Friday, February 5, 2010

What still divides us

This year I've learned more than ever before about Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, and the relationship between them and Protestants.

I just read interviews on the Kingdom People blog with a convert from the Baptist church to Eastern Orthodoxy, and then another interview with a Romanian former Orthodox member who converted to the Baptist church. This post describes the crux of the difference between the two.

I think Trevin hits on a crucial point, and it has me thinking about the bottom line difference between Protestants, Catholics, and the Orthodox. We have many differences, but they flow from one thing - the issue of our ecclesiology, our view of the Church, and what the Church sees as her authority.

This is a simplification, but do you think it's fair?

  • Catholics see their ultimate authority as being the Church, and the Pope as the god-ordained head of the Church. 
  •  
  • Protestants see their ultimate authority as being scripture, the guiding Word of God given to guide His people on earth.

  • The Orthodox see their authority as being the early history of the Church, including the Fathers, the Councils in which the canon and doctrine were confirmed, etc. 


It seems that until no matter what else we agree on, as long as we disagree on these essential points, we will never be united.

29 comments:

Young Mom said...

Each has totally different ways of looking at the world. I think its pretty safe to say that it would be almost impossible to unite the 3 of them.

PresterJosh said...

Those are pretty decent thumbnail summaries. :-)

I think that some Orthodox might object that their authority is the Church, but as embodied in the Fathers, councils, etc. But as you said, it's a simplification.

You're quite right that as long as we have different authorities we won't be able to be fully united. On the other hand, we shouldn't discount what unity we do have in the scriptures, in the foundational creeds, etc.

Ultimately, what led me to reject Protestantism (and eventually embrace Catholicism) was coming to the conclusion that Sola Scriptura is logically incoherent. As you implied, the issue of authority really is the source of many (if not most) of our differences.

Maxim said...

For Orthodox, the ultimate authority is the Church, which the Holy Spirit has guided through Her history by the example and teaching of Righteous Ones through the ages, and the definitions of the Church gathered in council under the Holy Spirit. Catholics say the Church is the ultimate authority, but for them, the Pope is the Church; one Pope even said he was the sole witness of Tradition. Orthodox believe in the authority of the Bible as "The Book Of The Church", but know the Bible was created by the Church, not the Church by the Bible.

Anonymous said...

Well, I think as a simplification it's pretty fair. It is a simplification, though, and makes me want to clarify. :) Catholics see the Church as the source of authority on earth, with that authority given by God to the Church. That authority comes from Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition (early history of the Church, Church fathers, Councils), and the Magesterium. The Pope is the head of the Magesterium, but these three things are all working together. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say about Magesterium:

"Yet this Magesterium is not superior to the Word of God (referring to Scripture and Tradition), but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens devotedly, guards it with dedication and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith."

Sorry, I didn't want to get too technical, but while I do accept and embrace the authority of the Pope, I do see him as the servant of Scripture and Tradition, not the master of it.

CM

Kacie said...

So many good comments, I actually react to them emotionally when I read them.

You know, here is where I fully agree with you all. The technical idea of sola scripture, where you only need the scripture and through perspecuity it explains itself, makes no sense to me. The way my husband explains it is not that we accept the Bible ALONE, but the way accept the Bible as the final authority. However, our approach to the scripture is guided by the Spirit, the Church, our great Tradition...

PresterJosh said...

The approach to scripture's authority that you outlined is definitely much more palatable than the "me and my Bible" approach. But it still seems a bit problematic to me.

Say that you've got an Arminian and a Calvinist arguing a theological point. They both accept the Bible as the final authority. But this isn't sufficient to resolve their disagreement, because the whole problem is how you interpret what the Bible is saying.

There are various ways to mitigate the problem, but I do think that it is very real.

Since we're on the subject, you might the find Dei Verbum (The Word of God) interesting. It is the Catholic Church's official teaching on the relationship between Holy Scripture, Holy Tradition, and the teaching authority of the Church.

Isaac said...

Hey PresterJosh, you said, "Say that you've got an Arminian and a Calvinist arguing a theological point. They both accept the Bible as the final authority. But this isn't sufficient to resolve their disagreement, because the whole problem is how you interpret what the Bible is saying."

I agree that the Bible doesn't necessarily speak to every issue; that's why we should be certain where Scripture is certain and hold loosely what Scripture holds loosely. However, just because two people appeal to an authority doesn't mean they can't discuss their interpretations and (hypothetically :) come to a conclusion.

The problem of personal hermeneutics (interpretation) will follow you home too, brother. How do you interpret church history, the creeds, or a papal bull? To some degree, these things can all be misunderstood or construed to support conflicting viewpoints. Appealing to the authority of the church doesn't make the interpretive problem disappear. It only moves it back a step.

To those who would say that the Scripture is founded on the Church rather than the Church on the Scriptures, I would quote Eph 2:20 which (very clearly speaking of the Church) says it was "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief corner stone."

CM said...

Isaac- I found myself reading and re-reading your last paragraph. It made no sense to me at first, because I couldn't tell which way you were arguing. Not that your argument was unclear, it's just that that particular verse has always been a special one to me. The reason that I believe that the Catholic Church is true is that I believe that it was the Church founded by Christ. I believe that He entrusted that Church to His apostles, and that it was passed on to us in it's entirety (Scripture, Tradition, and teaching authority) through the apostles' successors. That one little verse encapsulates so much of what I believe about the Church.

Therefore, it completely threw me to have it arguing for Scripture as the final authority, since that is completely opposed to what I see when I read that verse. Same verse read with different interpretations lead to it being used to support differing views of authority... the irony kills me! I guess we should discuss our interpretations and try to come to a solution. :)

Isaac and Kacie- I've said it before and I'll say it again. I always appreciate how well you think through posts and responses. We may not ever come to a complete agreement about this authority thing, but I love that you are willing to think about and write about these things and the way that it leads to discussions. I'm always excited to read what you have to say because I know I'll learn something, and I appreciate the way your attitude fosters honest discussion about areas that we disagree on. I respect you both a lot!

Kacie said...

haha, yeah CM, it is amazing how the same verse can be viewed differently - he expected that. We actually had a long chat after he posted that about all of this.

I think... I think that the interpretation is sort of a side issue. I mean, it's crucial, but I think (I think! - I could be wrong) that you all would agree that there are still issues of interpretation even within the Catholic church. I think it comes down still to authority. In your eyes you look at Protestants and see every man being their own authority - a very dangerous thing that leads to discord and cults and much craziness.

And here's the thing... sometimes we agree with you. I HATE it when Protestants perceive their faith or church as being a sort of floating unmoored thing, unconnected to history and tradition. That is ever so damaging and arrogant. And in the end, such a loss of the richness and depth gained from years and years of saints and liturgy and discussion...

Anyways... from the Protestant side of things, here is what is positive about that Calvinist-Arminian example you gave. You are right that having scripture as the final authority does not resolve their differences. However, we would say that we see these passages differently because we are still fallible people, able to increase our understanding of scripture and truth, but not to be infallible ourselves. And so, we can discuss intensely with another believer an issue that we passionately disagree on, but still understand

This is where I am uncomfortable with the claim to infallibility that comes from Catholic doctrine, once it's been stated clearly by the Majesterium. Here's where my faith history infuses my thinking - I just continue to think, they are also fallible human beings, they also COULD be wrong.... and thus the claim to infallibility seems dangerous.

Isaac said...

Thanks for your comments CM. I really appreciated them. Yeah, I realize that that passage is interpreted differently. The way one interprets it obviously comes down to your definition of Apostolic Succession. Roman Catholics obviously think that the authority of the Apostles is transferred with the Bishoprics, so that it is an institutional succession. This is obviously with the assumption that the same teaching was passed on as well. Protestants understand the inheritance of the Apostles to be their teaching. Therefore, we hold the Scriptures to be the primary authority. If you read the reformers, they had no problem with church offices or counsels; they only had a problem with the Roman Catholic Church in the areas where it disagreed with the Scriptures. On this point I definitely agree with the reformers. I'm fine with church hierarchy and counsels and such, but when someone disagrees with Scripture (a well attested, obvious point), especially when they disagree with much of the historical church, I side with Scripture.

I just read that last line... it seems more aggressive or arrogant than I meant it. Sorry. I know that Catholics believe the Bible too :)

So, having said all that... when Eph 2:20 says that the church is founded on the Apostles and Prophets, it is talking about the teaching of the Apostles and Prophets. The "Prophets" is referring to the Old Testament, and the "Apostles" is referring to their teaching (the New Testament clearly wasn't finished yet) later written down in the New Testament books.

PresterJosh said...

Isaac,

I definitely agree that Catholics still have to interpret things (Papal documents, Ecumenical Councils, etc.). That's just the human condition and can never be escaped.

What I was suggesting with my scenario wasn't escaping interpretation altogether, but instead having a shared authority to whom you can turn to guide your interpretation and help prevent such widely diverging views. It doesn't solve all problems of interpretation, but if the shared authority says, "double-predestination is heretical," then it would certainly solve this particular problem. :-)

Does that make sense?


Kacie,

I totally understand where you're coming from with the whole "claiming infallibility is dangerous" idea.

But consider a council like Nicea which was called in order to determine whether or not Arianism (the idea that Jesus is a creature, not the creator) is a heresy. Ultimately, of course, it concluded that Christ is "of the same substance" as the Father. Is that council fallible?

For Catholics or Orthodox, the answer is easy. Nicea is an ecumenical council, and thus infallible. But for consistent Protestants, the answer would have to be that the council is fallible.

If the council is fallible, then a Protestant would be within his/her Christian rights to dissent from the council on the basis of his/her interpretation of scripture. (For instance, using passages like "the Father is greater than I").


Both of you: Please let me know if I'm coming across too strongly, or if you feel like you just need a break from discussions like these -- or me :-) . I don't want to bother you in the slightest. I have an inclination to jump into theological discussions when they touch on topics I find interesting, but I realize that that may not be what you need right now.

Kacie said...

PresterJosh, you really don't come across too strongly. Isaac absolutely loves theological discussion, and and so he will always tell you exactly what he thinks in response and not mind any strong opinions otherwise. I think it's a man thing. :)

As for me, I tend to have more of a friendly conversation over questions, but as I am married to my rather blunt husband, I do just fine with strong statements so long as I don't think the other person is angry! You have never come across too harshly.

The example of Nicea is pertinent - Isaac and I talked about that last night. Isaac is quite clear in his opinions, I am not - I asked some of the same things you ask above.

In any case, you are right, Protestants do not consider the councils infallible simply because they are ecumenical councils. The attitude towards the councils, the creeds, the Fathers, etc is all the same in the Protestant church. In an of themselves, none of them are infallible. Rather, they (and we) identify and state what is true and always has been true. Truth is not imparted by the Church, it is identified and assented to. The Church is responsible to be a witness to and to serve that truth.

And so - we have this great statement of truth that comes out of Nicae. Protestants would say that the statement is fallible - it is just a statement. But it just so happens that the statement is TRUE. How do we know? Well, the fact that it was declared by a council IS a big deal. It is affirmed by the Church - Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox... throughout the ages. That also is a BIG deal. It is affirmed in scripture (of course that is always the most important element in the Protestant mind). And so, in the end, we conclude that is is orthodox theology, central to our faith.

The disadvantage is that then you can have any Protestant claim that everyone's been wrong all along. The Protestant response to that danger is that ultimately because of the scripture and the Spirit, the Church will course-correct when they start to fall away from good doctrine. This makes the teaching of good theology absolutely crucial in the Protestant world - thus my husband's life passion and career direction.

However, I still have questions. Essentially, IF the intent of the Church from the beginning was to be unified in hierarchy and not just theology and teaching, then it is immensely important (once we have been convinced of this point) to rejoin the hierarchy that continues to be faithful to truth.

CM said...

"The Church is responsible to be a witness to and to serve that truth." I definitely agree with that. One of the things that I think about when I think about infallibility is the idea of which books belong in the Bible. I know this is an old argument, but bear with me. In the early Church, there was a general consensus about which books were worthy to be read at worship. This was not completely agreed on, but most people did know which books were worthy of adhering to and which were not. This was long before there was a council that said definitively which books belonged in the Bible.

Eventually, there were disputes about which books had the authority of Scripture, and which were simply good witness, but did not have the full weight of Scripture. There was a definitive list that was decided at a council. This list came about because of the collective understanding of the people and the bishops as to which books belonged, and the vast majority of the people agreed.

Because I believe that that council was infallible, I have an infallible collection of Scripture. If you deny the infallibility of the council, then you are left with a fallible collection of infallible books. This clearly collapses on itself, because it means that your Bible could be harboring a book that doesn't belong, or that there is an important book that is missing. I think that we would both agree that this isn't very likely, but without an infallible source outside of Scripture, you can't have an infallible canon of Scripture.

It's late, and I may not be making the best arguments ever, but I believe that our God can work in humans to allow them to be a part of writing infallible Scripture. I also believe that He would never leave us in the untenable situation of not being able to know for sure what really was and was not Scripture.

(By the way, Ignatius of Antioch was definitely huge on being unified with the bishops.)

PresterJosh said...

"Rather, they (and we) identify and state what is true and always has been true. Truth is not imparted by the Church, it is identified and assented to. The Church is responsible to be a witness to and to serve that truth."

Absolutely. This is where Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants all agree. The Church doesn't produce Truth out of thin air. The Church is responsible to witness to the infallible truths revealed by God.

I guess the real question is "Does the Church witness to the Truth in an authoritative way?" Personally, I think that passages describing the Apostles as having "keys to the kingdom of heaven," the ability to "bind and loose" [Matt 16:17] or describing the Church as the "pillar and foundation of truth" [1 Tim 3:15] indicate a Church with the ability to speak authoritatively on matters of doctrine.

"The Protestant response to that danger is that ultimately because of the scripture and the Spirit, the Church will course-correct when they start to fall away from good doctrine."

I totally agree that the Spirit guides the Church and "course-corrects." But it seems to Catholics and Orthodox that one of the ways the Spirit does that is by guiding the Church leadership to declare what is "beyond the limits."

There is also the question of determining the limits of Christianity/the Church. I think you'd agree that there are certain teachings that are heretical. But if Christians can legitimately dissent from something as foundational as the Nicene Creed, on what basis could anyone ever be accused of teaching heresy?

Fr. Christian Mathis said...

Though your evaluations are simplified, I agree that we will have to come to a better agreement on authority in order to reach a true reunion.

debd said...

Oversimplified - at least as far as Orthodox is concerned - I cannot speak for Catholics. But, it is a starting point.

I'm reading a book you may find helpful "Light from the Christian East" by James Payton. He's a Protestant writing about the Orthodox faith. His starting point is that the East and West began looking at things from a very different point of view (simply put - one mystical and the other interested in law). So that even words like "theology" and "orthodox" have very divergent meanings for the East and West. I am finding his respectful attitude towards Orthodoxy refreshing. It might be a nice companion for you to "The Orthodox Church" by Met. KALLISTOS (Ware).

Isaac said...

Ok, I don't have time to write a long reply, but i'd like to keep the conversation going, so...

I think the basis of our disagreement is ecclesiological. PresterJosh, I think you touched upon it when you said, "There is also the question of determining the limits of Christianity/the Church."

On what basis do you define (or limit) the church? Is it based on the Bible? Is it self-determining?

(I'm going to talk along Catholic lines here because I really don't know as much about EO ecclesiology.) The basis for the Church can't be based on the Bible (since the Church is the foundation of the Bible), and the Church can't be self-determining, because that just doesn't work. I'm guessing (and correct me if I'm way off here) that it's based on God. Seems to make sense. So, it's validity is witnessed to by the Holy Spirit? That seems right, right?

PresterJosh said...

Isaac, I agree that our disagreement is ecclesiological. That's what I've been trying to get at. :-)

"The basis for the Church can't be based on the Bible"

Well, that depends on what you mean. It is based on the Revelation given to us in the scriptures, but it isn't based on scripture alone.

"and the Church can't be self-determining, because that just doesn't work."

Again, that depends on what you mean by "self-determining." The Church can, for instance, baptize someone into the faith or excommunicate someone. But both of those are intimately tied to the Spirit, because it is the Spirit who acts in baptism, and it is the Spirit who transforms the bread and wine into the Holy Eucharist (which is denied to the excommunicate).

"I'm guessing (and correct me if I'm way off here) that it's based on God."

Indeed.

"So, it's validity is witnessed to by the Holy Spirit? That seems right, right?"

In some sense, of course. However, I'm not sure what sense you are thinking of.

I think that the principle difference between Catholic and Protestant ecclesiology can be found in the idea of the Church as visible (Catholic) or invisible (Protestant). To Catholics, the notion of the Church as the Body of Christ implies that it has a visible reality.

To some people, of course, the Catholic notion seems too focused on externals. But for Catholics, it is an extremely mystical idea. It is a continuation or extension of the Incarnation. It is the Body of Christ that is the instrument of our salvation through His Passion. It is the Body of Christ in the Eucharist that communicates (!) His grace and redemption to us here and now. And it is the Body of Christ, the Church, which communicates this salvation to the world.

Isaac said...

Ok, I think I need to restate my question. How do you know that the Roman Catholic Church is the true church and not the Eastern Orthodox or the Coptic, or the Syrian Orthodox, or the Armenian etc?

Although I realize that the RCC post-Vatican II is willing to say that we are all in some sense "christian" it still claims to be The True Church.

How do you know that it is The True Church?

PresterJosh said...

"How do you know that it is The True Church?"

Well, I think there are several different ways that you can approach this question. But I'll explain what worked for me.

In discussions with an Eastern Orthodox friend, I came to the conclusion that sola scriptura is incoherent if you look at it closely enough. (Short version: The Bible never says that the Bible alone is our rule of faith.)

At that point I began looking into the Church Fathers. Again and again I would discover that the Catholic & Orthodox positions were validated. (On the meaning of the Eucharist, on Mary, Intercession of the Saints, etc.) I dismissed the Oriental Orthodox churches from consideration very early on, because they didn't appear to have a consistent case for why we should pay attention to this council (Nicea), but not this council (Chalcedon).

In looking at the Catholic/Orthodox question, I was already inclined to the Catholic position on the Filioque, but what cemented things was reading John Henry Newman's Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. In that work he argues convincingly that just as the notion of the Trinity developed from what was implicit in scripture to a highly articulated doctrinal statement, so too with other Catholic doctrines, including the authority of the Papacy.

Also suggestive to me was the fact that though the Eastern Orthodox churches maintain that they could at any moment have a new ecumenical council, in point of fact, no ecumenical council (accepted by the Orthodox) has been held since the Great Schism. On the other side, the Catholic Church has continued to hold ecumenical councils at approximately the same rate as the united Church of the first millenium.

Obviously this more narrative than argument, but I think that for an argument we'd have to break it all into much smaller pieces. :-)

Isaac said...

Thanks for your reply, that's a very good answer. I thought you'd probably have pretty good reasons. The point I've been leading to is not particularly mind-blowing, but I think if you follow it to its conclusions it'll explain the Protestant position.

Your answer to "why this church over that one" is essentially a subjective one. You chose this church over that one. You picked the one which you thought was more authoritative. You even determined for yourself the criteria by which to pick a church, how to determine which one is authoritative. So, although you can now easily appeal to the authority which you see so clearly manifested in your church, it still remains that your following of it is based upon your perception. Now, of course, you can say that you made that decision based upon the guidance of the Holy Spirit. (But even your perception of that is subjective; many people have thought they were led by the Spirit.)

Please understand, I'm not trying to criticize you for this; this is similar to the Protestant position. I recognize the authority of the Bible based on the witness of the Holy Spirit. Through reading it I have come (by the guidance of the Spirit) to understand that I need to be in the church, but my understanding of the church (based on the Bible and Spirit and Church History) is that it is not necessarily limited to a single administrative structure.

I am convinced that this is all true, but because I recognize that my process is somewhat necessarily subjective, I have to approach my theology with the recognition of my own fallibility (i.e. I could be wrong). I am convinced that God is truth and that He reveals truth, so I can know truth. But I have to recognize my own ability for self-deception. God's truth/word is not fallible, but I am, and therefore it is always possible that my understanding of truth is at least partially in error.

PresterJosh said...

"Thanks for your reply, that's a very good answer. I thought you'd probably have pretty good reasons."

Thanks. I think they're pretty good, too. :-)

"The point I've been leading to is not particularly mind-blowing, but I think if you follow it to its conclusions it'll explain the Protestant position."

I must admit that I'm a little confused. You seem to be saying that the fact that decisions involve human subjectivity implies that the "Protestant position" is correct. Perhaps I'm missing something, but I don't see how that leads to sola scriptura or sola fide or any of the other Protestant positions. The closest thing I could reach was "sola individua," but I doubt you'd actually agree with that idea.

Perhaps you could explain which Protestant position you think is supported by the notion of human subjectivity?

If you'd like to pursue how human subjectivity fits in with the Catholic view, you might find Cardinal Newman's Essay on a Grammar of Assent interesting.

Fr. Christian Mathis said...

PresterJosh,

Thank you for your assessment of a difference between Orthodoxy and Catholicism that I had not considered before, that being ecumenical councils. It is indeed fascinating that since the 7th Ecumenical Council there have been no convening of councils in the East. I'm not sure if this makes us in the West any more convincing as being more the church than they are, but it is something to give thought to. I too find Newmann's Essay on the Development of Doctrine to be convincing. Thanks for keeping the conversation going.

FC

Isaac said...

Well PresterJosh, I not sure what else I can say to communicate my point.

Let me try to clarify a little. You seemed to be suggesting somewhere (and I honestly can't find it. I've skimmed over the previous comments, so this might weaken my argument a little)... you seemed to be suggesting somewhere that there was a way to objectively know the truth of doctrinal issues based on the declarations of the Church. Now, like I said, I wasn't trying to make a huge point (or prove Protestantism) or anything, but it seems like you couldn't possibly have a way of objectively knowing these things for certain. And given your reasons for leaving one church to join another, it seems like you are thinking through theological issues for yourself. If the Roman Catholic Church did issue a "new" doctrine that you deemed absolutely heretical, would you choose to stay?

Just in case you would reply that it is impossible for the Church to err, I would ask, on what basis do you know that its impossible?

CM said...

Isaac, I understand what you're saying, but it's highly unsatisfying. As I read your last sentence, I am left wondering, what can you know? Is there anything? I mean, I've heard Protestants say that there are things that we "all" agree on (maybe not some extremist groups) and those are the things that you can rely on, but how do we know that we can really rely on them?

I suppose that you might say that my subjective desire to have some infallible boundaries of some point might make me conceptualize something like the Catholic Church, and that's why I would believe in it, but I think those boundaries are very important.

Although, honestly, I don't see how you can conceptualize the Catholic Church and then subjectively decide that's the type of church you're looking for. I've been a Catholic all my life. Some teachings are easy to embrace, but there are many things that I wouldn't think would be the best way at least right away. The joy for me is always learning more and discovering answers that are deeper than I ever expected.

PresterJosh said...

Isaac, I think we may just be talking past each other.

In part, perhaps this is because we are using "subjective" in different ways. When I referred to "human subjectivity" what I meant was "those parts of experience and decision proper to the human subject." What you seem to mean by "subjective" is "relative." Am I understanding you correctly, now?

"you seemed to be suggesting somewhere that there was a way to objectively know the truth of doctrinal issues based on the declarations of the Church"

Indeed. I do believe that to be the case.

"but it seems like you couldn't possibly have a way of objectively knowing these things for certain"

I may be wrong, but it seems to me that you are confusing two different levels of knowledge. As I mentioned before, human interpretation is inescapable. Perhaps an analogy will help clear things up.

Suppose that we have an argument between Aaron and Elijah. Aaron believes that John Wilkes Booth didn't really kill Lincoln because he doesn't trust historians. Elijah, however, believes that JWB really did kill Linconln because he accepts the authority of the historians. For Aaron to object that Elijah's opinion is "just as subjective" because they both had to decide whether to accept the authority of the historians doesn't make sense. It is the "subjective" act of trusting an authority which makes it possible for us to have an "objective" knowledge of things which we do not know directly.

"If the Roman Catholic Church did issue a "new" doctrine that you deemed absolutely heretical, would you choose to stay? "

Well, I'd like to point out that this is like asking a Protestant, "What if you found that there is a section of the Bible which teaches heresy?" It is impossible for the Bible to teach heresy, because it is the Bible which defines what heresy is.

"Just in case you would reply that it is impossible for the Church to err, I would ask, on what basis do you know that its impossible?"

I wouldn't say it's impossible for the Church to ever err. (And neither would the Church.) What is impossible is for the Church to err when defining a doctrine as infallible dogma (such as in an ecumenical council).

But to answer your underlying question: I know it to be true for the same reason that I know the scriptures to be the Word of God - the testimony of the Church. If the Church's doctrine cannot be trusted, then neither can the collection of scripture for which it claims infallibility.

If I receive the scriptures as the infallible Word of God because of the testimony of the Church (which Protestants do as well), then on what basis can I reject the Church's much more modest claim of the ability to rightly interpret those scriptures?

Allow me to follow up with a question to you: How do you know that Sola Scriptura is true? (Or on what basis do you believe it to be true?)

Isaac said...

I think you're right... I feel like we're talking past each other.

Maybe it's time to call this particular convo quits. It's getting kind of long and difficult to keep track of.

In fact, I think I've already answered you're question in a previous comment. Thanks for the good discussion :)

PresterJosh said...

Thank you! Looking forward to discussing more with you in the future.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

For the Orthodox, the ultimate authority is Christ, still alive and intimately present and leading His Church in Person, by His Holy Spirit – as promised. “I will not leave you orphans…”

Now it’s clear that the Holy Spirit does not teach different things to different people, but the same truth everywhere and all the time. That is where, for us, Holy Tradition (often confused with “the traditions of men”) comes in. Holy Tradition is what some Orthodox Christians have called “the footprints of the Holy Spirit.” It’s teachings and practices into which He has led His Church from the beginning up to and including today, together with all the artifacts and records of Spirit’s activity in the Church. The single most important such record is, of course, the Holy Bible. There are also creeds and saints (saints for us meaning not extremely pious people, but extremely Christlike ones, and there can be a hug difference) and icons and councils and such. If we really believe the Holy Spirit teaches us all the same things, then His past leadings and guidance have to be taken into account. If what we do or believe or teach today varies from those in any substantive manner, something is obviously wrong.

We believe that the Spirit of Truth works in many ways (not just in the clergy, nor just through the Holy Scriptures) in the whole church as a people, as a community, and He also works in each Christian’s heart, personally. And in every way that He works, whether through the Bible or through a saint’s witness or whether through the teachings of an Ecumenical Council, the Spirit teaches us all the same ancient Truth.