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Claim to history as "allurement strategy"


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#1 Paul C

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Posted 19 August 2010 - 04:03 AM

I have heard it said by an Orthodox Christian who has spent his professional career as a professor studying Church history that the claim to be the oldest Church and the emphasis on ancient Patristics as a defense of Orthodoxy's authenticity are actually rather new developments and have only appeared recently on the scene in Europe and the United States. They are claimed to be what in "comparative religions" studies jargon are called "strategies of allurement", meant to appeal to a part of the population that is searching for Christianity with a foundation in antiquity, but they are merely that: new strategies of allurement. What do we know about the Orthodox claim to history in, well...history? Is this a new "trend"? What is the theology (if the term can even be applied in this case) behind the Orthodox claim to historical continuity and antiquity?

#2 David Hawthorne

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Posted 19 August 2010 - 04:22 AM

I have heard it said by an Orthodox Christian who has spent his professional career as a professor studying Church history that the claim to be the oldest Church and the emphasis on ancient Patristics as a defense of Orthodoxy's authenticity are actually rather new developments and have only appeared recently on the scene in Europe and the United States. They are claimed to be what in "comparative religions" studies jargon are called "strategies of allurement", meant to appeal to a part of the population that is searching for Christianity with a foundation in antiquity, but they are merely that: new strategies of allurement. What do we know about the Orthodox claim to history in, well...history? Is this a new "trend"? What is the theology (if the term can even be applied in this case) behind the Orthodox claim to historical continuity and antiquity?


The Orthodox have claimed to be the Church of the Apostles from the very beginning. Of course, when St. Ireneaus made the claim in the second century there wasn't a lot of church history yet (one of the pagan arguments against Christianity then was that it was new and therefore had no history).

Now we have 21 centuries of church history but I think the history is not important just because we are old compared to later groups of Christians, it is important because we are Apostolic and the history is unbroken.

#3 Kosta

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Posted 19 August 2010 - 05:26 AM

Well in the east, it would be a moot point to argue about origins. Would the byzantines argue it with the copts? Likewise what value would such a discusion have with the latins? Obviously discussing a church's antiquity and origins with protestants is fair game, but its meaningless with other apostolic churches. So yes it would be quite recent (after the reformation) primarily in europe and america.

Now in the pre-Nicene church authenticity was verified by the succession of bishops. Irenaeous writes extensively of this and says something to the effect, As each apostolic church safeguards the traditions deposited therein, its as if they occupy one house, each preserving the one and same faith thru out the world. By the 7th ecumenical council we see that the truth is preserved by not departing from what was handed down by the Fathers, hence we proclaim,
"This is the Faith of the Apostles, this is the Faith of the Fathers, this is the Faith of the Orthodox, this is the Faith which has established the Universe.

#4 Olga

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Posted 19 August 2010 - 05:39 AM

I have heard it said by an Orthodox Christian who has spent his professional career as a professor studying Church history that the claim to be the oldest Church and the emphasis on ancient Patristics as a defense of Orthodoxy's authenticity are actually rather new developments and have only appeared recently on the scene in Europe and the United States.


When St John of Damascus wrote his treatise in defence of iconography some 1200 years ago, he quoted extensively not only from scripture, but also from the writings of various saints and Fathers who came before him, including Sts John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, and Dionysius the Areopagite, to give authority to his position.

I doubt he was the only Orthodox saint who did so, before his time, or afterward.

#5 Ben Johnson

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Posted 19 August 2010 - 05:58 AM

The icons in Holy Monastery of the God-trodden Mount Sinai are quite old. The Liturgy is old. We all know, even from secular history, about the iconoclasts in the Byzantine Empire. We have had stories about the saints for almost 2 thousand years. We know the Church existed in the East from the beginning. The Church has taken the early Ecumentical councils seriously. I hope I am understanding your question correctly, but it seems the Church has been relying on events/writings from WAY back. Perhaps it has become a selling point recently, but the history has always been there.

Ben, a former protestant.

#6 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 19 August 2010 - 03:52 PM

Continuity of the Apostolic Witness is the hallmark and bulwark of Orthodoxy, as defended by the Apostles, Fathers and Councils of history. To claim that history is merely stating what ought to be obvious.

Of course historicity is a double-edged sword, there are religions who claim a longer "history" such as Zoroasterism, Jainism, Buddhism, so mere historicity is relatively meaningless.

Where it does have some relevance is in discussions with the Protestants who would claim that the Church "disappeared" during the "dark ages", that niggling little bit between the Apostolic Age and the Reformation. Our historicity proclaims "hey, the Church did NOT disappear, we've been here all along!"

As to this "allurement strategy" thing, it sounds like either a master's thesis or someone was suffering from "publish or perish".

Herman the alluring Pooh

#7 Jason H.

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Posted 19 August 2010 - 04:47 PM

When I was learning about Orthodoxy, it was my own interest to learn about the early Church and the history it contains. The same thing is what Fr. Peter Guillquist talks about in his book, Becoming Orthodox.

On a more humerous side perhaps we should all read this book: The heresy of Orthodoxy http://www.amazon.co...82236254&sr=8-1

-Ignatius

#8 Archimandrite Irenei

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Posted 19 August 2010 - 10:04 PM

Dear all,

My sense of Mr Colwell's original question, was that it was not over the question of whether the Orthodox Church is indeed ancient and old (which clearly it is), but whether the call upon that antiquity, upon the patristic heritage and its long lineage as (in large part) the means of supporting the authenticity and authority of the Church's views, it itself something novel; whether harking back on the succession of antiquity, etc., is a kind of strategy to make the Church alluring to people. Hence:

I have heard it said by an Orthodox Christian who has spent his professional career as a professor studying Church history that the claim to be the oldest Church and the emphasis on ancient Patristics as a defense of Orthodoxy's authenticity are actually rather new developments and have only appeared recently on the scene in Europe and the United States. They are claimed to be what in "comparative religions" studies jargon are called "strategies of allurement", meant to appeal to a part of the population that is searching for Christianity with a foundation in antiquity, but they are merely that: new strategies of allurement.

That clarified, we can say with fairly resounding conviction that this simply isn't the case. If one actually reads the documents of Church history, the call upon antiquity in such a manner has been a 'trademark' of the Church from the very beginning. All the ecumenical councils take it as a given, and engage in it; and St Irenaeus of Lyons Refultation (esp. book 3) spells it out in rather scientific language and clarity.

The Church has always, from the moment Christian history began to progress, identified itself by the antiquity of its unchanging message within that history. This is nothing modern, and is certainly not 'American' or 'European'!

INXC, Hieromonk Irenei

#9 David Hawthorne

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Posted 20 August 2010 - 02:27 AM

That clarified, we can say with fairly resounding conviction that this simply isn't the case. If one actually reads the documents of Church history, the call upon antiquity in such a manner has been a 'trademark' of the Church from the very beginning. All the ecumenical councils take it as a given, and engage in it; and St Irenaeus of Lyons Refultation (esp. book 3) spells it out in rather scientific language and clarity.

The Church has always, from the moment Christian history began to progress, identified itself by the antiquity of its unchanging message within that history. This is nothing modern, and is certainly not 'American' or 'European'!

INXC, Hieromonk Irenei


I think the appeal to Apostolicity takes precedence over the appeal to antiquity. St. Ireneaus could not appeal to antiquity since the Faith was still new. For us, of course, appealing to antiquity or Apostolicity amounts to the same thing. Or perhaps you mean the appeal to antiquity and Apostolicity are the same thing even in St. Irenaeus if we restrict ourselves to Christianity alone.

#10 Archimandrite Irenei

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Posted 20 August 2010 - 02:32 AM

St Irenaeus appeals both to apostolicity, as well as antiquity, and universality. They are intertwined in book 3, but they are distinct.

The Church may not have been very old, but over a century was still enough time for him to refer to what 'has always been taught'.

#11 David Hawthorne

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Posted 20 August 2010 - 02:54 AM

St Irenaeus appeals both to apostolicity, as well as antiquity, and universality. They are intertwined in book 3, but they are distinct.

The Church may not have been very old, but over a century was still enough time for him to refer to what 'has always been taught'.


I see the weakness in what I was saying is that a restorationist could abuse it. Perhaps the glue which binds historicity and apostolicity is unbrokenness?

#12 Benjamin Amis

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Posted 20 August 2010 - 03:07 AM

I was talking to a friend once, who is Orthodox, when I was first inquiring into the Church, and I made a comment that was something like, "Well, I don't think I'll be going anywhere else. I've been moving back in church history for several years, and I don't really have anywhere else to go now!"

The reply I got was, "Well, there are the non-Chaledonians out there. And don't forget Nestorians."

The point being, of course, that these groups do not have all of the seven councils, and perhaps maintain some older traditions. We know that the Oriental Orthodox do, such as stricter fasting and a wider use of the Divine Liturgy of St. James.

Whether you fully agree with the statement, of course, isn't the point. But, I think it goes to illustrate a point that is relevant here, and echoes what a lot of people have already said: It doesn't matter that the Church is old, what matters is that it maintains the Apostolic faith, and never left it. Unlike restorationists, we don't have to claim we've reformed our way back to the early Church...we ARE the early Church, we never left it. THAT is what is important about the historical "allurement" of Orthodoxy.

#13 Paul C

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Posted 20 August 2010 - 01:24 PM

Dear all,

My sense of Mr Colwell's original question, was that it was not over the question of whether the Orthodox Church is indeed ancient and old (which clearly it is), but whether the call upon that antiquity, upon the patristic heritage and its long lineage as (in large part) the means of supporting the authenticity and authority of the Church's views, it itself something novel; whether harking back on the succession of antiquity, etc., is a kind of strategy to make the Church alluring to people. Hence:


That clarified, we can say with fairly resounding conviction that this simply isn't the case. If one actually reads the documents of Church history, the call upon antiquity in such a manner has been a 'trademark' of the Church from the very beginning. All the ecumenical councils take it as a given, and engage in it; and St Irenaeus of Lyons Refultation (esp. book 3) spells it out in rather scientific language and clarity.

The Church has always, from the moment Christian history began to progress, identified itself by the antiquity of its unchanging message within that history. This is nothing modern, and is certainly not 'American' or 'European'!

INXC, Hieromonk Irenei



Thank you Hieromonk Irenaeus. This was indeed the question I was seeking information on. Initially, the oldest example I could think of was the dialogue between the Lutheran Church and the Archbishop of Constantinople in the 16th century, when the Archibishop applealed to the antiquity and Apostolic nature of Orthodox Christianity. Thank you for pointing me to St. Irenaeus himself.

#14 Mark Harris

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Posted 20 August 2010 - 01:39 PM

I love this site - I learn something new and valuable everytime I look at it (thisis not true of others I have perused)

#15 Owen Jones

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Posted 21 August 2010 - 02:10 PM

I wish I were more educated to be able to comment adequately on this subject. Obviously, there is going to be a big difference between how the faithful view such things, and how a sociologist of religion views them. However, one of the problems that I have with the "antiquity" argument, especially as it is employed today, is that it tends to crowd out the more important argument. What is that argument? Orthodoxy is not true because it is more historically like that of the Apostolic Church, or because there is historical continuity with the Apostolic Church. Orthodoxy is true because it works! It is true scientifically, if you will. We practice, observe, experience and see that it is true. If it were the LEAST historical Church it would still be the most true. And one of the problems today is that the very concept of history has taken on a reified meaning, i.e. that there is something called history. In a sense, the Church teaches that there is no longer any such thing as history. But the contemporary model is that history is everything. It is a Hegelian model of history. It is how everyone is trained to think. We are all taught to think like Hegelians. But this is the antithesis of the Orthodox view of history. There is no such thing as history apart from a vision, of seeing something in events that are more than historical. That's because events have no meaning in and of themselves. Historical facts have no meaning. But in the contemporary view, it is the only thing with meaning.

Now, I think of "Ancient Faith Radio" as a perfect example of what this sociologist is saying, and I think that is an accurate assessment. The term "ancient faith" is designed to attract people. A hook, so to speak. I'm not saying it's necessarily bad. But it obscures.

#16 Father David Moser

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Posted 21 August 2010 - 02:47 PM

Orthodoxy is true because it works!


Orthodoxy is true because it is Truth It works because it is true.

Fr David Moser

#17 Owen Jones

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Posted 21 August 2010 - 05:57 PM

Well, I suppose what you say is true, Father, but it's hardly revealing of anything and sounds a bit tautalogical to me. It is only true to the extent we are living it. But there are degrees of intensity, of eschatalogical intensity, to the living out of the truth. And I think the reason why you have, by a certain point in the life of the Church, people arguing on behalf of the historical continuity of the Faith, is that there is already a thinning out of the intensity of the experience, of the eschatalogical intensity of the Christian life. So not to take anything away from, say, St. John Chrysostom, he recognizes as a pastor that he has to deal with this problem among his flock. It's just not the same intensity for everyone that it was for the people in Apostolic times. And there has become a distinction in roles that were less distinct perhaps initially, between, say, parish life, which has become socially acceptable and much more conventional, and that of the monastic who is seeking to live in that eschatalogical in-between world of the Apostles and martyrs. I can't afford to live as a true, voluntary martyr. I owe people money! Also, among all the masses of people in the Church today, for all kinds of reasons, some are frankly more spiritually sensitive and spiritually receptive than others. There may be only one in a million who is as spiritually receptive of, say, St. Stephen. The others need to be given other arguments as to why we believe and why we stick around, and one of them is that Orthodox Christianity has been around along time and there is a certain weight of authority that comes with that. But it isn't dispositive, as the the lawyers would say.

#18 Father David Moser

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Posted 21 August 2010 - 06:20 PM

Well, I suppose what you say is true, Father, but it's hardly revealing of anything and sounds a bit tautalogical to me. It is only true to the extent we are living it.


So, the truth of something depends upon whether we live it? No, I don't think so. If it is true, its true despite our actions and opinions. There is a causal relationship here that I think is worth pointing out - its not true because it works, it works because it is true.

Fr David Moser

#19 Owen Jones

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Posted 21 August 2010 - 06:34 PM

Dear Father, Both are valid at the same time and necessary to each other. But I still would argue that the truth of something does not reside in the abstract, but only when embodied. The truth of Christ, the truth of Christian teachings, are worse than irrelevant if not lived. I can't imagine any other conclusion to be reached from the Gospels and Epistles. The idea that it is true because the Church says it is true, QED, is not something really worthy of serious consideration. It's the worst kind of sophistry. The idea that there is something called THE TRUTH that is just lying around waiting to be picked up, or falls from the sky in the form of eternal verities, is experientially and observably not true. I'm sure that's not what you are really saying, but absent a more complete picture, that's what people are going to hear. That if they just believe what they are supposed to believe, then that's the truth, matter closed.

Surely this is what the early Church had in mind in its liturgical disciplines. Catechumens were not taught theology per se. They were taught how to transform their lives, their minds, through a radical reorientation, through ascetic disciplines. They were saying that we hold the keys to salvation, yes, but the mysteries of salvation are going to remain a secret to you until you learn how to do what we do. Until you do the work that we work. Then you can begin to have the mysteries revealed to you. Today, of course, we do it just the opposite. We tell people what they are supposed to know and believe, as if that's the truth. But it isn't really. It isn't really until it is embodied. It has to take concrete form. And priests wonder why the complacency, and why people fade away from the Church. I remember my priest saying in a sermon that he didn't understand why people wouldn't be primarily concerned about eternal life. The fact that he doesn't understand why is surely an error or fault on his part. And I would attribute it to the fact that for many if not most of us it remains an abstraction.

#20 Sacha

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Posted 22 August 2010 - 12:37 AM

Within this discussion on antiquity and apostolic continuity, I would like to ask, as someone outside the Orthodox church, how is the Didache viewed by the church and the fathers? It is dated at circa A.D. 60 (?) and upon reading it, it seems like it was intended to be a guide of some sort. What strikes me about it is its purity and simplicity...

Any thoughts? Thanks.




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