Saturday, August 05, 2006

Why The Need...For Truth?

After a thorough dialogue and response to a contributing blogger concerning Authority, It's Huge! Huge! (see the blog article of the same name), I was not expecting to answer his suggestion that truth doesn't matter and that love for one another is all we should need. I choose to surmise that the blogger was overwhelmed by the historical and valid perspective on the Church and it's authority that was presented to him as seen in his words:

"I need to confess that I have much, much to learn still about the history of Christianity. I took three+ courses on it in college, but it really didn't take like I wish it would have. I have much to learn about the councils and the early church fathers. I have only recently begun reading the letters of the early church fathers, and it has been really refreshing and exciting. But still a lot to learn. This is one of the reasons I am starting seminary in the fall. Nonetheless, my ability to offer you a substantive dialogue on this is going to be limited until I do more research on the councils, etc. Also, you must read everything I write through the lens of understanding that what I believe is constantly under critical evaluation, and anything I offer to the dialogue is only penultimate and said with an epistemological humility (i.e., knowing full well the limitations of my knowledge, and that I could be totally wrong). I do not have delusions of changing your mind on anything, but only to offer my current finite perspective, and ask questions about yours."

I understand what it is to be confronted with a paradigm that overwhelmed the flimsy paradigm that I hold. My Journey To Orthodoxy has required me to face many such confrontations. However, one's intellectual and spiritual integrity can only stay intact if one faces the confrontation head on. In other words, don't go around the subject or go on to another subject until the one that overwhelmed you has been addressed. I am afraid the blogger, in this case, has made the misstep that many make when faced with a paradigm that threatens their own. Although he seems to sincerely state his need to study the "history of Christianity...the councils of the church and the early church fathers", he in actuality draws a conclusion by tossing aside the need for any further study on the verifiability of truth and the authority of the church to preserve it, by saying,

"Why the need? Why the need for total doctrinal unity through perfect oral transmission? I confess, I don't see or understand the need for it."

The blogger, then reveals the underlying object of his resistance. He, like many in the Protestant ethos, are given to moral, intellectual and spiritual Relativism. "If it feels good, do it. If it means something to me then it is valid. If it sounds good it must be true. If I don't understand it, avoid it". The blogger even assumes that I am given to Relativism,

"I ascertain that you feel a great need for it, and that perhaps this felt need is what eventually led you to the Orthodox church as the only satisfaction for this need. Because I have not felt this need, I have not been compelled to do the specific kind of research that I'm sure you have done in your journey. Perhaps if I felt this need, or could be persuaded of its importance, I would be more serious about digging into this subject." 

At least the blogger leaves open the possibility of future "digging". The problem is, Relativism is based on the word "feel" as the blogger so often uses. So, unless in some way, the discussion can rise above his feelings and what is felt, then he will be hard pressed to ascertain anything with certainty. Relativism, at its core, would value what the blogger feels over what the Church has taught or even what Christ himself says about truth. He would suggest that I believe what I believe because it meets some emotional psychological need. The conclusion is, since he doesn't feel this need, then the need doesn't exist. This western ideology of Relativism has caused the blogger to conclude:

1. "I think that certitude is irrelevant to the Christian life of faith.
I think that this need for certainty many people feel in our postmodern culture is what leads many people from being protestant evangelicals to the Catholic and Orthodox faith they can finally have more absolutes that are not under negotiation because of the perfect transmission of doctrine through apostolic succession. I have another friend that converted to Catholicism much because of this felt need. But I am not convinced this is a true need with regards to the Christian Faith."

The blogger's ignorance of the Church councils and the reasons each were called is glaring. The Bishops' defense of the certain truth of the nature of Christ is the very reason the blogger has a "Christian Faith", as he calls it. If there is no certainty coming out of the Councils of the Church, then the blogger's definition of "Christian Faith" is meaningless and subject to myriads of definitions. Does not his use of the word "faith" suggest that there must be an object to have faith in? Faith in what? "Christ was fully God but not human. Christ was fully man but not God. Christ only appeared to be human but was not actually so." All of these and more were the subject of the Councils as they refuted these heresies. But, Relativism would eliminate the existence of heresies. So, there is no ascertainable truth, therefore there is no ascertainable error? One would have to conclude the blogger would have said to the Bishops present at the Councils, "What's the fuss? Don't worry! Go back home. It's all good". The blogger's ignorance of the Martyrs of the faith and what they died defending is also glaring. Did they die just to defend some ethereal concept of Love as the blogger asserts? 

2. "Instead of being discouraged, dismal, and hopeless by the idea that we cannot all come to a perfect knowledge of doctrine before the Parousia (i.e., second coming of Christ), I find it actually very helpful in my walk with Christ. The unity Christ and the apostles were concerned about I think was a unity of love, not agreeing in every matter of doctrine. There is a saying attributed to St. Augustine, In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, diversity; in all things, charity. I think the Apostles creed does a pretty good job of outlining the essentials, and in these things, yes, unity. Jesus was crucified, buried, and rose from the dead three days later yes, yes, essential. The canonized Bible is inerrent, incorruptible, and infallible no, not essential. There is perfect transmission of doctrine through the laying on of hands in apostolic succession no, not essential. Love God, Love People absolutely essential."

The blogger uses history and quotations from the Councils and the Bishops to support what he "thinks" Christ and the Apostles were "concerned about", but he fails to understand that what he has quoted does not support his conclusion. Augustine's use of the word "essentials" is directly contradictory to the blogger's claim that "certitude is irrelevant". The blogger confirms the contents of the Nicean Creed as "essential doctrines" but ignores the fact that the same Councils confirmed the canonization of the "inerrent, incorruptible, infallible" scriptures that the blogger calls not essential, and they assume the authority to say what the scriptures mean. He claims that Love is all that is essential. If this be so, what is "Love" and how do you define it? Is that definition also based on what you feel or will it be based on certain doctrinal truths maintained by the Church? The question the blogger needs to define before going any further in his honest search is this, "What is Truth"?

I must say, and not to offend, that the idea of there being "absolute truth" is foundational to our human experience in finding God and an elementary principal of Christianity. Jesus said, 

"You shall know the TRUTH and the truth shall set you free."

Notice Christ's use of the word "know" in relation to truth. All personal opinions that certitude of truth is irrelevant should immediately be dispelled if one at least embraces Christ's words as authoritative. Christ defines truth for us and establishes the path and result of finding that truth.

"I am the way, the TRUTH, and the life, and no man comes to the Father but through me."

This divine statement asserts that there is "THE way" not "A" way. There is "THE truth" not "A" truth. There are not many truths or varieties of interpretation of the truth but THE truth. In fact, the Church, being Christ on earth, i.e. his body, was even historically referred to as "The Way". Why is that? It is through the way of Christ's Church that man finds the truth. Finding the truth brings spiritual and everlasting LIFE which leads us, through Christ, to the Father. Without verifiable certain truth, there is no salvation! Without the Church, truth is elusive! So, in case anyone should miss this important point, here is the question: "Where can that truth be found"?

"...the Church, the pillar and foundation of truth."

Understanding this scripture in context, we know that there was only ONE Church on the planet to which it is referring and that Church still exists in a visible verifiable form today! This proclamation found in Timothy does not extend to the new definition of "Church" which would include all, some, or even one of the 35,000 documented denominational or non-denominational "churches" that have evolved through heretical movements some 1600 years later. Truth has been and still is preserved in its unadulterated and unfiltered purity in the Orthodox Church. Here is how to approach truth in an Orthodox fashion: If the Church has taught it at all times and in all places, believe it first, then set out to understand it. John Chrysostom says,"

"[Paul commands,] 'Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word or by our letter" [2 Thess. 2:15]. From this it is clear that they did not hand down everything by letter, but there is much also that was not written. Like that which was written, the unwritten too is worthy of belief. So let us regard the tradition of the Church also as worthy of belief. Is it a tradition? Seek no further" (Homilies on Second Thessalonians [A.D. 402]).
This is the approach I have taken in recent years regarding all truth and I have never been disappointed nor have I found error. It is my self-made, self-taught doctrines that have been found to be erroneous.
Blogger, you and I were both innocently born in a house other than that which Christ established. It is pillarless and without foundation, although there are elements of truth to be found there. Come home to the house that Christ established and that which has remained standing for over 2000 years and, should the Parousia tarry, will still be standing 2000 years from now.

Read the words of the Early Church Fathers concerning the preservation of the truth by the Church. Note the dates of some of the writings. These things were taught and believed by the whole church everywhere up to the present day. To suggest we know something today that they didn't or that what they knew then is uncertain, is the height of arrogance and the depths of ignorance.

Apostle Paul
"[W]hat you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." (2 Tim. 2:2). 


"Papias [A.D. 120], who is now mentioned by us, affirms that he received the sayings of the apostles from those who accompanied them, and he, moreover, asserts that he heard in person Aristion and the presbyter John. Accordingly, he mentions them frequently by name, and in his writings gives their traditions [concerning Jesus]. . . . [There are] other passages of his in which he relates some miraculous deeds, stating that he acquired the knowledge of them from tradition" (fragment in Eusebius, Church History 3:39 [A.D. 312]).
Eusebius of Caesarea
"At that time [A.D. 150] there flourished in the Church Hegesippus, whom we know from what has gone before, and Dionysius, bishop of Corinth, and another bishop, Pinytus of Crete, and besides these, Philip, and Apollinarius, and Melito, and Musanus, and Modestus, and, finally, Irenaeus. From them has come down to us in writing, the sound and orthodox faith received from tradition" (Church History 4:21).

"As I said before, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although she is disseminated throughout the whole world, yet guarded it, as if she occupied but one house. She likewise believes these things just as if she had but one soul and one and the same heart; and harmoniously she proclaims them and teaches them and hands them down, as if she possessed but one mouth. For, while the languages of the world are diverse, nevertheless, the authority of the tradition is one and the same" (Against Heresies 1:10:2 [A.D. 189]).
"That is why it is surely necessary to avoid them [heretics], while cherishing with the utmost diligence the things pertaining to the Church, and to lay hold of the tradition of truth. . . . What if the apostles had not in fact left writings to us? Would it not be necessary to follow the order of tradition, which was handed down to those to whom they entrusted the churches?" (ibid., 3:4:1).
... "It is possible, then, for everyone in every church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the apostles which has been made known throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the apostles and their successors to our own times, men who neither knew nor taught anything like these heretics rave about. "But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the successions of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul, that church which has the tradition and the faith which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. "With this church, because of its superior origin, all churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world, and it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition" (ibid., 3:3:1�2).
Clement of Alexandria
"Well, they preserving the tradition of the blessed doctrine derived directly from the holy apostles, Peter, James, John, and Paul, the sons receiving it from the father (but few were like the fathers), came by God's will to us also to deposit those ancestral and apostolic seeds. And well I know that they will exult; I do not mean delighted with this tribute, but solely on account of the preservation of the truth, according as they delivered it. For such a sketch as this, will, I think, be agreeable to a soul desirous of preserving from loss the blessed tradition" (Miscellanies 1:1 [A.D. 208]).
"Although there are many who believe that they themselves hold to the teachings of Christ, there are yet some among them who think differently from their predecessors. The teaching of the Church has indeed been handed down through an order of succession from the apostles and remains in the churches even to the present time. That alone is to be believed as the truth which is in no way at variance with ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition" (The Fundamental Doctrines 1:2 [A.D. 225]).
Cyprian of Carthage
"[T]he Church is one, and as she is one, cannot be both within and without. For if she is with Novatian, she was not with [Pope] Cornelius. But if she was with Cornelius, who succeeded the bishop Fabian by lawful ordination, and whom, beside the honor of the priesthood the Lord glorified also with martyrdom, Novatian is not in the Church; nor can he be reckoned as a bishop, who, succeeding to no one, and despising the evangelical and apostolic tradition, sprang from himself. For he who has not been ordained in the Church can neither have nor hold to the Church in any way" (Letters 75:3 [A.D. 253]).

"Again we write, again keeping to the apostolic traditions, we remind each other when we come together for prayer; and keeping the feast in common, with one mouth we truly give thanks to the Lord. Thus giving thanks unto him, and being followers of the saints, we shall make our praise in the Lord all the day, as the psalmist says. So, when we rightly keep the feast, we shall be counted worthy of that joy which is in heaven" (Festal Letters 2:7 [A.D. 330]).
"But you are blessed, who by faith are in the Church, dwell upon the foundations of the faith, and have full satisfaction, even the highest degree of faith which remains among you unshaken. For it has come down to you from apostolic tradition, and frequently accursed envy has wished to unsettle it, but has not been able" (ibid., 29).

Basil the Great
"Of the dogmas and messages preserved in the Church, some we possess from written teaching and others we receive from the tradition of the apostles, handed on to us in mystery. In respect to piety, both are of the same force. No one will contradict any of these, no one, at any rate, who is even moderately versed in matters ecclesiastical. Indeed, were we to try to reject unwritten customs as having no great authority, we would unwittingly injure the gospel in its vitals; or rather, we would reduce [Christian] message to a mere term" (The Holy Spirit 27:66 [A.D. 375]).

Epiphanius of Salamis
"It is needful also to make use of tradition, for not everything can be gotten from sacred Scripture. The holy apostles handed down some things in the scriptures, other things in tradition" (Medicine Chest Against All Heresies 61:6 [A.D. 375]).

"[T]he custom [of not rebaptizing converts] . . . may be supposed to have had its origin in apostolic tradition, just as there are many things which are observed by the whole Church, and therefore are fairly held to have been enjoined by the apostles, which yet are not mentioned in their writings" (On Baptism, Against the Donatists 5:23[31] [A.D. 400]).
"But the admonition that he [Cyprian] gives us, 'that we should go back to the fountain, that is, to apostolic tradition, and thence turn the channel of truth to our times', is most excellent, and should be followed without hesitation" (ibid., 5:26[37]).
"But in regard to those observances which we carefully attend and which the whole world keeps, and which derive not from Scripture but from Tradition, we are given to understand that they are recommended and ordained to be kept, either by the apostles themselves or by plenary [ecumenical] councils, the authority of which is quite vital in the Church" (Letter to Januarius [A.D. 400]).

John Chrysostom
"[Paul commands,] 'Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word or by our letter" [2 Thess. 2:15]. From this it is clear that they did not hand down everything by letter, but there is much also that was not written. Like that which was written, the unwritten too is worthy of belief. So let us regard the tradition of the Church also as worthy of belief. Is it a tradition? Seek no further" (Homilies on Second Thessalonians [A.D. 402]).
Vincent of Lerins
"With great zeal and closest attention, therefore, I frequently inquired of many men, eminent for their holiness and doctrine, how I might, in a concise and, so to speak, general and ordinary way, distinguish the truth of the Catholic faith from the falsehood of heretical depravity. "I received almost always the same answer from all of them?-that if I or anyone else wanted to expose the frauds and escape the snares of the heretics who rise up, and to remain intact and in sound faith, it would be necessary, with the help of the Lord, to fortify that faith in a twofold manner: first, of course, by the authority of divine law [Scripture] and then by the tradition of the Catholic Church. "Here, perhaps, someone may ask: 'If the canon of the scriptures be perfect and in itself more than suffices for everything, why is it necessary that the authority of ecclesiastical interpretation be joined to it? 'Because, quite plainly, sacred Scripture, by reason of its own depth, is not accepted by everyone as having one and the same meaning. . . . "Thus, because of so many distortions of such various errors, it is highly necessary that the line of prophetic and apostolic interpretation be directed in accord with the norm of the ecclesiastical and Catholic meaning" (The Notebooks [A.D. 434]).
In Their Own Words...

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