Friday, December 26, 2008

Polycrates: Proto-Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox?

Patiently crawling through Jurgens' The Faith of the Early Fathers, I came upon a fascinating dispute between two ancient bishops of the Church, Polycrates of Ephesus and Victor of Rome (c. 190 A.D.) (Jurgens, Vol. 1, at 82).  Particularly interesting are the sources of authority to which these men appealed or upon which they apparently acted.

According to Eusebius (Church History, Book V, Ch. 23), the bishops of Asia [Minor] followed a tradition dating Easter on the 14th day of Nisan, the date of the Jewish celebration of Passover.  This occurred regardless of the day of the week on which Passover fell.  However, this was "not the custom of the churches in the rest of the world," who instead celebrated Easter on the day "of the Resurrection of our Savior," Sunday (Id.).

St. Victor, the late-second century Bishop of Rome, desired unity in the worldwide Church's observance of Easter (Catholic Encyclopedia: Pope St. Victor I).  He called together the Italian bishops in what is the earliest known Roman synod.  He also "wrote to the leading bishops of the various districts, urging them to call together the bishops of their sections of the country and to take counsel with them on the question of the Easter festival." (Id.).  In the east, he wrote to Bishop Polycrates, leader of bishops of Asia Minor, to induce him to call a council of Asian bishops to address the matter. 

Responses from all fronts but Asia affirmed the celebration of Easter on Sunday.  Bishop Polycrates rejected Bishop Victor's instruction to change the celebration date (Jurgens, at 83).  Eusebius records that Victor excommunicated the Asian bishops in response, and for this strong-arm tactic, received the reproof of several (Church History, Book V, Ch. 24).  Jurgens states that information of this excommunication is "held in considerable suspicion," and that the likes of St. Irenaeus, who pleaded for toleration for the sake of unity, may have held Victor to a mere threatening of excommunication (Jurgens at 82).  

Little else is known about this early dispute, but much of informative value can be derived.  Some have cited the episode as evidence that Polycrates represents a proto-Protestant Bible Christian, and that the Roman Bishop holds no special authority.  (Note that for such Christians it inexplicably does not follow that we must celebrate Easter on Nisan 14.)  But the events surrounding Polycrates' letter of rejection have also been interpreted as showing the opposite proposition, i.e., Victor's headship over "Catholic Christendom" (Cath. Encyc.: Pope St. Victor I). 

So was Polycrates' view of authority proto-Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox?  In his letter rejecting Sunday Easter, he clearly states the authorities by which he refuses Victor's instruction.  He first cites the Nisan 14 Easter tradition in Asia, held by the likes of the Apostle Philip, the Apostle John, Polycarp, and other departed saints, as well as his own bishop-kinsmen who preceded him.  He then states that this traditional observance is "according to the Gospel" and an adherence "to the rule of faith."  He notes his seasoned age, his acquaintance with "the brethren throughout the world," and his having "read through the entire Holy Scriptures," and declares that he is not afraid of the threats of men, but must rather obey God.  Finally, he relies upon the consensus of the "most numerous" bishops he called together upon Victor's request, who approved of Polycrates' own view (Church History, Book V, Ch. 24). 

Polycrates' appeal to having read the Holy Scriptures, and his chiding use of Acts 5:29 ("We must obey God rather than men.") notwithstanding, it seems hard to mistake his view of authority for the Protestant one.  He relied upon tradition and other authorities before Scripture, and he lived in an age of an open canon.  Polycrates hardly can be claimed to have abided by the rule of sola Scriptura.  Whichever of these two adversaries one fancies in this dispute, one is fancying some view of authority other than the Protestant one.

Far more from Polycrates' letter resembles the Orthodox view on authority: a primary reliance on tradition, including an invocation of named Apostles preceding him in his particular church; adherence to the "rule of faith"; the supposed universality of the held belief; the Holy Scriptures; and the agreement of a council of bishops (see Tradition in the Orthodox Church, available here).  Indeed, the authority to which Polycrates appealed in rejecting Victor seems distinct from the Catholic view only in his rejection of the universal authority of the Bishop of Rome.

But whatever we say of Polycrates, we must not lose sight of Victor -- calling for councils, ruling on a divisive matter, receiving obedient rebuke (save for Polycrates).  And ultimately, although the details are lost to history, one must take note of the fact that Victor's determination carried the day.  It is interesting that papal primacy has not been so self-evident as to be a sine qua non of faithful catholicity throughout the ages, especially in the east.  Rather, its necessity in the face of heresy or adversity seems to have propped up progressively germinating forms of the doctrine.  Whatever the lesson of Polycrates and Victor for today, it is much nearer an analogy to the dispute between the separated Orthodox and Latin Churches than to the dispute between the Latin Church and Protestant groups. 


Canadian said...

Great to have you back!
Even the Orthodox themselves differ in their dates for Easter due to the use of different calendars. What seems noticeable though, is that Rome did not hold an accepted ex-cathedra authority over the rest of the church. Irenaeus' appeal for unity in spite of disagreement between differing groups does not support a case for unity under papal pronouncement. It seems there were varying "conciliar" efforts to find or even coerce agreement on both sides, but unquestioned submission to Rome was never a universal reality. Catholics themselves would have to bring it in under the idea of "development", as seems evident here.

One thing for sure is that a Protestant appeal to any of these guys must be accompanied with a denial of a patristic adherence to the Protestant principles of Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide. A friend during our recent email discussion attempted to place Athanasius in the proto-Protestant camp under similar pretenses, claiming he was (rightly) schismatic and adhered to Sola Scriptura. In my mind, this idea is off-the-charts untenable.
Pax Christi,

Gil Garza said...

Many like to point to the Polycrates Affair as a demonstration that universal submission to the Bishop of Rome was never a primitive reality. It is not even a contemporary reality! A glance at the nearest RC parish or RC weekly should be sufficient to prove this. The Polycrates Affair does beg the question, however. Is there any authority in the Church beyond appeal to councils or mere parochial episcopalianism?

Thos said...


It is interesting that the Orthodox still have disputes over Easter dates. I know of the New Calendarists and Old Calendarists, but that's all.

I think you’re right that, with regard to the papal doctrines, the Catholics acknowledge (or even proffer) that they developed over time. I believe that John Henry Cardinal Newman used that as an example in his "Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine."

[Indeed, I just looked it up,
here, at section 3. This even has a Victor/Polycrates mention: "It was natural that Polycrates should oppose St. Victor; and natural too that St. Cyprian should both extol the See of St. Peter, yet resist it when he thought it went beyond its province. And at a later day it was natural that Emperors should rise in indignation against it; and natural, on the other hand, that it should take higher ground with a younger power than it had taken with an elder and time-honoured."]

Certainly this is not a case where Polycrates seemed ready to ‘give in’ should Victor pull the ‘ex cathedra’ card. But I don’t know that I would read Irenaeus as standing contrary to a case for unity under the papacy. He could scold the use of the strong-arm tactic without denying the authority of Victor to employ that tactic. By analogy, my wife can tell me that I was too stern with the children, but by doing so, she is not challenging – and certainly is not denying – my headship of the home. When these words come, they are a loving reproof. I think Victor should have been amenable to that reproof even if we imagined that he lived under modern Catholic notions of the papacy (which I'm not claiming he did).

Also, I just read Irenaus in my church father’s book, and he holds no sentiment back in speaking of the supreme greatness of the Church founded by Saints Peter and Paul. So any rebuke he did levy needs to be read in light of that degree of respect he had.

“but unquestioned submission to Rome was never a universal reality.”

I doubt those who submit to Rome do so in an unquestioning way, and the Vincentian canon of “universal reality” is amenable to much flexibility. Certainly the Gnostics did not submit to Rome (with or without questions), but we might agree that doesn't detract from the claim.

But now that I’ve said all that, I fear it may be too late to give my [current] disclaimer on Orthodox-Catholic relations. I am inclined to leave this to the respective Bishops. While I believe reason is profitable to leading to the ‘proper’ conclusion between the two, I also feel far too headstrong by publicly challenging one (against the other). Challenging Protestantism is far more palatable, given that I grew up under it. I wish you great peace in your Orthodoxy. For me, and perhaps only for me, it would feel too Protestantesque to become Orthodox. That is, I would be doing so for the wrong reasons (to hold on to my own say-so, including in areas where the Orthodox have largely but not dogmatically ruled) – I would be reserving the right to say “no” in a way that takes advantage of the Orthodox not demanding a “yes” to the extent the Latin Church does.

Interesting observation on Athanasius. You may have seen my posts on Keith Mathison’s book, where Irenaeus (of all people) is portrayed as a key proto-Protestant.

I hope my words above do not disrupt the possibility of increasing unity between us. They are merely the thoughts on my mind, but I know that a millennia of separation is not caused by nothing. May Christ see fit to give us the grace to be peacemakers and dwellers in truth.

Christ is born!

Peace in Christ,

Thos said...

Dear Gil,

Give that universal submission is not accepted (in practice, at least) by my quarters within the Catholic Church, would you reject the Vincentian Canon, or find it inapt?

"The Polycrates Affair does beg the question, however. Is there any authority in the Church beyond appeal to councils or mere parochial episcopalianism?"

It seemed that Polycrates was appealing primarily to tradition or the "deposit of faith" as authority. Also, does the (somewhat mysterious) conclusion of the "Polycrates Affair" help answer the question that his letter begs?

Peace in Christ,

Gil Garza said...

The Polycrates Affair suggests several interesting questions. Here are a few:

1. What were bishops thinking when they appealed to Victor of Rome to settle the disagreement on a liturgical matter? Was Victor an expert on the matter? What is unique about Victor?

2. What was Victor of Rome thinking when he attempted to settle a liturgical matter outside of his province? Why should his deliberations have any impact on the practice of other bishops?

3. Why would a local bishop have to formally reject a liturgical decision of a far off bishop? Why would a local bishop care about the deliberations of a far off place?

4. Why would Victor of Rome threaten to take legal action against a bishop of a far off place for not agreeing with him concerning a liturgical matter?

5. Why would others clerics beg Victor of Rome not to take legal action against a bishop of a far off place who didn't agree with Victor on a liturgical matter? What was so dire about Victor's legal action?

I would propose (this is no daring limb) that the episode only makes sense if Victor and the rest of the Catholic bishops understood the Bishop of Rome to have authority and jurisdiction over the episcopal college.

None argue that universal jurisdiction requires universal submission in order to be valid. 2+2=4 regardless of how many students in the class think so. The answer is the same regardless of how many students affirm it.

Similarly, it is silly to point to Polycrates refusal of Roman authority as an ipso facto demonstration that no such authority existed.

The Vincentian Canon must then be understood in terms of authentic teaching authority rather than universal belief or profession (which can not exist). I believe that the context of the Canon is the late 4th century Codex Theodosianus which imposed imperial criminal penalties on heterodox Catholic Christians.

Canadian said...

You said: I wish you great peace in your Orthodoxy.

I am not Orthodox, yet. I have been leaning that way for sure, but I'm not even attending right now. The last service I was at, was several months ago at a noon hour Mass at our local Catholic Basilica.

You said: For me, and perhaps only for me, it would feel too Protestantesque to become Orthodox.

Interesting. For me, I feel like Catholicism is too Protestantesque in ways.

You said: I would be reserving the right to say “no” in a way that takes advantage of the Orthodox not demanding a “yes” to the extent the Latin Church does.

I see and feel your point. However, Rome certainly has it's own variations of "no" groups among them.
Let me be honest, I would prefer to go to Rome and be able to look in the catechism, and other definitions to find the precise answers to innumerable questions and yet still experience the mystical side of the faith and partake of the Divine One. I would like the central leadership of the Pope. I would like the clarity of Roman dogma. I would like the ability, (though maybe not available in my region), to attend the rite of the Eastern Catholics. I would likely be very comfortable as an Augustinian/Thomistic Catholic, having been Calvinistic. But my concern is that these (some, not all) are partially my Western Christian areas of comfort. And also, I am not convinced that Rome is correct in many of these issues. I am convinced that Protestantism is a deviation from Apostolic Christianity, no reservations. I don't think :-)
Orthodoxy seems like a more radical change of belief and practice from my Protestantism, but if I believe they are the apostolic church, I would eventually proceed without hesitation (I guess I could say the same for Rome).

What is your present status with Rome? Are you closer to surrendering to them, or still reservedly deliberating about their claims? (You don't have to answer if that was too personal for a public blog.)
Pax Christi,

Thos said...

Dear Gil,

Your questions are pointed and clear. Thank you for sharing them.

As for the Vincentian Canon, I understand that it has advocates in the east and the west, but I've had a hard time finding much utility in it. To play 'Polycrates advocate,' I could note that ordained bishops of Vincent's day did not accept that Vincent's determinations were binding; ergo, universal jurisdiction was not universally held.

But then you say:
"Vincentian Canon must then be understood in terms of authentic teaching authority rather than universal belief or profession (which can not exist)." Does this mean we exclude Polycrates because his teaching authority was not authentic (because it was wrong?)?

I have difficulty seeing the Canon as other than either (i) circular, for saying that truth is what was held universally by those who held to the truth; or (ii) relativistic, for saying that truth only exists where it is not objected to by any (which, as you note, exists nowhere).

A tangent, I suppose.

Peace in Christ,

Thos said...

Dear Darrin,

I apologize for making the unjustified assumption that you had become Orthodox. I’m sorry about that. Please blame it on carelessness and faulty memory on my part – but not any kind of intended judgment.

I had said that for me, “it would feel too Protestantesque to become Orthodox” and you replied that for you, it would “feel like Catholicism is too Protestantesque in ways.”

I believe that I can understand where you’re coming from, and the difference seems to be in the point of reference. I meant my statement in terms of what the Church demands of me – even if 99% of Catholics (it is not that high) could care less about their Church’s teachings, I would still not take the vow of membership until I could truly say that I believe all that the Church teaches. As Orthodoxy leaves a great deal more for private judgment (for example, arguably – and depending on one’s bishop, on contraception) it would feel Protestantesque to me. You raise the points about Western Culture, and I wholeheartedly agree that culturally Catholicism feels far more similar to Protestantism than Orthodoxy. So I meant “Protestantesque” only in terms of authority and submission, not in terms of lived culture.

You said, “However, Rome certainly has it's own variations of "no" groups among them.”

No argument from me, and I hope the above addressed this. From a top-down perspective, the proportion of dissenters within Catholicism does not detract from what would be my feeling of obligation to give only a “yes”. From a bottom-up perspective (i.e., from the pews) the proportion of individualist-dissenters within Catholicism may make the Church virtually indistinguishable from mainline Protestantism. But the signs are that this is changing (whereas within the mainline denominations, it is not).

Regarding scholasticism’s effects upon Catholicism (“I would prefer…to find the precise answers to innumerable questions”), I am coming to believe that the precision is often not there, the common Orthodox critique notwithstanding (and I do not know if this is your critique too, but perhaps you mull it over as I have). The real mystery of the Trinity is preserved, even the mystery of justification and blood atonement is not picked apart to death. Where reason can inform us, they are not afraid to let it do so (e.g., again, on contraception), but mystery is still mystery. A fine example is St. Thos. Aquinas himself on Predestination. He gives immense detail, but resolution of the conclusion is still left as a mystery.

As for your not being convinced about Rome’s standing in Truth on important issues, it’s a bit of a Catch-22 for people in our positions. Under its own view, it seems that you have to trust the Catholic Church and open yourselves to its teaching in order for those teachings to sink in. [Note: Christ did this too, though, like when he would say ‘he who has ears to hear, let him hear.’] But then you don’t want to trust and open yourself to something about which you are concerned is error.

What is my present status? I don’t know if I have any proximity to “surrendering,” and I am still reservedly deliberating, though the reservations are for the sake of prudence and temperance. I am trying to put the reservations which are prompted by doubt to the side, and praying that doubts not grounded in truth will wither away. Not to put you off, but stay tuned for more details soon (Lord willing).

Peace in Christ,

Gil Garza said...

Catholic thought on the Vincentian Canon is often referred to as the sensus fidelium, which has been the subject of recourse of many modern Popes.

Apostolic Tradition may be seen (as the Canon suggests) as what authentic teachers propose to the faithful AND it may be seen as what the faithful believe and ask authentic teachers to define. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is a modern example (there are many others) of the faithful begging authentic teachers to define an article of faith using this bottom up approach.

The Vincentian Canon is hyperbolic in a way that is meant to demonstrate an underlying principle. As such it shouldn't be pushed beyond its limits or it becomes nonsense.

Regarding the comments offered concerning the feeling of Protestantism in either Catholicism or Greek Orthodoxy, I propose my observations. The Protestant method of discovering truth is by thorough investigation of each proposition. This exhaustive approach has always puzzled me. In order to find the right Christian kindergarten in which to plant and take root, the disciple first endeavors to earn a PhD.

A better method, it seems to me, would be to investigate the authority of the teacher and, if found authentic, the seeker becomes a disciple to learn and grow.

Protestants often exhaustively research minute points of Catholic and Greek Orthodox teaching. Usually, whichever is found more agreeable or worse, less disagreeable wins their allegiance. This way of approaching Christianity is fruitless, to me, because the disciple puts himself astride Popes, Fathers and Councils as if each needed his seal of approval. The disciple, in order to learn and grow, must put himself beneath authentic teachers. This must be the first order for the seeker, not the investigation of azymes or rapture.

Canadian said...

You said: The disciple, in order to learn and grow, must put himself beneath authentic teachers.

I agree. I am not a proposition di-secter, I left that when I left Protestantism. I am seeking the authentic Tradition of Christianity and with that comes authentic authority. Would to God that Rome and Orthodoxy were one (in the truth) as this process of investigation would then be resolved.
Most converts I have read that go to Rome did not go with full exposure to Orthodoxy as an alternative. Most converts to Orthodoxy (in the West) have been fully exposed to Rome prior to their decision. Catholicism is everywhere, it is Western, it is familiar, it is engrained in the Protestant psyche. Most converts from evangelicalism going to Rome have been convinced primarily by propositions, most converts to Orthodoxy seem to go out of a stronger longing for mystery, simplicity, beauty, and union with God in Christ. Of course propositions are always in play (the Orthodox are very precise and propositional when discussing the Trinity and Incarnation), but as I said, I would be more comfortable (because of my history) in a very propositional and Western faith (Catholicism), yet when I have been fully exposed to Orthodoxy's long dissagreements with Rome's propostions, it make the deliberation process very tough.
Pax Christi,

Canadian said...

Thanks so much for your comments. Praying that doubts, both yours and mine, will soon be resolved.
Pax Christi,

Gil Garza said...


Perhaps my experiences with Protestants who become Catholic is unusual. I happen to belong to a personal parish devoted to ministering to Protestants seeking to become Catholic and who are attached to the great English devotional and liturgical traditions. My personal experience working for the Catholic Church during graduate school as a Director of Evangelization and Home Visitation offer me, perhaps, a broader exposure to Protestants seeking to become Catholic than some.

In my area, there is a Greek Orthodox parish of great repute. The Greek Antiochians have a parish and carry on a Western Rite mission. The Greek Slavs have an OCA parish, as do the Copts. Protestants seeking the apostolic tradition outside of Roman communion have a variety of places from which to seek it.

In my experience (limited as it may be), Protestants who have sought the Apostolic Tradition and have embraced Roman Communion instead of Greek Orthodoxy have done so primarily because they have recognized the same void of teaching authority in Greek Orthodoxy that exists in Protestantism. Nevertheless, some have described this void of teaching authority as, "mystery, simplicity, beauty, and union with God in Christ." The silence of Greek Orthodoxy is comforting to some.

For an informed Protestant, embracing Roman Communion is extremely difficult. Sometimes it is done so based on the accumulation of affirmed propositions as you rightly say. However, in my experience, this is the exception and not the rule.

John Henry Newman writes about his experience with authority in his Apologia: "My stronghold was Antiquity; now here in the middle of the 5th century, I found as it seemed to me, Christendom of the 16th and 19th centuries reflected. I saw my face in that mirror and I was a monophysite. The Church of the Via Media was in the position of the Oriental communion, Rome was where she now is; and the Protestants were the Eutychians. (Ch 3, pg 114)"

Peter E. Gillquist offers a very different assessment of teaching authority and its place in the modern world in his book about his embrace of Greek Orthodoxy, "Becoming Orthodox."He writes, "But with the departure of Rome from Orthodox Christianity, something dramatic changed. Because she was no longer accountable to the whole of the historic Church, Rome was now free to teach the universality of the Pope and the altered Nicean Creed with the novel filoque clause. She was likewise on her own to introduce other new dogmas and practices as well. And introduce them she did - and likely she will again. (Ch 5, pg 70)"

Newman realizes that the teaching authority of the Church is just as living and active today as it was in the 5th century (and necessarily so). Gillquist laments that Rome has exercised her teaching authority for the last 1,000 years and praises Greek Orthodoxy for not teaching. Quite a difference.

You refer to the Western mindset and its influence on Protestants. Roman Communion seems like a different planet to an informed Protestant.

Canadian said...

Thanks for your comments. Newman and Gillquist do reveal an opposing mindset for sure. What Newman and Rome call a developing and ongoing teaching authority, Orthodoxy would call innovation and inordinate freedom to deviate from the apostolic deposit. Rome herself has left various important things without dogmatic pronouncement and acceptable within her system.

Rome is conciliar, but not in conjunction with the other apostolic sees, so does that constitute apostolic authority or schism?

Gil Garza said...


The teaching ministry of the Church must be active in every age. For the Church to be suddenly silent for a millennium would be a victory of Hades over the power to bind and loose (Matt 16:18). Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would lead the Church into the fullness of truth (Jn 16:13).

You suggest that Rome has acted unilaterally and without the participation of the other apostolic sees. In fact, 22 apostolic and Eastern Churches are in full communion with Rome and fully participate in the teaching ministry of the Catholic Church. For example, Eastern Catholic clergy wrote the section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on Christian Prayer (Part 4).

The trouble with pointing to "other apostolic sees" is determining which see is legitimate. Let's take Antioch for example. This primarily gentile city was the first place that disciples of Jesus were called Christians. The first Patriarch of Antioch was St. Eustathius who reigned in 328-330. The next 7 patriarchs were Arians. 4 after that were non-Chalcedonians. At the time the city was conquered by the Muslims in 636, the Church had been ruled for 25 years by non-Chalcedonians. There were no counter claimants to the Patriarchal See of Antioch during this period.

Although the non-Chalcedonian leaders of Syria cooperated with Muslims waging Jihad, the destruction of Christian institutions was virtually complete, as Bat Ye’or carefully describes in her book, “The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam (Associated University Presses, 1996),” pg. 46. Even after the surrender of Damascus, Muslims killed many thousands, confiscated property, enslaved women and children (after reserving a fifth of them for the Caliph) and laid waste to the rest. Non-Chalcedonian Christian leaders were put into power as civil governors of the Christian population called Dhimmis. These Christian leaders collected the taxes, tributes and ransoms expected by the Muslim Caliph. The non-Chalcedonian Patriarchs of Antioch continued to rule over Christians in Syria only now he had all civil authority to govern them in the name of the Caliph. Chalcedonian Christians fled. Some fled to the mountains of Lebanon, others to Constantinople or Rome.

After the Muslims conquered Constantinople in 1453, the Ottoman Caliph installed a pro-Muslim monk named Gennadios as Patriarch. He became the civil governor of the non-Catholic Chalcedonian Christians throughout the Caliphate. The Greeks began to install Greek clergy as regional governors of the Christian Dhimmi in the Ottoman Empire. These clergy were enthroned into Patriarchal sees in Jerusalem, Antioch (now Damascus), and Alexandria (now Cairo). Chalcedonian Christianity began to return to these places however Christians were now enculturated through relentless Arabization. The Greeks, however, completely Hellenized these offices insisting that all hierarchs were Greek and church liturgies were in Greek.

Antioch has several Christian Patriarchs. Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas rules the Syrian Orthodox (non-Chalcedonian Christian Church). The Syrian Orthodox has the claim to reside in this throne, in a more or less stable fashion, since before the Muslim conquest.

The Greeks have had an Antiochian Patriarch since the 969. Their Patriarch permanently resided in Antioch since 1268. It was moved to Damascus in the 14th century. The last Greek Patriarch was finally deposed, however, in 1898. An Arab successor was elected the following year and have occupied the throne ever since. The Arab Greeks of Antioch have attempted to unhinge themselves from Greek rule and influence, especially in the last century. The present Patriarch is Ignatius IV.

Antiochians who fled into the mountains of Lebanon comprise the Maronite Church. They have maintained their Patriarch since the fall of Antioch. The Maronites have always been in full communion with Rome. The present Patriarch is Nasrallah Cardinal Sfeir.

In 1782 the Syrian Orthodox Holy Synod elected Metropolitan Michael Jarweh of Aleppo as Patriarch. Shortly after he was enthroned, he sought full communion with Rome. The Ottoman government sought his head so he fled to the mountains of Lebanon at the Monastery of Our Lady of Sharfeh. About half of the Syrian Orthodox Church followed him. There has been an unbroken succession of Catholic Syrian Patriarchs since that time. The present Patriarch is Ignatius Moussa I Daoud.

In 1724, the Holy Synod of the Greek Antiochian Church elected an Arab as Patriarch, Cyril VI. Opposed by the Ottomans and the Greeks, Istanbul promptly deposed and excommunicated Cyril, enthroned a Greek named Sylvester and sought Cyril’s head. Cyril fled to Lebanon and sought refuge at Holy Savior Monastery near Sidon. While there he sought full communion with Rome and more than half of the Greek Antiochian Church followed him. In 1848, the Ottoman Caliph finally recognized the Melkite Greek Catholic Church whose headquarters was moved to Damascus. An unbroken line of Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchs of Antioch has ruled this Church. The present Patriarch is Gregory III Laham.

So there you have it. 3 out of 5 Patriarchs of Antioch are in full communion with Rome. All 3 of the Catholic Churches of Antiochian decent participate fully and actively in the teaching ministry of the Catholic Church. One of the Antiochian Patriarchs is also a member of the College of Roman Cardinals. The Eastern Catholic Churches are autonomous and self-governing. They have their own code and system of canon law. Their liturgical heritage and co-equal with the Roman Rite. Rome is collegial and conciliar and fully exercises apostolic authority in the modern world as she did in the ancient.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Hey fellas, nice discussion here. On one hand I'm sorry to have arrived so late and on the other I'm happy so I won't have just replied and forgot about it (as I have a tendency to do).

This is one of those early episodes that always fascinates me. In fact if you talk with me in person about it, I'm quite sure that I'll become noticeably animated (while online my text remains perfectly normal).

So Gil brought up some great questions. I don't see how they can be avoided. And let's be honest, we all know what would have happened if the bishop of Antioch or Alexandria had tried that stunt. They would have been a laughing stock (rather they would have been deposed). No, Victor was taken quite seriously and by some important bishops.

And like Newman has pointed out which Tom reminds us of, the Eastern bishops had no problem with Roman jurisdiction when it went there way (see the deposition of Paul of Samosata for an example). Just like today, Hans Kung would be among the most loyal Catholics if the pope were a liberal feminist.

You love those who love you? So do the pharisees. You submit to the jurisdiction of those who agree with you? So do the heretics.

Tim A. Troutman said...

What Newman and Rome call a developing and ongoing teaching authority, Orthodoxy would call innovation and inordinate freedom to deviate from the apostolic deposit.

Growth is a primary mark of a living thing. Doctrine must develop (grow organically) or it withers (as there is no tree which ceases to grow and still lives). The mustard seed didn't suddenly become the perfect tree in 1054.

If the Western understanding of grace & original sin is correct, then the Immaculate Conception is a natural and necessary result. But if the West was wrong to follow Augustine, our problem has nothing to do with the Immaculate Conception nor with post 11th century developments. It has to do with being wrong on a very critical issue from the 5th century onwards. And to borrow from Newman: if I can't trust the 5th century Church, then I can't trust any Church.

Rome herself has left various important things without dogmatic pronouncement and acceptable within her system

This is something to be wrestled with and it's quite puzzling. But absolutely no more puzzling than the fact that God revealed things in the order that He did throughout redemptive history. So if the Bridegroom's ways are not our ways, then perhaps the bride's are not either.

It's not as if the charism of infallibility in the Church acts as a magic wand to make infallible declarations as we see fit. If that were the case, the pope should stop what he's doing right now and write the most exhaustive tome of doctrine ex cathedra ever conceived. The Church is not casting spells when making doctrinal declarations or looking into a crystal ball that reveals God's truth. She is merely doing her duty as guardian of the truth. God will reveal to us through the Church precisely what He wants us to know and when He wants us to know it.

Rome is conciliar, but not in conjunction with the other apostolic sees,

They have an open invitation to return to communion with the See of Peter and then they may fully participate in the councils of the Church once again. And while the East may keep their altars exclusive, Rome has opened hers in hopes of restoration of communion. We look forward to that day.

Canadian said...

You said: "If the Western understanding of grace & original sin is correct, then the Immaculate Conception is a natural and necessary result. But if the West was wrong to follow Augustine, our problem has nothing to do with the Immaculate Conception nor with post 11th century developments. It has to do with being wrong on a very critical issue from the 5th century onwards."

This is just it. How is a theological peasant like me to figure this out? I read penetrating Orthodox blogs like Perry Robinson's Energetic Procession and Father Stephen's Glory to God For All Things, and I come away doubting Rome's trajectory in those early centuries. I read Bryan Cross and other's, and I feel like some of those questions resolve themselves. I mean who am I to thumb the nose at Augustine and Aquinas, OR Gregory Palamas and John Zizoulas for that matter? This cannot be a decision based on me being smarter than any of those guys!
I do believe the church should continue it's teaching authority, but I am in the unfortunate position of having to determine for myself what teaching authority to submit to--this is what I was rejecting when I left Protestantism, but here I am having to do it again?
Pax Christi,

Tim A. Troutman said...


I can appreciate the difficulty in your decision and like you, I'm just a theological peasant without much to offer. I would perhaps look up James Likoudis and his book "Ending the Greek Schism".

Matt 16:18 has to mean something. Peter has some role in the Church but he has no role in the East. I think that is a helpful clue.

So I don't know if it's helpful or not but to me, it's meaningful that Rome has never had a heretical bishop. Constantinople & the other Eastern Sees have had plenty. Rome has never endorsed or held a heretical council. The East have had plenty (not the least of which the Iconoclast council).

But Catholic Christianity is far bigger than Latin Christianity there is no doubt of this. It is bigger than Latin+Byzantine & bigger still no matter how many rites or how many peoples come bearing their cultural gifts.

So I hope you continue in prayerful discernment as I'm sure you are. The East is truly "Church" as they retain the sacraments and apostolicity. Rome fully recognizes their validity.

I attend a Ukrainian Catholic mission on occasion. Beautiful liturgy. They are identical to the Orthodox in all regards save one: loyalty to the pope.

Gil Garza said...


You mention confusion regarding your discernment of which teaching authority which deserves your allegiance.

I am not aware that the Eastern Orthodox Churches teach anything as a body. I am not aware of any Catechism or official position that the Eastern Orthodox Churches have made in the last ten centuries on any matter at all (perhaps someone might enlighten me). I know that individual clerics or theologians (such as His Excellency John of Pergamon (Zizioulas) have offered their own thoughts. I know synodal statements have been made independently by the various Patriarchates, Metropolia and Eparchies. This, however, is very different than an official position of an entire body.

I am aware that the attempt of the various Eastern Orthodox bishops (SCOBA) in America to even behave LIKE a unified body has been opposed by and not recognized by the Patriarchs of the "Old World."

It seems to me that there is only one Christian Church body on Earth which speaks with one voice to the modern world and which continues to teach today as she did in ages long past. This Church is called Catholic.

As Clement of Alexandria so aptly wrote at the beginning of the 3rd century, "We say, therefore, that in substance, in concept, in origin and in eminence, the ancient and Catholic Church is alone, gathering as it does into the unity of the one faith which results from the family covenants, or rather, from the one covenant in different times, by the will of the one God and through the one Lord, those already chosen, those predestined by God who knew before the foundation of the world that they would be just (Miscellanies, 7, 17, 107,3).

Andrew Preslar said...

Great discussion. Have any of you read A.N. Williams Ground of Union: Deification in Aquinas and Palamas ? I have not been able to find an affordable copy, but I have read a scholarly review to the effect that she persuasively argues that East and West, even represented "at the poles" by scholasticism and hesychasm (which have been assumed to be divergent developments), share a common mystical / theological core.

Gil Garza said...


I would try your local seminary library. With any luck you just might find it.

Quietism has, unfortunately, become the only button on the spiritual keyboard for the Eastern Orthodox. Moreover, Quietism has become associated with authentic Orthodoxy. Any question or hesitation is, in many circles, cause for accusation of being un-Orthodox or worse, scholastic.

Any reconcile of Quietism with the many condemnations of the practice from the Catholic Church are futile, in my view. John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila impugned Quietism even going so far as to say, "Este no pensar nada, es pensarle todo." (To not think of anything is to think of everything.)

Rather, Catholic teaching has favored Recollection, rather than voiding the mind. Recollection is returning to an event in your mind for the purpose of taking a second look or to fix your gaze upon an event for the purpose of gaining new insight. The events that we recollect are (primarily) those events in the Gospels. This is the purpose of the Christmas Creche. Francis introduced the statuary Nativity scene to encourage Christians to place themselves within the event as if they were taking place around them. He understood the Gospels to be the ultimate teacher, if we had an attitude of Recollection we could learn and grow closer to Christ in so doing.

The Catholic Church offers a partial indulgence to those who attend a monthly period of Recollection (Ench Indul 10).

Canadian said...

You said: Rome has never had a heretical bishop.

Haven't you had heretical (antipopes) bishops like Honorius that were deposed? I realize this does not mean they made heretical pronouncements for the church.

You said: I am not aware that the Eastern Orthodox Churches teach anything as a body.

I appreciate the practical weight of this and I recognized how my comment sounded the moment I re-read my own post, but as I said earlier, "I am seeking the authentic Tradition of Christianity and with that comes authentic authority" and this is the more general way I meant it.

I went to the Basilica's evening Mass today and before that, bought Ratzinger's "Called to Communion" and "Jesus, Peter and The Keys" by Butler-Dahlgren-Hess. I took forever to decide between J,P,&Keys
and Stephen Ray's Upon This Rock. Is one better than the other?
Anyway, thanks for the confusion, I mean discussion :-)
Pax Chrisi,

Gil Garza said...


An anti-pope is a false claimant to the episcopal seat of Rome when a validly elected Roman pontiff is ruling.

No pope has ever been deposed. Honorius I died a greatly respected man.

Please accept a few reading suggestions:

I highly recommend, "The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church," by Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Ignatius, 1986.

Then, you will want to read, "The Motherhood of the Church," by Henri de Lubac, Ignatius, 1982. Von Balthasar wrote his theological work on the papacy as a way to expand de Lubac's final chapters in this book on the Papacy.

"The Keys of the Kingdom," published by Franciscan Herald Press, 1986, and, "And on This Rock," published by Trinity Communications, 1987, both written by Stanley L. Jaki (the Mad Hungarian!) are excellent scriptural investigations of the ministry of Peter. Jaki is a molecular physicist, theologian and Benedictine priest. He has earned many awards including the Templeton Prize.

"Jesus, Peter & The Keys," is a compendium of sources on Petrine subjects rather than a theological exposition. Steve Ray is an energetic former Protestant.

"God's Word: Scripture, Tradition, Office," by Joseph Ratzinger, Ignatius 2008, is an awesome reflection on Primacy, Tradition and Scripture.

"Magisterium: Teacher and Guardian of the Faith," by Avery Cardinal Dulles, Sapientia Press of Ave Maria University, 2007, is also a great book by an American master and former Presbyterian.

"The Early Papacy: To the Synod of Chalcedon in 451," by Adrian Fortescue (who earned 3 doctorates), Ignatius, 2008, is a very good historical treatment of the Petrine Ministry in the early Church.

But don't miss what the Catholic Church teaches about the role of the Petrine Ministry in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 880-896.

Acolyte4236 said...

I realize my comments are late, but I only recently came across this thread and I wish to respond to some comments made.


It is true that the Eastern sees went with Rome when they agreed and this would also include people like Cyril of Alexandria, who at Ephesus set aside the Papal judgment on Nestorius until the council went through the material. Later on Leo’s Tome had to be examined by council members at Chalcedon to make sure it was consistent with Cyril’s teaching. Cyril (who was also called “pope” btw) was the touchstone to which the pope had to be found consistent, not the other way around. Further, your comments would also include 2nd Constantinople which excommunicated Pope Vigilius until he rejected his “irreformable” judgment and came into line with the synod, declaring in the synodal horos or definition that none of the Apostles required the help of any of the others in the execution of their ministry. Put aside the obvious problem this poses for Vat I in terms of a flat denial of a chrism, could this “stunt” even be pulled today by a Catholic synod today? If they did, they’d be a “laughing stock.” I suppose though that the Fifth Ecumenical council was a veritable cabal of Hans Kungs.

Further, even the great Maximus would fall under your comments since when the weight of Honorius’ advocation of Monothelitism became too weighty to bear, Maximus declared that he would be in communion with Rome if Rome were to profess the right faith. If not, then too bad for Rome. (See Jean-Claude Larchet’s essay in Cardinal Walter Kasper’s, The Petrine Ministry.)

Comparing genuine churches with valid orders and sacraments and who have sacrificed so much to preserve a traditional liturgy with the Pharisees is not only uncharitable, but a comparison of apples and oranges on your own principles.

The whole growth analogy is if you must know a part of Idealism, whether Platonic or the German speaking variety. It is a very common analogy used by Idealists in the 19th century. It is not by accident that Newman’s theory of development is essentially an application of Idealism applied to theology just as Darwinism is an application of it to biology. Second, not all living things develop, the best example is God, who lives but does not develop, contra Whitehead.

Simply asserting that doctrine does in fact develop doesn’t amount to a demonstration that it in fact does so. It also does not tell us what constitutes development since that word has a whole range of meanings in the course of intellectual history. Added to this problem that the kind of Holism in mind by Newman can justify any alteration in the system as being consistent with its core principles, rendering the appeal to nascent truths and later developments as consistent with them vacuous and non-justifying. Like other forms of Idealism such as Freudianism, the system can be made consistent with any denial of it, including ones in the future. So the claim that developments aren’t innovations rings hollow.

The appeal to Newman’s quip about not trusting the fifth century church doesn’t stick for a few reasons. The entire fifth century church didn’t buy into Augustine’s understanding of grace and predestinarianism wholesale. Even today Rome denies that libido is sufficient to damn unbaptised babies to hell. More widely considered, Augustine’s errors were opposed as evidenced by John Cassian and St. Vincent, whose canon was specifically designed to show that Augustine’s teaching was a novelty. (See Donato Ogliari’s Gratia Et Certamen.) Among the major sees of the East most of Augustine’s distinctives were unknown for more centuries than I think would fit nicely into the designation of “the church” in any century. So here there is no simple appeal to the judgment of the “fifth century church” as you suggest. In the Sixth century the shoe is on the other foot. It was Rome that was “monophysite” by sitting on the fence and the East held the line even to the point of excommunicating the Pope, so Newman’s point really is bereft of any substance. We can also talk of Rome’s explicit resistance to the Filioque with the East for nearly five consecutive centuries until the Franks gained political control of the Papacy and then inserted it. It kind of smacks of Caesaro-papism.

And I’d argue given statements like those from lights such as Bernard of Clairvaux, you do have a problem with the Immaculate conception and post schism developments. ( And I can you assure that Bernard was no liberal feminist.

I wonder why it amounts to something “puzzling” when Rome has left crucial points such as the death of the theotokos as undefined but a critical flaw when the Orthodox do the same on other matters. This seems to smack of special pleading.

As for Rome opening the door to other sees, the feeling is mutual. Since Rome ratified and accepted a council in 879 (The Eighth Ecumenical Council) that condemned the Filioque and held to it for nearly 120 years until she reneged on it, the Orthodox are more than willing to accept her back into the Church when she ceases to be in schism and professes the right faith.

Likoudis works are popular and he is not a competent scholar in handling the sources he deals with. Most of his works are simple rehashings of much older works against the Orthodox from the pen of people like Aquinas. He also lacks any serious engagement of the major philosophical issues and hence fails quite badly to even grasp key Orthodox teachings, specifically with reference to the energetic procession of the Spirit through the Son as well as the notion of the divine energies.

Matt 16 does mean something and I’d suggest coming to grips with say the fifth Council’s explication of what it doesn’t mean. Rome was not the only see considered Petrine-Alexandria and Antioch are also so designated. It is not that for the Orthodox, Peter has no role, it is that its not Peter if he doesn’t confess the right faith and ironically I think you have to accept that principle. Consider this, can a pope ever formally advocate heresy? A widely accepted answer is that he ceases to be pope when and if he were to do so. Why is this advocated by yourself and scholars such as Journet (see his Church of the Word Incarnate) and taken as acceptable, but when the Orthodox make materially the same claim, we are characterized as leaving no role for Peter?

As for heretical Popes, a few come to mind, Callistus, not to mention Honorius, whose teaching simply is that of the Monothelite Ekthesis. The reason why most major heretics were Eastern prelates is because there were far more theologically developed areas of study in the East than in the west and the theology was far more technical and advanced in the East in terms of precision. Latin at the time simply was not judged to be an adequate language for doing theology since finer distinctions could be made in Greek than in Latin. This was even more true after the West fell to the Arianizing Goths and Franks, who even up till the time of Alcuin could not even read Greek. Half the time the Easterners had to explain to the Pope or his legates what the issue was about since they didn’t possess an adequate theological grasp of the issues. It is true that the East had an iconoclast council, but so did the Franks in the West, the council of Frankfurt. It should be added that the West to this day has never adequately grasped the theology of Icons as defined by the 7th council seeing them as primarily in the anemic was as educational and devotional aids of extrinsic import for the illiterate, which made possible the later Protestant polemic. If images are for those who can’t read, we will simply make them literate and then they won’t need images. (See Ambrosios Giakalis, Images of the Divine)

The point of this is not that I think I will convince you but rather to point out that these matters are hardly as simple as you are making them out to be. They aren’t. What happens is people read mostly works on their own side and a few popular works on the other and get over confident. If the schism were as easily resolvable as you suggest, then there are only two ways to characterize the Orthodox, as inherently stupid or sinful. Neither of which are plausible. I don’t mean to be rude, but I haven’t seen here displayed any serious or significant understanding of Orthodox theology and outlook. And if you can’t even present the opposing view well, then it is probably the case that you haven’t grasped it.


The Orthodox certainly do and have taught things as a body, but there are, I’d suggest some problems with your approach. Measuring another position by familiar practices and standards is a bad way to go. Even if the Orthodox lacked something like the contemporary Catholic catechism, it in no way follows that we don’t teach anything qua body. There have been ecumenical councils past the seventh, namely the 8th and the 9th being the Palamite synods. There have also been joint statements like those given by all of the Orthodox patriarchates as with one voice in the 19th century. The church has in fact canonized those works of the Fathers on specific theological issues that it takes to be infallible teaching. As for SCOBA being rejected by the Patriarchates I simply know nothing of it. Further, what makes a body unified is the same faith and the eucharist.

Hesychasm isn’t quietism and in fact is in direct conflict with it. First because Hesychasm affirms the deification of the body and second because it is not anthropological Apollinarianism. The apophaticism of the Orthodox, which Catholics also wish to claim as part of a common tradition, does not negate reason, but only poses a limit. This can be found in say John Chrysostom’s work on the Incomprehensibility of God. As Scripture indicates, no one has seen nor *can* see God at any time. It should be noted that I don’t think you can have things both ways. It cannot be claimed that we share the same fundamental theology and the Orthodox are Quietists, unless Rome too believes in Quietism.

As for no Pope ever being deposed, I’d t start by pointing you to Vigilius above. Honorius was condemned a heretic post mortem nonetheless.


Williams book suffers from a number of fatal failures. First, she ignores Palamas’ longest and central works, the Capita. Second, she glosses the distinction between essence and energy as an epistemological distinction, which Palamas explicitly rejects a good number of times in the Capita, among other works. She creates a straw man to show that the two models are compatible.

Gil Garza said...

The issue of whether or not the Eastern Orthodox Churches accept an 8th, 9th or additional councils as general proves to demonstrate the point that I made earlier regarding the inability of Eastern Orthodoxy to coherently teach anything as a unified body.

The fathers of the councils of Constantinople that comprised the 8th and 9th ecumenical councils certainly thought of themselves as convening a general synod. So have many others that none today regard as ecumenical including the "Holy and Ecumenical Council of Constantinople" that met in the newly destroyed city in 1453 to condemn the Union of Basil/Florence under the watchful direction of and approval of the Ottoman Caliph.

Indeed, the 8th and 9th ecumenical councils were not so regarded by some Eastern Orthodox until 1848 when the Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs was published by the Ecumenical Patriarch and co-signed by the Patriarchs of Antioch and Jerusalem, who, at the time were appointed and subordinate to The Phanar. The newly autocephalous Patriarch of Alexandria, noticeably, did not sign or agree to the document.

Today, the issue of whether or not there should be and 8th or 9th ecumenical councils and just what criteria should be used when judging such matters is debated, hotly. All of which begs the question: if a Christian body cannot even agree on what to consider authoritative or even how to consider such things, what hope would the Christian disciple have of learning from such a body?

Regarding Hesychasm, perhaps you were unaware that hesychos means quiet in Greek and that hesychastes means quietist?

Acolyte4236 said...


I disagree regarding your argument concerning the 8th council for the following reasons. The council was taken as ecumenical by the East at the time of Florence in the 15th century. This is also the case at the council of Blachernae in 1285. It is also recorded as such by western writers such as (St.) Ivo of Chartres in the late eleventh century. France isn’t exactly an Eastern province and the eleventh century is a long way away temporally speaking from the 19th. There are other sources but these I think are sufficient to make the point.

While it is true that participants thinking of their council as ecumenical is not a sufficient condition for the council actually being, this isn’t evidence that the council was not in fact ecumenical, so it leaves the dispute idle. Further, the same line could be lodged against the papal theory. Thinking one is the pope, infallible, etc. doesn’t imply that one is in fact so. Many false popes thought as much as well. There is also a confusion here I believe in your part. This isn’t conceptual analysis so the issues isn’t whether we flesh out the necessary and sufficient conditions for the concept, but if there is sufficient evidence to render the historical judgment that the council was ecumenical probable or not. Certainly saying the council is ecumenical will constitute some evidence that it was so, even if it is insufficient evidence on its own. Lastly, certainly Rome thinks we are able to teach plenty of things as a unified body, otherwise, Rome’s judgment that the Orthodox retain genuine apostolic teaching and valid orders would be baseless, since that is contingent upon what the Orthodox teach. Hence your conclusion could only be true if infallible teachings of the ordinary and extraordinary magisterium of the Catholic Church were false and hence could only be true is Catholicism were false. This is a conclusion I doubt you are prepared to admit so via a reductio ad absurdum, I think the argument is a bad one.

If the council was not ecumenical, what did it lack or what would need to be added to it for it to be so?

It is true that Florence styled itself as ecumenical, but since the conditions ratified at 2nd Nicea on he conditions for an ecumenical council were violated, it failed to meet those conditions, just as the Ephesian Robber Synod did as well. So simply pointing to Florence will be of no help here.
As for the Encyclical of 1848, even if true that the Alexandrian Patriarch didn’t sign, this depends on the reasons. Was he aware, but inhibited or impaired from signing for some reason? Or was it because he disagreed? Did he assent without a signature perhaps later? Simply noting a lack of signature is insufficient to support the point you are trying to make. John of Antioch for example didn’t assent to Ephesus (431) until a later date, but somehow this didn’t stop Cyril from claiming it was ecumenical.

I would also suggest that rejecting the legitimacy of the 879 council undermines the ecumenical status of 2ne Nicea, since it was at the 879 council that Rome finally accepted and ratified 2nd Nicea’s decisions. To undermine the Photian synod leaves 2nd Nicea’s ecumenical status undercut, if not left hanging altogether. You claim that this question is hotly disputed among the Orthodox, but I didn’t notice any supporting evidence that this is in fact the case. I’ve been Orthodox for about a decade and I have yet to hear either in the main journals or via clerics and bishops of a hot debate on this topic.

Perhaps you are unaware that the phrase “to beg the question” does not mean to prompt a question. Rather it means to assume that the question under dispute has been answered in favor of a specific side prior to a resolution to the dispute.

Acolyte4236 said...

Gil, (Cont.)

Regarding Hesychasm, perhaps you are unaware of the word-concept fallacy. Even if hesychos is to be primarily rendered into English as “quiestist”, it hardly follows that Hesychasm amounts to the teaching of Quiestism. It doesn’t. It can also be rendered as stillness of solitude and monastic solitude is hardly a fourteenth century invention. Further, Hesychasm as taught and practiced denies the fundamental points of Quiestism, namely an annihilation of the self and/or intellect. It also denies an absorption into the divine essence. Hesychasm also denies that the essential position of the human being in relation to God is one of absolute passivity, which is part of the point of participating in the divine energies or activities. To do with and in God is hardly absolute passivity. This is why Palamas, along with others before him attacked the Messalians, who advocated exemption from the moral law as well as disparaged the body. Palamas upheld the deification of the body as well as the intellect. I dare say most western theologians find reconciling the doctrine of the beatific vision with its intentional union with the notion of the deification of a material body a practical impossibility. Quietism is traditionally assigned to various quasi-Gnostic sects such as the Messalians or to later 17th century Catholic and Protestant writers. So I’d argue that the shoe is on the other foot.

Gil Garza said...

Thanks for your posts. Regarding the Greek Orthodox 8th Ecumenical Council, my point was that there was not and is not universal acceptance of this council as a General Synod. Certainly Alexandria was not present, nor did she assent to its findings or professions (Alexandria had just removed her last Greek Patriarch at the time and wanted nothing to do with the Greek Church). In point of fact, there is no universally agreed upon criteria that the Eastern Orthodox use to define just what makes an Ecumenical Council ecumenical. Proposed criteria that would justify one council would nullify another. The whole question of how to judge a council is a rather sticky wicket for the Eastern Orthodox.

You mention the self-identification of councils as Ecumenical as being one criteria. This criterion immediately invalidates Chalcedon and validates dozens of councils held which nobody would rightly identify as legitimate or orthodox. Saying so doesn’t make it so. Authority is what is required.

The validity of the orders of individual men has no impact on whether or not a collection of men with valid orders has, as a group, proposed a matter to be true. Eastern Orthodoxy is a loose collection of (among other things) men with valid orders. These men with valid orders have never, as a unified body, forwarded any proposition to be true. This should be a disturbing fact.

“The college or body of bishops has no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff, Peter’s successor, as its head. As such, this college has ‘supreme and full authority over the universal Church; but this power cannot be exercised without the agreement of the Roman Pontiff.’ …[T]here never is an ecumenical council which is not confirmed or at least recognized as such by Peter’s successor.” Catechism of the Catholic Church 883-4

The Catholic Church has very clearly defined what makes a general council. Eastern Orthodoxy has a quite different state of affairs.

In a random pull off my library shelf, I chose, “Living Tradition,” John Meyendorff, SVS Press, 1978. In his chapter entitled, “What is an Ecumenical Council?” Rev. Meyendorff says, “These questions (of what makes a council ecumenical) remain unanswered in contemporary Orthodox theology, and the membership of a future Pan-Orthodox Council does not seem to be clearly defined.” (Pg 60) He admits that modern Orthodoxy has failed to define what makes a council ecumenical and has failed to define who should even attend such a council if there ever was one. This seems to be a ground shaking admission of impotence.

Hesychasm is a form Quietism. Its influence over Western Quietism is unmistakable. The Catholic Church has consistently denounced Quietism in all its forms. 16th century mystics such as Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross made fun of Hesychasm, saying thinking of nothing was nonsense. You’ll be interested to note the influence that Islamic mysticism had on the development of Hesychasm. I’ll leave that for another thread.

Acolyte4236 said...


So is it your contention that the Orthodox haven’t formally adopted 8th council as Ecumenical or that they cannot do so? And if the Orthodox cannot formally teach anything as a unified body, how is it that you found out that they do not formally recognize this council?

If the Alexandrian gov’t under Islamic rule (Maluks?) removed the patriarch, then would fall under impediment, in which case under the canons it would not affect the ecumenical status per se of the council. Further, the council was accepted by Rome via John 8th, but more on that below.

As for no universally agreed upon criteria, I already noted that this is in fact spelled out in an ecumenical council accepted by Rome and by the Orthodox, 2nd Nicea.

I didn’t mention self designation as a sufficient condition, but only a contributing fact. So I am not advocating that the mere self designation is sufficient any more than you take the self designation of the pope as pope to be the sufficient condition of a valid candidate of the papacy. This also applies to local synods which are later elevated to having ecumenical authority. You certainly wouldn’t take a council as being ecumenical that seriously denied that it was and could be. As for authority being required, that much is true, which is why I think it must be composed of bishops for example. Do you take papal ratification and or presence to be a sufficient condition to render a council ecumenical? In any case, there is no logical reason why “authority” amounts to limiting it to just one individual. If you think so, then this is question begging.

I'll ask again, if 879 isn't ecumenical, what would have to have been added to make it Ecumenical? It had alarge representation from East and West, papal ratification via John 8th. What else was needed?

Rome designates the Orthodox as more than a mere collection of men with valid orders. We, on your own principles are more than a “group.” It is not a disturbing fact that the Orthodox have never put forward as a unified body any proposition as true for the simple reason that it isn’t a fact at all. On the other hand, the fact that a papally ratified council (5th Ecumenical Council- ) says that no apostle needed any other for the exercise of their ministry in direct contradiction to Vat I is a disturbing fact. Another disturbing fact is that Rome holds its particular views over against the consensus in the face of authoritative rebuke just as other individual sees once did or do their views. i.e. the Copts, thereby violating what from ancient times via Ireneaus was the means for identifying heterodoxy-it is in agreement with ne see but not found in the deposit of the others.

If CCC 883-4 is true, to what legitimate pope were the bishops united to to call the Council of Constance? Given that there were three rival claimants to the papacy and none of them valid, and the council explicitly declaring itself superior even to the pope, thereby deposing all three of them and electing a fourth valid pope this seems to be a significant exception, does it not?

If the Orthodox have never taught anything as a unified body, then why take what Meyendorff says as representing Orthodox teaching as a whole? The two claims are mutually exclusive. Second, Meyendorff has made mistakes and been corrected at times by other Orthodox scholars. And so as a scholar as with any academic authority his views are only as good as the arguments he gives for them (or could be given I suppose.) If I think there are demonstratable arguments to show that he is in fact wrong, why should I be saddled with his bad arguments?

Further, if am required to adhere to every position found in print by Orthodox theologians, does the same go for your position? Take Norman Kretzman’s admission that for the Thomistic view of God, it is logically incompatible with the Christian doctrine of a free creation. (See “A General Problem of Creation” in Scott MacDonald’s, Being and Goodness, Cornell, 1991) A free creation being probably the most significant difference between Christianity and paganism. Are you required to believe in an eternal world on that basis? If not, then I am not required to believe Meyendorff’s bad arguments

Meyendorff is in fact mistaken, as the criteria are layed out in 2nd Nicea. These criteria are given infallibly I might add by an Eastern council which was later accepted and ratified by Rome. And it does not give the conditions as layed out by CCC 833-4 either. That should be a disturbing fact, that the infallibly defined conditions by a universally accepted council do not include the idea of the petrine chrism as a necessary condition.

Actually, the vast majority of Catholic scholars deny that Hesychasm is a form of Quietism since it has been clearly demonstrated not to be a form of the Messalian heresy, which Catholic authors confused it. This was Barlaam’s initial confusion as well. This is so for some of the reasons I gave before, which you left untouched. As for supposed Islamic influence I don’t take seriously belief in time traveling or bi-locating Muslims since many hesychasts predate the existence of Islam, let alone cases of those who existed after Islam who had no meaningful exposure. When Quietism does arise in Islam, it is in large measure do to the late Platonism imbibed by Avicenna and other Islamic thinkers and last I checked, Palamas wasn’t reading Avicenna, but plenty of Latin Scholastics sure were. This is the case for Protestant Quietism in a number of cases, though not all, through the platonic idealism of people like Jakob Bohme.

Gil Garza said...


Thank you for your post. I enjoy reading your replies. You raise at least 13 questions in your post. While I can’t possibly answer all of your questions I will endeavor to answer a few.

My argument concerning the Greek Orthodox 8th Ecumenical Council was regarding in inability of Eastern Orthodoxy to speak as a unified body. Certainly some view the council as the 8th but that view is certainly a minority view.

An evidence of this are the theological preparations that have been taking place since 1930 when the “Pre-Synod” Committee of the Canonical Orthodox Churches met at Vatopedi Monastery in preparation for the “Great Eighth Ecumenical Council.” These representatives met again in 1936 as the “First Conference of Orthodox Theologians.” Several more Pan-Orthodox Conferences have taken place since then all in preparation for the “Eighth Ecumenical Council.” Surely, the hierarchs of the Canonical Orthodox Churches would not be meeting to prepare for the 8th Ecumenical Council if they accepted Constantinople III 879-880 as genuinely ecumenical in nature.

Theologians such as John Romanides, George Metallinos, George Dragas and Metropolitan Vlachos of Nafpaktos have argued that Constantinople III was a genuine ecumenical council. Theirs is a minority view, however.

I would be interested in a specific reference at Nicea II that you believe establishes criteria for establishing a council as ecumenical.

The Catholic Church has always held that in order for a council to be accepted as ecumenical it must be ratified or at least accepted by the Petrine Ministry of the Bishop of Rome.

Indeed it was Pope Hadrian’s letter to Empress Irene that commanded her to call the 7th Ecumenical Council. In his letter, he recalled that Peter had been given the keys of heaven by Christ Himself and had transmitted them to his successors, the bishops of Rome. He ordered her to condemn the iconoclast Council of Hieria (which called itself ecumenical and had most of the Patriarchates represented including Constantinople and had full Imperial authority). On Sept 26, 787 the Letter of Pope Hadrian was read to the council fathers who hailed it as a statement of orthodox with shouts of Axios! It was Papal Legates that suggested that an icon of Christ be placed in the midst of the council fathers at the conclusion of the council. Papal Legates (an abbot and an archpriest of a Greek monastery in Rome) signed the final decree above all others, as was customary, thereby designating affirmation of the Bishop of Rome.

rjhargrav said...

I discovered this blog by happy accident and am coming in to this conversation rather late, but so be it. I'd like to respond in general to some claims that Gil has made about the Orthodox Christian Church.

First is quite simply that we're not all Greek. In the Middle East, "Greek Orthodox" is indeed shorthand for Chalcedonian Orthodox of any nationality to distinguish us from the Copts and Armenians. But in the rest of the Orthodox world, the ethnic label "Greek" simply doesn't apply to those who are not ethnically Greek.

For the Catholic Church to simultaneously recognize three Patriarchs of Antioch is analagous to recognizing three simultaneous Popes of Rome. Hardly a thing to brag about. (yes, there is jurisdictional overlap among the Orthodox in the USA. And we are not proud of this)

You say that Orthodoxy has "never, as a unified body, forwarded any proposition to be true. This should be a disturbing fact."

And yet, as a unified body, we confess the same faith with far greater uniformity (forgive me!) than one finds between two Roman Catholic parishes in the same city. This is a bold assertion, and I speak as one with personal knowledge of the local Orthodox Churches of Korea, Japan, Albania, Russia, East Africa, Asia Minor, Georgia and the United States. (as well as personal experience with Catholic parishes in Florida and California)

Our hymnography, continuing to grow and develop through the present day, makes bold theological proclamations which are sung continuously in all corners of the Orthodox world. As a unified body, we sing that these things are true.

So to say that our alleged failure to forward certain propositions through centralized channels indicates some lack of doctrinal or liturgical uniformity is simply misleading. We are mightily disorganized. And yet-- as citizens of the Republic of Georgia will gratefully assert when they discover my rural Florida parish-- our faith is one.

Gil Garza said...

I suppose my point was that Greek Orthodoxy is a confessing & worshiping Church (as you so rightly describe) and not a confessing, worshiping, teaching, binding & loosing Church (as you so readily concede).

Your point about the beauty of hymnography is well taken and one that I am reminded of so wonderfully every Sunday at my Anglican Use parish.

rjhargrav said...


I can readily attest to teaching, binding and loosing within Orthodoxy-- and not just among the Greeks!