Reply to a Lapsed Catholic,
now Eastern Orthodox

By JAMES LIKOUDIS

 

My article 'Apologetics, the Papacy, and Eastern Orthodoxy' has drawn the ire of a former Catholic, Joseph Suaiden. Mr. Suaiden is identified on his Website as an Hispanic Catholic who once attended Byzantine Catholic churches and then came to foolishly believe that "Christianity in the West has ceased to exist."


1.)

He declares himself offended by the "comparison of Eastern Orthodoxy to Protestantism" found in my article. This is puzzling in view of the fact that both Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy have their origin in rank disobedience and dissent from the teaching concerning the Petrine Primacy (the Papacy) which was freely acknowledged in the Church by those who would be orthodox Christians during the First Millennium (and before the patriarchate of Constantinople decided to separate itself from the visible unity of the Catholic Church). It was also admitted in the Western Church for 1500 years before Martin Luther launched his broadsides against the Pope as the Antichrist. Mr. Suaiden proudly notes that Mark of Ephesus' anti-Roman animus predates Martin Luther's tirades "by about a century", but his comment only reinforces my point that such protests, whether lodged by the Bishop of Ephesus who led the repudiation of the Reunion Council of Florence (1439) or by Martin Luther — only demonstrates that the same kind of rebellion took place against the supreme authority of the Church established by Christ in the See of Peter.

Protestants are those who protest the Papal supremacy as instituted by Christ. Eastern Orthodox who engage in the same contestation and denial of a universal jurisdiction by the Pope over the entire Church betray the same "anti-Roman complex" which lies at the heart of all schism and heresy. If Protestants are "wayward children of Rome", as Mr. Suaiden admits, the Byzantine dissidents of the Eastern Orthodox churches who preceded Martin Luther by some centuries in their rejection of the Roman Primacy, must also be seen as "wayward children of Rome" for breaking communion with the See of Rome which St. Ignatius of Antioch as early as the 2nd century declared as "presiding in love", i.e., over the entire Church. That great Greek Father of the Church, St. Gregory Nazianzen echoed the same sentiments concerning the See of Rome in his 'Carmen de Vita Sua' (382 A.D.) where he wrote:

"Regarding the faith which they uphold, the ancient Rome has kept a straight course from of old, and still does so, uniting the whole West by sound teaching, as is just, since she presides over all and guards the universal divine harmony."
2.)

Mr. Suaiden declares himself "perplexed" at charges by myself and other Catholic authors that there have been and are Protestant tendencies in Eastern Orthodox thought. The recent book "The Papacy Is Heresy" by the Archimandrite Cyril Kostopoulos (Patras 1996 and published in an English translation in Canada) has been praised by the present Archbishop of Athens, Christodoulos. Its view of the infallibility of the Pope as "demonic", and the papacy as "a heresy and even the greatest heresy" would do justice to the invectives of a Martin Luther who similarly viewed the Petrine ministry of the Successor of Peter as "an invention of the devil" and as anti-Christ himself. In my article I quoted the famous 19th c. Count Joseph de Maistre who lived as a diplomat in Russia for many years and who was struck by the similar spirit in evidence among the most fanatical Protestants and dissident Byzantines, no matter what the other dogmatic differences there were between them. Mr. Suaiden may find the fact uncomfortable, but in their historical resistance to the Petrine Primacy, Byzantine dissidents and Protestant heretics have indeed proved themselves spiritual "cousins". Here I give the fuller quotation from De Maistre:

"The Russian is separated from the Holy See; that is enough for the Protestant, who beholds in him only a brother - another Protestant; all dogmas are null with the exception of hatred to Rome. This hatred is the only universal tie between all separated Churches."   (in his celebrated work 'Du Pape', Book IV, Chapter I).

Mr. Suaiden would be less perplexed, if he were more acquainted with the plentiful literature demonstrating that Protestant polemical literature against the Catholic Church had an important influence on Greek and Russian theologians, inflaming an already existing animosity toward the Popes of Rome.

The rejection in 1485 by a Council of Constantinople of the Reunion Council of Florence witnessed a violent animus against the Popes and the hated Latins. Luther himself appealed to the separated Eastern churches in support of his rejection of Papal supremacy. The Lutheran scholar Ernst Benz even noted in his book "The Eastern Orthodox Church", that the abolishing of the patriarchate of Moscow by Peter the Great who set up a new synodal constitution for the Russian Church on the model of the German Protestant territorial churches, had been suggested by the German Lutheran Samuel von Pufendorf. He also wrote how "Both the Russian and the Greek Orthodox churches approached particularly close to German Protestantism during the heyday of Pietism."

After the Union of Brest-Litovsk (1596) which reconciled millions of Ukrainians and Ruthenians to the Holy See, "numerous young Orthodox theologians attended Protestant universities in Germany, Switzerland and England since there were no Orthodox academies in the Orthodox countries under Turkish rule." Other authors have noted the influence of Calvinist theology on 17th c. Greek "Orthodoxy" exemplified in the writings of the heretical Calvinist patriarch of Constantinople, Cyril Lucaris. Such Calvinism with its militant anti-Roman spirit would persist after Lucaris' condemnation by a Synod of Constantinople (1638), the Synod of Jassy (1642), and a Synod of Jerusalem (1672). This Calvinist influence was to remain among Lucaris' disciples, Metrophanes Critopoulos, Zacharias Gerganos, Theophilos Corydalleus, Maximos Callipolita, and John Carophyllos.

It is not difficult to trace the origin of Orthodox polemics directed against Catholic teaching on original sin, mortal and venial sin, grace, purgatory, indulgences, and Transubstantiation to such influences. Sadly, such influences have continued to our day, as I pointed out with specific reference to the writings of Clark Carlton, an evangelical Protestant minister who became an Eastern Orthodox. Whatever the doctrinal and pedagogical opposition of the Catholic Church to Protestantism and the Byzantine Greco-Russian schism, the lasting bitterness and hatred jointly registered toward the Papacy and the Catholic Church by its avowed enemies, i.e., the most intransigent Protestant and Orthodox polemicists, remains an utterly extraordinary historical phenomenon.

It fully justifies G. K. Chesterton's remark (which I had quoted) regarding the unique "halo of hatred" that surrounds the Catholic Church and serves to identify it as the true Church of God. Like her Divine Master, the Catholic Church is and will always be a "Sign of Contradiction" to those who would be her enemies. Mr. Suaiden's protest that "the comparison of Eastern Orthodoxy to Protestantism has little weight" flies in the face of that common hatred of Rome and "Romanism" which is all too prevalent in the writings of Protestant and Eastern Orthodox polemicists. Fortunately, this attitude is not true among the millions of Eastern Orthodox people who are sympathetic to the ecumenical hopes for Reunion of the Churches. But such extremists as Mr. Suaiden continue to denounce the "ecumenical heresy", and find themselves at odds with those Orthodox prelates engaged in ecumenical dialogues.

In view of his expressed attitude towards the "ecumenical heresy", it is legitimate to ask how his own "standing in Orthodoxy" would be regarded by the "heads of the autocephalous churches."
Who are the real "Orthodox"? Those who agree with Mr. Suaiden' doctrinal views as an "Old Calendarist", or rather those who declare "Old Calendarists" schismatical and heretical?


3.)

I receive criticism for "attempting to prove Papal claims in an Orthodox framework."
                                                       - <<< I PLEAD GUILTY >>> -
Whatever positive elements there are in Eastern Orthodox ecclesiology lead directly to a Catholic profession of faith in the divine prerogatives of the Successor of Peter as visible head of the Church Militant and the Rock of the entire visible Episcopate which succeeds to the place of the Apostles. This has been demonstrated for all to read in my two books, "Ending the Byzantine Greek Schism" and "The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy: Letters to a Greek Orthodox".

Mr. Suaiden complains that my article "gives no Fathers" to verify my comments concerning Papal Primacy. I refer him and his readers to my two books which contain the striking testimonies of Fathers, Doctors and Saints to the Popes' exercising a Primacy of Universal Jurisdiction over the entire Church, East and West. Mr. Suaiden may not believe it, but the ancient Fathers and Councils believed Papal primacy was a feature of the ancient hierarchical Church and was rooted in the powerful words of Christ Himself to the Chief of the Apostles, Peter.

The Catholic Church has always acknowledged that the separated Eastern churches have, by the Providence of God, retained almost the entire orthodox faith in its integrity (whatever the negations of individual theologians or local Councils and Synods), but it has also professed that the fullness of orthodoxy is to be found only where the indefectible faith of Peter is safeguarded by the See of Peter. Only the Catholic Church maintains the visible unity of the Church as understood in the ancient patristic Church. There can be no fullness of orthodoxy without the Pope, and that is the evidence of all Church history during the First Millennium when various heresies were successively supported by hundreds of bishops. It was only communion with the See of Peter which preserved orthodoxy in the East when patriarchs and bishops fell into heresy.

Mr. Suaiden prattles much about Tradition and the "consensus of the Fathers" but chooses to totally ignore the simple fact that an "undivided Church" makes historical sense only where the Episcopate of the Church remains "one and undivided" (as St. Cyprian taught) because of its "solidity" with the See of Peter which presides over the communion of the Churches making up the Catholic Church.

I defy Mr. Suaiden to quote one Father of the Church who ever declared that breaking union with the See of Rome was ever needed for preserving the fullness of the orthodox faith!

Mr. Suaiden appeals to the "consensus of the Fathers" regarding what is orthodox concerning the Roman Primacy. Let us then refer to the Fathers of the 4th century concerning it. In 382 A.D., a Council of Rome in the pontificate of Pope Damasus wrote as follows:

"..Though all the Catholic churches diffused throughout the world are but one Bridal Chamber of Christ, yet the holy Roman Church has been set before the rest by no conciliar decrees, but has obtained the Primacy by the voice of Our Lord and Savior in the Gospel: 'Thou art Peter and upon this Rock...shall be loosed in heaven.' ...The first See of the Apostle Peter is therefore the Roman Church, 'not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing.' But the second See was consecrated in Alexandria, in the name of blessed Peter, by his disciple Mark the evangelist... And the third See of the most blessed Peter is at Antioch..."

We will leave Mr. Suaiden to resolve such clear teaching concerning Our Lord's establishing the headship of the Petrine Primacy in the Church with modern Eastern Orthodoxy's denial of His work.


4.)

Mr. Suaiden claims that "no Father of the Church clearly teaches that St. Peter was 'chief pastor of the entire flock". I refer him to the testimony of Asterius, Bishop of Amasea in Pontus as typical of many Fathers :

"Homily 8 On the Chief Apostles Peter and Paul":
"In order that He may show His power, God has endowed none of His disciples with gifts like Peter. But having raised him with heavenly gifts, He has set him above all. And, as first disciple and greater among the brethren, he has shown, by the test of deeds, the power of the Spirit... The Savior confided to this man, as some special trust, the whole universal Church, after having asked him three times, 'Lovest thou Me?' And he received the world in charge, as one flock and shepherd, having heard, 'Feed My lambs'; and the Lord gave, well nigh in His own stead, that most faithful disciple to the proselytes as a father, and shepherd and instructor."
The above may be said to echo the teaching of the more famous St. John Chrysostom :
"He [Peter] was the chosen one of the Apostles, the mouth of the Apostles, the leader of the band...Jesus put into his hands the chief authority among the brethren...For he who then did not dare to question Jesus, but committed the office to another, was even entrusted with the chief authority over the brethren, and not only does not commit to another what relates to himself, but himself now puts a question to his Master concerning another. John is silent, but Peter speaks...for Peter greatly loved John...When therefore Christ had foretold great things to him, and committed the world to him, and spoke beforehand of his martyrdom, and testified that his love was greater than all the others..."   (Hom. 88 on St. John).

Mr. Suaiden might pay attention also to the words of St. Epiphanius writing in his "Against the Heresies" (372 A.D.) and describing St. Peter as:

"the very chiefest [koryphaiotatos] of the Apostles, who at one stage denied the Lord, has become for us in truth a solid Rock, bearing the weight of the Faith of the Lord..."
5.)

Mr. Suaiden rashly states that "the [Eastern Orthodox] polemic against the Papacy is nothing more than objective history."

It is no more "objective" than the worthless polemic of such writers as the Archimandrite Cyril Kostopoulos who declares that the primacy of Peter is a "myth", the "theology of the papacy is demonology", and that Catholic sacraments are "invalid" as "devoid of divine grace". (See his book "The Papacy is Heresy", pages 2, 40, 80, etc.) One wonders if Mr. Suaiden feels comfortable with his fellow religionist declaring that "The Papacy is not a valid Church; it does not have Apostolic Succession; its sacraments are invalid." (Ibid., p. 2) If he is comfortable with such assertions, he clearly does not share the same faith as those Orthodox who would vehemently deny such extreme conclusions.


6.)

Mr. Suaiden twists the facts concerning St. Cyprian and Pope St. Gregory the Great. Both are alleged to repudiate the idea of Papal supremacy as well as the Pope being "the One Bishop" in the Church. St. Cyprian never repudiated the primacy of the Roman Church; he even requested the Pope to depose heretical bishops (a fact that refutes the simplistic idea of "the full equality of all bishops"). It was St. Cyprian (3rd c.), moreover, who wrote to Pope Cornelius denouncing those who "carry letters from schismatic and profane persons to the chair of Peter, and to the principal church [Rome] whence the unity of the priesthood took its rise." (Epistle 59). Moreover, no Pope was more convinced of his Primacy of universal jurisdiction in the Church than Pope Gregory the Great who wrote :

"As to what they say of the Church of Constantinople, who doubts that it is subject to the Apostolic See? This is constantly owned by the most pious Emperor and by our brother and Bishop of that city."     (Lib. IX, Ep. 12)
In another letter he declared,
"If any fault is found among bishops, I know not any one who is not subject to it [the Apostolic See]; but when no fault requires otherwise, all are equal according to the estimation of humility."     (Lib. IX, Ep. 59)

Both Saints are alleged to repudiate the Pope being "the One Bishop" in the Church. Neither Saint taught such nonsense, nor does the Catholic Church today teach that the Pope is "the One Bishop" of the Church. The Pope is one bishop among many in the Church. He is the Bishop of Rome, but as the Successor of Peter he is also the Chief Bishop and Primate of the entire Church. His is not a difference in orders but rather in jurisdiction. His jurisdiction is universal as befitting the visible head of the Church on earth, while every other bishop's jurisdiction is limited territorially.


7.)

Mr. Suaiden writes "Orthodoxy does not take away the Vicariate of Christ from one Bishop, but assigns it to all Bishops."

It is true, as we read in the "Confession of Faith" (1640) of Metropolitan Peter Mohila, that all Bishops are representatives or "vicars of Christ", but the "Vicariate of Christ" cannot consist of all Bishops having equal authority and exercising an equal authority in the Church because when dogmatic divisions take place among them (as heresies arise), it becomes impossible to know which group of bishops can be determined to remain the legitimate authoritative apostolic teachers of the Church, still adhering to the orthodox faith.

There must be a supreme authority in the Church which can settle doctrinal conflicts and controversies among bishops and patriarchs. Church history of the first thousand years shows such a supreme authority functioning in the Church and recognized by bishops and Councils as such, and that has been the Roman Primacy exercised by the Bishop of Rome who as "pastor of the entire Church" is preeminently entitled to be termed the Vicar of Christ (as the Second Vatican Council does in "Lumen Gentium", no. 22) Once again, it is important to draw attention to the fact (alluded to by St. Cyprian) that the only way to "prove that the episcopate is one and undivided" is if there is, in fact, a center of visible unity in the Church for all Bishops to adhere in the communion of one faith. Church history knows of no other such center of unity for the Church than the See of Rome and its occupant, the Successor of Peter in the Primacy of authority conferred on the chief Apostle by the Lord.


8.)

It would take too long to deal adequately with Mr. Suaiden's other comments. Let the following, however, suffice:

  1. His assertion that the doctrine of the "Filioque" smacks of the "Modalist" heresy, is erroneous. Moreover, the Council of Florence did not "muddle the delicate distinction between 'from the Son' and 'through the Son'." Rather, it clearly taught - in accordance with patristic tradition - that the Greek formula 'through the Son' had the same meaning as the Latin formula 'from the Son' - namely, making reference to the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit, not the temporal mission of the Holy Spirit (as the patriarch Photius mistakenly claimed).


  2. His assertion that "[Eastern Orthodox] have little in common anymore [with Roman Catholicism] except formal adherence to ritual", is mere nonsense.


  3. He writes that I have not explained "why the charge against Orthodoxy of caesaropapism is justified." There was no need for me to do so in a brief article. He has only to read the writings of major Orthodox theologians: J. Meyendorff, A. Schmemann, and Bishop Kallistos Ware to see justification of the injury done the Eastern churches by the despotism of Byzantine Emperors, Russian Czars, and servile subjection to the temporal rulers of national states. As Bishop Kallistos observes, "The sad confusion between Orthodoxy and nationalism" continues to the present day.


  4. He falls back on the authority of Archbishop John Maximovitch (+1966) to justify rejection of the Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God. It is the same Archbishop, however, who denied "the complete sinlessness of the Mother of God" and "likewise the teaching that She was preserved by God's grace from personal sin." Moreover, according to the Russian bishop, though the Blessed Virgin was declared by the Archangel "full of grace", She was "not placed in the state of being unable to sin" (See his booklet "The Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God", 1978, pages 44-45). These comments deserve a fuller consideration, but it is enough here to say that such assertions contradict the ancient veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Byzantine piety as the "All-Holy Mother of God". Moreover, they cannot be reconciled with the words of the Byzantine Liturgy declaring her to be "more honorable than the Cherubim and incomparably more glorious than the Seraphim, [and who] without spot of sin, didst bear God, the Word; and Thee, verily the Mother of God, we magnify." There is much in the Byzantine tradition to indicate that the Theotokos was actually sanctified at the very moment her soul was created by God.


  5. My comments on Purgatory had nothing to do with the bizarre notion of demonic "Toll Houses" (which has only a superficial resemblance to the Catholic notion of Purgatory). Defended by such Orthodox writers as Seraphim Rose, this theory of the after-life holds that demons in toll-houses or "places of retention" interrogate souls in their progress through the aerial realm, and in judging those worthy of hell, cast them into hell. The saved are those who survive this strange trial of a demonic examination. Other Orthodox writers rightly declare this wild theory of Toll-Houses to be a remnant of the ancient Gnostic heresy, but writers of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad regard this theory as constituting dogma!
    There is confusion among Eastern Orthodox theologians concerning the afterlife. One may wonder for example, whether Mr. Suaiden agrees with Fr. Michael Azkoul who has written: "no soul enters either Gehenna or heaven until the Last Judgment."

I conclude with the observations that Mr. Suaiden caricatures badly Catholic doctrines and that his criticisms of my article are without merit. My prayer is that he no longer attempt to defend what is essentially a "non-historical Orthodoxy" and that he return to the Catholic Church which Our Lord founded for the salvation of all men, and whose authoritative Magisterium is alone the guarantor of orthodoxy in faith and morals.
And may the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe hasten his return to the flock which Our Lord confided to Peter and his Successors.



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