Friday, May 23, 2008

"I Will Meditate Upon Thy Statutes"

My weekend is coming up, so I thought I'd put a cat among the pigeons. In doing so, I dearly hope that it will not result in my hopes of eventual ordination being dashed forever. :>)

We continuing Anglicans, along with our brothers and sisters in Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, make much of our our adherence to the Ecumenical Councils. That the Romans are more generous in their definition of what constitutes such a council is irrelevant for the purpose of this discussion, as it pertains to the Seventh Council, one which is ecumenically acknowledged as being ecumenical.

The Affirmation of St Louis, to which all continuing churches adhere, says in part:

"We repudiate all deviation of departure from the Faith, in whole or in part, and bear witness to these essential principles of evangelical Truth and apostolic Order," which include:

"The received Tradition of the Church and its teachings as set forth by 'the ancient catholic bishops and doctors,' and especially as defined by the Seven Ecumenical Councils of the undivided Church, to the exclusion of all errors, ancient and modern.

I now draw your attention to Canon II, which I stumbled across late one night many months ago and have been meaning to ask about ever since: Are all our bishops in compliance with it? I dearly wish I could say that I am, but am doubtful I ever will be.

Canon II

That he who is to be ordained a Bishop must be steadfastly resolved to observe the canons, otherwise he shall not be ordained.

When we recite the psalter, we promise God: “I will meditate upon thy statutes, and will not forget thy words.” It is a salutary thing for all Christians to observe this, but it is especially incumbent upon those who have received the sacerdotal dignity. Therefore we decree, that every one who is raised to the rank of the episcopate shall know the psalter by heart (my emphasis), so that from it he may admonish and instruct all the clergy who are subject to him. And diligent examination shall be made by the metropolitan whether he be zealously inclined to read diligently, and not merely now and then, the sacred canons, the holy Gospel, and the book of the divine Apostle, and all other divine Scripture; and whether he lives according to God’s commandments, and also teaches the same to his people. For the special treasure of our high priesthood is the oracles which have been divinely delivered to us, that is the true science of the Divine Scriptures, as says Dionysius the Great. And if his mind be not set, and even glad, so to do and teach, let him not be ordained. For says God by the prophet, “Thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me.”

Here follows some commentary:

Ancient Epitome of Canon II

Whoever is to be a bishop must know the Psalter by heart: he must thoroughly understand what he reads, and not merely superficially, but with diligent care, that is to say the Sacred Canons, the Holy Gospel, the book of the Apostle, and the whole of the Divine Scripture. And should he not have such knowledge, he is not to be ordained.


Whoso is to be elevated to the grade of the episcopate should know … the book of the Apostle Paul, and the whole divine scripture and search out its meaning and understand the things that are written. For the very foundation and essence of the high priesthood is the true knowledge of holy Scripture, according to Dionysius the Great. And if he has this knowledge let him be ordained, but if not, not. For God hath said by the prophet: “Thou hast put away from thee knowledge, therefore I have also put thee away from me, that thou mayest not be my priest.”


The persecution of the Iconoclasts had driven all the best Christians into hiding, or into far distant exile; this had made them rustic, and had taken from them their taste for study. The council therefore is forced to be content with a knowledge of only what is absolutely necessary, provided it was united with a willingness to learn. The examination with which the ceremony of the ordination of bishops begins seems to be a remains of this discipline.

Van Espen

The Synod teaches in this canon that “all Christians” will find it most profitable to meditate upon God’s justifyings and to keep his words in remembrance, and especially is this the case with bishops. And it should be noted that formerly not only the clergy, but also the lay people, learned the Psalms, that is the whole Psalter, by heart, and made a most sweet sound by chanting them while about their work.
But as time went on, little by little this pious custom of reciting the Psalter and of imposing its recitation and a meditation thereon at certain intervals, slipped away to the clergy only and to monks and nuns, as to those specially consecrated to the service of God and to meditation upon the divine words, as Lupus points out. And from this discipline and practice the appointment of the Ecclesiastical or Canonical Office had its rise, which imposes the necessity of reciting the Psalms at certain intervals of time.

This canon is found in the Corpus Juris Canonici, Gratian’s Decretum, Pars I., Dist. xxxviij., C. vj., in Anastasius’s translation.

Retrieved from ""


Albion Land said...

I thought I'd better step in here quickly and make the first comment.

No one would doubt that it would be a boon if all Christians knew the psalms by heart and goodly portions from other parts of scripture, particularly the New Testament.

As I said in the original post, I doubt there is any hope of my memorising the entire psalter. In fact, after having had a Rule of Life over the past 10 years that includes reading the entire Psalter every month, I continue to be amazed at how I come across whole chunks that strike me as new, as if I were reading them for the first time.

All that said, my observation here would be quite simply that the requirement to know the psalms by heart is a disciplinary canon and not a matter of faith.

In all, 22 canons were promulgated by the council. Numbers 1 and 3-22 follows:

Canon 1: The clergy must observe "the holy canons," which include the Apostolic, those of the six previous Ecumenical Councils, those of the particular synods which have been published at other synods, and those of the Fathers.

Canon 3 condemns the appointment of bishops, priests, and deacons by secular princes.
Canon 4: Bishops are not to demand money of their clergy: any bishop who through covetousness deprives one of his clergy is himself deposed.
Canon 5 is directed against those who boast of having obtained church preferment with money, and recalls the Thirtieth Apostolic Canon and the canons of Chalcedon against those who buy preferment with money.
Canon 6: Provincial synods are to be held annually.
Canon 7: Relics are to be placed in all churches: no church is to be consecrated without relics.
Canon 8 prescribes precautions to be taken against feigned converts from Judaism.
Canon 9: All writings against the venerable images are to be surrendered, to be shut up with other heretical books.
Canon 10: Against clerics who leave their own dioceses without permission, and become private chaplains to great personages.
Canon 11: Every church and every monastery must have its own œconomus.
Canon 12: Against bishops or abbots who convey church property to temporal lords.
Canon 13: Episcopal residences, monasteries and other ecclesiastical buildings converted to profane uses are to be restored their rightful ownership.
Canon 14: Tonsured persons not ordained lectors must not read the Epistle or Gospel in the ambo.
Canon 15: Against pluralities of benefices.
Canon 16: The clergy must not wear sumptuous apparel.
Canon 17: Monks are not to leave their monasteries and begin building other houses of prayer without being provided with the means to finish the same.
Canon 18: Women are not to dwell in bishops' houses or in monasteries of men.
Canon 19: Superiors of churches and monasteries are not to demand money of those who enter the clerical or monastic state. But the dowry brought by a novice to a religious house is to be retained by that house if the novice leaves it without any fault on the part of the superior.
Canon 20 prohibits double monasteries.
Canon 21: A monk or nun may not leave one convent for another.
Canon 22: Among the laity, persons of opposite sexes may eat together, provided they give thanks and behave with decorum. But among religious persons, those of opposite sexes may eat together only in the presence of several God-fearing men and women, except on a journey when necessity compels.

BillyHW said...

the Seventh Council, one which is ecumenically acknowledged as being ecumenical.

Um, don't the Oriental Orthodox (so-called), the Assyrian Church of the East, and nearly all Protestant groups reject this council?

Canon Tallis said...

I had a friend in my college days, an alumni of my fraternity, who had mermorised the entirity of the psalter. He also had all of the collects and the canticles. His grandfather had started him on it when he was about ten and fineing him whenever he missed a single word. I was in absolute awe of his abilities. Still am.
I think it is much harder to do something like that today. There are too many distractions, but it is a good thing to work upon. On the other hand I am still surprised at how many phrases from the psalter I recognize when used by another. I knew one of my cadet instructors was an Anglican when he mentioned being forced to park the plane "out where God left his shoes."

Albion Land said...

Hi BillyHW,

I think the direct problem the Oriental Orthodox had with councils was with Chalcedon, not the Seventh per se, although Canon I requires acceptance of the previous six.

As for Protestant groups, there are so many hundreds, or thousands, of them that I would not presume to comment on what they do or do not believe.

My comment was a bit tongue in cheek, as is the whole thread, and I was referring to Anglicans, Orthodox and RCs when I used the term ecumenical.

Albion Land said...

Canon Tallis,

"I knew one of my cadet instructors was an Anglican when he mentioned being forced to park the plane 'out where God left his shoes.'"

I'm afraid you've lost me on this one. Which one are you referring to?

Sandra McColl said...

Since the invention of printing, rote learning has lost its appeal. Of course, with the modern fashion of retranslating Scripture and liturgy every few years, rote learning has even less utility.

There is still huge measure of knowledge to have even when one can't actually recite things from memory, and the weekly or monthly recitation of the Psalter, as well as the disciplined reading of Scripture are perhaps the modern equivalent of the old memory requirement. Priests who assiduously 'do their reading' beyond their daily requirement of reciting the Office tend to gather an aura of holy learnedness about them. I have known such, and the wisest and most learned of them tend not always to be those with the most impressive academic qualifications.

I'd also like to know what sort of relics they placed in churches and where they placed them. Somehow I don't think they conceived in those days of grotty old cheap reliquaries with fingernail clippings sitting on the altar.

Anonymous said...

As I understand the history (and I am open to correction), the Nestorians went into schism after the Council of Ephesus, which left them in support of only the first two Councils. The Monophysites bowed out at Chalcedon, which left them in acceptance of only three.

(The great Calvinist divine Charles Hodge of Princeton was on record as affirming the first six of the seven councils.)

Albion's example reminds us that we accept the doctrinal affirmations of the Seven Councils but not necessarily their disciplinary rulings. Examples could be multiplied; the most notable example being the requirement of celibacy for bishops, which the EO's scrupulously observe but Anglicans do not.
Laurence K. Wells

Albion Land said...

And then of course, there is Canon 16: clergy must not wear sumptuous apparel.

Has anyone ever noticed that there seems to be a corollary to the old adage that the smaller the church (ie ecclesial entity) the longer its name?

I would say that the corollary is that this church's bishops have got the fanciest duds.

John A. Hollister said...

1. Albion cited "Canon 4: [A]ny bishop who through covetousness deprives one of his clergy is himself deposed."

My, that must be giving some sleepless nights to some bishops who were recently discussed here on the Blogspot and who make a great play of their devotion to "apostolic canons".

2. Fr. Wells contrasted our adherence to "the doctrinal affirmations of the Seven Councils" with our observance of "their disciplinary rulings". His example was "the requirement of celibacy for bishops, which the EO's scrupulously observe but Anglicans do not."

Of course, canonical Scripture trumps any council and St. Paul twice requires the clergy to be married, so on this point it is the EOs who are out of compliance, not the Anglicans.

As to why any council ever tried to lay down such a pastorally and theologically disasterous requirement as celibacy, well, "General Councils ... may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of holy Scripture." (Article XXI.)

John A. Hollister+

Albion Land said...

Canon Hollister says "St. Paul twice requires the clergy to be married."

Where? I missed that.

I'm not sure he ever "required" anyone to marry, rather only strongly recommending in certain cases.

Anonymous said...

Canon Hollister writes, "canonical Scripture trumps any council..."

and quotes some subversive document:

"General Councils ... may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God."

Hear, hear! I really wanted to say that, but was afraid to--fearing that Fr Kirby would accuse me of some heresy or other.
Laurence K. Wells

poetreader said...

1 Tim 3:2: "A bishop must be ... the husband of one wife."

If one is interpreting Scripture privately (something St. Peter - 2Pet 1:21 - cautions against)one could easily see this passage as requiring a married episcopate. However, it is clear, considering the number of unmarried bishops, even before celibacy became a disciplinary matter, that the Church never saw this as a requirement, but rather as a limit - "not more than one ...".
It's also clear from the widespread observance of the disciplinary measure in both East and West, that it needs to be seen as licit to make such a disciplinary requirement, but, since Scripture is clear in at least permitting marriage, and since there have been many married bishops fully accepted by the Church, it is also clear that such a discipline cannot be made universally an absolute.

This proves also to demonstrate that disciplinary canons of the Councils do not have the same absolute force as doctrinal determinations.
With regard to the authority of the Seven Councils, there are two distinct watershed events. Those ancient churches which accepted the Christological determinations of Chalcedon (and thus affirm four councils) also accepted the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Councils. The Iconoclastic movement, to which the Seventh responded, failed to survive, but died out rather quickly. If, therefore, thye Christology of Chalcedon is accepted (as it should be) as the irreduceable identifier of the Catholic Faith, the whole Catholic Church did indeed accept the Seventh.

The second watershed is the great schism between East and West, which came about primarily from political events and not in response to a conciliar decision. The whole undivided Church accepts seven Councils, but further such assemblies are recognized by a fraction of the Chu8rch and not universally.

The very concept of recognizing four, but not seven Councils, doesn't really arise until the Reformation, being then presented in conjunction with a number of other novel ideas.


Anonymous said...

I hesitate to respond to anything
Ed Pacht writes, but against my better judgment I will simply ask some questions.

"The very concept of recognizing four, but not seven Councils, doesn't really arise until the Reformation,..."

If the recognition of "four" was a 16th century novelty, when did the custom arise of limiting the number to seven? The largest Christian body in the world recognizes 22, and if TAC is successful in its ecumenical goals, I suppose you will have to deal with that. But on what basis do you exclude the Constantinople IV, AD 869, well within the era of "the ancient undivided Church"?

When you say that the "whole undivided Church" accepts seven Councils, what do you do with the Oriental Orthodox Churches, when this (as far as I can ascertain) is simply not the case with them?

I would like more information about married bishops prior to the English Reformation, whose marriages you say were approved and accepted by the universal Church.

I believe your statement about the "disappearance" of iconoclasm after Nicaea II is something of an overstatement. Nestorian Christians do not make use of ikons, the "Monophysite" Churches use ikons only slightly, and the "separated brethren" of the Protestant Churches are virulently iconoclastic.
As a matter of some interest, the matter of Images does not seem to have come up in modern ecumenical dialogue between RC and others.

John A. Hollister said...

Ed Pacht wrote: "1 Tim 3:2: 'A bishop must be ... the husband of one wife.' ... [O]ne could easily see this passage as requiring a married episcopate. However, ... it is clear ... the Church never saw this as a requirement, but rather as a limit - 'not more than one ...'."

Ed's reading is the one preferred by the Roman Catholics, among whom the "Latin" Rite now requires celibacy of almost all clergy and of all bishops (except, apparently, of that anomalous one from Brazil who attended Vatican II) and the Eastern Rites require it of all the bishops. It is also the reading preferred by the Eastern Orthodox, who now require celibacy of all bishops.

The problem with this reading is that it does violence to St. Paul's own words. Had he meant "he may not be married but, if he have been married, then he cannot have been married more than once", he would not have appended the explanation that a man's performance as a husband and father is the criterion by which his fitness to be a pastor is to be judged (1 Tim. 3:4-5; cf. Titus 1:6b).

Celibate men cannot be assessed as potential pastors by looking to their performance as husbands and fathers because, of course, they have neither wives nor (legitimate) children. The theological significance of this is well illustrated by Christ's own use of the metaphor of marriage to explain His relationship to His Church and by our common description of a bishop as "reverend father in God".

So all the special pleading in the world, designed to defend and justify the present disfunctional practices of Rome and Constantinople, cannot do away with Paul's own words.

Again, even "General Councils ... may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God."

John A. Hollister+

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Did the Monophysites actually exist? What we are told today is that the churches that did not accept Chalcedon were not really Monophysites after all, and that it was all a matter of miscommunication. That is so much the accepted view that Rome is now in communion with oriental churches.

About Ecumenical Councils, both the Orthodox Church and the framers of the Affirmation of St. Louis have given these a special place of authority because the five Patriarchates of the ancient church all ratified them, giving them a universal acceptance (except for the orientals?) that sets them apart.

It has become a repeated Anglican saying that the first four were "formulative" and the last three defended what was formulated. That is a simplification, but I see the reasoning for it more and more whenever I give it thought.

Anonymous said...

The Oriental Orthodox say that the terms "monophysite" is incorrect. That is why I put the word in quotations marks. I believe they prefer the term henophysite.

Psalm ciii said...

I have always taken St Paul's words to mean that a married man may be a bishop, but he may not marry a second time if his wife dies. If she divorces him, well, we already know what Jesus has to say about that. In the latter case, again, he may not marry a second time.

The same is true for Orthodox priests. If his wife dies, he may not remarry. I suspect the same to be true of married Roman priests ordained under the Pastoral Provision.

poetreader said...

Fr. Wells,

I hope I'm not really as contentious as I apparently sometimes appear to be. If that is how I come across, I do apologize. It's not my intent. In that post I was merely trying to point out that there seem to be those who accept less than four councils, those who accept seven,, and the RCC that accepts a bunch more. Prior to the 16th century I'm not aware of any that accept at-least-four-and-less-than-seven.

The limitation to seven is the position historically held by the Orthodox East. If one recognizes both Byzantinium and Rome as legitimate parts of the Catholic church, then one recognizes that there are seven authoratative councils. If one recognizes the Chalcedonian formulation of Christology as a defining issue of Catholicity, then one is, whether one likes it or not, left with the position taken in the St. Louis Affirmation.

And, yes, even though it would be more convenient to use the conventional terminology, I tend to avoid both "Nestorian" and "Monophysite" as both the Church of the East and the "Oriental Orthodox" are working hard to reconcile the differences over Christology, a truly hopeful sign.


poetreader said...

Fr. Hollister,

I find myself challenged by the Pauline passages about bishops and wives.

I would indeed tend toward your view as what appears the most natural interpretation, except that I would be flying in the face of the universal interpretation-in-practice of the RCC, the Eastern Orthodox, the "Oriental Orthodox" and even the Church of the East over a period of many centuries. Can I be comfortable with absolutizing an interpretation that declares the whole Church to have been consistently in error for so long? I'm afraid I can't.

Perhaps what we have is analogous to the prohibition by the Jerusalem Council in Acts of eating blood. It doesn't appear as though there are any sizeable numbers of Christians who take that as a present prohibition, and most would see it as a disciplinary regulation appropriate to that time. Can St. Paul perhaps be taken that way?

Thus I do believe that a part of the church is free to make such a disciplinary regulation with regard to celibate bishops. Now, do I think it to be of necessity a good regulation, or to be one that we are forbidden to reconsider? Far from it. On the whole I would prefer a married episcopate as usual, but find that the passage as interpreted by Tradition can't have an absolute force.


Millo Shaw said...

Surely the discretionary rather than the mandatory interpretation is more consistent with St. Paul's definitive statement on celibacy and marriage in 1 Corinthians 7, vss. 25-40 - the main theme of which is, basically, that marriage is good but celibacy better - and for very practical reasons? Just how practical has been experienced “up close and personal” by many orthodox clergy within the Anglican establishment who would have been inclined to flip the middle digit to their apostate paymasters had not family obligations restrained them (lay people, of course, whether married or celibate, had and have NO such excuse). We may recall Francis Bacon’s dictum that “He that hath a wife and children hath given hostages to fortune” (which can be counterbalanced by St. Augustine’s observation that “humble wedlock is better far than proud virginity.”) The empirical evidence of our culture, at least, surely demonstrates that marriage is no more a guarantee against sexual, psychological, and moral dysfunctionality than celibacy. I guess the bottom line is that, whether we’re celibate or married (and I fall into the latter category), our fallen sexuality is a serious problem for all of us.

poetreader said...

I also intended to comment on this from Fr. Wells.

I would like more information about married bishops prior to the English Reformation, whose marriages you say were approved and accepted by the universal Church.

I don't know of any during the Middle Ages, though I've heard talk I can't substantiate about some in the Celtic churches. Early on, however, there seem to be quite a number before the more restrictive disciplines were adopted. I think of St. Peter for a start. Since St. Paul's advice was directed to SS. Timothy and Titus, both of them traditionally considered to have been bishops, one would have to presume that they were in accord with his advice, which he himself, BTW, by his own testimony was not. I seem to see a variety of practice gradually narrowed. This variety in practice appears to confirm a less prescriptive view of St. Paul's instruction.


Fr. Robert Hart said...

Sometimes it is possible to lose sight of why a practice took hold before it was considered to be sacred Tradition. Although persecution had begun by the time St. Paul wrote to Timothy, it is clear that eventually bishops were the first in line to be martyred (as St. Gregory the Great recalled in Pastoral Care). After a while, in some places, to be made a bishop was death sentence. What man would take a wife in such circumstances?

It may be that the Church simply forgot why the practice of episcopal celibacy had caught on.

Anonymous said...

It has been suggested that "The very concept of recognizing four, but not seven Councils," was a novelty of the 16th century Reformation. Surprisingly, this idea seems to have originated at (of all places!) Ecumenical Council V, that being Constaninople II, AD 553. Both the Emperor Justinian and Pope Gregory the Great compared the (first) four Councils to the four Gospels. Gregory wrote, "All the four synods of the holy universal Church we receive as we do the four books of the holy Gospels." See JPelikan, Emergence of the Catholic Tradition, p. 333.

It would be flatly wrong to suggest that the Reformers rejected Councils V and VI. It was more a judgment of relative importance than (a judgment not confined to Protestants, btw), than a repudiation of authority.

As for Council VII (Nicaea II, AD 787), well, C B Moss wrote a little book entitled "The C of E and the Seventh Ecumenical Council," in which he shows that the Angelic Doctor himself was largely ignorant of that Council. That raises some questions about its place in a Catholic consensus.

I would also send out an alarm signal on the romantic and unhistorical notion of an "ancient undivided Church." That has simple not been true since the earliest weeks after Pentecost. Pelikan writes,
"...the sixth century was also the timre when, each in its own way, the East and West articulated an orthodox consensus... There were noteworthy bodies of Christians who did not share in this consensus. Donatists in North Africa, Arian Lombards in Italy, Nestorians in Persia, and Monophysites in Egypt, Syriam, and Armenia--all had been excluded from the body of orthodox Christendom..."

And yes, there really were Monophysites in those days. If their modern successors in the Coptic or Armenian have mellowed out, that does not change the history of the early centuries.
Just google in the word "monophysite" and you will quickly learn that certain segments of Eastern Orthodoxy still regard "Oriental Orthodoxy" as seriously heretical. There have been efforts at rapprochement between the OO's and Rome, and likewise between the OO's and EO's, but it ain't over yet. The very term "Oriental Orthodox" may well be an invention of political correctness.

Psalm ciii said...

Fr. Hart wrote "It may be that the Church simply forgot why the practice of episcopal celibacy had caught on."

That may very well be. Today it is a disciplinary matter in the RC and EO Churches. Now, I have no problem with a married episcopate, but even today there are great advantages for clerical celibacy, especially for bishops. But that in no way implies that married clergy cannot "get the job done"; it may, however, make it more difficult.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

I believe that celibacy makes it harder to do the job, and makes many practical pastoral matters into abstractions and theories for such clergy. That is a disadvantage.To compare I Timothy 3 to I Corinthians 7 is to take both of them out of context. It is I Timothy 3 that deals specifically with the things Paul looked for in a man who would be ordained.

Fr. Wells:

I know that the Copts today claim that their ancestors never rejected the doctrine that Christ is fully God and fully man. Nonetheless, they still reject the Council of Chalcedon. Pope Shenouda III, Patriarch of the See of St Mark at Alexandria, has written a tract on why Chalcedon has no authority for Egyptian Copts. The whole thing is still rather confusing.

As long as the Egyptian Copts are mercilessly slain in mass killings by Muslims, while the Egyptian authorities look the other way, I find it hard to reject them as fellow Christians. The evidence shows that their ancestors rejected Chalcedon based on a poor understanding of such basic words as Hypostasis, and their current leaders reject it only on a sort of political basis: That is, that it won't have authority unless and until their own Patriarch ratifies it.

I thought Rome had already established intercommunion with them, and was satisfied that they were not monophysite in doctrine, despite their problem with the fourth Council as such.

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

Canon Hollister, Fr Wells, Ed,

There seems to be a great deal of unnecessary confusion on this thread. St Paul never says that a man who is celibate cannot be an Apostle-Bishop or Presbyter-Bishop, to use NT-derived terminology (e.g., Acts 1.20, Titus 1.5f), or that marriage is mandatory for clergy. Otherwise he could not have been an unmarried Apostle himself (1 Corinthians 7.8), nor could he have consecrated Timothy as an apparently unmarried "bishop" and strongly, if obliquely, hinted that he should remain celibate(2 Timothy 2.3,4,7 cf. 1 Corinthians 7.32f). That marriage is not a requirement in the strict sense is confirmed by the universal refusal of the ancient Church to exegete the relevant Pauline passages so as to teach this. No Church Father interprets the Pastoral Epistles to mean clergy must be married or have been married. Whatever the status of particular Conciliar statements, which I will come to in a moment, the patristic consensus is manifestly, definitively and authoritatively against such an interpretation. As such, it is objectively "out of bounds" for Anglican Catholics and anyone adhering to the Affirmation of St Louis.

It is also a strange opinion to find in any member of the ACC, whose last two Metropolitans have been celibate! My own never-married state perhaps makes me over-sensitive, but I am calling it as I see it. :-)

As for the disputed passage itself, the specific mention of "one wife", rather than a clear statement that the bishop "must be married" makes the desired emphasis clear: He must not be a polygamist. That the other requirements listed include natural paternal ones does not change this, since these may be easily interpreted as involving an unspoken conditional, "if he is married [which he normally would have been at that time and place] then he should be this sort of natural father". The above evidence is sufficient to demonstrate this, but do not forget that we often exegete Scripture (and everyday conversation) assuming unspoken conditionals or exceptions. E.g., "All have sinned" does not include Christ, though he is not specifically excepted in the passage in Romans. "He who does not believe is condemned already" cannot refer to baptised children below the age of reason, though John's Gospel does not make this clear at that point.

As for whether the Conciliar legislation is problematic, we need to draw careful distinctions. Legislation mandating clerical celibacy was always considered a changeable and disciplinary rather than dogmatic matter, so there is no question of invoking infallibility here. The question is, was the rule prudent or fair for its time? Whatever our answer, the fact that we are discussing circumstantially conditioned questions of prudential judgement mean we are permitted to disagree even with an Ecumenical Council that has been received as dogmatically without error by the Catholic Church. This does not mean we are free to reject the doctrinal affirmations of such Councils. However, not all "General" Councils are Ecumenical Councils in that sense. A number of Councils outwardly just as general as recognised Ecumenical Councils and claiming to be "the real thing" have in fact been rejected by the Church. No Anglican Catholic is permitted to dispute the authority or truth of the properly doctrinal teaching of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. Knowingly and deliberately doing so would be formally heretical, but that is not an issue in this discussion.


Many Church laws have fallen into disuetude, such that persistent non-observance is held to have rendered them no longer in force as mandatory. The Church has always distinguished between these kind of laws -- ecclesiastical, temporal and "positive" -- and laws natural, eternal or divine in character which cannot ever be ignored or rescinded.

Sandra McColl said...

Fr Hart, my understanding was that there is a separate Roman, uniate 'Coptic' (= Egyptian) Church. Anybody know any more (or better)?

Anonymous said...

"I thought Rome had already established intercommunion with them,..."

Father, is it correct to say that Rome "establishes inter-communion" with anybody? As I understand things, Rome has allowed various groups to "reconcile" (i. e., submit) to the Holy See. That is how various segments of EO have become Uniates. "Inter-communion" is an Anglican concept, presupposing a "branch theory" of the Church, which Rome barely accepts and EO flatly rejects.

Rome, I know, has received a portion of the "Nestorian" Church of the East--by working out a doctrinal statement with a formula (as I recall) that Our Lady is "Mother of Christ, God Incarnate" or something along that line. This "reconciliation" was achieved only at the cost of a split within the "Nestorian" body.

Certain sections of EO have had friendly conversations with the Copts and other Oriental Orthodox. But other sections of EO are horrified by such developments.
As I recall (and I may be in error), this was an issue between the Antiochians and the Russians.
I do not recall such a development between Rome and the OO's. But their history is exceedingly complicated, so it could have happened.

I too am willing to recognize the OO's a fellow Christians. My wife and I once came to the rescue (physically!) of a little Egyptian lady who ran a gift shop and was being harrassed by black Muslems.
As we walked her to her car, she expressed a beautiful love for Christ. But I equally acknowledge the Disciples of Christ pastor and the Salvation Army captain whom I see and chat with regularly in Starbucks.

Fr Kirby: please spare us the red herrings about ACC adherence to the Seven Ecumenical Councils. We are discussing their relative importance, not their authority as a whole. No-one in this discussion has rejected any Council and please do not impute that.

Anonymous said...

A corrective footnote to my last comment:
A quick look at Wikipedia informs me that there indeed are small bodies of
"Monophysite" heritage now in full communion with the Holy See. There is a Coptic group in Egypt and an Armenian group as well, with some small presence in the USA. Both of these originated in minor splits from the historic Armenian and Coptic Churches.
Also, the RC Church uses the terms
"full communion" (which means submission) and "imperfect communion" (which includes all baptized, even Protestants). The concept of "inter-communion" with independent or autonomous bodies is a notion quite foreign to the Roman mind.

poetreader said...

Thank you, Father Kirby, for a clearer statement (on both points) of just what I wanted to say than I'd managed to make myself.


Anonymous said...

"This does not mean we are free to reject the doctrinal affirmations of such Councils. .... No Anglican Catholic is permitted to dispute the authority or truth of the properly doctrinal teaching of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. Knowingly and deliberately doing so would be formally heretical, but that is not an issue in this discussion."

Father Kirby: You seem to be very nervous about our adherence to the Seven Ecumenical Councils. As you state, "that is not an issue in this discussion," so why do you keep adverting to it? As I have pointed out, even Calvinists accept the Christological affirmations of the first six, leaving only Nicaea II in dispute. I don't know of any serious Iconoclasts around these days; every Southern Baptist Cburch has its "Sallman's Head of Christ" around somewhere. (They may not burn candles before it, but woe be unto the preacher who says its violates the 2nd commandment!)

It is very easy for you to make staunch affirmations on points no-one is disputing. Like "preaching to the choir." But I wish you would leave room for discussion of the relative importance of the Councils.

I have encountered many who speak of "the Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Ancient Undivided Church" as a kind of mantra, exactly like fundamentalist Protestants who think their 66 book canon dropped out of the sky in one piece.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Father, is it correct to say that Rome "establishes inter-communion" with anybody?

Yes. The PNCC, the Oriental churches, and their unrequited "inter-communion" with the Orthodox.

William Tighe said...

Fr. Hart,

This is not the case, so far as I can tell. As regards the PNCC and the Assyrians, Rome allows what is called "eucharistic hospitality:" the faithful of these churches may receive the Eucharist (and other sacraments) from Roman (or Eastern) Catholic priests in cases of need (such as the unavailability of priests or parishes of their own) or in "unusual" ciorcumstances (such as retreats or bipartitite ecumenical gatherings. Rome makes it clear, however, that clergy are not allowed to "concelebrate" at such events, and insists that this is not "intercommunion" -- indeed, I think that Fr. Wells is wholly accurate in his characterization of what "intercommunion" and "imperfect communion" means for Rome.

Of course, it is clear from Canon 844 of the modern Latin Code of Canon Law (1983) that such "eucharistic hospitality" can be extended to such Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox, as well as Assyrians and the PNCC, as need it and request it. The difference is, that while the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox discourage, indeed (normally) forbid their faithful to receive communion etc. outside their own communions (Have you seen references to the great uproar in Romania in recent days caused by an Orthodox metropolitan's receiving the Sacrament from a Romanian Byzantine Catholic bishop when a guest at the consecration of a church by the latter?), the Assyrians and the PNCC have no problems at all with this. Another difference is that while the Orthodox attitude of hostility and resentment, or at least regret, towards the existence of "Eastern Catholic" ("uniate") churches is well-known -- an attitude shared by some of the OOs, such as the Copts, but not so much the Armanians or Syrians, to their Eastern Catholic counterparts -- such that representatives of the Eastern Catholic Churches have been excluded, to their own dismay, from any involvement in ecumenical dialogue between Rome and the Orthodox, relations between the Assyrians and their Chaldean Catholic counterpart are cordial in the extreme, with both sides (purportedly) eager for "reunion." (See my long review of a book on the history of "Assyrian Christianity" forthcoming in the June 2008 issue of Touchstone: while the Chaldeans number some 600,000 worldwide, the Assyrians number about 250,000; and it is the Chaldeans, who entered into union with Rome between 1778 and 1804, who are the ancient historic Church of the East, while the Assyrians stem from a break-away group of bishops who submitted to Rome in 1552 and repudiated communion with Rome in 1672, but who did not return thereafter to the "mother church.)

It seems to have been nationalistic factors more than theological ones that drove the Assyrian bishops to "suspend" the process of "reconciliation" with Rome and with the Chaldeans in 2003; and as for the PNCC, Fr. Hart can testify how difficult it is under their present management to get them to translate their words into deeds.

William Tighe said...

On the action of the Romanian Orthodox bishop, see this article and the ensuing (rather fraught and ill-tempered) comment thread:

poetreader said...

To my surprise, Fr. Kirby, I find myself in entire agreement with Fr. Wells on the identification of the subject of this post. Albion, as a central part of his discussion cites disciplinary canons of the 7th Council. The degree and kind of authority possessed by those councils becomes a central issue in this discussion because of that. I think it's been well demonstrated here that even those of us pledged by the St. Louis Affirmations to accept 7 councils, may indeed have variant opinions as to the implications of that.

I believe this discussion has been one of considerable value because it has raised those issues.


Fr. Robert Hart said...

I was hoping Dr. William Tighe would weigh in with some facts, because I can't keep track of all those things very well. It's hard enough to remember who's who in the Continuing churches. I used the wrong word, it seems, if "inter-communion" implies unconditional reception without sufficient need.

About the other subject, Fr. Wells brought up a useful concept when mentioning the relative importance of the Councils. I take that to refer to the levels of relative importance different councils have by comparison. Is Nicea II as important as Nicea I? Is Third Constantinople as important as Chalcedon?

In terms of meeting the emergency at the time, it makes sense to say yes. In terms of major doctrinal significance, probably not, compared to the first three. The 5th, 6th and 7th Ecumenical Councils defended established doctrine, as did the first four; but, everything necessary in the last three was already stated in the first four, including the fact that Chalcedon laid the foundation, and the first floor, for Nicea II.

It is not too different from asking which book is more important for doctrine: Esther or the Gospel of John? The question does not imply doubt as to the Divine inspiration of the former, but merely speaks to the greater meaning in the latter.

Anonymous said...

To my way of thinking, the Councils of Nicaea I and Chalcedon are the two major councils. Constantinople I and Ephesus consolidated, clarified, and developed Nicaea I; likewise Constantinople II and III, and Nicaea II, grew out of Chalcedon.
As a rough-and-ready analogy, we have seven sacraments, two major and five minor. The analogy is flawed, I know, but you get the idea.
If I may recommend another book,
"The First Seven Ecumenical Councils" by Leo Donald Davis SJ
is a great work. The word "First" in his title reflects his RC point of view, but he writes helpfully that there is no reason why the "first seven" cannot be regarded as in a class by themselves in importance for the Church

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

Fr Wells,

I am a little confused by the content and tone of your responses to me. First you say "No-one in this discussion has rejected any Council and please do not impute that." This despite the fact I had specifically said disputing the doctrinal teaching of the Councils was not at issue in the discussion. A little later you seem to realise what I had actually said, and instead of retracting the accusation of an imputation I had not made, you asked this: "As you state, "that is not an issue in this discussion," so why do you keep adverting to it?" Keep adverting to it? What makes this strange is that I had (until now) only made one comment in this thread, of five paragraphs, of which only one dealt with the issue of Ecumenical Councils! Indeed, most of my comment was addressed to Canon Hollister's exegesis of Scripture, not the Conciliar question.

Nevertheless, to answer the question as to why I addressed the issue, there were two reasons. One, some previous statements could have left some readers with the wrong impression. E.g., citing Article XXI of the 39 on the authority of General Councils without careful qualification, and this: "As for Council VII ... the Angelic Doctor himself was largely ignorant of that Council. That raises some questions about its place in a Catholic consensus." The second reason was that the distinctions I made were directly relevant to the original subject of the thread, which was just how binding various elements of Conciliar legislation are, such as the demands bishops memorise the entire Psalter and be celibate.

You said "I wish you would leave room for discussion of the relative importance of the Councils." Yet I had said "the fact that we are discussing circumstantially conditioned questions of prudential judgement mean we are permitted to disagree even with an Ecumenical Council that has been received as dogmatically without error by the Catholic Church" and had noted that much Concliar legislation was no longer current anyway. In other words, I had already dealt with the relative importance of different parts of Ecumenical Councils, if not how each Council compares with another. And I think it is clear that what I said was addressing the original topic of the thread.

You seem to think I have taken an adversarial position on the Councils, when all I was doing was clarifying the issue of what, within a Council, is binding and what is not. Indeed, I agree with what you have written in your last post on the Councils, including and especially your comments on Fr Davis' book and suggestion.

This is not the first time this has happened in our conversations, Father. In the thread on justification, after I had made what I decided would be my last comment, you said that because I had acknowledged a distinction between acquittal and renewal we were now closer to agreement. What made this mystifying and frustrating is that I had already made that distinction, even using the word "distinction", much earlier in the thread (in quoting earlier comments) and had never considered a distinction to be controversial, only insisting that the word justification and its correlatives did not always fall exclusively on the acquittal/forgiveness side of the distinction, thus allowing for its use in an (imputational + impartational) way by the RCC. You disagree absolutely with this last position, as far as I can tell. OK, we'll just have to agree to disagree on that one. But I had trouble understanding how you thought we disagreed over forgiveness or acquittal being distinguishable from renewal when I had explicitly revealed that distinction within the RCC's formularies and offered it as evidence of greater ecumenical convergence on soteriology than might be otherwise apparent.

Now, it is likely I have misread you in the past as well or not properly noted all your qualifying statements. I should have acknowledged, for example, your early and clear statement following, before offering my clarification: "we accept the doctrinal affirmations of the Seven Councils but not necessarily their disciplinary rulings." So, perhaps we should both try to interpret each other's words more carefully and charitably, and take a deep breath before falling into adversarial argumentation-mode.



Anonymous said...

I believe it was Canon Hollister, rather than myself, who quoted from
the Articles of Religion, "General Councils may err...even in things pertaining to God." (That particular Article, XXI, was not adopted by the American Church in the Adopting Act of 1901, btw.)

As for Aquinas's apparent ignorance of Nicaea II (and Aquinas was not an unlearned man), you will have to ask C. B. Moss. It was his information. I am only the messenger. At the moment I cannot lay my hands on the booklet itself, but Moss showed that Aquinas had a view of venerating icons rather different from that of the Eastern Fathers.

You wrote:

" However, not all "General" Councils are Ecumenical Councils in that sense. A number of Councils outwardly just as general as recognised Ecumenical Councils and claiming to be "the real thing" have in fact been rejected by the Church."

Could you kindly give us an example of a "General Council" rejected by the Church? And what authority in "the Church" is competent to reject a General Council?

You write further:
"No Anglican Catholic is permitted to dispute the authority or truth of the properly doctrinal teaching of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. Knowingly and deliberately doing so would be formally heretical, but that is not an issue in this discussion."
If it is not an issue, why did you bring it up? What is your point, Father?

Back to the Ecumenical Councils. You frequently describe them as "infallible." Are they infallible in the same sense that Holy Scripture is infallible? My own view is that they are not, but fall under the rubric of Article VIII concerning the Creeds, that is, the dogmatic statements of the Councils "ought thoroughly to be received and believed; for they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture." Even the CCC is emphatic that Holy Scripture has a unique authority owing to its inspiration. That is not claimed for other loci of authority.

William Tighe said...

Fr. Wells wrote:

"Could you kindly give us an example of a 'General Council' rejected by the Church? And what authority in 'the Church' is competent to reject a General Council?"

When this subject is under discussion I can never tell whether people mean the same thing by "ecumenical council" and "general council" -- although I know of no meaningful difference between the two terms. There certainly were councils that were, in intention, ecumenical councils, and summoned as such, but which were never accepted by the Church as a whole. These include the iconoclastic Council of Hiereia of 754, the "Latrocinium" Council of Ephesus of 449, and certain earlier councils, including, at least, the Council of Sirmium of 357, the Council of Sardica of 343 and the Councils of Tyre and Jerusalem in 335; and, in addition, there was one council never called as ecumenical, but rather a local synod, the Council of Constantinople of 381, which is now recognized as the second ecumenical council (although Rome did not recognize it until 534).

I write in this way, because by the time of the Council of Ephesus of 432 there was a concept of an "ecumenical council" -- summoned by the Emperor and yet an ecclesiastical body -- that could be brought into play as regards the 449 and 754 assemblies, and in the event rejected, in both cases due largely, although not exclusively, to the non-recognition, and indeed rejection, of their actions by the Bishop of Rome. (Rome ignored the summons in 754, but accepted it in 449, thereafter, however, rejecting its decrees.) In the Fourth Century, however, there was no such concept -- Nicaea was simply an assembly of experts in a particular area, Christian doctrine, summoned by the Emperor to deliberate on a problem that he wished to solve and to make recommendations to him for him to implement as and to the extent that he saw fit to do so. If the recommendations did not please the Emperor or if, when implemented, they did not appear to "work" the emperor might have another assembly summoned to devise alternate solutions. Thus, Constantine, although acquiescing in the condemnation of Arius as a troublemaker, was within a relatively few years brought round to the view that Athanasius was a greater troublemaker and a fanatic to boot, whereas Arius was moderate and "tractable" and so called the 335 council. Constans (the Western Emperor, pro-Orthodox) and his brother Constantius (the Eastern Emperor, an Arianizer) called Serdica in 343, but within a short time the council separated into two hostile assemblies that passed contradictory measures. By 357 Constantius was the only Emperor, and he summoned a large council at Sirmium which produced an ambiguous Creed, capable of both Orthodox and Arian interpretations, which was meant to supersede that of Nicaea and to isolate the "fanatical homoousians" like Athanasius on the one side and the most extreme followers of Arius, the Anomoeans, on the other. Constantius intended to enforce this council's determinations with an iron hand, and it was only his death and the succession of Julian "the Apostate" that rendered it an irrelevance. What happened in the 360s and 70s was that the West remained solidly Nicene and the middle ground disappeared in the East, with Alexandria becoming solidly Nicene and Constantinople (all of whose bishops between 340 and 379 were outright Arians) solidly Anomoean; and only the accession of Theodosius in 378 gave victory in the East to the orthodox.

Among later, Western and Medieval, councils I can think only of the Council of Ferrara/Florence (1438-1443) which was summoned jointly by the pope and the Byzantine Emperor, and which both sides (save for the anti-papal conciliarists who met from 1431 to 1449 as the "Council of Basel" after the pope transferred that council to Florence in 1439) regarded as properly summoned (it termed itself, interestingly, the Eighth Ecumenical Council), but which the four Eastern patriarchs rejected -- but only in 1484 -- as heretical. I do not know whether this responds to the meaning of Fr. Wells' question.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

the term "General Councils" appears in Article XXI, which is ommited from the American BCP. Instead we find the words: "The Twenty-first of the former Articles is omitted; because it is partly of a local and civil nature, and is provided for, as to the remaining parts of it, in other Articles."

It remains mysterious. But, we know that the Articles as a whole, and the service of Holy Communion, affirm at least the first Four Ecumenical Councils in obvious ways.


On previous occasions you have mentioned that the text of Nicea II that the English had was a terribly corrupted text. I got the impression that you were saying it was so badly corrupted that it made the Council appear to be saying something very different from what it actually said.

William Tighe said...


On previous occasions you have mentioned that the text of Nicea II that the English had was a terribly corrupted text. I got the impression that you were saying it was so badly corrupted that it made the Council appear to be saying something very different from what it actually said."

It was the bad, wretched really, Latin translation of the Greek decrees of Nicaea II -- a translation that had the council decreeing that images and the cross were to be afforded the identical form of worship ("adoratio/latreia") as that due to the Godhead himself that caused Charlemagne's Frankish Council of Frankfurt in 794 to reject Nicaea II. When Charlemagne demanded that Rome repudiate Rome refused, and instead upheld it, but another Frankish council repudiated it again in the 830s. Thereafter the issue petered out -- although as late as the 16th century a few anti-papal French Catholics continued to affirm that the French realm and church had not accepted that council, only to be confronted by early Calvinists arguing that if they really believed Nicaea II to have embraced and mandated "idolatry" -- as Calvinists most certainly believed it had -- then they should forsake the communion of Rome and embrace the pure gospel of Geneva.

Some scholars I have read argue that the English church also rejected Nicaea II, others that it accepted it, and still others that it ignored the question. What is certain is that by the late 14th century English canonists certainly regarded it as the seventh council, and expressed no objections to it.

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

Fr Wells,

Dr Tighe has given an answer similar to that I would have. However, I would add that one of the things that makes a "general" Council into what we now call an Ecumenical Council with dogmatic authority is reception by a moral unanimity in the Church. Such a reception would not require absolute unanimity, obviously, only that those who rejected the Council be clearly a small or merely localised minority. In saying this I am not denying the importance of the Roman Bishop's consent as well.

It was not unknown even in pre-Reformation scholarship to include under the category of "General Councils" more than just what we now recognise as truly authoritative Ecumenical Councils. The former term, therefore, has long had a wider reference than the latter.

The explanation I have given is similar to that of many Eastern Orthodox theologians and of 17th C. Anglican theologians such as Field and Laud. Field also noted that anything that looks like a really "General" Council deserves at first a kind of religious submission and implicit faith (simultaneous with devout comparison with Scripture and Tradition) that prevents any outward refusal unless one is quite certain it has erred. This shows that reception is not meant to be a whimsical or arrogant process where church members simply do as they wish, but a humble and reverent reflection which inherently leans to acceptance. Both Anglicans and Eastern Orthodox say that there is no neat external criterion which of itself guarantees absolutely that any Council, at its conclusion or during its meetings, will have pronounced doctrine infallibly.

So, Councils which come to be known as binding Ecumenical Councils have their formulations ascribed infallibility post facto. This is very different to the infallibility ascribed to the Scriptures, as you note, which derives from divine inspiration sui generis and requires unconditional submission as the word of God.

As for your other point and questions:

1. I know the reference to the Article was by Canon Hollister, with later approval by yourself. If you read what I wrote, you will notice I never said that you were the one who brought it up originally, just that I thought the Article needed qualification, which I supplied.

2. I never denied what you reported Moss said. I recently downloaded and read the paper you're talking about myself. I am not denying important Western theologians were for a time not well acquainted with the 7th Council, at least in an accurate translation, and I already knew this from other Anglican writers. I simply said that the statement you made as a conclusion from those facts had the potential to mislead some readers. After all, the said Council's "place in a Catholic consensus" is now quite clear, and has been for centuries, despite the earlier problems due to the woeful early Latin translations common in the West.

3. Why did I bring up the necessity of submission to some types of Ecumenical Conciliar decrees (and not others)? I have already answered this question in the second paragraph of my previous comment. In brief, I addressed it because some other comments might have muddied the waters, causing some to question (understandably though incorrectly) our doctrinal submission to the 7 Ec. Co.s and because the distinction between binding and non-binding Conciliar legislation was directly pertinent to the whole subject of this thread.

Hope this clarifies things further.