The one common refrain at OrthodoxBridge is that Protestants can’t find any of their distinctives in the early Fathers of the church. This charge bothers some people. However, like a judo artist, I will redirect the blow. This will not prove that Protestantism is correct, but it will show that if the charge is correct, not only is Protestantism false, but so is Orthodoxy.
In volume 5 of his series on the History of Christian Doctrine, Jaroslav Pelikan openly challenges the adequacy of the Vincentian canon (it’s in the second to last chapter). At best it can only read, “What is [usually] believed by [many] people in [most] places.” Evidentially, especially in the earlier days of the church, it’s almost impossible to prove that the people in India believed in the same thing as the people in North Africa. And if the evidence is missing, how can you make the case?
Even worse, as Lars Thunberg points out, St Cyril affirmed “one will and energy” of Christ (Pseudo-Dionysius said the same thing). The whole point behind St maximus’s theology is the very opposite of this. Yet, if one were to “go to the earlier fathers,” would one necessarily come away with dyotheletism? Even worse, St Maximus himself hints that the greatest of all theologians, St Gregory Nazianzus, used language that was disturbingly similar to monotheletism.
The problem is this with Orthodox internet apologists:
P1: Our practice today is part of the ancient tradition of the church.
P2: We thus appeal to this church father to prove this.
Therefore, the early church taught this and this is the tradition.
What’s the problem with this argument? The problem is that there is an epistemic gap between P2 and the conclusion. How do we know that this father is the tradition, or that tradition is thus and so (and most of the time, I don’t even grant P2. A lot of times these fathers aren’t event talking about 9/10ths of the practices that are now considered “tradition”)?
Even granting P2, at best the syllogism’s conclusion only reads: one Father of the church taught this.