Monday, June 23, 2008

Blog Pong

My sons just put a ping pong table in the basement, so perhaps it's fitting that I find myself meanwhile, and surprisingly, occupied with a little game of blog pong.

It seems that Dan Woodrung has taken my previous post as an opening volley, to which he replied, not here, but over on his own blog.

Fair enough, I guess, since I did not reply to his musings about his journey to Rome on his blog in the first place. Fine. So now, in the spirit of blog pong, I'll reply to his blog, yet not there, but from my end of the table.

First, he says he thinks, and then, that at least he "rather hopes" that I did not mean to say that Cyprian said both that there is no salvation outside the church and that the church is where her marks are.

No, sir: I did not mean to say that Cyprian was responsible for the second part; but then, you did know that about me, didn't you. This "rather hoping" of yours seems rather unnecessary.

What I do mean to say is that there is no salvation outside the church. Now if you consent also to the idea that the Church of Rome is the church, then unless there is some qualification you must believe that I am outside the church, and that I am among the damned. And this, though I believe the Gospel, that Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. That's a problem, it seems to me.

Next, Mr Woodrung quotes Cyprian at some great length in an attempt to show that Cyprian must mean that the church may only be found where the Bishop of Rome is.

Now here's where it gets interesting. To my rescue comes my old friend Fr Gregory Hogg, an Orthodox priest, providing some additional Cyprian quotes to provide what he calls "balance": these quotes show that Cyprian is not as monolithic about the authority of the See of Rome as Mr Woodrung was evidently seeking to show.

To this Mr Woodrung cries foul, and says, if I get this right, that because the balancing quotes were (so he thought) merely lifted from another web page, therefore Fr Hogg was behaving in a "shameful" way. What, because he lifted quotes from another site (which he insists he did not do)? But even if he had done so, so what? How would that be shameful? A Cyprian quote is a Cyprian quote. Who cares where it came from?

This caused me for the second time in one sitting to raise an eyebrow. What's going on here? Are we cross?

All of this is really very intriguing to me. Perhaps I should just let Mr Woodrung and Fr Hogg debate the matter while I watch.

I guess maybe all of this would make Fr Hogg the Blog Pong referee? Not sure.


Rt. Rev. Jack Bauer said...

So sad and humorous at the same time - it hurts. I love how Lutherans affirm the patristic heritage of both East and West, and yet that heritage is evaluated according to Scripture. That is the fullest expression of catholicity, though embattled the Lutheran Church may be.

"Ubi est verbum, ibi est ecclesia."
Martin Luther (Weimar Ausgabe 39 / II:176)

Pr. H. R. said...

I, too, thought the exchange between Hogg and Woodring was interesting. What it brought to my mind was F.E. Mayer's schtick on the "material principle" of each confession.

The more I think about it, the more I think his schtick is right on. At the heart and core of Rome really is the papacy. If you buy into the pope, if you believe that the Lord instituted a "Petrine Office," then all questions you might have about Roman doctrine at the margins simply fade to nothing. They've got that Office, and that office is the thing.

Likewise with the East, but simply replace "papacy" with "episcopacy."

This, I'm convinced, is how it goes with Lutherans converting to other confessions. They become enamored with another confession's "material principle." The notion of authority - authority to preach, teach, baptize, consecrate, etc. - has been the big one lately.

Likewise, the very instructive letter from Pr. Evanson (over at Cyberstones) a while back let's us know that it goes the other way, too: in his experience in the Baltic states, the Roman priests who join the Lutheran ministerium do so for the sake of Justification, our "material principle."

There's a lesson in this, I think. Keeping the Gospel at the center is important - but we also need to do a better job articulating our answer to the questions poised by the material principles of the other confession.

For starters, we could make Piepkorn's essay from Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue more widely known: "The Lutheran View of the Validity of Lutheran Orders."


Rev.Fr.Burnell F Eckardt said...

Fr Curtis

Yes, I've thought about this often. Indeed, I have thought that this is in part what moved Luther to quip that the Papacy is the Antichrist.

To be sure, the Papacy in his day was hopelessly corrupt, and by contrast the current Pope is a man of great integrity, which has me unwilling to repeat the 'Antichist' broadside against him, and uncomfortable even bringing it up (unlike Herman Otten et al.).

Yet the greatest appeal of the Papacy remains this overwhelming appeal to authority, which in an earlier day was more overt and hence easier to recognize as insidious (at least to the historian's eye). Today it is more implicit, but just as powerful. Read, for instance, some of the papers from, say, the Congregation of Sacred Rites. Succinct and Authoritative in airs, and therefore, for this reason alone, very compelling.

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Greetings, Frs. Eckart and Curtis! As long as we're playing blog pong, allow me to direct your readers to my own take on Pr. Woodring's journey to Rome: (

Here, though, I wish to address Fr. Curtis' claim:

"What it brought to my mind was F.E. Mayer's schtick on the "material principle" of each confession.
The more I think about it, the more I think his schtick is right on. At the heart and core of Rome really is the papacy. If you buy into the pope, if you believe that the Lord instituted a "Petrine Office," then all questions you might have about Roman doctrine at the margins simply fade to nothing. They've got that Office, and that office is the thing.
Likewise with the East, but simply replace "papacy" with "episcopacy.""

In the first place, I think you may be confusing what Mayer calls the 'formal principle' with the 'material principle.' Mayer himself says that the formal principle of the Orthodox Church is 'the Holy Scriptures and the "sacred tradition"' (p. 11). This isn't quite right, of course, but it's closer than saying the episcopacy.

In one sense, one could say that the formal principle of the Orthodox Church is "Tradition," which comprises Holy Scripture, the Councils, Fathers etc. Florovsky defines tradition as "the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church." (William J. Abraham's book "Canon and criterion in Christian theology," though written by a non-Orthodox, is a wonderful introduction to a discussion of the formal principle.)

In another sense, one could say that the formal principle of the Orthodox Church is "Sobornost," or "Ecclesiality." When it can be established, for an Orthodox Christian, that the Church teaches such-and-such on a given topic, that is the end of the discussion.

Having said that, the whole notion of "authority" doesn't map well on Orthodox terrain. Allow me to cite a brief excerpt from Khomiakov here: ""The Church is an authority," said Guizot in one of his remarkable works, while one of his adversaries, attacking him, simply repeated these words. Speaking in this way neither one suspected how much untruth and blasphemy lay in the statement. Poor Romanist! Poor Protestant! No—the Church is not an authority, just as God is not an authority and Christ is not an authority, since authority is something external to us. The Church is not an authority, I say, but the truth—and at the same time the inner life of the Christian, since God, Christ, the Church, live in him with a life more real than the heart which is beating in his breast or the blood flowing in his veins. But they are alive in him only insofar as he himself is living by the ecumenical life of love and unity, i.e., by the life of the Church."

The episcopacy is not the formal principle in the Orthodox Church. Bishops, including the bishop of Rome, can, and have, and do, err.


Fr. Gregory Hogg

Pr. H. R. said...

Fr. Hogg,

I did indeed mean "material principle" - it's Mayer's term for the central dogma of each confession, the thing that "makes them tick" if you will.

Mayer uses "formal principle" to mean "the place where they get their teaching."

While it's undoubtedly hard for an outsider to make super accurate diagnoses of such things, I think Mayer is pretty close when he identifies issues of authority as being the central thing that makes both Rome and the East tick - one centered in the Pope as head of the magisterium, the other in the bishops in council.

At any rate, in my interactions with those who have left the Lutheran confession, authority looms large in their minds. The reasoning seems to go: They've got the rightly ordered authority, therefore, they must have the right teaching.

Obviously, both Mayer and I are trying to draw in broadstrokes and see the big picture. Each person's story is going to be a little different.

But I think he's on to something with each confession having, as it were, a personality, a central theme, a "material principle."


Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Dear Fr. Curtis,

If you indeed call episcopacy the "material principle" of Orthodoxy then you're not correct.

Mayer himself says, of the material principle of Orthodoxy:

"The material principle of Greek Orthodoxy, the central theological idea, may be summarized in the words of St. Athanasius: 'Christ (sic) became man that we might become divine." In accord with its principle of adhering to the old, Eastern Orthodoxy follows the teachers of the second and third centuries who viewed Christ's work largely as _theopoiesis_, i.e. the ultimate deification of man." (Religious Bodies of America, p. 13)

(I tried to phone you to get clarification on your post before sending this; sorry I missed you, and you can ignore the page on your cell phone. I think I've understood you rightly, though I disagree.)

Rev.Fr.Burnell F Eckardt said...

My head is spinning.

I knew there was a reason I didn't like Aristotle: he speaks a different language. Mayer's schtick, as you put it, is in fact Aristotle's. And we might do well to dispense with the terminology, because, as it turns out, one can speak of formal principle and material principle in reciprocating ways, and it works both ways.

E.g., if you say that for Rome the papacy is the formal principle, then you are saying it is the seat of authority, right? But maybe you meant to say material principle; then you are saying the papacy is the heart of what is taught? Argggh.

Fr Hogg, you may recall that you and I, on a certain occasion long ago, expressed some disagreement as to the value of philosophical constructs. I still feel the same way about them; they're maddening and, in my opinion, sometimes more muddying than helpful.

But then again, maybe it's just that I'm lazy.

Incidentally: F. E. Mayer was once the pastor of St. Paul's Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Kewanee, Illinois. The St. Louis seminary called him, and the people liked him so much they refused to grant him a release, until the seminary president came here and personally pleaded with them. Your trivia for the day.

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Fr. Eckardt, you wrote:

"I knew there was a reason I didn't like Aristotle: he speaks a different language. Mayer's schtick, as you put it, is in fact Aristotle's. And we might do well to dispense with the terminology, because, as it turns out, one can speak of formal principle and material principle in reciprocating ways, and it works both ways."

Rx: Funny thing is, Aristotle's much more at home in Lutheranism and the west, than he is in the east--especially in the period of so-called "Lutheran Orthodoxy." In the east, he (and Plato) are anathematized once a year; many of the distinctions made in western theology simply don't map well in Orthodoxy. For example, speaking of the "main" thing taught implies that some things taught aren't as important. Orthodoxy is about fullness, not fundamentals...

And thanks for the trivia! It was interesting...

Fr. Gregory

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

I have to agree, neither Aristotle nor "authority" (as Westerners view it) maps well on Orthodox terrain. Certainly an idea that bishops are the central principle of Orthodoxy sounds to us downright bizarre. I can see where it comes from, yes, but it a misapprehension. In fact, the Orthodox have very little of anything Catholics or most Protestants would recognize as "authority."

If you care to see why, I have in my own blog, April archives, a three-part series on what authority is for us; it begins at

And also a post on why people seem to need external authorities, at

Rev.Fr.Burnell F Eckardt said...

To my Eastern friends and your take on Aristotle (and Plato), I can only reply, as John Madden once said:

I agree with you more than I agree with myself.

Pr. H. R. said...

Fr. Hogg,

Sorry for the phone tag :)

Indeed, Mayer did identify Theosis as best capturing that unique personality of Eastern Orthodoxy ("material principle"). And yes, it's tough for any tradition to pick just one thing that makes it tick - I don't think Orthodoxy has a monopoly on being about fullness over one or two ideas.

But think of it like a parlor game: if you had to pick one of your favorite books/movies/albums, what would it be? Just as that parlor game can be an intriguing look into a man's personality, so can asking the question of a confession: what's the one thing that you think makes you tick?

Again, perhaps my view is clouded by my own experience and those of my friends, but the notion of apostolic authority flowing through the office of bishop seems very near and dear to the heart of Orthodoxy.

All the best,

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Pastor, you've somehow acquired a mistaken impression of Orthodoxy.

The central thing about Orthodoxy, that which makes it tick, the sine qua non, is Jesus Christ. More specifically, it is the crucified and risen Lord, and even more specifically, it is this great mystery: that the whole Church, down to this day, participates in the very same relationship with Him the Apostles had. (To the degree each of us is able, given that we aren't a holy as they were, hence our capacity for participation is more limited than theirs.)

That, for us, is what it's all about.

"Authority" is tangential to that, as is everything else about our faith. (And yet, all the things about Orthodox faith are in support and furtherance of that one, central thing, the Alpha and Omega.)

Also, "authority," for us, means something quite different from what it means among, say, Roman Catholics. For one thing, Christ Himself is our One and only authority. And I don't mean He is our authority through anything else (the Bible) or anyone else(the clergy), but that He directly and in Person leads His Church. Nobody stands in His place or stead.

Another point of difference is that Christ does not rule by lording it over us. Neither He nor anybody else among us seeks to "bind our consciences." Nobody uses threats (obey or go to hell). It's all voluntary.

Even the Holy Spirit does not speak on His own authority, but with the authority of the entire Holy Trinity:

"I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.” (John 16: 12-15)

A third point of difference is, we accord to each bishop as much spiritual authority (spiritual only!) as is appropriate. By that I mean we give him our allegiance and we follow him and heed him in direct proportion to his personal christlikeness. If we see Christ living and working in him, to that extent we submit to him, because in that case, to submit to him is to submit to Christ. (All Christian submission is voluntary.)

If, however, he does not live the life of Christ, if he does not speak with the voice of Christ, we do not follow him. In extreme cases (sexual scandal or heresy) we depose him.

Joel's prophecy quoted by St. Peter on Pentecost having been fulfilled, we know when this happens. Although the bishop's office is in part to teach, yet we are not dependent upon him as teacher. The Holy Spirit teaches each one. (1 John 2:27) The sheep know the Voice of the Shepherd.

Fourthly, in Orthodoxy, each Christian is supposed to submit to each other Christian. Cheerfully. And voluntarily, of course. We are subm itting to the Christ Who is in us all. We are even supposed to submit to the wicked, insofar as conscience will allow, both for humility's sake and also for a witness to the wicked. (Walk that second mile, turn the other cheek, give him who stole your coat your cloak, too.)

So "authority" takes on a whole different aspect when all these things (and more) are taken into consideration.

Even so, authority is not what it's all about in Orthodox Christianity.

Pastor Beisel said...

NOt to get a Lutheran v. Orthodoxy discussion started here, but the problem you Orthodox have is the same one the Romanists have--you confuse and co-mingle Justification and Sanctification. Your comment about us not being as holy as the apostles were, and there being differing degrees of participation in a relationship with Christ is a classic example. Our Justification (relationship with Christ) is not based on or determined by our holiness (our Sanctification). We participate in a relationship with Christ by faith alone. As far as our Justification is concerned, there are no differing degrees. We either are, or we are not. We are either just or unjust; righteous or unrighteous; justified or not justified; accepted by God through faith in Christ or rejected because of unbelief. There are no degrees when it comes to our standing with God (Justification). There are, however, degrees of holiness or sanctification. To the extent that we are at different levels in displaying our Sanctification, there are degrees. Our being made holy is not complete. We still have the old man hanging around our necks, and until this is finally removed at the resurrection, we continue to have sinful passions and desires.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

But, Pr. Beisel, that is the very distinction I did make! Or thought I did, or at least tried to. "The very same relationship" is what you say we all either have or don't have, period, which in your system is tagged, "justification." Every Christian is made a partaker of that, by Holy Baptism.

But to say I have the very same relationship with the Risen Lord that the Apostles had could be a very presumptuous statement, if it implied that relationship was as fully developed as theirs. I have nowhere near the maturity of any Apostle; hence, my relationship with the Risen Lord is comparatively infantile. There are babes in the Lord, says St. Paul, and there those mature in the Lord. That's the sort of statement that for you falls under "sanctification."

So it's not true we fail to make the distinction. We don't make it as sharply as you do, because although Lutheranism has certain underlying assumptions which indeed render such a sharp distinction necessary, Orthodoxy does not share those particular assumptions. In fact, given our presuppositions, too sharp a distinction would become a distortion. Thus, we do not emphasize it, but we do indeed recognize it.