Orthodoxy & Universal Salvation: Are the Two Compatible?

For about the past year or so now, some corners of the Orthodox blogosphere has been consumed with this question. In my experience, most who have dealt with the issue have been quite hostile to the idea of apocatastasis or universal salvation. By universal salvation, I do not mean the denial of hell, but rather the belief that all people will be saved and that hell is temporary, not eternal. These critics of the doctrine go as far as to declare it inadmissible and heretical for Orthodox. Many universalists, meanwhile, have be wont to declare such critics as generic Orthodox converts still suffering from typical American Protestant fundamentalist rigor and so forth. Perhaps these universalists are right in their accusations – who knows. But it probably is not a very good rebuttal, given the fact that Orthodoxy in the USA already has enough of an image problem of being viewed as a series of ethnic enclaves and unwelcoming to outsiders or converts. It is not their intention to feed into that image, especially those universalists such as myself who are converts. But it probably does feed into that image anyways. In any case, what follows are smattering of quick, sometimes acrid and impolite rebuttals of those Orthodox infernalists who insist that we are heretics. They can disagree with us Orthodox universalists, as is permissible in Orthodoxy, but branding us heretics relies on faulty premises, faulty arguments, and faulty history. Reader discretion is advised, especially for Claim 2, with regards to vulgarity. These are not intended to be full-detailed or full-throated counters to every point. Rather they are meant to simply be a starting place. I would only warn the reader that if the subject seems too deep or complicated for you, then it probably is. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as you recognize it. Begin from there with patience.

Claim 1: The Fifth Ecumenical Council Condemned Origen and Universalism

My treatment of this claim is extremely short and the issue is more thoroughly addressed by Fr. Aiden Kimel over at Eclectic Orthodoxy.

A complicated yes to the first, no to the second. Many apologists make the mistake of simply reading too quickly through acta and canons of Constantinople (553). Was Origen condemned centuries after his death in 553? Yes, but the story is complicated. According to Franz Diekamp, later corroborating evidence seems to suggest that Origen was condemned around this time. But the question precisely is, when and where was he condemned? The 15 canons drawn up against a form of Origenism – a broad term – were likely the result of a preconciliar session that began shortly before Constantinople (553) or the Fifth Ecumenical Council formally convened. The internal references within the acta of Constantinople (553) that reference Origen as condemned then are not to local synodal canons from Constantinople 543, but to the preconciliar session of 553 (Diekamp, pp. 82-115). This position has subsequently been endorsed by many other scholars (Hombergen, pp. 21fn2). If you read through the acta, you’ll find some occasional mentions of Origen in passing without any formal discussions of the matter paired with the 15 anti-Origenist canons. Origen does happened to be mentioned in the 12 official canons of the council (not to be confused with the 15 anti-Origenist canons). In the official Canon 11 (again, not part of the 15 anti-Origenist canons), specifically, Origen is condemned by name alongside others, but without reference to specific beliefs or writings. This discrepancy is unusual, as councils generally discuss what they condemn before proclaiming canons. On the issue of this specific form of Origenism, this regular process did not occur, which is partly why many modern scholars now regard the 15 canons as being formed before the ecumenical council began.

These references found against Origen throughout the acta then would seem to indicate some sort of post-facto approval during the formal council of the preconciliar session. However, this post-facto approval process is not officially recorded if it really happened. We do have some indication of what it might have looked like in a later 7th century sermon given by (?pseudo?)-Anastasius Sinaita. According to this source, Pope Vigilius agreed to St. Justinian’s condemnation of Origen by means of a letter (Pitra, pp. 264-265). The letter itself is now lost. Accordingly, (?pseudo?)-Anastasius says (I’m translating from the later Latin translation, not the Greek original, as I don’t read Greek):

But indeed the most holy Pope Vigilius of Rome by no means was present at that synod [that is during the preconciliar session], nor did he command his legates [to attend] it [during the preconciliar session]. But he adhered to the acts in it regarding all things. There were two causes for why there was the synod: First, indeed is on account of Origen Adamantius (indeed producing capitula which were ascribed to Origen, Evagrius, and Didymus – first touching upon the capitula themselves, then upon Origen himself by anathematization). And indeed on these things that the most holy Pope Vigilius of Rome had assented to, were written by argument, which Vigilius wrote to Justinian, and which are revealed in the synod and are extant in his action in the literary record.

(?pseudo?)-Anastasius Sinaita, 7th cent.

Some might object that these canons therefore are not technically part of the council and that Origen was not condemned. Regarding the issue of Origen’s condemnation, Richard Price in his translation and summary of the council does believe that Origen was condemned. He is quick to note that Canon 11 of the official canons mentions Origen, which he regards as authentic (Price, vol. 2, 2009, pp. 280). Price, however, relegates the 15 anti-Origenist canons to the appendix, summarizing the scholarship over the past century with more detail than what I have written above (Price, vol. 2, 2009, pp. 270-280). In his translation of the acta of the Fifth Ecumenical Council, Norman P. Tanner goes further than Price by omitting the 15 anti-Origenist canons entirely, stating, “Our edition does not include the text of the anathemas against Origen since recent studies have shown that these anathemas cannot be attributed to the council” (Tanner, pp. 105-106). Notably, however, Tanner still holds the Canon 11 to have condemned Origen by name in his edition and translation (Tanner, pp. 119).

So Origen was condemned then, but this matter is quite separate from whether one regards the 15 anti-Origenist canons to be part of the Fifth Ecumenical Council in any serious sense. That these canons were written up before the council formally began is beyond doubt now. This process is highly unusual to say the least and no primary record exists of these 15 canons being accepted. What survives are second-hand reports in later accounts, such as the sermon above (again, for a full overview, see Diekamp, pp. 82-115). Internal evidence that is highly suggestive of the preconciliar thesis can be found in Session V.87 of the council, where it is detailed that Vigilius and many other bishops had denounced several people, including Origen (Price, vol. 1, pp. 337-338) – again without detail of specific doctrines. However one wishes to adjudicate this issue of their place in the Fifth Ecumenical Council I leave to the reader (Note: A more thorough and lengthy treatment of this issue can be found at Eclectic Orthodoxy).

Moving on, two questions immediately arise. First, the more important question, what do the 15 anti-Origen canons actually say? Second, less so importantly, were these condemned beliefs really Origen’s?

In answer to the first question, the most relevant canon to the subject at hand states the following:

1. If anyone advocates the mythical pre-existence of souls and the monstrous restoration that follows from this, let him be anathema.

Translation taken from Richard Price, The Acts of Constantinople 553, vol. 2, pp. 284

The specific form of universalism condemned here is the one that also advocates the pre-existence of souls. This position is not one advocated by any Orthodox universalist that I know today. Orthodox universalists merely believe that punishment is not eternal. Their belief does not flow from a belief in the pre-existence of souls. Orthodox infernalists will object that both beliefs listed in the canon are to be read as being condemned separately. However, the canon itself makes that reading impossible (Ware, DWSA, pdf. 4). To argue otherwise is absurd. Fr. Aiden Kimel bolsters this point even more in his reading of St. Justinian’s letter that was paired with these 15 anti-Origenist canons. St. Justinian’s letter accordingly places its concern on the combination of pre-existence of souls with universal salvation (Price, vol. 2, 2009, pp. 282-284; Kimel, Did the Fifth Ecumenical Council Condemn Universal Salvation?).

I have read some Orthodox bloggers objecting that this defense, that only a certain form of universalism was condemned, declaring it specious. They say something like, “It is ridiculous to expect a council to declare every form of universalism heretical. Earlier councils did not have to declare every form of Arianism as heretical.” Here is the kicker – with regards to Arianism, all forms of it actually were explicitly condemned. You see, by adopting the language of homoousion to describe Christ’s consubstantiality with the Father at Nicaea (325) and Constantinople (381), they by default excluded all variations of Arianism or semi-Arianism – of which there were many such as the homoians, anomoians, and the homoiousians. I’ll spare the details, but the Nicene Creed succinctly precludes all of those positions (For more on the variants of Arianism and semi-Arianism, see: Elm, passim.). In reality, the defense is not specious, rather the objection to the defense is specious.

Now, in answer to the second question, I give an emphatic no. If one reads G. W. Butterworth’s translation of Origen’s On First Principles, they will find many unorthodox beliefs, such as the preexistence of souls, etc. But Butterworth’s translation of the text is based upon Paul Koetschau’s edition of Origen’s text. Koetschau’s edition contains extracts from those hostile to Origen, sometimes as though Origen actually said them. These extracts and fragments are in fact dubious imputations, often at the hands of hostile writers. Fr. John Behr’s recent edition and translation of On First Principles replaces Koetschau’s edition. The result of this new edition and translation is, in fact, an Origen free from these unorthodox beliefs so often imputed to him. This edition and translation has been universally praised by scholars as superior, long overdue, and more faithful to the true Origen (Kostopoulos; Edwards; Hart 2020). It is apparent then that the Fifth Ecumenical Council made a mistake in condemning Origen’s person – a separate issue, I must stress, from whether the 15 anti-Origenist canons correctly condemn a certain set of beliefs and whether those canons belong properly to the Fifth Ecumenical Council. To these latter issues, I leave the reader to decide. Orthodox are required to uphold the doctrinal content of the ecumenical councils (Ware, OC, pp. 196), not their historical claims.

Claim 2: The Seventh Ecumenical Council Condemned Universalism via Conciliar Fundamentalism

The answer is an emphatic no. Admittedly, those who make this claim acknowledge that no canon from the councils condemn it. Rather they contest that it was condemned during the proceedings in passing. During Session 6 of II Nicaea (787) or the Seventh Ecumenical Council, Deacon Epiphanios of Catana replies to the various statements made at the iconoclastic Council of Hieria (754), as read by Bishop Gregory of Neocaesarea. The relevant passages are the following:

Bishop Gregory read out:

“If anyone does not acknowledge the resurrection of the dead, and the judgement and the requital to each according to desert through the just criteria of God, and that there is no end to punishment nor to the kingdom of heaven, which is the enjoyment of God – for the kingdom of heaven is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, according to the divine apostle – let him be anathema.”

Deacon Epiphanios read out:

“This is the rule of the leaders of our true faith, the holy apostles and inspired fathers. This is the confession of the catholic church and not of heretics. But what follows is their own, since it is chock-full of ignorance and stupidity, and buzzes as follows….”

Translation taken from Richard Price, The Acts of the Second Council of Nicaea, vol. 2, pp. 535-536.

The crucial problem with the infernalists’ claims about the importance of this statement lay in the fact that it is not a canon or doctrinal decree. It merely comes from the general proceedings of the council and lacks the universal signatures that official canons and doctrinal statements are given at ecumenical councils, including at II Nicaea. Some have argued that even statements made at ecumenical councils are doctrinally binding, invoking a belief in what can be called conciliar fundamentalism. The defenders of this doctrine in the Orthodox blogosphere have gone as far as to claim that it was the standard view of the time and is therefore just. Anyone who states otherwise, they say, is obviously guilty of the heresy of modernism. Hence, II Nicaea makes universalism in toto heretical. Not much can be said about this position or the accusations of modernism, except:

In any case, Price does note that this conciliar fundamentalism came to be a common enough belief in the sixth century that it posed serious problems for the Fifth Ecumenical Council in its condemnations of the Three Chapters – the person and writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia, some writings of Theodoret of Cyrus, and the letter of Ibas of Edessa to Mari the Persian – whose writings and/or persons were approved of or rehabilitated at the Council of Chalcedon (451), the Fourth Ecumenical Council. Price is also keen to note that this position was not prevalent in the preceding century and that St. Justinian himself deeply criticized it in his imperial edict On the Orthodox Faith (551) (Price, vol. 1, pp. 97-98). St. Justinian keenly notes:

However, those in search of the truth ought also to attend to the fact that often at councils some things are said by some of those found at them out of partiality or disagreement or ignorance, but no one attends to what is said individually by a few, but only to what is decreed by all by common consent; for if one were to choose to attend to such a disagreement in the way they [the conciliar fundamentalists] do, each council will be found refuting itself.

Translation taken from Price, The Acts of Constantinople 553, vol. 1, pp. 150-151.

As I have stated in an earlier post, this very position of conciliar fundamentalism was used to provoke the Aquileian Schism within the Orthodox Church, which was only resolved at the end of the seventh century. The irony should not be lost here – those who advocate eternal damnation on the basis of the Fifth and Seventh Ecumenical councils do so on a principle (conciliar fundamentalism) that was used to reject the very Fifth Ecumenical Council they so cherish.

Now, there has been an attempt to get around this embarrassing historical conundrum, known as the Aquileian Schism. In particular, it has been contested that Ibas’ letter to Mari was never actually approved at Chalcedon (451), and therefore its doctrinal condemnation at Constantinople (553) does not contradict a preceding ecumenical council. Hence, conciliar fundamentalism is saved. Here is the problem, it is dead wrong. Turning to Session 10 of the Council of Chalcedon, before the formal reinstatement of Ibas as bishop, many documents were reviewed concerning his case, including his letter to Mari (Mansi 6:242-250; Hefele, pp. 366-368), which would be condemned at Constantinople (553) in the next century. The acta detail the following by the papal legates:

The most reverend bishops, Paschasinus and Lucentius, as well as presbyter Bonifacius holding the place of the apostolic see [id est Rome], through Paschasinus said: “Having gathered together the documents, we acknowledge from the sentence of the most reverend bishops to have the most reverend Ibas shown as innocent. Indeed, having read his letter [to Mari], we acknowledge him to be orthodox.”

My translation from the Acts of Chalcedon, Mansi 6:262.

Now, these Orthodox bloggers (one specifically, but there is another who has in passing connected it to conciliar fundamentalism), who only read English and have no knowledge of classical languages, think that when the papal legate said, “his letter,” that it clearly must refer to another letter read which was from the clergy of Edessa coming to the defense of Ibas. They argue that in daily conversation saying his/her can be used in place of the plural their. Maybe it is possible in English – I certainly have not encountered this phenomenon. The fundamental problem with their argument here, however, is that the papal legates were probably speaking in Latin, and Latin does not permit this loose use of possessive pronouns – singular possessive pronouns are for singular people, while plural possessive pronouns are for plurals only. This rule only bends when the royal we is used, but the context here involves no kings, so this exception does not apply. The Latin clearly says, “eius epistola,” or “his letter.” It cannot be read under any conditions whatsoever as “their letter” as in “the clergy of Edessa’s letter.” If was to be understood as “their letter,” it would have to have been written as “eorum epistola.” This grammatical point is further bolstered by Deacon Pelagius, soon-to-be Pope Pelagius I of Rome, who argued that the letter in question was Ibas’ letter to Mari and that the papal legates had approved it (Pelagius I, pp. 57). No Latin speaker spoke in the way this blogger contests in Late Antiquity. I imagine the same principle applies to late antique Greek, but I cannot say for sure. If a reader with late antique Greek knowledge would like to chime in here, please do so.

The reason I am so annoyed with this ridiculously stupid argument is because the blogger who made the argument later went and edited the Wikipedia page of Ibas of Edessa. Maybe it was one of his readers. Still, here are the images below (they are a bit small, so open in a new tab):

Craig Truglia or his Readers Butchering Wikipedia with Stupidity
Timestamp for Edit Just 12 Days After Blogpost with Nonsense Claims Went Up

Someone with great charity might suspect that maybe the claim originally comes from Henry Wace and William Piercy’s encyclopedic entry on Ibas of Edessa from 1911, which is the source cited for that relevant paragraph (DCBL, pp. 504-507). The entry mentions nothing of the sort. The claim came from an Orthodox blogger who only reads English and has no linguistic skills or knowhow whatsoever. The blogger knows enough to get themselves into trouble, but not enough to have any real authority or trustworthiness. And they, either the blogger or the editor acolyte, know this truth, because they don’t have the courage to cite the true source. And now, they are editing Wikipedia articles to make it seem like more reputable people are stating what only one lone blogger states on his own blog. It is not only madness, it is pathetic.

Now reeling back from that rant on Wikipedia, one could argue that papal legates approving the letter does not mean that the council approved the letter. Ah, but herein lies the beauty of that concession – it is the exact argument that St. Justinian made in his On the Orthodox Faith quoted above, and would necessitate abandoning a belief in conciliar fundamentalism.

So what are we left with from this statement given by Deacon Epiphanios at II Nicaea? We are left with a lone deacon affirming a bland statement originally given at a heretical iconoclastic council (Hieria) that declared a belief in eternal hell. Okay. No universalist would claim that a belief in eternal hell is not a part of Orthodox tradition. We acknowledge many Orthodox believe in eternal hell and can do so while being Orthodox. At the same time, however, Orthodox tradition is a fairly wide tent and includes us universalists as well. In any case, Epiphanios’ statement is not binding. It isn’t a canon or a doctrinal decree. Therefore, while historically informative, on the question of binding authority upon all Orthodox Christians, his statement is most certainly not binding – nothing more than a popcorn fart of a curiosity. Let me reiterate, Orthodox Christians are required to uphold the doctrinal decrees of ecumenical councils, nothing more (Ware, OC, pp. 196).

Claim 3: The Orthodox Liturgy Condemns Universal Salvation and Proclaims Eternal Damnation

Undoubtedly, there are portions of the Orthodox liturgy that proclaim eternal damnation. I won’t go through and list them all. However, I will focus on one that is trudged out usually in support for the infernalists’ claims that belief in universalism is incompatible with Orthodoxy – the Synodikon. The Synodikon is read aloud during the Sunday of Orthodoxy in every present-day Orthodox Church. It is often, in my experience, abbreviated when read aloud. It was first formed in the aftermath of the end of Second Iconoclasm in 843 and was first formed at the local level, although over the course of the centuries it has become common practice in all Orthodox churches. According to the Serbian Orthodox Church’s English language website, the Synodikon itself has been modified considerably, often according to local concerns. For example, some Orthodox churches condemn ecumenism as heresy, which is clearly not something most Orthodox churches believe (Ware, OC, pp. 315; Porumb). A modification over the centuries that infernalists often cite is one of eleven condemnations of John Italos from the 11th century. Clucas Lowell, in his study of John Italos, has argued that surviving documents seem to acquit Italos from many of the charges of heresy (Lowell, passim.). In any case, Italos’ innocence or guilt is besides the point of concern here. The relevant passage of the Synodikon is the following (for critical text edition of the Greek, see: Gouillard, pp. 60-61):

To them who accept and transmit the vain Greek teachings that there is a pre-existence of souls and teach that all things were not produced and did not come into existence out of non-being, that there is an end to the torment or a restoration again of creation and of human affairs, meaning by such teachings that the Kingdom of the Heavens is entirely perishable and fleeting, whereas the Kingdom is eternal and indissoluble as Christ our God Himself taught and delivered to us, and as we have ascertained from the entire Old and New Scripture, that the torment is unending and the Kingdom everlasting to them who by such teachings both destroy themselves and become agents of eternal condemnation to others,

Anathema (3)

Text taken from John Sanidopoulos, Mystagogy Resource Center

Here I reiterate the argument I made for Claim 1 regarding Canon 1 of the 15 anti-Origenist canons – what is being condemned is an entire system of thought, a form of universalism that includes the beliefs of the preexistence of souls, the temporality of heaven, etc. Most of these beliefs no Orthodox universalist today would endorse.

Now the infernalists are keen to harp on the last few lines that declare a belief in eternal hell. It would be interesting for someone to dissect the Greek, particularly on these last few lines, in nitty gritty detail, but I am incapable of doing that.

Here is the fundamental objection and problem with the infernalists’ arguments on this point regarding the Synodikon, however – the Synodikon is a relatively open liturgical document and just isn’t as authoritative as either the scriptures or the ecumenical councils. As I have personally testified and as the Serbian Orthodox Church has stated, the Synodikon is subject to numerous abbreviations or additions depending on locale. As mentioned above, for example, ecumenism is condemned as a heresy in some Orthodox churches’ versions of the Synodikon, despite most Orthodox engaging precisely in that very enterprise (Ware, OC, pp. 315). I myself have never heard the anathema above read aloud during any service. And this does not seem to be an experience limited to myself. According to Ivan Biliarsky and Radu G. Paun, a seventeenth-century edition of the Synodikon in the Romanian Orthodox Church does not contain the condemnations of Italos at all, nor does the printed Slavic edition from 1627 (Biliarsky and Paun, pp. 401fn36).

What does one make of these variations and omissions? Here it is useful to turn to what Jean Gouillard says in his critical Greek edition:

When we arrive at [the manuscript traditions] of C and P, we distinguish there at first glance an invariable cycle of additions, ranging from Gerontios to Barlaam and Akindynos, and – in passing through John Italos, Nil, Eustratios – the controversy of the sacrifice of Christ and that of the Pater maior me est (the Father is greater than I) with its new developments. These grand themes relate to the right of collection – that their inscription is certified by external sources or only by the constancy of the manuscript tradition. This constancy is compatible, furthermore, with a certain freedom of usage, under the form of omissions or of abridgements, as well as adaptations.

My translation from Jean Gouillard, “Le synodikon de l’orthodoxie: édition et commentaire,” Travaux et mémoires 2 (1967): pp. 38-39.

This reasoning would explain then the various omissions and abridgments mentioned above. But then one is left with the crucial question: if the Synodikon is selectively read everywhere, can one really claim that it speaks for Orthodoxy with the same force as say the Nicene Creed or the Lord’s Prayer, which are not abbreviated? I would answer no. Infernalists claim that the 11th Anathema against Italos is read aloud every Sunday of Orthodoxy, yet it has been established in the long historical record and in the present day, that such is simply not the case. Furthermore, many editions and transmissions of the Synodikon do not even record Italos’ anathemas. Moreover, this position confirms what Metropolitan Kalistos Ware states on the various levels of authority contained within Orthodox tradition. As he states:

Among the various elements of Tradition, a unique preeminence belongs to the Bible, to the Creed, to the doctrinal definitions of the Ecumenical Councils: these things the Orthodox accept as something absolute and unchanging, something which cannot be cancelled or revised. The other parts of Tradition do not have quite the same authority.

Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to Eastern Christianity, pp. 191.

Hitherto unmentioned is the fact that much of the Orthodox liturgy carries with it universalist themes. Christopher Howell over at Eclectic Orthodoxy demonstrates this phenomenon quite well in the liturgy, while also pointing towards other Orthodox scholars who have carried out similar studies. I will not attempt to recapitulate the details here. I encourage everyone to read the article as a starting point on the issue of the liturgy. If infernalists want to claim the liturgy as holding the same level of scriptures or the ecumenical councils, then they will have to explain away every single universalist message contained within the liturgy, of which, as Howell demonstrates, is quite a lot.

Claim 4: The Council of Jerusalem/Bethlehem 1672 Condemns Universalism

The general context of the pan-Orthodox council of Jerusalem (1672) is that the Patriarch Cyril Lucarius of Constantinople stood accused of adopting Calvinist views and publishing them (Note: For a full account, see: Kitromilides, pp. 193-202). The point of the council then was to refute the errors and heresies of Cyril. Decrees III, XVI, and XVII all proclaim some belief in an eternal hell during their refutations of various Calvinist doctrines (Robertson, pp. 114-116; 139-150).

One problem with using Jerusalem (1672) to bolster the infernalists’ condemnation of universalism is the fact that Jerusalem was not refuting infernalism, it was refuting Calvinism, which no one with any knowledge would mistake as holding a universalist position in any of its forms. So affirming eternal damnation for the purposes of refuting Calvinism is not surprising, because as any Orthodox universalist would note, belief in eternal damnation is an acceptable Orthodox position, just not the only position.

The biggest problem with using Jerusalem (1672), however, is the fact that it just isn’t as authoritative as the ecumenical councils or other important elements of Orthodox tradition. Ware again singles out Jerusalem (1672) stating, “The decrees of Jassy or Jerusalem do not stand on the same level as the Nicene Creed…” (Ware, OC, pp. 191). He documents this lower standing of Jerusalem’s authority elsewhere in present-day Orthodox practice. For example, Ware notes that the Russian Orthodox Church was uncomfortable with some of the scholastic language of the council and therefore modified it in their translation (Ware, OC, pp. 277). Decree XVI, for example, proclaims the belief that dead unbaptized babies burn in hell forever. This position is emphatically not Orthodox (Ware, OC, pp. 218). Paschalis M. Kitromilides’ conclusions on the council are instructive:

After Peter Moghila’s 1640 confession, which, on account of its Latin sources, verged dangerously on Catholicism, the patriarch of Jerusalem Dositheos (1669-1707) produced another confession answering Cyril’s confession point by point. But to do this Dositheos drew heavily on Latin sources and went a long way in the direction of a Catholic theology on fundamental doctrinal questions.

Paschalis M. Kitromilides, “Orthodoxy and the West: Reformation to Enlightenment,” pp. 201.

While Jerusalem (1672) is important in Orthodox history, it is not infallible and not as authoritative as the ecumenical councils or scriptures. Orthodox are not required to adhere to every single one of its proclamations, even if it was intended (which it was not) to preclude universalism.

Claim 5: The Consensus of the Fathers (consensus patrum) Precludes Universalism

Some Orthodox bloggers have argued that since the majority of the Church Fathers taught eternal damnation, then so too must all Orthodox Christians believe in eternal damnation. They invoke the principle known as the consensus of the fathers, or consensus patrum. The first problem with this claim is that, as well-demonstrated by Ilaria L. E. Ramelli, far more Church Fathers than is usually recognized believed in universal salvation, many having very big names, such as Sts. Gregory of Nyssa or John Cassian (See: Ramelli 2013; Ramelli 2019). So on that front, it is not so easy to dismiss them.

More importantly, however, is the fact that these Orthodox bloggers don’t understand how complex or disputed consensus patrum actually is. As one scholar eloquently summarizes the various positions before reaching their own conclusions:

Another question is what the most important theological questions are. It is generally agreed that the mind of the Church is expressed in the dogmatic definitions and in the canon of Scripture. However, not all important questions are defined as dogmas, and there is no unanimous opinion for their solution. There are secondary questions which are still very important: in cosmology (appearance of the human being, of death), anthropology (what is the image of God, dichotomous or trichotomous model of human nature, time of creation of the human soul), ecclesiology (borders of the Church), in sacramentology (validity of the sacraments outside of the Church), eschatology (the second coming of Christ, eternity of punishment), christology (whether human nature of Christ was damaged), biblical criticism, etc.

The principle of consensus patrum does not seem to work in solving these questions. Some respond that they do not directly influence our salvation. The consensus patrum concerns mainly those questions which influence salvation. If we deny this principle we will put in doubt not only the Tradition of the Fathers and the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils, but also the status of Scripture itself.

Some say that an alternative is new Ecumenical Councils which will define dogmas and react to new questions.

Some deny that the quantitative criterion should be applied to solving theological questions (agreement of a majority of the Church Fathers). The majority can be wrong. Truth is truth, no matter who expresses it—one person or many. Others say that the Holy Spirit who brings unity in the Body of Christ lets the truth be known to many believers.

Some deny that the quantitative criterion should be applied to solving theological questions (agreement of a majority of the Church Fathers). The majority can be wrong. Truth is truth, no matter who expresses it—one person or many. Others say that the Holy Spirit who brings unity in the Body of Christ lets the truth be known to many believers.

The consensus patrum was one of the procedures of the Ecumenical Councils, and was used to define the canon of scriptural books. It is not a dogma, but the means for defining the dogmatic teaching. However, one should not dogmatise the opinions and teachings of the Fathers, since they are not infallible and legally binding. The teaching of the Church is partly contained in one Father and partly in another. If the Fathers made mistakes, it does not refute the validity of consensus patrum as a principle.  Astonishing evidence of a religious truth is visible in the unity of spiritual experience and the unity of teaching based on this experience….

Thus, the principle of consensus patrum served as a method for distinguishing truth from heresy during the Ecumenical Councils. It helped to clarify the truth concerning the salvation of humankind. The teaching of the Fathers on other, non-dogmatic and non-soteriological questions can be described as a “symphony” of voices.

Yulia Rozumna and Mina Soliman, “The Consensus patrum: What is it?,” Orthodoxy in Dialogue

Consensus patrum, then, was only a means, not the means to an end. And invocation of a democratic version of consensus patrum is by no means accepted. More importantly, however, consensus patrum was never designed to answer questions secondary importance, such as the eternity of punishment or universal salvation. Consensus patrum was designed to answer questions that immediately influence our salvation. For example, why was Arianism so dangerous? Because it proclaimed essentially that God did not become man. And as St. Athanasius said, “What has not be assumed cannot be redeemed.” An ecumenical council, along with invocation of consensus patrum, were used to address this matter. It is incumbent upon infernalists who wish to declare universalism as an unacceptable heresy to explain how belief in a temporary hell and eventual salvation of all somehow impairs theosis in a manner similar to denying the full divinity of Christ. Only then would the invocation of consensus patrum make any sense.

Claim 6: The Scriptures Teach Against Universalism

The scriptures are vast and originally in languages I have no knowledge of – Hebrew and Greek. I myself generally prefer to read the Latin Vulgate, although I know it contains translation errors and I recognize its limitations. I cannot hope to adequately address this argument here. The most I can do is to direct people to read David Bentley Hart’s treatment of the scriptures in both his translation of the New Testament and in his book That All Shall Be Saved (Hart, 2017; Hart 2019). In these texts, Hart discusses in detail the logic of the scriptures, how words generally translated as eternal, etc. are much broader or different in their meaning, and how these other meanings actually make more sense in the context of any given verse (See my review for a summary). Another good resource is the bibliography assembled by Fr. Aiden Kimel at Eclectic Orthodoxy. Just run a word search for Bible and you will find many good resources that will address your scriptural concerns.

Claim 7: Many Universalists Make Use of Reason & Philosophy, but Philosophy Must Give Way to Revelation

I’ve already addressed this claim in an earlier blog post. I won’t do much to recapitulate its contents here. In brief, my position is the same as that of St. Augustine of Hippo and others. Of course, all Christians must accept revelation and authority and practice holy living. Indeed, most Christians may only go through life doing just that, living the faith by authority alone. However, the ideal is to pursue reason and thus explain that accepted authority and revelation in accordance with reason. In such a quest, one must be on guard against false reason, which only has the appearance of reason. In this way, no one can simply pull the revelation card and ignore serious philosophical arguments. Christianity is true philosophy, not a form of fideism.

Conclusion

My conclusion to this long essay or blog post is this: belief in universal salvation is entirely compatible with Orthodoxy. No objection stands. Orthodox infernalists should be content to disagree with our position, but branding us heretics is a bridge too far.

Select Bibliography and Suggested Reading

John Behr, trans., Origen: On First Principles (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018)

Ivan Biliarsky and Radu G. Paun, “La version roumaine du synodikon de l’orthodoxie (Bazau, 1700) et les combats pour la ‘juste foi’ à la fin du xvii siècle,” Cahiers du monde russe 58, no. 3 (2017): 395-434

Clucas Lowell, The Trial of John Italos and the Crisis of Intellectual Values in Byzantium in the Eleventh Century (Munich: 1981)

Franz Diekamp, Die origenistichen Streitigkeiten im sechsten Jahrhundert und das fünfte allgemeine Concil (Münster, 1899)

M. J. Edwards, “Review: Origen: On First Principles,” Journal of Theological Studies 70 (2019): 402-405

Susanna Elm, Sons of Hellenism, Fathers of the Church: Emperor Julian, Gregory of Nazianzus, and the Vision of Rome (Berkley: University of California Press, 2012)

Jean Gouillard, “Le synodikon de l’orthodoxie: édition et commentaire,” Travaux et mémoires 2 (1967): 1-313

David Bentley Hart, trans., The New Testament (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017)

David Bentley Hart, That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019)

David Bentley Hart, “Review: Origen. On First Principles,” Journal of Orthodox Christian Studies 3, no. 1 (2020): 103-107

Karl Joseph von Hefele, A History of the Councils of the Church: From the Original Documents, vol. 3 (Edinburgh: 1883)

Daniel Hombergen, The Second Origenist Controversy: A New Perspective on Cyril of Scythopolis’ Monastic Biographies as Historical Sources for Sixth-Century Origenism (Rome, 2001)

Christopher Howell, “The Path Upward: Liturgy, Universalism, and George Seferis,” Eclectic Orthodoxy (August 25, 2020)

Paschalis M. Kitromilides, “Orthodoxy and the West: Reformation to Enlightenment,” in The Cambridge History of Christianity, vol. 5, edited by Michael Angold (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 187-209

Aiden Kimel, “Did the Fifth Ecumenical Council Condemn Universal Salvation?” Eclectic Orthodoxy (May 31, 2020)

Aiden Kimel, “Readings in Universalism,” Eclectic Orthodoxy (Constantly updated)

Zachary L. Kostopoulos, “Review: Origen: On First Principles,” Vigiliae christianae 73, no. 1 (2019): 112-114

Giovanni Domenico Mansi, Sacrorum conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio, vol. 6 (Florence: 1762)

Robin A. Parry, A Larger Hope?, vol. 2 (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2019)

Pope Pelagius I, In defensione trium capitulorum, edited by Robert Devreese (Vatican City: 1932)

Jean-Baptiste Pitra, ed., “De haeresibus,” in Iuris Ecclesiastici Graecorum Historia et Monumenta, volume 2 (Rome, 1868), pp. 257-271

Razvan Porumb, “Is Ecumenism Orthodox?” Orthodoxy in Dialogue (October 9, 2019)

Richard Price, trans., The Acts of the Council of Constantinople of 553 with Related Texts on the Three Chapters Controversy, vols. 1-2 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2009)

Richard Price, trans., The Acts of the Second Council of Nicaea (787), vol. 2 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2018)

Ilaria L. E. Ramelli, The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis: A Critical Assessment from the New Testament to Eriugena (Leiden: Brill, 2013)

Ilaria L. E. Ramelli, A Larger Hope?, vol. 1 (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2019)

J. Robertson, trans., The Acts and Decrees of the Synod of Jerusalem (New York: Ames Press, 1969)

Yulia Rozumna and Mina Soliman, “The Consensus patrum: What is it?,” Orthodoxy in Dialogue (January 6, 2018)

Norman P. Tanner, trans., Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, vol. 1 (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1990)

Henry Wace et al., “Ibas,” in A Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century AD (London: 1911), pp. 504-507

Timothy (Kallistos) Ware, “Dare We Hope for the Salvation of All?: Origen, St Gregory of Nyssa and St Issac the Syrian,” Clarion (February 3, 2015), pp. 1-12

Timothy (Kallistos) Ware, The Orthodox Church, New Edition (New York: Penguin, 2015)

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Philosophy or Faith, Philosophy & Faith?: Christianity as True Philosophy

Philosophy seated among the seven liberal arts, from Herrad von Landsberg’s Hortus deliciarum (12th century)

Many reviews over the past year or so of David Bentley Hart’s That All Shall Be Saved have on one level or another invoked that reason and revelation often go hand-in-hand, but that ultimately there are some things that will defy reason and simply must be accepted. The latest example is Fr. Lawrence Farley’s review of Hart’s book. There are numerous objections he makes against Hart – such as on tone, lack of objectivity, treatment of the Fathers, translations, the integrity of his philosophical arguments, and so on and so on. Setting those objections aside (let individual reader weigh the balance of Fr. Farley and Hart), I would like to focus on this statement of his:

Finally, I would add that whatever philosophy might say about the question, it must stand down and take second place to the teaching of Scripture. This is not “Biblicism” or an “‘oracular’ understanding of scriptural inspiration which sees the Bible as the record of words directly uttered by the lips of God through an otherwise dispensable human intermediary” (p. 92). That fundamentalist straw man is not here in view, but rather the conviction of all the Fathers that Scripture always teaches truth and that it stands above the wisdom available to philosophers. We will examine Dr. Hart’s understanding of the teaching of Scripture below. For now I only observe that any philosophical argumentation is of limited and subordinate value to Scripture.

Fr. Lawrence Farley, “David Bentley Hart’s That All Shall Be Saved: A Review and Rejoinder,” No Other Foundation (January 11, 2021)

It is on this point, I must object. The denial of biblicalism or something similar is not entirely convincing when one must subordinate philosophy or reason to scripture in perpetuity. Furthermore, it just happens to not really be a position that many of the Church Fathers would have endorsed. I will not trudge out a laundry list of them, but will be content to briefly discuss St. Augustine of Hippo on this point.

St. Augustine writes the following in his On the Strength of the Soul (VII, 12):

In the beginning I . . . asked you to bear our somewhat indirect method with patience; I ask you now to do likewise. We are not investigating a light matter, easily understood; we want to know it clearly and grasp it, if possible. To belief in authority is one thing; to trust in reason is another. To believe in authority is a considerable short-cut, with no work involved. If you are attracted by this method, you can read many things concerning these matters. Great and divine men spoke about them as it seemed necessary with benefit to the more ignorant, as if at a certain command. They wished that they be believed by those for whose soul, either slower of wit or more preoccupied, there could be no other deliverance. If such men, whose number is indeed very great, wish to grasp the truth with reason, they are deceived with spurious reasoning and fall into various harmful opinions with the result that they can either never or with great difficulty rise from them and be freed. Therefore, it is very beneficial for them to believe in an all-excelling authority and to live according to it. If you think that this is safer, not only do I not oppose you, but I approve very much. However, if you can not restrain that desire by which you have persuaded yourself to arrive at truth by reason, you must endure many long circuitous routes so that only that which ought to be called reason, that is true reason – and not only true, but so certain and free from every semblance of falsehood, if man can still in any way find such, that no false arguments or ones like to truth can take you from it – may lead you.

Translation taken from: Frederick E. Van Fleteren, “Authority and Reason, Faith and Understanding in the Thought of St. Augustine,” Augustinian Studies 4 (1973): 60-61.

Elsewhere in Letter 120, he states:

Heaven forbid, after all, that God should hate in us that by which he made us more excellent than the other animals. Heaven forbid, I say, that we should believe in such a way that we do not accept or seek a rational account, since we could not even believe if we did not have rational souls. In certain matters, therefore, pertaining to the teaching of salvation, which we cannot yet grasp by reason, but which we will be able to at some point, faith precedes reason so that the heart may be purified in order that it may receive and sustain the light of the great reason, which is, of course, a demand of reason! And so, the prophet stated quite reasonably, “Unless you believe, you will not understand” (Isaiah 7:9). There he undoubtedly distinguished these two and gave the counsel that we should believe first in order that we may be able to understand what we believe. Hence it was reasonably commanded that faith should precede reason. For, if this command is not reasonable it is, therefore, unreasonable. Heaven forbid! If, then, it is reasonable that faith precede reason with respect to certain great truths that cannot yet be grasped, however slight the reason is that persuades us to this, it [reason] undoubtedly also comes before faith.

Translation taken from: Letters, vol. 2, part 1 (New York: New City Press, 2003), pp. 130

To sum up, St. Augustine believed all must start with some sort of assent to authority or faith in their journey. However, the ideal is to pursue reason in order to explain the faith through reason, because reason is ultimately where all things start. Many are not equipped, either through shortcomings or personal circumstances, to pursue this ideal of explaining the faith through reason. These people are still saved, but they have not reached the ideal. Meanwhile, those who take the more difficult path, must be careful of false reason masking itself as true reason. In short, at the ideal level, faith must be embraced by reason.

This summation brings me to my final point. Many have argued that philosophy and reason must take second place to scripture and the Fathers. On the basis of St. Augustine, I find this to be a false choice. If a faith ultimately cannot be embraced by reason, then it is a false faith and not fully true. If one wants to condemn Hart and his philosophy in a patristic manner, then they must condemn it as false reason and not true reason. But such a line of argument carries with it a heavier burden for the critic – to both demonstrate how Hart is using false reason and how eternal damnation is completely reasonable.

Suggested Reading

Étienne Gilson, The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1991).

Dariusz Karlowicz, Socrates and Other Saints: Early Christian Understandings of Reason and Philosophy (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2017).

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Netodoxy & Its Apologists: Caveat fidelis

Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Tower_of_Babel_(Vienna)_-_Google_Art_Project_-_edited

“The wise conceal knowledge, but the mouth of the fool is close to confusion.” – Proverbs 10:14

I have a confession. I despise with an unbridled passion online Christian apologetics. It is a paradoxical sentiment given that so much of what I have written here qualifies as apologetics, at least in some sense. When I first started this blog, I did so in reaction to some Catholic pop-apologetics. At the time, I not only wanted to argue about my faith, I also wanted to lead people to what I thought was right. I had scarcely been Orthodox for two years. In a sense, my approach was all wrong and the results demonstrated it too. I very likely pushed a friend away from Orthodoxy because of my argumentative nature. Furthermore, I said many unchristian things in forums, such as accusing people of heresy or claiming myself to be better than others, because of that “need” to be right in an argument. In many ways, the words of Fr. Stephen Freeman describe me during those times and in a similar fashion so too the words of Frederica Mathewes-Green, detailing the fetishes that new converts often embrace. What motivated me was often pride, not love. And those, who do not know love, cannot know God (1 John 4:8). What I thought was reasonable was indeed false reason, nothing more than a series of verisimilitudes. Mature Orthodox don’t feel the need to argue their faith or at the very least don’t seek out argument.

As the years have passed, I’ve increasingly shied away from apologetics. My last clearly apologetic post dates from nearly three years ago, my sequel to my first post on divorce and remarriage. That post and its predecessor remain my most regularly read items today. Lots of good work and research went into those posts, but my motivations were frivolous and pathetic – always to aggrandize my own intellect, always seeking a victory in argument. Since then, most of my posts have pertained to my floating interests – philosophy, video games, and some tidbits of theology like free will and more ecumenical matters. On occasion, I’ve made a return to apologetics, against a Catholic and against a fellow Orthodox. I cannot say that I regret writing these, as flawed as they may or may not be, because I did not write them in the spirit of “showing that son of a bitch who’s right.” I only wrote them because I had my own thoughts and desired to just serve as a starting point for others to look into things themselves, to be a rough index or annotated bibliography one might say. My tone in them is acrid for sure, but if they don’t work, they don’t work. Big deal. Tertullian was skeptical of the results of these types of engagements, writing that they are often inconclusive, especially in the eyes of third-party observers (De praescriptione haereticorum 18-19).

All of these thoughts bring me to the subject at hand – Orthodox, inquirers, or whoever should never substitute apologetic blogs for real discussion, real learning, real living. We, by which I mean apologists including myself, are far too often a prideful and rent-seeking species. Ask yourself, what benefit is there to argument about the faith? Perhaps there is some clarity, but otherwise the benefits are quite small at best. As St. Augustine of Hippo once wrote, “The [holy] way is what will lead to God if we hold fast to it in life; and if we do not hold fast to it in life, we will not come to God” (De ordine PL 32:0990). In brief, holy living will reveal the truth. Intellectualizing the faith, reading the faith, and so forth cannot replace consultation with one’s priest, it cannot replace regular worship or the divine liturgy, it cannot replace prayer, and it certainly cannot replace treating your neighbor according to the image of God found within them – all forms of real discussion, real learning, real living. Throughout my years in Orthodox apologetics, not only have I fallen into this error numerous times, but I’ve seen my fellow apologists fall into it as well. It is to them I will now name, because I want people to listen to us less, to stop cheering us on in live streams, to stop treating us as rock stars in vapid Discord servers, to stop taking sides like fan girls in petty internet fights. We deserve none of that, because we are the worst.

Avoid Jay Dyer. Let me repeat that, have nothing to do with Jay Dyer. For all his reading and his supposed learning, Dyer is nothing more than a conspiracy theorist and huckster, dabbling in a wide net of subjects so as to gain access to as many honeypots as possible. He, along with other despicable types like Alex Jones, spins conspiracy theories about a globalist elite, conniving to ruin your life. He sows discord among people, encouraging them to distrust and disobey proper authorities, even in the midst of trying and desperate times. Does not the Apostle Peter warn against this behavior? He says:

The Lord knows how to deliver the godly from temptation, but on the day of judgement the unjust shall be tormented. And especially them who walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise government: audacious, self willed, they fear not to bring in sects, blaspheming.

2 Peter 2:9-10

So too does the Apostle Paul say the same:

Let every soul be subject to higher powers. For there is no power but from God and those that are ordained of God. Therefore, he that resists the magistrate resists the ordinance of God. And they that resist purchase to themselves damnation. For princes are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. Will you then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good and you shall have praise from the same.

Romans 13:1-3

Even our Lord says, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17).

Audacity, self will – these are the symptoms of pride. St. Ambrose of Milan warns us against this sin saying, “The greatest sin in man is pride. Indeed thence flows the origin of our sin” (Expositio in Psalmum PL 15:1283A). God has not placed Dyer in governance, yet he seeks to emulate governance in the name of freedom, influencing others to think and behave like himself. There is no freedom in flaunting what God has established. True freedom is freedom from sin (Romans 6:22).

Next, avoid the Orthodox Apologetics War Room Facebook page. It is private, but from experience there is nothing there that resembles charity or love. People are regularly spurned, slandered, and banned without provocation – although the latter probably spares you trouble. It contains nothing but argument and the most vapid, masturbatory spirituality. It is not surprising that it is run by so-called “True Orthodox” whose entire existence is centered around their schism and neurotic obsession of being “more Orthodox than thou.”

And lastly, avoid Craig Truglia. Indeed, he was the catalyst more or less for this very post. Setting aside his personal squabbles with me (here and here), Truglia has over the past many months increasingly engaged in unchristian behaviors towards others. These behaviors include things such as accusing a priest of lying and heresy, addressing a priest in a haughty and sarcastic manner, slandering and undermining bishops of the Orthodox Church in both Russia and the United States, declaring the holy synods of the Orthodox Church to be corrupted by modernism and a series of other ills thereby blaspheming them, and so forth and so forth. While I have in the past publicly criticized church hierarchs, it is something I regret. It was not wise nor just. In any case, these deeds must be documented to drive home the fact that you should listen to us apologists less! I will try to be brief.

On Fr. Kimel’s blog, Eclectic Orthodoxy, Truglia publicly accused Fr. Kimel of lying. The relevant images are listed below, the fourth image being from Truglia’s blog:

Here one can witness Truglia publicly accusing a priest of lying, when in fact the shoe is on the other foot. Furthermore, he addresses the father in the most irreverent of fashion, mocking him with links to Bon Jovi songs. How is any such behavior reasonable, let alone done out of charity? The answer is that it isn’t.

Next, Truglia has publicly criticized Bishop Pitirim of Zvenigorod of the Russian Orthodox Church for claiming that Covid-19 made him sick within the walls of his church. In his letter, Bishop Pitirim details the unspeakable tragedy that this plague has visited upon the Russian Orthodox Church, killing many clergy. Truglia criticizes the bishop because it substantiates a narrative that he dislikes (see image below) – that there are rational and pious reasons for limiting or closing churches in the midst of a global pandemic. He endorses skepticism of the bishop’s claims, asking how precisely does he know that it was within the walls of the church that Bishop Pitirim contracted the disease. With that level of skepticism, one could just as easily ask how Truglia knows that he isn’t living in the Matrix. Truglia doesn’t ask himself the latter question, because the precise reason for asking the former question is to puff up his sense of pride and entitlement, not a commitment to skepticism. The bishop wisely came out with his letter because he wanted to advise his flock to be more cautious and not to listen to wolves in sheep’s wandering the internet. As the prophet Solomon says, “Among the proud there are always contentions: but they that do all things with counsel, are ruled by wisdom” (Proverbs 13:10).

Truglia 14

Meanwhile, on his YouTube channel, Truglia has publicly criticized Archbishop Alexander of Dallas of the Orthodox Church in America for so-called childish behavior. In his letter, Archbishop Alexander warns his flock, in both his own words and that of one of his priests, against those who have criticized the episcopal and synodal decisions regarding Covid-19. For Truglia, the archbishop’s tone is all wrong, too mean, too childish. If Truglia had ever read an episcopal letter beforehand, he would know that the archbishop’s tone is in exact keeping with how bishops have talked for thousands of years. Look no further than the opening words of St. Leo of Rome in his famous tome! By comparison, the archbishop is far more tame.

Elsewhere, Truglia actively encourages Orthodox Christians to kiss the icons during this global pandemic, despite the fact that the holy synod of the OCA has explicitly forbidden this act. He even goes as far as to say that if death results, it could be a blessing in disguise. How convenient for him, to cloak his pride and arrogance in the garb of God’s will! Truglia risks blood on his own hands! Now Truglia himself is not a member of the OCA, but one must inquire, who is he to functionally preach to others on such matters without regard to jurisdiction? From whom does he gain this authorization? Nowhere. Even if his own bishop granted him authority (which I doubt), it does not give him the right to actively encourage Orthodox, especially outside his jurisdiction, to risk spiritual and physical death, thus tempting the Lord thy God (Matthew 4:7).

Finally, Truglia blasphemes against the Orthodox Church and its holy synods, stating that the reason that the hierarchs have not obliged to condemn those whom Truglia deems as heretics in the present-day is because there is a vast corruption and conspiracy of modernists within the church (here and here). He never substantiates such claims. Instead, he is content to condemn the church hierarchy and academic scholars as corrupt, despite the fact that he depends on their translations and their expertise to even read the sources that he uses as a basis of disagreement. This is a case of not only prideful anti-intellectualism, but of hypocrisy. In his quest to be right, Truglia has blasphemed.

To conclude – and there is more I could say, but this post is already long enough – stop reading us apologists so much! Listen to us less! Do not treat us as idols! We cannot lead you to a deeper spirituality! Listen to your priest and superiors, pray, fast, attend divine liturgy when you can, and treat your neighbor in accordance with the image of God within them. If you must read, then read books written by Orthodox clergy and theologians. If you must read us, treat us as no more than a casual curiosity or simple index – for we are laymen and the worst sort at that. For far too often, apologists are the great deceivers, of whom St. Gregory of Tours details in his own time (Libri decem historiarum Book 9, Chapter 6). When it comes to apologists, caveat fidelis – let the faithful one beware! And if you fear losing an argument about the faith on the internet or in person, don’t worry. For a few losses God’s love will compensate.

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On the Stupidity of Conciliar Fundamentalism: It Leads to Schism

In a recent article at Orthodox Christian Theology, Craig Truglia wrote that a strong case can be made for defeating the so-called heresy of apokatastasis by invoking the doctrine of conciliar fundamentalism. He had written the article in response to Fr. Kimel’s recent article over at Eclectic Orthodoxy. Truglia defines conciliar fundamentalism as the view that not just the canons and the formal definitiones (professions of faith by the whole council with their names undersigned) are dogmatically binding to all Orthodox, but also that all of the acta and minutes of the councils are dogmatically binding as well. Truglia then uses this doctrine for interpreting the ecumenical councils to make the case that because universalism in all of its forms is condemned by certain individuals in the minutes of the Second Council of Nicaea (787) (which itself is a dubious claim, but I will set that issue aside), then one is dogmatically obligated to condemn universalism as a heresy. For now, I will mostly set aside the issue of apokatastasis or universalism (which Truglia himself shows very little patience, charity, or interest in understanding as one can tell from his horrid and confused review of David Bentley Hart’s book – for example not once does he mention divine transcendence in his review) and focus mostly on conciliar fundamentalism. Let me say, in no uncertain terms, conciliar fundamentalism is self-defeating and undoes the Orthodox faith. It also breeds schism and heresy, and is documented as having accomplished just that.

I will start with three interconnected examples – the Council of Chalcedon (451), the Second Council of Constantinople (553), and St. Columbanus of Bobbio (d. 615). The Council of Chalcedon defined Christ as both fully human and fully God – one person with two natures. During this council, three men were upheld as having a correct faith – Theodore of Mopsuestia, who died in communion with the Church, Theodoret of Cyrus, and Ibas of Edessa. Theodoret and Ibas were both rehabilitated into the Church at Chalcedon. These three men would later become known as the Three Chapters. Fast-forward to Constantinople (553) and all three of these men were condemned as heretics (the person of Theodore and select writings of both Theodoret and Ibas to be precise), essentially undoing parts of what had been done at Chalcedon. This denouncement of these three men precipitated the Three Chapters Controversy, which resulted in numerous churches in Italy, such as the Patriarchate of Aquileia, going into schism from the Orthodox Church. The Aquileian schismatics’ primary objection to II Constantinople was that by accepting it, Chalcedon was therefore rejected in toto, including its doctrinal definition and its condemnations. They believed that condemning a dead man who died in communion with the church for heresy, namely Theodore, was unheard of. But the major rub lay in the condemnations of Theodoret and Ibas, whom Chalcedon rehabilitated (Meyendorff, pp. 310-315). In short, these critics were conciliar fundamentalists. According to the schismatics, by undoing some of the procedural work done in the minutes of Chalcedon at II Constantinople, the bishops at Constantinople condemned the whole council of Chalcedon. In short, minutes or acta, definitiones, and canons all held the same status for these schismatics, whereas obviously those who upheld the truth of the Fifth Ecumenical Council did not hold to this doctrine of conciliar fundamentalism.

St. Columbanus of Bobbio enters into this controversy in 612, having recently left the Kingdom of the Franks for Italy. Columbanus was an Irish monk who had already accused St. Gregory of Rome earlier of heresy. When he arrived at Italy, he got caught up in the Aquileian Schism fairly quickly, although probably did not enter into schism himself. He then wrote a letter to Pope Boniface IV of Rome accusing him of undermining Chalcedon with his condemnation of the aforementioned three men (Epistle 5). In short, by casting doubt on some of the proceedings or rulings of Chalcedon, Rome had effectively renounced all of the council and its dogmatic content. It is useful to quote the historian Tommaso Leso here:

It has been convincingly suggested that in order to prove that somebody had rejected the authority of a council, it was customary to state that the individual in question approved what the council had condemned. It has been persuasively argued that Columbanus employed this very polemical tool in his fifth letter, as Nicetius of Trier had done, on the same question, some decades earlier. Nicetius was accusing the pope and the council of being unfaithful to Chalcedon. This had been the main accusation thrown by the schismatics at the pope through the decades: the Holy See, by condemning the Three Chapters which had been approved at the Council of Chalcedon, had betrayed the council.

– Tommaso Leso, “Columbanus in Europe,” pp. 380

Needless to say, the calls for a new synod that Columbanus asks for in that same letter are left unheeded. Both men soon died, and the schism would only be resolved at the end of the century.

The lessons of this history are notable in the context of Truglia’s arguments. Conciliar fundamentalists used the doctrine of conciliar fundamentalism to reject the Fifth Ecumenical Council – that SAME COUNCIL that Truglia wants to bolster and clarify through his quotations of the minutes from the Second Council of Nicaea. The irony should not be lost on anyone. Furthermore, this doctrine of conciliar fundamentalism then led to schism with the Orthodox Church! How can a doctrine be good and true if it leads people to leave Orthodoxy? It is madness! There is more I could say at length or even rhetorically ask, like, “Where are the minutes of the First Council of Nicaea? If acta are just as dogmatically binding as canons and definitiones, then surely they would have been better preserved!” In any case, conciliar fundamentalism leads to schism and Orthodox would do well to avoid it.

An Addendum

Truglia has recently doubled down on his position. It is not an impressive rebuttal, as he does not address the historical problem of the Aquileian Schism. And just for the record, the Barlaamites protested reading the minutes of the council. The position I and others have advocated is quite different. The acts are informative, but are not binding like canons or definitiones. Fr. Matthew Kirby in the comments of Eclectic Orthodoxy summarizes some other problems with the idea:

Conciliar Fundamentalism as error

I have no further interest in the matter. This is my final word on it.

Bibliography & Further Reading

Tommaso Leso, “Columbanus in Europe: The Evidence from the Epistulae,” Early Medieval Europe 21, no. 4 (2013): pp. 358-389

John Meyendorf, Imperial Unity & Christian Divisions: The Church 450 – 680 AD (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1989)

GSM Walker, Sancti Columbani opera (Dublin: The Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1957)

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That All Shall Be Saved: A Review

TASBS Review

David Bentley Hart’s That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation is a most excellent book that makes a series of compelling arguments in favor of the eventual salvation of all of humanity and that Hell itself is most certainly temporary, not eternal. The thesis, at first, seems counterintuitive, if only for the fact that most Christians today have been raised to believe that Hell indeed is eternal. Nevertheless, Hart pushes forth, illustrating through scripture, logic, and exegeses from the Church Fathers, most notably St. Gregory of Nyssa, that the entire Christian cosmology could only make sense if universal salvation or apocatastasis were true (pp. 18-19).

Hart argues that many of the traditional justifications of an eternal Hell fail to correspond with the more pressing axioms regarding the nature of God in Christian theology. First, Hart states that the creation from nothing (creatio ex nihilo) necessitates that God is the absolute (the creator), whereas humanity and creation are contingent upon God eternally so. For Hart, pulling from St. Gregory, this claim is not only metaphysical, but necessarily eschatological – that is pertaining to the final end of all things. Hart says, “In the end of all things is their beginning, and only from the perspective of the end can one know what they are, why they have been made, and who the God is who has called them forth from nothingness” (pp. 68). In a certain sense then, humanity is not fully created until it is fully united with God as a whole. This framing indicates for Hart that creation must reflect, in some way, on the identity of God (pp. 69). Beneath this argument then, of course, is the idea that God is goodness (bonitas), justice (iustitia), love (caritas), being (esse), etc. and that since God is the origin of all things and their ground of being, he is necessarily transcendent in every way (otherwise he could not be simple). Since God said that creation was good, it must therefore be true that the intent of creation is for himself, not to add to himself but rather to reflect himself. The failure of any part of creation or any one human to reach this telos or God would impugn God’s will and absolute transcendence. In short, it would mean that God failed to execute his will and also mean that he can be forcibly effected by his own creation, which would undermine the very Christian notion of God (pp. 69-70).

Anticipating that the idea – that God’s will cannot tolerate a soul choosing to eternally damn itself – might bring about accusations of predestinarianism, Hart introduces the distinction between the primary cause and secondary causes. God, who is the primary cause of creation, can simultaneously bring about his intent – that is perfect union of all creation with himself – all the while humans act as secondary causes within their own volition. This volition, Hart argues, however wrong it may choose, is always directed toward the highest good, id est God, because of the very omnipotent and transcendental nature of the primary cause. In short, human volition’s telos constrains it towards a certain end (God) (pp. 70-73). Hart addresses this point further elsewhere, saying that those people, who argue that free will must be completely unrestrained in any way in order to be free, are affirming an incoherent notion of free will. Free will must be constrained towards an end, whatever range of options it might have, because these constraints are what distinguish free will from sheer random acts or impulse. God is the structure and end that frames the human will and consequently allows it its range of choice. Any impediment towards that end then is deemed a form of slavery and a deprivation of freedom (John 8:32;34). In this sense then, true freedom is not so much the ability not to sin (posse non peccare), but rather the inability to sin (non posse peccare). As Hart says, “God, in his omnipotence and omniscience, is wholly capable of determining the result of all secondary causes, including free will, while not acting as yet another discrete cause among them” (pp. 40-42; 79-80; 172-173; 183). And so too, the idea of God respecting the human will to eternally and freely reject God is by definition an oxymoron. For if God is truth and freedom, then any rejection of him is antithetical to freedom and is reflective not of a free will but an enslaved will. In short, God would purposefully have to wish for an individual to eternally reject himself for it to happen and such a wish would in and of itself contradict the very idea of God (pp. 177-178).

Two other forceful arguments Hart brings to the fore are his readings of the scriptures, especially Romans, and what it means to be a person. With regards to scripture, Hart points out that the word aionios (άΐδιος), so often translated into English to mean eternal or forever, is far more plastic in its meaning than many have realized. It could mean an indeterminable amount of time. Hart goes on to list a number of Church Fathers, bishops, and even Neoplatonic philosophers who understood the word in this latter sense up through the fourteenth century. Likewise, the Greek phrase εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων (eis toùs aionas ton aiṓnōn) literally means “unto the ages of ages,” not forever. For Hart then, the usages of these phrases indicate not “how long, but rather of when, or what frame of reality – what realm, that is, within or beyond history” (pp. 123-127). Hart also dismisses the interpretation of Matthew 25:46 as a proclamation of eternal damnation, saying, “We might even find some support for the purgatorial view of the Gehenna from the Greek of Matthew 25:46 (the supposedly conclusive verse on the side of the infernalist orthodoxy), where the word used for the ‘punishment’ of the last day is κόλασις,  kolasis – which most properly refers to remedial chastisement – rather than τιμωρίαtimoria – which most properly refers to retributive justice” (pp. 116).

According to Hart’s plain reading of Romans, in which he pays careful attention to the conditional voice, Paul proclaims a clear and profound message of universal salvation. Indeed, in his reading of Paul, Jacob and Essau do not represent individuals, but entire groups, namely that of Israel and the church, both of whom are ultimately reconciled with God (pp. 132-138). Hart follows in this exposition of understanding figures as groups in his invocation St. Gregory. For St. Gregory, the first creation story (Genesis 1:1-2:3) represents the final end unto which creation is designed and destined, while the second creation story (Genesis 2:4-25) represents a temporal exposition of the first creation story. In this exegetical view then, Adam is not just an individual or progenitor of all humanity, but rather is representative of humanity in its entirety. In short, salvation and creation is incomplete without the salvation of everyone (pp. 138-144). From this point, Hart argues that interpersonal relations make us who we are and help to create the memories that make up our persons. Personhood is not some static substance, but is an act. And thus, all humans are connected to one another and realize their personhood through mutual interactions. Due to this interconnectedness of humanity then, the eternal damnation of even a single individual would necessarily damn the whole. Somewhere in Heaven there would be fellow humans who loved and made memories with that damned person. They would hurt out of love and pity and therefore be in Hell themselves. One might say that God could erase those memories to install bliss in the so-called saved, but that would be nothing more than the negation of the person in question. It would be the equivalent of replacing one person with another because memories help make a person who they are as a person. There is only one option then, for one to be saved, all must be saved (pp. 144-158). 

That All Shall Be Saved is the very definition of the ethos that the best offense is the best defense. Hart meticulously dismantles the case for eternal damnation, while building up the case for universal salvation. Salvation for all is the only coherent framework for Christianity to operate within, lest one falls into contradiction. Some may find Hart’s arguments so counterintuitive that his wit and blunt honesty will strike them as rude and too distracting from the force of those very arguments. They may even invoke Blaise Pascal’s maxim, “Diseur de bons mots, mauvais caractère.” I find their sentiment unfortunate. The topic is large enough to warrant or rather necessitate a wide array of tones. And so hopefully there will be subsequent books on the topic whose tones will suit the critics’ tastes better. Nonetheless, Hart’s book is a blessing to everyone of us, tone and all.

Note: For those who wish to bring up the Second Council of Constantinople (553), I direct you here and here.

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On Recycling Old & Vapid Arguments: Timothy Flanders & the Orthodox Church

One has to be fairly impressed with the article by Timothy Flanders in OnePeterFive about a month ago titled, “I Left Eastern Orthodoxy for the Church Led by Pope Francis, and I don’t Regret It.” For an article whose title ostensibly promised to be an interesting story of personal experience and religious development, one finds a rather impoverished list of age-old stereotypical pop-apologetic arguments against Orthodoxy that says very little about the author’s own personal experience. In short, there is nothing really new or insightful here. The article is not written for people on the fence, but rather as something of a self-pat on the back. Perhaps that was not the intention, but I imagine that has largely been its effect.

To briefly sum up the article, here are the main points: 1.) the Roman Primacy/Supremacy is true; 2.) the papacy safeguards humility; 3.) that the Orthodox Church does not truly exist at an institutional level; and 4.) that Orthodoxy has a pathology against charity. To be brief, none of these I think are true. I will address the first three in varying detail. The final point is not worth answering.

The Roman Primacy

Flanders summons some interesting claims in support of his argument that the Roman primacy is historically and demonstrably true. To begin, he claims that the Eastern bishops during the first millennium were out of communion with the Roman bishop for at least 203 years, citing the eminent Louis Duchesne. I have no qualms about these claims, but one really has to question the implicit and broad assumption underlying Flanders’ presentation here, namely that the Christian East is already representative of a type of proto-Orthodoxy and therefore its previous errors highlight, prior to the events of 1054 and after, the fundamental inability of Eastern Orthodoxy to cope with protecting the Gospel. This view fundamentally misunderstands the actual position of Orthodoxy – which is that it is about correct practice and correct belief, not regional or ethnic affiliations. I think the string of publications by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press on the history of the Orthodox Church (the Church in History series) is quite indicative of this Orthodox view, precisely because it is a history of the Orthodox Church throughout the world, Latin (including the Church of Rome and the Latin churches outside Rome) and Greek, Roman and non-Roman. Even the most rabid anti-Latin Orthodox scholars over the past century, such as Fr. John Romanides, acknowledge and appreciate the times the Church of Rome stood up for correct belief and practice during the first millennium. And the reason they are able to argue this idea is because ostensibly, they do not limit Orthodoxy in their historical analyses to the bishops and laity of the Christian East.

Flanders also argues that it takes a rather special grace to observe the historical reality of papal supremacy as well. This argument is not serious, which isn’t to say that it is insincere. By this logic, if I am not Catholic or express some resistance to Catholicism on such and such grounds, then evidently I lack this special grace. Therefore, until I have this special grace, I cannot see the historical truth. I am not going to explicate some list of Catholic scholars who would disagree with such a position, because I find granting such credence to tribalisms in matter of scientific study (hard or soft) to be an extraordinary stupid act. Nor am I going to write some long detailed argument that “UTTERLY DESTROYS” (as petty YouTube titles are prone to say these days) the Catholic position. I have no interest in that and if I did, it would hardly be appropriate for the blogging medium. But if I wanted to suggest to my readers some scholarship, regardless of the authors’ religious affiliations or lack thereof, that is not largely confined to  some antiquated books on Archives.org or Google Books, then I would suggest reading:

George Demacopoulos’ The Invention of Peter: Apostolic Discourse and Papal Authority in Late Antiquity (2013)

Ralph W. Mathisen’s Ecclesiastical Factionalism and Religious Controversy in Fifth-Century Gaul (1989)

Thomas F. X. Noble’s Images, Iconoclasm, and the Carolingians (2009)

J. Patout Burns Jr. and Robin M. Jensen’s Christianity in Roman Africa: The Development of Its Practices and Beliefs (2014)

Read those books and one quickly realizes that the historical argument surrounding the papacy (and not to mention many other issues) is far more complicated than Flanders suggests, which is not to say that these books are pro-Orthodox or anti-Catholic. They are neither of those, and rather are just called scholarship. But if one wants to surrender themselves to what amounts to a fairly conceited and arrogant solipsism cloaked in religious garb, be my guest.

Papal Humility & Orthodox Pride

Flanders argues that the papacy safeguards humility. That is quite the tough sell. Take a gander at the results of the Albigensian Crusade. Pope Innocent III certainly did not intend the mass slaughter of southern Frenchmen and Frenchwomen, but the the intentions do not matter so much to those who see their families and livelihoods destroyed before their very eyes. The fact of the matter is that Innocent’s pretensions and goals for a heavily centralized papacy and government all but guaranteed that these sorts of disasters would happen, regardless or whether the man at the helm abhorred these atrocities or not. I suggest reading R. I. Moore’s The War on Heresy: Faith and Power in Medieval Europe (2012) on this subject.

There was certainly no humility from the papacy with regards to the Eastern Orthodox Christians of the Latin Crusader states in the Levant. Sure enough, the Latin Christians’ relations with the various Oriental Orthodox Christians and other factions were extremely cordial, at least during the first 90 years after the First Crusade, as Christopher MacEvitt’s The Crusades and the Christian World of the East: Rough Tolerance (2008) well demonstrates. In terms of the Eastern Orthodox Christians, however, their treatment was quite grim and they were persecuted increasingly over time. For information on that, see the late Bernard Hamilton’s The Latin Church in the Crusader States: The Secular Church (1980).

I can go on with some more examples, but I will stop here. My central point is that, at the very least, as often as one can point to the humility that the papacy instills and represents, one can just as easily find a long history of bloodshed.

As for Orthodox pride, Flanders expresses discomfort that not all of his questions have simple answers in Orthodoxy. He is right, there are numerous conflicting opinions in Orthodoxy on contraception. I do not see these differences as a big deal, but if others do, well so be it. And yes, there is divergence over time and space within Orthodoxy concerning baptismal practices, namely rebaptism for converts. Flanders seems to forget, however, that the reason why rebaptism became so controversial in the North African Church to begin with is precisely because it led to schism and bitter controversies. In contrast, present-day Orthodoxy does not have schism on account of diverging baptismal practices. Therefore, I don’t see the issue.

As for the procession of the Holy Spirit and every other doctrine of the Catholic Church since its schism, there is no reason why the Orthodox Church must necessarily pronounce on everything in response to an organization that has split itself off from her centuries ago. And in point of fact, the Orthodox Church has responded to the filioque. Whether an Orthodox takes an extreme Photian view or the more full view (in my opinion) of the Synod of Blachernae (1285), the central point remains in either case – the Father is the sole cause of the Trinity. That is a fairly substantial position, at least from the Orthodox point of view, because it protects the monarchy of the Father and divine simplicity at both the essential and personal levels. To characterize this matter as a free-for-all or knee-jerk prejudice, like Flanders does, is grossly inaccurate.

Orthodoxy as a Church

Flanders here argues that the Orthodox Church suffers from many internal divisions that make it difficult to qualify it as a united institution. This claim is extraordinary and wrong. It is true, nationalism has wrecked havoc on Orthodoxy since its rise in the 19th century. Yet, Orthodoxy retains its liturgical traditions and has a healthy monastic movement – two things I would not credit the current Catholic Church with. I do not see how Flanders could say that these problems within current-day Orthodoxy are distinctly of a different category from the problems of Catholicism today, which is what OnePeterFive is dedicated to. If problems with nationalism disqualify Orthodoxy as a church and institution, then the very existence of OnePeterFive and the accusations of heresy against Pope Francis (whom I will not comment upon) should serve to weigh on the same scale for Catholicism. I think it is also worth pointing out that nationalism and traditional Catholicism have a fairly long history together. A good example is French historiography on King Clovis I from the 19th and early 20th centuries. I recommend perusing through M. Rouche’s Clovis: Histoire et memoire vol. 2 (1997) for more on that subject.

Furthermore, Orthodoxy agrees on a lot of common and essential doctrinal points. And while the disappearance of the position of the Roman emperor makes it difficult to gain consensus on any modern controversy that might arise in the foreseeable future, I don’t think there has yet to be over the course of many centuries since the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire an equivalent to say Arianism to plague the Church. The nearest we have come to that is the Hesychasm Controversy (which is prior to the empire’s fall, but a very weakened empire), which the Palamite councils resolved. And while few Orthodox regard these councils as ecumenical, they all agree that they got the question and answer at the time right. And if something were to arise today, who is to say that Orthodoxy will not triumph? After all, from the Orthodox view, it triumphed in spite of emperor, pope, and most bishops at Florence. Disarray and heresy are everywhere, as Tertullian acknowledged in his De praescriptione haereticorum. Problems such as these aren’t some marks that one willy nilly uses to decide which church is the true one. They are marks that we live in a fallen world.

At any rate, to conclude, I think it is quite telling that Flanders writes, “Even during the current crisis, the Roman Church is united in potency — the pope has the real power to bind all in unity.” This quote here really shows what Flanders’ main concern here is – government and power, not faith.

Bibliography

J. Patout Burns Jr. and Robin M. Jensen, Christianity in Roman Africa: The Development of Its Practices and Beliefs (Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, 2014)

George Demacopoulos, The Invention of Peter: Apostolic Discourse and Papal Authority in Late Antiquity (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013)

Timothy Flanders, “I Left Eastern Orthodoxy for the Church Led by Pope Francis, and I don’t Regret It.” OnePeterFive June 11, 2019. https://onepeterfive.com/left-orthodoxy-regret/

Bernard Hamilton, The Latin Church in the Crusader States: The Secular Church (New York: Routledge, 1980)

Christopher MacEvitt, The Crusades and the Christian World of the East: Rough Tolerance (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008)

Ralph W. Mathisen, Ecclesiastical Factionalism and Religious Controversy in Fifth-Century Gaul (Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America Press,1989)

R. I. Moore, The War on Heresy: Faith and Power in Medieval Europe (London: Profile Books, 2012)

Thomas F. X. Noble, Images, Iconoclasm, and the Carolingians (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009)

M. Rouche ed., Clovis: Histoire et memoire, vol. 2 (Paris: Presses de l’Université
de Paris-Sorbonne, 1997)

Posted in Roman Catholicism | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Final Fantasy Tactics: The Meaning of Good and the Tragedy of Princess Ovelia

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I recently finished my second playthrough of Final Fantasy Tactics (FFT: Complete Mod in particular this time) and since it has been so many years since last playing it, I had forgotten how much the ending left me feeling gutted. For those of you who have not played it and do not mind spoilers, the story has two primary characters – Ramza Beoulve, the youngest of a prestigious noble house, and Delita Heiral, a commoner and lifelong friend of Ramza. Due to historical circumstances and the fortunes of their births, Ramza and Delita are foisted in diverging paths in what is called the War of the Lions (loosely inspired by the War of the Roses), a civil war in the kingdom of Ivalice. The splitting of their paths occurs when in a military operation against rebel forces prior to the civil war, Delita’s sister (Tietra) – a hostage of said rebels – is killed due to the rash orders of Ramza’s brothers. For Ramza’s elder siblings, the casualty of a commoner is of no consequence for putting down a rebellion. For Delita, it revealed that no matter how good his social relations might be with particular nobles, the social structure around him was innately set against him and all commoners. For Ramza, however, the moment signaled the betrayal of what it really meant to be a noble and the ideals of his late father – that is to uphold honor, truth, and justice. Three different worldviews are then explicated throughout the game – 1.) that nobles and commoners live totally different lives and should remain in their separate spheres (the status quo); 2.) that nobles have for far too long mistreated the commoners and must be brought low by any means necessary (Delita’s position); and 3.) that nobles have neglected their duties to the commoners and have thereby jeopardized their position. The true nature of nobility, whether in commoner or in nobleman, must be promulgated (Ramza’s position).

The game then leaps forward many years to when the War of the Lions has broken out. It is during this war that both Delita and Ramza seek to work out separately their own ideals. Delita wishes to change the whole kingdom of Ivalice and to bring about a better world. Meanwhile, Ramza seeks to live by a stringent code of honor, even if it means tossing aside his own rank (and eventually being branded a heretic). At the center of this war is the person of Princess Ovelia, a contender for the throne for which the war is being fought. Ovelia does not fight for the throne on her own account, but is rather being used as a puppet by both the Church of Glabados and Duke Goltanna (two different parties in this story). More yet, Ovelia is revealed to not even be the real Ovelia, who had in reality died years ago. Rather the Princess Ovelia in the game is but a body double who was raised to believe she was the legitimate princess so she could be used by a faction of nobles to contest the throne. This revelation comes as a shock to Ovelia and weakens her resistance to political manipulation:

Knowing this sad story, Delita promises to build a better world for Ovelia on his dead sister’s soul:

Long story short, Delita successfully plays off (and betrays) every side in the civil war (Duke Goltanna, the Church, and Duke Larg) using everyone (including his childhood friend Ramza) as well as every trick in the book, marries Ovelia, and becomes king, thus bringing about a golden age for all the people of Ivalice. Ramza, on the other hand, either dies or lives on in obscurity after successfully thwarting a demonic invasion of Ivalice. Furthermore, Ramza was branded a heretic by the Church of Glabados and anyone who dared to tell his full story for the next several centuries was silenced (burning at the stake included). But most importantly Ramza lived by his code of honor and forged many memorable friendships. But the most important aspect of the ending of this game is the final scene, when King Delita comes to bring Queen Ovelia a gift of flowers:

After killing Ovelia, it is only then that Delita finally questions the worth that he has been doing this whole time. He looks up at the sky and asks his friend Ramza what did his life path get him and then says that his own choices got him a throne and a dead Ovelia. While there are a number of different readings of Delita, I myself think that he was a true idealist and stuck to his ideals till the end. He wanted a better world and by all accounts he brought one about. He did not lose himself to power, even if he became king. But Delita sought out his ideals in the manner of the ends justify the means – all for the sake of all of the people of Ivalice. It is because of this extreme self-sacrifice, to the extent of compromising his own integrity, that Delita winds up simultaneously losing himself despite accomplishing his goals and becoming one of the great figures of history. And that is why he feels so hollow in the end. The contrast between his accomplishments and his own conscience is too great. Meanwhile, Ramza, who by all accounts made Delita’s success possible, lived a proud, moral, and honorable life, even if history was to damn his memory. Nonetheless, despite the perversity of Delita and his actions, because he acted out of the desire to bring about a better world and also because he did actually bring about a better world (something that Ramza’s isolated personal righteousness could never have hoped to accomplish), there is something noble in his character. And it is this nobility that remains at the forefront of Delita’s character – a character guilty of some of the most despicable crimes – that makes him one of the more morally troubling figures.

As for Ovelia, her story is probably the most tragic ever told thus far in the Final Fantasy franchise. Tactics most certainly shows its age in basing an entire plot around a woman in distress who never truly acts as an agent in her own story – a diametrically different dynamic than what is told in say Final Fantasy XIII. But Ovelia’s character stands in for one of the darker themes of Final Fantasy Tactics – fate and the inability to change one’s stars. Delita and Ramza both face tragedy as society foists its supposed destiny upon them – Ramza having his vision of the nobility shattered and Delita losing his sister because she was but a commoner. Both of them set out to change their fates that their births had assigned to them and they both succeeded. Ovelia faced the same challenge, but failed. She was a puppet throughout the story and probably until her death, if her account of Delita is accurate. Could she have changed it? Who knows? Nonetheless, she serves as a reminder that those who don’t rise to the circumstances placed before them, those who don’t rise to the occasion, should be viewed with just as much empathy that Ramza had for the innocent and as much as Delita had for the people of Ivalice.

Note: None of the videos linked in this post are my own. Also, the best version of this game that is easily accessible can be found on iOS/Apple Store.

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The Filioque: A Response to Critics

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St. Augustine of Hippo, The Lateran, 6th century CE

In my previous blog post, I argued that the filioque as initially formulated by Saint Augustine of Hippo was perfectly orthodox. While I expected a great deal of criticism for making this case, I thought most critics would attack both the verbal distinctions I made as well as my lack of Greek knowledge. My lack of Greek, after all, is why I rarely tackle issues that deal with subjects that have their primary sources written in Greek (the Nicene Creed in this case). Nonetheless, I decided to write about the filioque in both a limited fashion and as someone who depends heavily on secondary scholarship for my discussion of the Greek language. Therefore, it was to my surprise that virtually none of the criticisms waged against me were on these fronts. Rather, the criticisms were pertained to Augustine’s exegesis and the scope of my initial post.

The first major criticism that I received was against Augustine’s exegesis of John 16:15, which says, “All things that the Father has are mine.” This critic argues that if this verse is used to argue that the Son must have a causal role in the procession, because such is a property of the Father, then so too the argument runs that the Son must have a role in his own begetting, because that too is a property of the Father. Such a conclusion, however, no Christian would endorse. It is too ridiculous on its face.

What this first critic has failed to realize, as I argued at length, is that Augustine does not understand this verse as pertaining to hypostatic causal origin. Augustine used this verse to justify the claim that there is an eternal relationship between the Son and the Holy Spirit. Now Augustine framed this relationship by saying that the Holy Spirit proceeds principally from the Father and communitively from both the Father and the Son. To briefly recapitulate what I explained in much more detail in my previous post (see here), when Augustine says that the Holy Spirit proceeds principally from the Father, he is using the Latin verb for procession (procedere) to denote the ultimate and sole cause of the Holy Spirit – in this case the Father alone. Meanwhile, when he says that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son communitively, he is using the Latin verb procedere to denote an eternal sending or manifestation of the Holy Spirit that carries no ultimate causal sense whatsoever. This point becomes evermore clear in another passage of the De Trinitate:

Si enim quidquid habet, de Patre habet Filius; de Patre habet utique ut et de illo procedat Spiritus sanctus…. Pater enim solus non est de alio, ideo solus appellatur ingenitus, non quidem in Scipturis, sed in consuetudine disputantium, et de re tanta sermonem qualem valuerint proferentium. Filius autem de Patre natus est: et Spiritus sanctus de Patre principaliter, et ipso sine ullo temporis intervallo dante, communiter de utroque procedit.

Indeed, if whatever the Son has he has from the Father (John 16:15), then certainly the Son has from the Father that the Holy Spirit proceeds from he the Son himself…. Indeed, the Father alone is not from another, and therefore He alone is called unbegotten, not indeed in the Scriptures, but in the usage of disputants, who employ such language as they can on so great a subject. And the Son is begotten of the Father; and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father principally (principaliter), and without giving any interval of time, the Holy Spirit proceeds from both communitively (communiter).

Note: This translation is borrowed from New Advent and I have slightly modified its translation.

Augustine of Hippo, De Trinitate, Book XV, Chapter 26, Section 47 PL 42: 1094-1095

Here Augustine distinguishes the Father as the sole cause of the Holy Spirit by using the adverb principaliter. The procession from both the Father and the Son is a separate matter because this procession occurs communitively (communiter). One must remember that the Latin verb procedere has a wide variation of meanings, whereas the original Greek verb of ἐκπόρευσις has one specific meaning denoting ultimate causal origin. For this reason, Augustine used the two adverbs – principaliter and communiter – to specify his intended meanings. What Augustine means by this communitive procession is that in a relative perspective, not an absolute causal perspective, the Holy Spirit progresses forth from both. It is this communitive procession that the filioque formula specifically denotes and none other. The filioque does not specifically denote the causal origin of the divine person of the Holy Spirit (see my handy-dandy filioque chart below). To briefly stray from St. Augustine, this distinction, which I ask that my Orthodox readers strain in charity to understand, is all the more clear in the personal commentary of Christian Stavelot on the Gospel of John, in which he says:

A patre procedit, et ego mittam. Unum est, quia procedit a Patre et Filio.

The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and I will send the Holy Spirit.” (John 15:16) The Holy Spirit is one because the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.

Christian Stavelot, Expositiuncula in Joannem evangelistam PL 106: 1519A-1519B

Here Christian quotes John 15:16, which details the causal origin (procedere) of the Holy Spirit and then the sending (mittere) of Holy Spirit by Jesus. Now, keep in mind that in Latin, the verb procedere has multiple definitions. It can denote cause (procedere) or it can simply denote a progression or a sending forth (procedere) just like the verb mittere means specifically and only. The point that both Christian and Augustine are trying to highlight is that there is an eternal relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Son, hence a relationship between all three divine persons beyond just their essence, and therefore further highlighting the unity of the Godhead.

With this brief summary and clarification of Augustine’s position in mind, the first critic’s argument does not carry weight. The first critic’s argument relies on the assumption that Augustine is reading John 16:15 as pertaining to the causal origin of the divine persons. But Augustine is not reading it in the causal sense, he is reading it in a relational sense. So the argument – that Augustine is arguing that the Son is a second cause and therefore by such logic the Son must also be a second cause in his own begetting – holds no water whatsoever, because John 16:15 is not speaking about causes. This point is further demonstrated elsewhere in Augustine’s writings, as I detail in my previous post on the matter (see here), where Augustine clearly denotes the Father as the sole cause of the divine persons of the Holy Spirit and the Son. Now I realize that this point is difficult to follow because most people tend to lack basic Latin comprehension and reading skills. It is because of this lack of Latin comprehension on the part of so many, Catholics and Orthodox included, that I firmly believe in using the per Filium formula endorsed by Patriarch Tarasius of Constantinople at the Second Council of Nicaea (787) or using the formula endorsed by the Orthodox Synod of Blachernae (1285) under Patriarch Gregory II of Constantinople, which said that the Holy Spirit proceeds (ἐκπόρευσις) from the Father and is eternally manifested through the Son (ἀΐδιον ἔκφανσιν) (Siecienski, 140-143). By using either of these formulas, both the eternal relationship between the Son and the Holy Spirit, which is what the filioque was solely denoting in Augustine’s framework (and having nothing to do with cause), and the Father as the ultimate sole cause of the Holy Spirit, which is what the Nicene Creed was denoting originally before the Latin churches modified it, are both clearly articulated without making anymore confusion.

To repeat: What the Son has, according to Augustine, is not the Father’s ability to cause the divine person of the Holy Spirit. That property belongs to the Father alone, hence Augustine uses the adverb principaliter in conjunction with the verb procedere. What the Son actually has, according to John 16:15 is an eternal relationship with the Holy Spirit – a pouring forth if you will, which the Father also has (hence the adverb communiter in conjunction with the verb procedere). To use an analogy, as imperfect as they may be, like a spring with a stream, water can be said to flow forth from both the spring and the stream (communiter). However, water cannot be said to have its cause from both the the spring and the stream. Rather, only the spring can be said to be the cause of the water (principaliter).

As the eminent Orthodox philosopher David Bentley Hart notes, the core idea here is the exact same as that articulated by Saint Gregory of Nyssa, who wrote:

… while confessing the immutability of the [divine] nature, we do not deny difference in regard to cause and that which is caused, by which alone we discern the difference of each Person from the other, in that we believe one to be the cause and another to be from the cause; and again we conceive of another difference within that which is from the cause: between the one who, on the one hand, comes directly from the principle and the one who, on the other, comes from the principle through the one who arises directly; thus it unquestionably remains peculiar to the Son to be the Only Begotten, while at the same time it is not to be doubted that the Spirit is of the Father, by virtue of the mediation of the Son that safeguards the Son’s character as Only Begotten, and thus the Spirit is not excluded from his natural relation to the Father.

Note: This excerpt is taken from David Bentley Hart’s article, “The Myth of Schism.”

– Gregory of Nyssa, Ad Ablabium, 55-56

Hart goes on to say, “This is the very argument—made by Augustine in De Trinitate—that scores of Orthodox theologians in recent decades have denounced as entirely alien to Eastern tradition.”  This opinion I entirely agree with.

Now, a second critic has argued that I was remarkably selective with my sources – that is I only really discussed St. Augustine’s articulation of the filioque and not the countless other Latin articulations of it. I believe I addressed this concern in my initial post. To quote what I said:

I am going to be very precise and narrow in my treatment of this issue here, because after all to treat such a massive issue in a single blog post would be too great a task for me and demand too much time – time which I do not have. For those who desire a more expansive overview of the subject with more history than I offer here, I suggest reading Michael Lofton’s blog post on some of the major divisions between Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism or A. Edward Siecienski’s The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy. The parameters of this brief address will pertain solely to what Saint Augustine of Hippo said concerning the matter.

This second critic then went on to add the following, saying:

And yet regardless of Augustine or Aquinas, this is the dogma of the Roman Church as per the 6th session of Florence, 6 July 1439 AD: “that the holy Spirit is eternally from the Father and the Son, and has his essence and his subsistent being from the Father together with the Son, and proceeds from both eternally as from one principle and a single spiration. We declare that when holy doctors and fathers say that the holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son, this bears the sense that thereby also the Son should be signified, according to the Greeks indeed as cause, and according to the Latins as principle of the subsistence of the holy Spirit, just like the Father. And since the Father gave to his only-begotten Son in begetting him everything the Father has, except to be the Father, so the Son has eternally from the Father, by whom he was eternally begotten, this also, namely that the holy Spirit proceeds from the Son.”

I am not going to comment on the problems I have with the Council of Florence (1439), which are numerous. Why? Because, as I said before, I do not have that much time. But again, I anticipated this general point and wrote: 

Third, there remains the question that even if Augustine’s Trinitarian formula is Orthodox, whether if all of the other Latin theologians and council’s understandings of the filioque are orthodox. To this question, I will not comment any further, other than the fact that I think it is incumbent upon Orthodox to be charitable and presume at first glance that any proclamation of filioque in a Latin author’s work should be read in a precise Augustinian sense. Only when there is language that seems to indicate otherwise, should suspicion begin to arise.

A Quick Handy-Dandy Filioque Formula Chart

The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father principally (principaliter), and without giving any interval of time, the Holy Spirit proceeds from both communitively (communiter). What it denotes: In two separate thoughts, it denotes the causal origin of the Holy Spirit, then it denotes the relationship between the divine persons of the Father, Son, & Holy Spirit between one another without referring specifically to cause.

The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. What it denotes: In a single thought, it denotes both the cause of the Holy Spirit as well as the Holy Spirit’s non-causal relationship with the Son.

The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. (ie: traditional filioque clause later inserted into the Nicene Creed). What it denotes: In a single thought, it refers to the eternal relationship between the divine persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – specifically showing that there is an eternal relationship between the Son and the Holy Spirit. It emphatically does not refer to any cause, because that is not the intention whatsoever of this formula. It carries the same weight and meaning as St. Augustine’s communitive procession (communiter).

Bibliography & Further Reading

David Bentley Hart, “The Myth of Schism,” Clarion Journal, June 13, 2014, https://www.clarion-journal.com/clarion_journal_of_spirit/2014/06/the-myth-of-schism-david-bentley-hart.html

A. Edward Siecienski, The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010)

Posted in Roman Catholicism | Tagged , , , , | 17 Comments

The Filioque: A Brief Opinion

e-codices_csg-0382_010_medium

St Gall, Stiftsbibliothek MS 382, p. 10 – Nicene Creed in Greek and Latin (mid-tenth or early eleventh century)

My position on the filioque, a clause that a number of Latin churches added to the Nicene Creed over the course of five centuries and which many Latin writers and saints had professed in other genres of writing for many centuries prior to its insertion anywhere, is that I do not think it is unorthodox, because precisely what the filioque expresses, unlike the Nicene Creed in its original Greek, is not a matter of God the Father being the ultimate cause of the Trinity. I am going to be very precise and narrow in my treatment of this issue here, because after all to treat such a massive issue in a single blog post would be too great a task for me and demand too much time – time which I do not have. For those who desire a more expansive overview of the subject with more history than I offer here, I suggest reading Michael Lofton’s blog post on some of the major divisions between Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism or A. Edward Siecienski’s The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy. The parameters of this brief address will pertain solely to what Saint Augustine of Hippo said concerning the matter.

In his De Trinitate, Augustine said the following about the Holy Trinity:

Principium quomodo in Trinitate relative dicatur. Dicitur ergo relative Pater, idemque relative dicitur principium, et si quid forte aliud: sed Pater ad Filium dicitur, principium vero ad omnia quae ab ipso sunt. Item dicitur relative Filius, relative dicitur et Verbum et Imago; et in omnibus his vocabulis ad Patrem refertur: nihil autem horum Pater dicitur. Et principium dicitur Filius: cum enim diceretur ei, Tu quis es? respondit, Principium, qui et loquor vobis (Joan. VIII, 25). Sed numquid Patris principium? Creatorem se quippe ostendere voluit, cum se dixit esse principium; sicut et Pater principium est creaturae, eo quod ab ipso sunt omnia. Nam et creator relative dicitur ad creaturam, sicut dominus ad servum. Et ideo cum dicimus, et Patrem principium, et Filium principium, non duo principia creaturae dicimus; quia et Pater et Filius simul ad creaturam unum principium est, sicut unus creator, sicut unus Deus.

The Father is called so, therefore, relatively, and He is also relatively said to be the Principle, and whatever else there may be of the kind; but He is called the Father in relation to the Son, the Principle in relation to all things, which are from Him. So the Son is relatively so called; He is called also relatively the Word and the Image. And in all these appellations He is referred to the Father, but the Father is called by none of them. And the Son is also called the Principle; for when it was said to Him, Who are You?” He replied, Even the Principle, who also speak to you.” (John 8:25) But is He, pray, the Principle of the Father? For He intended to show Himself to be the Creator when He said that He was the Principle, as the Father also is the Principle of the creature in that all things are from Him. For creator, too, is spoken relatively to creature, as master to servant. And so when we say, both that the Father is the Principle, and that the Son is the Principle, we do not speak of two principles of the creature; since both the Father and the Son together is one principle in respect to the creature, as one Creator, as one God.

Note: This translation is borrowed from New Advent and I have slightly revised its translation.

– Augustine of Hippo, De Trinitate, Book V, Chapter 13, Section 14 PL 42: 0920

Now, the main point to highlight here is that Augustine is speaking of principle in relative terms. That is to say, God the Father and God the Son are both the same principle relative to creation, for as John says, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God. And the word was God. This Word was in the beginning with God. Everything was made through Him and without Him there was nothing made that was made.” (John 1:1-3) It is in this relative sense then, that God the Father and God the Son are both, relative to creation, one principle.

Now elsewhere Augustine speaks of principle in an absolute sense, not a relative sense, as he does in the segment above. It is in this absolute sense that Augustine identifies the Father as the sole and ultimate cause of both the Son and the Holy Spirit. He says:

Et tamen non frustra in hac Trinitate non dicitur Verbum Dei nisi Filius, nec Donum Dei nisi Spiritus sanctus, nec de quo genitum est Verbum et de quo procedit principaliter Spiritus sanctus nisi Deus Pater. Ideo autem addidi, Principaliter, quia et de Filio Spiritus sanctus procedere reperitur. Sed hoc quoque illi Pater dedit, non jam existenti et nondum habenti: sed quidquid unigenito Verbo dedit, gignendo dedit.

And yet it is not to no purpose that in this Trinity that none except the Son is called the Word of God, and that none except the Holy Spirit is called the Gift of God, and that none except God the Father is He from whom the Word is begotten as well as from whom the Holy Spirit principally proceeds. And therefore I have added the word principally, because we find that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son also. But the Father gave Him this too, not as to one already existing, and not yet having it; but whatever He gave to the only-begotten Word, He gave by begetting Him. (John 16:15)

Note: This translation is borrowed from New Advent and I have slightly modified its translation.

Augustine of Hippo, De Trinitate, Book XV, Chapter 17, Section 29 PL 42: 1081

Augustine here argues that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son, but it is only from the Father that the Holy Spirit proceeds principally. In short, the Holy Spirit has its ultimate cause from the Father alone, whereas it proceeds from the Son relatively because the Son was begotten of the Father and has what the Father has. This idea, at least in this passage, is implicitly based upon John 16:15, where Christ says, “All things that the Father has are mine.” Augustine, perhaps more clearly, argues this relative procession from both the Father and the Son later again:

Filius autem de Patre natus est: et Spiritus sanctus de Patre principaliter, et ipso sine ullo temporis intervallo dante, communiter de utroque procedit.

But the Son is begotten from the Father: and the Holy Spirit proceeds principally from the Father, and without any intervening rendering of time itself, the Holy Spirit proceeds communitively from both.

Augustine of Hippo, De Trinitate, Book XV, Chapter 26, Section 47 PL 42: 1095

To be clear, Augustine here is not claiming the Son to be the absolute sole cause or even a secondary cause to the Trinity. When he speaks of the Holy Spirit as proceeding principally from the Father, he is speaking in an absolute sense in that the Father is the ultimate and sole cause of the Holy Spirit. But when he turns to the communitive/relative procession (communiter), he is not speaking of an ultimate or sole cause whatsoever. Rather, he is saying that the Holy Spirit has its hypostatic origin most perfectly from the Father alone, but that the Holy Spirit also proceeds in a communitive/relative sense from both, because what the Father has the Son has and thus there is by necessity an eternal joint progression from the Father and the Son – a progression that is quite distinct in its intent and meaning from a procession of ultimate and sole cause. It is only in this communitive/relative sense that the Father and the Son can be understood to be one principle. In an absolute sense, however, they cannot be understood to be one principle. Only the Father is the principle in the absolute sense. To misunderstand this point is to commit a linguistic error, a tragedy of poor Latin skills.

Now there are a multitude of remaining issues with Augustine’s formulation. First, there is the issue of Latin theology’s use of procedere, that is the verb for procession. Procedere has a much wider range in meaning in Latin than any of the near equivalent verbs in Greek, as A. Siecienski well argues in his book (Note: My arguments here depend heavily upon Siecienski’s verbal distinctions, as I have no knowledge of Greek). The Greek verb ἐκπόρευσις used in the Nicene Creed came to denote solely the ultimate hypostatic origin of the Holy Spirit. Meanwhile, procedere can mean either what ἐκπόρευσις means or denote a relative relationship or a mere sending (mittere). So when Latin Christians began to speak of ex Patre et Filio procedentem or, as they later add to the Nicene Creed, ex Patre Filioque procedit, they necessarily changed the original intent of the Nicene Creed. They changed this passage of the Nicene Creed from the intent of defining the sole hypostatic cause of the Holy Spirit to the intent of showing the relative divine and personal relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. From an Eastern Orthodox perspective, this shift is strange indeed, especially since just a few lines prior in the Nicene Creed, the Son’s begotteness, that is Filium Dei unigenitum, remains concerned with the original intent of establishing God the Father as the ultimate and sole cause of the Son. Nonetheless, the Latins made this change to suit their own theological and liturgical concerns, namely against various forms of lingering Arianism.

Now it bears worth mentioning that many Latin Orthodox Christians, just as how many of their fellow Greek Orthodox Christians, probably did not fully realize this change in intent, as the manuscript image from St. Gall above containing both the Latin and Greek versions of the Nicene Creed indicates. In this particular manuscript, the Latin scribe translated the Latin filioque formula into the Greek but he kept the Greek verb ἐκπόρευσις for the procession. This usage is clearly unorthodox, as it technically describes a double procession from both the Father and the Son as the ultimate causes of the Holy Spirit. I do not think the scribe intended this meaning. It is more probable that his Greek was not up to snuff to grasp what the original intent of the Nicene Creed was in Greek. As the work of Bernice M. Kaczynski demonstrates, the degree of Greek knowledge that the monks at St. Gall had did not go beyond mere vocabulary lists. They rarely had intimate knowledge of basic Greek grammar (Kaczynski, 115-116). The scribe probably thought ἐκπόρευσις had the same variation of meanings as procedere, which by this time it most certainly did not. I am being charitable here for a reason. After all, centuries prior, Saint Maximus the Confessor defended Pope Saint Theodore I of Rome, a native Greek no less, from accusers for making a similar mistranslation in his creedal statement (Siecienski, 78-84).

Second, there is the issue of whether the Son’s relationship with the Holy Spirit defined as proceeding/sending (procedere/mittere) relates to the economy of salvation only, that is within time, or if it relates to the eternal and timeless dynamic between the divine persons. In the former case, the Holy Spirit can only be said to be sent by the Son just before his ascension in John 20:22, where he says, “Receive the Holy Spirit!” Many Eastern Orthodox have traditionally interpreted this verse as having only pertained to the economic/temporal sending of the Holy Spirit and have been reluctant to read an economic description of the Trinity into an eternal/theological description of the Trinity. I myself do not share these concerns, primarily for the same reasons that the Orthodox philosopher David Bentley Hart does not share them. Many other Orthodox writers have argued that there is indeed an eternal relationship between the Son and the Holy Spirit, although perhaps not using John 20:22 as their basis. One such example is Patriarch Gregory II of Constantinople, who in his writings and through the Synod of Blachernae (1285) argued that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone (ἐκπόρευσις) and is manifested eternally through the Son (Siecienski, 140-143). This formulation is substantially the same as Saint Augustine’s, although it might be argued it is more clear and less prone to confusion.

Third, there remains the question that even if Augustine’s Trinitarian formula is Orthodox, whether if all of the other Latin theologians and council’s understandings of the filioque are orthodox. To this question, I will not comment any further, other than the fact that I think it is incumbent upon Orthodox to be charitable and presume at first glance that any proclamation of filioque in a Latin author’s work should be read in a precise Augustinian sense. Only when there is language that seems to indicate otherwise, should suspicion begin to arise.

Lastly, there is the problem that the Latin churches added the filioque unilaterally. No one denies this fact. The Church of Rome adding it in the eleventh century by far had the most significant impact upon the relationship between the Latin and Eastern churches. Ostensibly, Rome added it because of its developing self-understanding of papal supremacy. In the papal supremacist view, the pope of Rome could add it unilaterally without consulting an ecumenical council. However, the Visigothic and Frankish churches had long added the filioque many centuries prior, regardless of the objections of the Eastern churches and the Church of Rome. This much is certain, as exhibited in the plethora of baptismal formulas found in the early ninth century (see Keefe) – whether it be professed in a modified Nicene Creed or the so-called Athanasian Creed. Those additions and professions were not the result of papal supremacy, and often ran against papal wishes. Therefore, in the event of a reunion between the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches, Eastern Orthodox face a tough question pertaining to the filioque. If the Orthodox were demand that it be removed from the Latin version of the Nicene Creed, then it would certainly be a rebuttal of papal unilateralism, but it would also be a rejection of a Latin liturgical tradition that long predates 1054 and the gradual schism. As argued above, I do not think the content of the filioque is heretical, but rather orthodox. So to alter a long-held liturgical and theological tradition on the basis of technical violations of canon law, which had occurred for centuries prior to the beginnings of the schism, seems to me to be against the spirit of Orthodoxy’s liturgical and theological conservatism, and possibly even an implicit proclamation that only the Greek tradition of Orthodoxy is Orthodox. There are no good answers to this dilemma. If anything, it might be possible to remove the filioque from the Latin version of the Nicene Creed and to add to both creeds the ex Patre per Filium procedentem formula to both the Latin and Greek versions of the Nicene Creed. Patriarch Tarasius of Consantinople used the per Filium formula at the Second Council of Nicaea (787) to describe his own faith. In that sense, the Orthodox find the exactitude and precision that that would have prevented this mess to begin with, while the Catholics get to keep their liturgical and theological tradition. This measure would mean changing the language of both traditions, but at the same time it would keep the spirit of the two traditions under the umbrella of Orthodoxy.

Bibliography & Further Reading

David Bentley Hart, “The Myth of Schism,” Clarion Journal, June 13, 2014, https://www.clarion-journal.com/clarion_journal_of_spirit/2014/06/the-myth-of-schism-david-bentley-hart.html

Bernice M. Kaczynski, Greek in the Carolingian Age: The St. Gall Manuscripts (Cambridge, MA: The Medieval Academy of America, 1988)

Susan A. Keefe, Water and the Word: Baptism and the Education of the Clergy in the Carolingian Empire, vol. 2 (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2002)

Michael Lofton, “The Road to Unity: The Obstacles to Full Unity between Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians,” Reason and Theology, February 14, 2019, https://reasonandtheology.com/2019/02/14/the-road-to-unity-the-obstacles-to-full-unity-between-roman-catholics-and-eastern-orthodox-christians/

John Mendham, trans., The Seventh General Council (London: William Edward Painter, 1850)

A. Edward Siecienski, The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010)

Posted in Roman Catholicism | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Brief Comments on David Bentley Hart’s Article Concerning the Lord’s Prayer

Recently Professor David Bentley Hart has published an article on the Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. I quite enjoyed the article for its thought-provoking critique of the many present-day Christians, who do not adequately acknowledge the historical economic factors it speaks to and its continuing moral relevance to today’s conditions of the poor. Hart attributes this lack of consciousness of many present-day Christians to either translation errors or habits of interpretation. I am inclined to agree, although my own lack of knowledge of Greek prevents me from fully grasping the depth of Hart’s argument. Yet I am also inclined to disagree on some points. First, Hart seems to dismiss the legitimacy of the spiritual readings of the text. He goes as far to refer to these interpretations as “‘spiritualized'”. At first it is difficult understand what Hart exactly means to convey by putting “spiritualized” in quotation marks. However, towards the end of the article it seems apparent that he does not grant them much credence whatsoever. He writes:

It is easy to understand, obviously, how it is that over the centuries the Lord’s Prayer should have come to be something else in the Christian imagination—something less specific, less concrete, more comprehensive, more unrelated to any specific economic conditions or any particular station in society.

It could scarcely have served as a model of Christian supplication for all the baptized if its social provocations had remained too transparent, or if it had remained too obviously an epitome of Christ’s “preferential option” for the destitute and disenfranchised. After all, the consciences of the rich require protection too. How else could the banker who has just foreclosed on a family home recite the Lord’s Prayer in church without being made to feel uncomfortable?

Even so, it was originally, and remains, a prayer for the poor—a prayer, that is, for the poor alone to pray. Down the centuries, wealthy Christians have prayed it as well, of course, or at least have prayed a rough simulacrum of it. God bless them for their faithfulness. But, to be honest, it was never meant for them. Quite—one has to be honest here—the opposite.

In short, only the historical or literal understanding of the prayer is its true meaning. All of the spiritual exegeses on this prayer were the outcomes of appeasing the rich or, to put it more nicely, acts of pastoral condescension. This point leads him, therefore, to the second point of my disagreement – that the Lord’s prayer is exclusively intended for the poor. There is much fruit to these spiritual readings of the Lord’s Prayer and in light of Galatians 3:28, which declares an obliteration of the boundaries between slaves and freemen – positions framed by both economic and legal factors – , it would seem unlikely that God ever would have given such an important prayer, central to the liturgical life of the Church, to the poor alone. Furthermore, let it be said, the prayer does include the presumption that those who have debtors should forgive their debtors. That mandate would include the rich as well. Again, I am not rejecting Hart’s argument that this prayer spoke to the economic conditions of the poor during Christ’s time and continues to have moral and economic ramifications for us today. But what I am advocating is that the prayer can be understood in many different ways. While one might find these different understandings to be impoverished or lacking, I think it is well-worth the time to take a brief look at what these different interpretations were and to examine their scopes and limitations.

David Graeber, whom Hart praises in the beginning of his article, briefly discusses the Lord’s Prayer and Christ’s language on debt and debtors as potentially both literal and allegorical. Indeed, Graeber writes:

The parable has long been a challenge to theologians. It’s normally interpreted as a comment on the endless bounty of God’s grace and how little He demands of us in comparison – and thus, by implication, as a way of suggesting that torturing us in hell for all eternity is not as unreasonable as it might seem. Certainly, the unforgiving servant is a genuinely odious character. Still, what is even more striking to me is the tacit suggestion that forgiveness, in this world, is ultimately impossible. Christians practically say as much every time they recite the Lord’s Prayer and ask God to “forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.” It repeats the story of the parable almost exactly, and the implications are similarly dire. After all, most Christians reciting the prayer are aware that they do not generally forgive their debtors. Why then should God forgive them their sins?

What’s more, there is the lingering suggestion that we really couldn’t live up to those standards even if we tried. One of the things that makes the Jesus of the New Testament such a tantalizing character is that it’s never clear what he’s telling us. Everything can be read two ways. When he calls on his followers to forgive all debts, refuse to case the first stone, turn the other cheek, love their enemies, to hand over their possessions to the poor – is he really expecting them to do this? Or are such demands just a way of throwing in their faces that, since we are clearly not prepared to act this way, we are all sinners whose salvation can only come in another world – a position that can be (and has been) used to justify almost anything? This is a vision of human life as inherently corrupt, but it also frames even the spiritual affairs in commercial terms: with calculations of sins, penance, and absolution, the Devil and St. Peter with their rival ledger books, usually accompanied by the creeping feeling that it’s all a charade because the very fact that we are reduced to playing such a game of tabulating sins reveals us to be fundamentally unworthy of forgiveness.

– David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years (Brooklyn, NY: Melville House Publishing, 2011), 84

Graeber’s willingness to permit multiple interpretations of Christ’s mandate echoes how the Church Fathers interpreted it the first millennium. During the fourth century, St. Jerome understood the Lord’s Prayer in a spiritual and literal sense. He based his spiritual interpretation of the text on his own reasons of translations, having knowledge of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. He wrote the following:

Give us today our supersubstantial bread. And dismiss our debts from us!; just as also we dismiss our debtors. And lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil!” (Matthew 6:11-13) What we have expressed with “supersubstantial,” in Greek is called ἐπιούσιον – a word that the Septuagint translators most frequently translated as περιούσιον. Therefore, we have considered [this] in Hebrew, and everywhere that they have expressed περιούσιον, we have found SOGOLLA, which Symmachus translated as ἐξαίρετον, that is, “especial” or “distinguished,” although in a certain place it has been understood as “private.” Therefore, when we ask that God gives us especial or distinguished bread, we seek that which he calls, “I am the living bread which descends from heaven (John 6:51).” In the Gospel, which is called According to the Hebrews, for supersubstantial bread, MAAR is found, which is called “tomorrow;” so that it is understood [as], “Our tomorrow-bread,” that is the future, “give us today.” We are able to understand the bread also in another way – what is above all substances and what surpasses all creatures. Others simply think according to the words of the Apostles concerning some present food that the saints bear a consideration, saying, “We, having sustenance and clothes, are satisfied with these things” (1 Timothy 6:8). And whence in the following things, it has been advised, “Do not wish to think about tomorrow!” (Matthew 6:34).

Jerome, Commentariorum in evangelium Matthaei libri quattuor, PL 26: 0043A-0043C

– Jerome, Commentarii in euangelium Matthaei, edited by D. Hurst and M. Adriaen, CCSL 77 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1969), 37.769-787

I am in no position to scrutinize the accuracy of Jerome’s Greek or Hebrew/Aramaic. Such matters I leave to others. However, what is abundantly clear is that Jerome never concerned himself with sparing the feelings of the rich when he considered the various interpretations and translations of the Lord’s Prayer. For Jerome, the choice between a literal or historical understanding of the text and a spiritual understanding of the text is not an either-or decision. Both are valid. In terms of the spiritual understanding of the Lord’s Prayer, much of his reasoning is based primarily on translation considerations alone. But there is also another component to his decision making here insofar that he is referencing how the word is used, not in its contemporary context, but in the scriptures as a whole – namely the translators of the Septuagint from the third and second centuries BCE and Symmachus’ second-century CE translation of the Old Testament into Greek from the Hebrew. It is true that Jerome misses the historical circumstances of which Jesus is speaking to and which Hart has highlighted. Nevertheless, Jerome still highlights the moral necessity of living modestly, taking only what we need to live for today, although he himself says nothing about the subject of forgiving debts nor does his literal understanding of the prayer align perfectly with the historical understanding that Hart highlights. In this sense, Jerome falls short of the radical message Hart highlights in his article.

Writing in the early eighth century, St. Bede also made the same general distinction as St. Jerome – that the Lord’s Prayer has both a literal and a spiritual meaning. He wrote:

With the Gospel of Matthew, the Lord’s Prayer seems to contain seven petitions, of which three are sought in eternal matters, the remaining four in temporal matters, which, notwithstanding eternal matters, must be followed by necessity. For the fact that we say, “Let your name be sanctified. Let your kingdom come. Let your will be done just as in heaven and on the earth.” This no one has absurdly understood as that these prayers must be retained altogether without any limit in spirit and body [i.e. spiritually and literally], and in which case these interpretations are unfinished, and as much as we profit [from them], they are magnified in us by means of having been completed. But what ought to be hoped for in another life, will be possessed forever. But the fact [is] that we say, “Give us today our daily bread; and forgive us our debts! And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil!” Does no one see that it pertains to the want (indigentiam) of the present life? And thus in that eternal life, when we always hope for future things, the sanctification of God’s name, the sanctification of his kingdom, and his will will remain perfectly and immortally in our spirit and body. But therefore, the bread has been called daily, because this [bread], which is to be given to the soul and body, is necessary. Let it be understood either spiritually, corporeally [i.e. literally], or in both ways.

Bede, In Lucae evangelium expositio, PL 92: 0472B-0472D

– Bede, In Lucae euangelium expositio, edited by D. Hurst, CCSL 120 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2001).

Bede here is clearly more interested in the spiritual understanding of the Lord’s Prayer. Nonetheless, he openly acknowledges its literal meaning. When considering the words, “Give us today our daily bread,” he argues that it pertains to the need or indigentia of our earthly existence. This indigentia he argues can be understood at the literal level as our bodily needs, such as food, or at the spiritual level as our present need of our desire and hope for spiritual solace as well as a better life. By perfectly encapsulating the consequences of the Fall in both body and spirit with the term indigentia, Bede perhaps meshes together the spiritual and literal reading of the text more than any other Latin commentator.

Writing in the ninth century, St. Hrabanus Maurus returns to the more bifurcated spiritual and literal readings of the text that Jerome had embraced. Yet, he distinguishes himself from Jerome by adding further comments specifically on the notion of debts. He wrote:

Give us today our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11). Daily bread has been said [to be] either for all things which sustain the necessity of this [earthly] life concerning which he instructs when he says, “Do not wish think about tomorrow!” (Matthew 6:34); or for the sacrament of the body of Christ, which we receive daily; or for the spiritual food, concerning which the Lord says, “Toil for food, which is not corrupted!” (John 6:27). And [he also says] this: “I am the bread of life, which descends from heaven” (John 6:41)…. “And dismiss our debts from us!; just as we dismiss our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).  After the assistance of food is sought, the mercy for having transgressed is sought in order that he, who is fed by God, lives in God. If sins should be remitted, not only [something]of the present and temporal life would be consulted, but also [something] of the eternal [life], towards which he is capable of being made to come, would be consulted. What the Lord calls debts [are sins], just as in his Gospel he says, “I forgave you the entire debt, because you sought me” (Matthew 18:32).

Hrabanus Maurus, Commentariorum in Matthaeum libri octo, PL 107: 0819C-0820B

– Hrabanus Maurus, Commentarius in Matthaeum I-IV, edited by B. Löfstedt, CCCM 174 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2001).

What is interesting about Hrabanus’ commentary is that although he acknowledges both a literal and spiritual understanding of the daily bread like Jerome and Bede before him, he only acknowledges a spiritual understanding of the forgiveness of debts, which he interprets as meaning sins. Here the economic message is lost. Nonetheless, Hrabanus still acknowledges, just as Jerome, Christ’s admonishment against luxurious living and gluttony. It is for this reason that he repeats Matthew 6:34, “Do not wish to think about tomorrow!,” as if saying that one should not have too much and take only what they need. I say “as if” because Hrabanus leaves out Jerome’s quotation of 1 Timothy 6:8, but it is quite clear that he is following in Jerome’s footsteps. Just as in the case with Jerome, however, Hrabanus’ literal understanding of the text differs from Hart’s.

The last example I wish to highlight is St. Paschasius Radbertus’ ninth-century commentary. He follows the track of Jerome more closely than either Bede or Hrabanus, and even takes in an interest in the Greek word ἐπιούσιον that Jerome mentions. But he also adds significant expansions to the exegesis, most of which I will have to pass on highlighting. But for the purposes of this post, what is most interesting in his exegesis is his explicit acknowledgement of debts actually pertaining as much to money as it does to sins. He wrote the following:

However here if it is thought [to be] unclear – about what is called debts or what is called debtors – the stuff of an excuse must be cast away, and that “from every debt” should be fully understood as for committing crimes [against God] as well as for owing a severity of money, with the result that in whatever way your brother has become a debtor to you, this debt you should release. For often as the presumption of those having failed shows us as having been seized by many more slaveries on account of debts, [so too does] pecuniary dishonesty and the theft of avarice. Therefore, just as the means of taking action is present for everyone, individuals ought to loosen the burden of possibilities for their debtors, whom are bound to be oppressed by debts…. But most importantly, the burden of sin, if it is deemed to pertain to us, let us remit spontaneously. Although since legally we occasionally renew the debt of money, we never reject the debt of those having failed for seeking to be freed from our condemnation. Whence it has been commanded in this very Gospel, “When you stand to pray, remit if you have anything against anyone so that your Father, who is in heaven, remits your sins!” (Mark 11:25).

Paschasius Radbertus, Expositio in evangelium Matthaei, PL 120: 0295A-0295C

– Paschasius Radbertus, Expositio in Matheo I-IV, edited by B. Paulus, CCCM 56 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1984), 400.1259-1267.

Paschasius understands the burden of crushing debt to run contrary to the principle of viewing one’s neighbor as a brother. In a sense, perhaps he is acknowledging that such a disparity in a relationship undermines the intended equality that it is supposed to uphold. Therefore, such profit seeking from the denigration of one’s brother is described as a theft of avarice (contrectatio lucri). In this way, Paschasius’ position closely resembles Graeber’s, in which the latter argues that notions of debt are originally intended to be framed as a commercial transaction between equals but in practice often are not or result in a disproportionate inequality. Therefore, some moral boundary is felt to have been transgressed by those subjected to debt (Graeber, 86). He also draws on the implicit idea highlighted by Graeber that because we are unwilling to totally forgive the debts of our brothers, whether they be pecuniary or moral, we are fundamentally unworthy of forgiveness. In short, only God’s grace can redeem us.

Hart is certainly correct that the socio-economic conditions that Christ spoke to when he first uttered the Lord’s Prayer faded in some sense in the Church’s tradition. Nevertheless, to proceed to the assumption that the concern for economic injustice faded too or that the spiritual interpretations were cynical ploys to make the rich feel more comfortable is a bridge too far. Although none of the Church Fathers and saints above precisely grasped the historical and literal context that Hart so eloquently highlights in his recent article, they did nonetheless show a concern for avarice and living modestly. At the same time, they also understood the Lord’s Prayer to pertain to all Christians through a variety of spiritual interpretations. It is on account of these various understandings that one can say or affirm that the Lord’s Prayer is for everyone.

Bibliography & Further Reading

Bede, In Lucae euangelium expositio, edited by D. Hurst, CCSL 120 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2001).

Bede, In Lucae evangelium expositio, PL 92: 0301-634D.

David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years (Brooklyn, NY: Melville House Publishing, 2011).

David Bentley Hart, “A Prayer for the Poor,” Church Life Journal, June 5, 2018, https://churchlife.nd.edu/2018/06/05/a-prayer-for-the-poor/.

Hrabanus Maurus, Commentariorum in Matthaeum libri octo, PL 107: 0727-1156B.

Hrabanus Maurus, Commentarius in Matthaeum I-IV, edited by B. Löfstedt, CCCM 174 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2001).

Jerome, Commentarii in euangelium Matthaei, edited by D. Hurst and M. Adriaen, CCSL 77 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1969).

Jerome, Commentariorum in evangelium Matthaei libri quattuor, PL 26: 0015-218D.

Paschasius Radbertus, Expositio in evangelium Matthaei, PL 120: 0031A-0994C.

Paschasius Radbertus, Expositio in Matheo I-IV, edited by B. Paulus, CCCM 56 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1984).

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