I’m being attacked by a handful of people — including a few wearisomely obsessive critics who can always be counted upon to join in whatever chorus of personal derision they find directed at me — as an “anti-Catholic” and even a bigot for a blog entry that I posted yesterday. The entry consisted almost entirely of a quotation from a famous set of 1888 academic lectures by the respected nineteenth-century English scholar Edwin Hatch. The quotation doesn’t mention Catholicism. The blog entry doesn’t mention Catholicism. The quotation contrasts the Sermon on the Mount with the Nicene Creed, which was the product (more or less) of the First Council of Nicea, held in AD 325 — a period, in my judgment, prior to the emergence of anything that can be specifically distinguished as Roman Catholicism. (For more of my reasoning on that point, see my comments following the blog entry — comments that I won’t have much if any time to elaborate on for the rest of today and most of tomorrow, even if more criticisms are posted there.)
I didn’t have Catholicism specifically in mind when I posted the entry. Nor do I think that it has anything to do with Catholicism, specifically. The quotation is a fairly gentle criticism of mainstream creedal Christianity, not of Catholicism in particular. (News flash: I’m a Latter-day Saint. I don’t accept the Nicene Creed as binding.) Edwin Hatch was, it’s true, an Anglican priest, but the Nicene Creed that he’s implicitly criticizing is authoritative within his own Anglican communion just as it is within Roman Catholicism.
It’s nonsense to accuse Hatch, let alone me, of anti-Catholicism for expressing reservations about the creedal formulae emerging from Nicaea and subsequent ecumenical councils — all of which, incidentally, without exception, were convened within Anatolia (modern-day Turkey), a historically Greek-speaking area that never, ever, accepted the primacy of the bishop of Rome. That bishop is called the Pope, but, in the area of which I speak, so are other bishops (e.g., in Constantinople/Istanbul and in Alexandria). The magnificent Church of Hagia Sophia, shown above, was never a Roman Catholic church except briefly, between 1204 and 1261 AD, when Latin soldiers of the Fourth Crusade captured Constantinople, ransacked the city, desecrated the church, and turned it into a Catholic Cathedral. For centuries after its recapture, Eastern Christians would spit upon the tomb of Enrico Dandolo, the Doge of Venice, who commanded the Latin Christian forces that conquered the city and who is still buried within Hagia Sophia’s walls.
To claim, even implicitly, that Justinian was a Roman Catholic, to claim Hagia Sophia and Anatolia and the seven ecumenical councils that were held there for Rome, as if they’re the property, even the exclusive property, of the Latin West, is genuinely offensive cultural imperialism. If anything, the tendency of people in the West to claim everything in the ancient Church for Roman Catholicism, when almost everything of Christian significance in the first postbiblical centuries occurred in Greek, and within lands that never recognized the preeminence of Rome and whose Christian population, since the Great Schism (of 1054 and subsequently), has been overwhelmingly Eastern Orthodox, seems to me very largely a stunning reflection of Western provincialism.