It’s a really interesting thing when someone introduces a book in a particular way which a reading of that book proceeds to demolish. I found this to be the case in reading Augsburg and Constantinople: The Correspondence between the Tübingen Theologians and Patriarch Jeremiah II of Constantinople on the Augsburg Confession (Holy Cross Orthodox Press: 1982) by Fr George Mastrantonis. As the lengthy subtitle describes, this is a translation of the collected correspondence shared between various early Lutherans and the Patriarchate of Constantinople between 1574 and 1581. This translated correspondence consisted of the following: Preliminary correspondence ― 1.) a cover letter from Tübingen for the Greek translation of the Augsburg Confession; 2.) a letter from Tübingen acknowledging the Patriarch’s acknowledgement of receipt of the above; A First Theological Exchange ― 1.) From the Patriach, a cover letter and lengthy, detailed treatise in response to the various articles of the Augsburg Confession; 2.) A response from the Tübingen theologians to the Patriarch’s treatise; A Second Theological Exchange ― 1.) A second letter and treatise from Patriarch Jeremiah presenting the Orthodox position in attempting to correct the first response of the Tübingen theologians; 2.) A second response of the Tübingen theologians to the Patriarch, in which they persist in their positions; A Third Theological Exchange ― 1.) From the Patriarch, who breaks off the fruitless theological dialogue, seeing a willful persistence in heretical opinions in the Tübingen theologians, and requests only personal letters of friendship, if any; 2.) A response from the Tübingen theologians, protesting their rectitude; and lastly, a series of a few personal letters of correspondence between individuals and the Patriarch.
Now, among Orthodox familiar with this correspondence, the last paragraph of the Patriarch’s last letter to the Tübingen theologians, the letter breaking the correspondence, is quite familiar (p. 306):
Therefore, we request that from henceforth you do not cause us more grief, nor write to us on the same subject if you should wish to treat these luminaries and theologians of the Church in a different manner. You honor and exalt them in words, but you reject them in deeds. For you try to prove our weapons which are their holy and divine discourses as unsuitable. And it is with these documents that we would have to write and contradict you. Thus, as for you, please release us from these cares. Therefore, going about your own ways, write no longer concerning dogmas: but if you do [write], write only for friendship’s sake. Farewell.
This is in noted contrast to the conclusion of the first treatise sent by the Patriarch to the Germans (p. 103):
O most wise German men and beloved children of our humble self, since, as sensible men, you wish with your whole heart to enter our most Holy Church, we, as affectionate fathers, willingly accept your love and friendliness, if you will follow the Apostolic and Synodal decrees in harmony with us and will submit to them. Form then you will indeed be in communion with us, and having openly submitted to our holy and catholic church of Christ, you will be praised by all prudent men. In this way the two churches will become one by the grace of God, we shall live together hereafter and we will exist together in a God-pleasing way until we attain the heavenly kingdom. May all of us attain it in Christ Jesus, to whom belongs glory unto the ages. Amen.
It must be noted that throughout the correspondence, many various quotations from Patristic and Synodal sources are included in the Constantinopolitan writings, all dealing with the subjects at hand clearly and without ambiguity. The German quotations of Patristic sources, however, are not as numerous, nor are they as well-handled. Indeed, the Patriarch criticizes the Germans for essentially “cherry-picking” quotations from the Fathers that, out of context, fit their own ideas, in direct contradiction to explicit statements from those very Fathers, in the context of discussing the Filioque (p. 289):
And you decide that the Holy Greek Fathers agree with you in the matter of the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Son, even though they differ in literal expressions. They are Athanasios in his treatise, The Incarnation of the Word; [etc]. We wonder, then, if indeed by abandoning the obvious and explicit passages of Scripture and the Fathers, which distinctly state and submit that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone, which may have another meaning and have been understood by [the Fathers] in another way, you might have changed [them] to your own purpose! … For you have quite plainly altered Holy Scripture as well as the interpretation of the above-mentioned holy men according to your own will.
And in the very next sentence, the Patriarch reveals his evaluation of the entire correspondence and where he thinks this dialogue is headed (pp 289-290):
We have Paul to exhort us: “a man who is factitious, after admonishing him once or twice, have nothing more to do with him” [Titus 3.10]. However, since by silence it might appear that we agree with you and that perhaps you correctly hold and understand these matters, we run the rist of having it thought that Holy Scripture and these holy men agree with you on the subject. By defending them we reiterate these matters again, although we have been well informed by your letters that you will never be able to agree with us or rather, we should say, with the truth.
In reality, it is indeed the case that, following the words of the Apostle, the Patriarch has admonished the Tübingen theologians twice (in his first and second treatises), and in this lenghty letter, he ends the correspondence.
In light of all the above, and particularly in light of a reading of the correspondence in full, a section at the end of Fr Mastrantonis’ Introduction is therefore somewhat puzzling (p. xviii):
The three Answers of Jeremiah cannot be fully understood without relating them to the Augsburg Confession of the Lutheran Church and to the three Replies of the Lutheran theologians. Jeremiah’s discourses are important in that they ware the first contact of Orthodoxy with the Lutheran Church and are, at the same time, a well-prepared presentation of Orthodox teachings. They are especially important today when a movement toward better understanding among churches is taking place, requiring that one knows the views of the other. It is imperative that problems be faced with a clear mind and feelings of brotherhood.
Somehow, I don’t think Fr Mastrantonis had in mind that all dialogue should end with the third meeting if after two meetings the non-Orthodox partner in dialogue has not admitted the superior truth of the Orthodox position, and effectively converted to Orthodoxy!
Now, after all that, it must be said that this correspondence is an excellent resource for Orthodox readers, particularly for Patriarch Jeremias’ very clear explication of the reasons for Orthodox rejection of the Filioque and double procession of the Holy Spirit. If an Orthodox Christian doesn’t understand the reason that the Filioque is an issue, he or she should read this correspondence. The Patriarch’s is a masterful refutation, in fact. In fact, all the subjects he covered were done in complete and perfect line with Tradition, explicitly stated as such, and thereby showing us really what “Tradition” is: the witness of the Apostles in Scripture, the Oecumenical Synods recognized by the Church, and the Fathers and their writings which were approved by those Oecumenical Synods. These evidences are brought forth in the Patriarch’s three responses to the Lutherans, teaching us how such things should be done by Orthodox theologians, rather than through recourse to syllogisms and using the logical categories, arguments, or any of the scholastic-influenced approaches based in Roman Catholic methods of theologising. The Lutherans, however, are explicit in their selectivity from the Synodal and Patristic sources (see esp. p. 113) and in their reliance on human reasoning in their examination of the Scriptures, but without any other source to secure their reasoning from coming unmoored from the Truth, which is what the Synods and Fathers provide for the Orthodox (and apparently only for the Orthodox!).
You know, there were times in reading this correspondence, particularly in the denseness of the Lutherans simply not at all grasping the Patriarch’s careful distinction of proper terminology in the discussion of the Procession of the Holy Spirit, that it seemed as though I were reading a blog discussion! Here is a careful and exceedingly well-crafted and erudite writing in response to a piece of rather superficial theological thinking, and what is the response to it? A simplistic restatement of the original inanity, completely ignoring the careful refutation. This happens all the time in blogging.
Patriarch Jeremias of blessed memory, following the Apostle Paul, gives Orthodox Christians an example for any theological discussions: if your interlocutor is not convinced in the superiority of the Orthodox position after two excellent presentations of it, then you should end that theological dialogue and discuss only other matters. In addition to that, and immediately after having read Patriarch Jeremias’ writings, I would caution anyone at all in thinking that their own presentations of Orthodox theology might actually be excellent. The arguments and presentation of Patriarch Jeremias were indeed stunningly excellent, yet they accomplished precisely nothing. We should be under no illusions that we would fare better than did Patriarch Jeremias!
Indeed, as various elders have said, laity simply should not have theological discussions with heterodox, in any case. It’s not our job! Such things are in the hands of our bishops and those with their blessing to do such things. And yet, if one is challenged, one needs to be prepared to give an answer for one’s faith, as well. We are not, however, to initiate some lengthy theological discussion without qualification or blessings to do so.