From the survey of the two spheres in the Church and the two aims of Christian life therein, we proceed to contemplate the holy doctrines of our faith and the commandments of God, for these chart the first sphere in the Church and comprise the first aim of the Christian life. This survey should follow their natural classification and should expound them one by one, from the very first dogma to the final culminating one, while interjecting the commandments of God as they are related.
We begin with the conviction that the first basic dogma of the faith, the very fountainhead whence all the other doctrines spring, is simply and solely this – that Jesus Christ is perfect God and perfect man. From this come two other Christian teachings:
- All the words of Christ are true in that they are the words of God, authoritative and undeniable;
- His words are preserved in the Church, which herself is unerring as the pillar and ground of the truth, and the house of God.
These two doctrines arise from the first and are universal, to be accepted by everyone; they are basic doctrines. Orthodox Christian doctrines have God as their source, and His Holy Spirit who knows and bears witness to the truth through His agents. Through Jesus Christ, the divine saviour, God revealed the whole saving truth through the dogmas. The words of the divine saviour, inasmuch as they are the words of God incarnate, and not the words of a mere man, are saving doctrines, authoritative and undeniable words, worthy of belief and acceptance.
If we believe that God has spoken to men through the mouth of His Son, Jesus Christ, we cannot have any doubts about His words, nor can we refuse to believe what He Himself said, or what He taught us through the apostles and His disciples. If, however, we do not believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ, or if we do not believe in His mission from God, we cannot believe in the truth of His words. It is then impossible for us to accept wholeheartedly what He Himself spoke or what He preached to us through His representatives, as true and capable of bringing salvation.
The Church has continued to preserve and safeguard the words of Christ ever since she received them from those who actually saw and heard Christ – the disciples. If we believe in the Church’s inability to err, because in very truth she keeps and holds fast the message of salvation, undiminished and unadulterated, just as she received it from the apostles, then we can believe in the truth.
On the same grounds, we cannot make the mistake of accepting the opinions of men as doctrines of faith and salvation, or of rejecting the truth of God as being unsupported by evidence forsooth or as having been misrepresented. Conversely, if we do not believe that the Church does not err or that the Church is trustworthy, then we cannot know the truth of God contained in the doctrines of salvation, nor can we discover the true doctrines of the faith and salvation.
From the very beginning of her existence the Church has kept and still keeps the teaching of Christ undiminished and unadulterated. Every opinion is tested and judged in relation to it, and if an opinion is in agreement with Christ’s teaching, the Church accepts it and makes it her own. If it is not in harmony with or contradicts Christ’s teaching, the Church rejects it and discards it, for it is alien and inspired by Satan. From the very beginning, this has been the Church’s task.
The Gospel is the teaching of Christ, and on the truth of the Gospel the Church was built. The Church is the pillar and ground of the truth, as St. Paul noted (I Timothy 3:15). What is called sacred tradition in the Church is in harmony with Christ’s teaching in the Gospels, and therefore is worthy of belief and acceptance.
Because no tradition that is either directly or indirectly inconsistent with Holy Scripture can be believed as true, the “church” which holds a tradition contrary to the teaching of the New Testament is not Christian, but is false and persists in error. The papal denomination is an example, for instead of the true tradition, it has accepted a tradition opposed to Christian teaching and has gone astray miserably. In accepting the fact that the Church can make no mistake in the teaching she gives, we accept the tradition itself wherein we possess both the teaching of Christ and the teaching of the apostles.
The tradition gives us full assurance about the genuineness of the teaching of Christ and of the apostles, about the authenticity of the sacred Scriptures, and about the establishment of the Church. For this reason it is worthy of belief, because in the Holy Spirit there is confession of the truth as it has been revealed in Christ. Thus in believing in the tradition of the Church, we believe in the Church’s inability to err; we believe also in the truth of Holy Scripture and we believe in the Word of God, alive in the Church.
The apostles and disciples of the saviour spoke nothing, said no word of themselves. They spoke as they heard and saw without any addition or subtraction. They always distinguished between the words of God, which they asserted positively as dogmas, and their own utterances, which they spoke apologetically, yet in a way that stirred their audiences. This was because they were simply priests and servants of Christ’s will in the Church.
Just as the servant who is sent by his master to convey his wishes to another person is extremely careful to transmit them faithfully and accurately, without adding or subtracting anything – indeed, using the very words of his master if possible – so too, the holy apostles endeavored in their messages to make clear to the world the will of their lord, Jesus Christ, without subtracting anything from it or adding anything to it. They knew that if they did this, they would lose Christ’s approbation and would be condemned as liars and impostors, men who wished to accomplish their own will and establish their own reputation. Hence, they spoke as slaves and servants of Christ, not as masters or as men who possess authority in themselves.
They did more than speak in the name of Christ; they also passed judgment and cut heretics off from the Church by excommunication, so that the whole body might be preserved. They delivered the teaching of Christ to their successors – certain, authentic, and unadulterated by human teaching or speculation.
In the Church after the death of the apostles, the message of the Gospel and the teaching of the New Testament were the standard of judgment upon every doctrine and teaching. Also, there was the sacred tradition in harmony with it, which preserves the historical faith and in which may be seen the historical unfolding of the sacred doctrines in the Church. Consequently, the Church was given a revelation of scientific character – that which today is called dogmatic theology.
Although we purpose in the following chapters to survey the historical unfolding of the doctrines of our faith, we already have come to the conclusion that it is not part of our task to explain the reason for the unfolding of the sacred doctrines in the Church. We confine ourselves to speaking of the saving doctrines which are most important in the faith of our salvation, and which are set forth in Holy Scripture and in the most ancient tradition of the Church in harmony with it.
The apostles’ main task was to teach the first truth of the faith and they strove to instill it in the souls of men. The core of their message was the revelation of the Logos and the salvation of sinful man by Him. They endeavored to persuade the world that it was in a state of sin, and that it could not be saved by its own efforts, but needed a divine saviour, and that Jesus Christ is the only one who can save those who believe in Him. The apostles preached this doctrine as the first and fundamental dogma of the faith, with great devotion.
The apostles comprehended that on the acceptance of this dogma and of all the other doctrines that stem from it, depends the acceptance of Christ. Man is sinful and deserves eternal punishment. But God in His mercy saves man through Jesus Christ, whom He sent to be the saviour of sinners. Whosoever believes that Christ is the true saviour sent by God, the same is saved, for he is able to fulfill the moral law of God as well. This is the basis and the essence of the teaching both of the apostles and of the Church.
This teaching later was unfolded gradually in the Church, although it was epitomized earlier. In this way it produced the dogmatic branch of theology in which the mighty host of holy fathers of the Church excelled. The source of all the doctrines unfolded in the course of time was Holy Scripture – the New Testament. Moreover, the basis and foundation of the New Testament is the Old Testament, because the Old Testament proclaimed the coming revelation of the New, and the renewal of mankind which came to pass on the basis of the New Testament.
In recognizing the will and words of Jesus Christ in it, the Church acknowledges as true all the doctrines and all the truths which He taught and which she herself inherited and holds. She also possesses them as the recognized standard of her faith. She does not depart from them in the least, or add anything whatever to them or take anything away.
Consequently, her message is that outside the doctrines of the Church, there is no truth, that every teaching contrary to Christ’s teaching – which the Church holds – is erroneous, and those who follow it are grievously mistaken and bring eternal destruction upon themselves. Oppositely, every teaching which is either directly or indirectly in harmony with the Church’s doctrines and teaching, is true, and the Church does not repudiate it, but accepts it and recommends it.
Therefore, whoever is wise will accept the Word of God as the seed of truth, wholeheartedly, and will believe in the truth of the saving doctrines. He will confess that:
- Jesus Christ is perfect God and perfect man; He is the Theanthropos and the only saviour of mankind;
- Man cannot be saved by the strength and ability which he possesses, for he is a sinner, guilty concerning both divine law and divine justice; but he can be saved through the power of Christ the saviour, who was crucified for him;
- The words of the divine saviour are true and incontestable, worthy of wholehearted belief;
- The Church which preserves Christ’s words does not err, but is the true ark of the divine truths. The Church gives nourishment to human souls through the saving truths which she alone preserves.
If one believes in and confesses these truths, he in fact will be saved, but if he does not believe, he will perish. Instruction in and knowledge of these doctrines of the faith are necessary nay – essential – everyone truthfully seeking his salvation. An inward conviction of the soul about them and faith in them are the chief factors of faith and knowledge gained from instruction. They lead to salvation and give the soul strength to fulfill God’s commandments.
From these principal saving doctrines of the faith follows a system of doctrines which comprises the theological branch of dogmatic science. This is inaccessible to the many, and accessible only to those who study theology as experts and submit the divine truths to Christ-honoring, spiritual, and truly scientific study.
However, since every man has been given the right to discourse about theology according to the ability which each possesses, we think it not amiss to expound the doctrinal truths of the science of theology. This will provide information for those who wish to learn and are able to learn, as by nature they have the right to do.