Habemus Altare

When the Orthodox make appeal to the Fathers, the appeal is not simply to their application of Scripture but to their entire corpus of work which is authoritative on its own merits. The authority of an Ecumenical Council, for instance, derives from the active presence of the Holy Spirit guiding every single decision, including the establishment of canon law and procedure, rather than narrowly to the consistent interpretation of Scripture within the Church.

By contrast, Anglicans understand that the starting place and ending place for divine revelation is Holy Scripture. This does not mean that we lack an appeal to tradition. We take very seriously the witness of the Early Church and honor it to the point of believing that the consistent and universal witness of the Early Church as to how the Scriptures are to be interpreted must be accepted by all Christians who wish to authentically adhere to the faith once delivered to the saints. Nevertheless, all of our doctrine is based on the notion that the Scriptures themselves are where God speaks uniquely. If every single Father believed that all people should refrain from flying a kite on the Sabbath, but none of them made any reference to the Scripture to back up this assertion, then it would not be binding on Christians. The Word of God is what gives authority and life to all that we celebrate within Holy Tradition, including icons, music, and all the rest.

Does this mean that Orthodoxy is more faithful to the Fathers than classical Anglicanism? Only if the Fathers’ own witness is left out of the equation. The Fathers appeal to Scripture over and over again to prove every assertion they make. To hold the Fathers out as self-authenticating is actually to oppose what the Fathers believed about themselves.

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