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Author Topic: Infallibility of the Ecumenical Councils  (Read 6466 times) Average Rating: 0
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Justin Kissel
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« on: August 20, 2007, 05:35:13 AM »

It was said on another thread:

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The infallibility of ALL Seven Ecumenical Councils is one of the bedrocks of our faith.

I'd be interested in hearing a case made for this position (from early sources, if possible; after all, if it's a "bedrock" belief, I'd imagine that it'd be fleshed out by the time a few Ecumenical Councils had taken place... perhaps by the mid 5th century).
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« Reply #1 on: August 20, 2007, 07:27:33 AM »

Re-read the Acts of the Apostles. Should be early enough and bed-rocky enough for ya.
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« Reply #2 on: August 20, 2007, 07:30:23 AM »

Acts 15 and 21... been there, done that. Doesn't say anything about infallibility, just some stuff about "It seems good to us and the Holy Spirit". And, um, oops, their decision wasn't followed Wink  So much for infallibility.
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« Reply #3 on: August 20, 2007, 07:34:40 AM »

I sure don't read it that way, Asteriktos. You sure you're re-reading the Acts or just remembering 'being there'?
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« Reply #4 on: August 20, 2007, 07:41:29 AM »

Well I suppose it does depend on how you interpret the passages. Does "burden" there mean only things that certainly people had been misleading others about, or did it talk about the Mosaic law in general, or what? Anyway, feel free to prove me wrong. Thrash the atheist, it should be good for morale Smiley
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« Reply #5 on: August 20, 2007, 08:20:30 AM »

I don't feel a need to prove anything to you, no offense. My morale is fine.
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« Reply #6 on: August 20, 2007, 08:45:14 AM »

Asteriktos please take no offence to this but I think that your problem stems from your conversion to Orthodoxy and you had a positive attitude because our church traces itself back straight to the apostles and as you read further you saw inconsistencies in certain aspects of documents written by people and you saw this as "evidence" that this church or any church will never know what they believe is truly from God so you stopped being a theist. Now I believe the problem occurs because you believed that the fathers of the church should have known it the best, so if you find "evidence" that there is inconsistencies in theology this is the fault of the person Orthodoxy has theologians that range from a belief in apokatastasis, The view that certain persons of the trinity are not equal and these people are Orthodox! It might be good for your philosophical mind to listen to Clark Carlton radio presentation called the Tragedy of dogma
(http://www.ancientfaithradio.com/podcasts/carlton/) It talks about how "dogma" is the worst thing in the church and arises because of the heresy and because people misunderstand the nature of Orthodoxy which is to heal and regain our proper communion with the Lord not a system of theology which appeals to reason or out pleasure senses and not checking inconsistencies in Early church documents or scripture.
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« Reply #7 on: August 20, 2007, 08:54:09 AM »

Prodomas,

I appreciate your thoughts (and the link, which I'll bookmark to listen to later), though I think the problems go a bit deeper than perhaps I have made clear. I will concede that you've definitely keyed in on my having trust issues with Christian authorities.
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« Reply #8 on: August 20, 2007, 10:51:34 AM »

I don't know that I was ever taught by anyone within the Church that the oecumenical synods are infallible...authoritative, of course, but still very fallible, the extreme involvement of Imperial Politics alone should be enough to convince one of this.
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« Reply #9 on: August 20, 2007, 12:46:17 PM »

Haven't we talked about this in the past? St. Athanasios the Great, in his letters defending the famous Oecumnical Council in which he played such a major role, speaks at length about the authority of this particular type of Council. He uses words like "sufficient" and "authoritative."

One of his points -- as far as I remember -- is that the Oecumenical Council sufficiently describes the Light of the Faith as far as need be at the time, but obviously does not completely or perfectly do so, since the fullness of the Light is inexpressible.
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« Reply #10 on: August 20, 2007, 01:55:17 PM »

To clarify the issue, I was taught during my catechumenate that it is the DECREES of the Ecumenical Councils which are infallible, whereas the canons are not considered to be so.
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« Reply #11 on: August 21, 2007, 02:16:36 AM »

so for an ignorant fool like myself what is the difference between a decree and a cannon and if I wanted to find the cannon or a decree of a particular coucil then how would I go about doing so?
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« Reply #12 on: August 21, 2007, 02:38:00 AM »

so for an ignorant fool like myself what is the difference between a decree and a cannon and if I wanted to find the cannon or a decree of a particular coucil then how would I go about doing so?
I think by decree Trevor means dogma.
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« Reply #13 on: August 21, 2007, 12:00:12 PM »

Quote from: Asteriktos
I'd be interested in hearing a case made for this position (from early sources, if possible; after all, if it's a "bedrock" belief, I'd imagine that it'd be fleshed out by the time a few Ecumenical Councils had taken place... perhaps by the mid 5th century).

I think it makes sense that the councils are infallible, at least in their dogma. When you have bishops being represented from around much of the world, you get various strands of oral traditions and documents being brought together. In some tribes where they pass down oral mythologies or stories, you have others there to correct you, and when the whole group is together everyone can figure out what the original story was in case some of them have deviated in their own versions. We do the same thing with textual criticism in figuring out what the earliest text of the Bible said. Similarly, the ecumenical councils are when the defenders of our oral traditions, the bishops, come together and see what is the faith being passed down around the world, and when they discern what is commonly held, they lay it down in stone so it can never be deviated from again. The reason their decision is infallible is because of this plain fact, and I don't think it needs a Church Father to explain, or even a Christian.
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« Reply #14 on: August 21, 2007, 12:40:26 PM »

Quote
so for an ignorant fool like myself what is the difference between a decree and a cannon and if I wanted to find the cannon or a decree of a particular coucil then how would I go about doing so?
The canons are listed separately in the text, and have to do with specific applications of doctrine relating to particular issues which had arisen at the time. That is why they are not considered infallible.
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« Reply #15 on: August 21, 2007, 08:40:17 PM »

Here's an honest question that requires a challenge.  How many of you know of Orthodox Christians who attend Church regularly and faithfully and yet not even know anything about any ecumenical council in history?

Then one should ask himself, "If they die not knowing, did they die in ignorance of infallible faith?"  Is it possible that those who are part of the Orthodox Church practice the right faith without knowing some history about the councils?

God bless.
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« Reply #16 on: August 21, 2007, 11:16:12 PM »

I think I would say that it is possible to know nothing of the history of the councils and be all right, but it would be nearly impossible to be ignorant of the teachings espoused by the councils and still have right faith. I mean, if your beliefs are in line with those of the Seven Councils, then I think it would be silly to fault them if they didn't know what "Chalcedon" refers to.
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« Reply #17 on: August 22, 2007, 08:26:14 AM »

I think I would say that it is possible to know nothing of the history of the councils and be all right, but it would be nearly impossible to be ignorant of the teachings espoused by the councils and still have right faith. I mean, if your beliefs are in line with those of the Seven Councils, then I think it would be silly to fault them if they didn't know what "Chalcedon" refers to.

Exactly, my point.  This is why I want the "theologians" here to think practically.  As much as I hate to say it because I love history, practicality shows faith matters more than history.

Now define infallibility.
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« Reply #18 on: August 22, 2007, 09:10:22 AM »

Now define infallibility.

Personally, I think "infallibility" is an unfortunate word and should not be employed when discussing Orthodoxy. "Infallibility" refers to an inability to err or make an erroneous statement. The statements made by an Oecumenical Council are simply: "This is the Faith of our Fathers and the Christian Faith which has been handed down to us from the Apostles." They are not pronouncements of something new. We can't know anything about God which has not already been revealed by Him to us. The task of an Oecumenical Council is simply to determine what we have been taught by the Apostles, and in order to be an Oecumenical Council, its teachings must be accepted by the Church. An Oecumenical Council is not some "Divine Oracle" through which God introduces new things into the Christian Faith, and as such, it has no need of "infallibility". Councils are guided by the Holy Spirit, but they are still composed of fallible men who can choose to be guided by things other than the Holy Spirit- case in point: Florence, 1438.
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« Reply #19 on: August 22, 2007, 09:46:56 AM »

George, you may be interested to know that Archbishop Stylianos uses the term in the sense of "dependable."
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« Reply #20 on: August 22, 2007, 09:57:41 AM »

George, you may be interested to know that Archbishop Stylianos uses the term in the sense of "dependable."
Yes, I did know.
Did you know that his dissertation for his doctorate was on the subject of infallibility in the Orthodox Church?
If so, you may also be interested in Nick Trakakis' critique of it: http://www.theandros.com/infallib.html
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« Reply #21 on: August 22, 2007, 10:20:32 AM »

Quote
Did you know that his dissertation for his doctorate was on the subject of infallibility in the Orthodox Church?
If so, you may also be interested in Nick Trakakis' critique of it: http://www.theandros.com/infallib.html

No, I didn't know that. I think it would only be fair to read the original thesis before seriously considering Mr. Trakakis' critique; but I must say, after just having read significant portions of the latter, Mr Trakakis seems to explicate many of the ecclesiological concerns i've had in a rather coherent and laconic manner. Unfortunately, he does not seem to desire to address any of those concerns himself, however.
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« Reply #22 on: August 22, 2007, 10:26:50 AM »

I only have the Greek version, but it has recently been translated and is in the process of being published in English: http://www.amazon.com/Infallibility-Church-Orthodox-Theology/dp/192069174X
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« Reply #23 on: August 28, 2007, 11:01:02 PM »

Yes, I did know.
Did you know that his dissertation for his doctorate was on the subject of infallibility in the Orthodox Church?
If so, you may also be interested in Nick Trakakis' critique of it: http://www.theandros.com/infallib.html

His critique seems to rub me the wrong way.  If we're not sure of our infallibility of certain beliefs, how then are we be certain we are in the "Truth" to begin with?  Where do we cross the line?  Can we even be certain that Christ is God?

I do wish to see these things addressed by Trakakis.  I don't mean to condemn his paper.  It's a pretty good paper, but he leaves me at odds.  For me, my "certainty" is "consistency."  If one believes in being the Truth, and yet uncertain of beliefs under the Truth, where then do cross the line on "Truth" and "uncertainty?"

God bless.
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« Reply #24 on: August 28, 2007, 11:33:28 PM »

His critique seems to rub me the wrong way.  If we're not sure of our infallibility of certain beliefs, how then are we be certain we are in the "Truth" to begin with?  Where do we cross the line?  Can we even be certain that Christ is God?

I do wish to see these things addressed by Trakakis.  I don't mean to condemn his paper.  It's a pretty good paper, but he leaves me at odds.  For me, my "certainty" is "consistency."  If one believes in being the Truth, and yet uncertain of beliefs under the Truth, where then do cross the line on "Truth" and "uncertainty?"

God bless.

Yes, I agree, particularly the last paragraph, where Trakakis seems almost excited at the prospect of opening up the floor on everything from Christology to abortion.
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« Reply #25 on: September 04, 2007, 10:00:11 PM »

For myself, as a Catholic, I certainly do believe in infallibility -- even though, to paraphrase something I said in another thread -- Catholicism doesn't required me to believe that infallibility was exercised in such-and-such specific instance (contrary to the image of Catholicism that many people hold).

Symeon and minasoliman, I quite agree with you. In particular, I note Trakakis' argument is reductionist: we don't have a precise set of criteria for infallibility, therefore there is no infallibility. (Personally, I think JPII's Fides et ratio is a pretty good remedy to Trakakis and his ilk. But that's just me. Smiley)

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« Reply #26 on: September 05, 2007, 08:21:15 PM »

Something I really got a kick out of was when Trakakis says that

Quote
any appeal to Scripture on this issue will not do.  The reason is that the doctrine of the inspiration or inerrancy of Scripture is a doctrine promulgated by the Church, and therefore this doctrine is true only if it is true that the Church is infallible - but this is exactly what must be demonstrated.  And so one cannot appeal to Scripture without arguing in a circular fashion.

then, when discussing apostolic succession a few paragraphs later, he says:

Quote
There are major difficulties with such an understanding of apostolic succession.  Firstly, it appears to have no firm basis in Scripture.

In other words I won't believe anything until I find it in Scripture, and when I do find it in Scripture I probably won't believe it anyways.
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« Reply #27 on: November 28, 2007, 12:17:05 AM »

Thanks for your interest in my article. I did not mean to rub anyone the wrong way, and I'd be more than happy to clarify my position in this forum.

- Nick Trakakis
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« Reply #28 on: November 28, 2007, 12:22:12 AM »

Please feel free to do so!
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« Reply #29 on: November 28, 2007, 12:26:52 AM »

Thanks for your interest in my article. I did not mean to rub anyone the wrong way, and I'd be more than happy to clarify my position in this forum.

- Nick Trakakis

What an honor (and I mean that).  It's nice to have the opportunity to dialogue with an author for a change.
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« Reply #30 on: November 28, 2007, 12:34:28 AM »

Thanks for your interest in my article. I did not mean to rub anyone the wrong way, and I'd be more than happy to clarify my position in this forum.

- Nick Trakakis
I just put your site in my favorites so I can go back and read it.  In the meantime, I second Cleveland's post.  If you have the time, please post here more often.
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« Reply #31 on: November 28, 2007, 12:36:18 AM »

Thank you for the invitation to discuss this important topic. Perhaps I could begin by asking: What is it, exactly, that you find objectionable in the article I wrote? I could then attempt to answer your question and, in the process, clarify my views. (I should add that my views have changed somewhat since the article was published, but we can get to that a little later.)

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« Reply #32 on: November 28, 2007, 12:42:32 AM »

What is it, exactly, that you find objectionable in the article I wrote?
Don't look at me! I agreed with it!
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« Reply #33 on: November 28, 2007, 12:43:35 AM »

Thank you for the invitation to discuss this important topic. Perhaps I could begin by asking: What is it, exactly, that you find objectionable in the article I wrote? I could then attempt to answer your question and, in the process, clarify my views. (I should add that my views have changed somewhat since the article was published, but we can get to that a little later.)


I think PJ is the one who's having difficulty with your work.  Maybe you could address some of his concerns that he's brought up?
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« Reply #34 on: November 28, 2007, 12:43:57 AM »

Here are a few of the questions I've noticed brought up in the context of this thread:


Mr Trakakis seems to explicate many of the ecclesiological concerns i've had in a rather coherent and laconic manner. Unfortunately, he does not seem to desire to address any of those concerns himself, however.



If we're not sure of our infallibility of certain beliefs, how then are we be certain we are in the "Truth" to begin with?  Where do we cross the line?  Can we even be certain that Christ is God?

I do wish to see these things addressed by Trakakis.  I don't mean to condemn his paper.  It's a pretty good paper, but he leaves me at odds.  For me, my "certainty" is "consistency."  If one believes in being the Truth, and yet uncertain of beliefs under the Truth, where then do cross the line on "Truth" and "uncertainty?"


Symeon and minasoliman, I quite agree with you. In particular, I note Trakakis' argument is reductionist: we don't have a precise set of criteria for infallibility, therefore there is no infallibility. (Personally, I think JPII's Fides et ratio is a pretty good remedy to Trakakis and his ilk. But that's just me. Smiley
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« Reply #35 on: November 28, 2007, 12:57:51 AM »

Thank you for the invitation to discuss this important topic. Perhaps I could begin by asking: What is it, exactly, that you find objectionable in the article I wrote? I could then attempt to answer your question and, in the process, clarify my views. (I should add that my views have changed somewhat since the article was published, but we can get to that a little later.)

I thought it was a great article, though I'm probably biased as people generally like to hear or read others with similar opinions. Wink

However, I am curious, if you're willing to discuss it, about how your views have changed and, also, why?
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« Reply #36 on: November 28, 2007, 01:11:55 AM »

The topic of certainty is a difficult one. Certainty can be viewed as a psychological state. We say, ‘I am certain that he was killed in the war’, and this reflects the degree of assurance we possess about some state of affairs. I don’t have a problem with this kind of certainty. I am certain, and I feel certain, about all sorts of matters: I am certain that I live in Australia, I am certain that there are no elephants in my office, and so on. But the kind of certainty I was concerned with in my article was not this psychological kind of certainty, but the more philosophical kind, as when we say that such-and-such doctrines are not merely possibly true or probably true, but are certainly true: there are absolutely no grounds whatsoever for doubting them. The problem with this kind of certainty is that there will always be at least some grounds for doubting the truth of some doctrine or teaching. In any case, (philosophical) certainty or infallible knowledge is not necessary for faith – that would be asking for the impossible.

I would like to add, however, that I now see things a little differently. How we approach these kinds of questions will depend largely on how we think of religious doctrines and teachings. Are doctrines to be thought of as philosophical theories that are open to empirical confirmation and speculative doubt? Or are doctrines to be thought of as guides or pointers as to how to live and love? I am beginning to favor the second option.

Also, I never argued that there are no precise set of criteria for infallibility. Rather, I argued that these criteria could not, in practice, be fulfilled.
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GiC
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« Reply #37 on: November 28, 2007, 01:58:17 AM »

I would like to add, however, that I now see things a little differently. How we approach these kinds of questions will depend largely on how we think of religious doctrines and teachings. Are doctrines to be thought of as philosophical theories that are open to empirical confirmation and speculative doubt? Or are doctrines to be thought of as guides or pointers as to how to live and love? I am beginning to favor the second option.

Separating religion from its philosophical base? I can't say that I favour this from an objective standpoint, but from a practical standpoint I can see how this has become a reality. Be it the religious right in America or the Moslem suicide bomber, they have reduced their religion to a psychological state and, as such, are as 'certain' of it as they are certain of where they live or the lack of elephants in their office. Of course, if one looks at both these groups (and several others) in a universal context, we see that they can't all be right and that from a philosophical perspective this 'certainty' is of limited value, in fact it is of no value outside the individual's and group's psychology.

Though if one ignores this wider perspective, immerses themselves in the psychology of their group, and adopts a pseudo-empirical philosophy, from their perspective and by their (perhaps unkowingly) adopted philosophy their psychological certainties become 'absolute truths', as this is the essence of empiricism. This conclusion is, of course, only applicable within their group as other groups would lack the same psychological certainty of the matter and only applicable for those in the group who also adhere to their pseudo-empirical philosophy. It would seem to me, though, that if we were to truly pursue (though not reach, as this is a theoretical impossibility) a real and meaningful 'absolute truth' (assuming that one even exists) we would have to discount both our personal and group's psychology and pursue this truth based on more universally applicable philosophies.

But as one who has been trained in the rigors of mathematics I may be slightly biased in this matter.
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"The liberties of people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them." -- Patrick Henry
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