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Author Topic: Confession of Dositheus and reading the Bible  (Read 333 times) Average Rating: 0
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Claudiu
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« on: January 21, 2014, 07:17:10 PM »

The Confession of Dositheus states:

Quote
"Question 1

Should the Divine Scriptures be read in the vulgar tongue [common language] by all Christians?


No. Because all Scripture is divinely-inspired and profitable {cf. 2 Timothy 3:16}, we know, and necessarily so, that without [Scripture] it is impossible to be Orthodox at all. Nevertheless they should not be read by all, but only by those who with fitting research have inquired into the deep things of the Spirit, and who know in what manner the Divine Scriptures ought to be searched, and taught, and finally read. But to those who are not so disciplined, or who cannot distinguish, or who understand only literally, or in any other way contrary to Orthodoxy what is contained in the Scriptures, the Catholic Church, knowing by experience the damage that can cause, forbids them to read [Scripture]. Indeed, it is permitted to every Orthodox to hear the Scriptures, that he may believe with the heart unto righteousness, and confess with the mouth unto salvation {Romans 10:10}. But to read some parts of the Scriptures, and especially of the Old [Testament], is forbidden for these and other similar reasons. For it is the same thing to prohibit undisciplined persons from reading all the Sacred Scriptures, as to require infants to abstain from strong meats.

Question 2

Are the Scriptures plain to all Christians that read them?


If the Divine Scriptures were plain to all Christians that read them, the Lord would not have commanded such as desired to obtain salvation to search them; {John 5:39} and Paul would have said without reason that God had placed the gift of teaching in the Church; {1 Corinthians 13:28} and Peter would not have said of the Epistles of Paul that they contained some things hard to be understood. {2 Peter 3:16} It is evident, therefore, that the Scriptures are very profound, and their sense lofty; and that they need learned and divine men to search out their true meaning, and a sense that is right, and agreeable to all Scripture, and to its author the Holy Spirit.

Certainly, those that are regenerated [in Baptism] must know the faith concerning the Trinity, the incarnation of the Son of God, His passion, resurrection, and ascension into the heavens. Yet what concerns regeneration and judgment — for which many have not hesitated to die — it is not necessary, indeed impossible, for them to know what the Holy Spirit has made apparent only to those who are disciplined in wisdom and holiness."

My question is how we are to understand this. I think the Orthodox position is that a member of the church can read the bible on his own. However, reading this bit of the Confession, which was a product of Orthodoxy's response to Calvinism and the Synod of Jerusalem, it sounds like such an individual cannot read the bible, unless he is a monk, priest, or in some other position. I'm wondering if me missing the context of the Synod and the time in which the Confession was drawn is leading to my misunderstanding? Can someone shed some light on this?
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« Reply #1 on: January 21, 2014, 07:44:28 PM »

The Confession of Dositheus states:

Quote
"Question 1

Should the Divine Scriptures be read in the vulgar tongue [common language] by all Christians?


No. Because all Scripture is divinely-inspired and profitable {cf. 2 Timothy 3:16}, we know, and necessarily so, that without [Scripture] it is impossible to be Orthodox at all. Nevertheless they should not be read by all, but only by those who with fitting research have inquired into the deep things of the Spirit, and who know in what manner the Divine Scriptures ought to be searched, and taught, and finally read. But to those who are not so disciplined, or who cannot distinguish, or who understand only literally, or in any other way contrary to Orthodoxy what is contained in the Scriptures, the Catholic Church, knowing by experience the damage that can cause, forbids them to read [Scripture]. Indeed, it is permitted to every Orthodox to hear the Scriptures, that he may believe with the heart unto righteousness, and confess with the mouth unto salvation {Romans 10:10}. But to read some parts of the Scriptures, and especially of the Old [Testament], is forbidden for these and other similar reasons. For it is the same thing to prohibit undisciplined persons from reading all the Sacred Scriptures, as to require infants to abstain from strong meats.

Question 2

Are the Scriptures plain to all Christians that read them?


If the Divine Scriptures were plain to all Christians that read them, the Lord would not have commanded such as desired to obtain salvation to search them; {John 5:39} and Paul would have said without reason that God had placed the gift of teaching in the Church; {1 Corinthians 13:28} and Peter would not have said of the Epistles of Paul that they contained some things hard to be understood. {2 Peter 3:16} It is evident, therefore, that the Scriptures are very profound, and their sense lofty; and that they need learned and divine men to search out their true meaning, and a sense that is right, and agreeable to all Scripture, and to its author the Holy Spirit.

Certainly, those that are regenerated [in Baptism] must know the faith concerning the Trinity, the incarnation of the Son of God, His passion, resurrection, and ascension into the heavens. Yet what concerns regeneration and judgment — for which many have not hesitated to die — it is not necessary, indeed impossible, for them to know what the Holy Spirit has made apparent only to those who are disciplined in wisdom and holiness."

My question is how we are to understand this. I think the Orthodox position is that a member of the church can read the bible on his own. However, reading this bit of the Confession, which was a product of Orthodoxy's response to Calvinism and the Synod of Jerusalem, it sounds like such an individual cannot read the bible, unless he is a monk, priest, or in some other position. I'm wondering if me missing the context of the Synod and the time in which the Confession was drawn is leading to my misunderstanding? Can someone shed some light on this?

Clearly Scripture is not plain. It also mentions the Old Testament specifically in regards to interpretation, which I agree with seeing how descriptive and apocalyptic it is.
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« Reply #2 on: January 21, 2014, 07:50:20 PM »

I don't have much to offer here, though I would love to get ahold of a book on the context of this, as the document has several passages which I find curious. It is often framed as being a reaction to Protestantism, but it should also be noted that it is also somewhat closer or more sympathetic to Roman Catholic positions than one might expect. I have no idea whether your question is impacted by that or not (e.g. the position of the RCC at the time as it relates to non-Latin translations, the laity reading the Scripture, individual interpretations without some kind of oversight, etc.)
« Last Edit: January 21, 2014, 07:50:47 PM by Asteriktos » Logged
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« Reply #3 on: January 21, 2014, 07:52:39 PM »

"...the Acts and Decrees of the Synod of Jerusalem (1672) are considered as important and worthy of our consideration, but not as a fully authoritative or as binding source of teaching for Orthodox Christianity." Fr. Laurent Cleenewerck For Orthodox Answers.org        http://www.orthodoxanswers.org/answer/481/

"...Orthodoxy is much more reserved about the abiding dogmatic authority of this synod. The fact that the Greek bishops often received their training at Latin schools (notably in Venice) accounts for what the late Georges Florovsky termed the "pseudomorphosis" of Orthodox theology.  Subsequent regional synods have certainly felt free to revisit the issues addressed in Jerusalem. Hence, on the issue of the Old Testament canon, a different position was adopted in the Longer Catechism of Philaret of Moscow."  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synod_of_Jerusalem_(1672)   
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« Reply #4 on: January 21, 2014, 08:01:51 PM »

I think the takeaway here might be that we should be careful of how we read the Bible, not whether we read it. Protestants do not read the Bible in the context of and in submission to the teachings of the Church, but read it with the result of creating their own theology from what they think Scripture means. They place themselves as the ultimate interpreter of Scripture, rather than the Church.
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« Reply #5 on: January 21, 2014, 08:34:04 PM »

No longer than 40 years ago or so it was still possible to hear priest admonish the people against reading the bible period. In those places I'm familiar with the adminishment was accompanied by the warning that people touching the bible will get Parkinson, i.e. their hands will shake uncontrollably . Now that happened mostly when the established church had to endure the competition of newer more zealous sects.
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« Reply #6 on: January 21, 2014, 09:11:12 PM »

In every place and time since Christ it is possible to hear hierarchs from deacon to priest to patriarch make mistakes.
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« Reply #7 on: January 21, 2014, 09:26:14 PM »

No longer than 40 years ago or so it was still possible to hear priest admonish the people against reading the bible period. In those places I'm familiar with the adminishment was accompanied by the warning that people touching the bible will get Parkinson, i.e. their hands will shake uncontrollably . Now that happened mostly when the established church had to endure the competition of newer more zealous sects.
40 years ago Ceaucescu was shipping the "newer more zealous sects" out of the country, and the ROC had a near monopoly on religious expression.  After communism fell, Orthodox Churches were distributing stacks of Bibles.  My ex got one, and I remember the last bunch going when I was there (Bucharest), before more were expected.
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« Reply #8 on: January 21, 2014, 10:19:10 PM »

Well, this advice is certainly in stark contrast to that of St. John Chrysostom who adviced all Christians to read the Scriptures personally, even if it involved teaching the illiterate how to read and having the impoverished save money to buy a handwritten copies.
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« Reply #9 on: January 21, 2014, 10:34:51 PM »

Thank you all for your input.

I found the Q/A related to the OP in Orthodox Answers: http://www.orthodoxanswers.org/answer/481/

I'm posting the question and answer here because I think it follows in line with the OP.

Quote
"Question Number 481:
Hello.Thank you for offering to answer inquiries. In seeking to find a Catechism,or something that put forth the official doctrines of the Orthodox Church step by step, I found The Acts and Decrees of the Synod of Jerusalem (1672), also known as The Confession of Dositheus on the internet.According to "Basic Sources of the Teachings of the Eastern Orthodox Church", at the website of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America: "This Confession was issued in 13 editions in a short period of time. It is considered one of the major pronouncements of the Orthodox Faith,and an important source of Church teaching." Concerning this statement of faith by the Orthodox Church,historian Philip Schaff, in his book The Creeds of Christendom, says: The Synod Of Jerusalem And The Confession Of Dositheus A.D. 1672.The Synod convened at Jerusalem...by Patriarch Dositheus..signed by Dositheus, Patriarch of Jerusalem and Palestine...and by 68 Eastern bishops and ecclesiastics, including some from Russia. This Synod is the most important in the modern history of the Eastern Church, and may be compared to the Council of Trent. Both fixed the doctrinal status of the Churches they represent...The Confessio Dosithei presents,in 18 decrees or articles, a positive statement of the Orthodox faith. It follows the order of Cyril's confession, which it is intended to refute. It is the most authoritative and complete doctrinal deliverance of the modern Greek Church on the controverted articles.It was formally transmitted by the Eastern Patriarchs to the Russian Church in 1721, and through it to certain Bishops of the Church of England, as an ultimatum to be received without further conference by all who would be in communion with the Orthodox Church." (Philip Schaff,The Creeds of Christendom Vol.I,pp.61-62) I have heard many times that the Church's teaching is always the same and can never change.My question is, is The Acts and Decrees of the Synod of Jerusalem (1672)still considered an authoritative and binding source of teaching for the Orthodox Church, even though it was first issued in 1672? Thank you very much for your help. David Wolfe

ANSWER:

Dear David,

Although this is hard to understand - especially in a Western culture - we can say that Orthodoxy is not so much a set of dogmas and doctrines (to be put in some order in a book) as a spiritual experience which is especially lived in the mysteries / sacraments. Moreover, there is no infallible magisterium in Orthodoxy, and apart from the dogmatic teachings of the first Seven Councils which have been fully received by the Orthodox, there are no recent councils or synods that have the same level of authority. The more recent councils / synods, such as those you mention, took place in the context of the Roman Catholic-Protestant conflict and reflect a certain Westernization of Orthodoxy, to a large extent because Orthodox clergy were often trained in the West. This councils reflect the life of Orthodoxy at the time and are certainly worthy of our consideration. However, I would tend to recommend the writing of Florovsky, Zizoulas or Staniloe - and most of all the Fathers themselves - as more useful sources. To answer the question directly, the Acts and Decrees of the Synod of Jerusalem (1672) are considered as important and worthy of our consideration, but not as a fully authoritative or as binding source of teaching for Orthodox Christianity.
Fr. Laurent Cleenewerck"
« Last Edit: January 21, 2014, 10:35:38 PM by Claudiu » Logged
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« Reply #10 on: January 21, 2014, 11:02:58 PM »

It's probably just as dangerous if not more dangerous to outright reject such conclusions of the council due to a misguided belief in our superiority or enhanced knowledge. We like to immediately defend our own notions and ideas--finding evidence and bending things to fit them--before even considering the contrary ones. It seems we often treat men of the past as simpletons, that the mindset and beliefs of these godly men would suddenly be twisted because they were educated in Venice. Maybe we should consider the parts of our tradition that run contrary to our mind's established framework instead of rushing to defend the ramparts.
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« Reply #11 on: January 21, 2014, 11:23:52 PM »

We need not think ourselves superior and those of the past simpletons to struggle with this. To the example Severian mentioned numerous other examples from history could be given of lay people being encouraged to acquire and read the Bible.
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« Reply #12 on: January 21, 2014, 11:33:43 PM »

I am aware of such examples, but surely the fathers of the council were not unaware of them. I am not  endorsing either position, just trying to have us moderate ourselves.
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« Reply #13 on: January 22, 2014, 12:41:32 AM »

So are the Orthodox permitted to read the Holy Scriptures on their own, or does the Synods statement that we aren't stand?

The way I see it,

(a) the Synod is correct and we are not permitted to read the Holy Scriptures on our own, or

(b) the Synod was correct, but one must allow the context either to
    (i) regulate that it was only intended for its day, or
    (ii) that it is still valid today but the position must be more nuanced, considering the context of the Synod, thus allowing us to read the Holy Scriptures, or

(c) the Synod was incorrect, and we are allowed to read the Holy Scriptures.
« Last Edit: January 22, 2014, 12:41:54 AM by Claudiu » Logged
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« Reply #14 on: January 22, 2014, 11:55:11 AM »

We read the Scriptures with the guidance of the Church, and not simply our own darkened understanding.
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« Reply #15 on: January 22, 2014, 12:17:52 PM »

The way I see it is, the Synod is correct, in a certain way.

We can read Scripture by ourselves, but not interpret it by ourselves without the guidance of the Church.
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« Reply #16 on: January 22, 2014, 01:36:12 PM »

That is my understanding. We are permitted to read the Holy Scriptures, but any understanding, or knowledge must be in light of the Church's understanding (the Councils, Church Fathers, etc.)

And this differs from the Protestant view where one is not only permitted to read the Holy Scriptures, but also draw his own understanding and possibly even combat other views, even so far as to deny the tradition of the Fathers and the Church's authority as found in the councils.
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« Reply #17 on: January 22, 2014, 01:37:10 PM »

The way I see it is, the Synod is correct, in a certain way.

We can read Scripture by ourselves, but not interpret it by ourselves without the guidance of the Church.

This is correct.  The Council in Jerusalem was a response to Calvinism which illustrated the harm that can come with reading the Scriptures on your own without the guidance of the Church.  It is not surprising that the council would then place greater emphasis on the problems that can arise from such independent reading.  Nevertheless, the Fathers in general and the Orthodox Church today encourage the faithful to read the Scriptures daily, only that one should not lean upon their own understanding but seek to know how the Church has understood the Scriptures from the beginning.  
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