Fr. Ernesto has begun articles outlining differences between Eastern Christianity and Christianity from the West. The post below comes from his blog, Orthocuban found on my blogroll. It is quite helpful for we of the West to understand how our Eastern Christian brothers and sisters differ from us in emphasis. We are not always right simply because we grew up in the West. Check this out. Fr. Orthohippo
Photo is St. John Anglican Church, Macomb Township, Michigan, USA
From the European Institute of Protestant Studies comes this excellent summary of how the theological and philosophical differences grew between Orthodoxy and the West. Surprisingly, this excellent summary is by a pastor whom I consider to be a radical on many theological issues. But, his writing on this topic is quite good.
But after about 400 AD, you need to remember the four A’s to understand something of how the west (Catholic and Protestant) grew apart from Eastern Orthodoxy: Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, the Awakening. These have probably fundamentally affected if not determined the faith of everyone reading this article, but they never affected Orthodoxy.
Augustine of Hippo (354 430) taught that man has totally fallen away from God and is unable to stir himself to come back; that every person inherits Adam’s guilt (not just his nature); that salvation is entirely of God’s initiative and grace; that those who will believe and be saved have been chosen and predestined before they are born.
Anselm (1033 1109) was an Italian who became archbishop of Canterbury. He taught that in Christ God became human so that Jesus Christ could die in our place as a satisfaction for all our sins: substitutionary atonement.
Aquinas (ca 1225 1275) was a Dominican monk who blended Greek logic (from Aristotle’s philosophy) into theological method.
The Awakening in the 18th century (Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, George Whitefield etc) emphasised personal assurance of forgiveness and of the new birth. …
The church in the west was greatly influenced by Roman law and tended to see salvation in legal terms: God pardoning the guilty. The Reformation in the 16th century (Luther, Calvin etc), as well as re emphasising Augustine’s doctrines of man, sin, election and grace, made another change, namely that whereas Augustine taught that justification is being made righteous, the Reformers and their followers (e.g. the Puritans) taught that it is being accounted righteous by Christ’s righteousness imputed to us. They also adjusted Roman Catholic teaching on church and sacraments.
The Orthodox don’t emphasize the Cross and forgiveness as much as we do; rather, they see salvation more in terms of Christ’s Incarnation, our union with Him, our glorification, and the renewal of creation. They see Christ’s death on the Cross less as His paying our penalty in our place, more as His victory over death and Satan.
They have a more optimistic view of man and his ability to turn to God than Augustine’s. They have more place for mystery and are less concerned to make theology logical.
They are often “apophatic” (that is, they talk more bout what we don’t know about God, while we concentrate on what we do know.)
Let me make a couple of comments. First, most Westerners are not in any way aware of the theology of the East. Nor are they taught anything about the East. Thus, they often wrongly assume that the Early Church believed the way that they believe, despite the fact that Saint Augustine comes after the First Ecumenical Council and that Saint Anselm comes around the time of the split of the West from the rest of the Church. I can remember how difficult it was to learn to understand what the Eastern Orthodox were really saying, because I would keep filtering it through Augustine and Anselm. No, I did not realize at the time that I was filtering it through Augustine and Anselm, but I certainly was.
Second, on our side, we have all too many Orthodox who blame Saint Augustine for things he did not do. He was never a Calvinist. In fact, the writer quoted above makes the point that the Reformers altered some of his theology. We cannot look at the Reformers and claim that they are the direct descendants of Saint Augustine in everything they say. At most, they are only the descendants of Saint Augustine in some things.
Third, while Saint Augustine did say some of what the writer says, he is exaggerating it a bit. And, the Roman Catholic Church never officially adopted all of Saint Augustine’s thought in its entirety. For instance, Saint Vincent of Lerins, who was a contemporary of Saint Augustine, took on Saint Augustine on several points of his theology and told him that he was mistaken. The Roman Catholic Church has never held in any sense a doctrine of election that would support Calvinism, for instance. Thus, the Orthodox who try to read some form of Calvinism into the entire Western Church are quite mistaken, and should not try to do so.
Finally, I do like what he says about us being apophatic. But, I have a slightly different take on why we are apophatic. I would call it simply being humble before your God and acknowledging that we do not know everything, but he does.