Living Tradition: Orthodox Witness in the Contemporary World (1978)

MEYENDORFF, John


  • Moral assessment: (P-C1) Contains some significant doctrinal errors
  • Public: Generic

This book, by a leading 20th Orthodox theologian, helps to understand some of the debates within Orthodoxy itself and gives a good introduction to how Orthodox theology views the Catholic Church. The book has some excellent sections. For example, a section on Authority and History explains wonderfully how the Church has always resisted being conditioned by the historical period in which she finds herself, while at the same time drawing from the insights and teaching that period has to offer. Thus, every doctrinal definition never claims to express the full truth but simply points out what is incompatible with doctrinal truth: "Doctrinal ‘development’ does not mean enrichment of the original apostolic witness with new revelations, but it implies freedom from all particular historical problematics and, conversely, the possibility of expressing the Christian message in any historical situation". Thus the Church adopted concepts of Greek philosophy such as "physis", "hypostasis" or "homoousios" with care and purification, often given them a new meaning. Later on, he helpfully distinguishes between three types of eschatology: an apocalyptic type which passively awaits divine intervention, a secular type which bases everything on human effort alone, and a third type, which he calls the "biblical", prophetic type and he describes as conditional. Good future things are promised and disasters threatened but everything is conditional to man’s freedom. This latter form, he says, "does justice both to God’s power and to man’s freedom and responsibility". Chapter 4, "Rome and Orthodoxy: Is ‘Authority’ still the issue?", gives a very helpful overview of the history of the relations between Rome and the Orthodox churches. One sees that these involve many events and elements which Catholics are generally not aware of. The work, however, affirms traditional Orthodox claims which are in contrast with the Catholics doctrine: for example, that the full Catholicity of the Church is found in each local church ("There is no theological foundation for any external supreme authority over the local sacramental communities, each of whom is the Body of Christ in its totality"); that the bishop of Rome (i.e. the Pope) could never be more than "primum inter pares"; that Catholic doctrines such as the "filioque", the Immaculate Conception, Purgatory and papal infallibility are unjustified Roman additions to Revelation; and, finally, a surprising identification of Catholicism and Protestantism which, according to Meyendorff, have both gone wrong by giving exaggerated importance to authority: to the Pope in the case of Catholics, and to Scripture in the case of Protestants ("sola Scriptura"). J.E. (U.K., 2017)

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The assessments are divided into two groups, one for Literature (L) and the other for Thought (P). For Literature the assessments are as follows:

  •  L-A1: Nothing morally inappropriate.
  •  L-A2: Nothing morally inappropriate, although may be unsuitable for younger readers (e.g. because there are topics requiring a certain maturity on the part of the reader).
  •  L-B1: Some morally inappropriate content.
  •  L-B2: Contains significant sections contrary to faith or morals.
  •  L-C1: Contains some lurid passages, or presents a general ideological framework that could confuse those without much Christian formation.
  • L-C2: Contains several lurid passages, or presents an ideological framework that is contrary or foreign to Christian values.
  •  L-C3: Explicitly contradicts Catholic faith or morals, or is directed against the Church and its institutions.

What do the moral assessments mean in relation to non-fiction works?

Works of Thought (P) are assessed according to the degree of knowledge required to evaluate the implications of affirmations made with respect to the Christian faith.

  • P-A1 or P-A2: These books present doctrinal matters in accordance with the teaching of the Church as set out, for example, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. They avoid complicated topics and subjects not yet theologically settled. They are grouped according to whether or not they require a certain minimum of Christian formation.
    •  P-A1: General readership.
    •  P-A2: Readers with general cultural or basic Christian formation.
  • P-B1 or P-B2: To appreciate how certain topics impinge on the faith, the reader requires a good cultural formation with respect to the matters dealt with (P-B1), or even university-level studies in these areas (P-B2). In particular, these books may take for granted certain widely-held opinions opposed to the faith, even though such ideas may not be central to their argument – and can be easily detected by readers with a certain amount of formation.
    •  P-B1: Requires prior general knowledge of the subject.
    •  P-B2: Readers with Christian formation and knowledgeable about the subject matter.
  • P-C1, P-C2 or P-C3: Because of the implications of the topics dealt with, or the need to be aware of the reasons why some of the theories set out in the book are invalid, it is always necessary for the reader to have very good formation in the area in question, whether university-level (P-C1) or specialist (e.g. a doctorate: P-C2). Hence the assessments place emphasis on the objective content of the book, rather than on its possible readership. The P-C3 assessment is reserved for those works which set out to contradict or deny certain aspects of the faith or the teachings of the Catholic Magisterium.
    •  P-C1: Contains doctrinal errors of some importance.
    •  P-C2: Whilst not being explicitly against the faith, the general approach or its main points are ambiguous or opposed to the Church’s teachings.
    •  P-C3: Incompatible with Catholic doctrine.

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