True and particular churches?

Having a discussion on another blog I am interested in getting some feedback here on the issues raised.

It comes down to the theological approach of St Augustine and that of St Cyprian, along with St Basil and other Fathers. The former has generally been the accepted approach in the West and the latter in the East.

The issues are whether there can be valid Mysteries/Sacraments outside the visible/canonical limits of the Church; whether the Holy Spirit can be active in such Mysteries outside the Church (can we separate the Holy Spirit from Christ and His Body); and whether a local Church can be considered a true Church yet deficient in something, especially not being in communion with Rome.

Does the latter point give Rome some form of Mystical/Sacramental role as well as an “administrative” role assuming for the sake of argument that such a role was instituted by Christ? If Rome does not have a Mystical role, how then can communion with it provide anything to a local Church other than separation from it making the local Church schismatic, as it would be being separated from any other local Church?

At present, I understand that the Spirit is not in the Mysteries of those outside the Church and in no way can schismatic and heretical churches be called “true and particular” having valid Mysteries. Roman Catholics and Orthodox being well established in schism, (although really both teach heresies relative to the other), if one is the Church then the other is not, with invalid Mysteries, and cannot be considered true and particular, let alone “Sister”. This seems to be in line with St Cyprian, St Basil and other Fathers that are not followers of St Augustine. Following St Augustine, it may be possible to see schismatics as true and particular Churches with a deficiency but even here there are some problems as to how lack of communion with Rome can cause a deficiency, other than the direct wording of “true and particular churches in schism”. Can both views be accepted together or are they mutually exclusive? Can theory be tied in with the practice of the Fathers of the Church?

Sure it may be nice to say that Rome is a church, or the Church, and for that to be accepted in reply but on what theological/ecclesiology is this based? St Augustine provides a framework for this but is St Augustine right? Can the Mysteries exist outside the Church? Does this question even make sense?

Although, I am sure much ink has already been spilt on this matter, I look forward to comments.



    This paper suggests that the hard-line, rationalistic Cyprianic view is NOT the ancient, consistent, or perennial Orthodox view but a polemic perversion of it — Cyprian was taking sides in a heated battle over the proper Bishop of Rome and invented a theory to support his view. Rather the Basil of Caesara’s First Canonical Epistle (374) represents Orthodoxy’s authenitc, nuanced, and ancient understanding of ecclesiology.

    Since the 18th century, however, Orthodoxy has become very confused on this as the Rudder makes a dog meal of trying to fuse the self-admittedly innovative Cyprianic approach with the older and more consistently used Basilian approach. Indeed, in general, to find the authentic Tradition, one must first set aside and go behind the Rudder, which would be more aptly titled the Albatross (IMHO).


  2. My thought has always been that of the Gentiles before the Council at Jerusalem. Paul was coming with evidence that the Holy Spirit was working outside the established Church. The Jerusalem Council didn’t “anoint” these other churches (and thereby grant them the Holy Spirit), but rather “recognized” that they were already churches (with the Holy Spirit already at work in them).

    There are all manner and flavor of schisms. As I’ve come to learn about Orthodoxy as a Protestant (Restorationist), I’m surprised that it’s not heresy that keeps coming up in discussion, but succession. Many of the great Fathers of the Church held heretical views (or views that for a time were considered heretical). But herein the word heretical is tricky. Is heresy only those specifically addressed issues in the Ecumenical Councils? Allow me some more rhetorical questions.

    Could one even been “heretical” before the Councils? Revelation we see the Lord correcting “churches”. What happens to a person who is a apart of a church which isn’t a church because it’s heretical? Does God hold children to the sins of their spiritual Fathers in this way? If they were deceived, why should the Lord’s wrath come upon them?

    In other words, since I have done as the Ethiopian Eunuch, but have never experienced the communion of the Orthodox church, what is to become of me? (that one isn’t rhetorical)

    Perhaps it would be more interesting to ask this, if the Orthodox church is “the Church” then it has the power loose us (those who have repented, been baptized and call Jesus Lord) from our Protestant chains. Why not loose us? Tell us we are deficient, tell us we are missing out on the fullness of Christ, but don’t say that we were not, are not, and will not be saved.

    Preserve the Church AND grant grace. Is our sin of failing to understand theology any worse than other sin?


  3. St. Augustine doesn’t believe that baptisms of schismatics and heretics are valid and efficacious, only that they don’t have to be re-baptized (contra Cyprian). There baptisms become efficacious or validated the day they repent and come back to the Church. The ecclesiology of St. Augustine isn’t REALLY that different from St. Cyprian, just the way that heretics and schismatics should be remitted back into the Church. Rome’s rather liberal view of ecclesiology is not the same as St. Augustine’s, and he is in accord with Orthodoxy on this point. The difficulty here, once again, is interpreting St. Augustine.



  4. Photios,

    Thanks for the comment. I have had another read of St Augustine and he certainly does not accept the Mysteries as coming from the heretics/schismatics but as from the Church in the heretics and schismatics. This baptism he also considers not to provide remission of sins outside the Church. Although, he was not entirely clear on the point, following his logic it seems that one can, and should, read him in with St Basil and St Cyprian. Like the anonymous author who also writes against re-baptism, it seems that the form/act of baptism is itself sacred and unrepeatable even if conferred by the hands of those in heresy or schism, although I think that St Augustine may go a little further than this.

    However, he does say that a Priest retains the sacrament of conferring baptism, which seems contrary to St Basil, unless I am reading them wrong.

    St Augustine:
    “And as the baptized person, if he depart from the unity of the Church, does not thereby lose the sacrament of baptism, so also he who is ordained, if he depart from the unity of the Church, does not lose the sacrament of conferring baptism.”

    St Basil:
    “For although the ones who were the first to depart had been ordained by the Fathers and with the imposition of their hands they had obtained the gracious gift of the Spirit, yet after breaking away they became laymen, and had no authority either to baptize or to ordain anyone, nor could they impart the grace of the Spirit to others, after they themselves had forfeited it.”

    A solution may be to distinguish between the form/act of baptism or ordination and the gift of the Holy Spirit, Who transforms these into their mystical reality in Christ. The forms remain valid and done once given but the Spirit can only transform them in Christ, that is in the Church.


  5. When we use the phrase “outside the Church”, do we really know what the true boundaries or frontiers of the Church are? That seems to be the subtle dynamic here.


  6. Stephen,

    The principle I work on to answer your question is that the Church continues the Incarnation of Christ and He unites us physically and spiritually to Himself. Thus, the Church has a real physical presence and with this form, visibility and tangibility, just as Christ’s humanity did. Also, the Church consists of real humans and it is not an abstraction. The Mysteries are manifest through a concrete Priesthood because the Mysteries are about making Christ concrete in us. There are no ghostly Priests running around administering unseen Mysteries. So, we can “see” the true boundaries of the Church.

    However, with human frailty there are schisms from time to time. Depending on the nature and fixedness of the schism some can be considered within the Church and others outside the Church. The timing of when a schism separates from the Church is not easy to determine. Nevertheless, the people involved can be numbered and located as such, the Priests identified and the form of the Mysteries witnessed but their spiritual condition is another matter. Heresies can also be difficult to detect as to when a false private opinion becomes a teaching of faith and when a particular group holding this teaching becomes separate from those who do not.


  7. I think our perspective must be guided by that of the Church of the first millenium. Constantinople and the churches in of the East were out of communion with Rome for 200 or so years, cumulatively, during that time period. A study of how both churches, then and now, view the saints that shone forth in the ‘other’ churches as well as in the ‘church(es)’ that came out on the wrong end of the theological struggles of that age. For instance, what are our positions regarding saints that were in communion with Pope Honorius, or in communion with the Church of Constantinople under Nestorius or the iconoclasts, etc.? If there are saints that died in these communions but are still venerated by us, then we must admit that the Church may exist in deficient communities. St. Isaac of Syria is the prime example, but I am sure there are others. The demarcation of the Church is not always synonymous with canonical and communicant boundaries. A differentiation is likely also to be made between clergy and laity, and between clergy that actively promote a heresy and clergy that are simply under obedience or hold office in communion with heretics (again, St. Isaac of Syria).


  8. Why not, may be a better question is what is spirit, after all there is only one God, the Creator Entity. This being actually goes by many different names, Hindi refer to him as Brahma, ( The other gods are just trying to define the personality of Brahma) Jewish beliefs call him YHWH, Islam calls him Allah, Christianity calls him God. So what you really have is one God that goes by many different names.
    Now according to beliefs God created the universe, and until God created the universe, there was nothing except God. So because of this fact or belief we can reach the conclusion that the very fabric of the universe is created from the essence of The Creator eEntity or God if you prefer. So we can easily say that Spirit of God permeates the entirety of the universes and to quote Buzz Lightyear “and Beyond!”
    Because the “Spirit of God” is the very essence of the entirety of the universe, how can you confine spirituality to the boundaries of “The Churches”?


  9. Allan–

    Because we are committed (with good reason) to the authority of the Christian revelation, we are commited to what that revelation teaches about the workings of God. For instance, we believe Jesus’ statement that He is the only way to the Father, which is an exclusive claim about how God approaches people. God comes to us, and we come to God, through Jesus Christ, the God-man.

    As Orthodox Christians, we deny that there is some generic idea of God shared equally by all human beings. The God of Christian theism, the Holy Trinity, is not the same as the God of Islam or even Judaism. The Christian God is the true God. Other ideas of God are false insofar as they differ from the truth about the One God.

    Spirituality comes through the Holy Spirit, the third person of the divine Trinity. The Spirit is active in the Church, saving and perfecting its members. True and authentic experience of God, therefore, comes only within the boundries of the Church.

    It is true that the Spirit of God is present outside the Church, and hence there is surely grace outside the Church. Though I wouldn’t put it the way you did (with the language of “essence of the universe” because God is distinct from the universe) it is clear that God is at work in the natural world, human culture, and non-Christian religions. However, there is a disagreement among Orthodox Christians about the status of non-Christian religions and those who have been variously labeled schismatic, heretical, or heterodox (the Protestants and Catholics). Some Orthodox tend toward belief in what is called “religious inclusivisim”, which holds that people outside the Church can be saved by Jesus. Others tend toward what is called “religious exclusivism” which holds that only those who explicitly adhere to Orthodox Christianity are saved.

    Personally I am a religious inclusivist. I think that non-Christian religions are (to varying degrees) partly the creation of human beings, partly the work of the powers opposed to God, and partly the work of God; and I think that Protestants and Catholics can be Christians in spite of their heterodoxy. Though other religions are not salvific in themselves, I would never exclude the possibility that people outside the Church can be saved in spite of the falsity of their beliefs. Human persons are desperately sinful, and doomed to eternal sin and death without salvation; but God is perfectly loving and perfectly powerful. Though the Church grants safety and the fullness of salvation and truth, I would be a fool to limit the grace of God.


  10. Christopher,

    Thanks for the comment. There are certainly many times of schisms between various Churches with both still producing Saints. While, I still hold that an established schism separates one from Christ, I also think that most schisms do not reach this stage and everyone is still in the Church, even with poor relations. For the purpose of the discussion I am assuming that the schism is well established, entrenched and that there is a clear divide between the parties i.e. everyone in one party recognises the other party to be separated. Mostly these types of schism effectively involve some form of heresy due to the false reasons justifying such a schism.

    Regarding St Issac the Syrian, this is an interesting case and certainly challenges the absoluteness of St Cyprian’s teaching and even that of St Basil. My thoughts on the matter are that if one is in a group, even in heresy, that continues performing the Mysteries as the Church does then, as an exception, one in this group maybe united to Christ, who transforms these Mysteries into Himself in the Spirit. This does not mean that the mysteries in these groups normally unite one to Christ in the Spirit but that there may be a rare exception. It would need to be established that this was a common occurrence for the rule to be proved wrong in practice.

    How one is judged in a matter of heresy/schism is up to God, who judges the heart justly. Nevertheless, I believe for most people it is clear that the group that they attend is not united with another group for some issue, even if not entirely understood, and that it is the personal responsibility of each person to decide what they believe and with whom they worship.


  11. What do the people on here think about praying with Protestants and Catholics in light of the conciliar admonition to not pray with heretics?


  12. MG,

    In most Orthodox parishes I have ever been too, “heretics” (IMHO an abused term which has a much narrower meaning in perennial Orthodox practice) are invited to “come and see,” to come and prayer with us. I have always understood the injunction to mean that Orthodox should not frequent heterodox services, especially communion services. So, surely, we can pray together with separated Christian (and even agnostic) bretheren before meals without srcupple.

    I mean, WWJD? (tongue firmly in cheek.)


  13. “Thus, the Church has a real physical presence and with this form, visibility and tangibility, just as Christ’s humanity did.”

    Is this real physical presence constituted by the institution of the Church and its hierarchy, or is it constituted by the physical human persons who are united to Christ and anointed with the Holy Spirit?

    If it is the latter, then the Church certainly has a real physical presnce, form, visibility and tangibility, just as Christ’s humanity, but its boundaries are impossible for anyone to declare.


  14. When is heresy, heresy? My answer has been that something is heresy when shown to be such from the Scriptures, and then declared as such bu the Universal, undivided Church. As such, I guess I’m bound to identify heresies if and only if they qualify as such through the pronouncements of the ecumenical councils – as such, they can be shown to be against Scripture and creed. Therefore identifiable hersies could be Adoptionist, or Pelagian, or Nestorian, or many others. But the link to these heresies should be clear and established, not contrived. Heresy hunting does not become a Christian, but when the occassion arises, clear distinctions, where possible , should be made.

    At the same time, glossing over differences is no good thing either. But as to the ‘mechanics’ of the work of the Spirit outside the established boundaries of the Church – should we just recognise it as a mystery?


  15. Perhaps we might rather try articulating this problem of the Church and her boundaries in terms of metaphor, as much of the language we use to talk about the Church is built on a mythical grammar of Jerusalem as the City of God, the language regarding which originated as “sacred geography,” for lack of a better word. We know that Jerusalem is not physically the “navel of the earth,” or that the Rock upon which the Holy of Holies was built was the point at which God began creating the cosmos (the inhabitants of the Alpha Centauri system might be a bit muffed at that – tongue firmly bit and in-cheek). The point of this language, however, should be separated from some crude interpretation that supposes it originated as a mapping error.

    I understand that technical (almost analytical) language is important when dealing with ecclesiological matters, because that’s the language in which these disagreements (between Catholics and Orthodox) are often put to us. There’s nothing wrong with it per se, and much of the discussion here, which has looked very closely at the actual historical situation, employs it to beautiful effect (the question about what the situation of St. Isaac can teach us is, I think, a good lead). However, before attempting to grapple with it like an algebra problem, it might be essential to grasp the language and theology (or mythology – and that’s _not_ a derogatory word, as most Secularists want it to be) of sacred place within the biblical account. After all, this older language – it’s images and logic – are what is articulated in things like St. Maximus’ _Mystagogia_ in the 6th century, and elsewhere, and it would be foolish to think that the church building is not typologically related to the nature of the Ecclesia, as the Temple was typologically related both to the Heavenly Temple and to the Cosmos.


  16. William,

    Good question. As in all things Orthodox, one would point to the continuity of liturgical and sacramental (which includes episcopal ordination) practice as the outward manifestation of being ‘united to Christ’. This is the bread and wine to the Body and Blood of orthodox doctrine and belief. One cannot be a true believer without the outward manifestations of the Church, and vice versa.


  17. Death Bredon and Scylding–

    Good points.

    But here’s another argument: isn’t it better to just not risk disobeying the injunction and to thereforejust work under the assumption that it applies to all and every kind of prayer with heretics?

    The reason I am so curious is that I go to a Protestant Evangelical university and we always pray together before classes and at other times. Other Orthodox people at my school do this without hesitation; but I am trying to be cautious and self-critical.


  18. William,

    We should remember, of course (even though this is obvious enough) that the bishops of the succession are also “physical human persons who are united to Christ and anointed with the Holy Spirit”. Someone has to do the anointing. Certainly it is the Holy Spirit who anoints, but man is also charged to anoint. Men of the Church are channels of the grace of God, and if there is One Christ, there can be only One Church. Christ was One, and in His humanity visible and bounded. So must the Church be. It’s no more use appealing to a purely mystical and invisible Church than it is appealing to a purely mystical and invisible Christ. Though Christ works mystically and invisibly, he also works tangibly and sensibly. When the Church becomes a mere human conceptual abstraction, then our Lord soon follows. Christ chose particular men and they chose particular men and so on. This is how the Kingdom of God has been given to us – not abstractly, but sacramentally.


  19. Scylding,

    I think that heresy is any false opinion about the Truth. We must unite to Christ in all things freely and must accept the Truth as it is. We all have false opinions due to our weaknesses but, although these in themselves “separate” us from the whole Truth in Christ, in Whom there is no lie, they are not necessarily damnable if we are willing to repent of them and accept the Truth when shown to us.

    Heretics, who are outside the Church, are those that have persistently held onto false opinions after being shown that they are wrong, especially in the Ecumenical Councils. This persistence creates the separation and until they repent they cut themselves from Christ because they are not accepting Him as He is and He will not force them to accept it, except as their torment in the Judgement. Their separation, in communion terms, makes clear the spiritual reality into which their opinions have placed them. Nevertheless, persistently holding onto any opinion that is contrary to the Holy Tradition including Scripture, even if not directly addressed in a Council, and even while remaining in “communion” with the Church, can still separate one from Christ and teaching this opinion to others is even worse. It is best to keep one’s mouth closed and take care not to become fixed on private opinions, especially where they run counter to the Fathers/Scripture. I understand that even, false opinions about the way we live as Christians are heresies, such as denying remarriage after the partner dies or denying the use of the sign of the cross; I don’t think heresies are restricted to only theological matters or the Creed.


  20. Thank you to each who responded to my question. Your answers are insightful and helpful, but perhaps directed at questions I’m not trying to ask.

    I was trying to be careful not to present a statement hinting at a purely mystical and invisible Church while still raising the possibility of what could, perhaps, be termed a “hazy frontier” of the visible Church that admits an inclusiveness that is not wide open (all Christendom together is the Church), but is also not firmly shut (only communicants in Orthodoxy are the Church). Obviously, the episcopal succession is the concrete sacramental heritage of the Church, but would it be right in any way to admit a union with Christ and an anointing of the Holy Spirit that exist, because of circumstances and because of God’s great mercy, outside the sacramental boundaries? Is there possibly a visible community of people who are citizens of the City of God because of their faith in and devotion to Christ the Lord, but are somehow “exiled” or outside of the obvious boundaries of the Orthodox city, lacking many of the comforts, rights and benefits of the city, but also not altogether alien to it.

    I ask this already knowing that nobody can provide a truly definitive answer to the question of heterodox Christians, but I always hope to gain more insight into the matter from people far wiser and more experienced than myself, and this thread seems an appropriate place to discuss it. In my understanding, to be truly a Christian is identical to being a member of Christ’s body, the Church; to be in the Church is the ontological fact of the one who is truly a Christian. At the same time, I find heterodox Christians whom I cannot but believe truly, though imperfectly (as myself), know Christ and are truly Christians progressing toward union with God.

    With much respect to all.


  21. William,

    I for one appreciate your position and I apologize if my response seemed to misinterpret your position. I see your concern and your question. Are you by any chance keeping up with the current discussion on this at cathedraunitatis?


  22. William said:

    “Obviously, the episcopal succession is the concrete sacramental heritage of the Church, but would it be right in any way to admit a union with Christ and an anointing of the Holy Spirit that exist, because of circumstances and because of God’s great mercy, outside the sacramental boundaries”?

    But this relationship cannot be sacramental, can it? A man can be saved while in a religion that is not objectively salvific. At best it could be that which “impels to union”, at worst, “another gospel”. I realize that this is the largely the question being discussed here, but I’d rather listen than talk.


  23. Byronicman,

    I hadn’t seen the discussion at cathedraunitatis. I’ll take a look.

    I’m not sure I follow your question about the sacramental relationship. If God’s grace is acting in a human life or in any earthly activity, inside or outside the Church, wouldn’t that be considered, at least in a broad sense, sacramental? My earlier reference to sacramental heritage and sacramental boundaries would refer to the visible Church as possessing the designated stewardship of sacramental activity, but the nature of my questions here might be precisely whether and how sacramental activity (in that broad sense, at least) works if it is not apparently connected to the visible activity of the visible Church. I say “not apparently connected” because it should be said that all sacramental activity is connected to the Church if for no other reason than its necessary connection to Christ himself, the head of the Church and the redeemer of the entire created order. Also, the prayers of the Church for the world at large could provide a link between the Church and any apparently unconnected sacramental activity in the world. Can it be said that there is such sacramental activity whose connection to the visible Church is not altogether visible in itself? If so, this might seem to indicate an invisible reach — and possibly invisible possessions and citizenship — of the visible City of God.

    Forgive me if this is convoluted and if I’m just stirring ashes here, and if I am making obvious my lack of knowledge on these topics. I, too, would prefer to listen than talk.


  24. The reason I mentioned cathedraunitatis discussion is because there is a link to a rather profound and detailed discussion of this issue by Orthodox Archpriest George Florovsky. It’s in a post by poster Greg DeLassus. If you can find it, it will be well worth your while.

    Otherwise, I think we often use the term ‘sacramental’ in various senses, one narrow, and a few others I can think of which are a bit broader. In the narrowest sense, “the sacraments” can only be efficacious within the physical boundaries of The Church. I hesitate to say more because Fr. Florovsky will do it much better.


  25. Byronicman,

    Thank you for the link. After your initial mention, I started through the comments over at cathedraunitatis (which I should have been reading before commenting here), and I did find Florovsky’s essay, which I am digesting right now. I have loved everything I have read by Fr. Florovsky, particularly his essay on catholicity. I also find the link provided by death bredon at the top of this thread to be somewhat related and useful.

    I knew I was broadening the term “sacramental” from what you had in mind, but without any intention of distorting what you were getting at. In any case, thank you for engaging my questions. Blessings.


  26. In continuation with what I asked above, to which Death Bredon and Scylding responded, what do other Orthodox people have to say about the idea of praying with Protestants?


  27. MG,

    I understand that the injunctions regarding heretics are similar to the Old Testament laws regarding the Israelites relations with the other nations. They are there to show that the sons of God are separate from the sons of men. It is to stop the intermingling of the profane with the sacred and to make clear the real spiritual separation between those outside Christ (the Church) and those in Christ.

    Joining in prayer with heretics and schismatics is in a way starting to blur this separation and establish some form of acceptance of their religious beliefs and/or status. This can lead to a mingling of ideas and practices contrary to those of the Church, such as happened in ancient Israel when they ignored the commandments regarding their relationship with other nations. This is especially true of joining formally in prayer in the Divine services but also applies to joining in grace at a meal.

    Some of those allowed to “come and see” the Orthodox Church in worship will indeed be moved by this to becoming Orthodox, to the glory of God, some will leave and blaspheme the Church, which is a judgement on both them and those permitting the situation, and some will see this as an acceptance of their own Christian beliefs and a movement to becoming one without having to become Orthodox. It depends on where they are coming from and why they are coming. My opinion is that only those who are first interested in the Orthodox Faith should be permitted to join in prayer because they are open to receiving the Truth of Christ. Those who show no such interest should be left outside. Unless ones heart is open to change and seeking for the Truth, then it is of no benefit for them to be there.

    Considering this last point, it should also be remembered the Mystery of what is happening, especially in the Church, especially during the Divine Liturgy. The Nave is the wedding hall of the heavenly banquet. Christ teaches us that those who enter with the inappropriate clothes, that either without baptism or in sin, are condemned severely for being there. It is for their sake that they are not permitted to enter where they are not prepared to do so. Also, heretics are those who accept lies as truth, in other words they accept the father of lies, the devil, as true, in effect as God. This is certainly not a heretics intention, or thought, and they are usually sincere in their beliefs but in a spiritual sense, from the perspective of the Church, this is who they follow. How can we pray with those who in effect pray to the devil as God?

    I think that we should not allow sentimentality to rule neither must we necessarily be overly strict on the matter. Discretion is called for in actions and at times a different action may be taken depending on the heart of the persons involved. However, the spiritual reality of what is happening should also always be borne in mind.


  28. Regarding the post,

    It would seem that I am much in line with St Nicodemos, in the approach I am taking with this matter. I am so because I see his solution as providing a consistent answer which both harmonises and unites both the teaching of St Cyrian and the practice of the Church. It is also consistent theologically.

    The position of Fr Florovsky, which has been basically followed in the SCOBA document, is what I am challenging on the grounds of the underlying theology that it presupposes, or doesn’t presuppose. This is what I am trying to explore and the full implications of such a position and its fruits such as the Roman Catholic teaching of deficient true and particular churches. Does this make sense? Why? I am also and yet to read what is the theological underpinnings of the position in the SCOBA document. Can anyone shed light on this matter? Can we extent the teaching that the moral character of a Priest does not affect the Mysteries into heresy and/or schism?

    There does not seem to have been a common manner of treating baptism throughout the history of the Church, and there have been different practices in different areas. Baptising converts can no more said to be wrong than not baptising them, all else being equal, such as they are “baptised” outside the Church. Again, the solution of St Nicodemos works with this but the position of Fr Florovsky seems harder to reconcile with the fact that converts were baptised, legitimately, in some areas and not baptised, legitimately, in others. Any thoughts on this?

    Contra to my own position, can an “empty” form of a rite be completed at a later time? Can the spiritual fulfilment of the rite take place separately in time/place than its action?

    Finally, there seems to be an implication in the SCOBA document that Roman Catholics and Orthodox are only in schism and that Roman Catholics, from the Orthodox perspective, are not heretics. This raises a whole raft of other matters discussed elsewhere on the blog.


  29. Fr. Patrick–

    Thank you for that thoughtful and clear response. You have given me a lot to think about. I will probably continue to discuss this matter with other Orthodox people I know and trust (perhaps next time I speak with Perry on the phone).


  30. I think something Florovsky didn’t say explicity but seemed to allude to is that there is nothing particularly surprising or telling about the practice in some times and places of the Church to baptize converts from heterodoxy. The lack of surprise is that this is what one would expect given Orthodox ecclesiology. What is telling, rather, is that the mere possibility of acceptance of heterodox without baptism would be admitted at all under the Orthodox understanding of the Church. It seems that Fr. Florovsky and the authors of the SCOBA document may be faced with the more difficult challenge in trying to reconcile the legitimacy of baptizing converts in some areas and the legitimacy of not baptizing them in other areas, but that they actually are under a sort of obligation to attempt this reconciliation and to provide an explanation as to why any converts can legitimately be accepted without baptism.

    It seems that the stricter practice of baptizing converts needs no explanation, or rather has already been provided its explanations, and is in fact more consistent theologically. But this cannot be the end of the story. Theological consistency and one’s own understanding of the mystery of grace must come to terms with the fact that the practice of not baptizing converts remains legitimate. I see the essay by Fr. Florovsky and the SCOBA document, even if imperfect, as being nothing less than trying to come to terms with this mystery.

    It seems that in these matters as with so much else, there are antinomies that challenge explanation. Not that explanation is impossible, but that it might not satisfy on the purely logical level.

    I think there is an implicit expectation that an infant’s baptism is an immediate reality but will also have a future fulfilment. So perhaps there is the possibility of a spiritual fulfillment of a rite (or maybe only of the rite of baptism) that happens separately in time and place.

    I think the SCOBA document does imply that Roman Catholics are not heretics. I would guess that this is operating on a stricter definition of heresy that doesn’t equate it with the presence of false teachings. If all false teachings were heresies, then many Orthodox would be heretics.


  31. In Christian Antiquity, formal “capital-H” heretics only included non-Trinitarians. Thus, Trinitarians with erroneous exegesis of the Trinitarian Mystery (or any of the necessarily included Articles of Faith, such as Incarnation and Atonement) were considered in error, with a need for correction, subject to the discipline of Eucharistic exclusion, perhaps “Catholics in Bad Standing,” but NOT completely separated Heretics or Apostates. One had to knowingly and willfully revert to Paganism or adopt gross error like Arianism (Unitarianism) to get the formal label of Heretic.

    Indeed, so-called Nestorians and Eutychians, as mere “parasynogoists,” were regularly received back into full communion and good standing simply by Confession. More seriously erroneous but still not quite “Heretical” Christians, such as the bizarre, enthusiastic Montanists, were received back by Confession and Chrismation. Pagans and Philosophers were received by Baptism.

    In time, the term heresy began to be used to describe not just those who rejected the Articles of Christian Faith found in the Creeds but also those who willfully preached intellectual errors that distorted the authentic meaning of these mysterious, empirically reveled truths and therefore were WILLFULLY at variance with a local or ecumenical Council or the “consensus patrum.” Typical, these errors arise from the tendency of the fallen human intellect to rationalize out the supernatural aspect of Christian Revelation. Even later, “heretic” got applied to those who err, even those who do so unknowingly or involuntarily — those who would repent if properly confronted by the proper authorities with the proper teaching of the Church Universal. This last, loose meaning seems to be very common today. Thus, in sum, “heretic” is an equivocal word in the canons. The older the canon, the more likely the word heretic is used very narrowly. The later the canon, the more likely the term is used liberally.

    Personally, I prefer to use the word only in its original, narrowest sense. Thus, I would recognize traditional, conservative Western Christians (whether Catholic or Protestant) as schismatics, at worst. (Faith, Hope and Charity, but above all Charity.) This is not just my opinion but rather that of leading Orthodox scholars and hierarchs, who understand this to be the perennial teaching of the Orthodox Church. Indeed, as a matter of historical fact, throughout the vast majority of post-schism Orthodox history, Western Christians have been received into the bosom of Orthodoxy by Confession or Confession and Chrismation, but NOT re-Baptism. The relatively brief periods of exception prove the rule. Hence, now, most Orthodox jurisdictions generally FORBID re-Baptism of Western Christians because they simply are not Heretics in the ancient, canonical sense of the word — even the errors they do hold are usually good-faith mistakes caused primarily by accident of birth. I mean, the really do love the Lord and their neighbor — often more so than those with technically correct dogma and doctrine.

    So, in the end, follow the advice of your spiritual elders and proper authorities within the Church, of course. But, I personally, will add my “Amen” to ANY orthodox Christian prayer. If the prayer is of doubtful orthodoxy, I simply don’t assent with an “Amen.” I don’t frequent heterodox Christian services, but if the occasion and circumstance arises I will pray with schismatic Christians, and out of Charity I do attend the burial, betrothal, or baptism of friend and family even if done in an schismatic church. To balance this, when asked whether a schismatic church is OK, I say “No — but it is better than nothing,” and then I immediately say, “Why don’t you come visit my parish next Sunday?”

    Christ’s Peace


  32. Death Bredon–

    Thanks for writing that, it was very helpful to hear your perspective. What are your sources for your interpretations of the concept of heresy being different in the ancient Church?


  33. Sophocles,

    I’m “fasting” from Blogging for awhile.




    Take a peak at my first comment on to the post. The scholarly I rely upon comes from a paper on Baptism can be found on the SCOBA website in a section on ecumenical dialog.


    My best guess is that, since those who knowingly and intelligently confess (contra the consensus patrum) that the “eternal cause or origin” (not merely “eternal manifestation,” which is an Orthodox doctrine confirmed by Gregory of Cyprus at the Council of Blachernae) of the Spirit is both from the Father and from the Son, also deny that they are Sabellians or Modalists (whether coherently or not), they are then only guilty of error or incoherence regarding their intellectual understanding of the Trinity — not of an actual neotic or ontic denial of same (in contrast to the Arians/Unitarians/Islam, etc.).

    Hence, Roman Catholics are typically regarded as schismatics under the ancient Basilian Canons (which are incorporated by reference in the ecumenical QuintiSext Canons — a universally binding status that the Pendalion simply does not have) for receiving those “of the Church” back “in the Church.” Even RC orders are usually considered valid and re-ordination unnecessary. Finally, in extremis, even the Catholic Eucharist is conceivable (indeed — the last Mass in Constantinople, which was definitely an extreme situation, was Latin yet all participated despite having repudiated the Emporer’s Romanism.).

    Ironically, though most traditonal Anglicans regard the filioque as expressing the eternal double MANIFESTATION of the Spirit from the Father and Son, which is entirely Orthodox, and also profess the Monarchy of the Father as the eternal cause or origin of the Trinitarian Persons, traditional, non-Calvinist Anglicans are actually closer to Orthodoxy than Rome. Unfortunately, due to the de facto presence, even preponderence of Calvinist and Secularist Anglicans (who flout the constitutive formularies of their own communion), Orthodoxy has naturally taken a more cautious approach in receiving Anglicans. Laymen are usually received as Schismatics, but a “high church” Anglican Priest should probably be conditionally ordinated and a “low church” Anglican Parson should be “re”-ordained.

    Finally, in accord with the Basilian Canons, Oriental Orthodox, wrong called monophysites (they are actually Cyrillian Miaphysites — a position express affirmed as completely Orthodox under both the Fourth and Fifth Councils), are in a de facto state of inter-communion with Byzantine Orthodoxy in geographic places where the two groups commonly rub elbows (Middles East and the New World). Indeed, IMHO this is fine despite the fits its causes on Athos because, , in virtually every Divine Liturgy, both the Oriental and Byzantine Orthodox sing the Monogenes (and claim authorship ot it), which is the seminal poetic expression of the epitome of Orthodox Cyrillian Christology!


  34. Some further points.

    Working from the principle that the Mysteries are valid even if a Priest is immoral, we can extend this to any unknown aspect of the Priest. We can be assured of his validity from his proper (canonical) ordination without examining his moral life. However, if he is canonically and justly deposed from his Priesthood by his Bishop, or a council of Bishops, then he can no longer perform the Mysteries validly. The canonical deposition has cut him from doing so. Thus, I would argue that the canonical status of Priests/Bishops is what sets/limits the boundaries of the Church because it is these decisions/actions that determine that validity of the Priesthood and not the moral actions of the Priest immediately in themselves, although these can lead to his deposition if sufficiently serious. “Canonical” decisions can be unjustly made, e.g. St John Chrysostom’s deposition, and one may be judged for accepting heresies from a Priest/Bishop still canonically in the Church but generally the canonical limits are there to clarify the boundaries of the Church.

    “…Heresies is the name applied to those who have broken entirely and have become alienated from the faith itself. Schisms is the name applied to those who on account of ecclesiastical causes and, remediable questions have developed a quarrel amongst themselves. Parasynagogues is the name applied to gatherings held by insubordinate presbyters or bishops, and those held by uneducated laities. As, for instance, when one has been arraigned for a misdemeanor held aloof from liturgy and refused to submit to the Canons, but laid claim to the presidency and liturgy for himself, and some other persons departed with him, leaving the catholic Church — that is a parasynagogue. Heresies, on the other hand, are such as those of the Manichees and Valentinians and Marcionists, and that of these Pepuzeni themselves, for the question is one involving a difference of faith in God itself….” From a Canon of St Basil the Great.

    Canon 95 includes Nestorius as a heretic: “As for Manicheans, and Valentinians, and Marcionists, and those from similar heresies, they have to give us certificates (called libelli) and anathematize their heresy, the Nestorians, and Nestorius, and Eutyches and Dioscorus, and Severus, and the other exarchs of such heresies, and those who entertain their beliefs, and all the aforementioned heresies…”. It also, repeating Canon 7 of the Second Ecumenical Council, gives a sense of heresy that is broad: “they anathematize every heresy that does not believe as the holy catholic and Apostolic Church of God believes”.

    St John in his second Epistle excludes from God those who do not have the teaching of Christ without limiting this teaching to any particular point but in the context of the Incarnation. St John is not “nice” with those who so teach: “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house, and do not greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil works.”

    St Paul calls accused those who preach another Gospel in the context of requiring circumcision. This is not a Trinitarian issue nor in the Creed, but it nevertheless cuts one from the Church as accursed for teaching such things.

    From the above, I cannot see how one can make such statements above regarding Christian Antiquity (whenever that period covers and how it matters in the context of the unchanging Faith and Tradition of the Church) and the definition of “capital-H” heretics as only including non-Trinitarians. Also, Canons 7 and 95 of the 2nd and 6th Ecumenical Councils respectively deal with the reception of heretics and which heretics can be received without Baptism, so the practice of receiving others without Baptism does not give any firm indication of whether such a one is a heretic or a schismatic, even though in general St Basil says that in principle heretical baptisms should be set aside, as is also reflected in these Canons.

    The filioque is a Trinitarian issue and it is a difference of faith in God, so, under St Basil’s Canon, it is a heresy. The Creed is speaking of the cause of the Spirit not His manifestation, which is stated as “Who spoke by the prophets”, so the filioque at this point of the Creed is a statement regarding the cause of the Spirit, as also understood by the Roman Catholics, and it cannot be so defended in terms of “MANIFESTATION”. Anyway, eternal manifestation implies another party apart from the Trinity to which the Spirit is to be manifested and suggests another eternal being or eternal humanity contrary to the Christian Faith.

    Finally, regarding Roman Catholic baptisms, the traditional act of these baptisms by a Priest with three applications of water in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit still reflects the Orthodox practice, albeit just so regarding what is an immersion. However, Roman Catholics also accept baptisms done in Protestant churches without a Priest, without triple “immersion” and in the name of “Jesus Christ”. It is another matter whether the Orthodox can accept converts baptised in such ways, with all due respect to Pope Gregory 1, even if they converted to Roman Catholicism and then to Orthodoxy. The ordination of women must throw a serious question on the acceptance of any Anglican baptisms even if previously considered acceptable. The rules for acceptable baptism are different in the different communions and even if the standard baptismal procedure is sufficiently similar the “economical” procedures may not be so.


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