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Considering Propositions
08-04-2009, 09:33 PM,
Considering Propositions
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

There is a lot we could say about this first proposition, and it will be useful to go to some decent sources and understand the context in which these particular words were framed.

But I immediately take from these positive propositions some negative constraints. We do believe positively in one God. But negatively we do not believe in many Gods. The proposition does not positively exhaust all that can be said about this one God, indeed there is a great deal more that can be said, but a vast area of theology is excluded. We do not believe in many Gods, so all polytheistic systems are excluded. However we reflect on this proposition we may not wander into a polytheistic understanding.

Now I also suggest that we all read this proposition slightly differently. Someone with strong environmentalist leanings might well find the idea of God as creator resonates with them. What does that mean to them? Someone concerned about political and social breakdown might find that the idea of God as Almighty strikes a chord.

We start in different places, even with a single propositional sentence. The proposition does not explain everything, rather it constrains what we may say as we reflect. We may say many things about God, but we may not say that God is not, in some sense, the creator of all things. We may not say that He is one God among many.

But the things we do say will reflect our own personal background and experience, so that the proposition is lived out in our own personal Orthodox life, not at all unrelated to all others living out the same propositions, but nevertheless not entirely liable to systematicisation. If I were to write an Orthodox Systematics it would be MY explanation, my choice of what to include and what to miss out, my prioritisation of subjects, and not yours, or someone elses. This is not relativisation at all, there are clear boundaries to reflection. But if human words cannot absolutely explain and express the ineffable beyond-beingness of God then all human words must be in some sense provisional.

An Baptist will approach becoming Orthodox differently to an Anglican, or a Roman Catholic, or a Pentecostal. Likewise a man different to a woman and a child. A European different to an Asian. Even the first words of the creed will mean something a little different because meaning is more than acceptance of words or argument but is a reflection on those words and is therefore personal.

I'd better stop now or I will keep saying the same thing I think. I am very interested in how others read this first proposition of the creed, what strikes them first and most, and how it is part of their Christian life and experience.

God bless

Father Peter
08-04-2009, 11:05 PM,
I see this statement as laying the foundation of our understanding of what God is, thereby eliminating, first, all those who say otherwise. It's a broad and general statement about God and brings us to humility in two ways i) by expressing the greatness and power of God, and ii) by setting the stage for our contemplation of God by beginning first with the simple and certain points that we know and treading carefully when including more defined and specific terms.

We know from this statement that there is one god, and that He is responsible for the existence of all that is. It produces the imagery of a father, one who protects, provides for and loves His children, not just that of a detached and disinterested authoritarian; but then it is made clear that He is the Almighty. I think this is interesting, that the role of Father is placed before that of Almighty: we know that in Greek word order is flexible and rather is often used to express emphasis, so the choice here to place the role of Father before that of Almighty speaks volumes about His mercy and love for those whom might be called His children.

God bless,

09-04-2009, 01:51 PM,
Dear Father Peter,

Thank you very much for offering this study as you have. I have never studied the Creed in any way shape or form before. I don't even have the Creed memorized. I appreciate very much how you have initiated this and are allowing for participation here. With your permission, I will leave all books on the shelf and do no research on this as we progress and only contribute in an open and transparent way (possibly at times being brutally honest). From your pastor's heart, I am grateful for the pointing out that based on our own personal experiences and backgrounds (viz. the circumstances and events that have shaped us), we really do all have our own starting points as well as leanings. And, in addition we do all have a place where we abide whether we feel our feet are well grounded or whether we feel we are kind of up in the air more than not.

So with that said, what strikes me first and most in this first proposition is the pronoun:


In this first word of the first sentence, my mind goes as it usually does to the question of what is the antecedent for this pronoun? In this sense, I am 'struck first and foremost' by the matter of ecclesiology as well as the matter of union/communion, koinonia of the Spirit. I am also struck initially by both the particularity and the universality of the "We."

This "We" is 'a part of my Christian life and experience' in just about the same way as when I prune or transplant a certain cactus that I have. It seems like no matter what I do, I always end up with one of its needles (that are so small that you cannot see them) stuck in the same spot in the same finger each time I prune it or move it. The needle always seems to go in the tip of my right index finger and below the surface. So I cannot see it to pull it out. I can dig around with a needle or very sharp tweezers, but it is a blind grouping that usually causes more damage and results in the needle remaining intact. So it usually has to work its way out on its own over the course of time. It is not an issue until I touch something just right at which time I am reminded that there is a problem by way of some significant pain.

So this "We" is a part of my Christian life and experience as a source of grief more than not each time it becomes an issue. Somewhat ironically, what is meant to both unite and distinguish has the opposite of the intended effect. From this first word in the Creed, I seem to ask myself, what is the reality of the "We?" Or, possibly on a more concrete plane, what is the reality of the local visible church?

And, as you have said Fr. Peter, this first proposition can be viewed positively or negatively. Honestly, I see this as being presented primarily as a negative proposition (we believe in one God) . . . drawing a line or throwing down the gauntlet more than not, or as Marc has said in his excellent post:

marc hanna Wrote:. . . thereby eliminating, first, all those who say otherwise.

But, as we consider this first proposition we do know that there are non-Christian, polytheistic groups of the time that the Creed was written as well as in our own day, who would have no problem with anything said in this first sentence.

But, again, I agree with Marc that the intent of this first clause is to 'eliminate all those who say otherwise.' And, I think this is presented negatively.

And, I'm a little worried that I'm starting to sound a little negative here, but as it relates to a closing of the ranks in order to provide a good defense against attack. I am struck with the thought reading this opening statement of the Creed, that it seems like much of Orthodoxy is a reaction to something, a defense against the heresy of the day, the flavor of the day, more so than it is a positive laying of precept-on-precept.

We have had discussions about the development of doctrine before, but really what faith group does not develop doctrine over time? The only question is what was the causality for the development of a doctrine or a statement of belief? It seems to me that even in the initial wording of the Creed we see somewhat of a defensiveness right out of the gate.

I wonder if it is fair to say that while the intent is to unite and draw distinction at the same time, this is all being done in the context of division?

So, in conclusion I have shared where my mind goes, what I am struck with initially as well as how it is part of my Christian life and experience; but, when this is not at the forefront of my attention, or when I consciously choose to transcend the whole matter . . . then I am struck, just as Marc has written, with the opportunity to contemplate the remainder of this first proposition which speaks of the "all and all." Possibly, in the end, we see here that what is meant to unite and inspire can at times just take the mick out of one, lest one decides to transcend the matter (or do the ostrich thing, like the denial involved with the cactus needle in my finger). But, as you say we do all read and see things differently Father Peter. So from my perspective I am struck primarily by a seeming choice between 'a theology of love' or 'a theology of rose colored glasses' as it relates to the "We" who wrote this Creed and the "We" who recite it each Sunday in our local visible churches.

In Christ,
09-04-2009, 02:19 PM,

You are correct in saying that the statement is reactive, as is most of our doctrine. Had there never been a heretic trying to lead people away from the true faith, we would still likely have a very simple understanding of our Lord like that of Ignatius. But as heretics crept in and challenged the faith of the apostles, the fathers had to spell out the limitations of that which was true and that which was not.

The beauty of this first line in the creed, is that it not only achieves this limiting goal of what is true, but it also contextualized our relationship to God, and emphasizes first that He is a father (in fact The Father) and secondly that He is the Almighty. This is not to say that His Omnipotence is secondary to His being a Father, but rather contrasts directly against Greek philosophy. Athanasius, who was a key figure in the formation of the Nicene creed, was he who freed Christianity from the shackles of Greek philosophy. It was the Greeks who believed in many gods most of which were vindictive and brute authoritarians, toying with the human race for their own fancy, but the creed presenting the God above all else, who loves His creation like a father loves his son.
13-04-2009, 01:35 PM,
Dear Marc,

Thanks for your contributions here, they are appreciated and well received (and thought provoking).

Keeping in the spirit of the Father Peter's parameters here for this thread, I would like to share that as I considered this further (viz. the comment that most of our doctrine is reactive), it occurred to me that while this is and has been true of Eastern Orthodoxy . . . how does this square up with the teaching of Christ and His disciples?

Christ was not without His challengers/enemies during His day, and niether were the Apostles after the ascension.

As we consider both the praxis and the methodology of Christ and His followers, as they related to those outside of their group, would they be considered as being characteristically 'reactive' or 'proactive?' What is the rule here, and what is the exception to the rule. I think we see that it mattered who they were talking to. There was a reactiveness at play with the Pharisees, and at times with this group there was a silent treatment given to them. I think of Paul to the Galatians. So, I think it is a fair question to consider who the Creed is meant to speak to primarily, how is is intended to be used primarily. Does it promote a beginning point whereby there is a defensiveness or stand-off-ish-ness that unecessarily alienates folks?

However, it seems clear to me that the doctrine of the Kingdom of God, the Kerygma of Christ, was something that would be most characterized not by a negative or reactive approach; but, instead a more balanced (turning from and turning to) and proactive approach. We see both a reaching out, an outreach to individuals and large groups of folks that were on the outside. We see a talking with, as reasoning with, a positive engagement with the pagans of the day through various means. In fact, I think we could draw some parallels between this first proposition and the speech of Paul on Mars Hill . . . but, especially as we consider the method and the positive approach of Paul on Mars Hill, again, we might compare and contrast the negative/reactive with the positive/proactive and ask "what's the point?"

As I consider how this effects me, as Father Peter has suggested, as well as how it effects the alienated of our present day, it brings the question t my mind, as a rule, why would anyone want to further alienate the alienated? Again, we can see some of this with the approach used towards those in the past whom our Lord considered to be "snakes and vipers;" however, this was a limited useage and the exception to the rule as it relates to the good news of Christ, the proclamation of the Church.

And, possibly this is another key consideration here, was the Kerygma of Christ the new testament Church? Or was the Kergyma of Christ the Kingdom of God? I think this really does matter. Do we preach icons and saints primarily? Or, do we preach what Christ preached primarily?

Yes, the more I think about it, it is absolutely critical what our starting point is as Father Peter has said initially.

In Christ,
13-04-2009, 02:05 PM,
Another thought on this first line of the creed that may be helpful here is the little preposition, 'in'.

We believe IN God.

Speaking as one coming from an Evangelical background (where one's personal encounter with God is sressed), it is important to my understanding to realise that God will be MORE to a believer than merely an objective factuality.

One may believe THAT such a Creator exists - but do I believe IN Him? A philosopher may come to the conclusion that an Absolute must exist, but could that philosopher honestly state the creed?

I see something essentially existential in the opening statement of the creed. Am I on track?
13-04-2009, 03:05 PM,
I don't see the opening proposition as a negative thing though, it is pro-active, in that it it affirms what we believe as opposed to what we don't believe. Unfortunately, we cannot ignore the context in which the creed was written, which was the direct response to the Arian heresy and in an environment Greek polytheism. I see the creed as a benchmark of faith more than an evangelical tool. The Gospels/good news/glad tidings are our evangelical tools, with the epistles as are tools of greater understanding and last of all creedal statements to "sharpen up the edges."

I don't think you're wrong in taking the spiritual meaning out of the passage, for I believe the creed to be God inspired, and like all of God's words, is fluid and capable of revealing different facets of truth. I think it can have a more plain meaning as well, but I like your take better, it could be translated: "We have faith in one God". The opener then can be understood in two ways, spiritual and legalistic - where our faith abides, and a defining aspect of the nature of God.
13-04-2009, 03:38 PM,
marc hanna Wrote:You are correct in saying that the statement is reactive, as is most of our doctrine.

Dear Marc,

I think I am speaking in my post more to the "mindset" behind the reactiveness of the statement, and the reactiveness in most of our doctrine, as it relates to some factions found in Orthodox today.

It is what some in Orthodoxy today call "the Orthodox Mind" that I would like to better understand. It seems like the ones who use this expression the most appear to be characterized not so much by a spirit of love; but, by a spirit of "defensiveness and divisiveness." Possibly, as you may agree there is a good kind of divisiveness and a bad kind. I am wondering if the bad kind of divisiveness (that may resemble more a separatist or isolationist mentality) has its roots in some of what we are discussing now. Some, including myself, feel that there is a good kind of ecumenicalism and a bad kind. I guess I am wondering about the possibility that what we see in Orthodoxy today, in terms of say, relations between my church and yours, as well what we see in terms of Orthodox Evangelism . . . may have it's roots in the reactiveness/defensiveness that characterized it from these times.

I don't think this is something to dismiss quickly. I think there is a correlation here.

In Christ,
13-04-2009, 04:03 PM,
Considering the torrent of abuse the church suffered in the very beginning, the writings of the earliest fathers do not reflect a lot of reactive theology or statements but rather focuses more on the virtues of Christianity and the love of Christ. The defensiveness appears to have come in later with the infiltration of heretics on grander and grander scales.

I would definitely say I experienced more defensiveness and divisiveness in the Eastern Orthodox churches than in the Oriental Orthodox churches. The Greeks particularly seemed to emphasize the difference between them and the Catholics; but that may ultimately be an Italian/Greek thing as opposed to an Orthodox thing. Another factor may be that most Orthodox churches have spent many centuries being oppressed by an foreign occupant and we are observing the residual affects of oppression rather that the inherent mentality of the orthodox mind.
13-04-2009, 04:18 PM,
Dear Marc,

Very good points and observations. Thank you.

By way of reminder, I did use the expression "brutally honest" in my first post, and we are considering this in light of how it effect us in our lives and experiences . . . there is a fine line between speculative thinking and Historical Theology (or the History of Christian Thought); but, I wonder if we could consider more your experience of the EO and the OO as it relates to the "We" in this first statement in the Creed? As we might consider from the first three hundred years of persecution to the present day, I wonder if you could possibly help me to understand more about what you have said about what you experienced in the EO and the OO. Based on my very limited experience with the OO, I would agree with you 100%. In fact, this seems to be abundantly clear to me based on the internet personalities I am familiar with. But, without showing my ignorance any more than I already have . . . while we are on this part of our study, I wonder if you would have any thoughts about why there may be a higher degree of defensiveness and divisiveness in the one over the other as it relates to either psychology or Church History or other?

In Christ,
13-04-2009, 04:49 PM,
Dear Don,

While we are on the "We," if you will permit me a brief venture into the field of sociology . . . the following is something I read a few years ago that really influenced me as it relates to "communities," and as we have been talking about such as confessions and statements of belief (and propositions) here and elsewhere, I think this might possibly be helpful:

Quote:Community and society are two opposed basic possibilities of human corporate life. The relationship of men to one another is either understood as a real organic life, and this is the nature of community; or it is understood as only an ideal and mechanical formation, and this is the concept of society. Community means a lasting and genuine corporate life, society only a transient and apparent one. Community is to be understood as a living organism, society as a rather mechanical aggregate of the total existing of men, as a man-made institution. In community men are bound together by a natural process; in society they are divided by their very nature. While in community men remain bound together in spite of their divisions, in society they are divided in spite of all their bonds that link them. Communities are original and primordial relationships of life, like marriage, family, or clan. Here man understands himself on the basis of his corporate life. Societies on the other hand are associations made for a purpose. They last only for a time . . .and are formed on the basis of services expected in return, and of personal advantage.

If you find that this is not helpful, then please print it out and crumple it up and make a basket in a dunking fashion. ***You will be reimbursed for your toner on this by the way.

In Christ,

PS *** For toner reimbursment voucher please see the administrator. Big Grin
13-04-2009, 04:58 PM,
This is a pretty hard question to reply on simply because there are a lot of factors. However, in respect to the Greeks and the Latins specifically, there was a long growing animosity between them for centuries, probably stemming back to the Greeks being conquered by Rome. The division between them was based on culture and language and eventually manifested itself in religion as well resulting in the schism of 1054. We see in church history, a constant struggle for power between Constantinople and Rome with resulting affects also impacting the Chalcedonion schism. But the apparent greater defensiveness/divisiveness (which I am uncertain is typical of all EO's) may also be partly the result of the different theological traditions - EO's primarily Antiochene and OO's primarily Alexandrine - but this would require some rather in-depth study to try to identify a connection.
13-04-2009, 05:00 PM,
Rick Henry Wrote:PS *** For toner reimbursment voucher please see the administrator. Big Grin

I'm low on toner, can I just submit for a free toner voucher on the basis of Christian charity? That stuff is expensive! Smile
13-04-2009, 05:24 PM,
Sorry Mark. As much as I'd like to help a brother out, rules are rules, and if we bend them for you then we would have to do that for everyone who wants free toner. The way it works is you have to first deem a post to be a waste of time (or find that it makes you mad). Then, as stated above very clearly, you have to "print" it out on your printer, crumple it up and make a basket with it.

But, if it makes you feel any better, it's not like you get a whole new toner cartridge. You are only reimbursed for the toner that you have used, which comes out to roughly twelve cents (American). And, actually by the time you print off the reimbursement form online and fill it out and mail it in (with the uncrumpled post to prove that you did print it), along with a self-addressed stamped envelope, by the time you pay the postage both ways it's really not that good of a deal.

Our free coffee voucher program is much better though. Although, you are no longer eligible since you have already made three posts as a new member.

Oh, well. I'm sure there will be other promotions coming up in the future! Smile

PS I think I've had too much coffee this afternoon actually. :roll:
14-04-2009, 02:36 PM,
marc hanna Wrote:But the apparent greater defensiveness/divisiveness (which I am uncertain is typical of all EO's) may also be partly the result of the different theological traditions - EO's primarily Antiochene and OO's primarily Alexandrine - but this would require some rather in-depth study to try to identify a connection.

Dear Marc,

I agree, this is not a short answer question.

And, as we might continue just a bit here with this train of thought about this first clause in the Creed which seems to be "reactive," as well as representing a faith tradition which seems to have formed its doctrine in a reactive mode . . . I would like to share with you that it has been my experience coming into Greek Orthodoxy that the GO Church today seems to exhibit the least amount of defensiveness/divisiveness. Again, I am basing this statement on my own limited experience with GO Church members and clergy that I know in person, as well as writings of the same I have read online. In addition, through the pen of the Ecumenical Patriarch, and other contemporary writing theologians like John Zizioulas to name one in particular, I would say that the defensiveness/divisiveness is definitely not typical of all EO's. In fact, if you are familiar with the thinking/writing of these two men for example, then you know that there is more of a good kind of reaching out, and a good kind of ecumenicalism to be found in the upper levels of the GO Church than not. Both of these men are interested in dialogue. Both of these men are interested in gathering others around a table to talk. Bishop Kallistos Ware is another good example of this. But, unfortunately, there seems to be enough of a faction to be found in other patriarchates that promotes a pushing away from the table, and a declining of invitations to sit and talk, so that the context of division that we live in prevails, and is magnified. So, I would not say the defensiveness/divisiveness that we have been considering is typical of all EO's by any means, but that there are different schools of thought to be found in EO.

As far as your suggestion about the different schools of thought to be found above (viz. EO's primarily Antiochene and OO's primarily Alexandrine), I do not feel qualified to comment on this assertion; however, I'm not sure how this would really come into play in terms of perspective/hermenuetics. But, I allow much room for the thought that I may be missing something here.

And, with your permission, I would like to get back to a point that I made earlier. Who, what Orthodox Church member would disagree with what is said in the Creed? But, knowing this was a reactive thing, who is it really for? What does it really promote?

Regardless of whether we are considering the relationship of the Church with non-Christian folks of any label in the day that it was crafted, regardless of whether we are considering the relationship of the Church with any non-Christian or non-Orthodox Christians in our present day, and even regardless if we are considering either such things as OO and EO relations, or the context of division to be found within EO today . . . let's do a "what if."

"What if" we are not dealing with a faith tradition that has formed its doctrine in a climate which required a reactiveness? What if the defensiveness/diviseness that we are considering now, today in this online conversation does not find its roots in a mere posture of having been put on the defensive and forced to respond/react; but, instead, we are dealing with nothing more than a certain aspect of human nature. And, to be more specific, this is an aspect that has come to be known in our present day as "fundamentalism."

This mindset is nothing new and I think the different manifestations of it that we have seen in the History of World, whereby man's inhumanity/cruelty to man is put on display, cleanly demonstrate what is at the heart of the matter as it intersects with all of the works of the flesh. We see this mindset in many particular groups of people today. I think of the driving force in "American Fundamentalism" if you are familiar with this, or in a more extreme form, I think of groups such as the Taliban. I have a RCC friend who likes to bring the Puritans into this conversation as well.

But, what if we are just scratching the surface as it relates to such things as men reacting to each other and a resulting context of division whereby in the end, there is more of a lobbing of things over the fence at each other, at best, than there is anything else. And, from this place we see only an escalation of division and defensiveness on both parts.

I know we are starting to go out to sea here a little bit with this, but I think we are still in bounds according to how Father Peter is allowing for this small group study. This is not a lecture, but an interactive thing wherein it is "person speaking to person, not machine speaking to machine."

So, I will try to wrap this up now . . . but, "What if" there is nothing new or unique to Orthodoxy in terms of a mere reactiveness toward those who would disagree with a particular religion/belief system, or any world view for that matter. What if we are considering nothing here more complicated than human nature?

So, as it relates to such things as the relationship with "my" church and "your" church, or a Greek Church and a Russian Church, or whatever . . . take it wherever you want to with this . . . "what if" this context of division and this defensiveness/divisiveness has nothing to do with anything--except the works of the flesh?

And, if we allow any room for this way of knowing, this state of being as it relates to particularism and individual groups, then what is the end for those who participate in these works? What is the logical end conclusion of all of this, of this mindset?

Or, let's hold this up to the light and turn it around another way. What do we know is the end for the one whose methodology (for the lack of a better word), is characterized by the works of the Spirit?

It does not require a special gift of discernment to distinguish between Osama Bin Laden and Jacob Bar Hebraeus, anymore than it requires a special gift of discernment to distinguish between those who operate by means of the works of the flesh and those who speak the language of Love.

Honestly, when I read the opening part of this first line in the Creed, I do consider the "We" carefully, and it does draw sharp lines of division in my mind, but these lines of division do not promote a defensiveness or any kind of drawing in of the ranks/phlanx. Granted, there is a kind of positive disengagement that results as it relates to our brothers and sisters who are caught up in the division/divisiveness somewhat unaware; but, to be honest, in my experience this effects me in a way that can best be described as a giving of wings. Or a transcending of all divisions in Christ.

What else is there Marc?


Take me or other EO's who feel like I do, for example . . . if "We" are to subscribe to what appears to be the majority view (and supposedly the mature view) in 'our' tradition then "We" will use this Creed ('our' Creed) to draw a line of division between you and "Us" and every other person who is not a member of the one holy chalcedon orthodox church, "our" church.

But, in my view, that would be stupid, foolish, and sinful.

Or, take you for example, your church is not in communion with my church. Does this mean anything?

What else is there but a transcending of all divisions in Christ in our present day (especially in Orthodoxy today)?

And, this view has some serious implications, doesn't it? It has some real ramifications as it relates to an historic Orthodox Christian approach, I understand this. For one, the "We" becomes a universal thing with no real particularity. In this sense for those who wish to transcend all divisions in Christ, where is the concrete aspect of the Church in this (especially as it relates to the question of authority!)?

And, we may choose the view that it is not for any of us to be concerned with such things, or we may just become overwhelmed with the whole thing and do the ostrich thing, or become apathetic as we recite a Creed which uses words which are not symbols in any way, shape, or form and in fact have no real meaning to us.

Think about this, if we are reciting a credo, "what" we believe, but in reality (especially as this 'we' relates to the 'One Holy Orthodox Catholic Church') we do not know what the words mean . . . then we might as well stand in church on Sunday morning and recite together:

"Chicken, bagel, gas can, . . . . chicken!"

So, you know, it matters.

"What if" the "We" in the day that the Creed was crafted is not the same as the "We" in our day? What does this do to the traditional teachings of the Church on the Hierarchy/Bishop and the sacraments. What does this do to the shape and dimension and limits of the Church (The 'We')?

Or, better yet Smile . . . "What if" the "We" is exactly the same today as it was in the day the Creed was crafted in that the "We" is not to be found in a particular group centered around the legitimate Bishop (or Pope)[?], but the "We" is to be found in the one who seeks to transcend all defensiveness/divisions in Christ and follows "The Bishop within."

Sounds a little too Protestant doesn't it? They clearly do have an underdeveloped doctrine of ecclesiology; however, "What if" the Protestants don't have everything completely wrong as it relates to pneumatology?

In Christ,

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