Which came first: God’s speech or the church?

Anchoretic apologists often ask Protestants, “Which came first, the church or the Bible?” This question is misleading on a number of levels (and really reflects sophomore apologetics than anything else) but what they are trying to elicit is the recognition that church communities preceded the final recognition of the canon.

So what if they did? The Protestant can equally turn back the question: Which came first, God’s speech or the church? Obviously, God’s speech. And if God’s speech came first, and God’s speech is the Logos-Word-Debar, and Jesus created the Church (or more precisely, spoke it into existence), then God’s speech created the Church.

God’s speech is therefore over the church.


7 comments on “Which came first: God’s speech or the church?

  1. Yet…the Church was required to recognize what God’s speech was. The two are not pitted against each other. Always this desire to create dichotomies in the West. No Orthodox apologist should place one above the other. Church teachings and Holy scriptures are simply two aspects of Holy Tradition. Why would the Word claim to be “over” His body? They are the same. It doesn’t work since scriptures aren’t “The Word”. The Church is The Word, or rather His body, and the scriptures are the written part of the body.

    When Orthodox pose this question it is in reaction to those who claim they “don’t follow man but follow Jesus”; something extremely frustrating to hear. It is a simplified question in response to a simplified understanding of our faith.

    • ***Yet…the Church was required to recognize what God’s speech was. ***

      If all you mean by “recognize” is recognize, then no argument.

      ***The two are not pitted against each other. Always this desire to create dichotomies in the West.***

      Ignoring the barb at the elusively-defined West, it’s hard to imagine where The Church (TM) can listen to God’s speech and at times admit it was wrong or opt for correction. If it can’t admit that, then we have interpretive might makes right.

      ***Church teachings and Holy scriptures are simply two aspects of Holy Tradition***

      My problem with this statement is 1) it’s an assertion and 2) a lot of things get lumped together under tradition. If by tradition you mean the preaching of the death and resurrection of Christ, which seems to be what the New Testament says on tradition, then I have no problem with the statement. I suspect, though, that other things get lumped under tradition as well that are either a) foreign to Scripture, b) opposed to Scripture, c) or later accretions to the Church’s (TM) practice and hence not apostolic.

      ***Why would the Word claim to be “over” His body? They are the same.***

      I deny a univocal relation between Christ’s hypostasis and the “Church.” If you posit such a relation, then you have to deny that Christ’s hypostasis ascended into heaven, since it’s right here all along.

      ***When Orthodox pose this question it is in reaction to those who claim they “don’t follow man but follow Jesus”; something extremely frustrating to hear.***

      Which means you probably aren’t talking to magisterial Protestants, since that statement is condemned by our confessions.

      • Yes. That was all I meant.

        It is not a barb and you should not take it that way. I knew you probably would, but one must acknowledge a difference and the desire to create dichotomies seems to be a characteristic of the Dialogue between western churches. This is irrelevant to the discussion though. I’m not sure what you are referring to though specifically here. Yes. Usually consensus makes right. Not always in history but this seems to be the case for all traditions.

        The church passed down teachings. They were written down. The Church canonized writings that agreed with these teachings. They are Holy scriptures now. Yes, the death and resurrection of Christ is The tradition of the Church. Other teachings were handed down in light of this. But I feel this is irrelevant to this discussion. Each can be its own discussion and well, who has time for that now.

        You’ve mentioned this before and I don’t completely follow. Yes, each of us have Jesus in our heart. The Holy Spirit put it there I guess. We are in communion with God. I thought this was basic to all traditions. Perhaps there is a little more leeway with a hypostasis when one is omnipresent. I don’t know. This is a mystery of the church. There are not many words to describe if any. I certainly don’t have them. We are Christ’s body. We can’t say only in spirit, since that would separate the two ousia. I would have to spend more time here to give an adequate response.

        Magisterial? No, probably not. But it is the response we get the most.

  2. John* says:

    Bayou et al,

    Here is something that might address the Anchoretic issue from a secular analogy.

    From: http://www.catholica.com.au/forum/index.php?mode=thread&id=160055

    The context in this link is an Australian Royal Commission into Child Sex Abuse. It addresses the issue of Clericalism in its perpetration and its subsequent cover-up.

    However, it brilliantly addresses the Anchoretic issue of Clericalism at its core:

    In today’s Sydney Morning Herald there is an article by Kim Williams former CEO of Newscorp in Australia. He is talking about the rapid changes in journalism, newspapers etc. He says this among other things:

    “We are now living through the largest single transfer of power in human history, from producers to consumers. The significance of that powershift is enormous.”

    You might debate whether it is the biggest power shift ever. For example for Protestants surely the Reformation where the middle man was taken out of the equation when the people interpreted scripture or contacted God without an intermediary was an enormous power shift. But the point is still valid. One of the things that has happened to the Catholic Church in my lifetime is a power shift from the hierarchs to the people.


    Here, Ken Williams would be likening the Clergy et al to the “producers”, and the Laity as the “consumers”.

    What the Anchorites are desperately trying to defend is their position as “middlemen” in the relationship between “the Laity” and God, and thus as “producers” in the Ken Williams quote.

    If they can defend “the Church came first” position, their status and function as “middlemen” is assured. However, if the paradigm of the Holy Trinity working “within-but-above” and independent of the Clergy and in direct contact with the Church as a whole – to everyone directly and simultaneously, becomes the primary question to be answered first, Anchoretism disappears as a viable proposition in the Church.

    I trust that this assists.

    • Anchorites.You guys always use this word. What do you mean by it? I know the definition but I don’t understand why it is your chosen label. Is it a reference to the ascetic practices of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches and a declaration that these practices are silly? Is it a faith (or election?) v. works reference?

      • Anchorite is a derivative of monachos. It was a standard term in 19th century historical theology. It basically refers to any effort to attain hyperousia by human efforts.

      • I see. But we don’t claim hyperousia is possible. We claim God’s hyperousia can become clearer with human effort but not without grace. Our efforts just put us in a place to receive grace though it doesn’t guarantee it by any means. I’m sure you have heard this all before.

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