On The Treatment of Inferiors

A gentleman is one who treats his inferiors with the greatest courtesy, justice and consideration, and who exacts the same treatment from his superiors. — New York Daily News. (H/T: Quote Investigator)

The true measure of a man’s character is how he treats his inferiors. This ethical principle has a long pedigree but why is it so important, especially from an Orthodox Christian perspective?

First, let me make the usual disclaimer when it comes to theological posts: Although I consider myself well-studied and my opinions well-thought-out, I am neither a hierarch nor a priest and I do not speak for my Church in any official capacity. None of what I say is dogma, unless it’s quoting an official source, etc., etc.

That being said: I think the key thing to bear in mind here is that man is made in the image, and ought to be conformed to the likeness, of God. As such, it would behoove us, when considering how we ought to treat our inferiors, to consider how God, Whose ikons we are, treats His.

To a Christian audience, or an audience familiar with Christian mythology (in the proper sense), I need not belabour this point too much. Our Lord gave His life for those in His charge, and those of us who are called by God to a position of authority are also called by Him to imitate the sacrificial nature of Christ’s rule.

An aside here: The notion of ‘servant leadership’ is heavily promoted among Christian leaders, especially evangelicals, in our modern, egalitarian time. The concept is not entirely without merit; certainly, Our Lord did say ‘He who would be great among you, let him be your servant.’ However, in our time this idea is perverted into a negation of authority per se. The idea often seems to be juxtaposed with Biblical commands for, for example, servants to obey their masters, or wives to submit to their husbands, and although it’s not explicitly said, the implied addendum is ‘but that’s not really what it means.’ ‘Yes, wives are commanded to submit to their husbands, but the husband is called to be a servant [so none of that really applies and the wife is still fundamentally in charge].’

However, this is not how Our Lord operated, it is not how the Apostles operated, and it is not how Christians in positions of authority today, whether they be husbands, fathers, kings, or priests, are called to operate. Christ washed the feet of his apostles, to be sure, but at the same time He never hesitated to give them orders, nor did He beat around the bush when it came to the condemnation of the wicked. The Apostles too wrote in clear consciousness of their own authority; even at their most humble they brooked neither disobedience nor disrespect from the faithful. When it is said that the ruler must be a servant, this is true, but it must not be taken in such a sense as to negate the proper hierarchical relationship between the ruler and the subject.

With that aside complete, let us return to the question of how those who are called to positions of authority should deal with those who are placed below them. As Christians, we ought first of all to honour the image of God in which we are created, and second of all to attempt to conform ourselves to His likeness. As such, His treatment of His inferiors ought to be the model for how we treat our own.

And to me, anyway,  That there is a Being of infinite power Who created and transcends the universe may be on some level a hard concept to grasp, but on the other hand it is on some level intuitive that there must be such a Being. But that He would become a man, that he would suffer, not just pain, which to a being of His magnitude must be a rather small and petty thing, but the infinite humiliation of being tortured to death by His own creatures; this is the truly shocking thing. This is the thing which we must, in our own small way, imitate if we are to be conformed to the likeness of God.

St. Paul writes:

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;

But this does not apply only to husbands and wives directly. One of the points I like to hammer on is that authority is of one nature. There is not a fundamental difference between the authority of the husband/father and that of the king or the priest.

The reason that a man is measured by the way he treats his inferiors is that there is a mutual exchange in the right cosmic order: respect and obedience flow up, while love and self-sacrifice flow down.

What does not flow down, by the way, is submission or compliance, and what does not flow up is judgment. A woman does not get to say ‘I dont have to submit because I dont feel like my husband is loving me well enough’, for example. This is a side note because I know if I dont throw this in I’ll be accused of making excuses for wives who dont submit, etc. That’s not the point. We’re not talking about them now.

The point here is simply that wherever there is a hierarchy, it is the duty of those who occupy a higher place in the hierarchy to see to the welfare of those under them, even at the expense of their own. The superior man treats his inferiors with compassion; the inferior man, insecure in his position of authority, abuses them to prove to himself that he is in charge,  or disregards them because he is concerned only with his own pleasure.

That’s why the treatment of inferiors, not equals, is the measure of a man.


Christ is Born!

(Glorify Him!)

May Christ our True God, Who was born of the Virgin in a Manger in a Cave for our salvation, have mercy on us and save us, through the prayers of the Holy Prophet Samuel, the holy theologian John, the holy archangel Gabriel, and of all our patron saints, and of the venerable Herman of Alaska, the Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Innocent, Enlightener of the Aleuts, and all the Saints who have shined upon our shores, and of the Royal Martyrs of Russia, Amen!


Orthodoxy and Catholicism: Hope for Reunion? A Response to Bryce Laliberte (aka @AnarchoPapist)

Some time ago, my (online) friend Bryce Laliberte, now of Anarcho-Papist, wrote an interesting piece on his old blog, Amtheomusings, about the possibility of reunion between the Roman Catholic Church (to which he belongs) and the Eastern Orthodox Church (to which I belong.) Laliberte is, as is typical of Catholics, far more optimistic for such a reunion than am I (or most traditionalist Orthodox.)

I have linked to Laliberte’s post above; if you haven’t read it, please go do so now, as the rest of this response will assume that you have read it and are familiar with it or can at least refer back to it as necessary.

Laliberte’s summary of the problems between his communion and my own is not a bad one, overall and as traditionalist/conservative Roman Catholic interpretations go; he neither dismisses the differences as inconsequential nor resorts to invective against the ‘Greek schismatics’. But he fundamentally misunderstands the Orthodox conception of doctrine and authority, and in doing so he underplays the amount of difference that exists between our churches, by dramatically understating how many doctrines the Eastern Orthodox Church actually has.

Take a look at this sampling of quotes from Laliberte’s article:

‘All doctrines in Orthodoxy Catholicism accepts.’

‘So, all ecumenical councils before the Great Schism the Catholic and Orthodox Churches are agreed on; the difference is that the Orthodox Church doesn’t believe that any ecumenical councils have been held.’

‘The difference then lies in that Catholicism has developed its doctrines for the last 1000 years, whereas the Orthodox has effectively not. The Catholic Church has more doctrines than the Orthodox Church, such as the filioque, papal infallibility, and even counter-intuitively, the canon of Scripture.’

The problem here is that Laliberte identifies Orthodox ‘doctrine’ as existing only in the proclamations of the Ecumenical Councils (we’ll leave aside for now the murky issue of the eighth and ninth Ecumenical Councils, and also the significantly less murky matter of the Quinisext Council or ‘Council in Trullo’, both of which would be problematic for Laliberte’s claim of agreement up to the point of seven ecumenical councils and then no further development on the Orthodox side). This is not really an accurate understanding of where Orthodox doctrine comes from. To claim, for instance, that the Orthodox ‘have no doctrine’ when it comes to the issue of the canon of Scripture, because said canon has not been dogmatised by an Ecumenical Council, is dubious at best.

The Orthodox Church finds Her doctrine in Holy Tradition. However, Holy Tradition is found in the entire life of the Church, in the entire consensus fidelium. We cannot accept the Roman idea that the Tradition ‘grows’ or that doctrine ‘develops’; we do not have any ‘new doctrines’ unknown to the Apostles. The Councils do not establish new doctrines but merely defend against attack the same doctrines we have always held.

His Excellency, Metropolitan +KALLISTOS (Ware) of Diokleia, writes the following on the subject of Holy Tradition:

To an Orthodox Christian, Tradition means the Holy Bible; it means the Creed; it means the decrees of the Ecumenical Councils and the writings of the Fathers; it means the Canons, the Service Books, the Holy Icons, etc. In essence, it means the whole system of doctrine, ecclesiastical government, worship and art which Orthodoxy has articulated over the ages.

Thus, we can see that Laliberte makes an error by limiting Orthodox doctrine to only the proclamations of the Ecumenical Councils, and in so doing dramatically understates the amount of doctrine that we in fact have.

For example: It is simply not correct to say that the Catholic Church has developed the doctrine of the infallibility of the Pope while the Orthodox Church has remained silent, as if the Orthodox Church could tomorrow simply ‘catch up’, ‘develop’ this novel doctrine, and move on without abandoning any doctrines we now hold. This is not the case. Rather, we have advanced, counter to papal supremacist claims, a competing, incompatible ecclesiology that stresses the headship of Christ over the Church and the fundamental equality of all bishops, with what hierarchy exists among them a mutable, human, oikonomic institution. This is an Orthodox doctrine, albeit not one laid out with the force and clarity of an Ecumenical Council.

Similarly, our different understanding of Original Sin, our position in the hesychast controversy, and our understanding of the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father alone are all doctrines, not merely the lack of some doctrine propounded by Rome.

Ultimately, no reunion can take place without one Church or the other simply admitting it was wrong and being more or less subsumed into the other. I do not believe there can be any way around the claim that exactly one Church is wrong and has been since the schism, except to argue that both Churches are wrong. If a reunion were to take place on these terms, we could not have the Orthodox Church reenter communion with the Catholic Church while the one remained Orthodox and the other Catholic. One or the other Church must surrender Her identity as she has come to understand it. An Orthodox Church that accepted the Papacy simply would not be Orthodox, in the way we use that term now, and a Catholic Church that renounced the filioque would be in much the same position.

This Blog Is Still Alive, And The Latest From His Humilty

Dear Reader,

This blog has been inactive for almost a month. I have some excuse, as I was in Europe for two weeks of that. I have no good excuse for not posting in the last two weeks, though, and that is a situation I intend to rectify, starting today and continuing, I think, with a later post comparing Islam and Protestantism.

Today, however, I’d like to talk about Pope Francis. After his Angelus yesterday, the Holy Father had this to say:

Vorrei rivolgere un saluto ai musulmani del mondo intero, nostri fratelli, che da poco hanno celebrato la conclusione del mese di Ramadan, dedicato in modo particolare al digiuno, alla preghiera e all’elemosina. Come ho scritto nel mio Messaggio per questa circostanza, auguro che cristiani e musulmani si impegnino per promuovere il reciproco rispetto, specialmente attraverso l’educazione delle nuove generazioni.

Interestingly, I was not able to find this document in English, so I have taken the liberty of translating the text myself. Hopefully my Italian is up to snuff, as I am reasonably confident that it is.

I would like to send a greeting to the Muslims of the whole world, our brothers, who  recently celebrated the conclusion of the month of Ramadan, dedicated particularly to fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. As I wrote in my Message for the Present Circumstance, I hope that Christians and Muslims commit to promoting mutual respect, especially through the education of new generations. (Emphasis mine)

This is a deeply disturbing statement, but sadly unsurprising coming from Pope Francis. This is the same Pope who said that ‘because of our common roots’ ‘a true Christian cannot be anti-Semitic’.

There is simply no excuse for the head of the world’s largest Christian Church to be addressing followers of any religion that denies the Triune God and Our Lord Jesus Christ as ‘brothers’, but to do it to followers of the religion currently leading the pack as the foremost persecutors of Christians should be unimaginable.

If I receive the Holy Eucharist from a bishop who is out of communion with my own, I place myself in communion with him and break communion with my bishop. It seems to me obvious that likewise, if Pope Francis wishes to be the ‘brother’ of the world’s Moslems he must surrender any claim to the brotherhood of the world’s Christians.

The Ummah is the premier existential enemy of Christendom, at least if we exclude those domains that claim to be non-religious. All over the Arab world, we have seen in recent years a resurgence of Islam as a political ideology, even more than before, and the result has been the death of countless Christians.

The Pope of Alexandria may have to appease Moslems to keep his flock from being burned alive; the Pope of Rome has no such excuse.

If the Mahometans are Pope Francis’s brothers, then with respect, he is not mine.


Papal Humility

Of late it seems to have become fashionable among Roman Pontiffs to engage in progressively more ostentatious displays of humility. For instance, here’s a photo from the coronation of Pope John XXIII in 1958.

popejohn-1.jpg picture by kjk76_95

The successor to Pope John XXIII was Pope Paul VI, the last pope to be crowned, in 1963. His coronation looked like this:

However, in what La Wik, seemingly without conscious irony, calls a ‘dramatic gesture of humility‘, His Holiness laid down his tiara and sold it, giving the money to the poor.

This act, of course, caused Paul VI to go down in history as the humblest Pope yet. And since then the humble-off has gotten more and more competitive. HH Servant of God Pope John Paul I ratcheted up the humility another notch and even made it his motto.

Unfortunately, John Paul I died after only 33 days on the Chair of St. Peter. He was succeeded by, apparently, a big fan of his. John Paul II had his problems, to be sure:

Nevertheless, as far as I can tell the papal ceremonial did not notably degenerate during his installation.

His successor, Benedict XVI, was widely considered a conservative, even traditionalist Pope. He certainly did facilitate the use of the Latin Mass, for which he is, in my opinion, to be commended. However, dont forget that he also declared the aforementioned Paul VI ‘Venerable’. Moreover, and again according to La Wik,

During his inaugural Mass, the previous custom of every cardinal submitting to the Pope was replaced by having twelve people, including cardinals, clergy, religious, a married couple and their child, and newly confirmed people, greet him.

So we do see a bit more of a move toward the informal, the less ceremonial, and the less traditional, even in the inauguration of the relatively conservative Pope Benedict.

And then, His Holiness Benedict XVI shocked the world with his virtually unprecedented decision to resign the papacy. And his successor? Pope Francis. Heck, even his name practically oozes the kind of in-your-face humility that has become de rigueur for Roman Pontiffs.

The kind of ‘humility’ that we see from Pope Francis can be seen in a WaPo article from 29 March:

Over the past two weeks, with one act of humility after another, Pope Francis has proven he’s willing to break with tradition.

Just after being named the new pontiff, he asked the faithful to pray for him, rather than the other way around. He’s refused to stand on the customary platform above other archbishops and dressed himself in simpler vestments than his predecessors. He’s made a practice of shunning the rich trappings of the position, from paying his own hotel bill to opting out of the palatial apartment popes have lived in for a century in favor of simpler digs.

Is it just me, or does this tendency toward a reduction of the dignity of the papal office seem both endless and irreversible? Where does it stop? Will the next Pope come before the masses wearing Bermuda Shorts and a half-open T-shirt to show how ‘humble’ he is? Will he refuse to teach theology and instead ask the people to teach him? Will the tradition of having the Cardinals elect the Pope be replaced with a popular vote? Who can say? And how could any Pope ‘turn the clock back’ without appearing arrogant?

To be honest, I see this kind of humility as a form of pride. Each Pope must show himself more humble than the previous one. The truly humble thing to do would be to submit oneself to the tradition of the Church, to do just as one’s predecessor had done, and not to call attention to one’s humility.

But I doubt the Popes will do that. Yet again, the fruits of democratism are seen in the destruction of beauty, order, and dignity, for the sake of leveling hierarchies, pursuing ever the elusive and pernicious dream of ‘equality’.

And that, dear reader, is why I stand forever against equality, democracy, and the tyranny of the masses.

Deo Vindice!