Breaking Dialectic in History

“Lori Branch comments that the “cultural formations of western Christianity” grew out of “binary, Protestant-Catholic debates.” But this binarism is disrupted by the entry of a third, Eastern Orthodoxy.

When the church history of the last century is written, the revitalization of Orthodoxy in the West will be seen as a, perhaps the, crucial factor in the transformations of Western Catholicism and Protestantism.”

HT to Peter Leithart

46 Responses to Breaking Dialectic in History

  1. William B says:

    “No, because Orthodoxy and RC understand different things about Hypostasis. For Rome, the Son is a relation of an absolutely simple essence.”

    Could you do a post on this?

  2. Sophocles says:

    Dear Photios,

    Thank you for the references, I will definitely check them out. The questions I posed for Mr. Sullivan were meant as bait, but he seems to have ceased commenting here.

    I recently read “Communion as Being” by Zizioulas. I don’t have a formal training in philosophy, so the read was a bit difficult for me. I carried a dictionary with me everywhere I went and wrote down definitions. Luckily, I speak, read and write Greek so that helped me.
    With all his brilliance, I sensed some real problems, or what I perceived to be problems in some of the things he wrote. Your take on this book and Ziizoulas?

    In Christ and in fellowship,

  3. Sophocles,

    No, because Orthodoxy and RC understand different things about Hypostasis. For Rome, the Son is a relation of an absolutely simple essence. How in the world a relation of an absolutely simple essence becomes incarnate and takes on another nature, makes no sense from a religion that wishes to make everything “logical.” Does this relation have another relation to its human natuer? I don’t know how they escape Nestorianism if Person is defined as a relation. For us, there is no philosophical definition of Hypostasis, other than a ‘Who’ that is absolutely unique, and absolutely like no other and absolutely free (with libertarian type freedom). I recommend looking at Christos Yannaris on “The distinction between essence and energy and its importance for theology.” Very good essay that focuses much on the aspect of Person (though the title doesn’t imply this). Also, pay attention to the “ordo theologiae” that Yannaris uses: Person-Operation-Essence is his thinking.


  4. Sophocles says:

    Dear Michael,

    When the Roman Church says “Jesus” and Orthodox Church says “Jesus”, are they both saying the same thing?

  5. Sophocles says:

    Dear Michael,

    The Christianity of Rome: was it at one time Orthodox? If yes, when did this change and why?

  6. nego.

    You miss the point of the counter-reformation. The Church has concentrated on refuting and expelling other heresies before. Other dogmas were formulated in order to exclude objections and counter-positions. If Protestantism should disappear or be re-absorbed Rome would continue as always.

  7. Don Bradley says:


    Though you existed long before, you have been defining yourselves from Pius IV onwards in light of Protestant objections. Did you miss the counter-Reformation that occurred posterior to the Protestant Reformation? Rome is less blatant about it than Prots who would be unable to sustain themselves were it not for the self-righteous boiling rage they have for Rome to fuel what passes for them as zeal for the faith.

  8. They need each other to define themselves; we don’t.

    I have yet to understand the notion that the Catholic Church (Rome and those in communion with her) needs Protestantism to define itself against. It’s prima facie absurd. Rome with all her distinctive characteristics existed long before.

  9. Don Bradley says:

    Perry says,

    ‘Orthodoxy is interesting because it defies that historical dialectic.”

    Rome and Prots cherry-pick Orthodoxy as fodder for their debate. Too many people end up Orthodox because of this dialectic; they can’t swallow the Papal Infallibility kool-aid, yet they yearn for antiquity and can’t stomach Anglican antinomianism anymore. They become “Orthodox in name only”. If we become an antithesis of this western dialectic, we merely become another dialectic; east vs. west, and part of their debate. They need each other to define themselves; we don’t.

  10. A quibble if I’ve ever seen one. Our Lord founded one Church. But the Apostles went on to found churches in Rome and Antioch and Ephesus and so forth. St Paul’s epistles at least make it clear that these were not in every way identical to one another. Surely there are “western” and “eastern” forms of Christianity, differences of tone, emphasis, expression, modes of thought, etc. To acknowledge this is not to claim that there is more than one Christianity. Protestantism arose from a corruption or development (or however you want to look at it) of an intellectual and cultural climate that obtained in the west and not in the east. This fact does not eo ipso invalidate Rome’s claim to catholicism and Christianity. That’s all I’m saying.

  11. Sophocles says:

    Dear Michael,
    Our Lord founded one Christianity. There is no such thing as “western” or “eastern” Christianity.

  12. Jim says:


    Your exemption was noted (thank you). I actually wasn’t going to respond prior to Perry’s “Amen.”


    I’d prefer not to sully Perry’s blog, understanding and appreciating his quick attempt to redirect the conversation. But I also don’t want to use this as an excuse to hide behind.

    I wrote the following years ago. It somewhat highlights where I am coming from with respect to tradition (though not the episcopate):

    my blog’s latest post (click on my name) is there for comments.

    Jim the Diseased Ogre

  13. acolyte says:


    I don’t think you are getting your ethnically assigned quota of whiskey or ale.

  14. Matt,

    you said it.


    that’s why I specifically excepted you from my remarks.


    I of course think your “Catholic/Protestant dialectic” is a crock. Protestantism is a disease of Christianity in its Western form; it’s not the case that all forms of Western Christianity are different manifestations of the same disease. But I’ve said as much as I care to say on the matter to you elsewhere.

  15. Sophocles says:

    Dear Acolyte,

    In my own experience I know exactly where you’re coming from in your observing how the slowly growing awareness of a third voice is becoming known. Man do I love the Orthodox Church. My own personal journey took several twists and turns and about 4 years ago I ended up at a Pascha service and knew I was home.
    By nature I am very excitable and enthusiastic about that which is True. To a varying degree of strenght I have attempted since a young boy to mold myself to that which is True rather than mold Truth to myself. (As I’ve gotten a little more honest with myself I realize this is the idealistic version of my struggle, I, a sinner, often seek my own advantage. But nevertheless, to some degree I have tried, with all my strenght.)
    I began devouring all things Orthodox and yes, Frederica too. I am of the opinion that she has a welcome place and her story inspired me. To tell you the truth, all of you guys and gals that have converted to the Church inspire me. You see, I’m Greek by blood and was rather ashamed about my ethnicity growing up and the Church too by default because it was so foreign. I dove head first into the born-again movement(which I am very grateful for as I learned the Scriptures quite well and know now for a certainty I could never be a Protestant ever again).
    Orthodoxy I think can best be described as a Presence. I believe that we will see many amazing things as this nation begins to discover how other-woldly Orthodoxy is. One man or woman just BEING Orthodox is a transforming experience. We believe that it’s not about trying to be like Jesus, but being Jesus as we undergo deification through living the life of our Holy Church, a lifelong, nay, an eternal process from glory to glory.
    The Orthodox Faith can properly be only understood by experiencing it. I constantly tell those I share the Faith with, “Whatever you think you know about Christianity, throw it out.”
    Anyway, I don’t know if I stayed true to your thread’s intent, but these are my thoughts. God bless all of us. Perry and Photios, keep up the good work!

  16. Joseph says:


    To see your point played out, just read ANY protestant author. Even good ones these days will only mention Augustine as the only Father that had a brain prior to the reformation. This is ironic at best, because said Father is one of the contributors to said dialectic.

  17. Jim I’d like to see you elaborate on your last point. What modern understanding of the epsicopate? What is Ignatius’s view and what is Cyprian’s view?

  18. acolyte says:


    Of course by now, thread misses my entire point for posting the quote. I didn’t post it because Orthodoxy will be some defining principle in the future but for other reasons. It seems to me that many Christians are stuck in the Protestant/Catholic dialectic.

    Orthodoxy is interesting because it defies that historical dialectic. Ok. Now, can I get some comments ABOUT THAT?

  19. Jim says:

    Once they do some reading the tactic has to shift to denying the relevance of Patristic testimony in this or that area.

    This may be your general experience, but it is never been my issue.

    In short (and Don can attest to the number of pages I’ve previously posted over the years on the details) w.r.t. both Tradition (as opposed to Sola Scriptura) and escpecially the Episcopate, I do not see a modern understanding of these concepts in the Father’s at all. Ignatius, when read that way, creates a massive anachronistic clash with every other extant writing up to, and to some extent including, Cyprian.


  20. Matt says:


    Another good quote by Chesterton is when he compares the Church to (I believe) a tower: it leans left and right but never falls over. I miss folks like Chesterton, Belloc, Lewis, Tolkein, etc. Whether it be Roman Catholic or Anglican there was something cool about English Christianity in those days.

  21. ochlophobist says:

    The OCA listed its membership at 1,000,000 for many years. Then, a sub-committee within the OCA’s met council decided to “adjust” that figure up 6 1/2 percent. They did this with no demographic evidence whatsoever at their disposal. In fact, anyone who knows anything about the OCA knows that the 1,000,000 figure is a farce if there ever was one. The OCA listed the new “adjusted” figure to the NCC, and it just so happened that this new figure made the OCA the fastest growing Christian body in the USA in 2005, according to the NCC. The NCC was very happy about this, having just lost the Antiochians it is very important for them to kiss Orthodox ass whenever possible.

    Hopefully some of this stupidity will ultimately be worked out as the OCA restructures.

    The lust for numbers is there in all of the Orthodox jurisdictions to some degree, and one should try to work against that lust whenever possible.

    The people just know leaving ECUSA scare me to. Excellent point Perry. They need to be watched. The one’s I have met are modernists with occasional conservative inclinations. Disturbing.

  22. Don Bradley says:


    I’m not anti-Frederica. She has her place. People convert for a multiplicity of reasons. I guess my critique is that too many converts fall into the complacency of thinking their journey ended with Chrismation rather than viewing it as a starting point. American Christianity has a tendency to look for finality, ending points, and usually easy ones wrapped in “knowing”. Frederica gets people to the starting point. Good for her. She’s done more for the Church than I ever will.

    Where is Jim eclesiastically speaking? IMHO, I think Jim is in a state of “ecclesiological agnosticism”; not locating the Church in the same visible way we do. His “cancer” is only something he can answer for himself and cure. I know the man pretty well, and he is hardly the Reformed kool-aid drinker. He has philosophical/theological dilemnas he has to work out for himself, and no bashing by us will change that (though I thoroughly enjoy bashing him). I give Jim the benefit of the doubt because he’s earned it.

  23. acolyte says:

    Michael S,

    As to the reading, I agree. That has been my experience as well.

    As to Chesterton, all I can say is that the dogs didn’t die in 1014, Rome did. But of course that is why I am Orthodox and you are Catholic. I have been to enough Catholic Masses to watch the alter servers. They either don’t know jack, stuff I knew when I was 7 or are being lazy or defiant. Far too much error has the force of common practice. Rome may still be here in 20 years, in fact I think it will be, but lavabo’s I don’t think will be.

  24. Just reading Ignatius is enough to make most Protestants crap a theological brick.

    This might and should be true, as least for things like refuting Sola Scriptura or defending the episcopacy. In my experience the hard part is getting the Protestants most in love with their historical myths to just read it (no reflection on Jim intended, of course). Tell them what the Fathers say and they simply don’t believe you and don’t care to check it out for themselves. Few non-academic (and the same thing is true for many academics, too!) have read anything beyond the Confessions, if that, and don’t see the need for more.

    Once they do some reading the tactic has to shift to denying the relevance of Patristic testimony in this or that area.

    And Rome, well what can one say, I’d be surprised if in 20 years there is an alter server, I don’t say alter BOY, who can even do a lavabo anymore.

    Malachi Martin, for one, was prophesying the death of Rome within twenty years about thirty years ago.

    Remember what Chesterton said–whenever the world said the Church had gone to the dogs, it was the dogs that died.

  25. Perry Robinson says:


    While I agree with much of what you say, Anglicans who are Christian need to go somewhere. How shall they hear unless someone is sent? It would have helped me and saved me a lot of time and sorrow had I met someone seriously familiar with the ins and outs of Orthodox theology.

    As for Frederica, she is fine as far as she goes, but she is not a theologian, not in the academic sense anyway. I think people get upset with her because the expect a Florovsky, and they shouldn’t. If you don’t like the mistakes that popular books make, the solution is simple-don’t read popular works. The same goes for speakers.

    Your complaint would be met by substituting her with someone better qualified, like Fr. Reardon. While I am all for creating better Christians and not merley more, people are free and so you will never be able to rule out the kind of conversions you are worried about. I am all with you on your worry, but the world is messy.

    My worry with the Anglicans, as opposed to say the LCMS converts, is this. Twenty years ago the Anglicans who converted were far more orthodox. The people jumping ship now, many of them are fairly liberal, just not ECUSA liberal. They tend to favor women’s ordination, but not the ordination of sodomites. If those people convert, their conversion should require more work, both on their part and the part of the church.

    At least with the LCMS recent converts they haven’t been communing with gross heretics, advocating fairly liberal causes and such. And their motivation is primarily liturgical and sacramental since the LCMS seems to be going the route of Happy-Clappy consumerism to compete with the evangelical mega sects.

    All of that said, Jim’s comments standing or not, where is Jim ecclesiastically speaking? Even if true, I am not sure how our warts help his cancer.

  26. Don Bradley says:

    It’s depersonalizing (if there is such a word) to parade the faith around in search of numbers. I met this woman after the conference in Detroit and she had all the jingo down. She really didn’t have the first clue why the Anglicans are in free fall, or why Orthodoxy is the true faith. She knew she wanted out. God bless her. She was an easy mark. I tried to talk her out of it. She has gone from Rome to Canterbury and now was on her way to Constantinople; we would be just another stop on her personal journey, and frankly I have more respect for the faith than to desire easy converts who are gone before their Chrism oil dries. I hope she has purer motives and takes the plunge. Time will tell. I have seen too many nominal conversions for questionable reasons, and I have only been Orthodox 8 years. Maybe I’m getting old. I truly love Orthodoxy, and don’t want to see it become just another spiritual commodity in the American marketplace.

    The problem is Orthodoxy is so all-encompassing; it isn’t superficial like our culture turns people into. There are no quick-fixes, no magic solutions. It’s work. As much as I’ve poured into it, I’ll be fortunate if half of my unborn grandchildren end up embracing Orthodoxy. I agree with Perry’s sentiment about his blog, because places of excellence like this do make a difference to those more serious about the faith, while Orthodoxy (I hope) will never degenerate enough to pander to those who search for answers on billboards or on the next Oprah program.

    Nevertheless, Jim’s rhetorical point stands.

  27. Michael says:

    Was that seminar for Episcopalians sponsored by OCA, Antiochian, or both? Frederica Mathewes-Green was a speaker, and she is Antiochian. At any rate, if the demise of ECUSA is an opportunity to spread life via the Orthodox faith, why not take the opportunity, witness to the hope that is within us, and step through that open door?

  28. jwp3d says:

    What is wrong with inviting Anglicans to a conference so that they can learn about Orthodox Christianity? Most Anglicans don’t know much about Orthodox Christianity. Hasn’t missions and evangelism been a part of Orthodox practice from the beginning? I am a former Episcopal priest and have not been recruited to become an Orthodox priest. I don’t understand what your problem is?

  29. sergius says:

    Becoming aware of the Ogre God of Calvinism is what primarily drove me to search for the true and living God, which I found in Orthodox Christianity. I’m in the OCA, recently received. Others have already said this but Orthodox Christianity is truly dwarfed by the non-Orthodox. Dwarfed. I too get excited about the possibilities of a leavening influence on American Christianity. It would indeed be great if we could bring some appreciable aid to our Protestant and Roman Catholic comrades in the immediate future. But the real battle being waged over here right now is between the enemies of the Faith and faithful Protestants and RC’s. This is reality.

  30. acolyte says:


    I said most, not all. Some people are strangely unaffected by counter evidence. 😛

  31. Don Bradley says:


    The OCA overreported their numbers…… don’t know why. The OCA just did a seminar in Detroit that was essentially a recruiting drive amongst dissaffected Episcopalian clergy…… don’t know why. My point was we have adopted western tactics, which means Jim’s rhetorical point is made. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing; just that it happens.


    I was simply giving some teeth to Jim’s rhetorical musing. The sorry theological state of Protestantdom wasn’t the question, and every effect of Protestants on Orthodox isn’t bad in and of itself. I would say that the west has affected the Orthodox here in tangental ways, while we haven’t put a dent in Protestantdom in America.

  32. Jim says:

    Perry said:

    Just reading Ignatius is enough to make most Protestants crap a theological brick

    And which version would that be? Long, short or Syriac? I’ve read through them all (ok, ok, I skimmed the long) and have yet to have noticed a trail of construction materials behind me … 🙂

    Ogre Jim

  33. Perry Robinson says:


    Much of what you say is true, but some is exaggeration also. I find that evangelicals have an idealism about the church or they try to be more Orthodox than the Orthodox and thus miss the point.

    I don’t think the granduer is lost by switching to english, any more than the granduer was lost when the Rus switched from Greek to Russian. The liturgy should be in the language of the people.

    As for a tract rack, the Fathers wrote such things so I am not opposed to having them. In fact, I support it since many of the laity are woefully ignorant. I am in GOARCH and I have never been to any liturgy with anything but the assigned hymns, so it must be a weird fluke.

    As for Schaff, well that is a double edged sword. It helps to dispell lots of myths Protestant have. Just reading Ignatius is enough to make most Protestants crap a theological brick. And Protestants were spooftexing long before Schaff became affordable and turning everything in to a new fad. Frankly, given who was on the top most 50 I am GLAD that not a one was ORthodox since the measure of influence is a measure of worldliness and superficiality by and large.

    I grant that we are small, but not really any smaller than the old mainline prot denominations. This blog is my small part of changing the situation. As for the OCA, I think that they were fudging their numbers because they were just going off of projected increases but not actual numbers and that changed a year or so ago. I could be wrong.

    I have no delusions that we have problems. I attend one of the largest Greek parishes in the nation here in St. Louis. I am quite aware of the problems, but these are problems I can live with. I can’t live with the Ogre God of Calvinism. It’s bad enough having the devil as an enemy, I don’t need to second guess God in whether he has elected me to damnation while determining me to think I am elect. I can’t live with the Nutzville that is Evangelicalism, which is the route the PCA and LCMS is going. And Rome, well what can one say, I’d be suprised if in 20 years there is an alter server, I don’t say alter BOY, who can even do a lavabo anymore. Nor can I handle all of the liberal faith denying garbage from the liberals. Why do these people even go to church is beyond me.

    So being a wart isn’t so bad. I rather like it.

  34. Michael says:

    A question for Don B. If the OCA is fudging its true numbers, why is it recruiting for Episcopal priests? One would think if they are not as large as claimed, they wouldn’t need priests.

    And a couple comments. Congregational squabbles do happen in Orthodoxy without any Protestants around; I think of the Greek Cathedral of St. George in Philly that has been torn for years…human sin seems to be the real culprit. Also, granted that the traditional Orthodox chants should be used at Christmas, but are all carols bad?

    Orthodoxy is a newcomer to the lower 48 states. I have hope Orthodoxy will act as the leaven which will transform the whole loaf; the mustard seed that will grow wildly; the rock that became a mountain filling the earth.

  35. Jim says:

    Don said:

    How many current Protestants won’t use the filioque but won’t take the plunge into Orthodoxy?


  36. Don Bradley says:

    Jim says:

    “one wonders who will have a greater influence on who”

    Don’t dismiss Jim’s observation so easily. He has a point.

    A. Protestant influence on the Orthodox. As the Ochlophobist stated in his Apologia series, the Greeks in this country are functional congregationalists. The Antiochians swallowed a bunch of Fr. Gilquist’s parishes, only to see one of them revolt in Protestant fashion. The various “jurisdictions” in this country function like independant denominations. The more English that is used in older parishes the more informal the atmosphere becomes, and some of the grandeur is lost. My kids sing “Maranatha” praise music at a Greek Orthodox summer camp. Christmas Vespers at my former Greek parish was dominated by traditional Protestant hymns. The OCA have taken to “recruiting” Episcoplaian priests like college football recruiters looking for another lineman. The OCA has decided to fudge the numbers about its true size. Protestant converts to Orthodoxy tend to maintain their rationalistic tendencies. The first thing I see in my OCA parish when I walk in the door is a rack of tracts; it’s like Jack Chick explaining Orthodoxy.

    B. Orthodox influence on Protestants. Orthodox doctrine has become but one more item on the buffet for Protestants to dine upon. Protestants have 38 volumes from Schaff from which to proof-text from. How many current Protestants won’t use the filioque but won’t take the plunge into Orthodoxy? Our dismissal of Papal Supremacy has become another round in the chamber for Protestants in their own ceaseless war of words with Rome. Because the Orthodox claim it has the true faith, it has to be taken as a whole, which makes it difficult for any of it to be infused into Protestantdom.

    I think the jury is still out on who will influence whom more. The Protestants have more size, and that isn’t going to change anytime soon. Orthodoxy is but a wart on the arse of American Christianity; a wart that is unknown and misunderstood even when it is found. Orthodox people suffer from delusions of grandeur sometimes, which may be the case with Lori Branch. More people listen to one Charles Stanley sermon a week than will commune in my entire diocese that stretches from Texas to South Carolina. That “50 Most Influential Christians in America” list that came out did not have ONE Orthodox person on it. Face it, we’re small, and have a lot of work to do.

  37. Don C. says:

    I think the mutual influence could be beneficial. Protestants can raise questions that Orthodox haven’t look seriously at before, and vice versa. Certainly there is a danger of “baggage”, and I know that I still carry much of my former theology into Orthodox (Lutheran), but I’m confident that it isn’t anything the church can’t handle 😉

  38. Jim says:

    BTW … I meant no disrespect.

  39. Jim says:

    Ah Perry, I thought you might take it that way.

    You must admit that western-minded nominsalist evangelical fundamentalist converts tend not to leave too much of that baggage behind (present company excluded – I’m sure) on their trip eastward. And given that the recent infusion of life into the Orthodox church is largley the result of these American converts …. well … that’s all I meant.

  40. acolyte says:


    No, but I liked the quote none the less. 😛

  41. AH says:

    Yes Perry I got the name , but to be more specific, do you know which work by Lori Branch he is referring to?


  42. Perry Robinson says:


    The one in the link.


    Yes, because after century upon century of combating heresy, Islamic Dominatin and Communistic Exterminations, the Orthodox have undergone such radical change…like…PEWS!!!!!!!!!

    As for Protestatism, with its denomination of the week club I’d suggest that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

  43. Jim says:

    one wonders who will have a greater influence on who.

  44. AH says:


    what work is Leithart referring to here?

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