Submitting to the Church

August 14, 2012

This post is a argument about rather then statement of the Tradition of the Orthodox Church.

What is meant when we say that that Orthodox Christians submit to the teaching of the Church? Unlike the Roman Catholics there is no central magisterium to which one can turn to find the teaching of the Church and to which to submit oneself. On this ground it would seem that speaking of submitting to the teaching of the Church is rather an import from a Roman Catholic model of the Church. The Orthodox Christian has no such authority to which to submit himself. He cannot find a normative Church voice in any particular one of the hierarchy in and of themselves. Any particular hierarch, or synod of hierarchs, is potentially fallible and cannot be said to infallibly present the teaching of the Church. Moreover what is meant by the teaching of the Church? This implies a body that teaches of itself, such again as the Roman Catholic idea of the Church headed by the Pope that operates in a manner autonomously on earth. The Orthodox Churches though have no single voice which speaks for the Church, which also cannot be conceived as separated from the Head, Christ, so the teachings of the Church are properly the teachings of Christ, her Head. The Church does not provide its own teachings but presents those of Christ; that is it teaches the Gospel. How does it present the teachings of Christ? Through its hierarchy, that is the Fathers.

So then, the Orthodox Christian follows the teachings of Christ as preserved and presented by the Fathers and submits to them as to Christ. Which Fathers? Those whom are recognised as authorities by those in the communion of the Orthodox Churches which had been received in continuity and conformity by the previous generations of the Church. Primarily it is certain canonical writings that are maintained as normative beginning with the Scriptures and including the teachings of the Ecumenical Councils, regional councils and individual Fathers. Christ’s teachings are preserved and maintained in all these writings, at least that is what is believed by the Orthodox. All these writings are both useful for salvation and require one’s belief to be in conformity to them. They establish the rule of the orthodox Faith given to the Apostles and not that of one’s own opinion. If one cannot accept any of these teachings then one is not Orthodox. If one reads some of these teachings in a manner that contracts other teachings then one is not Orthodox. If one accepts only part of the teachings held by the communion of Orthodox Churches today then one is not Orthodox in terms of this communion although such a one may consider themselves orthodox in there own opinion or that of a group separated from the Orthodox for self-opinion (heresy). While any particular Father is fallible on account of his humanity, some Fathers have been generally regarded as reliable in all of their writings, as well as those particular writings given direct normative value in the Ecumenical Councils, such as Sts Athanasius, Cyril, John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, Maximus the Confessor, Photius the Great, Dionysius the Areopagite, Gregory Palamas, Ignatius of Antioch and others. To understand the Faith in contraction to any of these Fathers is to not be orthodox, although on a couple of points any one of these Fathers may not present the teaching of Christ as consistent with the others but it is very unlikely to find such a point.

Being Orthodox though is more that being orthodox in Faith, it requires ecclesiological communion with those hierarchs who teach, present, and preserve the Faith passed on by previous generations of orthodox hierarchs/Fathers; the reason for this is beyond the scope of this post. There is no magic formula for knowing who these are apart from searching the truth and looking at the evidence and of course humble prayer that God leads one aright. Communion with hierarchs is distinct from a communion of believers of one mind because the hierarchy assumes structure, obedience and historical continuity. The system is bigger than an individual believer, or even hierarch, and precludes independent opinion as legitimate in its own right even if individuals, such as St Maximus the Confessor, may need to stand against the majority at that the time to ensure historical continuity of the Faith as well as geographical continuity. It also precludes self-starting a community of believers. The community must be generated by previously appointed hierarchs (Fathers). That is it is God as Father who gives birth to the members of the Church, sons of God, via the hierarchy, who bear the name Father on account of this mystery and who also ordain other hierarchs because it is from God that all authority comes.

So it is contended here that rather than speak of the submitting to the Church or the teaching of the Church, it is more appropriate for Orthodox Christians to speak of submitting to the communion of hierarchs that maintains the teaching of the Fathers who have preserved, presented and passed on the teaching of Christ, that is the Gospel. These hierarchs are the present day Fathers who pass on the Tradition once received as did the Apostles, should of course they rightly divide the word of Truth. Orthodox should speak and refer to the Fathers rather than the Church in terms of obedience and teaching. It is not wrong to say Church but it rather betrays a Roman Catholic tendency to see the Church as somewhat autonomous in itself with a single magisterium headed by the Pope. In a wider sense this is the tendency to see the church as the present day organisation without necessary reference to the previous generations so that what a church, rather its present leading authority, says now requires obedience regardless of its consistency to the past.


Sola Scriptura and Pope Gregory the Great

August 3, 2012

On occasion Protestant writers and apologists make claim for their theological distinctives as being found in the fathers. The doctrine of Sola Scriptura is one such case where a good many citations are brought forward to establish that this doctrine is nothing novel. And so Protestantism is introducing nothing new in advocating for the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.  The two major works from which practically all contemporary Protestant cases directly or indirectly depend on are by Whitaker and Goode. If you have read them (I have) there really isn’t much else to read.

One father who is advanced for the case of Sola Scriptura is Pope Gregory the Great (540-604) Gregory is usually enlisted to support a few parts of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, scripture as the ultimate authority, its material sufficiency and perspicuity. The following citations are some of the usual suspects.

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Cosmological/Geological Age, Evolution, Physical laws and Biblical time lines

February 22, 2012

This post is not about presenting a particular view or solution to the issues of the age of the world, evidence of evolution and the timescale recorded in the Scriptures. Rather it is intended to help a discussion on the matter by suggesting various issues that need addressing in attempting to harmonise the physical evidence that we see with the biblical evidence in terms of theological principles. Comments are welcome if they do not accuse others of ignorance, naivety nor betraying the Faith.

Since this is about an Orthodox understanding there are some basic truths that one must hold and that are not open to much debate. The first is that God is the creator of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible. That is the universe cannot be considered to have come into being of its own accord nor by some determination or principle apart from God. Even all the laws of physics and randomness must come from God, so apart from God we cannot explain the existence of the universe. Also, we must be careful not to think of there existing a void or even nothing as a default understanding of existence; one would need to prove that the existence of non-existence can be a legitimate default position. I tend to find that the idea that non-existence exists contradictory. Rather I would argue, particularly as Orthodox Christians, that we start with the default of eternal omnipresent existing existence, that is “I am”, and move from there.

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Hierarchal limits: St Cyprian of Carthage

November 7, 2011

Continuing with the thoughts of the last post and that regarding the eucharist a couple of posts previously, here is a quote from St Cyprian that carries the same line of thought. A quote from St Ignatius of Antioch is included for comparison.

[A]nd they are the Church who are a people united to the priest, and the flock which adheres to its pastor. Whence you ought to know that the bishop is in the Church, and the Church in the bishop; and if any one be not with the bishop, that he is not in the Church, and that those flatter themselves in vain who creep in, not having peace with God’s priests, and think that they communicate secretly with some; while the Church, which is Catholic and one, is not cut nor divided, but is indeed connected and bound together by the cement of priests who cohere with one another. Wherefore, brother, if you consider God’s majesty who ordains priests, if you will for once have respect to Christ, who by His decree and word, and by His presence, both rules prelates themselves, and rules the Church by prelates;

And here is a quote from St Ignatius of Antioch saying the same thing:
“Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”

In both of these we see that Christ is present in the hierarchs and that our union with Christ is ascertained by our union with the hierarchy. The Church is not apart from the hierarchs and so we are not with Christ if we are apart from the hierarchs even if you have been baptised and partakers of the eucharist; if we depart from the hierarchs then we depart from the Church. When we speak of the Church deciding something we speak of the hierarchy deciding such a thing because it is through them that Christ rules the Church and directs her. The Church is not a separate thing that makes decisions, it is Christ who makes decisions through the prelates that is the hierarchy. The hierarchs do not act as intermediaries to Christ but make him directly present to rule in the Church. They do so though in synergy and not as robots, so they can make human errors and speak heresy, if they speak of their own mind and not that of Christ. Hence, they need to be obedient to Him who rules the hierarchs by decree and word and by His presence. St Cyprian is clear here that membership of the Church is through union with the priests of the Church, that is the hierarchy and in particular the bishop. Union with the hierarchy includes and requires participation in the mysteries that they minister, through which were are united with Christ. The mysteries though are for the hierarchy not the hierarchy for the mysteries. That is the role of the hierarchy transcends the ministration of any particular mystery rather than being confined by them. That is why I use the term hierarchy to include all the mysteries with the bishop, presbyters and deacons (including all the priestly orders). The bishop is the head and completion of the hierarchy but one should not think of him isolated from the complete hierarchy including all its mysteries in various rites. Neither are hierarchic relations that unite us to Christ restricted to the Church hierarchy but they also occur in monastic relations, family relations and civil relations, although apart from the Church hierarchy these relations cannot effect union with Christ of themselves.

Why have a posted this? Because it is an important key that solves a number of problems. Firstly, it removes a problem of eucharistic ecclesiologists of the parish eucharists and not one episcopal eucharist, which arose because they hold that the hierarchy is for the mystery and so the bishop only has meaning as head of the eucharistic assembly. They argue that there was a change in theology with the growth of parishes but the hierarchal ecclesiology presented here does not have such an problem. Multiple parish eucharists are as consistent as a single episcopal eucharist. Secondly, it refutes Protestantism because there is no room for independent salvation nor private opinion contrary to the hierarchy. Thirdly, because the bishop is the head and completion of each hierarchy there is no place for a bishop of bishops. Also, the purpose of the hierarchy is to make Christ fully present in every place not one place which undermines the papal doctrine of the vicar of Christ being in one place. Yet, it requires levels of primacy as a structure to unite the priesthood with each other yet without having a single head on earth since this would deny that the hierarchy is to present one Christ in many places and that the Head is not on earth but above. Fourthly, it allows for economy and it is not purely mechanical. Fifthly, it is points to person to person relationships rather than any mechanical reception of mysteries. It maintains the focus on master/disciple relationship and in this regard also maintains the Apostolic foundation both as leaders and disciples and that such relationships are the core of our spiritual life again undermining Protestant thinking and exposing it as heresy. Sixthly, it permits one to speak of the Church in terms of the local church with its bishop, the church in terms of its regional or national presence, the church in terms of its patriarchal presence, which should be transnational/trans-regional, and the universal church since each can correspond to a synodal layer and be defined in terms of this. Universal church does not conflict with local church and even though there is no single head, that is no head of a synod of patriarchs who may call such a synod or hear appeals from a patriarchal synod, there can still be an ecumenical patriarch/pope or two with limited powers, hearing appeals instead of another patriarch and writing pastoral letters to any other local/regional/patriarchal church, to reflect the universal church. Seventhly, it allows each church to be both part and whole, including each parish within the diocese. There is no room for either divided autocephalism that ignores each being part nor for centralist papism that ignores each being whole.


Another Anti-Western Orthodox Bigot (Sigh)

August 29, 2011

“For the rest, Augustine’s conception of the oneness of Christ is shown, although with more or less clarity, in the various, likewise traditional ways of describing the incarnation: as an event (fieri), a taking on (susceptio) or assumption (assumptio), a drawing close (accedere), or even a mingling without confusion (mixtio sine confusione). Although in using those terms Augustine is clearly starting from the teaching of the faith according to which only the Son became a human being, he does not yet arrive at the technical formulation of the dogma. That is, he does not use the epxression ‘the one person of Christ’ in order to describe the starting point of theincarnation.  In his thinking, ‘the one person of Christ’ is rather the result of the ineffable union between the godhead and the humanity in Jesus Christ.”

 Basil Studer, The Grace of Christ and the Grace of God in Augustine of Hippo: Christocentrism or Theocentrism?, trans. Matthew J.O. Connell, Liturgical Press, 1997, p. 34.

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What Would Mr. Newman Do?

August 8, 2011

“Yesterday, the eighteenth of the month, which was holy Mid-Pentecost, the patriarch sent me a message, saying,: ‘What church do you belong to? Constantinople? Rome? Antioch? Alexandria? Jerusalem? Look here, all of them are united together with the provinces subject to them. If, therefore, you belong to the catholic church, be united, lest perhaps you devise a strange path by your way of life and you suffer what you don’t expect…’Listen, then,’ they said. ‘The master and the patriarch have decided, following an instruction from the pope of Rome, that you will be anathematised if you do not obey, and that you will be sentenced to the death they have determined.'”

The Letter of Maxmus to Anastasius, His Disciple (CPG 7701)


Atonement in the Church Fathers

May 25, 2011

Below is a link to an article by Derek Flood which appeared in the April 2010 issue of the Evangelical Quarterly. The article is a review of Pierced for Our Transgressions, which aims to give a historical and biblical defense of the doctrine of the penal theory of the atonement. I myself haven’t read the book or I should say, I didn’t bother to read the book.  It didn’t seem to warrant it for a few reasons. First, the book was published by Crossway which isn’t, so far as I know a peer reviewed press.  Second, there didn’t seem to be anything particularly new with respect to the argument so far as I could tell. And third, the arguments claiming various church fathers held the theory were prima facia comical. But since the book is making the rounds among Protestants, I figured readers would find Flood’s review article helpful.


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