Thanks for your response. I guess what I'm trying to get at is that RCs (for example) claim that they are the original church and that the Orthodox branched off from them? How does one know who is right about who branched off from whom?
The best thing I could say in response to this, is to advise an inquirer (in so far he is able or has resources) to look at the self understanding of either party, and compare it with their own history.
While it's true that papal claims of juristiction over the entire Church were one of the key issues which originally created the "great schism", it's important not to confuse the entire history of the post-schism Latin church with the post Vatican Council I period (which we are familiar with.) In a sense, if "papism" caused the schism to begin with, the first Vatican Council is what finally put the "nails in the coffin." Prior to this, the Latins were not unvaried in their commitment to "papal-maximalist" ideals, not by a long shot. Unfortunately there had always been partisans for an ever expanding papacy (largely centered in Rome, for obvious reasons), and they won out in a big way, at the first Vatican Council. I posted a really good article about this subject in the Orthodox-Catholic section of this forum, and recommend you take a look at it.
My point in bringing this dimension of RC history up, is to show that the Latins as a whole
have changed a lot; the very thing which fundamentally separated them from the Orthodox, has grown and evolved with time. This imho, betrays an important truth - that what the Latins once were
, the Orthodox have remained
. If that is not a decisive insight for a seeker trying to discern the "claims" various groups make, I do not know what is.
Similarly the 3rd and 4th councils are accepted by both the RCs and the Orthodox but the latter is rejected by the Non-Chalcedonians and the former by the "Nestorians". How does one know that the RCs and EOs are right on these and the others wrong other than majority rule or circular reasoning? As you pointed, out the majority at one time embraced Arianism.
It was being faced by this glaring fact of history that caused Alexei Khomiakov in the 19th century to give one of the better descriptions of how genuine "ecumenicity" (including that of councils) works. A council is ultimatly authoratative, because it is true - and that it is true, is evidenced in many ways, though only with finality via the recognition of the universal Church (which is first indicated by it's acceptance by heirarchs of local Churches, but ultimatly is something only shown to be true with time.)
Most here are aware that there have been robber councils before, including those which claimed to be ecumenical (like the Monophysite Robber Council which occured just prior to Chalcedon - part of Chalcedon's work was to correct and answer this false
council.) Yet superficially, one will not find a difference between the two so much in their formation - it is not like the false council did not have the involvement of important ecclessiastics, or even Imperial endorsement; it had all of these appearances of officiality.
However, I'd submit that from a logical, rational point of view even the explanation of Khomiakov (which is really just the "canon of St.Vincent" applied to Councils), while helpful (and better than appeals to some off brand version of papism) doesn't "tie up all of the loose ends" either; since one could easily say (as I'm sure the non-Chalcedonians would say) that none of the Councils could be deemed "ecumenical" then, since there were large groups of Bishops and their congregations of clergy and laity who did not
accept them, and in the case of both the non-Chalcedonians and Nestorians, they still have flocks to the present day (thus it's not like one could claim the opposition has died off, thus indicating some tangible sentence from above against their positions.)
The only argument then, would be to simply argue that those who continue in dissent are wrong
, and on that basis exclude themselves from the unity of the Church. While this may at first appear to be incredibly circular reasoning, I think it actually comes closer to the heart of why the Ecumenical Councils are authoratative, and where their real
roots are to be found...
God has revealed "something" to mankind. Thus, whatever perverts this "something" is anathematized by God in eternity, even from before the foundation of the earth. The Ecumenical Councils then, are manifestations in time (according to the circumstance of errors appearing in history and needing to be visibly refuted and rejected) of the will of God. While it is true that the acceptance of a given Council by the Church takes time, this acceptance is an act of recognition
, of discernment - it is not retroactive validity, as if the Holy Spirit did not speak through the assembling of Bishops beforehand.
IOW, the Ecumenical Councils are (with human participation) acts of God. Their value is to show that such-and-such is false, to declare this openly and clearly. This is why even Councils that did not meet under the same auspices as the "big seven", can also be recognized (effectively) as having ecumenical authority (such as the Palamite Councils, the conclusions of which everyone accepts, and St.Gregory Palamas is numbered by everyone now as a Father of the Church - a catholic teacher of universal significance.)
Now that we have some idea of the "rational" behind the Ecumenical Councils, our "job" in regard to those who have dissented from them is to sit down when we are able to and try and reason with them.
If we are sufficiently informed, I'd like to think we accepted things with some conviction; the conviction that what we say is true. If we lack this conviction, then we have our own soul searching to do.
To us the contemporary dialogue between Orthodox and non-Chalcedonians as an example, I think in large part this is what has happened. While there are many attempts to help the non-Chalcedonians from not losing face as far as is possible (which is laudable, I think, since we want them to come back home in a spirit of genuine love, not humilitate them and give ourselves a boost), my big problem with the current process is that the Orthodox participants in this (or at least some of them - mainly SCOBA types in America, and the Antiochian Patriarchate in the old world) seem willing to accept something far less
than an unambiguous acceptance of the Council of Chalcedon (by the non-Chalcedonians) as a basis for unity. While one can haggle endlessly about whether or not these folks have always been materially Orthodox
in their Christology, I think what is fairly clear (at least in my experience) is that contemporary non-Chalcedonians materially
accept the faith of Chalcedon (though I still think their relationship to monothelitism needs to be clarified). However, if this is really such, then it has to be stated explicitly. Generosity on the Orthodox part may be willing to allow them to excuse themselves to a degree (with claims they were afraid that Chalcedon was a rehabilitation of Nestorius...though this would have to be ammended so as to say that this estimation was wrong
, since it is wrong
), but now that we apparently
all "agree", then that has to be stated unambiguously.
But even with all of it's problems, I think the Orthodox - Non-Chalcedonian dialogue gives some illustration that discussion and persuassion in the name of truth is possible - that truth is a real "thing", something which can be pointed to, which does not remain forever elusive (we often falsely think it is, just because we cannot always go as far with words as we'd like; no one stopping for a moment to recognize that rule of logic, by which we know that the "self evident" cannot be argued.) So long as people are struggling to be sincere (which is really an openess to the grace of God, even if those involved do not realize this at first), I think this is always possible.
I don't mean to ramble on. I'm just trying to come to some objective way of determining which church maintained the apostolic faith, and not just following my subjective hunch. Perhaps such knowledge will ultimately remain elusive for me.
I don't think certainty is completely out of our grasp; I just think the kind
of certainty people think they should have is impossible. The most fundamental things (and not simply after the fact extensions and conclusions based on these more basis premises) can only be pointed to. Thus, once there is some agreement as to what the "facts" are, I don't think their interpretation by honest people is that hard to come by. Of course, we are speaking in purely human terms here, and we have to throw in the complication that often even the "best" of men have their own biases and agendas (thus they are not always being "honest" with either themselves or others.) Fortunatly, we are not on this path alone - and grace not only guides, but can overcome these failings of "basically good" men (God does not heal the healthy!)...just so long as that fundamental openess is there.