Episode 297 – When you’ve got Vikings you get schisms

On this week’s episode it’s just Dustin and Lauren. We talk about the Great Schism and differences between Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. In the news we have the Pope’s latest failure to deal with Catholic sex abuse, Vatican women protesting censorship, terrible invocations, Facebook stuff, and more!

Dustin’ off the Degree – The Orthodox Churches: The Great Schism

From Sylia via email:

Hi Dustin!

I’m kind of curious about the Russian Orthodox Church and what they believe in, how they came to be, and how they’re different from mainstream Catholicism and Protestantism. How much do you know about the Russian Orthodox Church? Can you talk about that on the Dustin Off the Degree segment for a future Atheist Nomads episode?

As it turns out as with everything related to religion, this is a really complex and big topic and there’s some background information we need to cover before we really get to the question.

Using the colloquial terms there are really four main branches of Christianity:

  • Oriental Orthodox
  • Eastern Orthodox
  • Roman Catholic
  • Protestant

Often the Eastern Orthodox churches are just referred to as Orthodox and the Roman Catholic church is often just referred to as Catholic. But technically speaking the Catholic and Orthodox churches are all Catholic and all Orthodox. Catholic means universal and Orthodox means correct doctrine. They all view themselves as the church founded by Christ with the great commission and their bishops to be the successors to the apostles.

Protestants are the newest branch, splitting off from the Roman Catholic Church during the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century in central and western Europe. The Protestants believe that Christians are saved by faith and not works, that the priesthood belongs to all believers with all Christians having direct access to Christ, and that the Bible is the only source for doctrine. Catholics on the other hand believe that your works will determine how quickly you get to heaven, that priests are a special class of believers, that only the Pope has direct access to Christ, and that church tradition what determines dogma.

What this created was groups of Christians in the west that were not in communion with the Bishop of Rome, commonly referred to as the Holy Father, Papa, or Pope. The Christians that remained in communion with the Bishop of Rome remained part of the Roman Catholic Church.

For the split between the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church, we have to go back to the Roman Emperor Constantine. He converted to Christianity, made Christianity the official religion of the empire, and moved his capital from Rome to Byzantium, renaming it Constantinople. This disrupted the power dynamics in the church by making Rome less significant and moving the seat of government to the Greek side of the empire where there were far more Christians.

When the empire split east to west, there was one patriarch, the Bishop of Rome, over the church in the Western Roman Empire with the remaining patriarchs left in charge of their provinces of the church in the Eastern Roman Empire. The Western empire and the church in it spoke Latin and conducted mass in Latin, while the Eastern empire and the church in it spoke Greek.

By the time the western empire collapsed, the Bishop of Rome was already starting to fill the power vacuum that it created and quickly worked to created relations with the German kingdoms that were taking over the lands of the former empire, Rome then sent missionaries out to convert the Germans a created what was basically a diplomatic back channel throughout the region. Then when Charlemagne completed his conquests it was under the name of the Holy Roman Empire and he established his capital in Rome and the Pope snuck up behind him, snatched the crown, and placed it on his head.

During this time period in the east, the Roman Empire lived on from its capital in Constantinople and the Greek speaking church continued as it had been existing safe and secure under the protection of the empire and to a certain extent under the control of the emperor.

Over the centuries more and more differences developed between Rome and Constantinople. They couldn’t agree on whether the Eucharist, or communion wafers as Protestants call them, should be leavened or unleavened, on whether the Holy Spirit proceeded from just God the Father or from both the Father and Son, but really the clincher was that the Bishop of Rome thought he should be the supreme and universal head of the church as the successor of Peter, while the Patriarch of Constantinople was willing to accept the Bishop of Rome as the first among equals, also Vikings.

A band of Vikings invaded France, married French women, and entered into a deal with the King of West Fankia, that they would convert to Christianity, keep their lands in France as long as they accept fealty to the Frankish King and stop taking French land. These Vikings became known as Normans, because they were men from the North. Their children, being raised by French months spoke French, or at least a dialect of Vulgar Latin that would become French. These are the same Normans that conquered England based on a possibly valid claim to the throne of England under Danelaw.

At the end of 10th Century the Pope and the Byzantine Emperor hired Norman mercenaries to try to stop the Muslim Emirate of Sicily from invading southern Italy. The Normans were successful and decided to keep the land. After conquering Sicily, they moved on to the rest of southern Italy, including territory controlled by the Byzantine Empire and some of the Pope’s client kingdoms. The Pope gave his blessing on the Norman kingdom of Sicily as long as they didn’t take the Papal States in central Italy and he got them to give the Greek churches in Italy a choice: conform to the Latin mass or shutdown.

In response the Patriarch of Constantinople gave the Latin churches in the Byzantine Empire the equivalent choice. The Patriarch then adopted the title Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and send a letter to Rome to that effect. The Emperor also sent a letter to request a joint military campaign against the Normans. Pope Leo IX sent Cardinal Humbert to Constantinople to reject the Patriarch’s new title and demand that he recognize the Pope’s supremacy. The Patriarch refused, so Humbert excommunicated him. The Patriarch returned the favor with his own excommunications. This was the big formal schism between the Eastern and Western churches and things continued to get with the the crusades.

As far as the modern day differences go, there are doctrinal differences, like we already discussed, but to a large extent the Eastern Orthodox churches have never faced a reformation, so they have continued to evolve at a normal pace for 2000 years, while the Catholic Church did face a reformation, which was followed by a counter reformation and went through another major modernizing campaign in the 1960s. Other differences include Catholic priests having to be celibate, while only Orthodox priests can marry, while bishops have to be celibate or widowed. Catholic priests must be clean shaven while Orthodox priests are supposed to have beards. Catholic Churches have pews with a sit, stand, kneel routine, while Orthodox churches do not have pews and the routine is stand, kneel, stand. The Orthodox Church is also a bit more mystical.

Next week we’ll get more in depth into the Eastern Orthodox Churches, including the Russian Orthodox Church. It’s a story that also includes Vikings, but also Mongols.


Pope issues new edict requiring Vatican officials to report sex abuse allegations to Vatican prosecutors

Pope Francis has issued an edict that requires that all Vatican personnel report any and all sex abuse allegations they become aware of to the authorities. Those who fail to do so will face fines or jail time. While the headlines and cursory look at this seems like a step in the right direction, the devil is in the details. This edict only applies to the Roman Curia and Vatican City, in other words those Catholic officials serving at headquarters and Vatican ambassadors. This does not apply to bishops. So who are these authorities? It’s Vatican prosecutor, not the local authorities where the crime took place.

Vatican women editors resign from women’s magazine

The founder and all of the women serving on the board or staff of Women Church World, the Vatican’s only women’s magazine, have quit over the repeated censorship of their attempts to cover the sexual abuse of nuns and the appointment of a man to oversee their work.

A Georgia House invocation went full fire and brimstone

Doyle Kelly did the invocation for the Georgia House of Representatives last week and we not only went sectarian, he went full fire and brimstone. Let’s listen to what he had to say.

A Republican State Lawmaker Asked Christ For Forgiveness Before a Muslim Democrat Was Sworn Into Office

Now we have the Pennsylvania House of Representatives where state Representative Stephanie Borowicz referenced Jesus 13 times. All immediately before the next item of business, the swearing in of Movita Johnson-Harrell, the first Muslim woman to serve in the Pennsylvania House. Here’s the worst parts:

[Play audio]

Yes, I cut quite a lot. By this point there was an objection and most of the people were looking uncomfortable, but in case she wasn’t clear about Jesus, here’s the close:

[Play audio]

Heinous punishments to become law in Brunei next week

I’m pretty sure we covered this next one in 2014 when Brunei announced revisions to their penal code that would make amputation the punishment for robbery and stoning the punishment for gay sex. After much international objection to this, they put the changes on hold. According to a discreet notice on the Attorney General’s website these will be going into effect on April 3.

HUD has charged Facebook with racial, religious, and other discrimination in targeted housing ads

Facebook’s targeted advertising allows targeting down to the point of a specific individual, but it also allows you to target particular racial groups, religions, people either with or without children, by age, etc. People have taken advantage of this to target housing advertisements to only white Christians with children, as one example. In response the US Department of Housing and Urban Development has filed charges against Facebook and the platform has announced that they will not allow targeting housing ads like this anymore.

Cory Booker: “I Would Rather Hang Out With a Nice Atheist Than a Mean Christian”

Senator Cory Booker is running for president and CNN is giving every candidate a town hall, he was asked about religion and here’s his response.


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