Can You Baptize Without Baptism? Review: The Ecclesiological Renovation of Vatican II by Fr. Peter Heers

Is it possible to receive an unbaptized person into the Orthodox Church without baptizing him? What would it mean to do such a thing? You might not expect a book about the Second Vatican Council to elicit such questions from Orthodox sacramental theology but Fr. Peter Heers’s 2015 doctoral thesis, published with the title The Ecclesiological Renovation of Vatican II (ERV2), does just that. The book examines the theology and practice of baptism in the Latin West as it was articulated at the Second Vatican Council (V2), tracing its development from the time of St. Augustine, and contrasts this narrative, unfavorably, with what is presented as the theology and practice of the Orthodox East.

The main thesis of ERV2 is that the Latin West has departed by degrees from the patristic theology and practice of baptism, culminating in an entirely novel understanding of baptism articulated at V2. This new conception of baptism becomes the theological foundation for a new ecclesiology that enables the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) to enter the arena of ecumenical engagement, from which it had previously been excluded by its own theological commitments.

In the more than three years since its publication the book has received little sustained attention in terms of its structure, thesis, and argument. Such attention is needed, because ERV2 asserts a particular understanding of our own canonical and ecclesiological tradition that bears further scrutiny. Additionally, the way in which that tradition is deployed against the West raises methodological questions about the structure of the argument as a whole. This essay will highlight the structural flaws in ERV2 and devote sustained attention to the canonical and historical dimensions of its claims concerning the Christian East, with the intention of demonstrating that it presents a distorted understanding of the Orthodox tradition and fails to offer a sound defense of its thesis.

Purpose & Structure

If the stated purpose of ERV2 is its assessment of the ecclesiological developments afoot at V2, ecumenism brings us near its unstated purpose. The justification for ecumenical engagement in the RCC, according to ERV2, is a new understanding of baptism. Demonstrating that this justification is deeply flawed would erode the foundation upon which ecumenism rests, at least conceptually. It isn’t merely the end of ecumenism in the RCC that ERV2 has as its object, however. It is the ecumenical activity of the Orthodox churches, often based on a similar if not identical concept, that ERV2 seeks to make theologically indefensible, though this fact will not be stated explicitly for almost three hundred pages.1

What may not be immediately obvious is that the argument above contains two assertions rather than one: 1) what the western (Latin-speaking) tradition teaches concerning baptism and ecclesiology and 2) what the Greek speaking East believes on those same questions. For the sake of space, only ERV2’s treatment of the Christian East will be considered in what follows.2

Methodological Problems

The structure of the argument ERV2 advances proceeds along two lines: 1) an exploration of intra-western developments in the theology and practice of baptism and 2) a critical juxtaposition of those developments with the purported tradition of the Christian East. These two lines of argument do not appear sequentially in ERV2. The critical juxtaposition is woven into the narrative of western developments from the very beginning such that the reader is continually moving between East and West, as well as backward and forward in time, which has the occasional effect of overburdening the narrative.

Given that an account of baptism in the East is being offered along with the West, one might reasonably expect a scholarly survey of the historical, theological, and canonical issues on both sides, but this is not done. Instead, ERV2 develops only the western half of the contrast. The doctrine and practice of baptism in the Christian East is presented as unchanging and uniform, embodied in the “sacramental ecclesiology” of St. Cyprian of Carthage.3 This is a claim, however, rather than a fact, and one that is repeatedly asserted without sufficient demonstration, as we will discuss in greater detail in the following section.

This negatively affects the soundness of the book’s argument in two ways. First, as mentioned previously, the contrast with the East is one of the two pillars of ERV2’s thesis. That the soundness of this pillar is untested, so to speak, creates a formal flaw in the argument. We do not know whether the Eastern pillar can bear the rhetorical weight put upon it by the author. Second, from the very first pages, the theological problems of V2, around which the book revolves, are established as problems in large part by means of a contrast with the sacramental ecclesiology of St. Cyprian. Asserting this ecclesiology at the outset artificially enhances the contrast between East and West.

It also introduces a second formal flaw into the argument in the form of the logical fallacy commonly known as “begging the question.” That the book continues without seriously defending the status it assigns to St. Cyprian’s thought, even as it continues to function as the essential counterpoint to developments in the West, casts doubt on the soundness of the entire project.

St. Cyprian Interrogated

What does it mean to say that the sacramental ecclesiology of St. Cyprian is asserted by ERV2 rather than demonstrated? In essence it means that canonical and historical references to baptism in the Eastern tradition are interpreted in a manner consistent with the theology of St. Cyprian without addressing (or in most cases even acknowledging) the diversity of practices regarding reception of heretics and schismatics in the East, or the complexity of the questions raised thereby. Consider the following example:

Section 1 of the book, entitled, Key Aspects of the Historical Development of the Roman Catholic Teaching on Baptism and the Church, begins with a three page excursus on the centrality of baptism in the scriptures. The point of this section is to establish at the outset that the changes afoot at V2, which had been surveyed in the introductory material, are not merely surprising changes in Catholic teaching but also radical departures from the tradition of the Christian East. At the end of the penultimate paragraph of this section the author states:

As is apparent in the epistles of Saint Paul, especially Ephesians 4:5, there was no doubt as to the boundaries of the Church and the identity of the Christians vis-à-vis schismatics and heretics… Even if some in the Church in the West would later suffer an identity crisis and lose this clarity of vision and self-understanding. Nevertheless, the simple truth of “one Lord, one faith, one Baptism” (Eph. 4:5) remained self evident to the Church, for which Christ is the same “yesterday, and today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8.)4

This statement is carrying more weight than it can bear. In terms of formal argumentation, notice that “some” in the West is contrasted with “the Church” in the East, which is a false equivalence. Exegetically, the Apostle Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:5 are presented as an ecclesiological statement without any attempt to show that this is how they are actually being used in his letter.

More to the point, is it the case that the Orthodox have never debated or questioned among themselves who, among heretics and schismatics, is to be baptized or how scripture and tradition ought to be understood on this question? Or that, if we have done so, we have always returned to the same insight? That this is not the case is revealed in a multitude of historical sources, not least in the lengthy arguments between Pope St. Stephen and St. Cyprian about the proper (traditional) manner of receiving schismatics or heretics, in which St. Stephen charges St. Cyprian with innovation for suggesting that all schismatics should be (re)baptized.5

Two further examples will suffice to illustrate the point. In chapter 9, Baptism and the Church According to Unitatis Redintegratio, the author explores the ways in which he thinks the document differs from older Roman Catholic teaching on the status of sacraments performed outside the Church. In a burst of unwarranted confidence he declares:

The early consensus patrum on this question is clear and indisputable: the Holy Spirit is not given in the “Baptism” of those outside the Church. This was the teaching, not only of St. Cyprian of Carthage, St. Firmilian, St. Athanasius, and St. Basil, among many others, but also of the first protagonist in the Baptism controversy, Pope Stephen of Rome.6

A footnote at the end of the first sentence above directs the reader, without comment, to the Greek text of Metropolitan John Zizioulas’s 1965 doctoral thesis, Eucharist, Bishop, Church: The Unity of the Church in the Divine Eucharist and the Bishop in the First Three Centuries. This reference to a secondary source is the sole citation given by the author in support of his grandiose claim concerning sacraments outside the Church. It is worth noting that, upon inspection of the relevant section, Eucharist, Bishop, Church itself does not include texts or quotations from any of the above mentioned fathers, offering instead the author’s heavily footnoted synthesis of a variety of sources.7

In the same vein, the claim that Pope St. Stephen agreed with St. Cyprian about the Holy Spirit’s absence outside the Church is not directly attributable to him. Rather, it belongs to an anonymous and sympathetic North African bishop, from whom Metropolitan John derives St. Stephen’s position by inference.8 One would expect such a sweeping claim as ERV2 makes above to be defended with reference to primary sources, especially when the secondary source cited does not supply them. However, ERV2 offers us nothing more than a mere list of names. Here, again, an assertion is being made concerning the East that is not demonstrated.

The closest ERV2 comes to addressing the complexity of the Eastern tradition on the question of baptism is in chapter 4. After reiterating that for “St. Cyprian and the subsequent Eastern tradition” there is no legitimate baptism outside the Church, the author says, “Of course, already in the third and fourth centuries the Church began to accept certain groups of heretics without baptizing them, as is clearly delineated by St. Basil the Great.”9

He then quotes at length from Serbian scholar-bishop Athanasius Yevtich to the effect that, because the act of receiving schismatics or heretics into the Church is understood as receiving them from outside the Church, the absence of baptism as a feature of their reception does not in any way alter the unquestioned uniformity of the Church’s sacramental and ecclesial boundaries.

This explanation raises more questions than it answers. First, if no one outside the Church is baptized, how is it possible to receive them into the Church by some means other than baptism? Can you baptize without baptism?

Second, how is it that the position of St. Cyprian was supposedly ubiquitously embraced in the third century, but abandoned in the fourth century and beyond? By the same token, how could St. Basil, who was sympathetic to St. Cyprian’s approach, along with the fathers of the First Ecumenical Council, agree to receive some schismatics without baptism, or reordination in the case of clergy?1011

Finally, what are we to make of the fact that in AD 345 the synod of bishops in St. Cyprian’s own Carthage adopted a new canon against rebaptizing those returning to the Church from the Donatist schism, overturning the rule of St. Cyprian promulgated less than a hundred years earlier in that same city? On all of these questions ERV2 offers us no help. That no baptism exists outside the Church is simply and repeatedly asserted, while the broader context of these issues, as well as the theological conundra raised by the author’s position, go unaddressed and unexplained.

History & Canons

Succeeding centuries would not prove more favorable to the sacramental ecclesiology of St. Cyprian than the fourth. The fathers of the Quinisext (Trullo) Council, meeting in Constantinople at the end of the seventh century, devoted substantial time to codifying the canonical corpus of the East. Not only did they not elevate the canonical acts of St. Cyprian, they pointed out that they had not been enforced anywhere outside the jurisdiction of Carthage.12 Further, the fathers of the Quinisext Council also promulgated canons of their own which do not reflect the theology of St. Cyprian.13

At the beginning of the second millennium, the great medieval canonists, Theodore Balsamon and John Zonaras, in their commentaries on the Corpus Canonum, regard the canonical acts of St. Cyprian concerning baptism with indifference.14 Balsamon does not even print the acts of the Council under St. Cyprian in his edition. One might be tempted to consider the question thus settled were it not for a conspicuous lacuna in the patristic tradition.

With the exception of the two North African saints opposed to each other by ERV2, Augustine and Cyprian, most patristic literature in the first millennium (letters, canons, canonical commentary, acts of councils, etc.) focuses on how various groups should be received, without attempting to explain why. Neither do they offer a hermeneutic of canonical interpretation that reconciles the often contradictory canonical practices of different places and eras. To the modern mind this omission begs not only for explanation but perhaps even a solution, and a modern man in the modern era would supply both.

The great irony is that the clearest evidence that the sacramental ecclesiology of St. Cyprian is not representative of the East comes from the same source as the canonical hermeneutic upon which the coherence of ERV2s ecclesiological and sacramental argument depends: The Pedalion (The Rudder).

The Theory of Economy

The peace and stability brought about by the end of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) led to an economic and cultural boom in Europe, resulting in greater proximity to the world of the Mediterranean. Unsurprisingly, this led to the occasional conversion (lay or clergy) from Roman Catholicism to Orthodoxy.

This might not have instigated any significant interest regarding mode of reception beyond diocesan borders were it not for two complicating factors. First, while the relative peace of the Enlightenment nurtured increased contact between East and West, it was also a time of flourishing for Uniatism, as the Melkite schism of 1724 attests.15 This engendered a great deal of animosity in the ecclesiastical circles of the Ecumenical Patriarchate leading to the publication of the Tome of Ecumenical Patriarch Cyril V, in 1756, which made reception of Roman Catholics by baptism the official policy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate for the first time.16

The Tome was promulgated by Cyril with Patriarchs Matthew of Alexandria and Parthenios of Jerusalem, but without the sympathy or approval of the synod in Constantinople, a fact which would play into the removal of Cyril as Patriarch later on. It also overturned the centuries-old practice of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, codified at the Council of 1484, which laid out a specific service of chrismation for Catholics.17

Second, this period gave rise to one of the great Orthodox churchmen of the early modern period, St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain. In addition to being a monk and devoted son of the Church, St. Nikodemos in many ways epitomized his time. A man of broad learning and diverse talents, he was conversant in French, Latin, and Italian, as well as ancient Greek. He read, edited, and translated at least two works of Roman Catholic provenance for Orthodox use, as well as compiling a collection of monastic sayings (The Philokalia) in modern Greek.

The relative ease of publication in the eighteenth century, along with his evangelical zeal, inspired St. Nikodemos to compile, in a single volume, the canonical corpus of the Orthodox Church as he knew it for the education and edification of the average lay person—a volume called the Pedalion (in English, The Rudder). It is this work that will thrust the question of baptism for heretics and schismatics into the limelight once again. It will also shroud the saint himself in a fog of contradiction, which is only recently beginning to clear in light of historical research.

The idea that the canons of the Church ought not only to be read but actually to be owned in copies by every Orthodox Christian was, and perhaps remains, novel. It makes sense, however, in light of St. Nikodemos’s participation in the renewal movement of the Kollyvades Fathers, which sought to restore important traditions in the life of the faithful that had been lost, such as frequent communion, and eliminate corresponding innovations.

The single most distinctive feature of The Rudder is that it attempts what earlier canonists and even Ecumenical Councils had not: to offer an overarching hermeneutic of interpretation for the entire canonical tradition. Given St. Nikodemos’s desire for a ressourcement among the faithful, this is not surprising. The average lay person would need help, in the form of notes and commentary, to understand what he was reading.

As it pertains to canons concerning the reception of schismatics and heretics, the theory he applies is commonly known as the “theory of economy,” which reconciles apparently contradictory canons by arguing that “strictness” — canons which call for (re)baptism — is the ideal in every case and “economy” — canons that call for reception by chrismation or confession of faith — is bending the rule for the sake of expedience in a particular case.

The genius of this system is its simplicity. The often arcane details of theological and historical context are rendered almost completely superfluous, or at least relegated to questions about what circumstances might justify an “economic” approach. This is not to say that the concept of economy itself, understood in the sense of prudential management of the household of God, was new. St. Basil’s first canonical letter to Amphilochios expresses an economic approach to the reception of heretics and schismatics by identifying some groups he believes must be received by baptism, some by chrismation, and some circumstances where he suggests that custom should prevail, despite his own opinion.18

However, Nikodemos is the first to apply “strictness” and “economy” as an overarching hermeneutical principle . According to this way of seeing the tradition, canons that mandate baptism possess ecclesiological content while canons that mandate reception by some other means express a merely tolerable pragmatism. Still, this approach is not without problems.

First, the approach is novel. The Church created and applied its canonical corpus for approximately 1500 years without the benefit of an overarching theory of economy. Earlier uses of economy included both lenience and strictness, and following the canons to the letter was generally regarded as strictness. St. Nikodemos’s new theory of economy identifies following certain canons to the letter (i.e., those that specify receiving certain converts by means other than baptism) as being lenient (“economy”), while following others to the letter (those that call for baptizing converts) as being strict.

Second, as was mentioned earlier, if baptism does not exist in any sense outside the Church, the practice of economy is the practice of bringing unbaptized people into the Church without baptism. How is this possible or acceptable?

Third, and perhaps most significant, much of the canonical literature simply does not give any indication that economy was the rationale upon which the mode of reception for some schismatic or heretical group was based. On this question, Trullo canon 95 is representative:

Those who from the heretics come over to orthodoxy, and to the number of those who should be saved, we receive according to the following order and custom. Arians, Macedonians, Novatians, who call themselves Cathari, Aristeri, and Testareskaidecatitæ, or Tetraditæ, and Apollinarians, we receive on their presentation of certificates and on their anathematizing every heresy which does not hold as does the holy Apostolic Church of God: then first of all we anoint them with the holy chrism on their foreheads, eyes, nostrils, mouth and ears; and as we seal them we say — “The seal of the gift of the Holy Ghost.”

Following the above, the fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council enumerate various other sects who must be baptized, but at no point do they indicate that they receive Arians, Novatians, etc., by chrismation out of “economy,” or that they receive the others by baptism out of “strictness.” Such a reading is profoundly eisegetical. If one were to take the theory of economy seriously as the traditional canonical hermeneutic, one would be forced to assume that the fathers of the first millennium understood it to be the basis of their legislation but never bothered to mention it.

In any case, the theory of economy only works as an explanatory model if one assumes, a priori, that St. Cyprian was correct, and reception by baptism is the ideal in every case. As we have shown, this is not historically defensible. But the story of St. Nikodemos and the creation of his most influential book gets much more interesting and calls into question even more deeply its utility as a source of Cyprianic canonical logic.

St. Nikodemos & The Rudder

The creation of The Rudder brought St. Nikodemos into conflict with Ecumenical Patriarch Neophytos VII whose imprimatur, as bishop of the Holy Mountain, Nikodemos needed, and on whose coffers the funding of The Rudder depended. This last point would prove critical.

Prior to approving the publication of his book, the Synod in Constantinople assigned an examiner to review the contents of The Rudder. The man responsible for this task was Hieromonk Dorotheos Voulismas. Voulismas was, himself, a well traveled and intelligent man, and held the title of “Preacher of the Great Church.” He was also implacably hostile to Roman Catholicism. Drawing on the Tome of Cyril V, Voulismas argued that St. Nikodemos must alter the text of The Rudder in regard to his commentary on the reception of heretics and schismatics, specifically Roman Catholics, because, in St. Nikodemos’s original reading of the canonical tradition, laity converting from the RCC did not need to be rebaptized and clergy coming from Rome did not need to be reordained!19

This may seem astonishing to those familiar with the text of The Rudder as we now know it. St. Nikodemos’s proposed reading was entirely unacceptable to Voulismas. In the end, St. Nikodemos was compelled by Patriarch Neophytos to adjust the text of The Rudder to the satisfaction of Voulismas, or it would not be printed. Thus, the relevant portions of the final text, such as the commentary on Apostolic Canon 46 (which canon was commonly, and mistakenly, believed to have actual apostolic authorship), give no obvious intimation of the opinions apparently expressed in early drafts. As such, when it comes to the question of baptism in general, and the reception of Roman Catholics in particular, the commentary of The Rudder bears the stamp of Voulismas’s own theological convictions, not those of St. Nikodemos.

In light of this, questions emerge about the curious theological framework St. Nikodemos created to undergird the reading of the canonical tradition imposed upon him. As discussed above, the most distinctive feature is his harmonization of the canons by means of the theory of economy. What is especially curious is the prominent place he gives to the thought of St. Cyprian, who serves as the foundation of his interpretive system, despite the fact that, as has been demonstrated, St. Cyprian’s canonical thought did not have a profound or lasting impact on the practice of the East or the thought of earlier canonical commentators.

Is this a foundation of Nikodemos’s own choosing or is it also an imposition? More research is necessary to answer this question, though the language employed against “the Latins” in the commentary on Apostolic Canon 46 is difficult to reconcile with his interest in Western spiritual literature, mentioned earlier, and his authentic canonical opinions concerning their reception into Orthodoxy.

Further, Fr. John Erickson has pointed out an interesting and suggestive consequence of the choice to ground his reading in St. Cyprian. While the articulation of “Cyprianic” thought employed in The Rudder seems rather severe, it actually circumvents the even stricter canonical “logic” of the Tome of Cyril and provides a theoretical basis for receiving Roman Catholics without rebaptism:

As this Cyprianic ecclesiological argument becomes more prominent [in Nikodemos’s argument], so too does the role of economy. Earlier, Eustratios Argenti could argue that because of its defective form Latin baptism was absolutely unacceptable, that economy would be altogether unlawful and unjustifiable. But now that defective form is seen as a secondary iniquity, a mere epiphenomenon of heresy, use of economy is — or was — proper, even though by strictness Latin baptism is unacceptable.20

In light of this it seems likely that in his canonical commentary St. Nikodemos is consciously subverting the canonical reasoning of the Tome of Cyril preferred by Voulismas. If elevating the role of economy allows St. Nikodemos to escape the strictures of Voulismas’s theology while appearing to be consistent with it, might we also say that Nikodemos is undermining the argument of The Rudder on the issue of reception of heretics and schismatics? This is not yet certain. However, two further details invite inquiry.

When one has in mind that St. Nikodemos did not believe Roman Catholics ought to be rebaptized or reordained, a certain feature of his thought that might otherwise go unnoticed begins to stand out. In his lengthy commentary on Apostolic canon 46, which serves as his fundamental argument for baptism of Roman Catholics, context plays an unusual role. After pointing out that Latins had been received in the past without baptism, St. Nikodemos argues that circumstances have changed:

As it seems and as it is proper for us to believe, the Church wished to employ some great economy with respect to the Latins, having as an example conducive to her purpose that great and holy Second Ecumenical Council. For the fact is that the Second Council, as we have said, employed economy and accepted the baptism of Arians and of Macedonians with the aim and hope of their returning to the faith and receiving full understanding of it, and in order to prevent their becoming yet more savage wild beasts against the Church, since they were also very great in numbers and strong in material things…. So also our predecessors employed economy and accepted the baptism of the Latins, especially when performed in the second manner [by affusion rather than by sprinkling], because papism was then in its prime and had all the force and powers of the kings of Europe in its grasp, while on the other hand our own empire was then breathing its last gasp. If that economy had not been employed, the Pope would have roused the Latin races against the Eastern, taken them prisoner, killed them and inflicted countless other barbarities upon them. But now that they are no longer able to inflict such woes upon us, because of the fact that divine Providence has set a guardian over us [i.e., the Turk] so powerful that he has at last beaten down the brow of those arrogant and haughty monsters: now, I say, that the fury of papism… is of no avail against us, what need is there any longer of economy?

This commentary is distinctive for the fact that the principle of canonical application is located in history rather than theology or canonical precedent. The reason for economy then was the strength of the RCC and the reason for strictness now is that the Orthodox are protected from Rome by the Turks. As a principle of canonical logic this is not only unusual, it gives the commentary an uncharacteristically dated and conditional shading by grounding it in mere historical circumstance.21

One final detail which might be significant in light of the above is found in the fourteen axioms of interpretation laid out in the introduction to The Rudder. These axioms are intended to render the text more accessible to the reader by making transparent the critical apparatus it employs. The final axiom states that, “neither a canon, nor a law, nor time, nor custom will sanction whatever has been wrongly decided and printed, according to jurists (canonists).” There is a modesty and humility in this that is characteristic of St. Nikodemos, the faithful monk and servant of the Church. Is there also an implicit critique of his own commentary on the reception of “the Latins” or the Cyprianic basis of his harmonization of the canonical tradition? More research into these questions is urgently needed. At the very least it seems that St. Nikodemos sowed into The Rudder the seeds of an approach to the reception of schismatics or heretics that could be consistent with that of the Ecumenical canons, and contrary to that of Voulismas, even if based on different theological presuppositions.

Conclusion

All the above bears directly on the work of ERV2. The author depends on the novel theory of economy in The Rudder to reconcile tensions and discrepancies in the canonical tradition in favor of a uniformly “Cyprianic” presentation. As has just been shown, The Rudder does not actually reflect the understanding of St. Nikodemos on the proper mode of reception for schismatics and heretics, and a number of details in the text suggest that he may have artfully shaped his own work to limit the force of a canonical argument with which he disagreed but which was, nonetheless, imposed upon him.

Even if we grant that The Rudder fully represents the thought of St. Nikodemos, the theory of economy does not solve the problem of contradictory canons of reception; it simply dismisses them with a wave toward expedience, leaving us to wonder how to make sense of the practice of a supposedly unbaptized person being received into the Church without baptism. At a remove, the debate between St. Nikodemos and Voulismas, set against the backdrop of the Council of Constantinople (1484) and the reaction to the Unia embodied in the Tome of Cyril, make explicitly clear that the sacramental ecclesiology of St. Cyprian had never been the standard of the East.

Where does this leave us in terms of the argument and conclusions offered by ERV2? As regards the second pillar of the author’s argument — the contrast of the West with the East — the structural and methodological concerns raised at the beginning of this article have proved to be valid. The sacramental ecclesiology of the East, as presented in the pages of ERV2, does not accurately represent Orthodox tradition. On account of this, the juxtaposition with the West does not hold, and this entails that the argument as a whole is irreparably flawed.

The soundness of the conclusions drawn about the nature of the changes that took place at V2, therefore, is called into question as well. To be sure, the developments that unfolded at V2 have proved to be very significant, both in terms of changes to the inner life of the RCC and the ways in which those changes have shaped the landscape of ecclesial relationships around the globe ever since. As such, they are eminently worthy of scrutiny and critical analysis, particularly from an Orthodox point of view.

Unfortunately, rather than consider those developments in their own right, the author chose to oppose them to an ahistorical caricature of Orthodox tradition for the sole purpose of furthering an anti-ecumenical agenda. This was neither necessary nor helpful and introduced into the structure of ERV2 flaws that erode the quality of the work, leaving us uncertain as to whether we know more about the questions and problems of V2 now than we did before.

  1. Peter Heers, The Ecclesiological Renovation of Vatican II: An Orthodox Examination of Rome’s Ecumenical Theology Regarding Baptism and the Church, (Uncut Mountain Press, 2015), 297.
  2. ERV2’s treatment of western theological developments also merits further scrutiny. For example, the author argues that, for Augustine, there is no inner content or power conferred in the baptism given by schismatics or even heretics; Aquinas, by contrast, says that there is. ERV2 identifies this as a fundamental shift in Latin theology away from the theology of the Orthodox East. However, Augustine himself seems to indicate that baptism given outside the unity of the Catholic Church is not merely a superficial sign:

    “Wherefore, even if heretics should be truly anxious to correct their error and come to the Church, for the very reason that they believed that they had no baptism unless they received it in the Church, even under these circumstances we should not be bound to yield to their desire for the repetition of baptism; but rather they should be taught, on the one hand, that baptism, though perfect in itself, could in no way profit their perversity if they would not submit to be corrected; and, on the other hand, that the perfection of baptism could not be impaired by their perversity, while refusing to be corrected: and again, that no further perfection is added to baptism in them because they are submitting to correction; but that, while they themselves are quitting their iniquity, that which was before within them to their destruction is now beginning to be of profit for salvation.” On Baptism, Against the Donatists, Book 5, chapter 5 http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/14085.htm (emphasis added)

  3. The expression “sacramental ecclesiology” is unusual in Orthodox parlance. It is, however, apropos in this case. As ERV2 would have it, both the RCC and Orthodox Church derive their understanding of the Church and its boundaries from an assertion about the limits of sacramental grace. That is, the manner in which heretics and schismatics are received into the Church (baptism or chrismation) is said to express a fundamental ecclesiological principle. In order to capture this matrix of ideas the expression “sacramental ecclesiology” will be used throughout.
  4. ERV2, pg. 19.
  5. St. Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle to Pompey, #73, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf05.iv.iv.lxxiii.html
    The letters of Pope St. Stephen to St. Cyprian have not survived. However, this letter of St. Cyprian includes a quotation from the letter of St. Stephen in which he admonishes St. Cyprian to, “let nothing be innovated (or done) which has not been handed down, to wit, that hands be imposed on him [a Novatianist] for repentance.”
  6. ERV2, 142.
  7. John Zizioulas, Eucharist, Bishop, Church: The Unity of the Church in the Divine Eucharist and the Bishop in the First Three Centuries, trans. Elizabeth Theokritoff (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2001), 141-147.
  8. Ibid, 147
  9. ERV2, 55
  10. I Nicaea canon 8: “Concerning those who call themselves Cathari [Novatianists], if they come over to the Catholic and Apostolic Church, the great and holy Synod decrees that they who are ordained shall continue as they are in the clergy. But it is before all things necessary that they should profess in writing that they will observe and follow the dogmas of the Catholic and Apostolic Church.”
  11. In his first canonical letter to Amphilochios St. Basil distinguishes between heretics, schismatics, and unlawful congregations. He says, “So it seemed good to the ancient authorities to reject the baptism of heretics altogether, but to admit that of schismatics, on the ground that they still belonged to the Church.” He goes on to argue that the Encratite sect is heretical rather than schismatic, and that his preference is that they be received by baptism. However, he says that if this discourages them from returning to the Church they should be received by chrismation.
  12. Trullo, canon 2. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3814.htm
  13. See canon 95 which follows canon 7 of the 2nd Ecumenical Council in identifying which groups of heretics and schismatics are received by baptism and which by chrismation.
  14. Theodore Balsamon, Syntagma, (PG 138:1104). Balsamon says, “Read also the second canon of the synod which is in Trullo, and you will know, that the things that are contained in this letter [of St. Cyprian] were not admitted by all the Fathers…From this, therefore, it is shown that the canon was not in force among all.”
  15. David Heith-Stade, Receiving the non-Orthodox: A study of Greek Orthodox Canon Law, Studia Canonica, 44(2), 399-426.
  16. Ibid, 422, “The aggressive and successful proselytism in the Orient by the De Propaganda fidei, which resulted in the union with Rome of the Melkites and Maronites in the beginning of the eighteenth century, gave a great impetus to the traditional anti-Latin sentiments of Greek Orthodox churchmen and theologians. The physician and lay theologian Eustratios Argentis argued emphatically that the Western Christians were not even baptized since they did not celebrate the sacrament of baptism with three immersions in accordance with the apostolic canons, which he presumed to be genuine works of the apostles. Argentis strongly influenced the Ecumenical Patriarch Cyril V, who used the anti-Latin sentiments among the laity to strengthen his position against his Latin-minded opponents in the hierarchy.”
  17. Steven Runciman, The Great Church in Captivity, (Cambridge, EN: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 193–4, 228.
  18. Basil the Great, First Canonical Epistle to Amphlichios. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3202188.htm
  19. Theodore Giankou, The Tome of 1756 and the Canonists Nikodemos and Christophoros, https://web.archive.org/web/20170722085226/http://www.amen.gr/article/o-oros-tou-1756-kai-oi-agioreites-kanonologoi-nikodimos-kai-xristoforos (English translation here, supplied by Fr. Andreas Houpos, who has my deep gratitude.)
    The discovery of these facts concerning St. Nikodemos’ opinions and the development of The Rudder is quite recent, and due in large part to the scholarly efforts of Professor Theodore Giankou of the University of Thessaloniki who was able to examine the correspondence of St. Nikodemos and Dorotheos Voulismas, archived at the Monastery of St. Panteleimon on Mt. Athos, along with other unpublished materials.
  20. John Erickson, On the Cusp of Modernity: The Canonical Hermeneutic of St Nikodemos the Haghiorite (1748–1809), St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 42-1 (1998) 45-66
  21. I am grateful to Mr. Dimitrios Nikiforos for calling my attention to this detail.

21 comments:

  1. Well, let me begin the conversation by saying that I thought the main thesis of Fr. Peter’s book — that the ecclesiology of the RC Churches changed significantly & essentially at Vatican II — was well argued & documented. The resulting concept of “partial communion” with other Christians & Churches seems to me to be clearly innovative, non-patristic, and a bow to “the spirit of the times” in which it was held. Vatican II was clearly a redefining of the RC Church.
    The assertion that heterodox have been received into Orthodoxy without baptism because their baptism is valid (i.e. a real sacrament of the Church) not only seems foreign to Orthodoxy & the Fathers I have read, but also presents serious theological problems.
    The proponents of Chrismation-only have based their position mostly on the idea that the Chrism “fills up that which is lacking” (something I’ve never read from a Saint), not on the belief that their sacraments are “valid.” At any rate, certainly if their sacraments are valid their church is also valid. Why not make that logical jump?
    It seems that the form used by heterodox or heretics was a driving force in the Eastern Father’s consideration of whether the possibility of forgoing baptism was possible. The Arians likely baptized identically as the Orthodox, which makes receiving them by Chrismation possible despite the fact that their Christilofy was heretical. The 2nd Ecumenical Council insisted on baptizing the Eunomians because (as stated explicitly) they practiced single immersion. That form of baptism simply cannot be redeemed.
    Just my thoughts. I am neither a scholar nor historian.

    1. Dear Fr. Michael, thanks for your comment. I do say in my article that the changes that took place at V2 are significant, and there is indeed a lot of source material used in that regard. But the historical context which those developments are set in raises questions. I focus entirely on the East but I mention in a footnote near the beginning that the way the book that I have questions about the contrast between Augustine and Aquinas, which is a critical development in the argument. This, combined with the book’s demonstrably false assertion that the “sacramental ecclesiology” of St. Cyprian is representative of the East leaves me feeling uncertain about his analysis of V2.

      Regarding reception in the East, I mention that most sources, particularly the Ecumenical canons, don’t give a rationale for why we receive certain groups by baptism and some by chrismation or laying on of hands, and yet ERV2 asserts one. My intent is not so much to assert as definitive the opposite of ERV2 – that baptism definitely exists in all cases outside the Church – but to call its definitiveness into question and raise a theological problem that stems from its sacramental ecclesiology. If baptism outside the canonical boundaries of the Church is nothing how what does it mean to receive such people into the Church without baptism?

      I think the reason you have not seen the idea that chrismation “fills up” the baptism of heterodox coming into the Church in any of the fathers is because it’s a very recent idea. It’s another attempt to explain how we can receive without baptism and simultaneously say baptism outside the Church means nothing. But this makes no sense at all. The rites of initiation have different theological meanings. On this point Maxwell Johnson is very helpful. I don’t think anyone in the ancient Church would have accepted the idea that chrismation could stand in for baptism. And what would we make of reception by laying on of hands, then?

      Thanks again for the comment. May God bless your ministry.

    2. Frs.
      These quotes from Pope St. Leo seems to indicate the “filling” of a deficiency:
      For they who have received baptism from heretics, not having been previously baptized, are to be confirmed by imposition of hands with only the invocation of the Holy Ghost, because they have received the bare form of baptism without the power of sanctification. And this regulation, as you know, we require to be kept in all the churches, that the font once entered may not be defiled by repetition, as the Lord says, One Lord, one faith, one baptism. And that washing may not be polluted by repetition, but, as we have said, only the sanctification of the Holy Ghost invoked, that what no one can receive from heretics may be obtained from Catholic priests. (Letter 159.8)
      Concerning those who have come from Africa or Mauretania and know not in what sect they were baptized, what ought to be done in their case ?
      Reply. These persons are not doubtful of their baptism, but profess ignorance as to the faith of those who baptized them: and hence since they have received the form of baptism in some way or other, they are not to be baptized but are to be united to the Catholics by imposition of hands, after the invocation of the Holy Spirit’s power, which they could not receive from heretics. (Letter 167: Question 18)

      1. I guess the question then becomes, what is the “bare form of baptism”? Is it a single dunk with the mention of the Trinity? is it three sprinkles + Trinity? Rose pedals instead of water? What about the blessing (exorcism) of the water? We pray that no demon would enter into the water with the one being baptized, therefore we must believe that that is possible? Do we know what is happening when “Pastor Bob” baptizes someone? I doubt St. Leo dealt with these kinds of baptisms (?)

        1. You’re right that Leo probably didn’t have to deal with these kinds of “low church” baptisms. Resolving questions of these sorts is one of the tasks of bishops and synods. Of course, the sheer multiplicity of christian groups with different beliefs and baptismal practices, complicates that task somewhat these days.

    3. Here is another quote by St. John Moschos which seems to suggest that heterodox, and even nominal Orthodox, baptisms can be “empty”:
      St. John Moschos ca. 550-619
      Saint Athanasios, the Pope of Alexandria, was once asked whether a person could be baptized whose beliefs were not in accordance with the faith and preaching of the Christians, and what would be the fate of — or, how would God receive — somebody who had been baptized under false pretenses and had simulated belief. Athanasios replied: ‘You have heard from those of old how the blessed martyr, Peter, was faced with a situation in which there was a deadly plague and many were running to be baptized for no other reason than that they feared death. A figure appeared to him which had the appearance of angel and which said to him: “How much longer are you going to send from here those purses which are duly sealed, but are altogether empty and have nothing inside them?” So far as one can tell from the saying of the angel, those who have the seal of baptism are indeed baptized since they thought they were doing a good work in receiving baptism.’ (The Spiritual Meadow, 198)

      1. Maximus, thanks for this comment and your previous one about Pope St. Leo the Great. This is very interesting. Have you seen much in the way of Eastern sources which would indicate that this understanding was broadly accepted? In any case, I stand corrected in my earlier statement that this idea is late. As a generally accepted explanation it may be but clearly it has early roots.
        It would seem that on this question Pope St. Leo is building on the thought of St. Augustine. I note that ERV2 speaks of the idea of “valid” but not efficacious baptism as a “differentiated stance” of St. Augustine not in keeping with the tradition of the East. At least in terms of the book, then, this would not be a satisfactory solution. Thanks again!

        frjohn

        1. Fr. John,
          Thank you for acknowledging that there is an early precedent for the empty form understanding. I think the idea was common, but I can’t think of any more explicit quotes presently.
          I agree that St. Leo is building upon St. Augustine’s theology. IMO, none of today’s sacramental theologies are truly “Augustinian”. St. Augustine held that those out of communion with the Church were indeed baptized… but, unto their condemnation inevitably since they dared partake of the Church’s Mystery without the charity of unity. He also held that heterodox baptism was holy and sinful simultaneously:
          …so that the Holy Spirit has both been present with him at his baptism for the removal of his sins, and has also fled before his perseverance in deceit so that they should return: so that both declarations prove true—both, “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ;” and also, “The holy spirit of discipline will flee deceit;”— that is to say, that both the holiness of baptism clothes him with Christ, and the sinfulness of deceit strips him of Christ; like the case of a man who passes from darkness through light into darkness again… (On Baptism Bk. 1 Chap. 14.22)
          If one ponders the issue, St. Augustine was harsher than St. Cyprian. St. Cyprian held that the heterodox did not have sacraments, whereas St Augustine gave them the Mysteries and then stripped them of their power immediately, and this unto inevitable condemnation. Since everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required (Lk. 12:48); it would have better for them never to have had them.
          Today, it seems that we are accepting baptisms outside the Church at face value, and equating them with Orthodox Baptism. I’ve studied enough to know that this teaching is not the teaching of the ancient Eastern or Western Orthodox Church.

    4. Would agree with Fr. Michael and add that the last official decree by the Ecumenical Patriarchate on this subject was 1755 stating that all converts from the Latins be baptized. Why was this? Because they did not immerse, they poured water over the head. What are the impediments to the reception of converts through baptism … there are none. Instead some use oikonomia as if it were the rule not the exception confusing the catechumen who is seeking the One True Church.
      One of the most respected Theologians today is Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos who not only supports Fr. Peter Heers but endorsed his book, states that when oikonomia threatens the self-understanding of the faithful as to the One Church and Her boundaries, the time has come to return to strictness and the reception of converts by baptism.

      1. Ella, thanks for your comment. You’re correct that the Tome of Cyril hasn’t (to my knowledge) been rescinded. It has however been superseded by later instructions on mode of reception. Regarding your paraphrase of Met. Hierotheos’s statement on oikonomia, he is presuming that the canonical hermeneutic of The Pedalion along with the sacramental ecclesiology of St. Cyprian are normative and definitive of Orthodox understanding. Historically, is this correct? Reception by baptism has never been the only mode of reception, as both St. Basil and the Ecumenical canons make abundantly clear. So a “return to strictness” across the board would be a return to a practice that didn’t exist in the past. It would actually be an innovation.

  2. Met. Kallistos Ware

    This view of sacramental validity is usually termed the Cyprianic, for it finds its classic expression in the works of Saint Cyprian of Carthage. Some fifty years before Cyprian, the same view had already been expounded by another African writer, Tertullian, in the De Baptismo (a work belonging to his Catholic period, probably composed around 198-200): For us there is one, and only one Baptism, since there is only one God and one Church in the heavens… But the heretics have no participation in our teaching: the very fact that they are excluded from communion proves them to be outsiders… We and they do not have the same God, nor the one — that is to say the same — Christ; and so we cannot both have the one Baptism, for it is not the same. (De Baptismo, 15) So Tertullian draws his conclusion: since heretics do not possess the one Baptism, they lack the power to confer Baptism on each other…

    The Cyprianic view can be summarized in a syllogism:

    True sacraments cannot exist outside the Church; Heretics and schismatics are outside the Church; Therefore, heretics and schismatics do not possess true sacraments.

    But the West since the time of Augustine has normally adopted a somewhat different position. Augustine accepted Cyprian’s minor premise but denied his major. Unlike Saint Cyprian, he distinguished between validity and regularity: a sacrament performed by heretics or schismatics, while irregular and illegitimate, is nonetheless technically valid provided that certain specified conditions are fulfilled. Whereas Cyprian denied heretics both ius and potestas to perform sacraments, Augustine denied them the first, but not necessarily the second. A number of Orthodox theologians, particularly in Russia during the past three centuries, have inclined towards the Augustinian view; but in general the position of the Orthodox Church has been Cyprianic and non-Augustinian. The Cyprianic view was taken for granted by most Greek writers of the 18th century… and the Cyprianic view is still followed by the standard Greek manuals of theology in use today.

    Two qualifications must be added here. First, although the Augustinian theory predominates in the west, it is not accepted universally: in some Roman Catholic writings an approximation can be found to the Cyprianic position. (see F. Clark, Anglican Orders and Defect of Intention, London, 1956, p. 10, note 1.) Secondly, while most Orthodox continue in the main to hold the Cyprianic theory, many of them today would slightly modify the austerity of Cyprian’s conclusion. Augustine accepted Cyprian’s minor premise but denied his major; it is equally possible to accept the major and deny the minor, and it this that many Orthodox at the present moment have chosen to do. They continue to claim that the Orthodox Church is the one, true Church; they still uphold the basic Cyprianic principle that outside the Church there can be no sacraments; they make no use of the Augustinian distinction between validity and regularity. But they would yet add that many non-Orthodox Christians are still in some sense members of the Church, so that it is possible that in certain cases these non-Orthodox possess true sacraments. But Greek Orthodox in the eighteenth century… were less lenient in their reasoning: like Cyprian — and for that matter, like most of the Fathers — they would simply have said that heretics and schismatics are outside the Church, and left the matter at that. (Eustratios Argenti: A Study of the Greek Church Under the Turkish Rule by Kallistos Ware, pp. 80-82)

  3. Before Vatican 2 the Papal Church changed it’s teachings several times. After Vatican 1 and 2 this Papal Church can hardly be recognized by those who were once part of it.. Roman Catholicism in our time is not only an abomination of Orthodoxy but a denunciation of it’s own past and a source of schisms . There is only one Baptism, the Baptism of the Church. Roman Catholicism is, based on the developments of it’s teaching, not only a heresy but an evolution of heresies an Anti-Church. There is no “validity” in her rituals.

  4. My wife and I were received into Orthodoxy from Roman Catholicism by confession alone. We were not ‘re-baptised’ or chrismated. The Bishop informed us that the Bulgarian Orthodox Church recognises Catholic sacraments as valid. Met. Kallistos echoed this when I was at Oxford.

    Excellent article, Fr.

    God bless you all.

  5. Met. Hilarion Alfeyev

    The Augustinian understanding of the “efficacy” of the sacraments was never fully accepted in the Orthodox Church. Such an understanding of the sacraments is unacceptable for Orthodox tradition, for it is an understanding in which the grace within them is considered autonomous, independent of the Church. The sacraments can be performed only within the Church, and it is the Church that bestows efficacy, reality and salvation on them. In the Eastern Church, the attitude toward the sacraments of heretics and schismatics varied in different ages depending on the circumstances. The important role of evaluating this or that group that had separated itself from the Church provided a teaching opportunity: they approached those schisms that had caused the most damage to ecclesial unity. (Orthodox Christianity: Doctrine and Teaching of the Orthodox Church, Vol. II. pp. 405-407)

    Fr. G. Dragas

    Prof. John Erickson of St. Vladimir’s Theological Seminary,member of the North-American Orthodox Roman Catholic Theological Commission… finds St. Nikodemos a sort of ‘modernist innovator,’ at least as far as his edition of the Canon Law of the Orthodox Church (the Pedalion or Rudder) goes. His ‘innovation’ is the distinction between akribeia and oikonomia which, in Erickson’s view, is not warranted in the patristic tradition of Orthodoxy. Indeed for Erickson this modern and false distinction, which has been mistakenly employed by Greek canonists, is unknown to the Russians who follow the tradition of the Fathers. For us the implications of Erickson’s view are far reaching, if one considers that both St. Nikodemos and his Pedalion have been sanctioned by the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. For a completely different assessment of St. Nikodemos’ legacy, especially in relation to his Pedalion, see the essay of the Greek Canonist Professor Vlassios Phidas of Athens University, “Pêdalion kai ekklhsiastikê syneidêsê,” Orthodoxê Martyria, 45 (1995) 78-84. (The Manner of Reception of Roman Catholic Converts into the Orthodox Church)

  6. Thank you Fr. Cox for a well researched and carefully reasoned review of ERV2. My understanding (which is open to correction ) is that in the early church the rite of initiation was threefold and unified – Baptism, Chrismation, and Eucharist. My suspicion (again open to correction) is that trying to analyze baptism in isolation produces questionable results. Beginning in the Latin West (circa 1000) the original unity was lost as the Latins abandoned infant communion (for dubious reasons – I believe Robert Taft has an article on this). That practice prevails to this day with infants being baptized and then promptly excommunicated for 7-8 years. In many protestant confessions the receipt of the Eucharist is indefinitely delayed, because they simply have no Eucharist (and no priesthood capable of providing it). If the Church is primarily a Eucharistic body (as maintained by, e.g. both de Lubac and Zizioulas), then into what are persons being baptized where the Eucharist is absent? IfEucharist and Church are Christ’s body, can you have an ecclesiology without Eucharist? And if no, how does that inform our analysis of heretical baptism?

    1. Dear Michael, thanks for your reply. You are correct that the rites of initiation belong together. The RCC has lost this but is slowly trying to recover it. The question concerning protestant baptism is a good one. I note that deriving the limits of the Church from the sacraments is not a solution without problems. What does one do, for instance, with unlawful congregations or schisms of a political nature that are short lived? Novatianist clergy, according to I Nicea canon 8, were received back *in their orders* without anything more than a repudiation of their errors. Is this an implicit acceptance of their sacraments outside the Church? A statement that they weren’t really outside the Church? Or did the fathers simply make it easy for them to return, thereby prioritizing peace and unity above those concerns? Without a clear statement from the council on that question it is hard to say. But I think that St. Basil’s letter to Amphilochios indicates that there was a healthy dose of that last approach going around at the time. St. Basil makes a strong case that the Encratites must be rebaptized. Then he seems to contradict himself by saying that, for prudential reasons, they could be received without baptism. And this is the essence of a good definition of “economy.” It is the prudential management of the household of God and while there are ordinary rules of the house, the priority for the bishop who is entrusted with a portion of the household is the salvation of those who are in, and seek to come within, the house. To this end maybe the approach of the Ecumenical Councils is instructive in that they focus on the *how* without trying to create a perfect system of reception by focusing on the *why.* Maybe we would do better to follow this approach? Or maybe we aren’t done sorting out a conciliar answer to the why? In either case I think these are issues we need to continue to discuss. Thanks again for writing.

      frjohn

  7. For some subtlety and nuance regarding the Roman Church’s official position regarding heretical baptism, one should read its explanation for denying the sacramental validity of those baptized within the so-called Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons). Until 2001, the Catholic Church assumed the validity of this group’s baptism, i.e. the praxis has now changed. The document states: “The words Father, Son and Holy Spirit, have for the Mormons a meaning totally different from the Christian meaning. The differences are so great that one cannot even consider that this doctrine is a heresy which emerged out of a false understanding of the Christian doctrine. The teaching of the Mormons has a completely different matrix. We do not find ourselves, therefore, before the case of the validity of Baptism administered by heretics, affirmed already from the first Christian centuries, nor of Baptism conferred in non-Catholic ecclesial communities.” (http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20010605_battesimo_mormoni-ladaria_en.html)
    There is much to think about here, especially in light of Canon 7 of Constantinople I (AD 381), which called for the re-baptism of certain heretics (Eunomians, Montanists, and Sabellians) but not others (Arians, Macedonians, Apollinarians, Novatians, etc.). Could the Church judge today, for example, that Christian Pentecostals are nothing more than modern-day Montanists and required re-baptism? It seems to me this is a very fluid, undefined teaching.

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