03 June 2012

A Strange Uniate argument

We had an interesting guest at the parish today--a Byzantine Catholic whose brother is Orthodox. Both were raised Protestant. When I expressed surprise to the one brother that he would have chosen to become Byzantine Catholic, he used what I consider to be an odd explanation.

Referring to JH Newman's The Development of Doctrine, and connecting it to John 6, he claimed first, that doctrine has continued to develop (in the Newman sort of way). He then claimed that the end of John 6 is normative for the whole history of the church, and that unless a body continues to develop its teachings and bring each new generation to a crisis-point--a point at which some or many of Christ's disciples leave or are tempted to leave--unless that happens, such a body cannot be the Church Christ founded.

To him, it is proof of Orthodoxy's error that it has held no council since 787. (Of course I pointed out the council of 879, which rejected the filioque; I could also have cited the Palamite councils of the 1340's, but no matter.) In any case, I found it odd for a Uniate to argue that the Orthodox Church presents no ongoing crisis-point at which some leave, given that the Uniate movement arose precisely as a departure from the Orthodox faith in favor of Rome.

But I've seen a similar defense for western discussions of, say, original sin and justification. "We in the West have had to deal with more problems than you in the East," this argument goes, "and so our theological language is more precise than yours." It seems to me to be a little like a Saab owner arguing that his car is superior to a Honda, because it has required more time in the shop.

The Church has had councils since 787, of course, as mentioned above. But ongoing theological crises scarcely seem to be a hallmark of truth. It is good when dysfunctional homes work through troubles to achieve some modicum of stability; but it is better when no such internal troubles arise.

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