Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Reply to Deacon Gregory

Deacon Gregory Wassen, who is a seminarian at St Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary in Crestwood, New York, of the Orthodox Church in America, and who indicates on the discussion page of the Evagrius Ponticus article on Wikipedia that he is working on a MDiv dissertation on Evagrius Ponticus (344 – 399), has posted the following the comment on our post ‘Apokatastasis’:


A few thoughts if I may:

Evagrius was not condemned at the Fifth Council - there is no such document belonging to the council itself. It is "hearsay" at best from Cyril of Scythopolis or perhaps part of Cyril's rhetorical strategy in defense of his monastic heroes (who had been associated with adherents of Theodore of Mopsuestia and were thus opposed by "the Origenists" (see D. Hombergen, "The Second Origenist Controversy" in the Studia Anselmiana series).

Also the 15 anathemas belong to a letter written by Justinian the Great circulated among the Bishops in Constantinople awaiting the convocation of the Fifth Council - it was never part of the Council and does not belong to its decisions. The only anathema directed at Origen or Origenism is the 11th anathema where Origen's name appears at the end of a traditional list of heretics of a Christological category. But even this is a disputed fact - and no absolute agreement exists whether or not Origen's name was added by the Council or by later (anti-Origenist) copyists.

After all the Sixth Ec. Council discovered all kinds of fraudulent additions to the acts of the Fifth Council and anathematized the ones responsible for it. The sixth Council did not investigate the question concerning Origen because it's concern was christological (monothelitism, monoenergism) but it is not at all implausible Origen's name is a latter addition to seal the fate of "Origenism" after the Fifth Council.

To conclude this message: Neither Origen nor Evagrius taught the kind of doctrine condemned in the 15 anathemas of Justinian this much is clear from the work of Fr. John Behr ("The Way to Nicea") and Mark Edwards ("Origen against Plato") together with that of Frs. Gabriel Bunge, Jeremy Driscoll and Luke Dysinger. Whatever kind of Origenism is being condemned in the 15 anathemas is way beyond both Origen and Evagrius and without question heretical indeed.

My two cents ...

Fr. Dn. Gregory

A full reply would require a very long development, Deacon Gregory.

Let us start with the conscience of the Orthodox Church. Would you please go to the Lenten Triodion and read the text of the Profession of Orthodoxy that is appointed to be read next Sunday during Orthros of the Sunday of Orthodoxy? Do you not have a problem going against the mind of the Orthodox Church—especially given that a number of the ‘scholars’ that you mention in defense of your thesis are NOT members of the Orthodox Church and given that your thesis goes against the recorded views of saints of the Orthodox Church (see below; there are others not discussed below)? This is not to dispute your right in a secular context to academic freedom—but the Church itself corporately believes certain things and we profess those beliefs as members of the Orthodox Church, whatever we want to do as scholars and students in a theology program.

Next, your thesis that Evagrius[1] was never condemned by the Fifth Ecumenical Synod is not the traditional one—the standard Collections of the Ecumenical Synods contain the 15 Condemnations against Origenism of the Fifth Ecumenical Synod, discovered, we believe, in the 19th Century. Neither is it the position of all the Catholic scholars you cite, and of other Catholic scholars you don’t cite. Their positions on this point are all over the map. The point about saying ‘Catholic’ here is that the Roman Catholics have always had a very uneasy relation to the Fifth Ecumenical Synod, given that it condemned a Pope. If they are willing, some of them, to accept that the Fifth actually pronounced the 15 Condemnations against Origenism, then it certainly isn’t an outré point of view. This is not to deny that the saved records of the deliberations of the Fifth are silent on the Condemnations against Origenism.

Next, what do you make of the reiteration (i.e. in the sense of endorsement) of the Condemnations against Origenism, and of the personal condemnations of Origen, Didymus and Evagrius, by the Sixth and Seventh Ecumenical Synods and by the Council in Trullo? Forgeries? Errors? Be careful as a member of the Orthodox Church how much error you assign to an Ecumenical Synod (although in Trullo is not normally considered an ecumenical synod). Moreover, although the Sixth discovered all sorts of forgeries, as you mention, it did reiterate the 15 Condemnations against Origenism of the Fifth not only as having transpired, but as being entirely doctrinally sound. Wouldn’t they have hesitated—given their bitter experience with hoaxers—if they had any doubt about the authenticity of the Condemnations against Origenism of the Fifth, rather than endorse them, simultaneously stating that Origen, Didymus and Evagrius were condemned by name?

Moreover, you have to deal with the issue that the Condemnations against Origen of the Fifth Ecumenical Synod, whatever their provenance, have verbatim quotations from Evagrius’ masterwork, the Kephalaia Gnostica. That somehow has to be talked away by the modern authors you mention—how the Fifth Ecumenical Synod, which drafted the Condemnations, didn’t understand Evagrius’ Kephalaia Gnostica, whereas we moderns understand that work better, that it is completely orthodox. While a Roman Catholic might be able to support this opinion, it is impossible for an Orthodox to support it. That is why it is necessary for you to ‘prove’ that the Fifth Ecumenical Synod never issued the Condemnations. So we have to believe Deacon Gregory over the testimony of the Sixth and Seventh Ecumenical Synods.

Next, what do you make of the statements of Sts Barsanuphios and John (Questions 600 – 607 of Sts Barsanuphios and John, here, here and here)? Are they also politically motivated fellows who for political reasons said what they said? Were they made saints by ecclesiastical politicians? Were their charisms of prophecy and discernment hoaxes? Or is it only Cyril of Scythopolis—disciple of some of the most respected saints of Palestinian monasticism in the Orthodox Church—who is a hoaxer?

Not all of the modern authors you mention take all of the positions that you yourself take; in your dissertation you will have to be clear what the position of each of the modern authors you mention is on the issues you discuss, and on what evidence he supports his position.

We would be happy to attend your oral defence of your dissertation, but what with our dog sled on the kaput it would be difficult for us to get down to Crestwood. Are there such things are anonymous virtual oral examiners?

You’re way off the deep end, Deacon Gregory.

Orthodox Monk

[1] We have noticed an oversight on our part: we originally wrote ‘Origen’ instead of ‘Evagrius’ here. The precise sequence is as follows. In 553 the Fifth Ecumenical Synod issues the 15 Condemnations against Origenism. In the form that they have come down to us, they do not mention Origen, Didymus the Blind or Evagrius Ponticus by name, although they have verbatim quotations from Evagrius’ Kephalaia Gnostica and explicitly state that anyone who holds these views is anathematized. The Sixth Ecumenical Synod, in endorsing the Condemnations against Origenism of the Fifth Ecumenical Synod, treats the Fifth as having condemned Origen, Didymus and Evagrius by name, although it is true that the Condemnations, as they have come down to us, are silent on the names of the three men. This endorsement by the Sixth is repeated by the Seventh Ecumenical Synod, including the personal condemnations, and also by the (non-ecumenical) Council in Trullo.

1 comment:

  1. Someone pointed out to us that Deacon Gregory is now Father Gregory of the Anglican Catholic Church. His own description of his journey is here:

    Orthodox Monk