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3. Interpretation of the Canon

            According to our writers, Canon VII of the Second Ecumenical Council provides an immediate solution to the question, How should heretics who come over to Orthodoxy be received?[92] The canonical frame of reference within which this Canon can be correctly interpreted is established by the following Canons: XLVI, XLVII, L, and LXVIII Apostolic; I of Carchedon-Carthage (3rd cen.); VII and VII of Laodicae; VIII and XIX of the First Ecumenical Council; I, V, XX, and XLVII of st. Basil; XCV of Penthekte; and LVII and LXXX of Carthage (5th cen.).[93] Moreover, this Canon should be examined in conjunction with Canon XCV of Penthekte, which is nothing else but a reiteration of it.[94]

            This Canon, however, presents many difficulties in its interpretation. For, taken literally, it is clearly contrary to the practice of the Church canonically formulated through St. Cyprian and other Fathers (e.g. St. Basil).[95] And, as we have seen, our theologians accept that practice as deriving from the early Church and as being in agreement with the Apostolic Canons, and therefore as the only canonical and inviolable practice. Thus, with good reason St. Nikodemos poses the question: Why did the Second Ecumenical Council not reject the baptism of all heretics, in accordance with the Apostolic Canons and the Council presided over by st. Cyprian, and all the rest of the great and God-bearing Fathers, but accepted the baptism of some heretics while not that of others?[96] The classification of heretics into those who are in need of baptism and those who are not is the core of the problem created by this Canon. To begin with, this classifying is considered by our writers completely reprobate, on the basis of the Canons of St. Cyprian and St. Basil. It has already been said above that according to them, heretics of any kind are outside the Church and do not even have baptism, and therefore without any exception are in need of baptism.[97] The problem becomes even more acute, for the Second Ecumenical Council appeared tolerant and accommodating towards the more impious among the heretics of that time, namely the Arians and Macedonians, who reject the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit.[98] Thus at first sight, there seems to be disagreement between the holy Councils and the patristic Canons, for two Ecumenical Councils (the Second by its Canon VII, and Penthekte by its Canon XCV) come into conflict not only with the above-mentioned Fathers, but also with the Apostolic Canons (e.g. XLVI), which Penthekte and through it the catholic Church ratified notwithstanding, and which, according to St. Nikodemos, command the opposite.[99] This, then, is the problem created by these Canons.

            In the effort to remove this disaccord, some canonists have held the view that Ecumenical Councils may review or rescind the canonical decisions of the Fathers, for it is unheard of that one [Father] be preferred over an Ecumenical or Local Council.[100] The ratification of the Canons of the holy Fathers by Ecumenical Councils does not, according to this view, also indicate the affirmation of any contradiction that might consequently arise; for, quite simply, the Councils prevail, according to the well-known principle: the inferior is blessed by the superior (Heb. 7:7). Thus the Councils prevail, in a way setting in disuse the Canons formulated prior to them. Moreover, even Zonaras himself, in confronting the antitheis of Canon VII of the Second Ecumenical Council and the Canon of Carchedon-Carthage, which is essentially the Canon of St. Cyprian, writes: In this chapter, the two Councils introduce opposites. The decisions of the Second Council prevail, because it is later and because it is Ecumenical; moreover, thereat together present were the patriarchs themselves or their vicars from all the patriarchal sees.[101]

            Our theologians, however, living the Churchs tradition and knowing from immediate experience the place of the holy Fathers in her life, are not satisfied with this answer. They do not admit even the slightest discrepancy between Fathers and Councils.[102] The authority of the holy Fathers is panegyrically accepted by all of our writers. But of greater interest is the extensive analysis on this point too by Neophytos Kafsokalyvitis.[103]

            According to Neophytos, the Councils and in this case the Second and Penthekte Ecumenical Councils do not annul the holy Fathers, whose authority is especially apparent in these very (Ecumenical) Councils, the theology and decisions of which cannot be understood without the theological input of the Fathers and Doctors.[104] He offers characteristic examples: The divine Chrysostom was given precedence over the Council of Neocaesaria in Canon XVI of Penthekte, and Gregory the Theologian in Canon LXIV of the same Council. Likewise, the Seventh Council, having cited Basil the Great as witness of what it defined in Canons XVI, XIX, and XX, admittedly gave him precedence over itself[105] St. Basils authority especially is recognized at all the Ecumenical Councils after him.[106] Neophytos thus concludes: We say that the Ecumenical doctors have precedence over Ecumenical Councils not so as to refute what these Councils bade God forbid, for they sided with the Councils but rather to show how much they were revered by the Councils. Indeed the Ecumenical Councils rely on the holy and wise Fathers.[107]

            Neophytos conclusion is that the Second Ecumenical Council in no way ignored or set aside the holy Fathers prior to it (Cyprian, Athanasios, Basil, Gregory the  Theologian, etc.), who call heretical baptism a pollution, and who particularly reject Arian baptism as being reprobate.[108] This is even more so true with Penthekte, which cannot at the same time ratify and rescind the Canon of Carchedon-Carthage and thus contradict itself. For although the Second Council in its Canon VII passed over [the Canon of Carchedon-Carthage] and limited it to the locality where it was in force, yet the Sixth Council in its Canon II ratified it, and thus admittedly rendered it Ecumenical.[109] So, if Canons VII of the Second Ecumenical and XCV of the Penthekte appear to attach a local character to the Canon of Cyprians Council, in any event Canon II of Penthekte gave it Ecumenical authority. For, local and particular [Canons], when ratified by the catholic [Church], also became catholic[110] no distinction of importance among the sacred Canons of the Church is allowed.[111]

            Since, then, it is impossible for an Ecumenical Council to annul itself, there remains for Neophytos to justified question: I cease not to inquire, he says, for what reason the Sixth Council (and consequently also the Second) ever accepted the inefficacious and totally unacceptable and, according to Apostolic Canon XLVI, rejected rites of those who for heresy were both synodically unfrocked and publicly banished from the Church and anathematized (i.e. Arians and Macedonians).[112] He continues: Moreover, I am still puzzled, and I think that so are all canonists. Let him who in the Lord is able to do so resolve the question and demonstrate the agreement of the Ecumenical Councils with the Apostolic Canons and those of St. Basil that they ratified[113] there must be, therefore, another explanation regarding the manner of action of these two Ecumenical Councils, in spite of the fact that especially Penthekte ratifies Canons which otherwise it appears to annul.[114]

            Our theologians do not leave the question unsolved. Although their answers preserve the individual character of each and thus differ on secondary points, yet they reach the same conclusions in consequence of their oneness of mind.

            The position of the Second Ecumenical Council towards the Arians and Macedonians can be explained, according to St. Nikodemos, if we take into consideration that the Church has two modes of governing and correcting, namely, acrivia =  precision or rigorism, and economia = concession or dispensation. Whereas the Apostles and the earlier Councils and Fathers applied acrivia,[115] the two Ecumenical Councils accepted economia.[116] So, this alternation of acrivia and economia under certain defined conditions removes any hint of contradiction among the holy Canons and the Councils. According to this saint, the Second Ecumenical Council kept the Canon partially,[117] acting in accordance with economia and concession.[118] Economia, being a fruit of the Churchs pastoral and remedial ministry, was exercised for provisional-historical reasons. The heretics in question were many in number and politically strong.[119] Hence the synodal Fathers showed leniency, in order to attract them to Orthodoxy and to correct them more easily, and so that it might not happen that they further infuriate them against the Church and the Christians, and the evil thus become worse.[120] The exercise of economia, therefore, was not arbitrary, but justified, having in view the salvation of the heretics and the peace of the Church.

            According to Neophytos, himself unable to deviate from Cyprians principle regarding the invalidity of heretical sacraments, this economia in generalwhich even prior to the Second Council was prevalent in lieu of a Canon, accepted the rites of the Arians just as it did those of the schismatics, as one can surmise from the Second Council.[121] However, there was, according to him, an important reason which made economia not only possible, but also necessary.  Both the Sixth and the Second Ecumenical Councils speak about those heretics who originally came from us.[122] That is, when those of the Orthodox who had become Arians returned again, they were not baptized.[123] On the other hand, those who had become Arians, but who had not previously been Orthodox, and who had not previously undergone Orthodox baptism, but only that of the heretics, would need to be baptized as being unbaptized.[124] But most of them (Arians and Macedonians) who originally came from the Orthodox were intermingled [with those who were originally Arians], and without admitting the truth attached themselves to the [Orthodox] clergy, according to Epiphanios;[125] hence (also according to St. Basil),[126] because of the confusion there can be no distinction between Orthodox and heretics. Therefore the Council was forced to exercise economia,[127] which according to Neophytos can only be exercised in the case of schismatics.[128]

            St. Nikodemos defends a position parallel to this one. Interpreting St. Cyprians Canon, he comments: But if one searches well, he will find that most of those heretics whom the Second Ecumenical Council received by economia were from among the baptized clergy who had fallen into heresy, and this is why the Council used this economia.[129] What is common to both these views is the conviction that those who were received by economia preserved the Churchs baptism, i.e. the three immersions and emersions. According to Neophytos, on account of the Arians this custom was prevalent in Constantinople. Hence it was included in the epistle To Martyrios, and finally was canonized by Penthekte through its Canon XCV; for it had found its way into Councils the Second Ecumenical and Penthekte that, again, had met in the same city of Constantinople!

            Oikonomos also accepts the early Councils free exercise, from time to time, of both acrivia and economia without the slightest conflict among the holy Canons. According to him, the Apostolic Canons were set for acrivia. The Second Ecumenical and Penthekte Councils, however, used economia for historical reasons (the then times demanding it).[130]

            The Second Ecumenical Councils classification of heretics into those in need of baptism and those in need of Chrismation, however, was based, according to our writers, on a specific ecclesiological and canonical assumption. Heretics who were required to be baptized had, according to Oikonomos, as a common characteristicnot only the utter blasphemy regarding the divine dogmas, but mostly the impious transgression as regards the kind of baptism they have. This transgression was twofold: regarding the invocation of the persons of the All-holy Trinity,[131] and regarding the trine immersion of the person baptized.[132]

            Thus, the practice of baptizing converting heretics was canonized by Canon VII of the Second Ecumenical Council, not so much on account of their erroneous beliefs regarding the divine dogma, for they renounced these by their conversion and through the mandatory written statement they submitted; but first and foremost on account of their baptismal rite, which is profane and inefficacious because it is wholly incorrect as regards the divine invocations and/or the three immersions.[133]  Hence, adds St. Nikodemos, those belonging to this group (Eunomians, Montanists, Sabellians, and all other heresies), were without any possible exception received as pagans, i.e. as wholly unbaptized. For either they had never been baptized, or else they had been baptized, but not correctly and in the manner the Orthodox are baptized. Hence, they are not considered as having been baptized at all.[134] So, what is understood as baptism by these writers, as well as by the (early) Fathers of the Church, is not merely entrance into the Church, but enrolment into her according to a specific Apostolic manner, i.e. by three immersions.

            The exercise of economia towards the Arians and Macedonians does not at all mean that the Council overlooked the faith, but that the degree of their deviation from the Orthodox faith was not of primary importance for the Council.[135] Economia was possible, because these heretics preserved the Apostolic tradition in their own baptism; for they baptized according to the Lords command, in the name of the Father an of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and with three immersions and emersions.[136] The correct performance of the sacrament constituted the criterion for the admission of their baptism. Thus, the impiety of their beliefs was remedied through their written statement and through divine chrismation, which was given to certify their confession and faith, so that they might become participants in Christs kingdom and in the gift of the Spirit, of which they had been deprived. Some of them, in fact, had perhaps not ever been anointed with chrism, as for example the Novatians, towards whom the Council of Laodicea exercised economia.[137] But towards the Eunomians, it was never possible for the Council to exercise economia, for they had received a single-immersion baptism, i.e. one different from the Churchs. An alteration of the form of the sacrament which destroys its unity, i.e. the correspondence of the external and internal element, was for the Council decisively significant. For economia too, according to Oikonomos who invokes the holy Fathers, has its limits: Economia is permissible as long as it involves no violation of the law, said Chrysostom proverbially.[138] Canon VII of the Second Ecumenical Council, says Oikonomos, omitted reference to the Eunomian blasphemy regarding the invocation,d\for the sake of brevity; the equally important imperfection in the form of the sacrament, i.e. the single immersion, was sufficient.[139]

            Thus it is proven, according to Oikonomos, that there is no contradiction in the Canons concerning baptism.[140] The interpretation of the holy Canons on the basis of the scheme acrivia/economia removes any seeming disharmony among them. It is worthy of notice, however, that these theologians understand economia as leniency-concession in the face of the Churchs precision, i.e. as a pastoral measure; while acrivia they understand as a theological measure which demands the loyal and precise adherence to the word of God that constitutes the Churchs normal practice.[141] In this case, however, the Churchs normal practice is not defined by the Ecumenical Councils, but by the Apostolic and patristic Canons,[142] which after their Ecumenical accreditation are nowise inferior in authority to synodal Canons, and indeed those of the Ecumenical Councils. In this particular case, the Ecumenical Councils, like the Second and Penthekte, without repudiating acrivia, provide a solution by economia.[143] According to our writers, there is not only oneness of spirit among our Churchs sacred Canons, but also they are of equal force and equal validity, inasmuch as her holy Canons are all Ecumenical. Thus, the Canons of the Ecumenical Councils, and in this case of the Second and Penthekte, do not set the older Canons into disuse, nor abolish them.[144] Such a position is, for these theologians, legalistic in the extreme and clearly anti-ecclesial, inasmuch as acrivia and economia can easily co-exist in the Churchs canonical order. The possibility of using both acrivia and economia insures the Churchs freedom and rules out her becoming confined to any legal forms whatsoever. But our writers would not be in agreement with the principle that acrivia is that which was decreed by the Ecumenical Councils, and economia is any divergence therefrom.[145] For them, acrivia is the practice of the Church emanating from her self-understanding, according to which, outside of her there are neither sacraments nor salvation.

            Thus, the economia that was used by the Second Ecumenical Council on the basis, as we saw, of specific presuppositions, does not in any way eliminate the Churchs acrivia. According to St. Nikodemos, the economia that some Fathers temporarily used can neither be thought of as law nor taken as an example.[146] The context in which St. Nikodemos made this comment indicates that he had in mind the Fathers of the Second Ecumenical Council. Oikonomos states the identical position even more clearly, saying: The Ecumenical Councils did not rescind the Canons legislated in acrivia; for some might wish to abide by them for the sake of the complete ease of their conscience, and in accordance with their prevailing ancient ethos. Neophytos supports the same position,[147] and in his usual manner he formulates the following practical syllogism: Only the Sixth together with the Second voted that to a certain extent heretics be chrismated. On the other hand, the holy Fathers (Cyprian, Basil, Athanasios, etc.), and the Local Council of Laodicea, and also the Apostolic Canons, decree simply to baptize them, as do also the Sixth and Seventh Ecumenical Councils, which ratify what they had done. And according to Canon VI of the First Ecumenical Council, and Canon XIX of the Council of Antioch, the vote of the majority rules. So he concludes: Therefore, according to the majority vote, heretics are in need of baptism; or according to the minority, some are in need only of chrismation. It is ascertained, however, that one finds in the holy Canons many more votes for baptism than for mere chrismation.[148] Perhaps one should not be quick simply to reject this argument of Neophytos, but rather should try to discern his ultimate aim. With this argument he wants to prove what was said above: namely, that the Second and Penthekte Councils used economia for specific, practical reasons only, and by exception.

            So, our writers arrive together at the unanimous decision that, according to the Churchs canonical practice, as a rule acrivia should be applied to heretics who convert to Orthodoxy; in other words, they should be baptized, since in any case, neither by acrivia nor by economia can heretical sacraments be considered valid.[149]


4. Summary

            in this way, then, is Canon VII of the Second Ecumenical Council interpreted by the Kollyvades and C. Oikonomos. These writers are in agreement with the canonists before them, as far the understanding of the Canon in question is concerned. In conclusion, we can summarize their teaching and positions as follows:

            1) By the principle of economia, all seeming disaccord between this Canon and those previous Canons which are considered to be in disagreement with it is removed. There is no disaccord among the Churchs holy Canons,[150] which in this seemingly curious antinomy retain their unity and preserve the freedom in Christ.

            2) The Second Ecumenical Council, in exercising economia towards certain specifically named heretics, did not leave the ground open for the inclusion in his category of any other heretics unchecked. Economia was used for important historical and pastoral reasons, without revoking the acrivia ratified by the second part of the Canon and exercised on other heretics, again not arbitrarily!

            3) The exercise of economia was possible, because there existed the absolutely necessary formal conditions, i.e. the correct execution of the sacrament by these heretics with three immersions and emersions.[151] The rejection of the single-immersion baptism of the Eunomians, who were classified among the wholly unbaptized, indicates the Councils and consequently the catholic Churchs condemnation of any alteration in the form of the sacrament of baptism, which alteration is sufficient to render the exercise of economia towards these heretics entirely impossible. In this case, according to Oikonomos: The danger concerning all: they were not born of water and spirit, nor were they through baptism buried with Christ into His death.[152] That is to say, they are unbaptized, and therefore bereft of the regeneration in Christ.

            The problem, in the final analysis, is not the disregard or rejection of a mere form, but something much deeper: namely, disobedience to Christs commandment (baptizing them Mt. 28:19), and unfaithfulness to the Churchs tradition. And this tradition, if not held fast in its totality as pleroma-fullness of life, runs the risk of becoming estranged, and consequently of losing its local force!


[92] O, p. 419. Cf. P, p. 92.

[93] P, p. 165 et al. E, throughout O, pp. 419-420, 453-454. for the texts of these Canons, see Appendix I below.

[94] E, p. 147 xx; P, p. 165; O, pp. 419-420.

[95] Cf. Christophilopoulos, p. 119; E, pp. 129f, 135f; and P, p. 370.

[96] P, p. 53.

[97] P, p. 55.

[98] O, p. 420.

[99] P, p. 55.

[100] E, p. 144.

[101] PG 137:1103.

[102] E, p. 142: In fact, Basil the Great and Athanasios and Cyprian and his synod were not given precedence, but rather equal standing with the Sixth and Seventh Ecumenical Councils which were in agreement with each one of them. Cf. O, p. 488. St. Nikodemos also notes: there is no contradiction or opposition between them P, p. 54.

[103] E, p. 144ff.

[104] S. G. Papadopoulos, Patrologia, vol. I (Athens, 1977), p. 68.

[105] E, p. 144.

[106] Ibid. The Seventh Ecumenical Council calls Basil the Great a Father thereof. Cf. Canon XX of Penthekte also.

[107] E, p. 145.

[108] Ibid.

[109] E, p. 147 i.

[110] E, p. 147 ii.

[111] P, p. 52, 119.

[112] E, p. 147 xii.

[113] E, p. 147 xiv.

[114] P, p. 54. E, pp. 140, 147 xi.

[115] P, pp. 368, 587f. Cf. Canon I of Carchedon-Carthage (we pronounce no recent opinion or one that has only now been established, but on the contrarythat which of old was tested with all precision [Gk. acrivia] and care by our predecessors); and Canon I of St. Basil (it is not our responsibility to return them a favor, but to serve the precision [Gk. acrivia] of the Canons).

[116] P, p. 53.

[117] P, p. 370.

[118] P, p. 53.

[119] Ibid.

[120] Ibid.

[121] E, p. 147 xi.

[122] E, p. 131.

[123] E, p. 147 xxiv. Cf. E, p. 147 iv.

[124] E, p. 147 v.

[125] Against heresies III, 1,  PG 42:448A.

[126] On the holy Spirit 3, PG 32:76.

[127] E, p. 127. Cf. E, p. 141. Cf. O, p. 475.

[128] E, p. 131. And in a word, the baptism belonging to heretics is to be completely rejected, while that of schismatics is to be accepted when it is consecrated by mere anointing with chrism. E, p. 127.

[129] P, p. 370.

[130] O, pp. 488, 491. Cf. Ch. Androutsos, (Dogmatics of the Orthodox Eastern Church) (Athens, 1956), p. 301f.

[131] O, p. 421: Such was the baptism of those who baptized into three unoriginates, or three sons, or three paracletes.

[132] O, p. 421.

[133] O, p. 423.

[134] P, pp. 164 and 55. Cf. P, p. 587f.; M, p. 263; O, p. 490 (they had no baptism whatsoever, wherefore the Church prescribed to baptize them as well).

[135] Cf. Kotsonis, (On the validity), p. 26.

[136] O, p. 422.

[137] O, pp. 422-423, 424, 488-489.

[138] O, pp. 433, 434 (and n. 1). Cf. Evlogios of Alexandria, PG 103:953.

[139] O, p. 421.

[140] O, p. 488.

[141] According to Ch. Androutsos, (Symbology from an Orthodox Point of View), 3rd ed. (Thessaloniki, 1963), pp. 30-304: economia is a deviation from what is in principle correct and true. Cf. A. Alivizatos, (Dispensation according to Canon Law of the Orthodox Church) (Athens, 1949), p. 21. J. Kotsonis, (Problems in Ecclesiastical Dispensation) (Athens, 1957), p. 207f. P. Boumis, (Ecclesiastical Dispensation according to Canon Law) (Athens, 1971), p. 7.

[142] The practice to which Canon I of Carthedon-Carthage attests was applied throughout the entire fourth century, as this is shown from Canons XIX of the First Council, VIII of Laodicae, I and XLVII of St. Basil, and XLVI and LXVIII Apostolic.

[143] Likewise, Canon XII of Penthekte applies a solution by economia. See P. I. Boumis, (The Marriage of Bishops) (Athens, 1981), p. 10.

[144] Cf. the opinion of J. Kotsonis: Wherever in previous Canons something is ordered contrary to this holy Canon (i.e. XCV of Penthekte), that which is ordered by this Canon prevails. Article in ..., vol. 2 (1963), col. 1093. Same author, (Problems), 187, n. 571. Cf. A. Christophilopoulos, 򅒒 (The coming over to Orthodoxy), ƒ (1956), p. 59.

[145] See Kotsonis, (Problems), pp. 91-93. Same author, (On the validity), p. 27.

[146] P, p. 371. That is why in his footnote to Canon XX of St. Basil (P, p. 605) he points out: See how according to this Canon the Church does not receive heretics without baptizing them, even if Canon VII of the Second Ecumenical Council by economia receives certain heretics without baptism.

[147] O, p. 488. Cf. E, p. 147 xi: If  the acrivia of the Canons receives by baptism those whom custom chrismates, then he who rather follows acrivia on those who accept it would not err, for he will have done not contrary to custom, but more than the custom.

[148] E, p. 132.

[149] Kotsonis, (Problems), p. 201ff. St. Nikodemos typically comments: Hence, if St. Basil rejects the baptismal rite of schismatics because they lacked the grace to accomplish sacraments, then it is superfluous even to ask if we should baptize heretics (P, p. 52).

[150] See V. I. Pheides, (Historico-canonical and ecclesiological presuppositions for an interpretation of the Sacred Canons) (Athens, 1972), p. 44.

[151] Cf. Zonaras and Valsamon in: G. A. Rallis and M. Potlis, (Collection of the divine and sacred Canons), vol. II (Athens, 1852), pp. 189, 191. Cf. Rinne, p. 38 (and n. 6).

[152] O, p. 490. He clearly specifies what he means: For either they did not obtain divine baptism, or if they did, it was not done correctly or according to the ritual of the Orthodox Church.



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Article published in English on: 14-9-2007.

Last Update: 15-9-2007.