Thursday, February 25, 2010

What is "the West"?

Orthodox Christians sometimes refer to "the West" in contrast to the Orthodox Way of Life.  By the term "the West," we don't mean simply the Western world in a geographic sense, but rather the Western culture as it developed following Western Europe's separation from the Orthodox Church.  By "the West," I am referring, in part, to Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.  Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, which hold much in common, may be grouped together under the heading "Western Christianity."

In The Foundations of Christian Bioethics, H. Tristram Engelhardt, MD, PhD wrote about his use of the terms "Western Christianity" and "Traditional Christianity" (Orthodox Christianity).  This is a helpful definition for understanding the meaning of "the West":
In this volume, "Western Christianity" identifies the cluster of religions that emerged in the West from the 9th century onward.  These compass the Roman Catholic church and its various schismatic offspring (e.g., the Old Catholics), along with the thousands of Protestant groups, which have in multiple ways dialectically determined each other, with the result that those religions are closer to each other than to traditional Christianity from which they sprang.  These Christianities are marked in various measures by a confidence in discursive reasoning or an emphasis on individual spiritual judgment isolated from a community of Christians, which experiences itself as one with the Church of the Councils.  On the one hand, the context of tradition is evacuated by rationality; on the other hand, tradition is abandoned to individual choice.  In this volume, "traditional Christianity" in the strict sense identifies Christianity that is at one with the Church of the first millennium and that recognizes itself united over the centuries by the Holy Spirit in right worship and right belief.  Traditional Christianity in this sense is materially equivalent to the Orthodox Church. (fn. 15, p. 49)

My point in referring to "the West" is to emphasize the significant difference between the Orthodox Way of Life and the ideologies present in Western culture, influenced by Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, secularism, and other Western philosophies. 

The Orthodox Church is sometimes called the "Eastern Orthodox Church."  "Eastern" is descriptive when used to contrast the Orthodox Way from "the West," but the Orthodox Church is not just for the the East.  There is only one Orthodox Church. the original Church founded by Christ 2,000 years ago for the healing of all.

Image: The Crowning of Charlemagne, 15th Century