Church and State Are Not Separate – They Are at War

There are ideas that are so common, so oft-repeated, that they are critically examined only with great difficulty. Among the most powerful such ideas is the concept described as the “separation of Church and State.” The history of the phrase is its own study (it’s not actually in the Constitution, much less the Bible). It is repeated, however, as though it were not only obvious but morally obvious. Thus, it has come to be far more than a particular arrangement within American constitutional thought. Hidden within the sentiment, however, are assumptions about both the State and the Church that are not only not obvious, but from a classical Christian perspective, not even true.

The concept posits two entities, Church and State, as though they were givens about which everyone agrees. The modern construction called “the State,” is, just that, a modern construction. The nation-state is a fairly modern notion. It exists as an entity authorized to collect money, make laws, conduct war, and negotiate on behalf of all people living within a defined geographical area. It operates in this manner through mutual recognition and agreement with other similar states, behaving according to stated rules and norms. “Primitive” peoples who were late to the table of statehood, were treated as though they had none, needed one, and now they’re ours!

The Church, in the modern period, has been reduced to a minor institution that exists for agreed religious purposes. By definition, it is one of many similar such institutions, none having any particular claim towards people, culture or other public matters. Church has assumed an existence more or less parallel to a business, though sometimes enjoying certain taxation privileges (as do some other businesses).

For the purposes of our thought, I will suggest a different model. Suppose this thing called “the State,” decides to contract out all of its various services (this is indeed taking place increasingly). The military, the police, construction, social services, etc., would all be different private corporations. Prisons in some states are already managed in this way. The private contractors working for the military toeday even includes some who exercise a military function (i.e. they kill people and blow up things). In this contracted arrangement, what would remain would be a concept called “the State,” but, in reality, was only a collection of businesses doing various jobs. What would “State” mean? To what would people belong?

Such an exercise is useful in teasing out the notion of “belonging” to a State. “I am an American; I am a Canadian,” etc. In my thought experiment, you would be a person who lived in a territory serviced by some collection of companies.

Let’s turn to the Church. The classical Christian teaching is that the Church is the mystical Body of Christ. It is never described as a business or a corporation. It doesn’t have to have buildings. Properly, it is not simply a manifestation of the “religious” sphere of our lives, for there is nothing in a Christian life that is not rightly united to God. “Church” is not an affiliation – it is an organic communion and belonging.

What is interesting to me is how much the modern nation-state resembles the Church. We “belong” to it; we are “members” of it; we can even speak of the “Body Politic”; we identify with it (in a manner than supersedes free-will). You are a citizen of the nation-state by birth – no one asks you to join. You not only allow this arrangement, but accept that, like it or not, you have some sort of nation-state connectedness with everyone else born here (or otherwise “incorporated” as a citizen). The State has become the one natural entity whose demands supersede all others and can regulate all others. That’s quite something!

The rise of the concept of the nation-state gradually reduced the Church to its present existence as a free-will association, organized for religious purposes –similar to a hobby group.  Both the reduction of the Church and the rise of the nation-state are unintended consequences of the Reformation. Indeed, the most lasting and profound result of the Reformation has been the State’s usurpation of the Church’s role. The State is the de facto Church.

This brings me to the matter of the “separation” of Church and State. My suggestion is that they are never “separate.” Rather, they are locked in a fearful battle until the end of the age. They do not and cannot co-exist simply because they offer mutually contradictory claims. The Church might endure the State (as constituted in modernity), but it should never agree to the claims and assertions of the State.

The State (particularly in its modern manifestation) represents a rival claimant to the Kingdom of God. In its concept of secularism, it declares that there exists a space in which God has no claims. It boldly and clearly proclaims that it has no God but itself. The various civil proclamations concerning God (“In God we trust,” etc.) are but echoes of a time when the Church and the State were differently conceived. At present, it is language without content, a hollow mocking of an earlier time.

The battle is eschatological in nature and is clearly describe in St. John’s Apocalypse:

Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (Rev 11:15)

This proclamation does not say that the kingdoms of this world disappear. That, perhaps, would be more in line with the secular claims of present modern theory. Rather, it declares that the battle is finished and what the kingdoms of this world wrongly claimed for themselves has been rightly restored to the only true and living King.

What does this mean for Christians in this world?

It does not make us into anarchists. Christians are the ultimate monarchists: we believe that Christ is King and God (cf. the service of Holy Baptism). It does not mean that we refuse to obey just laws and respect leaders. We do not, however, agree to their ontological demands. They do not own what they claim – particularly when it comes to the lives and loyalties of human beings. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” There are not two owners.

We tolerate the pretense of the nation-state in patient forbearance. However, the modern narrative of the nation-state as the locus and means of progress, justice, indeed the Kingdom itself, must never be accepted by the faithful. The State is, at best, a convenience.

In our daily lives, it means we refuse to embrace the anxieties of the modern project. The convenience of the state is not the arena of the Kingdom of God. Its justice and injustice are not the righteousness of God.

Historically, the Church has lived in a clear tension with the State. Though it has become common for many to tout the so-called “Constantinian Shift” as some major turning point in the life of the Church, the Church neither then, nor later, agreed to the anything beyond the State as convenience. The story of the Church and Emperor is one of constant battles. Emperors sought to work their will on the Church while the Church consistently and persistently resisted. That battle continued up until the Reformation, at which time a new peace was inaugurated in which the Church agreed (in practice) to cede to the State all its demands. The recurring conflicts between Church and State have largely disappeared – not because the Church found its freedom – but because the Church in the new arrangement ceased to matter.

There is a reason that various leaders and states have persecuted the Church from time to time. It was seen as a rival, both to their own claims to unbridled power and authority as well as to their interpretation of the world. For the Church does not make claims about religion. It proclaims the truth of God, the truth of being human, and the nature of the world itself and all life within it. Wherever the Church fulfills its true calling in Christ, the state will perceive its rivalry and the tensions that have often erupted in history will be renewed. Wherever the Church ignores its true calling in Christ, its existence is of no consequence, allowing it to abide in an irrelevant peace.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



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104 responses to “Church and State Are Not Separate – They Are at War”

  1. CJ Avatar

    Thanks Father.

    Your article reminded me of the Dominican autocrat Trujillo, who required churches to post signs reading God in Heaven, Trujillo on earth. In time he reversed the order to put himself first. Either way, the Two Story Universe was enforced at gunpoint.

    Like most of your writing, this article challenges our modern worldview in light of our calling as Christians. I must say that it’s more accessible to my mind than some of your other posts. Perhaps some good can come from American skepticism of government.

  2. Scott Avatar

    Father, Bless,

    Still reading, so maybe you do later in the article, but I was hoping you could flesh this out for me please:

    “Both the reduction of the Church and the rise of the nation-state are unintended consequences of the Reformation.”


  3. Scott Avatar

    I would also like to know your thoughts on this idea vis-a-vis those who point to Jesus’ words “render unto Ceasar” as well as Paul’s words about government. There are those. to cite an extreme example, who say Bonhoeffer et al were wrong to plot against Hitler; that he was the leader put in that place by God.

    Thank again

  4. Fr. Lawrence Farley Avatar

    Brilliant as always, Father, and very timely in America just now. I believe that a Christian can be patriotic, in that he can love and value the good things near to him with which he is familiar. But patriotism is different from nationalism. A nationalist will define himself by his flag; a Christian patriot will honour the flag, but define himself by the Cross.

  5. Brianchaninov Avatar

    Stunning painting– ( Dormition Cathedral Moscow?)

  6. Ben Marston Avatar
    Ben Marston

    The conservative Mennonites insist that there are ‘two kingdoms’ , but the kingdom of this world for them is nothing but something to be foreborne and rejected as not worthy of Christian participation, because at the heart of the State is the usage of the sword. Orthodox also speak of two kingdoms but often use the two-headed eagle and the notion of the symphonia of the Church and the State, each keeping to its own sphere, and when the do so, there is a harmony. The notion of Russia as the third Rome and as the Restrainer fits into that notion, and it seems to see a redeemed function of the State that is not quite as clear in your description of the State in your article. Any comments about this vis a vis your wonderful essay?

  7. Byron Avatar

    I would also like to know your thoughts on this idea vis-a-vis those who point to Jesus’ words “render unto Ceasar” as well as Paul’s words about government. There are those. to cite an extreme example, who say Bonhoeffer et al were wrong to plot against Hitler; that he was the leader put in that place by God.

    My understanding is that this is part of “enduring” the State; Christians allow for the (general) good that is produced, such as the right to speak our faith, in peace. However, any understanding of Paul’s view of government must be balanced by John’s view of it in the Apocalypse.

    Jesus’ “render unto Caesar”, on one level, was simply an observation that there is nothing of true value that Caesar possesses. God calls our lives; if Caesar wants coinage, why would we care? Just my thoughts.

  8. Becca Edwards Avatar
    Becca Edwards

    Fr, thank you for this article. I’m curious where that leaves people when injustices do occur, and how to face them. How does the state being a “convenience” with the Church being a separate entity impact Orthodox Christians’ relationship with the state? Without believing that the state is the authority on justice, how can we make the state more just?

  9. Byron Avatar

    As a parallel, and perhaps even an extension, to what Father has written, here is a very interesting article about the Soviet Union (and the atheism it declared) and why it had to persecute the Church.

    The most interesting parallel, to me, is how the West is now moving (or has moved) into the ideological mindset of the former Soviet Union.

  10. Nicole from VA Avatar
    Nicole from VA

    Bread and Circus: methods used by Rome to placate its citizens

    They are also methods to cultivate forgetfulness of death

    The government seems to be assuming the risk of death in some ways.

    This article is truly helpful to me.

  11. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Best article I have ever seen on the subect–perhaps because I easily agree with all of its precepts. Modern nation-states are wholly artificial.

    It is timely to note that according to folks who measure such things Christianity is the most persecuted faith in the world and it is growing worse.

    Overt persecution will come here as well. We would do well to be ready.

    The better part of the Orthodox Church has been under state control, if not persecution, since A.D. 1453 officially. Some would put it earlier than that.

    We have fundamentally squandered the opportunity here by agreeing too easily to the assumptions of the state when we did not have to. Much of that was fostered by the experience of the Church under the Turkish Yoke, IMO.

    The current chief of staff to the President of the US is an Archon of the Greek Orthodox Church and occupies the highest office ever held by a member of the Orthodox Church in this country. I don’t know if that is good or bad.

    May God have mercy on him and strengthen him which ever the case.

  12. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    Great article Father. As I grow in the faith I see more and more truth in your words. I just watched the evening news and watched our President claim that he would solve the world’s problems. i had two thoughts. One was to be amazed at the arrogance of that statement and the other was to be reminded of what happens when we as persons or as rulers do what is right in our own eyes…..great evil.

  13. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    All modern politicians are in service to the myth of progress and it’s twin God’s of will and technology.

    The Church either forms the state or state deforms or persecutes the Church.

    The book Everyday Saints has many such stories. My favorite is the one about the dissolute monks who had lived scandalous lives. They were brought before Soviet authorities and told to deny Christ or die. The Abbot looked at his brothers and said, we have not lived as Christians but we may as well die like Christians.

  14. Dean Avatar

    Yes, Michael. I just read that the advocacy group, Open Doors USA, reported that 90,000 Christians were killed worldwide last year for their faith. And 600 million were not able to openly practice their faith due to intimidation, bodily harm, etc. This is the 2nd year in a row that Christians were the most persecuted religious group. Having lived in Mexico, I was surprised to see that 23 were killed there because of an open profession of faith. It does appear that Christians are more and more in the crosshairs.

  15. KC Avatar

    Wonderful article! I love the thought experiment in the first part of the article. I would like to hear more about how “the reduction of the Church and the rise of the nation-state are unintended consequences of the Reformation”. I don’t doubt that you are correct, but would like to understand the point better.


  16. Lewis Avatar

    Your blog is a rebuke to Christians enraptured by the ongoing politics — as if some kind of Christian era were being re-established. They appear to expect the nation-state to compensate for their failure to be the Church.

  17. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    KC, loik at the basics: Reformation challenges the authority of the Pope; gradually as the conflict grows, the religious “choice” is turned over to the particular head of state. Gradually, the “secular solution” was arrived at in which the appearance of religion becomes the norm and “The Prince” is born, the rationalism of the non-Enlightenment holds sway. Religion becomes more and more private, the state more and more ascendant. The moralism lives off the Christian reality supposedly defeated.

    Still, the statists know they have not won as long as any flame of Christian faith no matter how attenuated burns so eventually, they go hunting.

  18. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I am a bit more critical of “symphonia” than some Orthodox. Emperors and Tsars have often caused more trouble than not for the Church – sponsoring any number of heresies, and trying to turn the Orthodox Church into a Lutheran department of state in post-Petrine Russia. Symphonia is, properly, an effort to speak about how the state would function in an Orthodox setting and is indeed an ideal. Note that the double-headed eagle is one eagle – not two kingdoms. Symphonia only works if the Emperor is submitted to God and acts as a servant. On the whole, it has rarely been manifested.

    Also, I might add that there is a world of difference between the notion of a monarchy and the notion of the nation-state. The nation-state effectively destroyed monarchy and substituted a secular/self-creation rather than the notion of the monarch as divinely-appointed servant. A leader needs to have someone greater than himself, and must walk humbly.

  19. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    On the rise of the nation-state and reduction of the Church. The medieval synthesis that was Western Europe had a patchwork of monarchies and a single Church. The single Church was the greater unity, something that tied Europe together and mitigated the power of any single monarch. Not at all perfect but certainly not a nation-state. The nation-states begin to grow at the very time the Church is ruptured in the Reformation – various rulers using the opportunity of the Church being broken from Rome to latch onto the Church as a way of growing their own independent state. Europe became a patch-work of various monarchies, duchies and the like with independent Protestant Churches. Eventually those Churches decline. They no longer transcend their own locale and become little more than a department of state. With the rise of democracies, the state is completely unlinked from the Church and the Church becomes irrelevant – the state becoming everything.

    Stanley Hauerwas has noted that before the rise of the nation-state, it was hard to get Christians to kill Christians (or Catholics to kill Catholics). After the nation state you could get Christians to kill each other with great ease (cf. WWI). He noted that many say that it is wrong to kill in the name of God. But with the nation state, you can get them to kill for something much less.

    Here is a question. What constitutes “national interest?” We have been starting wars all over the planet in the name of national interests – but it’s pretty vague. The Byzantine Empire, many have noted, eventually shrank because it was almost never expansionist. As a Christian empire, it tended not to seek domination – rather Christianization. At the most, it sought to regain its earlier boundaries from time to time, but not to go further. It’s a thought.

    My primary critique of the modern nation state is first – its marriage to the principles of modernity. Second – its absolute claims without reference to God. I argue that there can be no such thing as secularism because there is no such thing as something independent of God. A state that does not recognize God does not recognize anything greater than itself nor anything to which it must submit, or by which it may be judged. That’s dangerous. Too dangerous. We currently live in secular democracies that are “superstitious.” They act a lot like previous Christian nations, but only out of a superstitious treatment of the past – being cautious not to go too far, too soon. The superstition is beginning to wear off and the dark mask of other things is beginning to appear. We will get either Nietzsche’s will to power (in the guise of the modern project) or much darker, primitive forces of nativism and unbridled passion.

    The two verses you cited – Caesar and St. Paul’s reference to the sword in Romans 13, are pretty much the only 2 verses in the NT that have anything positive to say about the State. The first one is a bit of a joke – Jesus turning a coin into a way to deal with a tricky question. The second one is ironic (that very sword cut of St. Paul’s head).

    The amount of hogwash that has been built on the thin soil of Romans 13 over the centuries is amazing. Everything from Luther’s 2 swords, etc. to justifying Hitler as God-appointed. Paul simply advocates respect for authority – a consistent message in his letters. There is simply insufficient foundation for a full-blown theory in that passage. There is far more material, however, that offers a critique of power. That theme is found throughout the NT.

  20. jacksson Avatar

    Dean said:
    It does appear that Christians are more and more in the crosshairs.

    When I was a mechanized infantry platoon sergeant in the army (and a Christian), I used to ask the Christians in the platoon the following:

    “When you hear them checking the head space and timing on the 50 calibers, will you deny Christ?” They knew what I meant and were generally silent. I ask myself that question even today 30-40 years later.

  21. Dino Avatar

    We cannot exactly be happy with the permanent ‘authorisation’ of “the world”, [which lies in the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19)], as is implied in “Statism”. This secular ‘religion’ of statism, is one of the darkest ‘opiums of the masses’.
    Whether it produces a holodomor like Mao’s ‘great leap forward’ (killing 45 million in less than four years), or just an inanely contented “two-storey universe” (a huxlean torpor), it’s utopian-heaven-on-earth aims are a delusion that would never be allowed for long by our Merciful Lord…(Genesis 11:17)

  22. Will Harrington Avatar
    Will Harrington

    “Stanley Hauerwas has noted that before the rise of the nation-state, it was hard to get Christians to kill Christians (or Catholics to kill Catholics). After the nation state you could get Christians to kill each other with great ease (cf. WWI)”

    I am entirely unconvinced by this statement. The Christian west was built on the foundation of a warrior culture and I don’t find any real evidence that warfare was less endemic in Europe before the reformation and would submit that the reason it got so bad after the reformation is because better military technology and increasing wealth allowed princes and kings to put more men under arms with better armaments.

    It should also be noted that the Nation State is not artificial, at least not entirely. The Nation State began to arise before the reformation as the peoples of Europe, in conflict with each other, discovered that they were peoples. The Scots found their nationhood in opposition to English invasions, The English and the French found theirs in the Hundred Years war.(all Catholics quite happily killing each other) France, in particular, proves the point that nation states are not artificial as the(arguably) high-point of the French Nation State was under the Sun King, an absolute Monarch of an old royal house who famously said “L’État, c’est moi”. Louis XIV represented the French as God’s appointed ruler and embodied the State. A Nation State must have two qualities. It must embody a nation, a people who recognize themselves as a people, and it must have a government that governs the aforementioned people within defined borders. I would argue that some powers that get lumped in with Nation States aren’t. The Soviet Union was not a nation state. Yugoslavia was not, neither was Czechoslovakia. So. what is my point? The Nation State would have arisen without the reformation and, indeed, several were already well established before the reformation. The monarchs who ruled these states were already disinclined to share power with the Church; there were already struggles over who would get to chose Bishops, for example. The English reformation was entirely the result of Henry VIII refusing to bow to the authority of the Pope.
    So, while I agree wholeheartedly with your overall point, I think invoking Reformation is entirely unnecessary to account for the enmity states (whether Nation States or Empires) have toward the Church. Sure, the devastation of the Wars of Religion and the Thirty Years war made it easier for the States to exact concessions from the (by then) churches, but the Nation States were already growing in power and growing jealous of power.

  23. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I agree with your observation about the nation state having roots predating the Reformation. I don’t think the Reformation could have occurred without the political support of those burgeoning nation states. The reasons behind that are fairly complex. I like Brad Gregory’s Unintended Reformation for a much broader and deeper treatment. But I would cite his work as substantiating my statement regarding the rise of the nation state and the diminution of the Church.

    Hauerwas likes to say outrageous things. He would be the last one, however, to think that the Reformation and the nation state invented war and killing. WWI, however, is and remains an amazingly egregious and tragic example of the state silencing Christianity exacerbated by the technology, no doubt.

  24. Brian Avatar


    I wouldn’t dare comment on the Hitler/Bonheoffer question. But with regard to “Then render unto Caesar…”

    On one level it certainly applies to paying taxes and respecting civil government. The Apostles, of course, speak of these things. But my own attention has always been drawn to Christ’s main question:

    “Whose is this image and superscription?”

    He points primarily to the image and the name and says that it therefore belongs to the one whose image and name it bears. It strikes me that His words are, perhaps, less about government and taxation than they are about the truth of who we are and to whom we belong – that we, and the people of Israel before us who were called by His Name and to whom He spoke these words, bear God’s image and Name.

    “…and to God the things that are God’s.”

  25. sbdn andrew Avatar
    sbdn andrew

    Perhaps a contributing author to this discussion is the epic investigation by Ernst H. Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Medieval Political Theology. From it, he points to Augustine’s commentary on the Psalter and interesting precedent: “Unless Christ has his state he lacks his fisc.” And eventually, the fisc (funding) evolved from a charitable practice to one of taxation and bonded fealty to one’s “state” as a form of “patria” (allegience to one’s country) grounded in crusadel humanism paid for through self-sacrifice–the ideal of the hero dying for one’s “fatherland.” The whole confusion resulting from church and state mirroring was the notion of one’s patria being the Kingdom of Heaven…the Church…and then, the Kingdom of France, etc. etc. Underlying this development was the ever changing gnostic tactic of what is understood by the “corpus mysticum” to which fanciful jurisprudence would apply to the corporate state and it’s eventual modern project of “fictionalizing” (and ultimately monetizing) the person into that corporate body.

    Sit in any court proceding as an observer and you will find a subtle obfiscation and enjoining the person in flesh and blood, to that invisible and bodiless “fisc” –the “body politic,” and you will very quickly understand the war between the eucharistic renewal of Christ’s Body and illusion of an “immortal” (deep) state.

    As Kantorowicz points out, Justitia and Prudentia were goddesses in pagan antiquity meant to “represent forces perpetually effective or forms of Being perpetually valid…” and symbolized in a “haloed” sense in the form of a nimbus, ring or high-lighted “cloud.” Legalize has adopted this strategy over the centuries to signify all things corporately fiscal and jurisdictionally “pledged” to the State by surrounding them in a “capitalized” emphasis. Kantorowicz further states, “…whenever we capitalize a notion and, in the English language, even change the gender from neuter to feminine, we actually are “haloing” the word or the notion and are indicating its semipiternity as an idea of power.” In other words, “justice” in the modern state is a transconsubstantiation of the flesh into a fictional stakeholder that is perpetually passed on to carry its liabilities; and for that, we are admonished by our Christ, to not have allegiance: give back to “the god” what belongs to “the god”–and be freed in baptism to the only sovereign God and everlasting King!

  26. Isaac Avatar

    Fr Stephen and everybody,

    a few quick thoughts:

    –thanks for an incredibly rich discussion. It’s so obvious that Fr S has found a way to live a kind of academic life and talk with intellectually vibrant people, but not have to do with 20 year old college students. Touche’!

    –I have gotten, and am on board with Fr S’ main point about the modern state’s self articulation in the premises of modernity and its ideological autocracy, but, as somebody said above, Orthodox history does seem to have a more robust notion of the state as being at times a partner with the church than Fr S is allowing for. I know he dealt with Symphonia above in the follow up comments. He said this:

    Symphonia is, properly, an effort to speak about how the state would function in an Orthodox setting and is indeed an ideal. Note that the double-headed eagle is one eagle – not two kingdoms. Symphonia only works if the Emperor is submitted to God and acts as a servant. On the whole, it has rarely been manifested.

    Ok, but it is, nonetheless, an existing ideal. Fr S has also spoken favorably above about monarchy. It seems to me that we will never, in Orthodoxy, get away from the fact that there was once a Christian Roman empire and where the state stood in balance with the church (unlike the situation in the Latin world where the states [plural] came to stand under the church. We celebrate this church state connection in the liturgy. The processions are taken from Roman triumphal parades and state pageantry. The whole culturally embodied nature of Orthodoxy is just “fatter” than what you get in denuded Protestantism, and that bespeaks its comfort at having a place in the world, in society, and at times co-operating with the state.

    If you look at something like the Iconoclast controversy, and study these and other examples (we should look for more in fact but I don’t know of them), the controversy ends in the ninth century as a triumph of monastic thought and direction in the church against the emperors. Writers like John of Damascus, writing to his monastic brothers and sisters in Greek circulated ideas that actually brought down the imperial support of iconoclasm. Another example might be Maximos the Confessor standing up for the two wills of Christ and presenting us his brilliant theological synthesis against the wishes of the court.

    —and finally, I really appreciate sbdcn Andrew bringing in Kantorowicz. But it seems to me that you are giving us a kind of materialist reading that could easily be applied to what happens WITHIN the church. I’ve long wanted to sit down and read K. I honestly just need to declare that I am going to do it right here and now since I have a quote from him at the very top of something I am working on getting published, but K is looking to me just like a Feurbach or Weber or that school, ie “it’s all in the economy.” You provide an out in the final sentence though. But it seems this “haloing” goes on all the time. When somebody donates an expensive icons to a church, or a new set of vestments, then uses the recognition of this to their advantage within the church community, this kind of thing is happening. But I appreciate being made aware that the very materiality of the church is something that can be both a source of correction and problem at once.

  27. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The Emperor and his Kingdom (pageantry, etc.) were clearly seen (and are seen) as an icon of the Kingdom. But it was the Kingdom that gave them any meaning at all. Only as the Emperor fulfills his role is the icon true and not a mockery. His Kingdom must become the Kingdom of our Lord and His Christ. I could imagine a historical path in which an Emperor truly submitted (and a line of Emperors) peacefully moves forward in Symphonia towards the Kingdom until it is consummated at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

    But, alas, we are clearly told that such a path will not be ours. Christ’s words and the Apostolic Witness speak of a different trajectory of history. It speaks of things becoming worse until they are unbearable, then God intervenes.

    What we actually have, I think, in the Orthodox mind today, is a confusion of symphonia and the modern project. The modern project wants to fix things and create a better world. Orthodox in the modern world think, “I have the answer! It’s symphonia!” Symphonia is indeed, a proper icon, but it is not given to us as a historical path – it’s simply not going to happen. Historically, the icon was only occasionally manifest. Most often, the Empire and the Emperor abused symphonia – repeatedly. Peter the Great and his successors consistently sought to turn the Church into a Lutheranized department of state, for example. The Byzantine Emperors, at the end, sought to submit the Church to the Latins for military safety. And so on.

    But the culprit in our thinking is the modern project – and the drive towards a better world instead of the eschatological fulfillment of the Kingdom.

    I personally believe that God gave us the icon of the kingdom in a short period to sow the seed in our hearts and raise the desire for the kingdom – but not as an answer to the modern project. As I noted, Christians are the ultimate monarchists. But I don’t want some ersatz modern project version. Distorted images are almost worse than no image at all.

    Kantorowicz is completely new to me.

  28. Photini Avatar

    I wonder if there is a typo in this sentence: “the Church neither then, nor later, agreed to the anything beyond the convenience of the State”.

    Thanks for an excellent article!

  29. Deacon John Vaporis Avatar
    Deacon John Vaporis

    Father, I believe you have mentioned previously, how our pubic schools have become religious education centers for the state’s ideological autocracy. As a public high school librarian, I have found certain towns to be antagonistic towards Christians. Years ago, when I was a librarian at the high school in Concord, MA, Thoreau, and Emerson’s backyard, we were told one December in the library that we were not allowed to use the colors green and red lest we allude to Christmas. I walk up and down the halls and hear the not so subtle lessons of indoctrination to the state religion. I do love and appreciate this country but it is not my idol.

    Speaking of idols, this past Friday was “Pats” day at my present school. Most of the teachers, minus myself and some others, wore New England Patriots shirts. I enjoy sport of all kind but I do not identify myself through it. I try, as best as my sinful and fallen self can, to identify only with our risen Lord.

    Deacon john

    Too Much Self-Reliance?
    “Self-Reliance.” Did the great Ralph Waldo Emerson get it wrong? Have we? Have we turned self-reliance into self-centeredness?

  30. Janine Avatar

    Fr Stephen,
    Thank you very much for your last comment. In a class several years ago, it became apparent to me that in the great councils it was the emperors whose positions and favorites lost out, giving us a taste of what you describe. Recently I have felt in prayer that the challenge we or I am on the way toward is just hanging onto my faith. I am trying to put that into proper perspective and priority now.

  31. Deacon James Avatar
    Deacon James

    Just a few thoughts into this discussion that stretches my intellect.

    My understanding as an Orthodox Christian is that the Church has never understood Herself (note the feminine gender) as an earthly institution. The Presence of the Church in the world is the Presense of Christ in the world. She speaks, as does Her Lord, Eternal to temporal. Therein lies the tension. Therein lies the war.

    The allegiance a Christian has to God is absolute. To live as a peaceful, law abiding (obedient in monarchial times) citizen is a subset of that absolute obedience to Christ. When the two come into conflict, Christ wins, hands down.

    In the temporal realm the modern project it seems has redefined what it means to be a human being. A Christian human being is one who accepts T(t)ruth as coming from outside to inside. Accepting this Truth is the light yoke.

    A modern human being is one who finds the ‘light yoke of freedom’ by defining truth from within. Truth is not revealed. Truth is constructed from within.

    The modern nation state is a temporary entity that appeals to modernity’s concept of self determining truth while concurrently relying on the assumed body of revealed Christian truth for any public coherence that constitutes a governable public.

    Currently,I see the modern state in a state of failure. Modernity’s selfdefining, isolationizing approach to truth is at the core of this failure. As the common understanding of revealed Christian morality diminishes, the fragmentation of society increases, and the success of the modern concept of the nation state decreases as the definitions of truth become more individualistic. Modernity’s experimentation with multiculturalism has only fueled this sense of individualistic isolation.

    Divide and conquer makes for discontents susceptible to commercial marketing ploys, but like a heated pot of water, eventually leads to molecules so separated from one another that they boil over.

    Christ’s Kingdom is the antithesis.

  32. Ron Dudum Avatar

    The previous three articles by Fr. Stephen and their subsequent discussions have been very interesting to me.

    I would respectively submit that the Reformation had little to do with today’s modern understanding of nation/state, unless you are referring the the western church’s problem with Galileo. It was the Enlightenment, reason’s conquering of faith, that established individuals as the undisputed ‘center of the universe.’

  33. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I would refer you to Brad Gregory’s Unintended Reformation for a solid analysis of this. The Enlightenment does not occur apart from the Reformation. But the Reformation itself is part of a complex process. I think Gregory’s analysis is very much worth a read.

  34. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Did Ralph Waldo Emerson get wrong? You bet he did. He was an enemy of God in much the same way as Nietzsche was. RWE came earlier, but the tenor of their thought was quite similar.

  35. Jared Schumacher Avatar
    Jared Schumacher

    Interesting discussion.

    Fr. Stephen, if the name Kantorowicz is new to you, the so too might be the dominate academic discussion going on at the moment over what his work means. That discussion is happening under the moniker “political theology”, which as it happens, I am doing my dissertation on. The debate begins with Carl Schmitt’s “Political Theology” and proceeds through Kantorowicz into the present. The debate revolves around what gives modern legal concepts like “sovereignty” or “legitimacy” their essence or power. Schmitt famously argues that they are in fact secularized theological concepts, and get their meaning from theology, Kantorowicz applying this insight to the principle of “the king’s two bodies” in English common law. The basic point, which is in substantial agreement with your post, is that modern statehood and its theory of law and order are derived from theology, indeed are secular appropriations of those concepts. That it is “the sovereign” who gives law, and his fiat that determines “legitimacy” are historical vestiges of a theological worldview, in other words, one which modernity (understood politically as the nation-state) on the one hand tried to overthrow, on the other hand to instrumentalize.

    Anyway, someone in the debate holding your essential position, who is also a former student of Hauerwas, is William Cavanaugh. He has several books and articles which are immediately pertinent to your points. “Migrations of the Holy” is his argument that nationalism constitutes a secular “religion” in imitation of Christianity. His article “Killing for the telephone company” reinforces your point about the state being, at best, a “convenience” or as he calls it, the view of the state as “service provider” (but, also, what is wrong/dangerous with viewing it this way). And his “Myth of Religious Violence”, while technically addressing matters in the field of sociology of religion, can be read as further proof that the Church and the State are locked in ideological-ontological battle. Given many of the responses above, it also might be good to read “If we render unto God the things that are God’s, what is left for Caesar?”

  36. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Thanks for pointing me to some more reading. I might have overlapped with Cavanaugh at Duke – not sure. It was being with Hauerwas that helped me learn to “deconstruct” various claims and notions (like the notion of the nation state, etc.). Hauerwas really doesn’t do anything with ontological work, that I can recall, which can easily leave everything as a political “construct.” These thoughts, for me, are not at all about how politics should be done (it will be done badly and with violence as far as I can tell). But it does help me think carefully about my life as an Orthodox Christian and the singular loyalty to the Kingdom of God. Thanks for the comment! Good luck on your dissertation work. Where are you doing your studies?

  37. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Jared, any insight on what seems to be the dissolution of the nation-state by what is called globalism?

  38. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    A quick note of thanks to Jared who commented earlier. I bought Cavanaugh’s Migrations of the Holy and am burning through it. It’s a very, very amicable treatment of the topic – helping me ever so much!

  39. Janine Avatar

    One may or may not consider this entirely relevant, but it seems to me that there are many modern elements of social “organization” we take for granted that are in fact derived from faith or theology. I would put the whole concept of human rights (and laws designed to protect them) into this category. Even social practices like “good manners” in my opinion come from religious ideas that confer how we are to treat one another. The problem comes when these issues become abstractions taken to absurd levels in their detachment from the original context. The absurdity of some current identity politics stands come to mind.

  40. Jared Schumacher Avatar
    Jared Schumacher

    Glad you like the book. Everything by Cavanaugh can be recommended, as far as I am concerned. I am reading his newest, “Field Hospital” now, also excellent, though more a work of ecclesiology than political theology.

    When were you at Duke? 90s? I did my MDIV there, 03-07. Were you there earlier? Hauerwas had a similar effect on me; I entered a fundamentalist evangelical, and left a confused Protestant, only to end up, still under his influence, a devote Catholic (studying at KU Leuven).

    I share the Augustinian suspicion of the political with you as well. I am, however, in agreement with the Thomist position that government would have existed in the garden, i.e. that it is natural to humanity. But government does not necessarily mean “the state”, or “the political”. The Catholic church holds a balance of Augustinian suspicion and Thomist governmental naturalism, in my view: on the one hand, postlapsarian politics will always go wrong; on the other, it can be strategically engaged with, prayed for, and participated in to the extent that it doesn’t compromise the Faith. I think this is the healthy Christian balance: pray for Caesar, work with him if called, convert him if you can, but certainly don’t kill him, all the while being aware that he very well may try to kill you, especially if you are doing your job right.

    Cavanaugh addresses your question to some extent in “Theopolical Imagination” and other places. While it is true that we are entering a new phase of nation-statism with the rise of globalism, Cavanaugh analyzes the symbiotic relationship that perdures between multinational corporations and the nation-state even under the condition of globalization. The centers of ideological power have shifted to multinationals, it is true, but they still require the nation state to exist and preform its function in order to police people practically and in order to insure corporate property rights. So globalism changes the configuration of power, but the same basic principles are at work, just hidden a bit more. So it is very much a “seeming-to” with respect to the dissolution of the nation state; something like the “state” will exist as long as “rights”, “law”, “contracts”, etc. are ideas people care about enough to kill for them.

    In the near future I expect the continued blending of corporate interests and national politics, or else, a revival of socialism, depending on how poorly the former goes (Trump is basically the trial ballon of the “state as corporation” experiment; it will inevitably fail, of course, because the state is in theory supposed to protect people from the wanton pursuit of money, but it might function for a while before the wheels come flying off).

    you are right, and I am in complete agreement. But not just laws that protect human rights, the very conception of law itself is theologically derived. And I don’t just mean modern law, although that too, but law period. It is a well accepted fact that, although the Stoics held to a universal human nature and natural law prior to Christianity, it was the Christian appropriation of it that mattered. Canon law is the oldest continuously operating legal code in the world. Concerning the conception of human rights, it is also well accepted that these can be attributed to the Salamanca School. As a general rule, everything good in modernity is derived, in one way or another, from Christianity.

  41. Jared Schumacher Avatar
    Jared Schumacher

    Correction: Globalism is discussed more in “Being Consumed”, though also a little in “Theopolical Imagination”.

  42. Janine Avatar

    Thank you Jared. As a fan of R. Girard (but I have not read everything he wrote) it has seemed to me that Christ’s story as overarching Myth – if you will – gives us a basic sense of the imperfection of human justice. In this sense we strive to protect the innocent with laws designed to do so even at the cost of acquitting the guilty. There seems no way to underestimate His impact on us.

  43. Janine Avatar

    Oops…I mean overestimate, not underestimate, above

  44. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I was at Duke 88-91 in the Doctoral Program – though I wound up stopping and turning my work into a terminal MA. Long story.

  45. Jared Schumacher Avatar
    Jared Schumacher

    I love Girard. Mimetic desire and Scapegoating are essential concepts, not only for understanding Christianity, but as valuable explanations of human behavior more broadly. And you are right about the “myth” aspect of Christianity. Lewis’ understanding of Christianity as “True Myth” I think captures the essence of Christianity’s explanatory power, its subtle but powerful balance of reason and imagination, of history and idealism, of the past and the future.

  46. Janine Avatar

    Thank you again Jared and for all the conversation! I haven’t read Cavanaugh. I look forward to reading the article you posted above. God bless …

  47. Byron Avatar

    A side note. The Onlinelibrary has Cavanaugh’s Killing for the Telephone Company. The link below.

  48. Dee of St Herman's Avatar
    Dee of St Herman’s

    Thank you Byron for the link. I’ve obtained a $6 rental of the article and reading it over the next 48 hours. I suspect the article provides a summary of Cavanaugh’s thesis–worth reading if one is lacking time for reading one of his books.

    Fr Stephen, this discussion and your previous articles have been very helpful for us–I’m very grateful for them. There is a lot to digest and understand for those of us who have not been exposed to the political history of the ‘nation-state’ especially as it applies to the Reformation, Renaissance and Orthodoxy. That we are experiencing the continued ‘fall-out’ between people of power contending each other about their holdings of their power is no surprise. But finding and navigating the path that belongs to Christ can be difficult sometimes without a larger perspective. And I appreciate what I’m learning.

    Please forgive me if these following thoughts are a bit off track. I keep seeing the philosophical underpinnings of these politics spilling over into many areas of our life and society including an almost invisible selection of how and by whom science is conducted and used. A few concerns I have include the operational definitions of the concepts we casually use (i.e.. do we know and all agree on what a word means and if we don’t agree how do we resolve that), the distinction between fact and opinion, and the distinction between reliability and validity. It seems that such distinctions are increasingly blurred by rhetoric.

  49. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Rhetoric is, indeed, a key. If I understand 20th century history within academia, Marxist thought, running largely through efforts such as “deconstructionism,” etc., in literary theory, has come to have a very persuasive and dominant impact. In that model, power is the goal, the only thing that makes something “right.” Language is simply a tool. Rhetoric is the art of wielding language in a manner to achieve a desired goal (nothing more). There’s sort of a “trickle down” effect in these things – not all departments are literary studies – but pretty much all non-science programs have been hi-jacked by this rhetorical dominance. It cannot help but bleed over into math and science at some point.

    I know enough about science to know that data and the interpretation of data are very different things. The interpretation of data is quickly becoming a literary event, i.e. a political event. Everything is becoming politics in the larger, Marxist sense.

    The Soviet Union fell, the Iron Curtain came down, and university departments in the arts became the last refuge of the revolution. When I was in grad school at Duke, I had a friend who was on the faculty at the University of Beijing, who was doing some post-doc work at Duke. He laughed and said he had never(!) met a Marxist until he came to Duke.

  50. Ron Dudum Avatar

    When speaking of language I believe Owen Barfield to be very helpful. I’ve read three of his books, History in English Words, Poetic Diction and Saving the Appearances.

    He observes that Greek words have both an inner and outer meaning as demonstrated in John (3:8) ‘The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is every one who is born of the Spirit.’ The Greek word ‘pneuma’ is used for both ‘wind’ and ‘spirit’.

    Furthermore, he states that the dual meaning is literally lost in translation to Latin in that separate words are used for a word’s internal and external meaning. Latin, he says, is excellent for governance and organization, but Greek is superior in the exploration of the divine.

  51. Jordan Avatar

    I’ve worked for a bit in a research lab at a major US university and from what I and others have observed, I can say confidently that the collection of data is a “political event” as well. The Principle Investigators are almost like demi-gods in their labs. They already know what result they want to get, and impose their will on the processes of data collection to ensure that this is the result they will get.

  52. Dee of St Herman's Avatar
    Dee of St Herman’s

    As a scientist and former professor in the field of chemistry, I don’t doubt what you have observed in data collection. However, the work is reviewed before being published and the reviewers ought to pick up on skewed sampling procedures or data collection procedures. In the end there will be flack (putting it mildly) if it is found to be so deliberately skewed and in the end the reputation of the scientist who does such work will become mud. One thing I used to tell my students is this, if you see two scientists arguing about methods, they’re actually doing science. But if they are arguing experimental results without reference to their methods and the rationale for their methods, then they are arguing politics.

    I have dealt with scientists whose work was deeply funded by corporate interests in the academic field. And as a result, their work was suspect. In other words I “outed” them by referring to their methodology. I wasn’t exactly popular among some of these ‘colleagues’. But the scientist I refer to was a geologist and I was a chemist. Some fields may be more susceptible to funding influences. If the work happens to be in an area that is already highly politicized, take heed of who is funding the work.

  53. Jordan Avatar

    I have only observed social-behavioral research (i.e., the “soft sciences”). It seems to be quite easy to hide flawed methodology and a priori assumptions (which are often unreflected on the part of the investigator) in those fields.

  54. Jared Schumacher Avatar
    Jared Schumacher


    The people I return to most often when interfacing with questions of meaning and science are the Polanyi brothers, Karl and Michael. Michael’s “personal knowledge” is immediately relevant for critiquing a positivist account of scientific knowledge, which most “hard” scientists still assume or rely on, to some extent. The Wiki article on him is a pretty good summary of the point:

    Method alone cannot lead you to “the facts” because the selection of method is outside the method itself, having been arrived at prior to testing the hypothesis. However, an extreme form of Polanyi’s insight will lead ineluctably to postmodern relativism and the denial of any objective truth. Meaning becomes, as Fr. Stephen has mentioned, about power. But disagreeing minor-ly with Stephen, it is not merely “the interpretation of data” that is becoming “a literary event”, it is also ––in agreement with what Jordan said above––the collection of data itself that is quickly being realized to be inherently “literary”; at least, to the extent that politics has corrupted our view of nature to the point that it is seen as a tabula rasa upon which man stamps his desires into “meanings”, and thus open to unlimited iterations of power dynamics.

    Alasdair MacIntyre has brought the practical consequences of this realization into the light: If knowledge is personal, we despair of any shared or ultimate or objective meaning; if it isn’t personal, we wonder who the “I” is that is the knowing agent, or what difference such “impersonal” knowledge makes. MacIntyre’s “Three Rival Versions of Moral Inquiry” radicalizes the problem, because one can no longer appeal to the givenness of a “human reason” to settle matters concerning “facts”, given that there are at least three different and irreconcilable understandings of “reason” prominent today. So what is to be done?

    MacIntyre’s project, as I understand it, is to show that tradition-specific appeals to reason still hold plausibility, so long as tradition is understood as a kind of dialogue across time and the tradition itself names a more or less coherent “form of life” which is identifiable. Knowledge is not purely relative, not merely personal, but relative to the worldview inherent in a shared tradition, i.e. relative to a tradition’s natural, metaphysical and epistemological assumptions and its modus vivendi. That tradition has the best claim to knowledge which can out-narrative other traditions of inquiry, spinning a more encompassing web of knowledge, a more savory view of the world. In MacIntyre’s mind, the “Church” names such a tradition, and indeed names the most definite tradition of knowledge so conceived.

    Your anecdote about arguing “methods” vs. “results without reference to methods” is a MacIntyrian insight, given that methods are relative to a worldview framework which lies in the background set of assumptions which explain the pertinence of the method selected to the data set it generates. True scientific argument occurs when methodological assumptions are questioned, because only then does the background worldview surface, only then is it brought into the light for critical appraisal.

    PS- anyone else interested in Cavanaugh articles should message me on facebook…i have most all of them. Two of particular interest might be “If We Render Unto God the Things that are God’s, What is Left for Caesar?”, scriptural and theological argument for re-reading that passage, and his early piece “A FIRE STRONG ENOUGH TO CONSUME THE HOUSE: THE WARS OF RELIGION AND THE RISE OF THE STATE”, which was later developed into the book “Myth of Religious Violence”. The latter is a succinct history of the rise of nation-statism as a modern phenomenon, and its “war” against the Christian Church.

  55. Jordan Avatar

    Father Stephen,
    I am very interested in the historical basis for this claim that you make:
    “Though it has become common for many to tout the so-called “Constantinian Shift” as some major turning point in the life of the Church, the Church neither then, nor later, agreed to the anything beyond the State as convenience.”

    I frequently encounter the narrative that the rule of Constantine was the beginning of a captivity of the Church, and “real” Christianity persisted outside of empire in the form of the hermits and monks who fled the decadence of state-sponsored religion. These desert fathers + mothers recognized that an allegiance between state and church would corrupt the church and co-opt it in the name of state-building. A concomitant claim is that the church only flourishes outside of the centers of political and cultural power.

    I am interested in researching the validity of this story. Can you recommend any primary or secondary sources to begin with, specifically regarding the Constantinian moment? At the very least I think it ignores the fact that desert monasticism predates Constantine.

  56. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It’s simply a historical fiction, no less. Many, many saints lived in the Empire. Some even served in the Emperor’s court. Constantinople at one point certainly had 10’s of thousands of monks. Compromise with the state and political intrigues is simply one of many sins – little more, nothing less.

    What there is, however, is a lazy intelligence that wants to construct false models with facile answers. That, too, is a sin, but so common that it’s hardly noticed.

    The Fathers, for example, of the First Council under Constantine, were with only a few exceptions, confessors who had suffered and been tortured for the faith. They are not the stuff of compromise.

    I’ll dig around for some sources.

  57. Jordan Avatar

    Thank you Father. I suspect that there is a theological dispute hidden behind the historical debate about the church’s relationship with the political powers of the time. Indifference or apatheia seems the only possibly response; whether the church identifies itself with the state or rejects the state, both seem to lead to a singularly political interpretation of the kingdom of God. In the latter case the church becomes only an alternative to the state, and therefore its own political solution. At least this is what I see in the anabaptist church I am a part of. This narrative about Constantine is a linchpin and I don’t understand it as well as I should.

  58. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    There is indeed a lot of theological material in the question. I take it to be a given that Christ alone is King and God. That is an absolute affirmation in the Church. Indeed, in the Orthodox baptism service we are asked, “Do you believe in Christ?” and answer, “I believe in Him as King and as God.”

    That said, we must say that whatever the State is, it is relative and subsidiary. It is not equal, nor can it be greater. Of course we do not live in a culture in which the Church has anything like the loyalty of most citizens, so the question of formal relations is pretty moot.

    But that the Church is first and foremost and not subsidiary to the State is important. The consequences of that are where the conversation has to lie.

    A good read on Church history (from an Orthodox perspective) might be Schmemann’s Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy. It’s quite honest and straightforward rather than agenda-driven.

    The Protestant and Anabaptist narratives assume that “something went wrong” which is the only excuse for doing what they did to the Church (starting pretty much from scratch). It’s not only a radical thought – it presumes that God abandoned the Church at some point. Constantine is an easy mark, historically, and has become the beating boy of many. But it is bogus history, that assumes from the beginning that there is a problem and a culprit to which we (in the modern world) are going to construct an answer.

    God did not establish His Body in such a frail manner that it suddenly crashed as soon as the Emperor became a Christian. That the Orthodox Church has continued, largely without change, until the present moment, professing the same doctrine, etc., belies the charges of a Constantinian collapse.

  59. Jordan Avatar

    Interesting. As to your comment about “presuming that God abandoned the Church at some point”- the way many protestants solve this is to actually just change the meaning of church from a concrete, historical communion to an idea- e.g,. the kerygma, or the so-called invisible body of Christ the contents of which usually seems to reflect individual biases.
    I will check out Schemann; this isn’t the first time he’s been rec’d to me.

  60. Cyneath Ian Christian Avatar

    A word of caution, re: Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy.

    Fr. Stephen recommended that book to me about a year ago, while I was reading other acclaimed early church history books. I cannot think of anything specific he said, or any historical ‘facts’ that he added, that countered my Protestant perception that the True Church had been destroyed in its assimilation by the state. Yet, Schmemann’s manner of speaking about the ‘Constaninian shift’, and many other matters, overcame my disbelief of the Holy Spirit’s continuous work in the Body of Christ, which after all was my objective.

    That same Spirit, a couple months later, drew me to observe a Divine Liturgy just before Pascha. I was blown away, one might say, by the simple beauty of the worship and the constant prayer which was so alien to my Evangelical experience. I went, and still do, to every service possible: baptisms, funerals, and weddings, vespers, orthros, paraklesis, and akathists. Perhaps I was fortunate in happening into a ‘convert’ parish (est. 1996), where the (attending) members actively participate in making the Kingdom here on earth. Needless to say, within a few weeks I became a Catechumen, aching to receive the precious Body and Blood of my Savior. Then, finding through prayer, that all the Saints, too, ached for my reception of God’s glorious Illumination, my reservations no longer mattered as I found I could, as the Psalmist says, put ALL my Trust in God.

    May your journey be so blest.

  61. Jordan Avatar

    Thank you, Cyneath, for your blessing. Your story is encouraging. I am more intrigued to pick up a copy of this book.
    I pray that God would keep you.

  62. Jared Schumacher Avatar
    Jared Schumacher

    Fr. Stephen,

    Given your (in my opinion, correct) analysis of the flawed history of most (all?) Protestant sectarians, I was wondering about how you think your analysis does or does not redound on the Great Schism and Orthodoxy more broadly. As a Catholic, I am tempted to apply the same formal criticism to Orthodoxy, and would be tempted to argue that its own inability to reform (case in point, the––I think well recognized––ineptitude of Orthodox to convene a council) and prevent political co-option (Moscow, etc.) is evidence of a similarly mistaken historical standpoint. How would you respond to such a criticism? Obviously from the Catholic side, our recognition of the validity of your Eucharist allows us to grant Orthodoxy a higher status than Protestantism, and thus an assumption of its more stable theological and historical outlook. However, the problem, as I see it, still remains. {This point was driven home to me at a recent conference I participated in in Greece on History and Ontology. The Orthodox––mostly Greek, but some Eastern European, Antiochene, and American––and Protestants––mostly of a Barthian persuasion––found that they had much in common, indeed were patting each other on the back, so to speak, theologically. We Catholics mused to ourselves about the ultimate “historical” source of these similarities, that is, their shared reading of history.} What do you think?

  63. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The Orthodox Church is incompetent except for grace. The Catholic Church has a much more excellent bureaucracy and efficiency of action. It is able to reform much more quickly and uniformly, etc. All of this has long been observed by the Orthodox. Dostoevsky in particular saw it as demonic in character – which is extreme, of course.

    Orthodoxy, in my read of things, has all of the flaws and failings of the Church (particularly in the East) through the centuries. Rome evolved a much more effective form of management.

    For me, a key is that evolution. I think it’s a later invention, and, today, largely a part of modernity. Orthodoxy is what it is, I think, because it is what it has always been. It has all of the historical issues and problems that it has always had. Frankly, the thoughts about which structure is better, more effective, etc., is utterly and completely modern.

    I cannot speak for the Orthodox you encountered – they are cherries that have been picked from who knows where. What I do know is that Orthodoxy is able to bear its weakness and frailty and produce saints, endure the greatest persecutions in history, and maintain its faith unblemished. There is, doubtless, a better way to do things. I believe that God does not give us “better ways.” What you observe in the historical road of Orthodoxy is the Cross through history.

  64. Gail Sheppard Avatar
    Gail Sheppard

    I see the two as oil and water. Oil being the Church, of course, and water being the State. It requires constant agitation to mix them together and depending on how much of each is introduced, you’ll get a variety of results. At some point, they will separate, as oil and water always do. Like water, the State will evaporate. The purest of oils will be more resistant to corruption; however, the oil, i.e. the True Church, created by and for God, will be altogether immune.

  65. Jared Schumacher Avatar
    Jared Schumacher

    Fr. Stephen,

    Thanks for your frank and thoughtful response. As with Orthodoxy, the Catholic Church is a corpus permixtum, and, but for grace, would falter. There is at present a general fear that it is in danger of faltering even now, sad to say. But my question was not one of bureaucratic management, or human sin, but of fundamental view of history and the ecclesiology which accords with it. How does Orthodoxy continue to justify its separation from the West? Does it not have a particular view of the arc of history, a metanarrative of history if you will, which allows it such separation? And did it not develop an ecclesiology subsequent to the Schism, one which it continues to maintain today, such that it could understand itself as fulfilling Christ’s prayer (“that they may be one”) and yet not be in communion with Rome? If so, does that history look something like the Protestant narrative, does its ecclesiology look suspiciously similar? This was the set of questions I had in mind, that I would be interested to hear your responses to. I know that it is difficult to learn lessons from “history” , especially if that history acknowledges the presence of human sin. But 1000 years of not being able to hold a general meeting…one does begin to wonder if there isn’t a lesson in there somewhere.

    I confess my own ignorance as to how the Orthodox understand themselves today, though I am blessed to count a few as friends; so I would be grateful for any reply for which you have time.

  66. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames


    Of course Fr Stephen can answer for himself. I am only chiming in and recommending a book that helped me understand that the main difference between the Orthodox and Catholic churches is how they view The Church – what they understand The Church to be. It may not help you, but it certainly helped me. I was raised Catholic and left in college, when the Evangelical Protestant interpretation of Scripture made better sense to me. (An Eastern Catholic priest friend has also told me that I wasn’t as well catechized as a Catholic as I thought I was…) I was received into the Orthodox Church 7 1/2 years ago.

    The book is “Church, Papacy and Schism” (3rd ed.) by Philip Sherrard. You may have to order it from the publisher in Greece, but it’s not that expensive. Alternatively, if you have a good, large theological library nearby, you might find it there.

    I have never been sorry to have been raised Catholic, even during my +25 years as a Protestant. The vast majority of Catholics in my life have loved me and those around me very well, and it is in the Catholic church that I first encountered God. I’m grateful for it all.


  67. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Orthodoxy has maintained the same ecclesiology that it has always had. It is Rome that has evolved – and no matter what word is used to describe Rome’s ecclesiology – it cannot be denied that it has changed over the centuries. Orthodoxy find that change to be unacceptable (as we did at the time of the schism) as we do any number of innovations that have marked Roman Catholicism over the centuries. Strangely, we do not think the papacy to be necessary for the unity of the Church – for that unity can only take place in the truth. The Orthodox Church has maintained that unity throughout the centuries. It is Rome, historically, that spawned the nightmare of Protestantism.

    But, I don’t want to be polemical. On the Councils, I think you have a very strange notion about them. Orthodox, traditionally, do not like Councils, and consider them to have been tragic necessities. An Ecumenical Council is an extraordinary thing, useful only for extraordinary purposes. Many of us are, frankly, somewhat alarmed by the present Ecumenical Patriarch’s interest in such a Council.

    But there have been any number of Councils since the 7th. Some even have the force of Ecumenical Councils for us. The Photian Councils, the Palamite Councils, the Council of Jerusalem in the 1600’s. But frequently, since problems are often more local than universal, local or regional councils have been sufficient, and as they are recognized by the rest of the Church come to have the force of an Ecumenical Council.

    Local Synods are normal in the life of the Church. Rome barely has local synods, in any sense like the Orthodox. Indeed, the distortions created by the Papacy have almost destroyed any true conciliarity (such that Vatican II tried to restore but has not). Orthodoxy is conciliar at its very heart and always has been. It’s strange that Rome would desire to restore something that Orthodoxy never lost. But that is the case.

    The present time in history presents unique obstacles to a Great and Holy Synod. Oddly, the history of the seven great councils are filled with such obstacles. Orthodoxy is more concerned that we not call a Synod that produces a schism. So, we’re taking our time. We have the unique problem of the rampant persecutions of the Church in the 20th century, as well as the lasting effects of the Turkokratia on the Churches in the sphere of Constantinople. Rome seems to multiply councils for the fun of it, multiplying doctrines that bind the conscience of the faithful in unnecessary ways. It is, in short, deeply mischievous.

    Orthodoxy has a profound unity, that I frankly find pretty lacking in contemporary Catholicism, other than on an institutional level. The diversity of theological opinion in Rome seems quite Protestant indeed. Orthodoxy speaks, accurately, of an Orthodox “mind” or “phronema,” that would have no counterpart in Rome, other than, perhaps, the magisterium. But for us, the phronema is a consciousness to be had by all, and not just a set of teachings kept in a Catechism.

    The concept of the “One” is so much greater than the thing represented by “communion with Rome.” That, sadly, is mostly just an institutional thing, with very little existential reality. Orthodoxy opposes it as a false union. Forgive me if my words have any polemical edge. I’m trying to answer honestly.

  68. Caio Alves Avatar

    Thoughtful and provoking article, and one in which you are in your finest, Fr. Stephen.

    I was touched more in the comments by the mentions to Carl Schmitt and it made me go looking for more of the authors Jared mentioned.

    Just so happens I’m a Law student and even before getting to the university I was an enthusiastic reader of Schmitt. His writings against liberalism and its counterfeit forms of hiding its anti-democratic nature and replacing a more moral and organic political activity with cabinet politics, technical measures and bureaucratization was interesting enough. Then I read Political Theology and his explorations of high political philosophy, Hobbes, the best critique of Marxist thought I ever read in my whole life… and ‘The Nomos of the Earth’. That was breathtaking. I will never look at international law, political philosophy and the West history in the same way after that book. A polemical writer, surely, due to his vows to the Nazi party, but still, Schmitt was (and still is) a unique intellectual experience.

    In my own understanding of the relations between religion and politics, I can’t but to agree wholeheartedly to the this negation of the Statolatry that has been haunting us for the last four centuries, at least. But what is said about the modern nation-States can’t be exactly equated to traditional societies’ relationship. In fact, as Schmitt points out, the modern concepts of the theory of the State are secularized theological ideas. But how is that so? In the ‘Nomos’, Schmitt takes over his shoulders to explain, among other things, how the philosophical and juridical construction of the modern State was merely a linguistic translation, a neutralization (in the same it was a political neutralization of the highly politicized religious arenas of Protestantism and roman catholicism) of the warring notions of what a christian princedom should be.

    What is to be revealed is, in the first place, is that every traditional religion and/or people has (some still keep that) believed that there is not a separation between State and Church, neither a war between them. It’s just the opposite. They’re the plain same thing. Traditions can be defined, indeed, by a religion that grounds authority and that every religion (never in the modern sense of the word) isn’t anything different from a metaphysics of power. It was like that in India, Persia, China and even the rational Greeks and Romans could not part ways with the idea that is an Idea that is the source of the idea of authority, that there’s no State without Power, that there’s no soteriology (doctrine of salvation) without metapolitics and that metapolitics is a necessary actualization of metaphysics.

    This was only radically defied by the West due to Christianity. Much abuse was made of the ‘Caesar rendering’, that’s for sure but the fact is: before that utterance, the relation between metaphysics and metapolitics was unchallenged, even in the West. Due to the Christians constant challenges to the imperial divinity, the extreme manifestation in the Roman paganism of this divine sovereignty, was that this had to be rewritten forever, for the good and for the evil. Some scholars even say that the modern secularism is Christianity’s direct unwanted child, since it was the Christian Church who revolutionized the ancient sovereignty to put in its place the Byzantine Symphonia and the Western auctoritas-potestas duality. See Alain de Benoist.

    The second point, one which I guess I can’t agree is that the Church should be politics-free. I find that highly utoppical, at least post-lapsarianly, since as we are in history we are making politics. We are political beings, we make politics all the time and the Church is deeply involved in this process, even when she seems to be, like the papacy in the Medieval West, autorictas-above the multiple potestas. In complex, non-neutral, post-industrial socities like ours, it is impossible to the Christians to renounce politics, to escape the political arena. The Benedictine Option, and even your criticism of the Christian involvement, the passions aroused, due to this enthralling to the political arena in the past elections, ALL of it is deeply political, father.

    Well, it’s not a critic at all. I think you are deeply, theologically and pastorally correct, Fr., it’s just that it’s not really a matter of keeping oneself ‘pure’, ‘free’ of politics, but the very contrary, of politically engaging in a response against the modern project. And you don’t have to want to change, reform the world to be deeply political.

  69. Caio Alves Avatar

    Haven’t read Father Stephen’s response to Jared. It is perfectly and honestly stated, father.

    Some romanists tend to have some false assumptions about Orthodoxy, about how we ‘lack’ something they dearly believe to possess. And there’s nothing polemical about that either, it’s just facts that can be observed. Things are very different when the RC’s are involved with ecumenism or just captive to the beauty of our Liturgies and Tradition and learn to love it, and to know, somewhat painfully, the deep and intricate historical and ecclesiological problems involving the Schism.

  70. Jared Schumacher Avatar
    Jared Schumacher

    Fr. Stephen, (and Dana)

    Thanks for your response. Far from needing to apologize for its polemical nature, you are to be commended for putting a dogmatic “edge” to your view of Orthodox history, as more than anything, it has helped to clarify for me how the Orthodox situate themselves with respect to Rome. As Chesterton has rightly said concerning dogmatic stances and creedalism more generally:

    “In short, the rational human faith must armor itself with prejudice in an age of prejudices, just as it armoured itself with logic in an age of logic. But the difference between the two mental methods is marked and unmistakable. The essential of the difference is this: that prejudices are divergent, whereas creeds are always in collision. Believers bump into each other; whereas bigots keep out of each other’s way. A creed is a collective thing, and even its sins are sociable. A prejudice is a private thing, and even its tolerance is misanthropic. ”

    Your putting matters polemically has helped to suss out the practical effects of the Orthodox “creed” on church and history, which I would summarize from what you have said as: nothing changes. Put in the words of our Lord, the polemical Catholic rejoinder would render it: “ever old.”

    The point of the rejoinder should be obvious: it is only half of what our Lord came to effect. For Christ came not only to maintain the old, but also to make all things new. What you have pejoratively described as the Catholic Church “changing” and
    “innovating”, we naturally understand as “development.” The essentials stay the same, but they unfold over time, allowing for doctrine and ecclesial growth, in understanding and in practice, i.e. an understanding of the “organic” nature of the body of Christ which is truly organic in every sense of the term. This gives us the capacity to see history as providentially given for growth into the fullness of Christ.

    You are of course right that the danger of such an ecclesiology is its evacuation of the old, its potential to devolve into pure “innovation”, thus succumbing to a fatal case of modernism. And you will find the west rife with such heresies, as you no doubt already have. [And the genealogy of modernism which finds its source in Catholicism, which you seem to appeal to, is not completely mistaken. Or rather, it is mistaken if it finds a justification for modern-ISM in Catholicism, understood as an ideology. That was a Protestant innovation. But you are not wrong that the modern valorization of newness as a possibility stems from a deeply Catholic belief that in Christ, newness has come into the world. I just see it as a good, whereas you do not.]

    But whatever its dangers, the opposite danger also presents itself to a static ecclesiology such as your church seems to hold. New wine needs new wineskins. And the Spirit’s life––at least if all of the biblical metaphors are to be understood–– desires growth, movement, dynamism, in addition to its maintenance of identity and consistency over time. A static ecclesiology is capable of the latter, certainly, but not the former.

    In order to refute the Orthodox ecclesiology, one need only point to the production of the bible as a historical development which took centuries, the growth of the Church from an intra-Judaic, culturally dependent sect into a gentile-dominated mystical body, the growth of the liturgy from a shared meal to a definite sacramental practice, the growth of the church’s liturgical prayer life and its theology over time, etc. All of this “development” is an innovation, to the extent that it is (or at least at one point was) not “ever old”, and yet is understood from a Catholic perspective in a hermeneutics of continuity as carrying forth the old into the new. Does the Orthodox ecclesiology not recognize any such development? Is its view of “history” really so static and monolithic as I take you to be suggesting?

    Thanks to Dana for suggesting Sherrard’s book. I have picked it up from my library and perused several of its chapters (though time does not permit me to read it all). His appeal to a “patristic” Church at the beginning is exactly the kind of fundamentalistic move I see from the Protestants, by which I mean, he has idealized a time in which the Church had achieved a final and absolute form and then cuts off any further development as a possibility. This is the kind of link that we Catholics see between Orthodoxy and Protestantism: the link between how they tell the story of the Church as very early having achieved its final “form” of life, and then spending the rest of our time trying to get back to that form, should it be recognized as lost (Protestantism, and Orthodoxy with respect to its practice in the west) or to maintain it if not (Orthodoxy in the east). Sherrard confirms the static eccelsiology, when he eternalizes the Church (renders it an eternal and unchanging reality). As eternal, it cannot develop; but then there is the historical problem of the first few centuries when the church looked different than it does today. Sherrard takes the Aristotelian escape: history is a mere “accident”, or “phenomenon” only the eternal has any “substance” (p. 21). Thus, early changes were mere “accidents”. The Church cannot grow, learn, or develop because it is eternal; therefore, history must in the end become a mere “accident”. The practical effect of this historical optics renders time as a “fallen” reality (Origen’s influence remains great in the east), and thus the Orthodox seem to share with most Protestant Churches what I would call a “secularizing optics” of time. Everything in history becomes “accidental”. This optics helps to explain for me why the Orthodox allow divorce and remarriage, just like the Protestants, and why a growing contingent are arguing for same-sex marriage/activity, again like the Protestant chruches. If history is an accident, then everything done outside the eucharistic celebration proper is merely accidental, i.e. has no bearing on eternity. In this way Orthodoxy seems to succumb to the danger Sherrard himself correctly recognizes on 36-7, of ontologizing the separation of earthly (i.e. historical) church and eternal church, despite his insistences to the contrary.

    Sherrard blames the west for having geographically localized (thus in a sense, immanentized) the Church, thus abstracting its “catholicity” from participation in the eucharist as the principle of identity and thus the true catholicizing force of the Church (p.14-5); but it can easily be shown that he himself recapitulates the same move for Orthodoxy on (p.16), giving to the Orthodox notion of catholicity a “quantitative sense”. Be that as it may, we Catholics would argue that our notion of catholicity has enabled us to be free from localized political identities, and thus free to be Catholic in the face of hostile and agonistic political identities. Is it any wonder that Orthodoxy has so strongly tied its religious identity to cultural/political identities, whether through Symphonia or just in practice, given that it has vacated any geographic notion of catholicity (in theory, at least)?

    One final criticism of Sherrard: his chapter on the episcopal office has a major logical flaw running throughout. That flaw can only be explained as the attempt to grant the episcopal office an authority which belongs to Christ (as his notion of “image of Christ” makes manifest) but simultaneously to deny that any historico-temporal actuality. In short, he wants to make it a real office with real (i.e. historical, concrete) power, but then has to deny it any actuality significance because it would necessitate something too close to a Catholic ecclesiology. Two places where this is most clearly manifest: “There can be no authorities, hierarchical or other, which vicariously and instrumentally exercise in the Church on earth the ministry of Christ because where Christ does not exercise his own ministry and where he does not live mystically or inwardly in the body of the faithful there is no Church.” (13). Obviously this sentence is marshalled explicitly to reject Catholic ecclesiology, to deny the papacy, as the Vicar of Christ, to any specific office. But then he has the difficult task of having to explain why the bishop has any meaningful authority whatsoever; thus, his “the image of Christ” view of the priestly office becomes a way to render there a real power for the episcopal office. Interestingly, he adopts something very close to the Catholic view of participation (p.17) to explain how the office manifests Christ but isn’t replacing Christ. Doing so, however, creates a problem that he is unable finally to resolve. If the bishop recapitulates the priestly office of Christ, and that is singularly conceived within a certain, local, geographic space, what is to stop the Kingly office of Christ also from being applied to a geographic space, indeed, to the whole of the world? He is mostly silent on the kingly office as having any “image” in the church on earth, until one telling passage, the first full paragraph on p. 23. I will not quote the whole, but the important point is he mentions “government” as part of the image, as you will see. But the problem is that implicit in that notion of government is the oneness of Christ’s kingship, and the notion of Kingship implies a necessary asymmetry in the body of believers. There are not many kings, but one, as Christ is one. That would seem to suggest that the bishop also play the role of King to the community. But to do that would undo his “representative” notion of “image of Christ” he developed in the preceding passages, most specifically his claim that “unlike civil society, the Church does not have rulers and ruled. It only has members…” (19); i.e. representation is supposed by him to be a “flat” phenomenon. He eschews the problem he senses (how can there be many governments on earth if there is only one King, which would logically lead to a conception of papacy if he wanted to resolve the tension), by creating an analogy:

    ” By virtue of [The bishop’s] office in the local church where he stands as the image of God and as the representative of the congregation, he embodies the plentitude of those powers, magisterial, priestly, and governmental, which Christ conferred on the apostles. He embodies this plentitude not simply because he is the successor of the apostles ––and each bishop singularly is the successor of the apostles––but because in his church he fulfills those functions which have their principle in Christ. They constitute his office. From this it will also be clear that just as one particular local church cannot claim to embody the catholicity, apostolicity, and unity of the Church to a greater degree than any other, so one particular bishop cannot claim to embody the various powers and functions––sacramental or juridictional––vested in his office to a greater degree than any other bishop.”

    The problem here, as I see it is this: the analogy mixes things he earlier insisted were separate. On the one hand, he has to localize kingship to a single office, because Christ is King and so his Image must also be king to the community. But to give a kingly authority to any one person undoes the very careful balance he was trying to strike by making “the image” merely flat “representation”. It also raises the question of a multiplicity of kings, which doesn’t make sense because of the oneness of Christ and his Kingship. Stated differently, his analogy compares apples to oranges in order to eschew the possibility of a papacy to reconcile an internal problematic. The order of his analogy, stated simply, is this: just as one local church cannot be any more “church” than any other local church, so also …. one would expect him to say “so also no one christian cannot claim to localize the body any more than any other christian, since both are equally members of Christ’s body”, as he is consistent to say in the quote from p.19. But this would deny kingship to the office of the bishop (more broadly even, it would deny representation to the office). So instead he says in essence, “so also one bishop cannot embody ‘bishopness’ more fully than any other.” But this does not logically follow. He concludes the analogy by showing its import for his system: “Through the nature of the constitution of his office, each bishop must be essentially equal in powers to every other bishop.” So, he takes the equality of all believers as necessitating an equality of all bishops. But the very existence of the office of bishop as representative ,and its being perceived as having a real and manifest authority within a local community, already undoes the analogy, without recourse to an (deeply Catholic) asymmetry. Since it is manifestly the case that some in the community can be more “representative” of the Kingly office of Christ locally, there is no logical problem then with one bishop being more representative of the sum total of Christ’s offices than any other bishop. In other words, there being a bishop office doesn’t undo the priestly office of all, any more than their being a pope undoes the bishop office regionally. Recognition of diversity of roles for representational purposes in a local community allows the possibility of recognizing diversity of roles within the same office in the trans-local or universal community. It is therefore not inconsistent to have bishops who function one way with respect to their local community, and another way with respect the Catholic community. Viewing things this way allows for the resolution of the tension of the hierarchical power dynamic with respect to representation of the many in the one. Just as the many laypersons are recapitulated (or represented) by the one bishop, so also the many localities, the many bishops, are recapitulated (or represented) in the headship of one (pope), without there being any conflict. A bishop is not any less King to his community because of the existence of a pope, nor a layman any less a priest because of the existence of a specific office of priests (of which bishop is the local representative).

    In conclusion, I see the virtue in Orthodox subsidiarity and the benefit of conciliarity as a means of collective decision making. But short of actually getting together to make decisions, it seems to be more a platonic “idea” than a physical reality. Stephen’s appeal to the Orthodox “mind” is very similar in this regard to the Islamic “Ummah”, a belief meant to replace an actual, concrete, shared juridical structure. I would be interested to hear what this “mind” consists in and how it is so different from Catholic “unity”. I would also be interested to know how it avoids being dehistoricized (and thus succumbing to the platonic dualism Sherrard rightly critiques on 36-7) without representation in a single office. If I were a betting man, I would guess that its primary point of identity in such a “mind” is reactive, in the sense that what unifies the Orthodox mind is more its dogmatic commitment to not being Catholic than anything else (hence, my subtle dig: “…how Orthodoxy situates itself with respect to Rome.”) I assume you will find that assumption inaccurate, but I would be interested to know in what way…

    Enough for now. I know I have said a lot, not all as clearly as I had hoped, but I have to write a dissertation as well. Thanks for your continued engagement, or such as you have time for. And I should add that I trust in your good will, so feel free to be as polemical as you want going forward 🙂

  71. Byron Avatar

    And the Spirit’s life––at least if all of the biblical metaphors are to be understood–– desires growth, movement, dynamism, in addition to its maintenance of identity and consistency over time…. Everything in history becomes “accidental”. This optics helps to explain for me why the Orthodox allow divorce and remarriage, just like the Protestants, and why a growing contingent are arguing for same-sex marriage/activity, again like the Protestant churches.

    Forgive me for interjecting, but there is a disconnect with many Orthodox who tend to equate “growth, movement, dynamism” with change over time. These are people who are pushing for such things as same-sex marriage under the faulty justification that “God is still speaking” (hence, He is changing–usually, oddly enough, “with the times”). They also have a habit, I think, of dividing Tradition into “Tradition” (capital T) and “tradition” (small t) to suit their needs. This is a very large reason why they reflect Protestantism (forgive my “ism”) in most of their thinking.

    God does indeed still speak, but He speaks consistently with what He has always said. The “dynamism” of the Church is in the movement towards Theosis, the creation of Saints. This dynamism has far greater impact on the world than anything else the Church may do, IMHO.

    I cannot speak to the trials through which Rome is now going, but I have followed some of it via Regina magazine. They are in my prayers.

  72. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    Thanks for the detailed explanation of your take on Sherrard. My copy is loaned to someone at the moment, and not only because of that but because this is somebody else’s blog, I don’t want to get into a critique of your critique. All I’ll say is that it helped me a lot because S. framed what he discusses in essentially iconic (Orthodox definition – something which makes present that which it depicts) terms, which made, and still makes, very good sense to me. It was very different from what I encountered and understood growing up Catholic.

    I also found it interesting that you see Sherrard’s view of Orthodoxy so closely related to Protestantism in terms of idealization. That aroma may be floating around because of so many former Protestants (esp Evangelicals) having entered the Orthodox Church in the past few years, but I don’t get that sense from reading Sherrard, Met. Kallistos, St Seraphim, Nicholas Cabasilas, St Isaac of Nineveh – or Fr Stephen 🙂

    I see the Spirit’s work – “growth, movement, dynamism” – in the Orthodox Church not on a trajectory of breadth, or as something that has as its main characteristic an unfolding in time, but rather on a trajectory of depth, as Fr Stephen talks about Fr Sophrony’s word on “the way down” (humility) being “the way up” (Christlikeness) within the life of a believer. I see the Orthodox Church as a whole (notwithstanding all the problems we have) moving, haltingly sometimes, along that trajectory of depth – not toward a revival of some past “golden age”, but toward the inner meaning of the Cross as the Life of the kosmos. This is hard for me to put into words – trying to be as clear as I can be about what is difficult to even express in language.

    Hope your dissertation goes well – that’s a lot of work!


  73. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Your comment takes my breath away. You leap so far on so little (assuming that you understand what you do not) and then pressing that to some new stage of argument and dismissal. You obviously know a lot, but have almost no understanding whatsoever of the mind or world of Orthodoxy – and you easily assume that with a tweak here and a tweak there, presto, you got it figured out.

    I would not have suggested Sherrard, but nevertheless.

    Orthodoxy is not static, nor does it even suggest such a thing. The fullness of Tradition is given to the Church from the very beginning. Were the fullness of the truth not present from the beginning, then we would not have recognized error when it arose. When the Church speaks, it is not a “development.” It is, rather, a public statement of what the Church has always known in silence.

    Newmann invented the notion of the development of doctrine in the 19th century (which already makes it suspect, and rife with modernism). It is, in fact, a notion not found in the Fathers – but simply a disguise for modernity – and the proof of that is in the pudding. The list of bizarre things to be found in contemporary Catholicism hardly needs more than a bit of googling – things that are breath-taking in their “development.”

    I pray and hope that the Catholic Church will be preserved from the worst of such things – but I find the notion of development to be false. It is, however, in Orthodox eyes, all too much in tune with “developments” that have distorted the West since even before the schism. Clown masses, halloween masses, all kinds of nonsense that would simply never enter an Orthodox mind.

    You think too much, I suspect. It’s possible to get lost in all the dialectic.

  74. Jared Schumacher Avatar
    Jared Schumacher

    Thank you all for the responses. It appears that our discussion has drawn to a close, given that there was no attempt at dialogue or debate in your final riposte, Fr. Stephen, but merely ad hominem dismissals. Be that as it may, I am grateful for the exchange, as I continue to learn more about the Orthodox mind, such as it is (or apparently, has always been) 🙂

    To all of you, thanks for your continued prayers. The Catholic Church certainly needs it. Grace and Blessings to you all.

  75. Caio Alves Avatar

    Fr. Stephen’s did not attempt in dialogue with you, Jared, because there’s nothing to talk about. There’s no dialogue with such apologetic rhetoric. The point is not only that you ‘leap so far on so little’, it’s far worse, the worse, IMO, is that you intend to give a scholarly form and shape to something that isn’t anything more than papist apologetics.

    Please, y’all will have to forgive me (you can delete this comment, father), but all that is represented in Jared’s comment is sheer nonsense that you can find in any backward papist apologetics website, blog etc. It lacks historical contextualization, dogmatical knowledge, theological understanding, not to mention the essential and basic feelings of honesty and gentleness.

    And you are received with a generous and quite educated ‘you’re not getting this right’ from Fr. Stephen, who is the blog’s owner and only writer (not to mention this dirty apologetical childish fights are never among the blog’s objective, though you can find it elsewhere) and you accuse him of ‘ad hominem’???? HAHAHAHAHA, sorry, but that’s so typical!

    Accusations of origenism, ‘gnosticism’, this lack of understanding of our ecclesiology (which seems clearly a foreigner to you), this absurdities about Orthodoxy being locked up in the past, how the papacy is superior because of its mystical ‘up-to-date-ness’ in terms of ‘prophetical kingship’… c’mon. I converted 4 years ago, how many times do you think I heard these yadda-yaddas?

    Sometimes I wonder what the heck you think when you throw so much excrements in our windows, pit in our faces and really believes that all this nonsense you keep accusing Orthodoxy of isn’t a load of crap and debauchery we’re exhausted of hearing from papists.

    Forgive my outrage, but this is outrageous.

    You should at least respect FATHER Stephen (who you seem to have a problem of adressing correctly as a priest, what I think is even more disrespectful), if not his serious and blessed priesthood, at least a wonderful and fruitful ministry that helps not only Orthodox but many other Christians to understand the spiritual maladies of our times and the Christian classical understanding of the ways to heal our souls.

    I say this with a pain in my heart for all the well-educated, serious and pious roman-catholics that comment regularly in this blog, feed themselves in the Word and comfort us and themselves with their histories, testimonies, their lives. Forgive me for being so harsh.

  76. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It is difficult, sometimes, to hear Orthodoxy compared to Protestantism, or, God forbid, the Muslim Ummah, and not become angry. God give us grace, and forgive my own ad hominem. I lack patience.

  77. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Jared, you make one false statement that colors everything else: “How does Orthodoxy justify its separation from the west…”

    Sorry, the west separated from us. The west still persists in that separation. It was Cardinal Humbert who initiated it. An act that, technically, he no longer had the authority to perform. It was an Orthodox deacon who left the altar with the Bull, begging Humbert to take it back. Not much has really changed. You are welcome back any time with repentance. The other four Patriarchs at the time remained in communion with one another as we do today(plus others added since)-strained though it may be at times.

    Sure, much sin involved in everyone. Do we really need to persist in the remberance of wrongs?

    Unity will not return by fiat or formula-anyone’s fiat or formula. Unity will come prior to Christ’s return only through persecution and suffering, i.e. the Cross.

    The world will make little discrimination between us. Those who love Christ will be sought out to torture. Then we will discover who is unified to Christ.

    I would suggest you read Pastor Richard Wurmbrand’s reflection on what happens in such a case: With my own Eyes.

    Or you might read the 1848 Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs when the Pope at the time expressed sentiments similar to yours.

    Ah well, God forgives. May His mercy be with you in all things. Forgive me, a sinner.

  78. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth who art everywhere present and fillest all things. Treasury of good things and giver of life: Come and dwell in us and cleanse us from every stain and save our souls, O gracious Lord.

    If He fills all things, as He does, we can recognize His goodness even in things and people who are wrong and or offend us.

    Thank God for Jared and his perception. May He grant us allThe humility and grace to be with Him.

  79. Dee of St Herman's Avatar
    Dee of St Herman’s

    Fr Stephen and Ciao,
    I am grateful for your responses here.

    Last September I was asked a question from a Roman Catholic in my extended family who wasn’t familiar with their history and who had asked why the Orthodox separated from the rest of the Protestants after the Reformation. I surprised by the question because it seemed they wanted to think that Orthodoxy was a product of the Reformation. They too were insulted when I suggested that perhaps modern Roman Catholicism may be more a product of the Reformation than Orthodoxy.

    Afterward I realized that it would be better to direct a person to a historian in their own faith rather than appeal to Orthodox historians. There are Roman Catholic historians who do not attempt to obfuscate the events that led to the schism between Orthodox and Roman Catholics.

    After this experience in the conversation I mention above I asked my spiritual father for his recommendations for acquiring a helpful understanding of the history of the schism. (“helpful” in other words not to “win” in arguments, but simply to learn what that history actually is) The book he recommended to me, “Wisdom for Today from the Early Church”, is written by an historian, Dr. David Ford. The book is a condensed presentation of a Church History course he conducts at St. Tikhon’s Seminary. The book has a description of the schism in a chapter entitled, “The Rise of Papal Presumption”. Rather than a single event, Dr. Ford describes the separation of the Western Church from the Eastern Church as taking place over a series of events. Initially conciliatory, each major city, Rome, Alexandria and Antioch, had emerged as the most important cities and centers of the Church, by 325 A.D. Dr. Ford quotes from the Six Canon of the First Ecumenical Council that illustrates that each Church Bishop have their respective jurisdiction (from NPNF, second series, vol. XIV, p, 15):

    “Let the ancient customs in Egypt, Libya, and Pentapolis prevail, that the Bishop of Alexandria have jurisdiction in all these since the like is customary for the Bishop of Rome also. Likewise in Antioch and the other provinces, let the Churches retain their privileges.”

    The Second Ecumenical Council affirms the same again only in more detail (NPNF 2, vol XIV pp 176-177). Canon Six of the Second Ecumenical Council states that any dispute against a bishop can only be taken as far as a synod in the relevant province or diocese, indicating that no one bishop is given authority or jurisdiction over the rest of the Churches (and this Ecumenical Council is officially accepted by the Roman Catholic Church as well).

    The Third Ecumenical Council reports a “mischief” (my word) perpetrated by the Bishop of Antioch who held ordinations in Cyprus (outside his jurisdiction). The Council itself describes the act as “…an innovation which has been introduced contrary to the ecclesiastical constitutions and the Canons of the Holy Apostles, and which touches the liberties of us all…” and then later in the Canon: “…And if anyone shall bring forward a rule contrary to what is determined here, this holy and ecumenical Synod unanimously decrees that it shall be of no effect.” (a quote from Canon 8, NPNF 2, XIV, pp. 234-235)

    The Fourth Ecumenical Council upholds that the highest court for the Church is Constantinople not Rome, extending Canon Six of the Second Ecumenical Council: “…let him have recourse to the Exarch of the Diocese, or to the [patriarchal] throne of the Imperial City of Constantinople, and there it shall be tried.” (NPNF 2 XIV p 274).

    When Rome begins to assert itself, as recorded by Bishop Eusebius, regarding Bishop Victor who attempted to control Church practices outside of his jurisdiction, the Bishop of Rome was rebuked by the other bishops including Bishop Irenaeus (EH 5.24)

    On another occasion, the Bishop of Rome (St. Stephen) and the Bishop of Carthage (St. Cyprian) tangle about the demands of Rome against a Church outside of its jurisdiction, and this is rejected again with extreme indignation by the bishops of North Africa who refused his authority, and Bishop Firmilian of Caesarea in Cappadocia rebukes him. In this case the controversy was cut short because of the Valerian Persecution.

    A hundred years later, Bishop Julius attempts to restore two bishops who had been condemned by their respective churches in the east, and his attempts were rejected by the Eastern Bishops who would not accept his interference. And after this, according to Dr. Ford the relationship between Rome and the Eastern Churches became strained. Bishop Julius participated in the summoning the Council of Sardica in 343 in which the Roman Church declares itself the final court of appeal in certain cases. But Eastern Bishops did not attend and the legislation was never accepted in the east where it had meaning that the Roman Bishop had jurisdictional authority of any Churches of the East. Instead the Bishops of the East held their own Council at Philippolis in Thrace.

    I’m going on too long here. And I’m cutting short before the point of time in history where the schism becomes definitive. But it is a good idea for the Orthodox to know their history. It isn’t a really thick tome and concisely presents pertinent material and gives their sources. I highly recommend the book.

  80. Dee of St Herman's Avatar
    Dee of St Herman’s

    Also Michael, thank you for your comments. I’m learning so much these days about Christians who suffered under the Communists.

    I’m grateful for your sharing Richard Wurmbrand’s autobiographical story, “With My Own Eyes”.

  81. Jared Schumacher Avatar
    Jared Schumacher

    Thank you all again for the responses. Given the current state of our interactions, some having, it seems, been offended by my suggestions that Orthodoxy might share more in common with Protestantism than they are wont to think, I feel the need to clarify my own intentions and perspectives so as not unduly to offend my Brothers and Sisters in Christ.

    Obviously I am a papist, because I am Catholic. Michael has correctly seen the location at which that commitment gains traction. When I said, “…justify separation from the west”, that is of course how Catholics see things. It is the narrative structure of our own understanding of history and the Catholic ecclesiology. As I was intent to discover how the Orthodox understand the separation, and more broadly, attempting to trace the contours of “the Orthodox Mind” in contradiction to the Catholic one, it required me presenting the “point” to which I was hoping to receive the Orthodox “counterpoint”. It was in view of this intention that I was not offended by Fr. Stephen’s “polemical” response, but felt like we were getting to the heart of the matter. My own attempted summary of Sherrard was aimed at distilling the essential features of that counterpoint, summarizing and synthesizing his view with Fr. Stephen’s, to have a loose grasp of its structure and then to offer criticisms of that structure as i understood it, to elicit responses from you all which might help me to color in greater detail my own understanding. This was the manner in which I understood the interaction.

    Obviously, that was not how it was received. So any miscommunication stemming from my own poor word choice, haste, or formal improprieties, I accept the responsibility for and beg forgiveness.

    However, I do feel that the sincerity of my questions and my attempt to phrase things in the conditional tense when I understood myself not to have mastered the concepts (“it seems that…, is it really the case that…,” etc.) didn’t receive due credit. There was a baseline assumption against my earnestness, for reasons which seem clearest to me from Caio’s last comment. Be that as it may, I grasp the historical cause of such suspicion, and do not hold that suspicion against you, though I do think that if we are to have the Two Lungs of the Church breathing in coordination again, we are going to have to move past it.

    That said, I was sincere in my statement that I am grateful for the interaction and your prayers. May God give us all greater understanding of each other, that we may unify as we do battle against the powers and principalities of this present age, with whom, as Fr. Stephen’s blog has reminded us, we are ultimately at war.

    Warmly, J.

  82. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    God give us all grace. The nutshell of Orthodox thought is essentially that the bishop of Rome changed, made false assertions of his authority, and then ruptured the peace of the Church by breaking the communion and fellowship of the Church. And that the Western developments that followed are false and schismatic. That’s along the line of the harsher descriptions. In that vein, the Orthodox would say that the Orthodox have alone preserved the fullness of the faith.

    Additionally, we would explain the historical development of the papal claims as largely having been driven by the rise of the Frankish kingdom and the imperial pretentions of its kings. Those kings used papal claims as the means of justifying their own ascendancy viz. Constantinople. The papacy became a tool of Western politics (in the centuries following Charlemagne).

    Orthodoxy does not champion a static view of the Church. Rather, it sees Tradition as nothing less than the Life of the Holy Spirit in its fullness residing in the Church. It does not evolve or change, because God does not evolve or change.

    The truth that is manifest at any given point is simply the statement of what the Church has always known (even if in silence and without words). The question to any proposed change (certainly the Liturgy has not been static) is whether it is, in fact, saying and revealing that which has always been said and revealed.

    Such changes in Orthodoxy tend to be quite organic rather than juridical.

    The unity of the Church, through time, has been better served by this organic approach to its life, rather than depending on juridical devices (Councils). Such councils generally require enforcement mechanisms – and have historically been the cause of violence which is an abomination and refutation of the life of the Church.

    Our present difficulties in convening a Great Synod is primarily with a view to the unity of the Church. Certain issues that have arisen out of historical circumstances (jurisdictional overlap, calendar, etc.) need attention. That process is already underway in what is a quiet, organic manner. I think the Council in Crete was premature, and that time will show that to have been the case. The local meetings (Episcopal Assemblies) have not come anywhere near the consensus needed for such a Council.

    A juridical process would likely cause schism. The modern Roman model that is highly juridical (or so it seems), mostly succeeds because people feel increasingly free to ignore it. The “club” or weapon of excommunication (since more violent means are no longer allowed) is simply becoming ineffective. There is a juridical unraveling going on, I think.

    Nothing is a greater challenge to the Christian faith than the forces of ideas of modernity. It embodies the greatest heresies of all times. I personally feel that a terrible lack of discernment in Rome unleashed many of those forces within its life.

    Orthodoxy is not immune. There are no immunities in this world. Our inability to hold a Council in the 20th century probably saved us from ourselves and the siren song of modernity.

    What I believe most deeply is that God is providential and that even our mistakes and sins (including those of Protestants, Rome, Orthodox, etc.) become in His hands the tools of our salvation. That reality is pretty opaque. But were it not so, there could only be despair.

    God give you a good Fast!

  83. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Jared, the point from which the schism occured was not it’s starting point. The actual schism was more a defacto recognition of the state of the communion rather than something new.

    The schism is a result of sin. The solution long been known: repentance.

    The sticking point is who repents for what. Over simplification follows: Whether we Orthodox repent and finally acknowledge that the universal headship of the Church lies with the Pope (while acknowledging certain doctrines that are linked to that) or the Pope repents and acknowledges that headship resides in Christ alone in community and recants subsequent doctrines that deny that.

    Trouble with that today– only more schisms would result.

    The real solution is for us all to repent and seek Christ. Any visible unity that is in accord with God will then become manifest.

    My own view is that no such visible unity will be manifest this side of the Second Coming except in persecution.

    IMO talking of such unity as a problem to be solved is deeply part of the modern mind and wrong. At best it is irrelevant at worst a wedge of the evil one to enter so that we might be led to denying Him who is the Way.

    If you know Jesus Christ and He is leading you to repentance as a Roman, Glory be to God.

    I know for a fact He has, is and always will be doing that for me in the Orthodox Church and I have zero interest in the RCC for that. In fact, it could not happen there.

    That is not being a relativist either. I know that sooner or later(by God’s grace) you will seek more. The Orthodox Church is the only place for you to find the “more”.

    May God keep you safe, protected and guide you to that fullness.

  84. Mark Basil Avatar
    Mark Basil

    Glory to Jesus Christ, alone our King!

    Father with you blessing, in light of our Canada Day (July 1st) and your Independence Day, I will share here an article my friend Andrew wrote:

    In the past you have mentioned that you write about what you know- and you really emphasize the terrible herasy of Modernity. I have often replied that I believe as Orthodox we need to start within our own house- and this takes us to an older and more insipid error; that of Nationalism (always entailing military violence, among many other vices).
    Orthodox will often agree with a critique of Modernity, but to attack our own plague of nationalism right down at its roots is not popular at all. But it is necessary.
    I certainly invite responses and interactions within our communion of Love, from my brothers and sisters across all borders.

    An excerpt (but please respectfully read the whole article before responding):
    The more we acknowledge the importance of our national symbols, anthems, and ceremonies, the higher we’ve elevated our country as a rival to the kingdom of God and an idol that admits the kingdom of God isn’t sufficient on its own. And this is especially true when the kingdom of God expressed as the Church already has its own iconography, hymns, commemorations, rhythms, and way of measuring and giving meaning to time itself.

    “Nationalism is a religion and war is its liturgy,” Hauerwas once famously remarked. Indeed, “What Jesus called evil,” Zahnd also observes, “are the very things our cultures and societies have honored in countless myths, memorials, and anthems.” And this is the case precisely because “the US Congress [or Canadian parliament] would no more adopt the policies Jesus set out in the Sermon on the Mount than they were adopted by the Jewish Sanhedrin or the Roman Senate.” This should give us pause.

    In the Kingdom of Christ’s Peace;
    -Mark Basil

  85. Maria W Avatar
    Maria W

    As the fireworks are going off around my home I am reading the link in your post. Much of what is in the essay I have also pondered very long ago. It came up easy in my mind as a German and knowing it’s history and destruction, but it became difficult as a Christian killing their fellow Christians of another Country. The very same people that nearly wiped out my family where using our Church facilities for their services. I can not celebrate the 4th of July and it remains meaningless to me, knowing that over 10 million Indians and unknown numbers of white man where killed in conquest of this US Nation we celebrate today. It rather pains me. I also pondered why no one would die for Jesus, but so many will die for their country. I am not saying we should not have country, but apparently we can not have one in peace, when others are planning your demise. Power and the human conditions (character) won’t allow it at this time. Man still has a long way to go and they are paying the price in blood shed. (belonging to the group “woman” who was regarded as cattle and property, and burned at the stakes, I think we have a song to sing, as Negros have in Slavery ) I always thought Jesus was supposed to be the last bloodshed, and perhaps he is, the first and the last in the kingdom of God (we are his off-springs) . I guess the question is how serious are we in our Christianity, way and understanding of the Kingdom of God. The US and Europe has done everything to keep Religion out of Politics/ Civics and reduced to home -life only, and we are seeing the fruits thereof. We have been warned! Life as a Christian will become very difficult, I’ve lived it. Not sure what Church will survive. That is the one I want to be with.

  86. Maria W Avatar
    Maria W

    What I believe most deeply is that God is providential and that even our mistakes and sins (including those of Protestants, Rome, Orthodox, etc.) become in His hands the tools of our salvation. That reality is pretty opaque. But were it not so, there could only be despair.

    The best sentence I’ve ever read coming from this blog. Thank you Fr. Freeman 🙂 In truth we all be In Christ = Christians, neither Protestant, Rome or Orthodox identities, which is like fighting Nation identities.

  87. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Mark Basil,
    Nationalism is a subset of modernity…Hauerwas not only would agree – it was something I learned when I was studying under him. 🙂

    The nation-state begins roughly at the same time as the rise of Protestantism, the rise of the concept of the secular, etc. The first tools of the nation-state were the newly created state Churches of the Protestant world. They were tools for the destruction of the “Holy Roman Empire,” and the creation of these new identities. I am most familiar with England’s history in this regard. Over time, the nation states have discovered that patriotism is the easiest most “ecumenical” form of its religion. Here in the states, many conservative Churches, particularly if the 4th falls on a Sunday, will have services that consist entirely of patriotic hymns, flags and speeches. It is a deeply unholy, even blasphemous exercise. Strangely, those same groups criticize icons!

    I have little experience of Canada. Listening from south of the border, I sometimes get the impression that parts of Canada are marrying themselves to a vision of multi-culturalism coupled with national pride that is religious in nature. It must be remembered that there are many ways of doing violence. Some of them will even feel very agreeable.

  88. Paula Avatar
    Above is a link to an article I recently read in search of an answer to the tragedies in this world vs the Kingdom…how do we justify these things. You can apply it to nationalism, and all such divisions. A “all hell all the time” outlook keeps me bound in pain, so I look for answers. There is always another side to the story and “the other side” is not always altogether wrong. These articles helped me sort things out and come to terms with our earthly reality. I do not mean to promote one side or the other. So I thought I’d share….
    The tab “articles” at the top of the page offers more readings.
    As for nationalism, as with anything, it is not wrong in itself as long as our honor is first and foremost to God. God gave us nations, all to honor Him…we’re the ones that mess it up in our pride and egoism.

  89. Mark Basil Avatar
    Mark Basil


    The article you posted is dated 2003, and entirely unrelated to the article I posted- on patriotism (a guise for nationalism). Did you read the article I posted? You have given a response that is already anticipated and answered in Andrew’s article.
    I suggest taking solace in the Cross of Christ alone when overwhelmed by evil. The world is ruled by darkness but take heart! Christ has overcome the world. To the measure that we take up our own cross and lose our life for His sake we too can overcome this evil with good. There is no other way to defeat evil- you cannot shoot or bomb evil, you can only kill living icons of God Himself, distorted as they are- as we all are- by evil forces that have enslaved us.

    Fr. Jacaboses’ article is a very poor response to his target. In fact in the light of the unfolding tragedy in Iraq since the American invasion his article is a total embarrassment. Ask the ancient Assyrian Christians how “liberated” they have been since America’s quest for vengeance.
    Furthermore the Fathers are steadfast in declaring all war as an abomination and utterly unjust. Fr Jacabose is not speaking from within the Tradition in his position; he is in fact sick with the very passion of patriotism that the article I linked identifies. He is a case in point of this ancient error- found everywhere from the contemporary delusion of “Holy Russia” to American converts to Orthodoxy who are just importing their conservatism to presumed “higher ground”. There is little effort made to seek out the Holy Tradition.
    “We who were filled with war, and mutual slaughter, and every wickedness, have each throughout the whole earth changed our weapons of war — our swords into ploughshares, and our spears into implements of tillage — and we cultivate piety, righteousness, philanthropy, faith, and hope, which we have from the Father Himself through Him who was crucified; and sitting each under his vine, i.e., each man possessing his own married wife. For you are aware that the prophetic word says, ‘And his wife shall be like a fruitful vine.’ Now it is evident that no one can terrify or subdue us who have believed in Jesus over all the world.”
    – St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue, Chapter 110

    This is our tradition vis. war. But we have forgotten and muddied the clear waters of Christ’s Way.
    -Mark Basil

  90. Mark Basil Avatar
    Mark Basil

    Dear Fr Stephen;

    You’re definitely right about Canadian religious commitment to multiculturalism. Sadly we define ourselves against America (who doesn’t anymore?). We say,”Well, we are more secular politically [yet strangely there is then not the same competition and frenzy over separation of church and state (I am a teacher and in the public system we often cooperate with Christian outreaches/charities, who do good in our schools, etc.)]. We have universal health care. We love hockey, ‘good’ beer, maple syrup. We are rich in natural beauty and resources. And ho! perhaps contemporary prize of all: we are multi-cultural!
    This is our Canadian (contrast-to-American) identity. Our sources of national pride such as they are.
    Dont know if you’ve gotten to William Cavanaugh’s brief and brilliant book: Being Consumed: economics and Christian desire? He has an essay at the end on multi-culturalism (and globalism) as actually the destruction of genuine culture (the opposite of our Canadian claims). It’s excellent; puts the lie to our Canadian ‘religious-cultural’ delusion.

    Father I am slowly learning to disentangle modern nationalism and militarism from times past. Can you help me though, to understand the Orthodox interest in defending the “two headed eagle” of Byzantine Empire, in the light of our commitment to Christ as King and God? And Empire itself- how is that compatible with Christ’s Kingship? The early letter to Diognetus describes Christians as resident aliens in any nation (due to their citizenship in heaven)- this self-understanding is totally foreign to subsequent Orthodox self-identity (as proud Greeks, Russians, Serbs, etc.- all entangled with Orthodoxy).
    Again I’m slowly learning the more complex history post Constantine and the political/religious shift that occurred then (contrary to past Anabaptist assumptions). But if there was not a great apostasy (of course not; I’m Orthodox), and things didn’t really change vis’ the Church’s fundamental thinking in her relationship to the State, then how do you explain the generally nonviolent, consistent-life-ethic language and teachings of Fathers and martyrs prior to ‘Christian Empire’, and the demonstrable ubiquitous change now where this language is impossible to find in higher Church officials?
    (see here: and here: )
    For example the “social concept” of the Russian church basically goes to lengths to justify patriotism, capital punishment, and military violence. In Leo Tolstoy’s day he wrote a letter sharing how a Bishop came to the local school for ‘religious education’, and specifically taught the students how “thou shalt not kill” does not extend to our national enemies (Tolstoy reports that a school girl replied, red in the face, “that is not what the scripture says!”). This was of course mainstream in Russia at the time- it was not modernism but an Empire hangover, wasn’t it? It is still mainstream practice in all the “Old World” Orthodox countries to bless weapons (including indiscriminate missiles, etc.), and see absolutely no problem with Christians shedding blood for the “father/mother land”.
    Is it not the case that all of this was “normalized” during Christian Empire? And therefore it is not just a “Modern problem”. This is why I think it’s an ancient error that needs to be addressed at least as vociferously as Modernity. How can we say we preach Christ crucified; we follow his commandment to love our enemies; we belong to His Kingdom as soldiers who “do not fight” for him (Jn. 18:11; 18:36); we believe in the sanctity of all life equally loved by our Father and us (Mt. 5:45)… Yet we are silent when Orthodox nations continue to support Empire thinking (“the Third Rome”) and bless military endeavors (not even training chaplains to suggest love of enemies as an alternative to killing them)?
    Why is this not a blasphemy worthy of equal or greater response to that of Modernity for its antiquity and ubiquity alone? Military violence and Empire interests supported by Christ’s Church is a profound loss of beauty. We pious are reduced to defending historical hypocrisy rather than humbly repenting of our bloodshed.

    -Mark Basil

  91. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Mark Basil,
    As to comparing evils, I think that modernity is more problematic – and more deeply rooted. It is quite easy to become side-tracked into little more than a political opposition to the political captivity of Christianity. I think the fascination with the double-headed eagle (and all that it represents) is primarily a form of Romanticism, itself a little subset of modernity. Unraveling the threads of our bondage is a careful thing, I think. I have a greater certainty of my voice in speaking about modernity. We have to speak what is given to us.

  92. Mark Basil Avatar
    Mark Basil

    ” It is quite easy to become side-tracked into little more than a political opposition to the political captivity of Christianity.”
    This is just what I hope to avoid.
    “Unraveling the threads of our bondage is a careful thing, I think.”
    I know the path is narrow, that I will be carrying wood, and always journeying within my own heart.
    Asking your prayers.

  93. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Mark Basil,
    Thinking more about this conversation, it occurs to me that providence is extremely important. The historical analysis always fails when it ignores providence. It becomes the great game of “what if” and “if only.” It’s bad for a human life and it’s bad for theology. That Christianity encounters the state (as in Constantine) was providential…it was God’s will and not a tragic or sorry turn of events. It was, of course, full of its own new temptations, none of which have disappeared. But, like all Protestant efforts, reinventing history simply ignores God’s providence.

    When I think about God’s providence in this manner, I start to ask better questions. What was God’s purpose in this historical encounter? How did we fail? How did we succeed? What is He doing now? How should we be faithful now? I feel certain that playing Byzantine Empire or “Holy Russia” (etc.) is beside-the-point (or worse). We cannot dial-back modernity. Even modernity is part of God’s providence – which doesn’t make it ok – but it is the particular Cross that we face in this age-long journey to the Kingdom.

    We have lot’s of “make-believe” and too little “I believe.” 🙂

  94. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father if I may. My own study and over the years has led me to believe that how I respond to God’s Providence makes all the difference. Not the circumstance itself.
    Too much historiography since the 19th century has been of the Walter Cronkite variety:” And that’s the way things were”.

    It just is not the case especially when God’s Providence is left out. Understanding the human condition (history) is impossible without His Providence. Even out history is revealed to us not discovered or learned though study is necessary.

    History is NOT an Hegalian dialectic. Neither is it repeatable, George Santayana to the contrary. It is the living story of God’s interaction with us and His creation. We have a really miniscule documentation of our responses. The temptation is to draw massive unwarranted conclusions from such a small amount of data while thinking we are not part of it.

  95. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Indeed. I think our proper study is providence rather than history…and providence demands a “mystical” participation and communion in the study itself. We must understand that we ourselves are utterly a part of the providence we study.

  96. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Not unlike Dee, Christ revealed Himself to me in the data I was led to study.

  97. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    As I have begun to read and learn about the history of the Church, as it pertains to the early Church in the west, I’m very grateful for this conversation in these last recent entries. I’ve been wondering about ‘western captivity’ of the Church and how that has been expressed in the US. But perhaps there is a better question as you (Fr Stephen) and Michael propose: that of providence. I really appreciate your willingness to express your experience, Michael. I believe your witness will help me in how I approach these readings. And God willing, that it is prayerfully done in God’s grace with an open heart.

  98. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dee, the western captivity is a real thing but overstated I think. I have long felt the Turkish Yoke could be providential is some ways as it prevented the Church from coming even more under the sway of the increasing disorder in the west.

    But is is difficult to parse these things out with any degree of certainty.

    Martyrdom is also providential but tough to really face.

    I think we are far more vulnerable to a captivity to modernity now than anything we have faced in the past. It will take every living connection we have to survive the seduction of modernity and the rejection of reality that modernity is and the concomitant rejection of both genuine science and the living roots of history and tradition.

    It is nihilism in action and Satan still thinks he is winning.

    Fr. Thomas Hopko taught that the Cross is the focal point of history. That is accurate. It is clear in the data if one knows how to look.

    The Ressurection is not strictly speaking an historical event it is supra-historical.

    Any way I start getting a bit guiddy when I really start contemplating the tapestry of our humanity. Christ is both the warp and the woof but we are the fibers-each connected to all. All analogy fails but despite the obvious points of tragedy the joy and Providence is in everything.
    It would not surprise me if creation is a double helix wrapped around the Cross somehow.
    “There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow”.

  99. Mark Northey Avatar
    Mark Northey

    Dear Father Stephen;
    Providence. This understanding is in fact very central to Orthodox nonviolence- trusting that vengeance is the Lord’s and YHWH is a warrior thus I do not need to shed blood for justice. Ever.
    Regarding the historical movement of the Church under Constantine and subsequent Empire violence, I have been asking some of those better questions you raise. To think about history with our minds illumined by what is *truly* God’s providence is I think a tremendously difficult act of discernment. It is easy to become spiritually lazy or cowardly and settle on ideas that fall short of the full measure of Christ.
    I have tried to discern the Holy Spirit’s purposes throughout Church history with the ‘interpretive lens’ of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Just as Christ re-interprets the whole Old Testament through Himself, so I suggest we must reinterpret the whole of Christendom and subsequent Church history through Him. I also suggest we must look for the truth in everything as only that which is eternal (i.e. an ‘eschatological hindsight’ view of history). Anything that does not fit this vision must be the Church’s economia and pastoral consideration (i.e. allowing this or that limited violence because our hearts are hard).
    For example, only thus can I sing with integrity, “O Lord save you people… Grant victory to the Orthodox Christians over their adversaries.” This hymn was initially written and meant politically and carnally, with barbarians as the adversaries and victory as violent defeat. However I suggest that it does not actually mean what it was authored to mean, for through Christ, it means spiritual warfare and our enemies being ourselves (passions) and the demons.
    These lenses are essential I think, to rightly understand what the Holy Spirit is doing in history (esp. “Christian Empire”)

    I will share a line of observation that has come as I have tried to discern God’s Providence in allowing “Christian empire” and indeed “Christendom” itself. There is quite a history here:
    –all Human civilization begins in violence- Cain the murderer is NOT permitted to be “capitally punished” by God Himself. Instead providentially it is Cain’s lineage who then found the first cities. (I highly recommend the excellent film “Noah” for fleshing some of this out actually).
    –It is precisely the violence of humanity coming out of control that leads God to sorrow for even creating humankind and the cleansing of the Great Flood. It is then only the Wood of the Church that saves a remnant.
    –When God covenants with His people, with His first born son Israel, they have no king. They fall into bondage, and lo! They need no king and no armies to save them, they need only wait on the Providential timing of the Lord (quite slow to anger while His people suffer in Egypt): God alone fights the holy war and drowns the pursuing tyrant beneath the waves of the sea.
    –But His people protest; they do not want God as their king. They say, “give us a king so we can be like other nations.” God gives the people what they want (here is Providence): Saul, the first king, goes sour of course.
    –David then is our OT icon of Christ’s kingship; he is prophet, priest (ate the bread of the presentation), and king. But what is fascinating here- and revelatory- is what David is lacking: King David, a man after God’s own heart, is not permitted to build the temple to the Lord precisely because of his violence. (1Chron. 22:8-10). “You cannot build a temple for worship to me, because you have killed many people.” Who is permitted to build the temple? His son King Solomon (Literally: shalom-man; the king who is a Man of Peace. Surely that violence is king David’s glaring lack is to highlight Christ’s kingship and the centrality of nonviolence to his kingdom of peace).
    –We come to the suffering servant; he who does no violence and yet tramples death by his own death! Our Messiah and king rides in on a donkey as his warhorse, thus confounding the political, military hopes of a “this worldly” salvation. We are not saved *from* death, but only through voluntary death will we become truly human. Nonviolence is thus a means to my becoming myself.
    –Providentially, the newly formed Church lives three whole centuries of burning faith, hope, and love. The witnesses from this time establish our Holy Tradition: and they certainly nonviolent! Martyrdom without organizing for self-protection. “An army that sheds no blood” as early Bp. Clement calls the church; St Justin Martyr applies the eschatological vision of swords beat into ploughshares to the Church herself; the Apostolic Tradition of St Hypolitus explicitly states that soldiering is incompatible with Christianity– all of this I take as providentially revealing the goal. Indeed the lineage of this Providence is that our Orthodox Church never succumbed to any “Just war theory” (violence is only ever economia); that priests and monks- our greatest spiritual examples of the path to theosis- are forbidden to shed blood. Here I see Providence.
    –St Constantine has his vision of the cross: “through this sign you shall conquer.” But here is where we must “reinterpret” the meaning of this- the historical Constantine got it wrong. The conquering was not carnal warfare for a Christian Empire, but the Saint laying on his death bed and finally being baptized. That is the only sensical understanding of this vision permitted to a person who sees all through Christ.
    –As with king David, the Lord gave us what we wanted in Christian Empire: and you yourself have sketch the perils that followed “symphonia” when it was taken concretely.
    –What is revealed through the history of Christian Empire, Providentially, is that we are all still recapitulating the first covenant; we are all still living the stunted life of the first Adam; we are all still confusing things above with things below- precisely because the wages of sin is death, and the fear of death drives us to the madness of self-protection. As if we could become perfect/complete any other way than our voluntary death. But we need all this history of failed Empire (every Christian empire crashes; trying to cling to some culture or other no matter how exalted leads us to do sin of bloodshed for our idols).
    –All of this is to shake us from that ancient error to “go found a civilization” upon murder. We have Providentially been given St Constantine to see that *we are all Constantine*. If I had the power, I too would kill to “make things better” according to my own will. And this lesson learned through a bitter history of captured Hagia Sophia and crumbling Second Rome, and overturned Tsarist Russia, etc., it needs to be *rightly interpreted* but us, if we wish to learn from God’s Providence.
    –I submit that we are still a Bride with “spot and blemish”- which is to say that Christ is still beautifying us; that we look forward and not backward to know our identity; that we are the living faith of the dead not the dead faith of the living. Just because 1700 years of confusion over violence, does not mean this is Tradition. It is an error from antiquity. Why is violence greater than any other error the Church knows? Because there is no greater weapon in our enemy’s hands than our own violence! Nothing will keep us from following Christ, “being ground like wheat” and becoming truly human, like collective self-defending violence. In the Sermon on the Mount, we hit our crescendo in becoming peacemakers, loving our enemies (measure of perfection), and nonresistance to evildoers. It is for this reason that we are blinded by the Enemy in our violence for all of history, yet God providentially condescends to our ‘false kings’ and idolotrous kingdoms “because our hearts are hard”, but takes us forward through the repeated failure of these iterations- forward to the foot of the cross that transcends historical moment.

    I hope this is clear. Please forgive me for the length. I grew fatigued toward the end and it may be sloppy. God knows it’s worth nothing anyway. Only blood shed will cause scales to fall from our eyes.
    Toward such joy! and with genuine brotherly care, and truly asking your prayers;
    -Mark Basil

    (PS I still highly recommend you read Rene Girard- highly prized by Don Sheehan- to see so much more in all of this matter of the violence through history).

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