Orthodoxy on Scripture and Tradition: A Comparison With Reformed and Catholic Perspectives -- By: Daniel B. Clendenin

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 57:2 (Fall 1995)
Article: Orthodoxy on Scripture and Tradition: A Comparison With Reformed and Catholic Perspectives
Author: Daniel B. Clendenin


Orthodoxy on Scripture and Tradition:
A Comparison With Reformed and Catholic Perspectives

Daniel B. Clendenin

Much of the scholarly discussion about Scripture and tradition has typically focused on the differences between Reformed Protestants and Catholics, with little consideration given to the position of Orthodoxy. Of course, the differences between Protestants and Catholics on these matters are significant, and it serves no purpose to minimize those differences. Likewise, as we shall see, the Orthodox view of tradition is closer to that in Catholicism. But it would be a grave error to confuse the Orthodox view of Scripture and tradition with that found in Catholicism, or to contrast both of these views only with those of the Reformed tradition.

In fact, Orthodoxy construes Catholicism and Protestantism not as opposites but as similar garments cut from the same cloth, and its own tradition as another tapestry altogether. A number of Orthodox thinkers have made this point.1 For Alexei Khomiakov (1804–1860), Orthodox lay theologian and prominent Slavophile, Protestants are crypto-Catholics in the sense that they operate in the same Western framework, the only difference being that Catholics affirm while Protestants deny the same set of theological data. The two operate on the same field but pull in different directions. Orthodoxy, insists Khomiakov, plays a different game altogether.2 Likewise, Meyendorff writes that “ultimately, the conflict between East and West resides in two conflicting spiritual perceptions of tradition.”3

In Orthodoxy, according to Khomiakov, the church is not an “authority,” for “authority is something external to us.”4 Even though they draw different conclusions, in the West both Catholics and Protestants operate with “identical premises” in the sense that they both seek the security of an external authority to serve as the guarantor of theological truth. In Catholicism this external dogmatic authority came to reside in the teaching

magisterium of the church as expressed in the primacy and infallibility of the papacy,5 whereas in the Reformed reaction to papal hegemony, there arose the external criterion of sola scriptura. By contrast, rather than a theological authority that is external to, over, and speaking to the church, Orthodoxy proposes an idea of truth that is internal, within, and living in the church—the Spirit of God himself. It offers a view of theologi...

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