Catholic Vs. Orthodox Teachings
29 SEP 2017
The Catholic and Orthodox Churches separated in 1054 in what is known as the Great or East-West Schism. While on the surface the two churches may seem very similar, some key points in theology -- most especially in regard to human nature and faith -- make their teachings very different. Fundamentally, one might say their differences lie in a focus on logic and law versus experience and mystery.
1 Purpose of Images
How images are employed is one of the major differences between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Orthodox icons are divinely inspired images of Jesus, the Virgin Mary or saints, often copied from miraculous images such as the Mandylion. They are highly stylized and meant to evoke a sense of the divinity of the subject rather than look naturalistic. All icons are blessed in a church and considered holy unto themselves, much like holy relics. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, views images as didactic. It was partly because of the emphasis on using art to teach parishioners that the West developed more naturalistic styles of painting and sculpture in the middle ages.
2 Human Nature
Another major divergence between Catholic and Orthodox teaching has to do with the concept of human nature. Catholics believe in original sin -- that when Adam and Eve ate forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, they sinned against God, and the guilt of that sin has been inherited by every human since so that everyone is born in sin. The Orthodox Church, on the other hand, does not believe in original sin. It teaches that the result of Adam and Eve's sin was the introduction of death, disease and aging into the world, as well as passions such as anger, lust and greed. Therefore much of Orthodox teaching focuses on controlling one's passions, whereas much of Catholic teaching focuses on avoiding sin.
The differing interpretations of human nature in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches have far-reaching theological effects, most notably in the meaning of Jesus' time on Earth and the Crucifixion. To Catholics, Jesus was born to sacrifice himself for the sins of the human race. In Orthodox theology, Jesus was born in order to conquer death. In the latter, the focus is on the Crucifixion and in the former the focus is on the Resurrection.
4 Faith and Reason
Going back to St. Augustine, the Catholic Church has a long history of using reason to defend faith and vice versa. A reliance on Greek philosophers such as Aristotle led Catholic intellectuals to use human wisdom to interpret the holy scriptures. One of the results of this practice is a focus on intellectual teaching, as demonstrated in didactic images, and the creation of law. While the Orthodox Church also has a history with philosophy and science, it is more focused on maintaining the original apostolic tradition and affirming faith through experience, rather than reason. Ergo icons are designed to give the viewer a sense of being in a divine presence.