Monday, October 30, 2017

Luther and the Reformation: Musings of an Orthodox Christian

As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, there is no shortage of articles outlining praises and critiques of this great event. There is no doubt that the Reformation marks a pivotal time in history, especially in western Church history. It is the subject of much study, and rightfully so. This overarching event led to many other reformations which have come to shape Christianity in a different light today. 

I have heard it argued that the Orthodox can affirm much of what Martin Luther nailed to the door of the Wittenberg Castle in his 95 Theses. While I can sympathize with this line of argumentation, having been formerly Reformed myself, I would have to vehemently disagree with it. In any case, I do believe that Luther was initially noble in his intentions. He sparked his protest against abuse that he witnessed first-hand, which pertained almost exclusively to the doctrine of indulgences, and subsequently, Purgatory.

In fact, Luther’s entire Theses can likely be summed up into three key points:
  1. The abuse of indulgences, especially with respect to the poor.
  2. A false and inadequate salvific security or assurance.
  3. An over-reaching of papal power, namely in terms of Purgatory and his perceived power of it through the sale of indulgences.
And with the nailing of the 95 Theses, Luther effectively called for a return to orthodoxy—at least in a limited sense. It is perceived that Luther’s appeal for Sola Scriptura was just that: an appeal to the exclusive use of Scripture and nothing else. But this doesn’t appear to be the case, at least at first. While eventually going on to become a champion for Sola Scriptura, Luther’s initial rallying cry was for the Roman church to get back to interpreting the Scriptures, not merely using the Scriptures as an exclusive means to the whole of Christianity. Because of the widespread perversions of Rome, Luther called on the magistrate to once again interpret, abide by, and solidify the testimony of the Scriptures.

Even looking back at his earlier writings, it is extremely difficult to disagree with many of his statements. For instance, Luther argued:

“Indulgences are positively harmful to the recipient because they impede salvation by diverting charity and inducing a false sense of security. Christians should be taught that he who gives to the poor is better than he who receives a pardon. He who spends money on indulgences instead of relieving want receives not the indulgence of the pope but the indignation of God.”

Surely, at least some form of reformation was needed.

The idea of a formal Reformation was still far from Luther’s thought though. He was seeking a restoration of truth within Rome and not outside of it. This restoration would not immediately ignite, and Rome would go on to excommunicate Luther. It can be argued that the excommunication exacerbated the situation because there was no canonical basis for such an extreme determination. Even further, it can certainly be argued that his excommunication was a sort of rallying cry for soon-to-be protestants to rally behind his cause. Nevertheless, it is evident in Luther’s famous words what he was advocating for initially.

Luther said:

“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures, or by evident reason (for I put my faith neither in popes nor councils alone, since it is established that they have erred again and again and contradicted one another), I am bound by the scriptural evidence adduced by me, and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot, I will not recant anything, for it is neither safe nor right to act against one’s conscience. God help me. Amen.”
  1. Scriptural authority. By his testimony, Luther’s admission asserts that he must be convinced by “the testimony of the Scriptures” or by “evident reason,” indicating that the Scriptures and/or reason must reinforce or stand as a foundation to the doctrines of the Church. (This didn’t appear to assume a “Scripture Alone” mindset, considering Luther continued to believe in infant baptism among other, at best implicit, doctrines).  
  2. Holy Tradition based on orthodoxy. He mentions that he doesn’t put his faith in “popes or councils alone,” and then goes on to subsequently mention that the reason for this is because they err or are in contradiction (likely speaking of his own experience). Alone is the key word here. It appears as if Luther still affirms some sort of Holy Tradition at this point, as he doesn’t discount the popes and councils in his statement. His hesitation to put his faith in popes and councils was reasonable considering the circumstances of his time.
  3. Commitment to truth. He is bound by “scriptural evidence” and is captive to the “Word of God.” He will not cannot recant. Luther was declaring his commitment to truth in light of a papacy that was distorting said truth.
Even in his 1518 discourse with Cardinal Cajetan in Augsburg, prior to his excommunication, when Cajetan argued that the Bishop of Rome was the final interpreter of Scripture, Luther responded in stating, “His Holiness abuses Scripture. I deny that he is above Scripture.” Notice here that the denial is in light of the abuse of Scripture. And notice even further that he still references the Pope formally. The protest that Luther puts up until this point is very reasonable.

Luther’s cause was initially noble. He sought to call Rome back to rightly interpreting the Holy Scriptures, and to restoring the integrity of the Roman church. With his excommunication and the likely despair of seeing those around him murdered and his displacement among the church that ensued, Martin Luther’s views began to radically change. Looking back at all of the events that transpired, Luther wrote:

“I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And then, while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip and my Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing. The Word did it all.”

And thus marked the evolution from that which he formerly believed to the basis of all of his subsequent beliefs. Scripture captivated him (rightfully so), but in a manner that was alien to the Church and alien to his initial rallying cry. The call for the Roman Church to interpret the Scriptures in orthodox fashion evolved into a call for Scripture Alone in unprecedented fashion. This is the pivotal point in Reformation history where reformation and restoration developed into abolition and re-creation.

Rome responded to Luther and the Reformers in many different ways—most times irrationally. Eventually (and extremely late) Rome would go on to honor the call to Reformation. While most Christians might not initially see it, Rome did indeed succumb to the call for reform. This reformation didn’t come in the form of schismatics or in the form of the creation of dozens of Protestant movements. No. It came in the form of Rome’s 19th general council: the Council of Trent. While the Counter-Reformation is hailed as the “Catholic Reformation/Revival,” I believe it to be more accurate that Trent itself was the formal Reformation of the Roman Church. Doctrines were expounded on and solidified—everything from the Biblical Canon, to the Eucharist, to Original Sin, and to Salvation, among many other things—and Rome experienced a massive influx of converts and a period [counter-Reformation] of restoration and glory throughout western Europe.

Luther indeed invoked a Reformation in Rome, but it came much too late. Had Rome responded more appropriately, I wonder what the state of the western church would be today. By the time of Trent, various sects had splintered from Rome into their own traditions and churches, leading to formal confessions and catechisms being formed and issued by localized traditions. And as time progressed, more splintering occurred—sometimes over disagreements on essential doctrines, and more recently, over disagreements over trivial opinions and customs. On one hand, the Reformers had gone away from the perversions they set out to protest, but on the other hand, they had also separated themselves from apostolicity by unprecedently establishing their own traditions by the masses.

Today, we can look back at the Reformation as a guide of caution for all churches, and especially for the Holy Orthodox Church. Abuse can corrupt those within the Church, but never the Church Itself, as She is a Divine Institution. Even 500 years later, we are still learning to be diligent to stay the course and persevere in orthodox doctrine and praxy, and the Reformation should stand as a reminder to all Orthodox Christians to maintain the Faith and Traditions handed down to us by Christ, His Apostles, the Church, Her Fathers, and all of those martyred over the ages to preserve the immutable Truth of God.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Robe of Glory

Antiochian Orthodox priest Fr. Philip LeMasters recently published an article titled How to Wear a Wedding Garment Everyday (Fr. Philip also blogs on Ancient Faith and is on the board of trustees for St. Vladimir's Theological Seminary). This article alludes to a very rich and ancient tradition which has its origins in Antioch, Syria, & Mesopotamia, especially within the Syriac-speaking regions. This post will be a sort of review of the article, going into more detail and building on some of the original tradition from which it comes.

Fr. Philip's article begins by talking about appropriate dress for appropriate occasions, places, etc., tying that in with Middle Eastern culture in the 1st Century, especially for wedding feasts, being that of "the Son of the King" drawing on the marriage feast from Matthew 22:1-14:

"And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a marriage feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the marriage feast; but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, Behold, I have made ready my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves are killed, and everything is ready; come to the marriage feast.’ But they made light of it and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the thoroughfares, and invite to the marriage feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good; so the wedding hall was filled with guests."

“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment; and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

The Orthodox Study Bible's commentary on this passage says:

"The wedding garment would have been provided by the king, and therefore the man had no excuse for not wearing one; thus he is speechless. His refusal to wear the garment that was provided is an illustration of those who refuse God's hospitality, or who want His Kingdom on their own terms. Specifically, the garment refers to the baptismal garment, and by extension, a life of faith, repentance, virtue, and charity. Without these, a person will ultimately be cast into outer darkness."

Building on the same concept quoted from the commentary, the article continues into explaining the same themes found in very early Syriac tradition, such as the anonymous Odes of Solomon & Hymn on the Pearl, and continuing into some examples from the poems and literature of St. Ephrem the Syrian and the general Syriac tradition altogether.

The foremost academic in the Syriac field today, Dr. Sebastian Brock, focuses very heavily on this topic in his book, The Luminous Eye: The Spiritual World Vision of Saint Ephrem the Syrian. In his writing, he describes how clothing imagery finds its origins in Semitic tradition--especially Jewish tradition--which is why it is unique to this part of the world and especially among the Aramaic-speaking communities.

Syriac Christianity inherited a Jewish, Rabbinical tradition regarding something called the “Robe of Glory.” The term is derived from Genesis 3:21, which in modern Bibles refers to garments of animal skin that God made for Adam and Eve after the Fall. However, in early Aramaic rabbinical traditions, it reads garments of light (or glory) and was interpreted to be prior to the Fall: “the Lord God had made for Adam and his wife garments of glory.”

Ephrem and other Syriac writers inherited this oral Jewish tradition from the earlier Aramaic-speaking Jewish communities from which they also received their Old Testament. As mentioned by Fr. Philip, in the Antiochian Orthodox Baptismal Rite, the priest declares, "The servant of God, N., is clothed with the garment of righteousness, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." and the choir sings "Vouchsafe unto me a robe of light, O Thou who clothest Thyself with light as with a garment: Christ our God, plenteous in mercy."

The Odes of Solomon reads:

"I took off darkness and clothed myself in Light." (Ode 21)

The Robe of Glory is a key theme throughout the whole Hymn on the Pearl and the Syriac Orthodox Baptismal Rite, as well as that of the Church of the East.

From the Syriac Orthodox Baptismal Rite:

"And may Thy Living and Holy Spirit come, O Lord, and dwell in this water, and kindle it with Thy mighty power, and may He sanctify it and make it like the water which flowed from the side of Thy Only-Begotten One on the Cross; that those who are baptized in it may be refined and made white, and be purified and put on the clothing of righteousness, and clothe themselves with the garment of light and the heavenly robe, so that, being pure and holy, and clothed with the armor of salvation, they may be raised up by it, and offer up praise to thy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, unto the ages of ages, Amen. Amen." (Anonymous Syriac Baptismal Ordo, Sebastian Brock, 329-330.)

The Syriac version of Psalm 8:6 also reads, “You created man a little less than the angels: in honor and glory did you clothe him.”

Therefore, when Adam sinned, he lost, or was stripped of this Robe of Glory, hence the sudden realization of his nakedness; this feeling is caused by sin. In order to redeem Adam by re-clothing him with the Robe of Glory and restore him to Paradise, God descends and puts on “Adam,” or “puts on the body” from the Blessed Virgin Mary (a parallel of the body Adam received from the virgin earth) and laid the Robe of Glory in the river Jordan when He was baptized by John the Baptist, making it available once again for mankind to put on at baptism, as also emphasized in the Syriac Orthodox Baptismal Rite, calling the water a womb from which we are born again.

St. Ephrem writes:

"The brightness which Moses put on (Exodus 34:29)
was wrapped on him from without,
whereas the river in which Christ was baptized
put on Light from within,
and so did Mary’s body, in which He resided,
gleam from within." (Hymn on the Church 36:6)

Regarding Christ, St. Jacob of Serug goes on to write that He “came to Baptism, went down and placed in the baptismal water the Robe of Glory, to be there for Adam, who had lost it.”

In the Scriptures, St. Paul refers to "putting on Christ" at baptism in Galatians 3:27 and Romans 13:14.  The understanding of these Scriptures is that by putting on Christ, we are putting on the Robe of Glory and re-entering Paradise, the Church, being able to eat from the Fruit of the Tree of Life, the Holy Eucharist, and, at the Resurrection, we will enter Paradise, clothed in our Robes of Glory, returning to the story in Matthew 22:1-14.

Fr. Philip remarks that, "In every Divine Liturgy, we enter mystically into that heavenly celebration, that eternal wedding banquet that is the salvation of the world."  The priest in the Antiochian Baptismal Rite declares, "He who hath put on thee, O Christ our God, boweth also his head with us, unto thee," in addition to quoting Galatians 3:27 several times during the rite.

Fr. Philip goes on to write, "The Second Adam has come to restore the entire creation" drawing on on St. Ephrem's view of God becoming man having reversed the Fall.

St. Ephrem writes:

"Christ came to find Adam who had gone astray,
to return him to Eden in the garment of light." (Hymn on Virginity 16:9)

"All these changes did the Merciful One make,
stripping off glory and putting on a body;
for He had devised a way to reclothe Adam
in that glory which he had stripped off.
He was wrapped in swaddling clothes,
corresponding to Adam’s leaves,
He put on clothes in place of Adam’s skins;
He was baptized for Adam’s sin,
He was embalmed for Adam’s death,
He rose and raised Adam up in His glory.
Blessed is He who descended,
put Adam on and ascended." (Hymn on the Nativity 23:13)

After the Fall, Adam’s glory was replaced by fig leaves (Genesis 3:7). Drawing on this and fig tree imagery from the Gospels (including Jesus seeing Nathanael under the fig tree, John 1:48), Jesus curses the fig tree (Matthew 21:18-22) and brings Nathanael and us all out from under the fig tree and restores our Robe of Glory:

"When Adam sinned and was stripped of the glory in which he had been clothed, he covered his nakedness with fig leaves. Our Savior came and underwent suffering in order to heal Adam’s wounds and provide a garment of glory for his nakedness. He dried up the fig tree, in order to show that there would no longer be any need of fig leaves to serve as Adam’s garment, since Adam had returned to his former glory, and so no longer had any need of leaves or garments of skin." (St. Ephrem, Commentary on the Diatessaron 16:10)

Again he writes:

"Instead of with leaves from trees
He clothed them with glory in the water." (Hymns on the Epiphany 12:4)

"Among the saints their nakedness is clothed with glory,
none is clothed with leaves or stands ashamed,
for they have found, through our Lord,
the robe that belongs to Adam and Eve." (Hymns on Paradise 6:9)

Despite those of us interested in these kinds of parallelisms in early Christian tradition, what is more important is the application of this to our lives. Fr. Philip gives us key takeaways saying, "The question for each of us, then, is whether we are living in a way that is appropriate to our exalted identity as participants in this great banquet.  Do we act, think, speak, and believe in ways that fit with the beautiful garments Christ has given us?  Of course, He Himself is our garment for we have put Him on in baptism...We must not go around half naked spiritually or pretend that holiness concerns only one day of the week."

We must not live as if we have not been baptized and have not put on the Robe of Glory. In the washing of the feet, Our Lord said, “He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but he is clean all over; and you are clean, but not all of you.” (John 13:10). Our Lord was referring to repentance, but still, there are those who even though they have put on Christ at baptism, live as if they haven't, and therefore will not inherit Paradise, as their fall will be worse than the first. The one who was cast out of the wedding feast in the Gospel had a wedding garment given to him before the wedding, yet didn't wear it to the wedding. 

Let us all keep the glory, light, grace, righteousness, Christ Himself, we have put on so that we can be with Him at the wedding and enter into His wedding chamber.

Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Dictatus Papae: The Power of Doublespeak

In the arena of Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, many articles, epistles, and decrees have been largely circulated between both the Orthodox and Catholic faithful, especially over the last century. When evaluating claims pertaining to each side of the debate, one thing has become quite clear: relations between the two traditions have certainly improved in recent history.

In fact, a sort of ecumenism has begun to advance among both apostolic communities. For some, this is a good thing. For others, not so. Unlike Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy doesn’t maintain a neatly systematized set of dogmatics, and so ecumenism, with Orthodoxy, is largely based on how Roman Catholicism presents itself to the Orthodox, since the RCC can always defer back to a set of canonized doctrine over the last two millennia. In many cases, the doctrinal definitions provided by Rome maintain mutability and are often presented in different ways by different individuals throughout different eras.

I am often challenged by my Catholic friends to find where in history I can canonically defend my theology or the theology of the Orthodox Church. The challenge is rarely reciprocated, however, as Rome has a sort of monopoly over canonically defined theological terms and doctrines, and this is generally understood. The Roman Catholic Church and its canons is the GotQuestions.org of the Apostolic world. But, as many of us know, that is not necessarily a good thing.

In dialogues between the Orthodox and Rome, Rome has the advantage of doublespeak. If an agenda is clear (communion), the mode in which it is achieved must be mutual. If a roadblock to accord exists (papism), a strategic tool is relativity. And so far, this strategic tool has worked, as relationships are advancing. The Orthodox claim one thing about the papacy, for instance, and Rome counters with a charge of Orthodox “misunderstanding.” The Orthodox ask for clarification and Roman scholars provide it, and vice versa. It is all too convenient, and its fruit ultimately yields a false unification.

With regard to the everlasting debate of Papal Infallibility and Supremacy, this very thing has occurred—repeatedly. We see it in the Joint Commission for Dialogue, in the Chieti agreement, and in the NA Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation.

The doublespeak is manipulatively convincing—even to the point that the Orthodox forget just what Rome meant in its bid for primacy superiority and infallibility. While a normative reading of papal canon law simply reveals what Rome meant in its claims in the post-Schism era, the Roman position is made abundantly clear in the form of the Dictatus Papae.

The Dictatus Papae is a papal document outlining the authority and power of the Bishop of Rome. It is said to have been dictated by Pope Gregory VII in some capacity (whether written, oral, or secretarial)—this being the most common view. Some scholars also believe the document to have been an iteration or reiteration of Cardinal Deusdedit’s canon law, which appears to be virtually identical in its delegation of papal powers. Whatever the case may be, two things are painfully evident and convenient: (1) the Dictatus Papae was written almost immediately following Rome's excommunication of Constantinople and the beginning of the Great Schism, and (2) it was more extreme in nature than anything before it and anything after it (arguably). 


It reads as follows:


1. The Roman Church was founded solely by God.

2. Only the Pope can with right be called "Universal".

3. He alone can depose or reinstate bishops.

4. All bishops are below his Legate in council, even if a lower grade, and he can pass sentence of deposition against them.

5. The Pope may depose the absent.

6. Among other things, we ought not to remain in the same house with those excommunicated by him.

7. For him alone is it lawful, according to the needs of the time, to make new laws, to assemble together new congregations, to make an abbey of a canonry, and, on the other hand, to divide a rich bishopric and unite the poor ones.

8. He alone may use the Imperial Insignia.

9. All princes shall kiss the feet of the Pope alone.

10. His name alone shall be spoken in the churches.

11. This is the only name in the world.

12. It may be permitted to him to depose emperors.

13. It may be permitted to him to transfer bishops, if need be.

14. He has the power to ordain the clerk of any parish he wishes.

15. He who is ordained by the Pope may preside over another church, but may not hold a subordinate position. Such a person may not receive a higher clerical grade from any other bishop.

16. No synod shall be called a 'General Synod' without his order.

17. No chapter and no book shall be considered canonical without his authority.

18. A sentence passed by him may be retracted by no one. He alone may retract it.

19. He himself may be judged by no one.

20. No one shall dare to condemn any person who appeals to the Apostolic Chair.

21. The more important cases of every church should be referred to the Apostolic See.

22. The Roman Church has never erred. Nor will it err, to all eternity--Scripture being witness.

23. The Roman Pontiff, if he has been canonically ordained, is undoubtedly made a saint by the merits of St. Peter, St. Ennodius Bishop of Pavia bearing witness, and many holy fathers agreeing with him. As it is contained in the decrees of Pope St. Symmachus.

24. By his command and consent, it may be lawful for subordinates to bring accusations.

25. He may depose and reinstate bishops without assembling a Synod.

26. He who is not at peace with the Roman Church shall not be considered 'catholic'.

27. He may absolve subjects from their fealty to wicked men.


If the cross-tradition dialogues via Rome are now backtracking on these papal powers, as they appear to be (see Chieti, for example), then how can the Dictatus Papae and Deusdedit’s subsequent canon law not be viewed as anything less than an extraordinary development in the papacy? And if the papacy was different in form and power, in any extraordinary capacity (aside from administrative), from the apostolic era to the 11th century, and to the now 21st century, how can the institution claim an apostolic origin of extraordinary power in light of the fact of any sort of development or change? Consistency is critical in order to maintain the veracity of the papacy as Rome defines it, but if that consistency doesn’t exist, what basis does the papacy have to stand on in its current form?

I would submit that if Rome were to maintain the Dictatus Papae, or its later definition of Papal Infallibility and Supremacy, or whichever definition for that matter, it would be more credible in terms of the presentation of papal power. However, this is clearly not the case.