Orthodox: Right belief–wrong word?

Has the term “orthodoxy” lost its meaning? It means “right belief,” or “correct doctrine.” But among Christians it has become a fighting word, and the media has misconstrued it–especially in the contested Catholic context–as a pejorative or, worse, a secular seal of fidelity to belief.
G.K. Chesterton might disagree, or just be appalled. But he’s not around. So Peter Steinfels explores the topic with sharp insights in his weekly NYTimes column, “The Audacity of Claiming the Last Word on This Word.” A good bit:


When it comes to nomenclature, writing about religion is of course a minefield. Terms like “conservative” and “liberal,” “traditionalist” and “progressive” are almost unavoidable shorthand, though they suffer from their origins in political categories and almost inevitably oversimplify and dichotomize religious realities that are multifaceted.
But “orthodox” is a special case, because it suggests a sharp boundary between those who properly belong and those who are properly excluded, the way that “patriotic” can suggest a boundary between loyal citizens and something verging on traitors. Religious leaders have a hard enough time wrestling with such matters. Journalists should not get in their way.

It will be hard, especially in the last weeks until Election Day. Orthodoxy is a sacred mantle to many politicians.

Comments read comments(4)
post a comment

posted September 14, 2008 at 7:13 am

Orthodoxy is a sacred mantle to many politicians.
It’s even in the name of those darn Eastern schismatics.

report abuse


posted September 14, 2008 at 10:49 am

Thank you for the reminder that when we label ourselves and others, no matter how well intentioned the action may have been, we are seperating ourselves from Christ by standing in condemnation of our brothers and sisters, which is in truth, standing in condemnation of Christ himself.

report abuse


posted September 15, 2008 at 12:07 pm

Labels only have meaning to those people that apply it to themselves. I am Orthodox Christian, and some doctrines and beliefs I hold are clearly at odds with other “Christians.” However, I believe they are the true doctrines and beliefs. Roman Catholics believe they are orthodox, and they have the power to use such a label. But the label only means something to the group that uses it.
As convention, Eastern Orthodox Christians don’t call ourselves Catholic, so as not to confuse. Romans, as a convention, do not call themselves Orthodox, for the same reason. But undoubtedly both groups could and would label themselves both based on their own internal understanding of the labels.
That is the great problem with labels. Labels are appropriate, but since there is no authority to manage who can use what label, labels (especially popular ones or ones with a cache) in the end are of diminishing value.

report abuse

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to and may be used by in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

More blogs to enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Pontifications. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Faith, Media and Culture Prayer, Plain and Simple Happy Blogging!!!   ...

posted 2:38:01pm Aug. 27, 2012 | read full post »

Moving on, and many, many thanks... recent vacation and related absences also coincided with an offer from to cover religion for them, as editor Melinda Henneberger announces here in her roundup on the site's very successful first 100 days. That ...

posted 8:29:24pm Aug. 02, 2009 | read full post »

Calvin at 500, Calvinism 2.0
If you thought you knew John Calvin--who turned 500 last week--you probably don't know enough. For example, that he was French, born Jean Cauvin. And if he was in fact scandalized by dancing, he was also a lot more complex than that. I explored ...

posted 11:53:35am Jul. 16, 2009 | read full post »

Apologia pro vita sua...Kinda
 In my defense, I've had computer outages and family reunions and a few days of single-parenthood, which is always a bracing reminder of what many parents go through all the time. And this weekend it's off for a week's vacation. Anyway, ...

posted 10:51:36am Jul. 16, 2009 | read full post »

When Benny met Barry: "I'll pray for you!"
The first word via Vatican Radio and first image (that I saw) via Rocco: Speaking to Vatican Radio, Press Office Director Fr. Federico Lombardi said "moral values in international politics, immigration and the Catholic Church's ...

posted 12:54:28pm Jul. 10, 2009 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.