An "Orthodox Catholic"? What's That?

Michael Bird has written what I think is a mostly helpful post about, among other matters, diversity of theological opinion among both Catholics and Protestants alike.  The post is in reaction to those who would pit theological disagreements as Rome (i.e. the Roman Catholic Church) against Geneva (i.e. the Reformers), as if these two were monoliths and as if no other options are available (i.e. Eastern Orthodoxy).  I applaud this part of the post and believe that the point is well spoken and much needed.

However, I think that at the end of the post he slips into what we all do at times.  He states “I can honestly say that I’d rather worship and pray with an Orthodox Catholic than with a Liberal Protestant.”  The ability to make such statements would seem to me somewhat diminished by the discussion of diversity which precedes it.  In other words who is an “Orthodox Catholic” (As an example from Bird’s discussion, someone who follows Fitzmeyer or someone who follows Trent)?  I have served in a Catholic Church for some time now and have still not figured that out.  And, I would say that if Bird takes his own comments about diversity seriously, he would probably not want to pray with many Catholics (at least that I know) who consider themselves “orthodox” since they would insist on including some of the practices he questions at the end of the post as a witness to their Catholic faith in the sight of Protestant dissenters.

It seems that all the talk of diversity is not very compatible with the Orthodox-Unorthodox (for which “liberal” is often a substitute) labels that we tend to use.  I personally am not sure how to best solve the problem of terminology that places people into categories like this but still seeks to recognize the possibility of diversity.  I tend to like to view matters as a sliding scale, rather than categories.  Yet this way of looking at matters is not very conducive to normal discourse.  “I would rather worship with a Catholic who is somewhere around the middle of the sliding scale of what one can believe and be considered Catholic.”  That does not work so well.  So, I guess until someone comes up with something better, we will continue to talk about the diversity of theological opinion that is acceptable but continue to use terms that are not so well fitted for handling that diversity.

If you are interested in reading more about current relations between Catholics and Protestants from an Evangelical perspective, one of the best books I can recommend is:


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