Thursday, October 26, 2006

A Must For Every Anglo-Catholic Library!

If enough good Anglican Catholics pre-order this product, it will be produced and sold, so please order today...

Oxford Movement Historical Theology Collection (10 volumes)

The Oxford Movement Historical Theology Collection brings together some of the most important titles to have stemmed from the Oxford Movement and the Tractarians. As historical documents, the ten volumes, all long out-of-print, play witness to one of the greatest debates in the Church of England since its split from the Roman Papacy. As works of theology, the volumes deliver edifying accounts of church history, apostolic succession, the nature of the Virgin Mary, the doctrine of the Eucharist, and many other issues pertinent to any era.

This collection focuses particularly on the works of Edward Pusey, leader of the Oxford Movement. Also included are three books by Darwell Stone and Charles Gore (Archbishop of Oxford) who helped assure by their writings that the work started by the Oxford Movement would continue into the 20th century. Moreover, the collection features an important work by J. B. Lightfoot, in which he clarifies some of his earlier claims that were contrary to the ancient traditions of the early undivided Church. This collection is valuable for students, clergymen, or anyone interested in church history, Eucharistic doctrine, or Anglicanism.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Orthodox View of the 'Immaculate Conception'

Saint John Maximovitch of Shanghai and San Francisco (died 1966)

Zeal Not According to Knowledge
(Romans 10:2)

The corruption by the Latins, in the newly invented
dogma, of the "Immaculate Conception," of the true
veneration of the Most Holy Mother of God
and Ever-Virgin Mary.

WHEN THOSE WHO censured the immaculate life of the Most Holy Virgin had been rebuked, as well as those who denied Her Ever-virginity, those who denied Her dignity as the Mother of God, and those who disdained Her Icons—then, when the glory of the Mother of God had illuminated the whole universe, there appeared a teaching which seemingly exalted highly the Virgin Mary, but in reality denied all Her virtues.

This teaching is called that of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, and it was accepted by the followers of the Papal throne of Rome. The teaching is this: that "the All-blessed Virgin Mary in the first instant of Her Conception, by the special grace of Almighty God and by a special privilege, for the sake of the future merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin" (Bull of Pope Pius IX concerning the new dogma). In other words, the Mother of God at Her very conception was preserved from original sin and, by the grace of God, was placed in a state where it was impossible for Her to have personal sins.

Christians had not heard of this before the ninth century, when for the first time the Abbot of Corvey, Paschasius Radbertus, expressed the opinion that the Holy Virgin was conceived without original sin. Beginning from the 12th cen­tury, this idea begins to spread among the clergy and flock of the Western church. However, by no means all of the members of the Roman church agreed with the new teaching. There was a difference of opinion even among the most renowned theologians of the West, the pillars, so to speak, of the Latin church. Thomas Aquinas and Bernard of Clairvaux decisively censured it, while Duns Scotus defended it. From the teachers this division carried over to their disciples: the Latin Dominican monks, after their teacher Thomas Aquinas, preached against the teaching of the Immaculate Conception, while the followers of Duns Scotus, the Franciscans, strove to implant it everywhere. The battle between these two currents continued for the course of several centuries. Both on the one and on the other side there were those who were considered among the Catholics as the greatest au­thorities.

There was no help in deciding the question in the fact that several people declared that they had had a revelation from above concerning it. The nun Bridget of Sweden, renowned in the 14th century among the Catholics, spoke in her writings about the appearances to her of the Mother of God, Who Herself told her that She had been conceived immaculately, without original sin. But her contemporary, the yet more re­nowned ascetic Catherine of Sienna, affirmed that in Her conception the Holy Virgin participated in original sin, con­cerning which she had received a revelation from Christ Himself. (See the book of Archpriest A. Lebedev, Differences in the Teaching on the Most Holy Mother of God in the Churches of East and West.)

Thus, neither on the foundation of theological writings, nor on the foundation of miraculous manifestations which con­tradicted each other, could the Latin flock distinguish for a long time where the truth was. Roman Popes until Sixtus IV (end of the 15th century) remained apart from these disputes, and only this Pope in 1475 approved a service in which the teaching of the Immaculate Conception was clearly expressed; and several years later he forbade a condemnation of those who believed in the Immaculate Conception. However, even Sixtus IV did not yet decide to affirm that such was the unwavering teaching of the church; and therefore, having forbidden the condemnation of those who believed in the Immaculate Conception, he also did not condemn those who believed otherwise.

Meanwhile, the teaching of the Immaculate Conception obtained more and more partisans among the members of the Roman church. The reason for this was the fact that it seemed more pious and pleasing to the Mother of God to give Her as much glory as possible. The striving of the people to glorify the Heavenly Intercessor, on the one hand, and on the other hand, the deviation of Western theologians into abstract speculations which led only to a seeming truth (Scholasticism), and finally, the patronage of the Roman Popes after Sixtus IV—all this led to the fact that the opinion concerning the Immaculate Con­ception which had been expressed by Paschasius Radbertus in the 9th century was already the general belief of the Latin church in the 19th century. There remained only to proclaim this definitely as the church's teaching, which was done by the Roman Pope Pius IX during a solemn service on December 8, 1854, when he declared that the Immaculate Conception of the Most Holy Virgin was a dogma of the Roman church.

Thus the Roman church added yet another deviation from the teaching which it had confessed, which faith has been held up to now unaltered and unchanged by the Orthodox Church. The proclamation of the new dogma satisfied the broad masses of people who belonged to the Roman church, who in simplicity of heart thought that the proclamation of the new teaching in the church would serve for the greater glory of the Mother of God, to Whom by this they were making a gift, as it were. There was also satisfied the vainglory of the Western theologians who defended and worked it out. But most of all the proclamation of the new dogma was profitable for the Roman throne itself, since, having proclaimed the new dogma by his own authority, even though he did listen to the opinions of the bishops of the Catholic church, the Roman Pope by this very fact openly appropriated to himself the right to change the teaching of the Roman church and placed his own voice above the testimony of Sacred Scripture and Tradition. A direct deduction from this was the fact that the Roman Popes were infallible in matters of faith, which indeed this very same Pope Pius IX likewise pro­claimed as a dogma of the Catholic church in 1870.

Thus was the teaching of the Western church changed. It has introduced into itself newer and newer teachings, thinking by this to glorify the Truth yet more, but in reality distorting it. While the Orthodox Church humbly confesses what it has received from Christ and the Apostles, the Roman church dares to add to it, sometimes from zeal not according to knowledge (cf. Rom. 10:2), and sometimes by deviating into superstitions and into the contradictions of knowledge falsely so called. (I Tim. 6:20). It could not be otherwise. That the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church (Matt. 16:18) is promised only to the True, Universal Church; but upon those who have fallen away from it are fulfilled the words: As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; so neither can ye, except ye abide in Me (John 15:4).

It is true that in the very definition of the new dogma it is said that a new teaching is not being established, but that there is only being proclaimed as the church's that which always existed in the church and which has been held by many Holy Fathers, excerpts from whose writings are cited. However, all the cited references speak only of the exalted sanctity of the Virgin Mary and of Her immaculateness, and give Her various names which define Her purity and spiritual might; but no­where is there any word of the immaculateness of Her concep­tion. Meanwhile, these same Holy Fathers in other places say that only Jesus Christ is completely pure of every sin, while all men, being born of Adam, have borne a flesh subject to the law of sin.

None of the ancient Holy Fathers say that God in miracu­lous fashion purified the Virgin Mary while yet in the womb; and many directly indicate that the Virgin Mary, just as all men, endured a battle with sinfulness, but was victorious over temp­tations and was saved by Her Divine Son.

Commentators of the Latin confession likewise say that the Virgin Mary was saved by Christ. But they understand this in the sense that Mary was preserved from the taint of original sin in view of the future merits of Christ (Bull on the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception). The Virgin Mary, according to their teaching, received in advance, as it were, the gift which Christ brought to men by His sufferings and death on the Cross. Moreover, speaking of the torments of the Mother of God which She endured standing at the Cross of Her Beloved Son, and in general of the sorrows with which the life of the Mother of God was filled, they consider them an addition to the sufferings of Christ and consider Mary to be our Co-Redemptress.

According to the commentary of the Latin theologians, "Mary is an associate with our Redeemer as Co-Redemptress" (see Lebedev, op. cit. p. 273). "In the act of Redemption, She, in a certain way, helped Christ" (Catechism of Dr. Weimar). "The Mother of God," writes Dr. Lentz, "bore the burden of Her martyrdom not merely courageously, but also joyfully, even though with a broken heart" (Mariology of Dr. Lentz). For this reason, She is "a complement of the Holy Trinity," and "just as Her Son is the only Intermediary chosen by God between His offended majesty and sinful men, so also, precisely, the chief Mediatress placed by Him between His Son and us is the Blessed Virgin." "In three respects—as Daughter, as Mother, and as Spouse of God—the Holy Virgin is exalted to a certain equality with the Father, to a certain superiority over the Son, to a certain nearness to the Holy Spirit" ("The Immaculate Conception," Malou, Bishop of Brouges).

Thus, according to the teaching of the representatives of Latin theology, the Virgin Mary in the work of Redemption is placed side by side with Christ Himself and is exalted to an equality with God. One cannot go farther than this. If all this has not been definitively formulated as a dogma of the Roman church as yet, still the Roman Pope Pius IX, having made the first step in this direction, has shown the direction for the further development of the generally recognized teaching of his church, and has indirectly confirmed the above-cited teaching about the Virgin Mary.

Thus the Roman church, in its strivings to exalt the Most Holy Virgin, is going on the path of complete deification of Her. And if even now its authorities call Mary a complement of the Holy Trinity, one may soon expect that the Virgin will be revered like God.

There have entered on this same path a group of thinkers who for the time being, belong to the Orthodox Church, but who are building a new theological system having as its founda­tion the philosophical teaching of Sophia, Wisdom, as a special power binding the Divinity and the creation. Likewise develop­ing the teaching of the dignity of the Mother of God, they wish to see in Her an Essence which is some kind of mid-point between God and man. In some questions they are more moderate than the Latin theologians, but in others, if you please, they have already left them behind. While denying the teaching of the Immaculate Conception and the freedom from original sin, they still teach Her full freedom from any personal sins, seeing in Her an Intermediary between men and God, like Christ: in the person of Christ there has appeared on earth the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Pre-eternal Word, the Son of God; while the Holy Spirit is manifest through the Virgin Mary.

In the words of one of the representatives of this tendency, when the Holy Spirit came to dwell in the Virgin Mary, she acquired "a dyadic life, human and divine; that is, She was completely deified, because in Her hypostatic being was mani­fest the living, creative revelation of the Holy Spirit" (Archpriest Sergei Bulgakov, The Unburnt Bush, 1927, p. 154). "She is a perfect manifestation of the Third Hypostasis" (Ibid., p. 175), "a creature, but also no longer a creature" (p.191). This striving towards the deification of the Mother of God is to be observed primarily in the West, where at the same time, on the other hand, various sects of a Protestant character are having great success, together with the chief branches of Protestantism, Lutheranism and Calvinism, which in general deny the vener­ation of the Mother of God and the calling upon Her in prayer.

But we can say with the words of St. Epiphanius of Cyprus: "There is an equal harm in both these heresies, both when men demean the Virgin and when, on the contrary, they glorify Her beyond what is proper" (Panarion, "Against the Collyridians").

This Holy Father accuses those who give Her an almost divine worship: "Let Mary be in honor, but let worship be given to the Lord" (same source). "Although Mary is a chosen vessel, still She was a woman by nature, not to be distinguished at all from others. Although the history of Mary and Tradition relate that it was said to Her father Joachim in the desert, 'Thy wife hath conceived,' still this was done not without marital union and not without the seed of man" (same source). "One should not revere the saints above what is proper, but should revere their Master. Mary is not God, and did not receive a body from heaven, but from the joining of man and woman; and according to the promise, like Isaac, She was prepared to take part in the Divine Economy. But, on the other hand, let none dare foolishly to offend the Holy Virgin" (St. Epiphanius, "Against the Antidikomarionites").

The Orthodox Church, highly exalting the Mother of God in its hymns of praise, does not dare to ascribe to Her that which has not been communicated about Her by Sacred Scripture or Tradition. "Truth is foreign to all overstatements as well as to all understatements. It gives to everything a fitting measure and fitting place" (Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov). Glorifying the immaculateness of the Virgin Mary and the manful bearing of sorrows in Her earthly life, the Fathers of the Church, on the other hand, reject the idea that She was an intermediary between God and men in the sense of the joint Redemption by Them of the human race. Speaking of Her preparedness to die together with Her Son and to suffer together with Him for the sake of the salvation of all, the renowned Father of the Western Church, Saint Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, adds: "But the sufferings of Christ did not need any help, as the Lord Himself prophesied concerning this long before: I looked about, and there was none to help; I sought and there was none to give aid: therefore My arm delivered them (Is. 63:5)." (St. Ambrose, "Concerning the Upbringing of the Virgin and the Ever-Virginity of Holy Mary," ch. 7).

This same Holy Father teaches concerning the universality of original sin, from which Christ alone is an exception. "Of all those born of women, there is not a single one who is perfectly holy, apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, Who in a special new way of immaculate birthgiving, did not experience earthly taint" (St. Ambrose, Commentary on Luke, ch. 2). "God alone is without sin. All born in the usual manner of woman and man, that is, of fleshly union, become guilty of sin. Consequently, He Who does not have sin was not conceived in this manner" (St. Ambrose, Ap. Aug. "Concerning Marriage and Concupis­cence"). "One Man alone, the Intermediary between God and man, is free from the bonds of sinful birth, because He was born of a Virgin, and because in being born He did not experience the touch of sin" (St. Ambrose, ibid., Book 2: "Against Julianus").

Another renowned teacher of the Church, especially revered in the West, Blessed Augustine, writes: "As for other men, excluding Him Who is the cornerstone, I do not see for them any other means to become temples of God and to be dwellings for God apart from spiritual rebirth, which must absolutely be preceded by fleshly birth. Thus, no matter how much we might think about children who are in the womb of the mother, and even though the word of the holy Evangelist who says of John the Baptist that he leaped for joy in the womb of his mother (which occurred not otherwise than by the action of the Holy Spirit), or the word of the Lord Himself spoken to Jeremiah: I have sanctified thee before thou didst leave the womb of thy mother (Jer. 1:5)— no matter how much these might or might not give us basis for thinking that children in this condition are capable of a certain sanctification, still in any case it cannot be doubted that the sanctification by which all of us together and each of us separately become the temple of God is possible only for those who are reborn, and rebirth always presupposes birth. Only those who have already been born can be united with Christ and be in union with this Divine Body which makes His Church the living temple of the majesty of God" (Blessed Augustine, Letter 187).

The above-cited words of the ancient teachers of the Church testify that in the West itself the teaching which is now spread there was earlier rejected there. Even after the falling away of the Western church, Bernard, who is acknowledged there as a great authority, wrote, " I am frightened now, seeing that certainof you have desired to change the condition of important matters, introducing a new festival unknown to the Church, unapproved by reason, unjustified by ancient tradition. Are we really more learned and more pious than our fathers? You will say, 'One must glorify the Mother of God as much as possible.' This is true; but the glorification given to the Queen of Heaven demands discernment. This Royal Virgin does not have need of false glorifications, possessing as She does true crowns of glory and signs of dignity. Glorify the purity of Her flesh and the sanctity of Her life. Marvel at the abundance of the gifts of this Virgin; venerate Her Divine Son; exalt Her Who conceived without knowing concupiscence and gave birth without know­ing pain. But what does one yet need to add to these dignities? People say that one must revere the conception which preceded the glorious birth-giving; for if the conception had not pre­ceded, the birth-giving also would not have been glorious. Butwhat would one say if anyone for the same reason should demand the same kind of veneration of the father and mother of Holy Mary? One might equally demand the same for Her grandparents and great-grandparents, to infinity. Moreover, how can there not be sin in the place where there was concupis­cence? All the more, let one not say that the Holy Virgin was conceived of the Holy Spirit and not of man. I say decisively that the Holy Spirit descended upon Her, but not that He came with Her." "I say that the Virgin Mary could not be sanctified before Her conception, inasmuch as She did not exist. If, all the more, She could not be sanctified in the moment of Her conception by reason of the sin which is inseparable from conception, then it remains to believe that She was sanctified after She was conceived in the womb of Her mother. This sanctification, if it annihilates sin, makes holy Her birth, but not Her conception. No one is given the right to be conceived in sanctity; only the Lord Christ was conceived of the Holy Spirit, and He alone is holy from His very conception. Excluding Him, it is to all the descendants of Adam that must be referred that which one of them says of himself, both out of a feeling of humility and in acknowledgement of the truth: Behold I was conceived in iniq­uities (Ps. 50:7). How can one demand that this conception be holy, when it was not the work of the Holy Spirit, not to mention that it came from concupiscence? The Holy Virgin, of course, rejects that glory which, evidently, glorifies sin. She cannot in any way justify a novelty invented in spite of the teaching of the Church, a novelty which is the mother of imprudence, the sister of unbelief, and the daughter of light-mindedness" (Bernard, Epistle 174; cited, as were the references from Blessed Augustine, from Lebedev). The above-cited words clearly reveal both the novelty and the absurdity of the new dogma of the Roman church.

The teaching of the complete sinlessness of the Mother of God:

(1) does not correspond to Sacred Scripture, where there is repeatedly mentioned the sinlessness of the One Mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ (I Tim. 2:5); and in Him is no sin (I John 3:5); Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth (I Peter 2:22); One that hath been in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15); Him Who knew no sin, He made to be sin on our behalf ' (II Cor. 5:21). But concerning the rest of men it is said, Who is pure of defilement? No one who has lived a single day of his life on earth (Job 14:4). God commendeth His own love toward us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us..... If, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by His life (Rom. 5:8-10).

(2) This teaching contradicts also Sacred Tradition, which is contained in numerous Patristic writings, where there is mentioned the exalted sanctity of the Virgin Mary from Her very birth, as well as Her cleansing by the Holy Spirit at Her conception of Christ, but not at Her own conception by Anna. "There is none without stain before Thee, even though his life be but a day, save Thee alone, Jesus Christ our God, Who didst appear on earth without sin, and through Whom we all trust to obtain mercy and the remission of sins" (St. Basil the Great, Third Prayer of Vespers of Pentecost). "But when Christ came through a pure, virginal, unwedded, God-fearing, undefiled Mother without wedlock and without father, and inasmuch as it befitted Him to be born, He purified the female nature, rejected the bitter Eve and overthrew the laws of the flesh" (St. Gregory the Theologian, "In Praise of Virginity"). However, even then, as Sts. Basil the Great and John Chrysostom speak of this, She was not placed in the state of being unable to sin, but continued to take care for Her salvation and overcame all temptations (St. John Chrysostom, Commentary on John, Hom­ily 85; St. Basil the Great, Epistle 160).

(3) The teaching that the Mother of God was purified before Her birth, so that from Her might be born the Pure Christ, is meaningless; because if the Pure Christ could be born only if the Virgin might be born pure, it would be necessary that Her parents also should be pure of original sin, and they again would have to be born of purified parents, and going further in this way, one would have to come to the conclusion that Christ could not have become incarnate unless all His ancestors in the flesh, right up to Adam inclusive, had been purified beforehand of original sin. But then there would not have been any need for the very Incarnation of Christ, since Christ came down to earth in order to annihilate sin.

(4) The teaching that the Mother of God was preserved from original sin, as likewise the teaching that She was preserved by God's grace from personal sins, makes God unmerciful and unjust; because if God could preserve Mary from sin and purify Her before Her birth, then why does He not purify other men before their birth, but rather leaves them in sin? It follows likewise that God saves men apart from their will, predetermin­ing certain ones before their birth to salvation.

(5) This teaching, which seemingly has the aim of exalting the Mother of God, in reality completely denies all Her virtues. After all, if Mary, even in the womb of Her mother, when She could not even desire anything either good or evil, was preserved by God's grace from every impurity, and then by that grace was preserved from sin even after Her birth, then in what does Her merit consist? If She could have been placed in the state of being unable to sin, and did not sin, then for what did God glorify Her? If She, without any effort, and without having any kind of impulses to sin, remained pure, then why is She crowned more than everyone else? There is no victory without an adver­sary.

The righteousness and sanctity of the Virgin Mary were manifested in the fact that She, being "human with passions like us," so loved God and gave Herself over to Him, that by Her purity She was exalted high above the rest of the human race. For this, having been foreknown and forechosen, She was vouchsafed to be purified by the Holy Spirit Who came upon Her, and to conceive of Him the very Saviour of the world. The teaching of the grace-given sinlessness of the Virgin Mary denies Her victory over temptations; from a victor who is worthy to be crowned with crowns of glory, this makes Her a blind instru­ment of God's Providence.

It is not an exaltation and greater glory, but a belittlement of Her, this "gift" which was given Her by Pope Pius IX and all the rest who think they can glorify the Mother of God by seeking out new truths. The Most Holy Mary has been so much glorified by God Himself, so exalted is Her life on earth and Her glory in heaven, that human inventions cannot add anything to Her honor and glory. That which people themselves invent only obscures Her Face from their eyes. Brethren, take heed lest there shall be any one that maketh spoil of you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ, wrote the Apostle Paul by the Holy Spirit (Col. 2:8).

Such a "vain deceit" is the teaching of the Immaculate Conception by Anna of the Virgin Mary, which at first sight exalts, but in actual fact belittles Her. Like every lie, it is a seed of the "father of lies" (John 8:44), the devil, who has succeeded by it in deceiving many who do not understand that they blaspheme the Virgin Mary. Together with it there should also be rejected all the other teachings which have come from it or are akin to it. The striving to exalt the Most Holy Virgin to an equality with Christ ascribing to Her maternal tortures at the Cross an equal significance with the sufferings of Christ, so that the Redeemer and "Co-Redemptress" suffered equally, accord­ing to the teaching of the Papists, or that "the human nature of the Mother of God in heaven together with the God-Man Jesus jointly reveal the full image of man" (Archpriest S. Bulgakov, The Unburnt Bush, p. 141)—is likewise a vain deceit and a seduction of philosophy. In Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female (Gal. 3:28), and Christ has redeemed the whole human race; therefore at His Resurrection equally did "Adam dance for joy and Eve rejoice" (Sunday Kontakia of the First and Third Tones), and by His Ascension did the Lord raise up the whole of human nature.

Likewise, that the Mother of God is a "complement of the Holy Trinity" or a "fourth Hypostasis"; that "the Son and the Mother are a revelation of the Father through the Second and Third Hypostases"; that the Virgin Mary is "a creature, but also no longer a creature"—all this is the fruit of vain, false wisdom which is not satisfied with what the Church has held from the time of the Apostles, but strives to glorify the Holy Virgin more than God has glorified Her.

Thus are the words of St. Epiphanius of Cyprus fulfilled - "Certain senseless ones in their opinion about the Holy Ever-Virgin have striven and are striving to put Her in place of God" (St. Epiphanius, "Against the Antidikomarionites"). But that which is offered to the Virgin in senselessness, instead of praise of Her, turns out to be blasphemy; and the All-Immaculate One rejects the lie, being the Mother of Truth (John 14:6).

The 'Immaculate Conception'

Although the Immaculate Conception has come to be viewed by some Anglicans as a theologumenon, a theological opinion or pious belief, its inadmissibility as an acceptable adiaphoron was certainly held by the Tractarians and the early nineteenth-century Anglo-Catholics. The spread of the doctrine amongst Anglicans is a product, not directly of the Catholic Revival or Tractarian Movement, but of the later and, one could convincingly argue, separate phenomenon today described as Anglican Papalism. Beliefs concerning the personal holiness, the sanctification and perpetual virginity, and even the corporeal glorification, of Our Lady (all of which I profess, for they are based on Scripture and the universal Tradition of the Undivided Church) are distinct in nature and origin from that of the Immaculate Conception, as the Eastern Orthodox and Old Catholics will vociferously attest. I for one must fall in with the consensus catholicus shared historically by Anglicans, Orthodox and Old Catholics: the papal dogma of 1854 is not a part of the Catholic Faith, but is a theological novum, a new dogma which has been surreptiously added to Apostolic Tradition by the unilateral action of the Pope of Rome. The very definition of what comprises the Catholic Faith given by St Vincent of Lerins excludes the papal dogmas, of which the Immaculate Conception is absolutely fundamental. The Immaculate Conception is the down-payment on papal infallibility. As was quipped at the time of the I Vatican Council: 'Peter hath said to Mary, "thou art immaculate" and Mary hath said to Peter, "thou art infallible."'

The following quote nicely summarises an historic Anglican position on the matter:

'The proclamation of the [Roman] dogma of the Immaculate Conception [by Pius IX in 1854] is of enormous importance, for two reasons: one of faith, and one of order. It illustrates the method by which the opening made by the Council of Trent, when it set Tradition on a level with Scripture, can be used to introduce any novelty that appeals to popular devotion. Here was a doctrine which was clearly contrary both to Scripture and to the teaching of the Fathers, all of whom held that Christ alone was without sin; unheard of before the twelfth century, condemned by the greatest divines of the Middle Ages, St Bernard and St Thomas Aquinas, and based on the Augustinian theory of "original guilt" (to be distinguished from "original sin"), which had never been formally defined by the Church as necessary, and which is especially difficult for most modern Christians to accept, but without which the Immaculate Conception is meaningless. Yet it was taken up by powerful religious orders [Franciscans and Jesuits] for party reasons, and made popular by means of devotions based upon it, and at last came to be so widely accepted that it could be made into a necessary dogma without serious opposition; the Spanish bishops actually told Pius IX that it had been believed in Spain since the beginning of Christianity there! It was not defined to meet any heresy; it had no connexion with the Catholic dogmatic scheme, which is quite complete without it. There is nothing to prevent any popular superstition from being defined as a dogma in the same way.
As a matter of order, the Bull Ineffabilis [which proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception] was an entirely new departure, and was universally recognised as being so. Never before had any Pope added a fresh dogma to the Faith without a Council. The Bull Unigenitus was the nearest precedent, but that was only the condemnation of a set of propositions, not the definition of a new dogma. Indeed, Dr [John Mason] Neale calls the Ineffabilis "a second and worse Unigenitus".The Bull was inconsistent with the Gallican opinion that the judgment of the Pope is not irreversible until confirmed by the consent of the Church; for the Immaculate Conception was proclaimed as an irreversible dogma, though the consent of the Church had never been asked. Therefore the infallibility of the Pope, by himself and not by the consent of the Church, decreed sixteen years later by the Vatican Council [I], was already implied by the Bull Ineffabilis. The contrast between the long and fierce opposition to the Unigenitus, and the almost universal acceptance of the Ineffabilis, marks the decline of Gallicanism... The Bull Ineffabilis had behind it the vast system of popular devotion to the Blessed Virgin, against which the doubts and difficulties of the theologians counted for nothing.'

-Dr CB Moss, The Old Catholic Movement, pages 179-181

Monday, October 23, 2006

Father John Jay Hughes on the Priesthood

With a biretta tip to Jeff Steele at his superb blog Meam Commemorationem, I here link a fascinating article written by the famous Father John Jay Hughes, author of Absolutely Null and Utterly Void and Stewards of the Lord. Originally an Anglican priest, Father Hughes was conditionally ordained to the Roman priesthood in 1968, the first Anglican cleric in modern times to be so ordered. An eloquent and meticulous defender of the validity of Anglican Orders, Father Hughes has written a truly inspiring piece on the joy and dignity of the Holy Priesthood. His positive comments on Anglicanism are edifying... and true.

Friday, October 13, 2006

A Roman Catholic Converts to Orthodoxy

A riveting and tragic story about the state of the Roman Church in America today...

Rod Dreher

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Orthodoxy and me

I apologize for this very long post, but it's time to clear something up: yes, I am now a communicant of the Orthodox Church, and have been (along with my family) for a couple of months. I did not intend to make this public until the end of this month, to honor a personal and professional obligation that, the violation of which stood to hurt some innocent people. This is why I've taken care since the day I entered Orthodoxy not to claim I am Catholic in writings here, and not to rise to the bait of certain people in the comboxes who have demanded that I declare myself. Though I've wanted to get this out there, and not to deceive readers, I had an obligation to keep this to myself until month's end, for an important reason I can't really discuss. But now I am forced to reveal all early. Why? Because a certain malicious reader, a perfect stranger and petty little Catholic Prufrock named X, who is unhealthily preoccupied with me nearly to the point of cyberstalking, troubled himself to write a letter to a priest at my parish asking about my ecclesial affiliation -- and when he received his answer, undertook to publicize it.So, here we are. I apologize to readers who feel deceived or betrayed. That was not my intent; my intent was to honor a prior obligation, whose terms were soon to end anyway. I only now have to give you the long explanation two weeks early. What follows will be lengthy, but it will be all I intend to say about this matter. I know that the comboxes will be filled with discussion, much of it spiteful and vitriolic, and that there's nothing I can do about that, except refuse to join it. But here is how I ended up where I am today.Back in 2001, when I first started writing about the child sex-abuse scandal in the Church, Father Tom Doyle, the heroic priest who ruined his own career by speaking out for victims, warned me, "If you keep going down this path, you are going to go to places darker than you can imagine." I thought I understood what he meant, but I didn't. Even if I had, by then, I couldn't have stopped. What brought me in touch with Fr. Doyle was my having stumbled upon a cell of clerical molesters at a Carmelite parish in the Bronx. They had preyed on a teenage immigrant boy who was troubled, and whose father was back in Nicaragua. His mother sent him to the priests for counseling, thinking that maybe being around some men of God would do the boy some good. The priests ended up molesting him. When the boy's father arrived in the States and found out what had happened, he went to the Archdiocese of New York to tell them what happened. They offered to cut him a check if he'd sign a paper agreeing to let the Archdiocese's attorneys handle the matter. This man was merely a worker from a Third World country, newly arrived in New York, but he knew what was happening. He walked out and got himself and his son a lawyer.

And that's how it began for me. At the time, as the father of a young boy, I couldn't shake the thought What if this had happened to my family? Would we be treated this way by the Archdiocese? I began reading the literature about the scandal, most especially Jason Berry's devastating "Lead Us Not Into Temptation," a detailed account of the abuse and cover-up in a notorious situation in my native Louisiana (something I remember reading about from my childhood), that revealed the profound personal, familial and communal damage that Catholic authorities were prepared to see take place to protect themselves from the truth.A few months later came 9/11, and shortly after that I left the New York Post and went to National Review. I hadn't been at NR but for a couple of weeks when the John Geoghan trial got underway in Boston, and thus what Catholics would come to call simply The Scandal would break. I began writing about it critically, both in the magazine and on NRO, the website. Word got back to me that Bill Bennett credited NR's cover story on the stakes in this scandal for giving tacit permission for conservative, orthodox Catholics to discuss the matter, and to say in public about the bishops' handling of the matter what they had mostly only been saying in private, but feared to voice because they didn't want to be seen as disloyal. The flood of e-mail correspondence opened. I heard from many, many people who identified themselves as faithful orthodox Catholics, but who wrote of the pain and suffering they had undergone because either they or a close family member had been molested by a priest, and their diocese had covered it up and even attacked them when they sought justice.There was the monk who learned that there had been a molestation ring in his order, and when his superior suspected that he was going to go to the authorities, had him committed to a mental institution. His brother helped him escape, and was trying to persuade him to go public .... but couldn't; the poor man, who had had a heart attack over the stress of all this, feared angering God for betraying his child-molesting brothers to the authorities. There was the woman who, along with other women, had to clean Vaseline off the altar in her parish in the mornings after the priest there (who is now in jail after a child molestation conviction -- I checked this out) had been doing God knows what the night before. She told me she went to the bishop with this news, and had reason to suspect he was being blackmailed by this priest. The bishop now enjoys a reputation as being one of the more conservative prelates in the American church. The woman couldn't be persuaded to go public, because she still works for the Church, and said she had children to support.My in-box was filled with stories like these.

I began to understand what Tom Doyle's warnings meant. Every day after work I'd head back home, feeling like a spiritual "walking wounded." And then there was the day I talked to Horace Patterson. His son Eric had committed suicide after 15 years of depression. Not long before Eric died by his own hand, he'd confessed that he had been molested by Father Larson, their parish priest, as an altar boy. Horace later discovered that of young men were traceable to Father Larson, who now sits in jail for sex crimes against children. Horace and his wife Janet were to learn later that their Kansas diocese knew that Father Larson had a thing for boys, but did nothing to stop him. On the phone with me in New York, Horace talked about having received the call at home one day that their boy Eric had blown his brains out. He talked of having to go sit on their front porch and wait for Janet to come home so he could tell her what had become of their son. He told me how watching her car pull in at the end of the long driveway, and head home, where this news awaited her, was one of the most excruciating moments of his life. As a relatively new father, this devastated me. Even this morning, as I write this, it's hard to recount the brokenness in that man's voice without getting tears in my eyes.What if that were me? I'd ask. And I'd look at my own little boy, and carry these things in my heart.And then there were other blows. The prominent archbishop who told me I needed to quit criticizing the Church, and that if I didn't trust the bishops to handle the matter, he didn't understand why I was still Catholic. There was the prominent priest who yelled at me on the phone one day that if Bishop X. told me there was no scandal in his diocese, that should have been good enough for me to quit my investigation.

There was the lawyer for a top American archbishop who had heard I was looking into widespread allegations that he had sexually harrassed seminarians, and who phoned to see if I could be taken off the story (when I'd see this archbishop on TV later in the year proclaiming wounded innocence in the scandal -- "If only we had known this was going on in the Church," he'd say -- I wanted to hurl). There was the Catholic therapist I saw briefly for help in dealing with my anger over the Scandal and over 9/11, who spent an entire session literally yelling at me about how I was going to go to hell for questioning the Pope's handling of the scandal.And I have only set down here the smallest bit of what I learned. All this takes a toll. And yet, I kept going back to my catechism, and to the truth that none of this undermines the truth claims of the Catholic Church. The Eucharist is still the Eucharist, no matter how corrupt the clerics may be. That was a lifeline for me -- that, and the comfort and friendship of dear Catholic friends, especially good and decent priests, who, aside from actual victims and their families, were probably suffering more from this scandal than anybody else.As my dearest friend, Fr. Joe Wilson, has said many times, the Scandal does not exist in isolation. It is only a part of a many-headed beast. The sex-abuse scandal can't be easily separated from the wider crisis in the American Catholic Church, involving the corruption of the liturgy, of catechesis, and so forth. I've come to understand how important this point is, because if most other things had been more or less solid, I think I could have weathered the storm. But I found it impossible to find solid ground.

As most readers know, we moved to Dallas in 2003, and had a difficult time establishing ourselves in a parish. Dallas has had more than its share of problems with abusive clerics, as most people know. What I didn't understand, nor anticipate, was how difficult it would be to find an orthodox parish here. We have lots of faithful Catholic friends here, and I don't think it's unfair to say that most of them are doing what most (but not all) orthodox Catholics in this country do: grit their teeth and white-knuckle it out in their parishes, doing what they can to hang on. Without belaboring our boring saga of hunting for a parish here, we ended up in an orthodox parish in a nearby suburb, which had something rare in Catholic parishes: unity in belief. These were Catholics who really believed it, and did so joyfully. We thought we were home.And then I discovered entirely by accident -- indeed, in the process of helping bring a friend into the Church -- that a priest at the parish was not supposed to be in ministry. He had been suspended by his diocese in Pennsylvania after formal abuse accusations had been leveled against him. The priest came back to his hometown, Dallas, and got other work -- but was helping out on the weekends in this particular parish. It turned out that the pastor knew all about his past, had concluded that he had been falsely accused, and put him into active ministry in the parish -- without telling the parish, or even his bishop. Now, this priest might well be innocent -- nothing has been proved against him -- but that is not the point. The point is, and was, that he was not supposed to be in active ministry, yet the pastor and those closest to him chose to deceive the bishop and the parish about the matter. The priest in question -- orthodox and personally charismatic -- lied to me in a manipulative way about how he had come to Dallas (he said the liberals in his old diocese had driven him out), and lied to my catechumen friend, who is a liberal, in the same manipulative way (he told her the conservatives had driven him out). This was too much. When I told Julie what Father's true background was, we were both shattered. I mean shattered. Given all that had come before, and given that we finally thought we could let our guard down, that we were among orthodox Catholics now, and we could trust them -- well, something broke in us.It would be months before we realized how broken. We returned to our old parish, and spent months going through the motions. It's hard for me to express how spiritually depressed we were. The only strong emotion I felt about faith in those days was ... anger and bitterness.

I got into the habit of routinely leaving during the homilies -- in part because sometimes we would hear objective lies (like the time a deacon -- and this is one of the most conservative parishes in Dallas-- thanked God from the pulpit that we Catholics aren't like those nasty fundamentalist Christians, who believe that Jesus is the only way to salvation), but mostly it was simply because I felt so weak and vulnerable in my faith that I just wanted to get through mass and to receive the Eucharist and go home without having to get mad all over again. I was in such a state that the usual AmChurch banalities that orthodox Catholics learn to endure early on had the effect of setting me off. It was a rotten way to live, and I began to despair over what kind of icon of Christ I was for my children.I also despaired over raising children in the Catholic faith. Julie and I decided not to put our kids in the Sunday School program at the parish when she learned that the parish was allowing women who didn't even go to mass to teach the faith to children, as part of their obligation to do parish service in exchange for reduced tuition at the parish school. This whole Sacrament Factory approach to living the Christian life left me ice-cold. I started to see my own faith and relationship to the Catholic Church as a purely mechanical thing.

I'd go to fulfill my Sunday duty, receiving the Eucharist and then getting the heck out of there, wanting as little as possible to do with parish life. One day, in tears, Julie and I confessed to each other that we were afraid we were losing our faith entirely. This is not a place either of us ever imagined being. To know that you have the responsibility to raise children as followers of Christ, to say nothing about having responsibility for your own eternal soul -- well, to be in that position and to be so alienated from the Church you believe has the right to command your fidelity is a terrible thing.After months, we finally made a decision: we would visit an Orthodox parish. As Catholics, we knew at least that the Sacraments there were valid. Though we couldn't receive communion, we could at least be in the presence of the Eucharistic Christ, and worship liturgically with them, and draw close to God on Sunday morning, however imperfectly. I can hardly express the burden of guilt I felt when I crossed the threshold of St. Seraphim's parish that morning. But you know, it was a wonderful place. The liturgy was breathtakingly beautiful. The preaching orthodox. And the people -- half of them Russian, most of the others converts -- could hardly have been kinder and more welcoming. As a new Episcopalian friend told me a couple of weeks ago after he visited St. Seraphim's, "There is life there." We kept going back, and finally got invited to dinner at the archbishop's house. I feared it would be a stiff, formal affair. I was astonished to turn up at the address given, to find that it was the shabby little cottage behind the cathedral. We went in, and it was like being at a family reunion. Vladika's house was jammed with parishioners celebrating a feast day with ... a feast. There was Archbishop Dmitri in the middle of it all, looking like a grandfatherly Gandalf.

I had never in all my years as a Catholic been around people who felt that way about their bishop. The whole thing was dizzying -- the fellowship, the prayerfulness, the feeling of family. I hadn't realized how starved I was for a church community. Julie, who grew up Evangelical, said this was what she had known all through her youth -- and what she'd left to become Catholic. I remember thinking that night, given what we'd been experiencing in the liturgy, and now at this parish feast, This is what I thought Catholicism would be like when I came in. And I reflected that there's really no reason at all Catholicism can't be like this. It's not like the Orthodox have some exclusive magic. But there you are.Over time, we got to know the people of the parish. They became our friends. It was a new experience for me to be in a parish where you can be openly small-o orthodox, and the priest and the people support you in that. In "Crunchy Cons," the Orthodox convert (from RCism) Hugh O'Beirne says that Catholics new to the Orthodox Church may find it surprising that they don't have to be on a "war footing" -- meaning the culture wars don't intrude into worship. People are on the same page, and if they're not, they're not out trying to get the Church to change her position on abortion, gay marriage, inclusive language, and all that. As someone who more or less is on the front lines of the culture war every day in my job as a journalist, I found it a new and welcome experience to be able to go to church on Sunday and get built back up for the struggle ahead, instead of to find mass the most debilitating hour of the week. Julie and I could see what was happening to us: we were falling in love with Orthodoxy. On several occasions, we stopped to check ourselves. But we couldn't bring ourselves to leave this place, where we were back in touch with Christ, and learning to serve Him in community, to return to what we had experienced as a spiritual desert. I know this is not every Catholic's experience, but this was ours. I kept thinking about the older Catholics I know who are faithful, but whose children have been lost to the faith. Maybe it would have happened anyway, but knowing them as I do, I think it's not an unreasonable thing to fear the effect of having no real parish support for orthodox Catholicism on raising Catholic children. As my kids have gotten older, I have been deeply impressed by the importance of community in supporting and reinforcing what parents teach. Most of my Catholic friends with kids are doing the best they can in a bad situation. They are a lot stronger than I am. I had to admit that I needed help. I found the help I needed at St. Seraphim's.

But there was the matter of truth. A decade ago, when my dear friend Terry Mattingly was trying to decide whether or not to go Catholic or Orthodox, I listened impatiently to his fears for raising his children as Christians in an American Catholic parish, without active support from the priest and the community, and possibly even outright attack (at the time, I was preparing for marriage while living in south Florida, and had learned that CCL instructors, who taught couples how to practice NFP in obedience to the Church, couldn't even get a foot in the door in parish marriage instruction). I kept saying to him, confidently, that none of that matters, that what matters is: Is the case for Catholicism true? And here I was a decade later, facing the same dilemma.I had to admit that I had never seriously considered the case for Orthodoxy. Now I had to do that. And it was difficult poring through the arguments about papal primacy. I'll spare you the details, but I will say that I came to seriously doubt Rome's claims. Reading the accounts of the First Vatican Council, and how they arrived at the dogma of papal infallibility, was a shock to me: I realized that I simply couldn't believe the doctrine. And if that falls, it all falls. Of course I immediately set upon myself, doubting my thinking because doubting my motives. You're just trying to talk yourself into something, I thought. And truth to tell, there was a lot of that, I'm sure. But what I noticed during all this Sturm und Drang over doctrine was this: we were happy again as a family, and at peace. Julie said one day driving home from liturgy, "Isn't it great to look forward to going to church again?" And it was. I was beginning to pray again, and beginning to climb out of the slough of religious despond. I began to think differently about Truth. As Christians, Truth is a Person, not merely a proposition. Here I was beginning to live a more Christ-like life as a fellow traveler of Orthodoxy, and knowing that if I went back to full-fledged Catholicism, I would be returning to anger and despair. What does it mean to live in the Christian truth in that situation? How would I feel if I approached the Judgment Seat and said to God, "I lived as a depressed and embittered man, lost my children to the Christian faith, and was a terrible witness to your goodness. But Lord, thanks to you, I never left Catholicism."It was not an abstract question for me. I wondered: is the point of our life on earth to become like Jesus, or is it to maintain formal affiliation with the Roman Catholic Church? I honestly don't believe God will ask of me, in the day of judgment, "Were you an obedient Catholic? (Or Orthodox, or Presbyterian...)" He will ask me, "Did you love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind? Did you love your neighbor as yourself?" I had made in my life till that point the fundamental error of conceiving of the Church as an end in itself, rather than a means to the end of becoming a saint in Christ.

I could see authentic holiness and goodness around me at St. Seraphim's, and was encouraged and motivated by it. I couldn't believe these people were going to hell because they weren't Catholic (and in fact the Catholic Church doesn't claim that they are, but the point I'm making is that Jesus so plainly lives in their lives, and that deeply impressed me). This parish was not full of ethnic pride, nor was it anti-Catholic. In fact, the pastor, Fr. John Anderson, had once been a Catholic, and was full of gratitude for his Catholic formation. That made a difference to me, because if we came to Orthodoxy, I could not in good conscience turn into one of those people who bash whence the came. In fact, the further I moved from Catholicism, the more I was able to love it. I think it's because I felt somehow released from feeling responsible for the Scandal. It's important for me to say, though, that at no time in this journey did anybody at St. Seraphim's speak ill of the Catholic Church (in fact, one new friend there, a Russian, once told me that there are too many sins and scandals in Orthodoxy for the Orthodox rigorists to spend their time carping about Rome). They only bore joyful witness to what they had discovered in Orthodoxy. This made an impression on me.Julie and I put off converting as long as we could, but we finally had to admit to ourselves that we loved these people, that we loved this faith, and we didn't want to leave it. The only thing keeping me personally away from making the decision for Orthodoxy was love of my Catholic friends, whom I knew I would disappoint. And, to be honest, I didn't want to leave Rome because it is all I've ever known as an adult Christian. Some will doubt this, but for all the pain, I will always love the Catholic Church, and I sometimes get a little emotional thinking about that. And yet, staying there was killing me spiritually. Leaving was like chewing my own leg off to get out of a trap. I have talked about how the Church itself failed me in all this. Let me confess how I failed myself.

The Amish example of forgiveness and detachment from anger recently made a powerful impression on me, because I can see so clearly how I allowed myself to become snared in it. The pursuit of justice is a wonderful and necessary thing, even a holy act. But I became so tormented over what had happened to those children at the hands of the Catholic clergy and hierarchy that I could see nothing else but pursuing justice. And my own pursuit of justice allowed me to turn wrath into an idol. I didn't know I was doing this at the time. I came to believe that if I didn't stop, or if I let up, that I would in some sense be failing the victims, that I would be helping the perpetrators get away with it. Again and again, I kept thinking What if this had happened to our family? And over time, the anger, and my inability to master it and put it in its place, corroded the bonds that linked me to Catholicism. That is something that could happen to anybody, Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox or what have you. Be warned.What's more, I had become the sort of Catholic who thought preoccupying himself with Church controversies and Church politics was the same thing as preoccupying himself with Christ. Me and my friends would go on for hours and hours about what was wrong with the Church, and everything we had to say was true. But if you keep on like that, it will have its effect. One night, some Catholic friends left after a long and vivid night of conversation, and Julie and I reflected that we had all spent the entire evening talking about the Church -- but never mentioned Jesus. Julie said, "We need less Peter around here, and more Jesus." Her point was that all this talk about the institutional Church was crowding out our devotion to the spiritual realities beneath the visible structure. And she was right. But I didn't learn that until it was too late.I can look back also and see that my own intellectual pride helped me build a weak foundation for my faith. When I converted to Catholicism in 1992 (I entered the Church formally in 1993), it was a sincere Christian conversion. But I also took on as my own all the cultural and intellectual trappings of the American Catholic right. I remember feeling so grateful for the privilege and gift of being Catholic, but there was a part of me that thought, "Yay! I'm on the A-Team now, the New York Yankees of Christianity. I'm on Father Neuhaus's team!" A short time back, an intellectual friend who is a Protestant told me that he almost became a Catholic, and would have except for the place where he was working at the time was filled with conservative intellectual Catholics who wouldn't shut up about the superiority of Catholicism. Their arrogance finally put him off the Church, and now he says he couldn't imagine converting. I swallowed hard when he told me that, because I can only imagine how I must have come off to people like him in my prideful heyday.Without quite realizing what was happening, I became a Professional Catholic, and got so caught up in identifying with the various controversies in the American church that I began to substitute that for an authentic spirituality.

This is nobody's fault but my own. Part of that involved hero-worshipping Pope John Paul II, and despite having a healthy awareness of the sins and failings of various bishops, exaggerating the virtues of bishops my side deemed "orthodox." Bernard Cardinal Law was just such a bishop. I count it as one of the most shameful acts of my life the moment when I rushed across a courtyard in Jerusalem to kneel and kiss Cardinal Law's ring. I don't count it as a sin to kiss a cardinal's ring; what was wrong was my motivation for doing so: I felt so much pride in showing myself to be an orthodox Catholic paying due homage to an orthodox archbishop in that public way.Well, I was a fool, and I set myself up for a big fall. A few weeks back, I mentioned to Julie on the way to St. Seraphim's one morning, "I'm now part of a small church that nobody's heard of, with zero cultural influence in America, and in a tiny parish that's materially poor. I think that's just where I need to be." See, this is why you won't see me ballyhoo my conversion to Orthodoxy as I did with my conversion to Catholicism. Partly it's because I still consider myself to be among the spiritually walking wounded. I need to build myself up in Christ, and in ordinary Christian piety. I believe that God rescued me from a pit partly of my own making by showing me Orthodoxy, and through the witness of the people of St. Seraphim's parish. I have to laugh when well-meaning people say, "Well, Rod's still looking for the perfect church, I wonder what's going to become of him when he figures out that the Orthodox Church is screwed up too." Shoot, the Orthodox Church in America is neck-deep in a financial scandal at its pinnacle! Don't they think I see that? I am perfectly aware that sexual sin and the temptation to cover it up or deny it exists in every human institution. I do not imagine that I have escaped that in Orthodoxy. I am incapable of being the kind of gung-ho Orthodox as I was a gung-ho Catholic. I've learned my lesson. What I do have in Orthodoxy, though, is a second chance to get it right. To receive the Sacraments as an aid to theosis, and to learn to love the little platoon around me, building up the community and my own family. Had I started out this way as a Catholic, maybe it wouldn't have come to this. But I did, and here I am, and God is merciful. I don't want in any way for this to come across as an apology for entering Orthodoxy. I am not ashamed of it, and indeed I am grateful for God having provided for me and my family, lost and drifting as we were.

Still, I think my feelings must be like that of an exile who had to leave his native land, and who is grateful for his new country but who will never be able to forget whence he came -- nor does he want to. I grieve having disappointed friends, and no doubt many of you, who have been so kind to me over the years with your prayers and encouragement. I can't expect you Catholics to endorse my move, but I hope at least you will pray for me and my family, and with me for the ultimate unity of Orthodoxy and Catholicism (by the way, I took as my patron saint in Orthodoxy Benedict of Nursia, who as a pre-schism saint is also revered by the Orthodox; I also chose him in part to honor Pope Benedict, whom I cherish). I hope also that my own example will encourage others -- Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant -- to look seriously into their hearts, and detach themselves from both idolizing the Church in the place of Christ -- this is partly what led to the Scandal, and partly what led me to put myself in a position where the Scandal destroyed my Catholicism. And I hope my example helps people to deal swiftly with anger before it masters them. As far as tradition goes, I have moved with my family to a church that I believe stands a much better chance of maintaining the historic Christian deposit of faith over time. To be more blunt, I have moved to a church that in my judgment within which I and my family and my descendants will be better able to withstand modernity. Basically, though -- and this is as blunt as I can be -- I'm in a church where I can trust the spiritual headship of the clergy, and where most people want to know more about the faith, and how we can conform our lives to it, rather than wanting to run away from it or hide it so nobody has to be offended.In the end, we all depend on the mercy of God to deliver us from our faults and errors. I have no intention of talking about this conversion further, either on the comboxes or this blog. (Nor, by the way, do I intend to avoid critical comments about any church; I am an opinion journalist.) I owe it to my family, and to my God, to avoid the nasty combox polemics that will inevitably follow this revelation. I can't keep any of you from saying whatever you will -- and no doubt, the Xs of the world will have their day. I'm a public person, so I have to put up with that. Still, those of you more charitably inclined, please just pray for me and my family, that we always live in truth, and do the right thing, and be found pleasing to God, the Father of us all.

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