Please, no one take this too seriously, it is mostly just humorous....
As I see it, the three primary incarnations of Christianity today – Protestantism, Catholicism and Orthodoxy – can be likened to the three flavors of Neapolitan ice cream – Vanilla, Chocolate and Strawberry. This is because the respective characteristics of these three versions of the faith mirror the qualities of these three flavors of ice cream. Let me explain.
First, is Protestantism. It is most comparable to vanilla ice cream. Primarily because the chief attribute which it represents is Light or Illumination. It represents the sheer Grace and open-hearted Faith of the Bible and the principles birthed (or uncovered) by the Reformation. It is the least adorned form of Christianity, the plainest, simplest and, its adherents would say, purest. Instead of the complex web of works that the other two maintain, everything reduces to simplicity in Protestantism – hence the minimalism of the Five Solas – Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus and Soli Deo Gloria. In principle what this does, is not render Protestantism simplistic, but eminently simple in the sense that it is unambiguous and incapable of being obfuscated when it comes to its core essence. It is open to everyone in a way that Catholicism and Orthodoxy are not. The abolishment of the priesthood, substituting for it the “priesthood of all believers,” the setting on a pedestal the Bible, as something which all believers can have ready access to and understand and benefit from on their own, – all this indicates a radical egalitarianism of thought and character which reduces all distinctions to sheer commonality, to sheer brotherhood, to sheer Grace.
There are other features besides. The lack of icons in most Protestant churches, especially Calvinist, the lack and distrust of sensual beauty, the lack of complicated “diversions” (such as Marian devotion and veneration of the saints), together with a marked lack of sacramentality as well as physicality (the Eucharist) renders Protestantism, in the eyes of its worst critics, bland, featureless, and boring.
When it comes to doctrine, we see similar tendencies. Hell is emphasized, something dark, the opposite of Illumination. But this is only to draw out a response from the penitent, to draw out a life-altering repentance, the “Born Again” status which Protestantism so emphasizes in so many of its denominations. Other than this, hell is not emphasized. It is practically forgotten (in many modern churches at least) so long as the sinner has been “saved” and is thus eternally secure in his Grace-Filled Relationship with Jesus.
Next, there is Catholicism, which is comparable to chocolate ice cream. The reason for this should be fairly evident. Catholicism is, in many respects, Dark, Mysterious, and of a generally sterner aspect than its two sisters.
The first thing to get across for why, is that Catholicism is a religion of Works. It is not entirely about Faith and Grace, as in Protestantism, but partakes of works and an actual level of uncertainty regarding salvation. One need only look at history to see how this has been practically. Catholics have had substantially greater levels of guilt and insecurity regarding their relationship with God, and this is also indicated by the greater legality of Church practices and the emphasis on sacraments such as confession. All this engenders a greater effort in the laity towards maintaining one’s level of goodness in the eyes of God and not committing any mortal sins. Thus the threat of Hell is ever present, at least for many believers who take the threat seriously. This is not to say that the notion of Hell has not been vitiated in the Roman Church in modern times. There are universalists here as well. But in general the tone and tenor of Catholicism, still makes it out to be a religion of uncertainty, of darkness, of ambiguity. Thus its primary attribute I would say remains Darkness, - not necessarily in the deplorable sense. Darkness to some degree is necessary along with Illumination, as they are both aspects of Reality. But as with all extremes, too much of something is to be avoided.
This sense of Darkness extends to the Sacraments. Especially regarding the Eucharist. The idea of the Real Presence in Catholicism and Orthodoxy, where the Bread and Wine become literally the Body and Blood of Christ under differing accidents, though the same substance, is something that Protestantism mostly has no truck with. So too does Protestantism lack a deep mystical core. With Catholicism, there is much less egalitarianism. There is, of course, hierarchy with the priesthood and bishops; and as with greater emphasis on works, so is there more spiritual merit in some persons than others.
With Catholicism not taking the Bible or Christ as sufficient, there is likewise greater diversity of views within its fold. This is both good and bad. Good, because one is not “solely” beholden to the Five Solas. Bad, because there is much more merely human opinion (and therefore superstition and rubbish) in the mix regarding theology.
And now along comes Orthodoxy, which is like strawberry ice cream. Not quite opposite like vanilla and chocolate, but an outlier. The reason for this might be the least clear. It is because, rather than Illumination and Darkness, Orthodoxy most represents something called “Activity.” It represents Works as with Catholicism, but without so pressing the threat of Hell, and likewise, not so overemphasizing “Grace.”
Hell in Orthodoxy is under-stressed. There are many universalists within the Orthodox fold. Hell is like Heaven in much Orthodox theology, except that the impenitent cannot enjoy the One Place we all go to because of their internal attitude or disposition. God is therefore much less judgmental; less a person to be reckoned with. It is our own selves whom we have to reckon with. For this reason Orthodoxy seems more approachable to intellectuals and those seeking a less strident form of Christianity. This is, as all things, both good and bad.
It is both a positive and negative thing because the truths of Christianity are easier to accept. When one doesn’t have to deal with too much judgmental baggage, it is easier to slip into the fold practically unseen. One can then be a recipient grace. But one can then also lead a worldly life even, indulging in Russian novels and discoursing on high philosophical topics, without actually having to back up his or her profession of faith. One engages in Activity, neither merely Doing Penitential Works (as the Catholic) in hopes of meriting salvation, nor merely Being (staying self-satisfied as a Born Again Protestant Believer) but instead just steadily Living Life.
It is for this reason that Orthodoxy is like strawberry. It doesn’t take to extremes, but resembles almost a continuation, an assimilation of worldly life. And for that reason it is more amenable in a lot of ways to people who otherwise might find Christianity repellant. But it also lacks oomph.
(feel free to use without attribution)
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