But though I have not given up my “caesaropapism” argument, it is not that argument on which I base my reasons for becoming or staying Catholic. Rather, my reason for not being Eastern Orthodox is based upon a fuller understanding of and appreciation for the Eastern churches. I have come to understand that they are true churches. Their bishops are legitimate successors of the Apostles. Their Eucharist is the Eucharist of the church catholic (i.e. universal). They have preserved the Apostolic Tradition and pray with us the Nicene creed.

But they are Eastern churches, and I am a Western man. I have grown up in a Western society and imbibed a Western culture. I was nursed in an Evangelical community which, for better or for worse, has its roots in the Western church. It is no accident that Protestantism arose in Europe. Its heresies are typically Western, but so are its peculiar insights. If the Traditional church native to Western European culture, i.e. the Roman Catholic Church, is a legitimate church at all, then it is my church, whether I like it or not.

In effect, as an Evangelical Protestant living in New Hampshire, I have always belonged to the Catholic Church. The Bishop of Manchester has always been my pastor; I just didn’t acknowledge it till 2002. To become Eastern Orthodox would be to pretend that I could stop thinking in my native, Western categories, that my understanding of the Incarnation, the Redemption, etc, could be totally divorced from my experience of culture and Evangelical worship, and I do not think that is possible. There is a reason why each church, in addition to having its own liturgy, has its own theology. The terms in which the Faith is expressed speak slightly different things to each individual culture. This does not mean that the Faith is infinitely malleable in the hands of any particular people, but only that words in any language can mean slightly different things and receive their full meaning not from dictionaries but from the shared life of the culture, i.e. from the Tradition. ~J.B. Watson, Likelier Things

Via Rod Dreher

This is the sort of argument against becoming Orthodox that I find the hardest to swallow. I am tempted to say, “Give me a good, solid Catholic rejection of schismatics any day over this sort of objection.” If we wanted to be preoccupied with the historical problems and distortions different churches have undergone over the centuries and use these as a basis for deciding whether to join one church rather than another, let me just gently suggest that it is difficult to see how the Roman Catholic Church comes out ahead. However, I don’t intend this to be an anti-Catholic post. I will not take up Mr. Watson’s challenge to prove the Western church “deficient” today, not least because those sorts of arguments have gone back and forth for a very long time and I would have little new or interesting to add to them. I will object to the post on two points: the idea of “caesaropapism” and the East-West dichotomy that he uses to justify his commitment to the Western church as a “man of the West.”

Obviously, as a convert to Russian Orthodoxy from a wholly “Western” (i.e., western and central European and American) background, I take exception to the idea that there is something amiss in being a Western convert to Orthodoxy, as if I have somehow departed from my civilisation’s roots. But I take particular exception to the idea of caesaropapism. Caesaropapism has never existed in the Orthodox world (I would also argue that it has never existed anywhere, but that is not my main concern). I cannot stress that strongly enough. It is something that modern historians and polemicists invented to wrongly describe or discredit Byzantium.

In Byzantine studies, there is now the understanding that “caesaropapism” is a crude, misleading and false description of the relations between Church and state. For more on that, I recommend Gilbert Dagron’s Emperor and Priest. Caesaropapism, if it means anything, means that the emperor or secular power rules the Church. If the term meant what it literally ought to mean, it would mean that the emperor functioned as the equivalent of the pope in the Church. The closest to caesaropapism that any Orthodox polities have ever come are post-Petrine Russia and post-Revolution Greece, when Peter adopted the style of church government then fashionable in western European Protestant lands and when the Greek church was made effectively a department of the state under the Bavarian-style dispensation under Otto I. Plainly, these are examples of departure from the customary relations of Church and state in the Orthodox world brought about by Westernising governments. The Synod established by Peter would seem as bizarre and dangerous to most Byzantine bishops as it does to anyone else. To judge Orthodoxy’s tendency for caesaropapism by this episode in the history of the Russian church would be to judge the Papacy by the Babylonian Captivity (where we see something like the French secular ruler dictating the policy of the Avignon Papacy)–clearly, not a fair assessment by any means.

Then there is the claim that “they are Eastern churches, and I am a Western man.” If we are speaking in terms of a civilisation as a basis for determining which “valid” church Westerners will choose, we are speaking of a Christian civilisation. That civilisation encompasses the heirs of Byzantium as well as the heirs of Latin Christendom. If that is the case, the distinction between what is Eastern and Western collapses rather quickly. What is an authentic measure of the mind of that civilisation, if not the common mind it possessed prior to the schism? If it is that mind that created the fundamental, defining doctrines of the Faith, and that mind was possessed equally throughout the oikoumene before the schism and was expressed in ecumenical councils that were, because of particular historical reasons, all located in the East, we cannot dismiss the “Eastern” churches for being Eastern if we grant, as Mr. Watson does, that they have a valid apostolic succession, valid sacraments and the correct definition of faith. Once we accept the latter, their “Easternness” ought to be immaterial to Western peoples. Indeed, if we see the continuities in the Orthodox Church from the early centuries until today we will be more hard-pressed to mark them off anachronistically as simply Eastern and thus unfit for “Western men.”