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February 26, 2012


Now this is how you do it!!!

I’ve been interested for some time in the Orthodox faith, we considered the Orthodox church while still looking but at the time didn’t know any local parishes. One thing that has always bothered me is that if the Catholic (West or Latin) Church, had the same deposit of truth as the Orthodox or Eastern Church, then why the big split? They disagree on a number of theological and ecclesiological (study of the Christian Church) issues, especially around the Papacy.

Having read Steven Ray’s book on the papacy (Upon This Rock) I thought the issue was settled, at least it was for me. That is until I read the Apostolic Fathers for myself, and then started reading a book called “His Broken Body: Understanding and Healing the Schism Between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches” by Laurent Cleenewerck. Two things happened to my theology:

1. I did not find anywhere in the Apostolic Fathers a direct mention of the papal seat as we know it today, which was surprising to me given how much I have read from Apologists that the Church Fathers fully supported the divine and universal aspect of the see of Peter.

2. I started to question what I actually thought I knew, and began to realize that I really hadn’t done a good job in my study of the Catholic church orthodoxy, my RCIA class was so light on the topic that I was shocked to learn that papal infallibility was made Dogma in 1870 at the Vatican I council (I thought it was declared long before 1870, which is like yesterday for a church with 2000 years history).

I’ve been working my way through Cleenewercks book (he has the coolest name ever!), and what I have found is the RARE and I do mean RARE, apologist who actually presents and irenic argument to make his case. Michael Patton at Reclaiming the Mind taught me well that being irenic in arguing a point was always a much better option. The other night I picked up the book of a very famous Catholic Apologist and thumbed over the section on the pope, I was curious to see how he handled the issue when challenged. What I found surprised me, he quoted the writing of one of the church fathers, and the quote on it’s own would make anyone think that the father fully supported the universal power of the papal office. But the truth is that this church father actually challenged the universal and divine power of the roman bishop, but still held that the papacy was indeed founded by Christ through Peter. It’s a subtle point, but it makes a world of difference, because in the Catholic faith, the Papacy has been handed the keys the kingdom and has both divine and universal power over the Christian faith.

St. Augustine was famous for saying ‘Let the reader decide’, that is the irenic approach. Give a good accounting of both sides of the issue, and then leave it to the reader to make the right choice. But in today’s world of hack apologists, theologians with an axe to grind, there are few who are brave enough to follow that path. Instead they quote selectively and leave out any piece that would weaken their position, they do it both with Scripture and now as I’m finding out with the church fathers.

This is why I always look for apologists who are not afraid to say that their position in one area is weak, or that we just don’t know for sure. And I do everything in my power to avoid the current trend of learning scripture and orthodoxy through ‘feelings’, this morning after Mass, a couple was taking applications for a small group study, so we stopped by to see what they had to offer. It was a little workbook, that had you read some scriptures. Then you joined your small group and talked about how the scripture affected you…


That’s what is passing for church approved study material?, I got my fill of that in the RCIA classes, where the last 45 minutes of each class was a question and answer session that allowed people to express their feelings! Because we all know that actually studying what the church believes is not nearly as important as how something moves me emotionally! What a pile of horse droppings, IF we are to be Catholic, then we should be TEACHING orthodox material. We should be instructing people in their faith, not asking if they feel all warm and fuzzy inside!

An interesting side note, we had a lady approach us today after service and introduce herself, she said she had noticed us attending for a while. She also commented that and her husband noticed that during the Our Father prayer we don’t hold hands, we told her that basically the GIRM (General Instruction for the Roman Missal, the rules of the liturgy) does NOT state that holding hands is part of the service, so we don’t do it. She said she and her husband do the same thing!, it was good to know that we are not alone in sticking the traditions as they are written…


So I’d like to give a huge Clink of the glass to Laurent Cleenewerck, who had the guts to write a book that seeks out the truth rather his opinion. I’m not Orthodox yet, but his book really has me going back and rethinking what I thought I knew, and THAT my friends is what good apologetics should do…


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11 Comments Post a comment
  1. Feb 27 2012

    Paul are you saying that you do not see the primacy of the church (and bishop) of Rome when reading of the Church Fathers?

  2. Feb 27 2012

    Yes and no, I see the primacy of both the church and of the bishop of Rome from a primate position as protecting orthodoxy. But what I don’t see is the kind of authority given by Vatican I to the papacy, that being universal and unconditional authority on all matters of faith.

    The problem as you well know, is that there is so much to read through and one has to be careful to not let current theology to color how you read quotes and passages. For scripture we use exegesis, but it’s more difficult with the church fathers because opinions, culture and external issues have much more impact on what they write.

    St. Cyprian is a good example, you can selectively quote him as fully supporting the Papacy, but he also is not afraid to push back on what he sees as an overreach in some areas. I have found him quoted by some as a prime example of a church father fully supporting the Vatican I dogma, but to do so and not mention that he also didn’t agree with many things the papacy did seems almost dishonest. Cleenewerck is much more irenic in his comments on issues like this, something I need to work on :)

    I will tell you this much, I have learned more about being Catholic from reading Orthodoxy apologetics and theology, than I have from most Catholic material. There are exceptions like Hardon, but even as good as he was I found some very thin areas that the Orthodox writers are much deeper on.

    It’s literally like looking at a mountain and knowing the truth is there somewhere, you just have to start digging… :)

    • Eve
      Apr 11 2012

      Hi Paul,

      You say this in response to a question on on whether you do not see evidence of Rome’s primacy in the fathers: “Yes and no, I see the primacy of both the church and of the bishop of Rome from a primate position as protecting orthodoxy. But what I don’t see is the kind of authority given by Vatican I to the papacy, that being universal and unconditional authority on all matters of faith. ”

      The truth is, there is a lot of distortion about what the church really taught in Vatican I. For example, you say “Universal and unconditional authority on all matters of faith”. The Pope does have universal jurisdiction as head Bishop, yes. But where do you get that he has “unconditional authority on all matters of faith”? His authority is most certainly not “unconditional”- It is however, unhindered (And the word unhindered was about secular powers that often countered the Pope in church matters in certain places). It does not mean absolute/unconditional. That council (Vatican I) showed in many instances that the Pope cannot just act unilaterally and alone, but always with the Bishops.

      Perhaps you should start your search by first studying the Vatican I teaching, so that you know when you are reading the fathers, which statements truly contradict it (the VI teaching) and which ones support it?


  3. Feb 27 2012


    Well of course I think you should remain Catholic. I agree that papal infallibility, for instance, is not a slam dunk from reading the early Fathers. The universal authority on all matters of faith is an interesting way to put it. I mean, the pope isn’t all powerful in this way (papalism) nor are councils of the bishops (conciliarism). Both those extremes have been rejected by the Catholic Church.

    I’ve read a share of different Orthodox arguments and interpretations of the historical data. But none of it has dealt in what seems to me to be the overwhelming case for the bishop of Rome, and more than just a primacy of honor as (some of them) will concede. Here’s one thread started by an Orthodox friend of mine citing a few “Eastern” references to primacy, which get waved away by the EO responders is a fashion that I’ve seen happen often:…&p=116893#post116893

    Saints don’t “suck up,” in my book, but that’s the claim made. I would just say, ponder these things seriously. God bless!

  4. Feb 27 2012


    Your such a great guy, and an honest person, I can’t stand it sometimes.

    Your making me look bad bro :)

    Your right there is no slam dunk, and what bothers me is how many apologists make it sound that way. This is why I hammer on teaching so often, the church in my opinion is in a terrible state when it comes to Orthodoxy and the laity. It’s not just the Catholics either, but you would think they would at least do a better job. I loved your post on heterodoxy, it’s very spot on.

    I also like what the EO has to say in many cases, but they aren’t perfect and I’m not interested in sophistry on any issue, by anyone. It’s why I challenge, read, study and dig. The one area that I’m lacking in is a good (well if you choose just one) study of the councils, especially Trent and Vatican I.

    I’ll go read that thread at lunch, thanks for the info. I don’t know how you can deny that Rome was considered primary in both the church and the papacy, but I suppose you could try, it would be foolish though.


  5. Feb 28 2012


    I read the first link you sent, I see what you mean about ‘Sucking Up”. The writer made some good points (about Popes pushing their authority more and more, and the East reacting to that), but the rest is bad polemics and unfortunate because it damaged his position in my view. The initial question was a good one though.

    Timothy’s blog looks very interesting, I’m adding it to my reading list.



  6. Phillip
    Mar 8 2012

    I hope you don’t mind me joining this conversation. I’m in the slow process of converting to the Catholic faith (from a Mormon background), but it was Eastern Orthodoxy that first introduced me to traditional Christianity. The book ‘The Orthodox Way’ was instrumental in changing my views on the nature of God (no small issue for someone brought up Mormon!). I also read a sizable portion of the ante Nicene Fathers before I started reading Catholic or Orthodox apologetics.

    Anyway, have you read ‘Rome and the Eastern Churches’? Its written from a Catholic perspective but I really liked that it discussed not only Eastern Orthodoxy but also the other ancient churches like the Coptic Church. Also, are you familiar with the Orthodox writer David Bentley Hart? He has become one of my favorite Christian authors. A very deep and intelligent man.


  7. Mar 8 2012

    Welcome Phillip….

    I’ll go pick that book up, I just finished Cleenewerck’s book and it was fabulous. I moved to Catholicism, but I’m not sure I’ll stay long term, I’m still digging.


  8. Eve
    Apr 10 2012

    Hi Paul,

    I just wanted to ask about this thing that many Orthodox say (you too) that there’s no clear teaching in the early church about what Vatican I taught- But is that not the point of all papal and Conciliar definitions? I Imagine that we cannot find “slum dunk” statements on the Blessed Trinity or the Hypostatic Union of Christ BEFORE the Councils that defined them, no? If there were, you would not find so many Heretics in the debates that preceded the definitions of the Councils, all citing the earlier fathers in support of the positions that later turned out to be heretical after the Councils spoke definitively. Rather, for something like the papacy, you should look for its existence in the thought and practice of the early church even in germane form- Like How the earlier popes understood their roles in the universal church as read in their letters to other Bishops, like the Eastern bishops, and how those Bishops responded to the popes.

    Also, the Pope was a final Court of Appeal for the Church in many instances. I’ve seen this question put forward at Catholic Answers in their discussion forums: If the Church is infallible, how can her final Court of Appeal not be infallible? The Pope over-ruled entire Council that purported to teach infallibly- How could he do that if he was not himself infallible? How could he judge that the teaching was not infallible? Since he’s the final Appeals court in a process that determines truth, he must be infallible in his judgment in that Appeal, or the church has no way of determining orthodoxy in those matters where many groups of Bishops disagree, and she would in those instances be fallible, which the Church can never be. Also, a Final Appeals Court by definition, has universal jurisdiction or it simply cannot be a final Courts of Appeal for those who appeal to it. It’s like asking: Does the US Supreme Court have national jurisdiction?

    Anyway, it was interesting to read your post. Will be checking this blog out in future.


  9. Apr 11 2012

    Hi Eve, sorry for the delay in responding, I’ve been wrapped up in other things and not had much free time.

    The issue is that the language of Vatican I makes it crystal clear that when speaking Ex Cathedra the Pope is infallible, I’m at work so I can’t look up the reference. When I get home, I’ll post the actual text that Vatican I declared, it leaves no room as to what they are referring too.

    Sol if Vatican I made this declaration, where is this found in either the deposit of faith or the writings of the church fathers. I’ve seen a great deal of the ‘Peter Principle’ in action, where sources are cited out of context, both textually and historically. And if you read Catholic apologists they will give you a long list of references, that when taken in a individual context make their case. But if you read those statements given the history of the individual and the context, the clear meaning that is claimed vanishes (in my opinion mind you).

    There is no question that the Papacy has overruled in many cases, but there have also been cases where decisions of that magnitude have not been treated or verbalized in a way that makes them final. Pope Victor is a good example of that.

    I’ll post more this evening when I get a chance to sit and go back over my documents.




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