A careful analysis of Eastern Orthodox theory and practice shows that the Church’s teachings sub-divide into three categories: dogma, doctrine, and opinion. Although each of these terms has a lexical definition, this lecture stipulates that they shall be defined in a manner more useful to us as ordinary folk. “Dogma” means: what one must believe. “Doctrine” means: what one should believe. “Opinion” means: what one can take or leave.
When an analyst faces data some of which seem to indicate “A,” some of which seem to indicate “non-A,” he must infer a claim that satisfactorily accounts for all the seemingly contradictory data. This is known as inference to the best explanation. Early Christian theologians reconciled the New Testament’s apparently contradictory statements regarding the godhead by inferring that the one God is a Trinity. This inference to the best explanation is professed as dogma in all three branches of Christianity.
The Restored-Icon model of atonement is likewise an inference to the best explanation. But unlike the Trinity, the Restored-Icon model ranks only as a theological opinion. While both of these teachings can be inferred from New Testament data, the Seven Ecumenical Councils dogmatized on the Trinity and certain other topics while leaving the atonement without any comment at all. Thus, one is free to adopt whatever atonement model one likes, provided no ramification of the model runs athwart any aspect of an officially defined dogma.
The importance of the Seven Ecumenical Councils as guides to understanding early Christian thought notwithstanding, they remain only fallible construals of infallible data. The Bible is the infallible data. The creeds of the Seven Ecumenical Councils are fallible construals thereof. This will surprise many who have been brought up believing that these conventicles are infallible. After all, the Eastern Orthodox Church is the “Church of the Seven Ecumenical Councils.” Yet this lecture shows that there are in fact three different schools of thought within the Eastern Orthodox Church regarding these councils.
Run time: 24:41; Posted: 9/24/15