Authority - Printable Version
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Authority - John Charmley - 17-04-2010
Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,
In our thread on Women Priests the opinion has been offered that we do not have the authority to alter Our Lord's pattern of the successors to the Apostles being, as they were, all male.
That set me thinking about the question of authority. In the Coptic Church, as set out in Canon 6 of Nicaea, the Patriarch of Alexandria has authority over Egypt and the adjacent areas; by extension that applies to those areas which volunteer to come under his jurisdiction. Although I would not assert it as a fact, I have read that Alexandria's Patriarch was the first to be called 'Pope'.
The Coptic Church operates through an Orthodox structure which is not, it seems, quite that which ++Kallistos describes for the Eastern Orthodox, in that the Pope and the Synod are the locus of authority. As with so many other areas, that seems to be how things operated in the early Church back when the Bishop of Rome was recognised as having a 'primacy of honour'.
It would be, perhaps, interesting to compare the Coptic structure with that of Rome and that of the Eastern Orthodox in terms of the question of where authority lies. At Chalcedon, which was not accepted by the Fathers of the Oriental Orthodox, the Chalcedonians declared that 'Peter speaks through Leo'; does he also speak through Shenouda III? Or do we see these things in a different manner?
- Fr Gregory - 18-04-2010
The question of who has what authority is a difficult one in both Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy. Rome has a much clearer, and more Western legalistic, model.
In Orthodoxy there are, in practice, two forms of authority which might be called (to use Western legal terms) ?de jure? and ?de facto?.
Some authority derives from Canon Law. No-one has, for example, authority to change the dogmatic decrees of the Ecumenical Councils ? not even (assuming such a thing to be possible) a future Ecumenical Council. Ecumenical Councils had the authority to change to disciplinary decrees of the earlier Ecumenical Councils (and did so: the example of imposing a celibate episcopate is an obvious example) and of the Regional Councils and of the Fathers.
Patriarchs and bishops have authority to make disciplinary rules and decisions within their own jurisdictions, provided always that these conform to the Canons. This is what I would call ?de jure? (of right) authority.
However, especially in Oriental Orthodoxy, Patriarchs and, to a lesser extent, bishops exercise what can best be described as a ?de facto? (as a matter of fact) authority in that few people are likely to challenge their decisions, and there may be no effective means for doing so, even if the decisions appear to be contrary to higher canonical authority.
As an obvious example: in 1911, Pope Cyril V ordered the removal of the following books from the Old Testament Canon: Tobit, Judith, the Compliment of Esther, the Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, the Epistle of Jeremiah, Baruch, the Compliment of Daniel (Suzanna, and the Three Youths), and the Books of Maccabees. A further example: in 1971 Pope Shenouda III changed the Church?s rules regarding divorce and made adultery effectively the only acceptable ground, disallowing the other grounds which had previously been part of Coptic Canon Law, which had been incorporated into the Church?s rules in 1938 and into the Egyptian civil ?personal status? law applying to Copts in 1955. This has created a well-document ?divorce crisis? amongst Copts, especially in Egypt. Serious domestic violence, for example, is no longer a ground for divorce or, at least, a ground for divorce with the right to remarriage for the victim.
An added complication is the distinction between dogmatic and disciplinary decrees. I think the imposition of a celibate episcopate is a disciplinary matter. None but the most theologically illiterate Orthodox would argue that a married man cannot be a bishop rather than that church law does not allow it now.
The question that inspired your reflection on authority ? the ordination of women ? is obviously much more complex. Is the male-only Priesthood a matter of dogma or discipline? Could a future Ecumenical Council decree that women can be ordained?
- John Charmley - 18-04-2010
Dear Fr. Gregory,
A very helpful set of reflections and comments, for which many thanks.
Yes, Rome's model, as one would expect from the only Western/Latin Patriarchate, is more Roman; the Romans did like clarity in these matters, even if it led to a multiplicity of laws. The Roman Catechism has a couple of thousand entries dealing with most of the things one could imagine, and a few which show real imagination to have thought of! So there, the distinction between dogma and discipline is clearer. My understanding (which I should be glad to have corrected if wrong) is that for Rome clerical celibacy is a disciplinary matter (after all the so-called Eastern Rite Churches have married priests), but that after John Paul's pronouncement on the matter, women priests is now a dogmatic one.
I didn't know about Cyril V's decision on the OT books. It rather looks as though the Coptic Patriarch has, in practice, a great deal more authority than the Pope of Rome. My Catholic friends have asked me whether our stance is the same as their own on abortion and birth control; my very imperfect understanding was that on the former it was, but not on the latter.
On the teachings of the Councils, we only recognise, as I understand it, three as being Ecumenical, so that does not over-burden us with Conciliar decisions, although I suppose in matters ecumenical our 375 Council of Ephesus condemning Chalcedon would need some careful diplomacy.
In the end, of course, all authority is His, but the means by which we are to be guide depend upon those to whom the powers to bind and loose were delegated.
- Fr Gregory - 18-04-2010
Yes, John, Rome is, in terms of Canon Law and Authority, much clearer and more precise. Some would see this is an advantages, some would see it as unnecessarily technical and legalistic.
Although the Coptic Orthodox Church accepts three Ecumenical Councils, it also accepts a number of Regional Councils and Canons of the Fathers, as well as some canonical compilations and nomocanons from its own tradition. The difficulty is that there is no official and authoritative definition of what these are! Even with regard to the three Ecumenical Councils, the Coptic canonical commentaries have used versions of the canons which are different in significant ways (and in the numbers of canons accepted) to those accepted by the other Orthodox Churches. For example, the important work, ?The Lamp of Darkness? (Misbah al-Zulmah, fi Idah al-Khidmah) by Ibn Kabar (Abu al-Barakat)(d.1324), dating from about 1320, includes a chapter, ?Catalogue of the Canons Received and Councils Transmitted?, which lists the canons accepted in the Coptic Church from the Canons of the Apostles to the work of Al-Safi ibn al-Assal. Al-Safi ibn al-Assal?s work has - or had in 1238 - an official status, and Coptic civil law at least has been based on it. It includes in its list of canons those of the First of the Great Councils: Nicaea (Al-Safi includes three lists: 19, 20 and 30 canons)[compared with 20 canons in the Eastern Orthodox version]. It also includes a Second Book (purporting to be additional canons of Nicaea attributed to ?the Malachites? and said to be ?accepted by the Jacobites and the Syrians?), containing 80 canons, which is quoted by Ibn Kabar from the work of Al-Safi ibn al-Assal and a further Four Books (purporting to be additional canons of Nicaea attributed to the Melchites, containing four parts containing 180 canons, which Ibn Kabar also quotes from the work of Al-Safi ibn al-Assal). The Fourth Book purports to be additional canons of Nicaea, ?written during the Great Council?, containing 26 canons.
Yes, clerical celibacy is clearly a disciplinary question for Rome. Not only do the Eastern Churches have married clergy, but married ex-Anglican clergy have been received and ordained in the USA and Australia and, I assume, the UK.
Whether the ordination of women is formally accepted as a dogmatic, rather than a disciplinary, issue in Rome is difficult to know ? different theologians have argued for different positions. The Papal decision did not determine this, it merely stated that no further discussion was to be permitted on the question!
Yes, Pope Shenouda has much greater power and authority in practice than Pope Benedict.
As to abortion and birth control: the Coptic position on the latter is now clearly different to that of Rome in that it is not only allowed by positively encouraged for the purposes of rational family planning. On abortion the Coptic position is less precise. It is clearly forbidden under any circumstances in which it is a form of birth control, but may be permissible in the situation, for example, in which the life of the mother is gravely endangered. Several very traditional Coptic Priests told me that the mother must confess and receive absolution prior to the termination of the pregnancy, and agree to have another child as soon as possible thereafter. I have never seen this in written sources.
- John Charmley - 18-04-2010
That, Fr. Gregory, was a fascinating post. It sounds as though all the fuss made in parts of the West and East about interpolated canons from Sardica in the Roman version of Nicaea is the least of our worries; is there a source in which one can see what these extra canons are?
Thanks for confirming my thoughts about Pope Shenouda's powers; an interesting phenomenon. I rather like the irony that the Catholics have an Infallible Pope who has less power than our one.
I hadn't known the position on abortion, although from some on-line reading from Egyptian sources, had suspected that the position of the Church was not in line with that of Rome. The EO, or so my acquaintances there tell me, do not take the line the Copts do; although on birth control they do.
Women priests we are dealing with elsewhere, but, of course, if John Paul II thought telling folk they could not discuss it would stop them from wishing to do so, he was on a loser there.
I suspect that as the OCs live in greater contact with western cultures the issue will become one which will occupy more of the time of the Church.
The question which intrigues me, but that is just because I will keep reading Newman, is who pronounces on the authenticity of a developing understanding of tradition? I know that officially the OC has no such conception, but in practice, since things do change, it has one without perhaps ever having formulated what it is. We know with Rome is it the Magisterium (although what that means in practice is less clear than Protestant polemic makes out); the OCs say they don't have 'development', and yet, for all the rhetoric of unchanging Orthodoxy, the modern Church does not resemble that of 451 as identically as would need to be the case to fit the rhetoric.
I was struck a year or so ago by some comments about theosis, which seemed 'interesting' but not, perhaps, in the best sense of that word.
A living faith guided by the Living Spirit is alive, and its understandings of the faith once given can hardly be fossilised; but some authority is necessary if we are to have some notion of what is, and is not, authentic development; saying we don't need an understanding because understandings don't develop seems a little bit like being in denial.
I guess Pope Shenouda would think that he and the Holy Synod provide us with a teaching authority; which seems entirely in line with how the early Church operated.
Any way, I have said enough here to fire off a barrage of flack, and so will stop whilst I am only slightly behind and sinking.
- John Charmley - 21-04-2010
We are, here and in the questions about Orthodoxy, running along lines which are not parallel but converging and crossing; or perhaps that's just me, dear Fr. Gregory.
In the other thread I have suggested that whatever rhetoric might say (and it says much) the Church now is no more identical with what it was in 451 than the world in which it exists is. That is a good thing. I liked Museums but would not want to be part of the exhibits.
I have just been reading an excellent book by the American scholar, Susan Wessels on Leo the Great and the development of the Roman idea of primacy (Brill, 2007) which will be of interest to anyone wanting even more information about Chalcedon.
She is very interesting on the developing understanding of the Petrine verses in Matthew. Later polemic tends to see the Orthodox attributing Leo's ideas to a desire for supremacy, but she locates them in a very Orthodox context, which is the one we were referring to - who says whether a developing understanding is really 'orthodox'? Indeed, who has the right to define 'orthodoxy'?
This is in the context of the fifth century, but it speaks to us now. In an era where there was a Canon, but where other books also claimed canonicity, and in an age when that Canon (and a possible wider one) could be read and thus interpreted, who decided if bishop x said such and such when bishop y was profoundly convinced that whatever it was it was rank heresy?
The hope that Nicaea had decided this matter once and for all was, of course, not realised. Ephesus 431 rehearsed how the Church dealt with a senior patriarch who preached something which another senior patriarch thought was heresy. Although St. Cyril came out victorious, it was not as clear cut as he would have liked, and for a time both he and Nestorius were effectively excommunicated.
St. Cyril's foresight in securing the support of the Bishop of Rome turned out to be a brilliant move, as there is no doubt that Rome's views were taken very seriously when they were supported by the other bishops in Council. Chalcedon rammed that message home, although Ephesus 449 might be thought to have done so in a negative way. Diosorus' handling of the Papal delegates set Rome against him, and his attitude towards Leo's Tome set up the denouement of Chalcedon.
When push came to shove, what the Fathers were not prepared to do was to say that in matters of perplexity they were prepared to go against Rome. That is not to say, as some Catholics used to say, that they just accepted Leo's definition of orthodoxy, for, as we know, they needed to read Leo against Cyril, and only when they were convinced that the two taught the same were they happy to admit that Peter spoke through Leo. But what they would not do was to say that Alexandria by itself could prevail.
One can read Chalcedon in various ways, but in this matter of who speaks with authority, one answer from Chalcedon satisfies no polemicist. When Alexandria and Rome (Mark and Peter) were at one (as at Ephesus 431, or Nicaea) then the Fathers were happy to be guided; when Constantinople and Rome were at one (with Cyril) the Fathers were happy to be guided. What no one was happy with was either the Bishop of Rome by himself pronouncing, or the Patriarch of Alexandria pronouncing by himself. Even the greatest and most Apostolic of Sees needed to teach in Council and thus, in matters of perplexity, with the orthodox faith as received by the Fathers.
Neither our own Fathers, nor those of the Romans or Eastern Orthodox come out of Chalcedon unscathed. Although I know it is the fashion in some quarters to regard St. Dioscorus as a martyr, like many such he may have had his own intransigence to thank for that fate. Had he followed the splendid and wise example of the great Cyril and not made an enemy of Rome, he would not have handed Constantinople what it wanted at Chalcedon. The ambitions of Constantinople went a good way to the disasters which followed; it may, in its own eyes, have achieved the status it wanted, but the price it paid was a heavy one - for others at first and, in the end, for itself.
Such historical reflections may seem to take us away from the subject, but in reality they don't.
- Fr Gregory - 22-04-2010
As much as I enjoy museums and archives, I agree with John that such venerable institutions are not models for the Church. That for many of us Orthodoxy is not a repository for ?dead bones? is shown, albeit in a small way, by this discussion site and our lively discussion over the past months.
Our discussions are lively because we have a living Faith, and such a Faith inspires and challenges us to thought, reflection, meditation and, of course, prayer. It is a living organism rather than a museum case or an archival vault.
It is an integral part of the Orthodox mindset, and no doubt of the British ethos, that we seek to grow intellectually and spiritually by discussion, debate and even disagreement. Our Faith is not a dead script which has only to be learned by heart ? it is a way of life and an experience of the Spirit, a journey on which we must travel and not a map simply to be studied. We are excited by our Faith and stimulated by sharing and developing it through dialogue with others ? even when we may be challenged by what the others have to say!
This is an approach with which our Lord would have been familiar. In traditional Judaism, learning about and understanding of the Halakha (usually translated as ?law? but more accurately ?the way to go?) developed through questioning, debate, controversy and dialogue rather than the imposition of ?correct answers? by one authority. No doubt in His time and amongst the teachers of His day, the Lord observed this method in practice. Consider how rarely (if ever) He simply delivered lectures on theology!
Incidentally, an excellent study of the methods the Lord used in His own teaching is found in Roy Zuck?s ?Teaching as Jesus Taught? [Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 1995]. Although perhaps my academic colleagues would be surprised to know it, these are the methods I try to use when teaching my students.
It is ironic that in the West many people assume that the tradition of Orthodoxy is for ?men in black? to tell faithful, if mindless, laity what to think and do. But Orthodoxy has a long tradition of scholarly debate, of lay theologians, of lay men and women who were recognized as inspired guides to the spiritual life (the Russian version being the staretz), of the active participation of men and women in the life and thought of the Church. And so in our discussions on this site, men and women, clergy and laity, those who identities are known and those who are unknown, feel comfortable asking questions, participating in discussions and debates, considering and responding to both views with which they agree and those they reject.
And, I think, they participate because for them Orthodoxy is alive, and relevant, and challenging, and exciting!
Those who give me most hope for the future of a living Orthodoxy (apart, obviously, from my brothers and sisters in dialogue on this discussion site!) are the many young people with whom I speak and who ask questions, raise problems, desire to understand, want to confront the challenges of doubt and difficulty ? and maintain the Faith. They do not simply say ?Yes, Father? to whatever I tell them. They want dialogue not dictation. Their lively excitement and enthusiasm is infectious!
- John Charmley - 22-04-2010
That last paragraph, in particular, is, and I think has to be, what Orthodoxy is about. we easily forget we are a Royal Priesthood, all of us. Yes, some have laid upon them the solemn and onerous responsibility of conducting the Divine Liturgy and preaching the word, and we owe them both a deep debt of gratitude, and all the support we can offer. But, as you say, one of the joys of our tradition is the part the laity play, and it is a full one.
There's not the slightest reason why a man who takes on the heavy vocation of the priesthood should be expected to look after the structure of the Church building or its finances; that's what the rest of us are for. There's actually no reason he should be a great scholar or even a theologian; of course, as we are fortunate to have priests who are, we are spoilt, but we have no right to expect or demand this.
Neither should we seek to evade our responsibilities, which include spreading the Good News. The model with which we have been so familiar in the West, that of the 'man in black' and his obedient flock' may always have had about it something of ther mythical; it certainly is not the model which will spread the Faith in our society.
A faith which can be learned by heart and recited is one which has ceased to live. Orthodoxy gives us the limits within which we can discuss and speculate, but those limits are pretty broad, and the discussion can be all the deeper because we know where the limits are.
I don't know, and would be delighted to know, how far we converts to Orthodoxy are conservative in our nature; a friend once told me it was too obvious even to ask the question, but I'm not as sure about anything as he is about everything. Sometimes I see it more as a desire to know that one is where the Church is, but why that need signify conservatism I remain unsure. As the Spirit lives and moves us, He does not say we are to hide the pearl of great price in a case and curate it; we are to do what the Copts do with us - share it.