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The Synod of Jerusalem was convened by Greek Orthodox Patriarch Dositheos Notaras in March, 1672. The occasion was the consecration of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, therefore it is also called the Synod of Bethlehem.

The Synod was attended by most of the prominent representatives of the Eastern Church, including six Metropolitans besides Dositheus and his retired predecessor, and its decrees received universal acceptance as an expression of the faith of the Greek Orthodox Church.

Refutation of Calvinism

The Synod also refuted article by article the Confession of Cyril Lucaris,[1] which appeared in Latin at Geneva in 1629, and in Greek, with the addition of four questions, in 1633. Lucaris, who died in 1638, was Patriarch of Constantinople, had corresponded with Western scholars and had adopted Calvinistic views.

The opposition to Calvinism which arose during Lucaris's lifetime continued after his death, and found classic expression in the highly venerated confession of Petro Mohyla, Metropolitan of Kiev (1643). Though this was intended as a barrier against Calvinistic influences, certain Protestant writers, and not only Roman Catholics, persisted in claiming the support of the Greek Church for their positions.

The Synod of Jerusalem of 1672 sought to put to an end the Calvinists thesis of unconditional predestination and of justification by faith alone, and its advocacy of traditional Orthodox doctrines about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the fate of the soul after death, which some commentators have regarded as substantially the same as the Roman Catholic views of transubstantiation and personal eschatology. Protestant writers say that this eastern hostility to Calvinism had been fanned by the Jesuits.[2]

Against both the Roman Catholic Church and most Protestants, however, there was directed the affirmation that the Holy Ghost proceeds from God the Father alone and not from both Father and Son; this rejection of the Filioque clause was not unwelcome to the Turks. This does not mean that the decisions were made under political pressure from the Ottoman Empire. The Synod simply re-affirmed already existing Orthodox beliefs. Decree 1 of The Confession of Dositheus begins thus:

We believe in one God, true, almighty, and infinite, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; the Father unbegotten; the Son begotten of the Father before the ages, and consubstantial with Him; and the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father, and consubstantial with the Father and the Son. These three Persons in one essence we call the All-holy Trinity, — by all creation to be ever blessed, glorified, and adored. [3]

Notwithstanding this, the synod refused to believe that the heretical confession it refuted was actually by a former patriarch of Constantinople; yet the proofs of its genuineness seem to most scholars overwhelming. In negotiations between Anglican and Russian churchmen the confession usually comes to the front.

Importance and criticism

The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica called the Synod of Jerusalem "the most vital statement of faith made in the Greek Church during the past thousand years." Protestant scholar Philip Schaff wrote "This Synod is the most important in the modern history of the Eastern Church, and may be compared to the Council of Trent."[4]However, modern Eastern or Greek Orthodoxy is much more reserved about the abiding dogmatic authority of this synod. The fact that the Greek bishops often received their training at Latin schools (notably in Venice) accounts for what the late Georges Florovsky termed the "pseudomorphosis" of Orthodox theology.

Subsequent regional synods have certainly felt free to revisit the issues addressed in Jerusalem. Hence, on the issue of the Old Testament canon, a different position was adopted in the Longer Catechism of Philaret of Moscow.

English translation of the decrees

The Acts and Decrees of the Synod of Jerusalem was translated directly from the Greek, and edited with notes, by J.N.W.B. Robertson (London, 1899). The text of Chapter VI, which sets forth the Orthodox faith in eighteen decrees and four questions, commonly known as The Confession of Dositheus, can be consulted at the Web site Confession of Dositheus.


Further reading

Wetzer-Welte Kirchenlexikon, 2nd ed., vi . 1357 sqq

External links