Some issues in life can be resolved with a fair amount of speed, the answers coming forth being both factually explained and clearly understood. Others, such as my continuing interest in Patristic Universalism, which flies in the face of sixty years of being taught that there is an eternal hell of torment, do not go away so quickly. Add to this my confusion over which Church is the true Church (yes, it does matter!) and you have a man who spends an inordinate amount of time thinking and talking with others about these subjects.
Right now I am in the Ukrainian Catholic Church, which church is in union with the Church of Rome, aka the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church believes itself to be the Church, and as such, also insists that anyone who is “in communion” with Her must hold to Her dogma. Therein comes the rub. I find that I no longer can swear my allegiance to all the teachings of the Catholic faith as expressed in Roman Church. Notice I did not say that I question and doubt the Catholic faith, just certain peculiarities of the Roman Church.
“What’s the difference?”
The difference is this: the word katholicos in Greek, from which we get the word “catholic,” means “universal” or “of the whole.” St. Vincent of Lerins defined the catholic faith as “that which has been believed everywhere, at all times, and by all people.” This shows a continuity of faith expressed in what is called “Holy Tradition.” Holy Tradition is simply a reference to those teachings about the Bible which were believed from the beginning. For instance, when the heretic Arias went about teaching that Christ Jesus was not God in the Flesh, but merely a creation of God, he defended himself at the Council of Nicea by appeal to and reasoning from the Scriptures alone, making himself the first to practice “sola scriptura.” The Fathers of the Nicea, on the other hand, responded by appealing to Holy Tradition, in essence saying, “Well, that’s all very interesting, but this is not what has been taught from the beginning.” They referred back in history to all that the Church had taught through the saints and bishops who had come before and what they had said.
Which puts the Roman Church in a peculiar and bad light, since She teaches things that were never known by the Apostles or those whom they taught. For a list of the problems with the Roman Church, you can to go Roman Presidency and Christian Unity in our Time by Fr. Thomas Hopko. Father Hopko clearly outlines some of the additions to the Apostolic Faith which Rome has added over the last millennia, and especially during the Medieval Ages, when the picture of sinners being roasted in an eternal fire gained popularity in the West.
The Catholic Church is not the Roman Church. She is a unity of twenty- three different sui juris churches who are in communion with Rome. This means that they share the opinion that the Holy Father of Rome is the head of the Church on earth, a position with which Orthodoxy does not agree. These are the churches in unity with Rome:
- Alexandrian liturgical tradition:
- Antiochian liturgical tradition:
- Armenian liturgical tradition:
- Chaldean or East Syrian liturgical tradition:
- Byzantine liturgical tradition:
- Albanian Greek Catholic Church
- Belarusian Greek Catholic Church
- Bulgarian Greek Catholic Church
- Byzantine Catholic Church of Croatia and Serbia
- Greek Byzantine Catholic Church
- Hungarian Greek Catholic Church
- Italo-Albanian Catholic Church
- Macedonian Greek Catholic Church
- Melkite Greek Catholic Church
- Romanian Church United with Rome, Greek-Catholic
- Russian Greek Catholic Church
- Ruthenian Greek Catholic Church
- Slovak Greek Catholic Church
- Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church
To be sui juris, or self-governing means that while the pope is the head over the Catholic Church, each independent and self-governing body creates within itself certain particulars of practice and ordains their own clergy. Thus, the Orthodox Church does not look favorably upon the pope appointing bishops within a sui juris church. As they see it, he is out of his jurisdiction. And this overreach has caused no small amount of angst in the Byzantine Ruthenian Church in America, which has been, for a number of decades, highly latinized, meaning that their Liturgy is no longer distinctively Eastern. They are slowly regaining their tradition, but things like married clergy, which is our right as Eastern Catholics, are coming very slowly after almost a century of the Roman Church telling us that we cannot do such a thing. Pope Pius X in 1907 issued an apostolic letter enjoining celibacy upon all Catholic priests in the United States. Many Greek Catholics were angered. They argued that by the 1646 Union of Uzhhorod their clergy had been granted the right to marry before ordination. Some members of the church snubbed the papal letter, and it remained unenforced.
This is the kind of meddlesome stuff I am speaking of, and it has left a distinctly sour taste in the mouths of many geriatric Ruthenians who are old enough to remember being bullied by the Roman Church. One priest, Fr. Alexis Toth, after enduring enough of the overreach of Bishop Ireland from the Roman Catholic Church, simply gathered together his congregation and left, becoming united to the Russian Orthodox Church.
Now why did I go into all this? Because in dealing with Roman Catholics, there is a real tendency among them, especially the “Traddie” types, to insist that I, as an Eastern Catholic, must believe everything that is in the Roman Catholic Catechism. There is still that triumphalist mentality among many Romans that if we are “catholic” then we must be Roman and adhere to Roman teaching.
Many well-catechized Eastern Christian, understanding that our patrimony and history is from the Orthodox East and not the Roman West, do not accept the teaching of indulgences, the Immaculate Conception, and other ideas which have been added since the schism of 1054 AD. In addition, I recently found out that the Latin Church played rather fast and loose with the translation of the Scriptures. Matthew 3:2 in the Douay-Rheims translation of the Bible is such an example:
3: 1 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,
2 And saying, do penance: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Ah ah! NO! That is not what it says in the Greek! The Greek word is “metanoia,” which means to change one’s mind, not to go into a cell somewhere and beat yourself bloody with a whip, which is the epistemological end this idea of “doing penance” will eventually take you to.
Now if the “pillar and ground of truth” can create a major league screw-up like that, either deliberately or by accident, then I think I have every good reason to question if they have been less than honest in other areas regarding the Christian faith. Areas such as the teaching of a fiery eternal torment for sinners, the terror of which is most convenient to keep sinners in line with the behavior you wish them to exhibit.
Of course, and I’m not the first or original one to say this, looking at the state of the Roman Catholic Church today, I would say that the threats of eternal hellfire aren’t doing a very good job of fearing people into correct dogma and moral behavior.