The Authority of the Fathers

We Orthodox are fond of referring to the Church Fathers as authorities within the Church. When faced with a new or controversial issue, an Evangelical Protestant will ask, “What does the Bible say?” A classic Roman Catholic will ask, “What has Rome said?” An Orthodox will respond, “What do the Fathers say?” By this one can correctly conclude that the Fathers function as authorities in the Orthodox Church.

That said, we must still examine in exactly what way the Fathers function as authorities. This is not a straightforward or easy as it may first appear. The very use of the term “the Fathers” may lead the unwary to think that “the Fathers” were all carbon copies one of another, that they all marched in a kind of exegetical lock-step, and that there existed an untroubled unanimity of viewpoint and opinion among them. One might perhaps imagine that the Fathers are authoritative because they were so holy that each one had a hotline to heaven, and that the Holy Spirit within them bestowed an immunity from making mistakes and a supernatural insight not granted to us lesser mortals. If one adopts this view of the Fathers and believes that their authority was rooted in their personal closeness to God, one will be surprised when reading Church history. For there one will discover that the Fathers could be subject to personal weaknesses and sins rather like the rest of us, and that they often disagreed and even quarrelled with each other.

One does not need to read very much church history to confirm this. St. Augustine and St. Jerome, for example, conducted a very public exegetical quarrel about the meaning of Paul’s rebuke of Peter at Antioch mentioned by Paul in Galatians 2:11. St. Jerome (whom no one ever accused of being easy-going) famously quarrelled with his friend Rufinus over the theology of Origen so vociferously that it became a public scandal. St. Epiphanius and St. John Chrysostom found themselves at personal loggerheads in Constantinople to the point where they heartily detested each other. Nobody bats a thousand, not even the Fathers. None of this should be taken as a denial that the Fathers were holy. But holiness is found in real people, and the Fathers were real people. As such, they could make mistakes and sometimes find reasons for repentance.

So, what does the fact that the Fathers were real people mean regarding their authority in the Church? In what does their authority consist and where does it reside? First of all, let us examine two places where their authority does not reside.

Their authority does not reside in the details and minutiae of their Biblical interpretation. We are not, therefore, bound by all of their exegetical conclusions, and our task as exegetes today is not to simply parrot and reproduce what the Fathers wrote. Indeed, we could not do so even if we wanted to, for in their detailed exegesis of Biblical passages they often disagreed with one another. This is not surprising, since we are talking about the exegesis of thousands of verses done by men of different abilities, living in different countries, and writing in different centuries. Given this immense army of exegetes and preachers, it is hardly surprising that they disagreed about the details of exegesis.

And it is not as if the Holy Spirit fell asleep after the death of St. John of Damascus (often hailed as the last of the Fathers) and ceased to guide and illumine devout Christians in their examination of the sacred text. If the Spirit is still active in the Church we may expect a growth in our understanding of the sacred text, especially as new tools are placed in our hands—tools, for example, like a knowledge of Hebrew and literary artefacts of the Ancient Near East. There is a true and godly ministry of scholarship which differs from the merely destructive liberalism sometimes found in some universities, and the insights of these godly scholars should not be disdained. To reject these insights because they cannot be found in the days prior to St. John of Damascus is folly—a folly the Fathers would be the first to decry. Fidelity to the Fathers’ love of the Scriptures should lead us to embrace the insights of true scholarship if these help us to better understand the Scriptures.

Secondly, the authority of the Fathers does not reside in the details of their cosmology or their scientific worldview. The Fathers, being real people, accepted the scientific insights and cosmology of their day. How could they have done otherwise? Therefore they believed in a geocentric universe, and that the sun revolved around the earth. St. John of Damascus, for example, taught that the sun, moon, and stars, after they had set, moved from the west to the north and then to the east; that there were seven planets (of which the sun and moon were two), and that these moved from west to east though the heavens in which they were set moved from east to west (Expos. 2:6, 7). He also taught that there were waters above the sky, and that God placed them there to shield the earth from the burning heat of the sun and the ether (Expos. 2:9). St. Basil in his Hexameron taught that flying insects, grasshoppers, and mice were produced by rainfall, which accounted for the multitude of mice in Egypt after a heavy rainfall, and that eels did not come from parent eels, but from the mud (Hex. 9:2)

None of this is scientifically true, but that is irrelevant to the question of the Fathers’ authority, including the authority of St. John of Damascus and St. Basil. They taught what they knew, including what turned out to be a scientifically erroneous cosmology. But our fidelity to the Fathers does not mean that we are bound by the limits of their scientific knowledge. Where science confidently leads to other conclusions, we may follow.

In what then does the Fathers’ authority consist? In their understanding of Christian theology and their teaching of the basics of doctrine. The apostles handed down orally and in writing the basics of the Faith—things such as the nature of God, the deity of Jesus, the plight of mankind, God’s provision for our plight in His Son, the place of Israel in His dealings with men, and how His people should live so as to please Him. It included things like the nature of sin, order in the Church, the meaning of baptism and the Eucharist, and authority of the Old Testament Scriptures, and how Christians should worship and live. It even included such things as facing east in prayer and making the Sign of the Cross. These things were handed down by tradition in the Church, and the consensus of the Fathers across the miles and the centuries regarding these things reflects and reveals the fact that they were handed down to the Church by the apostles themselves. How else to explain such an impressive consensus among men who otherwise held such diverse opinions? This is what is meant by the consensus patrum.

We value this consensus patrum therefore because it witnesses to the faith delivered to us by the apostles, and it is the apostles who are the ultimate human authorities in the Church. In the Creed we do not confess “one, holy, catholic, and patristic Church”, but “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church”. The Fathers are not authorities in themselves, but are authorities because and insofar as their consensus reveals the teaching of the apostles—as they themselves confessed. Their authority lies in their witness to the apostles’ teaching and in their faithful transmission of this teaching. The Fathers are not the sources of the Church’s teaching, but its faithful guardians, witnesses, and transmitters. We are not free to dissent from the Fathers, because we are not free to dissent from the apostles and still identify ourselves as the apostolic Church.

We must be clear, therefore, and realize to what the consensus patrum refers. It does not refer to everything on which the Fathers agreed, for they all agreed that the sun revolved around the earth, and a geocentric universe is not a part of the consensus patrum. Rather, the term refers exclusively to the Fathers’ agreement in matters of basic doctrine and theology. Insisting that we adhere to their opinions in all matters of science and exegesis is to misunderstand and misapply the authority of the Fathers. We are faithful to their spirit and φρονεμα, to their love for Christ, to their veneration for the authority of the Scriptures, and to their rule of faith, for these things they received from the apostles. In lesser things (such comparative trivialities as science and exegesis) we are free to learn from others and follow elsewhere.

15 comments:

  1. If the authority of patristic consensus arises from their following the apostles, why does God not simply continue to have apostles on the earth? If the apostles themselves had a “special witness” and mission why not continue to have such men, whose authority and consensus would be utterly trustworthy?

    I ask this not to be contentious, but because this is a core claim of Mormonism (the religion of my upbringing). They claim that God does indeed desire to have apostles today who speak with the same apostolic authority of ancient times.

    I don’t want to debate the authority of Mormonism’s apostles, but rather to ask: why doesn’t God just do that?

    1. Because the twelve apostles’ authority was rooted in their role as eye-witnesses to the ministry of Christ (compare Acts 1:21-22).

      1. Then why does Christ not appear to additional men to act with apostolic authority, so that there are always men who can speak with that authority on the Earth?

        1. Because Christianity is a historical religion, rooted in the events that occurred in the first century. We do not need human oracles, but the Holy Spirit who refers us to the historical Christ, who is the sole absolute authority.

    2. There is no real difference between an Apostle and a Saint except that the Apostle’s witness is canonically preserved as liturgically worthy. The experience of an Apostle, a Prophet, or a Saint – and those undergoing glorification are the same. This is why there are so many Saints who are called “equal to the Apostles”. In what way are they equal since they, those after the Apostles, often cannot be said to have surpassed or to have equaled them in devotion necessarily – the only level playing ground so to speak is the experience of glorification.

      The greatest, most obvious way to show that you have undergone illumination/glorification is that you are free from the fear of death. Therefore, many martyrs, who have had no great theological insight, no great feats, are considered Saints. Freedom from the fear of death is proof that you are either in illumination or glorification, unless you are just crazy or something… This would also be the reason that the Church put the reigns on those who were anxious to be martyred, the cult of martyrs. This wasn’t a sign of freedom from fear but some sort of fanaticism. And also why the Church put long penances on those who had “caved” during persecution by restricting the cup from them – they had shown that they “didn’t get it”. The illumination that they had been given in baptism had been lost or for some other reason, it didn’t exist – therefore no partaking of the Body and Blood of the Lord.

      So, because we have the Apostolic witness, the witness of Saints, the witness of the Spirit in the consensus, and we are still making Saints today – we have all we need, thank God!

    1. God bless you! Sorry, dinosaur that I am, I don’t know what “millennial telephone” is. The term “apostolic succession” (not used in the article) usually refers to a succession of grace/ teaching on the part of the Church’s bishops.

  2. To my knowledge, to the extent that a person is in the state of illumination or glorification, this person is authoritative. A prophet, any person cured, a Saint – is a person who was in a state of illumination or glorification. I think there has to be a difference when a Saint is pontificating, just kidding, speculating over the natural realm and when they speak out of a direct experience of seeing. How do we know the difference if we ourselves are unillumined? I think there are several ways to go about this but there is something self-authenticating about the truth, we get relics as a testament to the reality of an illumined Saint, we get coherence eventually – a homeostasis that is satisfying, compelling, authenticated, persuasive. All knowledge is empirical, subjective, and objective at the same time. On the subjective level we get a kind of authentication, on the empirical level martyrs, miracles, relics, on the objective level we get truths we cannot live without realizing our whole world to dead-end if you play out the alternatives – then there is a deeper/transcendent? level of empiricism where we see God in His energies and words cannot do any justice when describing the experience, the subjective/objective/empirical being all at play but surpassed.

    So, the real question to me is an epistemological one. How do we know when Saints were or were not speaking in accordance to the Scriptures, to reality, to God’s intention for us in terms of knowledge? The Protestant would answer that Scripture is our epistemological starting point, at least in some schools of thought whether you are an evidentialist or a presuppositionalist. But it seems to me that an Orthodox Christian would start with the experience of God. This would not lead to subjectivism because there are ways to test a Prophet. False prophets get stoned, false teachers eventually get anathematized, false teachings get called out and all because they contradict the vision of God in His energy. The experience of God would not be pure empiricism because there is a subjective experience. And God all the while would be the Objective Reality (and then we could go on to negate and say God is beyond reality and so forth). So for a Protestant with their view of inspiration that God’s words are what Scripture is through the Prophetic medium, and from there we have a basis for knowledge – keeping Scripture as an ultimate authority and automatically negating others – all the while ignoring the impossibility of anyone being truly able on their own – especially with no belief in illumination/glorification – imagines the Bible’s words, as God’s words, to be self-authenticating. I remembering arguing with Catholics when I was Reformed that if nature is self-authenticating in that in leaves no one with any valid reason for rejecting that God is, then Scripture would do the same thing. But this can only be true if we know we are reading the Scripture’s through the same lens as the writers – therefore their reading is subjective much of the time since it has been proven that their theology is based on false presuppositions inconsistent with the writers of Scripture, they really just synthesize the Bible with false presuppositions most of the time.

    Worse though is when Protestants after doing a hack-job on the Bible treat it as merely human words about God but bearing little to no relation even analogically to God’s mind. They too with no belief in deification fare no better in terms of being cured.

    One of the great glories of Orthodoxy to me is that in terms of soteriology – and shouldn’t this trump other discussions between the Fathers – the mind of those illumined is preserved and modern discoveries confirm we’re still in the same vein, literally, as those before us. Therefore, we can actually by the grace of God, get on track for theosis.

    I don’t think I helped clear anything up, but in judging the Fathers we should more careful to hear what they said about our salvation. Their methods were empirical, if they didn’t work they didn’t do it. But they also weren’t only pragmatic because there are boundaries on how you can go about being cured and shortcuts are probably heretical and sinful.

    So, I would think an Orthodox Christian is a presuppositionalist in that we presuppose that knowledge of God comes through seeing, and that only the illumined or the glorified have seen, but that their “knowledge” that is passed to us is at the same time empirically justifiable, objective in that the knowledge is crucial to not hitting dead-ends with your worldview, and subjectively persuasive, satisfying, authenticated. So when people ask us how we “know” God exists, or that we can claim to “know” we are right about this or that – we can respond with, “I don’t know this for you, I am not you, but I know this for myself and it is not me just saying I feel or I think or my opinion is this or that, or it’s right for me.” We’re not just resorting to the subjective.

    Related to this, God has no need to prove Himself to us by appearing in some form, because it is true that Creation speaks all day long. God proves Himself to us all of the time. Really, the person doesn’t understand their own question. “God prove to me that you exist” is a bad question and the person asking it, unless it is from a purer heart, doesn’t understand the nature of “proof” – the empirical is there, the objective is there, but in this case the subjective is running the show and this God will not overcome because of free will. Our subjective knowledge is a tricky thing because it has the ability to argue against and to ignore empirical and objective knowledge.

    You know, I don’t really care if anyone besides you reads this Father. It may be a poor form of conversation but you don’t live next door.

    God bless you Father,
    Matthew Lyon

    1. One difficulty in making every saint an exegetical authority is that the saints themselves disagree with one another about the details of exegesis.

  3. I guess, I would need to see where a Saint, besides Augustine, is in such tragic disharmony with another Saint as it relates to the Gospel. And then it would need investigated if we understand both parties correctly. And then, in reality, one would need their teaching anathematized – because their is one Lord, one Baptism, etc.. There is one right soteriology and while others’ may have parts, or analogical connections, there is still one Gospel of God. So, I guess in speaking of differences between Saints, unless they are of the importance of soteriology or impact it in some way by contradiction that is provable – it seems that we can safely disregard much of their science if that is the topic, knowing it was culturally conditioned often by the non-Christian scientists of their day, without diminishing in any way their knowledge of God – which is pretty much what you already said.

    There is a big difference as well between a Saint speculating in my view and one who is in the state of illumination/glorification. Those in this state don’t get things wrong. Not because God has overpowered them but because their “knowledge” is pure and not based on discursive reasoning. Reasoning, in terms of choosing between alternatives is over, and reality is, God is.

    I’m leaning heavy on Romanides in all of this but it’s just true, a Prophet, to be a Prophet in the OT you had to have a one on one encounter with God, that’s what made you a Prophet. In the same way, in the NT, all of the writers had to be eyewitnesses or close associates with an Apostle, who, saw God. There’s a real argument for Christ’s deity probably not utilized much here. Paul is always referring to His Damascus road experience of seeing Christ, or getting blinded by Him, as validation of his ministry along with the consensus, checking his theology against the disciples, those who had seen, and they were on the same page. In the same way, we are all called with unveiled faces to be transformed into His likeness. So, the Saint is on the same level in this respect as an Apostle because they are illumined. Whether or not their teaching should be treated as authoritative is based on the consensus, just as the Apostles were not always in the state of illumination otherwise Peter wouldn’t have gone off the rails for a while with the Judaizers.

    Many Fathers never had the chance to get corrected, or because of differences in terminology Satan created confusion between them, but if they had, they would have believed the consensus to have been led by the Holy Spirit.

    An interesting case study is the reception of the Book of Enoch, or the rejection of it. We have significant voices quoting it as Scripture but not all were in agreement, and as almost a standard response we get them dropping the issue trusting the Spirit. But again, this wouldn’t diminish the value of the Book of Enoch, or of other texts, but that they were not worthy of the liturgy. To my knowledge that was the real issue driving the Canon, worthiness during liturgy – which ought to make a Protestant blush – and of course protecting the flock and so on. But proper worship, which could not be done if reading a document that was suspected to be false/tampered with/etc., was the concern, then the writings of the eyewitnesses would be most valued, preserved, considered authoritative. I think this plays into how we think about other writings, Saints or otherwise, the value shouldn’t necessarily be compared in terms of just authority but in worthiness liturgically. This is the way it seems that the NT is superior to writings of the Saints, but on another level, Saints who are in illumination with the Apostles with the glorified are all on the same plane. The only reason there isn’t further revelation is because all of these are part of the consensus, they do not compete with each other and they share the same knowledge. It’s more than just the 3-legged stool idea I think – the source of their knowledge being direct and not just secondary, like the Scripture was direct but our knowledge of God is and only can be secondary. Our knowledge of God can be as direct as the Prophets and the Saints if we aim for glorification and if God grants us the gift of glorification. So Scripture and Tradition are not competitors, and neither must we harmonize everything in lower case tradition with Tradition and Scripture – the consensus patrum will win out not as power plays from men, but because the epistemological core for Scripture and Tradition are the same.

    Hope that makes sense!

    1. If you are looking for examples of where Saints and Fathers greatly disagreed with each other, even to the point of one side calling the other side “heretics”, here are two:

      1. The Quartodeciman Controversy — In the first century, the Apostle John taught the Christians of the Churches in Asia Minor (according to St Polycarp) to celebrate Pascha on the 14th of Nisan, which happened to coincide with the celebration of the Jewish Passover. This was the tradition that was taught by the Apostle, and defended by his disciple St. Polycarp, and by St. Melitos of Sardis (near Smyrna).

      In the second century, many of these Asian Christians had immigrated to Rome, and had established their own parishes there which continued in the traditions of their homeland (foreshadowing of the Church in North America?). The Bishop of Rome, however, felt that since their date for the celebration of Pascha wasn’t on the same date as Rome’s, the Asian Churches in Rome were therefore teaching heresy, and he was about to excommunicate them. St. Irenaeus of Lyons (who himself was born in Smyrna, and as a child listened to some of the teachings of St. Polycarp), wrote a letter to the Bishop of Rome, pleading with him not to break the unity of the Church simply because one Orthodox group celebrated Pascha on a different date than another Orthodox group. He wrote: “The difference in practice confirms the unity in faith”.

      Unfortunately, St. Irenaeus’ wise advice did not settle the dispute. The issue was later brought up at the 1st Ecumenical Council, during which the Bishops gathered there determined “the correct” date of Pascha, which every Orthodox Christian from that point on must follow. So, basically, what was once considered Orthodox (and of Apostolic origin) by a large segment of the Church, was later declared to be heresy.

      2. Angels vs. Humans — The issue here is the Church’s interpretation of Genesis 6. The text says, “When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose.
      Then the Lord said, ‘My Spirit shall not abide in [or with] man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.”

      The interpretive question that the Church faced was, “Who were the sons of God that enabled these nephilim (“giants” in LXX) to be born?” The writings of Second Temple Judaism and the early Church Fathers teach that these “sons of God” were Divine spiritual beings, gods who were once loyal to Yahweh, and members of His Divine Council (Ps. 82:1), who later rebelled against him and became the gods of the various nations. All of the Church Fathers of the first three centuries (the ones that we have extant writings from) believed and taught this as part of the Orthodox Faith. St. Irenaeus’ book, “On the Apostolic Preaching”, which was a catechism among his people, teaches this very clearly. (BTW, this book was lost by the 3rd century, an Armenian copy was discovered in 1904, today is available in English).

      In the 4th century, starting with the writings of Augustine, the tide of this interpretation began to change. He taught that the “sons of God” were actually human beings, “sons of Seth” who married the “daughters of Cain”. This new interpretation began to take hold, and all the Church Fathers of that era began to teach this view (except St. Ambrose of Milan, who held to the Angelic view).
      Some of the Church Fathers, most prominently St. John Chrysostom, began to teach that anyone who held to the Angelic view, instead of the Sethite interpretation, was in heresy. So, in effect, what St. John (and others of that day) did, was to call St. Ambrose, St. Irenaeus, St. Justin Martyr, and many other Saints, heretics (at least in regards that one teaching).

      Today, the Church primarily, although not exclusively, holds to the Sethite interpretation. In other words, what was once considered Orthodox by the majority of the Church was later condemned as heresy.

      Everything in the writings of the Saints isn’t as cut and dried as we’d like it to be (with our Romantic idealistic view of the history of the Church). Anyone who thinks that all the Fathers agreed or were like-minded on everything to do with the Faith, simply haven’t read enough of the writings of the Fathers.

      1. I appreciate your comments. It’s not that I have a romantic view of things, it’s more this epistemological distinction between those in illumination and those who are not. I think without this you have to commit yourself to some form of Sola Scriptura. Either the Church works things out progressively, the Scripture is self-authenticating, the Fathers who wrote in a state of illumination were correct in the information God intended people to have about him, power-plays determined Orthodoxy, and so on. I’m trying to be quick here and not entirely precise, but the issue is one of “how do we know”. It is more cut and dry in Rome, at least that’s what they say, and so there is more certainty over what they believe. If we are going to say we are the Church of the Fathers, we cannot, in my opinion, turn them into Sola Scripturists arguing with one another – but, using the prophet as not only example, but ideal – we are all called to prophesy – those who are in the state of illumination or glorification, and I have to stress that illumination is not a permanent thing – every person I know of in Scripture who saw God, except for the Virgin Mary, still sinned afterwards, the vision didn’t take away their freedom. But, in the case of the Prophet, God communicated to His people in an authentic, specific, understandable way – and this is what the Fathers did as well, as well as the Apostles. Otherwise we have to ditch the functionality of language, ascribe error to the Scriptures, resort to Protestant defenses of the Scriptures or Catholic ones, etc. The issue is all about epistemology. Our confidence that the Prophet or the Apostles or the Fathers communicated truly is in the fact that they had a one on one with God. This is why we call Moses the God-seer, the unveiled face of Moses, is what we are to have as well, but it cannot be acquired without toil. So, your examples, while they are disappointing in that they show an immaturity, they do not amount to real differences over things crucial to our soteriology.

        I believe in the Divine Council and it’s another huge issue to level against Augustine that he robbed much of Church history from the obvious mind of Christ and the Apostles in that (Christ and) the Apostles obviously knew Christ to have undone Genesis 6, Babel, apostate Israel, and was re-creating a new family. That’s in short of course. Is there a soteriological dimension missing if we ignore this? Certainly. We will not appreciate fully the work of Christ. But as it relates to our asceticism, our struggle to be – will it change that struggle, no. Why? Because the mind of the Church is preserved in the liturgies of the Church. Because we still have Christ as Victor over death, the powers, and so on. It’s the same story with some missing details. The Holy Trinity is still set on making new members of His Council and really that is what theosis is. We will rule and reign with Christ if we undergo cure which results in selfless love. On this note, you would love to read the Catechetical Lectures of St Cyril of Jerusalem. He’s obviously on the same page with us.

        And as you said, to label someone a heretic in an isolated exegetical circumstance like this is not akin to denying some Christological doctrine. But to me, and I tend to place more weight on the first three centuries especially when it can clearly be seen that these were the formative times for the liturgies we still perform, we can distinguish between those in illumination/glorification by the work they produced which fulfills a sort of normative epistemological quality. It is coherent and continuous with the mind of the original writer in either an allegorical, analogical, or literal way. It is part of an overall worldview that does not dead end in nihilism, the destruction of a human personality distinct from God, it is inherently self-authenticating in this regard, it speaks to all humans everywhere, it has explanatory power for a great range of things, from creation to the existence of other religions, to human purpose and dignity, it has the backing of a consensus, it is tested, it wins out in the end, it is empirically justified; it produces Saints. That’s again a short example, but for me, I have to ask myself the question, will I live with no certainty that what I believe is true, with extremely limited certainty, with extreme suspicion, etc. as an Orthodox Christian? How can I judge? I am not in a state of illumination or glorification, I haven’t seen God, I cannot judge a Saint properly. So how do I know what to accept, what to ignore, what to call outdated, how to know the advice my Priest gives which could be based on a “pre-modern, ignorant”, etc… view of the world is worth following.

        You can place the truth in the words of Scripture, but then there are numerous problems. You can place your certainty in your or someone else’s, or a Pope’s, or a Christian guru celebrity, but how do you know they are getting things right? By comparing their data with yours? Where’s the authority? In the community, the community decides? All of the alternatives, except maybe Rome – and then there is a huge historical case against this plus the obvious mistakes they have made regarding Scripture that are hardwired into their system – leave you in a realm of subjectivity. The only way to preserve the integrity of our doctrine is if there is such a thing as illumination and glorification it seems, and it is just this experience that the Scripture is calling us to anyway, that’s no coincidence.

        But I need to be better read, until then I will go on with my possibly naïve presupposition, but at the moment I feel safe. What will I do if I find out all of the Fathers never agreed, well I already know that’s not the case.

        God bless you,
        Matthew Lyon

        If you have any reading recommendations I would appreciate it!

  4. Aren’t the various disagreements evidence of what St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians (I Cor 13:12) “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

    Also what comes to mind is the admonition of the blessed Seraphim Rose, that we not just slavishly quote Father’s but strive to take on the mind of the Fathers in our present age. That is, in fact, what genuine Tradition allows for as opposed to a rote rule of “law” or the binary opposite, full and total reinterpretation based upon modern ideas.

    It is a difficult balance to maintain that only the continued presence of the Holy Spirit allows for it. That balance was one of the reasons I became Orthodox. The Holy Spirit is still active and still presence and will reveal the fullness of the Truth, as needed, to each and every person who seeks Him.

  5. On the Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit
    by St. Photios

    “You bring forth Ambrose, Augustine and Jerome as well as certain other men as witnesses against the dogma of the Church, because you say they hold the opinion that the Spirit proceeds from the Son. They say, One should not charge the Holy Fathers with the crime of ungodliness: one either agrees with their opinions because they taught rightly and are acknowledged as Fathers, or they and their teaching should be rejected as impious because they introduced impious doctrines. These things are said by youngsters in fearful desperation, for the insufferable conclusions of their unprofitable impudence cannot escape in the face of knowledge and zeal. Not content with distorting the word of the Master and slandering the herald of piety, they deem the Fathers’ zealous pursuits incomplete and then turn around and make their Fathers treat the Master and His herald with wanton violence, and then they celebrate this! However, the simple word of truth confounds them, saying, Take care where you are going, how long will you plunge your destruction into the vitals of your soul.”

    Even with the weight of the filioque St Photios gives those who seemed to support it the benefit of the doubt that either they would have accepted correction, that their work had been tampered with, that they were not dogmatizing, etc. But sanctity is not the sole basis for his defense of Ambrose, Augustine, etc. – it is also the quality of their other writings among other things. Most all heretics are extremely good people so this cannot be enough to guarantee truth from them. How can you guarantee truth, it comes from a 1:1 encounter with God in His Energies. I’m not sure if St Photios took this approach, but again, unless you are going for dictation, you approach the Creed and all Councils with the supposition that they could have erred or did necessarily, you see all of the works of the Fathers as inherently errant, and then what will you do with Scripture as well, the Canon, and so on – it seems this distinction is necessary. One of the greatest signs it seems to me that someone is a Saint is if they will submit to the consensus, as Paul did and the first Jerusalem Council – the fact that they could agree on this is really amazing and can only be credited to the Holy Spirit – and there are good reasons to assume on the basis of someone’s life’s works, the memory of them, the struggles they endured, their broader adherence to the consensus – that they would have. They get the benefit of the doubt instead of binary fully blown acceptance or full blown heresy.

    As it relates to pitting one Father against another on a smaller issue, it just seems like a waste of time, and from St Photios, we should “cover their shame” versus flaunting it. Even here is an exegetical mistake since Ham probably impregnated his mother, his father’s nakedness, but we get the point, that’s the point. There is a flexibility with language in that we can be totally wrong exegetically and totally right in applying a wrong analogy. It still works. It seems that Paul’s exhortation for hair/head coverings has something to do with the fact that the science of the day thought of hair as a sexual organ via Hippocrates. Well, is Paul wrong if he believed this, yes. But would he be wrong to exhort others to cover their head if the population believed this science of their day, no. He would be right, it would be nudity. If people believed their elbows performed a sexual task we would soon have new fetishes everywhere!

    God bless!

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