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What is the true meaning of Orthodoxy?


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#21 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 19 July 2012 - 01:57 PM

The term 'catholic' to describe the faithful Christian Church in terms of faith & piety comes in the 1st-2nd cs as in St Ignatius of Antioch: "Where Jesus is present there is the catholic Church" (Smyrnaeans 8.2). Clement well describes how the term had developed by his time in Stromata 7. 17. 107: "It is evident that these heresies, as well as those that are even more recent, are spurious innovations on the oldest and truest Church...Thus we say that the ancient and catholic church stands alone in essence and idea and principle and pre-eminence."

Fr John McGuckin in his Patristic Theology explains that the term Orthodoxy arises in the above similar sense in the 5th century, specifically in relation to heretical teaching and then to gatherings that are grounded in such teachings.

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#22 Father Stephanos

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Posted 19 July 2012 - 03:14 PM

Fr Stephanos, note where St Cyril says that when you visit other cities, ask where the "Catholic Church" is to be found. This clues us in that "catholic" has in fact become a pronoun: "Catholic Church" identifies and distinguishes a specific Christian community from other "Christian" communities. I'm sure there was a time when all the various denominations and sects called themselves catholic; but at some point in time "catholic Church" also began to function as a pronominal designator for a specific church. In English we capitalize words that function in this way.

At some point in time "orthodox" also began to be used as a pronoun. It's just not clear to me when this happened. Did the Arians, for example, also refer to themselves as "the orthodox" or "the orthodox Church"? If you asked someone in 4th century Alexandria, "Where the orthodox Church meet?" would that person have known you were asking about communities in communion with Athanasius, as opposed to communities in communion with Arius?


In our Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed is the word "catholic" used pronominally or adjectivally, and why?

With agape in our Lord Jesus Christ,
+ Father Stephanos

#23 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 19 July 2012 - 05:25 PM

Fr Stephanos, at one point of my life I read a fair amount of linguistic work on pronouns and designating titles, but that was 15 years ago and I have forgotten a lot. The key thing about a proper name is that it designates an object or person independently of its descriptive meaning. For example, my given name is "Alvin." Now if one were to do some etymological research, one would discover that this word originally mean "elf-friend." Perhaps the first person who was named Alvin was considered to be a friend of the elves. But the descriptive meaning of the word was lost long ago. Today it has become a pure proper name. My name simply separates me from all the Johns, Jacobs, Williams, and Bobs of the world.

Now think about how the terms "Orthodox Church" and "Catholic Church" function today in common speech. If someone says, "I belong to the Orthodox Church," most people will know precisely what he means. He means that he belongs to that communion of Churches that are in communion with the Patriarch of Constantinople. (The Oriental Orthodox might protest, but let's put that to the side for the moment.) Similarly, if someone says, "I belong to the Catholic Church," most people will understand that the speaker belongs to the communion of Churches in communion with the Bishop of Rome. In both cases, these two words, "Orthodox" and "Catholic," are functioning as proper nouns. They successfully perform their linguistic task of identification, even if no one has a clue what either "orthodox" or "catholic" means.

"Orthodox" and "catholic" can also be used adjectivally, i.e., descriptively. The Orthodox Church, for example, also understands itself to be catholic, just as the Catholic Church understands itself to be orthodox. If someone wants to know what these words mean, they pick up a dictionary. But one does not pick up a dictionary to understand a proper name: the meaning of the proper name simply is its referent.

In the Nicene Creed, I suspect that the word "catholic" is being used adjectivally, just as as "one," "holy," and "apostolic."

Does this help?

#24 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 19 July 2012 - 08:02 PM

Bede tells us that when St Theodore arrived in England to be archbishop of Canterbury in 669, he examined the English bishops as to their Orthodoxy. (The Latin text does use the word.)

'Alvin' is a form of Aelfwine, and there was a bishop of Winchester by that name in the first half of the 11th century, so presumably it could be an Orthodox name though I do not know of a saint of that name.

#25 Father Stephanos

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Posted 21 July 2012 - 08:41 PM

When I originally provided in post #8 of this thread the following information:

The phrase “Holy Orthodox Church” became extremely popular among the faithful shortly after the Holy 2nd Synod of the Ecumene that gathered in Constantinople in 381. The Holy Orthodox Church of our Lord Jesus Christ started referring to herself as being orthodox rather than just catholic since one of the reasons catholic was used in our Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed was because all individual heresies up to that time were not actually completely universal in their location with regard to having Holy Temples, clergy, adherents, etc. As various heretics and/or schismatics referred to themselves as being catholic, we chose the word “orthodox” to distinguish ourselves from them.

it was to help understand why we Orthodox Christians are happy to refer to the Holy Church of our Lord Jesus Christ as the Holy Orthodox Church, which is a shorter form of the Holy Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church, which also is our rightful appellation.

I presented this additional useful information, since, over the years, I have met Orthodox Christians who have wondered why we refer to ourselves as the Holy Orthodox Church, while the words that we proclaim in our Holy Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed mention “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church,” but do not mention the word “orthodox.” This information also goes to the point of why we let a group that broke off from us refer to themselves as the Roman Catholic Church. The word “catholic” is mentioned in our Creed and was used much earlier than the word “orthodox” to describe our Holy Church. As Father Raphael mentioned in post #21, the phrase “catholic Church” was used in the early 2nd century by the Holy Hieromartyr Ignatios the God-bearer, Bishop of Antioch, in his Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, and yet we are unfazed that we are no longer able to refer to the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ as simply the Catholic Church. Or, in other words, why are we known as the Holy Orthodox Church, although the word “orthodox” is not found in our Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, while the word “catholic” is found in our Creed? Besides our written Tradition, this truth has been handed down through the oral Tradition of our Holy Orthodox Catholic Church from our holy ancestors to us generation via generation. The Holy Apostle Paul, in Thessalonians 3.6, speaks about this very issue of the extreme importance of necessarily receiving the tradition as given by the Holy Apostles. Then, the faithful were to separate themselves from those who would not receive our Holy Church’s tradition.

Just as today, news can be reported by word of mouth and/or in writing, so this has always been the case, ever since writing was invented. Before writing was utilized in a civilization, people orally reported the news and orally passed on their history. After writing was employed in a civilization, people reported the news and passed on their history both orally and in writing. Our oral handing down of our history has not stopped. In addition, just as newly coined words are sometimes used orally before they are used in writings, so words have sometimes been used orally in our Holy Church, before they are used in writings.

Further to this point, besides the written Holy Gospel of the Holy Evangelists Matthew, John, Mark, and Luke there was an oral Holy Gospel being proclaimed by our all-Holy Lady Theotokos Maria, the Holy Apostles, the Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles, and numerous other Holy men and women that was being preached before these four holy books were ever set in writing. If you remember, not everyone could read then; and copying manuscripts was very time consuming and expensive; so there were not always enough written manuscripts available in the early Church. The oral Holy Gospel and the written Holy Gospel were not different in meaning, but sometimes, different words with the same or very similar meanings were used. I myself remember being quite shocked in learning that in the oral Holy Gospel that resembled/paralleled the Holy Gospel according to the Holy Evangelist Matthew, it spoke of baptizing people in the name of God, instead of in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Well, God is the All-Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so it was different wording, but not wrong; it just did not contain precise liturgical instructions.

In the early Church many things were not written down, but Christians were informed about them after they were Baptized into Christ, Chrismated, and Partook of the Holy Eucharist. Over the centuries, many things concerning our Holy Church were not written down, but just passed along orally. Through this oral Tradition, we have truthful information about our all-holy Lady Theotokos Maria and others who lived during the time of our Lord Jesus Christ, during Apostolic Times, and at other times. Eventually much of this oral material was gathered and deposited in the hymnographical and liturgical texts and correctly written Holy Icons of our Holy Church. This situation is similar to having a book written about one of your ancestors, or having a portrait or picture of them, or orally being told many things about your ancestor over a course of decades. Having only the last or the last two ways to remember your ancestor does not make it less true than having the first way or even all three ways.

Although I was not too precise as to when “shortly after the Holy 2nd Synod of the Ecumene” was, I personally remember it as being about the year 400, give or take. Perhaps “shortly after” was not the best phrase to indicate that, but at least I did not say immediately after. In a later post, I was asked if I could provide some written patristic examples of this usage from the late fourth century, which, in my opinion, would be indicators that there could be some truth to our oral Orthodox Tradition. I was not asked to provide information from the early 5th century. The request wanted examples of the word “Orthodox” being used pronominally and not just adjectivally. In my opinion, in retrospect, it seems that the request might have been more accurately made for examples of the phrase “Orthodox Church” being used by itself as a proper noun; whereupon, I could have stated, “no,” since I am not aware of any writings of the late 4th Century that use the term “Orthodox Church” as a proper noun by itself.

Pronominally, in my understanding, is usually defined as something that functions or serves as a pronoun or resembles or relates to a pronoun even though it is another part of speech.

Along with the request, two examples were given in English of the word “catholic” allegedly being used pronominally. One was from the 1st Catechesis of those who are to be Illuminated of our Father among the Saints Kyril of Jerusalem, from Chapter 18, Paragraph 26, which refers to the “catholic” Church. The other example was from the writings of Saint Pacian of Barcelona and is not written in Greek.

In the Greek text of the selection of Saint Kyril, the word “catholic” is not capitalized anywhere in this paragraph in either the nominative, accusative, or dative cases, or any other case. Furthermore, in the Latin text of this same selection the word “catholic” is not capitalized anywhere in this paragraph. It is the same for the selection mentioned above for Saint Ignatios the God-bearer, in his Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, which all Orthodox know is the first written record we have of the phrase “catholic Church;” the word catholic is not capitalized in the Greek or the Latin. A logical conclusion from such a presentation is that a word does not have to be capitalized to be used pronominally.

When I translate the writings of our Holy Fathers from Greek into English, I also do not usually capitalize words such as “catholic” and “orthodox.” Using the hypotheses I have mentioned in these three preceding paragraphs, I provided some patristic examples for the word “orthodox.” I provided the original language to show the example, and I, myself, translated all the passages I presented for those who do not easily understand the original language or as some people refer to it as Greek. When I translated the word “orthodox,” I did not capitalize it because of a translating philosophy which I learned decades ago which is to try to change the meaning or form of what is originally written not at all or as little as possible. I did not capitalize the word “orthodox” which I presented as being pronominal for this reason, not because I thought the word “orthodox” was not being used pronominally! To capitalize in English what is not capitalized in Greek and Latin, at times might be considered as rewriting history with a specific, and perhaps untrustworthy, goal in mind. Furthermore, even in English, not all proper nouns are always capitalized; for example, we do not usually capitalize the name of the seasons of the year, although we always capitalize the names of the months of the year.

Just as I do not accept that our Sainted and God-bearing Father John of Damascus is the last of our Holy Church Fathers, so I do not accept the idea or contrivance that the record of the formation of the use of the word “orthodox” to be used as a pronominal, or a proper adjective, or a proper noun must be rejected if the word “orthodox” is too close to an opposing meaning of the word from which a meaning ‘orthodox” might be derived. I also reject the idea that if a word is not capitalized in Greek or Latin that English grammar and usage can and may always prevail to capitalize the same word in translation; and then use whether a word is capitalized or not in English to determine what type of theological contribution the word makes. (English is not yet a theological language in and of itself. What I mean by this is for various reasons we have not yet properly translated into English our Holy Scripture, our Holy Creed, etc. Such an action has consequences, and English being considered a theological language in and of itself is one of them.)

Likewise, I do not agree with the presumptions that whether words are used as proper adjectives or proper nouns in writings are perfect records of how these same words are utilized orally.

In addition, I am of the opinion that from an Orthodox Christian point of view, whether a word is employed pronominally or adjectivally is not necessarily as important as some have presented in this thread. I would suggest that for many Orthodox Christians over the centuries, the word “catholic” has gained its prominence from our early baptismal creeds and our Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, not from the other uses of the word. To pray the word “catholic” once or more a day can create an affinity and familiarity for the word. I found it very interesting that “catholic” could be supposed to be used adjectivally in our Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, which is in part based upon the baptismal creed Saint Kyril of Jerusalem is explicating. Yet evidently, Saint Kyril in the adjectival use of the word “catholic” in the creed is explaining it as a pronominal. If this is the case, perhaps the meanings and the uses of the words are not as distinct as some might believe or present them to be.

Similarly, although some people say that a proper name designates an object or person independent of the name’s descriptive meaning, I do not think that this is completely true. Many parents choose names for their children based, at least in part, upon the descriptive meaning of the name. The descriptive meaning of a name is contained in the name; it might be forgotten, denied, or ignored, etc., but it cannot be lost unless the meaning of the name is completely unknown.

Again, I do not know of any Holy Fathers of any century that would consider the use of the term “Orthodox Church” to be successful with regard to its linguistic task if the term “Orthodox” did not mean orthodox and the term “Church” did not mean church. For me, such a linguistic expectation or mandate seems to be unorthodox, no matter how it is contrived or depicted.

Further, being in communion with the Archbishop of Constantinople is not the standard of an Orthodox Christian being a member of the Holy Orthodox Church. The Patriarch of Constantinople of the Holy Orthodox Catholic Church is not like the Pope of Rome of the Roman Catholic Church. If being in communion with the Archbishop of Constantinople were the standard of an Orthodox Christian being a member of the Orthodox Church, then Nestorius in 431 and Metrophanes in 1443 would not have been excommunicated and anathematized. The dynamics and ecclesiology of the Holy Orthodox Church is different from other groups and gatherings.

I could go on about other points, but at this time, I choose not to.

A main point of this post is what I have stated above:
There is an evident change in meaning from the initial request to a new or redefined request asking for the whereabouts of the written phrase “Orthodox Church” being used as a proper noun in the writings of our Holy Fathers during the 4th century, which I never stated existed. Since I am not aware of any writings of our Holy Fathers of the late 4th Century that definitively and unarguably use the term “Orthodox Church” alone as a proper noun especially with the word “Orthodox” not meaning orthodox and word “Church” not meaning church, I will not be providing any further examples of the word “orthodox” as I had stipulated in post #16 of this thread.

Thank you and God bless you!

With agape in our Lord Jesus Christ,
+ Father Stephanos




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