Has “Orthodoxy” Jumped The Shark?

It seems the most well-meaning Catholics cannot avoid ideology. In a post about summer reading at the Anchoress, a side discussion sprouted about the term “orthodoxy.”

I mentioned the problem about the toxic combo of orthodoxy and ideology. Another commentator, Dan, wrote:

I recoil from the word “orthodox” not from any heterodox position I hold, but from the history of it’s use on conservative blogs and the wide set of political opinions it came to embrace that had nothing to do with Catholicism, as well as it’s use as a weapon to castigate folks who failed to embrace a set of conservative doctrines.

And the Anchoress leaped to a defense:

Catholic orthodoxy can be used by some on the right to bludgeon others. But in that case, it’s not really Catholic Orthodoxy at all, is it? It’s just another ideology masquerading in religious clothes. Genuine Catholic Orthodoxy is not a hammer.

And I suggested:

I think “orthodoxy” is a bit too sullied to be fruitfully used in some settings these days.

The Anchoress:

I think Orthodoxy is too important a word, though, to be discarded. Rather, let it be reclaimed and understood to its depths.

The skeptic in me thinks we’re too far gone for that. Ms Scalia is optimistic in a way I’m not. That’s not to say I don’t hope the term can’t or won’t someday be recovered. I’m way too pessimistic this decade. Practically, the word has arrived at a split in its definition. A number of conservatives use it in a different way than even the Anchoress would embrace. It has become a weapon, a sort of hammer-by-exclusion. It sounds nice, coopting a churchy term, and aspiring to transcend the muddy trenches of Catholic ideology. Not so fast, I say.

One problem I’d point out right away: capitalization. Eastern Christians are Orthodox. Please, please do not use the term in the sense of a quality or virtue. It is simply inappropriate to adopt that “O.”

I think I was sufficiently selective in stating that in “some” circles, the term is so misused as to be both fad and corruption, detached in every significant way from the original meaning. Among theologians and Eastern Christians, I have no problem with big- or small-o orthodoxy. But among conservatives? Please!

What do you readers think? Does orthodoxy have hope? Or should it be given an honorable burial with other pc terms of the past decades?


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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5 Responses to Has “Orthodoxy” Jumped The Shark?

  1. Todd you have way more of a stomach for this than I do, I do not possess the stamina to stay in those comment threads. However, I am grateful that you do.

  2. Todd says:

    The site host(s) have now labelled me as “spam.” Always nice to see “o”rthodox Catholics standing up for the truth.

  3. Neil says:

    In his Paradoxes of Faith, Henri de Lubac wrote:

    “Orthodoxy: the most necessary and the least adequate thing in the world. (I mean, from the point of view of faith, and in so far as faith is concerned.)”

    I suspect that some Catholics make too much of the adequacy of “orthodoxy,” and, therefore, everything for them depends on whether one meets and implements ever stricter definitions of “orthodoxy.” Perhaps it is imagined that, with the right “orthodoxy,” we wouldn’t have to trouble ourselves with that difficult theological virtue, hope.

    I think that we would do well to theologically consider the recent failures of several “orthodox” figures, whether Maciel or Corapi or others, not to opportunistically advance any church party, but to better ascertain the necessity and inadequacy of “orthodoxy.”


  4. FrMichael says:

    I find “orthodoxy” a useful enough term in real life. Perhaps the heated unnuanced rhetoric found in comboxes (some of it stemming from me, I will admit) renders it a not-so-helpful term online, but at the parish being deeply rooted in the Scriptures and dogmatic theology is indispensable. Being able to address erroneous teaching in the parish by referring to the relevant Scriptural passages and dogmatic teachings IMHO is a great pastoral service. My approach in those instances is along the lines of “Here is what the Church teaches,” followed by “Here is why.” Rare does that approach fail to correct the erroneous belief of the parishioner.

    I’m much harsher with professional theologians. IMHO nobody should be allowed to obtain a mandatum without proven ability in the basics of dogmatic theology.

  5. crystal says:

    The word seems so often to be used as a weapon by the conservative.

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