Tuesday, May 22, 2007

St. Philaret On Tradition and Divine Attributes

The following questions are taken from the authorized English translation of the Catechism of St. Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow, 1821 to 1867, whose official title is A Full Catechism of the Orthodox Catholic Church of the East, examined and approved by the Most Holy Governing Synod, and published for the Use of Schools and of all Orthodox Christians, by order of His Imperial Majesty (1839). According to Schaff, the Catechism was unanimously approved by all the Eastern Patriarchs.

The following questions (17 & 18) give a good definition of what is meant by the word ‘Tradition’ with respect to its mode of transmission and content. Note my comments in brackets.

17. What is meant by the name holy tradition?

By the name holy tradition is meant the doctrine of the faith, the law of God, the sacraments, and the ritual as handed down by the true believers and worshipers of God [note that it does not say Bishops or Magisterium] by word and example from one to another, and from generation to generation.


18. Is there any sure repository of holy tradition?

All true believers united by the holy tradition of the faith [as defined above], collectively and successively, by the will of God, compose the Church; and she is the sure repository of holy tradition, or, as St. Paul expresses it, The Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

The following question (21) is a good synopsis of the need to recognize the historical primacy of Tradition.

21. Which is the more ancient, holy tradition or holy Scripture?

The most ancient and original instrument for spreading divine revelation is holy tradition. From Adam to Moses there were no sacred books. Our Lord Jesus Christ himself delivered his divine doctrine and ordinances to his Disciples by word and example, but not by writing. The same method was followed by the Apostles also at first, when they spread abroad the faith and established the Church of Christ. The necessity of tradition is further evident from this, that books can be available only to a small part of mankind, but tradition to all.

The following question (22) addresses the purpose of sacred Scripture in light of the comprehensive nature of Tradition. The answer given does not seem to reflect the per se sovereignty and solidity of Tradition sometimes insisted on by enthusiastic Orthodox. It also seems to imply a priority to Scripture in the determination of Apostolic teaching.

22. Why, then, was holy Scripture given?

To this end, that divine revelation might be preserved more exactly and unchangeably. In holy Scripture we read the words of the Prophets and Apostles precisely as if we were living with them and listening to them, although the latest of the sacred books were written a thousand and some hundred years before our time.

The following questions (84 & 86), taken from the First Part of the Catechism, on Faith, do not appear to reflect the Palamite distinction between essence and energies in so far as it speaks of the “essential attributes of God” and even lists among them some conspicuous examples of the former.

84. Can we know the very essence of God?

No. It is above all knowledge, not of men only, but of angels.

86. What idea of the essence and essential attributes of God may be derived from divine revelation?

That God is a Spirit, eternal, all-good, omniscient, all-just, almighty, omnipresent, unchangeable, all-sufficing to himself, all-blessed.

4 comments:

dmartin said...

I think this shows the "true" nature and understanding of Orthodoxy. Just how important was Palamite in Orthodox thinking considering the catechism? Is more being made of Palamas today rather than his contemporaries and later? Question 84 seems to be giving the Palamite understanding but 86 seems to be qualifying it.

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