Who is faithful to tradition: Catholicism or Orthodoxy?

Based on the belief and practice of Christianity from its beginning, who stands as the most authentic bearer of the heritage of Christianity: the Roman Catholic Church or the Orthodox Communion*?**

From what I have read, the only major differences between the two are:

  1. The Filoque issue.
  2. Papal infallibility
  3. Immaculate Conception
  4. Liturgical differences

Sure, major. But, still, nothing that a few hundred years of diplomacy cannot solve.

Nonetheless, if one were to consider Tradition (in belief, practice, and structure), which both believe they uphold, which one Church is most faithful to Tradition?

  • I say “the Orthodox Communion” because Orthodox units are less united and monolithic than Roman Catholic units.

** Protestants are right out because they have no link to early Christianity. Protestantism came into being without a chain of traditional transmission, whereas both the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Communion do.

Please correct me where I am wrong, and please add simplified explanations of the issues involved or evidence put forth. (Meaning: please no jargon-filled or incomprehensible treatises.)


The Filoque- I think the Catholic position is more Biblical, but the procedure in which it was inserted into the Creed went against Church policy.

Papal infallibility wasn’t even a full Catholic doctrine till the First Vatican Council in the late 1800s (1890s?). If we are talking about the Catholic central authority in the Church being the Petrine Roman See vs the Orthodox authority being shared by the Apostolic Council of Bishops, the Orthodox position is definitely more Biblically consistent.

The Immaculate Conception- again, I give the Orthodox the point. The EOC denial of IC does not rest in its Marian theology but in its non-Augustinian view of Original Sin. However, I differ with both in saying that yes, Mary was liable to ordinary human moral flaws, but was also graced with a tremendous moral resolve & the ability to be a fit mother for the sinless Divine Son.

Liturgical differences- My uneducated guess is 50-50.

And I wouldn’t dismiss Protestantism so out of hand. Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, the Anglican fathers, and Wesley were all scholars in the Patristics & respected Church tradition immensely. However, when they thought the Bible clearly taught something different than Tradition, they would put the Bible above Tradition rather than straining the Bible through Tradition (a problem I see with both the Catholic & the Orthodox Churches, which is not to say that Protestant Churches are not also afflicted with what I regard as unBiblical traditions.)

Modify “Papal Infallibility” to “Papal Supremacy” – Catholicism is organized as a hierarchy in which the Pope is, in the absence of an Ecumenical Council, the supreme authority, with the appointment of bishops and rulings on the liturgical, theological, and moral conduct of clergy and laity reserved to him, or at least to be exercised in conformity with what he promulgates.

In contrast, Orthodoxy is adherence to certain fundamental points defined by the first seven Ecumenical Councils, and the supremacy of each individual bishop within his own diocese, in conformity to Orthodox tradition.

It’s interesting to note that Orthodoxy does not oppose ‘Papal Primacy’ – the idea that in a united church, the Pope is first among equals, as he was in their view before 1054 – the President of the Patriarchs, senior in honor and respect among the bishops of the church. But they object wholeheartedly to Papal Supremacy.

Some interesting discussions between Orthodox and Catholics on this topic can be found in these two forums: Catholic and Orthodox – particularly the latter.

It’s also intriguing to note that the filioque problem boils down to their referencing two different things: The Orthodox maintain that the Holy Spirit, like the Son, derives from the Father as the ultimate ground of all being – the eternal procession of the essential Trinity, while the Catholics speak of Him as being sent by the Father at the behest of the Son, and generated by the love between Father and Son, referencing the economic Trinity. In short, the Orthodox are saying, “The sky is blue” and the Catholics are responding, “No, any fool can see that the grass is green.”

Based on what I’ve studied of Jesus, I cannot believe he really thought of himself as divine, nor that his twelve disciples thought him divine, in the Trinitarian sense. In fact, I think they would have insisted that calling Jesus “Son of God” was merely metaphor and should not be taken as casting any doubt on his paternity by Joseph. St. Paul added the divinity part, and a great deal else that would have shocked Jesus. So the closest thing to “true” Christianity would be the Arians. Are there any Arians left?

I checked the Wikipedia, there are no more Arians, but there is a non-trinitarian group whose doctrine probably comes closer than any other church’s to Christ’s actual teachings: The Christadelphians. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christadelphians I say probably, because even this group regards the Bible as authoritative – and Jesus would not have, he almost certainly would have rejected every bit of the NT except for the first three Gospels.

This is a thread I would not have commented on, as I have no dog in this fight. Yet I must ask you provide some cites for this.
BrainGlutton said:

highlights mine

It is certainly credible to think that Jesus would not have thought of himself divine “in the Trinitarian sense.” As to being divine, the use of the word is used by many people in different ways. Some use the word to mean that Jesus was God, or part of a triune God head, or simply within the context of being God’s [direct] son, conceived by God through Mary. Nonetheless, the bible clearly points to God, not Joseph, as the paternal father of Jesus. The apostles offer no direct commentary as to whether they perceived Joseph as Jesus’s paternal father. Indirectly however, it is clear that they perceived him as divine (within the context of being God’s son, and being sent directly by him) and identified him as God’s son, and not in metaphorical terms. The evidence to support this, including the later experiences and subsequent writings by Paul, are overwhelming.

Jesus indentified himself as having divine heritage, and clearly identified himself as being the son of God, and not metaphorically. I don’t believe your comments can be supported by the bible texts, and IMO don’t represent the views of those you speak for.

BrainGlutton further wrote:

Once again, Jesus quoted the scrpitures extensively, and was part of the Jewish religious establishment. In almost every instance, he held the scriptures as authoratative. To the extent he was critical, he was critical of those (usually the Jewish religious leaders) who perverted or gamed the Law, not the Law itself. Jesus had a prominent part in all of this, as the Mosaic Law was designed in large part to prepare the Jews for the arrival of the Messiah; Jesus himself. To hold that Jesus would not have seen the scrpitures as authoratative undermines the centuries of Jewish religious, that from the time of leaving Egypt, were designed to lead to the Messiah. There is nothing in the bible that supports your comment above.

Only in books written long after Jesus’ death, and not by Jesus himself, nor by anyone who ever knew him.

Jesus was a good Jew. Not a Christian. A Jew. The Jews expect a lot of their Messiah but they do not expect him to be the literal Son of God, and never have – nor have they ever expected him to play the role of a sacrificial sin-redeemer. Just ask Zev_Steinhardt. If Jesus had been the Messiah he not only would not have been crucified and risen from the dead, he never would have been crucified at all. And I don’t believe he expected to be crucified when he rode into Jerusalem. He probably did believe he was the Messiah – but the role he expected to play as such was nothing like the role Christianity has ascribed to him.

Of course he did – the Scriptures of what we now call the Old Testament. I do not believe he would have approved of most of the books, written long after his death, of what we now call the New Testament. Especially the Gospel of John and the contributions made by St. Paul.

So you know, I have no quarrel with you. I’m simply pointing out that your comments cannot be supported biblically, and on the contrary, are almost the exact opposite of what the bible has to say on the matter. It would help if your comments were cited, using the bible.
BrainGlutton said:

It is routine, even necessary, for some time to elapse for one to write what is essentially a biography, or memoirs. There is no reason to conclude that the time that elapsed between when the apostles directly experienced what they wrote, and when they put them into writing, that some form of dementia (or deception) would have rendered them invalid. As there was no CNN, it’s not likely that we would have real time reporting. Nor is that required to render an accurate account. Even now, biographies are written decades, even centuries after the person written about lived. Nonetheless the Gospels were in fact written by men who **did know Jesus **and had first hand knowledge. They were completed over a 58 year period, the first of which (Matthew) was completed less than a decade after his death.

Nor is it required that Jesus himself be a writer of his life. Many, in fact most, biographies are just that—and not autobiographies. Nonetheless, the thrust of this comment has to do with the paternity of Jesus. For a student of the bible to accept your claim one has to believe that the bible writers----who clearly ascribe paternity to God—were wrong in some way. That because their accounts were written between 8 and 65 years after Jesus’s death had the writers----in unison mind you---- get something so fundamental and important so wrong is not reasonable. It is simply not credible to suggest that the passage of time, and time alone, would have caused them to miss this.

They are also pretty specific. They’re not ambiguous on the subject. Joseph’s response/feelings, the visit by the angel—it’s pretty specific stuff. Are they lying? Mis-led somehow? Taking liberties? There just isn’t any support of this. And, in fact, the writers did in fact know Jesus.

This is akin to saying that Ronald Reagan couldn’t have been a Reagan Republican. Christians are, by definition, followers of Christ.

Perhaps this deserves antother thread, although I’m certainly not angling for that. You’ve got alot here. I’ve read Zev_Steinhardt’s posts, and respect both his beliefs and his knowledge. But I’m asking you. I’m not interested in picking a fight, or hijacking this thread any further. But nothing in your paragraph can be supported biblically.

The Jews were in anticipation of the Messiah for centuries before his arrival. (Most modern day Jews still are) All of the major prophets pointed toward the arrival of the Messiah. His crucifiction (read: sacrifice) was central to his whole purpose on earth. He clearly spoke of it prior to the event and stated that it was necessary for the benefit of mankind. I’m posting from my laptop and do not have my bible with me or I would gladly provide ample cites. Nonetheless, if one was to believe even a portion of your conjecture it would eviscerate most of the bible, and the little left would be on shaky ground. For those lurking I’ll offer my common refrain: Pick up your bible and take the time to read the accounts and decide for yourself.

I respect your feelings on this. However, if one is to consider the bible a credible source, even if it’s just the OT, there is simply nothing biblically to support this.

No, raindog. Christians are followers of Christianity, a belief-system that did not form into anything like its recognizable shape until years after Jesus’ death, and which owes a lot more to Saul of Tarsus than to Jesus of Nazareth.

BrainGlutton said:

No,** BrainGlutton**, (see how this gets without valid cites?) Christians are, by definition, followers of Christ. And in a perfect world, practical application of Christianity would be an accurate representation of both Christ’s teachings and model. Of course we don’t live in such a world. But, to the extent any given Christian (or collection of Christians united behind an established religion or dogma) deviates from the pure teachings and model of Christ it is not the fault of Christ. Nor does it invalidate the reality of [true] Christianity. They are essentially members of Christendom. As such, they may subscribe to any number of beliefs, some or many of which are not found in the teachings of Christ.

This is not purely a matter of semantics. Christianity—both the teachings of Christ and the model he left for those calling themselves “Christians”, were clearly articulated in the bible,** by Christ!** His early followers, including the apostles, were not following some trumped up" belief system." They were Christians.[/U]

At the end of the day, both Christianity and Christendom are available. I would submit that a sincere person endeavoring to distinguish between the two, essentially separating the spiritual wheat from the chaff, is required to see whether what your particular church is teaching is consistent with what Christ said would be required of one who would call himself a follower of Christ. And that means going to the source: Pick up the bible and see what it means to be a Christian.

With all due respect, BrainGlutton it seems to me that you’re playing fast and loose with these charges. I’ve yet to see a valid cite to support that Christianity is a product of Paul, (which given the record of Christ in the gospels seem siily on it’s face) or any of the other things you’ve claimed in this thread.

You want to know the truth on the matter? Pick up the bible and read it.

You know, I get totally annoyed with my fellow Christians for presuming to know what motivates gay people, based on their reading of Scripture, without ever having bothered to ask a sampling of gay people and find out firsthand. Personally, I’m much more inclined to believe Homebrew, Esprix, gobear, or Sol Grundy about whether or not they “chose to be gay” than some guy parroting James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, or Bob Wildmon on the subject.

The same thing applies here. I know what Christianity means to me; I know what it means to Catholics, Orthodox, fundamentalists, Baptists, Methodists, Disciples, and others. I do not want someone giving me his authoritative opinion on how Christianity turned into what it is – I can go to the original sources (the Bible, the Early Church Fathers, Eusebius, Jerome, etc.) if there’s information that I need.

And in any case, the question of whether Jesus intended what’s evolved in His name to come about is rather moot: if the Trinitarians are right, then He had the power to implement any changes He wanted, through the work of the Holy Spirit; if they’re wrong, then there is a great deal of delusive thought going on in the world today, but it doesn’t matter, because He’s dead and was wrong in the first place. And, of course, it’s a massive hijack of the thread to the particular bete noire of a given member here, from the original topic asking whether Catholicism or Orthodoxy more closely preserves the tradition of the early Church. (Anglicanism, for reasons I think ought to be obvious, says that Orthodoxy is far closer.)

Whether I am right or wrong, Polycarp, it is not a hijack for me to question whether the “tradition of the early Church” – defined as the beliefs of Jesus and of his circle of disciples during his life and in the years immediately after his death – bears any resemblance to the trinitarian Christianity embodied in both Catholicism and Orthodoxy. It is directly relevant to the topic of the OP. Unless you are defining “tradition of the early Church” narrowly to say, what was believed by Christians from about 60 or 70 AD (i.e., the time from which the original disciples were no longer available for consultation) until the time when the religion was legalized and institutionalized under Constantine.

BrainGlutton’s points are worthy to consider. But in another thread, please. I am not concerned about tradition as Jesus would have it be - this is in the end unknowable unless/until Jesus returns.

What the early, early Christians believed we do not know. Some say Jesus founded a different religion. Some say Jesus was one of many religious figures in Judaism of the time. At this point, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that shortly after the Crucifixion, a tradition–encompassing beliefs, theology, rituals, hierarchy, literature, worship, ethics and morals, music, etc.–came into existence that can be called the Christian heritage or the heritage of Christianity. Most Christian groups are faithful to this heritage to some degree, some more than others.

In today’s age of abundant information and religious freedom, there’s a lot of switching I can see between Catholics and Orthodox. People study, come to the conclusion that either one or one of the two is correct, and join it.

Despite their similarities, there are still significant differences.
What about the role of saints in each tradition?
What about the role of statuary in worship for each tradition?
What about the liturgy? (Both claim to have one that is faithful to early tradition.)

For those who have answered my previous questions: thanks! Your input helps, and makes this issue more interesting to me. :slight_smile: Let’s keep this going.


I think the difference results from different historical circumstances. After the Western Roman Empire fell, the Latin Church survived as an international entity independent of any king or emperor. And it needed a leader, and the popes were able to build their status of recognized seniority into one of absolute supremacy over all other bishops. But in the Eastern or Byzantine Empire, which did not fall until 1453, the emperor was supreme over both church and state (“Caesaropapism”) – therefore the Patriarch of Constantinople never got in the habit of thinking of himself as an independent sovereign, as the Bishop of Rome did. In terms of tradition – well, after Christianity became the Empire’s official religion, and before the Western Empire fell, the bishops in the Latin West were just as much under the emperor’s authority as those in the East. (I mean, unless you believe in the authenticity of the Donation of Constantine – which nobody does, any more, not since 1440. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donation_of_Constantine).) So I would say that it’s the Orthodox who have the more “traditional” view on papal supremacy. I don’t think there’s any evidence (and I’ve tried to find some – see my GQ thread, "What was the real origin of the Papacy? – http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=194965) that Christian bishops in the time of, say, Nero or Trajan considered the Bishop of Rome to be their supreme leader.

I would propose the Jehovah’s Witnesses as being closer to the Arians that the Christadelphians. Arius & the JW’s both hold JC to have pre-existed as the First Creation of Father God & the co-creator with Father God of everything else. Christadelphians however teach that JC only pre-existed in the mind & purpose of Father God, but was not an actual being until he was conceived in Mary.

Would Latter-day Saints be considered as Arians? Latter-day Saints believe that Jesus is not co-eternal with the Father and that He was created by the Father (just as the Holy Spirit was created by the Father) but became part of the Godhead - which may be viewed as a ruling triumvirate - because of His advanced state and role in the salvation of humanity.


These are big differences, but by far not the only ones. The filioque is a big sticking point, seeing as it was solemnly anathematized by the Photian pan-Orthodox council (the so-called “Eighth Ecumenical Council”). The Catholics these days say that the filioque only refers to the Holy Spirit proceeding through the Son, but they have in the past described the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son as from one principle, which is totally unacceptable to the Orthodox.

Papal infallibility is another sticking point, but could theoretically be redefined into meaninglessness by saying that the pope is only infallible when he is expressing the faith as defined by the councils; if reunion does ever occur this is probably what will happen. Universal jurisdiction is a bigger issue, as the Catholics see the pope as the ultimate earthly head of the Church, whereas the Orthodox see him as properly the patriarch of the Roman church only, and first in honor.

Due to differing conceptions of the nature of original sin in the Western and Eastern churches, the Immaculate Conception has never been an issue for the Orthodox. It’s rejected, not as being wrong, but as being unnecessary. The near-deification of the BVM in the Western church is something, however, that makes many Orthodox very uncomfortable. The Theotokos is greatly praised and honored among the Orthodox, but never apart from her Son. The Western descriptions of her, such as “co-redemptrix” and “mediatrix of all graces”, as well as the insistence that she was completely free from all sin during her life, are not accepted by the Orthodox. The Orthodox believe that the Theotokos never committed any intentional sin, but was subject to the same passions and unintentional sins as the rest of us.

Probably the biggest difference between the Catholics and the Orthodox is the loss of the patristic theological framework by the Catholics in the middle ages and its replacement by Anselm’s juridical paradigm and the theories of the scholastics. Since the schism, the West has seen the crucifixion as the main salvific event, in that humanity owed a “debt” to God on account of sin, and Christ by His suffering repayed that debt. The Orthodox see the entire incarnation, but especially the resurrection, as the main salvific event. Christ, by joining the Divine nature to humanity, and then undergoing death, by His resurrection destroyed death and allowed humanity to participate in divinity.

Saints are treated pretty much the same in both traditions (with the exception of the BVM). The Orthodox do not have an official, legalistic process for determining if someone is a saint or not, but other than that, there is no difference.

The Orthodox do not use statuary, but this is honestly more of a ritual difference than a theological one. The West never really suffered under iconoclasm, and so never really integrated iconography into their rite; thus, the forms of sacred imagery have always been looser in the West.

The Liturgy, again, is not much of an issue (assuming we are talking about the pre-Pauline liturgy). The various surviving Western rites (Roman, Ambrosian, Mozarabic, and those of the various orders) as well as the extinct ones (Sarum, Gallican, Old Roman, Beneventan, Celtic, etc.) are have a perfectly apostolic origin, and they (or their immediate predecessors) were used pre-schism, and nobody had a problem with them before then. The Eastern Orthodox are probably the most monolithic in rite of all the apostolic churches, but even we have two “official” rites (Byzantine and Old Believer), as well as several liturgies that aren’t in common use, but very well could be (such as the liturgies of St. James, St. Mark, and St. Peter, with the latter using the exact same Eucharistic Canon that the Latins do!).

In the past, leavened versus unleavened bread was a big issue, but in any reunion attempt it probably wouldn’t be. The Latins did originally use leavened bread, but have been using unleavened for at least 1000 years, and the Armenians have used unleavened since the 300s, so there is precedent. The Catholics would definitely have to go back to the Tridentine rite (at least), and abandon the modern liturgical nonsense that goes on (serving ad populum, secular musical instruments, female altar servers, etc.).

Having said all this, I will state my own position: I believe the Orthodox have maintained the apostolic tradition in a way the Catholics have not. There is a true theological, ritual, and devotional continuity among the Orthodox dating back to the early days of Byzantium. The great statement of Orthodox theology is the ecumenical councils; the great statement of the Catholics is the Summa Theologica. The Catholics experienced a profound shift in theology and worldview in the middle ages, while the Orthodox have held fast to the ancient fathers. And so, I am Orthodox.

:confused: There are no liturgies, as such, described or prescribed in the Gospels – the only mandated form of prayer is the Our Father. How can any liturgy be positively identified as antedating St. Paul?

Ah, the arrogant notion that drives me up the wall about the religious fanatics: they think that if you just read the damn book their faith pushes, you’ll come to their opinion. What-ever.

Read the Bible. Three times all the way through, the NT closer to seven or eight. So I can’t say it plainly supports all of your arguments here

yBeayf is referring to Pope Paul VI and the Second Vatican Council. Some Orthodox believe that the liturgy, itself, was cast in concrete (at least after their version got adopted) and that the particular form of celebration is of more importance than the beliefs expressed through it.

I do not accuse yBeayf of holding that particular position, but s/he has expressed concerns about the Vatican II liturgical changes in the past, so I am fairly sure that the “Pauline” adjective comes from that position.