The Limits of Ecumenism

I have a good friend with whom I take pleasure no end in needling about his heretical notions (he’s a Calvinist, probably greater than which cannot be thought). Though, as I often keep reminding him, holding heretical notions does not ipso facto make one a heretic, at least certainly not formally, though perhaps materially, if we can use a distinction that Rome employs, and which I find happily valid. A material heretic is one who holds wrong notions, even heretical ones, or notions founded on what are heretical axioms, but has done so not against the truth as they have learned it from childhood, for indeed, they have not learned it from childhood. A formal heretic, however, is one who is presented with the clear teaching of the Faith, and then summarily turns his back on it. Such a person is one who had been well-grounded in their education, and then makes this choice. Thus while my friend would decry Nestorianism, he has to assert that the righteousness by which we are justified is that of the human Christ, and at the same time has to admit of a coincidentalist view of the two wills of Christ that is only monergistic, and thus monothelitist. He was reared, in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, or the Only Pure Church, as we used to say when I myself was a member of that small but august body, and thus has really known no other doctrine, even though he has read some of the Fathers now and again. As such, I don’t consider him a heretic in the way I would Arius, or those who hold to Arianism, and thus I have no aversion to praying with him. He is a good fellow, well read, a real humanist and liberal educator. By the same token, I have brothers who are Baptist, Methodist, Independent, and Anglican ministers, none of whom I have consigned to the flames, however much I may disagree with them. Indeed, with my Anglican brother’s son, who is well educated in both Philosophy and Theology, I love giving him the business about such matters (“Uncle, what should I do about having communion at my wedding?” “Well, Billy, you’re not really having communion so why get all exercised about it?”). My three closest friends, William, Mark, and Gary, are Roman Catholics, devout, observant, and pious as can be found, curmudgeonly even. Each I count a dear brother, even while I hold them wrong, and think them apart from Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. I would have no compunction, however, of singing the Kyrie in their parishes, nor entoning the Ave Maria or Pater noster with them. I cannot receive communion with them, nor they with me, for neither is under the others’ disciplines, and we recognize a real schism, but I do not hold that somehow the Orthodox Church is defective without Rome, just as the ancient Church was not defective without Israel, even though we pray that the domestic branches be grafted back into the olive tree.

I say all of that to address something else. Today I left coffee hour early to attend the confirmation of my niece and nephew. They attend a parish of the United Church of Christ. As we were coming home after the confirmation I asked my foster son, Matt, a very simple boy, if he ever felt the need to cross himself during the service. He answered no. The reason? They never once invoked the name of the Trinity. They wrote the word “Lord” out of all their texts as well. At the offertory was song “We give you (yech) of your own, what ere the gift may be. All that we have is yours alone, we give it gratefully.” The only time they used the name Father to refer to our Father, was in the Lord’s prayer. Prior to the confirmation, there were three “baptisms,” done in the name of “God, Jesus, and the Spirit.” Now, I cannot judge the piety of the people there present, but the Liturgy in that Church was not served to the Trinity, and indeed, at one point was God was invoked as one “who is known by many names.” Apparently, “Lord” isn’t one of them. Indeed, I was waiting for either of the two ministers to say “To the Unkown God.” One came very close: “Oh God whom we cannot know.” All the false apophaticism has been addressed before, and I would commend Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon’s essay “Father, glorify Thy Name!” I bring it up to note that I could not bring myself to say any prayers with them other than the Our Father. The very first prayer of the service began “O Mother God.” I was tempted to take out my pen and shove an “of” between Mother and God, but I controlled myself.

the_episcopal_church1Noting other au courant insanities, we can join today’s liturgical experience with a recent sermon by the prima of the Episcopal organization,  Katharine Jefferts Schori, who more rightly has been called by curmudgeon #1 above, the flaminica of episcopagn cult. Her sermon spoke of St. Paul’s exorcism of the demon possessed girl in Philippi as an act of Paul not recognizing God’s gift in the girl, and not accepting her for who she was: “Paul is annoyed, perhaps for being put in his place, and he responds by depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness.  Paul can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it.” Now, as I am typing this I am listening to Lobo’s Versa est in luctum (My harp has been turned to mourning), part of the funeral requiem for Philip II of Spain, a piece which I never tire of hearing, and especially the performance of the Tallis Scholars. Here is something beautiful. But that a girl possessed by demons could ever be thought as beautiful . . .. I shudder to think what type of mind could come up with that. This nonsense proves that fact is stranger than fiction, as one could not make up such stuff with which to libel or slander someone else by. Indeed, I cannot really tell the difference between what Schori says about what St. Paul did, and what the Pharisees said about our Lord when He cast out devils. This is a willful twisting of Holy Scripture so that it will meet her new canon of truth, the Gospel of Personal fulfillment at the Church of What’s Happening Now.

There is something qualitatively different between these latter examples and my friend the Calvinist, for he affirms the Holy Trinity, the teachings of the councils on the two natures of Christ existing in One Person. Alas, he still holds to the Reformation’s impoverished, enfeebled, and historically inaccurate view of icons (see here and  here for more on this – – and more will be coming), but both of us know full well that he has betrayed the Reformation if he really holds this, for he had me lead a morning office at a recent retreat (complete with “through the Theotokos, save us” in the prayers), and cannot in honesty take me for an idolater. Thus, with such a one I am able to pray. But even ecumenicity has its limits.

And indeed, this limit is itself a testimony to the truth, in that those who consciously and overtly dissent from the truth, as opposed to those who have made no informed choice on the matter, are rightly excluded from any form of fellowship. What to do about the feigned learning of the likes of Steven Wedgeworth, is another matter perhaps best left for the comments, or another post.


About Cyril Jenkins

Professor of History
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20 Responses to The Limits of Ecumenism

  1. Pingback: Orthodox Collective

  2. Gabe Martini says:

    Great and insightful thoughts, as usual.

  3. John Prewett says:

    Were the Inquisitors Christians ?

  4. David Fraser says:

    Interesting post. I wonder if your friend knows Randall Zachmann’s study, Image and Word in the Theology of John Calvin. I should think relics are more a problem for reformed than icons. I do know numbers of reformed (and informed) Christians who use icons, though not with the theological accoutrements of the Eastern Orthodox tradition.

  5. Cyril Jenkins says:

    John, are you asking if they were secretly Zionists, or Muslims, or Trilateralists, or Rosicrucians? Or are you asking whether there is a genera called Christian, of which Inquisitor is a species? Or are you asking if their actions bar them from heaven? And who were the Inquisitors? Are you talking about Bernardo Gui and his manual for those interrogating the Cathar in the thirteenth century, or the iconic image in Dostoyevski’s Brothers Karamazov? I need to know how you are using your terms before I wade in to such a question. In short, however, there is no sin, not even the murder of St. Stephen nor the murder of Uriah the Hittite, that would ultimately disqualify a soul from heaven, so all I can say is I am not their judge.

  6. Cyril Jenkins says:

    David, I don’t think he would know it, as he is more a modern church historian then Ren-Ref. I will note that for the Orthodox, relics and icons are closely connected.

    I hope you are doing well. Hodie ora nobis ad Orientalem.

  7. Many Calvinists are wonderfully inconsistent and better than their theology. I started crossing myself and using icons, incense, and prayer ropes when I was in the PCA, and publicly espousing the same. I suppose it’s no wonder that shortly after I joined an Anglo-Catholic church, and began flirting with Orthodoxy.

  8. Wow. Where to begin… First, I am not sure I would even classify the sad convocation you attended as a “baptism” (quotes included). Words to describe such events are better left unsaid as gaining access to Confession is rather tough over here. Gary, you are to kind, modest and discreet in your allowance of the word “baptism” (quotes included). It’s either really laughable or really sad. Sadly, for many decades past the Roman Church has been blindly accepting the baptisms of other ecclesial bodies. God be thanked, many diocese, Philadelphia being one, are once again applying Conditional Baptisms due to this now common practice of apply liquid under the nominalistic inculcation of “Parent, Child, Ruah” (or words to that effect). Unless you have a Baptismal certificate from an Orthodox parish, or were baptized as an adult with 100% assurance of water and the proper invocation of the Trinity you are Conditionally Baptized.

    I have adopted the habit of asking such “clerics” at the end of these pseudo services, “Excuse me, when does the ‘baptism’, ‘mass’ or ____ (fill in the blank) begin?” Funny, some of looks I receive. Very few take the bait, and reply that the event has taken place, since they are quite aware what they are doing and have already detected my cynicism, sarcasm and veiled disgust. I usually receive that now all too familiar narrowing of the eyes, lifting of the nose with the not so subtle sniffling condescension. I smile and “press on” I do need to uphold the aforementioned curmudgeonly reputation! Most happily, my dear wife who would formerly walk away from such encounters now out does me in such conversations. Good girl, from hearty French-Acadian, earthy peasant stock, she is no longer so polite or subtle in such encounters where cheap demands are placed on her sense and sensibilities. God lover her!

    Concerning Material Heresy. You are very correct. Newman is famous for saying, “I saw my face in the mirror, and I was a Monophysite.” Being born into more Modern Times, I carried a heavier burden. I woke up one morning and found I was everything that Pius X warned against. I literally had EVERY major heresy in my head. I was “the synthesis of all heresies”. As you point out, no fault of my own. I could tell you that I believed in the Trinity, that I was Chalcedonian and rejected the error of Arius and Nestorius, BUT, I practically thought, acted and viewed, Christ, the Trinity, the Theotokos, the Sacrament, the… EVERYTHING in a deeply flawed, contradictory and non-Christian manner.

    By the way this all happened back at the very beginning of attending Reformed Episcopal Seminary in the early 90s. First book I read in the lovely “old car dealership”, before even taking a class was ON DIVINE IMAGES by St. John of Damascus. Just reading the introduction I knew I was in trouble and that I had many well intention-ed but contradictory ideas bouncing about my skull. Taking on the book proper was shattering. Next, I went to your class wherein we were ordered to make bricks without straw, read 7,000 pages daily and relate relevant Monty Python sketches to the readings (with appropriate accent and/or high pitched voice… and takest thou thy Holy hand Grenade…). Then, Oh gladsome day, wherein we discussed at length and with much erudition, Henry VIII and his main purpose in life. As you so eloquently put it, “Henry only cared for two things, Broads and Buckshot” (or words to that effect). Then we talked, rather excitedly, concerning the SICILIAN VESPERS! Oh for the salad days, but I digress. I have always wanted to have a Schola/singing group for traditional liturgical music and call it The Sicilian Vespers. Ahhh, I digress again!

    Back to being a Material Heretic. I am the first to raise my hand and claim the name. I have always been attached to the truism, that Faith seeks understanding. My entire existence seems to be the weeding out of one heresy or another. Prayer, reading the Fathers, (more Ale, thank you) and lively discussion all help!

    About my appetite and suddenly losing it halfway through your missive… Of course I refer to Ms. Schori, the “flamminica of episcopagn cult”. I do envy William for applying this august title to her heretical self. I love that add. It is sooo her and so episcopagan. It beggars the question “Don’t believe in what crap”? It seems to call all and any belief “Crap” and declare all and Sundry who believe any of the unspecified “Crap” as _____ (fill in the blank). Well, What do they believe in? It seems a universal disclaimer of any belief. There is the old joke that the NEW, NEW Book of Common Prayer put out by ECUSA will have a new Creed. They gave up I believe for We believe, soon it will be THEY BELIEVE. Her add seems to say so. It is no longer a joke and I am not sure I can laugh anymore. Laughing at the handicapped is not charitable. G. K. Chesterton, pray for us, they have fallen for everything!

    My trip to Kazakhstan and the visit to the beautiful and historic Cathedral in Almaty was wonderful. I can truly say I was in Holy Russia! Venerated icons of Ss. Xenia and Seraphim of Sarov for you

  9. Ad Orientem says:

    An outstanding piece.

  10. John Prewett says:

    Were the Inquisitors Christians ? …………. By “inquisitors”, I mean the Roman Catholic clergymen who executed the pope created Inquisitions. ……. by “Christians”, I mean followers of Jesus Christ. Members of His Church/Body. I’m aware all manner of sin can be forgiven….. Paul being the great example of persecutor of Church being saved and made into great servant of Jesus. Did Christians execute the Inquisitions ? or Were the real Christians among the victims of the Inquisitions ? Peter De Rosa In VICARS OF CHRIST, DARK SIDE OF THE PAPACY, page 61 wrote: “History became a minor branch of theology where it has remained ever since.” I think he’s right.

  11. Cyril Jenkins says:

    John, I would say this is hardly an either/or question, and I can steer you to a number of books of varying quality (though all of them good), on these questions. Chief among them is Malcolm Barber’s The Cathars. The Inquisition arose to combat the Cathar (also known as the Albigensian) heresy of the 12th and 13th centuries. The Cathars denied that Christ had a physical body, affirmed that the God who created the world was evil, and thus saw matter as evil, and so denied the physical resurrection both of Christ, and of us on the last day. At first the inquisitors were simply the Dominicans and Cistercians sent to preach in southern France, in the county of Toulouse, but then the legate of Innocent III, Pierre de Castlenau, was murdered in 1208 by the Cathars. They were seen no longer as merely heretics, but subverters of the divinly decreed order of reality. This is what brough on the Albigensian crusade. Later inquisitors included those in Spain who interrogated doctrinal suspect people, among whom were included both John of the Cross (Dark night of the Soul) and Ignatius of Loyola (founder of the Society of Jesus), men who later were recognized as saints by the Catholics. As it is wrong to think of Rome as some monolith which speaks everywhere and at all times with a univocal voice, so too, it is wrong to think of the Inquisition as only a bloody progrom against those who were the faithful of Christ. I am not a Roman Catholic, and I don’t excuse such as Simon de Montfort (“Kill them all and let God sort them out.”), nor do I think people like the conversos are to be thought guilty till proven innocent; further my sympathies are far more with Voltaire in the Calas affair then the officials of Toulouse, but all that being said, when we look at the Cathars, these people were heretics, the equivalent in many ways of modern radical anarchists, enemies of society. I agree with Castellio that to burn a man is not to combat an idea, but to burn a man, but at least as regards the Cathars, the Inquisition began not with the torch, but the book. It was the Cathars that brough the torch by their actions (looking at it in thirteenth-century terms).

    And so, I really have no truck for either side; I have no dog in this fight. I hardly think Rome damned because of how they at some times viewed how to handle the question of soul-destroying error, a view they have repudiated. That would mean that Saul could not become Paul. But you have already admitted that you don’t believe that. Is burning a man for what he thinks an evil? Yes. Does it inevitably damn a man to hell? Only God judges the heart. Do I think I should be communing with such people? No. Were Bernardo Gui here, he could speak for himself, so I hesitate to do so.

  12. John Prewett says:

    Popes created and Roman Catholics conducted the Inquisitions. Many say/believe Roman Catholics are CHRISTians. Therefore CHRIST [therefore His servants] have a dog in this fight.

  13. Cyril Jenkins says:

    And your point, exactly? Do the Catholics still burn heretics? Is the Inquisition still chasing down Jewish conversos in Spain? Turning heretics over to the civil arm hasn’t been known for some centuries. What exactly are you arguing?

  14. John Prewett says:

    Your original statement shows you think/believe Christians conducted the Inquisitiions. Well, the creators of and conductors the Inquisitions were not followers of Christ,… they were not Christans. I resent Christians being slandered by being blamed for wicked deeds of nonChristians.

  15. Cyril Jenkins says:

    John, I still don’t know what your point is: Christians bombed Dresden, nuked two Japanese cities, are responsible for all sorts of atrocities, but because Christians do unChristian things, are they now to be considered “non-Christians”? Are you not a Christian every time you sin? Is sin greater than grace? I have not nor am now condoning the horrors of the Inquisition, and I fear for such at the day of judgement, but I fear more for myself should I supplant the place of God and become the judge of their souls, for I am already the chief of sinners.

  16. This was an excellent article. The kind of worship you describe is endemic. After two weeks working at Episcopal Divinity School (some years ago, and prior to becoming Orthodox), i walked out of the chapel one morning, looked at the person next to me, and said, “They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.” The person, looking puzzled, said, “What do you mean?” I shook my head and replied, “I have no idea to whom we were talking in there.” That morning ended my attendance at what they called “Morning Prayer,” in the seminary chapel and began my long process of turning to the Orthodox Church. We have our issues, some serious and troubling (after all, we are humans and sinners), but at least we know to whom we are speaking when we join in worship or bow down in prayer.

  17. John Prewett says:

    We [at least I] am not talking about a follower of Christ having a personal shortcoming [sin] of some kind and then repenting. I am referring to people engaged in long time wicked behavior while deeming themselves followers of Christ and being labeled “Christian” [as if follower of Christ] by others and who never repent because they think/contend that they have done nothing wrong [sinful]. As the Inquisitors claimed their wicked work to be in the service of Christ [via Christ’s alleged ‘vicar’].

    The moral judgment of Christ is impugned when His follwers [which is what Christians are presumed to be] are accused of being engaged in wicked deeds that are in fact being carried out by people who not only are not following the word/example of Christ,….. but are behaving in ways diametricly opposed to the word/example of NT Christ. Blaming CHRISTians for executing the Inqusitions is in fact blaming CHRIST [the presumed leader of CHRISTians] for the wicked deeds of torture and murder.
    The people bombing Dresden and nuking cities were not following Christ and to label them as if they were following Christ is impugning the moral guidance of Christ. Which antiChrist are happy to routinely deliberately do.

  18. Cyril Jenkins says:

    Fr. Theodore, Christ is Risen.

    I just visited your web site, and what a wonderful place! I pray you and Dame Sophia are prospering. Are there any other religious there with you? Are you open to having more? Can you support them.

    In Christ, Cyril

  19. Dear in Christ, Cyril:

    Indeed, He is Risen!

    Yes, I will admit that this is a wonderful place! I am not sure I would not go quite so far as that Mother and I are “prospering,” in the usual sense, but the Lord has wonderfully provided what is needful and we are richly blessed with silence, ministry, and prayerful support. At the present time, it is just the two of us. The hope is that, in the future, there will be more, and we are certainly open to others coming as prospective monastics and novices. In terms of eventual tonsure/profession, that would require being, in one way or another, an “official” community, under a canonical bishop. This is the goal and is why this place was founded in the first place.

    If you have questions or comments, or would just like to talk, feel free to email me at: I would be happy to hear from you.

    With prayer for you,

    Schema-monk Theodore

  20. bob says:

    When I hear of the pagan/gnostic invocations mentioned I simply ask: why did you stay so long? That’s agreat time to leave. For Orthodox the Lord’s Prayer is something said just before communion. I have doubts about saying it with obvious non-believers. The observation about not crossing oneself is telling. You don’t belong there.

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