Why convert from Orthodoxy?
Updated: Feb 22
One of my friends recently converted from Eastern Orthodoxy to the Catholic Church.
I just wanted to share his story with you so that you can learn more about Eastern Orthodoxy and be able to defend yourself against their attacks.
Please pray for Gideon Laser as he is truly a remarkable man and will be facing a lot of backlash from his former community.
Shared with Permission, you can find the original post here:
The day this was posted, I was received into the Catholic Church. Many of my Orthodox friends are likely shocked at my decision, so I wrote this article to explain my reasoning. First some background on myself. I was raised in a non-religious Jewish family. I considered myself an atheist for as long as I can remember. In my Junior year of high school, I looked into the evidence for Christianity, looking to refute it. I walked away from that endeavor becoming a believer in Jesus and firmly convinced by the evidence. I began to read about the early Christians, and then look at modern denominations. I was convinced that the Orthodox Church was the true Church, and so I became a catechumen. After two years as a catechumen I was baptized into the Orthodox Church. Many of my friends are Catholic, so I went to go research Orthodox apologetics against Catholicism in an effort to prove that the Orthodox Church is the true Church. While at first it seemed obvious that the Orthodox Church was right, the more I studied, the more I realized I was missing a lot of nuance. I ultimately ended up being convinced by the evidence for the Catholic Church, and so I had no choice but to convert. So now, a little over a year after my baptism, I am being received into the Catholic Church. I ask readers to please read the entire article (I know it’s long) before rushing to judgement as I may respond to your points later in the article. If you feel as though I did not address something important, please comment below about it. Because of the length of the article, I could not put as much detail to every section as I would have liked and so I may write more on these topics in the future.
The thing that initially triggered my move towards Catholicism is Our Lady of Fatima. One of my friends was telling me about the fruits Fatima had on her own life. She read what the Theotokos had said to the children about modesty, and it caused her to become more modest in her dress. She also told me about how her priest had visited Fatima and when he came back, he preached a fiery sermon about the reality of hell. I had been told by my fellow Orthodox Christians that Fatima was at best a hoax and at worst demonic, so I decided to investigate Fatima for myself.
The view that Fatima is simply a hoax cannot be the case. It has a miracle connected with it that was witnessed by thousands of people, many of whom were atheists who came to the event specifically to refute what the children were saying. Skeptics have argued that it was simply a mass hallucination, but Christians should be skeptical of this argument. Skeptics of the resurrection of Jesus often respond to the fact that there were 500 witnesses by pointing to Fatima. If Fatima was a mass hallucination, so could the resurrection of Jesus have been. No other mass hallucination has ever been recorded though. In reality, Fatima was actually the most seen public miracle since the time of the exodus about 3500 years ago.
The other objection to Fatima is that it is demonic. However, the vision doesn’t sound like Satan at all. Would Satan command people to pray 53 Hail Marys and 6 Our Fathers, both fully Orthodox prayers, every single day? Would Satan command people to pray that Jesus “lead all souls to heaven” 5 times every day? Would Satan remind people about the reality of hell in a time when even the Church is forgetting about it? Would Satan seal all of this through a public miracle witnessed by thousands of atheists, causing many to convert and dedicate their lives to Christ? If this is Satan’s plan, it isn’t a very good one.
I did find one way to stay Orthodox after discovering this. Fatima was true and Orthodoxy is true. After all, the message of Fatima seems entirely Orthodox. There are some major problems with this though. First, Our Lady said that “in Portugal the dogma of the faith will always be preserved.” Portugal has remained Catholic, with only a tiny Orthodox minority. If Orthodoxy is true, the dogma of the faith has not been preserved in Portugal. In addition, Our Lady requested that Russia, the largest Orthodox country, be consecrated by the Pope, the head of the Catholic Church, to the immaculate heart (a Catholic devotion rejected by many Orthodox as heretical) so that it will be converted. I reconciled this by saying that it needed to be converted from communism back to Orthodoxy. However, why would God request Catholics to do this in a very Catholic way? One Orthodox priest I read tried to fix this by saying that the “Holy Father” was actually the Patriarch of Moscow. This is already a stretch because the Patriarch is not called by this title while the Pope is. He goes even further by claiming that “the immaculate heart of Mary” is actually the true teachings of the Orthodox Church but the Theotokos needed a way to communicate this to peasant children. At this point this is such a stretch that it’s just easier to draw the obvious conclusion, if Fatima is true then Catholicism is true.
The other major event that triggered my shift towards Catholicism was reading about the history of Catholic missionary work. In Orthodoxy, there are a few saints that are famous for missions: Sts. Cyril and Methodius (who were before the schism), St. Nicholas of Japan, and St. Herman of Alaska. In fact, if you discuss missionary work with anyone who is Orthodox, they will probably bring up St. Herman of Alaska. There is a reason he is brought up again, and again, and again. He is essentially the only successful Orthodox missionary since the schism. This is a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s mostly true. He converted a few hundred natives in Alaska, and that’s basically it. St. Nicholas’ mission in Japan now numbers less than 10,000 people, less than 0.01% of the population of Japan. Orthodox report large missions currently in Africa and Latin America, but the numbers are highly exaggerated and are often self-reported to be 10 or 100 times larger than what is recorded on official censuses by the government or third parties.
On the other hand, Catholics have a long and glorious history of missionary work. I used to assume this was simply because of colonial empires, but this is false. Catholic missionary work continued after the schism. Missionaries went as far as China and India before the age of sail, despite the fact that the Orthodox were closer to these lands and didn’t go. During the crusades, St. Francis of Assisi went to the Sultan himself and tried to convert him.
Then, during the age of sail Catholic missionaries went to places where there weren’t colonial interests. Catholics went to places in India where there were no Portuguese settlements. They went to Japan and continued to sneak in even after they were expelled. They went deep into forests and mountains in Latin America beyond Spanish and Portuguese settlements. Priests often stood up the colonial authorities to defend the natives, one of the main factors that eventually lead to the suppression of the Jesuits by the Pope under pressure from colonial empires. On the other hand, Orthodox missionary work before the 20th century was pretty much exclusively limited to the land of the Russian empire.
The Eastern Catholic Churches
Catholics also did missionary work for the Eastern Christians. This created the Eastern Catholics, known also as the Uniates. The first major group of these is the Maronites. Since the Maronites were under Muslim rule, they had no contact with Rome for hundreds of years. When they finally got contact during the crusades and learned of the schism, they quickly sided with Rome. The other Eastern Catholics came later. There is a myth in Orthodoxy that people only became Eastern Catholics under force by Catholic kings. This has some truth to it, but is mostly false. These groups mostly came over willingly. While some did come over by force, the Orthodox also forcibly converted large numbers of Eastern Catholics Orthodoxy. This objection by Orthodox is really just an appeal to enlightenment ideas of freedom of religion that have not been historically held by Orthodoxy or Catholicism.
It’s also notable that there are large numbers of Eastern Catholics, but very few Western Rite Orthodox. Since the schism, the West has sought unity such as at 2 Lyons and Florence. While these were mostly failures, they were rooted in a desire for unity. After the schism, there were large amounts of Jesuit missions to Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Rome also sought union with all the East. The Catholic Church has within it all 6 rites of the Church: Latin, Byzantine, East Syriac, West Syriac, Alexandrian, and Armenian. The Eastern Orthodox Church has only the Byzantine rite, while the Oriental Orthodox Church has the West Syriac, Alexandrian, and Armenian rites and the Assyrian Church of the East has the East Syriac rite. The Eastern Orthodox have done much ecumenical dialogue with the Oriental Orthodox, but right now any Oriental Orthodox priest who were to convert would have to change to the Byzantine rite. There are a small number of Latin rite Orthodox, but they have only 2 or 3 dozen parishes in the whole world and did not start until the 20th century. They are also highly Byzantinized, worse than most of the Latinization of the Eastern Catholics. The Western Rite Orthodox are also seen as not really being “truly” Orthodox by many Orthodox who know of them, and most Orthodox don’t know they exist.
There is a common accusation by Orthodox against Catholics that Eastern Catholics are treated like second class citizens. There is some truth to this. However, it is highly exaggerated. Latinization of Eastern Catholics was usually done only by local bishops and opposed by Rome. Leo XIII wrote an encyclical against the Latinization of Eastern Catholics. Latinization was also usually self-imposed in order to prove their unity to Rome and to differentiate themselves from the Orthodox.
The most famous incidents of Latinization are limited to America where local bishops treated Eastern Catholics horribly. One famous case was Fr. Alexis Toth. Toth was a Greek Catholic priest from Slovakia who came to Minneapolis to minister to Eastern Catholic immigrants. He was opposed by the local bishop, John Ireland, who refused to let him serve. Furious, Toth became Orthodox and brought with him around 10 thousand Eastern Catholics. Toth was later canonized by the Orthodox Church. Orthodox often appeal to this to prove that Rome is just power hungry. However, this is not an isolated incident for Bishop Ireland. Ireland hated immigrant communities and tried to get them to integrate with America. He caused thousands of Poles to leave the Catholic Church as well and form the Polish National Catholic Church. He was also well known as a modernist. Toth left the Church because of one bishop who was not in line with what Rome was saying. Toth is not a great saint who exposed the entire plot of the Catholic Church.
Many Orthodox also accuse Eastern Catholics of being inconsistent. After all, Eastern Catholics venerate many post-schism Orthodox saints such as Gregory Palamas and Seraphim of Sarov. These saints are venerated for their clear holiness. I had heard all the time when I was Orthodox that Eastern Catholics venerate strongly anti-Roman saints like Mark of Ephesus and Alexis Toth, but this is mostly not true I discovered. There is a movement among Eastern Catholics called the Zoghby Initiative, started by Melkite Catholic Archbishop Elias Zoghby. Zoghby wanted to reject all post-schism councils and enter into communion with the Orthodox, while at the same time remaining in communion with Rome. This is usually what Orthodox think of when they think of Eastern Catholics. The Zoghby Initiative, while popular among many Melkites and some other Byzantine Catholics, has been rejected by Rome. Eastern Catholics are still bound to all Roman dogmas but are encouraged to express these dogmas in their own theological language.
The Holiness of Western Saints
While Catholics can acknowledge the holiness of those Orthodox who did not cause the schism and were merely born into it, the Orthodox are unusually not so charitable in return. Besides a few voices, almost all Orthodox, even the more ecumenical ones, agree that Catholic saints cannot be venerated.
Some Orthodox accuse Catholics saints of prelest, spiritual delusion. One of the most commonly accused is St. Francis of Assisi. Since St. Francis wrote a new rule of life for his friars, he must have not been truly rooted with the patristic tradition and he was actually just prideful. This accusation is highly problematic. For one, St. Francis’ rule is 95% in line with tradition. He focused on fasting, prayer, and spiritual ministry. He renounced all worldly possessions; just as Orthodox monks do. Some elements of his rule were different, but many Orthodox saints such as Paisius Velichkovsky modified monastic life as well. Every incident in Francis’ life that is supposedly prelest has an equivalent moment in the life of an Orthodox saint. When I read The Life of St. Francis by St. Bonaventure, I found nothing but a very saintly man, just like all the Orthodox saints I had read about. It is also not just random people accusing St. Francis of prelest. The famous Orthodox saint Ignatius Brianchaninov, as well as the widely venerated Fr. Seraphim Rose, accuse St. Francis of preslest.
Orthodox Sacramental Theology
Some Orthodox go even further. They claim that all Catholic sacraments are invalid (they say “graceless”) and so Catholics are identical to unbaptized pagans. They insist that any Catholic who converts must be rebaptised. Some of these people are about as anti-Catholic as some of the extremes of Protestantism. These people are also not a vocal minority. They are very loud and include among their ranks bishops and patriarchs. This view is essentially just a renewal of the heresy of Donatism.
Many Orthodox are more moderate. They insist only that Catholics be received into Orthodoxy by the sacrament of Chrismation (known in the West as Confirmation). However, this introduces far more ecclesiological problems than it solves. It confuses the nature of a sacrament itself. A sacrament leaves an indelible mark on the soul. If Catholic Confirmations are valid, then they cannot receive the sacrament again when they come into Orthodoxy.
This practice of reception by chrismation is also at clear odds with the practice of reception by baptism. In order to reconcile these differing practices, the concept of oikonomia has been applied to the reception of converts. Oikonomia is the loosening of the canons in order to meet someone where they are at in their fallen state. In the West, this is called a dispensation. The belief here is that what was lacking in the first baptism (grace) is filled in the chrismation. They had only the outward form of Baptism, not inward grace. This is problematic on a number of levels. First, it once again attacks the nature of sacraments themselves. Sacraments are by their very nature outward signs of inward grace. The grace and the form cannot be received at different times. Secondly, it isn’t oikonomia. Oikonomia is a loosening of the canons, but the canons do not proscribe that heretics who are trinitarian be rebaptized. It is actually the reception by baptism which is an abuse of the canons. Finally, it is simply a way for converts received by chrismation to still be seen as Orthodox by those who rebaptize.
For some this is not enough, however. Some Orthodox priests, such as many monks on Mt. Athos or even many priests in ROCOR, will insist that those who have been received only by chrismation must receive baptism, but not chrismation again. This just ruins sacramental theology even further. One cannot receive the sacrament of Chrismation before one has received the sacrament of Baptism. Additionally, this is essentially a denial of the theory of reception of oikonomia. If they are really denying this theory, then why are they still willing to commune people who have been received only by chrismation? They are giving communion to people who are still catechumens. Also, why do they venerate saints who were only received by chrismation, such as Elizabeth the New Martyr? If they do accept the theory, then why do they repeat baptism on an already baptized person, which according to the Fathers is to crucify Christ again. This disagreement over the validity of heretical baptisms is not a new problem. In his book Russia and the Universal church published in 1889, Vladimir Soloviev relays this story: William Palmer, a distinguished member of the Anglican Church and of the University of Oxford, wished to join the Orthodox Church. He went to Russia and Turkey to study the contemporary situation in the Christian East and to find out on what conditions he would be admitted to the communion of the Eastern Orthodox. At St. Petersburg and at Moscow he was told that he had only to abjure the errors of Protestantism before a priest, who would thereupon administer to him the sacrament of Holy Chrism or Confirmation. But at Constantinople he found that he must be baptized afresh. As he knew himself to be a Christian and saw no reason to suspect the validity of his baptism (which incidentally was admitted without question by the Orthodox Russian Church), he considered that a second baptism would be a sacrilege. On the other hand, he could not bring himself to accept Orthodoxy according to the local rules of the Russian Church, since he would then become Orthodox only in Russia while remaining a heathen in the eyes of the Greeks; and he had no wish to join a national Church but to join the universal Orthodox Church. No one could solve his dilemma, and so he became a Roman Catholic. This same problem continues with clergy. Some Orthodox Churches will receive Catholic priests by a ceremony of vesting. Other Orthodox Churches will insist this priest be baptized again. While one can argue that the form of baptism was still correct while it lacked grace, the same cannot be done with ordination. If Catholic holy orders are invalid, then that means all Catholic bishops are really unbaptized pagans. Can an unbaptized pagan perform the whole ceremony of ordination, and then an Orthodox bishop steps in afterwards to fill in the grace? This is essentially a way to avoid the fact that these Orthodox sacramental rigorists would have to think that there are large numbers of lay people running around the Church thinking they are clergy. In the case of the Carpatho-Russian Archdiocese, the entire archdiocese was received into the Orthodox Church from the Catholic Church by a mere telegram. Can a telegram convey sacramental grace with the same efficacy of a bishop?
The Disunity of Orthodoxy
This lack of consistency in sacramental practice highlights a fundamental problem of Orthodoxy: it is not united. As I write this article, the largest Orthodox Church, the Russian Church, and the most powerful one, the Constantinople, are not in communion with one another. In addition, for the past five years, Antioch and Jerusalem have not been in communion. These constant schisms are usually over minor territorial disputes, but effect hundreds of millions of lay people. These schisms are also not a new thing. Back in 1996, there was a break in communion between Moscow and Constantinople over jurisdiction over Estonia. From 1872-1945, Bulgaria and Constantinople were not in communion.
To confuse things even more, in 1917, ROCOR broke away from ROCOR was in communion with Jerusalem and Serbia, but not the rest of the Orthodox Church because they had all adopted the Gregorian calendar (since a calendar made a pagan king is obviously Christian while one made by a Pope is heretical). During this period between 1917 and 2007 when they reunited with Moscow, ROCOR also entered into and broke communion with various Greek Old Calendarist groups who were not even in communion with one another. Finally, in 2007 they reunited with Moscow without actually resolving which one of them was right. To this day no one agrees whether or not they were canonical during this time. ROCOR also holds strictly that there are no sacraments outside the Church. (One priest who played a major role in my conversion to Catholicism got defrocked by ROCOR for thinking otherwise.) Are the sacraments of the Greek Old Calendarists valid since ROCOR was in communion with them? Were the sacraments of all the Orthodox Churches following the Gregorian calendar valid from 1917-2007?
This disunity is not just in communion. The Churches do not act like one Church in missionary work. In every country outside Eastern Europe and the Middle East, one will find parishes under Moscow and Constantinople. They will both claim jurisdiction over these lands. In many cases, there are also many other jurisdictions, most commonly Antioch.
One could argue that it is hypocritical to point out, as many places have overlapping Latin and Eastern Catholic bishops. This however is because these are actually different traditions. A Byzantine and a Latin live different spiritual lives. Many of these Churches are also the result of healed schisms and the old hierarchy remained. The key difference though is that there is a clear system canonically as to how this all works. In Orthodoxy, everyone is implicitly saying that everyone else’s jurisdictions are illicit by placing overlapping bishops abroad. In Catholicism, this is all worked out and is not an abuse of the canons.
This disunity of jurisdictions in Orthodoxy manifests further disunity, such as how to grant autocephaly. In an attempt to unify all Orthodox Christians in North America, the Patriarch of Moscow granted autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in America. However, basically no one recognized the OCA and overlapping parishes remain. Moscow sees the OCA as autocephalous, but everyone else sees the OCA as under Moscow. Moscow also contradicts their own claims of the OCA’s autocephaly by setting up bishops in America and by allowing ROCOR to have bishops in America. This dispute over whether it is the sole prerogative of Constantinople to give autocephaly is the cause of the current schism in Ukraine.
This disunity is also not a new problem. Vladimir Soloviev felt many of the same issues in his own day, which he voiced in his book Russia and the Universal Church. He pointed out that if Moscow and Constantinople had any real relationship with one another, there would likely very quickly be a schism. Historically, Moscow and Constantinople alomst never talked. Now that they have been talking regularly since the fall of communism in 1991, there have been two schisms and one failed pan-Orthodox synod. What Soloviev saw in his own day just took 100 years to finally bubble to the surface. This disunity is not the fruits of communism, but communism actually delayed the disunity from manifesting outwardly.
I eventually came to realize that this disunity has a solution. “And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Before considering the theological and historical issues at play in the papacy, we must first consider the practical ones. The papacy provides a very real unity to Catholicism. It is very clear who is Catholic and who is not. If you are in communion with the Pope you are Catholic, if you are not in communion with the Pope you are not. There are sometimes some gray areas, but these are much rarer. The papacy also allows the calling of councils as there is a clear status to councils. Orthodox still cannot agree if councils from all the way before the schism (such as fourth Constantinople) are ecumenical or not. The Pope as a final arbiter is necessary for the unity of the Church.
Moving onto theological objections, one of the most common Orthodox objections to the papacy is that the rock was Peter’s confession of faith, not Peter himself. Others will say that the rock is actually Christ. However, this is a false dichotomy. Christ is the rock, and Peter is also the rock through being the Vicar of Christ. If Christ is the chief cornerstone, Peter is the second stone. Christ explicitly renames Peter from Simon to Peter, and then repeats his name right next to mentioning the rock. Peter is also the rock through his profession of faith. Peter is the one who knew who Christ was, and so he is the one to guide all Christians to the identity of Christ through his authority over doctrine. You can find Fathers who say the rock was Christ, ones who say the rock was the confession of faith, and ones who say it was Peter himself. The Fathers should be read in light of one another, not as opponents. They point to one shared truth. This connection is made clear in the Odes of Matins for the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. Peter is repeatedly called the rock, and many of these times he is called the rock of faith. His confession of faith cannot be separated from his person who is to keep the purity of the faith.
That Peter is the point of unity of the Church is clear elsewhere in Matthew 16. The only time in the entirety of the gospels when Christ says he will build the Church is when he says he will build it on Peter. This is to make it clear that the point of unity of the Church is Peter. The other key part of this passage is verse 19, where Peter receives the keys. He is the only one to explicitly receive the keys. While the other apostles do in some sense receive the keys in Matthew 18 and John 20, they possess the keys through Peter as it is Peter who receives them explicitly. This is why in Catholic theology, jurisdiction given by the Pope is necessary for the liceity of the sacraments, but not their validity the bishops receive their holy orders from the apostles, not from the Pope.
Finally, moving onto the historical objections, there are too many passages to walk through one by one. Part of the problem is that the Orthodox have no unified view of how papal authority should be exercised in the Church. Some say that the Pope is merely another bishop, others say he exercises a high authority over the West as he is the Patriarch of that Church, and others say he does in fact possess an authority over the entire Church, but it is not as strong as it came to be.
It is clear from the Fathers that the Pope does indeed have this third kind of authority. This is clear in the canons of Sardica, which allows the Pope to mediate between two bishops in the case of a dispute according to canons 3, 4, and 7. This jurisdiction extended beyond the West and allowed the Pope to have authority over the Eastern bishops as well. This made the Pope an archbishop over the entire world essentially. This is why Pope St. Leo was called the “Archbishop of all the Churches” at Chalcedon.
Some Orthodox will object though that this only proves that the Pope held an appellate jurisdiction, not the immediate ordinary jurisdiction ascribed to the Pope at Vatican I. Already though, this places them out of line with most Orthodox, especially the Russians. However, I think this is a fair objection which I myself used to use frequently. If the Pope holds the final appellate jurisdiction, then it follows logically that he holds an immediate jurisdiction as well as no one can object to the actions of the Pope.
Much more could be said on the topic of the papacy. It is a very nuanced topic which most people don’t give enough fair attention. Orthodoxy very clearly fails on every other theological ground though, so I’ll move onto these other theological problems.
One of the most common Orthodox arguments these days is that one of the chief heresies of Rome is original sin. Orthodox supposedly do not believe in original sin, but ancestral sin. Augustine supposedly corrupted the faith using a mistranslation of Romans 5:12.
Anyone who makes this argument however is a heretic by Orthodox standards. One of the chief heresies of Pelagius is his denial of original sin. This is why the Council of Carthage placed an anathema against anyone who denies original sin, and this canon was accepted ecumenically by the seventh ecumenical council. Canon 110 of Carthage states that,
whosoever denies that infants newly from their mother’s wombs should be baptized, or says that baptism is for remission of sins, but that they derive from Adam no original sin, which needs to be removed by the laver of regeneration, from whence the conclusion follows, that in them the form of baptism for the remission of sins, is to be understood as false and not true, let him be anathema.
Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain included this canon in the Rudder and added commentary stating that,
This view too was a product of the heretical insanity of the Pelagians: this refers to their saying that newly begotten infants are not baptized for the remission of sins, as the Orthodox Church believes and maintains, but, instead… the infants themselves have not incurred any taint from the original sin of Adam.
St. Augustine was also declared as a father of the Church at the fifth ecumenical council, while Pelagius is universally recognized as a heretic. The idea that original sin is passed down from one generation to the next is also present in St. Maximus the Confessor and in St. Gregory Palamas (as part of his defense of the immaculate conception). The idea that St. Augustine’s doctrine of original sin is heretical is in part due to a misunderstanding of the doctrine. St. Augustine’s theology is not that infants are personally guilty of the sin of Adam, but that they receive the effects of it. Sin is not merely about guilt but is about an ontological reality like a disease. This stain of original sin prevents us from seeing God. This is why St. Gregory the Theologian says that, those who fail to receive the gift [of baptism]…perhaps on account of infancy, or some perfectly involuntary circumstance through which they are prevented from receiving it, even if they wish…will be neither glorified nor punished by the righteous Judge, as unsealed [by baptism] and yet not wicked, but persons who have suffered rather than done wrong. For not everyone who is not bad enough to be punished is good enough to be honored; just as not everyone who is not good enough to be honored is bad enough to be punished. This is what the West would later come to call limbo, but it is clearly here taught by one of the greatest Eastern saints. It is also taught at the Synod of Jerusalem in response to Protestant missionaries in the Ottoman Empire. This theological heresy is quite new in Orthodoxy, having been invented by Fr. John Romanides in the 20th century. It is also considered heresy by many Orthodox Christians as well but is now accepted by most Orthodox Christians. Two excellent treatments of this issue that go into more detail can be found here and here. The Immaculate Conception Another common Orthodox objection to Catholicism is the immaculate conception. This is supposedly a novel teaching invented by western medieval theologians. This could not be further from the truth. The immaculate conception is clearly taught by the Fathers of the Church, who teach that she was without sin. If she had original sin, she would not be sinless. Even after the schism, many great Orthodox theologians such as St. Gregory Palamas, Mark of Ephesus, and Dimitry of Rostov. Generally, Orthodox are forced to appeal to western scholastics to argue against the Immaculate Conception. For example, St. Thomas Aquinas rejected the Immaculate Conception. However, he instead thought that Mary had original sin for only about a second, a far cry from the view that she had original sin her whole life. Orthodox objections to the Immaculate Conception only came about in reaction to the use of Papal infallibility to promulgate the doctrine. The most common objections are drawn from the writings of John Maximovitch. Maximovitch was clearly a holy man, but he is a heretic because of his writing on this. He clearly says that Mary actually committed sin, which is contrary to the nearly universal witness of the Fathers and the liturgical texts of the Byzantine rite.
The filioque is an objection that goes back to before the schism. There are really two questions bound up in the filioque. First is the liceity of its addition to the creed, and the second is that actual theological issue itself. Regarding the liceity of its issue to the creed, this is really an issue of papal authority which I already addressed. It was initially added to the creed in portions of Spain at the Third Council of Toledo, which was attended over by multiple Orthodox saints. It was done to combat Arianism. This was seen as fine in the West, because the creed was simply a profession of faith and nothing heretical had been added. However, in the Byzantine Empire, the creed was seen as a sign of imperial unity. A change in the creed was seen as treason, and so this is why the Byzantines reacted sharply against the filioque.
Onto theological issues, part of the problem is that the Orthodox once again are theologically disunited. Some say that the Spirit proceeds only temporally from the Son, while others say he proceeds energetically and eternally, but not hypostatically. The former view is easy to refute. The Fathers clearly state that the Spirit proceeds eternally from the Son. In order to distinguish the procession of the Spirit from begetting of the Son, there must be some way to distinguish procession from begetting. According to the Fathers, this is the procession of the Spirit from the Father to the Son. David Bently Hart in his article “The Myth of the Schism,” showed that the St. Gregory of Nyssa makes this exact argument. St. Gregory says,
… while confessing the immutability of the [divine] nature, we do not deny difference in regard to cause and that which is caused, by which alone we discern the difference of each Person from the other, in that we believe one to be the cause and another to be from the cause; and again we conceive of another difference within that which is from the cause: between the one who, on the one hand, comes directly from the principle and the one who, on the other, comes from the principle through the one who arises directly; thus it unquestionably remains peculiar to the Son to be the Only Begotten, while at the same time it is not to be doubted that the Spirit is of the Father, by virtue of the mediation of the Son that safeguards the Son’s character as Only Begotten, and thus the Spirit is not excluded from his natural relation to the Father (Ad Ablabium 55-56).
This passage sounds like something directly from Augustine’s De Trinitate that many Orthodox try to argue is heretical. St. John of Damascus says something similar when he says that,
Likewise we believe also in one Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life: Who proceeds from the Father and rests in the Son… proceeding from the Father and communicated through the Son (De Fide Orthodoxia 1.8).
This is in the context of St. John defending the ultimate monarchy of the Father. The Spirit proceeds from the Father in order to rest in the Son, so that the Son can communicate the Spirit t creation.
St. Gregory Palamas moves even closer to St. Augustine’s trinitarian theology when he says,
Since the goodness which proceeds by generation from intellectual goodness as from a source is the Word, and since no intelligent person could conceive of a word without spirit, for this reason the Word, God from God, possesses also the Holy Spirit proceeding together with him from the Father. But this is spirit not in the sense of the breath which accompanies the word passing through our lips (for this is a body and is adapted to our word through bodily organs); nor is it spirit in the sense of that which accompanies the immanent and the discursive word within us, even though it does so incorporeally, for that too entails a certain motion of the mind which involves a temporal extension in conjunction with our word and requires the same intervals and proceeds from incompletion to completion. But that Spirit of the supreme Word is like an ineffable love of the Begetter towards the ineffably begotten Word himself. The beloved Word and Son of the Father also experiences this love towards the Begetter, but he does so inasmuch as he possesses this love as proceeding from the Father together with him and as resting connaturally in him. From the Word who held concourse with us through the flesh we have learned also the name of the Spirit’s distinct mode of coming to be from the Father, and that the Spirit belongs not only to the Father but also to the Son. For he says, “The Spirit of Truth, who proceeds from the Father,” in order that we may recognize not a Word alone but also a Spirit from the Father, who is not begotten but who proceeds, but he belongs also to the Son who possesses him from the Father as Spirit of truth, wisdom and word. For truth and wisdom constitute a word appropriate to the Begetter, a Word which rejoices together with the Father who rejoices in him, according to what he said through Solomon, “I was the one [i.e., Wisdom] who rejoiced together with him.” He did not say “rejoiced” but “rejoiced together with,” for this pre-eternal joy of the Father and the Son is the Holy Spirit in that he is common to them by mutual intimacy. Therefore, he is sent to the worthy from both, but in his coming to be he belongs to the Father alone and thus he also proceeds from him alone in his manner of coming to be (150 Chapters 36).
Since St. Gregory is after the schism, he is very careful to deny the filioque here. I quoted the entire chapter, so it is clear I am not taking anything out of context. However, his logic here is the same as St. Augustine, that the Spirit is the love of the Father towards the Son. St. Gregory’s critique of the filioque here is based on a misunderstanding of the filioque, that it teaches a double procession of the Spirit. However, 2 Lyons and Florence deny this and instead teach a single procession of the Spirit from the Father through the Son.
St. Gregory Palamas’ trinitarian theology is repeated by Orthodox theologian Fr. Dimitru Staniloae in his book The Holy Trinity: In the Beginning There was Love. He shows from the Fathers that the Spirit proceeds from the Father in order to rest in the Son. This is not something that the Holy Spirit happens to do, but it is necessary to his being. This refutes any Orthodox argument that the procession of the Spirit is not hypostatic, as the hypostasis of the Son is necessary for the procession of the Spirit. Fr. Staniloae argues against the filioque in his book with the weak argument (in an otherwise excellent book) that the Son also is begotten in order that the Spirit might rest in him. While this is certainly true, the Spirit’s procession to the Son is obviously secondary to the Son’s begetting in order that he might have the Spirit rest in him.
This entire objection of the filioque originated because of Photius. St. Ignatius was deposed from being Patriarch of Constantinople for opposing Emperor Michael III’s blasphemous activities. A politician, Photius, was elected in his place. Photius was pushed through the holy orders from monk to lector to sub-deacon to deacon to priest to patriarch in the course of five days. St. Ignatius followed the canons of Sardica (cited earlier in this article) and appealed to the bishop of Rome, who at this time was Pope St. Nicholas the Great. Pope Nicholas called an ecumenical council which sided with St. Ignatius. Photius however refused to comply, causing a four year schism between Rome and Constantinople. Photius stirred up controversy by accusing the West of heresy for the filioque and claiming that this was a Frankish conspiracy (an argument still made by many Orthodox). Near his death St. Ignatius saw the problems the schism was causing and recognized Photius as the legitimate patriarch out of charity. After St. Ignatius died, Pope John VIII ended the schism by recognizing Photius under the agreement that Photius publicly admit his error and acknowledge the primacy of Rome, although Photius never did this.
Much more could be written on the filioque. However, I will end on this quote from St. Maximus the Confessor. St. Maximus was the greatest Byzantine theologian of his day, giving up his own hand and tongue for refusing to commune with heretical bishops. St. Maximus was asked by his fellow Byzantines about the fact that the West had started saying that the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. This objection was raised by heretical monothelites and is the first time anyone from the East objected to the filioque. St. Maximus responded that,
Those of the Queen of cities have attacked the synodal letter of the present very holy Pope (Martin I), not in the case of all the chapters that he has written in it, but only in the case of two of them. One relates to theology, because it says he says that ‘the Holy Spirit proceeds (ἐκπορεύεσθαι) also from the Son… With regard to the first matter, they [the Romans] have produced the unanimous documentary evidence of the Latin fathers, and also of Cyril of Alexandria, from the sacred commentary he composed on the gospel of St. John. On the basis of these texts, they have shown that they have not made the Son the cause of the Spirit — they know in fact that the Father is the only cause of the Son and the Spirit, the one by begetting and the other by procession; but in order to manifest the Spirit’s coming-forth (προϊέναι) through him and, in this way, to make clear the unity and identity of the essence…. The Romans have therefore been accused of things of which it is wrong to accuse them, whereas of the things of which the Byzantines have quite rightly been accused [monothelitism], they have, to date, made no self-defense, because neither have they gotten rid of the things introduced by them (Letter to Marinus).
Essence and Energies
While it has medieval roots, this issue raised to prominence in the 20th century. Many Orthodox theologians argued that Palamas’ distinction between essence and “energies” (although a better translation of ἐνεργείαι is operations so I will use that here) was incompatible with Aquinas’ understanding of divine simplicity. Many Thomists likewise argued the same. Some Orthodox theologians went so far as to say that St. Thomas’ understanding of divine simplicity is responsible for atheism.
While I don’t think that Palamas and Aquinas are saying the same thing, this question is much more nuanced than many on both sides are willing to admit. First, we need to acknowledge the proper contexts of Aquinas and Palamas.
Divine simplicity was dogmatized in the West at Lateran IV, before St. Thomas Aquinas was even born. Aquinas starts the Summa Theologiae by discussing how we know things. He then moves on to proofs for the existence of God from natural reason. Divine simplicity follows from these proofs. While Aquinas extensively cites scripture and the Fathers in defense of his understanding of divine simplicity, for Aquinas it is a logical necessity that God is absolutely simple.
Aquinas moves from here to what we can know about God. An Orthodox reader familiar with St. Dionysius the Areopagite would recognize St. Thomas’ approach. Aquinas uses an apophatic theology in which we know about God through negation and through what He causes. This approach is very Byzantine.
Ultimately for Aquinas, the purpose of our lives is the beatific vision. We come to see the essence of God as it really is. We are divinized (what the East calls theosis) through grace which creates an effect in us.
St. Gregory Palamas is concerned with an entirely different set of issues. He got into a debate with Barlaam regarding monastic practice. He and other monks claimed to have truly seen God as he is. Barlaam objected, arguing that according to St. Dionysius, God is unknowable. St. Gregory responded by arguing that there is a distinction in the Fathers between God’s unknowable essence and his operations.
At first glance it seems like Barlaam is a Thomist and Palamas is critiquing Thomism. Thomists will argue that Palamas denied the beatific vision by saying that God’s essence is unknowable. However, it is actually Barlaam that denied the beatific vision, starting this whole controversy.
Palamas’ distinction is actually very similar to the formal distinction of another famous scholastic, Blessed John Duns Scotus. According to earlier commentators upon Aquinas, there were two types of distinctions, real and virtual. A real distinction meant that things were separable in reality, while a virtual (also called rational or nominal) distinction was distinct only in the mind. So, for example, two Lego blocks are really distinct from one another because they can be separated, while a shirt and what I am wearing are only virtually distinct because they cannot be separated except in the mind. Scotus argued that there was a third kind of distinction which was not accounted for in which there is not separability, but the distinction is in the thing itself and not merely in the mind. For example, the fact that I am the son of my father cannot be separated from the fact that I am the grandson of my grandfather, but my sonship and grandsonship are not separable.
Palamas seems to be making a formal distinction. According to Palamas, the distinction between God’s essence and operations is not merely a mental construct. However, it is through God’s operations that we come to know his essence. This is drawn from St. Maximus the Confessor and the Cappadocian Fathers. Palamas says that God’s essence is present fully in each of his operations. A good discussion on this issue to listen to is this interview with Dr. Jared Goff. This synthesis of Palamas and Scotus is also not a modern product. It was first argued for in the 15th century by Gennadius Scholarius, the first Patriarch of Constantinople under the Turks, a student of Mark of Ephesus, and the bishop who caused the union with Rome at Florence to be broken. He was also a great fan of Thomas Aquinas.
Ultimately, this issue is not dogma among Catholics so long as one affirms divine simplicity (which St. Gregory Palamas clearly does). Unfortunately, many Orthodox theologians do in fact make real distinctions in God apart from those of relation, which is heretical and contrary to Palamas himself.
Confirmation and Communion for Infants
Many Orthodox object to the Latin practice of delaying confirmation and communion for infants until the age of reason. This will be a short apologetic for the Latin practice. The Catholic Church allows the Easterners to keep their own traditions of communing infants. All Trent condemns is that this practice is necessary. Many Eastern Catholics did begin to introduce a first communion, but this has been reversed in most places since Vatican II.
The Western practice is actually a historical accident. In the early Church, only a bishop could chrismate someone and communion could not be received until after chrismation. As the Church grew, it became harder for the bishop to chrismate every newborn. The West kept the ancient practice, but this meant that chrismation was delayed. Communion was also delayed as a result. The East began allowing the priests to administer chrismation, so long as the chrism was consecrated by a bishop. This practice in the East became so regular that the East forgot their ancient practice. By the 9th century, Photius was accusing the West of having stripped the priesthood of the power to chrismate.
The Western practice got exaggerated over time and as a result, children were not being confirmed until around seven. This caused the theological development of the age of reason. Since chrismation and the eucharist were not necessary for salvation but simply provided extra graces for one to live, it is not until a child is old enough to discern between good and evil that they absolutely need to have these sacraments. Baptism has provided them enough grace for salvtion before then. This practice sadly got abused over time and children were not being confirmed until they were teenagers. Pope St. Pius X reversed this abuse, lowering first communion to the age of seven (as the Council of Trent had encouraged). Unfortunately, he did not also lower the age of confirmation, causing these graces to often still be delayed. This also changed the historical order of the sacraments. Many today recognize this is a problem which needs to be fixed.
The age of reason is not absent from Orthodox theology. Infants do not go to confession. Most children do not go to confession until around seven. It is simply the Byzantine practice to give infants extra grace from the sacraments at a younger age than Latins. Ultimately, neither of these practices are heretical, although the common abuses that are occurring in the West of delaying confirmation until 15 or 16 should stop.
It is the contention of many Orthodox theologians that the bread and wine are not consecrated at the words of institution, but at the epiclesis when the Holy Spirit is called down upon the gifts. However, this is quite problematic since the epiclesis is not present in the Latin Rite. In fact, the Orthodox force their Western Rite to add the epiclesis to the Mass, despite the fact that there is no historical evidence it was ever there. Other Orthodox theologians simply state that the time of consecration is a mystery.
The Catholic doctrine is that the words of institution alone are sufficient to consecrate the eucharist. This is the teaching of the author of the Byzantine liturgy, St. John Chrysostom, who said, “that saying, ‘This is my body’, once uttered, from that time to the present day, and even until Christ’s coming, makes the sacrifice complete at every table in the churches” (Homily on the Betrayal of Judas). St. Gregory of Nyssa said the same when he says that, “not through its being eaten does it advance to become the Body of the Word, but it is made over immediately into the Body by means of the word, just as was stated by the Word, ‘This is my body’” (The Great Catechism 37). Likewise, the West held the same understanding as is evidenced by Jerome when he speaks of, “clergy who, in succession from the Apostles, confect by their sacred word the Body of Christ” (Letter to Heliodorus). It is worth noting that most of the Fathers are ambiguous about the moment of consecration, but many are explicit that it is the words of institution. We ought to interpret the unclear passages in the Fathers in light of the clear ones.
Many Orthodox argue that their practice of allowing divorce and remarriage up to three times is traditional. This practice is usually drawn from the canons of St. Basil. However, this is not actually accurate to what St. Basil says. Erick Ybarra has written a very good article on what St. Basil actually thought on this issue. I’m just going to copy it below (with his permission).
“The sentence of the Lord that it is unlawful to withdraw from wedlock, save on account of fornication, applies, according to the argument, to men and women alike. Custom, however, does not so obtain. Yet, in relation with women, very strict expressions are to be found; as, for instance, the words of the apostle ‘He which is joined to a harlot is one body’ and of Jeremiah, ‘If a wife become another man’s shall he return unto her again? Shall not that land be greatly polluted?’ And again, ‘He that has an adulteress is a fool and impious’. Yet custom ordains that men who commit adultery and are in fornication be retained by their wives. Consequently I do not know if the woman who lives with the man who has been dismissed can properly be called an adulteress; the charge in this case attaches to the woman who has put away her husband, and depends upon the cause for which she withdrew from wedlock. In the case of her being beaten, and refusing to submit, it would be better for her to endure than to be separated from her husband; in the case of her objecting to pecuniary loss, even here she would not have sufficient ground. If her reason is his living in fornication we do not find this in the custom of the church; but from an unbelieving husband a wife is commanded not to depart, but to remain, on account of the uncertainty of the issue. For what do you know, O wife, whether you shall save your husband? Here then the wife, if she leaves her husband and goes to another, is an adulteress. But the man who has been abandoned is pardonable, and the woman who lives with such a man is not condemned. But if the man who has deserted his wife goes to another, he is himself an adulterer because he makes her commit adultery; and the woman who lives with him is an adulteress, because she has caused another woman’s husband to come over to her.” (St. Basil the Great, Letter 188 to To Amphilochius, Canon IX )
This is an immensely dense piece of literature, and the thought is not very forthright, clear, nor satisfying. If read carefully, St. Basil seems to open up with a point which gets contradicted in the rest of his teaching. He says, on one hand, that “the sentence of the Lord” that makes it unlawful to divorce one’s spouse, except on account of fornication, applies equally to men and woman, which would seem to allow divorce in the case of fornication. But then, St. Basil seems to content to go with “custom”, which, does not fully apply this to both husbands and wives, for he eventually argues that a wife, even if victim of adultery by her husband, cannot depart from him and be with another. In fact, he appears to imply that if a wife were to leave her adulterous and fornicating husband to marry another, she would be committed the sin of adultery. How could that be if the bond was broken by her husband’s adultery in the first place? The implication would be that the bond prohibiting the victim-wife to re-marry is indissoluble even in the event of adultery. Even in the case of a husband who deserts his wife to be with be with another, this husband is committing adultery because the spouse he left is forced to “remarry”, and thus commit adultery. And the the new woman to which this husband turns to is also committing adultery because, says Basil, she causes that husband to come over to her, breaking his obligatory bond with the wife he deserted. All of this strongly implies that mere fornication does not break the marital bond. And yet, one could argue that Basil, at the same time, supports the idea of a husband, but not the wife, withdrawing from wedlock and who is permitted to continue on with another woman who is not his first wife. The condition states is that his wife deserted him. This man is to be “pardoned” and the new woman he is with is “not condemned”. If the separation of these two are not to be read into the text, it sounds like these two get the benefit of living out their new relationship in peace. And yet, even so, the wife who deserted the husband who entered into this second “marriage” is still held to the marital bond which she has with that husband, which means the marital bond is not truly and fully broken, at least for both sides. One could hardly figure how it is broken only for one side, the husband, but it seems like one could argue that St. Basil supports the idea that this victim-husband is not bound by the obligations of that continually existing bond until his first spouse dies.
Now, after reading this, can we say that St. Basil is grounds for modern Protestant or Eastern Orthodox (cf. here , here, and here) practices? I would first say that the very opening statement of St. Basil’s canon above would preclude both practices (i.e. “unlawful to withdraw from wedlock,save on account of fornication”). Is it truly the case that either Orthodox or Protestant polities strictly forbid re-marriage unless it is a case of proven fornication/adultery? I’d welcome any reader to inform me where I have been misled, but my resources have it that this is not the case. I understand there are Protestant groups which strictly forbid re-marriage (cf. here and here) . The Russian Orthodox Church’s Department for External Church Relations, whose Chairman is Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, himself directly appointed by Patriarch Kyrill of Moscow as Vicar to the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, came out with the following statements with respect to re-marriage, and you’ll see the reference to St. Basil towards the end:
“according to the canon law, after a legitimate church divorce, a second marriage is allowed to the innocent spouse. Those whose first marriage was dissolved through their own fault a second marriage is allowed only after repentance and penance imposed in accordance with the canons. According to the rules of St. Basil the Great, in exceptional cases where a third marriage is allowed, the duration of the penance shall be prolonged.” (Personal, Family, and Public Morality)
Whatever might be right about this above, it seems to clear that St. Basil is being stretched beyond his own boundaries.
Let’s continue to see what St. Basil has to say:
“If a man living with a wife is not satisfied with his marriage and falls into fornication, I account him a fornicator, and prolong his period of punishment. Nevertheless, we have no canon subjecting him to the charge of adultery, if the sin be committed against an unmarried woman. For the adulteress, it is said, being polluted shall be polluted, and she shall not return to her husband: and He that keeps an adulteress is a fool and impious. He, however, who has committed fornication is not to be cut off from the society of his own wife. So the wife will receive the husband on his return from fornication, but the husband will expel the polluted woman from his house. The argument here is not easy, but the custom has so obtained.” (Letter 199, Canon XXI)
Once again, we have anything but equity being supported by St. Basil, who himself attempted to exhort otherwise (cf. Canon IX above). A husband who decides to live in fornication can demand both a new woman in fornication, and then also demand his abandoned wife to uphold her obligation to the marital bond forbidding her from being released to re-marry. And yet, the wife who commits adultery is not to be received by the husband ever again, in order to avoid the inevitable pollution of uniting with a harlot. One may ask if, in the beginning of this canon of Letter 199, St. Basil is envisioning a fornicating husband being ale to persist in his fornication, complete penance all throughout, and then be received into communion while persisting in the same indefinitely. The text doesn’t make clear, but I strongly urge one to hesitate before they take the affirmative in light of the ambiguity.
St. Basil also provides some corroboration:
“The woman who unwillingly marries a man deserted at the time by his wife, and is afterwards repudiated, because of the return of the former to him, commits fornication, but involuntarily. She will, therefore, not be prohibited from marriage; but it is better if she remain as she is.” (Ibid, Canon XLVI)
“The woman who has been abandoned by her husband, ought, in my judgment, to remain as she is. The Lord said, ‘If any one leave his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, he causes her to commit adultery’; thus, by calling her adulteress, He excludes her from intercourse with another man. For how can the man being guilty, as having caused adultery, and the woman, go without blame, when she is called adulteress by the Lord for having intercourse with another man?” (ibid, Canon XLVIII)
St. Basil here seems to imply that if either husband or wife commit adultery or forces their spouse to commit adultery are disallowed from re-marriage. There is only one problem, however. Above St. Basil says that the man who has been deserted by his wife, if he were to go to another woman, is to be “pardoned”, but yet in this last citation, the woman deserted by her husband is not pardoned? What does St. Basil mean when he says the fornicating man is pardoned? Does he presume that such a one repents and separates? I think the ambiguity makes it difficult to say one way or the other.
Lastly, in St. Basil’s Ascetical Works, “On Morals”, there is once again a repetition that spouses may not separate (not to be identified with freedom to remarry) from each other unless the condition of adultery , but also adds that if one spouse is so much a hindrance to the worship of God, said separation may lawfully occur:
“That a husband must not separate from his wife, nor a wife from her husband unless one of them be taken in adultery or is a hindrance to the other in the devout service to God” (Rule Seventy Three).
The rest of the article where Ybarra looks at many other Fathers can be found here.
Mysticism vs Reason
Perhaps the biggest false dichotomy drawn these days between the West and the East is that the West is rational while the East is mystical. Mysticism is highly present in the West. The Carmelite tradition is especially known for its mystic saints, such as St. John of the Cross and St. Theresa of Avila. Even St. Thomas Aquinas, known for rational theology, was also a great mystic. In the East, the Church Fathers often used logic in debate. If you read St. Athanasius or the Cappadocian Fathers, you’ll see that most of their arguments against the Arians are using logic. Even Palamas extensively employed complex metaphysical arguments against the Barlaamites. In order to know God in a personal manner, we need mysticism. However, in order to prove the truth to unbelievers and to show that our Church is the true Church, we need logical arguments. God is the Logos and so he created a world that is knowable through logos, reason, as St. Maximus the Confessor taught.
Really the number one reason why people leave Rome for Orthodoxy is Vatican II and liturgical abuse. These other theological arguments are really just an excuse to join a communion with less liturgical abuse.
I sympathize with this a lot. Many of the liturgical changes that were implemented after Vatican II, such as communion in the hand, extraordinary eucharistic ministers, the suppression of the minor orders, female altar servers, among many other things, are unacceptable to me and, in my opinion, need to be reversed. There are many faithful voices in the Church saying just that, including many cardinals. None of these change concern dogma and are just liturgical practice, so they can still be reversed.
The actual documents of Vatican II themselves are very ambiguous. Those who condemn them as heretical often have not read them. Even the Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, a staunch traditionalist, eventually signed all the documents except for Dignitatis Humanae, which he argued was a departure from tradition because it said that we have a right to freedom of religion. Even this document I would argue though can be understood in a non-heretical manner if it is read in light of the past papal condemnation of religious liberty.
Ultimately, John XXIII was clear when he opened the council that none of the documents of Vatican II are infallible and the council was merely pastoral. Paul VI repeated this when he closed the council. A Catholic is free to agree or disagree with the council.
But rather than reject the Catholic faith, one can avoid all this by attending parishes that celebrate the Latin Mass, Eastern Rites, or traditional oriented Novus Ordo Masses.
Thank you to all who read the full article. Much more could be said about every one of these topics. I did try and address every theological controversy I could think of. I will likely write more on some of these topics in the future. In the meanwhile, please keep me in your prayers.
Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us!
Disclaimer: all opinions in this article are the original author's and don't necessarily reflect that of this website.