On occasion I run across Christian writings that embrace the notion of “progressive revelation,” or in other circles, “development of doctrine.” I am aware that the two phrases have different meanings – but there is something of a common thread – a thread that links parts of our modern world. That simple thread is the thought that something new, something not yet known, will be the answer that we’ve not yet had.
I will confess that I think about this when I contemplate the oil crisis – I would like to think I would wake up some morning to a headline that announced the invention of something that solved all of our environmental problems. I do not think that morning will come.
Neither will such a morning or evening come for Christians.
Christ, who is the fullness of Truth, is come. He has made Himself known and through Him we know the Father. From an Orthodox Christian perspective, there is simply nothing new to be known. No refinement of doctrine, no twist even of what we presently know will make any difference.
For the problem that we live with as human beings is not lack of knowledge, as ignorant as we may be. It is not that the knowledge is not there or unavailable, but that we don’t want it. We are pernicious in this matter. If the problem were lack of information – then the problem continues to rest with God and until He comes through with more information, we are excused.
The Fullness of the Truth has been given to us in the God-Man, Jesus Christ. The great difficulty is in becoming a disciple of that God-Man, and taking the lifetime required to know and be conformed to the Truth which has been given us.
As an Orthodox priest it is not unusual to find people interested in Orthodoxy. It is also not unusual to find people who are interested in “doing something like Orthodoxy.” They like some of the things we do and some of the things we say. They do not, however, want to become Orthodox.
I had the privilege yesterday evening during my visit to Kentucky to Chrismate and receive a young woman into the fullness of the Orthodox faith. Once again in my ministry, I stood by as a young woman repeated the words:
This true faith of the Orthodox Church, which I now voluntarily confess and truly hold, that same I will firmly maintain and confess, whole and unchanged, even until my last breath, God helping me. And I will teach and proclaim it, insofar as I am able. And I will strive to fulfill its obligations with zeal and joy, preserving my heart in good deeds and blamelessness. In witness of this, my true and pure-hearted confession, I kiss the Word and Cross of my Savior.
This is the central act of salvation – not in that instant – but in her lifetime. It is recognizing that what we need to know was given long ago, and continues to live among us and abide with us. The question is not “do I need something else?” But rather, “Can I say, ‘Yes,’ to what has been offered to me.” It is why, finally, there is, or should be, little debate within the Orthodox faith. There is much debate in my heart as I struggle to say yes again this moment. But I do not need more information. I need to repent – that’s the hard part.
I would encourage readers to read the short exchange between Scott Lyons and myself (comments 8 and 9) in the comments section. There is as much substance there as in the article itself and may prove of use.
Thank you, Father.
As a recent catechumen, I have been following your blog for quite some time and I just want to say THANK YOU! You have been an immense help in my departure from a two story world which I knew that I had left but, you put it into words. Everything I think – You say! Anna
Everyday is a struggle to the death to not follow in the footsteps of Adam and Eve, but rather to imitate Mary in one simple “Yes” to God.
One (of many) reasons I converted to Orthodoxy and not Roman Catholicism was I am pretty simple and can barely do one thing right at a time, and sometimes barely that much.
If I failed in the first, basic thing that God asked, the spector of such a complicated system (that could develope even more) created by “doctrinal developement”, along with what seemed like unatural contortions and mental gymnastics (I am not very athletic mentally or physically) made me want to quit before I began.
I was drawn to one of your Apophthegmatas on the old Pontifications blog……that 95% of Orthodoxy is just showing up.
I didn’t understand it at the time, but I am beginning to learn that my Salvation is worked out in daily life that is lived as part of the Body of Christ, showing up and remaining faithful in the community of the Church….it’s hard work, it’s complicated, but it’s joyful work….but the showing up part…..that’s easy…because He is always there….and all I ever really wanted was Him.
I agree completely. The longer I live and seek to be faithful, the simpler all of it seems to me – not easy – but showing up and struggling to be faithful in very small things. I think it is possible to give a fairly complicated explanation of all this, but it still comes down to just that kind of life.
I can hardly think of a saint whose life is not marked by such simplicity. Things hard to be understood do not necessarily mean “the deeper things.” One simple act of kindness can contain the entire depths of the universe. But the eyes to see the truth of that are rare and the gift of God.
Thank you for your note.
Kind of reminds me of my frustrations with some other south African immigrants to Canada (note, I’m one myself). They want to live here, and be safe, and work, but they do not want to integrate into Candian society. They only visit other SA’cans, and speak about SA as home.
You either do something, or you don’t. And there is a lot of similarities between conversion and immigration…
Christ has already come and when he comes again it won’t be to take a side in our arguments or convince us of what he has already taught. May we be past those desires when the time comes! Thank you for this post.
Father, forgive my ignorance. I hope you can make sense of this comment. Honestly, I’m rather confused. I’m thinking out loud here and trying to understand our differences. I am Roman Catholic and though I have never read Newman’s treatise on the Development of Doctrine, it seems to me that Orthodoxy, which I love, has developed also in its understanding of doctrine. Christ is the fullness of Truth. In that sense, of course we need no more information. But I don’t see anyone disputing that He is the fullness of Truth or that we need more than He has given to us.
Are not the first seven councils developments of the Church’s understanding of who she is and of what she believes? Certainly there is a good deal of their being a definition of what is already believed. But at the same time there is some profound misunderstanding as well within the Church to merit the councils. Even the definition of the canon of the Scriptures is a development in our understanding, isn’t it? Doesn’t the rejection of iconoclasm show us the concretization of doctrine, belief, and practice? And isn’t definition and concretization development? The West does not believe that doctrines change into something different when we say “develop.” Truth doesn’t change or develop, it simply is and, as you said, is realized in Christ. But does our understanding of Truth increase (not change so as to become different)? Shouldn’t it? We are constantly being re-formed, being converted, isn’t this itself a kind of development? And while your ancient and beautiful Liturgy of St John Chrysostom is ancient, isn’t that Liturgy a development from something earlier?
I’m not sure that by Development of Doctrine Catholics mean the idea of adding to a masterpiece so much as it does the discovery/re-discovery of it, its restoration. I understand that Orthodoxy might reject the need for clarification in favor of the acceptance of the mystery of a thing – I tend be more apophatic myself. But does that make the clarification illegitimate? Does that deny cataphatic knowledge of God? Is it wrong to use the reason that God has given us to attempt to understand as much as it is possible to understand through prayer and study? Or am I completely misunderstanding our differences?
I hope something of this comment makes sense. I am trying to make sense of it all – and at times it seems as if my Orthodox brothers and sisters protest too much. As a convert to Catholicism from Evangelical Protestantism, and as a lover of Orthodoxy, when I look East I see fewer differences than I often hear my Orthodox brothers and sisters propose. I wonder sometimes if the East, especially in America, likes to point to the differences between East and West because of the Romaphobia on the hearts and lips of most Evangelicals. And meanwhile, as a convert, I am overwhelmed by our similarities.
Again, I hope I don’t offend. But I don’t understand why all the push-back of We Are Different I get from Orthodox brothers and sisters when I see so much more that is shared.
And isn’t this simplicity? Why don’t I hear more talk of our similarities from Orthodoxy?
If you’d like to delete this from your combox and discuss it with me via e-mail, you can reach me at sweptover at gmail dot com.
Good comment. I’ll have to note that I did not mention Newman by name or Roman Catholics. I will even cede many points. Of course the statement of things is refined, etc., though it is important always to start with and affirm that Christ is the fullness from the beginning and that the fullness is given to the Church from the beginning.
Having said that (and I’m not being Romaphobic – I’m generally one of the gentle ones here) it is my concern with modernity not the West (I’m not sure that there is an East in that sense) that drives my writing in this. The development of anything or progressive anything in the hands of a modern is a license to do what must not be done.
I would suggest that Rome is in as close to a backpedaling mode as possible under the present Pope precisely because modernists took things way too far. Need I trot out photos of Roman clown masses to make my point? The danger in this case isn’t Rome, it’s a danger for Rome as much as for Orthodoxy. It’s an even graver danger to Prtotestants because they are virtually unarmed against modernity.
The abolition of East facing liturgies (which would seem a minor thing) is not a development. It is a radical change without any precedent in the past. There seems to be some growing sentiment in RC circles (some circles) that the Mass should be restored to its ancient pattern of East facing. This, as I say, seems minor. But actually, liturgical matters are huge.
The gradual erosion of fasting is also not a development but an erosion.
The things you cite could be called developments because they only clarify or state in a fuller way what had always been believed. The examples I am citing are not developments but what modernity always does – it changes things to “improve” them, always certain that the present knows more than the past.
There is a sea-change in Roman Catholic culture, as there has been in Protestant culture, and as there always threatens in Orthodoxy as well. That sea-change is the threat of the dominance of modernity. Given half a chance and it will swallow us all.
When I compare parish to parish, Orthodoxy shares relatively little with RC when it should be sharing a lot. But 30 minute masses once a week with guitars and virutally no confession or fasting is barely similar to Orthodoxy and, whether intended or not, this is the reality out there. Frankly, it’s frightening to Orthodoxy precisely because it happened in such a short time. Could it happen here? It would be the death of Orthodoxy in a way that can hardly be compared.
It’s not Rome I fear or with whom I have difficulty, but modernity. By that I do not mean flushing toilets and pennicilin, but the cultural complex of ideas that have come to dominate (not only in the West, but increasingly everywhere).
It’s hallmarks are secularism (as I’ve written at length about in the one-storey series), change, mobility, innovation, malleability of the human, linearity of time, historicism, (hedonism though this can be present in any sort of setting), and I could add a few more things.
It’s that in such a setting, words like development and progressive are loaded and dangerous. Christians should largely avoid them. I do not think what happened over the past generation in Rome is the fault of Newman or the notion of the Development of Doctrine as he used it – but development as modernity uses it.
We should all agree (indeed!) that these things, in the hands of modernity, are enemies of the faith, and mark their distortions as deeply unfortunate, and quit defending them under those names. Find another word. The present ones have been coopted.
Anglicans like the notion of the development of doctrine and will use it to justify the sorts of mutations they are now experiencing.
But believe me Scott, I am not shooting at a triumphalist target with regard to the “West” or Rome. I am shooting directly at a culture that is destroying us all and will eventually rob us of our humanity as well.
Thank God! I have found you again and this wonderful blog. For whatever reasons, this morning , i found myself going to the OCA website, looking at my ‘old’ books on Orthodoxy from my time spent studying in the 90’s (in Oak Ridge) ..and reflecting on your journey. I am again in prayerful pursuit of guidance which will lead me to the Orthodox faith. It has always been there for me, but it is I , who turned away.
Father, thank you for your response. I understand you didn’t mention Newman or Roman Catholicism – but your post got me, a Catholic, thinking in those directions. I also understand that you do not spend your days bashing Catholicism. I’ve been reading long enough to know better, and you have only shown me kindness whenever I’ve posted here before.
Finally, let me say that I recognize that Catholic parish life is often and unfortunately very different than where the Catholic Church tells us we ought to be – and I say that to our shame. I too see Rome backpedaling, “reforming the reform” of Vatican II, and I thank God for it. I thank God for Pope Benedict’s leadership in this matter.
I agree with you about the danger of modernity. And because of what I discover in parish life – often the erosion you mention – I find myself torn at times between East and West. I love the Catholic Church and what she teaches and believes, but I am also frustrated by not always seeing that Church at the local level. And from my understanding, my diocese, the diocese of Charlotte, is a good one. That being said, I live in a rural southern area where even the closest Latin-rite Catholic Church is 25 minutes away. There are no Eastern Catholic parishes within driving distance for a Sunday and the closest Orthodox parish, a Greek Orthodox parish, is 45 minutes away. And, at the end of the day, I love Catholicism. And I love Papa Benedict.
Anyway, I’m babbling. I am extremely grateful for your presence online, Father. Thank you for your patience with me and please pray that I grow in love and holiness. And please continue to pray for our unity.
Whatever happens in relations between Orthodoxy and Rome, the common culture that surrounds us all, with its lure of a false consciousness in modernity (again modernity and modern are not the same thing), is a common enemy – not just to Orthodoxy and Rome, but to all Christians everywhere. The gospel is not furthered when modernity morphs it into another commodity to be packaged and consumed. I will indeed be in prayer for you and us all, and hope that we will all grow in Christ and be faithful in the daily battle God has set before us.
As just such an inquirer, I can only give my testimony that you are mistaken here. I cannot speak for others’ hearts (I have a hard enough time knowing myself, to reference an earlier post of yours).
Semantically, I might say you are right. But the statement is misleading. I want to be what God wants me to be. If that’s Orthodox, then that is what I want to be. You can be assured that God wants all to be Orthodox. I still lack sufficient information to know that is God’s will.
You and I both pray “God’s will be done”, but we will both spend a lifetime learning what that will is.
Sorry, if I sound defensive. It’s hard after bothering a dozen Orthodox for months and reading thousands of pages on and off-line, to be told that I’m not looking for God because I’m not Orthodox, yet.
I hope I’ve misunderstood.
Romans 7 is my testimony. What I want to do, I do not do. This is important. I still very much want to do these things. I never take the lack of someone’s doing as determining the state of their heart (my own tradition uses this club horribly on many struggling sinners).
From a certain point of view, I am cursed. I live in America with the experiences and heritage that I have. I must make a pilgrimage to Orthodoxy. I will never know with unassailable certainty (that is without faith) that the Orthodox church is “THE” church and therefor submit myself in peace to it. But I cannot make such a decision irresponsible of some level of certainty.
When you are looking to submit to God all desire (eros) feels like a perilous temptation. In fact, one of the reasons I’m not Orthodox, is PRECISELY because I WANT to be. The wanting makes me fear that I’m giving in to temptation and not submitting to truth.
I’m not playing a game here, wasting your time or mine. My hunger burns in my heart, but that thing you would call the nous still feels blind.
And why was my nous made blind? For my sins or the sins of my fathers? No, but that God will heal me miraculously for His glory.
Thank you for some well-made points. First, I would heartily agree that “becoming Orthodox” is a mystery – it was in my case as well. Forgive me if I implied any judgment. I had in mind, actually, some cases where people were interested, if you will, in starting churches that were “sort of Orthodox,” there’s a lot of stuff like that out there – and this is problematic for me.
In the case of an individual or a family, things are truly mysterious and take their own time. Frequently, the process (if I can call it that) of becoming Orthodox is quite slow because there’s a lot being worked out in our salvation, and not just “changing churches.” Savlation is way better than changing churches. My prayer for you and for myself is our salvation. I believe that salvation is found within the Orthodox life, but will readily admit that God saves us always and everywhere (He’s not willing for any to perish). May God give you peace in all things. And thanks for the personal level of sharing. It was helpful.
It appears we have all done some journeying. I’m glad we’ve reconnected. You should come to Oak Ridge and visit. Now I have a Church to invite you to. 🙂
I wanted to share something I came across on the web today. I don’t think I’ve ever been so moved by mother church trying to ring the dinner bell for us to come in for supper:
I’m sorry for the terribly long URL.
I had an interesting conversation with a friend today. He said, “I know our church is wrong, but it’s my mother and you don’t leave your mother because she’s wrong.”
I told him that’s why I was interested in Orthodoxy because the church offers its motherhood to me. And he said, “but can one adopt a mother?”
As an Orthodox priest it is not unusual to find people interested in Orthodoxy. It is also not unusual to find people who are interested in “doing something like Orthodoxy.” They like some of the things we do and some of the things we say. They do not, however, want to become Orthodox.
I wonder about this statement, Fr. Stephen, because it is a sentiment I often hear from the Orthodox. Other Christians interest and respect for Orthodoxy seems to be written off as cafeteria Christianity – wanting to have things both ways. And yet it seems to me that such an attitude spells doom for any prospect of the reunion of the Churches.
I know that the Lord will move some to convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, and I don’t begrudge this – though I may miss their fellowship. But it seems a great blessing of our globalized age that we have access to the teachings and traditions of other Christians, and so be enriched and challenged by them. Is it somehow bad for Western Christians to become influenced by the treasures of the East, and thus have their minds opened and their hearts inclined to their Eastern brothers? Is this not perhaps the first step toward something that may build one day into true reunion? Furthermore, is it not itself an overly individualized and modern sentiment that expects people to all individually simply convert? Is there not just as much value if those same people become agents of renewal in their own churches, moving the hearts of Christians toward their brothers in other communions?
I think there is a great deal of value in others learning the riches of Orthodoxy. Without the sharing that has taken place since the 1940’s or so, there would have been almost no converts, much less knowledge about the riches of the Orthodox faith.
But I do not think there will be a reunion of churches for a variety of reasons. I have participated in receiving entire congregations and their pastors into Orthodoxy – this I know is possible. I do not expect there to be a movement on much of a larger level.
It is also true that Orthodoxy has some interest in the teachings of other churches, but not quite in the sense that there is a tradition there worth learning from. The Orthodox Church does not see itself as a church among churches. That’s a protestant point-of-view. We learn a lot from our converts, though, I’ve noticed.
But the sense that “I will stay in my tradition and help it move towards union with the Orthodox” is a nice sentiment – but not a reality. No one could have made more noise (positive) about this sort of thing than the Anglicans. I learned that it was all noise. There was never going to be a union with the Orthodox – indeed – it’s been the opposite.
One of the reasons, frankly, is that conversion is actually required in order to embrace the Orthodox faith. It is not just a single conversion, but embracing conversion as a pattern of life – continual conversion. Much more to be said here and I’m sorry that I can’t write longer about it at the moment.
Re: interest in Orthodoxy without wanting to *be* Orthodox–
I am a catechumen and have thought an awful lot about this because I’ve been in a lot of conversations with people about this over the past year or so. What I see happening with the people I know, who are predominantly Protestant, is that they want to choose the bits they like and ignore the parts they don’t.
There is even a fast-selling book called “A Generous Orthodoxy”–the basic premise is that the author takes the parts of different traditions that he likes, bundles them together on his own authority and calls it “generous”. But it is not submitted to authority or the entirely of the faith.
It’s just another form of “joining a church”, rather than “entering the Church”, and keeping oneself in charge rather than submitting to the authority of another.
If that is what you were talking about, I have to agree with you that I see it out here, too. If not, please just delete this entire comment because it adds nothing to the thread.
So Father Stephen, would you say that your hope is then for the destruction of the Protestant churches, rather than their conversion? Surely the God who raised Christ from the dead can do better than that!
I don’t hope for their destruction but their salvation. But as institutions I do not see that happening – or if so in some rare instance. Ecumenism has been a disaster on a formal level. But on the informal level of entrance into Orthodoxy by conversion, or on the part of some entire parishes in an extraordinary situation – yes I see this.
But would I expect to see, say, a Lutheran denomination enter union with Orthodoxy? No I don’t expect to see that. I suppose, and I’m just being as honest as I can, that I expect that when Christ returns there will still be denominationalism.
However, as a matter of faith, I believe the Church can only come in ones (One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church) and I believe that the Orthodox Church is that Church. I believe that there are other Christians and even that they have a relationship with the Orthodox Church whether they know it or not. That relationship is not what it should be or what is ideal. The relationship of some Orthodox Christians is not what it should be to the Church or ideal. All of these things will be brought before Christ who will judge us all with equity and make right what we have made wrong.
But I gave up looking for large trends a good while back. Thus far the trend is not towards institutional unity, except of the worst sort (such as the Presbyterian, USA). Rather the trend is towards multiplication after multiplication of organizations. All I can be responsible for is trying to be a faithful Orthodox priest. It’s all I can do, and even that I do rather badly.
I have come to this calling at some great cost having abandoned all hope of Anglicanism, and concluding that it was a centuries-old delusion. I entered Orthodoxy as a penitent, asking forgiveness, bringing no righteousness of my own. I write as an Orthodox priest and have no hope beyond what Christ has promised His Church.
Father, one more question, if you don’t mind (with its own subset of questions): Do Orthodox women still veil themselves during the Divine Liturgy? I’ve been thinking about this in regards to Catholic practice (abolished in the 80s, I think?) and your comments on “erosion” got me thinking about it even more.
If Orthodox women do not veil themselves, Why? Do you see this example also as modernity’s erosion in Catholicism? And has Orthodoxy always upheld this practice?
It seems it would be something the Orthodox would do in the light of St Paul’s discussion of it in the context of universality – because of the angels – and, I believe, also shows up in many of the early Fathers’ writings, including St John Chrysostom.
I also don’t want to be straining at gnats, so forgive me if it appears that I am doing so. Just curious at this point. Thinking out loud here.
In Europe wearing a veil in Church is, I understand, pretty universal, at least in traditionally Orthodox countries. It is still virtually required at any monastery I know of. You see mixed practice in American parishes. ROCOR pretty much requires it. OCA, GOA and Antiochian parishes you see a variety of practice. Some women in my parish do and some do not.
Is it an erosion – I don’t really have enough information to say that. Whenever anyone asks me what I think (in my parish) I tell them I think wearing the veil is a good thing. I do not tell them that they must. I have not, in conversations with my Archbishop, been directed to do otherwise.
The short answer is that in most places across the world, in the vast majority of Orthodox parishes, women cover their heads in Church. This is not so universal in America.
One of your response above includes this saying:
“One of the reasons, frankly, is that conversion is actually required in order to embrace the Orthodox faith. It is not just a single conversion, but embracing conversion as a pattern of life – continual conversion. Much more to be said here and I’m sorry that I can’t write longer about it at the moment.”
The first sentence about conversion strikes a familiar chord for all who have been in touch with Christian spirituality in the USA South. The big life “event” can be the conversion experience itself; an experience so enormous that one is encouraged to spend the rest of life trying to repeat it and repeat it. (That can be one meaning for “born again). Believe me, I am not trying to “put down” those who stretch after this moment. But it is helpful to hear and practice your alternative. Or, better said, the Orthodox reading.
The second sentence has an unintended whif of Corinthians to the effect of “there is much more I would say but you are not able to bear it” or even a Hebrews 6 scolding about getting beyond the “elementary doctrines.” Indeed, many of us are slow learners. ;o)
“I am shooting directly at a culture that is destroying us all and will eventually rob us of our humanity as well.”
The Jewish People in WWII demonstrated that no one can rob you of your humanity. If you chose to surrender it, that is your choice and no one else’s. If you surrender your power, that is your decision. Jesus demonstrated this, better than anyone.
And, help me, Father, so we must assume that the Old Testament directives to kill all, men, women and children – “dash their heads” – that this displayed the fullness of humanity?
What culture was it in Christ’s day? Or in the mid-evil ages? Or the Puritans who killed those who differed in beliefs?
Please, with respect, you may decide that “culture” is not destroying anyone. Maybe it is religions who appear to emulate Christ, yet bear little resemblance to Christ’s life and actions – that are hurting us. We need authenticity – people above rules, people above doctrine, people above denominations – then . . . and now.
Don’t hold your breath. Always, always easier to join the fan club. Appearing virtuous, more important than being virtuous – especially, for those inside the Church.
Thank you for your posts – this one of the three seemed to sum up your thoughts well enough. You are entirely right no one can rob you of your humanity – but if you have not been raised to understand the worth of that humanity then it’s hard to stand withinit.
I have repeatedly stated that the Old Testament used as excuse to kill is, from an Eastern Orthodox perspective, a wrong interpretation and not part of the Orthodox tradition.
Neither are Puritans among Orthodox Christians. It’s easy to blame all religion just as you could blame all germs for disease, though it would be inaccurate. I have identified myself as a priest of the Eastern Orthodox Church – you’ll have to find out about the history of this 2000 year old tradition of Christianity before you blame us for the actions that were not ours.
The Christian Church was among the first institutions to create hospitals, and many of the earliest advances in simple medical care were carried out by monks. Many gave themselves selflessly during the plagues. We continue to be on the front line of charitable care throughout the world – not with a government’s money – but with our own people and resources.
But when I make mention of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, I am quoting the Creed, and am speaking literally of a Church that existed for 1000 year when there were no other churches. It’s not pride to make such statements, it’s history.
If you’re going to discuss Christianity, then you have to read something other than schoolboy attacks and dig into some mature history.
But if you are interested in invective then you’ll need another venue.