Editorial introduction: Here is a follow-up response from Dr. Nicholas Marinides commenting on the reply he received from Coptic author Mina Soliman on his piece from earlier this week, “Chalcedonian Orthodoxy and Non-Chalcedonian Heterodoxy.” For the full context, you’ll want to take a look at the previous posts:
Thanks Mina, for taking the time to write such a detailed response. I read the whole thing and it offers much food for thought and further investigation. Your faulting of me for not doing enough research is in several cases justified and I will strive to make up for those lapses in any future contributions on this topic.
To move on to some specific answers:
You express frustration with my approach. You write: “It is very clear therefore that you are a man who wants to uphold a tradition upon which you search for those things that affirm your beliefs and presuppositions. However, is that really honest?” But I think this is rather unfair of you: would it be really honest for me to ignore the patristic and conciliar tradition of my Church as the background and foundation of my views? When I visited St Macarius Monastery in Egypt in 2008 for two days I was asked by my guide, one of the monks, about why I had misgivings about the proposed reunion. I responded that I felt uneasy ignoring the writings of my Church’s Fathers, as I thought he would feel uneasy ignoring the writings of his. He seemed satisfied by this answer.
You also question my decision to begin with ecclesiological issues. You point out that schisms have been healed in the past, but I would respond that all of those were of relatively short duration (e.g. the reconciliation of homoiousians and other “Semi-Arians” via the Tome of Antioch in 362, the Reconciliation of 433 between St Cyril and John of Antioch, the healing of the Acacian Schism between Rome and Constantinople in 519, and perhaps of longest duration, the return of the Byzantine Church from iconoclasm at the 7th Ecumenical Council in 787, after almost fifty years of official iconoclasm — although of course that wasn’t the end of that controversy). A split of 1,500 years presents a far bigger problem for Orthodox ecclesiology (just as the split of nearly 1,000 years with the Roman Catholics does). Perhaps this can be resolved in a way that is consonant with true ecclesiology, but I am at a loss as to how.
I for one do not share the rigorous “Cyprianic” ecclesiology of some of the critics of the Dialogue. My understanding of ecclesiology is based on Fr Florovsky as well as I’ve been able to understand him; according to which, the (Chalcedonian) Orthodox Church is the Una Sancta, to which other Christian confessions maintain mystical ties through their sacraments, which however are valid not in their isolated schismatical/heretical state but inasmuch as they point the way back toward the unity of the Orthodox Church. This is why (re)baptism need not be administered to certain categories of those being reconciled to the Orthodox Church. Even one of the staunchest proponents of the Dialogue on the Theological Faculty of the University of Thessaloniki, Georgios Martzelos, argues that the Non-Chalcedonians are schismatics (not heretics, because they possess “ideological orthodoxy,” by which he seems to mean that their theology does not in essence differ from the formal Orthodoxy of the Chalcedonian tradition) who must formally accept the Seven Ecumenical Councils (i.e. their definitions, not necessarily their anathemas) in order for union to be achieved. No doubt you wouldn’t find even such a “conciliatory” view of your ecclesial status welcome, but it would be hard for us Chalcedonian Orthodox to go beyond this without betraying our very ecclesiological self-consciousness and falling into some variety of branch theory. I have noticed that the MDiv thesis of Will Cohen is available here, and I look forward to reading it to see if he has any sound suggestions.
Furthermore, you suggest “How about we take from our traditions the theology we teach, see where the essential theological disagreements lie and where they do not. Then see if the councils and fathers on both sides of the issue (Chalcedonian vs. anti-Chalcedonian) affirmed those basic theological principles.” This seems very reasonable, but upon further reflection it raises a major problem. You seem to assume that orthodox theology can be abstracted from the Councils and Fathers, but that is simply not the case. What would such a theology look like? What language would it use? At best, as a most optimistic solution, I could possibly foresee that the theology of Severus and the other Non-Chalcedonian Fathers would be found, after careful and profound study, to agree with the meaning of the dyophysite theology of the Chalcedonian Fathers, and be accepted on that basis. This would still leave open the problem of how the mix-up occurred in the first place, but at least it would satisfy most open-minded Orthodox that you all believe the same as we do.
The Dialogue until now has proceeded on the supposition that we could just rewind the clock back to St Cyril. But that is like trying to rewind the clock on the Arian controversy to before the Council of Nicaea, or at least before the Cappadocians. The parallels are instructive (in general, the parallels between the 4th- and 5th-century controversies would repay further study): the Cappadocians’ use of the term “hypostases” to refer to the different persons of the Trinity went beyond St Athanasius’ preferred terminology and eventually supplanted it (although he had allowed its use the Tome of Antioch), just as the use of the two natures terminology at Chalcedon went beyond St Cyril’s preferred terminology (although he had allowed its use in the Reconciliation of 433). In any case, even if we grant for argument’s sake that the Non-Chalcedonian expressions might be correct, the terminology of the Chalcedonian tradition is clearer, more sophisticated, and more complete, and thus should serve as the criterion.
As a corollary to that, I would suggest that you (and Fr V.C. Samuel) misrepresent St John Damascene’s theology of hypostasis, apparently ignoring his use of the terminology of the “enhypostaton” (which predates him). I admit that it’s been over a decade since I read Fr Samuel’s book, so I have just ordered it from a neighboring library to follow up on what you write. As for the Damascene’s interpretation of “one incarnate nature,” the various interpretations depend on whether one reads the Greek as μια φυσις του Θεου λογου σεσαρκωμενη or μια φυσις του Θεου λογου σεσαρκωμενου. Either version can be interpreted in line with St John (who is just repeating early Chalcedonian interpretations of the phrase), since in both cases the “mia physis” is interpreted as being equivalent to “mia hypostasis” (and hence referring to God the Word as subject) and the adjective σεσαρκωμενη or σεσαρκωμενου implies human nature: the Chalcedonian interpretation amounts to “one incarnated hypostasis of God the Word” or “one hypostasis of the incarnated God the Word” depending on which manuscript reading one chooses. So the objections of Fr McGuckin and of Dr. Van Loon are rather spurious.
As a minor postscript, since you brought up the history of violence: both sides of this debate are prone to wave the bloody shirt, but it is clear that violence occurred on both sides, and from various sources — imperial, episcopal, monastic, and popular. Volker Menze’s excellent book Justinian and the Making of the Syrian Orthodox Church, while not denying the violence of the Justinianic authorities against the Non-Chalcedonians, shows that it has been somewhat exaggerated. You seem to acknowledge that both sides are at fault here, but emphasize the grievances of the Non-Chalcedonians. You state “One has to contemplate that with much bloodshed, can there be a possibility to unite even if one may allegedly agree theologically?” Perhaps you simply intended to show why Chalcedonian theology has been rejected for so long by the Non-Chalcedonians. But personally I do not think that the histories of violence on both sides should be a serious obstacle to reunion, if theological agreement were to be achieved. (Unfortunately late antiquity is rife with Christian violence against pagans, Jews, and other Christians, something of which almost all ancient Christian traditions are guilty.)
Nicholas Marinides hails from Buffalo NY. He holds a PhD from the Department of History at Princeton University, with his dissertation on the topic of lay piety in seventh-century Byzantium. He is also a research fellow in the Department of Theology at the University of Basel in Switzerland, where he currently lives. Some of his published work can be accessed online.