The Ecumenical Approach of Patriarch Dositheos of Jerusalem

First, on the Calvinists:

We also, piously following these and such like examples of Scripture, know the time to be silent, when no one disturbeth us, and urgeth us to speak; but on the other hand, when interrogated, or the time requireth, we are bound to lift up our voice. For when we are asked for a reason for faith, {Cf. I Peter iii., 15.} or certain things to be believed, we consider it terrible to shrink [from replying]. But if we are charged with impiety, {Ảσεβείας. So, Harduin rightly. Kimmel, Εὐσεβείας.} or some other heresy, by heterodox men, who have no other object in view than supporting their own opinion by calumniating others ; then assuming the more fervent zeal of Elias, {Ἡλίου. Cf. 3 Reigns [I Kings] xix., 10.} we are roused to reply; and suffering what Jeremias did, we give utterance to the same [thoughts] as he: ‘I am pained in my belly, and the organs of my heart; my soul is in great commotion, my heart is torn; I will not keep silence, for my soul hath heard the sound of the trumpet, and the cry of the war.’ {Jer. iv., 19.} For more sounding than the terrible trumpet, and louder than the cruel war, there are now reaching us from France (how we would we had not heard them!) rumblings. For the Calvinists that are there found, gratuitously indulging in wickedness, say that our Apostolic and Holy Church, the Eastern to wit, thinketh concerning God and divine things as they themselves do wrongly think. And not only by their words, but also by their writings, do these heretics, as appeareth from a certain Claud, a minister {Ὑφηγητῆ.} of the Calvinists at Charenton, endeavour to malign us; and this it is that chiefly prompteth us to enter upon the present undertaking, they neither knowing what they say, nor whereof they confidently affirm; {Cf. I Tim. i., 7.} nor do they even respect men, before whom they dare thus to lie.

These things being so, since we are come together by the grace of Christ on the occasion of the dedication of the most divine temple of the Nativity in Bethlehem, according to the flesh, of Christ our Saviour and God; which the Lord hath been pleased should be rebuilt in these most terrible times of persecution, and should be elegantly adorned by the genuine children of the Catholic Church from all parts of the earth; there being found with us pilgrim-worshippers even from the ends of the earth, Priests, Clerics, and other Christians, we have thought it right to state briefly what the doctrine of our nursing-mother {Τιθηνός.} the Apostolic Church is as to those matters wherein she is maligned; so that through us our faith that was delivered by the Lord, and preached by the Apostles, and preserved by the holy Fathers, may be manifest in all the world; {Cf. Rom. i., 8.} and the lie of our adversaries being detected—although it hath already been detected as being obviously a mere bugbear, even by many that have been before us—the truth, as it were, shining more brightly than the sun, may be known. And if we seem to use tautology, and to be many times treating of the same matter, this is only done to help the reader of the present treatise to a more perfect understanding of what is said.

It is to be noted, therefore, that the leaders of these heretics, well knowing the doctrine of the Eastern Church, declare that she maintaineth {Πρεσβεύειν.} the same as they themselves do in what concerneth God and divine things; but of set purpose do they malign us, chiefly to deceive the more simple. For being severed, or rather rent away from the Westerns, and consequently being absolutely rejected by the whole Catholic Church, and convicted, they are manifestly heretics, and the chiefest {Κορυφαιότατοι.} of heretics. For not only have they become, from motives of self-love, propounders of new and silly dogmas (if it is allowable to call what are really only fables dogmas); but are entirely external to the Church, as having no kind of communion whatever with the Catholic Church, as hath been said. And as fearing lest those who have unhappily listened to them might perhaps be converted, they have thought how they might give utterance to this most transparent lie, that what they hold concerning the faith that the Eastern Church holdeth—God in His marvellous providence permitting this, and shewing that he who is not adorned with the Church’s name, cannot even be called a Christian, much less be a Christian; and teaching them that they should, therefore, join the Catholic Church, though they have not understood this. And this [they do], not as maintaining that our [teaching] is altogether true. For if that were so, they would not in other matters have maligned us, but would have agreed [with us] in all things; nor would they have desired to have become our teachers, who but yesterday and the day before, raging, meditated vain things; {Cf. Ps. ii., 1.} but would have been willing to learn of us, and to obey us, who hold what the Apostles preached, and what the Catholic Church hath held, and doth hold, and will in fact ever hold, until, that is, our Lord come, with God Himself our Saviour for her guide. But because we are at a distance from them, and in a way unable to acquaint all the Calvihists with the trick their leaders play upon them, it hath served their purpose, which was merely to deceive the more simple, to boast that whatever they, the Calvinists, have chosen to innovate, that the Eastern Church holdeth, and conversely. But, as it is impossible in this matter for light and darkness, or Christ and Beliar, to be together, {2 Cor. vi., 15.} so it is impossible for our adversaries, so long as they follow Calvin the heresiarch, as a leader, to be at one with the Eastern Church in what concerneth faith.

Second, on the Lutherans:

For fifty years after the madness of Luther, Martin Crusius of Tübingen in Germany, with other sophists, adherents of the novelties of Luther (for the notions of Luther and of Calvin are really very much alike, though they seem to differ in some particulars), sent the leading features {Κεφάλαια.} of their heresy to him that was then at the helm of the ship of the Apostolic Church at Constantinople, that they might know, as they said, whether they agreed with the doctrine of the Eastern Church. And that venerable man wrote unto them and against them three treatises or pragmatic answers, theologically and Orthodoxly rebuking all their heresy, and teaching them all the Orthodox mind which the Eastern Church hath held from the beginning; but none gave heed, bidding adieu to Orthodoxy.

From The Acts and Decrees of the Synod of Jerusalem sometimes called The Council of Bethlehem holden under Dositheus, Patriarch of Jerusalem in 1672, translated by J. N. W. B. Robertson (London, 1899). The above section on the Calvinists is found pp 5-10, that on the Lutherans, pp 13-14. The full book is available for reading or download from Google books here. I’ve placed all footnotes in curly brackets.

18 Replies to “The Ecumenical Approach of Patriarch Dositheos of Jerusalem”

  1. The Greek text edited by Ernst Julius Kimmel in his Libri Symbolici Ecclesiae Orientalis (with a handy Latin translation in a parallel column!) is also available through Google books, here, starting at page 325.

  2. What authority, if any, does this have for the Orthodox Church? I ask because I read through this a year or so ago (I own Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition) and among other things in Decree 18 when speaking of average Christians it says, “to read some parts of the Scripture, and especially of the Old Testament, is forbidden.” It would seem that either the publication of such things as the EOB is completely out of line or that this Synod is not regarded as authoritative.

    Decree 17 claims that Lutherans teach impanation. Later the same article denies that “the bread is body and the wine blood by a metonymy and not by a change (as the madness of Luther claimed).” The Lutheran Confessions reject impanation and mad Luther never taught that the bread is body and the wine blood by metonymy. Except for a couple Roman Catholic theologians, I can’t think of anyone who teaches impanation. The metonymy language is found in Reformed literature but not Lutheran. It really makes me wonder if they really read any Luther or if they were getting information second hand from an unreliable source.

    The text also seems to use the term “transubstantiation” rather favorably. Modern Orthodox theologians that I’ve read reject the term. This particular Synod sounds very Roman Catholic while more recent Orthodox books on the Eucharist sound much closer to the Lutheran position. Lutherans teach that we receive Christ’s actual body and blood with the bread and wine and leave the rest as a mystery. I’ve heard conflicting statements as to whether or not the Orthodox teach that bread and wine are still received.

  3. The idea that the Lutherans taught impanation was fairly common among Catholic theologians of the period as well; part of the problem being that ‘consubstantiation’ had also always been used for impanation before it began to be used of the Lutheran position, and part of the problem being that it was difficult for them to see how the bread and wine could remain without being assumed — Lutheran theories of ubiquity were seen as both weird and too weak for what was claimed, and since transubstantiation was ruled out, assumption seemed the only alternative. So it’s possible they were getting it from Catholic sources — or it’s possible that they read Lutherans and (as it did to the Catholic theologians) it sounded to them like it was impanation, even if the Lutherans denied that it was. (Similarly, I wouldn’t be surprised if their thought was that if the bread and the wine remain, and are with the body and the blood, then the bread and the wine would not actually be the body and the blood except by metonymy. Whether Lutherans themselves like to think of it in this way wouldn’t be what they would consider the really important thing.)

  4. Charles, I think Brandon’s right about the impanation thing: the Orthodox read the Lutheran language as, at the very least, susceptible to connoting impanation (a bizarre concept, to say the least).

    This council is generally recognized as of ecumenical application amongst the Orthodox churches. That is, while it wasn’t an ecumenical council itself, it is ecumenically received. But, as with any council’s canons, these are up to the discretion of local bishops to apply. Dogma is universal and non-optional, but canons are of optional application depending upon the spiritual state of the individual involved.

    In the case of the warning against reading the Bible and the Old Testament in particular, this is found in the context of there being a potential for the lay reader to misunderstand and do himself spiritual harm through not reading according to the Church’s instruction, but “freelance” so to speak. I don’t think anyone would disagree that people simply should not read the Bible without some kind of instruction, particularly if they intend to read it as an Orthodox Christian. Remember, too, that one of the signature elements of the Deformation is the insistence upon the lay reader’s capability to interpret the Bible correctly for himself, which belief leads, TA DA, to thousands of sects.

    As for the OSB Old Testament, my feelings on it are well known. I indeed recommend that people not read it!

  5. Brandon:

    Although consubstantiation has been used by opponents to speak of the Lutheran position, it is not actually taught by Lutherans.


    From what is said in the decrees I don’t think they read the Lutheran language to begin with but perhaps were listening to rumours from others. The Lutheran Confessions and the theologians of the time explicitly rejected these things that are attributed to them.

    If I say that Kevin Edgecomb is a madman because he believes that the earth is flat but there is absolutely no evidence that he believes such a thing and in fact he explicitly denies that the earth is flat then I would be the madman and not Kevin Edgecomb.

  6. Charles, I think it’s likely that whatever language or phrases gave rise to the idea on the part of the Latin interpreters also brought it to mind to the Orthodox writers. It could’ve been something very simple, even just an incautious slip in some non-dogmatic writings.

    Latin and Greek theological writing is extremely precise. There is not only a particular vocabulary used, but a particular syntactic approach in using that vocabulary. This is what lies at the core of the production of the various baptismal and other creeds, and all dogmatical statements. The formation of the statements themselves are incapable of being taken as anything other than the intended theological meaning. The Latins and Greeks reading the Lutheran materials, I suggest, found some imprecise language and, despite the protests of the Lutherans, wrote as they wrote because the language could indicate what they suggest it did. But also, in this context, why should anyone expect them to care about the protests of heretics? They’d already severed themselves from orthodoxy, so all bets were off. In that sense, perceiving Luther as an arch-heretic would by necessity require him to be something of a madman, and those who follow him either deceived (and so less culpable) or supporters (and so also heretics). That’s the context of the above.

  7. Kevin:
    After reading Luther or the Lutheran Confessions I just don’t see how anyone could get to the conclusion that is reached by this Council. Luther is anything but subtle and the confessions are clear. What writing is there on the part of Luther or the Lutheran Confessions that is unclear in this regard?

    Clearly the Council erred. Is there room in Orthodoxy for the position that an ecumenically received council erred? Or are Orthodox Christians forced to believe what an ecumenical council teaches regardless of how much evidence there is to the contrary?

  8. Charles, it’s not the Lutherans that are the primary target in this document. I think you’re reading into it too much emphasis on the Lutheran position where the Calvinists are primarily in view, and only some asides mention the Lutherans.

    Also, as I stated above, the application of any or all canons of an Ecumenical Council which lie outside of dogmatic statements are discretionary in the hands of the bishops. But what you’re describing as wrong are some mere asides that have nothing to do with the substance of the Council itself. I don’t think anyone would be all that worked up over them anyway. There are many other points by which the Lutherans are considered heretics. This council merely reiterates (as asides) the judgment that Luther and his followers are heretics (the leaders, that is, and the supporters of the heresy; the people are considered deceived, and less culpable). The point of this Council is to defend against the ludicrous charges posed in the forged Confessions of Cyril Lucar (which are obviously fakes) that the Eastern Orthodox Church believes Calvinist heresies. That document was obviously cooked up by some wretched Calvinist for some crazy reason. That is the Confession that’s under attack in this document, not Luther’s or any other.

  9. Well I rather be a “heretic” under the authority of Scripture, than a “Christian” under the traditions of men.

    “insistence upon the lay reader’s capability to interpret the Bible correctly for himself, which belief leads, TA DA, to thousands of sects.” You mean like Latter Day Saints, Christian Science and so on? There are actually more sects following traditions like LDS, and having spiritual leaders with the authority you give the patriarchs (or the pope), than there are sects that are following the early church and the reformation principal of Sola Scriptura. So that is actually a very bad argument.

    “When you shall see the wicked heresy, which is the army of Antichrist, standing in the holy places of the church, then let those who are in Judea head for the mountains, that is, those who are Christians should head for the Scriptures. For the true Judea is Christendom, and the mountains are the Scriptures of the prophets and apostles, as it is written: “Her foundations are in the holy mountains.” But why should all Christians at this time head for the Scriptures? Because in this period in which heresy has taken possession of the churches there can be no proof of true Christianity nor any other refuge for Christians who want to know the truth of the faith except the divine Scriptures. Earlier we showed in many ways which is the church of Christ, and which heathenism. But now there is for those who want to know which is the true church of Christ no way to know it except only the through the Scriptures. Why? Because heresy has everything just like the church. How, then, will anyone who wants to know which is the true church of Christ know it in the midst of this great confusion resulting from this similarity, except only through the Scriptures? The Lord, therefore, knowing that there would be such a great confusion of things in the last days, commands that Christians who…want to gain steadfastness in the true faith should take refuge in nothing else but the Scriptures. Otherwise, if they look to other things, they will be offended and will perish, because they will not know which is the true church, and as a result they will fall into the abomination of desolation which stands in the holy places of the church.”
    (Traditionally ascribed to St. John Chrysostom, glossa ordinaria 49th Homily, on Mat. 24)

    “There is one God, whom we do not otherwise acknowledge, brethren, but out of the Sacred Scriptures. For as he, who would profess the wisdom of this world cannot otherwise attain it, unless he read the doctrines of the philosophers; so whosoever will exercise piety towards God, can learn it no where but from the Holy Scriptures.”
    (St. Hippolytus c. 170-c.235, adv. Noetum, c. IX)

    “These are the fountains of salvation, that he who thirsts may be satisfied with the oracles contained in them. In these alone the doctrine of salvation is contained. Let no man add to, or take from them.”
    (St. Athanasius, Ex Festali Epistola XXXIX. Tom. II)

  10. Well I [would] rather be a “heretic” under the authority of Scripture, than a “Christian” under the traditions of men.

    Only the Orthodox Church is living according to the Scriptures and the patrimony of the Apostles, through an historically proven and distinct and clear transmission. It is “traditions of men” which led Rome astray and out of the Church and to its fracturing into thousands of Protestant and other sects, all of which hold to “traditions of men” rather than the teachings of God passed down through traditions (instructions handed down) from the Apostles in the Church. That is the Orthodox opinion on the matter.

    Your quotations of the Fathers only proves the point that the Scriptures are best handled by those with the learning to do so, as it is three bishops you have chosen to quote—those precisely tasked with teaching us from the Scriptures. To merely hand them over to people with no instruction and no information on how to interpret them is spiritually disastrous. And it was precisely at the Deformation that this became crystal clear to all with their heads screwed on straight.

    There is absolutely no way a rational person can defend just handing a Bible to someone and telling them that that is enough, that no more catechesis is necessary. The idea is stupid. People coming to the Scriptures for the first time will need to know all kinds of things, from bare physical facts of dates and places, to more important things like the prayers, hymns, and creeds which keep them from misinterpreting what they read. They will need to receive this information from outside the Bible itself. There is no question of it. They should have the traditions of the one and only Holy Orthodox and Apostolic Church on their side, not the squalid and foolish opinions of some several madmen who call themselves “reformers” as though such a branding excuses their ludicrous innovations.

  11. Kevin:

    How exactly is it determined which statements are dogmatic? Who would have forged these writings by Cyril Lucar? From my understanding Orthodox bishops conspired to have Cyril Lucar killed which means that they did not regard this as a forgery. My knowledge on this is limited to reading Hadjiantoniou’s biography of Lucar. Why would Lucar have been sending people to be trained in Geneva and never have said that these were all lies being written about him? Why would he have sent letters to Protestant divines that further expound these doctrines?

    I’ve been listening to “Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy” on Ancient Faith radio and Fr. Damick makes the claim on that program that a person cannot really be considered a heretic unless they were once part of the Orthodox faith and then consciously rejected it. So how could Luther or Calvin be heretics? To call them heretics seems to presume that the Roman Catholic Church holds to the Orthodox faith.

    1. That is absolutely preposterous! Patriarch Cyril Lucaris was not killed in a conspiracy! Did you get this trashy idea from Hadjiantioniou? If so, you should throw that book out. Patriarch Cyril Lucaris was killed by the Ottoman Sultan, a not-uncommon fate for Patriarchs under the Turkish Yoke. This is more of that Protestant-inspired trash like Schaff wrote!

      As for schools in the time of Patriarch Cyril, there were no Christian schools of higher eduction in the Ottoman Empire. For the training of priests and bishops, it was necessary to send them abroad, unfortunately.

      Are you sure you understood Fr Damick correctly? His definition of “heretic” is an interesting one, but it is not one shared by many (it’s the first time I’d heard it!). (Let that, in any case, be a lesson: not all that is heard on Ancient Faith Radio is gold!) In fact, all Jews and Muslims are considered heretics, according to the compilations of St Epiphanios and St John of Damascus! They were certainly never Orthodox Christians. The term “heretic” describes one whose religious dogmas and practices differ from those of the Orthodox Church. The most stringent definition that I’ve encountered would require the label “heretic” to have been established explicitly in an Ecumenical Council, but even that is a minority opinion. Typically, it is considered that heresies were defined in the Ecumenical Councils either positively (by them saying, for instance, “Arianism is a heresy”) or negatively (by them saying, “This is Orthodox dogma, and anything contradicting it is heresy”). Heresies arise all too frequently, some new, most old and tiredly familiar. The Panarion of St Epiphanios is very instructive in this regard. The propounders of heresies are heretics, and technically their followers are, as well, though they are considered deceived and thus less culpable. It is, however, the case that when a person is confronted with the orthodox truth, if he persists in his heresy even against his conscience, he is a heretic. It sounds like that may have been touched on by Fr Damick.

      The Confession of Cyril Lucar is obviously a forgery by a Calvinist (and not a very smart one, at that; likely the letters you mention are just as bad). Just look at it! You will never, ever, ever, find an Orthodox document like that one, with bare listings of Biblical citations as evidence, as though these proved something. Everything about it screams forgery, if one is familiar with Orthodox synodal documents. The Confession itself also presents itself, contrary to popular opinion, not as Patriarch Cyril’s personal beliefs, but as the beliefs of the entire Eastern Orthodox Church. That is simply laughable. Only some Calvinist imbecile could have written this thing. But it is still cited as authentic in too many circles, and apparently Hadjiantioniou believes in its authenticity, too. Read the full text of the Synod of Jerusalem. The evidence collected by the Synod, including that from people who actually knew the Patriarch Lucaris, clearly demonstrates that he had nothing to do with that document, other than having his name and reputation smeared by it, wretcchedly to this very day.

      Dogma is anything that deals with matters strictly relating to the Faith, as opposed to matters of discipline. The Synod of Jerusalem does refer to dogmatic statements of the past, but doesn’t include new definitions of dogmas. But, “dogmatic” is not the only kind of binding. Like the Ecumenical Councils, this Council also established various points of Church discipline, or directions on how Christians are to live. This is where the Synod of Jerusalem has been found to have its greatest import. The reiteration of Orthodox beliefs in the “Decrees” draws on earlier dogmatic statements. The “answers” that follow are in some respects new, providing clarifications of practice for Christians, in contradistinction to what was said in the forged Confession of Cyril. The rest of the Synod materials are really just introductory matter to those Decrees and Answers, the direct response to the forged document. Any incidental mistakes of fact (which really must be proven, in any case) in that material are minor issues, and do not affect the main part of the document.

  12. Kevin:

    The fact that the ortodox church don’t teach what the church fathers tought, shows that the ortodox church don’t teach according to the Scriptures, but according to the traditions of men.

    You are right about understanding and reading the bible, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again. But of course need priests and preachers that can teach tbe teachings of the holy Bible. But men is not above the Bible!

    “We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith” St. Irenaeus

    “Look for no other teacher; thou hast the oracles of God; none teaches thee like these.” St. John Chrysostom
    “There is one God, whom we do not otherwise acknowledge, brethren, but out of the Sacred Scriptures. For as he, who would profess the wisdom of this world cannot otherwise attain it, unless he read the doctrines of the philosophers; so whosoever will exercise piety towards God, can learn it no where but from the Holy Scriptures.” St. Hippolytus

    1 John 2:27:
    “As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.”

  13. The fact that the ortodox church don’t teach what the church fathers tought, shows that the ortodox church don’t teach according to the Scriptures, but according to the traditions of men.

    Michael, that’s simply ignorant.

    It is not “traditions of men”, like the foolish and bizarre invented things that Luther and Calvin say. Instead, the Church is a living tradition of more than just words printed on a page, one whose instruction has come down directly from God through God the Son, through the Apostles, through the Fathers, down to our own day. It’s a continuous tradition, and one that isn’t susceptible to your proof-texting. I’ll try to explain.

    The Synod of Jerusalem says nothing that had not already been part of Tradition. There was no time or place in which the Scriptures were permitted to be read by the people without instruction and guidance by those who are better grounded than they were in the Faith. The Scriptures certainly are the base and core of Tradition, which is the Faith itself. But that does not mean that any person can pick them up and expect to have correct teaching through reading. That is 1000% obvious from the Deformation onward, that people did so and fell into various heresies because they read the Bible in an ignorant manner, according to their own concerns, and without the mind of the Orthodox Church, which is the Body of Christ, indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The Orthodox Church is the ONLY place in which fully Christian and perfect teaching in the fullness of faith will be found. All other ways are tainted to one degree or another with heresy.

    Here is an example. You quote the First Epistle of St John as though it proves your point. This is classic proof-texting. Here are the failures in your assumptions: 1.) That letter is not addressed to you and your situation, but to the original addressees of the letters: THEY were well-founded in the faith. That is not necessarily the case with any other reader. 2.) The very fact that the letter is instructing the people to whom it is addressed shows the importance of the Apostolic instruction contained in it and the teaching authority of the Apostle John himself. 3.) You ignore the mention of the counterfeit anointing mentioned in the passage. There were heretics all around and even within the churches under St John’s care. There is obviously a distinction to be made between them, and where does that come from? Through the maintenance of the faith transmitted by the Apostles themselves, which one needs to be taught by them or their successors. There is no other way to be orthodox, or Orthodox!

    It is a great mistake to use proof-texting, as though every sentence of Scripture somehow applies to your own contemporary situation without exception. This practice has always been used by heretics. Ambiguous statements in Scripture are taken out of their contexts and forced to say something that they were never meant to say. It’s a classically heretical approach to Scriptures. But it’s not Christian!

  14. Michael, God bless you, too.

    If you don’t agree with the Eastern Orthodox Church (which includes the Greek, Russian, Serbian, Bulgarian, Rumanian, and other national churches), then I pray that God will illumine you in the future.

    In the meantime, this is not the place for an extended discussion of the merits of Calvinism, which to Orthodox is heresy.

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