The Patristic View of Authority: Bible, Pope, or Conciliarity?
Co-sponsored by Eighth Day Institute and the Gerber Institute for Catholic Studies, the Florovsky-Newman Week promotes a “return to the sources for Christian unity.” Heeding Fr. Florovsky's advice, rather than simply overlooking differences, this conference seeks to overcome the different views of church authority. And we do so by returning to the common Tradition, by learning to read the Fathers as living masters, rather than as historical documents. Our hope is for you to deepen your understanding of the authority by which the Church grounds her faith and morals, examining authority from our respective traditions as Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Christians. Join us for this unique event as we dive into the Church Fathers in order to explore, challenge, and encourage one another to better love God and neighbor.
The event began with a banquet, which Bishop Carl Kemme of the Catholic Diocese of Wichita attended. Erin Doom, Director of the Eighth Day Institute made his presentation: Ways of History: Return(ing) to the Fathers with Florovsky & Newman.
Thursday and Friday mornings were dedicated to academic papers: 12 were presented and I heard nine of them and presented one myself. Five papers were presented by Newman University students or graduates and two of those by seminarians in the Catholic Diocese of Wichita! Two faculty members (one professor and one adjunct) from Friends University; one Antiochian Orthodox priest; one Christian Reformed Church pastor, and one student at Concordia Theological Seminary preparing to be a pastor in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod--and one Mormon! The latter presentation was intriguing because the speaker had to admit up front that his church has rejected the Fathers of the Church outright because of its teaching on the Great Apostasy!
Before each Plenary session, Director Doom read from either Florovsky or Newman: first Florovsky on the Ascension, then Newman on the Ascension, and then Florovsky on Pentecost. (The Orthodox celebrated Ascension Thursday on June 6.)
The Protestant view of Authority in the Church was presented Thursday night by Father Geoffrey R. Boyle, a local Lutheran pastor and EDI member. His presentation emphasized Sola Scriptura of course in a specifically Lutheran way, based on the Lutheran Confessions and Congregations. The major question for him, especially posed by the speaker representing the Orthodox view of Authority in the Church, Professor Alexis Torrance, was why do you say Sola Scriptura when you admit that Scripture is NOT alone in your Lutheran beliefs? You have tradition and doctrine, etc, that have been interpreted from the Holy Bible and in fact you are relying on the ancient Church's decisions of what books are in that Holy Bible, which did not come with a table of contents. Father Boyle did not have a really good answer to that question, except to say that the Lutheran Church always appeals to the Holy Bible ultimately. Also, as he stressed that he was a Lutheran, not just a Protestant, his presentation begs the question of all the different Protestant views of the Holy Bible and authority, including the believer at home reading the Bible and making decisions/interpretations on his or her own, without a community or any tradition at all. Father Boyle's presentation was both pastoral and doctrinal, stressing the authority of the Church helping the Christian live to serve, love, and worship Jesus Our Savior.
The Catholic view of Authority in the Church was not presented Friday by Professor Adam DeVille (I've already informed Director Doom of my opinion of this presentation). He started out with a program of "structural and psychological reform" without ever explaining what he wanted to reform (except abuse). He never addressed the question of the conference to describe "the authority by which the [Catholic] Church grounds her faith and morals" but jumped right into what to do about the horrible McCarrick scandal, by which a serial abuser and harasser of seminarians and a young boy was raised through the ranks of the hierarchy to become a Cardinal, a prince of the Church! This is horrific indeed and Catholics are suffering a crisis of trust in our authorities, our bishops, the highest ranking bishops/cardinals in the USA, and even the pope (to some extent that means Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis--but especially the latter because it seems clear that Benedict tried to confront the scandal of a globe-trotting Cardinal abuser and Francis removed the restrictions Benedict had placed on McCarrick). But DeVille's answer was Oedipal: he referenced Freud and paternal projection/rejection. He mentioned but certainly did not want to address the Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas's call for a theological justification of Papal Primacy but I think thought it best to ignore it completely in the quest for a greater freedom in the Church in Christ, to "bear our freedom" without looking for a human authority (a father) on earth. In looking to the Fathers of the Church, he sought out the pre-Nicene Church before the bishops adopted the structures of the Roman Empire.
Much that he said was thought-provoking but it assumed a knowledge and understanding of "the authority by which the [Catholic] Church grounds her faith and morals" that he never articulated. Director Doom has invited me and a friend of mine to write responses to this presentation and he wants to link this post to his Director's Letter to the membership. Professor Torrance, in providing an Orthodox response to this presentation, "took the bull by the horns" and read the chapter from Pastor Aeternus describing the great authority of the Papacy not by Infallibility but by Primacy to decide the discipline and government of the Catholic Church and how this is the great obstacle to East-West unity. There's the great issue we face; it's hard to go back to the Pre-Nicene days of the Church when Vatican I and Vatican II have documented this teaching on Papal Primacy.
Despite my misgivings about Professor DeVille's presentation, I want to read--and have already purchased from Eighth Day Books--his book Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity from the University of Notre-Dame Press.
Professor Torrance presented the Orthodox view of Authority on Saturday after Ninth Hour Prayer in St. George's Cathedral. He explored Doctrine and Praxis through the Charismatic Structures of Authority (the Patriarchs and Bishops), Synodality and Councils, Scripture and Tradition. It was a comprehensive and elegant discourse. He highlighted the fact that the monks of Mount Athos consider Mary the Mother of God, the Theokotos to be their Abbess (no other woman is allowed there!)
The Florovsky-Newman Week closed with the thought that Orthodox, Catholics, and Protestants learn more about each other, how we think, how we use words, how we pray, worship, read the Bible, etc., every time we hold these meetings. Our prejudices and false images of each other are stripped away. We exchange ideas: we have not reached conclusions but we continue on the journey to achieve what Jesus wants: Ut Unim Sint (that they may be one as He and the Father are One). We have to continue until we reach that destination: until then we are failing Our Lord and Savior and we are failing in the world!