A little while back I was challenged by an Orthodox Christian regarding the Catholic Church’s claim to be the Church founded by our Lord Jesus Christ. Whilst this is a valid question, what this Orthodox Christian perhaps didn’t realise is that I have considered Orthodoxy as opposed to Catholicism. After all, in my conversion from Protestantism I was aware that Orthodoxy also has a claim to a Christian faith that stretches back all the way to the Apostles through Apostolic Tradition and Apostolic Succession.
There are many reasons why I ended up in the Catholic Church rather than an Orthodox Church. For the sake of those who have wondered, here are some of the reasons why I felt compelled to become Catholic rather than Orthodox.
Two key things for me in my journey towards the Catholic Church were unity and authority.
In considering Orthodoxy, one would need to consider which kind of Orthodox Christian to be – would I be Eastern Orthodox or Oriental Orthodox or another kind of Orthodox? And then one would need to consider which geographic “tier” to fall into e.g. Russian, Greek, Coptic, Ethiopian, etc.?
At its surface level, this might appear to be something of a question of tastes – much like deciding what kind of Catholic Rite I would feel more comfortable with e.g. Latin, Maronite, Coptic, etc. But really, the issue is deeper than that.
Our Lord Jesus Christ founded only ONE Church – a physical unified Church with one faith, one Lord, and one baptism. Unfortunately, whilst the Orthodox possess a valid Apostolic Succession, they do not possess the unity that the Catholic Church possesses. The various branches of Orthodox Christianity are not necessarily in communion with each other, and in some cases even denounce each others’ faith as heterodox.
Over against this is the Catholic Church, which overcomes this problem of disunity. Even though it embraces many Rites and cultures, it is still unified under the Bishop of Rome, who is the Successor of St. Peter. As such, it is necessary for all churches to agree with the Church of Rome. This is attested by the Church Fathers. For example, St. Irenaeus says that it is necessary for all churches to agree with the Church of Rome on the basis that it was superior in origin, being founded by Sts. Peter and Paul:
"But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the successions of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul—that church which has the tradition and the faith with which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. For with this Church, because of its superior origin, all churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world. And it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition." (Against the Heresies)
Also, St. Cyprian says that “...if a man deserts the Chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, does he think that he is in the Church?” (Treatise on the Unity of the Catholic Church).
As far as I see it, as long as the Orthodox are not in communion with Rome, they are separated from the authority of Christ established within His true Church. This separation from Christ’s true authority tends to evidence itself in the divisions that exist within Orthodoxy – although this is seen on an exponentially greater scale within Protestantism. However, one reason I think that Orthodoxy hasn’t fragmented like Protestantism is because they at least hold a valid Apostolic Succession and a right understanding of the Church hierarchy established by the Apostles, which to a large degree prevents the Orthodox faithful from doing what is right in their own eyes and splintering into thousands of different denominations.
The Orthodox sometimes claim that the Church of Rome was exceeding its bounds by trying to exercise authority over the Church of Constantinople. However, this argument seems to me to fall a bit flat when one considers that in the “excommunications” of the Great Schism, the Church of Constantinople was trying to exercise authority beyond its own jurisdiction when it “excommunicated” the Church of Rome. For me this highlights the core of the problem between Rome and Constantinople; and it is the same issue that divided the Church in the period of the Protestant Reformation – it is an issue of who possesses the true authority. In claiming that Rome was exceeding her authority, it seems to me that Constantinople was using this as a smoke-screen in an attempt to assert her own authority over Rome – otherwise she would never have tried to “excommunicate” Rome.
As shown above, the Early Church understood that the Church of Rome held pre-eminence...and so it does to this day by virtue of its superior origins. Our Lord Jesus built His Church upon the Rock of St. Peter and gave him, in a personal capacity, the keys of the kingdom. And these keys have been handed down in an uninterrupted line of succession to Pope Benedict XVI today.
Also, in contrast to the divisions that exist within Orthodoxy and Protestantism, the Catholic Church possesses a true unity – the unity that our Lord Jesus prayed for, and the unity that He guards under His Vicar, the Bishop of Rome.
Once I came to understand these things i.e. that the authority of Christ was indeed vested in the Bishop of Rome, who was I to stand against that authority? To do anything less than become Catholic would have been for me an act of disobedience to our Lord Jesus Christ.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that by posting this, I am not questioning the sincerity of my Orthodox brothers and sisters in Christ. It is simply a post which explains why I am Catholic and not Orthodox. Nor am I questioning the validity of the Apostolic Succession within the Orthodox faith. The Orthodox DO have a valid Apostolic Succession. In respect of the Apostolic Tradition, there is more that is similar between Orthodoxy and Catholicism than what is not. Naturally, I don’t expect my Orthodox brothers and sisters in Christ to agree with my conclusions (if they did they would be Catholic) – but just like I respect their decision to be Orthodox, I trust that they respect mine to be Catholic.