Is Orthodox Ecclesiology Circular Reasoning?

Greetings all!

I have been scanning these forums for quite some time, and I decided to make a profile to pose a question I have found to be quite difficult - any insights are most greatly appreciated!

My question: Is Orthodox ecclesiology circular reasoning? What I mean is this:

According to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, the Church is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. The oneness of the Church means that there are no "branches" of the Church - the Body of Christ cannot be rent asunder, broken, or divided in any way; the Church is a seamless garment. In the words of St. Cyprian:

"This sacrament of unity, this bond of concord inseparably connected is shown, when in the Gospel the tunic of the Lord Jesus Christ is not at all divided and is not torn, but by those who cast lots for the garment of Christ, who rather might have put on Christ, a sound garment is received, and an undamaged and undivided tunic is possessed...He cannot possess the garment of Christ who tears and divides the Church of Christ." (St. Cyprian, On The Unity of The Church, Chapter 7)

So, one can leave the Church, one can join the Church, but one can never divide the Church. 

The question that naturally follows is this: what exactly is the Church? Or rather, where can the Church be found, visible and present in the world today? 

Now, for reasons too numerous (and perhaps self-evident) to go into here, let's assume this Church is the Orthodox Church. The question that follows is: what is the Orthodox Church?

The answer might be something along the lines of: the Orthodox Church is that collection of autocephalous churches possessing true apostolic succession through their respective bishops, possessing the fullness of sacramental/liturgical life and tradition (most importantly the Eucharist), and adhering faithfully to the entirety of the apostolic deposit of faith as expounded upon and preserved by the Fathers and dogmatically and infallibly declared via the canons and decrees of the Ecumenical Councils.

Alright, maybe this definition is adequate, maybe not. But, for the purpose of demonstrating my point, this shall suffice. Now, another question immediately follows: what exactly constitutes an Ecumenical Council?

Now, I have yet to receive a coherent answer to this question, and here's where the circular reasoning comes in: one might say that an Ecumenical Council is a council convened by the Emperor, the canons and decrees of which are accepted and promulgated by the Orthodox Church everywhere. 

But, this answer immediately brings us right back to our previous question: what exactly is the Orthodox Church? 

And, thus we have circular reasoning! 

Lately, my examination of this conundrum has led me to examine more closely the schism arising from the Council of Chalcedon. It seems to me that the following is logically necessary:

If one is a Chalcedonian Orthodox Christian, he/she must not only accept that the dogmatic decrees of this council are binding on all Orthodox faithful, but also that they are infallibly guided by the Holy Spirit. After all, if an Ecumenical Council is not infallible, then the Orthodox Faith lies on shaky ground...

But, if this hypothetical Chalcedonian Orthodox Christian examines the non-Chalcedonian miaphysite theology and arrives at the conclusion that the non-Chalcedonian formula for the Hypostatic Union is, indeed, perfectly Orthodox and just as suitable as the Chalcedonian formula presented in Leo's Tome, then said hypothetical Orthodox Christian MUST NECESSARILY reject the Council of Chalcedon as an Ecumenical Council!

Why? Because if Chalcedon erred in proclaiming anathemas on all non-Chalcedonian formulations for the Hypostatic Union, then it logically follows that Chalcedon is NOT infallible; if Chalcedon is not infallible, then it cannot be inspired by the Holy Spirit. So, this hypothetical Orthodox Christian no longer has any business being a Chalcedonian Christian, and he/she must become Oriental Orthodox in order to remain logically consistent. 

Now, this wouldn't mean that the Chalcedonian formula for the Hypostatic Union is necessarily wrong in-and-of-itself, but it WOULD mean that Chalcedon - as a council - is not actually infallible and God-inspired.

Let me take this time here to apologize for the length of this particular post, but I must confess that I am a non-denominational Christian seeking full communion with the Orthodox Church as soon as possible. What I have written above is a brief snapshot of the crossroads at which I currently stand in my journey of faith. Obviously, this is causing me quite a bit of perplexity. 

I suppose I am just reaching out to get any responses/insights on this line of reasoning I have illustrated - also, any personal testimonies or justifications as to why various Coptic Christians here have chosen to join and/or remain in the Coptic Church would be most greatly appreciated!

God bless you all, and many thanks for reading!


  • An Ecumenical council is when all church leaders and hierarchic orders come to assemble to settle matters on heresy and the needs of the church. What makes it ecumenical is the fact that it encompasses the universal church and not just some churches. 

    We do not recognize Chalcedon because of its very highly political agenda. However, we have come to realize (most of us) that each side (Chalcedonian and Non-Chalcedonian) misunderstood the other in their Christological expressions. Chalcedonians thought that we were followers of Eutyches and we thought that they were Nestorian. Each side developed their theological expressions to fight the heresies that were prevalent at the time. 

    As far as who is truly the One Church: 
    It is correct say that salvation is only in the church. Those who are saved by default are members of the Body of Christ. However, we cannot judge who is IN the church (i.e. 'saved')--to do so would assume that we were omniscient. Only God knows or can determine any one person's salvation. We can only say that we know that our church (doctrine) is a true reflection of what we have received from the Tradition. To say or assume anything else about another person's salvation or internal relationship to the church would be misplaced. 

    Do not misunderstand what I am saying: we can determine what is false doctrine and what is correct doctrine. Nevertheless, we cannot judge the individual person in relation to the Body of Christ. We cannot determine a person's repentance given their circumstances
  • Greetings @3FoldPrinciple!

    May God bless your zeal and quest for truth. I hope you find the answers you desire.

    I do, however, believe you started your assumption on the wrong note.

    What is the Church?
    The Church is the Body of Christ.

    What is the Body of Christ?
    The Body of Christ the fellowship of all believers who participate in the sacraments.

    Where can you participate in the Sacraments?
    Any church that offers valid Sacraments (Mainly, Baptism, Christmatiob, Eucharist and Confession)

    Which church has valid Sacraments?
    This, you will find a ton of conflicting answers but main entities are all Orthodox Church, and Catholic Church.

    Are all those churches in communion?
    No, due to political reason. Pray to God and seek where He wants you and stick to it.

    End of story :).

    At least, this is how I view the entirety of the discussion on a personal level.
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