Checkmate – A Short Documentary about St. Gregory of Nyssa [VIDEO]

St. Gregory is the brother of St. Basil the Great and St. Macrina. He served as a priest while married to his wife, Theosebia. The Prologue says that he was consecrated Bishop of Nyssa after being widowed. Some accounts say that they each voluntarily became monastics. Some accounts know of a definite close relationship between the two of them and assume that she was his sister. Gregory was a gifted scholar and translator of the Scriptures. He was a chief opponent to the Arian heresy. The Arians had Emperor Valens depose Gregory in 376, so he spent several years in exile. In 381, he took part in the 2nd Ecumenical Council. Many credit him with formulating the final part of the Creed concerning the Holy Spirit. He reposed in 395.

Comments

  1. Father Hans: That was lovely. Many may not know, because Nanziansus was given the title “Theologian”, but Nyssa was the most profound of the Cappadocian Fathers. His Apolegetic Explananation of the Hexameron of his Brother Basil is one of the most profound reflections on the Genesis Creation account. He has kind of been relegated to a back seat to Basil and Chrysostom, primarily because of his writings on the apokokatastais, but Origen was not condemned for that viewpoint because, to do so, they would have had to condemn Nyssa. They could not do that because of his brilliance and his profound mind. I am most happy that he is being rediscovered. He deserves the title of “Doctor”. AXIOS NYSSA!

  2. Philosophy is the tool to understand Theology

    This is a part which I do not get. To me, philosophers tend to use way too many words to express simple truths. They use so many words that I end up missing the main point. The saints are the most effective philosophers.
    If you do not believe it, try to find definition for “faith”. Can you come up with something better or close to Blessed Epiphanios’ (Theodoropoulos) definition of faith?

    What is Faith?
    Faith and trust in God are not for you to say in the morning, « Ι believe that in a little while the sun will dawn. »
    That is merely trust in the functioning of natural law and not in God. Faith is when, at a time when everything shows that the sun is being led to its setting, you say, « Α little more and the sun will be in the middle of the sky,» if the Lord has thus promised.

    • Ryan: In Greek, the word for faith is the functional equivalent of “trust”. That is where the Protestants miss the boat. It is not “believing” that saves. As someone said somewhere, the demons “believe”. It is “trusting” in Him to save that saves.

      • You guys never cease to amaze me on this blog…and I am constantly reminded of a comment, made by the emperor at the Council of Florence to the patriarch. The emperor said, “Why is it that all my smartest theologians are my LAY theologians.”

        I find myself asking, “how is it possible that I attended a Greek church for 45 years, learned all the hymns in Greek (not English), yet must turn to people like that wonderful Irish priest in Chicago (Fr. Pat Reardon), or this Serbian layman (above) to learn about the real meaning and role of the original Greek?”

        Just unbelievable.

        Keep up the great work!

        ..and on behalf of the thousands of people who just read, but do not post, “thanks.”

        All on the feast day of the 3 Great Teachers…tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor!

        Best Regards
        Dean

        • Dean: You are most kind. But, it is a collective effort and we must move forward together using whatever He has given us to witness the Truth. That is why I love this blog. And Eliot, if you have all of the sayings of the Saints collated and indexed (because you find them so rapidly), would you share the software with us?

          • Nick:
            Do I find the sayings of the Saints rapidly? The software!!? Memory is a way of holding on to the things you love and never want to lose. I do it the primitive way. I have some idea about the sayings of the Saints and often I have to search (scroogle) to find the exact expression.

            Dean: Why don’t we have all these hymns in English? One can find plenty in Serbian, Romanian, Greek or Russian but very little in English.

        • Eliot: Forgive. You do find the saying so rapidly. About the software, I was jesting because only a computer can find it so rapidly. I accept your memory statement. It is a unique Gift. I remember on the Apollo 13 mission, James Lovell, using a simple slide rule, made all of the calculations faster than the NASA computers and, he was always right when the computers were sometimes wrong. He amazed me with his gift. You as well amaze me with yours.

          • I see you keep on jesting. You got me in trouble… Let me see how do you get out of this:
            I am impressed too by your extensive knowledge and the depth of interest in the areas of both science and religion. Science and religion are wrongly (and very often) perceived as two separate realms of human experience.

          • Eliot: I was not jesting. Lovell was that quick. He impressed my generation. You are equally as quick. And I agree with your comments about science and religion. They are only incompatible in the mind of the non-religious.

      • The demons believe, because they have seen the glory of God. We believe that the sun rises the morning because we’ve seen it happening over and over again. To believe that the “sun will be in the middle of the sky” when everything shows that the “sun is being led to its setting” if “the Lord has thus promised” is indeed “trusting” that the Lord is above the natural law and that He keeps His promises.

  3. Nick, my understanding is that Origin’s version of teaching on the “apokokatastasis” was indeed anathematized. St Gregory of Nyssa’s pious opinion on this issue (as with St. Isaac of Syria’s) differed in some important ways from Origen’s teaching and was not anathematized. Fr. Hans can correct me if I’m wrong.

    • Karen: There were two anathemas. One was “proposed and promulgated” by the Emperor. In the Emperor’s anathema, the “apokakastatis” was included. The Council amended the anathemas of the Emperor’s. The “apokakastasis” was ommited. The difference between Origen and Nyssa was that Origen said the devil would also be saved. Nyssa said that it was an open question over which he would not express an opinion as to the devil. Quite frankly, Paul is the source of any “apokakastatis” analysis. He crearly teaches that “creation” would be restored.

      Most of Origen is quite speculative. The real anathemas had to do with the preexistence of souls. I have always felt that Origen has been misunderstood and that he was not being dogmatic but speculative. There is a difference. What he should have been anathemized for is his commentary on the Gospel of John where he suggests that the Holy Spirit is a created being. However, the Council treaded lightly in this area. Gregory of Nanziansus wanted to include in I Constantinople that the Holy Spirit was of the same essence as the Father and Son. The Council balked because Basil did not say that. So, they cautiously excluded that reference. How history would have been different had they listened to Gregory.

      Here is the point. There is no question that the Filioque was introduced to protect the divinity of the Son because Arianism was prevalant in the West. There is also no question that the interpolation as originally inserted did not question the monarchy of the Father. Even Augustine says He was the principal cause. That doctrine evolved under Anselm, Aquinas and others to the point that the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church clears says that both are the principal cause of the Spririt through a single spiration. There is no question that this is semi-Sebellianism.

      Look what the 1995 clarification of the Vatican says in the historic document entitled “Greek and Latin Tradition Regarding the Procession of the Holy Spirit”. It says:

      “The doctrine of the Filioque must be understood and presented by the Catholic Church in such a way that it cannot appear to contradict the Monarchy of the Father nor the fact that he is the sole origin of the procession of the Spirit. The Filioque is, in fact, situated in a theological and linguistic context different from that of the affirmation of the sole monarchy of the Father, the one origin of the Son and of the Spirit. Against Arianism, which was still virulent in the West, its purpose was to stress the fact that the Holy Spirit is of the same divine nature as the Son, without calling in question the one monarchy of the Father”.

      Ponder that for a minute and forgive the digression. If they listened to Nanzansius and included what he wanted, there would never have been a schism over Filioque because the Creed would have said: ” I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father and who is of the same essence as the Father and the Son and therefore should be worshiped and glorified….”

      Hindsight, whether it deals with Origen, Nyssa or Basil or Nanziansus is wonderful.

      God Bless.

      • Geo Michalopulos :

        Nick, I am amazed (and grateful!).

      • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

        Me too (grateful). That’s a great piece of history, Nick.

      • Saint  Photius  the Great- Patriarch of Constantinople,

        was the most erudite man of his day, a scholar among scholars. In order to resolve the conflicts arising from the long years of the iconoclastic heresy, he, while still a layman, and over his most strenuous refusal (even to the point of the shedding of tears), was elected Patriarch of Constantinople in 858. During the course of his service as Patriarch he attained to unceasing prayer of the heart, i.e. the prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me”.
        St. Photius was principally opposed by the proud and ambitious Pope of Rome, Nicholas I. Two points lay behind Nicholas’ opposition to St. Photius. First, St. Photius’ refusal to permit Nicholas’ addition of the term filioque (and the Son) to the Symbol of Faith, the Nicene Creed, and, secondly, the Saint’s reproof, based on the holy canons, of Nicholas’s desire to make himself as the Pope of Rome the ruler over the whole Church.

        “Among the ancient and great Fathers of the Church, perhaps the greatest zealots for the correct faith and the Truth of God were SS. Athanasios the Great and Basil the Great. Yet our holy and God‐bearing Father Photius, the Confessor and Defender of the Orthodox Faith of Christ, is in no way inferior to them. Like them, he labored in all the virtues that please God and bring deification. But above all he strove for Divine Truth, the true dogma of the Orthodox Faith bequeathed to the Church as a holy inheritance by the God‐inspired Apostles and Fathers. So it is that the holy Photius wrote in his famous letter to Nicholas, the Pope of Rome: ‘Nothing is dearer than the Truth.’ And in the same letter, he noted: ‘It is truly necessary that we observe all things, but above all, that which pertains to matters of the Faith in which but a small deviation represents a deadly sin.’

        • Eliot: Photius is among my favorites. When we built a new Church building in my former parish, we had four pillars. I wanted to put Basil and Chrysostom on two and Athanasius and Photius on the other two, symbolic of the four great pillars, like the four Gospels. I got the first two but not the second two. Photius is very under appreciated.

      • Nick, thanks for the informative elaboration and background!

        I was under the impression that Origen’s version of apokatostasis was anathematized because it included the teaching of the pre-existence of souls whereas St. Gregory of Nyssa’s did not. Obviously, my information gleaned second-hand was imprecise! Of course, I was aware the Scripture’s teaching of the renewal of Creation in Christ is the basis for the Fathers’ teaching concerning this subject, and I look forward to someday being able to read St. Gregory and others more at length for myself. The address “The River of Fire” by Greek physician, Dr. Kalomiros, picks up on some of these themes to expound the Orthodox understanding of Gehenna, and was quite instrumental in my recognizing Orthodoxy as my true spiritual home! Thanks also for the additional background on the filioque as well.

      • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

        Nick, I’ve been thinking about this all day. Ignoring the practical contingencies for the moment, calling a Council and amending the Nicene Creed to include the clause that you offered:

        I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father and who is of the same essence as the Father and the Son and therefore should be worshiped and glorified….

        …would end the filioque controversy overnight.

        • Scott Pennington :

          To all,

          I think we’re not taking something else into account. Whatever the intention of Rome in promulgating the filioque, the fact is that they had no authority to amend the Creed. That is the real source of division between the Orthodox and Roman Catholics: Wherein lies authority?

          Speculating about whether this or that language, if adopted by a Great and Holy Synod, would end the Great Schism misses the point. The question is whether Rome will honor Great and Holy Councils as supreme or substitute the opinions of its own jurisdiction or its own patriarch. The substance of the teaching isn’t the real problem. This is also true of the “Oriental Orthodox”. They may be miaphysites instead of monophysites, although they seem to be resolute monothelites; however, the real question is, “Do you accept Chalcedon and the latter Councils as authoritative?” The real problem is respect for the Tradition in its method of discerning and stating the Truth.

          That is what separates us and the RCC, not how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

          • I think you all (except Fr. Hans) miss the point.

            There is no question that, when Maximos wrote the Letter to Marinus, at least Roman, as opposed to Germanic theology, did not question the Father as the sole cause and Rome’s view was that the Filioque was talking about the temporal mission of the Spirit as opposed to His ultimate cause. There is also no question that Anselm, Aquinas and others changed this view and it did in fact become semi-Sebellianism from that point forward, and continued to be so including the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church.

            I do not condone Filioque because it is semi-Sebellian. They got a “hook” from Augustine and they ran with it into blind heresy. Augustine was dangerously close, but did not quite cross the line, in my opinion. He suffered from the same Neo-Platonist speculation that Origen did.

            The point you all miss is that the 1995 clarification is a re-write of history. Filioque was introduced in order to “protect” the divinity of the Son. In 1995, the Vatican said it was to protect the divinity of the Spirit. That is historically incorrect. But, what everyone misses is that Rome is trying to save face. By changing the emphasis from the divinity of the Son to the divinity of the Holy Spirit, they are inviting us to do what Nanziansus wanted to do and that is to declare that the Holy Spirit is of the same essence. Why did I Constantipole do what it did and reject Nanzianus’s formula? We believe the formulas and have so always believed. The Holy Spirit is of the same essence. However, because Basil would not say that explicitly (why, I don’t know), they hesitated and left the issue ambigous.

            My point is that Rome has given us an invitation to resurrect Nanziansus’ formula (which is what we believe in any event). Whether it is to save face or not, I welcome “their” rewrite of “their” history. I am surprised that our theologians have not understood the significance of the 1995 clarification. Fr. Hans did not say it would end the schism, only the Filioque controversy. I said the same thing. To quote: “If they listened to Nanzansius and included what he wanted, there would never have been a schism over Filioque because [of] the Creed”.

            Eliot: you are right: There are still issues to deal with but they are practicle, as Fr. Hans suggests. Who cares if the West wants everyone celibate and the East does not except for bishops. To each his own. Who cares if we use leaven and they do not. Is it the “Body” or is it not. That is what counts. “Purgatory” is an issue and the “Imaculate Conception” is as well, but those can be dealt with in our favor. I really think Rome does not care.

            Primacy is the real issue. That I grant. Will Rome ever become “Orthodox” on that issue, I don’t know. But, at least Filioque is not if my read of Rome’s 1995 clarification is correct. If they are ready to abandon it, then there is hope for primacy to be resolved since the Pope would be admitted under a face-saving formula to have been in error.

            Eliot: “[A]s St. Photius said, in matters of the Faith a small deviation represents a deadly sin”. We lived a millenium with small deviations and remained in communion. When the dispute between Rome and Ephesus errupted over the celebration of Easter, Ireanus of Lyon counseled the Pope when Polycarp is in Rome and wants to celebrate Easter on a day other than Sunday as they do in Ephesus, what’s the big deal. Accomodate him in this regard and when you are in Ephesus, he will accomodate you.

            Scott: “[T]he fact is that they had no authority to amend the Creed. That is the real source of division between the Orthodox and Roman Catholics: Wherein lies authority?” Scott, you are dead wrong. If a Council authorized it, it would still be a problem. It has nothing to do with “authority”. It has everything to do with “correct” theology. If a Council of the East and West inserted the Filioque, I would not submit to its decisions. Why? Because they would be wrong. I would go to my grave comfortable with my salvation, but not so much theirs. The “weakest” argument is authority. The “strongest” is theology.

            Scott: I would remind you that I Constantinople was called by the Emperor. The West was not invited nor was it present. It was a local synod but it was accepted later as “ecumenical’. Not because of its “authority” but because of its Orthodoxy, although I would qualify that by saying that Nanziansus’s “Orthodoxy” was “more Orthodox”. What we believe is the same as Nanziansus even though his clear exposition of that Orthodoxy was ignored.

            Enough said.

          • Scott Pennington :

            Nick,

            Not quite enough said.

            I do not condone Filioque because it is semi-Sebellian. They got a “hook” from Augustine and they ran with it into blind heresy. Augustine was dangerously close, but did not quite cross the line, in my opinion.”

            And that is the problem. You look at the situation and give your own opinion. Rome looks at the stituation and gives its own opinion. Each little Protestant sect looks at the situation and gives their own opinion.

            Our opinions don’t ultimately matter. You may be correct. You might not be. But the matter is to be resolved by Great and Holy Synods (and no other entity). Convene another Council and you could expand the Creed but not change what has already been stated (not that expanding it would be a good idea).

            Now, if you’re saying that there were only 6 councils and Constantinople I was really a local synod whose only authority derives from being recognized by a later Council, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard anyone say that. It kind of contradicts the very essence of an Ecumenical Council and directly challenges Orthodox self understanding for over 1000 years. There were local councils whose decisions were later recognized to be accurate teaching. But they’re not called, in and of themselves, “ecumenical”.

            Please cite where this idea originates.

            The strongest argument is authority and the weakest is theology, and for this reason: No individual has access to the mind of God written with black fire upon white fire. Therefore, no individual or group of individuals, short of an ecumenical council received by the laity, have the authority to pronounce correct theology. A Great and Holy Synod derives its authority from the example of the Apostles at the Apostolic Council described in Acts and through the collective witness of the successors of the Apostles.

            Theology is not self evident. To believe so is the essence of Protestantism and the mother of all heresies.

          • Scott:

            You are dead wrong. Please forgive me for what I am about to say. I don’t mean to be polemic. But I must correct some egregious errors in your thinking. As a starting point, please read Khamiokov’s “The Church is One”.

            “I do not condone Filioque because it is semi-Sebellian. They got a “hook” from Augustine and they ran with it into blind heresy. Augustine was dangerously close, but did not quite cross the line, in my opinion.” And that is the problem. You look at the situation and give your own opinion. Rome looks at the stituation and gives its own opinion. Each little Protestant sect looks at the situation and gives their own opinion.

            And Basil, Nyssa, Nanziansus, Athanasius, Maximos, John of Damascus, Palamas, etc., etc., etc., each gives his own opinion. Mine may not be as good, but it is mine and I am Orthodox.

            Our opinions don’t ultimately matter. You may be correct. You might not be. But the matter is to be resolved by Great and Holy Synods (and no other entity). Convene another Council and you could expand the Creed but not change what has already been stated (not that expanding it would be a good idea). Now, if you’re saying that there were only 6 councils and Constantinople I was really a local synod whose only authority derives from being recognized by a later Council, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard anyone say that. It kind of contradicts the very essence of an Ecumenical Council and directly challenges Orthodox self understanding for over 1000 years. There were local councils whose decisions were later recognized to be accurate teaching. But they’re not called, in and of themselves, “ecumenical”.

            If that is your view, then you don’t understand an “ecumenical council”. I believe the first council to actually call itself “ecumenical” was the Sixth. That is why all councils subsequent to Nicea ratified the acts of the prior councils. I would remind you that ecumenicity requires the general acceptance of the presbytery and laity to be ecumenical. Just read Ware (as bad as he is on some points). It is for that reason that Lyon and Ferrara-Florence is NOT ecumenical. Everyone except for the Blessed Mark of Ephesus kissed (figuratively speaking) the Anti-Christ’s (Pope’s) foot at that shameful prostration.

            The strongest argument is authority and the weakest is theology, and for this reason: No individual has access to the mind of God written with black fire upon white fire. Therefore, no individual or group of individuals, short of an ecumenical council received by the laity, have the authority to pronounce correct theology. Theology is not self evident. To believe so is the essence of Protestantism.

            So, you recognize the authority of the laity over the ecumenical council. May be I should be forgiven because there is a germ of understanding here. Your weakest ground is your statement that “the stongest argument is authority and the weakest is theology”. And then you say more. So,if an “ecumenical council”, so self-identified changes the theology of what was given once and for all, that is OK? You can’t be serious. Authority, if that is your guide, is self destructive. There is only ONE AUTHORITY: JESUS CHRIST. I don’t give a damn what any so-called council pronounces (and history is replete with them that were condemned or not recognized). If it contradicts the teaching and revelation of Jesus Christ and what was given by the Apostles once and for all, it is wrong.

            That, Brother Scott, is ORTHODOXY. And, please don’t call me or equate me with the Protestant heresies. That is uncharitable. I am merely pointing out historical fact. And, as Khamiokov would probably say, to paraphrase, thank God for the royal priesthood (laity). And thank God for Blessed Mark of Ephesus.

            Please foegive my polemic but your response to my sinful being required this response. Forgive!

          • Geo Michalopulos :

            Nick, I agree with you completely. If your take on things is followed, the Schism between East and West could be healed. i also like your caveat about papal primacy being the real sticky wicket. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we cannot castigate the West for this as long as Istanbul attempts to promulgate its own version of universal jurisdiction –even to the point of call the incumbent “His All-Holiness”.

            My own (admittedly audacious) plan for solving the Schism? It requires two steps:

            1. The Orthodox bishops (all of them) should convene in council and clarify the role of bishop, according to which we have always said we believed: that they are all equal. They should be locally elected, etc. The pope would be the first among equals but would have universal appelate jurisdiction (as per the Council of Sardica).

            2. At the next papal election, the cardinals should elect an Orthodox bishop as pope (preferably a Russian one). He would then force the Roman Curia to start devolving power to the local dioceses in order to implement item #1 above. Total game-changer; the ultimate game-changer.

          • Scott Pennington :

            Nick,

            You’re confused about what I was saying.

            “So, you recognize the authority of the laity over the ecumenical council.”

            I most certainly do not. What I recognize is that if the laity do not receive the teaching of a council and thus a subsequent council makes a different statement correcting the first, and within a reasonable amount of time, then the first council was a “robber council”; i.e., erroneously stated the faith. So, no, the laity do not have authority over ecumenical councils; however, if they do not accept the teaching of a council and influence the bishops to overturn it’s decision, then the council was never ecumenical to begin with.

            What makes a council ecumenical is whether it’s teaching reflects universality, antiquity and consent. But these criteria are for ecumenical councils to use in their decisions, not for private interpretation. You may be right, you may be wrong. Who can say? You claim this and that and that this saint was right and this saint was reluctant to go as far, etc. Perhaps. But that opinion is nothing to hang our hats on. It’s just an opinion.

            “So, if an “ecumenical council”, so self-identified changes the theology of what was given once and for all, that is OK? You can’t be serious.”

            I was serious, but that’s not what I said. What I said on that particular point is this:

            “Convene another Council and you could expand the Creed but not change what has already been stated (not that expanding it would be a good idea).”

            That is, the exact opposite of what you claim I meant. I do not believe that what was given “once and for all” can be changed. The words of the Creed cannot be subtracted. However, additions could well be made to it, just as the Creed of the 1st Council was elaborated upon by the 2nd. Not saying that’s a good idea, just that it is possible.

            “There is only ONE AUTHORITY: JESUS CHRIST”

            Yes, and He delegated the authority to bind and loose and to forgive sins to His Apostles. If you don’t accept that, then your beliefs are heterodox.

            “If it contradicts the teaching and revelation of Jesus Christ and what was given by the Apostles once and for all, it is wrong.”

            And apparently that’s for you to decide, which is the problem.

            “And Basil, Nyssa, Nanziansus, Athanasius, Maximos, John of Damascus, Palamas, etc., etc., etc., each gives his own opinion. Mine may not be as good, but it is mine and I am Orthodox.”

            Yes, you are Orthodox. But an Orthodox Christian must rely on the consensus of the Church as it expresses itself through its internal mechanisms for settling theological questions. Not upon our own thoughts/feelings about the strands and trajectories of Orthodox doctrinal development.

            “And, please don’t call me or equate me with the Protestant heresies.”

            It is the same spirit which produced a multitude of Protestant denominations. The founder(s) of each sect read Scripture and Tradition for themselves and decided for themselves what the Truth is. They would be the first to rely on the notion that there is only “ONE AUTHORITY: JESUS CHRIST” and thereafter make their best arguments for what He really intended/intends. Episcopal authority and conciliarity are foreign to them, for the most part, because of this willfullness. You do not take this tendency as far as Protestants do; however, these things tend to escalate.

            I do not dispute that a council, even one presumably ecumenical, can err. Only time can tell. Those that have long been recognized are definitely ecumenical. But it simply is not up to each individual to use his own criteria for what Orthodoxy is and to judge this or that statement and make believe that our opinions have some binding quality or guarantee of accuracy. They do not.

            You are forgiven. But you are still wrong.

            My original point and the context of all of the above is this: Since every person has a different background and experience and different appreciations of this or that method of looking at doctrine, and since, in the end, there must be a final say on these matters to avoid perpetual chaos and to preserve the Church as one, therefore authority is what really matters. We have no other reference point from which to ascertain what is Truth which is not subjective to an individual or collection of individuals (i.e., short of an ecumenical council).

          • Scott Pennington :

            Nick,

            Also, please do not think that I am trying to be uncharitable by the above remarks. When I say that your opinion, or anyone’s opinion, is not that significant, I do not mean it as a degradation of you or of any other person. I just mean that when we are talking about ultimate truths that all Orthodox are bound to accept, we should not rely on individual opinion but consensus. I was not criticizing your powers of reason or your knowledge or anything else about your intellect in the slightest. And I do not claim that your opinion is any less valuable than that of any other Orthodox Christian.

            Forgive me if I gave that impression.

  4. Fr. Hans: This still does not end the papal infallibility, celibacy, purgatory, leavened bread, Vatican II …. controversies.
    And above all, as St. Photius said, in matters of the Faith a small deviation represents a deadly sin.

  5. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    I know. That’s why I said we would have to ignore the practical contingencies for the moment. I don’t see a joint RC-Orthodox Council as even a remote possibility.

  6. Nick: We need to be aware of apocrypha [i.e., freshly “discovered” writings]. Even passages in the Scripture itself suffer from the “failings” of scribes.
    The martyr of Christ Nun Heruvima

    Her thesis was focused also on Genesis: she was supposed to prove that the Holy Fathers followed in their explanation to Genesis the heretic Origene. Svetlana started to work with trust, not being aware of the fact she was actually asked to do. But, since she was reading from the Holy Fathers in cause, she were realising the blasphemy she was asked to prove. I still have here, from her, the Explanation of the Genesis of Blessed Augustine (in latin), the one of Origene (in greek), the one of Blessed Theodoret of Kir (in greek), and the one of St. Ephraim of Syria (in english), and even the commentary of the jew philosopher Phylon of Alexandria (in greek), works she read in Budapesta, in original. But as much she read, that much she understood that the Holy Fathers didn’t followed the heretic Origene in their works, but one of the reasons for their works was to fight the heretic, and this could be seen from the way they approached to the every single question.

  7. Michael Bauman :

    As the least one here I hesitate to comment, but Papal ‘authority’ is not really the issue is it? Isn’t it the ecclesiology that the RC version of Papal authority represents and reflects? Anyone read the 1848 Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs recently? In all their polemics, is not that their essential position?

    Over and above what ‘authority’ the Pope may or may not exercise within the Body of Christ, as I understand it, the Pope as Vicar of Christ on earth, assumes in his person the chrism rightly delivered to the Church as a whole. Such an assumption seems to deny the Incarnation, the validity of the royal priesthood and changes the very nature of our approach to salvation (and speaks to the Filoque as well). It was part of the Protestant revolution (not really well understood) that labled the Pope as the Anti-Christ was it not, and a goodly part of St. Photius, et. al, resistence to the Pope asserting ‘universal jurisdiction’?

    At the very least does not the assumption of such a chrism by the Pope encourage the type of dualism that has ever after been a cancer in the western soul? God up there, us down here–a position which was also bound up in Scholasticism, a strictly natural law moral approach, and humanism? The Protestants inherited (it was traditioned to them) such un-Apostolic thoughts and codified them with their bifurcation of the soul of man into either rationalists or pietists and the ‘every man a Pope’ tendency. That bifurcation has been hard-wired into the false dicotomy of science vs religion and a whole host of other false dictomies that we deal with every day as well as a souce of the destruction of genuine tradition and the communities that tradition inspires and supports.

    So we have an essentially dualist west meeting an abused and confused east thanks to the continuing dhimmitude of the Eastern Patriarchs. Russia still has its own cross in coming to terms with the inforced caesero-papism of the Czars and the statist oppression of the Soviets. Who has the credentials and stability to exert any ‘authority’ is such a situation whether it be the Pope of a so-called Great and Holy Council (which reminds me of the Ottoman satrap combination of self-agrandizement and self-absement raised to a new level)? Both these historical realities encourage clericalism and corruption.

    I would therefore agree with Nick that theology is stonger than authority. Are we not dealing with two quite different approaches to Christ, His Church, our salvation and the nature of our own being, each claiming to be the authority as well as the usual amount of worldly corruption we always have to wade through? But what is strongest is our own willingness to submit to the love of Jesus Christ by confession of our sins with mutual humility so that we can enter into commuion with Him and each other is it not?

    And thus ends my mirco-history of western civilization. Over-simplified, probably wrong on a great many points but themes that have come repeatedly to my mind over the years as I have read history and theology and struggled with my own sins within the context of a worhipping community and an apostate culture. I would be grateful for some additional insight from the many here who know so much more than I.

    • Scott Pennington :

      Michael,

      Yes, but . . .

      What was the difference that gave birth to the schism? I.e., how is it that Rome decided it could dictate to the East that the Filioque was to be included in the Creed, that azymes were to be used, etc? How could they mandate an addition to the Creed, without benefit of an Ecumenical Council, an action which a Council they endorse anathematized? It is because they believed that the authority of the Western Church, or the Pope, was superior to that of an Ecumenical Council. Now, their motivations were probably political – – a revived Western Empire and all that. But the result was a rejection of conciliarity.

      Conciliarity, as the supreme method of ascertaining the Truth, is the real stumbling block for them. If they accepted that and did not posit the ex cathedra statements of the Pope on faith and morals as a higher authority, then all that is in Roman Catholicism that differs from Orthodoxy would simply melt away for lack of support. It has all accrued since around the beginning of the ninth century and did not result in a clear permanent break until the 11th.

      You all really should step back from the question, “What is the Faith?” and ask the much more important question, “Who is competent to answer the question, ‘What is the Faith?'” Everything depends on that, and that is a question of authority. Roman Catholics answer that the authority is the Pope (or one of their Councils, but the Pope is superior). Protestants answer that it is up to the individual, or to one or more Reformers, or Reformation scholars, etc. to determine correct doctrine. Orthodox answer that it is up to councils and, ultimately, up to a Great and Holy Synod, whose decisions are received by the faithful, to state the Faith accurately. Khomiakov remarked that all of Western Christianity (and this was a slight exaggeration) sees things in terms of a+ or a-; i.e., one individual is supreme or each individual is supreme. Consensus is more reliable, less subject to individual passions and less divisive.

      • Michael Bauman :

        Scott, the councils are only authoritative if the teaching is recevied by the whole church–thus my question: didn’t the Pope improperly assume a chrism that was given to the Church as a whole? Don’t Protestants assume indidvidually a chrism given to the Church as a whole? Don’t today’s Orthodox bishops tend to assume as a group (or as the sub-set Patriarch) a chrism granted to the Church as a whole?

        Trouble with placing ultimate authority in the individual, in the synod of Patriarch or stictly the Papal level is that they ultimately lead to clericalism in the Orthodox and RCC world and rampant demoninationalism amongst the Protestants. All three approaches either crush or discourage conciliarity.

        I do not deny the sacramental chrism and pastoral teaching authority given to the bishops by Apostolic succession, merely the authority, in and of themselves, to decide the truth rather than rightly dividing it.

        Of course I could be wrong and it is only my darkened modern mind (not being scarcastic) that refuses to cede final authority upstream from ME.

        However, doesn’t even positing that the Church needs to reach a consensus on where authority lies almost answer the question? It does for me. Of course, one could simply say that the bishops need to assert their authority and require the appropriate obedience from us, but is that really conciliar?

        • Scott Pennington :

          Michael,

          “the councils are only authoritative if the teaching is recevied by the whole church”

          Yes, but in order for a council to be repudiated, the bishops must do it. Essentially, reception is acquiescence as opposed to loud, compelling rejection directed toward the episcopacy. In the end, there is no mechanism for reception by the laity. It is the dog that didn’t bark.

          “Don’t today’s Orthodox bishops tend to assume as a group (or as the sub-set Patriarch) a chrism granted to the Church as a whole?”

          What particular charism do you have in mind?

          I do not believe in the kind of quasi-democratizing that is going on in the OCA. The Episcopal Church has a “presiding bishop” a House of Bishops and a lower house of priests and laity (if I recall correctly). This organizational structure is patterned after the American government (and the American government runs so well!).

          There is much talk about this model of including the laity and priesthood in the “decisionmaking process”. I don’t have a problem with the bishops asking the opinions of the priesthood and laity. I’m know there were priests, deacons, etc. present at a number of the Councils, if not all. However, the bishops have been given the responsibility and the charism to rule, all talk about “responsibilities” and “power is a dirty word” aside. It’s crystal clear from Scripture that Christ entrusted to them great authority individually and extraordinary authority in council, especially a Great and Holy Synod. Now there are limits and appeal processes associated with this. But the buck stops with the bishops and all the talk about conciliarity being all inclusive is very much overblown.

          Specifically, the laity was not and has never been granted the charism to bind and loose, to forgive sins (in Christ’s name) and to “oversee” dioceses. No council of laymen could even put a canon into effect, much less make any type of binding statement on doctrine.

          The real problem I have with it is that, as much as I distrust some/many bishops, I trust the laity less (and with good reason). The rise of lay organizations for the purpose of correcting “clericalism” may have some beneficial effects but I tend to think that this will morph into a monster, more dangerous to the faith itself than the abuse of the institutional system perpetrated by some hierarchs.

          “Trouble with placing ultimate authority in the individual, in the synod of Patriarch or stictly the Papal level is that they ultimately lead to clericalism in the Orthodox and RCC world and rampant demoninationalism amongst the Protestants. All three approaches either crush or discourage conciliarity.”

          Who suggested that ultimate authority was placed in the synod of a Patriarch? Certainly not me. A patriarch and his synod only represent one local church. This is why I always point out that the council convened in Constantinople in 1872, even though other patriarchs participated, was nothing more than a local council and thus, if binding, was binding only on Constantinople unless it was recognized by other local churches.

          “Of course, one could simply say that the bishops need to assert their authority and require the appropriate obedience from us, but is that really conciliar?”

          Absolutely, but they’re neither that pious nor brave, even though Scripture says rather explicitly that that is their responsibility. Given their present proclivities, I grant that it’s merciful that they don’t.

          “I do not deny the sacramental chrism and pastoral teaching authority given to the bishops by Apostolic succession, merely the authority, in and of themselves, to decide the truth rather than rightly dividing it.”

          If the bishops met in a (presumably) Great Synod and proclaimed teaching that was demonstrably at odds with what the Church has taught over the centuries, then it would be right to dissent. But one should be very careful about this. The reason is that “what the Church has taught over the centuries” might, to some extent, reside in the beholder. How exactly do we recognize a rogue council? Eloquent luminaries arise to denounce it over time until it is superceded by a true ecumenical council. I do not deny that this has been the case or might again be the case. However, if no such reconsideration is made over a long period of time and the dissident movement dies out, then we can be certain that one of two things is true: a) the first council was ecumenical, or b) the Church of Christ has disappeared from the Earth (and Christ promised that the gates of hell would never prevail against it).

          Being Americans, we tend to assume democratic legitimacy in every sphere. It is a very Protestant notion. In fact, all the authority and charisms given to bishops are, in some Protestant denominations, interpreted as being conveyed upon all the laity. But Christ called 12 Apostles and gave them specific authority. They demonstrated in the book of Acts that they could consecrate others to their order. They met in council to decide a controversial issue. No vote of the laity is recorded to have been taken. Ours was a hierarchical Church from day one.

          Now, sometimes bishops and entire synods go astray. It is the responsibility of the laity to pressure them if they do. But I don’t have much faith that the laity are really any better informed or candid than the bishops. God is really the only sound correcting mechanism. He may raise vociferous, pious men and women as his agents. But in the end, it is only through the witness of the successors of the Apostles – – which can err for some period of time, but not indefinitely – – that we know the truth.

          • Scott:

            I am not going to respond point by point. That would be too tedious. What I am going to do is explain what a council is. And it is misunderstood by too many. I don’t know how many times I have heard the expression that how can we have an “ecuminical council” unless all that profess to be “Christians” are not there. In other words, Romans and Protestants of today. To the extent that you perceive a “council” to be part of Orthodox ecclesiology, there is no such thing. There is no Orthodox ecclesiology concerning “councils”.

            The first “council”, i.e. Nicea, was conceived by Constantine because he was trying to bring some harmony to the Empire. He though if he could bring everyone together and they could agree, there would be peace and harmony in the Empire.

            The second council, i.e. I Constantipole, was never meant to be “ecumenical”. It was a local council of the east. Even the Bishop of Rome was not invited. He found out about it after the fact. There was not a single bishop there from the west.

            The so-called Quinisext council was not an “ecumenical” council in the sense that you employ. The Fifth and Sixth councils did not adopt any canons. A group of bishops of the east, some of which happened to be at the Sixth and who happened to be in Constantinople at the time (about 10 years later) decided that it was necessary to adopted some canons. So they got together at Trullo and passed some canons, most of which were driven by polemics against the west.

            The Fourth Council (Chalcedon) started out with over 600 bishops. Most of them left for home after the Christological statement was adopted. Only a third (or less) remained and they proceeded to adopt canons (including the notorious Canon 28 of Chalcedon).

            What made them all “ecumenical” was that their formulations and canons were generally accepted by Christendom. That includes laymen.

            Other than the Fourth where over 600 bishops started the Chistological debate (and I might add that by that time “Africa” had itself over 600 bishops most of which were not present and maybe not even invited), there is no truly “ecumencial” council where all bishops were either present or were even invited.

            At the First (Nicea) the most prominent actor was not even a bishop. It was Athanasius who was a deacon and who led the council to agree to the creed. At the Sixth, the most prominent player, although by then reposed, was a laymen, Maximos, whose writings carried the day. In fact, Maximos is considered the epitome and standard of Orthodox with a prestige and authority greater than ANY council. Even Rome, I might add.

            You say that “if the laity does not receive the teaching of a council and thus a subsequent council makes a different statement correcting the first, within a reasonable amount of time, then the first council was a “robber council”. That is historical hindsight. and, by the way, what is a reasonable period of time?

            “So, if an “ecumenical council”, so self-identified, changes the theology of what was given once and for all, that is OK? You can’t be serious.”

            I was serious,

            No, you cannot be serious. I’m reminded of the joke that the Pope is sitting on the Throne of Peter making an “ex cathedra” statement; the dove is on his shoulder and whispers to him, “God is Dead”. No Scott, you can’t be serious on this point.

            Yes, and He delegated the authority to bind and loose and to forgive sins to His Apostles. If you don’t accept that, then your beliefs are heterodox.

            I have never been told that I was heterodox by all the fine bishops I have had the priviledge of serving over the years. But I do remember that the Lord told Peter, “get behind me Satan!” The Apostles were human; let us not forget.

            Let me end by saying that your notion of ecclesiolgy giving such a prominent place to the councils is not based on Orthodox ecclesiology. Certain councils are honored and I honor all Eight (the Eighth being the one that condemned Filioque presided by Photius at which the Rome was actually represented). But, most councils relied more on the Fathers than on their own perception of theology. And, the Fathers sometimes were not all that clear and sometime differed. I repeat, Basil whom we call the Great, hesitated in saying that the Holy Sprit was of the same essence. But, that is what we believe even though Basil would not say that and I Constantinople would not say that over the objections of Nanziansus.

            Are you on the side of Nanzianzus or Basil? Unfair question. My point is that, I Constantinople left this ambiguous in deferrence to Basil. My other point is tha this ambiguity is the source of the Filioque controversy. Sometimes ambiguity is good. Some times it is tragic.

            God judge us with mercy.

          • Scott: One additional point:

            [I]n order for a council to be repudiated, the bishops must do it. Essentially, reception is acquiescence as opposed to loud, compelling rejection directed toward the episcopacy. In the end, there is no mechanism for reception by the laity. It is the dog that didn’t bark.

            Explain Ferrara-Florence. It was about as ecumenical as it could get from the perspective of attendance and representation. What eastern council of bishops subsequently rejected it? History teaches it was the general laity. Except for Mark, all our other bishops sold themselves to Rome. When they got back home, their flocks were ready to kill them. It was a mighty big dog that barked at that time and saved us from popery.

    • A Council was supposedlly held around 1450, deposed EP Gregory III and denounced the union.

      Read more here on Google books.

      In any case, those hiearchs who signed Florence stipulated that their signatures were conditioned on a synod being held in the East to ratify the union. That never happened. IIRC at Florence the Serbian Church refused to send anyone, and the Moldavian Church deposed its hiearch, having the Bulgarian Archbishop (who also refused to go to Florence) consecrate St. Mark’s archdeacon as their Metropolitan.

      • The Georgian bishops, who were representatives of their Church at the Florentine Council, simply fled when they saw what was coming and thus avoided signing the false union. The Russian bishops weren’t even there to begin with, since they were “represented” by their newly-appointed Greek metropolitan Isidore – who signed the union and had to flee to Rome after trying to show up in Russia with such news. In sum, it appears that there were quite a few Orthodox bishops who remained Orthodox at the time – perhaps it was just the Greek hierarchs who were prevailed upon to sign en masse.

  8. Scott Pennington :

    “To the extent that you perceive a “council” to be part of Orthodox ecclesiology, there is no such thing. There is no Orthodox ecclesiology concerning ‘councils’.”

    Nick,

    Why do we recite the creed, and where does it come from, and why do we know that it is an accurate statement of the faith?

    ” . . . there is no truly “ecumencial” council where all bishops were either present or were even invited.”

    You are mistaken in how you perceive the term “ecumenical”. No one that I know has ever claimed that every last bishop has to be at an ecumenical council. A council is ecumenical if a wide enough area of the oikumene is represented or if, in any case, it representation is considered broad enough to take in the dissemination of the Apostolic Tradition. Remember, “that which has always been believed by everyone everywhere”. This has never been a black and white 100% standard. Most of your post above really only demonstrates that Orthodox history is quite sloppy. But we all knew that.

    You quoted me as replying to your statement:

    “’So, if an ‘ecumenical council’, so self-identified, changes the theology of what was given once and for all, that is OK? You can’t be serious.”

    with the following:
    “I was serious,”

    But you left out the rest of what I wrote:

    “I was serious, but that’s not what I said. What I said on that particular point is this:

    ‘Convene another Council and you could expand the Creed but not change what has already been stated (not that expanding it would be a good idea).'”

    Now, if you want to take issue with what I actually said rather than what you would want me to have said, then we might get somewhere.

    I wrote:

    “Yes, and He delegated the authority to bind and loose and to forgive sins to His Apostles. If you don’t accept that, then your beliefs are heterodox.”

    You responded:

    “I have never been told that I was heterodox by all the fine bishops I have had the priviledge of serving over the years. But I do remember that the Lord told Peter, “get behind me Satan!” The Apostles were human; let us not forget.”

    I did not say you were heterodox. I said that if you do not accept that Christ granted His Apostles the authority to bind and loose and to forgive sins then you are heterodox. I assume you accept it but you don’t seem to want to face all the implications of it. Laity is “in” these days. I do not dispute that the Apostles sinned at times, nor that bishops sin (in fact, if you read much of what I’ve written, you will get the accurate impression that I do not have great expectations for many of the bishops of this generation).

    “Let me end by saying that your notion of ecclesiolgy giving such a prominent place to the councils is not based on Orthodox ecclesiology. Certain councils are honored and I honor all Eight (the Eighth being the one that condemned Filioque presided by Photius at which the Rome was actually represented).”

    Honor is not the point. The point is that the doctrines they proclaim are paramount. There is a reason that we call some Christians Orthodox and others heterodox, and much of that reasoning revolves around the Councils. I have actually never heard any Orthodox person suggest that the doctrines proclaimed by the ecumenical councils are not, at least, the highest expression of Christian verity which it is capable for the Church to express over time. Other Orthodox consider a received ecumenical council to be infallible. No doubt many actors involved had non-pious motives, but just as the Holy Spirit confirmed the Council of the Apostles, so it confirms a truly ecumenical council. That is why we value them above the individual opinions of this or that Father.

    Regarding the Council of Ferrara, it was a council of Orthodox and heretical bishops which met under extreme duress and some of who’s signatories were maltreated as a result of their heresy by their flocks upon their return. The repudiations and deposements (if that is a word) which followed suffice to negate what was a fiasco to begin with. What I meant by my quote is that if a council is received, we only know about it over time by the acquiescence of the laity. If it is rejected, then you have the loud compelling dissent and outright assault on the bishops responsible. My point is that reception, if it occurs, is the dog that did not bark. That is undeniably true. The laity do not meet to confirm councils. If they did, the lay council would have no authority in any case. The buck stops with the bishops.

    Furthermore, although there is a history of councils with supreme authority (I do not know exactly which councils were self-described at the time as “ecumenical”), the doctrine of reception is really a kind of construct thrown together to explain what has historically happened:

    “Theologians such as Fr. John S. Romanides have argued, however, that the councils universally regarded as ecumenical within the Orthodox Church seemed of themselves to have no sense of requiring a reception by the Church before they went into effect. Their texts do indeed include self-declarations of their ecumenicity, and in most cases, their decrees immediately were written into Roman imperial law. No condition of later reception is reflected in the councils’ texts.” – Orthodoxwiki/ecumenical councils

    So, there it is.

  9. Scott:

    We recite the creed as we do because, after it was drawn up by some bishops sitting in Nicea and later in Constantinople, all of Chritendom accepted it. Why? Becasue the words that were written was what was always believed befoe Nicea to be true by everyone except for Arius and his disciples. Had the bishops assembled in Nicea wrote something else, such as more Sebellian or Arian, our ancestors would not have accepted it and would have run those bishops out of town.

    You misperceive my statement that an ecumenical council is not part of Orthodox “ecclesiology”. However, I stand by what I said: there is no Orthodox ecclesiolgy concerning ‘councils’. You make the statement that “A council is ecumenical if a wide enough area of the oikumene is represented or if, in any case, its representation is considered broad enough to take in the dissemination of the Apostolic Tradition”. What on oikumene does that mean? How wide an area is wide enough? How broad a representation is broad enough? You are right when you say there “has never been a black and white 100% standard”. But that is coming to an understanding of my point. It is not 100% black and white. It is not 50% black and white. It is not 0% black and white. It is and always has been as ambiguous as Robin’s “dark matter”. That is why I say there is no ecclesiology, only the post-history of reception.

    You say that “Most of your post above really only demonstrates that Orthodox history is quite sloppy. But we all knew that.” You are the only one that has said that. If others agree, then engage me with corrections. I do not take offense at the statement becasue it is made with the blinders of misapprehsion of their history.

    Let me begin by reiterating that Constantine call the First Council. Did Christ give him the power to ‘lord” over those who had the power to bind and loose? He ended up summoning about 1800 bishops, about a 1000 from the east and abou 800 fom the west. Only 318 showed up and only 7 (including two Roman legates) from the west. One could argue it was hardly a broad representation. What made it significant was the great minds that were there. What also made it significant is that they viewed their task as not legislating a creed for the church. They deemed their mission to be what the Fathers preceding them had already came to a consensus to over the first three centuries. In fact the rejected the notion of trying to collate, assemble and refer to the scriptural texts themselves. We recite the creed not because they decreed it per se but because it represents the thoughts and beliefs of the ante-Nicene Fathers.

    The Second Council was intended to be a local council of some bishops from Asia Minor. You seem to have taken issue with me on that in another post. Point me to some history that contrdicts what I just said. Only 150 bishops attended. The Pope was not invited and did not know about it until after the fact. No bishop from the west was invited. Hardly a broad representation. It was initially presided over by Melitius of Antioch who had been excommunicated by Rome. We don’t even know who called it. What made it significant was the even greater minds that were there. Again, we recite their portion of the creed not because they decreed it per se but because it represents the thoughts and beliefs of the ante-Nicene Fathers.

    I can go on through the other five but I don’t want to be tedious. I think the first two are sufficient to support my statement as to a lack of ecclesiology regarding councils. Acceptance based on expressions that have always been believed is the foundation for whether a council is ecumenical. In short “Sola Accipio”.

    I am familiar with Romanides, one of my favorite modern Orthodox theologians. And yes, he said what you say he said. However the councils universally regarded as ecumenical within the Orthodox Church seemed of themselves to have no sense of requiring a reception by the Church before they went into effect was because they thought what they said was already received by the Church because the prior Fathers had written on it and, as a result, it was already, among the Orthodox, accepted. That Scott is the key. The councils never viewed themselves as a legislative body when it came to dogma, although a number of them legislated in the diciplinary area through various canons. They viewed themselves as an investigative body, investigating what the Father wrote previous. Just read the Acts and it becomes obvious.

    They then viewed themselves as expressing in written form in the simplest but most ambiguous manner what they discern were the teaching of the Fathers. They were ambiguous at the Second concerning the Spirit being of one essence because Basil quite didn’t say it and they didn’t want to create a rift with the Cappodocians. They were ambiguous on the Nature at the Third hoping to avoid what has proved to be an unavoidable rift. They were ambiguous at the Fourth on the Will trying to reconcile with what Cyril had said and keep the Alexandrians in the fold. They tried to compromise it at the Fifth and Sixth but the rift was to deep. If they viewed their function as legislative, they would have legislated.

    One reason, I might add that Romanides points out, is that the Fathers not only had brilliant minds but he believes they all (or most) experienced theoria at varying levels and were therefore, in a manner of speaking, first hand witnesses to the energies of the Divine. Therefore, just plain old bishops in those councils, some of whom were good pastors, but not profound thinkers, and certainly not theorians (to coin a word) could hardly have thought themselves capable of being legislators of the final word.

    On a final note, I would not carry the bind and loose analogy into the realm of dogmatic theology. What its extent is (only the Apostles or their successors) is not settled theology. This is evident in the different absoution formulas of the Greek vs. the Slavic usage.

    And one last note: “Honor is not the point. The point is that the doctrines they proclaim are paramount.” Nope. The doctrines they witness and, through witness, confirm is more correct.

    So, there it is back.

    • Geo Michalopulos :

      Nick, if I may add, one reason we recite the Creed is because creeds existed in the Christian churches from the earliest of times. They weren’t uniform but it was considered that before a person could be baptised, he had to recite a list of beliefs before the local bishop who then decided if he was worthy. My point I guess is that in retrosect, we shouldn’t be surprised that I Nicaea decided to look at all the creeds and formulate a more complete one.

  10. And one last note: “Honor is not the point. The point is that the doctrines they proclaim are paramount.” Nope. The doctrines they witness and, through witness, confirm is more correct.

    Sorry, I didn’t finish my thought. The main structural, dogmatic difference between us and Rome is that Rome holds to the idea that we got morsels over time and will continue to get morsels through the Pope, especially as man matures and comes to higher levels of understanding. In other words the Church knows more today about itself and God than it did before. We are at the other end: once and for all time revealed unto the Apostles and the Church. That is why we do not create dogma, we just discern what was once and for all time given to us. A council legislating dogma would be heretical ab initio regardless of the validity of the dogma because it would be a blasphemy agaist the Holy Spirit. Why? Because Christ said the role of the Holy Spirit would be to bring us back to rememberance of what was delievered before Pentecost. Not that he would give us new dogmas in His good pleasure.

    • Scott Pennington :

      Nick,

      “And one last note: ‘Honor is not the point. The point is that the doctrines they proclaim are paramount.’ Nope. The doctrines they witness and, through witness, confirm is more correct.”

      Yep, and here’s why you’re wrong: The Ecumenical Councils are a tool of the Holy Spirit. It is not only that they witness and confirm something. It is that there is disagreement among Christians and they state which thing is correct teaching and draw lines outside of which one is not Orthodox; i.e., what they state is to be accepted as the Faith. There is no higher earthly authority. Hence, “paramount”. I do not suggest that what they proclaim was not always the faith and they invented a new thing. What they did is deliberate about Scripture and Tradition and find what the Faith has always been based on the criteria of catholicity. But their decrees are paramount because they clarify what for some/many was murky. If they weren’t meant to do that, to be a reliable source to settle correct doctrine and draw lines then, quite simply, they have no function and are of no more doctrinal significant than the individual icons in any given Orthodox church.

      I do not disagree when you lay out the objective facts of what happened in the various Councils. I just reject your interpretation of that history.

      “Let me begin by reiterating that Constantine call the First Council. Did Christ give him the power to ‘lord” over those who had the power to bind and loose?”

      And how many votes did the Emperor get to cast? Where is the record of him absolving sins? And when did he, on his own authority, proclaim a doctrine to be sound? The answer to your question, by the way, is “Yes, Christ did give him the power to “lord” over those who had the power to bind and loose.” He was called by God, “By this sign, you shall conquer.” But God did not give him the power to bind and loose that was given to the lowliest bishop.

      “A council legislating dogma would be heretical ab initio regardless of the validity of the dogma because it would be a blasphemy agaist the Holy Spirit.”

      The main function of a Council is to settle questions that plague the Church. A lesser function is to establish canon law so that all things run in seemly order. Pursuant to the main function, it investigates Tradition as the bishops have received it. They deliberate and issue statements of doctrine as well as statements of canon law. The statements of doctrine are paramount. We would not know what the Faith is unless there were some entity charged with sorting these things out. You do not seem to realize that Councils, just like the Apostolic Council, are not “legislating” in place of the Holy Spirit. They are guided by the Holy Spirit. “It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…”. That is why some theologians hold them to be a kind of supreme authority and others are willing to say that they are infallible. Not just any Council, mind you, but one that has been recognized over time to be ecumenical.

      I think you know a lot of facts but you don’t fully understand their significance. Far from reception being the strongest link in the development of doctrine, it is the weakest as Romanides observes. Really, it is a rationalization of the fact that Councils have erred and later the Church has self-corrected. We have all of these decrees of the Councils that form the basis of Orthodox teaching on the persons of the Trinity, the Two Natures of Christ, His Two Wills, the Iconography, etc. I do not suggest that Council’s create doctrine out of wholecloth, but the decision of an ecumenical council, confirmed by reception (dogs not barking), is the Faith, or at least the most reliable statement of what the Faith is. I think that is pretty well settled among Orthodox thinkers to the point that I have never actually read anyone who directly challenged it. I have heard of one or two thinkers who reduce the significance of Councils to a hodgepodge of accident and happenstance, but I don’t believe they represent mainstream Orthodox opinion. You do hear of that approach sometimes in Roman Catholic apologetics as an excuse for the Imperial Papacy and infalliblity.

      “However the councils universally regarded as ecumenical within the Orthodox Church seemed of themselves to have no sense of requiring a reception by the Church before they went into effect was because they thought what they said was already received by the Church because the prior Fathers had written on it and, as a result, it was already, among the Orthodox, accepted. That Scott is the key.”

      The key to what? You’re saying that the Councils felt no need to provide for a period of reception because their teaching was already accepted among the Orthodox. Then why have a Council? If it’s already accepted, there is no controversy and no need for a Council. I think you’ve put all your eggs in this basket and now you’re chasing your tail.

      “They then viewed themselves as expressing in written form in the simplest but most ambiguous manner what they discern were the teaching of the Fathers. They were ambiguous at the Second concerning the Spirit being of one essence because Basil quite didn’t say it and they didn’t want to create a rift with the Cappodocians. They were ambiguous on the Nature at the Third hoping to avoid what has proved to be an unavoidable rift. They were ambiguous at the Fourth on the Will trying to reconcile with what Cyril had said and keep the Alexandrians in the fold. They tried to compromise it at the Fifth and Sixth but the rift was to deep. If they viewed their function as legislative, they would have legislated.”

      Which goes to prove my point: The question has always been one of authority to state what doctrine is – – not to legislate, but to judge what is the Truth in the face of controversy. Which Fathers were accurate on which points? Which interpretation is to be given to this or that passage or idea in Scripture. How are controveries settled? The fact that they are to be settled implies . . . that’s right . . . you guessed it . . . authority to do so. It does also track a long held rule of American and English jurisprudence, “a judge is to settle the controversy before him by holding as little as possible to make the decision.” “Holding” is a term of art that refers to the judge’s power to state what the law is – – and for that statement to be binding. It is not the job of a judge to use a case to fly off the handle and pontificate about matters that are not necessary to address to settle the dispute. That simply multiplies controversies. If that is the case in the law, how much more so in theology. For, as St. Paul observed, “Now we see as if through a glass, darkly.”

      You seem to want to really downplay the significance of Councils in the life of the Church and I have to say I’ve never read anyone, or even met anyone, who looks at it that way in the Orthodox Church. Well, to each his own I suppose. The rest is between you, your priest and bishop, and God.

  11. Scott:

    You seem to want to really downplay the significance of Councils in the life of the Church and I have to say I’ve never read anyone, or even met anyone, who looks at it that way in the Orthodox Church.

    Now you go too far, Scott. I did not downplay the importance of the ecumenical councils in keeping us Orthodox. In fact I hold them in hight honor and esteem and believe all that they believe in. Not because they said so but because what they said was Orthodox grounded firmly in the unbderstanding of the patristic Fathers of what has always and once and for all times been handed down to the Apostles by the God-Man.

    You said, “‘Convene another Council and you could expand the Creed but not change what has already been stated (not that expanding it would be a good idea)”. That is what I am trying to prevent. First of all, I never said to change the creed. What I said was an observation that, based on the history of Filioque, had Nazianzus been listened to at the Second Council, the Filioque controversy would never have occurred. What I also said is that the rationale of the Filioque doctrine changed over time and became semi-Sebellian. Now it seems that Rome is trying to back-peddle and wants to change the creed to conform with Nazianzus. I did not say that we should do that. I would tell them to drop the Filioque and issue a western doctrinal statement consistent with Nazianzus that the Spirt if of the same essence. We Orthodox don’t need to say it because we have always believed it. End of controversy over that issue! Under their ecclesiology, the Pope personally needs to sign the 1995 clarification and emboss it on silver shields and place it on the door of St. Peter’s.

    I saw on another of your posts on another thread that you used to be Anglican. (Note, I did not use the “E” word). That is of no consequence now that we are brother Orthodox. Welcome with open arms, my brother, to Orthodoxy. What I am worried about is that sometimes some (not all) Westerners come into Orthodoxy with some baggage, just as Mogila, because of so many western professors he brought to the Kievan school, he himself brought some baggage that has held some in Orthodoxy in the “Western Captivity” from which we are slowly removing.

    One of the baggages is this juridical obsession. You even lecture to me, an American lawyer:

    It does also track a long held rule of American and English jurisprudence, “a judge is to settle the controversy before him by holding as little as possible to make the decision.” “Holding” is a term of art that refers to the judge’s power to state what the law is – – and for that statement to be binding. It is not the job of a judge to use a case to fly off the handle and pontificate about matters that are not necessary to address to settle the dispute. That simply multiplies controversies. If that is the case in the law, how much more so in theology.

    And now, you fall into the Western trap of looking at councils in a western juridical mindset. “They are the highest authority”, you assert. No they are not. The only authority in the Church is Jesus Christ, the God-Man. St. Justin of Celije says that the Pope removed Christ from the equation by making himself the highest authority. He also said that the only difference between Rome and Protestants is that they cloned the Pope and made every Christian the higest authority. That is why Khomiakov said Protestants were crypto-papists. They are the flip side of the same coin, only in numbers of who has authority do they differ.

    There is still a “western captivity” mindset in people who expound your juridical position. The only difference is from the one (“Pope”) to the many (“Protestants”) you are asserting a middle ground, namely the “some” (the Bishops). No brother, Scott, the Holy Spirit does not automatically reside in a council just because they consist of some or even all bishops. Too many councils there have been and too many have erred. The God-Man has the sole authority and He passed His teaching on once and for all times. That is the sole authority!

    I have a challenge for you. Copy all my posts and yours and send them to the two most renowned theologians of today: John of Pergamon and Athanasius (Jevtic) in Serbia. I will live by their decision as to whether I am right or wrong and, if wrong, I will seek repentance.

    • Scott Pennington :

      “And now, you fall into the Western trap of looking at councils in a western juridical mindset. “They are the highest authority”, you assert. No they are not. The only authority in the Church is Jesus Christ, the God-Man.”

      No. Jesus Christ is not the only authority. That is simply not true. God the Father is an authority, God the Holy Spirit is an authority who confirms the decisions of valid EC’s. To deny the authority of the Father and the Spirit is quite a reckless statement, but typical of the simplistic prattle that comes from low church Protestants.

      First of all, I have fallen in no “Western trap”. Usually when Orthodox draw a distinction between Western juridical concepts and Eastern concepts, it is in the vein of the cliche, “Western Christianity sees the spiritual world as a courtroom, Eastern Christianity sees it as a hospital.” or some such formulation. But comparing Conciliar decisions to the Western legal system is perfectly fine if there is an analogy to be highlighted. We’re not talking about soteriology but about the development of doctrine. Keep your eye on the ball.

  12. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    I saw on another of your posts on another thread that you used to be Anglican. (Note, I did not use the “E” word). That is of no consequence now that we are brother Orthodox. Welcome with open arms, my brother, to Orthodoxy. What I am worried about is that sometimes some (not all) Westerners come into Orthodoxy with some baggage, just as Mogila, because of so many western professors he brought to the Kievan school, he himself brought some baggage that has held some in Orthodoxy in the “Western Captivity” from which we are slowly removing.

    And now, you fall into the Western trap of looking at councils in a western juridical mindset. “They are the highest authority”, you assert. No they are not. The only authority in the Church is Jesus Christ, the God-Man. St. Justin of Celije says that the Pope removed Christ from the equation by making himself the highest authority. He also said that the only difference between Rome and Protestants is that they cloned the Pope and made every Christian the higest authority. That is why Khomiakov said Protestants were crypto-papists. They are the flip side of the same coin, only in numbers of who has authority do they differ.

    I was waiting for this. Nick is right Scott. Your default position, and I mean this charitably, I really do, is to draw up structures and then imbue them with an authority that they don’t intrinsically have — abstract structures never do.

    It’s like the apologetic so popular in Orthodox circles that equates tradition with scripture. Sola-scriptura means subjective interpretation the reasoning goes, but we have tradition. Tradition is of equal authority as scripture thus we are right and the Protestants wrong.

    It is utter and complete nonsense. Sola-scriptura never meant subjective interpretation. Luther was trying to establish the primacy of scripture over Roman and Papal claims to absolute authority, and he was right on the mark in doing so. He drew from the Fathers in his apologetic. So first off the popular Orthodox reading of history is flat out wrong. Secondly, the claim that scripture and tradition are equal in authority is also wrong. Tradition is derived from the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Only the Apostles delivered that Gospel because they received it directly from God (an audacious claim on its face). Everyone else receives the Gospel from the Apostles, which is to say scripture since that is where their words are kept.

    Tradition is authoritative to the measure it draws from the Gospel, but that authority is necessarily derivative, subject to the words of the Apostle. The scripture in other words is not authoritative because the Church or a council canonized it, but because it flows from Him who is Truth and the source and Judge of all that exists. There is one authority in the Church — Jesus Christ. The Church canonized scripture because it comes from Him who is True. That’s where the scripture’s authority lies. They are not authoritative because the Church canonized them. See the difference?

    The apologetic is simply the Protestant approach to scripture from another direction, the flip side of the same coin. And it hides something that the Orthodox need to recover (and which the juridical mindset perverted): Truth is dynamic, flowing, creative, restorative and cannot be bound by time, structures, or even ideas. This point stated in the most fundamental way is this: Truth is not propositional. We don’t build superstructures (towers of Babel, ideological systems, flow charts) in order to comprehend what the Truth really is. There is no such thing as an ordered, objective, and static structure to the Church. It is either a dynamic entity (and thus can function differently in different historical epochs) or it is danger of obliteration because the Gospel will destroy anything that tries to contain it — including our ideas and even our Church were it to claim it is Truth.

    Your static notions of the Church guarantee nothing. Look at the Churches in Revelations that fell. That was merely one generation removed from Christ. What does john the Apostle say was the reason? They fell from their first love, which is to say they lost track of Christ. He is the one who constituted the Church in the beginning and reconstitutes in every generation through the preaching of His Gospel. That’s all there is to it. Nothing more. He is before all things and by Him all things consist. If our churches still function where this love is lost, it means nothing. White-washed sepulchers, nothing more, even though the food might be good and the social hour friendly.

    We converts (and I am speaking of myself here but the experience is probably true for many) come into Orthodoxy for many reasons but a major one is that we wanted Christ but were exhausted by the chaos all around us. In Orthodoxy I found coherence. Here was wisdom that could explain some of the things I already experienced with Christ in ways that rang true to the deepest levels of my soul. That’s the Gospel, the transformative word that lets a blind man see. But the life is not in the structures or processes. It’s in the vivifying breath that, because the Lord is merciful, still gives voice to the word that has its source in the Divine Word because men and women of ages past were faithful. That why the services, the Councils, the writings, mediate the life that comes from Him who is Life. It took me a while to understand this, and I don’t think I would have seen it as clearly had I not lived in Greece for a year. Once it is grasped however, it stays with you as long as you fan the flame that is within you as St. Paul instructed Timothy through prayer and other disciplines, but actually mostly by bearing the cross without spite so that it can drive you to prayer and find that measure of salvation, of Christ, that lets you live another day.

    You’ve got to listen to Nick, Scott. He is trying to show you something, a clearer way of seeing.

    • Geo Michalopulos :

      Fr Hans, much to think about here. I especially like your drawing out of the distinctions that you do.

      Nick, although I agree with you that +John of Pergamon is probably one of the greatest theologians of the day (and perhaps of all time), I can’t help but shake the feeling that he’s been somewhat compromised by the entire Chambesy process (of which he was chairman). I can’t and won’t say that the protocols that came out of it were illegitimate but the reasoning behind them displayed remarkable ecclesiological gymnastics that are proving to be unworkable. Even as we speak the rumblings coming out of Moscow and Damscus against the entire process confirms my long-held belief that the entire Chambesy process was merely a way to derail American Orthodox unity and autocephaly. (I know, I know: I’m sounding like a broken record.)

      What further complicates my estimation of Zizioulas (who is a theologian of the first rank) is his acceptance of a defunct title. He is now that most curious of all fabulous creatures, an auxiliary metropolitan. I would have more respect for Istanbul if it admitted that these sees are extinct and rather than appointing archbishops to them, they at least had the good sense and decorum –if they’re going to engage in this nonsense–to style these bishops as “auxiliary bishop of X,” rather than “Metropolitan of X.”

      Still, you’re right. His books, especially Being as Communion, are nothing but praiseworthy. (At the risk of belaboring the point, he writes in this book that the idea of an auxiliary bishop itself is an oxymoron.)

      • George:

        Still, you’re right. His books, especially Being as Communion, are nothing but praiseworthy. (At the risk of belaboring the point, he writes in this book that the idea of an auxiliary bishop itself is an oxymoron.)

        Indeed he does. Which is what intrigues me about him. He says a bishop is only a bishop if he has a place and a flock. Yet he has no place or flock. Go fugure? Say as I say even though I do not that which I say is still normative in this messed up modern culture of ours.

    • Fr. Hans:

      Tradition is derived from the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Only the Apostles delivered that Gospel because they received it directly from God (an audacious claim on its face). Everyone else receives the Gospel from the Apostles, which is to say scripture since that is where their words are kept.

      I believe that Tradition is not entirely derived from the Gospel, if by Gospel we understand only the written word. Sola scriptura, the defining principle of Protestantism, misses this unrecorded part of the word of God, preserved in the Orthodox Church through Tradition.

      Excerpts from: Elder Cleopa of Romania. On Holy Tradition
      From the day of its establishment (33 AD) until the year 44 AD, when the the Holy Apostle Matthew wrote the first Gospel [1], the Church was governed without the Scriptures of the New Testament, but only with the Holy Tradition of which only a part was later recorded.

      Listen to what the divine Evangelist John says: “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen” (Jn. 21:25). Again the same Evangelist declares in one of his epistles: “Having many things to write unto you, I would not write with paper and ink: but I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face, that our joy may be full” (2 Jn. 1:12). So, you see that the holy evangelist, when he had the ability, taught his disciples more with the living voice of Tradition than by sending them epistles. While your friends keep at all costs only so much as is written, they don’t take into account that both the Saviour and the majority of His Apostles did not leave anything written, but rather taught orally, with the living voice of Tradition.

      Holy Tradition is the teaching of the Church, God-given with a living voice, from which a portion was later written down. As with Holy Scripture, so, too, Holy Tradition contains Holy Revelation, and is, therefore, fundamental for our salvation. Holy Tradition is the life of the Church in the Holy Spirit and, consonant with the enduring life of the Church, is thus a wellspring of Holy Revelation, such that, consequently, it possesses the same authority as Holy Scripture.

    • Scott Pennington :

      Fr. Johannes,

      Most of what you wrote above is incorrect. First of all, Scripture is part of Tradition. It may be the most significant part, but it is part of Holy Tradition. Bp. Kallistos is quite clear on this. He considers Scripture, the decrees of Ecumenical Councils, iconography, etc. to be sources of Tradition.

      Second, Sola Scriptura is heresy – – period. For example:

      St. Basil the Great(A.D. 329-379), Bishop of Caesarea, writes:

      “Of the dogmas and kergymas preserved in the Church, some we possess from written teaching and others we receive from the tradition of the Apostles, handed on to us in mystery. In respect to piety both are of the same force. No one will contradict any of these, no one, at any rate, who is even moderately versed in manners ecclesiastical. Indeed, were we to try to reject the unwritten customs as having no great authority, we would unwittingly injure the Gospel in its vitals; or rather, we would reduce kergyma to a mere term” (Holy Spirit 27:66).

      Epiphanius of Salamis:
      “It is needful also to make use of tradition, for not everything can be gotten from sacred Scripture. The holy apostles handed down some things in the scriptures, other things in tradition” (Medicine Chest Against All Heresies 61:6 [A.D. 375]).”

      St. John Chrysostom:
      “[Paul commands,] ‘Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word or by our letter’ [2 Thess. 2:15]. From this it is clear that they did not hand down everything by letter, but there is much also that was not written. Like that which was written, the unwritten too is worthy of belief. So let us regard the tradition of the Church also as worthy of belief. Is it a tradition? Seek no further” (Homilies on Second Thessalonians [A.D. 402]).

      St. vincent of Lerins:
      “Here, perhaps, someone may ask: ‘If the canon of the scriptures be perfect and in itself more than suffices for everything, why is it necessary that the authority of ecclesiastical interpretation be joined to it?’ Because, quite plainly, sacred Scripture, by reason of its own depth, is not accepted by everyone as having one and the same meaning. . . . thus, because of so many distortions of such various errors, it is highly necessary that the line of prophetic and apostolic interpretation be directed in accord with the norm of the ecclesiastical and catholic meaning” (The Notebooks [A.D. 434]).

      Where you’re going wrong is that you think there is some dichotomy between Scripture and Tradition whereby one compares Tradition with Scripture to see if it is justified in terms of Scripture. This is not Orthodoxy. First, who gets to judge Tradition in terms of Scripture? Second, Tradition came before Scripture and part of Tradition is what is recorded in Scripture. The two cannot contradict because they come from the same source: the Apostolic Witness as passed down through the ages. The Protestants were dead wrong in positing Scripture as somehow being a policing force over Tradition. Tradition is how we know what Scripture means in detail and how we know what the Faith is concerning points not covered explicitly in Scripture. You’re trapped in a Protestant mindset that is more reminiscent to me of middle church Anglicans than anything Orthodox. The real question that the Reformers could have asked is not whether Holy Tradition is valid in and of itself as being of the same source as Scripture (and thereby they created a weapon to use against Rome) but what is necessary for something to be considered part of Holy Tradition. If they’d followed that line of thought instead of making Scripture a kind of Occam’s Razor, they might have ended up in Orthodoxy (rather than trying to convice the Orthodox of their errors, as they did with Patriarch Jeremiah of Constantinople).

      You wrote:
      “Tradition is authoritative to the measure it draws from the Gospel, but that authority is necessarily derivative, subject to the words of the Apostle. The scripture in other words is not authoritative because the Church or a council canonized it, but because it flows from Him who is Truth and the source and Judge of all that exists. There is one authority in the Church — Jesus Christ. The Church canonized scripture because it comes from Him who is True. That’s where the scripture’s authority lies. They are not authoritative because the Church canonized them. See the difference?”

      You all have some mental block to recognizing what to me is so obvious that it’s almost not worth mentioning: “Subject to the words of the Apostle” in whose estimation? “Because it flows from Him who is Truth and the source and Judge of all that exists.” and who says that a particular thing flows from Him? “There is one authority in the Church — Jesus Christ.” No, there is also the Father and the Spirit; however, how do we know, precisely, how they wish us to perceive their authority? “The Church canonized scripture because it comes from Him who is True.” And by what authority did they know it is true and proclaim it to be so?

      “You’ve got to listen to Nick, Scott. He is trying to show you something, a clearer way of seeing.”

      Hardly. You are both so confused you can’t make much sense at all.

      Eliot’s quote said it best:

      “Holy Tradition is the teaching of the Church, God-given with a living voice, from which a portion was later written down. As with Holy Scripture, so, too, Holy Tradition contains Holy Revelation, and is, therefore, fundamental for our salvation. Holy Tradition is the life of the Church in the Holy Spirit and, consonant with the enduring life of the Church, is thus a wellspring of Holy Revelation, such that, consequently, it possesses the same authority as Holy Scripture.”

      That is the Faith.

      • Scott Pennington :

        The doctrinal teaching of the Bible and the Ecumenical Synods constitutes the content of the Faith and the unmovable basis of orthodox dogmatics. The body of the Church, which consists of clergy and laymen, is the carrier of the infallibility of the Church, where the Holy Spirit protects it from making error. But the voice of the Church for expressing its infallibility is its highest authority – the Ecumenical Synod in which the whole pleroma (people of the Church) is represented by its bishops.. The decisions of these Synods are sources of the teaching of the Church. There are utterances of the synods (oroi) which directly express the dogmatical teaching of the Church, and some canons which hold dogmatical teachings, although they mainly deal with discipline and administration in the Church. The Ecumenical Synods are the main sources of the truths of the Church. The Symbol of Nicaea established by the First and Second Synods is repeatedly restated in the five Ecumenical Synods that followed through the eighth century.
        – Goarch website

        The first correspondence related to attempts at unity between the Orthodox Church and the new Lutheran Church took place in the sixteenth century. A group of German theologians at the University of Tubingen, under the leadership of Jacob Andreae and Martin Crusius, sent Stephen Gerlack to Constantinople to present to Patriarch Jeremiah II on May 24, 1575, three letters and the Augsburg Confession translated in Greek. Their goal was to explore possible unity of the new movement with the Ancient Orthodox Church. The Patriarch sent the first of three lengthy answers to the theologians on May 15, 1576, through the German embassy. The theologians then sent a detailed reply to the Patriarch. In all, the correspondence on the Augsburg Confession resulted in three answers and three replies. The death of the principles on both sides ended this effort. The three Answers of Patriarch Jeremiah II of Constantinople are important sources that restate the accurate teachings of the Orthodox Church. Jeremiah’s correspondence was the first contact of the Orthodox Church with the new Protestant movement.
        – Goarch website

        “All these things which we have spoken, beloved, are founded, as you very well know, upon the inspired Scriptures, according to the interpretation and the sound teaching and explanation of our wise and holy theologians [the Fathers of the Church]. For we may not rely upon our own interpretation and understand and interpret any of the words of the inspired Scripture except in accord with the theologizing Fathers who have been approved by the Holy Synods, [inspired] by the Holy Spirit for a pious purpose, lest our thought, like that of Proteus move around here and there, deviating from the correct evangelical teaching, from true wisdom and from prudence. But someone will say, how can these things be corrected? In this way: with the help of God.

        Let no one undertake or think anything contrary to the decisions of the Holy Apostles and the Holy Synods. He who uprightly keeps this principle will be a partner with us in our rejoicing, a member of our community and one who holds the same faith. But what communion would one have with us, who rejects the aforementioned canons and opposes the Apostles and shamelessly turns himself against the Holy Apostles? What part could he have with us? Somewhere one of the teachers [of the Church] says to those who strive to be pious: “One who speaks contrary to the things which have been decided—even though he is trustworthy [cf. l Cor 4:2; 9:1], lives as a virgin, does wonders, and prophesies—is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, who causes the ruin of the sheep.” Another teacher says: “It shakes loose something that seemed good to the God-bearing Fathers, that cannot be called administration, but violation and betrayal of the dogma.” Still another teacher [Saint Basil] says:

        One who has the judgment of Christ before his eyes, who has seen the great danger that threatens those who dare to subtract from or add to those things which have been handed down by the Spirit, must not be ambitious to innovate, but must content himself with those things which have been proclaimed by the saints. [Against Eunomius 2, PG 29.573-652]

        Therefore, since so many and such important of our theologizing Fathers forbid thinking otherwise, there is only one correction: conform to the Holy Synod and follow the canons of the Apostles and, thus, follow Christ in all things.” – From the Three Answers of Patriarch Jeremiah

      • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

        I think you are confusing the proper historical understanding of sola-scriptura with modern Orthodox polemics. Sola-scriptura, historically understood, sought to restore the primacy of the apostolic teaching over claims of the primacy of the magisterium. This is different than modern polemical definition which seeks to delegitimize the Pietist strand within modern Protestantism.

        And read through your quotes again. All of them confirm that the source of authority is the apostolic teaching. That’s why all tradition is ultimately subject to the Gospel delivered by the Apostles.

        Where you’re going wrong is that you think there is some dichotomy between Scripture and Tradition whereby one compares Tradition with Scripture to see if it is justified in terms of Scripture.

        Read what I said more closely. Drawing a distinction between Scripture and tradition does not create a “dichotomy”. I said that Tradition has a derivative authority because it has to be subject to the Gospel, the apostolic teaching. That is how we ultimately judge whether some Tradition is true and some is not. By your logic, we could just as easily carry out the Rudder during the small entrance and venerate that.

        Actually, I think you are still working in a Protestant model. You have just shifted the notion of “infallibility” from scripture and pope and placed in the Church. Your argument is not really about the proper locus of authority, it’s about the notion that authority and infallibility are synonymous terms.

        The GOARCH quote BTW, overstates the case. The councils ratify the teachings, they are not the source of them. Compared to the entire corpus of teaching in the Orthodox Church, the councils’ decrees make up only a small part.

        • Scott Pennington :

          “And read through your quotes again. All of them confirm that the source of authority is the apostolic teaching. That’s why all tradition is ultimately subject to the Gospel delivered by the Apostles.”

          No Fr. Johannes, you read through the quotes again. What they state is that there is this one thing, The Apostolic Teaching. Some of it was written down as Scripture, some was passed on in unwritten forms only later to be written down. And it says they are of equal authority. It directly contradicts what you’re saying.

          “Actually, I think you are still working in a Protestant model. You have just shifted the notion of “infallibility” from scripture and pope and placed in the Church.”

          Not at all. I have never claimed infallibility for the Councils. I quoted GOARCH not for the purpose of their statement on infallibility of the Church but because, in general, they support what I have stated and refute what you have.

          However, over time, I think it is probably true that the Church is infallible. One could gather that by Christ’s promise that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

          The whole schema you have related from the authority of Councils to sola scriptura to a number of other things is simply not the teaching of the Church. It may be the belief of some little clique of scholars or some subset of modernist Orthodoxy. It may be what you want Orthodoxy to be, but that is not my concern.

        • Scott Pennington :

          “By your logic, we could just as easily carry out the Rudder during the small entrance and venerate that.”

          Then your powers of logic leave much to be desired. The Rudder is a compendium of canon law. No one I know of has elevated canon law to the level of dogmatic decrees. But you knew that, of course.

          “Your argument is not really about the proper locus of authority, it’s about the notion that authority and infallibility are synonymous terms.”

          Perhaps that is what you want my argument to be about. Maybe that would be easier for you. You and Nick both have a strong tendency to set up straw dummies and battle those instead of what I actually said.

          Authority and infallibility are not synonymouns terms. A bishop has authority. No bishop has infallibility. My argument is about what I first stated far above: the problem we have with Rome and the Oriental Orthodox is not so much about doctrine as it is about “the proper locus of authority”, as you put it.

  13. Thank you Father Hans for further clarifying this in such a pastoral way since I sometimes fall into a polemic mode.

    I think the ultimate key in understanding everything with regard to the temporal mission of the Holy Spirit and where “authority” in Orthodoxy properly lies is found in John 14:25-26: “These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. But the helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your rememberance all things that I said to you”. I don’t think there is any other way to interpret this except to say that Christ is the sole authority having already said and delivered to the Apostles once and for all everything that they needed to know. But sometimes we forget or don’t see clearly enough what was said. And, the Spirit’s temporal mission is to bring us back to His words by helping us to remember them.

    That is what the Fathers did — they profoundly reflected on His words as given to us in Scripture and “remembered”, through the help of the Holy Spirit, their meaning. And that is why they left to us their insights and not textbooks of systematic or dogmatic theology. That is why our inheritance from them is Patristic/Pastoral and not philosophical/scholastic/juridical/authoritarian/anthrocentric. That dichotomy, in my view, will be the biggest stumbling block in restoring communion with Rome but, more importantly, if it is ever somehow restored, in maintaining it.

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

      Yes, Nick, that is exactly what the Fathers did. And they did it because that is what the Apostles did. There is no systematic theology in scripture, not even in St. Paul’s epistles which are arguably the most complex portions of scripture. To extract a systematic theology from them is to read preconceptions into them thereby defiling their character and intent which closes the mind to their meaning except in the most superficial ways, moralistic bromides and such.

      I was hunting for an icon for a website I was building and many of the popular images of Jesus through the centuries popped up. Very interesting. From the fifties onward popular images of Christ were deliberately feminine. The art was a harbinger of what was to come. That’s what happens when the mind loses Light.

  14. Michael Bauman :

    I have to raise a question: if the Holy Spirit is the the life of the Church, does not the structure, including the councils mediate the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is a person. Is there a way in which the Holy Spirit is incarnate in the Church and moves through the Church in ways he does not elsewhere?

    I think of a flow of water that when allowed to disapate over a wide area doesn’t do much. However, when channeled and focused through a hose or other type of constrictive device, it becomes quite powerful. Wind works the same way.

    Do we risk deemphasizing structure too much?

    • Michael: Not in the least do we risk anything. The Holy Spirit is our gift which we receive in chrismation. We don’t need a mediator between each of us and the Spirit. He has a direct relationship with each of us. In partistic writing, he is often described as the mediator of life. Indeed, that is why the creed refers to him as the Giver of Life.

      And yes, he is a Person, but that is a theological term and not within the meaning of “person” in the anthropomorphic sense. And, as you know, he is often likened to wind in scripture and patristic writings because he “flows” freely without impediment.

      • Michael Bauman :

        Nick, then why a hierarchy at all? Why specific rubrics for worship and the proper celebration of the sacraments?

  15. Nick:

    I think the ultimate key in understanding everything with regard to the temporal mission of the Holy Spirit and where “authority” in Orthodoxy properly lies is found in John 14:25-26: “These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. But the helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your rememberance all things that I said to you”. I don’t think there is any other way to interpret this except to say that Christ is the sole authority having already said and delivered to the Apostles once and for all everything that they needed to know. But sometimes we forget or don’t see clearly enough what was said. And, the Spirit’s temporal mission is to bring us back to His words by helping us to remember them.

    What you wrote is in agreement with Elder Cleopa of Romania. On Holy Tradition

    The teachings of the Church of Christ are safeguarded by the Holy Spirit and cannot err (Mat. 10:17-20, John 4: 16-26, 1 Tim. 3:15). Its very founder, Jesus Christ governs it in an unseen way, until the end of the ages (Mat. 28:20). If some ecclesiastical writers, hierarchs, priests or laity translated the Bible from another language or amended some passage of which an expression does not correspond to the present-day speech of our people, this would be an adjustment and modification of expression and not a serious alteration of the substance of the Biblical text. If today a Romanian from the time of the Elder Mirtsea or Stephan the Great (1504) were resurrected and you wanted to speak with him, you would understand him with difficulty, the language having developed, no longer being exactly that which was spoken then. That’s exactly what happened regarding the books. With the passage of time the writers’ words or expressions were amended with suitable present-day language, without however, changing the meaning of the profound and sacred writings. Previously, I referred you to the foundation upon which Holy Tradition rests and by what means the preservation of its authentic original image is ensured and is conveyed through the ages. This refers to, namely, the ancient Symbol of Faith (The Creed), the apostolic canons and the dogmatic decisions of the seven [2] Oecumenical Councils. To these can also be added the following monumental and meaningful testaments – assurances of the unimpaired preservation of the Holy Tradition:

    – The acts of the early Church, the witnesses of the company of the apostles, amongst whom are Saint Ignatius the God-bearer (+104 AD), a disciple of the Apostles and Saint Polycarp of Smyrna (+106 AD). These Fathers admonished the faithful of their day to safeguard themselves from the teachings of heretics and to maintain in the full only the Apostolic Tradition (Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History, Bk 2:36).

    – Hegessipus, Eusebius tells us5, attempted to collect the whole of the apostolic traditions and nearly managed it, gathering more than five books worth of material that Eusebius studied. Unfortunately, with the passage of time, these books were eventually lost (Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History, Bk 4:8).

    – Saint Irenaeus (+202 AD) and Clement of Alexandria (+215 AD) inform us: “Those who explain Scripture without the help of the Church’s Tradition cut asunder the significance of truth” (Stromatis, pg 7).

    Behold, further, those brilliant witnesses representing the faith of apostolic times and the period immediately following it up until the fourth century. The acts of the ancient Church are an important testimony to the value of the Holy Tradition and honour shown it from those times until today.

    – Origin (+250 AD) says: “Preserve the Holy Tradition in the Church.”

    – St. Epiphanios (+403 AD) writes: “It is necessary to hold to the Tradition because it is not possible for everything to be found in Holy Scripture. The Holy Apostles handed down some things via the written word, while others via the spoken.”

    – Saint John Chrysostom (+407 AD) says: “Hence it is clear that the Holy Apostles did not deliver everything by epistle; rather many things they handed down via the spoken word which is also trustworthy. If there is the Tradition, then don’t ask for anything more” (4th Homily on 2 Thess. See verse 2:45)

    – Saint Gregory of Nyssa (+394 AD) writes: “We have the Tradition set out for us from the Fathers like an inheritance by apostolic succession and transmitted via the saints” (Against Eunomius, Book 40).

    – Saint Basil the Great (+379 AD) in his writings provides similar testimony. Here is how he expresses it: “Among the dogmas and kerygma (evangelical truths) that are safeguarded in the Church, some we have from the written teachings while others we’ve received orally from the Tradition of the Apostles by a concealed succession. The later hold the same legitimacy and force as the written texts” (On the Holy Spirit)

  16. Scott Pennington :

    Guys, and Fr. Hans,

    I think I’ve said enough about this. If you’re not convinced by the quote from the book of Acts regarding it seeming good to the Holy Spirit, and you’re not convinced that the Councils are the ultimate vehicle for ascertaining what Tradition is, then I can’t convince you of the obvious.

    I guess my final questions to you all are these: To whom do we turn to ascertain whether an Ecumenical Council, received by the people, is in error? And why should we abide by it’s decisions regarding what the correct understanding of the faith is? It is absolutely of no use whatsoever to say, “Because the decision is in agreement with Scripture and Tradition.” Who says so and why is their opinion important? And how is it that a true Ecumenical Council has the power to draw lines as to what is Orthodox teaching and what is not? And if it does not, who or what does? And if no one but Christ does, how do we ascertain the will of Christ with any certainty?

    These are all important questions and, given your amorphous understanding of the role of Ecumenical Councils, it is difficult to see how the Orthodox Faith has any substance at all. You obviously know that Protestants, many in good faith, disagree regarding what Scripture means and what is proper doctrine. People can disagree about these things, in good faith, based on Scripture and Tradition. There is no way to sort out Arianism, Monophysitism, Iconoclasm, etc. as opposed to Orthodoxy absent some entity which has the authority to settle the question. The question of the Judaizers was settled, and confirmed by the Holy Spirit, at the Apostolic Council of Jerusalem.

    It boggles the mind that I’m even having this conversation with Orthodox believers. Honestly, I can’t believe that we’re discussing this in good faith.

  17. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    I guess my final questions to you all are these: To whom do we turn to ascertain whether an Ecumenical Council, received by the people, is in error?

    Ultimately the Lord. One of St. John Chrysostom’s exiles was decreed by a council of bishops led by the Patriarch of Antioch. In retrospect the error is clear. But that clarity was no doubt hard won, starting with the person, or handful of people, who had the initial clarity and spoke against it. From where did he get his authority? The bishops? A council? The Patriarch of Antioch?

    Or perhaps it was a bishop that first objected. From where was his authority drawn? Was it the last council, the same one that decreed St. Chrysostom was a false teacher? What if his superior was the Patriarch of Antioch? Was that bishop in disobedience, in sin? Was he undermining the authority of the Church?

    Truth, Scott, enters the world through a word. Truth needs no final verification, no appeal to a higher authority. If it did need an appeal, if it were reliant on another process or structure to confirm its veracity, then it would not be truth. It would only be a proposition purporting to be true (some propositions are true, some false). That’s why the source and end is the Gospel, the preaching of which reveals Him who is the Truth. The preaching of the Gospel constitutes the Church (“Peter preached and then the Lord added to the Church those who would be saved…”) and must reconstitute it in every generation. Christ is the final criterion of truth because He is Truth.

    Fortunately we have a Tradition, of court of appeal, adjudication, and instruction. But the authority of Tradition does not lie in the definition of how the Tradition functions. The Tradition has authority because it is derived from the Gospel, the word of the apostles that came from the Word of God (only the apostles, like the prophets before them, received their words directly from God). We trust it because it was crafted and shaped by men who stood in that Gospel. Tradition reaches into that apostolic word and reveals Christ.

    Your objection is that this approach reads like a prescription for anarchy. Well, I suppose someone could misuse it and justify tearing down the strongholds but then he would not be standing in truth and would face the vicissitudes and judgments that his lies will inevitably incur. On the other hand, if a bishop does walk not in truth (or “in the spirit” at St. Paul teaches), then guard your soul lest you be tempted or, worse, scandalized.

    Truth is not built. It is not propositional. Truth is revealed.

    • Fr. Hans wrote: ‘Truth is not built. It is not propositional. Truth is revealed.’

      Which, apropos another discussion on this blog, is _most exactly_ an affirmation of the scientific method. Experiment is the way by which we are careful in the scientific arena about understanding what is revealed in the course of the experiment. Scientific experiment does not build truth, neither is it propositional, when properly done to the limits of the experimenter’s ability it reveals what is. Scientific theory then is deployed to build a propositional narrative to be in accord with all experimental results to date. And the measure of a theory? Whether it comports with all experiment to date and suggests further experiement which will either confirm or falsify it. Those theories which propose no experiment are not accorded with the title ‘theory’.

      Thoughout all time, there has always ever been only one thing that has never changed in science: that an experiment conducted the same way in the same context will deliver the same result. Nobody gives that the credit it deserves. There is something most very fair and comforting about it.

    • Scott Pennington :

      “Your objection is that this approach reads like a prescription for anarchy.”

      No, my objection to this approach is that it is not an accurate description of Orthodoxy.

      But, to each his own. After all, who can say?

    • Scott Pennington :

      “Truth needs no final verification, no appeal to a higher authority. If it did need an appeal, if it were reliant on another process or structure to confirm its veracity, then it would not be truth.”

      Utterly incorrigible. The question is not whether an Ecumencal Council can invent Truth. The question is “how is Truth is discerned”, or, more direclty, “Who says so?”. You all leave it up to individuals if you do not leave it up to some person or group. Bibles do not speak. Hold one up to your ear some time. If it speaks, seek medical attention.

      You are arguing that everyone “just knows” that this or that teaching agrees with Scripture and the Fathers as if it is somehow self-evident. It is certainly not. I am quite certain that there are many sincere Catholics who are well read in Holy Tradition and simply, sincerly, disagree with us. They do so because the choose to have faith in different sources of authority. Many may very well do so believing sincerely and with a strong intellect that Catholicism is the Truth.

      You are asserting utter nonsense.

      I do not disagree that Truth is Truth in and of itself. It is the recognition of Truth that is the problem.

  18. Scott: You have finally asked the correct question although I will restate it more succinctly: Does the Orthodox Church have any substance at all and, if it does, how do I find the substance to sort out Arianism, Monophysitism, Iconoclasm, etc. and who has the final authority to settle the question?

    Short answer: By contemplating what Jesus Christ did on earth and told the Apostles who, in turn, told us.

    The problem with modern Protestants is they read the words of the Scripture and comprehend not the wholeness of its substance.

    Try an exercise. Take either Arianism, Nestorianism, Monophyitism, Monothelielism or Judaizersim. Ignore everything you find in Acts or the Epistles for a moment. Focus on the Gospels. Don’t just read the words or focus only on what Christ said. Contemplate what He said, absolutely. But also focus on who He was and what he did (i.e. His actions). See if you discern, after that study and contemplation (with some level of inner silence, if possible) and see if you can conclude that the objection to any of the “isms” is not only there but is also obvious. Its is probably easier to start with Judaizerism to begin with. Then contemplate if any Orthodox could conclude otherwise than what the council witnessed and confirmed.

    Don’t give up on us. Learn with us as we ourselves continue to learn and behold the wonder that the Church is Christ’s body and only Christ has authority over his body. This is not a road to anarchy but to enlightenment.

    I think you will slowly begin to see that Orthodoxy has total substance (“Truth”) and that the sole authority must be Christ.

  19. Michael Bauman :

    The key here is that we are a body. Not an amophous mass of molecules. A body pre-supposes a hierarchial arrangement. We are not the Council’s body, we are Jesus body on earth.

    The Councils articulate the truth that is already in the body. They don’t make it up or rule on it. They recognize it and give it more concise and specific form. They are summoned to bear witness to the truth.

    • Scott Pennington :

      Michael,

      Yes. And received Ecumenical Councils are owed a duty of acceptance by the faithful. In fact, what a truly Ecumenical Council does is determine from Tradition the boundaries of the Faith (in the face of a new or persistent question). That is a type of authority.

  20. Scott Pennington :

    “You have finally asked the correct question although I will restate it more succinctly.”

    This is not Zen and I’m not buying it.

    “. . . who has the final authority to settle the question?

    Short answer: By contemplating what Jesus Christ did on earth and told the Apostles who, in turn, told us.”

    Yes, I’m familiar with the teaching. It’s called “soul competency”. It’s a staple of Baptist thought. You ought to look it up.

    “I think you will slowly begin to see that Orthodoxy has total substance (“Truth”) and that the sole authority must be Christ.”

    I am beginning to see that a number of people here simply do not acknowledge as authority what I have always read to be the highest authority in the Church on Earth.

    I’m using “authority” to represent a source whose role it is to explicate sound doctrine when there is a controversy. The “authority” it wields (i.e., a truly Ecumenical Council) is that it commands acceptance of its statement or clarification of the Faith by all those who claim to be Orthodox (by the ultimate authority of God).

    You are using it to mean someting else. It seems as if you are using the term to mean “ultimate source of authority”. In that we have no disagreement. However, I think you’re totally wrongheaded on the rest of it. It does not surprise me that Fr. Hans and I disagree on this either. It’s happened quite a few times.

    It’s simply not possible to convince me of something so absurd. If I had received solid answers to my string of questions concerning how we can know what the Faith actually is, I might have been convinced. However, nothing coherent came forth and so I assume you all have no serious answers.

    I think that you simply can’t comprehend how subjective people’s experiences of reality are and why it is necessary to have a final forum to settle these matters since reasonable people can and do disagree in good faith about the meaning of texts that may seem obvious to others.

    You, Fr. Hans and I can go on all day pontificating about what the Orthodox faith really is. That’s the point. Without a defining reference point, there is no Truth known apart from direct, conspicuous revelation from God. And even that is completely subjective to whomever receives the revelation. In essence, what you’re saying is that we have no reference point except those who agree with us. We are “the people who agree with each other”.

    Fundamentally, what you all are proposing is a thoroughly Protestantized understanding of the Orthodox faith. I can’t be convinced of such a thing.

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

      Like I said upstream, you read my explanation as a prescription for anarchy. Scott, you are creating a new Magisterium using the Councils.

      I think that you simply can’t comprehend how subjective people’s experiences of reality are and why it is necessary to have a final forum to settle these matters since reasonable people can and do disagree in good faith about the meaning of texts that may seem obvious to others.

      I’ve been a priest for over 20 years Scott and in some pretty rough parishes too. Trust me, I know all about people’s subjective opinions.

      So how would you resolve the problem about St. Chrysostom and the Patriarch of Antioch? Fast-forwarding and giving us a retrospective answer doesn’t count. How would you deal with a Conciliar decree that you thought was wrong? Do you allow yourself the room to think that something might even be wrong?

      • Scott Pennington :

        First of all, we seem to be talking about three different things sometimes: local councils, putatively Ecumencial Councils and Ecumenical Councils received by the laity. I take it for granted that all seven of the Ecumenical Councils universally recognized throughout Orthodoxy have been received by the laity since they form an integral part of Orthodox doctrine and whatever the period of reception might be, it cannot be over 1200 years.

        If we are talking about an Ecumenical Council received by the laity that condemned St. John Chrysostom, then I was unaware that he was exiled by an Ecumenical Council which was later received by the laity. If you are talking about a lesser council led by the Patriarch of Antioch, then I will be the first to admit that local councils err in both doctrine and anathemas they might pronounce.

        What does any of that prove? What is your point?

        “How would you deal with a Conciliar decree that you thought was wrong? Do you allow yourself the room to think that something might even be wrong?”

        As a practical matter, if you live in the age of what is thought to be a new Ecumenical Council, you simply don’t know for sure whether it will be received or not, whether it will stand the test of time. However, one should give as much deference as conscience allows to such a council.

        I do not suggest that Orthodox may not dissent as a matter of conscience regarding the statements of a contemporary, putative Ecumenical Council. But Orthodox history is utterly clear that the only way you know that a Council is truly ecumenical is in the retrospective. One can, of course, use ones own discernment to decide, “Yes, it’s ecumenical.” or “No, it’s not.” However, that is a leap of faith based on your trust in the power of your own understanding of Tradition. I’m sure that there were many heretics who made the same leap. That is why deference is a prudent place to start if you lean toward rejecting a contemporary Council.

        But once an Ecumenical Council has been recognized throughout the Orthodox world and the debate within the Church has ended, then you know that its statements are part of that collection of doctrines to which the Orthodox owe fidelity; i.e., it is among those Councils whose decisions are established as authority. I’m not sure why the phobia regarding the word authority. It’s not an exclusive attribute of divinity, after all.

        But I really don’t have any patience for this any more. Much of what is said here is very spacy. Modernist Orthodoxy is a real peach.

        • Michael Bauman :

          Scott, your answer reveals that you really don’t hold to your own statement that the Councils are the authority.

          • Scott Pennington :

            Michael,

            No it does not. A judge is an authority, his decisions may be overturned. The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest legal authority in the U.S. It overturns its own decisions from time to time. I look to Western government as an analogy since it is the easiest example to use. But I have never maintained that a Council is in and of itself infallible. I have stated, correctly, that an Ecumenical Council once received is the last earthly word on the matter.

            One thing that should be mentioned here is the following: It is true that received Ecumencial Councils do not state anything that is “new” in the sense that they are making up doctrines. Their role is to discern what the Truth has always been by consulting the Tradition. However, not all Truth has been explicated. I do not believe that the Apostles sat around discussing whether Christ had one or two natures, one or two wills, etc. Opinions develop on these questions over time and there may not be an explicit answer that is obvious to all. Divisions emerge that threaten the unity of the Church. People don’t know which way to turn. That type of controversy is one most in need of resolution by a Great and Holy Synod.

          • Scott Pennington :

            P.S., I do not mean “authority” to refer only to “ultimate authority”. I am using it to refer to a source of binding statement or definition. Ultimately, the highest legal authority, and the source from which all legal authority in the nation derives, is the Constitution of the United States and the various state constitutions.

            However, a very similar problem occurs in the American legal context in that the law is not always obvious. So authority has been entrusted to the highest state and federal courts to interpret their respective constitutions. When I use the term “authority” to refer to an EC, it is in this sense.

            The thing is, if a received EC is not an authority in the sense that I was using the term, than it has no “teeth”. But that is clearly not true. These EC’s pronounced anathemas and defined the faith in periods when the Truth was obscured. A monophysite may not receive communion in an Orthodox Church. The reason is that the question was settled by an EC. That is authority. It is true that the Truth was always what it is. The question is, “How do we know what the Truth is?” Leaving it up to private interpretation, “An EC is only correct in the sense that it reflects Tradition.” totally misses the point. Who compares an EC to Tradition? And who has the power/authority to render an opinion on whether the EC conforms that is a source of clarity for the faithful. To suggest that each layman should judge EC’s by his own evaluation in terms of Tradition is, essentially, to embrace the Reformation.

            There is absolutely no other way to know whether an Ecumenical Council conforms to Tradition than to see if it “sticks”. Anyone can render their opinion. However, so what? An opinion is just that, an opinion.

  21. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    But Orthodox history is utterly clear that the only way you know that a Council is truly ecumenical is in the retrospective.

    This begs the question. That’s why I said retrospective judgments don’t count. Again, how would you go about determining that the council that was presided over by the Patriarch of Antioch that condemned St. John Chrysostom was wrong? Are we just supposed to sit around until a consensus spontaneously generates? Or does the formation of that consensus take on a dynamic of its own, and if so, what is that dynamic? And by what authority does one stand against such a decision before the century or so before the certainty you require actually forms?

    I am not counseling anarchy here. I am only saying that the magisterial design is insufficient.

    • Scott Pennington :

      “That’s why I said retrospective judgments don’t count.”

      Then there is no such thing as “reception”. And, just because you said it doesn’t mean I accept it.

      But what you are really saying when you say that an Ecumenical Council is only valid because it agrees with Apostolic teaching is this:

      “Instead of relying on an EC which is not revisited for a considerable period of time as being an accurate statement of the faith, I’d rather evaluate it in terms of Apostolic tradition myself because I trust my own judgment more than I do an EC which has withstood the test of time.”

      Who else can say whether its teaching conforms to the Apostolic teaching? It’s the difference between relying on your own judgment as to whether the EC’s teaching conforms, or relying on the Holy Spirit to inspire and confirm sound teaching in the Church over time through Ecumenical Councils. I would not rely on my own powers of reasoning and discernment to that degree unless I had to; i.e., in the case of a contemporary Great Synod.

      Whenever someone says, “I don’t rely on EC’s but on whether they conform to Apostolic teaching.”, they are leaving a step out: Conform to Apostolic teaching in the estimation of whom, precisely?

      I will admit that Orthodox teaching on the Councils is not altogether coherent and that all that can be gathered from it is that an EC which stands the test of time is utterly reliable. I was reading The Law of God last night concerning EC’s. Fr. Slobodskoy uses language very close to mine, something like “the highest authority in Christendom”. I’ll have to look at Bp. Kallistos’ The Orthodox Church again too. I think that is where I recall the passage about “highest authority” vs. “infalliblity”. Or maybe it was in some other very common text. Anyway, I’m certain I’m on rock solid ground here.

      “Again, how would you go about determining that the council that was presided over by the Patriarch of Antioch that condemned St. John Chrysostom was wrong?” Unless it was an Ecumenical Council which was later received by the Church, then I personally don’t care about determining whether it was right or wrong. I assume you are talking about a lesser council or one which was later overturned. If the former is the case, I would appeal to a higher authority. If the latter, all you can do is wait it out, speak out, and try to argue for the Truth if your conscience is convinced that the Council erred (even after giving it great deference). But if you read what I wrote above, you would already know that that is what I suggest concerning that situation. I’ve answered your question, you just don’t like the answer I gave.

      • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

        Scott, rather than provide another answer I am going to quote Nick from a post downstream:

        I think I now understand the problem between us. I perceive that you are not grasping that no ecumenical council created anything new. That is why they are authoritative to an Orthodox. You are taking the “authorative” as your starting point and then suggesting they have structural authority. You are looking at it from the western prism that wants to pidgeon-hole everything including authority. I’m looking at it through an eastern prism that says we received it, we have it, we preserve it. We don’t need any authority other than Christ to tell us what it is but, sometimes we employ various tools of equal dignity (Fathers, councils, Tradition), to confirm it

        .

        I agree with Nick completely. Councils are confirmations, not starting points. We have no Magisterium.

        • The above also is the way I’ve always understood it.

        • Scott Pennington :

          I have never once suggested:

          That Councils create anything new.

          That they are “starting points”.

          That they are not “confirmations”.

          That we Orthodox have what the RCC means by the term “magisterium”.

          I defy you to show me where I have.

          Please discuss what I’ve said, not what you wish that I’d said.

          Now, if you simply insist on using a Catholic term to describe what Orthodoxy lacks (which is a sloppy way to do it), then here is my, admittedly limited, understanding of the RCC’s teaching on the subject:

          The Roman Magisterium (or teaching authority) is divided into 6 levels. The highest two levels are called Extraordinary Magisterium, the highest being the statements of the Pope, ex cathedra. Next in priority comes the statement of an EC, in union with the Pope. These are considered by the RCC to be infallible and requiring full assent of faith.

          Next comes statements of the bishops dispersed, but in unison and in union with the Pope. These too are considered infallible and require full assent of faith. Then comes the ordinary teaching authority of the Pope which requires the religious submission of the intellect and will. Followed by the ordinary teaching of the bishops, requiring the same type of assent as the ordinary teaching authority of the Pope. Lastly comes the opinions and disagreements between theologians which are not authoritative.

          That, more or less, is the Roman Magisterium. You are correct that Orthodoxy has no such schema. In comparison, Orthodoxy has none of the first four “teaching authorities” mentioned because it has no Pope.

          We do have bishops and theologians, however. I’m not fond of using Roman terminology, even “sacraments” as opposed to mysteries or “the validity of holy orders” as opposed to whether grace is present, etc.

          If Magisterium means the Roman schema, I agree with you. If it means “teaching authority” in the sense that bishops have the authority(the duty even) to teach and councils, like the Apostolic Council of Jerusalem, have the authority to discern what the Truth is and teach it authoritatively, then you are wrong.

  22. Scott: We had a common faith for the first 300 years without ever needing a council. And it was a golden age of unity and common witness. Then came the councils and half of their aftermath tore unified Chrisitendom apart. For the last 1300 years we have had a common faith. What is left for a council to decide or tear apart? If there had never been a single council ever called, we would still have the same faith that we do now. Maybe not the same pretty words, but the same faith. Why? Because we hold to that which was given once for all.

    I’ve been Orthodox for 63 years. I don’t know how long you have been so. No matter. If you want to pick up a rule or statute book and have the dogma written on gold plates where every questions answer can be found, you won’t find it here. If you want an organizational chart with detailed job descriptions and clearly demarcated lines of authority, you won’t find it here.

    What you will find, if you open your heart (and close you eyes), is a Eurcharistic family that is diverse, that works symbiotically, that has a nous which carries within it an outline of a way of life and that hungers and thirsts for The Way, that stumbles at times on the way, but cherishes that which was given once for all by Christ and no other structure.

    My mother was a peasant from Bosnia. She never went to school. She would not have been classed as literate. She knew the creed from reciting it in Liturgy. She knew the Scripture from hearing it in Liturgy. She never heard of any of the councils nor did she ever read any of their doctrinal statements. But if you had posed to her in simple terms the questions those councils decided, she would have, in simple terms, given you very simple but nevertheless the same answers. She did not study theology but she taught me a lot of it. She didn’t do it through books or systems. She told me stories that were told to her mother by her mother by her mother, by her mother, etc. The stories often posed a little life problem, they often were addressed to some starets and contained a kernel of the starets’ wisdom. (quite similiar to Eliot’s posts). Her Orthodoxy was igrained in her heart and was nurtured through 88 years of attending the Liturgy. If you told her there was a structure known as a council that was the final word in all things, she would have asked from what religion you were. If you asked her to confess her belief, she would have pointed to the icon of the Theotokos of the Passion, a Cross around her neck and an icon of the Resurrection. She would have signed herself and resumed her knitting.

    She instinctively did what I’m asking you to do. Try my little exercise I suggested earlier. What is there to lose?

    • Scott Pennington :

      “And it was a golden age of unity and common witness.”

      Nonsense, it was rife with heresies.

      from “Heresy in the Early Church: Christian History Timeline” – Bradley Nassif

      GNOSTICISM

      c. 140 Valentinus begins teaching Gnostic views in Rome

      144 Marcion is excommunicated for Gnostic-like views

      c. 175 Basilides espouses Gnostic teachings in Alexandria

      c. 180 Irenaeus writes Against the Heresies, opposing Gnosticism

      c. 450 Gnostic sects diminish

      Forms of Gnosticism return with Paulicians (800s) and Albigensians (1200s)

      QUARTODECIMANISM

      c. 155 Polycarp and others from Asia Minor advocate Nisan 14 as date of Easter

      c. 190 Pope Victor insists on Sunday observance and tries to stamp out Quartodecimanism (“14th-ism”), though Irenaeus advocates tolerance

      325 Council of Nicea accepts Alexandrian method of determining Easter

      400 Rome begins using Alexandrian method

      In the Middle Ages, the Celtic church (in 625) and the church in Gaul (in the 800s) join the West in adopting the Alexandrian method

      MONTANISM

      c. 157 Montanus begins prophesying that the Heavenly Jerusalem will soon descend in Phrygia, in Asia Minor

      170s Montanism develops ecstatic and ascetic practices

      c. 190 Montanism condemned by church councils in Asia Minor

      c. 207 Tertullian converts to Montanism

      c. 400 Montanism wanes but survives in pockets

      Though severly persecuted by Justinian I (483–565), Montanism survives into the 800s

      MONARCHIANISM

      c. 190s Monarchianism (emphasizing God’s monarchia, “unity”—not the three persons) spreads

      c. 200 Noetus condemned at Rome for Patripassianism (“the father suffers-ism”), the teaching that the Father suffered as the Son

      268 Council of Antioch deposes Paul of Samosata and condemns Sabellianism (i.e., modalism: Father, Son, and Spirit are temporary manifestations of the same being)

      By the early 300s, most Monarchianists become Arians

      “PURITANISM”

      249–250 Decian persecution causes many Christians to “lapse,” i.e., deny the faith

      251 Novatian teaches that the lapsed should not be readmitted to the church; some Christians admit the lapsed on easy terms

      252 Cyprian argues for middle view: penance for the lapsed

      255–256 African bishops insist on rebaptism of heretics and schismatics; Rome disagrees

      311 Donatists refuse to accept new bishop of Carthage because he “handed over” the Scriptures under persecution; they consecrate a rival bishop

      314 Council of Arles condemns Donatism, which insists on unwavering loyalty of church members

      411 Donatism significantly weakened by government condemnation

      Donatism survives in pockets in Africa until Islam conquers the region (late 600s)

      ARIANISM

      c. 318 Arius’s views, that Jesus is not divine, gains popularity; Athanasius writes On the Incarnation, affirming the full deity and humanity of Jesus

      “She never heard of any of the councils nor did she ever read any of their doctrinal statements. But if you had posed to her in simple terms the questions those councils decided, she would have, in simple terms, given you very simple but nevertheless the same answers.”

      I respect your mother’s faith but the creed she knew by heart was established by two Ecumenical Councils which, if they had stated it differently and that statement had stood, would have been a different creed. Now I don’t believe that is possible, but it is because I believe that an Ecumenical Council, confirmed by reception, was a vehicle of the Holy Spirit. I do not trust my own, nor your, nor any particular Father’s judgement in deciding whether it conforms to Apostolic Tradition.

      By the way, I forgot that you were a lawyer. Forgive me for sounding condescending when I was talking about rules of jurisprudence.

  23. Michael Bauman :

    The most divisive event in all of Christian history was and, in many ways, continues to be the 4th Council. It seems to have generated more heresy than any other event before or since. Two subsequent councils were required to deal with the immediate after effects. There are still a large number of folks with whom we are not in communion becasue of the fallout from that council. Many more who argue with its conclusions.

    Rome’s assertion of authority led to 1st: The Great Schism; 2nd: the Protestant rebellion.

    The Protestant’s assertion of the authority of private interpretation has led to the 23,000 various Protestant sects.

    Seems as if any earthly authority no matter how well intentioned or correct does not lead to unity.

    “I will be lifted up and draw all men to me”

    “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”

    • Well put, Michael.

      “For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption— that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the LORD.” (1 Cor. 1:26-31)

      Maybe if all our “Babas” could constitute a council….Oh well!

  24. Michael Bauman :

    From Fr. Stephen Freeman’s Blog
    Love and True Faith

    Emphsis mine

    In the life and teaching of St. Silouan of Mt. Athos, it is interesting to note that what he considered to be “true faith” was the manifestation of the love of God in us towards all the world. It would have certainly been the case that as an Orthodox monk, St. Silouan would have believed all of the Church’s teaching without question. And yet when he spoke of the true faith it was the state of the heart that he considered rather than running a doctrine check on somebody.

    True doctrine is of great importance because it reveals the nature and truth of God and the world to us. But such knowledge is not the final goal of the Christian life. Our final goal is indeed the true faith – that is – the love of God towards all the world dwelling within our hearts. From Father Sophrony’s book on St. Silouan:

    The Staretz [St. Silouan] interpreted both the incarnation of God-the-Word and Christ’s whole earthly life as love towards the whole world, though the world is totally hostile to God. Similarly, he knew the Holy Spirit in the love which with its advent drives away all hatred, like light cancelling darkness; in the love which likens man to Christ in the inmost impulses of his soul. And this, according to the Staretz’ teaching, is true faith.

    There is no opposition to rationality in any of this and certainly no opposition to true doctrine. But there is a recognition that the very simplist of all things – available to children and the weak minded (perhaps more truly available to them than the rest of us) – is the love of God dwelling in our hearts. Without this there is no true faith, no true salvation, no theosis, no true conformity to the image of God.

    It is for this reason (at least) that the Church sets aside entire seasons of the year (such as Great Lent) so that we may pray and fast and give ourselves over to God in such a way as to acquire His love for the world in our hearts. And though true doctrine is found in every service, and there are feast days on the calendar to celebrate the great Ecumenical Councils – there is not anything like a season of the year set aside for the people of God to acquire “true doctrine.” It is simply the case that if we do not know the love of God for the whole world in our heart – then we would never be able to know true doctrine. The words spoken by the Deacon at every liturgy when he summons us to repeat the Nicene Creed say everything: “Let us love one another that with one mind we may confess: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Trinity one in essence and undivided.” We may say the words for the rest of eternity – but unless and until we love one another we will not truly know or believe a word of it.

    And thus we are called to love.

  25. Scott:

    Actually, it represents a series of baby burps with an occasional discharge of fluid between breast feedings:

    Gnosticism died its own death, thanks to Irenaeus, withot an ecumenical council. It was never Christian to begin with.

    Quartodecimanism can hardly be called a heresy. It was a dispute over the date Pascha should be celebrated. Polycarp didn’t start it. They were following what John (the Apostle) taught them. Thanks to Irenanus, Polycarp was allowed to serve Pascha on 14 Nissa while concelebrating in Rome when he got there. Nicea adopted the Alexandrian and Rome went back to its own method 70 years later and there was no schism as a result. Apparently the observance of the decree of Nicea didn’t hold for long and there was no schism.

    Montanism was an extreme movement by a whacko who thought he was the incarnation of the Holy Spirit. It was handled on a local level by an eccsiological local synod and soon died out except for a few remaining wackos. Again no ecumenical council.

    Monarchism was again handled by a local council. Again no ecumenical council.

    Puritanism really was a dispute between Stephen and Cyprian over the readmittance of the lapsi. Although a local council in Carthage sided with Cyprian, the only Eastern Father to agree was Fermilian. Shortly, Stehpeh’s view became dominant. Again no ecumenical council.

    Arianism presents a little more of a challenge, I must admit, but certainly not an insurmountable or profound challenge. However, I will note that I said the first 300 years and this closed that period. Although you may not agree with this, Arianism was more of a political rather than theological problem for the Church according to consensus scholarship. Arius was dealt with by a local Alexandrian council and condemned. The West was not concerned with him because he had no influence in the west at that time, nor in other parts of the east initially. Arius’ motivation was purely political according to the best scholarship. His concept of the Son had appeal to the pagan, non-Christian community. Many noblemen of the Empire liked the idea of bringing them into the Church (as did some unscrupulous clergy) and thereby strengthening the Imperial authority among these groups. The Church (which was generally united) did not want them in the Church. The Emperor wanted peace and was concerned because members of the nobility and members of his family were pushing Arianism. The Church wanted the pagans to stay out.

    I never said the ecumenical council was not a good idea. Hindsight does not tell us whether the Church could have handled it without one. But it was a unique idea, unheard of before, and therefore not part of Orthodox ecclesiology. But if you look at history, it is obious that it has only been used in extrodinary, abberational situations. It is not normative — and that is what I have been saying all along. It is not a structure that exists within our ecclesiology. It is a tool in extraordinary situations.

    By the way, the decision was unanimous (save 3) and it certainly, by its contemporary witnesses, created nothing knew but restated the belief received once by all.

    I think I now understand the problem between us. I perceive that you are not grasping that no ecumenical council created anything new. That is why they are authoritative to an Orthodox. You are taking the “authorative” as your starting point and then suggesting they have structural authority. You are looking at it from the western prism that wants to pidgeon-hole everything including authority. I’m looking at it through an eastern prism that says we received it, we have it, we preserve it. We don’t need any authority other than Christ to tell us what it is but, sometimes we employ various tools of equal dignity (Fathers, councils, Tradition), to confirm it.

    Try the exercise I suggested. It works. Then you’ll understand why we don’t “need” a pope or a council to keep us on “The Way” and why Orthodox are innerly so self assured and why the new martyrs of the east became martyrs. What happened in Russia this past century was not repeated in the west under Hitler on any comparable scale.

    What I have said all along is not nonsense.

    • Scott Pennington :

      “But it was a unique idea, unheard of before, and therefore not part of Orthodox ecclesiology.”

      No, you are wrong. It was not unique or unheard of and it is a part of Orthodox ecclesiology. Councils are patterned after the Apostolic Council of Jerusalem. They differ in a number of particulars: being called by the emperor, etc., but it is the same idea. Most teaching materials that I have read introduce the Ecumencal Councils by refering to their prototype, the Apostolic Council. I don’t know why you insist on saying such things.

  26. Scott Pennington :

    Nick,

    You wrote,

    “I think I now understand the problem between us. I perceive that you are not grasping that no ecumenical council created anything new.”

    After I’d already written things like this in several places above:

    “Utterly incorrigible. The question is not whether an Ecumencal Council can invent Truth. The question is “how is Truth is discerned”, or, more direclty, “Who says so?”. You all leave it up to individuals if you do not leave it up to some person or group. Bibles do not speak. Hold one up to your ear some time. If it speaks, seek medical attention.”

    No, you’re not paying attention. I never stated that EC’s create anything new. That is what you are reading into what I’ve written. What I have always stated and repeated ad nauseum is that EC’s have a unique role in being the highest authority in stating what the Truth is; i.e., what it always has been everywhere. The problem is that that is not always self evident and must be fathomed by some entity to ascertain what the Truth is in the face of confusion. You believe that an EC is only true to the extent that it conforms to the Apostolic teaching. The missing link is that you don’t state whom you believe gets to compare the EC’s teaching to Apostolic teaching. What I’m saying is really not hard to understand at all.

    “Try an exercise. Take either Arianism, Nestorianism, Monophyitism, Monothelielism or Judaizersim. Ignore everything you find in Acts or the Epistles for a moment. Focus on the Gospels. Don’t just read the words or focus only on what Christ said. Contemplate what He said, absolutely. But also focus on who He was and what he did (i.e. His actions). See if you discern, after that study and contemplation (with some level of inner silence, if possible) and see if you can conclude that the objection to any of the “isms” is not only there but is also obvious. Its is probably easier to start with Judaizerism to begin with. Then contemplate if any Orthodox could conclude otherwise than what the council witnessed and confirmed.”

    Why do you insist on making yourself a pope? You demonstrate another point of mine very clearly: You simply do not believe that different people can come to different conclusions regarding these types of controversies (i.e., Arianism, Nestorianism, Monophysitism, etc.) in good faith. Being a lawyer, you should really know better. I am sure that there were heretics (and yes, all the heresies I listed above from your golden age are indeed heresies, regardless of how you want to explain them away), whose motivations were political. I’m not so insufferably arrogant though to suggest that all heresies are opinions held in bad faith. Many, perhaps most, held these opinions sincerely. The Truth is not self evident. Honest people can come to radically different conclusions from reading the Gospels. They always have.

    Many have tried your exercise and, since they too thought themselves the ultimate judge, they broke with the church. What you are advocating is soul competency. And it is nonsense.

    Christianity, in its essence, is not passed down through the Gospels, the whole New Testament, the Fathers or even the decisions of Ecumenical Councils. If all copies of the New Testament, the Fathers and the statements of Councils were somehow destroyed and no longer existed, the Church could go on and would go on.

    If all the bishops were killed or died and none remained, it could not. Christianity is personal. It began with a Person. It was passed on from Him to His Apostles. They spread it to many followers and passed on their teaching through the bishops. The Church wrote the New Testament, the writings of the Fathers, and the decisions of Councils. The bishop, surrounded by his flock, celebrating the Eucharist is the Church. And when there is some great controversy in the Church, in order to have clarity as to what the Apostolic teaching is, a council is convened, just as it was in the Book of Acts. And these councils have the authority to state with certainty (and not “invent”, I’ve never once suggested that) what the Faith is, so that believers will know what the Faith is. Putative (those thought to be) Ecumenical Councils can err. But once an Ecumenical Council has been established over time, it is presumed to be an authoritative statement of what the Faith is. If it were not, since it has become the common witness of the Church, it would mean that the gates of hell had prevailed.

    So I will end with part of the first comment I made on this thread (and Nick, notice I didn’t say Councils created anything new):

    “Speculating about whether this or that language, if adopted by a Great and Holy Synod, would end the Great Schism misses the point. The question is whether Rome will honor Great and Holy Councils as supreme or substitute the opinions of its own jurisdiction or its own patriarch. The substance of the teaching isn’t the real problem. This is also true of the ‘Oriental Orthodox’. They may be miaphysites instead of monophysites, although they seem to be resolute monothelites; however, the real question is, ‘Do you accept Chalcedon and the later Councils as authoritative?’ The real problem is respect for the Tradition in its method of discerning and stating the Truth.”

  27. Scott Pennington :

    Here are a couple of quotes from Fr. Seraphim Slobodskoy’s book The Law of God. It is the primary catechism used in ROCOR, one of the most reliably conservative jurisdictions in this country. I’ve also seen it in OCA parishes. Apparently their clergy agree with me:

    “It is worthy of attention that at this Council [i.e., the Sixth] excommunication was pronounced against a number of other heretics, and also against the Roman Pope Honorius, as one who acknowledged the teaching of one will. The formulation of the Council was signed by a Roman delegation, consisting of Presbyters Theodore and Gregory, and Deacon John. This clearly shows that the highest power in Christendom belongs to the Ecumenical Council, and not to the Pope of Rome.” – p. 429

    “The Holy Orthodox Church, after the death of the Apostles, was guided by Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition. We read there the words of the prophets and Apostles as if we ourselves lived with them and listened to them.

    In special cases, for the accusation of heretics or to resolve various misunderstandings, on the order of the Saviour Himself (Matt.18:17) and by the example of the Apostles (Apostolic Council in 51 A.D.. Acts 15:1-35), councils assembled. Some of these were Ecumenical, at which were gathered from the entire known world as many pastors and teachers of the Church as was possible. Other councils were local, where just pastors and teachers of a particular region assembled.

    The decision of an Ecumenical Council is the highest earthly authority of the Holy Church of Christ, guided by the Holy Spirit, as it was stated in the decisioin of the first Apostolic Council. ‘For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us . . .‘ (Acts 15:28)” – p. 429 (bold in original)

    Or, in other words, what I’ve been saying all along and what you all have been rejecting.

  28. Scott Pennington :

    Sola Scriptura, soul competency, non-theistic explanations for God’s actions in the Old Testament, etc. An eccentric site this is indeed.

  29. Michael Bauman :

    Scott, perhaps the reluctance to accept final authority in these days rests in the preception that the crop of bishops we have now will do us and the Church in general dirty. Not to mention those of us in this country raised on revolution, Protestant theology (knowingly or not) and democracy (whether we like it or not). We have a tough time acknowledging any authority let alone the authority of a bunch of (seemingly) compromised bishops who have never demonstrated any kindness toward their American cousins.

    We want an out should there be decisions we don’t like, have difficulty living with, etc. It is not so much, in my case, doubting the authority of the councils or their crucial place in the Church, just wondering what the corrective is when they get it wrong. The options are not pleasant.

    Personally, any group of folks who gather under the sobriquet of “Great and Holy …(anything) are quite likely to be wrong.

    • Thank you Michael for your comments. Perhaps my reticence derives from the fact that I greatly fear the outcome of another council. Scott: please read the following letter from St. Justin of Celije. http://www.kosovo.net/stjustin_council.html. Also, notice how he circumscribes the competence of a council.

      Ponder this.

      • After reading this, do you really want a council to be normative or would you rather leave history to history?

        • Scott Pennington :

          “After reading this, do you really want a council to be normative or would you rather leave history to history?”

          Nick,

          Why would you dream (and it’s really more of a nightmare) that what I or you want to be the case is therefore somehow the case? There is an objective reality beyond our desires.

          If it’s all about what I want and whether, in my estimation, an EC’s statements are in accord with the Apostolic Tradtion, then we are all lost in hopeless subjectivity – – essentially indistinguishable from soul competency except that we are talking about our personal estimation of the Apostolic Tradition rather than just Holy Scripture. No one could possibly know what the Orthodox Faith is because there is no authority to say whether a thing is Orthodox doctrine or not. That whole schema is heterodox, not Orthodox.

          The point is that it doesn’t matter whether I want a council to be normative or you do not. They simply are, according to our Tradition. Whether we like it or not is irrelevant, as it should be.

          Michael is onto something which I have assumed is the case: In the present silly American atmosphere there has developed among the neo-Orthodox (or modernists) a desire to re-envision the Faith to bring it in line with more modern, democratic and less authoritarian tendencies than historically it has held in the past. The Fathers assumed that empire was the norm in Christendom. Authority was placed in the hands of the bishops, not the laity (just as Father Justin’s quote demonstrates). It is indeed an evil age and it is this evil which is behind rejection of the authority of Councils.

      • To further extrapolate: what does conciliar mean in this day and age? Government of all types has become much more paticipatory than ever before in human history.

        IMO, the only way a council decision on the ordering of the the Church in the U.S. and elsewhere will not lead to greater schism is if 1) Our local bishops (the few we have) are allowed to fully participate; and 2) the faithful here understand and accept the decision as workable within a relatively short period of time (a couple of years at most).

        Historically councils have not unified the Church in their own time except by exclusion. Those ideas and people who were anathamatized did not cease to exist. All of the major heresies that were anathamatized are still with us in one form or another both inside and outside the Church. One of the problems we have as Orthodox believers, IMO, is that the understanding of those heresies and why they are heretical is quite dim. We are therefore willing to accept or at least consider all sorts of Christologies presented to us and consider them as functionally equivalent to historic Church teaching.

        This touches on the whole self-understanding of the Church, the position of the bishops and the reality of the Church outside the Patriarchal realms.

        Being a student of American history, I can’t help but relatate the Church’s adventure in government to what happened at the formation of this country and the tension between a monarchical/centralized form of governement and a more decentralized confederation. Historically the Church has aspects of both. That is a good thing, but right now we are in a period where we are trying to find a new balance point. The fall of the Soviet Union (at least outwardly) and continuing dhimmi status of the Middle Eastern Patriarchs and a resurgent Islam has put huge pressure on the Patriarchs. They, like England, do not want to give up their colonies.

        Makes it quite difficult to make good decisions based on anything other that immediate self-interest.

        • Scott Pennington :

          Michael and Nick,

          We have two separate questions before us, once again. This time the first is, “what is the authority of an EC received by the Church?” which I believe I’ve answered correctly with the same answer I quote from Fr. Seraphim’s book.

          In an effort to take the focus off the first question, we now seem to be discussing a second one, “Is it a good idea to have a Council in this evil age?” On this question, I agree to a great extent with St. Justin whom Nick refers to above. There is no question worthy of a Council (unless it is to settle the calendar question, which it will probably not do). Moreover, there is a lot of political jockeying going on by Constantinople regarding titular bishops and the power dynamic in the Council. I assume, if it were called (and I don’t beleive it will be anytime soon), that it would be a fiasco, and embarassment to the Church and, to the extent that it made any doctrinal statements, a Robber Council. It could even be used as a pretext to grow closer to the Roman idea of primacy.

          Back to the first question, though: You will notice that Fr. Justin wrote that EC’s are “summoned by God” and also that he wrote the following:

          “the Orthodox Church, in its nature and its dogmatically unchanging constitution is episcopal and centred in the bishops. For the bishop and the faithful gathered around him are the expression and manifestation of the Church as the Body of Christ, especially in the Holy Liturgy: the Church is
          Apostolic and Catholic only by virtue of its bishops, insofar as they are the heads of true ecclesiastical units, the dioceses.”

          Part of the evil of this age is the excessive focus on the laity and democracy. This is unorthodox. Our Church is hierarchical according to its very nature and Great and Holy Synods are a natural and necessary expression of that hierarchy and conciliarity. It’s a bad idea to reject the authority of councils because you are afraid that the next one will be a Robber Council. You’d be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

          But such are the times.

          • Michael Bauman :

            “the Orthodox Church, in its nature and its dogmatically unchanging constitution is episcopal and centred in the bishops. For the bishop and the faithful gathered around him are the expression and manifestation of the Church as the Body of Christ, especially in the Holy Liturgy: the Church is
            Apostolic and Catholic only by virtue of its bishops, insofar as they are the heads of true ecclesiastical units, the dioceses.”

            Democracy is a bad idea in the Church but bishops do not have authority in isolation, only as they are shepherds.

            My bishop, +Basil, is a shepherd. I experience what it is like to be under his protection, guidance, discipline and to be loved. His presence lifts all of us up.

            Met. Joseph of Bulgaria is a similar man.

            Both are stretched horribly thin.

            The rest? Please tell me of some. I’d really like to know.

          • Scott Pennington :

            Michael,

            If you are expecting me to give you a list of good bishops currently serving, then you will wait indefinitely. I do not dispute that there are many bad shepherds out there. But even though I might want that to mean that they were not given the authority they are, alas it is not so. I try not to confuse what I want to be with what actually is.

  30. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    I’m not so sure you can write off democratic principles that easily. For example, when the Councils erred and the laity essentially repudiated their decisions, doesn’t that represent a democratic process? Or even when the bishops meet in synod, they vote on their decisions and most are not unanimous. Doesn’t that process employ a democratic principle? I’m not arguing that the Church should be run on an American democratic model. Nevertheless, checks and balances are inherent in the system and the hierarchical model, while certainly fixed, works if the bishops are indeed faithful to their office. When they are not, as in the case of the false councils, a different authority emerges that functions as a corrective.

    I think Scott’s model, particularly with the authoritative emphases he gives his argument, would preclude the legitimacy of this process which I would call democratic. He sees it a recipe for anarchy. But what really happens when the laos tou theou do indeed walk in the spirit and challenge a false council? Don’t they essentially deem the authority of that council as illegitimate? And in doing so, don’t they implicitly affirm a higher authority exists? The answer to this can only be yes and that too is confirmed by history.

    • Michael Bauman :

      Fr. Hans, democracy (as distinct from various forms of participatory government) is always a bad idea. There never has been democracy in the Church as far as I know and I hope there never is.

      Scott is right to a point we seem to be confusing two questions: the actual authority of the council in the Church as well as its ecclesial place AND the wisdom of holding any kind of general council now with the seeming paucity of godly bishops.

      Granting that councils are a fundamental, integral part of the structure of the Church (which I’m not sure about) and their status as the final arbitor of doctrinal matters, there seems to be a difference of understanding, what is the nature of the bishops authority and how are they supposed to exercise it.

      Scott seems to take a more monarchical view than most of the rest of us here, i.e, a bishop’s authority cannot be challenged really except by another bishop and if they cannot settle the matter, then councils of bishops of various levels are necessary and have the final authority (unless other bishops override them later).

      I don’t see it that way at all. Without denying the hierarchical nature of the Church or the Apostolic authority of the episcopate, historically there seems to be a much greater participation of laity in the ordering and governing of the Church (practically and dogmatically) than Scott’s model allows.

      I would say that a healthy Church demands such participation and activity on the part of the laity.

      I would also say that bishops without a flock as even Scott has referenced many times, do not seem to have the same authority, i.e. they are not really Apostolic bishops and should not be part of any council. Without a flock a person is not a shepard. Can one be a husband without a wife? How can someone be a messenger without someone to receive the message.

      It is the sacramental gathering at which the bishop presides that invests him with his authority. The Divine Liturgy is the work of the people, so too is the bishops authority in a manner of speaking. The Church’s government is paticipatory and synergistic in nature, not democratic. There is a real and disticnt difference. I would further say it is not monarchical, but confederational.

      • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

        The Church’s government is paticipatory and synergistic in nature, not democratic. There is a real and disticnt difference. I would further say it is not monarchical, but confederational.

        I agree with this. I am not arguing for an American style democracy where it is assumed every opinion has equal merit just because it came out of a person’s mouth (well, let’s limit this to a liberal understanding of Democracy).

      • Scott Pennington :

        Michael,

        “Scott seems to take a more monarchical view than most of the rest of us here, i.e, a bishop’s authority cannot be challenged really except by another bishop and if they cannot settle the matter, then councils of bishops of various levels are necessary and have the final authority (unless other bishops override them later).”

        I do not mean to contradict in any way the system of appeals that is set up in canon law which allows allegedly bad decisions to be challenged.

        “Without denying the hierarchical nature of the Church or the Apostolic authority of the episcopate, historically there seems to be a much greater participation of laity in the ordering and governing of the Church (practically and dogmatically) than Scott’s model allows.

        I would say that a healthy Church demands such participation and activity on the part of the laity.”

        Maybe. I have not really addressed that. I have said that lay participation is not essential to a council but that there is nothing wrong with it if the bishops wish to hear the opinions of other clergy and laity. My main point is that the current fetish with lay involvement is very Americanist and somewhat overblown. Not only in terms of the proper roles of the orders, but because I trust the laity less than I do the clergy (which is really saying something awful about the laity).

        “It is the sacramental gathering at which the bishop presides that invests him with his authority.”

        That is not true at all. What invests him with his authority is the consecration he receives from his brother bishops. He should preside in a diocese. Perhaps he should not have been consecrated if there was no intention of him presiding in a diocese. But he is a bishop.

        “I would further say it is not monarchical, but confederational.”

        Or, conciliar, perhaps?

        • Michael Bauman :

          Scott, you’re right the authority comes from the laying on of hands, the consecration, but he is consecrated to a community (or should be) for whom he is the locus of the sacramental reality. Again, can one be a husband without a wife? Can one exercise headship without a body? Does the mind in us operate without constant balanced input from the rest of our body?

          I don’t want a lay church or a clerical church. Right now we are out of balance toward clericalism. Human beings being what we are, it is quite natural to over correct. We need to be careful and diligent.

          I don’t trust either the laity or the clergy collectively. I trust people in either category who prove to be trustworthy, faithful and demonstrate a heart for God. I know quite a few lay people who are that way, in fact I’d say most that I know.

        • Michael Bauman :

          Scott, if you mean conciliar in the sense of one council to rule them all..no that is not what I mean at all.

          The parish is conciliar and directed by the priest and diocesan bishop in a synergistic manner in which the priest has a great deal of authority over how the parish is run and all the authority (in consultation with his bishop) on the sacramental life of the parish. So it goes up the ladder in which every level is, to a certain extent imbeded in the lower and accountable to the higher, each inter-related to one another.

          • Scott Pennington :

            Well, actually Michael, the priest serves in place of the bishop to enable the more widespread celebration of the mysteries and he serves only at the pleasure of the bishop who issues him an antimension, without which he would not be authorized to celebrate the liturgy.

            A bishop is more like a type of limited monarch within his diocese. He is mainly limited by accountablity to his brother bishops. At the level of local and universal councils is the conciliarity to which I was referring.

  31. Scott Pennington :

    “For example, when the Councils erred and the laity essentially repudiated their decisions, doesn’t that represent a democratic process?”

    No. In the end, the bishops went back and got it right.

    “Or even when the bishops meet in synod, they vote on their decisions and most are not unanimous. Doesn’t that process employ a democratic principle?”

    That is not democracy. That is a council where the franchise is restricted to those consecrated to the episcopacy.

    “Don’t they essentially deem the authority of that council as illegitimate? And in doing so, don’t they implicitly affirm a higher authority exists? The answer to this can only be yes and that too is confirmed by history.”

    Not really. Of course, there is a higher authority than Councils – – God Himself. However, they are the highest earthly authority. Reception is, at best, a very theoretical attempt to rationalize what has happened: Councils have erred and subsequent Councils have corrected these errors. A council of the laity have no power at all unless given to them by the bishops. It was not a council of the laity that rejected false Councils. It was the laity, clergy and civilian governments which persuaded the bishops, over time, to reconsider their previous statement.
    “But what really happens when the laos tou theou do indeed walk in the spirit and challenge a false council?”

    I can just hear the Battle Hymn of the Republic playing in the background. Or maybe it’s Fanfare for the Common Man.

    I don’t know that they “walk in the spirit”. They may reject some particular teaching for whatever reason. But that is never the last word. It is more like their dissatisfaction is recognized by the episcopacy as a symptom indicating that a teaching may not be true. But clergy themselves also participate in the repudiation of a false Council, as did at times the governmental authorities.

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

      There is no such thing as a “council of laity” so they really don’t require the authority of bishops to give them legitimacy. In your fixed system of things the decisions of the laity are de-facto illegitimate of course, but structural legitimacy has no real bearing here, only fidelity to the Truth does. That’s why even though the refusal of the laity to bind by the rulings would strike the hierarchy as insubordinate, improper, illegitimate (clerics, like laity, tend to overreach), it was in fact the way that Christ restored clarity to His Church.

      Further, correction by a later council is not what rendered the false teaching as false. It merely ratified what everyone already knew to be true.

      The “last word” Scott is always the word of Christ. It might take time for structures to catch up with it, but their final ratification has no real bearing on whether or not that word is true. The Word of Truth precedes even the words of Councils. Sometimes the last word is spoken long before events catch up with it.

      • Scott Pennington :

        “Further, correction by a later council is not what rendered the false teaching as false. It merely ratified what everyone already knew to be true.”

        First, it is not true that “everyone” already knew it to be true. Truth is not self evident. That is something which, perhaps, you and Nick will never be able to comprehend. The question is “who settles the question”?

        “The ‘last word’ Scott is always the word of Christ. It might take time for structures to catch up with it, but their final ratification has no real bearing on whether or not that word is true. The Word of Truth precedes even the words of Councils. Sometimes the last word is spoken long before events catch up with it.”

        And how do we know the word of Christ? If it is not self-evident, and the history of the Church makes it crystal clear that it is not, then to whom do we look to draw the lines between the Truth and error? You have no rational answer to that. To say, “God” or “Christ” is no answer at all. Anyone may claim that God or Christ tell them whatever they want to believe.

        That little exercise that Nick kept egging me on to try is indicative of the problem which you and Nick seem to want to deny. An Orthodox could take Scripture, or just the Gospels, and see what is wrong with a number of the early heresies. However, an Oriental Orthodox would likely come, in all sincerity, to different conclusions regarding the question of Monophysitism/Miaphysitism and Monothelitism. He would be conditioned to see Scripture that way. A low church protestant would in all likelihood not be able to see the truth of the 7th Council but would come away from the exercise a convinced Iconoclast, the same as before the exercise.

        It is hard for me to believe sometimes that you all are this naive. I’ve tried to be patient to the extent I can (and it’s obviously not my strongest characteristic). But what you are suggesting directly contradicts what Orthodox have learned over many generations and what a number of our jurisdictions (maybe all of them) are teaching today (including ROCOR and GOARCH, which are otherwise about as far apart as you get within Orthodoxy). It is simply not possible for me to believe that your little pet theories are true.

      • Scott Pennington :

        ” . . . structural legitimacy has no real bearing here, only fidelity to the Truth does.”

        Exactly. So how, exactly, do we know we are being faithful to the Truth. Because we assert we are? Because we assert that our beliefs are in line with Apostolic teaching? So do the Catholics and Protestants.

        In your schema, there is no Orthodox Faith. It is indefinable. God knows what it is, but the rest of us are left to guess in the dark because you reject the existence of light.

        • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

          So how, exactly, do we know we are being faithful to the Truth. Because we assert we are? Because we assert that our beliefs are in line with Apostolic teaching? So do the Catholics and Protestants.

          And so do you Scott. You’ve just replaced the bible and pope with the councils.

          • Scott Pennington :

            Not true (and you know it). Many protestants teach that the bible is literally inerrant and infallible. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the Pope, when speaking ex cathedra on matters of faith and morals, is infallible. I, like the rest of the Orthodox Church, simply believe that the Ecumenical Councils are the highest earthly authority within the Church. You are not interested in any authority higher than your own estimation of what constitutes the Apostolic teaching.

          • Scott:

            This is really silly. You all really have no idea what you are talking about and are just making up this nonsense as you go along. It’s a joke. Goarch’s statements about the faith are wrong. ROCOR’s statements about the faith are wrong. The Fathers’ statements about the faith are wrong. Patriarch Jeremiah’s statements about the faith are wrong. Only Father Johannes and Nick are right, by divine inspiration.

            You just do not understand because you haven’t thrown your Western suitcase away and substituted therefor the gloriously simple and majestic satchel of Orthodoxy. I can’t comment on your assertion that we hold that “Goarch’s statements about the faith are wrong” because I don’t know to which statements you refer. I also can’t comment on your assertion that we hold that “ROCOR’s statements about the faith are wrong” since I don’t know to which statements you refer; but if you refer to Rose’s Toll House writings, he IS wrong. Your comment that we hold that “the Fathers’ statements about the faith are wrong”, that is nonsense. No one ever said that. In fact, I implied that the Fathers (especially the ante-Nicene Fathers) have the greatest weight in my mind, save Scripture. Who ever mentioned Patriarch Jeremiah’s statements about the faith? I assume you are talking about the Eastern Patriarchs’ response to Rome in the 1800s. I would say it is the most catholic document produced in Orthodoxy since Photius’ Mystogagy of the Holy Spirit.

            “Only Father Johannes and Nick are right, by divine inspiration” can be restated that “Only Scott is right, by earthly concerns for earthly authority”.

            Scott. Listen carefully. What we have been saying is that ecumenical councils are not “normative“. They were called in supra-exceptional circumstances often due to political considerations. The Seven that you recognize and the Eight that I recognize (as did Jeremias in the encyclical) got it right, not because a bunch of guys with mitres said so but because what they said was consistent with Scripture and the Fathers. Authority derives not from the structure that promulgates the dogma, but rather from the Truth of the dogma that is promulgated. That may be a difficult concept for a western mind, but it is not for those that understand the Fathers.

            By the way, even Rome is starting to understand this. Go back and read the 2007 Ravenna Document from the International Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation and you will see that we all, including layman Nick and layman Scott are part of the conscience of the Church and have a say in the work of ecumenical councils. If Rome can even accept that, why can you not?

            You reacted somewhat incredulously on an earlier post to the concept that the sacremental function gives the bishop authority and suggested his authority is a sine qua non of the office, or something to that effect. I submit to you that the only distinction between the royal priesthood and the so-called ‘sacred priesthood” is in the sacremental function.

            Finally, thank you for lumping me and Fr. Hans together (though inadvertently) with the most inspired benchmark of Orthodoxy, St Maximos. Although Fr. Hans is a cleric, I am not, and neither was Maximos. Can you believe — a layman like Maximos is THE benchmark. Not a council. Not Nick. Not Fr. Hans. But, the layman MAXIMOS! Now that’s “authority I can believe in!”

          • Scott Pennington :

            Nick,

            The statements of GOARCH to which I was referring are in 12.3.1

            The position of ROCOR to which I was referring is what I quoted in comment 27.

            The statements of the Fathers to which I was referring are in 12.3.

            The statement of Elder Cleopa I was referring to is in 12.2 and again at the end of my comment in 12.3.

            All of these statements and descriptions of the relation of Scripture, Tradition and the authority of Councils contradict what you and Fr. Johannes have been saying throughout this thread.

            “Scott. Listen carefully. What we have been saying is that ecumenical councils are not “normative“. They were called in supra-exceptional circumstances often due to political considerations. The Seven that you recognize and the Eight that I recognize (as did Jeremias in the encyclical) got it right, not because a bunch of guys with mitres said so but because what they said was consistent with Scripture and the Fathers. Authority derives not from the structure that promulgates the dogma, but rather from the Truth of the dogma that is promulgated. That may be a difficult concept for a western mind, but it is not for those that understand the Fathers.”

            And listen very carefully to me, Nick. It has nothing to do with Eastern understanding versus Western understanding. It has everything to do with a Protestant mindset versus an Orthodox mindset. The thing that you cannot understand from your Protestant mindset is that the structure is the only way we have to identify the Truth which is not self evident. Indeed, it is the method prescribed by God Himself, through Christ, and through the Holy Spirit as evidenced by the Apostolic Council. Christ gave the authority to bind and loose to “a bunch of guys with mitres”, mitres of fire. And they consecrated successors. The Truth is what it is, not because a true EC says it is. The means by which the Truth is identified in times of confusion within the Church, is the EC. The authority of an EC is the authority to identify the Truth, and that is the highest earthly authority within the Church.

        • Scott:

          In your schema, there is no Orthodox Faith. It is indefinable. God knows what it is, but the rest of us are left to guess in the dark because you reject the existence of light.

          It has been defined. Nothing is left to define. That is a historic fact. We have done just fine for the last 1300 years. Orthodoxy has survived pure because there has been no one to tinker with it anymore. We have our Scripture, our Fathers, our Liturgy, our hymnography and our devout mothers. What is lacking, Scott? Nothing.

          What do you want to define?

          • Scott Pennington :

            Nick,

            What I was referring to is your and Father Johannes rejection of the authority of Councils which, to a great extent, defined the Faith for us. I agree, everything is defined. It’s just that you to reject the definitions, or at least the source thereof.

            This is really silly. You all really have no idea what you are talking about and are just making up this nonsense as you go along. It’s a joke. Goarch’s statements about the faith are wrong. ROCOR’s statements about the faith are wrong. The Fathers’ statements about the faith are wrong. Patriarch Jeremiah’s statements about the faith are wrong. Elder Cleopa of Romania is wrong. Only Father Johannes and Nick are right, by divine inspiration.

            Utter nonsense.

            Nick, I’m sure you’ve heard of the laugh test, haven’t you?

  32. Michael Bauman :

    Scott, I just think it might be appropriate to say some good and positive things about good bishops from time to time. My experience is limited to those whom I have met and interacted with personally. I’m sure there are others of the same caliber out there. It would be nice to hear of them from time to time — especially if they are the sole locus of authority in the manner you seem to indicate.

    Believe me if I knew that a council was made up of several men such as Met. Joseph and +Basil. I’d sleep well and write a lot less.

  33. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Scott, to clarify, I am not rejecting the authority of the Councils, indeed, I recite the Nicene Creed every liturgy. What I reject is your (westernized) schema of how authority works in the Church. As I said upstream, it functions just like Protestant and Catholic polemics, except that you replace the bible and Pope with the councils.

    • Scott Pennington :

      “Scott, to clarify, I am not rejecting the authority of the Councils, indeed, I recite the Nicene Creed every liturgy.”

      So do Episcopalians. Some, even without the filioque.

      “What I reject is your (westernized) schema of how authority works in the Church.”

      And this “westernized schema” is also embraced by ROCOR and GOARCH.

      Actually, Fr. Johannes, you have rejected the authority of councils and repeatedly, both by agreeing with Nick and by stating that Ecumenical Councils are only authoritative insofar as they agree with Apostolic teaching. By stating that someone (you, perhaps) gets to judge an Ecumenical Council, received by the Church, you reject their authority. You are no one to judge. That is Protestantism, not Orthodoxy.

      As to your assertion that I put Ecumenical Councils in the same place as the RCC puts the Pope and Protestants put the Bible, I don’t think the analogy is perfect or even particularly close to the mark; however, roughly speaking, I suppose you could say that. The reason I say that is because that is the Orthodox Faith as understood by ROCOR, GOARCH, et al.

      What I can also say with some confidence is the following:

      You and Nick on the one hand, and I on the other, do not believe in the same religion at all. It is true that we both call it Orthodoxy. It is true that our respective bishops allow us to remain communicants, but we do not share the same faith. That should be readily apparent.

      But this is not uncommon in the modern Church.

      • Scott:

        What I can also say with some confidence is the following:

        You and Nick on the one hand, and I on the other, do not believe in the same religion at all. It is true that we both call it Orthodoxy. It is true that our respective bishops allow us to remain communicants, but we do not share the same faith. That should be readily apparent.

        But this is not uncommon in the modern Church.

        I resent that comment. How dare you question my Orthodoxy or Fr. Hans’. You go too far. You are trying to equate dogma with “earthly cares”. I don’t really care about me so much. But, you owe Fr. Hans an apology. Don’t ever go there again — Fr. Hans does not deserve that! If I were your Bishop, the epitima would be severe.

        Please forgive me Fr. Hans, but this does go too far.

        • Scott Pennington :

          Nick,

          How is it inaccurate to say that if we do not recognize the same sources of authority that we do not share the same religion? I have heard defenses of Sola Scriptura and, essentially, of soul competence. It is clear that the faith that you and Fr. Johannes espouse is not of the same substance as that of the quotes I laid out from GOARCH, ROCOR, the Fathers speaking on Tradition and Scripture or the Elder Cleopa. Various things that each of you have said have flat out contradicted all or much of these statements.

          I don’t mean it as an insult insofar as I believe that you are being sincere, or at least true to some philosophy that is current in some circles. But I certainly don’t believe in any of the stuff you all are stating and much of it is rejected by the statements I mentioned above.

          Exactly how was I being inaccurate? Everyone has a right to be offended. But not a right not to be offended.

          Nonetheless, it is Fr. Johannes’ website. I do not apologize for making accurate statements, so if he has a problem with it, he wields the “highest cyber authority” here.

          • Scott:

            I do not apologize for making accurate statements, so if he has a problem with it, he wields the “highest cyber authority” here.

            Scott: This discussion is over!

            I would ask everyone who agrees that Scott’s statements questioning Fr. Hans’ Orthodoxy to refrain from further repsonses to this thread.

            Scott: I will pray for you.

          • Scott Pennington :

            Nick,

            What I said was that we (you and Fr. Hans on the one hand and I on the other) do not believe in the same religion. I happen to believe I am right and feel like I’m on solid ground given what I have quoted you. It is also possible that you and Fr. Johannes are right. What is not possible is that both positions are accurate statements of the Orthodox faith. They are too mutually exclusive.

            Please, spare me the melodrama. We’re not making a Western here (pun intended).

            Also, Nick, there is a kind of passive aggressive tone to this. God forbid you should defend yourself and rally the troops to your own defense. You instead play the cavalier and are offended for Fr. Johannes and rally the troops in defense of the poor defenseless priest.

            Believe me, Fr. Johannes can defend himself. He’s not a damsel in distress.

            PS: Thank you for praying for me. I will do the same for you and Fr. Johannes. For now, we see as if through a glass, darkly . . .

        • Scott Pennington :

          By the way, Nick, each and every time you and Fr Johannes asserted I was dead wrong or claimed that I was looking through a western prism and importing “Westernized schema, structures or paradigms, etc.” into Orthodoxy, you were “questioning” my Orthodoxy in the very sense I was “questioning” yours..

          I just pointed it out explicitly.

          • Scott: I was not questioning your Orthodoxy. I was questioning your developmental understanding. We all go through that phase.

          • Scott Pennington :

            Nick,

            Yes you were. And I love it when you and Fr. Johannes condescend to me. Makes me feel special. Let’s just say that my remark about not believing in the same religion was simply questioning your and Fr. Johannes “developmental understanding” as well.

            Cheers

  34. Scott Pennington :

    “Nick is right Scott. Your default position, and I mean this charitably, I really do, is to draw up structures and then imbue them with an authority that they don’t intrinsically have — abstract structures never do.”

    Sounds like a denial of the authority of Councils to me.

    “I agree with Nick completely. Councils are confirmations, not starting points. We have no Magisterium.”

    And the rest of the Church sees them as the highest earthly authority within the Church.

    Fr. Johannes, please don’t be disingenuous. You are denying the authority of EC’s.

  35. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Let’s start from the top.

    First of all your notion of sola-scriptura is skewed. I’ve explained that twice now. You are drawing from the popular Orthodox apologetic that argues that sola-scriptura leads to subjective interpretations of scripture. To solve this problem of subjective interpretation, Tradition is elevated to the same level as scripture, or from the other direction, scripture is seen as possessing the same authority as all other elements that comprise the Tradition (the Fathers, Councils, and so forth).

    The problem is that whoever wrote the apologetic was ignorant of history. The problem in Protestantism is Pietism, not sola-scriptura. Sola-scriptura merely affirms the primacy of scripture over the decrees of the Magisterium of Luther’s time. He drew from the Fathers in promulgating it. His high view of scripture is entirely in accord with the Fathers.

    It doesn’t follow that holding the scriptures as primary leads to subjective interpretation. The polemic, which obviously has shaped so much of your argument uses Protestant (more Evangelical actually) categories. That’s why you assume that any challenge to it inevitably leads to anarchy. It doesn’t. (See below.)

    If Scripture is indeed one co-equal element of Tradition, why not process with a copy of the Nicene Creed, or the writings of St. John Chrysostom during the small entrance? Why not a copy of the Rudder or an icon of Christ on the altar instead of the Gospels? Why not read St. Basil instead of St. Matthew during the Liturgy? Orthodox Tradition militates against the logic of the apologetic. Think this one through a bit more carefully.

    Second, the GOARCH quote:

    The doctrinal teaching of the Bible and the Ecumenical Synods constitutes the content of the Faith and the unmovable basis of orthodox dogmatics. The body of the Church, which consists of clergy and laymen, is the carrier of the infallibility of the Church, where the Holy Spirit protects it from making error. But the voice of the Church for expressing its infallibility is its highest authority – the Ecumenical Synod in which the whole pleroma (people of the Church) is represented by its bishops.. The decisions of these Synods are sources of the teaching of the Church. There are utterances of the synods (oroi) which directly express the dogmatical teaching of the Church, and some canons which hold dogmatical teachings, although they mainly deal with discipline and administration in the Church. The Ecumenical Synods are the main sources of the truths of the Church. The Symbol of Nicaea established by the First and Second Synods is repeatedly restated in the five Ecumenical Synods that followed through the eighth century.

    I’ll put aside the notion of infallibility for the time being (truth and infallibility are two different things, just like truth and inerrancy are two different things). What I said upstream is that the claims here are flat out wrong. The Synods are not the sources of teachings of the Church. They may be their ratification, but they are not the sources. The writings of the Councils fill, – what? –one one-hundredth, maybe less, of the entire corpus of Orthodox teaching. Chrysostom probably produced volumes more than all the Councils combined.

    And no, the “whole pleroma” is not represented by the Bishops of the Church. The Bishop represents Christ in the assembly (he has an iconic function). He is not Christ, nor does he represent the assembly itself. This is basic Orthodox ecclesiology.

    Here is where the synodical decisions matter. Synodical decisions are authoritative to the measure that they conform to the Gospel, to the core of the apostolic teaching. To argue anything else would require that Bishops be seen as infallible which seems to be the implicit bias above: Church is infallible, Bishops constitute the Church, therefore Bishops are infallible. The only other option is to spiritualize away the very real historical/ecclesiological problem of robber councils and faulty rulings. That is your approach. You resolve the problem by arguing that the next council simply makes it disappear.

    The Gospel constitutes the Church, not the Bishops. The paragraph above is just sloppy. It should be removed from the site. Bishops who understand that the Church is constituted by the Gospel are also the ones that can bring real light and leadership into the Church. They reflect Christ and thus vivify the structure with the Spirit through their preaching and teaching. When they do, the Church is restored. It becomes a living entity — the Body of Christ — it was created to be, and avoids the devolution into a poorly run corporation (our age), or a feudal fiefdom (ages past), that we see when leadership fails. (That’s why, after the consecration of the gifts, we pray that the Bishop might have length of days in order to “rightly divide the word of truth.” The prayer is grounded in this understanding: “My Words are spirit and they are life”.)

    We haven’t had a council for, what? – 1300 years? Neither have we fallen into the modern trap of believing that claims of infallibility are necessary for maintaining authority (Orthodoxy hasn’t, some converts have). Protestants developed biblical infallibility, and Catholics developed Papal/Magisterial infallibility. (Biblical infallibility and Papal infallibility arose simultaneously, in reaction to the liberalization of culture in the late 1800’s.) Yet we don’t have the doctrinal confusion we see in both communions. Why do you think that is?

    You argue that if don’t conform our ideas about authority to a Protestant or Catholic model albeit with an Orthodox twist (substituting the Councils for Scripture or the Magisterium), we will devolve into the confusion we see there. I argue, and I think Nick does too, following your model is what will bring these problems to Orthodoxy. That is not to say that Orthodoxy does not have problems. It is to say that your prescription that objectified authoritative structures are necessary make the problems worse, not better. (Your notion is what kept the OCA locked into its personnel problems twenty years longer than necessary. The laity cleaned house in the OCA, not the Bishops, apart from Bp. Job. In fact, some of the remaining Bishops attempted to quench reform using the arguments you contend should be normative.)

    Third, as for ROCOR and the other things you mentioned, I didn’t comment on them. The only thing I recall beyond that were the quotes you provided about Scripture and Tradition which I told you to read again since it was clear that the authors saw the Apostolic teaching as primary, and that primacy is what gives the verbal Tradition it’s authority. In other words, they are making the same argument I am. You read my argument as a denial of Tradition, but that is because your are filtering it through the Westernized categories that also informed the faulty apologetic I analyzed at the outset.

    • Scott Pennington :

      “If Scripture is indeed one co-equal element of Tradition, why not process with a copy of the Nicene Creed, or the writings of St. John Chrysostom during the small entrance? Why not a copy of the Rudder or an icon of Christ on the altar instead of the Gospels? Why not read St. Basil instead of St. Matthew during the Liturgy? Orthodox Tradition militates against the logic of the apologetic. Think this one through a bit more carefully.”

      I have thought it through quite carefully and that is why I have rejected much of what you have written as misguided. Your argument is not with me but with the Fathers I quoted above, as well as Elder Cleopa, who give Scripture and Tradition equal authority. The quotes show that part of the Apostolic teaching was written down early and we call that Scripture, other parts were passed along orally and later written down and we refer to that as Tradition, but it is all Apostolic teaching and it is all to be believed.

      We process with the Gospels because they are the primary accounts of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Their purpose was to convey in narrative form His Life, His Acts on Earth and His Divinity.

      I do not dispute that the New Testament and Scriptures in general have a special place within Tradition. That is a canard you have repeatedly raised.

      “The problem is that whoever wrote the apologetic was ignorant of history. The problem in Protestantism is Pietism, not sola-scriptura. Sola-scriptura merely affirms the primacy of scripture over the decrees of the Magisterium of Luther’s time. He drew from the Fathers in promulgating it. His high view of scripture is entirely in accord with the Fathers.”

      “Holy Tradition is the teaching of the Church, God-given with a living voice, from which a portion was later written down. As with Holy Scripture, so, too, Holy Tradition contains Holy Revelation, and is, therefore, fundamental for our salvation. Holy Tradition is the life of the Church in the Holy Spirit and, consonant with the enduring life of the Church, is thus a wellspring of Holy Revelation, such that, consequently, it possesses the same authority as Holy Scripture.” – Elder Cleopa

      St. Basil the Great(A.D. 329-379), Bishop of Caesarea, writes:

      “Of the dogmas and kergymas preserved in the Church, some we possess from written teaching and others we receive from the tradition of the Apostles, handed on to us in mystery. In respect to piety both are of the same force. No one will contradict any of these, no one, at any rate, who is even moderately versed in manners ecclesiastical. Indeed, were we to try to reject the unwritten customs as having no great authority, we would unwittingly injure the Gospel in its vitals; or rather, we would reduce kergyma to a mere term” (Holy Spirit 27:66).

      Epiphanius of Salamis:
      “It is needful also to make use of tradition, for not everything can be gotten from sacred Scripture. The holy apostles handed down some things in the scriptures, other things in tradition” (Medicine Chest Against All Heresies 61:6 [A.D. 375]).”

      St. John Chrysostom:
      “[Paul commands,] ‘Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word or by our letter’ [2 Thess. 2:15]. From this it is clear that they did not hand down everything by letter, but there is much also that was not written. Like that which was written, the unwritten too is worthy of belief. So let us regard the tradition of the Church also as worthy of belief. Is it a tradition? Seek no further” (Homilies on Second Thessalonians [A.D. 402]).

      It is not a polemic. It is the Faith and it predates any reaction (or overreaction) on the part of the Orthodox to the Protestant Reformation or to sola scriptura. You are just dead wrong on this issue.

      “The only other option is to spiritualize away the very real historical/ecclesiological problem of robber councils and faulty rulings. That is your approach. You resolve the problem by arguing that the next council simply makes it disappear.”

      As I have said before many times, because you have done it many times, I wish that you would actually take issue with what I wrote rather than what you wish that I had written: I have never claimed infallibility for any Council. I have stated, as does GOARCH, as does ROCOR, etc. that they are the highest earthly authority within the Church. I do not “spiritualize away” the “problem of Robber Councils and faulty rulings”. Not ever having claimed infallibility for them, it isn’t a problem.

      “You argue that if don’t conform our ideas about authority to a Protestant or Catholic model albeit with an Orthodox twist (substituting the Councils for Scripture or the Magisterium), we will devolve into the confusion we see there.”

      The model you criticize is neither Protestant nor Catholic. The model is what eventually settled the controversies which plagued the early Church. It is thanks to that model that we have not devolved into the 25,000 flavors of Protestantism or the “make it up as you go along” idea of Holy Tradition present in the RCC. Neither Protestant nor RCC ecclesiology could ever have been recognized as valid by a council representative of Christendom.

      “Third, as for ROCOR and the other things you mentioned, I didn’t comment on them. The only thing I recall beyond that were the quotes you provided about Scripture and Tradition which I told you to read again since it was clear that the authors saw the Apostolic teaching as primary, and that primacy is what gives the verbal Tradition it’s authority. In other words, they are making the same argument I am. You read my argument as a denial of Tradition, but that is because your are filtering it through the Westernized categories that also informed the faulty apologetic I analyzed at the outset.”

      ROCOR uses the same language that I did in my first comment here which you and Nick have taken issue with ad nauseum. The quote does not say that the primacy of Apostolic Tradition (if by that you mean Scripture or the Gospels) is what gives the verbal Tradition its authority. That’s what you might wish that it said. It’s what you might wish the Fathers that I quoted said. But that’s not what they said. What they said is that the Gospels, the rest of the New Testament and the wider Apostolic tradition all have the same source and the same authority. What Fr. Seraphim Slobodskoy’s book says is that an EC is a source of authority, not because someone like you or I believes that it conforms to Apostolic teaching, but because it is the highest earthly authority within the Church; i.e., because it is the method which the Apostles and their successors initiated, guided by the Holy Spirit, to identify what the Truth is in times of confusion.

      Your whole mindset on this is wrong and at odds with much of the rest of the Church’s understanding on the subject. Here is why it is important:

      As I stated above, what the Reformation did, broadly, was to destroy the underpinnings of the RCC’s version of Holy Tradition. They did so by giving Scripture a certain type of place above the rest of Tradition that the quotes above (most of which, you will notice, predate the Reformation by over 1000 years) deny it. They did this in order to use Scripture against Tradition which enabled them to get rid of the things they didn ‘t like about the RCC. And they got rid of a lot. Luther was comparitively mild compared to some later reformers, but he opened the door by choosing to see Tradition as inferior and rejectable by his or any other self proclaimed authority as being incompatible with Scripture. What they should have done, instead of rejecting Holy Tradition as authoritative, was to reject the Roman model of ascertaining what constitutes Holy Tradition and adopting the Orthodox model. If they had done that, they would be Orthodox now. Instead they adopted a heretical doctrine, an Occam’s razor, which they used to get rid not only of Roman innovations, but the underlying valid Tradition as well. I do not suggest for a second, as you have asserted, that sola scripturs means that only Scripture can be considered or that only Scripture has weight in determining what the Faith is. What it does necessarily mean is that Scripture can be turned on Holy Tradition to get rid of whatever is there that the grand evaluator dislikes.

      By saying that the received decisions of Ecumenical Councils (or any of the rest of Traditon) have only “derivative” authority if you or someone yet unspecified finds them in accord with Scripture, you open the same door. That is why, at its essence, what you and Nick are saying is Protestant, not Orthodox. The fact that you continue to choose to believe that the teaching of the 7 (or eight) EC’s is true, or that you continue to recite the Creed, etc. is not the point. The point is why you do this.

      As I stated above, rejecting the statements of ROCOR (which you do while denying the same), GOARCH, the Fathers I quoted and Patriarch Jeremiah, you insist that what you are stating reflects the mind of the Church. That to me seems very unlikely.

      “The Gospel constitutes the Church, not the Bishops.”

      If you mean the Gospel in the sense of the substance of the Good News, you are right in the sense that that Good News has been passed down as the Apostolic teaching. Of course, the only way we know the Good News is through the Apostles and their successors; i.e., through the Church. If you mean the four Gospels, you’re completely mistaken. The Church predates them.

      “We haven’t had a council for, what? – 1300 years? Neither have we fallen into the modern trap of believing that claims of infallibility are necessary for maintaining authority (Orthodoxy hasn’t, some converts have).”

      I’ve never claimed infallibility for the Councils so I don’t know what you’re arguing against here. Again, I think it’s a question of what you wish I’d said rather than what I actually did say. I did speculate that, over time, the Church is infallible (i.e., some significant part of it could fall into error, but in the end, it will self correct). The reason I do that, as I stated above, is that Christ said the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Falling into permanent error, to me, would indicate that they had.

      I understand what you’re saying perfectly. It’s just that your thinking is so misguided (I assume by Protestant influences) that you come to unsustainable conclusions at odd with much of the Church and Tradition.

      • Scott Pennington :

        PS: If the substance of your argument is “Western bad, Eastern good”, then you don’t have one.

  36. Father John, as I read this thread I realized there are two statements of yours that made me stumble. Probably my questions are just semantic, but perhaps I am not alone who might benefit. First, you say

    Only the Apostles delivered that Gospel because they received it directly from God… Everyone else receives the Gospel from the Apostles, which is to say scripture…

    You seem to equate Gospel and Scripture here. Now, from your other words it is clear that you accept the fact that some of Christ’s Good News was not recorded in canonized Scripture and is, nevertheless, handed down in other ways. Likewise, I don’t imagine you mean to deny ongoing revelation of God’s will to people through manifold means. All of this is but one and the same Gospel – but variously transmitted. Therefore, would you say that the Gospel – in this sense – is greater then Scripture?

    As to the function of the Gospel you say

    The Gospel constitutes the Church.

    Christ mandated the apostles to: “teach all nations, baptizing them” (Mt. 28, 19). The way I read this is that both Gospel (“teach all nations”) and Grace (“baptizing them”) are constitutive of the Church. The Church, it would seem, is not meant by God exist via just Apostolic teaching, bereft of the Apostolic gifts of grace. Gospel (news about Christ) is the center of the Liturgy of the Catechumens only, but the Liturgy of the Faithful is centered on the reception of Grace (Christ Himself). In light of this, would you agree that Gospel is insufficient in itself to constitute the Church? Or did you have another meaning when you said the above words?

    I ask for these clarifications because I believe that much of the argument on this thread will be solved if we clarify some definitions.

  37. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    The scripture contains (holds) the words given to the apostles, which is to say the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is complete. There is no gospel apart from that given to the apostles. What is primary then is that apostolic word, which is to say scripture because the scripture is the repository of that word.

    Those who stand in that Gospel, who apply it to their particular place and time, are the architects of the Tradition. In this sense the Tradition too is authoritative, it can even be called apostolic, although that authority is necessarily contingent on Scripture, because the Scripture is the repository of the Gospel, the apostolic word.

    To the measure that some of the apostolic teaching was not recorded in scripture does not change this dynamic. In fact, it becomes the criteria by which we determine the veracity of some parts of the Tradition over others. How do we know if the Tradition is true? If it conforms to the apostolic word which is recorded for us in Scripture.

    I am not sure if you can separate “grace” from “Gospel.” The preaching of the Gospel reveals Christ. Grace flows from Him who is revealed. Christ is both the source of the Gospel and the one revealed through the preaching of that Gospel. Grace is received through faith, but faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. In order for that word to be heard however, it must be preached (spoken).

    This is confirmed by the Liturgy itself. What you indicate as the “reception of Christ”, by which I assume you mean the Eucharist, occurs only after the Gospel is first preached. No Gospel, no Eucharist. Early practice makes this point even clearer. The non-baptized were to leave the Liturgy before the recitation of the Creed, which of course preceded the Eucharist but occurs after the Gospel preaching. Current practice confirms it as well, albeit differently. The antimension is opened only after the Gospel is read, not before.

    • Scott Pennington :

      “The scripture contains (holds) the words given to the apostles, which is to say the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is complete. There is no gospel apart from that given to the apostles. What is primary then is that apostolic word, which is to say scripture because the scripture is the repository of that word.”

      But it is definitely not the exclusive repository of the “apostolic word”. We know for certain that the entirety of the Gospel was not reduced to Scripture:

      “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen” – John 21:25

      So . . .

      “It is needful also to make use of tradition, for not everything can be gotten from sacred Scripture. The holy apostles handed down some things in the scriptures, other things in tradition” (Medicine Chest Against All Heresies 61:6 [A.D. 375]).” – Epiphanius of Salamis

      As I said above, what you are saying is essentially Protestant, not Orthodox.

      “To the measure that some of the apostolic teaching was not recorded in scripture does not change this dynamic.”

      Yes it does. It means that there is apostolic teaching which was not included in Scripture which is also the criterion of faith.

      “In fact, it becomes the criteria by which we determine the veracity of some parts of the Tradition over others. How do we know if the Tradition is true? If it conforms to the apostolic word which is recorded for us in Scripture.” And the rest of Tradition already established. And it matters who decides whether it conforms. Not just anybody (like Luther, for instance).

      • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

        “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen” – John 21:25

        So . . .

        “It is needful also to make use of tradition, for not everything can be gotten from sacred Scripture. The holy apostles handed down some things in the scriptures, other things in tradition” (Medicine Chest Against All Heresies 61:6 [A.D. 375]).” – Epiphanius of Salamis

        Here’s the point: The Tradition is authoritative to the measure it abides in the Gospel, in the Apostolic word (which is the primary authority) written in scripture.

        In practical terms it means this, we know what is true and not true by the canon of scripture, the repository of the Apostolic word. That’s how we determine 1) that some Tradition is indeed authoritative and 2) Tradition can be extra-biblical but not divorced from the Gospel contained within the scripture.

        The point is NOT that all the elements of Tradition have to find a one to one correspondence in scripture. That would be impossible simply because the Gospel, in finding a cultural expression, will necessarily be expressed in different ways in different times and places.

        “To the measure that some of the apostolic teaching was not recorded in scripture does not change this dynamic.”

        Yes it does. It means that there is apostolic teaching which was not included in Scripture which is also the criterion of faith.

        But this brings you back to the original question: How was it determined that a false teaching promulgated by a Council was indeed false? Merely citing the historical contingencies that led to the overturning of the decree is not sufficient here. There had to be a reason, a way, by which that false teaching was first perceived as false. What was it? How does one determine what elements of the Tradition are indeed apostolic and which are not?

  38. Scott Pennington :

    Also, more food for thought:

    “Although the New Testament books we have today were written in the first century, it took time for them to be accepted as universally authoritative. Initially, only the life and sayings of Christ were considered of equal authority with the Old Testament scriptures. For instance, Hegessipus in the first half of the second century accepted only “the Law, the Prophets, and the Lord” as norms “to which a right faith must conform” The Didascalia Apostolurum which appears to have been written in the first half of the third century in Northern Syria similarly states the authoritative norms are “the sacred scriptures and the gospel of God” (which it also refers to as “the Law, the book of the Kings and of the Prophets, and the Gospel” and the “Law, Prophet, and Gospel”).

    Moreover, the “Gospel” spoken of was often the Oral Gospel and not exclusively the four Gospels we have in our current Bible. There were also many apocryphal gospels written between the late first and early third centuries. Some of them appear to accurately preserve some of Christ’s sayings and were long used in Christian circles (for instance, Eusebius (c. 325) writes that the Gospel of the Hebrews was still in use although not widely accepted); others were written to support some heretical sect. While use was made of the four Gospels, in the first one and a half centuries of the Church’s history, there was no single Gospel writing which is directly made known, named, or in any way given prominence by quotation. Written and oral traditions run side by side or cross, enrich or distort one another without distinction or even the possibility of distinction between them.

    The reason for this is that the authority of Christ’s words came from Christ having spoken them and not from the words appearing in a sacred text in a fixed form. As a result, sayings from apocryphal sources and the Oral Gospel appear alongside quotes from the four Gospels of our present New Testament. Many early Christians, in fact, had a preference for oral tradition. For instance, Papias in the first half of the second century, said that he inquired of followers of the apostles what the apostles had said and what “Aristion and the presbyter John, disciples of the Lord were still saying. For I did not imagine that things out of books would help me as much as the utterances of a living and abiding voice.” However, he does mention the Gospels of St. Mark and St. Matthew by name.

    Early Christian preference for oral tradition had rabbinic parallels-for instance Philo though oral tradition was superior to scripture. In Semitic thought, the idea persisted for a long time. As late as the thirteenth century, Arab historian Abu-el-Quasim ibn `Askir said, “My friend strive zealously and without ceasing to get hold of [traditions]. Do not take them from written records, so they may not be touched by the disease of textual corruption. ” – from The Emergence of the New Testament Canon, by Daniel Lieuwen

    So I ask you, if the “apostolic word” that is supposedly the criteria of faith was only the four Gospels or the New Testament, how is it that the above is true and how did the Church discern what the contents of this criteria were without an apostolic word to guide them? I.e., who identified your apostolic word as the apostolic word (and by what authority)?

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

      So I ask you, if the “apostolic word” that is supposedly the criteria of faith was only the four Gospels or the New Testament, how is it that the above is true and how did the Church discern what the contents of this criteria were without an apostolic word to guide them? I.e., who identified your apostolic word as the apostolic word (and by what authority)?

      You misunderstand the term “Gospel.” It does not only apply to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. It is the entire text of scripture. The Gospel of Christ is contained within it, from Genesis to Revelation.

      Further, the authority really rests in the apostles for they received their Gospel directly from God. The rest of us (Church Fathers included) receive our Gospel from them. That’s why the word — language — is preeminent here and it really does not matter in the end whether that Gospel is oral or written, although it does matter that the Gospel be heard, that is, preached. Further, after three generations, the apostles and their immediate disciples had died. A written text became a necessity. The arguments you cite above, while compelling, are relevant only to the age they were made. They could hold no practical relevance in the next generation simply because it was too far removed from the Apostles.

      I imagine similar arguments were made about, say, the meaning of the Constitution in the generation immediately following the death of Adams, Jefferson, and others. Now we rely on the written texts to discern their meaning.

      Who identified which writings were indeed apostolic in origin? Men who stood in that apostolic Gospel. We should give thanks to God that they had the foresight to codify and canonize the oral tradition and extant writings when they did. One more generation and it may have been impossible. Too much time would have passed.

      • Geo Michalopulos :

        Scott, if I may add an anecdotal piece of evidence supporting Fr Hans: in the Greek language, whenever we said the word evanggelio we always understood it to be what in English is called “The Holy Bible.” I know that’s not technically correct but that was the idiomatic meaning.

  39. Here is a description of Ecumenical Councils by Fr. Georges Florovsky, of blessed memory:

    The situation changed with the Conversion of the Empire. Since Constantine, or rather since Theodosius, it has been commonly assumed and acknowledged that Church was co-extensive with Commonwealth, that is, with the Universal Empire which has been christened. The “Conversion of the Empire” made the Universality of the Church more visible than ever before. Of course, it did not add anything to the essential and intrinsic Universality of the Christian Church. But the new opportunity provided for its visible manifestation. It was in this situation that the first General Council was convened, the Great Council of Nicea. It was to become the model for the later Councils. “The new established position of the Church necessitated ecumenical action, precisely because Christian life was now lived in the world which was no longer organized on a basis of localism, but of the Empire as a whole … Because the Church has come out into the world the local churches had to learn to live no longer as self-contained units (as in practice, though not in theory, they have largely lived in the past), but as parts of a vast spiritual government” (Dom Gregory Dix, op. cit., p. 113). In a certain sense the General Councils as inaugurated at Nicea may be described as “Imperial Councils,” die Reichskonzile, and this was probably the first and original meaning of the term “Ecumenical” as applied to the Councils (See Eduard Schwartz, “Über die Reichskonzilien von Theodosius bis Justinian” (1921), reprinted in his Gesammelte Schriften, IV (Berlin, 1960), pp. 111-158). It would be out of place now to discuss at any length the vexed and controversial problem of the nature or character of that peculiar structure which was the new Christian Commonwealth, the theocratic Res publica Christiana, in which the Church was strangely wedded with the Empire [Cf. my article, “Empire and Desert: Antinomies of Christian History,” The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, III (No. 2, 1957), 133-159]. For our immediate purpose it is actually irrelevant. The Councils of the fourth century were still occasional meetings, or individual events, and their ultimate authority was still grounded in their conformity with the “Apostolic Tradition.” It is significant that no attempt to develop a legal or canonical theory of “General Councils,” as a seat of ultimate authority, with specific competence and models of procedure, was made at that time, in the fourth century, or later, although they were de facto acknowledged as a proper instance to deal with the questions of faith and doctrine and as an authority on these matters. It will be no exaggeration to suggest that Councils were never regarded as a canonical institution, but rather as occasional charismatic events. Councils were not regarded as periodical gatherings which had to be convened at certain fixed dates. And no Council was accepted as valid in advance, and many Councils were actually disavowed, in spite of their formal regularity. It is enough to mention the notorious Robber Council of 449. Indeed, those Councils which were actually recognized as “Ecumenical,” in the sense of their binding and infallible authority, were recognized, immediately or after a delay, not because of their formal canonical competence, but because of their charismatic character: under the guidance of the Holy Spirit they have witnessed to the Truth, in conformity with the Scripture as handed down in Apostolic Tradition [See V. V. Bolotov, Lectures on the History of the Ancient Church, III (1913), p. 320 ff. (Russian), and his Letters to A. A. Kireev, ed. by D. N. Jakshich (1931), pp. 31 ff. (Russian); also A. P. Dobroklonsky, “The Ecumenical Councils of the Orthodox Church. Their Structure,” Bogoslovlje, XI (2 & 3, 1936), 163-172 and 276-287 (Serbian.)]. There is no space now to discuss the theory of reception. In fact, there was no theory. There was simply an insight into the matters of faith. Hans Küng, in his recent book, Strukturen der Kirche, has suggested a helpful avenue of approach to this very problem. Indeed, Dr. Küng is not a historian, but his theological scheme can be fruitfully applied by historians. Küng suggested that we should regard the Church herself as a “Council,” an Assembly, and as a Council convened by God Himself, aus göttlicher Berufung, and the historic Councils, that is, the Ecumenical or General Councils, as Councils aus menschlicher Berufung, as a “representation” of the Church, — indeed, a “true representation,” but yet no more than a representation [Hans Küng, Strukturen der Kirche, 1962, pp. 11-74]. It is interesting to note that a similar conception had been made already many years ago by the great Russian Church historian, V. V. Bolotov, in his Lectures on the History of the Ancient Church. Church is ecclesia, an assembly, which is never adjourned [Bolotov, Lectures, I (1907), pp. 9-14]. In other words, the ultimate authority — and the ability to discern the truth in faith — is vested in the Church which is indeed a “Divine institution,” in the proper and strict sense of the word, whereas no Council, and no “Conciliar institution,” is de jure Divino, except in so far as it happens to be a true image or manifestation of the Church herself. We may seem to be involved here in a vicious circle. We may be actually involved in it, if we insist on formal guarantees in doctrinal matters. But, obviously, such “guarantees” do not exist and cannot be produced, especially in advance. Certain “Councils” were actually failures, no more than conciliabula, and did err. And for that reason they were subsequently disavowed. The story of the Councils in the fourth century is, in this respect, very instructive [Cf. Monald Goemans, O.F.M., Het algemeene Concilie in de vierde eeuw (Nijmegen-Utrecht, 1945)]. The claims of the Councils were accepted or rejected in the Church not on formal or “canonical” ground. And the verdict of the Church has been highly selective. The Council is not above the Church; this was the attitude of the Ancient Church. The Council is precisely a “representation.” This explains why the Ancient Church never appealed to “Conciliar authority” in general or in abstracto, but always to particular Councils, or rather to their “faith” and witness. Pere Yves Congar has recently published an excellent article on the “Primacy of the first four Ecumenical Councils,” and the evidence he has collected is highly instructive [Primauté des quatre premiers conciles oecuméniques,” Le Concile et les Conciles, Contribution à l’histoire de la vie conciliaive de l’Eglise (1960), p. 75-109]. In fact, it was precisely the normative priority of Nicea, Ephesus, and Chalcedon, that is, of their dogmatic ruling, which was felt to be a faithful and adequate expression of the perennial commitment of faith as once delivered unto the Church. Again the stress was not so much on “canonical” authority, but on the truth. It leads us to the most intricate and crucial problem — what are the ultimate criteria of the Christian Truth?

    • Scott Pennington :

      I am not suggesting that what you all are claiming is unprecedented in the modern church. I’m sure there’s a meme out there that your comments are reflecting. I also think I understand what is motivating you to construe this meme as the teaching of the Church. Fr. Johannes wrote above:

      “Your notion is what kept the OCA locked into its personnel problems twenty years longer than necessary. The laity cleaned house in the OCA, not the Bishops, apart from Bp. Job. In fact, some of the remaining Bishops attempted to quench reform using the arguments you contend should be normative.”

      When I first read that, I thought it was not only untrue but kind of an “out of left field” type of observation that didn’t really relate to the question at hand. Now I understand what’s going on here.

      What you are suggesting is not the Orthodox faith as understood by the Fathers, the Church leadership (for the most part), etc. However, it is a kind of opinion held by some modern Orthodox and a direction they want the Church to take. The reason being that it feeds their “anti-clericalist” narrative and predispositions.

      The fact that it is essentially a Protestant view of Scripture, Tradition, the Councils, etc. notwithstanding, it does serve to diminish the authority of the episcopacy which is seen as a threat to the well-being of the Church.

      That makes perfect sense to me. Disregarding the statements of ROCOR, of GOARCH and of the Fathers I quoted, simply dismissing or not addressing my observations (regarding the fact that the early Church simply did not use the four Gospels or the New Testament to evaluate Tradition, rather Tradition came before the Gospels and Scripture and was in fact used to identify what did qualify as valid Gospels and Scripture) only really makes sense if you are simply choosing to disregard what the Church has believed and taught in favor of a new, improved Faith that satisfies your desire to correct what you perceive as wrong with the Church institutionally.

      By the way, I agree with much of what Florovsky wrote, I do find this interesting though:

      “It would be out of place now to discuss at any length the vexed and controversial problem of the nature or character of that peculiar structure which was the new Christian Commonwealth, the theocratic Res publica Christiana, in which the Church was strangely wedded with the Empire.”

      It only seems strange from a modern perspective.

      “the ultimate authority — and the ability to discern the truth in faith — is vested in the Church which is indeed a “Divine institution,” in the proper and strict sense of the word, whereas no Council, and no “Conciliar institution,” is de jure Divino, except in so far as it happens to be a true image or manifestation of the Church herself.”

      Yes, by and large I agree with that. I’ve never suggested that Councils were a creation of canon law. They are, however, integral to the Church’s ecclesiology. And Florovsky’s quote does not contradict one word I’ve said, or anything from The Law of God, or from the GOARCH website, etc.. I have never once claimed that a valid EC is the “ultimate authority”. Moreover, I would not actually go so far as to claim that the Church is the “ultimate authority”, much less an EC, as does Florovsky. God is the ultimate authority and I’ve never suggested otherwise. What is true, however, is that the highest earthly authority in the Church (not over the Church) is an Ecumenical Council. It is one of the most important means by which the Church “discerns the truth in faith”.

      “Indeed, those Councils which were actually recognized as “Ecumenical,” in the sense of their binding and infallible authority, were recognized, immediately or after a delay, not because of their formal canonical competence, but because of their charismatic character: under the guidance of the Holy Spirit they have witnessed to the Truth, in conformity with the Scripture as handed down in Apostolic Tradition.”

      Moreover, he goes further than I do in acknowledging the authority of Councils. He states, flat out, that received Ecumenical Councils have “binding and infallible authority”. He also states that this is because of the “guidance of the Holy Spirit”, which, again, I have repeatedly stated that valid Councils have. I think you, much like Fr. Johannes, are setting up straw dummies to knock down – – contesting what you wish I’d said rather than what I did say.

      He proves my point as well as anything I’ve quoted.

      “It leads us to the most intricate and crucial problem — what are the ultimate criteria of the Christian Truth?”

      And that question is what we’ve been arguing about. Florovsky does not dispute that the Ecumenical Council is the means by which the Church discerns the truth and that they are the highest earthly authority within the Church, the very proposition you and Fr. Jonannes have been denying all along. Now we’re left with the question, “What is the criterion of Truth” which actually contains another question (which, of course, I’ve pointed out repeatedly), “Who gets to apply this criterion?”

      You and Fr. Johannes, erroneously, claim that the ultimate standard of whether this or that can be accepted as Tradition is whether it conforms to the written Gospel or Scripture. Whether Gospel refers to all Scripture is irrelevant for my purposes here.

      “The scripture contains (holds) the words given to the apostles, which is to say the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is complete. There is no gospel apart from that given to the apostles. What is primary then is that apostolic word, which is to say scripture because the scripture is the repository of that word.”

      That is not true. Moreover, you don’t state who gets to evaluate Tradition to find whether it conforms to your criteria.

      Fr. Johannes wrote, “You misunderstand the term “Gospel.” It does not only apply to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. It is the entire text of scripture. The Gospel of Christ is contained within it, from Genesis to Revelation.”

      After I had already written:

      “If you mean the Gospel in the sense of the substance of the Good News, you are right in the sense that that Good News has been passed down as the Apostolic teaching. Of course, the only way we know the Good News is through the Apostles and their successors; i.e., through the Church. If you mean the four Gospels, you’re completely mistaken. The Church predates them.”

      I do not misunderstand the term “Gospel”. I did not know that in Greek the entire Bible was referred to as “Gospel”; however, I explicitly asked in what sense you were using the term. It is also used, as you can see from my long quote above at 38 above, to refer to the oral tradition of the words of Christ.

      “How does one determine what elements of the Tradition are indeed apostolic and which are not?”

      Tradition came before the New Testament and the four Gospels. The New Testament books recognized as canonical, as well as others, were evaluated by the Church on the basis of Tradition. The four Gospels were recognized as reliable based on Tradition. Scripture is part of Tradition. They are different forms of the same underlying substance and are interdependent. One does not evaluate established Tradition to find if it is in conflict with Scripture any more than one evaluates canonized Scripture to evaluate whether it conflicts with Tradition. It is not possible for them to be in conflict. If they appear to conflict, it is because the person looking at them misunderstands one, the other, or both.

      Now, I will agree with you to the extent that in times of confusion, it is the role of the bishops to evaluate whether some proposition which has not been explicitly addressed in Tradition is valid (i.e., what Tradition explicitly holds concerning the matter) in order to quell disorder in the Church and establish the Truth so that all know what to believe. I have never claimed anything else. I do not believe that they are limited to considering only the written Gospels, or only the New Testament, or only the entire Bible. They can consider all previously established Tradition, which is all to be believed and followed (and not just because it conforms in someone’s eyes to Scripture).

      I also don’t believe that laymen can’t offer opinions on these things. The opinion of laymen is not binding in any way in the sense that your favorite theologian, Florovsky, obviously sees EC’s.

      “The first church council in history was held in the apostolic church to decide the conditions under which the gentiles, that is, the non-Jews, could enter the Christian Church (see Acts 15). From that time on, all through history councils were held on every level of church life to make important decisions. Bishops met regularly with their priests, also called presbyters or elders, and people. It became the practice, and even the law, very early in church history that bishops in given regions should meet in councils held on a regular basis.

      At times in church history councils of all of the bishops in the church were called. All the bishops were not able to attend these councils, of course, and not all such councils were automatically approved and accepted by the Church in its Holy Tradition. In the Orthodox Church only seven such councils, some of which were actually quite small in terms of the number of bishops attending, have received the universal approval of the entire Church in all times and places. These councils have been termed the Seven Ecumenical Councils.

      The dogmatic definitions (dogma means official teaching) and the canon laws of the ecumenical councils are understood to be inspired by God and to be expressive of His will for men. Thus, they are essential sources of Orthodox Christian doctrine.” – Fr. Thomas Hopko, from the Rainbow Series

      Well, you can add the OCA to the list of jurisdictions that agree with me.

      In short, there’s nothing new in what you’ve offered, none of it contradicts what I’ve been saying, some of it supports or even goes further than I would, and none of it really supports you regarding the questions at hand.

  40. Again, here is what Fr. Georges Florovsky of blessed memory says of Tradition:

    I.

    The Large Catechism of the Russian Orthodox Church opens with chapters on “Divine Revelation” and on “Holy Tradition and Holy Scripture.” The question is asked: “In what manner is divine revelation propagated among men and preserved in the true church?” The answer is: “In a twofold manner, first by Tradition and then by Scripture.” Now, Tradition is described in the following sentence, “The true believers transmit to each other — and one generation to the other — by word and example, the teaching of faith, the law of God, sacraments and holy rites.” The keeper of tradition is the church. “All true believers, united by the sacred tradition of faith, jointly and in succession, constitute the church,” which is the “pillar and foundation of truth.” Tradition as a method of preserving divine revelation has the priority in time.

    There was no Scripture before Moses. Christ himself instructed his disciples orally by word and example, and so did the apostles in the beginning. The Scripture was given in order to fix revelation in precise terms for future times. Then follows the description of the biblical canon. The Old Testament books are numbered according to the Hebrew canon, with a reference to Cyril of Jerusalem and Athanasius. The Holy Tradition is complementary to Holy Writ in the sense that it directs the right understanding of Scripture, the right administration of the sacraments, and the preservation of sacred rites in the purity of their original institution. Tradition must be kept in so far as it is in conformity with the divine revelation and the Holy Scripture.

    In the later sections of the Catechism where it speaks of the church, the infallibility of the church is professed and acknowledged, as she is given and promised the guidance and assistance of the Holy Spirit. It should be added that in the whole course of the Catechism abundant references to Scripture are given, and proof-texts are quoted. References to tradition are comparatively rare. The most important of them are precisely in the chapter on tradition itself: a quotation from St. Irenaeus and a lengthy passage from St. Basil’s On The Holy Spirit, chapter 27.

    The Large Catechism is not a “symbolical book” in the technical sense, as the term is used in the West. Yet, it is an authoritative exposition of Orthodox faith, approved by the Holy Synod of the Russian Church and intended for the general instruction of believers. It was drafted by the greatest Russian theologian of the last century, Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow. It is safe, therefore, to take the statements of the Catechism as the starting point of presentation of the Orthodox conception of Scripture and Tradition, in their essence and in their mutual relationship

    The term tradition is used in the Catechism only in order to clarify the manner of propagating and preserving divine revelation. It is the paradosis, the handing down of what God chose to disclose and communicate to men. It is not a particular “source” of truth or doctrine. Revelation is adequately recorded in Scripture. But Scripture is, as it were, “stored” or “deposited” in the church. On the other hand, tradition is equated with the mind and continuous memory of the church. And in this sense it is the guiding principle and criterion of scriptural interpretation. Accordingly, tradition does not and cannot add anything to Scripture, but only elicits what is contained in Holy Writ and puts it in the right perspective. The Scriptures “belong” to the church, are committed to her and not to individual believers. A faithful guide is required for true exegesis. The church catholic is that guide. Or in other words, Scripture is given and preserved in tradition. Tradition and Scripture are inseparable.

    II

    This approach to the problem of Scripture and tradition is itself traditional. In fact, it was the approach of the ancient church. St. Irenaeus and St. Basil were appropriately quoted in the Russian Catechism. The problem of correct exegesis was a burning issue in the ancient church during the struggle and contest with heresies. All parties in the dispute used to appeal to Scripture. Moreover, at that time exegesis was the main, and even the only, theological method, and the authority of Scripture was sovereign and supreme. The orthodox leaders were bound to raise the hermeneutical question: What was the principle of interpretation? Now, in the second century the term “Scripture” still denoted primarily the Old Testament. It was in this same century that the authority of the Old Testament was sharply and radically challenged, and actually rejected, by Marcion. The unity of the Bible had to be proved and vindicated. What was the basis and the warrant of a Christian and christological understanding of “prophecy,” that is, of the Old Testament? It was in this historic situation that the authority of tradition was first invoked.

    Scripture belonged to the church, and it was only in the church, within the community of right faith, that Scripture could be adequately understood and correctly interpreted. Heretics, namely, those outside of the church, had no key to the mind of the Scripture. It was not enough simply to quote scriptural words and texts (the “letter”). Rather, the true meaning of Scripture, taken as an integrated whole, had to be grasped and elicited. In the admirable phrase of St. Hilary of Poitiers, “scripturae enim non in legendo sunt, sed in intelligendo.” The phrase was also repeated by St. Jerome. One had to grasp in advance, as it were, the true pattern of scriptural revelation, the great and comprehensive design of God’s redemptive providence (the oeconomia), and this could be done only by an insight of faith. It was by faith that the witness to Christ could be discerned in the Old Testament. It was by faith that the unity of the tetramorphic gospel could be properly ascertained.

    Now, this faith was not an arbitrary and subjective insight of individuals; it was the faith of the church, rooted in the apostolic message or kerygma and authenticated by it. Those outside of the church, that is, outside of her living and apostolic tradition, failed to have precisely this basic and overarching message, the very heart of the gospel. With them Scripture was an array of disconnected passages and stories or of proof-texts which they endeavored to arrange and re-arrange according to their own pattern, derived from alien sources. They had “another faith.”

    III

    This was the main method and the main argument of Tertullian in his passionate treatise De praescriptione. He could not discuss Scriptures with heretics, with those outside the communion of apostolic faith. For they had no right to use the Scriptures: the Scriptures did not belong to them. They were the possession of the church. Tertullian emphatically insisted on the priority of the “rule of faith.” It was the only key to the Scriptures, the indispensable prerequisite of authentic biblical interpretation. And this rule was apostolic; it was rooted in and derived from the original apostolic preaching. The New Testament itself had to be taken in the comprehensive context of the total apostolic preaching, which was still vividly remembered in the church.

    The basic intention of this appeal to the apostolic “rule of faith” in the early church is obvious. When Christians spoke of the “rule of faith” as apostolic, they did not mean that the apostles had formulated it. What they meant was that the profession of belief which every catechumen recited before his baptism did embody in summary form the faith which the apostles had taught and had committed to their disciples after them. This profession of faith was the same everywhere, although the actual phrasing could vary from place to place. It was always intimately related to the baptismal formula itself (Cf. C. H. Turner). Apart from this “rule” the Scriptures could only be misinterpreted, contended Tertullian and St. Irenaeus a bit earlier.

    The apostolic tradition of faith was the indispensable guide in the understanding of Scripture and the ultimate warrant of right interpretation. The church was not an external authority which could be the judge over Scripture, but was rather the keeper and guardian of that divine truth which has been stored and deposited in Holy Writ. The “rule of faith,” of which the early church fathers spoke, was intimately related to the sacrament of Christian initiation. It was the “rule” to which believers are committed (and into which they were previously initiated) by their baptismal profession. On the other hand, this “rule” was nothing other than the “truth” which the apostles had deposited in the church and entrusted to her, to be continuously handed down by the succession of accredited pastors, under the abiding guidance of the Holy Spirit.

    The image of the church as a “treasury of truth” comes from St. Irenaeus. The treasure is indeed the Scripture, but also the living faith by which the mystery of the Scripture is assessed. Tradition in the early church was, first of all, a hermeneutical principle and method. Scripture could be rightly and fully comprehended only in the light and in the context of the living apostolic tradition, which was an integral factor of Christian existence. It was so not because tradition could add anything to what has been manifested in the Scripture, but because it provided that living context, the comprehensive perspective, in which alone the true intention and the total design of the Holy Writ, and especially of the divine revelation itself, could be adequately grasped and acknowledged. The Christian truth was, in the phrase of St. Irenaeus, a “well-grounded system,” a corpus veritatis, or a “harmonious melody.” And it was precisely this harmony that could be apprehended by faith alone. The apostolic tradition, as it was maintained and understood in the early church, was not a fixed core or complex of binding propositions, but rather an insight into the meaning and power of the revelatory events, of the revelation of the “God who acts” and has acted.

    IV

    The situation did not change in the fourth century. The dispute with the Arians was centered again in the exegetical field, at least in its early phase. The Arians and their supporters had produced an impressive array of scriptural texts in defense of their doctrinal position. They wanted to restrict theological discussion to the biblical ground alone. Their claim had to be met precisely on this ground. Their exegetical method was much the same as that of the earlier dissenters. They were operating with selected proof-texts, without much concern for the total context of revelation. It was imperative for the orthodox to appeal to the mind of the church, to that “faith” which had been once delivered and then faithfully kept. This was the chief concern and the usual method of the great Athanasius. In his arguments he persistently invoked the “rule of faith,” much in the same manner as it had been done by the fathers of the second century.

    Only the “rule of faith” allows the theologian to grasp the true intention of Holy Scripture, the scopos, the genuine design and intent of the revelation. The “scope” of the faith or the Scriptures was precisely their credal core, which was condensed in the “rule of faith,” as this had been handed down and transmitted “from fathers to fathers.” In contrast, the Arians had “no fathers” to support their doctrinal claims. Their blasphemy was a sheer innovation totally alien to apostolic tradition and to the overarching message of the Bible. St. Athanasius regarded this traditional “rule of faith” as the norm and ultimate principle of interpretation, opposing “the ecclesiastical sense” to “the private opinions” of the heretics. Indeed, for him Scripture was an adequate and sufficient source of doctrine, sacred and inspired. Only it had to be properly interpreted in the context of the living credal tradition, under the guidance and control of the “rule of faith.”

    Moreover, this “rule” was in no sense an extraneous authority which could be imposed on the Holy Writ. It was, in fact, the same apostolic preaching which had been deposited in writing in the books of the New Testament. But it was, as it were, this preaching in epitome, Sometimes Athanasius described the Scripture itself as an apostolic paradosis. In the whole discussion with the Arians there is no single reference to any “traditions” in the plural. The only appeal is to Tradition. “Let us look at that very tradition, teaching and faith of the cathlolic church from the very beginning, which the Lord handed down, the apostles preached and the fathers preserved. Upon this the church is established.” (St. Athanasius, ad Serap., T. 28). Thus, he teaches that “tradition” is even more than apostolic; it is dominical coming from the Lord Himself.

    The first reference to “unwritten traditions” is to be found in the famous treatise of St. Basil, On the Holy Spirit; And, at first glance, it may seem as if St. Basil admitted a double authority and double standard — unwritten traditions alongside of the Scriptures. The fact is however, that he is far from doing so. His terminology is peculiar. His main distnction is between kerygmata and dogmata. In his phraseology, kerygmata are precisely what in the later terminology was denoted as doctrine, that is, formal and authoritative teaching and ruling in matters of faith or the public teaching. On the other hand, dogmata are the total complex of “unwritten habits” — in fact, the total structure of liturgical and sacramental life. These “habits” were handed down, says St. Basil, en mysterio. It would be a flagrant mistranslation if we took these words to mean “in secret.” The only accurate rendering is: “by way of mysteries.” This means, under the form of rites and liturgical usages. Indeed, all the examples which St. Basil cites in this connection are ritual and symbolic. These rites and symbols are means of communication. In a sense they are extra-scriptural. But their purpose is to impart to the candidates for baptism the “rule of faith” and prepare them for their baptismal profession of faith. St. Basil’s appeal to these “unwritten habits” was no more than an appeal to the faith of the church, to her sensus catholicus. He had to break the deadlock created by the obstinate and narrow-minded pseudo-biblicism of his Arian, or Eunomian, opponents. And he pleaded that, apart from this “unwritten” rule of faith, expressed in sacramental rites and habits, it was impossible to grasp the true intention of the Scripture.

    V

    To conclude this brief excursus on the ancient tradition we should mention St. Vincent of Lerins and his famous Commonitorium. Sometimes it is asserted that Vincent admitted the double authority of Scripture and Tradition. Actually he held the opposite view. Indeed, the true faith could be recognized, according toVincent, in a double manner, duplici modo, that is, by the authority of the divine law (i.e. Scripture) and by ecclesiastical tradition. This does not imply, however, that there are two sources of Christian doctrine. The “rule” of Scripture was for St. Vincent “perfect and self-sufficient.” Why then was it imperative to invoke also the “authority of ecclesiastical understanding,” (ecclesiasticae intelligentiae auctoritas)? The reason is obvious: Scripture was variously interpreted and twisted by individual writers for their subjective purposes. And to this confusing variety of discordant interpretations and private opinions, St. Vincent opposes the mind of the church catholic (ut propheticae et apostolicae interpretationis linea secundum ecclesiastici et catholici sensus normam derigatur). Thus tradition for St. Vincent is not an independent instance nor a complementary source of doctrine. It is no more than Scripture being interpreted according to the catholic mind of the church, which is the guardian of the apostolic “rule of faith.” St. Vincent repeats and summarizes the continuous attitude of the ancient church on this matter. Scripture is an adequate source of doctrine: ad omnia satis superque sufficiat. Tradition is the authentic guide in interpretation, providing the context and perspective in which Scripture discloses its genuine message.

    The Orthodox Church is faithfully committed to this ancient and traditional view on the sources of Christian doctrine. Scripture is an adequate source. But only in so far as it is read and interpreted in the church which is the guardian both of the Holy Writ and of the total apostolic paradosis of faith, order and life. Tradition alone allows the church to go beyond the “letter” to the very Word of Life.

    • Scott Pennington :

      Nick,

      I wrote my reply at 39.1 before I had gone through your quote at 40. I do take issue with some propositions contained in it:

      “The Holy Tradition is complementary to Holy Writ in the sense that it directs the right understanding of Scripture, the right administration of the sacraments, and the preservation of sacred rites in the purity of their original institution. Tradition must be kept in so far as it is in conformity with the divine revelation and the Holy Scripture.”

      That last line is misleading. Tradition is the means by which we know what Scripture is Scripture. Tradition came before the New Testament which was identified as holy and inspired on the basis of Tradition. The last line above assumes the possiblity that Tradition and Scripture can be in conflict, which they cannot. It would be better stated as follows. “Some particular teaching not already explicitly recognized as Holy Tradition may be Holy Tradition if it does not disagree with the rest of Holy Tradition including Scripture.” Otherwise, the last line has no rational meaning or else it is inaccurate. Notice he distinguishes the “divine revelation” from Holy Scripture.

      “Accordingly, tradition does not and cannot add anything to Scripture, but only elicits what is contained in Holy Writ and puts it in the right perspective.”

      It was by the oral tradition that the Good News was first transmitted and the canon of the New Testament was established based on an already present Holy Tradition. I.e., part of the oral tradition was reduced to writing and became the New Testament. Therefore, Tradition did in fact “add” to Scripture and doesn’t just simply put it in “right perspective” However, he apprehends the truth in the next lines:

      “The Scriptures ‘belong’ to the church, are committed to her and not to individual believers. A faithful guide is required for true exegesis. The church catholic is that guide. Or in other words, Scripture is given and preserved in tradition. Tradition and Scripture are inseparable.”

      “The New Testament itself had to be taken in the comprehensive context of the total apostolic preaching, which was still vividly remembered in the church.”

      Absolutely. Also, there was apostolic teaching passed down outside the New Testament books as well.

      “The church was not an external authority which could be the judge over Scripture, but was rather the keeper and guardian of that divine truth which has been stored and deposited in Holy Writ.”

      Well, yes and no. The Church actually did judge what Scripture it considered inspired and established the canon of Scripture. The divine truth has been stored and deposited in Holy Writ, but not only Holy Writ.

      “On the other hand, this “rule” was nothing other than the “truth” which the apostles had deposited in the church and entrusted to her, to be continuously handed down by the succession of accredited pastors, under the abiding guidance of the Holy Spirit.”

      Yes, very beautifully stated.

      “Moreover, this ‘rule’ was in no sense an extraneous authority which could be imposed on the Holy Writ. It was, in fact, the same apostolic preaching which had been deposited in writing in the books of the New Testament.”

      I would clarify here that the “rule” is not merely the oral words of the New Testament. It is another form of the Apostolic teaching which was “deposited” in the New Testament. But I think in context this is clear.

      “But it was, as it were, this preaching in epitome, Sometimes Athanasius described the Scripture itself as an apostolic paradosis. In the whole discussion with the Arians there is no single reference to any “traditions” in the plural. The only appeal is to Tradition. “Let us look at that very tradition, teaching and faith of the cathlolic church from the very beginning, which the Lord handed down, the apostles preached and the fathers preserved. Upon this the church is established.” (St. Athanasius, ad Serap., T. 28). Thus, he teaches that “tradition” is even more than apostolic; it is dominical coming from the Lord Himself.

      Yes, my point precisely. To speak of “Scripture and Tradition” is a convention. They are simply different forms of the same underlying thing: Apostolic teaching.

      The last three paragraphs, however, are a complete misstatement of the faith. In fact, they contradict a considerable amount of what comes before them. He leaves the same problem unanswered as you all do: If Tradition is not a source of authority, how did we discern which books are Scripture? There is simply no answer to that.

      He addresses St. Basil’s statement as being a reference to rituals. However, Basil went on, “Indeed, were we to try to reject the unwritten customs as having no great authority, we would unwittingly injure the Gospel in its vitals; or rather, we would reduce kergyma to a mere term”. Neglect of rituals would not injure the Gospel in its vitals or reduce kerygma to a mere term. He’s just dead wrong here.

      On reflection, he has a point regarding St. Vincent and looking over that quote I can see now that he is not actually referring to Scripture versus Tradition but Scripture in the context of ecclesiastical authority to interpret it. That is not the same thing as Tradition.

      However, given what St. Basil wrote and given the following:

      Epiphanius of Salamis:
      “It is needful also to make use of tradition, for not everything can be gotten from sacred Scripture. The holy apostles handed down some things in the scriptures, other things in tradition” (Medicine Chest Against All Heresies 61:6 [A.D. 375]).”

      St. John Chrysostom:
      “[Paul commands,] ‘Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word or by our letter’ [2 Thess. 2:15]. From this it is clear that they did not hand down everything by letter, but there is much also that was not written. Like that which was written, the unwritten too is worthy of belief. So let us regard the tradition of the Church also as worthy of belief. Is it a tradition? Seek no further” (Homilies on Second Thessalonians [A.D. 402]).

      I think Florovsky is simply mistaken on this point. However, what he said is not completely false. Really there are not “two” criterion but only one. It is just that that criterion is the apostolic teaching which has been passed down in two forms.

  41. I think the problem in the discussion of Tradition is that we are talking about two different things. There are certain “traditions” in circulation among the faithful, such as the story of the Apostles miraculously appearing before the Theotokos immediately before her blessed repose, or that St. Ignatius of Antioch, as a child, sat on the Lord’s lap and was blessed by the Lord. There are many such other traditions. But that is not what is meant by Apostolic Tradition.

    Apostolic Tradition means nothing more and nothing less than the revelations made by the Lord directly to the Apostles who passed it on orally until the salient points of the revelations were recorded in the Gospels. I think an extremely careful read of what Fr. Georges is saying is that Scripture is “perfect and self-sufficient”. That is also what Fr. Hans has continuously said. What Tradition offers is a key, an insight if you will, on a correct understanding of the written word. In other words, it gives the starting premise, a context, if you will, when you sit down and read Scripture. That starting premise, although reflected after the fact in the Liturgy, is at the core of Tradition. It is reflected in the anamnesis: “Remembering all that has come to pass, the Cross, the Tomb, the Resurrection on the third day, the Ascension into heaven, the sitting at the Right Hand and the Second Glorious Coming”. If you recite the anamnesis before reading Scripture, it will make a different sense than if you read Scripture without that context.

    Looked at in this light, Tradition is not something separate and apart from Scripture, it is the content of Scripture put into the right context. That is what Paul meant in 1 Cor. 1:21 when he referred to “the foolishness of the message preached”. That is what Paul meant in 1 Cor. 11:2 about “keeping the traditions as I delivered them to you”. That is what Paul meant in 2 Thess. 2:15 “to stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught”. And, what is that Tradition, the content put into the right context, that Paul delivered? It is contained in 1 Cor. 15 and is summarized in the anamnesis of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.

    Tradition is not a collection of things, sayings, stories, et. al. passed down from bishop to bishop over the course of 2,000 years in an unadulterated form, which, given human frailties and idiosyncracies, would be much distorted over such a time span. Tradition is the content of Scripture put in the right context. That is why Fr. Hans has repeatedly said that the Gospel of the Lord is preached first. Having heard it, the anamnesis then puts it in the right context immediately before the Divine epiclesis fills us with the Spirit to foretaste the Divine Banquet that awaits us.

  42. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Nick, beautiful. Thank you. And it shows too why I increasingly think that history will judge that Fr. Florovsky as the preeminent American theologian of our time.

    This paragraph is particularly instructive:

    To conclude this brief excursus on the ancient tradition we should mention St. Vincent of Lerins and his famous Commonitorium. Sometimes it is asserted that Vincent admitted the double authority of Scripture and Tradition. Actually he held the opposite view. Indeed, the true faith could be recognized, according to Vincent, in a double manner, duplici modo, that is, by the authority of the divine law (i.e. Scripture) and by ecclesiastical tradition. This does not imply, however, that there are two sources of Christian doctrine. The “rule” of Scripture was for St. Vincent “perfect and self-sufficient.” Why then was it imperative to invoke also the “authority of ecclesiastical understanding,” (ecclesiasticae intelligentiae auctoritas)? The reason is obvious: Scripture was variously interpreted and twisted by individual writers for their subjective purposes. And to this confusing variety of discordant interpretations and private opinions, St. Vincent opposes the mind of the church catholic (ut propheticae et apostolicae interpretationis linea secundum ecclesiastici et catholici sensus normam derigatur). Thus tradition for St. Vincent is not an independent instance nor a complementary source of doctrine. It is no more than Scripture being interpreted according to the catholic mind of the church, which is the guardian of the apostolic “rule of faith.” St. Vincent repeats and summarizes the continuous attitude of the ancient church on this matter. Scripture is an adequate source of doctrine: ad omnia satis superque sufficiat. Tradition is the authentic guide in interpretation, providing the context and perspective in which Scripture discloses its genuine message.

    The Orthodox Church is faithfully committed to this ancient and traditional view on the sources of Christian doctrine. Scripture is an adequate source. But only in so far as it is read and interpreted in the church which is the guardian both of the Holy Writ and of the total apostolic paradosis of faith, order and life. Tradition alone allows the church to go beyond the “letter” to the very Word of Life.

    This explains exactly what I was trying to say. Scripture is primary because it contains the Gospel, the apostolic word, and Tradition, while authoritative derives it authority from that Gospel, that is, scripture. Tradition, as I attempted to define it (and I think the definition works), is the life of men and women who stood in that Gospel in particular places and times. It functions (and this is a beautiful insight from Fr. Florovsky) as a kind of “hermeneutical key” — the way by which Scripture is properly comprehended and practiced and thereby continues the Tradition from one generation to the next (italics are my words, not Fr. Florovsky’s).

    On a personal note, what I love about the definition Fr. Florovsky provides is its dynamism, its implicit affirmation of human freedom and creativity. You can read and see it between the lines. I think intrinsic to Orthodox anthropology is a high calling to freedom and creativity. I see it is rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and — here is where the neo-traditionalists pound me — the American values of the dignity and intrinsic freedom of the individual, as imperfectly shaped and erroneously expressed, even manipulated as they might be, conform in some measure to it.

    I should make a T-shirt:

    Dynamos — full of power, energy.

    Internal problems hinder this needed engagement with the larger culture of course, from the monarchical pretensions of the bishops to the laxity of the laity. Still, I can’t help but believe that some good will emerge from our disorder as well, especially as the Gospel, as Fr. Florovsky defines it above, is recovered.

    • Fr. Hans: Add a picture of Frs. Florovsky and Schmemann to the back and I will be the first to buy the T-Shirt.

  43. To add a post-script to what Fr. Hans and I have been saying, it is clear that “Tradition” is essentially summarized in 1 Cor. 15 for Paul clearly says in 2 Thess. 2:15: ” Therefore, brethern, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” To this end, the footnote on this verse contained in the Orthodox Study Bible says: “Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit we adhere to Holy Tradition as it is present in the apostles’ writings and as it is resident in the Church to which the truth is promised (Jn 16:13)”.

    Therefore, Tradition is not, strictly speaking “oral”, as too many believe. It was “codified”, so to speak, i.e. essentially reduced to writing, in the epistles of Paul and the others. It is reflected as well in the early doxologies of the Church. It is instructive that St. Basil, in his work on the Holy Spirit, bases most of his discussion on the early doxologies, especially contained in the various epistles.

  44. The Tradition is that which has been safeguarded from the Apostolic Church and has an uninterrupted continuity until today.

    – The Tradition is that which is confessed and practiced by the entire universal Orthodox Church.

    – The Tradition is that which is in harmony with the greatest portion of the fathers and ecclesiastical writers.

    When a tradition does not fulfill these stipulations, it cannot be considered true and holy, and consequently cannot be considered admissible or fit to be observed.

    The Protestants and all the other thousands of denominations do not venerate the saints and the Mother of God neither do they recognize the Sacraments. They say that “no one in the Bible, none of the apostles and the first Christians, have ever addressed to Mary as the Mother of God. This is a custom which came only several centuries AD” and that “Jesus is the only mediator between God and man (1Timothy 2:5) and that the dead do not know anything (Ecclesiastes 9:5), they neither see us or hear us”.
    .
    If one tries not to offend them, one can be sure sure that the traditionalists will be offended. It is that simple!

    • Scott Pennington :

      Eliot,

      Yes, exactly. And the reason they do these things is because they see Scripture as the sole criteria of faith and believe it is up to them personally, or to some reformer(s) or sectarian scholars, to determine if Tradition conforms to their criteria.

      • Yes, they had “spiritual revelations”; they “understood” that people before them were wrong and they made the “revealed” corrections. The Protestants were right to protest the errors in the RCC but instead of returning to their roots, the Orthodox Church, they went further into error. This is how the thousands of denominations out there started and proliferated.
        http://www.apostle1.com/

        […]
        If you are a Lutheran, your denomination was founded by Martin Luther, an ex-monk of the Roman Jurisdiction of the Catholic Church, in the year 1517. Martin Luther was never defrocked, deposed or excommunicated from or by the Roman Jurisdiction of the Catholic Church. But those who were his successors have done serious harm and damage it is alleged.

        If you belong to the Church of England, your denomination was founded by King Henry VIII in the year 1534 because the Pope of the Roman Jurisdiction of the Catholic Church would not grant him a divorce with the right to re-marry.

        If you are a Presbyterian, your denomination was founded by John Knox in Scotland in the year 1560.

        If you are a Congregationalist, your religion was originated by Robert Brown in Holland in 1582.

        If you are Protestant Episcopalian, your denomination was an offshoot of the Church of England, founded by Samuel Seabury in the American colonies in the 17th century.

        If you are a member of the Baptist denomination, you owe the tenets of your religion to John Smyth, who launched it in Amsterdam in 1606.

        If you are of the Dutch Reformed Church, you recognize Michaelis Jones as founder because he originated your religion in New York in 1628.

        If you are a Methodist, your religious denomination was founded by John and Charles Wesley in England in 1774.

        If you are a Unitarian, Theophilus Lindley founded your church in London in 1774.

        If you are a Mormon (Latter Day Saints), Joseph Smith started your cultic religion in Palmyra, New York, in 1829.

        If you worship with the Salvation Army, your sect began with William Booth in London in 1865.

        If you are Christian Scientist, you look to 1879 as the year in which your cultic religion was born and to Mary Baker Eddy as its founder.
        […]

  45. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Scott writes:

    …rather Tradition came before the Gospels and Scripture and was in fact used to identify what did qualify as valid Gospels and Scripture) only really makes sense if you are simply choosing to disregard what the Church has believed and taught in favor of a new, improved Faith that satisfies your desire to correct what you perceive as wrong with the Church institutionally.

    Overlooking the editorializing for a moment, the apostolic preaching preceded the the canonization of scripture. The scripture is authoritative not because Bishops compiled it, but because it contains the word of the apostle – the Gospel of Jesus Christ – who received his word directly from Jesus Christ. The rest of us (Bishops included) receive that Gospel from them, which is to say scripture, because that is where that apostolic message is contained.

    Preaching, which is to say the Gospel of Jesus Christ — a gospel given to us by the apostles (and only the apostles) — precedes everything.

    But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words…

    […]

    Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?

    Then Peter said unto them…

    […]

    Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.

    And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.

    […]

    And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved (Acts 2: 14-47).

    This is basic Orthodox teaching. So is the teaching that Bishops are first appointed to “rightly divide the word of truth” — which is to say the apostolic teaching. That’s why this dimension of the episcopal office is mentioned at every Liturgy. This is what we pray for on their behalf.

    The Church is constituted by the Gospel. That is why it needs to be preached in every generation, indeed, why it is preached every Sunday. Those who stand in that Gospel are the architects of the Tradition. Standing in that Gospel is how they were able to discern between the true texts and false ones when the writings were canonized to form the New Testament scriptures, and why their decisions became authoritative, ie: the Tradition.

    That too is how the false councils were discerned from the true ones.

    • Scott Pennington :

      “The scripture is authoritative not because Bishops compiled it, but because it contains the word of the apostle – the Gospel of Jesus Christ – who received his word directly from Jesus Christ. The rest of us (Bishops included) receive that Gospel from them, which is to say scripture, because that is where that apostolic message is contained.

      Your mistake is to claim that only in Scripture is the apostolic message contained. It is not. Also, you seem impervious to the observation that it matters who identifies a thing as containing the apostolic word. Truth is truth whether we know it or not, to be sure. However, it matters how it is identified as truth. Martin Luther was not competent to do so.

      First of all, let me say on the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee that I ask your forgiveness and that of my brother Christians here on this blog for the times when my tone has become excessively combative.

      “The Church is constituted by the Gospel. That is why it needs to be preached in every generation, indeed, why it is preached every Sunday. Those who stand in that Gospel are the architects of the Tradition. Standing in that Gospel is how they were able to discern between the true texts and false ones when the writings were canonized to form the New Testament scriptures, and why their decisions became authoritative, ie: the Tradition.

      That too is how the false councils were discerned from the true ones.”

      Fr. Johannes, it is not so much what you say as what you leave out. Yes, “standing in the Gospel” is how they were able to discern between true texts and false ones when the writings were canonized to form the New Testament. But just as obviously, this had nothing to do with the Sola Scriptura version of things as you portray them. There was no canon of Scripture to serve as the sole criteria. Sola Scriptura reduces to absurdity at this point.

      There are two errors that you and Nick have made consistently throughout this thread and which were the basis for your criticism of my initial comment about authority that generated this conversation. Those two errors, basically, are a)
      bibliolatry and b) anarchism (which I characterized loosely as “sole competence”).

      I heard a story once about a priest who was discussing the Faith with a seeker. The seeker came from a Protestant evangelical denomination and constantly referred to the Bible to evaluate everything the priest was telling him. At one point, exasperated, the priest took the bible and threw it contemptuously down the corridor saying, “The bible is not the authority, the Church is the authority.” He was 100% right.

      Which of the following are necessarily more reliable?:

      a) a council, referencing Scripture, which identifies a teaching to be part of the Faith

      or

      b) a council, referencing something else (and I’ll leave you to guess what that something else is), which identifies which books belong in the canon of scripture.

      If “b” is not more reliable then “a” then, by definition, “a” is just a shot in the dark.

      In the early Church, as a quote I posted which seems to have been removed demonstrated, until at least the middle of the second century, Fathers quoted “Gospel”, to a large extent oral tradition, without ever even attributing where it came from. Some seemed unconcerned for the most part which books were being used so long as they reflected the Apostolic faith. The Church didn’t really even get around to identifying which books constitute your “sola scriptura” until some time in the mid fourth century and no universally recognized list of the canon was in effect until an earlier council was ratified by an EC in the seventh century.

      In short, the narrative of sola scriptura, that Scripture alone is the sole criteria of faith, is an unhistorical superimposition of mid-sixteenth century Protestant sensibilities onto a situation wholly incompatible with them. Or, as I have stated elsewhere, sola scriptura is heresy.

      Or, as Epiphanius wrote,
      “The holy apostles handed down some things in the scriptures, other things in tradition”

      Or, as Chrysostom wrote,
      “Like that which was written, the unwritten too is worthy of belief. So let us regard the tradition of the Church also as worthy of belief. Is it a tradition? Seek no further”

      Scripture is not the sole criteria. Tradition is. Scripture is a part of Tradition and Sola Scriptura was constructed to attack Tradition. What you all have been suggesting is not Orthodoxy, it is Protestantism.

      We do not need to play Scripture against established Tradition any more than we need to reexamine the canon of Scripture in light of what modern scholars think they know about the pedigree of the books contained in it. I do not dispute that much of what the Fathers did was commentary on Scripture or evaluating this or that on the basis of Scripture. It just is not all that they did. Drawing a line around Scripture and saying that it is the sole criteria of Faith is completely arbitrary. First of all, Scripture itself began as oral tradition. Second, not everything that the Apostles taught was reduced to Scripture. Third, the bishops certainly thought they had the power to determine what books were reliable and did not even think it a matter of great importance to establish a canon.

      Protestants somehow think that when Christ rose into the heavens at the Ascension that simultaneously a complete copy of the King James Bible descended into the hands of the Apostles and they used that as their sole criteria of faith. Nothing could be further from the truth.

      Now, the second error you all have made is to leave out the fact that it is up to the leadership of the Church, the episcopacy in Apostolic Succession, to make these determinations identifying the Faith. One of the most important ways they do that is through the vehicle of the EC, the highest earthly authority in the Church. I have seen not one shred of evidence here, including Florovsky whom I read as agreeing on this point, that makes me doubt that in the slightest.

      • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

        There is a lot of jumble here.

        Yes, “standing in the Gospel” is how they were able to discern between true texts and false ones when the writings were canonized to form the New Testament. But just as obviously, this had nothing to do with the Sola Scriptura version of things as you portray them. There was no canon of Scripture to serve as the sole criteria. Sola Scriptura reduces to absurdity at this point.

        You are defining Sola Scriptura in terms of the popular Orthodox apologetic. Sola-scriptura does not mean individualized interpretation. In historical terms it means the primacy of the apostolic teaching even above the claims of the Magisterium. Luther didn’t claim all Papal teachings were false of course, but that even a Papal claim (and by extension a claim of the Magisterium) could not contradict an apostolic teaching. The Orthodox would have no trouble with this. It is, in the end, how false councils are determined to be false, or wrong decisions (such as the conciliar decree exiling St. John Chrysostom) were deemed wrong.

        The apologetic should be framed is this way: the Pietistic impulse in Protestantism leads to an individualized interpretation of Scripture. The real conflict is between Pietism (the individual is the authority) and the Tradition (the authority of consensus). The problem was that the author of the apologetic did not know his history, and because the Protestant claims Scripture as the ground of his authority, Sola-Scriptura seemed to him to be the culprit. He elevated Scripture and Tradition as two equal sources of authority; a move that solves the problem but only if you first accept the premise that the Scripture allows individual interpretation. The apologetic is bound to Protestant categories, in other words.

        I think you are still stuck there. You write:

        There are two errors that you and Nick have made consistently throughout this thread and which were the basis for your criticism of my initial comment about authority that generated this conversation. Those two errors, basically, are a) bibliolatry and b) anarchism (which I characterized loosely as “sole competence”).

        Bibliolatry? The word has no meaning except in the framework of the apologetic, and even then it’s only function is polemical. It works like the term “homophobe” does. That term is used merely to differentiate between those who agree with the social agenda of the gay lobby and those who don’t. Apart from that it is meaningless.

        Secondly, anarchism. That too is reading of the chaos within Protestantism into Orthodoxy. Scott, we have a Tradition. The track record of Orthodoxy, while bumpy at times, is that false teaching is clarified apart from the framework suggested by the apologetic. The quotes from Fr. Florovsky provided by Nick make that quite clear. And, because I hold to the authority of the Tradition, I will take Fr. Florovsky’s reading of how the consensus is shaped and formed and why it is authoritative, over this novel approach that suggests that the apostolic teaching is merely one co-equal element of all the elements that complete our Tradition.

        Scripture is not the sole criteria. Tradition is. Scripture is a part of Tradition and Sola Scriptura was constructed to attack Tradition. What you all have been suggesting is not Orthodoxy, it is Protestantism.

        The primary criterion is the apostolic teaching. Peter preached, and then the Lord added to the Church those that would be saved. The Gospel was given to the apostles by God, we get it from them. (That’s why the Fathers are called Fathers, and not apostles. That’s why the term “apostle” is given only to the twelve and seventy. That’s why no book in the canon of scripture is of non-apostolic origin. See how the Tradition works?) And again, Sola Scriptura was not constructed to attack Tradition. Read your history.

        If you really want to argue that Scripture is a co-equal element of Tradition, of equal authority as, say, the hymnography, sayings of the Elders, icons, hagiography, and so forth, then you are really arguing that the Gospel delivered to the apostles is of no greater import than the elements that elucidate and expand on it. Do you really want to say this? To my eyes it’s another prescription for anarchy that can only be resolved by the development of an Orthodox magisterium. See how this works?

        Protestants somehow think that when Christ rose into the heavens at the Ascension that simultaneously a complete copy of the King James Bible descended into the hands of the Apostles and they used that as their sole criteria of faith. Nothing could be further from the truth.

        Well, poorly educated Protestants do, the kind that think theology deals with subjective feelings and emotional experiences. I know Protestants who are quite aware of the problems they have. And yes, nothing could be further from the truth and I outlined how the scriptures were canonized upstream: Men who stood in that Gospel first delivered by the apostles discerned which of the extant writings were true and which were false. That is how they were codified and the New Testament formed. Remember, the preaching of the Gospel preceded, and still precedes, everything as indicated in the passage from Acts that I quoted.

        Now, the second error you all have made is to leave out the fact that it is up to the leadership of the Church, the episcopacy in Apostolic Succession, to make these determinations identifying the Faith. One of the most important ways they do that is through the vehicle of the EC, the highest earthly authority in the Church. I have seen not one shred of evidence here, including Florovsky whom I read as agreeing on this point, that makes me doubt that in the slightest.

        Well, I am sure that Ecumenical Councils have promulgated correct doctrine. Nicea I is an example. But Councils have also promulgated incorrect doctrine. The Robber Council is an example. Since this proves they are not infallible, then the criterion has to lie elsewhere. There has to be a way, a mechanism by which the true can be sifted from the false. Now if you want to believe in the infallibility of a Council, well, I guess that means you would have unquestionably followed a false teaching until the next council got together to correct it. Or, perhaps you would have agreed the exile of St. John Chrysostom was justified merely because a Patriarch and his council said that it was. I don’t see how your statement that you would not doubt a conciliar decree “in the slightest” could be read any other way.

        As for myself, I would rather stick with the teaching of someone who has a much better grasp of the Tradition than the apologetic displays. Fr. Florovsky said,

        It is significant that no attempt to develop a legal or canonical theory of “General Councils,” as a seat of ultimate authority, with specific competence and models of procedure, was made at that time, in the fourth century, or later, although they were de facto acknowledged as a proper instance to deal with the questions of faith and doctrine and as an authority on these matters. It will be no exaggeration to suggest that Councils were never regarded as a canonical institution, but rather as occasional charismatic events. Councils were not regarded as periodical gatherings which had to be convened at certain fixed dates. And no Council was accepted as valid in advance, and many Councils were actually disavowed, in spite of their formal regularity. It is enough to mention the notorious Robber Council of 449. Indeed, those Councils which were actually recognized as “Ecumenical,” in the sense of their binding and infallible authority, were recognized, immediately or after a delay, not because of their formal canonical competence, but because of their charismatic character: under the guidance of the Holy Spirit they have witnessed to the Truth, in conformity with the Scripture as handed down in Apostolic Tradition…

        (Note the words: “…in conformity with the Scripture as handed down in Apostolic Tradition…”.)

        Stick with the Tradition, Scott. It’s a more reliable guide.

        And that, by the way, it also what St. Chrysostom means in the the quote you provided where he said:

        Like that which was written, the unwritten too is worthy of belief. So let us regard the tradition of the Church also as worthy of belief. Is it a tradition? Seek no further.

        • Scott Pennington :

          No, Fr. Johannes, you are still wrongheaded about the whole matter.

          You didn’t really address much of what I wrote above and what you did address is by way of assertions, not much that actually interacts with the line of my argument. Florovsky is more or less right, at least insofar as what has been quoted here, regarding the Councils but dead wrong on Scripture and Tradition.

          Tradition is the standard, not Scripture alone. Moreoever, Tradition need not be justified in terms of Scripture to be authoritative.

          “You are defining Sola Scriptura in terms of the popular Orthodox apologetic. Sola-scriptura does not mean individualized interpretation.”

          I clearly separated out two issues, 1) “bibliolatry” i.e., sola scriptura, and 2) anarchism. You’re not paying attention.

          “In historical terms it means the primacy of the apostolic teaching even above the claims of the Magisterium. Luther didn’t claim all Papal teachings were false of course, but that even a Papal claim (and by extension a claim of the Magisterium) could not contradict an apostolic teaching. The Orthodox would have no trouble with this.”

          But all of that is irrelevant to what I’m saying. What is relevant is that Luther constructed sola scriptura to eradicate that part of Roman Catholic teaching that he felt did not comport with Scripture (which is only part of the apostolic teaching, by the way). I think we all realize that he did not have Orthodoxy in mind when he did this. However, the dynamic is utterly destructive to Orthodoxy as well since it is based on a falsehood.

          If a fair minded person without any predisposition to Orthodoxy looked at the Bible as being the primary authority to which the rest of Tradition had to comport, it is highly unlikely that they would accept the Orthodox faith. One could find forms of Arianism or Nestorianism, Monophysitism/Miaphysitism, Monothelitism and, most certainly, Iconoclasm as being in accord with Scripture. In fact, on the basis of Scripture alone, you would probably be more likely to become an Iconoclast than not.

          If, however, you read Acts with insight and looked at what actually happened at the Apostolic Council, you could indeed find the Orthodox faith in the Bible. You would see that a council (and bear in mind, this council was not only of the 12. St. James the Righteous presided, “apostles and elders”) has authority independent of Scripture, directly from Christ and the Holy Spirit. You would also notice that the basis of the decision was not primarily on Scripture (although the Old Testament is cited, there was no New Testament at the time) but on the oral tradition and the experience of the Apostles among the gentiles. You might thereby conclude that everything does not have to be justified in terms of Scripture alone (and you’d be right). But of course, your sola scriptura would not survive that.

          There is nothing magical about reducing something to writing that makes it primary. Moreover, since you place such utter trust in the written word, perhaps you can tell me how this trust is justified given that there was no fixed canon of Scripture early on. Does a thing have to comport with the Gospel of the Hebrews? The Gospel of Peter? The Didache? If not, why not? Your ultimate criteria is pretty sloppy.

          “Well, I am sure that Ecumenical Councils have promulgated correct doctrine. Nicea I is an example. But Councils have also promulgated incorrect doctrine. The Robber Council is an example. Since this proves they are not infallible, then the criterion has to lie elsewhere. There has to be a way, a mechanism by which the true can be sifted from the false. Now if you want to believe in the infallibility of a Council, well, I guess that means you would have unquestionably followed a false teaching until the next council got together to correct it.”

          Fr. Johannes, please. You are really trying my patience by knowingly, falsely asserting that I claimed things I did not. It’s an awful habit you have that turns up very frequently. I have never once claimed infallibility for a council, nor have I ever suggested that infallibility for a council is necessary for an Ecumenical Council to be the highest earthly authority in the Church. You seem to believe that there has to be an infallible evaluator or you would not have stated what you did: “Since this proves they are not infallible, then the criterion has to lie elsewhere. ”

          “Stick with the Tradition, Scott. It’s a more reliable guide.”

          Yes, than Scripture alone.

          Florovsky is right about most of what he says in that quote except that the last line could be interpreted to mean that a Council is to be evaluated solely on the basis of Scripture. That is not the Orthodox faith.

          Scripture is part of Tradition and Tradition is the standard.

          “And, because I hold to the authority of the Tradition, I will take Fr. Florovsky’s reading of how the consensus is shaped and formed and why it is authoritative, over this novel approach that suggests that the apostolic teaching is merely one co-equal element of all the elements that complete our Tradition.”

          You do not hold to the authority of Tradition. You take Scripture as authoritative and Tradition’s value and authority is only a derivative of Scriptural authority. You’ve made that clear in the past. And that is Protestantism.

          St. Gregory of Nyssa(c.A.D. 335-394) writes:

          “For it is enough for proof of our statement, that the Tradition has come down to us from our fathers, handed on, like some inheritance, by succession from the apostles and the saints who came after them. They, on the other hand, who change their doctrines to this novelty, would need the support of arguments in abundance, if they were about to bring over to their views, not men light as dust, and unstable, but men of weight and steadiness: but so long as their statement is advanced without being established, and without being proved, who is so foolish and so brutish as to account the teaching of the evangelists and apostles, and of those who have successively shone like lights in the churches, of less force than this undemonstrated nonsense?” (Against Eunomius,4:6).

          St. Basil the Great(A.D. 329-379), Bishop of Caesarea, whom Florovsky misconstrues, wrote:

          “Of the dogmas and kergymas preserved in the Church, some we possess from written teaching and others we receive from the tradition of the Apostles, handed on to us in mystery. In respect to piety both are of the same force. No one will contradict any of these, no one, at any rate, who is even moderately versed in manners ecclesiastical. Indeed, were we to try to reject the unwritten customs as having no great authority, we would unwittingly injure the Gospel in its vitals; or rather, we would reduce kergyma to a mere term” (Holy Spirit 27:66).

          Basil is clearly talking about two different things, only one of which is Scripture. It cannot be as Florovsky asserts because if Basil is merely talking about rituals or ecclesiastical manners, he would not say that neglect of these would injure the Gospel in its viitals.
          Florovsky is just dead wrong on this issue.

          Augustine:
          “[T]he custom [of not rebaptizing converts] . . . may be supposed to have had its origin in apostolic tradition, just as there are many things which are observed by the whole Church, and therefore are fairly held to have been enjoined by the apostles, which yet are not mentioned in their writings” (On Baptism, Against the Donatists 5:23[31] [A.D. 400]).

          St. Irenaeus, Prescription against the Heretics, 28:
          “Error of doctrine in the churches must necessarily have produced various issues. When, however, that which is deposited among many is found to be one and the same, it is not the result of error, but of tradition. Can any one, then, be reckless enough to say that they were in error who handed on the tradition”

          So, again, you have been making two errors, both of which are characteristic of Protestantism. You elevate Scripture as being the sole criteria which gives Tradition its authority and you do not acknowledge that an EC is the highest earthly authority in the Church. I have no quarrel with Florovsky’s comments about EC’s not being regular, not being creatures of canon law (indeed, the concept preceeded canon law and was the first incidence of its issuance at the Council of Jerusalem) and of them being charismatic events, inspired by the Holy Spirit.

          But the whole notion of Sola Scriptura is an indefensible mess.

          • Which is the superior sentiment? Determination or recogntion? There appears to be this strong ethos running all through Scott’s writing fixing these firm categories with bright boundaries and dismissive cutting remarks about what doesn’t fit what appears to be a pre-favored lens or model. Is the project one of ongoing discernment trying to get an ever clearer understanding, or is it about erecting the walls of theory in the language of the day for all time outside of which, owing to (sotto voce self accorded) superior and incisive reasoning and sharp elbows, only error is to be found?

            Galileo’s experience with a church leadership that favored the latter view is instructive.

            In the project of ongoing discernment and attempts at description and rules-as–approximate-recognition there is a presupposition of humility and participation in a greater more complex thing.

            I think in Scott’s view the church would ‘make’ saints, not recognize those as it might find who are saints.

            Fr. Hans’ theme’s of ‘narratives’ also presupposes an essential humility– it is the project of transmitting a description as best one might about a thing understood to be bigger in various ways than the narrative approximates.

          • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

            But all of that is irrelevant to what I’m saying. What is relevant is that Luther constructed sola scriptura to eradicate that part of Roman Catholic teaching that he felt did not comport with Scripture (which is only part of the apostolic teaching, by the way). I think we all realize that he did not have Orthodoxy in mind when he did this. However, the dynamic is utterly destructive to Orthodoxy as well since it is based on a falsehood.

            It is only “destructive” in the categorical confines of the apologetic that informs your conflation of the apostolic authority with a generalized definition of Tradition. But I already addressed that. You believe scripture, and thus the apostolic teaching contained within it must be ratified by the Tradition in order to be authoritative. I argue that the apostolic teaching, which the Scripture preserves, stands on its own for this reason: The apostle received his Gospel directly from God. The apostle, in other words, does not require the ratification of Tradition to claim that his Gospel is authoritative. His authority proceeds directly from God. The Tradition merely recognizes it.

            Luther understood this. In fact, he derived it from the Fathers. The teachings he challenged, while particular to the Catholic Church, followed a track that would be similar to an Orthodox challenge of the Robber Council, or the exile of St. John Chrysostom, for example.

            You “hear” this as a diminution of the authority of Tradition if not an outright attack on it. But that hearing is informed by the apologetic, not by the Orthodox Tradition (hence the import of words particular only to the apologetic: bibliolatry and such that have no theological meaning apart from it).

            The Tradition shows us something else: We process with the book of the Gospels during the Small Entrance, we venerate it during Orthros, only the Scripture sits on the Holy Table, icons of Christ show him holding the Gospel book, we read the Gospel every Liturgy, indeed the Liturgy itself is taken from Scripture, in Orthodox architecture the Pantocrator is surround by icons of the four Evangelists, and so forth. By the logic of the apologetic, we could easily replace all these images of the Gospel with, say, the Rudder, but we don’t. Why do you think that is?

            If you were alive during the Robber Council or during the exile of St. John Chrysostom by a council headed by the Patriarch of Antioch, on what grounds would you challenge it — if at all? Or is your position that because those decrees were conciliar, they are defacto authoritative and must be obeyed?

          • Scott Pennington :

            “Luther understood this. In fact, he derived it from the Fathers. The teachings he challenged, while particular to the Catholic Church, followed a track that would be similar to an Orthodox challenge of the Robber Council, or the exile of St. John Chrysostom, for example.”

            “You “hear” this as a diminution of the authority of Tradition if not an outright attack on it. But that hearing is informed by the apologetic, not by the Orthodox Tradition (hence the import of words particular only to the apologetic: bibliolatry and such that have no theological meaning apart from it).”

            This, of course, is not true. You are the one trying to read sola scriptura into Orthodoxy and I am the one quoting the Fathers’s statements directly contradicting it. I think you have your parties confused here. You are the one imposing a 16th century apologetic that does not fit. I’m simply defending Orthodoxy using the words of its saints.

            Why then is Lutheranism not Orthodoxy? If you’re seriously disputing the fact that Luther got rid of the baby with the bathwater using sola scriptura, then you’re further out there than I thought. Where are the Lutheran bishops with apostolic succession that celebrate the Liturgy with an Orthodox understanding? Are you suggesting consubstantiation is Orthodox too?

            “The Tradition shows us something else: We process with the book of the Gospels during the Small Entrance, we venerate it during Orthros, only the Scripture sits on the Holy Table, icons of Christ show him holding the Gospel book, we read the Gospel every Liturgy, indeed the Liturgy itself is taken from Scripture, in Orthodox architecture the Pantocrator is surround by icons of the four Evangelists, and so forth. By the logic of the apologetic, we could easily replace all these images of the Gospel with, say, the Rudder, but we don’t. Why do you think that is?”

            Same tired, weak argument I addressed above. The Rudder is a collection of canon law. Just as obviously, there was no Gospel book used in the earliest liturgies celebrated by the Apostles. As I stated above, I’ve never disputed the fact that the Gospels and the New Testament have a special place within the wider Tradition. I guess I’ll just have to keep writing that until you get it.

            “If you were alive during the Robber Council or during the exile of St. John Chrysostom by a council headed by the Patriarch of Antioch, on what grounds would you challenge it — if at all? Or is your position that because those decrees were conciliar, they are defacto authoritative and must be obeyed?”

            I’ve answered all of this above: An Ecumenical Council, being the highest authority in the Church, is due a certain deference even before it is known to be received by the Church. However, no putative council is infallible (a quality which I do not claim for even a received Council) and so if one’s conscience militates against accepting its teachings, then one should, if one truly believes it is a “robber council”, not accept it and perhaps take some action to have its decision overturned.

            “You believe scripture, and thus the apostolic teaching contained within it, must be ratified by the Tradition in order to be authoritative.”

            No, I never said that. You really should pay more attention to what I have written rather than to what you wish that I’d written. I have never rejected Scripture as authoritative. It is just not the only thing that is authoritative and we do not compare Tradition to Scripture alone to assess whether Tradition is authoritative. Please cease misrepresenting what I’ve said. It’s beneath you. It’s what people tend to do when they have no serious response otherwise.

            Fr. Johannes, this is getting us nowhere. You really have no coherent answer to most of what I have posted on the subject and I’m not changing your mind. I don’t think that there is anything I could say or quote to convince you because you are determined to believe as you do regardless of the evidence.

  46. Scott Pennington :

    P.S.:

    Fr. Johannes,

    I think I understand the internal dynamic behind why you cling so fiercely to Florovsky’s error. You seem to me to be a kind of “right brain” type person. More inclinded to florid prose and a basically literary, artistic personality type. The structure and authority within the Church must be a bit disconcerting to you. But the way to deal with that is to focus on other things. Authority and structure are just one facet of the Faith (albeit a vital one). There is much more to Orthodoxy than that.

  47. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    I’ve answered all of this above: An Ecumenical Council, being the highest authority in the Church, is due a certain deference even before it is known to be received by the Church. However, no putative council is infallible (a quality which I do not claim for even a received Council) and so if one’s conscience militates against accepting its teachings, then one should, if one truly believes it is a “robber council”, not accept it and perhaps take some action to have its decision overturned.

    On what grounds? By what authority? And what is this new word creeping in – conscience?

    The Rudder is a collection of canon law. Just as obviously, there was no Gospel book used in the earliest liturgies celebrated by the Apostles. As I stated above, I’ve never disputed the fact that the Gospels and the New Testament have a special place within the wider Tradition.

    No need for a Gospel book Scott. The apostles were doing the speaking themselves. See how their authority precedes even the Tradition’s ratification of it? That’s why the Tradition emphasizes the Gospel in the examples I cited. It preserves the apostolic practice (assuming of course people really hear and receive the apostle’s teaching) in the way it was first delivered.

    Just for clarification, I am not arguing that that the Scripture has a place in the “wider” Tradition. I am arguing that the apostolic teaching is the very center of the Tradition, and that all things in the Tradition elucidate and expand on it. This is confirmed in ways I pointed out above: Icons of Christ holding the Gospels (and nothing but the Gospels), the Gospel on the Holy Table, and so forth.

    • Scott Pennington :

      “On what grounds? By what authority? And what is this new word creeping in – conscience?”

      It’s not a new word. It’s precisely the same word I used in 21.1 above the first time I answered this same question.

      “No need for a Gospel book Scott. The apostles were doing the speaking themselves. See how their authority precedes even the Tradition’s ratification of it? That’s why the Tradition emphasizes the Gospel in the examples I cited. It preserves the apostolic practice (assuming of course people really hear and receive the apostle’s teaching) in the way it was first delivered.”

      I never suggested there was a need for the Gospel book in the liturgy. That was added later. I never questioned the Apostles authority. It doesn’t really preceed Tradition though because the first “handing down” was from Christ to His Apostles. I don’t disagree that the Apostolic word is preserved in the Gospel books, or more broadly in Scripture. It’s just that that is definitely not the only place that it is preserved.

      “I am arguing that the apostolic teaching is the very center of the Tradition, and that all things in the Tradition elucidate and expand on it.”

      Then you’re changing your argument (which, I agree, is a good sign). Above you argued that Scripture was not part of Tradition and that Tradition had only derivative authority based on whether it comports with Scripture.

      “This is confirmed in ways I pointed out above: Icons of Christ holding the Gospels (and nothing but the Gospels), the Gospel on the Holy Table, and so forth.”

      And that proves what? Are you suggesting that the Gospel is the only criteria of faith now? I thought it was just Scripture. Is it because the Gospel is used in the Liturgy that it is authoritative? Or are you stating, as you seem to be, that it is proof positive, because the Gospels or Scripture are used in the services of the Church, that therefore they are the sole criteria by which Tradition is established? If so, I would like to know why you believe that which is most certainly not self evident and not the Fathers I quoted.

  48. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Above you argued that Scripture was not part of Tradition and that Tradition had only derivative authority based on whether it comports with Scripture.

    No, what I argued that the Tradition, to the measure that it stands in the Gospel, is authoritative. There’s a difference.

    It doesn’t really preceed Tradition though because the first “handing down” was from Christ to His Apostles.

    Again, not really accurate. The first paradosis occurs with the apostolic word being handed over from the apostles to others. That is the start of the tradition. In fact, the apostles offered a new word, exemplified by Pauls reinterpretation of the Old Testament texts for example (Abraham as the father of faith, and so forth). The Gospel given to the apostles was not a “tradition.” The were, and continue to be, the words of life given by Him who is Life.

    Are you suggesting that the Gospel is the only criteria of faith now? I thought it was just Scripture. Is it because the Gospel is used in the Liturgy that it is authoritative? Or are you stating, as you seem to be, that it is proof positive, because the Gospels or Scripture are used in the services of the Church, that therefore they are the sole criteria by which Tradition is established?

    The Gospel, when preached, reveals Christ. That Gospel is given to us by the apostles, who received it from God. It is kept for us in Holy Scripture, which is why the Tradition always points us back to Scripture, and why the authority of the Tradition is ultimately ground in that Gospel given to us by the Apostles. That’s why the icons of Christ always show him holding a Gospel book. The Tradition is authoritative to the measure to which it conforms to the Gospel contained in scripture. To the measure that it does, it can even be called apostolic in that it expands and elucidates the Gospel teaching in particular places and times.

    You keep dodging this question:

    If you were alive during the Robber Council or during the exile of St. John Chrysostom by a council headed by the Patriarch of Antioch, on what grounds would you challenge it — if at all? Or is your position that because those decrees were conciliar, they are defacto authoritative and must be obeyed?

    • Scott Pennington :

      Fr. Johannes,

      I have never once “dodged” any of your questions. Some I have answered repeatedly because you don’t like the answers I give and keep fishing for something else.

      Your confusion stems from this understanding of “authority”: “they are defacto authoritative and must be obeyed.” It does not follow that if a thing is de facto authoritative that it must be obeyed. If a thing were somehow defacto infallible, perhaps. A bishop has the “authority” to excommunicate someone. That does not mean that every bishop will always do so according to the standard of the Faith. As I have repeated a number of times: Being the highest earthly authority in the Church (a proposition which ROCOR, GOARCH, and the OCA agree with me on, by the way, as I demonstrated far upstream) a council should enjoy great deference. However, if a person’s conscience cannot let them accept such a decision, because they believe that that decision is at odds with previously established Tradition, then they may disregard it and work for it to be overturned.

      I will say it as many times as you like if you wish.

      Also:

      “I said that Tradition has a derivative authority because it has to be subject to the Gospel, the apostolic teaching. That is how we ultimately judge whether some Tradition is true and some is not. By your logic, we could just as easily carry out the Rudder during the small entrance and venerate that.”

      Yes you did in fact argue that the authority of Tradition is only derivative. You understand “apostolic teaching” to refer exclusively to Scripture. I can show that too if you like.

      • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

        However, if a person’s conscience cannot let them accept such a decision, because they believe that that decision is at odds with previously established Tradition, then they may disregard it and work for it to be overturned.

        I am not asking where the permission lies to challenge a false council, Scott. Clearly to the decision to challenge a council lies with the individual. I am asking on what ground you would challenge it.

        “I said that Tradition has a derivative authority because it has to be subject to the Gospel, the apostolic teaching. That is how we ultimately judge whether some Tradition is true and some is not. By your logic, we could just as easily carry out the Rudder during the small entrance and venerate that.”

        Yes you did in fact argue that the authority of Tradition is only derivative. You understand “apostolic teaching” to refer exclusively to Scripture. I can show that too if you like.

        Don’t these two sentences mean the same thing?

        • Scott Pennington :

          I wrote in 47.1 above:

          “Above you argued that Scripture was not part of Tradition and that Tradition had only derivative authority based on whether it comports with Scripture.”

          In 48 above you replied:

          “No, what I argued that the Tradition, to the measure that it stands in the Gospel, is authoritative. There’s a difference.”

          I replied immediately above with this quote of yours from upstream:

          “I said that Tradition has a derivative authority because it has to be subject to the Gospel, the apostolic teaching. That is how we ultimately judge whether some Tradition is true and some is not. By your logic, we could just as easily carry out the Rudder during the small entrance and venerate that.”

          And I made this comment:

          “Yes you did in fact argue that the authority of Tradition is only derivative. You understand “apostolic teaching” to refer exclusively to Scripture. I can show that too if you like.”

          Just to clarify what the exchange was about.

          “I am not asking where the permission lies to challenge a false council, Scott. Clearly to the decision to challenge a council lies with the individual. I am asking on what ground you would challenge it.”

          On the grounds that the decision was in conflict with previously established Holy Tradition which includes Scripture. A decision of a purported Ecumenical Council which, for instance, declared Iconoclasm to be the faith would not necessarily conflict with Scripture alone (depending on the bishops who evaluated the decision vis a vis Scripture); however, it would clearly conflict with the Seventh Ecumenical Council which has been received by the Church.

          • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

            On the grounds that the decision was in conflict with previously established Holy Tradition which includes Scripture. A decision of a purported Ecumenical Council which, for instance, declared Iconoclasm to be the faith would not necessarily conflict with Scripture alone (depending on the bishops who evaluated the decision vis a vis Scripture); however, it would clearly conflict with the Seventh Ecumenical Council which has been received by the Church.

            Not in conflict with scripture? Of course it would. Haven’t you ever read St. John of Damascus, “On the Defense of Icons?” All his treatises are loaded with references to Scripture.

            St. John of Damascus is authoritative because he recognizes the primary authority of Scripture. The scriptures are the sole ground of his arguments. That is so self-evident that it cannot be argued.

          • Scott Pennington :

            Fr Johannes,

            How can you be so misguided about so much? I did not say that a person predisposed to Orthodoxy would not find Iconoclasm at odds with Scripture. And it is not so self-evident that it cannot be argued. It was argued.

  49. Scott Pennington :

    You also wrote above:

    “I’m looking at it through an eastern prism that says we received it, we have it, we preserve it. We don’t need any authority other than Christ to tell us what it is but, sometimes we employ various tools of equal dignity (Fathers, councils, Tradition), to confirm it.”

    And you keep dodging the question: “How do we know what it is.” How is it identified as the Apostolic word? We need the authority of the Church, through councils, to determine what constitutes it. I am not arguing anything western at all. It is simply a fact that the Truth is not self evident, nor is apostolic teaching. There was disagreement in the early church as to what constituted it. That question was settled so we do actually know that we need an authority, contrary to your “eastern” perspective.

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

      Actually, what we needed is the teaching of men who stand in that apostolic teaching, that Gospel contained for us in Scripture, to teach us. That is what the Tradition is. And thus the written Scripture was given to us by those men so that we might know that what is contained within it is indeed the Apostolic word. See how it works? The Scriptures are not authoritative because they are part of Tradition. Instead, the Tradition is authoritative because it stands in that Apostolic word. That’s why we listen to and obey the Tradition.

      Remember this: the Gospel, the Word from God delivered only to the apostles, precedes everything. And this statement, far from being a challenge to Tradition (only the apologetic, not the Tradition, argues this) is in fact the ground of authority for the Tradition as well.

      Put more simply, the Scriptures are not merely one element in a host of others that make up the Tradition. The Scriptures, because they contain the Apostolic word, the Gospel, the words delivered directly to the Apostles by God, are primary. The Gospel constitutes the Church Scott, not the Tradition. Yet the Tradition, properly understood, is the application of this Gospel in concrete existence, in history, and thus is authoritative as well.

      That’s why the Tradition itself elevates the place of the Gospel, in our case in the form of the written Scriptures because they is where the Gospel is contained, in all the areas that I described above: Christ holding the Gospel, the Gospel on the altar table, and so forth.

      So closely tied is the Tradition to the Gospel however, that if you distort the Tradition, you may end up distorting the Gospel. But the Tradition is not infallible as the false councils make clear. Thus any challenge has to be undertaken with the greatest sobriety and forethought. Usually though, when the Gospel and Tradition are conflated in the ways the apologetic puts forth, is when the mischief happens. That’s why people like St. John Chrysostom or St. Maximos the Confessor were persecuted in the name of traditional Orthodoxy.

      I’ll answer the question you are having trouble answering. What is the ground for challenging a false council as false? What is the ground for challenging the Patriarch of Antioch when he lead a council that banished St. John Chrysostom from Constantinople? The Gospel.

      • Scott Pennington :

        Fr. Johannes,

        Look, the entire apostolic word is not contained in Scripture. That is the problem you have difficulty facing.

        “I’ll answer the question you are having trouble answering. What is the ground for challenging a false council as false? What is the ground for challenging the Patriarch of Antioch when he lead a council that banished St. John Chrysostom from Constantinople? The Gospel.”

        I’ve had no trouble answering your question (see below). Our answers aren’t mutually exclusive but mine is broader.

        “But the Tradition is not infallible as the false councils make clear.” False councils do not serve to negate Tradition. False councils are a departure from Tradition. That is what I’ve been trying to tell you.

        Tradition does not depend for its authority on Scripture. It is that simple.

        • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

          Look, the entire apostolic word is not contained in Scripture.

          Where else is it?

        • Scott: Upstream I said that when you speak of tradition you are speaking about something other than when I speak of Tradition. Give me some examples of traditions or Traditions that are not contained, directly or indirectly, in Scripture. You should be able to get that from your bishop, if don’t already know, since you say this “gnosis” has been passed on from the Apostles to their successors and down the line to the present to each subsequent bishop in the chain of succession through oral transmission.

        • P.S. Scott: I am curious. In your church service, after the Epistle is read and the deacon comes out, does the deacon say “Bless Master him who proclaims the gnosis (“Tradition”) of the Apostles handed down from them through the bishops up to today”? Just curious.

          • Scott Pennington :

            St. Gregory of Nyssa(c.A.D. 335-394) writes:

            “For it is enough for proof of our statement, that the Tradition has come down to us from our fathers, handed on, like some inheritance, by succession from the apostles and the saints who came after them. They, on the other hand, who change their doctrines to this novelty, would need the support of arguments in abundance, if they were about to bring over to their views, not men light as dust, and unstable, but men of weight and steadiness: but so long as their statement is advanced without being established, and without being proved, who is so foolish and so brutish as to account the teaching of the evangelists and apostles, and of those who have successively shone like lights in the churches, of less force than this undemonstrated nonsense?” (Against Eunomius,4:6).

            St. Basil the Great(A.D. 329-379), Bishop of Caesarea, whom Florovsky misconstrues, wrote:

            “Of the dogmas and kergymas preserved in the Church, some we possess from written teaching and others we receive from the tradition of the Apostles, handed on to us in mystery. In respect to piety both are of the same force. No one will contradict any of these, no one, at any rate, who is even moderately versed in manners ecclesiastical. Indeed, were we to try to reject the unwritten customs as having no great authority, we would unwittingly injure the Gospel in its vitals; or rather, we would reduce kergyma to a mere term” (Holy Spirit 27:66).

            How many times do I have to tell you the same thing before it sticks? The apostolic word was passed down to us not only through Scripture but through other Tradition, written or unwritten.

          • Scott Pennington :

            Nick,

            Like I said above: I love it when you condescend to me, it makes me feel special.

            I suppose I believe in the same “gnosis” as the Fathers I quoted. Don’t you? Hint: That was a rhetorical question. I know you don’t. St. Georges of Florovsky trumps them all.

            And please read through 45.1.1.1 before you throw around “gnosis”.

  50. Speaking of the Liturgy: is the Holy Liturgy described in the Scripture?

    Let us see first what the term Scripture means:
    On Holy Scripture by Elder Cleopa

    The term Holy Scripture denotes the sum of holy books that were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit within a time period of close to 1,500 years, namely, from Moses, 1,400 years before Christ, until the writer of the Apocalypse, nearly 100 years after Christ.

    Scripture is given to us in tradition. On Holy Tradition – by Elder Cleopa

    We must uphold Holy Tradition with great reverence and godliness, for not all that is needful to effect our salvation is found within Holy Scripture. Holy Scripture instructs us to do many things; however, it does not manifest the light to us. For example, it instructs us to be baptized, but it doesn’t explain to us the method. Likewise, it guides us to confess our sins, to receive Communion, to be sacramentally wed; but nowhere does it specify the rite enabling us to fulfill these mysterion (sacraments). Furthermore, it instructs us to pray, but doesn’t tell us how, where, and when. It tells us to make the sign of the Holy Cross in front of our chest according to the psalmist: Lord, lift Thou up the light of Thy countenance upon us; but it doesn’t show us how. Who teaches us in writing to worship facing east? Where in Scripture are we told the words of the epiclesis (invocation) of the Holy Spirit for the sanctification of the all-holy Mysteries? Which teaching from Holy Scripture instructs us to bless the water of Baptism and the oil of Holy Chrismation? Which passage in Scripture teaches us about the threefold denunciation and the renunciations of Satan before Holy Baptism? The prayer of glorification toward the Holy Trinity—”Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit”—from which passage did it come to us?

    Posing these questions to the slanderer of Tradition, Saint Basil the Great says: ”If we consent to abandon the unwritten traditions on the pretext that they don’t have great worth, we err in great and elevated matters, rejecting the Gospel.

    „Every bit of Church dogma was imposed through the blood of those ready to give their life to defend it; being a matter of life – not merely a theoretical speculation” Theologian Fr Dumitru Staniloae

    St. Mark -the great pillar of the Church “in so far as this is what has been commanded you by the Holy Apostles,-stand aright, hold firmly to the traditions which you have received, both written and by word of mouth, that you be not deprived of your firmness if you become led away by the delusions of the lawless. May God, Who is All-powerful, make them also to know their delusion; and having delivered us from them as from evil tares, may He gather us into His granaries like pure and useful wheat, in Jesus Christ our Lord, to Whom belongs all glory, honor, and worship, with His Father Who is without beginning, and His All-holy and Good and Life- giving Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.”

    • Scott Pennington :

      Amen, Eliot

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

      Correct, the Divine Liturgy is not described verbatim in scripture, but it is drawn from it. There is no other source for the worship except scripture. That’s why the Gospel sits on the Holy Table instead of, say, an icon of Christ or the writings of St. John Chrysostom (Christendom’s foremost biblical exegete). That’s why we process with the Gospel. That’s why all the verses of Orthros and Vespers either explicate the stories of scripture, or honor and explain the lives of men and women who stood in the Gospel contained in the Scripture. The apostolic word, the Gospel, is always primary.

      And that’s why, like Elder Cleopa writes, Tradition must be held in great reverence and godliness. Tradition, properly understood, is a living thing; the real time and space existential construct within which we encounter the Risen Christ proclaimed in and through the Gospel. The Gospel vivifies the Tradition because it constitutes the assembly as ekklesia (the “called out ones”). Lose the Gospel and you lose Christ. When that happens, the Tradition becomes a dead letter, that is, the Life mediated through it ceases. That is what happened to one of the Churches in Revelation. They lost their first love. Their ears grew dim to the Gospel. (They probably had nice looking buildings though, maybe even a great choir.)

      • Scott Pennington :

        Well, Fr. Johannes, Elder Cleopa also wrote this, or have you forgotten?:

        Excerpts from: Elder Cleopa of Romania. On Holy Tradition
        “From the day of its establishment (33 AD) until the year 44 AD, when the the Holy Apostle Matthew wrote the first Gospel [1], the Church was governed without the Scriptures of the New Testament, but only with the Holy Tradition of which only a part was later recorded.

        Listen to what the divine Evangelist John says: “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen” (Jn. 21:25). Again the same Evangelist declares in one of his epistles: “Having many things to write unto you, I would not write with paper and ink: but I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face, that our joy may be full” (2 Jn. 1:12). So, you see that the holy evangelist, when he had the ability, taught his disciples more with the living voice of Tradition than by sending them epistles. While your friends keep at all costs only so much as is written, they don’t take into account that both the Saviour and the majority of His Apostles did not leave anything written, but rather taught orally, with the living voice of Tradition.

        Holy Tradition is the teaching of the Church, God-given with a living voice, from which a portion was later written down. As with Holy Scripture, so, too, Holy Tradition contains Holy Revelation, and is, therefore, fundamental for our salvation. Holy Tradition is the life of the Church in the Holy Spirit and, consonant with the enduring life of the Church, is thus a wellspring of Holy Revelation, such that, consequently, it possesses the same authority as Holy Scripture.”

        Which agrees completely with the Fathers I quoted but does not jibe too well with what you and Nick are saying.

    • Brothers:

      Divine Liturgy — PLEASE DON’T GO THERE in this Tradition discussion. I don’t think, with the exception of Fr. Hans, that you know what you will be talking about. In the early Church there were a plethora of Liturgies. They were all vastly different and everyone was in communion. According to Justin Martyr, the anaphora was extemporaneous. The Liturgy of Addai and Mari (probably the oldest in permanent or semi-permanent form) does not have the Words of Institution. The East Syrian and that of St. Basil in its earliest form either has a weak or no Epiclesis. The Roman and Alexandrian (derived from the West Syrian) has absolutely no Epiclesis in its earliest form. The Gallician and Mezoaribic was variable on both counts depending on the season. The Alexandrian and Western Syrian, in its earliest form, makes no reference to oblation or sacrifice apart from the prayers of Thanskgiving. The Roman is heavy on the emphasis of sacrifice. The Didache, the so-called Apostolic Tradition and the so-called Apostolic Constitution are contradictory on whether the bread or the wine come first. And on and on and on. I could expound on this for hours. This is one area I have studied for 30 years.

      The one thing that is clear is that there is no uniform Apostolic Tradition as to the content of the Liturgy. The only agreement is that we consume the Body and Blood. How we get there is vaster than the Heavens, so to speak.

      The various Liturgies were vastly different. Eventually in the West, the Roman Canon supplanted the Mezoabaric, the Milanese and the Gallician, among others; the so-called St. John Chrysotom’s synthesized and replace the Eastern Syrian, Western Syrian and St. Basil’s (except for certain times of the year and with an interpolated Epiclesis which, in effect became a second Epiclesis). The Divine Liturgy was an evolutionary process of great divergence and systhesis over time.

      If you think the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church was passed on, in its present form, from the Apostles, then you for sure haven’t a clue about the Liturgy. SO AGAIN, PLEASE DON’T GO THERE.

      • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

        Absolutely correct Nick. In fact, you can see some of the remnants of the different Liturgies in the the one we use today. I agree. Probably best not to go there.

      • Scott Pennington :

        I’m not sure what Eliot was suggesting but I was certainly not suggesting that the Liturgy was passed down in tact as is from the Apostles. As to whether it’s a bad idea to “go there” in the sense of exploring it, I can’t say I have a phobia about it like you two do.

        Rereading Eliot’s quote though, it may very well be that part of Apostolic tradition was passed down through this or that prayer, etc. in the liturgy. It would be one of the kinds of things that would fit the bill that the Fathers were referencing. Other things would be apostolic tradition passed down through oral tradition and then reduced to writing concurrently with Scripture or subsequently whose teaching owed its pedigree to the teaching of the Apostles. The Fathers certainly believed that the apostolic word was passed down in a broader manner than you all allow for.

        The point being, of course, that Holy Tradition is the real standard, not just Scripture (which itself began as oral tradition and was only later written down and identified as Holy Scripture by some other criteria than Scripture alone, but none of this is getting through to you all because you are committed to this nonsense regardless of what is put before you).

  51. The main idea here is that the Holy Scripture instructs us to do many things while the Holy Tradition explains to us the method. The Holy Tradition provides the answer to the question “how to ?” : confess our sins, receive Communion; be sacramentally wed; pray; make the sign of the Holy Cross; invoke of the Holy Spirit for the sanctification of the all-holy Mysteries; bless the water of Baptism; bless the oil of Holy Chrismation; etc.
    Didn’t you say earlier that Orthodoxy is Dynamic — full of power, energy? However, what the Saints established at the Ecumenical Councils is valid till the end of ages.

    The relationship that exists between Holy Scripture and Holy Traditions this: both comprise the holy Revelation of God, and are the fount and source of Revelation for us.

    Hence, it is not possible for an inner contradiction to exist between the two, or for us to exclude one from the other. Holy Scripture possesses its unique witness of scriptural canon, as well as its dogmatic character (its divine inspiration), only in and with Holy Tradition; while Holy Tradition is able to prove the authenticity of its truth only together with Holy Scripture. (Elder Cleopa)

    • Scott Pennington :

      Eliot,

      Very well put. Or, as I tried to explain to Fr. Johannes and Nick above:

      Tradition came before the New Testament and the four Gospels. The New Testament books recognized as canonical, as well as others, were evaluated by the Church on the basis of Tradition. The four Gospels were recognized as reliable based on Tradition. Scripture is part of Tradition. They are different forms of the same underlying substance and are interdependent. One does not evaluate established Tradition to find if it is in conflict with Scripture any more than one evaluates canonized Scripture to evaluate whether it conflicts with Tradition. It is not possible for them to be in conflict. If they appear to conflict, it is because the person looking at them misunderstands one, the other, or both.

      • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

        Nope. What preceded everything was the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the apostolic word, the evangelion that was given to the apostles directly from God. The New Testament was compiled on the basis of apostolic authorship, recognized by the compilers who stood in that Gospel that was first preached by the Apostles. The Tradition grows out of that apostolic word, that Gospel.

        That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked on, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show to you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested to us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we to you, that you also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we to you, that your joy may be full (1 John 1: 1-4.

        That’s where it starts, Scott. In the apostolic proclamation — the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s because these words are true, these words that flow from God through the apostle, that the scriptures were canonized and that a Tradition arose. Tradition cannot precede the word, just like the creation cannot precede the words of God that spoke it into existence. It is an impossibility.

        One does not evaluate established Tradition to find if it is in conflict with Scripture any more than one evaluates canonized Scripture to evaluate whether it conflicts with Tradition.

        Clever, but it comes up short. The problem is with the modifier “established.” Tradition is indeed authoritative, but it does not follow that all that purports be traditional is indeed Tradition. We’ve gone through enough of this already with the false councils and so forth. It’s clear, and I think you have come to see, that another, more definitive, canon must exist in order to determine what is true and what is false. (That’s what your modifier indicates.)

        If you think in the categories of the apologetic however, this sounds like a prescription for anarchy. In fact it’s a call for responsible engagement. There is no need of course to subject everything to analysis. That is just immature. But responsible engagement is how the false councils were eventually regarded as false and so forth. We are not fundamentalists, Scott. And while the apologetic attempts to discredit scriptural fundamentalism (and rightfully so), it just substitutes a fundamentalism of the Tradition in its place.

        The notion then that “one evaluates canonized Scripture to evaluate whether it conflicts with Tradition” doesn’t really work. Put another way, it makes some sort of cursory sense if Scripture and Tradition are one and the same, but they are not (this is not the same thing as saying that Tradition has no authority). Put another way, the appearance of logical consistency is just that, an appearance, because this rejoinder is dependent on the categories of the apologetic as well, and thus is not true to the Tradition.

        • What I would like to know then is the answer to this question: Is Holy Scripture sufficient in order to guide man to salvation? Elder Cleopa says “No, it is not sufficient to guide man to salvation”. ” If we declare Scripture to be self-sufficient, we only expose it to subjective, arbitrary interpretation, thus cutting it away from its sacred source. Scripture is given to us in tradition.”
          .
          Elder Cleopa says “No, it is not sufficient to guide man to salvation, [2] inasmuch as, firstly, it wasn’t given to man from the beginning and, secondly, when it was given it wasn’t the only authentic text, with regard to the salvation of human souls, because before it there was the Holy Tradition. Many years before Moses began writing the first books of the Old Testament, there was sacred piety in the community of the people of Israel. Similarly, the books of the New Testament began to be written ten years after the formal foundation of the Church, which took place on the day of Pentecost. The Church chose and sealed as inspired by God the books of the two Testaments over one hundred years later.[3] These then comprised the declared Canon of the books of Holy Scripture. Thereafter the Church maintained this Canon of Truth, inasmuch as it is the very “pillar and ground of truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). The Holy Spirit operates within all of this for the preservation of the truth about salvation. Where the Church is, says Saint Jerome, there also is the Spirit of God and where the Spirit of God is, there also is the Church and all grace – since the Spirit is truth.

          [2] “We cannot assert that Scripture is self-sufficient; and this is not because it is incomplete, or inexact, or has any defects, but because Scripture in its very essence does not lay claim to self-sufficiency. . . . If we declare Scripture to be self-sufficient, we only expose it to subjective, arbitrary interpretation, thus cutting it away from its sacred source. Scripture is given to us in tradition. It is the vital, crystallizing center. The Church, as the Body of Christ, stands mystically first and is fuller than Scripture. This does not limit Scripture, or cast shadows on it. But truth is revealed to us not only historically. Christ appeared and still appears before us not only in the Scriptures; He unchangeably and unceasingly reveals Himself in the Church, in His own Body. In the times of the early Christians the Gospels were not yet written and could not be the sole source of knowledge. The Church acted according to the spirit of the Gospel, and, what is more, the Gospel came to life in the Church, in the Holy Eucharist. In the Christ of the Holy Eucharist Christians learned to know the Christ of the Gospels, and so His image became vivid to them.” Fr. George Florovsky, Bible, Church, Tradition: An Eastern Orthodox View, pp. 48-49

          [3] By the end of the first century . . . the Church possessed the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Although they were not perhaps as yet collected into one volume, each had been accepted by the group of churches for which it was written. Very soon afterward they were combined in one quadripartite Gospel, and in the middle of the second century the Christian apologist Tatian composed the first harmony, or code, of the Gospels. . . The appearance of the New Testament in the Church as a book, as Scripture, was therefore not a new factor, but a record of the founding tradition. Just because it was identical with the original tradition as the Church already knew it, there appeared at first no need of a canon, or precisely fixed list of accepted records of Scripture.” (Fr. Alexander Schmemann The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy, pg. 44) In fact, for the western Church it was not until 419 AD at the Council of the 217 Blessed Fathers assembled at Catharge that the entire New Testament as we know it today was irrevocably canonised (Canon XXIV). – Editor

        • Scott Pennington :

          Yep, what I said was correct. The Gospel was oral tradition, Holy Tradition, both before and after part of it was reduced to writing.

          “That’s where it starts, Scott. In the apostolic proclamation — the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s because these words are true, these words that flow from God through the apostle, that the scriptures were canonized and that a Tradition arose. Tradition cannot precede the word, just like the creation cannot precede the words of God that spoke it into existence. It is an impossibility.”

          Tradition came before the New Testament and the four Gospels. It is a fact. The content of the New Testament and the four Gospels began as Christ’s teaching and activity. It became oral tradition. Only later did part of it become Scripture. I was precisely correct on this point. Your perpetual confusion comes from not being able to admit that the apostolic teaching is not solely contained in Scripture.

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

      Eliot, the tradition has power because it contextualizes the words of Life in space and time. When I pray for the sick, I read the prayers from the prayer book. Why? Because if they did not have inherent power (the power is in the speaking of the words, the speaking of the words is the act of faith), they would have fallen into disuse centuries ago. Sometimes I go into my own prayers (we have that authority) but never before the received prayers are read.

      That word that I pray comes from God, and it comes through the wisdom of men who stood in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and discerned what needed to be prayed and how to pray it. It flows from the Gospel. That’s why it has power. That’s why it has not fallen into disuse. That’s why I pray it.

      Everything flows from this. Beautiful icons are created by iconographers steeped in prayer to God, using the words drawn from the priomordial word given to us by the Apostles and preserved for us in Scripture. The same with the music, the art, the architecture — everything. And both the source and destination of these words is the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us.

      The Gospel is primary because when it is preached (spoken) it reveals Christ. That’s why John exhorts us to listen to his word, because his word will lead to fellowship with the Father. All others stand in the word, in this apostolic teaching, and bring others to find Christ too. But they have no Gospel other than that which was given to them by the apostles, which is found in Scripture.

      If you were banished to an island and got chose on a writing of a Father or the Holy Scriptures to bring along, which would you choose? Obviously the Scripture because it is the source and ground of everything that followed.

      • Fr. Hans:

        If you were banished to an island and got chose on a writing of a Father or the Holy Scriptures to bring along, which would you choose?

        Well, I am not sure. Can I bring along the writings of all the Holy Fathers not just one? I don’t think I would be able to understand the Holy Scripture.

        Each Christian has the need to read Holy Scripture, yet each Christian does not also have the authority or ability to teach and interpret the words of Scripture. This privileged authority is reserved for the Church via its holy clergy and theologians, men who are instructed in and knowledgeable of the true faith. When we consider how our Saviour gave the grace of teaching to His Holy Apostles (Mat. 28:20) and not to the masses it is easy for us to see that the prerogative to teach is held only by the bishops, priests and theologians of our Church.
        They teach in the name of the Church and of Christ. Not everyone has the intellectual ability and the requisite divine grace necessary to expound Holy Scripture correctly. The Apostle Peter also says this in his second epistle, referring to the epistles of the Apostle Paul. He says the following: There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures (2 Peter 3:16).

        Holy Scripture is like a very deep well wherein is comprised the infinite wisdom of God. […] Holy Scripture, according to the Fathers, is bone and no one will venture with teeth fit for milk to break the strong bones of Holy Scripture – for those teeth will be crushed.

        You’ve read in Scripture about the eunuch of Candace, Queen of the Ethiopians? He was reading the Prophet Isaiah when the Apostle Philip asked him if he understood that which he read, to which he replied: How can I, except some man should guide me? (Acts 8:31).

        […] One must not, therefore, teach according to ones own understanding and perception, for one will be deceived.

        Inq.: All the same, it is said that each Christian has the right and obligation to read Holy Scripture on his own, as the Saviour admonishes us: You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness of me (Jn. 5:39).

        EC: Be careful, because many heretics of earlier eras made bold to immerse themselves in the fathomless sea of Scripture and drowned spiritually, thus perishing together with as many as followed them. They dont have all the same spiritual maturity. They are not all able to understand the mystery of Holy Scripture. Elder Cleopa

        • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

          Well, it’s a decision I would not want to be faced with either. I think I would choose the Scripture though. But yes, teachers are needed.

          • Fr. Hans:

            I think I would choose the Scripture though. But yes, teachers are needed.

            I understand that. You are a priest of the Apostolic Church and a successor of the Apostles.

            Saint Basil the Great wrote many centuries ago:

            If we consent to abandon the unwritten traditions on the pretext that they don’t have great worth, we err in great and elevated matters, rejecting the Gospel.”

            From the time of the Apostles, the proper understanding of Scripture and Tradition was of crucial importance to the Christian Church.

            St. Basil’s words were prophetic. Today, the rejection of the Gospel is happening all around us. Matt Dillahunty, your opponent in the debate is the son of a Baptist minister. He heard the Gospel, but he rejected it. One cannot properly understand the Scriptures outside the context of the Tradition. This is valid for all atheists: they reject the Gospel because they can’t understand it.

            Jehovah’s Witnesses has always taught from its inception in 1896 that Jesus Christ was no more than a perfect man. They go door-to door, holding in their hand the Bible while rejecting the Gospel. We Orthodox say “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”. The say Christ was no more than a perfect man.

            All the denominations have had their contribution the the state of confusion in the Christian world. Converts from Islam or other religion are surprised to learn about the very large number of Christian denominations.

        • Scott Pennington :

          “Well, I am not sure. Can I bring along the writings of all the Holy Fathers not just one? I don’t think I would be able to understand the Holy Scripture.”

          Very good answer.

          Acts 8:27-31
          “And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship, Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet. Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. And Philip ran thither to [him], and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.”

          Scripture in and of itself is insufficient for salvation.

  52. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Scott writes:

    St. Gregory of Nyssa(c.A.D. 335-394) writes:

    “For it is enough for proof of our statement, that the Tradition has come down to us from our fathers, handed on, like some inheritance, by succession from the apostles and the saints who came after them. They, on the other hand, who change their doctrines to this novelty, would need the support of arguments in abundance, if they were about to bring over to their views, not men light as dust, and unstable, but men of weight and steadiness: but so long as their statement is advanced without being established, and without being proved, who is so foolish and so brutish as to account the teaching of the evangelists and apostles, and of those who have successively shone like lights in the churches, of less force than this undemonstrated nonsense?” (Against Eunomius,4:6).

    St. Basil the Great(A.D. 329-379), Bishop of Caesarea, whom Florovsky misconstrues, wrote:

    “Of the dogmas and kergymas preserved in the Church, some we possess from written teaching and others we receive from the tradition of the Apostles, handed on to us in mystery. In respect to piety both are of the same force. No one will contradict any of these, no one, at any rate, who is even moderately versed in manners ecclesiastical. Indeed, were we to try to reject the unwritten customs as having no great authority, we would unwittingly injure the Gospel in its vitals; or rather, we would reduce kergyma to a mere term” (Holy Spirit 27:66).

    There was no Patristic tradition in the time of St. Basil or Gregory, at least not in the terms we understand today, so clearly they were not writing about themselves.

    The only thing that makes sense is that the writings include both the apostles, and those that knew them, such as Polycarp, the disciple of St. John the Apostle, for example. If St. Basil means that Polycarp’s writings quote St. John, then yes, absolutely, although I don’t see how this would affect the primacy of the Apostolic word, that is Scripture, given that the Fathers clearly see the scripture as the ground of authority in their own writings. Just read them. In fact, we (and they, presumably) would corroborate Polycarp by St. John’s writings, not the other way around. They do not diminish the authority of the Tradition at all of course, but neither do those who see the apologetic as historically and theologically unsound.

    Further, it seems like their apologetic is written against those who challenge their authority, or at least claim that the Fathers are writing out of thin air. Remember, they are the Fathers so they are not appealing to themselves. They can only appeal to the writers of the first few centuries where the oral tradition was still in force because people were alive who knew the apostles.

    I’d like to know what the word “mystery” is in Greek. Probably it is “mysterion” which most often is used to denote sacrament. (I think you might be reading it here in a quasi-gnostic sense but I doubt that reading would be correct.) If he is referring to the sacraments as traditions passed on, yes, of course. But this is not what the apologetic contends. Nick is correct, the apologetic (and you imply) that the “paradosis” is a kind of knowledge, a “gnosis”.

    In any case, I don’t see at all how these quotes affirm that a second track of the apostolic word exists in the Tradition. If so, can you point out where it is? I know Elaine Pagels can, but she heralds Gnosticism over Orthodoxy.

    One other thing Scott. You proof-text the Fathers. It’s not much different than what the Protestants that the apologetic hopes to shut down do. They proof-text scripture. One more bit of evidence I think that the apologetic is captive to Protestant categories.

    • Why don’t we have a look – what does St. Basil say in “On the Holy Spirit” 27:66? Here is the first part of this sub-section:

      66. Of the beliefs and practices whether generally accepted or publicly enjoined which are preserved in the Church some we possess derived from written teaching; others we have received delivered to us “in a mystery” by the tradition of the apostles; and both of these in relation to true religion have the same force. And these no one will gainsay;–no one, at all events, who is even moderately versed in the institutions of the Church. For were we to attempt to reject such customs as have no written authority, on the ground that the importance they possess is small, we should unintentionally injure the Gospel in its very vitals; or, rather, should make our public definition a mere phrase and nothing more. For instance, to take the first and most general example, who is thence who has taught us in writing to sign with the sign of the cross those who have trusted in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ? What writing has taught us to turn to the East at the prayer? Which of the saints has left us in writing the words of the invocation at the displaying of the bread of the Eucharist and the cup of blessing? For we are not, as is well known, content with what the apostle or the Gospel has recorded, but both in preface and conclusion we add other words as being of great importance to the validity of the ministry, and these we derive from unwritten teaching. Moreover we bless the water of baptism and the oil of the chrism, and besides this the catechumen who is being baptized. On what written authority do we do this? Is not our authority silent and mystical tradition? Nay, by what written word is the anointing of oil itself taught? And whence comes the custom of baptizing thrice? And as to the other customs of baptism from what Scripture do we derive the renunciation of Satan and his angels? Does not this come from that unpublished and secret teaching which our fathers guarded in a silence out of the reach of curious meddling and inquisitive investigation? Well had they learnt the lesson that the awful dignity of the mysteries is best preserved by silence. What the uninitiated are not even allowed to look at was hardly likely to be publicly paraded about in written documents. […] Moses was wise enough to know that contempt stretches to the trite and to the obvious, while a keen interest is naturally associated with the unusual and the unfamiliar. In the same manner the Apostles and Fathers who laid down laws for the Church from the beginning thus guarded the awful dignity of the mysteries in secrecy and silence, for what is bruited abroad random among the common folk is no mystery at all. This is the reason for our tradition of unwritten precepts and practices, that the knowledge of our dogmas may not become neglected and contemned by the multitude through familiarity. “Dogma” and “Kerugma” are two distinct things; the former is observed in silence; the latter is proclaimed to all the world.

      (Source – http://www.episcopalnet.org/READINGS/Basil/Bhs/Ch27.html)

      Therefore, to the question: “where else, other than Scripture, is the apostolic word contained?” St. Basil seems to answer: “in dogmas which have been observed in silence.” The listing of St. Basil is not exhaustive, but it seems clear that extra-Scriptural transmission of apostolic teaching has successfully taken place in the Church – some 1600 years later everything that St. Basil mentions here is still practiced by us, and yet we’ve never written it into the canon of Scripture.

      Moreover, I still didn’t get how does ongoing Divine revelation fit into this. Would God continue to reveal Himself to us if we – the Church – had no need of any more revelations? Sure, Scripture has long as become a closed canon. But it seems like the Tradition is ever vivified and enriched by revelations. When something appears novel, it’s not just about evaluating it by some criterion with our own strength – it’s also asking and waiting on God, Who can and does intervene to tell us that “this is from Me” and “that is not from Me.” There is no way to predict how He might reveal Himself, but He does, for which we glorify Him.

    • Scott Pennington :

      Fr. Johannes,

      What you are really doing is rationalizing away the teaching of the Fathers in order to promote a Protestant teaching. You are rejecting catholicity.

      St. Augustine:
      “[T]he custom [of not rebaptizing converts] . . . may be supposed to have had its origin in apostolic tradition, just as there are many things which are observed by the whole Church, and therefore are fairly held to have been enjoined by the apostles, which yet are not mentioned in their writings” (On Baptism, Against the Donatists 5:23[31] [A.D. 400]).

      “But the admonition that he [Cyprian] gives us, ‘that we should go back to the fountain, that is, to apostolic tradition, and thence turn the channel of truth to our times,’ is most excellent, and should be followed without hesitation” (ibid., 5:26[37]).

      “But in regard to those observances which we carefully attend and which the whole world keeps, and which derive not from Scripture but from Tradition, we are given to understand that they are recommended and ordained to be kept, either by the apostles themselves or by plenary [ecumenical] councils, the authority of which is quite vital in the Church” (Letter to Januarius [A.D. 400]).

      We say a thing is the catholic faith if it enjoys universality, antiquity and consent. The reason we are concerned about these things – – the only serious reason – – is because they are the means the Church uses to determine if something is apostolic teaching, either explicitly or by necessary implication. If a thing is widely believed by most or all Christians or church leaders, and from antiquity, then it can have but one origin: The Apostles.

      Sola Scriptura is a direct assault upon that. It is “bibleolatry” because it is, in a sense, worship of the written word as an idol. A thing is not apostolic teaching because it was reduced to writing in Scripture. Some things were and some were not. A thing is apostolic teaching because it came from the Apostles. As Elder Cleopa pointed out, only two Apostles wrote Gospels which were later accepted by the Church as Scripture. But Eleven (plus, later, St. Paul) spread the Gospel far and wide. Not everything they witnessed of Him or were taught by Him was reduced to writing, certainly not in Scripture. But the way we can know if it is their teaching is through catholicity. That is why it matters.

      The earliest Fathers up until at least the middle of the second century quoted “Gospel” the sayings of the Lord, without any reference to where the saying came from. They were not particularly concerned with whether it was written Gospel or not. Much of what they quoted they only know through oral tradition. Some weren’t even concerned which books were being used by the Church to convey the apostolic word so long as the books conformed to the apostolic word (see comment 38 above).

      Sola Scriptura is just an untenable mess that has no place in Orthodoxy.

  53. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Ilyha, the point St. Basil is arguing against, that all practices in the Church must be written somewhere in order to be valid, is not the same point the apologetic makes which argues that there are two sources of revelation in the Church, the scriptures and tradition. Note that even here St. Basil says the practices are authoritative because of their apostolic origin, and that these practices are not an extant written text of some sort, not a new “knowledge.”

    The critical distinction, using St. Basil’s words, is between “Dogma” and “Kerygma” but it is a distinction valid within the Church and not outside of it since only the Kerygma (the proclamation, the Gospel) is proclaimed to the outside world. Dogma is not. The Kerygma is of course, the Good News (evangelion) that Christ is Risen from the dead.

    The apologetic proclaims to the outside world that the “Kerygma” is not sufficient. It does this because it misunderstands the term “sola-scriptura” and reads the misunderstanding back into history. It conflates “Kerygma” into “Dogma”, something that clearly St. Basil does not do, then proclaims this new amalgamation is the real “Kerygma.” This is incorrect.

    The apologetic, then, does not really deal with the “Kerygma”. Rather it’s really an attempt to undermine Protestant claims of authority and, as such, it changes the character of the “Kerygma”. Instead of preaching the Gospel, we get arguments about how Orthodoxy is the True Church and so forth. But this is not the preaching of the Gospel. It is apologetics replacing the Gospel.

    Further, the Dogma, St. Basil writes, is authoritative because it has apostolic origin, another confirmation actually of the supremacy of the apostolic teaching. You see here the point I have been making all along: the apostolic teaching is primary. I have never argued that all things need to be written down in order to be authoritative. Nor have I argued that Tradition is not authoritative. I have argued that Tradition is authoritative to the measure to which it comports (stands in, conforms to) the apostolic word. This is precisely the ground that St. Basil lays out as well.

    Luther’s notion of sola-scriptura was not an attack on Tradition in terms the polemic puts forth. It was actually a reaffirmation of the primacy of apostolic authority. His intent was to subject extra-biblical teachings promulgated by the Magisterium of his time back to the written text. In this he is entirely Orthodox. In fact, he developed his point reading the Church Fathers. The apologetic, because it misreads Luther to mean he advocated subjective interpretation (he didn’t), generalizes the term to mean that the scriptures are merely element in a host of elements that make up the tradition: iconography, hymnography, and so forth. (I am explaining history here, not making an implicit argument for or against the Reformation.)

    The result is that apostolic authority is relativized. It argues implicitly that apostolic authorship/teaching is of no higher authority than what, say, this elder and that elder would say. This is clearly not correct. It ends up, as I mentioned above, defending the “truth of Orthodoxy” or some such variant, instead of preaching the Gospel of Christ. This is why I say the apologetic is captive to Protestant categories and not true to the Orthodox tradition.

    • Scott Pennington :

      “I have never argued that all things need to be written down in order to be authoritative. Nor have I argued that Tradition is not authoritative. I have argued that Tradition is authoritative to the measure to which it comports (stands in, conforms to) the apostolic word. This is precisely the ground that St. Basil lays out as well.”

      No, that is not what you’ve been arguing and that is not what St. Basil meant. What you have been arguing is that Tradition only has derivative authority because it comports with Scripture. You believe that the entire apostolic word was reduced to Scripture. That is not the Orthodox faith and that is what St. Basil was conveying.

    • It argues implicitly that apostolic authorship/teaching is of no higher authority than what, say, this elder and that elder would say. This is clearly not correct. It ends up, as I mentioned above, defending the “truth of Orthodoxy” or some such variant, instead of preaching the Gospel of Christ.

      Once the persecutions against the Church stopped after 391 AD the Church had to fight against the flood of errors and heresies God has promised to be with us until the end of the age. He said He will send us the Holy Spirit to guide us. When we listen to what the Saints said we believe that they were inspired by the Holy Spirit and we listen to God.
      Elder Arsenie Papacioc:

      In every circumstance we must preserve all that the Ecumenical Councils have decided, because it wasn’t done either by you or me! It was done through Councils that lasted hundreds of days, abounding with signs and miracles, with the Holy Spirit! This is how the truth was established at the Seven Ecumenical Councils (EC) !
      The first was in AD 325 and the last in AD 787! They decided in all things in unity.
      The Catholics split in 1054; the Synods were complete by then!
      At the Sixth EC Pope Martin was a martyr! Why do they betray him now? Why did they depart? And from here everything started! Luther began the protestant movement, the Anglicans, and so on…

      Yes, Sola-scriptura means subjective interpretation and this is how all heresies start!

    • Scott Pennington :

      “The result is that apostolic authority is relativized. It argues implicitly that apostolic authorship/teaching is of no higher authority than what, say, this elder and that elder would say.”

      That is not what the “apologetic” claims (and the “apologetic” is actually just a statement or restatement of the Faith).

      Because you reject catholicity, you cannot see that. The plain fact is that the apostolic word was not passed down solely through Scripture. You are confused on this point I can see from your use of the term “authorship/teaching” which refers to two different things – – the latter only includes the former. Thus, the “apologetic” (which is much older than the Reformation) is not relativizing apostolic authority at all. It is simply stating that the Church has a means of determining what the apostolic word is, and that means is definitely not sola scriptura (which is heresy). Eliot understands this well. It is essentially what is conveyed by his first quote from Elder Cleopa above. It was really just a restatement of the Faith in the face of heterodox teaching.

  54. Greetings Ilya:

    It is apropos to the discussion to bring up Chapter 27 of St. Basil’s “On the Holy Spirit”, particularly since I alluded to it in a previous post as did Fr. Georges Florovksy in the extend quotation of his which I posted. However, I think it best to set forth the entire text for contextual purposes. Therefore, I am setting forth below the balance of the text using the last sentence from your quotation as the first sentence of this quotation:

    This is the reason for our tradition of unwritten precepts and practices, that the knowledge of our dogmas may not become neglected and contemned by the multitude through familiarity. Dogma and Kerugma are two distinct things; the former is observed in silence; the latter is proclaimed to all the world. One form of this silence is the obscurity employed in Scripture, which makes the meaning of dogmas difficult to be understood for the very advantage of the reader: Thus we all look to the East at our prayers, but few of us know that we are seeking our own old country, Paradise, which God planted in Eden in the East. Genesis 2:8 We pray standing, on the first day of the week, but we do not all know the reason. On the day of the resurrection (or standing again Grk. ἀ νάστασις) we remind ourselves of the grace given to us by standing at prayer, not only because we rose with Christ, and are bound to seek those things which are above, Colossians 3:1 but because the day seems to us to be in some sense an image of the age which we expect, wherefore, though it is the beginning of days, it is not called by Moses first, but one. For he says There was evening, and there was morning, one day, as though the same day often recurred. Now one and eighth are the same, in itself distinctly indicating that really one and eighth of which the Psalmist makes mention in certain titles of the Psalms, the state which follows after this present time, the day which knows no waning or eventide, and no successor, that age which ends not or grows old. Of necessity, then, the church teaches her own foster children to offer their prayers on that day standing, to the end that through continual reminder of the endless life we may not neglect to make provision for our removal there. Moreover all Pentecost is a reminder of the resurrection expected in the age to come. For that one and first day, if seven times multiplied by seven, completes the seven weeks of the holy Pentecost; for, beginning at the first, Pentecost ends with the same, making fifty revolutions through the like intervening days. And so it is a likeness of eternity, beginning as it does and ending, as in a circling course, at the same point. On this day the rules of the church have educated us to prefer the upright attitude of prayer, for by their plain reminder they, as it were, make our mind to dwell no longer in the present but in the future. Moreover every time we fall upon our knees and rise from off them we show by the very deed that by our sin we fell down to earth, and by the loving kindness of our Creator were called back to heaven.
    67. Time will fail me if I attempt to recount the unwritten mysteries of the Church. Of the rest I say nothing; but of the very confession of our faith in Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, what is the written source? If it be granted that, as we are baptized, so also under the obligation to believe, we make our confession in like terms as our baptism, in accordance with the tradition of our baptism and in conformity with the principles of true religion, let our opponents grant us too the right to be as consistent in our ascription of glory as in our confession of faith. If they deprecate our doxology on the ground that it lacks written authority, let them give us the written evidence for the confession of our faith and the other matters which we have enumerated. While the unwritten traditions are so many, and their bearing on the mystery of godliness 1 Timothy 3:16 is so important, can they refuse to allow us a single word which has come down to us from the Fathers;— which we found, derived from untutored custom, abiding in unperverted churches;— a word for which the arguments are strong, and which contributes in no small degree to the completeness of the force of the mystery?
    68. The force of both expressions has now been explained. I will proceed to state once more wherein they agree and wherein they differ from one another—not that they are opposed in mutual antagonism, but that each contributes its own meaning to true religion. The preposition in states the truth rather relatively to ourselves; while with proclaims the fellowship of the Spirit with God. Wherefore we use both words, by the one expressing the dignity of the Spirit; by the other announcing the grace that is with us. Thus we ascribe glory to God both in the Spirit, and with the Spirit; and herein it is not our word that we use, but we follow the teaching of the Lord as we might a fixed rule, and transfer His word to things connected and closely related, and of which the conjunction in the mysteries is necessary. We have deemed ourselves under a necessary obligation to combine in our confession of the faith Him who is numbered with Them at Baptism, and we have treated the confession of the faith as the origin and parent of the doxology. What, then, is to be done? They must now instruct us either not to baptize as we have received, or not to believe as we were baptized, or not to ascribe glory as we have believed. Let any man prove if he can that the relation of sequence in these acts is not necessary and unbroken; or let any man deny if he can that innovation here must mean ruin everywhere. Yet they never stop dinning in our ears that the ascription of glory with the Holy Spirit is unauthorized and unscriptural and the like. We have stated that so far as the sense goes it is the same to say glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, and glory be to the Father and to the Son with the Holy Ghost. It is impossible for any one to reject or cancel the syllable and, which is derived from the very words of our Lord, and there is nothing to hinder the acceptance of its equivalent. What amount of difference and similarity there is between the two we have already shown. And our argument is confirmed by the fact that the Apostle uses either word indifferently,— saying at one time in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God; 1 Corinthians 6:11 at another when you are gathered together, and my Spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 1 Corinthians 5:4 with no idea that it makes any difference to the connection of the names whether he use the conjunction or the preposition.

    Having done so, it is instructive to note that, out of the 30 chapters of the treatise, only 1 is devoted to “Tradition”. The other 29 are devoted to extensive citation to Scripture as proof texts for St. Basil’s discussion. In parts, it almosts looks like a florilegia. I find it significant that 97% of the treatise deals with Scripture and a mere 3% deals with Tradition. And with what Tradition does it deal, we should ask?

    If you carefully read Chapter 27, you will readily see that it deals with our rituals: the facing to the East, the kneeling, the triple immersion at baptism, the invocation of the Holy Spirit during the anaphora, and the like. If you read the whole treatise, St. Basil uses 97% of it to argue, from Scripture that the Holy Spirit is God, that it is equal to the Father and the Son and that to it is due the same Glory and Worship. What he then does, in referring to Tradition is to say that our rituals dealing with the Holy Spirit are consistent with and confirm what he has derived from Scripture. This is precisely what Fr. Georges Florovsky says about Chapter 27:

    The first reference to “unwritten traditions” is to be found in the famous treatise of St. Basil, On the Holy Spirit; And, at first glance, it may seem as if St. Basil admitted a double authority and double standard — unwritten traditions alongside of the Scriptures. The fact is however, that he is far from doing so. His terminology is peculiar. His main distnction is between kerygmata and dogmata. In his phraseology, kerygmata are precisely what in the later terminology was denoted as doctrine, that is, formal and authoritative teaching and ruling in matters of faith or the public teaching. On the other hand, dogmata are the total complex of “unwritten habits” — in fact, the total structure of liturgical and sacramental life. These “habits” were handed down, says St. Basil, en mysterio. It would be a flagrant mistranslation if we took these words to mean “in secret.” The only accurate rendering is: “by way of mysteries.” This means, under the form of rites and liturgical usages. Indeed, all the examples which St. Basil cites in this connection are ritual and symbolic. These rites and symbols are means of communication. In a sense they are extra-scriptural. But their purpose is to impart to the candidates for baptism the “rule of faith” and prepare them for their baptismal profession of faith. St. Basil’s appeal to these “unwritten habits” was no more than an appeal to the faith of the church, to her sensus catholicus. He had to break the deadlock created by the obstinate and narrow-minded pseudo-biblicism of his Arian, or Eunomian, opponents. And he pleaded that, apart from this “unwritten” rule of faith, expressed in sacramental rites and habits, it was impossible to grasp the true intention of the Scripture.

    This is also what I and Fr. Hans have been saying about Tradition. The Tradition which has been reduced to writing in 1 Cor. 15 and the Tradition reflected in our ritual formulas, our hymnograpy and our doxologies puts into context the content of Scripture.

    Brother Scott can say all he wants that the preeminent Orthodox theologian of the 20th Century, Fr. Georges Florosvky (who he presciently called a saint in one of his posts) is just plain, dead wrong. If my salvation depended on the teachings of Fr. Georges or the teachings of Brother Scott, I think everyone knows where the choice would lie.

    One thing I’ve wanted to say for a while and have held back. Some of the posts have been quite vitriolic and insulting, especially against Fr. Hans. That is uncalled for and does not serve to advance the cause of intellectual discussion. We can agree to disagree, but we whould not disagree disagreeably. Christian charity is not just alms. It also entails respect. Another thing I’ve wanted to say is that, if everything were so cut and dried, why have Orthodox theologians spent so much time writing and not always agreeing? A good case in point is Basil and his brother Nyssa. Basil took the Genesis account in the literally sequential way as presented in Genesis 1. Nyssa totally disagreed and said all of creation and things created occurred simultaneously in one single act of Will and that Genensis was merely allegorical in trying to set up a sequence to show interrelations that our feeble minds could better comprehend.

    On whose side does your so-called tradition lie? Is the Apostolic teaching on the side of Basil or on the side of Nyssa? Pray tell, answer that one if one can. The two were close and knew of their vehement disagreement over this. I don’t recall either one insulting the other. Those were both true intellects and Doctors of the Church.

    We disagree, that is clear. But, I think it time to move on to other subjects.

    • Scott Pennington :

      “In his phraseology, kerygmata are precisely what in the later terminology was denoted as doctrine, that is, formal and authoritative teaching and ruling in matters of faith or the public teaching.”

      That is definitely not what Basil was doing:

      “. . . delivered to us “in a mystery” by the tradition of the apostles; and both of these in relation to true religion have the same force.”

      What he was saying is that not all of apostolic tradition was passed down through Scripture alone. Many details of what the faith is and how it is practiced were passed down outside of Scripture as other quotes I have listed make clear. All of the things St. Basil mentioned have content and meaning and that meaning is of equal authority to Scripture, not as a derivative, but as reflecting the same apostolic word.

    • Scott Pennington :

      “Brother Scott”? Nick, I knew you were a Baptist at heart!

      Anyway, been interesting discussing this with you all. I think I understand why I believe what I believe more clearly now.

  55. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Thanks Nick. I agree as well. It is time to move on to other subjects. Thank you to all the contributors.

  56. Scott Pennington :

    Fr. Johannes,

    Please respond to 52.2 before you take your leave. Othewise I have to consider it a “checkmate”.

  57. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Scott you proof-text and think that makes your point. Then when you actually discuss some theology or history:

    Sola Scriptura is a direct assault upon that. It is “bibleolatry” because it is, in a sense, worship of the written word as an idol. A thing is not apostolic teaching because it was reduced to writing in Scripture. Some things were and some were not. A thing is apostolic teaching because it came from the Apostles. As Elder Cleopa pointed out, only two Apostles wrote Gospels which were later accepted by the Church as Scripture. But Eleven (plus, later, St. Paul) spread the Gospel far and wide. Not everything they witnessed of Him or were taught by Him was reduced to writing, certainly not in Scripture. But the way we can know if it is their teaching is through catholicity. That is why it matters.

    …you employ simplistic concepts. I’ve mentioned that before. “Biblieolatry” means — what? Worship of the written word as an idol? This means nothing of substance. It’s a polemical shot, nothing more.

    The earliest Fathers up until at least the middle of the second century quoted “Gospel” the sayings of the Lord, without any reference to where the saying came from. They were not particularly concerned with whether it was written Gospel or not. Much of what they quoted they only know through oral tradition. Some weren’t even concerned which books were being used by the Church to convey the apostolic word so long as the books conformed to the apostolic word (see comment 38 above).

    Of course they weren’t concerned about canonized scripture. The oral tradition was still operative because the disciples of the apostles were still living. Words were already written of course (these writings were compiled as scripture later on), but the apostolic teaching was easy to verify simply by word of mouth. As time wore on and the apostles and their disciples died, the true Gospel had to be sifted from the myriad false gospels emerging and thus their writings were canonized.

    I hope you are not arguing that extant writings exist of equal authority. That brings you into Elaine Pagel’s backyard.

    If you are arguing an oral tradition still exists, it must be defined as what St. Basil and Fr. Florovsky define it as: practices that contextualize the apostolic teaching contained in scripture.

    Checkmate or not, it doesn’t matter to me either way. You asked for my opinion, I gave it. That was your last word, this is mine. The thread is closed.

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