liturgy…and everything that goes with it…and believe me I could go on and on here…but…what I wanted to share was my Orthodox Priest friend gave me his old prayer rope when he recently upgraded…I was flattered and cherish this item…have researched it…and do pray the Jesus Prayer using from time to time…so I can appreciate your experience same the name of Js 600X…personally though my primarry practice is,what St Pio referred to as his ‘weapon’ ,the Holy Rosary…repetitive you bet…a great older book…I love old books…which I picked up on a table on sale in the Library as an undergrad years ago…and years later (imagine) it appeared to me, I read it and I recommend it…my Marian Devotion has grown…all Christocentric eh…you bet…the book…The Spendor of the Rosary…excerpt…the prayers are there for the beads…and the beads are there for the prayers…as far as repeating…it was suggested and likened to …a mother rocking a child that she loves…repeating…I love you, I love you,I love you…all sorts of ways to pray…didn’t mean to drag on…but thank you for you eloquant explanation…I would appreciate having a conversation with you over coffee…PAX

Per the Way of the Pilgrim, do you say it to yourself, or is that Jesus Prayer addressed to God?

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