INTERPRETATION OF THE CANON

INTERPRETATION OF THE CANON

1.Ecclesiological and canonical presuppositions

IN ORDER to understand the manner in which our writers view the Canon in question, we must stay with their presuppositions which are the fruit of the spiritual level of the time, on the hand, and of their theology, on the other. The theological thought of these theologians moves within the framework of the following ecclesiological and canonical presuppositions:

a) The absolute center around which their theological conscience is formed is Eph. 4:5: “One Lord, one faith, one baptism,” and, consequently, One Church, within which alone are the sacraments valid and redemptive. This Church is the Orthodox Church, their Church.21 In other words, they clearly follow the ecclesiology of St. Cyprian of Carchedon-Carthage,22 which, moreover, the entire Orthodox East followed as a rule,23 in contrast with the West which, here too, followed Augustine.

b) The Apostolic Canons (XLVI, XLVII, L, and LXVIII) which definitively regulate the sacrament of baptism have preeminent and indisputable authority. These theologians do not simply accept that the Apostolic Canons belong to the Church, but also that they are genuinely Apostolic,24 from which authenticity proceeds their increased authority in the Church. Thus, these Canons are always listed before every other group of Canons, given that both the Canons of the Councils (Ecumenical and Local) as well as those of the holy Fathers are in agreement with them,25 being as they are of fundamental importance for the life of the Church. As regards baptism, according to our writers, the decision of the Council presided over by Cyprian in 258 was based on the aforementioned Apostolic Canons. And this decision gained Ecumenical authority by its “ratification” by Canon II of the Penthekte Council.26 Therefore, there can be no decision of the Church opposed to the Apostolic Canons, the Canon of St. Cyprian, or even those of St. Basil the Great (I and XLVII), which, by virtue of Canon II of Penthekte, have also acquired Ecumenical authority,27

c) More specifically with regard to the sacrament of baptism, in accordance with Eph. 4:5 and the Creed, there exists one and only one baptism, the baptism of the One Church, i.e. the Orthodox Church.28 This one is a “baptism” properly speaking, performed by three immersions and emersions, inasmuch as the term βάπτισμα can mean only this.29 Baptism by trine immersion is “taught by God” and “God-given”;30 this is confirmed by the Apostolic, synodal and patristic Canons.31 It is in “this baptism that we believe,” remarks Oikonomos, “and this is the only one baptism that we confess, never to be repeated.”32

d) Heretics of every kind as defined by St. Basil (Canon I), whom our theologians follow in this point also,33 are outside the Church, and consequently their “baptism” is wholly without substance, i.e. “pseudo-baptism” and “not true,”34 since it is performed outside the Church.35 Hence, even in the event that it is performed by three immersions, i.e. in accordance with the correct form of the Church’s baptism, it can in no way be considered “illumination,” being as it is in essence “pollution.”36  Heretics cannot possibly have baptism, for they are unsound as regards the faith,37 and thus “the baptism which they administer is of no benefit to them, since it lacks the correct faith.”38  According to Neophytos, the faith of the heretics “is anathematized, whereas ours is blessed. Nor is our baptism and theirs one and the same.”39 Therefore, as St. Nikodemos observes, even if the invocation of the Holy Trinity and the baptismal rite are done correctly by heretics, “those super-diving names remain inactive and ineffective when pronounced by the mouths of heretics.”40

Moreover, heretics cannot possibly have baptism, for they do not have priesthood. Priesthood and baptism are bound together,41 and “it is wholly necessary to accept either both or neither.”42 Heretical baptism “is not capable of providing remission of sins,”43 and therefore all heretics coming over to the Church must necessarily be baptized.44 It is clear that these views are founded on St. Cyprian’s Canon and Canon XLVII of St. Basil,45  which, according to the Kollyvades, marked the way of acrivia,46 according to which there is no room for discussion concerning, validity of heretical sacraments in themselves.

e) The altering of the “God-given” form of the Church’s one baptism, “without urgent necessity,”47 constitutes “an uncondonable breach of Apostolic tradition,”48 and “an odious and abominable act.”49 According to Neophytos, baptism is “homologous to the dogmas,”50 and “trine immersion” is itself also a “dogma.”51 Baptism is not a mere “ecclesiastical usage” that can be “considered on the basis of custom and tradition, but belongs to the faith itself.”52 Hence, to distinguish the confession from the form of the baptism is not allowed. To the question, “which is more important and essential, the external mode, or the faith?” Oikonomos responds: “both.”53 And he quotes St. Basil, according to whom “faith and baptism are two modes that are mutually inherent and undivided; for faith is perfected through baptism, while baptism is founded through faith.”54 The correct confession on faith must be accompanied by “perfect” baptism, for only this baptism “in return perfects the faith,” according to Oikonomos.55

f) That trine immersion is requisite for the foundation of the sacrament befits its dogmatic nature. By the trine immersion, “we confess the dogma of the divinely sovereign Trinity pronounced in the invocations”; and not only this, but also “the dogma of the dispensation of Christ our God and Savior,” inasmuch as the three immersions and emersions “symbolically typify His death and burial, and His resurrection on the third day.”56 According to St. Nikodemos, it is not a matter of mere symbolism, but of reality, for “the person effects the Lord’s death in himself. That is, the person who is baptized dies and is buried with Christ in the baptismal water” (cf. Rom. 6:9). Without the three immersions, it is “impossible for there to be in us the likeness of Christ’s death and three- day burial.” Yet, the Orthodox baptism at the same time typifies “the descent into Hades of the Lord’s soul.” Hence, “through the typification of Christ’s burial,” the body of the baptized person is fashioned by God; whereas “through the typification of the descent into Hades,” his soul is deified. In this manner St. Nikodemos sums up the relevant patristic teaching.57 

These presuppositions aid us in correctly assessing the theological standpoint of the Kollyvades, and of C. Oikonomos who was of one mind with them, regarding Canon VII of the Second Ecumenical Council, and in general the manner of receiving both earlier and later heretics.

  1. Authenticity of the Canon

In the seventeenth century, the English canonist G. Beveridge (Beveregius) raised the question of the authenticity of Canon VII of The Second Ecumenical Council,58 when he demonstrated that it does not belong to the work of the Council because of its being a text of the fifth century.59 Of course, for the Orthodox Church, the proving of this Canon’s inauthenticity60 in no way diminishes its authority (which was never disputed on Orthodox soil), inasmuch as its contents were repeated verbatim by Canon XCV of Penthekte, and hence it acquired Ecumenical an eternal authority.61

Only one of our theologians,62 namely Neophytos Kafsokalyvitis, deals with the issue of the Canon’s authenticity. He rejects it, something rather bold for the Greek-speaking world of the eighteenth century.63  His argument, which fills many pages of his unpublished work, is based on the Western sources of his time.64 It encompasses not only Canon VII of the Second Ecumenical Council, but also Canon XCV of Penthekte, which is “consonant with and the equivalent of Canon VII of the Second Council.”65  Neophytos considers both to be “not from a Council,” but “from the epistle” to Martyrios of Antioch,66 and consequently “interpolated,”67 and clearly in opposition to the Apostolic Canons and those of St. Basil which were ratified by Penthekte.68 Neophytos does not determine precisely when the interpolation of these Canons into the work of the two Ecumenical Councils occurred.69 However, according to him, it is not certain that Penthekte did it.70 In any event, it must have occurred before Photios and the monk Arsenios, who list both of the above-mentioned Canons together with the rest of the Canons of these Councils.71 But this again does not substantiate their authenticity, for there exists evidence of the opposite in earlier writers who, by virtue of their antiquity, posses greater credibility.72  So, Neophytos judges that Canon VII of the Second Council (together with Canon XCV of Penthekte) should be rejected, especially in order to escape the charges against the Orthodox Church by the “Lutherocalvinists.”73

According to Neophytos, acceptance of the inauthenticity of these two Canons with good reason also weakens their authority, which otherwise constitutes a real cross for the Athonite monk who accepts the absoluteness and immovableness of the Cyprianic principle, according to which heretical baptism is without substance, never and nowise capable of being accepted by the Orthodox Church. Yet a reasonable explanation needed to be given for the evidence of the origin of the present Canon, as well as for the reason it was listed among the Canons of the Second Ecumenical Council. In this respect, Neophytos develops the following argument:

The “ownerless”74 epistle of the Church of Constantinople to Martyrios of Antioch which contains Canon VII of the Second Ecumenical Council exactly, “which one parenthesis,”75 does not refer to the Church’s generally prevailing procedure, but rather “cites the Constantinopolitan custom.” It is, consequently, of a local and not catholic, Ecumenical character. Besides – as he logically observes – had such a rule for the reception of converting heretics been imposed by virtue of Canon VII of the Second Ecumenical Council and hence been in usage by the Church at large; it would have been known to him who posed the question, and hence he would not have needed to seek the opinion of the Patriarch of Constantinople.76 Therefore, that which is described in the epistle is just a “custom” of the Constantinopolitan Church which cannot assume catholic force and an obligatory character;77 for “the city’s prestige” cannot impose a mere local practice on the entire Church. He does accept that this practice had in fact prevailed in Constantinople from the time of the Arian controversy (4th cen.), due to the problem of the returning “converts to Arianism”78 (i.e. baptized Orthodox Christians who converted to Arianism and then returned to Orthodoxy), whom the Church rightly did not rebaptize, but only chrismated. With the passage of time, however, the distinction between “Arians and converts to Arianism” became obscure. Hence the procedure followed in the case of the latter was applied also to the Arians, according to Neophytos, uncanonically.79

This explains why, on the one hand, this practice is “partly at variance with the Canons,” and on the other hand, “contradicts itself.”80 The first arises from this Canon’s opposition to Canon II of Penthekte, which “nowhere appears reversely to repeat anything it ratified.”81 The second materializes from the fact that the Canon accepts “the baptism of the Arians and Macedonians, but not their ordination,” contrary to Apostolic Canon XLVII, also ratified by Penthekte.82 It follows, therefore, that there is no justification for the claim that “the Sixth Council subsequently canonized the hitherto uncanonized prevailing Constantinopolitan practice concerning heretics,” for in such a case the Council would have been contradicting itself.83

Since it was impossible to harmonize this Canon with the Apostolic Canons, Neophytos goes one step further and disputes the authority of this epistle, and thus even further weakens the creditability of the two above-mentioned Canons deriving therefrom. Thus, he considers that the epistle was written not by Patriarch Gennadios I (458-471), as it is accepted, but by Akakios (471-479), “of the heresy of the Acephaloi.”84 Basing his argument on the phrase in the epistle, “…of which (i.e. the catholic Church) Your Beatitude is the president and head,” Neophytos remarks: “It [the epistle] can in no way be patriarchal, for it calls the bishop of Antioch the head of the catholic Church of Christ,” something which is “improper and impious,” for there is but one head of the Church, Christ!85

In light of the above, Neophytos’ conclusion is easily understood. The two Canons in question cannot be considered synodal,86 but “spurious and false.”87 Then, rejoicing that he was able to remove the scandalous contradiction of Penthekte, he exclaims: “And glory to our holy God worshipped in Trinity, who showed to disciples what evaded the wise and teachers.”88 Thus, the manner of receiving heretics must be defined on the basis of the following Canons especially written for this: XLVII and LXVIII Apostolic; VIII and XIX of the First Ecumenical Council; VII and VIII of Laodicae; I of Carchedon-Carthage; and I and XLVII of St. Basil; all of which posses the required Ecumenical authority, for “they were ratified” by Canons I of the Fourth, II of Penthekte, and I and XI of the Seventh Ecumenical Councils.89

Be that as it may, Neophytos closes his critique on the authenticity of Canon VII of the Second Ecumenical Council with a statement, obviously added later, which shows, among other things, his sincerity and objectivity. He writes that, “sufficient time having elapsed since the matters pertaining to the aforementioned two Canons were examined from the compendiums of Canons,” he noticed in the fourth act of the Seventh Ecumenical Council that the Fathers of that Council read Canon LXXXII (should read CII) of the Sixth (Penthekte) Council from the original Acts of the Council. In the sixth act it expressly says that the Sixth Ecumenical Council “issued Canons…reaching in number one hundred and two,” which also agrees with the testimony of Photios. Thus, Neophytos is forced to admit: “Hence, the things pertaining to Canon VII of the Second Ecumenical Council, which we heretofore conjecturally examined from the ancient [compendiums], now indeed appear to be obviously repudiated on the grounds of Canon XCV of the Sixth Council.” Yet, he again ascertains that the contradiction, according to him, of Penthekte is not resolved. For, since the Seventh Ecumenical Council endorses Canon XCV of Penthekte, “it remains for someone to examine and devise another solution as regards this Canon’s apparent partial disaccord with both the Apostolic Canons and Canon I of St. Basil which the Sixth and Seventh Councils ratified.”90  The above contradiction continues to hold, for the Arians are, on the basis of the Apostolic Canons and according to St. Basil, considered as being in need of baptism, while by Canon E, p. 147 of Penthekte as needing Chrismation only, even though according to the Seventh Council (act vi, tome ii) they are not merely heretics, but “the same as pagans.”

Neophytos does not continue. He cannot continue! The question remains for him unsolved. Of course, this is easy to explain, for Neophytos did not tolerate the exercise of economia towards heretics. As will appear below, the principle of economia removes what Neophytos considers a contradiction, and demonstrates the unity of the holy Canons of the Orthodox Church.

Of course, in confronting those whose position regarding the manner of receiving later heretics was based upon these two Canons, Neophytos, loyal to his Church’s tradition, does use Canon VII of the Second Ecumenical Council,91 putting aside the problem of its authenticity. In most cases, however, he uses it in conjunction with Canon XCV of Penthekte, and indeed in the form: “the Sixth Council together with the Second,”92 or “the Second and Sixth.”93  This shows that the authenticity of Canon VII of the Second Ecumenical Council depended on Canon XCV of Penthekte, and that without a doubt it remained diminished in his conscience because of the lack of authenticity, and also because of the problems it created, as we shall see further on.

  1. Interpretation of the Canon

According to our writers, Canon VII of the Second Ecumenical Council provides an immediate solution to the question, “How should heretics who come over to Orthodoxy be received?”94  The canonical frame of reference within which this Canon can be correctly interpreted is established by the following Canons: XLVI, XLVII, L, and LXVIII Apostolic; I of Carchedon-Carthage (3rd cen.); VII and VII of Laodicae; VIII and XIX of the First Ecumenical Council; I, V, XX, and XLVII of st. Basil; XCV of Penthekte; and LVII and LXXX of Carthage (5th cen.).95 Moreover, this Canon should be examined in conjunction with Canon XCV of Penthekte, which “is nothing else but a reiteration of it.”96

This Canon, however, presents many difficulties in its interpretation. For, taken literally, it is clearly contrary to the practice of the Church canonically formulated through St. Cyprian and other Fathers (e.g. St. Basil).97 And, as we have seen, our theologians accept that practice as deriving from the early Church and as being in agreement with the Apostolic Canons, and therefore as the only canonical and inviolable practice. Thus, with good reason St. Nikodemos poses the question: Why did the Second Ecumenical Council “not reject the baptism of all heretics, in accordance with the Apostolic Canons and the Council presided over by st. Cyprian, and all the rest of the great and God-bearing Fathers…, but accepted the baptism of some heretics while not that of others?”98  The classification of heretics into those who are in need of baptism and those who are not is the core of the problem created by this Canon. To begin with, this classifying is considered by our writers “completely reprobate,” on the basis of the Canons of St. Cyprian and St. Basil. It has already been said above that according to them, heretics of any kind are outside the Church and do not even have baptism, and therefore without any exception are in need of baptism.99 The problem becomes even more acute, for the Second Ecumenical Council appeared tolerant and accommodating towards the “more impious” among the heretics of that time, namely the Arians and Macedonians, “who reject the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and “who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit.”100  Thus at first sight, there seems to be disagreement between the holy Councils and the patristic Canons, for two Ecumenical Councils (the Second by its Canon VII, and Penthekte by its Canon XCV) come into conflict not only with the above-mentioned Fathers, but also with the Apostolic Canons (e.g. XLVI), which Penthekte – and through it the catholic Church – ratified notwithstanding, and which, according to St. Nikodemos, “command the opposite.”101  This, then, is the problem created by these Canons.

In the effort to remove this disaccord, some canonists have held the view that Ecumenical Councils may review or rescind the canonical decisions of the Fathers, for “it is unheard of that one [Father] be preferred over an Ecumenical or Local Council.”102 The ratification of the Canons of the holy Fathers by Ecumenical Councils does not, according to this view, also indicate the affirmation of any contradiction that might consequently arise; for, quite simply, the Councils prevail, according to the well-known principle: “the inferior is blessed by the superior” (Heb. 7:7). Thus the Councils prevail, in a way setting in disuse the Canons formulated prior to them. Moreover, even Zonaras himself, in confronting the “antitheis” of Canon VII of the Second Ecumenical Council and the Canon of Carchedon-Carthage, which is essentially the Canon of St. Cyprian, writes: “In this chapter, the two Councils introduce opposites. The decisions of the Second Council prevail, because it is later and because it is Ecumenical; moreover, thereat together present were the patriarchs themselves or their vicars from all the patriarchal sees.”103

Our theologians, however, living the Church’s tradition and knowing from immediate experience the place of the holy Fathers in her life, are not satisfied with this answer. They do not admit even the slightest discrepancy between Fathers and Councils.104 The authority of the holy Fathers is panegyrically accepted by all of our writers. But of greater interest is the extensive analysis on this point too by Neophytos Kafsokalyvitis.105

According to Neophytos, the Councils – and in this case the Second and Penthekte Ecumenical Councils – do not annul the holy Fathers, whose authority is especially apparent in these very (Ecumenical) Councils, “the theology and decisions of which cannot be understood without the theological input of the Fathers and Doctors.”106 He offers characteristic examples: The divine Chrysostom “was given precedence” over the Council of Neocaesaria in Canon XVI of Penthekte, and Gregory the Theologian in Canon LXIV of the same Council. “Likewise, the Seventh Council, having cited Basil the Great as witness of what it defined in Canons XVI, XIX, and XX, admittedly gave him precedence over itself…”107 St. Basil’s authority especially is recognized at all “the Ecumenical Councils after him.”108 Neophytos thus concludes: “We say that the Ecumenical doctors have precedence over Ecumenical Councils not so as to refute what these Councils bade – God forbid, for they sided with the Councils – but rather to show how much they were revered by the Councils. …Indeed the Ecumenical Councils rely on the holy and wise Fathers.”109

Neophytos’ conclusion is that the Second Ecumenical Council in no way ignored or set aside the holy Fathers prior to it (Cyprian, Athanasios, Basil, Gregory the  Theologian, etc.), “who call heretical baptism a pollution,” and who particularly reject Arian baptism as being “reprobate.”110 This is even more so true with Penthekte, which cannot at the same time “ratify” and rescind the Canon of Carchedon-Carthage and thus contradict itself. For although “the Second Council in its Canon VII passed over [the Canon of Carchedon-Carthage] and limited it to the locality where it was in force, yet the Sixth Council in its Canon II ratified it, and thus admittedly rendered it Ecumenical.”111 So, if Canons VII of the Second Ecumenical and XCV of the Penthekte appear to attach a local character to the Canon of Cyprian’s Council, in any event Canon II of Penthekte gave it Ecumenical authority. For, “local and particular [Canons], when ratified by the catholic [Church], also became catholic”112 no distinction of importance among the sacred Canons of the Church is allowed.113

Since, then, it is impossible for an Ecumenical Council to annul itself, there remains for Neophytos to justified question: “I cease not to inquire,” he says, “for what reason the Sixth Council (and consequently also the Second) ever accepted the inefficacious and totally unacceptable and, according to Apostolic Canon XLVI, rejected rites of those who for heresy were both synodically unfrocked and publicly banished from the Church and anathematized (i.e. Arians and Macedonians).”114 He continues: “Moreover, I am still puzzled, and I think that so are all canonists. Let him who in the Lord is able to do so resolve the question and demonstrate the agreement of the Ecumenical Councils with the Apostolic Canons and those of St. Basil that they ratified…”115 there must be, therefore, another explanation regarding the manner of action of these two Ecumenical Councils, in spite of the fact that especially Penthekte “ratifies” Canons which otherwise it appears to “annul.”116

Our theologians do not leave the question unsolved. Although their answers preserve the individual character of each and thus differ on secondary points, yet they reach the same conclusions in consequence of their oneness of mind.

The position of the Second Ecumenical Council towards the Arians and Macedonians can be explained, according to St. Nikodemos, if we take into consideration that the Church “has two modes of governing and correcting,” namely, acrivia =  precision or rigorism, and economia = concession or dispensation. Whereas “the Apostles” and the earlier Councils and Fathers applied acrivia,117 the two Ecumenical Councils accepted economia.118 So, this alternation of acrivia and economia under certain defined conditions removes any hint of contradiction among the holy Canons and the Councils. According to this saint, the Second Ecumenical Council “kept the Canon partially,”119 acting “in accordance with economia and concession.”120 Economia, being a fruit of the Church’s pastoral and remedial ministry, was exercised for provisional-historical reasons. The heretics in question were many in number and politically strong.121 Hence the synodal Fathers showed leniency, “in order to attract them to Orthodoxy and to correct them more easily,” and “so that it might not happen that they further infuriate them against the Church and the Christians, and the evil thus become worse.”122 The exercise of economia, therefore, was not arbitrary, but justified, having in view the salvation of the heretics and the peace of the Church.

According to Neophytos, himself unable to deviate from Cyprian’s principle regarding the invalidity of heretical sacraments, “this economia in general…which even prior to the Second Council was prevalent in lieu of a Canon, accepted the rites of the Arians just as it did those of the schismatics, as one can surmise from the Second Council.”123  However, there was, according to him, an important reason which made economia not only possible, but also necessary.  Both the Sixth and the Second Ecumenical Councils speak about “those heretics who originally came from us.”124 That is, when those of the Orthodox who had become Arians returned again, they were not baptized.125 On the other hand, “those who had become Arians, but who had not previously been Orthodox, and who had not previously undergone Orthodox baptism, but only that of the heretics,” would need to be baptized as being unbaptized.126 But “most of them (Arians and Macedonians) who originally came from the Orthodox were intermingled [with those who were originally Arians], and without admitting the truth attached themselves to the [Orthodox] clergy,” according to Epiphanios;127 hence (also according to St. Basil),128 “because of the confusion there can be no distinction between Orthodox and heretics.” Therefore the Council was forced to exercise economia,129 which according to Neophytos can only be exercised in the case of schismatics.130

St. Nikodemos defends a position parallel to this one. Interpreting St. Cyprian’s Canon, he comments: “But if one searches well, he will find that most of those heretics whom the Second Ecumenical Council received by economia were from among the baptized clergy who had fallen into heresy, and this is why the Council used this economia.”131 What is common to both these views is the conviction that those who were received “by economia” preserved the “Church’s baptism,” i.e. the three immersions and emersions. According to Neophytos, on account of the Arians this “custom” was prevalent in Constantinople. Hence it was included in the epistle “To Martyrios,” and finally was canonized by Penthekte through its Canon XCV; for it had found its way into Councils – the Second Ecumenical and Penthekte – that, again, had met in the same city of Constantinople!

Oikonomos also accepts the early Council’s free exercise, from time to time, of both acrivia and economia without the slightest conflict among the holy Canons. According to him, the Apostolic Canons “were set for acrivia.’” The Second Ecumenical and Penthekte Councils, however, used economia for historical reasons (“the then times demanding it”).132

The Second Ecumenical Council’s classification of heretics into those in need of baptism and those in need of Chrismation, however, was based, according to our writers, on a specific ecclesiological and canonical assumption. Heretics who were required to be baptized had, according to Oikonomos, as “a common characteristic…not only the utter blasphemy regarding the divine dogmas, but mostly the impious transgression as regards the kind of baptism they have.” This transgression was “twofold”: “regarding the invocation of the persons of the All-holy Trinity,”133 and “regarding the trine immersion of the person baptized.”134

Thus, the practice of baptizing converting heretics was “canonized” by Canon VII of the Second Ecumenical Council, not so much “on account of their erroneous beliefs regarding the divine dogma,” for they renounced these by their conversion and through the mandatory written statement they submitted; “but first and foremost on account of their baptismal rite, which is profane and inefficacious because it is wholly incorrect as regards the divine invocations and/or the three immersions.”135  Hence, adds St. Nikodemos, those belonging to this group (Eunomians, Montanists, Sabellians, “and all other heresies”), were without any possible exception received “as pagans,” i.e. as “wholly unbaptized.” For “either they had never been baptized, or else they had been baptized, but not correctly and in the manner the Orthodox are baptized. Hence, they are not considered as having been baptized at all.”136  So, what is understood as “baptism” by these writers, as well as by the (early) Fathers of the Church, is not merely entrance into the Church, but enrolment into her according to a specific Apostolic manner, i.e. by three immersions.

The exercise of economia towards the Arians and Macedonians does not at all mean that the Council overlooked the “faith,” but that the degree of their deviation from the Orthodox faith was not of primary importance for the Council.137 Economia was possible, because these heretics “preserved the Apostolic tradition in their own baptism; for they baptized according to the Lord’s command, in the name of the Father an of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and with three immersions and emersions.”138 The correct performance of the sacrament constituted the criterion for the admission of their baptism. Thus, “the impiety of their beliefs was remedied through their written statement” and “through divine chrismation,” which was given “to certify their confession and faith,… so that they might become participants in Christ’s kingdom and in the gift of the Spirit, of which they had been deprived.”  Some of them, in fact, had perhaps not ever been anointed with chrism, as for example the Novatians, towards whom the Council of Laodicea exercised economia.139 But towards the Eunomians, it was never possible for the Council to exercise economia, for they had received a “single-immersion baptism,” i.e. one different from the Church’s. An alteration of the form of the sacrament which destroys its unity, i.e. the correspondence of the external and internal element, was for the Council decisively significant. For economia too, according to Oikonomos who invokes the holy Fathers, has its limits: “Economia is permissible as long as it involves no violation of the law,” said Chrysostom proverbially.140  Canon VII of the Second Ecumenical Council, says Oikonomos, omitted reference to the Eunomian “blasphemy regarding the invocation… for the sake of brevity”; the equally important imperfection in the form of the sacrament, i.e. the single immersion, was sufficient.141

Thus it is proven, according to Oikonomos, that “there is no contradiction in the Canons concerning baptism.”142 The interpretation of the holy Canons on the basis of the scheme acrivia/economia removes any seeming disharmony among them. It is worthy of notice, however, that these theologians understand economia as leniency-concession in the face of the Church’s precision, i.e. as a pastoral measure; while acrivia they understand as a theological measure which demands the loyal and precise adherence to the word of God that constitutes the Church’s normal practice.143 In this case, however, the Church’s normal practice is not defined by the Ecumenical Councils, but by the “Apostolic” and “patristic” Canons,144 which after their Ecumenical accreditation are nowise inferior in authority to synodal Canons, and indeed those of the Ecumenical Councils. In this particular case, the Ecumenical Councils, like the Second and Penthekte, without repudiating acrivia, provide a solution “by economia.”145  According to our writers, there is not only oneness of spirit among our Church’s sacred Canons, but also they are of equal force and equal validity, inasmuch as her holy Canons are all “Ecumenical.”  Thus, the Canons of the Ecumenical Councils, and in this case of the Second and Penthekte, do not set the older Canons into disuse, nor abolish them.146 Such a position is, for these theologians, legalistic in the extreme and clearly anti-ecclesial, inasmuch as acrivia and economia can easily co-exist in the Church’s canonical order. The possibility of using both acrivia and economia insures the Church’s freedom and rules out her becoming confined to any legal forms whatsoever. But our writers would not be in agreement with the principle that acrivia is that which was decreed by the Ecumenical Councils, and economia is any divergence therefrom.147 For them, acrivia is the practice of the Church emanating from her self-understanding, according to which, outside of her there are neither sacraments nor salvation.

Thus, the economia that was used by the Second Ecumenical Council on the basis, as we saw, of specific presuppositions, does not in any way eliminate the Church’s acrivia. According to St. Nikodemos, “the economia that some Fathers temporarily used can neither be thought of as law nor taken as an example.”148  The context in which St. Nikodemos made this comment indicates that he had in mind the Fathers of the Second Ecumenical Council. Oikonomos states the identical position even more clearly, saying: The Ecumenical Council’s “did not rescind the Canons legislated in acrivia; for some might wish to abide by them for the sake of the complete ease of their conscience, and in accordance with their prevailing ancient ethos.” Neophytos supports the same position,149 and in his usual manner he formulates the following practical syllogism: “Only the Sixth together with the Second voted that to a certain extent heretics be chrismated.”  On the other hand, the holy Fathers (Cyprian, Basil, Athanasios, etc.), and the Local Council of Laodicea, and also the Apostolic Canons, decree “simply to baptize” them, as do also the Sixth and Seventh Ecumenical Councils, “which ratify what they had done.” And according to Canon VI of the First Ecumenical Council, and Canon XIX of the Council of Antioch, “the vote of the majority rules.”  So he concludes: “Therefore, according to the majority vote, heretics are in need of baptism; or according to the minority, some are in need only of chrismation.”  It is ascertained, however, that one finds in the holy Canons “many more votes for baptism than for mere chrismation.”150  Perhaps one should not be quick simply to reject this “argument” of Neophytos’, but rather should try to discern his ultimate aim. With this argument he wants to prove what was said above: namely, that the Second and Penthekte Councils used economia for specific, practical reasons only, and by exception.

So, our writers arrive together at the unanimous decision that, according to the Church’s canonical practice, as a rule acrivia should be applied to heretics who convert to Orthodoxy; in other words, they should be baptized, since in any case, neither by acrivia nor by economia can heretical sacraments be considered valid.151

  1. Summary

In this way, then, is Canon VII of the Second Ecumenical Council interpreted by the Kollyvades and C. Oikonomos. These writers are in agreement with the canonists before them, as far the understanding of the Canon in question is concerned. In conclusion, we can summarize their teaching and positions as follows:

1) By the principle of economia, all seeming disaccord between this Canon and those previous Canons which are considered to be in disagreement with it is removed. There is no disaccord among the Church’s holy Canons,152 which in this seemingly curious antinomy retain their unity and preserve the freedom in Christ.

2) The Second Ecumenical Council, in exercising economia towards certain specifically named heretics, did not leave the ground open for the inclusion in his category of any other heretics unchecked. Economia was used for important historical and pastoral reasons, without revoking the acrivia ratified by the second part of the Canon and exercised on other heretics, again not arbitrarily!

3) The exercise of economia was possible, because there existed the absolutely necessary “formal” conditions, i.e. the correct execution of the sacrament by these heretics with three immersions and emersions.153 The rejection of the single-immersion baptism of the Eunomians, who were classified among the wholly unbaptized, indicates the Council’s – and consequently the catholic Church’s – condemnation of any alteration in the form of the sacrament of baptism, which alteration is sufficient to render the exercise of economia towards these heretics entirely impossible. In this case, according to Oikonomos: “The danger concerning all: they were not born of water and spirit, nor were they through baptism buried with Christ into His death.”154  That is to say, they are unbaptized, and therefore bereft of the regeneration in Christ.


The problem, in the final analysis, is not the disregard or rejection of a mere “form,” but something much deeper: namely, disobedience to Christ’s commandment (“…baptizing them…,” Mt. 28:19), and unfaithfulness to the Church’s tradition. And this tradition, if not held fast in its totality as pleroma-fullness of life, runs the risk of becoming estranged, and consequently of losing its local force!

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