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Published in: on Saturday, January 31, 2009 at 05:11pm  Leave a Comment  

Retroactive Introduction

My purpose here is to clarify many of the statements made to various interlocutors under my last post.  I do, in fact, recommend reading this post carefully before the one immediately preceding it.

(1) It is common for my non-belief in something to be mistaken for a positive belief in its falsity.  However, from the mere fact that I question the grounds for affirming a position cannot be inferred my assent or non-assent to its truth. Both the so-called “Traditionalist” & “Ecumenist” positions on Orthodox-Catholic relations as I presently understand them result in apparent contradictions and make it difficult for me to explain a large amount of what I know from history and see at present.

(2) By “false Gospel,” I meant to indicate a set of doctrinal claims concerning the nature of God or man that substantively contradict the explicit or implicit content of the authoritative creeds & dogmatic definitions of the Church.  For example, to completely deny the presence of any salvific power or action within the Church’s sacraments (“one baptism for the remission of sins”) or the reality of the Church itself (“one holy Catholic & Apostolic Church”) would involve preaching a false Gospel. Certain self-professed Christian bodies appear to do this in various ways, thus warranting the question of if they in fact do so.

(3) Concerning the nature & grounds of an Ecumenical Council, all of my questions to Fr. Gregory were raised to clear my (still unremedied) confusion regarding the relevant criteria.  I made no argument or statements to the effect that his definition was incorrect, for I did and still do not know what exactly it is in the first place.  (For example, I asked what characteristic of the fracture after “Great Schism” led to the cessation of ecumencial councils that did not after the Council of Chalcedon and what, if any, implications the answer would have on the dogmatic authority of St. Gregory Palamas’ teaching.)

Published in: on Saturday, November 1, 2008 at 12:47pm  Comments (2)  

Fr. Gregory on Ecumenism

[Please see my Retroactive Introduction before reading this post & the comments.)

Under a recent post by Fr. Gregory, there is presently an intense discussion on ecclesiology. I will post a comment by fellow Orthodox Andrew followed by Fr. Gregory’s responses:


Yes, there is a division between traditionalists and some other more ecumenically-orientated Orthodox, but is this multiplicity of views found among the Saints as well?

I have studied our history somewhat extensively. I haven’t found the Saints (including the charismatic elders of the past century) to have various views on the issue. Rather, they seem to be unanimous on what’s Christ’s Church and what isn’t.

If the Orthodox Church has never denied the Catholic Church is a real Christian Church, then why have Catholics been baptized in the past (even in the recent past)?

The explanation for the practice is that the Schism meant the Holy Spirit is no longer found in the Catholic Church, and therefore the mysteries there are not Christ’s mysteries. Which leads to baptism in the Orthodox Church or, by exception (economically), reception without baptism, but reception which substitutes baptism by it’s very power (be it chrismation or whatever).”

Fr. Gregory:

Are Catholics and Orthodox still one Church internally divided? Or are we now two separate communities–one the Church, one not? I find the later position to be problematic given not only the Orthodox willingness to sit w/the Catholic Church in council at Florence, but also the general tenure of contemporary conversations between us.

Yes, there are Orthodox who deny any ecclesial character to the Catholic Church. But these individuals are simply wrong. The Orthodox Church has never denied that the Catholic Church is a real Church, albeit one we believe in schism.

The self-proclaimed Traditionalist position among the Orthodox is just that, self-proclaimed. At the risk of being harsh, it is a voice that is itself internally divided and dividing. I agree Andrew, the Orthodox (like the Catholics) need to have an internal discussion–but this discussion is not prior to working toward reconciliation with Rome, but part of that process.


While I have great respect and admiration for the fathers, the saints and the charismatic elders, in the end it belongs not to them but to the bishops not to decide the limits of the Church. Or, rather, it belongs to the bishops to confirm the faith of the Church.

Certainly the bishops must listen to the fathers, the saints and the elders, even as they should listen to the Scriptures, theologians and the whole Body of the Faithful. However, the bishops cannot abdicate their responsibility to govern the Church. Nor can we oppose the teaching of the saints, for example, to the authority of the bishops.

That said, I think that the bishops have decided regarding the Catholic Church–we see the Catholic Church as a real Church with real sacraments and a real priesthood. Yes there are those in the Orthodox Church who deny this–but that doesn’t change the fact that–to the best of my knowledge–the Orthodox Church accepts the Catholic episcopate and the sacraments dependent it, as real.


I would like to comment on two points made above by Fr. Gregory.

(1) Are Catholics and Orthodox still one Church internally divided? Or are we now two separate communities–one the Church, one not? I find the later position to be problematic given not only the Orthodox willingness to sit w/the Catholic Church in council at Florence, but also the general tenure of contemporary conversations between us.

Setting the truth of the conclusion aside, this does not appear to be a sound argument.  The historical argument from Council of Florence completely fails because (a) the Orthodox bishops attended the Council in search of military protection and (b) the four Patriarchs condemned the Council and various “Latin errors” shortly thereafter:

“Published by the same holy and great Synod, for those who return from the Latin heresies to the orthodox and catholic Church of Constantinople, but also to the three most holy patriarchs of the East, i.e. those of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem.

This Acolouthy was published in Constantinople in the year 1484 during the patriarchy of the most holy Patriarch Lord Symeon. Let it be known, also, that this Synod, being ecumenical, is the first one with God’s help, tο bring down and overturn that most unlawful Synod that was summoned in Florence, as one that proceeded in an evil and unconstitutional manner; and as having failed tο follow the holy and ecumenical Synods which preceded it; therefore, we included the Statement (Horos) of this Orthodox and holy Synod of ours, i.e. that one of Constantinople, in the present sacred codex of Christ’s holy and great Church, since it was summoned during our days.”

The four Patriarchs in their Encyclidal of 1895 made the following contention:

“And this, both by her writings and encyclical letters, the Orthodox Church has never ceased to intimate to the Papal Church, having clearly and explicitly set forth that so long as the latter perseveres in her innovations, and the orthodox Church adheres to the divine and apostolic traditions of Christianity, during which the Western Churches were of the same mind and were united with the Churches of the East, so long is it a vain and empty thing to talk of union.”

I would like to hear Fr. Gregory’s remarks on this pronouncement, for his argument from “the general tenure of contemporary conversations”, if applied to that time period would yield an entirely different conclusion.  He fails to have taken into account the present dogmatic stance of Russian Church towards the RCC, which has been wholly consistent with the above conciliar & Patriarchal declarations.

(2) “Yes, there are Orthodox who deny any ecclesial character to the Catholic Church. But these individuals are simply wrong. The Orthodox Church has never denied that the Catholic Church is a real Church, albeit one we believe in schism.”

While I have great respect and admiration for the fathers, the saints and the charismatic elders, in the end it belongs not to them but to the bishops not to decide the limits of the Church. Or, rather, it belongs to the bishops to confirm the faith of the Church.”

Ignoring the many revered bishops and saints of our Tradition who state thus, we have one example a little over a century old in the aforementioned Patriarchal Encyclidal:

XXI. Such are, briefly, the serious and arbitrary innovations concerning the faith and the administrative constitution of the Church, which the Papal Church has introduced and which, it is evident, the Papal Encyclical purposely passes over in silence. These innovations, which have reference to essential points of the faith and of the administrative system of the Church, and which are manifestly opposed to the ecclesiastical condition of the first nine centuries, make the longed-for union of the Churches impossible: and every pious and orthodox heart is filled with inexpressible sorrow on seeing the Papal Church disdainfully persisting in them, and not in the least contributing to the sacred purpose of union by rejecting those heretical innovations and coming back to the ancient condition of the one holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ, of which she also at that time formed a part.

Of course, there have been made numerous & arguably much stronger formal statements from the RCC throughout its history:

Pope Eugene IV, Cantate Domino (1441): “The most Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics, can have a share in life eternal; but that they will go into the “eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41), unless before death they are joined with Her; and that so important is the unity of this ecclesiastical body that only those remaining within this unity can profit by the sacraments of the Church unto salvation, and they alone can receive an eternal recompense for their fasts, their almsgivings, their other works of Christian piety and the duties of a Christian soldier. No one, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, no one, even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ, can be saved, unless he remain within the bosom and the unity of the Catholic Church.”

Pope Boniface I, Epistle 14.1: “It is clear that this Roman Church is to all churches throughout the world as the head is to the members, and that whoever separates himself from it becomes an exile from the Christian religion, since he ceases to belong to it’s fellowship.”

I have not taken a definitive position on RC-EO relations, but neither position seems wholly devoid of merit.

Published in: on Friday, October 24, 2008 at 05:30pm  Comments (54)  

Question Mark

Yes, dear readers, I am alive although I have not posted for four months.  I have now read most of the debate that occurred under my last post while I was on hiatus. I thought it might be both educational and entertaining to post all two portions of the discussion that I did *not* understand.

Father Robert:

In response to my question “Does ‘immutability’ refer to the fixity of God’s character & consistency throughout salvation history or it is a conclusion from natural theology about an unchanging pure act of being?”


Of course the first statement would be closer to the classical idea of God’s Immutability. But your second, is where some are now seeking to readjust this doctrine. But ontology has had a wide birth of late, and one must make some kind overall positions. Von Balthasar brought this within the revelation of God in Christ, with its trinitarian presuppositions, and within the context of a christological analogy of being, one argued to an event of love in God. Of course this was within an analogical context. Here were seen in Von Balthasar some abstracts that form some untraditional aspects to God, including forms of surprise, etc. But it will not do to attribute created mutability to God, but the divine immutability must be seen in the life of inner-trinitarian love. But for such we must propose that eternity and the temporal are not simply antithetical.

Fr. Robert

Photios Jones


I’ve read and own Lagrange’s book on Predestination. Though, I think he is a better (and more faithful) ‘exegete’ of Thomas Aquina than is Fr. William Most’s work on Predestination, at least when we consider Thomas’ final and developed thought (McGRath’s work is good here too), which Most doesn’t seem to consider ‘well’ enough. Having said that, I think Lagrange’s doctrine of predestination taken to a Christological context is ‘functionally’ the same as Calvin’s and falls under the same criticism given by Karl Barth: it’s the ultimate seperation of God and Jesus Christ. That is, there is an interposition of a divine attribute of ‘predestination’ between divine Persons. Byzantine Monotheletism took many forms, one of which used by Pyrrhus of Constantinople vis-a-vis St. Maximus was that their were those in Constantinople who said that their indeed were two wills, in which the divine will appropriated and co-opted the human will, and that Salvation had to be accomplished by the divine will determining the human will in Christ since the human will was opposed. It is here in Christology that Maximus solved the problem and gave the final answer to Monergism. Since Christ is the Logos of the many logoi, i.e. all the principle of both God and man, predestination needs to be examined from a Christological context first and then to be appropriated and understood into a soteriological context.

That is the method of the Eastern Fathers and not just an exegesis without a contextual grounding both historically AND (this is the important point) from the regula fidei.

I find it interesting that Augustine’s doctrine of predestination is absent before him (East and West). I don’t find it very persuasive, particularly of the Princeton school (Warfield and Co.), that Augustine was a more faithful exegete of St. Paul than were the other Fathers on this question.


Published in: on Saturday, October 11, 2008 at 09:03am  Comments (8)  


Mr. Dyer, author of the blog Nicene Truth, has decided to remain Catholic & cease his catechumenate in the Orthodox Church:


I respect his decision though I completely disagree with his line of reasoning. Here is a statement that really stuck out like a sore thumb in my mind:

“And I’ve read the Eastern Fathers, Symeon the New Theologian, St. John of Damascus, John Cassian, Nicholas of Cabasilas, the elders, and others on the issue, and I do not believe them to be in line with St. Paul ’s teaching in Romans 9 of election’s pure gratuity.”

This is also interesting because my own studies on this issue caused me to move in the other direction. He should be kept in our prayers.

Published in: on Thursday, June 26, 2008 at 11:32am  Comments (62)  

Not Yet

Being a new convert, there are certain matters that I do not & refuse to post on because they are presently too high for me. I am shocked to no end when persons (both cradle & convert, young & old) who, even after being informed that I have been Orthodox for a whopping five months, inquire of my interest in pursuing the priesthood/monasticism or earnestly encourage me to consider it. I typically respond with a “what?!”, “how would I know?”, “I haven’t even been through an entire liturgical year year yet!” and the like. To be honest, the thought of ordination while the chrism oil is still wet is not appealing in the least.  Give me a break…

Published in: on Saturday, June 21, 2008 at 08:27pm  Comments (7)  

Entertainment & Ascesis

I am a loyal reader of the Ochlophobist. The feeling I get from reading certain of his posts critiquing the modern ethos can be likened to that of a man learning that a particular beverage was lethally poisonous shortly after consuming every drop in the bottle. I was raised on video games & television; often I know embarrassingly little about what I’m eating or where my food comes from, and my interpersonal relationships were & are unheathily mediated by electronic devices (movies, games, cell phones, etc.) I know that I am no exception to the rule. It impacts everyone from the violent “thugs” to the stuck-up cheerleaders for both are following a script that has been handed to them. Modern entertainment media provides each person with direct access to emotional excitement & sensory stimulation without any personal investment or accompanying effort.

Mass entertainment media is complicit in the broken relationships prompted by unrealistic expectations, the absolute equation of bodily appearance with self-worth & of sexual intimacy with commitment. If for the entirety of one’s conscious life instant & high-levels of sensory-emotional stimulation have been available without the overcoming of any resistance, then what is one supposed to do when the relationship doesn’t turn out happily ever like it did on television? Why not “change the channel” in hopes of finding a better show? From whence comes the maturity & inner strength needed to persevere?

In solitude, in the absence of such powerful distractions, I begin to question the truth of the stories I tell myself about myself, the meaningfulness of the meanings I’ve chosen, the deity of my personal idols, clearing away the obstacles that impede vision & pursuit of the Good.

Published in: on Friday, June 13, 2008 at 01:33pm  Comments (2)  

Angels & Saints

The Scriptures are extremely clear on the fact that both angels & departed saints watch from heaven what happens on earth, that they hear us and that children have guardian angels:

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. (Luke 15:3-7)

The invocations & references to onlooking angels in Scripture are endless:

“Praise the LORD, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word. Praise the LORD, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will.” (Ps. 103:20-21)

“See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that THEIR angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” (Matt. 18:10)

I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.” (1 Timothy 5:21)

“For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men.” (1 Cor. 4:9)

But ye ARE COME unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.” (Heb. 12:22-24)

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed. (Rev. 6:9-11)

Published in: on Friday, June 6, 2008 at 01:52pm  Comments (6)  

Augustinian Theological Methodology

We acquire our knowledge of the divine attributes, in general, only from the Holy Scriptures, as has been already said, and yet these are here taught, either only by way of popular representation, or without any design of aiding us in constructing a systematic doctrinal statement of the divine attributes. To accomplish this, we must have recourse to other expedients. A correct and exhaustive arrangement of the divine attributes we may, however, attain, if, starting out with the proposition that God is the Most Perfect Essence, we endeavor to enumerate all His perfections; inasmuch as the attributes of God are nothing else than the description of the most perfect Essence. These perfections we ascertain in a threefold way:

1. By ascribing to God, in the highest sense, all the perfections which we can discover in His creatures, inasmuch as no perfection can be wanting to God of which we find creatures possessed.

2. By removing from our conception of God all imperfections which we observe in creatures, as nothing in any wise imperfect can be ascribed to Him, and by attributing to Him all the opposite perfections.

3. By ascribing to Him all the perfections which necessarily must have belonged to one who was able to create and accomplish what God has done. It is, therefore, by the way of eminence, of negation, and causality, that we arrive at a comprehensive knowledge of the divine attributes.

The attributes found in this way may be variously classified; usually they are divided either into negative and positive (HOLL. (237), “the former being those by which the imperfections found in creatures are removed from God; the latter, those by which perfections are simply affirmed concerning God;” or, into such as describe God as He is in Himself and such as describe Him in His relation to the world).

[From here.]

Published in: on Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 04:33pm  Leave a Comment  

Tillich On Divinity

The task of my next few posts will be to examine theologian Paul Tillich’s doctrine of God & reproduce his theological methodology. Norman Geisler & Paul Tillich were the first two thinkers I read when I started studying theology. Recent discussions have prompted me to pursue this line of inquiry, armed with my present knowledge & perspectives. Despite intense disagreement with the paths he takes, there is one point in which he is clearly line with the Fathers:

“Attempts to elaborate a theology as an empirical-inductive or a metaphysical deductive “science,” or as a combination of both, have given ample evidence that no such an attempt can succeed. In every assumedly scientific theology there is a point where individual experience, traditional valuation, and personal commitment must decide the issue. This point, often hidden to the authors of such theologies, is obvious to those who look at them with other experiences and other commitments. If an inductive approach is employed, one must ask in what direction the writer looks for his material. And if the answer is that he looks in every direction and toward every experience, one must ask what characteristic of reality and experience is the empirical basis of his theology. Whatever the answer may be, an a priori of experience and valuation is implied. The same is true of a deductive approach, as developed in classical idealism. The ultimate principles in idealist theology are rational expressions of an ultimate concern; like all metaphysical ultimates, they are religious ultimates at the same time. A theology derived from them is determined by the hidden theology implied in them.” [Systematic Theology, Volume 1, p. 9]

Observation is always selective and even deduction from perceived necessity involves the construction & theoretical biased spinning of a two-ness relation in order to initiate & sustain the dialectical process. There is no pathway or claim to the ultimate that does involve the innermost spiritual state of the seeker.

Published in: on Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 08:07pm  Leave a Comment  

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