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Orthodox Traditionalism vs. Roman Catholic Traditionalism

In what way do Old Calendarists differ from traditionalist Roman Catholics, who want to preserve their Church customs? The Catholic Church considers them renegades. Why do you object when the New Calendarists say the same about you? (M.R., TX)

Your question is an important one. The Orthodox Church believes that the Church exists where: 1) there is Apostolic Succession; 2) where the traditions and canons of the Church are preserved; 3) and where a right-believing Bishop in Apostolic Succession shepherds his people in good order according to these traditions and canons. While we may have a complex structure of Patriarchates, national Churches, and various autocephalous Church bodies, these basic elements define the Church. All other aspects of the Church are essentially administrative, and the Church's unity is ultimately preserved by everyone’s strict and unyielding commitment to Holy Tradition.

In the Roman Catholic Church, Apostolic Succession itself resides in the person of the Pope, who is Christ’s Vicar on earth. While modern Latin theologians have tried to restate or even reject it, and while the ecumenical pronouncements of the Latin Church have tried to downplay the significance of Papocentrism, it is the fundamental dogma of Roman Catholicism and a principle repeatedly defended by the present Pope. Even collegiality and shared primacy with the Eastern Patriarchates are subject to the magisterium of the Papacy.

Thus, when Roman Catholic traditionalists separate from Rome over issues of traditional practice, they obviously separate themselves from the very source of Roman Catholic authenticity. One can persuasively argue that since, unlike Orthodox, they do not attribute primacy to Holy Tradition, Roman Catholic traditionalists have no foundation on which to justify their schism from the Mother Church of Rome, especially when such separation is forbidden by the Pope himself, the very criterion of authenticity.

Orthodox traditionalists, on the other hand, are not only justified for separating from Churches or Bishops which violate the dictates of Holy Tradition, but are required by the Holy Canons to do so. Any Church (or Bishop) which preaches heresy places itself in danger; and those who see that danger, whether laymen or clergy, must separate from it. We see, then, the basic and fundamental difference between Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditionalists. Traditionalist groups in the Roman Catholic Church are obliged to violate the ultimate authority in their Church to be where they are. We Orthodox traditionalists, however, must heed the ultimate authority in the Church to be where we are. And herein lies one of the most important differences between the Latin and Orthodox Churches in general: the Latin Church’s appeal to the authority of the Roman See and the Orthodox Church’s dependence on the authority of the wholeness of ecclesiastical tradition, the very Body of the Church.

From the "Question and Answer" section of Orthodox Tradition, Vol. IX, No. 4, p. 15. Originally titled "Traditionalist Catholics."