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Infallibility of the Church


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#41 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 02:37 PM

The non-use of the word 'infallible' in the Orthodox Church is highlighted by the fact that in Russian there is no word for 'infallible' that could be used in relation to the Church.  The Russian word непогрешимый is only used about the Roman Catholic pope.  For Russians, saying Christ is Head of the Church, means there is simply no need to add anything further - in fact it would be very odd to do so.  I might add that for a Russian, even in English the expression, 'the Church is infallible' sounds strange.



 


Edited by Andreas Moran, 03 March 2013 - 02:39 PM.


#42 Eric Todd

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 03:34 PM

I do sometimes wonder what sort of catechesis some people have had. The questions raised here sound like the questions a Protestant might ask. A catechumen should be taught the meaning of that article in the Creed which says, 'One, Holy Catholic, and Apostolic Church'.

Some contemporary Orthodox sources (eg the GOARCH web site) employ the word 'infallible' because it has a resonance with the western mind, but St Paul's saying 'pillar and ground of truth' is preferable, and a Greek book of catechesis such as that by Frangopoulos does not use the word 'infallible'. I doubt any Ecumenical Council or early Church Father uses the word and I wonder what Greek word of the first centuries might be equivalent to 'infallible' which has only a medieval Latin etymology. We may say that the Church has formulated the truth. The truth is self-evidently perfect. God led the Church into all truth and His truth is self-evidently holy. Incidentally, everything I have posted is taken from sources: I make no assertions of my own.

If "holy" and "infallible are synonyms, as you suggest, then this thread is indeed superfluous, the questions asked herein are ignorant and perhaps "Protestant" in nature, and there is a profound need for better catechesis in the Orthodox Church. Since the Church has been called "holy" from antiquity, if "holy" meant "infallible", than the Church was considered "infallible" from antiquity. Therefore, the Synod of Jerusalem's use of the word "infallible" was unremarkable. That is, the Church has always been considered "infallible", since she has always been considered "holy".

However, in contemporary English, "holy" and "infallible" are not synonyms. Websters defines "holy" as "exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness". Synonyms for "holy" include "devout, godly, pious, religious, sainted, saintly". Infallible, by contrast, means "incapable of error in defining doctrines touching faith or morals". Given the clearly different meanings of these two words in contemporary use, the burden of proof is on you to show that the Fathers and Councils considered "holy" and "infallible" to be synonyms, especially when speaking of "one Holy...Church" in the Nicene Creed.

Several requests for you to provide such evidence from the Fathers have gone unanswered and you youself admit "I doubt any Ecumenical Council or early Church Father uses the word (infallible)". Thus, I can only conclude that the Early Church's understanding of these two words was similar to ours and the Early Church did not consider "holy" to be a synonym for "infallible". Therefore, this thread is not superfluous and "Protestant" in nature. Moreover, we cannot conclude from this thread, as you did, that there is a great need for better Orthodox catechesis, for even you, a frequent poster here, are unable to provide evidence that "holy" is equal to "infallible".

So your ridiculing this discussion is unwarranted.

Edited by Eric Todd, 03 March 2013 - 03:42 PM.


#43 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 04:21 PM

I think as Olga suggested, the original Greek word used would be useful to have.  As already mentioned, 'infallible' is a medieval Latin word which obviously would not have been used at the Ecumenical Councils or by the Fathers.



#44 Eric Todd

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 04:32 PM

You can make infallible pronouncements maybe by accident or because you are repeating what someone else has said,  but can you at all times in everything you say consciously and consistently communicate spiritual truth through your own knowledge and experience of it like the apostles could?  Like the saints can? 
 
Infallible in a theological sense does not simply mean a particular statement is true, but that it is authoritative and able to communicate the knowledge of God - not in the sense of accurate sentences about God but in the sense of communicating a real knowledge - the difference between actually knowing God vs simply knowing some fact about Him. 
 
About the word holy and the word infallible. See Kosta's post #16.


If an infallible material authority, Holy Scripture, must be discovered by an even more infallible formal authority, the Church, then it follows that the Church is more infallible than Scripture.

However, I am not infallible, nor are my teachers, yet I can make infallible pronouncements about matters with material authority (eg A is not not A). My pronouncement of an infallible truth is infallible, because the truth is infallible. Yet I am not.

So it does not seem to follow that infallibility is a necessary prerequisite for a formal authority, the Church, to make infallible pronouncements regarding an infallible material authority, Holy Scripture.

Moreover, it does not seem that the Church satisfies your definition for infallibility. For you assert that infallibility means that "you at all times in everything you say consciously and consistently communicate spiritual truth".

However, the Church sometimes communicated spiritual error. For example, at the First Synod of Tyre in AD 335, the bishops brought accusations against Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, the primary opponent of Arius; after this, Constantine had Athanasius banished, since he considered him an impediment to reconciliation. In the same year, the Synod of Jerusalem under Constantine's direction readmitted Arius to communion in AD 336. Would you consider these synods "The Church"? Would you consider their conclusions to be spiritual truth?

If these synods are pronouncements of the Church, and Arianism is not spiritual truth, then it seems that the Church sometimes appears fallible. For the Church to be considered infallible, you must somehow narrow the definition of what is the Church (eg eliminating Arian pronouncements). Can you provide us with a definition of the Church which shows that it "at all times consciously and consistently communicates spiritual truth"?

#45 Eric Todd

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 04:46 PM

I think as Olga suggested, the original Greek word used would be useful to have. As already mentioned, 'infallible' is a medieval Latin word which obviously would not have been used at the Ecumenical Councils or by the Fathers.

Now, it seems you are putting the backtrack pedal to the metal. For you have asserted the following:

"I do sometimes wonder what sort of catechesis some people have had. The questions raised here sound like the questions a Protestant might ask. A catechumen should be taught the meaning of that article in the Creed which says, 'One, Holy Catholic, and Apostolic Church'. The 'Holy' adjective means that the Church's teaching of the Orthodox Christian faith is pure and, if we must use the word, infallible. The Church is 'the pillar and ground of truth'; the truth it teaches is the unchanging teaching revealed by God. As has already been indicated, the Church has furnished the world with the fulness of faith and truth through the canon of scripture, the sacraments, the definitions of the Ecumenical Councils, the holy icons, and the service books. The statement, 'I am not even sure that the Church must be equally as infallible as Scripture' is, with respect, meaningless. If what the word 'Holy' signifies is fully understood, what questions can remain?"

Yet if "infallible...obviously would not have been used at the Ecumenical Councils or by the Fathers", then it cannot be asserted that the Church understood "holy" to be "infallible". So, I am afraid your argument falls apart here.

Edited by Eric Todd, 03 March 2013 - 04:56 PM.


#46 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 05:01 PM

The Councils and the Fathers simply did not have to consider whether the Church is infallible; as has been said more than once this is axiomatic.  It would be useful to know if Greeks, like Russians, do not refer to the Church as infallible.



#47 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 06:09 PM

The Church gives witness to the Truth, in its Scriptures, in its writings, in its worship, in its teachings. It is not the Bible that is the body of Christ, it is the Church. Against what some Protestants think, Holy Scripture, while true and edifying, it is NOT the whole sum of faith in Christ. It is the Church that gives us everything we need, NOT Holy Scripture which is only one piece of the whole. This idea will, of course, cause horror amongst certain Protestant groups, but there it is. That being said, the Church is not allowed to contradict Holy Scripture or change it. It all must form a holistic harmony and Scripture is a standard to which all the teachings of the Church are measured. But then again, it is the Church that explains what Holy Scripture means.

 

While zeal for knowledge is a good thing, we need to be careful about useless disputes which do not edify the Church. "But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless." (Titus 3:9). The word "infallible" is superfluous. Although it is sometimes used, it really has no place in Orthodoxy. I strongly recommend we drop it from our lexicon. We are arguing a non-entity. It really doesn't matter what is more "infallible" than something else, when the word itself is defective for our purposes.

 

If we feel that we are being ridiculed, this is actually an opportunity to receive a blessing, as is any opportunity to exercise humility. Humility is the queen of virtues, because without it, progress in Godliness is impossible.



#48 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 06:13 PM

I wonder if this helps:

 

My question: is the Church infallible? The Church is the Body of Christ.  It is led into all truth by the Holy Spirit.  As such it is impossible for the Church to be in error. 


When?  Eternally.


What conditions would need to be fulfilled to be able to conclude that the Church "like the Divine Scriptures, is infallible"?  None.  The Church came first and determined what constitutes scripture because it was led by the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, scripture is as Herman has helpfully described it in post #47.



 



#49 Eric Todd

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 07:18 PM

The Church gives witness to the Truth, in its Scriptures, in its writings, in its worship, in its teachings. It is not the Bible that is the body of Christ, it is the Church. Against what some Protestants think, Holy Scripture, while true and edifying, it is NOT the whole sum of faith in Christ. It is the Church that gives us everything we need, NOT Holy Scripture which is only one piece of the whole. This idea will, of course, cause horror amongst certain Protestant groups, but there it is. That being said, the Church is not allowed to contradict Holy Scripture or change it. It all must form a holistic harmony and Scripture is a standard to which all the teachings of the Church are measured. But then again, it is the Church that explains what Holy Scripture means.
 
While zeal for knowledge is a good thing, we need to be careful about useless disputes which do not edify the Church. "But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless." (Titus 3:9). The word "infallible" is superfluous. Although it is sometimes used, it really has no place in Orthodoxy. I strongly recommend we drop it from our lexicon. We are arguing a non-entity. It really doesn't matter what is more "infallible" than something else, when the word itself is defective for our purposes.
 
If we feel that we are being ridiculed, this is actually an opportunity to receive a blessing, as is any opportunity to exercise humility. Humility is the queen of virtues, because without it, progress in Godliness is impossible.


Herman, I agree to all of this. I would gladly drop the word "infallible" from the lexicon. But can we drop the Synod of Jerusalem? It also seems some here on this thread are rather fond of the word.

I agree, though. "Infallibility" is a papist concept that is superfluous to Orthodoxy. I am happy to consider the Synod's use of the word an anomaly.

#50 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 08:07 PM

I agree, though. "Infallibility" is a papist concept that is superfluous to Orthodoxy. I am happy to consider the Synod's use of the word an anomaly.  

       

Yes.  Though we have not established what Greek word was used, it must be borne in mind that this Synod was targetting a Protestant audience and had to trim its language accordingly.  This is what makes it different from the Ecumenical Councils.



#51 Anna Stickles

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 09:35 PM

Another thing to consider would be whether the word as used at that time - whether in Catholic and Protestant circles or in the Synod's statement - actually meant what it means today.  It's not just a matter of finding out what Greek word is being used, but what that Greek word and it's Latin equivalent meant to the persons using it.

 

It would make an interesting research project.   I think it wise not to assume that modern conception of infallibility is same as that circulating at the time of the Synod.  I have seen confusion happening over and over again because people project modern definitions of words and modern ways of perceiving reality back into previous times without taking into consideration that the whole mindset back then was different. 


Edited by Anna Stickles, 03 March 2013 - 09:35 PM.


#52 Anna Stickles

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 10:10 PM

However, the Church sometimes communicated spiritual error. For example,
at the First Synod of Tyre in AD 335, the bishops brought accusations
against Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, the primary opponent of Arius;
after this, Constantine had Athanasius banished, since he considered
him an impediment to reconciliation. In the same year, the Synod of
Jerusalem under Constantine's direction readmitted Arius to communion in
AD 336. Would you consider these synods "The Church"? Would you
consider their conclusions to be spiritual truth?
 
If these synods are pronouncements of the Church, and Arianism is not
spiritual truth, then it seems that the Church sometimes appears
fallible. For the Church to be considered infallible, you must somehow
narrow the definition of what is the Church (eg eliminating Arian
pronouncements). Can you provide us with a definition of the Church
which shows that it "at all times consciously and consistently
communicates spiritual truth"?

 

A group of bishops does not constitute the Church any more then an individual constitutes the Church.  It is the Church that in the end vindicated Athanasius and rejected the Arians. It did not make a mistake in this, nor was it in error.

 

Our definition of the Church is in the Creed. It is One, it is Holy, It is universal (catholic) and it is Apostolic.    You asked before if I was referring to something mystical, and to a large extent, yes the Church and what it is, is a mystery. 

 

We have had many very long threads here discussing the nature of the Church and I think it is something that cannot fully be defined. However, at the end of the day what we can say is that we have to accept what is given us in the Creed.


Edited by Anna Stickles, 03 March 2013 - 10:11 PM.


#53 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 10:51 PM

I would like to remind that the Church is the Body of Christ and exists not only on earth at any given time but exists in heaven.  This linkage is important in understanding that the Church is not, as Anna's post hints, a human organisation on earth subject to the failings of individuals, including bishops, within it.  The existence of heresy does not make the Church any less than what it is, and under the guidance of the holy Spirit heresy will always be overthown.  Was the Church in Russia during its 'Babylonian captivity' in the 20th century not the Church?


Edited by Andreas Moran, 03 March 2013 - 10:53 PM.


#54 Anna Stickles

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 07:16 PM

The non-use of the word 'infallible' in the Orthodox Church is highlighted by the fact that in Russian there is no word for 'infallible' that could be used in relation to the Church.  The Russian word непогрешимый is only used about the Roman Catholic pope.  For Russians, saying Christ is Head of the Church, means there is simply no need to add anything further - in fact it would be very odd to do so.  I might add that for a Russian, even in English the expression, 'the Church is infallible' sounds strange.

Andreas,  The statement from the Synod of Jerusalem must be available in Russian, I'd be interested to know what it says if you could find and translate it. I think it would give some idea of how the Church understands the meaning of what the Synod was saying. 



#55 Eric Todd

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 08:56 PM

Andreas,  The statement from the Synod of Jerusalem must be available in Russian, I'd be interested to know what it says if you could find and translate it. I think it would give some idea of how the Church understands the meaning of what the Synod was saying. 


It is a rather fascinating point. I too would be interested to see how it reads in Russia.

#56 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 10:00 PM

Not so simple!  After all we are talking about Orthodoxy and when you get to Russia, everything is difficult!  'Which translation of which text?' becomes the question.  According to an article we found by a Russian theologian, Patriarch Dositheos's 1672 Confession had its problems and failed to get rid of all western bad influences.  The article says Dositheos knew this and published a revised edition in 1690.  Even then, the Russians were not happy and St Metropolitan Philaret published his famous Catechism; this is commonly said to be of 1823 but it was revised in 1828 and revised even more in 1839.  This catechism is widely accepted though St Ignatii Brianchaninov thought it could do with some tweeking.  Having said all that, we couldn't find the actual Russian text of any version of the Confession of Dositheos - but we are getting ready to go away for a few days. 






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