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This is the ninth of a series of posts about ecumenical formation. This follows yesterday's post which introduced two authors who have recently written about the Church of the East.
Diarmaid McCulloch suggests the big difference between the Church of the East and the Western (Catholic and Orthodox) churches was not so much theological (Jenkins suggests theological differences were really fairly small) as their politics.
The two major Western Churches were both in the Roman Empire and the decisions made at the various councils (especially Chalcedon, which split the Church of the East from the west) were made for the convenience of the Empire.
The Church of the East on the other hand was never a state religion. It had to make its way by negotiation and making accommodation with the prevailing powers, often of other faiths. Consequently, faith could not be imposed but had to be passed on though debate.
So, Christianity spread and maintained its presence through negotiation with other faiths. This worked very well for hundreds of years. (The reasons for the churches' decline are complex but seem to relate to the crusades and Islam's encounter with a very different Western Christianity.) We need to ask ourselves how much of our determination to impose Christian faith as the one true faith is the result of the Imperial origins of Western Christianity and whether the Church of the East was a more natural way of spreading the Christian story through debate with other faiths. In such a context formation would be vital; without it Christians would not be able to uphold their side of the debate.
I think it would be a mistake though to see the West as imposing one true faith from the start. It took many centuries for the Roman Catholic Church to become the dominant church in Christendom. Over that period, there were other churches (notably the Celtic Church in Britain) and ideas were debated. Despite claims made by modern pagans, I have seen little evidence that Christianity was imposed by force. That came later.
I found this quote in one of Clayboy's blog posts, Pope vs Pope: a different vision of Roman ecumenism .
You know, my brother, the custom of the Roman Church in which you remember that you were bred up. But my will is, that if you have found anything, either in the Roman, or the Gallican, or any other Church, which may be more acceptable to Almighty God, you should carefully make choice of the same, and sedulously teach the Church of the English, which as yet is new in the faith, whatsoever you can gather from the several Churches. For things are not to be loved for the sake of places, but places for the sake of good things. Choose, therefore, from every Church those things that are pious, religious, and right, and when you have, as it were, made them up into one bundle, let the minds of the English be accustomed thereto.