Western Rite Critic

A Balance to Contagious Enthusiasm

When Proof Texts Go Wild


It’s always easy to justify one’s personal agenda for the Church and Orthodox religion by creative placement of texts. Recently, for instance, we read a passage from [this blog] which makes a case for emotionalism in Orthodox pieties (something rare and generally foreign to our experience). It does this by presenting a lengthy description of events in Constantinople in the 4th century as of Great Thursday. In fact, they are in the main a description of Great and Holy Friday, the most solemn and sorrowful day of Holy Week, and a day of total fast. Whereas the text to which the quotation links makes this clear, the article citing it does not, putting only a header concerning Thursday above the quotation. It then boldfaces the portion about the “emotion shown and the mourning” before the cross on Great Friday which, of course, one can only expect.

This example is just one of many, but it illustrates the problem of scouring history for proof texts in an effort to recreate and reconstruct an Orthodox experience presumably now lacking in the attitude of contemporary Orthodox. This dialectic, misused, can actually be quite harmful, and is solely a matter for conscientious converts and ambitious academics (meaning, in both cases, theoreticians) who wish to rescue the Church from its failings by restoring to it a history they barely comprehend, deprived in fact from its full context. This is history as a tool rather than hagiology as a means of theosis. We really aren’t meaning to pick on the blog owner above. He asks for and receives quite enough flack. But since his is perhaps the ‘loudest’ example of the evangelical hermeneutic at work in the “Western Rite” theatre, his posts are typically replete with helpful examples of the matters that concern a sober mind about what is getting called “Western Rite”.

Again, to try to create a blanket justification of concepts or experiences detached from their context (by proof texts in the wild, or by any other hermeneutic) is a dangerous process to set loose upon a Faith. Its harmful effects have already been experienced in the history of the Roman Catholic and Anglican religions, which have become bywords for this error, and we find it a dubious undertaking for clergy of any religion in the name of winning an argument or scoring support for a private agenda. Besides, if that agenda is indefensible otherwise, then it should be rejected as lacking the very historical continuity it presumes to demonstrate.

Not all critical examination of contemporary Orthodox community life or investigation of historical precedent is a bad idea. Indeed, we benefit from it frequently. But it must be done in a mature and circumspect manner, with some sense of how the Church uses history in the first place, how it ‘places’ its thought within history, and how it’s Faith differs from the manufacture or “rediscovery” of concepts, as in Protestantism and archaism. The Church is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Our essential ecclesiology, our fundamental hermeneutical tradition, and our basic mysteriology must guide our consciences in our treatment of the Church’s history, Her texts, and Her sacred experience.

April 28, 2008 Posted by | Western Rite Questions, Western Rite Weirdness | , , , | 3 Comments

   

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