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Constantine the Great and the rise of Monasticism
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America ^ | Metropolitan Maximos of Pittsburgh

Posted on 11/15/2011 4:28:39 PM PST by rzman21

Monasticism in the Orthodox Church

His Eminence Metropolitan Maximos of Pittsburgh


Since the early years of the Christian era, Christians have been called by Christ Himself to life in the world without being of the world (John 17:13-16). They are distinct from the world, because of their special conduct and their exemplary ethical life. When, toward the middle of the second century of the Christian era, Christian life reached a low ebb, some Christians, both men and women, reacted to this by raising their own personal standards of austere Christian life. They practiced chastity, celibacy, poverty, prayer and fasting (Justin, I Apology 15:6; Athenagoras, Apology 33; and Galenus, De Sententiis Politiae Platonicae).

These people considered themselves Christians selected to live the life of angels (Matt. 22:30). They lived by themselves or in special houses as a community. At about the middle of the third century, they began fleeing the world and going to the desert, where they established permanent habitations, whether by themselves or in small groups. They are known as the "anchorites" (from anachoresis: departure, flight); the hermits (from eremos: desert); and the monastics (from monos: alone, for a monastic "lives in the presence of God alone").

A good example of an anchorite monk is Saint Anthony the Great, who fled the world [c. 285] and established himself in the desert of Middle Egypt. Many people imitated his example; they went and lived close to him, thus "populating the desert" (Troparion of St. Anthony). These monks lived by themselves in huts and small houses to form a village called "lavra" (later the concept of "lavra" develops, as we will see). St. Anthony is considered the Father of Orthodox monasticism, for his kind of monasticism, that of "living alone with God as his only companion" remained the most cherished monastic ideal for the monks of the Eastern Orthodox Church throughout the ages.

The establishment of Christianity as a legal religion of the roman Empire by Constantine the Great, with the edict of Milan (313), led to a new decline in the ethical life of Christians. In reaction to this decline, many refused to accept any compromises and fled the world to become monastics. Monasticism thrived, especially in Egypt, with two important monastic centers, one in the desert of Nitria, by the Western Bank of the Nile, with Abba Ammoun (d. 356) as its founder, and one in the desert of Skete, south of Nitria, with Saint Makarios of Egypt (d. ca. Egypt 330) as its founder. These monks were anchorites, following the monastic ideal of St. Anthony. They lived by themselves, gathering together for common worship on Saturdays and Sundays only.

Whereas Saint Anthony the Great is the founder of anchorite monasticism, Saint Pachomios of Egypt (d. 346) is the founder of the so-called "cenobitic" (from Koinos bios: communal life) monasticism. Pachomios started as an anchorite himself in the Thebaid, Upper Egypt. Later in that same place, he founded the first "monastery" in the modern sense of the term. St. Anthony's lavra was a village of anchorites who lived by themselves in their own huts and had a life in common, practiced common daily prayer evening and morning, worked in common, had common revenues and expenditures, and common meals, and wore the same identical monastic garb. This garb consisted of a linen tunic or robe and belt, a white goat skin or sheep skin coat and belt, a cone-shaped head-cover or hood (koukoulion) and a linen scarf (maforion or pallium). At this stage, monks were identified with lay people seeking Christian perfection. No religious ceremony was required, and no monastic vows. Monks were prohibited from becoming clergy.

Anchorite monasticism existed in other places besides Egypt. However, "organized monasticism," that is, of the "cenobitic" type, spread to Sinai, Palestine and Syria from Egypt. Two monks from Egypt, St. Ilarion (d. 371) and St. Epiphanios, later bishop of Salamis in Cyprus (d. 403), brought organized monasticism to Palestine.

Monasticism at this time was identified with the "charismatics" of the ancient church. This identification of monasticism with the "enthusiastic element" in the church led to some abuses, of which those around Eustathios of Sebastia (d. 380) are good example. Eustathios introduced monasticism into Asia Minor from Egypt. His followers became overzealous; they taught that marriage and meat-eating made salvation impossible; they were, in fact, advocating monasticism for all Christians. The Council of Gangra (343) condemned these over-enthusiastic practices. Another heresy that affected monasticism during this same time was "Messalianism," which appeared in Mesopotamia (c. 350 A.D.). Messalians were ascetics who practiced poverty, celibacy and fasting. They rejected the sacramental life of the church and pretended to see God with their physical eyes. They spread in Syria and Asia Minor; they finally were anathematized by the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus [431]. Under the influence of the Messalians, the non-sleepers or Vigilant (Akoimetoi) type of monasticism was developed in the area of Constantinople (mid-fifth century). The most famous instance was the Studion monastery, renowned for its polemic against the Iconoclasts. St. Symeon of Antioch [ca. 460] also developed the Stylite type of monasticism, living himself on a pole (stylos) for over 36 years.

Monasticism became a strong movement in the life of the church. The church not only condemned anti-church groups and tendencies within monasticism, but also guided and directed the monastic movement to meet its own needs. One of the ways through which this occurred was through a convergence of monasticism and clergy: monks were now ordained in a special religious service at which they subscribed to special monastic vows, thus becoming a special class of Christians standing between the clergy and the laity. This development was mostly due to the efforts of Saint Basil, Archbishop of Caesaria in Cappadocia.


Eustathios of Sebastia introduced monasticism to Asia Minor; he influenced St. Basil, who borrowed whatever was good in his innovations, including the monastic garments, monastic vows, and the special religious service (tonsure) that indicated the special status of a monk, superior to that of lay people, and subordinate to the clergy.

Among the many ascetical works of St. Basil, two are the most significant in terms of regulating the life of monasticism: the "Great Rules" (Oroi Kata Platos), and the "Brief Rules" (Oroi Kat' Epitomen). These rules regulate the life in the cenobitic monasteries: they extol the monastic life in common as the ideal Christian life, the "life of perfection," while at the same time indicating the dangers of the solitary anchoretic life. St. Basil's Rules became the Magna Carta of Monasticism, both in the East and in the West, throughout the monastic tradition. The difference is that while in the Christian East the anchorite spirit of St. Anthony continues to persist as the original monastic ideal, thus at times reacting against the organized monasticism of a Pachomian, cenobitic type promulgated by Saint Basil in the Rules, the Christian West, after the modifications to the Basilian Rules by St. Benedict, remains faithful to the cenobitic spirit of organized monasticism.

St. Basil set Christian perfectionism as the goal of monastic life. The monks were to practice Christian virtues together, especially love; to practice obedience to a spiritual father; to practice chastity and poverty, and share the common goods of the monastery. After they achieved Christian perfection, they were allowed to come back to the world and help others to achieve Christian perfection. Thus, the monks had the mission of "social workers" as well. St. Basil's institutions, especially his Basileias, which was at the same time an orphanage, a "kitchen for the poor," and a school for the illiterate was in practice run by monks. This was St. Basil's way of utilizing the monastic movement to benefit the mission of the Church in the world.

Following St. Basil's example, the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451), in its canonical legislation, placed the monastics in a given Diocese under the direct jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop. Only this bishop can allow the foundation of new monasteries in his diocese (Canons 4 and 8). Thus in the Orthodox Church the possibility of the creation of monastic "Orders," as we see them developing in the West during the Middle Ages, was once and for all eliminated.

Monasticism also spread in the West. Its origins go back to St. Athanasios of Alexandria, who was exiled to the West (399). His Life of St. Anthony was translated into Latin by Evagrios of Antioch (380). Two Latin monks, Rufinus and St. Jerome, who lived in Palestine, brought monasticism to the West when they returned, during the second half of the 4th century. St. Ambrose of Milan (d. 395) introduced monasticism in Northern Italy, and St. Augustine (d. 430) in Northern Africa, whence monasticism was transplanted to Spain. St. Martin of Tours (370) introduced monasticism into Northern France (Gaul), and St. Honoratus of Arles into the South. St. John Cassian founded two monasteries near Marseilles (415); he had become acquainted with monasticism in Egypt and Palestine, and was ordained a deacon by St. John Chrysostom in Constantinople. At. St. John's deposition, John Cassian returned to Gaul to establish monasticism there.


With the development of Monasticism during the fourth century and thereafter, many monastics became involved with the various heresies, especially those concerning the Christological dogma. Most of the monastics were the defenders of the Orthodox faith. Still, Eutyches, an archimandrite from Constantinople, headed the heresy of monophysitism. On the Orthodox side, St. Maximos the Confessor (c. 580-662) played an important role in defeating the heresies of monothelitism and monoenergism. The Sixth Ecumenical Council (680) condemned monothelitism and reestablished the doctrine of Chalcedon. During the time of the iconoclastic controversy, the Studite monks, led by St. Theodore the Studite (759-826), played a very important role. In addition to organizing his monastery, the Studion, on the basis of the cenobitic principles of St. Pachomios and St. Basil, St. Theodore also wrote his three Antirrhetics against iconoclasm.

After the condemnation of the iconoclasts, monasticism thrived even more. Many representatives of the Byzantine aristocracy became monks. Monks were men of letters; clergy received their education in the monasteries. Bishops, metropolitans, and patriarchs were taken from their ranks; monks were involved with the church affairs, at times for the good of the church, at times creating trouble. Monasteries existed in almost every diocese, with the Bishop as their head, planting a cross in their foundations. Since 879, the right was given to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople of planting a cross in monasteries that were under the jurisdiction of other dioceses throughout the empire. They were called "Patriarchal Stavropighiac Monasteries." This right exists to our days.

With the Arab conquest of Syria, Palestine and Egypt (during the 7th century), new centers for monasteries were sought and founded, among which were Mount Olympus in Bithynia and the Holy Mount Athos.

During the entire Byzantine period, the monks took an active part in the life of the Church in general. Still, spirituality was their strength. Concerning this tension in Christian anthropology, two schools of thought were represented; that of Evagrios ponticus (d. 399), who followed a Platonic and Origenistic doctrine pertaining to the "mind," thus de-emphasizing the importance of the human body and becoming dualistic, and St. Makarios of Egypt (or, better, the writings attributed to him), present a more Christian, holistic anthropology; for in this theology man is a psycho-physical entity, and, as such, being a destined to deification. "Prayer of the mind," in the Evagrian spirituality, becomes "prayer of the heart" in the Macarian spirituality. The two schools of thought with the two different anthropologies continue to find representatives throughout the history of the Church.

Saint Symeon, the New Theologian (949-1022), marks an important development in monastic spirituality. A disciple of a Studite monk, he left the Studion to join the small monastery of St. Mamas in Constantinople, were he was ordained a priest and became the abbot. He wrote several works, among which are the fifty-eight hymns of "Divine Love," in which he stresses that the Christian faith is a conscious experience of God. St. Symeon is the exponent of an intensive sacramental life, which leads to this personal conscious experience, as we can see in his Hymns. In this he is a predecessor of Hesychasm, which also shares this personal experience of God in conjunction with intensive sacramental life.

Finally, the spirituality of Hesychasm, as enunciated in the theology of St. Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), is of paramount importance not only in the life of monasticism, but also in the life of the entire Church. An Anthonite monk, St. Gregory took it upon himself to defend the holy Hesychasts of the Holy Mountain in their ways of praying and experiencing the presence of God the "uncreated light" that they contemplated. Barlaam the Calabrian had led the attack against the pious monks and their psycho physical method of prayer, and accused them of "gross materialism," Messalianism, calling them "navel-souls" (omphalopsychoi) and "navel-watchers" (omphaloskopoi).

The hesychastic method of prayer consists of regulating one's breathing with the recitation of the "Jesus prayer": "O Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." The prayer is repeated constantly until it descends from the lips and minds into one's heart. At the end of the process, the peace of Christ is poured into the heart of the worshipper, and the light itself of Christ shines upon him and around him. This light, as that of the Holy Transfiguration of Christ, may also be seen by our physical eyes.

Saint Gregory established that the experience of the Holy Hesychasts was an authentic one, for it is similar to that of the disciples on Mount Tabor. Theologically it is justified by the distinction between essence and energies in God, this light being the "uncreated light," or the "uncreated energy" of God, that "can descend toward us," whereas the essence of God "remains unapproachable" (St. Basil).

After the fall of Constantinople, the number of idiorrythmic monasteries continued to grow, a fact which brought a further decline to monastic life. The 16th century was the lowest ebb. In reaction to this problem, many of the monks themselves, especially on the Holy Mountain, left the main monasteries and turned to idiorrhythmic ones, establishing Sketai (dependencies) of the main monasteries, with a more rigorous typikon (order). Also, Patriarchs Jeremy II of Constantinople, Silvester of Alexandria, and Sophronios of Jerusalem led the attack against idiorrhythmic monasticism, thus managing to counteract its spread. Cenobitic monasticism prevailed for a while, but the tide soon went in its original direction. Many monasteries of the Holy Mountain, including the mother monastery, the Great Lavra, became idiorrhythmic. Today an idiorrhythmic monastery may become cenobitic but not the other way round. Hopefully, this will guarantee that organized monastic life will finally prevail, according to the Basilian ideal of monasticism.

Monasticism played an important role under the Ottoman Empire, as well. The monks not only kept the faith alive, but they also kept the Greek culture and literature alive. Not only did the education of clergy continue at the monasteries, but the monasteries became the "clandestine school" (Krypho Scholeio) for all the Greeks under Turkish occupation. The monks thus prevented the Christian nations under Turkish occupation from being assimilated to them, and thereby became the natural leaders of national ("ethnic") resistance against the oppressors. It is no accident that the Greek Revolution started in 1821 at a monastery in the Peloponnesos, Aghia Lavra, with Metropolitan Germanos of Old Patras raising the banner of revolution and blessing the arms of the Greek freedom fighters.


Monasticism existed on the Mountain even before the tenth century. Many anchorites were living on Mt. Athos, especially in the area of Ierissos. The anchorites lived in the cells (kellia), and were organized according to the general pattern, selecting a "leader" (protos) from among themselves to keep a semblance of order. Some of those cells were built for many anchorites to live in, and some of these joint habitations were called "monasteries." Two of these were in existence on the Mount before the tenth century: Zogrophou and Xeropotamou.

However, cenobitic monasticism, which is considered to be the beginning of the Great Republic of Monks on the Holy Mountain, only started in 963 when monk Athanasios the Athonite built the cenobitic monastery of Meghisti Lavra, with the help of the Emperor Nicephoros Phokas and the continued support of Emperor John Tsimiskis. The community soon became a "pan-Orthodox" community: Iberians (Georgians), Russians, Serbians, Bulgarians and Romanians joined the Greeks to form the pan-Orthodox community, a "Republic of Monks."

Each of the monasteries had its own abbot; one, chosen leader as Protos, was installed by the emperor himself. Following the example of Lavra, which was given an autonomous status, all the monasteries were considered royal monasteries, without any ecclesiastical dependence. This was changed by Emperor Alexios Comnenos (1081-1118), who gave the Patriarch the right to supervise the monasteries (Novella 37); all the monasteries thus became "Stavropighiac" and Patriarchal. The Patriarch appointed the Bishop of Ierissos to be his representative at the Holy Mountain.

The multiplication of idiorrythmic monasteries under the Turkish occupation affected the Holy Mountain; they dismissed their abbots and even the Protos in the course of the seventeenth century. The abbot was replaced by two or three "trustees" chosen yearly by the monks; the Protos was replaced by four supervisors (Epistatai) who changed every year. One of them chosen as chief supervisor (Protepistatis), as a "first among equals." The Republic, consisting of twenty monasteries, is still represented in the Synaxis by as many representatives that meet twice a year, or as necessary. The representative of Lavra presides over the Synaxis. This typikon, established in 1783 by Patriarch Gabriel IV of Constantinople, still regulates the life of the Anthonite republic of monks.


With the conversion of the Slavs in the ninth and tenth century, monasticism spread to the Slavic countries as well, where it continues to thrive up to our day, in spite of communist oppression. Important monasteries in Russia - Zagorsk, Optimo, and Valamo - continue the hesychastic tradition. Great monks and spiritual fathers were exponents of this tradition, including St. Nilus (1433 1508), St. Seraphim of Sarov (1759-1833), and Father John of Kronstadt (1829-1908), a married priest. Monasticism thrives today in Romania, Serbia, and even Bulgaria.

On the Holy Mountain itself, there is an impressive monastic renewal: several monasteries, inactive in the recent past, were recently populated by young, educated, enthusiastic monks, who give new life and a new spirituality, more in conformity with that of St. Basil, to the Holy Mountain. The monastery of Stavronikita is an example. Under the guidance of important spiritual fathers on the Holy Mountain today - among them ore Father Ephraim, abbot of Philotheou; Father Aimilianos, abbot of Simonos Petra; and abbot Vassilios of Stavronikita - monasticism is thriving on the Holy Mountain, both spiritually and intellectually. The pattern of cenobitic life prevails at present, and continues to gain ground.

Spiritual fathers from the Holy Mountain visit the States, including Holy Cross Theological School. Interest has been generated among young men and women who aspire to monastic life and wish to see its tradition flourish in America. The St. Gregory Palamas Monastery in Hayesville, Ohio under the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Pittsburgh, has this potential.

In our day, there is a monastic renewal, as a reaction to the materialist spirit in our society, in almost every Orthodox land. Longovarda Monastery, Nea Makri, and St. John's Monastery on Patmos are some of the active monasteries in Greece outside Mount Athos. As for the States, the major Holy Places, monasteries and shrines connected with them, are under the jurisdiction of the Synodal Church outside Russia. Among these monasteries are: Saint Tikhon's, near South Canaan, Pennsylvania (OCA); Novo-Diveyevo convent, near Spring Valley, New York; Holy Transfiguration Monastery and Convent in Boston, Convent of the Vladimir Mother of God, San Francisco, California, Holy Dormition Monastery, Northville, Alberta, New Skete Monastery, near Cambridge, New York and Holy Annunciation Monastery (Carpatho Russian Diocese), Tuxedo Park, New York.


H. Waddell, The Desert Fathers, London 1936.

N.F. Robinson, Monasticism in the Orthodox Churches, London, 1916.

C. Cavarnos, Anchored in God, Athens, 1959.

© 2011 Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Terms of Use. Copyright Sources. This site has been made possible by a grant from Leadership 100.

TOPICS: Catholic; Evangelical Christian; Orthodox Christian; Theology
KEYWORDS: catholic; evangelical; orthodox
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1 posted on 11/15/2011 4:28:39 PM PST by rzman21
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To: rzman21

Constantine was the worst thing that ever happened to Christianity.

He took a persecuted but devout, peaceful and unified church and turned it into the persecutors of everyone else and murderous factions against each other. “Orthodoxy” simply became us against anyone who disagreed who had to be butchered in the millions over obscure and irrelevant trivialities of interpretation. The church was ruined by Constantine’s intrigues and meddling for the next 1500 years.

I don’t have much good to say about Constantine.

2 posted on 11/15/2011 4:44:42 PM PST by UnbelievingScumOnTheOtherSide (REPEAL WASHINGTON! -- Islam Delenda Est! -- I Want Constantinople Back. -- Rumble thee forth.)
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To: UnbelievingScumOnTheOtherSide

Then the gates of hell prevailed against the Church.

3 posted on 11/15/2011 4:55:13 PM PST by rzman21
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To: UnbelievingScumOnTheOtherSide

Protestants simply invented a new religion.

4 posted on 11/15/2011 4:56:10 PM PST by rzman21
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To: UnbelievingScumOnTheOtherSide
I can only imagine the propaganda wasn't really lived up to.

Ever stop to think how you go about killing millions?

It's really difficult.

5 posted on 11/15/2011 5:10:30 PM PST by muawiyah
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To: rzman21
A number of Christian bodies otherwise identified as "Protestant" actually resurrected the Second Century Orthodox Church.

There's currently a theory being investigated that most Protestant areas in Europe were actually Orthodox up until quite recent times but when invaded and taken over by Western princes or armies the priests were sacked or they fled and the new rulers simply failed to bring in Roman priests. The populace left to its own started running their own churches.

6 posted on 11/15/2011 5:19:46 PM PST by muawiyah
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To: rzman21

THE CHURCH, is the believers in Christ, not a building, or a religion full of traditions. If we learned one thing about Jesus, is he had no use for traditions held by synagogues and by extension, churches.

7 posted on 11/15/2011 5:27:32 PM PST by runninglips (Republicans = 99 lb weaklings of politics. ProgressiveRepublicansInConservativeCostume)
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To: rzman21
Protestants simply invented a new religion.

So did the Catholics and theirs bore little resemblance to any Scripture.

Not that I would burn them at the stake for it.
8 posted on 11/15/2011 5:27:50 PM PST by UnbelievingScumOnTheOtherSide (REPEAL WASHINGTON! -- Islam Delenda Est! -- I Want Constantinople Back. -- Rumble thee forth.)
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To: muawiyah

If you equate Orthodoxy with Byzantine theology or Byzantine praxis. I think that’s hard to prove considering Northern Europe has been profoundly Augustinian since its conversion.

Although if you are referring to the conciliarist movement then you might have a point.

9 posted on 11/15/2011 5:29:32 PM PST by rzman21
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To: UnbelievingScumOnTheOtherSide

The Orthodox never burned anyone at the stake. Protestants weren’t much better as they burned Catholics and their enemies at the stake.

The Bible doesn’t discuss everything Jesus did, nor does it explicitly discuss things like the Trinity of Divinity of Christ. That’s Tradition.

The Catholics and Orthodox are far closer to what the early Christians believed and prayed than Evangelicals are.

Evangelicalism relies on an imagined reading of scripture that is really neo-Gnostic in nature.

10 posted on 11/15/2011 5:37:21 PM PST by rzman21
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To: runninglips

Christ was visible therefore is visible. Saying otherwise is shear gnosticism.

The Church is Visible and One
A Critique of Protestant Ecclesiology
by Patrick Barnes
This article is approx. 40 pages and still in an early form; but it is quite readable. I welcome any and all feedback. For those who wish only to read the Introduction I have included this below. Download the essay in PDF format.

There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. Ephesians 4:6

And I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church ... The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed

And if ever you are sojourning in cities, inquire not simply where the Lord’s House is (for the other sects of the profane also attempt to call their own dens houses of the Lord), nor merely where the church is, but where is the Catholic* Church. St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, XVIII

Protestant Christians around the world are steadily becoming more aware of the reality of the Church. This century has especially seen a tremendous reawakening to this aspect of Christianity. “What is the Church?” is often the question that drives Protestants to either Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy. Many Protestants who begin reading the the writings of the early Church—especially works like Tertullian’s Prescription Against the Heretics, St. Cyprian’s Unity of the Catholic Church, or St. Irenaeus’s Against the Heresies—, or who begin to ponder the implications of 1 Timothy 3:15, [1] soon begin to realize that the concept of unity with the One Visible Church is central to Christianity. All other doctrinal issues and disagreements are downstream of the issue of the Church, for She is the “pillar and ground of the Truth.” Find the Church and one finds the fullness of Truth. [2]

The question of the Church was certainly the catalyst in my own journey, especially after reading the Ignatius Press edition of Thomas Howard’s delightful book Evangelical Is Not Enough. In the Postscript he reflects upon the steps that took him from Canterbury to Rome by saying that it was “the same old story which one finds in Newman, Knox, Chesterton, and all others who have made this move. The question, What is the Church? becomes, finally, intractable; and one finds oneself unable to offer any compelling reasons why the phrase ‘one, holy, catholic, and apostolic,’ which we all say in the Creed, is to be understood in any way other than the way in which it was understood for 1500 years.” If Howard introduced the question to me, the hammer that drove home the nails came, ironically, from yet another encounter with a Roman Catholic book. To this day Yves Congar’s monumental Tradition and Traditions remains one of the most important books I have ever read besides the Bible; for it thoroughly convinced me that the Bible, Tradition, and the Church are one majestic tapestry woven and preserved by the Holy Spirit. When I finally became aware of the reality of this undivided, historical and visible Church I knew I could no longer remain separate from Her. I was not in the Church, and I needed to be.

Most of what will I will say below assumes that the concept of an ancient consensus fidelium carries some weight with the reader. For those who are of the opinion that the God-enlightened Fathers of the Church are not important, or who are under the sway of liberal scholars who champion theological relativism, there is probably not much common ground for discussion. One Protestant I have corresponded with, a doctoral candidate studying under Thomas Oden at Drew University, is probably representative of many when he said:

“As for the ‘proper interpretation’ of Nicea being, by definition, that interpretation which the Church has given it: First, that assertion so clearly begs the question that it leaves one suspecting whether there is any room left for dialogue at all. But second, and more importantly, I would contend with your assumption about the nature of Tradition. The Creed is itself an aspect of Tradition and, as such, leaves room for a spectrum of interpretations. For you to demand that there is only one possible interpretation of the Creed is certainly counter to the way [in] which that same Tradition has interacted with itself. The whole methodology of the Councils permits a breadth of freedom within certain conceptual parameters. We are not all required to affirm the same interpretation of the Creed, just the same Creed.”

Is there any common ground for discussion? It is difficult to say.

Another way of stating my position is that I unapologetically presuppose that the Church is indeed “the pillar and ground of the Truth,” that the Mind of the Church (the consensus fidelium) has something authoritative to say to us today, that what She says is clearly discernible, and that Her Tradition is timeless and unchanging.

Now, by “unchanging” we Orthodox do not mean “static” or “institutionalized,” as those misinformed about the Church’s understanding of Tradition often think. What is meant is that there can be no doctrinal changes to the Apostolic deposit. Only new expressions of the “faith once delivered to the saints,” expressions typically formulated in response to attacks on the Church’s beliefs, are even considered, let alone adopted.[3] St. Vincent of Lérins, in his masterful fifth century treatise entitled The Commonitory, perfectly expresses the platform from which I make my presentation:

I have often then inquired earnestly and attentively of very many men eminent for sanctity and learning, how and by what sure and so to speak universal rule I may be able to distinguish the truth of Catholic faith from the falsehood of heretical pravity; and I have always, and in almost every instance, received an answer to this effect: That whether I or any one else should wish to detect the frauds and avoid the snares of heretics as they rise, and to continue sound and complete in the Catholic faith, we must, the Lord helping, fortify our own belief in two ways; first, by the authority of the Divine Law, and then, by the Tradition of the Catholic Church.

But here some one perhaps will ask, Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church’s interpretation? For this reason—because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation.

Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense “Catholic,” which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors.

What then will a Catholic Christian do, if a small portion of the Church have cut itself off from the communion of the universal faith? What, surely, but prefer the soundness of the whole body to the unsoundness of a pestilent and corrupt member? What, if some novel contagion seek to infect not merely an insignificant portion of the Church, but the whole? Then it will be his care to cleave to antiquity, which at this day cannot possibly be seduced by any fraud of novelty.

But what, if in antiquity itself there be found error on the part of two or three men, or at any rate of a city or even of a province? Then it will be his care by all means, to prefer the decrees, if such there be, of an ancient General Council to the rashness and ignorance of a few. But what, if some error should spring up on which no such decree is found to bear? Then he must collate and consult and interrogate the opinions of the ancients, of those, namely, who, though living in divers times and places, yet continuing in the communion and faith of the one Catholic Church, stand forth acknowledged and approved authorities: and whatsoever he shall ascertain to have been held, written, taught, not by one or two of these only, but by all, equally, with one consent, openly, frequently, persistently, that he must understand that he himself also is to believe without any doubt or hesitation. [4]

In this same vein, and echoing 1 Timothy 3:15, St. Irenaeus wrote:

But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth...

It is within the power of all, therefore, in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and [to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own times; those who neither taught nor knew of anything like what these [heretics] rave about....

In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth. [5]

In short, accusations of “begging the question” will fall on deaf ears. The Church—as it has been historically expressed and understood in the Nicene Creed—is an object of faith. In this sense, belief in the Church is no different than belief in God. The Church as an infallible “pillar and ground of the Truth” cannot be proven empirically. We are simply to believe in it. [6] Thus, my appeal to those men who have been hailed throughout the centuries by countless Christians as Doctors and Teachers of the Faith par excellence ultimately stems from my belief, or faith in, an indefectible Church—a Church that has an authoritative Mind and Tradition which has been formed and preserved by the activity of the Holy Spirit. My platform is in principle no different than a Protestant’s belief in an “infallible Bible” interpreted through the unbiblical lens of “sola Scriptura.” [7]

At the outset, then, I wish to challenge Protestants to “Question Authority,” as the popular slogan goes. That is, I want them to see that their views do not rest on what the Church has always believed and confessed, but rather upon their own modern post-enlightenment understanding of things. This modern mindset is an inheritance from the well-intentioned Reformers who—in their attempt to bring the Church back to true Christianity, “pure and undefiled”—unfortunately became unwitting victims of the collapsing framework of late-medieval scholastic nominalism.[8] Shackled in a corrupt mindset that is alien to the Fathers of the Church, they developed a litany of doctrines that are nowhere to be found in the “Mind of the Church.”


11 posted on 11/15/2011 5:39:14 PM PST by rzman21
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To: rzman21
Northern Europe, and I don't mean just "North of the Alps" was not converted totally before America was discovered. As late as the 1600s you could still find pagans throughout Northern Scandinavia and Northern Russia.

Central and Eastern Europe were subjected to repeated transfers of authority from East to West and West to East throughout the the Middle Ages. Mistakes were made. People forgotten about in mountain valleys. Once out from under the thumbs of the priests, it was a simple matter to establish functioning congregations without them.

Frontiersmen on the American frontier were in the practice of creating new churches out of nothing. By the early 1800s Scottish immigrants added an intellectual component to the practice and came up with the idea of a Second Century church.

12 posted on 11/15/2011 5:39:19 PM PST by muawiyah
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To: rzman21

Probably not, but wasn’t Vlad the Impaler Orthodox at the time he was killing all those Turks by sticking them ON a stake ~ he just didn’t set fire to them, right?

13 posted on 11/15/2011 5:43:17 PM PST by muawiyah
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To: muawiyah

The monks stood against the tyranny of the state and many such as St. Maximos the Confessor were either murdered or exiled for speaking truth to power.

For the Eastern Orthodox, the monastics have preserved the Church and kept the focus on holiness.

As for Vlad the Impaler, his crimes were political rather than religious in nature. His creed is a red herring.

14 posted on 11/15/2011 5:55:21 PM PST by rzman21
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To: muawiyah

Arguably the so-called Renaissance was a revival of Greco-Roman paganism.

I sincerely doubt based on what I have read of Second Century Christian doctrine or praxis that the Presbyterians or Baptists had much in common with the 2nd century Church.

The episcopacy, Eucharistic sacrifice, baptismal regeneration, etc. being prime examples.

15 posted on 11/15/2011 5:58:40 PM PST by rzman21
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To: rzman21
Neither the Baptists nor the Presbyterians attempted to do that. You'll want to look at Christian Church Movement ~ Alexander Campbell ~ for a start on getting into that. At the moment they are neatly divided into three different branches but have spawned a number of others.

This movement started as a reaction to the Baptists and Presbyterians having little in common with Primitive Christianity in fact.

16 posted on 11/15/2011 6:11:32 PM PST by muawiyah
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To: rzman21; stonehouse01; Goreknowshowtocheat; Absolutely Nobama; Elendur; it_ürür; Bockscar; ...

Freep-mail me to get on or off my pro-life and Catholic List:

Add me / Remove me

Please ping me to note-worthy Pro-Life or Catholic threads, or other threads of general interest.

17 posted on 11/15/2011 6:13:59 PM PST by narses (what you bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and what you loose upon earth, shall be ..)
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To: UnbelievingScumOnTheOtherSide

You wrote:

“I don’t have much good to say about Constantine.”

Probably because you don’t know much about him judging by your post.

18 posted on 11/15/2011 8:50:27 PM PST by vladimir998 (Public school grads are often too dumb to realize they're dumb)
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To: vladimir998
Reading the mind of another Freeper is a form of "making it personal."

Discuss the issues all you want, but do not make it personal.

19 posted on 11/15/2011 8:52:08 PM PST by Religion Moderator
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Comment #20 Removed by Moderator

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