Interview 031—Eric Ybarra on the Challenge of Eastern Orthodoxy

Part I

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Part II

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Today we are joined by Eric Ybarra, a convert from Anglicanism to talk about the challenge presented by Eastern Orthodoxy. Eric lays out what exactly Eastern Orthodoxy is (Greek, Russian, Middle Eastern, etc.) and their many differences with the Catholic Church (contrary to popular belief, it is much more than simply the papacy and the filioque). Eric also offers us a penetrating analysis into the history of the Papacy in the first millennium and how the filioque is supported by Church Fathers.

Episode Notes

NB: Work in Progress. We will be adding reference links shortly.

3 thoughts on “Interview 031—Eric Ybarra on the Challenge of Eastern Orthodoxy

  1. Pingback: My Interview with Ryan Grant on Eastern Orthodoxy[MP3] | Credo Ut Intelligam

  2. Lee

    The Orthodox would still argue that the pope only has primacy if he professes the orthodox faith. Yes there were priests & bishops of the east affirming the primacy of Popes as St Peter’s successors , even at councils, but there’s no specific canon of the 7 ecumenical councils of the first millenia specifying the papacy’s prerogative & universal jurisdiction. But there is a canon condemning the monothelite heresy of Pope Honorius & anathematizes him & this canon was ratified by later popes, implying the papacy used to recognize the authority of councils to do such things.

    1. erickybarra2010


      Thank you for your comment. Your observation has run across the minds of most Catholics who are digging into the history to examine the evidence for the Papal claims. Allow me to respond.

      (1) “The Orthodox would still argue that the pope only has primacy if he professes the orthodox faith” – While it is possible for a Pope to err in his private capacity, Catholics believe that in very specific and narrow modes of teaching, the Pope is divinely protected from error. And this we believe in an ‘a priori’ sense, not ‘a posteriori’. You might wonder what value this has if such conditions are so narrow, let alone that it does not preclude his ability to err in modes outside of these conditions. In fact, even in his official capcity (though not ex-cathedra), it is possible for the Pope to err, and to err very badly. And in the worst of cases, it is possible to “conceive” that the Pope can teach heresy (which is more defined than simply erring) in his official capacity, possibly calling for an intervention on the part of the Church to recognize whether the person sitting in Papal office has committing an act so repugnant to the mission of the Papal office that he forfeits his office . What I might suggest is looking at the earliest of Christian controversies , namely, that of the Judaizer heresy in the Apostolic time. You might think that St. Paul, who often was bold to say that God called him through Jesus Christ in a miraculous fashion, thereby furnishing all necessary motive of credibility, would merely rely on his own judgment to bring comfort and resolution to the divisions that were building. And yet, what do we see? We see St. Paul and St. Barnabas traveling to holy Jerusalem to attend a Council over the matter. In that very Council there was debate and division, until the Apostles settled the matter and brought out an official letter which put the last nail on the coffin to the dispute. Subsequently, St. Paul, St. Barnabas, St. Silas, and St. Judas (Acts 15:30) traveled to Antioch to present the Conciliar letter to the Gentiles, and the Christians rejoiced. You see that even the Apostles had given abide to some form of condition to officiate Church decisions, and the official text of the Councli’s letter is what carried the authority of the Church. Now, any of these men could have easily trusted in their own knowledge, especially St. Paul. However, a distinctive mode of magisterium was at work and was respected, albeit narrow and perhaps technically defined.

      (2) “Yes there were priests & bishops of the east affirming the primacy of Popes as St Peter’s successors , even at councils, but there’s no specific canon of the 7 ecumenical councils of the first millenia specifying the papacy’s prerogative & universal jurisdiction.” – The first thing I would like to ask is what difference would it make if there was a canon for it or not? I ask this because in the first millennium, we have evidence that the canons and decisions of Councils rested on the final ratification of the Pope. A clear example of this would be the 28th canon of the Council of Chalcedon. Already 2/3’s of the original attendees had left, and around 200 or so bishops were left, pre-dominantly from Constantinople, and they sought to ecumenically canonize the 3rd canon of the local council of Constantinople held in 381 (which would later be reckoned with ecumenical status, so far as its Creed was concerned). In this canon, there was an attempt to elevate Constantinople over Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, and even to share in the privileges of the Roman see. These bishops wrote to Pope Leo to ratify their decisions, to which he boldly, on several occasions, refused to do so and even claimed veto power over the passing of canons by the Petrine authority vested in him (see letter #105). Through the passing of time and the exchange of letters, the very Patriarch of Constantinople, Anatolius, with the agreement of the Emperor Marcion, had written a letter of reply to Leo admitting to him that ” the whole force of confirmation of the acts was reserved for the authority of Your Blessedness.” (see letter #132), and he submitted to the Pope, which is why the earliest copies of Chalcedon’s canons do not have the 28th canon as it appeared in the Councils formation. So one could step back and remember that there might not be a specific canon which addressed the supremacy of the Pope, but it was certainly the case that the canons of Councils, the authority of which, according to the Orthodox, is supreme, were left in the hands of the Pope. And further, one might ask just why this is?

      But in fact, there does exist a canon. The Orthodox have accepted the Council of Serdica (343) as part of their universal canonical code at the Quinisext Council held in the 692 under Justinian II. In the 3rd and 4th canon of Serdica, it was resolved to make the bishop of Rome the final arbiter on episcopal trials, whether in regard to moral or doctrinal disputes in their proximate jurisdictions. A bit of background:

      The context of Serdica was the deposition/excommunications of Eastern bishops (chiefly Athanasius), and their subsequent restorations under the authority of Pope St. Julius I. The agent of excommunication was the regional synods of Tyre and Jerusalem. Athanasius, among the many Nicaean bishops who were deposed, had made it over to Rome and explained to Pope Julius his case. Julius then wrote a few letters back and forth with the Eastern bishops, represented by one named Eusebius of Nicomedia. The latter was trying to make the case that Rome had no right to unbind the conciliar decisions of bishops in the East, and that the decisions are irreformable. Julius responded and said that the sacred tradition from the Apostles leaves it open for examination, until it reaches the judgment of his see. They were not able to agree on this. Julius sent Athanasius and Co. back into the East in a “restored status” to their Sees. Obviously, this fueled fire. The two emperors agreed a Council should be held mid-way, in Serdica, modern day Bulgaria. At this synod, fresh on the grill was the intervention of Rome to reverse synodal decrees in the East. The bishops said (and I quote) “It is appropriate for the bishops of the world to appeal to their Head, the prelate of the see of Peter”, together with canon 3/4. Now, what would “Peter” have to do with binding or loosing synodal decrees? His memory would serve nothing unless there was something about Peter and the ability to re-open and/or suspend the judgments of bishops around the world. It is implied, therefore, that what is being recalled is Peter’s primacy, and specifically, his possession of the keys, by which if he opens, no one can shut.

      (3) Concerning the condemnation of Pope Honorius. At the very worst, you have here a Pope who taught heresy in a mode of teaching less than the Papal dogma specifies concerning the charism of Papal infallibility, and you have the authority of the Holy See determining that fact. I’ve already mentioned in (1) that there is a possibility to conceive of a heretical Pope, but the way in which to go about identifying this and following through is left to the magisterium, of which the Pope (even if a successor, in Honorius’ case it was Pope Agatho/Pope Leo II) would be chiefly involved. Many have argued that Pope Honorius did not commit heresy, but rather was negligent or had a great misunderstanding of the debate in the East over the conflicting wills of Christ if there were 2 wills. But in any case, nothing here is outside of the purview.

      (4) And lastly, the root of question comes from the assumption that correct doctrine pre-cedes the veracity of a certain prelate’s authority in the Church (more specifically, the Pope’s). But we know this is manifestly falsified even from the New Testament. In 1 Tim 5:19, St. Paul commands St. Timothy to not receive an accusation against a presbyteros unless there are 2 or 3 witnesses. Thus, a single witness would not suffice to take action, and yet it is still possible for the moral crime to have been committed even with the presence of one witness. And yet, this does not mean, as the Donatists would later argue, that the prelate is stripped automatically of all his priesthood. Another example of this would come in the 5th century with the investigation of Nestorius of Constantinople. St. Cyril of Alexandria wanted to remove the name of Nestorius from the holy diptycha, but waited extensively for an official condemnation from the Roman See (Pope St. Celestine I) before making such a public breach of communion with so great a church as Constantinople.

      All of this makes me wonder just when did the Eastern Orthodox utilize a Council to pronounce an official condemnation of the Papal dogmas, and if she truly did not forsake her belief in the essential Petrine primacy, as you conceded, why did the Orthodox not appoint a new vicar of st. Peter in the Roman See? Even with all the military and socio-political disadvantages never brought on even the complaint from the East for not being able to do so. This makes me wonder if the East has re-thought an entirely different idea about primacy than was already believed and taught in the 1st millennium, or whether there has been a great deal of their own evolution, or perhaps a sacrificing of what was formerly held?

      Thank you again,
      God bless
      Erick Ybarra


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