Daily Archives: July 19, 2007

Dissertation Distraction Project N+4

I’ve been having an interesting discussion with Fr. Knisely in the comments of this post at the Cafe on major and minor doctrines and the authority of the Ecumenical Councils.

Add to that the recent thoughts from Fr. Jones on teaching the doctrines we hold

So what doctrines do “we” hold? Or, what are the chief sources of authority for deciding doctrinal issues?

Folks who’ve been here a while know that I love to go back to Lancelot Andrewes on this one: 1 Canon, 2 Testaments, 3 Creeds, 4 Councils, 5 centuries and the Fathers who taught therein. And yet, as I look this list over, I find myself embarrassed by my general ignorance of the teachings of those four Ecumenical Councils. I know our major Christological definitions are in there–but what else? Furthermore, according to the classic Elizabethan Settlement,an Anglican heretic is one who contradicts these four Councils, making them a pretty important touchstone for what “we” believe.

So what do we do about this? There’s an ancient solution–or at least a big step in the right direction–for those who slept through the Ecumenical Council class in seminary or who didn’t have one altogether (yours truly among them). There’s a summary of the canons of the first seven councils (those recognized by the Romans, Orthodox, and Anglo-Catholics) called the Ancient Epitome which gives a line or two to indicate what each canon is up to. And–these are both contained and translated in the NPNF volume on the Councils.

It would be a relatively easy task to:

  1. Download the flat file of this volume from CCEL.org
  2. Write a macro/VBA script that would search for the text “ancient epitome” and then copy the paragraph where that was found and the next paragraph (i.e., the title, then the contents)
  3. Proofread for accuracy and clarity
  4. Add “new” epitomes for the ones that are unclear
  5. Format for ease of reading and reference
  6. Construct a thorough index/cross-reference
  7. Distribute as a PDF/Lulu Press publication

On the other hand–such a thing may already exist and I just don’t know about it…

Discussion Question on the Apostolic Faith

I ran across this recently and found it quite interesting. This is from the editor’s intro to the records of the Seven Ecumenical Councils in the Nicene/Post-Nicene Fathers series. See what you think…

The history of the Council of Nice has been so often written by so many brilliant historians, from the time of its sitting down to to-day, that any historical notice of the causes leading to its assembling, or account of its proceedings, seems quite unnecessary. The editor, however, ventures to call the attention of the reader to the fact that in this, as in every other of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, the question the Fathers considered was not what they supposed Holy Scripture might mean, nor what they, from à priori arguments, thought would be consistent with the mind of God, but something entirely different, to wit, what they had received. They understood their position to be that of witnesses, not that of exegetes. They recognized but one duty resting upon them in this respect—to hand down to other faithful men that good thing the Church had received according to the command of God. The first requirement was not learning, but honesty. The question they were called upon to answer was not, What do I think probable, or even certain, from Holy Scripture? but, What have I been taught, what has been intrusted to me to hand down to others? When the time came, in the Fourth Council, to examine the Tome of Pope St. Leo, the question was not whether it could be proved to the satisfaction of the assembled fathers from Holy Scripture, but whether it was the traditional faith of the Church. It was not the doctrine of Leo in the fifth century, but the doctrine of Peter in the first, and of the Church since then, that they desired to believe and to teach, and so, when they had studied the Tome, they cried out:

“This is the faith of the Fathers! This is the faith of the Apostles!…Peter hath thus spoken by Leo! The Apostles thus taught! Cyril thus taught!” etc.

Now—here’s Article XXI of the Articles of Religion as annoted by the current American BCP:

XXI. Of the Authority of General Councils.

[The Twenty-first of the former Articles is omitted; because it is partly of a local and civil nature, and is provided for, as to the remaining parts of it, in other Articles.]

The original 1571, 1662 text of this Article, omitted in the version of 1801, reads as follows: “General Councils may not be gathered together without the commandment and will of Princes. And when they be gathered together, (forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and Word of God,) they may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of holy Scripture.”

And now—two words to further stimulate conversation: Oral Torah.