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Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky
Orthodox dogmatic theology

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The catholic consciousness of the Church.

The orthodox church of Christ is the Body of Christ, a spiritual organism whose Head is

Christ It has a single spirit, a single common faith, a single and common catholic consciousness,

guided by the Holy Spirit; and its reasonings are based on the concrete, definite foundations of

Sacred Scripture and Sacred Apostolic Tradition. This catholic consciousness is always with the

Church, but, in a more definite fashion, this consciousness is expressed in the Ecumenical Councils

of the Church. From profound Christian antiquity, local councils of separate Orthodox

Churches gathered twice a year, in accordance with the 37th Canon of the Holy Apostles. Likewise,

often in the history of the Church there were councils of regional bishops representing a

wider area than individual Churches and, finally, councils of bishops of the whole Orthodox

Church of both East and West. Such Ecumenical Councils the Church recognizes as seven in

number. The Ecumenical Councils formulated precisely and confirmed a number of the fundamental

truths of the Orthodox Christian Faith, defending the ancient teaching of the Church

against the distortions of heretics. The Ecumenical Councils likewise formulated numerous laws

and rules governing public and private Christian church life, which are called the Church canons,

and required the universal and uniform observance of them. Finally, the Ecumenical Councils

confirmed the dogmatic decrees of a number of local councils, and also the dogmatic statements

composed by certain Fathers of the Church — for example, the confession of faith of St. Gregory

the Wonderworker, Bishop of Neo-Caesarea (For the text of St. Gregory's “Canonical Epistle,” see the

Eerdmans Seven Ecumenical Councils, p. 602.), the canons of St. Basil the Great (The text of St. Basil's canons

may be found in the Eerdmans Seven Ecumenical Councils, pp. 604-611.), and so forth.

When in the history of the Church it happened that councils of bishops permitted heretical

views to be expressed in their decrees, the catholic consciousness of the Church was disturbed

and was not pacified until authentic Christian truth was restored and confirmed by means of another

council. (True councils — those which express Orthodox truth — are accepted by the Church's catholic

consciousness; false councils — those which teach heresy or reject some aspect of the Church's Tradition — are rejected

by the same catholic consciousness. The Orthodox Church is the Church, not of “councils” as such, but only

of the true councils, inspired by the Holy Spirit, which conform to the Church's catholic consciousness.) One must

remember that the councils of the Church made their dogmatic decrees a) after a careful, thorough

and complete examination of all those places in Sacred Scripture which touch a given question,

b) thus testifying that the Ecumenical Church has understood the cited passages of Sacred

Scripture in precisely this way. In this way the decrees of the councils concerning faith express

the harmony of Sacred Scripture and the catholic Tradition of the Church. For this reason these

 

decrees became themselves, in their turn, an authentic, inviolable, authoritative, Ecumenical and

Sacred Tradition of the Church, founded upon the facts of Sacred Scripture and Apostolic Tradition.

Of course, many truths of the Faith are so immediately clear from Sacred Scripture that they

were not subjected to heretical reinterpretations; therefore, concerning them there are no specific

decrees of councils. Other truths, however, were confirmed by councils.

Among all the dogmatic decrees of councils, the Ecumenical Councils themselves acknowledge

as primary and fundamental the Nicaeo-Constantinopolitan Symbol of Faith (This is the

Creed” (“I believe in One God…”) which is sung at every Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church and read at several

other places in the daily Divine services.) and they forbade any change whatsoever in it, not only in

its ideas, but also in its words, either by addition or subtraction (decree of the Third Ecumenical

Council, repeated by the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Councils).

The decrees regarding faith which were made by a number of local councils, and also certain

expositions of the Faith by the holy Fathers of the Church, are acknowledged as a guide for the

Whole Church and are numbered in the second Canon of the Sixth Ecumenical Council (in

Trullo). (The “QuinsextCouncil in Trullo (692) was actually held eleven years after the Sixth Ecumenical Council,

but its decrees are accepted in the Orthodox Church as a continuation of those of the Sixth Council. The text of

this Canon may be read in the Eerdmans Seven Ecumenical Councils, p. 361, and the canons of the local councils

and Holy Fathers which were approved in this Canon are printed elsewhere in the same volume (pp. 409-519, 589-

615).)




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