In the past I had written from a few different perspectives why I chose Eastern Orthodoxy. However I was asked again why I chose it instead of Catholicism. It prompted me to write a brief summary of the underlying theological issues (each requiring several blog posts of their own) in order to help paint a picture and also give talking points in future conversations.
To understand why I chose Orthodoxy, theologically (there were other reasons), here is some background on why I had issues with my Protestant/Reformed theology.
I was Reformed in my understanding, and strongly covenantal. Pressup apologetics was also something that I held to. Looking at and arguing for the consistency of a worldview was what I focused on. In particular arguments against naturalism. I was strongly arguing for how the personal couldn’t logically proceed from the impersonal. That ultimate reality had to be personal. But then that got me thinking about the Trinity. What was the point of unity or ultimate reality there? I had issues with saying that the three persons were kept together by an impersonal essence. As though the essence were behind them, and they somehow proceeded from it. Then I’d be making some form of impersonality the ultimate grounds of reality, just like the materialist. I couldn’t make the divine essence some type of “personal stuff” or a fourth person. And I wasn’t alone in this. Cornelius Van Til got into trouble while trying to solve this. Google his name with “God is three persons, One person”. I had a poor conception of what “person” was in Christian theology. At least, not as finely defined as necessary for good theology.
Around this time I was already in contact with at least one Orthodox person, and had heard about the doctrine of the Monarchy of the Father. Which I hated. I felt as though by making the Father the central point, and Autotheos as opposed to Christ and the Spirit, I felt it denied their Deity. But I was getting frustrated and decided to hear the Orthodox out. I don’t know what made me do it. So I messaged my Orthodox friend Daniel and we skyped for a good bit. I realised then that I had been confusing nature and person the whole time. And slowly as the weeks went by, I realised just how central these Trinitarian and Christological issues were the rest of my theology. Part of the reason why I was a Calvinist was because I couldn’t see a way out. My confusion of nature and person meant that I couldn’t see how Calvinism couldn’t be true if we’re determined in our choices by our nature. But after seeing in the incarnation that Person and nature and irreducible distinction, this Calvinism was subordinating persons to nature. Applied to God it meant that things like creation and evil became necessary. Since God’s immutable nature would eternally and unchangeably determine that He create. And create some people for damnation. This meant that either God by nature needed creation, and ergo evil. Or perhaps worse, He could have done otherwise but preferred or was indifferent to evil.
The nature person distinction made it possible to not be a Calvinist. And slowly I saw how it meant that other Protestant doctrines were called into question. I found my denial of images of Christ, were Nestorian, saying that the person of Christ couldn’t be depicted without the divine nature. I found that my idea of a “sinful nature” confused the personal property of evil by adding it to a nature, which is impersonal. I found that the doctrine of imputation was also problematic. Because how could I be imputed and condemned for the guilt of Adam? Since guilt was a personal property. It meant either a) me and Adam are the same person to share the same personal property b) I existed before I was born and was personally involved somehow c) by virtue of sharing the same *nature* I was transmitted his *personal property*, which again confused personal and natural categories or d) It was in name only, God willed it to be so. But on what basis? I then saw that this idea to work required some form of voluntarism and medieval nominalism. Which I came see to as problematic in light of the teachings of historic, pre-schism Christianity.
Seeing this, I then began to see not just the issues with my old theology, I also saw how Orthodoxy answered the questions I consciously held. As well as ones I had for a long time but were more on the back of my mind. Orthodoxy also affirmed many intuitions that I long held but didn’t realise at first.
Limited atonement never sat well with me comfortably. Even though I was logically convinced of it. But in reading 1 Corinthians 15, I could see that resurrection of all people was tied to the atonement. And couldn’t really square that with Calvinism. Also the Gospel for me had more meat to it now that it was focused on the incarnation and an ontological change as opposed to an emphasis on a judicial and legal change. Since for so long the Gospels didn’t really seem to teach “the Gospel” as I couldn’t really see justification by faith alone and imputation strongly taught there. I felt that “the Gospel” was better seen in Paul’s letters, particularly Romans. But in Orthodoxy, the New Testament had a new life to it. And passages that didn’t match my more Legal and Sola Fide theology, didn’t bother me anymore.
What *really* drew it all together was the doctrine of divine simplicity. I strongly held to this, in particularly that God was just the one simple divine essence. But when I encountered the Orthodox teaching of the divine energies (that God had both a divine essence but also eternal and divine energies), and saw that we can truly participate in the divine, not a created reality, and still be creatures, I was then able to accept a sacramental worldview. I was also able to understand veneration of saints and relics. Since they participated in a divine power that worked in matter just as much as the soul.
I also came to understand that the divine energies meant that it was possible to have eternal and uncreated good options. Such that you can still have free undetermined persons, who are morally perfect and still have choice. The divine energies meant that free will no longer had to be simply about choosing between good or evil. But between real equally good goods.
I saw that having only one eternal and simple good would mean that either
a) a libertarian view of free will wasn’t necessary. In which case, God could have made us all only will the one good option. And spare the world evil and damnation. But wouldn’t since he preferred it or couldn’t since his nature determined it.
b) a libertarian view was necessary but we lost our free will once we became impeccable. And it seemed that God never had it to begin with.
The first for me was simply Calvinism all over again. And the latter didn’t make sense.
But both positions ended up subordinating nature to persons. Later on I came to see how a personal and deterministic predestinarianism has problems for Christology. Since it would meant that Christ at the incarnation being subject in that manner to the divine will meant either that Christ was a creature, since the Logos would be determined by a divine activity, which means the Logos isn’t causing it, and is thus a creature, ergo Arianism. Or that there were two subjects at the incarnation, the Man Christ and the God Logos, with the former determined by the latter. Which is Nestorianism. The other option would be to say that Christ as the predestined man, does not share in our predestination. Which is to really to have a divorce of predestination from Christology, which in my books doesn’t speak highly of a theology.
With all this in mind, I had the theological categories of Person (the who), Nature (the what), and activity/energy (what the Who does, revealing what they are) in my head. And to mix or ignore any would lead one to heresy. I now saw how small things had massive implications. Even denying that Mary was the Mother of God, either implied Arianism or Nestorianism. So now, when I looked at Catholicism, I didn’t see a clear formulation of something like the essence energies distinction. But something closer to the idea that all that is uncreated is essence. I didn’t see a clear rejection of the predestinarianism that I saw as problematic. With the same good/evil in choice dialectic that see as problematic. But which assumes an absolute simple good or a denial of libertarian free will. Even per Augustine, God didn’t give everyone the final grace of perseverance. So there is some form of determinism there. Not to say that the Catholic Church endorses such a predestinarianism, but seeing it in some versions of Thomism and scholastic thinking was suspect. A predestinariasm that could possibly be implied in doctrine of the immaculate conception, depending on whether one thinks it rendered her impeccable or somehow overcame the issue of the gnomic will. And of course the filioque, which I’m still hopeful could possibly be resolved. But I’m as of yet unconvinced that there isn’t some mixing of person, nature and activity.
It has been largely for those theological reasons that I chose Orthodoxy over Rome or Geneva.