Christian Traditions: Western Latin and Eastern Orthodox

I speak alot about the two different Christian Traditions: The Western Latin tradition and the Eastern Orthodox tradition.  I thought I might devote a post to explaining what these are, so that I don’t confuse anybody into thinking that the former is some New Age philosophy or the latter is some Eastern Oriental religion (e.g., Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism).  The Western Latin tradition and Eastern Orthodox tradition come from the same root: Pentecost ca. AD 33.  The early Christian Church was united and had five traditional centers or co-equal Patriarchies; Jerusalem, Alexandria (Egypt), Antioch (Syria), Constantinople (Byzantium), and Rome (Rome laid claim as “first among equals”).   So, there was really one Christian Church for more than 1,000 years, half of its history.

The Church split into two parts in the Great Schism of 1054; the Western Latin Church controlled by Rome and the Eastern Orthodox Church loosely led by Constantinople (with Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria).  Because the Western Church used Latin as its liturgical language and the Eastern Church used Greek, the two traditions are sometimes still referred to as the Latin and Greek churches, respectively.

A little on the Great Schism:  The Western Latin Church started to develop its own theology under the influence of St. Augustine of Hippo (in North Africa) at the beginning of the 5th century, just as the Western Roman Empire fell to the Visigoths (AD 410) and, later, to the Franks and Lombards.  Remember, the Eastern Roman Empire, centered in Constantinople, did not fall for another 1,000 years (1453).  The Western Latin Church and its Roman Papacy were significantly influenced by the occupying Germanic tribes who enthusiastically embraced Augustinian theology.  That drove a wedge in the Church, as the Eastern Orthodox never took Augustine’s theology very seriously.  Turn the clock forward through 500 years of political and theological acrimony and disagreement and you have the Great Schism of 1054.

So, when I use the term Western Latin Christianity or tradition, I mean the Roman Catholic Church and later spin-off (1500’s) Protestantism (geographically roughly Western/Northern Europe and North America).

When I use the term Eastern Orthodox Christianity or tradition, I mean the Eastern Christian church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church (geographically roughly Eastern Europe/Russia, the Eastern Mediterranean, and the Middle East).  These are the churches of St. Paul.

It’s important to keep in mind that for more than half its history, the Christian Church was one and undivided.  We in the Western Latin tradtion tend to forget or overlook this fact.

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