Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity
“Paths & Polemics” first appeared in the September 2000 issue of Touchstone.
Paths & Polemics
The Truth: What Every Roman Catholic Should Know About the Orthodox Church
Two Paths: Papal Monarchy—Collegial Tradition. Rome’s Claims
of Papal Supremacy in the Light of the Orthodox Church
Upon This Rock: St. Peter and the Primacy of Rome in Scripture and the
by William J. Tighe
Ours is an age when many Protestant Christians are rediscovering the ancient Church, especially as it is expressed by Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Often, the rediscovery leads to conversion. At times, too, Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians have, so to speak, traded places. The reasons for conversion are many: purity of liturgical expression; the recovery of a genuinely sacramental sense; historically reliable theological teachings; depth of spirituality; and historical authenticity are some of the chief reasons given. This review essay presents the work of three such converts and their attempts to deal with the conflicting jurisdictional and doctrinal claims between Rome and the East.
These three books are works of polemic; all three authors are zealous converts from one robust form of Christianity to another. Clark Carlton, originally a Southern Baptist seminary student, became a member of the Orthodox Church in 1988. The present volume is third in a projected series of four books on Orthodoxy from Regina Orthodox Press, Frank Schaeffer’s publishing company: The Faith: Understanding Orthodox Christianity: An Orthodox Catechism (1997); The Way: What Every Protestant Should Know About the Orthodox Church (1997); and The Life: The Orthodox Doctrine of Salvation (forthcoming).
Michael Whelton, an English-born Canadian Roman Catholic, joined the Orthodox Church in 1995. Two Paths is mostly an attempted debunking of what have usually been termed the “papal claims.” Whelton surveys church history in this light between St. Peter’s Confession at Caesarea Philippi and the aftermath of the First Vatican Council. The first and last chapters of the book reveal how the “liturgical revolution” in the Latin rite of the Roman Catholic Church both acted as the catalyst initiating his journey to Orthodoxy (but not the reason for his conversion, as he states) and remains to his thinking symptomatic of that church’s abandonment of its tradition for “relevance.”
Stephen K. Ray, an evangelical Christian of Baptist background and principles, became a Catholic in 1994. He described his upbringing and conversion in an earlier book from Ignatius Press, Crossing the Tiber: Evangelical Protestants Discover the Historical Church (1997).
A Different Church
Perhaps the best summary statement of Clark Carlton’s stance as an Orthodox Christian vis-à-vis Roman Catholicism occurs as a short paragraph toward the end of this book’s Epilogue (“A Note for Evangelicals Considering Rome”). “Evangelicals searching for the catholic tradition,” he writes, “must understand that Orthodoxy is not simply an alternative ecclesiastical structure to the Roman Catholic Church. The Orthodox Church presents a fundamentally different approach to theology, because She possesses a fundamentally different experience of Christ and life in Him. To put it bluntly, she knows a different Christ from that of the Roman Catholic Church.” This is the note sounded throughout the book—that in every respect the differences in doctrine and practice between the two churches are to be seen as mutually exclusive and incompatible. He would therefore have little sympathy for the efforts of those who attempt to view some of these divergences as complementary differences of emphasis (such as those briefly adumbrated by Leon Podles in “All That Separates Must Converge” in the Summer 1995 issue of Touchstone).
The introduction, “Is Reunion Imminent?”, begins by contrasting the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos’s blunt speech at Georgetown University on October 21, 1997, with its allusion to “the continually increasing divergence” and “ontological difference” between the two churches, with Fr. Richard John Neuhaus’s description of that speech as “virulently polemical.” Carlton further contrasts what he sees as the changelessness of Orthodox ecclesiology with the malleability of contemporary Roman Catholic theology. For the Orthodox, there can be no “development of doctrine” and hence no compromises or “mutual concessions” on the papacy or anything else. Carlton characterizes the Orthodox participants in ecumenical dialogues as not having been, for the most part, representatives, either “juridically” or “morally,” of Orthodox church consciousness.
He criticizes the use of the term “sister churches” to describe the two Communions—in antiquity the term described churches in communion with one other, not separated ones. He also rejects the present pope’s assertion that the East and the West are the “two lungs” of the Church, calling this “a flat denial of the very definition of the Church as catholic,” catholic having as its primary ecclesiological meaning not “universal” but “whole, complete, lacking nothing.” It is a phrase as contradictory to traditional Roman Catholic ecclesiology as it is to Orthodox Tradition, he adds.
Finally, he dismisses the “infamous” 1993 Balamand Statement, which endorsed the “sister churches” language, as nothing more than a politically motivated document springing from Rome’s ambitions to bring the Orthodox under its control and the “material and political weakness” of the Orthodox.
Chapter 1, “Holy Romans and Byzantine Intrigue,” gives an accurate account of the creation of a pseudo-Roman “Holy Roman Empire” for the Frankish king Charlemagne in the year 800 in rivalry with the true Roman Empire seated in Constantinople (the so-called Byzantine Empire). He traces its interactions with the papacy down to the firm statement of the papacy’s view of its own prerogatives in the Dictatus Papae of Pope Gregory VII (d. 1085), which for Carlton both symbolizes and reflects the creation of “a new and different form of Christianity” in the West. With the insertion of the filioque into the Nicene Creed at Rome and the installation of a series of German popes by the German “Roman” emperors, “in the eleventh century, the Roman Catholic Church ceased to be either Roman or catholic.”
Chapter 2, “The Trinity,” deals for the most part with the background and significance of the filioque dispute, although it also includes a qualified defense of St. Augustine of Hippo against the negative assessment of most Orthodox theologians. Would the Orthodox be content if Rome were to drop the offending word from the Nicene Creed? Carlton replies in the negative: “It cannot simply be dropped. . . . It must be recognized as a heresy and formally repudiated.”
Chapter 3, “Salvation,” contrasts the Western forensic or legal understanding of salvation with the Eastern medical metaphors. He focuses on the Eastern insistence on the distinction between God’s perpetually unknowable essence and his uncreated energies. For the East, participation in these energies is essential to salvation or deification. Carlton asserts that the Western idea of created grace leads inevitably to the conception of Christianity as a system of ethics via the Roman doctrines of satisfaction, merit, purgatory, and indulgences. Here too “Orthodox and Roman Catholics do not simply use different words for the same reality, we experience different realities.”
Chapter 4, “The Church,” deals primarily with the papacy, contrasting the Western papal monarchy with the Eastern eucharistic ecclesiology and episcopal structure of the local church, as well as the synodal nature of relations between the churches.
Chapter 5, “The Mother of God,” deals with Roman Catholic doctrines and beliefs about the Theotokos, such as her Immaculate Conception, which Carlton asserts makes her “exempt from being human”; her status as Co-redemptrix, which he labels “blasphemous and heretical”; and visions and locutions such as those at Fatima, which he describes as “demonic delusions.”
In the Epilogue, “A Note for Evangelicals Considering Rome,” he labels Roman Catholicism as “Protestantism repackaged in sacramental garb.” This comment is part of an extended (and, it seems to me, essentially just) critique of some comments by Scott Hahn in Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism, where Hahn explains why he dismissed Orthodoxy as an option in the course of his conversion from conservative Presbyterianism to Catholicism. Orthodoxy is, according to Carlton, “what Roman Catholicism used to be,” the religion of early Christianity even in Rome, living in today’s world.
Coherent and plausible as it is, the book’s thesis involves a number of historical difficulties. My comments on this book, as on the other two, will focus on the authors’ assertions with regard to the Church and the papacy. This provides a convenient way to compare all three, in a subject with which I am familiar, since my own Christian life and ecclesiastical commitment have at times involved research and reflection on these subjects.
The Roman Primacy
Carlton has a lengthy treatment of Canon 28 of the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451), which stated that “The Fathers gave Rome the Primacy because it was the imperial city,” and went on to confer the second rank in honor upon Constantinople because it, too, had become an imperial city. This proves, he asserts, that it was not a church’s apostolic foundation but the socio-political importance of the city that determined both regional primacies and relative status among the five patriarchates. Rome rejected this canon, as Carlton acknowledges, but what he does not mention is that Rome’s rejection drew a response from Anatolius, then patriarch of Constantinople, insisting that the canon did not threaten any of the prerogatives of the Roman see. When Rome persisted in its rejection, Anatolius acquiesced in it, and so the canon is absent from some of the earliest Eastern collections of conciliar canons.
Rome rejected the canon because it had a different understanding of the basis of its acknowledged primacy, namely, that it owed its primacy to the alleged fact that its bishop was the sole successor of St. Peter. Carlton seems to treat this Roman view as a then-recent novelty. The fact is, however, that something like it was the reason for Pope Victor’s high-handed dealings with the churches in Roman Asia toward the end of the second century. The Petrine origin of the Roman episcopate had been advanced by assertive popes like Julius, Damasus, and Celestine for well over a century before Chalcedon, not to mention its uncompromising statement by Leo the Great (see “Leo I and the Theme of Papal Primacy” by Walter Ullmann, Journal of Theological Studies, XI , pp. 25–51).
Key to the understanding of this canon is the question of what the council meant by “the Fathers.” Since it was the purpose of the council to win Pope St. Leo’s assent to its decisions, including this canon, interpreting the wording of this canon as an attack on papal claims seems both anachronistic and unlikely to afford a genuine understanding of what the council intended by it. (For more on this issue, see “The Fathers Gave Rome the Primacy,” by A. St. Leger Westall, The Dublin Review, CXXXII , pp. 100–114.) The data that Carlton presents on this and other aspects of the early primacy of Rome is incomplete and in some cases misleading, to the point of suggesting the existence of an “anti-papal ecclesiological consensus” in the fifth century, for which there is no evidence.
Another source of the erroneous Roman primatial claims, Carlton insists, arises because Rome has (mistakenly) identified its bishops as successors of the apostles and, in particular, of the Apostle Peter as the first bishop of Rome. Rome asserts, furthermore, that subsequent bishops of Rome inherited in a unique way Peter’s “status” as Prince of the Apostles and Head of the Universal Church. Carlton points out, however, that “according to Irenaeus, Linus, not Peter, was the first bishop of Rome.” Here Carlton has resolved a big issue by oversimplification. It appears that Irenaeus reckoned Hyginus as the eighth Bishop of Rome when following the succession list compiled around A.D. 165 by Hegesippus (whose works are now lost but who visited Rome when Hyginus was bishop, between c. 136 and 140), but as the ninth when not following Hegesippus. In other words, for Irenaeus, St. Peter was the first bishop of Rome, while for Hegesippus, it was Linus. Again, maybe Hegesippus was right and Irenaeus wrong, but the facts are far from being as clear as Carlton’s account would imply.
The argument from the succession lists can hardly be used to either establish or reject Roman supremacy. Since the Anglican Benedictine Dom Gregory Dix was discussing these textual problems in Irenaeus 65 years ago (in a series of articles published in 1975 as Jurisdiction in the Early Church) it is a pity that categorical assertions on subjects such as these can be made in such innocence of the difficulties they entail. Despite certain qualifications, however, and perhaps a certain degree of rhetorical overkill, notably in chapter 5, the book strives for factual accuracy and clarity of thought and expression, and on that account is well worth reading, despite its lacking the clear sense of autobiographical engagement that pervades Carlton’s earlier book, The Way.
Readers may find particularly useful the material Carlton presents in the three Appendices: the December 1993 letter of the Monastic Community of Mount Athos to the ecumenical patriarch protesting aspects of Orthodox ecumenical involvement, particularly what they perceive as a tendency among Orthodox ecumenists to relativize the claim of the Orthodox Church to be uniquely the Catholic Church; the 1848 “Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs” in response to Pope Pius IX’s “Letter to the Easterns” bidding them to submit to papal authority; and the 1285 “Tomos of the Council of Blachernae” restating Orthodox opposition to the filioque and repudiating the transitory unity achieved in 1274 at the Council of Lyons between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.
The Details of History
Two Paths focuses on the papacy. Indeed, apart from the autobiographical first chapter, “An Insistent Call,” and the concluding tenth, “A Choice of Paths,” the whole book consists of a highly critical, although courteous, discussion of the history of the papacy and its claims from the beginning through the definitions of the First Vatican Council in 1870.
By comparison with The Truth, which is primarily a work of polemical theology with some historical dimensions, Two Paths is a work of history with strong theological implications. Not a historian himself, Whelton writes, “I have relied on the best scholarship available (emphasis mine) on early church history to illustrate Rome’s role in the early church,” but those scholars whom he regards most highly turn out to be men of a highly skeptical outlook toward the “papal claims,” such as, among others, the English Anglican patristic scholar Henry Chadwick, the Scots Presbyterian Byzantinist Sir Steven Runciman, and the German Lutheran early church historian Hans von Campenhausen. (Carlton, by contrast, when treating the papacy, relies for the most part on Orthodox scholars, notably the advocates of the eucharistic ecclesiology formulated by Fr. Nicholas Afanassieff and refined and qualified by Frs. John Meyendorff and Alexander Schmemann and Metropolitan John [Zizioulas] of Pergamon.)
Chadwick, Runciman, and Von Campenhausen are all great scholars, but as is ever the case, their scholarship is not uninfluenced by their confessional commitments, and Von Campenhausen is just as skeptical about claims for the apostolic origin of the episcopate as he is about the Petrine origins of the Roman papacy. At one point, for instance, Chadwick and Von Campenhausen are given as references for the assertion that “many historians have remarked that it was Paul rather than Peter who established Rome as a major Christian city and therefore should be regarded as its founder.” It is far from clear, however, whether Whelton agrees with these “many historians,” or simply wants to demonstrate what nobody has ever denied, that not all scholars agree that Peter was the apostolic founder of the Roman Church. This is not to deny that Whelton’s account, and the thesis underlying it, is plausible; it is to assert that a number of the episodes that he discusses are susceptible of other, equally plausible, interpretations.
One example of this occurs in chapter 2 of Whelton’s book, “Peter and the Papacy,” a chapter that quickly surveys church history from the beginning to the time of the Council of Nicaea. He considers the much-disputed passage in St. Irenaeus’s Adversus Haereses on the necessity of every church to convenire ad the Roman Church. Do the verb convenire and the preposition ad mean “come together with” (in the sense of resort to or visit, as for discussion) or “agree with”? Roman Catholics have tended to argue for the second, others for the first. As we have already seen in Carlton’s book with regard to assertions based on the writings of St. Irenaeus, the argument is not conclusive in the way that the uninformed reader might gather.
What we have here, in the hands of great scholars, obscure scholars, and amateurs alike, are interpretations of fragmentary and isolated bits of evidence, not conclusive proofs. In some cases, though, it appears that Whelton flies in the face of a great deal of evidence to the contrary, as in his statement that “the Bishop of Rome did not enjoy veto power” over the decisions of ecumenical councils. The only proof that he gives to substantiate this assertion is a plausible, but incomplete and thus improbable version of the history and significance of Canon 28 of the Council of Chalcedon. His account parallels that of Clark in The Truth, and evinces another set of historical misconceptions. Furthermore, Two Paths contains not the slightest allusion to the Council of Florence (1438–1445) and the Orthodox rationale for their rejection of its ecumenicity (a council to which all five patriarchs assented, at least temporarily, in person or through their representatives). This is perhaps its most surprising omission.
Despite oversights and blunders of these sorts, Two Paths is in some respects far friendlier in tone toward Roman Catholicism than The Way. There is nothing to suggest that Whelton would endorse Carlton’s description of Catholicism as “Protestantism repackaged in sacramental garb”; rather, he states that “as an Orthodox Christian I share with Roman Catholics the belief that the three cornerstones of the Protestant Revolt, i.e., Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide and Imputed Righteousness, are totally wrong.”
Much of what Whelton describes about the history of the papacy from the eleventh century onward—the brandishing of the forged “Donation of Constantine,” the origins of particular theories of papal infallibility among fourteenth-century Franciscans and their strong rejection by contemporaneous popes, the assertion by the Council of Constance in 1415 of the superiority of ecumenical councils over popes, and the long survival of “conciliarist” ideas among Northern European Catholics down into the nineteenth century—is basically true, even if in some cases, like those just mentioned, they cry out for more careful nuancing. Still, as an old proverb goes, “the devil is in the details,” and it is in the details that the book’s historical analysis becomes most problematic and questionable. The book, finally, has been badly served by its proofreader, who, judging from the innumerable examples of run-on sentences that it contains, has gone about his task lackadaisically.
Judging from Michael Whelton’s critical remarks about Roman Catholic apologists who “focus solely on their interpretation of Matthew 16:18–19” and who “even delve into the Old Testament to find supporting evidence for the imagery of the ‘keys’” and thereby “lapse into the practice of ‘Sola Scriptura’ . . . by ignoring the mind of the Early Church in favor of their own subjective judgement,” he might not be impressed by Stephen Ray’s Upon This Rock. Difficult though it is to read a book many of whose pages consist largely of footnotes in small type, Ray’s book is an impressive piece of pro-papal apologetics. The book contains a brief introduction (“St. Peter and the Primacy of Rome”), followed by three parts (“The Apostle Peter,” “The Primacy of Peter in the See of Rome,” and “Current Church Teaching”) and two appendices (“The Chronological List of the Popes” and “An Old Testament Basis for the Primacy and Succession of St. Peter”).
The heart of the book is its first two parts. Part one, on the Apostle Peter, is subdivided into three sections. The first, entitled “Biblical Study: Peter the Man, the Apostle, and the Rock,” subjects to detailed analysis twenty New Testament passages, two Old Testament passages, and one passage from Flavius Josephus. The second is entitled “Historical Study: Was Peter in Rome, Was He the First Bishop of Rome, and Was He Martyred in Rome?” In it, Ray reproduces and discusses passages from the New Testament, apocryphal writings, and various church fathers down to Sts. Augustine and Jerome. The third section, entitled “The Opposition,” presents and discusses passages from John Calvin; the anti-Catholic fundamentalist writer Loraine Boettner; Harry A. Ironside, former pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago; and the television evangelist Jimmy Swaggart as representatives of Protestant anti-papalism, against whom he goes on to adduce conclusions from the works of modern Protestant scholars such as F. F. Bruce and Oscar Cullmann.
Part two, on the Roman primacy, is subdivided into two sections, one on “Oldest Documents: Earliest Christian Documents Reveal the Primacy of Peter in the See of Rome,” which consists of a study of various passages from and about the Epistle of St. Clement of Rome to the Corinthians (c. A.D. 96 according to Ray) and of St. Ignatius of Antioch to the Romans (c. A.D. 106); and the second on “The First Five Centuries: The Primacy of Rome in the Early Church,” which presents and discusses passages from the Fathers and the councils beginning with Justin Martyr and ending with the Council of Chalcedon.
It is clear that Upon This Rock is addressed to the concerns and objections of evangelical Protestants, not to Orthodox Christians. As such, a detailed analysis is beyond the scope of this review. In Crossing the Tiber, Ray briefly discussed his initial attraction to Orthodoxy and his later decision for Rome, a decision in which his conclusions about the papacy and its magisterial authority appear to have played a decisive role. In the present volume, there are detailed discussions of episodes, such as the apostolic Jerusalem Council, the Paschal Controversy between Pope Victor and the Asiatics, and (very briefly) Canon 28 of Chalcedon, from which there emerge obvious differences of interpretation. As regards the first, for example, whereas Whelton stresses James’s presidency of the council and his rendering of the final judgment, which he views as incompatible with Peter’s alleged apostolic principate, Ray insists that James’s role as president was due to his leadership of the Jerusalem church, which “hosted” the council, and that his concluding remarks were simply an agreement with Peter’s initial, and authoritative, judgment.
Beyond these, though, there are references to Orthodox ecclesiological thinking that, although they appear strange and even bizarre to those acquainted with the history of Orthodox Christianity, arise in part from the sources Ray has employed. While he is at pains not to attribute to past and contemporary Orthodox thinkers such as Fr. John Meyendorff and Bishop Kallistos Ware, who have written of the continuing Orthodox acceptance of Rome’s “primacy of honor,” more than they would understand by this (cf. pp. 141–142, 209 n. 13, and 220 n. 158), at one point he makes the initially astonishing statement that “the Eastern Orthodox Churches” deny “the concept of a universal Church.” Upon closer examination, it becomes evident that the source of his understanding, or misunderstanding, here (p. 252), as elsewhere (pp. 147, 148 n. 2, 164–165 n. 33, and 181 n. 65) is the volume The Primacy of Peter, ed. John Meyendorff (London: Faith Press, 1963; reprinted in 1992 by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press), and particularly the essay “The Church which Presides in Love” by Nicholas Afanassieff. The English Dominican scholar Aidan Nichols has described this essay as Afanassieff’s “most combative statement” of the presuppositions of the “eucharistic ecclesiology,” with its stress upon the priority of the local church gathered in the Eucharist around its bishop over the universal Church (see his “The Appeal to the Fathers in the Ecclesiology of Nikolai Afanas’ev” in The Heythrop Journal, XXXIII , pp. 125–145, 247–266; the citation is from p. 266 n. 69).
It seems entirely possible that a reader to whom the details of this “eucharistic ecclesiology” are strange, and its presuppositions alien, might construe it as entailing a denial of the existence of a visible universal Church, as opposed to a federation or agglomeration of dioceses or jurisdictions, erroneous as this might be. Afanassieff’s views, however qualified by his students such as Schmemann and Meyendorff, have exercised a wide influence on contemporary Orthodox ecclesiological thinking, and their influence is clearly discernible in the first two books discussed in this review (for Afanassieff and the development of his thought, see Theology in the Russian Diaspora: Church, Fathers, Eucharist in Nikolai Afanas’ev, 1893–1966, by Aidan Nichols [Cambridge University Press, 1989]; see also his “Nikolai Afanas’ev and the Byzantine Canonical Tradition” in The Heythrop Journal, XXXIII , pp. 415–425).
That Ray’s purpose is not to polemicize against Orthodox ecclesiology seems also to be evident from the fact that despite entitling one of his subsections “Was Peter in Rome, Was He the First Bishop of Rome, and Was He Martyred in Rome?” he does not discuss the Orthodox denial that the apostles were in any sense the first bishops of the churches that they founded. Nor does he describe the notion (as Carlton puts it) that bishops are the successors of the apostles in the sense that a particular bishop can claim to be the successor of a particular apostle so as to inherit the prerogatives of that apostle, as the popes claim to be the successor of Peter or, as Leo the Great put it in his lapidary Latin, indignus heres beati Petri, the “unworthy heir of Saint Peter” who, whatever his personal demerits, succeeds to all that with which Christ endowed the apostle.
A Hope for the Future
I end with a recommendation and a suggestion. I referred earlier in this review to a work of the Anglican Benedictine liturgical scholar Dom Gregory Dix (d. 1952). Dix produced a series of articles in 1937 in response to Beresford J. Kidd’s The Roman Primacy to A.D. 461 (London, 1936: S.P.C.K.); years later, after his death, they were published as Jurisdiction in the Early Church: Episcopal and Papal (London: Church Literature Association, 1975). Kidd was an anti-papalist Anglo-Catholic scholar, Dix a papalist one. Neither of these two short books is in any sense a definitive resolution of this age-old dispute, but in a brief compass they do provide, considered together, an introduction to some of the issues involved in it. Both are long out of print, but I recommend them to those willing to search them out. (Recently the Reverend John Hunwicke of Lancing College, England, informed me that he is preparing a new edition of Dix’s writings on this subject for publication by the Church Literature Association in 2001.)
My suggestion would be that Orthodox writers ponder the possibility of adopting an apologetic framework along the lines of Stephen K. Ray’s in the book under review here. Such an expository scheme might obviate some of the difficulties that beset conversion stories such as Michael Whelton’s, which attempt to be at once apologetic and persuasive, and more synthetic accounts, such as Clark Carlton’s, which must cover a wide field in a short compass. And let us comport ourselves, in our dealings with one another, as Addison Hart writes in “Convert Provocateurs” (included in this issue; see page 17), with “humility at all times about each of our own Traditions, charity towards one another now in all our dealings (even in our theological exchanges), and hope for a future that—like it or not—will put all things in proper perspective and that we will inevitably share.”
William J. Tighe is Associate Professor of History at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and a faculty advisor to the Catholic Campus Ministry. He is a Member of St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He is a contributing editor for Touchstone.
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