Change, certainty and salvation

Orthodoxy often gets the back-handed compliment of complaints that it hasn’t changed. For every such compliment, I’m grateful.

But Chris Castaldo pays us the same compliment intentionally:

The notion that Rome doesn’t modify authoritative teaching such as the articles and canons of Trent is, with all due respect, out of step with reality. If you were looking for an example of a church that hasn’t changed for over a millennium, you’ll want to consider Eastern Orthodox Churches, not Rome.

It’s kind of odd after that affirmation to see Castaldo tear into Rome, instead of lovingly caressing Orthodoxy. But I guess Rome’s the 800 pound gorilla against which all western Evangelicals must contend – especially if one was raised Catholic, rather as I tend to obsess a bit about the subspecie of Evangelicalism in which I was instructed beginning in boarding school.

But it’s still puzzling. Castaldo works in a pretty smart setting: Wheaton College and formerly College Church of Wheaton, with both of which I’m pretty familiar. Why doesn’t it occur to him to question the magisterial Reformation not having turned Eastward? Why does he accept (as I assume he does) Evangelicalism’s break with the Magisterial Reformation during and after the First and Second Great Awakenings? (Maybe if I had followed his blog over time, I’d find that he has questioned all this and still come out where he is.)

But he does a good job of arguing that Rome changes. Really. It sounds to me as if Rome is nowhere to go if you want stable, clear doctrine, P.R. to the contrary notwithstanding.

On the one hand, for instance, you’ve got extra Ecclesiam nulla salus, but then it’s a matter of disputed and changing interpretation just who is extra Ecclesiam.

You have a purportedly infallible Magisterium, but nobody to interpret what the Magisterium truly teaches, or even whether Pope so-and-so was speaking ex cathedra when he uttered this or that. And in this election season, I’d be remiss not to note that liberal Catholics cite Catholic social teaching on the preferential option for the poor to justify voting for a feticidal maniac while conservative Catholics insist that voting for feticidal maniacs is intrinsically evil, whereas the best approach to helping the poor is a matter of prudential judgments. (It’s not my fight, but I give the edge to the conservatives there, in case my scrupulously neutral contrast left you wondering.)

That doesn’t sound to me like much of an improvement over an infallible Bible with no infallible interpreter. Infallibility – of Bible or of Magisterium – is a nice dogmatic theory, but not much practical use, it seems. (Calvinists have the same tap-dancing problem. When one of The Elect apostasizes, it just goes to prove he wasn’t really Elect. Some “eternal security,” huh?)

Good form seems to dictate that I now pronounce that you should come to Orthodoxy for stable, clear doctrine. But I won’t. “Stable” we’ve got down pat. “Clear,” not so much. Or so it seems to me.

But I don’t think the faith is about certainty about everything. What’s certainty got to do with union with God? Devils know the right factoids about God, for goodness sake.

Lack of certainty about some things doesn’t mean I’m confused about what matters. I know what I should do this morning first thing when I get up: thank God for another day to repent as my feet hit the floor, say my morning prayers and read today’s epistle reading. The morning prayers are pretty much universal; the Bible reading’s there because I’ve decided that’s when I’ll do it daily (if no other time). I know what I should do at mealtimes: more prayers. I know what I should do at bedtime. Still more prayers. Seven times a day would be good, actually. “Without ceasing” better still. And repentance, not pride, through it all. (I’m lousy at living this out. I’ll never be saved by my own effort.)

Saturday night? Vespers. Sunday morning? Matins and Liturgy. The texts are set. The music is sober, in whatever musical tradition it’s done. It’s a privilege to be obligated as a Reader (the lowest level of Clergy) to do these services.  They form me; they shape my soul.

The Creed? Definitely. It keeps me away from cliffs over which souls have been plunging for 2000 years. But it doesn’t tell me exactly where inside the protective fence I should be. It doesn’t tell me a lot of things about which I might feel idle curiosity. It wasn’t meant to be a Procrustean bed. And that’s okay.

So, what’s the conclusion? I’m not sure. I’ve only been Orthodox 15 years this month, and I had 49 years of bad habits to break. They’re not all broken yet. I’ve noticed for about 14.9 years that the Church isn’t pumping me full of right answers to rattle off to any question or objection, just like all the other ideologues on the block. I sometimes long for greater certainty, but then I’m ashamed of the pride that feels entitled to know instead of trusting.

I may be selling certainty and clarity short. But it seems to me that much as Abraham was told “get thee up into a land I shall show thee,” we walk by faith, not by the sight of a detailed roadmap with reservations staked out each night along the way. It that scandalizes you, and if I’m wrong, then I pray you’ll stumble onto someone who’ll set the record straight.

That someone would be in an Orthodox Church, by the way.

About readerjohn

I am a retired lawyer and an Orthodox Christian, living in a collapsing civilization, the modern West. There are things I'll miss when it's gone. There are others I won't. That it is collapsing is partly due to calculated subversion, summarized by the moniker "deathworks." This blog is now dedicated to exposing and warring against those deathwork - without ceasing to spread a little light.
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