Thursday, July 03, 2008

Discussion about the Orthodox Church

Since the following discussion, Patrick and I have had a more formal debate which is available HERE]

On Wednesday July 2, I had an online interview with Patrick Barnes and Patrick Phillips to discuss their their views on the Church. Since my two guests were both named Patrick, after their opening statements Patrick Barnes is referred to below as Barnes, while Patrick Phillips is referred to as PP.
Robin, statement 1: This is the first in a series of interviews I will be conducting for the readership of Welcome to this forum. I have with me today two Patricks, both of which are members of the Orthodox Church. Welcome.

Patrick Barnes statement 1: Thanks for inviting me to participate.

Patrick Phillips statement 1: Thank you Robin

ROBIN 2: It's a pleasure. I'd like to begin by asking you each in turn to introduce yourselves for my readership, and then I will ask you some questions about your various spiritual journeys.

BARNES 2: Who goes first?

ROBIN 3: You go ahead.

BARNES 3: I converted to the Orthodox Faith thirteen years ago. My Protestant background was varied: charismatic, then Presbyterian, then Anglican. I am the Webmaster of the
Orthodox Christian Information Center and the author of The Non-Orthodox: The Orthodox Teaching on Christians Outside of the Church.

PP 2: Is this a book?

BARNES 4: Yes. Published in 1999. Now out of print. Will be republished in an expanded version in 2009. More information at

ROBIN 4: I will look forward to seeing your back available. I can relate to your background because I am an official member of both the Anglican church and the Presbyterian church.

BARNES 5: If I may, the entire book is still available online.

ROBIN 5: Okay. At the link you already gave?

BARNES 6: Yes.

ROBIN 6: In a minute I will ask you to explain about your journey, but first I would like the other Patrick (who also happens to be my brother) to introduce himself to my readers. Let's hear from Patrick Phillips now.

PP 3: I´ve found your website useful in the past, Patrick. It´s a good service. I grew up only going to church sporadically with my family, mostly to the Anglican church with my Grandmother. In my early twenties I attended various churches haphazardly until I started looking seriously to join a church. About five or six years ago I was looking pretty seriously into Catholicism, until I went to take a vacation at a monastery and was exposed to Orthodoxy and then decided to convert to Orthodoxy. I converted when I was 30, I´m now 33.

BARNES 7: Thank you, Patrick.

ROBIN 7: Yes, thank you. Now a question for you Patrick Barnes (and Patrick Phillips you can jump in if you have anything to add along the way). I was going to ask you what factors were instrumental in your own conversion to the Orthodox faith, but I think that a prior question is probably necessary. Could you define for us what exactly you mean by the ‘Orthodox church’? Patrick and I discussed this question earlier
HERE but were unable to achieve any satisfactory answer.

BARNES 8: I think a good way to answer this question is to quote from an authoritative source, such as The Orthodox Church, by Timothy Ware: "
The Orthodox Church is thus a family of self-governing Churches. It is held together, not by a centralized organization, not by a single prelate wielding absolute power over the whole body, but by the double bond of unity in the faith and communion in the sacraments. Each Church, while independent, is in full agreement with the rest on all matters of doctrine, and between them all there is full sacramental communion…. There is in Orthodoxy no one with an equivalent position to the Pope in the Roman Catholic Church. The Patriarch of Constantinople is known as the ‘Ecumenical’ (or universal) Patriarch, and since the schism between east and west he has enjoyed a position of special honour among all the Orthodox communities; but he does not have the right to interfere in the internal affairs of other Churches. His place resembles that of the Archbishop of Canterbury in the worldwide Anglican communion....

"Orthodoxy claims to be universal — not something exotic and oriental, but simple Christianity. Because of human failings and the accidents of history, the Orthodox Church has been largely restricted in the past to certain geographical areas. Yet to the Orthodox themselves their Church is something more than a group of local bodies. The word ‘Orthodoxy’ has the double meaning of ‘right belief’ and ‘right glory’ (or ‘right worship’). The Orthodox, therefore, make what may seem at first a surprising claim: they regard their Church as the Church which guards and teaches the true belief about God and which glorifies Him with right worship, that is, as nothing less than the Church of Christ on earth.
" From The Orthodox Church, by Timothy [Metropolitan Kallistos] Ware (1st ed.), p. 15-16.

In short, we believe that the Orthodox Church is that family of churches who share "one Lord, one Faith and one Baptism" (Eph. 4:5). We believe the Orthodox Church is the "one, true, catholic and apostolic church" of the Nicene Creed, and that it is "the pillar and ground of the Truth" (1 Tim. 3:15).

ROBIN 8: So what is the difference between the Orthodox and the protestant tradition? Many protestants claim to be in churches that conform broadly to the criteria you have just mentioned?

BARNES 9: The difference? Myriad theological issues, to start. The "one faith" of Eph. 4:5 certainly cannot be claimed by Protestants.

ROBIN 9: Why not?

Why else are there 26,000+ denominations? They are over doctrinal disputes. The details of the differences would involve a very long discussion. I recommend you read Augsburg and Constantinople by Geogrge Mastrontonis for a good overview of the differences between Protestants and the Orthodox Faith. It is basically the dialogue by letter of the Lutheran scholars from Tubingen, Germany and Patriarch Jeremiah II between 1572 and 1579. However, I would be happy to try and answer specific questions.

ROBIN 10: Yes, I do have a few questions. I was going to ask you about your conversion but since your definition of ‘the Orthodox Church’ has raised some questions, I’d like to just pursue these for a few minutes.

BARNES 11: That's fine. While I'm waiting for your questions I'll just mention that excerpts from the aforementioned book are at

ROBIN 11: Thanks. It's always good to know about these resources.

BARNES 12: Glad to help. I see my role in an "ecumenical" way as simply helping to clarify—mainly to Protestants, and mainly by just offering a vast collection of online articles—what the Orthodox Church teaches, i.e., to facilitate understanding.

PP 4: Maybe helping to clarify to Orthodox as well.

BARNES 13: Yes, that too. But not because of anything I write. I'm just a Webmaster, trying to make resources more easily available. I mean, I've written a few things, but that's not my focus.

ROBIN 12: Okay, well here is something you can clarify for me. While acknowledging your point about the doctrinal disputes that have fractured Protestantism into so many denominations, the unity on all the essential doctrines is one of the things (not the only thing but certainly one thing) which allow Protestants to claim the "one faith" of Eph. 4:5, and which separate protestants from heretical sects. You would probably make a similar point about Orthodoxy: although there is a lot of infighting and bickering among various orthodox groups, they are still bound together by the cords you already mentioned.

PP 5: Unity on all essential doctrines?

BARNES 14: We reject this idea of "essential doctrines."

ROBIN 13: Explain...

BARNES 15: Who determines what is essential? Isn't theology a woven tapestry? Start pulling out threads and the garment comes undone.

St Basil the Great wrote in his On the Holy Spirit: "Of the beliefs and practices whether generally accepted or publicly enjoined which are preserved in the Church some we possess derived from written teaching; others we have received delivered to us "in a mystery" by the tradition of the apostles; and both of these in relation to true religion have the same force. And these no one will gainsay; — no one, at all events, who is even moderately versed in the institutions of the Church. For were we to attempt to reject such customs as have no written authority, on the ground that the importance they possess is small, we should unintentionally injure the Gospel in its very vitals."

PP 6: I would also dispute the idea that Protestants agree on all the ¨essential¨ doctrines.

BARNES 16: Yes, Patrick, good point. St. Basil closes his discussion with these important words: "Time will fail me if I attempt to recount the unwritten mysteries of the Church. Of the rest I say nothing; but of the very confession of our faith in Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, what is the written source? If it be granted that, as we are baptized, so also under the obligation to believe, we make our confession in like terms as our baptism, in accordance with the tradition of our baptism and in conformity with the principles of true religion, let our opponents grant us too the right to be as consistent in our ascription of glory as in our confession of faith. If they deprecate our doxology on the ground that it lacks written authority, let them give us the written evidence for the confession of our faith and the other matters which we have enumerated. While the unwritten traditions are so many, and their bearing on "the mystery of godliness" is so important, can they refuse to allow us a single word which has come down to us from the Fathers; — which we found, derived from untutored custom, abiding in unperverted churches; — a word for which the arguments are strong, and which contributes in no small degree to the completeness of the force of the mystery?"

I think the question "Who determines what is essential?" is important. It's an issue of authority. For the Orthodox this is easily settled: It is the Orthodox Church. It is easy to demonstrate that we hold the Faith undefiled over the centuries. Our doctrines are unchanged over time. And we believe that you cannot pick apart the Faith and strip it down to "essentials". Remember, the Nicene Creed states that the Church is "Catholic", which means "according to the *whole*".

Protestant authority rests on the very tenuous doctrine of "sola Scriptura", something that has been very well addressed by another convert to the Orthodox Faith, Father John Whiteford:

PP 7: As it also rests on the individual, his/her interpretation of Scripture.

BARNES 17: Indeed, Patrick: sola Scriptura. Robin, (if I may be permitted to ask you a question, though I'm not trying to derail your agenda here!), do you affirm the Seven Ecumenical Councils?

ROBIN 14: So many different threads are opening up that I am having a hard time following. Right now I am trying to understand how that quotation from St. Basil help us with what we were discussing. What point were you trying to make by quoting it? And PP, if you guys reject
the idea of 'essential doctrines' (PP 6), then you are not in a position to dispute the idea that Protestants agree on all the ¨essential¨ doctrines. Finally, in answer to Barnes' question in Barnes 15, about theology being a woven tapestry, I would certainly agree that that is the case with the essential doctrines, and if the category of essential doctrines is in dispute, it might be helpful to consider verses such as Romans 14:1 (actually, all of Romans 14) and also Paul’s point again and again in Galatians against those (like the Judiazers) who were trying to make something other than faith in Christ the basis of table fellowship.

Finally, since you mention the ecumenical councils (Barnes 17), the idea of ‘essential doctrines’ seems to be heavily implied by those very councils which defined certain beliefs as heresy. To say that an idea is heresy seems to imply that it cuts against an ‘essential’ element of faith. As for the Seven Ecumenical Councils, I have only read about the first 4 so I would be unable to make a comment about that at this time.

BANRES 18: "For were we to attempt to reject such customs as have no written authority, on the ground that the importance they possess is *small*, we should unintentionally *injure the Gospel in its very vitals*." AND "While the unwritten traditions are so many, and their bearing on "the mystery of godliness" is so important,...". My point is that St. Basil is saying that even the little and unwritten things are of vital importance. These quotes certainly argue against reducing the dogmas of the Church to a set of core essentials, with a view towards permitting disagreement over "less essential" doctrines.

Your second argument is not reasonable. Just because we reject what *you* believe about essential doctrines does not mean that we cannot observe that Protestants disagree over these "essentials".

PP 8: I was just getting ready to ask the same thing, how does it follow.

ROBIN 15: So when PP said "I would also dispute the idea that Protestants agree on all the 'essential' doctrines (PP 6) he meant that they disagree on those things which THEY consider to be essential?

PP 9: There is probably no agreement about what is essential.

BARNES 19: Yes, that's how I understand his comment.

ROBIN 16: Okay, that clarifies that.

BARNES 20: I agree with him.

PP 10: certainly not what the Orthodox would consider to be most important, sacraments for example as a means towards salvation.

BARNES 21: I would have to read the Patristic commentaries on Romans 14, but based on my recollection of the text I would say that there is a big difference between the issues disputed there and the kinds of things that Protestants debate and divide over.

ROBIN 17: Oh certainly. I only referred to it because you were seeming to claim a priori that there were never any doctrines which could be classed as non-essential. Certainly the issues were very different back then, although many of the principles may be applicable.

BARNES 22: Fair enough on the question regarding the Seven Ecumenical Councils. But I would say they are certainly worth studying, for they were universally upheld by the Church centuries before Protestantism even existed. They are an extremely important Councils at the core of Holy Tradition.

ROBIN 18: Thanks for that pointer.

PP 11: While Protestants may purport to affirm Nicaea, there is no way they could affirm the later one´s, which dealt with the Mother of God and Icons.

BARNES 23: Doctrines by definition are essential and authoritative. Non-dogmatic beliefs are mere opinions.

PP 12: Protestants sometimes want to look at communion, for example, in isolation from the rest of the sacraments, which doesn´t work.

ROBIN 19: Are you saying then that a "non-essential" doctrine is meaningless by definition?

PP 13: I mean, they can´t be separated. It´s a woven tapestry, like you said.

BARNES 24: Not meaningless, just not dogma. Patrick makes a critical point. Protestants reject the doctrines concerning the Mother of God and the veneration of Icons, yet these were ratified by Ecumenical Councils, and the theology behind these doctrines is absolutely connected to "essential" teachings, mainly in the area of Christology.

ROBIN 20: Amplify on what you said about the Mother of God please.

BARNES 25: Do Protestants believe She is "ever-virgin"? Do they honor her as the Mother of God, the Theotokos? Both of these were disputed by heretics of the past, and Ecumenical Councils convened (in part) because of these heresies. For more on this see

ROBIN 21: Yes Protestants can, because the phrase ‘Theotokos’ in the the First Council of Ephesus (431 AD) was not denoting anything radical about Mary but simply reaffirming [what would later be known as] Chalcedonian Christology against the heresy of Nestorianism. At the risk of over-simplification, Nestorius taught that Jesus was two persons rather than one person. There were two Jesus’s walking around, but they were very close to each other so it looked as if there was only one. Nestorius explained it as there being a human person, Jesus, to whom the Son of God attached itself. Kind of like good demon possession. As a corollary of this belief, Nestorius taught that the person of Christ to whom Mary gave birth was the human person, and this was a different person to the divine person of Christ. Consequently, Nestorius needed to say that Mary was the “Christ-Bearer” not the "God-Bearer" since she gave birth to the human person of Jesus but not the divine person. At the urging of its president, Cyril of Alexandria, the Council denounced Nestorius' teaching as erroneous and decreed that Jesus was one person, not two separate people. He was fully God and fully man. To emphasize this point, the Council said that Mary was God-bearer (“Theotokos”). The importance of that statement was not so much what it said about Mary as what it implied about Christ

I point this out because we don’t want to create any false dilemmas. It is important to emphasize that Protestants and Orthodox have more in common than maybe we realize at first. This brings me back to your initial definition of Orthodoxy.

“Self-governing Churches” - there are protestant denominations that are self-governing.

“The double bond of unity in the faith and communion in the sacraments” – Protestant churches have that.

“No one with an equivalent position to the Pope in the Roman Catholic Church” – Protestants certainly have that, by definition.

“Honour of the Patriarch of Constantinople” – certainly possible for a protestant to do, in so far as there is nothing essential to Protestantism to exclude honouring the Patriarch of Constantinople.

“Claims to universality” — Protestantism claims that the ‘The Church’ is universal (at least the protestant church I go to claims that)

“Not something exotic and oriental, but simple Christianity” – many Protestant denominations certainly conform to this criteria.

“their Church is something more than a group of local bodies” – again, claimed by Protestants as well.

BARNES 26: I'll take your points one at a time. You write Protestants "can". But Protestant's don't. There is no honor or veneration of the Mother of God in Protestant assemblies. One hardly hears about her, and then only as "Mary". This may seem like a minor point but from an Orthodox perspective it is not at all.

ROBIN 22: I meant that they 'can' refer to her as 'Theotokos', not that they venerate and honour her. You would need to define what kind of veneration and honour you were referring to.
BARNES 27. 2 “Self-governing Churches” : I don't see your point. That is not a litmus test for Orthodoxy. It is merely a characteristic of the churches that comprise the Orthodox Church.

3. “The double bond of unity in the faith and communion in the sacraments” : Amongst themselves, yes. But not with the one, true Church. Therein lies the rub.

4. “No one with an equivalent position to the Pope in the Roman Catholic Church” : I grant you a point of agreement.

5. “Honour of the Patriarch of Constantinople” : this is really a minor thing not worth discussing at this point when there are so many more weighty matters.

6. “Claims to universality” : Protestantism can only claim this as the "invisible Church". We reject Protestant ecclesiology that focuses on the invisible Church. See my essay at

7. “Not something exotic and oriental, but simple Christianity” : Forgive me, but this is also not a litmus test for Orthodoxy. I think we should stay focused on the key issues relevant to the question "What and where is the Church?"

"You would need to define what kind of veneration and honour you were referring to." :

PP 14: And all the veneration of Mary is meant to point to Christ, just as you pointed out Robin. We agree. And does point to Christ, a difference with Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy.

ROBIN 23: Well, it is worth remembering that these points which you are saying are not litmus tests but only ‘characteristics’ were presented when I asked you to define the Orthodox Church. It seems now that a problem with Timothy Ware’s definition is that it only works if you first have a prior idea in your mind of what you mean by the ‘Orthodox Church’ or ‘the true Church’ (since the two categories seem to be equivalent for you guys). For example, he defines the Orthodox/True Church as including “The double bond of unity in the faith and communion in the sacraments”, and when I said that Protestants also had that, you replied, “Amongst themselves, yes. But not with the one, true Church.” This amounts to a circular argument since it defines the true church as being in communion with the true church.

As for the veneration of Mary, it is worth noting that even as late as the 12th century Bernard of Clairvaux referred to the veneration of Mary as a new-fangled novelty with no basis at all in earlier church tradition.

BARNES 28: So how can I clarify your question regarding the definition of the Orthodox Church?

Bernard was wrong. What can I say?

ROBIN 24: To clarify my question about the definition of the Orthodox Church, maybe you could tell me what the litmus test is to determine whether a church is Orthodox or not. Or, what is the essential difference between Orthodox church and Protestants?

BARNES 29: Do you trust the Third Ecumenical Council and the life of the Church since that time, or Bernard? The essential difference is that we do not share the same Faith. We disagree on many many points. Concerning our differences you could consult Chapter 3 of my book at

ROBIN 25: So the difference basically boils down to different theological perspectives? My point in quoting St. Bernard was not to appeal to his authority, but because, as an historian, that is evidence that the veneration of Mary was neither as ancient nor as widespread as Roman Catholic and Orthodox apologists imply.

BARNES 30: So the litmus test is "right belief" and Bishops who have apostolic succession. Apostolic succession involves faith and order, not just faith, and not just order. In other words, take away one or the other and you do not have the true Church. Roman Catholics, Anglicans and perhaps some other Protestant groups can claim succession of order but not faith.

ROBIN 26: What do you mean by 'order'? How do you know when someone has 'right faith'?

BARNES 31: Order means tracing the Mystery (Sacrament) of ordination back to the Holy Apostles. I recommend Father Gregory Rogers' monograph entitled Apostolic Succession, available from Conciliar Press.

PP 15: Yes, that´s a good pamphlet. Do we trust the men the apostles gave the church too? As Orthodox we would say yes, certainly, without doubt. The keys to the kingdom.

BARNES 32: Right faith is determined by that which the Church "always believed, everwhere and by all" (a phrase attributed to St. Vincent of Lerins). Certainly the burden of proof rests on the Protestants that their views on a variety of doctrinal topics are correct when they differ from the Orthodox teaching.

ROBIN 27: But this raises a crucially important epistemological question: How do you know what the Church has "always believed, everywhere and by all"?

PP 16: It should be easy to determine by looking at the fathers.

ROBIN 28: The burden is also on the Orthodox to prove that their beliefs are in accord with what the Church has "always believed, everwhere and by all"?
BARNES 33: Wouldn't what the Church believed prior to the Great Schism be sufficient? For a thousand years? It's easy to determine what the Church believed during that time, all of which is still held by the Orthodox Church. The Roman Catholics have added many things and thus departed from the true, apostolic faith.

ROBIN 29: The first thousand years! There were certainly disputes during that period and not just with heretics. It’s easy enough to side with Nicaea against Arias, but who do I follow when faced with the disagreements between St. Clement of Alexandria and St. Tertullian? Even apart from this difficulty, using the first thousand years of church teaching as a measuring rod of right belief ends up opening the door to the problem (so frequently pointed out by your own apologists) of private interpretation: if I cannot be trusted to use my ‘private interpretation’ on the book of Romans, how can I be trusted to correctly interpret the words of St. Jerome or Athanasius?

"The Orthodox are divided up into nineteen traditions, the Roman Catholics have sixteen, and the Protestants have twenty-one. If we throw the Anglicans in, they account for another six. Far from Bedlam, this appears to be simply the cost of the gospel doing business in a fallen world. But whichever door you choose, you have lots of work for private judgment to do in following up that choice.” From Doug Wilson's article, “
Private Judgment

BARNES 34: Sure, there were disagreements. To answer your question, you follow the Ecumenical Councils and the "consensus of the Holy Fathers".

ROBIN 30: What is the "consensus of the Holy Fathers"?

PP 17: How these traditions divided up? This quote by Wilson seems ambiguous to say the least. Can you call the church in each country a denomination? It just means the Christians in Greece, or the Christians in Serbia. From this it follows that when any society is called the Church of Christ, with the addition of a local name, such as the Greek, Russian, or Syrian Church, this appellation signifies nothing more than the congregation of members of the Church living in that particular locality, that is, Greece, Russia, or Syria; and does not involve any such idea as that any single community of Christians is able to formulate the doctrine of the Church, or to give a dogmatic interpretation to the teaching of the Church without the concurrence therewith of the other communities; still less is it implied that any one particular community, or the pastor thereof, can prescribe its own interpretation to the others. Khomiakov

BARNES 35: On dogma there is no opening for private interpretation. You would need to cite an example that illustrates your claim that my measuring rod opens the door to that problem.

Doug Wilson?! Excuse me for laughing. I mean, really. This guy so blatantly misrepresented Orthodoxy in his Credenda articles from the nineties that it only showed his extreme ignorance. See our response to his claims:

PP 18: And again more recently in Credenda.
BARNES 36: Sorry for the emotion there. I don't mean to cause this dialogue to spiral downward. I just had a gut reaction to that.

If you read our response to Doug Wilson you will see that he doesn't know what he's talking about. Wes Callihan even apologized to me privately for his article in that issue.

I should clarify: Wes apologized for Wes's article, not Doug's:

To address Mr. Wilson's statement (""The Orthodox are divided up into nineteen traditions"): these are more cultural traditions (e.g., Greek, Slavic, etc.) not Traditions in the sense of dogmatic.

ROBIN 31: It's too late in the night for 'Ad hominem' attacks. The point in quoting Wilson was not to appeal to Wilson as an authority, but for us to debate the content of his truth-claims. Which brings us to your question: I don't know how Wilson divides the denominations up, but the point I was getting at by quoting him was that private judgment is inescapable. Either we have private judgment about the Bible or we displace that onto private judgment about the church fathers. If you want an example of this in practice, I need to go no further than this discussion. Earlier we had a dispute about the meaning of 'Theotokos’ in the the First Council of Ephesus (431). Also we have a dispute about the meaning of the Nicene Creed. You have written on your website, "‘I could not, with any intellectual honesty, say that I upheld the Nicene Creed and remain Protestant." We obviously interpret the Council of Nicea differently. How do we adjudicate between the various intepretations of the Holy Fathers and the councils? How about informed private judgment?

BARNES 37: I'll get to your previous question in a second, but to your latest: I'd have to look at the definition of "denomination", but suffice to say that we do not use this term. We would simply say "local church", i.e., the local representation of the Orthodox Church in that country. For example, we would say "Serbian Orthodox Church", but this doesn't imply that they believe differently in any way dogmatically from the "Greek Orthodox Church".

ROBIN 32: Yes, but it is still true to say that the Orthodox community has fractured into many different bickering groups. It was a friend who is Orthodox himself who first told me about all the backbiting amongst yourselves. That seems inconsistent with your earlier claims about complete unity.

BARNES 38: Yes, there are controversies. Recall what St. Basil the Great wrote about the Church during his day: Any reading of Church history surrounding the Ecumenical Councils bears this out. I'd say this has no relation to the divisions among Protestants.

Well, you may accuse me of circular reasoning, but I refer back to 1 Tim. 3:15. The Church is the pillar and ground of the truth. Find the Church and you find the Truth. The question "What and Where is the Church" is "upstream" of questions about various doctrines.

PP 19: Khomiakov also addressed that point in his essay The Church is One, and concludes that it is faith---like belief in God.

BARNES 39: Divisions among Protestants are solidified and stagnant. Whole denominations form around these differences. Such is not the case with Orthodoxy. Things get argued out, perhaps over decades, and then matters are settled by a Council.

ROBIN 33: Where do the Councils get their authority from?

PP 20: God.

ROBIN 34: How do you know?

BARNES 40: Church councils are ratified by the Church over time. Recall the Robber Synod that was ultimately rejected by the Church.

God, yes, but more precisely, the Holy Spirit guiding the faithful of the Church over time.

PP 21: Surely so many different priests and bishops, from so many different countries, meeting in tandum to decide the cannon and then agreeing; surely this is a remarkable proof of the Spirit at work.

BARNES 41: Wheat and tares grow together, of course, so it sometimes takes a little while before the threshing floor does its work.

ROBIN 35: Okay, but by that argument the verdict is still out on Protestantism – how do you know that sometime God won’t, in His providence, bring Protestants together for an ecumenical council? But that is a problem for you and not for me.

BARNES 42: This question is too hypothetical even to address. Forgive me! And the Church has spoken about Protestantism. It's clearly seen as heresy, a departure from the true faith. I don't wish to be so blunt, but that's what the Church teaches. I try to cover this delicate topic in my book, which I hope you will at least peruse as it is very germane to our discussion tonight.

PATRICK 22: Could you say that it´s an amalgamation of all heresies since it effectively teaches its members not to attend Orthodoxy churches?

BARNES 43: Here's some online fodder regarding how the Orthodox view the Protestants and Roman Catholics: My introductory remarks are important.

Yes, Protestantism in general holds to many different teachings that are contrary to the Orthodox Church.

Robin, I think I'm going to go soon. Do you have one more question? I would be happy to do a follow-on chat with you if you would like.

ROBIN 36: Just one more. You said in BARNES 30 that the litmus test for the true church is "right belief" and in BARNES 32 you said that right belief is determined by that which the Church "always believed, everywhere and by all." To determine that we have to look at the fathers (BARNES 34 and PP 16) and the first thousand years of church teaching (BARNES 33) and the Ecumenical Councils [BARNES 34].

This raises two questions: how can the church be determined by the councils (implied in the above) at the same time as the content of the councils are determined by the church (as you argue in (BARNES 40 - “Church councils are ratified by the Church over time.”) This seems cause your position to collapse in circularity.

Even waving this point, a more fatal problem would seem to be that your view leaves us with no criteria for understanding the content of church councils since it rejects private interpretation (assuming I have correctly understood your Reductio ad absurdum against Protestantism - PP 7 & BARNES 17). I already pointed out two early councils on which we have reached radically different interpretations.

You would no doubt go with the interpretation of those councils offered by your church. But if understanding the councils is necessary for identifying the church (BARNES 34), and if you must first identify the church before you know what the correct interpretation of the council is, then again the whole thing collapses into circularity.

I'm conscious of your need to go, and it is getting late hear as well, so if you would like to respond to this another time, I would be happy to give you a 'rain check'.

BARNES 44: It's a bit late for me to read back through all that I wrote and try to explain what I meant in that context. Suffice to say that your inference is not what I intended, to wit, that the Church is determined by the Councils. The Councils are held by representatives of the Church (i.e., the clergy), but the Body of Christ—the Faithful—have to accept these Councils. This acceptance over time is guided by the Holy Spirit and, we believe, is infallible. In other words, Councils that over time the Church (the Body of Christ: clergy and laity) declared to have authority, esp. the Ecumenical Councils, were fully embraced and accepted. One could not be Orthodox and reject them. I don't see any circularity here. If there is, it's only superficial and will require further dialogue when I am in a fresher state of mind.

ROBIN 37: But you did say that the Councils was one of the things that point us to the true Church, right?

BARNES 45: One could say the following, however: Membership in the Church can be determined (in part) by acceptance of the Councils. Personally to reject one of the Councils would be to reject the Church's teaching, Her Faith, and thus to excommunicate one's self. Yes, in hindsight the point us there. I was just trying to give you signposts.

PP 23: The councils point to the church but are not the church. The church prompted the councils. I guess you could say they are the notes of the church.

BARNES 46: An understanding of Holy Tradition is much more involved than what I have laid out here. The articles at will help you.

Yes, I think this a wrap, don't you Robin? It's been a pleasure. And I'm willing to do one or more follow-up sessions should you desire.

PP 24: thank you both.

ROBIN 38: Thank you both very much for your time and the resources you have suggested.

BARNES 47: I'm glad to help.

ROBIN 39: It's been very good. God bless you both.

PP 25: Thank you Robin. It´s been interesting.

For further reading, see Debate: Is Protestantism Heretical?

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Konstantina said...

In the above debate Robin states, "Robin 23: As for the veneration of Mary, it is worth noting that even as late as the 12th century Bernard of Clairvaux referred to the veneration of Mary as a new-fangled novelty with no basis at all in earlier church tradition."
Could you please cite where precisely Bernard of Clairvaux states this? Because in his Epistle 174 he raises issues with the innovated teaching that the Virgin Mary was conceived Immaculately without sin or blemish, NOT that her veneration is "a new-fangled novelty" but rather, and I quote, "I am frightened now, seeing that certain of you desire to change the condition of important matters, introducing a new festival unknown to the Church, unapproved by reason, unjustified by ancient tradition. Are we really more pious than our fathers? [...]I say that the Virgin Mary could not be sanctified before her conception by reason of the sin which is inseparable from conception".
It is clear from the context that Bernard of Clairvaux thought the veneration of the Virgin Mary was grounded in the traditions of our forefathers. His objection is in regard to the idea of an "immaculate conception"- a belief that the Orthodox REJECTS- and not to the practice of honouring her as the very Mother of God.

Arlondo said...

(this comment was left by Patrick Phillips, although going by the online psuedonym Arlondo. Aside from this note, the usual orthographic train wreck should leave no doubt as to authorship).

After our debate I was curious and so did a little more research about the patristic debates concerning the Virgin Mary which you brought up. You are right, Robin, that the Chalcedonian Ecumenical Council convened as a reaction to Nestorius and that their formulations about Mary were thus Christological in character. But far from their formulations leading to a subsequent veneration of Mary, there is evidence from a little pamphlet that it was actually affirming a veneration already present. I don´t know what primary texts St. John Maxamovich drew from when he wrote the following description of the events which immedietelly followed the council´s decision to call Mary ¨Theotokos¨, but the evocative description is apropos to this question if not 100% historically authoratative in and of itself.

Here is what he said:
¨It was decided to convene an Ecumenical Council, at which hierarchs, gathered from the ends of the world, should decide whether the faith preached by Nestorius was Orthodox. On the 10th of the calends of July according to the Roman reckoning, that is, June 22, 43 1, in the Ephesian Church of the Virgin Mary, the bishops assembled, headed by the Bishop of Alexandria, Cyril, and the Bishop of Ephesus, Memnon, and took their places. In their midst was placed a Gospel as a sign of the invisible headship of the Ecumenical Council by Christ Himself. As the place for the council, which was to be the Third Ecumenical Council, they chose the city of Ephesus, in which the Most Holy Virgin Mary had once dwelt together with the Apostle John the Theologian...At the end of the (councils) session its decree was immediately communicated to the waiting people. The whole of Ephesus rejoiced when it found out that the veneration of the Holy Virgin had been defended, for She was especially revered in this city, of which She had been a resident during Her earthly life and a Patroness after Her departure into eternal life. The people greeted the Fathers ecstatically when in the evening they returned home after the session. They accompanied them to their homes with lighted torches and burned incense in the streets. Everywhere were to be heard joyful greetings, the glorification of the Ever-Virgin, and the praises of the Fathers who had defended Her name against the heretics. The decree of the Council was displayed in the streets of Ephesus.¨

Matthew N. Petersen said...

I don't have a copy of it with me here, but I'm prety sure Jaroslav Pelikan in Mary through the Ages says that Nestorius objected to existing Marian devotion.

Yes, Chalcedon was a christological controversy. But for whatever reason, Protestants cannot seem to see that a discussion of the tree is a discussion of the Fruit. That a comment on the fount is a comment on the stream. Marian devotion is, almost by definition, Christocentric. Or rather, Marian controversies are Christological controversies.

Robin Phillips said...

Thanks Konstantina. I've just checked my source and apparently I was wrong about Bernard of Clairvaux. Thanks for alerting me!

Elias said...

Many thanks for your post, Robin. I am not as informed as some of the other Orthodox who have contributed, but I would like to add something. My beef with Protestantism is that it upholds teachings that were introduced for the first time by the Reformers and then goes back to the Bible and re-interprets verses to make them fit those teachings. For instance, most Protestants I know subscribe to Zwingly's teaching about the sacrament of communion. The Bible says "this is my body ,,, this is my blood", "my body is real food", "anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself”, "“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?" etc,,,

Yet, being convinced that communion is a mere representation which does not even need to be held all that often, my Protestant friends read over the actual words in these verses. There is no question about what the early Church believed. Many other examples could be given where a departure in the 15th century is the only explanation for today's Protestant belief and practice. The Bible is then made to fit the belief.

Forgive me if I caused any offense. Thank you again for the honesty with which you have conducted this discussion.

Robin Phillips said...

I do not hold the Zwinglian view of the sacraments, but the Calvinist one.

Jnorm888 said...

Robin phillops,

I could be wrong, but you made it seem as if the council of 431 A.D. (Ephesus) came after Chalcedon (451 A.D.). It didn't. It came before. It is seen as the 3rd council. Chalcedon is seen as the 4th. So there was no way for the 3rd council to confirm what the 4th council said.....if it came before.

One more point about Chalcedon. It was formed for two reasons.

1.) Against Nestorianism

2.) Against some of the teachings of Eutyches and "monophysitism"

Also in regards to prayers to the Saints and Marian devotion. I will say that people were praying to the Saints at the time of Nicea.

You claim to embrace the Nicene creed and the creed of Chalcodon, but you deny their meaning when you deny the beliefs of the ones who signed those creeds.

How did they understand those creeds? This should be the question you should ask. Protestants didn't exist back then so it doesn't matter how they interprete those creeds. What matters is how the original signers interpreted them.

I could be wrong, but I think this is what Patrick tried to get accross.

It was the Church that interpreted those creeds. So if you have a different interpretation than what the original signers had then you really can't claim to hold to such creeds.

I hope that makes sence. And I hope I wasn't rude. If I was, I'm sorry.


Erich said...

Robin, forgive me -- I may be interpreting your statement incorrectly or Protestant church structure -- but your statement that you don't believe as in the Zwinglian tradition but rather in the Calvinist tradition... aren't those both protestant and yet, in this one matter at least, mutually exclusive, disagreeing on one of the most important matters of the faith? This would be one example in my mind, as one Orthodox, of the divisions in faith between Protestant traditions that is not present in the Orthodox Church. No Orthodox believer would dispute the real presence of Christ.

Spencer said...

I have a Romainian coworker who is Orthodox. I was doing some research because he wants me to pray to the mother of god as if she was equal to jesus now for a church to say they dont worship her and yet one who is sixty years old and has been in this faith for his whole life and does this I don't get it. and as far as history goes other than the word of god nothing should be looked as sound doctorine. being gosple ignorant is taring Christians apart being a young christian at the time i atended a church of christ which taught that if you believed you were saved before you were baptized you will not be saved because the baptism is invalid. as I have grown of course I know this is obsurd. one thing I do know is not to trust man and only god. so who has the holy spirit and who does not and who are you to say when He comes and goes. and He says (you will know them by their fruit). I believe we should forget the past history written by man and uphold only to the teaching of Christ in his Word. You can argue about what man has taught in the past all you want but you cant argue what God teaches in His word.

nicolas said...

Clement of Alexandria is not listed as a Saint, but may be one; and Tertullian was never canonized a Saint because he became a heretic late in his life by turning to Montanism.

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