Fr. John Meyendorff – Infallibility of Councils?


“Not ‘ecumenicity’ , but the truthfulness of the councils makes their decisions binding for us. We are touching here on the basic mystery of Orthodox teaching on the Church: the Church is the miracle of God’s presence with men, beyond any form ‘criterion’ and any formal ‘infallibility’.  It is not sufficient to convoke an ecumenical council, so that it may proclaim the truth,  whatever historical reality may be understood in this concept of the council; what matters is the presence in the midst of those assembled also of him who said: ‘I am the Way , the Truth , and the Life’. Without this presence, the assembly, however numerous and representative it may be, is not in the truth.

“Protestants and Catholics usually have difficulty grasping this basic truth of Orthodoxy. Both Protestants and Catholics materialize God’s presence in the Church: the former in the letter of Scripture, the latter in the person of the Pope. They do not thereby evade the miracle, but give it a concrete form. The sole ‘criterion of truth’ (for Orthodoxy remains God himself, who lives mysteriously in the Church, leads her on the way of truth, and makes known his will in the wholeness (‘catholicity’) of her life. The councils — particularly the ‘ecumenical’ councils — in the course of history have been merely means of declaring the truth: for it is quite plain that the Orthodox faith is not exhaustively contained in the decisions of the seven councils, which merely established some basic truths about God and about Christ.

“The totality of the Orthodox faith remains in the Church continuously: it finds its expression in local councils (for example, in the councils of Constantinople in the fourteenth century, which defined the Orthodox doctrine of grace) and in the works of various theologians; it is likewise always and everywhere known in the Orthodox liturgy, in the sacraments and in the life of the saints. This life did not come to a standstill with the last ecumenical council (787): the truth is always and everywhere living and active in the Church. It can also be made known in a new ‘ecumenical’ council, gathering together not only the Orthodox Churches, but also the Western Christians” (What is an Ecumenical Council?, Vestnik I, 1959 (Russia); citation taken from “Infallible? An Inquiry” by Hans Kung p. 187),

3 thoughts on “Fr. John Meyendorff – Infallibility of Councils?

  1. Man, what a pile of burning trash. “Jesus’ presence” is unverifiable. So what it comes down to is democracy: any contingent unhappy with the outcome can just nix the decision of a validly convoked council on the basis “Jesus wasn’t there”, i.e. we don’t like what you decided. Baloney! Authority and infallible grace is either vested in the Bishops assembled or it is not. Jesus Christ would not leave his disciples with such a contradictory situation with which to cope.

  2. But then why call it “ecumenical” if it basically has nothing to do with actual ecumenicity? “It’s true because it’s true.”. Yeah, good luck with that…

  3. I have yet to comprehend what basis the Eastern Orthodox have for accepting Chalcedon while rejecting Ferrara-Florence. But maybe I’m just a Frankish scholastic hyper-rationalist and I shouldn’t try to peer into the mystery of how the Orthodox justify themselves. 😉

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