Prima facie problems with Orthodox claims


Note several things:  I am challenging Orthodox claims, not the lives of saints and monks, nor the theology passed down in the Councils.  Further, I still remain sympathetic to much in Orthodoxy.  However, when I was communicating these Orthodox claims to other Protestatnts, I was met with the following responses.  Dealing with these responses successfully will better help Orthodox Apologists in the Western world.  I am doing you a favor.  Please allow me to be very clear:  I really like you guys.  Some Orthodox thinkers like Fr Seraphim Rose and Fr Raphael Johnson have been so influential I really can’t put it into words.  I am doing this so that your own presentation of the faith will be so much sharper.  This is not a combative debate.

And when I use the term “convertskii,” I am doing it in good fun.  An orthodox convert friend of mine coined that term.

1.  By the nature of the case, oral tradition is resistant to verification.  One needs a written document to verify that the tradition exists.

2.  Even if we deny the principle of sola Scriptura, yet when explicit appeal is made to Scripture to ground a given dogma, then such an appeal must be exegetically sustainable.

3.  In what sense is the church “objective,” but the Bible is not?  Chrysostom thought it was objective.

4.  Given that no Magisterial promulgation is necessarily perspicuous, any answer anyone gives to the question of “what is the criterion by which perspicuity can be identified?” must have been discovered by some other means. And since knowledge and application of this criterion will be a precondition for even understanding what Magisterial proclamations in fact mean, it turns out that the sort of private judgment about which RCs lament follows from Protestantism really follows from RC. (I realize this more touches on Roman Catholic claims).

5.  to invoke the presence of the Holy Spirit in the church begs the question of how we identify the true church. In which church is the Holy Spirit to be found? What are one’s  criteria? Why those criteria?  I suspect that the very positing of the criteria begs even further questions.  Of course, this is true of any tradition.

6.  Appeal is often made to Vincent of Lerins canon. Yet in that same work, building that very argument, Vincent says that the church has always taught the Federal Headship of Adam’s sin (Commonitories, chapter 24).  The reply is, “The Fathers aren’t right on everything.”  Fair enough, by what criteria, then, is Vincent right on the canon and wrong on imputation of Adam’s sin?

6a.  In other words, we are hearing an appeal to the Fathers to help prove tradition.  But to justify the Fathers elsewhere, we appeal to other aspects of tradition.  How is this not circular reasoning?

6b.  Energetic Procession once made the criticism that sola scriptura was faulty because it relied on an appeal to what Scripture said elsewhere to interpret what it says here.   Admittedly, this is circular reasoning.  How is doing it with the Fathers and tradition any better?

7.  By what criteria do we affirm that your miracle stories are true and mine are not?  (And for the record, I affirm the stories to be true).

8.  You laugh at the grammatical-literal method of interpretation of the Bible, yet you employ this same interpretation when you read the fathers.  Why?  Can I employ Chrysostom’s method?

9.  It’s easy to make fun of the so-called 20,000 Protestant denominations, yet is the Orthodox church truly “one?”   Do the “True Orthodox” count as part of the Orthodox world?  Are they in communion with SCOBA, for example?  What about the catacombers?  Yes, ROCOR did reunite with MP, but the fact that ROCOR existed for so long seems to be an argument against the “seamless unity.”

9a.  These True Orthodox guys deny communion with you, saying you “lack grace in the sacraments.”  Here the Protestant inquirer faces an insurmountable difficulty:  both sides claim to be Orthodox.  One side was even formed out of resistance to Masonic and government apostasy (which seems to line up with what St Cyril of Jerusalem said on the end times–the True Orthodox shall fight Satan in his very person; therefore the prima facie claim to the real Orthodox guy goes to the True Orthodox).  Yet both sides make mutually exclusive claims.  Who gets to adjudicate?  Appealing to one side over another begs all sorts of questions.

10.  Which Orthodox churches have condemned Freemasonry and which are in bed with it?  This is important because 33rd degree Freemasons swear an oath to Lucifer.

10a.  If Athanasios is correct and that communing with someone is sharing in that person’s life and doctrine, what are the implications of sharing in the life and doctrine of one who has sworn an intimate oath with Lucifer?

11.   Can I appeal to Gregory the Great of Old Rome on the extent of certain canonical books?  Jnorm responded to me saying that Gregory was responding to Western needs, or something like that.  Fair enough.  My question remains:  I am a Westerner who resonates with Gregory’s liturgy.  Can I quote Gregory on this?  Is his understanding of the scope and limit normative for me, a Western Christian?

12.  I understand that many balk at the Calvinist’s understanding of God’s sovereignty.  I don’t like it either. Ultimately, though, all sides have to deal with the claim:  Is the future certain for God or not?  If it is, how is this not God’s causal determining of the future?  If not, open theism.

13.  Cyril of Alexandria solved many problems.  Did he create more?

14.  Are earlier fathers like the Cappadocians and St Maximus using the term energia/logoi in the same sense as Palamas?  Bradshaw affirms it of Nyssa but denies it of Maximus.  Radde-Galwitz denies it of both.  If they aren’t, does this not represent some form of development?

14a.  As Drake points out, how is God simplicity itself and beyond simplicity?

15.  Did Athanasius affirm the extra-Calvinisticum?

16.  Why does Monachos block my threads inquiring about ecumenism and Freemasonry (okay, you don’t have to answer that question).

17.  Much is made of the person-nature distinction, and the claim that Western models confuse person and nature with regard to Federalism.  Yet the Corporate Person is unavoidably biblical (see also Achan’s sin in Judges; Isaiah 53).

18.  The East rightly critiques Rome’s claims to unity based upon Rome’s faulty doctrine of God, Absolute Divine Simplicity.  This view reduces all reality to “The One.”  Applied to ecclesiology, Rome reduces unity to a visible, singular unity.  Yet often when Orthodox talk about the unity of the Church, they use this exact same argument.

19.  The Orthodox make the claim that God is hyperousia, beyond being.  All of God is beyond being, essence, energies and persons.  I know this is from Plato (Republic, 549 b, I think).  Is it really wise to base your divine ontology off of Plato?  ROCOR condemned Fr Sergii Bulgakov for doing precisely that.  I know that some sharp Orthodox philosophers will deny that their view is Platonic since they deny that God has an opposite.  Maybe so, but Andrew Radde-Galwitz, to whom these very same guys appeal, says that for Gregory of Nyssa every good has an opposite (pp. 206ff.), and these goods are correlative with the divine essence.

20.  I know this next one isn’t true of all, but it is something I have been seeing a lot of:  there seems to be an incipient Manicheanism concerning the use of reason.  When I make logical arguments over at Orthodox Bridge, I am told that there is more to Orthodoxy than just books.  Fair enough.  But why the aversion to propositional reasoning?  Maybe this is also why many Orthodox don’t like Perry’s blog.

4 comments on “Prima facie problems with Orthodox claims

  1. jnorm says:

    I don’t have the time to really comment, and so I won’t say much on this one, but I noticed you mentioned SCOBA more than once on your blog. I just wanted to inform you that SCOBA no longer exist. Also, I don’t understand your fascination with the Masons. You mentioned this issue a number of times, and I was trying to understand why you were so fixated on this. You read alot of books and yet some of the things you list here seem somewhat protestant-fundamentalist like.

    Some of the things that bother you on the list aren’t really a problem for alot of other folk. We have a number of Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist, New Agers, Secularists…….etc. Who become Orthodox or are searching Orthodoxy and they have a whole different set of lists that they worry about and so everyone is probably going to have different issues that bug them.

    And even in regards to the various christian groups that look into Orthodoxy, the Baptists may not have the same questions or issues that bug them as the Episcopalians, and Methodists. And the Presbyterians may not have the same set of issues either as say the Pentecostals who are searching us out, and so, we got people looking at us from all different directions. What maybe a satisfying answer to you, may not be for someone else, and vice-verse

  2. jnorm says:

    1.) There are other ways to prove of it’s existence other than written documents(The Bible, the works of Church Father’s and Witnesses…..etc). You have Prayer, the worship of the various Divine Liturgies, The basic christian world-view of those who gather to Worship. The lifestyle of those who gather to worship, some of the customs of those who gather to worship. To be honest, the Oral tradition can leave traces in a variety of formats. It doesn’t have to be limited to the format of Scripture Alone. Now in saying this I already know that another set of problems exist. But when I look at Church History, I don’t see them limiting themselves to simply Scripture Alone.

    2.) Hmm, what are trying to say here? I believe in Prima Scriptura and so yes, I will point to the Scriptures, but my Hermeneutic is different, and so it’s subjective to say “””such an appeal must be exegetically sustainable”””. Sustainable to who? To those who follow in the foot steps of the hermeneutics of Theodore of Mopsuetia? Saint John Chrysostom has that style because that was his teacher, but Theodore was condemned and so even-though the grammatical historical method has some value, it can’t be the driving grid/modal. And so I will have to agree to disagree with you on this.

    3.) What’s the difference in the contexts of Tertullian’s “”It’s useless to discuss Scripture with heretics”” vs Saint Chrysostom’s plea that his Parishioner’s should read the scriptures? Can you show me where Rome is against reading and studying the Scriptures with other Roman Catholics? Can you show me where the Orthodox are against reading the Scriptures and studying the Scriptures with other Orthodox?

    I always thought the dispute between protestantism and Rome was one in where protestants thought it was possible for the common man to read the Scriptures and interpret everything correctly on his own as guided by the Holy Spirit. Where as Rome thought that no, it wasn’t possible for the common man to interpret everything correctly for you will need the help of the Church for that. For on somethings you might get it right, but on other things you might get it wrong.

    Let’s do a test case! Does Scripture teach Baptismal Regeneration? Yes or no? Outside of the Anglicans, and some Federal Vision types the Reformed tradition keeps saying no! But what does Scripture objectively say? Also, can “””everyone””” really say Scripture “objectively” says something? The Bible doesn’t audibly talk back to us in order to correct us if we interpreted it falsely. It doesn’t carry with it it’s own hermetical rule book. And so, if there is objectivity to Scripture, who is that objectivity opened to? Was it “always” opened to the Scribes, Teachers of the Law, and Pharisees?

    5.) If one looks at the historical Church then Most groups that exist today would automatically have to be crossed out. Only a handful would remain and for that handful another set of tests would be at play.

    6.) Why is circular reasoning wrong in and of itself? In order for something to be coherent there must be some degree of circular reasoning somewhere. I mean, if we are talking about the actual reality of something, in this case Christianity, then it only makes sense to make use of Christian sources. Why should we use Islamic, Buddhist, Taoist sources in order to prove something within Christianity? Also, as an Orthodox Christian I see/view Scripture as being an aspect of Tradition, and so it’s not just us going to the Fathers, and councils…..which are different avenues of Tradition, but even going to Scripture itself is an avenue of Tradition and so it’s all Tradition! Protestants, when pushed to the corner seem to have a tendency to only want to rely on one source within Tradition.

    7.) If one is not a cessationist and if one believes the Energies of God to dwell everywhere (to be universal) then why should one deny all miracles done outside of the walls of the Orthodox Church? At worst one should simply be agnostic about it until proven otherwise. I know you want a criteria, and I know when you asked about this before I mentioned the two staffs turning into snakes. One belonged to Moses while the other to the Pharaoh’s Musician. And so just because something happened doesn’t mean it automatically came from God. But how does one know it came from God? At this point in time I don’t know a full proof answer. I know that I personally would feel more comfortable with the claims of a Christian group that can trace themselves back for 2,000 years.

    8.) Theodore was condemned and so we are against an “””exclusive””” use of the historical grammatical method. We obviously use it at times when reading Scripture. It’s just not the only method we use. And so it would be more accurate to say that we are against Sola grammatical historical method. Saint John Chrysostom learned under Theodore(I could be wrong here for I’m going off of pure memory), and so we use his method in conjunction with the Alexandrian Method.

    9.) No, for they are not in communion. Will I say anything bad about them? No! For many come back in communion all the time. Plus, I’m friends with a priest from one of those groups, and I personally know or met those in who’s whole parish came back in communion, and so no, I won’t say anything bad about them, even-though they say all kinds of bad things about us.

    ROCOR did the right thing when it came back in communion. In the 2,000 years of Christianity, splits happened all the time. When I read the Fathers and Witnesses, they don’t allow Schisms to get in the way of their claim that the Church is undivided and One. They just don’t! If a group wants to come back then we will welcome them back with open arms! There are rules…..several Canons (as found in a number of regional and Ecumenical councils) on how to bring various groups back (this isn’t full proof from argumentation either).

    The protestant inquirer who sees this fighting between the Orthodox and it’s splinter groups just needs to know that they(the protestant) should join the nearest one regardless of the fighting they see. For eventually we will get them anyway as we keep growing and expanding into more areas.

    10.) Everything is local, and so as long as my local bishop isn’t one then it really doesn’t matter to me if someone overseas is or not. You will find some laity who are masons. I don’t like it, but I’m not going to lie and say they don’t exist either. Most Masons I know deny the whole Lucifer thing. I find them in almost all the churches up here. Baptist, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, Anglican, Orthodox….etc. For such people I think an alternative to the Masons is needed. Rome has the Knights of Columbus. And so something like that is needed in Orthodoxy.

    11.) I was saying he was a Bishop. When I look at Church history, I see Bishops including books and taking out books. I also see Bishops in council deciding on the issue. And so, why not look at the Canons of the 7th Ecumenical council? How many books did they approve? An Ecumenical council is for both East and West right?

    12.) The Augustinian tradition sees foreknowledge as equaling causation, but I personally don’t see that within the Eastern Christian Tradition, nor with the pre-Augustinian Western one.

    13.) The Christology of Saint Cyril of Alexandria is Inspired and so whatever developments are made to his Christology can’t travel too far from the foundation that the 2nd Person of the Trinity was the very same Person in the womb of the Theotokos! It is my personal Opinion that “of two Natures” or “From two Natures” language is good against fighting the errors of Nestorianism and Theodore of Mopsuetia while “in two Natures” language is good fighting against the errors of Apollinarianism and Eutychianism. When looking at the 3rd, 4th and 5th councils together we can see how both formulas are used! And so we say One Hypostasis of the Word Incarnate “In” and “of” Two Natures. This is the full extinct of our Christology up to the 5th council.

    I use to argue with Coptics and Armenians all the time and so I am well aware of some of the difficulties with Chalcedon.

    14.) Scholars in the field can disagree. They often do at times. In order for me to really know who’s right I would have to look at the full scope of not only that doctrine, but with other related doctrines as well. For one doctrine influences another. All Three church fathers mentioned advocated a form of Apophaticism and so this alone would distance all three from most in the West anyway(especially in regards to your 14a question). And so whatever the Cappadocians meant by energia/logoi was still within the Eastern Christian family/mindset, and more closely related to Saints Maximus and Palamas. More so than Thomas of Aquinas and your boy Charles Hodge.

    You mentioned something about the possibility of doctrinal development. Please correct me here if I’m wrong, but In my mind doctrinal development would entail replacing the previous belief. I see co-existence here in modern times between the traditions of Saints Maximus and Palamas. So if true, and I don’t know if it is or not, but if true, could it really be called a development of doctrine?

    But let’s say for the sake of argument that Saint Palamas was saying something different as well as Saint Maximus, if it could be recognized as coming from the same family tree, then wouldn’t that be a form of micro-evolution instead of Macro-evolution? If so then what’s wrong with a little micro-evolution? I don’t know of any Orthodox who believe Holy Tradition to equal stasis.

    14a. Why is this a problem? Orthodox Christianity isn’t the only one who holds to an Essence vs Energies distinction. If I can remember correctly, why I think Jay Dyer told me once that Judaism holds to the Essence vs Energies distinction too! All this is saying is God can’t be boxed in in regards to His Essence! God is simple, but when it comes to His Essence we can’t even say that for His Essence is unknowable! Thus as an Orthodox Christian I am simultaneously a Theist as well as an Agnostic! I am both! I am a Theist in regards to His Energies, but an Agnostic in regards to His Essence! God is knowable as well as unknowable simultaneously. Drake doesn’t like this, it might be because of his Clarkianism, I don’t know. But if you are not a follower of Gordan Clark then why should this bother you? Are you a follower of Gordan Clark?

    15.) I know you think I didn’t touch the essence of the issue, but the issue is about Jesus in Heaven right now, right? And what happens at Holy Communion, correct? What do Lutherans believe happened at the Resurrection? What do they believe about Jesus pre-Resurrection? The quote from Saint Athanasius was in regards to pre-resurrection right?

    What happens when Christ’s humanity is Glorified? As an Orthodox Christian I believe that we are able to partake of the Divine Nature. If Jesus Christ is in Heaven now, and if His humanity is glorified then as a Person He is Omni-Present. So to say that part of the Logos exist outside of the Glorified Christ is to say that it’s impossible for humanity to partake of the Divine Nature.

    18.) We believe in Simplicity too, we just believe in distinctions, and so it’s different.

    20.) If all one needs are propositions in order to know what Truth is, then there is no such thing as Truth! For the Truth of something wouldn’t really exist, for if a Mormon Apologist was able to come up with a good argument then that would mean Mormonism was True! But if we are talking about the issue of Christianity then no matter how good Mormon arguments are, they could never be True in regards to what Christianity is, and it’s because Christianity is connected to Time and History itself! Thus, it’s not limited to just an abstract argument.

    • I do appreciate your taking the time to answer these. I can’t respond to all of them here, but a fwe comments:

      a. I focus on Freemasons so much because they infiltrated and compromised almost all traditionalist groups and religious movements in Europe. I doubt the New Calendarists in Greece would ever have gotten off the ground if it weren’t for masons.

      10. ***Most Masons I know deny the whole Lucifer thing*** Then they are bad Masons. Or they aren’t yet the 33rd degree, for which it is not optional. Masons control a small rural town to the north of me, even running people out of town, literally.

      11. Perhaps, but even then the lists are still different. Presumably Rome holds to that Council, but its list of Apocryphal books differs from the Slavic Orthodox.

      12. I know most of the pre-Augustinian church didn’t hold to Augustine’s view. The argument itself, thuogh, doesn’t go away.

      13. Since I’m more sympathetic to Lutherans on this issue, I agree with Cyril’s Christology. But as both McCormack and Fr Sergii Bulgakov note, there are still huge tensions within it, inspired or not.

      14a. Judaism (and Jay) means something different be e/e. Most of these Jewish sources see the energies as different hypostases (some suggest this happened in Babylon).

  3. […] in saying x.  Bulgakov takes the Fathers on the development of Christology and Pneumatology and completely blows that claim out of the water.  And that’s what I love about Bulgakov–he thinks through the tradition.  I had a […]

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