Sorry it has taken me so long to reply here, fellas! I guess I've had a lot on my plate lately. Anyway here goes my not-so-in-depth-analysis. More of a reaction paper, really...
All quotes from Archbishop Tiran will appear in italics.Such propositions are necessarily dated inasmuch as they are couched in the language of a given point in time.
I'd be interested to know how far we can carry this logic. I'd hate to give any "wiggle room" to those who would wish to re-interpret some of the more crucial elements of the Faith. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity comes to mind.The criteria by which councils have been judged generally acceptable have not been constant or uniform...How free should it be from external pressures?
Yes, this is most certainly the case. I do not wish to open a can of worms, but this is indeed a crucial issue. It seems to me that at various times secular rulers were able to push their own agendas on certain councils, and exerted considerable influence upon them.
Other councils, which met all of the legitmate criteria usually associated with the gathering of such synods, were delegitimized as soon as the Emperor who called and favored them had passed on. The participants in such councils were later slandered and demonized. I'm thinking of Ephesus II (AD 449) here.As yet because of our human infirmities it is not always possible to determine with reasonable certainty the claim of an individual council to authenticity. Therefore we should not be tempted to think that councils are some kind of supernatural intrusions into the life of the Church, having an authority over and above their normal historical role within the context of the events surrounding them.
I would certainly agree with this. So often, people tend to think of the Fathers as disembodied spirits, free from human prejudice or weakness. My own beloved patron and guardian St. Nicholas went as far as to punch Arius in the mouth! At least I don't get it from anywhere strange... Divergence of opinions within a council has often mirrored disagreements on matters of doctrinal interpretation within the Church as a whole. But whereas the resolution of differences of views within a council can be brought about expeditiously by counting votes, or sometimes by other means, the same cannot be said about resolving differences in the Church scattered throughout the world. Consequently, impatient majorities have often resorted to the easy way of branding the minority as heretics, claiming and reserving the Holy Spirit to themselves and consigning the minority to the Devil by the logician's rule of the excluded middle. And then they have called upon the secular authorities to exorcize the Devil by other methods of persuasion. These methods, which can hardly be squared with the belief in the operation of the Holy Spirit in the Church, have mostly been counterproductive.
This is very true, and I'm glad that someone besides Fr. V.C. Samuel has had the guts to point this out. And I loved this quote, which could have just have easily have come from one of the Miaphysite bishops of Egypt or Syria who were contemporary with H.H. Nerses IV:Writes Nerses IV, the Armenian Catholicos in the latter part of the twelfth century, addressing himself to the Emperor of Constantinople:
The cause of our running away from you is that you have been pulling down our churches, destroying our altars, smashing the signs of Christ, harassing our clergy, spreading slanders in a way even the enemies of Christ would not do, even though we live close to them. Such behaviour will not only fail to unify the divided, but it will divide those who are united. For human nature loves contrariness. And men are drawn to the execution of commands not so much By violence as by humility and love.
This helps one to understand that none of the historic councils of the Church took place in a vacuum. I often wonder if we would have been able to find some theological common ground and bring about a reconciliation if it weren't for the heavy-handed tactics of the Empire. Of course, from what I understand, we had some bullies on our side too, but we didn't have the power to persecute people on the same scale as the Imperials. As Bishop Tiran states so eloquently:Pegging down orthodoxy to the authority of councils and to the fixity of theological propositions issued by them, and judging orthodoxy or otherwise of a section of the Church on the basis of its acceptance or rejection, as the case may be, has failed to produce unity in the Church, and most probably will continue to do so. This is because the fixity of the stance of a council in history, and its image formed in the context of events surrounding it, make agreement on its evaluation extremely difficult.On the other hand, when we take a council dealing with doctrinal matters as a teaching organ rather than a legislative organ of the Church, and focus our attention on the insights contained in its expositions, then the desired consensus will be possible to produce inasmuch as the teaching of the council will be amenable to new understandings and interpretations. In other words, when we seek broad agreements on the affirmations of our faith and consider the councils as corroborative authorities rather than originative and determinative, then our goal of unity will be better served.
This is the key!!! It is the DOCTRINES which were confirmed at the councils which are important. If we agree upon them, then there is a chance for unity. If it is a matter of forcing people to enshrine councils which called for or led to the persecution of their theological ancestors, whom they justifiably feel were fully Orthodox, then this is another matter. Bishop Tiran goes on to demonstrate how the Liturgical and Sacramental Life of the Church were not destroyed by the use of Miaphysite or Dyophysite christological terminology on either side, and also explores the very real concerns behind the dispute on both sides. After reading this last section, one can see how both sides were genuinely concerned that the understanding of the other side in some way precluded (at least theoretically) the miracle of Our Salvation.
One little criticism: I did not like the quotations from Protestant theologians. To me, this skates a little too close to endorsing their theology.