The hard truth about marriage, mercy and Eastern “oikonomia”

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I have been posting about the soon-to-be-released book by five cardinala and four scholars called Remaining In The Truth Of Christ. This book is a defense of the Catholic doctrine marriage. It is an important book, some of it may be hard for all readers to read, but it is worth the effort.

It is still available for 25% off as a pre-order. HERE

Thus, I was please to find an EXCELLENT comment in the other entry, so good that I reproduce it here as a separate post.

I want to thank PaterAugustinus for his honest evaluation of Orthodox oikonomia. In view of this topic’s importance in the upcoming Synod, I recommend these comments for your opportune reading.

I’m a monk of the Orthodox Church converting to Catholicism. I have decided to do this on many grounds, pretty much all of them dogmatic. But though my realization of the Truth of Catholic dogmatic theology was a gradually increasing thing, there were two things from the get-go, that made me realize Catholicism’s doctrinal witness had to be taken seriously.

Having read the Fathers on how to discern a vocation either to married or religious life, it was clear that the Fathers had a very definite understanding of marriage and sexuality; this specific understanding led them to recommend the celibate life to all who could embrace it, and to insist that if a Christian did want to keep one foot in the world, his or her sexuality was to be exclusively reserved for marriage, marriage itself being directed to a particular end: the raising of godly offspring in a committed unit that formed the basis of society and mirrored the indissoluble bond between Christ and the Church. In the whole context of their views on marriage and sex, two things were inescapable: first, contraception is incomprehensible for the Christian marriage, since they tended to view marriage itself as a good, albeit as still a sub-optimal concession to worldly desires that was only justifiable on the grounds of producing children and raising them in the Faith; second, marriage is necessarily permanent so long as both spouses live, both because of its duties and obligations under natural law, and also because of its sacramental character. Orthodox may attempt to pride themselves on greater fidelity to the Apostolic Tradition in some external custom or other (ancient calendars, fasts, seasons of kneeling vs. not, etc.), but it was absolutely clear to me that she has come adrift from basic Christian doctrine on marriage and sexuality. This is a matter of doctrine, not mere practice, and this should give many Orthodox pause, as it gave me: I reckoned to myself, “If Catholicism is false and Orthodoxy is true, why is it that Catholicism still teaches the truth about marriage and contraception, while we have abandoned it?” The doctrinal vagaries surrounding the Filioque and Papal Infallibility can be debated until one is blue in the face; the crystal-clear Patristic and Apostolic (and Scriptural) teaching that marriage is forever and excludes contraception, cannot (at least, not by honest, above-board people). I think it would be tragic, to see Catholicism even flirt with this “oikonomia” idea, when her doctrinal fidelity was, for me, a very clear witness to her real claim to be the Church.

And as one who was in the Orthodox Church, allow me to tell you that this “oikonomia” concept has been utterly abused within Orthodoxy to justify any and every breach of canonical discipline. This is nothing that Catholicism should want to introduce. The proper use of “oikonomia” is “good management of an household” (which is what the word means). That means that often stricture is just as much a part of “oikonomia” as indulgence. The proper way to use economy is found in the Latin term “dispensatio,” which is how the Greek term was always translated. The Latin term means “to weigh out,” “to measure out,” “to pay out.” The idea, is that a dispensation tries to attain the same good as the law was intended to attain, by weighing all the variables in particular circumstances. One does not simply “do away with” the law; one tries to achieve the Law’s intent by another means. Sometimes this may result in relaxing the discipline of the law, when circumstances indicate that enforcing the full brunt of the law would actually do harm to a particular person in particular circumstances. But obviously, this power of attaining the law’s good intent through selecting a different approach after the prudent weighing of all factors, does not extend to violating truth or corrupting morality, since this is never the law’s intent. It would be the opposite of the law’s good intent. Catholics! Take it from an ex-Orthodox monk: flee this spurious “economy” that flouts the authentic understanding of that term! So distorted has Orthodox theology become, that they regard non-Orthodox sacraments as always invalid, but still believe they may be considered valid “by oikonomia.” How does a principle that allows for making prudent judgments in the administration of canon law, have anything to do with making sacraments valid or invalid retroactively? What good is such a befuddled concept of oikonomia? I knew an Orthodox priest, married, who worked as a psychiatrist; he had an affair with one of his patients, which even secular folk regard as crime that merits losing one’s right to practice medicine, yet his bishop allowed him to divorce his wife, “re-marry” with the patient, and *return to priestly service,* all in the name of “oikonomia.” Mercy my foot! Where was mercy for the man’s wife? For their kids? For the community that would rather not have a lying, fornicating adulterer for their parish priest? For the other women the man may victimize, now that he knows there are no consequences for his action? This is where such an idea of “oikonomia” naturally tends, and to this understanding of “okonomia,” I say: anathema sit! It should be a great shame to the Orthodox that they tolerate this mealy-mouthed treason against the faith; Catholics should pride themselves on having none of it. It is one of the reasons I took Catholicism seriously, and eventually came to confess her as holding the true faith.

Fr. Z kudos!

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  1. Nicholas says:

    Well said Brother, and welcome home!

  2. Joseph-Mary says:

    Wow!~ What a great post. We all need to understand these differences between Catholic and Orthodox. And as this monk noted, the Catholic Church can NOT relax her doctrines on marriage–which are an indication of the one, true Church.

  3. TWF says:

    A powerful post Brother.
    If you don’t mind saying (and if you are reading), will you be joining a Byzantine Catholic monastic community? While the Orthodox would resent this, I’ve always seen the Melkites and other Byzantine Catholic Churches as “Orthodoxy perfected”…an attempt to restore what the Orthodox Church was prior to the Great Schism.

  4. Wow. Such a great post. As a Protestant convert, I felt the exact same way about Protestantism and marriage. Substitute “Protestant” for “Orthodox,” and this passage represents my thought process and the primary reason I converted:

    “…it was absolutely clear to me that she has come adrift from basic Christian doctrine on marriage and sexuality. This is a matter of doctrine, not mere practice, and this should give many Orthodox pause, as it gave me: I reckoned to myself, ‘If Catholicism is false and Orthodoxy is true, why is it that Catholicism still teaches the truth about marriage and contraception, while we have abandoned it?'”

  5. Excellent! Like some other Catholics, I once left the Catholic Church because of the perceived superiority of Orthodoxy. And, comparing the Divine Liturgy to what was available to me in the Catholic Church, yes, Orthodoxy delivered. God let me grow up and brought me back to the Catholic Church, thank God. I am a man of the West and know in my bones where I belong. Now I tell every Catholic I can: “Nail your foot to the floor in front of your favorite pew and die there.” There’s no place like home.

  6. gracie says:

    I haven’t been following the ins-and-outs of the upcoming Synod but have the impression that the Orthodox position on oikonomia is to be discussed. I suspect that only the pro-Orhodox view will be presented. If that’s the case, then it’s necessary that a criticism of oikonomia, such as the one given by Pater Augustinus, be presented to the Synod as a reality check.

  7. djc says:

    I can’t get over a sinking fear that the upcoming synod will jettison traditional Catholic teachings on divorce. But I also had a sinking feeling that Pope Francis was a liberal and I was wrong on that. Maybe I should learn to have more faith and less worry….


  8. Jennifer Roback Morse says:

    “Mercy my foot! Where was mercy for the man’s wife? For their kids? For the community that would rather not have a lying, fornicating adulterer for their parish priest?”
    Those of you who are concerned about divorce, and the victims of divorce, go to People write in about what it was like for them when their parents got divorced. Some of these tales are about things that happened 30 or 40 years ago. Here is one recent and particularly poignant example:

    “Nearly 38 years later, I am still grieving the loss of my parents’ marriage. The divorce left me fragmented, vulnerable, angry, and, in some ways, homeless. I am always half empty—longing for the family I will never have. When they divorced, my mother and father broke up our little family, but what neither of them realized at that time is that they also broke me in two.”

    Mercy my foot, indeed!! The Ancient Teachings of Christianity protected the interests of children, as well as the interests of women and men. The Roman Catholic Church is now pretty much the only major religious body that holds to the teaching that used to be the common teaching of ALL the churches.
    I am proud to be a Catholic.

  9. Traductora says:

    Excellent post – the observations of PaterAugustinus on Orthodoxy, as much as I love many aspects of it, are completely correct.

    I just wonder what happens if the Pope throws everything aside in some rush to be loved by the press (which seems to me to be his main failing, and a very dangerous one at that). I don’t know what we’re going to do then, and while the Lord has always saved His Church, I’ve never wanted to live through one of those moments when he had to do so. Although I suppose having spent most of my life after Vatican II and living through the sufferings brought by it, I should be prepared for a little more.

  10. Deo Gratias!, someone get this in the hands of Cardinal Burke

  11. Dialogos says:

    May the Lord forbid I cast aspersions on a fellow commenter; however, I am skeptical about one (and only one) piece of this comment. As a former Orthodox reader and theology student (now Latin-rite Catholic) I agree with everything PaterAugustinus writes, but I am hard-pressed to believe any Orthodox bishop would allow a priest to re-marry. When the now-departed Metropolitan Philip (Saliba) allowed (through economia) a widowed priest to remarry, the action nearly caused a schism with other jurisdictions and to this day many priests will not concelebrate with that remarried priest. Another priest I know was divorced but has never remarried because of his bishop. So I have to wonder about the details of this story. While studying Canon Law in that same jurisdiction I mentioned the case of the widower priest and another case of a deacon being granted a dispensation to marry as self-serving and was told by the teacher (a canonist in another Orthodox jurisdiction) that I would have to remove that assertion from my final paper or I would not get a grade for the class.

  12. I try not to repeat things other people say, but all I can add is, “wow.”

  13. jfk03 says:

    To the monk who would leave Orthodoxy, I say the grass is not necessarily greener on this side of the Great Schism. The schism came about due to the sin of pride on both sides. That said, the greatest strength on this side of the divide is the unity inherent in the See of Peter. Orthodoxy does not have just one viewpoint on divorce or oikonomia. In fact, Orthodoxy is deeply divided. But the same can be said of the Latin Church, which would have been rent asunder long ago but for the unifying force of Peter.

    Pray for more charity on both sides.

  14. I try not to repeat things other people say, but all I can add is, “wow.”

    ?… I second that emo-tion … ?

  15. sw85 says:

    “Oikonomia” sounds a lot like Western “pastorality” — a blunt object used to bludgeon away all respectful deference to the traditional disciplines of the Church.

  16. One of those TNCs says:


    Especially intriguing to me was the derivation of the word “dispensation.” That’s an eye-opener!

  17. StephenGolay says:

    I, too, went from Orthodoxy to Catholicism. Greatly, due to doctrinal reason. Mostly regarding the Natural Law. Not easy. I mean, RCIA in Santa Cruz, CA! And in the midst of the Sex Abuse Crisis. The last time I had been in a Catholic Church was in Walnut Creek (CA), 1978-79, when a priest was conducting Mass in a clown suit. I had associated Catholicism with ugliness and child-play.

    Yet, the brother monk is right on, 100% correct. In my time as an Orthodox I had witnessed marriage manhandled for ends it was not met. (Ben Lomond, CA, anyone?) I am acquainted with the case he highlights. The Orthodox solution being bandied about is not. As I said elsewhere, the Catholic grab at the Orthodox Solution is just us being clever, yanking what suits us from Orthodoxy’s whole cloth. Catholics are doing this because, long past, we had disrobed ourselves. Just ask that clown priest!

    Take my word for it, the Orthodox are offended by our grabbing and ripping. Why, they ask, do we so easily shed our own traditions and doctrinal knowing. They may not accept our ways or doctrines, but it is that – the flinging off of our Catholic cloth – which befuddles them. We (at least, those silly ones among us) think we are honoring them by our yanking and snipping of this and that from Orthodoxy. We are not. We are just being offensively silly.

    Ditto. Kudos brother monk – and you, Fr. Z.

    P.S. Do greatly wish The Anchoress would ponder the wise words in the piece posted here. It may help to settle her down.

  18. I appreciate the post, and the poster’s perspective on the matter. However, the essence of the message seems to be that because oikonomia has been abused by some priests and bishops, it – and by extension Orthodox Christianity – must be avoided at all costs.

    I fail to see how that is a sound argument against the whole principle of oikonomia. If it were so, could not that same argument be used to discredit our own Roman Catholic Church? Do we not all get upset when the rest of the world uses the same process against us? Take for instance the oft heard argument “Father X abused young boys, and Bishop Y allowed the abuse to continue, therefore the Catholic Church is a hellish nest of corruption and perversion”.

    Like the rest of you, I have no idea how the upcoming synod will work out, but there is little gain in getting all worked up about things in advance. We may get a version of the oikonomia, and we may get a complete dismissal of it. Either way, God’s Church will be just fine.

  19. sw85 says:

    “I fail to see how that is a sound argument against the whole principle of oikonomia.”

    The thing is, it’s not the “whole principle of oikonomia” which Kasper et al. want to appropriate. They want to appropriate the lived reality of oikonomia, i.e., incoherent and unprincipled sanctioning of legal chaos in the service of “pastorality.”

  20. robtbrown says:

    In the history of Moral Theology, there has been school of thought that reduces the morality of an act to its Intention: No matter how heinous the act or effect, if the Intention is good, then so is the Morality. This goes back at least to Peter Abelard.

    This approach resurfaced in the 20th century, IMHO, as a reaction to the deontological (“duty”) moral theology that dominated for the previous 350 years. It seems to have taken various contemporary forms, including: Rahner’s Fundamental Option, Existential Option, and Proportionalism.

    Oikomonia, which has a highly eschatological orientation, worked fine in the Eastern Churches before there was such pressure on Christian morality in general and marriage in particular. Now it seems to be employed in the manner of Fundamental Option, etc.

  21. robtbrown says:

    Should be Existential Choice rather than Existential Option.

  22. Andkaras says:

    I hope that Pater Augustinus will remain Eastern Right Catholic which I find to be so beautiful. We just attended a wedding of a relative at a local Greek Orthodox ( not Catholic) church this past weekend. Beautiful liturgy, sung, Icons- astounding, readings and homily great, but from what I could tell nearly the church was all Catholics and only a handful of Orthodox, two of which were converts because they wanted to remarry.

  23. rusynbyz says:

    I can’t say though that Pater Augustinus’ comments say anything about Orthodoxy other than “there are still sinful humans here.” Any Orthodox cleric worth their salt will readily admit that Oikonomia has been abused up one side and down the other, and needs clearer and more appropriate application (and a return to stricter observance of the Canons of the Church). These abuses of Oikonomia are not widespread in the sense that it is like this everywhere in Orthodoxy, either. Various jurisdictions have differing policies regarding marital discipline, reception of Sacraments, recognition of Sacraments outside Orthodoxy, etc. There is a profound lack of uniformity in Orthodoxy on these matters, something that the Great and Holy Council may well attempt to tackle. It is sadly a case of the “grass being greener” to assert that the Roman Church has its act together on all these matters of discipline; a look at the variations of liturgical discipline (and abuse) as well as things like how marriage tribunals are constituted and apply show that all isn’t 100% perfection on our side either. I concur fully that the Catholic Church’s insistence on following Christ’s teaching regarding Marriage to the letter cannot be minimized or sidestepped with whatever creative means the Bishops invent.

  24. Marc M says:

    This leaves me with questions like the points brought up by jfk03 and sw85. “Oikonomia” here sounds exactly like Western “pastorality.” Is it the case that the Orthodox have–not simply in practice, but in doctrine–defined away the historic Christian teaching on marriage? Or does the doctrine remain, but canonical process ignores it? Or do both doctrine and discipline remain, but individual bishops and pastors ignore them?

    And particularly if it’s the third case, is this any different from Catholic priests and bishops in recent decades acting contrary to Catholic doctrine on marriage, sexuality, contraception, etc., telling people they can go to Confession and then they are “allowed” to continue living in defiance of Church teaching?

  25. Dialogos says:

    It gladdens me to hear of others who have made the journey to Rome from Orthodoxy–it can feel very lonely some times. I wish PaterAugustinus the very best in his pilgrimage. To continue from my earlier comments, it was fascinating to see how canons were applied in Orthodoxy in a less-than-consistent way. The canons were wielded as clubs sometimes, at other times they were conveniently overlooked. I say this not to bash the Orthodox, but rather to add my voice to those cautioning about this rush to embrace oikonomia. There are some things we in the West can legitimately see as useful in setting our own bar higher: reverence during liturgy and appreciation of church art and architecture, fasting and other discipline, and lots of incense. However, the approach to church governance is not one of those things.

  26. Phil_NL says:

    Kudos to PaterAugustinus for his lucid comments, and a hearty “welcome onboard” as well!

    Though in a way it saddens me to see how the Orthodox are struggling. I’ve remarked previously that I found it extremely odd that a set of churches which takes pride in resisting change (never mind the merits of that now) could move from a situation where Byzantine emperors where chastised for remarrying after their first wife had died, to a situation where divorce and remarriage is part of common practice.

    And while rusynbyz is right that sin is present in any church, there still is a world of difference between not applying the rules (as we latins do all to often, and sadly try to do even more often) and institutionalizing a change of the rules. The latter is far more profound, and oikonomia is in that sense fraught with danger.

    (Not to mention adressing the wrong problem. The issue is not if people can remarry in the Church. They can’t, period. The real issue is whether that would be ground for exclusion from communion while that situation lasts, which tends to be many years. As long as we’re debating the former rather than the latter, the there-is-no-such-thing-as-sin-camp has a winning hand.)

  27. rusynbyz says:

    Phil_NL, I totally agree with you. Oikonomia has been misused as a way of sidestepping the Canons, but not changing them. Last time I checked, the Ecumenical Councils (at least those agreed upon by most Orthodox) are still in force.

  28. JesusFreak84 says:

    I’d imagine a monk converting takes a lot of guts; God love him!

    Can someone fluent in Italian sneak into the Synod and translate/read this monk’s words to the Holy Father? Please?

  29. Fr AJ says:

    Dialogos, you are correct in wondering about the details of the story concerning a priest of Metropolitan Philip. The priest was a widower and the woman a widow. Still scandalous to most but the details differ from the spin the story above put on it.

  30. robtbrown says:

    Fr AJ says:

    Dialogos, you are correct in wondering about the details of the story concerning a priest of Metropolitan Philip. The priest was a widower and the woman a widow. Still scandalous to most but the details differ from the spin the story above put on it.

    How does the marital backgrounds of the priest and woman change the situation?

  31. Matt R says:

    I’ve been saying this for a while as an outside observer. Thank you to PaterAugustinus for saying this. I would add that Orthodox Christians, not even the Ecumenical Patriarch, cannot speak for all of Orthodoxy on anything, even doctrinal and sacramental matters. The Russians are notorious for a different practice from the Greeks on the reception of convert clergy, but they are inconsistent even within their own jurisdiction, so some might be “ordained” again while others vest and are received by oikonomia. On the other hand, Catholics can speak with one voice, even if individual members obstinately refuse to submit to the teaching, because the Pope is at the head of the visible Church on earth, with all of the bishops in communion with him, serving Christ in Heaven. Chapter 16 of Matthew gives four doctrines of the papacy, and it gives pause to Orthodox priests, who also wonder if their flocks are Greek, Russian, etc. or if they are Orthodox Christians. The Serbians especially struggle to get along with the others, it seems.

    Phil_NL, your comment about the Byzantine emperors shows me one thing: they have always struggled to get it right. It was decided early on that a Christian could remarry when his or her spouse died and receive Holy Communion, and this would be a Christian, i.e. sacramental, marriage. Yet the Orthodox do not perform the crowning ceremony at a second marriage, which is what we might call the matter of the sacrament.

  32. Phil_NL says:


    To me, it seems that oikonomia is for the Orthodox a rule in itself, an escape clause that says one can blamelessly disregard other rules (i.e. the canons you speak of). That principle is, again from what I hear, applied right up to the highest authority. That is nothing else than abolishing the internal law, and oddly enough – one of life’s little ironies – such power which in the latin Church is reserved to the Pope, and even then only in a limited way – was always frowned upon by the Orthodox, who held that only councils had such power. Now many of the higher orthodox bishops are effectively popes of their own.
    Even if there needs to be wiggle room regarding the law in some cases, you need an institutional framework for that as well, as the West has, rather than a principle of “oikonomia” that can be brought to bear whenever it suits someone. At least the western clergy who disregard the rules know that they are doing so, and have neither excuse nor authority for it.

    Matt R,

    True, it always struck me – and the western church back in they day, by all accounts – as unduely harsh from the Orthodox to grant a lesser status to a second marriage after a spouse of the first had died. Yet they did; third marriages where frowned upon even more, 4th were forbidden. (the western church didn’t care one bit, I’d be surprised if there wasn’t some nobleman somewhere who went into the double digits because he married wives who died early). And that in an age where female mortality in childbirth was very high, and – certainly in case of Byzantine emperors, which cases are better documented – lack of legitimate male offspring could mean nothing less than civil war. If ever there was a case for oikonomia, it was then, but 9th century Orthodox would have nothing of it. Nowadays, the tables are completely turned.

  33. Matthew Gaul says:

    I seem to recall Fr. Thomas Loya saying on EWTN radio that the Eastern theology of marriage has an eternal component. Not in the Mormon sense, but in the continuing reality of the relationship between the two people in Christ in eternity. Pretty subtle stuff, I leave the details to the experts.

    But thus any marriage after the first, even if widowed very young, is seen as an accomodation to the human condition. So it wasn’t “harsh” to be harsh, it was protecting the beauty and eschatalogical witness of the original spousal Mystery.

    My gut says that the modern problems with economy are a devolution from what was originally a profound insight. But I am no expert on these things.

  34. benedetta says:

    Once again, where is the continuity? How wise is it to cherry pick from Eastern orthodoxy one particular aspect that suits in a given moment of history? This principle takes meaning and shape within: a tradition. Without that, it’s like selecting the result one desires and then slapping on a fancy theological name to somehow create legitimacy or disguise that this is all it amounts to. If we are going to select one or another principle then why not the whole continuity of that tradition and discipline which is its foundation, without which the principle is meaningless?

  35. pgepps says:

    Fr. Z, I have some friends who, having read this excellent article pointing out that a *perverse* version of “oikonomia” (a concept which *may* also be an inadequate or incomplete description of the ordinary Magisterium), are tending to treat the concept itself as objectionable in every sense. I am concerned that this is a bit too much like rejecting most of Vatican II itself because “the spirit of Vatican II” was so deeply perverse.

    Am I correct to think that most of the interpretation of various historical acts that the Greeks attribute to “oikonomia” (such as admission of heretical baptisms after various ordinaries rejected them), we in the West have accomplished by fine acts of definition? That is, differentiating valid from licit sacraments (as in baptism by schismatics), differentiating receiving the sacrament from receiving the grace given by the sacrament (as in unworthy reception of the Eucharist), etc.

    I think the Roman method preferable and less error-prone than the Eastern, but I would hesitate to repudiate “sacramental economy” as a thing managed by the ordinary Magisterium (which can enumerate various “dispensations” for various occasions, and can “bind and loose” as needed until something is finally bound by dogmatic definition).

    Am I missing something?

  36. Stephen D says:

    Only once in history has an Eastern Rite deacon been given permission to marry after ordination and guess who gave that permission thus setting a whole new precedent in marriage and the clergy?

  37. Pingback: Synod for the Family: Remarried and Divorced -

  38. makarios says:

    Since everything which only asserts its own perspective tends as per understandable human nature to exist in its own vacuum where those who agree may find comfort in congregating together, often without a meaningful voice from the opposition, and simply asserting things over and against the opposition without taking the trouble to seek as to whether or not they may have a case to provide in contraposition to certain individual sentiments, I should like to take the opportunity. I am myself a convert from the Roman communion to Holy Orthodoxy, and so I should like to think it is only fair that one of our own provides a response, that balance and a fuller evaluation may be instigated.

    Forgive my directness throughout this response (this is nothing personal), but several things stated here simply should not get away with themselves without being confronted directly.

    First of all, I should like to make the assertion that these comments do not comprise an “honest evaluation of Orthodox oikonomia” at all, making that an unjustified assertion in itself. It is at best an incomplete evaluation and at worst (and perhaps realistically) not even an evaluation at all, but a simplistic screed without any critical evaluation whatsoever. I will demonstrate subsequently why that is the case. The comments open to criticism tend to fall into a couple categories. One of these categories is the complete absence of the counter-perspective, along with mere assertions without demonstration. Last time I checked an assertion is not a proof of something; rather, it is the demonstration wherein the claim is sustained – and there is no demonstration of that in the above comments, not a single patristic citation or general reference to events/statements in the relevant ecclesiastical period and certainly not a single potential counter-citation to show possible instances of counter-evidence (that’s what an evaluation does, much more an honest one). So right off the bat it fails to fulfill the proper definition of an evaluation. Nothing here is truly and honestly evaluated considering both sides, it is just a bunch of assertions.

    Many of the assertions indeed contain accuracy, but are incomplete (i.e. neglect of information critical to understanding both sides of the debate, no mention of whether or not what is mentioned is apposite to the very ontology of the Church or whether it is simply a malady in certain sectors of it and at that merely certain people within certain sectors, no discussion of the underlying issues of ecclesiology but the simple “transfer” of any problem anywhere in the Church by some incredible leap to the very intrinsic ontology of the very Church Herself, etc – a transfer which can be made in an overwhelming amount of cases within the Roman communion and lead one to the same ridiculous conclusion that the whole thing is false just because x and x priests or bishops committed x and x acts and x and x popes did nothing about it, as well as the weak implication that economia in itself as an existent principle leads to the logical conclusion of abuse, seemingly as if that necessarily should be the case).

    Second is the category of just simply incomplete and nebulous statements which do not lead to productive discussion, but simply beg the question. A perfect example of that is this one:

    “The doctrinal vagaries surrounding the Filioque and Papal Infallibility can be debated until one is blue in the face; the crystal-clear Patristic and Apostolic (and Scriptural) teaching that marriage is forever and excludes contraception, cannot (at least, not by honest, above-board people).”

    He is partially correct here; that is, correct where he asserts that the Patristic teaching is basically clear and unanimous that marriage excludes contraception, whenever it does treat the subject openly, but he certainly is not correct in his underlying implication that their assertion concerning “marriage is forever” categorically excluded any kind of toleration for remarriage under penance. In short, no it is not that clear regarding that one issue. I mention this since, after all, what we are discussing here is not whether or not the Fathers say marriage is forever (no one disputes this) but whether or not it is “patristically” defensible that certain concessionary and penitential remarriages can fall within the realm of possibility. He seems to claim that because the Orthodox have a particular practice, therefore they are not the true Church, so whether or not he says this openly in the above statement he certainly states it a little more than tacitly, whether or not directly intended. I cannot and will never judge his interior state. But to address this I will quote the words of then Cardinal Ratzinger in his own short treatment of this subject:

    “Of course to this first observation a second observation must be joined: below the threshold of the classical teaching, so to speak beneath or within this ideal form that is in fact determinative for the Church, there was evidently again and again in the concrete pastoral application a more elastic practice, which was not indeed seen as entirely in conformity with the true faith of the Church, but which also could not be absolutely excluded.”


    “First of all, against a misunderstanding that is becoming ever more wide-spread, what is fundamentally common to both structures must be here underlined. Even the eastern Churches’ very extensive practice of divorce retains the structure of the position of Origen-Basil. That is to say, also for them there can be no valid sacramental marriage while the first spouses are alive; the second marriage does not become a properly ecclesial marriage. It remains a tolerated marriage, and the reception of the sacraments is permitted by way of tolerance (today termed economy). What shifts is not the doctrinal structure, but the proportions in practice: the marginal possibility becomes a daily affair and thereby covers up in practice what in doctrine remains the ideal and fundamental form.”

    His entire substantially cited essay on the issue of marriage is certainly worth a read, and it is linked here:

    In this essay he demonstrates at a certain point that, not only heretics, but some Fathers themselves (most notably St. Basil) directly tolerated oikonomia in the purview of this question, with various consequences and serious penances but not the demand that the new couple remain altogether continent. In other words, he states the obvious: the tradition of praxis in pertinence to marriage questions was not an absolutely uniform phenomenon in the relevant period, and also that the East has been doing this since that period as well in certain cases. If Augustinus’ statements truly sustain, then why on earth did then-Cardinal Ratzinger say a more lenient practice “could not be absolutely excluded”? Why not? It certainly goes without saying that Augustinus’ bringing up of the abuse of economia is completely and totally irrelevant to what is supposedly an “honest evaluation” since we are not talking about abuses, we are talking about principles.

    If it is the case that in the patristic period the principle exists that even one remarriage is allowed for any reason whatsoever while the spouse is still alive (especially when this is allowed by none other than the likes of the great Saint Basil, hardly an adulator of adultery qua adultery), then logically speaking the entire argument set forth by some in the Roman communion (that is, the one that implies this is somehow “fast evidence” that Orthodoxy has capitulated in a way the Fathers did not) is undermined, at least as a supposed proof in itself that Orthodoxy in its entirety cannot be the True Church and therefore one must convert to the Roman communion. And this is why:

    Because the assertion of an absolute and uncompromisable universal principle cannot be met with even one exception and yet remain that kind of principle. Once it is, you no longer have an absolute and uncompromisable universal principle but a normatively binding principle with an exception here and there on a casuistic basis (whatever the reason for that exception is, or however infrequent or frequent). Whether or not the “exception principle” is abused is a totally different question. Let us not even begin to bring up the abuse of annulments (and subsequent tolerance of this abuse as if all those people really and truly were never “actually” married and we just bury our heads in the sand pretending they weren’t) since the 1960s.

    If St. Basil allowed it, and he nonetheless remains fully orthodox and in the Church regardless, then no one can point at priests or tribunals in themselves allowing the principle of the matter today (again, forget about abuse), and argue honestly that such is prima facie evidence that Orthodoxy is not true. That’s not an honest assessment, since if it was then it would have to deal with the fact that if it happened in the patristic period, then one would of necessity have to logically conclude that St. Basil himself was outside the True Church, and also that any Pope who might have been aware of what St. Basil was doing, or any other bishop aware of it, was committing a massive sin of omission in failing to admonish this “sanction of adultery.”

    Would Augustinus dare to face St. Basil and say “anathema sit” to the great Cappadocian Father of Trinitarian theology because he sanctioned a form of oikonomia? Food for reflection.

    Popes and councils all the way up to and including Trent were aware of this phenomenon to some extent or another in a few of its forms (including Eugene IV at Florence and the council of Trent itself) and did not deliberately anathematize the Orthodox (or for that matter the Eastern Uniates in Venice if memory serves) for it. Where in the decree of union at Florence was the insistence that the Orthodox change their approach to divorce? I can’t find it; let me know if you find a facsimile with it present. If we should “flee this spurious economy” then we should also bury the memory of St. Basil and flee from him as well as any other patristic source on this matter which is an exception to the rule, and their doctrines as from a wild snake, and deem all the Popes who did not explicitly declare that this was an obstacle in itself to reunion shameless sinners of omission by failing to admonish the “adultery-sanctioning Eastern Orthodox.” Because that “spurious economy,” by the frank admission of none other than the one who has normally been considered by not a few the most “conservative” pope since the Second Vatican Council, has existed before – and we’re not talking about since after 1054 in this case.

    A few last words about contraception. Few people seem to appreciate that the current position of the Roman communion on NFP is itself considered by some Romans of a more traditional bent to be itself a compromise of the most traditional Western position, considering the fact that none of the Western Fathers who spoke on this came within a mile of approving even NFP. St. Ambrose did not even accept intercourse that was not literally and directly procreative, and so did not even favor intercourse while the wife was pregnant, nor among the elderly if memory serves correctly. Within the Orthodox world, there are significant amounts of monks, priests, laity, and bishops who absolutely forbid contraception both for themselves in the case of the laity and for others in the case of monastics and clergy, and the onus is not on them to demonstrate they are traditional about it considering it was always forbidden prior to the crisis of modernism.

    I even know of a story about a priest who vowed with his wife to have intercourse only once a year, and they had up to 9-14 children if I remember correctly. Furthermore, due to the Orthodox fasts, a pious and truly Orthodox couple (living the fullness of the Orthodox life with all its demands not “renovated” away) are forbidden from having intercourse every Wednesday and Friday, during every Fast (which includes Dormition Fast, Fasts on Feasts of Beheading of St. John the Baptist + Exaltation of the Holy Cross, etc, Nativity Fast, Lenten Fast, Apostles’ Fast, etc), and if they commune then they cannot have intercourse two days prior to and one day after Holy Communion. The problem is most couples could care less about living Orthodoxy, but that’s not Orthodoxy’s fault it’s theirs. The tradition is there and the writings are there, you care – you seek it out, you don’t care, you contracept away and ignore the fasts. This is nothing new, you have your faithful and your faithless. This demonstrates absolutely nothing. Those who maintain the ancient position against contraception have no burden of proof whatsoever, they are doing what their ancestors always did. The burden of proof is on the innovators, and therefore Orthodoxy qua Orthodoxy is not itself affected – the only way is if those living the way the ancestors did died off for good along with their bishops and priests, and that way of life never returned, and then every local Church together in synod decreed that every lay faithful of the Orthodox Church universally can and may contracept without sin. Not merely some local council or group of priests/bishops somewhere who are establishing something innovative in the first place.

    I also have a final question as part of my own evaluation. Why is it that Augustinus can use an incident of abuse of economia in the case of a remarried priest as proof Orthodoxy as a whole is incompetent, but I can’t use the example of multiple cases where not only contraception is condemned, but also NFP is frowned upon in several quarters and use that as evidence that Orthodoxy is indeed competent, or maybe even more competent than the modern Roman communion? Why the double standard? Or why can’t I justify my conversion from the Roman communion to Holy Orthodoxy based on some abuse somewhere? I am of the impression this question answers itself, and it is manifestly ridiculous to mention abuses in conversion stories since they are ubiquitous and logically irrelevant.

    Also, his comments on economia and akrivia with regard to recognition of Sacraments or ordination, etc as a supposed shot against Orthodoxy exposes the fact that he does not seem to be knowledgeable of Orthodox canon law and the entire history of these issues even prior to the schism. There has always been some disparity, since the days of Pope St. Stephen and Sts. Cyprian and Firmilian on this question, and before anyone thinks Arles (313) solved this question once and for all because that council resolved in favor against baptism and for confession of faith, disparity continued even after then as some canons of St. Basil again show. Local canons, not universal papal decrees or councils “simply” ratified by the Pope, have always been the authoritative basis on which to regulate these complicated questions. Reception of converts was never perfectly uniform, and certainly wasn’t solved for the Fathers simply because the Pope said so; therefore once again, if it wasn’t a problem for the ontology of the Church in the patristic period, then it isn’t a problem for the ontology of Orthodoxy today and his point stands utterly meaningless and moot, as I argue his entire argument essentially does, at least in what it seemingly aims to accomplish, despite individual valid points.

    It is painful and sad for me to witness this apostasy, and worse yet, on illogical and not very thoughtful and prudent terms. This is a tragedy indeed.

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