Lex Rex

verbum sat sapienti

Lex Rex

Friday, February 25, 2005

Early Church: Ignatius

Matthew 16:19

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."


Greetings brethren! I love this conversation and I echo the comment of Zain that both of your posts have encouraged me in my love of the risen Jesus (and my desire to be transformed into His likeness, which I so lack and need).

I find it again remarkable how close many of our positions are. Let me say from the start that the Orthodox position (from my understanding) is fully concordant with Zain’s historic observations that any particular individual, priest or bishop, or entire schools thereof HAVE COMMITTED HERESY, and should be ignored by the godly, and dismissed from their positions which they disgrace.

1. Orthodox Bishops have committed Heresy

To this, I further agree that Bishop Ignatius’s comments of obedience to the Bishop should absolutely be qualified. I note the obvious, that although these letters of St. Ignatius are critically important historic texts, providing important insight into the dogma and practice of the early Church, they are NOT scripture. The Orthodox Church has regularly defrocked errant Bishops, and this passage should not be taken apart to deny the real, proven reality that a Bishop may err (or even apostatize). The examples of Judas (ultimate) and St. Peter’s (temporary) denial should provide sufficient evidence to this end (in addition to Lex Rex’s citation of King David). The Orthodox do not believe in a doctrine of bishop infallibility in the manner of the Catholic doctrine concerning the Bishop of Rome.

2. Need for the Authoritative Church Remains

This said, the issue of the need of an earthly Church authority remains (towards which Zain has expressed some sympathy). As broadly stated, the Orthodox view of the visible Church is authoritative, rather than infallible. In this I do not see the Orthodox view of the visible Church authority as being dramatically different than that of the several “high” church Protestants; including especially the Lutheran and Anglicans.

Each of these maintained (until very recently) a belief in rule of bishops (Lutherans still have bishops in Europe, not in US), apostolic succession, sacraments and that they were the One Holy, Catholic Church, (yet obviously neither believed in infallibility). These Protestant denominations (although many Anglicans do not use the term “Protestant” upon themselves) saw the need for the continuation of the rule of Bishops and an authoritative Church rule to avoid the errors of private judgment (which end in constant schism within the Body of Christ, and aids heresy without).

What do they share with the Orthodox? An understanding that the scriptures do not interpret themselves, and that much in them is “hard to understand, which untaught and unstable men twist to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16).

The average man is not a systematic theologian (no more than he is an attorney or electrician), knows no Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic, is ignorant of history, logic, law, grammar, etc., etc., (if he can even read). These are incredibly problematic circumstances for private judgment without a tutor.

3. Three elements of Sola Scriptura

A nuanced understanding of this SS discussion recognizes at least three elements: scriptures (written), tradition (oral, visual, etc.) and the magisterium (authority of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church to rule over both scriptures and tradition in an authoritative manner).

In most Protestant discussion of sola scriptura (SS) the topic is reduced to a bifurcated choice between the first two, set as irreconcilable opposites: scriptures vs. tradition. This is inaccurate in several ways. First it presents the two as opposed, when in fact, the Church has always held both scripture and tradition as twin, agreed sources, not as adversaries. Next, it should be obvious that the Protestants did NOT abolish tradition within their denominations, they merely replaced certain (largely received) traditions, with traditions that they substituted (largely invented) on their own. Every Protestant denomination makes required use of Tradition in their dogma and practice (at the very least in their interpretation of scripture).

4. Protestants Need Tradition Too (just like Orthodox & Catholics)

The Protestant traditions are admittedly less taxing than those of Catholicism or Orthodoxy, but they remain Traditions (or schools of thought, denominational distinctive, systematic theologies, etc.) nonetheless. Why do Lutherans (Anglicans and Methodists) keep Baptismal regeneration of infants, Calvinists keep infant baptism, yet deny baptismal regeneration, and Baptist deny both, advancing rather believer’s baptism? Why, because they have three different Traditions (even though they all believe in sola scriptura). Why did Augustine, Luther and Calvin have three different Bibles? Three different traditions, of course. Why do the reformed uphold the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Baptist the London Confession, and the Lutheran the Articles of Concord (3 different Traditions).

Why does Lex Rex believe once saved always saved, and Zain believe you can fall away (if I quote them correctly)? Obviously they come from two different Traditions on the subject (and each supports his Tradition almost solely via appeal to the scriptures alone).

Thus, this common Protestant approach to the topic of SS in no manner deals with the NECESSITY OF TRADITION, especially, the most basic form of Church Tradition, namely, the correct interpretation of the scriptures (this is sometimes referred to as T1 tradition.)

In short, we all three believe that there exists some correct interpretation of scripture. Whenever a correct interpretation of scripture is discovered, it should be recognized, taught and passed down to subsequent generations of the Church. This is the most fundamental form of Tradition, which every Protestant believes in (though many may perhaps not admit).

Who then, will convey this T1 tradition to the next generation?

5. Magisterium (Church Hierarchy) needed to uphold correct Tradition (T1 at least)

We NEED someone to systematize the scriptures, collect their correct interpretations and exist as a treasury of this divine knowledge. We cannot do it by ourselves (we are too ignorant, sinful, finite and too short of attention). We cannot expect every generation to reinvent the wheel of Christianity, themselves, with their own limited, subjective, culturally biased interpretation. At least not if we wish to maintain “the faith which was once for all given to the saints” (Jude 3). And a frank survey of Church history has shown that such private judgment results in ever evolving, ever-mutating deviations away from received Christianity.

God satisfied these needs through the provision of His Body, the One Holy visible and Apostolic Church. To His beloved Church he gave his Apostles, Bishops and teachers, His oral Word, His written Word, His sacraments, His protection (after He first gave Himself). Later He empowered them to collect His scriptures (from the chaff of spurious writings) in the formation of the Canon, to systematize proper dogma in the Creeds and Councils, etc.

God provided the Church as the means to support, safeguard and convey His Gospel, and its proper interpretation, until the ends of the earth.

6. Personal Note

For a personal testimony, it is these later issues of private judgment, subjectivism, schism, etc., that substantially aided my entry into Orthodoxy. Honestly, the discussion of the content and application of the Oral Tradition played absolutely NO part in my conversion. Even today, it is the scriptural arguments that convict me (the oral tradition is icing on the cake).

But, it is late and I am tired and now write with exponential sloppiness.