Eastern Orthodoxy will never, ever, ever take root in the Western soul. At best, it can sprout shallow roots until the next spiritual fad or tent revival comes along. The soul of the West speaks Latin, prays to statues, and fidgets with rosaries. The soul of the West is covered with side altars, wears lace, and sports a lop-sided birretta. And the soul of the West doesn’t particularily care what was done one thousand years ago, or whether such-and-such a practice was precisely what the early Church did. ~ “Pseudo-Iamblichus”

Naturally, I don’t agree.  This is why I try not to speak in terms of “the West” all that often, because it is a definition that has historically not only excluded the Orthodox Christian world, which is an arbitrary and baseless exclusion, but has normally also excluded much of the central and eastern European and Near Eastern Catholic world.  It normally means “everything west of the Oder and north of Rome,” because those liminal zones in southern Italy and Sicily are so troubling to those who would like to define the West exclusively in terms of Latinity. 

Historically and culturally, Catholics and Orthodox belong to the same Christian civilisation and always have belonged to the same civilisation.  The entirety of Christian civilisation has suffered from the ravages of modernity, revolution and destruction to one degree or another, and both Catholics and Orthodox have battled against these forces with varying degrees of success.  The ignorance of our common civilisation’s overwhelmingly culturally Byzantine and linguistically Greek roots, for example, is an appalling abandonment of an enormous part of the common heritage of all Catholic and Orthodox Christians.  (The Protestants also obviously share in this heritage, but I am not speaking about them in this particular post.)  Ps.-Iamblichus here would like to ignore the profound Greek and Byzantine inheritance that his own church possesses, and so impoverishes his own tradition in a way no less troubling than the common Orthodox refusal to treat St. Augustine as the holy man that he was and that the Sixth Holy Ecumenical Council acknowledged him as being.  If some Orthodox were unwilling to acknowledge their Latin Fathers, they would be dismissing part of Church Tradition for no reason other than anachronistic cultural chauvinism that would have embarrassed even the most self-important Byzantine. 

I don’t want to make this into a Catholic-Orthodox throwdown, since I am perfectly well aware that rehashing arguments that have not been settled by wiser and greater men than I will not advance anyone’s understanding in the least.  This post is not an argument over the rival doctrinal and ecclesiological claims of the two confessions.  There are Orthodox converts who spend too much time lamenting the errors of Catholics and all kinds of other people, and this is not a healthy preoccupation for them to have.  However, the reality is that their misplaced enthusiasm tells us little or nothing about Orthodoxy. 

My point here would be that Ps.-Iamblichus (what a bizarre name for a Catholic to take as his pseudonym!) does his confession no credit at all in the way he has chosen to define “the soul of the West.”  If we are speaking figuratively here about a civilisation’s soul, as I assume we must be, it is very odd that he says that it doesn’t care what was done a thousand years ago, since surely what was done a thousand years ago has more than a little to do with defining what his church was and is and laid the foundations for all of the later accretions that he finds so important (e.g., lace and side altars).  Virtually no practices done today anywhere are precisely what the early Church did, and only a sort of odd liturgical literalist with no sense of the development of Orthodoxy liturgy, for instance, could insist on some absolute first-century standard precision.  Those who do so, if there are any such people, do so against the better judgement of Orthodox scholars and bishops.  Of course, no credible authority, whether episcopal or scholarly, argues for such an understanding of the practical life.  There are, however, liturgical reforms and liturgical deformations, and the same is true in every area of the life of the Church, and understanding the difference is part of spiritual and intellectual discernment.  Nonetheless, the attitude expressed here by Ps.-Iamblichus is odd, since it seems to suggest that he and the “soul of the West” are indifferent to adherence to traditions handed down and received from the Fathers.  This is not true for Catholics, and he does his church no great service by implying that Catholicism lacks in respect for traditional practices.

Presumably, Catholics do not “pray to statues,” which would be idolatry, but pray to the saints represented by those statues for intercession.  How a soul, which is any case a metaphor, can wear lace while also being “covered with side altars” is a metaphysical problem that I leave to better-trained philosophers.  Ps.-Iamblichus’ post gives the impression of a sort of panic that Orthodoxy is somehow sweeping over the land and taking over one Catholic church after another in waves and waves of mass conversions.  This would be a crazy thing to think, since Orthodox Christians in the United States make up one of the smallest religious minorities of all, while Catholics bestride the land like a colossus.  If Eastern Orthodoxy really were nothing more than the spiritual fad in western Europe and the Americas that he makes it out to be (which would seem to contradict Catholic teaching on the subject), why would there be any need to engage in such histrionics?  If Orthodoxy is just a passing fad that will soon disappear from “the West,” Ps.-Iamblichus has nothing to worry about and can return to wearing lace in his side altars in the contented knowledge that no cassocked converts chanting the Damascene’s Odes will be disturbing his Latin prayers to statues.