The following are my reflections based upon this article which a friend of mine sent to me on why the Eastern Orthodox Church appeals to man.
I’ve been meaning to write a reflection on this article on concerning the “masculinity” of the Eastern Church compared to the “effeminate” Western Church.
I wish to begin with a quote from Samuel Johnson with regards to reasons why a person might want to join the Roman Church
There is one side on which a good man might be persuaded to embrace it. A good man, of a timorous disposition, in great doubt of his acceptance with God, and pretty credulous, might be glad to be of a church where there are so many helps to get to Heaven. I would be a Papist if I could. I have fear enough; but an obstinate rationality prevents me. I shall never be a Papist, unless on the near approach of death, of which I have a great terrour. I wonder that women are not all Papists.
In many ways the Western Church is quite effeminate with its emphasis upon the Cross, passive suffering, loss of will, oppressed helplessness, tears and wailing sentimentalism, etc, as opposed to the Eastern emphasis upon the resurrection paschal victory and triumph and all that. In that sense, whether it is a Protestant form of justification by faith alone and a high doctrine of original sin or a Roman form of salvation by the visible church’s merits of the saints or clerical judges and indulgences, Western Christianity does tend to “subcontract” the work of our salvation out to external sources whereby we are merely the passive recipients docilely receiving instructions.
Given the passive effeminacy of a large part of Western Christianity, there does however remain “masculine” elements of which has declined in recent years. For Romanism, the institutional rigor and severity of their clerics is one such sort of masculinity for them. For Protestantism, as Samuel Johnson remarks make clear, it is an “obstinate rationality” or rigorous rationalistic discipline. Thus, the “passive sentimental” aspects of Western Christianity are held in check by the severity of the institutional rigors of Romanism and the rationalism of Protestantism.
In particular for Protestantism, such austere rationalism acts as a necessary discipline against crass emotions and sentiments. Cold rigorous deductions and prescribed duties take precedence over the whims, fancies and turmoil of sentiments and emotions, putting them firmly in their proper place. Such rigor often has an iconoclastic tinge as Protestant rationalism, discerning the will of God enunciated by the pure Word of God, rages against any earthly affections or attachments bound to sense or sight or sentiment.
To this day, the Reformed Christians remain the true heirs of this austere Protestant rationalism, bound only to the pure Word of God. Only those whose souls are made of iron can suffer from cancer and then say that God means it for his glory or who still actually believes that God punishes and disciplines us with natural disasters and catastrophe. Fixated solely upon the voice of God speaking in Scripture, they deduce with ruthless and relentless consistency the consequences of their system without batting an eye or flinching at its unsavoury implications. Against every sentimental attachment on heaven and on earth, they proclaim the glory of God in all things, from the humblest orange juice to the planes smashing into the Twin Towers in the 9/11 incident. With equal rigor do they also enunciate the command of God with regards to our sanctification, no matter how we may feel about it. There is simply no relaxation or slackening here of their deductive rigorous or rationalistic consistency here.
For those Protestants however for whom this rationalistic discipline is lost, there inevitably begins a slide into a form of effeminacy and waffling sentimentalism and subjectivity, leading eventually to the loss of the Protestant faith itself.
Romanism could only have retained its “masculinity” and discipline by maintaining the rigors of their institutional and clerical enforcement. Once this was lost and relaxed, what you have is… well, Pope Francis. Perhaps the dissolution of the masculine character of the Roman priesthood can be seen in the subtle shift in their consideration of the role of the priest. Anyone familiar with the arguments of the Counter-Reformation and Trent will know that the entire system of confession and penance is rooted in the idea of the priest as judge. The root justification for auricular confession and listing of sins is that the priest needs to know the character and nature of those sins that he might be able to pass the appropriate judgement and impose the proper penance for those sins. The priest’s role in the day to day life of his parishioners is ultimately and fundamentally that of a judge. Today of course this dimension of the Roman priesthood has virtually vanished or at least has been buried. From the priest as a judge, he has been transformed into that of a doctor and healer, a much more feminine role. The judge must be relentless and coldly impartial, judiciously weighing the facts and the case objectively to past his penitential sentence. A doctor must be sympathetic and “nice”, focused upon his patient’s feelings and needs.
As a Protestant, I do believe that for the Protestant faith to thrive and survive, we do need to recover once more our “rationalism”, our faith and confidence in natural reason and common sense, the lights which God has given for us to discern the will of God in the Scriptures and to apply it to our particular circumstances and situations, but most of all, we have to believe in that old doctrine of the perspicuity of the Scriptures, where in concert with our natural reason, we may both understand the Scriptures and know what is the will of God for our own lives.