Against Khomiakov

When I was first seriously considering becoming Orthodox, how the Orthodox understood church authority was an important area to map out. In discussing the matter with Catholics that I knew, they often objected that Orthodox ecclesiology falls prey to the same problems as Protestantism. There was no locus of authority in the offices of the church, but the source of normativity was ultimately to reside in the judgment of the people.

The cardinal example of this was the rejection of the council of Florence. Upon returning, delegates found that the overwhelming majority would not accept the terms of the union and choose death and slavery to theological compromise. This is true as far as it goes. The signatories were rebuked and the majority did not accept the decree of union. But a little more study brings to light the fact that not all of the Orthodox representatives signed. Mark of Ephesus did not. Other signatories’ assent borders on simony. The Pope provided all kinds of gifts and provisions for those he thought could be won over. For Mark, there was nothing. Mark’s decision was therefore free and clear. Lest it be thought that Mark’s refusal to sign is insignificant, the Pope upon learning that Mark refused to sign, exclaimed, “Then nothing has been accomplished.” And Mark’s rejection was before the majority rejection.

The second line of evidence that is proffered is that for the Orthodox an ecumenical council is either known to be such or becomes such when it has been accepted by the “whole church.” There is no shortage of Catholic apologetic materials that go down this path. (I suspect they do because they rely on pop-Orthodox works or some distinctly Russian theological works.)

The position usually isn’t stated very clearly. Usually it begins with a claim regarding what the sufficient conditions are for a council to be ecumenical, which is a metaphysical claim and then slides into a claim regarding how one can know that a council is ecumenical. This is apparent for example in the above cited source. I take the metaphysical claim to be the more significant. So the idea is that a council can only be ecumenical if the “whole church” assents to it. This is obviously problematic since no council could ever meet such conditions where every professing Christian agreed. There is no council that I know of, even the Apostolic council in Acts 15 that didn’t result in some measure of dissent. I think Catholics are right to object to this idea as untenable. But I don’t think it is Orthodox teaching as such either.

Something like this idea became popular in Russian philosophical/theological circles through the writings of a Russian of philosophical disposition, Aleksey Stepanovic Khomiakov (1804-1860). The model is usually denoted by the term Sobornost meaning “catholic.” Khomiakov like other Russian religious philosophers of his time was significantly influenced by the German Idealism that was running through Russian academic circles. Consequently, Khomiakov along with even more Idealistic Russian philosophers like Soloviev faced ecclesiastical discipline and denunciation. Protopresbyter Winogradow, one time professor at the Theological Academy of Moscow wrote,

“Their whole training was entirely philosophical and generally humanistic, certainly not theological.  The strictly theological methods of theological research were foreign and unknown to them.  In pre-bolshevic Russia they belonged to the educated circles of Russian society and stood in opposition to the official Church for purely political motives since the official Church was a stern defender of the autocratic-monarchic governing system which was acutely opposed to them.” In Orthodoxer Schau, (Muchen) 1958, p. 16.


Archbp. Harkianakis writes,

“The danger of Chomiakov’s sobornost theory was immediately detected by his contemporary theologians of the Russian Church, including primarily VF Pernickij, AV, Gorskij and PA Linickij who fiercely attacked him However, since Chomiakov’s spiritual movement, as we have said, was not irrelevant to the political interests of the day, it had a great impact on the Slavophiles. It was natural for the supporters of the sobornost theory, amongst whom, A Ivanov-Platonov and F Smirnov were worthy of mention to join this movement at the same time. B Plank characteristically observed that although the opponents of this theory came from the order of the official theologians of the Russian Church, its supporters were not from theological circles, but from philosophical and liberal intellectual circles.” Archbp. Stylianos Harkianakis, The Infallibility of the Church in Orthodox Theology, Athens, 1965, then St. Andrew’s Orthodox Press, Sydney, 2008, p. 239.

Even more to the point, Khomiakov was not permitted by the state and the church to publish his works which is why they were published in French or in English translations. And Khomiakov’s education also helps to show that his view did not represent the theological tradition of Orthodoxy in Russia, let alone anywhere else.

“This man, who held a strong pen and vivid imagination and had studied mainly mathematics, found himself entangled in the theological thought and problematics of his time by his own initiative, so to speak. Precisely because he had not studied theology, he dared to deal primarily with strictly ecclesiological themes, in the conviction that theology was merely a ‘charismatic’ matter. This, while he confessed, in his own words that his theological education was at most imperfect, nonetheless he felt compelled to tackle quite thorny problems of ecclesiology.” Archbp. Stylianos Harkianakis, p. 206.

Pinpointing some of the problematic matter of Khomiakov, Harkianakis following Romanides, that it was the Idealistic view of the church as an organism to the exclusion of the idea of the church as the bringer of salvation that served to motivate Khomiakov’s erroneous ecclesiological views. (It should be pondered how relevant this is to Cardinal Newman’s theory of doctrinal development.)

“Beyond this, however, we should remark that Chomiakov had taken as starting point, a one-sided image of the Church as ‘body” and ‘organism’ and not the notion of the Church as centre and instrument of salvation. Harkianakis, p. 239.

And Romanides,

“Instead of basing their theology of the church on Patristic soteriology and Christology, they adapted themselves to a contemporary German philosophy of social life as an organism and imagined that Russian peasants were the Orthodox par excellance because of something inherent in the national character.” John Romanides, ‘Orthodox Ecclesiology according to Alexis Chomiakov’, in The Greek Orthodox Theological Review 2 (1956): 73.

Similar judgments of rejection can be found in the works of say Romanian Orthodox theologian Georg Racovenanu, or Greeks such as J. Karmiris, and Androutsos.

Now one might object that the Orthodox are not in a position to know which of these two groups is correctly and normatively representing Orthodox teaching since the Orthodox have no way of putting forth official teaching. Even if we assume that this is true, (it isn’t) the objector will have to pick between two positions since they are not compatible. On the one hand he will have to maintain and then demonstrate that the Orthodox have no way of putting forth official teaching and so there is no way to know which side is correct and normative. But if this route is taken, he will have to abandon the idea that Khomiakov’s views represent the official Orthodox ecclesiology. On the other hand, if he claims that Khomiakov’s views represent the Orthodox teaching he will have to demonstrate and not merely assume as much. (He will also need to show how and where the Orthodox officially put forward theological statements.) And I don’t think they can maintain that his views represent the official teaching of the Orthodox Church. Either way though, Catholic and now Protestant apologists are simply wrong to assume that his view is Orthodox teaching.

What I think this the near ubiquity of this objection to Orthodoxy shows is the pervasiveness of superficial study prior to making a choice to convert, one way or the other. I think far too many Orthodox converts who are able don’t do their homework and likewise Catholic and Protestant critics don’t either. The fact that I could discover this material without much effort shows that critics who routinely deploy this argument really haven’t gone beyond the superficial level of study. Moreover, trying to tar Orthodoxy with Protestantism, which is, as the esteemed Louis Bouyer argued, a distinctly Catholic phenomena is entirely out of place.

Now what I have not done is spell out in detail what conditions are necessary and sufficient for a council to be ecumenical and normative. That I am largely leaving for another post. But the answers to that question are not in the main that hard to discover and sort out. Take Henry Chadwick’s description of the judgments of 2nd Nicea in 787 for instance.

 “The question of what constitutes a council as ecumenical rather than merely regional or local had been debated at the sixth session of the second Council of Nicea in 787, where it was urgent to rebut the claims made on behalf of the iconoclast Council of Hiereia in 754 at which the emperor himself had presided. In 787 the answer given was in terms of representation and assent by all the patriarchs of the pentarchy, each giving ratification on behalf of all churches under his jurisdiction.” East and West: The Making of a Rift in the Church, Oxford (2003), p. 143.

So an ecumenical council accepted by East and West teaches that what constitutes the ecumenical nature of the council is pentarchial ratification, rather than papal ratification. It would be interesting and useful to see how Catholic theologians attempt to harmonize the decision of 2nd Nicea as to what constitutes an ecumenical council with say Pastor Aeternus or other Catholic dogmatic statements. Is 2nd Nicea not accepted by Rome in this respect? Was 2nd Nicea wrong? And why didn’t they put forward the view as found in Catholic theology regarding the supremacy of the Pope over councils as of divine right?

65 Responses to Against Khomiakov

  1. Anthony says:

    Perry, I hope you write that promised post spelling out “in detail what conditions are necessary and sufficient for a council to be ecumenical and normative,” and soon, because I am very puzzled by this post and your subsequent comments.

    You wrote (to Bryan Cross):

    You construct arguments against pentarchial ratification being a sufficient or necessary condition. But I didn’t argue that it was either.

    What kind of condition do you think it is, then?

  2. John says:

    Was the Pope not on the diptychs on that date? I guess he wouldn’t have been. Still, churches were crossed off the diptychs from time to time throughout history and still made up in the end. Yes, they might have considered the Filioque heretical, but I’m not sure if they knew if Rome was wedded to the idea of defending it, until they actually met.

  3. ioannis says:

    If you mean at the time of the Council of Florence, the Orthodox knew that the filioque, for instance, was heretical from the decrees of the 8th E.C. of 880, from the writing off of the Pope from the diptychs of the Eastern Patriarchates because of that, from the decisions of the Council of Blachernae of 1285, from the writings of the Fathers such as Gregory of Palamas etc.

  4. ioannis says:


    You mean at the time of the Council of Florence or at the time of the 1st E.C.?

    In general I think that the purpose of an E.C. is not to search for the truth but to find the appropriate means to defend it since that truth was given once and for all during Pentecost.

  5. John says:

    ” the representatives of a heresy can not take part in an Ecumenical/Panorthodox Council ”

    I don’t know that it was so clear at the time that they were representatives of a heresy. Or at least the purpose of the council was to discuss those issues.

  6. ioannis says:

    I agree with Fr Patrick in everything he wrote. I guess that’s why after the fall of the empire we do not call anymore the synods of the whole Church Ecumenical but we call them Panorthodox.

    I think that Florence was doomed to fail from the very beginning because it was a non-canonical synod for the reason that the representatives of a heresy can not take part in an Ecumenical/Panorthodox Council but only as the accused ones just like the arianist bishops in the 1st E.C. who were accepted as members of equal status by the Orthodox only after they renounced their false beliefs.

  7. In reading more about Hieria, at which no Patriarchs were present, and monotheletism, which was prevented from passing even when most of the Patriarchs believed in it, I see that these were defeated by legitimate ecumenical councils where all five Patriarchs signed off. It is also true that their being convened was brought about largely by the work of defending truth by lay people such as St. Stephen, St. John of Damascus, who was also a priest, and St. Maximus. Florence was never ratified because the Greeks said at the time that ratification would depend on a later Eastern Synod where the people’s voice was allowed to make a difference in that case.

    I believe the Seven Ecumenical Councils are uniquely authoritative in defending and settling true dogma. It also seems to me that since the five Patriarchates aren’t what they used to be, that we no longer have comparably ecumenical councils (even though people argue about the authority of hesychastic synods and such). On the bright side though, perhaps they did the work they needed to do in that time regarding what were the most important dogmas to mandate belief in.

    Nowadays we face questions of the validity of new autocephalous jurisidictions, the new calendar and Western Rite Orthodox services. I do not believe that these meet the same Christological concerns that the Ecumenical Councils faced, but they have caused unrest, and perhaps compromise of praxis in the Church. And with the modern ease of communication and appeals to mother Churches, they seem to be less of a strictly local nature. I still have hope however that they can be worked out without heavy authoritative measures, but we’ll see.

    Where that puts sobornost and Khomiakov, I have no idea.

  8. John says:

    “This secures I think in part against the worry of five popes.”

    Vatican I style popes perhaps, but not the papal theory that they are needed to sign off on dogma.

    “my understanding was that Ephesus was transferred to Constantinople”

    I’m a bit uncomfortable with this idea. I find it unlikely the whole church suddenly moved to Constantinople, so presumably the idea is the bishopric moved. But that brings with it the implication that certain bishoprics have particular charismas that other bishoprics don’t, that can be transferred down over and above the regular charisma of being a bishop. This seems to quickly lead to the conclusion that Peter’s bishopric can probably have its own special charisma to pass down.

    “it is a convention of the Church which means that it isn’t convention in any common sense of the term”

    True, but this is an argument from reception. The wider church allows there to be a pentarchy. The wider church allows Constantinople to be the first see. What reception makes, it can break.

    “That said, whatever claim Constantinople can make, it is significantly older and certainly that part of the world bears a number of churches that were founded by the Apostles from which it has drawn in a way that Moscow can’t.”

    But what does this age mean? A special charisma? A better apprehension of Orthodoxy? I’m not seeing any foundation for making much of the age. If either was true, one would gain advantages in moving out of the Moscow patriarchate into the Greek one, to better appropriate these advantages. What I see is the major patriarchates are important because they are accountable to, and manifest the mind of a large number of bishops in their jurisdiction. Their charisma comes from the bottom up, and therefore their approval of a council is important to the extent that they reflect the churches in their care. But that is an argument from reception.

    “When you say that the church never waited for the Pentarchy to sign off on a council, I have to ask, what do you mean by “the church” here? ”

    I don’t know. I just mean that I see no evidence that anyone was waiting with baited breath for the Five to sign off.

    “Are we to say it was totally lacking in normative weight until Rome did so? No.”

    But that is more of an argument from reception. Most people accepted it, therefore it had authority.

    ” Second, did this fact prevent it from becoming an ecumenical council at the time of Roman acceptance? No. ”

    But that begs the question of whether anyone was saying “Whew, finally we can call it an ecumenical council, because now Rome signed off.” Dancing in the streets, and celebration that the faith is now unquestionably defined, now we have all Five agreeing.

  9. John,

    I have no doubt that the whole thing is messy, but such is the case with a historical religion. That I don’t think implies that it is impossible from the get-go to make sense out of it. So I hope what I offer will move us in that direction.

    From what I can discern in the history, there is a difference between pentarchial ratificaiton and pentarchial ratification in a council. The former is of great weight, but not the highest degree of authority. This secures I think in part against the worry of five popes. Moreover, if we have to have five altogether that helps to secure against any one of them being supreme in a subordinating way. It also helps address the matter of monothelitism.

    As for Patriarchs and monothelitism, not all fell into it with respect to specific occupants and not all at the same time. So I don’t take it to be a defeater for the model I am proposing. Maximus argues along these same lines.

    The apostolic lineage of Constantinople is obviously not from any direct founding. I can’t recall the sources at the moment but my understanding was that Ephesus was transferred to Constantinople. If so, we know that John and Paul play significant roles in founding the church there. This explains well the patriarchal references to Peter and Paul when conflicts of like the Acacian schism were remedied. Constantinople took itself to be Pauline.
    It’s true that the Pentarchy is in one sense convention, but it is a convention of the Church which means that it isn’t convention in any common sense of the term and so doesn’t necessarily lack the kind of normative weight that say local custom does. Secondly, it also materially is not a custom, in the sense that it is a manifestation of apostolic authority and power.

    As for Constantinople and Moscow, this is something that requires some further thought and investigation, specifically in what way and what understanding was Moscow elevated by to a Patriarchate and what relation such sees have to the ones with an original apostolic deposit. That said, whatever claim Constantinople can make, it is significantly older and certainly that part of the world bears a number of churches that were founded by the Apostles from which it has drawn in a way that Moscow can’t. So there is some potential here to tease out. Part of the problem is that there is a fair amount of literature in Greek on this but my Greek isn’t good enough to reliably access it at the moment.

    At present I only offered up what I garnered from 2nd Nicea. I thought it worth discussing as it generally doesn’t show up in Catholic apologetic materials, from the most sophisticated to the more popular. Certainly with Rome leaving the Church we don’t have that pentarchy as such now, but since it was constructed by the church as a means in part of manifesting the power and authority of the apostolicity of the episcopate, it seems to me that it can be and was adjusted. Perhaps there are principles that will allow us to expand it or explain the adjustment. That said what I am doing here is offering lines of discussion and investigation, which just points out that this is all far more complicated than the pop apologetic arguments really make it out to be. I think it is important to interact with the best works a position can offer, which is what I try to do in so far as I am able.

    As for “other stuff” I am not clear why we would need a conciliar decision about everything the church teaches. This would be so if conciliar decisions were the only source and means of normative teaching, but it isn’t. If it were, we’d fall into the kinds of problems suggested here already. As I see it there are levels or spheres of normative sources.

    Scripture, the Fathers, Patriarchates, and Councils. Something else to consider is that it in part isn’t an entirely different scheme, part of the matter of what makes a council legitimate is its continuity with the past tradition. This was important in the case of Leo’s Tome which had to be consistent with Cyril’s Christology. Please note that I said “part” and not all. Here again I think it is not any one thing, but a number of conditions coming together, a kind of cumulative activation of a potency.

    When you say that the church never waited for the Pentarchy to sign off on a council, I have to ask, what do you mean by “the church” here? As for first Nicea, it seems that the decisions of the major sees were already made at and by the Nicene council, so I think that is what I have in mind by ratification. Its true that Rome took a good while to sign off on Constantinople I, but even if it wasn’t an ecumenical council until then there are a few things to consider. Are we to say it was totally lacking in normative weight until Rome did so? No. Second, did this fact prevent it from becoming an ecumenical council at the time of Roman acceptance? No. If it becomes so then that seems to fit into the model I am proposing. As to 2nd Nicea, quite true that it took centuries for Rome to sign off on it. It’d be worthwhile to discuss why that was the case, but as far as the model I am proposing that too fits in with it in the ways I have suggested. What is also worthwhile is asking when Rome did so. And Rome did so to my knowledge at the Photian council of 879-880. Now, if that council stands revoked by Rome that’s very interesting and worthy of discussion all by itself or so it seems to me.

    I think some of the other conditions are things like the call has to be open to the members of the episcopate, including the pentarchial sees. There has to be some form of representation by them. I don’t think that the objections you allude to work here. First, we’d need to know what you think ratification entails. On the one hand if we are to say that 1st Constantinople didn’t become ecumenical then Rome accepted it then we cannot at the same time object that a council didn’t become ecumenical by assent to the judgments made by said council by members of the pentarchy. Both kinds of objections are mutually exclusive.

  10. John says:

    Oh, Steve’s a clown all right. No need to write a single word on that one.

    I think the issue I have is that without further clarification you are in danger of making 5 mini-popes of the pentarchy. We reject infallibility of one man, but put 5 men together, and now we have infallibility. If you want to say approval of the pentarchy, when they are acting with approval of their bishops, I’d be more comfortable. More comfortable still if I knew those bishops were acting with approval of their priests. Didn’t all the Patriarchs fall into the Monothelite heresy?

    I haven’t heard before that Constantinople somehow “transfers” from Ephesus. Where does that citation come from?

    I keep coming back to Chalcedon 28, which in my mind establishes the view of the church that the Pentarchy are what they are through convention and the secular standing of the cities. Constantinople is above Thessaloniki because it represented a lot more Christians than Thessaloniki. Irenaeus’ point that Rome was taught by the apostles had a certain weight back the 2nd century, but I don’t know that today you can make the argument that Constantinople is a better inheritor of the apostolic tradition than Moscow, or has a better apostolic succession. Are you actually advocating approval of all patriarchs, or just the Pentarchy? Of course there is no Pentarchy now, so you can’t actually advocate that. That begs the question of what happens if we lost a few more sees from the Pentarchy. Is the approval of only 3, or maybe 2, or God forbid 1 see enough?

    I keep coming back also to how Orthodoxy believes other stuff. Stuff that isn’t formally signed off by any ecumenical council. We don’t look to the Pentarchy to know the reality of of the body and blood in the eucharist, or the desirability of infant baptism. Nor ought we look soley to the Pentarchy to know it, given its failure in the monothelite controversy. That being so, why would we have an entirely different scheme to know something is an ecumenical council? It seems to me, the councils are going to have to rest on the same foundation as the rest of the faith which is not signed off on by any council, and which doesn’t need Pentarchy approval to be known by the faithful.

    I also have the historical issue, that the Church never waited expectantly for the Pentarchy to sign off on a council. Rome took centuries to sign off on Nicea II. Nobody seemed to make much effort finding out if they’d signed off on Nicea I. Rome seemed to take till the 6th century to sign off on Constantinople I. Nobody seemed to be running around trying to get the final signature on the document so that the faithful could have the issues settled in their minds. The Pentarchy theory seems to fall prey to the same objections to the Roman theory that the Pope is needed to ratify the council. It aint so historically, and therefore the Pentarchy theory aint so. That’s why it seems to me that the reception model makes more sense. The Pentarchy can be a pretty good litmus test of reception, but its not the be all and end all, even though you are wanting something with simpler rules.

  11. John,

    I don’t see how what I have offered would license the conclusion that the faith is alterable by said councils.

    And the sees were in foreign lands when the Apostles started them and much worse off. It not like Antioch or Rome were part of Judea or Christian lands. As bad as Muslim persecution is now, it isn’t like Decius or Nero.

    So I don’t see the real problem here.

  12. John,

    I’ve read what they have to say and will provide a response for you below. I have decided to stop interacting with Triablogue for a simple reason. I don’t take Steve Hays to be an honest interlocutor any longer. Steve will never admit when he’s in the wrong theologically even when he’s clearly pegged. Just go search for the post he did “Chicago Overcoat” and look at the comments.

    Now if that isn’t the kind of gymnastics that will win the gold, I don’t know what will.

    There I gave him a test case for Sola Scriptura: The Filioque. Now Steve admits it can’t be justified by Scripture alone and yet he justifies it by an appeal to left over Catholic tradition or a half dozen of other excuses. If you read the exchange its obvious that Steve simply can’t bring himself to admit that his own confessions are inconsistent and teach false doctrine. All he had to say was something like, sure it is wrong and we should remove it. Its clear that he knows it can’t be justified by Sola Scriptura and yet he won’t protest it as an extra-biblical doctrine simply because its part of his own tradition. There’s no point to really dialoging with him any further. Besides, he can never bring himself to talk to others without being condescending and rude. Arguing with Steve is like arguing with a dishonest atheist about bible contradictions. Once you provide good reasons in say ten cases why such and so aren’t contradictions, he’ll just move on to the next, never admitting his error. And he’ll never stop because he has a need to win every argument, which is why Steve can’t concede a discussion. I’ll admit that I am putting Steve on the couch here, but it’s a fairly consistent pattern for anyone who reads him regularly.

    Steve writes “ i) The 5 sees of the pentarchy are Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. What solid evidence do we have, in distinction to self-serving legends, that sees like Alexandria and Constantinople were “founded directly by apostles?”

    This is a question and not an argument. First the same solid evidence we have for the gospels being written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Ireneaus, Papias, etc. Why is it that those aren’t “self serving legends” too I wonder? And using pejorative term like “self serving” doesn’t amount to an argument, its just poisoning the well. As for Constantinople, this was transferred from Ephesus. Perhaps Steve doesn’t think that Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome and Ephesus weren’t founded by an Apostle.If so, then the NT is clearly wrong. Perhaps Steve thinks we have no solid evidence for the Apostles founding any historical churches, but this seems to be the direction his line of reasoning would take him, which is absurd and borders on the kind of reasoning found in atheistical works like The Jesus Myth. As for Alexandria, this is founded by Mark, the disciple of Peter. Perhaps he doesn’t think Mark wrote that Gospel and didn’t get his material from Peter. I do. Perhaps he thinks the account of Mark going to Egypt entirely false or lacking historical value. I don’t and I have know way of knowing how familiar he is with that information until he produces an actual argument.

    Steve writes : “ii) Even if, for the sake of argument, we grant that claim, what about other churches, such as some of the Pauline churches, which were directly founded by apostles?”

    Again, this is a question and not an argument. I don’t deny other churches founded by Paul have apostolic succession, such as Thessaloniki and that they too have great weight. But following Ireneaus and others, the line of reasoning was that the apostolic deposit in those patriarchial churches was the most sure. Steve is free to reject Ireneaus and others in terms of historical data, but then it starts to look like special pleading, just as it did when he was grasping at straws trying to defend the Protestant adherence to the Filioque.

    Steve writes “It’s quite arbitrary to narrow down the list to these five, even if (ex hypothesi) they were directly founded by apostles.”

    Let’s suppose that it is arbitrary. Does this imply that Steve would accept it if we widended it to sees like Thessaloniki? And Steve here simply makes an assertion that it is arbitrary. He provides no argument.

    Steve writes “The only reason to privilege these five sees is because Orthodox tradition confers that distinction on these and only these. But that begs the very question at issue concerning the locus of authority. Invoking Orthodox tradition to ground or identify Orthodox criteria assumes what it needs to prove. Moreover, there are rival criteria (e.g. receptionism).”

    Again, here is more assertion and no argument. And if it were Orthodox tradition, it seems odd that it’s the tradition of churches both within and without Orthodoxy and within and without the historical borders of the Roman Imperium. Why do you think people in India and Persia would have the same idea? Why are those features of “Orthodox tradition” just as widespread and early as the “Orthodox tradition” of the four Gospel writers?

    And second, it doesn’t beg the question any more than appealing to the historical data of the NT is question begging when establishing the authority and inspiration of those texts. 2nd level induction comes to mind, but Steve for some reason thinks that kind of method is fine with the NT but it never occurs to him that the same kind of reasoning, which I have employed is available here. Once we’ve established things like Apostolic Succession by a historical and biblical route, then it isn’t question begging. I framed my point in terms of the context of Orthodox theology. If Steve doesn’t accept those presuppositions, that’s fine, but we already knew that we disagree over things like apostolic succession. So the real disagreement is factual, not logical, as I pointed out above.

    As for there being rival criteria, that by itself isn’t an argument. And I already noted that I reject receptionism and other Orthodox theologians who do and some of the reasons why. Just any kind of receptionism isn’t going to work. It has to be quite specific and it can’t be a singly sufficient condition. This is so even for patriarchial ratification, which is why I never glossed it as a singly sufficient condition.

    Steve writes “iii) Furthermore, even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that these (and only these?) sees were originally founded by apostles, how does pentarchial ratification, centuries after the fact, amount to apostolic ratification? Did the five patriarchs hold a séance to poll the founding apostles? Does Perry think an institution can never stray from its original vision or mandate? Didn’t Jesus teach us that a church can lose its light (Rev 2-3)?”

    Here are more questions, which leads me to think that Steve really hasn’t read the pertinent literature. He’s probing for weaknesses because he doesn’t have the necessary familiarity with the model. He’s too accustomed to jousting with Catholics over the papacy to ever consider any possible tertium quid like some form of conciliarism. I am not sure how mentioning the duration of time is pertinent, unless he thinks that divine gifts come with an expiration date. If Steve could for just a moment imagine how I am thinking of it, instead of how he wishes to argue, he would notice that this is within the context of apostolic succession. It isn’t too hard from there to see how it amounts to apostolic ratification since the episcopate is a continuance of the relevant portions of the apostolic ministry. Asking about séances is pejorative and fallacious. Do Protestants use seer stones or load up on Green Meth Monsters when they have the inner witness of the Spirit about a book being inspired? Again, this shows how fallacious these kinds of remarks are and how unable Steve is to have a respectful dialog about the ideas. He always has to belittle those with whom he disagrees. He has habituated himself into being so.

    As to whether I think that an institution can stray form it mandate in the case of purely humans ones, yes I think this can and does happen. But the church is a special case, even by Protestant lights. Perhaps not by Steve’s more baptistic Protestant lights, but that just shows how far outside the Protestant polis Steve is. I didn’t aim to interact with Steve’s presuppositions about his Nestorianizing division between the earthly and the spiritual in ecclesiology. Steve’s question only has merit on a baptistic and/or Nestorianizing worldview. Here I am not poisoning the well as Steve has on more than one occasion at least wobbled if not rejected the Chalcedonian model of Christ as only a divine person. His objection I recall was that then Jesus wouldn’t and couldn’t have had genuine human experiences which was a classic Nestorian objection. As for the wider Reformed tradition, well just go read Muller’s Christ and the Decree on how the Reformed dissent from Chalcedon. In short, I don’t agree with Steve’s ecclesiaological assumptions and I don’t do so since they are motivated by a defective and sub-Christian Christology. As for institutions straying, would that be like practically all of the Protestant Confessions teaching non-biblical doctrines like the Filioque and yet failing to remove them or protestant against them when they know they are non-biblical? Physician, heal thyself.

    Can a church lose its light as in Rev 2-3? Sure and if Steve understood the model I am proposing, he would know that this has occurred. But also like Peter they can be restored after a fall. I am not putting all of my eggs in one ecclesiastical basket. Does Steve think that they can all lose their light and fall away? That would be a serious problem for my view, as for any Christian view. But I don’t think that is a possibility. If Steve thinks it is, he needs to say so. Otherwise the falling away of this or that particular see or church isn’t a defeater for my view since my view doesn’t rest on the success of any one see. The fact that one could fall away though doesn’t count against my model. Irenaeus gives us a rough and ready criteria for such cases when I have mentioned before and alluded to above. I’d simply recommend Steve the primary source material and then construct an argument if he disagrees rather than asking questions.

    I wrote :“I don’t think it is viciously circular. First, I focused on the conditions for the council to be ecumencial and not to know it is so. That as I stated is a separate problem. Steve is confusing epistemology and metaphysics.”

    Steve wrote: “i) That’s a false dichotomy. The point of trying to isolate and identify the conditions is to have some criteria by which it’s possible to determine which ecumenical councils are ecumenical and which are not. Unless he can identify the conditions is a way that isn’t viciously circular, he can’t use that as a criterion to determine which church councils are ecumenical and which are not.”

    Steve here is begging the question as well as creating a straw man. That may be a subsequent point, but it is not the point I set out to address. The distinction between metaphysical conditions and epistemological conditions is not a false dichotomy. Second, if I do the first, the second is usually much easier. I have already gestured at and alluded to the ways to fulfill the epistemic conditions. Perhaps I’ll write a full post on it later. But the disagreement is factual here in the main. Steve thinks the arguments that he is aware of for apostolic succession are bad ones. I think there are good arguments. And?

    Moreover, even if it were the case that I couldn’t fulfill the epistemic conditions finding out what the metaphysical conditions are isn’t useless. Take for example someone who says we can’t know that there are objective moral values. Therefore there aren’t any. Suppose I show that not only is that a bad argument but what the conditions are for there to be objective moral values and that these conditions are consistent with skepticism. Suppose they reply to the effect that I haven’t shown that there are objective moral values. At that point of the discussion, that is true, but I have shown that skeptical worries don’t motivate moral nihilism or moral relativism. Perhaps there are moral values and we can’t know about them or perhaps its hard to know, but getting clear on what the conditions have to be for there to be such things is a good first step. If this weren’t so, then the “Queer” objection to real and natural moral properties in the debate over moral realism in metaethics would have no purchase, but it does. So Steve’s comments really leave the project that I set out untouched.

    Steve wrote: “ ii) Moreover, he needs to know that the council (2nd Nicea) which laid down these conditions is, itself, ecumenical. If he doesn’t know that, then he can’t invoke this council to authorize the conditions.”

    I am not clear on how exactly we get from Steve’s assertion of what I must do to a demonstration to what I must do. This is a bald assertion. Second, this might be true if I thought that the normativity of those conditions had to be established by an ecumenical council. But I have already stated explicitly that I don’t think they do. Hence Steve’s claim of vicious circularity falls flat. Imputing to me positions that I explicitly deny without demonstration is not a sign of a good dialog partner nor of good reading comprehension. It is a sign of prejudice.

    I wrote: “Further, if God lays down the criteria for knowing when God is speaking, do I need to know it is God giving those criteria for those criteria to be legitimate? No. Things can be what they are without me knowing about it.”

    Steve wrote: “Yes, things can be what they are without our knowing about it. But the question at issue was how to determine the ecumenicity of a church council. What’s the value of an ecumenical council if no one can know whether or not it’s ecumenical?”

    Again, Steve states the question at issue outside of what I stated in my blog post. Steve needs to focus on what I have put forward and not what I haven’t. When I put forward a proposal for the epistemic conditions and how to fulfill them, his questions will be germane then, but not now. So no, that wasn’t the question at issue. We first need to get clear on what the conditions have to be met for a council to BE ecumenical or normative. This post was one in a projected series to help people get clear on the matter so this is just the first step. There are other conditions along this line that need to be discussed before we even get to epistemic concerns.

    I wrote: “If we say yes, then Steve isn’t in any better position with respect to vicious circularity.”

    Steve wrote: “i) So does Perry’s argument boil down to epistemic parity? The Protestant rule of faith isn’t “any better” than the Orthodox rule of faith?”

    This kind of tu quo que is one Steve often uses so I am a bit shocked to find that he objects to it. At worst, Steve would be in the same position with the same problem. If the problem is a problem for me at worst, then it is a problem for him. It is telling that he doesn’t show how exactly this isn’t a problem for Protestantism, which would be the appropriate refutation of the argument. Such a demonstration would show that only my position has the problem of circularity, not his, but he doesn’t do that. Why? Here I think I have shown that the objection therefore that he lodges against Orthodoxy is really a problem for his Protestantism. If this weren’t so, why didn’t Steve just show us how Protestantism escapes the problem?

    Steve wrote: “But the original point of his post was to show that Orthodoxy isn’t vulnerable to the same charge as Protestantism.”

    This is true in so far as it goes, but it doesn’t go as far as Steve wishes to take it. If I specify the conditions for a council to be ecumenical and normative in a way that can bind the conscience, that all by itself is sufficient to show that it isn’t vulnerable to the same charge as Protestantism, especially in light of the fact that at worst on the epistemic front neither Catholics nor Protestants are in any better position.

    Steve wrote: “ii) My own position would only be viciously circular if I were arguing that we can’t have direct knowledge of anything.”

    Let me repeat since he doesn’t seem to get the problem. If God lays down the conditions for knowing when God is speaking, how will having direct knowledge of rocks make this any less circular for a Protestant? Steve doesn’t tell us.

    Secondly, perhaps Steve isn’t a Presuppositionalist, but I bet a fair amount of his readers are. Suppose Steve is. Steve knows what he does by reference to and thru his worldview. How does Steve know that his worldview is true? By reference to his worldview in that no other worldview can fulfill the conditions that his worldview sets out to meet. Making the circle bigger doesn’t make it fail to instantiate the property of circularity. It’s a big big circle. So to wax Quinean, Steve likes bigger circles rather than little ones. So in that sense, there is no direct knowledge of things to have unless Steve wishes to start endorsing things like the myth of the “Given.” Of course, he is free to do so, but then Van Til, Bahnsen and the vast majority of Reformed Apologetics is hopelessly wrong. I think it’s a pretty good argument that forces your opponent to abandon his apologetic strategy in order to make his objection to your view go through.

    I wrote :“Second, he speaks of the criteria being reliable, but reliability isn’t sufficient for knowledge and may not be relevant to it either.”

    Steve wrote: “Which misses the point. At a minimum, reliability is a necessary condition of a criteria. The problem with Perry’s criterion is not merely that it’s insufficient. The problem, rather, is that it fails to even meet a necessary condition. If Perry thinks reliability is an insufficient condition, then how much worse off is an unreliable criterion–such as the one he proposes?”

    No, it doesn’t miss the point. My point was about normativity and not reliability. If Steve can’t even aim at the right conceptual target it’s a good reason to think that he doesn’t understand what is being discussed. Second, reliability isn’t relevant to normative claims but peformative ones. What is normative isn’t constituted by reliability. Something normative isn’t so because more times than not it turns out to be obligatory and so it is obligatory because it turns out to be so more often than not. Steve here makes a category fallacy. Reliability is relevant to questions of performance, if something is operative or functional on most occasions and not whether I am obligated to do something on all relevant occasions since reliability allows for failure on all relevant occasions and normativity doesn’t. My car can be reliable since it starts 8 out of ten times, but we wouldn’t say that my car is obligated to start because it does so most of the time. So things can be reliable without being normative and this goes the other direction. I am obligated to perform certain acts even if I fail to do so on some occasions.

    I wrote :“Third, the issue isn’t knowing really at all, but normativity. So it is not that I’d need to know that the criteria are ‘reliable’ but I’d need to know that they are normative. Normativity outpaces reliability. Steve is confusing apples and oranges.”

    Steve wrote: “i) How can they be normative if they aren’t even reliable?”

    Again, this is a category fallacy. Besides, normativity out paces reliability. And reliability may not even be relevant to knowledge. This is why there was in part a shift from Reliabilism in epistemology to Virtue Epistemology. It seems entirely wrong to me to attach reliability and it semantic riders of functionality and performance to prescriptive claims. X is moral or immoral and not on most relevant occasions but on all on pain of denying moral universalism. Moreover, reliability has to do with not criteria per se, but processes or procedures. So Steve needs to shift from criteria to processes, but that is not what I put forward. Perhaps then if we were to think of some of the criteria as procedures he’d have a point. But we’d need a demonstration of a case where all of the relevant procedures were followed but we got an obviously wrong outcome. I don’t think Steve has done that and I don’t think he can find a non-question begging case. To do so, Steve would need to set out all of the procedures and show that they were jointly insufficient, but I don’t think he knows what they are or where to find them. That’s something he’ll need to remedy to make the kind of argument regarding reliability go through.

    Steve wrote: “ii) In the first sentence he says “the issue isn’t knowing really at all,” but in the second sentence he says he’d “need to know” that they are normative. So in the first sentence he denies that knowing is the issue, but directly on the heels of that denial he tells us in the second sentence that he’d need to know it they’re normative.”

    Steve misunderstands what I wrote. Even if I were to grant that the issue fell under epistemology, it still wouldn’t be about reliability, but normativity. This isn’t hard to see if you read what I wrote with any degree of charity at all. At the least he should have asked for clarification rather than assume I am stupid enough to make an explicit contradiction in two lines.

    Steve wrote: iii) He must also show that Acts 15 was about normativity rather than knowing.”

    This would be true I suppose for someone who either rejects its normativity or collapses ethical conditions into epistemic ones, but neither of those seem plausible routes either for a Christian or for someone with working knowledge of epistemology. It seems to me that a “plain reading” of text indicates that the council settled the matter in a way that was binding on the consciences of all, present or not, dissenting or not (hence no right of private judgment). So it included things to be known but normativity out paces epistemology. I can know about the law without being a normative speaker of the law. The latter entails the former, but the former is clearly not the latter. If Acts 15 wasn’t about giving a normative answer then the sending out of Paul and Barnabas with letters authorizing them would be just plain stupid. Likewise so would the language of “we write” v. 15 as well as joining their judgment with the Holy Spirit.

    I wrote :“Fourth, One problem with his formulation is that he says that “while it takes the criteria to ratify a council.” Well criteria don’t ratify anything, persons using the criteria do.”

    Steve wrote: “Yes, persons who apply criteria to ratify a council. They can’t apply what they don’t have. So it takes criteria in hand to do that. What is Perry’s problem, exactly?”

    If this is so, then Steve’s claim of circularity needs to be accurately rendered. It wasn’t on the one hand he speaks of persons doing X and then of un-operative criteria doing something, the charge of circularity could only go through on that formulation if there I isomorphism between the two statements. There wasn’t. So again, Steve needs to reformulate it at best even if it were about epistemology. I didn’t think I should have to spell that out.

    I wrote : “One of the reasons that what I am doing is not what Steve is alleging is that the principle isn’t first articulated at 2nd Nicea. As I mentioned above, the principle is in play for a long time prior, going back as far as Ireneaus. That’s as early as one could reasonably want.”

    Steve wrote: “Now he’s backpedaling from his original argument. He initially said: “So an ecumenical council accepted by East and West teaches that what constitutes the ecumenical nature of the council is pentarchial ratification, rather than papal ratification.”

    Uhm, no back peddling. What was significant about 2nd Nicea is that it is a locus for this teaching that both accept. If I were to use this or that father for example, it would be possible for a Catholic to dissent and say this father is wrong. But this is not possible with an ecumenical council. This doesn’t imply that the idea wasn’t normative and so taught prior to it. The only real out is attempting to do what Bryan Cross wrote, show that the text doesn’t teach the idea, but we’d need to see the text in full along with other considerations.

    Steve wrote: “Now, however, he’s swapped that out and swapped in “The point of patriarchal ratification is that those sees have been founded directly by the apostles. This goes back as far as Ireneaus and Tertullian.” So he’s ditched the specific criterion of pentarchial ratification for the general criterion of apostolic succession. But even if we accept that principle for the sake of argument, apostolic succession is broader than five (allegedly) apostolic sees. So why would the ratification process be artificially confined to those and only those five?”

    No, I haven’t done that and Steve has again misrepresented my thought. I haven’t backed off of pentarchial ratification. I have only noted that it is legitimate because it captures patriarchial ratification. This is what in part Bryan Cross missed in his remarks to me. This is why arguments about Constantinople not being a see until later bake no bread. I don’t think the pentarchy fell out of the sky. I do think Apostolic authority did. And I do think that patriarchial authority in conjunction with other conditions is a manifestation or actualization of it. That authority establishes pentarchial ratification. One is an extension of the other, so I haven’t ditched anything, Steve has simply failed to grasp what I put forward. I referred to apostolic succession for a few reasons. First because I was challenged on the criteria in terms of normativity. That objection had the wrong target since my point of pointing to 2nd Nicea was to show that here is a normative source that both East and West accept which teaches the idea. It doesn’t follow from that that the idea gained whatever normativity it had there and only there, which is what Steve’s objection needed. Second, the idea is ratification by the episcopate which is why the question of its normativity rests on apostolic succession. Patriarchal ratification is one condition on manifesting that episcopal and apostolic authority.

    Next to ask why would it artificially be limited to these five is poisoning the well as well as question begging, unless of course I said the limitation was artificial, which I didn’t. Steve needs to show that it is artificial and not simply assume it. Second, I gave reasons why in referring to Ireneaus as well as just above.

    I wrote: “I also think that the principle is in play at the Acts 15 council. If it were circular, then it would be circular there, but it isn’t. So the idea of apostolic ratification is part of the doctrine of apostolic succession in principle.”

    Steve wrote: “Notice how far he’s strayed from his original argument. He initially appealed to pentarchical ratification, as promulgated by 2nd Nicea, which is normative because it’s ecumenical, and deemed to be ecumenical because it was (allegedly) accepted by East and West alike (although that was challenged by some commenters).”

    Notice how Steve has constructed a straw man. The original argument was not about how we know a council is ecumenical per se. Nor was the argument about the source of the normativity of those conditions for said councils. The original argument was to show a few things. First the position of Khomiakov isn’t that of the Orthodox Church. Consequently, Catholic (and Protestant) apologetic claims that it is are false. Second, that there is a locus of a condition that both accept. Third that this condition isn’t compatible in any obvious way with the kind of position Khomiakov advances and so not with the Protestant vulnerability since the vulnerability is the same in both cases. Fourth, it seems to be inconsistent with the Catholic idea of papal ratification as over and above the other sees by some non-episcopal power.

    Then Steve says that some commentators say that it isn’t accepted by East and West alike, which if they mean to include Protestants, that’s fine, but I was explicitly speaking of Catholicism and Catholic apologetics. This is why I linked to an example from Catholic Answers. So my claim was true, East and West both accept 2nd Nicea without question.

    Steve wrote: “Now, however, he’s downshifted to the vague principle that a council is ecumenical if it enjoys apostolic ratification via apostolic succession. But how does that solve the problem he originally proposed for himself? Remember what he said: “When I was first seriously considering becoming Orthodox, how the Orthodox understood church authority was an important area to map out. In discussing the matter with Catholics that I knew, they often objected that Orthodox ecclesiology falls prey to the same problems as Protestantism. There was no locus of authority in the offices of the church, but the source of normativity was ultimately to reside in the judgment of the people.”

    Notice how Steve has created a straw man. I didn’t say that a council is ecumenical if it enjoys apostolic ratification via apostolic succession. What I said was that the apostolic authority is in and comes through the episcopate which is then manifested when certain conditions are met. Those conditions include patriarchial ratification which is through pentarchial ratification. So it isn’t by apostolic succession per se. Now somehow to my mind, that kind of model doesn’t seem Protestant. Nor does it seem to obviously fall into the Protestant doctrine of the right of private judgment, any more than the Acts 15 council did when the Apostles made a decision which was binding regardless of whether people dissented from it or not.

    Steve wrote: “So where, according to Perry, do we find the locus of authority? Do we locate that authority (or “normativity”) in the chain of apostolic succession? But is apostolic succession self-locating? Does church history supply a street map for finding that destination? Or does it give us a set of competing street maps with different destinations? Divergent chains of succession, all claiming to be the true chain?

    Here Steve is going scatter shot and hoping something sticks. He hasn’t actually made an argument. Most of what I wrote above addresses it. Is the authority of the NT “self locating” in the order of knowing? Does it need to be? Obviously not. A little mental effort here will give Steve the outlines of how I think of this. Its not hard to do. Here we have Steve’s latest argumentative toy. The argument that apostolic succession (AS) is insufficient since there are many plausible claimants. Part of the problem is that Steve isn’t clear on what AS is. He tends to treat it as tactual succession, a mere physical lineage, but AS includes teaching among other things. If some claimant lost the right teaching, then the succession can be lost too. Consequently, not all claimants are equally plausible, which Steve assumes but never demonstrates. But let’s suppose Steve is right, what follows? Does the truth of Protestantism follow? No. If AS were true but insufficient it would sill falsify Protestantism.

    Take for example the classic theistic proofs. Any first year philosophy text will rattle off various objections to them. The Design argument is insufficient to pick out the Christian God since there might be more than one designer. The Cosmological argument fails to pick out the Christian God since God may not be conscious or good. The Ontological argument fails to pick out the Christian god since God on that argument isn’t necessarily Trinitarian. Suppose they are right. Suppose the design argument picks out at best a deity like Zeus. What purchase does it have for an atheist to make this objection since he is implicitly admitting that it proves some form of theism and falsifies atheism? In the same way, Steve hasn’t shown that AS is false but only insufficient to select a particular tradition claiming it. But that is worthwhile all by itself. If AS is true, at best it only narrows down the choices by eliminating all of Protestantism a viable option. Perhaps there aren’t 33,000 Protestant denominations. Suppose its only say 3,000 or 300. Perhaps its limited to three traditions, the Lutherans, the Reformed and the Anabaptists. If I can eliminate all those three with AS, that seems like progress. Of course I will need other arguments to narrow it down further, but that doesn’t show that AS is false, just how useful it in fact is.

    Steve wrote: “i) Wasn’t the point of invoking 2nd Nicea to narrow down the search parameters? To have a starting-point? A beeline? “
    Yes, within the context of Catholic/Orthodox theological discussion. Your objections are outside of that context, which required me to go beyond what these two traditions accept and give a sketch of the argument leading up to it.

    Steve wrote: “To locate apostolic authority in at least one ecumenical council, as well as the conditions for ecumenicity which that council enunciated–so that he can extrapolate from that particular locus of authority in all the other councils which localize the same principle? But unless he already knows that 2nd Nicea is a locus of authority, how can he use that council to get a fix on the principle?”


    Steve wrote: “ii) And why is he appealing to Tertullian? He doesn’t regard Tertullian as a church father. Indeed, he views Tertullian as a heretic. So why would Tertullian’s word count for anything?”

    I don’t need Tertullian to be a church father to bear witness to Christian teaching, anymore than I need Pliny the Younger to be for him to function in the same way regarding the deity of Christ. Steve also counts Tertullian as a heretic, so why would Steve’s use of Tertullian words against the Orthodox position in the past count for anything?

    I wrote :“In short, the principle is employed previously and hence has normative weight apart from 2nd Nicea and so I reject the first line.”

    Steve wrote: “A principle has normative weight just in case it was previously employed? And how does previous employment ipso facto confer normativity on said principle? If a later Gnostic author employs a principle used by earlier Gnostics, does that make it normative? “

    Now, is that what I said? No. Has Steve misrepresented what I wrote? Yes. I gave the reason why it was normative in terms of previous employment going back to Acts 15, Irenaeus, et al. I didn’t argue on the basis of simply precedent. And of course Steve’s question regarding Gnosticism will depend on the theological principles of Gnosticism. If they aren’t the same, and they aren’t, then the question is based on a false comparison.

    Then David King wrote,

    “The use and rejection of Tertullian at the same time is clearly a double standard. But the testimony of Tertullian during his orthodox period is that churches were being founded in his day that “derive not their founder from apostles or apostolic men.” ANF: Vol. III, The Prescription Against Heretics, Chapter 32.”

    As for David Kings comment, I think he clearly takes the passage out of context.

    The sense of Tertullian remarks are that two tests are requisite and if one cannot be fulfilled since some new church is founded, then the second is to be applied. This in no way though as far as I can see eliminates the first test. This is jus grasping at staws.

    Here are the remarks in their entirety.

    Chapter XXXII.—None of the Heretics Claim Succession from the Apostles. New Churches Still Apostolic, Because Their Faith is that Which the Apostles Taught and Handed Down. The Heretics Challenged to Show Any Apostolic Credentials.

    “But if there be any (heresies) which are bold enough to plant themselves in the midst of the apostolic age, that they may thereby seem to have been handed down by the apostles, because they existed in the time of the apostles, we can say: Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [that first bishop of theirs bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men,—a man, moreover, who continued stedfast with the apostles. For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter. In exactly the same way the other churches likewise exhibit (their several worthies), whom, as having been appointed to their episcopal places by apostles, they regard as transmitters of the apostolic seed. Let the heretics contrive something of the same kind. For after their blasphemy, what is there that is unlawful for them (to attempt)? But should they even effect the contrivance, they will not advance a step. For their very doctrine, after comparison with that of the apostles, will declare, by its own diversity and contrariety, that it had for its author neither an apostle nor an apostolic man; because, as the apostles would never have taught things which were self-contradictory, so the apostolic men would not have inculcated teaching different from the apostles, unless they who received their instruction from the apostles went and preached in a contrary manner. To this test, therefore will they be submitted for proof by those churches, who, although they derive not their founder from apostles or apostolic men (as being of much later date, for they are in fact being founded daily), yet, since they agree in the same faith, they are accounted as not less apostolic because they are akin in doctrine. Then let all the heresies, when challenged to these two tests by our apostolic church, offer their proof of how they deem themselves to be apostolic. But in truth they neither are so, nor are they able to prove themselves to be what they are not. Nor are they admitted to peaceful relations and communion by such churches as are in any way connected with apostles, inasmuch as they are in no sense themselves apostolic because of their diversity as to the mysteries of the faith.”

    Now John, I have taken the better part of my morning to write almost ten pages of text and what will be the result? Will Steve ever admit a single point even when its clear that he’s wrong? No and he’ll produce ten more pages of insults, condescension and straw men. I think an intelligent and fair minded person can judge for themselves which is why I am content to leave a discussion to Steve. I am willing to answer objections that I think fair minded people have here and elsewhere, but I no longer think Steve is that kind of person. So what’s the point? It is a waste of time. I am content to tell people to read the scholarly literature and see for themselves.

  13. John says:

    Triablogue are at it again, and I’m afraid they’ve again made some good points.

    In my opinion, you can’t have an ecumenical council today unless Moscow signs off on it. How that fits in with your Pentarchy theory or apostolic see theory, I don’t know. But it seems to me, the faith is what it is, even if all 5 sees of the Pentarchy should disappear. And in fact, the 4 remaining Orthodox sees are only shadows of what they once were in regards to their home city. They are mostly Patriarchs of foreign lands now.

  14. Brian,
    On your reading pentarchial ratification isn’t a necessary condition. You also don’t think it is a sufficient condition. So I am a little confused when you write,

    “I think my reading of 2nd Nicea Session 6 is compatible with acceptance by the pentarchy as evidence that a council is ecumenical.”

    Do you think that papal ratification is a necessary or sufficient condition?

    As for Roman understanding, the people in Constantinople were also Roman so here I think you mean papal. In any case, if we aren’t permitted to look at later understanding to clarify then this seems to cut against the idea of development of doctrine. Second, I was appealing to both earlier and later invocation of the principle not for clarification so much as to show continuity.

    You construct arguments against pentarchial ratification being a sufficient or necessary condition. But I didn’t argue that it was either. In fact I denied that it was, so you are arguing against a position I did not advance. This is why your claims regarding the papally revoked 869 council as well as Nicea, Constantinople I and Chalcedon bake no bread. Rome wasn’t a patriarchate when Peter was in Antioch or Jerusalem so does that imply that Roman ratification which only became a patriarchate later and a seat of Petrine successionm, isn’t necessary or sufficient either? That’s rather absurd. Please look over my comments as to how I have glossed the matter and the exact idea I am advancing.

    If a council can be ecumenical without all of the patriarchates ratifying it, then it is logically possible for a council to be ecumenical without Rome doing so. Unless of course you are presupposing the truth of papal claims from the get-go. But of course if you are licensed to so so, then I am entirely licensed not to.

    Also, as I asked previously, where are you accessing the text 2nd Nicea?

  15. Bryan Cross says:


    I think my reading of 2nd Nicea Session 6 is compatible with acceptance by the pentarchy as evidence that a council is ecumenical. If I appealed to later Roman understanding of Lyon and 880, to interpret Nicea II, you would probably think that is question-begging. So later Orthodox understanding of 880 and Lyon doesn’t, in my opinion, show that my interpretation of 2nd Nicea Session 6 is wrong. If pentarchial ratification were ipso facto sufficient, that would entail that 869 was ecumenical. So pentarchial ratification can’t, from an Orthodox point of view, be sufficient. Nor, given Nicea I and Chalcedon, can pentarchial ratification be necessary, since Constantanople wasn’t even a patriarchate at that time, and Alexandria rejected Chalcedon. So if pentarchial ratification is neither strictly speaking necessary nor sufficient, then the ‘softer’ sort of reading of 2 Nicea Session 6 I gave in my previous comment seems to be entailed.

    Though on your reading it would imply that if Rome did not approve, since Rome is one of the five, then the council can still be ecumenical,

    That conclusion does not follow from what I said. The non-necessity of pentarchial ratification does not entail the non-necessity of ratification by Rome.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  16. Bryan,

    I don’t think that is correct. First because it was one of the reasons why Lyon was rejected and the 880 council was accepted. Second, it was one of the reasons given for not accepting monothelitism earlier.

    Though on your reading it would imply that if Rome did not approve, since Rome is one of the five, then the council can still be ecumenical, but I don’t think that would be a conclusion you would wish to endorse.

    Why would rejection of the synod by the presidents be problematic unless their participation was a necessary condition?

    Also, where are you looking at the text?

  17. Bryan Cross says:


    I have to take issue with Chadwick’s interpretation of Session Six of Nicea II. I don’t see Session Six teaching that pentarchial ratification is a necessary condition for an ecumenical council. Laying out the strict necessary conditions for an ecumenical council doesn’t seem to be what the Sixth session’s “refutation” (of the Council of 754) had in mind. The “refutation” seems instead to be using the rejection (of the Council of 754) by the “Presidents of the other Churches” as one more piece of evidence that the Iconclastic Council was “spoken in secret, privately”, because these Presidents wouldn’t have rejected it if they had been included in it. Pointing to their rejection is intended to show that they weren’t included; it doesn’t seem to be intended to show that their ratification is a necessary condition for an ecumenical council. The refutation does not seem to be saying that if one of the five does not approve, then ipso facto it is not an ecumenical council. In my opinion, that would be reading far more into the document than what it actually says.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  18. Matthew Y,

    Universal consensus seems far too vague to function as a real possibility. This is why I prefer to nail it down to patriarchial ratification. That is something defined and concrete. Here I do not mean ecumenical in terms of imperial law, but in terms of the theology of the church.

  19. John,

    Sorry for the delay. I’ve had some personal problems to attend to. (Clogged main sewer line, roof problems, etc.)

    First, I didn’t claim to give an exhaustive definition of necessary and sufficient conditions. In fact I stated otherwise. I pointed to 2nd Nicea because it is a council that Catholics and Orthodox both accept. Regardless of whichever way one reads this, both have to make sense of it one way or another. It is one of the few places where such conditions are discussed at length.

    As for Steve’s criticism, saying that you find an appeal to 2nd Nicea inadequate isn’t an argument, so I’d suggest giving an argument as to why you think it is so rather than posting biographical information.

    The point of patriarchal ratification is that those sees have been founded directly by the apostles. This goes back as far as Ireneaus and Tertullian. Acts 15 seems to fit the conceptual criteria since the apostles ratified the council in Acts 15, which is what patriarchial ratification is getting at. So it doesn’t fail to meet the criteria.

    I don’t think it is viciously circular. First, I focused on the conditions for the council to be ecumencial and not to know it is so. That as I stated is a separate problem. Steve is confusing epistemology and metaphysics. Further, if God lays down the criteria for knowing when God is speaking, do I need to know it is God giving those criteria for those criteria to be legitimate? No. Things can be what they are without me knowing about it. If we say yes, then Steve isn’t in any better position with respect to vicious circularity.

    Second, he speaks of the criteria being reliable, but reliability isn’t sufficient for knowledge and may not be relevant to it either.

    Third, the issue isn’t knowing really at all, but normativity. So it is not that I’d need to know that the criteria are “reliable” but I’d need to know that they are normative. Normativity outpaces reliability. Steve is confusing apples and oranges.

    Fourth, One problem with his formulation is that he says that “while it take [sic] the criteria to ratify a council.” Well criteria don’t ratify anything, persons using the criteria do.

    The circularity formulation then would look something like the following,

    For the criteria to be normative, 2nd Nicea would need to be ecumenical and hence normative.

    But for 2nd Nicea to be ecumenical, the criteria need to be normative.

    Conditions have to be promulgated by an ecumenical council to be normative.
    A Council has to be ecumenical and normative to promulgate them.

    One of the reasons that what I am doing is not what Steve is alleging is that the principle isn’t first articulated at 2nd Nicea. As I mentioned above, the principle is in play for a long time prior, going back as far as Ireneaus. That’s as early as one could reasonably want. I also think that the principle is in play at the Acts 15 council. If it were circular, then it would be circular there, but it isn’t. So the idea of apostolic ratification is part of the doctrine of apostolic succession in principle. Steve and others are free to reject this doctrine, but then we have moved from a logical claim to a factual and theological one. It isn’t about circularity any more.

    In short, the principle is employed previously and hence has normative weight apart from 2nd Nicea and so I reject the first line. This is why it isn’t circular in the way Steve suggests. What is important about 2nd Nicea is a few things. First, it’s a later council. And yet, we don’t find the sine qua non to be papal ratification or the idea of a supreme power of the pope as to what makes a council ecumenical and normative. If the papacy were clearly known like other supposedly developed doctrines like the Trinity, we wouldn’t expect an ecumenical council this late accepted by both Catholics and Orthodox to say what it does. That is, there is sufficient time for :development” for the papacy and yet the council fathers do not give it or any hint of it as layed out in Pastor Aeternus or other Catholic documents.

    Often the Orthodox are chided for having no clear principles for councils to be ecumenical, but here we have one and one accepted by Catholics and Orthodox alike and it seems at odds with Catholic theology.

  20. Berenike,

    This is a bit off topic, but I’ll take your comment. I didn’t claim that it was official Catholic teaching. The magisterium hasn’t defined that issue one way or another. The’ve held off from saying she died. The reason why they haven’t done so is because death is a product of libido. If Mary died a natural death then she had original sin and original guilt. The problem with this is that the *tradition* is fairly universal in saying she died and so what Jugie and others had to do was to try to dismiss the tradition as “myths.” Also, the idea that she died is inconsistent with the idea of an immaculate conception and this explains why they had to move in that direction, the direction of denying the tradition.

  21. Matthew Yocum says:

    I stumbled upon this blog yesterday and Iike what I see. I did not really understand the flow of the comments because they are using a few terms that I am not familiar with and I don’t have time to carefully read them because of finals.

    Was your conclusion that eccumenical councils are only valid if they are accepted by all five Sees and not by universal consenus?


  22. Aglaios says:

    I always have a very simple response to my Roman friends that hurl the line of “Protestant divisiveness” in the direction of Orthodoxy. I tell them something like: “Pick up a phone book, and look up and attend 10 of the nearest random Roman Catholic parishes; then find and attend 10 of the nearest Orthodox parishes… then come back and tell me where you saw true unity and sameness of faith, practice and worship.”

    All they can do after such a comment is look down to the ground with little response… for they already know that most of the 10 nearest Roman parishes are drum-banging charismatic “church in the round” Novus Ordo hippi parishes, or some variation of 1960’s pop-Catholicism. They also already know that in the few Orthodox parishes they’ve ever stepped foot in, they saw pristine and beautiful heavenly worship.

    For example, compare two major religious events that took place near in time over a year ago: 1. World Youth Day in Sydney and the Pope’s mass at the end.
    2. The pan-Orthodox ‘Baptism of Russ’ anniversary celebrations in Kiev where the Patriarchs Bartholomew and Alexey con-celebrated with multiple hierarchs from around the world.

    Go find pics and video of each, and then ask the question… which side is truly under the influence of Protestantism.

  23. berenike says:

    [re perpetual virginity of Our Lady post, Perry, you said somewhere that the Catholic teaching is that Our Lady didn’t die. There’s no consensus on this, in fact. If you look at Munificentissimus Deus, for example, you’ll see that it’s phrased to avoid saying anything on the subject.


    a passerb-by]

  24. Perhaps we should make a distinction between the rank of a council whether it is Ecumenical or local and whether it is an Orthodox Council.

    I understand that it is Ecumenical because the Emperor called the Council for it to determine the faith of the Empire and symbolically for the world. This Council would ideally but not necessarily consist of representatives from all the churches and primarily from the five Patriarchs. It is Ecumenical immediately that the Emperor signs it into Law but this does not mean that it is orthodox. Thus, we can have a unorthodox ecumenical council.

    Whether it is Orthodox is another matter and this depends on whether it is of God, i.e. inspired by the Holy Spirit. If so then the holy people of God, who have the Holy Spirit, will recognise it being from God and if it is not then the holy people will reject as false and seek to have it officially rejected. This happens with God’s help and within a fairly short space of time an Orthodox Council overturns the unorthodox Council, whereas Orthodox Councils stand the test of time. This is largely a matter of faith. Orthodox Councils are binding on all because they are from God. That is why the local councils, and even single Bishops, recognised by the Ecumenical Councils are also binding on the Church but they are not ecumenical councils because they were not called as such or lacked church-wide representation. The ecumenical council testifies that the local council indeed represents the faith and practice of the whole church and not only a local custom. Any these are my thoughts.

  25. Thomas says:

    The objection that Orthodox ecclesiology is subject to the same problems as Protestant Christianity because there is no ultimate source of authority in the hierarchy of the Church, overlooks one extremely important difference: Protestant Christianity is based on individualism; Orthodox Christianity is quite communal in character.

    The term ‘sobornost’ is a good descriptor for the communal nature of Orthodoxy, but the word cannot be rendered as simply ‘catholic’ — its meaning is much, much richer.

  26. Perry wrote “There is no council that I know of, even the Apostolic council in Acts 15 that didn’t result in some measure of dissent.”

    IIRC, the council decided against eating things sacrificed to idols vv 28-29. Paul didn’t seem to agree with that being a real issue (1 Cor 8).

  27. Dr Tighe,

    Suppose there is nothing to nuance the facts you present. We are still left with an ecumenical council that requires patriachial ratifiation. So I am not sure how any of the above removes that fact.

  28. William Tighe says:

    Oh, and I might add that the 381 council wasn’t even a fully “eastern” council, as only bishops from the area running from Constantinople to Antioch were bidden to it. Patriarch Timothy of Alexandria turned up with some of his bishops after it began, but that was to pursue his vendetta against St. Gregory of Nazianzus, and they left after their attacks on his were rejected. In fact, it appears that the Patriarchate of Alexandria, both the Orthodox one and the “non-Chalcedonian” one (which seem only to have emerged as separate entities in the 560s) did not accept the “ecumenicity” of Constantinople I until a tsome point durning the Seventh Century.

    There were western councils in Rome in 381 and 382. I understand that one of these (I can’t remember which one; perhaps both) accepted the creed formulated at Constantinople in 381, but rejected the canons of that council, particularly as regards the standing of Constantinople as a see.

  29. William Tighe says:

    Rome appears to have recognized the 381 Council of Constantinople as ecumenical only in 534, and that in a rather offhanded manner. Previous Popes, such as Leo, Gelasius and Hormisdas had insisted that there were three and only three councils which were universally binding, Nicaea, Ephesus and Chalcedon.

    This is discussed in some detail in the relevant section of *The Church and the Papacy* (1944) by Trevor Gervase Jalland, an English Anglican church historian. The author seems to strive for scrupulous accuracy, although rather clearly he is well disposed to the papacy, at least durning the first milennium, and ill-disposed to post-Constantinian Eastern “symphonia.” His conclusion, giving his own judgment on the “papal claims” in the last few pages of the book, is, by contrast, rather unclear and even evasive.

  30. Thomas says:

    If the question is /when/ did an Ecumenical (Imperial) Synod become the official teaching of the Church, then Constantinople I /is/ problematic because it did not receive official approval from Old Rome, Antioch, or Alexandria. Approval of a later Synod which favourably cites a previous synod doesn’t help.

    I cannot think of a formula that can pinpoint /when/ an Ecumenical Synod became the official teaching of the Church that explains all the synods called by the Empire. There are too many variations. I suspect some form of ‘reception-ism’ would be required, but that would be as undefined as papal ‘infallibility’ is for the Latins.

  31. Tap says:


    “Then how do you explain Constantinople I which never received official approval in the West (by the Roman pope)? ”

    Anyways, It would seem also that the Pope did “sign off” on Constantinople I even, albeit indirectly. I mean when he signed off on the Chalcedonian decrees/canons (along with its affirmations of Constantinople I). The problem of This really isn’t a problem for Catholics.

    The abstract phenomenon thesis by Fr. Andrew (bless his heart) doesn’t fly.

  32. Perry wrote “The relevant thought experiment would be to consider the council in Acts 15.”

    Yes it would be interesting – a good thread, perhaps.

  33. ZSDP says:

    Though I love talking about dreams coming true, I’m pretty sure my wife is off the topic of this post.

  34. A real ideal, is that like a dream come true? 😉

  35. ZSDP says:

    Andrea –

    I’m not sure I understand the confusion. He wasn’t defending “ideal objects rather than real or particular” ones—he was defending real ideal objects. An essence is, to put it crudely, a particular real ideal object. Before I go any further, am I heading the right direction?

    Also, I certainly don’t mean to say that any Orthodox group has condemned calling the Church the Body. (That sure would make reading the Bible a little awkward!) The Russian synod’s condemnation (here I am thinking of sophiology in general, and Bulgakov in particular) was meant to pick out something rather precise, something which chose Organism over and against all other images of the Church delivered by Tradition.

  36. Hello Z,

    I didn’t catch that he was defending ideal objects rather than real or particular(?) objects. Are you saying that you believe “they are, however, really existing ideal objects”?

    I realize that there is a chain of the history of ideas, but to me “organism” and “body” are how Orthodox frequently describe the Church, so that distinction was lost on me. I’ll probably get to reading Solovyov before I get to reading Schelling.

    The underling faithful can’t rationalize their way into true teaching, but it does seem they are capable of experiencing a disruption when an erring Bishop tries to pass off wrong teaching, which is how I understand that iconoclasm and monothelitism, for examples, were defeated.

  37. ZSDP says:

    Perry –

    Of course I am.


  38. Jnorm,

    If i thought it was workable I would entertain it, but received by whom? What constitutes reception? And what kind of authority is required? And how could it possibly escape an infinite regress?

  39. Thomas,

    To clarify I am speaking of ecumenical in terms of being the teaching of the church. Whether this is co-extensive with imperial law at all times and points isn’t germane as I don’t think the imperium was the source of teaching or infallible. So I freely grant that there were imperially convoked and ratified councils that failed to be ecumenical in the theological sense that I am picking out or at least attempting to pick out.

    As for the Synod of Bandits of Ephesus and other examples I think there are clear reasons for rejecting them. I am not claiming that pentarchal ratification is a single sufficient condition. It could be a jointly sufficient condition. If that is so, then if the Bandit Synod failed in other respects then that would explain why it was not theologically normative. The same goes for Hieria. I do in fact think that those other conditions were not met or violated and I don’t think it is hard to show that this is so.

    What is significant that I tried to direct readers toward was the fact that first, here is an ecumenical council that spells out the conditions, at least some of the necessary conditions and it is incumbent on both Catholics and Orthodox to adhere to those judgments. I have yet to see a sustained discussion of these conditions as articulate at 2nd Nicea by Catholic theologians and how they are harmonized with Catholic theology regarding papal ratification. This doesn’t mean there isn’t one. I just haven’t seen it yet, which is just to say that I haven’t read everything.

    Now if Rome adheres to it, then there is a prima facia problem or so it seems to me since Rome has had lots of councils without pentarchal ratification. And it isn’t open to simply say that those sees aren’t in communion with Rome and don’t have valid orders. First because Rome separates the validity of orders from the question of being in communion with the Roman see. Secondly, there are a handful of counter examples where persons were not in communion with Rome but participated in ecumenical councils that Rome participated in and accepted as such.

    Whatever problems 2nd Nicea presents for the Orthodox it presents problems for Catholicism as well. It would be worthwhile to discuss them in both contexts because both sides are bound by it.

  40. ZSDP,

    You’re right about Schelling.

  41. ZSDP says:

    Andrea –

    Realism and idealism are not always diametrically opposed in philosophers’ thought. Essences and Forms are, for Aristotle and Plato, real. They are, however, really existing ideal (i.e. intellectual, not physical) objects.

    The article you quote from should make Solovyev’s Idealism clear in two ways. First, he is defending the existence of ideal objects against the positivists, who are famous for denying the real existence of ideal objects. Second, his defense rests on the theory of noumena (ideal objects) and phenomena (their sensible manifestations), which is German Idealism’s (especially Kant’s) bread and butter.

    Furthermore, it is pretty clear that Solovyev’s (and Bulgakov’s) sophiology is heavily indebted to Schelling’s Naturphilosophie, which is, again, a fairly important moment in German Idealism. It is this sophiological influence (which really finds its origins in a reading of Spinoza’s Ethics that glosses “God” as “Nature”) that led to viewing the Church as an Organism. To make a long story short, this ecclesiological view was rejected as the bastard offspring of sophiology. Or so I would assume.

  42. ZSDP says:

    Andrea –

    Realism and idealism are not always diametrically opposed in philosophers’ thought. Essences and Forms are, for Aristotle and Plato, real. They are, however, really existing ideal (i.e. intellectual, not physical) objects.

    The article you quote from should make Solovyev’s Idealism clear in two ways. First, he is defending the existence of ideal objects against the positivists, who are famous for denying the real existence of ideal objects. Second, his defense rests on the theory of noumena (ideal objects) and phenomena (their sensible manifestations), which is German Idealism’s (especially Kant’s) bread and butter.

    Furthermore, it is pretty clear that Solovyev’s (and Bulgakov’s) sophiology is heavily indebted to Schelling’s Naturphilosophie, which is, again, a fairly important moment in German Idealism.

  43. jnorm888 says:


    What about a combination of the two views?

    A combination of “Pentarchial ratification” and “Receptionism”.

    I think Receptionism has it’s strengths and so, to toss it out the window completely would be unwise.


  44. Very interesting discussion.

    I’m not sure how Solovyov is characterized as an Idealist. According to Wikipedia (which doesn’t have as much to say about Khomiakov),

    “What prompted this radical change (returning to Orthodoxy) appears to be Solovyov’s (who may have inspired Dostoevsky’s Alyosha and Ivan in The Brothers Karamazov) disapproval of the Positivist movement.[2] In Solovyov’s The Crisis of Western Philosophy: Against the Positivists, he attempted to discredit the Positivists’ rejection of Aristotle’s essentialism or philosophical realism. In Against the Postivists, Solovyov took the position of intuitive noetic comprehension, noesis or insight stating consciousness, in being is integral (Russian term being sobornost) and has to have both phenomenon (validated by dianonia) and noumenon validated intuitively.[2] Positivism according to Solovyov only validates the phenomenon of an object denying the intuitive reality people experience as part of their consciousness.[2] Vladimir Solovyov was also known to be a very close friend and confidant of Fyodor Dostoevsky.”

    Realism is supposed to be the opposite of Idealism, so I don’t see how Solovyov can be pinned with that.

    Perry: “So the idea is that a council can only be ecumenical if the “whole church” assents to it. This is obviously problematic since no council could ever meet such conditions where every professing Christian agreed.”

    “Whole Church” probably needs to be defined. All of the baptized, or as Romanides describes, those purified or at least being purified?

    One of the ideas about sobornost, according to Wikipedia (forgive me), is,“Nikolai Lossky for example uses the term to explain what motive would be behind people working together for a common, historical or social goal, rather than pursuing the goal individualistically.”

    This points to unity being achieved by unselfishness, and I would add a commitment to the truth, which God has promised to reveal to His Church.

    Quote of Protopresbyter Winogradow: “Their whole training was entirely philosophical and generally humanistic, certainly not theological. The strictly theological methods of theological research were foreign and unknown to them.”

    I wonder if this has to be so dialectically stated. Istm that such an opposition between human nature and divine nature isn’t necessary. I am interested in the idea of sobornost as pertaining to the common image of God in everyone: peasant, monarch or Bishop. Intuitive understanding of the ontological truth in beings who are enlivened by the energies of God cannot be dismissed, even though sin (of monarchs, peasants and Bishops) tends to obscure it.

    Perry: “Pinpointing some of the problematic matter of Khomiakov, Harkianakis following Romanides, that it was the Idealistic view of the church as an organism to the exclusion of the idea of the church as the bringer of salvation that served to motivate Khomiakov’s erroneous ecclesiological views.”

    Again I don’t understand the dialectical opposition between “the church as an organism” or body and “bringer of salvation”.

  45. trvalentine says:


    How does one demonstrate that Nicaea I — or any other imperial synod — did not become the official teaching of the Church immediately upon promulgation?

    I’ve already given examples of imperial synods (whose decisions were made the law of the empire) which were later overturned. How do you explain Ephesus II (in 449) or Hieria (in 754) as not being official teaching of the Church even though they were the law of the empire? Because they weren’t accepted in the West (by the Roman pope)? Then how do you explain Constantinople I which never received official approval in the West (by the Roman pope)?

    I think Fr Andrew is correct, the acceptance of a particular synod as official teaching of the Church is ‘a phenomenon which seems to resist any such codifications.’


  46. Thomas,

    Suppose he does claim it. Its a claim, not a demonstration. We need the latter and not the former.

  47. trvalentine says:

    I just came across an interesting statement by (Hieromonk, IIRC) Alexander Golitzin in ‘The Vision of God and the Form of Glory: More Reflections on the Anthropomorphic Controversy of AD 399’ which is particularly germane (CAPS added):

    [begin quote]
    The Anthropomorphic Controversy was played out against the background of the most important doctrinal development of the fourth century: the debate over the Nicene /homoousion/ and the latter’s emergence at CENTURY’S END as the OFFICIAL TEACHING of the imperial church.
    [end quote]

    ISTM Fr Alexander is saying that Nicaea I took several decades to *emerge* as the official teaching of the Church, i.e. it wasn’t official in 325.


  48. John says:

    I’d have to say that the Triablogue criticism of this is quite fair, and I’m normally a big critic of Triablogue. Appealing to 2nd Nicea is a woefully inadequate apologetic by itself.

  49. Craig,

    Even earlier if you read Plotinus’ Enneads where he discusses the procession of Psuche from the One and Nous jointly. 😉

    In any case let’s try all to stay somewhere near the topic of the post.

    Thanks for your support.

  50. Craig says:

    I just wanted to point out that the filioque was known as early as the year 410 in Persia.

  51. Lucian says:

    Well, … it pretty much seems like such a non-issue, particularly since Orthodoxy is a revealed faith; a given. It basically all boils down to these three: antiquity, universality, and consensus: in other words, the expression of the cohesion of the mind of the church throughout space and time.

    Arius’ teachings, at his time, constituted an easily-observable theological novum: a very tempting one, to be sure, but a novum nonetheless. It was also very interesting to see that the only five bishops of Arian persuasion attending Niceea had one thing in common: they were all the pupils of one man: my namesake: so Arianism was a local and new teaching: hardly something ancient and universal.

    Monophysites and Nestorians are all Semites: there’s no distinction in their [kindred] languages between two diferent concepts: person and nature; they use the same word to denote both terms. — hence why there was no such heresy in the Latin-speaking West or in the Greek-speaking East. (Parshapa was borrowed from the Greek prosopon; it’s not a native word). — Again, we have a local, culturally-determined oddity or peculiarity: not something universal. (Nestorinism is even more local, since its teachings can be traced back to one man, and one man alone: Theodore of Mopsuestia).

    But the Latin-speaking West had its own linguistical issue: *it* used, in its turn, one and the same word for two entirely-different concepts: the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father AND His sending into the world by the Son. — hence why neither the Greek-speaking East, nor the Semitic Orient, had any knowledge of such a [local and Western] teaching as the Filioque.

    I guess that will have to suffice for now.

    So in the case of Monophysism and Nestorianism, it’s two against one; and in the case of the Filioque we have once more the same ratio: two to one.

  52. xpusostomos says:

    What is the exact quote saying that the pentarchy is the criteria?

    Didn’t Alexandra break away in one of the councils resulting in the Coptic church, requiring the “Greek” patriarchate to be reconstructed? I’d like to see the situation laid out for all 7 councils before I could think about entertaining this theory.

    Councils were signed into imperial law immediately? Seems irrelevant to me. If the emperor signs something into law, that is just him as a private Christian exercising his right to receive a particular teaching. Obviously the theory of reception does not advocate that everybody wait for everybody else to make up their mind, or else nobody would ever make up their mind!

    Receptionism is no less legalistic? Only if you want try to micro-analyse it. As far as I see it is the most anti-legalistic, precisely because it defies micro-analysis.

  53. trvalentine says:


    Are making a distinction between ‘ecumenical’ and ‘accepted’ in the sense of qualifying as official Church teaching?

    If being official in the eyes of the empire is all that is meant by ‘ecumenical’ then we have several synods which are ecumenical but not accepted.

    I think history demonstrates that Nicaea I was not widely accepted at first.

    Ephesus I = 431, Ephesus II = 449

    Constantinople I runs into big problems if you think simple invitation to all sufficient. Not only was the West not present, it was unknown to many *Eastern* bishops present at Chalcedon before it was raised in discussion.

    I think you misunderstand my comments about the Roman pope (as opposed to the Alexandrian pope!). Since Old Rome was the only Apostolic See in the West, I read your requirement for acceptance by the West as the equivalent of acceptance by the Roman pope. Is there some way you envision a synod could have been accepted in the West apart from the Roman pope?

    I don’t think it possible to produce a list of criteria as to what makes a particular synod ‘official’ Church teaching and have it apply to all the synods. Heck, there is disagreement today within Orthodoxy regarding an Eighth and Ninth Ecumenical Synod!


  54. Basil says:

    I see. Well, all you really need for that claim is to quote all the authors who remind us that there is no official teaching on the subject.

  55. Kevin,

    I can understand how the argument can seem ad hominem, but it isn’t. I am not claiming the idea as such is false. What I am claiming is that the claim that the idea is THE Orthodox view is false. As such the texts I cited support that claim. I think there are other reasons, reasons given in those sources and the Fathers and councils of the Church for thinking that materially speaking, the idea is false. But I don’t need to do that to show that it isn’t some official teaching of Orthodoxy.

  56. Fr. Andrew,

    Needless to say, I am not a “receptionist.”

    How we know which councils are normative turns on what makes them so. I need to have in hand the conditions for it to BE such and so before I can go out and find out if it is such and so. Consequently the fundamental issue is what are the conditions for it to BE ecumenical or normative. Fulfilling the conditions on knowledge then is a separate question, which I don’t think requires any more difficulty in meeting conditions than any other epistemological claim.

    2. I think people in general have a need to know. What they do though is mistake infallibly knowing or having a specific psychological disposition with knowing. Certainty is a psychological disposition which is neither necessary nor sufficient for knowledge. Geocentrists 2,500 years ago were certain and were wrong and hence didn’t know what they thought they did.

    I think the more important mistake is not in wanting an absolute authority, since God is, but rather that they think that having one reduces to having one person that counts as that authority. I don’t see why normative entails only one person who’s statements are such.

    I think there is a way to know for sure, just like I think there is a way to know that Protestantism is false or Catholicism is. I don’t claim that it is easy, but difficulty and achievability are two different things.

    You are correct regarding the church being Orthodox prior to 325. It was Catholic in A.D. 33 in the upper room with a handful of Jews. Catholic has nothing to do with how many continents one is on.

  57. Basil says:

    I cannot comment on whether this concept, in fact, originates with Khomiakov. Nor can I comment on every thinker since Khomiakov who has espoused similar perspectives.

    This argumentum is ad hominem. It makes no case whatsoever against the idea itself; it can only conclude that Khomiakov was not trained in the ways of doing theology that were current in 19th century Russia. Whether those methods were the best is a question that has occupied Orthodox thinkers (particularly in the Slavic tradition) for most of the twentieth century. Certainly, the Paris school thought not. They considered them to be too imitative of the Scholastic philosophy of Roman Catholicism. Bulgakov, Florovsky, Schmemann, and Meyendorff, etc., are not the only Orthodox tradition in the twentieth century, but they have influenced many of those who came after them. Not everyone thinks they are the best representatives of Orthodox theology, but many do.

    My point is that an idea cannot be discredited by prooftexting the opponents of its purported originator.

  58. Thomas,

    I don’t think that’s exactly what I had in mind. I don’t deny that there can be or has been a measure of reception on the part of the people. I deny that it’s a sufficient condition or the backstop for a council being ecumenical. It isn’t. It never was.

    I think the extent of the council was determined by the Episcopal sees invited and represented. An open call seems significant in the patristic literature. Constantinople was normative in the East but not in the West for a while till the west accepted it at a later date. It became ecumenical at that point, though it wasn’t lacking normative force in the East prior to that point. That seems to explain best the data regarding its status and reception.

    ITSM that Nicea was accepted at the time, but that for a long time people found ways to try and over throw it. It was ratified by all the requisite sees. 2nd Nicea seems to think it was normative from the time the ink was drying.

    I am not clear on what you are referring to by Ephesus I and II. Can you clarify?

    I am not concerned with acceptance outside of a certain scope since it obviously isn’t adequate at the level of each and every person. What seems canonically and historically to be important is invited sees participating, how they did so and then ratifying it. Contention afterwards isn’t sufficient to imply that the conditions for the council to be ecumenical and normative weren’t met. It might imply that one would have trouble knowing it, but that is a separate question. For my part, I don’t think the arguments that one couldn’t know it are good ones either. I don’t need to infallibly to know in order to know. I just need to know.

    As for the Pope, as recognized by the bishops of my jurisdiction, the Pope will *resume* his place as first among equals when and if he becomes a member of the church again. His ratification then will be significant and not before. So when I speak of papal ratification I am either speaking in terms of pre-schism history or in terms of contemporary Catholic claims.

    The relevant thought experiment would be to consider the council in Acts 15. Was it normative even though Judiazer’s dissented from it? Yes. It can be normative even if it is not recognized as such by certain individuals.

  59. Fr. Andrew says:


    It seems to me that receptionism is no less legalistic, though (like papal infallibility) it’s so slippery that it’s useless in actual practice. It’s still an attempt to provide a rational formula for a phenomenon which seems to resist any such codifications.

    I think Romanides’s main point is simply that the synods themselves had no idea that they had to be “received” before they were binding. That the emperor signed them did not make them trustworthy, but his signature (and that of the assembled fathers) certainly was an indication that they understood their decisions to be immediately in force.

  60. trvalentine says:

    Fr Andrew,

    The problem with what strikes me as a more legalistic look at the synods is that Ephesus II was enshrined as imperial law but is now rejected. Heck, if not for a (horse) riding accident, it would have been more than a couple of years before a subsequent synod was gathered which overturned Ephesus II.


  61. GS,

    In principle yes, but the situation now is different than in say the fourth century. We’d need a way to unite at some level prior to a council with Alexandria if they were to be included and if the Copts can be said to be a church or not. In any case,the point is that the pop usage of Khomiakov or something like it as *the* Orthodox view is mistaken.

    Let me clarify. When I say the situation is different and such, I mean the “depends” is in terms of conversation or this discussion. I do not doubt that the Orthodox could have an ecumenical coucil tommorrow in principle. I do not think as things stand that the Coptic rejection of Chalcedon was justified. I also do not doubt that they are bound by it regardless. But that requires an analysis of that situation.

  62. Fr. Andrew says:

    I recently had a question on this same issue in an email. Here’s how I framed my answer:

    You’ve actually hit on one of my minor soapboxes/rants within Orthodox circles, what I call “receptionism,” i.e., the idea that a particular council has to be “received” by the whole Church in order to be considered truly ecumenical. This begs two questions:

    1. Since the councils were rejected by some Christians, how do we know that they’re not the real Church and those who received it aren’t outside the Church? (As with your example of Chalcedon.)

    2. How long do we have to wait before we can say a council has been “received”?

    I know a convert to Orthodoxy who later reverted to Roman Catholicism due precisely to this becoming quite maddening for him. (Of course, he later held a gun to his (now ex-)wife’s head, so he had deeper issues!)

    The fathers at those councils nowhere in their texts indicate that they’re waiting for their rulings to be “received.” Indeed, the rulings were immediately written into Roman imperial law. Fr. John Romanides makes this point: “The current idea among many Orthodox that an Ecumenical Council becomes finally official when it is recognized by a subsequent Ecumenical Council has no basis in Roman Law. Each such Council became Roman law the moment when its minutes were signed on the spot by the participating Patriarchal and Metropolitan Synods and countersigned by the Emperor himself. Heretics and their heresies were condemned on the spot and not at a subsequent Ecumenical Council. Their Creeds and Horoi became Roman law on the spot. The Creed of 381 became the Orthodox Creed on the spot in 381 and not in 431 which simply repeated the Creed of 381 as did each subsequent Ecumenical Council.”

    (From here: )

    What’s underneath all this is the psychological need, borne of the so-called Enlightenment, for epistemological certainty about these things. The Latins want an absolute system centered in the Pope, so we answer it with an absolute system centered in “receptionism,” which is a decidedly slippery concept which turns out to be entirely impractical in actual use (much, I might add, like papal infallibility).

    In the end, it really is a matter of faith. There is no rational, logical way to know for sure. What makes the Ecumenical Councils trustworthy is that they are true, not that they have been “received” by anyone (pope, populace, etc.). They conform to the Scriptures, to the rule of faith (regula fidei, a concept found most prominently in the writings of St. Irenaeus of Lyons)—in short, the tradition of the Church. Yes, it’s a nasty, messy business being in the middle of a doctrinal controversy, when everyone seems like he’s got the corner on what is true. But somehow, God sees us through.

    In some sense, ecumenical councils are really not at the center of our faith—one was certainly perfectly Orthodox before 325 if one held to the faith of the Church. These ecumenical synods were extraordinary gatherings to deal with pastoral issues, not legislative bodies called together to create doctrinal and canonical legislation. Normally, church governance happens in local synods.

    I know that this answer—namely, that all of this really is a matter of faith—will not satisfy those who want an airtight system granting epistemological certainty. Such folks would probably be better off becoming Latins. But, once they do, if they ever find out the dirty little secret about no one agreeing on when papal infallibility really is occurring, then they’ll likely drive themselves further and become Calvinists. And there, they can spend the rest of their lives certain of what they think they know but entirely unsure as to whether they’re among the elect! 🙂

    I hope this helps, at least a little, in my decidedly non-ecumenical way.

  63. trvalentine says:

    Perry, there are many assertions here to which I could object, but I don’t have the time to pursue them all. For now, I’ll stick to one area of focus.

    ISTM you dismiss the idea that a council requires reception by the faithful and make approval by East and West (i.e. the pope of Rome) the criterion for being deemed official. Is that a fair summary?

    The problem with this is it doesn’t fit historical fact. Nicaea I took many years to be accepted. Constantinople I wasn’t accepted by the Roman pope. Ephesus I wasn’t accepted by the East as a whole. Ephesus II wasn’t accepted by the Roman pope. Chalcedon wasn’t accepted by the East as a whole. I think historical facts compel one to acknowledge that the decisions of an imperially sponsored synod of bishops have never been immediately accepted. There was always initial doubt and contention afterwards.


  64. Ariston says:

    This is one of the best short-summaries on this topic I have seen.

  65. Grail Seeker says:

    Thanks, Perry. I’ve wrestled with this issue when considering Orthodoxy. I guess along the lines of your last paragraph, for there to be a new Ecumenical Council, would it have to be approved by the 5 sees? Would this be unrelated to Orthodox countries recovering Alexandria, Jerusalem, Constantinople/Istanbul, and Antioch?

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