James the Thickhead’s Comments and the Psychology of Jurisdictionalism

James the Thickhead’s Comments and the Psychology of Jurisdictionalism

My post on the psychological roots of jurisdictionalism seems to have struck a cord with people. Let me say upfront, I most think of my blog as a way to think out loud about the psychological and pastoral issues that interest me. For this reason, my posts are more often then not “though experiments” that I’m offering to people for their comments and criticism.

Doing scholarship this way is important if we want our reflection on the life of the Church to be a work of the Church and not merely—as some of you have rightly pointed out about my recent posts—the theoretical reflections of one individual.

In their recent comments, both James the Thickheaded and Robert have helped me clarify my own thinking on the psychological structure of jurisdictionalism. Today, I will respond to James and tomorrow to Robert.

James is right I think when he says:

I am puzzled by the analysis of the problem as psychological primarily rather than sociological. Surely the two are related, but this seems a failure – as a friend is wont to put it – to learn to play nicely in the sandbox. Is that psychological or social? I think the latter… though it may stem from other internal causes. Is it insecurity? Sure. But it may be more consistent with studies of behavior problems due to economic status rather than theology. I’m aware of quite a few of the former studies… but not so many on the latter.

Let all thinkers, I have my own biases, personal and methodological. And my bias tend toward emphasizing the psychological rather than the sociological.

While I wouldn’t discount the economic factors, it seems to me that jurisdictionalism is too broad a reality in the Church to be simply a matter of economic or social setting. It interests me, for example, that jurisdictionalism is not simply an Orthodox problem. We see it as well in the Catholic Church with not only overlapping Eastern Catholic dioceses (e.g., Melkites, Ruthenians, Ukrainian and Romanian Catholics all using the Byzantine rite in the same geographical territory) but also the overlapping of Latin and Eastern Catholic Diocese (e.g., in the Middle East and Eastern Europe). And there is now the variety of continuing Anglican communities in the North America that are outposts of dioceses that are overseas and in communion with one another.

Again, while I wouldn’t discount theology, it seems to me that jurisdictionalism is an increasing equal opportunity temptation for communities with different ecclesiological models and sacramental theologies.

Granted, individuals and communities can have a variety of motives for how they organize themselves. And I would grant as well that often these different motivations are not only contradictory when looked at between traditions, there is often inconsistencies, contradictions and outright failure even within a given community. That said, consistency is not necessarily a virtue and inconsistency, by the same token, is not necessarily a vice.

But it does seem to me interesting that Orthodox, Catholic and Anglican communities ALL seem to have embraced some form of jurisdictionalism. I’m not sure what to make of this except to make not of it and to wonder if we might want to at least consider if we share a common shortcoming.

As always, your comments, questions and criticism are not only welcome, they are actively sought.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory


4 Responses to “James the Thickhead’s Comments and the Psychology of Jurisdictionalism”

  1. random Orthodox chick Says:

    “I’m not sure what to make of this except to make not of it and to wonder if we might want to at least consider if we share a common shortcoming.”
    I don’t see the issue as pressing as it is with Catholic and Anglican communities as it is with the Orthodox Church. As far as Roman Catholicism is concerned, the administrative disunity of overlapping jurisdictions takes place in the realm of the Eastern Catholic Churches and/or has little to do with western culture’s religious experience. The disunity seems minor to outsiders (the ones we seek to evangelize) since the Roman Catholic “default” (or the first thing that comes to mind when people think of/talk about/ridicule the Catholic Church) does not have this problem. I don’t know about the Anglican situation, but I’m assuming the fact that their eccleisiology is almost anti-institutional has something to do with it (I can be wrong about this.).
    Am I missing something?

  2. Fr Gregory Says:

    Random Orthodox Chick,
    First, thanks for the comment and kudos on the nickname! 😎
    Second, I agree with your point of the relative importance (or lack importance) of overlapping Catholic (and Anglican for that matter) dioceses.  My point was not that Orthodox/Catholic Christians and those we are seeking to evangelize give the same weight to this phenomenon, but that a similiar situation exists in both communities.
    What I’m interested in–and I was not as clear on this as I should have been–is why do Orthodox, Catholics and Anglicans all do this?  Do we share a common shortcoming?  I don’t have answer only the question.  But when I see people from different traditions engaging in the same behavior that contradicts their own respective convictions, I get curious.
    At minimum, I think it is worth exploring why others have adopted their own form of “jursidictionalism.”  God willing this kind of research can play at least a small part in helping the Orthodox Church come up with a better, more ecclesiologically consistent and pastoral effective solution to our own overlapping jurisidictions.
    Does this make sense?
    Again, thanks for the comment and great nickname!
    In Christ,

  3. random Orthodox chick Says:

    Fr. Gregory,
    Yes it does. The reason commonly given for jurisdictional anomalies is that they came about from some historical hiccup. That’s no reason to maintain them, though.
    I forget where, but there was an article I read that mentioned there was Orthodox administrative unity in the U.S. that broke down later. Is that true?

  4. Fr Gregory Says:

    Random Orthodox Chick,
    The historical record of Orthodox administrative unity in the US is not clear.  While some have argued for administrative unity under the Church of Russia until the Communist revolution, others have argued that this was not really the case. The former argument is made (among other places) here “A History and Introduction of the Orthodox Church in America,"<span>by the Fr John Matusiak of the OCA.  </span>The later argument is made by Fr Oliver Herbel in an essay you can read here: "Jurisdictional Disunity and the Russian Mission.”
    Speaking for myself the lack of historical unity doesn’t bother me all that much.  America is abig country and until fairly recently it was not uncommon for people to live their whole lives within site of the house in which they were born.  So, a national admistrative umbrella for all the different Orthodox communities hasn’t really been all that realistic until recently.  The real question now is how do we proceed from where we are to a more unified community?
    Again, thanks for your comments!
    In Christ,

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