David B. Hart on The Myth of Schism

David B. Hart on The Myth of Schism December 22, 2014

A really fine piece by an Orthodox theologian on the necessity of and prospects for reunion of the Orthodox and Catholic communions:

In any event, my last remark is only this: reunion of the Orthodox and Roman Churches has become an imperative, and time is growing short. I say this because I often suffer from bleak premonitions of the ultimate cultural triumph in the West of a consumerism so devoid of transcendent values as to be, inevitably, nothing but a pervasive and pitiless nihilism. And it is, I think, a particularly soothing and saccharine nihilism, possessing a singular power for absorbing the native energies of the civilization it is displacing without prompting any extravagant alarm at its vacuous barbarisms. And I suspect that the only tools at Christianity’s disposal, as it confronts the rapid and seemingly inexorable advance of this nihilism, will be evangelical zeal and internal unity. I like to think—call it the Sophiologist in me—that the tribulations that Eastern Christianity has suffered under Islamic and communist rule have insulated it from some of the more corrosive pathologies of modernity for a purpose, and endowed it with a special mission to bring its liturgical, intellectual, and spiritual strengths to the aid of the Western Christian world in its struggle with the nihilism that the post-Christian West has long incubated and that now surrounds us all, while yet drawing on the strengths and charisms of the Western church to preserve Orthodoxy from the political and cultural frailty that still afflicts Eastern Christianity. Whatever the case, though, we are more in need of one another now than ever. To turn away from ecumenism now may be to turn towards the darkness that is deepening all about us. We are called to be children of light, and I do not think that we will walk very far in the light hereafter except together.

Amen and amen.

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  • Mark R

    I first read this post about a year ago. I am still not too happy with it. Though I lean heavily Eastern, I am no theologian. I think what appears as ecumenism to an academic theologian is different from how it would appear to a churchman and still different to a layman. His heart is in the right place, but he too appears to rely upon false dichotomies as much as some of the theologians he calls out on it — which is a bit disingenuous since they were “practicing” theology differently from how a contemporary academic theologian would. Theology in the East was not actually the same kind of subject as one would have in a Western university. To a large degree it was in the purview of the monastic order, and deeply ingrained in the liturgical and prayer life – not so speculative or school-subjecty as we Westerners know. Some of this kind of “monastic theology” of course exists in the West among Benedictines and Cistercians. There was Western style manual theology in Russia, of course, but little originality was there and it was still interpreted with Orthodox assumptions. Anyway, it seems to me that a lot of how ecumenism has been articulated since its inception as a movement has been bad. It has taken on the cast of higher level compromise, i.e. dialogue, among Western churches and a not inconsiderable source of division among the Eastern Orthodox.It initiated as a Protestant idea and they have suffered the most decline. It is better for individual churchmen and individual faithful to get along on a more personal level…let us by all means stop the name-calling and leave that for the non-Christians to do :-). Most of what seems to go on in ecumenism appears to be nuance-parcing among the experts and politicking among the ceremonial hat set. Where in all this is a call to a deeper prayer life, repentence, trusting the Word and involving the Holy Spirit ? Without any of these it is all a cosmetic contrivance.

  • Andy

    Although I agree in essence with much (maybe most) of what Mr. Hart writes I was struck with two comments – the level of extremist he has found in the Eastern Orthodox – which sound rather like what we see in the Roman Catholic Church. THis reinforces the idea that we as a people have a predisposition to over-personlization of how we interpret/use/view our faith.

    The second is the stark comment about the west – “I say this because I often suffer from bleak premonitions of the ultimate cultural triumph in the West of a consumerism so devoid of transcendent values as to be, inevitably, nothing but a pervasive and pitiless nihilism.” Unfortunately this has been on my mind – our, at least in the US worship of mammon and moloch. We have lost the sense of transcendence so vital in our relationship with God.

    I do not know if or if not a reunification would slow this movement, but if we are to survive we need to look for other sources of unity with our Savior, as obviously we don’t have or can’t seem to find them in our own culture.

  • NDaniels

    Man is not an end in himself, nor is man a means to an end; man was created for communion with God, Who Willed us worthy of Redemption.

    There is no division in Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. The Catholic Church only appears to be divided because those who have left Christ’s Church spiritually, have remained within physically, causing chaos and confusion as they have led a multitude astray due to atheist materialism which denies that from The Beginning, God created every human person, equal in Dignity, while being complementary as a son or daughter, to live in Loving relationship with one another in communion with The Communion of Perfect Love that Is The Blessed Trinity. There is only One Jesus The Christ, thus there can only be One Spirit of Perfect Love Between The Father and The Son, proceeding from The Love Between The Father and His only Son, in the ordered, complementary Communion of Perfect Love that Is The Blessed Trinity.

    At the end of the day, it is still a Great Mystery, but it is no mystery that Love is ordered to the inherent personal and relational Dignity of the human person. Every element of Love serves to complement and thus enhance the fullness of Love. Love does not divide, it multiplies, just as with the loaves and fish.

  • Brandon

    Except the Orthodox Church will not unite until the Pope gives up his claim to be universal bishop of the entire Catholic Church. And the Filioque is done away with. And Purgatory. And the Latin idea of Original Sin as guilt rather than inherited sickness to put it in simple terms. In short, one side has to recant all their errors.

    They cannot reunite for a mere culture war. Are YOU ready to say that the Pope is a heretic and his claims to being infallible and universal in authority are wrong? Are you willing to say that the Filoque is wrong? That Purgatory is an invented error, nay heresy? That we do not bear any guilt from Adam, but only a sickness? Are you willing to do that? Because until you, and the RC Church are, or vice versa, now reunion. All this sappy talk is nice, but it’s mere air. I am not trying to be a smart alick here–just point out how it really is.

    • D.T. McCameron

      “In short, one side has to recant all their errors.”

      It’s become apparent to me that, theologically at least, it would be easier to reconcile certain protestant sects to the catholic church than the Easter Orthodox. The divisions are far deeper than just political.

      • Hezekiah Garrett


        This I gotta hear

        • D.T. McCameron

          If it is only in the understanding of Purgatory that we differ, it is because the Orthodox reject the Latin position completely. And the Orthodox understanding of “ancestral sin” is at odds with the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

    • Hezekiah Garrett

      The Orthodox acknowledge petrine primacy, they merely understand it differently. They have accepted the Filioque and the Romans don’t insist they insert it. We differ from the Orthodox on purgatory inn understanding, not the concept itself. The catholic church does not impute guilt from original sin, but rather a lack of grace.

      You might study these issues deeper instead of throwing up unnecessary road blocks. And it is spelled Aleck, not alick.

  • I’m pretty hopeful of unity with not just the Orthodox, but with a good chunk of Protestantism as well. For a few reasons:
    1. People who fundamentally agree about something often argue with each other about it. Have you ever had a fight with your spouse where you suddenly realize the whole fight is stupid, and you really agree with each other, even though ten seconds ago you were sure you’d never see eye to eye? Differences that seem insurmountable are sometimes shown to be mere misunderstandings. For example, the sola fide / sola gratia debate: http://jimmyakin.com/library/justification-by-faith-alone.
    2. Remember when war with Syria seemed inevitable, the pope asked for a day of fasting and prayer, and next thing you know Putin had worked out a deal that kept the US from entering yet another war that everyone in Washington DC seemed to support? Just because something seems inevitable doesn’t mean it actually is.
    3. All this is to say that with God all things are possible, even things that are impossible for human beings. I had a vivid dream two nights ago of being in a society that was quickly descending into ever greater violence. As things got worse and worse, I realized that we were all being enveloped and incorporated into Hell, surrounded by demons. I desperately tried to figure out an answer and make a plan to save us (or at least myself) but I could devise no solution. When finally I turned to God in prayer, I was informed by the angelic host that the biggest problems can’t be solved by human ingenuity and industry, but only by the power of God, and that our only hope lies in prayer. As long as I rely on my own power I am doomed, but when I pray God has the power to save me.

    Don’t give up. Don’t imagine that just because our fallen race has failed to keep the body of Christ united, that it’s therefore impossible to restore unity. Our God led his people out of bondage through the Red Sea, and knocked down the bronze walls of Jericho. He conquered sin and death. And, incidentally, created the entire universe out of nothing. If God is with us, what obstacle can stand against us?

    Work is good. Work, but don’t idolize industry. If you have been given a vocation, work at it. But don’t forget to pray and to trust in God, especially when things seem hopeless and work isn’t working.