“The appeal to the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) as paradigmatic for church decision-making procedure is frequently made by those emphasizing the importance of the hierarchy in the process of defining the faith…seemingly a perfect example.”
“On closer examination, the example is problematical. Did the hierarchy really make the decision? First, Peter makes a speech and in it takes responsibility for the Gentile mission; but then James, the brother of the Lord, speaks and states, ‘I have reached a decision…’ Next, we find that ‘the apostles and the elders with the consent of the whole church decided…’ (v22); and again, when we read Paul’s account of what is ostensibly the same council (Gal 2:1-10), he states that he is the leader of the Gentile mission and the meeting in Jerusalem added nothing to his message or method.”
“Finally, the Council was not really about orthodoxy at all, but about orthopraxy: The decision did not involve theology (q.v.) or the content of the faith, but only whether circumcision and certain types of abstinence would be practiced,” M. Prokurat et al. Historical Dictionary of the Orthodox Church (Scarecrow Press 1996), 49-50.
“The appeal to ecumenical conciliarity (sobornost, in Russian) and the emperor are frequently taken as normative for the Eastern Church’s self-expression. Certainly the Seven Ecumenical Councils (q.v.) have unique authority in the East, and the emperor was looked upon as blessed by God to enforce secular, if not religious, justice.”
“The problem with the councils and the emperor, briefly put, is that terrible difficulties in the conciliar period began immediately with Constantine the Great (q.v.). Councils were convened that attributed ‘ecumenical authority’ to themselves, but which were subsequently judiciously overturned.”
Similarly, the emperor soon showed himself capable of being as much a hindrance to the faith as a help. Heretical laws were passed and enforced. The state inferred in the Church and itself created new martyrs (q.v.)—most recently with Soviet sovereignty.”
One of the worst conciliar debacles occurred with the Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438-1439) wherein all the sitting hierarchs except Mark of Ephesus (q.v.) capitulated to Rome; and on returning to their dioceses they met any angry reception—and most swiftly recanted in order to hold their sees,” ibid. 50.
“The appeal to Holy Tradition (q.v.) (including Scripture and/or the Councils [qq.v.]) is recognized as of ultimate authority…The primary hurdle in appealing to Holy Tradition as an authority lies in the selection of appropriate sources, applicable to a given situation.
“Similarly, precedent is difficult to establish quickly, since the selection of sources itself is a matter of interpretation, and the question raised might not have been asked previously.”
“Everyone agrees that Holy Tradition is authoritative, but which beliefs and practices truly manifest Holy Tradition is open to a variety of interpretation,” ibid. 50-51.
“Various appeals to the authority of ancient patriarchates, especially Rome and Constantinople (qq.v.), have been made throughout history. During the later Ecumenical Councils (q.v.) the Roman Church had a remarkable record of protecting orthodoxy from heresy (q.v.), less so Constantinople.”
“Unfortunately, dominant heresies occurred in each of these centers; so, one finds Hippolytus’s papal adversaries and Honorius I in Rome, and Theodore of Mopsuestia and Cyril of Lukaris (qq.v.) in Constantinople, as notable, fallible examples,” ibid. 51.
“Holy Tradition (with a capital ‘T’) is to be distinguished from tradition (with a lower case ‘t’) or custom…The distinction is firm in theory, although its precise application in practice is often thorny,” ibid. 323.