Wednesday, August 18, 2010

On Temptations to Go East

By Burnell F Eckardt Jr.

This article first appeared online in 2005 for Reformation Today, a web site that is no longer available. A recent request for it has prompted this republication.

It has been stylish in recent years to be optimistic about the prospects for reunification of Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Christendom. The talk has intensified this year, because Pope Benedict XVI has wasted no time making clear to delegates from the East his earnest desire for unity. But Frederica Mathewes-Green, writing in The Wall Street Journal (“All for One?,” July 15, 2005) provides an insightful reason for keeping those hopes from getting too high, however desirous the new pope, or we, might be for an end to the millennium-long schism. She explains, “From a Roman Catholic perspective, unity is created by the institution of the church,” but for the Orthodox, “unity is created by believing the same things.” Interestingly, these competing concepts of unity have also been seen among American Lutherans over the past hundred years. A desire for institutional unity among the more left-leaning churches has led to merger after merger, the most recent being that which brought the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America into being. On the conservative side, one can contrarily see no great impetus for any bureaucratic unification, but confessional unity is understood as something arrived at when altar-and-pulpit fellowship is declared between church bodies.

Confessional Lutherans ought therefore to have a certain appreciation for the Orthodox perspective over against the West. Mathewes-Green, writing from the Orthodox point-of-view, describes the Eastern notion of unity in terms with which we ought to have no trouble agreeing:

"You don't need a big bureaucracy to keep them faithful. Across wildly diverse cultures, Orthodox Christians show remarkable unity in their faith. . . . What's the source of this common faith? The consensus of the early church, which the Orthodox stubbornly keep following. That consensus was forged with many a bang and dent, but for the past millennium major questions of faith and morals have been pretty much at rest in the Eastern hemisphere."

A large part of the reason for the occasional temptations of confessional Lutheran pastors to consider jumping to Orthodoxy has to do, I think, with this refreshing kind of unity. To be sure, cultural differences easily manifest themselves among the varying strains of Orthodox Christians around the world, and yet when it comes to theological controversy and debate, in stark contrast to what the West has known for hundreds of years, the Eastern silence is deafening. And the more that those who defend traditional stances of faith tend to lose the battles for the minds and hearts of the people in the West, the more appealing the peace of the East gets.

That appeal gets magnified when mixed with a common contention of the East that the West has had its troubles precisely because it abandoned the consensus of the Ecumenical Councils in favor of Papal supremacy. Confessional Lutherans would be quick to find points of agreement with their assessment, of course, since the very existence of Lutheranism arose from Luther’s rejection of Papal supremacy. Our agreement with the East tends to be tempered with a different understanding of the relation of Ecumenical Councils to the Scriptures, but we have to admit that on the question of the supremacy of the Chair of Peter, the East was right all along.

What has too easily been granted entry into the discussion of East versus West, however, is this notion that the seemingly incessant squabbles in the West prove somehow that the West is the wrong place to be. An excerpt from the Greek Orthodox “Oberlin Statement” dating back a half century (from the North American Faith and Order Study Conference, Oberlin, Ohio, September 3-10, 1957, for which see www.orthodoxinfo.com/ecumenism/oberlin.aspx) is quick to point out that the Orthodox Church “has been unassociated with the events related to the breakdown of religious unity in the West,” and declares their “firm conviction that this Unity can be found only in the fellowship of the Historical Church, preserving faithfully the catholic tradition, both in doctrine and in order.” They might as well have said, See you have had all these struggles, and that demonstrates that you should never have separated from us in the first place. The gist of the contention is that our controversies are the children of our folly, and ought to convince us that we should at once go and seek chrismation in an Eastern church. And some of us do just that.

But it seems to me that the whole argument is rooted in the old post hoc flaw. The fact that the West is the place of all the controversies cannot be held forth as the result of flawed Western thought, any more than the coming of night can be offered as proof that we shouldn’t have allowed the sun to set. Indeed, according to a well-known Luther line, whenever a cathedral is built, the devil builds a chapel next door, a logion which makes perfect sense: Would not the devil seek to make more trouble where his purposes could be the more severely assailed? C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape would certainly agree. That is not to say that this line of thought is necessarily the right one, for it can just as easily fall victim to the post hoc mentality. The point is that neither can be used by itself to prove validity.

Yet what can definitively be said is that the existence of controversy in the West offers us the opportunity—forced upon us by necessity—of dealing with matters that have never surfaced in the East. The Reformation provided us with the Augsburg Confession, whose descriptions of faith and justification contain an unsurpassed depth of succinctness and clarity. That volatile period of our history has forced us to arrive, through much struggling, at a point of confessional clarification we had not attained prior to it.

This is, ironically, the very same kind of process as was seen in the periods leading to the great ecumenical councils to whose decrees the East refuses to add or detract. They call the Nicene Creed settled dogma, and so it is; but its declarations too came in just the same way as those of the sixteenth century, out of much tribulation. The need arose to state with great clarity what the church believed against the heretic Arius, and so the Nicene Creed was crafted by the 318 bishops assembled at Nicea in a.d. 325. After a half-century of further strife, during which the catholic faith was greatly suppressed, the Second Ecumenical Council met at Constantinople, and the Creed was expanded and refined. Our Creed is the result of exasperating confrontations of error. By this token, the second millennium struggles and controversies of the West would place it in a more favorable vantage point over against the East, rather than the other way around. In a manner of speaking, we have wrestled with God and with men, and have prevailed.

The most salient theological issue between East and West has always been the filioque, which the East oppose because of their contention that it is an innovative doctrine and therefore to be avoided according to clear apostolic admonition, repeated by the seven ecumenical councils. What they tend to avoid, in their argument, is the difference between contending that the filioque is an innovative formula, something we readily admit (unlike Charlemagne who once ignorantly blamed the East for omitting it from the original Creed), and saying that the doctrine which the filioque expresses is the truth. They reject the latter primarily because they do not see it in the former.

Interestingly, the filioque, like the Creed itself, is also the result of struggles against the Arians’ repeated attacks on the catholic faith, specifically their rejections of the divinity of Christ. The date normally associated with its inclusion in the Creed is 589, when at the third local synod of Toledo the formerly Arian Visigoths were required to accept the Creed so amended. But it was at Toledo’s first synod in 447 that they first added filioque to the Creed, lifting it from a letter Pope Leo I had sent them in response to the heresies they were confronting. The clause itself actually dates to the fourth century, however, and was explicitly used by St. Ambrose (De Spiritu Sancto, 1, 11, 120, PL 16, 733) and St. Augustine (De Trinitate XV , 25, 47, PL 42, 1095). In addition to this use by these Western fathers, incidentally, is the notable first-ever introduction of the phrase into the Creed by a regional council in Persia in 410, which makes the filioque an authentically Eastern expression of thought on the Trinity. In addition these data reveal, remarkably, that the expression is virtually as old as the Creed, which serves to debunk the idea that it is a novelty. Most important, though, is the fact that the filioque is evidence of the Church’s further struggle against heresy. Like the Creed itself before it, and like our Lutheran Confessions after it, it arose in the heat of battle. It is a token to the Church’s continual need for vigilance against error. As long as she is on earth, she is ecclesia militans.

What became a point of contention for the East was the fact that the Third Ecumenical Council, the Council of Ephesus in a.d. 431, while acknowledging the Second Ecumenical Council’s amendments to the Creed, now forbad anyone “to bring forward, or to write, or to compose a different Faith as a rival to that established by the holy Fathers assembled with the Holy Ghost in Nicaea” (Canon VII, NPNF, Vol. 14: 231). The meaning of this phrase has been subject to varying interpretations, but it has been interpreted by the East as a prohibition of any further textual changes to the Creed.

Thus although the filioque was employed theologically against heresy, as Leo had done, neither the Council of Chalcedon nor any succeeding Ecumenical Council could, according to the East, see fit to provide any further alteration to the text of the Creed, even if an alteration such as the filioque were deemed theologically acceptable, since the undoing of any of the decrees of a prior Ecumenical Council would have called into question the authenticity of all the Ecumenical Councils.

The East, moreover, is rather insistent about maintaining the infallibility of the Ecumenical Councils, seeing them as having been guided necessarily by the Holy Spirit. The addition of the filioque in the West is an implicit assertion that we do not believe even an Ecumenical Council has the right to declare that there will never be a need for a further creedal declaration of truth, whether or not that was the intention of Canon VII.

Here the East claims authority where the West is not so quick to do so. But here the Lutheran Church parts company with both. For we reject impious papal decrees with the same criterion by which we accept the Councils: we only allow the authority of the Councils because they are found to be in agreement with the Scriptures. And while we certainly accept the decrees of the seven Ecumenical Councils, we do so in the same way as we accept the Lutheran Confessions, namely as a matter of theological agreement. We accept the Creeds, and the Lutheran Confessions, because they agree with the Sacred Scriptures, but never in addition to them. There is a bit of a conundrum here, admittedly, since one can here charge (as Eck did against Luther in the 1519 Leipzig debate) that by saying this we appear to be placing our own private views of the Scriptures above those of everyone else, the ultimate error of the sectarians. On the other hand, to take one’s final cue from the decrees of the Councils is to place them above the Scriptures. Our reply is to point to the perspicuity of the Scriptures: they interpret themselves, and they are clear; we confess as doctrine only what the Scriptures teach, and it is only by their authority that we confess it. In this regard we have a differing view both on the nature of Biblical authority, and on the life of the Church and her struggles against error.

So we accept the Creeds and the Confessions theologically, and not necessarily with respect to non-theological matters, such as whether we ought feel bound to a particular point of exegesis in the Confessions, or whether one may add a theologically acceptable term like filioque to the Creed.

I cannot help but admit, on the other hand, that I certainly wouldn’t want to see anyone get the idea from this that it’s therefore acceptable to make any other wholesale changes. Heaven knows the levees have already burst in that regard; but let no one cite the filioque as imprimatur for some of the wild innovations recent years have seen. It bears remembering that the Creed in both its forms comes from the Ecumenical age when churchmen were more apt to think and speak in terms befitting a venerable theological tradition, and that we will certainly court disaster if we seek to undo what they have done.

What is perhaps most damaging about the Orthodox perspective is their insistence that they are the visible Church of Jesus Christ on earth: “We do not admit that the Unity of the Church, and precisely of the "visible" and historical Church, has ever been broken or lost” (Ibid.). This insistence has been consistently evident in all their deliberations, including specifically those of Patriarch Jeremiah II of Constantinople to the Lutherans between 1576 and 1581. In reply to the Lutheran overtures to the East, the final word was, in effect, Drop your heretical adherence to the filioque and other matters with which you disagree with us, and we will gladly receive you as sons. Otherwise, go your way and leave us alone (see George Mastrontonis, Augsburg and Constantinople, Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Press, 1982).

By throwing the full weight of their venerable tradition at the Lutherans, the Orthodox have caused the knees of the historians among us to quiver a bit. Their tradition is harder to gainsay than that of Rome. We can more easily withstand such threats to our own integrity when they come from the latter, seeing that Rome had clearly veered from her own apostolic moorings beginning somewhere from Gelasius’ fifth-century conception of two swords under God (pope and king) to Leo III’s coronation of Charlemagne (a.d. 800) and reaching its ugliest mutation in the early 13th century genocidal pomposity of Innocent III. But the fact of the East’s clear sailing through history without any Middle Ages to speak of provides them with an added weight of authority behind their claims of tradition. No wonder there are capitulations among us.

Nevertheless it ought to be remembered that saying one is in the right is not what makes it so, no matter how forcefully or impressively one is able to say it. For us, the unity of the Christian Church has never been manifest except in her marks, in the same way that the divinity of Christ, during His humiliation, was not manifest except in His marks. The cross marked Jesus, as could nothing else, as the Christ, the King of the Jews. Not even His healings and miracles, as important as they were, pointed as clearly as the cross itself did to who He really was, in fulfillment of the Scriptures, as the centurion at the cross in St. Matthew 27 also confessed. So also, it is not necessary to say that the schisms which have externally beset the Church in any way encroach on her unity, any more than it would be to say that the passion and death of Christ is a renunciation of His glory. We live by faith, not by sight. By faith, then, we agree that the unity of the Church has never been broken or lost, but we do not believe that this unity must be visibly evident. Its concealment might even be said to betoken its likeness to Christ’s divinity. And as the bitterness and travail of Christ’s soul resulted in ultimate good for the human race, so the struggles we have endured through the centuries of the Church’s tribulations, both inwardly and outwardly, have produced the good fruits of confessional stamina and refinement.

All in all, the temptations to go East are easy to understand. The East has peace. The East can say it has the more pristine Creed. And the East has visible unity. But we must go on fighting the good fight. We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness. By the same token, I believe, it is admissible to say that we preach a cruciform Christianity, which likewise is a stumblingblock and foolishness to some. Tho’ with a scornful wonder, men see her sore opprest; By schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed; Yet saints their watch are keeping, Their cry goes up, How long? And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.

63 comments:

  1. Thank you. That was excellent.

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  2. Fr Eckhardt,

    I think you are mistaken on a couple of points.

    First, this:

    What they [viz. the Orthodox] tend to avoid, in their argument, is the difference between contending that the filioque is an innovative formula ... and saying that the doctrine which the filioque expresses is the truth.

    I do not think that the Orthodox are at all unclear in their assertion that the filioque is doctrinally incorrect. St Photios in particular writes forcefully in this regard. More accessible (if less venerable) are the writings of Perry Robinson on his blog Energetic Processions, where he ably lays out the specifically theological objections to the filioque and the related doctrine of absolute divine simplicity.

    Second, this:

    The East, moreover, is rather insistent about maintaining the infallibility of the Ecumenical Councils, seeing them as having been guided necessarily by the Holy Spirit.

    True, but for the little word necessarily, which would imply that the Orthodox claim for ecumenical councils the same sort of a priori guarantee of infallibility that Rome claims for the Pope. Such is not the case.

    The Orthodox claim is not, as is sometimes thought, that "a properly convened ecumenical council cannot err," but simply that "these seven councils did not err"; not that the Holy Spirit invariably guides councils to the truth, but that it is evident that He did, in fact, guide these particular councils to the truth. An ecumenical council is not an element of the Church's polity (i.e. an administrative entity) which enjoys a guarantee of infallibility; it is a pneumatic, charismatic event whose authoritative character can only be discerned after the fact.

    Taken together, these two points clarify that the Orthodox objection to the filioque is not that it contravenes a "necessarily infallible" ecumenical council, but that it is not part of the tradition that they have received, and is in fact inconsistent with that tradition; and therefore must be rejected not simply as uncanonical (which it is), but as false.

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  3. With all due respect, there is another error that has not been mentioned. There are numerous mentions in the article to 'points of view' and 'perspectives'. And yet there is and can be only one 'perspective' that holds true, and that Truth is the body of Christ as constituted in the Orthodox Church. The moral relativism of the age is a corrupting influence.

    I do not try to say that you are in any way, shape, or form somehow condemned - I am not God. But the fullness of the Faith, the one true Church is and can only ever be found in the Orthodox Church. There is no point of view, no perspective, nor any other such relative idea that changes that.

    A separate issue is the idea that one must have a numbered bullet list - item 1 is most important in authority, item 2 is second important in authority, etc (of course Christ is the authority!). But the Orthodox faith is an organic whole. Tradition and scripture complement and do not contradict each other. The liturgy, the icons, the Church Fathers, the Councils, and the the Saints all sing the praises of Christ our God in unison and preserve the True Faith throughout the ages! The fundamental Truths we hold dear are the same Truths passed down through the ages and cannot be experienced in all their fullness outside of the one Holy Catholic Orthodox Church.

    Again, I say this not to debate, nor to condemn, but simply to point out a fundamental error. I'm not a theologian, I don't read Greek, and I am probably not the best person to get into exegetical debates with, but I know the Truth! I feel Him now! And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the fullness of the Truth escaped me until I found Orthodoxy - or perhaps it found me!

    God bless!

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  4. And I really hope I didn't offend you or your readers - if I did so, I am truly sorry! God bless!

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  5. Herman, I find it interesting that you seem to condemn points of view & perspectives as errors & then base the claim of the Truth being found in the Orthodox Church on your personal experience or feeling.

    I mean, how is this any different from Mormonism with their burning bosoms? I find your comments perplexing.

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  6. Mr. Jones,

    I am willing to concede that the Orthodox would have doctrinal objections to the filioque; you would of course have more to say on that matter than I; my reference arises from my own experience and reading. I have not found any Orthodox rejection of the filioque in the course of defending, say, the divine opera ad intra.

    On the matter of the authority of Ecumenical Councils, your defense of Orthodoxy is, actually, news to me. My understanding of the Orthodox understanding of the Spirit's guidance of the Councils (pneumatic and charismatic, as you put it) has had me thinking you hold them to be infallible, if even on a lower plane than Sacred Scripture.

    Thank you for your comments.

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  7. Herman,

    I understand that you do not mean to cause offense, and none is taken.

    On the other hand, while I appreciate your willingness to defend your tradition, I'm afraid your reasoning sounds a bit tautological.

    It also reminds me, if I may say so, of a reason the Orthodox may have lost a golden opportunity to reconcile with the Lutherans in the late sixteenth century. While the Lutherans wanted to discuss doctrine and see if they might arrive at a God-pleasing unity with them, the patriarch was too busy insisting that his church was the beacon of truth, and that the Lutherans should simply come to him, end of story. This left the Lutherans as frustrated as when the Pope had been saying such things to them half a century earlier.

    In direct reply to your point, I am constrained to insist that Truth is not "the body of Christ as constituted in the Orthodox Church." Rather, Christ Himself is the Truth, as He also said, in sharp contradiction to your contention, "As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me."

    And finally, the Truth is not something or Someone you "feel," as you put it; Christ is the Word, and therefore He must be received by hearing and believing, all heartfelt insistence on knowing Him through depth of feelings notwithstanding.

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  8. Herman,

    Using the terms "perspective" and "point-of-view" does not indicate that a person is a moral relativist. It is easily observed that there are many different points-of-view on the Word of God, the Church, etc. BFE's post did not assert that these points-of-view are all valid, or that none of them are, or that there is no way of knowing. He is not arguing moral relativism.

    Of course, when there are conflicting points-of-view on a matter, both cannot be correct. There is certainly objective truth. But how we determine whose point-of-view contains the truth is really the crux of this issue. The Lutheran Church relies solely on the Scriptures as the norm for all doctrine. Thus, every point-of-view must be tested against the Scriptures. The Orthodox Church, or any other church body, is not above the norm of the Scriptures. I am not arguing here that the Lutheran Church is correct; I am simply pointing out that her doctrines are founded not on tradition (though we value tradition highly) or on a "feeling" of being right, but they are founded on the Word of God. You stated:

    "But the fullness of the Faith, the one true Church is and can only ever be found in the Orthodox Church."

    For argument's sake, I will concede that the Orthodox Church may be the seat of the truth, but simply stating this does not make it so. Her doctrines must be in conformity with Holy Scripture.

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  9. "For argument's sake, I will concede that the Orthodox Church may be the seat of the truth, but simply stating this does not make it so. Her doctrines must be in conformity with Holy Scripture."

    "In conformity with Holy Scripture" as judged by whom? No doubt Orthodox hierarchs and faithful are convinced that they are fully in conformity with Holy Scripture as received and interpreted by the Orthodox Church. Will you supply them with an interpreter and judge whose authority and credentials are superior?

    Btw, Pastor BFE, I've never rec'd that copy of Gottesdienst which you were going to send to me.

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  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  11. (Long comment - in two parts)

    When I was approached by Lutherans looking East to look with them, I embarked on a study of the early councils. I read a history of the Council, and then read the Council itself with one eye on the Greek and one on the English.

    I then read up on the divine simplicity debate.

    FWIW, here are the conclusions I came to.

    1. The early Church's struggles with Theology proper and Christology all stemmed from the Greek speaking side of the empire. I do not think there is any doubt as to why: the ascendency of Plotinianism as the chief philosophical school in higher education in the Greek East. The first recommendation I make to a Lutheran confused about essence/energies, the procession of the Spirit, and divine simplicity is to read the Enneads, they are available in the Loeb Classical Library.

    2. It was constantly the simple, clear-headed, Latin West that "came to the rescue" in the councils (especially the latter ones dealing specifically with Christology). This was almost enough to make me look to the pope! Time and again, the West dragged things away from philosophical speculation and back to a Scriptural center.

    3. The question of the procession of the Spirit is also greatly effected by this Plotinianism. In Plotinus' Trinity (didn't know there was a pagan Trinity? I'm telling you: read the Enneads!) a double procession would be unthinkable. But in Scriptures we should read John 15 alongside John 20 and all the passages that speak of both "the Spirit of God" and the "the Spirit of Christ."

    4. Original Sin - if anything, the East downplays the Fall more than the medieval Western theologians. I know my own evil too well to buy into that. As someone else has said: if the article by which the Church stands or falls is justification, then the article by which the article by which the Church stands or falls stands or falls is original sin.

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  12. (part 2)

    5. Authority. This is really the same argument as with the papal party. Has God promised that one bishop or a majority of bishops will never err, will be protected by the Holy Spirit from error? Sounds nice - but it runs up against history. So the supporters of papal infallibility have to account for Honorius and end up making excuses, caveats, etc.. The same with the East: can a bishop err? Sure. Can many bishops err? Sure. Can a majority of bishops err at the same time? Well, um, yes - what with the Arian controversy. Once those facts are admitted, once you take away the easy, objective marks of authority, either vox Petri, vox Dei est or vox majoritatis episcoporum, vox Dei est - what are you left with? "The Church" cannot err? The "Magisterium"? The "Bishops?" But will the real Church and the real Magisterium and the real Bishops please stand up! We've just admitted that there will be impostures and heretics - that at times, even the majority calling themselves bishops will not be so. Lutherans, too, say that the Church is infallible, in so far as she is the Church. But which is which? What's left to decide? Only this: what do the Scriptures say? Who stands with the regula fidei? Sola Scriptura, in the end, cannot be got around. And once we are left with the Scriptures, I, for one, have always thought the Lutherans do very well indeed.

    And that, for what it is worth, is a summary of the thought of one Lutheran pastor who was tempted to look East, did his homework, and decided that it he was very thankful to be where God had placed him in the Churches of the Augsburg Confession.

    +HRC

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  13. Here's a link to a discussion of divine simplicity, by the way: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/divine-simplicity/#Mot

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  14. Chris Jones,

    Re: what you wrote above
    The Orthodox claim is not, as is sometimes thought, that "a properly convened ecumenical council cannot err," but simply that "these seven councils did not err"; not that the Holy Spirit invariably guides councils to the truth, but that it is evident that He did, in fact, guide these particular councils to the truth. An ecumenical council is not an element of the Church's polity (i.e. an administrative entity) which enjoys a guarantee of infallibility; it is a pneumatic, charismatic event whose authoritative character can only be discerned after the fact.

    Could you suggest a book or other source for learning more about this view of conciliar authority?

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  15. P.R. H.R.

    1.* This is factually in error. Spanish adoptionism wasn’t motivated by issues in the Greek language, philosophical or otherwise. The same goes for Donatism or Pelagianism. The reason why a good many controversies came to be in the East is that first, all of the major sees were in the East, except Rome.

    Christianity, particularly in the monasteries was much more firmly established in the East, which trained a fair amount of the clergy. Half the time Rome didn’t even understand the issues and had to be brought up to theological speed by its Eastern counter parts.

    As for Plotinus this is also a mistake. The use of Plationic vocabulary doesn’t entail the use of Platonic conceptual content any more than when Plotinus or Proclus use vocabulary from Aristotle or the Stoics they are wedded to Aristotelian or Stoic conceptual content.

    Further, the same philosophical issues cropped up in the West as in the East as can be seen at how they were discussed at the Synod of Antioch in the 360’s. Latin is perfectly capable of masking philosophical confusion which is why a good many thought that it was inadequate for doing theology. It was in fact the inadequacy of late Platonism that led to Arianism since the former had no concept of person to distinguish it from essence. This is why at Nicea, it was the Arians who appealed to pagan philosophers to come and testify on their behalf.

    An essence/energies distinction is far older than Plotinus and isn’t limited to Platonism. It is found in the Hippocratic medical tradition, Galen, early pictographic theories of language, etc. The Orthodox distinction isn’t Plotinian for a simple reason-the latter is dialectical and holds that the energy is metaphysically deficient than its cause as a means of distinguishing cause from effect. This is explicitly taken over from Plato. Such is not the case in Orthodox theology since the energies are fully divine.


    2.* This is also false. Take Chalcedon for example, which appointed a special commission to examine Leo’s Tome to make sure it was in line with Cyril’s Christology. Unquestionably, Cyril was the touchstone, not Leo. Much the same goes for the Fifth council which excommunicated a sitting pope and rejected out of hand his “irreformable” judgment, and didn’t re-establish communion until he changed his mind. The Sixth council condemns Honorius and Rome was in cahoots with the Iconoclastic and Filioquist Franks and so held off on recognizing 2nd Nicea, much to the chastisement of Theodore the Studite. That’s four out of seven councils just for starters. Athanasius didn't waffle on Nicea, but an argument can be made that Pope Liberius did. And Cyril pretty much ran the show at Ephesus and Constantinople I wasn't even known or recognized by the West for quite a long time.

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  16. considering-orthodoxy:

    a book or other source ...

    I'm no scholar, and my understanding of these issues was formed more by one-on-one instruction by Orthodox clergy than by reading. But you could start with Metr Kallistos Ware's discussion of the matter in his classic The Orthodox Church (pp 251-154 in the 1997 Penguin edition), and then move on to the authors he cites there, such as Meyendorff and Lossky.

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  17. Acolyte,

    Have you read the Enneads?

    Of course, the West had it's problems, too. And it took the Lutheran Reformation to root Aristotle out. I'm just contending that Plotinus still needs to be rooted out of Eastern thought.

    As for Leo and Cyril, I think your interpretation of the history is a little off here. It was a group of folks who rigidly followed the language of Cyril who were excommunicated by the Eastern Orthodox Church for 1500 years, wasn't it? It seems that whatever a committee decided, they decided that Leo's way of expressing the faith was far superior to Cyril's.

    All the best,
    +HRC

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  18. Pr Curtis

    Have you read the Enneads?

    I should be careful about challenging Perry on a matter of scholarship, if I were you. He has read the sources and knows what he is talking about. That does not make him right about everything, but it does mean that you can't treat him like someone who spouts off third- and fourth-hand opinions in ignorance of the actual sources (like me, for instance).

    Plotinus still needs to be rooted out of Eastern thought.

    This is an old canard that does not get truer with age. There is a big difference between following the ideas of Plotinus and simply using the language and conceptual categories of the time (in common with Plotinus) to express one's own ideas (or, in this case, to give expression to the Christian Gospel). It is my understanding that in terms of actually giving authority to the ideas of Plotinus in his theological thought, St Augustine is far more guilty than any of the Eastern Fathers. The Fathers' use of neo-Platonic language and concepts is actually quite nuanced and carefully held distinct from any embrace of neo-Platonism itself; have you read St Maximus Confessor?

    Finally, with respect to Leo and Cyril, I suggest that it is your interpretation of the history that is "a little off." Perry is right that the Fathers at Chalcedon were quite careful in their embrace of the Tome of Leo, and that it was the teaching of St Cyril that was the touchstone. And it was not simply "rigidly following the language of Cyril" that led to the Monophysite schism. It was using the language of Cyril to embrace and defend an inadequate and heretical Christology.

    Seeing Chalcedon as a matter of "Leo vs. Cyril, and Leo won" is overly simplistic. The Tome could be read and understood in a Nestorianizing way, and it was understood that way, both by the Nestorians themselves (who regarded Chalcedon as a victory) and by the Monophysites (who rejected Chalcedon and the Tome of Leo on that basis). It was the task of the two ecumenical councils in the following century (Constantinople II and III) to clarify that Chalcedon and the Tome must be understood in the light of Cyril's thought, not as correcting or contradicting Cyril.

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  19. Just to clarify:

    I don't claim to be a scholar. Perry has probably read the Enneads, but I certainly have not. For what said in my last post, I am following the scholarship of others, not my own. In particular, for my understanding of the issues discussed in that comment I am indebted to Fr John Meyendorff, whose book Christ in Eastern Christian Thought I highly recommend. If Meyendorff is wrong then so am I.

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  20. I would add to the foregoing comments that an indispensable source for this whole matter, that is, of "Cyril's victory," even at Chalcedon, is J. A. McGuckin's *Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy* which was published by Brill in 1994 and republished by St. Vladimir's Seminary Press in 2004. It is now out-of-print at (but to be reprinted by) SVS Press, but copies are available through Amazon.com and Abebooks.com.

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  21. Mr. Jones,

    I'm sorry if my simple question caused either you or Perry any consternation. I don't know him from Adam and so I hope I am excused from having knowledge as to the extent of his reading. My question was an honest one and did not intend to offend.

    On the wider point of pagan philosophical schools and their entrance into the discussions of the faith, the question one always needs to ask is: how does this line up with the apostolic witness in the Scriptures? Is the philosophical framework driving the interpretation of the Scriptures? Is Abraham's birthright being traded for the pottage of Plato/Aristotle/Plotinus/Poseidonius, etc? I would encourage all who are interested in these topics to keep those questions foremost in their minds as they approach the primary source texts.

    That's what I tried to do and above I narrated where I came down after that study by way of encouraging others who are interested to take up a similar study.

    By the bye, I thought that the Eastern Orthodox communion had made its peace with the old Monophysite churches via the Agreed Statements on Christology in 1989-90. But I can't claim to know much about all that. Perhaps this is an area of doctrinal discord in the Eastern Orthodox communion today?

    All the best,
    +HRC

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  22. I took no offense, nor was I attempting to take offense vicariously on Perry's behalf. It is precisely because I thought you probably did not know him that I thought I ought to warn you that intellectually he is a bit of a heavyweight. Far above my pay grade, anyway.

    With respect to "making peace with the Monophysites," I think the best way to put it is that the process is underway and the prospects are pretty good, but it is anything but a done deal. The Orthodox Church doesn't make doctrinal decisions in the form of "agreed statements." (When you think about it, it has not worked out well when they have tried to do that in the past. The Henotikon of Zeno comes to mind.)

    It is indeed an item of "doctrinal discord" in Orthodoxy today, with some traditionalists (notably the monks of Mt Athos) dead-set against any compromise with the Monophysites. It should be noted, however, that such discord can be quite useful. It was the laity and the monastics who held their ground against iconoclasm in the eighth and ninth centuries, when the officialdom of both Church and Empire was solidly iconoclast; and it was the "doctrinal discord" of men like SS Athanasius and Hilary while "the world groaned to find itself Arian" that ultimately saved the Catholic faith. Personally I think the Athonites are wrong vis-a-vis reconciliation with the Monophysites; but it may not prove so in the end, and in any case they have ample precedent in Church history for their resistance.

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  23. Pr. H.R.,

    Yes I have read the Enneads along with works from Proclus and Porphyry. I’ve had a grad seminar on them and taught parts of them to undergrads. As I implicitly noted before arguing from the similarity of terms in late Platonism to an identity of conceptual content is the word-concept fallacy.

    Have you read Anselm, Albert, Lombard, Bonaventure, Aquinas, Henry of Ghent, Scotus, et al? If so and you’ve read Lutheran post-Reformation scholastic theology in theology proper it will be obvious to you how indebted to late Platonism the Reformers were in theology proper, like Rome, to late Platonic conceptions of divinity. Just read how the Lutherans gloss Dionysius, (aka Damascius who was a disciple of Proclus and the last head of the Academy). The entire set of discussions of divine incomprehensibility, the divine attributes, divine simplicity, religious language, etc. turns on an Albertine reading of Dionysius. It is in Muller, Peiper and plenty of other Lutheran sources. More to the point, Chemnitz defense of Lutheranism over against the Reformed in Christology turns on the terminology of the energies, even though he goofs the patristic concept.

    None of the scholastics were proffering Aristotle pure and simple. The Aristotelianism they were putting forward was that of a Platonized, specifically Islamicized Aristotelianism. Second, substituting Aristotle for Ockhamistic Nominalism doesn’t seem like a step up. It seems like a continuance of the same program, just with thinner metaphysical commitments, making it even harder to perceive where the philosophy ends and the theology begins.

    I’d argue that it was a group of folks who didn’t follow all of Cyril’s language who fell away. Cyril spoke of two natures after the union. Dioscorus and the Severians wouldn’t. I’d recommend looking at Gray’s, The Defense of Chalcedon in the East, as well as McGuckin’s, St. Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy. The gloss you are taking was designed by Catholic polemicists to support the supremacy of the papacy. That of itself doesn’t make it wrong, but the facts do. Namely the facts that the council did in fact appoint a commission to evaluate Leo’s Tome and the standard to which they compared it to was Cyril. Papal decree was not sufficient. This is a fact that is routinely left unmentioned or unexplicated by the older Catholic and Protestant sources who followed, ironically, that interpretation. But a fact it is, so that it isn’t an interpretative question but a factual one. And it is a fact that is not controversial or in dispute. You can read the documents yourself to see that it is so.

    As for the weakness of Leo’s expression, it was weaker than Cyril in expression since it gave the impression that the two natures were two actors or agents. Language of each nature doing what is proper to it could easily map on to a Nestorian gloss since Nestorianism was a fundamental confusion of person and nature, where each instance of a nature was a subject that contributing to a single appearance or prosopon.

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  24. Pr. H.R.,

    No consternation. It seems my reply to your other two points (3-4) never made it through.

    The question you ask about the relationship between philosophy and theology is an important one. But the framing of it that you give it is distinctly Lutheran and motivated by Lutheran concerns. That doesn’t make it wrong but there might be other ways of thinking about it. The Ockhamists for example took nature to be unrelated to grace in an extreme sort of way, such that reason (of the realm of nature) was completely unable to determine much of anything relative to grace since grace was not a sensible particular and reason grasped only those things as real that were sensible particulars. This attitude helped to shape Lutheran thinking on the relation or lack thereof, of philosophy and theology but what should be noted is that it too is a philosophical way of situating the relationship. This is why grace and that of its realm, namely revelation has to do all the “work” as it were.

    Further, as I noted previously, unlike Rome, we do not think theology is a science and so we don’t think it “develops” in that philosophical content is poured into theological terms enabling us to draw out “implicit” meaning. Hence there is no doctrine of the beatific vision in Orthodoxy. The relation between theology and philosophy is a one way street and so asymmetrical. Theology can use philosophical terms but it is necessary to suck out their dialectical framework. What does that mean? Hellenistic philosophy took the world to be a system of powers in opposition. On a Christian view of the world, the powers of the world (hot/cold, sweet/bitter) are not opposed to each other.(hence no Law/Gospel dialectic) To be direct, God has no opposite. Hence we don’t use philosophy per se to directly prove doctrines. On the other hand, it seems strange to me how we get the notion of forensic imputation apart from late medieval nominalism.

    As for the doctrine of the energies, the term is biblical. Second, scripture speaks of seeing God and not being capable of seeing God. Whatever the people saw occupies the same logical space as the divine energies so a rose by any other name…Christ speaks of the divine power that goes out from his flesh when touched. That is not God qua “essence” on anyone’s account, but it is still divine power so it can’t be a created thing. That seems to occupy the same logical space as the energies do. We could multiply scriptural examples (Moses face, Transfiguration, etc.). Chemnitz for example argues for the basic idea extensively against the Reformed.

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  25. Acolyte,

    That's a fine summary of the interaction between philosophy and theology into the Reformation era. Many commentators have noted the affinity of classical Lutheranism and Orthodoxy because of Chemnitz' use of the Damascene - and this affinity is, no doubt, why many Lutherans look East. What you take as Chemnitz goofing the patristic concept would, I think, be considered differently by Chemnitz scholars who sought to defend him - a synthesis of East and West perhaps: but we'll have to wait for a real Chemnitz scholar to write that dissertation.

    In Luther's own self-reflection on what he owed Nominalism, he says that it freed him from scholasticism's grasp by giving him another way to view the issues; and (to pre-borrow a phrase) it woke him from his dogmatic slumbers to go back to the Scriptures for how to speak of God.

    As you stated above, I show myself a Lutheran in valuing this insight. After all: how else are we going to judge all these competing philosophies? What is the touchstone if not the Word? I share Luther's deep distrust of human nature borne of a robust understanding of the Fall - and I don't think that's Nominalism, I think it's the First Book of Moses.

    All the best,
    +HRC

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  26. A fascinating discussion.

    A few cursory thoughts popped up to mind:

    Of all things for people to read, while I'm sure the Enneads would be enlightening in some respects, my own recommendation would be to read the Tome.

    While one could perhaps make a compelling argument that the Tome began to use philosophical constructs in explaining the two natures of Christ, I don't think that it went too far. That is, I don't think the Nestorians were justified if they claimed the support of Leo on its account.

    More given to philosophical method was Anselm, half a millennium later, who rightly earned the title Father of Scholasticism. Yet even he was no where near the full-blooded Aristotelianism that engulfed the method of Thomas and the high scholastics of the 13th century and beyond. I have argued for years that this intrusion of philosophical method--whether from Plotinus, or directly from Aristotle, or even, in some cases, through Muslim scholars--that led to the shipwreck of theology brought on by the scholastic method for which Ockham, Gerson, Biel, et al., were responsible.

    By the time Luther came on the scene a Reformation was clearly necessary--not only for theology, but for theological method.

    And therefore I will agree that the age of Lutheran scholasticism of the 17th century, for all its benefits, was methodologically unfortunate.

    So I'm inclined to agree that philosophical method can be helpful up to a point, always with the awareness that danger attends it.

    So, for instance, the law vs. gospel dichoomy is helpful for preaching, but not magisterial. And so forth.

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  27. Dr. Tighe,

    I already had a package for you sitting on my desk when I read your remarks and reminder; apologies for my tardiness. I was away for awhile. Should find its way to you this week.

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  28. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  29. 3.* As for Plotinus, the shoe is on the other foot. First, a good many of the Latin scholastics followed (albeit modified to some extent or another) a Platonic conception of being. This is not hard to see in Bonaventure or say Aquinas. This is in part their Augustinian heritage. It is also true that Plotinus argues for a procession or emanation of Life from the One and Nous. If anything then one could argue for the Filioque doctrine finding its source in Plotinus rather than the Orthodox denial of it. So it is factually a mistake to claim that a dual emanation in Plotinus would be unthinkable.

    As for the Johanine material, plenty of Protestant exegetes concede that that material cannot justify the belief in an eternal hypostatic generation, at least not without importing principles from philosophical theology. Without simplicity to license the move of taking the economical to be identical to the ontological, there is no exegetical justification for taking the Gospel to be setting forth a dual procession. Procession is only referred to there in reference to the Father and sending is only in reference to the encomia, not to hypostatic generation.

    There is biblical material that speaks of the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ, but this doesn’t help. First, because the Spirit is also God, so if “of” equals “from” then either the Spirit isn’t God or the Spirit is hypostatically generated from himself as well, which is absurd. Second, the Scriptures also speak of the Spirit of truth, but no one thinks that the Spirit is hypostatically generated from the divine “attribute” of truth.

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  30. 4.* It seems strange living in the Orthodox liturgical environment for now over ten years and hearing that we down play the fall. The rich liturgical descriptions and calls for repentence simply seem incompatible with these kids of claims. It just doesn’t ring true to what I’ve experienced.

    Second, not all western theological traditions have the same doctrine of sin. Augustine and the Lutheran tradition are not isomorphic. Take Gerhard’s discussion for instance in glossing righteousness as an intrinsic constituent of the imago dei and so at the fall, the imago dei is intrinsically altered. Augustine thinks no such thing for example since he takes grace to be added to nature at creation such that a fall from grace introduces corruption, but no intrinsic alteration of the imago dei. The former view relative prior to the fall was in fact the position of the Pelagians who took Adam to be intrinsically or “naturally” graced prior to the fall. This was a major point of contention between Augustine and the most ardent advocate of Pelagianism, Julian of Enclanum. The Reformation traditions imbibed this Pelagian anthropology from the Ockhamists and kept it with the neo-semi-Pelagian schema of reaching up and laying hold of Christ by, as Pelagius wrote, “faith alone.” They simply grounded it in an Augustinian predestinarian preemption, but the schema is still fundamentally Pelagian and the anthropology is essentially pre-lapsarian Pelagianism.

    It is also something of question begging to assume that the Reformation position is the high mark for taking sin “seriously” and then compare it to the Orthodox view and then declare that the Orthodox view has a low view of sin or doesn’t take is seriously. That doesn’t amount to a real analysis of what the Orthodox view in fact is or demonstrates the Reformation view to be correct. Lots of views preclude unaided or ungraced co-operation with God in salvation and so exclude Pelagianism, not just the Reformation view. And not even Augustine for example excluded co-operation in justification. To think that co-operation per se is a mark of Pelagianism or semi-Pelagianism is to convict Augustine of them, which is absurd.

    Further, the Orthodox do not down play the Fall, it is rather that Christological and Triadological categories structure our theology, rather than philosophical or Hellenistic ones. We do not start with a general conception of human nature and persons as “substances” and then include Christ, Adam and everyone else under it. We begin with Christ and understand human nature from him since he is the image of God in which we are made. Consequently we do not inherit guilt from our first parents since guilt accrues to persons and we do not inherit a person from them, only a nature. This is why we do not think that righteousness is a constituent of the imago dei so that humans were created naturally good, but personally innocent. Righteousness is a product of personal activity and human persons do no act prior to their creation. It is also why we do not think that the imago dei can be intrinsically altered because Christ is the image of God in which we are made and no human choice can alter that logos. To think that human choice could alter the logos of human nature would show that humans could subvert the divine will.

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  31. 4.* It seems strange living in the Orthodox liturgical environment for now over ten years and hearing that we down play the fall. The rich liturgical descriptions and calls for repentence simply seem incompatible with these kids of claims. It just doesn’t ring true to what I’ve experienced.

    Second, not all western theological traditions have the same doctrine of sin. Augustine and the Lutheran tradition are not isomorphic. Take Gerhard’s discussion for instance in glossing righteousness as an intrinsic constituent of the imago dei and so at the fall, the imago dei is intrinsically altered. Augustine thinks no such thing for example since he takes grace to be added to nature at creation such that a fall from grace introduces corruption, but no intrinsic alteration of the imago dei. The former view relative prior to the fall was in fact the position of the Pelagians who took Adam to be intrinsically or “naturally” graced prior to the fall. This was a major point of contention between Augustine and the most ardent advocate of Pelagianism, Julian of Enclanum. The Reformation traditions imbibed this Pelagian anthropology from the Ockhamists and kept it with the neo-semi-Pelagian schema of reaching up and laying hold of Christ by, as Pelagius wrote, “faith alone.” They simply grounded it in an Augustinian predestinarian preemption, but the schema is still fundamentally Pelagian and the anthropology is essentially pre-lapsarian Pelagianism.

    It is also something of question begging to assume that the Reformation position is the high mark for taking sin “seriously” and then compare it to the Orthodox view and then declare that the Orthodox view has a low view of sin or doesn’t take is seriously. That doesn’t amount to a real analysis of what the Orthodox view in fact is or demonstrates the Reformation view to be correct. Lots of views preclude unaided or ungraced co-operation with God in salvation and so exclude Pelagianism, not just the Reformation view. And not even Augustine for example excluded co-operation in justification. To think that co-operation per se is a mark of Pelagianism or semi-Pelagianism is to convict Augustine of them, which is absurd.

    Further, the Orthodox do not down play the Fall, it is rather that Christological and Triadological categories structure our theology, rather than philosophical or Hellenistic ones. We do not start with a general conception of human nature and persons as “substances” and then include Christ, Adam and everyone else under it. We begin with Christ and understand human nature from him since he is the image of God in which we are made. Consequently we do not inherit guilt from our first parents since guilt accrues to persons and we do not inherit a person from them, only a nature. This is why we do not think that righteousness is a constituent of the imago dei so that humans were created naturally good, but personally innocent. Righteousness is a product of personal activity and human persons do no act prior to their creation. It is also why we do not think that the imago dei can be intrinsically altered because Christ is the image of God in which we are made and no human choice can alter that logos. To think that human choice could alter the logos of human nature would show that humans could subvert the divine will.

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  32. Pr. H.R.

    I say that Chemnitz “goofs” the concepts because he falls back to the position of Augustine’s Platonism where the energies are all metaphysically one thing, just understood by us or definitionally distinct.

    Consequently, if one of them is communicated to the human nature of Christ via the divine hypostasis, then all of them are. That isn’t the position of Damascus, Maximus or any of the Orthodox authors on whom Chemnitz relies.


    There were also corrupt manuscripts of Damascus that the Reformation traditions were using, which led to no small amount of Christological confusion even up to our own time. This also seems present in Chemnitz (as well as in Reformed writers) where they take person and essence to be the same thing or speak of the person of Christ as the result or product of the union. That isn’t Chalcedonian Christology, but something else altogether. I don’t think we need a dissertation since we can see it rather plainly in the text. It seems odd that we’d need one to show his errors but we don’t need one to toss an entire tradition into the circular file.


    I can’t see how Luther is right in his own self evaluation. Given Luther’s own view of sin, there is good reason for thinking his own self evaluation is skewed. And often such important persons aren’t always the best analyzers of their own position and all that it entails. Such is the case with many historical figures.


    Luther was quite familiar with the Nominalism of Biel, somewhat with Scotism, but very unfamiliar with Thomism. His grasp of Scholasticism and criticisms he makes of it only apply to the Ockhamists and somewhat at points to the Scotism of the time. His knowledge of Thomas seems to come almost from works that contain citations in other works not from Thomas.


    Second and more importantly, Nominalism was a kind of scholastic outlook and program so endorsing it can’t free him from scholasticism per se. It is simply trading a realistic metaphysical outlook about taxonomies for a nominalist one. Without it, there is no way to derive forensic imputation ungrounded in the state of the agent from the Pauline corpus.


    Third, there is never a non-theory laden reading of the Scriptures. This does not imply that there is no mind-independent reading of its semantic content, but only that that content is not accessed from some theoretically neutral standpoint. And further, one is always acting as an interpretative judge as to what the text means. The next question is whether one’s interpretation is normative such that it can bind the conscience of anyone else. If not, and all interpretations at best rise to the level of being correct so that all interpretations and hence judgments are fallible, then we have the right of private judgment. That entails that there cannot be any judgment that binds the conscience of an individual without the individual’s consent and assent. This entails that the divine energy of infallibility is not communicated to the humanity of Christ, particularly the Church, a view of rather significant Christological import.


    On the preclusion of philosophy from the theology, where the Orthodox differ from the Reformation parties is that the latter exclude it on the basis of their view of the imago dei being intrinsically altered by the fall. It is because of the transmutation of human nature that philosophy is excluded. But that leaves philosophy per se untouched. What is required is that nature is made intrinsically righteous again and philosophy is A-OK. From the Orthodox view, the problem runs deeper in that the entire structure of philosophy represents a false view of reality of the natural opposition of knowledge and ignorance, power and weakness, and grace and nature.

    As for the via moderni relative to sin and the distrust of human nature, they actually ran in two directions with this. One was a more Pelagian view and the other tended to a more Manichean pessimistic view, so it is entirely in keeping with Nominalism to entail a deep distrust of human nature.

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  33. Pr. H.R.

    Something else to consider given the Ockhamistic view of nature and grace inherited by the Lutheran tradition. If nature is bereft of value and import post-fall, it becomes very difficult to see how nature can bear any divine signs enabling one to ground belief in God. While it cuts off the project of natural theology, it does so in a way that leads very quickly to the conclusion that no sign or part of nature implies or could imply the existence of God. The Ockhamistic view of signs and a rejection of intelligible species in cognition via Nominalism is the very firm basis of modern atheism and agnosticism. And this is why the vast majority of Englightenment philosophies entail some form of Nominalism and so agnosticism and/or atheism.

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  34. As to the article itself, here are some remarks from the other side.


    It never seemed to me legitimate to abandon a theological stance that I judged to be true simply because the going got tough. If one is to convert one way or the other it should be for theological reasons that stand independently of any crisis where one is currently residing.


    The Orthodox stance is somewhat more nuanced than that the Latin’s traded papal supremacy for the consensus of the councils. The debates about the relation of nature (freedom) to grace (predestination) that plague the Latins in unending conflict and division are only resolved by increased particularization or authoritarian subordination or silencing of debate. For the Orthodox papal supremacy is just a manifestation of a deeper theological problem. (Papal supremacy is just the right of private judgment, that no one can bind the conscience of a believer, just limited to one person, the pope.) The reason the East didn’t and doesn’t have these conflicts is that it takes them to be resolved in the Christological controversies of the 7th century over the relation of the divine and human wills in Christ. And it is this theology that the Latins have never had a clear vision of which is why the fundamental inheritance of Origen remains unchecked in Latin theology. His problems are still their problems. Location here is irrelevant. It is not that these problems took place in the West and so they are western problems, but rather certain principles endemic to western theologies generate the same problems over and over again.


    As for theological Liberalism, much the same could be said relative to Christological concerns and the doctrine of the energies. Methods like the grammatical-historical and critical-historical methodologies presuppose not only a theory of signs where a given sign doesn’t necessarily license an inference to a specific reality, but also an Adoptionistic or Nestorian Christology. This is why we have Christologies “from below” and those “from above” which is just a product of those presupposed Christologies latent in such methods. This is why the Orthodox in the Fifth Council condemned in sum such methods in the person and method of Theodore of Mopsuestia as heretical and so precluded from church use.

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  35. As for Uncle Screwtape and causing trouble, certainly the Orthodox have had no small share of it. While Catholics and Protestants were off conquering a few extra continents the Orthodox were by and large languishing under Islamic rule or busy getting liquidated by Marxists. Just by the numbers Stalin’s purges and famines dwarf the Nazi Holocaust. The Orthodox weren’t exactly unmolested by Satan. But the article is right that by itself, it is no sure guide to theological validity, which is why I pointed to the ground of difference between the Orthodox on one side and Rome and her children on the other.


    As for clarification through process, the Orthodox see it somewhat differently. At crucial points the synodal decrees do not exactly clarify so much as rope off and preclude certain ways of thinking about Christ. This is why all the key terms are apophatic. Homousious isn’t particularly clarifying. Whatever the Father is, the Son is too. What is the Father? We do not know for no one has or can see God. The same goes for key Chalcedonian terms such as unconfused, without separation, etc. The Orthodox take the opposite view of the councils. It wasn’t through clarifying by using philosophical conceptual content that they did their work, but rather by removing the latter they preserved the integrity of the Gospel. It was always the heretics who tried by importing philosophical content to “clarify” the faith-this is just as true for Arius as it was for Nestorius or any modern heretics. Hence the Nicene proclamation that we worship that which we do not know.



    Practically all Orthodox critiques launch a two pronged attack on the Filioque, both that its insertion was unjustified and it is theologically erroneous and unsupportable from Scripture and the Fathers. This has been so by and large since the time of Photius in the 9th century. We reject the Filioque theologically in part because it entails a view of divine persons as relations and relations distinguished by opposing or dialectical relationships-the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, etc. The Filioque is a product of a mistaken framework which lies at its root.

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  36. It is true that the insertion of the clause was motivated by a sincere desire to combat Spanish Adoptionism, but that doesn’t imply its truth. Nestorius was motivated by a sincere desire to avoid Apolinarianism and Arius to avoid Sabellianism. Second, the Arian assumption which the synod of Toledo unfortunately granted was that to be God, one had to be a cause and the Son was caused and not a cause. So they granted the assumption and made the Son a cause of the Spirit. Big problem Whom does the Spirit cause? If no one, then he isn’t fully God. If another person, then an infinite regress of persons is implied.


    It is probably true that Leo taught the Filioque and Leo derived it from Augustine. But Augustine didn’t teach it as a doctrine, but a speculation and Leo didn’t place it in the creed.


    As for Ambrose’s De Spiritu, this is not in fact a ground for the doctrine. When Ambrose speaking against the Pneumatamochoi talks of the theologia, he speaks of the Spirit coming “through” the Son and never from him. ( De Spiritu 2.12.130) When he speaks of the economy, he speaks of a mission from the Father and the Son. ( De Spiritu 1.15.152) This is why the majority of scholars do not take the material from Ambrose to be the source for Augustine’s speculation or Leo’s doctrine.

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  37. As for the Persian creed of Seleucia-Ctesiphon in 410 this is not very good evidence for the Filioque. That creed is actually an anomalous version of the Nicene Creed at that point (and in other places). The phrase is, “We acknowledge the living and holy Spirit, the living Paraclete who is from the Father and the Son.” There were a number of corrupted versions of the Creed in the early fourth century and even after Chalcedon as its opponents had a free hand in altering the Creed. Similar phrasing was found in the version used by Nestorius read out at Chalcedon as evidence of his heretical disposition. A variety of expanded versions of the Creed existsed. And the alteration in the creed never lasted among the Persians. In any case, local synods erred in across a range of subjects and were never taken to represent of themselves the faith of the whole or katholikos. What is more, we don’t know the exact meaning of the phrasing since various users of that language have meant different things by it over the course of time. It could pick out the Filioque or it might not.


    As for the Ephesian prohibition of alteration, it was sufficiently clear at the council of Chalcedon where it was reiterated and on such a basis were heretical alterations in the creed in terms of the slightest terms were condemned. More to the point, the synod of union in 879 seems quite clear on prohibiting a Filioque addition to the Creed. (See some of its decrees here)


    The argument that the insertion of the clause in the Creed implies that no council has the right to declare that there will never be a need for a new creed or creedal alteration is a bad one. First, the synods that prohibition alteration are councils Lutherans profess fidelity to, making their position inconsistent. Second, many of those same councils speak of themselves and those before them as “infallible” “Spirit inspired” and so forth. Such statements are often nestled in the midst of their theological judgments and so can’t be separated out as some secondary accretion.

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  38. To gloss this or that exegesis or the addition to the Creed as a “non-theological” matter seems a rather large stretch, especially when said councils indicate that they are theological matters. In any case, what really matters for the Reformation tradition is whether the doctrine can be justified by Scripture alone and this is the real problem. It can’t and a good number of Protestant exegetes, conservative or liberal recognize that without the importation of key principles from philosophical theology, the Filioque just can’t be derived from the text.


    It is quite true that the Orthodox have maintained that we are the actual society of people founded by Christ and the apostles, full stop. We are not a denomination. What the Lutherans wished was for Eastern recognition of their position over against Rome. That is, they wished the Orthodox to recognize Lutheran theology. The fact that they didn’t, didn’t and doesn’t phase Lutherans but I think it should. If it were any other profession that the whole church condemned Protestant don’t blink an eye.


    To say that the schisms do not encroach on her unity depends on how we understand schism. Does this mean schism from the church or in the church? The Orthodox admit that there have been schisms from the Church, but never in it, since it is the body of Christ and so indivisible. The Orthodox hold that unity is visible just as Christ’s incarnation was and the society of people he established in and through his apostles were actual visible people and there were clear lines of who was admitted to communion in that body and who was not. On a Reformation understanding of the “invisible church” it is hard to see how schism from the church is even possible. All of the language here under the cloak of Christ’s passion really turns on a commitment to nominalism where grace as no visible effects since grace is not a sensible particular and so is “hidden” under opposite appearances. This is a common Lutheran way of talking about such things, but it is not only question begging, but it is ad hoc.

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  39. Holy toledo, Batman! This has probably been one of the most enlightening discussions I've read in a while.

    In any case-
    Acolyte4236 your link to decrees of the Synod of 836 in your 8:25 comment is not there. How I am supposed to learn these decrees? Is this a visual illustration of apophatic theology? ;)

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  40. I have just finished reading every single comment on this thread. To whit I have two quick comments of my own...

    1. I have a headache.
    2. I need a drink.

    (Thank God the Baptists haven't shown up yet.)

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  41. Did someone say Baptists?! We're everywhere. Hey I found this post by going through your site John (Ad Orientem). Thanks for the link...fascinating.

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  42. Acolyte4236,

    Could you recommend primary and secondary sources dealing with the assertion that Rome accepted Fourth Constantinople (879) until some later date? I've done a fair bit of reading on this topic and thus far have only found assertions without proof that Rome either did or did not accept this council.

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  43. In response to the last, a good place to start would be *The Photian Schism* by Francis Dvornik, SJ. It was published originally in 1948, by Cambridge University Press, so it might be a trifle outdated, but it has been reprinted repeatedly ever since, and is still probably the best place to start.

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  44. Wow.

    Something is wrong here, and I'm beginning to think it has nothing to do with the theology espoused in these responses.

    At first I thought this might be an interesting conversation, but now it seems to have devolved into a contest to see who can write the most.

    Sorry, but I'm not impressed. These are the most verbose of all blog responses I have ever seen. So frankly, I'm not going to read them, because in the first place I haven't the time, and in the second place I have no desire to read them. If I had wanted to read an extended defense of Orthodoxy I'd have gone looking for it. Whose blog is this, anyway?

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  45. tim,

    As for the link, here it is. I guess the hyperlink insertation from Word didn't carry over.

    http://energeticprocession.wordpress.com/2006/06/07/constantinople-iv-879880-catholic-and-protestant-historical-amnesia/

    npmcallum,

    Added to Dr. Tighe's recommendation, there is alsoJohan Meijer (C.Ss. R.), A Successful Council of Union: A theological Analysis of the Photian synod of 879-880), Thessaloniki, 1975, and Simmonova, Diplomacy of the Letter and the Cross.

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  46. Fr. BFE,

    What is the inference from verbose to false?

    The original post was lengthy and the comment box seemed sufficiently free to respond by others who disagree. And if there are a plurality of errors, that requires more writing.

    Further, you put out a piece that attacks a given tradition. When I do so, I do not find it strange that I will have others who will argue the contrary. When you publish an attack, it seems reasonable to expect a defense. Lutherans are no different in this regard in the blosphere.

    As for verbosity, I like to be thorough.

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  47. Good theology = short.

    Why do something once when you can do it three, twelve, forty, a hundred or four hundred times? (Orthodox motto)

    What is the definition of an Orthodox optimist? Someone who thinks the service is almost over when they hear, "Let us complete our evening/morning prayer unto the Lord".

    At crucial points the synodal decrees do not exactly clarify so much as rope off and preclude certain ways of thinking about Christ. This is why all the key terms are apophatic.

    The fence around the farm is not the farm. Orthodox dogma and theology are primarily fences beyond which one should not go, they are not comprehensive definitions of the content (i.e., the farm).

    This hints at an anthropological difference between Orthodoxy and the West, too. The nous is not easily understood in Western languages where we don't have a word that doesn't skew it towards either rationality or the affections. This is easily seen in the admittedly problematic way Met. Kallistos et al translated it in the Philokalia and various service books. Without a nous, one is left to either 'feel' or 'intellectualize', one cannot directly perceive or sense. A 'clear nous' has more affinity with the physical senses of sight and hearing than it does with intellection or emotion.

    This obviously has ramifications in matters of theology and faith.

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  48. Fr. Eckhardt,

    Your article is a good characterization of how Lutherans view matters, and fairer than some. You have presented a tempting context for the Western Christian to believe in, so as to feel secure where he is and to see Orthodoxy in an unnatural light.

    As a convert to Holy Orthodoxy, I will tell you and all here plainly: the only reason to convert to Orthodoxy is because you love Orthodoxy for the Truth that saturates Her. If you really want to know what Orthodoxy is, come and see for yourself. The Truth Himself alone can convince you, if you are willing.

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  49. Mr. Harju,

    I assure you that the Truth has already convinced me, years ago.

    As for appeal to experience, I am reminded of the old fundamentalist song, "Pass It On," to which, surely, the Orthodox do not wish to be reduced.

    My irritation--not with you, sir, but with the string of lengthy posts that has gone on unabated herein--is the result of what I suspect in these responses as attempts at intellectual bullying.

    As for Perry's inference (sic) from verbose to false, that was not my implication. What I did mean to say was that if one wishes to put forth such a huge piece, it does not seem fitting to do so in the thread of blog responses, which is wearying for those of us who have day jobs.

    I have been in these kinds of discussions before, many times, and I am intrigued, to say the least, that the Orthodox have a way of wanting to engage Lutherans at every turn. Admittedly one could say I started it this time with this article, but not really: for the article itself, written several years ago, was in reply to what I saw as repeated intellectual challenges the Orthodox were presenting to the Lutherans.

    I don't know what to make of it. It's flattering, I suppose, in an odd sort of way. But it is strange.

    Cheers.

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  50. Not so strange, really.

    If you look back over the comment thread, I think it is noteworthy that the real fireworks began not in response to the original post, but with Pr Curtis's claim that the whole Greek Patristic tradition is essentially a wholesale importation of neo-Platonism into Christianity. It was a challenge of a philosophical nature, and it's not surprising that it would receive a response in those terms.

    what I suspect in these responses as attempts at intellectual bullying

    I don't see it as "bullying" but simply as a philosophical response to a philosophical challenge (again, made not by you but by Pr Curtis). A more thorough response, perhaps, than one is used to in this medium.

    the Orthodox have a way of wanting to engage Lutherans at every turn

    I think the Orthodox have a respect for us that they do not have for other Protestants. I am not sure why that is, but I think that it is there. In former times the Anglicans were thought of as the closest to Orthodoxy among the Western confessions, but Anglicanism has proven to be a house of cards. Perhaps the Orthodox see a genuine liturgical and sacramental consciousness among us that they can relate to.

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  51. A more appropriate translation for Nous would be conscience or understanding. A very direct knowledge or intuition that you feel or sense deep within the innermost fibers of your very being. (Like when you do something that you've never done before, and you don't even know if it bears a name, let alone if it's right or wrong, and yet nonetheless a "voice" within you, coming instantaneously out of nowhere, out of the blue, "tells" you with absolute, complete, and utter certainty that it's dead-wrong.. and you don't know how that idea even entered your mind in the first place or whence it came..)

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  52. Mr. Jones,

    You say "us"? Here I thought you were Orthodox.

    At any rate, I think your assessment makes sense.

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  53. Anyway: I just wanted to say that I completely understand where Father's justifiable anguish with the Orthodox comes from.. (link). :-|

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  54. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  55. There is more to any belief or religion than what you can see from the safety of intellectual distance. I just think your article deals with Orthodoxy from that intellectual safety. Our belief in Christ revolves around personal appropriation of the Faith through praxis (b/c faith works). Intellectual discussion derives from this - our common life in Christ. All that your article has achieved is the demonstration that you are based in a different way of life than the Orthodox, that Lutheranism is not Orthodoxy, and that you view your Western context as naturally favorable. Despite your comments about Orthodox topics you have not actually said anything substantial about Orthodoxy, but rather stuck to the peripheral. I don't write to convince you, but merely to alert those who might be taken in unawares by what you write. In this battle one must see for himself, for each must believe for himself. While it's okay to be armed with warnings from sensible people like Fr. Eckhardt, we must still enter the battle ourselves and test the spirits against the Word of God in its proper context. Risk will be involved, as Abraham, Moses, and especially St. Peter learned (he almost lost his soul). That is how it is when one wrestles with the Living God. And just because Fr. Eckhardt was not convinced, or because I am convinced, does not mean anything about anybody else. Each must look for himself, and so wrestle with God and test the spirits. This is the context in which we should take Fr. Eckhard's belief about Orthodoxy, as well as mine: go see for yourself which is the Faith unaltered from the Apostles.

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  56. Fr Eckardt,

    I am a former Orthodox, now a Missouri-Synod Lutheran. I became Lutheran for (mostly) non-theological reasons and retain a considerable sympathy for, and a fair bit of knowledge of, the Orthodox Church and her teachings.

    Despite my Eastward leanings, my LCMS pastor has not excommunicated me (yet).

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  57. Our fervent prayer is for your blessed excommunication (from the LCMS, that is). :)

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  58. I don't know what to make of it. It's flattering, I suppose, in an odd sort of way. But it is strange.

    The strength and seriousness of the LCMS in the maelstrom of American Protestantism makes it a haven for those seeking safe harbor from evangelicalism, liberalism, anti-intellectualism, anti-historicism, etc. Many seeking such a haven look to a 'third way' between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism in Orthodoxy, as well. One will often find people looking to the LCMS as a way to remain in the Protestant tradition while bypassing other problems in that tradition. So, you will find ex-Reformed types like Perry seeking to speak to issues of conversion vis a vis the LCMS, too.

    Otherwise, you have ex-Lutherans like Ben or myself who have maintained cordial internet ties with those in our former confession. When an issue arises regarding Orthodox, we speak up, otherwise we keep silent - note that little comment is made on wholly internal, Lutheran issues.

    Personally, I find the fact "that the [Lutherans] have a way of [not] wanting to engage [Orthodox directly] at [any] turn" equally flattering. :)

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  59. What strikes me immediately about this conversation is the absence of discussion about the one thing that Lutheranism is supposed to really care about--namely, sola gratia, sola fide.

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  60. Alvin,

    It is a mistake to say that Lutheranism ought to care only about one thing. Lutheranism ought to, and does, care about the whole Catholic faith. What good does it do to be right about sola gratia and get the Trinity wrong? or to be right about sola fide and get the Incarnation wrong? The Reformers were right to be concerned about justification when mediaeval Catholicism had degenerated into practical Pelagianism. But that does not mean that that is always and everywhere the only doctrine to be concerned about.

    The Catholic faith is a seamless whole. It is not enough to be right about justification. You have to have a right doctrine of the Trinity; you have to have a right doctrine of the Incarnation; you have to have a correct anthropology; you have to have an orthodox liturgy (viz, the Gospel rightly preached and the sacraments duly administered). If you do not have those things, you can say sola fide and sola gratia all day long and it will avail you nothing.

    If you don't have the Trinity and the Incarnation right your sola fide is nothing but faith in the wrong God. And if your anthropology right then you don't know what it means to be fully human, why we need grace, and what grace really means; and your sola gratia means nothing.

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  61. Chris all you say is true ... but then we end up rehashing old East/West debates.

    Where the Lutheran/Orthodox dialogue is most interesting on the question of justification by faith, synergism, and theosis. The Finnish Lutheran/Orthodox dialogue have had some interesting discussions on these topics.

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  62. So basically what you're suggesting, Father, is for your readers to..

    (Go West) Life is peaceful there
    (Go West) In the open air
    (Go West) Baby you and me
    (Go West) This is our destiny

    (Go West) Sun in wintertime
    (Go West) We will do just fine
    (Go West) Where the skies are blue
    (Go West) this is what we're gonna do.

    Ja? Oder nein?

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  63. All baptized babies should be able to receive communion (Christ).

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