Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Procrastinating from Marking
I was thinking idly about the differences between Orthodoxy and Catholicism while reading a quote in an essay where the term 'Christianity' was used rather than the more accurate, 'western Christianity'. I am not talking only here about students either! Too often in writing about Christianity by western historians, the Orthodox east is forgotten. The Orthodox do share most of their theology with Catholicism, but there are important cultural differences shaped, of course, by a very different history that have produced a very different lens through which faith is viewed.
The Orthodox have bishops and priests and parishes and monks and nuns as does the Catholic church, as well as the Anglican. Orthodox parish priests are usually married, which seems a sensible practice in my view, but bishops are never so - the ranks of bishops are filled from the monasteries. This reflects the different emphasis on meditative spirituality in Orthodoxy over and against the structural legalism of the Catholic church, and indeed of most Protestant churches. For the Orthodox, theology is an end result of the process of meditation, where for Western Christians, whether Catholic or Protestant, it is a process of logical and philosophical study of the Theos.
I wondered at the history that produced this divide. For the Orthodox, firstly the immediate influence of Greek practices perhaps, but more likely I think the long survival of the Roman Empire in the east (misnamed by generations of western historians as the Byzantine Empire - the 'Byzantines' called themselves 'Romans' - as did the conquering Muslim Turks, but I diverge). This long survival was followed by a 'wagons in a circle' survival mode for Orthodoxy - a Christianity which had to stress other worldliness as it floated on a Muslim sea. Well, a very large book could be written on just this, but, onward and upward...
The Western Christian church found itself in a place of chaos in respect to the former comforts of imperial order - well it was not chaotic to the Germanic tribes, but in terms of cities, roads, written laws, professional armies and money commerce, it was chaotic. The western Christian bishops had to be hard, pragmatic men and they had to fashion a public face for Christianity that openly displayed their beliefs while at the same time dazzling the Germanic animists. Eastern Christian bishops were (pardon me for this) preaching to the choir - their flocks were fully immersed in this form of Christianity after a thousand years of imperial rule. Western Christian priests, on the other hand, had to distance themselves from their half or less than half, converted flocks - they needed to stand apart as Christian shamans to make a point. Eastern Christian priests needed rather to be part of their flocks, the job of standing apart in a mystical sense could be left to monks and nuns and bishops.
Anyway, just sayin'