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Defending the Vincentian Canon “Everywhere, Always, and By All” — A Response to Outlaw Presbyterianism

On 3 July 2012 the blog site Outlaw Presbyterianism criticized the OrthodoxBridge for its use of the Vincentian Canon.  It’s sad to see a friendly inquirer take a more antagonistic stance towards Orthodoxy, but a number of points were raised that can help further Orthodox-Reformed dialogue.

He writes:

The one common refrain at OrthodoxBridge is that Protestants can’t find any of their distinctives in the early Fathers of the church.   This charge bothers some people.  However, like a judo artist, I will redirect the blow.  This will not prove that Protestantism is correct, but it will show that if the charge is correct, not only is Protestantism false, but so is Orthodoxy.

Because Outlaw criticized our use of the Vincentian Canon, this blog posting will focus primarily on the Vincentian Canon.  I hope to show that the Canon reflects the historic Christian faith and as such is integral to Orthodoxy.  Part I will contain my response to the criticisms made by Outlaw Presbyerianism in his posting and Part II will discuss the challenge that the Vincentian Canon poses to Protestant theology.


The oft quoted “Vincentian Canon” is the Latin phrase: “Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est” (That Faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all).  It comes from The Commonitory (ch. 2) by Vincent of Lérins.

Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all.  (Commonitory ch. II, §6; NPNF Series II Vol. XI p. 132)

The word “canon” refers to a standard or measuring stick.  It provides three criteria by which one can determine whether a doctrine was orthodox or heretical.  Vincent did not invent the “canon” named after him.  He summed up in elegant Latin the longstanding theological method used by the early Christians.


Icon – Vincent of Lerins

The author of the Commonitory used the pseudonym “Peregrinus”; he was later identified as Vincent of the monastery of Lérins, a group of islands near present day French Riviera.  Vincent’s living in the Western half of the Roman Empire would explain why the Commonitory was written in Latin.  He lived in the fifth century and was a contemporary of Augustine.  He wrote the Commonitory in protest against what he considered to be novelty of Augustine’s teaching on predestination (see Pelikan Vol. I pp. 319-324).  It should be noted that Vincent lived long before there was a Protestant vs. Roman Catholic split.  When Vincent wrote about the Catholic Church, he had in mind the undivided Church founded by Christ, not the later Roman Catholicism that Luther and the Reformers protested against.  In its original sense, “catholic” meant “according to the whole.”

Part I. 

Criticism #1: Did Pelikan Criticize the Vincentian Canon?

The OrthodoxBridge frequently cited the Vincentian Canon in its assessment of Protestantism.  This approach examines a doctrine by asking three questions: (1) Was this doctrine held by early Christians? (the test of antiquity); (2) Was this doctrine widely held among early Christians? (the test of ubiquity); and (3) Was this doctrine affirmed by the church as a whole? (the test of catholicity).  Many have found the Canon helpful for demonstrating the novelty of certain Protestant distinctives, e.g., sola scriptura, sola fide, and their understanding the Eucharist.  For example, if the evidence for sola scriptura is found wanting among the church fathers then one has to wonder whether sola scriptura is part of the historic Christian faith or a later addition.

Apparently, this critique is having an impact among our Protestant visitors.  Outlaw attempts to blunt our critique by invoking the well respected Yale historian, Jaroslav Pelikan, against the Vincentian Canon:

In volume 5 of his series on the History of Christian Doctrine, Jaroslav Pelikan openly challenges the adequacy of the Vincentian canon (it’s in the second to last chapter).  At best it can only read, “What is [usually] believed by [many] people in [most] places.” (emphasis added)

The first thing to note is that volume five of Pelikan’s magnum opus deals with Christian doctrine in the modern era.  If one wants to understand how Pelikan understood the Vincentian Canon the better place is volume one (pp. 333-339) where he discusses the Canon in its proper context.
978-0-226-65380-8-frontcoverIn this particular subsection of volume five (pp. 255-265) cited by Outlaw, Prof. Pelikan was not discussing the Vincentian Canon per se but how applying the Canon was problematic for John Henry Newman (p. 258).  The historian in Newman would concede that the Filioque as not a Catholic dogma in the early Church but the theologian in Newman needed to affirm that the Church always held the doctrine (p. 258).  Western theologians, Protestant and Roman Catholic, were finding it increasingly difficult to invoke the Vincentian Canon in light of scholarship showing the progressive evolution of their respective doctrines.  For them, the Vincentian Canon had become a “Gordian knot” with a “defect in its serviceableness” (in Pelikan Vol. 5 p. 259).  It should be noted that the words in quotation marks are from Newman’s An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (p. 12).  In other words, it was John Henry Newman who was challenging the adequacy of the Vincentian Canon, not Jaroslav Pelikan.


I suspect that Outlaw fell victim to a hasty superficial reading of Prof. Pelikan’s profound scholarship and that he believed he found a convenient quote in support of his Protestant position.  The lesson here is that in dealing with church history and patristic theology one must take care to read the text carefully and in its proper context.

The Vincentian Canon functions best as a rule of thumb, not as a precise formula that produces uniform results.  If the OrthodoxBridge has (despite our best efforts to the contrary) implied that Holy Tradition is a nice neat, tidy consensus of all the Fathers in perfect unanimity — then Outlaw is right and we have grossly overstated the case.  No, Church history is not so perfect. And we have never intended to pretend all the Fathers are in perfect agreement with each other.

Orthodoxy consists of Holy Tradition, a complex matrix of beliefs and practices.  Because it is a living reality, it is marked by a certain messiness.  Orthodox tradition cannot be reduced to a system of propositions devoid of internal inconsistencies.  Understanding Orthodoxy means believing the Holy Spirit works in the messiness of history in the Church, the body of Christ.

Criticism #2: Where’s the Evidence for Catholicity?

I find Outlaw’s skeptical attitude and his expectation for evidentiary support troubling.  He writes:

Evidentially, especially in the earlier days of the church, it’s almost impossible to prove that the people in India believed in the same thing as the people in North Africa.   And if the evidence is missing, how can you make the case?

It would be great if a Gallup poll was conducted of the early Christians but it is not realistic, nor fair to impose modern twentieth century scientific expectations on the early Church.  There is evidence but it is not overwhelming, nor exact.  One supporting evidence can be found in Irenaeus of Lyons who was born in Smyrna, Asia Minor, studied under Polycarp, then moved to western frontiers of the Roman Empire in Gaul.  He wrote:

Having received this preaching and this faith, as I have said, the Church, although scattered in the whole world, carefully preserves it, as if living in one house.  She believes these things [everywhere] alike, as if she had but one heart and one soul, and preaches them harmoniously, teaches them, and hands them down, as if she had but one mouth. (AH 1.10.2; Richardson 1970:360; cf. ANF Vol. 1 p. 331; italics added)

What we have here is a Christian leader who traveled from one part of the Roman Empire to another and who found a common faith across the vast Roman Empire.

Another witness can be found in Eusebius’ Church History.  This fourth century work describes Christianity’s beginnings, contains lists of bishops for various areas, and describes how the early church struggled against various heresies.  A broad theological consensus in the early Church can be seen in the ancient liturgies and in the creedal formulas that were ordered along Trinitarian lines.  Lucien Deiss’ Springtime of the Liturgy which contains texts of early Christian worship is recommended for readers interested in examining the evidence for themselves.

Criticism #3: The Church Fathers Contradict Each Other!

In his attempt to demonstrate the inadequacy of the Vincentian Canon Outlaw pits one patristic authority against another with respect to the one will versus the two will controversy.  He notes how applying the Canon yields contradictory results.

Even worse, as Lars Thunberg points out, St Cyril affirmed “one will and energy” of Christ (Pseudo-Dionysius said the same thing).   The whole point behind St maximus’s theology is the very opposite of this.  Yet, if one were to “go to the earlier fathers,” would one necessarily come away with dyotheletism?   Even worse, St Maximus himself hints that the greatest of all theologians, St Gregory Nazianzus, used language that was disturbingly similar to monotheletism.

The Orthodox response is that this controversy was resolved at the Sixth Ecumenical Council.  Orthodoxy recognizes that church fathers as individuals may err but as a collective witness they bear witness to orthodox truth.

Quite often the Vincentian Canon has been understood only with respect to the church fathers but it is broader in scope than that.  Vincent appeals to the general councils as one important means of ascertaining doctrinal orthodoxy (ch. XXIII, §59; ch. XXIX, §78).  The phrase “by all” in the Vincentian Canon had several meanings: (1) the consensus held among the bishops, (2) the decisions made at councils, or (3) the devotional and liturgical practices among the laity (Vol. 1 pp. 338-339).  Pelikan notes: “A special mark of the universality and the authority of the church was the ecumenical councils” (Vol. 1 p. 335).  The bishops present at the councils were mindful that they were part of the undivided Church.  When they made decisions they did so conscious of their responsibility to safeguard the sacred Deposit of Faith.  They did not have the liberty to cherry pick what they found useful or progressive.

Outlaw makes reference to Lars Thunberg’s Microcosm and Mediator: The Theological Anthropology of Maximus the Confessor to bolster his argument that the church fathers contradicted each other.  The book is a fine piece of scholarship but it was not written from an ecclesial point of view.  This is not a criticism of Thunberg but to make the reader aware of the genre being presented.  In the early Church much of the theologizing was not done through the medium of academic discourse but through the liturgical life of the churches.  The majority of the church fathers were bishops, not academic scholars.  Outlaw seem to be using the church fathers much like the way Protestants use the writings of the Reformers and seminary professors to resolve doctrinal controversy.

My question for Outlaw is: Why is it that your blog posting makes no mention of the Sixth Ecumenical Council?  Do you accept the decisions of that Council?  By what method are you going to resolve the monotheletisim controversy as an independent Protestant or as a member of the Church Catholic?

Criticism #4: Orthodoxy as Syllogism?

Outlaw attempts to demonstrate the fallacious reasoning behind the Orthodox reliance on the church fathers by presenting this approach as an Aristotelian syllogism.

The problem is this with Orthodox internet apologists: 

P1:  Our practice today is part of the ancient tradition of the church.

P2:  We thus appeal to this church father to prove this.                      

Therefore, the early church taught this and this is the tradition.

What’s the problem with this argument?  The problem is that there is an epistemic gap between P2 and the conclusion.  How do we know that this father is the tradition, or that tradition is thus and so (and most of the time, I don’t even grant P2.   A lot of times these fathers aren’t event talking about 9/10ths of the practices that are now considered “tradition”)?

Even granting P2, at best the syllogism’s conclusion only reads:  one Father of the church taught this. (emphasis added)

I find Outlaw’s reduction of Orthodoxy to a syllogism simplistic and objectionable.  I don’t recall making the case for Orthodoxy with the model presented above.  This is a straw man argument.

One serious flaw in the syllogism presented is the minor premise which contains the assumption that citing a single church father suffices in Orthodoxy.  The emphasis on church fathers in the singular in the above excerpt is striking.  When it comes to citing the church fathers, Orthodox stresses the patristic consensus, i.e., plurality.  It is not enough to quote a single church father.  Orthodoxy has recognized that the Fathers can err in particulars and for that reason it looks to the patristic consensus as a witness to the catholic faith.  It makes me wonder: Where did Outlaw get the idea that citing a single church father suffices for Orthodoxy?  Furthermore, Outlaw’s complaint that all too often appeal is made a single church father for particular tradition is vague and dubious.  Perhaps he can be more specific in his complaint in a future blog posting.


There are a number of problems with Outlaw’s 3 July blog posting: (1) he misreads Jaroslav Pelikan, (2) he seems to understand Orthodox tradition narrowly as arising solely from the writings of the church fathers, (3) he makes no reference to the patristic consensus, (4) he makes no reference to church councils, and (5) his bizarre syllogism misrepresents the Orthodox theological method.


Part II.  

An examination of the Commonitory will show that the Vincentian Canon is rooted in a rich theological heritage.  Studying the theological method described by Vincent of Lérins will enable to us to compare the theological method of Protestantism against that of Orthodoxy.

Scripture With Tradition

Icon – St. Vincent of Lerins

Vincent argues that Scripture and Tradition are both needed for distinguishing between orthodoxy and heresy.  He writes:

That whether I or any one else should wish to detect the frauds and avoid the snares of heretic as they rise, and to continue sound and complete in the Catholic faith, we must, the Lord helping, fortify our own belief in two ways; first, by the authority of the Divine Law (Scripture), and then by the Tradition of the Catholic Church.  (Commonitory ch. II, §4; NPNF Series II Vol. XI p. 132; emphasis added)

We said above, that it has always been the custom of Catholics, and still is, to prove the true faith in these two ways; first by the authority of the Divine Canon (Scripture), and next by the tradition of the Catholic Church.  (Commonitory ch. XXIX, §76; NPNF Series II Vol. XI p. 153; emphasis added)

This passage shows that the early Church was biblical but not Protestant in its theological method.  It viewed Scripture as normative for doctrine but it did not follow sola scriptura.  Vincent anticipated and refuted sola scriptura in a hypothetical scenario presented below.

But here some one perhaps will ask, Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church’s interpretation?  For this reason, — because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands is words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters.  ….  Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation. (Commonitory ch. II, §5; NPNF Series II Vol. XI p. 132)

Here Vincent anticipates the potential pitfall of sola scriptura, multiple competing interpretations of Scripture.  The solution to this problem is to read Scripture not individually, but corporately in solidarity with the Church.  The early Church viewed Scripture and Tradition not in tension with each other but as congruent.  Prof. Pelikan notes:

It was inconceivable to the exponents of the orthodox consensus that there could be any contradiction between Scripture properly interpreted and the tradition of the ancient fathers; or, more precisely, Scripture was properly interpreted with tradition. (Vol. I pp. 336-337; emphasis added)

Orthodoxy as Catholicity

In early Christianity the premium was placed on ecclesiology, not biblical studies.  This is the recognition that Scripture could only be properly understood within the true church.  This is the opposite of the Protestant approach which asserts that only by Scripture alone could there be a true church.  Prof. Pelikan notes:

The criterion of universality required that a doctrine, to be recognized as the teaching of the church rather than a private theory of a man or a school, be genuinely catholic, that is, be the confession of “all the churches . . . one great horde of people from Palestine to Chalcedon with one voice reechoing the praises of Christ.” (Vol. 1 p. 333)

The stricture against private theory can be levied against Luther’s innovative doctrines of sola fide and sola scriptura, and Calvin’s doctrine of total depravity and double predestination.

Vincent also seems to have anticipated the Protestant tendency to split off and form new churches. Then again, it may be that Protestantism reprises the theological method of the ancient heterodox who abandoned communion with the true Church.  He writes:

What then will a Catholic Christian do, if a small portion of the Church have cut itself off from the communion of the universal faith?  What, surely, but prefer the soundness of whole body to the unsoundness of a pestilent and corrupt member?  (Commonitory ch. III, §7; NPNF Series II Vol. XI p. 132)

Orthodoxy as Antiquity

In the early Church antiquity was held in high regard because it indicated apostolic origins.  Vincent held to a nuanced understanding of “antiquity.”  Antiquity by itself was not enough.  Ancient orthodoxy was to be preferred over ancient heresy (Vol. 1 p. 338).  Antiquity as a standard meant the rejection of doctrinal innovation.  Vincent viewed doctrinal innovation as a serious threat to the life of the church.

What, if some novel contagion seek to infect not merely an insignificant portion of the Church, but the whole?  Then it will be his care to cleave to antiquity, which at this day cannot possibly be seduced by any fraud of novelty.  (Commonitory ch. III, §7; NPNF Series II Vol. XI p. 132)

Doctrinal innovation was understood, not just in terms of new ideas but also in terms of modifications made to a theological system, e.g., giving up or relinquishing certain teachings, or by mingling the ancient with the novel (ch. XXVIII, §58). The latter seems to stand as warning to modern day Protestants who seek to graft ancient Christian practices onto their Protestant system. He writes:

…if what is new begins to be mingled with what is old, foreign with domestic, profane with sacred, the custom will of necessity creep on universally, till at last the Church will have nothing left untampered with, nothing unadulterated, nothing sound, nothing pure; but where formerly there was a sanctuary of chaste and undefiled truth, thenceforward there will be a brothel of impious and base errors (Commonitory ch. XXVIII, §58).

Orthodoxy does not mean historical stasis.  Vincent has a dynamic understanding of orthodoxy.  He writes:

But some one will say perhaps, Shall there, then, be no progress in Christ’s Church?  Certainly; all possible progress.  For what being is there, so envious of men, so full of hatred to God, who would seek to forbid it?  Yet on condition that it be real progress, not alteration of the faith.  For progress requires that the subject be enlarged in itself, alteration, that it be transformed into something else.  (Commonitory ch. XXIII, §54; NPNF Series II Vol. XI pp. 147-148)

But the Church of Christ, the careful and watchful guardian of the doctrines deposited in her charge, never changes anything in them, never diminishes, never adds, does not cut off what is necessary, does not add what is superfluous, does or lose her own, does not appropriate what is another’s, but while dealing faithfully and judiciously with ancient doctrine…. (Commonitory ch. XXIII, §58; NPNF Series II Vol. XI p. 132)

Orthodoxy as Eucharist

Eucharistic unity played an important part in how Vincent understood orthodoxy.  He poses a hypothetical scenario in which one is confronted with a doctrinal novelty then sketches the appropriate response.

But what, if some error should spring up on which no such decree is found to bear?  Then he must collate and consult and interrogate the opinions of the ancients, of those, namely, who, though living in divers times and places, yet continuing in the communion and faith of the one Catholic Church, stand forth acknowledged and approved authorities: and whatsoever he shall ascertain to have been held, written, taught, not by one or two of these only, but by all, equally, with one consent, openly, frequently, persistently, that he must understand that he himself also is to believe without any doubt or hesitation.  (Commonitory ch. III, §8; NPNF Series II Vol. XI p. 132)

The recommended response is that one gives weight to authorities in Eucharist communion with the Church (see also ch. XXVIII, §72 and ch. XXIX, §77).  Right doctrine cannot exist apart from Eucharist union with the right Church.  The implication here is that the remedy is a return to communion with the Church Catholic, not doctrinal triangulation.

The Locus of Orthodoxy – Right Doctrine versus Right Church

Protestantism has a different approach from that of the early church to identifying the locus of orthodoxy.  Protestantism situates orthodoxy in doctrine, but the early Christians placed it in the church.  Again Prof. Pelikan notes:

To identify orthodox doctrine, one had to identify its locus, which was the catholic church, neither Eastern nor Western, neither Greek nor Latin, but universal throughout the civilized world (οικουμενη).

This church was the repository of truth, the dispenser of grace, the guarantee of salvation, the matrix of acceptable worship.  (Vol. 1 p. 334; emphasis added)

Just as the early Church believed that one could not be orthodox in doctrine unless one was in Eucharistic union with the true Church, so likewise the Orthodox Church today insists that doctrinal orthodoxy cannot be separated from Eucharistic union with her.  It is hoped that our examination of the Vincentian Canon and its proper context, the Commonitory, shows how the Orthodox Church adheres to the three fold criteria of ubiquity, antiquity, and catholciity, and how Protestantism is found wanting on the basis of these criteria.



Part I argued: (1) Outlaw’s allegation that Jaroslav Pelikan criticized the Vincentian Canon is based on a misreading of Pelikan, (2) his demand for evidence of the catholicity of ancient Christian doctrine unfair and unrealistic, (3) his understanding of “by all” seems to be confined to just the church fathers and excludes other sources of tradition like early councils and the early liturgies, and (4) his reduction of Orthodoxy to an Aristotelian syllogism is simplistic and rests on an erroneous premise of his own making.

Part II examined the Commonitory showing that: (1) orthodoxy consisted of Scripture interpreted within received tradition; (2) orthodoxy consisted of Eucharistic union with the church catholic; (3) heterodoxy and schism are interrelated; and (4) while progress is allowed, innovation is forbidden.

In conclusion, the Vincentian Canon reflected the rich theological tradition of the early Church.  What is amazing is how much the Commonitory anticipates the theological methods of Protestantism: (1) its tendency to doctrinal innovation, (2) its propensity for schism, and (3) its disregard for Eucharistic communion as a mark of orthodoxy.  The Orthodox Church of today continues to draw on this rich tradition while Protestantism is found to be wanting in light of the three markers of: ubiqutiy, antiquity, and catholicity.

I urge Outlaw and my Protestant readers to recognize that the Vincentian Canon is truly rooted in the historic Christian Faith and as such the Canon is useful for distinguishing orthodoxy from heterodoxy.

Robert Arakaki



  1. Cristian-Stavros Metcas

    Great article, Robert! I was waiting for a long time fore such a theme to be treated like you did. I would allow myself to suggest you to write an article of the same calibre, which should show the importance of dogma, or of the true doctrines of the Church, necessary to be adhered to by the believers in order to be saved, in contrast with the stance of the modern non-denominational protestant churches, especially charismatic, which emphasize the role of the faith as being almost exclusively an individual or colective experience.

  2. Outlaw Presbyterian

    I appreciate your taking the time to deal with some of these concerns. Per one quote,

    ***I suspect that Outlaw fell victim to a hasty superficial reading of Prof. Pelikan’s profound scholarship and that he believed he found a convenient quote in support of his Protestant position. The lesson here is that in dealing with church history and patristic theology one must take care to read the text carefully and in its proper context.***

    I’ve spent five years reading thousands of pages of Pelikan. I doubt I fell victim to hasty generalization. I was *not* claiming Pelikan supported Protestantism (I think I claimed the exact opposite). I was simply showing, per Pelikan, that the Canon, while nice, isn’t all that helpful at times. The only way it is helpful, as both you and Pelikan demonstrate, is by excessive qualification.

    • david

      Robert’s response here:

      “It should be noted that the words in quotation marks are from Newman’s An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (p. 12). In other words, it was John Henry Newman who was challenging the adequacy of the Vincentian Canon, not Jaroslav Pelikan.”

      “I suspect that Outlaw fell victim to a hasty superficial reading of Prof. Pelikan’s profound scholarship and that he believed he found a convenient quote in support of his Protestant position.”

      Neither Robert or anyone at the OrthodoxBridge.com would quarrel with how many pages you’ve read, or doubt your normal theological accumen. But do you not strain a tad too hard here NOT to admit your error of attribution…or the faulty syllogism he exposed above? This is surprising given your appeal at times to “peer review scholarship”.
      in His tender mercies brother.

      • Outlaw Presbyterian

        i repeat:

        I was simply showing, per Pelikan, that the Canon, while nice, isn’t all that helpful at times. The only way it is helpful, as both Robert and Pelikan demonstrate, is by excessive qualification.

        The point is, said canon is not as useful in the Monothelite controversy (since Maximus was precisely *not* in the “everywhere believed” camp) nor in the Iconoclasm controversy, sicne both sides appealed to tradition, as Clendennin documents.

        • Eric

          You are right. The Vincentian Canon is very problematic at times for Roman Catholic dogma such as the Infallibility of the Pope, indulgences and the Immaculate Conception. That is because the Roman Church gives only lip service to the consensus patrum for their modern dogma, in spite of what they claim at Trent.

          But how is the Vincentian Canon problematic for the One Holy Orthodoxy Church?

        • Eric

          You are right. The Vincentian Canon is very problematic at times for Roman Catholic dogma such as the Infallibility of the Pope, indulgences and the Immaculate Conception. That is because the Roman Church gives only lip service to the consensus patrum for their modern dogma, in spite of what they claim at Trent.

          But how is the Vincentian Canon problematic for the One Holy Orthodox Church?

        • Justin Olmstead

          Regarding the invocation of St. Maximus as a test case for counter-evidence against the Vincentian Canon: If one reads the entire Commonatory, one discovers that St. Vincent dealt explicitly with the case of one father erring, most clearly in Chapters 3 and 28. This is part and parcel of the explication and vindication of the Canon. With respect, the Vincentian Canon appears not fully understood by Outlaw to begin with.

    • Michael Markowski

      If you have spent years in Patristics, then you KNOW assuredly that there is one point the Fathers and the biblical authors agreed upon without exception: unity. From Clement’s letter to the Corinthians onward, this unity was present in their thoughts, words and deeds, but that unity is denied in thought, word and deed by Luther and Protestants since.

  3. Scott R. Harrington

    Dear Robert, The Catholic Church has believed always, everywhere, and by everyone, that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father” (John 15:26). This is the same thing as saying “who proceeds from the Father alone” as St. Photios said. There is no difference in doctrine or in meaning by saying “from the Father alone”; the word “alone” merely explains what the Scripture is actually saying, that it does not say “and the Son”, which is The Truth! (John 16:13). God save us. In Erie PA USA Scott R. Harrington

    • david

      Hey Scott,

      I may have misunderstood you but it seems you are conflating “the eternal Procession of the Spirit” from the Father before time (ontology)…with “the sending of Spirit by Father and Son” in time and history (economy).

      This is similar to the Son of God being “Eternally Begotten”of the Father before time (Ontology)…but being “Incarnate in the womb of the Virgin Mary” by Father and Spirit in time (economy). Whatever the case, the Fathers were certainly aware of Jn. 16:13 in the economy of historic Pentecost…which says nothing of the Holy Spirits’ eternal Procession from the Father. Hope this helps.

  4. Karen

    Thanks, Robert. Some helpful clarifications there.

    Just on the more practical side, it is hard for me to see, knowing my own weakness and lack of wisdom, how Protestantism and Sola Scriptura (given its obvious historical results–no genuinely unified communion of Protestant Christians), could possibly be a completely good and merciful God’s will for his people. It makes full discernment practically impossible. In contrast, it is not very difficult once you become Orthodox not to notice immediately first how very consistent Orthodox liturgy, dogma and practice is, no matter where in the world or in which language or canonical jurisdiction you experience it and secondly how stable its core matrix of the interpretation and practice of the Scriptures is. And, secondly, to notice how recognizably like the Church it is of that era that recognized, defended, and bequeathed to us the canon of the Scriptures and the Church’s fully universal Creed, along with what are considered even among most Protestants fully orthodox Trinitarian and Christological understandings. The end result is that when particular Orthodox parishes, people, or leaders disappoint and fail their own Tradition in some way (as they will inevitably do, we all being sinners), there is always still the Tradition with its clear and stable vision of Christ (and its Saints) to cling to–not something rather nebulous, frequently contradictory, and shifting by comparison.

  5. Joshua Torrey


    Thanks for the article. Thomas Oden briefly discusses the Vincentian Canon in his book The Rebirth of Orthodoxy: Signs of New Life in Christianity. As a Protestant reading from a Protestant perspective it was a great introduction and resoundingly in harmony with your article.

  6. John

    Good post, yet there are a few serious squiggles that need to be addressed.

    What would the answers been to “Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est” had this statement been made c100CE by St John the Evangelist?

    I suggest very different to those received by Vincent in 434CE . . .
    At first, I will limit myself to just two – the “ubique” and “semper”.
    And to just one issue, hermeneutics.

    More than 90% of the Church at that time (c100CE) would have been still within the Jerusalem-Central orbit; and not heading in the Pauline direction of Justin Martyr or the Epistle of Barnabas (and finally Marcion) in their anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism.

    In the field of hermeneutics, they would have overwhelmingly been still using the Hebrew PaRDeS system. And NOT the two evil Hellenised systems: Allegory from Alexandria (the home of the Ptolemies) or Symbolism from Antioch (the home of the Selucids) – neither of which could credibly be used with Hebrew literature, especially Hebrew Sacred Literature, and produce an accurate result.

    Thus the “quod ab omnibus creditum est” in the field of Biblical hermeneutics in many places would have been substantially different to that of Vincent’s day. And in 100CE they would have been interpreting St John’s Book of Revelations far differently with the Hebrew approach to apocalyptic included.

    Hermeneutics changed substantially over those 335 years approx. From Hebrew to Greek methodologies (with all its misleading results), and in favour of a Constantinian Imperial environment.

    Thus, Vincent’s aphorism can only be treated in an aorist manner for any particular era selected. Thus it would have been subtly different after every Ecumenical Council, and in the Latin west, subtly different again to the Greek east.

    In any case, in a broader context with respect to the “creditum”, Vincent knew full well that the beliefs in the British Isles had not experienced the evolution that had happened within the Roman Empire up to his day.

    Locally, in his own Lérins, there were two major strands present:
    A) the majority strand which could trace its links back to its evangelisation by St Mary Magdalene, St Martha and St Lazarus,
    B) the minority strand which was a more recent and post-Constantine Latin import.
    For which strand was Vincent speaking? There were significant differences between the two.

    Augustine of Aosta (later of Canterbury) found a significantly different Church to his own when he arrived in 597CE to commandeer the British Church for Rome. A Church in the British Isles which had changed little since Joseph of Arimatha’s first arrival in 36CE. The Church in the British Isles to 597CE within itself could more credibly claim the Vincentian canon throughout its 560-odd years until its Augustine than could either Rome or Alexandria in this same period.

    Then what of the “Desposnyi” issue in 317CE with Sylvester? These Desposnyi challenged Sylvester’s legitimacy as well as his orthodoxy – something very different to their own. These Desposnyi were totally unchanged since Pentecost 30CE (and thus could credibly claim the “Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est”) for their entire history, Rome at that time was substantially different since the days of Linus, and thus could not. And then what of Damasus?

    As for Jerusalem, it experienced a major disjunction in 135CE when a Greek bishop was installed to exploit Hadrian’s ban on Jews entering the city. An installation illegal (and illegal continuously to this day) as far as St James the Just and Desposnyi policy was concerned!

    I could go on, but I trust that this disposes of the non-aorist nature of the Vincentian Canon.

    Pax Vobiscum

    • Outlaw Presbyterian

      Thank you. I don’t reject the canon en toto. But simply saying it does nothing in terms of epistemic belief.

  7. Andrew

    The Orthodox response is that this controversy was resolved at the Sixth Ecumenical Council. Orthodoxy recognizes that church fathers as individuals may err but as a collective witness they bear witness to orthodox truth.

    Maybe I’m missing something, but I do think that Outlaw does have a point. There do seem to be two standards of determining orthodoxy at play here, i.e. the Vincentian Canon and ecumenical councils, and the latter can overrule the former. It reminds me of Cardinal Manning’s pithy dictum that we must ‘overcome history with dogma’.

    • robertar


      Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge! Orthodoxy doesn’t do theology by formula. There are multiple ways of discerning right doctrine. The study of Scripture is one. The teachings of the church fathers as they expound on Scripture is another. The oral tradition handed down from the Apostles. The liturgical texts are still another source of doctrine. All I can say is that Orthodoxy is more like a living culture than a tidy intellectual system. I recommend you spend time visiting an Orthodox Church, become familiar with the Liturgy, then note how the Liturgy complements Scripture, the Church Fathers, the Councils. Orthodoxy is like a huge house where the family members faithfully safeguard the family heirlooms.

      I suspect that Cardinal Manning was probably speaking as a cynical Roman Catholic prelate. His comment is disrespectful to Tradition and to the Councils. I don’t think you will find this attitude in Orthodoxy. But since you appear to be speaking as a Protestant, I invite you to study for yourself the historical data and reach your conclusions as to how far church politics made use of dogma for its machinations. Hopefully you will find that in Orthodoxy we treat history and Apostolic Tradition with respect.


      • John


        Thank you for this.

        Re: Manning (et al)

        Perhaps you have not read the Council of Trent with sufficient thoroughness. I would hate to think so. In Rome, this “council” (unrecognised in Orthodoxy except by the fringe Peter Moghila) effectively reduced history to being merely a sub-set of dogma. And, de-facto, created the principle that history may be re-written as many times as was necessary to conform to the ruling ideology of the Pope (or Magesterium) of the day.

        And this Roman interplay between re-written history and dogma constitutes the “Tradition” of the Roman Church ever since Trent. Contrary to what you say about “disrespect” for Tradition, this comment constitutes the very essence of Roman Tradition. This is how Rome’s Tradition can always change yet retain the illusion of changelessness.

        As I observed elsewhere, this is a perfect example of an aorist Vincentian Canon in operation.

        As an aside, this explains the origin of the shameless re-writing of history by the “politically-correct” of our day to conform to their own prejudices and presuppositions – none of which need have any resemblance to or connection with the facts of the time they purport to present. They learned their trade in Rome!

        Both Manning, and his compatriot Newman recognised this principle in operation in their day, and so this quote of Manning’s, sadly is Not cynical, but is a sad, but accurate commentary on his Church.

        Yes! I agree with you re the overall cynicism of Roman prelates. Most of them since Sylvester were cynical, and are even more so in 2012 – courtesy of the Vatican’s handling of the sex-scandal, but this sort of cynicism did not enter the calculus of the comment by Manning reproduced above.

        I trust that this assists.

  8. Outlaw Presbyterian

    ***Orthodoxy recognizes that church fathers as individuals may err but as a collective witness they bear witness to orthodox truth.***

    This seems circular. Something about this doesn’t set right with me. Still trying to put my finger on it.

    I guess we could say, “How do we know at a particular time if a church father is erring?” We can’t appeal to other Fathers because that is the very issue at question. Appealing to a Council *might* work, but only if that council is addressing the relevant issue.

    • Raphael

      We appeal to the Tradition of the Church…capital T – Apostles, Bible, Bishops, Laity (that Royal Priesthood), Fathers, Saints, Liturgy, Icons, Councils (Ecumenical & some local), the Living Tradition of the Eucharist etc. etc. All guided by the Holy Spirit for 2000 years! Come and See!

    • Karen

      I believe Raphael is onto something with the “Come and See.” But there is, perhaps, a missing component to many Christians’ understanding of the notion of how truth is sought here. We all know Christian Tradition is, at its deepest foundation if it is indeed authentically Christian Tradition, part of a living, relational faith with God/Christ as He knows Himself to be.

      In Orthodoxy, central to its notion of the Tradition is the understanding that this Tradition is only fully discoverable by using the faculty of the “nous” (heart/deepest seat of the whole human person). This is something different (not opposed to, but altogether a different perceptive faculty) than the discursive, judging rational mind (which, of necessity, is always examining things like Scripture, history, and the sayings of the Fathers from the outside, looking in–as if we could put them under a microscope like a specimen and understand them from the outside). As I said, the “nous” is more a God-given faculty of the spiritually receptive/perceptive whole person and closely related to conscience (or rather conscience is one way in which we all experience the “nous”).

      Fr. Meletios Webber has written extensively on the difference between the discursive “mind” and the “nous” in his book, *Bread and Water, Wine and Oil.* There is also a good essay by him (which entertainingly reflects his dry Scottish wit as well) over at Fr. Stephen’s web site, which may be of interest:

      Hope I’m not getting unhelpfully off-topic here!

  9. Doubting Thomas

    I think the key is in the ‘COLLECTIVE witness’. I am fairly certain Vincent addressed this issue.

  10. Outlaw Presbyterian

    Ruminating on the original post, it’s interesting to see myself labeled “antagonistic.” Granted the internet is a poor medium of vocal inflection, I didn’t see myself coming across that way. Good examples of antagonistic posting can be found at puritanboard.com and orthodoxinfo.com. I simply disagree with Orthodoxy on a few points and framed my disagreements in a forceful, even sharp, but hopefully still civil, manner.

    If I did come across sharp to some, it’s simply I’ve noticed that this site really isn’t a bridge for two communions to “dialogue.” It’s more of “Why Orthodoxy is Right and if You would just go to an Orthodox Church You would See Too we Really Don’t Care what you Reformed People Have to Say.”

    That’s why I threw the Pelikan reference out in the open. My point was that facile applications of interesting maxims don’t always work–or only work in very limited circumstances, as the commenter John so ably pointed out (which was all I was trying to say, too).

    • robertar


      When you wrote, “like a judo artist, I will redirect the blow,” you are using the language of the martial arts. This gives me the sense you are taking the stance of an antagonist, “one that contends with or opposes another” (Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary). How else was I suppose to take it? I take seriously what you have to say.


      • Outlaw Presbyterian

        Um…have you ever seen an antagonistic internet site? The judo reference was a metaphor, and one that aptly proves my point, since Judo is a relatively non-violent system (and Martial Arts is not about “violence,” having taken it for over a decade).

  11. Outlaw Presbyterian

    Martial is about developing discipline, peace, strength, hand-eye coordination. Few Martial arts systems (excepting MMA and its off-shoorts) will claim it is about “fighting” or “violence.”

    • Raphael

      Yes…I’m sure your opponent feels a great deal of peace as you bend his arm to the point of breaking! 😉
      Let’s stay on topic..I am curious to see how your apologetic judo plays out. Thus far it is akin to throwing yourself off a cliff, attempting to grab your opponent on the way down, and as you miss your opponents hand and crash to the ground you yell “victory”!

      • Outlaw Presbyterian

        You’re right. I lose. What was I thinking (still noting no one has addressed John’s post)?

        • Raphael

          My goodness…that seems silly! I was attempting levity.

          In your original post you stated in your argument that if your “charge is correct” you would be proving Orthodox false. One should expect to be challenged when making such a statement. You are attempting to prove the faith of hundreds of millions “false”. While we believe that Orthodoxy is the fullness of the faith I don’t recall Robert attempting to prove that Protestantism is a false faith. I loved Jesus dearly when I was a Presbyterian Minister and I know Robert did as well. Perhaps I’m wrong and I missed something Robert wrote.

          Now regarding John…which part would you like us to respond to as he seems to go in several different directions?

          Also…you have not responded to our assertions when answering your questions. You stated “I guess we could say, “How do we know at a particular time if a church father is erring?” We can’t appeal to other Fathers because that is the very issue at question. Appealing to a Council *might* work, but only if that council is addressing the relevant issue.” I answered with “We appeal to the Tradition of the Church…capital T – Apostles, Bible, Bishops, Laity (that Royal Priesthood), Fathers, Saints, Liturgy, Icons, Councils (Ecumenical & some local), the Living Tradition of the Eucharist etc. etc. All guided by the Holy Spirit for 2000 years! Come and See!” and then Karen further answered. We await your response…

        • Canadian

          What John or Florovsky (as I referrred to on your blog) says about the VC does not therefore allow for Protestantism.

          • Outlaw Presbyterian

            That might or might not be so, my point, which John seemed to say something similar, was that facile applications of the VC do not work. That’s all.

  12. david


    Let’s we lose focus here…who threw down the gauntlet openly challenging the OrthodoxBridge by name on their blog? You did. Robert (ever the gentleman) pointed your mistakenly reference to Pelikan, missing that it was really John Henry Newman a Roman Catholic who disparaged Vincentian Canon. (You still don’t seem to get this?) Robert also pointed out (along with several others now) your false syllogism: there is no simplistic appeal to one Church Father…ever…to establish anything. As for open dialogue, Robert has with great patience allowed you ample space to lent-pick, on and on. But yet you chaffe because he and other Orthodox will not concede you’re right, when they believe you are mistaken. As a Protestant inquirer looking on — you look defensive and touchy when the Orthodox disagree with you (and point out your errors) you seem even yet a tad reticent to own. Just saying brother, your apology thus far has been less than persuasive, though somewhat combative and at the same time, sensitive. For what it’s worth, Orthodox’s appeal to a “Collective Witness” of Fathers, E-Canons, Liturgy, the Church…is a bit squishy (like history) and is very diffrent than our Western zeal for dogmatic propositional truth statements. Perhaps it’s time for us all to let it go, and move on to something else? There is no urgency we all agree, on everything, right this minute. 🙂 Let’s keep talking to eacy other.

  13. Outlaw Presbyterian

    I still don’t see where I came off as antagonistic. I *admit* the mistaken reference to Pelikan now. Though to be fair, specific posts and retractions, etc., get lost in the myriads of posts.

    Anyway, whether my quoting of Pelikan was mistaken or not is now irrelevant per John’s post. John has issued an even more fundamental challenge to the Vincentian Canon than I ever did (and for the record, I agree with VC as a general maxim for good advice).

    Again, my whole point was this (and yet to reiterate yet again, I am not saying VC is wrong): we can’t on one hand make facile references to the VC as though what the church has always believed everywhere is easily discernible and yet make similar statements that church history and identification of dogma, per the last paragraph of your post, is “squishy.” The identification of what the church has believed in history is either clear or squishy, not both.

    That’s all I was trying to get at. If I have caused offense for things not for the gospel’s sake, I apologize.

    • Raphael

      Of course it can be both…that kind of reductionist mindset is foreign to Orthodoxy. Just as God can be known and unknown…

      • Karen

        Glad you said that. It is helpful to me.

        In broad strokes, it seems to me we DO have three identifiable main best options to consider as modern-day inheritors of the first-millenium orthodox Catholic Christian Apostolic Tradition as there handed down (however “squishy” we grant that to be). It would be Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Eastern Orthodox. It seems to me Protestant in its broad assumptions (the four “Solas”?) has produced too fragmented and contradictory a place (in both dogma and practice) to even consider as having kept this Christian Tradition in its fullness intact.

  14. david

    Thanks Outlaw…I always suspected you had a good, sincere heart (totally depraved?)! For now…I kinda like going with Raphael’s “Clear & Squishy”…as awkward as that ‘clearly’ is (NPI) for a Protestant! 🙂

  15. John

    To all who have responded in their own way to my comments, and even to Robert who as yet has not responded, I say thank you and may God be with you.

    Whatever the Orthodox Tradition may say about or claim for Vincent and his Canon . . . from the effluxion of time and circumstance in history, we have to recognize as fact that at least in the gentile Pauline-Imperial Church’s Latin West, both his “semper” and “omnibus” (for different reasons) simply cannot credibly survive outside an “aorist” context – especially the “semper”. There has been simply too much change there for any other credible alternative.

    Let us consider further problems with this Canon . . .

    # And then, what of the critical time between 325CE and 381CE (the First two Ecumenical Councils) in the Roman Empire?

    At many points in this continuum, the “answer” to his observation could, with only minor tweaking, have come up as Arian! With the Orthodox of belief during this period of Arian ascendancy rendered persona non grata, and hence ineligible to be inclusively counted in the Vincentian formula.

    # And then, what of the period 754CE – 843CE in the Byzantine East?

    There could simply be no “omnibus” due to so many being Iconoclasts. Here, there is a clear diminution of the “omnibus” factor in Eastern Orthodox History. And that the “semper” here can only apply retrospectively to the Orthodox minority.

    # And then, (commencing at different times for different regions), what of Greek, Turkish and Arabic Orthodoxy under Muslim dhimmitude?

    While the degree of compromise and accommodation varied from place to place, there were still sufficient differences to be noted when compared against “snapshots-in-time” both from previous eras and, after the conversion of Russia, in Russia itself.

    Even to this day for example, as a consequence of this compromise, the Arabs simply will not exegete Rev 9:1-12 and its “locusts” as prophetically applying to Islam – as they are required to do.

    # And then in Russia after Patriarch Nikon’s “reforms”?

    The “Old Believers” had a slightly more credible and recent claim to the Canon than Nikon’s “New Believers”.

    And so, to partially answer a question I posed in an earlier post, the only way we can credibly salvage Vincent’s Canon in any unrestricted sense is to start in Jerusalem at Pentecost 30CE and organically link it to the all Jewish Jerusalem-Central Church of St James the Just at that time, and refuse to allow it to be dissevered therefrom at any time thereafter. And to continuously test its applicability, work forward in time from that point and place.

    And to extend it to all gentile Churches organically related and remaining related thereto. Thus, this includes the Church of Mar Toma in India planted by St Thomas, the British Church planted by St Joseph of Arimathea (until at least 597CE), and the Church in southern France planted by St Mary Magdalene, St Martha and St Lazarus until it was displaced by a post-Constantine Latinised and Romanised usurpation.

    We would also perforce have to allow the congregations in the Pauline Orbit to gradually (and for some over a period of centuries) drift outside the applicability of this Canon (and for some, permanently), for the sole reason to ease their consciences over the changes they have experienced down through the ages.

    Finally, we also have to link its applicability with the concept of “apostolic succession”, and to mandate that the credibility and legitimacy of any true “apostolic succession” remain forever linked to that Jerusalem Church of Pentecost 30CE ant ITS “Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est”.

    Pax Vobiscum

    • Outlaw Presbyterian

      Wow. I happily retract everything I have said about the VC. That comment was, quite frankly, awesome.

    • robertar


      Your detailed knowledge of church history is quite impressive. It shows how messy church history can be. When I use the Vincentian Canon the purpose was to determine where I could locate the one holy catholic and apostolic Church confessed in the Nicene Creed (or as you would probably call it the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed). The Vincentian Canon is a rule of thumb that does not stand on its own but must be accompanied by the Seven Ecumenical Councils and the Pentarchy. Following these principles led me the Eastern Orthodox Church, more specifically, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. I’m curious to know which church tradition do you affiliate with? As I read through your lengthy comments I find very little clue as to your church identity. Maybe you can enlighten the rest of us?


      • robertar


        Let’s not make personal comparisons, especially negative ones. It’s fine to refer to the commendable traits of others but let us strive to stay away from ad hominem attacks. Critiques of the facts presented or analysis by others are on the other fair game here. I encourage the vigorous exchange of ideas here. In all that we do here let us strive to be courteous and charitable in order that we may honor the name of Jesus Christ.


        • Raphael

          Most certainly, you are correct…please forgive me. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. Through the prayers of our Lady have mercy on me a sinner…Lord have mercy. My apologies Robert and John. Please forgive me.

        • Outlaw Presbyterian

          Thank you, Robert. As anyone who has read Drake’s stuff, and my stuff, will know, I have nothing in common with Drake’s rhetoric.

          I also appreciate your finally moderating a comment besides mine. If this site wants to truly be a place of dialogue, it needs to do more than simply moderate those comments which disagree with the position of the blog.

        • John


          Thank you for your moderation here, I support you entirely. I have tried to avoid ad-hominem. If I have failed, mea-maxima-culpa.

          And Raphael (lower down), I extend to you the forgiveness we all give on Forgiveness Sunday.

          May God be with you both as together we make the pilgrimage of faith towards the Holy City soon to descend from heaven to be our eternal home.

          As a footnote to this exchange, (and Raphael, I would Not want you to see yourself included in what follows, I would like to see you as purely an external onlooker) we would be wise to note the fact that if shrinks had been responsible for the Canonisation process in Holy Orthodoxy (as per the “committee” system in Rome), less than 10% of “general” saints would have made it.

          As for those in the category of “fools-for-Christ”, Holy Orthodoxy would have none as Saints to swell the ranks of its heavenly choir.

          They would have been diagnosed as having one or more of the following: general “obsessive-compulsive-disorder”, “manic-depressive”, MPD (multiple personality disorder), scrupulosity/religious compulsive disorder, and so on.

          They would be prescribed some sort of Cognitive behaviour-alteration therapy, and quietly locked away in an asylum.

          Praise God, they shone forth His glory, in spite of this sort of psychoanalysis, and are now in that heavenly choir.

          Let us pray for their inspiration, and use their lives as an example of holy-witness-living.

          Pax Vobiscum,

    • Andrew

      Yes, this is the point I was making re: Cardinal Manning. Dogma trumps history, and thus the Vincentian Canon isn’t very helpful as a norm.

      • Raphael

        Can you elaborate a little more? Your comment seems like a false dichotomy so I think I may be misunderstanding your assertion.

    • Anon

      OP in fact this long comment is riddled with untenable assertions, non sequitur, and irrelevant examples. Will return to this when I have time but it is – at least from the perspective of the Apostolic Hypothesis, way off the mark. And that is the lense under which the Vincentian canon is useful.

      • Outlaw Presbyterian

        whatever. I’ve retracted a few comments (which no one seems to recognize) and redirected some of my arguments. What’s funny is that msot of the Orthodox guys here keep focusing on (admitted) weaknesses in my original contention yet deliberately refusing to answer what John has said (and yes, I realize John and I would probably disagree on ecclesiology, but that’s a moot point at the moment).

        • Raphael

          Once again…what part of what John said as he goes in various directions in each piece? Also… you have not responded to our assertions…we await your response.

      • Karen

        Anon, sounds promising, but could you clarify which “long comment” you are referring to? These threads have gotten a bit long and confusing.

  16. Eric

    “And so, to partially answer a question I posed in an earlier post, the only way we can credibly salvage Vincent’s Canon in any unrestricted sense is to start in Jerusalem at Pentecost 30CE and organically link it to the all Jewish Jerusalem-Central Church of St James the Just at that time, and refuse to allow it to be dissevered therefrom at any time thereafter. And to continuously test its applicability, work forward in time from that point and place.”

    I think you may be on to something here. In practice, I think Orthodox stress the Pre-Nicene Fathers over later Fathers to a certain extent. Yet we would also suggest that the collective witness of the Fathers conveys a consistent message over time, (unlike in Roman Catholicism).

    I think your bigger error is that you are arguing a straw man. St Vincent himself recognised that there was often disagreement in the Church (he disagreed with Augustine), so really I think we can assume that he meant “almost everywhere, always, by almost everybody”. The general meaning is the same.

    Also, Orthodox do not use the Vincentian Canon as an isolated, epistemological tool or as a legal/scientific methodology. The Church communicates doctrinal truth through her many manifestations (Scripture, the Fathers, liturgy, icons). So on its own, the VC may not lead us to all things Orthodox. Do any Orthodox suggest it does?

    The Canon is still useful, however, I think in identifying what is not Orthodox, such as Reformed Eucharistic theology. This is the sense that St Vincent used it. I am glad that OP has modified his comments and now states ” I agree with VC as a general maxim for good advice”, though I think this is still too weak.

    • Outlaw Presbyterian

      I don’t really see that big a difference between maxim of good advice and arguing for what Orthodoxy is not. You rightly mentioned that Vincent disagreed with Augustine. On predestination. He seems to affirm a very Western notion of original sin, though. I wonder–just wondering, not attacking–how that would play into the canon:

      “who ever before his monstrous disciple celestius denied that the whole human race is involved in the *guilt* of Adam’s sin?” (chapter 24).

      I remember a Catholic convertskii challenging me with this and it isn’t easily dismissed. Vincent is saying a number of things that are problematic:

      1) He is not merely saying–ala Chrysostom on Romans 5–that the human race is involved in *death,* but guilt. Yet as Joseph Farrell has so poignantly argued, saying we are involved in guilt is confusing person and nature.

      2) he says his view *is* the view of the universal and ancient church.

      2a) Orthodoxy cannot affirm this statement for a number of reasons:
      2.a.1: Unless I am mistaken, you guys do not believe that we participate in Adam’s guilt
      2.a.2: Vincent is contradicting, among others, St Basil’s Hexameron, where Basil denies that we participate in human guilt.

      I say all of this to reiterate again: The VC is nice, but here is where in order for it to be helpful it must be excessively qualified. Yet as philosophers know, the more one qualifies something, the less useful it is.

    • Outlaw Presbyterian

      I know Vincent isn’t affirming Reformed Eucharistology. Pointing that out distracts from the current discussion. It’s a borderline tu quoque fallacy.

      • Eric

        I am afraid you missed my point in your alacrity to be a fallacy monger. I was pointing out how the VC is clearly rather useful in showing what in unorthodox. St. Vincent used the Canon in this way, sort of apophatically. If a particular doctrine cannot find it’s origin in the Church essentially “everywhere, always, by everyone”–such as Reformed Eucharistic theology as well as other Protestant doctrines– it’s claim to Orthodoxy is tenuous.

        I hope that is clear and a propos to the discussion.

        • Outlaw Presbyterian

          ***If a particular doctrine cannot find it’s origin in the Church essentially “everywhere, always, by everyone”–such as Reformed Eucharistic theology as well as other Protestant doctrines– it’s claim to Orthodoxy is tenuous. ***

          But it become problematic when Vincent himself–the guy that did the canon–said Adam’s guilt passed to all humanity and such was the earliest view of the church (Commonitories, chapter 25). Yet anyone who’s read Eastern triadology knows that the East specifically identified and rejected that tradition. So what of Vincent, then?

          • Eric

            “But it become problematic when Vincent himself–the guy that did the canon–said Adam’s guilt passed to all humanity and such was the earliest view of the church (Commonitories, chapter 25). Yet anyone who’s read Eastern triadology knows that the East specifically identified and rejected that tradition. So what of Vincent, then?”

            Accepting the usefulness of the Vincentian Canon does not mean accepting the infallibility of St Vincent of Lerins. Church Fathers believed a lot of things: dogma, theologoumenon, and occasionally, heresy. According to his own standard, St. Vincent may have embraced some ideas that were not consistent with Orthodox dogma. I know of no council that addressed your specific example, so that belief may fall in the category of “theologoumenon”.

            Defining Orthodox doctrine can be at times a bit messy as many here have commented. Mankind eschews mystery–we all crave certainty– so it may be tempting to use the VC as an epistemological tool to define the Orthodox magisterium. Resist the temptation! Delineating Orthodox doctrine requires immersing oneself at the confluence of different streams of the work of the Holy Spirit: Scripture, the Fathers, liturgy and hymns, icons, the Councils, etc. A bit messy.

            As I have argued, a more simplistic application of the VC may reveal what is unorthodox. For example, as a Protestant I was surprised to find that basically none of the Fathers had a Calvinistic understanding of the Eucharist (though some might have a sort of Lutheran understanding). That leaves one with two possible choices: either the Fathers were unorthodox or the Reformed view is unorthodox. Note that to understand what is an orthodox understanding of the Eucharist, quite a bit more investigation is necessary.

            But the VC can be helpful to test those Protestant beliefs that emerge from a Sola Scriptura hermeneutic. If a particular Protestant notion cannot be shown to have been believed by essentially all Christians everywhere and always, that belief has a weak claim to orthodox Christianity.

    • John


      Thank you for your considered and courteous response.

      Can I take some of your points, but not in the sequence you presented them. And here I sincerely hope that I am not misrepresenting you. If so, my mea culpa in advance.

      You said:

      % I think your bigger error is that you are arguing a straw man. . . .”%

      I agree that I am arguing a “straw man”, although one not of my making, thankfully! This “straw man” which I am arguing was created since Constantine and before 381CE to try to ex post facto justify the entire revolutionary Constantinian Tradition – both Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin) alike.

      With the examples I have already provided, this segues into the second point in your quote:

      %I think we can assume that he meant “almost everywhere, always, by almost everybody”.%

      You are right to qualify the VC – especially with your Augustine vs Vincent allusion (thank you, why didn’t I pick that obvious one up?), however, we need to further broaden your quote into:

      # I think we can assume that he meant for this Constantinian Tradition, “often everywhere, much of the time, by many”.

      This in turn segues into your

      “I think you may be on to something here.”

      Which leads to . . .

      And can I give you some context for what follows (please bear with me and you will see where I am going). What follows integrally deals with foundational ecclesiology, ie the Relationship between the “Synagogue” and the “Church”. And deals at a corporate level with the fifth Commandment of the decalogue as it applies to the Church in the light of Gen 12:2,3 and Matt 25:31-46 (Yeshua’s explanation of the Genesis text):

      “Honour your Father and Mother (the Jews and Judaism) . . .”

      After WW2 and after the manifest horror of first the Nazi and then the Romanov Shoah’s became fully known, certain questions were asked – triggered by the four questions below (similar to those asked in the Pesak Seder):
      1. “How could the Church be so wilfully blind to, or worse – so collaborative with the Romanovs and Nazis?”
      2. “What was it in the Church’s theological DNA that made this Romanov and Nazi nightmare and collaboration possible?”
      3. “Who within the Church was ultimately responsible for this state of affairs?” and
      4. “What do we in the Church need to do theologically to see to it that a new Romanov/Nazi Shoah can never happen again – especially with ostensible “Biblical” support?”

      Inter alia, this forcibly removed Constantine as the de-facto “starting-point” for the Vincentian Canon and relocated it to 30CE, where I have placed it. And to cut a long sequence of regressions short; as a consequence of these two Shoah’s (for #3 & #4 above) we need to reappraise the Acts 15 issue, and its results from the perspective of the Jewish St James the Just and not Paul.

      The “Letter” (15:23,30) was not just the contents of vv23-29, but the Epistle of St James (Yakov in the Hebrew) as well. And requires us to submit to the Jewish understanding of the decision of this “Council” (or Bet Din) as hereunder:

      The Acts 15 Halakah

      The Halakah on Church membership that came out of that Messianic Bet Din – the Halakah (and Midrash) that was to accompany, qualify and “interpret” all of R. Shaul’s efforts (and thus to be read together with all of his Literary output as an “authority” superior to any of it) – when read Jewishly, clearly spelt out the Messianic version of the Traditional Jewish case for membership of “the Nazarene Way”: Ostensibly limited to (Acts 15:29): abstention from what has been sacrificed to idols, from blood, from things strangled and from fornication; this encompassed and represented the minimum standards of a “God-Fearer”.

      The first three represent the entire Kashrut spectrum (although not glatt-kosher) and clearly mandate a continuation of Kashrut for ALL believers, both Jew AND Gentile alike, thus refuting the idea that Peter’s earlier vision of “rise, kill and eat” (Acts 10:13) abolished Kashrut. And it vindicated Peter and Barnabas against Paul in Gal 2:11-13

      The book of Acts makes a point of stressing that Paul was required to submit to the authority of the Apostles and Elders of the Church in Jerusalem and preach both the decree of the Jerusalem Council and the “Gospel” of Jerusalem-Central – and NOT his own!

      (i) against the more radical of R. Shaul’s Gentile followers – following the teachings of Paul to their logical conclusion – who asserted the right for both Jew and Gentile alike to ignore the boundaries of “God-Fearer” wherever and to whatever extent they pleased – including that of Torah-compliance, and create their own eclectic criteria for Church membership,

      – the Messianic Bet Din reminded them (in that list) that the already-established boundaries and expectations of “God-Fearer” were non-negotiable. And remained intact and unchanged in Yeshua’s New Covenant Community. And remained the unavoidable minimum criteria for gentiles who wished to join this Community, and thus to enter into any relationship with Yahweh – the God of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yakov. Something that R. Shaul (at their prodding) was to later explicitly spell out in Rom 11 and the “ingrafting” with olive trees.

      (ii) against the non-Messianic Pharisees – these Scribes and Pharisees – the “Judaisers” who insisted that Gentile “God-Fearers” – whether Messianic or not, could not remain “God-Fearers” indefinitely but sooner or later had to go all the way in conversion to Judaism and become circumcised and follow all the outward finicky nuts and bolts of Jewish observance (including liability to temple-tax)

      – the Messianic Bet Din reaffirmed their right to remain “God-Fearers” – but no less (!) for as long as, and for as many generations as they wished, without further “Judaic” challenge to their membership in the Church (and hence without liability to temple-tax).

      No one other than the Messianic Bet Din, headed by Yosef of Arimathea’s appointee: Yakov, brother-by-law to Yeshua, and clearly under the Authority of the Johannine / Arimathean extended family would possess the Authority to influence and direct (as per (i)) these gentile radicals on such an important matter, especially when it was a matter involving an interpretation of the version of the gospel from the lips of none other than R. Shaul himself – who had converted them in the first place.

      None other than this Johannine / Arimathean Messianic Bet Din had the Authority to take on R. Shaul on a breach of Halakah. To question and to challenge him and to enforce change and submission upon him – and win! And to insist that certain non-Pauline Halakah and Midrash accompany all his travels and qualify all his sermons and evangelization – if he (and his erstwhile”radical” followers) wished to remain within the Church!

      That Paul did not subsequently comply with this order and went his own way is well known and is a another matter for another day.

      I will leave it here for now, and may return to your other points later.

      Pax Vobiscum,

  17. Outlaw Presbyterian

    I probably won’t respond for several reasons: 1) I actually agree with the VC, properly qualified (I think I have said this 38 times now; not that it matters); 2) I have no idea which assertions you are talking about since they were probably buried in numerous responses; 3) I am taking care of a sick infant and so my computer time is limited for the moment.

  18. Raphael

    Please know we are praying for your baby…been up many a night with sick kids. Now that my girls are 21 and 23 the problems just get more complex…my oldest was in the ICU for a week past winter due to complications with diabetes.

    I was referring to your statement “I guess we could say,“How do we know at a particular time if a church father is erring?” We can’t appeal to other Fathers because that is the very issue at question. Appealing to a Council *might*work,but only if that council is addressing the relevant issue.”

    I stated ” We appeal to the Tradition of the Church…capital T –Apostles,Bible, Bishops,Laity (that Royal Priesthood),Fathers,Saints,Liturgy,Icons, Councils (Ecumenical & some local),the Living Tradition of the Eucharist etc. etc. All guided by the Holy Spirit for 2000 years!”

    • Outlaw Presbyterian

      Thanks for your concern. I appreciate it. I will try to respond to your clarified statement when time permits.

    • Outlaw Presbyterian

      Here are thoughts in the form of objections I received over the past few years to that statement. This is how people objected to Orthodoxy on tradition when I presented it:

      1. You are making a number of claims which may or may not be true–I’ll even grant you the benefit of the doubt–but which are by no means self-evident. Those claims, in order for your argument to work, need to be proved. Examples are:

      1.a: That your church and not Rome, Armenia, Copts, or Assyrian Orthodox church is the church guided by the Holy Spirit.

      1.b: hierachical clergy as normative. While the Bible might suggest an episcopal clergy, it never states it beyond mentioning episcopos in a few letters. However, as studies of St Ignatius point out (and I refer to Metrop. Zizzy), episcopos, local pastor, and overseer functioned synonymously.

      1.c: Which fathers? Athanasius affirmed the extra-Calvinisticum (I’ll prove that in a later blog post). Vincent said the imputation or Adam’s guilt was the normative view of the church. Gregory of Rome specifically denied that the Apocrypha is Scripture (it’s in his Moralia). My point is that which fathers and which statements count as hermeneutical controls for identifying tradition?

      1.d: Councils: Which councils? While I believe in the councils and while I believe the Holy Spirit guided them, it is also true that unity was imposed by the Emperor (see the introduction to the St Vlad’s edition of St Gregory’s On God and Christ).

      You might have answers to all of these, but they have to be answered first before you simply say, “We got tradition to show us.” Maybe, but your claim to tradition is not self-evident.

      And to say yet again, that was my whole point. On this blog I keep seeing a lot of claims made that look good and might even be true, but they have to be either qualified or unpacked in great detail. Thus my post.

  19. Karen

    Can anybody enlighten me about OP’s question about St. Vincent’s understanding of original sin? I’d be curious if St. Vincent’s understanding of the imputation of Adam’s guilt is in the same sense as St. Augustine’s reading of Romans 5:12 as Adam’s sin and guilt being passed on through concupiscence (which came to be the Western view) or if he is just using that in the biblical and Orthodox sense that because Adam sinned (introducing corruption and death to the entire human race) all human beings once capable of moral choice commit personal sin and become guilty like Adam.

    • Outlaw Presbyterian

      Vincent is not arguing that we become guilty afterwards by sinful actions. He is arguing that we receive Adam’s guilt beforehand. His language is even stronger than that. He specifically says that the whole human race is involved in “the guilt of Adam’s sin.” In other words, Federal Headship. But as used-to-be-Orthodox scholars like Joseph Farrell so sharply pointed out, that’s confusing person and nature. But this very confusion–ala Farrell’s gloss–is precisely what Vincent said the entire church has believed!


    • Raphael

      Karen, I think the following may help you…particularly some of the articles at the bottom of the article. We have to remember when and where Saint Vincent wrote. The Orthodox “do” theology very different than the protestant churches. It seems that o.p. may want something which is boiled down and condensed like Calvinism’s TULIP.


      • Outlaw Presbyterian

        While I don’t want to have a pissing contest on who has read more, forgive the crass language, I spent the last five years reading over 10,000 double-columned pages of the Fathers from the Schaff set. I’ve read Joseph Farrell’s 1,200 page God, History, and Dialectic at least three times. With the exception of two volumes, I have read ALL of the secondary literature on St Maximus the Confessor.

        Yes, I know, I am citing books and that is probably evidence of my “Westernism” (de Regnon, what have you wrought?), and I know I can’t “really” understand it unless I am Orthodoxy, but I think I get the general idea of what is going on.

        For the record, I reject TULIP as popularly formed (and so did the Synod of Dort, but that’s another story).

        • Canadian

          Hey, watch where your aiming.

  20. Outlaw Presbyterian

    I don’t say any of that to boast. It seems you are thinking that I don’t know squat about Orthodoxy. I spent five years pursuing the system. I lost friends whom I will never gain back because they thought I had abandoned the faith. I burned bridges with churches and institutions (not intentionally) because I thought Orthodoxy was on to something.

    This isn’t something I take lightly. I really did look into this but I cannot epistemically commit to it. For the first time in five years I actually have peace in my heart (I know, it’s probably a satanic, deluded peace–prolest, anybody?).

    • Karen

      Forgive me, OP. With my question about St. Vincent, it was my own ignorance (which is considerable) I was seeking to dispel, but I can see how asking it in the way that I did inadvertently cast aspersions on your interpretation. That was not my intention–I just wanted to know how an Orthodox read St. Vincent’s language.

      I think you meant “prelest.” Speaking completely from my own experience, it is possible where there is that much intensive study and, perhaps, some anxiety in the process, there is some danger, yes, that certain kinds of insecurity and pride are at work.

      Just based on what I know of the Lord’s character, Christ gives peace and it is perhaps He Who has led you to a place of peace with where you are for the time being. It is hard to really hear His Voice speaking apart from a sense of quiet and calm–without knowing that wherever you are, He, too, is there to lead and keep you and has never changed.

      The only reason for a person to join the Orthodox Church is if he has become convinced what it teaches is true and that this is Christ’s will for him (out of a peaceful and confident assurance). This is not quite the same as joining the Church because you are anxious to be “right” and you are anxious that if you don’t you won’t be in the “right” place. There are some who may join the Church for the wrong reasons, and they may be no better off (and potentially worse off) than those who stay outside the Church for the right reasons (conscience) and yet who are sincerely pursuing a relationship of trust and obedience to Christ.

      • Raphael

        Well said Karen…Lord have mercy on us all. Take it easy o.p….didn’t say that you were Calvinist of the TULIP variety…just that it is an example…I however was a Calvinist…a very devout one at one time. I can tell you the trip from there to here was brutal. I learned some valuable lessons along the way…I think this is life long? One advantage of losing most friends and associates is a deeper reliance on the Lord. I pray that Christ will guide your path.

    • Canadian

      “This isn’t something I take lightly. I really did look into this but I cannot epistemically commit to it. For the first time in five years I actually have peace in my heart”

      One caution, which might seem off-base, but this is the very sentiment I have seen from intellectuals on atheist blogs after they leave the Christian faith altogether. If you just back the uncertainty up a step, then you are asking foundational questions that also cannot be fully satisfied with epistemic certainty.
      Yet, the saints experience God, even in miraculous ways. But the first question we tend to ask is “how do I know that saint so-and-so actually experienced the supernatural”. The other uncertainty at play is why different people have peace leaving the faith, or staying in a denomination, or becoming Orthodox. It is obviously an unreliable and subjective measure. So, thank you for not burning your bridge from Orthodoxy, you just may discover the desire to experience God here later on.

      • Outlaw Presbyterian

        I realize that, though there are some differences between my account and their’s (I’m largely relying on Plantinga’s concept of “warrant”).

        I might discover that “peace” later (and note that was the last thing I mentioned, meaning I gave it very little epistemic weight).

        Truth of the matter, I was an emotional, spiritual, and physical wreck until about April of this year. For reasons I can’t get into right now, I couldn’t go into Orthodoxy. Realizing that let me make peace with my Protestant surroundings, and eventually gave me a peace of sorts.

        • Canadian

          Truth be told, I also was a wreck going through issue after issue trying to answer every objection from both sides. While trying to survive severe illness in the family. Going into the Orthodox church with some uncertainty actually gave me “peace” and rest as well. Just for the mere fact of not constantly bombarding my mind with objections to every theological thought. So I get what you’re saying. I do believe it to be true, but think Orthodoxy is ideal for hacks like me….it is set up so that a child can be led by the hand to what is true and beautiful and participate in it. Though I do not have epistemic certainty, nothing can slake my thirst like Christ our God has done here.

        • Karen

          OP and all, the few years preceding and those immediately after I entered the Orthodox Church have been some of the most turbulent and hardest of my spiritual journey (to put it mildly). I have always struggled with a bit of perfectionism, with trust and vulnerability, and with anxiety (which runs in my family). So I tend to make things harder than they need to be for myself.

          Fr. Stephen Freeman has said that God does not make salvation difficult, but we do, and we also have a real adversary who is bent on opposing our pursuit of God. One thing Fr. Stephen said to another inquirer in a comments thread at his blog (“Glory to God for All Things”) that I found very comforting was something to the effect that God is not in a hurry and neither need we be. I can be very driven and impulsive when I am in an anxious state. The teaching of Matt. 11:28-30 is one I must continually come back to.

          My experience of Orthodox liturgy and spirituality is similar to Canadian’s. It is God gently taking me by the hand like a little child and leading and feeding me in His Beauty. I had to come to the realization of Psalm 131 with respect to my pursuit of comprehending the things of God. Once I discovered the Orthodox vision of Christ, I found I didn’t need the kind of epistemological certainty that some crave.

          • Canadian

            It needs to be said that your comments are always gracious and encouraging. Be anxious for nothing, He is working in and through you.

  21. david

    Very well said Karen. We hardly ever comprehend all of our own motives for doing what we do. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us, sinners all.

  22. David Brent

    I love this site! Thank you all for teaching me.

  23. Prometheus

    Back to Vincent, it is interesting to note that the Roman Catholic Church does *not* teach a theory of original guilt (cf. Catechism 405 and http://www.sacredheartprescott.com/Assets/PDFs/Baptism/OriginalSin.pdf) if I am reading my Catholic theology correctly.

    Outlaw, I, as a Protestant, think that there are a few things you may be missing in your desire for the doctrine that is taught always and everywhere. First of all, the sense that consensus consists of finding more than one father that says something: i.e. is it not possible that the Church maintains a consensus that is true, even if there are few fathers that write on the subject? This, I think is the purpose of the Orthodox appealing to Tradition. If it is something that is a consensus in liturgy, it reflects the believe of the church always and everywhere. Secondly, it seems that your view of Vincent’s attribution of “inherited guilt” is a) a possible misreading of Vincent, if what he really said was “implicated in guilt” or b) a confusion of theological opinion of the “consensus” with the consensus itself. Perhaps during Vincent’s day there was no clear consensus (as with the iconoclastic controversy), but that does not mean that if he looked back there was no consensus (see an example below). Thirdly, it seems such a view denies the work of the Holy Spirit in the church . . . and Eucharistic unity. There is (in Orthodox theology) a conviction that the Holy Spirit guides the Eucharistically united church into all truth. While in the present there may be some outstanding questions (e.g. regarding Old Believers) that are unsure in terms of their ultimate outcome, leaving the Eucharistic union of the Church will not solve the problem (just like leaving the faith because not all are saved will not help save an unsaved friend). Faith that God will guide the church into a proper conclusion regarding the issue seems the better counsel. We ourselves may come to the wrong conclusion in our lifetimes (Lord have mercy), but the church will not. Case in point would be the Arian controversy that John mentioned. At times it seemed that the Arian controversy was “everywhere.” But I think it is pretty clear that it was not “always” nor was it “everywhere” before the question erupted. I would contend that Orthodox Christology was actually “always and everywhere” in the qualified sense. This would answer, perhaps, John’s anti-Pauline arguments. There are many interpretations of Paul – some negative and some positive. John would have James and Paul in separate camps. In a way so would the dispensationalists, but they would side with Paul rather than James. To find the answer to this question the Orthodox (I think) would answer that we look to the Church to find the answer. What we find is that it affirms that both James and Paul are in the same camp. John relies on a particular (dubious, if I may say so) historical reconstruction; the Church on Tradition (without ignoring history). That doesn’t solve the question as to who is right, but in the Protestant world the only reason John doesn’t have a leg to stand on is because the rest of us Protestants have created hedges, such as, sola scriptura. Where we get the right to say these things is one of the reasons I am looking into Orthodoxy . . . to see if their epistemological claims hold up better than those of the Protestants.

    That’s me being the devil’s advocate. I also wonder whether the actual documents of the church line up with the Orthodox Church’s claims.

    OP and Karen both mention peace. I have had to deal with that issue myself. One thing that I have concluded is that such theological inquiry makes me less likely at times (at least when I am anxious) to love my neighbor. That seems to me a touchstone of true Christianity. If I am irritable with my wife, angry at my kids, unwilling to engage in acts of charity, it is clearly time to stop “searching” and obey. I long for a home. But I can’t let what is obvious get clouded by anxiety, fear, and frustration. I’m sure some of you converts know what I am going through (as well as you, OP).

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