Friday, August 7, 2015

Journey Through Orthodoxy, Part 2

From the April 2012 E-Block.
For our next article in this series, I selected Orthodox Theology by Vladimir Lossky. Unfortunately, it gave me little to work with. Why? Partly it is because Lossky has a type of writing style I find disconnected and rambling: Lossky is one of those types of writers who does not present his ideas systematically, but apparently, as they occur to him. This made it difficult to extract the meat from his presentation. 

Another matter is that a good portion of Lossky's volume is devoted to highly technical discussions of secondary rather than primary doctrinal importance -- and almost nothing relates to matters with which I have noted prior disagreements with EO doctrine. The one note of interest is Lossky's explanation (117) for veneration of relics of saints: Because "the human person remains equally present in His (the Word's) body, recaptued by the elements, as His soul." This does, at least, accord well with the notion of Semitic Totality.

Beyond that, I found nothing necessitating analysis of report, but as it turns out, the EO reader who issued the friendly challenge of investigation to us has expressed a willingness to present here our dialogue on these issues. Therefore, we'll now be looking at his commentary on my prior article, and I will offer my own reply commentary. We will continue in this vein for further issues of the E-Block as long as we have available material from either a written source or from our reader which can be supplied.

Hereafter my comments (from the first article) are in bold; the reader's commentary is in italics, and my secondary observations are in normal type.

The first I see is one common to many movements -- whether mainstream groups like Catholicism or fringe groups like the Mormons. The Orthodox vest authority, Romanides explains, in an Ecumenical Council which is regarded as infallible. However, OOPD is regrettably no more forthcoming in terms of providing rational basis for depositing authority in this body. This will undoubtedly be one of the subjects for which I will be seeking worthy arguments in future readings.

Our view of the Ecumenical Councils is a bit different than the RC view, which sees them as ipso facto infallible based on a fulfillment of a set number of conditions. Orthodox see it a bit differently. Perhaps a more accurate translation of "Ecumenical Councils" would be "Imperial Councils." These were general synods of all the bishops of the Roman Empire who would gather together and discuss dogmatic issues. The truly ecumenical councils are infallible not because they have met a set number of conditions, but because they have been verified by the experience of the deified Saints. This is an issue which I think you slightly missed, so let me quote some more and then clarify:

Before moving on, my obvious question would be how one could possibly verify from "the experience of the deified Saints." Is this "experience" somehow quantified by record? By whom, and over how long? And to what extent has "verification" been performed and taken place? It seems to me this would be heavy burden or proof to fulfill.

Romanides, however, refers only in general terms to EO's "deposit of faith" which is at the center of the "Holy Tradition" and is transmitted down the ages by bishops and presbyters. These Romanides designates as "knowers" with "direct knowledge of the glory and energy of God," as opposed to those who are only "believers," who are apparently to "receive without hesitation the witness and teaching about God" from the knowers."

Awhile back I wrote a response to some Roman Catholic ideas about infallibility, inspiration, and ecumenical councils, which I think should serve as a good clarification:

On the Charism of Infallibility in the Church
For the Orthodox Christian, it is not correct to say that the charism of infallibility resides in a single bishop. Indeed, it is not even correct to say that that charism of infallibility resides in the whole body of bishops. In ordination to the episcopate, the bishop is entrusted with the responsibility to confess the faith of St Peter, of whom he is a successor, but it is not guaranteed that he will confess that faith. Instead, it is proper to say that the charism of infallibility resides in the Holy Fathers.

A Holy Father (or Mother) is a Christian who has walked the narrow path set forth by Christ our Lord. That is to say, they are indwelt by the Spirit of God, poured out on all Orthodox through Chrismation, but nurtured in a particular way in the Holy Fathers. Because they are in communion with God through Christ in the Spirit, the Spirit drives their actions. The good works that they do are by the power of the Holy Spirit. If we are to take these thoughts to their logical conclusion, it is likewise true that the faith they teach is by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Thus, it is the consensus patrum (consensus of the Fathers) that an Orthodox Christian must look to to. This is why St Vincent of Lerins taught that the standard of faith was universality, antiquity, and consent. In these criteria we can properly discern the Truth revealed to us by the Holy Fathers, who possess, in a unique manner, the charism of Truth.
The error of Roman Catholicism is separating the charism of infallibility from the work of the Spirit in salvation.

This is all well and good, but here I am looking for something which would separate the Orthodox from (say) the Mormon in terms of the chrismation and nurturing. A group like the Mormon council of 70 elders I can see making the same claim (though not using the same terms).

Appeals to universality, antiquity, and consent are on better epistemic grounds, for they lay a burden on dissenters to explain their dissent. Even so, one would of course be obliged to demonstrate the universality, antiquity, and consent awarded to/designated of any particular truth claim -- which means we are back once again to a basis for authority which does not rely on any inspired person or body, but rather on epistemic tests for truth.

I regard such a system with suspicion in whatever variation it appears -- even as it appears among Protestants, where I regard the current situation with Norman Geisler to be an equivalent (e.g., what I have called the appeal to a "Great Man" speaking).Perhaps the most disturbing statement by Romanides is this one: "It is a joke, not only spiritually, but also scientifically, to think that one can interpret Holy Scripture correctly, if he has no idea about the revelation of the Glory of Christ to the Prophets and the Apostles." That's rather a high hurdle to set for one's self, for it means that if you produce even one erroneous interpretation, you have a lot of explaining to do.

Nobody ever appeals to their own charism or own personal authority, ever. To do so means that they have fallen into spiritual pride and delusion. We rely on the witness of the deified Saints who have been united to Christ and conformed to His Image by the power of the Holy Spirit who indwells them. Because they are united to Christ and inspired by the Holy Spirit an act and word, we trust the consensus of the Saints as the authentic testimony to the truth of the gospel.

So indeed, I would suppose Geisler would be considered as aberrant among the Orthodox as I would take him to be! But this leaves me at square one still in terms of suspicions. There is still a large hurdle to reckon with; still truth claims to be evaluated, and that of course is what this series is all about, from my perspective. That it is a group (and arguably, a dedicated and well-educated group) said to be inspired here, not one man, does make my burden for dissenting higher than it would be otherwise. But the claim of inspiration, while I can respect it, does not add to my burden at all.

Unfortunately, the usual resort for those who hold such views is to declare that their interpretation must be right because after all, they have the Spirit -- all you have is (cough) scholarship, research, arguments, etc.

Tradition is the revelation that God has given to His people throughout history, and it is manifested through the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church. So, the witness of Tradition is chiefly the Holy Scriptures, because the Apostles and Prophets received the fullness of doctrinal revelation. They are inspired because they experienced God in the Logos (whether disincarnate or incarnate) through the Holy Spirit. The Church confirms this revelation and explains it in new ways through its Saints, Liturgies, etc. ...

This idea of a magisterial authority has led Roman Catholic apologists to attack the perpiscuity of Scripture to an extent which they should not. Scripture can be rightly interpreted. This is why I try to help Protestants rightly interpret it without any appeal to a source only I would accept. Then, when they see that the Scriptural exegesis leads to Orthodoxy, they accept the authority of our Living Tradition because it has preserved this accurate exegesis so faithfully. We may cite Holy Scripture to refute heretics, and this is quite productive. To be frank, however, not everybody is cut out for depth exegesis. The practical flaw of the Protestant view of Scripture is that every person must do a depth, doctrinal study of the entire Bible in order to even figure out what they believe. 

For Orthodox Christians, the Bible can be read and understood by a non-Orthodox without appealing to the authority of the Orthodox Church, but this is a long endeavor, and life is short.

Well, if anyone is cut out for this, and anyone has the time -- I do! Of course I understand that most people end up simply following what they are taught -- that is how it is with so many believers. But we have a problem keeping to that today: Easy access to information (and misinformation) has made it far, far harder for people to stay stuck to what they were taught at first to believe.

Sadly, it has come to the point that everyone -- not just Protestants -- will need to do depth study to preserve what they believe; either that, or hide down a hole and never interact with anyone else.

This of course is part of my urgency in creating new materials (as on my YouTube channel) to communicate truths that years ago would have merely been the province of scholars. A Robert Ingersoll who roams the land on a horse has far less of a chance to unseat the beliefs of vast numbers of people than an Ingersoll who has the Internet at his disposal. The authoritarian models simply will not work in much of the West any more. (It will still work in certain parts of the world where Orthodoxy - and other movements, of course -- remain strong.)

In short, I'm in agreement that scholarship is useful and does provide a light on the Holy Scripture. I will interact with anyone who claims that it refutes any of the Church's doctrine, because I think when applied correctly, it confirms it.

That of course would be an ideal place to be in.

Further on, it is said that "[t]hose who wish to live according to Christ place themselves under the guidance of a father, who has the charism of discernment of spirits, and, consequently, is able to teach the manner through which one becomes a participant in the Mystery of the Cross and the Resurrection." In the Biblical world such claims would have to be validated by prophecy (the Deuteonomic test)

Romanides was being a bit too idealistic about the Orthodox life there. What he's talking about is spiritual father, where one places oneself under the obedience of a guide who will help instruct you on how to fight various sins and attain union with Jesus Christ. However, it is very rare that such a person will be in a level of deification that displays supernatural manifestations, though perhaps not as rare as we would think. The "charism" he was referring to was not a special gift of prophecy, but simply the charism of being in union with God through Christ. By "discernment of spirits", he meant one who is experienced in the Christian life and has the capacity to guide another in it. I think Romanides allowed for a lot of misinterpretation of what he was saying there, and I would rewrite it if I could.

I have no comment here, as this next was my more critical point:

and Romanides indicates three things missing outside EO which he thinks shows that a breakaway from Apostolic succession, and presumably as well, theological authority: absence of veneration of saints; absence of veneration of icons and relics, and absence of miracles wrought through them. We have discussed the first two in articles some time ago; as for miracles -- based on precedent, those would be a significant measure, but alas, Romanides stops short of offering details or confirmation. So, count that as something else I'll be looking for (but quite honestly, not expecting at this point to find).

Actually, as one who has been Orthodox for a few years now...I think you may just be surprised. Miracles are very, very common, and I'm saying this having witnessed a few of them myself. Look up Saint John Maximovitch. He reposed in 1967, and is known as "Saint John the Wonderworker." Thousands of people who experienced his miracles are still alive. He foretold the date of his death, and this has been reported by many, many people. And he made every effort to hide his own holiness (to avoid temptation to pride.) He is nothing like the disgusting Pentecostal and Charismatic shows where they try to flaunt their own spiritual gifts. He was extraordinarily humble. I have a special devotion to him.

Ironically, my answer to this is different than it would have been just a month or so ago. The difference: Having now read Keener's volume Miracles, Romanides' indication that miracles are lacking outside EO has become...rather strained. As I have noted in a review, Keener does not document as well as I'd like for all he says. However, his reports are that the designated church as a whole -- with no respect for denominational lines -- remains experiencing miracles to this day. They are not everyday occurrences, to be sure, but Keener's careful analysis and reports -- the bulk of which don't rely on miracles by Pentecostal or Charismatic showmen (thank heaven, Benny Hinn is not even mentioned!) -- belie Romanides' claim and increase the burden of proof he would have substantially.

The second major issue is a complex of issues having to do with ecclesiology. I have a number of reservations about what appears to me to be a "one size fits all" approach to participation in ritual functions. The assumption I have perceived so far is that one is obliged to participate in various scheduled liturgies and prayers; allowance is made under certain circumstances to not take part, I am told, but my own reservation -- that such rituals do nothing to enable discipleship in my own life, and if anything, would distract me from what I regard as my assigned task, is not among the exceptions.

Here I simply have to disagree and say that you are objectively wrong. :P I know this may sound a bit too presumptive, but there is an objective grace that exists in the services of the Church that is not dependent on how much one feels cut out for it or not. Many people enter the Church because they believe it's true, but they dislike the Liturgy. Within a few years, if they live the life of the Church, they can't live without it, not because it entertains them, but because it is filled with Divine Grace. One thing I've discovered as I've lived the life of the Church is that many things I assumed would be worthless for me have turned out to be anything but.

While the :P indicates a certain jest I can appreciate, whether such grace exists and is objective is the very thing I'd most seriously question. There are a multiplicity of religious traditions which speak of experiencing "grace," and they deem it as objective as anyone else. This is not to say that any in particular are or are not authentic, but with such experiences across the landscape, and people giving testimonies that are mirror images of this one for their own practices, I will need much, much more than anecdotal assurances. I will also need good reason to think such experiences are not psychologically self-fulfilling prophecies.

I do have some sympathy for the EO idea that the church is not merely invisible, but also in some sense visible. There is a principle of active participation in EO's doctrine, virtually the same as one which I have tried to encourage. What I do question is the determination that a particular mode of participation is demanded of the believer. This is not inclusive of the rituals of baptism and the Eucharist (or as Baptists say, the "Lord's Supper!"), which I do think are mandated, or of enacting certain moral principles in our daily lives. EO goes beyond this, though, finding as well a warrant for observation of many more rituals.

Could you go further with this? What rituals do you think are not useful beyond those two?

Here I had in mind mainly scheduled fasting and prayer rituals. However, anything apart from the Eucharist and baptism is likely to be in this category too, regardless of what group offers it. (Southern Baptists for example have their Wednesday suppers -- trivial by comparison, but still a fixed ritual of sorts.)

We now move beyond my article to some issues covered in emails with my correspondent. The first had to do with certain practices involving fasting and prayer, of which I asked whether these were shown to be required of all:

That's fine, but is this given as prescriptive or descriptive? IOW is there anything that specifically says, 'This is something everyone ought to do'?

The context indicates that it is prescriptive. Immediately preceding the section on fasting there is an instruction on exactly how to baptize (obviously prescriptive), followed by the section on how to fast and pray:

8:1 And let not your fastings be with the hypocrites, for they fast on the second and the fifth day of the week; 8:2 but do ye keep your fast on the fourth and on the preparation (the sixth) day. 8:3 Neither pray ye {as the hypocrites,} but as the Lord commanded in His Gospel, {thus pray ye. 8:4 Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name; 8:5 Thy kingdom come; 8:6 Thy will be done, as in heaven, so also on earth; 8:7 give us this day our daily bread; 8:8 and forgive us our debt, as we also forgive our debtors; 8:9 and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one;} 8:10 for Thine is the power and the glory for ever and ever. 8:11 Three times in the day pray ye so. So, the whole section is about prescriptions. This is how you baptize, this is how you fast, this is how you pray, etc.

This is a partial answer; I am satisfied that there are prescriptive instructions for certain ceremonies. But this is only part of what is sought: I am also asking if there is anything that prescribes these things as enduring through time and space, extending to the entirely of the ekklesia. In other words, was this author expecting that Christians e.g., 750 years hence and living in Japan MUST observe the same rituals (pray three times a day, fast the 4th and 6th)? And if this is so, is there any reason to think this author had the authority (or someone else did) to make this declaration?

We had some discussion over observance of the Eucharist, and as I have little dispute with this being a prescribed ritual, and of prayers being associated with it particularly, I will not present that here. My correspondent asked me what I thought of "the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist". It is a matter I'd wish to look into, but it would neither make or break my perceptions of choices. I was asked of this once by a Catholic correspondent and my answer then is the same as now: I don't see any real reason to accept or reject it; I also don't see that it adds to (or subtracts from) the life of the disciple of Christ.

I'm willing to admit things like tradition into the database; though of course I also subject it to the same critical scrutiny as anything else.

One of the big arguments I'd make for the necessity of Tradition is the fact that the very canon of Scripture comes out of it. As the canon is not listed in the pages of the New Testament, one must look elsewhere for it. The canon was worked out like all Orthodox doctrine is- in the life of the Church throughout history. Significantly, by the time we have the twenty-seven book New Testament canon, we indisputably have Priesthood, veneration of Saints and relics, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and Orthodox doctrine all around. Do you accept that the Holy Spirit inspired the Church to know the correct canon?

I have in fact said in my article on the canon:

However, if we believe in the inspiration of the Bible, then it is also reasonable to assume God's hand in the matter of the compilation of the canon. Although skeptical of many traditional positions on the canon, McDonald rightly perceives that "(t)hose who would argue for the inerrancy of scripture logically should also claim the same infallibility for the churches of the fourth and fifth centuries, whose decisions and historical circumstances have left us with our present Bible." [MacD.FormCB, 255]

One cannot sensibly argue that God inspired certain books of the Bible and then allowed us to mix in books with it that were not inspired. It was either all inspired at its origination, or none of it at all, other than at a basic human level of inspiration - and though, thanks to transcription errors and the like, we have some chaff mixed in with the wheat at present, the ambiguity that is reality at the textual variant level does NOT affect our position on the canon level.

That said, I have also remarked that I see the canon as more a convenience than anything else. It is a collection of that which is 1) true and 2) relevant to Christian life. This does not mean that true or relevant things cannot be found outside the canon. And for that reason, I simply don't see the "Necessity" of tradition in this regard either. Indeed in my view, if candidate books were collected by a Martian, and they were provided with all the necessary information, I can hardly see how their canon would significantly vary from the one we have now. Perhaps they'd leave out some of the less utilitarian books like 2-3 John, for example, but it is hard to see how most of the others would be left out.

Beyond that, I would consider it a non sequitur to draw any conclusions about such things as veneration, relics, etc. based on the chronological correspondence of those things with the canon.

Yes, it's something admissible within the paradigm IMO. Even so, I'm going to insist on validation for any claims of continuous inspiration.

By what criteria do you accept Scripture as inspired? By what criteria would you judge continuous inspiration? Remember that we aren't claiming continuous doctrinal revelation. We are claiming that the Holy Spirit worked to ensure that the doctrine which was once for all revealed to the saints remained incorrupt.

As a matter of fact, I have not bothered with working out criteria for inspiration, because I find truth to be a more critical test. So when I ask for validation of inspiration, what I mean is I want validation of accuracy -- and if that works out, then inspiration is icing on the cake. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, there are enough groups claiming to be working with the Spirit for their heads to fill Noah's Ark. Many also claim the Spirit wasn't behind other movements. Of course, to the degree of extravagance this is said (e.g., Mormons say the church was dead for thousands of years!) the burden becomes harder to fulfill. But it remains a burden, even an easy one (with also a lighter yoke).

As for books...I am frustrated to no end with the lack of Orthodox apologetics beyond the surface level! I don't want to send you surface level crap. I'd recommend: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky. Not exactly apologetics but bases much of what it writes on the Holy Scriptures which are regularly cited.

It's on order for next time!

1 comment:

  1. here's something to watch jp: