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Tuesday, May 24, 2005


Carl Olson

Very interesting e-mail, Jeff; thanks for posting it. Frank may have some good points (I'm not convinced), but it's hard to deny that his opinion piece was a rant, pure and simple. And an embarrassing, crude one at that. He is much too intelligent, I think, for such things. As for the East/West issue: sure, there are ancient and real issues there. But he never identified himself in the column as Orthodox, and his comment about "scholastic Catholicism" is way off-the-mark when you consider Benedict's great knowledge of patristics, especially the work of Augustine. So while Schaeffer's column might not have been about Benedict, the way that he drags his name into his litany of "fundamentalists" is outrageous.

Okay, I'm done. I'm sure some other folks will have plenty to say. Thanks again!

Teresa Polk

Frank's letter was a considerate gesture, and it still leaves some interesting questions. For example, what does he mean by " The piece is also about seeing the mystery of faith as contradicting the scholastic fundamentalism of both the west and east." His article in the Chronicle talks a great deal about tolerance of various religious and non-religious perspectives in a sense that differs from what is typical in Orthodox theology that I have read (limited though that has been). His reference to "fundamentalism of both the west and east" concerns me, because it sounds as if he may be questioning some Orthodox dogma, and not just those aspects that differ from Catholicism.

By comparison, an excellent Russian Orthodox theologian, Vladimir Lossky, wrote a book about the mysticism of the Orthodox Church entitled "The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church"). Lossky's introduction ("Theology and Mysticism in the Tradition of the Eastern Church") can be found on the internet at:

Here is an excerpt, which helps to clarify that Orthodox mysticism accepts the truth of Orthodox Christian dogma:

"Far from being mutually opposed, theology and mysticism support and complete each other. One is impossible without the other. If the mystical experience is a personal working out of the content of the common faith, theology is an expression, for the profit of all, of that which can be experienced by everyone. Outside the truth kept by the whole Church personal experience would be deprived of all certainty, of all objectivity. It would be a mingling of truth and of falsehood, of reality and of illusion: 'mysticism' in the bad sense of the word."

Another good, short article on solid Orthodox thinking is Bishop Kallistos Ware's online article entitled "How to Read the Bible." Although Bishop Ware does not talk about mysticism in that article, you can certainly see from it that the Orthodox Church accepts Scripture, read within the context of Church teaching, as authority and requires obedience to it:

I only know a few Orthodox authors, but there are some good ones among them. If I'm seeing the chicken I know, so be it.

Eric Giunta

Is Frank Schaeffer aware that the "Father of Scholasticism" was none other than Saint John Damascene? Perhaps he should take a look at this venerable Doctor's "Exposition of the Orthodox Faith,"which was a precursor and inspiration for Saint Thomas Aquinas's "Summa Theologica."

Jeff Grace

Well, I don't know... I think Frank is wrong about Benedict, but he's not really saying anything that out of the ordinary for an Orthodox.  Heck, it's actually pretty lighthanded compared to "The Grand Inquisitor" in The Brothers Karamazov...

Frank strikes me as a thoughful individual... albeit he does sound a bit frustrated in the article Carl referenced.  I don't know that I'd agree with all he'd say but I'd kinda like to hear him say more, maybe toned down a hair... so I try and avoid swinging for his kneecaps. :)

Mark Brumley

Whether or not Frank Schaeffer can rightly be described as thoughtful in other respects, he certainly wasn't thoughtful in characterizing Benedict XVI as a fundamentalist.

He declares that his essay wasn't about the pope. Fine. So what? That's not the point of the criticism. Whether his comments about the pope are "the point" of his essay, they are nonetheless wrong, inane, and offensive.

If I wrote an essay about Marxism in Christianity, and I declared, in passing, Frank Schaeffer to be a Marxist, I could not reasonably defend myself for my mischaracterization on the grounds that my article wasn't really about Frank Schaeffer or that the people who agree with me agree with me.

There's not enough room on this page to deal with his comments about scholastic Catholicism, either with reference to scholasticism itself or scholasticism in relation to Benedict XVI. In any case, I question how much Frank Schaeffer knows about Catholicism, scholastic or otherwise. Certainly, he is wrong to imply that Benedict XVI is a rationalist or hostile to the mystery of faith.

As to whether he says anything out of the ordinary for an Orthodox Christian, I'm not sure I see the relevance of the issue. I hope his outlook isn't generally held by Orthodox Christians, but his comments would be no less wrong or offensive for being widely shared by his coreligionists, if in fact they are.


It's important to note a shift that Schaeffer's introducing into the ordinary Orthodox critique of Catholicism. The ordinary critique has long been that Catholicism since the time of the Scholastics has been overly *rationalistic*. Schaeffer is now equating *rationalism* with *fundamentalism*, and I think that's very problematic. Catholicism has always taught, and Pope John Paul II emphatically reaffirmed, that faith and reason are eminently compatible, though the content of faith (Trinitarian dogma, for instance)can not be *derived* from reason alone. When Pope Benedict decries a "dictatorship of relativism" he is surely not calling us to oppose it with irrationalism, but arguing that somewhere in modern history, "reason" has been misapplied in such a fashion that it has lost its way. It sure seems to me that the Pope's approach strikes a much more effective blow against the evils of our time, than Schaeffer's call to retreat from clear doctrinal affirmation into "mystery" every could.


I just want to second what Mark Brumley had to say, he really hit the nail on the head!

Dale Price

I like Frank Schaeffer (and his late father, for that matter), too. But from the sampling of his writings that I have read, he doesn't even begin to have a grip on Catholicism. This is of a piece with his view that Protestantism and Catholicism are just two peas in the same Western pod. There is much to be said for the Orthodox argument that Western Christianity attempts to pigeonhole God and to try to quantify the Christian mysteries too much. It's also abundantly clear that the mystery card gets overplayed by Orthodox controversialists, Schaeffer included.

Moreover, to characterize Benedict XVI as "fundamentalist" strongly suggests little to no acquaintance with his writings.

Teresa Polk

I agree with Mark, grateful catholic and Dale. When Frank says that Pope Benedict XVI represents "scholastic Catholicism" and "scholastic fundamentalism," he seems to have a broad definition of scholasticism, rationalism, and fundamentalism. He seems to not just reject scholasticism as a Catholic philosophy, but rather he rejects Thomist “reason,” moral absolutes and objective theological truth. Thus, he wrote in the Chronicle, "Certainties are what unites all fundamentalists. . . ." When he calls his father and Pope Benedict XVI "fundamentalists," he is not so much calling them backwoods Bible thumpers, as he is saying that they believe in the absolute truth of fundamental principles of faith. (See Carl Olson’s article on relativism). As Dale said, he overplays the mysticism card.

However, as Mark said, even if Frank was stating a widely accepted Orthodox perspective, he still wrongly insulted the Pope. It won’t do to explain that he had a different definition of “fundamentalism.” He used an insulting word – one that his father might have described by its connotations – knowing that it would give a negative impression regardless of his definition.

Jeff Grace

Least anyone think I agree with Frank's equating of scholasticism with Fundamentalism, I'll only add, again, that I disagree with it. I'm only hoping we can disagree with someone without making it personal...

fr richard

Note the review of Frank's book on his conversion ( from the website: "") It sums up rather nicely my impressions of him from reading a number of his writings, except I think I would include a few more descriptive terms such as, "outlandish," "over the top," and "bordering on hysterical."

---Dancing Alone: The Quest for Orthodox Faith in the Age of False Religions, by Frank Schaeffer. Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Press, 1994.

Frank Schaeffer is the son of the late Dr. Francis Schaeffer. The first half is a jolting polemic concerning the problems in Western Christianity, followed by a thorough treatise of the author's solution: Eastern Orthodoxy. Though often unfair and sweeping in some of his criticisms of the West, Frank has done an excellent job of stirring people up to consider the "western dilemma" and to seriously consider a discovery of the riches of the east. Worthwhile reading, but beware of polemic overgeneralizations and attitudes that are often not accepted by many seasoned Orthodox Christians.

Daniel Crandall

I don't believe that Frank Schaeffer ever left his fundamentalist past. He merely tranferred it to a church with greater historical depth then the Calvinist church he grew up in. If Mr. Schaeffer had embraced Catholicism he would be standing with the radical traditionalists. His views are really nothing more than those of an Orthodox fundamentalist.

Like Carl Olson above, I found Schaeffer's commentary, "With God on their side" to be nothing more than a 8 paragraph rambling hodge-podge of why everyone else is wrong and Frank Schaeffer is right.

All Mr. Schaeffer needs to do to find a fundamentalist is look in the mirror.

MAJ Jones

Christ is in our midst!

As an Eastern Catholic, I recognize and value the truth and beauty within the West, i.e. the teachings of Benedict, Augustine, Aquinas, etc. There is much good contained with the West, but the West is not superior to the East! They have different approaches toward theology, spirituality, and the liturgy. Theses differences cannot and should not be erased or forgotten. The West can learn from the East and vice versa. The authentic Church breaths with two lungs! A good recent book reflecting this model is The Beauty Of The Infinite: The Aesthetics Of Christian Truth. I also encourage you to explore the very positive relationship that Communion and Liberation, an officially approved eccelisial movement in the Catholic Church, has with the East. If someone is curious to find out more about their method, just ask me.

My personal recommendation is to keep this discussion civil. If Frank did not publicly display a good attitude towards the West than we should respond first and foremost in prayer, and then action. Replying through insults and unfair character assignation reflects poorly on ourselves, not just on Frank. Let us pray my friends!

In regards to the leading figures of la nouvelle theologie or the ressourcement movement, they were all students of the Church Fathers, both West and East. I refer you to Balthasar's works on Ireneaus, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus, etc. And what about internal battle within the Western Church between these figures of the Ressourcement Movement (one could argue they were the traditional Thomists in many ways over the issues of grace and nature, etc.) and the neo-Thomists (Garrigou-Lagrange, etc.) Not to mention the fact that Pope B16 is an Augustinian, not a Thomist or "scholastic" by the way. Being an Augustinian leads to a different emphasis in various fields or topics within theology. We (you and I) must all get our own facts in order.

Let us pray to Our Lady for guidance.

Teresa Polk

Jeff and MAJ Jones, I don't think anyone here is being critical of Frank's article because they consider the west superior to the east. In fact, the paragraph-long review that Fr. Richard quoted comes from an Orthodox web page which calls the first half of Frank's book a "jolting polemic concerning the problems in Western Christianity." Those were the words of an Orthodox review.

Some of the commentary questions whether Frank's latest article and his letter are in keeping with sound Orthodox thinking. Jeff mentioned Dostoevsky. However, Dostoevsky is often considered to have been an early existentialist. Some of what Frank wrote sounds more existentialist than Orthodox to me. I don't think you will find much support here for relativist philosophies such as existentialism, whether they appear from Orthodox or Catholic sources. You will find similar criticisms directed toward Catholics who do not follow Church teaching. I just don't think Frank's being Orthodox instead of Catholic has been an issue.

However, I have sent an e-mail to someone I know outside of the U.S. who is very knowledgeable about the Orthodox Church, asking what he thinks. There may be some things that we are overlooking. It would be good to get an Orthodox perspective.

Carl Olson

For those who might not know, Father Richard is a Byzantine Catholic priest and is very knowledgeable of Eastern thought and theology. He is also my pastor and I've learned a tremendous amount about the East from him. Teresa is right: this really has nothing to do about real differences between the East and West, but about how Frank Schaeffer wrote a very irresponsible and troubling column that apparently draws upon a distorted view of the West *and* the East.

MAJ Jones

Christ is our midst!

We are more in agreement than not here. I feel, as all of you, that this was an angry and poorly written article on Frank's behalf. Mr. Schaeffer is compatible of much, much better.

I think a fair question to ask is this - Why not engage the man's thought (his criticism of the West) in a serious way and not automatically discount them. Schaeffer's criticisms of the West are not his alone. Many, many in the East share them.

Are all of these Eastern criticisms of the West accurate and fair? Of course not, but let us explore why this is the case. Is there any truth in these criticisms? This can be a moment of education for all of us.

Carl & Mark - why don't you do an article on the Scoop on this topic, i.e. Eastern Orthodoxy, Eastern Catholicism, etc? This will take some work... Let's roll up our sleeves and do the real work of a serious dialog with our Eastern brothers. You have done great work on Fundamentalist thought (Left Behind, etc.) and the Da Vinci Code, but this would be taking it to a whole different level.

Mary Hamilton

"I hope his outlook isn't generally held by Orthodox Christians," wrote Mark Brumley.

I hope it isn't, I must say, having been Orthodox since 1977. It seems to me, having listened to comments from converts I've met over the years, that some come to Orthodoxy with a zeal that works itself out in critical speaking and writing, either to dump on whatever one has left behind, or to dump on what one finds once one is Orthodox. People have different rates of speed in adjusting.

Others come to Orthodoxy seeking only "a place to pray" where one's faith is not subject to change with the times. If we come to Orthodoxy, or to Roman Catholicism, with this latter attitude, I think our writings will be more constructive. I believe in commending the good while praying for amendment of the bad, and so far I have not seen anything that is not being addressed by Our Lord Himself as He perfects His church on earth.

Anyone who reacts vehemently regarding "scholasticism" is perhaps reacting to a misunderstanding of scholasticism, in my humble opinion. A good, thorough reading of some of the works of Cardinal de Lubac and Etienne Gilson should fix that.

May God bless you all!


Mark C.

Clearly, Schaeffer has somehow missed the fact that Cardinal Ratzinger was one of the least scholastic and most patristic Prefects in the history of the Holy Office (the first non-Thomist appointed to the office in centuries). Also, consider this quote from Schaeffer's _Dancing Alone_ regarding the enthusiasm of some Orthodox scholars for the ecumenical movement:

"How sad to think that such a great mind and spirit as Georges Florovsky could have been so blinded by his own innocent good will as to the true nature of the Protestant debacle [embodied in the ecumenical movement] which has resulted in the disintegration of Western civilization, the acceptance of abortion on demand, the ordination of women, homosexuals and lesbians, the apostasy and heresy inherent in 'liberal' Protestant theology."

Doesn't this sound just a titch "fundamentalist"?

Warren Postma

ne supra crepidam judicaret...

One of the things that irritates me about Frankie Schaefer, herein referred to as Junior, is the smug tone he has preserved in his journey from supremely self-confident protestant "fundamentalist" (his own description) to what I would now call "supremely self-confident pseudo-orthodox fundamentalist".

His cry of mystery is a cover for his new fundamentalism, and his equating the subtle rational intellectual depth of Benedict XVI (Ratzinger) with fundamentalism, are the great joke here.

In effect, Mr. Schaeffer Jr should stick to his own sandals, and avoid over-reaching himself in truly ultra-crepidarian, and might I add, conservative fundamentalist American religious style.

Warren Postma


Frank Schaffer isn't the first to claim that the East (meaning Orthodox) and the West (meaning Catholic and the children of Catholicism, that is Protestants) have different perspectives, nor is he the first to claim that the East is more 'mystery friendly', but making the claim is not the same as being correct about the claim. The Catholic Church has always spoken of mystery, and has always accepted that in God and in the things God has done through our Lord Jesus Christ there is great mystery.

It is merely fashionable to claim that the Western Mind is rationalist while the Eastern Mind is mystical. The truth is quite different from that claim however. Both the East and the West pursue rational and mystical approaches to life and faith. To pretend otherwise is a shallow appeal to prejudices.

There's a theme that is often repeated in the written works and written comments of some Protestant converts to Orthodoxy; namely that the West has in some way departed from the simple appreciation of mystery and surrender to mystery that is claimed to be present in Orthodoxy. In a way this theme reflects a continuation of the Protest that created Protestantism. By labeling Catholicism as a rationalist 'scholastic' approach to faith it becomes much easier to hold on to all the old fundamentalist and evangelical Protestant prejudices against Catholicism, and it is holding on to that kind of baggage that is the reason for propounding the theme in the first place. It is an anachronism to import sixteenth
century baggage (and dare i say it, nineteenth to twentieth century additions to the baggage) into an eleventh century division between Catholic and Orthodox Christians, but by importing the anachronistic baggage some resonances between Protestant and Orthodox perspectives that are hostile to the Catholic Church can be achieved. In a way, converting to Orthodoxy may be the ultimate Protestant protest against Rome.

It is worth carrying in our minds and hearts a warning given by a theologian some time ago, if one engages in debate with the heterodox then one is inevitably drawn into sympathy with the heterodoxy that our interlocutor uses to frame his questions and to define the parameters of the debate.


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