American Orthodox

June 21, 2006

Aristotle: The difference between East and West

Filed under: General Orthodoxy — americanorthodox @ 3:16 pm

If I had to identify the single most fundamental distinction between East and West, the one thing so basic that it underlies nearly every difference, it would have to be Aristotelianism.

This one factor is so fundamental, in fact, that you could devote many books to it. So I’ll pick only one of the many ways in which it surfaces.

Liturgy in the West, like everything else, is its own clearly defined category. Western Christians, Catholic and Protestant alike, believe that liturgy is separable from everything else, and that liturgy has no necessary connection to any other aspect of Christianity (the West was like this long before the Reformation, which is why Protestants share it).

Therefore, you can have wide variation in liturgics in the West, and it isn’t a major issue. You can revise the translation, if the context is Catholicism, or you can have a guitar service, and as long as you include the essential elements (these will differ from group to group), it’s not monumental. And if your approach is that liturgics have no necessary relationship to theology or belief, then it’s much easier to propose and accept liturgical changes (it’s also why some changes can be accepted, even though they violate orthodox Christian theology).

In Orthodoxy, we don’t cut up Christianity into nice, neat, seperable categories. Aristotelianism doesn’t underlie Eastern Christianity (this is also true of the Byzantines). To the East, lex orandi, lex credendi (the rule of prayer is the rule of belief) is the very principle of liturgy and worship. We do not draw clear, bright lines between worshipping at Vespers or Divine Liturgy, prayer alone, theology, or the Faith of the Church. You can’t separate them out from one another.

This is why the Divine Liturgy has remained unchanged for so many hundreds of years. Going to Liturgy isn’t just “going to church,” as the West sees it. Liturgics are the theology of the Church. Everything we believe is expressed liturgically, because we don’t see a distinction between faith and worship. A Synod would never cut out part of the Liturgy to shorten it, or make it less “offensive,” or whatever reason, because the Liturgy is the Faith, the theology and belief of the Living Church.

It’s the distinction between philosophical approaches: a rational, definitional one versus a mystical, holistic one. And that is the most fundamental distinction between East and West, as I’ll point out in the future.


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