“Justification by Faith” (Pt. i)

… an excerpt from a letter (published in The Question of Anglican Orders: Letters to a Layman) by the Anglo Catholic theologian Dom Gregory Dix:

[The differences between Protestant ans Catholic accounts of Christianity are] not, as we often pretend, to be found in such questions as whether the Body and Blood of Christ are or are not substantially present in the consecrated Sacrament of the Altar (Luther, the original Protestant, sided with the Catholics on that point against the Protestants) or whether others besides Bishops can ordain, or whether we ought to say the Hail Mary or use incense in church, or the other side-issues on which English Protestants and Catholics usually concentrate. These things are only superficial symptoms. The really profound differences – and they are very profound indeed – all centre around the word ‘Justification’. One does not often hear it mentioned to-day in religious arguments or even in serious theological discussions. But when the Reformation was actually happening – in the sixteenth century – that word provided the dynamite for the whole terrific explosion. Everey Protestant leader insisted time and again that this and this alone was ‘the article of a standing or a falling in the church’, and that in comparison with this no other point in controversy was of final importance. (This would still be the case now, if Protestantism had not so greatly changed from its original principles during th nineteenth century.)

‘Justification’ is the technical term for the fundamental process in the religious life of any Christian man or woman: i.e. that by which fallen man, a creature born in a state of alienation from God and therefore prone to sin, unable of himself altogether to avoid actually sinning to some extent in this life, is through redemption by Christ brought into union with an infinitely holy God, to serve Him in righteousness, to love Him with his whole being and ultimately to enjoy Him eternally. You will see that this concerns the very heart of the Christian religion – and it was about this that Protestants and Catholics differed violently in the sixteenth century. How does the ‘Justification’ of the sinner through Christ happen?

The Protestant answer was unanimous and simple. It happened through a man’s total surrender to one particular idea and to the emotion it evoked; it happened entirely and completely inside a man’s own mind. Protestantism sprang from a radically and unrelieved pessimistic estimate of human nature. This was the personal invention of Martin Luther but it became the common presupposition of all Protestant teaching. Luther taught and Protestantism believed that man is totally and incurably corrupted in his nature by the effects of ‘original sin’, and that his ‘original sin’ is to be simply identified with ‘concupiscence’, i.e. with that susceptibility to temptation which we all know in ourselves. If this identification is accepted, there is no hiding the fact from ourselves that this ‘total corruption’ always persists in us, even in the ‘justified’ and those who appear to be leading and trying to lead a holy life. It is so irremediable, so ‘total’, that even a man’s apparently ‘good works’ are in themselves in the eyes of God damnably sinful. Nothing that a man can do in itself ever have the least value in the eyes of God, on this theory.

Man has therefore but one hope of salvation. God the Father sent His only Son to become Man and be crucified outside the gates of Jerusalem in the first century A.D.; thus He offered the one, true, perfect, sufficient and complete sacrifice to atone for all human sin. To the end of time anyone, however sinful, who believes and fully accepts that fact, and trusts altogether and only to the merit of that sacrifice, is forthwith ‘Justified’ in the sights of God. He needs nothing more, can do nothing more, than be conscious of feeling of confidence, for it is all that stands in between him and eternal torment. Yet even so, he cannot really undo the terrible effects of ‘original sin’ in his soul. The fact that he feels this confidence does not render anything he does or could do in itself pleasing to God. he is not in any way made holy even by ‘justifying faith’; otherwise his own actions would aid in his own redemption and sanctification; grace would no more be the absolutely free gift of God, but something man had at least partially ‘merited’. He is therefore emphatically not made holy but simply ‘accounted holy’ by God, for the sake of Christ, Whose righteousness is ‘imputed to’ the believing sinner by God through a sort of fiction. But in himself the redeemed and ‘justified’ sinner remaisn an entirely sinful sinner still,a nd only the consciousness of his own faith in the redeeming merits of Christ stands between him and the damnation his own inescapable sinfulness entails.  That is the famous doctrine of ‘Justification by faith alone’, which in the eyes of all Protestants was the very essence of Protestantism. ‘Justification’ was a matter of surrendering unconditionally to that one idea, something any individual can do – but can only do – for himself alone, in the absolute isolation of his own mind and heart.

( To be continued )

Ways to Church Reunion (III)

Part III and conclusion to Ways to Church Reunion

There still remains another point, namely, that of the canonical nature of any Reunion achieved through Eucharistic fellowship. There is a firm conviction that Reunion can only be the act of higher ecclesiastical authority. Possibly this may be true as regards complete Reunion of entire Church bodies, a reunion which is as yet outside historical relaity. Even so, such a Reunion from above, a so-called diplomatic Reunion, would have to acquire sanction from the body of Church people, which may even refuse to accept it. Generally speaking, the above point of view can only be accepted logically to the Roman Catholic Church, in which one can say that the voice of the Pope is the voice of the Church, but otherwise such a theory is quite out of place both for the Orthodox and the Anglican hierarchy. Within the same Church we find different sections and people, who even differ from one another dogmatically (as in the Anglican “comprehensiveness”). Even to a greater extent is this true of theological thought and cultural level. To expect, therefore, complete uniformity before Reunion is possible would be completely fruitless and unnecessary. Why cannot separate parts or groups belonging to the different Church bodies – Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican – unite in Intercommunion, if this actually expresses their true dogmatic and Church relationship?

One more objection might be raised here which has become stereotyped in the course of centuries and has trned into a real superstition – viz., that Eucharistic fellowship with the non-Orthodox impairs the priesthood and Sacraments of the entire Church, if any members of that Church enter into such communion. This would be even more true in a case of communion say with the Anglo-Catholics, for through them the Orthodox would enter into communion with Evangelicals and the Modernists, in so far as all the members of the Anglican Church are in communion with one another. Therefore, it is argued, such Intercommunion woud be impossible for the Orthodox. We feel that such prejudice is exaggerated if not absolutely incorrect. Actually the entire Christian world in a certain sense is in communion in so far as this concerns the Sacrament of baptism, which is recognized by all. Nevertheless, through this its priesthood is not impaired. One must interpret the power of priesthood in a much deeper and bolder way, so as not to be able to fear its being impaired through Eucharistric intercommunionwith those of the non-Orthodox who can truly participate in it sacramentally. Therefore group or partial intercommunion does not threaten the integrity of the priesthood in the participants, as it never impaired the priesthood of the Orthodox, who remained in intercommunion with the Roman Catholics for a long time after the schism of 1054. But this type of communion can only be canonically justified through the consent and blessing of the appropriate ruling bishop, for the fulness of the sacraments is concentrated in the bishop, and no priest can celebrate the Sacraments who has severed the link with his bishop. Actually the Church is a union of bishoprics, but every ‘cell,’ that is diocese, lives also with its own special life, though in contact with the others. Consequently, it is all a question of fact. Will a diocese be found in which the corresponding groups of persons could enter into Eucharistic Communion, within the realm of Orthodoxy and Anglicanism, and also of Roman Catholicism? It is a question of the limits of Church centralism. Do the bishops form independent centres, though ones which are co-ordinated with one another? Or, is there only one centre, the episcopus episcoporum, the Pope, who may be one person, or a collective? (The last two alternatives are the same for our particular problem.) A partial, or local union of different Church bodies in the Eucharist, their organic merging, might serve as a mystical and religious foundation for the Reunion of the Churches, which is vainly expected along the paths of canonical and dogmatic Church diplomacy alone. Meanwhile it is important to make a beginning with Church Reunion in those points where it is possible, and so ultimately to carry the problem forward beyond the existing deadlock which our sinful fear and indifference has produced.

# # # #

Ways to Church Reunion (II)

Part II of Ways to Church Reunion

 

There is no doubt that in the course of ages quite a number of dogmatic differences have emerged between the Western and the Eastern Church, although all these are not of equal significance. There are the questions of Filioque, of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin, of Purgatory, of the Pope, and all the other dogmatic definitions of a doctrinal nature which have come to be accepted by the Catholic West (and following in its steps, to some extent Orthodoxy), in its struggle with the Reformation. In this Roman

Filioque?
Filioque?

Catholicism is distinguished by the greatest dogmatic maximum in so far as it attempts to transform every thesis of theological doctrine into dogma (an example of this may be seen in the Council of Trent). In such a method all doctrinal postulates acquire equal significance. One should learn to abandon such dogmatic prejudice when striving towards Reunion, if one ceases to interpret it, of course, as absorption of individual Christians either by the Orthodox or the Roman Catholic Church. In the general context of dogmatic differences which exist between the Churches, we must learn to discern the essentially important dogmatic teaching which finds its expression in the Eucharistic dogma, and contrast it with other dogmatic assumptions which should be set aside as calling for further consideration and elaboration as theologoumena. And we must also have faith that a union in Eucharistic love before the holy Chalice will give us greater power to overcome them, than tournaments between theologians which never result in complete union, for the ‘human,’ the all to human, always dominates them.

It is also unfortunate for the Church that from the most ancient times it has acquired the method of stating dogma in the form of anathemas against those who think differently, whilst a hasty anathema always represents an unnecessary further obstacle to discussion. The idea of a dogmatic agreement in necessaeriis for the purpose of Eucharistic union, which precedes complete dogmatic agreement instead of succeeding it, does not by any means imply dogmatic indifference. But in the question of dogmatics a certain hierarchy of order should be maintained, by virtue of which things should be put in their proper places. One cannot, for instance, assign to the doctrine of transsubstantiation the same compulsory significance as to the Christological and Trinitarian dogma. (The same remark would be true of the majority of the definitions of Trent, which so obviously bear the imprint of Medieval Scholasticism.) We have a whole series of dogmatic definitions which really possess only the significance of theological doctrine. They are valuable in their intention, but certainly not in the form of their expression. In relation to these, for the time being, the principle of in dubiis libertas should be applied.

But we may find that some may argue that the drawing of such distinction between dogmas, their classification as Eucharistic and non-Eucharistic, the more important and the less important, would serve to undermine the infallibility and self-sufficiency of the Church (infallibilitas or indefectibilitas), in which all is equally important and valuable, by introducing an intolerable relativity. Such an objection is based on an abstract Roman interpretation of infallibilitas. This should really be understood not as formal abstraction but as something historically concrete. The Church possesses indefectibilitas in the sense that the Church is complete or self-sufficient. In this sense with a divinely inspired infallibility it meets the needs of its dogmatic consciousness in every epoch. Thus early Christianity, notwithstanding all its dogmatic simplicity and the fact that dogma had not been expressed, was no less indefectibilis, than the later dogmatic epochs, each of which has its own particular style. This style is comprised not only of the postulates which are of abiding value (such as Christology) even when they are expressed in the dogmatic language of a particular epoch, but also of those propositions which minister par excellence to the specific requirements of that age. Revelation, generally speaking, is concrete and historical, but it certainly does not represent a mechanical dictation of infallible truths, nor a sort of automatic script. Therefore it is absurd to accept that an abstract equipollence of all the parts of dogmatic teaching in accordance with a formal stamp of ‘infallibility,’ because the former is conveyed to us ‘at sundry times, and in divers manners’ (Heb. i. I).

Ex Cathedra
Ex Cathedra

In Roman-Catholicism the main barrier to the establishment of such a preliminary dogmatic minimum – the Eucharistic dogma in the extended sense – is represented by the Vatican dogma of Papal infallibility. This dogma in itself constitutes a sort of dogmatic microcosm of Roman Catholicism, a criterion for all Roman dogmatics, which attributes its own peculiar significance to any dogmatic definition. In practice this dogma constitutes the main barrier to Reunion, for it turns Reunion into a simple absorption by the Roman Church. Its rejection makes reunion with Rome impossible, while it is unreserved and unconditional acceptance is impossible for the non-Roman Catholic. Therefore the destinies of the Reunion with Rome depend on how far the Roman Church would wish it and would find it possible to consider its Vatican dogma among those which should be subjected to a soborny investigation as regards its relationship to the whole of the Universal Church. In relationships between the Orthodox and the Anglicans, of course, this Vatican barrier is non-existent.

To be Continued


Ways to Church Reunion (I)

by Fr. Sergius Bulgakov

[This is a sketch of certain ideas, already expressed in an article “By Jacob’s Well” (John iv. 23), Journal of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, No. 22, Dec., 1933]

As long as divided Christianity is merely concerned with a  preliminary discussion of the whole problem of Reunion, the real practical difficulties which obstruct the way are not perceived. But whenever a practical approach is made to this problem difficulties emerge which are insuperable. They will remain insurmountable as long as the main postulates of the whole problem are not radically reconsidered in an attempt to liberate them from a mistaken hierarchical and dogmatic maximalism, which so frequently dominates this whole realm. These obstacles to Reunion emerge, firstly, in the sphere of theological doctrine, in so far as this tends to regard itself as compulsory dogma; and, secondly, as a result of hierarchical centralism, which identifies the body of the Church with the central organ of the hierarchy. Such an approach to the problem is, in its very essence, Roman. It cannot be justified outside the limits of the Roman Catholic Church and, in our opinion, even in that communion it can be considerably moderated. Such an approach to the problem is illustarted by the Florentine Unia (1439). The more important hierarchs of the East and of the West with the Pope and the Patriarch investigated all the dogmatic differences which then existed, and after achieving (apparent) agreement, recognized the highest hierarchical organ in the person of the Pope. The agreement was then sealed by Communion from the same Cup. The Union was proclaimed by a corresponding edict (a pala Bull and an Order of the Emperor) to the whole Christian people, who in the East, however, simply refused to accept it. From the Roman Catholic point of view the procedure was more or less congruous, for every Reunion in the Roman Church can only be interpreted dogmatically as absorptionnot correspond to a true understanding of the Church, where the hierarchy does not command, but merely gives expression to the ‘soborny’ consciousness of the Church through submission to Papal authority. From the Orthodox and generally speaking the non-Roman Catholic point of view, however, such a conception does not correspond to a true understanding of the Church, where the hierarchy does not command, but merely gives expression to the ‘soborny’ consciousness of the Church.

Nevertheless, even up to the present day,* the whole course of Church Reunion (in particular the relations between the Anglican Church and the Eastern Churches) still follows this same path. Here also it is taken for granted that Reunion may be accomplished by an agreement achieved merely between the higher organs of the hierarchy, without any active participation of the people of the Church. Such an approach is no less utopian than it was in the fifteenth century.

On the other hand it is not only a complete agreement in dogma which is sought, but agreement also in dogmatic doctrine. This, as a matter of fact, does not even exist within the limits of the same Church. Whenever theological thought develops with intensity different theological movements are bound to emerge. This happened at the height of the Patristic age (e.g., in Alexandria and Antioch). In practice even within the fold of the Roman Church there is no dogmatic unanimity, although this may be disguised by an iron discipline and the enforced silence of the dissentients. This fact is unexpectedly observed here and there. In our search for dogmatic unity, therefore, it is necessary to fix a dogmatic minimum, which comprises an

A controversial Orthodox Metr. comuning at a ROman Catholic Altar
A controversial Orthodox Metr. comuning at a Roman Catholic Altar

essential condition for Church Reunion. This should not only be done according to external factors (viz., the dogmas of the ancient undivided Church), but also according to their inner significance for Church Reunion. But then the question arises, how can we be attained to in some distant future, and is thus the last and not the first step along the path of Reunion?

All dogma is characterised by the fact that it is not only a norm of teaching, but a basis of life, not only theoretical doctrine, but a quality of religious life. It is from this living power of the dogma that we should proceed in our definition of the required dogmatic minimum at the beginning of Reunion. The life of Grace which flows in the Church in its Sacraments, pre-eminently in Baptism and the Divine Eucharist, represents the universal and basic fact which fulfills and sums up the dogmatic teaching of the Church. The division of the Churches not only gives rise to the spirit of heresy  aiÀresis – which stands for the discord and one-sidedness of teaching, but similarly to a heresy of life, which results in the fact that the Christian world in a light-hearted and painless way reconciles itself to a separation before the Holy Chalice. Somehow or other it has become a self-evident fact [ which one should note here has never been proved by anyone] that dogmatic agreement is the prius, and the eucharistic, the posterius, a sort of result of the first. The call to unity which springs from the Eucharistic Chalice itself, remains unheeded. In spite of this, actually, the divided Churches are united by the oneness of the Chalice, which cannot become a reality to them. This constitutes the paradox of Church divisions. The efficacy of the Sacraments is mutually recognised by the divided Churches, at least by Orthodoxy and Rome (for the moment I put aside the question of Anglicanism). The Sacrament of the Eucharist is also regarded as effective: it is valid, but not effective beyond the limits of one’s own Church for the members of the divided Churches. Of course if we absolutely deny the validity of the sacraments outside a particular confession (as is the case still with certain Orthodox theologians who are of this opinion, viz., the Metropolitan Anthony and others) then the very question of any union in the Sacrament falls to the ground. But if we recognize the validity of the Sacrament, which is in fact the case with the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches, then the question arises, may not this efficacy of the Sacrament become real in actual Intercommunion; and if so, what can this Intercommunion represent both dogmatically and canonically? Here, of course, it is no longer a question of complete unanimity on all the dogmatic points, in all their local and historical peculiarities, but precisely in the dogmas without the recognition of which the Sacrament of the Eucharist cannot be contemplated.

It is not difficult to make clear the primary assumptions on which the Sacrament of the Eucharist is based. Firstly we must recognize the real (and not the symbolically-significatory or the subjective-reminiscent) character of the Sacrament. In it we have the preasentia realis, the true Body and Blood of Christ through the changing of the bread and wine. One may add here the actual theory of the change – “transubstantiation” or any other – does not constitute a dogmatic postulate for the efficacy of the Sacrament. This is obvious from the fact that the early Church throughout the first 1, 000 years of its existence had no Eucharistic doctrine at all. But belief in the actual change, or the praesentia realis – without which the Sacrament loses all meaning and power – already takes for granted faith in Christ as the Son of God and the God-man. In other words it comprises all the Christology of the Church, and further, as a necessary link, also the doctrine of the Trinity. (It is completely incompattible of course with any liberalism or unitarianism which deny both).

But such a condition de facto implies the acceptance of all the Seven Ecumenical Councils in their fundamental Christological definitions, outside which there can be no question of a true Christian faith. (Of course the same is not true of some of their special definitions, which have no dogmatic significance, but only canonical value. The Seventh Ecumenical Council we can also view as a Chrsistological one, because of its insistence on the divine-human nature in Christ.) The demand for an acceptance of the Seven Ecumenical Councils is usually founded on the fact that their definitions stand for a commoni confession of the one faith of the ancient Church. The Eucharistic foundation in our opinion is more essential than this chronological basis, because apart from the Christology of the Church there can be no true Eucharist.

Another dogmatic-canonical postulate of the truth of the Eucharist is the efficacy of the celebrators as of the hierarchy of the ‘apostolic succession’ – in other words the existence of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The apostolic succession of the Church which has been voluntarily broken by Protestantism. As a result of this Eucharistic life within Protestantism has been destined to diminution and to a certain weakening, if not to direct ineffectiveness. The Eastern and the Western Churches were never divided in their recognition of the necessity of the hierarchy, and even now the hierarchy of the divided Church is mutually recognized. The Anglican hierarchy occupies here a special place for its destinies were involved in the general turmoil of the Reformation, as a result of which its validity came to be questioned. However, the Anglican hierarchy, which is not recognized by Rome, finds growing recognition by Eastern Churches – at least in so far as its hierarchy is concerned, and consequently the Eucharist which it celebrates.

The laying on of hands by the bishop is absolutely essential for the validity of the Eucharist, and consequently the Eucharist celebrated by pastors, who have not received an episcopal laying on of hands, is not a true Church Eucharist (even if we do not deny its possessing a certain kind of Eucharistic significance, a ore precise definition is outside our immediate scope). Therefore if Protestantism really wants to enter into the bosom of the United Church, it must overcome the results of the Reformation at this point, and re-establish within itself the sacramental priesthood of ‘apostolic succession.’ It must do this in the name of tradition namely also of Church love, so as not to separate itself in such an essential fact from the whole of the Christian world. (I am not speaking of sects here which are born of a spirit of sectarian particularism, for historical Protestantism does not desire to be a sect, but it becomes a sect in so far as it persists in rejecting the episcopal laying on of hands.)

As things stand, three branches of historical Christianity fit into the scheme we have outlined – Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Anglicanism (assuming that we recognize the validity of Anglican orders), and have a dogmatic and sacramental possibility of uniting before the Holy Chalice. Let us, however, consider the dogmatic and canonical difficulties which stand in the way.

To be Continued

* The present day is 1935.

By Jacob’s Well

The Journal of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, no. 22, 1933, p. 7-17.
by
Fr. Sergius Bulgakov
Jacob's Well
Jacob's well

An article on the actual unity of the apparently divided Church: in prayer, faith, and sacrament (John 4, 23).
The language of the New Testament frequently coins the term :”the Church” or “the Churches.” On the one hand there is the mystical unity of the Church as the Body of Christ, on the other hand there are the specific communities in which such life was realized. We still use the same terms, not only in the abovementioned sense but als in that of different Christian confessions. We must admit that such use of the “Churches” often shocks us, for in our own minds, for example we often think that actually there exists only one Church, namely the Orthodox Church — whereas all that stands outside Orthodoxy is not the Church. But the evidence of the use of language cannot be explained away by mere civility ot hypocrisy, for it contains a concept that a sort of these “non-Churches” belongs to the Church.” For actually these Churches are distinct to us from the non-Christian world. Already in the Gospel narrative we trace this relativeness in connection with the idea of the Church. Our Lord, who came not to destroy teh law but to fulfill it, belonged himself to the Jewish Church. He was a faithful Israelite carrying out its precepts, and this in spite of all its exclusiveness. And yet we get a solemn witness about the Church universal in our Lord’s conversation with the Samaritan woman by Jacob’s well. We are equally struck here both by the very fact that this conversation (which so astonished teh disciples) took place, and by the universal “good news” of Our Lord’s message. Believe Me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem … but the hour is coming, indeed is already here, when true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: that is the kind of worshipper the Father seeks (Jn 4, 21, 23). And he then reveals to her, a Samaritan, that he is the Christ.

All the events in the life of Our Lord have not only a temporary but also an eternal significance, ad this is also true of his conversation with the Samaritan woman. For even at the present time we find that we stand by Jacob’s well and also ask Jesus Christ about where we must worship the Lord. And even now we, who are the “Jews,” know what we worship “for salvation is from the Jews” (Nulla salus extra ecclesiam — “Outside the Church there is no salvation”). And in our day also Our Lord reveals himself to the Samaritan woman and calls on all to worship in spirit and in truth. The harsh, unbending, unrelenting institutionalism of the one saving Church conflicts here with a service in the Spirit, which “blows where it pleases, and you can hear the sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from and where it is going.” (Jn 3, 8). There exist between the Church and the Churches not only a relationship of mutual expulsion but also one of concordance. This unity is simultaneously something already given and something we must attain to. Ni single historical Church can so confine its attention to itself alone as to ignore the Christian world beyond its own limits. Even heresies and schisms are manifestations taking place only within the life of the Church — for pagans and men of other faiths are not heretics and schismatics to us. One can picture differently the ways to Church unity, but its very existence already assumes the fact of actual unity. The Church is one, as life in Christ by the Holy Spirit is one. Only, participation in this unity can be of varying degrees and depths.
Therefore, quite naturally, there are two aspects in the relation of Orthodoxy to non-Orthodoxy: a repulsion in the struggle of truth with an incomplete truth, and a mutual attraction of Church love. History and a sad realism apprehended more of the former aspect of this relationship, for the spirit of schism and division is not only a characteristic of “heretics” and “schismatics.” The will for division is the evil genius that first split up the West and East, and which ever since persues its devastating work further and further.
But can the realization of the truth of our Church be silenced even for a moment, or conversely, can we ever fail to be aware of the untruth of those who think differently? Might not such an attitude result in the sin of lack of faith, which seeks to avoid confessing its own truth and perhaps suffering for it? And so in repulsion and attraction, unity and division, we see a peculiar dialectic of Church life, which compromises the thesis and the antithesis, and we observe that the greater exertion of the one, the acuter the other. The way of “ecumenical” Church life, which strived for Church unity, is simultaneously associated both with a fuller realization of confessional differences and a growing consciousness of unity. But although there seems to be no escape from this antinomy, the Spirit of God actually transcends it through a new kind of synthesis that is brought about, not by means of a new agreement or compromise, but by a new inspiration. The distinction between various confessions lies first of all in dogmatic differences, and then in religious and practical discrepancies that result from them. These are on the surface and are apparent to all. But that which constitutes Church unity (that which is already given) — this is hidden in the very depths. Meanwhile this task is a duty both of Church love and of practical utility. One must realize and express the positive spiritual basis of Christian “ecumenicsm” not only as an idea but also as an actuality existing by grace. We experience it as a breathing of God’s Spirit in grace, as a revelation of Pentecost, when people begin to understand one another in spite of the diversity of tongues.
Let us try to express quite concisely this positive basis of unity, which actually exists even now in the Christian world.

Prayer

The division that occurred in the Church, whatever its origin, was associated with a separation in prayer and remains as an unhealed wound in the Body of the Church. Such is the logic of our frail nature, which cannot contain the entire truth, but only parts of it. Dissociation in prayer, having once arisen, strives to become permanent, lasting, and constant. We are now faced by the strange and provoking sight of Christians praying to God and their Saviour, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in separate communities. Moreover, this division is enforced in the rules of the Church, which, arose, it is true, in the fourth and fifth centuries, but which retain even now the force of actual law. They have not been cancelled formally, although life itself cancles them. The general purpose of these rules in the first place was of course to banish “indifference” by applying protective measures, which were then in accord with the accute struggle with heresy. But measures of defense loose their significance when there is no attacking party — and we see this state of affairs in a whole range of interconfessional relationshps in our own time. We are bound to recognize not only that whuich separates us, but also that which remains common to us all, notwithstanding divisions. The ability to distinguish in life all that constitutes the common heritage of the whole Christian world is the great achievement (only possible through grace) of contemporary “ecumenism,” namely the movement striving for Church unity. An encounter between Christians of different confessions, as Christians, is a great joy that is bestowed on us in our time by the Holy Spirit and a new revelation of the universal Pentecost. Nothing is easier to criticize than this “pan-Christianity” by pointing out that there can exist no “Christianity in general,” but only one true Church in its indestructible concreteness and wholeness. This is true, no doubt, in the sense that the fullness of worship in an ordained and divinely inspired cult can only exist in unanimity. But even so tehre still remains Christianity as such — as faith in our Lord, love for him, and worship directed to him — and this Christianity endures not only in Orthodoxy but as something common to all confessions. We are particularly clear about this and aware of it in missionary work where Christians are compelled, when confronted by pagans, to get a fuller and deeper consciousness of their own Christianity.

The united prayer of Christians, belonging to different confessions, in Churches and outside them, is becoming a more and more usual occurence at the present time. This new practice is not merely a liberty that is quite out of place where strict discipline is exercised, but a common Christian achievement, a capacity for uniting in that which is an actual reality. A time will dawn when the Orthodox Church will define certain rules for this practice and will give the required directions. Meanwhile all this is done in a groping manner, as circumstances demand. This united common prayer can be based dogmatically on the fact that the name of Our Lord is hallowed and called on by all Christians. Christ is present in his name to each one who prays thus, “For where two or three meet in My name, I am there among them” (Mt 18, 20). In truth all Christians who call on Christ’s name in prayer are already actually one with Christ; when we lift our eyes to heaven, earthly barriers cease to exist for us.

But is this actually so? Do these barriers remain even in our union in prayer? Yes, in a certain sense they remain. For we cannot unite in everything with our brethren in prayer. For example, we cannot pray to the blessed Virgin and to teh saints with Protestants. We can find differences in worship even with Roman Catholics, although these differences may not be so essential. But we are not compelled to be silent over these differences, and, if so, is this not treason to Orthodoxy? We must not close our eyes to the fact that such dangers, generally speaking, do exist. The position of Orthodoxy in its relation to the Protestant world is especially unfavorable in this case, precisely because Orthodoxy, for the sake of communion in prayer, is forced to adapt itself by, as it were, minimizing itself, thereby losing some of its fulness. Of course, if this is done out of love for the sake of Church “economy” it is permissible, for it is then regarded as a sacrifice of love, in accordance with the Apostle Paul’s principle of being “all things to all men.” Our brtethren, however, should realize that this is only a sacrifice of love and a condescension to their weakness, not a denial of our own faith.

However, in communion in worship with the non-Orthodox we must “know our measure” so that no distortions or poverty may result in our prayer life. But there is also a positive side to this communion in prayer. We are wont to pride ourselves on our liturgical wealth, as compared to the severe and simple rites of the Protstants. And yet we must not close our eyes to the fact that, in actual practice, we are far from realizing to the full this wealth of ours. so that in some instances it lies upon us as a dead weight of custom. Protestantism, in spite of, its apparent liturgical poverty, knows a living extempore prayer, in which the human soul in a childlike way turns directly to Our Father in heaven. This is the wealth of Protestantism even though it is associated with liturgical poverty.

The Word of God

The Holy Gospels are the commin property of the entire Christian world. Through the Gospels Christ himself speaks directly to the human soul. The soul listens to him and adores him in worship. Generally, in our attitude to the non-Orthodox, we underestimate the power of the Gospels. The four Gospels give us a marvelous icon of our Saviour, drawn by the Holy Spirit of God — a veritable icon in words. When the Eternal Book is studied not only by the mind but also with the heart, when the soul “bows down over the Gospels,” then the sacrament of the Word, born in that soul, is celebrated.

People incline to minimize this direct impact of the Word of God (efficiateas verbi – “efficaciousness of the Word”), addressed to every single soul, stressing in an exaggerated way the significance of holy tradition for its correct understanding. In practice the significance of holy tradition for a living response to the Word of God should not be exaggerated. It has bearing on theology and on certain disputed questions of a dogmatic nature. One might add here that the importance of tradition does not in any way exclude, but actually presupposes, a direct response to the Word of God, which has its life in the Church — both in its soborny (Catholic, communal) consciousness (tradition), and in personal interpretation. And what is especially important is the fact that nothing can replace our personal life with the Gospel (the same applies to the whole Bible). We should be ready to admit the fact that among Orthodox nations the personal reading of the Word of God is considerably less widespread than it is among Protestants, though this is partly replaced by its use in divine worship. The Bible and the Gospels are common Christian property, and the entire Christian world, without distinction of confession bends in prayer over the Gospels. It may be urged that a true understanding of the Gospels is given only to the Church. This is, of course, the case in one sense, yet sincere and devout readers of the Gospels through this alone are already within the Church — that is, in the one and Evangelical Church.

The Spiritual Life

A Christian who lives in the Church necessarily has also his personal life in Christ, which is simultaneously both personal and “of the Church.” Dogma and dogmatic peculiarities cannot fail to be reflected in this personal experience. But in the absence of Christological differences there is a wide field of common faith, even where dogmatic divergences actually do exist. For can one say that “Christ is divided” for a contemporary Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or believing Protestant? In their love of Our Lord and their striving towards him, all Christians are one. This is why the language of the mystics and their experience is common to all. We find that spiritual life, in which the divine is really tasted, unites Christians to a far greater extent than does dogmatic perception. When we sense these tremulous contacts our souls respond to them independently of confessional relationships. It may be that this is the most important result of interrelations of various confessions, which though not reflected in formulae and resolutions, represent a spiritual reality. During the Lausanne Conference this feeling of a kind of common spiritual experience of unity in Christ was remarkable strong. It became clear to all that something had happened above and beyond anything written down in the reports and minutes. On the other hand, apart from this kind of experience as such, there cannot be any Christian unity; for this can only be realized through Christian inspiration in a new vision of Pentecost, for which we aspire and which, in part, we already obtain. This unity in Christ, established by the similarity of Christian experience, is a kind of spiritual communion of all in the one Christ, established long before Communion from the same Chalice can take place. This de facto similarity in the experience of the Christian world, in spite of all its multiplicity, insufficiently realized. Unfortunately, we tend to stress our dogmatic disagreements much more than our common Christian heritage. A mystical intercommunion has always existed among Christians, and in our days more so than previously. Mutual fellowship among the representatives of theological thought, an interchange of ideas, scientific and theological research, a kind of life in common “over the Gospel” — all this tends to make the existing division between Christian confessions already to a certain extent unreal. Symbolic theology is also tending more and more to become “comparative” instead of being “denunciatory.” This is even more evident when we come to mystical, pastoral, and ascetic works, and especially to the lives of the saints. With what attention and devotion the Western saints, such as St. Genevieve, St. Francis of Assisi, and others. And we ought to cultivate deliberately this spiritual interpenetration, which is naturally increasing more and more. In this way we shall appropriate to ourselves the gifts that have been bestowed on others, and through comparison we shall come to know our own nature more fully and deeply.

Thus there exists even now a certain spiritual unity within the Christian world, although this is not expressed in any formulae. But we should add to this mystical, adogmatic unity of the Christian world the reality of its dogmatic oneness. Owing to a certain onesided-ness, Christians of various confessions are actually sensitive to their dogmatic differences, while they do not feel their mutual agreement in the same way. The definition “heretic,” which is really only applicable to certain features of a world outlook, is extended to the entire man, who is completely anathematized for a particular heresy. This was so throughout the course of Christian history. But it would be absolutely inconsistent for us to adopt such language today. For it is time at last to say openly that there exist no heretics in the general sense of the term, but only in a special and particular sense. Such an interpretation, among many others, can be given to the words of the apostle Paul: “It is no bad thing either that there should be differing groups among you” (1 Cor. 11, 19). Of course, in itself, a special heresy stands also for a common affliction, which is detrimental to the spiritual life without, however, destroying it. And it is perhaps difficult and impossible for us really to define the extent of this damage during the epoch when the particular dogmatic division arose. We must not also lose sight of the fact that in addition to heresies of the mind there exist heresies of life, or one-sidedness. One can, while remaining an Orthodox, actually tend toward monophysitism in practice, by leaning either toward Docetic spiritualism or Manicheism, or toward Nestorianism by separating the two natures in Christ, which leads in practice to the “secularization” of culture. And perhaps in this sense it will be found that we are all heretics in various ways. Yet it by no means follows from this that Orthodoxy and the Orthodox Church do not exist. It only shows that heresy, as a division, only exists within the limits of the Church and not outside it, and it implies a defectiveness in Church life.

From this it follows that heresy is only partial damage, we must take into account in dealing with heretics not only that which is heretical but also that which is Orthodox in them. For example through having an incorrect doctrine on the Filioque, do Roman Catholics cease to believe in the redemptive work of Our Lord, or in the sacraments of the Church? And although this seems obvious, all Christians must yet realize not only their divisions but also their agreement. Our Creed, The Nicene Creed (it is true, in its defective form owing to the Filioque), together with the ancient Apostolic and Athanasian Creeds, concstitute the general confession of Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism, and we must never lose sight of this basis of our dogmatic unity.

The Sacraments

At the present time it is in the sacraments that the Christian confessions are most effectively separated from one another. Sacramental fellowship is still only a remote aim, which still remains unaccomplished in the relationships between Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism. In the relationship between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism on the one hand, and Protestantism on on the other, the main barrier is the absence of valid orders and apostolic succession. This barrier does not arise between teh first two confessions. Now, in the vast majority of Christian confessions, sacraments are recognized, in spite of all the diversity of theological teaching associated with them. What attitude ought we to adopt toward the efficacy of these sacraments, and in what measure can this or that theological interpretation associated with them be considered decisive? Although the latter can effect the efficacy of sacraments (only, however, from the side of ex opere operantis, and not of ex opere operato), nevertheless, given the existence of a common faith (say in the Eucharist), the significance of doctrinal diversity in the realm of eucharistic theology may be greatly exaggerated.

We ought to insist first of all, as a general principle, on the efficicacy of teh sacraments in various Church communities. But can we adopt such a principle as our guiding line? Or are sacraments, generally speaking, ineffective beyond the canonical limits of a Church organization, to be regarded only as devout customs, or according to the blasphemous opinion of some as “sacraments of the demons?” The latter opinion is the child of confessional fanaticism that can never be confirmed by theological arguments, and is on the contrary in direct contradiction to the true mind of the Church. One might also add that a mere recognition of teh power of teh sacraments outside Orthodoxy is sufficient, for such a reduction of the question merely to that of their subjective effectiveness (ex opere operantis) evades a direct answer to the question as to their objective value (ex opere operato). It undoubtedly holds that, in the absence of canonical Church fellowship, the sacraments celebrated outside the canonical limits of a given Church organization — canonically and practically, as it were — cease to exist. But does this canonical ineffectiveness (nonefficitas) imply their mystical invalidity (nonvaliditas)? Does it mean that on being separated canincally, and in acertain measure dogmatically also, we find that we are separated from our mysterious unity and fellowship in Christ and in the gifts of the Holy Spirit? Has Christ been really divided in us, or are the non-Orthodox thereby no longer “in Christ,” being estranged from his Body? One ought to think deeply before answering this question, which is perhaps the most essential for us in our relations with the non-Orthodox. This question falls into two parts: the significance of canonical divisions and that of dogmatic divisions, in relation to effectiveness of sacraments.

The first question is answered by stating that canonical divisions (raskol) only prevent the possibility of a direct and unmediated communion in the sacraments and do not destroy their efficacy. The invisible fellowship therefore of those who have been separated is not broken. This constitutes great joy and consolation when we are faced with the sad and sinful fact of canonical divisions in the Church. We ought to consider that although we are canonically divided from the Roman Catholic Church, we never ceases to remain with it in an invisible sacramental communion (ex opere operato) so to speak. Generally speaking, if one wanted to be consistent in denying the efficacy of the sacraments on a canonical basis, one could only do it by accepting the Roman Catholic teaching on the supremacy of the Pope and obedience to his jurisdiction as an essential condition of belonging to the Church. However such a deduction is not made even by the Roman Catholic Church, which admits the effectiveness of sacraments in Orthodoxy. The Romanizing tendency in Orthodoxy sometimes goes further than Rome in this direction, conditioning the effectiveness of sacraments by canonical stipulations, though theologically such a point of view cannot be supported. Conversely, one could say that teh divided parts of the Church, at least where apostolic succession exists, are in an invisible, mysterious communion with one another through visible sacraments, although these are mutually inaccessible.

Now let us consider to what extent a digression from dogmatic teaching can destroy the efficacy of teh sacrament. We ought to mention here, first of all, the cases where damage affects not separate sacraments but their celebrants. We speak here of Protestantism, where, through the destruction of a rightly ordained priesthood through grace, teh question of te actual efficicy of the sacrament is raised in spite of its full recognition in principle. Can one speak of “sacraments” in Protestantism? Fortunately there are grounds for answering this question not only in the negative. The basis of the answer lies in the fact that the Orthodox Church recognizes the efficacy of Protestant baptism, which is evident from the fact that it does not re-baptize Protestants who join it. This admission is of extraordinary significance. It testifies to tha fact that, at least in regard to the sacrament of spiritual birth in the Church, we abide in fellowship with Protestant Christians as members of the One Body of Christ. Baptism also contains within itself the general possibility of a mysterious life in the Church; in this sense it is the potential of all future sacraments. In Protestantism there is only a partial existence, both because of the diminution of the number of sacraments, and especially, through the absence of priesthood. But even so, does this allow us to draw any conclusions as to the complete inefficacy of sacramental life in Protestantism, in particular, for example, regarding Holy Communion? Strictly speaking we have no right to come to such a conclusion, and not only because of the subjective basis pointed out by Bishop Theophanes, but also because of the objective principle of a sacrament, according to which the sacrament belongs to the entire Church — although it is realized through the priesthood by virtue of its inevitable participation. There is no such priesthood in Protestantism, but the people of the Church — the “royal priesthood” — remain there and the potential power of of Holy Baptism is fulfilled and revealed there in other ways, in certain devout rites and prayers instead of in effective sacraments. But if these are ineffective, can we say they are nothing? One cannot say this, for the priesthood is not a magical apparatus for the celebration of the sacraments, but a ministration of the Church that exists in the Church and for the Church. Therefore we ought to interpret Theophanes’ expression “according to their faith it shall be given them” in the sense that our Lord does not deprive this flock of His grace, although it has been separated from the fulness of Church life. Nevertheless we can speak of communion in sacraments (apart from baptism) in relation to Protestants only in the general and indefinite sense of their participation in the life of the Church through grace, but of nothing beyond this. A more direct and true communion in the sacraments with the Protestant world is hindered by the absecne of a rightly ordained priesthood: this is the threshold over which Protestantism must pass, the reestablishment of an apostolically ordained hierarchy.

These barriers do not exist, however, for those sections of the divided Church that have retained this succession and have therefore a correctly ordained priesthood. Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism belong to this category, together with the ancient Eastern Churches (as well as the Episcopal Church in Protestantism and Anglicanism*, particularly in the case of a positive solution of the question of Anglican ordination). The priesthoods of Roman Catholicismand Orthodoxy are mutually uncanonical owing to the existing schism, but this does not prevent their mutual recognition of each other. The following conclusion, of the utmost importance, follows from this: Churches that have preserved their priesthood, although they happen to be separated, are not actually divided in their sacramental life. Strictly speaking, a reunion of the Church is not even necessary here, although generally this is hardly realized. The Churches that have preserved such a unity in sacraments are now divided canonically in the sense of jurisdiction, and dogmatically, through a whole range of differences; but these are powerless to destroy the efficacy of the sacraments.

What is required for a complete reunion, and where do we start? The predominant formula runs: sacramental fellowship must be preceded by a preliminary dogmatic agreement. But is this axiom so indisputable as it appears? Here on one scale of the balance we have a difference in certain Christian dogmas and teological opinions, and an estrangement that has been formed through centuries; on the other we have the unity in sacramental life. May it not be that a unity in the sacrament will be the only way toward overcoming this difference? Why should we not seek to surmount a heresy in teaching through superseding a heresy of life, such as division? May it not be that Christians sin now by not heeding the common eucharistic call? And, if this siiso, then for Orthodoxy and Rome there still remains a way to their reunion on the basis of a fellowship in sacraments.

Of course, the Holy Spirit alone can make it clear that reunion is not far away, but already exists as a fact that only needs to be realized. But it must be realized sincerely and honestly for the sole purpose of expressing our brotherhood in the Lord. And the way towatrd reunion of the East and West does not lie through tournaments bnetween theologians of the East and West, but throigh a reunion before the altar. The priesthood, celebrating the one Eucharist; if the minds of the priests could become aflame with this idea, all barriers would fall. For in response to this, dogmatic unity will be achieved, or rather, a mutual understading of one another in our distinctive features. In necessaris unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas — “In what is necessary unity, in what is of lesser importance freedom, in all things love.”

A realization of our unity as something given, and at the same time, of our disunity as a fact that we cannot ignore is present, is a vital antithesis in the soul of the modern Christian. This antinomy cannot leave him in peace. He cannot remain indifferent to it, for he must seek its resolution. The ecumenical movement of today** is the expression of this search.

* Fr. Sergius is speaking of Anglicanism prior to the ordination of women and of the Episcopal Church prior to the ordination of a practicing homosexual to Bishop.

** Today is 1933. Fr. Sergius observations need to be qualified in the present situation.

Fr. Dcn. Gregory Wassen

Orthodox Freedom of Thought

Fr. Sergius Bulgakov

[This article was previously a page on my blog, it has now been moved to the archive of blog-posts.]

Freedom of Thought in the Orthodox Church

by Fr. Sergius Bulgakov

I do not wish to consider the actual question of my own particular case. I will only try to explain to you the general principles of freedom in the Orthodox Church. Can freedom of thought exist in a Church which has obligatory formulae? Is there not a contradiction between free seeking for truth and the revealed dogma dispensed by the Church? I am convinced that no such contradiction exists. The dogmatic teaching of the Church must become real in in the personal thought and experience of everybody, for dogma does not only represent an abstract doctrinal statement; it is primarily a fact of our inner mystical life; apart from that it is dead. But this personal experience is impossible without freedom of thought, and freedom of the spirit. We have to comprehend dogma within the general context of our thinking, of our spiritual life, of our scientific development.

Of course the doctrines of the Church have an eternal divine content, but this eternal content is given to us in the Divine-human process of development. The human process gives us different possibilities of dogmatic resolution, while it confronts us with different tasks. For instance, we have been talking a great deal of the secularisation of culture and so on. These are questions which are put before us, and we have to answer them theologically. They can find an answer in no other way. If we observe the history of the development of the Church we see that while in a sense the recognition of dogmatic truth is general, this does not in any way mean that this unity involves the same level of understanding, or that everywhere the same content is put into dogmatic formulae. There were in fact no Christian formulae up to the epoch of the Ecumenical Councils. Now we have them.

Of course the real content of these formulae is supplied by the true depth of the mystical life of the Church, and this dogmatic life of the Church goes on constantly. It would be one of the worst of errors to think that the dogmatic life of the Church ended with the Seventh Ecumenical Council, that an Eight Ecumenical Council is now an impossibility, or that even the hope that such a Council will take place is a heresy – as is actually thought by many Orthodox people. I should say that it is in fact a heresy of opinion to regard every new idea in the dogmatic realm as a heresy. On the contrary, one cannot avoid putting new questions and giving new answers as life goes on. This freedom is of course limited, determined by the dogmas which exist already, though these dogmas in themselves are not dogmatic laws, but really an expression of our own mystical life within the Church. It is of course impossible to be a Christian if you do not believe in the Godhead of our Saviour, in the Trinity, in the Holy Eucharist. But from this comes an inner life which grows up and develops in our own thought and consciousness. We therefore conclude that dogmatic development itself requires freedom of thought.

But the Church is not a philosophical or scientific society the members of which are free in the conclusions to which they come. The Church is an hierarchically organized society and the hierarchy has a definite place in the life of the Church, possessing certain duties, privileges and rights. How can we define the competence of the hierarchy in the dogmatic realm? There are two opposite opinions as regards this:

1. The Roman Catholic view – the Church has an external organ of infallibility, which is the infallible Roman Pope, so that every question which arises in the Roman Church must be submitted to the Roman See and is finally settled there. In practice it is true that since the Vatican Council there has not been a single case when the Pope has spoken ex cathedra. On the contrary, he quite obviously avoids speaking in this way. In the case of Modernism the Pope made a definite dogmatic pronouncement, but it was not ex cathedra. Of course within the Roman Catholic Church there is a very developed dogmatic life going on, and there are different schools of thought, which are sometimes even opposed to one another in certain things. Even in the Roman Church the necessity of a measure of freedom for dogmatic research is recognized.

2. The purely individualistic view. According to this everybody has a right to his own opinion. This individualistic conception of freedom of thought leaves out of account the whole corporate life, the practice of sobornost’, and the organic unity of the Church.

In this sense we ask what kind of exterior authority in the question of dogma have we, in Orthodoxy? What are the duties and privileges of the hierarchy in the Orthodox Church?

We must not deny that it has a very important responsibility and duty as guardian of the Church’s thought. The hierarchy is responsible for the dogmas formulated and accepted by the Church, for the deposit of faith which is to be maintained intact. Further the hierarchy has the privilege of being the mouth-piece of the Church wherever truth has to be proclaimed. But does this truth include any kind of infallible authority? Have we in the Orthodox Church any external organ for proclaiming ecclesiastical truth? Many among us, and particularly many representatives of the hierarchy in our Church, have been sadly influenced by Romanizing tendencies, so that they actually regard themselves as so many Popes, or as a sort of collective Pope. This is a sin in Orthodoxy, and constitutes a real temptation to many. The Orthodox Church has no external dogmatic authorities.

But what about the Ecumenical Councils, are they not the ultimate authority? To which we must reply both “Yes” and “No.” The history of the Ecumenical Councils is well known. Their authority is quite other than that of an infallible Pope. As a rule each new Ecumenical Council is the origin of new dogmatic disputes. The actual definitions of the Ecumenical Councils are recognized as true, we know now that this is so, in that the Holy Spirit acted through them. But we must remember that the problem of false Ecumenical Councils was by no means as easy as it appears to us now. The Council of Florence, for example, was never recognized as an Ecumenical Council. Even an Ecumenical Council is not an external organ for proclaiming the truth of the Church. It is the best place for finding a common opinion, but it is not a “collective Pope.” No such exterior organ exists in the Church.

How then are new dogmas revealed in the Church? It is a long process. Take for example the question of the hesychasts. Two Councils took one line and two another. The whole discussion lasted for ten years. St Gregory Palamas was excommunicated, anathematized and imprisoned for two years, and then the next Council recognized his teaching as true. Ten years after his death he was canonized as a saint of the Greek Church. If Gregory of Palama had been obedient to the second Council he would have ended his days as a heretic. There are many instances like this in the history of the Church. This means that in questions of dogma the canonical authorities preserve their right to impose measures of a disciplinary character, but these measures must not prevent us from proclaiming what we regard as the truth.

In itself the idea of not having any exterior authority to decide is a very difficult one. But when we say that we believe in the Church we imply that we believe in the visible and the invisible Church and in the Holy Spirit Who saves His Church from error, but how, and where, and in what way, the decision will become obvious no one can tell, and only the inner conviction of one’s own conscience can witness. Of course tragic conflicts are inevitable.

St. Athanasius was persecuted because he was Orthodox. The same happened with St. Gregory of Palama. We are bound to conclude therefore, that we in the Orthodox Church need most of all a wise freedom of thought, so long as this freedom does not distort the dogmatic truth of the Church.

I would here like to say a few words about the corresponding principle in the Anglican Church. You, in your Church, practice what is called “comprehension.” This is a very ambiguous, a very dangerous and difficult thing. Of course I should not like to appropriate this principle in its Anglican form, and should not care to see within the Orthodox Church theologians who deny the Holy Trinity, or the Holy Eucharist and so on. But the principle in itself is good so far as it represents a measure of toleration of different tendencies of dogmatic thought. Such comprehensiveness always exists in the Church in varying degrees, and in this was especially true in the life of the Church at the time of the Ecumenical Councils. We see, for instance, two schools of theology – that of Alexandria and that of Antioch side by side. When the representatives of these schools met in the third century they anathematized one another, yet the principle of comprehension remained victorious, and both schools were united in the formula of the Fourth (Chalcedonian) Council.

I think that generally speaking the Anglican and the Orthodox Church share one idea of dogmatic development and of dogmatic freedom. But there is an historical difference. Our Orthodox Church – and this is especially true of the Russian Orthodox Church – has never been sufficiently educated for freedom, which remains the greatest privilege of the English nation. The principle of freedom of thought is applied in East and West, in very different ways.

I read recently Professor N. P. Williams book, The Doctrine of the Fall and Original Sin. Original Sin raises some of the most difficult problems of dogmatics. We have a very definite dogma of Original Sin, but no theology of Original Sin. Our customary way to explain Original Sin is as an inherited infirmity. Every theologian tries to elaborate his own dogmatic explication. I can imagine that you might be surprised if members of the Anglican Church were to accuse Professor Williams of heresy!

We have therefore to help one another mutually. We must help one another to evaluate and to appreciate the principle of the freedom of thought, but in doing so we must remain faithful to the dogmatic teaching of the Church. This is not easy, but it is the necessary way of dogmatic development. Otherwise we either become freethinkers or legalists who prefer that dogmatic thought should completely perish.

My own conviction is that there is no more spiritually important realm than that of dogmatic theology. In a sense it is axiomatic and revealed, but in another sense reason remains free in this dogmatic life, and it is one’s greatest joy to feel how in one’s heart the life and sense of dogma grows and develops. I feel that we have to struggle for freedom of thought it is not a struggle for “liberalism” or one of personal pride, it is a struggle for ecclesiastical truth (for truth within the Church). It is ultimately a struggle for Christ and His Church. Let me end with the words of the Apostle Paul: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ made us free, and be not entangled again in a yoke of bondage.”

Sobornost NO 6, June 1936