A man’s got to know his limitations

August 30, 2013

Thadam_reation_iconic1ere are few things that I can do to aid Syria’s roughly two million Christians, the vast majority of which are Orthodox (and many of the remainder Eastern Catholic), but what I can I do, namely pray for them throughout the day, post stuff on Facebook that I get from Jonathan Companik, John Anderson, Gabe Martini, or a host of others. One of the things that encourages me is that many of the things posted are picked up by my evangelical friends and relatives and shared on Facebook. Aside from that, I find that I must bend myself to the things God has asked of me, which I have been neglectful of these past few weeks, namely reading, writing, and teaching. Now, I shouldn’t so much say the reading part, for I have been doing a lot of that, but there comes a time you can take only so much from heretics (in this case the sixteenth-century radical, Michael Servetus), and so you seek to purge your mind with other things. I have found that looking at the lunatic foreign policy of the current administration (as opposed to the bonkers foreign policy of the previous one) only agitates me, and so I have to move to matters less of the moment, and leave things out of my control in the hands of God, whose mercies are infinite. So I turn to theological blogs, and one of my favorite, for a number of reasons, is Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy. Read the rest of this entry »


Irenaeus and the Condemnation of John Italus

March 16, 2013

In my previous post we surveyed the history of the condemnation of universalism in John Italus and in particular the role of St Maximus looming large behind the Orthodox articulation. Yet, St Maximus isn’t the only figure influencing this late medieval condemnation. To discover our second influencer we need to return to the condemnation:

To them who accept and transmit the vain Greek teachings that there is a pre-existence of souls and teach that all things were not produced and did not come into existence out of non-being, that there is an end to the torment or a restoration again of creation and of human affairs, meaning by such teachings that the Kingdom of the Heavens is entirely perishable and fleeting, whereas the Kingdom is eternal and indissoluble as Christ our God Himself taught and delivered to us, and as we have ascertained from the entire Old and New Scripture, that the torment is unending and the Kingdom everlasting to them who by such teachings both destroy themselves and become agents of eternal condemnation to others: Anathema! Anathema! Anathema!

– Contra John Italus, Chapter 10, Synodikon of Orthodoxy

The key point of the condemnation is that the Kingdom is eternal and that therefore the punishment will be eternal. Although there may not be any direct influence on this much later condemnation, if we turn back the clock nearly 900 years to the late 2nd century, we find that St Irenaeus has something quite similar. This quote, from The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching (a recently discovered text), highlights precisely the assertion made in the Synodikon. He says:

For hereby the Son of God is proclaimed both as being born and also as eternal King. But they shall wish that they had been burned with fire (is said) of those who believe not on Him, and who have done to Him all that they have done: for they shall say in the judgment, How much better that we had been burned with fire before the Son of God was born, than that, when He was born, we should not have believed on Him. Because for those who died before Christ appeared there is hope that in the judgment of the Risen One they may obtain salvation, even such as feared God and died in righteousness and had in them the Spirit of God, as the patriarchs and prophets and righteous men. But for those who after Christ’s appearing believed not on Him, there is a vengeance without pardon in the judgment.

– The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, 56

At first glance, the two thoughts (eternal Kingdom and eternal punishment) may not appear directly related in this quote. To discover the direct relation we must turn to the middle sentences. Irenaeus posits a temporary torment for those who died before the advent of the Christ (“… burned with fire before the Son of God was born”). Yet this temporary torment ceases after the advent. That is to say that the birth of Christ ushers in a new eternal Kingdom by which the temporal punishment is made eternal.


Perry Robinson on Ancient Faith Radio (Shameless Plug)

February 4, 2013

Februrary 10th there will be airing an interview on Ancient Faith Radio by Kevin Allen with myself on the subject of Universalism. For logistical reasons the interview will be recorded earlier (Feb 5th) but listeners can submit questions now via the AFR web page. Listen in and share!


Come and Get it

February 4, 2013

Free Choice in St. Maximus Chap 9

Free Choice in St. Maximus Chap 8

Free Choice in St. Maximus Chap 7

Free Choice In St. Maximus Chap 6

Free Choice in St. Maximus Chap 5

Free Choice in St. Maximus Chap 3 – 4

Free Choice in St. Maximus Chap 2

Free Choice In St. Maximus Chap1

Free Choice In St. Maximus Intro 1


Universalism: St Maximus and the Condemnation of John Italus

January 30, 2013

In the ongoing scholarly debate about universalism and its rejection in medieval Christianity, two figures loom large. There is little doubt the doctrine arises in Origen and is argued against extensively by St Augustine (especially in his works De Gestis Pelagii and City of God). This dispute comes to a head at the Council of Constantinople in 543 where St Justinian, professing St Augustine to be a Doctor of the Church, proposes a set of thirteen anathemas against Origen, including Apokatastasis:

If anyone says or thinks that the punishment of demons and of impious men is only temporary, and will one day have an end, and that a restoration (ἀποκατάστασις) will take place of demons and of impious men, let him be anathema. – Liber Contra Origen, Anathema IX

Defenders of universalism are quick to point out that St Justinian’s anathemas were not adopted by the council without editing, including the removal of the above condemnation. Indeed, the condemnation of Origen at Constantinople was muted. It has long been the contention of this blog, especially that of Perry Robinson, that the most direct attack on Origenism came in the form of St Maximus the Confessor against the monothelites. And while do not intend in this post to defend this view, I think it is important to consider another important event on the topic of Origenism, St Maximus and Apokatastasis.

The controversy comes in the condemnation of John Italus in the 11th century. Anna Komnene describes this dispute as follows:

[John Italus] was generally supposed to be very learned and he undoubtedly was far cleverer than all others in expounding that most wonderful philosophic system, the Peripatetic, and especially the dialectics of it. But for other branches of literature he had not a very good head, for he stumbled over grammar and had never tasted the nectar of rhetoric …

[John] then was the acknowledged master of all philosophy and the youth flocked to him. (For he expounded to them the doctrines of Plato and Proclus, and of the two philosophers, Porphyry and Iamblichus, but especially the rules of Aristotle) …

I remember the Empress, my mother, when breakfast was already on the table, carrying a book in her hands and poring over the writings of the didactic Fathers, especially those of the philosopher and martyr Maximus. For she was not so much interested in the physical disputations as in those about the dogmas, because she wished to gain true wisdom. …

Those who were inclined to learning (and they were but few and had not passed beyond the vestibule of Aristotelian philosophy) [Alexios I Komnenos] did not cease from encouraging but bade them prefer the study of the sacred writings to Greek literature. He found Italus throwing everything into confusion and leading many astray … But Italus was unable to hide his own ignorance, and there he vomited forth doctrines quite foreign to the church’s … and the heretical doctrines taught by Italus were summarized in eleven chapters and dispatched to the Emperor… [In] his later years he changed his opinions and repented of the error into which he had been led. Furthermore, he denied a belief in metempsychosis and retracted his insulting words about the holy icons of the saints; he also remodelled his teaching about “ideas” so as to make it conform to orthodoxy, and it was quite evident that he condemned himself for having formerly strayed from the straight path.

– Alexiad V.VIII-IX

The condemnation on universalism comes in the eleven chapters mentioned above, which have been included in the Synodikon of Orthodoxy, a significant canonical text for Orthodox Christians:

To them who accept and transmit the vain Greek teachings that there is a pre-existence of souls and teach that all things were not produced and did not come into existence out of non-being, that there is an end to the torment or a restoration again of creation and of human affairs, meaning by such teachings that the Kingdom of the Heavens is entirely perishable and fleeting, whereas the Kingdom is eternal and indissoluble as Christ our God Himself taught and delivered to us, and as we have ascertained from the entire Old and New Scripture, that the torment is unending and the Kingdom everlasting to them who by such teachings both destroy themselves and become agents of eternal condemnation to others: Anathema! Anathema! Anathema!

– Contra John Italus, Chapter 10, Synodikon of Orthodoxy


November 10, 2012

Original at Lux Christi

Several weeks ago one of you Gentle readers sent me some questions, and at last I shall start addressing them. I have chosen a more simple one, though I must admit, that this is a relative term, as they were all actually good and weighty questions.

To wit:

“When Jesus says that a good ‘tree’ produces good fruit and
a bad ‘tree’ produces bad fruit, is this ‘tree’ referring
to *nature* or *person*? Have we all become ‘good trees’
via Christ’s consubstantial incarnation/death/resurrection/ascension
or do we personally choose which type of tree to become via free will
and synergism? If the latter, how can a ‘bad tree’ *person* make herself
into a ‘good tree’ *person*on the Orthodox paradigm if the former
category can only produce bad fruit? So I guess the question might
be ‘do the roots of these trees go down into our *nature* or our *person*?’

Read the rest of this entry »


Church and Nationality

September 18, 2012

Here is part of a paper presented at the Orthodox Theological Research Forum recently held in Oxford, England. Metropolitan Kallistos Ware recommended it for publication, so I thought to share it here.

The sense of ethnic identity is part of self-identity. Each man has a personal character and he also reflects family, tribal, and regional or national identities or characteristics. In Christ these are placed below the unity of Christ, in that each man takes his primary identity from Christ but his human identities are not destroyed and so a man retains his personal, family and national characteristics. Thus, in the age to come there are people of all nations as all nations and yet one nation in Christ. The diverse human characteristics are united in Christ and do not divide as they do in themselves apart from Christ. Diversity is retained in the unity of Christ, except where that diversity is contrary to Christ. This unity requires that there are Church practices that are uniform to incarnate the mystery of Christ in all people and nations because that which is required to tangibly present Christ in human terms needs to be one in material/practical form since the unity of Christ includes unity in matter as well as in spirit. However, in the same manner that divinity does not consume humanity in Christ, neither does the humanity of Christ consume our humanity and so human diversity remains.

The unity of Christ is such that the Church cannot be defined along national or ethnic categories. Local and regional churches can only be defined in terms of geographical limits, within which there can only be one church, that is a synod in the form either of the bishop with his presbyters, the local diocese, or of a metropolitan with his bishops, a regional episcopal synod. However, these territorial limits can be taken from the territorial boundaries of a nation as well as those administrative boundaries within empires or states. Thus, in regional terms the synod of bishops can be defined in as those living in a particular national territory, as long as the definition is territorial rather than by any other category. Thus, if members of the Church from other regions/nations enter a territory they attend the services of the churches of that territory/nation within which they have entered rather than establishing their own churches. An exception to this is to allow parishes of different languages within the same territory to enable understanding of the services for those from other language groups. We have historical examples of this in Constantinople with Latin and Gothic parishes. Such exceptions will tend to reflect national differences but these latter differences should not be the reason for the exception but only language to enable understanding, following the teaching of St Paul.

The present situation in the UK and the US, as well as other places outside the established regions of Orthodox Churches, is rather complicated. The long established local religious communities in these places are heterodox and as such are not in unity with the Catholic Church, that is the Orthodox Churches in communion the Patriarch of Constantinople. Thus, the Orthodox emigrants to the UK or to the US did not have preexisting places of worship nor local hierarchy to establish such places. These had to be provided from their home regions. Sadly, due to lack of coordination between Orthodox Patriarchs, we have the situation of a number of hierarchs establishing churches for immigrants in the UK and the US. This situation has led to a neglect of the territorial definition of churches and to definition along national/ethnic categories, which is contrary to the teaching of Christ. We need to repent of this. It is suggested that the only way forward is to appoint and recognise a local territorially defined hierarchal structure for the UK or US with its own synod, although overseen by one of the present Patriarchs. Also, this hierarchy must attempt to convert the heterodox back to Orthodoxy and allow the local peoples to take ownership of the church within their own territory.

The use of vestments could be helpful to distinguish the hierarchy of the UK or the US from the hierarchies elsewhere. This is not in order to separate them but to highlight that the churches in the UK and the US are not part of other national churches, although most members within the churches in the UK and the US may be descended from these other nations. The churches in the UK and US should be seen as local churches in their own right. A distinction of vestments helps to provide visual recognition of this local hierarchy and to break it from being considered part of a nationally defined group. Yet, in terms of being orthodox, the vestments need to be consistent with the traditional form of vestments used through the history of the Church.

To enable the choice of vestments, even though most religious groups in the UK and the US are heterodox, some of their heritage comes from an orthodox background and maintains orthodox standards manifested in the cultural context of the UK and the US. It would be wise for the orthodox hierarchy not to impose an exterior manner of dress upon the UK and the US but rather to take what is already within that region consistent with Orthodox Tradition and establish it for use of orthodox Christians in that region. This would allow the local peoples to have greater identity and ownership of the church in their territory, rather than the church arriving as a foreign institution imposing its own national cultures as well as bringing orthodox Tradition. While it is important that each region or nation is established in the international community and participates in customs that are required for relationships across this international community, otherwise the local community becomes isolated and estranged, at the same time each region or nation should participate without losing the diversity of its own customs, where these do not go contrary to the international community. In orthodox terms the common customs of the international community are given in Holy Tradition, which is the common way of life in Christ as Christ that unites us with Christ, yet the regional customs are maintained that of self-rule in synergy with Christ as maintaining God’s image as man with the ability to govern. This governance is expressed in the diversity of customs within Tradition. For one national church to impose in entirety of its customs on another nation is to undermine and deny the self-rule of that nation thus denying the image of God in its people and the synergy of the relationship of God and man in deification.

For those wishing to look further into this here is a link to the paper of Metropolitan Kallistos on the same topic: ‘Neither Jew Nor Greek’: Catholicity And Ethnicity


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