The Differences Between Catholics and Eastern Orthodox
I am a 32 year old wife and mother of two young boys. I have worshiped my entire life as a Catholic, and have very recently began to search for a new church. Can you please explain the differences between the two faiths?
Thank you, -Lisa
I appreciate your question. I have been in the process of making a webpage comparing the western church (Catholicism) and the eastern church (Eastern Orthodoxy), so your question will help me out. At first glance, there isn't much of a difference between the Catholic and Orthodox churches. Both churches come directly from the apostles and their successors, so their basic beliefs and practices are very closely related. However, certain minor doctrines appeared in the west, starting in the 5th century, which were never initially accepted by the apostolic Church. But as the centuries went by these dogmas eventually became so popular in the west that in the 9th century the bishops of Rome began to accept them as divine doctrines, which then led to great differences between the west and the east. Then in 1054, an emissary of the pope arbitrarily excommunicated the bishop of Constantinople, which involved all the other eastern bishops. Thus, the Catholic church initiated changes to the Faith and then broke away from the original apostolic Church and its beliefs. For the next 1000 years new and/or previously disputed doctrines became more and more established as divine truths in the Catholic church.
1. One of the most important differences between the Catholics and Orthodox is the doctrine that the popes of Rome have absolute authority over all other bishops throughout Christianity and that they are infallible in matters of doctrine. Both dogmas had never existed until the 9th century, when more and more Roman popes were seeking to assert their spiritual authority as the supreme expression of the Faith. Eastern Orthodoxy cannot accept such beliefs because these ideals were never part of the early Church. Early Christian bishops, including Eastern Orthodox ones, have always utilized a consensus of opinions and spiritual authority, usually by council or synod. It is this wider perspective of decision-making that is considered infallible regarding matters of doctrine and absolute authority.
2. In the 5th century a new doctrine surfaced which was called the Filioque. The Filioque is the name of an additional phrase of the Nicene Creed that says, "and the Son". The Nicene Creed originally said, "I believe.....in the Holy Spirit....who proceeds from the Father." The Filioque makes the Creed say, "I believe....in the Holy Spirit....who proceeds from the Father and the Son." This additional phrase became more and more accepted in the west over the centuries until the 9th-10th centuries when more and more popes began to declare it divinely inspired. This phrase was recognized as creating a false perception of the Trinity, as though there is a hierarchical structure to the Trinity, rather than a perfect Triad. This is why Eastern Orthodoxy cannot accept this new doctrine.
3. The Catholic church also began to believe in another new doctrine, which states that the Virgin Mary was conceived and born without sin. The early Church, including Eastern Orthodoxy, believes that the Virgin Mary was capable of sinning, but she successfully resisted sin her whole life. If she had been created without sin, then this would mean that she was not exactly human, and therefore Christ's Flesh was not exactly human, and so He could not have taken on our whole human flesh in the truest way in order to save the human race.
4. The Catholic church, realizing how they have changed the apostolic doctrines over the centuries, came up with another doctrine in the 1800's called "Doctrinal Development". The Catholic church thus believes that the Holy Spirit through the popes develops, changes, adds, and subtracts various aspects of Scriptural interpretation, early Christian analyses, and apostolic Tradition. They believe that each new system of doctrines and replacements of previous beliefs, such as paying money for indulgences, Vatican I, Vatican II, etc., are superior in intellect and spiritual enlightenment to the previously-accepted church traditions and papal decisions. Furthermore, all future changes, according to this new dogma, will supercede Vatican II and minimize or nullify previous papal pronouncements on doctrine. Eastern Orthodoxy does not believe that Christ's New Testament Church should or can change arbitrarily by the Holy Spirit. The Bible and the early Church both taught that the written and oral traditions of the apostles must be adhered to without change or variation in any way. The Holy Spirit struggled with the Church against heresy and false doctrines for centuries and the early Christians suffered martyrdom for this Faith. This is the Faith that Orthodoxy has inherited and will continue to abide by, according to the warning of the Lord Jesus in the gospels, where He tells us to beware of human traditions treated as doctrines of Christ.
5. The Catholic church about 1000 years ago decided to force all priests to be celibate. But the Orthodox church continues to practice the apostolic tradition of married priests.
6. The Catholic church is considered by the Orthodox to be too legalistic and relies too much on intellectual speculation. The Orthodox church is considered by the Catholics to be too mystical and relies too much on spiritual practices.
There are certain other minor differences of little importance, but these are the most serious differences between Catholics and Orthodox. I hope this answers your question satisfactorily. -Gaius