Monday, October 20, 2014

Met Georges Khodr on the Ecclesiology of Councils

Arabic original here.

Commitment to the Truth

I do not think that the Orthodox say that the Holy Synod leads the Church in terms of it being an executive authority as opposed to those who say that the Church has a single person who leads it... They are not prepared to say, if we wish to be precise, that they have an administrative body for spiritual leadership. They reject as a matter of principle any imitation of the civil order. But apart from its statements, they have a sense of collectivity and of concord. This is what they call a holy synod, something for which there is no image in the civil order.

It is not a parliament of bishops. It is a act of making effort for unity. There is no value to numbers in it except as a symbol of the direction being taken in dogma or pastoral practice. That which is desired is God's will in the topic at hand. It is not to advocate a democratic order, since there is no say in it except God's word.

If Eastern Christians talk about conciliarity, they are not setting up a democratic order in place of an autocratic order, if such could be considered to exist in Christianity. The Catholics themselves do not say that the Papal system is autocratic. As in Orthodoxy, it is in principle based on the entire community. However, since collective leadership does not mean that the Church has a democratic system, so-called collective leadership is only a symbolic expression used to indicate the single purpose, and thus it is an act of making effort. For us the group is not a substitute for the individual. It is merely an effort towards being an image of the totality of the faith that has been inherited across generations, the faith handed down to us from the Apostles.

Thus the concept of numbers is meaningless in the council of bishops when they gather. That which is desired is the tradition. That is, authenticity and submission to that which was handed down "one time to the saints". Consensus or quasi-consensus in the Holy Synod is the principle image of commitment to the truth. Relying on a decision based on a majority vote is merely a practical agreement whose aim is to examine the issue. It in no sense means that it binds the conscience of any bishop. Yes, there is a general administrative life that is manifest in agreement or near-agreement. It is not true to say that the council of bishops does not err when it gathers together. The Church has rejected at least one council in the fourth century that brought together hundreds of bishops. Truth or wisdom has nothing to do with the number of voters or electors. It is above councils. The Church strives for it and no one can claim that a council of clergy possesses God's infallibility. This requires universal acceptance by the Church, which comes to be known in the life of the Church years later and after conflicts and it becomes manifest to the pure. I do not know of a single church in the Christian world that claims for its leadership automatic infallibility merely by issuing a dogmatic or pastoral decision. The popular saying that the Orthodox believe in the infallibility of the ecumenical councils in no way means the believer is called to accept a synodal decision merely because it was issued. It means gradual acceptance by believers as a whole, repeated acceptance by council after council and the emergence of a conviction among God's holy nation.

Truth is an act of making effort because interpretation is an act of making effort. We do not have the principles of courts that make you believe automatically any decision issued by a council. There is what we call the consensus of the fathers. How can this be when there is no census and no presentation of facts? The consensus of the fathers comes to be known within history. That is, after it has appeared, gradually and after discussion that may go on for a long time. In the Church there is nothing that resembles civil law on the surface. There is interpretation and exegesis, taking into account the reality of history and the words of the ancients. The truth is received through effort, not through the decision of an authority. This is proven by the fact that every decision of an authority is subject to the interpretation of subsequent authorities. At any time before the last day, truth is an act of effort made in holiness, love and brotherhood. If debate becomes vicious, there is no holiness.

The first ecumenical council, the Council of Nicaea which met in 325 and made explicit Christ's divinity and issued the Creed took generations to be accepted. No council, no matter how holy, is accepted immediately and automatically by the faithful. For us the council is not an authority. It is an image of the acceptance of the faithful, if they accept it. No ecclesiastical authority can say to you "We have gathered, O faithful, and you must accept," since the pure faithful may sometimes reply, "Your gathering concerns you. It does not concern us." Final say belongs to the Church gathered together in the Holy Spirit, not to a human authority in itself. God does not equate any authority to Himself. If it gathers together, if it speaks the truth and the Church recognizes it in her catholicity, it becomes an authority. We do not have a ruler with power on account of his position. Power belongs to what is said, not to who said it. The Christian's only leader is the truth.

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