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Developing understanding of the 'Faith once given'? - John Charmley - 09-05-2010

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

In several recent 'conversations' the question of a 'developing understanding' of the 'faith once given' has been alluded to. Fr. Gregory has pointed out that although the OC does not use that phrase, it nonetheless has something similar - as, indeed, does every Church which accepts the Nicene Creed with its overt invocation of the Trinity and its Christology.

Titus 1:9 and 2 Timothy 3:14 remind us of the importance of holding to what has been taught from the time of the Apostles by the Apostles. Those with 'itching ears' (2 Timothy 4:3) are, we are warned, liable to be seduced by new ideas, discussions and controversies. Holding 'firmly to the word as it is taught' (Titus 1:9) is, and always has been, a vital part of Orthodox belief. And yet the 'faith once given' is not a museum piece, and neither are Christian its curators.

Such an emphasis is a welcome and a valuable guide at times of doctrinal crisis, but taken literally it would rule against any idea of a developing understanding; the Arians, like the Nesotorians, took the line they did on Christ's nature and the Theotokos for conservative reasons, believing themselves to be safeguarding the 'faith once given' against dangerous innovations. Yet the Church accepted words such as homousious and hypostasis, as well as Trinity, despite their want of Biblical justification.

Matthew 25:24-30 does not suggest that Our Lord commends the example of the servant who was perfectly happy to hand back to his master that with which he had been entrusted, having added or subtracted nothing from it.

We would not, I suspect, take II Tim 3:6-7 literally and doubt the ability of women to distinguish falsehoods, and perhaps we would also doubt that interpretations which sees in it the laity being taught by the clergy. Indeed, of course, there is a long and distinguished history in the OC of the laity also teaching, so the idea of there being one type of teacher transmitting only that which has been believed at all times and in all places by everyone, whilst a charming construct is, surely, just that? We cannot know what, if anything, has been believed at all times in all places by everyone.

The Church has, thus, always possessed a teaching authority, and the means to discern what is authentic development from what is inauthentic. The Paraclete which guides it assures these things.

For a long time, arguably until Newman, the RCC possessed the idea of a developing understanding without the intellectual superstructure or the articulated phrase; does our Church possess the same idea, but lack the articulation?

In Christ,