The Irreformable Creed (381) and Papal “Ex-Cathedra” acceptance of Conciliarism (553) ?


Craig Truglia responded to my response. Here is my response to his response.

Some preliminary remarks. It was said that my last response was far too much “tangential”, and not relevant to the points at issue. This is fair. I saw my article as an opportunity to add some other information, and this proved to be far too much static which distracts from the main. Therefore, I will stick to only the relevant points which deserve, and keep it as short as possible.

Irreformable Creed? 

The basic point here is that the Popes of Rome, prior to the schism of East & West, taught that the C381 Creed was irreformable, and that this rule was of the order of “faith and morals”, thereby qualifying as an infallible ex-cathedra teaching for the Roman Catholic Church. Secondly, and in consequence, since C381 is irreformable, to insert the filioque into the Creed would make for a falsification moment for the Roman Catholic teaching on the infallibility of the ex-cathedra teachings of the Pope, as well as merit the penalty of excommunication per the Councils which locked the Creed.

Does this have any merit?

First, let’s ask what is Papal Infallibility and/or Ex-Cathedra teachings?  I understand we want to stay in the 9th-century, but Craig’s “common sense” argument involves the claim that Popes Leo III and John VIII both uttered, ex-cathedra, that the Creed of Nicaea and Constantinople is irreformable on the basis of faith, and so we have to examine what Catholics mean by the Pope’s infallible teaching ministry on faith. The conditions laid down at the 1st Vatican Council state that the Pope must be (1) exercising his universal office of shepherd and teacher of all Christians, (2) by virtue of his supreme authority, with the intent to (3) define a doctrine concerning faith & morals , and this to be (4) held by the entire Church (this had been understood centuries prior as well). Now, the minutes of the Council of Aachen (809) where Franish clerics have an exchange with Pope Leo III do not fulfill those conditions, regardless if the Pope said it was not lawful to add to the Creed or not, and even if he were to claim it were a matter of faith.  Nor do the letters of John VIII fulfill these conditions, since these letters were written to Photius (and possibly a fellow Latin in the West). So conditions (1), (2) , (3), and (4) are missing in the Council of Aachen with Leo III, and conditions (1), (2), and (3) are missing from the letters of John VIII to Photius. I suppose (4) was operative in John VIII’s ratification of the Council of Constantinople (879), since that decree or horos was a proclamation to “all people with a loud voice“. But even in there, the preface to the horos appears to almost allow an exception to itself, rendering fitting to the reality of creedal development understood in the 5th-century. It reads as follows:

“Thus, having in mind and declaring all these things, we embrace with mind and tongue (τῇ διανοίᾳ καὶ γλώσσῃ) and declare to all people with a loud voice the Horos (Rule) of the most pure faith ……. adding nothing, falsifying nothing; for subtraction and addition, when no heresy is stirred up by the ingenious fabrications of the evil one, introduces disapprobation of those who are exempt from blame and inexcusable assault on the Fathers. As for the act of changing with falsified words the Horoi (Rules, Boundaries) of the Fathers is much worse that the previous one. Therefore, this holy and ecumenical Synod embracing whole-heartedly and declaring with divine desire and straightness of mind, and establishing and erecting on it the firm edifice of salvation, thus we think and loudly proclaim this message to all… [proceed to recite the C381 Creed]” (source)

Two things are being condemned here. The first item condemned is “addition” and “subtraction” when “no heresy is stirred up“. This is to commit “assault on the fathers“. Secondly, and made clearly distinct by the text, is to change the words of the Creed with “falsified words”, which is said to be “much worse than” the previous item. I would argue, therefore, that common sense was still operative in the minds of these Bishops. They most likely understood that Creeds were diversified in the beginning centuries of the Church, and that one single Creed as the universal norm for the holy orthodox faith was the product of development. I might add they also may have known that the C381 Creed was a matter of both “addition” and “subtraction“, literally, to the N325 Creed. The Latin Fathers of Toledo (589) also saw a suitable need to add filioque to the Creed,  which was then ordered by the Visigothic Kings to be said in the Creed, spreading from Spain into Gaul.

So basically, the fathers of C879 are condemning a causeless and baseless addition to the Creed of C381. Did the fathers of C879 believe the Filioque would have been either a causeless, albeit possible legitimate from a doctrinal standpoint, or “falsified” addition to the Creed? I would venture to say they would have thought both. The context is, after all, heavily induced by the work of Photius against the Frankish clergyman for their usage of Filioque in the Creed. Thus, it can be certain that Filioque, even though not explicitly mentioned, is united into the ban of the horos by mind, will, and intention.

With that said, it is not technically settled whether the Filioque is a “falsification” or just a baseless addition in the decree itself. The lack of this latter specification therefore renders question of whether the Filioque is one or the other unsettled by the Council. They may have all thought Filioque was heretical, but by refraining from inserting this explicitly into the decree, and choosing rather to make a broad prohibition, they left that precise question open.

Whenever the Church wishes to confront a heresy with anathema, she carefully investigates into the particulars of the doctrine, its adherents, and formally makes a judgment condemning both. Why did the fathers of C879 refrain? We cannot know for certain, but I’d imagine it was because Photius knew the Latins, and, in particular, the Romans, believed the Filioque was a legitimate doctrine. In fact, Leo III “approved the doctrine implied by the proposed definition, but disapproved alterations in the creed” (Oxford Dictionary of Popes, JND Kelly, pg. 98).

Moreover, something should be said about this idea that forbidding “addition” and “subtraction” is a matter of “faith and morals“. This, in my opinion, is a category confusion. The “faith and morals” of the Church is identical to the content handed by our Lord to the holy Apostles and deposited into the Church of God for all time. This reality precedes creedal formulae, not just by at least a handful of decades, but also in ontological kind. This is otherwise known as the “Apostolic Deposit“, (depositum fidei apostolicae). Amidst the efforts of early Christians to create creeds, one of the most famous is the Apostles’ Creed. However, as research has shown, the linguistic diversities of this show that accidental additions or subtractions did not constitute a violation of “faith and morals”. In fact, all Nicene-Christians would be forced to admit that not even purposeful additions or subtractions would have been a violation of faith and morals, since the Creed of N325 was a large expansion of earlier creeds. Undoubtedly, this pertains to the Creed of C381 as well. Not to mention, of course, the creeds which we find in the West during the early middle ages (c.f. Athanasian Creed, Toledonian Creed, etc,etc). The meaning, intention, and logic of producing these creeds is to draw up a formula which will safeguard the Church’s faith, usually on a particular hot-button doctrine. For starters, creeds emphasized the real humanity of our Lord and the resurrection of the flesh. At the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople, the focus was on the consubstantiality of the Son and Holy Spirit with the Father, both thereby deserving of the worship owed to almighty God. And so, at times, additions or subtractions, or even a fresh creed was never thought to be, in essence, a confrontation against the faith and morals of the Church. I think that would be an absurd argument. For instance, though the East in the 9th-century and going forward would be heavily Monopatristic, being influenced so much by Photius, the greater Byzantine minds of the 2nd-millennium would eventually attend to the precise relationship that the Spirit has to the Son, as both Greek and Latin fathers teach that the Spirit comes “from the Son” in some sense. The anti-unionist theologians of the East, such as Gregory II of Cyprus, while decrying the Latin double-procession, would go ahead to teach that the Holy Spirit eternally shines from and through the Son (c.f. Council of Blacharnae 1285). This would also get picked up by Gregory Palamas in the 14th century. Would it thereby be considered a violation of the Church’s faith and morals, i.e. the Apostolic Deposit of Faith, if the Byzantines were to have added something in the Creed about the Spirit’s eternal shining forth from and through the Son? I cannot imagine how someone would wish to argue this.

Another note on this matter of Leo III and John VIII supposedly teaching on faith and morals. To repeat, this is the aim of Truglia in his argument. He either claims Leo III and John VIII teach, ex cathedra, that adding filioque to the creed would be a violation of faith and morals, or he desires to show that the strict conditions for Papal infallibility in matters of faith and morals are so impractical and too lawyer-esque, pre-doctored up as a way to avoid the obvious contradictions, that it would warrant rejection out-of-hand by any unbiased and reasonable thinker. Responding to this latter point would take up a fresh article. but suffice it to say, for now, that it would stand to reason that the Pope’s teaching is only protected from error when the whole Church is sensitive to being overcome with the poisonous venom of heresy. It would be under that condition, with some others, that ex-cathedra Papal teaching would be preserved from error. And since it is proper to the Pope to be able to teach the universal Church in such a way as to bind the conscience of all, it would be then, and not in other conditions, where he is preserved from any and all errors. This is no different than saying that the Apostles had the capacity to teach infallible doctrine which invited no dissent or objection (c.f. Rom 1:5), and yet we also know that St. Peter himself was caught in a mistake which hurt the Church’s witness on faith (Gal 2). It is also quite possible that even St. James in Jerusalem, or those under him, were espousing the necessity of circumcision for Gentiles in order for them to be saved. This would be a sphere of fallible teaching. But when the apostles met with the elders, they issued a decree which , they did not invite any dissent or disagreement. All this to say that every Christian who holds up even just the Bible can admit that there are fallible conditions versus infallible conditions.

I would think therefore that the more compelling objection from the East, on this score, would be that the Latin West should have awaited an Ecumenical Council to be the venue where creedal additions and subtractions could take place.

All in all, John VIII’s ratification of this Synod would only take us to the point of saying that the Creed of C381 is locked away from baseless and causeless additions or subtractions, as well as heretical insertions, and that to be observed by the universal Church. Now interestingly enough, the Eastern Churches did not add this Council to the list of Ecumenical Councils. To this very day, despite the popular acceptance of it and push to so deem it, it has not been considered the 8th Ecumenical Council by the “whole” Eastern Orthodox society. What is even more interesting is that when the post-Schism debates between East and West sprung on this issue of the Filioquist-Creed, the Greeks would appeal to the 7th Canon of Ephesus in order to show the criminal nature of what the Latin West had done with the insertion of the Filioque, which forbade additions or changes to the creed as formed at Nicaea in 325. There are some obvious problems with this, but, for now, I will just say that everyone eventually knew about the creed of 381 finding its way into legitimacy on the basis that it was not a “different faith”, however many subtractions or additions were made to it. Many careful scholars throughout the middle ages notated this strangely forgotten fact.

Vigilius and Conciliarism

Once again, Truglia thinks that Vigilius’s letter to the Patriarch Eutychius, which was later appended to the proceedings of the 8th and final session 6+ months after the Council had already been concluded, constitutes an ex-cathedra teaching in support of Conciliarism.  Truglia then argues that the Sentence of the 5th-Council contradicts the dogma of Vatican I. He writes:

“‘Nor is there any other way in which the truth can be made manifest’ other than conciliar decision making. This appears to contradict the Roman position that “definitions of the Roman Pontiff are irreformable of their own nature (ex sese) and not by reason of the Church’s consent.” Again, I’m appealing to common sense here, not lawyer double-speak which can be argued as “technically true” though it obviously does not conform to reality.”

I’ve written on how the statements in the Sentence on the Conciliar nature of the Church can be reconciled with the doctrine of Vatican I (See here). So whether Vigilius confirmed that portion or not is  not a contradiction to Catholic faith. Moreover, it should be noted that not everything said in an Ecumenical Council is intended to be formal doctrine defined as infallible, let alone constitute an ex-cathedra decree.

<tangent warning> If Truglia was to take this point of view, then what must we say of the 6th Council’s acceptance of Pope St. Agatho’s letter which taught Papal infallibility? What then of the acceptance of Pope Hadrian I’s letter to Empress Irene and Emperor Constantine at the 7th Council? If the Orthodox accepted the Council of Constantinople (879) as Ecumenical, we would be able to ask how the letters of Pope John VIII on the Papal supremacy through Peter’s succession were accepted at that Council.

The most clearest example of this is the 6th-Council’s Synodal letter (that is, in the name of the Council) to Pope St. Agatho in response to his letter . It reads:

The holy and universal council, which through the grace of God and the pious command of the most pious and most faithful and great emperor Constantinus, was congregated in this God-preserved and royal Constantinople, the new Rome, in the secretarius of the palace called Trullus, to the most holy and most blessed pope of older Rome, Agatho, greetings in the Lord…..The greatest sicknesses require greater antidotes, as you know, most blessed [one]: and thus Christ our true God, truly the mighty founder and governor of all things, hath given a wise physician, [namely] your God-honored holiness, who repulse boldly with the remedies of orthodoxy the contagions of heretical pestilence, and lavish healthful vigor upon the members of the Church. And so to you, as the bishop of the first see of the universal church, we leave what is to be done, you who gladly stand firm upon the firm rock of faith, the letters of true confession sent by your fatherly beatitude to the most pious emperor having been read: which letters we recognize to be divinely written from the supreme head of the apostles [summo apostolorum vertice], through which [letters] we have driven out the recently arisen heretical sect of manifold error… (Council to Agatho; translation taken from Timothy Gerard Aloysius Wilson)

Not only is the Council saying that the Pope’s letter was the “greater antidote” , but it also says that the whole matter was left to the Pope to decide. Is the 6th-Council contradicting the 5th? Not at all. These things work in harmony, as the article I linked above reconciling the statement of the 5th-Council to the 1st Vatican Council. But in any case, I am curious to know what the 6th-council’s statement of Agatho’s letter entails.

In addition to all of this, the Orthodox like to refer to the heroic faith of Mark of Ephesus at the Council of Florence as the carrier of orthodoxy preventing the Orthodox from falling into heresy en toto. It would appear, therefore, that the rule of conciliarity and consensus which the Bishops at the 5th Council said was supposedly indispensible is dispensible in some cases.


In conclusion, neither the statements of Leo III or John VIII, nor the latter’s supposed ratification of the horos of Constantinople 879, successfully disprove Papal infallibility, nor does it succeed in making a “common sense” argument against it. If the Papal supremacy doctrine is true, then that is what factors in on this question of whether the Church’s creed can be added to. If the Pope is not supreme in doctrinal jurisdiction for the whole Church, then the Orthodox might deserve a more keen ear in their apologetic. But that has to be demonstrated first. And lastly, the “Sentence of the Synod” of Constantinople (553), whose content only contains authoritative doctrine where it specifies concerning the Three Chapters and the Christological question at issue, has many statements which are reconciliable with the 1st Vatican Council’s dogma on Papal infallibility. None of this amounts to a clear cut falsification, nor does it constitute a reasonable “common sense” argument against Catholic faith.

A good “common sense” argument against the Catholic teaching on the Papacy is the willingness of so many Bishops willing to sever communion with the lawfully sitting Pope. There are plenty of good ones. Catholics have always had good arguments in return.

I can share what I do think are  “common sense” arguments against the Orthodox faith (given with all due respect), and which will not be disputed by my interlocutor. The East of the first 10 centuries had been riddled with heresy and division. That much is admitted by most scholars of Church History. It is also admitted by most Orthodox historians that the Apostolic See of Rome was orthodox for the first ten centuries of the Church. If this is true, then today’s Eastern Orthodox Church must claim to be the spiritual and ecclesial successor of Rome’s doctrine in the first ten centuries. However, as Truglia has admitted many times before, the Popes of Rome during the first 10 centuries were all heretics, at least materially, since they all were Papal supremacists. Therefore, the modern Orthodox Church, which has a fundamentally opposite teaching on ecclesiastical primacy than any of her Sainted Popes of Rome in the first millennium, has to absorb this manifest rupture in belief between the supposedly orthodox Roman See of the first millennium with that of her teachings today (which, admittedly, do not cohere in unanimity). So how can the elder Rome of the first millennium be the yard-stick rule of orthodoxy for the first ten centuries, but at the same time be the source of the heresy of Papalism, which Catholic converts to the Orthodox Church are traditionally required to renounce?

Add to this, even the Orthodox want to say Rome’s heretical (i.e. informal?) papalism of the 1st millennium were merely “theologoumenon” (theological opinion), then they would still have to absorb the fact that the Roman See, and all who stayed in communion with her throughout the 1st millennium, were still infected with heresy of some sort, thereby completely obliterating the concept of an infallible Church altogether. This would mean there is no episcopal church which is providentially guided into all truth and which cannot contain any error in its teaching ministry, effectively rolling the red carpet for Luther and company.

Moreover, the Orthodox admit that elder Rome of the first millennium was the “First” or “Primate” of the universal Church in some sense. Well, if as Truglia admits, the Popes of Rome from at least the 2nd century, were heretical-Papalists, that would mean that the Lord providentially worked it out so that the duly ordained Primate of Christendom was misled on something so basic as to the nature of his leadership position, and that for ten centuries. How likely is that?  Another “common sense” argument against Orthodoxy, and in particular Truglia’s view of Conciliar authority, is that she does not even claim to believe Councils are authoritative enough to determine their own binding nature. This is popularly understood as the “Receptionist” view of Councils. This basically says that a Council’s decrees, as ratified by the bishops of the Church, are enrolled into a process of discernment where the Church holds them in her hand, and then, over time, determines whether it will stick or not stick, i.e. whether it is orthodox or heterodox. The obvious problem here is that it devolves into a subjective criteria for content which is supposed to produce an objective standard of orthodox doctrine. How’s that? Because who is the one who, post de facto, determines whether the Council is authentic and orthodox or not? It is persons who live after the fact, and who form one opinion versus other groups who have a different opinion (iconclasts versus iconodules). An example would be the Miaphysites who rejected Chalcedon, while Rome and those following her chose Chalcedon. The Receptionist view would discriminate on who is right, based on considerations which are not objective, but subjective. And yet, how can an objective standard of doctrine be produced from this? The simple answer is that it cannot. One last “common sense” argument against Orthodoxy is that many Orthodox scholars today are recognizing a high Papalist position for elder Rome in the first millennium. They might even say this Petrine supremacy was founded by the Lord in blessed Peter, and inherited by his successors in the Roman See. Granted, this is a minority position. They would say that this was true insofar as the Pope was orthodox, but as soon as he violates orthodoxy, then he abrogates his role. This amounts to saying that Christ our God founded something as a matter of divine law in the Church, only for it to wither away by some time after the Church begins her mission. This would then throw the Orthodox Church into a state of paralysis as to how to produce authoritative statements binding on the whole Church since the time of the schism. For what is the Orthodox Church going to do without its divinely appointed Head? Some point to the Palamite Councils as proof. Well, what about the Council of Jerusalem (1672)? What about the Council of Crete (2016)? These questions are debated unto this day. In my opinion, the most consistent ecclesiology for the Orthodox is that of Archbishop Hilarion of Moscow, who believes that, coming out of the Apostles, there is nothing but equal Apostles and therefore equal Bishops, distinguished in moral honor or canonical administration. In other words, there is no need for an administrative universal Head. Orthodoxy’s success just happens by an unexplained appeal to the pure mystery of providence. But then, how does this reconcile with the view of the Primus of Christendom’s first 10 centuries? Who knows. Many more “common sense” arguments can be made, but this should suffice for now.


4 thoughts on “The Irreformable Creed (381) and Papal “Ex-Cathedra” acceptance of Conciliarism (553) ?

  1. Lots to read looking forward to it!

    A few paragraphs in you mention an Easterner criticizing a double procession (presumably the filioque). But the filioque is not spoken of as a double procession but a single procession from the Father and the Son, as from a single principle. Not sure if some were trying to use the filioque to argue for a double procession but it surely is not how the Roman Church understood it. Pretty sure St. Augustine also taught the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and Son as from a single principle too in his On the Trinity.

  2. Pingback: Another Reply to Ybarra About the Creed and Conciliarism – Orthodox Christian Theology

  3. Have you any thoughts on Craig’s reply to this? Specifically it seems that he’s correct in pointing out that the popes (John VIII and Leo III) believed that the irreformability of the creed was a matter of faith and morals, and that they were bound by the canons of the Church.

    • That’s what is defined in the Definition of Chalcedon. The creeds are not accepted as successive revisions, but pluralistically and simultaneously as perfect and complete.

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