Economy (Eastern Orthodox Church)

Economy (Eastern Orthodox Church)

In the Eastern Orthodox and Greek-Catholic Churches and in the teaching of the Church Fathers which undergirds the theology of those Churches, economy or oeconomy (Greek: οικονόμια, "economia" ) has several meanings. [Lampe, et al, "A Patristic Greek Lexicon" (Oxford, 1968) 940–943.] The basic meaning of the word is "handling" or disposition" or "management" of a thing, usually assuming or implying "good" or "prudent" handling (as opposed to "poor" handling) of the matter at hand.

As such, the word "economy", and the concept attaching to it, are utilized especially with regard to two types of "handling": (a) divine economy, that is, God's "handling" or "management" of the fallen state of the world and of mankind — the arrangements he made in order to bring about man's salvation after the fall; and (b) what might be termed pastoral economy (or) ecclesiastical economy, that is, the Church's "handling" or "management" of various pastoral and disciplinary questions, problems, and issues that have arisen through the centuries of Church history.

Divine economy

The divine economy, in the broadest sense, not only refers to God's actions to bring about the world's salvation and redemption, but to all of God's dealings with, and interactions with, the world, including even creation itself. In this sense, "economy" — as the word was used in classical Orthodox doctrinal terminology — constituted the second broad division of all Christian doctrinal teaching. The first division was called "theology" (literally, "words about God" or "teaching about God") and was concerned with all that pertains to God alone, in himself — the teaching on the Trinity, the divine attributes, and so on, but not with anything pertaining to the creation or the redemption. "...The distinction between οικονομια and θεολογια ... remains common to most of the Greek Fathers and to all of the Byzantine tradition. θεολογια ... means, in the fourth century, everything which can be said of God considered in Himself, outside of His creative and redemptive economy. In order to reach this 'theology' properly so-called, one therefore must go beyond ... God as Creator of the universe, in order to be able to extricate the notion of the Trinity from the cosmological implications proper to the 'economy.'" [V. Lossky, "In the Image and Likeness of God" (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir's, 1985), 15.]

"Economy," therefore, refers to any and all of God's dealings with creation. But it is also used in particular to speak of God's actions undertaken to save and rescue fallen mankind; and related to this is another meaning which is more restricted: "economy" is used specifically to Christ's incarnation; when used in this sense, it is virtually synonymous with "incarnation."

Finally, in yet another related sense, "economy" is often used by the Church Fathers to refer to any "accommodation" or "concession" made by God, to human weakness, for the purpose of salvation. For example, God's action in furnishing the Body and Blood of Christ to his people under the forms of the bread and wine of holy communion, is an act of divine "economy" in this sense.

Ecclesiastical economy

As noted earlier, "economy" also refers to the Church's "handling" or "management" or "disposition" of various pastoral and disciplinary questions, problems, and issues. Here again, "economy" is used in several ways.

In one sense, it refers to the discretionary power given to the Church by Christ himself, in order to manage and govern the Church. Christ referred to this when he gave the apostles the authority to "bind and to loose" (Matthew 16:19, 18:18), and this authority in turn was transmitted to the bishops who came after the apostles.

In this sense "economy" means, as already noted, "handling", "management", "disposition". In general then, "economy" refers to pastoral handling or discretion or management in a neutral sense.

But it also can take two specific forms: it can be "exact" ("precise", "strict"), which means the usual or general rule is followed precisely; or it can be "lenient" (a loosening or modification of that usual or general rule). The former is called "economy according to strictness (exactness)" and the latter, "economy according to leniency." Economy according to leniency — a modification in the application of the usual rule — has always been done when, in the judgment of the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 15:28, "it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us") this would result in the wider salvation of souls through the extension of God's mercy.

In later usage of the terms, "economy" came to be used as a synonym for "economy according to leniency" — that is, a deviation from the exactness of the usual rule — often involving a practice that indeed appears more "lenient." At the same time, the newer terminology speaks simply of "exactness" (or "strictness") instead of "economy according to exactness (strictness)". Thus in this more recent use of terms, the dichotomy "economy according to leniency" vs. "economy according to exactness (strictness, preciseness)," is replaced by "economy" versus "strictness" ("exactness", "preciseness").

It is important to observe that when economy is correctly used and applied (that is, as a modification in the application of the usual rule) such correct application of economy itself is "one of the rules". Thus, if one speaks of "bending", "suspending", "dispensing with", "relaxing" the usual rule, one should bear in mind that such descriptions could be misleading, since the correct use of economy is always done in accordance with the rule of Christ, and never contrary to it. This brings up the general principle that in the Church all canons and laws exist in subjection to the rule of Christ — that is to say, his commandments, teachings, and precepts.

An example in the New Testament of the application of lenient economy, or "economy according to leniency", is found in Acts chapter 15, where the Apostles decided to limit the number and degree of Jewish observances that would be required of Gentile converts. An example in the New Testament of the application of strict economy, or "economy according to exactness (or, strictness, preciseness) ["akribeia"] ", may be seen in Acts 16:3, when St. Paul set aside the usual rule, just mentioned, and decided to circumcise Timothy, whose father was a gentile, in order to placate certain Jewish Christians. In both instances, economy was exercised in order to facilitate the salvation of some of the parties involved.

In Orthodox Church history, examples and instances of economy abound. Since ancient times, converts to the Church who were coming from certain heretical groups were not required to be baptized, even though the normal path of entrance to the Church is through baptism. Thus the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, decided that under specific conditions, the application of economy (i.e. according to leniency) would be the norm in this matter. But since the usual rule is baptism, such leniency can easily be, and sometimes has been, suspended (usually in periods when the heretical groups in question were actively opposing the Church). In these cases, the Church returned to her customary usual rule of "exactness," not applying economy (or not applying economy according to lenience). In calling for the reception of converts into Orthodoxy through means other than baptism in certain cases, the Ecumenical Councils made no determination regarding the existence of sacraments outside of Orthodoxy, but only addressed the situation of the convert to Orthodoxy.

Economy is, therefore, in one sense, a bishop's discretionary power to dispense with the ordinary church discipline, or the strict application of the ordinary rules or "canons", of the Church, as they are called. [cite book
last = Broderick
first = Robert (editor)
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = The Catholic Encyclopedia
publisher = Thomas Nelson Publishers
year = 1987
location = Nashville
id =
, p. 433
] This is because, while the canons are laws (rules) that govern the Church, their provisions do not always precisely cover every situation that might come up; thus their application may at times need to be modified. Such dispensations are made with a view towards putting the spirit before the letter and helping the cause of the salvation of souls.

In many cases only bishops can decide that the use of economy is indicated. In other cases, a general authorization to apply economy in specific types of cases is delegated to the priests. For example, the usual rule is that Orthodox Christians can only marry other Orthodox Christians. For pastoral reasons, this rule has been relaxed in Western lands where many heterodox Christians live. The Orthodox spouse is now permitted to marry a believing but non-Orthodox Christian, who has been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The priest need not obtain authorization from the bishop in each instance, but is given a blanket authorization to perform such marriages, provided the necessary conditions are met.

Another example of the common application of economy is with regard to the usual fasting rules of the Orthodox Church which are followed during Great Lent. Modifications to the usual rules apply to the sick, infirm, small children, pregnant or nursing mothers, etc. and for this church authorities are not consulted each time. Rather, the parish priest advises and guides the individual Christian or family in the proper application of fasting rules to their situation. Here again, "economy" in one sense is an exception to the rule, but in another sense economy is the rule.

According to one source, the canon law of the Orthodox Church economia is “the suspension of the absolute and strict applications of canon and church regulations in the governing and the life of the Church, without subsequently compromising the dogmatic limitations. The application of economia only takes place through the official church authorities and is only applicable for a particular case." [reference needed]

The Eastern Orthodox Church intends this concept to have the result that Love, Mercy, and Compassion remain more in control than absolute law.

As noted earlier, according to more recent usage of the terms, the norm, the normal case, is called akribeia (preciseness, exactness, strictness, that is, precise or strict adherence to the standards), while its opposite is economia ("leniency,").

But there is not always agreement as to what is "strictness" (or "exactness") and what is "economy". As an example of this, there was, in the Orthodox Church, the practice of a married episcopate, from the beginnings of the Church up until 692 A.D. In that year, the Quinisext Council (also called the Penthekte, or "Fifth-Sixth" Council, or Council in Trullo) decided, and decreed in its 12th Canon, that henceforth there would be exclusively a celibate episcopate. It was generally thought that this canon was an exercise of "strictness" (or "exactness") since it tightened the apostolic rule of a married episcopate, seen in 1 Tim. 3:2 and Titus 1:5–7 and in the fifth Apostolic canon. Thus it was sometimes held that there was a conflict between the Scripture and the holy canons of the Church on this point. Panagiotes I. Boumes ["Married Bishops (Agreement Between Sacred Scripture and Holy Canons)" "Greek Orthodox Theological Review," 29:1 (1984), 81–93, transl. by George C. Papademetriou.] argued that there is no conflict. Quinisext Canon 12, he says, is not an instance of "exactness" but rather of "economy" in that the usual rule (the apostolic practice) was suspended because of pastoral need which existed at the time. Some argue that today, pastoral need requires a return to the original practice or the married episcopate. Boumes writes, "If it is possible for a local synod to deviate from exactness in accordance with economy [as was done by the Penthekte Council in this matter] , how much more is it possible for it to abandon economy and return to exactness?" [Boumes, op. cit., p. 92.] He adds that since the canons of Trullo received ecumenical authority, it would be preferable to reverse the decision (if indeed it should be reversed) by ecumenical agree among the members of the Church. Aside from the relative merits or demerits of such a change, Boumes's argument is an example of a case where there may be debate about which practice constitutes "strictness" ("exactness"), and which one "economy."

The same could be observed with regard to the case, mentioned above, if St. Paul's circumcising Timothy. From the viewpoint of the Jewish Christians, "exactness" ("strictness") would be to circumcise all gentile converts, while the Church's decision in Acts 15 was a decision to apply "leniency." But another analysis of the same situation would be that the apostolic decision and rule set forth in Acts 15 constitutes "exactness" and in fact became the usual rule, and that St. Paul in circumcising St. Timothy, relaxed the usual rule and in so doing, practiced "leniency" (that is, a less strict, less precise, hence more lenient, application of the usual rule). If Paul's decision does not seem "lenient," the "leniency" (or in more recent terms, "economy") was in the relaxation of strict application of the usual rule, but at the same time his action was an exercise of pastoral "lenience" shown to the Jewish Christians at that point. Similar reasoning could be applied to other issues, such as whether to baptise certain classes of converts.


ee also

* Akribeia
* The Economy of God

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