Saturday, February 6, 2010

The original Nicene Creed and semantic confusion.

As many know, the creed labeled “the Nicene Creed” that is recited by Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox churches, Anglicans, and many Protestant confessional churches, is actually NOT ‘the’ Nicene Creed, but rather, it is the creed promulgated at the regional council of Constantinople, convoked by emperor Theodosius in 381 A.D. (with Catholics and most confessional churches of the West adding, without ecumenical warrant, the controversial filioque). Having explored some of the historical ‘difficulties’ acknowledged and delineated by patristic scholars concerning the relationship between the original Nicene Creed and what is now ‘traditionally’ termed the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed in our last two threads, I would now like explore, in greater depth, some of the controversial content of the original Nicene Creed. [Note: this new thread has been ‘inspired’, in part, by certain comments made by “Lvka” HERE, which in turn was a response to comments I had made earlier HERE.]

Countless books, essays, etc. have been written on the council of Nicea and the Nicene Creed, but I am going to focus primarily on the contributions provided by R.P.C. Hanson in his The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God. [Note: quotes from this work will be from Hanson’s 1988 edition; to save space, I am providing the following links for the full English-1, English-2, and Greek and Latin texts of the NC creed.]

[02-07-10 UPDATE: Discovered an exhaustive site today that has numerous early Church texts in English, Greek and Latin HERE; link to the Nicene Creed of 325 in English, Greek and Latin HERE.]
The original NC contained: “of the substance of the Father” (deleted in the NCC of 381). Concerning this phrase, Hanson wrote:

To say that the Son was ‘of the substance’ (εκ της ουσιας) of the Father, and that he was ‘consubstantial’ with him were certainly startling innovations. Nothing comparable to this had been said in any creed or profession of faith before. Neither Alexander nor the recent Council of Antioch had described the Son’s relation to the Father by introducing ousia or its cognates. (pp. 166, 167)

Not only was the phrase, “of the substance of the Father”, deleted in the NCC of 381, but as I have already noted in my last two threads, so too were the anathemas. Concerning this additional deletion, Hanson continued with:

The other really remarkable point about N is the condemnation in the anathemas at the end of the view that the Son is ‘of another hypostasis or ousia’ from the Father. This can only have been a highly ambiguous and extremely confusing statement. By the standard of later orthodoxy, as achieved in the Creed of Constantinople of 381, it is a rankly heretical (i.e. Sabellian) proposition, because the Son must be of a different hypostasis (i.e. ‘Person’) from the Father. (p. 167)

A bit later he adds:

But we must remember that for at least the first half of the period 318-381, and in some cases considerably later, ousia and hypostasis are used as virtual synonyms, not in one sense only but in two. (p. 183) [Note: Hanson here is explicitly at odds with Lvka’s comments, linked to above.]

In my post that I linked to above, I penned:

In the later anathemas of the original N, we find that “hypostasis”/person and “ousia”/substance are treated as identical. If we allow the creed formulated at Constantinople to be a correction/clarification of N, then the omission is a ‘considerable’ one (as Tanner suggests). How so? We have later historical issues that arose which may very well be related to this omission, and the “semantic confusion” that surrounded the Nicene period (see Hanson, ch. 7, pp. 181-208).

I then provided a probable example from the 13th century. I would now like to suggest another—this time from the late 4th century. From Jerome’s letter to Pope Damasus we read:

Just now, I am sorry to say, those Arians, the Campenses, are trying to extort from me, a Roman Christian, their unheard-of formula of three hypostases. And this, too, after the definition of Nicaea and the decree of Alexandria, in which the West has joined. Where, I should like to know, are the apostles of these doctrines? Where is their Paul, their new doctor of the Gentiles? I ask them what three hypostases are supposed to mean. They reply three persons subsisting. I rejoin that this is my belief. They are not satisfied with the meaning, they demand the term. Surely some secret venom lurks in the words. “If any man refuse,” I cry, “to acknowledge three hypostases in the sense of three things hypostatized, that is three persons subsisting, let him be anathema.” Yet, because I do not learn their words, I am counted a heretic. “But, if any one, understanding by hypostasis essence, deny that in the three persons there is one hypostasis, he has no part in Christ.” Because this is my confession I, like you, am branded with the stigma of Sabellianism.

If you think fit enact a decree; and then I shall not hesitate to speak of three hypostases. Order a new creed to supersede the Nicene; and then, whether we are Arians or orthodox, one confession will do for us all. In the whole range of secular learning hypostasis never means anything but essence. And can any one, I ask, be so profane as to speak of three essences or substances in the Godhead?… Let us keep to one hypostasis, if such be your pleasure, and say nothing of three. It is a bad sign when those who mean the same thing use different words. Let us be satisfied with the form of creed which we have hitherto used. Or, if you think it right that I should speak of three hypostases, explaining what I mean by them, I am ready to submit. But, believe me, there is poison hidden under their honey; the angel of Satan has transformed himself into an angel of light. They give a plausible explanation of the term hypostasis; yet when I profess to hold it in the same sense they count me a heretic. Why are they so tenacious of a word? Why do they shelter themselves under ambiguous language? If their belief corresponds to their explanation of it, I do not condemn them for keeping it. On the other hand, if my belief corresponds to their expressed opinions, they should allow me to set forth their meaning in my own words
. (Jerome, Letter XV.3, 4 – NPNF 6.19.)

Further examples of confusion concerning the content of N can be provided, but the above from Jerome should suffice to confirm Hanson’s cogent reflections.

Grace and peace,


Thursday, February 4, 2010

When (and which), are councils and creeds infallible?

I begin this thread with the above provocative question/title, knowing full well that devout Catholics will answer with something like: only those councils and creeds which have been determined to be Ecumenical and Universal by the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, when speaking on “faith and morals”, are to be deemed infallible.

Lumen Gentium addresses this issue as follows:

Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.

Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they nevertheless proclaim Christ's doctrine infallibly whenever, even though dispersed through the world, but still maintaining the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter, and authentically teaching matters of faith and morals, they are in agreement on one position as definitively to be held. This is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church, whose definitions must be adhered to with the submission of faith.

And this infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed His Church to be endowed in defining doctrine of faith and morals, extends as far as the deposit of Revelation extends, which must be religiously guarded and faithfully expounded. And this is the infallibility which the Roman Pontiff, the head of the college of bishops, enjoys in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith, by a definitive act he proclaims a doctrine of faith or morals. And therefore his definitions, of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are justly styled irreformable, since they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, promised to him in blessed Peter, and therefore they need no approval of others, nor do they allow an appeal to any other judgment. For then the Roman Pontiff is not pronouncing judgment as a private person, but as the supreme teacher of the universal Church, in whom the charism of infallibility of the Church itself is individually present, he is expounding or defending a doctrine of Catholic faith. The infallibility promised to the Church resides also in the body of Bishops, when that body exercises the supreme magisterium with the successor of Peter. To these definitions the assent of the Church can never be wanting, on account of the activity of that same Holy Spirit, by which the whole flock of Christ is preserved and progresses in unity of faith
. (Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution On The Church, accessed at the Vatican website - footnote numbers removed – bold emphasis mine.)

I am going to reserve for a later post the issues concerning when can one know a teaching falls under the categories of “faith and morals”. What I would like to explore further in this thread, is whether or not the above criteria can be found in the teachings/writings of the early Church.

The renowned historian, Ramsey MacMullen, lists no less than 255 councils between the council of Nicea (325) and the council of Constantinople (553) in his book, Voting About God, and then goes to state that, “the councils over this time-span cannot have totalled less than 15,000.” (See pages 2-7.)

Now, do ANY of the councils listed by MacMullen exhibit/meet the conditions detailed in Lumen Gentium in order to qualify as Ecumenical and infallible? To my knowledge, not a single one does. But, I certainly make no claim to infallibility in these matters, and shall eagerly await others to weigh in.

Moving on, Dave Armstrong in this heartfelt post wrote:

But they are not, I submit, troubling at all! Even the source you provided verifies that. I don't see the "troubling 'cracks'" that you see. If this is the sort of thing you actually start with as a premise, and move on from there, then it is a castle made of sand. You haven't even established (by any stretch of the imagination) that this is a solid difficulty in the Catholic position.

Apart from acknowledging that doctrine does indeed develop, what I am attempting to do in this new series of threads on councils, creeds, and infallibility is look at the historic evidences and processes without ANY premise(s), save the presupposition shared by ALL the varying theological schools of thought in this period that the Sacred Scriptures were divinely inspired and infallible.

With the above in mind, I would now like to ask another question: by what means did the Christians living between 325 and 553 AD come to make their decisions about authority, councils, and doctrine?

In the previous thread, I presented some historic facts concerning the council of Constantinople in 381 and the creed that was promulgated there. I sincerely wonder what would have compelled someone living in the Western region of the Roman Empire to believe that this clearly regional council (see below) was an Ecumenical/Universal council, and that its creed was infallible?

Concerning the creed, Hanson wrote:

The alterations which may be significant are the omissions by C of ‘that is, of the substance (ousia) of the Father (iii), originally in N; the new clause in C ‘and there will be no end of his kingdom’ (x); the considerable addition to the article on the Holy Spirit (xi); and the omission of N’s anathemas…The omission of ‘that is, of the substance ousia of the Father (iii) has caused much heart-searching among scholars. (R.P.C. Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God, p. 817)

And Tanner penned:

Scholars find difficulties with the creed attributed to the council of Constantinople. Some say that the council composed a new creed. But no mention is made of this creed by ancient witnesses until the council of Chalcedon; and the council of Constantinople was said simply to have endorsed the faith of Nicea, with a few additions on the holy Spirit to refute the Pneumatomachian heresy. Moreover, if the latter tradition is accepted, an explanation must be given of why the first two articles of the so-called Contantinopolitan creed differ considerably from the Nicene creed. (Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, Volume 1, Norman P. Tanner, S.J. editor, 1990, p. 21 – bold emphasis mine.)

As for the nature of the council itself, we read:

The Second Council of Constantinople, A. D. 381, was not originally a general council. (Joseph Pohle, The Trinity, English trans. Arthur Preuss, 1912, p. 129.)

In the spring of 381 Theodosius assembled a council of 148 bishops at Constantinople, with Meletius of Antioch presiding. None who would not profess the Creed of Nicea were allowed to attend. No bishops from the west were present, nor was the Pope represented. Therefore this was not really an ecumenical council…(Warren H. Carroll, The Building of Christendom, p.62)

The Council of Constantinople owes its œcumenicity to the agreement of its doctrinal decisions with the mind of the Universal Church. In the stricter sense of the word the Council certainly was not œcumenical, for the West was unrepresented. Nicephorus distinctly states that Theodosius, as Emperor of the East, summoned only the Bishops of the East. (H.B. Swete, On The Early History Of The Doctrine Of The Holy Spirit, p. 79.)

Dr. Bryan Cross, in the combox of our previous thread, linked to a thread at De Regnis Duobus I had not read before. In that thread, I found the following POST by Andrew McCallum to be germane to our current discussion:

You almost get the impression (and I'm not finished with his essay and am hardly qualified to really deconstruct it yet) that even if there were no real "pope" in Rome for the first handful of decades, it wouldn't really matter.


I agree that this approach does seem more plausible at least from a strictly historical standpoint. It's really stretching things to argue that Clement, etc. had the same conception of their authority as those RC bishops in let's say the High Middle Ages. But on the other hand if Newman's position is correct on development then, as you have pointed out, everything that cannot be explained by the data of history can in an ad hoc manner be relegated to development. From my perspective John's list above was relevant even if not everything was a necessary condition to justify the papacy. But if Newman is right then John's list is completely irrelevant. Any Roman Catholic dogma then is unfalsifiable. In that case we might as well all hang this up and go have another margarita or beer or wine... (Saturday, September 12, 2009, 5:56:45 AM – found on page 7 of the comments section.)

I shall end this post with a thought provoking selection from the pen of St. Augustine:

Now let the proud and swelling necks of the heretics raise themselves, if they dare, against the holy humility of this address. You mad Donatists, whom we desire earnestly to return to the peace and unity of the holy Church, that you may receive health therein, what have ye to say in answer to this? You are wont, indeed, to bring up against us the letters of Cyprian, his opinion, his Council; why do ye claim the authority of Cyprian for your schism, and reject his example when it makes for the peace of the Church? But who can fail to be aware that the sacred canon of Scripture, both of the Old and New Testament, is confined within its own limits, and that it stands so absolutely in a superior position to all later letters of the bishops, that about it we can hold no manner of doubt or disputation whether what is confessedly contained in it is right and true; but that all the letters of bishops which have been written, or are being written, since the closing of the canon, are liable to be refuted if there be anything contained in them which strays from the truth, either by the discourse of some one who happens to be wiser in the matter than themselves, or by the weightier authority and more learned experience of other bishops, by the authority of Councils; and further, that the Councils themselves, which are held in the several districts and provinces, must yield, beyond all possibility of doubt, to the authority of plenary Councils which are formed for the whole Christian world; and that even of the plenary Councils, the earlier are often corrected by those which follow them, when, by some actual experiment, things are brought to light which were before concealed, and that is known which previously lay hid, and this without any whirlwind of sacrilegious pride, without any puffing of the neck through arrogance, without any strife of envious hatred, simply with holy humility, catholic peace, and Christain charity? (On Baptism, II.3-4 – NPNF 4.427.)

Grace and peace,


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Nicene Creed vs. the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed

In this new thread, I will attempt to address two issues: first, my affirmation of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed; and second, one of the important reasons why I have difficulty affirming the infallibility of the Ecumenical Councils.

Dave Armstrong, in his last post addressed to me (HERE), wrote:

You imply above (I think) that you accept at least some form of the Trinity. Do not any variations of the Trinity, as you see them, presuppose that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are God? There may be all these fine details, as you allude to, but it is still a God in three Persons, no? The word means "Tri-unity" after all.

Until you answer these basic questions or further explain what exactly your difficulties are, I for one have no idea how to go about trying to persuade you of the truth of Catholicism or any kind of Christianity if you are now outside what I would call orthodox trinitarianism: agreed upon by all three branches of Christianity (for the most part).

Earlier, in the same thread, I posted the following (HERE):

As for the Nicene Creed, I have no problem reciting it as we speak; however, I do have reservations concerning subsequent interpretations of the NC, some of which may in fact negate the original intent of bishops who met in 325 and 381.

Now, when I referenced “the Nicene Creed”, I actually meant (following the common usage employed by pretty much everyone) the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed. Since this creed it considered by every scholar I have read to be Trinitarian, I am a bit puzzled as to why Dave is questioning whether or not I, “accept at least some form of the Trinity.” So, without getting into “fine details”, I would like to, yet once again, make it crystal clear that I do in fact “accept at least some form of the Trinity.”

Moving on the second issue, the infallibility of the Ecumenical Councils, it is the promulgation of the two respective creeds mentioned in the title of this thread that raises one of the important reasons why I have difficulty in affirming infallibility. I will now attempt to outline the evidence(s).

Fact 1 - Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381 deletes portions of the Nicene Creed of 325, even though we read from the “Definition of the faith” of the council of Chalcedon in 451 that:

we have renewed the unerring creed of the fathers. We have proclaimed to all the creed of the 318 [i.e. Nicene Creed of 325]; and we have made our own those fathers who accepted this agreed statement of religion—the 150 who later met in great Constantinople and themselves set their seal to the same creed. (Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, Volume 1, Norman P. Tanner, S.J. editor, 1990, p. 83.)

Fact 2 – The Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381 is not “the creed of the 318” [i.e. Nicene Creed of 325].

Fact 3 – “No copy of the council’s doctrinal decisions, entitled τομος και αναθεματισμος εγγραφος (record of the tome and anathemas), has survived.” (Ibid., p. 21.)

Fact 4 – “The Second Council of Constantinople, A. D. 381, was not originally a general council”. (Joseph Pohle, The Trinity, English trans. Arthur Preuss, 1912, p. 129.)

In summation, we have a creed from an “Ecumenical” council, that “was not originally a general council”, altering (by deletion) the Nicene Creed of 325; and the 4th Ecumenical council erroneously declaring that the creed promulgated at council of Constantinople in 381 was “the same creed” that was promulgated at Nicea in 325. I submit that such evidence(s) (and the above is only one such example) make the teaching of the infallibility of Ecumenical Councils untenable.

[For those who would like to explore these issues a bit more deeply, I highly recommend that you read R.P.C. Hanson’s treatment, found in his The Seach for the Christian Doctrine of God, pp. 812-820.]

Grace and peace,


P.S. I want all to know that this thread should not be construed as an attack directed at Dave Armstrong; for the record, I sincerely appreciate the substantial effort/work that Dave has produced since the posting of my 01-06-10 announcement, and shall be looking forward to his (and everyone else’s) comments.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A brief update...

Well, I am finally back (arrived home late last night). I have over 1,200 emails to go through, and then some 114 posts in the combox of the last thread (as well as any links provided in those posts). Once I have ‘caught up’, I will then decide the direction I shall proceed along concerning my next thread (within the context of the issue of infallibility).

Grace and peace to all,