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June 23, 2010

Georges Vasilievich Florovsky: Philosopher of the Orthodox World (8 of 8)

Continued from Part Seven

Georges Florovsky was indeed “la grande voix” of Orthodoxy from the early 1930s in France, and he continued to be that throughout his long life and career. Now, twenty-three years after his death, he is still regarded as the preeminent Orthodox theologian of the twentieth century whose writings are being published and republished in English, Russian, French, German, Greek, and many other languages as well. There is also considerable research being done in his unpublished writings, which have been deposited in the archives of the St. Vladimir’s Library and the Princeton University Library. Through his own many writings and the writings of his students, the voice of Florovsky is still being heard and listened to with profound respect and appreciation. Every year the Orthodox Theological Society in America faithfully sponsors the annual Georges V. Florovsky Lecture. His influence has been wide and deep in the Orthodox world, particularly among the generations of Greek Orthodox theologians who have taken up his challenge for a Neo-Patristic Synthesis to restore the Patristic criterion in Orthodox theology and to revitalize the true meaning of Christian Hellenism.

A new and potentially very significant area for the influence of Florovsky and his thought, particularly as expounded in his Ways of Russian Theology, is in the revived theological work being done in Russia today, where his writings are becoming increasingly known and deeply appreciated by those who will hopefully continue where he left off in the area of Russia’s cultural history.

In a handwritten address found among his papers after his death,13 Florovsky spoke about a “theological will” which he did not complete, but which would have included three main points, which effectively summarize his thought: 1. Orthodox theology must be a historical theology. Christians do not believe in ideas, but in a Person, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior who is a historical Person. Our God is the God who acts, who has acted in history, from the creation of man, who is still acting, and who will act at the end of time. Theology is the study of divine acts. 2. In studying the Acts of God, we see “the scandal of particularity,” that is to say, salvation has come “from the Jews” and has been propagated in the world through the medium of Hellenism. To be a Christian means to be a Greek, since our basic authority is forever a Greek Book, the New Testament. The Christian message has been forever formulated in Greek categories. The old Hellenism was dissected, baptized, regenerated, converted to become the Christian Hellenism of our dogmatics — from the New Testament to St. Gregory Palamas in the fifteenth century, and even to our own times. One cannot revert back to Hebraism or even to pre-Christian Hellenism, and all attempts to reformulate the historical dogmas of the undivided Church in categories of modern philosophies should be resisted as misleading and fruitless. 3. Theology must be carried out not merely to satisfy our intellectual curiosity, but in order to live, to have life abundantly in the Truth of God, which is not a system of ideas, but a Person—Jesus Christ. In this task the Fathers of the Church can be only sure and safe guides.

All of Florovsky’s endeavors throughout his life were in fact guided by this theological program which is also guiding present and, hopefully, future generations of theologians seeking to know and live by the abiding Truth of the Christian Faith. From the beginning of his life Florovsky had a philosophical bent; he sought not only to know things but to understand their meaning for himself. He had a responsible worldview and was able to project and to defend it consistently. His interest was focused on problems and their solutions. His books and essays on the Fathers of the Church focused on the theological struggles of the early Church to define the faith and the truth of Revelation in Sacred Scripture. His aim was a genuine theological awakening that could truly begin when not only the answers but also the real questions of the past were recalled and reexamined for our time. Florovsky was certainly not an “archaist”; his call for a return to the Fathers was not merely to quote them, but to enter into their mind and into the spirit of the great Christian Tradition. By apprehending the approach of the Fathers to the problems they confronted — the classic problems of interpreting the Christian Faith to an alien world — we equip ourselves for creative resolutions to our own living problems and tasks, within an equally complex and alien world. The rare gift of historical intuition made Father Georges Vasilievich Florovsky feel “at home in all ages” and, one might add, in all places as well. This too, no doubt, was the aim of his life’s work as he journeyed as a faithful pilgrim from East to West: to revive and restate the Orthodox theological tradition of the Una Sancta and to make it relevant and meaningful not only for our present modern age, but for all ages.


1. See Andrew Blane, “A Sketch of the Life of Georges Florovsky,” in Georges Florovsky: Russian Intellectual and Orthodox Churchman, ed. Andrew Blane (Crestwood, N.Y., 1993), 11–217. This is by far the most complete biographical study to date on Florovsky. An earlier study in the form of an intellectual biography by George H. Williams, “Georges Vasilievich Florovsky,” in The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, Vol. XI, No. 1 (1965), 7–107 focuses on the first part of his American career (1948–1965) with a general introduction to his earlier life in Russia and Europe.

2. The Collected Works of Georges Florovsky, ed. Richard S. Haugh (Belmont, Mass., and Vaduz, Liechtenstein, 1972–1989), Vols. I-XIV. While this publication of Florovsky’s writings is not yet complete and has experienced certain difficulties, it is presently the most available. Of the 376 published titles in the Florovsky corpus of writings, only 123 titles are included in Volumes I-IV and XI-XIV of the Collected Works: I. Bible, Church, Tradition: An Eastern Orthodox View; II. Christianity and Culture; III. Creation and Redemption; IV. Aspects of Church History; XI. Theology and Literature; XII. Philosophy, Philosophical Problems and Movements; XIII. Ecumenism I, A Doctrinal Approach; XIV. Ecumenism II, An Historical Approach. Volumes V and VI contain the Ways of Russian Theology, and Volumes VII-X contain the Fathers of the Church from the 4th to the 8th Centuries.

For a chronological list of Florovsky’s works see The Heritage of the Early Church: Essays in Honor of the Very Reverend Georges Vasilievich Florovsky, ed. David Neiman and Margaret Schatkin (Rome, 1973), 437–451. For a more complete list of his writings with information on original languages, translations and types of writing see Georges Florovsky: Russian Intellectual and Orthodox Church Churchman, 341–401, but also 407–429 for a general description of the Georges Florovsky Archives at Princeton University (53 boxes), and 431–436 for the Archives at St. Vladimir’s Seminary (89 boxes).

3. Blane, 153.

4. Ibid., 33.

5. Blane, 39.

6. See The Collected Works, Vol. XII, “Philosophical Problems and Movements.”

7. Volume VII in The Collected Works.

8. Volumes VIII and IX in The Collected Works.

9. Volumes V and VI in The Collected Works.

10. Blane, 61.

11. See The Collected Works, Vol. XIII, “Ecumenism: A Doctrinal Approach,” and Vol. XIV, “Ecumenism: An Historical Approach.”

12. These scholars are too numerous to mention here individually. Indicative of a renewed interest in the Fathers of the Church, which Florovsky so consistently promoted, can be seen in the current, many-volume Bible Commentary in progress: Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, General Editor, Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove, Ill.), which focuses on the reading of Scripture with the Church Fathers.

13. See Blane, 153–155. A recent publication in German develops the full scope of Florovsky’s thought: Christoph Kunkel, Totus Christus: Die Theologie Georges V. Florovskys (Göttingen, 1991). In pp. 448–454 there is a helpful list of literature on Florovsky that includes the European sources. Another recent publication from Greece: Synaxe: A Quarterly Journal of Orthodox Studies, Vol. 64 (Oct.-Dec. 1997), contains seven studies in honor of Father G. Florovsky and his on-going Neo-Patristic Synthesis.

Source: Written by John Chamberlain in First Principles, (MA 45:1, Winter 2003).