Archive for the ‘Church History’ Category

In August, Pope Benedict XVI released a letter commemorating the 1,600th anniversary of the death of Saint John Chrysostom. Until an official English translation becomes available, Father John Zuhlsdorf offers his own translation (Microsoft Word format), as well as some interesting comments on the letter (see especially his comments on the connection between the Roman Church’s liturgical “Reform of the Reform” and relations with the Orthodox Churches).

Here’s an interesting excerpt, germane to the themes discussed at this blog:

In view of the ecumenical progress made between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches since the Second Vatican Council and especially in recent years, we wish to recall the outstanding efforts that St John Chrysostom made in his day in promoting reconciliation and full communion between Eastern and Western Churches. Singular among these achievements was his contribution in ending the schism which separated the See of Antioch from the See of Rome and other western churches. At the time of his consecration as Archbishop of Constantinople, John sent a delegation to Pope Siricius at Rome. He also won in advance of this mission the crucial collaboration of the Archbishop of Alexandria in Egypt for his plan to end the schism. Pope Siricius responded favorably to John’s diplomatic initiative, and the schism was peacefully resolved so that full communion between the churches was restored.

Later, toward the end of his life, following his return to Constantinople after his first exile, John wrote to Pope Innocent at Rome as well as to bishops Venerius of Milan and Chromatius of Aquileia. He appealed for their assistance in his effort to restore order in the Church at Constantinople which continued to suffer ecclesial divisions spawned by the injustice committed against him. John asked Pope Innocent and the other western bishops for a compassionate response, one which “confers a favor not upon ourselves alone but also upon the Church at large.” In fact it is clear in John’s thinking that when one part of the Church suffers injury, the whole Church suffers the same injury. Pope Innocent defended John in letters to Theophilus, bishop of Alexandria. The Pope maintained full communion with him, thus ignoring a deposition which he regarded as unlawful. He wrote to John in order to console him, and he wrote to the Constantinopolitan clergy and faithful who were loyal to John to express his full support of their lawful bishop. “John, your bishop, has unjustly suffered,” the Pope wrote to John’s followers. Moreover, Pope Innocent convened a synod of Italian and eastern bishops in order to seek justice for the beleaguered bishop. With the western emperor’s support, the Pope sent a delegation of western and eastern bishops to the eastern emperor at Constantinople to defend John and to demand that an ecumenical synod of bishops be convened to seek justice on his behalf. When, shortly before John’s death in exile, these measures failed, John wrote to Pope Innocent to thank him for “the great consolation” he received from having his support. In this letter John insisted that although he was separated from the Pope by the great distance of his exile, he was nevertheless in “daily communion” with him. Aware of the Pope’s efforts on his behalf, John wrote to him, “You have surpassed even affectionate parents in your good will and zeal concerning us.” John urged the Pope to continue with this zeal to seek justice on behalf of himself and the Church at Constantinople, because “the contest now before you has to be fought on behalf of nearly the whole world, on behalf of Churches humbled to the ground, of people dispersed, of clergy assaulted, of bishops sent into exile, of ancestral laws violated.” John also wrote to other western bishops to thank them for their support, among them Chromatius of Aquileia, Venerius of Milan and Gaudentius of Brescia.

Both at Antioch and at Constantinople John spoke passionately about the unity of the Church throughout the world. He observed that “the faithful in Rome consider those in India as members of their own body.” He insisted that there is no place for division in the Church. “The Church,” John exclaimed, “exists not in order that we who come together might be divided, but that they who are divided might be joined.” He found divine authority for this ecclesial unity in the Sacred Scriptures. Preaching on Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians, John reminded his hearers that “Paul refers to the Church as ‘the Church of God’ showing that it ought to be united. For if it is ‘of God,’ it is united; and it is one, not only in Corinth, but also throughout the world. For the Church’s name is not a name of separation, but of unity and concord.”

For John, the Church’s unity is founded in Christ, the Divine Word, who through his Incarnation unites Himself to the Church as the head of his own body. “For where the head is, there is the body also,” John proclaimed, so that “there is no separation between the head and the body.” John understood that in the Incarnation, the Divine Word not only became man, he united Himself to us in his own body. “For neither was it enough for Him to be made man, to be beaten and slaughtered, but He also commingles Himself with us, and not by faith only, but also in very deed makes us His body.” Commenting on the Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians: “He has put everything under Christ’s dominion, and made him the head to which the whole Church is joined, so that the Church is his body, the completion of him who everywhere and in all things is complete,” John teaches that “the head is, as it were, filled up by the body, because the body is composed and made up of all its several parts. It is by all then that His body is filled up. Then is the head filled up, then is the body rendered perfect, when we are all knit together and united.” John thus concludes that Christ unites all the members of His Church to Himself and to each other. Our faith in Christ requires that we work for an effective, sacramental unity between the members of the Church; such faith seeks to put an end to divisions in the Church.


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Professor Eamon Duffy, the Catholic historian who many know as the author of the brilliant study The Stripping of the Altars, is doing a series of talks for BBC Radio 4 called “Ten Popes Who Shook the World”.  He will be looking at Peter the Apostle, Leo the Great, Gregory the Great, Gregory VII, Innocent III, Paul III, Pius IX, Pius XII, John XXIII and John Paul II. You can listen here.

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In the combox to “The Fathers Gave Rome the Primacy”, a slightly off-topic discussion of the Catholic understanding of the “development of doctrine” began. I would like to divert the discussion to this post’s combox, because I think that doctrinal development is a very important discussion for this blog – not merely because it’s identified by some Orthodox writers as a major difference between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, but because the Catholic understanding of the Papacy really does hinge on the possibility of the development of doctrine.

I propose that we take some quotes from Michael Liccione’s Sacramentum Vitae posts on doctrinal development as a basis for discussion. Dr. Liccione has, in my view, done an excellent job in explaining this difficult and often misinterpreted Catholic concept. Liccione shows (quite convincingly in my opinion) that orthodox Catholic theories of doctrinal development* by no means involve “additions” “innovations” or “improvements” to the original apostolic deposit of faith (as if what Christ entrusted to the Church were incomplete or imperfect). Still less does legitimate doctrinal development have to do “new revelations” or “new truths” somehow esoterically communicated to Popes or Ecumenical Councils (that, of course, would differ little from the Mormon theory of continual revelation).

In The Embryo and the Deposit of Faith (10/15/2005), Liccione explains doctrinal development in terms of what we know about DNA:

Recall that you are spatio-temporally continuous with a blastocyst. Within that microscopic you, there were and remain all the DNA instructions for what you physically became. Your body was once “virtually”—in the classical sense of that term derived from the Latin virtus: “power”—what it is now. Indeed, your body now is the same body as that blastocyst; the difference is that what “it” contained were mostly the codes for producing what you now see (and a lot of what you don’t see). The difference is one of development not identity.

The Catholic Faith is like that. That the authoritative documents of the Catholic Church, such as the Catechism of the Catholic Church, are collectively much, much longer than the New Testament is not a sign of undue human elaboration of the Word of God. The primordial Word of God is God the Son and thus God himself: “In the beginning was the Word.” What’s more often called the “Word”, embodied in the preaching of the Apostles, the Bible, Sacred Tradition, and dogma, is but the transmission of truths from and about the primordial Word. Such media of transmission and elaboration are but the making explicit of much that was implicit in the primitive kerygma. That entails development fueled by explanation. Thus the Apostles would not have known what the Council of Nicaea meant by saying that the Son is homoousios with the Father, yet that phrase signified an authentic, organic development of what they did preach. The basic deposit of faith was indeed “delivered once for all to the saints” from the start; but it took centuries of meditation, heresy, and definition to bring forth to maturity much that was inchoate. The right codes were always there, but what contained them needed time and nourishment for the growth they have regulated.

In Cardinal Newman on the Depositum Fidei (10/4/2006), Liccione presents an important quote from Newman in order to show that for Catholics, legitimate doctrinal developments (yes, there can be illegitimate doctrinal developments) are merely explications of what was implicit in the minds of the Apostles, in that Faith which Christ “once delivered” to the Apostles, and which the Apostles then passed to the Church:

I conceive then that the Depositum is in such sense committed to the Church or to the Pope, that when the Pope sits in St. Peter’s chair, or when a Council of Fathers & doctors is collected round him, it is capable of being presented to their minds with that fullness and exactness, under the operation of supernatural grace, (so far forth and in such portion of it as the occasion requires,) with which it habitually, not occasionally, resided in the minds of the Apostles;—a vision of it, not logical, and therefore consistent with errors of reasoning & of fact in the enunciation, after the manner of an intuition or an instinct. Nor do those enunciations become logical, because theologians afterwards can reduce them to their relations to other doctrines, or give them a position in the general system of theology. To such theologians they appear as deductions from the creed or formularized deposit, but in truth they are original parts of it, communicated per modus unius to the Apostles’ minds & brought to light to the minds of the Fathers of the Council, under the temporary illumination of Divine Grace.

In Ampliative Development of Doctrine (Part I) (12/20/2006), Liccione likens legitimate doctrinal development to “the pattern in the unfolding of divine revelation itself”, that is, the gradual unfolding of the plan of salvation in Jesus Christ, as reflected in the Old Testament and New Testaments:

Consider how Matthew 1:23 cites Isaiah 7:14 to support the claim that Jesus was born of a virgin. Matthew was relying on the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, which uses the term parthenos, meaning “virgin,” to translate Isaiah’s almah, meaning “young woman.” Why that translation? After all, not all virgins are young women and not all young women are virgins. Perhaps the “seventy” Jewish scholars in Alexandria who produced the LXX believed that the Messiah would be born of a literal virgin; but then, perhaps not. We really don’t know. They may simply have chosen parthenos as a decorous synonym for ‘a young woman’ with the implication that the Messiah would be her first-born. At any rate, we have no evidence that first-century Jews assumed the Messiah would be born of a literal virgin. There doesn’t appear to have been any consensus among Jews about how to construe Isaiah 7:14 on this particular point. Yet Matthew, or at least the early Church that received his Gospel as canonical, seems serenely confident that it prophesied that Jesus the Messiah was born of a literal virgin.

This is but one instance of how the New Testament in general treats the Old Testament. The NT even has Jesus himself explaining “the Scriptures,”—i.e., the works comprised by the LXX—as referring to him in various ways that either the original authors of the Scriptures or their audiences do not seem to have had in mind. So if Christianity is true, then the material sense of those Scriptures is far broader than what they formally say. The full material sense—what Scripture scholars call the sensus plenior—is formally brought out only in light of later events, reflections, and interpretations. And that, I believe, is how a great deal of DD also proceeds even after the complete divine revelation was fully given to the Apostles. The process of coming to understand the deposit of faith, given once-for-all to the saints, recapitulates the unfolding of divine revelation itself during the long period leading up to and including “the Jesus event.”

Accordingly, if such controverted doctrines as papal infallibility and the Immaculate Conception are instances of authentic DD, they are so because they are derived from the faith-once-delivered in a way very similar to how christology is derived by the NT from the OT and by the first several ecumenical councils from the NT and other early Christian sources. They are not strictly deducible from what everybody professed formally in common during the first millennium of Christianity; they formally express what was there all along, to be sure; but they could not be derived, by any means generally acknowledged as logically reliable, from what was there all along. I don’t think ‘induction’ is quite the right term for that. I can think of no better term than, simply, ‘ampliative inference’.

Liccione’s many other posts on the topic are well worth reading as well:

* By modern orthodox theories of doctrinal development, I mean those of Moehler and Newman; as opposed to heterodox modernist theories of doctrinal development, as proposed by the likes of Harnack, Loisy or Tyrell.

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I just came across a fascinating new blog, De Unione Ecclesiarum, written by a Greek Orthodox scholar who is working on a book about Patriarch John IX (Bekkos) of Constantinople (+1297), an early advocate of Orthodox-Catholic reunion. He explains the purpose of his blog as follows:

De unione ecclesiarum, meaning “On the Union of the Churches,” is the title of one of John Bekkos’s theological writings. It is actually an abbreviated Latin translation of a full title which, in the original Greek, goes like this: Περι της ενωσεως και ειρηνης των της παλαιας και νεας Ρωμης εκκλησιων, “On the Union and Peace of the Churches of Old and New Rome.” John Bekkos wrote this work, in all likelihood, shortly after the beginning of his patriarchate, i.e., sometime during the years 1275 or 1276 (though internal evidence leads me to think that he added some sections to it after this). This was during the time of the “Union of Lyons”: Bekkos wrote this work in defense of an ecclesiastical union between the Greek and Latin Churches which had just taken place, which he hoped would bring an end to the schism of the Churches which had already lasted some two hundred years, a schism which, in Bekkos’s view, lacked genuine theological grounds and had been the occasion of the ruin of his people.

As it happens, the Union of Lyons did not last for more than eight years. Bekkos was condemned by local synods at Constantinople in the years 1283 and 1285, defrocked, excommunicated, and died in prison in the year 1297 … Another attempt to heal the schism of the Churches, at the Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438-39), also failed: although some Eastern Christians accepted that union, the majority rejected it, and continue to do so. The division of the Churches, which in Bekkos’s day had lasted already two hundred years, is now closing in upon a millennium. And, although with God all things are possible, anyone who thinks that this division of the Churches is near to a commonly acceptable solution must be accounted exceedingly naive.

So why a blog titled “De unione ecclesiarum”? If it is not the view of the author of this blog that a union between the Churches is imminent, what good does it do?

Like many things to be found on the blogosphere, this blog arises out of somewhat self-serving purposes. It is, in part, an attempt by its author to get some writing done on a book he is struggling to finish; it is also an attempt by the same author to address issues which have been troubling him for many years. The question of the division of the Churches is, obviously, not only an historical question, but a question of discerning Jesus’ presence and will here and now. The weight of a thousand years of hatred, violence, and misunderstanding can easily deform the soul, making it cynical and slothful, preventing it from seeking truth, from acknowledging truth where it sees it, and from acting upon the truth that it knows. The author of this blog recognizes these deformations in himself. He is not always certain of the solution to historical and theological questions; he is quite certain that cynicism and the breeding of contempt are a bad response. This blog has been begun in the hope that it might make cynicism and contempt a little less prevalent, in himself and others.

I look forward to following this blog, and especially to reading the blogger’s book when it’s published!

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Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

The interpretation we have sketched is, as it were, a key which unlocks the mind of the council and of Leo. The proof that it is the true key is that it can be turned, and than an intelligible meaning is thereby opened. The rival interpretations are as keys that will not turn: they meet with obstacles which they cannot pass – they do not fit the lock. But the former possesses over them these not inconsiderable advantages, that it contradicts no utterance of the council and they do; this is not irreconcilable with the immemorial tradition of the Church, and they are; it accounts for the absence of any objection on St. Leo’s part to these particular words; it gives a good reason why he should entertain no objection to the words in themselves; it is inconsistent with no established fact of history; and no other interpretation will harmonise with the language used towards the Pope in the letters in which his assent is entreated.

It is a most certain fact of history that Peter and Paul did give Rome the primacy – “the place in which the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul continually sit in judgment,” says the Council of Arles eleven years before Nicaea – and also that they gave it to Rome “because it was the Imperial City,” and that St. Leo himself devoted an entire sermon on the great Festival of these Apostles to the reassertion of this immemorial and unquestioned tradition, and that no one had ever said otherwise. These things being so, we are unable to see how any reasonable critic can draw any other conclusion than ours, unless he is driven to do so by the unkind necessities of his position. The attitude of the Pope towards the canon as a whole, not only in what he does not say, but also in what he does, appears to confirm the validity of our argument. He does not deny the assertion regarding the reasons which actuated “the Fathers,” but in respect to Alexandria and Antioch he denies the application. Whatever were the reasons which caused St. Peter to grant special distinction to these two sees – and the reasons, no doubt, were they secular greatness and geographical position – still, the distinction having been thus granted, their subsequent ecclesiastical greatness was due to their connection with St. Peter, and not to the reasons which actuated him.

It only remains to be said that the Pope finally annulled the canon by virtue of the authority of St. Peter, which the canon is supposed by opponents implicity, if not explicitly, to deny to him. His words in his letter to Pulcheria are as follows: “Those things agreed on by the bishops contrary to the rules of the holy canons drawn up at Nicaea, in union with the piety of your faith, we do annul, and by the authority of the Blessed Apostle Peter do, by a general definition, make utterly void” – “Consensiones vero episcoporum sanctorum Canonum apud Nicaeam conditorum repungnantes, unita nobiscum vestrae fidei pietate, in irritum mittimus, et, per auctoritatem Beati Petri Apostoli, generali prorsus definitione cassimus.” The Emperor Marcian accepts the refusal and praises the Pope because he stands out as the one who, “by guarding the ecclesiastical canons, has suffered no innovation upon ancient custom and the order agreed upon of old.” And finally Anatolius himself writes to submit to the Pope’s decision, “in order that, by obeying you, I might fulfil those things which have seemed good to your mind. For be it far from me to oppose whatsoever was commanded me in those letters.” And the letter concludes with the words previously quoted: “Gestorum vis omnis et confirmatio auctoritati vestrae beatitudinis reservata est.” The final word, therefore, of the Patriarch of Constantinople himself upon the question is a humble acknowledgement that not even a General Council could give him the precedency he desired for his See without the assent and confirmation of the Sovereign Pontiff.

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Part I | Part II | Part III

We must, therefore, interpret the hoi pateres, Patres, of the canon to mean the Apostles and their successors; the Apostles as the original donors, their successors as bearing witness to what was handed down. This is no forced interpretation, for the expression is often used in this sense, and has a right to be considered on its own merits, apart from the important fact that an interpretation of the words of the canon which does not include the Apostles is impossible on independent grounds. St. Leo himself very frequently uses the word in the sense we have indicated. “The rule observed carefully by our Fathers,” he writes to Dioscorus, meaning, as he explains, the rule made by Peter and handed down by his successors. “The authority of custom which we know comes down from the Apostles’ teaching,” he says in the same letter. “The traditions of the Fathers,” paternal traditions, he calls them in his letter to the bishops of the Council of Chalcedon; “what has become fixed in our custom as derived from the form of paternal tradition;” “the rules of the Fathers” (regulae, or, constituta Patrum); all these expressions mean one thing to the Pope, namely, that which was deposited in the Church by the Apostles and has been handed down by those who took their place. But this is a quite common usage.


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Part I | Part II

The most significant and important point of all is that the Pope St. Leo himself saw no attack on the Privilegia Petri in the canon. The principle on which the bishops based the canon did come under his notice; for amongst the many reasons he gave for rejecting it was this, that the See of Constantinople ought not to deprive Alexandria and Antioch of their place as second and third sees, because it was not an Apostolic foundation and they were. The See of Alexandria, he tells Anatolius, cannot be stripped of the dignity which it had received on account of Mark, the disciple of Peter, notwithstanding the apostacy of Dioscorus; nor could Antioch, where Peter preached and where the Christian name first arose, lose its rank as third. And yet in none of his letters, in which he recites the many objections to the “innovation,” does he take any exception to the words which assert that his own See of Rome owed its rank to the secular greatness of the city: “Etenim sedi senioris Romae” (or, “throno antiquae Romae”) “propter Imperium civitatis illius” (or, “quod privilegia tribuerunt” (reddiderunt) – so run the Latin versions of these oft-quoted words. “Leo himself,” says the late Canon Bright, who failed to perceive the immense significance of the admission, “was content to denounce it, not on account of St. Peter’s prerogatives, but in the name of the Council of Nicaea.” And the late Canon Carter, a leading Anglican authority, also says: “Rome did not oppose the decree as derogatory to herself.” These admissions appear to concede our point, which is that the decree neither denied nor was intended to deny the Petrine privilege of the Holy See, and that therefore it did not and could not mean that the Pope’s position was based merely on ecclesiastical consent.


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Part I

The Council committed itself in precise and definite terms to the belief that the Pope was the inheritor of the privileges of St. Peter, and head of the Church by Divine right. Passing by the well-known and significant cry of the assembled Fathers on hearing the Pope’s letter to Flavian, “Peter hath spoken by Leo (dia Leontos),” let us turn to the sentence of deposition pronounced by the Papal legate on Dioscorus, the Patriarch of Alexandria, and subscribed by every bishop at the council: “Wherefore the most holy and blessed Leo, Archbishop of the great and elder Rome, by us (his legates) and this present most holy Council (di himon kai tes parouses hagiotates sunodou), in union with the thrice-blessed and all-honoured apostle Peter, who is the Rock and support (petra kai krepis) of the Catholic Church and the foundation (ho themelios) of the orthodox faith, has deprived (egumnosen, Leon being the subject) him of his episcopate, etc.” …


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The famous xxviii. Canon of Chalcedon has been for many centuries a favourite authority among all those who, whether in the East or in England, are anxious to find support in primitive times for their rejection of the Petrine prerogatives of the Holy See. To a serious student of history, however, it seems an act of no small temerity in an opponent of the Papal claims to appeal to any episode in the history of this Council, for at no period of the Church’s existence is the universal recognition of the Pope’s supremacy more clear. The correspondence of St. Leo with St. Flavian, with the heretic Eutyches, with the Eastern and Western Emperors, and the Empress Pulcheria; the famous letter of St. Peter Chrysologus to Eutyches, the letters of St. Leo to the Council, the attitude of his legates there, the enthusiastic reception by the Council of his epistle to Flavian, the terms of the sentence of deposition on the Alexandrian Patriarch Dioscorus, the Acta of the Council, and its conciliar letters to Pope Leo and the Emperor Marcian, with the correspondence that followed – all these form a testimony to the universal belief in the jus divinum of the Papal supremacy so overwhelming in its force, that it is a matter of amazement that any candid mind should entertain a doubt as to the sentiments of the Church in that age.


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Part I | Part II

Anyone who has dealt with the ancient sources would probably agree with our description of the communio and the position of Rome as its focal point. But the real question is still to be asked, and it is here that opinions differ sharply. Is this central position of the Roman bishops in the Church in fact an earlier form of the papal primacy as later understood in canon law and dogma? Is it not at most a germ from which in the course of time the later primacy could grow? Or is it not like a tree onto which so many alien branches have been grafted that it comes to bear fruits not anticipated in the original seed? St. Ambrose affirms that “the rights of the treasured communio” flowed forth from the Roman church to all the other churches. Let us grant that this was a common opinion. We know that the bishop of Rome, Damasus, had at that time a lively correspondence with the other churches. Jerome related that while he was in Rome Damasus commissioned him to answer questions posed by both eastern and western synods. But can one really say that Damasus was ruling the whole Church in the manner of later popes?


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