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    Towards a Refutation of Eastern Orthodox claims

    As I hinted at in my intro post, I dialogued with Eastern Orthodox guys for about three years. I read every post at Energetic Procession, plus most of the academic "recommended reading" on the doctrine of God, etc. While at times I felt the sting of some of their apologetics, I no longer feel convinced of their criticisms and I want to return the favor. I've blogged on this elsewhwere, so I don't want to take up extra space here. I can develop each of these points in much greater detail if I need to.

    The title of the post is "Towards a refutation." I am just asking questions of my Orthodox interlocutor. As such, the questions don't actually refute anything. However, if the questions are answered by the Orthodox, they open the door to a host of internal contradictions.

    I felt this was important because I saw a host of reformed folk leave for Constantinople in droves, and most Reformed criticisms in this regard were actually more directed towards Roman Catholicism, and so missed the mark on Orthodoxy. I hope this helps in some small regard. (Regarding terminology: "Anchorite" is slang for Orthodox. "Convertskii" is a jocular term a friend of mine who converted to Orthodox calls his fellow Evangelical Converts. They are the Orthodox equivalent of "cage stage Calvinists.")

    Question 1: I can grant that you can find quotes from the fathers teaching apostolic succession. However, if you remember what a normative proposition is and how logic works, the mere asserting this proves actually nothing.

    Question 2: Can you give a non-circular account of the patrum consensus? To say that tradition is interpreted by the fathers, councils, bible, etc is one thing. Do actually establish any of those terms within the claim, like the fathers, by referencing them to another term in the claim, is circular reasoning. For instance, is Irenaeus’ teaching for us normtative? Yes, but what of his premillennialism? Is Athanasius normative? Yes, but what of is calling the veneration of dead saints as Egyptian mummy-worship? This is where the circles usually begin.

    Question 3: I keep seeing folks react to the term “legal” as something bad. So? You guys have to realize that simply asserting that I teach a “legal” view of the atonement doesn’t actually refute my position. (Keep in mind how logical deductions work.) When the Bible says Jesus made atonement for my sins, and then defines sin as a breach of the law, that’s legalism plain and simple. It’s gotten so bad in some Anchorite circles that even wild card Orthodox theologians like Vladimir Moss had to address it.

    Question 4: An Orthodox friend of mine recently told me that he sees the Old Calendarists eventually being the only viable Orthodox option. I think this makes sense for several reasons: most Convertskii are super hard-core and seem to fit right in. Any church that beds itself with ecuemnism dies; the Old Calendarists seem the best antidote to that.

    Question 5: This raises a problem for the seeker. If you read the history, the Old Calendarists are entirely in the right. They even say New Calendarists “lack grace.” So what does the seeker do? This is a huge problem. Even asking this question employs my sinful, autonomous, Protestant-looking reason. The True Orthodox, while lacking any charming or gracious qualities themselves, appear to have won the intra-Orthodox debate hands-down.

    (One of the common arguments Orthodox use against Calvinists is that we violate the person-nature distinction of the Trinity, for various reasons. )

    Question 6: Please define what a “person” is for us. You may go the Western Thomist route and call it a “rational subsistence of an individual nature.” You will probably need to abandon your EO triadology while you are at it. Opting for an Eastern route, while better, does not get you out of the ditch. Most Eastern fathers, per Joseph Farrell’s gloss, didn’t even define what a person is (since they thought definitions = limitations). If that’s so, how can we be violating the person-nature distinction when no one can even tell us what a person is!

    Question 6a: At this point several options are available: you can say a person is “hyper-ousia,” but that only moves the difficulty back a few places and introduces other difficulties, like can we even know the persons of the Trinity? This was what Orthodox theologian Vlad Moss rightly accused the Palamite tradition of.

    Question 6b: Opting for Farrell’s route and calling it a “who” or an “agent” only gives me a synonym for the term; it does not define it.

    Question 7: Please define “nature.” Is it being used in a generic, numeric, or cardinal numeric sense?

    Question 8: Do you believe in a gnomic will (Maximus oscillated on this his entire career)? If so, how is that not positing three wills in Christ? If you want to make modal distinctions and say, as I think I would, that the gnomic will is simply a mode, not a substance, then you must also grant Calvinists their contention when we makes the modal/substance distinction.

    Question 9: David Bradshaw (following Palamas) says that simplicity is an energy. He also says that God’s essence is simple. Given the essence/energies distinction, can we even speak of God’s essence any more, since essence has collapsed into the category of energy? The collapse is unavoidable if simplicity of essence is an energy. Simplicity of essence is an energy. Ergo, collapse.

    Question 10: Since we are talking about a person-nature distinction, please provide for us your theory of logic and individuation.

    Question 11: By the nature of the case, oral tradition is resistant to verification. One needs a written document to verify that the tradition exists.

    Question 12: Even if we deny the principle of sola Scriptura, yet when explicit appeal is made to Scripture to ground a given dogma, then such an appeal must be exegetically and philosophically sustainable.

    Question 13: In what sense is the church “objective,” but the Bible is not? Chrysostom, one of the greatest of your saints, thought the Bible was objective.

    Question 14: Appeal is often made to Vincent of Lerins canon. Yet in that same work, building that very argument, Vincent says that the church has always taught the Federal Headship of Adam’s sin (Commonitories, chapter 24). The reply is, “The Fathers aren’t right on everything.” Fair enough, by what criteria, then, is Vincent right on the semper ubiqueand wrong on imputation of Adam’s sin?

    Question 15: You laugh at the grammatical-literal method of interpretation of the Bible, yet you employ this same interpretation when you read the fathers. Why?

    Question 16: It’s easy to make fun of the so-called 20,000 Protestant denominations, yet is the Orthodox church truly “one?” Do the “True Orthodox” count as part of the Orthodox world? Are they in communion with SCOBA, for example? What about the catacombers? Yes, ROCOR did reunite with MP, but the fact that ROCOR existed for so long seems to be an argument against the “seamless unity.”

    Question 16a. These True Orthodox guys deny communion with you, saying you “lack grace in the sacraments.” Here the Protestant inquirer faces an insurmountable difficulty: both sides claim to be Orthodox. One side was even formed out of resistance to Masonic and government apostasy (which seems to line up with what St Cyril of Jerusalem said on the end times–the True Orthodox shall fight Satan in his very person; therefore the prima facie claim to the real Orthodox guy goes to the True Orthodox). Yet both sides make mutually exclusive claims. Who gets to adjudicate? Appealing to one side over another begs all sorts of questions.

    Question 17: . Which Orthodox churches have condemned Freemasonry and which are in bed with it? This is important because 33rd degree Freemasons swear an oath to Lucifer, and the Orthodox Phanar have historically been deep with Freemasonry.

    Question 17a. If Athanasius is correct and that communing with someone is sharing in that person’s life and doctrine, as Orthodox apologist Perry Robinson asserts, correctly I think, what are the implications of sharing in the life and doctrine of one who has sworn an intimate oath with Lucifer?

    Question 18: I understand that many balk at the Calvinist’s understanding of God’s sovereignty. Ultimately, though, all sides have to deal with the claim: Is the future certain for God or not? If it is, how is this not God’s causal determining of the future? If not, open theism.

    Question 19: Are earlier fathers like the Cappadocians and St Maximus using the term energia/logoi in the same sense as Palamas? Bradshaw affirms it of Nyssa but denies it of Maximus. Radde-Galwitz denies it of both. If they aren’t, does this not represent some form of development?

    Question 20: Did Athanasius affirm the extra-Calvinisticum (On the Incarnation 17? How does this not negate virtually all of Orthodox attacks which revolve around the person-nature distinction?

    Question 21: Why does Monachos.net block my threads inquiring about ecumenism and Freemasonry (okay, you don’t have to answer that question)?

    Question 22: Much is made of the person-nature distinction, and and you criticize us that Western models confuse person and nature with regard to Federalism. Yet the Corporate Person is unavoidably biblical (see also Achan’s sin in Judges; Isaiah 53).

    Question 23: The East rightly critiques Rome’s claims to unity based upon Rome’s faulty doctrine of God. This view reduces all reality to “The One.” Applied to ecclesiology, Rome reduces unity to a visible, singular unity. Yet often when Orthodox talk about the unity of the Church, they use this exact same argument. What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

    Question 24: The Orthodox make the claim that God is hyperousia, beyond being. All of God is beyond being, essence, energies and persons. I know this is from Plato (Republic, 549 b, I think). Is it really wise to base your divine ontology off of Plato? ROCOR condemned Fr Sergii Bulgakov for doing precisely that. I know that some sharp Orthodox philosophers will deny that their view is Platonic since they deny that God has an opposite. Maybe so, but Andrew Radde-Galwitz, to whom these very same guys appeal, says that for Gregory of Nyssa every good has an opposite (pp. 206ff.), and these goods are correlative with the divine essence. Therefore, pace Gregory, God does have an opposite. Therefore, you have a Platonic ontology.

    Question 25: Take the cappadocian argument against Eunomius: Eunomius posited that there existed an intermediate energy between Father AND Son AND Holy Spirit. They correctly responded that within the essence there are no intermediaries. Yet if we look at the Photian monarchia of the Father we see the Father “causing” the Son and Spirit. Since energia is functional with operation, and cause is an operation, how is this much different than the Eunomian claim? Fr Sergei Bulgakov beat me to the punch 100 years ago and offered a way out, but his ideas were condemned as heretical. Bulgakov notes that Photius accepted the same problematic as his opponents, nor could he escape the problem of diarchy: while the Filioque posits a two-ness with Father-Son on one side and Spirit on the other, Photianism (for lack of a better term), ends up with a similar two-ness, though consequent this time, as opposed to antecedent.

    Question 26: Dr Bruce McCormack illustrates some key gains with Cyril’s Christology. Like Apollinaris he understood that the Logos had to instrumentalize the human nature. Unlike Apollinaris he avoided truncating that human nature. The problem, though, as Lutherans were keen to pick up on, is locating the “acting agent.” Normally Cyril locates the acting agent as the Logos asarkos. However, when we get to the communicatio idiomata, it seems Cyril is locating the acting agent as the whole Christ, which is an entirely different term.

    Question 27: Orthodox and Lutherans hold to a real communication of attributes. Good. There is a problem, though. St Maximus said the relationship was tantum…quantum. This means if there is a real communication, it’s a two-way street. However, if we attribute human attributes to the divine (which is how John Milbank reads Andrew Louth’s reading of Maximus), how can we seriously maintain any doctrine of divine impassibility?
    Jacob
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cameronian View Post
    Question 9: David Bradshaw (following Palamas) says that simplicity is an energy. He also says that God’s essence is simple. Given the essence/energies distinction, can we even speak of God’s essence any more, since essence has collapsed into the category of energy? The collapse is unavoidable if simplicity of essence is an energy. Simplicity of essence is an energy. Ergo, collapse.
    Jacob, can you expand on this one for me? Is simplicity as an energy used in the same way as simplicity when applied to essence, or is there a variation of meaning? And does the energy/essence distinction tend to undermine simplicity as understood in the West?
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    Quote Originally Posted by py3ak View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Cameronian View Post
    Question 9: David Bradshaw (following Palamas) says that simplicity is an energy. He also says that God’s essence is simple. Given the essence/energies distinction, can we even speak of God’s essence any more, since essence has collapsed into the category of energy? The collapse is unavoidable if simplicity of essence is an energy. Simplicity of essence is an energy. Ergo, collapse.
    Jacob, can you expand on this one for me? Is simplicity as an energy used in the same way as simplicity when applied to essence, or is there a variation of meaning? And does the energy/essence distinction tend to undermine simplicity as understood in the West?
    I typed a response, but computer failed to load. HEre goes: The West, ala Augustine and Thomas, said that God's essence *is* his attributes. The East, by contrast, said God's essence qua essence is unknowable. We only know God by his energies (think actions, operations, etc). To answer your specific question, yes, I think they are using simplicity univocally, which is why some Orthodox theologians like David Bentley Hart accused Palamas of incoherence.

    It gets worse, though. The East says that all of God--persons, essence, energies--is beyond being (hyperousia; John of Damascus). How can God be both being and beyond-being at the same time?
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    I realize most of these questions probably aren't relevant for the average reader, and to be fair, 90% of Orthodox layman will have never thought of it. There are a few active Orthodox apologists on the blog world who are well-read and do approach Calvinism on these lines.

    There are other topics like tradition and sola scriptura, but most people are familiar with those arguments, so I didn't address them here.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cameronian View Post
    I typed a response, but computer failed to load. HEre goes: The West, ala Augustine and Thomas, said that God's essence *is* his attributes. The East, by contrast, said God's essence qua essence is unknowable. We only know God by his energies (think actions, operations, etc). To answer your specific question, yes, I think they are using simplicity univocally, which is why some Orthodox theologians like David Bentley Hart accused Palamas of incoherence.

    It gets worse, though. The East says that all of God--persons, essence, energies--is beyond being (hyperousia; John of Damascus). How can God be both being and beyond-being at the same time?
    Thanks for persevering through the technical discouragement! Surely if simplicity is called an energy it would fall more into the "attribute" arena than into the "operation" arena? I'm finding it quite difficult to conceive of an operation that could be called "simplicity".
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    Quote Originally Posted by py3ak View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Cameronian View Post
    I typed a response, but computer failed to load. HEre goes: The West, ala Augustine and Thomas, said that God's essence *is* his attributes. The East, by contrast, said God's essence qua essence is unknowable. We only know God by his energies (think actions, operations, etc). To answer your specific question, yes, I think they are using simplicity univocally, which is why some Orthodox theologians like David Bentley Hart accused Palamas of incoherence.

    It gets worse, though. The East says that all of God--persons, essence, energies--is beyond being (hyperousia; John of Damascus). How can God be both being and beyond-being at the same time?
    Thanks for persevering through the technical discouragement! Surely if simplicity is called an energy it would fall more into the "attribute" arena than into the "operation" arena? I'm finding it quite difficult to conceive of an operation that could be called "simplicity".
    I'll muddy the waters even more: some do collapse operation into attribute, though I certainly can't speak to all EOdox apologists on that matter. Most Westerners simply (no pun) say that simplicity relates to the essence of God. They don't call it an essence and an attribute, as such.
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    I wouldn't think it was possible to never have bleed-through between attribute and operation. When the attributes are properly understood, speaking of simplicity as an attribute is not problematic - but it's a little ironic, because simplicity has to be understood in order for the attributes to be properly understood.
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    What? No question about the theosis?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ask Mr. Religion View Post
    What? No question about the theosis?
    I recently brought that up on an Orthodox apologetics site, asking if their doctrine of theosis is tied in with the Essence/energies distinction (Palamas says it is). If the E/e distinction is problematic, then so is theosis.

    The problem with theosis is that it is so often qualified that it really isn't that striking a doctrine. It becomes a problem because the "Eastern" mindset in the earlier church so quickly jumped to doctrines that were already metaphysically familiar, and ignored stuff like the atonement and justification. The Orthodox Study Bible even admits justification isn't that big a deal.

    In short, their appropriation of theosis marginalized any understanding of justification.
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    Jacob,
    You should write and publish a book on all of this....
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    Quote Originally Posted by Theogenes View Post
    Jacob,
    You should write and publish a book on all of this....
    That's an idea. There aren't many good ones. Letham's book is erudite and he covers all the ground, but I think he came close to giving away the farm a few times. There are some other ones, but they are uninformed and often border on hysteria.

    I just might. Last year was too busy for me. I'll see if I can get a rough draft up in about six months.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cameronian View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Theogenes View Post
    Jacob,
    You should write and publish a book on all of this....
    That's an idea. There aren't many good ones. Letham's book is erudite and he covers all the ground, but I think he came close to giving away the farm a few times. There are some other ones, but they are uninformed and often border on hysteria.

    I just might. Last year was too busy for me. I'll see if I can get a rough draft up in about six months.
    Great! I have a cousin who left Protestant Christianity for EO so I would welcome a thorough and practical examination of EO. I'll buy your first copy!
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    I would totally be looking for a book refuting the EO too! I'll buy the second copy!
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    If,sheerly by God's grace, I do write this, it will be different from other accounts. I probably won't spend too much time on issues like sola scriptura and tradition, since those debates usually end up being Mexican stand offs. The book will be something of an internal critique and end with a Protestant presentation of the doctrine of God by contrast.

    For example, if EO's claim to tradition and continuity is true, then what do we make of the numerous developments in EO fathers? I am not opting for the typical fundie line, "The fathers contradict each other!" They very well might, but I will approach it a different way.

    I don't know woh wouuld publish it. The big dogs like Baker and company require doctorates. I might try for some smaller Evangelical/Reformed publisher.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cameronian View Post
    If,sheerly by God's grace, I do write this, it will be different from other accounts. I probably won't spend too much time on issues like sola scriptura and tradition, since those debates usually end up being Mexican stand offs. The book will be something of an internal critique and end with a Protestant presentation of the doctrine of God by contrast.

    For example, if EO's claim to tradition and continuity is true, then what do we make of the numerous developments in EO fathers? I am not opting for the typical fundie line, "The fathers contradict each other!" They very well might, but I will approach it a different way.

    I don't know woh wouuld publish it. The big dogs like Baker and company require doctorates. I might try for some smaller Evangelical/Reformed publisher.
    Could have Puritan Publication publish it
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