By Wesley James Whitman and Severus Erasmus
A friend of mine sent me links to four “Catholic” apologetics, which argue for Romanism and against Orthodoxy. I took the time to answer the articles. This is the response I wrote:
Always be ready to give a logical defense to anyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that is in you, but do it courteously and respectfully. –1 Peter 3:15
Theology, by far, is the most important thing that a man will ever encounter (save the Theos Himself). Seeing this fact, I actually did take the time to read the articles that you sent to me, and I intend to respond to them here.
The Orthodox Church is the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” of ancient times, which was founded by Jesus Christ and built up by the Apostles. The Church is the congregation of all True Believers. The Orthodox Church is comprised of everyone who adheres to the orthodox (correct) faith .
I have a broader view of orthodoxy. In my opinion, the Oriental Orthodox churches, the Eastern Orthodox churches, and the Occidental Orthodox churches are all orthodox. Even though there is currently no communion among them, they all hold identical beliefs. They are all biblical, catholic, and orthodox Churches. I believe that all three of these Churches make up the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I also believe that, to a certain extent, the Traditional Anglican Communion and the Old Catholic churches may be more orthodox than heterodox. However, I cannot broaden my view of orthodoxy any further. The Canterburian Anglican Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and the thousands of Protestant churches are all heterodox. They fall outside of the sphere of orthodoxy; they have erred by not following the Bible in its entirety. Not only are they not orthodox, but they are also less than Christian.
The first article was, “Why I Am Not Eastern Orthodox,” by Jimmy Akin. (Cf. http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/2005/0504bt.asp )
I will quote the relevant portion of the article in blue and then respond.
“Orthodox don’t traditionally use the word purgatory for the purification that happens after death, but they acknowledge that such a purification happens. They pray for the souls of the departed, which makes sense only if those prayers can help the departed in some way.”
The Orthodox Church does not necessarily reject the belief in purgatory. Some Orthodox Christians believe that one must undergo a final purgatorium (purification) after death, if they have not reached perfection during their lifetime. The concept of purgatory that is held by many modern Catholic theologians (i.e. that purgatory is an instantaneous and painless process) is perfectly compatible with Orthodox eschatology. Some Orthodox Christians have believed that all along. However, historically the Catholic stance was different. The historic position of the Catholics was that purgatory was a place of punishment, and that is the purgatorial doctrine that we have rejected. Scripture says, concerning those who have been saved by the cross, “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”(Jeremiah 31:34) And again, “Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.”(Hebrews 10:17) The vast majority of Orthodox Christians do not look to a future purgatory, but rather rejoice in the one that has already come and is now working in and through us. Scripture says, “When [Christ] had by himself purged our sins…”(Hebrews 1:3) “The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, purges us from all sin.”(1 John 1:7) If the blood of Christ, which was shed on the cross, “purges us from all sin,” then what need is there for this place of purgatory that the Roman Catholics believe in? Let’s also examine another passage of the Bible:
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor usurers, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the Kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but you are purged, but you are sanctified, but you are justified in the name of Jesus Christ, and by the Spirit of our God.”(1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
If we “are purged,” and we “are sanctified,” and we “are justified”, then what need is there for a future purgatory? Christ purges us. Christ is our purgatory. We are justified by faith, sanctified by the Spirit, and purged by the blood of Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, we feel that western Christians do not put enough emphasis on theosis and recapitulation, which are the two things that Christianity is really all about. There is another verse (slightly off topic) that I feel an urge to cite: “We know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. Herein is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence on the Day of Judgment, because as He is so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love.”(1 John 4:16-18) The emphasis on theosis here is very clear, but the part that is relevant is this: he says, “have confidence on the day of judgment,” and “fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected…” This seems to imply that true Christians do not need to fear any future punishment. Furthermore, Catholics often point to Matthew 12:32, and seem to imply that forgiveness and repentance can occur in purgatory. This view is incorrect.
St. Clement of Rome (ca. 30-102AD) said,
“So, then, while we are yet on earth, let us repent. For we are clay in the Craftsman’s hand. For example: if while a potter is making a vessel, it becomes misshapen or breaks in his hands, he simply reshapes it; but if he has already put it into the kiln, he is no longer able to repair it. So it is with us: as long as we are in this world, let us repent with our whole heart of the evil things which we have done in the flesh, in order that we still have time for repentance. For after we have departed from this world, we are no longer able there either to confess or to repent anymore.”(2 Clement 8:1-3, cf. Jeremiah 18:1-6)
If confession and repentance cannot take place in the afterlife, then neither can forgiveness. (Cf. Proverbs 28:13) Purgatory as a place of punishment is utterly rejected by Orthodox Christians. The Bible says that our sins are forgiven. (Cf. Jeremiah 31:34, etc.) It is impossible to forgive and to punish. “Forgive” is defined as: “to pardon; to cease to bear resentment against; to cancel (as a debt); v.t. to exercise clemency; to grant pardon.”(New Webster’s Dictionary and Thesaurus, P. 158 ) If our sins are pardoned, they cannot be punished at the same time. (Cf. Jeremiah 31:34; Hebrews 10:17, etc.) In fact, the Greek word for “forgive” literally means “release”. The Greek dictionary has the following definition for the word: “afes??, e?? f forgiveness, cancellation (of sins); release (of prisoners).”(Barclay M. Newman, Jr., Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament, P.29)
I think, at this point, we must touch on eastern soteriology. I want to touch on five points: (1) Rather than placing the satisfaction theory and substitutionary atonement in the forefront, as western Christians do, eastern Christians place the ransom theory in the forefront. Christ gave his life as a ransom for believers in order to get them out of prison, to free them from death, and to get them out of Satan’s dominion. (Cf. Hosea 13:14; Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45; 1 Timothy 2:6; Psalm 34:22; Psalm 49:15; 1 Peter 3:18-19; 4:6, by the way, look up the definition of the word redeem/redemption) By our disobedience, we put ourselves in harms way. Thus Satan had taken us captive. We were like children who had wandered away from our parents’ side and been kidnapped. To get us back, a ransom had to be paid. However, it was not a payment of money, but of pain and of a life—the life of the only righteous man. The satisfaction that God the Father had with the death of Christ was that men had been saved by it, not that Christ had suffered. It is also substitutionary because Christ did technically die in our place. (2) God is good. (Cf. Matthew 19:17) By our free will, humanity has rejected Him. Evil is the natural outcome of the rejection of good (i.e. God). God is life. (Cf. John 1:4; 5:26; 6:35, 48; 11:25, etc) Humanity rejected God; therefore, death came into being. The result of the rejection of God was that death, suffering, and evil came into being. By rejecting God (who is all the positive things), we brought upon ourselves all of the negative things. (3) Christ offers salvation from sin, that is, he offers us the ability to stop sinning and become righteous. The result of becoming righteous is eternal life. So, salvation from sin, de facto, leads to salvation from death and hell as well. (4) Sin is a disorder or sickness. Christ is a physician. (Cf. Matthew 9:12; Mark 2:17; Luke 5:31; Ignatius to the Ephesians 7:2) The Church is a hospital for souls. The sacraments, then, serve as a medicine to cure our illness (i.e. sinfulness). (Cf. Ignatius to the Ephesians 20:2) Confession is a therapy. Et cetera. Sin is a crime, but we commit the crime only because our mental illness has made us behave irrationally. God is a judge, but He understands when it comes to our illness (i.e. sinfulness). (5) Repentance (Greek- Metanoeo, change of heart) is a change from rejection of God and disobedience to Him toward acceptance of Him and obedience to Him. This change is an existential change—an ontological change. It is not a mere change in the mind or body, but a change in the “inner man”. The way we live our lives is changed as a result of repentance, but the repentance itself is a change on the soul itself.
Concerning prayer for the dead: we believe that prayer for the dead can be practiced apart from a belief in purgatory, and it can work apart from the existence of purgatory. We must remember that God exists beyond space and time. As St. Ignatius put it, “[God] is above time.”(Ignatius to Polycarp 3:2) God is not bound by past events; He can, at any moment, change a past event. He is all-powerful! And who is to say that God does not occasionally change past events on account of our prayers? After all, if He did change a past event, we would not remember the event that had been changed; we would only know the changed state of affairs, not the state from which it had been changed. For example: say that I learn that my neighbor’s house has caught fire and burnt to the ground (and the fire is already out). Certainly I will pray and say, “Oh Lord, please do not let anyone be hurt.” But, consider this, the fire has already occurred—it is all in the past. The thing is that I know God is all-powerful and able to change the past. If someone was hurt, God could change the past so that they were not hurt after all. In the same way, we know that God could change the circumstances and events that occurred during a dead person’s life, even though those things may be unchangeable and in the past to us. Upon hearing our prayers, God could go back in time, the moment before the person died, and move them to repentance. Thus, we do not think that purgatory is necessary in order for prayer for the dead to work.
“Rather than using the image of fire for the purification (cf. 1 Cor. 3:10-15), Orthodox often picture the soul passing through a series of “toll houses” on its road to heavenly glory.”
Firstly, 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 does not refer to purgatory at all; rather it refers to hell and eternal punishment. (Try to think of hell as the torment of a sinner being in the presence of God, as some modern Catholic theologians do.) Allow me to prove this. First, let’s start with a basic exegesis by looking at the context and the Greek terms used, then we will look to the Early Church Fathers to establish that my exegesis is sound.
I ask you to get out your Bible and read through the chapter (i.e. 1 Corinthians 3).
Let’s start at the very beginning of the chapter, in order to establish the subject:
“There is among you jealousy, strife, divisions…For while one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ another says, ‘I am of Apollos.”…Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed…I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planted anything, nor is he that watered, but God that gave the increase. For he that plants and he that waters are one: and every man shall receive his own reward (misthon) according to his own labour. For we are labourers together with God…ye (plural) are God’s building (oikodome). According to the grace of God which is given to me, as a wise builder, I have laid the foundation, and another builds thereon. But let every man take heed how he builds thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than what has been laid, which is Jesus Christ.”(1 Corinthians 3:3-11)
Okay, so from here we can establish the subject for the passage in question (i.e. 1 Corinthians 3:10-15). It says, “Every man shall receive his own reward (misthon) according to his own labour. For we (i.e. Paul, Apollos, and the other clerics) are labourers…” It is the teachers, apostles, and clerics that are being referred to in the passage in question. The apostles, teachers, and clerics are the ones who are building upon the foundation, which is Jesus Christ. “Ye (plural) are God’s building (oikodome),” that is, the Church, or congregation of believers, is God’s building. The Greek word, translated as “building”, is oikodome. Oikodome literally means “house” or “dwelling place”. As it is said elsewhere, “The house (oiko) of God, which is the Church of the living God…”(1 Timothy 3:15).
“Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay stubble…”(1 Corinthians 3:12)
Keep in mind that the foundation is Christ. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 2:11) And the builders are the apostles, teachers, clerics, etc. (Cf.1 Corinthians 3:9-10) Now, the wood and hay is that which is “transitory and perishable,” while the gold and silver represent “things which are good and imperishable.”(Cf. 2 Clement 6:6)
“Each man’s work shall be made manifest: for the Day shall declare it, because in fire it shall be revealed (apokalyptetai); and the fire shall try each man’s work of what sort it is.”(1 Corinthians 3:13)
The “works” are the doctrines and teachings expounded by the clerics and teachers. The note on this verse, in the Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, says, “the day: i.e., the day of the Lord: God’s searching judgment.” So, the time of this “trial by fire” is taking place at the Last Judgment, after the time that the purgatorial punishment is said to occur according to Catholicism. Moreover, the passage says, “the Day shall declare it, because in fire it shall be revealed (en puri apokalyptetai).” The fire is an apocalyptic fire! So, it is as if Paul had said, Each man’s work will be made manifest because it will be revealed on the Day of the Final Judgment in the fire of the apocalypse. Keep in mind that the men that Paul is talking about are clerics, apostles, teachers, and other such leaders of the Church. The fire being spoken of is the fire of hell, and the fire of hell is God, for it is written, “The LORD thy God is a raging fire.”(Deuteronomy 4:24) And again, “Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire.”(Exodus 19:18) “Our God is a raging fire.”(Hebrews 12:29) Et cetera. It is written, “The same shall drink of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb.”(Revelation 14:10) Thus, it is shown that hell is in the same place as heaven, for it is “in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb.” So hell is in the same place as heaven. It is in the same place as God. However, hell is a sort of separation from God. Hell is the torment of being in the presence of God, but through hatred of God, being separated from Him. It is the torment of being physically close to Him, but spiritually separated. It is the torment of being engulfed and surrounded by that which is ontologically the exact oposite of yourself. And, in another place, we find it written, “And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall pay the penalty of everlasting punishment by means of the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.”(2 Thessalonians 1:8-9)
“If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward (misthon).”(1 Corinthians 3:14)
What is the reward? “The prize is incorruptibility and eternal life.”(Ignatius, Epistle to Polycarp 2:3) As it is said by St. Hermas of Rome, “Blessed are all those who practice righteousness: they will never be destroyed.”(The Shepherd of Hermas, 7:3)
“If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; but, so, as it were, for fire.”(1 Corinthians 3:15)
The one whose works are burned suffers loss and does not receive any reward. He does not receive eternal life. He is not annihilated altogether, but is saved and continues in existence, being tormented by the fire for all eternity. If we hold on to the perishable things, rather than the imperishable things, “then nothing will save us from eternal punishment.”(2 Clement 6:7)
“Know ye (plural) not that ye (plural) are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you (plural)? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God punish.”(1 Corinthians 3:16-17)
That is, the congregation or Church is the temple of God. Whoever defiles the Church via heresy or false doctrine will be punished by God.
Now, let’s read through the portion of Scripture in question again:
“Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay stubble; Each man’s work shall be made manifest: for the Day shall declare it, because in fire it shall be revealed; and the fire shall try each man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; but, so, as it were, for fire. Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God punish.”(1 Corinthians 3:12-17)
This passage is referring to the sorting out of the wheat and the tares, that is, the sorting out of Orthodox Christians from heretics on the Day of Judgment. (Cf. Matthew 3:7-12; 13:24-30)
Now, one particular Roman Catholic raised an accusation to the effect that this is just my personal interpretation of the passage. Tadashikunai da! This interpretation is one proposed by many Early Church Fathers. For example, St. John Chrysostom, in his Homilies on First Corinthians, says that 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 doesn’t refer to purgatory, but rather to “whether hell fire has any end.”(St. John Chrysostom, Homily 9 on First Corinthians) According to Chrysostom, in this passage Paul is “pointing out the eternity of the punishment.”(St. John Chrysostom, Homily 9 on First Corinthians) Here is St. John Chrysostom’s commentary on the verses in question:
“The more I see the account of hell confirmed, the more do I tremble and shrink through fear…. That the punishment then is eternal is plain from all that has been said…. Wherefore he said, ‘He shall suffer loss’: lo, here is one punishment: “but he himself shall be saved, but so as by fire”; lo, again, here is a second. And his meaning is, He himself shall not perish in the same way as his works, passing into nought, but he shall abide in fire…. or do not at sound of the word fire imagine that those who are burning pass into annihilation. And though he calls such punishment ‘salvation’, be not astonished. For his custom is in things which have an ill sound to use fair expressions, and in good things the contrary. For example, the word ‘captivity’ seems to be the name of an evil thing, but Paul has applied it in a good sense, when he says, ‘Bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.’(2 Corinthians 10:5) And again, to an evil thing he has applied a good word, saying, ‘Sin reigned,’(Romans 5:21) here surely the term ‘reigning’ is rather of auspicious sound. And so here in saying, “he shall be saved,” he has but darkly hinted at the intensity of the penalty: as if he had said, but himself shall remain forever in punishment.”(St. John Chrysostom, Homily 9 on First Corinthians)
Chrysostom also admits that “Paul’s saying appears to some to tell the other way:”(ibid.) that is, it seems to suggest that either hell fire is not eternal (as Hermas of Rome, Origen of Alexandria, and Gregory of Nyssa taught) or that there is an intermediate place of purgatorium (as Tertullian and Augustine taught). Chrysostom held that both views are incorrect, holding that Paul only meant to express that hell is eternal.
There are also many other Fathers who reject the doctrine of purgatory, but I believe that this single citation is enough to prove my point.
Now, let’s also look at what St. Clement of Rome has to say:
“So, then, while we are yet on earth, let us repent. For we are clay in the Craftsman’s hand. For example: if while a potter is making a vessel, it becomes misshapen or breaks in his hands, he simply reshapes it; but if he has already put it into the kiln, he is no longer able to repair it. So it is with us: as long as we are in this world, let us repent with our whole heart of the evil things which we have done in the flesh, in order that we still have time for repentance. For after we have departed from this world, we are no longer able there either to confess or to repent anymore…. While we still have time to be healed, let us place ourselves in the hands of God the Physician, and pay Him what is due. What is that? Sincere, heartfelt repentance…. Now, the Church, being spiritual, was revealed in the flesh of Christ, thereby showing us that if any of us guard her in the flesh and do not corrupt her, he will receive her back again in the Holy Spirit. For the flesh is the copy of the spirit. No one, therefore, who corrupts the copy will share in the original. This, therefore, is what he means brothers: guard the flesh, in order that you may receive the Spirit. Now if we say that the flesh is the Church and the spirit is Christ, then the one who abuses the flesh abuses the Church. Consequently, such a person will not receive the Spirit, which is the anointed. So great is the life and immortality that this flesh is able to receive, if the Holy Spirit is closely joined with it.”(2 Clement 8:1-3; 9:7-8; 14:3-5)
Now, let’s look at what St. Ignatius of Antioch says:
“‘The tree is known by its fruit’(Matthew 12:33); thus those who profess to be Christ’s will be recognized by their actions…. Therefore, let us do everything with the knowledge that He dwells in us, in order that we may be His temples, and He may be in us as our God…. Do not be misled, my brothers: those who corrupt the house (cf. 1 Timothy 3:15) “will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”(1 Corinthians 6:9-10) Now if those who do such things physically are put to death, how much more if by evil teachings someone corrupts faith in God, for which Jesus Christ was crucified! Such a person, having polluted himself, will go to the unquenchable fire, as will also the one who listens to him. The Lord accepted the ointment upon His head for this reason: that he might breathe incorruptibility upon His Church.”(Ignatius, Epistle to the Ephesians 14:2; 15:3; 16:1-17:1)
“Flee, therefore, from these wicked offshoots that bear deadly fruit; if anyone even tastes it, he dies on the spot. These people are not the Father’s planting. For if they were, they would appear as branches of the cross, and their fruit would be imperishable.”(Ignatius, Epistle to the Trallians 11:1-2)
As for the “toll house” theory; it is not Orthodox dogma. The Oriental Orthodox Church and the Occidental Orthodox Church have never had any association with this doctrine. You will also find that most Eastern Orthodox theologians reject the “toll house” theory.
“This seemed to put the question of purgatory in the category of the “word fights” that Paul warns us against (cf. 1 Tim. 6:4-5; 2 Tim. 2:14).”
It is not about the word “purgatorium” at all. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church actually uses the term “purgatory” to describe the final purification. What we disagree with is the Medieval Catholic understanding of purgatory—the understanding of purgatory as a place of punishment, where one has a chance to repent, etc.
I would like to point out that the filioque is not even universally accepted among the Catholics. The Eastern Rite Catholics do not accept the filioque. How can you require us to accept the filioque, when you don’t require it of the Eastern Rite Catholics who are in communion with Rome? How can you require us to believe in purgatory, when you do not require the Eastern Rite Catholics who are in communion with Rome to believe in it? Furthermore, my particular Church (i.e. Oriental Orthodox) and the Assyrian Church of the East both broke communion with Rome before the filioque was even added to the Nicene Creed.
“Organizations need leaders if they are to hang together, and if Christ’s Church is a ‘visible’ Church, then it needs a single earthly leader. It was because I then thought of Christ’s Church as an ‘invisible’ union of all true believers that I didn’t recognize its need for a pope.”
Let us compare ecclesiology to government. Let’s make a comparison between the American government (or some other republic) and the Church’s government. There is no all-authoritative head of the American government. The President is the “Commander and Chief” of the U.S. military, but he is not as high-and-mighty as one might think. There are checks and balances. He shares authority with the Senate and House of Representatives, etc. That is the way we view the Roman Pope; he has authority (don’t get us wrong), but he must share his authority with the other patriarchs and popes. (And, yes, there are popes in the Orthodox Church.) And, of course, the synod has authority over the Pope. The synod can depose of a pope, just as congress can impeach and depose of a president. Doesn’t the Church’s government parallel a republic more than a monarchy or dictatorship? We have episcopal elections, whereby the people elect a bishop. The bishop is elected from among the previous bishop’s followers; he is not just appointed by the bishop. And, while we are on the subject, let’s delve into the Apostolic Fathers, in order to prove that episcopal elections have always been held in the Church.
“So too our apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that strife would arise over the office of the bishop. For this reason, since they understood perfectly well in advance what would happen, they appointed those we have already mentioned; and afterwards they added a codicil to the effect that if these should die, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry. Thus we do not think it right to remove from ministry those who were appointed by them or, afterwards, by other reputable men, with the entire congregation giving its approval.”(1 Clement 44:1-3)
Concerning the “visible” vs. “invisible” Church, the early Christians believed in both a “visible” and an “invisible” Church. (Cf. 2 Clement 14:1-4; Shepherd of Hermas 8:1) This, however, is another issue altogether.
“The absence of a pope from Eastern Orthodoxy clearly had negative effects. With no pope to call or recognize ecumenical councils, the Orthodox haven’t had one in centuries. As Kallistos Ware virtually admits, there is no practical way for the Orthodox to call or agree upon an ecumenical council (cf. The Orthodox Church, Penguin Books, 255-8)
The absence of a pope has led to a kind of magisterial paralysis on the part of the Orthodox, and this concerned me very much as I recognized the need for Christ’s Church to have a functioning teaching authority capable of settling new theological controversies.”
Well, this shows Akin’s complete ignorance of Orthodox ecclesiology! The Eastern Orthodox Church has the “Ecumenical” Patriarch of Constantinople, which is pretty much a pope for all intensive purposes. The Oriental Orthodox Church, likewise, has three Patriarchs: the Bishop of Alexandria, the Bishop of Antioch, and the Bishop of Jerusalem. In fact, the Patriarch of Alexandria is even called the “Coptic Pope.” Two of our Patriarchs are successors of St. Peter. We do have a pope! (In fact, the term “pope” was originally used to address the Bishop of Alexandria, not the Bishop of Rome.)
We have not had an ecumenical council in centuries, and we cannot have one. The reason is this: the word ecumenical (oikoumene) means “world-wide” or “the entire inhabited world.” For a council to be ecumenical, it must be accepted by the Patriarchs and churches throughout the world. We believe that the Bishops of Alexandria, Antioch, and Rome must all agree with the council in order for it to be ecumenical. In order for there to be another ecumenical council, the Oriental Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches would have to come to some sort of agreement and come into communion again.
We have councils that are accepted throughout our entire Church—authoritative councils! We just don’t consider them to be ecumenical. We have had and continue to have councils to resolve any theological disputes that come up! (See my article “On Ecumenical Councils”)
As far as “new theological controversies” go, there have not been any in the last 1,500 years! Every heresy that we see today is either a revival of an ancient heresy or a fusion of several ancient heresies. No new heresy has arisen. Every heresy around today existed in ancient times and was refuted by the Early Church Fathers and Ecumenical Councils. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are just modern Arians, the Puritans are just modern Novatians; the Mormons are modern Gnostics, and the Oneness Pentecostals are merely modern Montanists.
“I also recognized that if Peter were the rock Christ speaks of in Matthew 16:18, this would make him the earthly leader of the Church in Jesus’ absence….
It emerged in my reading that many Orthodox were prepared to make two key concessions regarding the papacy: that Jesus did give Peter a form of primacy over the other apostles (though this was conceived of ‘first among equals’ role) and that the bishop of Rome is in a special sense the successor of Peter, though other bishops also may in some sense be Peter’s successors….
The concession that the bishop of Rome is in a special sense the successor of Peter also had important implications. It meant that both groups could admit that the pope has a special authority based on his connection to Peter. The point of dispute was the kind of authority….
If God set up the institution of the papacy, which group was he more likely to guide into the correct understanding of it: the group that possessed it or the group that was in separation from it?”
Concerning the papacy and patriarchal offices, these are not the same as the bishoprics. The title of patriarch or pope is not something gotten by virtue of being a successor to the apostles, but rather a title granted to a specific bishop by tradition and councils. This is why Orthodox Christians do not accept the claims of Rome.
Peter had many successors even in the first century (at least four direct successors), and today he has innumerable successors. Thus, if infallibility or universal authority were due to a man, just by virtue of his being a successor to Peter, then we would have to argue that every bishop in Petrine succession deserves the same authority. I think that I have thus demonstrated the absurdity of Roman Primacy.
To anyone that claims Roman Primacy or universal jurisdiction for Rome, I kindly point you to Canon 6 of the Council of Nicaea, which states that the Roman Pope has no jurisdiction in Syria or in Northern Africa.
There is a related matter, concerning Petrine Primacy, which ought to be addressed: that is, the interpretation of Matthew 16:18. The Catholic argues that Peter is the rock, upon which the Church is built, because Peter (Petros) means “rock” in Greek. The verse reads:
“And I tell you, you are Peter (Petros), and on this Rock (Petra) I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”(Matthew 16:18)
It is only right for us to look to Scripture itself to help us first. What does St. Paul say? He says, “This Rock (Petra) was Christ.”(1 Corinthians 10:4) Petros refers to Peter, while Petra refers to Christ.
The Catholics say that Peter is the foundation of the Church. Scripture, however, says this: “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”(1 Corinthians 3:11) So that Christ is the foundation! The Rock is none other than God himself! (Cf. Deuteronomy 32:4, 15, 18, 30-31; 2 Samuel 22:3; Psalm 89:26; 92:15; 94:22, Masoretic Text) And again, it says, “And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.”(Ephesians 2:20) “And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles.”(Revelation 21:14) How, though, are the apostles a foundation, if Christ is the only foundation? It is because the apostles are one with Christ. (Cf. John 17:21-23) So, it is said that Christ is the foundation, while the apostles are a foundation. The “foundation of the apostles” is one thing, but Christ is the foundation—“the chief corner stone.”(Ephesians 2:20)
To reiterate, Peter is a foundation (by virtue of his being in harmony with Christ), as are the other apostles, but Christ is the foundation. Peter was indeed the chief of the apostles, and a leader, but he was not above them in the way the Romans would have us believe. His name is always listed first when the Bible speaks of the apostles; he was the authoritative voice, the overseer who presided over the Council of Jerusalem (cf. Acts 15), but he was not of any greater authority than the other apostles. If Peter was above the other apostles, could Paul—a man that was a proselyte that converted after the crucifixion—have spoken out against Peter? (Cf. Galatians 2:11-16) All of the authority given to Peter in Matthew 16:18 is given to the other apostles as well in Matthew 18:18.
All of the Apostles are equal in authority. No one of them has any authority over any other; no Apostle had any lordship over another, for there is only one Lord.
“A dispute also arose among [the Apostles], which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the least, and the leader as one who serves. For which is the greater, one who sits at table, or one who serves? Is it not the one who sits at table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have continued with me in my trials; and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”(Luke 22:24-22:30)
“You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be the slave of all.”(Mark 10:42-44)
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave.”(Matthew 20:25-27)
This shows that there is an equality of authority among the Apostles. The fact that Peter is the Chief Apostle does not mean that he has more authority, but rather that he has more responsibility. He is to be the servant, the peacekeeper, the mediator (between men), the leader, but not the ruler.
I believe that it is important to show not only a Scriptural argument, but also to show that my interpretation is in line with Sacred Tradition and is in agreement with all of the most ancient Christian doctrines. The first person to specifically mention the issue we are debating (i.e. Is Peter the Rock upon which the Church was founded?) was St. Hermas of Rome (ca. 66-154AD), the disciple of the Apostle Paul, mentioned in Romans 16:14. Hermas wrote:
“‘This Rock (Petra),’ he said, ‘and the Gate are the Son of God.’(Cf. Matthew 16:18; 7:24)…‘the [Church] is not built on the ground but upon the Rock (Petra) and the Door.’… ‘So [Christ] Himself has become their foundation and gladly sustains them because they are not ashamed to bear His name.’”(Shepherd of Hermas 89:1; 91:4, 6)
It is interesting to note that Hermas was a Roman Christian, a friend of Pope Clement I, and the brother of Pope Pius I. (Cf. The Muratorian Canon 73-80) The fact that he was the Pope’s brother makes his words on the subject very important.
Likewise, the great theologian St. John Chrysostom (347-407AD) wrote:
“So Peter too said, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man;’(Luke 5:8) because of this he became a foundation of the Church…. [Jesus] added this, ‘And I say unto thee, Thou art Peter, and upon this Rock will I build my Church;’(Matthew 16:18) that is, on the faith of his confession. Hereby He signifies that many were now on the point of believing, and raises his spirit, and makes him a shepherd…. For the Father gave to Peter the revelation of the Son; but the Son gave him to sow that of the Father and that of Himself in every part of the world; and to a mortal man He entrusted the authority over all things in Heaven, giving him the keys… but even the leader of them all, Peter….”(John Chrysostom, Homilies on Matthew)
See how Chrysostom, the great Orthodox (and Catholic) theologian, identifies Peter only as a foundation, holding that the foundational Rock is the confession of the man, not the man himself?
Even the theologian on whom all of western Christianity relies, that is, St. Augustine (354-430AD), does not interpret this verse in the way that the Catholics do! Augustine tells us:
“Now this name of Peter (Petros) was given him by the Lord, and that in a figure, that he should signify the Church. For seeing that Christ is the Rock (Petra), Peter (Petros) is the Christian people. For the Rock (Petra) is the original name. Therefore Peter (Petros) is so called from the Rock (Petra); not the Rock (Petra) from Peter (Petros); as Christ is not called Christ from the Christian, but the Christian from Christ. ‘Therefore,’ he saith, ‘Thou art Peter (Petros); and upon this Rock (Petra)’(Matthew 16:18) which thou hast confessed, upon this Rock (Petra) which thou hast acknowledged, saying, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’(Matthew 16:16), will I build My Church; that is upon Myself, the Son of the living God, ‘will I build My Church.’ I will build thee upon Myself, not Myself upon thee. For men who wished to be built upon men, said ‘I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas,’(1 Corinthians 1:12) who is Peter. But others who did not wish to be built upon Peter (Petros), but upon the Rock (Petra), said, ‘But I am of Christ.’”(St. Augustine, Sermon 26:1-2)
Also, we find Maximus the Confessor (580-662AD) to be of the same opinion—that the confession is the Rock:
“Christ the Lord called that Church the Catholic Church which maintains the true and saving confession of the Faith. It was for this confession that He called Peter blessed, and He declared that He would found His Church upon this confession.”(St. Maximus the Confessor, as quoted in The Debate on Papal Primacy, P. 21)
Sacred Tradition and Scripture do not allow for the Roman Catholic interpretation of Matthew 16:18. We see in the times of the Apostolic Fathers (ca. 33AD to 150AD) that the interpretation followed was that which is followed by the Orthodox Church today, not the interpretation of the Roman Catholics. Likewise, in the time of the latter Early Church Fathers (ca. 150AD to 451AD), we do not find Petrine Supremacy taught from this verse.
To see why Rome was seen as holding more authority, let’s look at the Council of Chalcedon in 451AD—at the close of the age of the Early Church Fathers.
“…The imperial city of Constantinople, which is New Rome…. [We] also do enact and decree the same things concerning the privileges of the most holy Church of Constantinople, which is New Rome. For the fathers rightly granted privileges to the throne of old Rome, because it was the royal city. And the one hundred and fifty most religious bishops, actuated by the same consideration, gave equal privileges to the most holy throne of New Rome, justly judging that the city which is honoured with the Sovereignty and the Senate, and enjoys equal privileges with the old imperial Rome, should in ecclesiastical matters also be magnified as she is….”(NPNF2-14, Fourth Ecumenical Council: The Council of Chalcedon, Canon 28)
From Chalcedon we learn that the reason Rome was given such high privileges was not because of Petrine Primacy, but because Rome was the capital of the Roman Empire. We see also that when the capital of the Roman Empire was moved from Rome to Byzantium (i.e. Constantinople), the Bishop of Constantinople was elevated to the position of a patriarch and given more authority as well. Rome had more authority because it was the capital of the Roman Empire, and then Constantinople had more authority because it was the capital of the Byzantine Roman Empire. However, since the Roman-Byzantine Empires are no more, the Bishops of Rome and Constantinople have no reason to be elevated above the other patriarchs. Since the Empire fell, the Roman Patriarch had to come up with another reason to be supreme, and that is why they devised the doctrine of Petrine Supremacy. (Do not confuse “Petrine Supremacy” with “Petrine Primacy.”)
Roman Primacy originally developed for political reasons. Now that the empires, and the rulers, and the capital cities have fallen, the Eastern Orthodox (who hold to Constantinoplean Primacy) and Roman Catholics (who hold to Roman Primacy) have no political means of justifying their idea that one patriarch is to be held above the others. It was during the fall of the Western Roman Empire that the doctrine of Solus Episcopus Romanus Petrine Supremacy was devised.
Even the Chalcedonian Pope Leo I (Bishop of Rome from 440-461AD) said,
“The See of Alexandria may not lose any of that dignity which it merited through St. Mark, the evangelist and disciple of the blessed Peter, nor may the splendour of so great a church be obscured by another’s clouds…. The church of Antioch too, in which first at the preaching of the blessed Apostle Peter the Christian name arose (cf. Acts 11:26), must continue in the position assigned it by the Fathers, and being set in the third place must never be lowered therefrom.”(Pope Leo I, Letter 106: To Anatolius, Bishop of Constantinople, Ch. 5)
If the See of Alexandria (i.e. one of the Oriental Orthodox patriarchates) and the Church of Antioch (which is part of the Oriental Orthodox Church as well) cannot lose their authority, how is it that the Roman-Constantinopolitan Church claimed supremacy and “excommunicated” the Oriental Orthodox patriarchs, who your own Pope says have authority that cannot be take away from them?
Even from the works of the early Popes who believed in Petrine Primacy, we see that the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch—both of which also trace back to Peter—are given authority with Rome.
The Chalcedonian Pope Gregory I (540-604AD) wrote:
“Your most sweet Holiness has spoken much in your letter to me about the chair of Saint Peter, Prince of the apostles, saying that he himself now sits on it in the persons of his successors. And indeed I acknowledge myself to be unworthy, not only in the dignity of such as preside, but even in the number of such as stand. But I gladly accepted all that has been said, in that he has spoken to me about Peter’s chair who occupies Peter’s chair…. And to him it is said by the voice of the Truth, ‘To thee I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven.’(Matthew 16:19) And again it is said to him, ‘And when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.’(Matthew 22:32) And once more, ‘Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Feed my sheep.’(John 21:17) Wherefore though there are many apostles, yet with regard to the principality itself the See of the Prince of the apostles alone has grown strong in authority, which in three places is the See of one.”(Pope Gregory I, Epistle 40: To Eulogius of Alexandria)
The fact that Antioch and Alexandria traced their bishoprics to Peter was still acknowledged even by the Pope in the 6th century, so that Rome shared its authority with two other patriarchates. Notice also the humility of Gregory I, when he says, “I acknowledge myself to be unworthy,” which implies that he considered the Patriarch of Alexandria to be his equal. Gregory the Great acknowledged that the patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch were also the legitimate successors of Peter! If all three Bishops are the legitimate successors of Peter, why should Rome be exalted above the other two successors of Peter? Also, it is interesting that the term “pope” was first used to refer to the Bishop of Alexandria, not the Bishop of Rome.
One argument proposed by the Romanists in support of their doctrine of Solus Episcopus Romanus goes like this: “The authority was with Peter himself, so that when Peter left Antioch, the authority moved with him to Rome.” This, however, is a flawed argument. If the authority left with Peter when he departed from Antioch, wouldn’t it have left with Peter when he departed from Rome? Then, the Catholic argues that some degree of Peter’s authority remained in Rome by virtue of his successors. But, if that is the case, then the same degree of Peter’s authority must have remained in Antioch by virtue of his successors there. And, if it is passed on through his successors, it must have been passed on to Alexandria by virtue of Mark as well. So, we see three successors of Peter: Alexandria, Antioch, and Rome. Thus, there is one Papacy in succession from Peter, but three Popes, drawing a parallel to the Trinity. We have a father in Antioch, a son in Rome, and a holy spirit in Alexandria.
Something from St. Cyprian (who died in 258AD) that is related to the above quote goes:
“They are promising to bring back and recall the lapsed into the Church, who themselves have departed from the Church. There is one God, and Christ is one, and there is one Church, and one chair founded upon the Rock by the word of the Lord. Another altar cannot be constituted nor a new priesthood be made, except the one altar and the one priesthood.”(ANF05, Cyprian, Epistle 39, Ch. 5)
Here we see one chair mentioned. But, remember how Christ said, “The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.”(Matthew 23:2) You see, therefore, how one see (i.e. chair or cathedra) can be occupied by multiple people? Wherefore the Chalcedonian Pope Gregory I said, “In three places is the See of one,” because he viewed the See or Chair of Peter as an equivalent of the Seat of Moses, being occupied by more than one person!
Moreover, in the earliest times, the Church regarded all bishops as successors of Christ and as having almost god-like authority! (Cf. Ignatius to the Ephesians 6:1; Ignatius to the Trallians 2:1; Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans 8:1-2, etc.)
Likewise, the Chalcedonian Patriarch John II of Constantinople writes:
“I hold the most holy churches of the elder and of the new Rome to be one; I define that see of the apostle Peter and this of the imperial city to be one see.”(Patriarch John II of Constantinople)
The Fathers express that the episcopacy is one, and that all bishops are successors of the apostles and have equal authority, as they all sit on one see. However, Peter, being the Chief Apostle was given more responsibility than the others, and so the See of Peter remains on its own in having the authoritative responsibility to lead, mediate, and reconcile other bishops.
Okay, the things that I have written may seem a bit complex, confusing, and even very scattered, so let’s make a summary of what has been said and proven from the Scriptures and from the Fathers:
(1) The “Rock” upon which the Church was founded (cf. Matthew 16:18) was the confession of Peter, which stated: “Thou art the Christ…”, therefore, the Rock is also Christ, who is the confession. The “Rock” is both the confession of Christ and the Person of Christ. The Rock and foundation of the Church is Jesus Christ Himself, not Peter. Christ, the incarnate God, is the foundation of the Church. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 3:11; Deuteronomy 32:4, 15, 18, 30-31; 2 Samuel 22:3; Psalm 89:26; 92:15; 94:22; Ephesians 2:20) However, the Apostles serve as a lesser foundation by virtue of their being in harmony with Christ. (Cf. Ephesians 2:20; Revelation 21:14; John 17:21-23)
(2) Peter was the Chief Apostle. This, however, does not make him supreme or infallible in any way, nor does it make his successors superior to any other bishops. The fact that Peter is the Chief Apostle does not mean that he has more authority, but rather that he has more responsibility. He is to be the servant, the peacekeeper, the mediator, the leader, but not the ruler. (Cf. Luke 22:24-22:30; Mark 10:42-44; Matthew 20:25-27)
(3) The Bishop of Rome is neither the only successor of Peter, nor is he the only Pope. The Bishop of Rome is also not the supreme head of the Church, but must share all of his authority with the other bishops. Also, as far as the Petrine Primacy goes, the three successors of Peter have universal jurisdiction, meaning that the Ecumene (the Greco-Roman “known-world”) was divided up among them. The Bishop of Rome was to exercise authority only in his responsibility of mediation over the bishops of Europe only. The Bishop of Alexandria was to exercise authority only in his responsibility of mediation over the bishops of Africa only. The Bishop of Antioch was to exercise authority only in his responsibility of mediation over the bishops of Asia only.
(4) No bishop is allowed to overstep his jurisdiction in the ordaining or deposing of a cleric.
(5) The episcopacy is one and so all bishops remain equal in authority. In the words of brother Amba Gregorius of the Coptic Orthodox Church:
“All bishops are of equal dignity. The Primate among his bishops enjoys a primacy of honor according to the grandeur of his city and its historical importance. The Primate, whether called bishop, archbishop, pope, patriarch or catholicos, is also on the same footing of honor among all primates in the whole Christendom.
The unity of the Church Universal is manifested in the one faith, confessed and professed by all Churches throughout the whole Christendom. The unity of the Church Universal is embodied in an inseparable unity of all bishops. In St. Cyprian’s words, ‘The episcopate is one, so that each shares the whole, and the whole is in each part (episcopus unus est, cuius a singulis in solidum pars tenetur).’
Whenever a need for one voice in a matter that challenges the whole Christian world, an ecumenical council has to be convened. The Ecumenical council is to be chaired by the Bishop or the Primate of the place or the Chairman has to be elected from among the primates of equal honor as brothers in Christ.”(Amba Gregorius, as quoted in James F. Puglisi’s Petrine Ministry and the Unity of the Church, P. 93-94)
However, the successors of Peter alone are to have higher honor and responsibility, for they are given the duty to lead, unite, reconcile, mediate, and rebuke other bishops. It is the successors of Peter who are given the duty to be the mediators between feuding bishops and clerics. The successors of Peter are supposed to reconcile factions within the Church before they lead to schism, they are to rebuke heretics and confirm Orthodoxy, and they are to be the official representatives of the Church on Earth.
(6) The Roman Church was given primacy among the churches in ancient times only because of its location at the capital of the Roman Empire. The fall of the Roman Empire, as well as the Roman acceptance of heresy, have deprived Rome of all authority.
I’m still not finished with this subject; I just wanted to take a moment to summarize what has been established so far. I have summed it up in six simple points, so that no one will be confused.
The Roman Pope Gregory VII (ca. 1020-1085AD) stated: “The Roman pontiff alone can rightly be called universal.”(Pope Gregory VII, Dictatus Papae 2) This is an outright lie and heresy, going against the teachings of the Fathers! This heretic even contradicts the former Popes.
Pope Gregory I (540-604) said:
“Now I confidently say that whosoever calls himself, or desires to be called, ‘Universal Priest’, is in his elation the precursor of anti-Christ, because he proudly puts himself above all others. Nor is it by dissimilar pride that he is led into error; for, as that perverse one wishes to appear as above all men… the Truth says, ‘Every one that exalts himself shall be humbled.’(Luke 14:11; 18:14), I know that every kind of elation is the sooner burst as it is the more inflated.”(Pope Gregory I, Letter to Mauricius Augustus: Epistles of St. Gregory the Great 7:33)
So, according to Pope Gregory the Great, the modern Roman Pontiff has become the precursor of the antichrist!
The Pope that declared that the Bishop of Rome is “universal” was so arrogant that he actually thought that the Pope should have the right to depose of emperors, that kings and princes should have to kiss his feet, that he alone had the right to declare a council to be ecumenical (even if it is not ecumenically accepted), that the Pope alone decides what books are canonical in the Bible, that no one has the right to judge the Pope or his actions, that the Roman Church has never erred in any way and that it is impossible for the Roman Church to err, etc. (Cf. Pope Gregory VII, Dictatus Papae) What would Pope Gregory I have said about such arrogance?
Now, another issue must be addressed. It is confirmed unanimously by the Fathers that a person upon embracing heresy (i.e. false doctrine) becomes ipso facto (by the fact itself) deprived of any ecclesiastical rank and excommunicated from the Church altogether. This means, that the Roman Popes of recent times, who embrace many heresies (e.g. the doctrine that Mary is a mediator between God and man, the Immaculate Conception, Papal Infallibility, etc.) would have been ipso facto deposed and excommunicated, meaning that they have no authority whatsoever over any Christian. A heretic is a heretic, regardless of ecclesiastical rank. Judas, upon betraying Christ, lost his status as an Apostle, so too did the Bishop of Rome lose his authority when he betrayed Christ by teaching heresy. If you were to say, ‘How can one of the Popes be in error?’ or ‘How can one of Peter’s successors be cut off and considered heretical?’ then I would reply, “The same way Judas, one of the apostles, lost his apostolic authority and was cut off from the true Church.”
My fellow Orthodox Christian, brother George Alexander of the Malankara Orthodox Church, said:
“A heresy is a whole or partial rejection of the truth, a tearing into pieces of truth, which then takes upon itself the character and pathology of an ideology. It separates man from the way of being which God imparted to His Church, and it kills him spiritually….
The 68th Canon of the Holy Apostles states: (Free Translation) ‘Those who have been baptized or ordained by heretics cannot be either faithful Christians or clergymen.’ Saint Nicodemus the Athonite adds: ‘The baptism of all the heretics is impious and blasphemous and has no communion whatsoever with that of the Orthodox.’”(Brother George Alexander of the Indian Orthodox Church, Orthodox Church of the East in the Twenty First Century: Challenges & Opportunities, P.79-80)
The great and holy Pope Pius XII (1876-1958) agrees that heresy results in ipso facto excommunication, saying:
“For not every sin, however grave it may be, is such as of its own nature to sever a man from the body of the Church, as does schism or heresy.”(Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis Christi 23)
Also, the Roman Catholic St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), says the following, concerning the ipso facto deposition of clerics:
“The power of jurisdiction, however, is that which is conferred simply by the injunction of man; and this power does not adhere immovably; therefore it does not remain in schismatics and heretics. Hence they can neither absolve, nor excommunicate, nor grant indulgences, or anything of this sort. If they do this, the act is null.”(Summa Theologica, Secunda Secundae Partis, Question 39)
The Roman Catholic Council of Florence (which the Romanists regard as being “ecumenical” and “infallible”) is in agreement with these theologians—stating that heretics are ipso facto excommunicated from the Church:
“The Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that above all those who are outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans but also Jews or heretics and schismatics…”(Pope Eugene IV, Council of Florence, Cantate Domino)
The Catholic Encyclopedia says:
“Heretical clerics and all who receive, defend, or favour them are ipso facto deprived of their benefices, offices, and ecclesiastical jurisdiction. The pope himself, if notoriously guilty of heresy, would cease to be pope because he would cease to be a member of the Church.”(The Catholic Encyclopedia, “Heresy,” New York: Robert Appleton Co., 1914, Vol. 7, p. 261) “Of course, the election (to the papacy) of a heretic, schismatic, or female would be null and void.”(The Catholic Encyclopedia, “Papal Elections,” 1914, Vol. 11, p. 456 [parentheses mine])
Also, Pope Paul VI (1476-1559) specifically issued a Papal Bull, stating that a heretic cannot validly become Pope:
“If ever at any time it shall appear that any bishop, even if he be acting as an archbishop, patriarch or primate; or any cardinal of the aforesaid Roman Church, or, as has already been mentioned, any legate, or even the Roman Pontiff, prior to his promotion or his elevation as cardinal or Roman Pontiff, has deviated from the Catholic Faith or fallen into some heresy:
i. the promotion or elevation, even if it shall have been uncontested and by the unanimous assent of all the cardinals, shall be null, void and worthless;
ii. it shall not be possible for it to acquire validity…
iii. it shall not be held as partially legitimate in any way…
iv. those thus promoted or elevated shall be deprived automatically, and without need for any further declaration, of all dignity, position, honor, title, authority, office and power.”(Pope Paul VI, Cum ex Apostolatus Officio)
The Roman Catholic St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) wrote:
“We do not say that the Pope cannot err in his private opinions, as did John XXII; or be altogether a heretic, as perhaps Honorius was. Now when he is explicitly a heretic, he falls ipso facto from his dignity out of the Church, and the Church must either deprive him, as some say, or declare him deprived, of his Apostolic See, and must say as St. Peter did: ‘Let another take his bishopric.’(Acts 1:20).”(The Catholic Controversy: 2.6.14)
The Roman Catholic St. Antoninus (1389-1459) also wrote:
“In the case in which the pope would become a heretic, he would find himself, by the fact alone (ipso facto) and without any other sentence, separated from the Church. A head separated from a body cannot, as long as it remains separated, be head of the same body from which it was cut off. A pope who would be separated from the Church by heresy, therefore, would by that very fact itself cease to be head of the Church. He could not be a heretic and remain pope, because, since he is outside of the Church, he cannot possess the keys of the Church.”(Summa Theologica, cited in Actes de Vatican I. V.)
Also, the Roman Catholic theologian St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787) wrote:
“If God should permit that a Pope should become a notorious and contumacious heretic, he would cease to be Pope, and the pontificate would be vacant.”(Verita della Fede 3.8.10)
The Roman Catholic scholar and theologian St. Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) writes:
“This principle is most certain. The non-Christian cannot in any way be Pope, as Cajetan himself admits. The reason for this is that he cannot be head of what he is not a member; now he who is not a Christian is not a member of the Church, and a manifest heretic is not a Christian, as is clearly taught by St. Cyprian, St. Athanasius, St. Augustine, St. Jerome and others; therefore the manifest heretic cannot be Pope….
In addition to this, what finds itself in the ultimate disposition to death, immediately thereafter ceases to exist, without the intervention of any other external force, as is obvious; therefore, also the Pope heretic ceases to be Pope by himself, without any deposition.
Finally, the Holy Fathers teach unanimously not only that heretics are outside of the Church, but also that they are ipso facto deprived of all ecclesiastical jurisdiction and dignity. St. Cyprian says: ‘We affirm that absolutely no heretic or schismatic has any power or right’; and he also teaches that the heretics who return to the Church must be received as laymen, even though they have been formerly priests or bishops in the Church. St. Optatus teaches that heretics and schismatics cannot have the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, nor bind nor loose. St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, and St. Jerome teach the same.
Pope St. Celestine I wrote: ‘It is evident that he [the man who was excommunicated by Nestorius the heretic] has remained and remains in communion with us, and that we do not consider destituted anyone who has been excommunicated or deprived of his charge, either episcopal or clerical, by Bishop Nestorius or by the others who followed him, after they commenced preaching heresy. For he who had already shown himself as deserving to be excommunicated, could not excommunicate anyone by his sentence.’
And in a letter to the clergy of Constantinople, Pope St. Celestine I says: ‘The authority of our Apostolic See has determined that the bishop, cleric, or simple Christian who had been deposed or excommunicated by Nestorius or his followers, after the latter began to preach heresy shall not be considered deposed or excommunicated. For he who had defected from the faith with such preachings, cannot depose or remove anyone whatsoever.’
St. Nicholas I repeats and confirms the same. Finally, St. Thomas also teaches that schismatics immediately lose all jurisdiction, and that anything they try to do on the basis of any jurisdiction will be null….
Heretics already before being excommunicated are outside the Church and deprived of all jurisdiction. For they have already been condemned by their own sentence, as the Apostle teaches (cf. Titus 3:10-11), that is, they have been cut off from the body of the Church without excommunication, as St. Jerome affirms.
Besides that, the second affirmation of Cajetan, that the Pope heretic can be truly and authoritatively deposed by the Church, is no less false than the first. For if the Church deposes the Pope against his will it is certainly above the Pope…
… The Pope who is manifestly a heretic ceases by himself to be Pope and head, in the same way as he ceases to be a Christian and a member of the body of the Church; and for this reason he can be judged and punished by the Church. This is the opinion of all the ancient Fathers, who teach that manifest heretics immediately lose all jurisdiction, and outstandingly that of St. Cyprian who speaks as follows of Novatian, who was Pope in the schism which occurred during the pontificate of St. Cornelius: ‘He would not be able to retain the episcopate, and, if he was made bishop before, he separated himself from the body of those who were, like him, bishops, and from the unity of the Church.’
… Melchior Cano says the same, teaching that heretics are neither parts nor members of the Church, and that it cannot even be conceived that anyone could be head and Pope, without being member and part….
The foundation of this argument is that the manifest heretic is not in any way a member of the Church.”(De Romano Pontifice: Book II, Chapter 30)
So, even if the Romanist doctrine of the supremacy of the Roman Pontiff were correct, the heresies of the Roman Pontiff and his followers have de facto et ipso facto severed them from the Church, depriving them of all ecclesiastical authority and dignity.
In the words of brother Joseph Suaiden: “In a disgusting victory of logic over heresy, the primacy of the Pope of Rome (first ranking bishop), simply shifted to the next ranking Bishop when the Pope of Rome fell to heresy and schismatic pretension. The struggle against the gates of hell continues, sadly, without Orthodoxy’s original First-Hierarch. This is tragic—but not sufficient to destroy the Church, whose end will be determined by God!”(The Debate on Papal Primacy, P. 57)
“Both have great holiness and great wickedness in their histories, and making a judgment based on the variable tides of history would be unwise.”
The Romanists made the stains in the history books. Look at the Crusades: they were perpetrated by Rome. The Jews and Orthodox Christians became the victims of the Romanist Crusaders. The Orthodox Church called upon our European brothers to defend us against the Islamic invaders, and what did the Romanists do? They slaughtered millions of Orthodox Christians and Jews in the city of Jerusalem, they sacked the city of Constantinople, the capital of the Orthodox Byzantine Empire, and the Romanist Crusaders made our situation worse! Nowhere in history has the Orthodox Church tortured people as the Romanists did in their inquisitions! Orthodox Christians have always been too busy being persecuted to persecute others, too busy being oppressed to oppress others, and too busy studying and meditating to participate in vain quarrels.
“The Eastern Orthodox also have an issue in the degree to which they display catholicity. Compared to the Catholic Church, the Orthodox tend to be confined to a few ethnicities (Russian, Greek, etc.) The Catholic Church, by contrast, embraces far more ethnicities.”
I myself am a witness to the falsehood of this preposterous claim! I am an American, of British and Irish ancestry, and I am attending a Coptic Orthodox Church. The divisions in Orthodoxy have to do with nationality and preferred language usage, not race or ethnicity. It is our tradition to do the liturgy in the common tongue. The Russian Orthodox Church does their liturgy in Russian; the Greek Church in Greek; the Egyptian Church in Coptic and Arabic, etc. If a member of one Orthodox Church wanted to, they could attend and take communion at any other Orthodox church that is in communion with their church. An Ethiopian Orthodox Christian is welcome in the Coptic Church; a Syriac Orthodox Christian is welcome in the Indian Orthodox Church, etc. In fact, I know of a priest who was baptized into the Coptic Orthodox Church, but now ministers to an Antiochian Orthodox church.
Orthodoxy is a broad sphere of Churches. There is the Church of Egypt, the Church of Ethiopia, the Churches of Syria, Jerusalem, India, Romania, Russia, Estonia, Armenia, Bulgaria, etc. There is even an Orthodox Church of Japan, of China, of Serbia, of the Ukrain, of Poland, one of Greece, another of Georgia, and one of Czechoslovakia. There is even the Macedonian Orthodox Church, the Orthodox Church in Italy, the Orthodox Church in America, the Turkish Orthodox Church, the Celtic (Irish) Orthodox Church, the British Orthodox Church, and the French Orthodox Church, and more! These are far more than just “a few ethnicities!”
We have many different ethnicities and cultures, but only one faith. We may pray in different languages, play different kinds of music in our services, have different liturgies, have different cultures, but we are all one. The Orthodox Church is not an institution, but the sum total of all people who believe in the Orthodox faith. We all believe the same things, and that unites us. We do not find this in Roman Catholicism. In the Roman Church, different people believe differently; you are only united by being part of one institution or organization. The Catholics in the west believe in purgatory and the filioque, while the Eastern Rite Catholics do not believe in either! Where is your orthodoxy? Where is your doctrinal unity? Where is your catholicity?
“I’m referring to the fact that not all Orthodox churches are in full communion with each other. There are situations in which church A is in communion with church B, and church B is in communion with church C, but A is not in communion with C.”
As for the two Orthodox bodies, our Churches have had synods and agreements affirming that we both teach the same faith. The Eastern Orthodox Church of Georgia and the Oriental Orthodox Church of Armenia are in almost full communion with one another, so much so that they actually refuse to accept converts from each other’s Churches. They encourage people to stay in whichever Orthodox Church they are in, because they understand both Churches to be truly Orthodox and to have valid sacraments. Similar agreements have been made between the Chalcedonians (i.e. Eastern Orthodox) and Miaphysites (i.e. Oriental Orthodox) in Egypt and Syria. We draw closer to union every day. I think that the situation between the Armenian and Georgian Churches is what Akin is referring to. What is taking place is an inter-communion communion (if you will allow me to coin new terminology).
It would not surprise me if one day in the near future we find all Oriental Orthodox churches to be in full communion with all Eastern Orthodox churches, so that we are one Church. These two different Churches are on the verge of becoming one Church. That is essentially what is happening.
We have discovered that there are different Churches in different lands that adhere to the Orthodox faith. We see our traditions taught in many places, from the Orthodox Churches in the British Isles to the Orthodox Churches in India, China, and Japan. We are not all in communion with one another, mainly because, until recently, we did not know of the existence of these other Churches. Now we are seeing a greater unity coming about. We have always been united by similar doctrines, but now we are starting to come into a unity through mutual recognition and communion. The British Orthodox Church has come into communion with the Churches of Egypt, Ethiopia, India, and Syria, while the Churches of Georgia and Armenia have come into communion with both the Eastern Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox communions, creating a sort of inter-communion communion.
“It was also worth noting the size difference between the two. A little over half of all Christians are Catholic, while a little under a quarter are Orthodox.”
Firstly, this argument is a logical fallacy: namely, that of an Appeal to Common Practice. Furthermore, Jesus said, “Wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: for narrow is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth to life, and few there be that find it.”(Matthew 7:13-14) In light of this verse, Akin’s argument actually seems to discredit Roman Catholicism.
Furthermore, in the 11th century, the Assyrian Church of the East (i.e. the Nestorians) was the largest Christian denomination. So, has the True Church changed? Was the Nestorian Church the True Church in the 11th century, and then has the Roman Catholic Church become the True Church today? I think you see the absurdity of Akin’s argument.
Also, the number of the members of the Catholic Church includes everyone who was baptized into the Roman Church as an infant, even those that have willingly left the Church. Many of the people that are considered Catholic, do not acknowledge themselves as being Catholics: many are Protestants who were just baptized as infants. The Orthodox Church, on the other hand, does not even keep records of its members—we don’t keep score. We do not keep a chart, saying how many people we baptize a day, like the Romanists do. There is no possible way to know how many Orthodox Christians there are in the world.
“It would be much harder to maintain that the Catholic Church is a false superchurch that dwarfs the true Church. Protestants might be able to argue that case by labeling it the Whore of Babylon and attributing all kinds of evil doctrine to it, but that argument would not work for the Orthodox, who are in near-total agreement with Catholic doctrine.”
Orthodox Christians would not label the Roman Catholic Church as the “Whore of Babylon” because that is incompatible with the interpretation of the Book of Revelation that is given to us by the Early Church Fathers. However, I disagree with Akin here about us having “near-total” agreement. There are several major differences between Catholicism and Orthodoxy doctrinally, some of which I have already explained.
The second article was, “The Rite Not to Be Roman”, by Carl E. Olson. (Cf. http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/2006/0601fea4.asp)
“Over the past few centuries, groups of Eastern Christians have come back into communion with Rome and have been recognized as Eastern Catholic Churches. Most of these reunions have taken place in the last five hundred years.”
Historically the Eastern Rite Catholic churches were not Catholic though. They received their bishops via the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, or Assyrian Church of the East. These Eastern Rite Catholics are actually schismatic groups who have broken away from one of the Orthodox communions or the Nestorian communion and joined the Catholic communion. There are plenty of instances where Catholics have left the Roman Church and come over to Orthodoxy. This is a weak argument.
“and each particular church ‘should retain its traditions whole and entire.’(OL 2)”
If this is true, then why do the Eastern Rite Catholics, many of who’s traditions were those of Miaphysitism and Nestorianism prior to coming into communion with Rome, no longer teach Miaphysitism and Nestorianism? Why has the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, which was foreign to these churches throughout their history, been introduced to their traditions? Their traditions are not being retained “whole and entire,” they are being modified and changed to conform to the Roman standard.
The third article was “Eastern Orthodoxy,” by an anonymous author. (Cf. http://www.catholic.com/library/eastern_orthodoxy.asp )
“The current Eastern Orthodox communion dates from the 1450s, making it a mere six decades older than the Protestant Reformation.”
That is a rather absurd claim. The Eastern Orthodox Church has the same apostolic origins as the Catholic Church. We could say that the current Catholic communion dates from the 1450’s too. Actually, the East-West Schism has no single date. There has been tension between the Constantinopolitan Church (Eastern Orthodox) and the Roman Church since the Council of Chalcedon in 451AD. Pope Leo I (who was Pope from 440-461AD) wrote several letters rebuking the Bishop of Constantinople. Then, in the 6th century, the Constantinopolitan Patriarch began to call himself the “Ecumenical Patriarch,” which infuriated Pope Gregory I, who was Pope from 590 to 604AD. Pope Gregory I also wrote works rebuking the Bishop of Constantinople. In fact, Maximus the Confessor (580-662AD) was of the opinion that the Bishop of Constantinople was in schism in his own time. As early as 484AD, the Bishop of Constantinople and the Bishop of Rome had initiated a formal schism, which lasted for 34 years. From 1054 to 1472 the Eastern Orthodox churches broke communion with Rome twice and at a latter time came back into communion with Rome, then in 1472 they broke communion with Rome for a final time and have not been reconciled since. My particular Church (Oriental Orthodox), however, is an entirely separate matter: we broke communion with Rome in 451AD. The Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, and Assyrian Church of the East are all equally as old as the Roman Catholic Church. Furthermore, the Oriental Orthodox and Assyrian Church of the East have never been under the authority of Rome. Many parts of the Eastern Orthodox Church have also never been under the jurisdiction of Rome.
At the time of the East-West Schism, the majority of the world’s Christians followed the Eastern Orthodox side, not the Roman side. Also, the Roman Church initiated the schism, so it would actually be more adequate to say that the Roman Catholic Church broke away from the Eastern Orthodox Church.
I would like to direct you back to Points 4 and 6 of my response to Akin’s “Why I am Not Eastern Orthodox”. Furthermore, I would point out that the filioque does not necessarily contradict the Orthodox faith.
“In Orthodox circles, the test for whether a council is ecumenical is whether it is ‘accepted by the church’ as such.”
Again, I direct you to Point 6 of my response to Akin’s “Why I am Not Eastern Orthodox”.
I would like for you to tell me how the Catholic Church defines an ecumenical council. I do not ask what councils are ecumenical, but what is an ecumenical council? Is it not just whatever the Pope accepts as such?
“The Pope’s Authority”
I would like to direct you back to Point 7 of my response to Akin’s “Why I am Not Eastern Orthodox”
The final article was “Peter and the Orthodox: A Reprise,” by Ray Ryland. (Cf. http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/1996/9610eaw.asp)
“John Chrysostom’s attitude”
I direct you to Point 7 of my response to Akin’s “Why I am Not Eastern Orthodox”. If the supremacy of Peter is to be accepted, which of Peter’s successors is to be held highest? Rome? Antioch? Why? The Catholics must come up with satisfactory answers to these questions.
We do accept the primacy of Peter, but we do not believe that any particular one of his successors is above the others. Rome cannot be exalted above the other two popes (i.e. the Bishops of Antioch and Alexandria). Also, the primacy is of responsibility, not of authority. We believe in the primacy of Peter, but not in the supremacy of Peter.
“Matthew 16:13-19 reports that at Caesarea Philippi Jesus kept his promise to Peter, giving him the name of ‘Rock’ and designating him as foundation of the Church.”
Again, I direct you to Point 7 of my response to Akin’s “Why I am Not Eastern Orthodox”.
“All Eastern apologists consulted in this study agree that James presided at the Council…”
As to what foolish “apologists” Ryland consulted, I do not know. They obviously were not well-educated theologians. We agree with Catholics that it was Peter who presided over the Council of Jerusalem, but the point is irrelevant in light of what I have already said.
While I have thoroughly responded to all of these articles, I would like to discuss several other doctrines of the Roman Catholics, in order to strengthen my arguments for Orthodoxy.
In 1854, the Roman Catholics added a new doctrine to the official teachings of their Church: the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. The doctrine states that the Virgin Mary was born without the stain of “original” or ancestral sin; she was born without the inclination toward sin, and therefore was sinless throughout her entire life. The Romanists claim that pain in childbirth is meant to atone for sins. Thus, since they believe Mary was sinless, they also believe that she felt no pain in childbirth. However, the Bible clearly states that every human being that has ever lived (with the exception of Christ; cf. 1 Peter 2:22) has sinned. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,”(Romans 3:23) including the Virgin Mary. Scripture says, concerning Mary, “She being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.”(Revelation 12:2) Mary did feel pain in childbirth.
In 1870, the Roman Catholics declared the Roman Pope to be infallible whenever he speaks ex cathedra, “from the chair” (the “chair,” according to the Catholics, figuratively representing his teaching authority). However, there are contradictions among the “infallible” statements of the Popes. Pope Pius IX issued a decree, ex cathedra, stating that freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and freedom of religion are “evil” and “insane” ideas. (Cf. Pope Pius IX, Quanta Cura, 3) Likewise, Pope Leo XIII issued an ex cathedra declaration saying that it is wrong to grant, demand, or defend the ideas of “freedom of thought, of speech, of writing, or of worship”(Cf. Pope Leo XIII, Libertas: On the Nature of Human Liberty, 42) However, Pope Paul VI declared, ex cathedra, that freedom of religion is “greatly in accord with truth and justice.”(Pope Paul VI, Dignitatis Humanae, 1) He also confirms by his ex cathedra declaration that “the human person has a right to religious freedom,”(Pope Paul VI, Dignitatis Humanae, 2) and decrees that every man should be allowed to live his life in accordance with his own conscience. (Cf. Pope Paul VI, Dignitatis Humanae, 13) This contradiction among ex cathedra Papal decrees disproves the doctrine of Papal infallibility. The Romanists also forbid their clergy to marry, even though Scripture clearly says that the clerics are permitted to marry. (Cf. 1 Timothy 3:2, 12; 4:1-3) The Romanists have “depart[ed] from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.”(1 Timothy 4:1)
After I pointed out that the teachings of the Roman Church have changed over the years, some have responded, saying that “modernization” of the faith is necessary and even that new revelations have come and have caused a need to change the faith. However, let’s look to Scripture:
“Beloved, being very eager to write to you of our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.”(Jude 1:3)
The faith was delivered “once and for all.” Nothing needs to be added to it. Also, let’s look to Tradition:
“Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense “Catholic,” which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors.
What then will a Catholic Christian do, if a small portion of the Church have cut itself off from the communion of the universal faith? What, surely, but prefer the soundness of the whole body to the unsoundness of a pestilent and corrupt member? What, if some novel contagion seek to infect not merely an insignificant portion of the Church, but the whole? Then it will be his care to cleave to antiquity, which at this day cannot possibly be seduced by any fraud of novelty.”(St. Vincent of Lerins, Commonitoria 2-3)
The Roman Church does not hold to the Catholica Fidei (Catholic Faith). The Roman Church’s faith has changed over time, but the Catholic Faith, by definition, cannot change. The Roman Church is not truly Catholic. Purgatory, the Immaculate Conception, and Papal Infallibility are not part of the Catholic Faith, because they have not “been believed everywhere, always, by all.”
I found all these articles to be unconvincing. Do not think that I am merely hard of heart. I have simply not heard any compelling arguments for Roman “Catholicism” over Orthodoxy. “Orthodox” is a Greek word, meaning “doctrinally correct” or “having the right teachings”  You cannot be forgiven of a sin that you have not repented for.  One Catholic apologist objected, claiming that this passage refers to the particular judgment and not the general judgment. However, it must be born in mind that “the Day of the Lord” always refers to the general or last judgment, never to the particular judgment  Ignatius is drawing a connection between an earthly house and the spiritual House (i.e. the Church). He draws a connection between earthly “home-wrecking” (i.e. adultery) and spiritual Home-wrecking (i.e. corrupting the Church through teaching heresy, which causes divisions in the Church).  I am not promoting the teachings of the Assyrian Church. I am just pointing out that a great many of the eastern Christians have never even heard of the filioque.  The confession is the foundation, according to Chrysostom, but Augustine clarifies this by noting that the confession was “Thou art the Christ,” and thus the confession was Christ. In this way Augustine pointed out that the Rock was both the confession of, and the person of, Christ. [7 Orthodox Christians believe that Peter was the Chief Apostle and that his successors have special authority as far as being mediators among the clerics and representatives of the Church. However, we do not believe that there is only one successor of Peter or that there is only one pope.  When the Bishops of Antioch and Alexandria disagreed with the Chalcedonian bishops, they were “excommunicated” and new bishops were ordained to take their places. According to canon 6 of the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea and canon 2 of the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople, the other bishops had no authority to ordain new bishops in Africa and Asia.