Kyrie Eleison: A Response to Eastern Orthodoxy

First of all, I would like to thank the publishers of The Credible Hulk for granting me the opportunity to write this response to an article that recently appeared on their website, which attempted to present a defense of Eastern Orthodox theology.  It is my intention to respond to their arguments, and explain why Eastern Orthodoxy cannot possibly be the True Church established by Christ.


It is interesting to note that our Orthodox correspondent is apparently ignorant of the nature of Great Schism, which contrary to popular belief, did not originate at a single point (such as the oft-repeated date of 1054), but rather was a gradual process wherein large numbers of Christians in the East slipped away from Union with Rome.  


Most of our correspondent’s statements vis-á-vis Protestantism are accurate, and so consequently, I won’t waste too much time going through them point by point.  I will, however, draw the reader’s attention to the following claim our correspondent wrote in that section, which I view to be quite problematic:


All clergy, including the Pope, is fallible in every respect. Even the Ecumenical Councils are not infallible as St. Athanasios the Great said in his letters defending the famous Ecumenical Council, using words like “sufficient” and “authoritative.”


Moving past the rather irksome grammatical errors, his claims regarding papal infallibility and council infallibility are contradicted by Eastern Patriarchs, as well as by the Byzantine Emperor.


The extremities of the earth, and everyone in every part of it who purely and rightly confess the Lord, look directly towards the Most Holy Roman Church and her confession and faith, as to a sun of unfailing light awaiting from her the brilliant radiance of the sacred dogmas of our Fathers, according to that which the inspired and holy Councils have stainlessly and piously decreed. For, from the descent of the Incarnate Word amongst us, all the churches in every part of the world have held the greatest Church alone to be their base and foundation, seeing that, according to the promise of Christ Our Savior, the gates of hell will never prevail against her, that she has the keys of the orthodox confession and right faith in Him, that she opens the true and exclusive religion to such men as approach with piety, and she shuts up and locks every heretical mouth which speaks against the Most High. (Saint Maximus, Opuscula theologica et polemica, Migne, Patr. Graec. vol. 90, emphasis mine.)


If the Roman See recognizes Pyrrhus to be not only a reprobate but a heretic, it is certainly plain that everyone who anathematizes those who have rejected Pyrrhus also anathematizes the See of Rome, that is, he anathematizes the Catholic Church. I need hardly add that he excommunicates himself also, if indeed he is in communion with the Roman See and the Catholic Church of God …Let him hasten before all things to satisfy the Roman See, for if it is satisfied, all will agree in calling him pious and orthodox. For he only speaks in vain who thinks he ought to persuade or entrap persons like myself, and does not satisfy and implore the blessed Pope of the most holy Catholic Church of the Romans, that is, the Apostolic See, which is from the incarnate of the Son of God Himself, and also all the holy synods, accodring to the holy canons and definitions has received universal and surpreme dominion, authority, and power of binding and loosing over all the holy churches of God throughout the whole world. (St. Maximus, Patriarch of Constantinople, Letter to Peter, in Mansi x, 692, emphasis mine).


Yielding honor to the Apostolic See and to Your Holiness, and honoring your Holiness, as one ought to honor a father, we have hastened to subject all the priests of the whole Eastern district, and to unite them to the See of your Holiness, for we do not allow of any point, however manifest and indisputable it be, which relates to the state of the Churches, not being brought to the cognizance of your Holiness, since you are the Head of all the holy Churches. (Emperor Justinian, Epist. ad. Pap. Joan. ii. Cod. Justin. lib. I. tit. 1, emphasis mine.).


Without whom (the Romans presiding in the seventh Council) a doctrine brought forward in the Church could not, even though confirmed by canonical decrees and by ecclesiastical usuage, ever obtain full approval or currency. For it is they (the Popes of Rome) who have had assigned to them the rule in sacred things, and who have received into their hands the dignity of headship among the Apostles. (Saint Nicephorus, Patriarch of Constantinople, Niceph. Cpl. pro. s. imag. c 25 [Mai N. Bibl. pp. ii. 30], emphasis mine.).


Thus we see that the doctrines could not be approved as true without the approval of the pope, and that ecumenical councils require the stamp of approval from the pope in order to be validated.  This is consistent with the Catholic teaching that ecumenical councils are only infallible when they teach on faith and morals with the approbation of the pope.  Moreover, I think it would be helpful to note at this time that our Orthodox correspondent’s quotation of Saint Athanasius is not sufficient to refute this, for Athanasius did not at all deny the infallibility of ecumenical councils.


Now, with respect to our correspondent’s specific points against Catholicism, starting with his statements on Scripture, we will start by noting that the See of Rome, which is the proximate rule of Faith for Catholics, or, in the words of Patriarch Maximus, the “sun of unfailing light”, it follows logically from the papacy’s supreme authority on matters of faith and morals that it has the authority to correctly (or, dare I say it, “objectively”) interpret Scripture.


Moving along, we see our Orthodox correspondent quoting St. Cyprian, attempting to give the reader the impression that this saint did not affirm Catholic teaching on papal supremacy.  This notion is, alas, completely wrong.


[After quoting Matthew 16:18f; John 21:15ff]On him [Peter] He builds the Church, and to him He gives the command to feed the sheep; and although He assigned a like power to all the Apostles, yet he founded a single Chair, and He established by His own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were that also which Peter was; but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one Chair. So too, all are shepherds, and the flock is shown to be one, fed by all the Apostles in single-minded accord. If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?(Cyprian, The Unity of the Catholic Church [first edition] 4, c. AD 251, emphasis added.)


So, contra the interpretation of an Orthodox priest and a former Protestant laymen, we have the words of the saint himself, which in fact completely obliterates their misunderstanding of his teaching.


Oh, and as for Pope Saint Gregory the Great, he was condemning the Patriarch of Constantinople’s claim to the title of “Ecumenical Patriarch”, and in other writings completely affirms papal supremacy, referring to the See of Peter as the see “to whom was committed the care and primacy of the whole Church”.


To conclude, our Orthodox correspondent’s defense of his religion doesn’t hold water, and in at least one case the very saint he was citing completely demolishes ecclesiology.
There is indeed One True Church, and it is the Catholic Church in union with the Throne of Saint Peter.


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