Now therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Eph. 2:19-22).
There are a number of statements in the New Testament that deeply contradict the near “fetish” that some attach to the Bible. One of these is found in an admonition St. Paul offers to the young Timothy. He describes the Church as “the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” Were most people in the Protestant South in which I live asked what is the “pillar and ground of the truth,” they would answer, “the Bible.” And they would be wrong.
Another example is the quote from Ephesians offered above. Though St. Paul describes Christ Himself as the foundation of the Church (in 1 Corinthians), here he expands that metaphor, describing Christ as the “cornerstone,” with the Apostles and Prophets being the Church’s foundation. In neither case does he describe the Bible as a foundation, though, in popular Evangelical culture, it would not be unusual to hear the Scripture described as our foundation.
What would be lacking in these misperceptions of the Scripture, is proper regard for the Church as a “living” temple. Christ did not come into the world to deliver a book. Such notions, sometimes enshrined in the concept that once the New Testament was complete, the task of the early Church was complete as well, are but Christianized versions of Islam. Christians are not a “people of the Book.” Such a thought is deeply distorting of the Christian gospel.
St. Paul’s vision (and the reality given by God) is of a Church that is composed of a living community of persons (the whole communion of saints). That whole living community of persons is the pillar and ground of truth. Its foundation is composed of a living body of persons (the apostles and the prophets) just as Christ himself, its cornerstone, is alive. This is the Church that reads the Scriptures and is itself “our epistle written in the fleshy tables of the heart” (2 Cor. 3:3).
Those who make a sharp contrast between the Scriptures and the fathers, as though everything was simply a text and the fathers a very inferior text, fail to understand the character of a Church that is truly alive. Were someone to ask if I believe the fathers are “inspired,” I would answer, “Of course.” How can the fathers be fathers and not be inspired? If what they wrote and said is not by the Holy Spirit then it is useless. Is their writing to be held as equal to the Scriptures? They themselves would immediately cry, “No!” Just as the mouth of a river cannot be compared to the source of a river – though they be the same river. But if someone cannot discern that the waters are the same, then something is deeply lacking.
Oddly, the Apostles themselves very likely did not regard their own writings to be comparable to the writings of what they called the “Scriptures” (grammata). But without the writings of the Apostles and the Gospels given to us, we would not know how to read the Scriptures of the Old Testament. When the Old is read through the New, then the Old itself becomes the New. Those who continue to read the Old Testament as though it were somehow not the New Testament, do not know how to read the Scriptures. They are drinking from a foreign river.
But even as we have to learn to read the Scriptures, so we have to learn to read the fathers. Not all fathers are of equal importance, and not everything written by a single father is as important as everything else he wrote. The nightmare of a loose canon!
The simple fact is that we are indeed built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets as a living temple. There is no substitute for the life of that temple. Only in the context and community of the living Church of God can we learn how to read, whether Apostles or Prophets or the fathers. Those who have wrenched the Scriptures out of the context of the living, Orthodox Church, have only wrested for themselves error and delusion. They are like the sorcerer’s apprentice – able to read the words of the spells but knowing nothing of their magic. They conjure up a wrathful God and fearful visions of the world’s end. The results of their faulty readings are all around us.
Oddly (not really) most of the content of the Apostles’ writings, deal with how to be the true and living Church of God. It is full of admonitions towards humility and forgiveness, patience and forbearance. It warns about those who do not obey their leaders and of the many false prophets and leaders to arise. There is no instant key to understanding the Scriptures, but whoever begins to read them in their proper and living context begins the journey on the path for which they were written.
And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name (John 20:30-31).
The photo is of the late Archbishop of Dmitri of Dallas, my father in God. Today is the anniversary of his falling asleep. He was a great scholar of Scripture and author of many commentaries.
Could you explain the Orthodox understanding of ‘inspiration’ a little more? To Protestants like me, inspiration is deeply and inextricably connected to inerrancy and infallibility. That means to call the Fathers inspired requires a sort of verbal plenary authority. This would make the original Nicene Creed, with its anathema against those who attribute more than one hypostasis to God (since hypostasis and ousia were more synonymous at that time than not), problematic as it directly denies later (more well defined) understandings of that word. There are also some semi-anti-Semitic statements in certain Fathers; plus some possibly misogynist ones. This is why I ask: I want to read the Fathers in the true spirit of how they are to be read.
Thanks for your time.
As always, your postings given much cause for reflection. I very much agree with your concept of the church as living. How could it not be? If the Holy Spirit stopped speaking after the apostles passed from this life, we are all rather foolish for believing.
It seems that many people like things to be black and white, presumably to avoid error. The Bible has unfortunately been used by some as a rule book with absolute authority (the rules often being selectively chosen). In an effort to avoid error, a new error is born.
Yet it is indeed challenging to be part of this living church because we can so easily slip into ascribing “inspiration” to the things we might prefer to believe. I guess I am asking, like Russ, for more of your perspective on inspiration… Thank you again.
Congratulations on the new format for your blog site. It is so much easier to read! Thank you for all the effort you put into this work.
My interest in Orthodoxy is continuing. I’m still digging and learning. I hear what you are saying in this post about the church being the living temple. I like the dynamic of the church being the pillar and ground of truth . . . instead of a book. It is making sense . . . more and more.
I have read that the Orthodox do not consider the age of Church Fathers to be over and includes later influential writers other than the Apostolic, Greek, Latin, and Desert Fathers. However, I cannot recall that I have every noted one of these “other” Fathers being referenced in anything I have every read or listened to.
Who are the later influential writers that are included in the category of Fathers by the Orthodox churches?
Also, how is it decided who is added to this special group?
Is there an established process?
Your humble servant.
Fr. Stephen and all,
Forgive me for asking a technical question about the new blog but whenever I go the this blog I don’t get the beautiful masthead at the top of the articles but only an ugly text-oriented listing of the articles. What am I doing wrong?
A few Protestant scholars actually came out with a two-volume defense of sola Scriptura entitled, ridiculously enough, “Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith.”
The irony is unbearable.
“Such notions, sometimes enshrined in the concept that once the New Testament was complete, the task of the early Church was complete as well, are but Christianized versions of Islam. ”
I’ve begun to formulate a theory concerning the Islamization of Christianity during the Middle Ages. While Protestants claim that the Church was infected by Greek thought, and specifically Greek philosophy, during this period, it seems rather that it was infected by Islamic thought. Voluntarism, biblicism, inquisition, forced conversion, holy war, iconoclasm, nominalism, Scriptural fundamentalism: these are all essential to the Muslim faith. By thinking has been significantly influenced by “Charlemagne and Muhammad Revisited” by Emmet Scott, which seeks to prove that classic antique society was destroyed by Islam rather than the Germanic peoples, whom he argues were quick to adopt Roman law and customs and willing to ingratiate themselves to Constantinople (going so far as to use the emperor’s bust on their coinage and send their children to his court for learning and marriage).
Could it be both? When Islam really came into contact with the West, it was through the sharing of Aristotelian thought.
Surely, the preceding questions and comments reflect concerns that we have in common. The book most helpful to me in how to understand what I am supposed to understand is “The Arena” by Bishop Ignatius. I cannot say whether or not that book is inspired, but the Holy Spirit has worked through it in my life.
Checked with my IT guy. I’ve deactivated a plugin temporarily (it makes the wordpress theme work for Touch applications – like phones – it may be the trouble). Let me know if this helps. Please…need feedback on this!
The irony is indeed unbearable. I think I will go sit in a cave today and say, “Argghhh” all day long.
Yes, I think this is a fruitful historical direction for thought. Like Byzantium itself, Islam gets overlooked. It’s like people think that Western Europe happened in a vacuum. There are some (in the most common accounts) who think the Renaissance happened on account of archaeology. As if!
Interestingly, it was the press of Islam, using Aristotelean thought that provided the impetus for the West to take up Aristotelean thought in defense of the faith. But you have to be careful when you use the dark side of the force. 🙂
Muslim Aristotelians were few and far between after the Ash’arite overthrew the Mu’tazilites. Robert Reilly makes a convincing case that Islam was not nearly as Hellenized as people commonly believe. Greek influence was waning by the eleventh century and suffered irreversible defeat at the hands of al-Ghazali (died AD 1111), the Augustine of orthodox Islam.
Muslims undeniably preserved aspects of Greek culture, but it is increasingly clear that they were not avid, careful caretakers. Given their control of the very heartland of Hellenistic art and learning, it is actually quite shocking how little they preserved. For instance, as late as the 7th century there existed in Egypt detailed histories of that country, detailing the reigns of pharaohs from many centuries before. By the year 1000, the “Muslim Herodotus” speculated that the pyramids were Joseph’s granaries, or perhaps the tombs of the prophets. The cultural devastation is unsurprising, given their contempt for paganism.
But this is neither here nor there.
Very good question. The notion of various theories of inspiration is really a kind of Protestant anxiety. Having set aside the Church (as a theological reality) and the hierarchy, Protestantism was left with Scripture for its sole authority. Thus the nature of that authority has to be defined (for many of them). I find almost none of their theories to be interesting or useful. For the authority of Scripture means nothing by itself. The question always lies in the matter of interpretation. For it is not the “Scripture” that has to be inspired – it’s the reading of Scripture. And that brings us back squarely to the Church. The notion of “soul competency” of the individual seems rather nonsensical to me, both in the light of the absurdities that individuals come to as a result of their delusional treatment of Scripture, and in its inherent denial of the Church – which is the “Pillar and Ground of the Truth.”
The Scriptures are authoritative, when rightly read in and by the Church. There is no particular definition of inspiration that Orthodoxy has ever needed to state. The authority of Scripture is an “organic” matter. It cannot be separated from the authority of the Church, nor the present authority of Christ Himself, nor the life lived by those who hear its words. The point is not an abstracted authority, but the authority that rests in a “life lived.” If the Scripture is not rightly lived, then it is not rightly interpreted. The very life and existence of the Church, lived rightly in its members, is the interpretation of Scripture. The purpose of the word is its incarnation, not its literalization (to coin a word).
And so the Church points to its life, to the lives of its saints, to the lives of the faithful through the ages. Those things certainly are not “without error,” in some kind of mechanical sense, but when we live in right communion with them, they lead us to salvation. The “inspiration” of Scripture is its ability to direct us towards salvation. Salvation, true union with God in Christ, is the point of the whole economy of God with us.
The writings of the fathers are able to lead us to salvation, when rightly read in the Church and by the Church. They are no more useful without the Church than the Scriptures are without the Church. They are one organic life. There are certainly instances of anti-semitism, misogyny, etc. within some of the fathers, just as there is polygamy and a few other odd notions in the canon of Scripture. The point is dwelling rightly in the life of the Church and knowing how to read these things.
I recall a conversation with my late Archbishop, of blessed memory. I was trying to finesse matters and exonerate St. John Chrysostom of anti-semitism. The Archbishop said, “Well, I think he was anti-semitic.” It didn’t bother him. There’s no need to exonerate his writings. If something’s wrong it’s wrong. It doesn’t make everything he ever said wrong. But in the life of the Church, one archbishop says of another, “He was anti-semitic.” St. Cyril said far worse things about St. John C. until the Theotokos rebuked him in a dream.
There is an anxiety about “authority” in Protestantism because their theories are unworkable. Takes a lot of work to defend the indefensible.
I do not mean to be harsh, but to read the fathers in the “true spirit of how they are to be read” is to read them in the bosom of the Church. “What has the Church taken this to mean in its life and liturgies, etc., over the centuries?” is a good question to ask. Also to approach their writings as something of a “mystery” into which we are lead rather than a text that we master is helpful.
“I would not believe in the Gospel myself if the authority of the Catholic Church did not influence me to do so.” –St. Augustine
I think I am intending to turn the perspective on inspiration back towards ourselves. If my heart is impure, all things will be impure (Tit. 1:15), including the Scriptures and the writings of the fathers. If I am looking for Christ, and struggling to do so with humility and honesty, I have a better chance of encountering inspiration. As the Elder Paisios noted, “A man can be saved by seeing a fox cross the road.” Apparently everything is inspired to the pure.
The Orthodox have never had any process by which we declare someone or their writings to be “of the fathers.” It’s more a general consensus of the Church (and therefore terribly frustrating for those who want more formal assurance for their religious anxieties). When a writer is also canonized as a saint (such as St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, or St. Silouan of Mt. Athos, etc.) there writings are certainly granted a certain weight. But saints can be wrong about things, too. So their writings are read in the light of the larger life of the Church. The life of the saint who wrote them, and the context in which they were written cannot be ignored. Thus, for me, there are a number of writings by saints during the period some call the “Western Captivity” of the Church that help me understand why their works seem so un-Orthodox-like in many ways.
There are contemporary figures whose writings enjoy a great deal of authority – though very few whose work is not challenged by others within the Orthodox world. I like the works of Fr. Alexander Schmemann, though I’m aware of some of their limits and flaws. I do not much care for the work of Fr. Seraphim Rose, though others regard them quite highly. Such varied reactions tell me that time is required to “sift” some things. But, things written by either Schmemann or Rose that echo and illumine things that have been said by others before them – do not require much, if any, sifting.
Orthodox life is primarily lived in worship and in prayer. If we are firmly grounded in that part of our life, then we will be able to read things with more clarity. If this part of our life is weak, everything else will be weak. “A theologian is one who prays, and one who prays is a theologian.”
” I do not much care for the work of Fr. Seraphim Rose, though others regard them quite highly”
I’ve suspected as much for a long time now. Why is this? His tendency toward Biblical literalism?
I have to admit that I enjoy his critical letters to Merton.
Great post as always. One thing I wanted to emphasize is that Protestants unconsciously equate “inspired” with “perfect” when they’re talking about the Bible. Anything inspired can’t be questioned.
Your comments on the Fathers sheds light on the fact that this just isn’t so. Saying their writing was inspired of the Holy Spirit doesn’t mean absolutely everything they said was true, perfect and unquestionable.
When it comes to the Bible itself, it’s not a matter of questioning its truth and rightness. The fact is, if the Good Book is ripped out of its context – the Church – it can be as murky to comprehend as if there were no light to read by.
In that same vein, I believe the Protestants highly prefer the Bible over the living body called the Church because it’s much more manageable. I can take this book with me wherever I go and make it say what I want to – though I would never admit that’s what’s happening, even with the best of intentions.
Let’s face it: human beings are messy and unpredictable. Tell me, a Westerner who likes things black and white, that I can get the whole truth of the world in a book for $24.99, and that might just be too tempting for me to resist.
Let’s not go to the other extreme and speak lightly about the Holy Scriptures. The Bible is not just “a book for $24.99.” It is invaluable. The Church has always held the Divine Writings in the utmost respect, adoring their wisdom and truth. It’s not without reason that the Bible is worthy of a kiss.
I was taking the stance of the Protestant world I came out of. It does not reflect my current position. I’m simply explaining why Sola Scritpura seems to have such a strong hold on them.
But thanks for the reminder, Philip Jude.
Father, simply “thank you” for this post and comments. I was steeped in the confusion of Protestant Biblical inerrancy from birth, and I suspect it will take years to fully live into/become united with the Orthodox understanding of inspiration and interpretation (despite being a convert of five years now).
May the Lord bless you and your work.
“Those who have wrenched the Scriptures out of the context of the living, Orthodox Church, have only wrested for themselves error and delusion. They are like the sorcerer’s apprentice – able to read the words of the spells but knowing nothing of their magic. They conjure up a wrathful God and fearful visions of the world’s end. The results of their faulty readings are all around us”
Oy!…the truth hurts.I’ve been this person. What an apt analogy.
Also, great work on the new site. Very user friendly. As one soon to become a catechumen I’ve found this site invaluable. A sincere thanks to you (and the great comments) for helping to cast some light on my path.
I did not receive this latest -splendid- post in my e-mails as usual. I was wondering if this is a known issue.
The “Islamic” notions of Sola Scriptura do quite some harm, the early Church did not have the New Testament and all the saints from Adam to Moses had no scripture at all.
Not a known issue until you just reported it. I think the email’s are sent out to subscribers. I suspect that I’ve got to check to be sure that the list for the previous site has been carried to the new. Thanks ever so much. Bugs, bugs, bugs,
You said –
“Checked with my IT guy. I’ve deactivated a plugin temporarily (it makes the wordpress theme work for Touch applications – like phones – it may be the trouble). Let me know if this helps. Please…need feedback on this!”
The web page now comes up correctly. I don’t know if this deactivation is what caused this, but all looks good.
Perhaps you need a technical thread going somewhere so these sort of details don’t litter up the far more important theological threads. Just a thought. Keep up the great work.
“everything is inspired to the pure.”
Another wonderful truth!
Elder Ephraim of Katounakia used to say that, concerning both written and spoken word, a person always takes away with him what his internal predisposition allows for. The speaker (or written word) might, for example, be speaking words with a the “measure” of 50 (as an arbitrary example). One person with a predisposition of 20 will take with him only 20. The person with 30, takes 30. The person with a predisposition of 90 however, will take 90!
Love this site. It’s become a real home from home for us orientalists & logisticians. 🙂
Dear Father Stephen –
Nice job on the new format for the website. Let everyone know that worked on this that this is very nice!! Thanks again for being a voice crying the in the Wilderness.
The rather “mechanical” versions and explanations of inspiration (some fundamentalists seem to compete as to who can say “infallible” in the most absolute sense) are all quite misleading. They have created a very false impression of the Bible and made of it something it is not. In many ways, the Protestant groups who engage in this have no sense whatsoever of the nature of Scripture. In particular, they have a tendency to treat the Bible as a “stand alone” concept. It is the “Word of God,” etc., and authoritative over everyone and in every way.
What is lacking is to see the Bible properly as an organic element of the life of the One Church. It does not “change” outside of that context, but it is no longer what it is intended to be. An icon in a museum exhibit is still an icon, but it has been turned into “art” and no longer has the proper context of veneration,etc. Those who use the Scriptures to “beat people over the head” who are not even Christians, have brought the Scriptures into ill repute. They have become despised by significant segments of the population (and misunderstood by most). I rarely meet anyone, including so-called “Bible-believers” who has the faintest clue about the Scriptures.
from an earlier article.
So much of this reminds me of a quote I recently read. “”He cannot have God for his father who refuses to have the church for his mother.” St. Augustine
The problem is less to do with Scripture than with the reader. The heart and soul of the bible is contained in a few verses in Matthew Chapter 25. Everything is turned on it’s head. This is the beauty of God. It is everywhere, but it is hidden.
I have profited by the writings of both Fr. Schmemann and Fr. Seraphim but for different reasons. In general (very general) Fr. Schmemann’s works make me think deeply while Fr. Seraphim’s make me want to pray.
Fr. Seraphim’s body of work is quite uneven, IMO. Fr. Schmemann’s much more consistent. In part, I think, this is due to Fr. Seraphim’s rather ad hoc approach to and entry into the Church and the fact that he was a convert from a deep darkness rather than having the advantage of being raised in and formed by the Church
Another reason I like Fr. Seraphim is that he is an American of my generation (a little bit ahead) and dealt with many of the same exestential challenges with which I dealt. His struggle illumines mine on a level that is not particularly theological in the formal sense. He understands the darkness and its allure better than Fr. Schmemann. But it is really good to have both.
Two quotes, one from each, sick in my mind:
Fr. Seraphim: “Truth is not just an abstract idea, sought and known with the mind, but something personal—even a Person—sought and loved with the heart, Jesus Christ”
Fr. Schmemann: (this is more of a paraphrase) The Church is not meant to help, but to declare the truth.
Thanks for the example of disposition as expressed in numbers. I found that to be extremely true. With regards to the present discussion about the Bible, how many times different people have read a scripture and gotten something totally different from it than the last person!
The guidance of the Holy Spirit is needed, and though the Spirit blows where it wills, Christ has called us to be one body and speaks in the midst of it clearest and best.
More blog troubleshooting/feedback for you:
From “Is Anybody There? Speaking to the Heart” posted 28JUN2012 to “Life in a Sacramental World” posted 21AUG2012, the comments are closed. Before and after that are open. I now assume this was not intentional on your part.
Christ is in our midst!
Hello Fr Stephen;
I am really enjoying the layout and aesthetic of your new blog space. Thanks for putting the mind-numbing work into it. 🙂
One question I have to offer (since I cannot resolve my own preference) is whether it’s worth allowing the most recent few posts show up in full, rather than *only* the one most recent post?
I am torn, b/c I like the aesthetic of just one post showing with the rest ‘clickable’, however I’ve noticed that I am less willing to click and check a ‘closed’ post, than to just scroll down and read what’s available.
I’ve also noticed there are less comments on previous posts.
Just food for thought. 🙂
I’m working on the comments thing, but haven’t quite found the trouble yet. I think we fixed the email’s problem
Thanks for the reflection. Those are the kinds of questions I’ve wondered about as well. I am probably going to try a headline with a short part of the beginning paragraph on the other articles. That “teaser” might be more interesting than the mere headline – and give more information.
In general, the views are up, though that fluctuates.
I sincerely think that a well organised “Table of Contents”, would be more than welcome. I hope this does not require too much work. Even a non-organised list of all ‘Titles’ would still be most welcome addition to the sights navigation. I hope this is possible…
I obviously meant “this site’s navigation” – sorry
I see that most of the tabs at the top are now working properly, so I must take back a portion of my earlier suggestion regarding the site’s navigation. It would still be great to have a way to peruse the whole content (all titles) in a Table of Contents dedicated page though
The irony: relying on the text as an authority for your argument that the Church is not “a people of the book.”
Yes. I thought of the irony as I wrote. Of course, the book didn’t say anything – I did – as the Church reading. To anyone outside of Christ it would carry no weight.
Saint Nicholas’ (Velimirovich) saying that, “he who does not believe in God or does not know Him is inevitably forced to worship objects” even holds true regarding those who worship scripture instead of God.
And God can only be worshipped once you become a member of His Body.
Early Church had the Liturgy, not the New Testament …
Thanks dinoship. These suggestions and observations are very helpful as I keep “tweaking” things.
I did not realize that Vladyka had fallen asleep on my birthday, or if I did I pushed it out of my mind. Meeting him was a highlight in my life. Memory Eternal Vladyka!
Dear Father, I have gained new insites in your posting and look forward to continued readings. Blessings to you and your readers.
Some honest questions: Does this mean that the Church disappeared from the west? Does this mean that the church did not have a presence in the United States for many years? Why do the Orthodox group along national/ethnic lines? I know what the Roman Catholic answer is. Am I honestly to believe that there is no church outside of orthodoxy? Must I abandon all of my culture as a westerner to be orthodox? (Not many western rite parishes?) Can I hold to the Orthodox faith and be a Lutheran?
(Posting this to follow comments.)
Boyd, your questions have been addressed frequently in one form or another on this blog. If you continue to read all of the posts, you will see the answers are there.
What follows is my own summary (not necessarily reflective of Fr. Stehpen).
The Church is the Pillar and Ground of the Truth, it is
One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. (It is difficult to say that about any of the various and sundry Protestant denominations wouldn’t you say?)
The fullness of the truth is in the Orthodox Christian
Church in a manner it is no where else.
My metaphor: The Orthodox Church is a chalice into which has and is being poured the truth without measure, full and complete (notwithstanding our sinfulness) It is uncontainable and flows out to others outside the Church some of whom partake of it to some degree and some completely falsify it.
The Truth is Jesus Christ in who there is no Greek or Jew. The Church has always been multi-ethnic. Only in the United States and Europe has She been faced with a mixture of Orthodox believers who came as immigrants not missionaries.
To the extent that you identify you culture with your faith, yes you will have to give up quite a bit of that in order to be Orthodox, but you will not have to give up what is true, beautiful and salvific.
Keep in mind that culture is formed by faith. Thus the nihilist culture we live in right now is not formed by the truth but by a conscious and willful departure from the truth. It is profoundly distorted and has no real relationship with the transcendent ideas embodied in the best of classical western culture.
Luther and subsequent Lutheran scholars rejected much of what the Orthodox Church holds to as the fullness of the truth.
Thanks Michael. I will say that my contact with Orthodoxy has saved my life and my faith. What’s your understanding of the Catholics? Have you looked at the various arguments about Orthodoxy on Catholic Answers? The contention that stuck with me is that when the schism occurred, the East fragmented along national state lines (Russia, Greece, etc.) Does Orthodoxy consider the Roman Catholic Church to be part of the Church? What about ecumenical councils after the first 7? What about the idea that the Pope held off the iconoclasts in the east? What about the idea in Timothy Ware’s book that the Orthodox Church does not have a way to do some important administrative thing…?…another council?…details escape me. Thanks for any answers you can give.
In brief. There is no fragmentation in Orthodoxy. The “national” Churches that people observe is a normal phenomenon of the Orthodox understanding of how the Church should be and always has been. What it represents is the natural division of language and culture and the respect for such things. Part of that respect is that, over time, as a “Local Church” (that is the Orthodox term rather than “national”) matures, it is given the right to self-government (autonomy, and eventually autocephaly). It’s own needs are best known to its own leaders. The unity of the Church has always been maintained by the communion between the Local Churches. There is one doctrine, one liturgical tradition. In Greece, the Church isn’t the “Greek Orthodox Church.” It’s just the Orthodox Church. In Russia it’s just “Orthodox.”
But the respect for these Local Churches has allowed natural development of people and culture with no effort to “universalize” everything, such as the odious practice of forcing Latin on the Church everywhere (in some cases stunting the proper use and growth of indigenous cultures and languages). Orthodoxy has been among the greatest workers historically in the translation of Scriptures and liturgical materials, inventors of alphabets and dictionaries, etc. Orthodoxy preserves cultures rather than “Latinizing,” “modernizing,” “Americanizing,” etc.
Others use this against us and accuse us of division. But there is more agreement between the Orthodox Local Churches than there are between any two Lutheran congregations in the same denomination (for example).
The “mess” of the Local Churches, however, became very manifest in the 20th century, during the period of the “diaspora,” as Orthodox immigrated from Eastern Europe and Russia into the West at the very time that the Communist Yoke limited the ability of the Church to respond to the situations presented. The result is the present configuration of hyphenated Orthodox in the West with overlapping jurisdictions. This is novel and new, not normative at all and is on an agenda of things to be addressed in an upcoming Orthodox Council, set for 2016 (we’ll see). We’re slow about stuff.
But the “universal” notion of the church, modeled after Roman hegemony, is a flawed model of Christianity. Rome does not have unity. Rome has authority. That’s not the same thing at all. Of course today, there is far more “disunity” within Roman Catholicism than there is within Orthodoxy over many things.
But Christianity in the modern world is under siege and we all suffer from a multitude of problems. Orthodoxy is not true because it’s “better than the rest.” It’s true because it is the Church that Christ founded and has maintained that identity unchanged and unaltered. The Orthodox contend that Rome is not unchanged or unaltered. And though Rome can make Roman justifications for its changes, it cannot maintain that it is unchanged.
There have been 7 Councils that the Orthodox describe as ecumenical. But there have been other Councils since then that the Orthodox universally recognize (with the same effect as an “ecumencial” Council) such as the Palamite Councils of the 14th Century. Orthodoxy recognizes none of the Catholic Councils apart from the 7 ecumenical Councils.
The fact that a Council is on the calendar demonstrates that the notion that we cannot do some administrative thing is incorrect. The Orthodox Church is fully capable of doing whatever the life of the Church requires – and always has been able to. It is not an antiquarian society preserving a long-lost past. It is the abiding Church.
The Pope of Rome in the iconoclast period was an Orthodox patriarch. He did a good job as a faithful Orthodox hierarch. But he did not claim the kind of authority that is presumed in today’s Catholic Church (Catholic readers may please send quotes telling me how wrong I am). The modern Papacy is a “re-reading” of the ancient Papacy. It is largely an invention of the medieval claims begun by the Frankish kings in order to advance their own political claims on the Roman Empire. That is an Orthodox read on the history of the papacy, and I think it is fair and accurate.
Father, I really like your distinction between unity and authority. You also make the point that not everything has to be identical to express unity. The Holy Spirit is creative.
Very, very succinct (and worthy of many reads) answer…!
It’s always the Franks with you Orthodox! 😉
I’ve no interest in debating the papacy, but I will say that Roman claims to primacy began long before the advent of the damnable Franks. However, for a long while, these claims differed in tone, degree, and emphasis. The assertion of extraordinary prerogatives becomes common by the middle of the first millennium. The fifth century is definitely a turning point. This period saw several major pontiffs — Innocent, Leo, Gelasius — who increasingly understood the Roman papacy as universal in jurisdiction. That said, the nature of this jurisdiction is not always clear, and it certainly seems to have undergone a process of evolution.
The Ravenna Document (2007) states:
“During the first millennium, the universal communion of the Churches in the ordinary course of events was maintained through fraternal relations between the bishops. These relations, among the bishops themselves, between the bishops and their respective protoi, and also among the protoi themselves in the canonical order (taxis) witnessed by the ancient Church, nourished and consolidated ecclesial communion. History records the consultations, letters and appeals to major sees, especially to that of Rome, which vividly express the solidarity that koinonia creates. Canonical provisions such as the inclusion of the names of the bishops of the principal sees in the diptychs and the communication of the profession of faith to the other patriarchs on the occasion of elections, are concrete expressions of koinonia.
Both sides agree that this canonical taxis was recognised by all in the era of the undivided Church. Further, they agree that Rome, as the Church that “presides in love” according to the phrase of St Ignatius of Antioch (To the Romans, Prologue), occupied the first place in the taxis, and that the bishop of Rome was therefore the protos among the patriarchs. They disagree, however, on the interpretation of the historical evidence from this era regarding the prerogatives of the bishop of Rome as protos, a matter that was already understood in different ways in the first millennium.”
I know very little about church history and have little, interest, though I respect the knowledge of others.
However, I believe that I, a Roman Catholic, am part of the Body of Christ.
I believe that you, an Orthodox Christian, are part of the Body of Christ.
Christ only has one Body, His Church, holy and indivisible. What is One in Christ only appears to be separate to our eyes because we are sinners in need of His mercy.
In Christ, there is no East or West. The fullness of His Truth is available to every person of every culture and faith and not the sole “property” of any one.
However, I am not saying that I believe all religions provide equally helpful teaching regarding the Truth – most definitely not! But the fullness of Truth is offered to every genuinely seeking heart.
I have deep respect for Orthodoxy and this community of believers. On the other hand, better to be a genuine and faith-filled Baptist than an Orthodox (or Catholic) who participates in religious ritual only to fulfill family or cultural expectations.
it really is the Franko-teutonic influence that historically created the promoted and cemented the ‘re-reading’ of the Papacy, especially considering that when they took over the West, Rome had been long ‘moved’ to Constantinople…
I know that Fr. Freeman feels the same way about a faith-filled Baptist as he has often written with great love and appreciation of his Baptist father in law and how he taught father much of what it means to live and die as a believer in Christ. I almost became Catholic when I knew that I could no longer remain Evangelical. I very much appreciated the help of Catholic apologetics along the way such as Catholic Answers, books by Peter Kreeft and Thomas Howard (Evangelical is not Enough). What finally swayed me to Orthodoxy though was not so much my mind but my heart. In my first liturgy my spirit was overwhelmed.(I had previously attended various masses including Tridentine). I knew however in that liturgy that I had at last come home. What a blessed almost 20 years that has been. I especially appreciated the Church this past week, and all Her helps) as I experienced a minor heart attack. But God is so good. Glory to Him forever!
I realize that that is standard Orthodox historiography, but I simply don’t consider it an adequate or accurate account. The relationship between the “Franks” and the papacy was complicated and often volatile. The popes used the emperors as much as the emperors used the popes, if not more. Papal primacy was not a foreign idea foisted upon the Roman bishops by evil Franks. It emerges remarkably early in history and evolves over time. This evolution was primarily fueled by the reflection of westerners — and not a few easterners — on the nature of the Church in light of scripture and tradition. That said, there was of course socio-political influences, some of which are attributable to the Franks. None of this is to say that the Roman bishops are correct in their extraordinary claims. It is simply to assert that the self-understanding of the Roman pontiffs is an ancient and ecclesial tradition dear to many western Christians — and not a few eastern Christians — and its roots are primarily biblical and patristic, not secular. This self-understanding is basically in place before any Franks arrive on the scene, although it does undergo definite evolution during the early middle ages, and then again in the late middle ages, and then again after the Reformation. I know that Father likes to avoid these kind of debates, so I’ll let you have the last word, and then we can call it quits. Ultimately, this question will be worked out by our bishops — and I pray it is worked out … and soon!
The ‘invisible’ Church idea does not take into account the physicalness of the Church which stems from the Incarnation. The sacraments and all of the laying on of hands, the care of the dead. There is just too much to go with the invisible Church idea. Some of the Church is unseen by most by that does not make it invisible.
The Body of Christ is not ‘invisible’ otherwise there would be no problem with schism and the Protestants who are the ones that I know promote the idea the most don’t seem to have any problem with schism.
I believe it was St. Gregory of Nyssa who called schism worse than heresy. Heretics, real heretics, are not part of the Body. Schismatics wound the Body in a way that heretics to not.
Since, in a great reduction, the Orthodox and the RCC consider each other in schism that is a real problem.
The invisible Church idea allows us to be comfortable in schism (whichever one of us is). Anything that glosses over the wound and pretends it is not there does the same.
I am no triumphalist. One of us needs to be the one to whom the rest of us return. I don’t care so much which one as long as it is the true one. If that isn’t the Orthodox Church, I’ve got a lot of changing to do, but if I were ever convinced the Rome was the one, I’d make the changes by His grace.
That being said, genuine encounters with our Lord are not limited to the Orthodox or the RCC. If that were true, I would not even be a Christian. He gave me a scrap from the master’s table. He goes where hearts are open to receive Him, but the Body is more than just that.
I really appreciate the graciousness and honesty that you direct to this question.
The “seeds” of the later reading viz. the Papacy are indeed early. I think of their subsequent history as being much like the manner of pruning and directing the growth of a tree.
The “political” desires of the Frankish developments helped nurture growth towards universal jurisdiction and a single primacy. Had that growth and evolution occurred in a united Church with the support of the Church, I think it would be fair to say that it was a growth that reflected the work of the Spirit. But as that evolution occurred precisely in the face of opposition, even leading to schism, it’s hard to argue (from the East) that it was anything other than a deviation.
It’s not that the Franks invented the idea of the papacy. Rather, the evolution of the papacy took a marked universal turn under their tutelage and nurture, never returning to the status quo ante.
Of course, Romanides famously holds that the entire Roman Church was high-jacked by a Frankish takeover, a sort of Invasion of the Church Snatchers operation. I think he overstates matters.
But I appreciate your gentle spirit! God keep you!
these accounts, accurate or not so, are useful as a type of explanation for what came later, and that is the real issue… Rememember that the Eastern Orthodox Church has suffered both unspeakable tortures, pillages, rapes etc, as well as devious pressures during the centuries after the schism, to such a degree that, given the choice, many unequivocally preferred the Ottoman savageness!
I was using the term “indivisible” and I assume your writing of “invisible” was a typo rather than a misunderstanding.
I certainly do not gloss over the wound nor do I pretend it is not there. But I personally cannot change it – and I see the wound as man’s action, apparent in his human organizations. The actual Body of Christ is not damaged or divided.
At present, I consider myself a hybrid. I find myself becoming increasing Orthodox in my thinking but do not find that to be inconsistent with my RC worship practices – in fact, it enhances them. However, I cannot know yet if God is guiding me to make some bigger change that I do yet see.
Prayers, Mary. God is with you. So are we.