Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Function of the Unity of the Church and the Fallacious Theological Presuppositions of Papal Primacy

Hat tip: A Sinner
(A talk given by Mr. Dimitrios Tselengidis, Professor at the University of Thessaloniki, at the Metropolis of Piraeus' Conference on the Theme "‘Primacy,' Synodicality and the Unity of the Church" Peace and Friendship Stadium, 28 April 2010)...

...But also every other attempt at unity with the heterodox which skirts the above-mentioned theological presuppositions for the "faith once delivered (Jude 1:3)," is actually impossible. Nevertheless, the delegates of the local Orthodox Churches with their center of co-ordination (the Ecumenical Patriarchate) appear to have another opinion about the unity of the Church. This is why it is particularly typical that in the first paragraph of the submitted draft of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue with the Roman-Catholics in Cyprus, in October of 2009, it is cited that in the agreed upon Joint Statement of Ravenna (2007) Roman-Catholics and Orthodox refer to "the age of the undivided Church," (See Statement of Ravenna 41). It is clear that this phrasing presupposes for the members of the Joint International Commission that today the undivided Church does not exist. Therefore, today the Church is divided, despite the faith of the Church, which we confess verbally in the Symbol of our Faith. However, this means the falling away from the Church of all those who consciously support all that the Statement of Ravenna contains about the identity of the Church, since it indirectly but clearly does not accept a part of the dogmatic teaching of the Second Ecumenical Council.

However, already much earlier the Roman-Catholics had deviated from the dogmatic teaching of the Second Ecumenical Council with the addition of the Filioque. The Filioque was conceived and appeared in the West when the experience of the charismatic presence of the Holy Spirit in the ecclesiastical assembly of the Pope's see withdrew. Essentially, the Filioque was the crystallization of the estrangement from the living experience of the uncreated grace and energy of the Triune God, through which immediate and real communion with man is realized in the chief conveyor of the unity of God and man, that is, in the Church.

Consequently, due to our dogmatic disparity from the Roman-Catholics there cannot be - neither actual nor formal - union with them. Nonetheless, the strange thing (dogmatically and ecclesiologically) is that the Statement of Ravenna, consistent with the previous Joint Statements of Munich, Bari, Valaam and Balamand, refers to a common apostolic faith, the common mysteries (sacraments) and the ecclesiastical character of the heterodox. Thus, the false and blasphemous impression is given that with the joint Statement of Ravenna Christ is deceived, Who assured us that branches cut from the vine cannot bear fruit. The members of the Joint International Commission affirm in their statements, that in spite of the heretical divergences, the Roman-Catholics constitute a Church and that they possess genuine sacraments. It is theologically and logically odd that the representatives of the local Orthodox Churches do not realize the enormous dogmatic error of the Roman-Catholics concerning the created nature of their sacraments, an error which literally invalidates the aforementioned claim of the Roman-Catholics, which Orthodox representatives also endorse. The Roman-Catholics themselves assure us with their dogmatic teaching about created grace, that they are empirically devoid of the experience in the Holy Spirit of the Church and of the theanthropic nature of its unity in the Holy Spirit. Consequently, with the existing presuppositions it is completely theologically unwise and pointless for unity of an ecclesiastical nature to be attempted with them. In addition, such unity is practically and completely impossible, since it goes against the theological presuppositions of the Church and the ontological content of its nature...
Read the rest here.

A gentle reminder, please refrain from posting overheated comments.


PC said...

Good stuff. But what of leading Orthodox prelates such as Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev)who clearly believe Roman Catholics have Sacraments?

Anonymous said...

Hardly an overheated comment, but one surely posted to elicited overheated comments. PC, thank you for your charity.

Signed Sacrementless & Graceless

John (Ad Orientem) said...

I think you raise a good point. The position of Prof. Tselengidis is controversial. In sum the Orthodox Church is not of one mind on this subject at present. What the above article presents is the position of the conservative wing which is strongly disinclined to accept the grace of Roman Catholic sacraments. The question which this begs is, where is the well reasoned response from Orthodox theologians and hierarchs who take the view that Rome r remains a part of the Church and retains the grace of the Holy Mysteries?


PC said...


I am sorry if I have caused you offfence, none was deliberately intended.

It is a sad fact that many Roman Catholics delight in accusing Anglicans and Protestants of not having Sacraments and not being part of the 'True Church'.

Alas such Roman Catholics don't like to be on the receiving end of what they freely give.

contrarian said...


It doesn't offend me in the least. I don't know any Orthodox personally and I don't care. In my part of the world, the only true catholic church is the Catholic Church.

Chris Jones said...

Prof Tselengidis and others who take his position have an historical problem: that the Orthodox Church has never established an Orthodox patriarchate in Rome. Orthodoxy had no problem establishing an Orthodox patriarchate in Alexandria when the existing patriarchate fell into Monophysitism; nor doing so in Antioch when that see became Monophysite. Where the local Church had cut herself off from Orthodoxy through heresy, the Orthodox response was to establish a new local Church which was Orthodox.

Not so in the case of Rome. Orthodoxy has always treated the Roman patriarchate not as a body which has become a non-Church through heresy, but as a wayward Church which, though it requires correction and reconciliation, nevertheless remains the local Church. (The dust-up a few years ago over Rome establishing dioceses in Russia illustrates this. Moscow essentially accused Rome of violating her canonical territory; an accusation that makes sense only when leveled against another local Church with acknowledged canonical jurisdiction. Moscow would never have objected (in the same terms) to the creation of administrative units of a Protestant or non-Christian body.)

Given that history, it is not really possible to treat Rome as a non-Church. If she were, then the missionary imperative of Orthodoxy would have required the creation of a patriarchate in Rome and the active evangelization of Western Europe by the Orthodox.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

I am not sure I can agree with your hypothesis that the Orthodox Church is required to formally signify heresy by appointing a replacement patriarch. Here is the main problem with your argument as I see it.

In both the examples you cited, Alexandria and Antioch, at the time the replacements were appointed, the Empire still held sway in those locals. When Rome fell into heresy the Empire had long since lost any true power over Italy. Further the Papacy had become a secular power in its own right.

It was simply not possible to appoint an Orthodox Patriarch of Rome and I would argue that such has been the case right up until the latter half of the preceding century. And of course it was not really uniformly accepted that Rome had in fact fallen into formal heresy by all of the local churches until the Synod of Jerusalem in 1583. Obviously there was zero point in attempting to appoint an Orthodox Patriarch of Rome at that point. As for missionary work in Western Europe this would have been quite difficult since most of the Orthodox world was, after the fall of the Empire (1453), forced to exist under the Muslim yoke for the next four centuries.


Sophocles said...


I do not know enough of the historical details to answer your challenge to Proffessor Tselengidis, but I would venture to at the very least cite the prior political climate of the world as one very good reason that it would have been impossible to establish an Orthodox Patriarchate in Rome.

Speaking of Russia does not take into account PC's comment above,

"But what of leading Orthodox prelates such as Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev)who clearly believe Roman Catholics have Sacraments?"

in contrast to the position of Proffesor Tselengidis.

As John has acknowledged, this is a controversial issue with not too easy an answer for. But, all factors considered, I don't think your contention has not an Orthodox solution. I have not seen a "conservative Orthodox" response to this question, but that does not mean it does not exist.

Sophocles said...


I posted my comment in midstream before yours was posted. I think you have stated the matter very well.

Anonymous said...

I'm always fascinated by those who presume to know what the Holy Spirit is up to and where It resides or does not reside.

Ed said...

Yeah, like those pesky Apostles! How dare they presume to know what the Holy Spirit was up to and where it was residing (cf. Acts 2:4; 5:9; 6:10; 8:29; 10:19; 11:12, 28; 16:7, etc.)!

Anonymous said...

Big difference between pesky Apostles and know-it-all professors and bloggers, ( including myself).

Odysseus said...

I ask the following in all humility and acknowledged ignorance: What about occasions when Rome "came to the rescue" regarding deposed Patriarchs, etc? I am fairly sure (but not certain) that this occurred at least once in the 6th-8th century time period, when, I believe, it can be established that the popes were already established heretics (from a modern Ortho POV) due to the filioque matter. Do the Orthodox see this as heretics helping out against other heretics or schismatics? Again, I don't have the data before me, but I could swear that on at least one occasion around the 8th century Rome aided in putting an Orthodox Patriarch back in power in Constantinople. Yet, this same Pope would have certainly been a filioque heretic.

Ed said...

I think there's an assumption that the Apostles recognized the Holy Spirit because they had the Holy Spirit. Those who claim that the Holy Spirit cannot be recognized concretely to me seem to either be tacitly admitting that they don't have the Spirit (no doubt because "He doesn't work that way anymore") or that they have ceased to meaningfully believe in the existence of the Holy Spirit.

If the Apostles had a certain self-assurance that they were perceiving the world accurately, why is it so offensive when modern Christians act the same way?

Anonymous said...

Because it isn't so clear that they "have the Holy Spirit", ( i.e; "modern Christians").

Especially those who aren't "ordained", that is, haven't received the imposition of hands etc;.

I'm not sure what you're arguing about. It would really be nice for you to articulate youir position outside of "proof-texting".

Ed said...

My position is that it is not in and of itself arrogance or foolishness to attempt as you have said "to know what the Holy Spirit is up to and where It resides or does not reside."

Whether or not they "abide" in the grace given, Roman Catholics believe that every confirmed Roman Catholic has the Holy Spirit and Orthodox believe that every Baptized and Chrismated Orthodox Christian has the Holy Spirit (and the same can be said for Non-Chalcedonians). Both Confirmation in Roman Catholicism and Baptism/Chrismation in Orthodoxy contain prayers and a laying on of hands for the receipt of the Holy Spirit.

So Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, and Non-Chalcedonians are in agreement about the Holy Spirit's relationship to the visible Church, where they differ is on just exactly where that visible Church is.

As far as the Spirit's workings outside of the visible Church (for all affirm that the Spirit does work outside of the Church), none of the above believe that the Holy Spirit is working apart from the Church in order to create new "churches" that do not match the true Church in faith and practice and which are not in communion with the true Church. If the Holy Spirit is the cause of a "Protestant" multiplicity, then the Holy Spirit (Lord forgive me for the blasphemy) must be mad, for such a multiplicity contradicts the very Scriptures themselves.

St. Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of the Apostles, writes,

"Keep yourselves from those evil plants which Jesus Christ does not tend, because they are not the planting of the Father. Not that I have found any division among you, but exceeding purity. For as many as are of God and of Jesus Christ are also with the bishop. And as many as shall, in the exercise of repentance, return into the unity of the Church, these, too, shall belong to God, that they may live according to Jesus Christ. Do not err, my brethren. If any man follows him that makes a schism in the Church, he shall not inherit the kingdom of God....

Take ye heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to [show forth] the unity of His blood; one altar; as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery and deacons, my fellow-servants: that so, whatsoever ye do, ye may do it according to [the will of] God."

Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and Non-Chalcedonians, knowing St. Ignatius to be reflective of the Holy Spirit inspired consensus of the early Church, are simply struggling to understand what each other are and what Protestants are. This is not a struggle for Protestants, because they reject the original faith of the Church with regards to its unity of communion, doctrine and practice.

Anonymous said...

I am Roman Catholic. This was today's reading at mass. Matt. 7: 15-20 ...By their fruits you will know them.
Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?
Just so, every good tree bears good fruit,
and a rotten tree bears bad fruit.
A good tree cannot bear bad fruit,
nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit.
Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down
and thrown into the fire.
So by their fruits you will know them.”

The Roman Catholic Church has produced and continues to produce good fruit. What's all this non-sense about "no real sacraments and no Grace. The Professor is much too smart to be so silly. Seriously. This should be entertained only to dismiss it roundly and let's move forward.

Ed said...

I guess it all depends on what we define as "good fruit." Obviously, one can mention all manner of historical disgraces in both Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches which would seem to besmirch the claims of either on that score, but there is more to it than that.

For the Fathers, the production of good fruit includes not merely a good application of certain Christian ethical principles, but also an inviolate holding of the Apostolic faith. Orthodox charge that the Roman Catholics have altered this faith in the following ways (a non-exhaustive list): the universal papacy, an alteration of the doctrine of God by the filioque, a false doctrine of sin in the fall, the immaculate conception, purgatory and indulgences, the doctrine of a completely knowable Divine Essence (beatific vision), the treasuries of merits (and much of broader "merit" doctrine), annulments, by Protestantiszing their liturgies, and by the known establishment of pluralisms within their communion (e.g. the Unia and Melkites, who reject most of the previous doctrines as heresy and yet are in full communion with Rome).

Regarding the "validity" of sacraments and the like outside of the Church, which you must understand for Orthodox means them, not you, there is some debate amongst contemporary Orthodox, just as there was amongst the ancient Fathers. The Roman Catholic Church tends to view matters in a fairly juridical fashion. If a sacrament is set up right and performed in the right intention by someone who is rightly ordained unto its performance, then the sacrament has happened. Thus, one can break communion with Rome and still be in possession of valid sacraments, including ordinations. For Orthodox, on the other hand, there is debate as to whether or not one can truly break communion with the true Church/faith and maintain true sacraments. So they are unsure amongst themselves whether or not, for instance, the pope is actually a bishop. After all, by the language of some, how can one make a bishop without the Church? I hope you can see the conundrum and not have to see Orthodox people as terribly arrogant. It's not so much a matter of arrogance as a desire to be totally faithful to the teachings of the Fathers, and the Fathers taught that the Church was visible and one. Just how we parse that out is the issue at hand here.

Anonymous said...


All the "deviations from the Apostolic faith" that you have listed have been exhaustively shown not to be "deviations" so much as expressions or the results of the cultural, linguistic, political and economic differences between "West" and "Eastern" European traditions of the faith.

They actually were, for the most part, attempts to preserve the apostolic faith under changing circumstances.

Orthodox, until recently, were immune to those challenges due to being kept under glass, as it were, by the Ottoman Empire and the isolation of the Slavic countries from Western Europe.

Being preserved like a fly in amber is nothing to brag about nor an indication of true fidelity, ( insofar as confronting cultural change), though it is testimony to a certain strenght that should be recognized.

The basic problem I see with the professor's lecture is precisely the lack of recognition of this fact.

Ed said...

Of course as a Roman Catholic you have to believe that these things are not a deviation from the Apostolic faith.

They are however, clearly deviations from the modern, received, Orthodox faith. Fundamentally, there are material differences in content there. The Orthodox cannot "submit" to the pope because to do so would be to deny their own perceived identity as the Church. Moreover, because the high papal doctrines are in conflict (in the Orthodox mind) with the teachings of the Apostles and early Church, to knowingly embrace them would be to become heretics and to succeed from the "faith once delivered."

Rome, on the other hand, might be able to "progressive revelation" itself into a submission to Orthodoxy, provided it also threw out the doctrine of progressive revelation (to which Orthodox also object) at the end of the process.

Anonymous said...

Ed- I'm not a Roman Catholic so your assumption is incorrect.

Further, I see Orthodoxy as "deviating" from the "Apostolic faith" as much as Roman Catholicism but in different ways.

It's those different ways that are in conflict.

Ed said...

Whoa- and there apparently are the hazards of communicating with the anonymous on the web.

An anonymous above said, "I am Roman Catholic" at the start of his post. My apologies to whichever of you I have been attempting to communicate with.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps one shouldn't make assumptions about what Roman Catholics should believe or not believe if one is not Roman Catholic.

And, as far as Orthodox, the same point should also hold.

Orthodoxy is far more varied than is often portrayed by blogs.

Joseph Hostetler said...

Note to readers over the entire text over at "a sinner" and to the host. There is a typo in the translated text. In paragraph three, last line, it should read:

"That is, the one Church mystically gives birth to her members "by water and Spirit;" it does NOT give birth to other Churches."

That is, the word "not" is missing in the translated text on "a sinners" site. It is clear also from the context that this is what is meant, but it is also in the original in Greek on the Pantocrator monastery site.

Also, if I may comment on the host's characterization of Dr. Tselingides being a "conservative" or "speaking for the conservative" side of the Church. This is incorrect. He is either speaking from the tradition and representing what the deified have said and written or he is deluded. We have no "conservatives" or "liberals" in the Orthodox Church. We simply have those who are professed on the path to deification, who are illumined and speak authoritatively, or those who have departed from the narrow way.
So the question is whether or not Professor Tselingides is correctly representing the Holy Tradition, which is nothing less than the inspired Truth of the Holy Spirit throughout the ages.
Conservative and liberal may be terms which are convenient and seemingly help us to put things in context, but, in fact, these terms do not belong, cannot belong, to the Church's sphere and only muddle the waters more.
These terms speak of purely human opinions and positions, usually political opinions or positions, and as such as out of place when speaking of the Truth as it is lived and expressed by divine-humanity, the theanthropic Body of Christ.

Ed, I think this only supports your claim that those who refuse to accept that people can speak as the Holy Apostles spoke - with surety as to where the Holy Spirit is and works - do not have the Holy Spirit.

Sophocles said...


Thank you for pointing out the translation problems. In fact, I am re-reading the paper now for the fourth time, to not only more fully absorb its contents, but as well with the aim of correcting the translation.

There are in fact numerous translation errors which, when I get home from work(from where I am writing this response), I will correct and publish, other than the ones you have brought to the readers' attention here.

As well, thank you Joseph for your clear stance that in fact in the Church such terms as "conservative", "traditional" and the like have no real meaning or place. I myself, when wading into conversations on blogs, have often identified myself as "traditional" and usually I clarify this that I hate using the term "traditional" because this may imply, to those who do not understand Orthdoxy, that there are indeed different "flavors" or types of Orthodoxies. This is simply untrue. We are either on the path to deification in the path of the Holy Fathers or we are not, as you have said.

Anonymous said...

I would love to respond about the "good fruit" of Roman-Catholicism. Of course, in every religion and every part of the world there are people producing what most would consider "good" fruit. But if you think that the Papal Church produces good fruit, look at history again. This is not to argue that Orthodox haven;t had their fair share of mistakes. But it is different when it is the mistake of an individual/individuals and something "blessed" by the Church and the "infallible" Pope. Look again at genocide, Inquisition, the selling of graces, Unia, etc before talking of good fruit. These things are, of course, understandable given Rome's understanding of temporal power and "primacy."

Anonymous said...

"We simply have those who are professed on the path to deification, who are illumined and speak authoritatively, or those who have departed from the narrow way."

Who determines who is "illuminated"?

This is a crucial question.

It seems to me that arguing from the standpoint that only the "illuminated" can speak authoritavely reflects a version of Gnosticism.

I don't think that this is "tradition".

Joseph Hostetler said...

To Mr. or Mrs. Anonymous at 5:40 AM:

You wrote: "Who determines who is "illuminated"?

The same Person of the Holy Spirit Who illumines and deifies determines who is illumined and deified. The following words of the Apostle are lived and experienced in the Orthodox Church, every bit as real and authoritative as when they were spoken:

"And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father."

"He that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ."

"Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?"

Just as Holy Scripture cannot be understood and interpreted except by Holy Scripture, so too do the Saints of today understand and venerate other Saints of the day or immediate past.

In other words, there is a golden chain of illumined, the spiritual successors of the apostles, which determines who is illumined because the same Holy Spirit is speaking and working in both the one and the other. These are the true and final authorities in the Church, which the Holy Councils simply come and confirm and exalt, insomuch as they also have this experience of the Holy Spirit, are on the path to deification.

There is no institutional authority alone which automatically insures unity and truth, but within the organism of the Church, in which the Holy Spirit is "life and lives", the Truth is lived and experienced and thus also declared - glorified - in the Saints.

There is nothing "gnostic" about this at all, for it is not a matter of knowledge but experience, of an elite but all the saints (the Church is quite democratic in this sense, all having access to the upper echelon of spiritual power - if they struggle hard enough). And, if Holy Tradition is not the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church, what is it?

Anonymous said...

I understand the logic. It's the same as in Zen Buddhism, ( there is a transmission from master to master of many generations traceable to the Buddha).

"Gnostic" doesn't have to mean "knowledge". In fact, the term "gnostic" or "gnosis" has been used by many monastic/ spiritual writers since Clement and Origen.

But the question still is- who determines the authenticity of "experience", ( to use your word)?

And, if your argument is correct, then the spiritual writers of the Roman Catholic Church, ( from Cassian, Benedict, Bernard, Albertus Magnus, Aquinas,the writer of The Cloud of Unknowing, Eckhardt, Juan dela Cruz, Teresa Avila, Terese Lisieux, etc; etc;) are erroneous even if they repeat the same teaching derived from the early church.

If you choose to limit the authenticity of "experience" to those you consider authentic, then you will have to consider all these writers and saints to be heretics and delusional. If so, then you will have a hard time showing how they are delusional.

But that's your choice.