Recently, Father Kimel wrote an article with the intention of discrediting an earlier article I wrote which demonstrated that the Second Council of Nicea definitively taught that damnation is eternal.
In response to a quote from Session VI which states that in Hell there will not be “any end of punishment,” Father Kimel wrote in an article titled Divine Retribution, Hell, and the Development of Dogma:
This exchange came to my attention via Craig Truglia’s article “Nicea II’s Teaching on Eternal Damnation, Origen, and Apocatastasis.” Mr Truglia treats Epiphanius’ statement as if it were an authoritative conciliar pronouncement. That’s an understandable mistake, given the exclamation of approval (“This is the confession …”); but it misunderstands how a church council defines dogma. If we wish to learn what a council has doctrinally determined, we look to its decrees and canons. Conversations between the bishops may help us to better interpret the decrees and canons, but they do not represent the dogmatic voice of the council.
Father Kimel, who has not hidden the fact that he has never read the entire minutes of an ecumenical council, is understandably ignorant of both how councils viewed themselves and how fathers subsequently viewed those same councils. For everyone who who has done the dirty work of reading a whole council, it is obvious that the conciliar fathers had the view that, similar to the Scriptures, everything that a council affirmed as true must be affirmed.
Father Richard Price, indisputably the greatest living authority (though not infallible) on this subject, has coined this idea “conciliar fundamentalism.” In his first volume on the Council of Constantinople II, he wrote that Justinian, Ferrandus, and all contemporaries during the 6th century approached “all the acts and not just the decrees…with exaggerated respect.” (p. 98) Ferrandus of Carthage’s explicitly wrote:
If there is disapproval of any part of the Council of Chalcedon, the approval of the whole is in danger of becoming disapproval… But the whole Council of Chalcedon, since the whole of it is the Council of Chalcedon, is true; no part of it is open to criticism. Whatever we know to have been uttered, transacted, decreed and confirmed there was worked by the ineffable and secret power of the Holy Spirit. (Quoted in Ibid.)
Father Price is highly critical of conciliar fundamentalism and calls it a “failure to distinguish adequately between conciliar decrees and conciliar debates.” (Ibid.) Regardless of its merits to modern scholars, it was obviously the prevailing view of what is authoritative in the ecumenical councils from the time of the councils until the advent of the heresy of modernism.
The Three Chapters controversy would not have been a controversy if the fathers had the epistemic “out” of simply saying that Sessions 9 and 10 of Chalcedon were not decrees and canons. This already gives us some indication that conciliar fundamentalism was not some sort of sixth century innovation which arose out of nowhere. It was already ingrained at this point.
Even earliest than this, one of the attendees of Nicea, Saint Athanasius himself, wrote the following about the first ecumenical council:
Vainly then do they run about with the pretext that they have demanded Councils for the faith’s sake; for divine Scripture is sufficient above all things; but if a Council be needed on the point, there are the proceedings of the Fathers, for the Nicene Bishops did not neglect this matter, but stated the doctrine so exactly, that persons reading their words honestly, cannot but be reminded by them of the religion towards Christ announced in divine Scripture. (De Synodis, Par 6)
Athanasius was clearly speaking of “the acts of Nicæa” (Par 7) and not merely the Creed. So, we can see that Ferrandus was not the first person to speak of the work of a council in its very acts as inspired like the Scriptures.
What were the occasions for Athanasius’ and Ferrandus’ comments? For Athanasius, his comments were inspired by debate throughout the fourth century over the Nicene council. A conciliar fundamentalist iteration should not surprise us, because it is a way of asserting the authority of Nicea over countless Semi-Arian councils. Both Constantinople I and Ephesus I did not have any statements in their documents which caused significant debate within the Empire (the Nestorianizers maintained communion until the late fifth century), so we should not be surprised that we lack any contemporaries writing conciliar fundamentalist statements to defend those councils. However, due to the Monophysite schism rearing its ugly head in response to Chalcedon, it makes sense we start seeing conciliar fundamentalist statements again, such as Ferrandus’.
In short, disputed councils give the occasion for their defenders to invoke a conciliar fundamentalist defense. We cannot read into Constantinople I or Ephesus lacking such defenses as proof that no one had the mindset. History provides for us a good explanation as to why conciliar fundamentalism did not need to be invoked concerning those councils. Further, Athanasius offers us a fourth century invocation of the idea, demonstrating that conciliar fundamentalism existed since the beginning.
It should not surprise us then that we have more examples of conciliar fundamentalism in the first millennium. Father Price narrates for us an example of this occurring during the Council of Constantinople III. Due to this council’s translation not being published yet, we English-speakers have only this account to glean from:
In its Session III of 13 November 680 a copy of the acts of 553 was read out and found to contain three monenergist or monothelete documents: inserted at the very beginning of the acts was a document entitled ‘A discourse by the sainted Archbishop Menas of Constantinople addressed to the most blessed Pope Vigilius of Rome on Christ’s possession of a single will’, while the acts of Session VII of 553 were found to contain two declarations of faith by Vigilius, one addressed to Justinian and the other to his consort Theodora, which professed belief that ‘Christ is one hypostasis and one person and one operation’. The manuscript was immediately examined by the emperor Constantine IV (chairing the council), his officials and the bishops, who found that the discourse of Menas came on pages that had simply been stuck into the manuscript; it was agreed that a fuller examination of the latter would be carried out at an appropriate time.
This further examination did not take place till Session XIV of 6 April 681, when it was found that the two declarations by Vigilius were likewise crude insertions into the manuscript read out in Session III; it was also revealed that on a scroll containing the acts solely of Session VII of 553 the offending additions to the text had been ‘written crosswise’ – that is, they were an addition written at right angles to the original text, presumably in the margin. As additional evidence of the spuriousness of all three inserted documents, a number of additional manuscripts were now produced that
contained none of them.
What are we to make of all this? The discourse by Menas, whether genuine or a forgery, had no proper place in the acts of 553. But the evidence that the two declarations by Vigilius had likewise been clumsily stuck into the manuscript is more suspect: if this were so, why was the examination of the manuscript delayed for five months? It looks as if the evidence needed time to be concocted… (p. 106)
To make a long story short, apart from conciliar fundamentalism, why would the council’s fathers:
1. Examine the manuscripts in such an exacting matter or (worse), or
2. Fabricate manuscripts if the offending statements made were neither decrees or canons?
Obviously, the point at issue was that if these offensive statements were part of the minutes of the fifth ecumenical council, it would demonstrate that either the fifth or sixth ecumenical councils were in error. So, the examinations were called for in order to vindicate the councils from any slurs of inconsistency or incorrect teaching.
The preceding should not surprise us, because anyone steeped in the thinking of the Saints realizes that they likewise oftentimes accord the writings of previous saints to a near-infallible status. Saint Maximus took this view to the extreme in his treatment of Saint Gregory of Nazianzus in the Ambigua. Maximus wrote that “every syllable” of Saint Gregory’s writings had “a most suitable meaning.” (Amb 6.2, quoted in p. xii)
In the introduction to Book I, Nicholas Contas notes that this patristic fundamentalism (a phrase I am coining) arose from the high veneration paid to Saint Gregory:
Gregory is a saint, a man who through bodily asceticism and spiritual contemplation attained the highest possible degree of perfection, experienced divine realities, and was so completely assimilated to God that his words, as Maximos reminds us, can be fully understood only by someone who is Gregory’s equal in virtue (Amb 19.2,42.3, 45.2; see 10.105, 19.5). Having received the “whole outpouring of divine wisdom that can be attained by the saints,” Gregory’s words have a sacred, indeed inspired, character, not unlike the words of Scripture (see prol. Thom. 3, Amb 19.2, 21.2, 32.2). As the very “mouth of Christ,” Gregory the Theologian’s words are an extension of the words of Christ the Word. (p. xiii)
To those who find this insane, Contas makes the following comment:
Such devotion to the writings of a fourth-century bishop might strike the modern reader as extreme, and perhaps even sacrilegious, yet this response would fail to grasp one of the most cherished doctrines of Byzantine theology. To the Byzantine mind, Gregory was simply a link in a succession of divinized saints stretching back to the apostles and prophets (see Am b 41.2, 10.42-56). Were not Saint Paul’s letters— a collection of occasional and often prosaic documents— set alongside the words of Christ in the Gospels and given the status of Scripture? Why, then, should not the works of other saints, and especially those by Saint Gregory, who shared the title of “Theologian” with John, the author of the Fourth Gospel, be held in comparable esteem (see Amb 21.14)?…It is therefore no surprise that Maximos’ interpretation of Gregory makes use of exegetical methods traditionally brought to bear on the interpretation of Scripture. (p. xiv)
Now that we have established a significantly wide context, we can see that the saints disagree with Father Kimel’s assertion that:
If we wish to learn what a council has doctrinally determined, we look [only] to its decrees and canons.
The preceding assertion, even though it is wrong, would make some sort of sense if what Father Kimel was quoting from Nicea II was some sort of passing statement in the minutes. However, and I really hate pointing this out, Father Kimel has not read the council he is commenting on. He did not realize that what he was quoting was in fact a decree from Session 6 of Nicea II.
Session 6 of Nicea II is literally the council’s definitive “refutation” to “the definition” of the Council of Hiera, a “robber council” which falsely styled itself as Ecumenical. (p. 306) In Session 6, Gregory (a Bishop of Neoceasarea) read Hiera while Epiphanius (a Deacon from Constantinople) read the council’s response to Hiera.
Granted, there was no “abba kadabra,” “hokey pokey and turn yourself around,” or magic words that stated Session 6 was a “decree.” Nicea II was not like Chalcedon where votes were held at the end of every session. It was more orchestrated. The document was simply introduced as an “irrefragable confutation…with which the Holy Spirit has favoured us,” with the Council simply responding “let it be read” (p. 303), indicating they recognized the document to be inspired by the same Spirit.
This puts any honest universalist in a tough position. The document which stated that in Hell there would not be “any end of punishment,” was accepted uncritically as inspired by God Himself in Session 6.
But, none of this is really earth-shattering to anyone who has actually read the council. In the council’s official letter to the whole Church, another decree which says of itself that the council was led “by the inspiration and operation of the Holy Spirit,” (p. 452), it in passing takes the eternal nature of damnation for granted:
But the Lord awakened as a man out of sleep and as a mighty man refreshed with wine and He smote His enemies in the hinder parts and put them to a perpetual shame.’ If then eternal shame was by His resurrection put on His enemies that is the power of darkness, how then can Christians any more serve idols” (p. 454)?
This leaves no confusion as to what the council taught, from Whom they asserted they received their teachings, and the definitive nature of the council’s pronouncements.
As for the rest of the article, it devolves into a discussion of the ramifications of Romanides’ thought which, in Father Kimel’s view, makes universalism the most Orthodox conclusion possible. It would be hard to describe this as anything other than strange.
Is Romanides (who is not even a saint) above an ecumenical council? This is clearly the logical conclusion of Father Kimel’s thought when he asks rhetorically, after admitting the sixth ecumenical council likewise taught retributive damnation:
…is this what the Orthodox Church popularly teaches today? The answer is no.
In so doing, Father Kimel cites Romanides as representing “today’s” Orthodox teaching on Hell and that this teaching is opposed to the ecumenical councils.
In summary, Father Kimel has made the following mistakes. Having not read the council of Nicea II, he did not realize two things. First, that his representation of what is authoritative in an ecumenical council is historically untrue, due to the “conciliar fundamentalist” mindset of the conciliar fathers. Second, the parts of Nicea II he opposed had in fact met his own, more exacting, criteria for “definitiveness.”
In addition to the “sins” of repeating factually incorrect statements, Father Kimel has implied that the Orthodox Church has changed her teachings on eternal damnation. This idea is heterodox and it should be recanted immediately. Father Kimel is morally obliged to confess that the Church has never changed Her teachings.
Perhaps, Father Kimel can both correct the record and ask for forgiveness in misleading the ignorant and simple. An exercise in such humility, from a clergyman no less, would be a great inspiration to laymen and other clergy alike.
Please pray for Father Kimel that God may give him the simplicity in heart and wisdom to disown the contents of his recent article.
I was sent even more evidence that Session 6’s definition on damnation is ecumenically authoritative–its paraphrased in the Synodikon which is prayed every year at the beginning of Lent.
Nicea II, Session 6:
If any one confess not the resurrection of the dead, the judgment to come, the retribution of each one according to his merits, in the righteous balance of the Lord that neither will there be any end of punishment nor indeed of the kingdom of heaven, that is the full enjoyment of God, for the kingdom of heaven is not meat and drink but righteousness joy and peace in the Holy Ghost, as the divine Apostle teaches, let him be anathema.
To them that accept and transmit the vain Greek teachings that there is a pre-existence of souls and teach that all things were not produced and did not come into existence from non-being, that there is an end to torment or a restoration again of creation and of human affairs, meaning by such teachings that the Kingdom of the Heavens is entirely perishable and fleeting; whereas the Kingdom is eternal and indissoluble as Christ our God Himself taught and delivered to us, and as we have ascertained from the entire Old and New Scripture, that the torment is unending and the Kingdom everlasting; to them who by such teachings destroy themselves and become agents of eternal condemnation to others, anathema!
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