"I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."
C. S. Lewis

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Following the Holy Fathers

Following the Holy Fathers... It was usual in the Ancient Church to introduce doctrinal statements by phrases like this. The great Decree of Chalcedon begins precisely with these very words. The Seventh Ecumenical Council introduces its decision concerning the Holy Icons even in a more explicit and elaborate way: following the Divinely inspired teaching of our Holy Fathers and the tradition of the Catholic Church. Obviously, it was more than just an appeal to "antiquity." Indeed, the Church always stresses the identity of her faith throughout the ages. This identity and permanence, from Apostolic times, is indeed the most conspicuous token and sign of right faith. In the famous phrase of Vincent of Lérins, in ipsa item catholica ecclesia magnopere curandum est ut id teneamus quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est (Commonitorium c. 2-3) [Now in the catholic church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all]. However, "antiquity" by itself is not yet an adequate proof of the true faith. Archaic formulas can be utterly misleading. Vincent himself was well aware of that. Old customs as such do not guarantee the truth. As St. Cyprian put it, antiquitas sine veritate vetustas erroris est (Epist. 74) [for antiquity without truth is simply the old age of error]. And again: Dominus, Ego sum, inquit, veritas. Non dixit, Ego sum consuetudo (Sententiae episcoporum numero 87, c. 30) [The Lord said, I am the Truth. He did not say, I am the custom]. The true tradition is only the tradition of truth, traditio veritatis. And this "true tradition," according to St. Irenaeus, is grounded in, and guaranteed by, that charisma veritatis certum [certain charism of truth], which has been deposited from the very beginning in the Church and preserved in the uninterrupted succession of Apostolic ministry: qui cum episcopatus successione charisma veritatis certum acceperunt (Adv. haereses IV. 40. 2) [who, when they have received through episcopal succession the certain charism of truth]. Thus, "tradition" in the Church is not merely the continuity of human memory the permanence of rites and habits. Ultimately, "'tradition" is the continuity of divine assistance, the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. The Church is not bound by "the letter." She is constantly moved forth by "the spirit." The same Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, which "spake through the Prophets," which guided the Apostles, which illumined the Evangelists, is still abiding in the Church, and guides her into
the fuller understanding of the divine truth, from glory to glory.”
(The Collected Works of Georges Florovsky (Belmont, MA: Nordland Publishing Co., 1987), Vol. IV, "Patristic Theology and the Ethos of the Orthodox Church," Part II, p. 15)

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