Perhaps the most “Latinized” treatment of Orthodox doctrine would be the 1642 Moldovan Synod (i.e. the Synod of Jassy). This Synod took a confession from Saint Peter Mogila (which the council itself explicitly stated had Roman Catholic errors), edited it, and then published it as an authoritative catechism. In 1643, all four Orthodox Patriarchs (of what was left of the Pentarchy) then signed onto the document from the said 1642 synod.
As follows are selections from the original source in English translation, which is available here. They are selected by myself due to them, in my view, being curious, important, or under-appreciated by modern Orthodox (as well as our detractors.)
- Nectarius, Bishop of Jerusalem’s curious statement about Constantinople.
As we can see, it exalts the doctrinal stability of Constantinople to a strange degree (which was ironically tenuous due to the late Saint Cyril Lukaris and his alleged Calvinism):
[T]hey should consign this exposition of faith to writing, point by point, and lay it before the Church of Constantinople, and her holy Synod, for a more mature examination and judgement of the matter: (for at that time they followed the authority of that church and unto her as as to a head did all Orthodox Greeks submit themselves and on her fixed attention, as a most sure guide) (p. 7).
It is also stated that the Patriarch of Constantinople has “the most full and Plenary powers in the whole sacred synod” (p. 8).
- Edits to Saint Peter Mogila’s confession are admitted from the onset and conciliar authority is imputed to the document.
The synod took his book, “purging it from all foreign defilements and novelties” (p. 8). Afterward:
…he [Meletius Syrigus] sent it to the most holy four orthodox Patriarchs, the Successors to the Seats of the Apostles, to be reviewed and considered of. They also confirmed it with their approbation, as containing the true and genuine doctrines, and in nothing departing from the sincere and catholic faith of the Greeks; and declared it to be pure and uncorrupt, by the universal judgement, determination, and consent of all. And therefore, by their own proper subscription, and of their clergy has appeared hereunto annexed, they decreed and confirmed it… (p. 8)
In 1643, all four Patriarchs affirmed the confession and said it should be “read and receive[d].” However, only nine additional Bishops signed on.
- Comments on Orthodox soteriology.
In response to the perceived errors of Saint Cyril Lukaris, the document states the following:
[Question 1:] What doth it behove a Catholic and Orthodox Christian to believe and do that he may have eternal life? Right faith and good works…[Question 2]First, he have faith in God; and Secondly, that he guide his life by that faith (p. 12-13).
Now, compare this answer to what Reformed Baptist John Piper gives to the question, “Will we be finally ‘saved’ by faith alone?”
[W]e are finally saved through sanctification — that is, through a real change in our hearts and minds and lives without which we will not see the Lord.
As we can see, both the synod and a Reformed Baptist give the same answer as to how one attains to eternal life–if anything, the answer Piper gives is more explicitly Orthodox as it explicitly invokes that “a real change in our hearts and minds” (i.e. good works) are needed for salvation while one must infer this from Mogila’s document.
What is the Orthodox document saying? It is not saying that we need faith and merits (the perceived Roman Catholic view at the time), nor is it saying we are saved by a forensic righteousness (the alleged view of Lukaris which Saint Peter Mogila is obviously trying to correct). Rather, because Orthodoxy conflates justification and sanctification, it teaches that both faith and works are necessary for salvation. I point this out because while the document corrects one Protestant misunderstanding of soteriology (and implicitly also what was perceived as the Roman Catholic view), it does not necessarily contradict all aspects of Protestant soteriology (i.e. the one Piper snippet above).
In my opinion, Protestantism makes category errors that forces them to contradict Orthodox categories of thought. In particular, Protestantism makes a dichotomy between justification and sanctification when neither the Scriptures nor the fathers do. Oftentimes Orthodoxy conflates faith and works, and Answer 4 commends us to a “real and sincere faith” in accordance with Trinitarian doctrine and Church councils. Elsewhere Mogila states:
…through the hope of eternal salvation, if good works accompany our faith, we shall be crowned with everlasting Heaven (p. 17).
This, to me, seems to imply the sort of distinctions in James 2.
- Sola Scriptura versus Sacred Tradition.
In short, the council appears to teach about the role of the Scriptures and the teaching authority of the Church in a fashion very similar to the Roman Catholic Council of Trent:
the precepts of the Church are two kinds: one committed in writing, which are contained in the divine books of sacred Scripture and the other delivered by the Apostles by word of mouth. These are the same which the councils and holy fathers did afterwards more at large declare (p. 14).
The document seems to say that the Scriptures are not materially sufficient and revelation outside the Scriptures is also part of the deposit of faith. However, this may not mean the oral tradition are extra-biblical teachings, but rather clarifications of Biblical thought, such as the councils.
- Treatment of the Filioque.
Pertaining to Trinitarian questions, like the procession of the Spirit from the Father, the document warns against speculative theology:
Being contented with this simplicity of faith, let us search no farther. For the inquisitive searcher into the hidden things of God is forbidden in holy Scripture: Sirach 3:21 Seek not the things that are too hard for thee, neither search for what is beyond thy strength, but what is commanded of thee think upon with reverence (p. 18).
The main argument the document gives against the Filioque is that revolves around the idea that the difference between the Persons of the Trinity are differences in their “personal attributes.” Obviously, this is in response particularly to Aquinas’ view of the Trinity, which reduces differences between the Persons to modes of how they relate to one another which Roman Catholic scholars admit borders on Modalism.
The personal attributes of the Godhead are those by which the Persons in the most holy Trinity are distinguished from each other. As pertaining to one cannot pertain to the other: thus Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; unbegotten, begotten, and proceeding; as peculiar to each Person; this is what distinguisheth or divideth the divine Persons but not their essence (p. 19).
Being that the document otherwise does not get into the sort of detail that, for example, the Council of Blachernae (1285) does, we really cannot flesh out a full Orthodox Trinitarian doctrine vis a vis the Roman Catholics. Perhaps that’s the point–that we not speculate too much.
- An interesting statement implies that God did not make “the best of all possible” universes.
Oftentimes in Orthodox apologetics, it is asserted God would not do something “unfair” (Saint John Maximovitch appeals to fairness). This to me is an interesting idea, because it presumes the opposite: that God is always reflexively trying to maximize goodness (at least, in the way we would understand goodness.) However, document states the following:
“Our God is in the heavens He doth whatsoever that pleaseth Him.” For it is certain had he pleased, He might have made six thousand worlds as easily as He made this, but He willed not (p. 21).
Clearly, God did not maximize goodness because He could have made six thousand Earths and saved all of them. So, I only point this out that it is important for us to let “God be God” and not presume upon what is good and bad, but know that what He does is good and He knows best.
- Angels and demons
The document in Question 19 (p. 24-25) speaks of cities, nations, and people, asserting that they all have guardian angels. It teaches that we should pray to angels: “let us…entreat them [angels] that they may pray to God for us” (p. 25-26). Concerning demons it states that “[t]hey are all created good by God…but through their own will they became evil” (p. 26). It also states that, “[B]e it known that the devil cannot exercise any power…unless they [sic] are so permitted by God” (p. 26). Eternal destruction is the destiny of demons: “Devils are condemned unto everlasting punishments and torments, they can never become partakers of divine mercy and grace” (p. 26).
The angels are like man as they have free will. Free will is unimpeded: “Man is endowed by a free will which God Himself will not constrain or lay under any necessity” (p. 26).
- Original sin and its effects of human free will
The document clearly states that since Adam’s fall our wills have been effected so that we cannot as easily will what is good.
Question 23: What was the state of innocence of man, or purity and freedom from sin?
The state of innocence and integrity are two fold, according to St Basil. The first is a voluntary departure from sin as when a man from his own deliberate purpose forsakes what he knows to be sin. The other is simply not knowing sin, as when a person either by reason or tender age, or any other cause, is without knowing evil or committing evil. Of the last kind was the innocence of Adam before the fall…Adam had a perfect knowledge of God, therefore in knowing God, he knew all other things through God…[By sinning] he came into a state of sin and being expelled from paradise he became subject to death…presently losing the perfection of his reason and understanding, his will became prone to evil rather than good (p. 27-28).
We are conceived in our mother’s womb and born in this [original] sin…this is called original sin because no mortal is conceived without this depravity of nature (p. 29).
Reason, whilst man remained in the state of innocence (that is before the fall) was perfect and uncorrupt and by the fall became corrupt, but his will…became more inclined to the evil…the will is miserably depraved by original sin (p. 31).
What is original sin? …This hereditary sin cannot be rooted out or abolished by any repentance whatever, but only by the grace of God, the work of redemption, wrought by our Lord Jesus Christ…whoever is not a partaker thereof [of baptism], such an one remain unabsolved of this sin and continueth in his guilt and is liable to eternal punishment and divine wrath (p. 132).
We can also see that the document does not take a stance on inherited sin (I presume it rejects the idea implicitly). However, it does clearly teach that apart from baptism joining us to Christ, we are joined to Adam (in his sin) and there is no salvation for the unbaptized.
The document speaks as follows in its rejection of Lukaris:
God fully foreknew the fall of Adam and the malice of Lucifer before He created either…nevertheless the divine goodness would not suffer itself to be overcome by the wickedness of man or the devil (p. 29).
God so dealt with Mankind [in the preceding way], that is, in his disobedience, God’s goodness might shine with more glorious brightness, by sending His only Son into the world…and redeem lost man and receive him into the kingdom adorned with greater glory than he had before in paradise, to the eternal confusion of the devil. Therefore neither ought the sin of man hinder that God not create him (p. 30).
God certainly foreknew all things before they were in being but only predestinated good…He foreknows, but so that His will hindereth not ours, which no way controls the nature of free will (p. 30-31).
Similar to the Council of Dositheus it teaches foreknowledge, but otherwise gets into know detail about how the will of God can affect the will of man.
- A few interesting tid-bits:
- Against Theopaschism: “Christ suffered on the cross, according to his human nature, not according to his divinity” (p. 43).
- Pilgrimages forgive sins: “Whosoever visits this sepulcher, in faith and love of Christ, he shall obtain pardon for many sins” (p. 45).
- Question 51 mentions the Jesus prayer (p. 47).
I find these interesting simply because it shows that the Jesus Prayer was endorsed by a “Latinized” document and that traditional views of things such as pilgrimages were maintained.
- Interesting comments on the afterlife.
This part of the document, I presume, modified Saint Peter Mogila’s more friendly view of Purgatory to a more Orthodox, less western, view of the afterlife. However, it is more succinct in its teaching of the afterlife than some other Orthodox sources.
The document speaks of how punishments and rewards are eternal: “[E]veryone shall receive a full and everlasting reward according to his merit” (p. 51). It also affirms the particular judgement, with the view that full recompense awaits the bodily resurrection: “Neither the just nor the wicked receive the full recompense of their deeds before the final judgement” (p. 52).
As for prayers for the dead and their efficacy, the following comments are made:
[M]any sinners are freed from Hades, not by their own repentance or confession [after death]…but for the good works and alms of the living and for the prayers of the Church made in their behalf, but chiefly for the sake of the unbloody sacrifice…the souls of such are by no means delivered by their own works…[quotes Saint Theophylact:]…”after we leave this earth we are no longer ourselves able to cancel our sins by our confessions” (p. 54).
Question 66: What are we to think of the fire of Purgatory?
It is nowhere in the holy Scriptures that there is any temporary punishment, whereby the soul, after death, may be purged. On the contrary, the Church in the second council of Constantinople did condemn Origen for this very opinion [probably a reference to the 14th anathema] (p. 55-56). [The rest of the question essentially criticizes popular views of Purgatory for having “pits and waters and sharp prongs.”]
Interestingly, the critique of the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory is not really compelling to modern readers, simply because Roman Catholics do not speak of pits and prongs anymore. However, it does show that Roman Catholic views of purgatory have evolved and changed, at least on the practical level. In the “pie in the sky level of dogma that is accepted as infallible” level, such a critique does not really hold up, as there was never an “infallible” document which speaks of prongs and such. It is interesting that purgatory is considered a “temporary punishment” which is conflated with apocatastasis. I struggle myself to see how these two ideas are remotely similar. I presume a less able theologian than Saint Peter Mogila penned these lines.
There are a couple other one-liners I would like to comment on:
The bodies of the wicked, also, shall receive eternal punishment (p. 90).
Tears shed for others appease the wrath of God towards them and [the blessed who mourn] pour forth their prayers before Him that He would vouchsafe onto them the grace to repent of their sins (p. 110).
First, we can see that eternal punishment is taught. Second, can see that vicarious merit on behalf of the dead is not “a thing” as it was in contemporary Roman Catholicism. God is appeased by prayer and the faith of others. This is Theology 101–it is the same reason we baptize infants because of the faith of their parents. The faith of others can save you. To quote the Gospel of Luke:
But not finding any way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down through the tiles with his stretcher, into the middle of the crowd, in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, He said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you” (Luke 5:19-20).
Hence, we literally have a Biblical example, let alone a massive practice upheld by all Apostolic Christians, that when God sees the faith and devotion of others, he honors it with forgiveness. A transaction of merit is not needed in such a system.
- The repetition of sacraments.
The document opposes rebaptism, a stance the Greek church would then reverse themselves after the Melkite schism a century later. As of present, re-baptism is perhaps a majority doctrine in global Orthodoxy. Another interesting thing is that the “form” of baptism is not scrutinized. The only requirement is that it be performed in the name of the Holy Trinity:
[T]his mystery once received is not again to be repeated, provided the person who provided the baptism believed orthodoxly in three Persons in one God and accurately, without alteration, pronounced the aformentioned words:namely, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen (p. 78).
Ironically, Chrism can be repeated (presumably because the grace of the Spirit can be grieved to the point of being forfeited completely through apostasy; c.f. Eph 4:30):
This mystery may again not be repeated unless it is onto those who having renounced the name of Christ return again unto the profession of his true faith (p. 79).
Penance is the normative means of being forgiven of post-baptismal sins:
Sin deprive[s] us of the innocence we obtained in baptism and now by penance we approach nearer to that state…by sin we have forfeited divine grace, now, by repentance, we regain it…by repentance we are restored to peace and confidence such as children are wont to have towards their parents (p. 86).
In short, it appears that we are saved by grace through faith (normatively baptism) and that this is maintained through continual faith and repentance.
- Moral teachings.
The following comments on the Christian spiritual life I felt were important to repeat here:
[The meek] think their own deeds to be vile and unworthy (p. 111).
[I]mpure thoughts defile the image of God and drive away the divine presence from the soul (p. 121).
Good works, or the Christian virtues, are fruits of faith…good works is the fulfilling of the commandments of God [i.e. the Decalogue] (p. 125).
That fasting which is considered a Christian virtue is abstaining from all food…and liquors, from all worldly concerns and from all evil desires…the devout Christian with more readiness and tranquility to recommend himself to God in prayer and obtain His pardon; and subdue the lusts of the flesh and receive the grace of God (p. 126).
Protestants often think of Orthodoxy has a medieval system of merit-based salvation. It appears that even in this very “Latinized” document that Orthodox Christianity is more nuanced and essentially equates faith with works.
- The nature of sin.
The following passages about sin use Western terms, such as “venial sin” and “mortal sin,” but have some interesting spins on the topic:
Sin hath no existence in itself as it is not a being created by God…it is a certain unrestrained and unruly will of man out of the devil (p. 130).
Mortal sin is…whereby charity towards God and our neighbor is broken…A base consenting, whereby anyone determines or purposes to commit a sin, giveth indeed a grievous wound unto the soul, but doth not entirely kill it (p. 131).
What sins are committed against the Holy Ghost? An over-great and ill-grounded confidence in the grace of God; i.e. presumption, and likewise despair, which is when anyone distrusts the divine mercy; for this is to contradict the manifest and established truth, and a denial of the Orthodox faith (p. 139).
He supposeth [that] human malice and iniquity almost to exceed the divine mercy and goodness as Cain said (Gen iv. 13), “Mine iniquity is greater than that it may be remitted unto me;” which horrid blasphemy is the highest and most reproachful affront to the mercy and goodness of God (p. 140).
Question 42 lists the following mortal sins most likely to bring God’s “vengeance:” murder, sodomy, oppressing the widow and orphan, defrauding laborers, and “those who neglect their duty to their parents” (p. 141).
“[V]enial sin is that which no man except Christ and the Virgin Mary can be without. However, this degree of sin doth not deprive us the grace of God (p. 141).
I am not an expert on Roman Catholicism (neither am I an expert for Orthodoxy), but it appears that the document does not have the same list of mortal sins as Roman Catholics would have. For example, not taking care of parents is a mortal, damnable sin. It appears that as long as all mortal sins are repented of, one can go to heaven.
- Dividing the Mosaic Law.
But are not the precepts of the old Law passed away? The precepts of the Old Testament which were concerning ceremonies and mysteries and were to foreshow the works of Christ…nor are they any longer binding or to be observed by Christians (p. 144).
Similar to Thomas Aquinas and (I presume) earlier thinkers, the Law is divided between “ceremonial,” “moral,” and etcetera.
- Intercession of the saints and latria/dulia.
…not, indeed, of their own power can they [the saints] help us but because of their prayers on our behalf they may obtain the grace and favour of God for us (p. 148–c.f. Rev 6:9 cited on p. 149)
…indeed of themselves alone they may not hear nor know our prayers, yet nevertheless by the divine favour and revelation wherewith God abundantly blesseth them they will both see and understand, and as Elisha knew what his servant hath done one the way (2 Kings 5:26)…after death the saints become as angels [Mark 12:25] in both like manner know our necessities and hear our prayers and also help us by their intercession (p. 150).
[T]he Jews…worshiped [dulia] the ark of the covenant and received it with honour and respect (2 Sam 6:13 [c.f. 2 Sam 6:17]) (p. 153).
The preceding Scripture references are, in my view, surprisingly good anti-Protestant proof texts. It should be noted, however, the ark itself was not given “dulia” as the document asserts, as sacrifices were not given to “it” (only God can receive a sacrifice.) So, that proof-text does not quite hold up, though it does show that even worship itself in Israelite history has been given to an object in place of God. In effect, the Scripture allows for a worship practice that is even more excessive than that permitted by Nicea II.
Help Grow the Orthodox Church in Cambodia!
Has this article blessed you? Please bless the Moscow Patriarchate’s missionary efforts in Cambodia to bring the Gospel to a people who have not heard it!
Some very good points here.
What are your theological credentials vs. the Patriarchs of Constantinople, Jerusalem, Alexandria and Antioch? As you point out, “… all four Patriarchs affirmed the confession and said it should be “read and receive[d].”
My theological credentials?!? I’m just a layman!