Saturday, April 04, 2009

Eastern Orthodox criteria

Perry Robinson has responded to something I posted:

To some extent he’s speaking on behalf of others. Anyway, let’s evaluate his reply:

“Neo’s list is somewhat inadequate. Christ gives authority to legates of the apostles-bishops.”

i) Perry doesn’t specify what dominical statements or actions he is referring to. In the Gospels we have statements about Christ choosing and authorizing his immediate disciples. But where do we have dominical statements about apostolic succession?

ii) Moreover, “authority” is vague. What sort of authority does Christ allegedly give to “legates of the apostles-bishops”? How is that transferred from apostles to legates, then from first-generation legates to second-generation legates, &c.?

“This power can be used appropriately but not when diverted from the truth. So there is a distinction between possession and use just as there is in say free will or any other natural faculty.”

So we measure authority by truth rather than truth by authority. Very well then–how does that distinguish the Orthodox rule of faith from the Protestant rule of faith?

“Steve question presumes a far too narrow gloss of Neo’s meaning. OT figures could be included in his comments in a number of ways. For example Ezra, Nehemiah, or Zachariah could be participants in the same divine power since they were extraordinarly commissioned ministers of Christ with the attending extraordinary prophetic powers and also part of God’s established divine community.”

Well, I was responding to Neo’s claim that “The words of Scripture presuppose a knowledge of and participation in the original Apostolic community’s shared paradigmatic structure of worship, thought and new life in Christ”

Is Perry taking the position that the OT cultus was equivalent to “in the original Apostolic community’s shared paradigmatic structure of worship, thought and new life in Christ”?

On the face of it, it’s hard to see a systematic correlation between the OT cultus and Orthodox polity or piety. There were no bishops or church councils or patriarchates in the OT. The liturgy is very different–to say the least.

“Roughly a Father of the church is someone, either lay or ordained who knows or bears God to his people, preserves right teaching, usually in a specific theological domain and sets it forth with in a normative and empowered way. This usually is part and parcel with a good measure of mastery of the passions, exiled living and persecution. That seems to me to be a good starting definition off my head suitable for the purposes at hand.”

The problem with this definition is the relationship between a church father and right teaching. Which comes first? Do we identify right teaching by the teaching of church fathers, or do we identify church fathers by right teaching?

“As for a criteria to identify each of them, this is done in reference to the overall tradition so that asking for a criteria here will only move the question as to identifying what counts as tradition.”

But aren’t the church fathers tradents of the overall tradition? Don’t they contribute to the formation of the overall tradition? So does the overall tradition select for the church fathers, or do the church fathers select for the overall tradition?

“By what criteria does one identify the entirety of tradition? This is a different than asking by what criteria does one identity something as tradition? In any case, wouldn’t this be done by the tradition itself since any external criteria would simply move the question?”

i) I don’t see how that’s even coherent. The totality of Orthodox tradition is a diachronic phenomena, is it not? It didn’t fall from the sky, fully-formed. Even in principle, the whole can’t select for the whole unless and until the whole is a given totality.

The teaching of the fathers, councils, &c., is incremental, is it not? At best, it would be a situation in which, at the earlier stages of the process, the part gradually identifies the whole. Only at the end-stage of the process, when the overall tradition is all in place, could the whole identify the whole. And have we even arrived at the final phase?

ii) Moreover, what does this abstraction (“the entirety of tradition”) really mean at the concrete level? As a practical matter, how does tradition select for its own sources? Which comes first? Tradition? Or the sources of tradition?

“Here when I speak of tradition it should be clear that I mean to include Scripture itself along with the apostolic ministry. Scripture is a form of written tradition which is identified normatively through the apostolic ministry. If it isn’t identified by reference to the tradition then, as in Protestantism, then the canon of Scripture is in principle formally revisable. By what normative criteria do Protestants identify the entirety of scripture? It can’t be by a criteria given by scripture since in the order of knowing we need to know first what counts as Scripture. So it sends up being Jewish tradition, what Jesus quoted, etc. all of which are insufficient both materially and normatively.”

Several issues here:

i) Alleging difficulties with the Protestant rule of faith doesn’t establish the Orthodox rule of faith. Even if the Protestant rule of faith were, in fact, subject to these consequences, that doesn’t falsify the Protestant rule of faith. And even if it succeeded in falsifying the Protestant rule of faith, that doesn’t verify the Orthodoxy rule of faith.

ii) Apropos (i), to allege that certain consequences flow from the Protestant rule of faith, even if that allegation were true, does nothing, of itself, to falsify the Protestant rule of faith. Perry needs to present an argument for why such consequences are unacceptable.

iii) Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the canon of Scripture is, in principle formally revisable? So what? Even if we grant that allegation, this doesn’t mean the canon of Scripture is practically revisable.

It ultimately comes down to God’s will for his people. Is it God’s will that we use this canon rather than some other canon?

Hypothetically speaking, there could be a lost letter of Paul which an archeologist will discover tomorrow. That discovery might lead us to revise the canon. To incorporate this newly-discovered Pauline letter into the NT canon. Would that be a problem?

iv) Why should anyone agree with Perry’s assertion that “Jewish tradition, what Jesus quoted, etc., are insufficient both materially and normatively”?

a) To begin with, why should we accept his criteria of normative sufficiency? To say the Protestant canon is normatively insufficient (assuming that’s true) is not to say the Protestant canon is insufficient. Rather, it merely means the Protestant canon fails to meet one of Perry’s criteria of sufficiency. But why should we accept his criteria of sufficiency? Where’s the argument?

b) Why is it insufficient to identify the canon based on the best evidence (both internal and external) that God has put at our disposal? If the evidence is insufficient, God was in a position to preserve more evidence or better evidence. So why should we be dissatisfied with the evidence that God has chosen to put before us?

Why does Perry think that we are obligated to meet some antecedent condition of normative sufficiency or formal unrevisability? Is that a divine requirement? Is that something God holds us to? Or is Perry trying to impose an artificial duty on the Christian believer?

v) It’s also simplistic to treat the identification of the canon as an all-or-nothing affair. As if we can’t begin to know anything that is Scripture unless we already know everything that is Scripture. Why does the identification of the canon have to be a whole>part process rather than a part>whole process?

Historically speaking, the canon of Scripture was given in increments. Progressive revelation. Why, then, wouldn’t the order of knowing parallel the order of being? We come to know it as it comes into being?

“This is why the continuous apostolic ministry is essential since by its initial extraordinary commissioning with attending verification (miracles and prophecy) it grounds the tradition in the order of knowing.”

i) Notice that the high churchman can never present an empirical argument for his position. In lieu of any positive evidence for his position, he invariably falls back on his a priori argument–based on what he thinks is antecedently necessary or probable.

A continuous apostolic ministry would be a historical phenomenon. But Perry hasn’t offered any historical evidence to document a continuous apostolic ministry–much less historical evidence commensurate with the breadth of the claim.

ii) You can establish an apostolic ministry from the NT, but Perry has yet to establish a continuous apostolic ministry from the NT.

iii) Notice his appeal to prophetic verification. That’s a tacit appeal to Biblical prophecy, yes? But how can Perry appeal to Biblical prophecy to verify the apostolic ministry if “in the order of knowing we need to know first what counts as Scripture”? Didn’t Perry just invoke a “continuous apostolic ministry” to verify the canon of Scripture? If so, how can he turn around and use the canon of Scripture (e.g. Biblical prophecy) to verify a continuous apostolic ministry?

“So I don’t think the whole of the tradition or any part of it can be identified in a normative way apart from the apostolic ministry.”

But don’t the Orthodox rely on holy tradition to adjudicate what constitutes valid apostolic ministry?

“How then do we identify the whole of the tradition? The apparent problem seems to be that either no one father expresses the entirety of the tradition. No one father expresses every part of it accurately. And no one council expresses it in terms of utterances on every single point of theology. I don’t think this is a problem. If we take Ireneaus’ criteria that what is novel to one locale is not of the apostolic deposit we have at least in rudimentary form a criteria to identify the entirety of tradition.”

Why should we accept the criteria of Irenaeus? Because he’s a church father? Doesn’t that beg the question at this stage of the argument? Why not take the criteria of Novatian or Valentinus? Because they’re schismatics or heretics? But Perry needs to establish a source and standard of Orthodoxy before he can make that move.

“So what is found to have been taught in the apostolic sees as Ireneaus indicates is the entirety of the apostolic faith, that is, tradition.”

Once again, doesn’t that beg the question at this stage of the argument? Isn’t Perry assuming what he needs to prove?

“By what criterion do we distinguish genuine tradition from heterodox tradition? Since heresy is an individual choice against the pre-existing tradition of the church, it is at least a matter of comparison with the pre-existing teaching…The comparison of pre-existing teaching is again in reference to the rule articulated by Ireneaus above, namely the deposit in all of the apostolic sees.”

Two problems:

i) This takes for granted the identification of the true church, which then supplies a standard of comparison. But Perry needs to present an argument for his frame of reference.

ii) What about preexisting heretical teaching? As we know, some of this goes all the way back to NT times. The Apostles have to combat heresy.

“Steve asks concerning Fr. Maximus’ statements, what the church always believes in light of various controversies. If we gloss the statement too widely it obviously will not work and this will be true for example for Protestants in handling say the canon of Scripture. What the Jews always believed to be scripture. All Jews? All pre-advent Jews agreed on the canon? Hardly. Some Jews then, but which ones? And by what criteria do we pick?”

Perry is raising objections which I’ve already dealt with in the past.

“So such statements have to be narrowed down. I narrow them down in the way Ireneaus proffers. What the church always believes is in references to the apostolic deposit again in reference to the apostolic sees.”

Does that also apply to iconolatry? Was every Christian in the ancient church an iconodulist?

“As for hesychasm and icons are not later developments. Perhaps Steve is thinking of the particular practices in later hesychasm. If so, Palamas make clear these practices are not essential to it and in no way are to be considered a mechanism for divine experience. Further, as Meyendorff makes clear, ‘hesychasm’ has a long history prior to the debate with Barlaam going back to 2nd century monasticism.”

But Palamas was condemned and excommunicated as a heretic. True, this verdict was later reversed, but if he was merely reiterating what the church had always taught, then what provoked such fierce opposition?

“Steve then puts Fr. Maximus’ statements concerning saints and a sure interpretation into syllogistic form. Then he attempts to reduce it to absurdity by asking how it is possible for the saints to experience all the truths of scripture. But Fr. Maximus I think doesn’t mean experience in terms of personally witness historical events through some kind of time travel. He means experiencing them in God through the kind of knowledge of God that is more than knowing facts, such as when God declares that he knows no other nation than Israel.”

i) The interpretation of Scripture involves a factual knowledge of Scripture. A factual knowledge of what the author meant. A different “kind of knowledge” (whatever that means) would not secure a sure interpretation of Scripture.

ii) In the OT passages to which Perry is alluding, yada doesn’t signify a different kind of knowledge. Rather, it involves an alternate meaning of yada: in this case, “to choose.”

What kind of knowledge do the saints possess which secures the sure interpretation of Scripture?

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