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St. Theodore of Studios on the Sacred Canons and Schism

These excerpts are taken from the single best work available in English on St. Theodore: Theodore of Studios: Byzantine Churchman, by Patrick Henry III (unpublished doctoral dissertation, Yale, 1968; bound photocopies are available from UMI). This is a very important work for understanding the nature of Church unity and authority, especially during a time of controvsery. It is an excellent companion to Patrick Barker's A Study of the Ecclesiology of Resistance The Center for Traditional Orthodox Studies).

On the Canons

Epistle I.36:

Why do I speak of the canons and imply a distinction? For it is one and the same thing to speak of them and of the Gospel of Christ. He himself said when he gave the keys of the kingdom of heaven to the great Peter, "Whomever you loose and whomever you bind, it will be as you have said." [Cf. Matt. 16:19] And again he said to all the Apostles: "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; whose sins you retain, they are retained." [John 20:22-23] And consequently he transmitted the authority to those who came after them, if they should act in the same way.

For this reason the canons of Basil and of saints equal in rank to him have been received along with the Apostolic Canons, in as much as they followed them without making any innovation, only amplifying where necessary.

On the other hand, these new pseudo-apostles demonstrate clearly that they do not act according to the limits set down by the saints. Rather, according to their own authority and discretion they act against what has been declared by the saints, when some bishop or other absolves in a situation where the saints did not absolve, or binds in a situation where the saints did not bind. And you see these things happening every day. (PG 1037AB; Henry p. 158-159)

On Valid Councils

Letter to Magister Theoctistus (Ep. I.24):

[The Church of God] has not permitted anything to be done or said against the established decrees and laws, although many shepherds have in many ways railed against them [cf. Jer. 10:25] when they have called great and very numerous councils, and given themselves to put on a show of concern for the canons, while in truth acting against them.

What then is remarkable in the gathering of about fifteen bishops to declare innocent and to absolve for the priesthood one who is deposed on two counts?

Sir, a council does not consist simply in the gathering of bishops and priests, no matter how many there are. For Scripture says that one doing the will of the Lord is better than thousands who transgress [Ecclus. 16:3]. A council occurs when, in the Lord's name, the canons are thoroughly searched out and maintained. And a council is not to bind and loose in some random way, but as seems proper to the truth and to the canon and to the rule of strictness.

Let those who gathered demonstrate that they have acted in this way and we will join them; but if they do not demonstrate it, let them cast out the unworthy one, lest it become a reproach to them and to future generations.

"The Word of God is not such as to allow itself to be bound." [II Tim. 2:9] And no authority whatever has been given to bishops for any transgression of a canon. They are simply to follow what has been decreed, and to adhere to those who have gone before. (PG 985ABC; Henry p. 120)

On Schism

Epistle to the Patriarch of Constantinople Nicephorus (Ep. I.25), during the Moechian Controversy (808 A.D.):

We are not schismatics, O Holy Head, from the Church of God [for refusing to commune with him, as well as Abbot Joseph and his supporters]: God forbid that should ever happen. I am a sinner in countless ways, but I am Orthodox and a child of the Church catholic. I repudiate every heresy and accept every approved catholic and local synod, and the canonical constitutions promulgated by them as well. For he is not completely, but only halfway Orthodox, who seems to have right faith while not being guided by the divine canons. (PG 989A; Henry p. 280)

Epistle to Monk Basil (Ep. I.28):

We are not schismatics from the Church of God; God forbid that we should ever come to that! But although our sins are many, nevertheless we are of one body with the Church; we are its children and the children of its divine dogmas; and we strive to keep its canons and constitutions...This is not a schism of the Church. It is defense of the truth, and vindication of the sacred laws (kai ton theon nomon echorechesin). What Your Honor suggests would be a breaking of the truth and would paralyze the canons (kai ton kanonon e paralesis). (PG 997CD, 1001D; Henry p. 123, 109)

To the Iconoclastic Synod on Behalf of All the Abbots (Ep. II.1, 815 A.D.):

If anyone at all from among our contemporaries or from earlier times, if even Peter and Paul (for the sake of argument I suggest as possible something which is impossible), should come from heaven itself teaching and preaching something other than this faith, we could not receive him into communion, as not adhering to the pure teaching of the faith. And no matter what your authority thinks, Our Humility is ready to resist to death rather than deny such a pure confession as ours is. (PG 1120A; Henry p. 301)

Expanding upon Galatians 1:8 St. Theodore says in Ep. I.24:

Shall we say: Since it is lawful for an archbishop together with his associates to do as he pleases, let him be for the duration of his archbishophric a new Evangelist, another Apostle, a different Lawgiver? Certainly not. For we have an injunction from the Apostle himself: If anyone preaches a doctrine, or urges your to do something, against what you have received [from the Fathers], against what is prescribed by the canons of the catholic and local synods held at various times, he is not to be received, or to be reckoned among the number of the faithful. And I forbear even to mention the terrible judgment with which the Apostle concludes. (PG 988A, Henry. pp. 118-119)

Patrick Henry summarizes on p. 263: "What mattered [to St. Theodore] was the maintenance of the patristic and canonical tradition; where that was maintained, there was the Church."