Life in a Windowless Monad

August 28, 2010


(Your Musical Accompaniment)

“These questions, however, have to be answered, from the point of view of systematic theology at least, by placing them within a much more radical framework, namely that of the fundamental question: Is the structure of the Christian Church in light of the gospel, monarchial or collegial? This question is undoubtably radical because it is asked, on the one hand, with the whole Christian people in mind and, on the other, from the point of view of what the Lord himself taught, that is, in the light of the gospel of Christ as a whole.

We may go further and say that, if the structure of the Church is conditioned by and subject to the norm of the gospel of Christ, we must base our argument less on the isolated descriptions or ideas of the Church which occur almost accidentally in the New Testament…and more on the general spirit of the words of the Lord as the origin of those images of the Church. That essentially new elemnt in the teaching of the Lord which distinguishes it from teaching contained in all the religions and ideaologies that have so far arisen in the history of man is the doctrine of the Trinity. This is the differentia specifica of Christianity.

In light of this faith in the Trinity, the Christian teaching about God’s being, the creation of the world and the cosmic mestaphysical order of the universe has always been different from that of other religions or ideaologies. It has, in a word, been trinitarian.  The idea of the Trinity is central, not only in the doctrine of the Christian Church, but also-and in the first place-in the teaching of the Lord himself. If this is so, then surely it is bound to inspire the whole task of the Christian Church to give a new structure to the created world. This brings us to the question of the relationship between the doctrine of the Trinity and Christology.

At the most holy moment of his life on earth and just before he left this world, Christ prayed to his Father and at the same time expressed his most fervent desire: ‘I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee.’ (John 17.20f.)

It is perhaps symptomatic that, in an attempt to stress the holiness of the ecumenical intention, these words are quoted nowaday at almost every meeting between Christians of different denominations. yet we usually think very little about these important words afterwards. The phrase ‘that they may be one’ expresses the practical and immediate aims of ecumenism better than the idea which follows, namely ‘as thou Father, art in me…’. But these words become even more meaningful perhaps if we remember that this exemplary mode of unity within the Trinity is the basic presupposition for the unity of the Church which we hope will be achieved. the importance of the whole passage is even further emphasized by the fact that Christ did not have a definite gorup of people, such as the apostles in mind when he spoke these words, but rather all those who believed in him and would believe in him throughout history.  It is this universal validity of the moral principle that is expressed here which gives it its distinctive and normative character.  This is why it must constitute the basic and first ecclesiolgy premise for all theological thinking at all times.

It is clear therefore that there must be a direct relationship between the doctrine of the Trinity and ecclesiology, a relationship expressed in fact in the striking parallel that exists between the fundamental theological questions of the Church’s Trinitarian and ecclesiological teaching. If the inner interrelationships that exist in the historical development of dogma in the Church have existed since the earliest times are borne in mind, it is not difficult to recognize that the main problem confronting all theological thinking throughout the history of the Church has always been the same-the fundamental question of the relationship between unity and multiplicity.

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An Equality of Honor

August 24, 2010

“One therefore is Christ both Son and Lord, not as if a man had attained only such a conjunction with God as consists in a unity of dignity alone or of authority. For it is not equality of honour which unites natures; for then Peter and John, who were of equal honour with each other, being both Apostles and holy disciples [would have been one, and], yet the two are not one.”

St. Cyril of Alexandria’s Third Letter to Nestorius

Apostolic Succession (4): St. Clement of Rome

May 19, 2010


A significant challenge to the historical case for the Apostolic succession of the Trifold ministry is that St. Clement of Rome teaches (1 Clement 44) a succession of only two tiers of ministry. The only offices that are described as continuing after the Apostolic age are “bishops and deacons”. But when he speaks of “bishops”, Clement means local ministers of the second tier—what we now call elders—not monarchical rulers who can rule one or more congregations and have the exclusive power to ordain. It seems like St. Clement’s apostolic succession is a succession of presbyter-bishops much as Presbyterians understand ministry, not monarchical bishops as Episcopalians (whether Roman, Orthodox, or Anglo-Catholic) understand the ministry. To answer this objection, I will quote from Felix Cirlot’s Apostolic Succession: Is It True? Cirlot argues that there are three tiers of ministry referred to in 1 Clement 44, not just two, and that succession is traced through the highest tier of ministry. Read the rest of this entry »

Apostolic Succession (3): The Didache

May 8, 2010


A common objection to the Apostolic Succession of the trifold ministry goes like this. If the Apostles had instituted the trifold ministry, then we would expect that every text in the Apostolic Fathers would reflect this belief. These writers were, after all, closest to the Apostles in time and in the transmission of teaching. Instead, we find a mixture of texts saying different and inconsistent things about ministry and succession, which undercuts the idea that this would be an Apostolic teaching. For now I would like to focus on the arguments of some authors based on the Didache, which may be the most primitive text among the Apostolic Fathers, reserving St. Clement of Rome and others for later. I will argue that evidence from the Didache against primitive monarchical episcopacy and Apostolic Succesion is inconclusive, and that there is a trifold ministry and ecclesial succession, though the ministers have different names than in Ignatius, and the mechanism of succession is not explained in detail or explicitly connected to the Apostles. Read the rest of this entry »

Against Khomiakov

December 2, 2009

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.

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Apostolic Succession (1): Presbyter = Bishop?

November 20, 2009

The common view among many of the Reformers and biblical scholars ancient and modern is that the titles of office “presbyter” and “bishop” have identical referents in Scripture. Put simply, every presbyter is a bishop, and every bishop is a presbyter. Calvin asserts this in his commentary on Acts:

Concerning the word overseer or bishop, we must briefly note this, that Paul calleth all the elders of Ephesus by this name, as well one as other. Whence we gather, that according to the use of the Scripture bishops differ nothing from elders. But that it came to pass through vice and corruption, that those who were chief in every city began to be called bishops. I call it corruption, not because it is evil that some one man should be chief in every college or company; but because this boldness is intolerable, when men, by wresting the names of the Scripture unto their custom, doubt not to change the tongue of the Holy Ghost.

Commentary on Acts 20:28-32

Similarly, in his “Essay on the Christian Ministry” Joseph Lightfoot states that “It has been shown that in the apostolic writings the two [titles, presbyter and bishop] are only different designations of one and the same office.” (pg. 192)

In Chapter XIX of Apostolic Succesion: Is It True? Felix Cirlot offers arguments against the standard view that the titles of office “presbyter” and “bishop” are words exclusively both designating the second order of ministry in the New Testament and early post-Apostolic Church. The implications of this for debates between Presbyterians and Episcopalians are significant, undercutting a main argument for the non-existence of a third and highest order of ministry in the Church through which alone office can be transmitted.


342. One of the most perplexing questions hindering a solution of the history of the origin of the monarchical Episcopate is the relation of the terms “bishop” and “presbyter” in pre-Ignatian sources. Read the rest of this entry »

Episcopacy and the Reformation

August 30, 2009

“The changing attitude of those who left the Historic Church, toward the Apostolic Ministry is, to say the least, remarkableand instructive.

(a.) First they revered the Episcopate, longed to retain it, and when they found they had lost the Apostolic Succesison, sought earnestly to recover it. It is well known how Luther and Melancthon believed in Episcopacy. Their confession of faith [Augs. pt. 1, art. 22], speaking of bishops, says: ‘The Churches ought necessarily and jure divino to obey them.’ Melancthon wrote : ‘I would to God it lay in me to restore the government of bishops. For I see what manner of Church we shall have, the ecclesiastical polity being dissolved.’  Beza protested [in his treatise against Saravia] : ‘If there be any (which you shall hardly persuade me to believe) who reject the whole order of Episcopacy, God forbid that any man of sound mind should assent to the madness of such men.’   Calvin, in his commentay on Titus (I.5), admits that there was no such thing as ‘the parity of ministry.’ Again he says: ‘If the bishops so hold their dignity, that they refuse not to submit to Christ, no anathama is too great for those who do not regard such a hierarchy with reverence and the most implicity obedience.’

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