Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Crypto-Protestant Orthodoxy

Perry Robinson Says:

“The point of patriarchal ratification is that those sees have been founded directly by the apostles. This goes back as far as Ireneaus and Tertullian. Acts 15 seems to fit the conceptual criteria since the apostles ratified the council in Acts 15, which is what patriarchial ratification is getting at. So it doesn’t fail to meet the criteria.”

Several glaring problems with that appeal:

i) The 5 sees of the pentarchy are Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. What solid evidence do we have, in distinction to self-serving legends, that sees like Alexandria and Constantinople were “founded directly by apostles?”

ii) Even if, for the sake of argument, we grant that claim, what about other churches, such as some of the Pauline churches, which were directly founded by apostles?

It’s quite arbitrary to narrow down the list to these five, even if (ex hypothesi) they were directly founded by apostles.

The only reason to privilege these five sees is because Orthodox tradition confers that distinction on these and only these. But that begs the very question at issue concerning the locus of authority. Invoking Orthodox tradition to ground or identify Orthodox criteria assumes what it needs to prove. Moreover, there are rival criteria (e.g. receptionism).

iii) Furthermore, even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that these (and only these?) sees were originally founded by apostles, how does pentarchial ratification, centuries after the fact, amount to apostolic ratification? Did the five patriarchs hold a séance to poll the founding apostles? Does Perry think an institution can never stray from its original vision or mandate? Didn’t Jesus teach us that a church can lose its light (Rev 2-3)?

“I don’t think it is viciously circular. First, I focused on the conditions for the council to be ecumencial and not to know it is so. That as I stated is a separate problem. Steve is confusing epistemology and metaphysics.”

i) That’s a false dichotomy. The point of trying to isolate and identify the conditions is to have some criteria by which it’s possible to determine which ecumenical councils are ecumenical and which are not. Unless he can identify the conditions is a way that isn’t viciously circular, he can’t use that as a criterion to determine which church councils are ecumenical and which are not.

ii) Moreover, he needs to know that the council (2nd Nicea) which laid down these conditions is, itself, ecumenical. If he doesn’t know that, then he can’t invoke this council to authorize the conditions.

“Further, if God lays down the criteria for knowing when God is speaking, do I need to know it is God giving those criteria for those criteria to be legitimate? No. Things can be what they are without me knowing about it.”

Yes, things can be what they are without our knowing about it. But the question at issue was how to determine the ecumenicity of a church council. What’s the value of an ecumenical council if no one can know whether or not it’s ecumenical?

“If we say yes, then Steve isn’t in any better position with respect to vicious circularity.”

i) So does Perry’s argument boil down to epistemic parity? The Protestant rule of faith isn’t “any better” than the Orthodox rule of faith?

But the original point of his post was to show that Orthodoxy isn’t vulnerable to the same charge as Protestantism.

ii) My own position would only be viciously circular if I were arguing that we can’t have direct knowledge of anything.

“Second, he speaks of the criteria being reliable, but reliability isn’t sufficient for knowledge and may not be relevant to it either.”

Which misses the point. At a minimum, reliability is a necessary condition of a criteria. The problem with Perry’s criterion is not merely that it’s insufficient. The problem, rather, is that it fails to even meet a necessary condition. If Perry thinks reliability is an insufficient condition, then how much worse off is an unreliable criterion–such as the one he proposes?

“Third, the issue isn’t knowing really at all, but normativity. So it is not that I’d need to know that the criteria are ‘reliable’ but I’d need to know that they are normative. Normativity outpaces reliability. Steve is confusing apples and oranges.”

i) How can they be normative if they aren’t even reliable?

ii) In the first sentence he says “the issue isn’t knowing really at all,” but in the second sentence he says he’d “need to know” that they are normative. So in the first sentence he denies that knowing is the issue, but directly on the heels of that denial he tells us in the second sentence that he’d need to know it they’re normative.

iii) He must also show that Acts 15 was about normativity rather than knowing.

“Fourth, One problem with his formulation is that he says that “while it takes the criteria to ratify a council.” Well criteria don’t ratify anything, persons using the criteria do.”

Yes, persons who apply criteria to ratify a council. They can’t apply what they don’t have. So it takes criteria in hand to do that. What is Perry’s problem, exactly?

“One of the reasons that what I am doing is not what Steve is alleging is that the principle isn’t first articulated at 2nd Nicea. As I mentioned above, the principle is in play for a long time prior, going back as far as Ireneaus. That’s as early as one could reasonably want.”

Now he’s backpedaling from his original argument. He initially said: “So an ecumenical council accepted by East and West teaches that what constitutes the ecumenical nature of the council is pentarchial ratification, rather than papal ratification.”

Now, however, he’s swapped that out and swapped in “The point of patriarchal ratification is that those sees have been founded directly by the apostles. This goes back as far as Ireneaus and Tertullian.”

So he’s ditched the specific criterion of pentarchial ratification for the general criterion of apostolic succession. But even if we accept that principle for the sake of argument, apostolic succession is broader than five (allegedly) apostolic sees. So why would the ratification process be artificially confined to those and only those five?

“I also think that the principle is in play at the Acts 15 council. If it were circular, then it would be circular there, but it isn’t. So the idea of apostolic ratification is part of the doctrine of apostolic succession in principle.”

Notice how far he’s strayed from his original argument. He initially appealed to pentarchical ratification, as promulgated by 2nd Nicea, which is normative because it’s ecumenical, and deemed to be ecumenical because it was (allegedly) accepted by East and West alike (although that was challenged by some commenters).

Now, however, he’s downshifted to the vague principle that a council is ecumenical if it enjoys apostolic ratification via apostolic succession. But how does that solve the problem he originally proposed for himself? Remember what he said:

“When I was first seriously considering becoming Orthodox, how the Orthodox understood church authority was an important area to map out. In discussing the matter with Catholics that I knew, they often objected that Orthodox ecclesiology falls prey to the same problems as Protestantism. There was no locus of authority in the offices of the church, but the source of normativity was ultimately to reside in the judgment of the people.”

So where, according to Perry, do we find the locus of authority? Do we locate that authority (or “normativity”) in the chain of apostolic succession? But is apostolic succession self-locating? Does church history supply a street map for finding that destination? Or does it give us a set of competing street maps with different destinations? Divergent chains of succession, all claiming to be the true chain?

i) Wasn’t the point of invoking 2nd Nicea to narrow down the search parameters? To have a starting-point? A beeline?

To locate apostolic authority in at least one ecumenical council, as well as the conditions for ecumenicity which that council enunciated–so that he can extrapolate from that particular locus of authority in all the other councils which localize the same principle? But unless he already knows that 2nd Nicea is a locus of authority, how can he use that council to get a fix on the principle?

ii) And why is he appealing to Tertullian? He doesn’t regard Tertullian as a church father. Indeed, he views Tertullian as a heretic. So why would Tertullian’s word count for anything?

“In short, the principle is employed previously and hence has normative weight apart from 2nd Nicea and so I reject the first line.”

A principle has normative weight just in case it was previously employed? And how does previous employment ipso facto confer normativity on said principle? If a later Gnostic author employs a principle used by earlier Gnostics, does that make it normative?

1 comment:

  1. The use and rejection of Tertullian at the same time is clearly a double standard. But the testimony of Tertullian during his orthodox period is that churches were being founded in his day that "derive not their founder from apostles or apostolic men." ANF: Vol. III, The Prescription Against Heretics, Chapter 32.