St. Maximus on Caesaropapism

Then the saint mentioned how the synod convened in Rome by the blessed Pope Martin had condemned the Monothelites, to which Bishop Theodosius responded, “It is the Emperor’s summons that gives authority to a council.”

“If that were so, the Orthodox faith would have long since come to an end,” said Maximus. “Recall the councils summoned by imperial decree to proclaim that the Son of God is not of the same essence as God the Father. The first was held in Tyre, the second in Antioch, the third in Seleucia, the fourth in Constantinople under Eudoxius the Arian, the fifth in Nicaea, and the sixth in Sirmium. Considerably later, a seventh false council took place in Ephesus, at which Dioscorus presided. All these synods were convened by imperial decree, but were rejected and anathematized, since they endorsed godless doctrines. On what grounds, I would like to know, do you accept the council which condemned and anathematized Paul of Samosata? Gregory the Wonder-worker presided over that council, and its resolutions were confirmed by Dionysius, Pope of Rome, and Dionysius of Alexandria. No Emperor convoked it, but it is unassailable and irrefutable. The Orthodox Church recognizes as true and holy precisely those synods that proclaimed true dogmas. Your holiness knows that the canons require that local councils be held twice yearly in every Christian land for the defense of our saving faith and for administrative purposes; however, they say nothing about imperial decrees.”

45 Responses to St. Maximus on Caesaropapism

  1. Andy B. says:

    Indeed. We agree that it’s a good thing. The degree about which one tries their best to do something about it is where we differ, due to our more fundamental difference over the necessity of being in communion with an apostolic see (verses an episcopoi vagantes type situation where we presently find ourselves, despite being the third largest “communion” in the world).

  2. Any,

    Something to think about for your prof is, if you have the same faith, why not be in communion?

  3. Andy B. says:

    …but I think what Andy had in mind is if he personally is orthodox, what is the problem with remaining in the Anglican Communion? He is part of the “Invisible Orthodox Church” which ignores institutional boundaries. Correct if I misinterpret you, Andy.

    No, I think you are getting to a part of my concern. The broad concern I have is to accurately understand the various nuanced schools of thought that exist within both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox. No need to point out that Anglicans just don’t really have one (besides, what I consider to be, the novel and unjustifiable “Branch Theory”). I am concerned about my own state of ecclesial being, but I realize that it’s beyond me. It’s about the Church being the Bride of Christ and participating eschatologically in the Heavenly Banquet (which is incarnated in the Church, as Maximus alludes).

    The issue I have, and I think Perry Robinson elaborated, is that while I find Romanides’ epistemology attractive (i.e, the revelation of Orthodoxy being the foundation that helps our Tradition cohere), it doesn’t detail the role of our spiritual fathers in God. The bishops, their archbishops, and ultimately the apostolic sees. It seems that Tradition necessitates communion with an apostolic see as being normative for the koinonia of the Church’s life, but I’d like to find primary sources to validate this notion. One of the debates I’m currently in with my dogmatics professor (who is rather an Orthodoxophile Anglo-Catholic himself) is over the necessity of being in communion with an apostolic see (we agree that all five patriarchates should be in communion with each other, ideally). He believes that Anglicans need not worry about being in communion with one of the patriarchates, while I say that we should not only worry about it, but that it is of utmost importance. But again, it’s just a notion I have in my understanding of Tradition which I would like to test out to see if indeed it is an intricate part.

    Thanks for any help.


  4. Fr. Maximus says:

    Thank you Photios. This blog is also a blessing for me and others. I think it is the most worthwhile site on the whole internet. God bless you and your work.

  5. MG says:


    You wrote:

    “Nope, the quote is of no consequence, as i hinted earlier, he wasn’t particularly concerned in this case to defend the fine points of papal supremacy. Which thing he did even more vehemently at another place.”

    Perhaps it would be of no consequence if Maximus was indeed clearer elsewhere. Yet, I am still not convinced (especially given Fr. Maximus’ assessment of the quotes) that he ever did, in fact, say anything supportive of Rome’s papal theory of government.

    You wrote:

    “Are you seeking truth, or clever ways to deny clear statements?”

    I don’t know; I’m not perfectly intellectually honest (or even close). I’ll try to seek truth, though, and consider the Roman view more seriously (something I am in the process of doing). It doesn’t seem to me at this point that any authentic statements of Maximus I am aware of would support the modern Roman papal theory over the Orthodox theory. But if you can flesh out something about authentic statements of St. Maximus that implies they support the modern Roman papal theory over the Orthodox understanding of Church government, I would appreciate it.

  6. Photios, well my original statement was “being legitimate is one thing, but making normative decisions for OTHER churches is quite another…”

    Now various bishops have tried to do so, which is why I mentioned it. As I noted, they wouldn’t need anything else to function well, but to do more, more is required.

  7. photios says:

    Fr. Maximus,
    Agreed and I just wanted to state that your presence and insights are a blessing to this blog.

  8. photios says:


    Well I don’t see why they would need to do that in the first place unless there was an issue of heresy.

    The reverse is also true though. How could Jerusalem make binding decisions for Constantinople or Antioch or even a non-Apostolic See like Moscow? That’s kinda the point though, no one see can make that normative unless of course they are the only Orthodox See or Assembled in what would be conisdered an Ecumenical Council.

    On that score, since Orthodoxy has been made so clear after all these centuries on matters of the faith, and considering Canterbury were Orthodox, what would they need to have recourse to in a normative fashion to carry out the ministry? Moscow doesn’t look to the Ecumenical Patriarchate to carry out His ministry. Moscow’s not an apostolic see.


  9. Fr. Maximus says:


    My criticism is not so much of Fr. John himself, for whom I have great respect and who “woke me from my dogmatic slumbers,” but of what some might extrapolate out of some of his statements, and of ecumenism in general, which is based on some similar premises. I totally agree with what Fr. John says about authority and revelation. The key point here is that the saints cannot exist outside of the pre-existing structure of tradition, because it is that tradition which provides the prerequisites for becoming a saint. This was where Fr. John fudged, at least for a while.

    I agree that the Anglican Church could be incorporated structurally as is back into the Orthodox Church if it repented of its errors, but I think what Andy had in mind is if he personally is orthodox, what is the problem with remaining in the Anglican Communion? He is part of the “Invisible Orthodox Church” which ignores institutional boundaries. Correct if I misinterpret you, Andy.

    Your last point is a separate problem. According to St. Maximus, everyone who is baptized has the potential to activate the virtues and recapitulate Christ. If they choose not to, Christ is nevertheless still in them. What that means at the Last Judgment I do not know, but it is surely not very auspicious for such persons. I would surmise that since Christ is in them in a more concrete way than in the non-baptized, they experience Him in an even more intensely negative way.

  10. photios,

    How could say Canterbury make binding decisions on Jerusalem? Perhaps they could do so for their own jurisdiction, but to do so for other juridictions, they’d need their consent. So the first issue is one of scope.

    Secondly, one of the major reasons why Lyon was rejected was that it lacked representation from the apsotolic sees. I don’t see how Anglicans, assuming everything else was kosher could make decisions normative for the whole apart from the apostolic sees.

  11. photios says:

    I don’t see why that would be necessary. If their Bishops were Orthodox in Faith and committed to it, why would they need consent from apostolic sees to make normative decisions for their people? Are apostolic sees a sacramental order higher than the Bishop? How does that idea comport with the 5th Council decree you like concerning Vigilius? What about the authority of local synods? I think Irenaeus’ point is that looking to the Apostolic Sees to confirm what true teaching of the apostles is when in doubt, but not in making normative and practical decisions that is the priority of a local synod.


  12. photios says:

    Fr. Maximus
    I think you and Fr. Romanides are talking past each other, because in the passages I recall from Fr. John, he is adressing the question of what is the ultimate derivation of *authority,* not the question of what is the ecclesiastical boundary of the Church.

    Andy IS partially correct though. Anglicans have a certain ecclesiastical structure that others don’t, if they remove the heretical Augustinism and go back to the worship of their ancestors when there was nothing wanting in their Orthodoxy. No Orthodox could possibly object.

    Your correction that the church is not “visible” and “invisible” does not speak or address the issue that Fr. Romanides works out theologically. Romanides is addressing the question of AUTHORITY. For Fr. John, REVELATION is the ultimate arbiter of authority, and Fr. John does not reduce REVELATION to the Word inscripturated. REVELATION rather is the experience of the Lord of Glory, that the prophets, apostles, and Fathers experience. From what I see, Fr. Romanides is just being biblical and has a very cohesive and unitative model between the OT and NT. So, I don’t see at all how Fr. Romanides’ ideas would fit into the Branch Theory or the Visible and Invisible Church.

    Most of these ideas can be found in Fr. John’s work The Neurobiological Sickness of Religion, which was written when ecumenism had pretty much left a sour-milk taste in his mouth.

    And we still have to deal with the fact that not every member that is in or within the Ecclesiastical Structure is “in Christ” or part of that Election and Final Perseverance. The Church is indeed Christ’s visible body, but that doesn’t amount to every person within or in the ecclesiastical structure being “in Christ” and Recapitulating THAT economy. I agree with you that the distinction of “visible” and “invisible” is an artificial one and leads to all kinds of Christological problems. But what the distinction is trying (or wants to say) is that we don’t know the ultimate end or hearts of many inviduals. How many people do you know that were in your own ecclesiastical boundaries and apostacized from the faith? If you confess any, you have to deal with that reality in theology.


  13. Andy,

    I think with respect to Canterbury I think we could say a few things. If we put aside the obvious and open heterodoxy and heteropraxis of its recent occupants and of the churches in which it is in communion, being legitimate is one thing, but making normative decisions for other churches is quite another and that I do think requires input and consent from the apostolic sees.

  14. Fr. Maximus says:


    Yes, that is what I had in mind.

    I think Andy has exposed the basic problem with Romanides’ thought: it can be exploited in the interests of ecumenism or ecclesiastical opportunism. This is in fact why Romanides himself was involved in the ecumenical movement, particularly with the monophysites: he thought they had strict, holy monks and were thus part of the Church regardless of the 1500 year schism. (at the end of his life he admitted “we were deceived with the Copts”) The root problem is a division of the Church into visible and invisible parts, which is the foundation of ecumenism. There are numerous ecclesiological errors tied up with such a view:

    (note that I am not referring to the Church militant and triumphant, but to the idea that the Church on earth is divisible into a visible institution on the on hand and an invisible, charismatic, “mystical body” on the other)

    1. It denies the catholicity of the Church, since it creates a division between the part and the whole, or the local and universal Church, whereby the one is deprived of the characteristics of the other.

    2. It is based on a Platonic metaphysic, with the invisible Church existing as a transcendent platonic ideal, while the visible Church partakes of the invisible in an imperfect and partial way. This view is traceable back to Augustine and is the basis of Lutheran and other Protestant ecclesiologies, whereby the visible Church is entirely secondary to the invisible Church of true believers – those who have real faith (and compare with the Gnostics, too).

    3.It obscures the fact that the Eucharist unites the many into one, as St. Dionysios says in the Ecclesiastic Hierarchy. obscures the fact that the Eucharist is simple and singular as St. Dionysios says, even though it is divided indivisibly in each synaxis.

    5. It obscures the fact that the Church is an image of God, and as such is single and undivided, according to St. Maximus’ Mystagogy.

    6. It denies that the divine energies are unitive powers, bringing each Christian into unity with God and man, since they work through the Mysteries in a manner particular to each individual to bring them closer to the divinity and other Christians. Thus by dividing the Church into visible and invisible parts which are opposed to each other, the divine energies are found to be opposed and thus not consubstantial to each other or to the divine essence.

    7. It leads to Nestorianism, inasmuch as the visible and invisible parts of the Body of Christ are divided and opposed.

    8. It leads to Monophysitism, inasmuch as it posits the invisible part of the Church as superior to and more comprehensive than the visible. Or again, if the invisible part of the Church is more real than the visible, the result is a type of Docetism.

    9. It leads to Arianism, since according to St. Cyrill, the members of the Church are united with each other in like manner as the persons of the Trinity.

    I agree that the institutions of the church can be corrupted. Christ promised that the gates of hell will never prevail over the Church, but He never promised that any particular part of the Church would not go under. Almost every local Church at one or another time has fallen into heresy. But this does not mean that the visible institutions are dispensable. On the contrary, the visible and invisible are (virtually) coterminous. If a visible institution falls into heresy, the members of that Church who do not accept the heresy sever communion with the heretics and they then constitute that local church, while the original (or rather, innovating) institution is no longer part of the Church. In other words, those who do not accept the heresy become the true institution, and it is they who have continuity with the original institution, even if they are the minority. The visible structures of the Church (ie. bishops, priests, etc.) are not accidental to the Church: the Church *as a whole* cannot exist without a hierarchy, although a particular local Church may for a certain period of time until it is able to reconstitute its hierarchy by appealing to other parts of the Church. I do not think that we can draw from St. Maximus’ life the lesson that the Church was without a hierarchy or that he alone constituted the whole Church:

    The patrician Epiphanius declared, “Hear His Majesty’s words: ‘With you as their guide, schismatics throughout the East and West have risen up against us. They ever increase in number and incite disturbances; moreover, they have cut off communion with us.”

    “Sergius said, “Abba, there remains the primary point at issue: because of you many have broken communion with the Church of Byzantium.”

    No doubt there were clergy among these “schismatics.” Also, even when Rome entered into communion with Constantinople, I do not think that all the Churches of the West can be considered to be in heresy because they were probably not even aware of the fact due to distance and if pressed, would have disavowed that they were in communion with monothelites.

    Visible unity is therefore the norm for the Church, with the following exception: misunderstandings or lack of communication can cause an error in human judgment which may temporarily cause two parts of the Church not to recognize each other, as has happened multiple times in Church history. Perhaps this may be called a schism “within the Church.” But there can never be two bodies varying in confession of faith and out of communion with each other which are both part of the Church.

  15. photios says:

    The first written record of hesychasm is Moses seeing the back parts of God.

  16. Steve Hays has posted some criticisms of Neo and Fr. Maximus. I’m glad to know that Steve seems to read our blog and so he can read my reply in the comments. Instead of making a separate post out of my reply I am going to post a respose here.

    Neo’s list is somewhat inadequate. Christ gives authority to legates of the apostles-bishops. This power can be used appropriately but not when diverted from the truth. So there is a distinction between possession and use just as there is in say free will or any other natural faculty.

    Steve question presumes a far too narrow gloss of Neo’s meaning. OT figures could be included in his comments in a number of ways. For example Ezra, Nehemiah, or Zachariah could be participants in the same divine power since they were extraordinarly commissioned ministers of Christ with the attending extraordinary prophetic powers and also part of God’s established divine community.

    Roughly a Father of the church is someone, either lay or ordained who knows or bears God to his people, preserves right teaching, usually in a specific theological domain and sets it forth with in a normative and empowered way. This usually is part and parcel with a good measure of mastery of the passions, exiled living and persecution. That seems to me to be a good starting definition off my head suitable for the purposes at hand. As for a criteria to identify each of them, this is done in reference to the overall tradition so that asking for a criteria here will only move the question as to identifying what counts as tradition.

    By what criteria does one identify the entirety of tradition? This is a different than asking by what criteria does one identity something as tradition? In any case, wouldn’t this be done by the tradition itself since any external criteria would simply move the question? Here when I speak of tradition it should be clear that I mean to include Scripture itself along with the apostolic ministry. Scripture is a form of written tradition which is identified normatively through the apostolic ministry. If it isn’t identified by reference to the tradition then, as in Protestantism, then the canon of Scripture is in principle formally revisable. By what normative criteria do Protestants identify the entirety of scripture? It can’t be by a criteria given by scripture since in the order of knowing we need to know first what counts as Scripture. So it sends up being Jewish tradition, what Jesus quoted, etc. all of which are insufficient both materially and normatively. This is why the continuous apostolic ministry is essential since by its initial extraordinary commissioning with attending verification (miracles and prophecy) it grounds the tradition in the order of knowing. So I don’t think the whole of the tradition or any part of it can be identified in a normative way apart from the apostolic ministry.

    How then do we identify the whole of the tradition? The apparent problem seems to be that either no one father expresses the entirety of the tradition. No one father expresses every part of it accurately. And no one council expresses it in terms of utterances on every single point of theology. I don’t think this is a problem. If we take Ireneaus’ criteria that what is novel to one locale is not of the apostolic deposit we have at least in rudimentary form a criteria to identify the entirety of tradition. Formally the canon of scripture was handled in this way. Various canons existed initially since each canon was a rule of acceptable books given by a bishop or a group of bishops. Since as the “men of God” (2 Tim 3:17) they were the principle teachers, Scripture was primarily for their utilization. Together the apostolic sees formed through conciliar mechanisms a “supercanon” so to speak, one that was for use throughout the entire episcopate. So what is found to have been taught in the apostolic sees as Ireneaus indicates is the entirety of the apostolic faith, that is, tradition. It was in this way and on this basis that heretics like the Gnostics, Arians, etc. who possessed many of the same pieces of the picture but composed a different picture out of them were combated. Ireneaus’ view has the benefit of being quite early as well as scriptural support, or so I’d argue in light of Acts 15 and other passages.

    By what criterion do we distinguish genuine tradition from heterodox tradition? Since heresy is an individual choice against the pre-existing tradition of the church, it is at least a matter of comparison with the pre-existing teaching. Arius’ teaching in the line of Origen and Lucian for example of introducing Christ as a second deity, primarily on the basis of a synthesis of Platonic metaphysics with Christian theology is an example of innovation. It was “smoked out” in direct confrontation with the apostolic deposit in Alexandria initially and then after its spread, by the judgment of the other sees at Nicea. The same could be said of say Nestorius’ use of “hypostasis” in reference to the two natures of Christ. The importation of the term hypostasis in an Aristotelian sense of substance or individual constituted an innovation as well. Conceptual development then is precluded. The comparison of pre-existing teaching is again in reference to the rule articulated by Ireneaus above, namely the deposit in all of the apostolic sees.

    Steve asks concerning Fr. Maximus’ statements, what the church always believes in light of various controversies. If we gloss the statement too widely it obviously will not work and this will be true for example for Protestants in handling say the canon of Scripture. What the Jews always believed to be scripture. All Jews? All pre-advent Jews agreed on the canon? Hardly. Some Jews then, but which ones? And by what criteria do we pick? So such statements have to be narrowed down. I narrow them down in the way Ireneaus proffers. What the church always believes is in references to the apostolic deposit again in reference to the apostolic sees. As for hesychasm and icons are not later developments. Perhaps Steve is thinking of the particular practices in later hesychasm. If so, Palamas make clear these practices are not essential to it and in no way are to be considered a mechanism for divine experience. Further, as Meyendorff makes clear, “hesychasm” has a long history prior to the debate with Barlaam going back to 2nd century monasticism.

    Steve then puts Fr. Maximus’ statements concerning saints and a sure interpretation into syllogistic form. Then he attempts to reduce it to absurdity by asking how it is possible for the saints to experience all the truths of scripture. But Fr. Maximus I think doesn’t mean experience in terms of personally witness historical events through some kind of time travel. He means experiencing them in God through the kind of knowledge of God that is more than knowing facts, such as when God declares that he knows no other nation than Israel.

  17. Tap,

    first, why give William, aka Neo, a complex question undermining his intellectual honesty? We can presume that people who dialog here are interested in truth without such childish rhetorical games. I asked him to be a contributor because he has fairly consistently displayed the ability to discuss matters in a fairly dispasisonate way and at a high level of discourse. I think say Catholic interlocutors (like Michael Liccone, would agree. So I’d ask you to eliminate these from your future comments.

    As for Maximus, it is true that Maximus speaks in very high terms at time concerning Rome. But a few things need to be kept in mind. None of them are sufficient to prove the definition of Vat 1, but a weaker view. Second, he believes that Rome’s status has been outlined and defined in the canons and councils of the church, which will include the 5th Council where Vigilius was excommunicated by a council and the council clearly declared that no Apostle and by extension no bishop required the work of any other for their essential duties, which is directly contrary to Vat 1’s understanding of the Pope’s ministry as essential to the essential and licit exercise of the episcopal ministry. Third, Maximus’ statements on Rome have to be glossed so as to be consistent with other statements unless you wish to convict him of later denying near his death the Roman claims. In which case he’d be a material heretic. Is that what you want to say?

    As for fine points, I thought the claim was that Maximus teaches and is a witness to the Roman view of the papacy. His later statements seem to clearly deny it in its essentials rather than some technical or disputed point. You should address them rather than dismiss them.

  18. photios says:

    *I* know his name and all the moderators do too (and if some of them don’t, they do know him as a committed Orthodox Christian and if they want to know his full identity they could ask *me*). What counts is what *we* think. *We* have the right to say how and what happens on the blog. That’s why *we*’re the boss. Just like anybody else is the boss on their own blog. I guess if you wish to have special “rights,” you can go create your own blog and create your own rules.

    On the principles you elucidated regarding the 8th and 9th council and why they aren’t consistently considered ecumenical councils, well, you know what I think. I see no reason to do so other than the courage to actually proclaim them as such. I consider them ecumenical and dogmatic.

  19. Tap says:

    I can already see a lot of ways to respond to these three, but I am still curious about how exactly they would be approached. The third one seems the most promising as a support for modern papal theory”

    Are you seeking truth, or clever ways to deny clear statements?

  20. Tap says:

    MG:“Also, couldn’t you just as easily argue from the quote that the approval of Alexandria is needed in order to have a valid council? Alexandria sure seems to be spoken of in the same way as Rome.”

    Nope, the quote is of no consequence, as i hinted earlier, he wasn’t particularly concerned in this case to defend the fine points of papal supremacy. Which thing he did even more vehemently at another place.

  21. Tap says:

    “On what possible theological basis could one assert that the 8th & 9th Ecumenical Councils…are not equal in dogmatic authority to the preceding Seven for Orthodox Christians?”

    On the basis that no such ecumenical councils have taken place for Orthodox Christians. Calling it ecumeical does not make it so.


    1) On what possible theological basis could one assert that St. Gregory Palamas, St. Photios and St. Mark of Ephesus are not Fathers of the Church in the fullest sense that the “pre-Schism” Fathers were? Why would their teaching on Rome/the Filioque be in *any* way less authoritative than St. Maximus on the Monotheletes or St. Cyril on the Nestorians?

    2) On what possible theological basis could one assert that the 8th & 9th Ecumenical Councils (condemning the Filioque and vindicating St. Gregory Palamas’ teaching) are not equal in dogmatic authority to the preceding Seven for Orthodox Christians? We created feast days for this, incorporated it into the Liturgy, the bishops in attendance believed they were at an Ecumenical Council and the Emperor signed those canons into Roman Law. What else is required that any new so-called Ecumenical Council could add to the mix? Either they are in full effect now or they never were. I cannot see any alternative. Perhaps I overlooked something, so I want to fully understand the possible reasons for thinking otherwise.

    x. It [the Filioque] has been condemned by many Holy Councils of the four Patriarchs of the East.

    xi. It was subjected to anathema, as a novelty and augmentation of the Creed, by the eighth Ecumenical Council, congregated at Constantinople for the pacification of the Eastern and Western Churches.

    (Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs, 1848)

  23. Andy B. says:

    But I do think that what he recognizes as a Church presupposes a Bishop that has been sent to preach and perform the Gospel.

    And this is what I thought as well, which is why I went up the proverbial ladder to the patriarchates. It seems–like in the case of us Anglicans–we can be Orthodox according to what you’re stating (as long as we don’t believe heresy e.g. most of the bishops in TEC today). But we are only in communion with a historic see (Canterbury), not a patriarchate. I hope you see where I’m going.

  24. photios says:

    Fr. Maximus,
    I agree but I believe Fr. Romanides is very perceptive that ecclesiastical structures can be augmented and corrupted. I think Fr. Romanides states somewhere I recall is that you don’t necessarily have to have ecclesiastical structure to have authority, pace St. Maximus, but that the authority rests in the glorified Saint analogous to the OT prophets. But I do think that what he recognizes as a Church presupposes a Bishop that has been sent to preach and perform the Gospel.


  25. Fr. Maximus says:


    NO! Orthodoxy has nothing to do with being in communion with a particular see (see the above quotes from St. Maximus) and everything to do with fidelity to the eternal and immutable teachings of the Church.

  26. Fr. Maximus says:

    I think Romanides is onto the central point with respect to the saints. The saints are the norm for Orthodoxy, both in the sense that Christians are supposed to be saints and in the sense that they are the only sure interpreters of scripture and doctrine because they have experienced the truth. This is really important, because it shows how for Orthodoxy, correct doctrine and the Christian life are inseparable, whereas for Protestants and Catholics they are logically completely separable.

    Nevertheless, I think Romanides lacks subtlety and his theory leads to a division between (or into) “invisible” and “visible” parts of the Church. In other words, for Romanides, the Church is where the saints are and ecclesiastical structures are virtually irrelevant. But this leads to the question of who are the saints and how do we identify them. Not to mention an almost Protestant ecclesiology.

    I think if we backtrack a little, Romanides’ basic insight is the valid basis for Orthodox ecclesiology. What I mean is that Orthodoxy is the consensus Patrum. In order to apply this to real life, in any given dispute between two bodies each claiming to be the Church the one which has the support of the Fathers is Orthodoxy and the other is not. Two caveats are needed:
    1. the consensus of the Fathers applies not only to their written works, but also to their expressions of faith in other senses: conciliar definitions, canons, liturgics, concrete historical actions, etc. This is particularly so with regards to symbols, for the Church expresses sacred things through symbols. Symbols are created things which represent that which is uncreated, thus making the uncreated and divine intelligible to us. Every aspect of the Church’s self-expression – whether it be theology, poetry, liturgy, calendar, architecture, music, iconography, the sacraments, or anything else – are symbols of heavenly realities and as such may not be altered. If they ever are altered, or if the Church allows for several variants on the same theme, this is because the saints knew that there are several different symbols capable of expressing the same reality. But if a symbol is altered without the approval of the saints, or against their dicta, then that innovation must be rejected.

    2. no appeal may be made to living saints as authorities, because both sides may claim to have holy people who are saying opposite things. The monophysites in the 5th and 6th centuries often followed the local monks who rejected Chalcedon (and who even avowed “I have seen Christ, and I know that He has one nature”)but these monks were obviously in delusion (prelest or plani)because they contradicted the tradition of the Church as expressed by the indisputable saints of previous times.

    So to sum up, we recognize Orthodoxy where we see that the tradition handed down by the saints is being preserved perfectly.

  27. Andy B. says:

    Further, I wonder if anyone here can tell me where (in primary sources if possible) the necessity for being in communion with one of the five patriarchates for a recognition of one’s (a particular see’s/bishop’s) Orthodoxy/Catholicity and Koinonia/Communion. I’ve understood Orthodox ecclesiology (and Roman Catholic ecclesiology for that matter) to have this as a necessity. Am I wrong? If so, help me understand why. If I am correct, can someone point out where I can find support for this notion?

    Thanks again!
    Andy B.

  28. photios says:

    Fr. Maximus,
    So how do we go about recognizing Orthodoxy? I’ve read Fr. Romanides state (one that I like) that the recognition of an authentic and faithful council is analogous to the way an Old Testament believer recognized God’s prophet Jeremiah or Ezekiel, and the Word that they brought. There would be a due deligence to the words of Scripture and to the awareness of what is being passed down. Our religion is one that is handed on (paradosis).


  29. Fr. Maximus says:

    The first quote I believe is genuine. The second I am unsure of. The third one is probably spurious, since it only exists in Latin. The first quote is also mistranslated, since the original says that the gates of hell “have never” not “will never” prevail.

    Of course, quotes don’t mean anything in isolation, but only in context. What is St. Maximus’ context?

    1. The contention, generally acknowledged in the East, that Rome is the successor to St. Peter and the head (read “first”, not “boss”)of the Churches, possibly even acting as a court of appeal for the other Patriarchates. The most that could be pulled out of this is some sort of Gallicanism, as Photios said.

    2. The fact that at that time, Rome was the only Orthodox patriarchate, so any comparison of Rome with the other churches was inevitably going to make Rome vastly superior to the others.

    3. The fact that St. Maximus is a fierce polemicist and never lets an opponent get even a toehold of an argument. When he is arguing with Pyrrhus, he never admits that the citations from St. Dionysios or St. Cyril could be taken to support monoenergism, even though that is what they seem to say at first glance. In his fight against the Monothelites, St. Maximus uses any weapon he can find, and if that means trumping up Rome, so be it.

    4. The fact that when it really came down to it at his trial, St. Maximus affirms the exact opposite of Roman claims multiple times and in multiple ways, as has been cited above. It seems much more reasonable to interpret an author’s works in the light of his own statements, rather than in the light of later, dubious claims from another party.

  30. Andy B. says:

    I too am very interested in reading on Orthodox ecclesiological epistemology (i.e, your #5 listed above). Are there some posts on this blog or articles elsewhere where I can begin learning?

    Andy B.

  31. Perhaps Photios or someone else could carefully elucidate the respective axiomatic frameworks at work here.

  32. photios says:

    And then there’s these:

    “To which church do you belong? To that of Byzantium, of Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, or Jerusalem? For all these churches, together with the provinces in subjection to them, are in unity. Therefore, if you also belong to the Catholic Church, enter into communion with us at once, lest fashioning for yourself some new and strange pathway, you fall into that which you do not even expect!”

    To this the righteous man wisely replied, “Christ the Lord called that Church the Catholic Church which maintains the true and saving confession of the Faith. It was for this confession that He called Peter blessed, and He declared that He would found His Church upon this confession. However, I wish to know the contents of your confession, on the basis of which all churches, as you say, have entered into communion. If it is not opposed to the truth, then neither will I be separated from it.”

    The Saint said, “They [the Patriarchs of Constantinople and Alexandria and all the other heretical bishops of the East] have been deposed and deprived of the priesthood at the local synod which took place recently in Rome. What Mysteries, then, can they perform? Or what spirit will descend upon those who are ordained by them?”

    “Then you alone will be saved, and all others will perish?” they objected.

    To this the Saint replied, “When all the people in Babylon were worshipping the golden idol, the Three Holy Children did not condemn anyone to perdition. They did not concern themselves with the doings of others, but took care only for themselves, lest they should fall away from true piety. In precisely the same way, when Daniel was cast into the lion’s den, he did not condemn any of those who, fulfilling the law of Darius, did not wish to pray to God, but he kept in mind his own duty, and desired rather to die than to sin against his conscience by transgressing the Law of God. God forbid that I should condemn anyone or say that I alone am being saved! However, I shall sooner agree to die than to apostatize in any way from the true Faith and thereby suffer torments of conscience.”

    “But what will you do,” inquired the envoys, “when the Romans are united to the Byzantines? Yesterday, indeed, two delegates arrived from Rome and tomorrow, the Lord’s day, they will communicate the Holy Mysteries with the Patriarch.”

    The Saint replied, “Even if the whole universe holds communion with the Patriarch, I will not communicate with him. For I know from the writings of the holy Apostle Paul: the Holy Spirit declares that even the angels would be anathema if they should begin to preach another Gospel, introducing some new teaching.”
    From The Life of Our Holy Father St. Maximus the Confessor pp.60-62

  33. MG says:


    You wrote:

    “Even yet, the paragraph does posit papal confirmation, of any such valid council.”

    Even if this were necessary, it wouldn’t be sufficient, on Maximus’ take. And that sure seems problematic for claiming he held Rome’s current view.

    Also, couldn’t you just as easily argue from the quote that the approval of Alexandria is needed in order to have a valid council? Alexandria sure seems to be spoken of in the same way as Rome.

  34. MG says:

    Alright, I will do it. How do we Orthodox interpret these:

    1. The extremities of the earth, and everyone in every part of it who purely and rightly confess the Lord, look directly towards the Most Holy Roman Church and her confession and faith, as to a sun of unfailing light awaiting from her the brilliant radiance of the sacred dogmas of our Fathers, according to that which the inspired and holy Councils have stainlessly and piously decreed. For, from the descent of the Incarnate Word amongst us, all the churches in every part of the world have held the greatest Church alone to be their base and foundation, seeing that, according to the promise of Christ Our Savior, the gates of hell will never prevail against her, that she has the keys of the orthodox confession and right faith in Him, that she opens the true and exclusive religion to such men as approach with piety, and she shuts up and locks every heretical mouth which speaks against the Most High. (Maximus, Opuscula theologica et polemica, Migne, Patr. Graec. vol. 90)

    2. How much more in the case of the clergy and Church of the Romans, which from old until now presides over all the churches which are under the sun? Having surely received this canonically, as well as from councils and the apostles, as from the princes of the latter (Peter and Paul), and being numbered in their company, she is subject to no writings or issues in synodical documents, on account of the eminence of her pontificate …..even as in all these things all are equally subject to her (the Church of Rome) according to sacerodotal law. And so when, without fear, but with all holy and becoming confidence, those ministers (the popes) are of the truly firm and immovable rock, that is of the most great and Apostolic Church of Rome. (Maximus, in J.B. Mansi, ed. Amplissima Collectio Conciliorum, vol. 10)

    3. If the Roman See recognizes Pyrrhus to be not only a reprobate but a heretic, it is certainly plain that everyone who anathematizes those who have rejected Pyrrhus also anathematizes the See of Rome, that is, he anathematizes the Catholic Church. I need hardly add that he excommunicates himself also, if indeed he is in communion with the Roman See and the Catholic Church of God …Let him hasten before all things to satisfy the Roman See, for if it is satisfied, all will agree in calling him pious and orthodox. For he only speaks in vain who thinks he ought to pursuade or entrap persons like myself, and does not satisfy and implore the blessed Pope of the most holy Catholic Church of the Romans, that is, the Apostolic See, which is from the incarnate of the Son of God Himself, and also all the holy synods, accodring to the holy canons and definitions has received universal and surpreme dominion, authority, and power of binding and loosing over all the holy churches of God throughout the whole world. (Maximus, Letter to Peter, in Mansi x, 692).

    These are cut-and-paste from here:

    I can already see a lot of ways to respond to these three, but I am still curious about how exactly they would be approached. The third one seems the most promising as a support for modern papal theory.

  35. photios says:


    It does matter because this is the specific context in which it could [and should] be addressed.

    Yes I have seen the quotes and have read them in the original. His quotes look more like Gallicanism than the modern papal theory.


  36. Tap says:

    if St. Maximus had really believed in Papal supremecy as is claimed he simply would have stated here that papal approval is the litmus test for a council’s Orthodoxy

    The fact that he doesn’t actually mention papal supremacy in one specific case, is of no consequence. Even yet, the paragraph does posit papal confirmation, of any such valid council.

    Of course i don’t need to quote whole paragraphs from St. Maximus, making and even more vehement point about Papal Supremacy. Because you all have probably seen it. *sigh* only God knows what’s in your hearts.

  37. Fr. Maximus says:

    It is not a tautology. What he means is that there is no external factor which can garrantee that a council is valid. In this case he is referring to approval by an emperor, but the logic applies equally well to say the Pope: pace the Roman apologists, if St. Maximus had really believed in Papal supremecy as is claimed he simply would have stated here that papal approval is the litmus test for a council’s Orthodoxy. But instead he says that the only thing that garrantees a council’s orthodoxy is whether or not it has expressed what the Church has always believed. So… the faith of the Church never changes at all.

  38. photios says:

    No actually your prompt is a seperate question of how we recognize that which is true, authoritative, and holy. Theory vs. pragmatics.

  39. The Orthodox Church recognizes as true and holy precisely those synods that proclaimed true dogmas.

    I’m not trying to attack, but I am confused by this quote. He seems to be saying “those councils are true which are true, authorative which are authoriative, holy which are holy.” Which of course is true and irrefutable, but also completely worthless, being tautological.

  40. The words of Scripture presuppose a knowledge of and participation in the original Apostolic community’s shared paradigmatic structure of worship, thought and new life in Christ (the rest of Holy Tradition) that is made possible and preserved by Church alone. Bishops, Synods and the Holy Fathers have the potential to speak infallibly singly and collectively concerning the original content of the Apostles’ written and oral teaching insofar as members of God’s body; the living Head of which is Christ. No one formulaic procedural action or mechanism signals or necessitates the activation of this divine power.

    The truth of this faith’s self-understanding is already implicitly denied when the Church is defined as as geographically extended collection of separate human congregations that needs an earthly head to truly be one or when divine revelation is defined as a set of abstract philosophical doctrines in which new ideas always exist in embryonic form, born through reflection and codified by arbitration.

  41. Fr. Maximus says:

    (5) Precisely. I think the solution is not formulaic, but involves looking to see whether there is fidelity to the entirety of tradition. This does not mean that it devolves in a Protestant sense onto the judgment of the individual, however. The consensus patrum is generally pretty clear, and whenever a heresy arises it involves either rejecting part of tradition or exaggerating one element or one father over the rest. So nestorianism is based on Theodore of Mopsuestia to the exclusion of the others; monophysitism is based on St. Cyril to the exclusion of the other Fathers; Papism is based on St. Augustine to the exclusion of the other Fathers. Iconoclasm and Protestantism simply reject tradition or part of it. Exclusion could also mean that the other Fathers are read through the lenses of or subordinated to the favorite authority.

  42. photios says:

    Yep, brings us back to the question of how we identify Orthodoxy, especially when institutions have been co-opted.

  43. “It is ____________ that gives authority to a council.”

    Let’s survey some of the most well-known answers:

    1. the Emperor
    2. Universal reception by local churches
    3. Papal approval
    4. Incorporation into Liturgy
    5. Orthodoxy of its teaching

    (1) might be true in a strictly legal sense (Roman law), but (5) is the only correct answer with respect to dogmatic authority, (2)-(4) are at best noteworthy potential signs/effects of (5). How (5) is identified/proven is a separate question.

  44. photios says:

    John S. Romanides: “The reason for this is that the local synods were part of the original structure of the Church, whereas the Ecumenical Synod was of an extra-ordinary and imperial nature. One may draw a parallel between Ecumenical Councils and the Apostolic Council convoked in Jerusalem (Acts 15, 6:6-29). Ecumenical Councils, however, were convoked by the Roman Emperor for the purpose of signing into Roman Law what the synods of Autocephalous and Autonomous Churches believed and practised in common.

    “Arius, Nestorius and Eutyches were condemned by local Councils first and then by Ecumenical Councils. Paul of Samosata was condemned by a local council whose decision was accepted by all other synods. The same was the case with Sabellius. Even at Ecumenical Councils bishops participated as members of their own synods whose spokesmen were their Metropolitans, Archbishops, and Patriarchs, or their legates. It should be clear that neither can an Ecumenical Council become a substitute for local synods, nor can local synods take precedence over an Ecumenical Council, unless the one or the other strays from the faith. The reason for this is that authority resides neither in the Ecumenical nor Local Council, but in the glorified Prophets, Apostles and Fathers who participate in Councils or whose teachings the Councils follow.” — excerpt from Church, Synods, and Civilization

  45. Fr. Maximus says:

    Notice the ecclesiological implications of this passage. A local council is just as capable of defining the Orthodox faith as an Ecumenical council: the criterion of truth is not how many bishops agree to it, but whether it accords with the Apostolic teaching of the Church. Consequently, a local council is also competent to anathematize heretics. This is because the plenitude of the Church is found in each local Church.

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