Secondly, I have felt that it is somewhat improper to engage in such wrangling when our Orthodox brothers and sisters are so close to us in spirit and doctrine (far more than most Protestant brethren in Christ). I believe it is much more important -- all things considered -- to find common ground with them. Nevertheless, I do continue to think that a comparison and contrast of the two outlooks is a valid undertaking, particularly for the sake of potential converts from Protestantism who are asking about the differences which exist. Obviously, I think Catholicism is the "better" option of the two, since I am a Catholic (and I could have just as well converted to Orthodoxy, and know formerly Protestant friends who did).
So my book will explain why I am Catholic rather than Orthodox, with no intended disrespect towards the latter. If we can't talk about our differences in a gentlemanly manner, then we won't advance Christian unity, because we will then merely be pretending that the differences don't exist, or that they do, but they don't matter. They certainly do matter. If they didn't, then the schism between East and West was even more tragic than it was, and unnecessary in any sense.
AN APPRECIATION OF ORTHODOX SPIRITUALITY
Orthodox Christianity possesses the seven sacraments, valid ordination, the Real Presence, a reverential understanding of Sacred Tradition, apostolic succession, a profound piety, a great history of contemplative and monastic spirituality, a robust veneration of Mary and the saints, and many other truly Christian attributes. Catholics (including myself) widely admire, in particular, the sense of the sacred and the beauty and grandeur of the Orthodox Divine Liturgy (which -- it should be noted -- is also present in the many Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church), as the great Catholic author Thomas Howard eloquently illustrates:
When I walk into an Orthodox Church . . . one is immediately aware that one has stepped into the presence of what St. Paul would call the whole family in heaven and earth. You have stepped into the precincts of heaven! . . . I love the Orthodox Church's spirit. I think the Orthodox Church many, many centuries ago, discovered a mode of music and worship which is timeless, which is quite apart from fashion, and which somehow answers to the mystery and the solemnity and the sacramental reality of the liturgy.
(1 "A Conversation With Thomas Howard and Frank Schaeffer," The Christian Activist, vol. 9, Fall/Winter 1996, 43)
In pointing out the differences between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, no disrespect is intended towards my Eastern brethren in Christ; this is simply a "comparison and contrast" for the purpose of educating inquirers who are interested in both Christian communions. My Catholic bias will be evident and should not come as a surprise to anyone. Nevertheless, I devoutly hope that I succeed in avoiding the shortcomings of triumphalism or lack of charity. And I certainly do not wish to misrepresent Orthodox views in any fashion.
Catholics must believe that Orthodoxy is a part of the universal Church (commensurate with the Second Vatican Council and many recent papal encyclicals on ecumenism in general or Orthodoxy in particular). That fact alone precludes the justification of any condescension, animosity, or hostility, which is especially sinful amongst Christians (Galatians 6:10).
[See: Ut Unum Sint -- That They May Be One, Orientale Lumen -- The Light of the East (encyclicals of Pope John Paul II), and Common Declaration of Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Bartholomew I (29 June 1995) ]
ONENESS AND ECCLESIOLOGY (CHURCH GOVERNMENT)
The Nicene Creed, adhered to by most Christians, contains the phrase, "One, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church." From a Catholic ecclesiological perspective, Orthodoxy -- strictly speaking – is not "one" Church, but a conglomerate of at least seventeen, each with separate governance. The Encyclopedia Britannica (1985 edition, vol. 17, 867) states that, "Since the Russian Revolution there has been much turmoil and administrative conflict within the Orthodox Church." Although Orthodox theology is fairly homogeneous, nevertheless, a Catholic would respectfully reply that none of these "autocephalous" churches can speak with the doctrinal definitiveness which existed in the Church before 1054, and which indeed still resides in the papacy and magisterium of the Catholic Church.
Catholics assert that Orthodoxy's rejection of the papacy is inconsistent with the nature of the Church through the centuries. No one denies the existence of the papacy in some form in the early period. Orthodoxy, however, regards the authority exercised by popes historically (or which should have been exercised) as simply that of a primacy of honor, rather than a supremacy of jurisdiction over all other bishops and regional churches. To counter that claim, Catholics point to biblical Petrine evidences and the actual wielding of authority by renowned popes such as St. Leo the Great (440-61) and St. Gregory the Great (590-604), honored as saints even by the Orthodox.
The papacy, according to Catholic Tradition, is a divinely-instituted office, not merely (as Orthodoxy considers the papacy and Roman supremacy) a political and historical happenstance. Rome was apostolic, and preeminent from the beginning of Christianity, whereas Constantinople (the seat of the Byzantine Empire) was not.
Orthodoxy (and Eastern Catholic Christianity, from roughly the second half of the first millennium) has been plagued with caesaropapism, which, in effect (in terms of exercised power and de facto jurisdiction, if not actual Orthodox doctrinal teaching), places the state above the church -– somewhat similar to early Lutheranism and Anglicanism.
In Catholicism, on the other hand, it is significantly easier to maintain the notion that the Church is regarded as above all states (which Orthodoxy also formally believes), and is their judge, as the carrier of God's Law, which transcends and forms the basis of man's law. The papacy is the bulwark and standard and symbol whereby this dichotomy is supported. Patriarchs -- oftentimes -- were put into power by the Emperors in the East according to their whim and fancy and were all too frequently little more than puppets or yes-men. Noble exceptions, such as a St. John Chrysostom or a St. Flavian, more often than not had to appeal to Rome in order to save their patriarchates or necks or both.
Orthodoxy accepts the first seven ecumenical councils (up to the Second Council of Nicaea in 787), but no more. From a Catholic perspective, this appears incoherent and implausible. Why have an agreed-upon system in which Councils are central to the governance of the Church universal, and then all of a sudden they cease, and Orthodox Christians must do without them for 1200 years?
Likewise, Orthodoxy accepts the doctrinal development which occurred in the first eight centuries of the Church, but then allows little of any noteworthiness to take place thereafter. For instance, the filioque, i.e., the doctrine that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, rather than from the Father alone (which the West added to the Nicene Creed), was rejected by the East, and has been considered by the Orthodox a major reason for the enduring schism, yet Catholics would reply that it was a straightforward development of trinitarian theology (one of many accepted by both East and West).
Aspects of doctrines such as the Blessed Virgin Mary and purgatory (not defined doctrine, although the Orthodox pray for the dead), which experienced a measure of development in the Middle Ages and after, are not recognized in Orthodoxy. For example, Orthodoxy doesn't define the Marian doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, but it should be noted that Orthodox individuals are free to believe these without being deemed "heretical." Catholics feel that Orthodoxy is implicitly denying the notion of the Church (past the eighth century) as the living, developing Body of Christ, continuously led into deeper truth by the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 16:13-15).
Catholics would argue that Orthodoxy has not come to grips with modernity and the new challenges to Christianity that it brings, in terms of how to effectively communicate the gospel to modern man. The Catholic Church renewed itself along these lines in the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). One need not compromise doctrine in order to deal with the modern situation. Pope John Paul II does not do so in his stream of extremely relevant and cogent encyclicals on present-day issues such as moral theology, labor, the family, the role of women, the place of laypeople, etc.
Although, as a result of this undertaking (i.e., due to a corruption of the nature of the Council by ambitious heterodox Catholics), the Catholic Church suffers from a modernist crisis within its own ranks, this too will pass, and Orthodoxy is not altogether immune from such things. Signs of a revival of orthodoxy in the Catholic ranks are increasing, and the nonsense will fade away like all the other crises and heretical movements in the past. The long-term benefits of the strategy to confront the culture boldly and with fresh insight and innovation (within the bounds of traditional Catholic orthodoxy) will be evident in the years to come.
Orthodoxy, although praiseworthy in its generally traditional stand for Christian morality, differs from Catholicism over the question of the propriety and morality of contraception, which was universally condemned by all branches of Christianity until 1930. Thus, Catholics feel that they (almost alone today) are more in accord with apostolic Christian Tradition on this point, and that an acceptance of contraception is a giving in to humanistic sexual ethics. Catholics regard it as a mortal sin, whereas much of Orthodoxy does not even forbid it. To be fair, it is true that some of the more "conservative" or "traditional" branches of Orthodoxy have retained the traditional view, but the very fact of plurality in such a grave moral issue is highly troubling.
Catholics also believe that Jesus and the apostles, and ancient Christian Tradition, considered a valid sacramental marriage between two baptized Christians as absolutely indissoluble. An annulment is essentially different from a divorce in that it is the determination (based on a variety of possible reasons) that a valid sacramental marriage never existed. Orthodoxy accepts second and third marriages, with, however, a measure of penitential sadness commensurate with a falling short of the Christian ideal, and feels that this is a tragic pastoral necessity, in light of the fallen human condition.