aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,
aefenglommung
aefenglommung

O East is East and West is West

I have many LJ friends who are Catholic (Roman or Anglo-) or Orthodox. I try to refrain from criticizing their beliefs or practices. In fact, so far as the Orthodox Churches go, I don't believe I've ever said they were flat wrong about anything. Nevertheless, this post may be perceived as a criticism by either or both groups.

I think both the blessing and curse of Western theology is its fecundity. Ideas blossom, new thoughts are being thunk all the time. On the down side, at the same time that the Great Schism was reaching its climax, the Roman Church was ready to launch into several things that Protestants later objected to strenuously -- transubstantiation, clerical celibacy, papal interference in foreign governments (e.g., the Norman invasion) and local control (e.g., the investiture controversy). But on the up side, you have a galaxy of talented and spiritual thinkers creating new forms of religious life and exploring new intellectual reaches. Dante, Francis of Assisi, Julian of Norwich, Bernard of Clairvaux, and so on. They don't all agree with each other, but they enrich our tradition immensely.

This fecundity, for good and ill, is intensified in the Protestant tradition. New thoughts, new pieties, the rediscovery of wonderful things are all typical of the best in Protestantism. The downside, of course, is that we have bred new denominations like rabbits, and there has been no one with the authority to thin out the stranger forms of Christianity we have spawned.

The Orthodox, on the other hand, seem to me to be typified by a kind of sterility. Oh, not to say anything against their doctrines or their spiritual life -- the Orthodox I know are vibrant, fully awakened Christians. But it sometimes seems to this Westerner that they haven't had a new thought since the Ninth Century or so. And further, that over the years since the Great Schism, they have exalted every piddling difference of emphasis into some great divide that must be resolved before we can claim each other again.

Part of this reaction is probably due to the pressures of the Roman Church on the Greek Church -- particularly during the Crusades, but also in the competition between them in Eastern Europe since. Part of this reaction, I think, is due to most of the Orthodox having to live for centuries under the Ottoman Empire and its repressive religious policies. But there was always a kind of obstinacy to the Eastern Church, even back in the day. Even when all the new ideas were coming out of Antioch and Alexandria, there was a tendency to regard theology as the province of people who know what they're doing (which automatically excluded everyone from West of Byzantium).

Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that there is a tendency in each of the great halves of the Church that is both their blessing and their bane. I think the West needs the East (whether they think so or not), as rudder or sea anchor, anyway, to keep us from boxing the compass. But the East needs the West, too (they would vociferously deny this), to blossom again as both blessing and blessed.

As one of the Songs of Ascent (Ps. 133) we are using for our Lenten vespers puts it,
Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil upon the head,
running down upon the beard,
upon the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,
life for evermore.

Lord, hasten the day.
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