I'm a historian, and I answer all such questions by history. I would say they would find it useful to look at what has happened in 150 years in the West. To read the decrees of the First Vatican Council, 1869 and 1870, and then the decrees of the Second. The first was the one that proclaimed the infallibility of the pope. It's defiant, rigid, "take it or leave it." The Second Vatican Council does not deny what has been previously said, but it breathes a completely different spirit. The Second Vatican Council is based on a fresh reading of the Bible, the Church Fathers, especially the Greek Church Fathers, and on the liturgy rather than canon law. The Church is not defined in legal terms as a corporation, but in liturgical terms as a corpus, the body of Christ.

Those three ways of looking at things are the very ones that define the Orthodox tradition: scripture, the Fathers, and the liturgy. For all the differences that still remain even after Vatican II, the perspective has shifted. What the Second Vatican Council says about the East, considering all the history, is very fraternal.

Going back to other parts of the Creed, was "light from light" ever disputed? It's beautiful, but I always wondered why it's in there.

I've got a book on that too. In the first chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews, Christ is called the radiance of the Father. The New Testament says God is light. Radiance proceeds from a source--in our case, the sun or a light bulb--and is distinct from that source, because the sun is not here in my room right now. It's distinct from that source but it's not separate from it or different in its nature from it. It's the same light. So light comes from light, being both distinct and identical. So is Christ in relation to the Father.Why was it necessary to include that when they'd already said "God from God"?

Partly because they were already using that in their worship and their hymns. If anything is worth saying, it's worth saying more than once.Your book traces many schisms. What perspective does history give you about ecumenism today? Is there hope, or do you think churches will keep splitting?

In the third volume of the collection, there are a number of joint statements of the faith, usually by two groups who had been separated for a long time; for example, a recent Catholic-Lutheran statement on the doctrine of justification. There's a joint statement by Pope John Paul II and the head of the Armenian Church. They'd been separated since 451. Both of them, respecting their own traditions, met, discussed, and concluded that not only were there strong political factors that had originally driven them apart, but also misunderstanding--partly as a consequence of language (Armenian, Greek, and Latin are very different). And that since Christian truth is never just a mathematical formula but is dialectical--it says two things at the same time--if you emphasize one of those at the expense of the other, you tilt in one or the other direction. What they said was that over the course of the centuries, in the heat of theological battle, such a tilt had indeed come in. But that now having looked at the questions carefully, they concluded that whatever differences [existed] were differences of emphasis within a single faith and should not keep people apart any more. It's a hopeful sign, and there are a number of such, like the document that brought together the church of South India.Out of a number of countries--Ghana, Madagascar, China--has come the effort to express in their own language the faith that they have together, to do it with their own cultural setting and vocabulary. Out of that have come reunions and their own fresh way of stating the faith. That's a very hopeful sign. My favorite is the Masai Creed.

That's an amazing creed. It includes a part about Jesus' burial: "the hyenas did not touch him."

Here in Africa, suddenly these new Christian believers--reading the gospels and receiving their faith and having to fight the hyenas around them--suddenly they read that Jesus was buried in a rock tomb, rather than underground as we bury, to keep the wild animals away. In none of these other creeds had anyone ever said anything about his being buried in a rock tomb. Suddenly "and the hyenas did not touch his body." That Jesus was "always on safari."

Did you have concerns that in creeds like this one, they added or removed material from the Nicene Creed?

That's true in other statements of faith as well after Nicea. In the Tome of Leo the First (449), it says "it was a human nature that wept when Lazarus died, and it was the divine nature that raised Lazarus from the dead." So it takes a gospel incident and finds there an expression of a question that was being debated, namely the relation between the divine and the human. They are distinct; the divine nature did not weep, and the human nature was not capable of raising a friend from the dead. But one person, who was both divine and human, wept and raised him from the dead. So a gospel story becomes the most effective way to articulate an answer to distortions on both sides. Your book talks about the 'deeds and creeds' conflict--how creeds are criticized for coming at the expense of actions. You say it's agreed that dogma and ethics should be inseparable. How can the creed help guide practice?

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