Orthodox Fundamentalism

There's an interesting conversation going on in the combox of my post on the Filioque, with writers from both traditions making contributions. There is one argument on the Greek side that has me somewhat perplexed, however, and that is the issue of the integrity of the liturgy.

On the one hand, I am fully sympathetic to the idea that the liturgy is one of those elements of our Christian life that really ought not to be messed around with. Lex orandi lex credendi, after all, and the more you muck about with the lex orandi the more likely you are to give the impression that the lex credendi is also up for revision. Impressions are not binding, of course, and this is not the sort of argument that carries any logical weight, but it carries a great deal of rhetorical weight and it seems to have contributed in no small degree to the controversy surrounding the Filioque.

On the other hand, to suggest that the liturgy cannot be changed by the competent Church authority is quite different from suggesting that it should not be, since of course the liturgy is itself a product of the competent Church authority, just as the Scriptures are. In other words, claims about the immutability of the liturgy are very similar to the sola Scriptura principle, in that they are inherently self-defeating. I don't think many serious Orthodox make such a claim in the first place, since all one needs is a good education in order to know that the Eastern liturgies are themselves the product of organic development over time.

The central issue, of course, is one of authority, but not necessarily authority in quite the same sense that underpins the sola Scriptura principle, at least not for everyone. As one commenter has put it, the problem is not so much that the liturgy cannot be changed locally, but that the East resents the imposition by Rome of a standardized form to which all must conform. Indeed, one of the achievements of the Council of Trent was just this sort of standardization of the liturgy, at least for Churches of the Latin rite. Even if we put aside, for the moment, the fact that Uniate Churches continue to use a Creed that is sans Filioque (I suppose that ought to be sine Filioque, but whatever), it is true enough that Rome has sought a certain degree of conformity across the rite ever since Trent. We are beginning to see a contemporary version of this in the West in the form of the imposition of "for many" in the translation of pro multis. However, it seems unreasonable to assume that Rome has any interest in demanding conformity with the rubrics of 1970 everywhere in Christendom--that is not even the case within Roman Catholicism; indeed, it is not even the case within Italy, where plenty of rites more ancient than the Roman one are still in use locally.

As in the case of the debate over the translation of pro multis, which also masquerades as a debate about liturgy, there is a doctrinal element in the debate over the Filioque. I haven't seen any arguments yet that can adequately answer that of Saint Anselm, but I haven't seen all the arguments. The ones that one finds on the internet tend to be rather tendentious--I have looked at several over the last few days to see what is available, and have found most of it rather disappointing, both philosophically and theologically. The place to look, obviously, is in the texts of the great Eastern Fathers and theologians, but many of them wrote either earlier than Saint Anselm or in ignorance of his arguments, so it is difficult to imagine how they might have responded. Speculation can be fun, of course, but it is almost invariably idle in matters such as these.

Until that sound response to Saint Anselm comes along, however, complaints about fiddling around with the liturgy have to be regarded as on a par with other forms of fundamentalism that sometimes operate independently of matters of logic and rationality. There may be a very good and logically compelling reason to think that the Holy Spirit cannot possibly proceed from the Son in any sense, but that reason has yet to be given. (How's that for a tendentious claim?) I remain open to persuasion, obviously, and of course I fully agree that liturgical changes should be slow and organic, nor do I deny that this particular change was not a minor one. But it was a non-ampliative change.

Comments

Pontificator said…
As much as I sometimes wish we could freeze the liturgy and declare that "this" specific rite is divinely inspired and cannot be altered in any respect, I do not see how one can rightly claim this for any particular liturgy. The liturgies of the Church have always grown and changed over the ages. There is no timeless, eternal rite.

A good example is the Gloria patri. Before the Arian controversy "Glory to the Father through the Son in the Spirit" appears to have been the popular form. In response to Arianism, though, "Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit" was introduced. I daresay the Arians protested this novelty, precisely in the name of the unchanging, divinely-given liturgy.
CrimsonCatholic said…
For comparison:
http://energeticprocession.wordpress.com/2006/07/12/doctrinal-development-in-orthodoxyuh-not/

I confess, in all honesty, to have no idea what Fr. Florovsky means by "dogma," "definitions," "terms," "discursive axioms," "intuitive truths," or "logical development." I can make literally no sense of what he is saying. There appears to be some mysterious sense in which some kinds of change are not change, while other kinds of change are change, and there is no way of knowing which are which other than by having experience of the "spiritual vision" or "intuitive truth" they represent.

Pardon the pun, but it's all Greek to me...
Grano1 said…
C.C. -- have you looked at Andrew Louth's essay on this subject in the Jaroslav Pelikan festschrift called "Orthodoxy and Western Culture"? While differing with Florovsky in some respects he makes a similar argument in less arcane language.
Huw Raphael said…
I don't think many serious Orthodox make such a claim in the first place, since all one needs is a good education in order to know that the Eastern liturgies are themselves the product of organic development over time.

With all due respect to your readers... many are taught (as I was) exactly that. It was not until I sat down in a liturgics class that I was met with the horror of organic development that is our liturgy. The text of the (older) Roman rite is, by some lights, older than the thing we call "the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom". The Liturgy we refer to as being "of St Gregory" (As it Pope St Gregory the Great) is even newer.

Even the other night when the Pope was in Istanbul at Liturgy, the commentator on EWTN was rambling on about the Unchanging Liturgy - despite the fact that the liturgy served that day in Istanbul was a very edited and shortened form from the 1920s!

Yes, something of this is taught in *some* of our Seminaries, those places are considered "liberal". But careful how you break that to people!
CrimsonCatholic said…
I have not. I did, however, read Louth's essay on Fr. John Behr here:
http://ochlophobist.blogspot.com/2006/11/orthodoxy-has-problem-with-theology.html

And I read this by Fr. Behr:
http://www.svots.edu/files/SVTQ-Trinitarian.pdf

I've had the same problem more generally with Louth's work on St. Maximus and St. John Damascene. He'll be just fine as a historian, dealing with the particular situations and understanding the theological problem in depth, so as to really get behind what the author had in mind. But then there's this transition to the level of generality, like the one Florovsky made, like the one Behr made, and that's where they also lose me.

Newman, like him or not, frames his conceptual framework so as to enable us to talk on this level. That's why Catholics like him so much; he gives us a definite vocabulary, a "grammar of assent," to use his own term. You don't have to agree with his conclusions, but it is difficult to understand how one can talk about them without it. And that's what I see in Florovsky, Behr, and Louth. On the other hand, there are numerous Orthodox historians and theologians (D.B. Hart, Arkadi Choufrine, Alexander Golitzin, Paul Gavrilyuk, Henny Fiska Hagg) who talk in definite terms without crossing into such generalities (when they speak of Orthodox belief, they mean it in terms of relatively definite concepts), so there is at least a conversation to be had.

I frankly don't know what to make of these folks. They're clearly smart people, but smart people have convinced themselves many times that they are saying something when they really aren't. Heck, that description might as well be Derrida's biography. That's the impression I get from them: that they are talking impressively around a conceptual vacuum.
CrimsonCatholic said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Grano1 said…
C.C. - you really should track down the Louth essay. One of the things he discusses is Newman's idea of development and why it's different than the East's.

Huw -- Interesting. I've been Orthodox for 12 years, yet I've known about the developments, refinements, etc. of the Liturgy almost since the beginning. I wonder if this has to do with the fact that converts tend to read different books than the cradle Orthodox do, and are thus exposed to something that the others don't hear about.
Huw Raphael said…
Grano1 - Well, speaking as a convert myself (only 4 years, tho) I had thought it was a function of being in an all-convert parish. One popular convert author calls us "the church that never changes" etc. Perhaps there is an Orthodox Fundamentalism that crosses the Convert/Cradle line and just, as our host says, sounds like Sola Scriptura.
Grano1 said…
Huw -- I've heard such things regarding doctrine/dogma but not praxis or liturgy.
CrimsonCatholic said…
Mr. Grano:
I would imagine that the inability to recognize any distinction between the one and the other would be a hefty part of the "convertitis" Huw Raphael is describing. Of course, I cannot speak to the phenomenon from direct experience, but it sounds like things that I have heard from time to time.
CrimsonCatholic said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Grano1 said…
'I would imagine that the inability to recognize any distinction between the one and the other would be a hefty part of the "convertitis" Huw Raphael is describing.'

C.C., that may well be the case; if so, then faulty catechesis may be to blame.
Stephen said…
Let me posit a framework that helps me, in any event, understand the differences between East and West in the area of "as we pray, so we believe."

I speak of the "liturgical footprint." For the East, what we believe is pretty much identical to what anyone can hear in our communcal prayer and fasting life. No variance exists between dogma and the boundaries of our liturgical footprint.

Catholics, in contrast, draw more about dogma from non-liturgical sources. Or, in other words, the liturgical footprint of the west is smaller than the boundaries of dogma.

Stephen
Jack said…
"I speak of the "liturgical footprint." For the East, what we believe is pretty much identical to what anyone can hear in our communcal prayer and fasting life. No variance exists between dogma and the boundaries of our liturgical footprint.

Catholics, in contrast, draw more about dogma from non-liturgical sources. Or, in other words, the liturgical footprint of the west is smaller than the boundaries of dogma."


That's an interesting way to put it. I think you are right in the main and this goes back to the Greek/Byzantine mind, and historical religious experience.

Do you think this situation will continue as the Orthodox church reforms and gains a larger number of ocnverts? What would happen if converts began to number significantly larger in relation to cradle Orthodox?

How do you think this would effect dogma, doctrine, liturgy, and even things like iconography and tradition?
Stephen said…
I'm not sure what "reforms" you refer to, but I don't think the situation will change much. Why? Because participation in the life of the Church, especially voluntary, can be quite onerous if one is not pre-disposed (for any number of motivations) to jump into it. To have any "street cred", you have to show up, and stay to the end. By that time, all but the most hardy "reformers" have weeded themselves out. Those that stay realize that the greatest change, the longest yard, lies within.

Popular Posts