20 September 2007

Personal Reflection

When I look East or to Rome, I am struck by certain things that I simply cannot see being grounded in the teaching of the Sacred Scriptures. I hope that this is not caricaturing, but what proponents of either side *sound* to me to be saying is:

1. The Church cannot err, but you can.
2. The Church teaches X.
3. Therefore X is the truth, regardless of whether YOU can see how it is taught by Scripture.

And thus the fallibility of the interpreter is set against the infallibility of the Holy Church. Both Rome and the East seem to me to speak this way.

Over against this, Krauth writes a stunning section in *The Conservative Reformation* that I think is worthy of consideration:

"In freely and heartily accepting the faith of our Church, as our own faith, and her Scriptural Confession of that faith, as our own Confession, we do not surrender for ourselves, any more than we take from others, the sacred and inalienable right of private judgment. It is not by giving up the right of private judgment, but by the prayerful exercise of it, not by relinquishing a just independent investigation, buy by thoroughly employing it, that we have reached that faith which we glory in confessing." (p. 169)

Which means that it simply will not do to "punt" to whatever is proclaimed in the name of the Church when God has given to each and every Christian the Sacred Scriptures to be "a lamp to our feet and a light to our path." To each of His children God commands: "Beware false prophets." To each member of the Church the Apostle gives the exhortation: "Test all things; hold fast what is good."

This cannot be done without each Christian asking: "Where in Scripture does this teaching arise?" To ask for the Scriptural grounding of a doctrine should never be taken as an affront, but should be the very delight of the Church, for it shows her children taken the quest for truth seriously and know that "many deceivers have gone out" and in the Word they have a foundation which will not be overthrown.

So my encouragement to any and every Christian is always to ask for where the Bible teaches X? This is no Reformation novelty, but the very advice of the greatest fathers of the Church themselves!

“Regarding the things I say, I should supply even the proofs, so I will not seem to rely on my own opinions, but rather, prove them with Scripture, so that the matter will remain certain and steadfast.” St. John Chrysostom (Homily 8 On Repentance and the Church, p. 118, vol. 96 TFOTC)

"We are not entitled to such license, I mean that of affirming what we please; we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet; we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve that alone which may be made to harmonize with the intention of those writings." St. Gregory of Nyssa (On the Soul and the Resurrection NPNF II, V:439)

And as I've pointed to before, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, offering his words to the catechumens that they should not believe even him, if he fails to prove his point from the Sacred Scriptures:

"For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell you these things, give not absolute credence, unless you receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures." St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lectures, IV:17, in NPNF, Volume VII, p. 23.)

The Fathers thus also invite the private judgment of weighing their witness with the infallible words of the Sacred Scriptures.


123 said...

I think you are getting right at the heart of the matter. All other issues fall in line once the question of source and authority are answered. Invoking the saints or not falls from this, monarchical episcopate and the threefold clergy or not fall from this, assurance I am saved or not falls from this. I hope I got at some of this issue in my paper and presentation for the Colloquium on Orthodoxy for Lutherans, but even then honest lovers of the Truth can disagree - and this makes none of us less loveable for disagreeing. [just right or wrong :) ]

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

In my history class last night, a member remarked that she has been asked who Luther would have thought he was that he was worthy enough to make such a hububaloo in the Church. Most people tend to think of speakers in terms of unquestioned authority - if you have the right letters or position, what you say must be right.

The Lutheran drive to the Scriptures runs in the face of the typical approach to figuring out what is a valid and right statement. We require, ironically, personal work. Go search the Scriptures - test the prophets. You don't get to sit idly. And that often isn't that appealing.

123 said...

How does Krauth's reference to "the sacred and inalienable right of private judgment" relate to 2 Peter 1:20, "no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation" and the Church's understanding that there is not just an authoritative list of acceptable data points (Scripture, Old then New Testaments, chronologically as to their accepted authority) but what Irenaeus referred to as the 'canon of truth', i.e., the proper assumptions and hermeneutics that are brought to Scripture?

Anonymous said...

And yet inn one of St. Cyril's catechetical lectures on the Sacred Liturgy:

7. Then having sanctified ourselves by these spiritual Hymns, we beseech the merciful God to send forth His Holy Spirit upon the gifts lying before Him; that He may make the Bread the Body of Christ, and the Wine the Blood of Christ; for whatsoever the Holy Ghost has touched, is surely sanctified and changed.

8. Then, after the spiritual sacrifice, the bloodless service, is completed, over that sacrifice of propitiation we entreat God for the common peace of the Churches, for the welfare of the world; for kings; for soldiers and allies; for the sick; for the afflicted; and, in a word, for all who stand in need of succour we all pray and offer this sacrifice.

9. Then we commemorate also those who have fallen asleep before us, first Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs, that at their prayers and intercessions God would receive our petition. Then on behalf also of the Holy Fathers and Bishops who have fallen asleep before us, and in a word of all who in past years have fallen asleep among us, believing that it will be a very great benefit to the souls, for whom the supplication is put up, while that holy and most awful sacrifice is set forth.

St. Augustine is said to have stated that he would not believe the Gospels without the authority of the Catholic Church.

The Letters of Ignatius, Clement and Polycarp stress the unity of the church around the bishop.

The Fathers do quote heavily from Scripture but not outside the context of the Church, which
1 Timothy 3:5 calls the pillar and foundation of truth.

Past Elder said...

It's not the Church, it's mixing up the catholic church with the Catholic Church. We, or at least I, do not deny the catholic church, we deny that it either is or fully subsists in the Roman Catholic Church -- something which I used to affirm, until realising this can be held only with something akin to a spiritual hit of LSD, especially since Vatican II.

Nobody in the blogoshere seems to like thelogy by anecdote, but here's another one: I remember years ago buying my first collection of early Patristic writings, which was edited by a Protestant, and wondering how can anybody read this stuff and not be Catholic.

The Roman and for that matter the Eastern faith is ultimately a faith in itself, not Jesus, which is not seen when you hold it because itself and Jesus Christ are one and the same. In the West, this is the difference between catholic and Catholic.

William Weedon said...

In the ESV, Christopher, that passage is rendered:

"knowing this first of all, that no prophesy of Scripture comes from someone's private interpretation. For no prophesy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit."

Looking at the Greek that seems to be a very fair translation, so that the verse is affirming the origin of scripture not in the will of the prophet, but in the will of God. That is why it is called also "something more sure" than even the Transfiguration! And why we are exhorted "to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts." The reliability of Scripture as a bright light is what the passage is getting at - it doesn't really address the matter of "interpretation" per se.

But heeding the old Reformation slogan about "scripture interpreting itself" we see exactly what Behr gets at on the matter of reading Scripture according to its own canon: it's all about the Christ, who He is and what He has done and does and will do, about His Spirit sent to us, and so on. It's a Christological read because it is a book inspired by the Holy Spirit "who will bear witness about me [Our Lord]."

If Scripture supplies its own hermeneutics in this regard we note:

It's about Christ ("these are they who testify of me")
It's about the forgiveness of sins ("to Him all the prophets bear witness that whoever believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name")
It's about the life of the Church in Christ ("And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed THESE days")
It's about Christ's passion and resurrection for the gifts of repentance and forgiveness ("That everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms - hence the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures - must be fulfilled... Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jersualem")


Do you not see that St. Cyril in the passage I quoted says that if he can't give you the proof of what he is saying from the Scriptures, neither you nor I nor anyone has the obligation to believe him? The question to ask him then on the epiclesis is where is this taught in the Scriptures?

William Weedon said...

One more thing to be clear on. I think sometimes the impression is given that Lutherans think that any intelligent person can open the Sacred Scriptures, read them, and arrive at the Book of Concord. That's simply not true. We believe that God is found by those who seek Him in humility, who come to His Word asking for Him to lead them to the truth. It's not that we ignore that the reader or hearer of Sacred Scripture is corrupted with original sin, but that we believe that the Spirit's Words, written for us in the Sacred Scripture, yield His truth to any who will approach them in humility. "But this is the one to whom I will look; he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my Word." Is 66. The proud will never be able to understand the Scriptures.

Anonymous said...

The question to ask him then on the epiclesis is where is this taught in the Scriptures?

Pastor Weedon, the full context of those passages are not limited to the epiclesis but deal with the teaching that the Eucharist is both sacrament and sacrifice. The Holy Gifts are offered to the Father for the whole Church, past and present.

My point is that this teaching, affirmed in both East and West comes through the Apostolic Tradition, which Cyril also upholds.

After the inerrancy wars of the past century many Protestant bodies became either liberal or fundamentalist. Even Lutherans are divided today over the meaning of Scripture.

William Weedon said...

About the Eucharist as both sacrament and sacrifice, well, the Lutheran dogmaticians readily granted that:


In the celebration of the Eucharist ‘we proclaim the Lord’s death’ (1 Cor. 11:26) and pray that God would be merciful to us on account of that holy and immaculate sacrifice completed on the cross and on account of that holy Victim which is certainly present in the Eucharist…. That he would in kindness receive and grant a place to the rational and spiritual oblation of our prayer. (Confessio Catholica, vol II, par II, arti xiv, cap. I, ekthesis 6, 1200-1201)
It is clear that the sacrifice takes place in heaven, not on earth, inasmuch as the death and passion of God’s beloved Son is offered to God the Father by way of commemoration… In the Christian sacrifice there is no victim except the real and substantial body of Christ, and in the same way there is no true priest except Christ Himself. Hence, this sacrifice once offered on the cross takes place continually in an unseen fashion in heaven by way of commemoration, when Christ offers to His Father on our behalf His sufferings of the past, especially when we are applying ourselves to the sacred mysteries, and this is the ‘unbloody sacrifice’ which is carried out in heaven. (1204)


If we view the matter from the material standpoint, the sacrifice in the Eucharist is numerically the same as the sacrifice that took place on the cross; put otherwise, one can say that the things itself and the substance is the same in each case, the victim or oblation is the same. If we view the matter formally, from the standpoint of the act of sacrifice, then even though the victim is numerically the same, the action is not; that is, the immolation in the Eucharist is different from the immolation carried out on the cross. For on the cross an offering was made by means of the passion and death of an immolated living thing, without which there can be no sacrifice in the narrow sense, but in the Eucharist the oblation takes place through the prayers and through the commemoration of the death or sacrifice offered on the cross. (Examen theologicum acroamaticum, II, 620)

Dr. Stephenson deals with this also on his little monograph on the Eucharist.

But of course Lutherans (and Orthodox and Roman Catholics) are divided on Scripture today. Whenever we approach the Sacred Word to be its master and use it toward whatever ends we have in view, we completely screw it up. But when in prayer and humility we come to the Scripture and inquire of it, we find it still be to be the lamp that lights the path and shows the way - the way to our Savior, to trust in His forgiveness, to joy in living under His blood and in His Spirit.


Chris Jones said...

Father Weedon,

Nope -- not buying it. And I don't think you really do either.

Krauth writes:

It is not by giving up the right of private judgment, but by the prayerful exercise of it, ... that we have reached that faith which we glory in confessing.

Don't you see what is terribly wrong with this? The faith is not something that "we have reached" -- not something that we have achieved by dint of our careful study and personal judgment -- but something that is given to us, through the Church's ministry of Word and Sacrament.

You can cry Sola Scriptura all day long, but the reality is that we do not receive the Gospel by reading the Bible; we receive the Gospel when those who already have it pass it on to us. And when that Gospel is passed on to us, the Church's canon of truth, in the form of our Creeds, our catechisms, and the shape and content of our liturgy, is passed on to us at the same time.

Only then, having received the canon of truth, can we read the Bible with understanding, because the canon of truth is the only proper interpretive framework.

That is not to say that we are not to listen critically to individual teachers, nor to measure them by the rule of Scripture. Nor, certainly, does it mean that we are not to prayerfully study the Holy Writ as part of our ascesis for spiritual growth. But we are to do so in the Church, as members of the Church, according to her rule of faith -- not as sitting in judgment over the Church.

123 said...

I would add that humility alone does not seem to be the only requirement. It isn't as if someone disagreeing with me on the interpretation of Scripture (or any other point) is de facto 'arrogant', as The Ochlophobist on his blog post regarding evolutionism put it so eloquently, "man cannot see God because man has sinned" - not because he is not humble before clear data.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

All I know is that Lutheranism has to be the bestest confession in the big, whole, wide world because we have the best hymns, hands down, no questions asked. That settles it in my book.

123 said...

So, we can agree on liturgical theology and lex orandi est lex credendi. That is a welcome surprise. Now, how does one define 'best' and 'bestest' in this regard that doesn't devolve into cultural relativism and subjectivism? I'm sure Methodists would disagree, for example, as would this Orthodox after praying Vigil for many years and chanting the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete and the Paschal Service of the Orthodox Church.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure that most of you have already, but if you haven't, Christopher Orr's paper/lecture is really worth a read/listen. It really helped to clarify my understanding of the seemingly contradictory statements of the Fathers regarding the relationship between scripture and tradition.

Both can be found at his blog.




William Weedon said...


You are a tease. Behave.

Chris (Jones),

I think the picture is different in Krauth (and in our situation) than what you depict. We're not talking tabula rasa Sola Scriptura (nice ring, what?), but when what one has been "traditioned" is challenged by another "traditioning" then the appeal to which "tradition" is handing on the truth is umpired by the Sacred Scriptures - which DO contain their own Spirit inspired canon or principle of interpretation that I listed above.

So, say a Lutheran who has been handed on the confession of the Gospel as contained in the BOC (hard to imagine, I know, but try) suddenly encounters another confessing tradition that challenges his tradition as being inadequate at best or completely ineffective at worst for handing on the faith of the Apostles. How does such a one respond?

One exercises private judgment. Whether one wants to admit that or not, even single convert from the Church of the Augsburg Confession to Rome or to the East did so by an act of private judgment! The question is what is the standard that such judgment is rendered? The RC and Eastern Standard is the belief that the Church as pillar and ground of the truth cannot err; their church is that church; and therefore you need to suspend private judgment (after using it to agree with them) and join their camp.

The Lutheran response IS different. It says to a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox who is inquiring into the Lutheran faith (I've had my fair share of both, believe it or not!), here is what the Scriptures say, here is what our Church confesses in her symbols, and we ask you to prayerfully consider whether or not what we confess in our Symbols IS what the Sacred Scriptures teach. USE your private judgment and evaluate what we present. And that is exactly what St. Cyril said (and St. John Chrysostom and others too). The Church whose doctrine is founded squarely in the Sacred Scriptures does not fear or seek to limit such inquiry because she knows that the Sacred Scriptures are the very well from which she drinks the waters of life.

A blessed St. Matthew's day (a tad early) to you all - we just celebrated the Eucharist for the feast in anticipation.

Anonymous said...

Pr. McCain,

You must be joking. Lutheran hymnwriters and composers such as Gerhard, Hermaan, Schutz, Bach, Praetorius, Cruger, etc., as good as they are, can't even begin to hold a candle to the Eastern Hymnwriters such as St. John of Damascus, St. Romanos the Melodist, St. Cosmas, St. Byzas, St. Basil etc. Of course, I'm not biased, neither are you.

William Weedon said...

Now Christopher, I think you are the one who must be joking! Apparently the Western Orthodox don't agree with you since they sing Lutheran Nicolai's *Wake, O Wake!* (St. Ambrose Hymnal #42) and his *How Brightly Shines the Morning Star!* (St. Ambrose Hymnal #295) and Lutheran Neumark's *If Thou But Trust in God to Guide Thee* (St. Ambrose Hymnal #298) and Rinkart's *Now Thank We All Our God* (St. Ambrose Hymnal #312) and Johann Roh's *Once He Came in Blessing* (St. Ambrose Hymnal #325).

I could go on, but you get the point. MUCH of the hymnody that is found in the St. Ambrose Hymnal is the common possession of various Western Churches (including Rome) and is every bit the equal of the Eastern hymns (though some of them are in our books too - and also in the St. Ambrose Hymnal). Why the need to pit them against each other?

William Weedon said...

Christopher (Orr):

I think you misunderstood. The Word of God is not "data." The Word of God is God speaking to us. The humble person attends to what He says, repents and believes in His gracious forgiveness, the promised mercy for the sake of Christ. The humble person lets the Scriptures be what they were intended to be: God's glorious witness to the life that is IN His Son and offered us as OUR life as a free gift. It's not DATA, but GOD HIMSELF who is the content of the Sacred Scriptures.

William Weedon said...

And there are entirely too many of you named Christopher. Just for the record!

Randy Asburry said...

1. The Church cannot err, but you can.
2. The Church teaches X.
3. Therefore X is the truth, regardless of whether YOU can see how it is taught by Scripture.

Pardon me for joining this spirited discussion a bit late, and please allow this humble contribution:

I can certainly see and understand the appeal of a simple syllogism, but is this really what Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox truly teach? I must say that I see the claim, but not the evidence.

Also, we most certainly embrace a person's own "examining of the Scriptures daily to see if these things [are] so" (Acts 17:11), but what prevents private judgment from morphing into the phenomenon of individual Christians acting as their own little "popes," lording it over the Church, "which is the mother that conceives and bears every Christian through God's Word" (Large Catechism, II:42)?

It seems to me that we need to keep a healthy tension and symbiotic relationship between the person's judgment and the church's teaching. We need "both/and," not "either/or." As James Voelz can say: "We may affirm, therefore, the church's ancient viewpoint, confirmed, as it were, by post-modern literary theory, that valid interpretation of the sacred Scriptures can be done only by a believing Christian within a Christian community in accordance with the creedal understanding of those Scriptures by the historic Christian church" (*What Does This Mean?* p. 228-229).

Let us not tear asunder what God has joined together.

William Weedon said...


I do not dispute the need for both/and. What I heard (and I may have been wrong?) from the Orthodox and Roman Catholics I have come to know is the denial of the right of private judgment, even as it was being exercised. What prevents the private judgment from morphing into the twisting of private interpretation and such is the clarity of the Word which God speaks, when we listen to it in the humility of letting God address us, slay us, ressurect us and clothe us in the life of His Son. Which means NOT using the Scripture as a "gotcha here!" but listening to them as the living voice of God. [Also I note that Christopher Orr seemed not to disagree with the initial syllogism - and I believe I've heard the exact same from our friend, Fr. Herpel.]

Mark said...

What sorts of things qualify as "X"? Perpetual Virginity of Mary? Incense in worship?

To the first, Luther attested to those ... if they are no longer in your confession ... how did that come about?

On incense, can you demonstrate any examples of liturgical worship in Bible that didn't involve incense? Why does yours?

If it's not one of those ... can you give me some examples of "X's" that you have in mind for this post?

Two more things on following old traditions. First, John Cassian wrote that discernment, if I read it right, is not an individual exercise. But one should instead do this in community, and with direction of a spiritual father. Secondly, in patristic times there was a notion that the glass we view through growing more not less dim ... which gives a reason to hew to tradition.

For the record, I grew up Lutheran, fell away in college, began attending a (ECUSA) parish for a place to raise our kids, found Christ, and now landed at Orthodoxy.

William Weedon said...

Dear Mark,

The Lutheran Confessions bear witness to the perpetual virginity of Mary. One thinks of FC SD VIII:24 as chief on that point. This teaching is grounded in the Sacred Scriptures in Ezekiel 42.

About the question of incense, it is difficult to see such a thing as of the essence of worship - we know historically that the church in her earliest centuries avoided this because of its association with the pagan emperor cultus, no? It did indeed come back into the church, not so much from the links with OT practice, but with what incense had come to mean in Byzantine civil practice.

William Weedon said...

Oops. Ez. 44:2, not Ez. 42. Sorry!

William Weedon said...

The particular kind of X I was thinking of was the doctrine of the invocation of the saints, particularly as witnessed by the liturgy of the Eastern Church, and the whole cycle of Mary's Dormition as witnessed by the Eastern liturgy.

Chris Jones said...

Fr Weedon

the doctrine of the invocation of the saints

It is not a doctrine, it is a practice, founded on a doctrine: the communion of saints. That doctrine states that we who are in Christ (whether in this world or that which is to come) are members one of another, who bear one another's burdens.

The invocation of saints is a pious practice, well-attested in the Tradition, which aptly expresses and applies that doctrine.

What, specifically, is the "doctrine" to which you object?

Mark said...

On the Orthodox (somewhat neophyte) view of the Dormition is that there are no relics nor mention of relics of Mary in any early writings ... even in those times where relics were kept. And there are, at least two, accounts of prophets who were taken up so it's not beyond the scope of what is believed to happen to men. And there is the sense that if it were to happen to anyone, it would happen to her, i.e., the Magnificat.

Recently I was reading the beginning of J. Pelikan's book on Mary. At the beginning he has some interesting remarks on tradition and how it feeds back into hermeneutic.

If you have time (and energy) I'd very much like to read any remarks you might have on the 5-8 pages or of the introductary remarks by Lossky in The Meaning of Icons by Lossky and Ousspensky. Lossky has some very unusual remarks on the relationship between scripture and tradition. If you can't get it through a library or otherwise, email me, I'll copy and mail those pages to you.

The way the invocations of the Saints was explained to me, one asks for the prayers of the departed just as one might ask for prayers of those who are in our community (but still alive).

Some of Orthodox practice I see as "crutches for crippled Christians", that is things which aren't wrong, aren't necessarily called for explicitly in Scripture, but are really helpful in worship and your spiritual journey. Like incense, which connects with liturgy the sense of smell, lighting candles, crossing oneself, or music in service, and so on.

Chris Jones said...

Lossky's introduction to The Meaning of Icons is reprinted in the essay collection In the Image and Likeness of God, under the title "Tradition and Traditions".

Sch├╝tz said...

Late have I come to this discussion...

And I don't intend to say very much other than that you got rather more than you bargained for in this one, Pastor W. As the (mainly orthodox, but a couple of Catholic) respondents have said, there are problems with how you pose the problem and with how you seek to answer it.

Suffice it to say, at this point, that:

1) Catholics believe that all their doctrines and practices are "scriptural". You might not credit our interpretations.

2) When the Fathers were saying that they only have the authority to teach what is in scripture, I don't think they were pointing to private judgement. They were, remember, bishops, and their people were still required to give "religious assent" to their teachings on the basis of Scripture.

3) There are many different hermeneutics of scripture that will yield many different results. The Catholic Church for instance believes that (using a spiritual interpretation) Rev. 12 "proves" the Assumption of Mary. The Fathers certainly were adept in finding interpretations in scripture that we with our modern exegetical methods would find hard to credit. Does this mean they were wrong? Your use of Ezekiel 44:2 to "prove" the perpetual virginity of Mary is a case in point. It is only "proof" if you already accept the doctrine!

4) Finally, as all the commentators have pointed out, the Scriptures do not "teach" anything. The Scriptures are a Book, and a book cannot teach. Only a Teacher can teach. It needs a living Teacher (Christ, the Church, the Bishop/pastor) to do the teaching. Eg. the story of the Ethiopian Eunich.

In otherwords, we do not discount what the Fathers said about "proving" doctrine from Scripture, but where you set your goal posts for the burden of proof will count for much in this game.

William Weedon said...


You refer to the invocation not as a doctrine but as a practice based upon a doctrine. That the saints live in Christ and intercede for the holy Church and that in the Eucharist they draw near to us and we to them as one body of Christ, all of that would bring forth a hearty "Amen!" but the conclusion that is then made: therefore they can and ought to be invoked, called upon - note - not merely to pray FOR me, but to ACT for me or upon me, that's the part that strikes me as placing them in a position that the Holy Trinity alone belongs. "Call upon ME in the day of trouble, and I will answer you and you shall glorify ME."


I'm familiar with the work. Nor do I dispute that one may believe that the Blessed Mother was taken to heaven as a firstfruits of the general resurrection - the absence of her relics has long been noted. But Scripture tells us nothing about the Blessed Mother's birth or her death - both of which in the Orthodox liturgy especially are very detailed and give all kinds of things that appear to one who is an outside observer to be legendary embroidery that sought to express theological truth. The most holy Virgin dies in Jeruslem? What about the tradition of the death at Ephesus? The apostles all gather at her side, except for Thomas who is late? It appears that there is much that seeks to poetically conform her "pascha" to our Lord's own. Is there Scripture that hints at, much less teaches, any of this? And if not, how can it be prayed as truth?

William Weedon said...


You said exactly what I thought you'd say! :)

Briefly to your points:
1. On your point number one, both Orthodox and Lutherans would invite Rome to reconsider her certainty of the Scriptural grounding of numerous points.
2. You are bringing your assumption to the data in that, and I don't think the data will bear the assumption. St. Cyril simply invites CATECHUMENS - those who had not even come to the laver of regeneration - to test his words and explicitly gives them permission not to believe something he says if he can't supply the proof from the Scriptures. His read of the Scriptures is a typological read - same as what we should be employing ourselves, since it is the very method witnessed to in the NT's use of the OT. But when he tells them: "Don't believe me unless you receive the proofs from the divine Scriptures" he is most certainly telling them to USE their judgment and handing over to them the infallible rule by which judgment can be rendered.
3. The hermeutic that the NT supplies for interpreting the Old is the key and it is a typological one, as pointed out before. Said by the Lutheran Franzmann: "We must never forget that God is a poet."
4. The Word of God is not inert. It is active and living, a hammer, a sword, it kills and calls to life. No the pages of the book do not do so, but the CONTENT of those pages do so, for the CONTENT is the living voice of the living God - and remains so, whether read silently, aloud, or proclaimed in exposition.


Mark said...

I was told that not all in the liturgy is doctrine/dogma, some is ... well I'm having difficulty finding the word ... but traditional midrash might fit or pietistic traditions that are remembered.

I don't know which of the Marian beliefs you mention fall into the category of the former or the latter. I suspect that many, but not all, fall into the latter ... but the real question is how important is that to be answered exactly? and why?

William Weedon said...


I think it is important on the grounds that that Church which claims to be the pillar and ground of the truth should not be putting forth in her liturgy (her prayed confession) what is not truth. Now, I believe on this question that some Orthodox will point out that the stories are meant to get at a deeper truth than here fact. Other Orthodox (I think Seraphim Rose falls into this category) decry such a demythologizing attempt as heretical. If Mary didn't die in Jerusalem and have the twelve apostles gather around her (did James get his head back for this?), then it seems misleading at best to claim lex orandi lex crendendi - for the hymns for the dormition clearly teach this.

123 said...

1. The Church cannot err, but you can.
2. The Church teaches X.
3. Therefore X is the truth, regardless of whether YOU can see how it is taught by Scripture.

I think you might be hanging a little too much on the syllogism as to our differences. This is not a teaching particular to non-Lutherans, to Orthodox or Roman Catholics. You would also agree that the church teaches various things that are true whether or not others believe or understand them to be true. You, with your definition of church, believe this regarding justification by faith alone, sola Scriptura and creationism; others, with a differing definition of church, believe the same regarding papal infallibility, non-recognition of Chalcedon, the divine energeia of God, conciliarity, female priests and bishops, and other doctrines and practices. We all point back to our own definition of 'church'. Deciding between these various views of 'church' is, properly, the place of private interpretation - or, more to the point, to choice (free, aided or irresistable). That is why the real issue comes down to authority and source, not whether incense is required, regarding the historicity of the Dormition and in what way, whether invocation of the saints is allowed, required or natural, etc. These all fall naturally from one's understanding of church, source and authority. Once that has been defined and accepted, then whether any of us understands a doctrine or not, we hold it based on an other authority.

I don't want to try and rehash what I tried to get at in my presentation at the Colloquium or in what Behr and others have stated far better regarding the Orthodox position on such matters. We all choose our tradition and our authority, as I footnoted from Neuhaus, whether Orthodox, RC or LCMS.

Mark said...

When you write:

... that that Church which claims to be the pillar and ground of the truth should not be putting forth in her liturgy (her prayed confession) what is not truth.

I don't think you're being fair. Hymns are part of your liturgy. Are you going to claim they are all absent non-doctrinal pietistic elements, or if a much loved hymn contained such it would regardless be removed from usage.

William Weedon said...


Actually the Lutheran Church strives to measure her hymnody against the same standard as her teaching and preaching. If a hymn is used in our public liturgy we certainly strive to ensure that such a hymn reflects nothing but the truth revealed in the Sacred Scriptures. But maybe I'm not clear on what you mean by "non-doctrinal pietistic elements" - anything specific you had in mind?

Also, my dear friend, Father Andrew Moore told me, and I have no reason to doubt him whatsoever, that to know what the Orthodox teach on any subject, just refer to the liturgy itself, for the liturgy is to the Orthodox even as the Confessions are to the Lutherans.

William Weedon said...


The syllogism may be wrong - and that's why I welcomed any comments to correct it. It is the way that I *know* though that I have heard the matter argued by some who have converted to Rome or the East. I think specifically of a discussion a while ago over lunch where a priest of your Church confessed that he didn't quite know what to make of the invocation of the saints when he converted, but he accepted that it must be okay because the Church herself, which cannot err, teaches it.

To the Lutheran, the question remains "Wo steht das geschrieben?" What lacks a "geschrieben" cannot be a doctrine of the Holy Church in our view, as you know. And I don't really think it does to argue: "Well, it IS based on the Scriptures, you're just not reading it correctly." If there is Scripture that teaches the details of the Most Blessed Mother's death and that the very air was sanctified by her ascent, I'd dearly love to hear it!

123 said...

Well, the Theotokos' death and the events surrounding it aren't 'dogma' as much as history. It is similar to my Grandmother's stories growing up during the Depression and my Nana's stories of surviving the Blitz.

The teaching behind the import of that event, and what it tells us about ourselves, salvation and our telos is in the books. Some also see these events as being typologically portrayed in the Bible. So, too, writings that contain the stories of these events have been preserved, they simply weren't 'canonized' - which is a very different thing than saying that those things didn't happen, especially given the universally shared history as found in the Church's hymns, festal calendar, iconography, etc.

Of course, the necessity of 'writings' (I assume that is what geschrieben' means) is just so academic. It's almost as if a university professor decided on the definition of what sources are trustworthy. While Athanasius, Basil and Chrysostom may sound sola Scriptura here and there, the rest of their work shows them not to be holding also to tradition unwritten.

Your comment regarding the invocation of the saints over lunch is really just another example of deciding on authority and source, and then following that out. One need not know the destination to set out boldly on the authority of a map.

William Weedon said...


I think that's a false antithesis. Of course they hold to unwritten tradition also - as St. Basil asked, where is it written to make the sign of the cross? Yet the sign of the cross is made and rejoiced in. The distinction is not written vs. unwritten in regards to various customs and practices, but specifically in regard to the Church's articulation of her doctrine, her confession of the holy faith delivered to her by her Lord through His Holy Apostles. THIS the holy Fathers insist is to be grounded squarely upon the Sacred Scriptures.

William Weedon said...

I should add, the Fathers show this not just here and there, but everywhere - above all by the way in which they teach! One thinks, for example, of the painful attention to prepositions in *On the Holy Spirit*.

123 said...

Of course, that just doesn't seem to be an accurate reading of either the Fathers or the history of orthodox, catholic Christianity to me, but that's why I am Orthodox and you are Lutheran. We all bring our own presuppostion, our own hermeneutical lens, a canon of truth, through which we read the Scriptures (Old Testament), New Testament and Fathers. The question is whether we are using a 'secret decoder ring' or the canon of faith. Such is our common goal, tragically arriving at different ends.

Unknown said...

All the babbling about hymns (of which I heartily approve) would make you think y'all are Preuses.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

1. How many thousands of denominations are there? How anybody, in the face of this fact alone, can still hold to the idea that Holy Scripture is perfectly clear is beyond me.

It isn't, even by its own account. One has to have the ears to hear" and not every individual has, as yet.

2. Orthodox Christians are never asked to give up private judgment, but to be humble about it, at least to the extent of not asserting it over and against the teaching of whole Church over 2,000 years. IOW, we are allowed to question all we like, to wrestle with the issues, to admit, "This does not make sense to me!" But we do so knowing in advance we will turn out to be in error, the Church will turn out to be far wiser than any single member, the teaching eventually WILL make perfect sense to us, and we will end up affirming it from our own, personal conviction, because the Holy Spirit has revealed it, not just to the Church as a whole, but also in our own hearts.


William Weedon said...

About point #1: Oh, the thousands of demoninations thing is silly. There may be thousands of organizations, but not thousands of confessions. The confessions of the faith boil down to about, let's see: FOUR.

There's the RC take.
There's the EO take.
There's the Lutheran take.
There's the Reformed take (in either Calvinist or Arminian flavor).

That's about it, truthfully, isn't it?

About point #2: It appears to me to assume the point that is at issue. "The whole Church" indeed?

Past Elder said...

I'd agree with the "Four Takes".

In fact, maybe reduce it to three:

The institutional take, in either RC or EO flavour.
The Lutheran take.
The Reformed take, in either Calvinist or Arminian flavour.

To the third of which belongs, sadly, some of what travels under the name Lutheran.

The church may be found in denominations of all these takes, but I'll take (as it were) the middle one as I think the other two represent radically different forms of essentially the same thing, the Gospel, but severely compromised by works righteousness.

Chris Jones said...

"The whole Church" indeed?

Yes, Father, the whole Church. Is the Church which you confess in the Creed "whole" or not? Does it have the fulness of the faith, and the gift and abiding promise of the Holy Spirit, or not? If so, why should we not rely on her teachings, as Anastasia says? and if not, then why confess our faith in her? Sadly, while we say "I believe in the Church" in the Creed, I suspect that we don't really mean it, or that the "Church" we are confessing is one that does not really exist.

As to your four "takes," they are perhaps useful as a general taxonomy, but that does not address Anastasia's point about the perspicuity of Scripture. The original point of affirming perspicuity was to say that the reading of Scripture and its interpretation is not the exclusive province of the clergy and the scholars, but belongs to the whole people of God. So far so good. But the Scriptures are "perspicuous" to us because we are in the Church, have received the Tradition, and have received the illumination of the Holy Spirit, not because they are "clear" to fallen reason in the abstract.

"Perspicuity" has been used as a rhetorical cudgel to exclude the Tradition and the ecclesial and liturgical context for the understanding of Scripture. The result of that has been (in St Basil's pointed words) "to injure the Gospel in its vitals" -- because many if not most Western Christians interpret the Scriptures according to their own reason rather than according to the Church's canon of truth. (Do you really doubt this?) That is why there is a plethora of a-liturgical, a-traditional, and frankly heterodox interpretations of Scripture.

William Weedon said...

Dear Christopher,

About "whole" - well, I don't believe that the ecclesial community of which Anastasia is a part is the "the whole Church." That was the intent of my remark.

You note that we speak of the Chuch as an object of faith. "I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church." The "believe" there has all the force of when speaking of the three persons of the Blessed Trinity. And all of it is gathered under the rubric of the Apostle: "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Or again: "For we walk by faith, not by sight." The Church is an object of our faith - we believe about her exactly what God in His Word declares to be true about her.

The clearness of the Scripture, though, is simply the teaching of the Scriptures themselves. When St. Paul wrote to St. Timothy, he reminded him of the Scriptures (meaning, of course, the Old Testament) and said of them:

"Which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus."

This the Sacred Scriptures can do - they are not so much "clear" themselves as the very "light" by which all things are illumined. Thus, in 2 Peter, the Scriptures are "as a lamp shining in a dark place." Thus, I really think that those who insist on their general obscurity are setting aside the Scripture's testimony regarding itself.

No question, of course, that there ARE obscure parts. St. Peter's famous words about St. Paul's writings come to mind. But he wasn't speaking about all of St. Paul, but said "there are SOME things in them that are hard to understand." Who would ever deny that? What did St. Paul mean by Baptism for the dead, for example? But the main thrust of St. Paul's writing is a luminous and joyfully clear testimony to the salvation that is in Christ Jesus - His writings like the OT can make one wise for salvation through faith in Jesus. How on earth can this be denied?

William Weedon said...

Oh, and Christopher, I think you know me well enough to know that I do not believe that Tradition (in its proper sense) is ever set in opposition to the light that shines from the Sacred Scriptures. Rather, Tradition is Scripture properly undersood, correctly interpreted, however one wants to say: Scripture heard and read in such a way that by the illumination of the Holy Spirit one beholds the triumph of the Crucified and Risen One, victorious in His sacrifice of love, and calling al to the grace of repentance and forgiveness of sins. I think Behr said it beautifully when he said Scripture read through the prism of the Cross.

Anonymous said...

Pr. Weedon,

Underlying your fourfold taxonomy of "confessions" is a Nestorian ecclesiology, dividing Church into "confession," which is divine but never personally, fully incarnate, and "organization," which is fleshly but never _per se_ divine.

But your taxonomy of confessions does not disprove Anastasia's point. Try asking the question this way, with respect to Lutheranism only (setting aside all other 'denominations'): How many Lutheran communions are there in North America? How many of those communions share pulpit and altar fellowship? To put it another way, with whom are you in pulpit and altar fellowship--and with whom not?

When the fathers of Nicaea said, "We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church," they did not have a hidden or invisible body in mind. Even poor Augustine would never have contemplated such a thing. Do the history! (To one and all, let me highly recommend Dcn. Gregory Roeber's presentation at the recent colloquy on Orthodoxy for Lutherans. He hits the ball out of the park.)

The unworthy priest, newbie, fool and hypocrite,

Fr. Gregory Hogg

William Weedon said...

Well, you know, Fr. Hogg, that I think that is incorrect. It would be nestorian if it HAD no incarnation, but the real incarnation of the Church is in the concrete assemblies gathered around His Word and receiving the very body and blood of Christ. Their unity - which will always be a matter of faith, not sight - is in the Only Begotten of the Father into whom they were baptized and who feeds into them in very real, concrete gatherings His true body and blood. Marquart, I think, is the one who hit the ball out of the park when he noted that in Orthodoxy and Rome, there is a monophysitic ecclesiology at play that dissolves the human nature of the Church into the divine. I'd encourage anyone who is still following this long thread to pick up and read Marquart's book *The Church* and particularly his words on pages 8-11 on "Four Basic Types or 'Models' of Ecclesiology".

William Weedon said...

Oh, by the way, I really only know of one place where a father from 381 expounded on Church. That would be Cyril of Jersualem. He offers the following:

23. It is called Catholic then because it extends over all the world, from one end of the earth to the other; and because it teaches universally and completely one and all the doctrines which ought to come to men's knowledge, concerning things both visible and invisible, heavenly and earthly; and because it brings into subjection to godliness the whole race of mankind, governors and governed, learned and unlearned; and because it universally treats and heals the whole class of sins, which are committed by soul or body, and possesses in itself every form of virtue which is named, both in deeds and words, and in every kind of spiritual gifts. (Catechetical Lectures 18:23)

And in there I'm not sure I hear a thing that a Lutheran wouldn't agree with!

Anonymous said...

Nestorios had an incarnation--the conflict between Nestorios and Cyril was not over the fact, but the nature of the incarnation. And note your own words: "the real incarnation of the Church is *in* the concrete assemblies..."--just as Nestorianism teaches that Christ was a man *in whom* God dwelt.

And because you continue in communion fellowship with those who deny, in practice, Augustana 14, then by the light of the Lutheran Confessions themselves you're begging the question of "receiving the very body and blood of Christ." Nisi rite vocatus.

And with regard to Cyril--here's another instance of patristic cherrypicking. For Cyril himself, speaking of chrismation, says: "this holy ointment is no more simple ointment, nor (so to say) common, after invocation, but it is Christ’s gift of grace." So when Cyril speaks of "every kind of spiritual gifts," he means to include holy chrism--which you don't have.

William Weedon said...


We really don't need to go round the mulberry bush again, do we? You know what I would say in response to what you said. I know what you would say in response to that, and so on. I will say it never ceases to amaze me the the charge of patristic cherry-picking is leveled. Sigh. Whatever.

Anonymous said...


Some of what we do has the nature of going 'round the mulberry bush. (Hmm, which of us is the monkey, and which the weasel?)

But some is not:

1. You do not address, either in this post or your most recent, the fact that you share communion in holy things with those who teach and practice what you do not, and you do not share communion in holy things with those who share your doctrine and practice. This is the practical outcome of a Nestorianizing ecclesiology.

2. The charge of cherrypicking is, I grant, unpleasant. But when you choose certain passages of Cyril and say, "We agree," and I demonstrate that he applies the same kind of language to things you reject, what else can be said?

Only the eschaton will tell whether I have been your greatest annoyance, or your one true friend. Or both.

William Weedon said...


As to point #1, it is odd you should bring it up. A friend and I have a meeting arranged with our DP to discuss the proper process for initiating formal doctrinal dissent on the question. Our DP agrees that the current practice MUST be fixed, and is eager to help us put the matter of AC XIV before our people in all its clarity.

As to point #2, I will reply simply as I have in the past: I invite folks to actually read the fathers for themselves. Read them far and wide. Read them and ponder their wisdom and see whether or not the Gospel to which they witness is or is not the joyous good news which beats at the heart of the Reformation. I don't invite anyone to stick to my citations as the whole story - but I do encourage folks to read them for themselves, and then they will be in a position to know whether I'm guilty of cherry-picking or not, for you must know that to me it seems that much of what the fathers teach is discounted by those who claim to honor them the most.

Anonymous said...


Hearts beat best when they're contained inside chests. Jewels are most secure when they are mounted in settings.

When hearts are *opposed* to chests, as when Gospel is opposed to bishops...or when jewels are loosed from their settings, as when Gospel is used to argue against tradition (e.g. in the case of the intercession of the saints), then it is simply a matter of time until the heart stops, and the gem is replaced by cubic zirconium.

123 said...

to me it seems that much of what the fathers teach is discounted by those who claim to honor them the most.

I think part of what is oten left unsaid is that we are not to look only at what writings the Fathers left us, but more importantly, to follow their way of life, their piety and practice. So, while the writings of a given Father may seem to lean one way or the other, the matter of their life, their priesthood, episcopacy or monasticism is the context within which their extant writings must be read.

Relatedly, we are really speaking about the presuppositions that we bring to the Bible and the Fathers. Reading Behr's work in the festschrifte for Bp Kallistos Ware brought it to the fore, again, as he repeated many points he made in 'Way to Nicea 'and 'Mystery of Christ'. The correct hypothesis traditioned on by the Apostles is necessary so as to be able to properly read the Scriptures (OT), the NT and the Fathers, as well as Church History. The question is then how we determine whether what we have arrived at or been taught by our elders is the correct hypothesis/presupposition or the incorrect one. Are we the orthodox or the Arians? Is the original mosaic a king, a fox or a dog? What happens when we have much of the correct hypothesis, but miss on central points. Anf finally, what happens if the correct hypothesis is simply uncomfortable to our sensibilities, those of our family and to our chosen profession? what if we simply prefer comfort and familiarity? These are important considerations that any thoughtful, reflective believer of any tradition (Christian, non-Christian, atheistic) must humbly face.

William Weedon said...


The way that the Lutheran Symbols measure the right read (getting the King and not the fox) is when the way we read the Scriptures ends up giving all glory to Christ and all comfort to troubled sinners.

123 said...

Well, what "all glory to Christ and all comfort to troubled sinners" can mean variously is a different question.

My point was more broad and not meant to take sides on whose hypothesis is 'right', just that we all come to these traces of the apostles and fathers with presuppositions. We are objective viewers not dealing with 'objective truth' - except insofar as God or the saints have spoken with any of us directly, in person, through vision, which He/they have not done with me.

The point was more to allow for strong opinion while guarding against verbal burnings at the stake as certain folks are prone to do who do not acknowledge that we bring our own biases to these texts (in an oddly modern anti-post-modernist way).

That is, honest folks can disagree honestly and politely without falling into relativism. We should also always be on guard when we assume that we have figured it all out - we have likely just created a god of our own or are likely to be close to a precipice of good or ill.

Faith and religion should always be like Chekhov: as an actor, just when you think you've figured out one of his plays then BAM, the floor drops out and it's even deeper than you think. This happens over and over again. Of course, Chekhov and discussions about God and religion are also similar in that they are absolutely no fun for those watching, but heaven for those participating.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, Father, citing Ezekiel's prophecy to Protestants is tantamount to beating dead horses up with a stick. I'm speaking here from a prolonged personal experience.

William Weedon said...


LOL. Too true. But the hope and goal is that a person ceases to be a Protestant (if that means the unLutheran sort) and becomes a person who sees the Scriptures as about the Lord Christ with every detail testifying to Him!

Anonymous said...

And a Protestant of the unLutheran sort would rather reply: "Well, You see, Luther didn't go ALL the way ... it was just a beginning ... and we practically follow him in the 'direction' he was pointing out to us ... ". -- Which, of course, is a vicious cycle.

William Weedon said...

The Calvinist is usually the one who argues that Luther didn't go far enough (what Luther had to say about that can be read in his delightful Brief Confession), and usually about the Eucharist. But at least Calvin and Luther were both convinced about the perpetual virginity of the Mother of God. It is really quite a modern phenomenon - this so called Bible "scholarship" that reads into the Scriptures that the "brothers" of Jesus in fact must be the children of Mary and is really more a reflection of age than of the Bible's teaching.

Anonymous said...

You wrote, Bill: "It is really quite a modern phenomenon - this so called Bible "scholarship" that reads into the Scriptures that the "brothers" of Jesus in fact must be the children of Mary and is really more a reflection of age than of the Bible's teaching."

Rx: Couldn't have said it any better myself. Of course, this "so-called Bible 'scholarship'" began with post-Gerhardian Lutherans such as Dannhauer--whose credentials as an "Orthodox" Lutheran theologian are, as far as I know, impeccable.

William Weedon said...


There's a reason that we speak of a golden age of Orthodoxy centered in Chemnitz; and a sliver age centered in Gerhard; and then the bronze. Bronze is useful, silver is beautiful, and gold is more precious still. Not that there are not nuggets of gold even in the bronze dogmaticians - there are! - but there is more in the earlier writers. The Reformation in a way was similar to the patristic flowering of the fourth century and those who followed it. The vitality of that fourth century still shown in a Peter Chrysologus and maybe a bit more brightly than in a Gregory the Great, and so on.

Anonymous said...


Gold, silver, bronze--whatever. The DNA is unmistakeable. Just as your eyes or my nose will doubtless be seen in our progeny (at least for a few generations), but even if those distinctive features disappear, those who come next are no less our progeny, so also here. Each generation after the Reformation lost a little more of the catholic principle, yet what followed in Pietism and Rationalism was no less its child--even if one calls it a bastard.

And by thinking this way, you're doing exactly what you accuse the Orthodox of doing: setting up some impeccable time to which we must return. We Orthodox embrace the entire scope of the Church's history as guided by the Holy Spirit. Even the so-called "western captivity" had its place and purpose. We do not look back with nostalgia to some former time and wish to view it as the touchstone. All that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up, he continues to do and teach today, in his bride and body, the Church.


Fr. Gregory

William Weedon said...


There is no hankering after a golden age in the sense of wanting to go back there and not live where we are - or of trying to "recreate" then - but there is the recognition that there are certain periods in the Church's theandric life where the theological endeavor blossoms significantly. Such happened in the 4th century; and in the Lutheran view, such happened again in the 16th. That's not to idolize either era! It is to recognize that great stuff happened in both - and that afterwards there was a bit of a decline in the degree to which the insights gained were held.