Monergism, Synergism, and Hermeneutics

Monergism vs. Synergism: God thowing a lifeline vs. using a fishhook.

Monergism vs. Synergism

One of the key issues in the Protestant Reformation is whether humans cooperate with God in their own salvation. Early Protestants denied, with different emphases, that humanity had any role in their own salvation. This view is known as Monergism, which means that Salvation is all God’s work and has nothing to do with man’s efforts. Later Protestants split into two camps on this issue. Lutherans and the Reformed (a.k.a. Calvinists) affirming that God alone was responsible for humanity’s salvation. Methodists and many Baptists and Pentecostals adopt a position known as Synergism, which means that humanity cooperates with God in its own salvation. While this is a huge debate among Protestants, Synergism is the default position of (to my knowledge) all other Christian communions.

Having grown up as a Fundamentalist, the idea that humanity cooperates with God was an affront to the saving work of Christ. The battleground between Monergism and Synergism was fought using proof texts from the New Testament. Each side had their own supporting scriptural texts and explained away those of the opposing side. Even as a boy, however, I struggled with this. As a Monergist who believed Scripture means what it says, I found it hard to explain away passages like: “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Ro 10:13) On the other hand, Jesus says: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.”

The argument seemed to be along the lines of which came first: the chicken or the egg? Does salvation have anything to do with a person seeking after God, or is it God who causes people to seek after Him? Scripture itself resolves this problem, and in a rather explicit fashion. The prophet Zechariah writes: “Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Turn ye unto me, saith the Lord of hosts, and I will turn unto you, saith the Lord of hosts.” (Ze 1:3)

Given that Protestants hold to the principle of Scripture Alone,[1] how do we move from the clear statement of Zechariah to the Protestant teaching of Monergism? For this, we have to discuss the subject of hermeneutics which Protestants use as a control on the interpretation of Scripture.[2] Hermeneutics consists of a number of rules which govern the interpretation of Scripture. Given this, some speak of hermeneutics as a science.[3] However, these rules can be applied differently by different people, which is why it is sometimes called an art. The idea of the pastor and theologian as an artist implies that they bring something of themselves to the text that guides their application of the rules. David Jasper writes:

Hermeneutics is about the most fundamental ways in which we perceive the world, think, and understand. It has a philosophical root in which we call epistemology — that is, the problem of how we come to know anything at all, and actually how we thing and legitimate the claims we make to know the truth.[4]

Hermeneutics, then, is not a scientific endeavor, nor can the rules be applied with mathematical rigor. It might be helpful to think of hermeneutics not as rules, but as a set of tools that can be applied to the job at hand. A skilled carpenter knows to use the right tool for the job, while an unskilled homeowner might cause damage by using a tool inappropriately. But even skilled carpenters vary in their approach to the job, using different tools and techniques for the same job.

Getting back to the subject of Monergism vs. Synergism, it would appear that Protestants approach the Scriptures with a particular worldview that guides their search for truth. To me, the passage in Ze 1:3 is clear that a person’s turning to God is required for God to turn to them. I would argue the following hermeneutical rule applies: “Interpret the obscure in light of the clear – not vice versa.”[5] However, Richard D. Phillips seems to apply a different set of rules in his commentary on Zechariah when he applies this text to Christians only. He writes:

If you are a Christian, but backslidden into sin and spiritual decline, remember the history lesson Zechariah placed before his generation. Your sin will not bring blessing but ruin, however sweet its deceptive song in your ears. If you persist in sin you will at the least bring upon yourself God’s chastisement, and at the worst you will prove that you have really not believed at all.[6]

Note that the author’s Reformed Theology forms the basis for his interpretation of this clear passage. He interprets this passage both in the light of Irresistible Grace and the Perseverance of the Saints.[7] For Richard D. Phillips, this passage illustrates the wrath of God upon sinners. By contrast, St. Gregory Palamas uses this passage to demonstrate the mercy of God. He writes:

Do you see the extent of God’s wrath? Yet, “He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil of men” (Joel 2:13, Jonah 4:2), though only for those who repent and turn from their wicked ways. “Turn ye unto me and I will turn unto you, saith the Lord” (Zech. 1:3). “Thou shalt turn”, it says, “to the Lord thy God, and shalt be obedient unto his voice; for the Lord thy God is a merciful God; he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, but thou shalt find him, the Lord thy God, an help, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul in thine affliction” (cf. Deut. 4:30–31, 29).[8]

Different presuppositions, different toolsets, different interpretations of what is, on the face of it, a very clear passage.


  1. “The doctrine that the Bible alone is the only infallible rule for faith and practice, and that the Bible alone contains all the knowledge that is necessary for salvation.” (Trenham 2015, 263)
  2. “Hermeneutics is defined as: The science and art of interpretation. …Hermeneutics is required to provide adequate controls for interpretation.” (Carlson 2014, 1)
  3. “Hermeneutics is considered a science because it has rules, and these rules can be classified in an orderly system.” (Henry A. Virkler 2007, 16)
  4. (Jasper 2004, 3)
  5. (Carlson 2014, 72)
  6. Richard Phillips also addresses this passage to non-Christians, but fails to address the obvious issues of Monergism vs. Synergism. (Phillips 2007, 15)
  7. Note, too, that this is what Protestants call an “application” derived from his use of hermeneutical rules. For a Protestant, the “application” of a passage is, in essence the last three of the ancient four senses of scripture: The allegorical, the moral, and the analogical.
  8. (St Gregory Palamas 2013, Kindle Locations 148-153)


Carlson, Norman E. 2014. Hermeneutics: An Antidote for 21st Century Cultic and Mind Control Phenomena. Colorado Springs: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Henry A. Virkler, Karelynne Ayayo. 2007. Herneneutics: Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation. 2nd Edition. Grand Rapics: Baker Academic.

Jasper, David. 2004. A Short Introduction to Hermeneutics. Louisevill: Westminster John Knox Press.

Phillips, Richard D. 2007. Zechariah. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing Company.

St Gregory Palamas. 2013. On Bearing Difficulties: To Those Who Find Hard to Bear All the Different Kinds of Difficulties Which Come Upon Us From All Sides. Kindle Edition. Edited by Christopher Veniamin. Dalton: Mount Thabor Publishing.

Trenham, Josiah. 2015. Rock and Sand: An Orthodox Appraisal of the Protestant Reformers and Their Teachings. Columbia: Newrome Press LLC.

Ambiguam I – The Monad and the Triad

The Holy Trinity by the hand of Andrei Rublev

The Holy Trinity
by the hand of
Andrei Rublev

From Saint Gregory the Theologian’s First Oration on the Son:

For this reason the Monad from the beginning moved toward a dyad and at the Trinity came to a halt.

And again, from his Second Oration on Peace:

The Monad moved on account of its abundance, the dyad was surpassed — for it is beyond matter and form, out of which bodies are made — the Trinity was defined, on account of its perfection.

If, while considering the apparent contradiction, O servant of God, you were at a loss regarding the real agreement, it would nevertheless not be possible for two statements to be more unified in meaning than these. for the phrase “the dyad was surpassed” means the same thing as “not coming to a halt in the dyad,” just as the phrase “the Trinity was defined” means the same thing as the “movement of the Monad comes to a halt in the Trinity.” For we believe in a monarchy that is neither begrudging of its bounty (in the sense of being restricted to a single person), nor disorderly (in the sense of being poured out ad infinitum), but which is constituted by a Trinity that is equal in honor by nature: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, “whose wealth is their identity of nature and the single manifestation of their splendor,” and whose “divinity is neither poured out beyond these three, lest we introduce a multitude of gods, nor bounded within them, lest we be condemned for poverty in divinity.”

This is not, however, a causal explanation for the cause of beings, which is itself beyond all being, but the demonstration of a pious opinion about it, since the Godhead is a Monad (but not a dyad), and a Trinity (but not a multitude), for it is without beginning, bodily form, or internal strife. For the Monad is truly a Monad: it is not the origin of the things that come after it, as if it had expanded after a state of contraction, like something naturally poured out and proliferating into a multitude, but is rather the inherently personal reality of the consubstantial Trinity. And the Trinity is truly a Trinity, not the sum of a divisible number, (for it is not an aggregation of monads, that it might suffer division), but the inherently essential subsistence of the three-personed Monad. The Trinity is truly a Monad, for such it is; and the Monad is truly a Trinity, for as such it subsists, since there is one Godhead that in essence is a Monad and in subsistence a Trinity.

And finally, having heard the word “movement,” you wondered how the Godhead, which is beyond infinity, is said to “move,” understand that movement is something that happens to us, and not to the Godhead. For first we are illumined by the principle of its being, after which we are enlightened regarding the mode of its subsistence, for the fact of being is always grasped before the manner of being. Thus the “movement” of the Godhead is the knowledge — through illumination — of its existence and how it subsists, manifested to those who are able to receive it.

St Maximus the Confessor, The Ambigua to Thomas

On Difficulties in the Church Fathers: The "Ambigua," Volume I

How can the impure lay hands on the pure?

Icon of St Maximus the Confessor, making his defense before the imperial court.

Icon of St Maximus the Confessor

But as for me, how can I say Jesus is Lord, when I have not yet received the Spirit of holiness? How can I speak of the Lord’s powers when I am mute, having firmly closed my intellect through attachment to corruptible things? How can I render audible even some of His praises when I am deaf? For the ear of my soul, on account of my love for the passions, is entirely turned away fro the blessed voice of the Word. How will the Word, who by nature conquers` the world, but does not appear to the world, appear to me, conquered as I am by the world, since He is essentially unknowable to minds enamored of material things? How would it not be an act of insolence for a profane man to rush in among sacred things, and for the impure to lay hands on the pure?

St Maximus the Confessor, The Ambigua to Thomas

On Difficulties in the Church Fathers: The "Ambigua," Volume I

The Ineffable God

The Holy Trinity by the hand of Andrei Rublev

The Holy Trinity
by the hand of
Andrei Rublev

For of God we speak not all we ought (for that is known to Him only), but so much as the capacity of human nature has received, and so much as our weakness can bear. For we explain not what God is but candidly confess that we have not exact knowledge concerning Him. For in what concerns God to confess our ignorance is the best knowledge.

But some one will say, If the Divine substance is incomprehensible, why then dost thou discourse of these things? So then, because I cannot drink up all the river, am I not even to take in moderation what is expedient for me? Because with eyes so constituted as mine I cannot take in all the sun, am I not even to look upon him enough to satisfy my wants? Or again, because I have entered into a great garden, and cannot eat all the supply of fruits, wouldst thou have me go away altogether hungry? I praise and glorify Him that made us; for it is a divine command which saith, Let every breath praise the Lord. I am attempting now to glorify the Lord, but not to describe Him, knowing nevertheless that I shall fall short of glorifying Him worthily, yet deeming it a work of piety even to attempt it at all. For the Lord Jesus encourageth my weakness, by saying, No man hath seen God at any time.

What then, some man will say, is it not written, The little ones’ Angels do always behold the face of My Father which is in heaven? Yes, but the Angels see God not as He is, but as far as they themselves are capable. For it is Jesus Himself who saith, Not that any man hath seen the Father, save He which is of God, He hath seen the Father. The Angels therefore behold as much as they can bear, and Archangels as much as they are able; and Thrones and Dominions more than the former, but yet less than His worthiness: for with the Son the Holy Ghost alone can rightly behold Him: for He searcheth all things, and knoweth even the deep things of God: as indeed the Only-begotten Son also, with the Holy Ghost, knoweth the Father fully: For neither, saith He, knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal Him. For He fully beholdeth, and, according as each can bear, revealeth God through the Spirit: since the Only-begotten Son together with the Holy Ghost is a partaker of the Father’s Godhead. He, who was begotten knoweth Him who begat; and He Who begat knoweth Him who is begotten. Since Angels then are ignorant (for to each according to his own capacity doth the Only-begotten reveal Him through the Holy Ghost, as we have said), let no man be ashamed to confess his ignorance. I am speaking now, as all do on occasion: but how we speak, we cannot tell: how then can I declare Him who hath given us speech ? I who have a soul, and cannot tell its distinctive properties, how shall I be able to describe its Giver?

For devotion it suffices us simply to know that we have a God; a God who is One, a living, an ever-living God; always like unto Himself; who has no Father, none mightier than Himself, no successor to thrust Him out from His kingdom: Who in name is manifold, in power infinite, in substance uniform. For though He is called Good, and Just, and Almighty and Sabaoth, He is not on that account diverse and various; but being one and the same, He sends forth countless operations of His Godhead, not exceeding here and deficient there, but being in all things like unto Himself . Not great in loving-kindness only, and little in wisdom, but with wisdom and loving-kindness in equal power: not seeing in part, and in part devoid of sight; but being all eye, and all ear, and all mind: not like us perceiving in part and in part not knowing; for such a statement were blasphemous, and unworthy of the Divine substance. He foreknoweth the things that be ; He is Holy, and Almighty , and excelleth all in goodness, and majesty, and wisdom: of Whom we can declare neither beginning, nor form, nor shape. For ye have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His shape, saith Holy Scripture. Wherefore Moses saith also to the Israelites: And take ye good heed to your own souls, for ye saw no similitude. For if it is wholly impossible to imagine His likeness, how shall thought come near His substance?

Cyril of Jerusalem (2013-03-08). The Catechetical Lectures of St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Kindle Locations 1445-1447; 1474-1480; 1481-1505).  Kindle Edition.


The Method of Godliness

Saint Cyril of Jerusalem

Saint Cyril of Jerusalem

For the method of godliness consists of these two things, pious doctrines, and virtuous practice: and neither are the doctrines acceptable to God apart from good works, nor does God accept the works which are not perfected with pious doctrines. For what profit is it, to know well the doctrines concerning God, and yet to be a vile fornicator? And again, what profit is it, to be nobly temperate, and an impious blasphemer? A most precious possession therefore is the knowledge of doctrines: also there is need of a wakeful soul, since there are many that make spoil through philosophy and vain deceit.  The Greeks on the one hand draw men away by their smooth tongue, for honey droppeth from a harlot’s lips:  whereas they of the Circumcision deceive those who come to them by means of the Divine Scriptures, which they miserably misinterpret though studying them from childhood to old age, and growing old in ignorance . But the children of heretics, by their good words and smooth tongue, deceive the hearts of the innocent,  disguising with the name of Christ as it were with honey the poisoned arrows  of their impious doctrines : concerning all of whom together the Lord saith, Take heed lest any man mislead you.  This is the reason for the teaching of the Creed and for expositions upon it.


Cyril of Jerusalem (2013-03-08). The Catechetical Lectures of St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Kindle Locations 819-831).  . Kindle Edition.

The Anaphora of the Apostles Addai and Mari

King Agar receiving the Mandilion from Thaddeus

King Agar receiving the Mandilion from Thaddeus
Encaustic painting.
Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai
Date: after 944 A.D.

The Anaphora, or Elevation, is the part of the Divine Liturgy where the gifts of bread and wine are offered to God the Father and are sanctified by the Holy Spirit, Following the Anaphora is the Epiklesis, the prayer for the Holy Spirit to come down and change the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.

The Anaphora and Epiklesis are essential parts of the earliest liturgies. Although the words used vary, the basic form has changed little from the time of the Apostles. One of the most ancient examples of the Anaphora is found in the Nestorian liturgy of the Chaldean Church. Although there are other antiquarian Anaphoras in existence, this Anaphora is unique in that it alone is in liturgical use today. It is thought that its current form comes from 3rd century Edessa, a town in upper Mesapotamia, an area which today is the nation of Turkey.

The Anaphora of the Apostles Addai and Mari is interesting both because of its antiquity, and because of its association with the seventy disciples of Christ. One of the seventy was named Thaddeus, and was sent by Thomas the Apostle to Edessa. Addai is the Syriac name of Thaddeus, and Mari was a convert and associate of Addai. Together, Mar Addai and Mar Mari were apostles to Syria and Persia. It is said that Thaddeus/Addai brought with him to Edessa the Holy Mandylion, a cloth imprinted with the image of Jesus.

The structure of the Anaphora should be familiar to anyone who has participated in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. It has three basic parts: the Sanctus, the Intercessions, and the Epiklesis. It is unique in that it does not contain the words of institution, something that is a fixture in later liturgies, and featured most prominently in the Western Rite. It is also interesting in that the Epiklesis is not so much an invocation of the Holy Spirit upon the gifts, but rather within the community.


—      The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all, now and at all times and for ever and ever.

—      Amen.

—      Let your hearts be on high.

—      To thee, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Israel, the glorious King.

—      The offering is being offered to God the Lord of all.

—      It is meet and right.


Worthy of praise from very mouth

and thanksgiving from every tongue

is the adorable and glorious

Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,

who created the world in his grace

5      and its inhabitants in his loving-kindness,

and redeemed the sons of men in his mercy,

and dealt very graciously with mortals.

Thy majesty, o my Lord, a thousand thousand heavenly beings

and myriad myriads of Angels adore

10     and the hosts of spiritual beings, the ministers of fire and of spirit,

glorifying thy Name

with the Cherubim and the holy Seraphim, ceaselessly

crying out and glorifying

and calling to one another and saying:

15     Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty:

the heavens and the earth are full of his glory.

Hosanna in the highest! Hosanna to the Son of David!

Blessed is he who has come and comes in the Name of the Lord.

Hosanna in the highest!

20    And with these heavenly hosts we give thee thanks, o my Lord,

we also thy unworthy, frail, and miserable servants,

because thou hast dealt very graciously with us in a way which cannot be repaid,

in that thou didst assume our humanity

that thou mightest restore us to life by thy divinity,

25    and didst exalt our low estate,

and raise up our fallen state,

and resurrect our mortality,

and forgive our sins,

and acquit our sinfulness,

30    and enlighten our understanding,

and, our Lord and God, overcome our adversaries,

and give victory to the unworthiness of our frail nature

in the overflowing mercies of thy grace.

And for all thy benefits and graces towards us

35     we offer thee glory and honour and thanksgiving and adoration

now and at all times and for ever and ever. R/ Amen.

Do thou, o my Lord, in thy manifold and ineffable mercies

make a good and gracious remembrance

for all the upright and just fathers

40    who were pleasing before thee,

in the commemoration of the body and blood of thy Christ,

which we offer to thee upon the pure and holy altar,

as thou hast taught us,

and make with us thy tranquillity and thy peace

45    all the days of the age,

that all the inhabitants of the world may know thee,

that thou alone art God the true Father,

and thou didst send our Lord Jesus Christ thy Son and thy Beloved,

and he, our Lord and our God,

50    taught us in his lifegiving Gospel

all the purity and holiness of the prophets and apostles

and martyrs and confessors

and bishops and priests and deacons,

and of all the children of the holy catholic Church,

55    those who have been signed with the sign of holy Baptism.

And we also, o my Lord, thy unworthy, frail, and miserable servants,

who are gathered and stand before thee,

and have received by tradition the example which is from thee,

rejoicing and glorifying

60    and exalting and commemorating

and celebrating this great and awesome mystery

of the passion and death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

And let thy Holy Spirit come, o my Lord,

and rest upon this offering of thy servants,

65    and bless it and sanctify it

that it may be to us, o my Lord,

for the pardon of sins and for the forgiveness of shortcomings,

and for the great hope of the resurrection from the dead,

and for new life in the kingdom of heaven

70    with all who have been pleasing before thee.

And for all thy wonderful dispensation which is towards us

we give thee thanks and glorify thee without ceasing

in thy Church redeemed by the precious blood of thy Christ,

with open mouths and unveiled faces

75    offering glory and honour and thanksgiving and adoration

to thy living and holy and life-giving Name,

now and at all times and for ever and ever.



English translation: A. GELSTON, The Eucharistic Prayer of Addai and Mari, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1992, 48-55


The Anathemas against the Iconoclasts (the Image Breakers)

Looting of the Churches of Lyon by the Calvinists in 1562 by Antoine Caron.

Looting of the Churches of Lyon by the Calvinists in 1562 by Antoine Caron.

In reading the Acts of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, the claim is made that the veneration of images protects the doctrine of the incarnation of Christ. The reason is that the person of Christ was both fully God and fully man; that the Christ had both a divine nature and a human nature, a divine will and a human will, that He was consubstantial with the Father according to His divinity, and consubstantial with us according to His humanity. Thus the depiction of Christ according to His humanity is a confession of orthodoxy over and against the heretics.

It is truly startling to read the anathemas of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, and to realize how, for many years, I would have fallen under these anathemas. Lord have mercy.

Seventh Ecumenical Council

Extracts from the Acts.
Session I.

Anathema to the calumniators of the Christians, that is to the image breakers.

Anathema to those who apply the words of Holy Scripture which were spoken against idols, to the venerable images.

Anathema to those who do not salute the holy and venerable images.

Anathema to those who say that Christians have recourse to the images as to gods. Anathema to those who call the sacred images idols.

Anathema to those who knowingly communicate with those who revile and dishonour the venerable images.

Anathema to those who say that another than Christ our Lord hath delivered us from idols.

Anathema to those who spurn the teachings of the holy Fathers and the tradition of the Catholic Church, taking as a pretext and making their own the arguments of Arius, Nestorius, Eutyches, and Dioscorus, that unless we were evidently taught by the Old and New Testaments, we should not follow the teachings of the holy Fathers and of the holy Ecumenical Synods, and the tradition of the Catholic Church.

Anathema to those who dare to say that the Catholic Church hath at any time sanctioned idols.

Anathema to those who say that the making of images is a diabolical invention and not a tradition of our holy Fathers.

Percival, Henry R (2013-06-23). The Seven Ecumenical Councils (pp. 670-671). Veritatis Splendor Publications. Kindle Edition.

Modern Heresies, Eastern Religions, and the Anathemas Against Origen

Fifth Ecumenical Council - Constantinople II, 553 A.D.

Fifth Ecumenical Council – Constantinople II, 553 A.D.

It is interesting that some of the modern religions (in particular Mormonism & Scientology) have reintroduced some of the heresies condemned at the Fifth Ecumenical Council. These heresies are at least partly anthropological, in that they provide an alternate view of what it means to be human. Both Mormonism and Scientology teach the preexistence of souls. Mormonism teaches (or at least has taught) that the actions of preexistent souls determines their human form. (This used to be explicitely racist, in that evil souls became black people, less evil souls became other non-white people, and good souls became white people. This teaching came from Brigham Young, but has been repudiated today.)

We must also remark upon the modern fascination with the Eastern religions, many of which contain the elements condemned by the Fifth Ecumenical Council.

Acts of the Fifth Ecumenical Council

The Anathemas Against Origen.


If anyone asserts the fabulous pre-existence of souls, and shall assert the monstrous restoration which follows from it: let him be anathema.


If anyone shall say that the creation (τὴυ παραγωγὴν) of all reasonable things includes only intelligences (νόας) without bodies and altogether immaterial, having neither number nor name, so that there is unity between them all by identity of substance, force and energy, and by their union with and knowledge of God the Word; but that no longer desiring the sight of God, they gave themselves over to worse things, each one following his own inclinations, and that they have taken bodies more or less subtile, and have received names, for among the heavenly Powers there is a difference of names as there is also a difference of bodies; and thence some became and are called Cherubims, others Seraphims, and Principalities, and Powers, and Dominations, and Thrones, and Angels, and as many other heavenly orders as there may be: let him be anathema.


If anyone shall say that the sun, the moon and the stars are also reasonable beings, and that they have only become what they are because they turned towards evil: let him be anathema.


If anyone shall say that the reasonable creatures in whom the divine love had grown cold have been hidden in gross bodies such as ours, and have been called men, while those who have attained the lowest degree of wickedness have shared cold and obscure bodies and are become and called demons and evil spirits: let him be anathema,.


If anyone shall say that a psychic (ψυχικὴν) condition has come from an angelic or archangelic state, and moreover that a demoniac and a human condition has come from a psychic condition, and that from a human state they may become again angels and demons, and that each order of heavenly virtues is either all from those below or from those above, or from those above and below: let him be anathema.


If anyone shall say that there is a twofold race of demons, of which the one includes the souls of men and the other the superior spirits who fell to this, and that of all the number of reasonable beings there is but one which has remained unshaken in the love and contemplation of God, and that that spirit is become Christ and the king of all reasonable beings, and that he has created all the bodies which exist in heaven, on earth, and between heaven and earth; and that the world which has in itself elements more ancient than itself, and which exists by themselves, viz.: dryness, damp, heat and cold, and the image (ιδέαν) to which it was formed, was so formed, and that the most holy and consubstantial Trinity did not create the world, but that it was created by the working intelligence (Νοῦς δημιρυργός) which is more ancient than the world, and which communicates to it its being: let him be anathema.


If anyone shall say that Christ, of whom it is said that he appeared in the form of God, and that he was united before all time with God the Word, and humbled himself in these last days even to humanity, had (according to their expression) pity upon the divers falls which had appeared in the spirits united in the same unity (of which he himself is part), and that to restore them he passed through divers classes, had different bodies and different names, became all to all, an Angel among Angels, a Power among Powers, has clothed himself in the different classes of reasonable beings with a form corresponding to that class, and finally has taken flesh and blood like ours and is become man for men; [if anyone says all this] and does not profess that God the Word humbled himself and became man: let him be anathema.


If anyone shall not acknowledge that God the Word, of the same substance with the Father and the Holy Ghost, and who was made flesh and became man, one of the Trinity, is Christ in every sense of the word, but [shall affirm] that he is so only in an inaccurate manner, and because of the abasement (κενώσαντα), as they call it, of the intelligence (νοῦς); if anyone shall affirm that this intelligence united (συνημμένον) to God the Word, is the Christ in the true sense of the word, while the Logos is only called Christ because of this union with the intelligence, and e converso that the intelligence is only called God because of the Logos: let him be anathema.


If anyone shall say that it was not the Divine Logos made man by taking an animated body with aψυχὴ῾ λογικὴandνοερὰ, that he descended into hell and ascended into heaven, but shall pretend that it is the Νοῦς which has done this, that Νοῦς of which they say (in an impious fashion) he is Christ properly so called, and that he is become so by the knowledge of the Monad: let him be anathema.


If anyone shall say that after the resurrection the body of the Lord was ethereal, having the form of a sphere, and that such shall be the bodies of all after the resurrection; and that after the Lord himself shall have rejected his true body and after the others who rise shall have rejected theirs, the nature of their bodies shall be annihilated: let him be anathema.


If anyone shall say that the future judgment signifies the destruction of the body and that the end of the story will be an immaterial ψύσις, and that thereafter there will no longer be any matter, but only spirit νοῦς): let him be anathema.


If anyone shall say that the heavenly Powers and all men and the Devil and evil spirits are united with the Word of God in all respects, as the Νοῦς which is by them called Christ and which is in the form of God, and which humbled itself as they say; and [if anyone shall say] that the Kingdom of Christ shall have an end: let him be anathema.


If anyone shall say that Christ [i.e., the Νοῦς] is in no wise different from other reasonable beings, neither substantially nor by wisdom nor by his power and might over all things but that all will be placed at the right hand of God, as well as he that is called by them Christ [theΝοῦς], as also they were in the feigned pre-existence of all things: let him be anathema.


If anyone shall say that all reasonable beings will one day be united in one, when the hypostases as well as the numbers and the bodies shall have disappeared, and that the knowledge of the world to come will carry with it the ruin of the worlds, and the rejection of bodies as also the abolition of [all] names, and that there shall be finally an identity of theγνῶσιςand of the hypostasis; moreover, that in this pretended apocatastasis, spirits only will continue to exist, as it was in the feigned pre-existence: let him be anathema.


If anyone shall say that the life of the spirits (νοῶν) shall be like to the life which was in the beginning while as yet the spirits had not come down or fallen, so that the end and the beginning shall be alike, and that the end shall be the true measure of the beginning: let him be anathema.


On the Office of the Deaconess

St. Apollonia, an elderly virgin, deaconess, and martyr of Alexandria

St. Apollonia, an elderly virgin, deaconess, and martyr of Alexandria

On the Office of the Deaconess

The question of deaconesses is one that continues to haunt the church, long after the institution itself was abolished. What were the functions of deaconesses? Were they ordained? Did they have an liturgical function? And should the ancient order of deaconesses be revived?

None of these questions have easy answers, in part because the ancient fathers of the church wrote so little about the institution. There are those who assume that deaconesses were ordained, and had the same liturgical role as deacons. There are others who claim that the office of the deaconess did not exist. Between these two extremes, we have a range of opinions.

In this all too short description of the subject, I will demonstrate that deaconesses were an order in the early church, and were blessed to perform certain functions for women on behalf of the bishop and the presbyters. This order was not sacerdotal in nature; moreover, entrance into the order was not accomplished through ordination, as symbolized by the laying on of hands.

The Order of the Deaconess

One of the most interesting bits of historical detail is found in Canon XIX of the First Council of Nicaea.

Canon XIX

Concerning the Paulianists who have flown for refuge to the Catholic Church, it has been decreed that they must by all means be rebaptized; and if any of them who in past time have been numbered among their clergy should be found blameless and without reproach, let them be rebaptized and ordained by the Bishop of the Catholic Church; but if the examination should discover them to be unfit, they ought to be deposed. Likewise in the case of their deaconesses, and generally in the case of those who have been enrolled among the clergy, let the same form be observed. And we mean by deaconesses such as have assumed the habit, but who, since they have no imposition of hands, are to be numbered only among the laity.

The Paulianists were followers of Paul of Samosata, an anti-Trinitarian. Since their baptisms would not have been in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (in accordance with an Orthodox understanding of the Trinity), they were required to be rebaptized. For our purposes we will focus on the council’s description of deaconesses. It is clear on the one hand that they were “enrolled among the clergy”, but since they were not ordained (lacking the “imposition of hands”), they were to be numbered among the laity. The Dictionary of Christian Antiquities assumes that women were ordained as deaconesses, and ascribes the description of deaconesses in Canon XIX to peculiarities among the Paulianists, where women “assumed the habit or office of deaconess without imposition of hands, and who therefore could not be reordained but simply reckoned among the laity.”

Henry R. Percival (in his book “The Seven Ecumenical Councils”) quotes St. Epiphanius of Salamis (from his book “Against Heresies”), as follows:

This whole matter is treated clearly by St. Epiphanius who, while indeed speaking of deaconesses as an order (τάγμα), asserts that “they were only women-elders, not priestesses in any sense, that their mission was not to interfere in any way with Sacerdotal functions, but simply to perform certain offices in the care of women” (Hær. lxxix., cap. iij). From all this it is evident that they are entirely in error who suppose that “the laying on of hands” which the deaconesses received corresponded to that by which persons were ordained to the diaconate, presbyterate, and episcopate at that period of the church’s history. It was merely a solemn dedication and blessing and was not looked upon as “an outward sign of an inward grace given.”

The plain reading of Canon XIX indicates that deaconesses occupied some sort of middle ground. They were not part of the ordained clergy, yet they clearly had entered into a formal office and received a blessing to perform certain functions within and on behalf of the church. As members of the order of deaconesses, they were identified by a particular style of dress (the meaning of the phrase “assumed the habit”). As the wearing of the habit suggests, there was a monastic element to office of deaconess. This is clear from the requirement that deaconesses be chaste and unmarried. Henry R. Percival, in his book “The Seven Ecumenical Councils”, writes:

The one great characteristic of the deaconess was that she was vowed to perpetual chastity. The Apostolical Constitutions (vi. 17) say that she must be a chaste virgin (parthenos hagne) or else a widow. The writer of the article “Deaconess” in the Dictionary of Christian Antiquities says: It is evident that the ordination of deaconesses included a vow of celibacy.”

Chastity was required of all those taking holy orders. A priest could be the husband of only one wife and, should his wife die, was forbidden to marry again. The deaconess was likewise chaste, living a pure and unmarried life of service to women on behalf of the church.

The Role of the Deaconess

The Dictionary of Christian Antiquities describes the general role of the Deaconess as performing for women the same functions deacons performed for men. This was necessary due to the cultural requirement for women to be kept in seclusion.

An order of women in the Primitive Church who appear to have undertaken duties in reference to their own sex analogous to those performed by the deacons among men. Their office was probably rendered more necessary by the strict seclusion which was observed by the female sex in Greece, and in many Oriental countries.

So what comprised the responsibilities of the deaconess? Again, we turn to the Dictionary of Christian Antiquities, which describes a set of duties, but which implied no sacerdotal (priestly) function.

The duties of the deaconesses were various. The most important related to the administration of baptism to women. Thus the 4th council of Carthage (c. 12) speaks of them as widows or virgins selected for the purpose of assisting in the baptism of women, and who therefore must be qualified to assist the unlearned candidates how to answer the interrogatories in the baptismal office, and how to live after baptism. … No woman was to have any inter course with the bishop or deacon except through the deaconess (Ibid. ii. c. 26). … In the Apostolic Constitutions (iii. 15, 16) it is said that the deaconess (τήν διάκονον) was to be chosen tor ministering to women, because it was impossible to send a deacon into many houses on account of the unbelievers. … They were to attend to the women who were sick or in affliction as the deacon did to the men (Constitut. Apost. iii. 19), and in time of persecution to minister to the confessors in prison (Cotel. Aunot. in Const it. Apost. iii. 15, quoting from Lucian and Libanius). They were to exercise some supervision over the general body of widows, who were to be obedient to the bishops, priests, and deacons, and further to the deaconesses (Constitut. Apost. iii. c. 7).

The Need for the Female Diaconate

Due to the social strictures of the time — where women were secluded and were not to be in the company of men unrelated to them — there was a real need for women who could perform certain functions on behalf of the church. In the apostolic era, and perhaps into the 2nd century, things were not so formal, and both charismatic and hierarchical ministries appear to have existed side by side. But in the New Testament epistles we see excesses in those with charismatic ministries, excesses which necessitated a more formal approach. Take the example of Diotrephes, who had to be brought to heel by the Apostle John.

I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church. (3 Jo 9-11)

The Didache gives specific instructions on the management of itinerant Teachers, Apostles, and Prophets:

Chapter 11. Concerning Teachers, Apostles, and Prophets. Whosoever, therefore, comes and teaches you all these things that have been said before, receive him. But if the teacher himself turns and teaches another doctrine to the destruction of this, hear him not. But if he teaches so as to increase righteousness and the knowledge of the Lord, receive him as the Lord. But concerning the apostles and prophets, act according to the decree of the Gospel. Let every apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord. But he shall not remain more than one day; or two days, if there’s a need. But if he remains three days, he is a false prophet. And when the apostle goes away, let him take nothing but bread until he lodges. If he asks for money, he is a false prophet. And every prophet who speaks in the Spirit you shall neither try nor judge; for every sin shall be forgiven, but this sin shall not be forgiven. But not every one who speaks in the Spirit is a prophet; but only if he holds the ways of the Lord. Therefore from their ways shall the false prophet and the prophet be known. And every prophet who orders a meal in the Spirit does not eat it, unless he is indeed a false prophet. And every prophet who teaches the truth, but does not do what he teaches, is a false prophet. And every prophet, proved true, working unto the mystery of the Church in the world, yet not teaching others to do what he himself does, shall not be judged among you, for with God he has his judgment; for so did also the ancient prophets. But whoever says in the Spirit, Give me money, or something else, you shall not listen to him. But if he tells you to give for others’ sake who are in need, let no one judge him.

Because the charismatic ministries sometimes came in conflict with the formal ministries of the church, various means were devised to deal with them,[1] and various orders were established — including the formal office of deaconess (which perhaps incorporated the more charismatic office of the widows) (1 Tim 5:3-12). In time, the ecumenical councils established canons which regulated the office of the deaconess. And, as the social structure changed, the need for the office diminished. It was done away with first in the Christian West, and gradually withered away in the East, where its functions seem to have been taken up in part by the women’s monasteries, and in part by a reversion to charismatic ministries within the church. So, for example, in our church the women tend to minister to each other’s needs, with guidance from the priest as necessary. The deaconess is no longer necessary for the instruction and catechesis of women, as most societies no longer frown upon a male priest teaching women he is not related to.

However, in some societies there could well be a need for women to perform the function of the female diaconate. In these situations, one could well imagine the bishop giving a special blessing to a woman to perform certain functions on behalf of the church, functions which would include those formerly performed by deaconesses. And if a female monastery were nearby, perhaps these functions could be performed by their members.

Modernity and the Diaconate

In the ancient world, it was quite rare for women to receive an education. Thus, while we have a great many writings of the church fathers, we have very little writings done by or on behalf of women. We do have examples of female saints and martyrs, and the sayings of the desert mothers are as instructive as the desert fathers. In the modern era, women have just as many educational opportunities as men, and it is not uncommon for women to receive theological training. So how does the church put these educated women to good use?

In most Christian communions, there is some pressure to ordain women. Some have succumbed to modernity, ordaining women as priests and even bishops. Some resist with great vigor, to the point of seeming hostility towards and subjugation of women. And some have devised ways of dealing with the legitimate aspirations of women. The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LC-MS) formally restored the office of the Deaconess, complete with theological undergraduate and post-graduate education. This, despite not having a formal male diaconate. (On the other hand, the LC-MS would not allow theologically educated women to teach theology in their universities or seminaries.) In the Roman Catholic Church, women are allowed to teach theology in the universities. Among the Eastern Orthodox (at least in some jurisdictions) women with the appropriate level of education are allowed to teach in the seminaries (I know of one woman who was a professor at Hellenic College Holy Cross in Brookline, MA).

So granted the increasing number of educated women and their legitimate desire to use their skills and talents within the church, the question is whether the female diaconate is the correct vehicle. One thing that should be noted is that to be a member of the female diaconate, the canons are quite clear: one must be at least forty years old, one must be either a virgin or a widow, and one must remain unmarried or risk excommunication. And the office of the female diaconate is not sacerdotal, meaning the deaconess has no function in the priestly and liturgical life of the church. The question, then, is whether the female deaconess would have anything to do, given that the functions of the deaconess are performed within the church now, absent the formal office. Moreover, given that many churches have a hard enough time paying their priest, let alone a deacon, how many churches could afford to hire a deaconess?

Practically speaking, there would be too few openings for female deaconesses, especially as their functions are currently performed by unpaid volunteers. And since the canons do not permit women to fill the office of deaconess until the age of forty, what would educated young women do in the meantime? Clearly, the office of the deaconess would not be an avenue for the legitimate aspirations of educated young women.


[1] The canons of the church were established to resolve problems. So when we see a canon requiring one thing and prescribing another, we can be sure that this was an issue that was either widespread or serious enough to have been raised to the level of an ecumenical council.

Your Divinely Radiant Beauty

The Theotokos of the Sign

The Protection of the Theotokos
Protection of the Theotokos Orthodox Church
Allentown, PA

What words, O Mother of God and Virgin, can describe your divinely radiant beauty? Your qualities cannot be circumscribed by thoughts or words, for they transcend our minds and speech. But it is possible to sing your praises if you, in your charity, so permit. In you all graces are to be found. You are the perfection of nobleness in all its forms, the living portrait of every virtue and kindness. You alone were vouchsafed the gifts of the Spirit in their totality, or rather, you alone held mysteriously in your womb Him in whom are the treasures of all these spiritual gifts, and became inexplicably His tabernacle. Therefore, you were the object of His care from your infancy, even in respect of physical needs, and He paradoxically accepted you from your childhood as His companion, showing from that time forward, by means of such strange events as this, that you were the unchanging shrine of all His graces.

You were deemed worthy of much higher privileges than were granted to other men. Your birth was extraordinary, your upbringing even stranger, and your childbearing, without knowing anything of men, was yet more supremely mysterious. Whereas your birth was adorned with pledges made by God and human beings, that is to say, by your parents – for when they received His promise they rightly vowed you, the promised child, to Him in return – you yourself were also beautified with heavenly promises at various times, and enriched the whole world with them. Before long you received the tidings of Him from whom and through whom so great a promise was made (Luke 1: 26– 38), that the promises to God’s friends down through the ages which found fulfilment in you, and the great visions they beheld, seemed merely like obscure reflections and vague ideas in comparison. You alone fulfilled all their visions, surpassing our common human nature by means of your union with God, not just when you gave birth in a marvellous way, but also through the preceding fellowship with Him in everything good, which resulted from your utter purity.

Palamas, St. Gregory (2013-08-21). Mary the Mother of God: Sermons by Saint Gregory Palamas (Kindle Locations 505-520). Mount Thabor Publishing. Kindle Edition.