(Polished and expanded a little on 18 January 2008.)

How can Orthodoxy possibly dovetail with liberal Roman Catholicism?

  • Collegiality and conciliarity; no Papal Infallibility. While the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople has some very supportive supporters, he’s really not supposed to be a worldwide ecclesiastical autocrat, merely “first among equals” among the bishops of the Orthodox Church, permanent chairman if you will. The Primates of Orthodoxy’s regional and national Synods wield alot of influence therein – some of it comes from being effectively CEOs of denominations – but they can still be challenged, even driven from power ‘from below,’ as recently happened with the Patriarch of Jerusalem, and a few years ago with a Greek Archbishop of America. And as far as “faith and morals” go, we place our trust in Holy Tradition, not the decrees of individual Patriarchs.
  • Spirituality. See my early posts about God’s Uncreated Divine Energies, Light, etc.
  • Contraception. You’re supposed to talk it over with your priest, but it’s not the automatic sentence of mortal sin and eternal damnation like it is in the RCC … though some disagree, and are free to.
  • A sense of Church History. We’re not afraid to find out that our Patriarchs’ posts evolved, or that monks and laity overruled some Church Councils. Actually Church history is often liberating!
  • Deaconesses. See here.
  • Collaborative ministry. From the parish to the ecumenical council, priests and bishops are within their churches, not above them. Laity and lower clergy, even lay theologians, have always had a key role in the life of the Church. In some jurisdictions they even help select bishops, primates,* and patriarchs (as seen in 2007 in Romania), did anciently, sometimes since then, and may do so more again soon, for instance in the Moscow Patriarchate, whose 1917-1918 council authorized the practice as represented now in The Orthodox Church in America (OCA). (*–The Archbishop of Cyprus’ election has a very “American” feel, with campaigning, the equivalent of primaries, the election of an Electoral College, controversy, secular media coverage….)
  • Liturgy. It may be long, but it’s great, beautiful, magnificent, etc. etc.!
  • ‘Physical’ worship. All five senses adore the Lord in Orthodox worship; the whole body is involved, even more than in the Mass.
  • Real theology. Like I’ve said before, theology has really fallen apart in the West; some trace it all the way back to Augustine of Hippo. I’ve had 9 years of parochial school, 5 years of minor seminary and novitiate, 4 years with a minor in Theology, 6 years of grad school in Western theology … and still, every time I read Orthodox Theology, it’s a revelation!
  • Art and architecture. There’s nothing like Orthodox icons and churches.
  • Music. Good Byzantine or Russian chant just might cure you of the need for guitars!
  • Divorce and remarriage; a pastoral sense, non-legalism. We don’t bother with annulment, but your bishop can grant an ecclesiastical divorce, clearing the way for up to 2 more marriages. Despite (or Because of?!) being “orthodox,” we have a reputation for leniency, compassion in pastoral practice. It’s called economy, in Greek oikonomia, the opposite of acriveia or strictness, and called into play when an exception may be necessary rather than fear losing a soul’s salvation.
  • Patristics, incl. patristic social justice. The Fathers and Mothers of the Church are the source of the best Orthodox theology (though even “100 pct. of the Fathers are 85 pct. right!”). And how’s this for social justice?: “The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry man; the coat hanging unused in your closet belongs to the man who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the man who has no shoes; the money which you put in the bank belongs to the poor. You do wrong to everyone you could help but fail to help” (St. Basil the Great).

A Fundamentalist who converted to the Latin Church wrote a book entitled Rome Sweet Home. I might call mine New Rome, Sweet Home: A Liberal Catholic Discovers Orthodoxy! (New Rome was the official name of Constantinople or Byzantium.)


  1. TLewis

    Liberal Catholicism is the denial of the merging of two dogmas that are in opposition to each other. Liberalism is the dogmatic affirmation of the absolute independence of the individual and of social reason. Catholicity is the dogma of the absolute subjection of the individual and of the social order to the revealed law of God.

    Liberalism is a heresy in the doctrinal order because heresy is the formal and obstinate denial of all Christian dogmas in general.

    Liberalism repudiates dogma altogether and substitutes opinion, whether that opinion be doctrinal or the negation of doctrine. Nonetheless Liberalism is in itself dogmatic; and it is in the declaration of its own fundamental dogma, the absolute independence of the individual and the social reason, that it denies all Christian dogma in general.

    Liberalism knows no dogma except the dogma of self-assertion.

    Liberalism is simply the Dogma stated by the first fallen angel who said “I will not serve.”

    Liberalism and Free Thinkers or Freemasons have much in common.

    Liberal Catholicism is an Oxymoron, rendering an incoherent Dogma, and thus its contentment rest not in reason but rather rest upon the appetites of feelings. Since the love of God held by Liberal Catholics is merely a temporary appetite, this love of God is only present during the presents of the Liberal Catholics appetite or feeling towards God.

    This temporary feeling has historically been defined as concupiscence, cupidity or complacency for the things we have not. Many great persons have been of opinion that love is no other thing than complacency itself, in which they have had much appearance of reason. Unfortunately as soon as complacency ceases love of God also ceases.

    Therefore Liberal Catholics do not truly love God, but rather are complacent as a result of their reasoning that their feelings towards God are their love for God. What is absent is the will to love God when there is no complacency, when feelings are withdrawn, and the will suffers the lack of complacency desiring to love God beyond the passions of the body, but rather by the action and movement of the soul.

  2. Oh well, so much for G.K. Chesterton, who was a life-long Liberal!

    But when I hear people talking about “Liberal Catholicism” I immediately think of the Liberal Catholic Church, which is a kind of liturgical theosophy, and they appear to believe that it doesn’t matter what you believe — as long as you do it with incense.

  3. J E Kimber

    What has TLewis’s post, a random rant against wicked theological liberals, to do with Leo’s original article? This is a thoughtful comparison of Roman and Orthodox Catholic ideas of ecclesistical authority. There’s nothing in it more ‘dangerously’ liberal than you’d find in Timothy Ware’s ‘The Orthodox Church’ for many years a standard primer for non-Orthodox Christians.

    I agree with Steve about the estimable G K Chesterton! Perhaps ‘traditionalists’ among Roman Catholics might do better to jerk the knee a little less at the very word LIBERAL and instead try to discriminate betwwen good liberalism and bad? A good sense of humour might help – like Chesterton’s, perhaps….

    Is half the problem for Roman Catholics the awkward fact that the Orthodox communion is the one major Christian church that cannot be dismissed as new-fangled apostasy? That in fact it may have a more legitimate claim – breathe it if you dare – to true Catholic tradition than Rome, with its heretical mediaeval innovations, like Supreme Pontiffs, Filioques and the like?

    Perhaps just being reminded of the existence of Orthodoxy is enough to start a certain type of Roman knee jerking, despite John Paul 2’s efforts towards reunification?

    I understand that Liberal Catholics are a little more varied these days than just Theosophists who like a nice Tridentine Mass. Some are even pretty conservative…

    Peace and love, everyone!

  4. Leo Peter O'Filon

    TLewis, Steve, and JE: Welcome (back!)!

    My apologies for being away a couple years, but my health has messed-up my Web commitments, God help us! And I’m sure glad to have the Commonwealth AND Rome remind me of the U.S. political spectrum problem (which as it happens, Steve, you’ve just taken up!: http://khanya.wordpress.com/2010/11/16/left-and-right-in-america/), especially when trying to mix it with a Faith, Catholicism, not as “American” as the predominant one here in the United States.

    The first difficulty is that since the U.S. War of Independence basically exiled Toryism or Classical Conservatism to Anglophone Canada, the overwhelming majority of U.S. politics has been (Classical) Liberalism of one kind or another, more or less: some kind of emphasis on the individual over the state or society or a Common Good; democracy over autocracy; (growing) egalitarian ideology over permanently-entrenched/hereditary (official) privilege; social and/or economic Darwinism; Statute over Common Law; innovation over traditionalism; corporate rather than royal mercantilism; bourgeosie/workers over royalty/nobility; New Money over (obvious) Old Money; you get the idea. IOW, on the one hand, as in form a revolutionary democratic commercial republic, we’d be classically leftish … on the other hand, we’re mostly (for good or for ill) averse to intellectualism — Marxian, Keynesian, whatever — unless it seems to support our micro-branch of the political spectrum and not our adversaries’. (And just for the record, I’m not betraying my personal politics on this blog: I’m not leaving the USA, and this system has certainly accomplished something over 200+ years; what I think that is, is nobody’s business here!) Long story short, most American political “conservatism” is kind of libertarian, but flavored with Calvinist pietism and social, not economic, regulation. And most American political “liberalism” is VERY libertarian, but flavored with Arminian Social Gospelism, I guess, including economic regulation, feeling that crass greed and hurting/not helping people unnecessarily is unseemly; it might also be flavored with Roman Catholic Matthew 25 Guilt, and Jewish pious philanthropy too, considering Catholics’ and Jews’ traditional alliance with the Democratic Party increasingly through most of the 20th century.

    Shorter still, I might have aimed the post at “Progressive Catholics,” i.e., those who might find something of themselves in the points I made above. But since the ones I’m most familiar with are in the USA, I figured I’d get more hits by glossing over the fact that the rest of the world understand “the L word” a bit differently than we do! 🙂 After all, both “liberal” and “conservative” Catholics of the kinds I’m referring to, find things to like in Chesterton, Lewis (CS, I mean), etc. … just not necessarily the same things!!

    TLewis, with all due respect, it’s not my purpose on this blog to linger in intra-RC conflicts, but I probably should clarify myself for the sake of my audience, in the light of your Comment. What you say has certain academic merits, I’m just concerned the folks I was writing to in this post might not recognize themselves in what you say. Maybe note the ‘different kinds of U.S. liberalism’ I refer to just above in this Comment. “Liberal Catholics” don’t want to hear from their recent Hierarchy about artificial contraception within marriage, or women priests; “conservative Catholics” don’t want to hear from their Hierarchy about capital punishment, “economic justice,” or U.S. foreign policy; so it’s more realistically like ‘What kind of individualism,’ or ‘When individualist and when not.’ As Fr. Andrew Greeley says, statistically speaking ALL Catholics are “cafeteria Catholics”!

    “Catholicity” OTOH is more recognizable from the Father of the Church St. Vincent of Lerins: those things which have always been believed by everybody in the Church everywhere, as opposed to novelties or local departures. What’s clear is that different good-faith RC groups believe they’re fighting over that heritage and its best fleshing-out. Some might say the Lord Incarnate invented ‘individual religion’ in His appeals to individuals throughout the Gospels, even to the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets, and He Himself ‘pulled rank’ on His persecutors rather than go along with the crowd and save Himself from suffering. “Subjection of the social order” is similar, which may be why the late Cardinal Bernardin eventually went with a “Seamless Garment of Life” ethic to try to reconcile those whose votes might favor unborn children over their born mothers and relatives … with those whose votes might disfavor unborn children in favor of their born relatives … in order to try to “love them both” … to mention just one example.

    From an Orthodox perspective, what “repudiates dogma altogether and substitutes opinion” is the departure of many from what the late Fr. John Romanides called Empirical Orthodoxy, the therapy of the soul that led to Theosis even in this life (http://www.romanity.org/). Fr. John believed that incorrectly-believing militaristic leaders in the Medieval West dragged the masses of the West away from Empirical Orthodoxy — and Byzantium — substituting what the Fathers have always referred to pejoratively as “philosophizing,” basically deducing things NOT “believed at all times, in all places, by all” in the Church. Harsher Eastern analysts more explicitly call into question Western doctrine, morals, AND mysticism — no, not because they’re “Western,” but because they say they’re made up, departures from what Orthodox West and East originally received from the Apostles and the Lord and even the OT patriarchs and prophets. There’s nothing particularly “Eastern” about the Orthodoxy even Western saints verified in this world before the West was fundamentally undermined … these analysts believe. To them disagreements between heterodox are often compared to different sides of the same coin.

    The West has no monopoly on “philosophizing”: it’s the constant temptation, from the Garden all the way down to this moment(!).

    You are right that dispassion is a key to union with God’s Will and Energies, under the guidance of one/those who have seen His Energies as Uncreated Light even in this life by His Gracious Will, and/or one/those who have the Holy Spirit knowably praying ceaselessly in their hearts. Self-delusion is also possible, something o/Orthodox spiritual guides are always on the watch for.

    Finally JE, I’ve read that the folks in the Liberal Catholic Church — with uppercase initials — are “liberal” precisely in the early, classical sense I mentioned up top, from their foundation before the 20th century … which is why in some ways they seem “conservative” today! Actually I’m reminded of a Protestant denomination here that by certain 1800s theological standards were called “Progressive Brethren” … now understood to be Fundamentalists! God, just give me the one holy Catholic, Apostolic Church, and have mercy on me!!!

  5. It can also help to remember that political, economic and theological liberalism are three very different things, with no necessary connection with each other, though libertarians DO see a link between political and economic liberalism, so I suppose you could say that liberrtarians are liberal in both the political and economic senses.

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