Lately, I have been pondering the term orthodoxy, as it seems to be bandied about quite regularly. It has become quite a shibboleth used in the various “camps” within the Church. On one side stand “the orthodox” who use the term to self-identify and mark their distinction from the others, the “heretics.” This brand of “orthodoxy”, often behaves as if “orthodoxy” were somehow correct knowledge, and that our primary obligation is hold the right “belief” or knowledge. The other “camp” uses the term “orthodox(y)” to show how rigid and “unfree” the other side really is. For them, “orthodoxy” is a stricture from which we must be loosed, and is closely bound to personal behavior. This of course, is a broad brush and made without reference to the Orthodox (think Eastern Christianity).
It is interesting that both sides make, in my mind, a fundamental error in tying “orthodoxy” to either knowledge or behavior as a primary meaning. While I know that traditional usage indicates a meaning of correct doctrine, it must be stated that the term, in English, is of 17th Century origin, and most reference works in their etymology take a variant read of the second part of the word.
The term, as we have it, is a compound word resulting from the combination of two Greek roots, ortho, and doxa (although some etymologies use dokein). Ortho, as you might guess, does indeed mean correct, straight, or right. Some of you may have had the experience of visiting an orthodontist (one who corrects your teeth, rather painfully I might add), or wearing orthotic devices. Doxa, on the other hand is not so easy to translate. In fact, it appears that the difficulty of translating this word, has led to the use of a related, but inexact, term dokein, to make the definition. Dokein, does indeed carry the definition of “believe, think”, but to acquire the requisite “x” sound it would have to be either future or aorist. The simpler word to use, and one that most etymologies reference is doxa. This term denotes “glory, splendor, radiance, and honor”. This is what we read in John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
I would argue, then, that “orthodoxy” is not primarily about belief, but about worship. We are to give, to ascribe, the correct glory, splendor, radiance, honor to the Triune God. This right glory giving occurs in our liturgy, and to assist us in so doing we have been given a set of guidelines. The Creeds, then, list out the essential points that direct our giving correct honor to God.
Of course, one cannot escape orthopisty (correct faith) or orthopraxy (correct action), but they are not primary. Instead, they flow and develop from orthodoxy. I have heard said, somewhere, “we become what we worship.” Orthodoxy, then, is the first step of catechesis, of learning the faith, of becoming.
We are hearing quite a bit about mission in the Church today. Of course, we are to be involved in evangelism, poverty alleviation, education, health care, and a myriad other tasks, but these derive from our being representatives of God. How can we be representatives of God if we do not know the Triune God? That begins in our worship, the liturgy; the mission of the Church is rooted, nay begun, in her worship, and then carried forth into the world.