What Is Orthodoxy?
Orthodoxy (from Greek orthodoxía “right opinion”) is adherence to correct or accepted creeds, especially in religion. In the Christian sense the term means “conforming to the Christian faith as represented in the creeds of the early Church.” The first seven ecumenical councils were held between the years of 325 and 787 with the aim of formalizing accepted doctrines.
In some English-speaking countries, Jews who adhere to all the traditions and commandments as legislated in the Talmud are often called Orthodox Jews, although the term “orthodox” historically first described Christian beliefs.
The historical Buddha was known to denounce mere attachment to scriptures or dogmatic principles, as it was mentioned in the Kalama Sutta. Moreover, the Theravada school of Buddhism follows strict adherence to the Pāli Canon (tripitaka) and the commentaries such as the Visuddhimagga. Hence, the Theravada school came to be considered the most orthodox of all Buddhist schools, as it is known to be highly conservative especially within the discipline and practice of the Vinaya.
In classical Christian usage, the term orthodox refers to the set of doctrines which were believed by the early Christians. A series of ecumenical councils were held over a period of several centuries to try to formalize these doctrines. The most significant of these early decisions was that between the Homoousian doctrine of Athanasius and Eustathius (which became Trinitarianism) and the Heteroousian doctrine of Arius and Eusebius (called Arianism). The Homoousian doctrine, which defined Jesus as both God and man with the canons of the 431 Council of Ephesus, won out in the Church and was referred to as orthodoxy in most Christian contexts, since this was the viewpoint of previous Christian Church Fathers and was reaffirmed at these councils. (The minority of nontrinitarian Christians object to this terminology).
Following the 1054 Great Schism, both the Western Church and Eastern Church continued to consider themselves uniquely orthodox and catholic. Augustine wrote in On True Religion: “Religion is to be sought . . . only among those who are called Catholic or orthodox Christians, that is, guardians of truth and followers of right.”  Over time, the Western Church gradually identified with the “Catholic” label, and people of Western Europe gradually associated the “Orthodox” label with the Eastern Church (in some languages the “Catholic” label is not necessarily identified with the Western Church). This was in note of the fact that both Catholic and Orthodox were in use as ecclesiastical adjectives as early as the 2nd and 4th centuries respectively.
Much earlier, Oriental Orthodoxy had split from Chalcedonian Christianity after the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451), because of several christological differences. Since then, Oriental Orthodox Churches are maintaining the orthodox designation as a symbol of their theological traditions.
Orthodox Hinduism commonly refers to the religious teachings and practices of Sanātanī, one of the traditionalist branches of Hinduism.
Sanātanī (सनातनी) is a term used within Hinduism to describe a person who follows Sanātana dharma or a person who believes in eternal, i.e., never beginning nor ending. The term is used to contrast with reformist denominations of Hinduism, which often reject previously long-established socio-religious systems based on fundamentalist interpretations of specific scriptures, or with unorthodox sectarian followers of an individual sant (saint). The phrase dharma sanātana does occur in classical Sanskrit literature, e.g. in the Manusmrti (4-138) and in the Bhagavata Purana, in a sense akin to “cosmic order”. The term was popularized by Gandhi in 1921.
Āstika (āstika) derives from the Sanskrit asti, “there is, there exists”, and means “one who believes in the existence (of a soul separate from the material world, Brahman, etc.)” and nāstika means “an unbeliever”. These have been concepts used to classify Indian philosophies by modern scholars, and some Hindu, Buddhist and Jaina texts. Āstika has been defined in one of three ways; as those who accept the epistemic authority of the Vedas, as those who accept the existence of ātman, or as those who accept the existence of Ishvara. In contrast, nāstika are those who deny the respective definitions of āstika.
Sunni Islam is sometimes referred to as “orthodox Islam”. As of 2009, Sunni Muslims constituted 87–90% of the world’s Muslim population. However, other scholars of Islam, such as John Burton believe that there is no such thing as “orthodox Islam”.
Orthodox Judaism is a collective term for the traditionalist branches of Judaism, which seek to fully maintain the received Jewish beliefs and observances and which coalesced in opposition to the various challenges of modernity and secularization. Theologically, it is chiefly defined by regarding the Torah, both Written and Oral, as literally revealed by God on biblical Mount Sinai and faithfully transmitted ever since. The movement advocates a strict observance of halakha (Jewish Law), which is to be interpreted only according to received methods due to its divine character. Orthodoxy considers halakha as eternal and beyond historical influence, being applied differently to changing circumstances but basically unchangeable in itself.
Orthodox Judaism is not a centralized denomination. Relations between its different subgroups are sometimes strained and the exact limits of Orthodoxy are subject to intense debate. Very roughly, it may be divided between Haredi Judaism, which is more conservative and reclusive, and Modern Orthodox Judaism, which is relatively open to outer society. Each of those is itself formed of independent streams. They are almost uniformly exclusionist, regarding Orthodoxy as the only authentic form of Judaism and rejecting all non-Orthodox interpretations as illegitimate.
Kemetic Orthodoxy is a Kemetic denomination, which is a reform reconstruction of Egyptian polytheism for modern followers. It claims to derive a spiritual lineage from the Ancient Egyptian religion.
There are organizations of Slavic Native Faith (Rodnovery) which characterize the religion as Orthodoxy (Russian: Pravoslavie), and by other terms.
Orthodoxy is opposed to heterodoxy (“other teaching”) or heresy. People who deviate from orthodoxy by professing a doctrine considered to be false are called heretics, while those who, perhaps without professing heretical beliefs, break from the perceived main body of believers are called schismatics. The term employed sometimes depends on the aspect most in view: if one is addressing corporate unity, the emphasis may be on schism; if one is addressing doctrinal coherence, the emphasis may be on heresy. A deviation lighter than heresy is commonly called error, in the sense of not being grave enough to cause total estrangement, while yet seriously affecting communion. Sometimes error is also used to cover both full heresies and minor errors.
The concept of orthodoxy is prevalent in many forms of organized monotheism. However, orthodox belief is not usually overly emphasized in polytheistic or animist religions, in which there is often little or no concept of dogma, and varied interpretations of doctrine and theology are tolerated and sometimes even encouraged within certain contexts. Syncretism, for example, plays a much wider role in non-monotheistic (and particularly, non-scriptural) religion. The prevailing governing norm within polytheism is often orthopraxy (“right practice”) rather than the “right belief” of orthodoxy.
Outside the context of religion, the term “orthodoxy” is often used to refer to any commonly held belief or set of beliefs in some field, in particular when these tenets, possibly referred to as “dogmas”, are being challenged. In this sense, the term has a mildly pejorative connotation.
Among various “orthodoxies” in distinctive fields, the most commonly used terms are:
- Political orthodoxy
- Social orthodoxy
- Economic orthodoxy
- Scientific orthodoxy
- Artistic orthodoxy
The terms “orthodox” and “orthodoxy” are also used more broadly to refer to things other than ideas and beliefs. A new and unusual way of solving a problem could be referred to as “unorthodox”, while a common and ‘normal’ way of solving a problem would be referred to as “orthodox”.
- Harper, Douglas. “orthodoxy”. Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 2016-01-27.
- orthodox. Dictionary.com. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. Dictionary definition (accessed: March 03, 2008).
- Robert M. Wills (2013). Taking Caesar Out of Jesus: Uncovering the Lost Relevance of Jesus. Xlibris Corporation. p. 246. ISBN1-4931-0810-7.[self-published source]
- “Kalama Sutta: To the Kalamas”. Access to Insight. Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. Retrieved 2018-03-14.
- * Dulles S.J., Avery (2012). Reno, R.R. (ed.). The Orthodox Imperative: Selected Essays of Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J. (Kindle ed.). First Things Press. p. 224.
- Meyendorff 1989.
- Krikorian 2010.
- John Richard Thackrah (5 Sep 2013). Dictionary of Terrorism (2, revised ed.). Routledge. p. 252. ISBN978-1-135-16595-6.
- Nasir, Jamal J., ed. (2009). The Status of Women Under Islamic Law and Modern Islamic Legislation (revised ed.). BRILL. p. 11. ISBN9789004172739.
- George W. Braswell (2000). What You Need to Know about Islam & Muslims (illustrated ed.). B&H Publishing Group. p. 62. ISBN978-0-8054-1829-3.
- “Mapping the Global Muslim Population”. Retrieved 10 December2014.
- An Introduction to the Hadith. John Burton. Published by Edinburgh University Press. 1996. p. 201. Cite: “Sunni: Of or pertaining sunna, especially the Sunna of the Prophet. Used in conscious opposition to Shi’a, Shi’í. There being no ecclesia or centralized magisterium, the translation ‘orthodox’ is inappropriate. To the Muslim ‘unorthodox’ implies heretical, mubtadi, from bid’a, the contrary of sunna, and so ‘innovation’.”
- “What is Kemetic Orthodoxy?: Introduction”. The House of Netjer. Retrieved 4 October 2013.
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