Tradition: Scripture

“More important is the fact that the content of tradition is nothing other than that which is also preserved in a written form, as Scripture — they are not two different sources. Tradition is not the accumulation of various customs, nor does it provide us with access to knowledge necessary for salvation that is not also contained in Scripture. It is the Gnostics, according to Irenaeus, who appeal to tradition for teachings not contained in Scripture.

“The community founded upon the apostolic Gospel, the Church, is also the community which has recognized certain writings as apostolic and as authoritative Scripture (and will eventually speak of a canon of Scripture). As there were many writings laying claim to apostolic status, the claim to apostolicity, however, was not itself enough to justify the recognition of a particular writing as Scripture. What was essential was the conformity of the writing to the apostolic Gospel which founded the Church, which has been preserved intact, and which had since come to be phrased in terms of a rule/canon of truth/faith. This also means that the apostolic writings are accepted as Scripture within a community that lays claim to the correct interpretation of these writings. Tradition is, as Florovsky put it commenting on Irenaeus, Scripture rightly understood. In Irenaeus’ vivid image, those who interpret Scripture in a manner which does not conform to the rule of truth are like those who, seeing a beautiful mosaic of a king, dismantle the stones and reassemble them to form the picture of a dog, claiming that this was the original intention of the writer (Against the Heresies, 1.8).

“It is not that what is claimed to be the picture of a king can be arbitrarily imposed upon Scripture — Scripture is fixed — it is “the ground and pillar of our faith,” as Irenaeus puts it, modifying Paul’s words, about the Church, to Timothy (1 Tim 3:15; although as Bart Ehrman has noted, parts of the text were modified during the course of the second century to produce a more ‘orthodox’ text). Scripture is that to which one must continually return, to be sure of the ground on which we stand.

“If tradition is essentially the right interpretation of Scripture, then it cannot change — and this means, it can neither grow nor develop. A tradition with a potential for growth ultimately undermines the Gospel itself — it leaves open the possibility for further revelation, and therefore the Gospel would no longer be sure and certain. If our faith is one and the same as that of the apostles, then, as Irenaeus claimed, it is equally immune from improvement by articulate or speculative thinkers as well as from diminution by inarticulate believers (Against the Heresies, 1.10.2). We must take seriously the famous saying of St. Vincent of Lerins: “We must hold what has been believed everywhere, always and by all” (Commonitorium, 2).

“From an Orthodox perspective, there simply is, therefore, no such thing as dogmatic development. What there is, of course, is ever new, more detailed and comprehensive explanations elaborated in defense of one and the same faith — responding, each time, to a particular context, a particular controversy etc. But it is one and the same faith that has been believed from the beginning — the continuity of the correct interpretation of Scripture. And for this reason, the Councils, as Fr. John Meyendorff pointed out, never formally endorsed any aspect of theology as dogma which is not a direct (and correct) interpretation of the history of God described in Scripture: only those aspects were defined as dogma which pertain directly to the Gospel. So, for instance, the only aspect pertaining to the Virgin Mary that was ever recognized as dogma is that she is Theotokos — “Mother of God” — for she gave birth to our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ — it is something which pertains to the Incarnation, rather than to Mary herself. Whilst individual theologians have speculated about other aspects concerning the Virgin herself, and her glorification, items not directly pertaining to the Gospel of Christ’s work of salvation, such as the Assumption and the Immaculate conception, have never been held to have the status of dogma in the Orthodox Church. ”

 —Father John Behr

A Talk given at the University of North Carolina / March 23, 1998

34 Responses to Tradition: Scripture

  1. Anthony James Puccetti says:


    Although that chapter from Vincent’s Commonitorium is readily available,it is quietly disregarded by those who disapprove of development of doctrine. If explicit formal definitions should not be developed from implicit content,then the formal definitions of the ecumenical councils concerning the person of Christ,the Trinity,and Mary are not legitimate.

  2. Anthony,

    Please do not spoof text by citing texts with no analysis or argument. It takes up space, especially considering that these texts are readily available.

    2nd. We deny development of doctrine in terms of conceptual development from supposed implicit content to explicit formal definition by means of dialecticl Consequently Newman’s theory has more to do with hegelianism (as does Soloviev) than with Vincent.

  3. Anthony James Puccetti says:

    Vincent of Lerins on development of doctrine (Commonitorium,Chapter XIII):

    [54.] But some one will say. perhaps, Shall there, then, be no progress in Christ’s Church? Certainly; all possible progress. For what being is there, so envious of men, so full of hatred to God, who would seek to forbid it? Yet on condition that it be real
    progress, not alteration of the faith. For progress requires that the subject be enlarged n itself, alteration, that it be transformed into something else. The intelligence, then, the knowledge, the wisdom, as well of individuals as of all, as well of one man as of the whole Church, ought, in the course of ages and centuries, to increase and make much and vigorous progress; but yet only in its own kind; that is to say, in the same doctrine, in the same sense, and in the same meaning.

    [56.] In like manner, it behoves Christian doctrine to follow the same laws of progress, so as to be consolidated by years, enlarged by time, refined by age, and yet, withal, to continue uncorrupt and unadulterate, complete and perfect in all the measurement of its parts, and, so to speak, in all its proper members and senses, admitting no change, no waste of its distinctive property, no variation in its limits.

    [57.] For example: Our forefathers in the old time sowed wheat in the Church’s field. It would be most unmeet and iniquitous if we, their descendants, instead of the genuine truth of corn, should reap the counterfeit error of tares. This rather should be the result,–there should be no discrepancy between the first and the last. From doctrine which was sown as wheat, we should reap, in the increase, doctrine of the same kind–wheat also; so that when in process of time any of the original seed is developed, and now flourishes under cultivation, no change may ensue in the character of the plant. There may supervene shape, form, variation in outward appearance, but the nature of each kind must remain the same. God forbid that those rose-beds of Catholic interpretation should be converted into thorns and thistles. God forbid that in that spiritual paradise from plants of cinnamon and balsam darnel and wolfsbane should of a sudden shoot forth.

    Therefore, whatever has been sown by the fidelity of the Fathers in this husbandry of God’s Church, the same ought to be cultivated and taken care of by the industry of their children, the same ought to flourish and ripen, the same ought to advance and go forward to perfection. For it is right that those ancient doctrines of heavenly philosophy should, as time goes on, be cared for, smoothed, polished; but not that they should be changed, not that they should be maimed, not that they should be mutilated. They may receive proof, illustration, definiteness; but they must retain withal their completeness, theirintegrity, their characteristic properties.

  4. Anthony James Puccetti says:

    St. Vincent of Lerins on the develpoment of doctrine:

    (Commonitorium,Chapter XIII)

    (Commonitorium,Chapter XIII)

  5. photios says:

    Notice Cyrprian describes the Orthodox view of confession and doens’t say one word about working off temporal punishments of sin to render satispassio.


  6. Anthony,

    None of those citations give the defined doctrine of papal infallibility and supremacy. I do not mean that they do not give a formal definition, but rather they all lack some essential element for the theory. Take Ireneaus for example. He certainly doesn’t teach it. He notes that professions of faith are to be compared to what the Roman See professes because of its founding on two Apostles, Peter and Paul

    Cyprian thinks that every bishop when professing the right faith is Peter and that other sees are Petrine, such as Antioch or Alexandria.

    If the authors on Mary you cite thought she was born sinless then they would have believed that she never died, but some of them didn’t or are quite silent on the subject. Moreover, corruption in those texts is being used in a wide sense of sin and not in a more narrow conceptual sense mortality. But the Faith is that is not even Jesus was conceived immortal because that is the heresy of apthartodocetism. So if Jesus wasn’t so much the more not the case of Mary. Second, immaculate is not necessarily the best translation for the Greek, panagia and one has to be careful of reading later notions back into that term in any case. A number of Fathers were quite comnfortable claiming Mary died (even sinned) and still professing that she was panagia, all holy. Secondly, on Roman principles it doesn’t matter what any of these sources say. It only what the Roman See professes today and what developments are approved so any quotations of the Fathers have no intrinsic value in showing continuity.

    I don’t disbelieve in the Dormition of Mary but appealing to the lack of relics is a weak argument. Why for example don’t you appeal to the patristic information that is positive, namely that Mary in fact died?

    Purgatory isn’t just the idea of an intermediate state. Lots of people believe that but not Prugatory. Second, Clement of Alexandria was quite a Platonizer and should be used with care. Clement mentions no created flame and doesn’t indicate in what way the person is “tortured” in terms of being retributive, pedagogical or what? This is why the material from Lactantius doesn’t really help, because on the doctrine of purgatory the fire is not deity, but a created intermediary.

    As to indulgences, do modern Catholics receive the imposition of hands at confession? Does Cyprian speak of indulgences here at all? Does he say in what sense the merits of the martyrs aids in intercession? No. Without these I think the citations are fairly idle.

  7. Anthony James Puccetti says:

    As to papal infallibility:

    Ignatius,Letter to the Romans:
    …who are filled inseparably with the grace of God, and are purified from every strange taint, [I wish] abundance of happiness unblameably, in Jesus Christ our God.”

    With that church [Rome], because of its superior origin, all the churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world, and it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition” (Against Heresies 3:3:2 [A.D. 189]).

    Cyprian of Carthage:
    “Would the heretics dare to come to the very seat of Peter [in Rome] whence apostolic faith is derived and whither no errors can come?” (Letters 59 [55], 14).

    “If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he [should] desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?” (The Unity of the Catholic Church 4, 251 AD).

    As to Marian dogmas:

    “He was the ark formed of incorruptible wood. For by this is signified that His tabernacle was exempt from putridity and corruption.” (Orations Inillud, Dominus pascit me,ante A.D. 235)

    “The ark which was made of incorruptible timber (cf. Exod 15:10) was the Savior. The ark symbolized the tabernacle of His body, which was impervious to decay and engendered no sinful corruption….The Lord was sinless, because in His humanity He was fashioned out of incorruptible wood, that is to say, out of the Virgin and the Holy Spirit, lined within and without as with the purest gold of the Word of God.” (Hippolytus, In Psalm 22; quoted by Theodoret, Dialogus 1; PG 10:610, 864-5)

    “This Virgin Mother of the Only-begotten of God, is called Mary, worthy of God, immaculate of the immaculate, one of the one.” (Homily 1,A.D. 244)

    (As to the Assumption,no city ever claimed to have the relics of Mary,unlike with the apostles and other saints.)

    Timothy of Jerusalem:

    “Therefore the Virgin is immortal to this day, seeing that he who had dwelt in her transported her to the regions of her assumption” (Homily on Simeon and Anna; 400 AD).

    John Damascene:

    “Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem at the Council of Chalcedon (451) made known to the Emperor Marcian and [his Empress] Pulcharia, who wished to possess the body of the Mother of God, that Mary died in the presence of all the Apostles and that her tomb, when opened upon the request of St. Thomas, was found empty; wherefrom the Apostles concluded that the body was taken up to Heaven.” (Homily on the Dormition, PG 96)

    As to purgatory:

    Clement of Alexandria:

    The believer through discipline divests himself of his passions and passes to the mansion which is better than the former one, passes to the greatest torment, taking with him the characteristic of repentance for the faults he may have committed after baptism. He is tortured then still more, not yet attaining what he sees others have acquired. The greatest torments are assigned to the believer, for God’s righteousness is good, and His goodness righteous, and though these punishments cease in the course of the expiation and purification of each one, “yet” etc. (Patres Groeci. IX, col. 332 [A.D. 150-215]).


    It is one thing to stand for pardon, another thing to attain to glory; it is one thing, when cast into prison, not to go out thence until one has paid the uttermost farthing; another thing at once to receive the wages of faith and courage. It is one thing, tortured by long suffering for sins, to be cleansed and long purged by fire; another to have purged all sins by suffering. It is one thing, in fine, to be in suspense till the sentence of God at the Day of Judgment; another to be at once crowned by the Lord (Letters 51[55]:20 [A.D. 253]).


    “The same divine fire, therefore, with one and the same force and power, will both burn the wicked and will form them again, and will replace as much as it shall consume of their bodies, and will supply itself with eternal nourishment: which the poets transferred to the vulture of Tityus. Thus, without any wasting of bodies, which regain their substance, it will only burn and affect them with a sense of pain. But when He shall have judged the righteous, He will also try them with fire. Then they whose sins shall exceed either in weight or in number, shall be scorched by the fire and burnt: but they whom full justice and maturity of virtue has imbued will not perceive that fire; for they have something of God in themselves which repels and rejects the violence of the flame.” (The Divine Institutes, 7:21,A.D. 307)

    As to indulgesnces:

    “For, what I have pardoned, if I have pardoned anything, for your sakes have I done it in the person of Christ.” (2 Cor. 2, 10)


    They who have received a certificate froth the martyrs, and can be assisted by their help with the Lord in respect of their sins, if they begin to be oppressed with any sickness or risk; when they have made confession, and have received the imposition of hands on them by you in acknowledgment of their penitence, should be remitted to the Lord with the peace promised to them by the martyrs. (Epistle XIII)


    “The Lord alone is able to have mercy. He alone, who bore our sins, who grieved for us, and whom God delivered up for our sins, is able to grant pardon for the sins which have been committed against Him…Certainly we believe that the merits of the martyrs and the works of the just will be of great avail with the Judge – but that will be when the day of judgment comes, when, after the end of this age and of the world, His people shall stand before the tribunal of Christ.” (The Lapsed )

  8. Catholic development of doctrine is married to philosophy being the handmaiden of theology, something that is not Orthodox. Where in fact Philosophy is the handmaiden of heresy, that’s why Justinian closed the academy.


  9. Anthony,

    Where did anybody in the ante-nicene church teach papal infallibility, all the marian dogmas, purgatory and indulgences?

    The essence-energy distinction is right there in St. Irenaeus.

    Tradition is the rule of faith, and the content of it is something that is not different than scripture. What you advocate is another form of gnosticism to hide your made up doctrines.


  10. Anthony James Puccetti says:


    But tradition is not essentially the right interpretation of scripture.
    What do you mean by potential for growth? Traditions grow in the sense of being more fully explained and elaborated upon,and by being made into official doctrines. Development does not entail the revelation of new doctrines of faith and morals.
    Did not Gregory Palamas develop the Palamite doctrines of hesychasm and deification? Those Orthodox Church doctrines originated from the monks of Mount Athos and from nowhere else. Where is the real distinction of essence and energies to be found in the Desert Fathers? The real distinction was peculiar to Antiochan and Greek theology. Where did the Desert Fathers write of the deification or divinization of human nature?

    And how is this different from the Catholic understanding of development of doctrine?

    Again,tradition is a different thing from correct interpretation of scripture. Tradition is not exegesis.

  11. Anthony James Puccetti says:

    But tradition is not essentially the right interpretation of scripture. As Basil and John Chysostom pointed out,not everything that pertains to the faith is contained in scripture.

    A tradition with a potential for growth ultimately undermines the Gospel itself — it leaves open the possibility for further revelation, and therefore the Gospel would no longer be sure and certain.” >

    What kind of growth do you mean? The gospel and the traditions of the Church should grow in the sense of being more fully explained and understood and made known to the whole world.
    A tradition does not leave open the possibility for the revelation of new doctrines of faith and morals.

    Gregory Palamas did not develop the Palamite theology of hesychasm and deification? The Orthodox doctrine of hesychasm and deification originated from the monks of Mount Athos and from nowhere else. Where is the real distinction between essence and energies to be found in the early Desert Fathers?
    The real distinction was peculiar to Antiochan and Greek theology.
    Where did the Desert Fathers write of the deification or divinization of human nature?

    What there is, of course, is ever new, more detailed and comprehensive explanations elaborated in defense of one and the same faith — responding, each time, to a particular context, a particular controversy etc. But it is one and the same faith that has been believed from the beginning >

    And how is this different from the Catholic understanding of development of doctrine?

    — the continuity of the correct interpretation of Scripture.” >

    Again,the correct interpretation of scripture is something different from tradition.
    Tradition is not exegesis.

  12. Benjamin says:

    Perry and Photios,

    I cannot remember when, but I’ve heard the good bishop N.T. Wright’s book on the resurrection mentioned on this site, and I believe it was in agreement with his fierce historical defense of the event. Obviously, he dabbles more in the historical-critical method than many Orthodox, though not so much in a “fundamentalist” way. In light of Fr Behr’s work, and assuming you’ve read some of N.T. Wright’s work, can you speak on how you see these two approaches relating – if at all?

  13. quodvultdeus says:


    I recently started a blog to chronicle my journey through church history. Right now, I’m working through a book by Metropolitan Zizioulas, and I’d appreciate any feedback from Orthodox readers.


  14. Photios,

    Thanks also for your reply. I agree with you that the general spirit of Orthodoxy is not aimed at “figuring God out” but knowing Him. The quotation of St. Athanasius is excellent.

  15. Perry,

    Thanks for your response. I think I understand what you mean. It’s not that the Gospel writers are fabricating, or that the accounts are not based upon the Word who really did appear in the flesh, suffered under Pontius Pilate, and arose on the third day… but that the apostolic interpretation of His life as presented in the Gospels is not an attempt so much at what we would think of as historical biography but an exegesis of the events of His life as the fulfillment of all that God had spoken through the prophets of old.

    Maybe it’s just the former “fundagelical” in me that becomes cautious about such statements… as though perhaps the next step would be to deny Christ’s healings, exorcisms, or (dare I even say it) His physical Resurrection from the dead. I don’t think Fr. John sees it that way, and that’s the comforting part– he’s not the John Shelby Spong of Orthodoxy, as though there could be one.

    I was reading a sermon of St. Gregory Palamas last year on the Feast of Transfiguration that seemed to address one such discrepancy in the Gospels: whether it was “after six days” or “after eight days” that the Lord took Peter, James and John up to the mountain and revealed to them His uncreated glory:

    “First of all we must ask, from whence does the Evangelist Matthew begin to reckon with six days? From what sort of day is it? What does the preceding turn of speech indicate, where the Savior, in teaching His disciples, said to them: “For the Son of Man shall come with his angels in the glory of His Father,” and further: “Amen I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death, until they have seen the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom” (Mt.16:27-28)? That is to say, it is the Light of His own forthcoming Transfiguration which He terms the Glory of His Father and of His Kingdom.

    The Evangelist Luke points this out and reveals this more clearly saying: “Now it came to pass about eight days after these words, that He took Peter and John and James, and went up the mountain to pray. And as He prayed, His countenance was altered, and His raiment became a radiant white” (Luke 9:28-29). But how can the two be reconciled, when one of them speaks definitively about the interval of time as being eight days between the sayings and the manifestation, whereas the other (says): “after six days?”

    There were eight on the mountain, but only six were visible. Three, Peter, James and John, had come up with Jesus, and they saw Moses and Elias standing there and conversing with Him, so altogether there were six of them. However, the Father and the Holy Spirit were invisibly with the Lord: the Father, with His Voice testifying that this was His Beloved Son, and the Holy Spirit shining forth with Him in the radiant cloud. Thus, the six are actually eight, and there is no contradiction regarding the eight. Similarly, there is no contradiction with the Evangelists when one says “after six days,” and the other says “eight days after these words.”

    He does, however, mention that most likely they are simply using different methods of counting, but how amazing that this saint could draw these deep riches from such a thing!

  16. “Dr. Joseph Farrell makes similar comments in God, History, and Dialectic. ”

    Now that we’re on that topic, I must ask if you have any updates with respect to its proximity to completion or time of arrival, is there a way to pre-order it, etc.?

  17. Isaac,

    I agree with Fr. Behr as far as his comments go. I think there is more that can be said on the matter and there is certainly no shortage of literature reconciling the synoptics and John. I believe the Gospel accounts are true, but at points, modern historical narrative and apostolic writing styles and practices are not co-extensive. Which is just to say that the Apostles weren’t moderns. Often a Gospel writer will alter events recorded to make a theological point. I think that is probably the case with the passion narratives.

    This is most certainly the case with Jesus’ geneaologies, ,which I think are both of Joseph’s line btw. The material in Matthew has been deliberately arranged to convey a sublte point to Jewish readers. 6 groups of 7 or three groups of 14 equallying 42, the numerical value of King David’s name. Is the text true? Yes. Does it comport with modern historical narrative? No.

    People ask me if I think everything the Bible says is true, to which I respond in the affirmative. They then try to tar me with the idea that i have to take everything in the bible “literally” or I have to take material as symbolic. I think there are more options on the table.

  18. Isaac Crabtree,

    I affirm completely with Fr. Behr’s comments to you. Dr. Joseph Farrell makes similar commetns in God, History, and Dialectic. It is the purpose of dialectical theology to try and reconstruct the text and resolve all these “contradictions” for satisfaction of staving off the infidel. Orthodoxy doesn’t have the same sense of urgency to in addressing such “contradictions.” Fr. John is giving you a very mature account and lesson. One that is spiritual.

    Think about this post and the quote from Athanasius:


  19. Perry,

    I’ve read a two of Fr. John’s works, and coincidentally I emailed him personally to see what he had to say about St. Basil’s discussion of the unwritten traditions. Here is what he had to say:

    Dear Isaac,

    THank you for your email, kind words, and especially for your perceptive

    I think one has to be really careful about what is meant by “grow” or
    speaking of “tradition” as “alive”. Yes, it is certainly the case that we
    will forever be drawing new riches out of the treasury, but it is still the
    same treasury that we draw from. The difficulty really is one what was posed
    by Cardinal Newman, in his theory of doctrinal development, which was
    really, in a sense, developed as an apologia for recent developments in the
    Roman Catholic Church (esp. the proclamation of the infallibility of Rome
    and the assumption of Mary) – are these part of the treasury waiting to be
    presented, or are they more straightforwardly “new” – resting upon the
    authority of the bishop of Rome himself (rather than his authority as the
    one who continues to teach the same word handed down from the beginning, in
    new ways in new contexts).
    That, I think, is really the issue for this particular problematic.

    Now, turning to Basil, yes, Basil points to all sorts of things which are
    “non-scriptural” in the sense that Scripture does not explicitly state
    them – eg facing East when praying etc. But note how he explains them – we
    face east when praying, because Eden was planted in the east!
    Also note what he says in sec. 16 of On the Holy Spirit:
    “But that it is simply the tradition of the Fathers is not sufficient. For
    they too followed the sense of Scripture, taking their principles from the
    testimonies, which a little earlier I extracted from Scripture and presented
    to you.”

    So yes, we have a rich and vast tradition of reflecting on the mystery of
    Christ – a treasury from which there is always more for each and every one
    to draw. And so in this sense, “the Word grows” as it says in Acts – but it
    stays the same Word nevertheless.

    I guess it remains that the Orthodox remain the “people of the Book” that thrice-wretched Mohammad found them to be in his own day.

    While we’re on the topic of Fr. John Behr, I want to quickly express a concern I have– maybe you theo-sophisticates can decipher this for a simpleton… But in his work, The Mystery of Christ he often says things that disturb me– chief among them was that there are discrepancies in the canonical Gospels over the timing of the Mystical Supper, whether it was the Passover meal or whether His Crucifixion took place on the Passover. When I asked him about it this Christmas, he wrote back to me:

    “…From the earliest times, there have been many people who have tried to reconcile the differences between the accounts presented in the Gospels (not just the date of the passion, but other things – the cleansing of the temple, how many times the cock crowed, the words of Jesus from the cross etc.) – Tatian was the first, compiling a “Diatessaron” (literally: through the four – a Gospel Harmony, if you like); Augustine also did this. But it is important that the Church never adopted such attempts, preferring, rather, to stay with four witness/accounts, however different they might be. The question then is: what are we to make of the differences? Should we in fact try to discern “what really happened and when” – the events behind the texts? If we do that, we are locating the truth not in the apostolic account, but in our own reconstructions (on the basis of what we take to be historical veracity, coherence etc). The alternative is to take the apostolic accounts themselves as true, as true presentations of the person of Christ understood after the Passion by recourse to the Scriptures (ie the Old Testament) – which allows each evangelist to draw differently upon the Scriptures to present the same Word of God: some emphasize his status as a new, but greater than, Moses; others emphasize him as the exalted Lord from above etc. John points out that he is indeed the true paschal lamb, of which the exodus lamb was a foreshadow; the synoptics that he shares himself with his disciples in the passover meal. The truth does not lie in our attempts, however valiant, to reduce all of this to a uniformity that satisfies us, but in Christ himself, who is the pearl hidden in the Scriptures, that we encounter through the many different aspects of him that it gives us to contemplate – and as we do this, we ourselves are conformed to him…”

    I didn’t want to rudely take up more of his time since he now has a seminary to run… maybe Perry and others could explain this to me. Isn’t the Truth of it that we believe in this actual Person who did these things in history. For example, the Crucifixion happened on a particular day sometime in the 30s A.D., and it was either on the day they slaughtered the Passover lambs or it wasn’t… It seems to be the usual custom of Orthodox commentators to reconcile the accounts, or perhaps use the “skandala” to delve deeper into the theological meaning. Is Father John rejecting a “meta-narrative”?


  20. The Scylding says:

    Ironically, Santa Claus is an embelolishment of someone that did exist.

  21. photios says:

    All distinctions betweeen essence – energies are not the same. For a synthetic model of essence-energies to a Christian context, look no further than Eunomius of Cyzicus.


  22. Jacob,

    yes I saw the other reviews. Basicallythey don’t know what they are talking about. First, Pseudo Dionysius for example was a real person, even if not a first century Christian and he was a Christian. Morey swallows the silly Syrian thesis. There is nothing Syrian about Ps-D. He also claims the text is just baptized platonism. If he had read Lossky or some of the current work on Ps D he’d know better. and of course Santa Clause was a real Christian too, St. Nicholas of Myra. I don’t take cases like Ps. D any more problematic than the fact that no one knows who wrote a good number of bibilical books like the book of Hebrews for example. If Ps D’s work counts as a “fraud” as morey claims, why don’t other works in the NT and the OT? Plenty of scholars have thought so.

    The person who wrote of an essence/energies dichotomy, like Morey is too stupid to know the meaning of words or use a dictionary. Distinciton and dichotomy don’t mean the same thing. Dichotomy requires a separation or division and distinction does not. 2nd, he claims the distinciton comes from Platonism. While blasting the Orthodox for being supposedly Platonists, he talks about God’s “essence.” Uhm well stupid, essence is a Platonic term if ever there was one. On that same page Moprey has a chart where he displays a “dichotomy” in Aristotle between form and essence. Uhm, stupid, form and essence mean the same thing in Aristotle. Anyone of my students in freshman intro to philosophy class knows as much. When I went and heard Morey in Ca this Jan he spoke of Kant’s “14 categories of the mind.” Uhm, hello? Kant only had TWELVE. Stilly mistakes like that show that Morey doesn’t know what he is talking about.

    If Morey’s over all thesis were correct then the Mormons would be right. There was no Christian Church after 200 A.D. Practically every page has a few fallacies, spelling mistakes, and some form of misquotation. This book would make the Watchtower proud. When I put together a review on the blog it will be more extensive. I’d like to write a page by page refutation just because I know this will be distributed. But the smarter members of the Reformed churches will probably ignore this. I am not worried about them. I am concerned about some stupid baptist getting a hold of it and beating up some poor nominal member with it.

  23. jacob says:



    I saw your review at Amazon re: Morey’s book, Is Eastern Orthodoxy Christian?. It doesn’t seem to say much more than what you have written here or at Morey’s Webpage. Having read the book, what are your thoughts/responses re: the other reviewers’ comments, e.g.:

    “He’s managed to trace connections that the Orthodox church does its best to pretend do not exist – including the fact that several of the Orthodox ‘founders’ were, in fact, invented, and no more real than Santa Claus.”

    “And on page 81, Morey provides a clear picture of the philosophic origins of the Essence/Energy dichotomy. This book is packed with solid information on the true beliefs and origins of the Eastern Orthodox church.”

    Since Barnes & Noble carries it (at least online), I’ll wait for it to show on the shelves at the local store, or at Mardel, to read/skim it – I can’t see spending $20 sight-unseen. There is no online Orthodox rebuttal yet that I can find.

  24. Joker,

    There is no anti-thesis or partim-partim that Basil is giving. The list aren’t doctrines. Doctrines are revealed truths. Signing yourself in the form of a cross is not a revelation. They are practices and liturgical forms and canonical norms that have been taught and handed down to us. On that basis, they are irreformable and should be so, but they aren’t dogmas. This is why parts of the liturgy can’t be monkeyed with or gutted as if “only the words of institution are necessary for the eucharist” as Rome does. Whereas all the prayers of the liturgy leading up to the epiclesis form the basis thereof. These practices cannot be neglected or changed because they relfect and enhance the dogmas they point to. If you are Orthodox, remember the next time you hold your fingers as signifying the Trinity and Christ’s two natures.


  25. photios says:


    The email is not good enough. We want a name with your email. If you have reason to keep your name anonymous, please email and let us know privately. Thank you.


    Like the avatar?


  26. Joker,

    There are a couple things we can say to fetter out the right answer. Vicent’s dictum I don’t think can plausibly be interpreted in terms of what every individual believed. That seems abusrd. I think he has in mind the principle sees in terms of the apostolic deposit and a tradition of what they have passed on. Agreement between them as to the deposit wouldn’t constitute conceptual development. Neither would proposing technical terminology to root out false views and act as shiboleths. The problematic type of subordinationalism is due to an intrusion into the apostolic faith of hellenistic content. The work of the councils in part can be seen as separating that attempt to wed philosophy to theology. This is why Athanasius isn’t an innovator. It wasn’t for no reason that the Arians called in living pagan philosophers at Nicea to testify on their behalf.

  27. joker says:

    Email corrected – my apologies.
    Regarding your response, so let’s say subordinationalism (in one form or another) is shared amongst everyone but there are all different views on what exactly that means. So, again, what does that do to Orthodoxy’s claim of “no development” and holding to Vincent’s dictum (if the subordinationalism that can be reconciled with Nicea was not in fact being held by all, but only a few (or none at all perhaps – as the CE citation said – “there had been nothing even remotely approaching such a [Trinitarian] mentality or perspective”))? Or, put another way, since you imply Justin and others laid the ground for the Arian controversy, why is it that Athanasius isn’t considered the innovator and Arianism considered the “ever new, more detailed and comprehensive explanation elaborated in defense of one and the same faith.”?

  28. “Joker”

    Hanson’s comments seem somewhat unguarded to me but even if true, the question is why was there such prevelant subordinationalism? And does subordinationalism denote only one concept or many? Is the subordinationalism of Ireneaus the same as Justin? I don’t thnk so. The reason why Justin and others have a problem is that greek philosophy won’t permit one essence to have opposite properties and if “Father” and “Son” denote essences, then obviously they cannot be the same essence, and this sets us up for the Arian controversy. Even Pro-Nicene and Neo-Nicene theologies have some form of Subordinationalism, the question is, what form?

  29. “Joker”

    In the future, no anonymous comments and none lacking a credible email address, please.

    Thank you.

  30. joker says:

    Fr Patrick,
    Are the practices Basil outlines there as tradition irreformable and dogmatic? If so, is his list exhaustive of infallible teachings from tradition (if not, are there other resources listing the contents of unwritten tradition)? Tradition being described as Scripture rightly understood seems a more reasonable approach rather than the partim-partim type view you seem to be implying with Basil.

  31. joker says:

    Re: the last 2 paragraphs:
    Do the Orthodox here agree with the following scholars?

    “‘Subordinationism’, it is true was pre-Nicene orthodox.” Henry Bettenson, The Early Christian Fathers

    “Indeed, until Athanasius began writing, every single theologian, East and West, had postulated some form of Subordinationism. It could, about the year 300, have been described as a fixed part of catholic theology.”
    R.P.C. Hanson, “The Achievement of Orthodoxy in the Fourth Century AD,” The Making of Orthodoxy, edited by Rowan Williams

    “The modern popular doctrine of the Trinity . . . derives no support from the language of Justin [Martyr]: and this observation may be extended to all the ante-Nicene Fathers; that is, to all Christian writers for three centuries after the birth of Christ. It is true, they speak of the Father, Son, and . . . holy Spirit, but not as co-equal, not as one numerical essence, not as Three in One, in any sense now admitted by Trinitarians. The very reverse is the fact.”
    “The inferiority of the Son was generally, if not uniformly, asserted by the ante-Nicene Fathers . . . That they viewed the Son as distinct from the Father is evident from the circumstance that they plainly assert his inferiority. . . . They considered him distinct and subordinate.”
    Alvan Lamson, The Church of the First Three Centuries

    “There is no theologian in the Eastern or the Western Church before the outbreak of the Arian Controversy [in the fourth century], who does not in some sense regard the Son as subordinate to the Father”
    R.P.C. Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God

    “The formulation ‘one God in three Persons’ was not solidly established, certainly not fully assimilated into Christian life and its profession of faith, prior to the end of the 4th century. But it is precisely this formulation that has first claim to the title the Trinitarian dogma. Among the Apostolic Fathers, there had been nothing even remotely approaching such a mentality or perspective.”
    New Catholic Encyclopedia

    If so, how does this gel with your understanding of development and Vincent’s dictum?

  32. Death Bredon says:

    Bravo Fr. Behr.!

    I am glad that, finally, someone other than Fr. John Meyendorff of blessed memory is stating out loud that the only necessarily confessed dogma regarding the Blessed Virgin is that, as the Creed states, she gave birth to God the Word in a virginal state — see is “Theotokos.”

    Indeed, all the other “developments,” teachings, and “doctrines,” regarding Mary are — however true — pious opinions (some more probable or historically certain than others), which the Church holds closely to her bosom without enforcing their profession upon members in standing within the Body of Christ. Of course, some traditions regarding Mary are so factual certain and have such impeachable liturigical provenance, even if not in the strictest sense logically necessary to the coherence of the Gospel, that no one should presume to publicly DENY their veracity (as opposed to deny their dogmatic status) under pain of great impiety, even the sin of fomenting scandal, even if one has good faith doubts or is simply agnostic regarding non-Gospel matters.


    More honorable than the Cherubim,
    And more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim,
    Thou, who without stain, barest God the Word art truly Theotokos,
    We magnify thee.

  33. As a balance to Fr John:

    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. What was the meaning of the mighty Moses in not
    making all the parts of the tabernacle open to every one? The profane he
    stationed without the sacred barriers; the first courts he conceded to the
    purer; the Levites alone he judged worthy of being servants of the Deity;
    sacrifices and burnt offerings and the rest of the priestly functions he
    allotted to the priests; one chosen out of all he admitted to the shrine, and
    even this one not always but on only one day in the year, and of this one
    day a time was fixed for his entry so that he might gaze on the Holy of
    Holies amazed at the strangeness and novelty of the sight. 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. 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:…

    (of course this must be read within the limits of the translation’s accuracy.)

  34. The Scylding says:

    “Almost thou persuadest me…”

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