16 February 2008

On using the fathers

From time to time, protestant apologists make appeal to the holy fathers of the Church and seek to claim them as their own. They will cite a snippet here, a paragraph there, and conclude, "See! The fathers speak the same way as we do!"
Such a practice is not new, of course. Monophysite apologists loved to cite St. Cyril of Alexandria's formula "one nature of God the Word incarnate" as evidence for their point of view. Defenders of Rome produce many writings of the fathers to support papal primacy and the filioque.
How should Orthodox believers respond to this?

In the first place, we can give thanks to God. Each time a protestant cites one of the holy fathers, each time an icon appears on the cover of a book or the page of a blog, they bear witness (willingly or unwillingly) to the fullness of the faith as it is found in the Church. They do not cite the tax code or the Book of Mormon. They cite the fathers, and so testify that the views of the holy fathers carry weight. They show icons, and so testify against the white-walled desolation found in so many communities of their own confessions.

In the second place, we need not answer or try to defend the faith from such distortions. Words are their "turf," and centuries of conflict with Rome and each other has enabled them to become skilled at logomachy. Like all ancient Greeks, the Corinthians loved displays of rhetorical skill. But St. Paul reminded them, "The kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power."

The difference between the Church and the western confessions of faith is not verbal. Words piled up and plied, however skillfully, will only take attention away from the real difference and the real crisis confronting the West.

The problem the West faces is existential and ecclesial. Aleksei Khomiakov wrote this to an Anglican, an early supporter of the Tractarian movement, in 1846:

"You would show that all our doctrine is yours, and indeed at first sight you seem quite right. Many Bishops and divines of your communion are and have been quite orthodox. But what of that? Their opinion is only an individual opinion; it is not the Faith of the Community. The Calvinist Usher is an Anglican no less than the bishops (whom you quote) who hold quite orthodox language. We may and do sympathize with the individuals; we cannot and dare not sympathize with a Church which interpolates the Symbol and doubts her right to that interpolation...Suppose an impossibility--suppose all the Anglicans to be quite Orthodox; suppose their Creed and Faith quite concordant with ours; the mode and process by which that creed is or has been attained is a Protestant one; a simple logical act of the understanding, by which the tradition and writings of the Fathers have been distilled to something very near Truth. If we admit this, all is lost, and Rationalism is the supreme judge of every question." (On spiritual unity, p. 151)

Substitute "Lutheran" for "Anglican," and, say, "Rev. Steven Hower" for "The Calvinist Usher," and it is clear that Khomiakov could have written these words in 2008.

So cite on, dear protestants, but as Khomiakov says, "Do not, I pray, nourish the hope of finding Christian truth without stepping out of the former Protestant circle. It is an illogical hope; it is a remnant of that pride which thought itself able and withal to judge and decide by itself without the Spiritual Communion of heavenly grace and Christian love."

29 comments:

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Welcome to blogdom, Fr. Gregory. This should be interesting!

To me, the saddest part about misusing patristic quotes like this is that the persons doing it know better. They have been shown, repeatedly, quote by quote, how the passages in question either need not or flat-out do not and cannot, mean what the person trotting them out wants them to mean.

For example -- and again, the people trotting out these quotes know this -- the same St. John Chrysostom who is alleged to be a supporter of sola scriptura also writes:

[II Thess 2:15] "So then, brethren, stand fast, and hold the
traditions which ye were taught, whether by word, or by Epistle of
ours."

Hence it is manifest, that they did not deliver all things by
Epistle, but many things also unwritten, and in like manner both the one and the other are worthy of credit. Therefore let us think the tradition of the Church also worthy of credit. It is a tradition, seek no farther.

As for St. Gregory of Nyssa, I very much doubt the people cherry-picking quotes from him would want to interpret Scripture as he did, sometimes allegorizing the literal meaning away entirely!

St. Basil, also quoted, says the Lord is faithful in all His words; who wishes to disagree with that? He says to delete or add anything to Holy Write is unacceptable, and who would take exception to
that? The sacred text of Holy Scripture (like that of the Creed) is to remain unaltered. We Orthodox emphatically agree. He quotes, "My sheep hear my
voice," and to this we uniformly assent.

St. Basil does NOT say that Voice is only reliably to be found in Holy Scripture. He does not say the *source* of doctrine or practice is the Holy Scripture
alone. He does not say something is to be judged by Scripture alone. He does not say Scripture is self interpreting. In short, he does not advocate any form of sola Scriptura. If we read his works more comprehensively, this
becomes clear.

It is assumed that the woreds "justify" and "justification" mean some mythical declaration in the Fathers, as they did to the Reformers, and that "faith" for the Fathers did not include faith's own works, and so on -- and on and on and on.

As it is really quite tiresome to have to go over this again and again with the same people, I am (eventually, when I have nothing better to do) to find or reconstruct everything I've ever said about them in the past and collect them all in one place, so from now on I can simply copy and paste.

Actually, iirc, Christopher Orr has already done this, on the Orthodox-Lutheran_dialolgue group. If so, maybe he will be good enough to send me his copy, as I am no longer a member.

Thanks for letting me vent, Father.

Ezekiel said...

Thanks, Fr Gregory, my friend, for getting on line!

Thanks also for the wise words -- and the word from St. Pavel, and from Khomiakov. They helped me a lot!

Thanks also to you, Anastasia, for comments here and on your blog.

Nathan said...

Father Gregory,

Your former student, Nathan here (from St. Kates, in 1999-2000).

I wonder if this post was prompted by the one referenced here?:

http://cyberbrethren.typepad.com/cyberbrethren/2008/02/where-was-luthe.html

:)

In any case, I am happy that you are blogging and hope to engage you once in a while.

You may recall that my first degree was in the sciences, and so I guess I'm probably a "logomachtician" to a great degree (you can see a recent battle here: http://blogs.britannica.com/blog/main/2008/02/how-low-can-ben-stein-go/ )

I have some sympathies with your position, as I often grow weary with words. I think folks like Wittgenstein, Polanyi, and Charles Taylor are onto something big with their empahsis on the importance of embodied, personal knowledge.

And yet... I am not totally persuaded. "Rationalism is the supreme judge of every question"...

I am curious to know if you think Khomiakov would say the same to Rome (as to Protestants), and if not, why not?

Again, I think the main thing that makes me shy away from Orthodoxy is what I perceive as a denial of I John 5, about knowing that we have eternal life. This, so far, is what keeps me Lutheran.

I have not read as much in the fathers as I would like, but it seems to me that I often find them giving assurance of salvation in much the way I see Lutherans doing.

Thanks,
Nathan

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Nathan, in case it's helpful, I've written a 3-part series about assurance in my blog, here:
http://anastasias-corner.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2008-01-24T23%3A51%3A00-05%3A00&max-results=15

(Scroll down until you get to the post, "Faith vs. Certainty" and the begin 2 posts below that.)

Nathan said...

Anastasia,

Thank you. I found part 3 and read it quickly.

You say some good stuff there, esp. when you focus on I John 3:20.

You say, "Certainty is an intellectual conclusion based upon irrefutable evidence".

Is this the only thing certainty can be? Something that seems so "rationalistic", a la DesCartes? When a pastor, discerning a broken sinner, speaks in Christ's name words of forgiveness to such a one, would this person be wrong to draw the conclusion from the heavy and beautiful words in *evidence* [using his *intellect* :)] that certainty, assurance, security, peace with God, etc. has been given?

If not, why not?

Again, the whole point of the book is that a person may *know* that they have salvation, and I cling to I John 3:20 and esp. 4:10-12 (I think these are it) here.

If I could get a little preaching in here (though I am not a pastor):

But practically speaking, what shall we do that we might work the works of God? That we might be saved? In a word, to be new before God, we must forget what we "do", and as Lutheran theologian Norman Nagel says, "be willing to be nothing but given to." For we must become like little children and be born from above, not below. Just as the completely unpretentious and unreflective infant freely receives his parent's love and kindness, spontaneously erupting with smiles and shrieks of acceptance, so it must be with us. Only in this way, through receptive trust alone, do we return to the Source of forgiveness, life and salvation. God has reconciled the world to Himself in Christ. He has done it all. Be reconciled to God! When you, broken in your sin, hear the comforting Word that Christ has forgiven you, cling to that Word and do not delay in coming to the feast.

This is the work of God, that you believe on Him whom He has sent.

Again, I think a lack of this kind of understanding is what really keeps me from becoming Orthodox.

Stubborn Proty opinion - or Gospel truth?

Thanks again!

~Nathan

Nathan said...

Again, I think a lack of this kind of understanding is what really keeps me from becoming Orthodox.

should be...

Again, I think a lack of this kind of understanding [in Orthodoxy] is what really keeps me from becoming Orthodox.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Hi, Nathan,

Good points.

What has been given is not in dispute. It has ALL been given. It is to be received, as you say, in childlike trust and faith. Christ has left nothing undone that He could possibly have done for us. And yes, the evidence is there to show that much.

The problem with certainty is, how do you know you have that real faith? How do you know you will keep it all your life long, and never fall away?

My point wasn't exactly that we cannot have certainty, but that such certainty cannot be *objective*. It consists, as Scripture testifies, of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, "the earnest of salvation."

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Here's something else I wrote on this subject:

The question of whether you or I will end up in heaven cannot be totally objectified. Non-Orthodox people may try, citing all that Jesus did to save us, and citing God's grace as applied to us in the sacraments. Yet we are taught that these things work their effect in us through faith.

There are only three ways I can think of to deal with the issue of faith. One is to ignore it. But that totally sabotages any objective assurance. Another is to have an incredible amount of faith in my faith, which arrogance would not be an encouraging sign. A third way is to try to objectivize my faith. That means --gulp! -- measuring it by my works. And that way most often leads either to despair (if one is brave and honest about it) or to self-deception, as in the people Jesus described in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats who even worked miracles in His name, but without any faith at all.

That's why such assurance as we have of our salvation cannot be had objectively. And the attempt to have it objectively is misguided. As St. Paul observed, the pledge and token of our salvation is the Holy Spirit in our hearts, to Whom "objective" and "subjective" do not apply.

Nathan said...

Anastasia:

The problem with certainty is, how do you know you have that real faith? How do you know you will keep it all your life long, and never fall away?

As Pastor Weedon said on your blog, Lutherans do believe that Christians can fall away. So... to your second question: what do you mean? And what exactly do you mean that we can't have our salvation objectively?

Again:

When a pastor, discerning a broken sinner, speaks in Christ's name words of forgiveness to such a one, would this person be wrong to draw the conclusion from the heavy and beautiful words in *evidence* [using his *intellect* :)] that certainty, assurance, security, peace with God, etc. has been given?

Are you saying that this person is wrong to *know* they have eternal life? That there is some kind of meta-realization that truly believing people have that they might not really have true faith, i.e. that doubt *must* be a part of true faith? Is that what it really means to *know* one has eternal life?

If this is the case, how does such a person live? When they feel the comfort and joy and peace of truly being forgiven - the joy of resting securely in their father's arms - is it pious for them to immediately hold such affections in check, realizing that they are not to have them?

If so, why?

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Hi again, Nathan,

> So... to your second question:
> what do you mean? And what
> exactly do you mean that we
> can't have our salvation
> objectively?

I mean, if you acknowledge you can fall away, how can you be certain you won't?

I didn't say anything about having our salvation itself, but about having the certainty of it. THAT is what you can't have objectively. Unless you can prove, objectively, that (a) you have true faith and (b) you will never fall away from it or renounce it.

> When a pastor, discerning a
> broken sinner, speaks in
> Christ's name words of
> forgiveness to such a one, would > this person be wrong to
> draw the conclusion from the
> heavy and beautiful words in
> *evidence* [using his
> *intellect* :)] that certainty, > assurance, security, peace with > God, etc. has been given?

Again, there is no question of God's forgiveness and being at peace with Him. The question does not concern the giving, but the receiving. The receiving is by faith. Show me your faith, and I will show you your certainty (unless you fall away). The only way you can show me your faith is by your works.

Your hypothetical broken sinner would never be wrong to believe God has forgiven him. But unless he brings forth fruits befitting true repentance, must he not wonder whether he really repented at all, and what kind of faith he has, and whether it is the dead kind that is of no avail? And alas, we find we are very deficient in bringing forth those works.

> Are you saying that this
> person is wrong to *know* they
> have eternal life? That there is
> some kind of meta-realization
> that truly believing people have > that they might not really have > true faith, i.e. that doubt
> *must* be a part of true faith? > Is that what it really means to
> *know* one has eternal life?

We know we have eternal life because we are already living it. Which is what St. John is saying. That is not an objective fact, however, unless we are so pure that our works prove it.

But again, how can you know you will ultimately be among the saved when you also know it is possible to fall away?

We must have faith in God alone, but what we correctly doubt is ourselves.

> If this is the case, how does
> such a person live?

By raw faith, rather than by intellectual certainty.

By the assurance the Holy Spirit provides, Who is shed abroad in our hearts. (But that is no more "objective" than it is "subjective".)

> When they feel the comfort and
> joy and peace of truly being
> forgiven - the joy of resting
> securely in their father's arms -> is it pious for them to
> immediately hold such affections > in check, realizing that they
> are not to have them?

> If so, why?

It's never right to hold love of God in check! To the contrary, the right thing to do, when they feel the comfort and joy and peace of truly being forgiven, is then promptly to set about bringing forth the fruits of repentance, putting that affection into action. That's how they live. Because otherwise, honesty would require them to wonder whether the whole thing were not an exercise in self-indulgence, simply to comfort and assauge the unhappy, guilt-ridden self and no more. Put another way, there's a big difference between merely seeking forgiveness and genuinely repenting. And the only objective way to know which is which is by its results. You know a tree by its fruit.

If I look at my fruit, I am not encouraged. God has given me all these countless blessings, everything necessary for my salvation, and look how I keep messing up.

That's why looking for objective proof is impossible and pointless.

Anastasia

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Nathan:

Good to hear from you again. I think Anastasia is answering your questions better than I could.

Perhaps the western fixation on assurance is due to its patrimony of late mediaeval nominalism, which turned the world's attention from ontology to epistemology. "How can I know that I have a gracious God?" is, after all, an epistemological question.

I cannot know God the same way I know, say, that 2+2=4 or that water boils at 100 Celsius. God is not an object capable of being grasped by my finite, broken reason or senses. "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not comprehended/overcome it." God is infinite and personal, and such assurance as comes, comes at the price of
* a hip out of joint (Genesis 32:25)
* sharing the cup and being baptized with the baptism of the One we seek (Mk 10:38-39)
* becoming conformed to his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead (Phil. 3:10-11)

Questions of assurance and certainty, as Florensky rightly notes, cannot be solved by argument or persuasion. Thought carries me only so far; I do not know until I love. "To love the invisible God is to open passively one's heart to Him and to await His active revelation in such a way that the energy of divine love descends into the heart." I myself take comfort in the line from our prayer that God "loves the just and shows mercy to sinners." Since, for the Orthodox, God is the One who is "good and loves mankind," we are content to commend ourselves and each other, and our whole life to Christ our God.

The unworthy priest,

Fr. Gregory

Nathan said...

Father Gregory,

That is an interesting theory about epistemology and ontology. I will think on it more. When you talk of certainty and verification however, you immediately turn to scientific and mathematical examples. Why not personal examples? Family? This is what I don’t understand. Who is being the "logomachtician" :) Really now, *can’t I try to argue or persuade you of my Father’s love?* I want to tell you about the love which would desire for me and others to daily live in simple confidence and peace - *knowing* that I have eternal life (which of course, can be lost when I ultimately decide I do not want forgiveness for the sin of hesitating to "reckon myself" united with Him in His death).

A: I mean, if you acknowledge you can fall away, how can you be certain you won't?

It seems to me that when it comes to our lives, we can only live and know the present moment. If, in the present moment, I call sin “sin” (confess – agree) and call grace “grace” when God’s words of judgment and promise come to me, I know that I have eternal life, because though on my good days, I might feel as if I really do love my brother, etc., as I John says, I know that God is ultimately greater than my heart and doubts (I John 3:20), and that His Word is true. On the contrary, there is nothing true in me.

When I am alone and naked before God, I think this is true faith, and that the Scriptures (and Fathers) support this. Now, the more I reflect on, and intellectualize things (getting rationalistic), the worse things get – I can drive myself crazy with the sin that inheres within me and the corresponding questions and doubt that arise from it. Have I repented enough? Have I repented about my thinking that if I repent enough that will make me acceptable before God? Have I repented enough for thinking that recognizing that my repentance before God doesn't make me acceptable before God will really, actually, somehow, make me acceptable? Children don’t do this though, do they? Agonize about such things regarding their parents, that is.

At the same time, you are right that the only way that I can “prove” to you that I am a Christian is through my works. Pastor Hogg is right that if my talk is not backed up by power there is a problem. Actually, I think all of us need one another’s works, as we are all the means of the means of grace. We are living doctrine, icons, relics, who were created to freely and joyfully represent (embody) the Triune God – who is Love and Life – to our neighbor. We are to communicate Christ to them, "in word and deed". I should be the kind of person who, when it comes to my works, does not fret so much about my own salvation - how selfish, really! - but rather realize what my neighbor needs for theirs'. Good works *are necessary for my neighbor’s salvation*. Lord, do not let them perish through me, a sinner – but may they live in your Son!

A: But unless he brings forth fruits befitting true repentance, must he not wonder whether he really repented at all, and what kind of faith he has, and whether it is the dead kind that is of no avail? And alas, we find we are very deficient in bringing forth those works.

I don’t think that he should wonder about whether or not he repented at all *back then*, but should be considering the present moment. *Now* is the time of salvation. Further, if he found himself believing the promise of absolution that he received, there is no way the faith was dead. I agree with you that we find we are deficient in bringing forth those works, but the man who recognizes this – and calls it sin – and also recognizes grace – and calls it grace – is the man who knows that Jesus is the friend of sinners, who is greater than our hearts, which may condemn us. So, he can *know* that He has eternal life.

Will such a man not want to live differently? I think so. Though he is in some sense a sinner, he is one who is also made new - which is His true identity. It seems to me that, insofar as we are in Him, we His sheep huddle close to our Good Shepherd, who keeps us on the straight path, away from our sin, death, and the devil – all that would harm and destroy trust in Him. The idea of “sinning that grace may abound” – at the costly expense of our kind, strong, and merciful friend – becomes increasingly absurd, quite frankly.

A: We know we have eternal life because we are already living it. Which is what St. John is saying. That is not an objective fact, however, unless we are so pure that our works prove it.

But I don’t see John making distinctions between simple facts, subjective facts, and objective facts. I don’t see him talking about the differences between certainty, intellectual certainty, and absolute certainty, assurance and absolute assurance, for example. To me, *this* seems to be imposing a rationalist framework on the Scriptures. *I want to talk about little children*, and how though they might be lousy at obeying sometimes, they always are amazing when it comes to receiving love, forgiveness, and simple trust.

A: … the right thing to do, when they feel the comfort and joy and peace of truly being forgiven, is then promptly to set about bringing forth the fruits of repentance, putting that affection into action. That's how they live. Because otherwise, honesty would require them to wonder whether the whole thing were not an exercise in self-indulgence, simply to comfort and assauge the unhappy, guilt-ridden self and no more. Put another way, there's a big difference between merely seeking forgiveness and genuinely repenting. And the only objective way to know which is which is by its results. You know a tree by its fruit.

Good points Anastasia, but of course there is forgiveness also for the person who recognizes that they keep messing up, since they are self-indulgent, and eager to comfort and assuage their unhappy, guilt-ridden self, right? :)

Finally – I also find it frustrating that while you seem – in my accounting of things – to be mitigating the words “know you have eternal life*, you do not appear to have the same difficulty when it comes to “knowing that you have the right Church”. This, it seems, cannot be doubted the least!

But I guess that’s just my “opinion”. :)

orrologion said...

And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. (I John 5:11-12)

There are a few ways I could imagine an Orthodox exegeting this passage - I wish i had more Greek or Russian to be able to pull from some patristic commentaries on the passage.

One, what does having the Son of God mean? Can one 'have the Son of God' and not be a member of the Church, His Body? Of course, that gets into ecclesiology and what one understands the Church to be. if one believes as the Orthodox do, then not being an Orthodox Christians means all others are outside of the Church, do not 'have the Son of God' and therefore do not have life - or, at least, do not have life in the normal way the Lord has shared with us.

Two, the concept found in many Fathers that Heaven and Hell are the same place, though we are different thus experiencing the same reality and the same presence of God in radically different ways. No Orthodox would claim that there is life only for Orthodox Christians in the next world and following the Judgement. All will have life, will be alive; but in what state? Christ destroyed death by death for all humanity (himself first, then his mother, then all on the Last Day), not just for believers.

Third, since Jesus Christ is "the way, the truth and the LIFE", the Apostle John is quite right that he who does not have the Son of God does not have LIFE Himself.

I don't think any part of this passage must of necessity relate to 'certainty', as that concept is understood by Protestants.

As I have thought about this over the past year or two, the very nature of the question of certainty has bothered me more and more. It seems to me the height of arrogance to base our view of whether God is 'good' or 'loving' or 'merciful' and 'forgiving' on whether He forgives ME and saves ME. Is it not possible - nay, likely - that I am iredeemable, terribly sinful, thankless, faithless, etc. and will not be saved? Don't I have the ability to reject forgiveness, mercy, love? and isn't God still forgiving, merciful and loving in spite of ME and my actions? All I need to be sure of is that God is loving, forgiving, merciful, longsuffering, patient, etc. I am sure of that, I am not sure I will be saved, though I am sure that He wants all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. But that is not the basis of the certainty that Luther, personally, desired and needed; the 'doctrine of certainty' seems to me to say more about those who need to be sure they are saved, and the religious milieu they lived in, than it does about God or the Bible or the writings of the Fathers.

Nathan said...

orrologion:

“I don't think any part of this passage must of necessity relate to 'certainty', as that concept is understood by Protestants.”

Do you think that what I just said about “certainty” is how “that concept is understood by Protestants”? Different Protestants believe differently, of course, and I think that I am putting forth a faithful Lutheran understanding of this.

I have trouble with what you say orrologion, because in verse 13 it goes on to say: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” I think its pretty clear that he is talking about the whole letter he has written, and also that the whole letter is about how we can know if we are with Him (eternal life - John 17) or not.

Further, I don’t get the sense that you are really addressing my words above, especially when you say, “It seems to me the height of arrogance to base our view of whether God is 'good' or 'loving' or 'merciful' and 'forgiving' on whether He forgives ME and saves ME”. This – “whether God is good or loving or merciful or forgiving” – is not what I am talking about. I am not making this proposition *hinge* on what I am saying about the matter of child-like faith and confidence in Him. Child-like faith and confidence in Him is the result of the *fact* that God is these things, period.

Orrologion: “Is it not possible - nay, likely - that I am iredeemable, terribly sinful, thankless, faithless, etc… Don't I have the ability to reject forgiveness, mercy, love?”

Yes. It is true. That is you, certainly. His Name is blasphemed because of you. So – make it your confession. Call it sin. *Now* - receive His absolution as well: “Christ has forgiven you all your sins”. *Know* that in spite of your evil, with Christ, you have eternal life! You are saved. Do not worry about tomorrow – “Will I be saved?” – for each day has enough trouble of its own. Rise, sin no more, and take those baby steps with Him now, showing the fruits of repentance that God may be glorified, for He desires that all men be saved, as you say.

Orrologion: “I am not sure I will be saved, though I am sure that He wants all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. *But that is not the basis of the certainty that Luther*, personally, desired and needed; the 'doctrine of certainty' seems to me to say more about those who need to be sure they are saved, and the religious milieu they lived in, than it does about God or the Bible or the writings of the Fathers” (emphasis mine)

First, you make quite a bold - and not flattering - statement about Luther. I personally think that he was actually more concerned about his neighbor than himself, which is how he could be as aware of his sin as he was (for we only realize our sins in the context of our relationship with our neighbor). Second, what is this “doctrine of certainty” you are talking about. Please make it explicit. *Is what I have been talking about here* this “doctrine of certainty” that you speak of? “The religious milieu [Luther] lived in” is interesting and important to explore, but if you are willing, please deal with the words I am speaking now.

Thank you!

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Nathan, you wrote:

"That is an interesting theory about epistemology and ontology. I will think on it more."

Rx: I don't think it's mine. It's found, if memory serves me, in Oberman's _Harvest of mediaeval theology_ (I can't find my copy at the moment, to verify it). It was confirmed by Paul Spade, the mediaevalist at IU, in classes I took with him in the '80s.

NR: When you talk of certainty and verification however, you immediately turn to scientific and mathematical examples. Why not personal examples? Family? This is what I don’t understand. Who is being the "logomachtician" :)

Rx: Personal examples would work. I can grasp things like math and science. I cannot grasp even human persons, because they are free. How much less can I grasp God!

NR: Really now, *can’t I try to argue or persuade you of my Father’s love?* I want to tell you about the love which would desire for me and others to daily live in simple confidence and peace - *knowing* that I have eternal life (which of course, can be lost when I ultimately decide I do not want forgiveness for the sin of hesitating to "reckon myself" united with Him in His death)."

Rx: The love of the Father is not in dispute. It was his love that led him to send his Son. Remember, we speak of God as he who is "good, and *loves* mankind."

I am puzzled as to why you think Orthodox need convincing about the love of the Father. It's not us who hold the Anselmian angry God theory, but you. Was it not an eminent Lutheran (correct me if I'm wrong here) who began a "Higher Things" talk by telling the kids that God hated them, and had a terrible plan for their eternity? (I remember Pr. Weedon being upset about that, at the time it was said.)

Finally, let it be noted that the point of this thread is the protestant use of the fathers, not personal assurance. Anastasia has directed you to her blog's discussion of assurance; perhaps that would be the place to pursue the discussion further. I've found it a problem on many blogs that the discussion begins to veer off the point; I've been guilty of it myself. But on this blog, I'd prefer that we stick to the topic of the post, and when making digressions, show how they connect to the main topic. Thanks!

orrologion said...

Fr. Gregory has rightly noted that this is not the place to discuss assurnace. So, I must not have made myself clear in my comments. Generally, I am talking about reading this text from a different paradigm, which is hard for anyone to do with any text. We have all gained eternal life through Christ, but is it eternal life in hell or paradise? Truly Life Himself is to be found only in paradise, but we remain equally alive on the left side after Judgement, too.

Perhaps we will have a chance to discuss this further elsewhere.

Nathan said...

Father Gregory,

FG: I'd prefer that we stick to the topic of the post, and when making digressions, show how they connect to the main topic.

I understand. In my mind (think Polanyi and “tacit knowledge”) this is related to all of our use of the fathers. From my limited reading of the fathers, it seems to me that *they do not ever try to get the Christian to doubt whether or not they are really connected to Christ or not through a lack of love (or proper ecclesiology for that matter) on their part*. Have the Orthodox so greatly responded *against any concept of certainty* that they do not see this?

FG: The love of the Father is not in dispute. It was his love that led him to send his Son. Remember, we speak of God as he who is "good, and *loves* mankind."

You are missing my point. My point is that part of the love of the Father is that He, through His Word, creates the situation where we can be at confidence and peace. He tells us, though His apostles, that we “have peace with God” and that we can “know we have eternal life”. Our sin would tell us otherwise, but His Word makes a new situation, where doubt is slain, and our eyes are lifted to Christ. And we know this is appropriate. As parents, we try to do the same with our children – we try to create a situation where they can be confident of their love and forgiveness for them, even as we make it clear that their sin will not be tolerated. How much greater is God’s trust/life-creating Word than is ours?

FG: I am puzzled as to why you think Orthodox need convincing about the love of the Father. It's not us who hold the Anselmian angry God theory, but you. Was it not an eminent Lutheran (correct me if I'm wrong here) who began a "Higher Things" talk by telling the kids that God hated them, and had a terrible plan for their eternity? (I remember Pr. Weedon being upset about that, at the time it was said.)

I think Anselm is way off in a lot of ways, though he was a big factor in Western theology for sure. Fortunately, I don’t subscribe to Anselm’s doctrine en toto (and I think it would be inappropriate to begin a talk in that way, by the way). I am afraid that all of this misses the point however, which I believe is nicely encapsulated in my previous paragraph.

But… given the concerns that this thread is getting away from its real purpose, perhaps you might like to address my first paragraph and my (mistaken?) views of the fathers…

orrologion said...

Sorry also for referring to Lutherans as Protestants. This is a distinction that seems to have become more popular since I left the Lutheran church. I heard it once or twice, but never really understood it given both the history of the term and the common definition and usage of the word.

Nathan said...

orrologion,

Of course there is forgiveness for that as well. :)

Well, if we are all just one - as I believe we are in God's eyes - we wouldn't have such problems!

In Christ,
Nathan

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Nathan, you wrote:

"From my limited reading of the fathers, it seems to me that *they do not ever try to get the Christian to doubt whether or not they are really connected to Christ or not through a lack of love (or proper ecclesiology for that matter) on their part*. Have the Orthodox so greatly responded *against any concept of certainty* that they do not see this?"

Rx: Your question is, strictly speaking, off-topic--of that I am certain. Nor are the Orthodox against "any concept of certainty," whatever that means. Once again, I refer you to Anastasia's blog post where this has been addressed.

But as to the fathers, perhaps you've never read Cyprian of Carthage on the baptism of heretics. His position was not universally adopted, but it does speak against your notion that none of the fathers find a connection between ecclesiology and connection to Christ.

Perhaps you'd like to address the ecclesial/existential nature of the crisis confronting the west.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

If Fr. Gregory prefers, yes, you are all welcome to continue this on my blog.

Meanwhile, I'd like to point out that it is St. John himself who "mitigates" his statement about knowing we have eternal life. He does this by pointing out that it is he who abides in love who abides in God, and explaining how we know we love God: if we do His commandments. To the extent we do this, our confidence in our eternal future grows.

And I'd like to reiterate that no Orthodox doubts the love and comfort of God. Or that we are connected to Him by Holy Baptism, Holy Chrismation, Holy Communion. But it is entirely right for our conscience to question our final destiny to the extent that our works contradict our alleged faith and love. As I said, our confidence grows as our love does. Perfect love casts out fear. Imperfect love only imperfectly casts it out.

Again, if we decide to carry this discussion to my blog, here is the website:

http://anastasias-corner.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2008-01-24T23%3A51%3A00-05%3A00&max-results=15

Chris Jones said...

Fr Gregory,

First of all, welcome to the blogosphere. I have always enjoyed (and usually, but not always, agreed with) your comments on other weblogs; I look forward to more of your thoughts on your own.

To return to the subject of your post:

I don't think you are making your objection to Protestants' use of the Fathers very clear. At first it seems that it is the taking of isolated passages from the Fathers out of context that is the problem. Later, with the citation from Khomiakov, it seems that it is the subjection of the Fathers' teaching to rational analysis that is the problem.

But surely the Fathers are not to be read uncritically. Not everything that every writer who has been considered a "Father of the Church" is of equal value. Otherwise the filioquism and nascent predestinarianism of St Augustine would have the same weight as the marvelous analysis of gnomic and natural will in St Maximos Confessor -- after all, both are "Fathers." Bp Kallistos has written that "Patristic wheat has to be sorted from patristic chaff."

Of course, modern rationalism is a poor standard by which to read the Fathers; Khomiakov is surely right about that. But what is the canon by which the Fathers are to be read? It would be helpful to understand your objection to Protestantism if you were to sketch out not only the wrong way (the "Protestant way") to approach the Fathers, but also the right way -- the Orthodox way -- to do so.

Finally, I must differ with you on your contention that Khomiakov's dictum about Anglicanism can be applied to Lutheranism. However much latitude in teaching and practice may be tolerated in contemporary American Lutheranism (and it is not inconsiderable), it pales next to the inchoate mess of theology and practice that is Anglicanism. This was true in Khomiakov's day and is even more true today.

In Lutheranism there is at least the relatively objective standard of the Book of Concord, to which an errant pastor or congregation might in principle be held to account. In Anglicanism there is no such standard. The Prayer Book and the Articles might be thought of as standards in this sense, but they were never intended, nor have ever been used, as such. One need only consider the Gorham Judgment to see how worthless the Prayer Book and the Articles are as a standard of faith and practice.

Perhaps you and Khomiakov would claim that the Lutheran Confessions are as much the product of rationalism as are the wildly various parties within Anglicanism. But that claim would have to be demonstrated, and the demonstration would not be trivial.

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Anastasia,

I do prefer--not because Nathan hasn't raised an important topic, but because it is such an important topic, and you've handled it quite well, and I wish to prevent, as much as possible, "topic creep" on this blog.

The unworthy priest,

Fr. Gregory

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Christopher, hello! When you write,

"At first it seems that it is the taking of isolated passages from the Fathers out of context that is the problem. Later, with the citation from Khomiakov, it seems that it is the subjection of the Fathers' teaching to rational analysis that is the problem."

you actually summarize the point quite nicely. The "context" for the right understanding of the Fathers is within the life of the community which they guided, the community which has preserved their way of speaking and worship--the Church, with its bishops who 'rightly divie the word of truth.' When the Fathers are subjected to rational analysis (meeting the same fate as the Scriptures, by the way), they are interpreted within an alien context, and in fragments. There may be some benefit and some truth derived by rational analysis, but it is accidental. (It 's like eating the shell of the nut and tossing the meat away.) I'm not sure if this is quite fair, but let me put it this way: when I was a Lutheran, St. Basil (for example) was fundamentally a piece of writing, to be read and analyzed. As an Orthodox, St. Basil is a person--a saint and bishop and teacher in my Church, to be heard and to be spoken to, asking his intercession before Christ God.

When you contrast Lutheranism and Anglicanism, do you mean to contrast "confessional" Lutheranism with Anglicanism? There's the ELCA, a number of German and Scandinavian bodies, and other groups such as Church of the Lutheran Brethren who wish to be known as Lutheran, too. Perhaps the difference between Lutherans and Anglicans is that Anglicans try to hold diversity of opinion within one body, whereas Lutherans split and try to form a newer truer body?

But the drift toward theological diversity--what Florensky would call ecclesial homoiousianism--is the same in all western bodies, including Rome. I remember being told by a Roman priest, a friend of mine, when I was looking East, "But Robb, come to Rome. You can think exactly like an Orthodox and be welcomed!" I responded, "That's the problem."

And so, recognizing the distinction between Anglicanism and Lutheranism, it seems to me the fundamental point of comparison remains.

Try this thought-experiment. Confessional Lutherans decide to form a new, truly-Lutheran body. Does that body:

> have episcopal or congregational polity
> allow individual cups (plastic or otherwise) or not
> insist on weekly communion or not
> insist on private confession or not
> confess the semper Virgo or not

etc. etc. I think Pr. Weedon had a post called "Quia Eye for the Lutheran Guy" some years ago, which had a useful checklist.

Florensky has a beautiful commentary on the phrase, "Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess," which I hope to cite and discuss in a future post, God willing.

Constantine said...

Bless, Father, and congratulations on your blog! I look forward to reading and following along.

Kissing your right hand, I am,

Yours in Christ,
Travis (Constantine)

Nathan said...

I am continuing the discussion on certainty at anastasia's blog. '

Post #9 under "faith and certainty, part 3" (I think that's the topic thread)

Jnorm888 said...

WOW this post was awsome. And so true!


JNORM888

Nathan said...

FG: "Perhaps you'd like to address the ecclesial/existential nature of the crisis confronting the west."

Here? Would that not be just as off-topic as my soapbox issue (certainty)? :)

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

If you read carefully, Nathan, you'll see that this post has two main points:

1. that protestant attempts to cite the fathers do not accomplish what they seek;
2. that orthodox attempts to dialogue with protestants on this point are wasted time, since they only serve to distract from the ecclesial/existential dilemma facing protestants today.

So I suppose you can address the e/e dilemma, if you care to.