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:
- Download the flat file of this volume from CCEL.org
- 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)
- Proofread for accuracy and clarity
- Add “new” epitomes for the ones that are unclear
- Format for ease of reading and reference
- Construct a thorough index/cross-reference
- 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…
A quicky at Wiki gives summaries of each council as well…I think distinguishing between core doctrine and discipline (TEC) or core doctrine and doctrine (ACofC) are also helpful. Even the Romans do this distinguishing between dogma and doctrine, and doctrine having levels. Certain current issues being considered third order at best.
I can disagree within limits about the “how” of Christ’s Presence; even the Father’s had different ways of expressing this and that latitude of Patristics is something to savour rather than crash down as the late Medieval capped off by the Reformation finally did hardening where there had been more latitude before. But I am not likely to be able to agree to disagree about Christ being God Incarnate or the substance of the Father, Son, and Spirit being one.
I’m all for bounds on vital matters like Incarnation and Trinity but I get worried when its sounds like a rule-slam. Sometimes rules and the traditional pov have done harm, and hugging the other harmed and saying there there isn’t good enough. The kind of compassion I often not in this tendency to rules.
I guess all of our clergy are heretics, left, right, and center (and no slipping around with “interpretation” of the Calvinist vein):
prohibition of usury among the clergy (Nicaea)
All we Western Christians are heretics:
prohibition of kneeling during the liturgy, on Sundays and in the fifty days of Eastertide (“the pentecost”). (Nicaea)
Sadly, even our beloved Luke Timothy Johnson is a heretic by this regard:
monks and nuns are forbidden to marry on pain of excommunication (Chalcedon)
And beware the many devious and plotting:
conspiring forbidden (Chalcedon)
And all of those who covered over for child molestation in the episcopate should be thought above reproach:
says an accuser of a bishop shall be suspect before the bishop (Chalecedon)
Cranmer and Henry are out, so our whole Anglican project is rightly suspect:
monasteries are permanent (Chalcedon)
That’s the problem if we don’t make some core distinctions IMHO.
Not to mention it has come to be seen that Theodore’s condemnation at II Constantinople was likely wrong in what Theodore taught (versus what others made of his teaching). And I might add the traditional Roman version of the acceptance of Leo’s Tome is legendary. Many days were spent debating its orthodoxy as the Greeks sought to translate the Tome into terminology coherent with Cyril.
The distinction between doctrine and discipline is an old and necessary one–I certainly won’t dispute that.
In fact, I think it’s very valuable for our clergy *and* laity to see the discipline of days gone by to get a sense of how the church does and has changed. Too–some of them can reinvigorate discussions of what we should or shouldn’t do–like some of my favorites from the 7th Ecumenical Council:
Ancient Epitome of Canon II: Whoever is to be a bishop must know the Psalter by heart: he must thoroughly understand what he reads, and not merely superficially, but with diligent care, that is to say the Sacred Canons, the Holy Gospel, the book of the Apostle, and the whole of the Divine Scripture. And should he not have such knowledge, he is not to be ordained.
And yes, despite recent blustering, I’d consider ancient decrees on diocesan boundaries to be discipline, not doctrine and therefore malleable… That doesn’t mean I support what’s going on, it means you’ve got to be consistent in how you decide to read.
That’s a good one. It does raise a question for me though that some of our bishops (and priests) probably have never read all of the Scriptures even once through.
I think if we were a bit more flexible with a little bit less bluster, we could find ways forward that would honor all as best as possible. If that meant having extraordinary dioceses or some other arrangement, I don’t think that’s terrible.
It’s the consistency or lack thereof that I find troubling, and it shows up all through the discussion from several sides depending on who wants what and who has the power to determine how we’ll read a document inconsistently. That’s why I warn about calls for rule enforcing, because it usually turns around to bite those who made the call.
I’d be happy to go for fewer rules as long as they are actually enforced. The fact that we have rules/laws/canons on the books that are not enforced does not speak to me of tolerance or broad-heartedness; it speaks of hypocrisy and opens the door for the unequal application of punitive measures. And that’s just plain wrong. Yes, those who want rules enforced sometimes find themselves on the receiving end—but that does two things in my mind: 1) it speaks to the need for fewer but better legislated rules, and 2) it’s a lesson in the nature of true justice. Not everyone is happy that, as the psalms say, the Lord shall judge *with equity*.
Ah, but those calling for enforcement usually are those with the power to change them or not. Having been on the receiving end of the punitive measures, there was little I could do to change them and those calling for enforcement have a “there, there” attitude they call compassion, but I call sympathy at best.