Sunday, January 24, 2010

The ESV Study Bible on Eastern Orthodoxy (Part 2 of 2)

First off, my hubby has a blog. He created it months ago but never started posting until last week. AND he actually commented on here for the first time yesterday - I have high hopes he'll continue to share his knowledge - he studies these things and intends to make it his career, whereas I do it on the side out of interest. In any case, to see his writing on the Church, theology, and history, visit Isaac's blog at Isaac's Lazyboy.

This is my regurgitation of the ESV study Bible's analysis of the points of agreement and disagreement between Evangelicalism and Eastern Orthodoxy. The first post can be found here.

Substantive Disagreement
- The Preaching of the Word. To be honest, I'm not quite sure I agree this is a substantive difference. The article identifies that despite brilliant early preachers, worship in Eastern Orthodoxy is highly visual today and identifies the inadequacy of language. Preaching is central to worship in evangelicalism. Is this really a central disagreement, though? To me, it seems like a difference in practice in which we could learn from each other.

- The relationship between Scripture and Tradition
Here is indeed a difference. In the last post we discussed that both traditions believe in the importance of tradition and scripture. However, to evangelicals scripture is the ultimate authority, while the Orthodox believe that Scripture exists within the "living, dynamic movement" of the tradition of the Church. For many Evangelicals this would be the line in the sand that they wouldn't be willing to compromise in. To me, the flaw with this reasoning in evangelicalism is the assumption that we understand scripture so much better than Orthodoxy... who also consider it important and authoritative.

- The Palamite Doctrine of the Trinity
This refers to the distinction in the East between the unknowable essence of God and his energies, which we can know and be joined with. The ESV commenter says, "This view has driven a wedge between God in himself and God as he has revealed himself, threatening our knowledge of God with profound agnosticism, since we have no way of knowing whether God is as he has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. This formulation defies rational discourse, since it tells us that we cannot say anything definitive about who God is, which the result that the Christian life is reduced to non-cognitive mystical contemplation. It introduces into God a division, not a distinction."

Isaac is currently working working for a professor who is writing a book about this sort of discussion in Trinitarian theology. It's immensely complex, but he often comes down on the Orthodox side of things. In any case, we agree that we cannot completely know the essence of God, and yet that in some way He has made himself known. That is a amount in common.

- The Veneration of Mary and Saints
Orthodoxy practices praying to Mary and the Saints to intercede for believers. Evangelicals, with their emphasis on the final authority of scripture, point out that this is found nowhere in scripture. Evangelicals object to "the belief that departed saints can receive our prayers and so intercede on our behalf. The Bible does not encourage us to put our hope in the prayers of departed saints; it directs our hope to Christ."
"Orthodoxy insists that the incarnation mandates icons of Christ, since God has chosen to reveal himself in human form. Evangelicals are equally emphatic that the second commandment prohibits the use of images in worship and many think that using icons of Christ as aids to worship oversteps acceptable boundaries. Both sides claim the other is heretical; Orthodoxy considers evangelicals guilty of Manicheeism, entailing a deficient view of matter, while evangelicals argue that icons of Christ imply a Nestorian abstraction of Christ's humanity. (Manicheeism holds that there are two coequal realities, spirit and matter, which are respectively good and evil. Nestorianism is a heresy that separated Christ's divine and human natures)"
- Synergism in Salvation
The East holds strongly to free will and they are blatantly against the reformed doctrine of predestination and the sovereignty of grace. Here, Orthodoxy is further from the Reformed than Rome is. However, there's a wide range of teaching on this issue within Protestantism - the writer of the article seems to think that evangelicals are all Reformed! I have heard some Reformed folks directly reject Orthodoxy for this reason, though.

Compared with Rome, How Far Away from Protestantism is Orthodoxy?

I am going to quote this directly, because it is dense.
There are ways in which Orthodoxy is closer to classic Protestantism than is Rome. Both were forced into separation from the Roman Church, and both agree in their opposition to the claims of the papacy. The structure of Orthodox churches is much closer to that of Reformed churches, especially the Anglican church. The Orthodox recognition of the parity of all believers, and the autonomy and autocephalous nature of local churches, is far closer to Reformed polity than is the Roman hierarchy. Hence, Orthodoxy does not have the same accumulation of authoritative dogmas as Rome. Moreover, the Orthodox stress on the Bible opens up a large commonality of approach.

There are, however, ways in which Orthodoxy is further removed from evangelicalism than is Rome. Protestantism shares the Roman Catholic understanding of the Trinity . Orthodoxy's stance on the filioque controversy, and its distinction between the essence of God and the divine energies, produces a different form of piety. Western faith is centered in Christ; the East's is more focused on the Holy Spirit. As Orthodox theologian Kallistos Ware put it, Rome and Protestantism share the same questions, but supply different answers; with Orthodoxy, the questions themselves are different.

Hmm. Okay, so in the identified areas in which we are further from Orthodoxy than Rome, I stand with Orthodoxy on the first one, the filioque controversy. Interesting that Protestants usually fall with Rome - I would think that the beliefs about the finality of scripture would make them fall with Orthodoxy, since Orthodoxy is simply following a direct quote of Scripture. I wonder how much it's actually been discussed. And as for the second point, the West being centered in Christ and the East being centered on the Spirit.... well hello, I would say this shouldn't be a separation. Do we not both believe in the importance of both, and the centrality of the Trinity? This should most certainly not divide us. I do, however, understand that we are looking at entirely different questions... the difference in our history and culture is blatantly evident to me.

There are a couple of very valid points in the "substantive disagreement" section. Hmm. Are they insurmountable? I say no. Whereas Rome has driven a line in the sand and said that only those who recognize the singular authority of the Pope can be members of the Catholic church, Eastern Orthodoxy only holds as dividing theology the ecumenical councils..... which evangelicals do agree with. It seems to me that we should be able to be much closer than we are.


PresterJosh said...

Thanks for posting all this information on Orthodoxy recently, Kacie. I wish more Protestants & Evangelicals were aware of the Eastern Christian tradition. It has a lot of correctives for modern American spirituality.

One thing I noticed the ESV didn't cover is the Eastern Catholic churches. They manage to combine the Eastern distinctives (Icons, Eastern Trinitarianism, etc.) and communion with Rome. There was an interesting story about this in the Catholic Anchor here.

Kacie said...

Thanks PresterJosh. You're right that they don't cover Eastern Catholic churches, but they do have a section on Roman Catholicism that is set up similar to the section on Eastern Orthodoxy. They might mention the Eastern Catholic churches there - I haven't read it it. I figured the relationship between Evangelicals and Catholicism is a much more well-worn topic than is the Eastern Orthodox relationship!

DebD said...

Hi Kacie - I think you are quite right on the points about the preaching of the Word.

Asking saints and Mary to pray for us is an oft- misunderstood issue. I think if one looks at it rather as asking any person to pray for us. Orthodox are radical - we believe that the saints in heaven are actually alive in Christ. Protestants must also understand that they do not use a complete Bible. They might do well to look to apocryphal books for some enlightenment.

I did want to take a minor issue with your last paragraph. You said Eastern Orthodoxy only holds as dividing theology the ecumenical councils..... which evangelicals do agree with.

This is not entirely true. Protestants will agree with parts of the Ecumenical Councils, but I don't think any of them venerate icons (8th council) and many would not agree to call Mary the Theotokos or Ever Virgin (2-3 and maybe 4th??? councils). As a minor aside - both Martin Luther and John Calvin referred to Mary are "Ever Virgin" It is only recently that Evangelicals have dropped this.

Kacie said...

Hey DebD, thanks for your comment - I told my husband he should reply but he was busy writing a paper, and I nearly forgot to respond myself!

I've looked around for some general thoughts of Protestants about the 7 councils, and it seems that most Protestants, except for perhaps the most independent and fundamentalist, accept the councils and their statements. They simply don't ascribe them the same authority as the Eastern Orthodox.

You gave the example of the veneration of icons, but I would respond by saying that Protestants often misunderstand the veneration of icons, but as defined by this council and the EO Church, they don't disagree with veneration itself. It's listed in the ESV under the misunderstanding section - sometimes Protestants perceive veneration as worship. Veneration itself, though, they do not think is wrong.

And for the Theotokos, the honoring of Mary for being the "god-bearer", that also is something that Protestants do agree with but often misunderstand in practice. The idea of the perpetual virginity of Mary wasn't actually discussed at the council where Mary was declared the "theotokos" (if I've done my research right). I still believe this is a standard Eastern Orthodox view, but I don't believe it's drawn from a council.

PresterJosh said...

Hey Kacie,

A couple of quick points.

You're correct that classic Protestantism is perfectly compatible with the definition of Mary as Theotokos (God-bearer or "Mother of God").

However, the definition of Mary as Ever Virgin is drawn from one of the Ecumenical Councils (the Fifth EC, aka The Second Council of Constantinople). It declared "If anyone does not confess that God the Word was twice begotten, the first before all time from the Father, non-temporal and bodiless, the other in the last days when he came down from the heavens and was incarnate by the holy, glorious, God-bearer, ever-virgin Mary, and born of her, let him be anathema."

This too is something that one finds in early Protestantism. Luther and Calvin both supported the definition of Mary as Ever-Virgin. However, it largely dropped out of Protestant belief shortly thereafter. (With the notable exception of John Wesley.) You can find some good historical references here.

Regarding veneration, the main thrust of Protestant theology has held that there is no real distinction between veneration and adoration/worship. In this they follow Calvin, who said "(t)he distinction of what is called dulia and latria was invented for the very purpose of permitting divine honours to be paid to angels and dead men with apparent impunity."

Obviously, there are exceptions to this, but until the rise of the Anglo-Catholic Oxford Movement in the 19th Century, and the Ecumenical Movement in the 20th, that was the (nearly) universal opinion among Protestants.

Whew! I guess that wasn't so quick after all. Oh well. I hope it wasn't too long. I'd definitely encourage you to look into the Oxford Movement and John Henry Cardinal Newman, who dealt with a lot of this in his writings.

debd said...

Hi Kacie - I replied at my blog because I didn't know which would be appropriate.

I see that PresterJosh knows exactly where we are instructed to call Mary "ever Virgin". Good show!


I enjoyed looking over your blog
God bless you

Kacie said...

By the way, presterjosh and debd, thanks for your clarification here, I'm glad for your knowledge! I was looking around to try to figure out the answer to that ever-virgin question, and couldn't find the Constantinople Council quote that you listed.

PresterJosh said...

Glad I could help!