Tag Archives: ecclesiology

Church Done Right

The WSJ has two editorials that touch on themes important both for our life in Christ.

The first discusses the tendency to “weaponize” history. As the author, University of Oklahoma history professor Wilfred McClay puts it

…instead of expanding our minds and hearts, history is increasingly used to narrow them. Instead of helping us to deepen ourselves and take a mature and complex view of the past, history is increasingly employed as a simple bludgeon, which picks its targets mechanically—often based on little more than a popular cliché—and strikes.

The second editorial reflects on the reactions to the recent death of David Koch. Chandra Bozelko describes Koch as a model of “cooperation across ideological lines.”

Unfortunately, and as with those who would simplify history in the service of ideological purity, while the Koch brothers have been willing to work with others even “without agreeing on everything,” some refused to work with them or accept their donations. 

Instead, there were those who insisted on a “homogeneity of thought,” even when doing so 

…is a surefire way to arrest progress. Think of what gains would be lost if health-care providers, charities and advocacy groups—including New York-Presbyterian Hospital, the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund, Lincoln Center, the National Association of Defense Attorneys—boycotted the Koch brothers and their donations.

While we cannot in either or personal spiritual lives or in the life of the Church compromise on either the faith or morals, there is–or at least can be–room for us to cooperate with others of goodwill on a case to case basis.

In fact, we can even cooperate with those who have less than goodwill if we do so with the innocence of doves and the wisdom of serpents (see Matthew 10:16). Living as we do in a fallen world, this is unavoidable.

The pursuit of ideological purity is, in the secular realm, what sectarianism is in the ecclesiastical. Both are motivated by fear and a desire to control.

Such control, however, is illusory.

Clear and definitive boundaries don’t secure ideological or sectarian purity. Such boundaries are certainly necessary since without them we lose the sense of who we are as a political or ecclesiastical community.

But because people move back and forth between the Church or the party, there needs to be a certain openness in the boundaries. 

And as people move between communities–basically, “us” and “them”–they bring new and foreign ideas into the community. It is these “new ideas” that must be eradicated if we are to protect our political or theological purity.

In other words, whether we are talking about a political philosophy or an ecclesial community, purity requires that we exert an increasingly strict amount of control over the members of the group.

At first, this will mean drawing increasing sharp boundaries between the group and the wider world. But as this proves to be less than successful, we need to turn inward and police our own ranks.

At first, this means correcting erroneous ideas. But soon, it means narrowing the range of acceptable differences and impose a conformity of thought and action.

We see this, as Bozelko and McClay point out, in the current intersectionality fab.

The history of the Church makes clear that while the concerns and language are different, Christians are not immune to similar social dynamics. What the world calls intersectionality, the Church calls heresy, sectarianism, and schism.

By way of conclusion, it’s worth pointing out that heresy and schism are caused not simply by those who reject the tradition of the Church as those who would defend it. 

Where McClay asks, “Why study the past?” we can ask, why study not only history but theology and philosophy, the social and human sciences, and for that matter, literature, art, and the trades.

Our studies should not be, as it “is too often to gain ever better weapons to use in present battles, ever more unanswerable supports for our grievances.” When any discipline but especially the Gospel “becomes a club, it quickly loses its credibility.”

On both the left and the right, among traditionalists as much as progressives, we see crude “instrumentalizers” who would rob the Gospel of “its richness and complexity” as McClay says of history.

But done right, or rather preached rightly, the Gospel even more so than “history rescues precious memories from the darkness into which they would otherwise disappear, forging a sense of continuity with the past” and more than in the past.

Done right, or rather preached rightly, the Gospel and Holy Tradition connects us to God, to each other, and to the Kingdom that is to come.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Consensus & the Heckler’s Veto

One of the arguments against autocephaly the Orthodox Church of Ukraine is that it was granted without a consensus of the other national Churches. I’ll speak about consensus in a moment but first I think it’s worth pointing out that the Moscow Patriarchate (through its representative Metropolitan Hilarion of the Department of External Affairs) contends that “administratively the Orthodox Church is a confederation (using the language of civil society and a comparison with a political structure) of independent Churches which are not subordinate to each other, even if by protocol they occupy certain places.”

His Eminence goes on to say that the Churches are

…like countries in the United Nations. They are listed in a certain order, but it does not mean that one country is subordinate to another one. In the same way, the Orthodox world has never known subordination of one Church to another Church. Now the Patriarchate of Constantinople wants to create such subordination, and the newly established organization in Ukraine is an “autocephalous church” (I say it in inverted commas), designed in accordance with the desires of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. It is not a truly independent Church, because the tomos granted to it lays down many conditions on which it receives this so-called “autocephaly.”

Sticking to the Orthodox anglosphere the OCA in its response to events agrees with Moscow that the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) is illegitimate and so they will not commemorate the primate of the OCU His Beatitude Epiphaniy, Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine noting “That no changes be made to the diptychs, noting that the Orthodox Church in America has not been formally requested to make such changes.”

Bracketing for the moment the ecclesiological question of whether or not the Orthodox Church is administratively one or not, there is the epistemological question of the nature of consensus. What do Orthodox Christians mean by the term?

While some (notable the Moscow Patriarchate) seem to think any decision about the autocephaly of the Church in Ukraine be one to which all the Churches agree (i.e., unanimous). Moreover, this unanimity must be reached before any action is taken.

The former at least is not the plain meaning of consensus; the latter seems impossible given the requirement of a unanimous decision. And, in both cases, this turns “consensus” into a heckler’s veto.

The Catholic scholar James Chastek writing at Just Thomism offers what I think is a helpful insight as Orthodox Christians work through our current ecclesiastical crisis. In his post Consensus and Silence, he writes that what I would call the only relative value of consensus:

In the end, scientific or academic consensus is just one more set of arguments, no more or less than Plato’s descent of regimes, Mill’s Socrates and the pig, Hume’s fork, or Euclid 3.16.

He goes on to say that the appeal to consensus conceals within itself “the breakdown in social trust that allows people to accept an argument without having to go through it all.” Sociologically he traces this wound to trust to the growing “disillusioned with authority in the ’60’s and ’70’s.” Over time, distrust–suspicion–has become an intellectual habit of the disillusioned. And so “insisting on consensus is probably just a symptom of this disillusion.”

While Chastek is concerned with the peer review process in academia, his observations about this process are equally applicable to the Church. “Consensus is largely peer review, peer review is peer pressure, and peer pressure only silences dissent when it is relatively weak.” When the community is intellectually, morally and spiritually healthy. there is no

…need to silence anyone since contrary opinions never arise. They’re never even thought. You don’t usually need to tell people that what they’re thinking is not comme il faut any more than you need to tell them that what they’re wearing is.

What I think Chastek is pointing to is this: In a healthy community there is an ability to disagree agreeably. There is no need to silence minority opinions. The eccentric knows he views are marginal but there is still room for his views in the community.

It is only when I forget that our discussions, debates, and disagreements are all in the service of articulating the truth or am insecure in my own convictions that I am tempted to impose silence on those who disagree with me.

This temptation “is exacerbated” when I or the community has become “rigidly peer-pressured” and abandons an appreciation for the positive role of “eccentrics.”

In other words, we are where we are because (some of us at least) have grown to value conformity more than charity. The schism in Ukraine has gone on for almost 30 years. By the standards of the Great Schism–now more than a 1,000 years long–this is small potatoes.

But in both cases, I see a worrying tendency to seek out reasons to avoid the hard work that reconciliation requires.

To its credit, Constantinople has been willing to do the hard work. At the Council of Crete and in bilateral discussions with Moscow, the Ecumenical Throne tried to involve other Churches in the process of reconciling the various splinter groups in Ukraine. Unfortunately, these overtures were not reciprocated by Moscow or some of the other local Churches.

The challenge we face is this. To think of the Church administratively as a confederation of Churches degrades the conciliar nature of the Church. AAnd if, as Metropolitan Hilarion contends, the Church administratively is merely a confederation of Churches in which no Church “is subordinate to another one” consensus is nothing more the heckler’s veto rather than what it should be: the shared discernment of the truth.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

How Tech Challenges the Church

…it’s obvious that the gatekeepers of the old world have been bypassed. There’s now a direct audience-to-ideologue connection. Jordan Peterson often points to this direct connection as one of the key binding agents in the Intellectual Dark Web – that people like him, Sam Harris, Ben Shapiro, Dave Rubin, have built their own vast audiences from nothing but charisma and ideas worth hearing, on the new technologies of YouTube and podcast.

Source: The growing power of the YouTube Right – UnHerd