The Historic Church

The Historic Church

by Archpriest John W. Morris


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781456734923
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 07/15/2011
Pages: 660
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.46(d)

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The Historic Church

An Orthodox View of Christian History
By John W. Morris


Copyright © 2011 Archpriest John W. Morris
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4567-3492-3

Chapter One

Some Personal Reflections on the Study of Church History

History is not "just the facts."

Sooner or later during every episode of the popular 1950s police drama, "Dragnet," Sergeant Joe Friday stopped a witness giving a long discourse about just about everything but the crime they were investigating with the words, "Just the facts, ma'am." Unfortunately, many people think that historians are academic Sergeant Fridays who are able to limit their work to a simple presentation of "just the facts." This is a misconception because it is impossible for any historian to limit his or her work to "just the facts." Historians are human beings who bring their personal presuppositions and prejudices with them when they approach their subject. The way they report, gather and interpret the results of their studies always reflects a personal bias. Because of the divisive and highly personal nature of the subject, the history of the Church is one of the most subjective areas studied by the historian.

A Definition of the Term "the Orthodox Church"

To make things clear, it is important to begin with a definition of terms. By Orthodoxy or simply Orthodox, I mean the beliefs and practices of Christianity shared by local Churches which, although self-governing, form one body through communion with each other. The Orthodox Church would include the ancient Patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem as well as the modern Churches including Moscow, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria and Serbia. Although each of these local national Churches govern their own internal affairs and select their leaders themselves, they all share a set of beliefs and practices that are distinct to the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople exercises a primacy of honor as "first among equals." However, his authority is symbolic as he has no power to exercise jurisdiction outside of his own patriarchate. He can, however, call Pan Orthodox meetings of representatives of the federation of local Orthodox Churches to coordinate international Orthodox affairs and help resolve local disputes. Through unity of faith and communion, this federation of local Churches forms one united Orthodox Church. Orthodoxy has preserved a unique form of the Christian Faith that is neither Protestant nor Catholic, but is Christianity as practiced in the eastern section of the Christian world. Historians and others frequently modify Orthodoxy with the adjective Eastern. This is correct historically but is too limited to describe the modern Orthodox Church which is no longer geographically Eastern, but has spread throughout the world. Others refer to the Orthodox Church as Greek Orthodox or simply as the Greek Church. It is correct to describe Orthodoxy as "Greek," because it grew and developed during a period of history when Greek thought and language shaped every aspect of intellectual society including the Christian religion, the New Testament, the earliest Fathers and the decisions of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. However, today the vast majority of Orthodox Christians are not ethnically Greek

In America, many people consider the Orthodox Church too heavily tied to foreign ethnicism to provide a spiritual home for "real" Americans. Orthodoxy came to America through immigration. Greeks, Russians, Lebanese and others have used the Orthodox Church to preserve ties to an "old country" across the seas. In many areas, the most publicity that local parishes receive during the year is not for a strictly religious observance, but for an annual Greek, Middle-Eastern or Russian dinner or festival. This misconception has led many Americans to dismiss the Orthodox Church as a foreign sect known for its foreign folk ways and colorful and quaint forms of worship, but which is irrelevant to modern American society. Despite the popular image of Orthodoxy, Orthodoxy is no longer restricted to non Americans. The children and grand children of the original immigrants are now become as American as the descendants of English, Scottish, Irish, Italian, or German immigrants. Because Orthodox always worship in the language of the people, most older Orthodox parishes in America originally worshiped in the foreign language spoken by the people of the parish. However, over time the new generations adopted English as their primary and, in many cases, only language. As the language of the people changed, the language of worship in most Orthodox parishes has also changed. Today, many Orthodox Churches use little, if any, foreign language during their worship. Intermarriage of Orthodox Christians with persons outside of the ethnic communities, and the reception of converts from all ethnic backgrounds has intensified the Americanization of Orthodoxy. Those born outside of the Orthodox Church now make up a large percentage of the students at the seminaries as well as the already ordained clergy. Thus, today Orthodoxy has ceased to be a bastion of non-American ethnicism, but has become a spiritual home for many ordinary Americans.

Although there are Millions of Orthodox Christians, the Media and Scholarly Community Virtually Ignore the Orthodox Church.

Although millions of Orthodox Christians live in the Western Europe or the United States, the non-Orthodox world hardly notices them. All the programs and articles on Christ, the Bible or Christianity in the media around Christmas or Easter, or in relation to something like the book The Da Vinci Code, include the opinions of Protestant, Roman Catholic and secular non-believing scholars, but almost never seek the comments of the Orthodox scholars or leaders. Ironically, most television productions dealing with Christianity usually feature pictures of icons and Orthodox churches and services as a colorful background for the comments of non-Orthodox. Around Christmas 2006, Cable News Network's Anderson Cooper hosted a widely advertised program entitled "What is a Christian?" At the beginning of the program, the commentator stood before a pie chart illustrating the divisions of American Christians. He described the Evangelical and Mainline Protestants, the Roman Catholics and Black Churches, but never commentated on a small unidentified section of his pie chart which obviously represented Christians usually classified as "others" such as the Eastern Orthodox. The rest of the program consisted of several segments on what most scholars would consider fringe groups whose views are so extreme that even the most conservative Protestant would refuse to identify with them. He never mentioned Orthodox Christianity. When my wife went to the emergency room of a large hospital in Jackson, Mississippi after an automobile accident, the attendant asked for her religious preference. Although the list included most Protestant groups, there was no place for Eastern Orthodox. Instead, she was listed as "Other." Public opinion poll takes routinely comment on the voting patterns of Roman Catholics, Protestants and Jews, but never bother to include Orthodox Christians in their research.

Because most Western media and scholars basically ignore the Orthodox Church, almost every article or book on Church history has failed to include the Orthodox point of view. Orthodoxy has produced scholars and historians such as Frs. Alexander Schmemann, Georges Florovsky, John Meyendorff, John Behr, and Bishop Kallistos Ware. However, those outside of the Eastern Orthodox Church pay little attention to their excellent work. Yaroslav Pelikan, a widely accepted authority on the history of Christian belief became an Orthodox Christian long after the publications of his works. Most popular or scholarly studies of Christian history written or translated into English almost always reflect a Roman Catholic, Protestant or completely secular point of view.

Ironically, most Protestant historians accept without question the Roman Catholic interpretation of early Church history. They fail to consider or are ignorant of the Eastern Orthodox point of view. This failure to rise above Western prejudices produces a distorted view of Church history. Many Protestants accept without question the claim that the Bishop of Rome had universal jurisdiction from the beginning of Church history. Western historians almost always fail to grasp the importance of the Eastern objections to the Western addition of the words, "and the Son," filioque, to the Creed. They accept without critical examination the Western claim that the Orthodox Church broke away from Rome. Stewart C. Easton's The Heritage of the Past, an otherwise excellent text for the first half of a basic undergraduate courses in World Civilizations, reports that the Patriarch of Constantinople "deliberately provoked" the schism between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. Scholars cannot ignore the role of Orthodoxy in Russian history, but few specialists in the field show anything other than a very shallow understanding of the Orthodox Faith. More often than not, studies of Russian history dismiss Orthodoxy as a negative influence which hindered the entrance of Russian civilization into the modern world.

With very few exceptions, reports on anything connected with the Eastern Orthodox Church in the media portray Orthodoxy as a break away from the Catholic Church. Even historians with no noticeable religious affiliation treat Orthodox Christianity as a religion for superstitious peasants who are obsessed with elaborate ceremonies and frozen in the attitudes of the past. Because most scholars and journalists in the West are almost totally ignorant of the Orthodox Church, their works are filled with distortions and incorrect statements about Orthodox belief and practice.

The Anti-Christian Bias of Some Historians since the Enlightenment

In the past, Roman Catholic or Protestant bias tainted the work of students of church history. Since the Scientific Revolution and the Eighteenth Century Enlightenment, secular ideology marked by suspicion of the supernatural dominates the work of some church historians. Because they consider the Holy Scriptures, the writings of the Holy Fathers and the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils, the basis for Orthodox doctrine, the work of fallible men, they dismiss Eastern Orthodoxy as irrelevant and out of date because it refuses to conform to the modern secular society.

The eighteenth century British historian Edward Gibbon whose History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is one of the most influential historical works ever written made no effort to hide his hostility to traditional Christianity. He filled his monumental work outright hostility toward the Christian Church. Gibbons dismisses the Roman persecution of the Church as insignificant compared with the bloodshed caused by the Christian efforts to suppress heresy with such as Spanish Inquisition of the Roman Catholic Church or the religious wars between Protestants and Catholics following the Reformation. He describes St. Athanasius as "tainted by the contagion of fanaticism." He calls the monks, "a race of filthy animals." Finally, he describes the history of the Church after the end of the persecutions as "the progress of superstition."

To be successful in the highly competitive world of modern academics, every historian must produce a new and original interpretation of whatever event, person or period they are studying. To maintain their position, they must constantly reevaluate and challenge traditional interpretations. The historian who claims to prove that the Church misjudged a person considered a heretic or that mob rule determined the decisions of one of the councils, can publish their works and make a name for themselves. The historian who claims to show that the Church misinterpreted or even falsified some aspect of the teaching of Christ or the Apostles can become famous, sell a lot of books, and obtain a good position in the academic world.

Political Correctness and Church History

More recently the forces of political correctness have overwhelmed American academic institutions. Any scholar who does not accept the claims of feminists, gays and other minorities were guilty of crimes against women, gays and just about everyone else but white upper class males risks losing their prestige as well the possibility of obtaining and keeping tenure. Of all forms of Christianity, Eastern Orthodoxy is the least politically correct. Not only does it still believe in dogma in a post modern world which denies the validity of universal truths, it also ordains only men, opposes abortion and considers homosexual acts sinful. Thus, to most politically correct scholars, the Eastern Orthodox Church is a bastion of sexism, homophobia and antiquated ideas. For these reasons, one must look on many contemporary historical works with an extra dose of skepticism.

Many modern studies of early Church history show in one way or another the influence of what is popularly called the Tübingen School, founded by F. C. Bauer, a professor at the south German University of Tübingen from 1826 until 1860. Bauer and his followers view Church history as a series of disagreements between various competing groups and ideas. Since then, scholars of Tübingen, have lived and worked under the shadow of Georg Friedrich Hegel. Hegel, an early nineteenth century German philosopher, taught that conflict determines the course of history. He constructed a model history called dialectical, based on a struggle between what he called a thesis and a competing antithesis which produces a synthesis that is neither thesis nor antithesis, but something new which combines elements of both the thesis and antithesis. It is not possible to under estimate the influence of Hegel on modern intellectual development. Such differing ideologies as fascism and Marxism show his influence. Even today, the ghost of Hegel haunts the halls of most German universities. Bauer applied Hegel's theories to the New Testament and constructed a view of Christian origins that treated a disagreement between the Apostles Peter and Paul as shaping the early Christian Faith. This is, of course, quite different from the Orthodox view, which portrays the two Apostles embracing in its iconography. Despite its wide acceptance, Bauer's view of early Church history relies excessively on one incident, an argument between the Apostles recorded in only a few verses of the New Testament. He neglected the rest of the New Testament and failed to adequately consider the agreement between the two Apostles expressed by the Apostolic Council recorded in the fifteenth chapter of the book of Acts.

The German Heirs to Hegel emphasize Conflict in their Studies of Church History

Although F.C. Bauer concentrated on New Testament studies, Walter Bauer, another German scholar, applied the methods developed by the Tübingen School to the study of later Church history. Published in 1934, Bauer's Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, challenged the traditional view of early church history. Bauer argued that there was no common faith among ancient Christians. Instead, Bauer and his followers believe that Christians have held such a wide variety of beliefs and practices since the very beginning that one can only speak of various forms of Christianity and not of the "ancient undivided Church." According to this view, the Orthodox Faith is only the teaching of the strongest group among many equally authentic groups of ancient Christians. However, Bauer and his followers failed to consider the remarkable degree of unity in belief and practice among those Churches with Apostolic origins, such as Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome and Alexandria. Instead, they placed far too much emphasis on relatively small heretical groups on the fringes of Christianity.

As Hegelism shaped the theories of Church historians in the past, certain trends in modern culture have had an overwhelming influence on the approach taken by contemporary scholars. Some argue that the leadership of the Church used the suppression of heresy as a means to enhance their own personal power and authority. This view has become particularly popular among some feminist theologians who teach that the Church developed its hierarchal organization and doctrinal orthodoxy to prevent women from assuming a place among the leaders of the Christian community. Reflecting their personal political views, they portray the early Church as an egalitarian society with few doctrinal requirements other than a vague belief in Jesus Christ.


Excerpted from The Historic Church by John W. Morris Copyright © 2011 by Archpriest John W. Morris. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


1: Some Personal Reflections on the Study of Church History....................3
2: The Worship and Organization of the Apostolic Church....................16
3: The Doctrine of the Apostolic Church....................35
4: Arianism and the First and Second Ecumenical Councils....................49
5: Nestorianism and the Third Ecumenical Council....................67
6: Monophysitism and the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Ecumenical Councils....................80
8: The Rise of the Papacy....................111
9: Augustine and the Development of Western Theology....................127
10: St. Photius and the First Western Schism....................147
11: The Great Schism between East and West....................155
12: Medieval Theology in East and West....................163
13: Sacraments in East and West....................178
14: The Councils of Lyons and Florence Fail to Reunite East and West....................193
15: Modern Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy....................204
16: Luther and the Beginning of Protestantism....................227
17: The Formation of Lutheran Doctrine....................248
18: Calvinism and the Reformed Churches....................275
19: The Anabaptists....................301
20: The English Reformation and the Birth of Anglicanism....................309
21: Pietism and Arminianism Redefine Protestantism....................324
22: The Enlightenment and Protestant Theology....................336
23: Liberation Theology....................358
24: The Reaction Against Liberal Theology: Neo-Orthodoxy, Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism....................385
25: Anglicanism after the Reformation....................409
26: Groups that Grew Out of English Puritanism: Congregationalism; Quakers and Baptists....................437
27: John Wesley, the Father of Methodism, and The Holiness Movement....................455
28: Pentecostalism....................465
29: Contemporary American Protestantism....................482
30: Orthodoxy Since 1453....................498
31: Orthodoxy in America....................526
32: Some Concluding Thoughts....................553
Select Bibliography....................559

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