Answering Tim Flanders’s Sad Theses, Part I

Newbie converso Tim Flanders, who apparently departed Orthodoxy of the ecumenist flavor for militant Roman Catholicism, is issuing statements which have earned him a lot of love on the Papist side and a lot of perplexed looks among the Orthodox. It’s not that Mr. Flanders is wrong, it’s that he’s so… Spanish Inquisition (maybe it’s just the writing style, he seems nice on video) about his conversion that few respond, perhaps for fear of causing him some sort of distress. Since it’s not my soul that is in danger of flaming hell but his, I don’t get affected much by such things, so I’ll just tell him the truth.

In any case, a la Martin Luther (or Hildebrand of Savona?) Mr. Flanders has posted up a series of theses, which I assume are how he is “staking out” his ecclesiological positions. Which is helpful, because then we can see how wrong he is. He’s already up to a “Part II,” which of course forces us to review Part I.

The Latin Church, centered at Rome, gradually lost Greek due to historical reasons. However, the Greek and Latin Fathers were always understood to be of equal authority. We see this in St. Thomas, whose Catena Aurea quotes freely from all Fathers Greek and Latin. (Because of this assumption, the Latin Church eventually regained Greek).

It is worthy of note (and we can assume that Mr. Flanders knows this) that Thomas Aquinas, in his disputations, often used forged and interpolated translations of the Greek Fathers. Certainly he was likely not the author of butchered texts, but he made judicious use of them nonetheless. That said, the idea that the Greek and Latin Fathers were treated equally is correct, as were other Fathers of the Church. Certainly there were also some Syrian and early Ethiopian Fathers, but we will simply refer to “the Church Fathers” as the Church Fathers, and not divide them up for now.

Thus in the west it was thought that, whatever differences existed between the Fathers, not only can they be reconciled, but whatever they agree upon is infallible. “No one in matters of faith and of morals may interpret the sacred Scripture contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers” (Trent, Decree Concerning the Use of Sacred Books). “Fathers” was assumed to mean both Latin and Greek.

Why Mr. Flanders quotes Trent here is baffling. The proper term here is “consensus Patrum,” or the consensus of the Fathers of all ages. However, Trent occurred about 100 years after the Council of Florence, which not only rejected the traditional conciliar model of the Church for the monarchial model created during the “Gregorian reform”, it also attempted to force the Orthodox Church into union with her, which failed so spectacularly the only thing that Rome learned was that certain Orthodox could be led astray by allowing retention of their ritual (knowledge Rome would use a series of political unions from the 17th century onward.)

Further, Trent was so far gone from the Consensus Patrum model that they couldn’t even see that some of Luther’s complaints were in fact legitimate grievances against the post-11th century Papal model. (Granted it didn’t help that Luther’s theology then devolved into a mess and then the Calvinists showed up and by then it was crazy town but I digress.)

In particular, this assumption of equality is shown in the decree of Florence, which acknowledges that the Greek and Latin Fathers used different terms for the Procession of the All-Holy Spirit, but dogmatically defined that they meant the same thing (Denz. 691).

And in this the reason the council failed was obvious to all: they did not mean the same thing. It was a sham union forged by sham arguments, and this is precisely why a single Bishop holding to the consensus of the Fathers was able to fend off the Roman Catholic Church. No matter how hard one tries, one cannot reconcile the sole eternal Procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father alone with a dual procession from the Father and the Son. They mean two different things, and this is why the signers were treated with such contempt by the anti-Unionists.

The Seven Ecumenical Councils, all of them in Greek, were always received in the west, but according to the Latin Fathers, since all actions of the Councils needed to be translated into Latin. This is seen in the three interpolations into the Latin Nicene Creed, understood in the context of the three Latin creeds.

The filioque cannot be treated in the same way as the Latin clarifications done before the schism. The reason this cannot be done is because the filioque (except in the sense of a temporal procession, a la Sts Martin of Rome and Maximus the Confessor) changes the meaning of the creed. The easiest proof of this is the fact that the texts of the Latin Fathers themselves had to be interpolated after the 11th century to match the meaning of later scholastics.

Those among the Greeks, however, who adhered to schism with Rome (contrasted with the more irenic among them, who followed St. Maximos), began, starting with Photios, to regard the Latin Fathers to be of lesser authority than the Greek. Thus the alleged “heresies” of Rome – the Papacy, the Filioque, the Saturday Fast, no beards, the Azymes, Purgatory – are often actually a rejection of the Latin Fathers, whose writings are the proofs for all of these “heresies.” These excesses became acute in particular when the Greek political power was under threat from Rome.

This is a terrible reading of history, and Mr. Flanders should feel bad, because there’s so much wrong to unpack here I will have to go line by line.

1. The “Greeks” did not adhere to some mythical schism with Rome a la 1054. Even the West was divided against itself at the time because the monarchial model at the time of the schism did not exist.While Pope Nicholas did attempt to anathematize St. Photius, his anathema had little meaning as opposed to whom the Emperor appointed as Patriarch. In fact, the 869 council was decisively rejected at the Council of 879, which was presided over by St Photius and the legates of Pope John VIII, who accepted the council. That council was held as the Ecumenical Council in the West until– surprise!– the 11th century.

2. What is ironic is that probably the one person who was disinclined to see late Latin practices as problematic was St. Photius himself, who was solely concerned with the Filioque. (Don’t believe it? It’s even referenced in the 1895 Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs.) But Mr. Flanders smashes it all into one historical porridge of nonsense. Even Pope Nicholas understood that his powers were limited by a Council– it’s why he called one to begin with. So “the Papacy” as it was understood after the great fall of the West with the Gregorian reform was never at issue. Saturday fasting, azymes and beards are not simply “local uses”– they are actually canonically condemned and had been centuries before.

3. A quick note about azymes: the canard that they are an “ancient Western practice” is an abominable deceit but it’s repeated so often without checking it’s understandable Mr. Flanders missed it. Virtually all the West used leavened bread until some German provinces in the late 8th to early 9th centuries. All that bread, in all the Latin Fathers of all those ecumenical councils, was leavened.

It is true that at times throughout history, Latins did disparage Greek practices that were in fact based on the Greek Fathers, but this never gained official sanction. Despite the awful trends of Latinizations, Roman dogmatic theology always assumed the equality of all Fathers.

If Mr. Flanders is referring to the things above, those aren’t really “Greek practices” at all. They are the practices that were condemned by Hildebrandian effeminates who would eventually develop hourglass-shaped chasubles and cover altar boys with lace. They were also Latin practices, and it’s a shame that we actually have to put up with these historical deceits. In pre-schism Western rituals the beard of a young man is blessed. Imagine thinking that the way of the Orthodox Westerner was to shave your face when the Holy Popes of old had noble beards.

But since he brought up Latinization, I may as well touch on it. It wasn’t until the Second Vatican Council (which would mean the practice of the Roman Catholic Church has been right for, say, 50-some years) that Latinizations were even addressed. The false claim of “equality of all Fathers” that you’re claiming now comes from the fact that Eastern Catholics are the ecclesiological equivalent of a battered wife and Vatican II actually recognized that. 50 years ago, Greek Catholic kids who had already been chrismated had to still get confirmation if they went to Catholic schools (that’s repeating chrismation for those who aren’t following). Let’s not even discuss the debacle of “first holy communion” and how that messes up the sacramental order that, again, all the Latin Fathers of the Church understood.

Insofar as a Greek adheres to the errors of Photios – that the Latin Fathers are of lesser authority – he adheres to schism with the consensus of the Fathers. Insofar as any Greek confesses the equal authority of the Latin Fathers, he is on his way to communion with Rome.

Or– what is becoming more and more visible to many– they can become Western Rite Orthodox, because they can read the actual Latin Fathers, as opposed to “Patristic storehouses” like Densinger or Chapman, wrenching meanings from texts that weren’t there, or scholastics like Aquinas who didn’t even use good reference texts.

Thus the term “Greek Schism” is employed to describe the historical cause of the schism from a doctrinal perspective – it is the Greeks who must come back to a consensus of the Fathers and confess that the Latin and Greek are of equal weight.

I confess that Latin and Greek Fathers are of equal weight. All Orthodox, save a few renovationist heretics who have spiritually departed from the body while claiming formal membership, do. I can also confidently say that none of the Latin Fathers would have accepted Mr. Flanders’s religious organization as the Church, since not even the Latins at the time of the schism could until they were under the pain of the sword. For their memory, Orthodox have a duty to never submit to the monstrous Protestant beast known as the Hildebrandian Papacy, established 1075.

To Mr. Flanders, I say this with all sincerity. You are wrong and should return to Orthodoxy. There is nothing wrong with being an Orthodox Westerner. You should be proud of your history, as I am. But you should also not take the butchering of the Western Fathers as the Western Fathers. Read them in their purity, without Papal ramblings, and you will only be able to conclude the Orthodox West and the Roman Catholic Church are not– and never were– the same thing.

Nevertheless, I fear you will not be convinced (unless you actually research the facts behind my responses) so I shall continue with the other theses, God willing, another day.