Thursday, August 30, 2007

Penalty: Intentional Grounding


Well now, that's interesting. I'm reading in the Ancient Christian Devotional: A Year of Weekly Readings, the free book I got along with my subscription to the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series and I come upon this commentary about the Gospel from St. Matthew 16:13-20. And here we have this little reading on the meaning of "Upon this Rock." Here's what the "church father" says:

"This is not the property of Peter alone, but it came about one behalf of every human being. Having said that his confession is a rock, he stated that upon this rock I will build my church. This means he will build his church upon this came confession and faith." (p. 197)

And I thought, Hmmm, well, what do you know, here's an early father asserting against the sway of Roman Catholic argument (you know, that the rock is Peter himself, the Pope, or at least, Peter as he confesses Christ).

In fact, there are a number of somewhat similar quotations, in Augustine, Ambrose, Bede, and others. Well, sort of. Their references are a bit different, in that they tend also to reference Peter's apostolic authority. This particular one, in contrast, seems not only anti-papistic, but a bit anticlerical.

What I find interesting about this quote is its author: Theodore of Mopsuestia. Theodore was condemned by the Fifth Ecumenical Council of A.D. 553. Now it's true that he was not condemned for his views about St. Matthew 16; no, it was for being a Nestorian, and that, after he was dead. And it's also true that of all the Ecumenical Councils, the 5th was the weakest, being quite politically motivated under the Emperor Justinian, with Monophysite fingerprints all over it. Still, the claim that Theodore of Mopsuestia is a representative "church father" is dubious at best. He was condemned, for crying out loud.

This series is published by InterVarsity Press, and has a gaggle of Lutherans on the editorial board. Methinks they might have done a bit more homework before letting this one out.

And in case anyone's wondering, the Lutheran Confessions call the "rock" the ministry of Peter; which is sort of like saying "the confessing Peter."

At any rate, this referee calls a foul against the editors of the series.

11 comments:

Father Hollywood said...

I like the referee metaphor.

Sometimes you might have to flag an angry low-church congregant for "roughing the pastor" when the celebrant is "taking a knee", or even call "encroachment" or "unchurchmanlike conduct" on a synodical or district official. There are also a lot of our clergy that are begging for "illegal motion" and "12 men in the chancel" calls while conducting the liturgy.

Keep that yellow flag and whistle handy. Now if you could get a striped clerical shirt, you'd be "ready for some Sunday morning football."

Father Eckardt said...

Right. I think this might become a regular feature.

Father Eckardt said...

Right. I think this might become a regular feature.

Pr. H. R. said...

It should be noted that the condemnation of Theodore was very controversial at the time and remains so today.

The question it raises is this: is it proper for the church of today to condemn a man after his death who was considered completely orthodox by the Church of his day (as was Theodore)?

That's quite a question and raises very interesting questions of it's own. . .

+HRC

Chris Jones said...

I'm intrigued by your comment that "of all the ecumenical councils, the fifth was the weakest". For one thing, I should think Trent or Vatican I (both accounted ecumenical by Rome) would be considered very much weaker than Constantinople II by Lutherans. And even among the traditional seven councils of the undivided Church, I should have thought Nicaea II would be the most suspect among Protestants.

As for Constantinople II being "politically motivated," that is not in itself grounds for considering a council to be "weak". No council could have been more "politically motivated" than Nicaea I, and yet its Creed remains the public confession of the Church Catholic to this day (and until the Lord returns). Nor do I think it fair to characterize Constantinople II as having "Monophysite fingerprints all over it," as if Justinian were anything other than an orthodox Dyophysite (Theodora was another matter; but would you like to be held responsible for your wife's idiosyncracies?).

From a political as well as a theological perspective, there was nothing wrong with the attempt to reconcile the Monophysites, so long as the substance of Christian orthodoxy was maintained. To that end, Constantinople II made clear that Chalcedon was to be interpreted in a Cyrilline sense, not in a Nestorianizing sense. While that failed to bridge the gap with the Monophysites, it was theologically correct and it had the virtue of endorsing that which was of value in the Alexandrian school of theological thought (just as the triumph of orthodox dyotheletism at Constantinople III in the following century guaranteed the survival of the valuable insights of the Antiochene school).

Another key result of Constantinople II was the affirmation of orthodox theopaschism ("God Himself suffered in the flesh"). The temptation was to let the notion of divine impassibility diminish or exclude the reality that is was God Himself Who saved us upon the Cross, which would have destroyed the soteriological implications of both Nicaea and Chalcedon.

Given those two key results (the affirmation that Chalcedon was not a repudiation of St Cyril and the affirmation of theopaschism), I firmly disagree with the idea that Constantinople II was a "weak" council. It is just as much a part of our orthodox heritage as Nicaea or Chalcedon.

Father Eckardt said...

While it's true that political motivation is not a reason for discounting truthfulness, in the case of this council, my reading has me seeing the Monophysites--who had given Popes Felix of the fourth century and Leo of the fifth century considerable headaches--as being in charge of the affairs here. The Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon put them down, at last. But they didn't go away. Now, a century later, they had enough ascendency to make a statement. It wasn't simply a matter of the resurgence of Alexandria, but of what was a nemesis to catholic orthodoxy in prior centuries. The Three Chapters Controversy was a case in point. These three postmortem condemnations were issued as an ecclesiastical nyaah nyaah. That's what I mean by political. Now, as for the Vatican councils, they don't count as ecumenical for self-evident reasons. The Seventh Ecumenical Council does count because it was, well, ecumenical. So, for that matter, does the Fifth. But it was weak, all the same.

Father Eckardt said...

While it's true that political motivation is not a reason for discounting truthfulness, in the case of this council, my reading has me seeing the Monophysites--who had given Popes Felix of the fourth century and Leo of the fifth century considerable headaches--as being in charge of the affairs here. The Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon put them down, at last. But they didn't go away. Now, a century later, they had enough ascendency to make a statement. It wasn't simply a matter of the resurgence of Alexandria, but of what was a nemesis to catholic orthodoxy in prior centuries. The Three Chapters Controversy was a case in point. These three postmortem condemnations were issued as an ecclesiastical nyaah nyaah. That's what I mean by political. Now, as for the Vatican councils, they don't count as ecumenical for self-evident reasons. The Seventh Ecumenical Council does count because it was, well, ecumenical. So, for that matter, does the Fifth. But it was weak, all the same.

Chris Jones said...

If the Monophysites were "in charge" at Constantinople, it is quite remarkable that the council failed to bring about the reconciliation of the Monophysites and the orthodox.

I wonder if the Copts and Armenians of today would share your view that their theological forefathers were "in charge" of the council.

Father Eckardt said...

While the Monophysites were not literally in charge of the Council, it is pretty clear, I believe, that their influence was substantial enough to have them fairly satisfied with the condemnations that were produced. Or do you Orthodox have to maintain such a pure view of every ecumenical council that you cannot bear to think that there just might have been less than laudable--and yes, therefore, less than fully catholic--influences at work in the proceedings? It seems pretty clear to me that this council was dominated by bishops would not have been quite as quick to have heaped praises on Pope Leo, as the Council of Chalcedon had done about a century earlier.

Chris Jones said...

Fr Eckardt,

Or do you Orthodox have to maintain such a pure view ...

Careful who you are calling "Orthodox"; I'm a Lutheran, last time I checked (i.e. I communed at an LCMS altar this morning).

But of course I was Orthodox for a while, and (more to the point) I do know my Church history fairly well. And I think your reading of the fifth council is quite a bit off base.

No one can deny that the Monophysites were quite influential during the sixth century, particularly at the Imperial court (and in particular through Theodora, although the Empress had died by the time the council itself occurred). A case could be made that the middle of the century was the high-water mark of Monophysite influence (although I think a stronger case can be made for the middle of the following century, when the Monothelete stalking-horse for Monophysitism carried the day in all the leading sees, including Rome).

And I will grant you that the Monophysites were probably quite pleased with the condemnation of the Three Chapters, and particularly pleased with the condemnation of Theodore of Mopsuestia, whom they saw (rightly or wrongly) as the true father of Nestorianism. But what the Monophysites were truly angling for was a reversal of Chalcedon, which they regarded (and still regard) as a victory for Nestorianism. And in that they utterly failed; the definition of Chalcedon was reaffirmed.

In any case, neither I nor the Orthodox have any need to see the ecumenical councils as "pure", any more than confessional Lutherans need to ignore the politics involved in the Reformation and in the production of the Book of Concord. The doctrinal definitions of the ecumenical councils are true and reliable expressions of the Apostolic Tradition, no matter what the mix of politics and piety may have led up to them.

Father Eckardt said...

". . .any more than confessional Lutherans need to ignore the politics involved in the Reformation and in the production of the Book of Concord. The doctrinal definitions of the ecumenical councils are true and reliable expressions of the Apostolic Tradition, no matter what the mix of politics and piety may have led up to them."

Yes indeed. We quite agree! All of this is quite true. And yet in spite of it, as perhaps you will be willing also to agree, the fifth ecumenical--and catholic, orthodox, reliable, etc.--council was weaker than the fourth. Or the third, or second, or first . . .