Polemics vs. Theology

Recently, in response to a document promulgated prior the Great and Holy Council this summer, two Metropolitan Bishops of the Orthodox Church in Greece published concerns.  Both of these bishops would be considered traditionalists, and by some “fundamentalist”.  In particular, George Demacopoulos, a professor at Fordham University.  Some day, when I have nothing better to do, I might want to see some of his academic work.  However, based on a couple of samples of his public writing, I don’t hold out a lot of hope.  His expertise appears to be in polemics, although he is apparently a theology professor.  I’ve addressed one of his public diatribes previously, and now am faced with another.  Rather than the lengthy response the last one elicited, I’d only like to make a few comments.  I will say that I actually agree with him that the objections are ultimately incorrect, but I disagree entirely with his characterization of them as “innovations,” which is tantamount to him declaring the two bishops to be heretics.  I’ve said it before, but I expect better from a supposed academic.  At the end of this post, I’ll link a piece that treats the overall subject in a manner much more appropriate to an academic and Orthodox Christian, IMO.

The two bishops in view are Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus and Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos of Nafpaktos.  The latter was, I believe, the target of the previous piece, so I shouldn’t be surprised that he is the target again.  However, let me briefly address Metropolitan Seraphim first.  Unfortunately, his objections, characterized by Demacopoulos as a “wide ranging condemnation” are in Greek, so my unfortunate lack of effort toward mastering Greek leaves me unable to speak to his view directly.  However, Demacopoulos takes particular note of the Metropolitan’s objection toward the use of the term “church” regarding other Christian denominations.  He links, as his argument, a video by Sister Vassa on the subject.  Much of her objection is grounded in the usage of the term church regarding heretical groups in the Church Fathers.  While I agree that looking to the Church Fathers for information is critical, there is always a risk of relying entirely on what is essentially proof texting.  I find it interesting that nobody appears to really address the Metropolitan’s objections head on.  His objections are not even particularly detailed by his detractors, which makes this discussion really quite challenging.

On a Facebook thread regarding these documents, I argued that the context for the objections needs to be, at some level, the broader view, especially in the West, and especially in other denominations, that all churches are largely the same.  This perspective has apparently become a bit of an issue in Greece, as other Christian groups as well as non-Christian groups have made some inroads into the traditionally Orthodox country.  This makes the terminology used by the conciliar documents of concern from a pastoral perspective for the Metropolitans.  I would argue that a great many of the canons of the Church are fundamentally pastoral in nature.  The pastoral situation is different now than it was in the past, so I can understand a bishop being particularly concerned about it.  I was taken to task in the post that the context is really the conciliar document, but I think that is absurdly narrow.  I think the bishop is mistaken, and that the use of the term is acceptable, but it may not be desirable.  I’m a former Anglican, and many of my former fellow parishioners see themselves as a church with the same meaning that being a member of “The Church” holds.  Thus the term for them carries meaning that I wouldn’t agree to.  Isn’t it wiser, if I avoid using it?  The rector of my former parish is a Priest in that denomination who is called “Father”.  If I address him as “Father,” am I leading him to believe that I view him as an actual priest in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church?  That’s what he thinks he is, and all I would be doing is supporting that belief.  That is the reality many of us face, and that I suspect the Metropolitan is facing.  Is he going a bit too far?  Perhaps.  Innovating?  Well, not necessarily.  Now, let’s discuss Metropolitan Hierotheos.

Demacopoulos sinks to new lows in his argument with Metropolitan Hierotheos.  Metropolitan Hierotheos bases his views on the Council of 1756.  That council, held in Constantinople and including two other Orthodox Patriarchs dealt with several issues regarding the Roman Catholic Church.  Principal among them was the rite to be used when accepting converts from Rome.  It is interesting that Demacopoulos insists that it was simply a letter issued by the one Hierarch, Cyril, which is supported by Wikipedia (and the document is known as the Oros), but a quote from an early 20th century text on canon law, cited here, indicates that this was a finding agreed two by more than one Patriarch.  Demacopoulos also asserts that Patriarch Cyril was deposed by his own synod for having issued the Oros, but all I can find is that (perhaps) his synod objected to the Oros and declared it invalid, following which he exiled all of those bishops who disagreed with him.  Cyril was ultimately deposed, but that was in response to his deposition of the other bishops.  Rather papal if it really happened that way.  Regardless, we can see that the history is a bit muddled, and it is telling that Demacopoulos doesn’t even begin to address the fact that there appear to be differing view on what took place at that time in Constantinople.  If he was just some rank and file layman, I could understand the errors, but for a supposed professor of theology, I expect more academic rigor in his writings.

I had actually ceased work on this post a while back, but then this response was posted to Demacopoulos’ work.  I applaud the fact that he linked to it on Facebook, as a good scholar welcomes debate.  In particular, he is to be applauded, because the piece really highlights his complete lack of knowledge in this area.  Apparently the practice of rebaptizing Latins was not uncommon and dated back to the time of the Great Schism.  It was even supported by at least one saint of the Church.  Hardly is this a novelty being proposed by Demacopoulos’ favorite target, Metropolitan Hierotheos.

Clearly, this is a topic that merits actual discussion among the hierarchs.  Personally, given how far away from the ancient Church much of Western Christianity has drifted, I think it safer to err on the side of rebaptism, but thankfully I am not one of the hierarchs so my opinion doesn’t much matter.  Thankfully, Demacopoulos is also not one of the hierarchs either.