Many of your questions deal with epistemology/gnosiology, so they are well beyond my abilities to answer. Regarding that subject, the most I could do is point to sources I have found helpful. The text I would most strongly suggest would be the essay The Theory of Knowledge of Saint Isaac the Syrian
, by Saint Justin Popovich, which is translated into English in the book Orthodox Faith and Life In Christ
. Also helpful might be the essay Humanistic and Theanthropic Education
by Saint Justin Popovich, which is also translated into English and included in the above book (this book can be bought at this
site). I was also greatly helped by many of the writings found in the Philokalia, such as On Those Who Think They Are Made Righteous By Works
, though obviously these types of texts deal less explicitly and frequently with theories of knowledge.
I guess the point of asking if there are "two Christianities" in Orthodoxy comes from an impression (reinforced by the quote of the Orthodox priest mentioned in the other thread regarding the "common people") that there is one Christianity for the common masses (who spend more time praying to the saints and Mary and are more preoccupied with saints and icons) and the other for those who know the rationale behind those practices. It reinforces a suspicion that these practices, while having a rational theological justification, are in fact an accomodation to the "common" folks who entered the church in greater numbers after the Roman persecutions ceased during which time those practices began to make their appearance in the historical record.
Well, if I correctly understand the point being made, I would have to say that based on my own reading, I would have to disagree with the premise of what you are saying. If you read documents about the priesthood (e.g., St. Gregory the Theologian, Oration 2--where the point I'm about to make is explicitly stated), even in the fourth century it was said that the Christian clergy was filled with all sorts of rascals who really didn't care much about things spiritual. Even St. John Chrysostom (3rd Homily on Acts, I think it was) said that most bishops wouldn't get to heaven. I have a very high respect for the priesthood of God, but I think it is incorrect to see them, as a group, as being more pious. As a matter of fact, not a few monks did some very scandalizing and amazing things to avoid ordination, exactly because they knew their piety would suffer if they became clergy. Now, I am certainly not saying that I am more pious than Orthodox clergy. Not at all! All I'm saying is, I think that dividing Christianity into the "pious clergy" and "simple lay people" is a false dichotomy. After all, the priests were, for the most part, every bit as much the product of that pagan culture as the lay people, were they not?
I'll concede that there probably were indeed "accomodations," but I would return to the point in my other post: I would suggest that if and when these changes took place, they were changes that were in line with (ie. allowed by or taught by) the apostolic witness, that they were already part of Church life to some degree, and that it was by divine will that they came to be more fully utilized in the Church. If it was not God's will, then the practice fell away. I guess that sounds triumphalistic, like "hey, we're right and we didn't go wrong," and for that I apologize. I am only saying how I try to understand these type of things when they come up.
If this is the case, then it would seem that the theological justification for these practices of "veneration" are a posteriori rationalizations for something that wasn't originally in the apostolic deposit.
Well, I think there is something to the idea that veneration was transferred from the Temple (somewhere--I forget where--in the OT the Jewish people are commadned to reverence the Temple) to the new Temples of God. The place where God resides, so to speak, changed, and so did that which was reverenced therefore change. Perhaps some of our arguments are anachronistic; I guess I take it by faith (and I've not found much in studying that contradicts this) that what the Orthodox teach is true.
It just seems curious that there is not any mention of Mary's intercession (for example), and the importance thereof for the church, in any of Paul's letter or in the Apostolic Fathers despite that fact they did discuss parts of the liturgy not attended by the unbaptized, namely the Eucharist.
Well, this is true; I suppose I was overstating the point. I could give you arguments about the purpose of Paul's writings being to deal with particular problems and not give doctrinal/practical overviews, and so forth, though I'm sure you already know most of these (whether you find them persuasive or not).
But how do they (the Orthodox) distinguish between the Apostolic Tradition and traditions?
Good question. It's that epistemology thing.
FWIW, though, I don't know that a sharp distinction between "Big T Traditions" and "small t traditions" is a very good way to go about things. Obviously the distinction has some merit, as not everything is totally dogmatic or totally custom, but I'm not sure on what basis such a distinction could/should be made (it seems to me like an artificial theological construct which is based on no authority or experience, but only on what seems like a "logical solution"...now I don't have a problem with logic, but if we are going to set our entire world view up around something, certainly we should make sure it has a foundation we trust, no?)
It seems that in reading Church History, the Fathers didn't always agree on whether a doctrine or practice fell into the former category or the later (or even if there was a difference between the two).
Well, I hate to say this (since I'm happy when people convert), but agreed. And of course it sometimes gets even more complicated (like when the calendar controversy started dividing the Church, since two different factions each claimed, contradicting each other in the process, to be following the apostolic tradition)
...toll houses... Also Irenaeus claimed that it was a tradition from the apostles that Christ was 50 years old at the time of the crucifixion, yet most would disagree.
I'm not gonna touch the toll houses one.
I think you make a good point; there were a lot of "traditions" floating around in the early Church that we don't necessarily affirm today. I don't know why I feel the need to agree with you when I'm not offering a justification/defense... maybe just to remind everyone (including ourselves) that Orthodox is about faith, and life, and not about closing one's mind to anything that might bring up doubts or problems, reading a few books, and then knowing all the answers. I also have problems with certain things in the Scripture (e.g., why is such a harsh man as Samson held up as highly as he is?), but I must take things by faith, as they come and go...
But which Church? I've been generally inclined to believe that it's the Orthodox (or that they come the closest), but after reading the first two volumes of Jaroslav Pelikan's "The Christian Tradition" series I'm not sure what to believe.
Oddly enough, I also had problems with Mr. Pelikan's books. To be honest, I was astonished at his take on the Roman see. I guess I was expecting something a bit more... Orthodox. I would point out, though, that Mr. Pelikan was writing as a Protestant at the time, and not an Orthodox (much less a traditionally-minded Orthodox) Christian. Mr. Pelikan was (and still is, I presume) also very much pro-ecumenism (this comes out much more clearly, I think, in his non-historical works, like his The Melody of Theology: A Philosophical Dictionary
) and I think some of this rubbed off on him the wrong way.
It seems like much of the Christological controversies surrounding the 3rd through 6th Ecumenical Councils had as much to do with politics and linguistic and terminological misunderstandings as it did with concern for correct doctrine,
I'm not going to deny that problems in language, nationalism, byzantine imperialism, etc. didn't play a part. Being an Orthodox Christian, I obviously think there's more to it than that, though.
Emperor Justinian, for example (whose wife was apparently a closet monophysite and worked at resolving things "behind the scenes" quite extensively, many times without St. Justinian's knowledge), tried a half dozen different ways to resolve some of the divisions as they existed at his time. Certainly the Church tried very hard to resolve the disputes, and I find it hard to believe that all the saintly and pious men (including pious, though I wouldn't say saintly, men on the monophysite/monothelite side) simply couldn't see the truth right in front of their noses (ie. that they, in essence, agreed with each other).
I don't mean to knock Mr. Pelikan's book(s), which are pretty good as far as they go (and which I would recommend ahead of Fr. Alexander Schmemann's book on Church history). I suppose I have an adverse reaction to the IMO way-too-overly-positive reaction of most Orthodox to him. However, in the end, Mr. Pelikan had to smush thousands of years of complex ideas and histories into 5 tiny books; not an easy task! What we get is overviews; oversimplications; which means (not meaning any insult to Mr. Pelikan of course) distortions of the truth. Rene Descartes said, to paraphrase, that history isn't really "true," because history books don't record all the "small" stuff, all the day to day stuff. I think the same thing can be said of history books many times. In only getting general overviews or extremely detailed studies, we get a distorted view of history, divorced (to a greater or lesser degree) from the actual context in which the history went on. Maybe I agree and maybe I disagree with some of what Mr. Pelikan has said in his history books; but either way, I think they are only one very small part of a very large puzzle.
I should say here that, while I look forward to reading any corrections you have, on points where I got things confuzzled, I must try to avoid posting again here. I actually decided about a month ago to stop posting these type of things, and in fact to try and scale back my posting across the internet drastically, especially on 1) polemical, and 2) deeply theological, posts. And here I am in a heavy thread like this! Priests and Deacons should be making posts here in answer to your very valid and sincere questions, not I. So, I look forward to any corrections you might have for me, though I hope you won't mind if I bow out at this point.