Ancient Faith Continued: When “Orthodoxy” Gets it Wrong

Update: Comments here and on Facebook have made me aware that some people think this post is about gay marriage. It is not.

Ancient Faith Continued is a blog series following my recent appearance on Ancient Faith Today, in which I answer some questions I wish I had been asked about being Orthodox in a modern world.

St. Athanasius
(via Wikimedia Commons)

I support gay civil marriage. This puts me at odds with the official views of my bishops. If I had been asked about that on air, I would have said something about how I am personally uncomfortable disagreeing with my hierarchs, but I would also have said that in the Orthodox Church, just because a synod or council meets and says something does not mean it is right. Let me give you a few examples…

In the year 360 Orthodoxy became Arian. That is when Emperor Constantius called a council in Constantinople to adopt the The Tenth Arian Confession. One reason the Arian controversy lasted so long was because, to a lot of people, it sounded like Orthodoxy. Thus St. Athanasius was repeatedly exiled and condemned as a heretic.

By Antoine Taveneaux, via Wikimedia Commons

In the year 754 Orthodoxy became Iconoclastic. In 730 Emperor Leo III passed a decree banning all icons, and Constantine “Copronymus” called a council in 754 to ratify his decision. Contrary to some theories, this had nothing to do with the influence of Islam on the church in Constantinople. After all, as Jaroslav Pelikan pointed out, Byzantium’s enemies were Muslim, so that would be like saying sales of sushi and sauerkraut should have skyrocketed during WWII. Iconoclasm arose as a response to genuine concerns about idolatry. The controversy lasted over a hundred years because it took that long for the church to figure out what we now know is orthodox.

In 1274 and 1439 Orthodoxy became Roman Catholic. That is when Orthodox bishops met at Lyon and again in Florence to submit to the rule of the Pope. In Florence this involved a great deal of compromise on important theological issues. Although the council was almost immediately rejected by many in Constantinople, others continue to view those councils as legitimate (we call them Byzantine Catholics).

“The Tradition”?
(by Siim Sepp, via Wikimedia Commons)

The problem with seeing the tradition as an unchanging deposit is that it masks the fact that we only know what is orthodox because we have the benefit of history. To a certain extent, at any one point in time, knowing orthodoxy from heresy is a matter of perspective. That does not mean we should be relativists, or that we should speak without conviction, only that we also need to exercise a little intellectual humility. We should make every effort not to confuse an unshakable faith with obstinacy and hubris.

This post will almost certainly raise the alarms of some readers who see a “pro-gay agenda” behind pretty much everything I say these days. If what I have written already will not convince them, I doubt new words will be any more effective. The past two posts have been nothing but “prolegomena.” When Kevin Allen and I were discussing how to approach the topic of Orthodoxy and same-sex orientation, he proposed we start with Scripture and the “holy traditions” of the Orthodox Church.

He is right, of course. All our discussions should begin there, but that still may not mean we are both talking about the same thing.

50 Comments

  1. Joe November 9, 2012 9:37 pm  Reply

    David Dunn is totally off; a modern day heretic. Only judgment day will reveal the utter deception he is either knowingly or ignorantly partaking of.

    • davidjdunn November 9, 2012 10:55 pm  Reply

      Wow, Joe. Pretty harsh.

      Did you notice the scare quotes around “Orthodoxy”? I think you might be missing part of the point. But I don’t intend to continue this discussion. I mean, the whole point is that sometimes Orthodoxy is ambiguous while it’s happening. That point of view is not really amenable to professions to know the mind of God come judgment day.

      Be well, and please pray for me.

  2. Lucian August 22, 2012 7:35 pm  Reply

    …and in the year 2,000, Orthodoxy became pro-gay… :-)

  3. Andriy July 27, 2012 10:10 pm  Reply

    Thank you very much David for your very astute and poignant comments. The Orthodox Church, although the Bride of Christ, is not represented on Earth without pastoral errors. The Orthodox Church knows that her gay children exist. One day they will come to the realization that they were wrong about ignoring and even persecuting them and come to love, protect and pastor them as they do their straight children. orthodoxandgay.com

  4. Elijah McKnight July 17, 2012 3:07 am  Reply

    David, I wonder if I am on the same page as you are with this topic. I respect and humbling submit to the tradition of the Church, to the faith once delivered, but I have legitimate reasons to desire conversation over the homosexual debate. I have talked with a couple of Orthodox bishops and priests who have told me that in light of the Biblical contexts, committed, monogamous, same-sex relationships are not sinful.

    I trust that in our conversations, you can see my desire for discernment on this issue. As far as providing any substance to my argument, I don’t really have an argument for or against it. I can use Bible, Science, and Tradition (as it seems) to support answers on both sides. I’m honestly tired of the gay debate. People are obsess over it too much that they forget the message of the Cross.

    I believe that the Message of the Cross, true discipleship should be the paradigm or lenses whereby we see this debate. I love what Fr. Hopko says: “The question that every Christian must ask is, ‘Is same-sex attraction a gift from God or a cross to be borne, to be carried?’ Then we would follow up with, ‘Every cross is a gift, because it is through the cross that we enter into the Kingdom.'” This quote changed my life and perspective.

    I think the pro-gay and anti-gay debaters obsess over their answers and forget the essential ingredient in the discussion for the Christian: the Cross. I am offended by any claim to follow Christ apart from the Cross. I think that Humility, Suffering, and Eucharistic Life are ingredients to being a Christian. I hope to begin writing on this this Fall.

    • davidjdunn July 17, 2012 3:18 am  Reply

      My basic position, Elijah, is one of caution. I hear of bishops and priests giving counsel like that which you describe. But I have not spoken with them directly. In light of any kind of compelling evidence to the contrary, I feel it is my responsibility to practice intellectual humility in the face of the teachings of the church. At the same time, I am open to listening from hierarchs who find themselves on the other side of Fr. John. I expect Father would say their heresy is proved by their cowardice. I see no point in suggesting alternative explanations.

    • davidjdunn July 17, 2012 3:21 am  Reply

      But my primary position is that I am much more concerned with my own sins than worrying about those of others. Treat all people as I want to be treated. I think someone important said something about that once.

    • Fr. John Whiteford July 17, 2012 10:52 pm  Reply

      I have seen a number of people who claim to know of a number of Orthodox priests who say such things, but I have yet to see anyone who was willing to actually provide the name of even one. This indicates that the priests and bishops in question are afraid to say what they believe in public, and this can only be because they know that they are at odds with the Tradition of the Church, or lack the courage of their convictions. In Church history, it is only the heretics who would hide their real beliefs until they felt it was “safe” for them to come out of the closet with them. The Scriptures and the canons are absolutely clear that homosexual sex is inherently sinful, whether it is “monogamous” or not.

      • Matthew Tweedell July 21, 2012 6:52 pm  Reply

        Sometimes, your logic, Father, I do not follow. For instance:

        “This indicates that the priests and bishops in question are afraid to say what they believe in public, and this can only be because they know that they are at odds with the Tradition of the Church, or lack the courage of their convictions.”

        How is it that these are the “only” possibilities? Could not the Church—or perhaps I should say, church—be so corrupt as to have a stubborn tradition itself at odds with the Tradition, in truth? Did even Jesus lack courage in His conviction—or had He no such belief—that He was the unique Son of God? I’m referring of course to…

        “In Church history, it is only the heretics who would hide their real beliefs until they felt it was “safe” for them to come out of the closet with them.”

        …even the very beginning of “Church history” itself (at least, in any sense distinct from Jewish history):

        “[Jesus said,] ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ.” (St. Mt. 16:17-20)

        Father, with all do respect, you appear to have made a horrendously nearsighted error but sadly very common (in my experience) error. Our very first—very first, indeed, foremost and uniquely perfect—example in the history of the Church should suffice for the limited time and web-space a blog comment is worth occupying: Christ made no public affirmation of who He Himself believed Himself to be—who He really was—until the time had come that He would “come out of the closet” to be lifted up on the cross. As Elijah said (above)—and as I need reminding of more often than anyone and certainly more often than you, Father—it all goes back the Cross.

        Now, could not the bishops and priests to whom you refer have been, as the Twelve were initially, instructed not to go public in advocating this position until the appointed hour, lest their ability to serve the Lord in whatever capacity He might intend be prematurely diminished? Or for some other reason perhaps? Indeed it seems only a lack of imagination, if not a shortage of faith in the Omnipotence of the Lord God, that would allow one honestly to maintain that there are only the limited possibilities that you assert there to be. And on what grounds? Perhaps only that they are the first to come to mind because they accord your *expectations* of how things are to be. But perhaps God’s expectations are something else entirely. Perhaps His will would disappoint us, perhaps only until we will realize how much better are His ways even than anything we could have imagined!
        Or perhaps there is no Divine Will such that it touches upon such matter at all really. Perhaps His concerns are higher still—run deeper still—than we’ve imagined. Or perhaps we’ve simply imagined the whole thing entirely (though I can hardly imagine giving man’s meager imagination such credit)!

        In any case, to me, it is one thing to hide a belief—this implies deception—and another thing not to go around shoving it in people’s faces, but I can understand if there could be some difficulty discerning especially the nuance of the latter.

        And in any case, I believe the matter of debate here is marriage—civil marriage—not sex, Father John. Not a sexual habit, but a domestic contract. Not about the so-called “sin” but the so-called “civil right”. If you can’t hear, “gay,” without thinking, “sex,” that’s… well, it’s what it is. But don’t try to reframe the true substance of the issue, Father.

        Keeping people from legally registering their domestic arrangements doesn’t keep them from sleeping together; it doesn’t keep them from having sex. It keeps them from making end-of-life decisions regarding their significant other, perhaps. It keeps them from adopting orphans in need of good and loving homes that they can provide, perhaps. It keeps them from the knowledge of Christ when they see the Church, or churches generally, as a major cause of their discrimination, perhaps. But do you really think it has more to do with their sex life than, for instance, the fact that so-called “sodomy” isn’t illegal? Few, however, are those who would dare insist that it should be, in a modern, free, civil society.

  5. Elijah McKnight July 16, 2012 7:14 pm  Reply

    Thanks, David for the logical correction. I love this verse and cherish it as my life: “Watch your LIFE and DOCTRINE closely, because by them you will save both yourself and your hearers.” – 1 Tim. 4:16

    I am, as the Apostle Paul proclaimed, the chief of sinners. God be gracious to me a sinner.

  6. Elijah McKnight July 16, 2012 2:51 am  Reply

    Fr. I suppose that you didn’t hear my in my last post. I’ll repeat, “I am not interested in carrying on a conversation with someone who would rather try and win an argument than get to know me.” Hope that helps.

    • Fr. John Whiteford July 16, 2012 11:12 am  Reply

      I’m not interested in winning an argument; I’m interested in the truth. You have made no comments on the substance here, and so apparently you are not interested in the truth.

      • davidjdunn July 16, 2012 11:34 am  Reply

        Fr. John,

        I rarely censor comments. For now I merely issue the following caution: It is presumptuous to suggest that because Elijah does not want to engage in a conversation with you, that means that he does not care about the truth. If you said that to me, I would be insulted. Please do not say something like that on my blog again. Thank you.

        • Fr. John Whiteford July 17, 2012 1:33 am  Reply

          I don’t think it is presumptuous to say that it appears that someone who engages in the ad hominem dismissal of a position he disagrees with, without any reference to anything of substance is apparently doing so because he is not interested in the truth. I said “apparently” because Elijah can always prove me wrong by making a substantive argument. By avoiding arguments you would rather not have to deal with substantively is the usual reason people in engage in the ad hominem fallacy.

          And yes, when someone does not engage the substance of my arguments, but suggests that I take the position on this issue I do because I am a legalistic “pharisee” who is “prideful and hateful” with a “fundamentalist mindset,” that my posts are “nonsense”, that I have “hatred and homophobia” of which he charges me (and perhaps Fr. Seraphim Holland), to “repent”, and calls down “Shame” us… I think calling “ad hominem” is a fair characterization.

          • davidjdunn July 17, 2012 3:13 am 

            Fr. John, I read the comment a bit differently. More as an admonishment than an attack. But I can see your point and so I will just issue a universal caution to all to avoid inflated language.

  7. Elijah McKnight July 15, 2012 3:44 am  Reply

    Fr. as I have mentioned, I am seeking to have my ears itched. Not sure why you quoted that Scripture (which is very familiar too me). I love the Orthodox Tradition. I’ve found Christ there. I have not found Christ in the posture of your comments. My position on homosexuality is questionable, because I am also trying to discern what constitutes the Tradition of the Church. Not sure your intentions on blasting Scriptures at me, but I am not interested in carrying on a conversation with someone who would rather try and win an argument than get to know me.

    • Fr. John Whiteford July 15, 2012 11:03 am  Reply

      There are two verses there. One which says that sodomy (arsenokoikai) is contrary to sound doctrine, and then the one that talks about a time when people will not endure sound doctrine. There is nothing questionable about it as far as Orthodoxy is concerned, and if you believe that the Apostolic Tradition is what the Apostles received from Christ, and that the God of the Old Testament is also the God of the New, then there is nothing ambiguous about from Christ’s perspective either.

  8. Elijah McKnight July 13, 2012 4:31 pm  Reply

    May I just say that I appreciate Dr. Dunn’s love for Orthodoxy and humility he gives in his responses. Honestly, every time I see a priest respond in this post, I cannot help but think of legalism (Love of the Letter), and Pharisee-ism. I do not appreciate the tone of the clerics in this post. I think that some of you can learn a lot from Father Thomas Hopko’s posture with this gay debate.

    I love learning from Hopko and Dunn. I just graduated from a fundamentalist school and am beginning to reject a certain “everything must be black and white.” I honestly, think the East would benefit from insights from the West (i.e. Science). While Science cannot speak of moral thought, I think it can and should be brought to the table of discussion.

    Honestly, my experience of the Orthodox Church has been wonderful and refreshing to my soul. My experience with prideful and hateful clerics has been otherwise. My first “Orthodox Inquirer” meeting I had with a priest in Mississippi was ridiculous. The priest began to talk about homosexuality (not even knowing that I have same-sex attraction). I stopped him and told him briefly my story. He changed his tone. Furthermore, I have a friend in that Church that was a catechumen, but he left catechesis because of this kind of “black and white” fundamentalist mindset. I don’t approve of my friend’s decision to leave nor do I approve of his ecclesiological decisions he is making, but this nonsense needs to stop.

    I listen to Dunn, not because I’m wanting to have my ears tickle, but because he is a STRAIGHT MAN wanting to understand religion and its relationship with Culture (i.e the Gay debate). I respect his posture, because it points me to the Cross. And it is the Cross/Christ which is the center of all theology.

    If some of you priests (and others) have hatred or homophobia, I charge you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, our God, Repent! You are turning people away from the faith. You, as Jesus once said to the Pharisees, “They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” Some of you are more interested in protecting long traditionally held beliefs (on the gay issue) then reaching out with loving arms to gay people who are hurting and feel that God doesn’t want them or love them. Shame on you. I’ll say it again, “Shame on you!”

    • Fr. John Whiteford July 14, 2012 7:14 pm  Reply

      I have no hatred for anyone. If you have an issue with something that I have said, take issue with it, but do so on the substance, and please lay out the basis for your objection with reference to the Scriptures and the Tradition of the Church. If you simply don’t like the Tradition, then I charge you to repent.
      “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers (2 Timothy 4:3).

      “…knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust” (1 Timothy 1:9-11).

  9. Priest Seraphim Holland July 11, 2012 8:59 pm  Reply

    David: Here is a golden opportunity to “un-pigeonhole” yourself. Answer this simple question. Do you believe that homosexual sexual acts are sinful and prohibited by the law of God? I will be honest with you, as I ask you to be with me. If you say “no”, or hedge (the usual response), all of your comments will have no credibility with me, because you will be deficient in your understanding of Christian sexual morality. If you have secular reasons to support gay civil unions or even to call it “marriage”, I will continue to disagree with you, but with respect for your arguments. If you believe and teach heresy however, you disqualify yourself from having any moral authority in this area of debate.

    • davidjdunn July 13, 2012 10:11 am  Reply

      Fr. Seraphim,

      Part of me wonders whether I should even respond to this comment, because I have responded to it as well as I can. As I said to Fr. John already, his issue seems to be *not* that I disagree with the teaching of the church on sso (I do not), but that I (1) reject his natural theology as unOrthodox, and (2) I reject his tone. If this is what you need in order to be convinced of my orthodoxy/Orthodoxy, then I am afraid I will leave you disappointed.

      But I will continue writing, for a moment, in faith, hope, and love.

      If I may be a bit personal, Father. I am reluctant to use clear “yes-and-no,” black-and-white language when it comes to any sin because I am a recovering Nazarene. I came from a tradition that in some places can be highly legalistic and highly judgmental. There was a time in my life when I was both of those things. I do not like who I was back then. I pledged to crucify that “old man” with Christ when I came into the Orthodox Church, and my years since have been spent shoveling dirt upon his grave and fighting every impulse I have to dig him up and step back into his skin. What I love about the Orthodox Church is that it teaches me to love others without feeling the need (as one caller to AFT put it a few weeks back) to “tell them how wrong they are.”

      So I choose not to give a simple “yes” or “no” answer to your question. You may take this as a sign of my secret heresy, but I ask you to graciously consider that, perhaps, I do not want to use language that, for me, reanimates a corpse I want to keep buried.

      The clearest thing I can say is this: I do not fully understand the teaching of the church on sso/ssa, and part of me pushes back against that teaching, but in the end I accept it. I know that the mystery of my faith requires humbling myself before that which I do *not* understand. “Lord, I believe! Help thou my unbelief!”

      Here is what I have said on my own blog: http://www.davidjdunn.com/2012/06/12/my-year-as-a-pro-gay-orthodox-heretic/

      • Fr. John Whiteford July 14, 2012 7:09 pm  Reply

        When you convert from a heterodox faith to Orthodoxy there are two big things you have to get past: You have to leave your non-Orthodox baggage behind. Particularly at the beginning, You have to question yourself before you speak on the faith, and ask if what you are about to say is really Orthodox or not. But on the flip side, you have to over compensate. Everything you learned as a Nazarene was not wrong, and when you encounter something in Orthodoxy that reminds of your Nazarene background, you have to take the Orthodox teaching on its own merits. There is no ambiguity in Orthodoxy on this issue, and so just because the Nazarenes are (or, at least used to be) firm on the morality of Homosexuality, taking an ambiguous position is not an option. Now if you are struggling with the issue, and earnestly endeavoring to accept the teaching of the Church, I can understand that, but you should not let your own struggle become a temptation for others by writing things that encourage ambiguity on this unambiguous issue.

  10. Fr. John Whiteford July 11, 2012 2:52 am  Reply

    But the first two sentences are followed by: “If I had been asked about that on air, I would have said something about how I am personally uncomfortable disagreeing with my hierarchs, but I would also have said that in the Orthodox Church, just because a synod or council meets and says something does not mean it is right. Let me give you a few examples…” and everything that follows is an argument to support the above, and so the entire essay is about your position on “gay marriage” and is an apologia of the same… clearly.

    • davidjdunn July 11, 2012 9:32 am  Reply

      Yes, but as Kevin said at the beginning of the broadcast, he did not want those 90 minutes to be about the gay marriage issue but to get into a broader topic about church, state, etc.

      Honestly, though, Fr. John, like I said on Facebook, these conversations are beginning to wear on me. I feel like any attempt to unpigeonhole myself will fall on deaf ears.

      • Fr. John Whiteford July 11, 2012 10:32 am  Reply

        I think it was in the 3rd or 4th grade that I was taught that if you write an essay, your first paragraph should let the reader know what the rest of the essay is about. That is fairly standard. Your first paragraph is about your views on “gay marriage” and everything that follows is an argument to support your points in that first paragraph. So next time you are not writing about “gay marriage” I would suggest not mentioning it in your introductory paragraph.

        • davidjdunn July 11, 2012 11:15 am  Reply

          Indeed. My first three or four sentences gestured toward what the broadcast was about.

          • davidjdunn July 11, 2012 11:15 am 

            Done.

  11. Fr. John Whiteford July 10, 2012 11:24 pm  Reply

    You begin a post with “I support gay civil marriage. This puts me at odds with the official views of my bishops” and then wonder that people think the post is about “gay marriage”? Come on, David.

    • davidjdunn July 11, 2012 2:27 am  Reply

      I assume that my readers are capable of parsing a contextual statement introducing a topic from the topic itself.

  12. Alex July 10, 2012 1:58 pm  Reply

    David,

    I asked the following question in the comments of a previous post:

    If a person takes a theological position, is there a way for us to determine if it is in line with the Church’s teachings, if it is authoritatively and infallibly taught for or against (or neither)?

    I didn’t receive a response then, and it seems appropriate to re-ask it here.

    Alex

    • davidjdunn July 10, 2012 2:30 pm  Reply

      I didn’t answer it because it feels like a setup to a debate, and I don’t have time for a debate. Seriously. I’m pushing 60+ hours a week right now, and I love my wife and kids. But my rushed answer is that it depends on whether we are dealing with dogma, doctrine, or theologoumena as well as the topic under consideration, it’s implications for the life of the church, and the historical considerations that contributed to a particular decision. My answer is that there is never certain knowledge at an jndividual level, but that collectively we can trust the Seven Ecumenical Councils to have drawn the conceptual boundaries of dogma. So when it comes to the Trinity, we can be sure we need a trinity, even if we. An never be certain what a trinity is in essence. When it comes to canons telling us not to visit Jewish doctors or the many, many traditions and canons barring menstruating women from receiving Communion (a very old tradition whose internal content is not only inconsistent with revelation but outright contradicts the spirit of Orthodoxy), we can and should look upon them with suspicion.

      • Alex July 10, 2012 3:00 pm  Reply

        I’m not sure what debate you were worried might come up. If you don’t have time to respond, that’s fine. I ask questions and make comments, seeing that you put up posts and respond to others’ comments, but I don’t expect you to set everything aside, nor are you obligated to respond to my comments.

        Appealing to revelation to judge church decision is close to begging the question. How do we tell if something is or isn’t in line with revelation? Similarly with “the spirit of Orthodoxy.” I don’t know what you’re referring to, but if it’s something normative, how do we identify it and determine if something is part of it?

        This all is important, because a) if we can’t tell if something is authoritatively and infallibly taught by the Church (or in line w/revelation or “the Orthodox spirit”), then these things aren’t accessible to us, and b) if we can tell, then we can actually search and discuss what is required of us, both in terms of believe and behavior.

        I don’t think I’m asking for something totally irrelevant, for if we can tell what is authoritatively and infallibly taught, etc., and you provide the criteria for identifying these things, the discussion process can essentially side-step those who are misidentifying authoritative and infallible teaching, etc.

        • davidjdunn July 10, 2012 9:01 pm  Reply

          If you mean in some kind of 100%, verifiable way, no. That is why faith is, well, faith. That is also why any God-talk, even atheism, rests on some kind of a priori. Ultimately every argument involving knowledge of God comes down to some kind of a priori presumption. Thus something like agnosticism is the most rational word one can give about God. But life is not all about logic.

          • Alex July 10, 2012 10:41 pm 

            Are you a fideist in regards to what constitutes normative Tradition, etc.? I.e., do you hold that the believer believes that something is authoritatively and infallibly taught by the Church (or is consistent w/revelation, or w/normative Tradition, or w/what you call “the Orthodox spirit”, etc) in the absence of reasons or evidence?

            If you are a fideist in this way, then there’s really no rational response to anyone who disagrees with you on what constitutes Tradition, etc. There’s no place for real discussion.

            If you’re not a fideist in this way, I’m not sure how to understand your response.

            My question is if we have a way to tell what is a part of authoritative and infallible Church teaching, what is a part of normative Tradition, revelation, what you refer to as “the Orthodox spirit”, etc.

            If we have some way of telling, then how do we tell? What are the criteria?

          • davidjdunn July 11, 2012 2:24 am 

            I am not sure how you mean “criteria.” What degree of surety are you looking for here?

          • Alex July 11, 2012 3:19 am 

            My questions aren’t about “surety”. Simply, can we find out what constitutes normative Tradition, revelation, etc? By criteria I simply mean what does it take for something to be part of normative Tradition, etc.

            Are you a fideist in the way I described? Can we have reasons or evidence for believing that something is part of normative Tradition, or consistent w/revelation, etc.?

          • davidjdunn July 11, 2012 9:28 am 

            I think surety is wrapped up in that question. At least that is how I see it: Is there any way we can know (for certain) what is orthodox and what is heresy?

            For the church? Yes, at least on some issues. When it comes to major dogmatic controversies, the standard has tended to be, “Does this idea allow salvation to be possible?”

            But this is always based upon faith. Is this what you mean by “fideism.”

          • Alex July 11, 2012 2:21 pm 

            By fideism I mean what I said I meant: “Are you a fideist in regards to what constitutes normative Tradition, etc.? I.e., do you hold that the believer believes that something is authoritatively and infallibly taught by the Church (or is consistent w/revelation, or w/normative Tradition, or w/what you call “the Orthodox spirit”, etc) in the absence of reasons or evidence?”

            I’m not asking about certainty. Whether or not a person feels, or can feel, a certain way about their beliefs isn’t what I’m interested in. The question is if there is a way to determine if something is part of normative Tradition, authoritative and infallible statement, etc.

            The sort of positive answers fitting the bill: yes, if a bishop said it, it’s a part of normative Tradition; if three bishops said it, it’s authoritative and infallible.

            I’m not suggesting that these are true, but they are examples of things that would allow us to know if something is part of Tradition, etc., because we can tell these things. We can tell as much as anything else if a bishop has said something.

            As for the criterion you’ve given, are you offering it as a criterion for identifying something as authoritative and infallible teaching, normative Tradition, etc.?

          • Alex July 11, 2012 2:25 pm 

            I should clarify. The question or the criteria aren’t about simply identifying statements. What I’d like to know is how on your understanding we can determine if something is in line w/authoritative and infallible teaching, etc.

  13. Margie July 10, 2012 1:24 pm  Reply

    Forgive me for responding to your post like I’m living through another “crises” in the Episcopal Church where we worshipped for 18 years. We didn’t come to the Eastern Orthodox Christian church to bury our heads in the sand, but we did come to find the Church of Christ as the repository of Truth and Healing, which obviously I do not see in these blog posts. I am hoping that you can listen to Frederica’s podcasts because she addresses the psychology of life and sexual orientation in a very care-filled way. As a Christian I cannot condone or encourage anyone to be involved in a physical same sex relationship and really that opinion has been formed with some input from the Bible, the Church and my own study of human psychology and physicality. And I also do not like to lump people together in categories and address something so private and personal and connected to our uniquness in the loving eye of God as discussing civil unions does require.
    There is also a part of me that feels that in order to respond properly to your blog post here, I should read several sources reporting the individual events in history that you cite and see if I draw the same conclusions that have been put forth by the citing of these historical events and then compare these events to the Church’s response to same sex civil unions. So forgive my laziness as I am reluctant to do that and quite frankly feel that I’ve got enough of my own ineptness to work on with my Lord without trying to work out the past ineptness (or not) of the Church of Christ.
    On the other hand the title of the blog post calls to me, kind of like the title of Spong’s book “Why Christianity Must Change or Die”. I have been too lazy to read that one too. (And I’m not comparing content, only titles and my “gut” reaction of “Ack!” — like Bill the Cat in the Bloom County comic strips: Ack!” As that is what my visceral reaction reminds me of.) Forgive my rambling.
    Lord have mercy!

    • davidjdunn July 10, 2012 2:06 pm  Reply

      Margie, there is no forgiveness needed. I got that sense about the motives behind your concern with this topic. Let me say a couple of quick things in response.

      1. It is to avoid the kinds of things we have seen happen in other churches that I really want us all to be able to have a mature conversation about this issue. To do that, we need to develop the capacity to listen to those with whom we are inclined to disagree because of our personal or ideological prejudices. This is as true for me as anyone.

      2. The title is doing its job if it gets your attention, but thanks for reminding me that irony is sometimes hard to get online. I will consider adding appropriate scare quotes. My point was that sometimes what we think is Orthodox at any given moment turns out not to be. But I am not a simple revisionist. Sometimes what we think are big-T traditions turn out to be little-t traditions, cultural accretions that have nothing to do with the kingdom of God, which is the essence of the church. That is why I can definitely say that the church is perfect. We can trust the guidance of the Holy Spirit in history, and we must continue to cultivate the love and patience needed to listen to the Spirit today.

      I am about to walk back to the Commons at Vanderbilt. I have my headphones, and I have the podcast. (-:

  14. Margie July 10, 2012 11:33 am  Reply

    When you say, “The past two posts have been nothing but “prolegomena.”” Do are you referring to the past two posts as part of what you are writing to introduce your future book or do you mean it as the past two posts have been nothing but introductory discussion to this post?

    Have you been able to listen to the Frederica podcasts? Thanks!

    • davidjdunn July 10, 2012 12:34 pm  Reply

      I only have a second, Margie. May answer is that it is a little of both. I was referring explicitly to the posts in this series. But they are certainly informed by my studies of the concept of “symphonia” that the book addresses.

    • davidjdunn July 10, 2012 12:35 pm  Reply

      Oh, and I have downloaded the podcast, but I can only chip away at it here and there.

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