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A Critique of a Critique

In Response to Professor John Erickson

The following is a critique of a review written by Professor John Erickson, of St. Vladimirs Theological Seminary, of a superb book on the nature of Orthodox Baptism, written by Father George Metallinos, a popular religious writer, historian, Churchman, and eminent professor of theology at the University of Athens. This critique, originally written in Greek by research associates of the Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, was submitted by Father Metallinos to the St. Vladimirs Theological Quarterly, which apparently deemed it unworthy of publication. We happily print it here at his express request of Father Metallinos.

Professor John Erickson's critique [1] of Father George Metallinos book I Confess One Baptism... [2] poses a challenge to the Orthodox conscience, since it deals with a subject which is at the center of theological speculation today: ecumenism. The very fact that Professor Erickson is a former Lutheran renders the issue even more substantial. Indeed, the conclusion that he draws in his critique clearly betrays his desire to uphold a theological pluralism which he considers Orthodox and, together with this pluralism, certain fundamental theological deviations which have encumbered such dark periods in the tradition of Orthodoxy as that of Peter the Great or which have spawned, in contemporary times, that of the ecumenical movement. In our response, we will focus on certain points which bring to light Professor Erickson's presuppositions, as well as his aims.

I. To begin with, in Professor Erickson's commentary—as is also the case in Western theology more generally—, there is a linguistic misinterpretation of the term Baptism (which derives from the Greek verb, baptizein). In Ancient Greek, as well as in Koine, baptizo means bouto (to dip into water, to immerse), and baptisma means boutegma (a derivative of bouto), that is, immersion. In the West, however, the derivative terms Baptism and Baptize lost their original meaning, and only in German is the term Taufe directly connected with the term tauchen, which corresponds to the Biblical-Patristic understanding of the term baptizein. A dialogue on this subject was initiated in Greece already in the nineteenth century, and Archimandrite Neophytos Vamvas, who collaborated with Western (i.e., English and American) missionaries on this and other matters, was compelled to object to the Western misinterpretation of the verb baptizo (to Baptize). [3] Furthermore, contrary to Professor erickson's argumentation, the term anabaptismos (rebaptism, from anabaptizo) is used in a way that is consistent with Orthodox theology only in the instance that the one Baptism of the One Church [4] is repeated, and not in cases where a heretic is Baptized within the One Church, that is, the Orthodox Church.

Such reasoning, of course, is wholly unacceptable to those who have an ecumenist mind-set. Yet, it is precisely this point which vindicates a response by Father Metallinos, at a conference in Resaca, Georgia, in 1997, when he was asked to state his opinion of Professor erickson's critique: I ask myself, he said on that occasion, what it means for certain prominent Westerners to enter Orthodoxy. This act, in the theological language of Orthodoxy, is characterized by the term return: a return to the sole possibility for attaining salvation or theosis. Since, therefore, they reject their former faith and church by virtue of their Orthodox confession, why do they persist in clinging to a baptism which does not even preserve the form of the Churchs one Baptism?

Father Metallinos continued: But underlying this attachment [to heterodox baptism—Trans.] is an ulterior motive of an ecclesiological nature: If one accepts a heretical baptism as valid in and of itself, he accepts also the priesthood of the clergyman who administers it, and ultimately the Eucharist that such a clergyman celebrates, too. Such is the path of ecumenical dialogue, and especially of dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church. Father Metallinos concluded: For this reason, permit me, without regard to the person of Professor Erickson, whom I love as a fellow Orthodox—although I have not had the honor of making his personal acquaintance—, to express here, as well, my strong misgivings about well-known personalities who enter Orthodoxy, but behave in such an ecumenical fashion, thereby revealing their deeper agenda. The great Philhellene, Lord Frederick (Demetrios) Guilford, son of an English Prime Minister, himself asked, in 1791, to be Baptized (by triple immersion) in Kerkyra (Corfu), since he had not received an ecclesiastically canonical baptism in his former church (he was an Anglican)! (Bishop Kallistos [Ware] of Diokleia has written a special study in this regard.)

II. In order to undermine Father Metallinos arguments, Professor Erickson endeavors ever so politely to disparage him. It must first be stated, however, that Father Metallinos simply enumerates, in a systematic way, the arguments of the Kollyvades Fathers—Saints of the Orthodox Church, to which Professor Erickson now belongs—, who were outstanding experts in Patristic theology and Church history, as well as renowned Hesychasts. Moreover, they also revived the Hesychasm of the Slavic-speaking Orthodox after the stormy period of Peter the Great. Father Metallinos, indeed, accepts as Orthodox the opinion of the holy Kollyvades Fathers, which is well-grounded historically and theologically. Now, these Fathers also maintained the position—one that is both ecclesiastical and Patristic—that oikonomia in accepting the baptism of heretics, not in and of itself, but with regard to its form, is possible only where heretical baptism preserves the form of the one Baptism of the Church. This is why the Second Œcumenical Synod, in its Seventh Canon, rejected the baptism by single immersion of the Eunomians, since they had altered the form of the Mystery, while the baptism of other Arians (with regard to its form) was accepted by oikonomia.

Furthermore, Father Metallinos is not only a Presbyter of the Church of Greece, but also a Professor in the Theological School of the University of Athens, a rather prolific author, a distinctly authoritative theologian, and a widely renowned speaker on theological and historical subjects, both within and outside Greece. He has represented the Church of Cyprus in dialogue with the World Lutheran Federation (1978-), in addition to the Church of Greece in various dialogues (e.g., with Shiite Islam, etc.).

Astonishingly unaware of Father Metallinos outstanding credentials, Professor Erickson characterizes him as lacking expertise in Patristics, Canon Law and the history of Liturgy, though Father Metallinos completed extensive studies in Patristics at Bonn (under Professor Wilhelm Schneemelcher), has held the Chair of Patrology at the University of Athens—his facility in this area of study is apparent in his works—, and has for many years taught the history and theology of worship, as evidenced by a significant scholarly output in this area, too. Indeed, Father Metallinos is one of the most prominent theologians in Greece today. Moreover, it is not true, as Professor Erickson, who is unfamiliar with the actual situation that obtains in Greece, asserts, that only Old Calendarists and Athonites Baptize Westerners, today; in fact, a large number of Bishops and Presbyters in the State Church of Greece have returned to the authentic practice of the Church. In fact, in the opinion of the most distinguished theologians in contemporary Greece, Roman Catholics are included among heretics, as evidenced by the pronouncements of the Eighth Œcumenical Synod of 879 and the Hesychastic Synods of the fourteenth century. Besides, how can one characterize as Trinitarian those who accept the Filioque and its presuppositions, who do not identify Christ with the Yahweh of the Old Testament, or who are ignorant of the presuppositions of the Œcumenical Synods (the notions of purification, illumination, and theosis [glorification]), as they have been carefully put forth in the writings of Father John Romanides?

III. Professor erickson's arguments are not theological; were they so, he would be compelled to reject explicitly, thereby, the Patristic theology of the Kollyvades. That is why he resorts to archeological arguments (Baptismal fonts and their depth), while he disregards the most basic historical evidence from the Didache, that is, evidence concerning the manner of Baptism, which certainly constitutes the basis for a Baptism of necessity [5] without in any way invalidating the existing practice of the Church, which the Roman Catholic Church, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, actually affirms (even though, ultimately, it upholds contemporary Papist practice). [6] We shall, however, cite here, with regard to ancient Baptismal fonts, the doctoral dissertation of Professor John Volanakis [7] and evidence for Baptism by immersion, which refutes the contentions of Professor Erickson, who is not an archeologist. The passage from St. John Chrysostomos [8] to which Professor Erickson appeals supports precisely the opposite view, since it refers to immersion—albeit immersion of the head. Such immersion cannot be equated with sprinkling or affusion, practices which not only annul ecclesiastical Baptism, but also make a mockery of it.

One could easily focus on other points in Professor erickson's critique, but American Orthodoxy needs no further argumentation in order to be persuaded of the truth. Father Metallinos book is crystal clear: the theology of the Kollyvades Fathers is Patristic [9] and the theology of ecumenism cannot be justified. Moreover, anyone who is unfettered by ecumenist blinders can discern the clearly broad-minded and scientific prism through which Father Metallinos approaches his subject, showing, inter alia, a respect for the Tradition of the Church, which is impossible for those who attempt, by whatever sort of compromise, to justify the crooked path of contemporary ecumenical dialogue.

Endnotes

1. St. Vladimirs Theological Quarterly, Vol. XLI (1997), pp. 77-81.

2. I Confess One Baptism...: Interpretation and Application of Canon VII of the Second Ecumenical Council by the Kollyvades and Constantine Oikonomos (A contribution to the historico-canonical evaluation of the problem of the validity of Western baptism), trans. Priestmonk Seraphim (Holy Mountain: St. Pauls Monastery, 1994).

3. Father Metallinos published the correspondence in question in his doctoral dissertation at the University of Athens. [Father Metallinos also holds a doctorate in history from the University of Cologne.]

4. Cf. Ephesians 4:5.

5. Father George is referring, here, to Baptism by affusion, which, according to the Didache, is to be administered when and only when circumstances render it impossible to Baptize someone correctly: Baptize in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in running [literally, living] water. But if you do not have running water, Baptize in other water; and if you cannot Baptize in cold water, in warm water. But if you do not have either, pour water three times on the head in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Didache VII.1-3, in The Apostolic Fathers, ed. Kirsopp Lake [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1912], pp. 318-320).

6. Baptism is performed in the most expressive way by triple immersion in the baptismal water. However, from ancient times it has also been able to be conferred by pouring the water three times over the candidates head (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1239 [Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1994], p. 317).

7. Ta palaiochristianika baptisteria tes Hellados [The Ancient Christian Baptisteries of Greece] (Athens: 1976), pp. 25ff. [This material totally refutes Professor erickson's sometimes naive and even bizarre notions about ancient baptistries—Trans.]

8. Homily 25 on St. John, 2 (Patrologia Græca, Vol. LIX, col. 151): For just as, when we immerse our heads in the water, the old man is buried as in a tomb, and, descending below, is wholly concealed each time; so then, as we emerge, the new man rises in its stead. As it is easy for us to immerse ourselves and to emerge again, so it is easy for God to bury the old man and show forth the new.

9. See a study on this subject, by Metropolitan Amfilochije (Radovic) of Montenegro, regarding the revival of the spiritual ethos of the Philokalia among the Kollyvades Fathers (Athens: 1984).

From Orthodox Tradition, Vol. XIX, No. 4.