This article contains a response to Erick Ybarra’s critique of my common sense arguments against Roman Catholicism. I think this response is well worth reading, as I cite additional content from Popes Leo III and John VIII relevant to the points at hand.

From the onset, I want to apologize if this article comes across as adversarial. This is not my intent. Honestly, I do not understand how Erick’s responses are really coherent. This is not an online cheap shot at Erick, but honestly how I feel about the content of the responses.

Perhaps, it is I who am being incoherent or there is something obvious I am not understanding. I do not think that is the case, but I want to be open minded about it.

Lastly, I apologize for my limitations as a writer that I cannot write this response, even after much thought, more diplomatically. So, please forgive me my readers.

Now, onto my response to Erick. In a word, Erick’s responses can be described as “tangential.” They did not respond to my points.

First, Erick cites Pope Leo III’s “response letter to the Frankish envoys” and focuses on the line:

Or why, having admitted it, did they [of Ephesus I and Chalcedon] prohibit anything else from being added? See how I feel towards you and your people! I shall not say that I prefer myself to the fathers [of Ephesus I and Chalceldon]. Far be it from me to count myself their equal.

There are two points at issue:

First, both Erick and me are mistaken when we called this an excerpt from “a letter.” Rather, the excerpt is from the minutes of a synod held in Rome in 810 AD as related by Smaragdus Abbot of St Michael’s in  Lorraine. Henry Chadwick treats these words as genuine. The synod was held in response to the 809 AD council at Aachen. See p. 90-92 of Chadwick’s East and West: Making of a Rift in the Church for more information.

Second, the translation Erick uses appears to add words, as the translation I cited was lacking the word “fathers.” Unless there are two manuscripts, which I am not aware of, it appears that the translation Erick is citing is a paraphrase–filling in the gaps where it makes sense to add the word “fathers.” From this word “Fathers,” Erick comes up with an alternate interpretation of the excerpt which, in short, twists Leo III’s statement as something which did not pertain to the ecumenical councils. If the translation which Erick employs is inaccurate, his whole interpretation no longer works.

Nevertheless, let’s just assume his translation is more accurate.

As I have written elsewhere, the early Church conflated the canon against changing the Nicene Creed with that of the Constantinopolitan Creed ever since the Council of Chalcedon. I reiterate it is my contention that Leo III was doing exactly this and in doing so he was treading no new ground.

To buttress my argument, we simply have to read the very next passage in the Synod’s minutes, which includes the Frankish bishops’ reply to Pope Leo III:

Since then we both know that for this ye [Pope Leo III] think or declare it unlawful to insert those words as to be sung written in the Creed that they who made the same Creed did not them in like the rest and the subsequent great Synods [ie the Fourth Chalcedon and the Fifth and Sixth of Constantinople] forbade that man under any pretext of necessity or devotion for the salvation of [the believer] should make any new Creed or take away add or change any thing [from] the old we must not waste time any longer on this point. But this [you should] inquire, this I beg you to declare, since this thing is good to be believed if they had inserted it would it in that case have been good to sing too now it is good to believe (emphasis added, Source).

Clearly, the Frankish bishops and the Pope were on the same page pertaining to this issue. They make reference to “great Synods” forbidding “any pretext of necessity or for the devotion for the salvation [i.e. faith and morals] of [the believer] should make any new Creed or take away, add, or change anything.” Ironically, the Frankish Bishops appear to be responding to what the Pope says by conceding his point and viewing it as a matter of faith and morals not to change the Creed.

So, if this statement from Pope Leo III is not an ex cathedra statement by 19th century standards (being that it was perceived as such during a synod,) then we cannot be sure of any ex cathedra statement. The audience in the letter is literally being taught by the Pope, in the city of Rome, at a synod, and explicitly stating the issue pertains to salvation.

As a side note, it is interesting to see that the last sentence of the Frankish Bishops seems to imply that the Filioque was actually in the original Creed! This was their justification for including the statement.

Back to my response. To my disappointment, Erick’s article then goes onto what I can only describe as an irrelevant tangent. He states:

It would almost seem as though Leo III is saying that the “fathers” are a higher rule than himself, the successor of Peter….One of the rules imposed upon both the Pope and the Catholic Magisterium is the “moral consensus” of the Church Fathers…[Quotations and explanation of 19th and 20th century councils follow].

The whole issue of the Pope not needing redress, yet the Papacy being inferior to the “‘moral consensus’ of the Church Fathers” is really not relevant. The relevant issue at hand is whether Pope Leo III said the Creed could not be altered or not. And, to answer Erick’s tangent, my response is that he could have not had in his mind an apologetic that would not exist for another 50 generations.

Further, my own historical position on this matter is that though Popes since Victor I believed in Papal Supremacy, they likewise believed that they could not violate Canons that earlier Popes accepted. Clearly, the Vatican I “ex cathedra” and “faith and morals” escape hatches, which make it permissible to chalk up a violated canon or changed doctrine to the Pope because he was not speaking infallibly, simply cannot be considered “a thing” in the minds of earlier Popes.

In fact, we see the opposite in the above excerpts. The Pope and Bishops during the 810 Roman synod when inadvertently broaching the topic, considered what is now by Roman Catholics considered a matter of “discipline” as something much different: a salvation issue.

This, in effect, is mind boggling if we are Roman Catholic and trying to maintain the orthodoxy of the Filioque and infallibility of the Pope.

It means Popes were fallible in stating what they thought pertained to faith and morals, which allows us to consider their teaching on not changing the Creed as something “disciplinary,” and because it is “disciplinary” it is no longer infallible, and because it is no longer infallible, it is in error and therefore it could be ignored.

I honestly find such a line of reasoning sophistic and opposed to common sense. It also makes it impossible to verify the Pope’s infallibility in any circumstance.

Common sense dictates that Popes believed that legitimate Canons, “disciplinary” or not, could not be violated. Period. Popes, like Stephen V in the later ninth century, were still convinced that violating canons invalidated episcopal ordinations and such (which is why he called Saint Photius a “layman.”) Why? Popes did not have the categories of thought we have now. Clearly, they thought some of these disciplinary matters were true on a metaphysical level and therefore inviolable. The Creed likewise was considered unalterable outside of an ecumenical council and that its correct wording was a matter of salvation.

In summation, my response to Erick on this point is that we can interpret Pope Leo III’s words in a honest way by admitting both that he was a Papal Supremacist AND a believer that Popes cannot violate the canons of the Church–particularly the “Horos” (i.e. the Creed) whose “unchangeability” was considered at that time what we call now “a matter of faith and morals.”

Erick’s article, due to not taking into account the response of the Bishops to the Pope during the Synod, then continues to employ a faulty analysis of Pope Leo III’s statement.

The reference to “church fathers” , therefore, is more a reference to the true faith which traveled through the vehicle of the church fathers. 

I disagree. If Erick’s translation is accurate, we have no doubt that Pope Leo III is referencing the fathers of the council as the phrase “did they prohibit anything else from being added” clearly refers to the canon of the council–not some vague idea of the “church fathers'” writings taken as a whole. Verification of this interpretation is given to us by the Frankish Bishops’ response, noting that the “great Synods” did not allow the Creed to be changed. The significance of this, as I said before, is that Pope Leo III’s statement can only be comprehended if we understand that he is commenting on Popes not being able to overrule an ecumenical council.

On this note again, Erick writes the following, essentially claiming that to say the Creed cannot be changed is a misunderstanding of Ephesus I, which banned only changes to the Nicene (and not Constantinopolitan) Creed:

In  fact, the Greek bishops, both in the 5th-century and so far as the 15th century Council of Florence, would cite the 7th canon of Ephesus (431) as supposedly teaching that the Nicene Creed of 325 was absolutely irreformable. Of course, they mistook that to refer to the developed Creed of 381, which itself added to the creed of 325, seemingly against canon 7 of Ephesus.

In response, I assert that Pope Leo III takes for granted that Canon 7 of Ephesus was also Canonically upheld by subsequent councils in reference to the Constantinopolitan Creed. For example, Session II of Chalcedon explicitly prohibited changes to the Constantinopolitan Creed.

Sadly, Erick’s article then goes onto another tangent instead of actually addressing what Pope Leo III was literally saying. In this tangent, Erick starts criticizing the Orthodox view of the West “unilaterally” adding the Filioque to the Creed:

Now, many modern Orthodox are under the impression that the 11th century Papacy unilaterally inserted the Filioque into the Creed against the consensus of that day, as well as against the consensus of the Church fathers going back. But this cannot stand under scrutiny.

Erick then again voices doubt that that the Constantinopolitan Creed was the Creed for the Church.

In response, I assert that I have already shown that the universal position of the Church since Chalcedon was that the Constantinopolitan Creed was the Creed. The position of Egyptian schismatics on this issue is irrelevant.

Erick then points out the following: that western (and seemingly a few eastern fathers) were comfortable with the term “and the Son,” earlier western creeds had the Filioque, and Popes eventually accepted it.

My response is that all of the preceding are besides the point. The Constantinopolitan Creed had acknowledged canonical authority and was affirmed by the whole Church in ecumenical councils and outside of them, including the 810 synod at Rome. It was acknowledged by all these authorities that the Creed could not be changed. This was my original point in my article. Yet, Erick’s reasons for why the Filioque “aint’s so bad” don’t address how seriously the pre-schism Church, including Popes, viewed the canonical issues involved.

Later in his article, Erick then addresses Pope John VIII and Constantinople IV. He tries disputing that Pope John VIII made mention of the Pope not having canonical authority to change the Creed by resorting to a conspiracy theory. That being, “Photius forged the entire Greek and Latin manuscript record of everything John VIII ever wrote about the Filioque and Constantinople IV.”

Some may say, “Look, he cites two scholars to support his contention!”

My response is that I can cite Orthodox scholars that dispute the conspiracy theory, as well as a Roman Catholic scholar (Dr. Christaan Kappes.) Suffice it to say, Dr. Kappes (in an article which skips my mind at the moment) has cited two additional letters from Pope John VIII that do not pertain to Constantinople IV. Interestingly enough, these letters repeat the Pope’s contention that the Creed, canonically, cannot be altered. This obviously is consistent with what the Frankish Bishops and Pope Leo III thought. Additionally, the fact such letters had nothing to do with Photius gives to us independent verification that content in the “disputed” letters is in fact genuine.

On the top of my head, I can intelligently comment on the following letters which are against changing the Creed:

  • One of these letters is to a Latin-Rite Bishop in Latin. I think there might be another letter in the same vein on top of this, but without a citation from Kappes handy, nor a specific letter in mind, I won’t say more about it. Another is preserved in both the Greek and Latin minutes of Constantinople IV (879-880AD). I do know that Kappes cites a synod in Rome where Pope John VIII exonerated Saint Methodius and concurred with his Creed, see p. 140.
  • Then we have a third letter, written the August after the council, accepting the council.*
  • We have an additional letter (which Dvornik thinks is a forgery) where John VIII essentially calls the Creed a heresy.

Suffice it to say, the “forgery” position requires that we consider the four to five letters above–

  • The first is preserved in Latin.
  • The next two are preserved in multiple manuscripts in both Greek and Latin.
  • The last only exists in Greek.

–and assume all of them are forged. This is an untenable position being that one of these letters is from John VIII to a Latin-rite Bishop in which no pesky Greek could get in the middle to translate it to Greek, alter the letter’s contents in Greek, and then re-translate it into Latin in order to falsify the historical record. Quite frankly, such a position is absurd and should not be taken seriously by anyone.

Nevertheless, Erick tries to have it both ways (whether its forged or not) and says:

Whether it [sic, John VIII’s letters on the Filioque] was authentic or not, it is extremely unlikely that the descriptions of the filioque as akin to heresy (that seems to be the idea) came from Rome.

But, this besides the point. My article never said the Filioque was heretical. I pointed out that Pope Leo III obviously was in favor of the doctrine, but not its usage in the Creed.

So, what is the point? The point of both Popes Leo III and John VIII was that canonically a Pope cannot violate a council and amend the Creed. They did not conceive Pope could do so on the grounds that such a thing was “just discipline.”

Hence, I consider Erick’s quoting of Pope Stephen V’s letter Sviatopolk as tangential and irrelevant. It does not address the content of the Popes’ letters my original article cited.

Lastly, Erick’s article fails to address Pope Vigilius’ support for the conciliar ecclesiology dogmatically defined by the fifth ecumencial council. Erick’s response about Pope Vigilius sadly is also tangential. He states that “it should be said at the outset that Vigilius was never a heretic.” Yet, nothing in the article ever said he was such. The point at issue is whether Vigilius explicitly taught ex cathedra a conciliar ecclesiology.

Erick then quotes a couple of letters where Vigilius cites his own authority to teach something, but I already pre-empted this in my initial article.

Then, Erick cites an Anglican historian who claims (despite a Decretal letter from Vigilius to the contrary) that Vigilius never ratified the fifth council. In Erick’s article, all of this is said without actually addressing the points of my article, nor the existence of the Decretal letter.

Erick then hops around between different scholars talking about how Vigilius “felt he was above a council,” presumably before he capitulated and ratified it.

Then Erick goes on another tangent about the Acacian schism for some reason.

Erick cites Pope Stephen, Leo, Celestius, etc–all not addressing the actual point at issue in the fifth council.

Perhaps aware that he was excessively tangential, Erick then writes, “Back to Vigilius.”

However, instead of addressing the sentence of the council or Vigilius’ Decretal, we go into another tangent about how eastern and western councils thought they can excommunicate Popes:

We can say, in conclusion, that this would be an instance where the Pope’s authority was put on trial, and when he decided to insist on a judgment that was deemed unlawful or heretical by many bishops, they felt it unnecessary to follow him, and even felt capable of taking some motion of canonical separation. 

This tangent as well does not address any of my points. And so ends Erick’s first reply to my article.

Subsequently Erick wrote a reply to me, voicing doubt pertaining to my reading of the council’s Sentence and Decretal. I allow you, the readers, to judge the issue. To my own credit, I believe, it is sort of silly to suppose that a Sentence, which positively talks about Vigilius approving of what they did, was not ratified by the same Vigilius! Further, the Decretal pretty clearly implies the content from the Sentence, showing literary dependence upon it. If Vigilius did not approve of the Sentence, why does he employ its contents in his own Decretal?

Lastly, Erick wrote an additional article, but in the same vein of the aforementioned comment. So, my reply in my preceding paragraph applies to this second article.

And so, therein ends my reply. Until the actual points of my article are addressed head-on, I have nothing more to add. However, it is my wish from inquisitors into the truth not to be confused by tangents but rather look at this issue in a common sense way.

____

My response here is meant in love as I greatly appreciate Erick’s writing. We are on good terms and he has been very positive in our interactions and very patient with me. This includes my Protestant days to the present.

He has pointed out things I have got wrong in the past, so maybe I am wrong now. I leave this all here open to his scrutiny.

My intent is not to scrutinize him personally, but to double down on my points from my original article. They are important as I believe they show that “common sense” is on the side of Orthodoxy. I have no doubt with enough lawyering, anything can be made to sound better. But, my intent here is to stand upon “common sense.”

___

*Here is a Google translation of the said letter (source):

Therefore is prudence is called humility to know is ill, which the compassion of God to fulfill the demand, but rather had to be raised, humble and fraternal learn to self curing keep feeling for us, if you are due devotion and loyalty increases for holy Roman church and our smallness nicely to keep you as a dear brother embrace it and to hold the next

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